by Murshid F. A. Ali ElSenossi

The Stages of the Self on its Journey to Realisation and Beyond

The Seven Deadly Sins

The previous two articles - one by Murshid F.A. Ali ElSenossi and one from the modern view of vice as a psychological disease, arising from the environment and circumstances, to be treated by therapy, are followed below by two articles examining the question from traditional points of view.

The Seven Deadly Sins in the Light of the Symbolism of Number

In the series of single figure numbers there are two that stand out from the rest as having an essentially divine significance, namely one and seven; between them, as between alpha and omega, is enacted the whole drama of existence. One is the Creator; two signifies the spirit[1], three heaven[2], four earth, and five man, whose place is as a quintessence at the center of the four elements, the four points of the compass, and the four seasons of the year, which characterize the earthly state. But man cannot fulfill his function as mediator between heaven and earth without the transcendent dimension of depth and of height and the vertical axis that passes through the center of all the degrees of existence, which is none other than the tree of life. This superhuman dimension is implicit in the central point of the quintessence but does not become explicit until the number five is transcended. It is through six that the center becomes the axis, that the seed becomes the tree, and six is the number of primordial man in the state in which he was created on the sixth day. As universal mediator[3] he measures out, with his six directions, the whole of existence; and beyond six lies that from which existence proceeds and to which it returns. "He it is who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is established on the throne of His almightiness. He knows all that enters the earth and all that comes out of it, as well as all that descends from the skies and all that ascends to them. And He is with you wherever you may be; and God sees all that you do.” Holy Quran 57:4 *

Seven thus signifies repose in the divine centre. From that point of view it is the symbol of absolute finality and perfection, appearing in this world as a divine seal upon earthly things, as in the number of the days of the week, the planets, the sacraments of the church, and many other septenaries the mention of which would take us too far from our subject. But despite these considerations, or rather because of them, there is, as we shall see, a profound reason why the deadly sins should be seven in number.

In quest of the key to this paradox, the first thing to be remembered is the underlying continuity that exists between Edenic man and fallen man. At the fall there was no new creation; virtually man is still a central being. If he were not, there would be no nostalgia in his soul, and the first human perfection, instead of being a norm and an ideal, would be out of reach and as it were alien. But in fact it has never been superseded, whence the doctrine of original sin, which is itself an affirmation of the continuity we are considering. Moreover, a doctrine of sin means a doctrine of atonement: Where there is a question, not of irrecoverable loss, but of dormancy and perversion in the soul, there can be reawakening and reintegration. This reversible continuity between primal norm and present fact means that however prone to guilt certain powers of the soul may have become, they were originally innocent. We must remember also in this connection the axiom corruptio optimi pessima, the best when corrupted becomes the worst; and if it be asked, "What is the worst?' we may answer, with regard to the human soul, "The seven deadly sins”. At any rate, these sins may be taken as landmarks[4] in the domain of all that is most evil; and the three words seven deadly sins in a sense "add up" to corruptio optimi pessima, for the number seven betrays the mysterious presence of an optimum in the context of deadly sin, pessima corruptio. Here also lies the key to the paradox of the correspondence of the deadly sins to the planets, including the luminaries. Taking them in their traditional order, superbia (pride) is related to the Sun, avaritia (avarice) to Saturn, luxuria (lust) to Venus, invidia (envy) to Mercury, gula (gluttony) to Jupiter, ira (anger) to Mars, and accidia (sloth) to the Moon. It would be wrong, however, and even sacrilegious, to invert this manner of expression and to say that sins are actually represented by these celestial bodies after which, in virtue of their exaltation and luminosity, the very heavens themselves are named. All that can be said is that the planets are symbols of what is "best" in the soul; and when these optima are corrupted, they still continue to be related to the planets, just as they still continue to bear the seal of seven. In other words, those psychic powers or tendencies that have become the vehicles of deadly sin were numbered before the fall, when they held in the soul a place analogous to that of the planets in the firmament. Seven may thus be considered as a mark of identity used by a shepherd that it may continue to show, when a sheep has strayed, the fold to which it rightly belongs and to which it may be brought back.

