The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Archive for the category “correctives & clarifications”

Scholars, Speakers & the Culture of “Edu-Tainment” [1/2]

Conference.001How do we distinguish a scholar from a da‘i, motivational speaker or ‘knowledgeable brother’? What are the proper qualifications for true scholarship? How serious a sin is giving fatwas and religious rulings without appropriate knowledge? What dangers are there in the Islamic ‘edu-tainment’ and ‘celebrity’ culture we are now in, especially where poorly qualified (or even unqualified) speakers take to social media to promote themselves and attempt to impart religious instruction? Given how the line has been blurred between qualified scholars and charismatic speakers; and given the confusion that currently surround these matters, I hope the following post will shed some much needed light on the topic.1

A good a place as any to start is a reminder about the seriousness of the matter, which can be gleaned from the following verse, hadiths and salaf-reports:

The Qur’an insists: And utter not lies in what your tongues allege [saying]: ‘This is lawful, and this is forbidden,’ so as to forge a lie against Allah. Those who forge lies against Allah will never prosper. [16:116]

The Prophet ﷺ stated: ‘Allah does not take away knowledge by wresting it from the hearts of men; rather He takes knowledge away by taking away the scholars. So when no scholar remains, people take the ignorant as leaders who, when asked, give fatwas without knowledge: they are misguided and misguiding.’2

The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Whoever interprets the Qur’an according to his own opinion, let him take his seat in the Fire of Hell.’3

Similar to it is his ﷺ warning: ‘Whoever gives a fatwa without knowledge, shall bear the sin of those he gave it to.’4

Ibn Ma‘sud, one of the top-tier scholars among the sahabah, said: ‘You are in a time in which its scholars (‘ulema) are many and its speakers (khutaba) are few. But after you will come a time in which its scholars are few and its speakers many.’5

Imam Malik remarked: ‘Whoever is asked about a religious matter, before responding he should imagine both Heaven and Hell before him and consider his outcome in the Hereafter. Only then should he respond.’6

Imam Malik was once asked a religious question, to which he replied: ‘I do not know.’ It was then said to him: ‘But the issue is a light and easy one.’ At this he became angry, then said: ‘There is nothing about knowledge that is light. Haven’t you heard Allah’s words: We will soon cast upon you a weighty word. [73:6] Knowledge, all of it is weighty; especially what one will be questioned about on the Day of Judgement.’7

The above examples should suffice as a rejoinder for those in whose hearts faith and the fear of God still flicker.

Since the idea of “being qualified” or “proper qualification” lies at the very heart of the matter, let’s look at the levels of the scholars/muftis, along with their qualifications, as per a classical, authoritative categorisation:

The genre of literature referred to as Adab al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti – “Conduct of Muftis and of Fatwa-Seekers” – lists the required credentials in terms of being ‘alim bi ahkam al-shar‘iyyah, “highly versed in the rulings of the Sacred Law.”8 This requires muftis to possess thorough knowledge of: [i] The five-hundred or so legal verses in the Qur’an. [ii] Those hadiths that relate to legal issues, along with knowing how to evaluate their soundness; or to at least rely upon the experts in this field. [iii] Those cases and issues which have become subject to a scholarly consensus (ijmå‘), so as not to contradict it. [iv] Rules and principles of abrogation, so as not to rule on the basis of an abrogated verse or hadith. [v] Classical Quranic Arabic language, in order to understand literal and metaphorical usage; general and particular discourse; idioms; and also equivocal and unequivocal speech. [vi] Methods of analogical deduction (qiyas) and procedures of inferential reasoning (istinbat).

The legal literature also states that the term mufti is synonymous with mujtahid – one capable of ijtihad: i.e. of extracting and inferring rulings directly from the texts of the Qur’an or the Sunnah. A mufti who has gained complete mastery in the above-listed qualifications is called an absolute mujtahid (mujtahid mutlaq). The mufti who gains expertise, but not complete mastery, in these ijtihad credentials is a mujtahid bound by the legal framework of a law-school (mujtahid fi’l-madhhab). In both cases, these two mujtahids work with the foundational texts: the first does so unrestrictedly and directly; the second  one, according to the methodological principles of his law-school or madhhab.

Below these two are muftis who are “non-mujtahids.” They too are of varying ranks. There is the mufti who, although not capable of ijtihad, is highly versed in his school’s modes of legal reasoning and analogy; has committed to memory its rulings; and is able to defend, refine and resolve ambiguous cases – tilting the scales in favour of one of two or more opinions on the matter. He can even infer rulings for new cases based on established precedents of the school. Then there are muftis who are trained jurists, but their skills are limited to distinguishing between the authoritative (mu‘tamad) and less authoritative positions of their school, as well as memorising its issues (masa’il), or positive law.

Finally comes the mufti who is a simply trained jurist and is unable to grasp complex legal talk. What he does have going for him, though, is a competency to transmit the authoritative rulings of the school on any or most given issues, with reliable accuracy. His level is ifta’ bi’l-hifz – “issuing fatwa by having carefully and diligently memorised the school’s legal rulings.” In the absence of other types of muftis, lay people and other non-muftis are obliged to ask such trained transmitters of law and legal rulings.9

Before soldiering on, a few remarks are in order:

Firstly, barring the last type of mufti, all the others engage in highly complex modes of legal reasoning and juristic activity.

Secondly, in our times, when we say that so-and-so is a mufti, we don’t mean that he is a mujtahid, but rather that he gives fatwas based on the books and rulings of his law school, or upon the ijtihad of a mujtahid he is following in the issue. That is, muftis of today do not infer legal rulings directly from the root sources.

Thirdly, although in Islam’s earlier period muftis were invariably mujtahids, the term was widened at some point to include non-mujtahid jurists too, out of a pressing need or hajah.10

Fourthly, even muftis at the bottom of the legal pecking order are thoroughly trained in religious rulings. Taking religious instruction from such muftis is to access reliable, orthodox knowledge. No such guarantee exists with a charismatic speaker or da‘i. In fact, it may very well be the case, as per the first hadith, of people taking ‘the ignorant as leaders who, when asked, give fatwas without knowledge: they are misguided and misguiding.’ Sometimes, due to defective intentions or playing fast and loose with the religion, the “misguided and misguiding” – the dall mudill – are actually deserving of one another! And we seek refuge in Allah from this.

Fifthly, this categorisation helped people to recognise their own levels and boundaries, unlike today’s ego-driven, level-less learning, where anyone who acquires even a few crumbs of knowledge feels emboldened to give fatwas and religious instruction.

Finally, in terms of the levels of muftiship today, most muftis fall into the last category; some in the two levels above; fewer in the mujtahid level (either mujtahid in specific areas of the law, like marriage, divorce, inheritance, or finance; or the rarer mujtahid fi’l-madhhab). As for the absolute mujtahid, this cadre of muftis has been absent from the ummah for a very long time now.

Even with just a casual grasp of the above levels, the distinction between the qualified scholar or mufti, and between a motivational speaker/da’i will be clear. The former are qualified; the latter more often than not lack legal qualifications and fiqh schooling. Fatwa and religious instruction is sought from the former, not the latter. In fact, the latter are themselves in need of the former. As for the vague, new-fangled category of the “knowledgeable brother,” it would be best if we stopped using such a meaningless classification. For one’s knowledge either qualifies her or him to give religious rulings and fatwas, or it doesn’t. One is either followed in knowledge, or else one follows and imitates qualified scholarship; and in both there is goodness. Moreover, even if one has studied aspects of Islam with qualified teachers – Arabic grammar, tajwid, general Islamic studies, etc. – this does not mean that one is capable of giving fatwas or legal rulings: not unless one has been schooled in fiqh and authorised in it. Yet this simple piece of common sense is lost on so many in our time; including some graduates and drop-outs of Islamic universities.

On the topic of the ‘wannabe’ shaykh, the great polymath, Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi said: ‘There is nothing more harmful to knowledge and its people than those who enter into it, yet are not from it. They are ignorant, but think they are knowledgeable; they cause corruption while they think they are rectifying matters.’11

In the first part of this article we trekked through some basic foundations concerning what depth of learning is required for true Islamic scholarship, as well as the levels of scholarship. We encountered some proof-texts that showed how odious and sinful it is to speak about the religion without due knowledge. In fact, Imam Ibn Taymiyyah went so far as to declare: ‘Whosoever speaks about the religion without knowledge is a liar, even if he didn’t intend to lie!’12 We then began to broach the topic about the difference between the qualified, seasoned scholar and between the charismatic, yet unqualified speakers either doing the rounds on the conventional speakers’ circuit, or flaunting their stuff on social media. But it’s a topic we’ll explore further in Part Two, when we look at the current Islamic “edu-tainment” culture, in light of the teachings from our scholars, sages and salaf.

Islam encourages, even obliges Muslims to grow in Islamic knowledge – knowledge of Allah; His religion; and its rulings. ‘Whoever traverses a path in search of knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise,’ is what our Prophet ﷺ said.13 There is also this hadith: ‘Whoever sets out to seek knowledge, is in the path of Allah until he returns.’14 That being the case, we ought to keep in mind the Arabic proverb: raha ‘ala hisan raja‘a ‘ala baghl – ‘He set out on a steed and returned on a mule.’ Setting out to seek sacred knowledge so as to grow in divine obedience is one of the noblest acts of the din. But we should always remember our level and never pretend to be at a level we are not at. To do so would be to return from seeking knowledge dishonoured and disgraced in Allah’s sight.

