The Humble I

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

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Adab: Being People of Beauty

Vaping-Etiquette.jpg‘Pious character, refined behaviour and moderation constitute one of seventy parts of prophethood,’ said the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. [Al-Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad, no.468] Another hadith records the Prophet, peace be upon him, as saying: ‘Nothing is heavier in a believer’s scales on Judgement Day than beautiful character.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.2003] Yet another links beautiful character and conduct with strong faith: ‘The most perfect of believers in faith are those with the best characters.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.1162]

As Muslims see it, Islam is a way of life, a din, infused with the importance of beautiful conduct and moral exemplification, best represented by the lives of prophets and saints. But being possessed of moral virtues isn’t confined to the great ones of the past; it is expected of believers in the present too. The notion of beautiful conduct or cultivated behaviour – in contrast to that deemed crass, vulgar or ugly – is gathered in that genre of knowledge termed “adab”.

The Arabs say:  adaba ila taamihi – ‘He invited [others] to his banqueting feast.” From it comes the idea of adab being an “invitation” to partake of whatever is virtuous or praiseworthy. In its religious sense, adab is a call to acquire virtuous traits. Adab, then, carries with it the sense of civility, courtesy, politeness, refined manners, and cultured breeding or upbringing, and excellent manners. Throughout the ages of Islam, adab was that type of learning acquired for the sake of living beautifully; for adab relates to what a person should know, should be, and should do so as to perfect the art of living. It says in one hadith: ‘Indeed, God is beautiful and loves beauty.’ [Muslim, no.91]

What follows is an extract from a commentary to the acclaimed Hanbali adab-poem, Manzumat al-Adab of Ibn ‘Abd al-Qawi (d.699H/1300CE). This particular commentary was written by the even more acclaimed Hanbali jurist-author, Imam al-Hajjawi (d.968H/1561CE). Author of the celebrated Hanbali fiqh text, al-Iqna‘ and its abridgement, Zad a-Mustaqni‘, al-Hajjawi served as mufti of the Hanbali school in Damascus during his age. He says as part of his gloss to the adab-poem:

يُقَالُ مَثَلُ الْإِيمَانِ كَمَثَلِ بَلْدَةٍ لَهَا خَمْسُ حُصُونٍ : ، الْأَوَّلُ مِنْ ذَهَبٍ ، وَالثَّانِي مِنْ فِضَّةٍ ، وَالثَّالِثُ مِنْ حَدِيدٍ ، وَالرَّابِعُ مِنْ آجُرٍّ ، وَالْخَامِسُ مِنْ لَبَنٍ ، فَمَا زَالَ أَهْلُ الْحِصْنِ مُتَعَاهِدَيْنِ حِصْنَ اللَّبَنِ لَا يَطْمَعُ الْعَدُوُّ فِي الثَّانِي ، فَإِذَا أَهْمَلُوا ذَلِكَ طَمِعُوا فِي الْحِصْنِ الثَّانِي ثُمَّ الثَّالِثِ حَتَّى تَخْرَبَ الْحُصُونُ كُلُّهَا ،

فَكَذَلِكَ الْإِيمَانُ فِي خَمْسِ حُصُونِ الْيَقِينِ ، ثُمَّ الْإِخْلَاصُ ، ثُمَّ أَدَاءُ الْفَرَائِضِ ، ثُمَّ السُّنَنِ ، ثُمَّ حِفِظَ الْآدَابِ ،

فَمَا دَامَ يَحْفَظُ الْآدَابَ وَيَتَعَاهَدُهَا فَالشَّيْطَانُ لَا يَطْمَعُ فِيهِ ، وَإِذَا تَرَكَ الْآدَابُ طَمِعَ الشَّيْطَانُ فِي السُّنَنِ ، ثُمَّ فِي الْفَرَائِضِ ، ثُمَّ فِي الْإِخْلَاصِ ، ثُمَّ فِي الْيَقِينِ .

