The most accurate comparative etymological meaning of “al-Ghaflah” in the English language would be the term “heedlessness”. It is a sub-category of wantonness but is oriented more within the realm of faith with regards to the servants (humans) in relationship to their meeting with their Lord.
Ghaflah is a horrific disease of the heart and is the basis for which most of the various forms of misguidance throughout humanity have emanated from.
Lexically, heedlessness (Ghaflah) is to be heedless of Allah, particularly, being heedless with regards to the accountability of our actions. In support of this, Allah says in the Qur’aan
اقْتَرَبَ لِلنَّاسِ حِسَابُهُمْ وَهُمْ فِي غَفْلَةٍ مُّعْرِضُونَ
“(The thing) that draws near towards mankind (closer and closer) is their accountability (in reaping what we have sown with our own hands), and yet they turn away (paying a blind eye) in heedlessness”,
Unfortunately, ghaflah is an attribute that has become rampant in today’s Muslim behavioral pattern so much so that anyone who raises themselves beyond the yoke of this affliction and into the arena of being cautious and operating under the cognizant reality of meeting Allah have been deemed by the foolish and the heedless as an “extremist” or “overbearing” “harsh” or other derogatory terms which neutralize such a person in such a way that it is depicted of them that they operate in backwardness or my personal favorite “intolerant” of others. We as Muslims need to educate ourselves regarding the nature of ghaflah and to take into consideration the decisions of Allah and His Messenger more seriously.
The Symptoms of Ghaflah
From amongst the symptoms, in fact I would say the ultimate sign of Ghaflah, is taking lightly the orders of Allah, or His Messenger, or both. There are three different levels of this, one of them (and it is the lightest form) is nearly excluded from Ghuflah but not absolutely, and is focused on our demeanor and character of our prophet alaihi salatu salam, the other two are linked to Ghuflah and the most extreme of them is the basis from which ghaflah resides in.
Allah says in Suratul-Hujaraat in the first two ayaat
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تُقَدِّمُوا بَيْنَ يَدَيِ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
ا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَرْفَعُوا أَصْوَاتَكُمْ فَوْقَ صَوْتِ النَّبِيِّ وَلَا تَجْهَرُوا لَهُ بِالْقَوْلِ كَجَهْرِ بَعْضِكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ أَن تَحْبَطَ أَعْمَالُكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَشْعُرُونَ
O you who believe! Make not (a decision) in advance before Allah and His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم), and fear Allah. Verily! Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.
O you who believe! Raise not your voices above the voice of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), nor speak aloud to him in talk as you speak aloud to one another, lest your deeds should be rendered fruitless while you perceive not.
In these two pivotal ayaat, we can deduce three aspects of taking light of the orders of Allah or His messenger
- Raising our voices (this is literally and is linked towards the behavioral etiquette as being ignoble and an improper characteristic and this is not fully linked to ghaflah but can be a sign of ghaflah
- Raising our decisions in advance before the decision of Allah and His messenger. This is more serious in nature and is linked to ghaflah. However, there is one more attribute which is worse than these preceding two attributes and is the epitome of ghaflah and it can be kufr in Allah. This is because this characteristic was in regard to advancing an opinion before a shar’i opinion is established, but even those who fell into this attribute (once) were all cognizant that once Allah and His Messenger decree a matter, absolute faith and conviction must be meted out in their hearts. Ibn Katheer records in his tafseer that the sabab (reason for the cause of the revelation of this ayah) was due to an incident in which he states that Al-Bukhari recorded that Ibn Abi Mulaykah said, “The two righteous ones, Abu Bakr and `Umar, almost earned destruction when they raised their voices before the Prophet who was receiving the delegation of Bani Tamim. One of them recommended Al-Aqra` bin Habis the member of the Banu Mujashi` while the other recommended another man. Nafi` (a subnarrator) said: “I don’t remember his name.” Abu Bakr said to `Umar, `You only wanted to contradict me,’ while `Umar said, `I did not intend to contradict you.’ Their voices then became loud, thereupon Allah the Exalted sent down this Ayah
- However, what is worse than these two and is the haven for misguidance and the mass production of ghaflah that entails kufr is to “raise our opinions over the decisions of Allah and His Messenger” If Allah corrected the actions of those who merely
- raised their literal voices or
- advanced their viewpoints before a revelational command
then what about the ignominy of raising our viewpoint and opinion as being above the view of Allah and His Messenger.
