The Humble I

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Sacred Knowledge: Between Serious Seekers & Flippant Jokers

Now that certain objectionable practices have wiggled and wormed their way into the da‘wah – e.g. corporate attitudes which seems to put money first, the conscious use of comedy and tomfoolery, the culture of edutainment, the huge fees or honorariums that some charge for da‘wah, and an unhealthy celebrity culture which now surrounds certain speakers – let’s remind ourselves about the reality of revealed guidance and sacred Islamic knowledge:

1 – Sacred knowledge (‘ilm) is to be conveyed with seriousness and dignity, given the sources it is being conveyed from and the realities it reveals. The Qur’an speaks about itself in these very sober terms: إِنَّا سَنُلْقِي عَلَيْكَ قَوْلاً ثَقِيلاًWe shall soon cast upon you a weighty word. [Q.73:5] And: أَفَمِنْ هَذَا الْحَدِيثِ تَعْجَبُونَ وَتَضْحَكُونَ وَلاَ تَبْكُونَDo you then marvel at this discourse and laugh, yet not weep? [Q.53:59-60]

2 – The Prophet ﷺ said: لَوْ تَعْلَمُونَ مَا أَعْلَمُ، لَضَحِكْتُمْ قَلِيلًا، وَ لَبَكَيْتُمْ كَثِيرًا – “If you only knew what I know, you would laugh little and would weep abundantly.”1 Religious knowledge, then, is serious and weighty: nothing about it is light or frivolous or lends itself to frolics or fits of laughter. 

3 – Even if we are not scholars, it behoves us speakers or seekers of knowledge to adopt the demeanour and comportment of the scholars. Imam Malik once said: ‘It is a right upon a seeker of knowledge to be solemn, dignified, possess reverent fear [of Allah], and to follow in the footsteps of those who preceded him.’2

4 – The above must be done out of a love of virtue, beauty of adab, as well as saving others from the unsavoury aspects of our own character; not from showing-off or pretending to be what we are not. Of course, actions are judged by their intentions.

5 – Those giving religious instruction are meant to help raise our levels of piety and make us serious people. They must not pander to the mediocrity or frivolity that people have steeped themselves in, or surrounded themselves with, today. ‘Ali, radia’Llahu ‘anhu, said: ‘When you have learnt knowledge, then retain it; and do not mix it with laughter or futility so that hearts spit it out.’Ibn al-Jawzi makes a similar point about the wa‘iz; the preacher, not laughing, joking or behaving as the masses do: ‘so that they hold him in high esteem and thus benefit from his admonition.’4

6 – The occasional dignified humour or light hearted remark is permitted, providing it doesn’t compromise the seriousness of the message, nor trivialise it in peoples’ hearts; nor push people to being even more frivolous than most of them already are. While advising the students of Hadith – advice that is also applicable to other Muslim scholars, teachers, shaykhs and preachers – al-Khatib al-Baghdadi states: 

‘The seeker of Hadith is required to shun levity, frivolity, or lowering oneself in gatherings by being silly or idiotic, roaring with fits of laughter and excess joking, and being overly humorous and frivolous. However, a little humour is permitted occasionally, as long as it doesn’t transgress the bounds of good manners or the way of knowledge. As for foolish, immodest, or immoderate behaviour, or whatever else gives rise to it in peoples’ souls or creates harm, it is repugnant. Too much joking or laughter demeans one’s status and belittles one’s gentlemanliness (muru’ah).’5

7 – In conclusion: If sacred knowledge doesn’t help lift our gaze towards God, or does not make us more serious people with lofty concerns, then we are, in all likelihood, receiving it with wrong hearts or from the wrong people! Sacred knowledge is noble; as must be its carriers, callers and teachers. 

And Allah’s help is sought. 

1. Al-Bukhari, no.4345; Muslim, no.426.

2. Cited in al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, al-Jami‘ li Akhlaq al-Rawi wa Adab al-Sami‘ (Beirut: al-Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1996), no.212.

3. ibid., no.213.

