Imām Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī on Health and Leisure

…Ibn ‘Abbās (رضي الله عنه) said: ‘The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “There are two blessings in which many people are cheated: health and leisure.’”

 Two blessings: a blessing [ni‘ma] is ‘a goodly state’; it is sometimes defined as ‘a benefit conferred upon another out of kindness’.

The word cheating may be vocalised as ghabn or ghaban. According to al-Jawharī, the former refers to cheating in sales, and the latter to cheating in respect of opinions*. On this basis both may be appropriate to this hadith, since the individual who fails to use these two blessings appropriately is cheated, both in that he has sold them at a ridiculously low price, and in that his opinion is not esteemed in consequence. According to Ibn Baṭṭāl, the meaning of the hadith is that a person cannot be leisured until he is financially secure and sound of body; hence whoever experiences this should be careful not to be cheated by abandoning the thanks due to Allah for His blessings, one aspect of such thanks taking the form of obeying His commands and prohibitions. Whoever is lackadaisical in this is ‘cheated’.

Many people: an indication that only a few are granted success in this. Ibn al-Jawzī remarks that a person may be healthy but not leisured because of his preoccupation with earning a living; conversely, he might be financially independent but in ill health; so when both come together, and he is overwhelmed by sloth and hence abandons good acts, he is said to be ‘cheated’. The upshot of this is that ‘this world is the sowing-ground of the next’**, and the place where one trades for the sake of profit in the Afterlife. Hence whoever uses his leisure and health in the obedience of Allah is to be envied [maghbūṭ], while whoever uses them in disobedience is cheated [maghbūn], since in due course his leisure must be succeeded by work, and his health by sickness or decrepitude.

Al-Ṭībī says: ‘The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) coined the parable of a merchant possessed of capital, which he aims to preserve intact while making a profit. The way he may accomplish this is by taking every precaution in selecting the people with whom he deals, and by being honest and intelligent so as not to be cheated. Now, health and leisure are one’s capital, and one should deal with Allah by maintaining faith, and strugging against the ego [nafs] and against the enemies of the religion, so that one may gain the profit of this world and the next. This is akin to His statement (Glorious is He!): Shall I point you to a trade which shall save you from a painful punishment? [61:10] Consequently he must avoid obeying the nafs and responding to Satan, lest he lose his capital as well as his profit. His saying in which many people are cheated resembles His saying: And scarce among My slaves are the thankful: [34:13] the “scarce” in this Qur’anic text is the reciprocal of the “many” in the hadith.’

Al-Qāḍī Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabī states: ‘There are different views as to which is the first blessing which may come upon a slave of God. Some say that it is faith, others that it is life, while still others hold it to be health. But the first of these is the preferable understanding, since it represents an unconditional blessing; while life and health are worldly blessings and are not real blessings at all unless accompanied by faith. In their absence, ‘many people are cheated’, that is to say, they lose all or part of their profit. Whoever goes along with his Soul that Commands Evil [al-nafs al-ammāra bi’l-sū], which eternally summons us to take our ease, and abandons any respect for the divinely-appointed boundaries and of consistent acts of obedience, has been cheated. Likewise if he is at leisure, for work might have served as an excuse for him.’

*That is, ghaban means stupidity

**A popular proverb, not a hadith

[Imām Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī, فتح الباري شرح صحيح البخاري (Fat al-Bārī Sharḥ aḥīḥ al-Bukhārī), English Translation: Selections from the Fat al-Bārī (Commentary on aḥīḥ al-Bukhārī) by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, Muslim Academic Trust, Cambridge, 2000, pp. 5-6]

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