The Humble "I"

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The World Gets Topsy-Turvier: Signs of the End Days [1/2]

Bill-Garvin-TTWThe Hour is drawing near and the moon has been cleft in two, declares the Qur’an [54:1] In another of its many eschatological verses, it says: They ask you about the Hour. Say: ‘Knowledge of it is but with Allah. What will make you aware of it? It maybe that the Hour is near.’ [33:63] The Prophet, peace be upon him, stated: ‘My coming, and the Hour, are like this’ – holding up his index and middle finger to demonstrate their closeness.1 In another hadith, it mentions: ‘Count six things before the Hour comes,’ and the first of them he mentioned was: ‘my death.’These two events are considered to be the first two “signs” of the End Days; the first of the ashrat al-sa‘ah – “signs before the coming of the Hour.”

Going back to the Qur’an again, it alerts about the Hour and the mighty reckoning it will bring: Closer draws to mankind their reckoning, yet they heed it not and disregard it. [21:1] And: They think it is far off; while We see it as near. [70:6-7]

Our ‘ulema have divided these End of Day signs into two groups: major and minor (or greater and lesser). Most of the minor signs (ashrat sughra) will be, in a way, a prelude to the Final Hour and take place a considerable time before it; some shall immediately precede the major signs (ashrat kubra) or will accompany them; whilst a few will occur after the major signs have unfolded.

Another way the minor signs have been classified is: (i) those that have occurred and have ended; (ii) those which have occurred and continue to proliferate; and (iii) those signs which have yet to occur.3

An example of the first would be the coming and departing of the Prophet, peace be upon him, to and from this earthly realm. Another would be the Plague of Amwas, as per the hadith: ‘Count six things before the Hour comes: my death, then the conquest of Jerusalem, then a plague that will afflict you like the disease of cattle …’4 Ibn Hajr said: ‘This sign was manifested in the Plague of Amwas during ‘Umar’s caliphate, and this occurred after the conquest of Jerusalem.’5 This plague struck in 18H and claimed the lives of 25,000 people; including that of the famous Companion, Abu ‘Ubaydah b. al-Jarrah.

Signs that have already occurred and which continue their onward trajectory include: the uncritical imitation of non-Muslim culture, values and lifestyles. There occurs in one hadith: ‘The Hour will not be established until my ummah takes to what previous nations took to.’6 And in another hadith: ‘You will soon follow the ways of those who came before you, inch by inch, handspan by handspan, so much so that if they were to enter a lizard’s hole, you would do likewise.’ They asked: O Allah’s Messenger, do you mean the Jews and Christians? He replied: ‘Who else?’7 As long as we keep deferring to the monoculture and its masters, things shall not bode well for this ummah of great mercies. Inculturation must be guided by the rulings and objectives of our shari‘ah, as well as kept wise by the profound insights of our tasawwuf/tazkiyah tradition.

Some more signs in this genre include: ‘From the signs of the Hour is that knowledge will be lifted and ignorance established.’8 The knowledge (‘ilm) being referred to here is sacred knowledge; knowledge of Islam: its rulings, ethics and spiritual demands. As for secular knowledge, that continues to proliferate. Another sign is: ‘Before the Hour comes, usury (riba) will be widespread.’9 In another: ‘The Hour will not be established until Allah takes His virtuous servants from the earth, so that only the riffraff remain: they will neither recognise virtue nor reject vice.’1o Another hadith worth citing here: ‘The Hour will not be established until people compete in building lofty buildings.’11 This is akin to the famous hadith: ‘You will see the barefooted, scantly-clad, destitute herdsmen competing to construct lofty buildings.’12 The project of scraping the skies by former herdsmen and their descendants is already well underway, even disfiguring the skyline of Islam’s most holy of holies.

Other signs in this category include: ‘The Hour will not be established until trials and civil commotions become widespread, lying proliferates and markets become closer.’13 And: ‘The Hour will not be established till time passes rapidly.’14 Markets being close together is said to refer to how modern travel and communications have made them and their goods instantly knowable, accessible and purchasable: whilst the quickening of time refers to the lack of blessing (barakah) in it, such that what could be done in the past is more than can be done now, in the same span of time. This quickening of time (taqarab al-zaman) has also been interpreted literally, as in the hadith: ‘The Hour will not come until time quickens and a year is like a month.’15

Another hadith reads: ‘The Hour will not be established until mountains are moved from their places and you shall see great calamities that you have never seen before.’16 The Prophet, peace be upon him, also said: ‘The Hour will not be established till the land of the Arabs return to being meadows and rivers.’17 We’re currently seeing the birth of significant tracts of green pastures in the larger Arabian peninsular, albeit via manmade feats of engineering (as with the case of mountains being moved).

