The Humble I

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Impediments to Suluk: Six Steps in the Devil’s Deception

Masters of the inward life tell us that the aim of suluk or spiritual wayfaring to God is: al-tahabbub ila’Llah bi ma yarda – ‘Becoming beloved to Allah by doing that which pleases Him.’ They also teach that this Station of Being Loved, this maqam al-mahbubiyyah, must be grounded in knowledge and the firm resolve to act on that knowledge; and not just acquire knowledge for its own sake. The whole affair, they say, revolves around ittiba‘ – ‘adherence’ to the Prophet ﷺ, who is Allah’s most Beloved. The Holy Qur’an says: Say: ‘If you love Allah, then follow me; for then Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. Allah is Forgiving, Compassionate.’ [Q.3:31] More than this, such masters of the heart tell us that the secret (sirr) behind this ‘adherence’ is: yakhruj al-insan min muradi nafsihi ila muradi rabbihi – ‘The person leaving his own wants and loves for what his Lord wants and loves.’1

This adherence has levels that the wayfarer (salik) must progress through. One begins by shunning what the shari‘ah has made forbidden (haram), abiding by what it has obligated (wajib) – in terms of action of the limbs and deeds of the heart. One then progresses onto acting on what is recommended (mustahabb), giving up whatever is detested or disliked (makruh). This is a lofty rank with Allah, and one for which God draws the seeker closer to Him, enveloping them in His divine love and care. A celebrated hadith qudsi states: ‘My servant does not draw closer to Me with anything more loved by Me than the obligations I have enjoined on Him. My servant continues to draw closer to Me through the supererogatory deeds until I love Him.’2 Central to all of this is learning sound fiqh from qualified scholars, so as to know what our gracious Lord commands and forbids; and then recommends and detests.

Of course, an even higher rank of adherence is when one begins to wisely and gradually detach their heart from worldly things that are permissible (mubah), but superfluous to one’s needs or spiritual journey; providing it doesn’t harm one’s adherence to the two levels just discussed above, nor interferes with any rights and responsibilities we owe to others. This forgotten Sunnah of worldly detachment (zuhd) is an immense door to the rank of mahbubiyyah and divine love, as the Prophet ﷺ said: izhad fi’l-dunya yuhibaka’Llah  – ‘Detach yourself from the world and Allah will love you.’3

When one resolves to make Allah their aim and ambition, or when one wishes to turn away from a former life of heedlessness or dereliction of duty then, say the masters of the heart, one is to begin with sincere repentance, tawbah. Allah says: Truly Allah loves those that turn to Him in repentance, and strive to cleanse themselves. [Q.2:222] Again, tawbah raises one to the maqam al-mahbubiyyah. In fact, making the u-turn away from other than Allah, to Allah, is an essential and intrinsic part of spiritual progress; to the point that the shaykhs says: man la tawbah lahu la maqam lahu  – ‘One who has no repentance, has no spiritual station.’ So what’s required of us now is to roll-up our sleeves and to put our backs into it, seeking Allah’s aid and tawfiq.

We ask Allah that He guide us to the sharafa of ‘ubudiyyah, of sincere servitude to Him, and that He gifts us the sublime daraja of mahbubiyyah.

In their quest of: yuriduna wajhahuseeking [only] His face [Q.18:28], there are obstacles along the path which confront the one who seeks to rid themselves of the radha’il; the blameworthy traits, and instead adorn themselves with the fada’il; or praiseworthy traits pleasing to God. There are four such obstacles or impediments that constantly tease and lure the wayfarer, the salik, away from their goal of mahbubiyyah and loving submission to their Lord. They being: the devil (shaytan), the world (dunya), one’s ego (nafs), and one’s whims and false desires (hawa). With that spelt out, let us look at the first of the impediments: shaytan.

In reality, these four impediments that, in concert, conspire to hinder the salik are all interconnected and feed off one another. Thus, when a person’s nafs is strong and overwhelming – not having been tamed or trained – then Satan’s stratagems or subtle, devilish whisperings are more potent in misguiding the person. If the heart of a person passionately craves the dunya, craves worldly stuff or worldly status, and is bewitched by it, then even a small prompting by shaytan will incite the person’s hawa, causing him to further forget Allah and relentlessly pursue the dunya – even if doing so involves sin or transgression. Otherwise, despite Satan’s hatred; contempt; malice; and spiteful jealousy of human beings, the Qur’an tells us: Indeed the devil’s guile is ever weak. [Q.4:76] That is, Satan would have no power over us were it not for the weakness in our own selves and our relationship with Allah, and what we concede or capitulate to him. You shall have no authority over My servants, except those that follow you from among the perverse, is what the Holy Qur’an also says [Q.15:42].

