The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Friday Reminder for Thoughtful Hearts: 2

WE READ IN THE Qur’an: And when the [Friday] prayer is ended, then disperse in the land and seek of Allah’s favour, and remember Allah much, that you may succeed. [Q.62:10] The shari‘ah combines between establishing Allah’s rights; like prayer, fasting and dhikr, and between securing benefits to oneself; such as the need to earn a living. This is clear from the above verse. What is also clear is that we should seek aid in earning our livelihood by fulfilling the rights we owe Allah.

THE PROPHET ﷺ SAID: ‘Whosoever makes the world his main concern, Allah will scatter his affairs, put poverty before him, and nothing of the world will come to him except what is written for him. Whosoever makes the Afterlife his main concern, Allah will gather his affairs, put contentment in his heart, and the world shall come to him even if he is averse to it.’ – Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.4105.

THOSE WHO PURSUE a life of greed, self-gratification or neglectfulness of God, choosing to expose themselves to inner darkness and a plague of inner demons, will ultimately be cast into perdition with hellish devils!

‘GREED INVITES YOU to rush blindly into sin; the loneliest are those who are conceited; and the best worldly detachment (zuhd) is to conceal one’s worldly detachment.’ – ‘Ali b. Abi Talib.

OURS IS AN AGE filled with two kinds of angst or anxiety. The first is an existential angst: an angst or despair born from falsely believing that life is devoid of meaning; everything is here by some cosmic “chance”; and that despite our freedom to choose, death is our ultimate end: thus life is pointless. The believer is shielded from such an angst because of knowing that life has a God-centred purpose; death isn’t the end; and the good we do, seeking God’s good pleasure – even if unappreciated by others – is known by God and is accepted by Him. In this way, the believer is known to God and loved by Him.

The other angst can afflict anyone – believer or unbeliever, saint or sinner – and is a part and parcel of the human drama. This is a clinical angst and is usually experienced in the context of a physical threat, a trauma, or a personal crisis. It can usually be treated with conventional medicine, professional therapy, meditative practices or spiritual healing, or a combination of them. And while some anxieties, like trauma brought on in childhood, is not the individual’s fault, it is their responsibility to try and remedy or cope with it.

SPIRITUAL MASTERS INSTRUCT that we Muslims, whatever we do or desire to accomplish in life, it must ultimately serve the glory of God.

ONE OF THE PITFALLS in the path of godliness is ‘ujb: vanity or self-conceit. ‘Ujb is when we fail to realise that the good acts we have done are not of our own doing, but are purely from God’s grace. Only if blinded to such a reality do we then see these works as being of our own accomplishment or doing. We then begin to be vain, egotistical and bask in our own self-glory, thereby nullifying our good deeds and ruining our spiritual heart.

THE QUR’AN WANTS marital life to be a life of mutual love, kindness and companionship. It says, addressing men: Live with them in kindness. [Q.4:19] And it insists: Give them their dowry in kindness. [Q.4:25] Allah also warns: House them in your own homes, according to your means. And do not harass them, so as to make life intolerable for them. [Q.65:6] So the affair is to be one of kindness. The mark of a real Muslim man is nothing less; all else just isn’t manliness in any true faith-based sense of the word. ‘Her vulnerabilities invite you to stand up for her, not stand up to her.’ – Abdal Hakim Murad, Contentions, 19/18

A SIGN OF God’s special concern for a person is His inspiring them to repent for their sins and to thankfully acknowledge the blessings they receive from Him. The former nurtures humility in the heart; the latter, a deep and abiding love for Allah.

AS SOCIAL MEDIA SITES are tweaked to get more and more addictive, and as social media companies are in a war for our  attention, where only the most addictive sites will survive, most people will be little more than lab rats in a huge social experiment. If we don’t learn to cultivate inner restraint or a sense of balance, most will continue to be manipulated by social media sites and content creators to waste far too much time in a way that benefits them, not us; unless we recall that we were created for a higher, more exalted Connectivity and a profounder friendship with the Content Creator of all creation. The choice, then, is ours: where there’s a will, there’s always a way.

‘RECITE WHATEVER IS EASY for you to do of the Glorious Qur’an, each day or night, in a slow, measured tone; with presence of heart; and by reflecting over it. Recite it in stages, starting at the beginning till you complete it … The secret is in [having] presence of heart and in reflection (tadabbur), not in reciting a lot of the Qur’an.’ – Imam al-Haddad

Friday Reminder for Thoughtful Hearts: 1

THE QUR’AN says: Whoever does righteousness, be they male or female, and has faith, We will cause them to live a goodly life. [Q.16:97] The ‘goodly life,’ explained by the great sages and scholars of Islam to mean a life of inner contentment and happiness, is profoundly tied to doing righteous deeds, and doing them well. In other words, in Islam, the goodly life is connected to the godly life.