Another sign, this time less positive, speaks of the Khawarij: ‘Towards the end of time there shall come a people young in age (hudatha’u’l-asnan) and also lacking in intellect (sufaha’u’l-ahlam). They will speak with the best speech of people, yet they shall pass through Islam as an arrow passes through its game. Their faith won’t go beyond their throats. Wherever you encounter them, slay them; for in slaying them entails a huge reward on the Day of Judgement.’18 Another hadith about them says: ‘There will arise a people who will recite the Qur’an but it won’t go beyond their collarbone. Each time a new generation arises, they will be cut-off [Ibn ‘Umar said the Prophet, peace be on him, repeated the words: ‘each time a new generation arises they will be cut-off’ more than twenty times], until the Dajjal appears at their tale end.’19 Thus this misguided sect will keep rearing its violent and ugly head among the ummah, but each time they do so they will be known by the People of Knowledge and will be duly repudiated. Wa li’Llahi’l-hamd.

And finally in this category are the usual suspects: ‘From the signs of the Hour is that knowledge will diminish, ignorance will proliferate, fornication/adultery (zina) will be prevalent, and the numbers of women shall increase whilst that of men decrease; so much so that one man will care for fifty women.’20 ‘The Hour will not be established until earthquakes increase.’21 And finally: ‘Towards the end of my ummah there will be men who will ride on something like comfortable saddles, and will dismount at the doors of mosques; and their women will be clothed yet naked.’22 Women immodestly dressed is understood: as for “comfortable saddles,” could that be referring to modern cars – as suggested by some scholars?

Examples of signs which have yet to reveal themselves would include: ‘The Hour will not be established until the Euphrates reveals a mountain of gold, over which people would fight. Ninety-nine out of each hundred people will be slain, though every man among them will think that perhaps he will be the one to be saved [and hence get the gold].’23 It says in another hadith: ‘The Euphrates will soon uncover a treasure of gold, he who is present there should not take anything of it.’24

Three end days persons are significant in this genre of hadith. The first is mentioned in the Prophet’s words, peace be upon him: ‘The Hour will not be established until a man from Qahtan will emerge, who will drive the people with his whip,’25 which is a metaphor for people accepting his leadership and authority over them.26 The second person: ‘The Ka’bah will be demolished by Dhu’l-Suwayqatayn from Abyssinia.’27 The last personality: ‘Night and day will not cease until a man called Jahjah would come to power.’28 Put aside what the Rastas may (or may not) think of this hadith, there isn’t much discussion on these three personalities in the hadith commentaries. Some have suggested that Jahjah is the man from the distinguished Arab tribe of Qahtan; others disagree and say that this is unlikely, since another hadith makes it clear that Jahjah is a freed slave; others believe that he and Dhul-Suwayqatayn are one and the same. And Allah knows best.29

Another sign yet to occur is the unarmed conquest of Constantinople: ‘The Hour will not be established until seventy-thousand of the Banu Ishaq march against it. When they reach it and descend upon it they shall neither fight with weapons, nor fire any arrows, but will say: la ilaha illa’Llahu wa’Llahu akbar, upon which the side facing the sea will fall. They will say la ilaha illa’Llahu wa’Llahu akbar a second time, whereby the other side shall fall. They will again say la ilaha illa’Llahu wa’Llahu akbar whereupon it will be opened to them and they shall enter it and claim the booty …’30

Finally in this genre are the various prophecies concerning the coming of the Mahdi, about whom the Prophet, peace be upon him, declared: ‘I give you glad tidings of the Mahdi, who will be sent when people are divided and earthquakes occur. He shall fill the world with justice and fairness as it was filled with injustice and oppression. The inhabitants of the heavens and the earth will be pleased with him, and he shall divide wealth justly.’31 In another hadith: ‘There will appear in the last part of my ummah the Mahdi. Allah shall grant him rain and the earth shall bring forth its vegetation. Wealth would be distributed fairly, livestock and livelihood will be abundant and the ummah shall become great. He will live for seven or eight [years].’32 And this: ‘If there remained only one day left in this world, Allah would prolong it and send to it a man from me, or from my family, whose name will be the same as mine and whose father’s name would be the same as my father’s. He will fill the earth with justice and fairness just as it had been filled with injustice and oppression.’33

Of course, there are hadiths in each of the three categories whose meanings aren’t so obvious or clear. Scholars differ over their interpretations and meanings; and thus the signs they contain may have occurred or are yet to occur. In other words, it may not be easy to determine which of the above three categories the hadith should be put in. An example of one such obfuscation is the aforementioned hadith about “comfortable saddles”. Does this refer to modern cars, or to something that is yet to make its debut in the world? The wording is unarguably highly suggestive of modern transport, but one couldn’t state this with absolute certainty.

