The Humble "I"

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Khawarij Ideology, ISIS Savagery: Part 2 of 3

IsisThe first instalment of this blog (here) charted the rise of Islam’s first heterodox sect, the Khawarij, who were described by the Prophet ﷺ as being: ‘the worst of mankind and beasts’1 and ‘dogs of Hellfire.’2 We saw how their defining traits were: (i) rebellion (khuruj) against legitimate state rule; (ii) declaring Muslims to be apostates (takfir) for sins or opinions that do not warrant apostasy and; (iii) shedding peoples’ blood and causing chaos and terror throughout the land (fasad fi’l-ard). Such have tended to be this heinous group’s timeless traits.

Whatever other motives or pathology are at work in the Khariji mind, the underlying cause of their deviation was clearly stated by Ibn ‘Abbas when he said to them, in his encounter with them: ‘I come to you from the Emigrants (muhajirun) and the Helpers (ansar) and the son-in-law of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. To them the Qur’an was revealed. They are more learned about its meanings than you are; and there is not a single one of them among you.’3 In other words, Ibn ‘Abbas is insisting that he has come from a people educated and nurtured by the Prophet ﷺ himself; a people whose knowledge of the meanings, context and intent of the Quranic teachings is second to none. It’s as if he was saying: ‘Pray tell, with what authority do you presume to know better than the sahabah – the actual people of knowledge, understanding and excellence?’

With that short recap, let’s now turn our focus to ISIS. At the outset, it is important to note that no single writing of this size can hit every relevant nail on the head in this affair. There are far too many questions and concerns to tackle for that to realistically happen. Nor is this piece meant to be academically exhaustive or politically thorough. Instead, the purpose is to compare the claims and modus operandi of ISIS with that of Islam’s well-established juristic norms, and to show how they are the most recent face of Kharijite misguidance, barbarity, indiscriminate killings and takfirism.

I’d also like to stress here that not all those waging jihad in Syria are the ISIS/al-Qaeda types. Many groups and individuals are; but not all. Likewise, not all who are fighting under, or migrating to, the ISIS banner deserve the same ruling or description. While it is true that many (or even most) ISIS-affiliates are no more than thugs, deviants and followers of false desires; others are sincere, but betaken with idealism and naivety; or are ensnared by claims of an alleged caliphate (khilafah) and misled into believing the grass is greener on the other side.

Yet since ISIS has a clear-cut command structure, and its ideology and decrees come from top down, there is sufficient enough shari‘ah justification to be able to describe the group in collective, generic terms – even if not every individual affiliated with the group fits the description. This shall be the stance I take when writing this blog. So to continue on from Section III of the first part of the blog, let’s start with a declaration from the leader of ISIS:

IV

On May 14th, 2015 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the alleged khalifah of all Muslims, said in a 34 minute audio address: ‘O Muslims, Islam was never for a day the religion of peace. Islam is the religion of war. Your Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was dispatched with the sword as a mercy to the creation.’4 The issue of jihad and Islam’s attitude to war is as good a place as any to start our examination of ISIS.

Without a doubt, jihad in the sense of qital (“fighting”, “military war”) is enjoined on the faithful at numerous places in the Qur’an and is seen as a highly meritorious form of duty and sacrifice in Islam. Al-Raghib wrote about the schematics of jihad in these terms: ‘Jihad is of three types: jihad against the apparent enemy; against the devil; and against the ego (nafs). All three types are included in Allah’s words, exalted is He: And wage jihad in Allah’s path with all the striving that is due to Him. [22:78] And wage jihad with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah. [9:41] … Jihad is to be waged with the hand and the tongue, as he [the Prophet] ﷺ said: “Wage jihad against the unbelievers with your hands and your tongues.”56

Undeniably, then, military or armed jihad is well-attested to in the revealed texts.7 Yet to equate this one virtuous act of the faith with the totality of Islam is nothing short of being perverse or pathological.

The self-proclaimed Caliph and so-called caretaker of the ummah has nothing to say about prayer, fasting or pilgrimage. No significant exhortation to piety or to purifying the heart. No word about cultivating good morals and ethics, or kindness to parents, fulfilling contracts or guarding the tongue. There’s just a call to fighting, violence and shedding blood. The slick ISIS media output is filled with images of blood and gore; of victims in the process of being executed, burnt or beheaded; and children playing amidst decapitated heads. ISIS wants us to believe this is the real Islam; that this is the spirit of a true Muslim: and that anyone who recoils from such imagery is but a pale reflection of the real deal. In the ISIS reading of Islam, this is how the Prophet ﷺ was. This is what al-Baghdadi is hell bent on making us believe. In fact, this is what so many in the world have come to believe; and it utterly repulses them.

So what was the Prophet’s attitude ﷺ to war? And how does the shari‘ah, the Sacred Law of Islam, countenance war?

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.’8 Indeed, Islam’s overall take on war is best seen in the following declaration of our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: ‘Do not wish to meet your enemy, but ask Allah for safety. If you do meet them, be firm and know that Paradise lies beneath the shades of swords.’9 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. The following hadith might also be used as a support: ‘After me there will be conflicts and affairs. If you are able, resolve them peacefully.’10 Also revealing are these words of the Prophet ﷺ: ‘The most detested of names to Allah are War (harb) and Bitterness (murrah).’11

All this is a far cry from the ISIS reinvention of the Muslim personality and from their irreverent portrayal of the Prophet ﷺ. If anything, their portrayal is more a betrayal. Jihad of the military kind, as we have seen, is not a goal in itself; it’s a means to a goal: the free and unhindered invitation to Islam and the summons to worship Allah alone. 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.

ISIS, however, seems not to give much thought about receptivity to Islam, nor about sanctity of life – including Muslim life. Despite their claims to uphold the shari‘ah, the list of their atrocities and violations reads like an Argos catalogue. These involve: the indiscriminate killing of Muslims; kidnapping and killing of non-Muslims who have entered Muslims countries as aid workers, journalists or under a covenant of security; torturing and killing prisoners as well as mutilating their bodies; exacting revenge and retribution upon the public if they disagrees with ISIS; illegally seizing the wealth and property of Muslims; and, of course, their rampant takfir of a large numbers of Muslims – scholars and mujahids included. It seems the only difference between ISIS and the Khawarij of earlier times is in the sheer scale of ISIS’s takfir, bloodshed and savagery. In this sense, ISIS are not Khawarij, they are ubër-Khawarij! And nor should one be taken in by their apparent Islamic rhetoric. For the Prophet ﷺ warned about the Khawarij thugs that: ‘There shall appear in my ummah schisms and divisions, and a people who will beautify their speech, but their actions will be evil. They shall recite the Qur’an, but it will not pass beyond their throats …’12 Also: ‘They shall recite the Qur’an thinking it is for them, but it is against them.’13 And that: ‘They would call to the Book of Allah, but would not be from it at all.’14

V

In the same audio speech, al-Baghdadi goes to great lengths to rally every able-bodied believer to his cause: ‘Muslims! Do not think the war that we are waging is the Islamic State’s war alone. Rather it’s the Muslims’ war altogether. It’s the war of every Muslim in every place, and the Islamic State is merely the spearhead in this war. It is but the war of the people of faith against the people of disbelief, so march forth to your war O Muslims.’15

This brings us to another crucial aspect about jihad in Islam: who may be fought? Are Muslims required to wage jihad against disbelievers due to their disbelief (kufr)? Imam Ibn Taymiyyah takes up the issue, stating: ‘The disbelievers, they are only to be fought on condition of them waging war first – as is the view of the majority of scholars; and as is proven by the Book and the Sunnah.16 Which is to say, Islam permits fighting disbelievers, not because of their disbelief, but only if they initiate war against Muslim societies, or manifest belligerence towards them. The Qur’an says: Fight for the sake of Allah those that fight against you, but do not transgress the limits. [2:190]

Ibn al-Qayyim, another medieval maestro of Islamic jurisprudence, wrote: ‘Fighting is only a duty in response to being fought against, not in response to disbelief. Which is why women, children, the elderly and infirm, the blind, or monks who stay out of the fighting are not fought. Instead, we only fight those who wage war against us.’17

Ibn al-Qayyim also stated about the Prophet ﷺ: ‘Never did he force the religion upon anyone, and he only fought those who waged war against him and fought him. As for those who entered into a peace treaty with him, or concluded a truce, he never fought them, nor ever coerced them to enter his religion, abiding by his Lord’s order: There is no compulsion in religion. True guidance has become distinct from error. [2:256] … It will be clear to whoever ponders the life of the Prophet ﷺ, that he never coerced anyone to enter his religion and that he only fought those who fought against him first. As for those who ratified a peace treaty with him, he never fought them, provided they kept to their covenant and did not violate its terms.’18

Again, the issue of jihad isn’t quite as ISIS makes it out to be: ‘It is but the war of the people of faith against the people of disbelief.’ Rather, as per the above, and as most of the qualified jurists and recognised fatwa bodies of our time hold – and their word in shari‘ah affairs is authoritative and represents orthodoxy – that a state of war shall not exist between Muslims and others except if hostility against a Muslim land is initiated or barriers to da‘wah erected.19

As for when the Muslim army is in the thick of a religiously-sanctioned war, then this is where the following verses of the Qur’an (and their like) come into play: Slay them wherever you find them; drive them out of the places from which they drove you. [2:190-91] Also: Slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them [captive] and besiege them, and lie in ambush for them everywhere. [9:5] And then, of course, there is this: But if they incline towards peace, incline to it too. [8:61]

Lastly, let’s touch upon the following: the believer’s love of martyrdom. In one hadith, we see the Prophet ﷺ relish the following: ‘By Him in whose hand is my life. I would love to be killed in Allah’s way and then be brought back to life; then be killed and be brought back to life; then be killed and be brought back to life; then be killed.’20 The Prophet ﷺ cherished martyrdom, not because of the love of blood and gore; nor 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 service and the ultimate sacrifice for God. To surrender to Allah one’s actual life, for a cause Allah loves and honours, is the greatest possible expression of loving Allah. 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.’21 Believers, though, whilst they long to meet a martyr’s death, strive to live a saintly life. For how can one truly desire to die for God, if one doesn’t sincerely try to live for God?