To be perfectly clear, this isn’t an excuse to underestimate Satan’s stratagems and plots. They are serious, and their misguidance highly subtle and seductive. The Qur’an warns: O you who believe! Enter into Islam fully, and do not follow the footsteps of the devil; for he is to you an avowed enemy. [Q.2:208] And: He makes them promises and stirs in them desires, but what Satan promises them is nothing but delusion. [Q.4:120] Also: The devil made their [sinful] deeds seem fair to them, and so debarred them from the Path. [Q.29:38] It’s further worth noting that the Qur’an itself warns about the devil’s plots and skullduggery much more than it does the corrupting influence of the ego – even though it is the ego, the nafs, which is the locus of a person’s waywardness and whimsical cravings.

One of the greatest weapons in Satan’s arsenal is to cultivate fear and anxiety in and around us: fear of not being able to live life as we wish, fear of economic hardship and a lessening of income, fear of losing good health, or fear of not doing well in this world if one lives the religious life: The devil threatens you with poverty and bids you to commit indecency. But Allah promises you His pardon and His bounty. Allah is Embracing, Knowing. [Q.2:268] By contrast, the believer, although he or she acts responsibly in regards the above-mentioned concerns, lives life with an inner sense of peace and tranquility; since he knows that all is in God’s hand, and all is unfolding as per His divine plan.

The remedy against Satan and his insidious whispering (waswasah) is: to seek refuge in Allah and actively push back against his insinuations. That the devil is long-lived, cunning and unseen, and whispers into the breasts of men [Q.114:5] makes him an enemy that we by ourselves can never hope to defeat. Hence it is with this recognition of our inability and of our neediness in Allah’s might and mercy, that we seek refuge in Allah from shaytan. And it is because Allah alone is All-Powerful, All-Invincible, All-Knowing, and cares for our welfare, that we direct our broken pleas of protection to Him, and none other. And when a person sincerely seeks shelter in God’s protective care and guardianship, then Allah will protect him; and the devil will shrink into insignificance and slink away. And if a whisper from the Devil reaches you, then seek refuge in Allah. He is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. [Q.7:200] A believer’s suluk, then, cannot do without frequent and ample supplication (du‘a) of seeking refuge with Allah.

As for Satan’s stratagems of misguidance, then let’s conclude the article with a brief discussion of the steps he deploys. Undoubtedly, the greater plan of the devil is to first render Man disobedient, then ungrateful and then forgetful of God; and we seek refuge in Allah from this. Shaytan works tirelessly to make us Muslims forget who we are, where we are and to what end we are travelling on our brief earthly sojourn. So the first goto weapon of choice for Satan is:

1 – Diversion (sarf): The first ruse of the devil is to divert a person away from their work of worship and obedience to God. So when a person is inspired to do an act of worship or a godly deed, Satan will whisper a subtle suggestion to the person as to why they need not carry out such a deed, or how there are more gratifying things to attend to, or cast doubt on the very notion of trying to live righteously. And before he realises it, that flash of inspiration vanishes like a puff of smoke, and Satan leaves him in spiritual ruin. Should the Kind Lord be sheltering this individual in His protective care, or give him the enabling grace (tawfiq), he will say: ‘Works of faith are absolutely essential. I can no more do without them than I can the air I breathe!’

2 – Procrastination (taswif): If the devil cannot achieve his intent through sarf ‘ani’l-‘aml – diversion away from works [of obedience], then he tries to assail the believer through the door of taswif; procrastination. Putting off an act until tomorrow that should or could be done today is the essence of procrastination. So a person resolves to reform their wayward life and make it Allah-oriented. Not wanting to be transparent, Satan says to him: ‘It’s a good thing, but don’t rush into it. You’re still young. Wait till you’re forty or have at least made hajj.’ So the person succumbs to Satan’s ‘logic’ and puts-off reforming his life. Yet who knows how long we will live, or if one will receive such inspiration again? Or take the case of intending to give charity, or offer a few rak‘ahs of optional prayers. Satan will suggest we wait for a needier cause to come up to give our sadaqah to; or that we will be more focussed in our prayer if we first reply to our WhatsApp messages and check our social media notifications. And before we know it, we forget what it is we wished to do, or get lost in the distractions, or simply miss the window of opportunity entirely! The cure for this comes in the hadith: ‘Take advantage of five [things] before five [others]: your youth before your old age, your health before your sickness, your wealth before your poverty, your free time before you are preoccupied, and your life before your death.’4