‘It is said that: The allegory of faith (iman) is as a fortress having five walls. The first [innermost] is made of gold; the second of silver; the third of iron; the fourth, baked bricks; and the fifth [outermost wall] from mud bricks. As long as the inhabitants of the fortress are diligent in guarding the clay wall, the enemy will not set its sights on [attacking] the next wall. But if they become negligent, they will attack the next wall, then the next, until the entire fortress lays in ruins.

‘Likewise, faith is defended by five walls: certainty, then sincerity, next comes fulfilling the obligations, then the recommended acts, and lastly safeguarding beautiful behaviour.

‘Thus, so long as adab is guarded and defended, the devil will not set his sight on it. But if one forsakes it, Satan makes inroads into the sunan, then into the fara’id, then ikhlas, and finally yaqin itself.’1

1. Al-Hajjawi, Sharh Manzumat al-Adab (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2011), 36.

Climbing Mount Taqwa

p010_1_01The Qur’an speaks of God as dhu’l-ma‘arij: Lord of the ascending ways. [Q.70:3] Believers are expected to be climbers, so to speak, 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. The iradah (“will”, “aspiration”, “spiritual ambition”) to find God is, unarguably, the best start. As such, the Qur’an praises those who aspire to the harvest of the Afterlife, [Q.42:20] and who aspire to the face of God. [Q.6:52]

The believer readily acknowledges it is not by his or her own effort that they ascend, but effort – nonetheless – must be put in. The believer seeks to live life in the awareness that one must climb or 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 abiding presence and watchful gaze. No single word in English can adequately capture the full meaning of taqwa – although words like “piety”, “fear of God”, “God-consciousness”, “mindfulness of God” or “guarding against evil” are the usual ways translators have attempted to give life 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. In the Qur’an, we read: God is with those who fear Him. [Q.16:128] And: God loves those who are conscious of Him. [Q.9:4] Also: Whoever fears God, He shall appoint a way out for him, and will provide for him from whence he never expected. [Q.65:2-3] And: For the God-fearing are gardens of delight with their Lord. [Q.68:34]

Having cited these, and other verses on taqwa; and having explained the 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 that distill the levels of taqwa – which, he says, are of five ascending degrees:

دَرَجَاتُ التَّقْوَى خَمْسٌ:

أَنْ يَتَّقِيَ الْعَبْدُ الْكُفْرَ، وَذَلِكَ مَقَامَ الْإِسْلَامِ، وَأَنْ يَتَّقِيَ الْمَعَاصِيَ وَالْحُرُمَاتِ وَهُوَ مَقَامُ التَّوْبَةِ، وَأَنْ يَتَّقِيَ الشُّبُهَاتِ، وَهُوَ مَقَامُ الْوَرَعِ، وَأَنْ يَتَّقِيَ الْمُبَاحَاتِ وَهُوَ مَقَامُ الزُّهْدِ، وَأَنْ يَتَّقِيَ حُضُورَ غَيْرِ اللَّهِ عَلَى قَلْبِهِ، وَهُوَ مَقَامُ الْمُشَاهَدَةِ.

‘The degrees of taqwa are five:

‘[1] That a person guard against disbelief; this is the station of Islam. [2] That one guard against sin and forbidden acts; this is the station of repentance. [3] That one guards against doubtful matters; this is the station of scrupulousness. [4] That one guard against what is lawful [but superfluous]; which is the station of worldly detachment. [5] That one guards the heart against other than God being present in it; this is the station of spiritually witnessing God.’2

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

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

Are We Letting Time Whizz Right Past Us?

as_time_passes_by_____by_d_meImam al-Shafi‘i remarked: ‘Time is like a sword, if you do not cut it, it will cut you.’ He also said: ‘Your soul, if it is not kept busy with the truth, it will busy you in untruths and falsehood.’1

Islam’s “masters of the heart” tell us that filling our lives with works of faith and with service to others is how blessings (barakah) of time is manifested and the journey to God made constant. The jewel in the crown of the journey, and the seeker’s weapon, is remembrance of God (dhikr).

