Abu Uthman narrated from Hanzalah Al-Usaidi – one of the scribes of the Messenger of Allah - that he passed by Abu Bakr while he was crying, so Abu Bakr asked him: What is wrong with you, O Hanzalah? He replied: Hanzalah has become a hypocrite! When we are with the Messenger of Allah, we are reminded of hell and heaven as if we are looking at them with our own eyes. But when we return, we busy ourselves with our family and livelihood, and we forget.
Abu Bakr said: By Allah! The same thing happens to me. Let us go to the Messenger of Allah.
So, Hanzalah and Abu Bakar went to see the Prophet. When the Messenger of Allah saw Hanzalah looking distressed, he asked: What is bothering you, O Hanzalah? Hanzalah responded I have become a hypocrite, O Messenger of Allah! When we are with you, we remember hell and heaven as if we can see them with our own eyes. But when we return, we get busy with our families and livelihood, and we forget.
So, the Messenger of Allah said: 'If you were to sustain the state that you are in when you are with me, then the Angels would honor you in your gatherings. But O Hanzalah! There is a time for this and a time for that.’
Ibn Majah: Book 37, Hadith 140 #33635
Tirmidhi: Book 37, Hadith 100 #28189
1. Spiritual Witnessing
The inner intensification and domination of something in the imagination is called spiritual witnessing or “mushahadah.” The goal of mushahada is to remain ever-present in the vision of God. This hadith shows the manifestation of mushahada when Hanzalah says he can see hell and heaven as if he is seeing them with our own eyes. The meaning here is not that anyone actually saw hell and heaven but that in their imaginations, the thought grew so intense that it possessed them. Some people in pursuit of a higher spiritual state may start to believe their visions as reality, but they are clearly mistaken when they attempt to apply a physical meaning to a spiritual state.
2. Calling Oneself a Disbeliever
In the writings of spiritual teachers, we sometimes find that in consideration of certain misdeeds, they refer to themselves as disbelievers. This gives rise to the question of why a person will label himself or herself a disbeliever in response to certain actions that may seem trivial.
This hadith explains the state of mind of a God-Conscious believer. Hanzalah, in recognition of his changing spiritual state, called himself a hypocrite. Surely, he did not mean to use the term in its strict legal sense of inwardly denying the truth of Allah's message and the integrity of His Messenger. Rather, on the basis of the differences, he found between states of presence and absence, he used the term figuratively.
An example of the use of the word "disbeliever" as a special term is its use in place of the word "annihilated" or fani, for the reason that one who is fani has been buried in the love of the Almighty; and one of the meanings of the word for disbelief, kufr, is to cover over or obliterate something. Since Hanzalah found one state obliterating the other from time to time, he termed himself a hypocrite. Furthermore, the answer given by the Messenger was not in refutation of the use of figurative language but rather of the false premise that one state was necessarily any better than the other.
Adapted from "A Sufi Study of Hadith" by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi. Translated by Shaykh Yusuf Talal Delorenzo