3 – Ostentation (riya’): Failing to get a person to turn away from godly works, and if not, then to at least delay doing them, the devil doesn’t throw his hands up in the air and give up. If the person is that firmly resolved in carrying out a good act, the devil will even coax him in it. For even the devil tempts to virtue, if it leads to a greater vice! At this stage, that vice is frequently riya’ – making a show of good deeds and acts of piety. We humans like the approval of others. So Satan plays on that and tempts us into directing our acts of obedience and worship at winning such approval and praise. He stirs in us the desire for our works of faith to be seen by others and hopefully win their compliments. Riya’, ostentation, as the Book and Sunnah tell us, is one of the root sins of the heart, contradicts sincerity (ikhlas) and nullifies our deeds. ‘Sincerity is to single-out Allah as the sole object of devotion. That is, one intends by their obedience to draw closer to Allah, exalted is He, to the exclusion of all else – like making a show [of one’s piety] for people; seeking their praise; taking pleasure in their compliments; or other such things besides drawing closer to Allah, exalted is He. It is correct to say that sincerity is: Purifying the act from creation having any share in it.’5 Such a major breech of adab with Allah is best remedied when we realise, as masters of the heart say, that the essence of sincerity is: nisyan ru’yati’l-khalq bi dawam al-nazr ila’l-khaliq – ‘To forget seeing the creation by constantly gazing at the Creator.’

4 – Haste (‘ajalah): If Allah protects a person from the devilish temptation of riya’, the person will be given the tawfiq to tell himself that he will not seek the praises of others in his worship of God; praying Allah make his actions correct, sincerely seeking His face, letting none have any share of his worship of Him.6 Haste, then, becomes Satan’s next method of attack. The Prophet ﷺ said: al-ta’anni min Allah wa’l-‘ajalah min al-shaytan – ‘Deliberation is from Allah, but haste is from the devil.’7 Thus when one recites the Qur’an, and reads their daily adhkar and awrad, and even when praying, the devil incites the person to read or pray hastily; without deliberation, without thoughtfulness, or without mindful focus or presence of heart. The recitation then resembles thoughtless babble; the prayer, the rapid pecking of a woodpecker. Such haste deprives one of the lights of worship, the fruits of worship, the effects of worship, and the delights of worship. The therapy: to be deliberate, thoughtful, composed, and focused in worship. One should ensure, too, that the act fulfils the conditions, pillars, obligations and required courtesies that are stipulated in our manuals of fiqh and suluk; doing so with as much excellence as we can muster.

5 – Vanity (‘ujb): First comes diversion from acts of righteousness. The second is procrastination. Failing that, Satan tries to worm his way through the third door, that of ostentation; then the fourth, which is haste. If he doesn’t succeed even there, he whispers thoughts of ‘ujb: vanity, self-conceit, being impressed with oneself. This fifth ploy is where a person begins to harbour pretensions of righteousness, even though righteous accomplishments are not of our own doing, but are gifts from God: Allah created you and what you do. [Q.37:96] And: Whatever good befalls you is from Allah. [Q.4:79] It is only when shaytan blinds us to this reality do we then start to see godly works as being of our own doing; and thereby grow vain, conceited, and bask in our own self-glory. ‘I have been given it because of the knowledge I possess’ [Q.28:78] isn’t really the attitude of a believer. Instead, Ibn ‘Ata’illah reminds us of the proper state to be in when he expressed in his celebrated Hikam: ‘Let not acts of obedience make you joyous because they come from you. But be joyous because they come from Allah to you. Say: “In the grace of God and His mercy, in that let them rejoice. This is better than that which they hoard.” [Q.10:58]’8

6 – Subtle Ostentation (daqiq al-riya’): If after pulling out all the stops shaytan still finds the worshipper resolute, sincere and humble, he has this deception to corrupt the person’s good deed and render it null and void. He secretes this thought into the person: ‘Be sincere in your worship, and do not seek peoples’ praises or let them have any share in it. Then Allah Himself will make this act known to the public, and cause them to appreciate you and turn to you.’ The person’s motives are thus corrupted and he ends up on the wrong side of God. For true sincerity is to seek only Allah’s ridwan – only His good pleasure and approval. That Allah may cause the sincere one to be known and loved by others is one thing. But to surreptitiously crave this as the end object, instead of Allah, is another thing entirely. But once temptation is stirred, the intellect become blinded, and so: The devil made their [sinful] deeds seem fair to them, and so debarred them from the Path. [Q.29:38] Therefore let us not feel secure against his deceptions and ploys for even an instant, seeking frequent refuge in our Merciful Lord.

May Allah guide us to be alert to shaytan’s stratagems and subtle deceptions, and protect us from our own weaknesses. Indeed, He is the One to hear, and the One to respond.

1. Its like was said by Imam Ahmad, in Abu Ya‘la, Tabaqat al-Hanabilah (Cairo: Matba‘ah al-Sunnah al-Muhammadiyyah, n.d.), 2:379.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.6502.

