Authority of Sunnah Part-4: Intellect and Beyond!

Authority of Sunnah
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3  | Part 4

A few weeks ago, I ran my car over a rock! The parking lot of my friend’s apartment complex is landscaped with those “decoration” rocks. It is difficult to see low objects through my SUV windshield.  As I was pulling out of the parking lot, I made a turn, accidentally drove on the grassy area, ran and lodged my car over one of these decoration rocks. I didn’t want to move the car so as to avoid any further damage due to the sharp rock!

MashaAllah, within a few minutes, several brothers showed up to help me. I suggested to them that they lift up the SUV and push it away from the rock, as it seemed the fastest way to resolve the problem. After all, I thought to myself that eight strong, energetic brothers must have the strength to pick up one car, wouldn’t you agree? But they all gave me this, “are you out of your mind” look!

Normally, a strong man has the ability to lift and push heavy objects.  I was asking for a “collective” effort to lift ONE heavy object! Needless to say, I was overlooking the limitation of the human muscle. What were they up against? A 5-ton SUV! I think even the kids, who were playing around in the area, probably saw the irrationality of my request!

Amazingly though, the restrictive abilities of our mind are often challenged. Every organism, be it muscle or mind, has limitations and cannot be used beyond its finite scope. Irrationality cannot be justified in the name of “rationalism!”

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Had those brothers tried to lift the SUV, they wouldn’t have moved it even an inch. And had they have persisted in their efforts, one or more of them would have suffered an injury, and we all would have agreed on the recklessness of this effort. Likewise, the human mind cannot attempt to know or even grasp the infinite Divine and His Divine Revelation. And when it persists in undertaking a task beyond its finite boundary then the harmful consequences are produced in the manner that we often see in today’s world: the human mind objecting to Divine Revelation!

intellect-revelation.jpg

 Having said this, I do not intend to present a refutation of “reason over revelation.”  I think there is much on that topic all over the net. What I do want to discuss is the following:

  1. Our minds have its limitations, and
  2. If our minds are over-extended, it can be “intellectually” harmful

Does this mean Islam condemns or discourages us from using our intellect? Definitely not! In numerous verses of Qur’an, Allah azza wa jal has asked us to reflect, think and ponder:

لعلكم تعقلون  “So you understand”

لأيات لقوم يعقلون “Signs for the people who understand”

أفلا تتفكَّرون “Why don’t you ponder”

أفلا تذكرون  “Why don’t you remember or reflect”

Abundant verses in the Qur’an tell us to use our intellect to realize the sovereignty of Allah azza wa jal and understand the need of submitting to Him and Him alone. Islam encouraged and called for the usage of human intellect centuries before the age of enlightenment. We Muslims think, ponder, reflect, and use our minds to understand the truthfulness of Islam, to find our way to Islam, and to appreciate the guidance of Islam. But once guided to Islam, we surrender and submit to what is revealed. However, and what is ironic, is the audacity of those who use this very intellect to challenge the Revelation in the name of “pure rationalism,” “intellectualism,”  “humanitarianism,” or whatever “ism” it maybe! It is difficult to categorize and discuss in one article each and every way people have used to object to the Revelation.  Some have denied the Divinity of Qur’an and some have rejected the status of ahadeeth, but each one of them leads its way to the underlying concept of “reason/intellect over Revelation.”

It is difficult to categorize and discuss in one article each and every way people have used to object to the Revelation, some have denied the Divinity of Qur’an, some have rejected the status of ahadeeth, but each one of them leads its way to the underlying concept of ‘reason/intellect over Revelation’.

Allow me to say, those who put “reason/intellect/logic” over Revelation and stubbornly argue that their action is only in compliance to Islamic teachings of “think and ponder,” miss out on the whole idea of using their intellect for intellectual reflections. Let me explain what I mean by this. One of the objections that the “intellectuals” have with the Revelation is the “Hadd Punishments” because it is “in-humanitarian.”  Whereas Allah azza wa jal, says (the translation of which is):

“And there is life for you in Al-Qisaas, O men of understanding, that you may become Al-Muttaqun.” (2:179)

This is a challenge to those who take pride in their intellect! Allah azza wa jal is telling us that through the implementation of this law we will have life, calling out on the people of understanding (ulul albaab). It takes the quality of submission and intellect to truly comprehend the wisdom behind the laws of Allah. Anyone can doubt and reject, it doesn’t take any talent nor does it make anyone intellectually elite. In fact, anyone who rejects automatically becomes disqualified from being of the “ulul albab!”

