The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Beware the Politics of Idolatry

The Qur‘an teaches that whenever the love, longing, loyalty and submission which are due to Allah, are focused upon other than Him, or others along with Him, then this is shirk – idolatry; setting-up partners with Allah. For as Islam sees things, whoever loves something, desires it, values it, and centres their hopes, fears, love and loyalty around it; submitting to it independently of Allah, then this, for them, becomes a deity, a god, an object of sacrilegious worship. Some there are who make a god of wealth. Others make gods of celebrities. Still others make gods of their egos and desires. The Qur’an asks: Have you seen him who takes his desires for his god? [25:43] Of course we have! It is in this same vein that Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali wrote:

فَمَنْ أَحَبَّ شَيْئًا وَأَطَاعَهُ، وَأَحَبَّ عَلَيْهِ وَأَبْغَضَ عَلَيْهِ، فَهُوَ إِلَهُهُ، فَمَنْ كَانَ لَا يُحِبُّ وَلَا يُبْغِضُ إِلَّا لِلِّهِ، وَلَا يُوَالِي وَلَا يُعَادِي إِلَّا لَهُ، فَاللَّهُ إِلَهُهُ حَقًّا، وَمَنْ أَحَبَّ لِهَوَاهُ، وَأَبْغَضَ لَهُ، وَوَالَى عَلَيْهِ، وَعَادَى عَلَيْهِ، فَإِلَهُهُ هَوَاهُ.

‘Whoever loves something and obeys it, loving and hating for its sake, then that is his god. Whoever loves or hates only for the sake of Allah, or forms allegiances and enmity only for Him, then Allah is his god in truth. But whoever’s loving or loathing revolves around his whims, forming enmity or allegiance on its basis, then these desires are his god that he worships.’1

Today’s Monoculture, for all its talk of tolerance, demands that we bow to its beliefs, values and worldview – even if it has to drag us there kicking and screaming. Wisdom enjoins that we engage with it; even partake in its political processes (for the Muslim collective benefit, or a national interest). But let us not forget the Monoculture exists, not for God, but in spite of Him; and even in brazen defiance of Him. That being the case, a believer participates in it as per the following Contention: ‘It is better to engage fully with the Monoculture from a position of dislike than to engage partly with it from a position of admiration.’2 Belief in Allah’s all-embracing knowledge, wisdom and care for creation, and loyalty to His lordship, require nothing less: Who is better in judgement than Allah for those who have certainty of belief? [5:50] In a world that insists we render our ultimate loyalty to liberal ideals, let’s recall that shirk isn’t only bowing to idols of wood or stone. Egos, desires, people and even philosophical ideals and political systems can be deified too!

1. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:524.

2. Abdal Hakim Murad, Contentions, 13/6, at:

Taking Money for Teaching Islam

This extract is part of a larger article that discusses (among other things) the evidences from the Qur’an and the hadiths, and the views of classical scholars, about the issue of receiving money for religious teaching or da‘wah, and the conditions and rules of when and to whom it is lawful. 

Imam Ibn Taymiyyah mentioned a golden principle about taking payment for acts of worship. As part of his reply about whether it is permitted to charge a fee to perform pilgrimage on someone else’s behalf (hajj al-badal), he stipulated this rule:

أَنْ يَأْخُذَ لِيَحُجَّ لا أَنْ يَحُجَّ لِيَأْخُذَ

‘He may take [payment] to [help him] perform the pilgrimage; he may not perform the pilgrimage just to take [payment].’1

He went on to explain that:

هَذَا فِي جَمِيعِ الأَرْزَاقِ الْمَأْخُوذَةِ عَلَى عَمَلٍ صَالِحٍ  … فَفَرْقٌ بَيْنَ مَنْ يَكُونُ الدِّينُ مَقْصُودَهُ وَالدُّنْيَا وَسِيلَةٌ وَمَنْ تَكُونُ الدُّنْيَا مَقْصُودَهُ وَالدِّينُ وَسِيلَةٌ . وَالأَشْبَهُ أَنَّ هَذَا لَيْسَ لَهُ فِي الآخِرَةِ مِنْ خَلاقٍ .