VI

ISIS has no qualms in shamelessly flaunting its cruelty and deviancy. Although the so-called khalifah hides away from the public’s gaze, the khariji ideology and attitudes he propagates and presides over are on display for all to see. But ideology isn’t always the core appeal. Some are drawn to ISIS, not because of its ruthless ideology, but because for them it represents a rallying force against taghut rulers, establishments that have failed them, and western foreign policies. The claim to have reestablished the khilafah is the ultimate rallying force to galvanise the disaffected and disempowered. But has ISIS really reestablished the Caliphate? Is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi truly the khalifah, the amir al-mu’minin, of all Muslims? Is there an Islamic duty upon each of us to give him the oath of allegiance, or bay‘ah? The short answer to all these questions is: Of course not! And here are a few reasons why:

1. The khalifah must be appointed by consultation (shura) of the ummah’s movers and shakers: its senior scholars, political leaders, wealthy ones, and any others who exert influence on large factions of the ummah and whose agreement is vital to bring about a unified stance. Without their approval, any claims of a khilafah is both unachievable and illegitimate. If anything, it will have the exact opposite effect. It will be the cause for schisms, divisions and civil unrest to erupt. ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said: ‘Whoever gives the oath of allegiance to a man, without consulting the Muslims, is not to be sworn allegiance to, nor is the one whom he swore allegiance to, for fear they both may be killed.’22 From this angle alone, there simply is no shari‘ah legality to al-Baghdadi’s claim to be khalifah. For consultation with a few unknowns and misfits doesn’t count as shura in such a key public affair.

2. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: ‘The Prophet ﷺ ordered us to obey leaders who were both present and well-known (al-a’immah al-mawjudin al-ma‘lumin); those who wield executive political authority and have the capability to address the political needs of the people. He did not [order us with] obedience to leaders who are absent or unknown; or to those who lack executive authority and have no real governing power over anything.’23 So these are a few more reasons which make al-Baghdadi’s claim of being caliph bogus. He’s an unknown (as are the many former high-ranking Ba’athists he’s chosen to fill top organisational positions in ISIS). Moreover, his political clout is confined; it doesn’t extend globally, nor reach into Muslim majority countries.

3.  Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani wrote of one of the pragmatic rulings that have shaped Sunni political theory and its rules of governance (ahkam al-sultaniyyah): ‘The scholars have united upon the obligation to obey the ruler who gains ascendency by force … For in it lies preservation of blood and public order.’24 The rationale here is quite simple: al-bay’ah khayrun min al-furqah – ‘Oath of allegiance is better than dissension.’25 Now it has been argued that since al-Baghdadi and ISIS have conquered territory and gained sovereignty by force, this somehow makes him khalifah. This is nonsense; as shown by the previous point. At best, ISIS is an emirate and al-Baghdadi is its amir, or leader. At worst, it temporarily controls conquered territories in an ongoing war zone, and al-Baghdadi a calculated fitnah-maker falsely claiming the title of Caliph; splitting the ranks of those who are fighting Syria’s tyrant; and turning his guns on mujahidun and anyone else who disagrees with his caliphal claim. Either way, ISIS most certainly isn’t a khilafah by any stretch of the imagination. Those that aid and abet ISIS, only aid and abet murder, mayhem and misguidance.

Then there’s the matter of whether multiple rulers (ta‘addud al-a’immah) are lawful or not in Islam, or are Muslims always required to be politically unified under one single ruler or caliph? Here’s an outline of the issue:

4. After citing the hadith, ‘Whoever comes to you whilst your affairs are unified under a single person, seeking to undermine your unity or divide your ranks, execute him,’26 al-Qurtubi remarked: ‘This is the strongest evidence prohibiting the establishment of two leaders [simaltaneously]. For this will lead to hypocrisy, dissension, schisms, civil strife and the removal of blessings. But if the lands are far apart and independent, like Anadulsia and Khurasan, it becomes permissible.’27

5. First stating the ideal, then supplying this dispensation on the topic, Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: ‘The Sunnah is for the Muslims to have a single ruler (imam), with others being his deputies. But if it happened that the ummah left this, due to sin from some and inability from others, so that it had multiple rulers, it would them be incumbent upon each ruler to establish the prescribed punishments and preserve peoples’ rights.’28

6. Adapting to the changing realities and seismic political shifts of the eighteenth and nineteenth century Muslim world, the jurist and murajjih, Imam al-Shawkani, stated: ‘However, as for after Islam became widespread and had reached many far away lands, then as is known, there arose in each province or territory a state with its own leader or ruler. This happened in all regions. The authority of each of them does not extend to the area of others, hence there is no harm in there being a number of leaders and rulers. Obedience to each of them, after the oath of allegiance, is obligatory upon the people of that area where his orders and prohibitions are operative. The same goes for the ruler of each area … So realise this. For it is in full accord with the principles of the shari‘ah and agrees with what the texts indicate. Ignore what is said contrary to this, since the difference in the condition of the rule of Islam in the beginning and the condition today is clearer than the daytime sun.’29

7. Although Muslims being split into countries, states and kingdoms is nowhere near ideal – given that sectarian strife and political discord exists in and among them; and many of their rulers are shabby tyrants, unfit for purpose, or have betrayed their trust as political caretakers – there is no shari‘ah duty to establish the khilalfah via terror or savagery or the destruction of peoples’ lives, property and honour. As the saying goes: al-‘aqil la yubni qasr wa yuhaddimu misr – ‘The intelligent one doesn’t build a palace by laying waste to the city.’ Rather, each subject or citizen lends their hand to obedience and law-abidingness, in that which does not entail disobedience. Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab said: ‘For a very long time, since before the time of Imam Ahmad, till nowadays, the people have not united under one single ruler. Nor is it known that any of the scholars have said that there is any ruling which is not correct except with the greater imam (al-imam al-a‘zam).’30

In Part 2, we’ve seen reasons why ISIS’s claim of a caliphate is fraudulent and invalid, and how some of its key views on warfare and jihad do not reflect normative readings or attitudes at all. ISIS, rather than being a true defender and carer of Muslim sanctity and lives, has gone out of its way to murder Muslims and perpetrate violence against them on a horrific scale. That their glossy media machine is now pushing the-idyllic-life-in-the-Islamic-State image, more than their usual blood and gore one, should not hoodwink anyone. If ISIS had done what they’ve done, under the name of politics and power grabbing, that would have been one thing. But it has done so under the name of Islam; using Islamic rhetoric; trying to justify its deeds with gross misreadings and misapplications of shari‘ah texts. This is what makes ISIS so utterly shameless. This is what makes ISIS so Khawarij-like in its self-righteous obstinacy. We ask Allah that He guide us and them and forgive us our sins. We also ask Him that He steer them aright or break their backs.

As for my brothers and sisters whose hearts have not been dulled by the dunya; whose souls yearn to strive in Allah’s cause; whose blood flows with the love of tawhid, piety and justice; but who may have become persuaded by the ISIS narrative or feel inclined to its call – please think! Think about the proofs and arguments laid out here, as well as the words of the people of knowledge cited here. Do not dismiss them out of hand merely because the heart of the one writing this has long ago been numbed by dunya and courage no longer courses through his veins. Instead, think about what is written here on its own merits. Consider it carefully. Consider also the many hadiths which warn against the Khawarij, and how they shall appear throughout time – even until close to the End of Days. Then ask yourselves: Who do these numerous hadiths refer to in our present day and age? Who best fits their description in these recent times? And then, with anger and emotion aside, be led by knowledge, piety and the courage of your conviction; and see ISIS for what it truly is. As for those preparing to secretly sneak away from home and join the so-called caliphal caravan, let me leave you with the following:

Describing how the Khawarij sent a call out to recruit people, urging them to secretly leave their homes and join their ranks, al-hafiz Ibn Kathir wrote: ‘How superb is what one of the salaf said about the Khawarij, in that they are the ones mentioned in Allah’s words, exalted is He: Say: ‘Shall We tell you those whose works will bring the greatest loss.’ Those whose efforts have been wasted in the life of this world while they thought they were doing good. Those are they who disbelieve in the signs of their Lord and the encounter with Him. Therefore their works are in vain, and on the Day of Resurrection We give no wait to them. [18:103-5] The point is that such ignorant and misguided ones, wretched in both words and deeds, agreed upon rebelling against the Muslims …’31

After stressing how their self-righteousness is so entrenched, that they go through life working mischief and misguidance, thinking that they are acquiring virtue, Ibn Kathir then said:

‘They then wrote an open letter to whoever was upon their way and path in Basra and elsewhere, sending word to tell them to meet them by the river so they could form a single hand against the people. They then began to leave, sneaking out one by one, lest it was realised and they were then prevented. They left from amidst their fathers and mothers, and uncles and aunts; leaving all their near ones. They did this thinking, in their ignorance and in their lack of knowledge and understanding, that this matter would please the Lord of the heavens and the earth. What they didn’t realise was that this was one of the worst of the major sins and destructive deeds, and one of the most contemptible of wrongdoings; and that it was made to look appealing to them by Iblis and by their egos which constantly incited towards evil. A group realized what some of their children, cousins and brothers were up to, so they stopped them, restrained them and censured them. Thereafter, some turned back and continued to be upright, while others fled and joined the Khawarij and thus were made wretched until the Day of Resurrection.’32

1. Muslim, no.750.

2. Ibn Majah, no.176. Al-Albani graded it as sahih in Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1987), no.3347.

3. Cited in Ibn al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis (Beirut: Dar al-Qalam, 1982), 89-90.

4. Dabiq (issue #9: Sha’ban, 1436), 52; the official online magazine of ISIS. The quote starts 13 minutes, 12 seconds into the audio.

5. Abu Dawud, no.2504. Its chain is sahih, as per al-Nawawi, Riyadh al-Salihin (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2000), no.1357, but with the wording: ‘ … with your wealth, lives and tongues.’

6. Al-Raghib al-Asbahani, Mufradat Alfaz al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Qalam, 2002), 208; under the entry, j-h-d.

