Aphorisms of Ibn Ata’illah al-Iskandari

For those not familiar with these aphorisms I will post some of them here, together with some explanatory notes by Nuh Ha Mim Keller. The great scholar, and shaykh of the Shadhili tariqa, Ibn Ata’illah – may Allah have mercy on him – gathered these aphorisms or wisdoms (hikam) in his book called Kitab al-Hikam. They remind me of the buddhist haikus. It behoves every muslim to get a copy of this book.


He sometimes opens the door of worship for you, but not the door of acceptance, and sometimes afflicts you with a sin that turns out to be a means to reach Him.

Commentary: A person can be so disgusted by the sin he committed that he doesn’t commit any more sins after that. So we don’t know what Allahu ta’ala is getting at with these things, until they unfold.   


A sin that bequeaths humiliation and neediness is better than worship that bequeaths exultation and haughtiness.

Commentary: Yahya ibn Abu Adrazi said that a zahid is someone who is abstinent and loads every luxury in the dunya, whenever he gives you to smell something he will let you smell dust and coals up your nose. But someone who knows Allah, whenever he gives you to smell it will be the most beautiful perfume. He means thereby that the ‘arifin are always counting their blessings and always see the good side of everything. Ibn Ata’illah has proven himself here to be among the foremost, by finding even the silver lining in the cloud of disobedience to Allah. Sometimes it works out that even the sin turns out to be a blessing in disguise if it invokes ones disgust in the way that one is, and produces a change and a desire to repent and to Allah in sincerity. This is one of the greatest hikam.  

This reminds me of the hadith in the Jami’ of al-Bukhari: “Verily Allah supports this religion even with a sinner”.


Whenever He releases your tongue to ask, know that He wants to give you.

My own commentary or comprehension: Whenever you feel like making du’a know that Allah is listening and willing to give you.


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