Revelation of Mystery (Kashf al Mahjub)

The Rules of Sleeping

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Chapter XXIII (i)

The Rules of Sleeping


There is a great difference of opinion among the Sheikhs on this subject. Some are of the opinion that it is not permissible for a novice to sleep except when he is overpowered by slumber, for the Prophet (peace be upon him) said,

النوم اخ الموت

sleep is the brother of death.”

Life is a benefit conferred by Allah, whereas death is an affliction. The former must be more excellent than the latter.

Shibli said:

الطلع الحق علي فقال من نام غفل و من غفل ححب

“The Truth graciously looked upon me and said, `He who sleeps becomes heedless, and he who is heedless is veiled.”

Some others hold that a novice may sleep at will and even should enforce sleep on him with efforts, for every act is performed in its true and judicial spirit. 

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

رفع القلم عن ثلثٍ عن الناءم حتي يتنبه و عن الصبي حتي يحتلم و عن المحبون حتي يفيق

“Three persons are exempted from performance of commands:

-          the one who is sleeping until he awakes,

-          the boy until he reaches puberty,

-          the insane until he recovers his wits.”

The sleeping person is free from the restrictions of commands. The people are secure from his mischief. He does not have any control even on his personal volition. His nafs (lower soul) is incapable to gain its desires. The Recording Angels cease to write. His tongue makes no false claim and he is saved from lies and backbiting. He is far away to commit any evil.

لا يملك لنفسه نفعا ولا ضرًا ولا موتًا ولا حياتًا ولا نشورًا

The one in sleep is not the possessor of his profit or loss neither death nor life or even is incapable to rise at his own from sleep.”

Hence, Ibn Abbas says:

لا شيء اشد علي ابليس من نوم العاصي فاذا نام العاصي يقول متي يتنبه ويقوم حتي يعصي الله

“Nothing is more painful to Iblis (Satan) than a sinner’s sleep; for whenever the sinner sleeps, Iblis says, `When will he awake and disobey Allah?”

Junaid had difference on this point with Ali b. Sahl al-Isfahani who wrote to Junaid a very fine letter on this matter:

Sleep is heedlessness and tranquility is turning away from Allah. It is unlawful for the lovers of the Truth to sleep or rest by day or by night, for if he acts so he will loose the object of his desire and will neglect himself and his state and will depart from the path leading to Allah. Allah revealed to David,

كذب من ادعي محبتي فاذا جنة الليل نام عني

"liar is he who pretends to love Me and sleeps when night covers him.”

Junaid in reply said: Our wakefulness for His devotion is our act, whereas our sleep is Allah’s act towards us which is from Allah to us without our will, therefore, what proceeds from Allah to us without our will is more perfect than which proceeds from us to Allah with our will. Sleep is a gift which He bestows on those who love Him.

This question involves sobriety and intoxication, which has been fully discussed earlier.

It is remarkable that Junaid, who was man of sobriety, here encourages intoxication. Seemingly, he was enraptured at the time when he wrote and his temporary state might have been the cause of this expression, or it may be that the opposite is the case, and that sleep is actually sobriety, and wakefulness is actually intoxication. The sleep is an attribute of humility, and a man remains in the state of sobriety so long as he is in the grip of his attributes. The wakefulness, on the other hand is an attribute of Allah, and when a man exceeds his own attribute he is enraptured. I have met a number of Sheikhs who agree with Junaid in preferring sleep to wakefulness, because the visions of the saints and of most of the Prophets occurred during sleep.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

ان الله يباهي بالعبد الذي نام في سجوده ويقول انظرو املاءكتي الي عبدي روحه في محل النجوي و بدنه علي بسادة العبادة

“Verily, Allah takes pride in the servant who sleeps while he is in prostration. He speaks to His angels, `Behold My servant, whose spirit is in the abode of secret conversation with Me while his body is on the carpet of worship.`”

The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said:

من نام علي طهارة يوذن لروحه ان يطوف بالعرش ويسجد لله تعالي

“Whoever sleeps in a state of purification, his spirit is permitted to circumambulate the Throne and prostrate itself before Allah.”

Shah Shuja Kirmani remained awake for forty years. One night he fell asleep and had the vision of Allah, and afterwards he always used to sleep in hope of the same vision. How nicely Qais Amiri has put it in the verse:

واني لا تغشي وما بي نعسةً     لعل خيالا منك يلقي خيالًا

“I wish to sleep, although I do not feel drowsy,

That perchance in my dream mine thought has your vision.”