7. For the merits and shari‘ah status of the inner jihad against the unruly ego, refer to my article: The Greater Jihad.

8. Ibn Hajr al-Haytami citing al-Zarkashi, Tuhfat al-Muhtaj bi Sharh al-Minhaj (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1972), 9:211.

9. Al-Bukhari, no.3024; Muslim, no.172..

10. Ahmad, Musnad, no.695. Its chain was graded sahih by Ahmad Shakir, al-Musnad al-Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (Egypt: Dar al-Ma‘arif, 1954), 2:84-5, despite the presence of two questionable narrators in the chain: Faysal b. Sulayman and Iyas b. ‘Amr.

11. Abu Dawud, no.4950. The hadith, with its various chains, strengthen each other to yield a final grading of sahih. Consult: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1987), no.1040.

12. Abu Dawud, no.4765. The hadith was graded sahih in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.3668.

13. Muslim, no.1066.

14. Ahmad, no.1338, and it is sahih. Consult: al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.3668.

15. Dabiq (issue #9: Sha’ban, 1436), 54.

16. Kitab al-Nubawwat (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), 140.

17. Ahkam Ahl al-Dhimmah (Dammam: Ramadi li’l-Nashr, 1997), 1:110.

18. Hidayat al-Hiyara (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2008), 29-30.

19. Consult: al-Khallaf, al-Siyasat al-Shar‘iyyah (Cairo: Matba‘ah al-Salafiyyah, 1931), 75. In an age of the Internet and social media, it’s almost nigh on impossible for countries to erect barriers to prevent the da‘wah to Islam.

20. Al-Bukhari, no.2797; Muslim, no.1497.

21. Muslim, no.1910.

22. Al-Bukhari, no.6830.

23. Minhaj al-Sunnah (Riyadh: Jami‘ah al-Imam Muhammad ibn Sa‘ud, 1986), 1:115.

24. Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: al-Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 15:593.

25. See: al-Shatibi, al-I‘tisam (Amman: al-Dar al-Athariyyah, 2007), 3:46.

26. Muslim, no.1852.

27. Al-Jami‘ li Ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1996), 2:30.

28. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 35:175-76.

29. Al-Sayl al-Jarrar (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), 4:512.

30. Al-Durar al-Saniyyah fi’l-Ajwibat al-Najdiyyah (n.p., 1995), 9:5.

31. Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa’l-Nihayah (Dar al-Hijr, 1998), 10:580.

32. ibid., 10:581.

Khawarij Ideology, ISIS Savagery: Part 1 of 3

guns-wallpaper-ak47-2As ISIS continues its murder and violence across the provinces it controls and seeks to control, and as it continues to plague the conscience of the great majority of Muslims around the world, what’s worth recalling is that we’ve seen this before in history with the sect called the Khawarij (anglicised to Kharijites). So before tackling ISIS, let’s look at their forerunners; the Kharajites, to whom their pedigree can be traced.

I

The hadith canons relate that shortly after the battle of Hunayn while the Prophet ﷺ was distributing charity to a few people whose hearts needed to be reconciled, there came a man with a thick beard, prominent cheek bones, deep sunken eyes, protruding forehead and shaven head. He exclaimed: Fear Allah, O Muhammad! The Prophet ﷺ responded: ‘Who will obey Allah if I were to disobey him? Am I not [sent as the] most trustworthy person on earth; and yet you trust me not?’ The man then turned back, whereupon one of those present asked for permission to kill him. But the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Verily, from the progeny (di’di) of this [man] shall come a people who will recite the Qur’an but it won’t pass beyond their throats. They will slay the followers of Islam and would spare the people of idolatry. They will pierce through the religion just like an arrow which goes clean through a prey.’1

Another hadith records that this man’s name was Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah, from the tribe of Tamim, about whom the Prophet ﷺ alerted: ‘Leave him; he has comrades whose prayer and fasting will make your prayer and fasting seem insignificant. They recite the Qur’an but it doesn’t go beyond their throats. They shall pass through the religion as an arrow that pierces clean through its prey such that, on inspecting the head; then the shaft; then the fletching; then the nock, would see no traces of blood or viscera on it whatsoever.’2 Ibn al-Jawzi said: ‘The first of the Khawarij, and the most wretched of them, was Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah … His problem was that he was too puffed up with his own opinion. Had he been granted grace, he would have realised that no opinion was above that of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. The followers of this man were those who fought against ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, may Allah ennoble his face.’3

A few decades after this post-Hunayn happening, and as had been prophesied, Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah’s ideological comrades and offspring took on the shape of the very first sect (firqah) to deviate from the main body of the Muslims: the Khawarij (culled from the Arabic word kharaja – “to go out” or “to leave” the main body of Muslims). Indeed, their very name was mentioned by the Prophet ﷺ himself, who said: al-khawarij hum kilab al-nar – “The Khawarij are the dogs of Hellfire!’4 The emergence of the Khawarij as a sect occurred during the caliphate (khilafah) of ‘Ali, in the immediate aftermath of a civil war and its arbitration at Siffin. Ibn al-Jawzi tells us: ‘‘Ali returned from Siffin and entered Kufah: the Khawarij did not follow. Instead, they settled in Harura. There were twelve thousand of them, and they were declaring: la hukma illa li’Llah – “There is no judgement, except Allah’s.” This is how they initially started.’5

Imam Muslim narrates from ‘Ubayd Allah b. Abi Rafi‘, a freed salve of the Prophet ﷺ, that the Khawarij came out against ‘Ali, and declared: ‘There is no judgement, except Allah’s.’ So ‘Ali replied: ‘A word of truth, intended for something false (kalimatu haqq urida biha batil).’6

Imam al-Nawawi explains: ‘Meaning, the basis of their statement was true. Allah says: The judgement is for none but Allah. [12:40] What they intended by it, however, was to reject ‘Ali’s [acceptance of] arbitration, may Allah be pleased with him.’7

As with Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah who, blinded by his warped piety and self-righteousness, thought he had a keener sense of justice than the Prophet ﷺ, the Khawarij were also possessed of holier-than-thou pretensions and smug convictions. It is this puritanical, embittered self-righteousness – devoid of any true glimmer of knowledge or spiritual wisdom – that is the hallmark of the Khawarij and their ideological cousins who drink from the same murky theological waters today. Of course, along with such fanatical zeal, their other great infamy was takfir – declaring other Muslims to be disbelievers, and spilling their blood because of it.

II

The historians al-Tabari and Ibn Kathir chronicle alarmingly precise accounts of their intimidation, violence and terror. Under the events of 37H/657CE they detail how the Khawarij began terrorising the countryside around Nahrawan, Iraq, subjecting those whom they caught to an imtihan or “inquisition”. If the answers failed to satisfy their zeal for purity, or agree with their understanding of things, then the punishment was death. Things came to a head when they chose ‘Abd Allah, son of an early companion, Khabbab b al-Aratt, as their victim. A number of the Khawarij rode into his village for supplies and thought to make an example of him. They fired their loaded questions at him. They first asked him about the caliphates of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman. ‘Abd Allah extolled them all and praised their successive caliphates. So far, so good. They then asked him about ‘Ali, and his state before and after the arbitration or tahkim. ‘He has far greater knowledge about Allah than you do,’ replied ‘Abd Allah, ‘and has much more piety in terms of his religion and possesses greater insight.’ With that, his fate was sealed. They bound and dragged him and his pregnant wife to an orchard ladened with date palms, next to a river. As they were proceeding to kill him, a date fell to the ground, so one of the Khawarij picked it up and put it in his mouth. ‘Do you do that without the owner’s permission and without paying for it?’ said one of his Kharajite comrades. He spat it out instantly. Another Khariji, wielding his sword in threatening circles, accidentally killed a cow that had been wandering behind him. His comrades insisted he should go and find the owner and pay him the full price of the animal. They waited whilst he did so. Thus, having acted most righteously in the matter of the date and the cow, they slit ‘Abd Allah’s throat and then disemboweled his wife. Date spat out, cow paid for, husband, wife and unborn child butchered; and with the clearest of consciences, they purchased their supplies and went on their way.8

Theologians have differed as to the precise meaning of the Prophet’s words ﷺ: ‘They will pierce through the religion (yamruquna min al-din) as an arrow which goes clean through a prey.’ The idea of maraqa – an an arrow ‘piercing’ or going ‘clean through’ its prey with such force and velocity that it exists its prey without any trace of blood or flesh sticking to its tip or shaft, describes emphatically how the Khawarij immerse themselves in religion, but exit straight through it. The question, however, is do they exit the fold of orthodoxy (and become heterodox, deviant Muslims), or do they leave the actual fold of Islam? A minority of scholars went with the latter view; most went with the former.9 The majority view takes its cue from ‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, who was asked: Are the Khawarij mushrikun? He said: ‘They flee from shirk.‘ Are they munafiqun? He said: ‘The hypocrites remember Allah only a little.’ Then what are they? He said: ‘They are our brothers who transgressed against us (ikhwanuna baghaw ‘alayna), so we fought them for their transgression.’10

III

We may be forgiven for thinking that the Khawarij are an anachronism; a thing of the past, that have no bearing upon Muslims and today’s world. But we would be terribly wrong! The Khawarij, as we shall soon see, were prophesied as raising their ugly heads throughout time, until the Dajjal appears at their tale end. It is crucial, therefore, that we acquaint ourselves with their traits, attitudes and bent of mind:

1. Their first trait, as was mentioned, is that they will keep on rising throughout time. The Prophet ﷺ warned: ‘A group of young men will rise up reciting the Qur’an, but it won’t pass beyond their throats. Whenever a group appears, it is to be cut off; until the Dajjal arises at their tale end.’ Ibn ‘Umar said: I heard the Prophet ﷺ saying: ‘Each time a group appears, it is to be cut off’ more than twenty times.11 Thus the Khawarij will continue to plague Islam and the Muslims, till the Dajjal arises in what remains of them.

