Footprints on the Sands of Time 4
Ours is an age of unparalleled spiritual pollution and deeply instilled ignorance about the human purpose. It’s an age in which religious practitioners of all faiths are feeling more and more claustrophobic, as society accords them less and less breathing space and loses interest in their concerns. The pressures now brought to bear on Religion to keep chipping away at the Sacred to concede ever more to the profane, are immense. This series of reflections and musings are offered as part of an ongoing conversation about how we Muslims can best engage these turbulent times, in a way that allows us to cultivate an Islam that is true to its time-honoured tradition, relevant to its current context, and of benefit to the deepest needs of humanity. (Earlier meditations in this series of “Footprints” may be read here, here and here).
On appealing to hardened hearts: The councels of Revelation and the warnings of the wise are often, in and of themselves, insufficient for those whose hearts are encrusted in sins and worldliness. Allah then makes them taste the turmoils of worldliness and the anguish of sins, that they may become disillusioned by them. Avoiding them then becomes easier.
On the ego’s infamies: From the vulgarities of the ego (nafs) is that whenever a person loves attention or prominence, he actively seeks out the faults of others.
On being lulled into a sense of comfort, then carelessness, then kufr: The whole point of the monoculture is to make us as comfortable – and thus as forgetful – as possible; to live as cattle concerned only about the patch of grass under our noses. Abrahamic monotheism, however, teaches us that it’s not that this present life is worthless, but that there is something beyond worth infinitely more. It asks us to stop looking down on our small chewing patch and lift our eyes towards the far horizons.
On being driven mad through turbo consumption: “Insan with the e-culture becomes insane.” – Abdal Hakim Murad
On how to select a spouse and have a blessed marriage: Religiousness, piety and good character must be the touchstone for spouse selection. Much good can come from a God-fearing heart, and a pious disposition is essential for attracting divine grace and blessings from heaven. But being on good terms with God does not always translate itself into good behaviour with others. Hence the prophetic advice to select someone whose “religion and character pleases you.” [Al-Tirmidhi, no.1088]
On the essence of Islam: Taqwa can be rendered into English as piety, mindfulness of God, guarding against evil and fearing God. Its essence lies in being profoundly aware of God and moulding one’s life in the light of this awareness. In other words, taqwa is God-consciousness.
On the prophetic way of engaging the monoculture: In engaging the monoculture, let us have a heart of ‘izzah, the eye of rahmah and the hand of khidmah.
On the question of Muslims ditching science and being Creationists: Muslims are, by definition, “creationists” – in the sense that they believe in a Creator-God; not in the sense that they are tied to a belief that the earth is a mere five thousand or so years old. Since there is nothing definitive in Islam’s Revelation about the age of the earth, it’s age is thus a question for emperical data and science to answer.
On the voice and valour of the Abrahamic Call: Where the Makkan Quraysh failed to see the disconnect between them and the true Abrahamic legacy; and failed to heed the discontent and suffering of the many at the hands of the elite few, the Prophet ﷺ saw it, understood it and gave voice to it.
On jihad in Islam: In classical Islam, warfare is regulated by an all-important shari‘ah dictum that states about jihad: wujubuhu wujubu’l-wasa’il la al-maqasid – ‘Its necessity is the necessity of means, not of ends.’ Indeed, Islam’s overall take on war is best seen in the following proclamation of our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: ‘Do not wish to meet your enemy, but ask Allah for safety. But if you do meet them, be firm and know that Paradise lies beneath the shades of swords.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.3024; Muslim, no.172] That is to say, pursue the path of peace and reconciliation; if such a path be denied by belligerence or hostile intent, then be prepared to act differently.
Let’s not forget this martial jihad has rules and codes of conduct too. Among them is that the leader carefully evaluate the potential benefits and harms of armed struggle; ensure civilians and non-combatants are not killed or wilfully attacked; abide by the other sanctities upheld in Islam; and keep in mind receptivity to the call (da‘wah) to Islam.