So how is this connected to Ghaflah? If the mind can allow itself to entertain that their viewpoint “must be adhered to” or can allow itself to judge the scriptural ordainments to be “irrelevant” based on their reasoning that ‘my opinion is more relevant to my situation”, then such a corrupted and defiled soul will automatically view the ordainments and judgments of Allah or His Messenger as mundane. Since the wretched person goes on about life under this auspice, he becomes the full embodiment of ghaflah for a mind that can live with this philosophy cannot be a mind by which their thoughts are reflecting on the hereafter, much less being mindful of their meeting with Allah.
A practical example of Ghaflah is embodied in much of today’s modern day thinking which has unfortunately become today’s conventional wisdom. When people highlight remarks like “allow the people to do what they want”. A mind that is convinced that it can do as it is pleased without repercussions is not only a mind bereft of any intellect, it resides in the crux of ghaflah. This statement is only said by a people who are unmindful about the essence and reality of both deeds (actions) and faith, much less the hereafter. This reality was theoretically and exponentially explained by the greatest of mankind, Muhammad ibn Abdillah, Abul-Qaasim alaihi salatu salam in a hadeeth narrated by Bukharee regarding the hadeeth of Safeena.
“The example of the one who stands for the Deen of Allah and the one who has left it are like the people in a boat, some of whom occupy the upper deck and some occupy the lower deck. Whenever those in the lower deck need water, they have to go to the upper deck to retrieve it. So some of them said, ‘why don’t we make a hole in our deck so we do not harm the people of the upper deck?’ If the people do not stop them, they will all fall and be failures, but if they stop them they will all be saved”
This Hadith has also been reported in another narration that the prophet (saw) said,
“The example of the one who stands for the Hudud of Allah and the one who compromises the Hudud of Allah …”
It is Saheeh and has many narrations. The prophet (saw) has given us this parable explaining the reality of people in the society that they are living in and their role in it.
The Hadeeth mentions the fact that people in any society must live together and put up with each other, that each people have needs that need to be fulfilled such as the need of the people of the lower deck to take water. The example of the ship is like people in a society where some people wish to engage in bad deeds by making a hole in the bottom of the ship and this Hadith explained that the people of the upper deck MUST either do their duty and stop them or if they ignore them and the crisis, then destruction will face everybody.
So the Hadeeth teaches us that there is no society free from corruption and each corrupted person justifies their corruption by any argument which is claimed “rational”, whether by claiming it is relieving others of hardship or that it is ‘freedom’ or ‘modernity’. Therefore the people in that society must prevent them from their corruption and save everybody from the anger of Allah and if they fail to do so the anger of Allah and punishment will reach everyone. Allah (swt) says
“And fear an affliction which may not smite only those of you in particular who are unjust; and know that Allah is severe in requiting (evil).” [EMQ Anfaal: 25]
The Hadeeth says that there are people who want to stand to the Hudud (rights) of Allah and some people who want to compromise it. Those who compromise the hudood of Allah only put them to compromise due to their heedlessness of the hereafter, taking light the statements of Allah and His Messenger which is rooted in ignorance.
Such are the people of Islam and the Sunnah who preserve the rights of Allah in contrast to those who do not preserve the boundaries in which Allah bound us through His injunctions.
Furthermore, Ibn Mas’ud radhiyallahu anhu narrates that
“The believer sees his sins as if he were sitting at the foot of a mountain which he feared would fall upon him, but the faajir sees his sins as a fly that landed on his nose -he merely waves it away with his hand.”
The Dangers of Ghaflah
I say, the greatest and most eminent threat for someone inflicted with Ghaflah is the delusion paradox in which they become residents of, which is that since their minds are heedless of where they are going thereby they only occupy their minds with this world. Since this is the case, then such people utilize a form of measuring (of what Allah is pleased with and what He is not) in thinking that the blessings of material wealth is a sign of Allah’s pleasure upon a person. Thus they morph into materialists rather than remaining “muminoon” because the basic essence of the muminoon (believers) is that Allah describes them as to why they are believers in that He explains in some powerful words
ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ
الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ
“Alif Laam Meem
This is the Scripture whereof there is no doubt, a guidance unto those who ward off (evil).
Who believe in the Unseen, and establish worship, and spend of that We have bestowed upon them;”
The point being that they believe in the unseen as well and they do not operate their lives on the atheistic premise of reducing reality to only what we can see or perceive.
So regarding this subject, they know and understand that Allah’s actions is not restricted to merely this cursory world perception (hayaatu-dunya).
