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Quran and Sunnah

The Arabic Qur’ān and Foreign Words

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quran_foreign.jpg“And if We had made this a foreign Qur’ān, they would have said, ‘Why are its verses not clarified? What! A foreign [book] and an Arab [prophet]?!’” Al-Qur’ān 41:44

Question:
It is an indisputable fact that the Qur’ān uses ‘foreign vocabulary’, that is to say, vocabulary that was adopted into the Arabic language of the Qur’ān as loanwords derived from Aramaic, Syriac, Ethiopian, Hebrew, Greek, and other languages, but already understood in the Meccan and Medinan environment of Muhammad’s time. Many of these loanwords are taken from their liturgical usage in the Jewish-Christian tradition. It is equally indisputable that the Qur’ān includes many passages that have their parallels in biblical or extra-biblical narratives. How do you critically assess these phenomena of the Qur’ān in view of the claim that the Qur’ān is divine revelation, word for word?

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Answer:
Due to the multi-layered question, this response will be divided into three parts.1

1. The Issue of Foreign Words

The controversy regarding the presence of foreign words in the Qur’ān is an ancient one, and although modern scholarship can claim that this fact is indisputable, it was certainly not so in the eyes of some early Muslims.

The famous Andalusian exegete, Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Qurtubī (d. 671/1272), summarized the controversy in the introduction to his Tafsīr. He stated that the scholars of Islam have unanimously agreed that there are no non-Arabic sentences or phrases in the Qur’ān, and they have also agreed that there are non-Arabic proper names such as ‘Jesus’ (‘Īsā), Gabriel (Jibrīl) and ‘Noah’ (h). However, they differed into two groups regarding the presence of solitary foreign words in the Qur’ān.2

The controversy, of course, pre-dates al-Qurtubī by a few centuries. On the one hand were those who claimed that there were no foreign words in the Qur’ān, the most prominent amongst them being the jurist al-Shāfi’ī (d. 204/819), and also the exegete al-Tabarī (d. 310/922). They claimed that any word found in another language did not necessitate its origination in that language, for it could be the case that the other language took it from Arabic, or that both languages used those words simultaneously.3 The former, in his famous al-Risālah, has some harsh words for the followers of this opinion, and considered those who claimed that the Qur’ān has foreign words in it as being ignorant, bereft of wisdom and knowledge.4 Their concern, as they quite clearly delineate, was that the Qur’ān describes itself, in almost a dozen verses (e.g. Q. 16:103, 12:2, and 42:7) as being in pure Arabic, hence how could it be claimed that it contained foreign words? They also felt that, in accordance with the Qur’ānic principle that all prophets are sent speaking their native tongues, an Arab prophet would have to speak in Arabic to them. A third reason why such great consternation was felt, as the grammarian Ibn Fāris (d. 395/1004) stated, was due to the fact that if there were non-Arabic words in it, it would be unfair to challenge the Arabs to produce a work similar to it, as the Qur’ān does.5

It is poignant to note that there does not seem to be any indication in the writings of these early and even medieval scholars that admitting the existence of foreign vocabulary in the Qur’ān might somehow challenge its claim of Divine origin or expose it to allegations of ‘foreign’ influence. Rather, for them, it was a matter of reconciling specific verses that they presumed contradicted the assertion that foreign words existed in it.

On the other hand, quite a few early authorities seemed to have no problem acknowledging the foreign vocabulary of the Qur’ān. In particular the Companion Ibn ‘Abbās has much narrated from him in this regard (whether it can be deemed authentic or not is another question). The prolific al-Suyūtī (d. 911/1505) wrote the largest work of its kind in Arabic, entitled al-Muhadhab fī ma waqa’a fī al-Qur’ān min al-mu’arrab, in which he compiled around five dozen such examples. For al-Suyūtī, the few examples of non–Arabic words found in the Qur’ān did not negate its overall Arabic nature, hence there was no conflict with this and the verses describing it as being an Arabic revelation.

A third group of scholars tried to reconcile the two positions by claiming that there was an element of truth in both of them. The early linguist Abū ‘Ubayd al-Qāsim b. Sallām (d. 224/838) is the first that I know of who claimed that both of these groups were correct; he stated that the origin of some Qur’ānic words is indeed foreign, but they were introduced into Arabic, as is the case with any language, and were Arabicised by replacing their letters with Arabic letters, and eventually were incorporated into Arabic poetry and culture, such that for all practical purposes they could be considered Arabic.6 Al-Zarkashī (d. 794/1391), whose work al-Burhān fī ‘Ulūm al-Qur’ān is almost universally acknowledged as the greatest mediaeval work on the sciences of the Qur’ān, also leaned towards this position, as did al-Suyūtī in his other work, al-Itqān fī ‘Ulūm al-Qur’ān. Some proponents of this camp quoted the ‘father’ of Arabic grammar, Sībawayh (d. 180/796) himself, who wrote in his al-Kitāb that non-Arabic words could become Arabic if one substituted Arabic letters for the foreign ones, and then appended it to a known morphological form (wazn).7 The exegete Ibn ‘Atiyyah (d. 541/1147), in his al-Muharrar summarized his position regarding this issue when he stated that there is no doubt that Arabs interacted with other civilizations, through trade and other journeys, and in the process they took some of their words and introduced them into the common vernacular of the Arabs, such that they began to be used in their lectures and poetry, and this was the state of affairs when the Qur’ān was revealed with these words. It is this third opinion which is now almost universally acknowledge as valid by Muslim specialists in the field, and all the modern works that are written in the field of ‘ulūm al-Qur’ān’ reflect this.

As a final point, the fact that words of non-Arab origin are undeniably found in pre-Islamic poetry (in particular, the ‘Seven Hanging Odes’) clearly shows that Arabs, like all cultures, took specific phrases from other languages and incorporated them into their own.

Mention must be made here of the seminal work on this field in Western scholarship, and that is Arthur Jeffery’s The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’ān (Brill, 2007). There is no doubt that this masterpiece of scholarship outshines anything else written on the subject, however, at the same time, it cannot be taken as the final authority on each and every word that it lists. Rather, it serves as an indispensable index to see which words might possibly qualify as being non-Arabic in origin. What sets Jefferey’s work head and shoulders above all other works is that he specifically links each alleged foreign word back to its original language, be it Aramaic, Syriac, Hebrew, Greek, or other.8

2. The Issue of Judaeo-Christian Influence on the Qur’ān

It is a given fundamental amongst non-Muslims, be they Christian, Jew, or secular, that Muhammad composed the Qur’ān from whatever sources were available to him, in particular Judaeo-Christian sources. And it is just as much a fundamental amongst Muslims (by definition!) that the Qur’ān was a revelation from God.

The earliest modern researcher who sought to methodologically prove this claim was Abraham Geiger, who published his Was had Mohammed aus dem Judenthem aufgenommen in 1833 (translated as Judaism and Islam). This was followed by a flood of writings on the topic, such as those of Wilhelm Rudolph, Tor Andrae, Richard Bell, and C. C. Torrey. In particular, the Scottish Orientalist William Muir (d. 1905) did much to lay the foundations of this viewpoint.

Muir maintained that the Prophet had obtained his knowledge of Judaism and Christianity via the followers of those religions who lived in the Hijaz, and who visited the ‘Ukādh fairs, as well as having learnt about them via his own journeys to Syria. Claims Muir, “We may be certain that Mahomet lost no opportunity of enquiring into the practices and tenets of the Syrian Christians or of conversing with the monks and clergy who fell in his way.” Muir laments that the Prophet was exposed to a distorted and faulty view of Christianity, for had he been given the correct understanding of the religion instead of ‘…the misnamed catholicism of the Empire,’ he would have instead converted to it rather than misleading others through a new faith.9

W. Montgomery Watt, taking the ideas of Muir a step further, claimed that one of the theses of his book Muhammad at Mecca is that the greatness of Islam is largely due to a fusion of some Arab elements with certain Judaeo-Christian conceptions. He also posits (p. 27), based upon Q. 16:103, that there was a ‘monotheist informant’ of the Prophet. For Watt, the Prophet intentionally launched a new monotheistic religion in order to avoid the political implications of adopting Judaism or Christianity (p. 38).

H. A. R. Gibb, in his Muhammadanism: A Historical Survey, puts forward another possibility concerning the sources of the Qur’ān. In view of the close commercial relation between Mecca and Yemen, he states, it would be natural to assume that some religious ideas were carried to Mecca with the caravans of spices and woven stuffs, and there are details of vocabulary in the Qur’ān which give color to this assumption.10 The Lebanese Philip K. Hitti wrote that the sources of the Qur’ān are unmistakably Christian, Jewish and Arab heathen, and that what Muhammad did was to Islamise, Arabicise and nationalize the material.11 Richard Bell, in his The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment, opines that much of the Qur’ān is directly dependent on the Bible (p. 42), yet also admitted that there was no evidence of any seats of Christianity in the Hijāz, and especially in Mecca and Medina (p. 100). The more modern Kenneth Cragg, while conceding the Christian influence on the Qur’ān, opines: “The Biblical narratives reproduced in the Qur’ān differ considerably and suggest oral, not direct acquaintance. There is almost complete absence of what could be claimed as direct quotation from the Bible.”12

And the quotes go on and on. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states quite correctly, regarding the divine origins of the Qur’ān:13

Non-Moslem scholarship has taken a different view of the matter. It has nearly always held that the major influences on Mohammed must have been principally, but not exclusively, Jewish and Christian, and that those influences were colored by Mohammed’s own character and made over to conform to aspects and need of the pre-Islamic Arabian mind.