1. I’d like to thank Ustadha Zaynab Ansari for her: Blurred Lines, and Mobeen Vaid’s Mass Marketing Islam and “Edu-tainment” for helping to kick-start the much needed conversation. Vaid’s piece was the first time that I happened upon “edu-tainment” (an amalgam of the words education and entertainment) to describe the growing trend of conveying Islamic teachings and instruction. As for the Ustadha’s article, although its focus is different to this article, it nonetheless raises many concerns about the current speakers’ circuit and its impact upon Muslim community growth.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.34; Muslim, no.2673.

3. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2950, where he said: ‘The hadith is hasan.’

4. Abu Dawud, no.3657; Ibn Majah, no.53. It was graded as hasan by al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.6068

5. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.8066; Abu Khaythamah, al-‘Ilm, 109. Its chain was graded as sahih in Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Egypt: al-Matba‘ah al-Salafiyyah, n.d.), 10:510.

6.  Cited in Qadi ‘Iyad, Tartib al-Mudarik (Saudi Arabia: Wizarat al-Awqaf wa’l-Shu’un  al–Islamiyyah, 1983), 1:144.

7. ibid., 1:147-48.

8. Cf. al-Khatib, al-Faqih wa’l-Mutafaqqih (Riyadh: Dar al-Ifta, 1968), 2:330-31; Nawawi, al-Majmu‘ (Beirut: Dar Ihya Turath al-‘Arabi, 1996)1:72-96; Ibn al-Qayyim, I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawziyyah, 2003), 6:40-208.

9. See: Ibn al-Qayyim, I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in, 6:125-28; Ibn al-Salah, Adab al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti (Beirut: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1986), 87-102.

10. See: I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in, 2:86.

11. Ibn Hazm, al-Akhlaq wa’l-Siyar (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), 24.

12. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 10:449.

13. Muslim, no.2699.

14. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2649, who said: A hasan hadith.’

Joining Feet to Straighten Prayer-Rows: Is it a Sunnah?

taraweeh_universality1Q. As part of straightening the rows for congregational prayer (salat al-jama‘ah), is it required or recommended that each person join their feet with those standing either side of them?

A. Two issues need addressing here. Firstly, the importance of straightening the rows and the care and attention our Prophet ﷺ gave to it. Secondly, the manner in which prayer-rows are to be straightened.

I

As for those hadiths which insist prayer-rows must be straightened, the following is a representative selection:

1. Anas relates; the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Straighten your rows and keep close together, for indeed I see you from behind my back.’1

2. Abu Mas‘ud al-Ansari related that the Prophet ﷺ would touch our shoulders at the prayer, saying: ‘Straighten [your rows] and do not differ, lest your hearts differ.’2

3. Abu Umamah relates the Prophet ﷺ saying: ‘Straighten your rows, stand shoulder to shoulder, be soft upon your brother and fill the gaps, for the devil enters through the gaps like the small lambs.’3

4. Ibn ‘Abbas relates; the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘The best of you are those whose shoulders are the gentlest in the prayer.’4

5. Anas also relates that the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Stand close together in your rows, keep them near each other and stand neck to neck. By Him in whose hand is my life, I see the devil entering between the gaps as do the small lambs.’5

6. Al-Nu‘man b. Bashir related that the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Straighten your rows. For by Allah, if you do not straighten your rows, Allah will separate your hearts.’6

The above hadiths demonstrate that straightening the rows for prayer, and filling the gaps between people standing in prayer, is highly emphasised; a few jurists holding it to be obligatory.7 We further see that being neglectful about doing so could result in hearts being at odds with one another (as per the 2nd and 6th hadith): the shari’ah of Islam loathing even the slightest cause of disunity.

II

As for how the rows must be aligned and straightened, the following two companion-reports seem to lie at the heart of the contention:

Firstly, having related the 1st hadith, Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, went on to say: ‘I saw each one of us join shoulder to shoulder and ankle bone to ankle bone with that of his companion.’8

Secondly, at the end of the 6th hadith, al-Nu‘man b. Bashir, may Allah be pleased with him, remarked: ‘I saw each man join shoulder to shoulder with that of his companion, knee to knee with that of his companion, and ankle bone to ankle bone with that of his [companion].’9

In recent decades, and based upon these two companion-reports, some now hold that one is to literally [physically] join shoulders and feet with the persons praying either side of them. This they believe is the Sunnah that is to be maintained throughout the entire length of time one is standing in the prayer. At first glance, the opinion seems to be quite validated. But shine a little light on this claim and some quirky problems begin to show themselves.

III

Now before spotlighting some of these anomalies, it’s worth getting a grip on what’s at stake here. For this isn’t intended to be a bit of a fiqhi argy-bargy for its own sake. Not at all! Instead, the fact of the matter is that the above claim (that one is required to literally join shoulders and feet) is something of a point of dogma with many of its advocates. To them, this act isn’t only prescribed by the shari‘ah; more than that, it is: ‘an abandoned Sunnah that must be revived.’10 Who has it been abandoned by? Well, apparently not just by the ordinary laymen; those unschooled in the finer points of fiqh. But by the vast majority of the fuqaha and ‘ulema too! And just how long has this alleged Sunnah been abandoned? Apparently for more than a thousand years; in other words, for the majority of Islam’s fourteen hundred year history.

That’s not all: feeling more than a little privileged at being told of a sunnah neglected for the past millennium, the advocates are enjoined ‘to call the people to it, until they unify upon it’.11 Such is the spirit of dogma and missionary zeal which has been bred, that those who differ with this stance – even if they be from the ranks of the qualified scholars – can find themselves accused of ‘denigrating and belittling the status of the Sunnah.12 Lamentably, such can be the stakes.

IV

So what are these anomalies? And how should the above two companion-reports be understood? As it happens, they’re quite straightforward to grasp. They do not require a trained juristic mind.

For instance, the norm among such practitioners is that they will get their shoulders and feet to literally touch the shoulder and foot of those standing either side of them in the prayer row. Yet why limit it to shoulders and feet; to just these two body parts? Where’s the proof? For doesn’t one of the reports mention knees as well?

To stand in the prayer, with not only shoulders and sides of the feet touching those on either side, but the sides of the knees too, makes for a highly awkward and difficult standing. For many, getting the knees to physically touch those praying on either side requires having to stand bandy-legged: standing with one’s legs curved outwards such that one’s knees are pushed wider apart and closer to one’s neighbours’. Is this gawky and ungraceful posture really what’s called for?

Furthermore, the apparent wordings of the reports do not actually mention feet, but rather anklebones (al-kabayn). Again, what’s the proof for not taking this literally? It could well be a case of the fiqh maxim: itlaq al-ba‘d wa iradat al-kul – ‘mentioning the part, but intending the whole.’ But what’s the proof for this being the case?

And if, as some die hards attempt to do, one insists on physically joining anklebone to anklebone, many people will not only be standing bandy-legged, but they’d also have to turn their feet outwards slightly in order for their anklebone to be physically joined to that of their companion. Such a standing goes from being awkward and unseemly, to being a tad gruelling and insufferable. As for how one can maintain the prescribed sakinah and adab – the tranquility, composure and dignified courtesy – in the prayer, in such a standing, it does beggar belief.

And what about the Prophet’s directive ﷺ to align the necks (as per the 5th hadith)? Should they be touching too? Obviously not!

Given the quirks and conundrums a literal reading of these hadith and reports throw up, a better reading of the reports could be what one contemporary scholar wrote: ‘All this – to straighten [the rows]; keep them aligned; and fill in the gaps – doesn’t mean that [the bodily parts] must physically touch. For getting necks to touch is impossible. Keeping shoulders touching throughout the entire standing is clearly taxing. Getting knees to touch is impossible. And ankles touching is, to an extent, unattainable … It is therefore evident that being close is from a single perspective, and it is in four things: necks, shoulders, knees and ankles. What is intended is to urge the establishment of the rows, keep them aligned and consolidate them: without any crookedness or gaps. By this, the aim of the Lawgiver is attained.’13

The above reading is more in keeping with what earlier, classical jurists have stated on the matter – as will follow shortly.

V

If, for a moment, we put aside talk of how right or not the ‘physical-touching’ reading is, yet even the application of it is often so very wrong. For what this opinion devolves down to a lot of the time is: fidgeting in the prayer so as to get feet touching; wedging one’s foot tightly against another’s (its detractors call it ‘foot-jamming’); and standing with feet so far apart that it causes huge gaps between peoples’ shoulders. Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymin once remarked:

‘From the extremism in this issue is what is done by some people, in that one of them will join his ankle with that of his companion, but his feet will be so wide apart that there will be a gap between his shoulder and that of his neighbour’s; thus opposing the Sunnah by doing so. Rather the aim is that shoulders and ankles should be aligned with one another.’14

Blinded by their uncritical convictions, such people fail to see how they contradict the Sunnah of filling the gaps, due to standing with feet so wide apart that it causes large gaps between people’s shoulders.

They fail to see how they breach the duty of limbs being reverent, tranquil and still; or hearts being attentive, mindful and focused (collectively called khushu‘), in the prayer, because of constantly fidgeting and foot-jamming.

And they fail to see how they violate the prescribed gentleness towards those praying next to them (as per the 4th hadith), because of an extreme reading, confusing means with ends, and an unwarranted rigidness in religious practice.

