The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Weaning Yourself Off Worldliness

How do viruses, self isolation or the need for social distancing, relate to the latest The Red Umbrella podcast, with its theme of Weaning Yourself Off Worldliness? What does it mean to wean ourselves off the material world? Where does money and wealth fit into religious practice and seeking God? Find out from the audio below, which discusses these crucial ethical questions that face us in our age of turbo-consumerism. (Previous podcast can be found on iTunes, and also on this blog here)

There’s More to Salam Than Meets the Eye

AMONG THE LOFTY STANDARDS of conduct we Muslims are taught in the Holy Qur’an is the following:

إِذَا حُيِّيتُمْ بِتَحِيَّةٍ فَحَيُّوا بِأَحْسَنَ مِنْهَا أَوْ رُدُّوهَا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ حَسِيبًا

When you are greeted with a greeting, return it with a better greeting or [at least] its equal. Surely God takes account of all things. [Q.4:86]

Of course, there’s much more to offering the greetings of salam  – which, by the way, is recommended to initiate and obligatory to respond to 1 – than meets the eye. It’s more than just a verbal gesture. And it’s certainly more than just saying “hello”.

Mutual greetings of salam; of peace, is a well-established prophetic practice,2 behind which is the idea of spreading goodness and love among the believers. In initiating greetings of peace, we show our good will and intent towards fellow Muslims. For we are asking God for His peace, mercy, blessings and protection to be showered upon all those we meet and greet. No wonder, then, that the famous sahabi, Ibn ‘Umar, would go to his local market with no other motive than to spread the greetings of salams to all whom he would meet; whether friend or stranger.3

The above verse teaches us that it is preferred to reply with a better greeting, but required to at least return an equal greeting. So, for instance, if one is greeted with: al-salamu ‘alaykum, it is preferred to reply with: wa ‘alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah (or even adding: wa barakatuhu). Failing that, one returns an equal greeting (in this case, wa ‘alaykum al-salam). Again, if someone greets us with: al-salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah, the above verse obligates us to at the very least reply with its equal: wa ‘alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah. Falling short of this is failing to be brotherly or sisterly, and is failing to comply with a Quranic command.

Of course, when ignorance of such basic codes of behaviour abounds, one should be thoughtful where one gives the full greeting of salam, just in case the listener[s] won’t respond with an equal greeting and thereby possibly be sinful!

Some have emphasised that although the norm and recommendation among us Muslims is to greet each other with salam, the above verse applies to any greeting, by any person. Thus, if a non-Muslim greets us with a simple “hello” or “good morning,” one replies with a better response (“hello, and I hope you’re well,” for instance), or at least an equal greeting. 

Whenever greeted with a warm, smiling salam, the same verse teaches us to reciprocate with nothing less: in other words, a warm, smiling reply. The cold, zombie-faced, I’ve-just-come-back-from-a-funeral type of salam, that is all too often thrown about, is simply not good enough! The Qur’an sees this as being mean-spirited and of poor character. If one’s intent, even as one is greeting another with salam, is to do them some harm or to later speak ill of them behind their back, then that is unlikely to be due to poor character. Rather, such an act has a distinct stench of hypocrisy. 

The hope in all of this is that, not only would we learn to demonstrate our good will to others; or be caring enough to invoke blessings and goodness upon them as our norm; but that we’d also learn to become people who, by our very nature, are eager to give back more than we receive. A community in which love of giving and goodness is nurtured – at first as a religious instruction; but then as a spiritual and selfless ideal – is a community that begins to reflect the mutual relationship God wishes for us to make real throughout the wider human collective. But it has to start with individuals who are seeking to become better people for the sake of God.  

So all that is left to say is: wa’l-salamu ‘alaykum [wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu].

1. See: al-Hajjawi, Sharh Manzumat al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah (Saudi Arabia: Wazirat al-Sh’un al-Islamiyyah, n.d.), 186, 190.

