The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Archive for the category “religion”

Footprints on the Sands of Time 6

Footprints 1 | Footprints 2Footprints 3Footprints 4Footprints 5 |

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

Loosing ourselves to discover ourselves: In Ramadan, Allah offers to each believer an opportunity to discover their wings and their worth.

The highest embodiment of mon0theism: No greater expressions of tawhid exist than in the du‘as of Allah’s Prophets, peace be upon them all.

On hindering hypocrisy: Sound knowledge of the faith coupled with refined conduct are by no means incompatible; although today, these are seldom combined in any one person. The Prophet ﷺ stated: ‘Two qualities shall never coexist in a hypocrite: good character and [sound] understanding of the religion.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.2684] That is to say, the hypocrite may be well-versed, or well-mannered, but never both.

Beware the soul in a dung beetle’s role: One who recoils from the Qur’an’s counsels to the soul is like the dung beetle distressed by the fragrance of a sweet smelling rose.

The fullness of Islamic monotheism: Tawhid is not just a theology; a way of believing, it’s also a psychology; a way of being and perceiving.

On expecting nothing less from men of Islam: ‘Her vulnerabilities invite you to stand up for her, not to stand up to her.’ – Abdal Hakim Murad

On ex-extremists-cum-liberal eulogists: By now, the journey from a one time Islamic extremist, to a darling liberal stalwart, is a familiar one. Launching themselves with a high profile tell-all book or TV interview, such anxious-to-please characters bring to the counter-terrorism agenda all sorts of pathologies. There are the attention seekers, the pursuers of prestige, the choir of frightened eulogists, the shameless sell-outs, the opportunists and, of course, those depicted in the following limerick:

An unemployed man called Nabeel,
Said, ‘counter terrorism’s a lucrative deal’.
He kicked up a storm,
Called for Islamic reform,
He’s now so rich, it’s unreal.

On being enslaved to the cravings and temper tantrums of our egos: Freedom to want dominates the monoculture’s discourse. Freedom from needless or uncalled for wants is what dominates Islam’s.

It has to be about walking the walk, not talking the talk: ‘There have been men before now who got so interested in proving God’s existence that they came to care nothing for God Himself.’ – C.S. Lewis

On humility & love, the twin pillars of worship: A sign of Allah’s special concern for a person is His inspiring them to seek forgive for their sins and thankfully acknowledge the blessings they receive from Him. The former nurtures humility; the latter, a deep and abiding love for Allah.

On keeping calm and carrying on with conviction and caution: The Qur’an forewarns the believers that they will be subjected to much vilification, taunt and mockery from those who do not share their faith: 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] When faith takes root in the soil of heedlessness and unbelief, there will always be stiff opposition to it; particularly in the form of verbal abuse or false propaganda. The key, however, is to bear these hurts with resilience, restraint and deeper duty to God, along with a firm conviction that all is unfolding according to His wise plan.

On the unruly self hijacking the prophetic beauty: Nothing is more troublesome than when the ego seeks to wear the robe of the Sunnah.

On belief, practice and spirituality (knowing, doing and becoming): Without ‘aqidah, there’s just idolatry or heresy; without fiqh, just vanity and futility; without tasawwuf, hypocrisy and pretentious piety.

On the glory and greatness of God: There is nothing in God’s creation save that it was preceded by divine knowledge, specified by divine will and manifested into existence by divine power. Allahu akbar!

On rogue teachers and do-it-yourself preachers: Beware Muslim preachers unhinged from the isnad tradition, or unschooled in adab and spiritual wisdom: their harms will far outweigh their good.

On taking responsibility for our current religious anarchy: Those ‘ulema who opened the doors to secrete doubts about the validity of the traditional madhhabs, and whose obsessive attacks and unwise words helped denigrate the consensus-based legality of taqlid in Islam, now see ordinary, unqualified Muslims rushing through such doors in their droves, misled into thinking that they must ‘weigh-up’ evidences and choose the ‘strongest’ proof. Such a bid‘ah was unheard of in Islam until just seventy years or so, and it is a myth to claim that the early Muslim scholars, the salaf, instructed the laity to dabble in the dalil. This bull-in-a-china-shop call – which traces its pedigree, not to the salaf, but to the early 20th century modernist movement – has been instrumental in undermining qualified juristic authority; creating religious anarchy; and spreading a certain mindset that, historically, has been on the fringes of Islam. And such ‘ulema are at a loss as to what to do, or how to stem the tide they set in motion:

A young man from near Runnymede;
Said, ‘It’s forbidden to make taqlid.’
I asked him for proof,
He then hit the roof,
‘I don’t know,’ he said, ‘I can’t even read!’