It later goes on to claim that it was highly likely that the Prophet had access to the Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity.

The connection between the foreign vocabulary of the Qur’ān and its alleged foreign sources is obvious, as the quotation from Gibb above hints at. Arthur Jefferey’s work, mentioned above as well, is a perfect illustration of this frame of mind. He states factually that “…it is plain that Muhammad drew his inspiration…from the great monotheistic religions which were pressing down into Arabia of his day.“14 Based on this premise, he then asserts that researching the foreign vocabulary of the Qur’ān will allow us to understand the influences and sources that Muhammad used to come up with his religion.15 Jefferey then proceeds to lay out how Muhammad might have had possible access to Ethiopic, Persian, Greek, Syrian, Hebrew, Nabataean and Indian sources, how he had ‘…close contact with the Syrian Church,’ how he attempted to purchase information from the Jews, was possibly taught Coptic legends from his slave-girl, and was inspired by the success and might of the Byzantine and Persian Empires to lead the Arabs to higher levels of civilization.16

3. The View From Within: Muslim Responses

For Muslims, such a view as expressed by Jefferey and others is inherently biased. Many of the earlier generation of Orientalists were quite staunch Christians who made no qualms about their religious views on Islam. For later scholars, who worked in a time when, even if such a bias existed, its admittance would be looked upon disapprovingly, the general paradigm from which academic research was (and is) undertaken is that of a secular one, where there is no God who communicates with man and who sends different prophets with the same message to different peoples. Of course, this paradigm is applied to the same standards by most modern researchers to all faiths, and not just Islam. To do otherwise would automatically constitute an unacceptable bias that modern academia would not allow. Thus, the ‘The Great Flood’ that is mentioned in the Bible (and the Qur’ān) is viewed as a universal myth that has its origins in a plethora of sources, such as the Hindu Puranas, Greek mythology, and even the Epic of Gilgamesh. The mythology of Christianity is seen as having been derived from previous parallels, some of which are indeed quite striking, such as the stories of the Egyptian Sun god Horus and the Hellenistic cult of Mithra.

Hence, some of the problems that religiously devout Muslim academics will have when dealing with such research into the origins of the Qur’ān are very similar to the problems that members of other faiths will have when dealing with their respective traditions.

But this is not the only line of defense that Muslim academics draw. They point out the social and intellectual milieu that the Prophet found himself in and ask whether the portrayal of him tallies with historical facts and realities. One cannot be blamed for getting the distinct impression that some Western authors attribute to Muhammad a type of encyclopedic knowledge that no one else of his time or era reputedly had, or could even come close to. The impression is given that either he knew or had access to a library that included Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and ancient Arab beliefs, and was cognizant of many different languages and dialects, before ‘writing’ the Qur’ān. Yet, modern research has failed to show any significant center of Jewish or Christian learning in Arabia, or translation of the Holy Scriptures into Arabic. In fact, some specialists have shown that the first known translation of the Gospels into Arabic occurred in the third century after the hijra.17

Again, for Muslims, such claims seem to ignore simple historical realities of the time, some of which even the Qur’ān alludes to. Of them is that Muhammad was an illiterate man raised in an uneducated Bedouin society. Both Q. 10:16 and 29:48-9 remind listeners that the Prophet had spent an entire lifetime (i.e., forty years) in their midst, during which he showed absolutely no inclination for any sort of literary activity or flair for writing skills – had he done so, the Qur’ān explicitly states, there would indeed be a legitimate reason to be skeptical.

Another issue that must be kept in mind is that any ‘parallels’ found between Qur’ānic and Biblical stories or materials are seen as proving, rather than disproving, the Qur’ān’s claim that it, along with the previous revelations, are Divinely revealed. A number of verses (e.g., 12:3, 12:102 and 28:44-6) plainly link the mentioning of such stories as proof that these revelations are not from mortal sources, but from God, “…for neither you, nor your people, knew of them before this” (Q 11: 49). Believing Muslims point out that even at the revelation of this Meccan verse, there are no recorded instances of anyone challenging the veracity of this claim, and state, “Actually, I was aware of these particular stories before the revelation.” Hence, far from looking at such stories and any similarities between them and other literature as proof against his prophethood, believers take them to be proofs for his claims!18

The same applies for any theological or moral similarity between Islam and Judaism or Christianity, or even ancient Arab customs, for they are taken to be of the common rubric given to Moses, Jesus and Abraham respectively. Hence this type of ‘back-projecting’ of ideas is not as much of a problem for Muslims as it is, say, for Christians when confronted with clear parallels between Christian theology and pagan beliefs (since, for them, there should be no Divine connection between the pagan cult of Mithra and the image of Jesus Christ, for example). For Muslims, the continuity of theology between prophets is a clear Qur’ānic principle and a proof for prophethood (as in Q. 46:9). In fact, in more than one verse the Qur’ān quite explicitly and unabashedly states that God has given the same message to the previous prophets in their respective Scriptures. In Q. 21:105, the Qur’ān states that God had already written, in the Psalms, that the righteous shall inherit the Earth (‘anna al-arda yarithuhā ‘ibadiy al-sālihūn’). This is almost an exact parallel of Psalm 37:29 “The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell therein for ever.”19 Other verses also give quotations from Biblical Scripture (see, for example, Q. 49:29).

It is also interesting to note that while the classical works related to the sciences of the Qur’ān discussed a multitude of issues, and strove to ‘defend’ the purity of the Revelation by tackling, head on, the claims of those who opposed it, it is rare to find in their works, or even in the treatises that responded to Christian polemics against Islam, a detailed defense of the accusation that the Qur’ān is taken from Judaeo-Christian sources because of parallels between them. Again, this returns to the psychological frame of mind that Muslims have, in which they see such parallels as being an indication of the continuity of the same chain of prophets and the same message, revealed from the same God. In other words, such parallels are simply not as ‘troubling’ to them as they are to a secular, Christian or Jewish observer, since each of these three groups will explain such parallels from within his or her own paradigm.20

In conclusion, and on a personal note, I accept as a given that, as a believer in a particular faith, there are certain areas where academic scholarship and religious belief will simply have to agree to disagree. I find claims of neutrality and objectivity to be purely relative; secular researchers into any field of religion will have their biases (although they would probably not label them as being ‘biases’), believing adherents to one tradition will have other biases when they examine other faiths, and they will have yet another set of biases when they examine their own faith.

That does not mean that research in any religious field is doomed to be bound by one’s own religious views. Rather, it is precisely because of such alternate viewpoints that academics and researchers will continue to enrich and engage with one another and provide fertile ground for ideas to be tossed around and explored; eventually, some will germinate and be nurtured, while others will fail to take root. And even of those that are nurtured, the fruits produced by such ideas will always be sweet to some, and bitter to others.


Footnotes

  1. I must point out that it is not even remotely possible to do justice to this question in the space allotted; however the goal is to show as wide a grasp of the sources and issues as possible, and that is what I intend to accomplish.
  2. Al-Qurtubī, al-Jāmīʾ li Ahkām al-Qurʾān, v. 1, p. 104.
  3. Al-Tabari, Tafsīr, v. 1, p. 8.
  4. Al-Shafiʿī, al-Risālah, p. 41
  5. Ibn Fāris, al Sāhibī, p. 28.
  6. Ibn Fāris, al Sāhibī, p. 29.
  7. Sībawayh, al-Kitāb, v. 4, p. 304.
  8. There is one minor reservation that I have about the work, and I say this fully recognizing and appreciating the level of scholarship it displays (apart from the fact that it includes proper nouns such as Ilyās, Sabiʾūn, and Majūs – this is a matter that even the likes of al-Shafiʿī would not have had an issue with!) Jeffery shows that many common nouns and verbs (such as khubz, p. 121, kataba, p. 248 and sajada, p. 162) have ‘originated’ from a foreign language; this might very well be the case, but their use and understanding amongst the Arabs, perhaps for centuries before the coming of the Prophet, had made them as ‘Arabic’ as could possibly be. My point here is that the case cannot be made with such common nouns and verbs that the Prophet himself had anything to do with them or that he somehow introduced them into the language of the Arabs (whereas the case may indeed be made with other words). Hence their inclusion on a list of ‘foreign’ vocabulary of the Qurʾān (as opposed to a list of foreign vocabulary of the Arabic language), seems, to me at least, foreign.
  9. Muir, The Life of Mahomet, (Edinburgh, 1923) v. 2, p. 20-21.
  10. Mohammadanism: A Historical Survey (London, 1961) p. 37.
  11. Hitti, Islam and the West: A Historical Cultural Survey (New York, 1979), p. 15.
  12. The Call Of The Minaret, p. 66
  13. New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Vol. VII, p.677.
  14. Jeffery, Foreign Vocabulary, p. 1.
  15. Jeffery, Foreign Vocabulary, p. 2.
  16. Ibid., p. 22, 28-9, 38.
  17. Sidney H Griffith, “The Gospel In Arabic: An Enquiry Into Its Appearance In The First Abbasid Century” Oriens Christianus, Volume 69, p. 131-132.
  18. For the above paragraphs, see, inter alia: Mohammad Khalifa, The sublime Qur’ān and Orientalism (London; Longman, 1983), Hamza Njozi, The Sources of the Qurʾān: A Critical Review of Authorship Theories, (WAMY Press, 1995); Mohar Ali, Sirat al-Nabi and the Orientalists (Madina, 1997); my own comments in Qadhi, An Introduction, p. 274-6. Also see Watt’s comments on this verse in Mohammed at Mecca, p. 45.
  19. Although I am not knowledgeable of Hebrew, I am told that the parallel in the original is even more profound.
  20. I am not implying that such defense does not exist in the classical sources, for it does; what I am saying is that when one compares the quantity of material on this specific issue, versus other issues (for example, proving the iʿjāz of the Qurʾān), it is quite clear that this issue was not of as great a concern to them as other issues.