2. Cf. al-Bukhari, no.3148; Muslim, no.2841. Also cf. al-Tirmidhi, no.2485, where he graded the hadith as sahih.

3. Consult: Malik, al-Muwatta, nos.961-62.

Guardians of Sacred Knowledge & Spiritual Growth

The core of this article centres on Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali’s discussion about the hadith that describes the three kinds of heart in respect to knowledge and guidance. Ibn Rajab also gives us a window into how revealed knowledge has been safeguarded for us – both its content and its meanings – throughout the ages, by those guardians described by our Prophet ﷺ as “the Trustworthy Ones of every generation”. What the unspoken question this articles asks is: What type of heart do we each wish to be?

We have revealed to you [O Prophet] the Reminder [Qur’an] that you may explain to people what was sent to them, that they may reflect. [Q.16:44]

This verse defines the Prophet’s function ﷺ as being, not just the conveyer of revelation, but its explainer and elaborator too. The Prophet, in other words, was not just invested with the wordings of the Qur’an, but its meanings as well. The Prophet’s legacy ﷺ in the form of his words, deeds and tacit approvals, are collectively known as his Sunnah – his “way” or “norm”. One famous hadith states: ‘I am leaving among you two things, you will never go astray as long as you cling tightly to them: the Book of Allah and my Sunnah.1 Another popular hadith states: ‘Whoever turns away from my Sunnah is not of me.’2

The injunctions laid out in Allah’s Book and the Messenger’s Sunnah ﷺ make-up what is known collectively as the shari‘ah – the Sacred Law of Islam. From this body of teachings come the laws and ethics that govern Islamic life. The shari‘ah is all-encompassing and, to worship Allah, believers must recognise that every area of human activity bears religious significance.

Now the men and women of the Prophet’s generation ﷺ, to whom he recited the Qur’an and who became his immediate disciples and followers, are known as the sahabah or “Companions”. The Qur’an says of them: As for the foremost, the first of the Emigrants and the Helpers, and those who followed them with excellence, Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him. He has prepared for them gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they shall dwell perpetually. That is the supreme triumph. [Q.9:100]

The Prophet ﷺ asserted: ‘The best of mankind is my generation, then their immediate followers, then their immediate followers.’3

Another hadith says: ‘You will not cease to be upon goodness while there remains among you those who saw me and kept company with me. By Allah, you will not cease to be upon goodness as long as there remains among you those who saw those who saw and kept company with me.’4

One hadith states: akrimu ashabi – ‘Honour my Companions.’5 Another insists: la tasubbu ashabi – ‘Do not revile my Companions.’6 And a third informs that: idha dhukira ashabi fa’amsiku – ‘When my Companions are mentioned, withold [from speaking ill of them].’7 And outlining the path of salvation, the Saved Sect, the Prophet ﷺ stated it was: ma ana ‘alayhi wa ashabi – ‘That which I and my Companions are upon.’8

Since they actually had direct contact with the Prophet ﷺ, the Companions are thus the source for the exact wordings of the Qur’an, as well as for the Sunnah. An immense corpus of eyewitness reports about the sayings and actions of the Prophet ﷺ have been related by them – each report is called a “hadith”. The Companions, particularly the scholars and jurists among them, meticulously passed on this knowledge to their students from among the tabi‘un or “Successors” who, in turn, did the same with the next generation; and so on, to the present age.

This transmission; this passing down of knowledge, is what is depicted by the following hadith: ‘This knowledge shall be carried by the trustworthy ones of each generation: they will expel from it the distortions of the extremists, the concoctions of the liars; and the false interpretations of the ignorant.’9

These ‘udul or “trustworthy ones” are the scholars; the ‘ulema. Now the word ‘ulema just means: “learned ones”. The ‘ulema earn this recognition only after having extensively studied at the feet of authorised teachers and recognised religious authorities who went through a like process; and so on, in an unbroken chain going right back to the earliest religious authorities: the Companions. Because of this, the ‘ulema occupy an important place in Islam. They are no less than the guardians and interpreters of Sacred Knowledge. The Prophet ﷺ proclaimed: al-‘ulema warathatu’l- anbiya – ‘The scholars are the heirs of the prophets.’10