TRUE SEEKERS of Allah and the Afterlife must realise that not leaving alone what doesn’t concern them will adversely effect the heart. In this context, words and deeds that are in obedience to Allah illuminate hearts; those that are merely licit (mubah) harden hearts; those that are sinful darken hearts.

DOES THE QUR’AN ever speak of a collective calamity to a people, except that among its crucial wisdoms is to steer people away from their waywardness, sins and rebelliousness against God’s ways? So while we fulfil social distancing from others, let’s ensure we carry out spiritual distancing from sins too.

HIGHER THAN GIVING our children our unconditional love which, of course, we must do, is to pray we can love them for God’s sake for the faith and righteousness they hopefully live by.

TRULY BENEFICIAL KNOWLEDGE should nurture four qualities in a person: piety (taqwa) towards God, humility (tawadu’) towards others, detachment (zuhd) from wordliness, and spiritual striving (mujahadah) against one’s ego.

SPIRITUAL MASTERS TEACH US that, after fulfilling the obligatory acts, the heart is best illuminated by three matters: [i] Reciting the Qur’an in a slow and measured tone, while pondering its meanings. [ii] Remembering Allah with proper decorum and with presence of heart. [iii] Spending part of the night standing in prayer, with reverence, humility and neediness. 

Three things help such spiritual practices: [i] Not eating to one’s fill, but eating such that hunger is satiated. [ii] Keeping good spiritual company, not spending too much time with those who are heedless of Allah; whose main focus is on worldly stuff. [iii] Leaving those things that do not aid our spiritual growth, nor help us to fulfil our worldly duties or our earthly responsibilities.

THE SOUL’S TRUE PURIFICATION is not possible without training ourselves to be sturdy during manifestations of the jalal. 

‘IF YOU FEEL the yearning for God it is inevitable that your style of life will change.’ – Sh. Abdal Hakim Murad, Contentions, 9/20

IF RELIGIOUS faith and practice is to survive the constant onslaught of what is essentially an atheistic, secular monoculture, we Muslims will have to be, if not scholars, then at the very least people who study their religion and who think intelligently about it. 

‘WE COME INTO this world as Allah’s servants; let’s not leave this world except as Allah’s beloved friends.’ – Sh. Jaleel Ahmed Akhoon

Weaning Yourself Off Worldliness

How do viruses, self isolation or the need for social distancing, relate to the latest The Red Umbrella podcast, with its theme of Weaning Yourself Off Worldliness? What does it mean to wean ourselves off the material world? Where does money and wealth fit into religious practice and seeking God? Find out from the audio below, which discusses these crucial ethical questions that face us in our age of turbo-consumerism. (Previous podcast can be found on iTunes, and also on this blog here)

There’s More to Salam Than Meets the Eye

AMONG THE LOFTY STANDARDS of conduct we Muslims are taught in the Holy Qur’an is the following:

إِذَا حُيِّيتُمْ بِتَحِيَّةٍ فَحَيُّوا بِأَحْسَنَ مِنْهَا أَوْ رُدُّوهَا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ حَسِيبًا

When you are greeted with a greeting, return it with a better greeting or [at least] its equal. Surely God takes account of all things. [Q.4:86]

Of course, there’s much more to offering the greetings of salam  – which, by the way, is recommended to initiate and obligatory to respond to 1 – than meets the eye. It’s more than just a verbal gesture. And it’s certainly more than just saying “hello”.

Mutual greetings of salam; of peace, is a well-established prophetic practice,2 behind which is the idea of spreading goodness and love among the believers. In initiating greetings of peace, we show our good will and intent towards fellow Muslims. For we are asking God for His peace, mercy, blessings and protection to be showered upon all those we meet and greet. No wonder, then, that the famous sahabi, Ibn ‘Umar, would go to his local market with no other motive than to spread the greetings of salams to all whom he would meet; whether friend or stranger.3

The above verse teaches us that it is preferred to reply with a better greeting, but required to at least return an equal greeting. So, for instance, if one is greeted with: al-salamu ‘alaykum, it is preferred to reply with: wa ‘alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah (or even adding: wa barakatuhu). Failing that, one returns an equal greeting (in this case, wa ‘alaykum al-salam). Again, if someone greets us with: al-salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah, the above verse obligates us to at the very least reply with its equal: wa ‘alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah. Falling short of this is failing to be brotherly or sisterly, and is failing to comply with a Quranic command.