On working towards realities, not just claims: Scholars say: al-‘ibrah bi’l-haqa’iq wa’l-ma‘ani la bi’l-alfaz wa’l-mabani – “What counts are realities and meanings, not merely wordings or labels.” Consider the following limerick:
There once was a sufi with beads,
Who was terribly impressed with his deeds,
The salafi, he scorned
“You’ve no purity” he warned,
With his self he was O so well-pleased.
On shared morals as social glue: For all our urbanised airs and graces, in the absence of laws obeyed and a strong sense of a shared moral code, community and society will undoubtedly begin to fray at the seams.
On visiting the ahlu’Llah – the “people of Allah”: One sits in their presence to listen, observe, learn, practice service (khidmah) and gain self-knowledge; not pursue worldly ambitions, promote one’s ego, or encounter “exciting” spiritual experiences.
On the monoculture’s manufacturing of consent: How many cherished convictions of the masses in today’s “advanced” democracies are actually well-informed, fact-based certainties? And how many of them are mental and emotional habits, conditioned by a climate of media soundbites, entertainment education and the passing trends of the time?
On the different kinds of drunkenness: It was once said to the distinguished sufi and venerable Imam of Ahl al-Sunnah, Sahl al-Tustari, that intoxications are of four kinds. So he asked: “Tell me what they are.” The man replied: “The intoxication of drink, the intoxication of youth, the intoxication of wealth and the intoxication of authority.” Sahl replied: “There are two more kinds: the intoxication of the scholar who loves this world, and the intoxication of the worshipper who loves to be noticed.”
Revolutions are just a tweet or a T-shirt away: Revolutions are messy and bloody. And although you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs, Islam insists that there can be other things on the breakfast menu besides eggs. Revolutions are not events, they are processes – often, long, drawn-out ones – whose sought-after outcomes are seldom guaranteed. In fact, given our globalised world; wealthy and powerful outside interests, as well as regional geo-politics, are far more likely to shape final outcomes than are the well-conceived intentions of the masses. Mainstream Sunni Islam has long been suspicious about revolutions; and with plenty of reason to be so.
On seeking a murshid; a “guide” to God: The murshid instructs, advises, trains, arouses sleepy souls, revives decaying hearts and, above all, leads by example.
On a believer’s love of martyrdom: In one hadith, we hear the Prophet ﷺ declare the following: ‘By Him in whose hand is my life. I would love to be killed in Allah’s way, then be brought back to life; then be killed and be brought back to life; then be killed and be brought back to life; and then be killed.’ [Muslim, no.1910] Indeed the Prophet relished martyrdom, not because of the love of blood and gore; neither for the glory of war itself; nor for the clanging of steel or the thrill of the fight. He loved it because of what it manifested of the highest act of service and ultimate sacrifice for God. To surrender to God one’s life, for a cause God loves and honours, is the greatest possible expression of loving God. It’s no wonder, then, that the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Whosoever dies without partaking in a military expedition, or even desiring to do so, dies upon a branch of hypocrisy.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.6830] Believers, though, whilst they long to meet a martyr’s death, strive to live a saintly life. For how can one sincerely desire to die for God, if one doesn’t truly try to live for God?
On where to find one’s heart: “Seek your heart in three places: where the Qur’an is recited; in the gatherings of dhikr; and in times of seclusion. If you do not find it in these places, then ask God to bless you with a heart. For you have no heart!” – Ibn al-Qayyim
On the changing tides of our times: The first chords of the monoculture’s swan song began a few centuries back. We are perhaps now on the final encore.
On luminous souls: Be kind, be courageous; seek the good in everything, harm none, show courtesy to all living creatures; be enchanted with creation, take responsibility; and be learned in the ways of God and godliness – or at least sincerely try.