On rectifying our inner world to rectify our outer world: The world is in a right state; Islam calls you to be in a right state.

On the traits of the true learned: ‘The faqih is not the one to cause people to despair of Allah’s mercy, nor is he the one to give them licence to sin.’ – ‘Ali b. Abi Talib

The soul of Islam is a mindful heart: Vigilance, muraqabah, is to be mindful of Allah in all our states, realising that, He is with you wherever you are [57:4]; to feel His presence, being aware that He is, closer to him than his jugular vein [50:16]; to know that nothing is ever concealed from Him, thereby feeling shy and modest before Him for, He knows what is secret, and what is yet more hidden [20:7]; and to know that His care and help are ever near: When My servants ask you about Me, I am near; answering the prayer of the suppliant when he prays to Me. [2:186] The more we interiorise these realities of faith, the profounder will be our vigilance of Him, and presence of heart whilst worshiping Him. For a heart in which vigilance of Allah firmly takes root, is a heart that becomes occupied with Him above everything else.

On realising our levels: The ordinary, mosque-going Muslim: he knows that he knows not. The accomplished ‘alim: he knows that he knows. The self-taught da‘i: he knows not that he knows not.

On befriending God: ‘We all come into this world as Allah’s slaves. We should all want to leave it as Allah’s friends.’ – Jaleel Ahmad Akhoon

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“There Are Times Where My Heart Feels Clouded”

Cloudy_afternoon_High_definition_wallpaper‘There are times where my heart feels clouded (innahu la yughanu ‘ala qalbi); and I seek Allah’s forgiveness a hundred times a day,’ said the Prophet, peace be upon him.1

Istighfar or “seeking forgiveness” of Allah is not simply confined to when we commit sins. Rather, courtesy (adab) towards Allah requires us to feel a sense of shyness (haya) before Allah on account of committing what He considers disliked (makruh) too; even when no sin has been committed. At a loftier level of faith, those who are distracted from Allah, even if momentarily, see this a lack of adab and a sort of transgression, for which istighfar is to be made.

Imam al-Nawawi holds that one meaning of the “cloudiness” mentioned in the above hadith refers to the Prophet’s continuous dhikr, and heart’s focus and presence with Allah, being interrupted – albeit, for brief moments – out of having to occupy himself with the affairs of the ummah and the welfare of the people. He writes: ‘Its cause is his being preoccupied with the affairs of the ummah and its welfare; waging war against the enemy and their harms; winning over hearts; and other such things. Even though such matters are from the greatest acts of obedience and the best of deeds, it is still a come down from the even more loftier degree and higher station of his being present with Allah, exalted is He, spiritually witnessing Him, being vigilant of Him, and being emptied of everything else beside Him. Hence he sought forgiveness.’2

Thus, how can we not feel a sense of shame before Allah when we are immersed in his graces, day in, day out, yet use them in acts of sin and disobedience to Him. Shaykhs of suluk urge us to have a daily recitation (wird) of istighfar which we recite with the above thought in our hearts. Istighfar one hundred times in the morning, and again towards the day’s end, is a good beginning, they say. One such way of carrying this out is to earnestly repeat: astaghfiru’Llaha wa atubu ilayhi – “I seek forgiveness of God and repent to Him.”

The Prophet, peace be upon him, mentioned that Allah, exalted is He, said: ‘O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and place your hopes in Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done and shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth, and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it.’3

Another hadith states: ‘Whosoever takes to seeking forgiveness [of Allah], Allah shall appoint for him a way out of every difficulty, a relief from every anxiety, and provide sustenance from where he never expects.’4

Rabbighfirli wa tub ‘alayya innaka
anta al-tawwab
al-rahim.

1. Muslim, Sahih, no.2702.

2. Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 17:20.

3. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.3540, saying that the hadith is hasan sahih.

4. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.1517; Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.3819.

The Rabble, the Ruwaybidah & We the People (Pt 2)

tumblr_mr7nraxWnO1sz0elro1_1280This is the second part of the blog piece I wrote for http://www.islamicate.co.uk (the first part may be read here).