‘This applies to all wealth one takes so as to undertake a righteous action … There is a difference between one who makes religion his goal and the world his means, and one who makes the world his goal and religion his means – the likes of this [latter person] will have no share in the Hereafter.’2

Ibn Taymiyyah’s words apply to those religiously qualified taking money for teaching religion. But there’s a big difference between someone who puts receiving money at the heart of their ta‘lim affairs, and one who, although in financial difficulty, puts it at the periphery. Again, what a difference between one who says: “I won’t do a talk unless I’m given such and such a sum of money,” and one who says: “I can’t do a talk unless I’m given some money.” If the intention is corrupted by money matters, if the niyyah isn’t solely for Allah, the act is invalid and sinful – and every person is a vendor of their own soul. Indeed: ‘Two ravenous wolves let loose amongst some sheep do less harm than craving after wealth or status does to a person’s religion,’3 said the Prophet ﷺ.

As for the vexing question of charging extortionate fees and exorbitant honorariums for teaching or da‘wah – a serpent that is now in the garden – with what good faith can that be justified? Of course, what is or isn’t exorbitant is up for discussion. Of course, large organisations will have far greater overheads. Of course, quality produced books, translations and media productions are more costlier. Of course, we have a collective duty to assist the ulema‘. And of course, we must thank those organisations that have helped up the ante in terms of the ethos of excellence and professionalism they have brought to the teaching and da‘wah. All such matters are, hopefully, not in question. It’s simply that while many have sacrificed well-paid jobs in secular arenas for a lesser (or even no) salary in the Islamic field, some teachers and preachers are acting rather unbecomingly when it comes to the question of financial remuneration. And that’s a shame, as well as shameful. Is it even lawful for event organisers funded by the public to misuse monies given to them on trust, by forking out such sums on such speakers; or to do so without public awareness of how their money is being misspent? Of course, sincerity – stripping ourselves of all motives other than seeking the face of God – lies at the heart of the matter.

Wa bi‘Llahi’l-tawfiq.

1. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 26:19.

2. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 26:19-20.

3. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2376, who said: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’

Contemporary Challenges to Islam & Muslims [Part 1]

The late Gai Eaton put his finger on the crux of the matter (as it seems to me), when he expressed three or four decades ago:

‘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.’1

He then went on to note:

‘Whatever our religion, we can no longer be sure of holding onto it out of habit or by an act of will. We have to be, if not theologians, then at the very least people who study their religion and who think about it.’2

For a long while now, the monoculture’s levelling reverberations – with its underlying modern assumptions, assault on Religion, uprooting of traditional patterns of living, and its insistence on redefining the normative human persona – have radiated outward across the globe, much like how rings spread out from a pebble tossed into a pond. For much of that time, Muslims – and those parts of the globe still known as ‘the Muslim world’ – even if they did put up resistance to the political ideologies which swept over them, have tended to be far less critical concerning the philosophical and civilisational propositions modernity insists upon. These assumptions – that Man has now ‘come of age’ and is to be the measure of all things; that happiness is bound with the merciless wheel of material Progress; and that life and the cosmos are bereft of meaning, beyond what some may fictitiously confer upon them – have prised the individual away from the great transcendental and social continuities of religion, family, craft and earth that had been the setting for normative human life down throughout the millennia. Simple believers of earlier times, who knew relatively little yet possessed depth of faith, could scarcely survive in today’s world where both the senses and the intellect are relentlessly bombarded by imagery and arguments of unbelief.

If commitment to religious faith and practice it to survive such a deluge, knowledge of the core doctrines and cosmology of Islam, and the monotheistic assumptions they are grounded in, is crucial. This is not to say that a Muslim cannot love Allah unless he or she becomes some sort of philosopher-theologian. Not at all! But while less than half a century ago one could be a good Muslim and remain so without having ever heard of Imam al-Ghazali or Ibn Taymiyyah, today a Muslim who doesn’t have some grounding in the doctrines and assumptions upon which the Islamic faith is founded, stands in immense danger, unless cocooned in an impenetrable simplicity or naivety.

