Who ever thought that glitz and glamour would be associated with being a “talib al-‘ilm”? Did anyone ever imagine that being a “student of knowledge” would become a glorified dream for many Muslims? Is it acceptable to say that becoming a “da’ee” is the new way of ‘being the man’? Is it fair to equate aspiring to be a ‘baller’ in jahiliyyah to aspiring to be a “student of knowledge” in Islam?
A big disclaimer before continuing: This is not a critique of seeking knowledge, of students of knowledge, or anything of that sort. Rather, what follows is an examination of the culture found in our communities of aspiring students, their motivations in seeking knowledge, and the method employed in doing so.
When you grow up in the West without Islam – even if you are a Muslim – you will have certain people you still look up to, some who have nothing to do with who you really are. For example, young desi kids dressed like gangsters and thugs, listening to rap music [See related post on Hip Hop and Islam.], meeting with their friends to mack on girls, then going home to eat biryani and study for those extra chemistry classes they are taking in preparation for med school. Aren’t we all to some extent products of our own environment?
The bottom line is, though, to some extent – in jahiliyyah (not necessarily exclusive to people who converted) – people aspire to be like those celebrities, famous and adored. I don’t think it’s even necessarily the appeal of the money as it is the adoration of the people. Everyone craves having the respect and attention of people. Muslims who start learning see examples of people who are famous in the Muslim ummah. They have CD’s, DVD’s, they travel around giving talks and classes, and are to a large extent adored by the Muslim masses. I remember going to a convention once where the crowd of people waiting to get in to hear one particular speaker talk resembled the crowd outside an arena waiting to get into a rock concert.
When Muslims give up some of the aspirations they may have had before, they try to replace them with more ‘halal’ ones. Unfortunately, while our actions reform quickly, the intentions are often lagging behind. The virtues associated with seeking knowledge are motivation enough to study. However, with studying comes the pitfalls of seeking attention, fame, debating with people, being ‘known’ as ‘knowledgeable,’ and studying things which do not benefit. It becomes easy to cast aside scholars who speak about “the same things” and become infatuated with people who are always engaged in novel things you have never heard before, or authoritatively assert themselves in controversial issues.
Just the virtue of having a reputation as knowledgeable or academic is often enough to mess with the intention of a seeker of knowledge.
Even women are a huge fitnah for the aspiring student of knowledge. The respected males in western culture are the ones who get all the girls. For many of such aspiring ‘students’ the girl factor is definitely a big plus in the path of seeking knowledge. It doesn’t help, of course, to go to a conference, and have sisters sending up questions like “are you looking for a second wife?” in the Q/A portion of the talk to the Shaykh. Many think that by becoming a ‘student,’ marriage prospects will flow forth without end and they will somehow be forced to struggle to narrow themselves down to only 4 lucky women.
That status as a “student of knowledge” becomes the goal by which to attain respect, admiration, women, and even to some respect, money. Is this just a zabihah version of the ‘baller’ lifestyle?
Surely the picture is not as bad as it has been painted above is it? Many people (especially youth) are confused oftentimes as to their own intentions. While the pursuit of studying the Sacred Knowledge is no doubt noble and virtuous, that pursuit does not come without tests – chief amongst them is the test of our intentions. We are all familiar with the hadith of the first 3 people to be thrown into the Hellfire – amongst them a scholar and reciter of Quran (may Allah protect us all from Hellfire). We have to assess our goals in learning the deen, set realistic expectations, and study the proper way.
What are the warning signs we can look for to see if we’re headed down the wrong path in seeking knowledge?
The Prophet (saw) was commanded in the Qur’an to ask for an increase in knowledge. In some hadith, it is narrated that he would ask Allah for the beneficial knowledge, and in even other narrations we find he (saw) sought refuge in Allah from knowledge that did not benefit.
So, for the aspiring student, is there a focus on knowledge that benefits?
