In the 1970s, there was an advert on TV for a popular brand of moisturising cream.1 The advert sought to show how great the cream was by first showing us a dry autumn leaf which, upon being scrunched in the palm of the hand, crumbled into pieces.
Next came another dry leaf, this time the moisturising cream was applied to it. After it was squeezed, one saw the dry leaf gently unfolding back to its original shape. The message: If this is what the cream can do to a dry leaf, imagine what it could do for your dry or crinkled skin. I suspect many were sold on this moisturiser … including a young, teenage me!
The idea of moistening or revitalising faces and hands also applies to spiritual hearts. For the remembrance of Allah – dhikru’Llah – nourishes and revitalises the heart like nothing else. Indeed, it is its very lifeline. So much so, that Ibn Taymiyyah once made this following comparison:
.الذِكْرُ لِلْقَلْبِ كَالمَاءِ لِلسَّمَك فَكَيفَ يَكُونُ حَالَ السَّمَك اِذَا فَارَقَ المَاء
‘Dhikr is to the heart as water is to a fish. Don’t you see what happens to a fish when it is taken out of water?’2
Islam’s masters of the heart teach us, then, to be constant in remembering Allah and in invoking Him. Consistent dhikr, with the required courtesy or adab towards the One being invoked, is key. As commitment to dhikr grows and deepens, and as souls begin to be illumined by the mention of His holy Name, Allah will cover our weaknesses with His might, cloth our lowliness in His glory, conceal our ignorance with His knowledge, heal the anger of our ego with His clemency, and calm the agitations of our heart with His assurance and serenity; such that one will be given to taste the bliss of the eternal realm whilst still living in this earthly abode.
1. The link to the actual advert was sent to me (via an earlier posting of this piece on my facebook page) courtesy of Paul Williams, and can be seen on his: Blogging Theology.
2. Cited in Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, al-Wabil al-Sayyib (Damascus: Maktabah Dar al-Bayyan, 2006), 93.
Imam al-Hajjawi (d.968H/1561CE) – author of a celebrated Hanbali fiqh text, al-Iqna‘, and its abridgement, Zad a-Mustaqni‘ – wrote the following as part of his commentary to a famous Hanbali adab-poem:
يُقَالُ مَثَلُ الْإِيمَانِ كَمَثَلِ بَلْدَةٍ لَهَا خَمْسُ حُصُونٍ، الْأَوَّلُ مِنْ ذَهَبٍ، وَالثَّانِي مِنْ فِضَّةٍ، وَالثَّالِثُ مِنْ حَدِيدٍ، وَالرَّابِعُ مِنْ آجُرٍّ، وَالْخَامِسُ مِنْ لَبِنٍ، فَمَا زَالَ أَهْلُ الْحِصْنِ مُتَعَاهِدِينَ حِصْنَ اللَّبِنِ لَا يَطْمَعُ الْعَدُوُّ فِي الثَّانِي، فَإِذَا أَهْمَلُوا ذَلِكَ طَمِعُوا فِي الْحِصْنِ الثَّانِي ثُمَّ الثَّالِثِ حَتَّى تَخْرَبَ الْحُصُونُ كُلُّهَا
فَكَذَلِكَ الْإِيمَانُ فِي خَمْسِ حُصُونٍ الْيَقِينُ، ثُمَّ الْإِخْلَاصُ، ثُمَّ أَدَاءُ الْفَرَائِضِ، ثُمَّ السُّنَنُ، ثُمَّ حِفْظُ الْآدَابِ، فَمَا دَامَ يَحْفَظُ الْآدَابَ وَيَتَعَاهَدُهَا فَالشَّيْطَانُ لَا يَطْمَعُ فِيهِ،
وَإِذَا تَرَكَ الْآدَابَ طَمِعَ الشَّيْطَانُ فِي السُّنَنِ، ثُمَّ فِي الْفَرَائِضِ، ثُمَّ فِي الْإِخْلَاصِ، ثُمَّ فِي الْيَقِينِ .
‘It has been said: 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, till the entire fortress lays in ruins.
‘In a similar way, faith is defended by five walls: certainty (yaqin), then comes sincerity (ikhlas), next up is performance of the obligations (ada’ al-fara’id), after which are the recommended acts (sunan), and lastly guarding beautiful behaviour (adab). So long as adab is guarded and defended, the Devil will not find a way in.
‘If, however, adab is neglected, Satan makes inroads into the sunan, then the fara’id, then ikhlas, and finally yaqin itself.’1
Given that ours is an age in which the distinction between halal and haram are being ever more blurred; and given our age also challenges religious conviction and seeks to undermine the foundations of revealed faith, believers must always be on their guard against this encroaching onslaught. Crucial to all this is to ensure we are well-rooted in: knowledge of God, knowledge of Self, and knowledge of Sin.