4. Laftat al-Kabad ila Nasihat al-Walad (Beirut: Dar al-Muqtabas, 2013), 60.

5. Al-Jami‘ li Akhlaq al-Rawi, 1:232-33.

Islam, Freedom, Modernity: Mastery of the Self v. Slavery to the Self

Believer must realise that, at root, there’s a parting of ways between Islam and the liberal monoculture when it comes to what human beings fundamentally are, what it is possible for them to be or become, and what it means to be liberated or free. Islam teaches that the human person is imbued with a ruh, a “spirit,” that yearns for God, truth and beauty. For the liberal monoculture, there is no spirit or soul, but merely a “self.” And this self is made up of our whims, wants and desires. Islam teaches that the intellect or reason’s role, in light of Revelation, is to enable us to know the good and what’s morally right, and direct our desires towards it. Reason is a restraint on desires, it is master of desires; hence the importance of self-mastery or mastery of the self in Islam. About this, the Qur’an says: As for those who feared the standing before their Lord and curbed their soul’s desires, the Garden is their abode. [Q.79:40-41]

In stark contrast, the monoculture would have us believe that reason is not, and cannot be, master of desire but only its servant. Reason can tell us not what to desire or want, but only how to get whatever it is we desire or want. For the monoculture, it’s seldom about restraining our desires or mastering the self; rather it’s about slavery to self. Today’s freedom is freedom of the self; freedom to be servile to the self. Islam’s freedom is freedom from the dictates of the self; freedom from self-slavery. One of the saints of Islam once said: مَا وَصَلَ إِلٰى صَرِيْحِ الْحُرِّيَّةِ مَنْ بَقِيَ عَلَيْهِ مِنْ نَفْسِهِ بَقِيَّةٌ – ‘No one attains true freedom as long as he remains under even the slightest influence of his ego.’ With that being the case, any fiqh that isn’t rooted in this reality; any taysir or ease which fails to factor this into its fatwas, is sloppy and short-sighted and, in the long run, is part of the actual problem.

True or meaningful freedom, then; freedom from self-slavery, can only come with taslim; surrender to God: i.e. Islam. To minds that have been dulled and numbed by the monoculture, a Muslim who submits to the divine Reality and who binds himself to a code of life consisting of a series of religious duties and commitments, may not appear as free as the hapless victims of the secularised monoculture who live in accordance with their whims, base desires and egos. In reality, however, the Muslim discipline is no deprivation of freedom. It is a necessary measure so as to guide people, regulate their affairs, prevent them from straying, and dissuade them from doing harm to themselves or to others. By recognising that the divinely-given code of life exists to protect us, bring out the best in us, and help our Adamic potential flower to its fullest, we can attain balance and contentment in this life, and endless joy in the next. In fact, if anything, the sheer number of laws, regulations and prohibitions which the modern state constrains its citizens with – all in the name of progress and the public interest – is far far larger than the corpus of laws or duties the believer is required to uphold. Yet in the cult of blindness and double-standards, it is the shari‘ah that is the “straight-jacket”.

Ever since the French ‘philosophes’ and the French Revolution which swiftly followed on its heels – which wasn’t just a revolt against social injustices and an unjust aristocracy, but above all, it was a revolt against Religion; against God – Man would, henceforth, be the measure of all things. It would be Man’s will that would be sovereign. His personal will alone would have the right to decide what it desires to believe, want, own or serve; even as the upshot of it all – hedonism, ecological decimation, slavish consumerism, alarming rates of depression and ontological loneliness, erosion of family and community, or spiralling levels of substance abuse and addiction – aggressively gnawed away at his civilisational values like cancer.

It is clear, therefore, that the monoculture is heading in the wrong direction. It is leading us like lemmings to a cliff-edge. It’s driving the bus of humanity over the edge; and we Muslims have to be the ones to apply the brakes. Islam’s message of monotheism, hope and healing must restore direction and purpose back into peoples’ lives. It must help steer them back to restoring God in the hearts. Key to all this is the required virtue of sabr – of patience, perseverance, and ploughing on with what revelation expects of us. The Prophet ﷺ foretold: ‘There will come upon the people a time where a person patiently practicing his religion will be like holding on to hot coal.’1 There is also this hadith: ‘And know that victory comes with patience, relief with affliction, and ease with hardship.’2

1. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2260. It was given a grading of sahih in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1985), no.957.

2. Al-Tabarani, al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.11243; al-Quda‘i, Musnad, no.745. Ibn Badran says, Sharh Kitab al-Shihab (Beirut & Damascus: Dar al-Nawadir, 2007), no.136, that the hadith, with its collective chains, is hasan.