Presenting us with a window into this legacy, Ibn Rajab writes: ‘Allah has guaranteed to guard this Sacred Law and protect its followers from concurring upon misguidance and error. He raised from their midst a group that would never cease to be established upon the truth, victorious over those opposing them, until the Hour comes. He raised up those who would be the bearers of the Sacred Law: those who would defend it by the sword and tongue, and by proofs and clarifications. Which is why Allah appointed for this ummah – among the successors to the prophets and the bearers of proofs for each age – those who would specialise in meticulously preserving the actual wordings of the Sacred Law: guarding it from any additions or deletions; and those who would specialise in protecting its meanings and implications: guarding it against distortions and lies. The first are those versed in transmission (riwayah); the second are specialists in derivation (dirayah wa’l-ri‘ayah).

‘The Prophet ﷺ struck a similitude for these two groups, as is recorded in the Two Sahihs, where Abu Musa relates; the Prophet ﷺ said: “The example of what Allah has sent me with, of guidance and knowledge, is like that of a downpour of rain that falls upon parts of the earth. Some spots are fertile and accept the rainwater, bringing forth an abundance of pasture and greenery. Other parts are barren, but retain the water with which Allah benefits people, who use it to drink and sow. Others, still, are gullies which can neither hold water nor bring forth any pasturage. This is like a person who gains knowledge of the religion and benefits from what Allah sent me with; learning it and teaching it to others; and someone who pays no heed and rejects Allah’s guidance with which I was sent.”1112

Ibn Rajab, may Allah sanctify his soul, continues: ‘What the Prophet ﷺ said in the hadith of Abu Musa classifies hearts according to what they produce of knowledge and faith; whether or not they retain the water and sprout green pasture. Here, hearts are of three types:

‘A type that both retains the water and brings forth abundant pasture and herbage. This is like those who have the power to commit texts to heart, to comprehend and understand the religion, to gain insight into the finer points of interpretation, and to extract subtleties and treasures from the texts. Examples include: the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs, ‘Ubayy b. Ka‘b, Abu’l-Darda’, Ibn Mas‘ud, Mu‘adh b. Jabal and Ibn ‘Abbas. They were followed by the likes of al-Hasan, Sa‘id b. al-Musayyib, ‘Ata’ and Mujahid. They were followed by the likes of Malik, Layth, al-Thawri, al-Awza‘i, Ibn al-Mubarak, al-Shafi‘i, Ahmad, Ishaq, Abu ‘Ubayd, Abu Thawr and Muhammad b. Nasr al-Marwazi. These, and their like, are from those who were deeply versed in Allah’s laws, commands and prohibitions.

‘Their like also included: Uways, Malik b. Dinar, Ibrahim b. Adham, Fudayl b. ‘Iyad, Abu Sulayman, Dhu’l-Nun, Ma‘ruf, Junayd b. Muhammad, Sahl b. ‘Abd Allah, and al-Hirr b. Asad. They and their like are those who were deeply versed in Allah’s names, attributes, actions and days.13

‘The [second] type [of land] holds water and retains it, so that people may draw water and benefit from it [but doesn’t bring forth any herbage or pasturage]. They are those who have the power to commit texts to heart, accurately and precisely, but cannot infer rulings or extract meanings [from them]. Their likes also include Sa‘id b. Abi ‘Aruba, al-‘Amash, Muhammad b. Ja‘far Ghundar, ‘Abd al-Razzaq, ‘Amr al-Naqid and Muhammad b. Bashshar Bindar.

‘The third type are the worst of people [like land that neither holds water nor brings forth pasture]. For they do not learn or comprehend, nor do they transmit or understand. They are those who neither accept Allah’s guidance, nor do they pay any heed to it at all.14

Having let some fragrance of this classical legacy waft in through the window, Ibn Rajab concludes by saying:

‘The point here is that Allah protects this shari‘ah by raising up those who will be its carriers: the people of derivation and the people of transmission. Therefore a student of knowledge has to learn this from those who have already acquired it: i.e. the scholars. So he learns the wordings of the Qur’an and the hadiths from those who have meticulously preserved it: and he gains understanding of the religion – the outward laws of Islam and the inward realities of faith – from those who have mastered it.