1. Sharh Manzumat al-Adab (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2011), 36.
Imam Malik was once urged by ‘Abd Allah al-‘Umari – who was given to much worldly detachment (zuhd) – that he ought to devote far more time to spiritual seclusion and to other personal acts of piety. Imam Malik wrote a letter of courtesy to him, offering this piece of wisdom:
إِنَّ الـلَّـهَ تـعـالَـى قَـسَّـمَ الأَعْـمَـالَ كَـمَـا قَـسَّـمَ الأَرْزَاقَ ، فَـرُبَّ رَجُـلٍ فُـتِـحَ لَـهُ في الـصَّـلاةِ وَلَـمْ يُـفْـتَـحْ لَـهُ في الـصَّـوْمِ ، وَآخَـرَ فُـتِـحَ لَـهُ في الـصَّـدَقَـةِ وَلَـمْ يُـفْـتَـحْ لَـهُ في الـصَّـوْمِ ، وَآخَـرَ فُـتِـحَ لَـهُ في الْـجِـهَـادِ , وَنَـشْـرُ الْـعِـلْـمِ مِـنْ أَفْـضَـلِ الأَعْـمَـالِ ، وَقَـدْ رَضِـيـتُ مَـا فُـتِـحَ لِـي فِـيـهِ ، وَمَـا أَظُـنُّ مَـا أَنَـا فِـيـهِ بِـدُونِ مَـا أَنْـتَ فِـيـهِ ، وَأَرْجُـو أَنْ يَـكُـونَ كِـلانَـا عَـلَـى خَـيْـرٍ وَبِـرٍّ.
‘Allah, exalted is He, apportions people’s actions as He apportions their sustenance. So sometimes He grants a spiritual opening to a person in terms of [optional] prayers, but not [optional] fasting. Or He grants an opening in giving charity, but not in fasting. To another, He may grants them an opening for jihad. As for spreading sacred knowledge, that is from the best of deeds, and I am pleased with what Allah has opened to me. Nor do I imagine that what I am engaged in is any less than what you are engaged in; and I hope that both of us are upon goodness and righteousness.’1
Its adab and humility aside, the core lesson from the letter is: When Allah opens a door to being consistent in doing a certain righteous deed, and makes that your main focus, then cling to it and do not give it up for anything else. We should, undoubtedly, have a share of other good deeds too; without them necessarily being our main preoccupation or focus.
Something similar is suggested in a report concerning Ibn Mas‘ud, when he was asked as to why he did not fast optional fasts more frequently. His reply:
.إِنِّـي إِذَا صُـمْـتُ ضَـعُـفْـتُ عَـنْ قِـرَاءَةِ الـقُـرْآنِ , وَقِـرَاءَةُ الـقُـرْآنِ أَحَـبُّ إِلَـيَّ مِـنَ الـصَّـوْمِ
‘When I fast, it weakens my ability to recite the Qur’an; and reciting the Qur’an is more beloved to me than [optional] fasting.’2
We ask Allah for taysir and tawfiq.
1. Cited in al-Dhahabi, Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 8:114.
2. Ibn Abi Shaybah, al-Musannaf, no.8909; al-Tabarani, al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.8868.
رَبَّنَا إِنِّي أَسْكَنتُ مِنْ ذُرِّيَّتِي بِوَادٍ غَيْرِ ذِي زَرْعٍ عِنْدَ بَيْتِكَ الْمُحَرَّمِ رَبَّنَا لِيُقِيمُوا الصَّلاَةَ فَاجْعَلْ أَفْئِدَةً مِنْ النَّاسِ تَهْوِي إِلَيْهِمْ وَارْزُقْهُمْ مِنْ الثَّمَرَاتِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَشْكُرُونَ
‘Our Lord! I have settled one of my offspring in a barren valley near Your Sacred House so that, O Lord, they may establish the prayer. Thus make the hearts of people incline towards them, and provide them with fruits, so that they may give thanks.’ [14:37]
This duʿa was made around 2000 BC. But let’s go even further back in sacred time to the dawn of man’s arrival on earth, to 3000 years earlier; or much more so:
It’s been said that Adam, the first man and prophet, having been told to leave Paradise for this dusty earth, was ordered to undertake a great journey.