Of course, when ignorance of such basic codes of behaviour abounds, one should be thoughtful where one gives the full greeting of salam, just in case the listener[s] won’t respond with an equal greeting and thereby possibly be sinful!

Some have emphasised that although the norm and recommendation among us Muslims is to greet each other with salam, the above verse applies to any greeting, by any person. Thus, if a non-Muslim greets us with a simple “hello” or “good morning,” one replies with a better response (“hello, and I hope you’re well,” for instance), or at least an equal greeting. 

Whenever greeted with a warm, smiling salam, the same verse teaches us to reciprocate with nothing less: in other words, a warm, smiling reply. The cold, zombie-faced, I’ve-just-come-back-from-a-funeral type of salam, that is all too often thrown about, is simply not good enough! The Qur’an sees this as being mean-spirited and of poor character. If one’s intent, even as one is greeting another with salam, is to do them some harm or to later speak ill of them behind their back, then that is unlikely to be due to poor character. Rather, such an act has a distinct stench of hypocrisy. 

The hope in all of this is that, not only would we learn to demonstrate our good will to others; or be caring enough to invoke blessings and goodness upon them as our norm; but that we’d also learn to become people who, by our very nature, are eager to give back more than we receive. A community in which love of giving and goodness is nurtured – at first as a religious instruction; but then as a spiritual and selfless ideal – is a community that begins to reflect the mutual relationship God wishes for us to make real throughout the wider human collective. But it has to start with individuals who are seeking to become better people for the sake of God.  

So all that is left to say is: wa’l-salamu ‘alaykum [wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu].

1. See: al-Hajjawi, Sharh Manzumat al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah (Saudi Arabia: Wazirat al-Sh’un al-Islamiyyah, n.d.), 186, 190.

2. Cf. al-Bukhari, no.3148; Muslim, no.2841. Also cf. al-Tirmidhi, no.2485, where he graded the hadith as sahih.

3. Consult: Malik, al-Muwatta, nos.961-62.

Guardians of Sacred Knowledge & Spiritual Growth

The core of this article centres on Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali’s discussion about the hadith that describes the three kinds of heart in respect to knowledge and guidance. Ibn Rajab also gives us a window into how revealed knowledge has been safeguarded for us – both its content and its meanings – throughout the ages, by those guardians described by our Prophet ﷺ as “the Trustworthy Ones of every generation”. What the unspoken question this articles asks is: What type of heart do we each wish to be?

We have revealed to you [O Prophet] the Reminder [Qur’an] that you may explain to people what was sent to them, that they may reflect. [Q.16:44]

This verse defines the Prophet’s function ﷺ as being, not just the conveyer of revelation, but its explainer and elaborator too. The Prophet, in other words, was not just invested with the wordings of the Qur’an, but its meanings as well. The Prophet’s legacy ﷺ in the form of his words, deeds and tacit approvals, are collectively known as his Sunnah – his “way” or “norm”. One famous hadith states: ‘I am leaving among you two things, you will never go astray as long as you cling tightly to them: the Book of Allah and my Sunnah.1 Another popular hadith states: ‘Whoever turns away from my Sunnah is not of me.’2

The injunctions laid out in Allah’s Book and the Messenger’s Sunnah ﷺ make-up what is known collectively as the shari‘ah – the Sacred Law of Islam. From this body of teachings come the laws and ethics that govern Islamic life. The shari‘ah is all-encompassing and, to worship Allah, believers must recognise that every area of human activity bears religious significance.

Now the men and women of the Prophet’s generation ﷺ, to whom he recited the Qur’an and who became his immediate disciples and followers, are known as the sahabah or “Companions”. The Qur’an says of them: As for the foremost, the first of the Emigrants and the Helpers, and those who followed them with excellence, Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him. He has prepared for them gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they shall dwell perpetually. That is the supreme triumph. [Q.9:100]

The Prophet ﷺ asserted: ‘The best of mankind is my generation, then their immediate followers, then their immediate followers.’3

Another hadith says: ‘You will not cease to be upon goodness while there remains among you those who saw me and kept company with me. By Allah, you will not cease to be upon goodness as long as there remains among you those who saw those who saw and kept company with me.’4

