The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Khawarij Ideology, ISIS Savagery: Part 2 of 3

IsisThe first instalment of this blog (here) charted the rise of Islam’s first heterodox sect, the Khawarij, who were described by the Prophet ﷺ as being: ‘the worst of mankind and beasts’1 and ‘dogs of Hellfire.’2 We saw how their defining traits were: (i) rebellion (khuruj) against legitimate state rule; (ii) declaring Muslims to be apostates (takfir) for sins or opinions that do not warrant apostasy and; (iii) shedding peoples’ blood and causing chaos and terror throughout the land (fasad fi’l-ard). Such have tended to be this heinous group’s timeless traits.

Whatever other motives or pathology are at work in the Khariji mind, the underlying cause of their deviation was clearly stated by Ibn ‘Abbas when he said to them, in his encounter with them: ‘I come to you from the Emigrants (muhajirun) and the Helpers (ansar) and the son-in-law of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. To them the Qur’an was revealed. They are more learned about its meanings than you are; and there is not a single one of them among you.’3 In other words, Ibn ‘Abbas is insisting that he has come from a people educated and nurtured by the Prophet ﷺ himself; a people whose knowledge of the meanings, context and intent of the Quranic teachings is second to none. It’s as if he was saying: ‘Pray tell, with what authority do you presume to know better than the sahabah – the actual people of knowledge, understanding and excellence?’

With that short recap, let’s now turn our focus to ISIS. At the outset, it is important to note that no single writing of this size can hit every relevant nail on the head in this affair. There are far too many questions and concerns to tackle for that to realistically happen. Nor is this piece meant to be academically exhaustive or politically thorough. Instead, the purpose is to compare the claims and modus operandi of ISIS with that of Islam’s well-established juristic norms, and to show how they are the most recent face of Kharijite misguidance, barbarity, indiscriminate killings and takfirism.

I’d also like to stress here that not all those waging jihad in Syria are the ISIS/al-Qaeda types. Many groups and individuals are; but not all. Likewise, not all who are fighting under, or migrating to, the ISIS banner deserve the same ruling or description. While it is true that many (or even most) ISIS-affiliates are no more than thugs, deviants and followers of false desires; others are sincere, but betaken with idealism and naivety; or are ensnared by claims of an alleged caliphate (khilafah) and misled into believing the grass is greener on the other side.

Yet since ISIS has a clear-cut command structure, and its ideology and decrees come from top down, there is sufficient enough shari‘ah justification to be able to describe the group in collective, generic terms – even if not every individual affiliated with the group fits the description. This shall be the stance I take when writing this blog. So to continue on from Section III of the first part of the blog, let’s start with a declaration from the leader of ISIS:


On May 14th, 2015 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the alleged khalifah of all Muslims, said in a 34 minute audio address: ‘O Muslims, Islam was never for a day the religion of peace. Islam is the religion of war. Your Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was dispatched with the sword as a mercy to the creation.’4 The issue of jihad and Islam’s attitude to war is as good a place as any to start our examination of ISIS.

Without a doubt, jihad in the sense of qital (“fighting”, “military war”) is enjoined on the faithful at numerous places in the Qur’an and is seen as a highly meritorious form of duty and sacrifice in Islam. Al-Raghib wrote about the schematics of jihad in these terms: ‘Jihad is of three types: jihad against the apparent enemy; against the devil; and against the ego (nafs). All three types are included in Allah’s words, exalted is He: And wage jihad in Allah’s path with all the striving that is due to Him. [22:78] And wage jihad with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah. [9:41] … Jihad is to be waged with the hand and the tongue, as he [the Prophet] ﷺ said: “Wage jihad against the unbelievers with your hands and your tongues.”56

Undeniably, then, military or armed jihad is well-attested to in the revealed texts.7 Yet to equate this one virtuous act of the faith with the totality of Islam is nothing short of being perverse or pathological.

The self-proclaimed Caliph and so-called caretaker of the ummah has nothing to say about prayer, fasting or pilgrimage. No significant exhortation to piety or to purifying the heart. No word about cultivating good morals and ethics, or kindness to parents, fulfilling contracts or guarding the tongue. There’s just a call to fighting, violence and shedding blood. The slick ISIS media output is filled with images of blood and gore; of victims in the process of being executed, burnt or beheaded; and children playing amidst decapitated heads. ISIS wants us to believe this is the real Islam; that this is the spirit of a true Muslim: and that anyone who recoils from such imagery is but a pale reflection of the real deal. In the ISIS reading of Islam, this is how the Prophet ﷺ was. This is what al-Baghdadi is hell bent on making us believe. In fact, this is what so many in the world have come to believe; and it utterly repulses them.

So what was the Prophet’s attitude ﷺ to war? And how does the shari‘ah, the Sacred Law of Islam, countenance war?

In classical Islam, warfare is regulated by an all-important shari‘ah dictum that states about jihad: wujubuhu wujubu’l-wasa’il la al-maqasid – ‘Its necessity is the necessity of means, not of ends.’8 Indeed, Islam’s overall take on war is best seen in the following declaration of our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: ‘Do not wish to meet your enemy, but ask Allah for safety. If you do meet them, be firm and know that Paradise lies beneath the shades of swords.’9 That is to say, pursue the path of peace and reconciliation; if such a path be denied by belligerence or hostile intent, then be prepared to act differently. The following hadith might also be used as a support: ‘After me there will be conflicts and affairs. If you are able, resolve them peacefully.’10 Also revealing are these words of the Prophet ﷺ: ‘The most detested of names to Allah are War (harb) and Bitterness (murrah).’11

All this is a far cry from the ISIS reinvention of the Muslim personality and from their irreverent portrayal of the Prophet ﷺ. If anything, their portrayal is more a betrayal. Jihad of the military kind, as we have seen, is not a goal in itself; it’s a means to a goal: the free and unhindered invitation to Islam and the summons to worship Allah alone. Let’s not forget this martial jihad has rules and codes of conduct too. Among them is that the leader carefully evaluate the potential benefits and harms of armed struggle; ensure civilians and non-combatants are not killed or wilfully attacked; abide by the other sanctities upheld in Islam; and keep in mind receptivity to the call (da‘wah) to Islam.

ISIS, however, seems not to give much thought about receptivity to Islam, nor about sanctity of life – including Muslim life. Despite their claims to uphold the shari‘ah, the list of their atrocities and violations reads like an Argos catalogue. These involve: the indiscriminate killing of Muslims; kidnapping and killing of non-Muslims who have entered Muslims countries as aid workers, journalists or under a covenant of security; torturing and killing prisoners as well as mutilating their bodies; exacting revenge and retribution upon the public if they disagrees with ISIS; illegally seizing the wealth and property of Muslims; and, of course, their rampant takfir of a large numbers of Muslims – scholars and mujahids included. It seems the only difference between ISIS and the Khawarij of earlier times is in the sheer scale of ISIS’s takfir, bloodshed and savagery. In this sense, ISIS are not Khawarij, they are ubër-Khawarij! And nor should one be taken in by their apparent Islamic rhetoric. For the Prophet ﷺ warned about the Khawarij thugs that: ‘There shall appear in my ummah schisms and divisions, and a people who will beautify their speech, but their actions will be evil. They shall recite the Qur’an, but it will not pass beyond their throats …’12 Also: ‘They shall recite the Qur’an thinking it is for them, but it is against them.’13 And that: ‘They would call to the Book of Allah, but would not be from it at all.’14


In the same audio speech, al-Baghdadi goes to great lengths to rally every able-bodied believer to his cause: ‘Muslims! Do not think the war that we are waging is the Islamic State’s war alone. Rather it’s the Muslims’ war altogether. It’s the war of every Muslim in every place, and the Islamic State is merely the spearhead in this war. It is but the war of the people of faith against the people of disbelief, so march forth to your war O Muslims.’15

This brings us to another crucial aspect about jihad in Islam: who may be fought? Are Muslims required to wage jihad against disbelievers due to their disbelief (kufr)? Imam Ibn Taymiyyah takes up the issue, stating: ‘The disbelievers, they are only to be fought on condition of them waging war first – as is the view of the majority of scholars; and as is proven by the Book and the Sunnah.16 Which is to say, Islam permits fighting disbelievers, not because of their disbelief, but only if they initiate war against Muslim societies, or manifest belligerence towards them. The Qur’an says: Fight for the sake of Allah those that fight against you, but do not transgress the limits. [2:190]

Ibn al-Qayyim, another medieval maestro of Islamic jurisprudence, wrote: ‘Fighting is only a duty in response to being fought against, not in response to disbelief. Which is why women, children, the elderly and infirm, the blind, or monks who stay out of the fighting are not fought. Instead, we only fight those who wage war against us.’17

Ibn al-Qayyim also stated about the Prophet ﷺ: ‘Never did he force the religion upon anyone, and he only fought those who waged war against him and fought him. As for those who entered into a peace treaty with him, or concluded a truce, he never fought them, nor ever coerced them to enter his religion, abiding by his Lord’s order: There is no compulsion in religion. True guidance has become distinct from error. [2:256] … It will be clear to whoever ponders the life of the Prophet ﷺ, that he never coerced anyone to enter his religion and that he only fought those who fought against him first. As for those who ratified a peace treaty with him, he never fought them, provided they kept to their covenant and did not violate its terms.’18

Again, the issue of jihad isn’t quite as ISIS makes it out to be: ‘It is but the war of the people of faith against the people of disbelief.’ Rather, as per the above, and as most of the qualified jurists and recognised fatwa bodies of our time hold – and their word in shari‘ah affairs is authoritative and represents orthodoxy – that a state of war shall not exist between Muslims and others except if hostility against a Muslim land is initiated or barriers to da‘wah erected.19

As for when the Muslim army is in the thick of a religiously-sanctioned war, then this is where the following verses of the Qur’an (and their like) come into play: Slay them wherever you find them; drive them out of the places from which they drove you. [2:190-91] Also: Slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them [captive] and besiege them, and lie in ambush for them everywhere. [9:5] And then, of course, there is this: But if they incline towards peace, incline to it too. [8:61]

Lastly, let’s touch upon the following: the believer’s love of martyrdom. In one hadith, we see the Prophet ﷺ relish the following: ‘By Him in whose hand is my life. I would love to be killed in Allah’s way and then be brought back to life; then be killed and be brought back to life; then be killed and be brought back to life; then be killed.’20 The Prophet ﷺ cherished martyrdom, not because of the love of blood and gore; nor for the glory of war itself; nor for the clanging of steel or the thrill of the fight. He loved it because of what it manifested of the highest service and the ultimate sacrifice for God. To surrender to Allah one’s actual life, for a cause Allah loves and honours, is the greatest possible expression of loving Allah. It’s no wonder, then, that the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Whosoever dies without partaking in a military expedition, or even desiring to do so, dies upon a branch of hypocrisy.’21 Believers, though, whilst they long to meet a martyr’s death, strive to live a saintly life. For how can one truly desire to die for God, if one doesn’t sincerely try to live for God?


ISIS has no qualms in shamelessly flaunting its cruelty and deviancy. Although the so-called khalifah hides away from the public’s gaze, the khariji ideology and attitudes he propagates and presides over are on display for all to see. But ideology isn’t always the core appeal. Some are drawn to ISIS, not because of its ruthless ideology, but because for them it represents a rallying force against taghut rulers, establishments that have failed them, and western foreign policies. The claim to have reestablished the khilafah is the ultimate rallying force to galvanise the disaffected and disempowered. But has ISIS really reestablished the Caliphate? Is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi truly the khalifah, the amir al-mu’minin, of all Muslims? Is there an Islamic duty upon each of us to give him the oath of allegiance, or bay‘ah? The short answer to all these questions is: Of course not! And here are a few reasons why:

1. The khalifah must be appointed by consultation (shura) of the ummah’s movers and shakers: its senior scholars, political leaders, wealthy ones, and any others who exert influence on large factions of the ummah and whose agreement is vital to bring about a unified stance. Without their approval, any claims of a khilafah is both unachievable and illegitimate. If anything, it will have the exact opposite effect. It will be the cause for schisms, divisions and civil unrest to erupt. ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said: ‘Whoever gives the oath of allegiance to a man, without consulting the Muslims, is not to be sworn allegiance to, nor is the one whom he swore allegiance to, for fear they both may be killed.’22 From this angle alone, there simply is no shari‘ah legality to al-Baghdadi’s claim to be khalifah. For consultation with a few unknowns and misfits doesn’t count as shura in such a key public affair.

2. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: ‘The Prophet ﷺ ordered us to obey leaders who were both present and well-known (al-a’immah al-mawjudin al-ma‘lumin); those who wield executive political authority and have the capability to address the political needs of the people. He did not [order us with] obedience to leaders who are absent or unknown; or to those who lack executive authority and have no real governing power over anything.’23 So these are a few more reasons which make al-Baghdadi’s claim of being caliph bogus. He’s an unknown (as are the many former high-ranking Ba’athists he’s chosen to fill top organisational positions in ISIS). Moreover, his political clout is confined; it doesn’t extend globally, nor reach into Muslim majority countries.

3.  Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani wrote of one of the pragmatic rulings that have shaped Sunni political theory and its rules of governance (ahkam al-sultaniyyah): ‘The scholars have united upon the obligation to obey the ruler who gains ascendency by force … For in it lies preservation of blood and public order.’24 The rationale here is quite simple: al-bay’ah khayrun min al-furqah – ‘Oath of allegiance is better than dissension.’25 Now it has been argued that since al-Baghdadi and ISIS have conquered territory and gained sovereignty by force, this somehow makes him khalifah. This is nonsense; as shown by the previous point. At best, ISIS is an emirate and al-Baghdadi is its amir, or leader. At worst, it temporarily controls conquered territories in an ongoing war zone, and al-Baghdadi a calculated fitnah-maker falsely claiming the title of Caliph; splitting the ranks of those who are fighting Syria’s tyrant; and turning his guns on mujahidun and anyone else who disagrees with his caliphal claim. Either way, ISIS most certainly isn’t a khilafah by any stretch of the imagination. Those that aid and abet ISIS, only aid and abet murder, mayhem and misguidance.