Islam is in some respects a religion of priorities. Aisha (ra) said for example, that had the prohibition of alcohol been the first commandment in Islam, no one would have accepted it. They had to go through a process to reach the stage of giving it up. Similarly, when learning the deen, as with any other subject, you have to master the basics and essentials first before moving on to more complex subjects. The important underlying factor with Islamic knowledge is using this litmus test: Is what you are learning bringing you closer to Allah (swt) or not?
Is it proper for an aspiring student of knowledge then, to –
Engage in debate and criticism of real students of knowledge on issues of aqeedah, bid’ah, and advanced issues of ‘ilm and ijtihaad while they themselves have not even studied Islam to the extent of reading Quran with proper tajweed or memorizing more than Juz ‘Amma?
What about people who cannot even name the arkaan of salaah authoritatively telling others about the fiqh of how to move the finger in salah?
How about those who are always engaged with defending hotly contested issues like Mawlid and Tawassul, while almost ignoring and never calling to acts of ibaadah that are undisputed?
What about someone engaging themselves for days and weeks on end ‘researching’ whether to go into sujood on your hands or knees first, while they have not even properly studied fiqh to know what types of water can be used to make wudu?
How about passing judgment on other Muslims, calling them innovators, or having corrupted aqeedah/manhaj while not even knowing the technical differences between shirk and kufr?
Similarly, what about people who make walaa and baraa over Fiqh issues, like refusing to pray behind someone who wipes over their socks, or boycotting people who eat “outside meat”?
The “student of knowledge culture” for some people has spurred strange affiliations. You meet people at the masjid sitting and discussing the virtues of ashaabul-hadeeth (the People of Hadith), and calling themselves students of hadith, even studying relatively advanced issues of sciences pertaining to its narrators – yet, they have not even read any of the 6 books of hadith from cover to cover – much less read them with a teacher! Some affiliate themselves to traditional Islam while not even having studied the basic usool and dalaa’il for the “traditions” they claim to follow – yet they feel pious and knowledgeable enough to look down upon others not on the same path as them.
For many, being a “student of knowledge” has resulted in a disregard for the basics, a focus on advanced issues of ikhtilaaf, and adherence to a strict dress code. Dress code? You know the types. People in tailored thobes, Saudi style kufis, izaar hemmed exactly halfway between the knee and ankle, discussing and debating rulings and verdicts and scholars of whom they have never even read an original writing from. Or groups of people, all discussing the wird and adhkaar given to them by their teacher, ignoring the adhkaar found in the Sunnah, and all dressed like they were hired to endorse the spring 2008 line for Shukr clothing.
There is a huge element of people plateauing in the first stage of knowledge – when you think you know everything. This is also known as “a little bit of knowledge is dangerous.” The intention to reach the advanced stages is noble. People obviously have a thirst to learn the upper levels of Islamic sciences, especially the issues that are in vogue in the communities. Everyone wants to argue about halal meat and Doritos but no one wants to actually study the usool and evidences that go into it. Everyone wants to offer up tafseer of the Quran, but no one wants to take the time to memorize it, or even read it every day.
That’s another amazing thing, the number of people running around as “students” who ignore even the most basic aspect of our deen and have no daily relationship with the Quran, or even a solid plan in place to finish memorizing it.
There is definitely a certain level of arrogance that comes with studying the deen in this way – going for the “sexier” issues and ignoring the basics – because you start looking down on others for their stances on a handful of particular issues. I myself cannot remember how many times I was told something was bid’ah, would get angry with people for engaging in it, and then upon studying the issue more with a teacher would find that in fact there are other evidences, opinions, and explanations showing that it was either not bid’ah – or at the least not something to get your blood boiling over. How many people in our communities fight with and boycott each other over these types of issues? It’s definitely a disease we have to combat. One telling sign is that people going down this path, as they “progress” in seeking knowledge, they become more and more disenchanted with the community. They withdraw. They start looking down on the rest of the community, they begin to disregard things like social work as beneath them – even if they do not explicitly say it, then it’s shown through their actions. This is when the knowledge of the deen goes from an encompassing life practice to an almost strictly academic pursuit.