‘The predominant state of the first three excellent generations was that they combined all of this. The Companions learnt all of this from the Prophet ﷺ; in turn, all this was learnt from them by their Successors: the following generation learning it from them.

‘During this time, the religious sciences were all unified. The distinctions between jurists (fuqaha) and traditionists (ahl al-hadith); scholars of legal theory (usul) and positive law (furu‘); sufi, faqr and zahid had yet to gain currency. Such distinctions became widespread after the first three generations. The [pious] predecessors (salaf), well they simply called those who possessed religious learning and practice, qurra’ – “Reciters.”‘15

1. Malik, al-Muwatta, no.2618, in balaghah form (i.e. “it has reached me”); al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, no.318; Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm, no.951; and others. Some, due to its collective chains, graded the hadith as hasan, if not sahih. Consult: al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.2937.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.5063; Muslim, no.1401.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.3250; Muslim, no.2535.

4. Ibn Abi Shaybah, al-Musannaf, no.32421. Its chain is hasan, as per Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahihah al-Bukhari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-’Ilmiyyah, 1989), 7:7.

5. Ahmad, Musnad, nos.114, 117, and it is sahih. Cf. al-Halabi, Hidayat al-Ruwat ila Takhrij Ahadith al-Masabih wa’l-Mishkat (Cairo: Dar Ibn ‘Affan, 2001), no.5957.

6. Al-Bukhari, no.3673; Muslim, no.2541.

7. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, 2:72:2. Its chain was graded hasan by al-‘Iraqi, Takhrij al-Ihya’ (Riyadh: Maktabah Tabariyyah, 1995), 1:25, no.78.

8. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2641, who said: “This elucidating hadith is hasan gharib.

9. Al-Khatib, Sharafu Ashab al-Hadith, 29. The hadith, with its collective chains, is hasan, according to al-Qastalani, Irshad al-Sari li Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: al-Matba‘ah al-Kubra al-Amiriyyah, n.d.), 1:4.

10. Abu Dawud, no.3641; al-Tirmidhi, no.2683. The hadith, with its multiple chains, yields a final grading of hasan. See: Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari, 1:212.

11. Al-Bukhari, no.79; Muslim, no.2282.

12. Majmu‘ al-Rasa’il al-Hafiz Ibn Rajab (Cairo: al-Faruq al-Khadathiyyah li’l-Tiba‘ah wa’l-Nashr, 2002), 2:558.

13. Allah’s ‘days’ is a reference to Qur’an [14:5]: And We sent Moses with Our signs: “Bring your people out of the darknesses and into the light, and remind them of the days of Allah.” And [Q.45:14]: Tell the believers to forgive those who have no hope in the days of Allah. These “days” refer to momentous and defining events in the annals or history of a nation, in which we are meant to learn life lessons, deepen in mindfulness of Allah, and grow in spiritual practice. See: al-Sam‘ani, Tafsir al-Qur’an (Riyadh: Dar al-Watn, 1997), 3:104.

14. Majmu‘ al-Rasa’il, 2:559-60.

15. ibid., 2:560-61.

Footprints on the Sands of Time 7

We moderns have been persuaded that we each have ‘a right to think for ourselves,’ and we imagine that we exercise such a right freely and autonomously. But we are unwilling to acknowledge, despite the plethora of evidences and examples around us, that our every thought is (and continues to be) shaped by cultural influences and media soundbites; and that our opinions are being made to fit into a limiting pattern of thinking which serves to perpetuate the continued and totalising dominance of the monoculture. These reflection (previous Footprints can be read here) form part of an on-going conversation about Islam and modern Muslimness, and the urgent need to be heretics to the monoculture; learning to critically think anew.

On the loss of all losses: It is better to lose some worldly thing for the sake of God than to lose God for the sake of some worldly thing.

Wisdom behind creation of evil: God does create things He dislikes or hates, but only for the sake of a wise purpose He loves and is pleased with.