Another example is the hadith: ‘As the Hour approaches crescent moons will swell; and that people will observe a first night crescent moon and declare: “it is two nights old!”‘34 Now is this phenomenon referring to something that has yet to take place? Or does it bespeak of our current hilal dilemma wherein some Muslims have chalked up a record of allegedly spotting the new moon one day before everyone else? Does the “swelling” of the moon refer to seeing it with the aid of telescopes and binoculars, or to the phenomenon known as size constancy, or to something entirely different?

Then there is that rather intriguing hadith which says: ‘By Him in whose hand is my life! The Hour will not be established until wild beasts speak to people, until the end of a man’s whip and his shoelace speak to him, and his thigh informs him about what his family is doing in his absence.’35 Is this speaking hinting at mobile phones (which were not so long ago fashionably worn on the hip) and items of clothing they are now being sown into? Or to some future piece of tech? Or should this be taken literally, i.e. that animals and inanimate objects shall actually speak. We know of a few reports in the prophetic age where animals did speak to people; hence inanimate things actually speaking wouldn’t be so far fetched.

Another engaging End-Day event is given in the following Companion-report (athar), which finds ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Amr saying (presumably on prophetic authority, since it is speaking of an unseen, future event which cannot be known except through Revealed authority): ‘When you see the belly of Makkah with passages dug out and you see the buildings taller than the mountain tops, then know that the affair has cast its shadow (fa‘lam anna’l-amr qad azallak).’36 Many are convinced that this report, if authentic, is describing the tunnels that bore through Makkah’s mountains, allowing pedestrians and traffic to flow in and out of Masjid al-Haram. As for its buildings being taller than mountains, this is a recent happening of the last two decades or so. Things have taken a turn in Makkah during our very lifetime. While there is much change that pilgrims and visitors can and should be thankful for, the city is also awash with garish hotels, gaudy shopping malls and a lurid clock-tower; many of which dwarf the surrounding mountain tops.

What these hadiths show is that some End Day hadiths aren’t so easy to decipher. So scholars have always insisted on interpretative restraint and to not make quick calls about who or what these hadiths do or do not apply to – especially those with greater socio-political ramifications. Rushing into passing fatwas in such matters can and has led to great civil unrest and fitnah in our history; the usual culprits of commotion are, in the main, when the unlearned or hasty insist on pining the titles of Dajjal or Mahdi onto specific individuals whom the ‘ulema have said don’t fit the bill.

As for the major signs, they are summed up in following hadith: ‘The final Hour will not occur until ten signs come to pass: a landslide in the East; a landslide in the West; and a landslide in the Arabian peninsular; the Smoke; the Anti-Christ (al-dajjal); the Beasts of the Earth; Gog and Magog; the sun rising from the West; a fire from Yemen that will drive the people to the place of the Gathering; and the descent of Jesus, son of Mary.’37

Doubtlessly, things have been set in motion that are now unstoppable. We Muslims of today are living through monumental times and changes, where the lesser signs of the Hour; these ashrat al-sa‘ah, are unfolding rapidly and vividly before our very eyes. The midnight hour is soon to strike, the cosmic order is reaching a crescendo, and Islam’s End of Day auguries continue to be proved true.

The second and final part of this blog will focus on those hadiths, companion-reports and signs that speak about the actual topsy-turviness of the end times; and how social confusion and spiritual pollution begin to invert sacred norms and traditional human paradigms. Yet with all of these trials, tribulations, battles and struggles the followers of Abrahamic monotheism must of necessity face and endure, they cannot forget the promise of Allah, exalted is He: And the end is for those who fear Allah. [7:128] In one hadith we discover these words of the Prophet, peace be upon him: ‘Give glad-tidings to this ummah of ease, honour and glory, supremacy of religion, establishment upon earth, and victory. Whoever among them does an act of the Hereafter for the sake of the world, shall have no share in the Hereafter.’38

That being said, we mustn’t allow such triumphalism to feather the nests of our egos. Rather, we must temper our End of Day triumphalism with a more modest, sobering question – one which is the subject of our final hadith: A man asked, O Messenger of Allah, when is the Hour? The Prophet, peace be upon him, simply replied: ‘What have you prepared for it?’39

What indeed!

1. Al-Bukhari, no.6503.

2. ibid., no.3176.

3. See: Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1989), 13:104.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.3176.

5. Fath al-Bari, 6:342.

6. Al-Bukhari, no.7319.

7. Al-Bukhari, no.7320; Muslim, no.2669.

8. Al-Bukhari, no.80; Muslim, no.2681.

9. Al-Mundhari, al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib, no.2721, after which he said that it was related by al-Tabarani and its chain of narrators are those of the Sahih.

10. Al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, 4:435, after which he said: ‘This hadith is sahih as per the criteria of the Two Shaykhs.’

