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Archive for the category “short texts for reflection”

On True Salafism, False Salafism & Ijma‘ Theology (1/2)

Much has been written about Salafism (salafiyyah) over the past half a century or so, particularly after 9-11. Among Muslims who ascribe to Sunni Islam, the whole concept of Salafism and what it stands for (and what it has done at the ground level) continues to be a source of great contention. While some see it as the representation of pure, authentic Islam, most view it as cultish and highly sectarian – with varying degrees of heresy, unorthodoxy, extremism and uber-intolerance running throughout it; reflecting the diverse types of salafis as well as salafist claims that exist in reality.

This post isn’t written as an expose of contemporary Salafism. Those hoping for a blustering refutation, or cancel culture content, will be very disappointed and are advised to move on. Instead, the intention of the article is to ask that, while the principle of following the collective religious agreement of the early Muslim scholars (affectionately called the salaf) is an indisputable one in Sunni Islam, is today’s Salafism a true representation of that unanimous, collective path; or is it something quite different to the actual principle?

I have chosen the following passage from the writings of Ibn Taymiyyah to help address the issue. My main reasons for doing so are: it is short; it get’s straight to the point; it is a voice that salafis will respect and, more crucially, it clearly essentialises the difference between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, between ahl al-sunnah and ahl al-bid‘ah, between the Straight Path in Islam and between the stray paths in Islam – the paths of the misguided Muslims sects.

Why should all this stuff about sectarianism and Salafism matter? Well, I don’t think it will be lost on most Muslims that each of us have an obligation to be truth-seekers and truth-followers. What this demands in terms of actions and intent is that we align ourselves with the divine will and the divinely-ordained way of life as best we can; starting with those beliefs and precepts which form the basis of right-guidance, or orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

As part of his reply to a query about the Muslims splitting-up into seventy-three sects (with only one of these sects being the orthodox or “saved” one), and who these various sectarian groups are, and what are their distinguishing features, Ibn Taymiyyah wrote:

وَلِهَذَا وَصَفَ الْفِرْقَةَ النَّاجِيَةَ بِأَنَّهَا أَهْلُ السُّنَّةِ وَالْجَمَاعَةِ وَهُمْ الْجُمْهُورُ الْأَكْبَرُ وَالسَّوَادُ الْأَعْظَمُ . وَأَمَّا الْفِرَقُ الْبَاقِيَةُ فَإِنَّهُمْ أَهْلُ الشُّذُوذِ وَالتَّفَرُّقِ وَالْبِدَعِ وَالْأَهْوَاءِ وَلَا تَبْلُغُ الْفِرْقَةُ مِنْ هَؤُلَاءِ قَرِيبًا مِنْ مَبْلَغِ الْفِرْقَةِ النَّاجِيَةِ فَضْلًا عَنْ أَنْ تَكُونَ بِقَدْرِهَا بَلْ قَدْ تَكُونُ الْفِرْقَةُ مِنْهَا فِي غَايَةِ الْقِلَّةِ . 

وَشِعَارُ هَذِهِ الْفِرَقِ مُفَارَقَةُ الْكِتَابِ وَالسُّنَّةِ وَالْإِجْمَاعِ . فَمَنْ قَالَ بِالْكِتَابِ وَالسُّنَّةِ وَالْإِجْمَاعِ كَانَ مِنْ أَهْلِ السُّنَّةِ وَالْجَمَاعَةِ .

‘It is why the saved-sect is described as being ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah. They are the overwhelming multitude and the great majority. As for the other sects, they are followers of aberrant views, schism, innovations and deviant desires. None even comes close to the number of the saved-sect, let alone its calibre. Rather each such sect is extremely small [in number].

‘The hallmark of these sects is their splitting from the Book, the Sunnah and the scholarly consensus (ijma‘). But whoever speaks according to the Book, the Sunnah and the scholarly consensus is from ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah.1

I

In the following points, let us try to unpack this compact, yet highly significant Tamiyyan passage:

1 – The first point to pay heed to is how orthodox Islam – technically known as ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah (‘Sunnis’, for short) – is depicted as encompassing the bulk of this blessed ummah: ‘They are the overwhelming multitude and the great majority.’

2 – In stark contrast to this, the standard salafi psyche would have us believe that most Muslims are deviant innovators outside of the Sunni fold – unless, of course, we join them. I’ve addressed this seismic, yet typical salafi mistake in the article: The Seventy-Three Sects: Is Most of the Ummah Deviant? Whenever a person or group misunderstands this one crucial fact, then it’s usually downhill from here.

3 – This error stems from misreading the words of the early scholars in their explanation of who the jama‘ah is. Take, for instance, the statement of Ibn al-Mubarak who, when asked who the jama‘ah was, replied: ‘Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. It was said to him that they have died, so he said: so-and-so and so-and-so. He was told that they too have passed away. So he said: Abu Hamzah al-Sukkari is the jama‘ah.’2 From here, salafis erringly conclude that the path of orthodoxy can even be just one or two individuals; and is always the path of the select few strangers, or ghuraba’.