One sign of this is the rapid rise in IOD. What’s IOD? Internet-Only-Dawah. We have so many people in our communities who shun the masjid and the community, and instead engage themselves with only internet dawah. This is not to say that there’s no dawah online or anything of that sort (obviously, this article itself is on a blog of all things), but it’s more about people who get caught up in the culture described above spending all their time debating in chatrooms and PalTalk and forums. The incessant back and forth, name-calling, boycotting, and email lists rehashing these debates have become widespread. People withdraw from their communities and abandon dawah there, opting instead to just label others and label scholars with different names and bicker in the name of dawah. This is a deception of Shaytaan and something that hardens the hearts. There is definitely a huge market for making dawah online, but it must be done correctly, and I would personally venture to make the argument that it will not be successful if a person is not also actively engaged in dawah in their own community IRL (in real life).
It’s time to be real with regards to how we learn our deen. There are entire books on how to seek knowledge, its methods, and its virtues. This article is not the place to reinvent the wheel, but to draw focus on two of the biggest problems we all face in our quest to learn the religion,
For those of us aspiring to become real students of knowledge, we have to seriously check our intentions. What is the goal of learning? Is it to debate with people? Is it to gain admiration of people? Is it to write books or give talks and impress others?
Or is it seriously about coming closer to Allah, and bringing benefit to others? If this is the case, we have to act like it. We must focus on learning that which will bring us closest to Allah. The example of Quran has been mentioned in this article a few times, let’s look at how this example applies.
Some people caught up in the allure of just “seeking knowledge” for the sake of knowledge will always exert themselves in finding loopholes to justify whatever they are doing. If, for example, you try to bring them back to the basics like focusing on the Quran, they will research and research until they find an example of one scholar who couldn’t correctly read with tajweed, or one scholar out of thousand upon thousands who didn’t actually finish memorizing Quran. We have to be willing to step back and assess ourselves, and see if we are willing to put in the hard work into the basics – which may be boring – in order to get to the stage of being able to properly study the subjects we may be more interested in.
To do the basics takes patience, and we have to be very real with ourselves regarding our goals. Are we going to become scholars? Do we have the skill set for it? Put it this way, if you are faltering in regards to your secular education, and you cannot keep up with your classes or make good grades – why would it all of a sudden change at an Islamic university? That’s a very tough truth we have to face. Do you have the time and ability to actually set aside 6-8 years (at the minimum) to actually study full time?
It is nearly impossible to be a full time secular student, or a full time employee, and a full time student at the same time. If you are going to be studying part time, are you ready to face the fact that most likely you will not become a scholar or big student of knowledge? If that is the case, are you ready to focus yourself on becoming a productive community member, maybe a good khateeb, teach good halaqahs, make the avenues available for others to learn, do community work, and fulfill the other roles our ummah needs? We definitely need more scholars, no doubt. But what we do not need is people who fool themselves into thinking they will be scholars, and not only miss that goal, but have missed out on helping the ummah in other ways as well.
Are you willing to focus on learning that which is most essential to you (and not necessarily what you are most interested in learning)? Let me give an example of something that some of us ‘part time’ students fall into. Someone may not have the ability to study full time, but wants to learn Arabic. This is a good goal. They will dedicate 2-3 years of their life spending all their free time studying sarf, nahw, balaghah, and other grammatical sciences in extremely great detail. But after 2-3 years they are only now at the level of reading basic Islamic texts that could have been covered in English already.
It’s important to realistically identify what stage you want to reach. There is nothing wrong with becoming a knowledgeable, practicing Muslim – not everyone is cut out to be a scholar. How many people spend 5-6 years of their life ‘chasing the dream’ and not doing anything else with their time, only to be now hitting their 30’s without any true Islamic education or even secular education to show for it? Many people are just “waiting to go overseas” or “go study” and they bide their time not doing anything – not memorizing Quran, not studying with the Imams in their communities, and not even going to college and at least getting a solid secular degree! People like this after 5 years are still studying, discussing, and debating the exact same things they were 5 years prior without any progress.