Guided by Heaven, he travelled far till he came to the deserts of the Hijaz and stood, at last, in a valley ringed by mountains; a barren place of rock and sand. There he built a holy structure, a place of worship; and when this task of his was complete, he left. And for a great length of time, silence and stillness descended upon this sacred place, and windblown sand covered what Adam had built. The Qur’an says of this sacred House and valley:
إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِي بِبَكَّةَ مُبَارَكًا وَهُدًى لِلْعَالَمِينَ
The first sanctuary ever built for mankind was that at Bakkah [Makkah], a blessed place and a guidance for the worlds. [3:96]
The hadiths about Adam’s role in erecting the Kaʿbah aren’t definitive, their soundness questionable. What is certain, though; what does constitutes sound sacred history, is that:
After long ages had passed, two people came over the desert into the Makkan valley, with a child. The one, an elderly man in his eighties, Abraham by name and a prophet by destiny. The other, Hagar, his Egyptian maid-servant who had borne him this child in his old age: Ishmael. Near the mound that now covered the Sacred House, Abraham left both Ishmael and Hagar to the divine mercy and under divine instruction, leaving with them a few dates and a water skin.
Thirsty, hungry and perhaps by now distraught, Hagar left the child under a sheltered spot and began looking for water and help. Following a path that led her to the hilltop of Safa, there she saw no spring nor signs of habitation. She ran to the neighbouring hilltop, Marwa; again she saw nothing. Seven times she ran between the two hilltops, calling on Allah for mercy. It was then she heard the sound of a voice. Hurrying back to her son, she saw standing besides him an angel who was now striking the earth with his wing so that water gushed forth. This was the spring of Zamzam, from which the pilgrims in their millions drink even today. Here it was that Hagar settled, and reared Ishmael, soon to be joined by a wandering tribe from the north, the Jurhumites; and it is here she died and here he thrived.
Abraham would often come back to Makkah. On one such return, when Ishmael had grown to manhood, both father and son set about rebuilding the Kaʿbah; repeating Adam’s deed, as all men must in one way or another. Father and son dug the earth, found the foundations of the original structure, and rebuilt the Kaʿbah as a simple structure of four walls, setting in one corner of this House a white stone:
وَإِذْ يَرْفَعُ إِبْرَاهِيمُ الْقَوَاعِدَ مِنْ الْبَيْتِ وَإِسْمَاعِيلُ رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ
And when Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the house, [they prayed]: ‘Our Lord! Accept from us [this act]; You are indeed the Hearing, the Knowing.’ [2:127]
On another earlier occasion, according to one of two authoratative readings, Abraham came to fulfill a dream about him and his first born, Ishmael:
فَلَمَّا بَلَغَ مَعَهُ السَّعْيَ قَالَ يَابُنَيَّ إِنِّي أَرَى فِي الْمَنَامِ أَنِّي أَذْبَحُكَ فَانظُرْ مَاذَا تَرَى قَالَ يَا أَبَتِ افْعَلْ مَا تُؤْمَرُ سَتَجِدُنِي إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ مِنْ الصَّابِرِينَ. فَلَمَّا أَسْلَمَا وَتَلَّهُ لِلْجَبِينِ. وَنَادَيْنَاهُ أَنْ يَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ. قَد صَدَّقْتَ الرُّؤْيَا إِنَّا كَذَلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُحْسِنِينَ. إِنَّ هَذَا لَهُوَ الْبَلاَءُ الْمُبِينُ. وَفَدَيْنَاهُ بِذِبْحٍ عَظِيمٍ.
And when [his son] was old enough to walk with him, [Abraham] said: ‘O my son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice you, so what do you think?’ He said: ‘O my father! Do what you have been commanded. Allah willing, you shall find me steadfast.’ So when they had both surrendered to Allah and he had turned him down on his face, We called him: ‘O Abraham! You have fulfilled the vision. Thus We reward the doers of good.’ That was a clear test. Then We ransomed him with a great sacrifice. [37:102-07]
And then there is this duʿa spoken by Abraham, perhaps when he was leaving Makkah for the last time, or perhaps when he was back in the fertile land of Canaan:
رَبَّنَا وَابْعَثْ فِيهِمْ رَسُولاً مِنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِكَ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمْ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ
‘Our Lord! Raise from their midst a Messenger who shall recite to them Your signs, and teach them the Book and the Wisdom, and purify them. You are the August, the Wise.’ [2:129]
More than two millennia passed before Abraham’s prayer was answered. By that time, the worship of the One true God taught by Abraham was mixed with much idolatry, the Kaʿbah had been defiled with idols in and around it, and the pure white stone set in the eastern corner had been blackened because of the sins of men. Once more, the sacred House was largely forgotten, except to the Arabs and a few scattered tribes of nomads, of whom history took little notice.