3. Ibn Majah, no.4102. Its chain was considered hasan in al-Nawawi, Riyadh al-Salihin (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1421H), no.476.

4. Al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman, no.9575, and its chain is hasan. See: al-‘Iraqi, al-Mughni ‘an Haml al-Asfar (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Tabariyyah, 1995), 3:1206; no.4366.

5. Al-Qushayri, al-Risalat al-Qushayriyyah (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2017), 476.

6. Ibn Taymiyyah attributes this du‘a to sayyiduna ‘Umar in his essay called, al-‘Ubudiyyah (Riyadh: Dar al-Mughni, 2012), 56.

7. Al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan al-Kubra, no.20057; and something very similar was related in al-Tirmidhi, no.2012. Its chain was evaluated as being hasan in Nasir al-Din al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1795.

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

Muslim Fitnah-Makers & their Fascist Fiqh!

This is a piece discussing how Muslims can be divided into three categories in terms of religious knowledge, and how the middle category is where much of the ummah’s woes and fitnahs spring from. And as counter-intuitive as it may sound, this middle problematic category are those that are commonly referred to as the more committed in learning ‘practicing Muslims’! Finally, while the title may be somewhat on the dramatic side, it is my hope that the piece itself will be read with careful thought and measured consideration.

In the biography of ‘Ali b. Qasim, Imam al-Shawkani (d.1255H/1839CE) wrote the following: ‘From the beautiful words I heard from him were:

“People are of three categories: The highest category are the major scholars (al-‘ulema al-kibar) who are well-acquainted with truth and falsehood; and when they differ their differing does not become a cause for fitnah, because of their knowledge of what each other has [of proofs].

“The lowest category are the general public (‘ammah) upon the fitrah, who do not flee from the truth. They are followers of those they emulate: if those they emulate are correct, they are likewise; if they err, then they do too.

“The middle category is the source of evil and the root cause of fitnahs arising in the religion: They are those who are not seasoned in knowledge, such that they rise to the level of the first category, nor have they forsaken it to thus be of the lowest category. They are those who, when they see one of those from the highest level say something which they are not acquainted with and which contradicts their belief in which they fell short, they fire arrows of accusation at him and hurl at him all sorts of insults. They [also] corrupt the fitrah of the lowest category [the masses] from [no longer] accepting the [scholarly] truth, through disguising falsehood. By this, they establish religious fitnahs on a firm footing.”

‘This is the meaning of his words which I heard from him; and he has spoken the truth. For whoever ponders over them will find it to be so.’1

There are a number of benefits which may be taken away from the above; they include the following:

1 In matters of furu‘, the branches or details of shari‘ah law where there is no juristic agreement or consensus (ijma‘), the scholars uphold the rule: ikhtilafu ummati rahmah – ‘Differences in my community is a mercy.’2 Such a rule has lent itself to mutual respect between scholars and an appreciation for the basis of legitimate scholarly differing (ikhtilaf) – even when a scholar passionately holds his view to be the correct one.

2 This rule was so part and parcel of Sunni orthodoxy that we see someone like Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi, the chief Hanbali jurist-theologian of the early seventh century, include it as part of the staple Athari creed: ‘Differing in the furu‘ is a mercy. Those differing are rewarded for their scholarly ijtihad. Their differing is a comprehensive mercy: their agreement a decisive proof.’3 Imam al-Nawawi wrote: ‘Realise, to know the madhhab of the salaf with its proof is a most essential need. For their differing in furu‘ issues is a mercy.’4

3 – As for the view of the late Salafi scholar Shaykh al-Albani, where he tried to show the futile nature of this rule then, in the light of our past Imams and theologians, I’ve discussed how his view is out of sync with the classical Sunni position, in my book, Fussing Over the Fifteenth of Sha‘ban & the Golden Rule of Differing. Hence rather than rehearse the arguments here, and before someone regurgitates the gist of his objections in the comments section, I recommend that one refer to the book.5

4 – That the ummah would be afflicted with its share of barefaced pretenders to Islam’s scholarly heritage is something our Prophet ﷺ cautioned us about. One hadith says: ‘Allah does not take away knowledge by wresting it from the hearts of men; but He takes away knowledge by taking away the scholars. So when no scholar remains, people take the ignorant as leaders who when asked give fatwas without knowledge: they are misguided and misguiding.’6 These people are usually not from the lowest category of the general public, but – as al-Shawkani mentions – from the ‘middle category’ of the practicing Muslim cohort; those who have some passion to learn, practice and proselytise a little more than is usual for non-scholars.