VI

The bulk of jurists down the ages have understood the reports which mention knees and ankles are to be joined, to mean that they could be utilised to help align the rows; not that they should physically touch. Explaining al-Bukhari’s words in his Sahih al-Bukhari: ‘Chapter: Joining Shoulder to Shoulder and Foot to Foot in the Prayer-Row’, Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani stated: ‘What is meant by this is to exaggerate [the importance of] straightening the rows and filling the gaps (al-mubalaghah fi ta‘dil al-saff wa saddi khalalihi).’15

After citing the above statement of Ibn Hajr, Shaykh Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri noted: ‘It is [also] the intended meaning in the view of the jurists from the Four Schools (al-fuqaha al-arba‘ah).’16

Al-Shawkani explains the hadith (no.3) which orders to ‘stand shoulder to shoulder’ to mean: ‘Aligning the body parts with one another so that the shoulders of each person praying are arranged and in line with the shoulders of others. In this way, shoulders and necks will be aligned.’17

VII

To conclude: One hadith states that: ‘Allah’s Messenger ﷺ would straighten our rows as though he were straightening the shaft of an arrow, until he saw that we had learnt it. One day he came out and was about to commence the prayer, when he noticed a man whose chest was protruding from the row. He said: “O slaves of Allah! Straighten your rows, or else Allah may cause dissension among you.”’18

As to the expression: ‘he would straighten our rows as though he were straightening the shaft of an arrow’, Imam al-Nawawi explains that an arrow’s shaft (qidah) ‘is the long, wooden part of an arrow that is pared and trimmed [until it is as straight as can be] … Meaning that he paid great attention to making the rows straight, as if he were sparing no effort to straighten an arrow and keep it uncurved as possible.’19

This alone should help us realise just how punctilious we each should be to keep the prayer lines straight and to fill in the gaps. There’s an even greater responsibility upon the person who leads the prayer to ensure that this happens. The Sunnah demands we show no slackness in this, as part of our reverent quest to be present with Allah in the actual prayer.

As for how the prayer-rows are to be formed and straightened, we’ve seen that there is no requirement to join feet or knees with those praying on either side, such that they physically touch. Ironically, insisting upon only this view and refusing to accept the validity of any other scholarly view, creates the very schism between Muslims that the hadiths wish us to avoid. Classical jurists chose not to follow such a literal reading of the reports, not out of neglect on their part (as some would have us believe); but out of a keen knowledge of the intent of the reports. Their collective juristic wisdom also came down in favour of worshippers each standing with their feet roughly the width of four fingers apart, or even a handspan, presumably to reflect a sense of humility of posture.20 In this way, each person aligns their shoulders with those on either side of them and ensures that gaps are gently filled. The worshippers may then focus on the Great Encounter that lies immediately ahead of them: Allahu akbar!

And Allah knows best.

1. Al-Bukhari, no.719.

2. Muslim, no.432.

3. Ahmad, Musnad, no.21760. It was confirmed as authentic (sahih) in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.1840.

4. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.672. The hadith, with its collective support, is sahih – as per al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1996), no.2533.

5. Abu Dawud, no.667; al-Nasa’i, no.814, with a sahih chain. See: al-Nawawi, al-Majmu‘ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 2000), 4:227; and Albani, Sahih Sunan Abi Dawud (Kuwait: Dar Ghiras, 2002), no.673; al-Arna’ut, Sunan Abi Dawud (Damascus: Dar al-Risalah al-‘Alamiyyah, 2009), 2:9.

6. Abu Dawud, no.662 and its chain is sahih. Cf. Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.32.

7. Like al-Bukhari, Ibn Hazm and al-Shawkani. See: al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1989), 2:266; al-Shawkani, Nayl al-Awtar (Dar al-Mustaqbal, 2005), 3:211.

8. Al-Bukhari, no.719. Shaykh al-Albani wrote: ‘This addition also occurs in the report of al-Mukhallis and Ibn Abi Shaybah [1/351] with the following wording: Anas said, “I saw each of us joining our shoulders with those of our companions and our feet with those of our companions. If you were to do this today, a person would flee [from you] like a restless mule.” And its chain is also authentic, according to the conditions of the two Shaykhs.’ Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah, 1:1:71; no.31.

9. Abu Dawud, no.662.

10. Al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah, 1:1:70; no.31.

11. ibid., 1:1:73; no.32

12. ibid., 1:1:73.

13. Bakr Abu Zayd, La Jadid fi Ahkam al-Salah (Riyadh: Dar al-‘Asimah, 1998), 14.

14. Majmu‘ Fatawa wa Rasa’il (Riyadh: Dar al-Watn, 1992), 13:52; no.428.

15. Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2012), 2:561.

16. Fayd al-Bari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2005), 2:302.

17. Nayl al-Awtar (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2006), 6:113.

18. Al-Bukhari, no.717; Muslim, no.436.

19. Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 4:131.

20. See: al-Kashmiri, Fayd al-Bari, 2:302.

Footprints on the Sands of Time 4

sand-desert-alone-people-sand-dunes-footprint-1920x1200-wallpaper_www.wallmay.net_14Ours 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.

A Perennial Problem: Is Islam the Only Valid Path to God?

umbrella_spokesIs Islam (the religion and way of life the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ came with) the only path to God? Does the Qur’an extend the validity of religions beyond Islam; to any who believe in God and act rightly? Or does the Qur’an insist that Islam is the exclusive and only path to God? And what of the idea that some have culled from their personal reading of the Qur’an that at the heart of the world’s major religions and faiths, there is an essential unity of truth? This, Islam and the idea of salvic exclusivity, is our topic for discussion.

Our discussion concerning the above delicate and, in our current time, controversial questions are addressed through the following points:

1. The Qur’an is categorical when it says: He who seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he shall be among the losers. [3:85] Elsewhere it states: The [true] religion in Allah’s sight is Islam. [3:19] Whatever other verses may be marshalled in this issue, these two must surely lie at its heart.

2. Turning to the words of the Prophet ﷺ, we find him informing: “By Him in whose Hand is the life of Muhammad! Anyone from this nation, be they a Jew or a Christian, who hears of me and dies without believing in what I have come with, shall be among the inhabitants of Hell.”1 Fleshing out the hadith’s theological implications, Imam al-Nawawi said: ‘It contains [a proof] that all religions have now been abrogated by the prophethood of our Prophet ﷺ. Also, in its explicit meaning is a proof that those to whom the call of Islam does not reach, are excused.’2

3. Not only has the religion of Islam that the Prophet ﷺ was sent with superseded all previously revealed heavenly teachings, this last dispensation or “version” of Islam is a universal one too. The Qur’an says: Say: ‘O Mankind! Truly I am the Messenger of Allah to you all.’ [7:158]  Al-Ghazali said in his magesterial Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din – “Revival of the Religious Sciences”: ‘Allah sent the Qurayshi unlettered Prophet Muhammad ﷺ with His divinely-inspired Message to the entire world: to Arabs and non-Arabs, jinn and mankind. The Prophet’s Sacred Law has abrogated and superceded all earlier revealed laws, except those provisions in them that the [new] Sacred Law has reconfirmed.’3

4. Over the past eight decades or so a view has arisen which alleges that Islam affirms the validity of other religions, denying or failing to mention that they have long since been abrogated. Recourse has been taken to the following passage to justify the claim: Those who believe [in the Qur’an], the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabaeans; whosoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does what is right, shall be rewarded by their Lord; no fear will come upon them, nor shall they grieve. [2:62] This verse, it’s claimed, extends the validity of religions beyond just Islam, and the possibility of salvation beyond just Muslims, to whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day. The error of such a claim can be gauged from the next three points:

5. Apart from ignoring the above proof-texts to the contrary, this view stands against Islamic orthodoxy which states, as per Imam al-Nawawi: ‘One who does not consider a person who follows a religion besides Islam – like a Christian – to be a disbeliever, or doubts that such a person is a disbeliever, or deems their religion to still be valid, is himself a disbeliever – even if, along with this, he manifests Islam and believes in it.’4 Such, then, is the enormity of the error and the magnitude of its misguidance. Qadi ‘Iyad affirmed a consensus about this, saying that: ‘there is a consensus (ijma‘) about the disbelief of one who does not consider as disbelievers the Christians, Jews and all those who part from the religion of the Muslims; or hesitates about their disbelief, or doubts it.’5

6. How then should the above verse [2:62] be read? Scholars of tafsir, along with their belief that the Qur’an’s message now supersedes all previous heavenly teachings, offer these interpretations for the above verse: [i] It is said to refer to those seekers of truth who believed in the imminent arrival of the final Prophet – like Habib al-Najjar, Qays b. Sa‘adah, Waraqah b. Nawfal, Zayd b. ‘Amr b. Nufayl, Bahirah the Monk, Salman al-Farsi and Abu Dharr al-Ghiffari. Some of them reached the Prophet ﷺ and accepted Islam at his hand. Others didn’t reach him, but are nonetheless included among those who believe in Allah and the Last Day. [ii] It refers to the believers of previous nations, following the prophets of their respective times. [iii] It’s claimed to refer to those Jews and Christians who, prior to accepting Islam in the time of the Prophet ﷺ, followed the unaltered teachings of Moses and Jesus; peace be upon them both. [iv] A few say it refers to the hypocrites; which is somewhat odd.6 Whatever the correct intent of this passage is, the view which extends salvation unrestrictedly, to include even those who deny the Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood ﷺ, is conspicuous by its absence in the classical tafsir literature.