Of course, many Muslim saints and pietists of the past did end up turning their backs on a heedless or a hell-bent society. They took as their queue the hadiths concerning times of great political discord, social upheaval, or religious and spiritual degeneration, in which: from the best of Muslims would be one ‘who secludes himself in a valley and worships his Lord,’3 or who takes his flock of sheep to a mountain top ‘fleeing with his religion from fitnah.4

If it were feasible for those who see the monoculture for what it is to withdraw from society and go their own way in peace, this would probably be a good course of action (not forgetting the fact that the core of Islam’s call is decisively urban and city-centred). But there is no where one could ‘opt-out’. For day by day, liberal modernity grows more and more invasive and totalising: suffocating any meaningful dissent, assimilating any consequential diversity, and bulldozing any significant divergence. Driven into a tight corner, religion has no option but to turn and fight. Hence the need to raise the dust of polemics against the ensnaring myths of modernity.

Thus with intellectual and spiritual inquiry as our starting point, and God as our goal, here are some of the most significant existential challenges (in terms of ideas and isms) to now confront Muslims and their faith; as well as an outline of some basic responses to them. And by far, the most destructive of these issues to faith and to salvation of the soul is atheism:

1. Atheism: Denying the existence of God is called atheism (sometimes it is defined as: lack of belief/conviction that God exists). A growing number of ex-Muslims – not just here in the West, but also in Muslim majority countries – now self-identify as atheists. Of course, atheism doesn’t come in one strain. There is, to lift a phrase from Professor Alister McGrath, ‘apathetic atheism’ or ‘atheism of indifference’, and then there is what he calls ‘committed atheism’.5 The former tends to entail no enmity towards God, nor even actively believe that God does not exist: hence the apathy or indifference. As for the latter, it equips itself with what it sees as certain explicit arguments and concerns against theism or belief in God. ‘Sociological research suggests that there are probably fewer committed atheists than apathetic ones.’6 And contrary to the assertion of such atheists today, belief in God is neither intellectual suicide; and nor has science pushed God out of the equation. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The Qur’an asks: Were they created out of nothing, or were they the creators? [52:35] The crux of the matter here is that while Muslims insist that the divine ‘fingerprints’ of God can be detected throughout the universe – how it originated, how it is ordered, how it operates, and how extraordinary the odds are of complex life or human consciousness emerging in it – atheists desperately field their counter-arguments. For despite modern science revealing the universe had a beginning and came into existence at an event we call the Big-Bang; or despite the fundamental physical constants of the universe being so finely tuned down to the minutest nth of a degree, that the chances of it being mere ‘coincidence’ isn’t just staggeringly improbable, had the value of any of these constants been different by a small, infinitesimal degree, there would have been no universe and no life – despite science telling us this and more, atheists want us to believe that such things happened purely by chance; a colossal cosmic fluke.7 In other words, the entire cosmos just happened to create itself; without any purpose, meaning or intentionality whatsoever. ‘Only within the scaffolding of these truths,’ wrote Bertrand Russell on the core conviction of atheism, ‘only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s salvation be safely built.’8

To be fair, not all atheists are satisfied with the ‘lucky-coincidence’ response. The fine-tuning of the universe seems far too precise to have happened merely by chance. So in order to explain the existence of a universe which fits the given physical constants and mathematical improbabilities without acknowledging the existence of a creator, many are now advocating the idea of a ‘multiverse’. Our universe is highly improbable only if it’s the only one there is. But if our universe is just one among an infinite number of universes, at least one would fit the required parameters, and it happens to be ours. Or as John Polkinghorne put it, ‘a kind of winning ticket in a gigantic multiversial lottery.’9 If this highly speculative notion turns out to be true, this just pushes back the question of who created our universe to who created the multiverse? Or one is confronted with even more incredulity than our improbable universe: that of an infinite number of self-creating universes. Either way, atheists do themselves no favour by replacing what they hold to be a single unprovable God for an infinity of unprovable universes! Moreover, can we really say that such replies have truly dispensed with the claim that our universe (or indeed, the multiverse) is far more consistent with theism than with atheism? Little wonder we find the Qur‘an saying: ‘Is there any doubt about God?’ [14:10]