But the time was at hand when the Abrahamic call would be reinstated, re-energised, and its scope made universal. And in the fullness of time, with destiny being ripe, there was born from Ishmael’s seed, among the Arabs, from the tribe of Quraysh and the clan of Hashim, a Messenger of God, a final Prophet, in a line of prophets extending all the way back to Adam and his descendents: Muhammad ﷺ – mercy to the worlds. Under the weight of the final divine Revelation, the Prophet ﷺ restored the primordial Adamic faith and reestablished the salvic truths of Abrahamic monotheism.1
The Pilgrimage to Makkah and to the Kaʿbah, as well as involving the continuity of a number of ancient rites, contains potent spiritual symbolism. The physical journey from one’s homeland is a reminder that one must eventually leave this world forever. Wearing the ihram reminds one that each will be buried in a shroud when they die and shall meet their Maker, shorn of any ability to hide behind clothes of pretension or of status. The huge multitudes of people camped out on the plain of Arafat, or under the desert sky of Muzdalifah, brings to mind the tumult and terror of the Resurrection, when all shall be marshalled together for judgement. But of course, the most potent symbol, and the one that most links us to the Abrahamic legacy, is the ritual sacrifice, in remembering Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. For Abraham’s story is a story of loving submission – and it is loving submission and surrender that lie at the very heart of Islam.
1. See: Gai Eaton, Islam & the Destiny of Man (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1997), 46-48.
Ibn Ata’illah al-Iskandari (d.709H/1309CE) is best known in the Muslim world for his slim anthology of spiritual aphorisms known as Kitab al-Hikam, or Hikam al-Ata’iyyah. The Hikam’s enduring appeal and popularity, among scholars and layman alike, lies in its ability to convey Islam’s spiritual truths with beauty, brevity, energy of expression and layers of meaning. What follows is the first aphorism in the collection, along with a brief commentary:
مِنْ عَلَامَةِ الْاعْتِمَادِ عَلَىَ الْعَمَلِ نُقْصَانُ الْرَّجَاءِ عِنْدَ وُجُوْدِ الْزَّلَلِ
1. One of the signs of relying upon one’s deeds is the loss of hope when a slip occurs.
1 – A sure proof of being mislead into believing that it is our good deeds which bring us closer to Allah, rather than His unmitigated grace and pure generosity, is a loss of hope when a sin occurs. This, as masters of the inner life point out, is a lesser form of idolatry (shirk). Shaykh Muhammad Hayat al-Sindhi (d.1163H/1750CE) stated: ‘In this dependance is a branch of shirk that negates the perfection of tawhid.‘1 How so? For it reflects an unhealthy attachment on our part to deeds and their outcomes more than to the Creator of such deeds and His mercy and plenitude.
2 – This aphorism helps us to realise that we do not reach Allah through good deeds, but rather through His enabling grace (tawfiq), which allows us to do good: And Allah created you and what you do. [37:96] There is also this authentic hadith: ‘None of you will enter Paradise due to your deeds.’ They said: Not even you, O Allah’s Messenger? He ﷺ said: ‘Not even me; unless Allah covers me in His kindness and mercy.’2 In this realisation, then, lie the soul’s repose and the removal of the layered profanities of our own selfhood. For how can we harbour pretensions of righteousness when righteous accomplishments are not of our own doing, but are gifts from God? It’s only when we fail to see this reality do we then start to see works of faith as being of our own doing; and thus begin to be vain, conceited and bask in our own self-glory.
3 – Al-Shurnubi (d.1348H/1929CE) spells out: ‘The author’s aim in this aphorism is to arouse the seeker (salik) to diligently perform good deeds, whilst elevating his concern above relying on them, but instead to rely purely on the grace of [Allah] the Possessor of Majesty and Honour … His intent isn’t to instruct people to leave-off doing acts of worship.’3
4 – At this point, the more informed among us may point out the verse: Enter Paradise because of what you used to do, [16:32] and well ask how it squares with the above cited hadith? And it’s a good question that warrants pause for thought. Al-Shurnubi’s reply to it puts to rest any lingering pretensions as he explains ‘that deeds will not be given any consideration unless they are acceptable (maqbul); and their acceptance is purely by divine grace. Thus it is sound [to assert] that entry into Paradise is purely by Allah’s kindness, while actions are a cause of one’s level in it.’4
5 – As for the ‘arifun – the ‘knowers’ of Allah; the true people of tawhid – they do not increase in hope by doing acts of good; for they are flooded with the intensification of perception, in that they experience all good as originating solely from God’s grace and boundless generosity; this includes their own acts of obedience too. ‘Their hopes do not deepen because of doing good deeds, in as much as they do not see themselves as the [actual] doers. Nor do their hopes in Allah’s mercy diminish if they fall short in an act of obedience or commit a slip. For they are immersed in the seas of contentment with the Divine Decree.’5
6 – The above degree of faith is an extraordinary one indeed. It is the station of those who worship Allah kannaka tarah – ‘as though seeing Him’ – as one celebrated hadith tells us.6 Most of us would be kidding ourselves if we thought we were at such a lofty degree of tawhid and awareness of the Divine Presence. Realistically, for us it’s more a case of what al-Shurnubi stresses next: ‘As for the seekers, it behoves them to delight in their righteous deeds and prioritise the required fear, due to the lessening of hope, when a slip occurs – as per the words of Imam al-Dardir: “Let your fear dominate over your hope/and travel to your Lord with straying (wa ghallibi’l-khawfa ‘ala raja’i/wa sir li mawlaka bila tana’i).” This is so, especially in our times when religiosity has weakened, sins have proliferated and trustworthiness has all but been lost.’7
7 – A final point that this aphorism points to is that sins must never lead to despair. In a state of sin, we must train our hearts to turn their gaze away from our [sinful] deeds to the mercy of Allah: Say: ‘O My servants who have transgressed against their own souls! Despair not of Allah’s mercy! Allah forgives all sins; He is Forgiving, Compassionate.’ [39:53] Al-Sindhi states that: ‘The ‘arif’s gaze is on his Lord, not on his deeds.’8 We, too, must try and learn to do the same.