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Sh. Dr. Yasir Qadhi is someone that believes that one's life should be judged by more than just academic degrees and scholastic accomplishments. Friends and foe alike acknowledge that one of his main weaknesses is ice-cream, which he seems to enjoy with a rather sinister passion. The highlight of his day is twirling his little girl (a.k.a. "my little princess") round and round in the air and watching her squeal with joy. A few tid-bits from his mundane life: Sh. Yasir has a Bachelors in Hadith and a Masters in Theology from Islamic University of Madinah, and a PhD in Islamic Studies from Yale University. He is an instructor and Dean of Academic Affairs at AlMaghrib, and the Resident Scholar of the Memphis Islamic Center.

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sunie Nizami

    May 21, 2008 at 10:38 AM

    JazakAllahukhair Sheikh, for a great supplement to your class on ‘uloomulQuran.

    I am wondering how the Muslim scholars who came after Abu Obaid bin Salaam and heard of his opinion felt about it. Was there an immediate trend of acknowldgment and acceptance(especially since its much easier to defend the quran from this position) or did they continue to put forth previous opinions spurred by Ibn Abbass’ comment?

  2. Avatar

    MR

    May 21, 2008 at 10:51 AM

    This is a very thorough and interesting article. JazakAllah khair. I’d love to read other articles from various contemporary scholars on this.

  3. Avatar

    Ridwaan

    May 21, 2008 at 11:46 AM

    assalaamu alaikum,
    Please fix the Quranic reference.

    “Other verses also give quotations from Biblical Scripture (see, for example, Q. 49:29).”

    jazakumullah khayr

  4. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse

    May 21, 2008 at 1:11 PM

    Wonderful article, jazakAllahu khair! I love the study of linguistics and especially of the Qur’an :)

  5. Avatar

    Abu Abdurrahman

    May 21, 2008 at 1:33 PM

    Bismillah…

    JazakAllahu khairan YQ!

    Just a quick question…

    With reference to the issue of subjectivity and objectivity entailed in the arriving at the conclusion of truth or falsehood – what would be your response to (an apparently sincere) non-muslim who points to the fact that much of ‘evidences’ of the Divine origin of the Quran are either purely or mainly subjective in nature, and give examples of the challenge of producing a Surah similar to the Quran, or how the Quran was unique in that it differentiated itself in its very structure. (with Poetry in Arabic falling into sixteen different ” Bihar ” (rhythmic forms), and other than that they have the speech of soothsayers, rhyming prose, and normal speech. The Qur’an’s form did not fit into any of these categories..etc). But still it is subjective.

    Me personally, I also feel inclined to state that there is going to be a degree of subjectivity in anything – other than a few things which would render this life no longer a test or would lead to ‘further confusion’ (such as angels coming down etc.). However, one of the many things which make one feel indifferent to this approach is the fact that in reality these evidences are nothing short of a body of clear proof – like the sun shining in the clear sky, a “burhan” and “bayyinat.” These are not subjective things, as I understand it.

    Could you help fill the missing link in the argument. Wa jazakAllahu khairan

    wassalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatyllah

  6. Avatar

    Charles

    May 21, 2008 at 2:25 PM

    My point here is that the case cannot be made with such common nouns and verbs that the Prophet himself had anything to do with them or that he somehow introduced them into the language of the Arabs (whereas the case may indeed be made with other words). Hence their inclusion on a list of ‘foreign’ vocabulary of the Qurʾān (as opposed to a list of foreign vocabulary of the Arabic language), seems, to me at least, foreign.

    From what you’ve written here, I would understand “list of ‘foreign’ vocabulary of the Quran” to be a subset of “foreign vocabulary of the Arabic language.” That is, these scholars are limiting the foreign vocabulary found in Arabic to one particular instance, much like we might focus on the Greek vocabulary in medical language, rather than the Greek vocabulary in all of the English (or other) language. Thus, they are simply being precise about which part of the Arabic language they are looking at.

    Of them is that Muḥammad was an illiterate man raised in an uneducated Bedouin society.

    Could you comment on the meaning of “illiterate”? I ask because in the Bible the phrase doesn’t necessarily mean someone who cannot read or write but someone who has not studied under a teacher or scholar. You can see this in John 7:14 where the Jews wonder how Jesus could be “lettered” (or “literate”) “without having studied.” (Compare also to Acts 4:13 where Peter and John are called illiterate and untrained.)

  7. Avatar

    Ibrahim

    May 21, 2008 at 9:43 PM

    JazakAllahu khairan for a wonderful article. You have addressed this in this article, but I kept wondering why would somebody question the divinity of the Quran if it contains non-Arabic words. I would assume a non-Muslim or a very confused Muslim asked this question.

  8. Avatar

    Talha Syed

    May 21, 2008 at 11:04 PM

    Wonderful Article!

    Ibrahim, Sh. Yasir pointed out that the only potential problem Muslims had with non-Arabic words was the verse that said the Qur’an was in Lisanaan Arabiyyan (an Arabic tongue).

    For Muslims, other than the above issue, the presence of non-Arabic words was/is not a problem at all, just as the presence of supposedly ‘Biblical’ stories (universal in our view) is actually a proof for the Qur’an.

    As the Sheikh points out, for Christians, similarities to previous major religions are a theological problem, because the previous nations and cultures were pagan.

    We Muslims are saved from this trial, Alhamdulillah.

    BTW, here is the tranliteration I found for Pslams 37:29:
    tsaddiyqiym yiyrshu-‘ârets veyishkenu lâ`adh `âleyhâ
    Can a Hebrew speaker please translate each Hebrew word into Arabic so we can see the similarities/differences?

  9. Avatar

    aarij

    May 22, 2008 at 2:39 AM

    Awesome piece, Sh. Yasir.

    These orientalist kafs (kafs = short for kafirs) are really no different than the mushrikeen of Makkah who claimed that Rasool Allah [SAWS] made up the Qur’an. What I find amazing (and as mentioned in the article) is that when it is an established historic fact that:

    a) the Prophet [SAWS] had no formal education (i.e. he was illiterate)
    b) the Prophet [SAWS] had shown no inclination towards poetry or literature his entire life

    then how can he all of a sudden produce such amazing work of literature?

    Like Allah [SWT] says, “Or do they say that he [SAWS] made this Qur’an up? Rather, they do not believe” in Surah AtToor (51), 33.

    BTW, for the uninitiated, orientalist = a kafir who studied Islam formally. This question came up during the Route 114 class in Toronto.

  10. Avatar

    dawud

    May 22, 2008 at 2:39 AM

    salaam;

    mashAllah and well-written, ya ustadh Yasir.

    I think the last statement you made was interesting, calling for a reflection on what my Christian father would term worldviews and how they affect study, along with a request for intellectual integrity and respect for diverse views.

    Without re-opening the debate from the Ashari/Athari debate, I would just like to ask, given your last statement about the fruits of intellectual labor being ‘sweet to some and bitter to others’ whether you’d apply the same statement to the non-academic reviews of Hellenistic philosophy which Imam ibn Taymiyyah and Imam Ghazali both engaged in, and whether you would apply the same doctrine of tolerance – without acceptance of corrupted doctrine that may follow – towards those views within the Islamic tradition – “agree to disagree” or “what we agree on is greater than what we disagree.”

    I’m sure, given your signing of the Amman declaration and explicit statements here, that you already regard those who hold Asha’ri and Maturidi interpretations of ‘aqeedah as muslims, but would like to know what you think of the scholars, such as Bediuzzaman Said al-Nursi, Tariq Ramadan, Abdul-Hakim Murad, Sayyid Hossein Nasr (not endorsing all of the perspectives of these scholars, but I do find some value in each) who attempt to deal with the immense challenges posed to muslims exposed to modern philosophy.

    It’s definitely true that the Salaf-us-Salih didn’t recourse to philosophy or have the challenges of deconstructionist doctrine, kufr and shirk were rather more blatant and the bedouin didn’t go about theological disputes so subtly – but given that muslims are being exposed to these questions by studying in Western universities and inevitably being exposed to Western philosophy, implicitly and explicitly, how do you perceive the responses which scholars like those I’ve named above have offered?