Allah addressed this warped psyche when He says
فَلَا تُعْجِبْكَ أَمْوَالُهُمْ وَلَا أَوْلَادُهُمْ ۚ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُعَذِّبَهُم بِهَا فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَتَزْهَقَ أَنفُسُهُمْ وَهُمْ كَافِرُونَ
So let not their wealth nor their children amaze you (O Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم); in reality Allah’s Plan is to punish them with these things in the life of this world, and that their souls shall depart (die) while they are disbelievers.
( سورة التوبة , At-Taubah, Chapter #9, Verse #55)
And the messenger of Allah salallahu alaihi wa sallam has stated
If you see that Allaah is giving a person everything that he wishes whilst you see that that same person is committing a ma’siyah (disobedient act) know that Allaah is gradually going to bring him to punishment.”
So ghaflah actually acts as a deceptive veil placed in the eyes of the one afflicted with it. Once it is veiled from its true vision, it is then locked in into being preoccupied with the glitter of this life as opposed to what lies in store for us after it.
Haafidh Shamsu-Deen Ibnul-Qayyim has laid out a powerful utility in which he highlights the conceptual thinking of those who are not afflicted with the disease of heedlessness (ghaflah).
Lusts were granted in abundance to humans, but those who believed in the unseen turned away from them, while those who follow their lusts were caused to regret.
The first category are those in which Allah says,
أُوْلَـئِكَ عَلَى هُدًى مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ وَأُوْلَـئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
which means, “they are on (true) guidance from their Lord, and they are the successful.” (Surah Baqarah 2:5)
However, the other category, are those to whom Allah says,
كُلُوا وَتَمَتَّعُوا قَلِيلًا إِنَّكُم مُّجْرِمُونَ
which means, “(O you disbelievers)! Eat and enjoy yourselves (in this worldly life) for a little while. Verily, you are the Mujrimun.” (Al-Mursalat 77:46)
When the successful ones are aware of the reality of this worldly life being sure of the inferiority of its degree, they overcame their vain desires for the sake of the Hereafter. They have been awakened from their heedlessness to remember what their enemies took from them during their period of idleness. Whenever life becomes bitter, they remember this verse, in which Allah says,
هَذَا يَوْمُكُمُ الَّذِي كُنتُمْ تُوعَدُونَ…..
which means, “This is your Day which you were promised.” (Al-Anbiya, 21:103)
Thus, Ibnul-Qayyim is demarcating the salient feature of those who are heedful in contrast to their counterparts that
- the successful are successful because they are “aware of the reality of this worldly life” thereby being cognizant of the inferiority of this life in contrast with what comes after. And more importantly,
- the key and pinnacle aspect that wards off heedlessness is “believing in the unseen”
As Ibnul-Qayyim denotes in the beginning; for which we had already established previously.
Another cure was rendered by the Messenger of Allah in a powerful hadeeth narrated by Tirmidhee in his sunan under the “Book of Piety” (kitabu-zuhd) that
نَامَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَلَى حَصِيرٍ فَقَامَ وَقَدْ أَثَّرَ فِي جَنْبِهِ فَقُلْنَا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ لَوْ اتَّخَذْنَا لَكَ وِطَاءً فَقَالَ مَا لِي وَمَا لِلدُّنْيَا مَا أَنَا فِي الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا كَرَاكِبٍ اسْتَظَلَّ تَحْتَ شَجَرَةٍ ثُمَّ رَاحَ وَتَرَكَهَا
Sayyidina Abdullah radhiyallahu anhu narrated that Allah’s Messenger (salallahu alaihi wa sallam) slept on a reed mat. He got up and its marks were impressed on his body. We said, “0h Messenger of Allah, if we could fetch for you a bed!” He said, “What have I to do with the world? I am not in this world but like a rider who shades himself under a tree only to move onward and leave it.”
This hadeeth inculcates upon the mind that our behavior with regards to how we live in this life is merely that of a traveler on a journey. This likeness is exemplified by the expression that the traveler takes rest under a tree for a certain period of time only to then move onwards towards his actual destination while leaving behind that place of rest. The people who suffer from heedlessness need to remember this reality and to constantly remember the extent of our stay here in this life.
 سورة الأنبياء , Al-Anbiya, Surah 21 ayaa 1 [My personal translation of the ayah]
 A person of vices and corruption and displays it openly
 Mutafaka alai (agreed upon by both Bukharee and Muslim
 This was related by Ahmad and Bayhaqi. Haafidh al-Iraaqi declares it hasan and al-Albanee declares its isnaad saheeh
 Recorded also by Ibn e Majah 4109, Ahmed 3709