11. Al-Bukhari, no.7121.

12. Muslim, no.80.

13. Ahmad, Musnad, no.11009. Al-Haythami stated its narrators are those of the Sahih, except for Sa‘id b. Sam‘an who is trustworthy. See: Majma‘ al-Zawa’id (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 7:446; no.12450.

14. Ahmad, Musnad, no.10560; it was graded sahih in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.7422. Its like is also in al-Bukhari, no.1036.

15. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.2332. A fuller discussion of the matter is given in Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari, 13:20-21.

16. Al-Tabarani. Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.6857. It was graded sahih by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2002), no.3061.

17. Muslim, no.1012.

18. Al-Bukhari, no.5057.

19. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.174. It was declared to be sahih in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir, no.8027.

20. Al-Bukhari, no.81; Muslim, no.2681.

21. Al-Bukhari, no.1036.

22. Ahmad, no.7073. The hadith is hasan, as per al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1996), no.2683.

23. Muslim, no.2894.

24. Al-Bukhari, no.7119.

25. Al-Bukhari, no.3517; Muslim, no.2910.

26. As explained in Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari, 6:677.

27. Muslim, no.2909.

28. Muslim, no.2911.

29. See: Yusuf al-Wabil, Ashrat al-Sa‘ah (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2009), 189-91.

30. Muslim, no.2920.

31. Ahmad, Musnad, 3:37. Its chain of narrators are all reliable (thiqat), as stated by al-Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 7:431-2; no.12393.

32. Al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4:557-8, where he said: ‘The isnad of this hadith is sahih.’ For a similar verdict consult: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1985), no.711.

33. Abu Dawud, no.4282; al-Tirmidhi, no.2331, where he declared: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’

34. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Awsat, no.9376. Al-Haythami said, Majma‘ al-Zawa’d, 3:263; no.4808: its chain contains ‘Abd al-Rahman b. al-Arzaq al-Antaqi, whose biography couldn’t be ascertained.

35. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2181, where he states: ‘This hadith is hasan gharib sahih.

36. Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf (Cairo: al-Faruq al-Hadithah, 2008), 13:260; no.38248. Its chain (isnad) includes ‘Ata al-‘Amiri, who has been called into question by certain hadith authorities.

37. Muslim, no.2901.

38. Al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman, no.6835, and it is sahih. See: al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir, no.2825; and his Sahih al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib, no.23. It also occurs without the wording: “ease” in Ahmad, 5:134; Ibn Hibban, no.405; al-Hakim, no.7862.

39. Al-Bukhari, no.3688.

Political Violence & the End Days

10384205_621852931263051_1834185789852880556_nOne of the enormous achievements of our Prophet, peace be upon him, is that in less than twenty years he managed to bring law and order to a land that had hitherto been plagued with lawlessness and the absence of any political organisation whatsoever. In the event of a crime or injustice being committed, the norm was for the injured party to take the law into its own hands and dispense “justice” to the aggressor. Usually, this would lead to acts of great barbarity and would normally provoke reprisals, vendettas and tribal feuds which could often drag on for generation after generation. War was a permanent feature of pre-Islamic Arabian society. Rule of law didn’t enter the picture; ‘asabiyyah (“tribalism”, “clan zealotry” or “partisanship”) did.

By the time the final verse of the Qur’an had been revealed to the Prophet, peace be upon him, the Arabian Peninsular had undergone a profound transformation. For the Prophet had taken the fierce loyalties and strong sense of solidarity, which hitherto had been centred around tribe and clan, and extended it to embrace the whole society of believers; the ummah. Blood feuds and tribal vendettas were chiselled away to be replaced by a community which collectively worked for social welfare and service to others. The old traditions of tribal raiding were directed away from personal ambition or clan bravado towards the idea of jihad, fought for the sake of Allah, against tyranny and injustice and in order to make the word of Allah triumphant. Islam quarried the traits of the Arabs; elevating and refining their virtues like hospitality, generosity and chivalry, but rejecting their intemperance, zealotry and casual cruelty. The result was that a more egalitarian society arose, which valued the culture of law and order that the new religion brought, in the form of Islam’s Sacred Law or shari’ah (and the highly sophisticated fiqh, or jurisprudence, which would develop shortly after).

Given the above, it will come as no surprise how disdainfully Islam looks upon things like vigilante “justice”, taking the law into one’s own hands, anarchy, civil war, rabble-rousing that endangers collective security, or whatever gives rise to a mob mentality that seeks to jeopardise public order. The shari’ah, though it makes provisions for the public to air political grievances, strongly condemns the use of violence, or an assault against law and order, for such ends. As Islam sees it, such things would be a return to jahiliyyah – the pre-Islamic days of ignorance, lawlessness, arbitrary justice, vendettas and blind tribal zealotry! The laws regarding rebel insurgents, rebellion and political violence to or from the state are outlined in the smaller manuals of fiqh, and fleshed out in the larger ones, under the section: qital al-bughat/ahl al-baghi – “fighting rebel insurgents.”