In considering how it is possible for the "sheep" to stray so far, let us begin with a fact about one of the sins that is generally known but seldom weighed and that is not without its implications as regards other sins. A feature that all religions have in common is the concept of anger as an unholy rupture of equilibrium side by side with the concept of holy anger, which is exemplified in Christianity by Christ's driving out the merchants from the temple and of which the sin itself[5] seems like a parody.

Analogously, although the term ”holy avarice" is not used, could it not be said that a miser is a caricature of an ascetic and in rare cases perhaps even potentially an ascetic? The traditional representation of a miser as a half-starved man dressed in rags and carrying a bag of gold would have an altogether different meaning if the gold were to be taken symbolically and not literally. Some misers have been known to endure what would be described, in the case of a saint, as "heroic deprivations”. But since "acts are according to intentions”, the two "poverties" are as remote from each other as hell is from heaven. Nonetheless, for with God all things are possible, if a great spiritual master were to take a miser and turn him into a saint, the avarice, though necessarily rejected, would not have to undergo an absolute rejection; but the word "turn" is used here advisedly, for the tendency in question would need to be completely reorientated. Thinking along parallel lines, could not something analogous be said of the sin of lust, for example? And in connection with another deadly sin, we may remember the words of the Decalogue: "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God”. Not that "jealous," as used here, is a synonym of "envious," but the two may be said to have a common root, namely the refusal to accept that another should have or be given something that one feels should come to oneself. Similarly, as regards the worst sin of all, it is significant that in Islam one of the ninety-nine divine names is "the Proud”. The Koran uses exactly the same word to glorify God as to condemn Pharaoh; and if God is Proud, then pride must also be an aspect of human perfection, made in His image. We have here a virtue and a vice that bear the same name even though they lie at opposite poles of human possibility; and the truth corruptio optimi pessima stands as a bridge across the gulf that appears to separate them. It remains to be seen how it is possible for this bridge to be crossed, both by way of corruption and also, from the other side, by the path of redemption.

As regards corruption, we may take our key from the symbolism of another number traditionally associated with the deadly sins, that is, the number eight[6], for if seven denotes simply the best, eight in its positive sense[7] denotes the precise degree that this particular best, the best of the corruptibles, holds in the universal hierarchy. In his article on the symbolism of the octagon Guenon mentions that in sacred architecture an octagonal structure often serves as support for a dome, thus marking the transition from the square foundation to the circular summit, that is, from the terrestrial number four to the celestial number nine[8]. In other words, eight denotes the intermediary region between earth and heaven or, microcosmically, between body and spirit; and the octagon supporting the dome is particularly relevant here as a symbol of that "best" part of psychic substance that is the vehicle of spiritual light symbolized by the dome itself. This octagon has in fact a triple symbolism, for not only is it a vehicle of the dome but also, by being immediately adjacent to it, it expresses the nearness to heaven of the psychic elements in question, and by being almost circular in form it expresses their all but spiritual nature. Moreover, eight is the number of the winds, which signify the inspirations that it is the function of these elements to receive. But being of the soul, not of the spirit, these relative summits are by definition corruptible; and not only has the devil access to them but it is here above all that he intervenes[9], for he can do no far-reaching harm to a human soul unless he can first pervert one or more of its highest elements, which otherwise, continuing to fulfill their intuitive function, will remain like vigilant sentinels, ever ready to give the alert. It was certainly not to any lower faculties that Satan's original temptation was addressed, but rather to those that constitute man's leanings toward the next world, his hopes of immortality, his longings for the untransitory. This is brought out clearly in the Koranic account of the fall (20:120): "Then Satan whispered unto him[10], and said:'0 Adam, shall I show thee the Tree of Immortality and a kingdom that fadeth not away?’ “ Let us quote also the following comment on this:

All his deception of mankind throughout the ages[11] is summed up in the above verse; he ceaselessly promises to show man the Tree of Immortality, gradually reducing by this means the highest and most central faculties into the outer part of the soul so that he may imprison them there in attachment to the counterfeit objects which he has forged for their perception. It is the presence here of these perverted faculties, either in discontent that they can never find real satisfaction, or finally in a state of atrophy in that they are never put to their proper use, which causes all the disorder and obstruction in the soul of the fallen man[12].