7. Ibn Kathir helps put the above verse into context with his customary hermeneutics; he explains: ‘The faith of the Jews was that of those who adhered to the Torah and the way of Moses, peace be upon him, until the arrival of Jesus. With the advent of Jesus, those who followed the Torah and the Mosaic Laws, not leaving them to follow Jesus, were doomed. The faith of the Christians was that of whoever adhered to the Gospel and to the teaching of Jesus. They were believers and their faith valid till the advent of Muhammad ﷺ. Those who rejected Muhammad ﷺ, by not leaving the Gospel and Jesus’ way are doomed … This doesn’t conflict with what ‘Ali b. Abi Talha relates from Ibn ‘Abbas that: Those who believe [in the Qur’an], the Jews, the Christians, and Sabaeans; whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day was followed by Allah revealing: He who seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him, and in the Afterlife he will be among the losers. For what Ibn ‘Abbas is simply informing is that no path is acceptable from anyone, nor any deed, unless it conforms to the shari‘ah of Muhammad ﷺ now that he has been sent. Prior to this, anyone who followed the particular prophet of his time was upon right guidance and the path of salvation.’7

8. In the above light, philosophies that speak of the “Essential Unity of Religions”, or “Perennialism”, are disbelief (kufr). The metaphysics of these philosophies is such that they insist the world’s major faiths: Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, like Islam, all contain at their heart a core set of esoteric truths, despite them differing immensely in their external appearance, forms and practices – and even in many of their beliefs. They also believe that these major religions, again like Islam, still retain their validity even today. The metaphor used to describe the Unity of Religions is that of a bicycle wheel. The spokes represent the different religions; the hub symbolises God, the Supreme Being, the Transcendent Reality. Just as the spokes come closer to each other as they near the hub, so too, as each path comes closer to the One Reality, it comes closer to all other paths. Now as appealing as it sounds to some, it can never pass for authoritative, orthodox Quranic teachings – as has been shown.

9. Asserting that such Perennialist philosophy is clear disbelief (kufr) does not amount to an accusation that each specific individual who holds such a belief is necessarily an unbeliever (kafir) – as is well attested to in mainstream Sunni theology. The maxim in this matter runs as follows: laysa kullu man waqa‘a fi’l-kufr sara kafir – ‘Not everyone who falls into disbelief, becomes a disbeliever.’ The shari‘ah upholds the distinction between a general charge of disbelief (takfir ‘amm), and the charge of disbelief upon a specific individual (takfir mu‘ayyan). Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘They have not given proper consideration that making takfir has conditions (shurut) and impediments (mawani‘) that must be actualised if it is to be applied to a specific individual. Because a general declaration of takfir doesn’t imply takfir on a specific individual – until conditions are fulfilled and impediments lifted.’8

10. The Perennialist Philosophy (religio perennis) was first propagated in the late 1930s. It was Frithjof Schuon who would bring this idea to its fruition. Among those who came under Schuon’s influence were those like Martin Lings, Gai Eaton and Seyyed Hossein Nasr (the first two also being converts to Islam). Such Muslims who, through a hugely errant ta’wil or interpretation that misled them into perennialism, are part of a highly learned body of authors and academics who offer some of the finest critiques of modernity from a traditional perspective, and profoundest spiritual expositions of Islam to modern beleaguered hearts and minds. That their writings have, by Allah’s grace, brought so many Westerners into the fold of Islam is beyond doubt. Perennial beliefs aside, their writings are a reminder that to hold to a simple faith without much intellectual and spiritual content is no longer possible in our 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 adequate familiarity with modernity’s philosophical underpinnings; and from reflective study, introspection and meditation.

11. Interestingly, the late Martin Lings wrote in The Eleventh Hour about the theory of man’s evolution that if it is indeed true, why didn’t God tell believers about it to begin with, or at least gradually bring them into it? Why did He allow religion after religion to repeat the same old ways of thinking, and prevent prophet after prophet from ever divulging its true nature? Yet He allowed a mere non-prophet to discern its reality and propogate it in defiance of all spiritual authorities of the time.9 And yet a similar line of argument can equally apply to the belief in perennialism. For using the same rhyme and reason one could ask: Why didn’t Allah tell believers about this to begin with, or wean them steadily onto it? Why did Allah allow prophet after prophet to repeat the same ways of thinking, or prevent them from disclosing its true nature? And yet, we are to believe, He allowed a mere non-prophet to arrive at this great existential truth, propagating it in disregard to a scholarly consensus of the past sages and present-day spiritual authorities. The point being is that if Islam’s religious authorities all deemed the belief to be kufr, on what basis should Perennialism be accepted?

12. What of those to whom the message of Islam has not been conveyed, or they have heard about Islam and the Prophet, but in a distorted form? Here the Qur’an presents a far wider, ecumenical scope: Nor do We punish until We have sent a Messenger. [17:15] Also: Whenever a fresh host is cast into it [Hell], its keepers ask them: ‘Did a warner never come to you?’ They will say: ‘Yes, a warner came to us; but we denied.’ [67:8-9] The idea of bulugh al-da‘wah, “conveyance of the message,” therefore, is vital in this issue; typified by the words of Imam al-Nawawi (which have already preceded in point 2) that ‘those to whom the call of Islam does not reach are excused.’

13. Some to whom the message of Islam is communicated refuse to believe in it out of wilful rejection (juhud) of it or because of belying (takdhib) it. Others, however, choose not to hear the message, but instead turn away from it (i‘radan ‘anha) out of arrogance or prejudice against it, or hostility towards it – in some cases doing so knowing it is the truth: And they rejected them [Allah’s signs], although they inwardly recognised them, through injustice and arrogance. [27:14] Now it’s quite possible that many non-Muslims today fall into this predicament, in that some of them are capable of discerning the revealed truths of Islam. But whether out of not desiring to forsake familiar habits; or losing their standing among people; having contempt for Muslims; arrogant prejudice against them; or just out of sheer folly and misguidance, many turn away from even considering the Qur’an. Unless there are other factors to mitigate this kufr of theirs, such people will have no excuse on Judgement Day.10

14. As for those who have heard about Islam, but in a distorted form, I’ll suffice with what Imam al-Ghazali wrote about the matter: ‘In fact, I would say that, Allah willing, most of the Byzantine Christians and the Turks of this age will be included in Allah’s mercy. I’m referring here to those who live in the farthest regions of Byzantium and Anatolia who have not come into contact with the message. These people are of three groups: [i] A party who have never so much as heard the name ‘Muhammad’ ﷺ. They are excused. [ii] A party who knew his name, character and miracles he wrought; who lived in lands adjacent to the lands of Islam and thus came into contact with Muslims. These are blaspheming unbelievers. [iii] A third party who fall between the two. These people knew the name ‘Muhammad’ ﷺ, but nothing of his character or his qualities. Instead, all they heard since childhood is that a liar and imposter called ‘Muhammad’ claimed to be a prophet; just as our children have heard that an arch-liar and deceiver called al-Muqaffa‘ claimed Allah sent him [as a prophet] and then challenged people to disprove his claim. This party, in my opinion, is like the first party. For even though they’ve heard his name, they heard the opposite of what his true qualities were. And this does not provide enough incentive for them to investigate [his true status].’11

15. That some non-Muslims will be excused for their disbelief in the Hereafter doesn’t mean that they are not judged as disbelievers in this world. All who have not declared the Two Testimonies of Faith, the shahadah, are non-Muslims; disbelievers. Some are actively hostile against Islam and Muslims; most are not. While it behoves a believer to wisely and sincerely seek to guide into faith those who disbelieve, it does not befit a believer to blur the distinction between faith (iman) and disbelief (kufr). Al-Ghazali gives us this rule of thumb: ‘Disbelief is to reject the Prophet ﷺ in whatever he came with, while faith is to affirm as true all that he came with. Therefore the Jew and the Christian are disbelievers due to their rejection of the Prophet.’12

16. As for the honourific distinctions given to the Jews and Christans in the Qur’an, in that they are referred to as People of the Book (ahl al-kitab), their chaste womenfolk are lawful to marry, and their ritually-slaughtered meat may be eaten, then this in no way excludes them from being a category of disbelievers. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi wrote, citing al-Qaffal, that ‘although the ahl al-kitab have acquired the virtue in this world of [us] being able to marry their women and eat their slaughtered meat. Yet this does not set them apart from the idolators in matters of the Afterlife, in terms of rewards and chastisements.’13

To wrap up the discussion: The Qur’an insists that every prophet came with a core set of universal truths centred around Allah’s Oneness (tawhid). The Qur’an says: We have sent to every nation a Messenger [proclaiming]: ‘Worship Allah and shun false gods.’ [16:36] It is possible, therefore, for Buddhism and Hinduism to have been, in the ancient past, divinely-revealed. Yet it is equally true that the Qur’an insists of previously-revealed religions and their scriptures that they have long suffered alteration and corruption at the hands of men, and that whatever revealed truths were once present in them have long since been forgotten, changed, compromised or overshadowed by corrupted and idolatrous beliefs and practices. So while the world’s major faiths do show similarities with Islam, this does not prove their essential unity with it as they currently exist. For they haven’t only been altered, but have also been abrogated and superceded by what was revealed to the final Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. This is why: He who seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers. Now whether such an explanation is passionate or dispassionate, narrow and unecumenical, or born of a “madrasah mentality,” it is the unanimous belief of Islam’s eminent sages, jurists and theologians. It is, in other words, the Quranic truth.

That said, I think it befitting to close with these words from Shaykh Bin Bayyah, one of contemporary Islam’s most revered and learned jurists: ‘Of course, a devotional life in this world should be lived in peaceful co-existence with others.’14 O Allah! Bless us with iman and aman – with faith and security; and make us of benefit to Islam and to humanity, and not a harm or a hindrance to them. Amin.

1. Muslim, no.240.

2. Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 2:162.

3. Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 2004), 1:120.

4. Rawdat al-Talibin (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2003), 7:290. Its like is seen in  al-Buhuti, Kashshaf al-Qina‘ (Beirut: ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1983), 6:170.

5. Qadi ‘Iyad, al-Shifa’ (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 2002), 450.

6. Cf. al-Baghawi, Ma‘alim al-Tanzil (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2010), 1:57; Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 2002), 65.

7. Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifah, 1986), 1:107.

8.  Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 12:487-8. Also see the article on this blog: Takfir: Its Dangers & Rules.

