The Humble I

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Be Modest, Not Timid, Red Pillish or Socially Anxious

WHEN IT COMES to gender interactions, Islam insists on decent and appropriate behaviour and dignified conduct between the sexes. In other words, gender relations must be built upon the virtues of modesty (haya’), dignity (waqar) and respectability (haybah).

In fact, it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that men simply can’t be men, or rijal, in Islam, without modesty. Rajuliyyah – ‘manliness’ or ‘masculinity’ in Islam is predicated on it (one just needs to look at the life of the Prophet , and also the best ever of non-prophet men, sayyiduna Abu Bakr). In that sense, the only pill Muslim men need to take is the green pill of Islam. Any other pill, red or otherwise, is likely to be a sign of mental confusion, bigging-up the ego, or some other dark and unhealthy pathology. It will also be a perversion of the prophetic norms of how men ought to be rijal. Masculinity in Islam comes from a place of taqwa, dignity and modesty; not ego, anger or insecurity. Likewise, women cannot be said to have the type of femininity Islam celebrates without rooting in themselves the beauty of haya’. 

Islam very much sees itself as the religion about haya’ – modesty, shyness and a sense of reserve. The Prophet said: “Every religion has a distinctive quality, and the distinctive quality of Islam is haya’.1

We are reminded in the next hadith that: ‘Modesty is a branch of faith.’2

There are also these words from the Prophet : ‘Never is haya’ present in a matter except that it beautifies it.’3

To be clear, although haya’ translates itself into words like modesty, shyness and of being unassuming in the estimation of one’s abilities; in Islam, it does not translate into being sheepish, timid or socially anxious or insecure. Rather, haya’ is, as scholars say: ‘a quality which induces one to shun whatever is ugly or reprehensible (khuluqun yab‘athu ‘ala ijtinabi’l-qabih).’4

Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said: ‘What restrains acting in a shameful or deplorable manner is [the quality of] haya’. Therefore, one who has no haya’ will abandon themselves to any indecent or loathsome behaviour.’5

It is why the Prophet said: ‘From the words still in currency from earlier prophets are: If you have no haya’, then do as you wish.’6

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  said: “Modesty produces nothing except good”7 for it restrains him from committing foul deeds or 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 hearts conceal. This is one of the most exalted traits of faith (iman). In fact, it is one of the loftiest degrees of spiritual excellence (ihsan).’8

So 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. If fear of God will not make people think twice before acting indecently or immodestly, the question for a believer is: What will?

And while there does need to be more discussion and better guidance on how Muslim men ought to be, in a growing demasculinised world, the irony seems to be that the Muslim Red Pill posse comes from exactly the same toxic place as Muslim feminists: They both share gender-biased worldviews and they seek solutions to their grievances from outside the healing light of Islam’s revealed guidance.

1. Ibn Majah, 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.

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

3. 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.

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

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

6. Al-Bukhari, no.3483.

7. Al-Bukhari, no.6117.

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

Religion Is Not A Substitute for Science

According to the standard secular story that’s been repeatedly told to us for the past century or so, just a few short decades after the start of modernity, science was able to defeat religion with its sheer brilliance and power to explain. We’ve been led to believe that for centuries religion had been doing some extremely bad science. It tried to tell us how the universe began, how old the earth is, or where the sun sets each night, or why rainbows exist. But such lamentable attempts were finally put to bed when science came along and investigated reality with reason and evidence, thereby driving religion into near oblivion. As such, and as a result, we can put our worries aside, rest comfortably and enjoy the fruits of science and all the astonishing tech it spawns. At least, that’s what we are meant to believe.

As seductive as the story is, and as triumphant as it sounds, the story isn’t quite true. It intentionally and cleverly misrepresents the actual purpose of Religion, by first setting it up as something whose chief aim has been to do pretty much what science does: understand the natural world as well as the cosmic order, and then pointing out that it has done so very badly. Whereas science proceeded with its telescopes, microscopes, pipettes and equations, religion tried to interpret the workings of the physical universe with just an ancient holy book.

In truth, however, religion was never really interested in doing the things modern science does. It might have pointed out the odd fact or two about some aspect of science. It might have occasionally hinted at other facts. Its focus, though, was not really about explanations of the physical world or the physical workings of the cosmos. Its care and focus is altogether very different and profounder: guidance, self-knowledge and salvation; and the ways to actualise our core humanity and inner life. The framing of religion as a flawed, draft version of science needs to be seen for the myth that it actually is.

LIMITS OF SCIENTIFIC & RATIONAL PROOFS

Now this might seem something of a party pooper to some, but there is nothing in the logic of the created order that can irrefutably point to beyond itself. Be it scientific observations, philosophical arguments, mathematical equations or rational proofs – they cannot point to beyond themselves. They are part of the material world. It’s one of the greatest blunders in religion to think we can come up with a watertight, rational argument that proves Theism irrefutably, beyond any shadow of a doubt. That’s just not possible. Materialist arguments can prove material things. It’s a closed system. The physical cannot encompass the metaphysical, but the metaphysical can encompass what is physical. The Holy Qur’an says: Vision encompasses Him not, but He encompasses all things. [Q.6:103] That is, our fallible physical perception (basr) cannot encompass Him, nor can our fallible rational argument (nazr). Why? Because they are from the created order. What they can do, however, is cogently ‘point to’ Theism, rather than irrefutably ‘prove’ Theism. 