After the battle of Hunayn, a delegation from the Hawazin clan came to the Prophet, upon whom be peace, requesting the return of their wealth and captives. They were given a choice between one or the other, so they chose the return of the captives. The Prophet, peace be upon him, then addressed his Companions, saying: ‘These brothers of yours have come to us in repentance, and I wish to return the captives to them. So those of you who wish to return your captives freely, let them do so; and those who wish to keep their share until we give him something of the first booty that God has bestowed on us, let them do so.’ Some of the people said that they would willingly give up their captives for the sake of the Prophet, while others said that they could not. The Prophet said: ‘I cannot tell who among you is granting permission, and who is not. So go back and send your leaders to discuss the matter with us.’ The people went back to speak to their leaders, who then returned to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and gave their consent to set the captives free.1

Undoubtedly, to garner the opinions or sentiments of the masses definitely makes for good governance. When it becomes difficult to ascertain their opinions directly, then appointing representatives on their behalf becomes vital. This is the rationale behind what we now call representative democracy. This type of democracy, says the English philosopher Roger Scruton, is where ‘the people choose (say by voting) representatives who are then answerable to them, but at the same time directly involved, and usually without further consultation, in the practice of government.’2

Does the incident of the Hawazin clan prove the validity of representative democracy in Islam? Not quite. Consultation or shura is at the heart of good decision making in Islam, and so the public should be consulted and governance must reflect their needs and aspirations. But to allow unambiguous revealed truths to be consented to or cast aside by public opinion is a different thing altogether. Faith-based truths, private and public morality, and what is lawful and prohibited are to be decided by the dictates of Revelation – not withstanding juristic disagreement on some of the finer details of the Revealed Law. The Qur’an asserts: It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by God and His Messenger, to have any option about their decision; and he who disobeys God and His Messenger is clearly astray. [33:36] Government of the people, by the people, for the people certainly has its merits. But: Who is a better judge than God for a people who have certainty of faith? [5:50] Democracy wherein people have sovereignty even over the Divine, cannot be countenanced by the faithful.

What then is the value of ‘We the People’? The Qur’an is explicit about the question of following the majority, insisting that numbers in themselves do not make for truth or right guidance: Were you to obey most of those on earth, they would mislead you far from God’s way. [6:116] Again, the Qur’an states: But most of mankind know not. [45:26] Or do you think that most of them hear or understand? They are like cattle. No, they are even more astray. [25:44]

And while human history is replete with examples of ‘We the People’ coming together to demonstrate courage and resilience in the face of tyranny, exhibiting strength and sacrifice in confronting falsehood, or showing acts of profound collective forgiveness against those who formerly oppressed them, that is no reason to downplay the above unambiguous verses nor, for that matter, ignore the warnings in the following hadiths which speak about the deterioration of people:

1. ‘The righteous will depart, one after another, leaving only the dregs behind, like the chaff of barley or dates: God will not accord to them any worth or weight.’3

2. ‘Glad-tidings are for the strangers: a few righteous people amidst a great number of wicked people; those who disobey them are more than those who obey them.’4

3. ‘Nations will soon summon each other to attack you, like [hungry] diners invite one another to eat from a platter of food.’ A person asked: Is it because we will be few in number that day, O Messenger of God? He said: ‘Rather, you will be plenty in number, but you shall be [as insignificant] as the foam on the ocean. And God will remove from the hearts of your enemies fear of you, and shall cast into your hearts weakness.’ They asked: What is the weakness, O Messenger of God? He replied: ‘Love of this world and hatred for death.’5

4. The hadith with which Part 1 began: ‘There shall come upon people years of deceit in which the liar will be believed, the truthful one disbelieved, the treacherous will be trusted, the trustworthy one considered treacherous; and the Ruwaybidah shall speak out.’ It was said: Who are the Ruwaybidah? The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘The lowly, contemptible one who will speak out about public affairs.’6

5. ‘Indeed, people are like camels, out of a hundred you will hardly find a single one suitable for riding.’7

Explaining the above, Imam al-Sa‘di wrote: ‘This hadith incorporates a truthful report and a beneficial piece of guidance. As for the report, it is that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, informed us that deficiency (naqs) is something found in most people and that perfection (kamal) – or near perfection – is rare among them. Just like a hundred camels; a large number, but if you wanted one for carrying, riding, or going to and fro, you would be hard pushed to find even one. The majority of people are similar: if you wanted one suitable for teaching, giving fatwas, leadership, holding the highest office of governance, or lesser offices, or any other important task, you would hardly be able to find anyone to carry out the task properly. Such is the reality; and this because man is unjust and ignorant – injustice and ignorance being the causes of defects, which bar the attainment of perfection and completeness.