To take particular examples, it could be said that the sin of gluttony is caused by the erring presence, in the outer or lower part of the soul, that part that is nearest the senses, of a perverted psychic element whose rightful place is at the threshold of heaven and whose normal function is to represent, for the individual in question, what might be termed the sense of the infinite. True to its nature, it looks for infinite satisfaction in the domain of the finite. A similar erring presence can be said to lie at the roots of the sin of lust.

On the other hand, the "static" or "contractive" sins of sloth and avarice can be traced to a perverted sense of eternity. The one is the attempt to realize eternal peace in a domain that is divinely willed to be in a state of movement and vicissitude. The other is the attempt to keep eternally that which is, by its very nature, ephemeral; it is also the blindness of attributing to "treasure upon earth" the absolute value that belongs only to "treasure in heaven”.

Eternity and infinity are dimensions of the Absolute, and the perverted sense of the Absolute, either directly or through one or other of these dimensions, may be said to lie at the root of all deadly sin. It is "reverberation" of the Absolute, however remotely, that alone can account for the monstrousness of the semi-insane exaggerations in question.

The sin of anger presupposes as much lack of sense of proportion as avarice does, though in an altogether different mode; either could be described as the "absolute" effect of a relative cause. But avarice is the deification of a material object, whereas anger, like the sins of envy and pride, implies a certain deification of the ego, its endowments with rights that belong only to the Absolute, that is, to the Supreme Self. But at the summit of the soul of the saint there are necessarily elements of sublime "thunder and lightning," just as there are necessarily elements that may be said to participate in the divine jealousy, inasmuch as they "begrudge," through their discernment, the attribution of any absolute value to other than the self. Similarly, having realized the answer to the question "Who am I?"[13] the saint cannot fail to participate in the divine pride, which will be reflected in the outer part of the soul, not as the sin of pride, but as the virtue of dignity and sometimes even of majesty.

The intuitive part of the psychic substance, the part through which the soul may be said to have the sense of the Absolute, the Infinite, and the Eternal, can be fully operative only if all its elements are in their rightful place. The soul of the saint is perfect order and harmony; fallen souls are in a state of disorder that varies incalculably from individual to individual. Needless to say, it is possible that part of the higher substance should remain relatively unfallen. Otherwise there could be no initial otherworldly aspirations, and the individual in question could never become a novice for the spiritual path. But as to those elements that are disintegrated and fallen, in that soul as in other souls, their chaos is caused by the higher elements being buried beneath the lower ones or, which amounts to the same, by the inner elements having strayed into the outer part of the psychic substance, where they cause perversion or obstruction according to whether they are virulent or dormant.

In connection with the widespread dormancy of psychic elements, it is particularly ironical that the notion of sincerity - or rather the word, for it is scarcely more than that - should loom so large in twentieth-century complacence, for sincerity, which implies an integral vigilance, is just what modern man most lacks. The often heard words "sincerity is all that matters" express, if duly weighed, a profound truth; but it is nearly always forgotten that sincerity cannot be assessed without reference to what one is sincere about. In other words, the quality of the subjective reaction is inextricably dependent on the quality of the object. To take particular examples, it is really no less than a contradiction in terms to speak of a "sincere humanist" or a “sincere communist” if the word "sincere" is to retain its sense of "total dedication”. Enthusiasm, everyone now knows, is no guarantee that the subject is sincere. This century, especially in its second half, is witnessing without respite the most violent orgies of enthusiasm, and as often as not the object is so worthless that the "enthusiast" can be no more than a small fraction of a soul, a fraction that has, perhaps momentarily, declared itself independent of reason, memory, and other faculties. Such cases may not be too dangerous in themselves, but they are alarmingly symptomatic of a widespread psychic disintegration. To revert to less paroxysmal but much more chronic and therefore more dangerous enthusiasms of the humanist and the communist, we have only to consider what man is to see that neither humanism nor communism has anything whatsoever to offer to the higher reaches of the human soul. If such an enthusiasm is nonetheless able to gain a lifelong grip of any given individual, it can do so only without the assent of his higher psychic elements; and the negative presence of these elements in his soul, whether they be dormant or atrophied, precludes all questions of sincerity. It may be objected that in some cases the elements in question are perverted without being dormant and that the soul can be something of a chaos but nonetheless "all there" and therefore sincere; and there can be no doubt, as regards the two enthusiasms in question, that they are able to gain their formidable impetus only by drawing, to a considerable extent, on the soul's latent treasuries of idle and unused spiritual fervor. But such thefts can never be total; perversion is always fragmentary. Fervor is, in its highest sense, no less than the thirst for the Absolute, the Infinite, and the Eternal, and there can be no common measure between the psychic vehicles of this fervor when in their rightful place at the summit of a normal soul and a mere fraction of them that has been perverted and dangerously bottled up as part of an enthusiasm for some finite and ephemeral object.

