“Ibrahim Ibn Adham:
Why Supplications are not Answered…”
- Ibrahim Ibn Adham (d.162/777) offered a beautiful and succinct response when asked about why supplications are not answered by Allah:
وقيل لإبراهيم بن أدهم: ما بالنا ندعو فلا يستجاب لنا؟قال: لأنكم عرفتم الله فلم تطيعوه، وعرفتم الرسول فلم تتبعوا سنته، وعرفتم القرآن فلم تعملوا به، وأكلتم نعم الله فلم تؤدوا شكرها، وعرفتم الجنة فلم تطلبوها، وعرفتم النار فلم تهربوا منها، وعرفتم الشيطان فلم تحاربوه ووافقتموه، وعرفتم الموت فلم تستعدوا له، ودفنتم الأموات فلم تعتبروا، وتركتم عيوبكم واشتغلتم بعيوب الناس
“It was said to Ibrahim Ibn Adham: ‘What is it that when we make supplications, We receive no response?’ He replied: ‘It is because you know Allah but you do not obey Him; you know the Messenger [saw] but you do not follow his Sunna, and you know the Qur’an but you do not act in accordance with it; you eat from Allah’s blessings but you do not give thanks for them; you know Paradise but you do not seek it; you know Hellfire but you do not flee from it; you know the shaytan but you do not fight him rather, you acquiesce to him; you know death but you do not prepare for it; you have buried the dead but you do not learn a lesson from that and you ignore your own faults but are preoccupied with other people’s faults’…”
- There may be a number of reasons why supplications (du`a’) are not answered by Allah:
 Allah is not obligated to answer any supplications or petitionary prayers.
 Wrong motives may underpin our supplications such as selfishness, the destruction of another’s bounty and blessings, etc.
 Empty faith in that a supplication or prayer is devoid of real conviction, belief or even faith (iman).
 Contradictory demands in that A wants x while B has x – at the same time.
 Lack of earnestness and sincerity (ikhlas) which is a mere hollow and empty supplication.
 A greater good that emerges out of an unanswered supplication or prayer. It may be that A desires x but x is something – in the broad scheme of things – harmful for A with respect to his belief and salvation. Allah in His Omniscience knows better.
 Disobedience to Allah or inverting His commands may be a reason for unanswered supplications or prayers.
And with Allah is all success.
 Early ascetic and renunciationist. Formerly a prince of Balkh but underwent a transformation becoming an ascetic immersed in the saintly life of absorbed devotion to Allah. Around the middle of the 8th century (c.748) he travelled the Muslim heartlands in a mode of wayward wandering but is believed to have died in jihad against the Byzantines. His biographical information as well as a few sayings found there way into the earliest hagiographical sources like al-Sulami’s Tabaqat al-Sufiyya and in manuals like al-Qushayri’s Risala and al-Hujwiri’s Kashf al-Mahjub. See al-Dhahabi, Ta’rikh al-Islam, pp.161-170; Ibrahim Ibn Adham by Sh. `Abd al-Halim Mahmud; s.v. “Ibrahim Ibn Adham” in EI2; R. Gramlich, Alte Vorbilder des Sufitums (vol.1), pp.135-282 (incl. references); Farid al-Din al-`Attar’s entry in Tadhkirat al-Awliya’ (= Arberry tr. Muslim Saints and Mystics) and Russell, Ibrahim Ibn Adham (a Summary of the Malay Legend), Studies in Islam 5, pp.7-20.
 Quoted by al-Qurtubi in al-Jami` li-Ahkam al-Qur’an, 2:312.