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Yahya Ibrahim: Shaykhs Need Advice, Too

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I found myself standing before an audience numbering in the tens of thousands; maybe even hundreds of thousands. Mumbai in November is mildly humid with an acceptable temperature that allows you to perspire but not sweat. The sweat came from the lights, cameras and action.

Shaykh, Shaykh please look into the camera.


Shaykh can we ask you a question, you have so much knowledge?


One of the problems with internet scholarship, convention groupies and seminar murids is the negative effect they inflict upon the heart of the “Shaykh.”  This is not my unique observation. Rather, it is from years of observing, discussing and questioning various lecturers, callers and organisers of Islamic educational conventions, seminars and classes.

People at times forget that the “Shaykh” is an individual who struggles each and every day of their life to worship Allah competently and in fulfillment of the Divine Grace of sacred knowledge that they have been afforded by Ar-Rahman.

Ibn al-Jawzi rahimahullah sat to teach and found more than 10,000 heads looking up at him. So he wept and supplicated to Allah:

“O Allah! If You punish me on the Day of Judgment for my sins, do not let these students of mine witness it. I pray this not to save face, but so that they do not say, ‘The One he called us to is the One who punishes him.”

While in Mumbai as a lecturer for Dr. Zakir Naik’s 2009 Peace Conference, I was blessed to meet Sh. Salah al-Budair, the Imam of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah al-Munawarrah. The Shaykh, may Allah grant him protection and shelter him, would lead us in the fajr prayer at the hotel and then have breakfast with us.  He was always joyful, humble, content with whatever was offered to him and a great listener with refined adaab. I have heard him speak before and listened to his awe-inspiring recitation of the Quran during Taraweeh and Qiyaam.  He is known for his soft heart and ease of weeping.

I took council with other honoured lecturers about how to ask him a sensitive question that I feared may be misunderstood. Abu Ammaar (Yasir Qadhi) said, “Just ask.”

“Ya Shaykh, Allah has honoured you and has bestowed an enormous Grace upon you by granting you the duty and privilege of standing on the very Pulpit of the Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), in his masjid, within sight of his home and burial site, sala Allahu alayhi wa salaam.  You lead the prayers and advise others on his (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) behalf.  Ya Shaykh, how do you prepare yourself for this? How do you prepare your Ikhlas to find the courage to stand where you stand and lead where you lead?”

I can’t fathom the pressure, critical self-assessment, and self-doubt and fear that must be experienced by the Shaykh.

I know from personal experience and through my interaction with numerous students of knowledge and scholars that:

Shaykhs need advice.

Shaykhs need help.

Shaykhs make mistakes.

So-called “Shaykhs” can also be rotten to the core.

Sacred Knowledge and following through with sincere action has always been an eternal, internal struggle of the learned.

Al-Ghazali, al-Ash’ari, Ibn Taymiyyah…those before them and superior to them in knowledge and those after them have ALL commented on Ikhlas, self-reformation, muhaasabah and Taqwa. In fact the first chapter of any hadeeth manual will begin with the chapter of Ikhlas.

At times we forget the Ikhlas that Allah enjoins upon us and that was exemplified by our humble Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam).

Knowledge, its acquisition and dissemination was never the aim of the student or the instructor.  Amal, sincere action, that was the objective.

Imam Muslim narrates that Abu Hurairah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) reports that the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

The first amongst mankind to be used as kindle for hell-fire will be an individual who studied [religious] knowledge and taught it and who used to recite (memorize) the Qur’an. He will be brought and Allah will make known to him His favours and he will recognize them. It will be said: And what did you do about them? He will say: I studied [religious] knowledge and I taught it and I recited the Qur’an for Your sake. It will be said, “You have lied. You did but study [religious] knowledge that it might be said [of you]: He is learned. And you recited the Qur’an that it might be said [of you]: He is a reciter. And so it was said.” Then it will be ordered that he be dragged along on his face until he is cast into Hell-fire.

Shaykh Salah smiled. Bowed his head down and politely said, “Every level has its Divine assistance. To abstain from that would be Riyaah (showing off).”

Subhan Allah.

Allah provides the Ikhlas that we seek to attain and pray for.  It is Allah who grants us success and only Allah who can turn us away from it.

True Ikhlas is actually intending success and seeking Allah in all that we do.  True Ikhlas is a willingness to challenge ourselves and demonstrate conviction of faith to ourselves and others. True Ikhlas compels us to repent and rise up after our stumbling.

True Ikhlas is not a change in mood or a whimsical period of time. It is consistent, constant.  It is a compass that when abandoned one cannot arrive to salvation.

Later in the day, Shaykh Salah pulled me to the side and said privately, “Every day I pray that Allah take my life rather than allow me to stand in the place of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) with an overwhelming hypocrisy in my heart.  I pray every night that I not wake if I do not discharge the trust placed upon me.”

We both wept.