Only religious orthodoxy at its fullest - that is, when endowed with the full range of its third dimension of mysticism - is large enough to engage the whole psychic substance of man and coordinate it into a sincerity worthy of the name. The truth is indivisible totality and demands of man that he shall be no less than one undivided whole; and it is a criterion of orthodoxy that it should stake a claim in every element of our being.

But how does mysticism bring about the inverse of corruptio optimi pessima, that inverse that is expressed by "The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner"[14] and also by "Joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just[15] persons which need no repentance"? The first phase of the spiritual alchemy of repentance is "the descent into hell," so called because it is first necessary to penetrate into the depths of the soul in order to regain consciousness of the "worst” which by "repenting" is to become once more the best. In this connection some reference to psychoanalysis is no doubt opportune, and the author may perhaps be excused for simply repeating here what he has already formulated in a similar context elsewhere:

The modern development of psychoanalysis makes it necessary to explain that this first phase of the mystic path is radically different from any psychoanalytical descent into the subconscious. Psychoanalysis is largely a case of the blind leading the blind, for it is simply one soul working upon another without the help of any transcendent power. But initiation, followed up by the devotional and ascetic practices implicit in it, opens the door to contact with the perfecting and unifying power of the Spirit whose presence demands that the psychic substance shall become once again a single whole. The more or less scattered elements of this substance are thus compelled to come together; and some of them come in anger, from dark and remote hiding places, with the infernal powers still attached to them. From this point of view it is truer to say that Hell rises than that the mystic descends; and that the result of this rising is a battle, with the soul as battlefield.

At the outset of the path the perverted psychic elements are more or less dormant and remote from the centre of consciousness. They must first of all be woken, and then redeemed, for they cannot be purified in their sleep; and it is when they wake in a state of raging perversion that there is always the risk that they will overpower[16] the whole soul[17].

The first phase of purification is rejection. The battle is fought in order to rout and put to flight those elements that have become the soul's lowest possibilities, for it is only through banishment and exile that they can be cut off and isolated from the relativities to which they have become all too absolutely attached and disencumbered from the false associations which have stunted them and warped them. Rejection is thus ultimately a liberation.

The rejected "stones" have then to be reminded of their true nature and brought back in honor through "the gates of righteousness”. This phase of love and recall may be said to follow that of fear and rejection, for "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"; but the two phases are partly simultaneous in the alchemy of purification, for love means consciousness of the bonds of the Absolute, and it is above all this consciousness that has power to loosen the bonds of relativity. The spirit, vehicled by the rites, may be said to address the soul's fallen elements with exactly the same message as that which originally seduced them; but this time the message is true, and a true message is infinitely more powerful than a false one: "O Adam, shall I show thee the Tree of Immortality and a Kingdom that fadeth not away?” By the implacable rhythmic regularity of the performance of rites, which is an essential feature of the spiritual path, this promise of the transcendent is "drummed" ceaselessly into the soul; and since the elements chiefly concerned, those that were made for nothing but the transcendent, are merely being asked to conform to their own true nature, this promise is bound to prove, sooner or later, irresistible - whence the exaltation, by spiritual masters in all ages and in all religions, of the virtues of perseverance, patience, and reliance.

[1] That is, according to the Islamic conception, as the summit and synthesis of all creation, opening to the Uncreated and therefore possessing, implicitly, if not explicitly, the Uncreated Aspect that is none other than the Third Person of the Christian Trinity. According to Shaikh al-Alawi, in his treatise on the symbolism of the letters of the alphabet, the letter ba, which has the numerical value of two, is a symbol of the spirit. See A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century (University of California Press 1972), Chap. 7.