Currently, much of what is called the Muslim world is haunted by great violence and political turmoil. Whether due to armed rebellion, civil war, sectarian schism, military occupation, state tyranny, Western interference, or petrodollar meddling, carnage and conflicts rage on. What follows are some hadiths that speak about such End of Days violence and how we are to act during such chaotic and confusing times. Indeed the believer puts more stock in the prophetic counsels and warnings about the end times, than he does his own ego-driven rationalisations.

1. Abu Musa relates that Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, said: ‘Before the Hour comes there will be harj!’ I said: O Messenger of Allah, what is harj? He said: ‘Killing.’ Some of the Muslims inquired: O Messenger of Allah, now we slay [in battle] such and such number of idolaters in a single year. Allah’s Messenger said: ‘This will not be like slaying the idolaters. Instead, you will kill one another, to the extent that a person will kill his neighbour, his nephew and relatives!’ Some people said: O Messenger of Allah, will we be in our right minds that day? He replied: ‘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.’1

Thus we are assured in this hadith that madness shall descend upon the mob, giving rise to bloodshed and violence; giving rise to the marauding reckless herd. The story’s all too familiar. Whether due to civil war, or mob hysteria, or for reasons completely unclear, the frenzied herd throw reason and pious caution to the wind and goes on a rampage (a case of the mob having many heads but no brains). This itself is nothing new. What will be different about the End of Days drama is the frequency with which slaughter and bloodshed occur, and the intensity. No doubt, the carnage that modern, mechanised weapons of violence can inflict is unlike anything else that has ever come before. In certain instances, these “dregs of people devoid of reason” won’t even know what they are actually fighting for. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘By Him in whose hand is my life, a time is coming upon the people when the killer will not know why he killed and the victim will not know why he was killed.’2 Such are times when people are blinded to the truth by their desires, anger or political grievances (real or perceived), as in the hadith: ‘There will be civil strife which will render people deaf, dumb and blind. Those who give it consideration will be drawn by it, and giving reign to the tongue during it will be like striking with the sword.’3

In some instances, there will be legitimate grievances and reasons to be angry. But the means won’t justify the ends. Seeking redress of wrongs is certainly mandated in the religion. But not through violence and bloodshed; nor by pitting one Muslim against another, as in a civil war. All of this is expressly haram. In fact, seldom does righting such socio-political wrongs ever warrant the chaos, killing and intense social unrest which normally ensues in these affairs. Righting a wrong must never lead to a greater harm, or wrong, prevailing. That, too, would be haram. The Arabs say: al-‘aqil la yubni qasr wa yuhaddimu misr – ‘The intelligent one doesn’t build a palace by laying waste to the city.’4 How much more absurd if the grievance, for which swords are drawn, does not amount to a palace, but only a garden shed or a tin hut!

One of the main reasons that will give rise to so much unprecedented slaughter is the fitnah of civil wars, which is the subject of the next hadith:

2. Abu Dharr narrates that Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, said: ‘How will you be when killing will afflict the people such that Ahjar al-Zayt will be blood drenched?’ I said: Whatever Allah and His Prophet want of me. He said: ‘Be with those who are like-minded as you are.’ I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, should I not take my sword and strike those who do that? He said: ‘Then you shall be just like them. Instead, stay in your house.’ I said: O Messenger of Allah, what if they enter my house? He said: ‘If you are afraid that the glimmer of the sword will dazzle you, lift the edge of your garment over your face and let him bear his own sin as well as yours; and he will be one of the denizens of Hell.’5

Another hadith runs as follows: ‘Before the Hour there will be civil strife like pieces of dark night, in which a man will be a believer in the morning and an unbeliever by the evening; or a believer in the evening and an unbeliever by the morning. He who sits during it is better than he who stands; and he who stands is better than he who walks; and 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 should enter upon you, then be like the better of the two sons of Adam.’6

Civil war, referred to in Arabic as fitnah (“sedition” or “civil unrest”) is where Muslim is pitted against Muslim. Islamic history has seen, and continues to see, its fare share of civil wars. But as the above hadith (and others like it) shows, a believer is required to do his or her utmost not to fan the flames of civil war, let alone shed blood for any particular faction – even if it means resigning oneself to being killed. And though it is easier said than done in the heat of the moment, the prophetic counsel here is: better to be killed than to kill. Those with the blood of Muslims on their hands, for whatever political goal or agenda, may have, in all likelihood, damned themselves. The Prophet, peace be upon him, warned in no uncertain terms: ‘Whoever fights under the banner of blind zeal, becoming angry for partisanship, calling to partisanship or aiding it, and is killed, dies upon jahiliyyah. And whosoever attacks my ummah, slaying its righteous and wicked alike, not sparing any believer, nor upholding his pledge [of allegiance], he is not of me, nor I of him.’7