Adab’s Golden Rule & Its Minimum Rule

SHAYKH ‘ABD AL-QADIR AL-JILANI’S “golden rule” is the height we must aspire to in how to be sincerely devoted to God, intending only His good pleasure without others sharing in our worship of Him; and how to be of sincere service to people:

كُنْ مَعَ الْحَقِّ بِلا خَلْقٍ وَ مَعَ الْخَلْقِ بِلا نَفْس

‘Be with God without people, and with people without ego’1

While Yahya b. Mu’adh al-Razi’s “minimum rule” is the baseline we must not fall below in our adab and dealing with others:

لِيَكُنْ حَظُّ الْمُؤْمِنِ مِنْكَ ثَلاَثاً: إِنْ لَمْ تَنْفَعْهُ فَلاَ تَضُرَّهُ، وَإِنْ لَمْ تُفَرِّحْهُ فَلاَ تَغُمَّهُ، وَإِنْ لَمْ تَمْدَحْهُ فَلاَ تَذُمَّهُ 

‘Let your dealings with another believer be of three types: If you cannot benefit him, do not harm him. If you cannot gladden him, do not sadden him. If you cannot speak well of him, do not speak ill of him’2

In both cases, spiritual ambition and desiring to be people of real beauty is key. Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. As cited in Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2008), 3:107.

2. As per Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Jami’ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:283.

Ibn Taymiyyah’s Golden Rule On Bid‘ah

Religiously, bid‘ah has been defined by the scholars with slightly varying expressions, all of which revolve around the idea expressed by Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali: الْمُرَاد بِالْبِدْعَةُ: مَا أُحْدِثَ مِمّا لَا أَصْلَ لَهُ فِي ِالشَّرِيْعَةِ يَدُلُّ عَلَيْه – ‘What is meant by bid‘ah is: That which is newly-introduced, having no basis in the Sacred Law to substantiate it.’1 Although the definitions of bid‘ah given by the classical scholars vary in terms of how they articulate it (something I hope to discuss in a future post), they don’t differ in terms of its essential meaning: that which has no basis in the shari‘ah neither in the Qur’an, the Sunnah, scholarly consensus (ijma‘), or analogy (qiyas).

In a similar vein to the above, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: ْوَاَمَّا الْبِدْعَةُ الشَّرْعِيَّةُ فَمَا لَم يَدُلُّ عَلَيْهِ دَلِيْل شرعي – ‘As for bid‘ah in the religious sense, it is whatever is not proven by a shari‘ah proof.’2

Now Ibn Taymiyyah’s view on bid‘ah, or [reprehensible] religious innovation is rooted, not just in an act not having a basis in the shari‘ah, but also in it not having a precedent in the practice or ‘aml of the salaf. So he says about performing optional prayers during the 15th night of Sha‘ban (not to be confused with the innovated prayer of Sha‘ban, called salat al-alfiyyah – “the Prayer of One-Thousand Quls”):

‘Hadiths and salaf-reports about the virtues of the middle night [of Sha‘ban] have been related. It is also reported about a group of the salaf that they would pray during the night. Thus the prayer of someone praying individually during the night has a precedent with some of the salaf, and therefore stands as a proof for it. So it cannot be objected to.’3

The same principle applies to using dhikr beads (subhah). Historically, al-Shawkani said: ‘It is not related from any of the salaf, or the khalaf, that they forbade the permissibility of dhikr beads. Rather, many of them would use it to count upon and did not view it as being disliked (makruh).’4 Given the basis for it in the ‘aml of some of the salaf, Ibn Taymiyyah unsurprisingly said: ‘As for counting on a string of beads or something similar, there were some who held it as disliked and others who did not. If the intention in doing so is sound, then it is something good and not disliked.’5

Then there’s reciting the Qur’an with the intention of transferring, or gifting, its reward to the deceased (isal al-thawab). The very mention of it will often incense some people and make them extremely uppity. Yet Ibn al-Qayyim tells us this historical reality: ‘Scholars have differed about bodily acts of worship like fasting, prayer, reciting the Qur’an and dhikr. The opinion of Ahmad and the majority of the salaf is that their benefits do indeed reach the deceased.6 Again, we read from Ibn Taymiyyah: ‘As for the reward of bodily acts of worship reaching [the deceased], like recitation [of the Qur’an], prayer or fasting, then the view of Ahmad, Abu Hanifah, and a group of the companions of Malik and al-Shafi‘i is that it [the reward] does reach them. The opinion of most of the companions of Malik and al-Shafi‘i was that it doesn’t reach them; and Allah knows best.’7 In other words, given the legitimate difference among the salaf, the act cannot be objected to.