4 – But the traditional scholarly take on this is that when Ibn al-Mubarak said that Abu Bakr and ‘Umar are the jama‘ah, he wasn’t negating right-guidance from the other sahabah. Likewise, when he pointed to al-Sukkari as being the jama‘ah, he was not denying the orthodox credentials of other scholars of the same era (like al-Thawri, al-Awza‘i, Malik, or Abu Hanifah). Rather this salaf-report simply highlights the pivotal role of the scholars in defining orthodoxy. The masses, by virtue of them following the ‘ulema, are also from the jama‘ah. Mentioning a specific scholar as being the jama‘ah is just a way of showcasing that these scholars best exemplified the jama‘ah in their respective times or locales, and were most worthy of emulation. Other scholars also epitomised the jama‘ah, but perhaps not quite to the same degree.

5 – Ibn Taymiyyah says that the heterodox sects (ahl al-bid‘ah), the ‘followers of aberrant views, schism, innovations and deviant desires’ do not ‘even comes close to the number of the saved-sect. Rather each such sect is extremely small [in number].’ In other words, the number of actual innovators in the ummah is relatively tiny compared to the adherents of Sunni orthodoxy, of whom there is a multitude. Again, this is something which salafis generally, as almost a point of creed, have flipped on its head.

6 – The following hadith gives us an idea of what number of multitude we are talking about. ‘Nations were presented to me and I saw a prophet with one or two followers; another prophet who had a few followers; and also another with no followers at all. Then I saw a huge multitude of people filling the horizon, and hoped that this was my nation. But it was said to me that this was Moses and his people. I was then instructed to look, and I saw another great multitude of people filling the horizon. I was told to look here, and here as well, and again I saw huge multitudes who filled the horizon. It was then said to me: These are your nation. Along with them, seventy-thousand shall enter Paradise without reckoning or punishment.’3 An addition to the above states: ‘I asked my Lord for increase, so He increased it. Thus with every thousand there would be another seventy-thousand, plus three measures [lit. scoops] from His measures.’4

7 – Taking the above hadith at face value will yield a figure of 4.9 million people who shall enter Paradise without reckoning or accountability. And that is not factoring in the extra ‘three measures of His measures (thalathu hathayat min hathayatihi).’ Scholars explain that a hathyah; a ‘measure’ refers to scooping up a large or generous amount of something.5 In the above context, it’s a reference to God taking three large ‘scoops’ of people, besides the 4.9 million, and entering them into Paradise without reckoning. And that’s just those who enter without accountability. How many more millions shall enter after their reckoning? And yet it is not uncommon to find salafis who dogmatically believe that only they and their tiny group, and perhaps ten or twenty other small cliques like them around the world, are the privileged few and the saved sect! If the sahabi who thought it could be seven hundred thousand rather than seventy thousand, is correct, then the matter is even more staggering.6

8 – One final point about the numbers issue. Scholars explain that the ummah is divided into three categories: the rightly-guiding scholars; the lay people who are followers of their scholars; and the real innovators who oppose the way of right guidance, who prescribe in religion that which Allah hasn’t legislated, and who oppose the collective agreement of the scholars after the proofs have been established upon them. The first group is always a minority in every age; the second, the great majority; whilst the third (i.e. actual innovators) is minuscule in number. This is not to say that innovations, deviant practices and false ideas aren’t to be found among the Muslim masses. Instead, it is insisting that even though this is indeed the case, unintentionally falling into innovations (while not intending to contradict scholarly teachings) is not the same as being an out and out innovator. Orthodox theology states: laysa kullu man waqa‘a fi’l-bid‘ah sara mubtadi‘ – ‘Not everyone who falls into innovation becomes an innovator due to it.’ So if such people aren’t of the seventy-two innovated sects, then they are – and all praise is for Allah – from the saved sect.7

9 – Why does all this matter? There are a few reasons. The obvious one is that it is absolutely haram to label people as innovators when they are not. ‘Whoever accuses a believer of what he is not, Allah will cause him to dwell in the pus of the inhabitants of Hellfire and not leave till he retracts what he said,’ states one hadith.8 Another reason is that once the psyche has been poisoned by the belief that most of the ummah is deviant, such people will always be a menace to the Muslims; always agitated with them and viewing them with various degrees of disdain. Once Satan gets this far, he secretes into such hearts the deadly poison of conceit, given how such people are so self-righteously assured in their saved-sect complex. True religion calls us to become better people: false religion tells us that this has already occurred.9 Perhaps the biggest reason why this should matter, though, is that it causes the soul to harbour bad suspicion about Allah, imagining He has misguided all but a handful of people in the ummah’s life, despite it being the most honoured ummah in His sight.