In times of great public upheaval one definitely needs a level head and avoid the hot-heads; for they are about as much use as walnuts are to the toothless. One must also cling to the prophetic advice about keeping out of the fitnah, by staying at home and shunning the political agitators, seditionists and strife-mongers; avoiding them like one would do the plague. It is imperative also that one seeks to be guided by the wise counsel of seasoned ‘ulema in such tricky affairs; for they best comprehend the fiqh, theology and purposes of the religion. Above all, we should pray to Allah for wellbeing (‘afiyah) and security (aman); for there’s nothing like asking Him for ‘afiyah. Sayyiduna Abu Bakr once stood on the pulpit and wept, saying; Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, once stood in our midst on the pulpit while shedding tears and saying: ‘Ask Allah for forgiveness and wellbeing; for after certainty (yaqin) none has been given anything better than wellbeing.’8

Unjustified accusations of takfir – “excommunication”; declaring other Muslims to be unbelievers and apostates – is a vile scourge that underpins much of the slaughter and carnage that is currently visited upon Muslims and their lands; which is what the next hadith addresses:

3. Hudhayfah narrated that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘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.’

This depicts to a tee the trajectory of many a takfiri. Enthused with a commitment to Islam, taking steps to improve their religious practice (usually just external practices), reading a few booklets, surfing a few websites, yet ignorant of how ignorant they truly are, they take to the takfiri narrative. In their ideology, they and those who agree with them are Muslims, while all other Muslims are apostates, idolators or Allah’s enemies whose blood is lawful. If circumstances are right, murder and mayhem usually follow. Ego, false piety and their own pathetic pathologies are often the driving forces behind such takfiri zealotry. And although a few trajectories are more complex and nuanced than this, most are probably not.

Let’s be clear here. What the above hadith is censuring isn’t takfir, per se, but wanton and unjustified takfir. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said – as reported in another hadith: ‘Whoever accuses someone of disbelief, or of being an enemy of Allah, whilst he is not like that, it will return back to him.’10 The issue of takfir has been previously discussed on this blog, in a piece entitled, Takfir: Its Dangers & Its Rules (which may be read here).

Imam al-Ghazali stated: ‘One ought to guard against imputing takfir as much as one can. For to render lawful the lives and property of those who pray towards the qiblah and clearly state that there is no deity [worthy of worship] but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger (la ilaha illa’Llah muhammadur-rasulu’Llah) is a serious matter. To err in leaving a thousand unbelievers alive is preferable than to err in shedding a drop of Muslim blood.’11

Ever since its origins in the mid-eighteenth century in the oasis settlements of Najd; central Arabia, most of its critics, opponents and foes have insisted that Wahhabism is an extremist, takfiri ideology. Without wading into that debate; and without arguing that Wahhabism in and of itself is responsible for takfir and terrorism – which have a whole host of social, economic, doctrinal and political causes – it does seem to supply the ideological conditions for takfir and religious violence on account of its intolerant and absolutist claims. This isn’t to say that all Wahhabis [Salafis] are takfiris or violent extremists. Absolutely not. Many are quietist and apolitical. Others are political, but eschew violence as a method for change. It is only a relatively tiny minority that seeks as much militant mileage out of Wahhabi-Salafi teachings as possible.12

The scourge of takfir is now a global epidemic. Indiscriminate violence, destruction of lives and property, decimation of public security and bloody sectarian violence are its fruits. The image of Islam has never been so tarnished or been made to appear so vile. Those who, for reasons of wanting to revive the Sunnah, opened the door for ordinary Muslims to ‘weigh-up’ and follow the ‘strongest’ proof in issues of taharah, salat and personal piety, but somehow imagined that they could keep the door closed when it came to the more delicate matter of politics and public affairs – well that logic doesn’t seem to have faired too good. Those ‘ulema who opened that door now see droves of ignorant and unqualified people rushing through it and making wild and not so wild fatwas on Islam – undermining qualified juristic authority, creating religious anarchy, and tearing apart whatever remains of Muslim unity – and they don’t know what to do or how to stem this tide. And, of course, out of this collapse of traditional scholarly authority have come the takfiris, with their terror and tribulations.