Some other Sheikhs agree with Ali b. Sahl in preferring wakefulness to sleep, because the Prophets received their revelations and the saints their karamat (miracles) while they were awake. One of the Sheikhs says:

لوكان في النوم خيرلكان في الجنة نوم

“If there were any good in sleep there would be sleep in Paradise.” If sleep were the cause of love and proximity to Allah, it would follow that there must be sleep in Paradise, which is the dwelling place of proximity. Since neither sleep nor any veil is in Paradise, so we may consider that sleep is a veil.

The men of subtleties say that when Adam (may blessings of Allah be on him) fell asleep in Paradise Eve came forth from his left side, and was the source of all his afflictions. They also say that when Abraham (may blessings of Allah be on him) told Ismail that,

يَا بُنَيَّ إِنِّي أَرَى فِي الْمَنَامِ أَنِّي أَذْبَحُكَ

“O my son! I see in my vision that I offer thee in sacrifice,” (Q 37:102).

Ismail (may blessings of Allah be on him) replied, “This is the reward due to one who sleeps and forgets his beloved. If you had not fallen asleep you would not have been commanded to sacrifice your son. Your sleep deprived you of your son and me from life. My affliction is momentarily whereas yours is life long.”

Shibli every night used to place in front of him bowl of salty water and a needle, and whenever he was about to fall asleep he would dip the needle in the salt water and draw it along his eyelids.

I have met with an elder who used to sleep after finishing the performance of his obligatory acts of devotion. Similarly, I have seen Sheikh Ahmad Samarqandi, who never slept at night for forty years, but he used to sleep a little during daytime.

This question involves around view of life and death. Those who prefer death to life must prefer sleep to waking, while those who prefer life to death must prefer waking to sleep. Wakefulness with efforts carries no merit, but the merit belongs to him who is blessed with wakefulness without effort. The Prophet (peace be upon him), whom Allah chose and whom He raised to the highest rank, did not force himself either to sleep or to wake. Allah commanded him, saying,

قُمِ اللَّيْلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا

stand (to prayer) by night, but not all night,“ (Q 73:2). 

Similarly, merit does not belong to the man who forces himself to sleep, but only to that man who is put to sleep, as the Men of the cave were exalted.  When He after placing them on high degree of state removed the shackles of infidelity from their necks that they did not constrain themselves to sleep or wake, but Allah enforced slumber upon them and nourished them without their will and efforts. About them Allah says:

وَتَحْسَبُهُمْ أَيْقَاظًا وَهُمْ رُقُودٌ وَنُقَلِّبُهُمْ ذَاتَ الْيَمِينِ وَذَاتَ الشِّمَالِ

“Thou wouldst have deemed them awake, whilst they were asleep, and We turned them on their right and on their left sides:” (Q 18:18).

Both these conditions were in the state of helplessness and when a man attains to such a degree that his will no longer exists, and his hand is withdrawn from everything, and his thoughts are averted from all save Allah, it matters not whether he is asleep or awake, and in either case he is full of honor.

The prerequisites as regards to the sleep of the novice are that:

-          He must believe that the initial period of his sleep is the last time of his life; hence, he should repent of his sins and satisfy all who are in opposition to him.

-          Should purify him before going to sleep.

-          Should sleep on his right side, facing the Qibla,

-          Having set his worldly affairs in order, he must give thanks for the blessing of Islam, and make a vow that if he should wake again he will not return to sin, for one  who has set his affairs in order while he is awake has no fear of sleep or of death.

A saint used to visit an Imam who was engrossed in maintaining his dignity and was a prey to self-conceit. On every visit the saint used to say to Imam: “O So and so, you must die.” This used to offend the Imam, for why should that beggar be always repeating these words to him. One day he thought that next time he would utter the same words to him before the saint could utter anything to him. Next day when the saint came, the Imam said to him: “O So and so, you must die.” The saint put down his prayer-rug, spread it out, and laid his head on it and exclaimed, “I am dead,” and immediately yielded up his soul. The Imam took warning of that, and perceived that saint had been bidding him prepare for death, as he himself had done.

My Sheikh used to enjoin his disciples not to sleep unless overpowered by slumber, and when they had once awakened should not fall asleep again, as second sleep is unlawful and unprofitable to those who are the seeker of the Path.

This topic is very lengthy. Allah knows better.



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Zahid Javed Rana, Abid Javed Rana, Lahore, Pakistan

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