That being said, the popularity of atheism, at least here in the West, is undoubtedly on the rise. As for how much of it is an intellectual phenomenon and how much a cultural one is debatable. Although it’s been said that ‘the convictions of the multitude are not so much true convictions as mental and emotional habits, conditioned by a climate of opinion’.10 While some arrive at atheism via certain rational considerations, others are led to it emotionally, with little or no rational inquiry or intellectual journey. Some are atheist just because of family or upbringing and, being preoccupied with the tiny patch of grass under their nose, haven’t given religion or the ultimate existential question any time or thought. For them, atheism is little more than an emotional ‘habit’.

Some stumble into atheism due to an uncritical acceptance of cultural influences. They think that since science has explained the big questions (the Big-Bang explains how the universe got here; evolution explains how we got here) that there is, therefore, no need for God. But a little critical thinking would reveal that just because science explains the workings of how the cosmos came into existence, does not necessitate rejecting God as the creator of the mechanism; any more than knowing about the inner workings of an iPhone should not lead to disbelieving that Steve Jobs was the author of such culturally altering tech. Philosophers call this a category mistake; confusing between mechanism and agent: since we know a mechanism that explains a specific phenomenon, it proves there is no agent that designed the mechanism. Many an atheist, regrettably, even high profile ones, fall into this fallacy. But when, for instance, Sir Isaac Newton discovered the universal law of gravity, he didn’t say: ‘I have discovered a mechanism that accounts for planetary motion, therefore there is not agent God who designed it.’ It was quite the opposite: precisely because he understood how it worked, he was moved to increased admiration for the God who had designed it that way.11

Some, repelled by bad experiences with ‘religious’ people, find their way into the arms of an often sympathetic atheism. Here they may find other embittered souls with their own horror stories to tell about religion or its practitioners. Yet people oftentimes have a very curious idea of religion. They think that merely because a person says: ‘I believe in God’ that he or she should at once become morally upright; saintly, even. If this does not happen, and very often it doesn’t, then either the believer must be a hypocrite of sorts, or else it says something dark about the religion itself. Many think that adhering to religion is the end of the path, whereas in fact it is only the beginning of a long and sometimes rough and rocky road. But whether religious, atheist, humanist or agnostic, inconsistencies abound in human souls, even if they ascribe to virtuous ideals. Yet this is not to say righteous religious behaviour should only be honoured in the breach and not in the practice. Islam, despite it not always being evident from the way some of us Muslims behave, calls to the highest moral and ethical ideals. If a believer’s ethics and conduct fail to demonstrate the beauty and attraction of husn khuluq; ‘refined’ or ‘good’ character, let it not be a cause for the crime of tanfir – of repelling people from religion: It was by the mercy of God that you were lenient with them. Had you been harsh and hard-hearted, they would surely have dispersed from around you. [3:159] That said, one suspects that for some people, casting of the constraints of religion is a matter of any pretext or excuse. Which brings me to one final point:

There’s another significant reason why some people choose atheism, and it’s one that is seldom admitted to. Some – and it wouldn’t be surprising if this some turned out to be a great many – are led to atheism, not by the careful hand of reason, but by the desire to follow their baser desires, unencumbered by moral codes. Here’s Aldoux Huxley, the famous English novelist, philosopher and atheist, on the deeper motive that fuels some people’s atheism and their desperate need for there to be no existential meaning to life: ‘For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning … of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever.’12 Other atheists who have reflected carefully on their motives have likewise admitted that their atheism is more emotional and self-serving than it is rational and pure following of the evidences. The American philosopher Thomas Nagel is candid when he said: ‘It isn’t just I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.’13