Islam is too good for wild egos to eclipse its light; for ignorance, anarchy and political violence to block out its beauty. The door to such takfir must be closed; as must those to religious anarchy. The narrative of groups like al-Qaeda, Boko Haram or ISIS seek to cheapen the sanctity of human life, in general; and of the people of la ilaha illa’Llah muhammadur-rasulu’Llah, in particular. Their takfiri ideology must be repudiated and rejected: wisely, firmly and courageously. We must also reaffirm amongst ourselves as Muslims – in spite of our sectarian divisions, and despite the orthodox and heterodox amidst us – that Muslim life and blood is sacrosanct. One hadith tells us that during one of the battles, one of the Muslims subdued one of the enemy combatants and was about to slay him, when unexpectedly the man uttered the shahadah – the Testimony of Faith, and declared that he was a Muslim. Believing that he only became a Muslim to avoid being slain in battle, the Muslim plunged his sword into him and killed him. When the Prophet, peace be upon him, was informed about this he rebuked the man, telling him that he should never have tried to second guess that person’s intentions. A short while later the man died. They buried him, only to find the following morning that the earth had cast him out and he was lying on the ground. So they buried him again, only to find the earth had cast him out yet again. On informing him about this unusual incident, the Prophet, peace be upon him, declared: ‘Truly the earth accepts those who are worse than him. But Allah wanted you to see how great is the sanctity of la ilaha illa’Llah.13

1. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.3959, Ahmad, Musnad, no.19509. It was graded as sahih by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1682.

2. Muslim, no.2908.

3. Abu Dawud, no.4264. Its chain contains some weakness, as was detailed by Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Hidayat al-Ruwat ila Takhrij al-Ahadith Masabih wa’l-Mishkat (Cairo: Dar Ibn ‘Affan, 2001), 5:97, no.5329.

4. Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 17:420.

5. Ibn Majah, no.3958. It is sahih, as per Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut, Ibn Majah al-Qazwini, al-Sunan (Damascus: Dar Risalah al-‘Alamiyyah, 2009), 5:105-6.

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. Muslim, no.1848.

8. Al-Tirmidhi, no.3558, saying: the hadith is hasan gharib. Al-Albani, however, graded it hasan sahih in his critical edition of al-Mundhari, al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib (Riyadh, Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2004), no.4869.

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. Muslim, no.61.

11. Al-Ghazali, al-Iqtisad fi’l-I‘tiqad (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2012), 305.

12. Of course, this three-fold classification doesn’t take into account the fierce intra-Wahhabi/Salafi polemic where one group denounces the other of not being Salafi, or part of the Saved-Sect. Instead, I use such labels and classifications reluctantly, and in very broad terms. I have also equated Salafism with Wahhabism, again reluctantly and for the sake of brevity; though others may feel to make nuanced distinctions between the two. It is also worth noting that many quietist Salafis have been at the forefront of countering the takfiri narrative; not just post 9/11, but since the early 1990s.

13. Ibn Majah, no.3930. The hadith was declared hasan in al-Albani, Sunan Ibn Majah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, n.d.), 648-9.

* This piece was originally written for www.islamicate.co.uk and is posted here with kind permission.

By this Book We Rise or Fall

photo_matic_zorman_gaza_3070_copy_largeRecently, it seems that a number of pious people and a few eminent Muslim spiritual leaders have had premonitions and dreams about the quickening of the Hour and the imminent appearance of the Dajjal. Every generation has its warners proclaiming the End of Days being nigh and the doors of Dajjal, the Antichrist, being flung open. So in that respect, ours is no different.

Where our age does differ from others that have passed is that we live in times where all (or almost all) the signs spoken of in the hadiths that foretell the appearance of the Dajjal have now come to pass. The advice from these spiritual authorities, therefore, is to increase in seeking Allah’s forgiveness (istighfar), and to read the first and last ten verses of surat al-kahf (the 18th chapter of the Qur’an), daily or frequently. One hadith says about the Dajjal: ‘Whoever among you encounters him, let him read the opening verses of surat al-kahf against him.’1 Another hadith asserts: ‘Whoever memorises the ten verses from the beginning of surat al-kahf [in a narration: from the end], it will be a protection against the Dajjal.’2

The first six of the ten opening verses of surat al-kahf have as their theme the Qur’an: Praise be to Allah who has sent down the Book to His servant and has not placed in it any crookedness. [But has made it] straight, to give warning of severe punishment from Him, and to proclaim to the believers who do good works that theirs will be an excellent reward, wherein they will remain forever. [18:1-3] Thus this Book from the Majestic Presence is plain and clear in instruction; is glad tidings and a warning; a reminder for the hearts of the faithful; and an intimate comfort to the souls of seekers and knowers alike. In its own words: This Qur’an does guide to that which is most upright. [17:9] And: We have sent down upon you the Book, as a clarification of all things. [16:89]

With that said, let me offer the following six points to meditate upon in terms of just how significant the Qur’an ought to be in our lives as believers:

Firstly, we should realise that the honour, status, preeminence, rank and excellence of the Muslim ummah is inextricably tied with the Qur’an. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, said: ‘Indeed Allah raises a people by this Book, and by it He disgraces others.’3 At the individual level we read in another hadith: ‘The best of you are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it to others.’4

