The Humble "I"

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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.

The Rabble, the Ruwaybidah & We the People (Pt 1)

rv5061f1efOne hadith foretells: ‘There shall come upon people years of deceit in which the liar will be believed, the truthful one disbelieved, the treacherous will be trusted and the trustworthy one considered treacherous; and the Ruwaybidah will speak out.’ It was said: Who are the Ruwaybidah? The Prophet, peace be upon him, replied: ‘The lowly, contemptible one who will speak out about public affairs (al-rajul al-tafihu yatakallam fi amri’l-‘ammah).’1

Affairs of public welfare and security, and how religion should articulate the common good – as well as rulings related to shari‘ah politics; weighing up harms and benefits; tackling widespread evils; and how best to address and resolve grievances with those in authority – are undoubtedly the most pressing concerns that collectively confront Muslim states today. Public security (amn) is held in Islam to be one of the greatest of blessings that God confers upon any people. The Qur’an, in an appeal to the Makkan Quraysh to worship God in gratitude for His blessings of political security upon them, says: For the protection of the Quraysh; for their protection during the winter and summer journeys. So let them worship the Lord of this House, Who has fed them against hunger and has secured them from fear. [106:1-5] Indeed, in one passage, public security is seen as being a right of sorts of faith: “Which of these two factions has more right to security, if you have knowledge? Those who believe and obscure not their belief by wrongdoing, theirs is security, and they are rightly guided.” [6:81-2] It follows, that to the extent faith (belief) is mixed with wrongdoing, collective security is jeopardised!

The blessings of security is also the subject of the following prophetic words, peace be upon him: ‘Whosoever awakens in the morning safe and secure in his dwelling, fit and healthy in his body and with enough food for the day, it is as if he has gained the whole world.’2

Islam, then, disdains anyone or anything which undermines the blessings of security; since, to steal a phrase from Bob Marley’s Rat Race, ‘collective security for surety’. Or to put it differently, no security, no surety! Faith best flourishes when public security is intact. Justice is best served when it is intact. Economic well-being best grows when it is intact. But in its absence, fear, terror, lawlessness, bloodshed, tribal and factional vendettas, economic cave in, and even anarchy, prevail. Classical Muslim scholarship and consensus only permits the tampering of public security through the act of khuruj (“rebellion”, “armed revolt”) under strict theological conditions. That it doesn’t lead to a greater tribulation and instability is one of them. And that the ruler be replaced with a better (more righteous) one is another. The question of the Muslim ruler’s apostasy or not, however, is paramount. Although a few theologians allowed rebellion against a ruler whose tyranny had become entrenched and widespread (provided the above two conditions can be actualised), most did not – unless there appeared from such a ruler unambiguous, clear-cut disbelief (kufr bawah). In fact, al-Nawawi and the best part of orthodox scholarship relate a consensus on this latter point.3

Revolutions are messy and bloody. And although you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs (as one saying goes), Islam insists that there can be other things on the breakfast menu besides eggs. Revolutions are not events, they are processes – often, long, drawn-out ones – whose sought-after outcomes are seldom guaranteed. In fact, given our globalised world, wealthy and powerful outside interests, as well as regional geo-politics, are far more likely to shape final outcomes than are the well-conceived intentions of the masses.

In the topsy-turviness that characterises social deterioration at the end of times (liars seen as truthful, the truthful as liars; evil as good, and good as evil, etc.), we have been cautioned about the Ruwaybidah. Scholarly commentaries do not specify exactly who the Ruwaybidah are, but do point out their traits. Lexically, being the diminutive of the word rabidah (“lowly”, “despicable”, “worthless”), the Ruwaybidah are even lower than worthless: they are utterly worthless. These are people who are incapable of rising up to nobility, lack integrity and, above all, possess little more than a glimmer of religious knowledge.4 In spite of this, they feel to speak out about socio-political affairs beyond their grasp and experience. They feel to offer fatwas and act as social commentators, despite their flimsy understanding. They presume to be advisors to the ummah, while still being wet behind the ears!

Unlike the Ruwaybidah, if we know our own worth, we will conduct ourselves in ways that befit a believer. We will avoid treading on the toes of others; avoid hampering the knowledge and efforts of others. Ibn Hazm, the great Spanish Muslim polymath, once wrote: ‘There is nothing more harmful to knowledge and its people than those who enter into it, yet are not from it. They are ignorant, but think they are knowledgeable. They cause corruption while they imagine they are rectifying matters.’5

In another verse of the Qur’an that speaks of public security, we learn this important code of conduct: If any matter comes to them concerning security or fear, they spread it around. But if they had only referred it to the Messenger or to those charged with authority, those among them who are able to investigate and think out the matter would indeed know [what to do with] it. [4:83] Commenting on it, Imam al-Sa‘di wrote:

‘This is a counsel from God, to His servants, about their unbefitting conduct. And that it is imperative for them, when there comes to them news about important affairs of public benefit – such as those related to the security and welfare of the believers, or to breaches of security and [impending] calamities striking them – that they should first verify such matters and not be hasty in spreading such news. Instead, they must refer such affairs to the Messenger and to those in authority among them – those possessed of sound judgement, learning, intelligence, sincere advice, calmness and composure; those who understand such issues and have knowledge of the associated benefits and harms. If, after that, they see that in broadcasting such news there is benefit for the believers and a cause of joy for them, or a means to protect them from their enemy’s harm, they should do so. But if they see there to be no benefit, or that there is benefit but the harm in it is greater, they should not do so. This is why God said: those among them who are able to investigate and think out the matter; meaning, they will evaluate it with their well-grounded thinking and sound knowledge. So in this is an evidence for a principle of [correct] conduct, which is that: When there arises a need to investigate a particular matter, it is essential that it be left to those qualified to do so and that they are not to be preceded in this by others.’6

As can be seen, the Qur’an grants no room for zealous Muslim activists, who possess none of the above skill-sets, to make pronouncements about the affairs of this blessed ummah. Nor for the trigger-happy texters and tweeters among the Muslims who give no thought to the social consequences of their actions.

In the second and concluding part of this blog piece, we shall discuss the nature of the masses vis-a-via progress and socio-political change. ‘We the People’ continues to be a powerful force for change. But how much stock should we as Muslim place in the idea of ‘We the People’?

(This article was first written for http://www.islamicate.co.uk and is reposted here with kind permission, and with minor editing).

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

2. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2346. The hadith was graded hasan by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1991), no.2318.

3. Consult: Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 12:189-90.

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

5. Al-Akhlaq wa’l-Siyar fi Mudawat al-Nufus (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), 24.

6. Taysir al-Karim al-Rahman (Dammam: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2011), 193-4.

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.

Pitfalls of the Practising Muslim

sujud3It is said: “Whoever acts by what he knows, God will bequeath to him knowledge that he does not know.”1 Thus, as a person practices what they know, they are guided to a deepening of faith, a sharpening of the spiritual faculty, and an intensifying of taqwa. The Qur’an insists: While those who are guided, God increases their guidance and grants them God-fearingness [47:17]

There are, we are cautioned, certain pitfalls along the path which we must steer clear of; and it is not uncommon for those committed to religious observance (“practicing Muslims” is the usual term) to stumble headlong into such dangers, corrupting works of faith and poisoning the Spirit and health of the heart. Of these pitfalls is ‘ujb: vanity, conceit, vain-glory, egotism.

In the case of religious works, ‘ujb is when we fail to realise that the act of worship we have performed, or the knowledge we have gained, or the charity we have given – for instance – is not of our own doing; but is a gift from God. Only when blinded to such a reality do we then start to see these works as being of our own accomplishment and efforts. We then begin to become vain, egotistical and bask in our own self-glory. Ibn ‘Ata’illah counsels us: ‘Let not acts of obedience make you joyous because they come from you. But be joyous because they come from God to you. Say: “In the grace of God and His mercy, in that let them rejoice. This is better than that which they hoard.” [10:58]’2

Akin to the dangers of ‘ujb is that of kibr – arrogance, haughtiness, pride, hubris. One hadith defines arrogance as being: batr al-haqq wa ghamat al-nas – ‘rejecting the truth and looking down on others.’ [Muslim, no.91] Seeing ourselves as better than others or viewing others with contempt, disdain or as being inferior, is outright arrogance or kibr. There are many manifestations of kibr. Being boastful about one’s looks, wealth, worldy achievement, or social status are among the most common; as is considering oneself to be religiously more devout or more pious than others. Ibn ‘Ata’illah writes: ‘Disobedience which bequeathes humiliation and extreme brokenness, is better than obedience that bequeathes conceit and arrogance.’3

This is not an encouragement to make light of disobedience, or to casually sin and to then appologise to God. That would be sheer impertinance and mocking the majesty of God. It is urging us, however, to do works of faith with humility and abject spiritual need and poverty (faqr), realising that we can never worship God in the way He really deserves.

Again, from the religious angle, kibr is a failure to see the reality behind works of faith. Not only is the ability to do such works Heaven’s grace – giving us no cause, therefore, to bragg or to gloat over accomplishments which are not of our own doing – we don’t even know if our acts are accepted by God or not. For what counts is not the deed, but its acceptance. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘None of you shall be saved due to his deeds.’ It was asked: Not even you, O Prophet of God? He said: ‘No, not even me, unless God covers me with His mercy and forgiveness.’ [Muslim, no.2816]

Masters of the inward life have said: la budda min al-‘aml wa bihi la nasal – ‘Works are indispensable, but we do not arrive by them.’ Rather, reaching God is only by His love, mercy and unmitigated grace. That is, man progresses towards God, not by his works or efforts – though they are a precondition – but by God’s compassionate “attraction” with which he draws the seeker to Him. Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. Cited by Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-Awliya (Egypt: Dar al-Rayyan, 1986), 10:14-15, where he says that the chain has been forgently ascribed to the Prophet, peace be upon him; although its overall meaning is sound and echoes the verse cited just a few lines down.

2. Al-Hikam al-‘Ata’iyyah (Egypt: Dar al-Salam, 2006), no.58.

3. Al-Hikam al-‘Ata’iyyah, no.96.

Me, My Soul & I

Breaking Bread as Brothers

God insists in the Qur’an: And hold fast, all together, to the rope of God, and do not become divided. [3:103]

The Qur’an further insists: The believers are indeed but brothers. So make peace and reconciliation between your brethren. [49:10]

Brotherhood (ukhuwa) is a great principle of Islam. It is a brotherhood obliged by God. It is a brotherhood, the bonds of which are rooted in love of God and love in God. Islam’s teachings all ensure that these bonds are allowed to flower and flourish, and that whatever stands in the way to prevent this, or to incite discord or division between Muslims, is disowned by the shari‘ah.

Hence the Holy Qur’an says about things that may incite schism or friction between Muslims: The Devil seeks only to cast enmity and hatred amongst you by means of alcohol and gambling, and to turn you from remembrance of God and from [His] worship. Will you not then abstain? [5:91]

Islam not only explains the ideals of brotherhood, it lays down specific teachings and measures that help to make it a reality in our lives. Among that which helps nurture a deep and abiding sense of brotherhood are:

Firstly, remembering that God has made the life and honour of every believer sacred and sacrosanct. It is forbidden to harm a Muslim’s honour or repute, as it is to harm their life or their property. Let us remind ourselves about this foundational fact with the following hadith: ‘Do not envy one another; do not inflate prices one to another; do not turn your backs on one another; and do not undercut one another – but be, O God’s slaves, brothers. A Muslim is the brother of another Muslim: he doesn’t oppress him or forsake him, nor does he lie to him or hold him in contempt. Piety is right here (pointing to his breast thrice). It is evil enough for a person to hold his brother Muslim in contempt. The whole of a Muslim, for another Muslim, is inviolable: his blood, his property and his honour.’ [Muslim, no.2564]

Secondly, to make it a part of our daily spiritual habit of supplicating for the well-being of Muslims. One hadith says: ‘The du‘a of a the Muslim, for his brother [Muslim] in his absence, is always responded to.’ [Muslim, no.2733] In fact, so great an act is it, and so sacred is the life of a believer, that the Prophet, peace be upon him, declared: ‘Whoever seeks forgiveness for the believing men and women, God records for him a good deed for every believing man and woman [he prays for].’ [Al-Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 10:210]

Thirdly, another way to arouse love of fellow believers in our hearts is to devote some time of our day, each day, in their service or khidmah, in whatever capacity we can. So dear is this dedication and service to God, that one celebrated hadith says: ‘God helps His servant as long as the servant continues to help his brother.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.2442; Muslim, no.2580]

Fourthly, trying not to end the day with rancour in our hearts against any Muslim, but striving to rid ourselves of this noxious disease whenever it arises. The following du‘a from the Qur’an is a powerful medicine for such a thing: “Our Lord! Forgive us and our brethren who preceded us in faith, and leave not in our hearts any rancour or ill-will towards those who believe. Our Lord! You are Kind, Compassionate.” [59:10]

Fifthly, doing one’s utmost to follow the Golden Rule: ‘None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.’ [Bukhari, no.13; Muslim, no.45] But if one fails to live up to this lofty standard, then to never fall below the minimum level of behaviour with others – which was taught to us by the great pietist, Yahya b. Muadh al-Razi: ‘Let your dealing with another believer be of three types: If you cannot benefit him, do not harm him. If you cannot gladden him, do not sadden him. If you cannot speak well of him, do not speak ill of him.’1

Allahumma allif bayna qulubina wa aslih dhata
baynina waj‘alna min
al-rashidin.
Amin!

1. Cited in Ibn Rajab, Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:283.

On Climbing Mount Taqwa

p010_1_01The Qur’an speaks of God as dhu’l-ma‘arij – “Lord of the ascending ways.” [70:3] So the believer is expected to be a climber, as it were, in their upward journey to God. The ascent, however, is not that simple and the old saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” must be the watchword. Indeed, iradah (“will”, “aspiration”) – in this context, the will to find God – is, undoubtedly, the surest start. As such, the Qur’an praises those who aspire to the harvest of the Afterlife, [42:20] and who aspire to the face of God. [6:52]

The true believer acknowledges it is not by his or her own effort that they ascend, but effort – nonetheless – must be put in. A believer seeks  to live life under the awareness that one must climb and ascend: those who turn their backs on the ascent do no more than doom themselves to misery and wretchedness, according to God’s estimation. The Qur’an speaks frequently of this “awareness” by employing the notion of taqwa.

Taqwa is culled from the word wiqayah, which implies: “erecting a barrier to ward-off harm from oneself.” In its religious sense, taqwa is to shield oneself against sinfulness, disobedience and divine anger, by doing works of faith and acts of obedience.1

The essence of taqwa lies in obeying God wholeheartedly, whilst being keenly aware of His presence, gaze and scrutiny. No single word in English can adequately render the full meaning of taqwa – although “piety”, “fear of God”, “God-consciousness” and “guarding against evil” are some of the ways translators of the Qur’an have attempted to give expression to it.

Moulding one’s life in the light of this awareness of God’s presence; that is, striving to become muttaqi (one who embodies taqwa), is of huge merit and virtue. In the Qur’an, we read: God is with those who fear Him. [16:128] God is the protector of the pious. [45:19] God loves those who are conscious of Him. [9:4] Whoever fears God, He shall appoint a way out for him, and will provide for him from whence he never expected. [65:2-3] Then We shall save those who guarded against evil. [19:72] And: For the God-fearing are gardens of delight with their Lord. [68:34]

Having cited these, and other verses on the virtues of taqwa; and having explained the bawa‘ith or motivations for it (listed as: fear of divine punishment in this world and in the next, hope of being rewarded in both worlds, fear of accountability, modesty and a sense of shyness because of God’s watchful gaze, gratitude for the divine favours, and knowledge which begets reverent awe of God), Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi furnishes us with a delightful summary distilling the levels of taqwa – which, he says, are of five ascending degrees:

‘[1] That a person guard against disbelief; this is the station (maqam) of Islam. [2] That one guard against sin and forbidden acts; this is the station of repentance (tawbah). [3] That one guards against doubtful matters; this is the station of scrupulousness (wara‘). [4] That one guard against what is lawful [but superfluous to one’s needs]; which is the station of worldly detachment (zuhd). [5] That one guards the heart against other than God being present (hudur ghayru’Llah) in it; this is the station of spiritually witnessing God (mushahadah).’2

1. Al-Haytami, al-Fath al-Mubin bi Sharh al-Arba‘in, (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2008), 350.

2. Ibn Juzayy, al-Tashil li ‘Ulum al-Tanzil (Beirut: al-Maktabah al-‘Asriyyah, 2003), 1:98.

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