  11. Avatar

    Al Madrasi Al Hindee

    May 22, 2008 at 11:24 AM

    Assalamu alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi wabarakatuhu .

    Brilliant and very well-researched piece . Barakallhumma feek Ya Ustadh .
    It’ll make a good addendum or an appendix for a revised edition of ‘Introduction to the sciences of the Quran’ though you briefly touched upon this topic in your masterpiece on Uloomal Quran .

    Akhi , just as you lamented in the critiques on translations of the Quran in your book , a humble request to you and I am sure a lot of people may have this on their mind . Why not O Sheikh take up the translation of the Quran in English when you get the all elusive ‘time’ . I know this will be a humoungous project …but I am sure the one that you translate may inshallah stand the test of time with the amount of knowledge and resources you have access to . I would suggest you give this suggestion some serious thought . The English speaking world has waited in earnest for the ‘most-authentic- English translation-of-the-quran-as-it-ought-to-be-understood-with proper- footnotes- sans Aqedah problems-in-flawless English-sans-brackets!!(Phew!) ‘ and the wait goes on ………..

    Wassalam
    Al Madrasi Al Hindee

  12. Avatar

    Yasir Qadhi

    May 23, 2008 at 4:13 PM

    Salaam Alaikum

    @ Sunie Nizami,

    Although a few scholars tried to hold on to the more ‘left’ and ‘right’ wing positions, I would say that the more informed researches all gravitated to this middle-of-the-road position, and it is really the one that makes the most sense.

    @ Ridwaan

    Type, it should be last verse of Surah al-Fath; 48:29

    @ Abu Abdurrahman

    Your point is indeed profound, and is the common response of those informed non-Muslims who are genuinely more sincere and sympathetic and yet are still not Muslims. But I do believe this is an intellectual hiding hole for them rather than an actual excuse; fair enough, if you believe that, then why not actually produce something similar to the Quran, and let’s see if your claims hold true. There have indeed been attempts, starting from Musaylamah and continuing to our times amongst anonymous internet authors, to try to ‘imitate’ the Quran. Let us take a panel of judges, Muslims and Arab non-Muslims, and put these fabrications to the test, from all aspects.

    @ Charles

    Your point would be valid if they themselves didn’t state their goals for doing so: to try to show the ‘sources’ of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam. To claim that the verb ‘kataba’ (to write) goes back a thousand years to another common Semitic root is of practically no value for any academic exercise.

    @ Al Madrasi al-Hindee

    I believe that with the two translations by Saheeh International and then M. S. Abdel Haleem’s, there is little need for such a huge endeavour. Not that their translations are perfect (none can ever be, and the latter certainly has a slight modernistic tinge to it), but rather that the works that have been done recently simply do not justify the effort of a simple translation.
    The next level is to write an original tafsir in English,for a Western audience; now THAT would indeed be a worthy effort!!

    @ dawud

    I might honestly concede to your argument were it not for a body of overwhelmingly explicit and unequivocal evidences, in the Quran and Sunnah, that this religion will be preserved,and that truth shall remain clear from error, and that the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa salaam has left us upon the shining path, etc. The fact that there *must* be one, clear authentic group (a fact believed in by both ‘orthodox Sunnis’ and ‘traditionalist Sunnis’) automatically puts to rest the claim that both are valid.
    With respect to the authors whom you mentioned, I confess I have not read all of their works in intimate detail, although of course I’m aware of the general trends of their thoughts and their attempts to defend Islam against greater threats. But I maintain that one does not need to compromise one’s theological positions in order to defend the religion. Historically speaking, the Mutazilah felt they were defending Islam against the falasifa, and look what happened to them. And then the Asharites felt they were defending Islam from the Mutazilah, and orthodox Islam claims ‘Look what happened to them’.
    When you read the works of, say, Ibn Sina, and then see how some of the Mutazilah, or even al-Razi or al-Ghazali tried to refute it, indeed it is undeniable that an average person finds much that is impressive. But then, when you get to Ibn Taymiyyah and you see how *he* critiques Ibn Sina, and then moves on to critiquing al-Ghazali’s critique, it leaves you dumbfounded. I have said many times – and I know that many will find this statement strange – that were it not for the blessings of Allah and then the writings of Ibn Taymiyyah, many many intellectuals would have fallen prey to Asharite or Mutazilite thought. A person reads their works and thinks they have struck gold, but that’s because they’ve never seen real gold. When you examine the real material, 100 % orthodox and pure, then you realize that all that glitters is indeed not gold ;)

    Yasir

  13. Avatar

    Musa Franco

    May 25, 2008 at 12:13 AM

    Salaam Alaykum All :)

    Just wondering if the sheikh can touch on Raghib Al Isfahani’s view.

    Jazak Allahu Khair

  14. Avatar

    Al Madrasi Al Hindee

    May 27, 2008 at 12:14 AM

    @ Sheikh Yasir Qadhi

    “….The next level is to write an original tafsir in English,for a Western audience; now THAT would indeed be a worthy effort!! ” . I really did have that in my mind before I suggested that !! . I totally agree a literal translation would not suffice and is not worth the endeavour you so rightly articulated . A Tafsir for the Western Audience with the right Aqeedah and authentic footnotes …. now that would be something worth waiting for inshallah . I hope we see the dawn of that soon …Inshallah Ta’la .

  15. Avatar

    Shibli Zaman

    July 18, 2008 at 5:50 PM

    السلام عليكم ورحمة الله يا شيخنا آبا عمار وفقكم الله تعالى

    I appreciate greatly that rather than position one particular perspective in regards to the “Foreign Vocabulary” of the Qur’an, you have clarified what you see as the prevailing positions on the subject. Yet, in our day and age it is difficult to accept the harsh positions of those such as Imam al-Shafi`i in regards to the Qur’anic vocabulary being 100% Arabic. Just analyzing a couple of words and phrases from the Qur’an can substantiate this. I’ll try to avoid referencing too much material directly in respect to the nature of this medium of communication:

    1) Qaswara – According to the majority of the exegetes on this subject (markedly, from the Sahaba, may Allah be pleased with them) this word is clearly East African (“Habashi as it was simplistically referred to by the Sahaba) in origin in reference to either a hunter or a lion. Research substantiates that both “lion” and “hunter” are plausible according to analyses of Proto-Highland Eastern Cushitic wherein “kas” is to stab, pierce or cut and the suffix of “wara” creates “agent nouns”. In modern “Ethiopic” languages such as Tigrinya and Ge’ez (as well as in some other African languages) the word “Wagatwara” means “hunter” and in earlier etymons of this word the “g” is rendered a “q” and the “t” is rendered an “s”. This is much akin to some modern dialects of Arabic that render the letters “Qaaf” and “Thaa” as a “gaaf” and “saa” respectively.

    2) One of the most interesting examples is that whenever you find the word “Hanif” in the Qur’an you will find it qualified with “wa ma kana min al-mushrikin”. There are no exceptions. The word “Chanpa” which bears the same root as “Hanif” meant “Pagan” in early Chaldee and was used to denote an idol-worshipper in later Aramaic speaking communities (both Judaic and Christian). Yet, to the Chaldeans who were pagans themselves before Judaism and Christianity, Abraham (peace be upon him) would have been a “Chanpa” by their definition since the root of the word is someone who goes on a deviant path. To them, Abraham would have been the biggest deviant and “Pagan” against their religion. So is Allah defending Abraham (likely unbeknownst to the early Muslims reading the Qur’an) to the Jews and Syriac Christians who would have remarked that this word means “idolater” to them? By the way, Arabic simply did not exist in the time of Abraham and that is a historical fact that is a kind of folly to dispute. The Nabateans themselves did not exist yet.

    With these examples, it is important to note that often times the Sahaba appear to be clearly confused or simply “not in the know” regarding the meanings of words such as “Qaswara” and even phrases such as “Utulin ba`da thalika zanim”, etc. Does this not bear evidence against the theory that these were words and phrases, while originating in other languages, had long become part of the Arabic language?

    Most of the Sahaba were definitely not familiar with these and other examples of words and phrases in the Qur’an (though they were, indeed, relatively very few). The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his Sahaba were not scholars of linguistics nor are they expected to have been. Could this, perhaps, be evidence at the fact that the Qur’an was not of human origin as the alleged “author(s)” himself/themselves were not always very sure what the meanings were and there are no Prophetic clarifications regarding their meanings from the Sunnah? Is this not a type of I`jaz in and of itself?

    This is a heavy subject that most people scoff at as “useless knowledge”. Well, while we Muslims dismiss it as “useless knowledge” the non-Muslim scholars have been writing masterpieces interpreting OUR most Holy Scripture while we are clinging tenaciously to the often times insufficient explanations offered by exasperated Companions, Tabi`is and scholars doing the best they could with what they had at the time.

    Allah, indeed, knows best.

    If you can offer your opinion on these matters I would be grateful.