It’s along these very same lines why he doesn’t allow celebrating the yearly mawlid/milad of the Prophet ﷺ, since it lacks a practical precedence from the salaf. Thus he wrote:

‘Such is also the case with the practice which some people have newly-introduced, either because of imitation of the Christians in their observance of Christmas, or out of love and reverence for the Prophet ﷺ – and Allah will reward them for their love and effort, not for their bid‘ah – which is the annual celebration of the Prophet’s birthday ﷺ: even with the difference of opinion over his actual date of birth. The salaf never did such a thing, even though there was a positive benefit in doing so and there was nothing to prevent them from actualising it. If this practice had been good, either entirely or preponderantly, then the salaf would have preceded us to it; may Allah be pleased with them. What with their greater love and reverence for the Prophet ﷺ and their greater zeal for doing good.’8

Imam Ibn Taymiyyah lays down this golden principle to help determine wether something newly-invented constitutes a blameworthy innovation or not; and it can be formulated as such: Any act of worship not done in the lifetime of the Prophet ﷺ nor in the age of the salaf, the [Pious] Predecessors, is an innovation; a bid‘ah – on condition that the need for that actual act was present in those times and there was nothing preventing them from carrying out the act. Here is what he wrote:

‘The rule here, and Allah knows best, can be formulated thus: People do not originate [i.e. innovate] a thing unless they consider it beneficial. If they believed it to be harmful they would not originate it, for neither reason nor faith call upon to do so. Whatever appears to Muslims as beneficial must be investigated as to the need that necessitates it. If the need warranting it arose after the Prophet ﷺ and was left open by him without any omission on his part, then it is permissible to originate what the need warrent’s. The same is the case if the need for originating it was present during the lifetime of the Prophet ﷺ but which he abandoned in view of an impediment which now, after his death, has been lifted.

‘As for what is originated without a need warranting it, or what does warrent it are human transgressions, then the innovation is not permissible. Also, any matter which may have been of necessary benefit in the lifetime of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ but which was not acted upon by him, is simply not a benefit.’9

Examples of religious acts that were originated after the Prophet’s time, because the need to do so only arose after his death ﷺ include: compiling the Qur’an into a single codex; codifying the laws of Islam for fear something might get lost from them; classification of hadiths to distinguish between sound and spurious reports; and studying the disciplines of Arabic that are necessary to understand the Qur’an and Sunnah, such as grammar and morphology.

An example of an act, the need for which was present in the Prophet’s time ﷺ but which he left because of some impediment, is the praying of tarawih in congregation. He left off doing so for fear it would be made compulsory on his ummah. After his death, however, that concern was no longer there.

An example of an act, the apparent need for which was present in the prophetic era, yet neither the Prophet ﷺ nor any of the early Muslims initiated it, is the case of the adhan for the two ‘Eid prayers. That they never initiated such a practice, even though there seemed to be a positive benefit in doing so, means that such is not part of the religion, and so to initiate the act will constitute a bid‘ah. Such is also the case with the mawlid, the yearly celebration of our Prophet’s birthday ﷺ; as per this Taymiyyan principle. 

And Allah knows best.

1. Jami‘ al-Ulum al-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:127.

2. Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim (Riyadh: Maktabah Ishbiliya, 1998), 2:95.

3. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 23:132.

4. Nayl al-Awtar (Cairo: Dar al-Hadith, 2000), 2:673.

5. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 22:506; where he then goes on to rebuke those who use them to make a show of their piety and act ostentatiously.

6. Kitab al-Ruh (Riyadh: Dar Ibn Taymiyyah, 1992), 159.

7. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 24:324.

8. Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim, 2:123.

9. ibid., 2:100-101.

Man, Meaning & Modernity

This is a short five minute video, done in conjunction with Ustadhah Uzma Jung, about how human beings are meaning-seeking creatures who have an inner urge to want to find purpose and meaning. No matter how much our needs are catered for, we humans have a hunger to find meaning and to ask: Why are we here? And to what story do we belong?

As basic as the message will be to most Muslims, it’s still worth investing in watching the video for the following reasons: (i) to remind ourselves of these basics, and even fill in any holes we have in the matter; (ii) help us articulate the message to others; and (iii) to know the content of the video to perhaps even share it with others. Given that we now live in a post-monotheistic Britain, we simply can’t afford to be indifferent or unconcerned about doing whatever we can to help our fellow non-Muslim citizens make the right choices and restore the memory of God back to their hearts. The Qur’an and the Prophet’s example ﷺ require of us nothing less.

The video, along with other talks and reflections, is on my YouTube channel (Surkheel Abu Aaliyah), and can be viewed here. Please do share and subscribe if you find any of the videos beneficial.

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