[2] This applies not only to three in itself, but also to its intensification three times three, nine being in some respects the most celestial of all numbers.

[3] In Arabic the letter waw and in Hebrew the letter waw both have the numerical value of six, and each constitutes, in its respective language, the linguistic mediator, namely the word "and”.

* The original article had the Biblical quotation: "And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it, because that in it He had rested from all his work."

[4] This reserve is perhaps necessary because the septenary in question appears to be arbitrarily incomplete, unless we take some of the specified sins to include implicitly others that are not explicitly mentioned but that are nonetheless closely related.

[5] Needless to say, there are many degrees of anger that lie between the two extremes; more precisely though anger is seldom holy, it is often just and therefore often not sinful. The sin implies an extremity of violence out of all proportion to its cause, a more or less total loss of self-control and therefore of centrality, a momentary suspension of all higher consciousness, whereas holy anger is as it were an overflow of higher consciousness, a flooding of the periphery by the center.

[6] The doctrine of the peccata capitalia can be traced back as far as Seraion, who was bishop of Thmuis in the Nile delta in the middle of the fourth century. Having given the number of the deadly sins as eight, he enumerated only seven, and on being asked about the eighth, he said that it was the elementary condition of the soul under the influence of sin, the condition symbolized by the captivity of the Israelites in Egypt. Now, this captivity was an intermediary state between two freedoms, and eight is in fact a symbol of the intermediate or the transitional, which may be negative, as in this particular case, but which can also be positive or merely neutral.

[7] As regards what might from a certain point of view be called its negative sense, eight has a "mortal" effect upon "five" (man), for the number obtained by their multiplication is forty, which in many diverse traditions is the number of death. Moreover, in astrology, of the twelve houses that make up the full circle of the heavens, it is the eighth that signifies death; and in this connection we may remember that the eighth sign of the zodiac is Scorpio, whose hieroglyph, the letter M with a barbed final stroke, is doubly symbolic of death, by the reason of the sting in its tail because the letter itself stands for mors. But death is not necessarily negative, and if it be considered as the transition from one state to another, the "mortal" symbolism of eight may be included in the number's overall significance as a symbol of the "intermediate," which is what we are considering here.

[8] Symboles Fondamentaux de la Science Sacree, Chap. 42.

[9] As, for example, when he succeeds in drawing Moses and Joshua away from the very brink of the Waters of Life (Koran 18:61-63).

[10] The Koran here represents Satan as tempting Adam not through Eve but directly, and in other passages he addresses them both together.

[11] It is unrealistic to maintain that no one can be held responsible for anything that took place in this world before his birth, for a man is, in a sense, his ancestry. Less elliptically, the chain of occurrences that since the beginning of the world has produced the particular heredity and environment into which he is born corresponds exactly to the total "earnings" of his previous states. Thus even if a religion does not explicitly recognize these previous states, that is, if it does not have the doctrine of the samsara, reality nonetheless compels it to consider everyone as if he or she had actually succumbed to the original temptation that brought about the

[12] Abu Bakr Siraj Ad-Din, The Book of Certainty (New York: Samuel Weiser, 1970), p. 42. See also pp. 35-39.

[13] . The reference is to the methodic question that formed the basis of the teaching of Sri Ramana Maharshi.

[14] Not in their highest sense, as quoted by Christ and commented by Saint Paul, but in a more relative sense, according to which they are akin to the parable of the prodigal son. Their original context in the Psalms (118:22) is directly though not exclusively suggestive of this more relative interpretation:

The Lord hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over to death.

Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord.

I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation.

The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.

[15] . This “Justice" is exactly analogous to the symmetry of the majority of the stones. On the other hand, the lack of symmetry for which the keystone was rejected, and which is by ordinary standards a deformity, is shown to be an extension of celestial supraformality once this stone has taken its rightful place at the summit of its arch which is, like the octagon we have been considering, an architectural symbol of the threshold of Heaven.

[16] Here lies the great danger of the spiritual path, and this is why the esoteric methods have always been kept more or less secret, for it is incomparably better not to set out at all than to follow the path for a certain distance and then abandon it. In fact, it would be no doubt true to say that no man runs the risk of becoming a personification of one or more of the deadly sins so much as does an initiate who breaks his pact.

