In his well-known book, Al-Hikam (Words of Wisdom), sheikh Ahmad Ibn `Ataa'illah As-Sakandari says:
The tree of humiliation stems from a seed of neediness. Nothing deceives you as your illusion. You are free from what you gave up on, and you are a slave to what you are in need of.
Clearing up the heart before beautification and shining is still passing through the stage of searching for flaws. Trying to discover the flaws within you is better than trying to discover the worlds hidden from you, as mentioned in previous articles of this series.
One of the flaws that the Sheikh is explaining here is ‘humiliation’. One might ask: How can humiliation be my fault and not the fault of the people who humiliated me? The answer is that my suffering from humiliation is nobody’s fault but mine! The direct reason for being humiliated by people, the Sheikh explains, is neediness that I have in my heart towards the people. Ibn `Ataa’ eloquently expresses this in the following words:
The tree of humiliation (by people) stems from a seed of neediness (to them).
A seed of feeling so much in need of people grows to become a tree of humiliation. This tree is watered with words and actions, through which the needy beg for what they want from people, and thus they end up in a state of humiliation. Neediness makes you a slave to others than Allah.
But what is the reason behind my neediness? It is my ‘illusion’. Ibn `Ataa’ says: "Nothing deceives you as your illusion. You are free from what you gave up on, and you are a slave to what you are in need of". The one who is need of what people have might think that those people will actually benefit or harm him, and this is an illusion. The real One who benefits or harms you is your Almighty Lord.
Out of illusion, one might think that people who have power or wealth, for example, will bring benefit or harm to him. Thus, he allows himself to be humiliated by the people he is in need of. However, in fact, humans never bring benefit or cause harm to others in reality. Neediness is the source of humiliation, and illusion is the source of neediness. Freedom from all that is the solution and is one step ahead in Allah’s way.
It is true that one has to interact with people, ask them for help or a favor. There is nothing wrong with this as long as seeking peoples' help does not imply any neediness in one’s heart, which in turn produces humiliation and servitude. It is all about the feeling of neediness or humiliation in the heart, which is the flaw that the Sheikh is advising us to get rid of here.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) says: "Ask for your needs with dignity". It is normal to ask for your needs, but when you ask people to do you a favor or ask them for money, you have to ask them with dignity, i.e., without begging or feeling humiliated. You should not plant the seed of neediness in your heart, or else it will lead to humiliation that grows like a tree, God forbid, and eventually, humiliation turns into a state of being a slave to others than God.
If you free yourself from the illusion that people have the ability to benefit or harm you, you would be saved, and you will deal with people with the right state of heart. The Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) gave Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) the following advice, and Ibn `Abbas at that time was a young boy:
O young lad! Know that if the whole nation were to unite and try to benefit you with something, they would never benefit you except by that which God has written for you. And if the whole nation were to unite and try to harm you with something, they would
The real freedom is servitude to Allah. This is the definition of freedom in the Islamic worldview. And if you are a true servant to Allah, then you are free from others than Him. You are free from human beings, material things, and even from your own desires. You are free from any social, political, psychological, or financial pressure. You are free from all this because ‘you gave up on them’, as Ibn `Ataa’ puts it eloquently. You have no illusion, no neediness, and no humiliation, and you have your freedom.
Finally, this precious word of wisdom can be understood from another perspective. Consider the following additions between brackets: The tree of servitude (to Allah) stems from a seed of neediness (to Allah). Nothing deceives you as your illusion (that you are not in need of Allah). You are free from what you gave up on (which is the ‘others’), and you are a slave to what you are in need of (who is your Lord).
Let us also work on nurturing the tree of servitude and the feeling of neediness to Allah alone, and let us give up on ‘others’.
ٍSource: www.onislam.net — Ibn Ataa's Pearls of Wisdom — Jasser Auda