Submission doesn’t require the understanding of the text first. Rather, understanding can be achieved through the submission. Let’s not forget the German scientist who rejected the sahih hadeeth in Bukhari about dipping  the fly completely in the drink if it falls in it, as was mentioned by Sh. Waleed Basyouni in his lecture. He didn’t think it made “sense” to him and the idea was “illogical” and “inhumane.” Later, when he discovered in his research about the fly carrying the antidote of the pathogens on its wing, he then recalled the hadeeth and submitted to it after realizing its wisdom!

Did his discovery change the status of the hadeeth? What if he wasn’t a scientist and had never discovered the fact about the fly? Would it have nullified this characteristic of the fly carrying its antidote on its wings? What about all those people who have yet to learn about this special trait of a house fly, is it not obligatory on them to submit to the hadeeth of the Prophet, sallallahu alihi wasalam, until their intellect is able to grasp the idea? (We have discussed in previous parts regarding ahadeeth being a part of Divine Revelation).

The harm of “Pure Reasoning” can be clearly seen in how it can lead one to openly disobey Allah’s implicit commands. Let’s take Iblees for example.  When Allah azza wa jal commaned him to prostrate to Adam, alihi salaam, he (ar-rajeem) used his “reasoning” to disobey Allah.  He reasoned that since his creation was better than Adam’s, it didn’t make “sense” that he should bow down to Adam (Qur’an 7:11-12). He rejected Allah’s command on his “pure reasoning” and his “doubt” in Allah’s Justice!

To think that we can reason better (I think therefore I am!) and then allowing that “free thinking” to lead one to “doubt” and “reject” Divine Orders is a trick of Iblees, since he wants us to follow in his footsteps.

There is no superiority in “De Omnibus Dubitandumest” (methodological doubt, or, everything is to be doubted). In his own words, Rene Descartes said, “…If I am able to find in each one [his former opinions] some reason to doubt [i.e. doubt doesn’t have to be reasonable], this will suffice to justify my rejecting the whole.” (Renee Descartes, Meditations of First Philosophy, in The Essential Descartes, Margaret D. Wilson, ed., Elizabeth S. Haldane and G.R.T. Ross, trans. P. 166)

Islam puts a seal over any type of doubt when it comes to Revelation:

“This is the Book (the Qur’an), whereof there is no doubt, guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqun…” (2:2)

Further, all humanity has been challenged to produce something better if there is “doubt” in the Revelation:

“And if you are in doubt concerning that which We have sent down to Our slave (Muhammad, sallallahu alihi wasalam), then produce a surah of the like thereof and call your witnesses besides Allah, if you are truthful.” (2:23)

Suffice it to say, those humanists or rationalists who reject Revelation have not yet produced anything better to counter the laws of Allah. Take Hadd punishments as an example. Have they come up with a better “system” or “solution” to fight crimes?

We don’t judge Islam in a syllogistic scale. True, every ideology has flaws, and Islam is an ideology, but Islam is flawless. If we are unable to comprehend some part of the Revelation, the flaw is not with the Revelation; rather it is with our inability to comprehend.

The true believer, after using his/her mind to understand the truthfulness of Islam, frees himself/herself from any element of doubt:

“Only those are the believers who have believed in Allah and His Messenger, and afterward doubt not…” (49:15)

“The Truth (comes) from Allah alone; so be not of those who doubt.” (3:60)

As mentioned earlier, to doubt is not some intellectual specialty. Anyone can doubt, even my 8 year old son can doubt.  The real intelligence is to grasp and understand and submit, while keeping in mind that the brain can only grasp what is within its realm of comprehension.