Then there’s the matter of whether multiple rulers (ta‘addud al-a’immah) are lawful or not in Islam, or are Muslims always required to be politically unified under one single ruler or caliph? Here’s an outline of the issue:

4. After citing the hadith, ‘Whoever comes to you whilst your affairs are unified under a single person, seeking to undermine your unity or divide your ranks, execute him,’26 al-Qurtubi remarked: ‘This is the strongest evidence prohibiting the establishment of two leaders [simaltaneously]. For this will lead to hypocrisy, dissension, schisms, civil strife and the removal of blessings. But if the lands are far apart and independent, like Anadulsia and Khurasan, it becomes permissible.’27

5. First stating the ideal, then supplying this dispensation on the topic, Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: ‘The Sunnah is for the Muslims to have a single ruler (imam), with others being his deputies. But if it happened that the ummah left this, due to sin from some and inability from others, so that it had multiple rulers, it would them be incumbent upon each ruler to establish the prescribed punishments and preserve peoples’ rights.’28

6. Adapting to the changing realities and seismic political shifts of the eighteenth and nineteenth century Muslim world, the jurist and murajjih, Imam al-Shawkani, stated: ‘However, as for after Islam became widespread and had reached many far away lands, then as is known, there arose in each province or territory a state with its own leader or ruler. This happened in all regions. The authority of each of them does not extend to the area of others, hence there is no harm in there being a number of leaders and rulers. Obedience to each of them, after the oath of allegiance, is obligatory upon the people of that area where his orders and prohibitions are operative. The same goes for the ruler of each area … So realise this. For it is in full accord with the principles of the shari‘ah and agrees with what the texts indicate. Ignore what is said contrary to this, since the difference in the condition of the rule of Islam in the beginning and the condition today is clearer than the daytime sun.’29

7. Although Muslims being split into countries, states and kingdoms is nowhere near ideal – given that sectarian strife and political discord exists in and among them; and many of their rulers are shabby tyrants, unfit for purpose, or have betrayed their trust as political caretakers – there is no shari‘ah duty to establish the khilalfah via terror or savagery or the destruction of peoples’ lives, property and honour. As the saying goes: al-‘aqil la yubni qasr wa yahdamu misr – ‘The intelligent one does not build a palace by laying waste to the city.’ Rather, each subject or citizen lends their hand to obedience and law-abidingness, in that which does not entail disobedience. Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab said: ‘For a very long time, since before the time of Imam Ahmad, till nowadays, the people have not united under one single ruler. Nor is it known that any of the scholars have said that there is any ruling which is not correct except with the greater imam (al-imam al-a‘zam).’30

In Part 2, we’ve seen reasons why ISIS’s claim of a caliphate is fraudulent and invalid, and how some of its key views on warfare and jihad do not reflect normative readings or attitudes at all. ISIS, rather than being a true defender and carer of Muslim sanctity and lives, has gone out of its way to murder Muslims and perpetrate violence against them on a horrific scale. That their glossy media machine is now pushing the-idyllic-life-in-the-Islamic-State image, more than their usual blood and gore one, should not hoodwink anyone. If ISIS had done what they’ve done, under the name of politics and power grabbing, that would have been one thing. But it has done so under the name of Islam; using Islamic rhetoric; trying to justify its deeds with gross misreadings and misapplications of shari‘ah texts. This is what makes ISIS so utterly shameless. This is what makes ISIS so Khawarij-like in its self-righteous obstinacy. We ask Allah that He guide us and them and forgive us our sins. We also ask Him that He steer them aright or break their backs.

As for my brothers and sisters whose hearts have not been dulled by the dunya; whose souls yearn to strive in Allah’s cause; whose blood flows with the love of tawhid, piety and justice; but who may have become persuaded by the ISIS narrative or feel inclined to its call – please think! Think about the proofs and arguments laid out here, as well as the words of the people of knowledge cited here. Do not dismiss them out of hand merely because the heart of the one writing this has long ago been numbed by dunya and courage no longer courses through his veins. Instead, think about what is written here on its own merits. Consider it carefully. Consider also the many hadiths which warn against the Khawarij, and how they shall appear throughout time – even until close to the End of Days. Then ask yourselves: Who do these numerous hadiths refer to in our present day and age? Who best fits their description in these recent times? And then, with anger and emotion aside, be led by knowledge, piety and the courage of your conviction; and see ISIS for what it truly is. As for those preparing to secretly sneak away from home and join the so-called caliphal caravan, let me leave you with the following:

Describing how the Khawarij sent a call out to recruit people, urging them to secretly leave their homes and join their ranks, al-hafiz Ibn Kathir wrote: ‘How superb is what one of the salaf said about the Khawarij, in that they are the ones mentioned in Allah’s words, exalted is He: Say: ‘Shall We tell you those whose works will bring the greatest loss.’ Those whose efforts have been wasted in the life of this world while they thought they were doing good. Those are they who disbelieve in the signs of their Lord and the encounter with Him. Therefore their works are in vain, and on the Day of Resurrection We give no wait to them. [18:103-5] The point is that such ignorant and misguided ones, wretched in both words and deeds, agreed upon rebelling against the Muslims …’31

After stressing how their self-righteousness is so entrenched, that they go through life working mischief and misguidance, thinking that they are acquiring virtue, Ibn Kathir then said:

‘They then wrote an open letter to whoever was upon their way and path in Basra and elsewhere, sending word to tell them to meet them by the river so they could form a single hand against the people. They then began to leave, sneaking out one by one, lest it was realised and they were then prevented. They left from amidst their fathers and mothers, and uncles and aunts; leaving all their near ones. They did this thinking, in their ignorance and in their lack of knowledge and understanding, that this matter would please the Lord of the heavens and the earth. What they didn’t realise was that this was one of the worst of the major sins and destructive deeds, and one of the most contemptible of wrongdoings; and that it was made to look appealing to them by Iblis and by their egos which constantly incited towards evil. A group realized what some of their children, cousins and brothers were up to, so they stopped them, restrained them and censured them. Thereafter, some turned back and continued to be upright, while others fled and joined the Khawarij and thus were made wretched until the Day of Resurrection.’32

1. Muslim, no.750.

2. Ibn Majah, no.176. Al-Albani graded it as sahih in Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1987), no.3347.

3. Cited in Ibn al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis (Beirut: Dar al-Qalam, 1982), 89-90.

4. Dabiq (issue #9: Sha’ban, 1436), 52; the official online magazine of ISIS. The quote starts 13 minutes, 12 seconds into the audio.

5. Abu Dawud, no.2504. Its chain is sahih, as per al-Nawawi, Riyadh al-Salihin (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2000), no.1357, but with the wording: ‘ … with your wealth, lives and tongues.’

6. Al-Raghib al-Asbahani, Mufradat Alfaz al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Qalam, 2002), 208; under the entry, j-h-d.

7. For the merits and shari‘ah status of the inner jihad against the unruly ego, refer to my article: The Greater Jihad.

8. Ibn Hajr al-Haytami citing al-Zarkashi, Tuhfat al-Muhtaj bi Sharh al-Minhaj (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1972), 9:211.

9. Al-Bukhari, no.3024; Muslim, no.172..

10. Ahmad, Musnad, no.695. Its chain was graded sahih by Ahmad Shakir, al-Musnad al-Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (Egypt: Dar al-Ma‘arif, 1954), 2:84-5, despite the presence of two questionable narrators in the chain: Faysal b. Sulayman and Iyas b. ‘Amr.

11. Abu Dawud, no.4950. The hadith, with its various chains, strengthen each other to yield a final grading of sahih. Consult: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1987), no.1040.

12. Abu Dawud, no.4765. The hadith was graded sahih in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.3668.

13. Muslim, no.1066.

14. Ahmad, no.1338, and it is sahih. Consult: al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.3668.

15. Dabiq (issue #9: Sha’ban, 1436), 54.

16. Kitab al-Nubawwat (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), 140.

17. Ahkam Ahl al-Dhimmah (Dammam: Ramadi li’l-Nashr, 1997), 1:110.

18. Hidayat al-Hiyara (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2008), 29-30.

19. Consult: al-Khallaf, al-Siyasat al-Shar‘iyyah (Cairo: Matba‘ah al-Salafiyyah, 1931), 75. In an age of the Internet and social media, it’s almost nigh on impossible for countries to erect barriers to prevent the da‘wah to Islam.

20. Al-Bukhari, no.2797; Muslim, no.1497.

21. Muslim, no.1910.

22. Al-Bukhari, no.6830.

23. Minhaj al-Sunnah (Riyadh: Jami‘ah al-Imam Muhammad ibn Sa‘ud, 1986), 1:115.

24. Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: al-Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 15:593.

25. See: al-Shatibi, al-I‘tisam (Amman: al-Dar al-Athariyyah, 2007), 3:46.

26. Muslim, no.1852.

27. Al-Jami‘ li Ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1996), 2:30.

28. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 35:175-76.

29. Al-Sayl al-Jarrar (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), 4:512.

30. Al-Durar al-Saniyyah fi’l-Ajwibat al-Najdiyyah (n.p., 1995), 9:5.

31. Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa’l-Nihayah (Dar al-Hijr, 1998), 10:580.

32. ibid., 10:581.

Khawarij Ideology, ISIS Savagery: Part 1 of 3

guns-wallpaper-ak47-2As ISIS continues its murder and violence across the provinces it controls and seeks to control, and as it continues to plague the conscience of the great majority of Muslims around the world, what’s worth recalling is that we’ve seen this before in history with the sect called the Khawarij (anglicised to Kharijites). So before tackling ISIS, let’s look at their forerunners; the Kharajites, to whom their pedigree can be traced.


The hadith canons relate that shortly after the battle of Hunayn while the Prophet ﷺ was distributing charity to a few people whose hearts needed to be reconciled, there came a man with a thick beard, prominent cheek bones, deep sunken eyes, protruding forehead and shaven head. He exclaimed: Fear Allah, O Muhammad! The Prophet ﷺ responded: ‘Who will obey Allah if I were to disobey him? Am I not [sent as the] most trustworthy person on earth; and yet you trust me not?’ The man then turned back, whereupon one of those present asked for permission to kill him. But the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Verily, from the progeny (di’di) of this [man] shall come a people who will recite the Qur’an but it won’t pass beyond their throats. They will slay the followers of Islam and would spare the people of idolatry. They will pierce through the religion just like an arrow which goes clean through a prey.’1

Another hadith records that this man’s name was Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah, from the tribe of Tamim, about whom the Prophet ﷺ alerted: ‘Leave him; he has comrades whose prayer and fasting will make your prayer and fasting seem insignificant. They recite the Qur’an but it doesn’t go beyond their throats. They shall pass through the religion as an arrow that pierces clean through its prey such that, on inspecting the head; then the shaft; then the fletching; then the nock, would see no traces of blood or viscera on it whatsoever.’2 Ibn al-Jawzi said: ‘The first of the Khawarij, and the most wretched of them, was Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah … His problem was that he was too puffed up with his own opinion. Had he been granted grace, he would have realised that no opinion was above that of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. The followers of this man were those who fought against ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, may Allah ennoble his face.’3

A few decades after this post-Hunayn happening, and as had been prophesied, Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah’s ideological comrades and offspring took on the shape of the very first sect (firqah) to deviate from the main body of the Muslims: the Khawarij (culled from the Arabic word kharaja – “to go out” or “to leave” the main body of Muslims). Indeed, their very name was mentioned by the Prophet ﷺ himself, who said: al-khawarij hum kilab al-nar – “The Khawarij are the dogs of Hellfire!’4 The emergence of the Khawarij as a sect occurred during the caliphate (khilafah) of ‘Ali, in the immediate aftermath of a civil war and its arbitration at Siffin. Ibn al-Jawzi tells us: ‘‘Ali returned from Siffin and entered Kufah: the Khawarij did not follow. Instead, they settled in Harura. There were twelve thousand of them, and they were declaring: la hukma illa li’Llah – “There is no judgement, except Allah’s.” This is how they initially started.’5

Imam Muslim narrates from ‘Ubayd Allah b. Abi Rafi‘, a freed salve of the Prophet ﷺ, that the Khawarij came out against ‘Ali, and declared: ‘There is no judgement, except Allah’s.’ So ‘Ali replied: ‘A word of truth, intended for something false (kalimatu haqq urida biha batil).’6

Imam al-Nawawi explains: ‘Meaning, the basis of their statement was true. Allah says: The judgement is for none but Allah. [12:40] What they intended by it, however, was to reject ‘Ali’s [acceptance of] arbitration, may Allah be pleased with him.’7

As with Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah who, blinded by his warped piety and self-righteousness, thought he had a keener sense of justice than the Prophet ﷺ, the Khawarij were also possessed of holier-than-thou pretensions and smug convictions. It is this puritanical, embittered self-righteousness – devoid of any true glimmer of knowledge or spiritual wisdom – that is the hallmark of the Khawarij and their ideological cousins who drink from the same murky theological waters today. Of course, along with such fanatical zeal, their other great infamy was takfir – declaring other Muslims to be disbelievers, and spilling their blood because of it.