Secondly, Allah, exalted is He, states: O mankind! There has come to you an exhortation from your Lord, and a healing for what is in the breasts, and a guidance and a mercy to the believers. [10:57] Many people talk of Islam’s solution to this problem, or the Qur’an’s solution to that problem – as if one could just punch in a bunch of numbers on some computer and, hey presto, the problem is solved! The Qur’an offers itself, not so much as a solution, but as a healing. And healing, by its very nature, involves time, patience, commitment and consistency; it is a process. Indeed, there is no illness that can afflict our hearts, nor any sorrow, grief, bitterness or agitation, which cannot be mended by the healing capacity of the Qur’an. So let us pour the word of Allah over our spiritual wounds and leave it to work its miracle.

Thirdly, what are the major themes of the Qur’an that help bring about this healing in the human condition? The major themes include: (i) God and His divine unity. While the Qur’an goes out on a limb to tell us that God is utterly dissimilar to His creation, it also says that He is closer to man than his jugular vein. The God of the Qur’an did not create the heavens and the earth in six days/periods and then rest on the seventh; instead He continuously creates and recreates, at each and every instant. Though God cannot be seen, we can sense His effects and can come to know Him through His acts and His attributes as described in the Qur’an. In fact, hearts were created to adore the One true God. Its other main themes are: (ii) The prophetic narratives; that is, of how God’s prophets and their message of monotheism and submission have been received by various communities, and how their warnings about idolatry and immorality were responded to. (iii) Man and his relationship with his Creator, his purpose of being, his duties on earth; as well as helping him to make sense of the existential dilemmas of life, death, suffering and loss. (iv) The Afterlife; the continuation of human existence after death where man will be confronted with all he has done upon earth, be it good or bad, and the requital of his deeds in either heaven or hell. (v) Cosmic phenomena verses; they discuss the natural world and various cosmic phenomena, offering them as proof for a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God. The Qur’an sees the whole of the cosmos as a tapestry of signs, each one pointing to God. (vi) The legislative verses; these provide spiritual, ethical, social and juridical precepts and directives which serve to guide and regulate man’s private and public life. It is from these legislative verses that practical Islamic law, morality and spirituality are derived.5

Fourthly, the unfortunate reality today is that many of us Muslims ignore the Qur’an and cast it behind our backs: seldom reading it, referring to it for guidance, or seeking to be transformed by its teachings. Instead, we open our souls to ideas and ideologies that run counter to the Qur’an, and fill our hearts with music, entertainment or other trivia that distracts us from recollecting Allah and the Afterlife. If anything, our lives resemble what is being spoken of in the verse: And the Messenger will say: ‘O my Lord! My people have abandoned this Qur’an!’ [25:30] Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah explains that: ‘Forsaking the Qur’an is of various types: (i) Refusing to listen to it, believe in it, or to pay any heed to it. (ii) Not acting on it or abiding by what it declares to be lawful and unlawful, even if one reads it and believes in it. (iii) To forsake judging by it and being judged by it, be it in the fundamentals of the faith or its branches; and to believe that its does not beget sure knowledge. (iv) Neglecting to ponder over it or comprehend it; not seeking to uncover what the Speaker intended by it. (v) To leave seeking a cure or healing through it for the various diseases of the heart, but rather to seek healing for such illnesses from other than it.’6

Fifthly, to desert the Qur’an and to persist in acting against it, even if one believes it to be Allah’s word, warrants some level of inclusion under the following divine warning: ‘But whosoever turns away from My remembrance, surely will have a life of narrowness and on the Day of Resurrection We will raise him up blind.’ [20:124] And in this neglect, one resembles those unbelievers about whom the Qur’an informs that they said: ‘We hear and we disobey.’ [4:46] And all this will not bode well for a believer, neither in this life nor the life to come.

Sixthly, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘He who recites the Qur’an and is adept at doing so will be with the devout, noble, recording angels. He who reads the Qur’an and struggles, it being difficult for him, shall receive two rewards.’7 So let us each take to reciting the Qur’an and to adorning our character and conduct with it. Let us drink from its sweet spring to quench our thirst, be illumined by it and be made joyous due to it: Has not the time come for the hearts of those who believe to submit humbly to Allah’s remembrance and to what was revealed of the truth? [57:16]

Allahumma’j‘ali’l-qur’ana rabi‘a qulubina wa nura sudurina
wa jila’a ahzanina wa dhahaba humumina wa
ghumumina ya rabba’l-‘alamin
ya arhama’l-rahimin
Amin.

1. Muslim, no.2137.

2. Muslim, no.809.

3. Muslim, no.816.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.5027.

5. Adapted from Turner, Islam: the Basics (Oxon: Routledge, 2006), 54-62.

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

7. Al-Bukhari, no.4937; Muslim, no.798.

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