One hadith states: akrimu ashabi – ‘Honour my Companions.’5 Another insists: la tasubbu ashabi – ‘Do not revile my Companions.’6 And a third informs that: idha dhukira ashabi fa’amsiku – ‘When my Companions are mentioned, withold [from speaking ill of them].’7 And outlining the path of salvation, the Saved Sect, the Prophet ﷺ stated it was: ma ana ‘alayhi wa ashabi – ‘That which I and my Companions are upon.’8

Since they actually had direct contact with the Prophet ﷺ, the Companions are thus the source for the exact wordings of the Qur’an, as well as for the Sunnah. An immense corpus of eyewitness reports about the sayings and actions of the Prophet ﷺ have been related by them – each report is called a “hadith”. The Companions, particularly the scholars and jurists among them, meticulously passed on this knowledge to their students from among the tabi‘un or “Successors” who, in turn, did the same with the next generation; and so on, to the present age.

This transmission; this passing down of knowledge, is what is depicted by the following hadith: ‘This knowledge shall be carried by the trustworthy ones of each generation: they will expel from it the distortions of the extremists, the concoctions of the liars; and the false interpretations of the ignorant.’9

These ‘udul or “trustworthy ones” are the scholars; the ‘ulema. Now the word ‘ulema just means: “learned ones”. The ‘ulema earn this recognition only after having extensively studied at the feet of authorised teachers and recognised religious authorities who went through a like process; and so on, in an unbroken chain going right back to the earliest religious authorities: the Companions. Because of this, the ‘ulema occupy an important place in Islam. They are no less than the guardians and interpreters of Sacred Knowledge. The Prophet ﷺ proclaimed: al-‘ulema warathatu’l- anbiya – ‘The scholars are the heirs of the prophets.’10

Presenting us with a window into this legacy, Ibn Rajab writes: ‘Allah has guaranteed to guard this Sacred Law and protect its followers from concurring upon misguidance and error. He raised from their midst a group that would never cease to be established upon the truth, victorious over those opposing them, until the Hour comes. He raised up those who would be the bearers of the Sacred Law: those who would defend it by the sword and tongue, and by proofs and clarifications. Which is why Allah appointed for this ummah – among the successors to the prophets and the bearers of proofs for each age – those who would specialise in meticulously preserving the actual wordings of the Sacred Law: guarding it from any additions or deletions; and those who would specialise in protecting its meanings and implications: guarding it against distortions and lies. The first are those versed in transmission (riwayah); the second are specialists in derivation (dirayah wa’l-ri‘ayah).

‘The Prophet ﷺ struck a similitude for these two groups, as is recorded in the Two Sahihs, where Abu Musa relates; the Prophet ﷺ said: “The example of what Allah has sent me with, of guidance and knowledge, is like that of a downpour of rain that falls upon parts of the earth. Some spots are fertile and accept the rainwater, bringing forth an abundance of pasture and greenery. Other parts are barren, but retain the water with which Allah benefits people, who use it to drink and sow. Others, still, are gullies which can neither hold water nor bring forth any pasturage. This is like a person who gains knowledge of the religion and benefits from what Allah sent me with; learning it and teaching it to others; and someone who pays no heed and rejects Allah’s guidance with which I was sent.”1112

Ibn Rajab, may Allah sanctify his soul, continues: ‘What the Prophet ﷺ said in the hadith of Abu Musa classifies hearts according to what they produce of knowledge and faith; whether or not they retain the water and sprout green pasture. Here, hearts are of three types:

‘A type that both retains the water and brings forth abundant pasture and herbage. This is like those who have the power to commit texts to heart, to comprehend and understand the religion, to gain insight into the finer points of interpretation, and to extract subtleties and treasures from the texts. Examples include: the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs, ‘Ubayy b. Ka‘b, Abu’l-Darda’, Ibn Mas‘ud, Mu‘adh b. Jabal and Ibn ‘Abbas. They were followed by the likes of al-Hasan, Sa‘id b. al-Musayyib, ‘Ata’ and Mujahid. They were followed by the likes of Malik, Layth, al-Thawri, al-Awza‘i, Ibn al-Mubarak, al-Shafi‘i, Ahmad, Ishaq, Abu ‘Ubayd, Abu Thawr and Muhammad b. Nasr al-Marwazi. These, and their like, are from those who were deeply versed in Allah’s laws, commands and prohibitions.