Be moderate or to moderate; that’s the question: Political leaders seem to be tripping over themselves in their bid to be champions of ‘moderate’ Islam. But do they seek moderate Islam or to moderate Islam?

On women, mosques, and today’s all-male mosque committees: When seeking women’s rights that are related to the mosque, advice must be given to the committee in good faith. Rights should be sought with the desire to venerate Allah’s laws and uphold the ways of the Lord, in contrast to cherrypicking what religious obligation to accept and thereby play fast and loose with the shari‘ah. Of course, women being part of mosques committees (not for the sake of some quota, or to tick the gender equality boxes; but from a conviction that they will add value, piety and professionalism to the currently dull, dim and lowbrow all-male mosque committees that have for too long tribally ruled the roost) is to be welcomed and encouraged. Perhaps then we might even see more Islamically enlightened activities, or some fairness and inclusiveness from most of our local mosques. I suspect that most Muslims in 21st century Britain, especially those born and raised here, are not interested in mosques that offer some belongingness primarily on the basis of a pride of Panjabis, a brethren of Bengalis, or a gang of Gujratis.

On responding to the outrages of socio-political fortune: The believer is to withstand the injustices and political outrages of time, not with indifference or apathy, but with guarded perseverance, dignified response, and a sense of righteous anger that doesn’t burst at the seams or explode into uncontrolled rage.

It’s about God, all else is a footnote: Purification of the soul is unlikely to come as long as we are seeking it. It will come when we are seeking Him.

On love, through the Law: The shari’ah is there to instruct us which of our freely-chosen acts are pleasing to Allah and which displease Him; which win us His love and which His anger.

On the theology of divine love: If our theology doesn’t help stoke the fire of intimacy with God in our hearts, then we are likely going about religion in the wrong way.

On signs of real sincerity: True sincerity (ikhlas) isn’t just to single-out Allah for worship and to do things for His sake; it is to do so while not being moved by the sweetness of a compliment or the pain of criticism.

On manufacturing an Islam that is all things, to all people: The rightly acting ‘ulema have long been concerned about pseudo-scholars, charlatans or the weak-spirited not turning Islam into as many things as modernity wants Religion to be. In that the Islamic texts are twisted and tortured so as to make them compliant with whatever “ism” that happens to be modernity’s prevailing mood or zeitgeist: be it humanism, secularism, materialism, or nationalism; and more recently: liberalism, feminism, or transgenderism. Their concerns, as it turned out, were wholly justified!

Greater than unconditional love: Higher than giving our children our unconditional love which, of course, we must do, is to pray we can love them for God’s sake for the faith and the righteousness they hopefully live by.

On the place of the divine rigour and beauty: Whoever claims we can be beholden to the Divine Beauty, before being disciplined by the Divine Rigour, is an imposter – all except the majdhub!

On being true to the trust of teaching: Let the scholar or caller examine himself or herself on two accounts: [i] Am I fulfilling or betraying the trust of teaching; and [ii] Do I practice what I preach?

On living a contented life: In Islam, the good and happy life entails: being God-centred, not self-centred; quick in fulfilling the rights of others; prudent in speech; thankful for what one has, not greedy for what one does not; doing righteous works; and not being satiated in eating.

On timeless teachings and contemporary times: Being rooted in the old and deducing the new makes for a good scholar. 

Muslim activism stuck in a spider’s web: Some ‘ulema were quick to realise that whatever political or religious spectrum Muslims advocate, most Muslim activism and movements that sought change, throughout the twentieth century till today, are locked in the logic of modernity, and only operate within its limiting, hegemonic parameters; its spider’s web. Islam, however, premised on the Adamic fitrah and the prophetic Sunnah, lies outside the monoculture’s plethora of philosophies, and so cannot be made subordinate to it. This is why Islam is, and continues to be, the great global dissent from the totalising ideology of liberal modernity.

Life is a thing, when you learn you grow: The narrow minded alway see certainties in fiqh issues. But the learned know that fiqh issues are never as ironclad as the narrow minded imagine.