5 – Ibn Mas‘ud said: ‘You are in a time in which its scholars (‘ulema) are many and its speakers (khutaba) are few. But after you will come a time in which its scholars are few and its speakers many.’7 This ‘speaker’ syndrome has, in our time, mushroomed into a rite of passage for any ignoramus, with the flimsiest knowledge and no grounding in the sacred Islamic sciences, to speak on behalf of Allah and to engage in shameless self-promotion. Such people deserve to be labelled as liars, as Imam Ibn Taymiyyah stated: ‘Whosoever speaks about the religion without knowledge is a liar, even if he did not intend to lie!’8

6 – Left to their own natures, the general public always understood that there is a huge difference between them and scholars who, not too long ago would have had to spend, on average, seven to ten years just to get on the first rung of the ladder of serious scholarship. That is, a lay Muslim knew that he or she must follow qualified scholars in religious matters – taqlid being the technical religious term for such following, and muqallid for the follower.

7 – Over the past three decades, a vile bid‘ah has infected practicing Muslims, who are otherwise well-intended. And that is the idea that even they, without any juristic training; qualification; or expertise, can weigh-up shari‘ah proofs in the highly complex minutae of Islamic law and determine the ‘strongest’ view! And all because they believe they know a proof-text (dalil) or two on the issue. Ibn Taymiyyah put such falsehood to bed when he said: ‘As for a person who only knows one scholar’s view and his proof, but not the other scholar’s or his proof, is from the generality of the muqallids. He isn’t from the scholars capable of evaluating or weighing-up [proofs].’9

8 – The middle category of religious practitioners, as al-Shawkani points out, not only corrupt their own fitrah, but have been instrumental in corrupting the nature of the third category – a growing number of whom are also persuaded that they too can dive into detailed fiqh/furu‘ matters and play the part of self-made muftis. And whilst any Muslim may join the scholarly conversation, they can only lawfully do so with sound learning that is isnad-approved. Otherwise, it’s as Ibn al-Mubarak said: al-isnad ‘indi min al-din, law la’l-isnad laqala man sha’a ma sha’a – ‘The chain [of transmission], in my view, is a [required] part of the religion. If it were not for the chain, anyone could claim whatever they wanted to claim.’10

9 – That the lay folk aren’t obliged to know the proofs behind a fatwa or ruling they read or are given, shouldn’t prevent them from increasing in their overall knowledge of the Qur’an and the Hadith corpus. Islam encourages all Muslims to increase in their share of Islamic knowledge. Let lay people apply their God-given intellects to grow in knowledge of those verses and hadiths that relate to foundational beliefs; ethics and good character; virtues and vices of the heart and its spiritual growth; and rights and responsibilities. Books like Imam al-Nawawi’s Riyadh al-Salihin are priceless in this respect. It’s just in the domain of detailed Islamic law, in fiqh, where the proofs are often complex and subtle to fathom without formal legal training, that taqlid is legislated and qualified scholarship must be followed.

10 – Rather than acquaint themselves with the basic meanings of the Qur’an, or with hadiths that expound on the broad aspects of Islam mentioned above, the middle category feign knowledge; overstep their mark; criticise what they don’t understand; and eagerly plunge into pointless argumentation and issues of contention, none of which arouse in the soul a yearning for Allah or a desire to increase in acts of devotion. Malik b. Dinar said: ‘Whoever learns knowledge so as to act by it, his knowledge humbles him. Whoever seeks it for other than that, only increases in pride by it.’11 And Abu Qilabah advised: ‘If God gives to you knowledge, give to Him worship; and do not let your concern be to merely narrate to the people.’12

11 – Corrupt intentions or the soul’s arrogance aside, the chief reason why this middle category is a harbinger of fitnah is their lack of upholding the ikhtilafu ummati rahmah rule. For them, differing in the furu‘ is no longer a mercy, but a menace! Be it driven by compound ignorance (jahl murakkab – being ignorant of one’s ignorance), personal jealousy or sectarian prejudice, the hallmark of such people is ta‘alum – ‘feigning knowledge’ and, what could be described as fascist fiqh!

12 – Let me try to explain this last trait. Fascist fiqh is where furu‘ differences rooted in ijtihad are made into larger than life issues which are then used as a benchmark to judge who is deviant; whose Islam is not ‘sahih’ enough; or who must be boycotted, snubbed or shunned. That is why such bigotry, intolerance and authoritarianism in matters of legitimate scholarly differences is nothing short of a facist mentality in fiqh/furu‘. Hence, fascist fiqh. Ibn Taymiyyah tells us: ‘When it comes to issues of ijtihad, whoever takes the position of one of the scholar, cannot be rebuked or boycotted; while whoever adopts the other view cannot be censured either.’13

13 – Ibn Taymiyyah says: ‘In such ijtihadi matters, one cannot forbid someone with the hand, nor impose upon others the view he follows. He may, however, discuss it with knowledge-based proofs. Then whosoever sees one of the two views to be correct may follow it, while whoever follows the other view cannot be criticised. And the likes of such issues are many.’14 Such ijtihadi issues can be in matters of fiqh, or in hadith authenticities and the reliability of specific narrators, or even whether the conditions have been fulfilled for a person to be warned about or boycotted. For as long as there is no scholarly agreement or consensus on the matter, one scholar’s ijthad cannot be enforced or imposed on others. To do so is sheer misguidance and the essence of fascist fiqh.