Imam al-Ghazali (d.505H/1111CE) speaks about the need to organise our time and fill it with prayer, charity, dhikr and other award (‘litanies’, ‘regular acts of devotion’) so that our time is blessed and not squandered, and so that we are not cast adrift from the path by dragging our heels or constant procrastination. He writes:

وَلَا يَنْبَغِي أَنْ تَكُونَ اوْقَاتُكَ مُهْمَلَةً فَتَشْتَغِلَ فِي كُلِّ وَقْتٍ بِمَا اتَّفَقَ كَيْفَ اتَّفَقَ، بَلْ يَنْبَغِي أَنْ حَاسِبَ نَفْسَكَ وَتَرِبَ أَوْرَادِكَ فِي لَيْلِكَ وَنَهَارِكَ، وَتُعَيَّنَ لِكُلِّ وَقْتٍ شُغْلًا لَا تَتَعَدَّاهُ، وَلَا تُؤَثِّرُ فِيهِ سِوَاهُ فَبِذَلِكَ تَظْهَرُ بَرَكَةُ الْأَوْقَاتِ. فَأَمَّا إِذَا تَرَكْتَ نَفْسَكَ سُدًى مُهْمَلًا إِهْمَالَ الْبَهَائِمِ لَا تَدْرِي بِمَاذَا تَشْتَغِلُ فِي كُلِّ وَقْتٍ، فَيَنْقَضِي أَكْثَرُ أَوْقَاتِكَ ضَائِعًا، وَأَوْقَاتِكَ عُمْرُكَ، وَعُمْرُكَ رَأْسُ مَالِكٍ، وَعَلَيْهِ تِجَارَتُكَ، وَبِهِ وُصُولُكَ إِلَى نَعِيمِ دَارِ الْأَبَدِ نَفْيُ جِوَارِ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى؛ فَكُلُّ نَفْسٍ مِنْ أَنْفَاسِكَ جَوْهَرَةٌ لَا قِيمَةَ لَهَا؛ نَ إِذْ لَا بَدَلَ لَهُ فَإِذَا فَاتَ فَلَا عَوْدَ لَهُ.

‘You should not waste your time, doing at any moment whatever chances to present itself when it presents itself. Instead, you should take stock of yourself and structure your acts of devotion during each day or night, assigning to each period of time some specific function that is kept to and is not left for something else in that time. In this way the blessing (barakah) of your time will become evident. But if  you leave yourself to drift, aimlessly wandering as cattle do, not knowing what to occupy yourself with at each moment, you will squander most of your time. Your time is your life; your life is your capital through which you spiritually transact [with God] and through which you reach endless bliss in the proximity of God. Every breath you take is a priceless jewel that cannot be replaced. Once it passes, it can never be retrieved.”2

1. Cited in Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Da’ wa’l-Dawa’ (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1998), 239.

2. Bidayat al-Hidayah (Beirut: Dar al-Minhaj, 2004), 120.

Have You Parted Company With the Qur’an?

Tilawah-of-the-Qur_an-Meaning-and-BlessingsThe Prophet ﷺ said: ‘The best of you are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it to others.’1 And then there is this hadith: ‘Verily God elevates a people by this Book and debases others by it.’2

These hadiths probably go some way in explaining why Muslims – and what some still call the Muslim world – are in the plight and predicament they are in. In his work on miscellaneous spiritual benefits entitled, al-Fawa’id, Ibn al-Qayyim describes five ways in which the Qur’an can be ignored, neglected or even deserted! It is only by being aware of these ways can we offer a candid response to: Have we parted company with the Qur’an? So if not the fear of God, then curiosity alone should make this essential reading.