9. Lings, The Eleventh Hour (Cambridge: Archetype, 2002), 28.

10. See: Bin Bayyah, What of Those to Whom Islam Does Not Reach?

11. Al-Ghazali, Faysal al-Tafriqah (Damascus: 1993), 84.

12. ibid., 25.

13. Al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1981), 11:151, on Qur’an 5:5.

14. Bin Bayyah, What of Those to Whom Islam Does Not Reach?

Knowing, Doing & Becoming

islamic-tourism-018Q. I’ve been following your talks and writings, on and off for about sixteen years now. You often mention the Islamic concept of knowing, doing & becoming, describing it as the “methodology of a Muslim” and a “blueprint for a believer.” It’s even the motto of your blog and the Jawziyyah Institute. I know you’ve explained what it means many a time in your talks, but I was hoping you could put something in writing about it.

A. Bismi’Llah. Alhamduli’Llah. Wa’l-salatu wa’l-salamu ‘ala rasuli’Llah. The first thing I’d like to point out is that the idea of knowing, doing & becoming is not mine. Rather, it is something which the scholars are generally united upon, even if they may sometimes express it in different ways. Knowing, doing & becoming refers to: knowing faith, doing works of faith, then becoming transformed by faith. Having laid out the bare bones of the matter, allow me to put some flesh on those bones:

1. The concept of knowing, doing and becoming has its starting point in the celebrated Hadith of Gabriel (jibril). This is the hadith which tells how the Angel Gabriel came to a public gathering of the Prophet ﷺ, in the guise of a man, and put three elemental questions to him: what is faith (iman); what is [outward] submission (islam); and what is [spiritual] excellence (ihsan)? The Prophet ﷺ replied to the first question by saying that faith is firm and unwavering belief in Allah, the angels, the prophets, the revealed scriptures, the Last Day, and divine decree (qadr). To the next, he ﷺ responded that submission entailed uttering the two testimonies of faith (shahadah), performing the five daily prayers, paying the annual zakat, fasting during the month of Ramadan and undertaking pilgrimage to the Ka‘bah in Makkah. To the last: ‘That you worship Allah as though seeing Him; and while you see Him not, know that He sees you.’ Later, the Prophet ﷺ disclosed: ‘That was Gabriel; he came to teach you your religion.’1

2. The significance in the above hadith is that the entire religion was encapsulated in three spheres: iman, islam and ihsan. The first is about knowing what to believe in; the second, doing those deeds which give concrete expression to one’s beliefs; the third is becoming transformed by those beliefs and deeds. This, then, is the basis for: knowing, doing & becoming. On the merits of this hadith, Qadi ‘Iyad said: ‘This hadith entails an explanation of all the duties of worship, inward and outward, from those [related to] the bonds of faith, actions of the limbs, inward sincerity and protecting actions from the dangers [of non-acceptance] – to the extent that all of the shari‘ah sciences return back to it and branch off from it.’2

3. Knowing (‘ilm), doing (‘aml) & becoming (hal) equate to iman, islam and ihsan. These three, in turn, equate to the Islamic sciences of beliefs (‘aqidah), positive law (fiqh) and spirituality (suluk, tazkiyah, or tasawwuf). Now spirituality is somewhat of a blurry and nebulous word. Today, spirituality can mean anything from lighting an incense stick, hugging a tree, feeling elated by the natural world; art; or a piece of classical music, to long walks, quiet reflection, yoga, meditation, or organised religion. As far as Islam is concerned, spirituality relates to the Spirit; the ruh. Or to the soul (nafs). Spirituality, in Islam, is about traversing the path to Allah by acts of sincere, loving submission. It’s about, as some spiritual masters have put it, how to journey into the presence of the King of kings (kayfiyat al-suluk ila hadrati malik al-muluk). It entails inwardly purifying the soul from its vices (radha’il) and adorning it with virtues (fada’il) so that, with its labours of love, it is gradually weaned away from its distractions and its opposition to the divine will. This is when such a soul has been made worthy of divine acceptance and is given to enter the divine presence: But those who feared the standing before their Lord and curbed their soul’s passions, the Garden is their abode. [79:40-41]

4. Knowing, doing & becoming has levels. There are some matters a Muslim is obligated to know, do and become; while other things are preferred to know, do and become. This is seen in the next hadith: ‘Allah, exalted is He, said: “Whoever shows enmity to a friend (wali) of Mine, I shall be at war with him. My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined on him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with optional works so that I shall love him.”‘3 What this make clear is that there is no way to Allah’s walayah – love, sanctity and closeness – except by fulfilling the obligations (fara’id) then performing optional works of faith (nawafil). The first encircles us in Allah’s love; the second endears us to Allah even more so. One keeps in mind however: man shaghalahu’l-fard ‘an al-nafl fa huwa ma‘dhur, wa man shaghalahu’l-nafl ‘an al-fard fa huwa maghrur – ‘One busied by obligatory acts, away from optional ones, is excused. One busy in optional acts, away from obligatory ones, is deluded.’4

5. About the obligations in ‘aqidah, fiqh and suluk, Shaykh Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi said: ‘The Prophet ﷺ said: “The seeking of knowledge is compulsory on every Muslim.’5 This includes understanding tawhid and to know about [the uniqueness of] Allah’s Essence (dhat) and Attributes (sifat). It entails knowing the acts of worship (‘ibadat), the lawful and prohibited, and what is permissible and forbidden in terms of social transactions (mu‘amalat). It further includes learning the praiseworthy spiritual states of the heart; like patience, gratitude, generosity, good character and companionship, truthfulness and sincerity; as well as the blameworthy ones, such as rancour, envy, treachery, pride, ostentation, anger, enmity, malice and miserliness. Learning how to acquire the first [set of traits] and to remove the second is as much a personal duty as ensuring the validity of one’s beliefs, acts of worship and social transactions.’6

6. Every Islamic curriculum, methodology (manhaj), or claim to orthodoxy not having the Hadith of Jibril and the Hadith of Allah’s Wali – i.e. the concept of knowing, doing & becoming (iman, islam & ihsan) – at its core, is incomplete, imbalanced and unsound. Hadith Jibril is generally felt to be the most succinct summary of the entire din, which touches on every aspect of belief, practice and spiritual growth (‘he came to teach you your religion’). Indeed, al-Haytami says of the hadith that ‘it is dubbed ‘the Mother of the Sunnah (umm al-sunnah) like al-Fatihah is called ‘the Mother of the Qur’an (umm al-qur’an)’, since it encapsulates the Sunnah’s entire message.’7 For faith to be correct and come to true fruition, iman, islam and ihsan must be brought into an equilibrium; that is, ‘aqidah, fiqh and suluk must be in balance and harmony. Problems occur in the Muslim personality and collectivity whenever they are out of kilter. So, for instance, if fiqh isn’t accompanied by serious commitment to suluk, it often results in dry legalism and puritanical behaviour. Without fiqh and adherence to the law, suluk is merely self-deception and wishy-washy spirituality. Without fiqh, ‘aqidah is no more than empty slogans. In the absence of suluk, ‘aqidah becomes blind ideology. Yet without ‘aqidah, both fiqh and suluk are sterile or futile. Thus all three are indispensable. In summary: without ‘aqidah, there is just idolatry and heresy; without fiqh, vanity and futility; and without suluk, hypocrisy and pretentious piety.

7. While it is categorically true that the Qur’an says (51:56) we were created to worship Allah, the Hadith of Jibril informs us how this worship should be: ‘That you worship Allah as though seeing Him; and while you see Him not, know that He sees you.’ It is, I think, an indicment of sorts on an individual’s source of learning if, after some time, he or she hasn’t been led to or taught this all-inclusive understanding of Islam. If that be so, one needs to seriously question one’s source of knowledge and learning, since it smacks of treachery to the trust of teaching. The area that is usually ignored, treated lightly, undermined, or even scoffed at, is that of ihsan – the becoming dimension. As this is all too often the case, let me say this much about it:

8. Masters of the inward life say that ihsan during acts of worship has three degrees:8 (i) Performing the act excellently and with proper decorum (adab), by at least fulfilling its conditions (shurut), pillars (arkan) and obligations (wajibat). (ii) Performing the act with an awareness of Allah’s presence and watchful gaze – known as muraqabah. The shaykhs of ihsan teach us that if, when recalling the fact that Allah sees you, a shyness emerges in your heart that drives you to exert yourself in Allah’s obedience or deters you from disobedience, then you possess something of the realities of muraqabah or vigilance. (iii) Beyond this lofty degree lies that of mushahadah – spiritually witnessing Allah; or “seeing” Him with the eye of the heart (bi ‘ayn al-basirah). This is where faith has flooded the heart and filled it to the brim, due to being immersed in Allah; lost in contemplation of Him; and witnessing His hand in all things and behind all things. Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said that it is the degree where: ‘the heart is illumined with faith, and the inner sight arrives at experiential knowledge such that the Unseen becomes, at it were, seen (huwa an yutanawwara’l-qalb bi’l-iman wa tanfudha’l-basirah fi’l-irfan hatta yasira’l-ghaybu ka’l-ayan).’9 Attaining muraqabah is, we are told, rare. Arriving at mushahadah is rarer still. It can’t be gained by any effort on our part; rather it is sheer gift and grace from Allah to His sincere devotees, lovers and saints.