14 – Regrettably, there is quite a lengthy catalogue of issues where this middle category has made mountains out of molehills, thereby riding roughshod over Sunni orthodoxy and causing schisms and divisions within this already fragile ummah. So whether it’s from using tasbih beads to tawassul bi’l-nabi, or from whether to mark out the night of mid-Sha‘ban with extra worship or celebrate the Prophet’s mawlid/milad ﷺ, then all such things are areas of valid scholarly ijtihad and are from the issues of fiqh and furu‘, not usul nor ‘aqidah. This will be evident, and as clear as day, just by looking into even what Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah had to say about these issues.15

15 – Given all the above, it won’t come as a surprise that making issues which are not agreed upon (mujma‘ ‘alayhi), but are instead valid differing (mukhtalif fihi), into benchmark issues or mini inquisitions one imposes on others, has always been deemed by the ‘ulema to be the stock-in-trade of the innovators. Typifying Islamic orthodoxy on the matter at hand, let’s here from Imam Ibn Taymiyyah one last time: ‘It isn’t [lawful] for anyone to set-up for the ummah an individual, calling to his way or basing one’s loyalty or enmity around him, except if it be the Prophet ﷺ. Nor must an opinion be set-up for them, around which loyalty and enmity is formed except if it be the Speech of Allah, or His Prophet, or what the ummah has agreed upon. Rather, this is from the practice of the people of innovations (ahl al-bida‘); those who affiliate themselves to a specific individual or opinion, basing their loyalty and enmity around such an opinion or affiliation.’16

Let me conclude with the following. In his scathing rebuke of those with half-baked knowledge and pseudo-scholarship, Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi wrote – and how yesterday resembles today:

‘Some people who are overcome with ignorance, whose intellects are weak, and whose nature is corrupt think they are from the learned, when they are not. There is no greater harm to knowledge or to the learned than from the likes of such people. For they took a meagre part of some of the sciences, while missing a much larger portion than what they had grasped. Moreover, their seeking knowledge was not a search for knowledge of Allah, exalted is He, nor was their aim to escape the darkness of ignorance. Instead, it was to be one-up on people through showing-off and self-importance, or to attract attention by being cantankerous and stirring-up controversy, or shamelessly boast about being from the scholars when in reality they are not.’17

Of course, none of the above will likely have any effect on those in whose vapid hearts the poison of attention-seeking and shamelessness has been secreted. For as the Prophet ﷺ warned: idha lam tastahih f’sna‘ ma sh’it – ‘If you feel no shame, then do as you wish.’18 We ask Allah for safety from fitnah, and from the evils of our own selves.

From a struggling, mediocre student of sacred knowledge,
Surkheel Abu Aaliyah

1. Al-Shawkani, al-Badr al-Tali‘ (Cairo: Dar al-Kitab al-Islami, n.d.), 1:473.

2. The rule or principle is related as an actual hadith. However, al-Subki said: ‘it is not known to the hadith scholars and I cannot find a chain for it; whether sound, weak or [even] fabricated.’ As cited in al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir (Cairo: Dar al-Hadith, 2010), no.288; 1:352.

3. Lum‘at al-I‘tiqad (Kuwait: Dar al-Salafiyyah, 1986), 35; no.94.

4. Al-Majmu‘ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab (Jeddah: Maktabah al-Irshad, n.d.), 1:19.

5. Fussing Over the Fifteenth of Sha‘ban & the Golden Rule of Differing (London: Jawziyyah Press, 2014), 46-53.

6. Al-Bukhari, no.34; Muslim, no.2673.

7. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.8066, and its chain is sahih. See: Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Egypt: al-Matba‘ah al-Salafiyyah, n.d.), 10:510.

8. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 10:449.

9. ibid., 35:233.

10. Sahih Muslim, Muqaddimah (Beirut: Dar al-Tasil, 2014), no.28; 1:316.

11. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Iqtida al-‘Ilm al-‘Aml (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1977), no.31.

12. ibid., no.38.

13. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 28:15.

14. ibid., 30:80.