II

10 – Now to the actual nub of what makes orthodoxy orthodoxy; of what makes someone a genuine follower of the salaf. Ibn Taymiyyah says: ‘The hallmark of these [innovated] sects is their splitting from the Book, Sunnah and scholarly consensus (ijma‘). But whoever speaks according to the Book, the Sunnah and the scholarly consensus is from ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah.’ Now while Imam Ibn Taymiyyah does have a few isolated and erroneous opinions in matters of theology, this statement of his is not one of them.

11 – Preceding Ibn Taymiyyah by about three centuries, Imam al-Bayhaqi stated towards the end of his work on theology and creed: ‘We have already stated in the book al-Madkhal, and elsewhere, that the blameworthy differing (al-khilaf al-madhmum) is whatever differs from the Book, the authentic Sunnah, or a scholarly consensus.’10 In other words, what counts is the principle of being in conformity with the Qur’an, Sunnah and ijma‘. Those who affirm the principle are of the saved sect; ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah: those who reject it are not. It is, in abstract, as straightforward as that.

12 – So vital to orthodoxy are these three sources, that Ibn Taymiyyah says: ‘The religion of the Muslims is built on following the Book of Allah, the Sunnah of His Prophet ﷺ and what the ummah is united upon. These three are infallible fundamentals (usul ma‘sumah).’11 That the Book and the Sunnah are infallible sources is well understood by most Muslims. As for the unanimous agreement of the scholars, or ijma‘, then its infallibility is taken from the hadith: ‘Indeed, Allah will never unite my ummah upon misguidance.’12 Which is to say, when the scholars of the ummah collectively agree on a point of religion, it is always right and right guidance.

13 – Thus more than just a cliché; more than a claim; more than even a name, the saved-sect (al-firqat al-najiyah) is identified with what may be termed as ijma‘ theology: a set of beliefs and practices rooted in the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the consensus (ijma‘) of the Muslims scholars. Issues wherein a consensus exists constitute the fundamentals (usul) of Islamic orthodoxy, from which it is unlawful to differ. In fact, differing from the usul is actually iftiraq, or splitting from orthodoxy. As for those issues which are open to more than one legitimate scholarly reading or interpretation, or wherein no actual consensus exists, they are not part of orthodoxy’s usul. Instead, they constitute the furu‘ – the detailed rulings – where legitimate differing stemming from qualified, scholarly ijtihad aren’t just tolerated, they are positively celebrated.

14 – Two last points about ijma‘. According to Ibn Taymiyyah: ‘The ijma‘ that is [most] accurately ascertainable is what the pious salaf were agreed upon; for after them differences increased and the ummah dispersed.’13 Ibn Taymiyyah isn’t denying the validity of consensus after the age of the salaf, as some think. He’s just saying that ascertaining points of ijma‘ from later scholars is trickier than it is when scholars were less scattered across the world; as was the case during the age of the salaf. A side point: When Ibn Taymiyyah opposes an ijma‘, it’s not an opposition to the principle. It’s because he believes there is no sound ijma‘ on the issue; that the claim of an ijma‘ is mistaken (for which he is either right or wrong in his ijtihad judgement).

15 – Secondly, some have taken the words of Imam Ahmad: man idda‘a’l-ijma‘ fa huwa kadhib – ‘Whoever claims consensus has lied,’14 and thinks this means he rejected the concept of ijma‘. This, however, is false. His words were said in context of certain innovators (al-Marisi and al-Asamm, as the rest of the report clarifies) falsely claiming an ijma‘ where none exists. So Imam Ahmad sternly warned against recklessly citing an ijma‘. Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said: ‘He said it by way of rebuking the Mu‘tazilite jurists who would [falsely] claim an ijma‘ of the people for what they were espousing. Yet they were the people least aware about the opinions of the sahabah and the tabi‘un.’15

16 – If we add to this the fact that Imam Ahmad himself reported an ijma‘ on various issues, this is proof writ large that he held ijma‘ to be authoritative. So, for example, Abu Dawud narrates: Imam Ahmad said to someone that reciting al-Fatihah behind the imam is particularised by the verse: When the Qur’an is recited, listen to it and pay heed. [Q.7:204] The person inquired: Who says this? Imam Ahmad said: Ajma‘a al-nas anna hadhihi’l-ayah fi’l-salat – ‘People have a consensus that this verse is about the Prayer.’16 Also, when he was asked as to where he took the opinion that the takbirs for ‘Id commence from the Day of ‘Arafah till the last day of Tashriq, he said: ‘By the ijma‘ of ‘Umar, ‘Ali, ‘Abd Allah b. Mas‘ud and ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Abbas.’17 Further evidence of Imam Ahmad’s use of ijma‘ is presented by Qadi Abu Ya‘la in his book on Hanbali legal theory.18