The historians al-Tabari and Ibn Kathir chronicle alarmingly precise accounts of their intimidation, violence and terror. Under the events of 37H/657CE they detail how the Khawarij began terrorising the countryside around Nahrawan, Iraq, subjecting those whom they caught to an imtihan or “inquisition”. If the answers failed to satisfy their zeal for purity, or agree with their understanding of things, then the punishment was death. Things came to a head when they chose ‘Abd Allah, son of an early companion, Khabbab b al-Aratt, as their victim. A number of the Khawarij rode into his village for supplies and thought to make an example of him. They fired their loaded questions at him. They first asked him about the caliphates of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman. ‘Abd Allah extolled them all and praised their successive caliphates. So far, so good. They then asked him about ‘Ali, and his state before and after the arbitration or tahkim. ‘He has far greater knowledge about Allah than you do,’ replied ‘Abd Allah, ‘and has much more piety in terms of his religion and possesses greater insight.’ With that, his fate was sealed. They bound and dragged him and his pregnant wife to an orchard ladened with date palms, next to a river. As they were proceeding to kill him, a date fell to the ground, so one of the Khawarij picked it up and put it in his mouth. ‘Do you do that without the owner’s permission and without paying for it?’ said one of his Kharajite comrades. He spat it out instantly. Another Khariji, wielding his sword in threatening circles, accidentally killed a cow that had been wandering behind him. His comrades insisted he should go and find the owner and pay him the full price of the animal. They waited whilst he did so. Thus, having acted most righteously in the matter of the date and the cow, they slit ‘Abd Allah’s throat and then disemboweled his wife. Date spat out, cow paid for, husband, wife and unborn child butchered; and with the clearest of consciences, they purchased their supplies and went on their way.8

Theologians have differed as to the precise meaning of the Prophet’s words ﷺ: ‘They will pierce through the religion (yamruquna min al-din) as an arrow which goes clean through a prey.’ The idea of maraqa – an an arrow ‘piercing’ or going ‘clean through’ its prey with such force and velocity that it exists its prey without any trace of blood or flesh sticking to its tip or shaft, describes emphatically how the Khawarij immerse themselves in religion, but exit straight through it. The question, however, is do they exit the fold of orthodoxy (and become heterodox, deviant Muslims), or do they leave the actual fold of Islam? A minority of scholars went with the latter view; most went with the former.9 The majority view takes its cue from ‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, who was asked: Are the Khawarij mushrikun? He said: ‘They flee from shirk.‘ Are they munafiqun? He said: ‘The hypocrites remember Allah only a little.’ Then what are they? He said: ‘They are our brothers who transgressed against us (ikhwanuna baghaw ‘alayna), so we fought them for their transgression.’10


We may be forgiven for thinking that the Khawarij are an anachronism; a thing of the past, that have no bearing upon Muslims and today’s world. But we would be terribly wrong! The Khawarij, as we shall soon see, were prophesied as raising their ugly heads throughout time, until the Dajjal appears at their tale end. It is crucial, therefore, that we acquaint ourselves with their traits, attitudes and bent of mind:

1. Their first trait, as was mentioned, is that they will keep on rising throughout time. The Prophet ﷺ warned: ‘A group of young men will rise up reciting the Qur’an, but it won’t pass beyond their throats. Whenever a group appears, it is to be cut off; until the Dajjal arises at their tale end.’ Ibn ‘Umar said: I heard the Prophet ﷺ saying: ‘Each time a group appears, it is to be cut off’ more than twenty times.11 Thus the Khawarij will continue to plague Islam and the Muslims, till the Dajjal arises in what remains of them.

2. Another typical trait is their ignorant, over-simplistic understanding of religion. To this reality, there are these following words of the Prophet ﷺ: ‘There will arise at the end of time a people young in age and weak in intellect (hudatha’ al-asnan wa sufaha’ al-ahlam). Their speech will be that of the best of creation. They will recite the Qur’an but it shan’t go beyond their throats. They will shoot through the religion just like an arrow goes through the game. When you meet them, kill them; for in their killing you will receive a great reward from Allah on the Day of Judgement.’12

Ibn Hajr wrote: ‘The Khawarij, what led them to judge those who opposed them to be disbelievers, making their blood lawful … and engage in fighting and killing Muslims? All this is from the vestiges of those who worship upon ignorance; those whose hearts haven’t been expanded by the light of knowledge. nor do they hold tightly to the firm rope of knowledge.’13 Indeed, more than any other fitnah today, the ummah is beset with takfiri violence, murder and mayhem, wreaked upon it mostly by those ‘young in age and weak in intellect.’

3. Extremism and fanaticism is another quintessential character. The Prophet ﷺ said about them: ‘There will arise among you a people whose prayer will make your prayer look insignificant, whose fasting will make your fasting look insignificant, and whose deeds will make your deeds look insignificant. They will recite the Qur’an but it won’t pass beyond their throats …’14 Ibn ‘Abbas said about the Khawarij, when he went to debate them: ‘I came to them at midday and entered upon a people, the likes of whom I hadn’t seen in terms of their exertion in worship. Their foreheads were grazed from [constant] prostration. Their hands were rough, like [the knees of] camels. They wore recently washed, girded up tunics. And their faces were pale from staying up at night [in prayer].’15

Despite their ostensibly impressive religiosity, which has ensnared many a youth into their misguided, brutal embrace, Ibn Hajr puts things into perspective for us: ‘It was said of them [that they are] “Reciters,” because of their tireless exertion in reciting the Qur’an and [devotion in] worship. Except that they would interpret the Qur’an upon other than its intended meanings, were obstinate, and went to extremes in regards to worldly detachment (zuhd), humility in prayer (khushu‘) and other [such] things.’16

4. Their speech is impressive, but their actions are abhorrent and wicked. One hadith states: ‘There shall appear in my ummah schisms and divisions, and a people who will beautify their speech, but their actions will be evil. They shall recite the Qur’an, but it will not pass beyond their throats …’17 A clear case that the Khawarij can talk the talk, but not walk the walk – and how yesterday resembles today.

5. They demean the seasoned scholars well-known for their depth of knowledge, fiqh and piety, and cut-off from them. The Prophet ﷺ described the Khawarij as: ‘young in age, weak in intellect,’18 Ibn ‘Abbas, in his parley with them, told them this home truth: ‘I come to you from the Emigrants (muhajirun) and the Helpers (ansar), and the son-in-law of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. To them the Qur’an was revealed. They are more learned about its meanings than you are; and there is not a single one of them among you.’19

Fewer things are as repugnant as the blind, holier-than-thou absolutism of the newly reformed sinner (as the Khawarij saw themselves to be). In their purer than the pure self-righteousness they declared ‘Ali, Mu‘awiyah, and other sahabah to be unbelievers or kuffar. For they had failed to cross over to their puritanical way of seeing things. In fact, Khariji bigotry has always treated with contempt the true people of knowledge. The mediating voices of the scholars become, for the Khawarij, religious compromise or betrayal. Juristic nuances are seen by them as pharisaic, there to hide the simplicity of passing judgement on others. The Prophet ﷺ said about such murderous misfits: ‘They shall recite the Qur’an thinking it is for them, but it is against them.’20 And that: ‘They would call to the Book of Allah, but would not be from it at all.’21 Such can be the tragedy of those who, not withstanding their religious zeal, are wet behind the ears in terms of age, experience and knowledge.

In contrast to those ‘young in age, weak in intellect,’ the Prophet ﷺ said: al-barakah fi akabirikum – ‘The blessings are with your senior ones.’22 Indeed, cutting-off from the senior scholars in particular, and the people of knowledge and spirituality (ahl al-‘ilmi wa’l-ihsan) in general, is the root causes of how zeal for religious purity is taken over the brink into all-out fanaticism.

6. Along with the murder and violence, their most infamous trait is making takfir of a person for a major sin, or something for which takfir cannot be made. I have written at length about Takfir: Its Dangers & Its Rules elsewhere on this blog, so I’ll limit myself to this one hadith. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Truly what I most fear for you is a man who will recite the Qur’an until its radiance appears on him. So he becomes a support to Islam, changing it to whatever Allah wills. He then separates from it, casts it behind his back and raises the sword against his neighbour, accusing him of idolatry (shirk).’ I asked: O Allah’s Messenger who most deserves to be imputed with shirk; the accused or the accuser? He replied: ‘The accuser.”‘23 

Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘The Khawarij were the first to declare Muslims to be unbelievers due to committing sins. They declared as disbelievers whoever opposed them in their innovation, and made lawful the shedding of blood and the seizing of wealth.’24

7. One final trait. They do not venerate the Prophet ﷺ, even if they zealously observe some of the outward sunnahs. We should recall that the precursor to these Khawarij, Dhul-Khuwaysirah, rebuked the Prophet ﷺ, telling him to ‘fear Allah’ and ‘be just!’25 Such disrespect towards the Prophet ﷺ, and towards his compassion and his concern to reconcile hearts (for that was the context in which he spoke these insolent words), still courses through Kharijite veins today.26

More than any other attribute, rahmah – compassion, mercy and clemency – was the defining quality of the Prophet ﷺ. Allah says about His Prophet: We have not sent you but as a mercy to the worlds. [21:107] The Prophet ﷺ once said: ‘I am indeed a merciful gift.’27 That being so, seldom will you find this profound prophetic attribute manifest upon them, save in some limited way. Anger, hostility, resentment and vengeance are more what animate them than mercy, humanity and tolerance. For theirs is the way of political agitation, not reconciliation; of demolishing, not building; of insulting the people of knowledge, not honouring or being guided by them; of “learning” via books, not at the feet of seasoned ‘ulema.

Again, seldom will you find one of them having a daily wird, or set portion, of sending salutations (salawat) upon the Prophet ﷺ, by which the bonds of profound love and attachment to him are cultivated. In fact, veneration (ta‘zim) of the Prophet ﷺ, and that ambition to emulate something of his inward states, are generally conspicuous in them by their absence.

Yet without this deep prophetic attachment, dehumanising the Quranic message and making faith appear utterly repugnant becomes more than a possibility; it becomes a hideous, living reality. What is clear is that those unschooled in ihsan – in the beauty of shari‘ah-rooted spirituality – will only bring ugliness into the world.

To conclude: Part 1 of this blog mapped the origins, significance and extremist nature of the first heterodox sect in Islam: the Khawarij. Section one recounted the genesis of the Khawarij, personified in the hubris of Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah – the ‘father’ of this violent, brutish, self-righteous sect. We saw how they made la hukma illa li’Llah – “No judgement except Allah’s” – their clarion call, dressing it up in their false meaning and misapplication. The second section gave us a window into their lopsided piety: acting most justly when it came to the price of a date, but having no conscience whatsoever when it came to butchering and killing those who did not share their political views. Such superficial piety is what the prophetic warnings about them allude to: ‘a people who will recite the Qur’an, but it won’t pass beyond their throats.’

Section three discussed some of their defining traits and attitudes: a black and white grasp of religious realities because of being ‘weak in intellect’; extremely puritanical; that Muslims would be the main victims of their violence and murder; they will keep appearing throughout time, but will be identified by the learned for what they truly are; their political rabble-rousing and denigration of the scholars; and, of course, their wanton takfir of Muslims for matters wherein takfir is not permitted.

In the second part of this blog, we’ll look at how Kharijite beliefs, ideas and methods have surfaced in modern times; especially in the form of the outfit known as ISIS or ISIL The claim of ISIS as being the legitimate Caliphate will be examined, as will core aspects of their ideology and their ‘Management of Savagery.’

And Allah’s help is sought.

1. Muslim, no.1064.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.3610.

3. Ibn al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis (Beirut: Dar al-Qalam, 1982), 88; also see: al-Shahrastani, al-Milal wa’l-Nihal (Cairo: Dar al-Halabi, 1967), 1:118.

4. Ibn Majah, no.176. Al-Albani graded it as sahih in Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1987), no.3347.

5. Talbis Iblis, 89.

6. Muslim, no.1066/157.

7. Al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 7:152.

8. Consult: al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Rusul wa’l-Muluk (Egypt: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1964); 5:81-2; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa’l-Nihayah (Dar al-Hijr, 1998), 10:584.

9. Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 8:225, 15:392-94, where he says that those who considered the Khawarij to be outside the fold of Islam include: Ibn al-‘Arabi in his Sharh al-Tirmidhi, al-Subki in his Fatawa, and al-Qurtubi in al-Mufhim.

10. Al-Bidayah wa’l-Nihayah, 10:591.

11. Ibn Majah, no.174. The hadith was graded hasan by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1991), no.2455.

12. Al-Bukhari, no.5057; Muslim, no.1066. ‘There will arise at the end of time’ has been explained to mean: the end period of the rightly-guided khalifahs. See: Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari, 15:376.

13. Fath al-Bari, 15:394.

14. Al-Bukhari, no.5058; Muslim, no.1063.

15. Cited in Ibn al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis, 89.

16. Fath al-Bari, 15:371. Point to note: No doubt, the early Khawarij exerted themselves in worship. But this is not necessarily a trait of theirs in later times; nor even today. In fact, many of today’s Khawarij often have, despite their political zeal, rhetoric and commitment to carnage, little attachment to sustained religious practice (although in these religiously lax times, just praying a few prayers a day or growing a full beard can seem religiously impressive to some).

17. Abu Dawud, no.4765. It was classified as sahih in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.3668.

18. Al-Bukhari, no.3611; Muslim, no.1066.

19. Talbis Iblis, 89-90.

20. Muslim, no.1066.

21. Ahmad, no.1338, and it is sahih. See: al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.3668.

22. Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.559; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, no.210, where he said: ‘It is sahih according to the conditions of al-Bukhari.’

23. Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.282. Ibn Kathir said: ‘Its chain is excellent (jayyid).’ See: Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim  (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 2:276.

24. Majmu‘ al-Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 3:279.

25. Al-Bukhari, no.6933; Muslim, no.1064.

26. In fact, similar resistance to reconciling hearts can be seen in Kharijite hostility to the tahkim or arbitration at Siffin. Moreover, the same disrespect towards the Prophet ﷺ can be seen in their insults against, and takfir of, ‘Ali – the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law; and thus a member of the Ahl al-Bayt.