[17] . Shakespeare in the Light of Sacred Art (London: Allen and Unwin), pp. 51- 52. These last two paragraphs were written with reference to Angelo in Measure for Measure and to Leontes in The Winter's Tale, and there can be no doubt that in his maturer plays Shakespeare was deeply preoccupied with the questions that are being considered here.

The Real Deadly Sin - No Rahma (Mercy)

A hadith of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (May the Blessings of Allah be upon him and Peace) narrated by Ibn al Mubarak and translated with commentary by Murshid F.A Ali ElSenossi. This hadith is well known within the teachings of Tasawwuf.

Allah says in the Holy Quran (21:107) “We did not send thee (Oh, Muhammad) except as a Mercy for all creations”. There is no human being that walked upon this earth who is more caring, more loving and more concerned about the creation and the relationship between the Creator and the creation - there is none other that comes close to the being of the Holy Prophet MuhammadSalutations on The Prophet. His descent to the earthly realm is a mercy and his message, which was received from the Beloved Allah, the Holy Quran, is full of mercy and healing powers for all of humanity. His teaching, which he implemented most highly upon himself, was full of mercy and love. It was performed purely for the sake of the Divine Pleasure. Everything he taught was to bring mercy. Being the final Prophet and Messenger of Allah in itself is a great mercy. Humanity does not need to wait any longer for the completion of the beauty of the creations. Everything is right here with us. The Golden Age and the Beautiful Age are so near. All we have to do is to open the doors of our hearts and breathe in this wonderful gift of mercy from the Divine Essence. May Allah give us all success!

This hadith related by Ibn al Mubarak (a companion of the Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet) has transformed the lives of millions of human beings and tells us that everything in the universe is in a state of total and absolute harmony and order. Nothing comes into existence of it’s own accord. The great master, Imam al Ghazali has spoken at great length regarding the maladies and sicknesses that could destroy the very fabric of the human consciousness and in the process destroy humanity as well. We pray and we supplicate the Beloved Allah to give us all the reality of this final and wonderful teaching which is still unfolding itself to humanity, so that they may succeed in achieving peace - inward and outward. The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet

Mu’adh bin Jabal was one of the youngest and brightest companions of the Holy Prophet MuhammadSalutations on The Prophet. He was well known for his intelligence and sincere practice of Islam. Mu’adh was given the honour of accompanying the Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet on a walk through the city of Medina before he was sent to the people of Yemen as their first governor and the representative of the Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet. He desired to fulfill this trust to the best of his ability and asked of the Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet concerning his dealings with the people. “Oh, Messenger of Allah, how should I deal with the people there?” he asked. “Deal with them according to the book of Allah, the Quran” was the given reply. “And if I cannot find it within the Quran?” “Then look to my practices” was the reply. “If I cannot locate the answer there, then what should I do?” The final answer from his Prophet was “Look to your heart, look to your heart, look to your heart” and he touched his heart three times.

Quite some time after this instruction from the Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet, Ibn al Mubarak narrates that a man asked Mu’adh bin Jabal to tell him something wonderful that he heard from the Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet of Allah. Something special that would transform him and make him consciously aware of his relationship with Allah.

The narration continues,

“The man said, ‘When I asked him this question, Mu’adh bin Jabal began to cry in such a way that I thought he would never stop. Then he let out a sigh and said “Oh, how I miss the Messenger of Allah and how I would love to meet with him”. Then he said to me “The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet of Allah used to say to me “Oh, Mu’adh, I am going to tell you something, if you commit this to your memory and practice it, it will bring you great benefit in front of Allah on Judgement Day. But if you lose it, then you will be deprived of excuse before Allah. Oh, Mu’adh, Allah created 7 celestial bodies before He created the Heavens and the Earth. At the gate of each celestial body is an appointed guardian. The Angels who are entrusted with recording the work of the creations of Allah from the morning until the evening carried one man’s work towards the Heavens. This work emanated a light like that of the sun. When it entered the earthly sky, it increased and multiplied in value. When the Angels arrived, they were told by the guardian of the gate, “Take this work and throw it straight back into the face of the one who performed it. I am the Angel and the Guardian of the Gate of Backbiting. My Lord and Creator has commanded me not to allow anyone’s work through which has any element of backbiting (ghiba) contained within it”.