2. Another typical trait is their ignorant, over-simplistic understanding of religion. To this reality, there are these following words of the Prophet ﷺ: ‘There will arise at the end of time a people young in age and weak in intellect (hudatha’ al-asnan wa sufaha’ al-ahlam). Their speech will be that of the best of creation. They will recite the Qur’an but it shan’t go beyond their throats. They will shoot through the religion just like an arrow goes through the game. When you meet them, kill them; for in their killing you will receive a great reward from Allah on the Day of Judgement.’12

Ibn Hajr wrote: ‘The Khawarij, what led them to judge those who opposed them to be disbelievers, making their blood lawful … and engage in fighting and killing Muslims? All this is from the vestiges of those who worship upon ignorance; those whose hearts haven’t been expanded by the light of knowledge. nor do they hold tightly to the firm rope of knowledge.’13 Indeed, more than any other fitnah today, the ummah is beset with takfiri violence, murder and mayhem, wreaked upon it mostly by those ‘young in age and weak in intellect.’

3. Extremism and fanaticism is another quintessential character. The Prophet ﷺ said about them: ‘There will arise among you a people whose prayer will make your prayer look insignificant, whose fasting will make your fasting look insignificant, and whose deeds will make your deeds look insignificant. They will recite the Qur’an but it won’t pass beyond their throats …’14 Ibn ‘Abbas said about the Khawarij, when he went to debate them: ‘I came to them at midday and entered upon a people, the likes of whom I hadn’t seen in terms of their exertion in worship. Their foreheads were grazed from [constant] prostration. Their hands were rough, like [the knees of] camels. They wore recently washed, girded up tunics. And their faces were pale from staying up at night [in prayer].’15

Despite their ostensibly impressive religiosity, which has ensnared many a youth into their misguided, brutal embrace, Ibn Hajr puts things into perspective for us: ‘It was said of them [that they are] “Reciters,” because of their tireless exertion in reciting the Qur’an and [devotion in] worship. Except that they would interpret the Qur’an upon other than its intended meanings, were obstinate, and went to extremes in regards to worldly detachment (zuhd), humility in prayer (khushu‘) and other [such] things.’16

4. Their speech is impressive, but their actions are abhorrent and wicked. One hadith states: ‘There shall appear in my ummah schisms and divisions, and a people who will beautify their speech, but their actions will be evil. They shall recite the Qur’an, but it will not pass beyond their throats …’17 A clear case that the Khawarij can talk the talk, but not walk the walk – and how yesterday resembles today.

5. They demean the seasoned scholars well-known for their depth of knowledge, fiqh and piety, and cut-off from them. The Prophet ﷺ described the Khawarij as: ‘young in age, weak in intellect,’18 Ibn ‘Abbas, in his parley with them, told them this home truth: ‘I come to you from the Emigrants (muhajirun) and the Helpers (ansar), and the son-in-law of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. To them the Qur’an was revealed. They are more learned about its meanings than you are; and there is not a single one of them among you.’19

Fewer things are as repugnant as the blind, holier-than-thou absolutism of the newly reformed sinner (as the Khawarij saw themselves to be). In their purer than the pure self-righteousness they declared ‘Ali, Mu‘awiyah, and other sahabah to be unbelievers or kuffar. For they had failed to cross over to their puritanical way of seeing things. In fact, Khariji bigotry has always treated with contempt the true people of knowledge. The mediating voices of the scholars become, for the Khawarij, religious compromise or betrayal. Juristic nuances are seen by them as pharisaic, there to hide the simplicity of passing judgement on others. The Prophet ﷺ said about such murderous misfits: ‘They shall recite the Qur’an thinking it is for them, but it is against them.’20 And that: ‘They would call to the Book of Allah, but would not be from it at all.’21 Such can be the tragedy of those who, not withstanding their religious zeal, are wet behind the ears in terms of age, experience and knowledge.

In contrast to those ‘young in age, weak in intellect,’ the Prophet ﷺ said: al-barakah fi akabirikum – ‘The blessings are with your senior ones.’22 Indeed, cutting-off from the senior scholars in particular, and the people of knowledge and spirituality (ahl al-‘ilmi wa’l-ihsan) in general, is the root causes of how zeal for religious purity is taken over the brink into all-out fanaticism.

6. Along with the murder and violence, their most infamous trait is making takfir of a person for a major sin, or something for which takfir cannot be made. I have written at length about Takfir: Its Dangers & Its Rules elsewhere on this blog, so I’ll limit myself to this one hadith. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Truly what I most fear for you is a man who will recite the Qur’an until its radiance appears on him. So he becomes a support to Islam, changing it to whatever Allah wills. He then separates from it, casts it behind his back and raises the sword against his neighbour, accusing him of idolatry (shirk).’ I asked: O Allah’s Messenger who most deserves to be imputed with shirk; the accused or the accuser? He replied: ‘The accuser.”‘23 

Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘The Khawarij were the first to declare Muslims to be unbelievers due to committing sins. They declared as disbelievers whoever opposed them in their innovation, and made lawful the shedding of blood and the seizing of wealth.’24

7. One final trait. They do not venerate the Prophet ﷺ, even if they zealously observe some of the outward sunnahs. We should recall that the precursor to these Khawarij, Dhul-Khuwaysirah, rebuked the Prophet ﷺ, telling him to ‘fear Allah’ and ‘be just!’25 Such disrespect towards the Prophet ﷺ, and towards his compassion and his concern to reconcile hearts (for that was the context in which he spoke these insolent words), still courses through Kharijite veins today.26

More than any other attribute, rahmah – compassion, mercy and clemency – was the defining quality of the Prophet ﷺ. Allah says about His Prophet: We have not sent you but as a mercy to the worlds. [21:107] The Prophet ﷺ once said: ‘I am indeed a merciful gift.’27 That being so, seldom will you find this profound prophetic attribute manifest upon them, save in some limited way. Anger, hostility, resentment and vengeance are more what animate them than mercy, humanity and tolerance. For theirs is the way of political agitation, not reconciliation; of demolishing, not building; of insulting the people of knowledge, not honouring or being guided by them; of “learning” via books, not at the feet of seasoned ‘ulema.

Again, seldom will you find one of them having a daily wird, or set portion, of sending salutations (salawat) upon the Prophet ﷺ, by which the bonds of profound love and attachment to him are cultivated. In fact, veneration (ta‘zim) of the Prophet ﷺ, and that ambition to emulate something of his inward states, are generally conspicuous in them by their absence.

Yet without this deep prophetic attachment, dehumanising the Quranic message and making faith appear utterly repugnant becomes more than a possibility; it becomes a hideous, living reality. What is clear is that those unschooled in ihsan – in the beauty of shari‘ah-rooted spirituality – will only bring ugliness into the world.

To conclude: Part 1 of this blog mapped the origins, significance and extremist nature of the first heterodox sect in Islam: the Khawarij. Section one recounted the genesis of the Khawarij, personified in the hubris of Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah – the ‘father’ of this violent, brutish, self-righteous sect. We saw how they made la hukma illa li’Llah – “No judgement except Allah’s” – their clarion call, dressing it up in their false meaning and misapplication. The second section gave us a window into their lopsided piety: acting most justly when it came to the price of a date, but having no conscience whatsoever when it came to butchering and killing those who did not share their political views. Such superficial piety is what the prophetic warnings about them allude to: ‘a people who will recite the Qur’an, but it won’t pass beyond their throats.’

Section three discussed some of their defining traits and attitudes: a black and white grasp of religious realities because of being ‘weak in intellect’; extremely puritanical; that Muslims would be the main victims of their violence and murder; they will keep appearing throughout time, but will be identified by the learned for what they truly are; their political rabble-rousing and denigration of the scholars; and, of course, their wanton takfir of Muslims for matters wherein takfir is not permitted.

In the second part of this blog, we’ll look at how Kharijite beliefs, ideas and methods have surfaced in modern times; especially in the form of the outfit known as ISIS or ISIL The claim of ISIS as being the legitimate Caliphate will be examined, as will core aspects of their ideology and their ‘Management of Savagery.’

And Allah’s help is sought.

1. Muslim, no.1064.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.3610.

3. Ibn al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis (Beirut: Dar al-Qalam, 1982), 88; also see: al-Shahrastani, al-Milal wa’l-Nihal (Cairo: Dar al-Halabi, 1967), 1:118.

4. Ibn Majah, no.176. Al-Albani graded it as sahih in Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1987), no.3347.

5. Talbis Iblis, 89.

6. Muslim, no.1066/157.

7. Al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 7:152.

8. Consult: al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Rusul wa’l-Muluk (Egypt: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1964); 5:81-2; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa’l-Nihayah (Dar al-Hijr, 1998), 10:584.

9. Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 8:225, 15:392-94, where he says that those who considered the Khawarij to be outside the fold of Islam include: Ibn al-‘Arabi in his Sharh al-Tirmidhi, al-Subki in his Fatawa, and al-Qurtubi in al-Mufhim.

10. Al-Bidayah wa’l-Nihayah, 10:591.

11. Ibn Majah, no.174. The hadith was graded hasan by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1991), no.2455.

12. Al-Bukhari, no.5057; Muslim, no.1066. ‘There will arise at the end of time’ has been explained to mean: the end period of the rightly-guided khalifahs. See: Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari, 15:376.

13. Fath al-Bari, 15:394.

14. Al-Bukhari, no.5058; Muslim, no.1063.

15. Cited in Ibn al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis, 89.

16. Fath al-Bari, 15:371. Point to note: No doubt, the early Khawarij exerted themselves in worship. But this is not necessarily a trait of theirs in later times; nor even today. In fact, many of today’s Khawarij often have, despite their political zeal, rhetoric and commitment to carnage, little attachment to sustained religious practice (although in these religiously lax times, just praying a few prayers a day or growing a full beard can seem religiously impressive to some).

17. Abu Dawud, no.4765. It was classified as sahih in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.3668.

18. Al-Bukhari, no.3611; Muslim, no.1066.

19. Talbis Iblis, 89-90.

20. Muslim, no.1066.

21. Ahmad, no.1338, and it is sahih. See: al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.3668.

22. Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.559; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, no.210, where he said: ‘It is sahih according to the conditions of al-Bukhari.’

23. Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.282. Ibn Kathir said: ‘Its chain is excellent (jayyid).’ See: Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim  (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 2:276.