9. It is the transformation, the becoming, which is the goal. That is, it’s not only about praying, fasting or doing other acts of piety (taqwa); it’s about cultivating one’s soul, so as to make piety an ingrained habit. In other words, it’s about becoming one of the pious (muttaqun). It is not just about giving zakat or some charity (sadaqah), but about becoming, by nature, of the charitable (mutasaddiqun). Nor is it only about patience, speaking truth, making dhikr, or doing a deed or two of rectification. It’s about being rooted in these traits, to become of those who are patient (sabirun), truthful (sadiqun), constantly remember Allah (dhakirun), and are healers and rectifiers (muslihun). It’s all about the becoming. Above all, it’s about becoming mukhlisun – those who purify their worship making it sincerely and exclusively for Allah; muhsinun – those who worship Allah upon spiritual excellence; and muhibbun – true lovers of Him. In the religion of Islam, it’s very much about the becoming.

Allahumma inna nas’aluka hubbaka, wa
hubba man yuhibbuka, wa hubba
‘amalin yuqarribuna
ila hubbika.
Amin.

1. Muslim, no.8.

2. Cited in Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawawi (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 1:142-43.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.6502.

4. See: Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2012), 14:338.

5. Ibn Majah, no.224. It is is hasan due to its multiple chains of transmission. See: al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 4:268; no.5264.

6. Maw‘izat al-Mu’minin (Beirut: Dar Ibn Kathir, 2001), 45.

7. Al-Fath al-Mubin bi Sharh al-Arba‘in (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2008), 187.

8. See: al-Jurdani, Jawahir al-Lu’lu’iyyah (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2013), 121, who goes on to says: ‘Each of these three stations are [part of] ihsan. Except that the ihsan which is a prerequisite for the validity of worship is the first one. As for the other two levels of ihsan, they are the traits of the elite (khawwas), for which most are excused.’

9. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:129.

Don’t Stop Making Dhikr Because Your Heart Isn’t In It

Islam-Prayer-Beads-Hand‘I’m remembering Allah, but my heart’s not in it; what’s the point’ is a typical anguish for many of us? ‘When I make dhikr, my heart doesn’t have focus, it’s all over the place. Is there any use’ is another one?

So should we stop making dhikr because out heart lacks focus on Allah; because there isn’t any hudur al-qalb – “presence of heart”? There are some who are dead set on the issue. There is no point in making dhikr when the heart is heedless, to do so would be making a mockery of dhikr – or so they’d have us believe.

But that’s not quite right. That’s not what those whom Allah has blessed with a huge share of fiqh and profound insight into the realities of faith (haqa’iq al-iman) teach us. Instead, as Ibn al-Qayyim explains, dhikr ‘is sometimes performed with the heart and tongue, which is the best dhikr; sometimes with only the heart, which ranks second; and sometimes with only the tongue, which ranks third.’1 And whilst dhikr with the tongue alone does not yield the fruits of gnosis (ma‘rifah), divine love (mahabbah) and intimacy (uns) as does dhikr with the tongue and heart combined; nonetheless, it still has its benefits. In fact, for most people it begins with dhikr of just the tongue. Imam al-Ghazali wrote: ‘It starts with dhikr of the tongue; then by the heart being pressed into remembering; then the heart remembering spontaneously.’2

The truth of the matter is that if we were to make dhikr only when our hearts were fully present, absorbed and focused on Allah, most of us would never make any dhikr at all! Masters of the inward life instruct us that if, whilst engaging in dhikr, we drift into the valleys of heedlessness and idle thought, when we realise we simply bring our hearts back into focus and continue in our dhikr. In this, as with all other matters, it is Allah’s fadl and karam that we rely upon; not our own efforts.

Perhaps the finest articulation of this reality (the reality of dhikr with just the tongue, and dhikr with the tongue and heart combined) is presented to us by Ibn Ata’illah al-Iskandari in his celebrated Hikam or collection of “Spiritual Aphorisms”. In one such aphorism, he states:

‘Do not abandon dhikr because you do not feel the presence of Allah therein. For your heedlessness of the dhikr of Him is worse than your heedlessness in the dhikr of Him. Perhaps He will lift you from dhikr with heedlessness (ghaflah) to dhikr with vigilance (yaqza); and from dhikr with vigilance to dhikr with presence (hudur); and from dhikr with presence to dhikr wherein everything but the One being remembered becomes absent: And that, for Him, is not difficult. [14:20]‘ 3

In his commentary to the Hikam, al-Shurnubi teases out some of the subtleties in the above aphorism. He writes: ‘Do not, O aspirant, forsake dhikr – which is an invitation to sanctity (manshur al-walayah) – because your heart isn’t present with God in it, due to it being preoccupied with worldly distractions. Instead, remember Him in all states and conditions. For your forgetfulness of His dhikr, in that you abandon it entirely, is far worse than your forgetfulness while making dhikr of Him. For at least, in this state, your tongue is moving in His remembrance, even if your heart is heedless of the One remembered. Perhaps you will be taken, by His grace, from dhikr with heedlessness to dhikr with vigilance; in other words, with an attentive, awakened heart; for this is the courtesy (adab) which befits His Presence; and from dhikr with vigilance to dhikr with presence, presence of His closeness; and from dhikr with presence to dhikr where all becomes absent except the One being remembered. So the person is “lost” even to his own dhikr … When dhikr flows from the tongue in this state, it does so spontaneously, without intent. Instead, his tongue only utters what the Manifest Truth [Allah] wants it to, for such a person is at the Station of Divine Love – which the [next] hadith refers to: ‘ … and My servant continues to draw near to Me with optional works (nawafil) so that I love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, and his tongue with which he speaks.’4 None knows the reality of this lofty station except the spiritual wayfarers (salikun). So accept it wholeheartedly, even if you aren’t from its people: and follow not the desires of those who have no knowledge. [45:18] And hold tightly to the means, then the veil shall be lifted for you: And that, for Him, is not difficult. [14:20]’5

1. Al-Wabil al-Sayyib (Damascus: Maktabah Dar al-Bayan, 2006), 176.

2. Kitab al-Arba‘in fi Usul al-Din (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2006), 87. Also see the related article on this blog: How to Nurture Presence of Heart with God.

3.  Ibn Ata’illah, al-Hikam al-Ata’iyyah (Cairo: Dar al-Salam, 2006), no.47.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.6137. Even though the meaning is sound and correct, the phrase: ‘his tongue with which he speaks’ is not part of the wording of this particular hadith. This phrase occurs in a hadith related by Ibn Abi Dunya, al-Awliya, no.45; Ahmad, Musnad, 4:256; and others. But the chains all have defects in them and are therefore da‘if. See: Ibn Rajab, Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:331-32.

5. Al-Sharnubi, Sharh al-Hikam (Beirut & Damascus: Dar Ibn Kathir, 2008), 111-12.

Divorcing the Wife at the Behest of Parents

divorce-cake (3)[2]Q. Is there any religious requirement in Islam for a husband to divorce his wife merely because his parents are displeased with the marriage, or continue to disapprove of it? Didn’t the Prophet ﷺ endorse the decision of ‘Umar who ordered his son to divorce his wife? Is the son being disobedient if he refuses to do so?

A. The incident in question refers to the case of Ibn ‘Umar who relates: I was married to a woman that I loved, but my father disliked her. So he ordered me to divorce her, but I refused. I then mentioned this to the Prophet ﷺ who said to me: ‘O ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar! Divorce your wife.’1

The leading Hanbali jurist of his age, Ibn Muflih, writes in his al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah: ‘If his father demands that he divorce his wife, he isn’t required to do so. This was stated by most of the senior students [of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal]. Al-Sanadi states: A man said to Abu ‘Abd Allah [i.e. Imam Ahmad]: My father orders me to divorce my wife. He responded: “Do not divorce her.” The man said: But didn’t ‘Umar order his son ‘Abd Allah to divorce his wife? So he replied: “Only if your father is like ‘Umar, may God be pleased with him.”’2

Shaykh Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut explains in a footnote to this point: ‘Meaning, he shouldn’t divorce her on account of his father ordering it; unless the father is like ‘Umar, in the sense of doing what is true and just, and not merely following his personal whims in the matter.’3

Ibn Taymiyyah stated something similar about a mother ordering her son to divorce his wife: ‘It is not required to obey her. Though one [continues to] remain dutiful and kind to her. Divorcing one’s wife is not part of kindness due to mothers.’4

So if the parents’ decision in this delicate issue springs from profound piety and depth of religious insight, and not from from their whims or egos, then one considers their judgement and looks to obeying them; if not, then not.

Here, it is appropriate to mention the honour, kindness and service that Islam expects children to show to parents. The Qur’an states: Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you show kindness to your two parents. If either or both of them attain old age [show no sign of impatience, and] do not even say “fie!” to them nor rebuke them, but speak to them kindly. [17:23]

Allah also said: Be grateful to Me and your two parents. [31:14] And: We have enjoined on mankind kindness to parents; but if they try to force you to ascribe to Me that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not. [29:8]

The hadith compendiums record that the Prophet ﷺ was asked: What deed is best? He said: ‘Prayer at its earliest time, and then kindness to parents.’5 ‘A parent,’ declared the Prophet ﷺ, ‘is the best of the gates of Paradise; so if you wish, protect the gate or lose it.’6 Then there is the hadith: ‘The pleasure of your Lord lies in pleasing parents, and the anger of your Lord lies in displeasing parents.’7

Yet despite the tremendous status Islam accord parents, a son is under no obligation to fulfil the demands of his parents to divorce his wife, if there is no valid reason for doing so. Moreover, the above texts in no way sanction the tyranny that some parents inflict on their sons and daughters: physical abuse, forced marriages, indifference to religious education and upbringing, forceful imposition of ‘back home’ cultural values and, in a few hideously haram cases, honour killings! Such issues must be challenged, stood-up to and be rooted out of our communities.

