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Contraction and Expansion

Shaykh Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhili(ra)

Seldom is the servant free from these two states that come on us alternately as the succession of night and day, and God requires of you an attitude of servitude with respect to both.

Anyone whose soul experiences a time of contraction either knows the cause for it or does not know it. There are three causes of contraction: some sin which you have committed; or some worldly goods that you have lost or that are lacking; or an evil-doer who injures you or your honor, or imputes to you irreligion or something else.

When contraction comes from one of these causes, servantship consists in returning to knowledge of the faith, dealing with it as the religious law has commanded you - in respect to the sin, with repentance, contrition, and seeking cancellation (iqala); in respect to some worldly goods that you have lost or that you lack, with resignation, acquiescence, and reckoning a recompense from God; and in respect to injury done you by an evil-doer, with patience and forbearance. Take care not to harm yourself, lest two harms unite to injure you - the harm of others toward you, and your harming of yourself.

If you exercise the requisite patience and forbearance, He will recompense you with ease of heart so that you pardon and forgive. Perhaps He will provide you with such light of contentment that you will be able to have compassion on him who has wronged you, or so that you will supplicate for him and your supplication will be answered in his favor. How excellent is your condition whenever God shows mercy on your account toward someone who has wronged you! This is the grade of the veritable mystics (siddiqin) and the merciful. So trust in God, for God loves the trustful.

Whenever there comes over you a feeling of contraction for which you do not know a cause, know that time is in two periods - night and day. Contraction is an experience most resembling the night, while expansion resembles the day. So, when contraction comes from no cause known to you, your duty is to remain quiet. Quietness refers to three things: utterances, desires, and movements. If you do that, the night will soon depart from you with the rising of your day, or a star will appear to guide you, or a moon will appear to provide illumination.

The stars are the stars of knowledge of the faith. The moon is the moon of Unity (tawhid). The sun is the sun of intuitive knowledge (ma'rifa). If you move about in the darkness of your night, you will hardly be saved from destruction. Ponder this saying of God: "Out of His mercy He has appointed for you the night and the day that you may be at rest and seek earnestly after His bounty, and perchance you will give thanks " (Qur'an 28:73). This is the rule of servantship in relation to contraction as a whole.

With regard to him whose time (waqt) is expansion, inevitably he either knows or does not know a cause for it. There are three causes. The first is an increase of spiritual blessings through obedience, or the receiving of something from the One obeyed, such as faith, knowledge, and intuitional knowledge. The second cause is an increase of earthly goods by acquisition, miraculous supply, gift, or present. The third cause is praise and commendation of men by their flocking to you, asking of you an invocation, and kissing your hand.

Whenever expansion comes upon you for one of these causes, servantship ('ubudiya) requires that you consider the grace and favor upon you to be from God. Take care lest you hold any part of them to be from yourself, and beware of them lest fear take hold of you - fear of being bereft of what He has bestowed upon you, so that you become as one despised. This is relative to the act of obedience and the favor from God.

The increase of worldly goods is a grace also like the preceding. However, be cautious of their hidden perils. In respect to men's praising and commending you, servantship requires thanksgiving for His favor in covering your faults. Also, servantship requires fear, lest He bring to light an atom of any hidden part of you so that men nearest you loathe you. These are, on the whole, the rules of conduct for contraction and expansion in respect of servantship. Our help is with God.

With regard to expansion for which you do not know a cause, servantship demands that you refrain from questioning, acting affectedly, and rushing upon women and men. Only say, "Lord, save, save, until death." So this is the matter, if you understand. Peace to you.

Shaykh Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhili(ra)