To summarise: The above aphorism offers us two invaluable lessons: (i) To realise that we do not reach Allah by our works of faith, but by His grace and acceptance of them. Simply put, salvation is through God’s grace, not our deeds. (ii) To train our hearts to see what comes from Allah to us, more than what goes from us to Him.
Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.
1. Al-Sindhi, Sharh al-Hikam al-Ata’iyyah (Beirut: Dar Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2010), 17.
2. Al-Bukhari, no.6103; Muslim, no.2816.
3. Al-Shurnubi, Sharh Hikam al-Imam Ibn Ata’illah (Beirut: Dar Ibn Kathir, 2008), 65.
4. ibid., 66.
5. ibid., 64.
6. Muslim, no.80.
7. Al-Shurnubi, Sharh al-Hikam, 64.
8. Al-Sindhi, Sharh al-Hikam, 17.
The Arabic word fitnah bears the meaning of trial, discord, affliction, temptation and civil war, and any other strife ‘that ruptures the community’s unity and pits Muslim against fellow Muslim.’1 As well as discussing the ageless and abiding fitnah of wealth, women and civil war, this blog piece will also reflect upon the fitnahs related to callers to misguidance, governments seeking to domesticate Islam and Muslim scholars, the active promotion and funding of warped understandings of our faith, and the fitnahs of sectarian violence and takfir. Our Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Before the coming of the Hour there will be fitnahs like patches of dark night. A person shall awaken in the morning a believer but by the evening become a disbeliever, or in the evening be a believer but by morning become a disbeliever; and people will sell their religion in order to acquire some portion of the world.’2
1 – Fitnah of Wealth: We are reminded in the Qur’an: Your wealth and your children are but a trial, and with Allah is an immense reward. [64:15] The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Truly, for every nation there is a trial, and the trial for my nation is wealth.’3 The trial, or fitnah, of wealth is when one either acquires anything of it in a forbidden way, or it distracts one from fulfilling religious obligations and duties, or one becomes overly attached to it; especially when becoming enslaved by it. It says in a hadith: ‘Wretched be the slave of the dinar; wretched be the slave of the dirham; wretched be the slave of fine cloth; wretched be the slave of embroidered cloth. May he be wretched and degraded, and if such a one is pierced by a thorn, let it not be extracted. When he is granted his desires he is pleased and when he is denied them he is angered.’4 Such is the state of the one whose heart is a slave to wealth or to worldliness: wretched and depraved! The heart, when its contentment or anger is for other than Allah, it is a worshipper of whatever desire or caprice animates it; and much of its moods, feelings and emotions become servile and captive to it.
In the consumer-driven lives of our e-world (with its emails, eBay, e-commerce and e-credit), protecting ourselves from this particular fitnah is not easy. To be clear, wealth, in and of itself, isn’t bad. But the worship, enslavement or overly preoccupation with it is. A sound and correct attitude towards wealth is always a useful reminder. Wealth must be seen as a means, not an end – as Ibn Taymiyyah said, when asked about how seekers of Allah and the Afterlife should view it. ‘We must view wealth much as we do the toilet,’ he replied, ‘in that we resort to it whenever needed, but it has no place in our hearts.’5
Shaykh Jaleel Ahmad Akhoon, a present-day shaykh of spiritual wayfaring (suluk), said about fostering a sense of detachment from wealth and the wordly (dunya), that:
As one begins to fill the heart with love of Allah, and seeking His acceptance and good pleasure, love of dunya is gradually cast out. Imagine it to be a plane journey, he said. If, while the plane is still on the tarmac one peers out of the window, other planes and the airport terminals look large and imposing. But when the plane takes off and starts its upward ascent, those very same objects appear to look smaller and smaller, until they seem insignificant and just disappear. Likewise, as we make a serious effort to fill our heart with love of Allah, and as the heart soars higher and higher in its journey to Him, dunya becomes more and more insignificant in its estimation, till it diminishes, dwindles, then finally disappears.