‘As for the guidance, then the report comprises an indication from the Prophet, peace be upon him, that the ummah should endeavour and labour together to prepare people who are suitable for taking charge of matters of importance and the running of public affairs beneficial to society as a whole.’8

The idea of human social life in its unregulated form as lacking morality, cooperation or cohesion has deep roots in traditional teachings. Without a higher code of ethics to guide them, or law to restrain them, human beings tend to ruthlessly pursue their own self interests and diverse passions; engage in harmful rivalry and constant strife; put qualities like affection and altruism on the back burner; and are ignorant of their true interests in this world and the Hereafter, thereby bringing about their own rack and ruin. Left to their egos and their own devices, man’s corrupted nature, or fitrah, would render man’s life – to cite Hobbes’s now famous words – ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.’9 Hence, according to medieval Muslim scholarship, the blessings of God sending Revelation and Prophets, for the guidance and welfare of both individuals and society. Hence, also, Islam’s insistence on yielding to political authority over anarchy and guarding public security, wary of any actors seeking to erode or undermine them. Needless to say, Islam envisages government to pursue the objectives of justice (‘adl), the promotion of benefit (maslahah), and prevention of harm (mafsadah). To be more specific, Islamic governance is committed to protect man’s five essential interests (al-dururiyyat al-khamsah); namely: faith, life, intellect, lineage and property. This, at least, is the theory.

My point here isn’t to try and flesh out the particular forms of Islamic governance in a post-Westphalian world of sovereign nation states, forceful regional/global economic unions and mega-corporate capitalism: even if I could! Rather, my point is simply this: what should the role of the masses in Muslim majority countries be, in terms of public uprisings, religious activism and socio-political change? Should they lead or must they be led? Steer or be steered? Define the discourse or defer to a higher discourse? And does the old dichotomy of the masses being the ‘ammah; the common folk and riffraff, and the rulers and religious leaders as the khassah; the elite, still hold? And given mass education and specialisation in the secular sciences, is there now not a new breed of masses; a third tier?

A number of Arabic words may be translated to mean “masses,” particularly ‘ammah (commoners, general public), jumhur (majority, multitude) and sha‘b (folk, populace). There are also more pejoratives terms, like ra‘a and ghawgha – often translated as the rabble, riffraff, or mob. The masses, especially in pre-modern history, were the lower and working classes, the great majority; sharply distinguished from the elite – those of learning and high culture – by their ignorance, or poor education or erudition.10 The great multitude can be a tremendous force for positive change. They can also be fickle and easily swayed. Sometimes they can be the reckless herd, even if well-intended. At other times they can exhibit mob mentality or mob rule; this is where the whims and passions of the majority rule over reason and religion. Ochlocracy, government by mob rule, is certainly not unheard of in human history!

The truth about human nature is that this mob mentality can be extremely infectious. Stand too close to the whirlpool of a reckless herd, and one is likely to get sucked right in. The medieval Syrian jurist-theologian, Ibn Taymiyyah, observed: ‘How many there are who intend neither good nor evil, until they see another – especially someone like themselves – doing it, and then they go and do the same! For it is the nature of human beings to imitate each other, as birds of a feather flock together.’11 This, in large part, explains fashion trends, social media trending, why those who are usually law-abiding and sensible can plunge into bouts of recklessness, frenzy and criminality when with a crowd, how the general public can become highly volatile and violent in the absence of law and order, and other mass hysterias.

Received wisdom from our scholars, sages and saints tells us that ‘We the People’ – the march of the masses – if it is not led by sound religious learning and judgement, and if unenlightened by deep-rooted spiritual acumen, will do far greater harm than good. It will neither bode well for our religious welfare, nor our worldly one. Experience and textual proofs amply prove the point.

Consider the following hadiths:

1. ‘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 astray and lead others astray.’12 Here we are told of the public’s inability to reign in their haste and impulsiveness and patiently seek out whatever remains of qualified scholarship. As headless chickens, they race about asking any Tom, Dick or Harry for religious judgements and guidance. The masses turn things on their head by making the unworthy worthy, the unqualified qualified, the unacceptable acceptable. The upshot: the ummah, as whole, seriously suffers. (Much of the above prophecy has, in fact, already come to pass – and God’s aid is sought!)