    وصلى الله على محمد الماحي واله وسلم
    جزاكم الله خيرا
    والسلام عليكم

  16. Avatar

    Amatullah

    September 10, 2008 at 8:19 AM

    I was wondering if someone can shed some light on the orientalists and their view on hadeeth? Someone commented on my blog and his comment and website were quite disturbing. He was quoting Schacht.

  17. ibnabeeomar

    ibnabeeomar

    September 10, 2008 at 10:50 AM

    amatullah: this book should give you what you need, http://islamicbookstore.com/b2436.html

  18. Avatar

    Shibli Zaman

    September 10, 2008 at 12:01 PM

    Sister Amatullah, what is your blog?

  19. Pingback: Is arabic in Quran pure or not? | Vishwas Blogs

  20. Pingback: Is Quran preserved? in what sense? | Vishwas Blogs

  21. Avatar

    Zeeshan Ahmed

    March 16, 2010 at 6:13 AM

    jazakallah for the article sh. One question when Allah quotes a prophet or any other figure of the past from bani isreal for example. Would you not find non arabic words being used in those scenarios?

  22. Pingback: Are there non-Arabic words in the Quran? « Tafsir of the Quran

  23. Avatar

    menj

    October 21, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    This is a great article which explains the issue succinctly. Jazakallah.

  24. Avatar

    Ahmed Fuseini

    June 13, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    great response Sheikh : ibn Taymiah’s “intellectual” to our theology has been misrepresented or largely unread.read quite a few of his treatises lately and I agree with your response in to-to!

  25. Avatar

    Ibn Anwar

    June 23, 2016 at 4:50 AM

    I have also written an article on this subject. You may have a look at it here http://unveiling-christianity.net/2016/06/22/quran-arabic/

  26. Avatar

    Fa'az

    March 9, 2017 at 5:45 AM

    Look, when Qoran came into existence (or sent by God) majority of Arabs were not Muslims and then became Muslims. And Arabic language was the language of, let say, non-Muslims which became ‘the language of Muslims’ by their number growing eventually and outnumbering non-Muslim Arabs. Logically, from the very beginning Qoran contained ‘non-muslim” (Arabic) language which later Islamized it. And this ‘non-Muslim’ Arabic language had lot of non-Arabic or rather borrowing words from other languages. And these non-Arabic borrowing words were also incorporated into the text of Qoran, just similar to pure Arabic words which previously were ‘non-Muslim” words (language) and later became, let’s say ‘Muslims’ words. Actually language has nothing to do with religion, it can be learned and spoken by followers of any religion. And borrowings is an undeniable fact of any language. So, claiming that Qoran does not have foreign (borrowing) words, is foolish.

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#Current Affairs

Racism And The Plagues of Egypt – Coronavirus And Racism: America’s Two Pandemics

Dr Amina Darwish, Guest Contributor

Published

Introduction

The fight against anti-Blackness has once again hit the global stage, and American Muslims have a central role to play in the movement of racial justice. The spiritual history of America is a history of Black Muslim voices. Mansa Abubakari, a West African King, landed in South America almost 200 years before Columbus began the massacre of the indigenous population.[1] The biggest migration of Muslims to America was the slave ships where scholars fought to teach Islam to their enslaved communities. Modern Islamophobic attacks such as the Muslim Ban of 2016 are not just Islamophobic, but also deeply racist because it denies the humanity of the previous generations of Muslims. Black Muslims have carried the mantle of preserving Islam in America and have fought for racial justice for last four centuries. The immigrant Muslims who arrived during the last 50 years were a direct result of the civil rights movement that allowed immigration from Muslim majority countries. The fight for racial justice is a Muslim fight. We owe it to the generations of Muslims before us to continue their work.

The 400 years of struggle for racial justice in America can be compared to the Children of Israel’s fight for emancipation from Pharaoh’s Egypt 3000 years ago during which the country was hit by a number of plagues. Sheikh Mendes and Imam Dawud Walid have recently referenced the story of Prophet Musa (peace be upon him), whose demand to Pharaoh to, “Let my people go[2]” is well known in many religious circles fighting for racial equality in America. [3] The Quran discusses of the plagues of Egypt in the story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) in Surah Al-A’raf. “So We sent upon them the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood as distinct signs, but they were arrogant and were a criminal people.” [7;133] The plagues of Egypt are similar to the current coronavirus pandemic in that they made systemic oppression clear for all to see. The goal here is to explain the relationship between the coronavirus and racism epidemics.

First, the name of the surah will be discussed. Then, the story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will be put into context with the story of the other prophets mentioned in the surah. The events leading up to the Plagues of Egypt are explained and compared to the current American pandemics. Finally, there are recommendations for how to make our community spaces antiracist. A few Black scholars have been quoted throughout as to elevate their voices, and to provide some much-needed groundwork for readers who might be unfamiliar with these great American Muslim scholars. For further reading, Dr. Kayla Renée Wheeler compiled a far more exhaustive list of Black Muslim narratives in the BlackIslamSyllabus.

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To put this verse into perspective we must first reflect on Surah A’raf as a whole, and I encourage everyone to read and contemplate the surah in depth. The A’raf, mentioned in ayah 46, are an elevated place on the Day of Judgement where people of no consequence get stuck. They watch as others are sorted towards Heaven or Hell. The people of the A’raf are not evil, but they also would not leave their comfort zones to actually commit to righteousness. Their comments to the people of Paradise and the people of the Fire are mentioned in the Surah, but do not earn a response because they are then, as they are now, people of no consequence.

The surah begins by telling Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to not feel distressed by forcing people out of their comfort zones, and warns of previous peoples who were destroyed as they slept in their heedlessness. And how many cities have We destroyed, and Our punishment came to them at night or while they were sleeping at noon. [7;4] We cannot go back to the previous norm when Black people were suffering alone, while non-Black people could comfortably enjoy their lives whilst ignoring—and even benefiting from a system built on—the suffering of their Black brothers and sisters. A critical mass of people must refuse the continued oppression and the suffering of others for the current system to change. American Muslims should do more than give lip service to their Black brothers and sisters.

Anti-Blackness in Human History

The first prophet mentioned in the surah is our father Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), whose name indicates his dark black skin. And We have certainly created you, [O Mankind], and given you [human] form. Then We said to the angels, “Prostrate to Adam”, so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He was not of those who prostrated. [7;11] [Allah] said, “What prevented you from prostrating when I commanded you?” [Satan] said, “I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from mud.” [7;12] Satan hated our father Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) for the form Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave him, which included dark black skin. Anti-Blackness is as old as humanity itself. Dr. Bilal Ware has spoken extensively about the satanic nature of racism. Claims of superiority based on a birthright are rampant throughout human history. Egyptians claimed superiority over the Children of Israel based on where they were from centuries before. Jahili[1] Meccan society claimed superiority based on lineage. The American system claims superiority based on proximity to whiteness. These are characteristics determined at birth and are beyond any human being’s control. Such claims of superiority are counter to the Islamic ethos that sets the value of individuals based on their relationship with God alone. And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This] – lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.” [7:172] Many other prophets and their specific fights against the oppressive power structures are referenced in the surah, which illustrates the continuity of the struggle between the children of Adam and Satan.

A series of prophets (peace be upon them] are briefly discussed with striking similarities in the messages they delivered to their people. All the prophets teach their people about the Oneness of God and called them to rectify the vices that were specific to their society. The mala’a, or the elites, in each of their societies were mentioned as those who fought the prophets. They did so to maintain their chokehold on power, not because of a theological difference. The elites in Meccan society did not fight Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) until he began publicly preaching. They did not care that he prayed differently from them. They feared that his message would make them equal to people they belittled and disparaged. Similarly, it was the elites in Pharaoh’s court who demanded he increase the torment of the Children of Israel. This was a direct result of the magicians publicly declaring their belief and turning public opinion against Pharaoh’s magic, one of the pillars of his power. Similarly in America, the institutional structures of racism need to be dismantled.

Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)

The story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) begins with the demand mentioned in the introduction, “so send with me the Children of Israel.” [7;105]. Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) shows Pharaoh and his elites the signs Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has sent him with. So Moses threw his staff, and suddenly it was a serpent, manifest. [7;107] And he drew out his hand; thereupon it was white [with radiance] for the observers. [7;108] They refuse his message and demand a public contest with magicians in hopes of spinning the narrative in their favor. They fail miserably when the magicians recognize the truth and publicly declare their belief in the Lord of Prophet Haroon 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) despite Pharaoh’s threats of torture. Pharaoh said, “You believed in him before I gave you permission. Indeed, this is a conspiracy which you conspired in the city to expel therefrom its people. But you are going to know.” [7:123]

This now leads us to the discussion of the plagues, and how they came about. After that public humiliation, the elites around Pharaoh demanded that he increase the torment of the Children of Israel. [Pharaoh] said, “We will kill their sons and keep their women alive; and indeed, we are subjugators over them.” [7;127] Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a book specifically addressing how the White supremacist system feared a successful Black presidency and responded with an increased level of racism. As a spiritual response to this heightened oppression, Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) preached patience during the struggle because he knew Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) would deliver them.  The people of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) complained about the increased pain they were now experiencing as they had been suffering for years before a messenger was sent to them. Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) asked them to develop their spiritual strength and prepare themselves for a time when they would be empowered and would need spiritual discipline. Shaykha Ieasha Prime has recently called on the ummah to be increasing its spiritual strength as they organize against anti-Blackness.