24. Majmu‘ al-Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 3:279.

25. Al-Bukhari, no.6933; Muslim, no.1064.

26. In fact, similar resistance to reconciling hearts can be seen in Kharijite hostility to the tahkim or arbitration at Siffin. Moreover, the same disrespect towards the Prophet ﷺ can be seen in their insults against, and takfir of, ‘Ali – the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law; and thus a member of the Ahl al-Bayt.

27. Al-Hakim, Mustadrak, no.100; and it is sahih. See: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.490.

Footprints on the Sands of Time 3

footprints_in_the_sand-800x600Mixing a little politics with spirituality, and marriage with social activism; and adding a few other meditations and musings about Muslims and the challenges of modernity in the mix, this is the third set of Footprints on the Sands of Time. The first two may be read here and here:

On spiritual intelligence: The intelligent one understands what needs understanding and just goes away and practices what he has learnt: rethinking his life, reforming his conduct and rearranging his priorities.

On selfless service to others: The bigger picture in feeding the poor is for believers to develop a deeper social conscience in regards to the the vulnerable and the needy. For whenever true faith illumines the heart, the individual’s view of people and society is transformed, urging him to the benevolent service of his fellow man: And they feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan and the captive, saying: ‘We feed you for the sake of God. No reward do we desire of you, nor thanks.’ [Qur’an 76:8-9]

Suffering is the price we pay for the privilege of life: Loss and suffering are no more inseparable from life than are shadows from the light of day. As we learn to live with the latter, so must we come to terms with the former: We have indeed created man in toil and hardship. [Qur’an 90:4]

On government’s true vocation: The greater goal of government should not be just to rule or exact obedience. But it should be to free the people from fear, so they may live in peace and security and pursue the path of piety.

On keeping the “i” in its right place in marriage: Beware egos in marriage: for marital becomes martial when the “i” is pushed forward.

On the seeker’s provisions: From the greatest provisions of the seeker is: to keep the company of the ahlu’Llah – the People of God. So let the seeker sit at their feet, drink in their wisdom and breathe in the aroma of their adab.

On loving the Family of the Prophet ﷺ: An essential aspect of loving the Prophet ﷺ is to love his Family. The Prophet ﷺ said: udhakkirukumu’Llaha fi ahli bayti – ‘I urge you to treat my Family well.’ [Muslim, no.2408] Moreover, Zayd ibn Thabit was once praying the funeral prayer for his mother, after which he brought his mule closer in order to mount it. Seeing this, Ibn ‘Abbas came and took hold of the stirrup for Zayd. Zayd said: ‘Let it be, O nephew of Allah’s Messenger.’ Ibn ‘Abbas said: ‘This is how we were taught to treat the scholars.’ Upon which Zayd took hold of Ibn ‘Abbas’ hand and kissed it, and said: ‘And this is how we were taught to treat the Prophet’s Family.’ [Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.4746]

On failing to see divine grace because of self-pity: If our minds stay entrenched in the disappointments and let-downs of the past, we will fail to see God’s goodness to us in the present.

On true scholarship: ‘The half-baked faqih asks: What did he say? The seasoned faqih asks: What did he intend?’ – Ibn al-Qayyim

On politics & false priorities: In Islam, politics (siyasah) is seen as a means to further the religious narrative. Whilst in much of today’s Islamism (‘political’ Islam), religion has become the means to further a political narrative. It is here that siyasah becomes najasah – that politics becomes impure.

Deepening Abrahamic monotheism: ‘I think it must have been easy enough in earlier ages in the Christian world, and is still easy in those parts of the Muslim world which remain traditional, to hold to a simple faith without much intellectual content. I do not believe this is any longer possible in the modern world, for the spirit of our times asks questions, questions for the most part hostile to faith, which demands answers, and those answers can only come from informed and thoughtful faith, from study and meditation.’ – Gai Eaton

On the monoculture’s deceptive magic: Consumerism can only thrive in a culture of discontent. The monoculture must deliver doses of misery before offering illusions of happiness.

On downplaying spiritual education: The more unschooled we are in ihsan, the more ugliness we are likely to bring into the world.

On the role of the scholars in regime change and redressing public grievance: In the teachings of mainstream, Sunni Islam (as per the prophetic hadiths), we do not expect our scholars to support armed rebellion against legitimate Muslim governments, even when such regimes be despotic or tyrannical. But nor do we expect our scholars to be sheepish servants of taghut regimes, aligning with them in gunning down protestors and shedding the blood of the masses. Instead, what we hope from our scholars is that they be mediating voices of reason: recognising the injustices inflicted upon the masses and advising them when they stray from religion or sound reason, while at the same time restraining the regime’s use of violence and urging it to redress the public’s greviances as best as it can. We may even painfully tolerate silence from our scholars, in which they neither support one camp nor the other. But scholars championing the massacre of unarmed civilians beggars belief.

What we ask of our scholars is that they be courageous, without compromising their wisdom. What we also ask is that they be sincere mediators, without pandering to the public or to the palace.

On freedom from dunya’s matrix: Knowledge (‘ilm) frees one from confusion. Worldly detachment (zuhd) frees one from anxiety. And a sobering meditation (tafakkur) upon death and the hereafter helps put life into perspective.

On the fuel driving today’s religious extremism: To deny the role of foreign policy in nurturing violent extremism is as naive, blind or coloured by self interest as denying the role of a twisted fiqh-cum-theology in fostering it. Until both these gremlins are acknowledged, addressed and tackled, we fail public security and give kudos to a false political narrative.

On seeing the works of the Lord: Everything that surrounds us in our everyday life, even the smallest of things, can serve to remind us of God, and therefore deserve to be treated with respect: And in the earth are signs, for those who have certainty. And in yourselves. Will you not see? [Qur’an 51:20-21]

On the Children of Israel and Zionists: Faithful Jewish hearts may seek, as they live out the Law of Moses, their spiritual solace in [Mount] Zion. But the Zionist project, not withstanding the right of the Jewish people to never again be subjected to a ‘final solution’, has shown itself to be unashamedly racist and oppressive. Anti-semitic we cannot be; anti-Zionist we may well have to be.

On the struggle against the Four Deadly Foes: Imams of suluk, or spiritual wayfaring, speak of two areas of mujahadah (spiritual struggle) Firstly, the outward mujahadah. This is the struggle against the Four Deadly Foes – the ego (nafs), the devil (shaytan), worldliness (dunya), and false desires (hawa) – as they seek to hinder us from fulfilling the obligatory (fard) and then the recommended (mustahabb) acts, and eliminate the forbidden (haram) and then the disliked (makruh) acts, from our lives.

As for the inward mujahadah, it is training our heart – through gratitude (shukr), love (mahabbah) and remembrance (dhikr) – such that it becomes attached to its Lord and learns to be present with Him. Essential to all this is the idea of restraint – of reigning in our egos and desires.

On telling apart the faqih from the wannabe: The faqih asks, not how the Qur’an can be adapted to our lives in the world of today, but how our lives today can be adapted to the Qur’an. This is true fiqh. All else is fiqh-tion.

On never losing sight of the goal: Whilst it suffices a believer to learn the duties that faith instates, and whilst it is encouraged that they learn even more, we each need to remember our Lord’s question to us: ma ‘amilta fima ‘alamta – “What did you do with what you learnt?”

While We Question Charlie, Let’s Question Ourselves Too!

461127728While righteous anger when the Prophet ﷺ is mocked or insulted is integral to faith, we Muslims need to invest greater efforts into adhering to the actual obligations and duties instated by faith – be it in our acts or worship; our ethics and behaviour; our relationships; or our social contracts and transactions. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘All my followers will enter Paradise except those who refuse.’ On being asked who refuses, he said: ‘Those who obey me will enter Paradise, while those who disobey me have infact refused.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.7280]

While debating whether one should have the right to gratuitous offence or not, or the limits to freedom of speech (for it does indeed have limits and restrictions), this is as good a time as any to take stock of our own commitment to the life and teachings of the Prophet ﷺ and how much we exemplify it or not in our daily lives and conduct: So let those who contravene his command beware lest an affliction befall them or a painful punishment smite them. [24:63] In contrast: Whoever obeys God and His Messenger, they are with those whom God has blessed, of the prophet and the truthful [highest] saints, and the martyrs, and the righteous. What fine company they are! [4:69]

While pointing out the inconsistencies, double standards or blatant Islamophobia in and among the Je suis Charlie voices (both in France as well as elsewhere), we need the voices of our scholars to give us clearer guidance on how and why we cannot take the law into our own hands in the democracies in which we live and consider home, even when Islam’s sacred symbols have become open game: You will surely hear much that is offensive from those who were given scripture before you, and from idolaters. But if you persevere patiently and fear God, such are weighty factors in all affairs. [3:186]

While we call into question the commitment to freedom of speech of many heads of state who marched so sanctimoniously against the disgraceful Paris killings, it is time we questioned how committed we are to the revealed truths of our din – individually and collectively – and how deep our convictions in them really run: Lose not heart, nor grieve. For you shall prevail, if you are truly believers. [3:139] That we prevail not, but are prevailed over, says something very troubling about our collective commitment to religion and revealed truths.

While we still feel the reverberations of the Paris murders and sense more than a little hypocrisy in how the French Republic selectively enacts its freedom of expression, it’s important to also hold ourselves to account and weed out hypocrisy from our actions and persona: ‘The signs of a hypocrite are three, even if he prays and fasts and claims that he is a Muslim: when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he reneges on it; and when he is entrusted, he betrays his trust.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.33; Muslim, no.107] A far more serious form of hypocrisy is highlighted in the following verse: And when it is said to them: ‘Come to that which God has sent down and to the Messenger,’ you see the hypocrites turn away from you in aversion. [4:61]

While mainstream Muslims denounce such crimes, dismissing them as acts of fringe extremist with troubled pasts, political grievances and little religious learning, we also admit that such acts of lawlessness are now a growing concern within and outside the House of Islam. And yet, as angry and enraged young souls trample over traditional Islamic teachings and ignore established leaders and scholarship, we Muslims need to each play our part in quelling this rising tide of religious anarchy that was foretold to us in this next hadith: ‘God 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.’ [Bukhari, no.100; Muslim, no.2673]

While freedom of expression currently forbids insulting race and ethnicity, it has no such qualm when it comes to pouring scorn upon beliefs and ideologies – religious or otherwise. Free speech is deemed to be the core value of democracy: a precondition to progress and the guarantor of liberty. The only constraints on it are things like libel, slander, hate speech, obscenity, incitement to violence, and severe and specific threats to public safety. All else is taken to be fair game. And yet Charlie Hebdo didn’t occur in a vacuum. The cartoons come at a time when scorn, bigotry, discrimination, physical violence, mosque burnings as well as a growing host of legal handicaps are day-to-day realities for European Muslims. In what way do such cartoons not serve to further the xenophobic contempt for a community already ill-protected, maligned and under significant social siege?