Such atheists understand that if God exists, there are certain ramifications, particularly moral ones. They are aware that it wouldn’t be a matter of sending off a few Dawkins’ titles to the charity shop, or apologise on social media for the unintended misguidance they may have uttered. They realise that such belief necessitates a life of commitment, service and loving submission to God, by growing in knowledge of God and seeking to mould one’s life around the spiritual teachings and moral laws which He revealed – ‘in short, the waving of the white flag and the rebel’s complete surrender’.14 Yet the rebel refuses to mould his ways around the awareness of the Divine Reality that surrounds him and everything else, and is unwilling to give up his ‘autonomy’ or his pride. Instead he claims the world is God-free, meaning-free and morality-free, so he can do more or less what he desires. This is what Dostoevsky could have been alluding to when he put these words into the mouth of one of The Brothers Karamazov: ‘how will man be after that? Without God and the future life? It means everything is permitted now’.15 If such self-deceit wants to pass itself off for enlightened, rational thought, then so be it. But it will ultimately prove costly.

Some of the classical works on Muslim theology relate the following account: It is said that a group of atheists came to debate the existence of God with Abu Hanifah – one of the greatest and most famous jurist-theologians of Muslim antiquity. He said to them: ‘Tell me, before we start to discuss the matter, what you say of a boat in the Euphrates that makes its own way to shore, docks by itself, loads itself with food and other goods, makes its own way back to port, anchors and then unloads its cargo, all without anyone steering it or directing it?’ They all cried out that this is impossible; never could such a thing happen. Thereupon Abu Hanifah said to them: ‘If this is impossible with regards to a boat, then what about this whole world and all that it contains?’16

This simple, undemanding type of reasoning has satisfied many a pre-modern skeptic, although one suspects this would not be the case today. To see this argument as over simplistic is to miss the point. Atheism, to be sure, isn’t anything new; and neither are the arguments of today’s New Atheists: even if their anger and aggression are. For what the issue boils down to is this: That against incomprehensible odds this vast universe came into existence, containing sentient life that has consciousness and to whom the universe is comprehensible. And that screams out for an explanation!

Atheism serves up blind chance or a multiverse as a more reasonable explanation than an omniscient, omnipotent God who created creation with intent and wise purpose. In fact, what seems like a desperate attempt to avoid theism at all costs, Stephen Hawking insists: ‘Because there is a law like gravity the universe can and will create itself from nothing.’17 But physical laws in and of themselves cannot create anything: they are just abstract mathematical equations which are inferred from real material events. So we are now offered belief in an eternal law (gravity), rather than an eternal law-giver (God). But that, it has to be said, is the absurdity of atheism.

Part Two of the blog, God-willing, tackles the impact of secularism and liberalism upon Muslims and their iman, and whether or not they aid in witnessing the glory of God or diminish it? The other instalments address feminism and Muslim feminists; whether or not Islam is compatible with science and reason?; evolution and the functional view of human beings; and today’s spiritual laziness and modernity’s loss of meaning.

Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. Reflections (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2012), 85.

2. ibid., 85.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.2786; Muslim, no.1888.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.19.

5. Why God Won’t Go Away (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2011), 24.

6. ibid., 24.

7. The issue of the fine-tuning of the universe has been discussed on this blog in, Was the Universe Expecting Us?

8. See: Bertrand Russell, ‘A Free Man’s Worship’ in The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (London: Routledge Classics, 2009), 39.

9. Science and Religion in Quest of Truth (Great Britain: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2011), 74.

10. Gai Eaton, King of the Castle (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1999), 110.

11. The above argument is adapted from John C. Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford: Lion Books, 2009), 45.

12. A. Huxley, Ends and Means: An Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for their Realization (London: Chatto and Windus, 1941), 273.

13. T. Nagel, The Last Word (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2110), 130 – cited in Andy Bannister, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2015), 91.

14. Bannister, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist, 96.

15. Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (London: Everyman’s Library, 1997), 589.

