The Humble I

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

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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.’

Revisiting the Sensitive Question of Islamic Orthodoxy

For much of Islamic history, the question of who embodies the majoritarian orthodox path of ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah has been rather contentious. One view holds that it is only the Atharis [Salafis] that are orthodox, with the Ash‘aris and Maturidis being the closest of the heterodox Muslim sects to ahl al-sunnah. Another view is that it is only the Ash‘aris and Maturidis who represent Islamic orthodoxy. Some, like the Hanbali jurist Imam al-Safarini, extended the net as follows:

أَهْلُ السُّنَّةِ وَالْجَمَاعَةِ ثَلَاثُ فِرَقٍ الْأَثَرِيَّةُ وَإِمَامُهُمْ أَحْمَدُ بْنُ حَنْبَلٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ وَالْأَشْعَرِيَّةُ وَإِمَامُهُمْ أَبُو الْحَسَنِ الْأَشْعَرِيُّ رَحِمَهُ اللَّهُ وَالْمَاتُرِيدِيَّةُ وَإِمَامُهُمْ أَبُو مَنْصُورٍ الْمَاتُرِيدِيُّ.

Ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah is three groups: Atharis, whose leader is Ahmad b. Hanbal, may Allah be pleased with him; Ash‘aris, whose leader is Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash‘ari, may Allah have mercy on him; and Maturidis, whose leader is Abu Mansur al-Maturidi.’1

Yet how can it be three sects, when the hadith clearly speaks of one saved-sect? Well, in this broader view of ahl al-sunnah, the Atharis, Ash‘aris and Maturidis aren’t looked upon as different sects, but different ‘orientations’ or ‘schools’ with the same core tenets. And since all three ‘orientations’ consent to the integrity and authority of the Sunnah and that of the Companions, and to ijma‘ – contrary to the seventy-two other sects – they are all included under the banner of ahl al-sunnah. Differences between them may either be put down to semantics, variations in the branches of the beliefs (furu‘ al-i‘tiqad), or to bonafide errors of ijtihad.

Given that the Athari creed represents the earliest, purest form of the beliefs of ahl al-sunnah, there is a valid argument to be made by those who say that it should be preferred when there is a disparity between the three schools. For who besides the Atharis were ahl al-sunnah before the conversion of al-Ash‘ari to Sunni orthodoxy or the birth of al-Maturidi?

Having said that, the fact is that after the rise and establishment of the Ash‘ari and Maturidi schools, one would be hard pressed to find a jurist, hadith master, exegist or grammarian who was not a follower of one of these two schools. Historically, and in short: Hanafis have been Maturidis, all except a few; Malikis and Shafi‘is have been Ash‘aris, all save a few; and Hanbalis have been Atharis, all but a few.

And Allah knows best.

1. Al-Safarini, Lawami‘ al-Anwar al-Bahiyyah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1991), 1:73.

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