17 – Why should this matter? Well Ibn Taymiyyah rightly says about these three infallible fundamentals: ‘Ijma‘ is the third fundamental which is relied upon in affairs of knowledge and faith. With these three fundamentals they weigh-up all that people say or do, inwardly and outwardly, in terms of religion.’19 Now whenever an individual or group is unclear about ijma‘ theology, they will have the wrong tools to weigh-up what is an orthodox view from a heterodox one; an Islamic stance from the Islamic stance; legitimate differing from blameworthy splitting; ikhtilaf from iftiraq. Any issue about which there is an ijma‘ becomes part of orthodoxy. It becomes the Islamic view; and differing from it after being reliably informed that it runs counter to a consensus is the unlawful sectarian type of splitting (iftiraq). Where there is no ijma‘, only valid scholarly differing based on qualified ijtihad, then it is haram to split the ummah in such issues. And yet, attacking valid ijtihadi views where no ijma‘ exists (be it on a point of ‘aqidah, fiqh, or judgements on individuals in respect to their orthodoxy or not) and considering people to be dodgy due to them following a different scholarly ijtihad, has become something of a calling card for today’s salafi movement. So to know the role of ijma’ in defining Sunni orthodoxy is crucial. Without it, one is likely to end up being an enemy to the awliya and a plague of untold fitnahs for this blessed ummah.

18 – Given that iftiraq, or splitting from ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah, just occurs in the all-important fundamentals (usul): those issues that are underpinned by an ijma‘; and given also that ikhtilaf arising from qualified scholarly ijtihad is from the branches (furu‘) of the religion, then it is not permissible to label any Muslim an innovator, except if he opposes one or more of these great usul. Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: ‘This is why the scholars of Islam concur upon declaring as an innovator one who contravenes the likes of these usul, contrary to someone who differs in issues of ijtihad.’20

III

19 – So where does following the salaf, or being salafi, fit into all this? Well we began with Ibn Taymiyyah pin-pointing the core feature of the innovated sects: their splitting from ijma‘ theology. Elsewhere, he says: ‘It should be known that the hallmark of the innovators is their forsaking ascription to the salaf.21 Thus the two traits boil down to the same thing: forsaking ascription to the ijma‘ of the salaf. Thus, whatever the salaf agreed upon constitutes the madhhab (‘path’ or ‘school’) of the salaf and deserves to be called the salafi way – the way that the salaf took as a united body. And this is what scholars like al-Dhahabi meant by their statement: ‘Salafi: one who is upon the way of the salaf (man kana ‘ala madhhab al-salaf).’22

20 – As for what the salaf differed in, then there is no one unified path, there is no salafi way; there is just legitimate differences of opinion. Those qualified in the juristic art of weighing-up proof-texts (i.e. tarji‘) do so, following the stance they believe is soundest. Those who aren’t just follow a scholar who they trust: Ask the people of knowledge if you do not know. [Q.21:7] Since this is a matter for which there is no agreement of the salaf, no ijma‘, so therefore no salafi way. They aren’t matters that defines what is or isn’t the saved-sect. If some people insist on calling such splitting over ijtahidi issues salafiyyah or Salafism, then it is undeniably false Salafism, not true Salafism.

21 – Regrettably, this one simple piece of understanding has been lost on most salafis, with tragic consequences for Muslim social harmony, and bitter fruits for personal spiritual growth. There’s no joy in declaring that the list of ijtihadi issues over which salafis split from other Muslims is painfully long. Aversion to using tasbih beads, making du‘a to Allah through tawassul bi’l-nabi, honouring the 15th night of Sha‘ban with extra worship, dhikr repetitions not specified in the texts, or gifting the rewards of reciting the Qur’an to the deceased have all been turned into fault lines, benchmarks or imtihan-inquisitions, to determine who is or is not a follower of the salaf – despite such issues being the opinion of some, or the majority, of the salaf. And while there are a few salafis who do not split on such issues, the reality is that most do (and as the juristic maxim says: al-hukm ‘ala’l-aghlab – ‘The ruling is upon what is predominant’). And that, as the saying goes, is just the tip of the iceberg.

22 – Writing of how a believer’s loyalty and enmity can only be centred around the usul, or agreed-upon issues, Ibn Taymiyyah says: ‘It is not for anyone to set up for the ummah an individual – calling to his way, and forming loyalty or enmity around him – save if it be the Prophet ﷺ. Nor may any speech be set up for them around which loyalty or enmity is formed, except if it be the Speech of Allah and His Messenger, or what the ummah has agreed upon. Rather, this is from the practices of the innovators; those who ascribe themselves to a specific person or opinion, creating divisions in the ummah due to it; and basing their loyalty and enmity around such an opinion or ascription.’23 But isn’t this what false Salafism does? Hasn’t it taken the opinion of a scholar, or a few scholars, despite other qualified scholars differing, and divided the ummah over it? Does it not often label those who disagree with them in legitimate ijtihadi matters as being innovators; if not, then treating them as innovators are treated? Doesn’t it, as a frequent policy, assert, even in issues for which no ijma‘ exists that, ‘You are either with us, or against us?’ Honesty, justice and sincere introspection is what godliness demands here.