16. Ibn Abi’l-‘Izz, Sharh al-‘Aqidat al-Tahawiyyah (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1999), 1:135.

17. Hawking & Mlodinow, The Grand Design (London: Bantam Books, 2011), 227.

Ibn Taymiyyah: Best Moisturiser for Dry Hearts

In the 1970s, there was an advert on TV for a popular brand of moisturising cream.1 The advert sought to show how great the cream was by first showing us a dry autumn leaf which, upon being scrunched in the palm of the hand, crumbled into pieces.

Next came another dry leaf, this time the moisturising cream was applied to it. After it was squeezed, one saw the dry leaf gently unfolding back to its original shape. The message: If this is what the cream can do to a dry leaf, imagine what it could do for your dry or crinkled skin. I suspect many were sold on this moisturiser … including a young, teenage me!

The idea of moistening or revitalising faces and hands also applies to spiritual hearts. For the remembrance of Allah – dhikru’Llah – nourishes and revitalises the heart like nothing else. Indeed, it is its very lifeline. So much so, that Ibn Taymiyyah once made this following comparison:

.الذِكْرُ لِلْقَلْبِ كَالمَاءِ لِلسَّمَك فَكَيفَ يَكُونُ حَالَ السَّمَك اِذَا فَارَقَ المَاء

Dhikr is to the heart as water is to a fish. Don’t you see what happens to a fish when it is taken out of water?’2

Islam’s masters of the heart teach us, then, to be constant in remembering Allah and in invoking Him. Consistent dhikr, with the required courtesy or adab towards the One being invoked, is key. As commitment to dhikr grows and deepens, and as souls begin to be illumined by the mention of His holy Name, Allah will cover our weaknesses with His might, cloth our lowliness in His glory, conceal our ignorance with His knowledge, heal the anger of our ego with His clemency, and calm the agitations of our heart with His assurance and serenity; such that one will be given to taste the bliss of the eternal realm whilst still living in this earthly abode.

1. The link to the actual advert was sent to me (via an earlier posting of this piece on my facebook page) courtesy of Paul Williams, and can be seen on his: Blogging Theology.

2. Cited in Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, al-Wabil al-Sayyib (Damascus: Maktabah Dar al-Bayyan, 2006), 93.

Revisiting the Sensitive Question of Islamic Orthodoxy

For much of Islamic history, the question of who embodies the majoritarian orthodox path of ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah has been rather contentious. One view holds that it is only the Atharis [Salafis] that are orthodox, with the Ash‘aris and Maturidis being the closest of the heterodox Muslim sects to ahl al-sunnah. Another view is that it is only the Ash‘aris and Maturidis who represent Islamic orthodoxy. Some, like the Hanbali jurist Imam al-Safarini, extended the net as follows:

أَهْلُ السُّنَّةِ وَالْجَمَاعَةِ ثَلَاثُ فِرَقٍ الْأَثَرِيَّةُ وَإِمَامُهُمْ أَحْمَدُ بْنُ حَنْبَلٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ وَالْأَشْعَرِيَّةُ وَإِمَامُهُمْ أَبُو الْحَسَنِ الْأَشْعَرِيُّ رَحِمَهُ اللَّهُ وَالْمَاتُرِيدِيَّةُ وَإِمَامُهُمْ أَبُو مَنْصُورٍ الْمَاتُرِيدِيُّ.

Ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah is three groups: Atharis, whose leader is Ahmad b. Hanbal, may Allah be pleased with him; Ash‘aris, whose leader is Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash‘ari, may Allah have mercy on him; and Maturidis, whose leader is Abu Mansur al-Maturidi.’1

Yet how can it be three sects, when the hadith clearly speaks of one saved-sect? Well, in this broader view of ahl al-sunnah, the Atharis, Ash‘aris and Maturidis aren’t looked upon as different sects, but different ‘orientations’ or ‘schools’ with the same core tenets. And since all three ‘orientations’ consent to the integrity and authority of the Sunnah and that of the Companions, and to ijma‘ – contrary to the seventy-two other sects – they are all included under the banner of ahl al-sunnah. Differences between them may either be put down to semantics, variations in the branches of the beliefs (furu‘ al-i‘tiqad), or to bonafide errors of ijtihad.