27. Al-Hakim, Mustadrak, no.100; and it is sahih. See: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.490.

How Long Will You Keep Ignoring the Sunnah’s Inner Beauty?

zillij7The Qur’an says: To Allah belong the most beautiful names. [7:180] In a sahih hadith we read: ‘Allah is beautiful and loves beauty.’1 Now these aren’t statements about feelings, impressions or sentimentality, they’re statements about the very nature of the Divine Reality! Imam al-Munawi comments upon Allah’s beauty (jamal): ‘He is the possessor of absolute and perfect Beauty. From this Beauty, every manifestation of beauty that exists in creation emanates. His Essence (dhat) is beautiful; His Attributes (sifat) are beautiful; and His Acts (af‘al) are beautiful. If His Face were not veiled by light (nur), the majestic splendour of His Face would annihilate creation as far as it extends.’2

A more recent commentator had this to say about the above hadith: ‘Allah, exalted is He, is beautiful in regards His Essence, Names, Attributes and Acts; and He loves both outer and inner beauty. [He loves] outer beauty, like cleanliness of one’s body, clothes and home; and their like. As for inward beauty, it is beautification of character with excellence. This is why one of the prayers of the Prophet ﷺ would be: “O Allah, guide me to having beautiful conduct and character; for none can guide me to beautifying them except You. And avert from me bad conduct and character; none can avert them from me save You.”3 And Allah knows best.’4

Religion, then, is the recognition of such beauty, as well as the quest to actualise it in our lives and society at large.

For believers, to imitate the Prophet ﷺ is to imitate beauty. Emulating the example of the Prophet ﷺ – known in religious parlance as his Sunnah (lit. “way”) – must be at the core of every believer’s life. The Qur’an states: You have in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful example. [33:21]

The love, respect, attachment and admiration Muslims have for the Prophet ﷺ (from which imitation of him is arises) is not just an impressive fact of history, it is a central part of faith itself. He was a man who experienced life in an exceptional range. Not only was he a shepherd, merchant, orphan and exile, he was also a leader, law-giver, statesman and soldier. He was also a husband, a father who was bereaved many times over, a friend, a companion, and a widower. And in all these roles he was an exemplar. His wife, the lady Aishah, was once asked as to what he was like. She responded with these words: kana khuluquhu’l-qur’an – ‘His character was that of the Qur’an.’5 So her intimate knowledge of the Prophet’s life and character ﷺ led her to conclude he was the living embodiment of the Revelation – he was, figuratively speaking, the ‘walking’ Qur’an.

For Muslims, therefore, the Prophet’s Sunnah represents the very perfection of human conduct and being. It is to such beauty – and not to the mediocrity or ugliness offered by the norms of today’s dominant culture – that believers must fix their gaze.

In the botanical world there are certain plants which need to be grown on a trellis or a support of some kind, if they are to grow to their full potential. Otherwise they tend to sprawl across the ground, without direction, their leaves devoured by snails and slugs, their purpose unfulfilled.

In a similar way, man is a ‘climber’ too, and we need not look very far for examples of the human inability to grow or to flower without a firm support or framework. In this sense the Prophet’s Sunnah, Gai Eaton wrote, ‘provides not only a framework but also, as it were, a network of channels into which a believer’s will enters and through which it flows smoothly, both guided and guarded. It is not his way, the Muslim’s way, to cut new channels for his volatile life through the recalcitrant materials of the world against the grain of things. At first sight one might expect this to produce a tedious uniformity. All the evidence suggests that it does nothing of the kind; anyone who has had contact with good and pious Muslims will know that though they live within a shared pattern of belief and behaviour, they are often more sharply differentiated one from another than are profane people, their characters stronger, their individu-alities more clearly delineated. They have modeled themselves upon a transcendent norm of inexhaustible richness, whereas profane people take as their model the fashions of the time. To put it another way: the great virtues – and it is the Prophet’s virtues that the believer strives to imitate – can it seems be expressed through human nature in countless different ways, whereas worldly fashion induces uniformity.’6

The Sunnah, however, insists that a certain sense of haybah, or “dignity” of character, is essential to make even the most valuable manners respected and respectable. The belief that the Sunnah can be practiced without the least change in how we do things “on the streets” or “in de hood” is more ego than Islam. The Sunnah comes to elevate and dignify. Indeed, the greatest achievement of the ego is to make the practice of the Sunnah look ugly or undignified. For nothing is more troublesome than when the ego seeks to wear the robe of the Sunnah.

At the end of the day, those who drag the Sunnah down to their own crass, unrefined levels need ask only this: How long will I delay embracing the Sunnah’s inner beauty?

By the same token, to follow the Sunnah out of anger, protest, resentment or identity politics, darkens and deforms it and causes people to flee from Islam. Following it out of love for Allah’s Beloved ﷺ, intuiting its beauty and wisdom, is a radiant light and conclusive proof.

At the end of the day, those for whom the Sunnah is little more than a tool with which to vent their political angst and frustrations need ask only this: How long will I delay embracing the Sunnah’s inner beauty?

Likewise, to limit the Sunnah to no more than a few outward expressions of piety and external modes of behaviour makes it look superficial, unworthy and uninviting. The consequence of such shallow piety and religious reductionism: the Prophet’s beauty is veiled behind his Sunnah. Just to be clear. Emulating and imitating the Prophet ﷺ in his comings and goings, and in his manners and modes of behaving, is the hallmark of a true believer; of a lover, even. But outward emulation is of little worth unless it both reflects and engenders a profound inward conformity.

At day’s end, those fixated upon just the external aspects of the Sunnah need ask only this: How long will I delay embracing the Sunnah’s inner wisdoms and beauty?

The Sunnah, let’s not forget, is the middle way; and strict compliance with the Sunnah is what faith enjoins so as to avoid the fringes of deviancy. But strictness driven by the ego’s diktats is extremism; strictness that is born of the Spirit is pure submission. In fact, one of the great virtues of the Prophet ﷺ was his perfect sense of balance and proportion; of being able to put things in their right priority, correct order and proper perspective. The closer we contour the Sunnah, the closer we are to such balance.

At the end of the day, those who obscure the lines between the Spirit’s rigour and the ego’s; making them cold, harsh and hostile, need only ask this: How long will I ignore the Sunnah’s inner beauty.

As for those who consider the details of the Sunnah to be trivial and insignificant, for which we need to apologise or to exorcise from Islam; and if not, then from the public sphere, they either have a poor grasp of the realities of faith, or else are uninterested in the prophetic light. For his beauty ﷺ is in the detail, not just the broad strokes. We seek refuge in Allah from ugliness; and ask that He make us people of beauty.

1. Muslim, no.147.

2. Fayd al-Qadir Sharh al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 2:224.

3. Muslim, no.771.

4. Al-Sa‘di, Bahjat al-Qulub al-Abrar (Cairo: Dar al-Furqan, 2004), 203

5. Muslim, no.746.

6. Islam and the Destiny of Man (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1997), 201.

Don’t Stop Making Dhikr Because Your Heart Isn’t In It

Islam-Prayer-Beads-Hand‘I’m remembering Allah, but my heart’s not in it; what’s the point’ is a typical anguish for many of us? ‘When I make dhikr, my heart doesn’t have focus, it’s all over the place. Is there any use’ is another one?

So should we stop making dhikr because out heart lacks focus on Allah; because there isn’t any hudur al-qalb – “presence of heart”? There are some who are dead set on the issue. There is no point in making dhikr when the heart is heedless, to do so would be making a mockery of dhikr – or so they’d have us believe.

But that’s not quite right. That’s not what those whom Allah has blessed with a huge share of fiqh and profound insight into the realities of faith (haqa’iq al-iman) teach us. Instead, as Ibn al-Qayyim explains, dhikr ‘is sometimes performed with the heart and tongue, which is the best dhikr; sometimes with only the heart, which ranks second; and sometimes with only the tongue, which ranks third.’1 And whilst dhikr with the tongue alone does not yield the fruits of gnosis (ma‘rifah), divine love (mahabbah) and intimacy (uns) as does dhikr with the tongue and heart combined; nonetheless, it still has its benefits. In fact, for most people it begins with dhikr of just the tongue. Imam al-Ghazali wrote: ‘It starts with dhikr of the tongue; then by the heart being pressed into remembering; then the heart remembering spontaneously.’2

The truth of the matter is that if we were to make dhikr only when our hearts were fully present, absorbed and focused on Allah, most of us would never make any dhikr at all! Masters of the inward life instruct us that if, whilst engaging in dhikr, we drift into the valleys of heedlessness and idle thought, when we realise we simply bring our hearts back into focus and continue in our dhikr. In this, as with all other matters, it is Allah’s fadl and karam that we rely upon; not our own efforts.

Perhaps the finest articulation of this reality (the reality of dhikr with just the tongue, and dhikr with the tongue and heart combined) is presented to us by Ibn Ata’illah al-Iskandari in his celebrated Hikam or collection of “Spiritual Aphorisms”. In one such aphorism, he states:

‘Do not abandon dhikr because you do not feel the presence of Allah therein. For your heedlessness of the dhikr of Him is worse than your heedlessness in the dhikr of Him. Perhaps He will lift you from dhikr with heedlessness (ghaflah) to dhikr with vigilance (yaqza); and from dhikr with vigilance to dhikr with presence (hudur); and from dhikr with presence to dhikr wherein everything but the One being remembered becomes absent: And that, for Him, is not difficult. [14:20]‘ 3

In his commentary to the Hikam, al-Shurnubi teases out some of the subtleties in the above aphorism. He writes: ‘Do not, O aspirant, forsake dhikr – which is an invitation to sanctity (manshur al-walayah) – because your heart isn’t present with God in it, due to it being preoccupied with worldly distractions. Instead, remember Him in all states and conditions. For your forgetfulness of His dhikr, in that you abandon it entirely, is far worse than your forgetfulness while making dhikr of Him. For at least, in this state, your tongue is moving in His remembrance, even if your heart is heedless of the One remembered. Perhaps you will be taken, by His grace, from dhikr with heedlessness to dhikr with vigilance; in other words, with an attentive, awakened heart; for this is the courtesy (adab) which befits His Presence; and from dhikr with vigilance to dhikr with presence, presence of His closeness; and from dhikr with presence to dhikr where all becomes absent except the One being remembered. So the person is “lost” even to his own dhikr … When dhikr flows from the tongue in this state, it does so spontaneously, without intent. Instead, his tongue only utters what the Manifest Truth [Allah] wants it to, for such a person is at the Station of Divine Love – which the [next] hadith refers to: ‘ … and My servant continues to draw near to Me with optional works (nawafil) so that I love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, and his tongue with which he speaks.’4 None knows the reality of this lofty station except the spiritual wayfarers (salikun). So accept it wholeheartedly, even if you aren’t from its people: and follow not the desires of those who have no knowledge. [45:18] And hold tightly to the means, then the veil shall be lifted for you: And that, for Him, is not difficult. [14:20]’5

1. Al-Wabil al-Sayyib (Damascus: Maktabah Dar al-Bayan, 2006), 176.

2. Kitab al-Arba‘in fi Usul al-Din (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2006), 87. Also see the related article on this blog: How to Nurture Presence of Heart with God.

3.  Ibn Ata’illah, al-Hikam al-Ata’iyyah (Cairo: Dar al-Salam, 2006), no.47.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.6137. Even though the meaning is sound and correct, the phrase: ‘his tongue with which he speaks’ is not part of the wording of this particular hadith. This phrase occurs in a hadith related by Ibn Abi Dunya, al-Awliya, no.45; Ahmad, Musnad, 4:256; and others. But the chains all have defects in them and are therefore da‘if. See: Ibn Rajab, Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:331-32.

5. Al-Sharnubi, Sharh al-Hikam (Beirut & Damascus: Dar Ibn Kathir, 2008), 111-12.

Footprints on the Sands of Time 3

footprints_in_the_sand-800x600Mixing a little politics with spirituality, and marriage with social activism; and adding a few other meditations and musings about Muslims and the challenges of modernity in the mix, this is the third set of Footprints on the Sands of Time. The first two may be read here and here:

On spiritual intelligence: The intelligent one understands what needs understanding and just goes away and practices what he has learnt: rethinking his life, reforming his conduct and rearranging his priorities.

On selfless service to others: The bigger picture in feeding the poor is for believers to develop a deeper social conscience in regards to the the vulnerable and the needy. For whenever true faith illumines the heart, the individual’s view of people and society is transformed, urging him to the benevolent service of his fellow man: And they feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan and the captive, saying: ‘We feed you for the sake of God. No reward do we desire of you, nor thanks.’ [Qur’an 76:8-9]

Suffering is the price we pay for the privilege of life: Loss and suffering are no more inseparable from life than are shadows from the light of day. As we learn to live with the latter, so must we come to terms with the former: We have indeed created man in toil and hardship. [Qur’an 90:4]

On government’s true vocation: The greater goal of government should not be just to rule or exact obedience. But it should be to free the people from fear, so they may live in peace and security and pursue the path of piety.

On keeping the “i” in its right place in marriage: Beware egos in marriage: for marital becomes martial when the “i” is pushed forward.

On the seeker’s provisions: From the greatest provisions of the seeker is: to keep the company of the ahlu’Llah – the People of God. So let the seeker sit at their feet, drink in their wisdom and breathe in the aroma of their adab.