23 – Again, speaking about sectarianism and factionalism, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah remarked: ‘How is it permitted for the ummah of Muhammad ﷺ to divide and differ to the extent that a person aligns himself with one faction and is hostile to another, based upon conjecture or caprice, without a decisive proof from Allah. Indeed, Allah and His Prophet ﷺ are free of those who act in this manner. This is the behaviour of the innovators, like the Khawarij, who split the unity of the Muslims and made permissible the blood of those who opposed them.’24 It’s the hallmark of false Salafism too, except that while most salafis today categorically denounce violent extremism or shedding peoples’ blood, so many have made it their mission to attack peoples’ honour. Even the moderate salafis, who may not use the salafi label, can often have a skewed view of ijma‘ theology, and therefore of what is or isn’t a ‘dodgy’ opinion.

24 – Wasn’t this the point Ibn ‘Uthaymin was trying to make, when he said: ‘As for taking Salafism to be a specific method which singles-out particular people, and considers as deviant any Muslim who differs from it, even if the truth is with the latter – making Salafism into a partisan thing – then there is no doubt at all that this is contrary to Salafism … However, some people that have taken the salafi approach in the present time declare anyone who differs with them, even if the truth be with the latter, to be misguided. Some have taken it to be a method of partisanship … Look at the way of the pious salaf and what they did in terms of their methodology, and the openness of their hearts in regards to differing, in that which ijtihad is permitted … So Salafism, with the meaning of a specific party, with specific distinctions, where other than them are seen as deviant, then we say: they are not from Salafism in the least.’?25

25 – Why does all this matter? Well while the intention to follow the salaf is a truly noble one, it’s best to keep in mind these words of Ibn Mas‘ud: wa kam min muridin li’l-khayr lan yusibahu: ‘How many people intend good, yet never reach it.’26 Ibn Taymiyyah has some poignant remarks here too: ‘Many of the later people do not know the reality of the speech of the salaf and the leading scholars. Of them are those who revere the salaf and say that they follow them, but then oppose them in ways they do not realise.’27 To err here and there is one thing. But nose diving into the myths, schisms and authoritarian claims of false Salafism is another thing entirely.

IV

26 – So what is true Salafism? By as early as the fourth …

 … The remainder of this crucial discussion is given in Part 2. In it, I’ll address the following: the distinction between true Salafism and false Salafism; how today’s Salafism differs from the original, classical idea of the madhhab of the salaf, of how it came to be steadily constructed from the 1920’s onwards; how Salafism’s intolerance grew and grew the more and more its scope widened to beyond ‘aqidah and issues of ijma‘; who devised the idea of the salafi manhaj during the mid twentieth century; why the goal posts moved from madhhab of the salaf to salafi manhaj; and how might one stop blurring the lines between true Salafism and the false one.

Wa’Llahu a‘lam wa bihi al-tawfiq.

1. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 3:345-6.

2. Cited in al-Tirmidhi, no.2167, in his gloss to the hadith: ‘God will never unite my ummah upon misguidance, and the hand of God is over the jama‘ah.’

3. Al-Bukhari, no.5752.

4. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2437, saying that the hadith is hasan gharib.

5. Cf. al-Mubarakpuri, Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi bi Sharh Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1990), 7:129.

6. As per al-Bukhari, no.3247.

7. See: Maqbali, al-‘Alam al-Shamikh fi Ithar al-Haqq ‘ala’l-Aba wa’l-Mashayikh (Egypt: n.p., 1910), 417-18.

8. Ahmad, no.5385. Its chain was graded sahih in al-Arna’ut (ed), Musnad Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (Beirut: Ma’assasah al-Risalah, 1996), 9:283.

9. Mirroring Murad, Contentions, 2/11. 

10. Al-I‘tiqad wa’l-Hidayatu ila Sabil al-Rashad (Damascus: al-Yamamah, 2002), 354.

11. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 20:164.

12. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2167. The hadith, with its collective chains, is sahih. See: al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.1848.

13. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 3:157.

14. As per: Masa’il al-Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal Riwayat Ibnihi ‘Abd Allah b. Ahmad (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1981), 439; no.1587.

15. Cited in al-Mardawi, al-Tahbir Sharh al-Tahrir (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Rushd, 2000), 4:1528-9.

16. Masa’il Imam Ahmad Riwayat Abi Dawud (Maktabah Ibn Taymiyyah, 1999), 48; no.223.

17. Quoted in Qadi Abu Ya‘la, al-‘Uddah fi Usul al-Fiqh (Riyadh: Jami‘ah al-Imam Muhammad b. Sa‘ud, 1993), 4:1060-63.

18. ibid., 4:1058-64.

19. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 3:157.