Given that the Athari creed represents the earliest, purest form of the beliefs of ahl al-sunnah, there is a valid argument to be made by those who say that it should be preferred when there is a disparity between the three schools. For who besides the Atharis were ahl al-sunnah before the conversion of al-Ash‘ari to Sunni orthodoxy or the birth of al-Maturidi?

Having said that, the fact is that after the rise and establishment of the Ash‘ari and Maturidi schools, one would be hard pressed to find a jurist, hadith master, exegist or grammarian who was not a follower of one of these two schools. Historically, and in short: Hanafis have been Maturidis, all except a few; Malikis and Shafi‘is have been Ash‘aris, all save a few; and Hanbalis have been Atharis, all but a few.

And Allah knows best.

1. Al-Safarini, Lawami‘ al-Anwar al-Bahiyyah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1991), 1:73.

Al-Hajjawi: Protecting the Fortress of Faith

Imam al-Hajjawi (d.968H/1561CE) – author of a celebrated Hanbali fiqh text, al-Iqna‘, and its abridgement, Zad a-Mustaqni‘ – wrote the following as part of his commentary to a famous Hanbali adab-poem:

يُقَالُ مَثَلُ الْإِيمَانِ كَمَثَلِ بَلْدَةٍ لَهَا خَمْسُ حُصُونٍ، الْأَوَّلُ مِنْ ذَهَبٍ، وَالثَّانِي مِنْ فِضَّةٍ، وَالثَّالِثُ مِنْ حَدِيدٍ، وَالرَّابِعُ مِنْ آجُرٍّ، وَالْخَامِسُ مِنْ لَبِنٍ، فَمَا زَالَ أَهْلُ الْحِصْنِ مُتَعَاهِدِينَ حِصْنَ اللَّبِنِ لَا يَطْمَعُ الْعَدُوُّ فِي الثَّانِي، فَإِذَا أَهْمَلُوا ذَلِكَ طَمِعُوا فِي الْحِصْنِ الثَّانِي ثُمَّ الثَّالِثِ حَتَّى تَخْرَبَ الْحُصُونُ كُلُّهَا

فَكَذَلِكَ الْإِيمَانُ فِي خَمْسِ حُصُونٍ الْيَقِينُ، ثُمَّ الْإِخْلَاصُ، ثُمَّ أَدَاءُ الْفَرَائِضِ، ثُمَّ السُّنَنُ، ثُمَّ حِفْظُ الْآدَابِ، فَمَا دَامَ يَحْفَظُ الْآدَابَ وَيَتَعَاهَدُهَا فَالشَّيْطَانُ لَا يَطْمَعُ فِيهِ،

وَإِذَا تَرَكَ الْآدَابَ طَمِعَ الشَّيْطَانُ فِي السُّنَنِ، ثُمَّ فِي الْفَرَائِضِ، ثُمَّ فِي الْإِخْلَاصِ، ثُمَّ فِي الْيَقِينِ ‏.‏

‘It has been said: The allegory of faith (iman) is as a fortress having five walls. The first [innermost] is made of gold; the second of silver; the third of iron; the fourth, baked bricks; and the fifth [outermost wall] from mud bricks. As long as the inhabitants of the fortress are diligent in guarding the clay wall, the enemy will not set its sights on [attacking] the next wall. But if they become negligent, they will attack the next wall, then the next, till the entire fortress lays in ruins.

‘In a similar way, faith is defended by five walls: certainty (yaqin), then comes sincerity (ikhlas), next up is performance of the obligations (ada’ al-fara’id), after which are the recommended acts (sunan), and lastly guarding beautiful behaviour (adab). So long as adab is guarded and defended, the Devil will not find a way in.