There is no doubt that our intellect differentiates us from animals, that our intellect gives us superiority over Jinn, that one who uses his/her intellect is superior to the one who chooses not to.  It is a virtue praised by the One who created intellect:

“…Say: ‘Are those who know equal to those who know not?’ It is only men of understanding (ulul albaab) who will remember (get a lesson from Allah’s Signs and Verses).” (39:9)

But the same Lord who has praised the ability of understanding, has also restricted our intellectual abilities, informing us in a number of places about the limitations of understanding certain Divine issues, like the life of martyrs:

“And say not of those who are killed in the Way of Allah, “They are dead.” Nay, they are living, but you perceive (it) not.” (2:154)

Those brothers realized their inability of lifting an SUV; it wasn’t a cowardly decision, but rather a smart move. So, too, we should realize the inability of understanding every Divine Issue. Our minds were not created with the ability of infinite understanding. Revelation cannot be rationalized. Islam is a reasonable religion but it is not based on “reason!”

Islam is a simple religion for anyone who responds to his/her innate nature, i.e. fitrah. If Islam was meant to be understood through  “rationalism” only, then everyone would have to “philosophize” in order to be a Muslim, which in my humble opinion means, “take people away from their fitrah and then call them to Islam.” And it is because of this, some enter Islam with preconceived notions of “Pure Reason” and try to rationalize Revelation!

I don’t know how Aristotle defines arête, but I do know how my Lord described those who achieve human excellence.  They use their intellect to recognize and appreciate the truthfulness of Islam, submit to Divine Revelation, and remain firm without any doubts.

For a better understanding on Reason and Intellect in Islam, here is a good lecture by Yasir Qadhi.

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May Allah azzawajal give us tawfeeq to be among those who have truly achieved falah (success).

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21 responses to “Authority of Sunnah Part-4: Intellect and Beyond!”

  1. Jawahir says:

    Masha’Allah, great article!

  2. Amad says:

    I don’t know how Aristotle defines arete either, but I do know that for religious progressives (esp. the ultra ones), arete means denying all traditions, and acting as if we are just in a position to know better. They fail to realize that logically the further away (in generations) that humans get from revelation, the further away we get from truth.

    I remember seeing a note from Muqtedar Khan recently, whose arrogance knows no bounds, who doesn’t even know Arabic, yet claims to be doing ijtehad all the time. In this note, he claimed that Imam Malik only had the muwatta, while we have access to so much more. And that our generation has superior knowledge than any other. This is the same man who pokes fun at hijab as being an Arab tradition (he doesn’t just deny it, he actively mocks it). May Allah protect us from the arrogance of ignorance.

  3. AnonyMouse says:

    In this note, he claimed that Imam Malik only had the muwatta, while we have access to so much more.

    That reminds me of something Kamal al-Makki mentioned once in a lecture – that he came across a man who claimed to be more knowledgeable than the Salaf, despite not even knowing how to read Arabic! When asked how he could make such a claim, the man said “They only had their limited books, whereas I can look anything up on the Internet!”

    May Allah protect us all from such arrogance and ignorance, ameen!

  4. someone concerned says:

    Umm Reem, how would u respond to this then:

    “…in order to survive and thrive, the Quran had to be addressed to, understood and accepted by the Arabs of the 6th century. This concept is crucial to understanding the status of women in Islam and the extent of their rights as well as their obligations. The rights of women established in the Quran, although progressive in their essence and content, were limited in their scope and implementation in order to suit the human society which received the divine message at the time. As we approach the end of the 20th century and taking into account the enormous socio-economic changes that have taken place since the time of the Prophet, women’s rights must be extended to the best of what they can mean in our modern time. Based on the Quranic teachings of what is fair (al adl) and what is generous and perfect (al-ihsan), we must go beyond the literal or interpretative limitations and examine the Quran’s underlying principles which promote the equality of men and women- morally, spiritually, intellectually, socially and politically. It is this general principle that should serve as our guiding light in defining women’s rights.”

    http://achelois.wordpress.com/2008/10/06/i-don%e2%80%99t-believe-in-muslimislamic-feminism-part-2/

  5. Umm Salman says:

    I have read the some of what Muqtadir Khan had to say about reason vs. revelation also and it was very disturbing to say the least. I coudln’t sleep and i was just tossing and turning. I get forwarded messages sometimes from their emailing list. Here is what i read from him recently:

    A sister had said:
    “One of the problems of our modern day thought is the deep rooted belief that this era of human civilization is the ultimate judge of the past present and future …”

    So he refuted (and it is his exact email):

    1. The Sahaba too are projected as the generation with the above claims, and then the idea of the “salaf” makes the same assumptions of the first three generations…

    2. Our generation knows more about its own present than any of the past generation because we have global media and global travel. I have seen more of the world than most people who have lived in the past. After midnight I read major newspapers of the world. On Google News I can read what happens anywhere and even see it on CNN, how many past generations knew about their present compared to us?