The Economic Downturn

Then Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tested the people of Pharaoh with an economic downturn. “And We certainly seized the people of Pharaoh with years of famine and a deficiency in fruits that perhaps they would be reminded.” [7;130] These circumstances are very similar to the economic recession of 2008, and as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Whenever something good would happen, the people of Pharaoh would claim credit for it, and whenever something bad happened, they would blame Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his people. But when good came to them, they said, “This is ours [by right].” And if a bad [condition] struck them, they saw an evil omen in Moses and those with him. Unquestionably, their fortune is with Allah, but most of them do not know. [7;131] And they said, “No matter what sign you bring us with which to bewitch us, we will not be believers in you.” [7;132] This rhetoric is very similar to the wave of nationalism that took over the world in the last few years. It is used by nationalist political leaders, who blame marginalized groups for the economic recession. However, the oppression of those marginalized communities was a preexisting condition that was exacerbated and exploited by nationalist leaders.

The Plagues

Then Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sent them the plagues, “the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood” [7;133]. These were such overwhelming tests for Pharaoh. He was a man that claimed to be a god, but the True God was now sending him something that destroyed the riches he had built and could not be blamed on someone else. It revealed all of his lies. The plagues sent to Pharaoh were specific to the land of the Nile that depended on the production of agriculture and built imposing monuments. It is difficult to look grand when your fields are flooded or consumed by locusts, your water turns to blood, and you and your monuments are covered in lice and frogs. Similarly, the coronavirus pandemic exposed the faults in our health care system, the shortcoming of our food supply, the fragility of the economy, and the deep racism that is embedded into the entire system. The people who were deemed essential to work were treated as sacrificial and were forced to choose between paying for food and rent or risking exposure. They were offered empty platitudes that did not include the protective equipment they needed, increased financial compensation, or health care if they were to fall ill.

Coronavirus attacks the body’s ability to breathe, and it has been widely reported to have affected communities of color far harder than any other group. Black Americans are far more likely to have asthma due to highways going through their neighborhoods, and therefore more likely to die from Covid-19. This is a direct link to a racist system of redlining and highway construction that took away their ability to breathe. Black Americans are imprisoned at disproportionally high rates where social distancing is impossible. There are many false assumptions about the imprisoned population. The truth is that more than 90% of all cases never go to trial, and an accused person’s ability to defend themselves is almost impossible with exorbitant amounts of money. Many Muslims now claim affiliation to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), may Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) have mercy on him. Covid-19 could be killing the next Malcolm X in prison this very moment. All that without even discussing the economic impact of coronavirus on communities of color that if left unchecked will widen the racial wealth gap. The scarcity of food and resources that were created by the plagues undoubtedly affected the Children of Israel and not just their oppressors; however, the end result of plagues was justice for the oppressed.

From Eric Garner to George Floyd, Black Americans have been fighting to breathe in America. The Arabic word nafs which is usually translated to a soul/self has the same root word as nafas, which means a breath. So, a more accurate translation of nafs is actually a breathing soul. Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a nafs (breathing soul) unless for a nafs or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he/she had slain humankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he/she had saved humankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors. [Surah Al-Ma’idah; 32] American Muslims have tended towards the medical profession as a means of fulfilling the above verse in saving people. We should be focusing the same level of energy at saving populations by fighting both the coronavirus and racism epidemics.

Naming the Oppression

The coronavirus epidemic and the recent public murders of Black Americans created a tipping point that did not exist before. Former NBA player and prolific author, Kareem Abdul Jabbar said, “it feels like hunting season is open on blacks.” The murder of George Floyd was so egregious that groups dedicated to preventing police accountability called for Derek Chauvin to be held accountable. America was force to collectively acknowledge the murder of a Black man at the hands of a police officer. Corporations who peddled in racism were issuing apologies when they saw the tide of public opinion turn. The murder of George Floyd made America look the ugliness of racism in the eye. Of course, police brutality and racism did not begin with George Floyd nor did it end with him. Many more people lost their lives at the hands of the police during the protests. For every name we know, there are countless others we do not know. Police brutality is a leading cause of death for Black men in America. Even if we do not know their names, every victim leaves behind a family to mourn their loss while knowing that the murderer not only walks free, but wears a uniform that allows him to continue to kill without consequence. May the brave young woman who took the video receive Divine reward and healing for her bravery. May the burning in the heart of every mother who lost a child be granted Divine patience and healing.

In Surah A’raf, the people of Pharaoh also acknowledged their oppression of the Children of Israel, and they vowed to stop oppressing them. And when the punishment descended upon them, they said, “O Moses, invoke for us your Lord by what He has promised you. If you [can] remove the punishment from us, we will surely believe you, and we will send with you the Children of Israel.” [7;134] We know that the people of Pharaoh reneged after the plagues were lifted. But when We removed the punishment from them until a term which they were to reach, then at once they broke their word. [7;135] So We took retribution from them, and We drowned them in the sea because they denied Our signs and were heedless of them. [7;136] Pharaoh in his arrogance witnessed all of the signs Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) including the staff, his hand, and the plagues. He then witnessed the Red Sea split, and still he followed Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) into the sea until he was drowned. His hatred blinded him, and his racism killed him.

America is now at the same moment of realization. Of course, Black Muslims have never been unaware of racism. It is a privilege for non-Black Muslims to learn about systemic racism rather than experience it firsthand. The ability to see right from wrong is not guaranteed for us. Arrogance can blind us as it has blinded Pharaoh and his army. I will turn away from My signs those who are arrogant upon the earth without right; and if they should see every sign, they will not believe in it. And if they see the way of consciousness, they will not adopt it as a way; but if they see the way of error, they will adopt it as a way. That is because they have denied Our signs and they were heedless of them. [7;146] The ability to see the racism is a mercy from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). May we be protected from spiritual blindness. No Muslim in America should be able to claim a lack of awareness of systemic racism any longer. No should they continue to favor their comfort zones over our love for our Black brothers and sisters and assume they will be forgiven. And they were succeeded by generations who, although they inherited the Scripture, took the fleeting gains of this lower world, saying, ‘We shall be forgiven,’ and indeed taking them again if other such gains came their way. Was a pledge not taken from them, written in the Scripture, to say nothing but the truth about God? And they have studied its contents well. For those who are mindful of God, the Hereafter is better. ‘Why do you not use your reason?’ [7;169]

Fighting the Oppression

Pharaoh claimed to be god, and White supremacy is the false god of our time. It is built into our psyches, our financial systems, and our power structures. Statues were erected to idolize those who upheld it. White supremacy is a system where lighter skin makes people smarter, more trustworthy, and more beautiful. We know this is a lie on its face, and yet it breads anti-blackness that is deeply engrained into everyday life. Fighting anti-blackness is a spiritual struggle, and we should make sincere intentions to fight it in all its forms. We must stand with the people of righteousness who fought for the abolition, civil rights, and an end to colonialist exploitation.

White supremacy in America is in a housing system that segregates people and exposes them to pollutants in their air and their water. It is in an education system that funds or defunds schools based on that segregated housing, and uses the police as an extreme punishment for a child’s infractions. It is in a judicial system that criminalizes poverty and imprisons those who cannot afford bail. It is in a prison system that forces people to work without financial compensation and is protected by the Thirteenth Amendment. Plans to fight the coronavirus pandemic were halted because communities of color were more likely to be affected in yet another disturbing attack. White supremacy is so deeply engrained that it leads some to harm themselves by bleaching their skin and burning their hair in hopes of appearing more like their oppressors. It is everywhere including our spiritual spaces.

Muslims often quote ayah 48:13 and the last sermon of Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) with pride that the tradition stands firmly against racial injustice. While Islam itself does, Muslims often unfortunately do not. One of my community members recently shared a story about entering a masjid in hijab, and being asked if she was Muslim. What was even more egregious is that after a discussion, the family that asked concluded that because of her black skin, she was in fact NOT Muslim despite praying in a masjid. Many of the non-Black Muslims were shocked to hear this, but the truth is that I have never met a Black Muslim who did NOT have a racism in the masjid story. Ask the Black Muslims in your circle about their experiences, and the flood gates will open. You will also see the hurt and betrayal in their eyes for having to endure racism inside their places of worship. Apologize to them for not listening sooner and thank them for being willing to teach you and trust you to want to be better despite their trauma.

Call to Action

It is not enough for anyone to not be racist; we must be anti-racist. Acknowledge the anti-blackness you have internalized within yourself and have those difficult conversations with your family members. Ustadha Zaynab Ansari speaks about the pathological ideologies of how black bodies are viewed in America.  Join and support organizations like the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and the Muslim Alliance of North America. Embrace a Black Muslim ethos of viewing Islam as a theology of liberation. Support Black scholars and the Black masajid. Invite them to speak not just about anti-Blackness, but on their areas of expertise in Islam, history, community development, etc. Demand that the immigrant masajid be antiracist. Black Muslims should be on the Board of Directors and on the Zakah committee to ensure the equity of those spaces. Hire a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion expert to have a difficult conversation about race in your organization. If the Black Muslims do not share their experiences of racism in the masjid, it is not because they did but happen, but because they do not trust the community to care to change it. Build that trust and build coalitions of communal healing to end the segregation of masajid into Black and immigrant masajid in the first place. The way out of the pandemic is to take care of those who are most vulnerable. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “You are given rizq sustenance based on the most vulnerable among you.” Communities who have turned the tide have done exactly that. Learning to be anti-racist is one of many steps we can take to lift the difficulty our communities are facing. We need at least be as non-discriminatory as the virus that only sees a human body.