هَجَرُ الْقُرْآنُ أَنْوَاعٌ: 

أَحَدُهَا هَجْرُ سَمَاعُهُ وَالْإِيمَانُ بِهِ وَالْإِصْغَاءُ إِلَيْهِ.

وَالثَّانِي هَجْرُ الْعَمَلُ بِهِ وَالْوُقُوفُ عِنْدَ حَلَالِهِ وَحَرَامِهِ وَإِنْ قَرَأَهُ وَآمَنَ بِهِ.

 وَالثَّالِثُ هَجَرَ تَحْكِيمَهُ وَالتَّحَاكُمُ إِلَيْهِ فِي أُصُولِ الدّينِ وَفُرُوعِهِ وَاعْتِقَادُ أَنَّهُ لَا يُفِيدُ الْيَقِينَ وَأَنَّ أَدِلَّتَهُ لَفْظِيَّةٌ لَا تَحْصّلُ الْعِلْمَ.

وَالرَّابِعُ هَجْرُ تَدَبّرْهُ وَتَفَهّمُهُ وَمَعْرِفَةُ مَا أَرَادَ الْمُتَكَلّمُ بِهِ مِنْهُ.

وَالْخَامِسُ هَجْرُ الِاسْتِشْفَاءَ وَالتَّدَاوِي بِهِ فِي جَمِيعِ أَمْرَاضِ الْقَلْبِ وَأَدْوَائِهَا فَيُطْلَبُ شِفَاءُ دَائِهِ مِنْ غَيْرِهِ وَيَهْجُرُ التَّدَاوِي بِهِ.

وَكُلُّ هَذَا دَاخِلٌ فِي قَوْلِهِ {وَقَالَ الرَّسُولُ يَا رَبِّ إِنَّ قَوْمِي اتَّخَذُوا هَذَا الْقُرْآنَ مَهْجُورًاً } وَإِنْ كَانَ بَعْضُ الْهَجْرِ أَهْوَنَ مِنْ بَعْضٍ.

‘Parting company with the Qur’an is of various types:

‘Firstly, refusing to listen to it and believe in it or to pay any heed to it.

‘Secondly, ceasing to act on it or abide by what it declares as lawful or unlawful, even if one reads it and believes in it.

‘Thirdly, to abandon judging by it or being judged by it, be it in the foundations of the faith or its branches; and to believe that it does not beget certainty or that its textual wordings do not beget sure knowledge.

‘Fourthly, neglecting to ponder over it or comprehend it; not seeking to uncover what the Speaker intended by it.

‘Fifthly, to abandon seeking cure or healing through it in respect to the diseases of the heart and its maladies, but rather to seek healing for such illnesses from other than it.

‘All this is included in God’s words: And the Messenger will say: “O my Lord! My people have abandoned this Qur’an!” [Q.25:30] This being the case, even though certain forms of abandonment are more detestable than others.’3

1. Al-Bukhari, no.5027.

2. Muslim, no.817.

3. Al-Fawa’id (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2008), 118.

How Can Hearts be Softened?

tumblr_mgj2jfodnj1qlubbqo1_500This following piece by Ibn al-Jawzi (d.597H/1200CE) – Hanbali scholar, famous preacher, prolific author – is from his book Sayd al-Khatir. Part meditative, part autobiographical, part exhortational, the book is a rather frank account of his life, works, experiences, achievements, disappointments, hopes, burdens and aspirations. Since it was written over a period of twenty years, it reflects the evolution of his ideas as Ibn al-Jawzi the man, scholar and pietist.

