The Humble I

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

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Are We Forgetting Allah Amidst All the Noise, Gossip & Chatter?

‘ABD ALLAH B. ‘AWN (d.151H), one of Islam’s early pietists, said: « ذِكْرُ النَّاسِ دَاءٌ، وَذِكْرُ اللهِ دَوَاءٌ » – ‘Remembrance of people is a malady, while the remembrance of God is a remedy.’

After citing these words, Imam al-Dhahabi proclaimed with jubilant caution:

إِي وَاللهِ، فَالعَجَبَ مِنَّا وَمِنْ جَهْلِنَا كَيْفَ نَدَعُ الدَّوَاءَ وَنَقْتَحِمُ الدَّاءَ؟ قَالَ اللهُ تعالى: ﴿فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ﴾ ، ﴿وَلَذِكْرُ اللهِ أَكْبَرُ﴾ ، ﴿الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللهِ أَلاَ بِذِكْرِ اللهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ ﴾. وَلَكِنْ لاَ يَتَهَيَّأُ ذَلِكَ إِلاَّ بِتَوْفِيقِ اللهِ، وَمَنْ أدْمَنَ الدُّعَاءَ وَلاَزَمَ قَرْعَ البَابِ فُتِحَ لَهُ

‘Yes, by God! Yet it is odd how, in our ignorance, we ignore the cure and race to the disease. For God, exalted is He, says: Remember Me and I will remember you. [Q.2:152] And also: But the remembrance of God is greater. [Q.29:45] And: Those who have faith and whose hearts find tranquility in the remembrance of God. For in the remembrance of God do hearts find tranquility. [Q.13:28] But this will not be attainable, except with God’s enabling grace (tawfiq). So whoever persists in supplication and on knocking at the door, it shall be opened for him.’1

Most of what people say today can probably be put into the malady category, as opposed to the remedy one. So much of what passes as conversation nowadays is either words of dislike, spite or contempt of others, in the form of backbiting, slander or tale-carrying; or it is expressions of greed, vice, self-infatuation and self-love; or words that are pointless or meaningless, which are said simply for the sake of saying something.

Both the Qur’an and the Sunnah teach us to be economical with our tongue and to think twice before we utter anything. Among the many verses which urge us with respect to hifz al-lisan, or ‘guarding the tongue’, are the following: And the Book [of deeds] will be placed and you shall see the sinners fearful of that which is [inscribed] in it. They shall say: ‘Woe to us! What kind of book is this that omits nothing small or great, but all is noted down?’ They will find all that they did put before them, and your Lord wrongs no one. [Q.18:49] And more specifically: Not a word does he utter except it is noted down by a vigilant scribe. [Q.50:18] And while estimates vary a lot, there are credible claims to suggest we utter 7,000 words a day! That’s a lot of words, bearing in mind: Two scribes, sitting on his right and his left, are recording [everything]. [Q.50:17]

One hadith informs: ‘Let he who believes in Allah and the Last Day either speak good or keep silent.’2 Another cautions: ‘Is there anything that topples people on their faces (or their noses) into Hell, other than the harvests of their tongues?’3 Given such a dire upshot, it won’t come as a surprise, then, that the Prophet ﷺ also instructed: ‘Speak good and be enriched, or else refrain from speaking evil, and be safe.’4

We live in a noisy, chatty, cacophonic world, made even chattier by the arrival of the Internet and of mobile phones. We need to cultivate a degree of discipline so as to resist the urge to join in any and every chat. Islam wants us to cultivate a habit of retreating from conversations that are pointless, untruthful, ungodly and not beneficial. It teaches us to be, for the most part, silent and not to speak except when there is a benefit in doing so. And whilst we might be excused for some light chat or a little idle chatter, gossiping about people is usually wholly unbecoming of a believer; and doing so by way of bad mouthing others, or out of a devilish desire to cause schisms or tension between people, is ugly, ungodly and outright sinful.

However we retreat from too much talking, especially negative or meaningless remembrance of others (celebrities, work colleagues, family, neighbours, etc.), and however we begin to turn the volume down around us as well as in us, we can start to heal and become whole. The Prophet ﷺ once said: ‘The loners have taken the lead.’ On being asked who these loners (mufarridun) were, he replied: ‘Those men and women who remember God abundantly.’5 He ﷺ also said: ‘Let not your tongue cease to be moist with the remembrance of God.’6 Thus as ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Awn stated, as we wrestle ourselves away from the grip of gossip, idle chatter, and sinful speech; as we retreat from the malady, we are able to make space in our souls for God’s remembrance and thus be bathed in tranquility and the beautiful remedy.

Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 6:369.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.6475; Muslim, no.47.

3. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2616, saying: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’

4. Al-Quda‘i, Musnad, no.666; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, no.7774. It was graded sahih in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.412.

5. Muslim, no.2676.

6. Ahmad, no.17227; al-Tirmidhi, no.3372, who said that the hadith is hasan.

Footprints on the Sands of Time 8

These reflections are offered as part of a continued conversation about how we as Muslims can best retain meaning in modernity, and nurture an Islam that is true to its time-honoured tradition; relevant to our current context; and of benefit to man’s deepest needs. Previous ‘Footprints’ can be read here:

Footprints 1 | Footprints 2Footprints 3Footprints 4Footprints 5 | Footprints 6 | Footprints 7

On the boundaries of Islamic inculturation: In order to offer us some principled accommodation with the global, liberal reality, we Muslims may lick the lolly, but we must never bite the stick.

On the marks of our self-obsessive, online age: Social media is the opium of the narcissists.

Keep the end in mind: Shaykhs of spiritual wayfaring (suluk) tell us to engage in spiritual striving (mujahadah) right up till our death. After that, they say, it is spiritual witnessing (mushahadah) all the way: O Allah, grant me the delight of gazing at Your face and the yearning to meet You.’ – Prophetic du‘a.

Being more critical: We Muslims stand in dire need of subjecting the conceptual paradigms and vocabulary of the social sciences to a critical Islamic theological scrutiny before affirming or denying their claims, or co-opting them into our own Islamic vocabulary. Without this critical evaluation, feminist and gender theories, for instance, or critical race theory, are in danger of leaving the soul in critical condition, requiring critical care.

On rewriting the past to reinvent the present: ‘The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.’ – Orwell, 1984.

On intelligent husbands: An intelligent husband never withholds one person’s right at the expense of another. This is especially the case vis-a-via his wife and his mother: O people! Give just measure and weight, nor diminish anything that is due to people. [Q.11:85]

On truth-seeking and comfort zones: In calling our post-monotheistic milieu to Islam, we must first help people reawaken their fitrah, so that they may leave their comfort zones, question the assumptions of their age, and be authentic Truth-seekers.

On the deeper wisdom behind following the divine commands: Masters of the heart tell us that the secret behind ittiba‘ or ‘following [the revealed teachings]’ is: yakhruj al-insan min muradi nafsihi ila muradi rabbihi – ‘A person leaving his own wants and loves for what his Lord wants and loves.’

On understanding our times and our people: The post-religious person is beset by existential angst, despair and loneliness born from wrongly believing that life is bereft of meaning; we are all here by a series of huge cosmic flukes; and that despite our freedom to choose, death is our ultimate end, therefore life is pointless. Knowing the psychology and philosophies that have created such a profane age, and have so damaged the human perception, is of paramount importance. Abdal Hakim Murad noted: ‘The greatness of a prophet, as opposed to a mere logician, is that he understands the inner life of his adversaries, and constructs arguments that help them to recognise the nature of their own subjectivity.’

On the devil’s goto weapon of choice: The first ruse of shaytan is to distract and divert a person away from their work of worship and obedience to God.

On breathing in spiritual pollution: Rida ‘an al-nafs, to be ‘self-satisfied’ – i.e. to feel smug about oneself, about one’s knowledge, or one’s accomplishments – is the spiritual poison many of us seem content to inhale, despite it choking to death our spiritual life.

Making beginnings good, so endings will be good: When one resolves to make Allah their aim and ambition, or when one wishes to turn away from a former life of heedlessness or dereliction of duty, then one begins with sincere tawbah, repentance: Truly Allah loves those that turn to Him in repentance, and strive to cleanse themselves. [Q.2:222]

On divine calling and destiny: Islam, more than ever before, seems to be called upon to be the West’s intellectual and spiritual deliverance. But its message of hope and healing will only illuminate these bewildering times if its theological concerns are firmly-grounded, yet are in tune with the needs of the time; if it can offer a worldview that helps make sense of these soul-numbing times; and if it can deliver practical, liveable guidance to navigate the stormy seas of these times. This all needs cool heads and macro thinking. Macro thinking, in turn, requires that we not get caught up in the moment, but rather take a step back to get a clearer view of the trends and trajectories that are unfolding.

On not living excessively: Partake of the earth’s fruits for our needs we must; partake of them for our wants we may; but to partake of them excessively and irresponsibly we may not: Eat and drink, but not excessively. For Allah loves not the excessive. [Q.7:31]

On marital bliss: The entire issue of marriage in Islam revolves around mutual love, kindness, compromise and companionship. Whenever spouses enter the marital home, let them each hang their egos up on the coat peg. For marital becomes martial when the “i” is pushed foreword!

On prophetic uprisings, not leftist revolutions: The Muslim scholarly tradition is built on conserving whatever is best in any given political system, collective or society; and advocates addressing and rectifying imbalances and injustices, rather than toppling or tearing down the whole structure in the forlorn hope that something better will arise out of the ashes. And Muslim activism – be it here as minorities in the West, or in Muslim majority lands – would do well to reflect this.

On the centre-piece of a godly life: At the heart of such a life must be a desire to deepen our connection to God, and heighten our gratitude and loving obedience to Him.

Revealed truths and being unpopular: ‘It really is the responsibility of religious communities to risk unpopularity, and to speak prophetically and clearly what they take to be truth. Being apologetic or too strategic is not really the prophetic way. One has to risk unpopularity … This has to be done with considerable wisdom and discretion.’ – Abdal Hakim Murad

On the Adamic Man: it is not against Islam to believe that Adam, peace be upon him, was created over a period of time, in contrast to instantaneously; nor even that other human-like bipeds walked the earth before him. But this must never lead us to think that Adam had biological parents; that he was the child of two proto-human bipeds of the homo genus.

On clinging to muraqabah and mindfulness: Shaykh Jaleel Ahmad Akhoon once said the following about spiritual excellence, or ihsan, that it is when: ‘a person brings to mind at every moment that Allah is watching me. Whoever actualises such a state will not commit a sin. This is why our grand shaykh, the venerable ‘arif, Mawlana Shah ‘Abd al-Ghani Puhlpuri, rahmatullah ‘alayhi, would teach this muraqabah practice that for five minutes each day meditate over the verse: أَلَمْ يَعْلَمْ بِأَنَّ اللَّهَ يَرَى – Is he not aware that Allah sees? [Q.96:14] This is every Muslim’s belief. We all believe that Allah, exalted is He, sees us. But as a person steadily contemplates over the fact that my Lord sees me, then love of Allah grows and it becomes harder to commit sins.’

Muslim Controversialists: Thriving on Fitnah on Social Media

THE GREAT SAGE AND scholar of early Islam, al-Hasan al-Basri, once remarked: هِمَّةُ الْعُلَمَاءِ الرِّعَايَةُ وَهِمَّةُ السُّفَهَاءِ الرِّوَايَةُ – ‘The concern of the scholar is to cultivate, the concern of the foolish is to [merely] narrate.’1

One hadith foretells: ‘There shall come upon people years of deceit in which the liar will be believed, the truthful one disbelieved, the treacherous will be trusted and the trustworthy one considered treacherous; and the Ruwaybidah will speak out.’ It was said: Who are the Ruwaybidah? The Prophet ﷺ replied: الرَّجلُ التَّافِهُ يتَكَلَّمُ في أمرِ العامَّةِ – ‘The lowly, contemptible one who shall speak out about public affairs.’2

In the topsy-turviness that characterises social deterioration in the end of days, we have been cautioned about the Ruwaybidah. Scholarly commentaries do not specify exactly who the Ruwaybidah are, but do point out their traits. Lexically, being the diminutive of the word rabidah (‘lowly’, ‘despicable’, ‘worthless’), the Ruwaybidah are even lower than worthless: they are utterly worthless. These are people who are incapable of rising up to nobility, lack integrity and, above all, possess little more than a glimmer of religious knowledge.3 In spite of this, they feel to speak out about socio-political affairs beyond their pay grade. They eagerly give fatwas and act as social commentators, despite a lack of learning. And they promote themselves as sincere advisors to the ummah, while having no spiritual grounding and still being wet behind the ears.

Our social media age is one wherein controversies garner huge followings and where, like never before, even the talentless, worthless ruwaybidah may shine. From the embarrassing ignorance of self-proclaimed da’wah-men, through to the tragic rise of maverick pseudo-scholars and muftis, social media is awash with those who thrive on fitnah and controversy. 

It might even be said to have birthed the Muslim “controversialist” – one who craves attention through stirring up quarrelsome egos against the ‘ulema, or by courting highly contentious or dubious positions on theology or law – especially ones that ignore or contravene a well-established scholarly consensus (ijma’). The Golden Rule was expressed by Ibn Taymiyyah, when describing the tell tale signs of the heterodox innovators: وَشِعَارُ هَذِهِ الْفِرَقِ مُفَارَقَةُ الْكِتَابِ وَالسُّنَّةِ وَالْإِجْمَاعِ ، فَمَنْ قَالَ بِالْكِتَابِ وَالسُّنَّةِ وَالْإِجْمَاعِ كَانَ مِنْ أَهْلِ السُّنَّةِ وَالْجَمَاعَةِ  – ‘The hallmark of these sects is their splitting from the Book, the Sunnah and the ijma‘. But whoever speaks with the Book, the Sunnah and the ijma‘ is from Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jama‘ah.4

Turning Facebook into Disgracebook, or turning Instagram into Fitnahgram, may help gain us a larger following or more likes. It may be a winning formula in terms of our murky desires for self-promotion. It might even assuage an ego desperate for attention and self-glory. But such insincerity will corrupt hearts and damage whatever little relationship we have with our Lord. Such dark and devious schism-mongering is wicked enough in itself. But when one adds to it the corrupting nature of certain social media algorithms, like that of Facebook’s which exploit the brain’s attraction to divisiveness; and how these algorithms are designed to create bubbles around us that keep us insulated from different viewpoints, thereby notching up intolerance levels, then it is an alarming case of darkness upon darkness! Worse still is that such controversialists know that they have a hungry audience waiting for them out there on social media: eager to devour their malignant content, revel in the latest schism, or gloat over how they and their clique are discovering ‘truths’ which have been veiled from even the scholarly consensus! The dal mudill, the misguided and misguiding, all too often make appropriate bedfellows.

As for using the religion to get noticed, or become a controversialist, or for other types of egotistical self-promotion, then those in whose hearts godliness still flickers, and whose fitrah still flinches at the thought of hypocrisy, will surely profit from the following exhortation:

Imam Muslim has recorded an incident which took place during one of the early Muslim fitnahs, or political controversies: Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas was tending his sheep and camels when his son, ‘Umar, came to him. When Sa’d saw him, he remarked: “I seek refuge in Allah from the evil of this rider.” When the son dismounted, he said to him: “You tend your sheep and camels while people are arguing over who is to rule?” Sa’d struck ‘Umar on the chest and then said: “Be quiet! For I heard Allah’s Messenger ﷺ say: إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْعَبْدَ التَّقِيَّ الْغَنِيَّ الْخَفِيَّ – ‘Allah loves the servant who is God-fearing, content and hidden [not known].’”5

I began with the saying of al-Hasan al-Basri, so let me end with another one of his wisdoms. He once entered upon a group of people who were disputing, to which he said: مَا هَؤُلاءِ إِلَّا قَوْمٌ مَلُّوا الْعِبَادَةَ ، وَوَجَدُوا الْكَلامَ أَهْوَنَ عَلَيْهِمْ ، وَقَلَّ وَرَعُهُمْ ، فَتَكَلَّمُوا – ‘Such are ones who’ve grown bored of worship; speaking has become easy for them, their piety has diminished, hence they talk.’6

I think that probably sums-up the psychology behind so much of our religious controversies on social media. And Allah knows best. 

We ask Allah for safety.

1. Cited in al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Iqtida’ al-‘Ilm al-‘Aml (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2002), no.39.

2. Ibn Majah, no.4036; Ahmad, no.7899; al-Hakim, Mustadrak,4:465, saying: ‘Its chain is sahih.’

3. See: Sunan Ibn Majah bi Sharh al-Sindi (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1996), 4:377.

4. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 3:346.

5. Muslim, no.2965.

6. Cited in Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-Awliya (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1996), 2:156-57.

How Sins Can Destroy Relationships of True Love & Friendship

THERE ARE A PLETHORA of verses in the Holy Qur’an and prophetic hadiths that speak about how the consequences of sins impact upon the well being of the social order. Their ill effect upon individuals is no less debilitating. One hadith tells us that:

مَا تَوَادَّ اثْنَانِ فِي اللهِ جَلَّ وَعَزَّ أَوْ فِي الإِسْلاَمِ، فَيُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَهُمَا إِلاَّ بِذَنْبٍ يُحْدِثُهُ أَحَدُهُمَا‏.‏

‘No two people love each other for the sake of Allah, or for the sake of Islam, then fall out with each other, except due to a sin one of them commits.’1

Al-Munawi wrote while elaborating on the above hadith: ‘The punishment of seperation happens due to the sin. This is why Musa al-Kazim said: “If you see your friend change towards you, know that this is due to a sin that has been committed. So repent to Allah from every sin, and the love [between you] shall be rectified.” Al-Muzni said: “If you find from your brothers some alienation, repent to Allah, for you have committed a sin. If you find increase in affection from them, this is as a result of some act of obedience; so thank Allah, exalted is He.”’2

The hadith speaks of one sin which one of them commits. What about if it’s a case of both friends sinning or committing multiple sins? Can relationships stand up to the divine consequences of unrepented sins? Will sins not harm the divine blessings which keep hearts intimate or close in the first place?

So whether it be in our marriages, or our family life, or any other meaningful relationship we have with others, if there’s a rift or breakdown in friendship, we might want to consider our relationship with Allah first. It might be a case of being careful to guard against sins and not rebel against Allah’s commands. Which is to say, the solution might not be running to a counsellor to resolve marital problems or a strained relationship at the first hurdle. Instead, it could simply be the case of genuinely repenting to Allah, mending our ways, and of getting with the divine program God created us for. One of Islam’s early pietists said: ‘If I sin against Allah, I see [the effect of] it in the behaviour of my wife or riding beast toward me.’3

Now that’s a radically different way of looking at the world, and of keeping our relationships in it. 

Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq. 

1. Al-Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad, no.401. The hadith is hasan. See: al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), no.7879.

2. Fayd al-Qadir, 5:236. 

3. Cited in Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-Awliya (Egypt: Dar al-Rayyan, 1406H), 8:109.

On Praiseworthy Trials, Patience & Firmness Upon the Path

While describing the ordeal endured by Imam Malik in which he was severely beaten, to the extent that ‘his arm was wrenched out of its socket and a huge injustice had been perpetrated against him. Yet, by God, Malik didn’t cease to be held in high esteem,’1 Imam al-Dhahabi wrote the following:

‘This is the result of a praiseworthy trial which only serves to raise a person’s rank and esteem in the sight of believers. Whatever the case, it is what our own hands earn; yet God pardons much. “Whoever God intends to show goodness to, He tries him through ordeals.”2 The Prophet ﷺ also said: “Everything decreed for the believer is good for him.”3 God, exalted is He, said: We shall try you until We know those of you who strive and those who patiently persevere. [Q.47:31] The following words were revealed by God about the battle of Uhud: When disaster befell you after you had inflicted losses twice as heavy, you exclaimed: “How did this happen?” Say: “It was from yourselves.” [Q.3:165] God further said: Whatever misfortune befalls you, it is what your own hands have earned, and He pardons much. [Q.42:30]

‘Thus a believer, when he is tried, shows patient, takes admonition, seeks God’s forgiveness and does not busy himself in blaming the one who mistreated him. For God’s judgement is just. Instead, he should thank God that his faith remains intact, realising that worldly punishment is both lighter and better for him.’4

But patience amidst trials, adversity or suffering – without the heart becoming resentful, bitter or hard – exists only if there is a sense of proportion. Suffering is bearable only if it is understood; even when such understanding is vaguely formulated. The fact that I am grieving, does not mean the world is out of sync. The fact that I have been done injury to, does not mean that God is unjust. The fact that my life is now darkened by tragedy, does not mean that no sun shines upon creation.

The believer endures precisely because adversity and suffering are not seen as senseless or meaningless. Instead, he or as she sees such trails as invested with purpose. They know this worldly life is a preparation for what comes after. The believer views trials as being, not something negative, but part of life’s learning where the divine intent is to nurture our latent potential in order to bring out the best in us, or to refine and raise our rank with God, or prune and purify us from sins, or to simply humble us and bring home to us how powerless we are in the face of affliction and how in need we all are of God’s grace. Moreover, the believer is less concerned with why they face trials and ordeals – which he or she is content to leave to a Wisdom far greater than their own – than with the appropriate response we should offer God in such situations.

1. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 8:80-1.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.5645.

3. Muslim, no.2999.

4. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala, 8:81.

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