Anyone who is not Black has benefited from the theft and subjugation of generations of Black Americans. We should not meet Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) having sided with an oppressor. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) says, “Oppression is layers of darkness on the Day of Judgement.” We can choose to follow the prophetic path, or we can choose to let our racism destroy us. And for every nation is a [specified] term. So when their time has come, they will not remain behind an hour, nor will they precede [it]. [7;34] There will be an accounting for our society as a whole, and there will be an individual accounting. Those who follow Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will enter eternal gardens and those who follow Pharaoh will enter an eternal fire. And the people of no consequence, those who choose to do nothing, will sit on the A’raf.

[1] This story is mentioned in West African oral histories

[2] “Let my people go.” (Exodus 5-1: NIV)

[3] The plagues of Egypt are discussed differently in the different Abrahamic faiths. “The Christian and Jewish traditions discuss the angel of death taking the life of the first-born son from every family in Egypt except those who left a marking on their doors so the angel of death could pass over them.”

[4] Jahili is a Quranic descriptor for Pre-Islamic Arab society. It is derived from a root word meaning ignorance.

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Mental Health & COVID-19: Light, Guidance, & Much Love | Part 1

Sharada Nizami, Guest Contributor

Published

Insha’Allah, you and your loved ones are safe & healthy. May Allah swt protect us all from COVID-19, Ya Hafidh, and open the way for our spiritual growth, Ya Fattah Ya Rabb. No doubt, we are living in very challenges times, and many in our community are suffering. As such, my intention for this two-part series is to provide some beneficial perspectives and practical strategies that will make your emotional journey safer & easier, insha’Allah.

And a journey it surely is. We are on a very long hike up a very steep mountain. And we have only two choices about HOW we approach this challenge: unskillfully or skillfully. If we wear flip-flops, and fail to pack water and snacks, we will have a very difficult time reaching the summit. And if we do, we will be in very bad shape. If we wear good socks, sturdy hiking boots, and our backpack is well-stocked, not only are we likely to reach the summit, but reach it in great shape. This is what I want for our beloved community, insha’Allah.

As Muslims, it is crucial to remember that the ultimate summit is the hereafter. Truly, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is our goal and pleasing Him is our aim. Truly, everything we do or fail to do here has an impact there. For many people, this haqq is much more difficult to remember and actualize when their day-to-day challenges are daunting. This is why historically and traditionally, in times of crisis, Muslims have always sought the nasiha of wise elders. Imam Muhasibi, the father of Islamic Psychology, developed this crucial, beautiful science in response to the human needs of his students. Sadly, the loss of these teachings as a widespread living tradition has contributed in large part to the widespread mental-health problems that have been plaguing our community for a very long time, which have now been exacerbated by COVID-19.

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Here’s a good metaphor. The science of nutrition teaches us about our body, the properties of different foods, what to avoid to prevent disease, and the vital nutrients we MUST ingest to attain optimum physical health. Likewise, the science of mental health teaches us about our heart and mind, the impact of specific activities, what to avoid to prevent disease, and the vital psychological nutrients we MUST ingest to attain optimum mental health. Lack of knowledge about Islamic Psychology and the absence of the vital psychological nutrients have taken a huge toll on our community. The stories I hear would probably shock you. They would certainly break your heart. Especially the stories of our young people, who are my top priority. Insha’Allah, the wake-up call of COVID-19 propels us to reclaim en masse this lost part of our spiritual heritage, so we can reclaim our vitality and nobility as the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

To continue with the metaphor. Working one-on-one with an experienced nutritionist is very different than reading a book about nutrition. With the former, your nutritional program is specifically tailored to your particular problems, challenges, habits, and temperament. The same is true when it comes to mental health. So I must manage your expectations honestly and honorably by saying that it is not possible for me to do in two articles for the general public what I do one-on-one in my private practice as a psychotherapist, life-coach, and spiritual mentor. Truly, there is a palpable, powerful, fitrah-based alchemy that can only happen when two human hearts link-up in real time. That said, in the same way that reading and learning about nutrition is very beneficial, so too reading and learning about mental health, especially now.

Working Skillfully with Difficult Emotions

No doubt, COVID-19 has unleashed a wide range of very difficult emotions. People are struggling with tremendous anxiety, uncertainty, fear, sadness, loneliness, depression, helplessness, hopelessness, anger, frustration, confusion, grief, despair, and in some cases, a full-blown crisis of faith. So let me explain a little bit about emotions and how to work with them skillfully  

One of the foundational principles of cognitive-behavioral psychology is called ‘reframing.’

It is the process of deliberately thinking differently about our situation. Reframing it. The fact is, the lens through which we view our circumstances makes all the difference in the world insofar as how we feel. Thoughts are like the front wheels of the car and feelings are like the back wheels. We must be in the driver seat, steering intentionally. Whichever way the front wheels turn, the back wheels follow. So paying attention to our thoughts moment by moment, and making sure they are aligned with the Qur’an and Sunnah, is crucial. The mind is a like a muscle that MUST be trained through specific exercises, and our tradition is rich in the techniques for doing so. Truly, we must hit the spiritual gym regularly. The heavy lifting of muhasiba (self-reckoning) and muraqaba (mindfulness/meditation) are not optional. If these are not already a consistent part of your spiritual practice, NOW is the time to take them up. You will be so happy you did!

Here’s a good metaphor. If you are a longtime couch potato, even a flight of stairs leaves you huffing and puffing. If you are in good shape, you’re able to jog around the block easily. If you’re in great shape, you’re able to leap over the hurdles like a gazelle. For many, COVID-19 has been like asking a couch potato to run a marathon. So we need to get in the best spiritual shape possible as quickly as possible. To that end:

The Centering Exercise 

Every time you notice that you are feeling sad, anxious, fearful, angry, hopeless, helpless, impatient, frustrated, confused, or depressed, here’s what to do.  

  • Turn off your devices and put them in another room.
  • Close your door and put a “Please do not disturb.” sign on the doorknob. Lay down.
  • Close your eyes. Turn your attention to your heart. Remember the Hadith Qudsi, “Heaven and earth cannot contain me but the heart of my faithful believer is where I reside.” Truly, Allah is closer than our jugular vein. (50:16)
  • Take some slow-deep breaths. On the out-breath, silently recite “La illaha.” On the in-breath, silently recite “il Allah.” After a few minutes, notice the shift in your state. Notice the deep connection between ‘self’ and ‘breath’, not just experientially, but also etymologically. They both derive from the same Arabic root, transliterated nfs.   
  • When you are centered, mentally review what you had been thinking about that gave rise to the difficult emotions.  Then do a ‘search and replace,’ deliberately and intentionally replacing your dark thoughts with the Light of The Qur’an or Hadith. Here is one example: Search: “I’ll never get through this.” Replace: “Allah never burdens a person with more than he is well able to bear.” (2:286)

As individuals, we each have our own particular dark thoughts. NOW is the BEST time to fix them. I lovingly encourage you to get a blank journal, so that each time you do The Centering Exercise, you can make note of what you observed, what you learned about yourself. Write down each dark thought and then write down each Rx of Light from The Qur’an or Sunnah. Having a personal journal gives you a concrete means of reinforcing your new thought patterns. 

We know from our neuroscience that the human brain possesses ‘neuroplasticity’, which is the capacity to be shaped, molded, changed. As such, the more often you do The Centering Exercise, the more your thinking patterns will change. This is how Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created us, mash’Allah! It’s really quite amazing to realize that the Qur’an we’ve been given provides Light upon Light from The Lord of The Worlds. And the Sunnah is that Light fully actualized to perfection, mash’Allah. The fact is, no matter how dark a room may be, if we light just one candle, it illuminates the space. Mash’Allah!

Parents, once you get the hang of The Centering Exercise, please please teach it to your children! Insha’Allah, make it the new normal in your household, transforming discord and upset into harmony and peace.

Say “Ameen!”

Divine Reminders

Insofar as reframing COVID-19 in the broader sense, I offer you this lens, this Divine Reminder, with much love. May it shift your state from embittered to empowered. My beloved sisters and brothers, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is our Rabb, our Teacher, and COVID-19 is the Test we’ve all been given. Every single human being on the planet. We all woke up one day, walked into the classroom of Life, and got handed a pop quiz. The purpose of which is to show us the places where we weren’t prepared. This is great! Because the trumpet is absolutely going to sound, and we surely want to be ready. As long as we’re breathing, we have time to prepare. This is great!

Say “Ameen!” 

Beloved ones, we have the incredible privilege of being students of The One Who Knows Everything, including The Future and The Unseen.  It is very bad adab to question the teaching methods of our Teacher or to complain that we don’t like the Test.