Here we find him reminiscing over how certain types of knowledge can, if the student is not careful, make the heart dry and hard; and how it is critical to keep spiritual company and bathe the soul in the stories of the righteous – if the heart is to be kept “moist”. One of Islam’s enduring pieces of wisdom states: inda dhikri’l-salihin tanzilu’l-rahmah – ‘Upon mentioning the righteous, mercy descends.’ Thus he wrote:

رَأَيْتُ الِاشْتِغَالَ بِالْفِقْهِ وَسَمَاعُ الْحَدِيثِ لَا يَكَادُ يَكْفِي فِي صَلَاحِ الْقَلْبِ؛ إِلَّا أَنْ يُمْزَجَ بِالرَّقَائِقِ، وَالنَّظَرِ فِي سَيْرِ السَّلَفِ الصَّالِحِينَ. فَأَمَّا مُجَرَّدُ الْعِلْمِ بِالْحَلَالِ وَالْحَرَامِ، فَلَيْسَ لَهُ كَبِيرُ عَمَلٍ فِي رِقَّةِ الْقَلْبِ؛ وَإِنَّمَا تَرِقُّ الْقُلُوبُ بِذِكْرِ رَقَائِقِ الْأَحْدِيثِ، وَأَخْبَارِ السَّلَفِ الصَّالِحِينَ؛ لِأَنَّهُمْ تَنَاوَلَا مَقْصُودَ النَّقْلِ، وَخَرَجُوا عَنْ صُوَرِ الْأَفْعَالِ الْمَأْمُورِ بِهَا إِلَى ذَوْقِ مَعَانِيهَا وَالْمُرَادُ بِهَا. وَمَا أَخْبَرْتُكَ بِهَذَا إِلَّا بَعْدَ مُعَالَجَةٍ وَذَوْقٍ، لِأَنِّي وَجَدْتُ جُمْهُورَ الْمُحَدِّثِينَ وَطُلَّابَ الْحَدِيثِ هِمَّةَ أَحَدِهِمْ فِي الْحَدِيثِ الْعَالِي، وَتَكْثِيرِ الْأَجْزَاءِ، وَجُمْهُورُ الْفُقَهَاءِ فِي عُلُومِ الْجَدَلِ، وَمَا يُغَالِبُ بِهِ الْخَصْمُ. وَكَيْفَ يَرِقُّ الْقَلْبُ مَعَ هَذِهِ الْأَشْيَاءِ؟

وَقَدْ كَانَ جَمَاعَةٌ مِنَ السَّلَفِ يَقْصِدُونَ الْعَبْدَ الصَّالِحَ لِلنَّظَرِ إِلَى سَمْتِهِ وَهَدْيِهِ لَا لِاقْتِبَاسِ عِلْمِهِ، وَذَلِكَ أَنَّ ثَمَرَةَ عِلْمِهِ هَدْيَهُ وَسَمْتَهُ. فَافْهَمْ هَذَا، وَامْزِجْ طَلَبَ الْفِقْهِ وَالْحَدِيثَ بِمُطَالَعَةِ سَيْرِ السَّلَفِ وَالزُّهَّادِ فِي الدُّنْيَا، لِيَكُونَ سَبَبًا لِرِقَّةِ قَلْبِكَ.

‘I see that occupying oneself with jurisprudence or learning hadiths is hardly sufficient to rectify the heart, unless one adds to this the reading of heart-melting traditions (raqa’iq) and the study of the lives of the pious predecessors (al-salaf al-salihin). For they reached the objective of the texts and transcended the external form of the prescribed duties to taste their inner meanings and intent. I do not inform you of this save after personal exposure and experience. For I have found that most of the scholars and students of hadith are primarily concerned with attaining the shortest chain of transmission, or to increase the collections of hadiths narrated by a single narrator or dealing with a single theme or subject; while the majority of jurists busy themselves with dialectics or how to win debates. So how can hearts ever be softened by such things?

Previously, groups of the salaf would visit a pious person only to observe his manners and conduct, not to learn knowledge from him. This is because the fruits of knowledge are in one’s manners and conduct; so understand this. So combine learning fiqh and hadith with studying the lives of the salaf and the worldly renunciants, that this may be a cause for your heart to soften.’1

1. Sayd al-Khatir (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 2004), 228.

* Above Photo: The Painted Door, at

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