    We know more about the past than most of the past generations because we have better histories and we have wikipedia! Do you think Imam Shafii knew more about Dinosaurs than we do? I have read Bukhari, Muslim and Muwatta, and read Tafsirs by Tabari, Qutb, Ibn Kathir and Asad, and some people in my genrations have done way more! All Imam Shafi had was Muwatta!

    I think on present and past we are doing better than all past generations and as far as the future is concerned, I can tell you with very high degree of certainty as to when it will rain and I can also tell you exactly when you can see the moon for Ramadan in 2030! I can also see right now [on oct 3 at 8 pm] what is happening in Japan and Russia on wednesday 4th! It is called live TV. In fact at 11 pm tonight I will watch a cricket match being played in India on wed 4th, the future!

    Yes, I think we are definitely doing well even when it comes to the future, too bad Ibn Khaldun!

    In the 1970s, based on this ayah, Sheikh Bin Baaz had given a Fatwa (which he was later prevailed upon to withdraw) that the Earth was Flat. If we reject knowledge from outside the Quran we will not know how to int erpret even the words of the Quran. We understand that the Quran means that the Eart is vast and not flat, because we know independently that the Earth is not flat (Mr. Friedman not withstanding)

    88:20And at the Earth, how it is spreadout /vast/etc..?
    Wa-ila al-ardi kayfa sutihat

    Others have argued that the Quran does describe the earth as round based on this ayah insisting that Dahaha means round and not extended….But remember when people choose meanings for the words in the Quran while translating or reading in Arabic they choose what makes sense to them. Thus often the claims about microbiology and genetics in the Quran is made only after science discovered this first. The point is, we understand the Quran better even today because of independent knowledge advanced by science and reason

  6. UmmA says:

    very thought provoking…

    hope you are doing fine after the accident though…
    how did you get your car down, anyways?

  7. Umm Reem says:

    Someone concerned:
    Her article is too long for me to read, but let’s see

    we must go beyond the literal or interpretative limitations and examine the Quran’s underlying principles which promote the equality of men and women- morally, spiritually, intellectually, socially and politically. It is this general principle that should serve as our guiding light in defining women’s rights.”

    go beyond? so is something missing from the teachings of Islam that there is a need to go “beyond” the revelation?
    and for what, women “equality” again!
    define equality to me plz! apples are not equal to oranges!

    men are different from women, morally and spiritually they are same because of the fact that they are rewarded equally but PHYSICALLY they are different, different abilities and qualities and it only make “sense” that they be expected to do what would be suitable according to their physical characteristics!

    You know, i never see men wanting to be ‘pregnant’ because it is such an honorable thing to happen to a women. I never see men wining about why “paradise is under mother’s feet’ then why women have so much inferiority complex to wanting to get what men have! Seriously they have some self-esteem problems! As for me and many other Muslim women, we are proud to have the rights we have and u know what, we ARE empowered through them, walhamdullialh.

    What is empowering to these lets-reinterpret-Islam-to-empower-Muslim-women? Political involvement, be the Imam of bunch of men, take off the hijab (iyyadhobillah)?? honestly for many of them it boils down to ‘polygyny’…’ban it’ and they will calm down! (u can see that in the comments there)

    On the other hand, I see why women are so susceptible to join hands with progressives (for the lack of a better term) because of how, and unfortunately, many of my Muslim brothers abuse their rights in the name of Islam. Shameless is their behavior and shameless maybe those who watch and do nothing about it BUT the problem is them not Islam, not Qur’an, not the Revelation nor its traditional interpretation!!

  8. Umm Reem says:

    Umm Salman: the problem is not using reason/science to better understand the Revelation, by all means do that! The problem arises when Revelation is rejected because of science/reason. No doubt, we are far advance in our secular studies, science and technology but in my humble opinion, sahaba understood the Revelation far better without their secular knowledge and intellectualism, and the more generations are progressing in science the more it is taking them away from truly understanding the Revelation…and it is only increasing them in their arrogance, wAllahu ‘alam.