The path of seeking knowledge does not have to culminate in being a scholar or da’ee only as many people assume. If people in the ummah were dedicated to learning, and becoming practicing Muslims, imagine how our communities would be. Imagine that all the doctors, lawyers, teachers, and businessmen were all practicing Muslims – having taqwa of Allah in raising their families, in teaching their kids, in spending their wealth, in volunteering their time, and dealing with each other. What kind of a community would that be? How would it be to go to that masjid where these people are? The entire knowledge level and practice of the whole community would shoot through the roof, and you would have dedicated members of the ummah helping each other out.
Once we identify a tangible goal to reach, we have to work to get there, and supplicate to Allah (swt) to not only allow us to be carriers of the knowledge, but those who act on what we learn. Looking at what this takes should humble us in regards to embarking upon what we want to achieve. It should increase our respect for those students of knowledge who have dedicated years of their lives studying, and are now active in teaching the deen. We should grow in our respect for our local imams who are often neglected and overlooked. What we learn should nourish our hearts. If we are questioned later about what we learned and why, we should be able to answer appropriately. Before reading a book, before listening to a lecture, we should ask ourselves why we are doing it. After we finish, we should ask ourselves what we learned from it that will benefit us in the akhirah, what we gained from it that we can pass on to others, and benefit the people with.
We all want to become more knowledgeable of our deen, but we have to be true to ourselves, and our sincerity to Allah(swt) in what we’re trying to get out of what we learn if we want to be successful.
As a final note, one important narration must be mentioned from Sufyaan ath-Thawree,
“We began seeking knowledge for other than the sake of Allah, but knowledge refused to be sought for other than Allah’s sake”
Even though many of us may start out with mixed intentions, or our intentions may change as time goes on, as long as we keep working, then insha’Allah Allah(swt) will give us the tawfeeq to correct our intentions and become true carriers of what we are learning.
I hope that this article is not misconstrued, and I hope that it doesn’t discourage anyone from seeking knowledge – that is definitely not the goal. The goal is rather to serve as a reminder of our approach to seeking knowledge, and making sure we are doing it in the proper manner, and with the proper intentions. No matter what stage of life we are in, we can begin seeking knowledge, even in old age – but we have to do our utmost to do it with the proper etiquettes.
Alhamdulillah, many avenues have opened up for us to learn Islam. We can take online programs, distance education programs, weekend seminars, summer intensives, halaqahs, and even short intensives overseas that last for a few weeks. The opportunities are all there for us to learn, but we have to seize them, and make the best use of them that we possibly can so that we can learn more and more of what brings us closer to Allah(swt).
In closing I wish to direct everyone to this book in pdf format, The Pitfalls in the Quest for Knowledge by Salmaan al-‘Awdah which says a lot of what I wanted to in a far more eloquent manner – I just wish I had found this book before writing this article and not after :)
Some related resources,
Do You Know Why Uzma Was Killed?
#JusticeForUzma is a campaign that highlights the many terrible ways household help is treated in places around the world. Here, Fatima Asad writes about how she is raising her children to be the change they want to see in their society.
Last week, Pakistani society was struggling with the story of the horrific murder of Uzma, a teenager, who worked as a house maid in the city of Lahore. The 16-year-old was allegedly tortured for months and then murdered by the woman she worked for…for taking a bite from the daughter’s plate. #JusticeForUzma is a campaign that highlights the many terrible ways household help is treated in places around the world. Here, Fatima Asad writes about how she is raising her children to be the change they want to see in their society.
By Fatima Asad
Living in Pakistan, my children realize that within the gates of our neighborhood, they will see no littering, they will not experience water or electricity shortages and certainly, no one will be knocking on the door begging for food or money. The reason they have this realization is because I make it the day’s mission to let them know about their privilege, about the ways they have been blessed in comparison to the other, very real, living, breathing little girls and boys outside those gates. Alas, my children come face to face with those very real people as soon as the gates close behind us.
“Why are there so many poor people in Pakistan, Mommy?” they ask, quite regularly now, unsatisfied with the answers I’ve provided so far. The question perpetually makes me nervous, uncomfortable, and I hastily make a lesson plan in my mind to gradually expose this world’s truths to them… ahista, ahista…(slow and steady).