On loving the Family of the Prophet ﷺ: An essential aspect of loving the Prophet ﷺ is to love his Family. The Prophet ﷺ said: udhakkirukumu’Llaha fi ahli bayti – ‘I urge you to treat my Family well.’ [Muslim, no.2408] Moreover, Zayd ibn Thabit was once praying the funeral prayer for his mother, after which he brought his mule closer in order to mount it. Seeing this, Ibn ‘Abbas came and took hold of the stirrup for Zayd. Zayd said: ‘Let it be, O nephew of Allah’s Messenger.’ Ibn ‘Abbas said: ‘This is how we were taught to treat the scholars.’ Upon which Zayd took hold of Ibn ‘Abbas’ hand and kissed it, and said: ‘And this is how we were taught to treat the Prophet’s Family.’ [Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.4746]

On failing to see divine grace because of self-pity: If our minds stay entrenched in the disappointments and let-downs of the past, we will fail to see God’s goodness to us in the present.

On true scholarship: ‘The half-baked faqih asks: What did he say? The seasoned faqih asks: What did he intend?’ – Ibn al-Qayyim

On politics & false priorities: In Islam, politics (siyasah) is seen as a means to further the religious narrative. Whilst in much of today’s Islamism (‘political’ Islam), religion has become the means to further a political narrative. It is here that siyasah becomes najasah – that politics becomes impure.

Deepening Abrahamic monotheism: ‘I think it must have been easy enough in earlier ages in the Christian world, and is still easy in those parts of the Muslim world which remain traditional, to hold to a simple faith without much intellectual content. I do not believe this is any longer possible in the modern world, for the spirit of our times asks questions, questions for the most part hostile to faith, which demands answers, and those answers can only come from informed and thoughtful faith, from study and meditation.’ – Gai Eaton

On the monoculture’s deceptive magic: Consumerism can only thrive in a culture of discontent. The monoculture must deliver doses of misery before offering illusions of happiness.

On downplaying spiritual education: The more unschooled we are in ihsan, the more ugliness we are likely to bring into the world.

On the role of the scholars in regime change and redressing public grievance: In the teachings of mainstream, Sunni Islam (as per the prophetic hadiths), we do not expect our scholars to support armed rebellion against legitimate Muslim governments, even when such regimes be despotic or tyrannical. But nor do we expect our scholars to be sheepish servants of taghut regimes, aligning with them in gunning down protestors and shedding the blood of the masses. Instead, what we hope from our scholars is that they be mediating voices of reason: recognising the injustices inflicted upon the masses and advising them when they stray from religion or sound reason, while at the same time restraining the regime’s use of violence and urging it to redress the public’s greviances as best as it can. We may even painfully tolerate silence from our scholars, in which they neither support one camp nor the other. But scholars championing the massacre of unarmed civilians beggars belief.

What we ask of our scholars is that they be courageous, without compromising their wisdom. What we also ask is that they be sincere mediators, without pandering to the public or to the palace.

On freedom from dunya’s matrix: Knowledge (‘ilm) frees one from confusion. Worldly detachment (zuhd) frees one from anxiety. And a sobering meditation (tafakkur) upon death and the hereafter helps put life into perspective.

On the fuel driving today’s religious extremism: To deny the role of foreign policy in nurturing violent extremism is as naive, blind or coloured by self interest as denying the role of a twisted fiqh-cum-theology in fostering it. Until both these gremlins are acknowledged, addressed and tackled, we fail public security and give kudos to a false political narrative.

On seeing the works of the Lord: Everything that surrounds us in our everyday life, even the smallest of things, can serve to remind us of God, and therefore deserve to be treated with respect: And in the earth are signs, for those who have certainty. And in yourselves. Will you not see? [Qur’an 51:20-21]

On the Children of Israel and Zionists: Faithful Jewish hearts may seek, as they live out the Law of Moses, their spiritual solace in [Mount] Zion. But the Zionist project, not withstanding the right of the Jewish people to never again be subjected to a ‘final solution’, has shown itself to be unashamedly racist and oppressive. Anti-semitic we cannot be; anti-Zionist we may well have to be.

On the struggle against the Four Deadly Foes: Imams of suluk, or spiritual wayfaring, speak of two areas of mujahadah (spiritual struggle) Firstly, the outward mujahadah. This is the struggle against the Four Deadly Foes – the ego (nafs), the devil (shaytan), worldliness (dunya), and false desires (hawa) – as they seek to hinder us from fulfilling the obligatory (fard) and then the recommended (mustahabb) acts, and eliminate the forbidden (haram) and then the disliked (makruh) acts, from our lives.

As for the inward mujahadah, it is training our heart – through gratitude (shukr), love (mahabbah) and remembrance (dhikr) – such that it becomes attached to its Lord and learns to be present with Him. Essential to all this is the idea of restraint – of reigning in our egos and desires.

On telling apart the faqih from the wannabe: The faqih asks, not how the Qur’an can be adapted to our lives in the world of today, but how our lives today can be adapted to the Qur’an. This is true fiqh. All else is fiqh-tion.

On never losing sight of the goal: Whilst it suffices a believer to learn the duties that faith instates, and whilst it is encouraged that they learn even more, we each need to remember our Lord’s question to us: ma ‘amilta fima ‘alamta – “What did you do with what you learnt?”

Beards, Hijabs & Body Language: Gender Relations

Male and female sex signs on wooden backgroundWhat does Islam say about gender relations? How are the sexes meant to interact in a healthy manner with each other? How can we instate the wisdoms of the shari‘ah and the guidelines of Islam in our everyday lives in this regard? This is what this brief post intends to explore. I’ll begin by fleshing out some of the core shari‘ah principles first, after which we’ll move on to discuss some practical (and hopefully, contextual) codes for gender conduct:

1. Lowering the Gaze: A good place to get the ball rolling would be with the following passages from the Qur’an: Tell believing men to lower their gaze and guard their modesty. That will be purer for them. For Allah is aware of what they do. And tell believing women t0 lower their gaze, and to guard their modesty, and that they not display their ornaments beyond what [ordinarily] appears of them, and that they draw their [head] coverings over their chests. [24:30-31] Given the place and times we live in; given also how the idea of traditional morality seems something antiquated and distant to many of us moderns; in fact, given how a growing number of traditional morals are at cross purposes with current liberal dogma and ideas, it’s quite easy for us Muslims to become complacent, absent minded or too immoderate on this issue. Yet the idea of averting one’s gaze, or of lowering it, is there in the Qur’an; and as such, we believers are required to honour and remember it.

Writing about the above verse, the medieval historian, hadith master and exegete, Ibn Kathir, said: ‘This is a command from Allah, exalted is He, to His believing servants to lower their gaze from looking at things prohibited to them. Instead, they should only look at what is lawful to them, not what is forbidden. But if it happens that one’s gaze accidentally falls upon something illicit, he should immediately avert his gaze.’1 Jarir b. ‘Abd Allah al-Bajali narrates: ‘I asked Allah’s Messenger ﷺ about the unintentional glance, so he instructed me to avert my gaze.’2 Also, the Prophet ﷺ once said to ‘Ali: ‘Do not, O ‘Ali, follow up one look with another. For while you aren’t to blame for the first, you have no right to the second.’3 There’s also these words of the Prophet ﷺ: ‘Beware of sitting in the streets.’ They said: O Messenger of Allah, we’ve no choice but to sit in the streets so as to converse with each other. So the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘If you must, then give the street its rights.’ They inquired: ‘What is its right, O Messenger of Allah? He ﷺ instructed: ‘Lower your gaze, do no harm, return the greetings of salam, enjoin good and forbid wrong.’4 Thus lowering the gaze (ghadd al-basr), and averting it from whatever is indecent, immoral or illicit, is key in such matters. For the eyes are the inroads to the heart. And we all know how the heart can be corrupted, distressed and poisoned by images that enter it by way of the unlowered gaze.

2. Principles of Ease & Blocking the Means: Islam came to lighten many a burden that earlier believing peoples were obligated with, or that they had unduly imposed upon themselves. About this, the Qur’an states: Allah desires ease for you; He does not desire hardship for you. [2:185] And it informs: Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find described in the Torah and Gospel – he will enjoin on them good and forbid them evil, he will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them what is foul, and he will release them of their burdens and yokes that were on them. Those that believe in him, honour him, support him and follow the light that has been sent down with him; they are the successful. [7:157]

With that established, as Islam came to lighten many duties, it also came to intensify a few of them too. The logic for this lightening and intensifying is to help us navigate the times of confusion, spiritual pollution, unrestrained whims and predilections and ego-driven rationalisations which typify the End of Days in which we now live. One of those principles that has been intensified is the prohibition of drinking alcohol and consuming intoxicants. Another is gender interactions. In the setting of the latter, the Qur’an doesn’t just forbid zina – fornication, adultery and other illegal sexual liaisons, it forcefully declares: Come not near illegal sexual relationships, for it is an obscenity and an evil way. [17:32] Al-Qurtubi noted that: la taqrabu – “come not near” zina – is a far more emphatic and all-inclusive way of asserting the prohibition, than simply saying: ‘do not commit zina.‘ For this verse doesn’t just forbid zina, it makes unlawful all the means and avenues which lead one closer to it too.5 This, and other such sacred texts, is where the important shari‘ah principle of sadd al-dhari‘ah – “blocking the means” to a corrupting or harmful end – originates from.6

3. Virtue of Modesty: When it comes to gender interactions, the Qur’an, Sunnah and Islam’s scholarly community insist upon appropriate behaviour and dignified conduct between the sexes. In other words, gender relations must be built upon the virtues of modesty, dignity and respectability. Indeed, Islam very much sees itself as the religion about haya’ – modesty, shyness and a sense of reserve. The Prophet ﷺ stated: “Every religion has a distinctive quality, and the distinctive quality of Islam is haya’.”7 We are reminded in the next hadith that: ‘Modesty is a branch of faith (al-haya’ shu‘batun min al-iman).’8 There are also these words from the Prophet ﷺ: ‘Never is haya’ present in a matter except that it beautifies it.’9

Just to be clear. Although haya’ translates itself into English as modesty, or shyness, or of being unassuming in the estimation of one’s abilities; in Islam, it does not translate into being sheepish, timid or socially anxious and insecure. Instead, haya’ is: ‘a quality which induces one to shun whatever is reprehensible (khuluqun yab‘athu ‘ala ijtinabi’l-qabih).’10 Or as Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali remarks: ‘What restrains acting in a shameful or deplorable manner is [the quality of] haya’. Hence one who has no haya’ will abandon themselves to every indecent and loathsome behaviour.’11 To this end, the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘From the words still in currency from earlier prophets are: If you have no haya’, then do as you wish.’12

Ibn Rajab goes on to write that the sense of modesty and shame are of two kinds. The first is an innate character trait that one is naturally disposed towards. The second is a modesty that is acquired through the fear of God, and through the voice of religious conscience which the teachings of faith nurture. He explains: ‘Realise that haya’ is of two types: Firstly, that which is an innate character trait which is not acquired. This is one of the noblest of qualities that Allah bestows on someone and fashions him upon. For this reason, he ﷺ said: “Modesty produces nothing except good”13 for it restrains him from committing foul deeds and displaying depraved morals, and spurs him onto honourable and virtuous character … Secondly, that which is acquired via knowledge of Allah, knowledge of His greatness and nearness to His servants; His awareness and complete familiarity of them; and [His knowledge] of the deceptions of the eyes and what breasts conceal. This is one of the most exalted qualities of faith (iman); indeed, it is one of the loftiest degrees of spiritual excellence (ihsan).’14

Hence in the interaction between the sexes, a sense of modesty; haya’, is key. If innate modest is in short supply, modesty born of faith must prevail. Fear of God will make people think twice before acting indecently or immodestly. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Seeing. To believe in Allah is to believe that we, and whatever we do, are known. Allah sees, therefore we are seen.

4. Notions of Respectability: Islam’s insistence upon haya’ underpins Muslim gender interactions, defining their contours. The shari‘ah reflects this in its judgements and ethics and the Prophet ﷺ was once depicted like so: kana nabiyyu ﷺ ashadda haya’an min al-‘adhra’i fi khidriha – “He was shyer than a young maiden in her chamber.”15 In the absence of a deeply-rooted modesty, there can be little claim to be truly following the Sunnah.

Realising that modesty is no longer an asset in our money-driven, selfi-taking society, as it still is in Islam’s take of things. Even so, in Islam, haya’ is allied to another virtue we moderns also have difficulty appreciating: haybah – “dignity” and “respectability”. In Islam, these two qualities (modesty and respectability) are deeply intertwined, such that when one departs, so does the other. In their absence lies little more than divine displeasure, spiritual entropy, and a telling lack of moral restraint. As a result, socially damaging impulses and behaviours begin to run amok.

It is often claimed that in Victorian or Edwardian England, respectability essentially meant maintaining a reputable facade while encouraging all sorts of hypocrisies. How much or how little can one generalise in such a matter is up for debate. Yet at its core, the widely cherished notion that there was a respectable way to conduct oneself; that there was a decent and honourable way of being a true “gentleman” (as opposed to a hypocritical one) – well that’s a very Islamic idea. A gentleman was someone who was restrained, courteous, considerate, well mannered, had public dignity, and was aware of boundaries; particularly when in mixed company.

The Islamic concept of futuwwah, “spiritual chivalry,” is where we find the ideals of the true Muslim gentleman best expressed. Futuwwah embodies the virtues of dignity and respectability (haybah), refined and noble conduct (adab), and preferring others to oneself (ithar), along with courage (shaja‘ah), magnanimity (sakha’ah) and striving to destroy the idols of one’s ego (mujahadat al-nafs).

Society no longer speaks of a true gentleman. That’s of a bygone era – of Edwardian England; an Englishness long dead and buried. As a nation we need to review where this has led us: if it’s been, on balance, for our betterment? Furthermore, as Muslims themselves start to relax these principles, can we see in where it has led others, where we too might be heading?

