From Abū Hurayrah, may Allāh be pleased with him, who said: “The Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said:
Indeed Allāh the Most High said:
Whoever shows enmity to a faithful, pious believer (walī) of mine, indeed I give him notice of war. And my slave never sought to get closer to me with anything more beloved to me than that which I have made obligatory upon him. And my slave continues to get closer to me with voluntary deeds until I love him. Then if I love him, I become his hearing that he hears with, his sight that he sees with, his hand that he strikes with, and his leg that he walks with; and if he asks of me, I will certainly give him that which he requests, and indeed, if he seeks refuge with me, I will certainly protect him; and I never hesitate about a matter I am about to do like I hesitate about seizing a believer’s soul: he does not like death, and I do not like that which causes him distress.
Ṣaḥīḥ (Silsilah al-Aḥādīth al-Ṣaḥīḥah, Ḥadīth 1640)
[A Point of Benefit Mentioned by Shaykh al-Albānī رحمه الله]
Then Shaykh al-Islām [Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله] has a valuable response to a question about the hesitation that is mentioned in this ḥadīth. I quote it here with some abridgement because it is so precious and important.
He says, may Allāh the Most High have mercy on him (Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá, 18/129-31):
This is a ḥadīth of distinguished status, and it is the most notable ḥadīth that has been narrated concerning the characteristics of the faithful, pious believers (awliyā’). And a group rejected this speech, saying: “Indeed, Allāh is not to be described as hesitating, since only one who does not know the final consequences of various affairs hesitates, and Allāh is the most knowledgeable of consequences.” And perhaps some [others] have [wrongly] said: “Indeed, Allāh handles affairs with hesitancy”!
And the truth of the matter is that the speech of His Messenger ﷺ is the truth, and no one is more knowledgeable about Allah than His Messenger ﷺ, no one more sincere to his assigned people (ummah), no one more precise with the Arabic language or better at explaining things than he.
So with that being the case, those who act as if they have more knowledge or skill [than he] and those who find fault with him are from the most astray of people, the most ignorant of them, and the worst of them in manners; rather, it is obligatory to discipline them and punish them as the Muslim ruler sees fit, and it is obligatory to defend the speech of the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ from false assumptions and corrupt beliefs and ideologies.
But the one who hesitates from among us, even if his hesitation about a matter were due to his not knowing the final outcome of affairs, [it still remains that] whatever Allāh describes Himself with is not to be put in the same class as whatever one of us might be described with, for indeed the reality is that Allāh—nothing whatsoever is even the slightest like Him.
After that, this [reasoning, if applied to all cases] is false, for at times one hesitates due to not having knowledge of all the consequences, and at times, due to that which is in the two actions [before him] from benefits and harms—such that he wants to do something because of what it contains of benefit, while he dislikes it because of what it contains of harm, [his hesitation in this case] not being due to his ignorance of some particular thing that might be liked from one angle and disliked from another, as it has been said:
Grey hair is despicable, and it is despicable for me to part with it.
Amazing that a thing can be, while despised, so lovable.
And this is [just] like a sick person’s wanting his repulsive medicine; rather, everything that the slave [of Allāh] wants to do from the righteous deeds that his soul dislikes is from this type [of hesitation].
And in the Ṣaḥīḥ [of al-Bukhārī]:
The Fire was encircled by desires; the Garden of Paradise, by things disliked.
And Allāh the Most High says:
“Fighting the disbelievers has been prescribed for you while it is full of difficulty and severe hardship upon you….”
And it is from this type [of hesitation] that the meaning of hesitation mentioned in the ḥadīth becomes apparent, for indeed He says: “… my slave continues to get closer to me with voluntary deeds until I love him.” So it is a fact that the slave whose state of affairs is like this has become beloved to al-Ḥaqq, loving Him; he gets closer to Him by performing the obligatory deeds—and He loves them [the obligatory deeds]; after that, he strives to perform the voluntary deeds, which He loves—and He loves the one who does them.
Thus he did everything he was capable of doing from that which is loved by al-Ḥaqq, so al-Ḥaqq loved him for his acting upon that which He loves from both sides [obligatory and voluntary] by seeking agreement in will, whereby He loves that which His loved one loves and dislikes that which His loved one dislikes.
And al-Rabb does not like to cause distress to His slave and loved one, so it follows from this that He does not like death so that there might be more of that which his loved one loves.
And Allāh, exalted is He above every deficiency, has ordained death. So everything He has ordained, He wills, and there is no way out of that. Thus al-Rabb wants his [loved one’s] death due to that which has occurred earlier from His ordaining it, and He, at the same time, dislikes causing His slave distress—specifically, the distress caused to him by death.
So death becomes something that is sought after by al-Ḥaqq from one angle, disliked by Him from another, and this is the reality of hesitation: it is that a thing is desired from one angle, disliked from another. And even if it is inevitable that the decision swings to one side more than the other, as it does in favor of [His] willing death, that still occurs along with [His] not liking that which distresses His slave at the same time. And His willing the death of a believer He loves while disliking that which causes him distress is not like His willing the death of a disbeliever He detests and for whom He wants to cause distress.
And [Shaykh al-Islām] mentions elsewhere (Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá, 10 / 57-59):
And Allāh makes it clear that He hesitates because hesitation is the occurrence of two opposing wills. Thus He, exalted is He above every deficiency, loves that which His slave loves and dislikes that which His slave dislikes—and he does not like death, so He, exalted is He above every deficiency, does not like it, as He says: “…and I do not like that which causes him distress.”
At the same time, He, exalted is He above every deficiency, has ordained death, so He wants him to die; thus, He called that [occurrence of two opposing wills] hesitation. Then He made it clear that this is unavoidable.
Al-Albānī, Muḥammad Nāṣir al-Dīn. Silsilah al-Aḥādīth Aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥah. Riyadh: Maktabah al-Maʿārif.
Abī Rabīʿ, ʿAbd al-Laṭīf ibn Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn. Nuẓum al-Farā’id Mimmā Fī Silsilatay al-Albānī Min Fawā’id. Riyadh: Maktabah al-Maʿārif, 1999.
* 1. The meaning of this and the following phrases is that Allāh directs his slave’s hearing, sight, hand and legs to that which is right and best, i.e. to that which He loves. Refer to the explanation of the thirty-eighth ḥadīth of Imām al-Nawawī’s Forth Ḥadīths by Shaykh Muḥammad al-ʿUthaymīn رحمه الله.
* 2. i.e., the saying of Allāh as narrated to us by His Prophet ﷺ: “[A]nd I never hesitate about a matter I am about to do like my hesitation about seizing a believer’s soul: he does not like death, and I do not like that which causes him grief,” as is evident from the original question Shaykh al-Islām was asked in al-Majmuʿ.
* 3. English meanings of Qur’ānic verses are based on the tafsīrs of Ibn Kathīr, Al-Ṭabarī, Al-Baghawī, Al-Saʿdī رحمهما الله.