What you can do with scientific proofs, cosmological observations, or rational arguments, is point to the coherence of Theism and demonstrate how it best fits the evidence: how it’s by far the best available explanation. This is what rational theology in Islam has sought to do for over a millennium.

And Allah knows best. 

A Few Thoughts On the Death of Non-Muslims

SOME MUSLIMS LABOUR under the mistaken notion that given the enormity of disbelief in Allah’s final Prophet and Revelation, one must not speak well of a non-Muslim (kafir) when they pass away on disbelief. Islamic teachings do not, however, require or insist upon such an uncharitable approach.

Many non-Muslims died during the lifetime of our Prophet . About some he  spoke more about their virtues than he did their actual disbelief. Mut‘im b. ‘Adi, a respected Makkan idolater, was one such person. The Prophet  was ever grateful for the support and protection Mut‘im offered him during the trying years of early Islam in Makkah. When his son Jubayr came to the Prophet asking him to release some of those taken prisoners during the Battle of Badr, the Prophet said about his non-Muslim father: ‘Had Mut‘im b. ‘Adi been alive and spoken to me about the captives, I would have released them all to him.’1

The Prophet would, occasionally, reveal how certain non-Muslims – known for their virtuous behaviour, but rejection of iman and tawhid, or Abrahamic monotheism – would perish in the Afterlife. The Lady ‘A’ishah once asked the Prophet about ‘Abd Allah b. Jud‘an, saying: ‘O Messenger of Allah, in the time of pre-Islamic Ignorance, Ibn Jud‘an would keep ties of kinship and feed the poor. Will any of this benefit him? The Prophet  said: ‘It will not! For he never ever said: My Lord, forgive me my sins on the Day of Judgement.’2

Of course, no one receive Revelation today to know with certainty what specific individual does or does not perish; other than the general Islamic maxim stated in the rigorously authentic hadith: ‘No one will enter Paradise except a Muslim.’3 Who is blessed to be included among the saved and the sanctified, or what truth-seekers will be given an amnesty for not uttering the shahadah in this world, must be left to the Highest and Most Just Judgement.

As for most non-Muslims who died, the Prophet generally remained silent about them: They are a people who have passed away; theirs is what they earned and yours is what you earn. And you will not be asked about what they did. [Q.2:141]

So given that prophetic silence was the usual precedence in such matters, surely it befits us to do the same if we have nothing good to say. There is no need to cuss or curse, as there is no need for false flattery. And there is no need to imagine that such a life lived in kufr was anywhere as significant in Allah’s sight than the passing away of his awliya and ‘ulama. (Regrettably, most of us Muslims have chosen to live our lives uninterested in who the awliya or ‘ulama of Allah are and how we might be inspired by them, let alone care about when or how they passed away.)

Islam recognises hubb tib’i – ‘natural love’ or ‘instinctive affection’ – so whoever feels a loss at the passing away of a non-Muslim (famous or otherwise) feels it; whoever doesn’t, doesn’t.

Moreover, the lives of non-Muslims, just like Muslims, are not all alike. Some have lived a principled and moral life, others have not. Some have been sympathetic to Muslims and to Islam as a whole, others have not. Some have worked for bringing justice to Muslim causes, others have done the opposite. Some have brought benefit to wider society in ways they thought best, others have not.

The shari’ah of course sees that condolences can be in order, and that true and consoling words may indeed be offered to friends and family of the non-Muslim deceased, wherever or whenever occasioned.

Beyond that, it is unbefitting for a believer to get caught up in any collective hysteria, or media manipulation of emotions – especially if the non-Muslim was a person of social or cultural prominence; for: They are a people who have passed away; theirs is what they earned and yours is what you earn. [Q.2:141]

If anything, we might wish to invest more energy in praying for right guidance, sound judgement and wise counsel for the living among the non-Muslims, especially if they have an influential role in society. Seeking to invite, or hoping for allies, is surely better than making enemies.

_________________

1. Al-Bukhari, no.4024.

2. Muslim, no.365.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.4203; Muslim, no.111.

Educating the Heart

When we see terrible or wicked things happen in the world, we moderns are often reluctant to ask ourselves why such bad things happen? The answer, if we’re honest and objective enough, will come back to us in no uncertain terms: they stem from dark, diseased or sinful hearts. In this latest episode of The Red Umbrella podcast, we explore Islam’s teaching on the spiritual heart, and the priority we must give to its sound education and health – purging from it such spiritual vices like greed, jealousy, malice, spite, hate, and an overly love for material stuff.

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