Mu’adh went on. “The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet continued speaking to me and he said, “The Scribes came with the work of another slave of Allah. His work had the same quality of light and again was increased and multiplied as it passed into the earthly sky. This work was passed through the first gate and rose to the second celestial gate. The guardian of the gate said to them “Take this work and throw it back in the face of it’s owner, because he did not perform this except to achieve some worldly gain. I am the Angel of Greatness (Fakhr) and the Guardian of this gate. My Lord and Creator has commanded me not to allow any work which has this quality within it to pass through. This man used to show off and boast of his work in the gatherings of men”.

The Angels came with the work of another slave of Allah. This work shimmers with light and is full of wonderful acts of charity, prayer, meditation and fasting. The Scribes were so impressed with this work. They pass through, straight to the third celestial gate. The guardian of the gate says to them “Take this work and throw it back to it’s owner as he made himself proud (Takabbur) in the gatherings of men”.

The Scribes gathered up the work of yet another slave of Allah and rose with it through the skies. This one’s work has a luminosity like that of the celestial bodies. It emits the sound of praise (tasbih) and prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and visitation to the House of Allah. The Angels rise with this work until they reach the fourth gate. The guardian there says to them “Stop! Take this work and hit the face, the back and the stomach of the owner of this work. I am the Angel of Vanity (‘Ujub) and the Guardian of this gate and this work is full of vanity. My Lord and Master Allah has commanded me not to allow any work to pass which is of this nature. This individual has infested his actions with this negative quality”.

(Note - The hitting of the front deals with the solar plexus. Deep within us we know the signs of vanity. The hitting of the back is done because of the ‘turning away’ from the source of the actions and attributing them to ourselves, turning our backs on the Truth.)

The work of another was carried up through the skies with such celebration it was like the celebration upon a bride on the night of her wedding. The Angels brought it with a great display of power, beauty and greatness, right to the threshold of the fifth celestial gate. The guardian of the gate says to them “Stop! Take this work and throw it back in the face of it’s owner. Let him carry it upon his own neck, for I am the Angel of Envy (Hasad) and the Guardian of this gate. This person used to envy others and implement this envy upon his own self. He was aware of the results of envy in others, but was blind to the consequences of his own actions. He has been critical of those who do good, saying that they are doing it only to show off, while he himself was envious of their good deeds. My Creator has commanded me not to allow this work to pass any further”.

The Angels and Scribes of the day gathered the work of another and carried it upwards. This work is full of prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, charity, visitation to the House of Allah and striving and struggle in the way of Allah. This work has a brightness like that of the sun. It rose all the way up to the sixth gate, where the guardian said, “Stop! Take this work and throw it in the face of it’s owner. This person does not have mercy in his heart towards other human beings, particularly towards those who are sick or in difficulty. He takes enjoyment in seeing people in terrible conditions. This man who has invested so much in his spiritual work has come so close, but he was not merciful or sympathetic to the creation, but used to speak ill of them. I am the Angel of Mercy (Rahma) and the Guardian of this gate. My Lord and Master has commanded me not to allow any work through which does not have the quality of Mercy contained within it”.

(Note - The quality of Mercy is a vital key in our development as human beings - so much so that Allah speaks of it often in His Holy word, The Quran. The man above is described as having no mercy in his heart at all towards the creation. The Holy Prophet MuhammadSalutations on The Prophet was crying at the grave of his infant son as he was being buried. A man standing nearby was surprised and asked, “Do you cry? I never cry”. The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet said to him, “The one who does not have mercy and tenderness in his heart will be deprived of Allah’s tenderness and His Mercy”. Another well-known story concerns the man who was sitting in the office of the second Caliph ‘Umar ibn al Khattab. A letter was being dictated, appointing him governor of another city. A young child came in and Sayyiduna ‘Umar picked him up and started to kiss him. The man said to him, ‘You kiss your children? I have ten children and I have never kissed one of them’. At this, ‘Umar stopped the scribe and ordered him to tear up the appointment. He turned to the man and said to him, “A man with this negative quality is not fit to rule over anyone or be a leader of any person. You are not fit to take this position” and he dismissed the man from his presence.