But on days like these, when we find out about the death of yet another underprivilged young girl (they’re becoming redundant, aren’t they?), on days like these, I want to hold them, shake them, scream at them to wake up!
Wake up, my child! Beta jaag jao.
Do you know why that little girl we see outside, always has dirt on her face and her hair is in visible knots?
It is because, there are too many people who can take a shower anytime they want, who have maids to oil, brush and style their hair.
Do you know why there are children with no clothes on their backs?
It is because, there are too many of us with too many on ours. There are too many of us with walk-in closets for mothers and matching wardrobes for their infant daughters. We obsess about tailors, brands, this collection, last season. How often do we hear or say “can’t repeat that one”, “this one is just not my thing anymore…”
Do you know why there are children with their cheeks sunk deep in their skulls, scraping for our leftovers in our trashcans?
Because there are too many of us, who are overstuffed with biryani, burgers, food deliveries, dinner parties, chai get-togethers, themed birthday cupcakes, and bursting appetites for more, more, more, and different, different, different.
There are too many of us craving the exotic and the western, hoping to impress the next guest that comes to lunch with our useless knowledge of foods that should not be our pride, like lasagna, nuggets, cinnamon rolls, banana bread, pizza, minestrone soup, etc.
There are too many of us who do not want to partake from our outdated, simple traditional cuisines… that is, unless we can put a “cool” twist on them.
Do you know why there are children begging on the streets with their parents? Because there are too many of us driving in luxury cars to our favorite staycation spots, rolling up the windows in the beggars’ faces.
We are rather spent our money of watching the latest movies for family nights, handing out cash allowances to our own kids so they won’t feel left out when going out.
Do you know why there are mothers working during the days and sacrificing their nights sewing clothes for meager coins? Why there are fathers, who sacrifice their sleep and energy to guard empty mansions at the cost of their self-respect? Because there are too many of us attending dance rehearsals for weddings of the friends we backstab and envy. Because there are too many of us binge-watching the latest hot shows on Netflix, hosting ghazal nights to pay tribute to dead musicians and our never-ending devotion for them, and many more of us viciously shaking our heads when the political analyst on TV delivers a breaking report on a millionaire’s private assets.
Do you know why there are people who will never hold a book in their hands or learn to write their own names? Do you know why there will never be proof that some people lived, breathed, smiled, or cried? Because there are too many of us who are given the best education money can buy, yet only end up using that education to improve our own selves – and only our own selves. There are too many of us who wear suits and ties, entrusted with building the country, yet too many of our leaders and politicians just use that opportunity to build their own legacies or secret, off shore accounts.
Do you know why children, yes children, are ripped apart from their parents, forced to provide their bodies and energies so that a stranger’s family can raise their kids? Because, there are too many of us who need a separate maid for each child we birth. Because, there are too many of us who have given the verdict that our children are worth more than others’.
Because, there are too many of us who need a maid to prove to frenemies our monetary worth and showcase a higher social class.
Because, there are too many of us who enslave humans, thinking we cannot possibly spoil our youth, energy and time on our own needs, our own tasks, our own lives.
Because, there are too many of us who need to be comfortable, indulged, privileged, spoiled, educated, satisfied, excited, entertained and happy at the expense of other living souls.
And we do all this, thinking—fooling ourselves into believing— that our comforts are actually a way of providing income for another human being. Too many of us think that by indulging in our self-centered lifestyles, we are providing an ongoing charity for society’s neediest.
Too many of us are sinking into a quicksand that is quite literally killing us. This needs to stop immediately. This accelerating trend of possessing and displaying more isn’t going to slow down on its own- in fact, it’s become deadly. Too many of our hearts have hardened, burnt to char.
More of us need to sacrifice our comforts, our desires, our nafs so others can have basic human rights fulfilled. More of us must say no to blind consumerism, envious materialistic competition and the need for instant gratification so others can live. We may have the potential to turn into monsters, but we have exceedingly greater potential to be empathetic, selfless revolutionaries. Too many of us have been living for the here and now, but more of us need to actively start thinking about the future.