    UmmA: alhamdullilah we were fine, and it wasn’t really an “accident”…just a small run over, minor damage! :)
    how did the car came down is a long story…to say the least it took about 3 hours!

  9. Rifai says:

    1. The Sahaba too are projected as the generation with the above claims, and then the idea of the “salaf” makes the same assumptions of the first three generations…

    The difference is that this is not an assumption…its a fact confirmed by the Propeth of Allah(SAW). We also note that the reason any other generation deems itself better(in the general case) than all others is due to egocentric rationale in all likelihood.Let us digress to define what makes a generation “the ultimate judge of the past present and future ” and why this qualifies the Salaf in contrast to us. It is their tremendous relationship to Allah(SWT) and adherence to his commandments and service to his deen. Their state of technological advancement is utterly irrelevant – I dont need to know of 9th planet in the solar system , or of the atomic structure of gold, or be able to watch a pointless cricket match live, to be a good Muslim.Nor does such a set of knowledge help me in the religious affairs of the world – Im not opposing wordly knowledge just pointing out that its not needed in major doses for me to understand what Allah requires of me in Islam.

  10. Rifai says:

    2. Our generation knows more about its own present than any of the past generation because we have global media and global travel. I have seen more of the world than most people who have lived in the past. After midnight I read major newspapers of ….

    To distill what i take as the meaning of this little “refutation” , the author is assuming that the current state of scientific advancement is sufficiently advanced to reliably interpret the Quran. In fact , the contention is that also shapes the interpretation of the Quran, which is otherwise distorted(at least in the one example he has furnished) when done with a lack of scientific background.

    The problem with this is that assumption that we are at a stage where science has advanced enough to interpret the Quran.
    Second, u dont need advanced scientific knowledge to understand the moral directives of the Quran.
    Hence , while we can understand how we need to conduct our lives in accordance with the Quran, it is surely beyond us to totally understand the holy book.

    The state of science changes , the Quran does not. When Allah(swt) talked about the orbit of the sun scientists in the 70s I believe confronted Islamic scholars to tell them that the sun is stationary. Some of the scholars who came across this were convinced that the Quran did not allow for any alternate interpretation held their ground and told the scientists to recheck their assertion. Turns out, no surprise, the Quran was right. The sun does indeed orbit the galaxy.

    So in this example the scientific knowledge of the time contradicted the Quran and was proven false eventually.

  11. muslimah says:

    The probelm is that these people don’t even limit their “Science” to interpret the verses that deals with scientific facts. They base everything from Qur’an on scientific reasoning, logic etc. etc.
    It almost seems like they try to make a blend of athiesm and Islam, astaghfiruallah…

    and these women…denying the obligation of hijab, obedience to their husbands, or islamic crime punishments etc. etc how can they call themselves muslims while denying clear verses of Quran and authentic hadeeth…

    http://samaha.wordpress.com/2008/04/30/the-veil-a-critique/

  12. Umm Reem says:

    In one of the links posted above, I noticed how someone tried to justify why a woman can lead the prayer…that the one who knows more Quran should lead prayer!
    Where does she get this ruling from? A hadeeth!
    This is a clear example of “picking and choosing” what one likes from hadeeth and then say that they don’t believe in ahadeeth…wouldn’t it be similar to:
    أَفَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِبَعْضِ الْكِتَابِ وَتَكْفُرُونَ بِبَعْضٍ
    wAllahu ‘alam…

  13. Go Beyond?

    “Tell her to tell her husband to bear the child!”

    yea that sounds pretty ridiculous. Right?

    that’s going beyond the realm of science….

    thats how going beyond the sharee’ah should sound to very muslim……

  14. Umm Reem says:

    I fail to understand how some people “Muslims” have the audacity to put the companions of the Prophet, sallallhu alihi waslam, down so easily or show ‘superiority’ over them…Is it just me or is there really a sense of mocking in their statements about the companions esp. when they claim to understand the religion better then some 6th century, “desert-deserted” people…

    Indeed, there is a clear warning in this ayah for all of us:
    “And when they meet those who believe, they say: “We believe,” but when they are alone with their Shayâtin (devils – polytheists, hypocrites, etc.), they say: “Truly, we are with you; verily, we were but mocking.” (2:14)

    Ad-Dahhak said that Ibn Abbas said that the ayah, “Verily, we were but mocking”, means, “We (meaning the hypocrites) were mocking the Companions of the Prophet, sallallahu alihi wasalam.” (At-Tabari)
    Also, Ar-Rabi’ binn Anas and Qatadah said similarly. (Ibn Katheer)

  15. […] Abundant verses in the Qur’an tell us to use our intellect to realize the sovereignty of Allah azza wa jal and understand the need of submitting to Him and Him alone. Islam encouraged and called for the usage of human intellect centuries before the age of enlightenment. We Muslims think, ponder, reflect, and use our minds to understand the truthfulness of Islam, to find our way to Islam, and to appreciate the guidance of Islam. But once guided to Islam, we surrender and submit to what is revealed. However, and what is ironic, is the audacity of those who use this very intellect to challenge the Revelation in the name of “pure rationalism,” “intellectualism,”  “humanitarianism,” or whatever “ism” it maybe! It is difficult to categorize and discuss in one article each and every way people have used to object to the Revelation.  Some have denied the Divinity of Qur’an and some have rejected the status of ahadeeth, but each one of them leads its way to the underlying concept of “reason/intellect over Revelation.” http://muslimmatters.org/2008/10/09/authority-of-sunnah-part-4-intellect-and-beyond/ […]

  16. Bint says:

    those who put the companions down are nothing short of hypocrites.

    People just need excuses to do whatever they want in life and they’ll bring their excuses from intellect, reasoning.

    So much are they deluded that they fail to see the simple straightforward explanation and instead look for the convoluted explanations on just about anything…

  17. […] those who doubt the Authority of the Sunnah, position of the Companions, and prefer to put their logical reasoning over textual proof that it is not upon us to bend Islam based upon our own whims and desires. It is sad to see Muslim […]

  18. […] we may not fully comprehend. However, disagreement with our logic in matters of deen cannot yield rejection. In Surah Sajdah, Allah azzawajal […]

  19. RY says:

    Alsalam wa alaikom wa rahmatuh allah wa barakatuh

    I would just like to point out- and i couldn’t read this whole post but just point out where my confusions are: And this is why many are also getting confused- If there are hadeeth that indicate that the prophet peace be upon him, did not want people to write hadith about him- and there are ahadeeth that state that the sahaba did not- then how do we know the Authenticity- I’m not doing this to say any one is a liar, I am saying this because I am young, and I am sincerely seeking the truth and I am afraid of being in Sin and I am tired- How can I accept hadeeth that shouldn’t be there-

  20. […] to increase their love for the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, and encourage others to study the seerah and Sunnah of the Prophet […]

  21. Aminata says:

    Yes, Mashallah
    Great article!
    I loved philosophy …but Lost the guidance of Allah disobeying Him…I fell into sin and I suffered a lot until I repented. This pain , also thank to my intellect , made me understand the concept of fitrah. And I understood that Islam is the only religion today that respect It… I swear I was looking for this, but I ignored religion as a duty..I thought that all religions , especially Islam , were a gathering of obligations that didnt allow you to be “natural” ,”sincere”,”free”… But a creature of God can’t go Straight without His guidance … I was just proud and fooled by “spiritual knowledge” that are now spread around the net.
    Alhamdullilah I repented , and all my efforts are focused on being rightfully guided , on being faithful. Allah subhana wa taala is the One who knows what does our Fitrah needs…when we don’t believe and think that we must just”feel It in the heart”, we make mistakes and we feel pain (Inchallah). Until someone doesn’t stop worshipping himself (and he does It by ignorance), he won’t see how weak he is…and won’t ever ask for Allah’s guidance. I had His Mercy. I asked and I was given. Alhamdullilah I recognized that I was suffering because of His absence.. because I left Him. It is a Grace , because I could have kept on this illusory way without any sign (in my case , pain , guiltiness , sense of being lost,depression)from Him.
    If I should Just believe in my reasoning, without putting trust in Allah , even repenting would be useless.
    I would Just despair.
    But experience tells me that what Allah says is always the truth. So I keep myself tight to the Rope. I don’t want to feel pain as before , I don’t want to feel worst pain in the heareafter.
    Assalam Aleikum

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