In summary: If parents ask the son to annul his marriage because of some reason held to be valid in the Sacred Law (shari‘ah) – like shielding him from an overriding worldly harm; or to safeguard his moral, spiritual and religious wellbeing – one considers the parents wishes and defers to their judgement. To use the hadith unrestrictedly would be highly tragic and, given the moral degeneration of people today (parents includes), it would be highly reckless too. If parents have no legitimate grounds for their dislike, then no such obedience is due. If one is in any doubt about the matter, one consults a well-seasoned scholar of the Sacred Law.

Lastly, we must remember that when a man takes a women in marriage, this nikah, or marriage, is described in Allah’s Book [4:21] as a mithaq ghalizah – “solemn covenant.” Such a solemn marital bond must be honoured and nurtured and its rights fulfilled: it isn’t a trivial thing that should be subjected to the egotistical whims of selfish parents. Let men be loving, affectionate, relaxed, easy-natured and honourable companions to their wives – soul mates, even; reverently upholding the sanctity of marital ties. After all: They are a garment for you and you are a garment for them. [2:187] And after all, the Prophet ﷺ did tell us: ‘The best of you are those who are best to their wives.’8 Thus, in Islam, being a good husband is an essential part of being a man. So be a man!

1. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.1200, where he said: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’

2. Ibn Muflih, al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1996), 1:475.

3. ibid, 1:475.

4. Cited in al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah, 1:475.

5. Al-Bukhari, Sahih, no.527.

6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1961, who said: ‘This hadith is sahih.’

7. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1962, and it is authentic (sahih). Cf. al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: Maktab al-Islami, 1985), no.516.

8. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1162, who said: ‘The hadith is hasan sahih.’

Forming Spiritual Habits Through Forty Day Retreats

cave&lightIn Islam, is there any significance to the period of forty days? Why do certain people insist on going into spiritual retreats for this length of time? Some allude to the verse: And when We appointed for Moses forty nights [Qur’an 2:51], saying that it points to the importance and justification of a forty day spiritual retreat. What, then, is the reality of this claim; and what is the ruling (hukm) of such retreats of solitude and seclusion in Islam?

Undeniably, this forty day retreat of seclusion (khalwah, ‘uzlah) prepared Moses, peace be upon him, for the august meeting with his Lord and the lordly gift he was about to receive.1 Moreover, the Bible has it that Jesus, peace be upon him, also retreated into the wilderness, fasting for forty day. It was after this that his ministry began.

As for in Islam, a forty day retreat (khalwah) seems to have no specific mention in our Sacred Law. Besides his retreats to the cave of Hira before prophethood, there is no hadith to show that the Prophet ﷺ ever entered into this type of retreat after he was commissioned as a prophet; nor did he legislate it for others. Ibn Taymiyyah insists that forty day retreats are not part of the Prophet’s Sacred Law ﷺ, but rather the Law of Moses – which is now abrogated by the Muhammadan shari‘ah.2

There is a hadith which says: ‘Whoever dedicates to God forty days, the wellspring of wisdom shall manifest itself from his heart to his tongue.’3 This hadith, however, is weak (da‘if); though not fabricated.4 Something resembling this was echoed by Imam Malik who said: ‘It has reached me that none renounces the world and is God-fearing, except that he shall speak wisdom.’5

The famous pietist, Sahl al-Tustari, also has similar words: ‘Whoever renounces the world for forty days with sincere devotion, miracles shall emanate from him. If they do not, there is an absence of truthfulness in his renunciation.’6

All in all, then, nothing sound and concrete seems to be legislated in the Sunnah with regards to retreating from the world specifically for forty days. Certain words have been recorded from some of the early pietists based on their experience (tajribah) in this matter, and rooted in the generally accepted wisdom that habits can be forged in forty days. Imam al-Munawi has said that, ‘The wisdom in specifying forty days is that this is the time needed to persist in changing or forming basic habits; as is known by experience.’7

As for seeking seclusion so as to worship Allah through personal acts of devotion – in other words, taking some spiritual ‘time-out’ – Ibn Taymiyyah remarks: ‘It is vital for a person to set aside some time for themselves so as to engage in earnest supplication, remembrance, prayer, contemplation, introspection, setting the heart right and other spiritual practices that require solitude and seclusion.’8 For it is in a state of solitude that the heart’s gaze can best be diverted away from creation and be focused solely on the Creator. Ibn ‘Ata’illah offered us this piece of spiritual wisdom: ‘Nothing benefits the heart more than a spiritual retreat wherein it enters the domains of meditation.’9

If someone specifies forty days (or, for that matter, any length of time) for a personal retreat, or to try and nurture spiritual habits – then provided the specific period is not believed to be an established Sunnah, and provided that one’s other religious duties or worldly responsibilities are not neglected – this would be in keeping with the overall spirit of the faith and the received wisdoms of some of our predecessors. Of course, intending to engage in any lengthy period of seclusion and solitude must be done so under the guidance of those learned in shari’ah; the sacred law, and versed in tariqah; the method or path of inward purification. Indeed, going it alone in such a prolonged spiritual practice can be fraught with great danger to mind, body and soul.

And Allah knows best.

1. As per: al-Alusi, Ruh al-Ma‘ani (Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-‘Arabi, n.d.), 1:257; Ibn ‘Ashur, al-Tahrir wa’l-Tanwir (Tunis: Dar al-Tunisiyyah, 1984), 1:497.

2. See: Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 10:393-95.

3. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-Awliya, 5:189; Ibn Abi Shaybah, al-Musannaf, 13:231; Hannad, al-Zuhd, no.678.

4. Al-Qari says that Ibn al-Jawzi cites it in his anthology of fabricated reports, Kitab al-Mawdu‘at, but believes it to be an error in judgement. For the chain is merely weak, not fabricated. Cf. al-Israr al-Marfu‘ah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), 315; no.454. Its chain being weak is also the grading given it by al-Sakhawi, al-Maqasid al-Hasanah (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2003), no.1052. Al-Albani declared it weak in Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma’arif, 1992), no.38.

5. As was recorded in al-Dhahabi, Siyar A’lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 8:109.

6. Recorded in al-Qushayri, al-Risalah al-Qushayriyyah (no info., n.d.), 190. Also refer to its English translation by A. Kynsh, al-Qushayri’s Epistle on Sufism (Reading: Garnet Publishing, 2007), 367.

7. Fayd al-Qadir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 6:44.

8. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 10:426.

9. Al-Hikam al-‘Ata’iyyah (Cairo: Dar al-Salam, 2006), no.12.

Happy Muslims: Should We Have Made a Song and Dance of It?

happy_feet-wideQuestion. Unfortunately I was unable to attend your talk last week about whether we should be making a song and dance about the Happy British Muslims video? I would be interested to hear what questions you raised during the talk and what your feelings are about the video?

Response: Bismi’Llah, alhamduli’Llah wa’l-salatu wa’l-salamu ‘ala rasuli’Llah. Thank you for your query. Now that the dust has settled somewhat, and for what it’s worth, the following points more or less capture my take on the issue:

1. Issues of this nature shouldn’t be blown out of proportion or become the basis for a campaign of incrimination; nor must it become a source of division or discord among Muslims. Healthy debate and courteous engagements are one thing: acrimonious and mean-spirited disputation is another thing altogether. We would do well to recall the Quranic injunction: Call to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kindly exhortation, and reason with them in the most courteous manner. [16:125] Unfortunately, some of the voices on both sides of the debate have neither been helpful, nor respectful.

2. One discusses these matters in the spirit of sincerity and brotherliness/sisterliness. One states their case (and position, if need be), and then moves on. Whoever accepts the view, all well and good; if not, one has done their ‘duty’ so to speak. The received scholarly wisdom in this regard is simply: qul kalimataka w’amshi – ‘say your piece and move on.’

3. That the video had a well-intended goal behind it shouldn’t be called into question. For aren’t we required to: Avoid much suspicion? [49:12] Having said that, we must also keep in mind that good intentions aren’t always enough to meet with Divine pleasure and acceptance (ridwan). Ibn Mas’ud, may Allah be pleased with him, once put it like this: wa kam min muridin li’l-khayr lan yusibahu – ‘How many people intend good, but never reach the good.’ The Islamic validity of any act – that is, the act having its basis in either the Qur’an, the Sunnah, analogy (qiyas) or scholarly consensus (ijma‘) – is also paramount.

4. While various feelings for and against the video have been voiced, and praise and censure have been meted out to it in differing degrees, the main controversy concerns the question of singing, music and dancing. In the likes of such an issue, people are of two factions. Those versed in the ways of juristic inference and of weighing-up proof-texts, and those who aren’t. Those learned in fiqh and shari‘ah are, after a painstaking and thorough examination of all the relevant evidences, obliged to follow the result of their research. Those unqualified – well what can they really do? They could ask for a fatwa. They could try and gain an awareness of the issue via the internet. They could read and digest a book on the subject. But unless a person hasn’t examined both sides of the debate rigorously, from top to bottom, they are in no position to take a firm or principled stance. What they can of course do is follow the view of a scholar they trust or who is more practically accessible to them. They can also make others aware of the mufti’s view or fatwa, but without believing that it is irrefutably right: for without the required research, how would they know? Ibn Taymiyyah wrote about such muqallids; those not versed in fiqh and who are thus required to follow the fatwas or rulings of qualified scholars: ‘As for someone who knows the view of one scholar and his proofs, but not the other scholar or his proofs, then he is from the generality of the muqallids. He is not of those scholars able to evaluate or weigh-up [proofs].’1 The rule to follow here is: ‘The Muslims are unanimous that it isn’t allowed for a muqallid to declare that this is halal or that is haram, in those ijtihadi issues wherein he is a muqallid. However, what he can say is that this is the ruling in the school of the Imam he follows; or that having sought a fatwa, this is the fatwa he was given.’2

5. The issue of music is problematic in Islam, for it can seriously distract from prayer and remembering Allah; suggestively arouse emotions and passions; and significantly interfere with morality. A small minority of scholars have, nonetheless, argued for the allowance of listening to music; provided the above dangers are ensured against. For them, there is nothing definitive in Islam to prohibit music. If anything, they argue, there are hadiths where the Prophet, upon whom be peace, allows (encourages, even) singing and playing musical instruments. One of the main hadiths cited in this regard states that: The Lady ‘A’ishah said, Abu Bakr visited me while I had two young Ansari girls who were singing the tales of the battle of Bu‘ath; and they were not professional singers. Abu Bakr said: Musical instruments of Satan in the house of Allah’s Prophet! It was Eid day, so Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, said: ‘O Abu Bakr, there is an Eid for every people, and this is our Eid.’3 This hadith, some advocates of music state, shows how the Prophet, peace be upon him, did not interfere with singing and music, letting the performers and the audience enjoy themselves. Reports from a few notable Companions and some of the Followers (tabi’un) are also used to show the lawfulness of singing and music. Although how authentic these are, or how applicable they are to the issue of music (as opposed to songs or poetry recitals), is questionable.