20. ibid., 4:425.

21. ibid., 4:155.

22. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1993), 5:21.

23. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 20:164.

24. ibid., 3:419.

25. Liqa’at al-Bab al-Maftuh (Saudi Arabia: Mu’assasah Shaykh Muhammad b. Salah al-‘Uthaymin, 2016), 3:242; no.1322.

26. Al-Darimi, Sunan (Karachi: Qadami Kutub Khanah, n.d.), 1:79-80, no.204.

27. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 12:87.

Are We Forgetting Allah Amidst All the Noise, Gossip & Chatter?

‘ABD ALLAH B. ‘AWN (d.151H), one of Islam’s early pietists, said: « ذِكْرُ النَّاسِ دَاءٌ، وَذِكْرُ اللهِ دَوَاءٌ » – ‘Remembrance of people is a malady, while the remembrance of God is a remedy.’

After citing these words, Imam al-Dhahabi proclaimed with jubilant caution:

إِي وَاللهِ، فَالعَجَبَ مِنَّا وَمِنْ جَهْلِنَا كَيْفَ نَدَعُ الدَّوَاءَ وَنَقْتَحِمُ الدَّاءَ؟ قَالَ اللهُ تعالى: ﴿فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ﴾ ، ﴿وَلَذِكْرُ اللهِ أَكْبَرُ﴾ ، ﴿الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللهِ أَلاَ بِذِكْرِ اللهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ ﴾. وَلَكِنْ لاَ يَتَهَيَّأُ ذَلِكَ إِلاَّ بِتَوْفِيقِ اللهِ، وَمَنْ أدْمَنَ الدُّعَاءَ وَلاَزَمَ قَرْعَ البَابِ فُتِحَ لَهُ

‘Yes, by God! Yet it is odd how, in our ignorance, we ignore the cure and race to the disease. For God, exalted is He, says: Remember Me and I will remember you. [Q.2:152] And also: But the remembrance of God is greater. [Q.29:45] And: Those who have faith and whose hearts find tranquility in the remembrance of God. For in the remembrance of God do hearts find tranquility. [Q.13:28] But this will not be attainable, except with God’s enabling grace (tawfiq). So whoever persists in supplication and on knocking at the door, it shall be opened for him.’1

Most of what people say today can probably be put into the malady category, as opposed to the remedy one. So much of what passes as conversation nowadays is either words of dislike, spite or contempt of others, in the form of backbiting, slander or tale-carrying; or it is expressions of greed, vice, self-infatuation and self-love; or words that are pointless or meaningless, which are said simply for the sake of saying something.

Both the Qur’an and the Sunnah teach us to be economical with our tongue and to think twice before we utter anything. Among the many verses which urge us with respect to hifz al-lisan, or ‘guarding the tongue’, are the following: And the Book [of deeds] will be placed and you shall see the sinners fearful of that which is [inscribed] in it. They shall say: ‘Woe to us! What kind of book is this that omits nothing small or great, but all is noted down?’ They will find all that they did put before them, and your Lord wrongs no one. [Q.18:49] And more specifically: Not a word does he utter except it is noted down by a vigilant scribe. [Q.50:18] And while estimates vary a lot, there are credible claims to suggest we utter 7,000 words a day! That’s a lot of words, bearing in mind: Two scribes, sitting on his right and his left, are recording [everything]. [Q.50:17]

One hadith informs: ‘Let he who believes in Allah and the Last Day either speak good or keep silent.’2 Another cautions: ‘Is there anything that topples people on their faces (or their noses) into Hell, other than the harvests of their tongues?’3 Given such a dire upshot, it won’t come as a surprise, then, that the Prophet ﷺ also instructed: ‘Speak good and be enriched, or else refrain from speaking evil, and be safe.’4

We live in a noisy, chatty, cacophonic world, made even chattier by the arrival of the Internet and of mobile phones. We need to cultivate a degree of discipline so as to resist the urge to join in any and every chat. Islam wants us to cultivate a habit of retreating from conversations that are pointless, untruthful, ungodly and not beneficial. It teaches us to be, for the most part, silent and not to speak except when there is a benefit in doing so. And whilst we might be excused for some light chat or a little idle chatter, gossiping about people is usually wholly unbecoming of a believer; and doing so by way of bad mouthing others, or out of a devilish desire to cause schisms or tension between people, is ugly, ungodly and outright sinful.

However we retreat from too much talking, especially negative or meaningless remembrance of others (celebrities, work colleagues, family, neighbours, etc.), and however we begin to turn the volume down around us as well as in us, we can start to heal and become whole. The Prophet ﷺ once said: ‘The loners have taken the lead.’ On being asked who these loners (mufarridun) were, he replied: ‘Those men and women who remember God abundantly.’5 He ﷺ also said: ‘Let not your tongue cease to be moist with the remembrance of God.’6 Thus as ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Awn stated, as we wrestle ourselves away from the grip of gossip, idle chatter, and sinful speech; as we retreat from the malady, we are able to make space in our souls for God’s remembrance and thus be bathed in tranquility and the beautiful remedy.

Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 6:369.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.6475; Muslim, no.47.

3. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2616, saying: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’

4. Al-Quda‘i, Musnad, no.666; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, no.7774. It was graded sahih in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.412.

5. Muslim, no.2676.

6. Ahmad, no.17227; al-Tirmidhi, no.3372, who said that the hadith is hasan.

On Narcissism: My Oh My! It’s Just Me, Me, Me & I, I, I

Ibn al-Qayyim, may Allah have mercy upon him, wrote:

وَلْيَحْذَرْ كُلَّ الْحَذَرِ مِنْ طُغْيَانِ ’أَنَا‘ ، وَ’لِي‘، وَ’عِنْدِي‘، فَإِنَّ هَذِهِ الْأَلْفَاظَ الثَّلَاثَةَ ابْتُلِيَ بِهَا إِبْلِيسُ وَفِرْعَوْن، وَقارُوْن، (فَأَنَا خَيْرٌ مِنْهُ) لِإِبْلِيسَ، وَ (لِي مُلْكُ مِصْرَ) لِفِرْعَوْن، وَ (إِنَّمَا أُوتِيتُهُ عَلَى عِلْمٍ عِنْدِي) لِقارُوْن. 

وَأَحْسَنُ مَا وُضِعَتْ ’أَنَا‘ فِي قَوْلِ الْعَبْدِ: أَنَا الْعَبْدُ الْمُذْنِبُ ، الْمُخْطِئُ، الْمُسْتَغْفِرُ، الْمُعْتَرِفُ . وَنَحْوِهِ : ’لِي‘، فِي قَوْلِهِ: لِيَ الذَّنْبُ ، وَ’لِيَ‘ الْجُرْمُ ، وَلِيَ الْمَسْكَنَةُ، وَلِيَ الْفَقْرُ ، وَالذُّلُّ . و’عِنْدِي‘ ، فِي قَوْلِهِ: اغْفِرْ لِي جِدِّي ، وَهَزْلِي ، وَخَطَئِي ، وَعَمْدِي ، وَكُلَّ ذَلِكَ عِنْدِي.

‘Beware of the tyranny of “I”, “mine” or “me”. For Iblis, Pharaoh and Korah were put to trial by these three words. “I am better than him” [Q.7:12] was Iblis’ [trial]. “Is not mine the sovereignty of Egypt?” [Q.43:51] was Pharaoh’s. And: “I have been given it only on account of my knowledge” [Q.28:78] was Korah’s.

‘The best place for “I” is when a person says: “I am a sinful, wrong, repentant, confessing servant” or its like. And “mine” when he says: “Mine is the sin, the crime, the poverty, the indigence and the shame.” And “me’ in his saying: “[O Allah] forgive me for the sins I have done intentionally and in jest, mistakenly or deliberately; for I have done all of that.”’1

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a young man who was incredibly beautiful. Many fell in love with him, but he responded to their affections with scorn and contempt. Once while walking in the woods, Narcissus saw his own reflection in a pool of water and fell in love with it. His fixation with his own beauty led him to eventually commit suicide when he realised he couldn’t have his object of desire. It is from his name that we get the word, narcissism – an obsessive, egotistical admiration with one’s own self or self-importance.

A narcissist does more than just monopolise the conversation. A narcissist is a person who feels a false sense of entitlement, constantly needs other people to praise and admire them, be jealous of others, or someone who lacks empathy for others because of being totally absorbed with his or her egotistical self. Me, me me, or I, I, I are the usual tell-tale signs of narcissism. Psychologists speak of various types of narcissistic personality disorders. There’s the toxic narcissist who is always causing drama in the lives of others, constantly demanding to be the centre of attention and upset when they are not. Or there is the bullying narcissists who take great pleasure in mocking people and putting them down, so they can feel smug about their own selves. And then there’s the exhibitionist narcissist who has no shame in letting everyone around him know that he is a narcissist.

Social media is the opium of the narcissists. In terms of teaching or preaching Islam, YouTube seems to be awash with Muslim narcissists, particularly when it comes to refutation culture. – i.e. Muslims attempting to refute or rebut other Muslims on some religious point or another. Instead of rooting such criticisms or correctives in sincerity; sound scholarly research; following the Islamic rules of criticism; fulfilling the trust of quoting the words of the one being rebutted accurately and in context; not transgressing the rights of the one being refuted; and giving them room to retract their mistake and return to the truth, we have a carnival of characters who show little of this, content with being narcissistic exhibitionists and show-offs. Such are the fruits of giving up on godliness. Such is the blindness and deadly poison of the I, I, I or me, me, me culture; may Allah save us from ourselves.