While much of the West has shown its outrage for the attack on the cherished value of free speech, Muslims will do well to recall that denigrating the Prophet ﷺ – whom they cherish more than any other, for they believe him to be a prophet of God and the epitome of piety, purity and goodness – is a capital offence under classical Islamic law. In a Muslim land where such law is sovereign and applicable, and after investigation, trial and the due process of law, it is the state’s prerogative to carry out the sentence of blasphemy: a crime punishable by death. Just how outraged the Western world may feel about this should be neither here nor there. As for vigilante killing in non-Muslim polities, where neither Islamic law nor its jurisdiction applies, we should recognise it for what it is: criminality and murder. It neither has the validation of classical Islamic law, nor the endorsement of any established, living scholarly authority.

While many see in the Charlie Hebdo tragedy the symbols of the moral superiority of Western values and civilisation, others may ask: How can there be civilisation without civility? And how can there be civility when gratuitous offence is allowed for nothing more than its own sake? Of course, Muslims should understand that those outside of their faith are free, and should be free, to criticise Islam; question its teachings; and challenge its beliefs, laws and ethics; and even reject it out of hand, if they so choose. If some Muslims feel slightly queasy about that, they simply need to get thicker skins: There is no compulsion in religion, is what the Qur’an says. [2:256] What most Muslims, I suspect, are trying to say is this: If for nothing more than community cohesion and peaceful coexistence, let’s avoid senseless provocation and gratuitous offence merely for its own sake. Let’s learn to be a tad more civil.

W’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

Political Violence & the End Days

10384205_621852931263051_1834185789852880556_nOne of the enormous achievements of our Prophet, peace be upon him, is that in less than twenty years he managed to bring law and order to a land that had hitherto been plagued with lawlessness and the absence of any political organisation whatsoever. In the event of a crime or injustice being committed, the norm was for the injured party to take the law into its own hands and dispense “justice” to the aggressor. Usually, this would lead to acts of great barbarity and would normally provoke reprisals, vendettas and tribal feuds which could often drag on for generation after generation. War was a permanent feature of pre-Islamic Arabian society. Rule of law didn’t enter the picture; ‘asabiyyah (“tribalism”, “clan zealotry” or “partisanship”) did.

By the time the final verse of the Qur’an had been revealed to the Prophet, peace be upon him, the Arabian Peninsular had undergone a profound transformation. For the Prophet had taken the fierce loyalties and strong sense of solidarity, which hitherto had been centred around tribe and clan, and extended it to embrace the whole society of believers; the ummah. Blood feuds and tribal vendettas were chiselled away to be replaced by a community which collectively worked for social welfare and service to others. The old traditions of tribal raiding were directed away from personal ambition or clan bravado towards the idea of jihad, fought for the sake of Allah, against tyranny and injustice and in order to make the word of Allah triumphant. Islam quarried the traits of the Arabs; elevating and refining their virtues like hospitality, generosity and chivalry, but rejecting their intemperance, zealotry and casual cruelty. The result was that a more egalitarian society arose, which valued the culture of law and order that the new religion brought, in the form of Islam’s Sacred Law or shari’ah (and the highly sophisticated fiqh, or jurisprudence, which would develop shortly after).

Given the above, it will come as no surprise how disdainfully Islam looks upon things like vigilante “justice”, taking the law into one’s own hands, anarchy, civil war, rabble-rousing that endangers collective security, or whatever gives rise to a mob mentality that seeks to jeopardise public order. The shari’ah, though it makes provisions for the public to air political grievances, strongly condemns the use of violence, or an assault against law and order, for such ends. As Islam sees it, such things would be a return to jahiliyyah – the pre-Islamic days of ignorance, lawlessness, arbitrary justice, vendettas and blind tribal zealotry! The laws regarding rebel insurgents, rebellion and political violence to or from the state are outlined in the smaller manuals of fiqh, and fleshed out in the larger ones, under the section: qital al-bughat/ahl al-baghi – “fighting rebel insurgents.”

Currently, much of what is called the Muslim world is haunted by great violence and political turmoil. Whether due to armed rebellion, civil war, sectarian schism, military occupation, state tyranny, Western interference, or petrodollar meddling, carnage and conflicts rage on. What follows are some hadiths that speak about such End of Days violence and how we are to act during such chaotic and confusing times. Indeed the believer puts more stock in the prophetic counsels and warnings about the end times, than he does his own ego-driven rationalisations.

1. Abu Musa relates that Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, said: ‘Before the Hour comes there will be harj!’ I said: O Messenger of Allah, what is harj? He said: ‘Killing.’ Some of the Muslims inquired: O Messenger of Allah, now we slay [in battle] such and such number of idolaters in a single year. Allah’s Messenger said: ‘This will not be like slaying the idolaters. Instead, you will kill one another, to the extent that a person will kill his neighbour, his nephew and relatives!’ Some people said: O Messenger of Allah, will we be in our right minds that day? He replied: ‘No! For reason will have departed from most people at that time, and there shall remain only the dregs of people who will be devoid of reason. Most of them will assume they are upon something, but they won’t be upon any thing.’1

Thus we are assured in this hadith that madness shall descend upon the mob, giving rise to bloodshed and violence; giving rise to the marauding reckless herd. The story’s all too familiar. Whether due to civil war, or mob hysteria, or for reasons completely unclear, the frenzied herd throw reason and pious caution to the wind and goes on a rampage (a case of the mob having many heads but no brains). This itself is nothing new. What will be different about the End of Days drama is the frequency with which slaughter and bloodshed occur, and the intensity. No doubt, the carnage that modern, mechanised weapons of violence can inflict is unlike anything else that has ever come before. In certain instances, these “dregs of people devoid of reason” won’t even know what they are actually fighting for. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘By Him in whose hand is my life, a time is coming upon the people when the killer will not know why he killed and the victim will not know why he was killed.’2 Such are times when people are blinded to the truth by their desires, anger or political grievances (real or perceived), as in the hadith: ‘There will be civil strife which will render people deaf, dumb and blind. Those who give it consideration will be drawn by it, and giving reign to the tongue during it will be like striking with the sword.’3

In some instances, there will be legitimate grievances and reasons to be angry. But the means won’t justify the ends. Seeking redress of wrongs is certainly mandated in the religion. But not through violence and bloodshed; nor by pitting one Muslim against another, as in a civil war. All of this is expressly haram. In fact, seldom does righting such socio-political wrongs ever warrant the chaos, killing and intense social unrest which normally ensues in these affairs. Righting a wrong must never lead to a greater harm, or wrong, prevailing. That, too, would be haram. The Arabs say: al-‘aqil la yubni qasr wa yuhaddimu misr – ‘The intelligent one doesn’t build a palace by laying waste to the city.’4 How much more absurd if the grievance, for which swords are drawn, does not amount to a palace, but only a garden shed or a tin hut!

One of the main reasons that will give rise to so much unprecedented slaughter is the fitnah of civil wars, which is the subject of the next hadith:

2. Abu Dharr narrates that Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, said: ‘How will you be when killing will afflict the people such that Ahjar al-Zayt will be blood drenched?’ I said: Whatever Allah and His Prophet want of me. He said: ‘Be with those who are like-minded as you are.’ I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, should I not take my sword and strike those who do that? He said: ‘Then you shall be just like them. Instead, stay in your house.’ I said: O Messenger of Allah, what if they enter my house? He said: ‘If you are afraid that the glimmer of the sword will dazzle you, lift the edge of your garment over your face and let him bear his own sin as well as yours; and he will be one of the denizens of Hell.’5

Another hadith runs as follows: ‘Before the Hour there will be civil strife like pieces of dark night, in which a man will be a believer in the morning and an unbeliever by the evening; or a believer in the evening and an unbeliever by the morning. He who sits during it is better than he who stands; and he who stands is better than he who walks; and he who walks is better than the he who runs. So during such times, break your bows, cut your bow-strings and blunt your swords upon stones. If one of them should enter upon you, then be like the better of the two sons of Adam.’6

Civil war, referred to in Arabic as fitnah (“sedition” or “civil unrest”) is where Muslim is pitted against Muslim. Islamic history has seen, and continues to see, its fare share of civil wars. But as the above hadith (and others like it) shows, a believer is required to do his or her utmost not to fan the flames of civil war, let alone shed blood for any particular faction – even if it means resigning oneself to being killed. And though it is easier said than done in the heat of the moment, the prophetic counsel here is: better to be killed than to kill. Those with the blood of Muslims on their hands, for whatever political goal or agenda, may have, in all likelihood, damned themselves. The Prophet, peace be upon him, warned in no uncertain terms: ‘Whoever fights under the banner of blind zeal, becoming angry for partisanship, calling to partisanship or aiding it, and is killed, dies upon jahiliyyah. And whosoever attacks my ummah, slaying its righteous and wicked alike, not sparing any believer, nor upholding his pledge [of allegiance], he is not of me, nor I of him.’7

In times of great public upheaval one definitely needs a level head and avoid the hot-heads; for they are about as much use as walnuts are to the toothless. One must also cling to the prophetic advice about keeping out of the fitnah, by staying at home and shunning the political agitators, seditionists and strife-mongers; avoiding them like one would do the plague. It is imperative also that one seeks to be guided by the wise counsel of seasoned ‘ulema in such tricky affairs; for they best comprehend the fiqh, theology and purposes of the religion. Above all, we should pray to Allah for wellbeing (‘afiyah) and security (aman); for there’s nothing like asking Him for ‘afiyah. Sayyiduna Abu Bakr once stood on the pulpit and wept, saying; Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, once stood in our midst on the pulpit while shedding tears and saying: ‘Ask Allah for forgiveness and wellbeing; for after certainty (yaqin) none has been given anything better than wellbeing.’8

Unjustified accusations of takfir – “excommunication”; declaring other Muslims to be unbelievers and apostates – is a vile scourge that underpins much of the slaughter and carnage that is currently visited upon Muslims and their lands; which is what the next hadith addresses:

3. Hudhayfah narrated that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘Truly what I most fear for you is a man who will recite the Qur’an until its radiance appears on him and he becomes a support to Islam, changing it to whatever Allah wills. He then separates from it, casts it behind his back and raises the sword against his neighbour, accusing him of idolatry (shirk).’ I asked: O Prophet of Allah, who most deserves to be imputed with shirk; the accused or the accuser? He replied: ‘The accuser.’