15. On Ibn Taymiyyah’s opinion concerning tasbih beads (subhah), see: Majmu‘ al-Fatawa, 22:506; on tawassul with the Prophet ﷺ, see: Majmu‘ Fatawa, 1:40, where he cites Imam Ahmad doing so, thus validating it as a legitimate fiqh view; concerning earmarking the fifteenth of Sha‘ban for optional ‘ibadah, cf. 23:131-32; on the mawlid, see: Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim (Riyadh: Maktabah Ishbiliya, 1998), 2:123, where he holds people will be rewarded for their love in doing so, but not for the actual act, again showing he considered it as an issue of legitimate ijtihad and differing.

16. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 20:164.

17. ‘Maratib al-‘Ulum’ in Rasa’il Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi (Beirut: al-Mu’assasah al-‘Arabiyyah, 1983), 4:86.

18. Al-Bukhari, no.6120.

Sacred Knowledge: Between Serious Seekers & Flippant Jokers

Now that certain objectionable practices have wiggled and wormed their way into the da‘wah – e.g. corporate attitudes which seems to put money first, the conscious use of comedy and tomfoolery, the culture of edutainment, the huge fees or honorariums that some charge for da‘wah, and an unhealthy celebrity culture which now surrounds certain speakers – let’s remind ourselves about the reality of revealed guidance and sacred Islamic knowledge:

1 – Sacred knowledge (‘ilm) is to be conveyed with seriousness and dignity, given the sources it is being conveyed from and the realities it reveals. The Qur’an speaks about itself in these very sober terms: إِنَّا سَنُلْقِي عَلَيْكَ قَوْلاً ثَقِيلاًWe shall soon cast upon you a weighty word. [Q.73:5] And: أَفَمِنْ هَذَا الْحَدِيثِ تَعْجَبُونَ وَتَضْحَكُونَ وَلاَ تَبْكُونَDo you then marvel at this discourse and laugh, yet not weep? [Q.53:59-60]

2 – The Prophet ﷺ said: لَوْ تَعْلَمُونَ مَا أَعْلَمُ، لَضَحِكْتُمْ قَلِيلًا، وَ لَبَكَيْتُمْ كَثِيرًا – “If you only knew what I know, you would laugh little and would weep abundantly.”1 Religious knowledge, then, is serious and weighty: nothing about it is light or frivolous or lends itself to frolics or fits of laughter. 

3 – Even if we are not scholars, it behoves us speakers or seekers of knowledge to adopt the demeanour and comportment of the scholars. Imam Malik once said: ‘It is a right upon a seeker of knowledge to be solemn, dignified, possess reverent fear [of Allah], and to follow in the footsteps of those who preceded him.’2

4 – The above must be done out of a love of virtue, beauty of adab, as well as saving others from the unsavoury aspects of our own character; not from showing-off or pretending to be what we are not. Of course, actions are judged by their intentions.

5 – Those giving religious instruction are meant to help raise our levels of piety and make us serious people. They must not pander to the mediocrity or frivolity that people have steeped themselves in, or surrounded themselves with, today. ‘Ali, radia’Llahu ‘anhu, said: ‘When you have learnt knowledge, then retain it; and do not mix it with laughter or futility so that hearts spit it out.’Ibn al-Jawzi makes a similar point about the wa‘iz; the preacher, not laughing, joking or behaving as the masses do: ‘so that they hold him in high esteem and thus benefit from his admonition.’4

6 – The occasional dignified humour or light hearted remark is permitted, providing it doesn’t compromise the seriousness of the message, nor trivialise it in peoples’ hearts; nor push people to being even more frivolous than most of them already are. While advising the students of Hadith – advice that is also applicable to other Muslim scholars, teachers, shaykhs and preachers – al-Khatib al-Baghdadi states: 

‘The seeker of Hadith is required to shun levity, frivolity, or lowering oneself in gatherings by being silly or idiotic, roaring with fits of laughter and excess joking, and being overly humorous and frivolous. However, a little humour is permitted occasionally, as long as it doesn’t transgress the bounds of good manners or the way of knowledge. As for foolish, immodest, or immoderate behaviour, or whatever else gives rise to it in peoples’ souls or creates harm, it is repugnant. Too much joking or laughter demeans one’s status and belittles one’s gentlemanliness (muru’ah).’5

7 – In conclusion: If sacred knowledge doesn’t help lift our gaze towards God, or does not make us more serious people with lofty concerns, then we are, in all likelihood, receiving it with wrong hearts or from the wrong people! Sacred knowledge is noble; as must be its carriers, callers and teachers. 

And Allah’s help is sought. 

1. Al-Bukhari, no.4345; Muslim, no.426.

2. Cited in al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, al-Jami‘ li Akhlaq al-Rawi wa Adab al-Sami‘ (Beirut: al-Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1996), no.212.