2 – Fitnah of Civil War: A hadith says: ‘Before the Hour there will be fitnahs like pieces of dark night, wherein a man will be a believer in the morning and a disbeliever by the evening; or a believer in the evening and a disbeliever by morning. He who sits during it is better than he who stands; he who stands is better than he who walks; he who walks is better than the he who runs. So during such times, break your bows, cut your bow-strings and blunt your swords upon stones. If one of them enters upon you, then be like the better of the two sons of Adam.’6 Which is to say, in times of the fitnah of a civil war, where Muslims are pitted against fellow Muslims, people are duty bound to not fan the flames of political violence in any and every way possible. Killing another Muslim simply isn’t an option. The Prophet ﷺ said: sibab al-muslim fusuq wa qitaluhu kufr – ‘Reviling a Muslim is sinful and killing him is disbelief.’7
Muslims doing their utmost not to take the life of a fellow Muslim – even to the point of laying down their own life – is one thing. But as for being intent on taking the life of your political Muslim opponent, the next narration speaks to such foulness: ‘If two Muslims meet each other with swords drawn, both the killer and the one killed are in the Fire.’ The Prophet ﷺ was asked: The killer, yes! But also the one killed? So he ﷺ replied: ‘He was just as intent on killing his opponent.’8
If we add to the evils of civil war, the even greater scourge of religious extremism and takfir, the situation becomes darker and even more dire. And this is precisely what we have today. The Prophet ﷺ forewarned: ‘Truly what I most fear for you is a man who will recite the Qur’an until its radiance appears on him and he becomes a support to Islam, changing it to whatever Allah wills. He then separates from it, casts it behind his back and raises the sword against his neighbour, accusing him of idolatry (shirk).’ I asked: O Prophet of Allah, who most deserves to be imputed with shirk; the accused or the accuser? He replied: ‘The accuser.’9
If civil war does not strip away faith or salvation from the Hellfire, at the very least it snatches away intellects and peoples’ sanity – as both reality and the next hadith bear out: Abu Musa relates that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said: ‘Before the Hour comes there will be harj!’ I asked: O Allah’s Messenger, what is harj? He said: ‘Killing.’ Some people said: O Allah’s Messenger, now we slay [in battle] such and such number of idolaters in a single year. The Prophet ﷺ 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, nephew and relatives!’ Some people said: O Messenger of Allah, will we be in our right minds that day? He said: ‘No! For 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. Most of them will assume they are upon something, but they won’t be upon any thing.’10 I’ve discussed political violence here, and the thorny question of rebellion against Muslim rulers here. In all these affairs, piety (taqwa), knowledge (‘ilm) and patience (sabr) are crucial. To this end, Ibn al-Qayyim wrote:
‘The Prophet ﷺ legislated for his nation the duty of forbidding the evil so that, by it, the goodness that Allah and His Messenger love could be procured. But if eliminating evil leads to an evil worse than it, and more hateful to Allah and His Messenger, then it is not permissible to censure it – even if Allah detests that evil and its doers. This is like censuring kings and others in authority, by rebelling against them. Indeed, this is the root of every evil and tribulation till the end of time … Whoever ponders the tribulations that have befallen Islam, the great or the small, will see that they are due to neglecting this principle and not bearing patience with the evil, but instead seeking to remove it by giving rise to an evil far worse than it.’11
Whether in terms of actively participating in fighting and killing, or rallying people to party zeal and frenzy, or spreading news and propaganda via social media, the shari‘ah insists that we withdraw from all such activities and rid ourselves of any means which could add fuel to the fire. In fact, during a civil war the best form of political activism is actually quietism. While there is great honour in waging a bonafide jihad against a hostile unbelieving army, no such honour or glory exists in a civil war.
3 – Fitnah of Women and the Desires of Men: Allah ﷻ says in the Holy Qur’an: Made beautiful for mankind is the love of desires for women and offspring, of hoarded heaps of gold and silver, of branded horses, cattle and plantations. [3:14] Although such things are elsewhere spoken of positively in the Qur’an, as blessings for which people should be thankful, here they are spoken of seductively in terms of objects which men lust over, crave and covet. Unsurprisingly, women top the list. This fact rings loudly in a hadith in which the Prophet ﷺ informed: ‘I have not left after me a fitnah more harmful for men than women.’12 It’s a warning only a fool or a fasiq would be keen to overlook or take lightly. Another hadith states: ‘The world is green and sweet and Allah has placed you in it as custodians to see how you behave. So be mindful of the world and be wary of women; for the first fitnah of the Children of Israel was regarding women.’13
If alcohol breaks inhibitions such that people will sexually behave in ways they usually wouldn’t when they are sober, then the devil is even more powerful in removing such modesty and inhibitions between the sexes. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘A woman is ‘awrah; whenever she goes out, the devil beautifies her.’14 The word ‘awrah, usually translated into English as ‘nakedness’, can also mean weakness, vulnerability and something that is unseemly or indecent.15 Women are considered ‘awrah because of their desirability; because their exposure to being seen is like leaving one’s home unguarded and hence vulnerable to attack. In Islam, the feminine form – desirable, alluring and sensuous in the privacy of the marital home – shouldn’t be made to appear so in the public sphere. It’s not just the objectifying male gaze that demeans or threatens women; sometimes some women need saving from their own intemperate selves.
