Posted by: Dawud Israel | May 23, 2011

Sabr and Shukr in Alternated Deprivation Appreciation

In reading Imam Ghazali’s ‘Breaking the Two Desires’ I had to think deeply on how to apply the methods and goals he cited in the modern day. I am weak and this is a different era and place than Imam Ghazali’s time so its not easy. I call this method “Alternated Deprivation Appreciation.”

The following quote from the book explains it well:

‘When the world and all its treasures were offered to the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace), he said, “No! Instead I shall hunger on alternate days, so that when I hunger I have patient endurance, and that when I eat my fill I have gratitude”

So the idea is you bar yourself from something permissible, endure for a while and then later to indulge in it. And in that way you accomplish 3 things: 1) You make shukr in a true manner, from the heart due to the experience and 2) It teaches patience in a very real manner and 3) For those who have the strength, by way of doing this you gradually detach yourself from that comfort.

hubb ad-dunya rass kulli khatiya
love of the world is the fountainhead of every sin

Get to work 

So I sleep on the ground for part of the night on my wooden floor and sleep on the bed for part of the night. I would sleep the whole night on the ground but am still training myself but it requires real getting used to, because it can be cold and dusty causing me to cough. And this is all part of the struggle. That is during sleep, but I try to sleep little and wake myself and make dhikr or tahajjud until fajr for part of the night. Another way would be just to delay eating and feel that hunger- not even fasting but to restrict yourself and savour the hunger. The key is to do what is optimal- not something easy nor something too difficult, but sufficiently challenging and that is what you can do consistently without burning out.

a visual metaphor on the futility of desires and the futility of fighting ones nafs in an unintelligent manner

Another way to put this is what psychologists call “delayed gratification” and how a little delay makes things sweeter and more enjoyable and people who have successful careers are often reared through this method. This is what Ramadan is about: its sabr and shukr, moment to moment, day to day, and it is based on himma (strength) which slowly increases until fasting is easy by the end of Ramadan. I am not talking about fasting for 40 days, just eating 1 meal less a day. Habib Umar suggests sleeping one hour earlier everyday for a few weeks or a month, then cutting off another hour, and so on until you sleep for only a few hours a night. This is just about restraining and depriving yourself little by litte, and the beginnings of renunciation. If Allah takes you from there to more, then that is khayr from Allah. And inshallah Allah will  expand my himma. I guess this gradualism is part of the meaning of expansion and contraction but a great deal of it is also in planning.

“There is no intelligence like planning, no nobility like good character, and no piety like restraint.” [Bayhaqi and Shu’ab al Imaan]

Contemplating Sabr and Shukr 

Alternated Deprivation Appreciation is my practical way of referring to the spirituality of Sabr and Shukr. And Sabr and Shukr is a cardinal aspect of Islam- it is how Islam inculcates good character in us and how the Shariah is structured. We know that every haram has a halal avenue, and this is not arbitrary because it has a basis on the soul in terms of sabr and shukr- to be patient with the haram and have shukr for the halal. Reason operates through sabr, it requires time and effort while Revelation operates through shukr, we only really take it in if we appreciate its Divine origin. Sabr and shukr alters your mentality- sabr and shukr are anchors or pegs for your mood and nafs- they prevent you from becoming moody or unrestrained. When the earthquake in your life comes along, having sabr and shukr stabilizes you, keeps your feet firm and makes you steadfast. Sabr and shukr are the tools of developing and sustaining perseverance. The common phrase of calling Muslims to the “middle path,” the ummatan wasitan, is found in not giving yourself over to complete deprivation nor to complete gratification but being between them in a moderate way- being between sabr and shukr. Nonetheless, as Shaykh Yahya Rhodus has said, “We must have balance in our understanding of balance,” and sometimes we must go to great lengths that may seem extreme but it is only temporary and only to make balance easy.

There is a saying that the “Sufi is the child of the moment” and this speaks to the experience in the moment, and how best to benefit your heart from a particular moment or situation. If it is better on your nafs to fast you fast, but if it is better on your nafs to eat, then you eat. Umar radiallahu anhu said, “Be hard on yourself because blessings don’t last,” that you can enjoy the comfort but problems are bound to come and when they do you will be unprepared to deal with them, so its better to be hard on yourself.

And Sahl al-Tustari has said “Repentance (tawbah) is to replace a sin with something of virtue.” So now I know what to target. 🙂

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha anta astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.


  1. the floor actually gets pretty comfy once you get used to it [i heard it’s good for your back?]. although it sounds like you aren’t using a comforter in which case i can’t imagine it ever getting comfortable– a good thing in this particular scenario.

    inspiring post!

  2. Salaam,

    Can you write a post on how to do muhasaba? I’ve tried journaling, making improvement lists, and reflection posts but I was wondering if you had some suggestions.

    JazakAllahu Khair

    • Wa aleikum salam wa rahmatullah,

      I didn’t do the journal, maybe because lack of courage or the fact I already write wayyyy too much and writing any more and I’ll go bonkers!. But I just try and keep track and push myself harder everyday. Khalid ibn Ma’adan narrated from Abu Ubaidah bin al-Jarrah radiallahu anhu that the heart of a believer is like a bird, it flies, it alights and soars many times a day. I will write down certain reflections I pick up- for example: when I come to realize I may not be the only one doing a certain good deed.

      Right now, I actually am going to try using this tracker to keep track of things: and also this chart I found is useful for making up qadha prayers:

      Remember, as hard as it may seem or as frustrating as it may get- that is a sign of how great the reward will be. 🙂

      • Awesome! JazakAllahu Khair.
        I use a couple trackers every now and then but I definitely find myself feeling discouraged if I see a ‘dip’ in progress as opposed to what I was hoping to see.. the similitude of the believer and the bird is so true.

  3. A relevant quote

    The Prophet SAWS said, ‘Once Allah asked me whether I would prefer the stony land of Mecca to be converted into gold for me. I submitted, ‘I do not want this, my Lord.’ I rather want to fill my stomach one day and remain hungry the next.’ And I repeated these words thrice adding, “I shall implore in a state of hunger, and I shall praise and thank you in a state of fullness.’ and in another narration, ‘I do not want this my Lord! I rather want my stomach to get filled one day so that I could praise you and remain hungry for the next so I can beg of you.’
    [Al-Targhib (Vol V., p150), Al-Kaunz (Vol IV, p.39]

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