Do we want to raise generations that will break bread with the less fortunate or do we want to end up with vicious monsters who starve and murder those they deem unworthy? The monsters who continue to believe that they have been blessed with more, so others can be given less than they are entitled to.
It is time for change andthe change has to start from within these gates.
OpEd: Breaking Leases Into Pieces
Ali ibn Talib once said, “Know the truth and you’ll know who’s speaking the truth.”
I am based in Canada and was recently having coffee with friends. In the course of the conversation, a friend (who I consider knowledgeable) said that it’s okay to pay interest on a leased car because interest doesn’t apply to lease contracts. This completely caught me off guard, because it made no logical sense that interest would become halal based solely on the nature of the contract.
I asked him how this can be true and his response was that the lease contract is signed with the dealer and the interest transaction is between the dealer and the financing company so it has nothing to do with the buyer. Again, this baffled me because I regularly lease cars and this is an incorrect statement: The lease agreement is signed with a third party financing company who is charging you directly for the interest they pay the car dealership. Therefore, any lease contract that has interest associated with it is haram. This is the same as saying your landlord can charge you interest for his mortgage on a rental contract and this would make it halal. I tried to argue this case and explain to my friend that what he was saying was found on false assumptions and one should seriously look into this matter before treating riba in such a light manner.
Upon going home that night, I pulled out all my lease contracts (negotiated to 0% mind you) and sent them over to my friend. They clearly showed that a bill of sale is signed with the dealer, which is an initial commitment to purchase but the actual lease agreement is signed with a third party financing company which is charging you interest directly. If this interest rate is anything above zero it is haram (anything which is haram in a large quantity is also haram in a small quantity).
To my dismay, instead of acknowledging his mistake, my friend played the “Fatwa Card” and sent me a fatwa from a very large fatwa body in North America, which was also basing their argument on this false assumption. Fortunately for me, my friend pointed out the hotline number and the day and time the mufti who gave the fatwa would be available to answer questions.
I got in touch with the scholar and over a series of text messages proceeded to explain to him that his fatwa was based on a wrong assumption and for this reason people would be misled into leasing cars on interest and signing agreements with financing companies which are haram.
He was nice enough to hear my arguments, but still insisted that “maybe things were different in Canada.” Again this disappointed me because giving fatwa is a big responsibility – by saying “maybe” he was implying that full research has not been done and a blanket fatwa has been given for all of North America.
It also meant that if my point was true (for both Canada and the United States) dozens of Muslims maybe engaging in riba due to this fatwa.
The next week I proceeded to call two large dealerships (Honda and Toyota) in the very city where the Fatwa body is registered in the US and asked them about paperwork related to leasing. They both confirmed that when leasing a new vehicle, the lease contract is signed with a third party financing company which has the lien on the vehicle and the dealer is acting on the financing company’s behalf.
It is only when a vehicle is purchased in cash that a contract is signed with the dealer. This proved my point that both in the US and Canada car lease contracts are signed with the financing company and the interest obligations are directly with the consumer, therefore if the interest rate is anything above 0% it is haram. I sent a final text to the mufti and my friend sharing what I had found and letting him know that it was now between them and Allah.
1. As we will stand in front of Allah alone on Yaum al Qiyamah, in many ways we also stand alone in dunya. You would think that world renowned scholars and an entire institution would be basing their fatwas on fact-checked assumptions but this is not the case. You would also think that friends who you deem knowledgable and you trust would also use logic and critical thinking, but many times judgment is clouded for reasons unbeknownst to us. We must not take things at face value. We must do our research and get to the bottom of the truth. Allah says to stand up for truth and justice even if it be against our ourselves; although it is difficult to do so in front of friends and scholars who you respect, it is the only way.
2. There are too many discussions, debates and arguments that never reach closure or get resolved. It is important to follow up with each other on proofs and facts to bring things to closure, otherwise our deen will slowly be reduced to a swath of grey areas. Alhamdulillah, I now know enough about this subject to provide a 360 degree view and can share this with others. It is critical to bring these discussions to a close whether the result is for you or against you.