Of course, in our e-world awash with sin, porn and the sexualisation of even children, such revealed wisdom is unlikely to be received with the openness it would have done in a not so long ago age. Notions of modesty, decency or respectability with regard to how the sexes should interact are utterly alien to our consumer-driven, selfie-taking, sexually-charged culture. To even suggest, as Islam does, that there could be a modest and dignified way of being a ‘lady’ (and, of course, a ‘gentleman’) is to court ridicule or scorn from an often uncritical public. Some may even shout misogyny. I’ve previously written in some depth on contemporary gender interactions in Beards, Hijabs & Body Language: Gender Relations, so I’ll confine myself to these few remarks:
The principles of modesty, restraint and respectability have long been written out of our social norms and mores, and this was bound to impact Muslim attitudes too. One hadith says: ‘Modesty and faith are two close companions; if one of them is removed, the other follows.’16 Indeed, as Muslims themselves begin to relax these principles, or compromise them in the hope of being welcomed to the table of liberal sensibilities, can we see in where it has led others, where we too could be heading?
It’s not just the hijab or niqab we’re talking about. It runs deeper than that. It’s about much more than just the externals. It’s about how one behaves; about how one carries themselves; how one disposes their soul towards the opposite gender. Ultimately, it’s about the heart’s purity and its attachment to its Lord.
Allah ﷻ commands: Tell believing men to lower their gaze and guard their modesty. That will be purer for them. For Allah is aware of what they do. [24:30]. Upon citing this verse, Ibn al-Qayyim noted:
‘Allah put purification after lowering one’s gaze and guarding the private parts. This is why retraining the gaze from the forbidden necessitates three benefits of great worth and tremendous significance. Firstly, [experiencing] the sweetness and delight of faith that is far sweeter, pleasant or delightful than that which the gaze was left, or averted from, for Allah’s sake. Indeed, whoever leaves a thing for Allah’s sake, He shall replace it with what is better than it.17 The soul is deeply enamoured with gazing at beautiful forms. The eye is the scout for the heart, and it sends its scout out to see what’s there. If the eye informs it of something it finds visually attractive and beautiful, it is moved to desire it … Whoever allows their gaze to roam free will constantly be in regret. For the gaze gives rise to love, which begins with the heart having an attachment (‘alaqah) to what it is beholden too. As it strengthens, it becomes ardent longing (sababah); the heart now totally besotted with it. Growing more, it becomes an infatuation (gharam); it sticks to the heart as a creditor (gharim) sticks to his debtor (gharimah) from whom he doesn’t part. Growing stronger, still, it becomes passionate love (‘ishq); an excessive love. Then it is a burning love (shaghaf); a love which reaches to the very lining of the heart and enters it. Intensifying further, it becomes worshipful love (tatayyum) … the heart becoming a slave [worshipper] of that which it isn’t worthy of being enslaved to. And all of this is because of the harmful gaze.’18
Leave aside the debate on whether the greater onus is on women dressing modestly, or men lowering their gaze. There’s no doubt that in today’s ambiance it falls on men to lower their gaze and refrain from the lustful, illicit or harmful glance. Shaykh Jaleel Akhoon recently remarked that sins usually leave a black stain on the heart, that can be cleansed through the act of contrition and repentance. But if the heart is captive to the object of its love; enslaved to it by its ‘ishq, then this is worse than the ‘usual’ sin. For the heart isn’t just stained or darkened, he stressed; it is inverted. This has certain echoes of Ibn al-Qayyim when he said: ‘Many a passionate lover will admit they have no place at all in their heart for other than their passionate love. Instead, they let their passionate love completely conquer their heart, thereby becoming an avid worshipper of it … There is no comparison between the harm of this dire matter and the harm of sexual misconduct (fahishah). For this sin is a major one for the one who commits it, but the evil of this ‘ishq is that of idolatry (shirk). A shaykh from the knowers of Allah (‘arifun) said: “That I be tested with sexual misconduct by this beautiful form is more preffered to me than to be tested with it through ‘ishq, by which my heart worships it and is diverted from Allah by it.”‘19
The cure, Shaykh Jaleel says, is that as soon as the heart is tempted by what it mustn’t gaze at, one reins in the gaze or diverts it from the haram or harmful. No effort can be spared to do so, lest the forbidden glance secretes its poison into the heart, causing it irreparable injury, anguish and torment.