‘If, however, adab is neglected, Satan makes inroads into the sunan, then the fara’id, then ikhlas, and finally yaqin itself.’1

Given that ours is an age in which the distinction between halal and haram are being ever more blurred; and given our age also challenges religious conviction and seeks to undermine the foundations of revealed faith, believers must always be on their guard against this encroaching onslaught. Crucial to all this is to ensure we are well-rooted in: knowledge of God, knowledge of Self, and knowledge of Sin.

1. Sharh Manzumat al-Adab (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2011), 36.

Lessons from Imam Malik’s Letter to al-‘Umari, the Renuncient

Imam Malik was once urged by ‘Abd Allah al-‘Umari – who was given to much worldly detachment (zuhd) – that he ought to devote far more time to spiritual seclusion and to other personal acts of piety. Imam Malik wrote a letter of courtesy to him, offering this piece of wisdom:

إِنَّ الـلَّـهَ تـعـالَـى قَـسَّـمَ الأَعْـمَـالَ كَـمَـا قَـسَّـمَ الأَرْزَاقَ ، فَـرُبَّ رَجُـلٍ فُـتِـحَ لَـهُ في الـصَّـلاةِ وَلَـمْ يُـفْـتَـحْ لَـهُ في الـصَّـوْمِ ، وَآخَـرَ فُـتِـحَ لَـهُ في الـصَّـدَقَـةِ وَلَـمْ يُـفْـتَـحْ لَـهُ في الـصَّـوْمِ ، وَآخَـرَ فُـتِـحَ لَـهُ في الْـجِـهَـادِ , وَنَـشْـرُ الْـعِـلْـمِ مِـنْ أَفْـضَـلِ الأَعْـمَـالِ ، وَقَـدْ رَضِـيـتُ مَـا فُـتِـحَ لِـي فِـيـهِ ، وَمَـا أَظُـنُّ مَـا أَنَـا فِـيـهِ بِـدُونِ مَـا أَنْـتَ فِـيـهِ ، وَأَرْجُـو أَنْ يَـكُـونَ كِـلانَـا عَـلَـى خَـيْـرٍ وَبِـرٍّ.

‘Allah, exalted is He, apportions people’s actions as He apportions their sustenance. So sometimes He grants a spiritual opening to a person in terms of [optional] prayers, but not [optional] fasting. Or He grants an opening in giving charity, but not in fasting. To another, He may grants them an opening for jihad. As for spreading sacred knowledge, that is from the best of deeds, and I am pleased with what Allah has opened to me. Nor do I imagine that what I am engaged in is any less than what you are engaged in; and I hope that both of us are upon goodness and righteousness.’1

Its adab and humility aside, the core lesson from the letter is: When Allah opens a door to being consistent in doing a certain righteous deed, and makes that your main focus, then cling to it and do not give it up for anything else. We should, undoubtedly, have a share of other good deeds too; without them necessarily being our main preoccupation or focus.

Something similar is suggested in a report concerning Ibn Mas‘ud, when he was asked as to why he did not fast optional fasts more frequently. His reply:

.إِنِّـي إِذَا صُـمْـتُ ضَـعُـفْـتُ عَـنْ قِـرَاءَةِ الـقُـرْآنِ , وَقِـرَاءَةُ الـقُـرْآنِ أَحَـبُّ إِلَـيَّ مِـنَ الـصَّـوْمِ

‘When I fast, it weakens my ability to recite the Qur’an; and reciting the Qur’an is more beloved to me than [optional] fasting.’2

We ask Allah for taysir and tawfiq.

1. Cited in al-Dhahabi, Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 8:114.

2. Ibn Abi Shaybah, al-Musannaf, no.8909; al-Tabarani, al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.8868.

Meditations #1: Pressures to Water Down Faith

This short video is about the demand being placed on Muslims to make their religious teachings align with the liberal orthodoxies of the age, and what our response to such pressures ought to be. Should we, as some are now doing, be watering down our faith teachings to make our religion more palatable to a wider secular audience? Should we compromise a few aspects of our religion in order to better our liberal credentials, thus making faith more palatable to the monoculture? These are the issues addressed in this Five Minute Meditation:

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