6. The majority of jurists throughout the ages insist music is haram. To them, music is objectionable, frivolous, more likely than not to lead to immorality, and an unworthy activity for believers. People are often incited to think illicit thoughts and driven to do illicit things by music. Such is its undeniable power. The majority voice forbids music based upon the following chorus of hadiths – the most famous of them being: ‘There shall come groups of people from my ummah who will declare fornication, adultery, silk, wine and musical instrument to be lawful.’4 This prophecy informs us that some people will soon appear who will philosophise away the above prohibitions, declaring the haram to be halal! Another hadith says: ‘Verily Allah has forbidden wine, gambling and drums.’5 In another authentic hadith, it says: ‘Indeed, I did not prohibit weeping, but I did prohibit two foolish and sinful sounds: the sound of merriment with Satan’s wind instruments, in times of blessing and joy; and the sound of wailing while tearing one’s clothes and slapping one’s face, in times of grief.’6 Other hadiths, along with a volley of Companion and salaf-reports, all act in concert to establish the prohibition of lewd, enticing or immoral songs and singing, and of musical instruments generally. The majority view has exceptions, such as a small one-sided drum (duff) at weddings and on Eid days: some scholars extend this to other occasions too. Likewise, innocent and decent singing, humming or chanting during weddings, Eid celebrations, or while travelling, during hard or monotonous labour, or to fight off boredom, have also been permitted by jurists. Finally, although some jurists cite a consensus (ijma‘) on musical instruments being unlawful (exceptions aside), a few have challenged this conclusion. In other words, the truth about the forbiddance of musical instruments, or ma‘azif, is that: either there is unanimity concerning it, or at the very least it is the view taken by the great majority.7 And Allah knows best.

7. In view of the above, if we cast a glance back at the hadith usually used to prove the lawfulness of music (the hadith of the Lady ‘A’ishah in point five), can it really be used to justify its permissibility? For these were young girls singing without the use of any forbidden instruments. The song itself was about heroics in war, and hence perfectly lawful. And the young girls were not professional songstresses, as the wording of the hadith indicates. Moreover, even if music were halal or allowable, the restrictions it is hemmed in by would most certainly put the music which is today so intrinsically part of popular culture, off limits. Given all this, the stiff opposition to, and strong censure of, the Happy Muslim music video should come as no great surprise. A certain display of righteous indignation for Allah’s sake, by those who believed that an act was being committed in opposition to a consensus or to the verdict of the Four Imams, is surely a sign of faith; isn’t it?

8. There was something else about the content of the video which caused eyebrows to be raised: the dancing. In the shari’ah, the ruling about dancing (raqs) – ‘movements of bending, swaying and straightening’ – is differed over by jurists. One group (Shafi‘is) deems it to be permissible (mubah); the other (Hanafis, Malikis and Hanbalis) says it is disliked (makruh).8 All scholars concur that dancing is expressly forbidden (haram) if women dance in view of men; if it excites passions; or if it is suggestive, seductive or sexually provocative – be it women dancing in front of other women, or men in front of men. Given that the Quran instructs women do not be soft of speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease aspires to you, but speak honourably, [33:32] given also that they not stamp their feet in order to reveal their hidden ornaments, [24:31], the believing woman’s reticence and unassuming modesty would surely be compromised by dancing (even if casually, innocently and unsuggestively) where they may be seen by men? While some in the video were just jumping for joy, it could reasonably be argued that others were not. That the raqs caused a ruckus is again not surprising.

9. Away from all the fiqh and fracas, the video did force Muslims to again ask critical questions about their current standing in society and how they are publicly perceived: What of the growing public opinion which sees Islam and Muslims as being no more than embittered, angry and joyless (a ‘threat’ to society, even)? Don’t we Muslims have a duty to try and improve public perceptions? Shouldn’t we be taking positive steps to counter the bias, misrepresentations and smear campaigns against us by elements of the right-wing press? Shouldn’t we be putting serious efforts into tackling the climate of fear being created around British Muslims? Or do we let the deluge of propaganda, prejudice and anti-Muslim sentiments run their course, unchallenged and unabated? That a significant proportion of the British public hold negative views on Islam and, by extension, British Muslim communities, must be cause for concern. And whilst the Sunnah teaches that it is neither here nor there what others think about our religious practices (as long as we are on good terms with God), it does, nonetheless, allow space for taking public opinion into consideration. When the Prophet, peace be upon him, was asked if Ibn Ubayy – whose hypocrisy, political treachery and secret dealings with the enemies were known to him – could be executed, he simply replied: ‘Do not do so, lest people say that Muhammad kills his companions.’9 This is one of a number of instances in the prophetic career where public opinion trumped religious desirability. The video, no doubt, was birthed from the idea to improve the public image of British Muslims. Does the means justify the ends? It would seem not in this case.

10. The ensuing debate over the video raised other key concerns: Does our practice of Islam help recommend it to others? Does our conduct reflect the truths, beauty and balance of Islam? Does our adherence to the faith reflect its universality; its relevance for all people, in all places, at all times? Or are we giving the false impression that the din is an Arab or Asian things, well-suited to bedouin or rural life, but not twenty-first century Britain? These aren’t the times where we can ignorantly, naively or recklessly speak or act as we religiously please, without wider considerations and consequences. That ship has, alhamduli’Llah, long since sailed. Above all, shouldn’t we be reflecting the prophetic concern for peoples’ spiritual and eternal well being – despite growing mistrust and negativity towards us? It was by the mercy of Allah that you [O Prophet] were lenient with them. Had you been harsh and hard-hearted, they would have dispersed from around you. [3:159]

Conclusion: No doubt, the video’s intent wasn’t to pander to the crass pop culture of our time. It was about portraying a more joyful and welcoming image of Islam to the public at large (and to young Muslims who often feel that religion is made to appear overly prescriptive – to the point of not offering them any leeway, breathing space, or joy). The hadith which insists that ‘this is our Eid,’ highlights the need to make things easy for people (without declaring halal haram, or visa-versa), while they’re still trying to make their way to the joys of faith and to the sweetness of submission that comes about when religious practice and obedience are steadily internalised. One hadith lets us know: inna hadha’l-dina matin fa awghilu fihi bi rifq – ‘This religion is strong, so go through it gently.’10 To be connected to our Muslim youth, and to help steer them, is something we all need to be a greater part of. To engage their anger, frustrations and confusions is a right they have upon us and a duty we’re still not doing enough about. To help channel their talents and vibrant energies into lawful expressions of art and culture is something our learned ‘ulema need to give us far better guidance and clarity on. Service, or khidmah, is the key concern here. And in all of this we must remember that good intentions are to be seasoned with shari‘ah wisdoms. ‘To bring religion to the people is a fine and necessary undertaking, but this is not a situation in which the proposed end can be said to justify the means. The further people have drifted from the truth, the greater is the temptation to water down the truth.’11 It is a temptation, I believe, that we must resist.

Wa’Llahu a‘lam wa huwa wali al-tawfiq.

1. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 35:233.

2. Bakr Abu Zayd, al-Madkhal al-Mufassal (Riyadh: Dar al-‘Asimah, 1997), 1:73.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.960.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.5649.

5. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.3698.

6. Al-Haytami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, no.4047.

7. The consensus on musical instruments being haram is mentioned in, among other sources: al-Baghawi, Sharh al-Sunnah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1983), 12:383, where he said: ‘There is agreement about the prohibition of flutes (mazamir), instruments of diversion (malahi) and musical instruments (ma‘azif);’ and Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali citing Imam al-Ajurri, Nuzhat al-Asma’ fi Mas’alat al-Sama‘, in Majmu‘ Rasa’il (Cairo: al-Faruq al-Hadithah, 2003), 2:244. A thorough discussion of both sides of the debate is given in al-Shawkani, Nayl al-Awtar (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Qayyim, 2005), 9:147-168, where he explains (p.167) that this is ‘an area of legitimate differing’, and points the reader to a treatise he wrote on the topic (Ibtal Da’wa al-Ijma‘ ‘ala Tahrim Mutlaq al-Sama‘) which shows that, although the majority prohibited them, there is no clear consensus on the prohibition of musical instruments. He concluded this fair and thorough discussion with the following caution: al-mu’minun waqqafun ‘inda’l-shubuhat – ‘Believers should refrain from doubtful matters.’

8. For the Shafii position, see: al-Shirbini, Mughni al-Muhtaj (Beirut: Dar al-Marifah, 1997), 4:573.

9. Al-Bukhari, no.3518.

10. Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 3:199.

11. Gai Eaton, King of the Castle (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1999), 17.

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