2. Abu Musa relates: God’s Messenger, peace be upon him, said: ‘Before the coming of the Hour there will be harj!’ I said: O Messenger of God, what is harj? He said: ‘Killing.’ Some of the Muslims said: O Messenger of God, now we slay [in battle] such and such number of idolaters in a single year. God’s Messenger said: ‘This won’t be like slaying the idolaters. Instead, you will kill one another, to the extent that a person will kill his neighbour, his nephew and relations!’ Some people said: O Messenger of God! Will we be in our right minds that day? He replied: ‘No! 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.’13 Thus we are assured in this hadith that madness shall descend upon the mob, giving rise to mutual bloodshed and much violence and murder.

3. As for the masses being the rabble and the riffraff, then Ibn ‘Abbas relates: I used to teach some of the Emigrants, among who was ‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Awf. While I was in his house at Mina and he was with ‘Umar b. al-Khattab in what was his last pilgrimage, ‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Awf came to me and said: ‘If only you had seen the man who came to [‘Umar] the Leader of the Believers, saying: O Leader of the Believers! What do you say about someone who says that when ‘Umar dies, he will give the oath of allegiance to so and so person, for – by God – the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr was nothing but a reaction that afterwards became established?’ At this, ‘Umar became angry and said: If God wills, I shall stand and address the people tonight and will warn them against those who seek to deprive people of their entitlements. ‘Abd al-Rahman exclaimed: ‘O Leader of the Believers, don’t do so! For the pilgrimage season gathers the rabble (ra‘a) and the riffraff (ghawgha), and they will be the ones who will get closest to you when you stand to address the people. I fear that they will misconstrue your words and twist them out of context. So wait till you reach Madinah, for it is the land of migration and the Sunnah (dar al-hijrah wa’l-sunnah). There you will be among the people of learning, understanding and nobility, where you can say what you have to say, with confidence. For the people of knowledge will understand your words and they will keep things in context.’ To this, ‘Umar said: By God, that is what I will do in my first address to the people of Madinah; God willing.14 The narration is very telling and begs the question: if that was the case about the masses then, one wonders how it could possibly be any better today?

To conclude: The year 2011 witnessed a seismic change in the concept of citizenship in the Arab world. We saw the masses determined to actively have a direct say in their own affairs and destiny, as citizens. Millions of people from different socioeconomic and religious backgrounds protested against tyranny and dictatorship via organised campaigns of civil resistance, demonstrations, labour strikes and rebellion to improve oppressive regimes or to topple them. ‘We the People’ saw themselves as direct agents of change. But We the People, as this article has sought to highlight, can be a force for mayhem and the erosion of faith, as it can for good. So given the many authoritative Islamic texts that speak of the deterioration of the masses (in terms of faith, spiritual growth and sound religious judgement; and the sociopolitical consequences), given also the rise of the Ruwaybidah among them, the mere fact that the masses are agents of change should not in itself engender any immediate hope or confidence. As for the question of whether or not such activism and rebellion was lawful in the first place, according to the rules and principles enshrined in the shari‘ah, that will have to be left to address elsewhere.

Islam teaches us to assess change, not in terms of material advancement, nor even in terms of the presence or absence of political freedom, but in terms of an increasing awareness of God’s presence, worship of Him, and fulfilling the prescriptions instated by faith. If change through activism facilitates the former, but not the latter, how can believers really rejoice?

Here in the West, over the past four of five decades, much has been said and debated about the dumbing down of society. Dumbing down refers to the oversimplification of critical thought and the diminishment of the intellectual content in education, art, culture and politics. Even though we have more information at our disposal, we are seen to be less capable of critical thinking than those generations of people before us. The argument is that mass media and entertainment, the over reliance on technology, and allowing ourselves to be consumed by consumerism, has all led to this numbing and dumbing down. A more sinister narrative insists that the dumbing down has been engineered, in order that “the powers that be” can keep the masses subdued. (Less the Orwellian, and more the Huxleyan nightmare!)