This depicts to a tee the trajectory of many a takfiri. Enthused with a commitment to Islam, taking steps to improve their religious practice (usually just external practices), reading a few booklets, surfing a few websites, yet ignorant of how ignorant they truly are, they take to the takfiri narrative. In their ideology, they and those who agree with them are Muslims, while all other Muslims are apostates, idolators or Allah’s enemies whose blood is lawful. If circumstances are right, murder and mayhem usually follow. Ego, false piety and their own pathetic pathologies are often the driving forces behind such takfiri zealotry. And although a few trajectories are more complex and nuanced than this, most are probably not.

Let’s be clear here. What the above hadith is censuring isn’t takfir, per se, but wanton and unjustified takfir. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said – as reported in another hadith: ‘Whoever accuses someone of disbelief, or of being an enemy of Allah, whilst he is not like that, it will return back to him.’10 The issue of takfir has been previously discussed on this blog, in a piece entitled, Takfir: Its Dangers & Its Rules (which may be read here).

Imam al-Ghazali stated: ‘One ought to guard against imputing takfir as much as one can. For to render lawful the lives and property of those who pray towards the qiblah and clearly state that there is no deity [worthy of worship] but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger (la ilaha illa’Llah muhammadur-rasulu’Llah) is a serious matter. To err in leaving a thousand unbelievers alive is preferable than to err in shedding a drop of Muslim blood.’11

Ever since its origins in the mid-eighteenth century in the oasis settlements of Najd; central Arabia, most of its critics, opponents and foes have insisted that Wahhabism is an extremist, takfiri ideology. Without wading into that debate; and without arguing that Wahhabism in and of itself is responsible for takfir and terrorism – which have a whole host of social, economic, doctrinal and political causes – it does seem to supply the ideological conditions for takfir and religious violence on account of its intolerant and absolutist claims. This isn’t to say that all Wahhabis [Salafis] are takfiris or violent extremists. Absolutely not. Many are quietist and apolitical. Others are political, but eschew violence as a method for change. It is only a relatively tiny minority that seeks as much militant mileage out of Wahhabi-Salafi teachings as possible.12

The scourge of takfir is now a global epidemic. Indiscriminate violence, destruction of lives and property, decimation of public security and bloody sectarian violence are its fruits. The image of Islam has never been so tarnished or been made to appear so vile. Those who, for reasons of wanting to revive the Sunnah, opened the door for ordinary Muslims to ‘weigh-up’ and follow the ‘strongest’ proof in issues of taharah, salat and personal piety, but somehow imagined that they could keep the door closed when it came to the more delicate matter of politics and public affairs – well that logic doesn’t seem to have faired too good. Those ‘ulema who opened that door now see droves of ignorant and unqualified people rushing through it and making wild and not so wild fatwas on Islam – undermining qualified juristic authority, creating religious anarchy, and tearing apart whatever remains of Muslim unity – and they don’t know what to do or how to stem this tide. And, of course, out of this collapse of traditional scholarly authority have come the takfiris, with their terror and tribulations.

Islam is too good for wild egos to eclipse its light; for ignorance, anarchy and political violence to block out its beauty. The door to such takfir must be closed; as must those to religious anarchy. The narrative of groups like al-Qaeda, Boko Haram or ISIS seek to cheapen the sanctity of human life, in general; and of the people of la ilaha illa’Llah muhammadur-rasulu’Llah, in particular. Their takfiri ideology must be repudiated and rejected: wisely, firmly and courageously. We must also reaffirm amongst ourselves as Muslims – in spite of our sectarian divisions, and despite the orthodox and heterodox amidst us – that Muslim life and blood is sacrosanct. One hadith tells us that during one of the battles, one of the Muslims subdued one of the enemy combatants and was about to slay him, when unexpectedly the man uttered the shahadah – the Testimony of Faith, and declared that he was a Muslim. Believing that he only became a Muslim to avoid being slain in battle, the Muslim plunged his sword into him and killed him. When the Prophet, peace be upon him, was informed about this he rebuked the man, telling him that he should never have tried to second guess that person’s intentions. A short while later the man died. They buried him, only to find the following morning that the earth had cast him out and he was lying on the ground. So they buried him again, only to find the earth had cast him out yet again. On informing him about this unusual incident, the Prophet, peace be upon him, declared: ‘Truly the earth accepts those who are worse than him. But Allah wanted you to see how great is the sanctity of la ilaha illa’Llah.13

1. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.3959, Ahmad, Musnad, no.19509. It was graded as sahih by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1682.

2. Muslim, no.2908.

3. Abu Dawud, no.4264. Its chain contains some weakness, as was detailed by Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Hidayat al-Ruwat ila Takhrij al-Ahadith Masabih wa’l-Mishkat (Cairo: Dar Ibn ‘Affan, 2001), 5:97, no.5329.

4. Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 17:420.

5. Ibn Majah, no.3958. It is sahih, as per Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut, Ibn Majah al-Qazwini, al-Sunan (Damascus: Dar Risalah al-‘Alamiyyah, 2009), 5:105-6.

6. Ibn Majah, no.3961; al-Tirmidhi, no.2204, who said that it is hasan. As for being the better of the two sons of Adam, this is a reference to Abel who was killed by his older brother Cain.

7. Muslim, no.1848.

8. Al-Tirmidhi, no.3558, saying: the hadith is hasan gharib. Al-Albani, however, graded it hasan sahih in his critical edition of al-Mundhari, al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib (Riyadh, Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2004), no.4869.

9. Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.282. Ibn Kathir said: ‘Its chain is excellent (jayyid).’ See: Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim  (Beirut: Dar a-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 2:276.

10. Muslim, no.61.

11. Al-Ghazali, al-Iqtisad fi’l-I‘tiqad (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2012), 305.

12. Of course, this three-fold classification doesn’t take into account the fierce intra-Wahhabi/Salafi polemic where one group denounces the other of not being Salafi, or part of the Saved-Sect. Instead, I use such labels and classifications reluctantly, and in very broad terms. I have also equated Salafism with Wahhabism, again reluctantly and for the sake of brevity; though others may feel to make nuanced distinctions between the two. It is also worth noting that many quietist Salafis have been at the forefront of countering the takfiri narrative; not just post 9/11, but since the early 1990s.

13. Ibn Majah, no.3930. The hadith was declared hasan in al-Albani, Sunan Ibn Majah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, n.d.), 648-9.

* This piece was originally written for www.islamicate.co.uk and is posted here with kind permission.

Uhud & Hunayn: Lessons from the Frontline

Arab-Horsemen-by-a-Watering-HoleIn The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien puts these words into the mouth of the brave though modest Faramir (younger brother to the brave but impulsive Boromir): ‘War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I only love that which they defend …’

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.’1 Indeed, Islam’s overall take on war is best seen in the following words of the Prophet, peace be upon him: ‘Do not wish to meet your enemy, but ask God for safety. When you do meet them, be firm and know that Paradise lies beneath the shades of swords.’2 In other words, pursue the path of peace, with the presence of justice; if such a path be denied by belligerence or hostile intent, then be prepared to act differently.

War, invariably, can and does throw up immense carnage and destruction, and brings untold human loss and suffering. Yet it is also where some of the profoundest acts of courage, bravery and heroism are found, as well as invaluable lessons for life. In what follows, we shall look at two battles in the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and their core lessons that need internalising:

The first lesson is from the Battle of Uhud. It began at dawn on Friday, March 25th, 2H/624AD, a year on from the Battle of Badr. The Muslims numbered seven hundred against an enemy three-thousand strong. The prestige of the Makkan idolaters was at stake for the crushing defeat they suffered at Badr – including seventy deaths and just as many taken captive. The Prophet, peace be upon him, positioned his men so that Mount Uhud was behind them. The only way the Makkan cavalry could attack them now was from infront, so the Prophet posted fifty archers on a rise with strict orders to stay put, no matter what happened. This would be an excellent strategy, provided the archers obeyed their orders. But by nightfall, and due to the archers abandoning their post (thus leaving the rear of the army unguarded), the fortunes of war changed and disaster befell the Muslims: the Prophet would be wounded and seventy Muslims would be killed. But it didn’t have to be that way.