3. Many times we have a very pessimistic and half hearted view towards access to information. When I was calling the dealerships from Canada in the US, part of me said: Why would these guys give me the information? But if you say Bismillah and have your intentions in the right place Allah makes the path easy. One of the sales managers said “I can see you’re calling from Toronto, are you sure you have the right place?” I replied, “I need the information and if you can’t give it to me I don’t mind hanging up.” He was nice enough to provide me with the detailed process and paperwork that goes into leasing a car.
Finally, I haven’t mentioned any names in this opinion and I want to make clear that I am not doubting the intentions of those who I spoke to; I still respect and admire them greatly in their other works. We have to be able to separate individual cases and actions from the overall person.
May Allah guide us to the truth and rid of us any weaknesses or arrogance during the process.
Ed’s Note: The writer is not a religious scholar and is offering his opinion based on his research on leasing contracts in North America.
Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah: A Genuine Muslim Voice for Peace
By Mufti Mustafa Ceric, Ph.D,
Grand Mufti Emeritus of Bosnia
The essence of the faith of Islam comes from two primary sources: the Qur’an, which is God’s revelation, and the Sunnah, which is the teachings, traditions, and attributes of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. But the nature of Muslims come from their many peoples and tribes:
“O men, God has created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes so that you may know one another. But, indeed, the most noble of you is the most morally correct among you. God knows and is well informed about everything.” (Qur’an, 49:13).
Thus, the experience of the faith of Muslims is as diverse as the nature of their national and tribal backgrounds. Therefore, both a specific God-given nature and a specific societal experience of Muslims must be recognized and appreciated within a global Islamic civilization, as long as the principle of tawḥīd (oneness of God), as is expressed in Lā il ā ha illa Allah, and the principle of an ultimate nubuwwah (prophethood of Muhammad, peace be upon him) are properly upheld. This diversity in the unity of the faith of Islam is a blessing for our ummah. Hence, Muslims must see the various natures and experiences of their fellow Muslims as a blessing from God that enriches an overall Islamic culture and civilization in the world.
Inspired by the reality of this blessing, I would like to share with you my perspective which stems from my God-given nature, my war and peace experience as a Muslim in Bosnia and a genocide survivor in Europe, and how I also see myself as belonging to the universal Muslim community today. Indeed, I would like to tell you why I believe that the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies in Abu Dhabi, UAE, led by the esteemed Muslim scholar Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, is a right path of Islam and a good program of peace for Muslims around the world.
My testimony is based on my personal nature and my own first-hand experience of war and peace in Bosnia without a need of apology to anyone. It starts from the fact that, during the war and postwar time in Bosnia, it was hard to find a peace initiative from a credible Muslim group or institution to help me engage in dialogue and trust building with others. All the peace initiatives were coming from Christian groups or institutions that, by this very fact, had an advantage in presenting their case. So, when a major Muslim peace initiative was introduced by Sheikh Bin Bayyah in 2014 in Abu Dhabi, I was delighted to be invited to join it. Indeed, I was praying for its success and continuity because rarely do genuine Muslim ideas survive the tremendous pressure of staunch opponents who oppose such initiatives if they are not in— if it’s not their own idea. Fortunately, it seemed that the Forum for Promoting Peace in Abu Dhabi was spared this destiny—until the last, and in my opinion, the best of all Forums so far—the Fifth Forum of 2018. We know from the Qur’an and Sunnah that right and constructive critique is an important aspect of the nature of Islam, but the recent hate-speech and false accusations against the Forum are not in accordance with the nature of Islam and as such are not of an Islamicʼ adab (ethics) and ʼakhlāq (morality).
Let me say that neither the esteemed Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah nor Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is in need of my defense. They are capable and upright people; their lifelong dedication to Islamic work speaks for itself. I feel the need to raise my voice clearly and loudly in defense of the importance of promoting peace, and the work of both esteemed scholars towards that goal. I humbly claim to be aligned with them in this purpose. And we should be grateful to the government of the UAE for supporting this project that has already engaged prominent religious, academic, cultural, and political leaders from around the world and earned their respect and commitment to this cause of peace.