Dumbing down has also been spoken of in the prophetic hadiths, some of which have been related above. They speak of how the masses will be dumbed down in respect to their escalating ignorance of religious knowledge; their diminishing grasp of spiritual realities; and their succumbing ever more to the dictates of anger and emotions which blind their sense of reason, making increasing moments of mob madness far more frequent. And while it is true that some of Muslim scholarship has still yet to make the transition into the modern world, where simple faith and little intellectual content tend not to be enough, our scholarship is becoming much more informed, critical and thoughtful. But if the masses are to be agents of positive change – and why shouldn’t they be – they too need to nurture in themselves a more thoughtful and enlightened practice of faith. And this can only come from resisting the Ruwaybidah tendencies in themselves and their ranks, reviving their connection to the scholars, and committing to a deeper level of religious study and meditation. Only then, when the scholars and masses work together for society’s moral, spiritual and worldly benefit, will the much sought-after change that believing hearts aspire to begin to come about. This ancient piece of scholarly wisdom must also be kept firmly in our minds: man ta‘ajjala’l-shay’a qabla awanihi ‘uqiba bi hurmanihi – ‘Whosoever seeks to hasten a thing before its time, will be deprived of its outcome.’

Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. Al-Bukhari, no.2307.

2. Scruton, The Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Political Thought (Great Britain & New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 169.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.6434.

4. Ibn al-Mubarak, al-Zuhd, no.775; Ahmad, Musnad, no.6650. It was graded authentic (sahih) by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1619.

5. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.4297, and it is sahih, Consult: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1985), no.958.

6. Ibn Majah, no.4036; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4:465, who said: ‘Its chain is sahih.

7. Al-Bukhari, no.2498; Muslim, no.2547.

8. Bahjat al-Qulub al-Abrar (Cairo: Dar al-Bayan, 1988), 365-66.

9. Hobbes, Leviathan (London: The Folio Society, 2012), 92.

10. See: G. Bowering (ed.), The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought (New Jersey & Oxfordshire: Princeton University Press, 2013), 330-31.

11. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 28:149-50.

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

13. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.3959, Ahmad, Musnad, no.19492. It was graded as sahih by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1682.

14. Al-Bukhari, no.6830.

From the Lives of the Noble Ones: On Praiseworthy Trials

caught-in-the-storm-1024x724We continue our reading into the words and insights left to us by Imam Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi – accomplished scholar, copious writer and committed traditionalist – as per his celebrated hagiography of Islam’s scholars, sages and other personalities, Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala:

When Great Minds Think Alike: After recording the words of Ishaq b. Rahuwayah: ‘If al-Thawri, al-Awza‘i and Malik agree upon any matter, it is sunnah,‘ Imam al-Dhahabi comments:

‘Rather the sunnah is what the Prophet, upon whom be peace, made so, or the Rightly-Guided Caliphs after him. As regards consensus (ijma‘), it is whatever the scholars of this ummah, both past and present, have unanimously concurred upon: [including] a consensus which is probable (zanni) or tacit (sukuti). Whosoever diverges from such a consensus, among the Successors (tabi‘un) or their followers – due to stances arrived at via independent legal judgement (ijtihad) – it is tolerated from him alone.

As for those who disagree with the three aforementioned senior scholars, then this is not considered to be opposing the consensus, nor the Sunnah. All that Ishaq intended was that if they concur upon any given matter, then it is most probably correct. Just as we say today that it is almost impossible to find the truth to be outside of whatever the Four Mujtahid Imams concurred upon. We say this whilst at the same time admitting that their agreement on an issue doesn’t constitute a consensus of the ummah: though we are wary of stating, in an issue on which they agree, that the truth is otherwise.’1

The Praiseworthy Trial: While describing the ordeal endured by Imam Malik in which he was severely beaten so much so that ‘his arm was wrenched out of its socket and an enormous wrong had been perpetrated against him. Yet, by God, Malik didn’t cease to be held in high esteem,’ al-Dhahabi wrote:

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

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

A Falcon Among Fledglings: Imam al-Shafi‘i remarked: ‘People are all dependents of Abu Hanifah in jurisprudence (fiqh).’ After citing these words, Imam al-Dhahabi says:

‘Leadership in fiqh, along with its minutiae, is undeniable for this Imam. It is a matter about which there is no doubt: Intellects cannot be sound at all / If daytime needs a proof. His life would require two separate volumes to depict – God be pleased with him and have mercy on him. He died as a martyr in the year 150H, at the age of seventy, after being poisoned. A huge dome has been built over him in Baghdad, and a magnificent tomb; though God knows best.’5

1. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 7:116-7.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.5645.

3. Muslim, no.2999.

4. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala, 8:80-1.

5. ibid., 6:403.

Golden Chains, Blessed Names

hadith-brotherhoodImam Muslim records the following hadith in his esteemed Sahih, no.2880: Sufyan b. ‘Uyaynah narrates from al-Zuhri; from ‘Urwah; from Zaynab b. Umm Salamah; from Habibah; from Umm Habibah; from Zaynab b. Jahsh that the Prophet, peace be upon him, woke-up from his sleep and exclaimed: ‘La ilaha illa’Llah! Woe be to the Arabs for an evil that is fast approaching. Today, a gap has been made in the wall [that restrains] Gog and Magog like such;’ Sufyan formed a circle with his thumb and index finger [to demonstrate]. Zaynab asked: O Messenger of God, shall we be destroyed even though there are righteous people among us? He said: ‘Yes, if evil becomes widespread (na‘am idha kathura’l-khabath).’

Imam al-Nawawi wrote in his commentary to this hadith: ‘This chain (isnad) contains four female Companions (sahabiyyat) – two of the Messenger of God’s wives, and two of his step-daughters – narrating one from another. No other hadith is known to have four female Companions relating one from another, besides this one.’1

Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi relates a rare and unusual chain, consisting of nine forefathers reporting one from another. He says that Abu’l-Faraj ‘Abd al-Wahhab b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz b. al-Harith b. Asad b. al-Layth b. Sulayman b. al-Aswad b. Sufyan b. Zayd b. Ukaynah b. ‘Abd Allah al-Tamimi narrated to us from memory that I heard my father say; that I heard my father say; that I heard my father say; that I heard my father say; that I heard my father say; that I heard my father saying; that I heard my father say; that I heard my father say; that I heard ‘Ali b Abi Talib saying: ‘Knowledge calls for action; so either the call is responded to, or knowledge departs.’2

As part of his commentary to the following verse: Think not of those who are slain in the path of God as dead. No, they are alive with their Lord, well-provided for, [3:169] Ibn Kathir wrote:

‘We have narrated from Imam Ahmad’s Musnad a hadith that contains glad tidings for every believer in that his soul shall roam freely in Paradise and shall eat of its fruits. It shall see what it contains of joy and delight and witness the great honour that God has prepared for it. It is reported with an illustrious and splendid authentic chain (bi isnad sahih ‘aziz ‘azim), containing three of the Four Imams whose law-schools are followed, that Imam Ahmad, may God have mercy upon him, narrates from Muhammad b. Idris al-Shafi‘i, may God’s mercy be upon him; from Malik b. Anas al-Asbahi, may God have mercy on him; from al-Zuhri; from ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Ka‘b b. Malik; from his father, may God be pleased with him, who related that God’s Messenger, peace be upon him, said: “The believer’s soul is a bird clinging to the trees of Paradise till God returns it to his body on the day of his resurrection.”‘3

1. Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 18:3.

2. Iqtida al-‘Ilm al-Aml (Damascus & Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1977), no.40.

3. Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 1:437.

Me, My Soul & I

Dhikr: To Be in the Presence of the One

GlassesMasters of the inward life say that remembrance of God, or dhikr, is the cornerstone of the spiritual path, the key to sanctification (wilayah) and the weapon of the seeker. In fact, it is the goal behind all acts of worship, as the Qur’an itself teaches: Establish prayer for My remembrance. [20:14]

Dhikr is for the heart to feel the presence of the One being remembered, by freeing it of distractions, maintaining its constant attentiveness and making it aware of what the tongue is uttering. For the best dhikr, and the one yielding the greatest fruit, is one that involves the heart and tongue together; if not, then the heart; and then just the tongue.

In his customary minimalist fashion, Ibn Juzayy (whom we encountered in a previous post which can be read here) distils for us the reality of dhikr. While commenting on God’s words: Remember Me and I shall remember you [2:152], he wrote:

 ♦

‘Know that remembrance of God (dhikr) is the best of all works in general, even if in some hadiths other acts, like the prayer, are given superiority. For this is only due to what they contain of the meaning of dhikr and of being present (hudur) with God. The proof for the superiority of God’s remembrance can be seen from the following three angles:

Firstly, the texts that are related about its merits over all other works. The Messenger of God ﷺ said: ‘Should I not inform you which of your deeds is best? Which purifies you most before your Sovereign? Which raises you higher in rank and is better for you than giving away gold and silver; better than facing your enemies that you might slay them or be slayed by them?’ They said: O Messenger of God, inform us! He replied: ‘The remembrance of God.” [Tirmidhi, no.3377]

The Messenger of God ﷺ was asked: Which deed is best? He replied: ‘Remembrance of God.’ It was said: Is remembrance better even than jihad in God’s path? He said: ‘Even if he should smite the non-believers until his sword breaks and blood flows, the one who remembers God is of a loftier rank.’ [Tirmidhi, no.3376]

Secondly, God, exalted is He, wherever He instructs us with remembrance, or extols it, stipulates that it be done profusely and abundantly: Remember God abundantly. [33:41] Those who remember God abundantly. [33:35] This is not the case for any other deed.

Thirdly, remembrance has a quality particular to it and it alone: being present in the loftiest Presence (hudur fi’l-hadrat al-‘aliyyah) and arriving at closeness – expressed in hadiths that speak of “sitting” and “being with” God. God says: ‘I sit with the one who remembers Me.’ Also: ‘I am as my servant thinks Me to be, and I am with him when he remembers Me.’ [Bukhari, no.7536]

People intend by their dhikr one of two stations. For the general Muslims, it is to earn rewards (iktisab al-‘ujur); for the elite, it is to draw near to God and be in His presence (al-qurb wa’l-hudur). What a tremendous gulf there is between the two stations. What a difference there is between one who takes his reward from behind a veil, and one who is drawn close and becomes of the elite lovers!’1

1. At-Tashil li ‘Ulum al-Tanzil (Beirut: Maktabah al-‘Asriyyah, 2003), 1:159-60

Marriage: Law, Spirit & Meaning

marriage-services1One hadith states: “Marraige is of my guidance; one who acts contrary to my guidance is not of me. Thus marry, that I may outnumber other nations by you. Those of you who possess the means should marry. If he cannot, let him fast, for fasting is a shield.”1

The Qur’an says: And of His signs is that He created for you wives from yourselves that you might find repose in them, and He set between you love and affection. In this are signs for people who reflect. [30:21]

Marriage, the shared life of man and woman, is commended in the Revelation as being honourable. It was the way of God’s prophets, with the notable exception of Jesus, son of Mary, peace be upon him. We sent Messengers before you, says the Qur’an, and appointed for them wives and children. [13:38] Here, in the above hadith, we see the Prophet, peace be upon him, adorning the institution of marriage with his words.

Given the gravity and importance of marriage, it must not be entered into hastily or unadvisedly. But rather, honourably, reverently and soberly and with trust in God. The causes for marriage should be contemplated over before embarking on this quest of intimacy. In Islam’s legal literature the causes for which marriage was ordained are said to be:

Firstly, that the natural instincts of love and intimacy implanted by God can be given blessed expression.

Secondly, for the increase of humankind and for children to be brought up in God’s remembrance and in reverant thanks of Him.

Thirdly, for the benefit of society at large: for family is the foundation of a just and caring society; it is the realm in which love, duty, commitment, support and sacrifice are first encountered and learnt.2

To state it in the language of anthropologists, the function of marriage is to ensure: social reproduction, the socializing of children and the passing on of social capital.3

Sexual relations outside of marriage (zina) is seen in Islam as one of the primary causes of social disintergration, to be avoided at all cost. Adultery and fornication, both subsumed under zina, stand in direct opposition to marriage. In fact, Islamic law conciously sets out to combat zina through marriage, as may be sensed in the above hadith. This explains the juristic stance which holds marriage to be wholly obligatory in the case of those whose sexual desires are uncontrollable or nearly so. The failure to marry, in such a case, is said to entail sin (ithm), to be punished in the Afterlife. For those with “average” sex drive and who are able to keep their urge in check, marriage is held to be recommended. Those with no inclination to marriage or no sexual desire – either due to old age, illness, or any other reason – some jurists still deemed marriage recommended; others held it to be disliked (makruh), especially if it takes them away from what is more beneficial in terms of gaining religious knowledge or being engrossed in devotional worship.4

The nuances found in the juristic rulings on marriage reflect a sensitivity towards differences among people in this regard. But the different rulings corresponding to the differences in people’s nature is intended to serve a single, overarching purpose: social harmony.5

1. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.1836. The hadith is hasan, as per al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1991), no.2383.

2. Cf. Ibn Qudamah, al-Mughni (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 2007), 9:343.

3. Scruton, Arguments for Conservatism (London: Continuum, 2006), 95.

4. See: al-Mughni, 9:341-44.

5. Consult: Hallaq, Shari‘ah: Theory, Practice, Transformations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 272.

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