As 2016 approaches in a few hours I realise that I have been held by Islam for the last 10 years…the love, the words, the purity of life yet associated with Christian reflection…I have combined both along with others to find the path that suits me, to find and tread on the ladder to heaven…along with my many imperfections and loss of much I have found peace and realise that it is with love that one can truly exist, if truly believed like hand in glove… that simplicity of life and unknowingly, succinctly is enough to survive the rapids…..of life….May 2016 be a year of peace for all….xx
Whoever offers Allah simple worship and submission, doing just the minimum obligatory duties, but with a heart filled with love, Allah will accept their simplicity and help them lead a simple, contented life. May Allah grant us all such a life.
And amin to your prayers for peace.
In fact, the one who struggles to do even this much, then perhaps the struggle involved will cause Allah to raise them to a high and honourable status in His eyes. This spiritual struggle, or mujahadah, is referred to in the verse: As for those who strive in Us, We shall guide them to Our paths. [29:69]
May I ask an off the topic question.
What do you think of Ibn Qudaamah’s opinion about which minorities can live under Muslim rule (stating in his Al-Mughani). He states the people who are not people of the book or zorostrians should be fought to accept Islam.
This opinion I have been told is a popular one in the Hanbali Madhab. Please clarify your position on this.
From my own studies, this opinion is awfully wrong and misplaced. How does one balance the respect for a scholar like ibn Qudaamah with such a grievous mistake? (especially given his popularity among the Hanabila).
As-salamu alaykum Fulan.
Perhaps you could be a tad more specific and explain why it is so erroneous, and why it becomes an issue of questioning one’s respect for him.
The erroneousness of forcefully converting people is quite clear I assumed.
1) The general verse, “There is no compulsion in religion”.
2) The rational fact that people who speak foreign languages and with different cultures cannot immediately understand Islam and its principles and therefore it is rather absurd to assume they are rejecting the truth without hearing it and if they do hear it, how can we force it down their throats?
3) The fact that some scholars say that the command to fight the mushrikeen (reffered to as Al-Naas in the Mutawatir hadith of the prophet “I was commanded to fight the people until they say La illaha Illa Allah”) is specific to the Arab pagans in the locality of the prophet and was due to various socio-political reasons.
4) The fact that forcefully converting people goes against core Islamic values of rahma.
5) The fact that Zorastrains are dealt with similarly to Ahlul-Kitaab despite their clear Shirk (belief in Ahura Manyu, Mazda, Zorastar and worship of fire) can be extrapolated to mean all other non-Arab pagans as they are in the same bracket and there is no reason why they should be treated differently from Zorastrains (perhaps this is an example of rigidly following the words of a single hadith without comprehending the broader meaning)
6) Forceful conversion was not the practice of the Ameers of the Muslims who lived before us, it was a rare occasion and not policy that a person was forcefully converted.
If the above was misunderstood by Ibn Qudaamah (May Allah have mercy on him) (along with other Hanabli and other Ulama), then why should be indeed trust their opinions on Tasawwuf or fiqh. If they idealised a person being killed for not accepting Islam, where is the rahma? where is the fact that we are supposed to help people sincerely come to Allah?
Thank you for your response. Forgive me for taking my time in getting back to you; I’ve been inundated with other commitments.
I’ve not had the chance to access Ibn Qudamah’s words in this matter, either from al-Kafi or al-Mughni, so I cannot comment on it at the moment. Moreover, this is linked to a much larger issue about jizyah and how it should/should not be applied in modern times. We see considerable flexibility by medieval jurists about whom jizyah can and cannot be taken from, and the reasons behind it. Unfortunately I do not have the time or resources, at present, to look into such matters; given the various nuances involved.
Finally, wouldn’t many of your objections apply, not just to Ibn Qudamah, but to a host of scholars, companions and – in some points, even the Prophet himself? It’s quite easy for us moderns to be judgemental on the opinions and views of the premoderns.
Shukran for your reply,
Do you mind pointing out which of my objections apply to the companions and the prophet? I am quite aware that my opinion is the mainstream Hanafi opinion.