‘Their like also included: Uways, Malik b. Dinar, Ibrahim b. Adham, Fudayl b. ‘Iyad, Abu Sulayman, Dhu’l-Nun, Ma‘ruf, Junayd b. Muhammad, Sahl b. ‘Abd Allah, and al-Hirr b. Asad. They and their like are those who were deeply versed in Allah’s names, attributes, actions and days.13

‘The [second] type [of land] holds water and retains it, so that people may draw water and benefit from it [but doesn’t bring forth any herbage or pasturage]. They are those who have the power to commit texts to heart, accurately and precisely, but cannot infer rulings or extract meanings [from them]. Their likes also include Sa‘id b. Abi ‘Aruba, al-‘Amash, Muhammad b. Ja‘far Ghundar, ‘Abd al-Razzaq, ‘Amr al-Naqid and Muhammad b. Bashshar Bindar.

‘The third type are the worst of people [like land that neither holds water nor brings forth pasture]. For they do not learn or comprehend, nor do they transmit or understand. They are those who neither accept Allah’s guidance, nor do they pay any heed to it at all.14

Having let some fragrance of this classical legacy waft in through the window, Ibn Rajab concludes by saying:

‘The point here is that Allah protects this shari‘ah by raising up those who will be its carriers: the people of derivation and the people of transmission. Therefore a student of knowledge has to learn this from those who have already acquired it: i.e. the scholars. So he learns the wordings of the Qur’an and the hadiths from those who have meticulously preserved it: and he gains understanding of the religion – the outward laws of Islam and the inward realities of faith – from those who have mastered it.

‘The predominant state of the first three excellent generations was that they combined all of this. The Companions learnt all of this from the Prophet ﷺ; in turn, all this was learnt from them by their Successors: the following generation learning it from them.

‘During this time, the religious sciences were all unified. The distinctions between jurists (fuqaha) and traditionists (ahl al-hadith); scholars of legal theory (usul) and positive law (furu‘); sufi, faqr and zahid had yet to gain currency. Such distinctions became widespread after the first three generations. The [pious] predecessors (salaf), well they simply called those who possessed religious learning and practice, qurra’ – “Reciters.”‘15

1. Malik, al-Muwatta, no.2618, in balaghah form (i.e. “it has reached me”); al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, no.318; Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm, no.951; and others. Some, due to its collective chains, graded the hadith as hasan, if not sahih. Consult: al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.2937.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.5063; Muslim, no.1401.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.3250; Muslim, no.2535.

4. Ibn Abi Shaybah, al-Musannaf, no.32421. Its chain is hasan, as per Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahihah al-Bukhari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-’Ilmiyyah, 1989), 7:7.

5. Ahmad, Musnad, nos.114, 117, and it is sahih. Cf. al-Halabi, Hidayat al-Ruwat ila Takhrij Ahadith al-Masabih wa’l-Mishkat (Cairo: Dar Ibn ‘Affan, 2001), no.5957.

6. Al-Bukhari, no.3673; Muslim, no.2541.

7. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, 2:72:2. Its chain was graded hasan by al-‘Iraqi, Takhrij al-Ihya’ (Riyadh: Maktabah Tabariyyah, 1995), 1:25, no.78.

8. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2641, who said: “This elucidating hadith is hasan gharib.

9. Al-Khatib, Sharafu Ashab al-Hadith, 29. The hadith, with its collective chains, is hasan, according to al-Qastalani, Irshad al-Sari li Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: al-Matba‘ah al-Kubra al-Amiriyyah, n.d.), 1:4.

10. Abu Dawud, no.3641; al-Tirmidhi, no.2683. The hadith, with its multiple chains, yields a final grading of hasan. See: Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari, 1:212.

11. Al-Bukhari, no.79; Muslim, no.2282.

12. Majmu‘ al-Rasa’il al-Hafiz Ibn Rajab (Cairo: al-Faruq al-Khadathiyyah li’l-Tiba‘ah wa’l-Nashr, 2002), 2:558.

13. Allah’s ‘days’ is a reference to Qur’an [14:5]: And We sent Moses with Our signs: “Bring your people out of the darknesses and into the light, and remind them of the days of Allah.” And [Q.45:14]: Tell the believers to forgive those who have no hope in the days of Allah. These “days” refer to momentous and defining events in the annals or history of a nation, in which we are meant to learn life lessons, deepen in mindfulness of Allah, and grow in spiritual practice. See: al-Sam‘ani, Tafsir al-Qur’an (Riyadh: Dar al-Watn, 1997), 3:104.

14. Majmu‘ al-Rasa’il, 2:559-60.

15. ibid., 2:560-61.

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