The cure, as Ibn al-Qayyim stated above, is to acknowledge that the I and me is swimming in a cesspit of sin and ignorance, and that the best place for my I or me is to confess with as much humility and sincerity as can be mustered that: I know very little about Islam such that I could be one of its guardians; and that may Allah forgive me my sins and speech about His religion without sufficient knowledge, and save me from the blazing Fire.

Amin!

1. Zad al-Ma‘ad (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 4:434-35.

Adab’s Golden Rule & Its Minimum Rule

SHAYKH ‘ABD AL-QADIR AL-JILANI’S “golden rule” is the height we must aspire to in how to be sincerely devoted to God, intending only His good pleasure without others sharing in our worship of Him; and how to be of sincere service to people:

كُنْ مَعَ الْحَقِّ بِلا خَلْقٍ وَ مَعَ الْخَلْقِ بِلا نَفْس

‘Be with God without people, and with people without ego’1

While Yahya b. Mu’adh al-Razi’s “minimum rule” is the baseline we must not fall below in our adab and dealing with others:

لِيَكُنْ حَظُّ الْمُؤْمِنِ مِنْكَ ثَلاَثاً: إِنْ لَمْ تَنْفَعْهُ فَلاَ تَضُرَّهُ، وَإِنْ لَمْ تُفَرِّحْهُ فَلاَ تَغُمَّهُ، وَإِنْ لَمْ تَمْدَحْهُ فَلاَ تَذُمَّهُ 

‘Let your dealings 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’2

In both cases, spiritual ambition and desiring to be people of real beauty is key. Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. As cited in Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2008), 3:107.

2. As per Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Jami’ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:283.

Taking Money to Teach Islam: Is It Lawful?

Imam Ibn Taymiyyah mentioned a golden principle about taking payment for acts of worship. As part of his reply about whether it is permitted to charge a fee to perform pilgrimage on someone else’s behalf (hajj al-badal), he stipulated this rule:

أَنْ يَأْخُذَ لِيَحُجَّ لا أَنْ يَحُجَّ لِيَأْخُذَ

‘He may take [payment] to [help him] perform the pilgrimage; he may not perform the pilgrimage just to take [payment].’1

He went on to explain that:

هَذَا فِي جَمِيعِ الأَرْزَاقِ الْمَأْخُوذَةِ عَلَى عَمَلٍ صَالِحٍ  … فَفَرْقٌ بَيْنَ مَنْ يَكُونُ الدِّينُ مَقْصُودَهُ وَالدُّنْيَا وَسِيلَةٌ وَمَنْ تَكُونُ الدُّنْيَا مَقْصُودَهُ وَالدِّينُ وَسِيلَةٌ . وَالأَشْبَهُ أَنَّ هَذَا لَيْسَ لَهُ فِي الآخِرَةِ مِنْ خَلاقٍ .

‘This applies to all wealth one takes so as to undertake a righteous action … There is a difference between one who makes religion his goal and the world his means, and one who makes the world his goal and religion his means – the likes of this [latter person] will have no share in the Hereafter.’2

Ibn Taymiyyah’s words apply to those religiously qualified taking money to teach religion. But there’s a big difference between someone who puts receiving money at the heart of their ta‘lim affairs, and one who, although in financial difficulty, puts it at the periphery. Again, what a difference between one who says: “I will not do a talk unless I’m given this or that sum of money,” and one who says: “I cannot do a talk unless I’m given some money.” If the intention is corrupted by money matters, if the niyyah isn’t solely for God, the act is invalid and sinful – and each person is a vendor of their own soul. For: ‘Two ravenous wolves let loose amongst some sheep do less harm than craving after wealth or status does to a person’s religion,’3 said the Prophet ﷺ.

As to the question of charging extortionate fees or exorbitant honorariums for teaching or da‘wah – a serpent that is now in the garden – with what good faith can that be justified? Of course, what is or isn’t exorbitant is up for discussion. Of course, large organisations will have far greater overheads. Of course, quality produced books, translations and media productions are more costlier. Of course, we have a collective duty to assist the ulema‘. And of course, we must thank those organisations that have helped up the ante in terms of the ethos of excellence and professionalism they have brought to the teaching and da‘wah. All such matters are, hopefully, not in question. It’s simply that while many have sacrificed well-paid jobs in secular arenas for a lesser (or even no) salary in the Islamic field, some teachers and preachers are acting rather unbecomingly when it comes to the question of financial remuneration. That’s a shame, as well as shameful. Is it even lawful for event organisers funded by the public to misuse monies given to them on trust, by forking out such sums on such speakers; or to do so without public awareness of how their money is being misspent? Sincerity – stripping ourselves of all motives other than seeking the face of God – lies at the heart of the matter, as does following the shari‘ah ruling on how public money entrusted to organisations should be spent.

Wa bi‘Llahi’l-tawfiq.

1. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 26:19.

2. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 26:19-20.

3. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2376, who said: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’

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