This was the fatal mistake of Bani Israel that we are reminded 17x/day not to emulate. On the contrary, what we want to be asking ourselves is: “What must I do to pass this Test with flying colors, to ace this Exam?” Our beautiful Qur’an teaches us: “Not without purpose did We create heaven and earth and all between.” (38:27)  This pandemic is not some random event. It has a divine purpose. There is deep meaning in it. 

There is also enormous rahmah in it. Our beautiful Qur’an teaches us: “…My mercy embraces everything.” (7:156) The Divine Physician has dispensed this bitter medicine to heal us. To heal the whole world from its longstanding imbalances and injustices. Surely, it is no accident, the timing of COVID-19 vis-à-vis the murder of George Floyd and the global response it has galvanized.  Surely, every human being wants to and deserves to breathe.

COVID-19 is a wake-up call for the whole world. Ours to do as students is to be fully present in each moment, to practice mindfulness (muraqaba), so we can be deeply receptive to the Lessons we are meant to learn (muhasiba). Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (13:11) Beloved ones, NOW is the time for global tawbah (repentance). As the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), this is our Divine Assignment, individually, collectively, institutionally. 

My vision and personal commitment is that we wind up stronger and better-than-ever on the other side of this, insha’Allah. I can say this with great confidence because first and foremost, I know that COVID-19 or no COVID-19, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is not out of business! The presence of The Presence, the power of the Names & Attributes, are as robust as ever. 

We are being summoned to recognize our hubris and turn our hearts in humility toward The One Who Is In Charge, The One Who Calls The Shots, to The One Whose Decree we surrender. Humbly. Readily. Insha’Allah, NOW is the time to actualize the last part of Hadith Jibreel about qadr. The fact is, what’s happening around us is what’s happening, and this is always in the hands of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). HOW we respond to what’s happening is entirely up to us.

What I want for our community is the best possible response, the most skillful and beautiful response, the response that will be of maximum benefit here & hereafter, insha’Allah.

I can also say this with great confidence because time and again, working with Muslim refugees who have been through horrific trauma, I have seen with my own eyes how absolutely amazing human beings are. How resilient. How courageous. How creative. How capable of transforming sorrow into joy, lemons into lemonade, compost into roses. This is what I want for you, my beloved sisters and brothers.

No doubt, on any long and arduous journey, in addition to having the right equipment and supplies, having an experienced trail-guide makes all the difference. There is dangerous terrain you want to avoid, and beautiful vistas you don’t want to miss. In my experience over decades, I have observed that human beings thrive when we are given the right tools and the loving encouragement to master them.  So let me give you now some very practical guidelines to help you navigate skillfully, so you can extract from these precious days of your life what is meaningful & transformational. 

Practical Strategies

When it comes to protecting our physical health from the pandemic, there are certain steps we MUST take. Likewise with our mental health. As such, here are some practical strategies, culled from thousands of pages of research and decades of experience. My focus is on parents, whose job has never been more difficult. And with the new school year right around the corner, this guidance is extremely timely. 

Boundaries: Set clear boundaries regarding where and when devices can be used. This applies to everyone in the household, kids and parents alike. Parents, as your elder who loves you, I am reminding you that YOU are the CEO of your home. YOU are the policy maker. YOU are in charge. NOT your kids or their devices. So take charge!

  • No devices for kids 0-3. These guidelines are from the American Pediatric Association. 
  • No devices at the dinner table* or in the bedrooms.
  • No devices until after Fajr. Better yet, after breakfast.
  • All devices put away 1-2 hours before bedtime. Plugged in in the kitchen to recharge.
  • Limit on-line entertainment and socializing to 1 hour/day MAX.
  • Schedule tech fasts ½ day weekly, and 1-2 full days monthly, on a weekend.
  • An occasional family-time movie is fine on the weekend. Choose something meaningful, uplifting, thought-provoking, heart-opening. Pop some popcorn. Make tea. Engage in a special time afterward to really talk together about your experience. *Getting in the habit of real-time-face-to-face conversations is crucial. If you start when your kids are young, it will lay a strong foundation for their teenage years, when they desperately need wise, trustworthy, caring adults who really know how to listen from the heart.

Nature: Spending time in nature is the very best thing you can do for yourself and with your family. There are reams of data about the stress-reducing effects of being outdoors, especially in the woods. There are also reams of data about the benefits of exercise, not only for physical health, but for mental health. Given all the extra sitting everyone is doing during COVID-19, regular exercise is not optional. 

Furthermore, if your kids are schooling from home and you are working from home, everyone will surely need some breathing room, some physical and emotional space from one another, some time every day in solitude, unplugged from their devices. Spending alone-time in nature is the perfect solution. 

For family-time activities, unplug from your devices and enjoy these delightful experiences. They will engender tremendous awe (khushu’) and deepen your heart-connection with your Rabb, The One Who Created you and all the beauty around you. Subhan’Allah.

  • Take a 15-30 minute family-walk every night after dinner before homework.
  • Go hiking, biking, rollerblading, kayaking, kite-flying, or camping on the weekend.   
  • Set up bird feeders in your yard. Learn their names and identify their songs.
  • Go out nightly to look at the stars. Learn the names of the constellations.
  • Watch as many sunrises & sunsets, moonrises & moonsets as you can. 

As Muslims, our worship is guided by the natural cycles Allah put in place. The sun is our clock. It tells us when to pray. The moon is our calendar. It tells us when the new month begins. Sighting the moon is an act of worship, mash’Allah.

Divine Reminders

Our beautiful Qur’an teaches:“We will show them Our Signs (ayat) in the universe and in their own selves, until it becomes clear to them that this (the Qur’an) is the truth.” (Fussilat 41:53)

In this ayah, we are taught the two beautiful gateways into the sacred: the macrocosm of the universe, and the microcosm of the self. Both of these gateways open into the direct experience of Allah’s presence. 

As Muslims, we have been invited to spend time in this dunya in the company of The One Who is Love (al-Wadud). The One Who is Strength (al-Aziz). The One Who is Peace (as-Salaam). And on & on. What could be more beneficial during this time of crisis? Alas, calling upon our Rabb by His most Beautiful Names, with urgency & sincerity, is one of the Lessons we must learn from COVID-19.  My prayer for our community is that people do not squander the opportunity to connect in a deep, meaningful, intimate way heart-to-heart with Allah because they can’t put their phone down or turn their computer off. Insha’Allah, I will address the subject of digital addiction in the second article, as it plays a huge role when it comes to mental health issues.

Closing Du’a

Ya Habibi Ya Allah. Please grant us oceans of fortitude and mountains of strength Ya Sabur Ya Aziz. May we be dutiful beautiful students who strive with all our might in jihad al akbar to pass this test with flying colors, to ace this exam. May we, the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), love one another like he loves us, and strengthen one another every step of the way. May we wind up stronger and better-than-ever on the other side of COVID-19, reclaiming the standard of Insan Kamil as the Index by which we measure our lives. Ya Dhal Jalali wal Ikram.

Say “Ameen!” 

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 20: Come to Success

Marwa Aly, Guest Contributor

Published

Now that we have learnt about how Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Mercy encompasses all things, let’s now talk about coming to success.

Whenever we hear the adhan (call to prayer), there is a part where the mu’adhin (person calling the athan) calls out: “حي على الصلاة” hay ‘ala as-salaah (come to prayer). Then he says: “حي على الفلاح”- hay ‘ala al-falaah.” 

Question: Does anyone know what hay ‘ala al-falaah means?

It means ‘come to prayer, come to success.’ Is that how we usually think of success?

Question: What is your definition of success?

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Yes, sometimes we think that having a good job, a nice house, and a loving family are the measurements of our success. There may be some truth to that  for this world, but how does Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) measure our success?

Do you know that there is a surah in the Qur’an called “The Believers” (Al- Mu’minun), and that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) promises that the believers will be successful? He says:

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ 

“Indeed, the believers have attained success” [23; 1]

Let’s dig a little deeper into the Arabic word for success: فلاح (falaah). Do you know that a derivative of that word فَلَّاح (fallaah) means a farmer? 

Question: What are some of the things that a farmer needs to do everyday?

Farmers need to fertilize their soil, plant seeds, pull out weeds, protect their plants from predators, and water their crops. Do you think that’s a lot of work? Do you think it’s easy to be a farmer? I want you to imagine a time when farmers couldn’t turn on a hose to water their plants. They completely relied on rain to irrigate their crops. So, they could do all of this hard work, but if there was a drought, their crops wouldn’t be able to survive. To be a farmer requires a deep sense of تَوَكُّل, tawakkul (reliance on Allah)

So, part of success is hard work, and a big part is also knowing that nothing happens without the will of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). That’s why when the muadhin tells us to come to salaah (prayer) and to come to success, we respond by saying: 

لَا حَوْلَ وَلَا قُوَّةَ إِلَّا بِٱللَّٰهِ‎

“There is no power nor strength except by Allah.”

We can only come to prayer and we can only achieve success if Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wills it. The only thing in our control is the amount of effort we exert in the process. 

So, let’s be farmers; let us try our best to plant good seeds, water them, nourish them, and pray that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), places baraka (blessings) in all of our efforts! 

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