Bismi’Llāhi ir-Ramān ir-Raīm

In the Name of God, the Universally Merciful, the Singularly Compassionate


Given the sacredness of the month of Ramaḍān and the shift in routine that it entails, many have a desire to withdraw entirely from the world and focus on spiritual practice, even though believers are actually enjoined to continue their routines of work while increasing and deepening their acts of devotion. For most, it is challenging enough to find a balance between solitude and socializing, especially since fast-breaking times can be some of the most social.

Allāh ﷻ says in the Holy Qur’ān, “O mankind! Truly, we have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another…” (al-Ḥujurāt, 49:13).  Human beings are social creatures. Personal contact supports health and well-being. Hearts need each other for mutual support, to be reminded to keep faith and patiently persevere, lest we fall into despair and disbelief. In serving as mirrors for one another, we have the opportunity to see ourselves—faults and virtues—so that we might be motivated to account for ourselves and take refuge in Allāh ﷻ and be purified. At the same time, socializing can sometimes be triggering, fruitless, or toxic, dragging the soul down into a negative space. The verse continues, “…Truly, the noblest of you, in the sight of Allāh ﷻ, is the best in conduct. Truly, Allāh ﷻ is Knower, Aware ﷻ.” It is important to choose your friends carefully and spend your time wisely. Take the time to evaluate the quality of your relationships and especially what you bring to them, for better or worse. Trust your inner knowing. And know that there is a time for gathering and a time for solitude.

Being with others naturally draws us out of ourselves to some degree. At the same time, in order to know yourself and ultimately know your Lord ﷻ, you must withdraw from the periphery of your being into your interior, the space of intimate connection with Allāh ﷻ, wherein He ﷻ approached the Prophet Elijah (Ilyās) ع as a “still, small voice,” also translated as “the sound of sheer silence” (Old Testament, 1 Kings 19). If we don’t take the time to retreat from the world, we forget what really matters as we are absorbed into the routines of daily life. And yet, Allāh ﷻ is always with us. The question is, how much are we consciously with Him ﷻ? The possibility is extraordinary for those who believe in Him ﷻ. Allāh ﷻ speaks through the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ in a profound ḥadīth qudsī: “My ﷻ heavens and My ﷻ earth cannot contain Me ﷻ, but the heart of My ﷻ believing servant contains Me ﷻ.”

The advice on retreat and involvement in the world is summed up elegantly in the Book of Wisdom of Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ‘Aṭā’illah al-Iskandarī al-Shādhilī (tr. Aisha Bewley):

Your desire to withdraw from everything when Allāh ﷻ has involved you in the world of means is a hidden appetite. Your desire for involvement with the world of means when Allāh ﷻ has withdrawn you from it is a fall from high aspiration. Aspiration which rushes on ahead cannot break through the walls of destiny. Give yourself a rest from managing! When Someone Else ﷻ is doing it for you, don’t you start doing it for yourself!

And Allāh ﷻ knows best.


© Ḥakīm Ilyās Kāshānī