5. Beards, Hijabs & Body Language: As many social scientists and commentators have shown, it was during the 1960s (the cliched “swinging sixties”) that a seismic cultural shift took place here in Britain in terms of public perceptions of morality, and of what it meant to be a good person; indeed, in our collective self-understanding as a nation. For it was then that notions of modesty, respectability and decency (which were key elements animating the well-rooted Christian ethos of Britain) began to dramatically alter. As a result, Britain’s Christianity, once at the heart of setting national standards and infusing public culture, began to unravel. And we moved from being a nation that stressed respectability to one which stressed the individual’s right to be respected.16

Now as far as religious observance goes, the injuries that ensue when the principles of modesty and respectability are lost to society will influence believers too. One hadith says: ‘Modesty and faith are two close companions, when one of them is removed, the other follows.’17

Here, it’s not the run of the mill Muslim issues, like hijab or niqab, that we’re talking about. Nor about how one dresses, as such. It runs deeper than that. It’s about much more than just the externals. It’s about how one behaves; how one carries themselves; how one disposes their soul towards the opposite gender.

It is possible for a woman not to be in hijab, and yet still have a strong sense of haya’ and haybah. It’s also perfectly possible for a young woman to be draped from head to toe in black and yet lack such modesty. Whether in coffee shops, shopping malls or on university campuses, you can clearly observe this. One can see many young hijabis in, say, London’s shopping malls, or burqa-clad girls in Jeddah’s burger shacks, with the ostensible trappings of outward modesty; but their body language suggests something else. Despite the exterior semblances of haya’ and haybah, they’re sending out signals to the contrary. Of course, the answer isn’t to give up the Quranic insistence of hijab: and that they draw their head coverings over their chests. [24:31]. Instead, hijabs should show and modesty should flow.

This is applicable to men too. It’s quite possible for a Muslim man to not have a beard, yet still retain a healthy sense of modesty and dignity in his dealings with the opposite gender. It’s possible too for a young Muslim man to support a beard, and yet his gaze is lustful and not lowered; or his clothes tight and revealing; or his body language and behaviour unbecoming and flirtatious. This bundle of contradictions, too, is growing more prevalent. Again, the response isn’t to oppose the Prophet’s guidance ﷺ: ‘Grow your beard and trim your moustache.’18 Or: ‘But my Lord has ordered me to grow the beard and trim the moustache.’19 Instead, let beards grow, and let dignified dress and modest behaviour flow.

Islam does not want such schizophrenia in the human personality. What it does want is for gazes to be lowered, for piety to be internalised, and for modesty and dignity to become our watchwords – for both men and for women.

6. Codes for Gender Interactions: Thus far we’ve addressed the main principles upon which interaction between the sexes must be based. We’ve seen the Quranic demand about lowering the gaze, and heard a number of counsels from the Prophet ﷺ about the virtues of modesty, shyness and dignity.

Some Muslims labour under the misconception that the shari‘ah requires us Muslims in Britain to replicate the obsessively strict gender segregation and interactions found in certain Muslim majority countries today. Yet there’s no proof for such an absurdity. The truth of the matter is that we are not duty bound to replicate, nor even to uphold as the ideal, any specific Muslim collective reality anywhere in the world today. What we are required to do is to look at the rulings and wisdoms of the Sunnah, and of the first community of believers, and take our cue from there. As for classical fiqh decrees in this regard, we should be guided by their insights and judgements, but not bound by all of their particulars. The words of sayyiduna ‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, are worth quoting at this point: ‘The faqih is one who doesn’t cause people to despair of Allah’s mercy, but nor does he give them licence to sin.’20

Given the principles spelled out above, let’s draw on a few more shari‘ah insights and prophetic wisdoms that shape interaction between the sexes:

Lowering the gaze (ghadd al-basr) was previously mentioned: Tell the believing men to lower their gaze. [24:30]. Scholars of tafsir have explained that not every kind of gaze is illicit. Instead, what this verse obligates is: ‘averting the gaze from what is unlawful.’21 Thus the objectifying look, the lustful gaze, or looking accompanied by attraction are unquestionably prohibited. So too is looking at a person’s ‘awrah, or “nakedness.” The following hadith puts us on notice with this caution: ‘Every person has their share of adultery, and the adultery of the eye is looking.’22 The Prophet’s words ﷺ to ‘Ali have preceded: ‘Do not follow up one look with another. For while you aren’t to blame for the first, you have no right to the second.’23 Such protocols don’t just apply to actual person to person looking, but looking on social media too. It can get a bit tricky when the Islamic norm of averting one’s glance during gender interactions meets Western expectations of eye to eye contact. In such cases, one simply does their best and finds ways to take the edge off any awkwardness or perceived rudeness. If eye contact more than is Islamically normal needs to be made, one does so keeping shari‘ah boundaries firmly in sight.

Making interactions purposeful and professional is vital. In Islam, the idea of ikhtilat, of unrelated men and women “mixing,” isn’t completely prohibited. Where it must or does occur, it ought to be for a licit (ja’iz) and well-intended purpose. Meetings related to work or connected with ISOC activities are good examples. Comportment between men and women is expected to be professional, courteous and dignified. ‘Actions are but by intentions,’24 said the Prophet ﷺ. Outwardly interactions may be purposeful, but things could be different on the inside. If meetings become means to seek gender attention or affection, or to indulge one’s infatuation, then the intention is unsound and the action simply wrong. Interactions on social media, if we’re honest, tend to be far less purposeful and often very improper, with levels of informality and frivolity far harder to justify in Islam.

Keeping gender interactions public is also compulsory in the shari‘ah. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Never is a man alone with a woman, except that Satan is the third of them.’25 In light of this, one not only keeps meetings and engagements between men and women purposeful, but also in a public place too. In the event of that not being possible, then a third person must be present. Seclusion (khalwah), whether anything untoward will happen or not, is a sin and must be given a wide berth. As for when contact between the genders via phone, texts or other social media is needed and justifiable, one keeps such interactions as purposeful, public, transparent and respectable as is possible. The shari‘ah guided caution dictates that texting is better than voice calls, and voice calls better than video ones. One should also be mindful of extending conversations just to remain in the presence of another person.

Being decent in speech. As the more enchanting of the genders are asked not to act in a way that invites the male gaze or attention: And let them not drum their feet so as to reveal their hidden ornaments [24:31], they’re addressed with these words too: If you fear Allah, be not soft of speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease be moved to desire you; but speak honourably. [33:32] Speaking honourably (qulna qawlun ma‘rufan) was explained as: ‘words that are befitting, decent and respectable’ and ‘that aren’t tender; meaning, a woman shouldn’t speak to a man she isn’t married to, as she would [tenderly] speak to her husband.’26 One needn’t be curt, abrupt or monosyllabic when speaking to the opposite gender; only purposeful, professional, straightforward and respectable.

Our final gender protocol won’t come as any surprise: no touching. The Prophet ﷺ warned: ‘For one of you to be jabbed in the head with an iron needle is better for him than he should touch a woman who is unlawful to him.’27 In another hadith, we find the Prophet ﷺ saying: ‘I do not shake hands with women.’28 Such prohibitions about touching or shaking hands are instated for our own spiritual and social well-being, so we’d do well to heed and honour them. As to how one is to decline an extended hand from the opposite gender, let it be done politely, creatively and in a way which doesn’t nurture aversion or undue awkwardness. If caught off guard or compromised, then one immediately repents of the sin, learns from the mistake and resolves not to repeat the act again.

This, then, is a quick tour of what Islam has to say about gender interactions between the sexes. The entire edifice is built upon notions of modesty, restraint and dignified conduct. In an age in which the ethics of modesty and lowering the gaze are seen as offbeat, or even repressive, we Muslims need to be more vigilant and more spiritually rooted. One of the unique accomplishments of the Prophet ﷺ is that he taught men and women to lower their gazes from each other, so as to help them lift their gazes towards God.

1. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 3:292.

2. Muslim, no.2159.

3. Abu Dawud, no.2149; al-Tirmidhi, no.2777, where he stated that the hadith is hasan gharib.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.6229; Muslim, no.2121.

5. See: al-Jami‘ li Ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1996), 10:165.

6. Cf. Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 2006), 397-409.

7. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.4181. The hadith was graded sahih, due to its multiple paths of transmission. See: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1985), no.940.

8. Al-Bukhari, no.9; Muslim, no.35.

9. Al-Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad, no.601. It was graded sahih, al-Albani, Sahih al-Adab al-Mufrad (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Siddiq, 1994), no.469.

10. Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Egypt: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 1:80.

11. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:498.

12. Al-Bukhari, no.3483.

13. Al-Bukhari, no.6117.

14. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam, 1:501-2.

15. Al-Bukhari, no.3562; Muslim, no.2320.

16. See: Jonathan Sacks, The Persistence of Faith (London: Continuum, 2005); Callum G. Brown, Death of Christian Britain (Oxon: Routledge, 2009).

17. Al-Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad, no.1313; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 1:22, who stated: ‘It is sahih as per the conditions of the two shaykhs.’

18. Al-Bukhari, no.5892; Muslim, no.259.

19. Tabari, Tarikh, 2:655; Ibn Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 1:2:147; Abu Nu‘aym, Dala’il al-Nubuwwah, no.241; Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf, 14:336. The hadith, with its collective chains, was graded hasan by al-Albani in his verification to al-Ghazali, Fiqh al-Sirah (Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-Hadithah, 1976), 389.

20. Cited in al-Qurtubi, al-Tadhkirah bi Ahwal al-Mawta wa Umur al-Akhirah (Riyadh: Dar al-Minhaj, 2006), 800.

21. Ibn Juzayy, al-Tashil li ‘Ulum al-Tanzil (Beirut: Maktabah al-‘Asriyyah, 2003), 3:120. Also cf. Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 2002), 994.

22. Abu Dawud, no.2153, and it is sahih. See: al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.5161.

23. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2777, who said the hadith is hasan gharib.

24. Al-Bukhari, no.1; Muslim, no.1907.

25. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2165, where he stated: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih gharib.

26. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim, 3:491.

27. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, 20:210. Al-Albani graded it sahih in Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Dar al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.226.

28. Ibn Majah, no.2874; al-Tirmidhi, no.1597, who said: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’

Anger, Ordeals & Grief

griefThat God never changes the condition of a people unless they change what is in themselves [13:28] enjoins on us, not just some external reform fixated on a few manifestations of outward piety and morality, but instead an inward transformation – a realignment of the soul – which reflects genuine piety and purity of the heart. Regrettably, some see in this a call to quietism, while in reality it is a position of empowerment. For as we work on our inner world, keeping a keen eye upon the obligations and responsibilities we have in the outer world, we will begin to see the promise of Allah come to fruition in the human saga: If the people of the cities had but believed and shown piety, We would surely have opened for them blessings from the heaven and from the earth. [7:96]

To think that we should put all or most of our eggs in the basket of political activism, letting spiritual activism play second fiddle, isn’t just religiously naive; it continues to invite humiliation upon this blessed, yet fragile ummah too. Here, I’ll let the following hadith have the final say in the matter: ‘When you deal in ‘inah, hold on to the tails of cows, content yourself with farming and abandon striving [in Allah’s path], Allah will cover you all with humiliation and will not lift it from you, until you return to your religion.’1


Anger is so often the thing that demolishes the bonds of love and affection between husband and wife, or between people in general. A man once said to the Prophet ﷺ: ‘Counsel me.’ So he ﷺ advised: ‘Do not become angry.’ The man repeated his request several times, and each time  he ﷺ said: ‘Do not become angry.’2

Our learned ones have explained the words, “Do not become angry” to mean: Do not do those things which will arouse one’s anger or unleash one’s temper; and if one is already angry, do not do or say anything in a state of anger.

In fact, in Islam, controlling one’s temper and restraining the soul’s anger is deemed to be a sign of intelligence, as well as a mark of piety. The Qur’an depicts the believer as those who: when they are angry, forgive. [42:37] And as: those who control their anger and are forgiving towards people. [3:134]

Not allowing our tempers to flare, or our anger to be aroused – or at least not giving vent to our anger – must be something we must work on, if we wish to traverse the path of piety and intelligence; and if we wish our relationships to flower and deepen. Learning to control one’s anger is one of the great hallmarks of the Sunnah and one of Islam’s cardinal spiritual virtues.

Anger often erupts when our pride is dented or our egos offended. Learning humility and humbleness is key to controlling anger. Likewise, forbearance and being forgiving are also keys. We learn in one hadith that: ‘Knowledge is gained by [actively] seeking it, and forbearance is gained by [actively] imposing it upon oneself.’3 As we learn to swallow pride and adorn ourselves with the virtues of forbearance and forgiveness, the oftentimes thin veneer of anger begins to dissipate.

The Sunnah also teaches us that when anger begins to swell, change our posture. So if one is standing, sit down; if sitting, lie down. Seeking refuge in Allah from shaytan is also recommended.

As for righteous anger and indignation, which is born of faith and is rooted in divine love, that is another matter altogether. And how rare it truly is!


Ibn Mas‘ud (one of Islam’s earliest converts and leading scholars) said of the Prophet, when he had sustained an injury during the battle of Uhud: ‘I can see myself looking at Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, as he spoke about one of the prophets of old who, when his people had beaten him, was wiping the blood from his face whilst praying: O Allah! Forgive my people, for they know not.’4

As Muslims seek to mould and live out their lives in the light of revealed truths – in a continent that has become largely religiously illiterate, on top of being plagued with acute economic downturn and growing social unrest – they will be looked upon more and more as being counter culture; odd; out of sync with society; an annoyance, even; or a fifth column, perhaps! Are the insults or the demonisation of Islam and Muslims likely to stop any time soon? Most Muslims, I suspect, will intuit not!

Sometimes, though, as with the above, the inbreak of truth can lead to the outbreak of violence. Of course, even believers can or should take recourse to the law-enforcing agencies in order to procure justice or to fend-off harm. But where the law is unable, or simply fails them, faith instructs us to be patient and steadfast, and to cleanse our hearts of rage, revenge or undue anger. The higher virtue would be to repel evil with what is better [41:34] and pray, not for the ruin of the aggressors, but for their guidance and salvation. O Allah! Forgive our people, for they know not.