On embracing the ways of wisdom: To know that one never gives walnuts to the toothless, or earrings to the earless, is part of true wisdom. 

Let pride be born of the Spirit, not of the ego: In principle, we are proud to be Muslims; pride born, not of the ego’s arrogance (kibr), rather of gratitude for God’s guidance: We would not have been guided had God not guided us. [Q.7:43] For we can rightfully be proud if it’s without the ego; if it is godly and not worldly. In practice, it is rare for such pride to be without ego – even when it relates to pride in Islam’s revealed truths. Al-Ghazali once said: ‘How much blood has been spilt to promote the causes of the masters of the law schools!’ So whilst truth and the details of ritual correctness are indeed important, it must not be driven by sectarian pride, nor come at the cost of one’s own salvation: ‘Whoever has an atom’s worth of pride in his heart will not enter Paradise’ [Muslim, no.147] Hence if you know someone has opposed the Book, Sunnah, or ijma‘, ensure your state is one of gratitude to Allah for your guidance. Or better still, let us pray as Imam Ahmad would pray: ‘O Allah, whosoever from this community is upon other than the truth, believing himself to be upon the truth, return him to the truth, that he may be from the People of the Truth.’

On doing things well and with excellence: The archer intends, not merely to hit the target, but rather to hit the actual bullseye. So in all things, let us heed the Prophet’s words ﷺ: saddidu wa qaribu – that is, ‘aim as well as you can;’ for once the arrow leaves the bow, the outcome is out of our hands. 

On the signs of real knowledge: Truly beneficial knowledge should nurture four traits in a person: piety (taqwa) towards God, humility (tawadu’) towards others, detachment (zuhd) from worldliness, and spiritual striving (mujahadah) against one’s ego.

The Soul of Islam is a Vigilant and Mindful Heart

Revelation tells us that muraqabah, vigilance of Allah, is one of the sublimest spiritual stations. We are told too that habituating our heart to such vigilance requires training the heart gradually and step-by-step. Masters of the heart instruct us to accustom ourselves to being mindful and shy of Allah, even if it be for short periods at a time – persevering in this even in our day-to-day affairs, let alone when engaged in acts of worship – until such mindfulness or vigilance becomes part and parcel of our nature; a habit of our heart.

Vigilance, muraqabah, is to be mindful of Allah in all our states, realising that: وَهُوَ مَعَكُمْ أَيْنَ مَا كُنْتُمْ – He is with you wherever you are. [Q.57:4]

It is to feel His reassuring presence, being aware that: وَنَحْنُ أَقْرَبُ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ الْوَرِيدِ – We are closer to him than his jugular vein. [Q.50:16]

It is to know that nothing is ever hidden from Him, thereby feeling reverently respectful and shy before Him: فَإِنَّهُ يَعْلَمُ السِّرَّ وَأَخْفَى – For He knows what is secret, and what is yet more hidden [Q.20:7]

Above all, it is to know that His care, help and loving concern are ever near: وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِي إِذَا دَعَانِي – When My servants ask you about Me, I am near; answering the prayer of the suppliant when he prays to Me. [Q.2:186]

The more we interiorise such core realities of faith, the profounder will be our vigilance of Him, and presence of heart whilst worshiping Him. For a heart in which vigilance of Allah firmly takes root, is a heart that becomes occupied with Him above everything else.

That vigilance of Allah be ingrained and be made a habit of the heart is paramount, in order for its fruits to appear on us. The least of these fruits is that one does nothing, when alone with Allah, that he would be ashamed of doing should a person of virtue and rank be watching him. If, say our spiritual masters, when one calls to mind the fact that Allah sees us, we find a shyness in our heart which prevents us from disobeying Him or spurs us on to obey Him, then something of the lights of vigilance, the anwar al-muraqabah, have dawned on the heart. Eventually, as the heart becomes accustomed to vigilance, and as the awareness of Allah’s nearness deepens within, the heart begins to be totally immersed in Allah; being now raised to the degrees of mushahadah – of worshiping God as though seeing Him.

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