The Companion, Bara’ b. ‘Azib, recounts: We encountered the pagans on that day [of Uhud]. The Prophet, peace be upon him, positioned a group of archers and appointed ‘Abd Allah [b. Jubayr] as their leader, saying: ‘Do not leave this position. If you should see us defeat them, do not leave this position; if you should see them defeating us, do not come to our aid.’ When we met the enemy they fled on their heels, to the extent that we saw their women fleeing to the mountains, lifting their dresses and revealing their anklets. Some people started saying: ‘The booty, the booty!’ But ‘Abd Allah said: ‘The Prophet took an oath from me to not leave this post.’ His companions, however, disobeyed. So when they disobeyed, Allah confused them, so they did not know where to go, and because of which they suffered seventy deaths.3

Ibn al-Qayyim comments: ‘This calamity that struck them was as a result of their own actions. Allah said: When a disaster befell you after you had yourself inflicted [losses] twice as heavy, you exclaimed: ‘How did this happen?’ Say: ‘It is from yourselves. Allah is able to do all things.’ [3:165] And He mentioned this very same matter in that which is more general than this, in one of the Makkan chapters: Whatever misfortune befalls you, is for what your own hands have earned, and He pardons much. [42:30] And He said: Whatever good befalls you is from Allah, and whatever calamity befalls you is from yourself. [4:79] So the good and bad mentioned here refer to blessings and misfortunes: Blessings are what Allah favours you with, while misfortunes occur because of your own selves and your misdeeds. The first is from His grace (fadl); the second, His justice (‘adl).’4

So the single most important lesson to learn from Uhud is that whenever we Muslims suffer defeat – be it on the battlefield of swords, ideas, or hearts and minds – we are to blame ourselves, take account of our souls and repent for our sins. There being no other way to correct our course. For despite the enemy attacking the Muslims from their unprotected rear and being the reason why one believer after another was cut down and killed; and despite the enemy being the reason for Muslim flight turning to full-scale panic as the Prophet, peace be upon him, was knocked down by a crushing blow to the head – the Qur’an still laid the blame for these calamities squarely at the feet of the Muslims: When a disaster befell you after you had yourself inflicted losses twice as heavy, you exclaimed: ‘How did this happen?’ Say: ‘It is from yourselves.’ [3:165]

Nor was the defeat the result of the entire army’s disobedience, or even the majority; but because of less than fifty men among a total of seven-hundred! If such can be the consequences of a sin of a tiny minority, what then about the plethora of sins or acts of disobedience committed by a heedless, unrepentant, transgressing majority!

And tragically, as frequent as these verses appear in the Qur’an, we still choose not to internalise them or allow them to enter into our hearts. Instead, we allow our souls to be invaded by a false victim mentality and choose to play the blame game. We accuse all and sundry for our political woes and misfortunes – the West, the rulers, bankers, Zionists, along with a whole host of conspiracy theories which plague our minds and cripple our thinking – but we never accuse ourselves. We are keen to hold to account other people – in a way that contains no pity, mercy or leeway – but are not prepared to take ourselves to any serious account. And yet: Allah never changes the condition of a people unless they change what is within themselves. [13:11] Thus while we are clear about the evils of Assad and his crimes of carnage in Syria; and the shameless hypocrisy and tyranny of al-Sisi et al. in Egypt, we tend to steer shy of the all-important question of why such calamities occurred in the first place. The Quranic reply to this is very likely to be: Say: ‘It is from yourselves.’ [3:165] Isn’t it? And while this does not excuse us from raising our hands in prayer, and giving as much humanitarian aid as possible, we still need to sincerely confront the deeper question.

The second lesson we will consider is the Battle of Hunayn. It is Wednesday morning, February 2nd, 8H/630AD. The Muslim army, now twelve thousand strong, marched towards the valley of Hunayn to encounter the Hawazin tribe and their allies, whose number was perhaps a third of that of the Muslims. It is worth noting that two years earlier, when the Prophet came to Makkah for the lesser pilgrimage, or ‘umrah, only 1,400 people were with him. This was the time when the Prophet, peace be upon him, concluded the peace treaty with the Makkans at Hudaybiyah. A few months later, the same number fought alongside him at the Battle of Khaybar. And in previous battles, their numerical strength had been far smaller. But this time, many of the newcomers to Islam felt a sense of euphoria and over confidence as they observed the size of their army. They felt sure that, having previously won battle after battle with much smaller numbers, such large numbers would make victory a sure certainty. But as soon as the Muslims reached the valley, they were met with a fierce, unexpected torrent of arrows from all directions. Caught off guard, confused and overwhelmed, the Muslims were forced into a chaotic and panicked retreat. And though the Muslims would eventually prevail as victors in this battle (for the Prophet, as ever, remained calm in his wisdom, certainty and faith: he eventually rallied a hundred men and inflicted a most crushing defeat on the enemy), it wasn’t without many of them being slain in the ambush first. The Qur’an says: Allah had already helped you on many fields, and on the day of Hunayn, when you delighted in your numerical strength, it availed you nothing. And the earth, vast as it was, narrowed on you, and you turned back in retreat. [9:24]

Ibn al-Qayyim again: ‘Thus from Allah’s wisdom, transcendent is He, is that He first made them taste the bitterness of defeat and of being overcome – despite their large numbers, strength and preparation – so that heads that were raised in the Conquest of Makkah, should be lowered. For they did not enter His city and sanctuary as Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, had done: head bowed upon his horse; to the extent that his head almost touched the saddle out of humility to his Lord, humbleness to His glory, and submission to His might. For Allah had made lawful to him His sacred city [Makkah] and sanctuary, and had not made it lawful to anyone before him nor to anyone after him. [All this occurred] so that He could make it clear to those who said, “We will not be defeated today due to our numbers,” that help and victory come from Him alone; that whomsoever He helps, none can overcome; and that whomsoever He forsakes, none can grant victory to. [And that] it was He who took it upon Himself to give victory to His Messenger and to His religion – not because of their numbers that they revelled in. Such numbers, in fact, were of no avail to them, since they turned and fled. But when their hearts were humbled, Allah sent down the removal of their distress and a foretaste of victory by sending down His tranquility upon His Prophet and upon the believers, and by sending an army unseen. Hence from His wisdom is that He sends down His victory and gifts to them when their hearts become humbled and broken: And We desired to show favour to those who were oppressed in the earth, and to make them leaders, and make them inheritors. And to grant them power in the earth, and to show Pharaoh, Haman and their hosts that which they feared. [28:5-6]’5

The core lesson of Hunayn is, undoubtedly, to never overlook the real, most essential reason for victory: Allah. For victory comes from Him, not from numerical strength. (We do, however, have a duty to tie our camel, as one hadith says, and to then trust in Him.) The Muslims were initially given to taste the bitterness of defeat in order that they might remember precisely this. In fact, large numbers – in the absence of hearts feeling humbled before the majesty and might of Allah – are of little use. Having been taught a lesson in humility; having their pretensions of numerical strength shattered; and having presented their broken hearts to Allah, Allah then granted the believers victory at Hunayn at the hands of a small band of courageous, steadfast Muslims who remained dedicated to the Prophet, peace be upon him.

Allah is with the broken-hearted and will call overconfident, self-assured Muslims to account if they exult in their numbers or their material achievements – as He will call proud establishments and arrogant religiousness to account.

W’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. Ibn Hajr al-Haytami citing al-Zarkashi, Tuhfat al-Muhtaj bi Sharh al-Minhaj (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1972), 9:211.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.2991. For comparisons between Jihad theory and Western Just War theory, consult: Kelsay & Johnson (eds.), Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions (New York, Westport & London: Greenwood Press, 1991).

3. Al-Bukhari, no.4043.

4. Zad al-Ma’ad fi Hady Khayr al-‘Ibad (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 3:214.

5. ibid., 3:418-9.

Are We Amusing Our Hearts to Death?

maxresdefaultOne hadith states: ‘Laugh not too much; for too much laughter deadens the heart.’1 This isn’t to say that laughter or humour must be avoided altogether; for laughter and light-heartedness, in moderation, are prophetic Sunnahs that helps lighten burdens, ease anxiety and bring about joy to oneself and to others. Indeed, there is little virtue in always looking grave and solemn: And that He it is that makes to laugh and makes to weep. [53:43] And as the Prophet, peace be upon him, remarked: ‘O Hanzalah! There is a time for this and a time for that.’2 Yet, as the above hadith shows, to overindulge in laughter is a lethal poison that kills the heart spiritually.

The eleventh century hadith master, ‘Abd al-Ra‘uf al-Munawi points out: ‘Making a habit of laughing diverts one from deliberating over matters of importance.’3 When life becomes little more than “a bundle of laughs,” then the heart’s spiritual death has well and truly set in. Al-Munawi again: ‘The laughter that kills the heart comes from being frivolous and careless in the world. The heart has [spiritual] life and death: its life lies in continuous obedience [to God]. Its death, in responding to the call of other than God; be it one’s ego, desires, or the devil.’4 In fact, in the prophetic teachings, a cheerful countenance and an easy-going nature (one hadith says: ‘The believers are amiable and easy-going: al-mu’minun hayyinun layyinun.’5) is to be tempered with the sobering recollection of God, death, the Afterlife and the imminent Judgement and Accountability. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, urged: ‘Remember frequently the destroyer of pleasures [i.e. death].’6 A heart desensitised to such realities, or numbed to their recollection, is a heart that has had the stuff of life sucked out of it.

The Qur’an warns about being diverted or distracted through things of the world: ‘O you who believe! Let neither your wealth nor your children divert you from remembrance of God. Those who do so, they are the losers.’ [63:9] In houses which God has allowed to be raised up, where His name is remembered. In them is He glorified morning and evening. By men whom neither merchandise nor trade distract from the remembrance of God. [24:36-7] Trade, riches, possessions, and the pursuit of thrills and pleasures so preoccupy most people, so as to make them oblivious to all else; unless hearts are tuned to the higher purpose of their existence. Wealth and children and partaking of permissible worldly pleasures are all lawful, and are to be a means to maintain our connection with God; unless and until they distract us from the worship and remembrance of Him. If we lose ourselves to the world, we ultimately lose everything.

Tragically we are now a culturally obese society, continuously feeding on an excessive diet of trivial amusement and entertainment. This over-consumption of laughter and frivolity, as noted before, distracts most of us from more serious considerations: war, famine, disease, environment, disintegration of society and breakdown of the family; as well as existential issues more serious still, that relate to our Creator, the Afterlife and our purpose of being. Our continued addiction to all this joviality and diversion has made us a society wherein we are, in the words of Neil Postman’s deftly entitled book, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

O people! Fear your Lord, and fear a Day when the parent will not be able to avail his child in any way, nor the child to avail his parent. God’s promise is the truth. Let not the life of the world deceive you, nor let the deceiver deceive you concerning God. [31:33]

1. Ibn Majah, no.4193.

2. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2014.

3. Fayd al-Qadir Sharh al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 2:157.

4. ibid., 5:52.

5. Al-Quda‘i, Musnad, no.139.

6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2307.

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