Many are the emotions that assail the heart, but grief, without doubt, is the hardest of all. The pain felt at the loss of a loved one awakens grief, yet seldom is much gained by yielding too far to grief’s cruelty. Yes, tears must flow. Pain must be endured. Souls must sorrow and be scarred. That you grieve not, none have the right to insist. Weep, then, but wail not; and let not sorrow’s suffering tarry too long. For your loved one would not have you sorrow more than is fitting.

What would he say to you, he whose loss you lament? That he welcomes the love you thus show to him; but that he doesn’t want your grief to be prolonged. He’d ask that you gently put your sorrows to slumber and remember him in the splendour of his days. And that although time will assuage the pangs of grief, he’d want that we move on from such grief by choice.

Remember and recollect: recall the most cherished things about the one who is loved but is lost; of how he enriched our lives and the lives of others too. For this honours our departed loved ones, and consoles us and keeps them with us in our hearts.

If death taketh away, life doth giveth. If so young a life is taken and an older one still remains; but when did death ever promise that it’d take us in order of age?! Now is a time to reflect, not just that all things are mortal, but also that their mortality follows no fixed law.

If tragedy darkens our days, how can we deny that the sun still shines. If destiny deals an unexpected blow, how can we give up on life. If we have buried one of our loved ones, other of our cherished ones still live on. So now is the time to cherish our living loved ones even more: celebrating our love of them and spending time with them. For we cannot love only when we’ve lost.

And while we honour those who have passed on with loving remembrance, we know that such remembrance is not without its bitterness. Yet still, let’s put our sorrows to slow slumber and remember him in the glory of his days.5


And We test you with evil and with good as a trial, states the Qur’an [21:35]. According to Islam, life is not seen as being a random act of chance with no purpose and meaning. Instead, life is a theatre of signs and tests for the life to come. Trials, tests, ordeals and adversity are the inevitable price that we each must pay for the privilege of being born into the human drama. Providence allots to each of us opportunities, circumstances, talents and abilities so as to engage life’s tests and ordeals. Revelation also tells us that what counts, isn’t so much the form or nature of the actual tests, but how we respond to them. Sometimes we are tried with the obvious: hardships, misfortunes, calamities. At other times, with the less obvious: wealth, wellbeing, or material abundance. Both, nonetheless, are seen by the believer as tests.

As for the obvious, Allah says in the Qur’an: We shall indeed test you with something of fear and hunger, loss of property and of lives and crops; but give glad tidings to those who are patient. [2:155] If the one being tried in this way is a person whose faith is generally upright, in terms of observing the religious injunctions and avoiding the prohibitions, then such trials are a sign of Allah honouring them and seeking to raise them in rank. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘When Allah loves a person, He tries them.’6 He ﷺ also told us: ‘No Muslim is afflicted with hardship, pain, anxiety, grief or injury; even to the extent of being pricked by a thorn, without Allah causing it to be an atonement for his sins.’7 This is the case provided they show patience, continue to observe the religious duties, and their conviction in Allah’s essential goodness does not waver.

Those who are not upright, especially those who make little or no attempt at being so, then such trials are the upshot of sins and rebellion against God: Whatever good befalls you is from Allah, whatever ill afflicts you is from yourselves. [4:79] Such ordeals, then, are either a mark of divine wrath and punishment, or a caution from Allah to repent and amend our ways.

As for the less obvious tests, we read in the Qur’an: If they had but followed the path of rectitude, We would have given them abundant water, so as to try them. [72:16-17] Again, if a person is upright, then the ease, blessings or opulence Allah gifts to them is also a trial, to see if they are thankful; and to see if they enjoy such blessings in a lawful way, utilise them in the worship of Allah, as well as in the service of others. When blessed with Allah’s bounties and blessings, the believer acknowledges: ‘This is the favour of my Lord, that He may try me whether I will be thankful or ungrateful. He who gives thanks, he only gives thanks for [the good of] his own soul, and he who is ungrateful [is so only to his own soul’s hurt], for my Lord is Rich, Generous.’ [27:40] Now those who show gratitude, or shukr, Allah says: ‘If you are thankful, I will increase you. But if you are ungrateful, My torment is indeed severe.’ [14:7]

As for those who aren’t upright, nor attempt to walk the path of rectitude; those who neglect religious observance and who languish in the domains of disobedience, when they are surrounded by ease or blessings, it is nothing but istidraj – Allah seizing them little by little; His punishment coming upon them gradually without them realising it. The Qur’an says: We shall seize them by degrees from whence they know not. And I shall grant them respite; for [assuredly] My devising is firm. [69:44-5] Echoing these words, the Prophet ﷺ warned: ‘If you see Allah granting a servant something of the world that he desires, despite him being deep in sins, then [know] it is istidraj.’8 Indeed what trial could be worse than when blessings are, in reality, nothing but curses?

Allahumma nas’aluka an taj‘alana mimman idha
u‘tiya shakara, wa idha’btuliya sabara,
wa idha adhnaba

1. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.3462. Ibn Taymiyyah deemed its chains to be good (jayyid) in Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 29:30. ‘Inah is a particular business transaction that seeks to circumvent the shari‘ah, in order to loan money on interest (riba). More generally, it may point to any ruse or legal stratagem (hiyla) which seeks to skirt around the shari‘ah rulings, so as to make the haram halal. See: Ibn ‘Uthaymin, Sharh al-Mumti‘ (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2004), 8:210-11.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.5765.

3. Al-Khatib, Tarikh, 9:127. It chain was graded as hasan in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.342.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.3477; Muslim, no.1752.

5. Adapted and reworked from A.C. Grayling, The Good Book (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011), 93-5.

6. Al-Bukhari, no.5645.

7. Al-Bukhari, no.5641.

8. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Awsat, no.9426. Its chain is hasan, as per al-‘Iraqi, al-Mughni ani’l-Haml al-Asfar (Riyadh: Maktabah Tabariyyah, 1995), no.3772.

The Rights of Our Hearts

9867-heart-with-wings-1920x1080-digital-art-wallpaperWriting about the marvels of the human heart (‘aja’ib al-qalb), al-Ghazali states: ‘The honour and excellence of man, by which he outstrips all other creatures, is his ability for knowing God, transcendent is He. It is man’s beauty, perfection and glory in this world, and his provision and store in the world to come. He is prepared for [receiving] such knowledge only via his heart, and not by means of any other of his bodily organs. For it is the heart that knows God, works for God, strives towards God, draws near to God and reveals that which is in the presence of God. In contrast, all the other organs are merely followers, servants and instruments that the heart uses and employs … For it is the heart that is accepted by God when it is free from all except Him; it is veiled from God when it is totally absorbed in other than Him … The heart is that which, if a man knows it, he knows himself, and if he knows himself, he knows his Lord. But it is that which, if he knows it not, he knows not himself, and if he knows not himself, he knows not his Lord … So knowledge of the heart and of the true nature of its traits is the root of religion and the foundation of the path of the seekers.’1

Given the above, it is no wonder that the Qur’an says about man’s responsibility to his heart: The day when wealth and sons will benefit not, save he who brings to God a sound heart. [26:88-9] The status and preeminence of the heart (qalb) is also borne out by the following five considerations:

1. The heart is where intentions reside: The Prophet ﷺ stated: ‘Indeed, actions are by intentions and each person will have that which they intended.’2 Scholars stipulate: al-niyyah mahalluha al-qalb – ‘Intentions reside in the heart.’ Thus, if the intention of the heart is sound, the act will meet with divine acceptance. If, however, it is corrupt or insincere, the act will be rejected by Allah. The eminent scholar and pietist of early Islam, ‘Abd Allah b. al-Mubarak, once remarked: ‘How many a small act is elevated by an intention, and how many a great act is diminished by an intention.’3

2. It is where the Divine Gaze is focussed: God looks at our hearts to see if they have sound intentions and sincerity to Him, and He also looks at our deeds, to see if they conform to the Sunnah of His Prophet ﷺ. A celebrated hadith declares: ‘Indeed, God doesn’t look at your forms or your appearances, but He looks at your hearts and your actions.’4

3. It is where the Qur’an, the Divine Word, is understood: One Quranic verse states: Will they not meditate on the Qur’an, or are there locks upon their hearts? [47:24] Sins and exposing the heart to trials and temptations may seriously diminish the heart’s clarity or understanding. Sufyan al-Thawri said: ‘I was granted understanding of the Qur’an. But when I accepted a gift [from the sultan], it was removed from me.’5

4. It is where piety (taqwa) is located: The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Piety is here, piety is here, piety is here’ – pointing to his chest three times.6 The Prophet ﷺ was once quizzed: Who among people are the best? He replied: ‘Those with a clean heart and a truthful tongue.’ They inquired: We understand what a truthful tongue is, but what is a clean heart? To which he ﷺ said: ‘It is one that is pious and pure, in which there is neither sin, nor rancour, nor jealousy.’7

5. It is God’s vessel on earth: In one hadith, the Prophet ﷺ declared: ‘Indeed God has vessels from the people of the earth, and the vessels of your Lord are the hearts of His righteous servants: the most beloved of them to Him are those which are the gentlest and softest.’8 So what we fill these vessels with – faith or disbelief; piety or profanity; submission or transgression; God’s invocation or worldly distractions – is indeed our choice and we alone shall bear the consequence.

A person’s spiritual life seldom unfolds in an orderly fashion, instead it has its ups and its downs. For the spiritual life is subject to the many sensitivities of the heart which, in turn, is subjected to many diverse influences, both negative and positive. The heart, by its nature, is constantly flipped one way, then another, by these influences. In fact, Imam al-Ghazali wrote: The Prophet ﷺ struck three smilies for the heart: ‘The heart is like a sparrow, turning about every hour.”9 He ﷺ also said: “The heart’s example in its constant change is like a pot when it boils.”10 And he ﷺ stated: “The heart is like a feather in an open land, which the wind keeps flipping one way then the other.”1112 Such is how the states, moods and sensitivities of the heart change from one moment to the next.

This is why Revelation urges that we each tend to our hearts above all else, and accord them the inalienable rights they were created to have. From the most critical of these rights are:

1. Adorning the heart with faith: A person possesses nothing of greater worth than his heart. And the heart cannot contain anything more cherished by it or more necessary to it than faith (iman); sound beliefs; and internalising the reality and requirements of la ilaha illa’Llah. For hearts were created to worship and adore Allah, and to be filled with faith. The Prophet ﷺ would say in one of his du‘as: ‘O Allah! Endear faith to us and beautify it in our hearts, and make unbelief, immorality and disobedience odious to us, and make us of the rightly guided (Allahumma habbib ilayna’l-iman wa zayyinhu fi qulubina wa karrih ilayna’l-kufra wa’l-fusuqa wa’l-‘isyan waj’alna min al-rashidin).’13

2. Illuminating it with the Qur’an: O people! There has come to you an exhortation from your Lord, and a healing for what is in the breasts, and a guidance and a mercy for those who believe. [10:57] So the Qur’an declares itself to be a counsel to heal hearts and cure them of doubts, darknesses and anxieties. Its message consoles, reassures and revives hearts mired in desperation, desires and disbelief.

3. Bringing to it tranquility: One hadith informs: ‘Detachment from the world (zuhd) brings relief to the heart and the body, while desire for [worldly] increase brings worry and anxiety.’14 Despite scientific studies revealing, and continued human experience proving, that an increase in material things, above subsistence living, doesn’t increase our overall happiness, we moderns are obsessed with worldly acquisitions. Whether it be living way beyond our means, racking up huge personal debts, pinning our whole sense of self-esteem on wearing the right brand names, anxious about whether or n0t we’re keeping up with the latest trends – all this has pushed us moderns to the mental brink.15 Despite the tech and material comforts that now embrace us, ours is a society ridden with depression, angst and discontent; desperately seeking fulfilment in what can never truly fulfil us: materialism/consumerism. In contrast, the Qur’an offers us this simple truth: Indeed in the remembrance of God do hearts find tranquility. [13:28] In one hadith we are reminded of this timeless insight: ‘Richness lies not in possessing many things, but it lies in contentment of the soul.’16 Simple living, then, lived out in the remembrance of God, is the key to tranquility. Such is the heart’s right.

4. Nurturing in it tenderness and humility: The Prophet would exhort others to bring into their lives those deeds that would have a profound effect on softening hearts and removing hardness from them. One such example is the saying of the Prophet ﷺ: ‘I used to forbid you from visiting graves, but now visit them. For doing so softens the heart, brings tears to the eye and reminds one of the Afterlife.’17 As we saw earlier, tender hearts filled with faith are the hearts most beloved to Allah: ‘Indeed God has vessels from the people of the earth, and the vessels of your Lord are the hearts of His righteous servants: the most beloved of them to Him are those which are the gentlest and softest.’18

5. Guarding it from the poison of sins: Endeavouring to keep our hearts free from sins is the heart’s right over us. For sins stain the heart and poison it. The Qur’an says: By no means! That which they have done has veiled their hearts. [83:14] This veil (rayn) has been explained as: atharu’l-ma‘asi ‘ala’l-qulub – the traces of sins upon the hearts. The following hadith sheds further light on this matter: ‘Temptations will be presented to the heart, just as a reed mat is interwoven strip by strip. Any heart that soaks it in will have a black stain upon it. Any heart that rejects it will have a white mark on it. Thus hearts will be of two types: one white, like a smooth stone, that will not be harmed by temptations as long as heavens and earth endure. The other, black and corroded, like a jug with cracks, neither recognising good nor rejecting wrong; rather being overrun by its desires.’19

6. Keeping it free from diseases: The day when wealth and sons will benefit not, save he who brings to God a sound heart. [26:88-9] Keeping the heart sound entails guarding it against two types of sickness or diseases: the disease of doubts (amrad al-shubuhat) and that of desires (amrad al-shahawat). About the first: That He may make what Satan has caste a trial for those in whose heart is a sickness. [22:53] The second type: Be not soft of speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease aspire to you. [33:32]

7. Praying constantly for the heart’s guidance: This is another essential right (haqq) of our hearts upon us, to pray for its guidance, rectitude and wellbeing, and that it not swerve from faith. This right must never be thought little of, trivialised, or neglected. The Prophet ﷺ would often supplicate: ‘O Turner of Hearts, turn our hearts to your obedience.’20

O Lord, cause not our hearts to swerve after You have
guided us, and bestow upon us mercy from
Your Presence. Assuredly you
are the Bestower.