First, no one has a monopoly on peace, but everyone has a duty to promote peace in their own way because, by its very definition, “Islam” is the concept of peace, and thus a “Muslim” is also by definition a peaceful man or woman. Therefore, the Forum for Promoting Peace is an application of this unique and powerful concept of Islam, namely the concept of peace.
Second, no one has a monopoly on tolerance, but everyone has an obligation to learn and teach tolerance in his or her neighborhood and surroundings because Islam is the faith of tolerance, made clear in the Qur’anic injunction: “there is no compulsion in religion” ( lā ikrā h a fī l-dī n) .
Third, no one has a monopoly on dignity, but everyone is entitled to enjoy the right of life (al-nafs), faith (al-dī n), freedom (al-ʿaql), property (al-māl), and dignity (al-ʿirḍ) because Muslim scholars defined these peace-oriented principles, and they did this long before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These principles are based on the letter and spirit of the Qur’an and the Sunnah as an amānah (trust) of the entire Muslim ummah, not just a part of it.
Fourth, no one has a monopoly on alliance, but everyone has the right to seek alliance with peace-loving persons and nations based on the example of the Prophet Muhammad , who participated in an alliance prior to Islam, known as the ḥilf al-fu ḍūl (the Alliance of Virtues) that he also approved in Islam.
Fifth, no one has a monopoly on democracy, but everyone has the right to speak about democracy, even if they believe it can sometimes lead to tyranny. The Greek philosopher Socrates had that right as well. He used to say that oligarchies become democracies for predictable reasons: “Democracy comes into power,” Socrates says, “when the poor are the victors, killing some and exiling some, and giving equal shares in the government to all the rest.” It’s an “agreeable form of anarchy,” Socrates tells us and adds that “the insatiable desire for freedom occasions a demand for tyranny.”
Sixth, no one has a monopoly on moral preaching, but everyone has a duty to improve his own morality before preaching to others. Islam teaches us that a right moral praxis is better than empty preaching.
And finally, no one has a monopoly on Islam, but everyone has the duty of farḍ ʿayn (personal responsibility) and far ḍkif ā yah (collective responsibility) to behave in such a way that does not corrupt the moral teachings of Islam and does not compromise the right image of Islam and Muslims in the world for the sake of personal gains. The work of Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is their due of farḍ ʿayn and farḍ kifāyah for repairing a damaged picture of Islam and Muslims in the world, due to some irresponsible and militant groups who have claimed to act on behalf of Islam. Those who don’t understand the importance of the message of these scholars are out of touch with reality, and thus, cannot claim to be the right guide for the Muslims, especially in the West. Those among the Muslims, wherever they are, who still support a catastrophic regicide that has happened recently in some major Muslim countries ought to be advised that suicide, individual or collective, is not part of the nature of Islam. Indeed, Islam has never been a religion of destruction. Islam has always been a religion of constructive and inclusive culture and civilization.
Let me say that no Muslim with a good heart and sound mind can be indifferent to what is happening in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Myanmar (Burma), and elsewhere, where our Muslim brothers and sisters suffer. But this pain will not be removed by additional destructive ideas that would cripple the rest of the Muslim countries just because some others are in an internal or external conflict. On the contrary, our duty is to do whatever we can to prevent further destruction of the Muslim states and societies. The Muslims today don’t need more Palestines. They need more hearts and minds like Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. Indeed, they need more countries and societies like the UAE to support the promotion of peace and security among Muslim societies and others in the world.
And my final note to my Muslim brothers and sisters in the West is not to make a hasty judgment that is instigated by some people (and institutions) who do not have sympathy for Muslims who are suffering. If you cannot help the plight of Muslims today, then at least don’t make the Muslim situation worse than it is. Those who have not tasted the bitterness of war cannot fully appreciate the sweet taste of peace. I have tasted both. Therefore, my dear Muslim brothers, sisters, and friends, wherever you are, pray for peace and support those who work for peace, whoever they may be.
Mustafa Ceric, Ph.D.
Grand Mufti Emeritus of Bosnia