In the second and final part of the blog, I hope to discuss the three remaining fitnahs of: callers to misguidance; the promotion of deviant understandings of Islam; and the attempt by governments to domesticate Muslim scholars and Islam.
1. Bowering (ed.), The Princeton Encyclopaedia of Islamic Political Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), 100. Raghib, Mufradat Alfaz al-Qur’an (Damascus: Dar al-Qalm, 2002), 623, said: asl al-fitan idkhal al-dhahab an-nar li tazhara jawdatuhu min rada’atihi. He goes on to demonstrate that the word may take on the meaning of punishment, trial, tribulation, discord and hardship. Also consult: Ibn al-Qayyim, Zad al-Ma‘ad (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 3:151-2.
2. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2197. The hadith was graded hasan in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.810.
3. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2336, where he states: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih gharib.’
4. Al-Bukhari, no.2887.
5. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 10:663.
6. Ibn Majah, no.3961; al-Tirmidhi, no.2204, who said that it is hasan. As for being the better of the two sons of Adam, this is a reference to Abel who was killed by his older brother Cain.
7. Al-Bukhari, no.48; Muslim, no.64.
8. Al-Bukhari, no.31; Muslim, no.2888.
9. Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.282. Ibn Kathir said: ‘Its chain is excellent (jayyid).’ See: Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Beirut: Dar a-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 2:276.
10. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.3959, Ahmad, Musnad, no.19509. It was graded as sahih in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1682.
11. I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in ‘an Rabb al-‘Alamin (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2003), 4:338-9.
12. Al-Bukhari, no.5096; Muslim, nos.3740-41.
13. Muslim, no.2742.
14. Al-Bazzar, no.2061; at-Tirmidhi, no.1173, who said it is hasan gharib.
15. Cf. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2003), 2:2193-4.
16. Al-Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad, no.1313; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 1:22, who asserts: ‘It is sahih as per the conditions of the two shaykhs.’
17. Possibly paraphrasing the hadith: ‘Indeed, you will not leave anything for the sake of Allah, except that Allah will replace it with something better.’ Ahmad, no.22565, and its chain is sahih. Consult: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Da‘ifah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1992), 1:62; no.5
18. Ighathat al-Lahfan fi Masayid al-Shaytan (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2011), 75. The other two benefits discussed are: Secondly, the heart being illumined and given to see with spiritual clarity and insight; and thirdly, the heart is given strength, courage, firmness and honour.
19. Al-Da’ wa’l-Dawa’ (Saudi Arabia: Imam Dar al-Hijrah, 2014), 514-5.
Here are some brief words from Imam Ibn al-Qayyim about missed opportunities and squandering benefits. The Qur’an says: Say: ‘Shall We tell you whose works will bring the greatest loss?’ Those who efforts have been wasted in the life of this world whilst thinking they were doing good. [18:103-4] There are people whose smug self-righteousness is so ingrained that they go through life spreading corruption; campaigning to alter clear-cut religious precepts; or making a show of their piety – imagining all the while that they are acquiring virtue. Ultimately, such people shall suffer the worst of regrets. For their labours yield no real benefits and are emptied of God’s purpose for them. ‘Of all the words of mice and men,’ wrote an American novelist and satirist, ‘the saddest are, “It might have been.”’
Ibn al-Qayyim lists ten matters that he wishes us to meditate over, so as not to be of those who are ridden with regrets in the Afterlife, forever mumbling to ourselves: ‘It might have been!’ He writes:
‘Ten things which, if lossed, have no benefit:
 Knowledge that isn’t acted upon.
 Works of faith that are bereft of sincerity [to God] or conformity [to the shari‘ah].
 Wealth from which nothing is spent; so neither is joy gained by hoarding it, nor is it sent on ahead to the Afterlife.
 A heart empty of God’s love, yearning for Him, and intimacy with Him.
 A body devoid of obedience and service to Him.
 A love that doesn’t confine itself to the Beloved’s pleasure, nor does it comply with His commands.
 A moment of time not used to rectify one’s remissness, or seized to do good works and draw closer to God.
 A thought that dwells on what isn’t beneficial.
 Serving someone whose service doesn’t bring you closer to God nor does it rectify your worldly affairs.
 Your fear of, or hope in, someone whose forelock is in God’s hand, and is himself a captive in the divine grasp: possessing no power to bring about harm, benefit, death, life or resurrection.
The greatest of these losses, and it is the real root of all losses, are two things: wasting the heart, and squandering time. The heart is wasted when the world is given priority over the Afterlife; time is squandered by procrastination. Corruption stems entirely from following caprice and procrastination: rectification stems from following right guidance and preparing for the Encounter.’1
1. Al-Fawa’id (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2009), 162.