1. Al-Ghazali, Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2011), 5:9-11.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.1; Muslim, no.1907.

3. Cited in Ibn Rajab, Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:71.

4. Muslim, no.2564.

5. See: Ibn Jama‘ah, Tadhkirat al-Sami‘ wa’l-Mutakallim (Hyderabad: Da’irat al-Ma‘arif al-‘Uthmaniyyah, 1933), 19.

6. Muslim, no.2564.

7. Ibn Majah, no.4462. It was graded sahih by al-Albani, al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2006), no.2889.

8. Al-Tabarani, Musnad al-Shamiyyin, no.840; it is hasan. Consult: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1691.

9. Al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman, no.740; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, 4:329 where he stated: ‘It is sahih according to the conditions of Muslim.’

10. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, 20:252, but with the following wording: ‘The heart of the son of Adam stirs far more intensely than a pot that has reached boiling point.’ It is sahih, as per al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah, no.1772.

11. Al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman, nos.736-38; al-Baghawi, Sharh al-Sunnah, no.88. One of its chains is graded hasan in al-‘Iraqi, al-Mughni ani’l-Haml al-Asfar (Riyadh: Maktabah Tabariyyah, 1995), no.2676.

12. Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din, 5:161.

13. Al-Nasa’i, Sunan al-Kubra, no.10370, and it is sahih. See: al-Albani, Sahih al-Adab al-Mufrad (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Saiddiq, 1994), no.538. This du‘a echoes the Qur’an when it says: But Allah has endeared faith to you, beautifying it in your hearts, making unbelief, immorality and disobedience odious to you. Such are they who are rightly guided. [49:7]

14. Al-‘Uqayli, al-Du‘afa, no459; al-Tabarani, al-Awsat, no.6256. Examining its various routes of transmission and supporting chains, al-Albani declared the hadith as weak (da‘if). Instead he considered it to be the statement of one of the people of knowledge of the past. Consult: Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Da‘ifah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1291. The hadith does, nonetheless, state a general spiritual truth about the human situation.

15. See: Layard, Happiness: Lessons from a New Science (England: Penguin Books, 2004), p.4.

16. Al-Bukhari, no.446; Muslim, no.1051.

17. Abu Ya‘la, Musnad, no.3705. The hadith is sahih, as per al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.4584.

18. See footnote no.8 above.

19. Muslim, no.144.

20. Muslim, no.2654.

Zakat: Helping the Needy at Home & Abroad

file-186#4814a48170cc5fead838096208a6f890Thoughts that first cross the mind when it is suggested that zakat should be given at home in the UK, as well as abroad, is: foolish; nonsensical; totally irresponsible; utter ignorance; unIslamic, even! After all, who in Britain is truly poor or needy compared to, say, the millions of people in Malawi, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and other parts of the poverty-stricken or war-torn world?

So let me try to present the case for it, both from a textual, fiqhi perspective and from the perspective of our current reality in the UK. After that, I’ll leave it to the readers to decide whether the case has any merit or not, and whether or not the idea actual is absurd and irresponsible. Let me build the case, starting with the following:


In describing the essential traits of the God-conscious; the muttaqun, the Qur’an tells us that they are those who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have given them. [2:3] Expounding on this verse, Ibn Kathir wrote: ‘God frequently pairs together prayer and spending in charity. Prayer is a right of God and an act of devotion to Him. This [right] involves singling Him out for worship, praising Him, extolling His glory, earnestly invoking Him, petitioning Him and depending on Him. Spending, by contrast, is part of benevolence towards creation through extending to them a helping hand.’1

This pairing is so intrinsic to our faith that religious observance, in its entirety, can be said to revolve around huququ’Llah, “rights of God,” and huquq al-’ibad, “rights of the creation.” Ibn Rajab, however, makes a timely observation in this respect, which we would do well to pay heed to. He says: ‘Many in whom attentiveness in fulfilling the rights of God predominate, and who are devoted to God’s love, fear and obedience, either totally neglect the rights of creation, or fall short with respect to them.’2


The “spending (infaq) out of what God has given” in the above verse comprises two forms of giving. One is sadaqah – voluntary spending; the other, zakat – the spending of which is mandatory. The term sadaqah (usually translated as “alms” or as “charity”) covers, not just the giving of money to the deserving poor, but also the giving of one’s self, talents, learning, or simply one’s time. The act is seen as meritorious in and of itself, purely on altruistic grounds. Yet the spiritual significance of sadaqah can’t be overlooked too. Giving regular sadaqah attracts madad – the flow of divine assistance, as well as helps repel misfortune.

Zakat, a word which signifies growth, blessings and also purification,3 is that type of spending which the Qur’an deems mandatory on all Muslims who possess surplus financial means at their disposal. The payment of zakat is, therefore, a way by which a Muslim’s wealth may be made pure and sacred – so long as, of course, one seeks the divine pleasure through it: He who gives his wealth to purify himself, not in return for any favour done unto him, seeking only the Face of his Lord, Most High. He shall be well-pleased. [92:18-21]


It is not just one’s wealth that is purified through the act of paying the zakat, but also one’s self. For the nafs; the ego, is purified from the blemish of greed and selfishness when giving freely of one’s wealth: And whoever is saved from his own avarice will surely succeed. [59:9]

With its spiritual significance confirmed, one must not overlook zakat’s all important social function. Islam’s vision of society is rooted in the idea of compassion, service and responsibility; and no where is this better seen than in the giving and dispensing of zakat. For zakat is to be utilised, first and foremost, for the poor and the needy, so as to alleviate the problem of poverty. In other words, the “haves”of the society are to help lift the burden of the “have nots” in the spirit of service and brotherhood. In summing-up the spiritual and social virtues of zakat, Shah Wali Allah wrote: ‘Know that there are two purposes behind zakat: a purpose linked to disciplining the soul; this due to the presence of avarice in it … And a purpose associated with the city, for it will certainly include those who are poor and needy.’4


Zakat is, strictures the Qur’an, only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect it, and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and for the ransom of captives, and the debtors, and in the path of God, and the wayfarers. This is an obligation from God, and God is All-Knowing, All-Wise. [9:60]

Juristic details aside, the main forms of wealth on which zakat is levied includes gold and silver, livestock, agricultural produce, minerals, stocks and shares, currency and other liquid assets. A percentage of this wealth (two and a half percent in the case of gold, silver, stocks and share, and all wealth held in monetary form) is to be disbursed to the eight sectors, or categories, mentioned in the above verse.5

In a foundational hadith on the subject we read that the Prophet ﷺ, when sending Mu‘adh to Yemen, instructed him: ‘O Mu‘adh, you are going to a people who are of the People of the Book, so first invite them to bear witness that none deserves to be worshiped except God, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. If they accept this, then inform them that God enjoins on them five prayers in a day and a night. If they accept this, then inform them that God obligates charity [i.e. zakat] upon them; to be taken from their rich and given to their poor.’6


Based on the words: “to be taken from their rich and given to their poor,” jurists from the four Sunni schools of law, or madhhabs, say that zakat, as a rule of thumb, is to be distributed locally where possible.

The Hanbali school stipulates: ‘It is preferred to disburse all of the zakat to the poor of his locality. It is not permissible to transfer it to [a location] where prayer is to be shortened [if one traveled to it]; though if one does so it suffices – unless there are no poor persons in the land, in which case he is to distribute it in the land closest to him.’7

The Shafi’i madhhab lays down: ‘If the [eight] categories are found in the place where zakat is collected, it is prohibitted and invalid to transfer the zakat elsewhere – save if it is being distributed by the head of state, in which case he may transfer it to another place.’8

The Malikis hold that transfering zakat is impermissible, except if there is a pressing need to do so.9

The Hanafi school is more conciliatory on the subject, stipulating, ‘It is disapproved to transfer zakat of one land to another; unless he transfers it to his poor relatives, or to a people needier than his own.’10

In short: what this tells us is that the poor and needy of a city have greater claim over local zakat than the poor or needy elsewhere – accepting that scholars permit sending it abroad for pressing reasons.


“There are no poor Muslims in Britain,” is a common response to the suggestion that zakat could be disbursed here, within the country. But is this true? No poor Muslims? Even if it were, what of the other categories of zakat recipients? Are they absent from Britain too?

The reality is markedly different from the popular Muslim perception. For there are a growing number of poor and needy Muslim households in the UK who would qualify for zakat. It is true that their need is likely to not be as acute as those in certain other poverty-ravished places in the world. Nevertheless, their relative poverty, in terms of not having enough money for certain basic necessities – like food, heating, medicines, or paying rent – would entitle them to zakat. Of course, if government benefits meet such needs, well that is different. But if they did not, and sometimes they don’t, then scholars have ruled that they would indeed qualify for zakat. Those who could enter into the category of the poor (fuqara) and the needy (masakin) are: struggling single parent families, asylum seekers, refugees, and anyone else whose net assets (after one excludes assets for basic essentials like a house, car, furniture, etc; and after deducting basic living expenses and debts owed) are less than the nisab value.11 This could also include prisoners; and even more so, families of prisoners, who often have very little or no financial support.

Then there are the mu’allafat al-qulub – “those whose hearts need reconciling.” These recipients can include: recent converts to Islam who are alienated from their families, or whose faith needs strengthening; or recently released prisoners struggling to make ends meet and about whom it is feared will reoffend.

There is also the category of the gharimun: “those burdened with debts” contracted in good faith, which they subsequently cannot repay. Of course, we’re not talking about those who’ve racked up debts due to conspicuous consumption, spending and living beyond their means, or through gambling and other haram indulgences. Instead, we are talking about people who, for instance, and through no fault or irresponsibility of their own, have fallen into rents arrears and are on the verge of eviction. Or, where a family whose bread winner has been made redundant, and find themselves in arrears with domestic utility bills, to the extent where the gas or electricity supply is going to be cut-off.

As for the category of fi sabili’Llah – “for the path of God” – here in Britain this would include financial assistance to students fully occupied in formally studying the sacred shari‘ah sciences. Classically, of course, the fiqh manuals depict this category as being primarily voluntary fighters (mujahidun), not paid by the state treasury, who require financial support so as to partake in a bonafide state-sanctioned war against a hostile and belligerent enemy.


In the above, I’ve tried to spotlight people who could very well be entitled to receive zakat in Britain, but who often get ignored, or go unnoticed and unserved. As for the more higher profile categories: orphans; widows; the starving, hungry and homeless; Muslims incarcerated in prisons such as Guantanamo, with no sure evidence against them and no access to justice or the due process of the law; and the countless victims of natural disasters across the globe – we must indeed continue to reach out to them with our zakat (and our sadaqah and du‘as). Subhana’Llah! Their plight often beggars belief and the sheer scales of the tragedies are so grotesque; and living for the poor is the undeniable Sunnah, often forgotten by us Muslims today.

Having a social conscience with respect to Britain’s needy and vulnerable Muslims is in no way to ignore the poverty, starvation and persecution which afflicts millions of Muslims in other parts of the globe. British Muslims will have to learn to discharge their duties to both, in light of the priorities set by Islam’s Sacred Law. It’s even been argued that, if we were to get our own house in a little more order, it would help us to better help others in the long run. Whatever the case, we need to think the issue of how best to deploy our zakat; of how best to help restore dignity to the needy and the impoverished.

This, then, is the case for not neglecting to give zakat to the growing number of poor and needy Muslims in Britain today.

And Allah knows best.

1. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Adhim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 1:45.

2. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:454.

3. As per al-Raghib al-Asbahani, Mufradat Alfaz al-Qur’an (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 2002), 380-81.

4. Hujjatu’Llah al-Balighah (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 2:69-70.

5. The fiqh details that make a person liable for paying zakat, and to whom and how such monies should be disbursed, are issues for which the lay people must consult a qualified scholar.

6. Al-Bukhari, Sahih, no.1496.

7. Al-Hajjawi, Zad al-Mustaqni‘ (Riyadh: Madar al-Watn li’l-Nashr, 2004), 78.

8. Ibn Naqib, ‘Umdat al-Salik (Qatar:Nafaqah al-Sh’un al-Diniyyah, 1982), 111.

9. Cited in al-Bassam, Tawdih al-Ahkam min Bulugh al-Maram (Makkah: Maktabah al-Nahdah al-Hadithah, 1994), 3:27.

10. Al-Zayla‘i, Nasab al-Rayah (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2002), 2:423.

11. Nisab: This is the minimum amount of wealth upon which zakat becomes payable. If one only has gold assets, the nisab is 87.48 grams of gold. If the assets are a mixture of gold and silver, the nisab for silver is utilised, which is 612.36 grams. In monetary terms, one converts these nisab levels to the current market prices for gold or silver. Thus, at today’s price (8/2/2015), the market value for gold, per gram, was £26.02; and for silver, £0.35. So whoever has £2,276.23 or more of net gold assets, will have to pay zakat, or £214.32 of mixed net assets must pay zakat. Those possessing less than the nisab are not liable for zakat and are usually considered poor or needy. One, however, consults a qualified scholars if unsure about how to calculate zakat.

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