The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet has said “A man will reach a state where the distance between him and Paradise is no more than an arm’s length, when his work will fail him and he will be thrown down”. This particular problem we are speaking of deals with the lack of Mercy (Rahma).

Allah says in the Holy Quran “Call upon Allah or call upon Rahman, by whatever Name you call upon Him, to Him belong the most beautiful Names” (17.110). The Merciful (Ar Rahman) is one of the most powerful Names of Allah. Every chapter in the Quran but one begins with ‘Bismillahi Rahman ar Raheem’. This is His stamp upon creation. He tells us in His word ‘My Mercy overtakes My Wrath”. Even when He is angry at humanity for the horrible things they do to each other, His Mercy comes and overtakes the Anger.)

Mu’adh (may Allah be pleased with him) continued to speak:

The work of another man was presented by the Angels. This man’s work is full of all types of spiritual actions, prayer, conscious awareness, fasting and meditation. The sound emanating from it is like that of the bees and it has light like that of the sun. Three thousand Angels carry this work straight to the threshold of the seventh gate. The guardian says to them “Stop, you may not proceed any further. Take this work and throw it back in the face of it’s owner and punish his senses and seal his heart with this work. I am the Guardian of the Remembrance of Allah. I will not allow any work that is not performed purely for the sake of Allah to pass by me. The owner of this work has mixed it with ‘other than Allah’. He desired prestige among the scholars and the learned and for his name to be mentioned in the gatherings of men. I have been commanded by my Lord not to allow his work to pass. Any work not performed purely for the sake of Allah the Merciful is ‘showing off’ and is not acceptable to Allah”.

The Angels ascended with the work of a slave whose deeds are full of everything good, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, good qualities, discipline of silence, and remembrance of Allah. The Angels passed through the gates of all seven celestial bodies and presented this work directly to the Hands of Allah and bore witness to the sincerity of it. Allah said to them “You are the scribes and guardians of the work of My creation, but I am the Guardian and Ever Watchful over his heart. With this work he was not seeking My Presence and My curse shall be upon him”. The Angels replied, “We are cursing him as you are, oh Our Lord”. Every creation and inhabitant of the seven heavens also curse such a one as this.

Mu’adh started to cry again and said, “Oh Messenger of Allah, you are a Prophet of Allah and I am but Mu’adh. Is there no way of escape from this, no way out?” The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet replied, “Follow my example. Even if there is a defect in your work, Oh Mu’adh, protect and guard your tongue from backbiting the people of Allah, particularly those who are carriers of the Holy Quran. Be conscious of your own shortcomings and mistakes, carry your own problems upon yourself, don’t load them onto anyone else or blame others for your mistakes. Do not raise yourself above others and do not show other people their mistakes and defects. Be very aware of mixing your worldly life together with your spiritual life."

(Note - The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet was trying to make him conscious of the separation yet unity between the two. Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Omar use to pray behind an imam in the mosque. He was asked why he prayed with him when he didn’t agree with him. He replied that it was to maintain the unity in the community and because his visit to the mosque was for Allah, not for His creation. If harmony is achieved between the material and the spiritual life, this is the highest luck for any person.)

The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet continued, “Do not show off in your actions or become proud in mixing with people so that the people will not see that you have bad qualities. Do not speak with one person privately and exclude another in your company. Do not show greatness over people or you will be deprived of the Greatness of Allah here and in the hereafter and do not backbite people with your tongue”.

Again Mu’adh asked the Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet, “How can one escape from this? Who can maintain these high qualities?” “ Oh Mu’adh, let me tell you, it is easy for whoever Allah makes it easy for. It will be enough for you to love for people what you love for yourself and to hate for people what you hate for yourself. If you perform this, Oh Mu’adh, then truly you are successful”.

The narrator (Ibn al Mubarak) says of Mu’adh bin Jabal, “I never saw anyone who was so excessive in the recitation of Quran as he and I never saw anyone so excessive in telling people of this hadith as he."

The articles on the seven deadly sins on this page and the previous have been reproduced with reference to papers at the Almiraj Sufi & Islamic Study Centre (Murshid F.A. Ali ElSenossi); the writings of Martin Lings and Imam al-Ghazali and The Spectator Newspaper.