3. ibid., no.213.

4. Laftat al-Kabad ila Nasihat al-Walad (Beirut: Dar al-Muqtabas, 2013), 60.

5. Al-Jami‘ li Akhlaq al-Rawi, 1:232-33.

Islam, Freedom, Modernity: Mastery of the Self v. Slavery to the Self

Believer must realise that, at root, there’s a parting of ways between Islam and the liberal monoculture when it comes to what human beings fundamentally are, what it is possible for them to be or become, and what it means to be liberated or free. Islam teaches that the human person is imbued with a ruh, a “spirit,” that yearns for God, truth and beauty. For the liberal monoculture, there is no spirit or soul, but merely a “self.” And this self is made up of our whims, wants and desires. Islam teaches that the intellect or reason’s role, in light of Revelation, is to enable us to know the good and what’s morally right, and direct our desires towards it. Reason is a restraint on desires, it is master of desires; hence the importance of self-mastery or mastery of the self in Islam. About this, the Qur’an says: As for those who feared the standing before their Lord and curbed their soul’s desires, the Garden is their abode. [Q.79:40-41]

In stark contrast, the monoculture would have us believe that reason is not, and cannot be, master of desire but only its servant. Reason can tell us not what to desire or want, but only how to get whatever it is we desire or want. For the monoculture, it’s seldom about restraining our desires or mastering the self; rather it’s about slavery to self. Today’s freedom is freedom of the self; freedom to be servile to the self. Islam’s freedom is freedom from the dictates of the self; freedom from self-slavery. One of the saints of Islam once said: مَا وَصَلَ إِلٰى صَرِيْحِ الْحُرِّيَّةِ مَنْ بَقِيَ عَلَيْهِ مِنْ نَفْسِهِ بَقِيَّةٌ – ‘No one attains true freedom as long as he remains under even the slightest influence of his ego.’ With that being the case, any fiqh that isn’t rooted in this reality; any taysir or ease which fails to factor this into its fatwas, is sloppy and short-sighted and, in the long run, is part of the actual problem.

True or meaningful freedom, then; freedom from self-slavery, can only come with taslim; surrender to God: i.e. Islam. To minds that have been dulled and numbed by the monoculture, a Muslim who submits to the divine Reality and who binds himself to a code of life consisting of a series of religious duties and commitments, may not appear as free as the hapless victims of the secularised monoculture who live in accordance with their whims, base desires and egos. In reality, however, the Muslim discipline is no deprivation of freedom. It is a necessary measure so as to guide people, regulate their affairs, prevent them from straying, and dissuade them from doing harm to themselves or to others. By recognising that the divinely-given code of life exists to protect us, bring out the best in us, and help our Adamic potential flower to its fullest, we can attain balance and contentment in this life, and endless joy in the next. In fact, if anything, the sheer number of laws, regulations and prohibitions which the modern state constrains its citizens with – all in the name of progress and the public interest – is far far larger than the corpus of laws or duties the believer is required to uphold. Yet in the cult of blindness and double-standards, it is the shari‘ah that is the “straight-jacket”.

Ever since the French ‘philosophes’ and the French Revolution which swiftly followed on its heels – which wasn’t just a revolt against social injustices and an unjust aristocracy, but above all, it was a revolt against Religion; against God – Man would, henceforth, be the measure of all things. It would be Man’s will that would be sovereign. His personal will alone would have the right to decide what it desires to believe, want, own or serve; even as the upshot of it all – hedonism, ecological decimation, slavish consumerism, alarming rates of depression and ontological loneliness, erosion of family and community, or spiralling levels of substance abuse and addiction – aggressively gnawed away at his civilisational values like cancer.

It is clear, therefore, that the monoculture is heading in the wrong direction. It is leading us like lemmings to a cliff-edge. It’s driving the bus of humanity over the edge; and we Muslims have to be the ones to apply the brakes. Islam’s message of monotheism, hope and healing must restore direction and purpose back into peoples’ lives. It must help steer them back to restoring God in the hearts. Key to all this is the required virtue of sabr – of patience, perseverance, and ploughing on with what revelation expects of us. The Prophet ﷺ foretold: ‘There will come upon the people a time where a person patiently practicing his religion will be like holding on to hot coal.’1 There is also this hadith: ‘And know that victory comes with patience, relief with affliction, and ease with hardship.’2

1. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2260. It was given a grading of sahih in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1985), no.957.

2. Al-Tabarani, al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.11243; al-Quda‘i, Musnad, no.745. Ibn Badran says, Sharh Kitab al-Shihab (Beirut & Damascus: Dar al-Nawadir, 2007), no.136, that the hadith, with its collective chains, is hasan.

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.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: