Crack-consumerism is the collective substance abuse that we as a nation now partake in. The remedy for this greed, avarice, hyper consumption and predatoriness is the forgotten Islamic virtue of zuhd – ‘renunciation’ or ‘worldly detachment.’
Speaking of such detachment, Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal said: ‘Zuhd is of three degrees. Firstly, to shun the forbidden; this is the zuhd of the general folk. Secondly, to avoid the lawful but unnecessary; this is the zuhd of the elite. Thirdly, to guard against everything that distracts one from Allah; this is the zuhd of the knowers of Allah (‘arifun).’1
The challenge for most of us Muslims today is to keep the haram, the forbidden, out of our lives. This level of worldly detachment is an obligation upon us all and is deemed one of the greatest forms of spiritual struggle in our time. One hadith makes the point: اتَّقِ الْمَحَارِمَ تَكُنْ أَعْبَدَ النَّاسِ – ‘Guard against the forbidden, you will be the most devout of people.’2 The forbidden, here, includes both the outer and inner harams. The outward haram includes things such as not fulfilling basic obligations like prayer, fasting, etc; sins of the tongue like lying, tale-carrying and back-biting; and sins of the limbs, like not lowering the gaze from what is haram to see or what incites passions, hearing haram talk like slander, and doing acts of haram. The inner haram refers to the haram vices of the heart, like jealously, showing-off in acts of worship, arrogance, vanity, impatience with God’s decree, etc.
Often people who consider themselves as religious practitioners will say that they’ve been praying, fasting, giving charity and seeking increase in sacred knowledge for a few year now, but still they find an absence of blessings, spiritual satisfaction, or inner peace that they would have expected. Usually that is because, along with the good that they do, the haram still significantly permeates their life. One of the contemporary shaykhs of spiritual wayfaring, Shaykh Jaleel Ahmad Akhoon, likens this to someone who installs new central heating in the house. When the icy winters comes arounds, he turns the heating on and cranks up the temperature. Yet after some time, the house is still freezing cold. Puzzled, he checks each radiator only to find they’re all working perfectly and are as hot as an iron! So why’s the house still freezing? It’s because the owner, although he’s turned the heating on, hasn’t shut all the windows in the house. So the heat is being lost to the outside chill. This, the Shaykh stated, is like spiritual warmth and blessings brought about by the doing of good deeds, but their effects are not felt because one has not turned their backs on the icy winds of haram! But as the windows of the house are each shut tight, even a small amount of heating will warm up the house and its occupants.
The next level is not becoming consumer cogs or addicts, by wisely detaching ourselves from superfluous and unnecessary consumption, and settling for simpler ways of living. Slowly and wisely ‘unsticking’ ourselves from dunya things is highly encouraged in Islam and begins to create real space for God and godliness to grow in our hearts.
Beyond that is detachment from whatever distracts the heart from its Gracious Lord; it is the station of God’s Prophets and, to a lesser extent, God’s saints. This is the sought after goal and the true embodiment of the prophetic path and Sunnah.
At this point it must be stressed that zuhd is less about minimalism; doing with only a few material possessions, and more about the heart’s detachment from material possessions. That is to say, one may own wealth, but should not be owned by wealth. It is said about the sahabah that they held wealth in their hands, but it didn’t enter their hearts.
So as we each roll up our sleeves and begin to empty our hearts from worldliness; to detach them from the dunya, we make space for the love of Allah to infuse our souls and of Allah enveloping us in His love. The Prophet ﷺ once said: ‘Detach yourself from the world and Allah will love you. Detach yourself from what people possess and people will love you.’3
Thus, detaching our hearts from the dunya allows us to attach them to Allah – attaching them to His acceptance, to His good pleasure, to His love and, ultimately, to Him.
Let the lover’s journey commence!
1. Cited in Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2008), 2:181.
2. Ahmad, no.8081; al-Tirmidhi, no.2305. It was graded hasan in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.100.
3. Ibn Majah, no.4102, with a hasan chain. See: al-Nawawi, Riyad al-Salihin (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1421H), no.476.
AS BELIEVERS, WE ARE not meant to see politics as merely the playing-out of the various interests of people vis-a-via one another. Rather, we must see it more so as the playing out of the af‘al al-rabb – the divine acts (lit. “acts of the Lord”) – in human society. Without trying to understand what God is saying to us through how He causes political fortunes of people to unfold, and why His acts can sometimes be acts of beauty and blessings or of divine rigour and harshness, we fail to engage in the kind of politics the Qur’an wishes us to engage in.
It is from such Quranic “seeing” that one of Islam’s greatest scholars and sages, al-Hasan al-Basri, advised concerning the brutality and tyranny of al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf: إِنَّ الْحَجَّاجَ عَذَابُ اللَّهِ فَلَا تَدْفَعُوا عَذَابَ اللَّهِ بِأَيْدِيكُمْ وَلَكِنْ عَلَيْكُمْ بِالِاسْتِكَانَةِ وَالتَّضَرُّعِ – ‘Indeed, al-Hajjaj is a punishment from God, so do not repel it by your hands. But take to humility and imploring God.’1 This political strategy and spiritual advice echoes what God has said in the Holy Qur’an: وَلَقَدْ أَخَذْنَاهُمْ بِالْعَذَابِ فَمَا اسْتَكَانُوا لِرَبِّهِمْ وَمَا يَتَضَرَّعُونَ – Thus We seized them with punishment, and yet they humbled not themselves to their Lord, nor did they implore Him. [Q.23:76]. Which is to say, had they humbly turned to God and made a real and concerted effort to reform their lives, Allah would have lifted His majestic wrath and sent down His beautiful mercy.
The same sentiment is echoed in these words of the Qur’an: وَكَذَلِكَ نُوَلِّي بَعْضَ الظَّالِمِينَ بَعْضًا بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ – Thus do We let some of the unjust have power over others because of their misdeeds. [Q.6:129] The political rule of thumb here is that: ‘If those governed desire to rid themselves of the injustices of an unjust ruler, they too must abstain from unjust [sinful] acts.’2 And this can only begin to occur as we begin listening to what the af‘al al-rabb are telling us. This listening is key to the political well-being of Muslims.
Also related to this context. Al-Hasan al-Basri was once asked by some young activists to endorse an uprising against the brutal tyranny of al-Hajjaj, to which he replied: أَرَى أَنْ لا تُقَاتِلُوْهُ؛ فَإنَّهَا إِنْ تكُ عُقُوْبَةً مِنْ اللهِ فَمَا أَنْتُمْ بِرَادِّي عُقُوبَةَ اللهِ بِأَسْيَافِكُم، وَإِنْ يَكُنْ بَلاءً، فَاصْبِرُوا حَتّٰى يَحْكُمَ الله وَهُوَ خَيْرُ الْحَاكِمِيْن – ‘I hold that you should not fight him. For if this is a punishment from God, you shall not repel God’s punishment by your swords. But if this be a trial, then be patient, till God judgement comes; and He is the best of Judges.’3 Ticked-off by his reply, and riled up by zeal and more than a hint of recklessness, they fought against al-Hajjaj, and he slew all of them.
On hearing about the ill-fated uprising, al-Hasan al-Basri went on to remark: لَوْ أَنَّ النَّاسَ إِذَا ابْتُلُوا مِنْ قِبَلِ سُلْطَانِهِمْ صَبَرُوا مَا لَبِثُوا أَنْ يُفْرَجَ عَنْهُمْ ، وَلَكِنَّهُمْ يَجْزَعُونَ إِلَى السَّيْفِ فَيُوَكَّلُونَ إِلَيْهِ ، فَوَاللَّهِ مَا جَاءُوا بِيَوْمِ خَيْرٍ قَطُّ – ‘If the people only showed patience when they are being tried by their ruler, it would not be long before they would be given relief from it. But they always rush for the swords, so they are left to their swords. By God, not even for a single day did they bring about any good!’4
If this last sentence of al-Hasan al-Basri seems somewhat sharp, see it – not as some kind of endorsement of the tyrannical status quo; as those with shallow intellects claim – but as a reprimand to all those who failed to heed the af‘al al-rabb; who turned their backs on the duty to be patient; who probably convinced other impressionable souls to do likewise and follow them to their deaths through an ill-judged activism; and who indirectly helped rationalise and entrench further tyranny of shabby tyrants.
The apex of our politically worsening times, when religious guidance will be eclipsed by deceptions and distraction, will happen during the times of the Dajjal; as one hadith puts it: مَا بَيْنَ خَلْقِ آدَمَ إِلَى قِيَامِ السَّاعَةِ خَلْقٌ أَكْبَرُ مِنَ الدَّجَّالِ – ‘Nothing between the creation of Adam until the establishment of the Hour is graver than [the matter of] the Dajjal.’5
In another hadith, we learn this disturbing news: فَيَأْتِي عَلَى الْقَوْمِ فَيَدْعُوهُمْ، فَيُؤْمِنُونَ بِهِ وَيَسْتَجِيبُونَ لَهُ، فَيَأْمُرُ السَّمَاءَ فَتُمْطِرُ، وَالْأَرْضَ فَتُنْبِتُ، فَتَرُوحُ عَلَيْهِمْ سَارِحَتُهُمْ، أَطْوَلَ مَا كَانَتْ ذُرًا، وَأَسْبَغَهُ ضُرُوعًا، وَأَمَدَّهُ خَوَاصِرَ، ثُمَّ يَأْتِي الْقَوْمَ، فَيَدْعُوهُمْ فَيَرُدُّونَ عَلَيْهِ قَوْلَهُ، فَيَنْصَرِفُ عَنْهُمْ، فَيُصْبِحُونَ مُمْحِلِينَ لَيْسَ بِأَيْدِيهِمْ شَيْءٌ مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ، وَيَمُرُّ بِالْخَرِبَةِ، فَيَقُولُ لَهَا: أَخْرِجِي كُنُوزَكِ، فَتَتْبَعُهُ كُنُوزُهَا كَيَعَاسِيبِ النَّحْلِ – ‘Then he [the Dajjal] shall come to a people and call them; and they will believe in him and respond to him. At which he will instruct the sky, and it will send down its rain; and the earth, and it will grow its vegetation. Then in the evening the grazing animals will come back to them: their humps high; their udders full; their flanks bulging. He will then come to another people and summon them. But they will reject what he has to say. So he will leave them. By daybreak, they will be utterly impoverished, possessing nothing. He will pass through the wasteland and tell it to bring forth its treasures; and these treasure will follow him like swarms of bees.’6 So economic prosperity awaits those who accept the Dajjal; the Anti-Christ – this arch-deceiving, one-eyed imposter – even though such people will have sold their souls to the devil in order to gain it! As for the faithful who deny him, they must fortify their faith and patiently endure like never before.
At some point, around the time of the Mahdi, Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, shall be returned to Earth: وَالَّذِي نَفْسِي بِيَدِهِ لَيُوشِكَنَّ أَنْ يَنْزِلَ فِيكُمُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ حَكَمًا مُقْسِطًا فَيَكْسِرَ الصَّلِيبَ، وَيَقْتُلَ الْخِنْزِيرَ، وَيَضَعَ الْجِزْيَةَ، وَيَفِيضَ الْمَالُ حَتَّى لاَ يَقْبَلَهُ أَحَدٌ – ‘By Him in whose hand is my soul! The son of Mary will soon descend among you as a just judge. He will break the cross, slay the swine and abolish the jizyah-tax. Wealth shall flow abundantly so much so that none shall take it.’7
And that: يَقْتُلُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ الدَّجَّالَ بِبَابِ لُدٍّ – ‘The son of Mary shall slay the Dajjal at the gates of Lod.’8 At such a time, as hearts truly lift up their gaze only to God: لَتَذْهَبَنَّ الشَّحْنَاءُ وَالتَّبَاغُضُ وَالتَّحَاسُدُ – ‘Mutual spite, hatred and jealousy shall depart.’9
It shall be a time that, as the people live their lives solely in terms of the af’al al-rabb, the earth will give freely of itself and will be filled with political justice, economic prosperity and righteous peace: فَيَكُونُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ فِي أُمَّتِي حَكَمًا عَدْلاً وَإِمَامًا مُقْسِطًا يَدُقُّ الصَّلِيبَ وَيَذْبَحُ الْخِنْزِيرَ وَيَضَعُ الْجِزْيَةَ وَيَتْرُكُ الصَّدَقَةَ فَلاَ يُسْعَى عَلَى شَاةٍ وَلاَ بَعِيرٍ وَتُرْفَعُ الشَّحْنَاءُ وَالتَّبَاغُضُ وَتُنْزَعُ حُمَةُ كُلِّ ذَاتِ حُمَةٍ حَتَّى يُدْخِلَ الْوَلِيدُ يَدَهُ فِي فِي الْحَيَّةِ فَلاَ تَضُرَّهُ وَتُفِرُّ الْوَلِيدَةُ الأَسَدَ فَلاَ يَضُرُّهَا وَيَكُونُ الذِّئْبُ فِي الْغَنَمِ كَأَنَّهُ كَلْبُهَا وَتُمْلأُ الأَرْضُ مِنَ السِّلْمِ كَمَا يُمْلأُ الإِنَاءُ مِنَ الْمَاءِ وَتَكُونُ الْكَلِمَةُ وَاحِدَةً فَلاَ يُعْبَدُ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ وَتَضَعُ الْحَرْبُ أَوْزَارَهَا – ‘Jesus, son of Mary, peace be upon him, will be a just judge and a just ruler among my nation. He will break the cross, slay the swine, abolish the jizyah, and charity will be left untouched. None will be appointed [to collect zakat] on sheep or camels. Rancour and mutual hatred will disappear. The harm of every harmful creature will be removed, such that a baby boy will put his hand in a snake without him being harmed; a baby girl will chase a lion and not be harmed; and a wolf will roam among sheep like their sheepdog. The Earth shall be filled with peace, just as a vessel is filled with water. The people will be united, and none shall be worshipped except God; and war will lay down its burdens …’10
Thus the End of Days will see an earthly bliss, with the hypocrites perishing; non-Muslims converting to Islam en mass; and Islam and Abrahamic monotheism ultimately becoming triumphant: لَيَبْلُغَنَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرُ مَا بَلَغَ اللَّيْلُ وَالنَّهَارُ وَلَا يَتْرُكُ اللَّهُ بَيْتَ مَدَرٍ وَلَا وَبَرٍ إِلَّا أَدْخَلَهُ اللَّهُ هَذَا الدِّينَ بِعِزِّ عَزِيزٍ أَوْ بِذُلِّ ذَلِيلٍ عِزًّا يُعِزُّ اللَّهُ بِهِ الْإِسْلَامَ وَذُلًّا يُذِلُّ اللَّهُ بِهِ الْكُفْرَ – ‘This affair shall reach wherever night and day reach. And God will not leave a dwelling of brick, nor of fur, except that He will cause this religion to enter it; bringing honour or humiliation: honour which God brings with Islam, or humiliation which He gives to disbelief.’11
So between the bad and good there’s lots to be done, much du‘a to be made, and a great deal of inward purification to engage in. But this promised triumph of Islam must be seen in terms of the af‘al al-rabb, not the egotistical nafs that blinds us to understanding the af’al al-rabb and the response our Lord demands from us in politically trying situations. For we will not be given to glory in a glory that never ceases, if we seek to glory in a glory that does.
1. Ibn Sa‘d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir (Cairo: Maktaba al-Khanji, 2001), 9:165; no.3883.
8. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2244, where he said: ‘The hadith is hasan sahih.’
9. Muslim, no.244.
10. Ibn Majah, no.4077. Al-Albani has a separate tract on this entire lengthy hadith, only a tiny part of which I cited. He breaks-up the hadith into forty-nine segments, then goes on to show what segments are supported and strengthened by other hadiths, and what have no support or corroboration. In this tract, entitled: Qissatu’l-Masih al-Dajjal wa Nuzuli ‘Isa ‘alayhi al-salatu wa’l-salam (Amman: al-Maktabah al-Islamiyyah, 1421H), 47, he begins by analysing the chain in detail, grading it weak (da‘if). He then starts a detailed analysis of each of the 49 segments of the hadith, declaring on p.49: ‘However, the hadith is, overall, sahih. Most of its segments are found in other hadiths, except a few parts which I couldn’t find any support of corroboration for.’ The parts of the hadith quoted above correspond to segment nos.43-45; pp.113-115, in the tract. Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.1904, supports the first part; and a sahih mursal and a sahih mawquf in ‘Abd al-Razzaq, Musannaf, nos.20843-44, corroborate the second and third parts.
11. Ahmad, no.16509, and it is sahih. Cf. al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.3.
THE LATE GAI EATON PUT his finger on the crux of the matter (as it seems to me), when he wrote 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 quite some time now, the monoculture’s levelling reverberations – with its underlying orthodoxies, 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 (particularly those parts of the globe still referred to 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 of the philosophical propositions modernity insists on.
These assumptions – that Man has now come of age and is the measure of all things; that happiness is bound with the merciless wheel of material and consumer progress; and that life and the cosmos are bereft of meaning, beyond what some may fictitiously confer upon them – have severed us from the great transcendental and social continuities of religion, family, craft and earth that has been the setting for normative human life 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 doubts and disbelief.
If commitment to religious faith and practice is to survive such a deluge, firm 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! However, while less than half a century earlier one could be a decent Muslim and remain so without having ever heard of al-Ghazali, al-Razi or Ibn Taymiyyah, today a Muslim who does not possess at least some grounding in the doctrines and assumptions upon which the faith of Islam is grounded, stands in immense danger, unless cocooned in some impenetrable bubble of naivety or simplicity.
Of course, many Muslim saints and pietists of the past did end up turning their backs on a heedless or hell-bent society. If it were possible for those who see the monoculture for what it truly is to withdraw from society and to go their own way in peace, this would probably be a decent course of action (not forgetting that the core of Islam’s call is very much urban and city-centred). But there is no where one could ‘opt-out’. For day by day, liberal modernity grows ever more invasive and totalising, suffocating any meaningful dissent; assimilating any significant diversity; and erasing any significant divergence. So driven into a tight corner, religion has little option but to turn and fight. Hence an urgent need to raise the dust of polemics against the ensnaring assumptions of modernity.
DESPITE THEM BEING on the frontline of rearing, educating and nurturing the hearts and minds of the young, day in; day out, the sad reality is that Muslim teachers are still hugely undervalued by us Muslims as a community. And yet it is undeniable that young people are more positively influenced by teachers than they are likely to be, at their ages, by any scholar, shaykh or da’i. They are far more likely to air their problems or their concerns to a trusted teacher than to a distant, albeit qualified scholar. Young people are convinced, and rightly so, that if any adult is going to get what they are going through, it’s likely to be their teachers than it is the unapproachable imam in a mosque, or some Muslim celebrity scholar on the internet. If it is to be an adult, then it is to a trusted teacher that a young person is likely to air their life problems. So how can this frontline of Muslim teachers not be given the respect, or given their due, when it is they who most engage, or who are most instrumental in nurturing and caring for the wellbeing of the young today? Their role and influence upon young people; in general, and on young Muslims; in particular, is surely second to none?!
The Prophet ﷺ once said of the act of earning a lawful income and of being responsible for one’s dependants: ‘If one leaves [home] striving for his young child, he is in the path of God. If one leaves [home] striving for his two elderly parents, he is in the path of God. If one leaves [home] striving to be self-sufficient, then he is in the path of God. If one leaves [home] striving to be boastful or to show-off, he is in the path of Satan.’1
So Islam elevates a worldly job, conferring on it honour, by placing it in the distinguished category of fi sabili’Llah – “in the Path of God”; provided it is a lawful job, done with the overall intention to earn Allah’s pleasure and approval.
If this is the case with the job of a farmer, trader or candlestick maker, then more so is the case for those whose professions it is to educate and nurture young minds and hearts in Muslim schools; or Muslim teacher who work in state schools with the godly intention of imparting whatever moral, ethical or religious instruction possible in such environments. Given this reality, the role or status of Muslim teachers cannot be underestimated.
It’s about time that we gave proper recognition to these unsung heroes of our community. It’s time we gave credit where credit is long overdue. We must invest in those individuals and institutions which will help to nurture future generations of young Muslims who are religiously and ethically grounded and, who are at one and the same time, conscientious believers and responsible citizens.
While we Muslims do seem to value the building of Muslim schools, we must value even more so the teachers that work there, as well as those Muslim teachers employed in state schools hoping to attain likeminded outcomes. We continue to do both ourselves, and our younger generation, a great disservice if we do not appropriately value Muslim teachers, or realise their paramount role in the community. The Qur’an says: Give just measure and weight, nor withhold from people the things that are their due. [Q.11:85]
1. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Saghir, no.940. The hadith was declared as sahih in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.1428.