Ustadh Yahya Ibrahim is Canadian by birth & education, Egyptian through a rich ancestry, Turkish via the blessing of marriage to Songul and Australian by Choice of residence and migration.Since his early teens, in the 90's, Ustadh Yahya has been talking about Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims. He was blessed with numerous opportunities to meet, translate, study and teach alongside some of the Islamic worlds top scholars.Ustadh Yahya is blessed now to be living in Perth, Western Australia with his wife and three wonderful children – Shireen, Omar and Adam. He is a regular lecturer to Muslim and non-Muslim audiences their and around the world. Recently, Ustadh Yahya was awarded by the West Australian State Government the "Individual Excellence in Community Service Award."Ustadh Yahya is a passionate educator with a decades experience in school leadership as an Asst. Principal & registered Teacher.He, also, serves the Muslim community at Curtin University and the University of Western Australia as the Islamic Chaplain and teaches Islamic Ethics & Theology,internationally, with al-Kauthar Institute .



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    March 15, 2010 at 4:19 AM


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    March 15, 2010 at 4:23 AM

    SubhanAllah this is so beautiful! Jazakallahukhair!

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    Ibn Ameen

    March 15, 2010 at 4:49 AM

    Hope i can c u again Syeikh here in Malaysia Insyallah!

  4. Avatar


    March 15, 2010 at 6:12 AM

    assalamualykum ,

    Mashaallah.Truly touching.The more ilm you have ,the more humbleness you have ..Subahanallah.

  5. Amad


    March 15, 2010 at 6:19 AM

    This is one of those stories that gives you goose-pimples… subhanAllah, great start Shaykh Yahya to your blogging career :)

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    Mirza Shahbaaz Baig

    March 15, 2010 at 7:06 AM

    Subahan Allah, ya shaykh.

    This last ever Peace Conference was full of such events.

    Ain’t this struggle to get true ikhlas (which Allaah blessed Musa AS) require working so much , whole our life , on first hadith of niyyah.

    o Allaah, help us being among mukhliseen ( those who have ikhlaas to say do things and mean it for Allaah’s sake). ameen.

    • Avatar

      Mirza Shahbaaz Baig

      March 15, 2010 at 7:16 AM

      it may be possible for shuyookh with their knowledge to try maintain this consistency at a much higher level than masses like us.

      hence i remember there to be such a du’a to be to Allaah made before any/every knowledge session by every student to make us focused on knowledge and not on personal lacunae of the teacher.

      subahan Allaah.

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    March 15, 2010 at 7:31 AM

    ” Every day I pray that Allah take my life rather than allow me to stand in the place of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) with an overwhelming hypocrisy in my heart. I pray every night that I not wake if I do not discharge the trust placed upon me.”


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    Shuaib Mansoori

    March 15, 2010 at 8:45 AM

    Assalamu Alaikum,

    SubhanAllah, left me speechless…

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    March 15, 2010 at 8:50 AM


  10. darthvaider


    March 15, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    SubhanAllah. Jazak Allah khayr shaykh- may Allah preserve you, Shaykh Salah, and all of the a’immah.

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    March 15, 2010 at 9:56 AM


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    March 15, 2010 at 11:26 AM

    Masha’Allah, may Allah forgive us of the sins we do knowingly and unknowingly.

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    March 15, 2010 at 11:33 AM

    May Allah Swt purify our deeds for His sake alone. Ameen!

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    Shibli Zaman

    March 15, 2010 at 12:26 PM

    Sorry to add to the many “Subhan Allah, great blog” comments, but I just had to say that this is simply one of the most moving and wonderful blog articles I have read, ma sha’ Allah. Ever. Jazakumullahu khayran, brother Yahya, for sharing with us such wisdom.

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    March 15, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    I pray every night that I not wake if I do not discharge the trust placed upon me.”

    Could someone please explain what ‘trust’ the shaykh is referring to? As I understand his only responsibility as an employee of the government is to lead the daily prayers and give the Friday khutbah. I would love to know what additional roles and responsibilties the shaykh discharges as Imam of Masjid Nabwi.

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      Razi Ahmad

      March 15, 2010 at 1:36 PM

      The responsibility of being Imaam of any Masjid, much less Masjid an-Nabawi or Masjid al-Haraam, is a great trust that the person occupying the position has in his hands. By being in the position he is in, Shaykh Salah (hafidhahullaah) has the ability to guide (with the Tawfeeq of Allaah, of course) or mislead literally millions of people around the world. Anyone who leads even one Salaah in a Masjid (even a small one) and is truly sincere should feel a heavy weight on their shoulders when they are in that position.
      I believe that this is the trust that he might have been referring to, Wallaahu A’lam.

      • Avatar


        March 15, 2010 at 2:15 PM

        I don’t understand. He is not giving lectures or issuing fatawa. So how does he guide or mislead others? The salah consists of dhikr and recitation. How can that ‘misguide’ others, regardless of the sincerity of the imam?

        Please clarify your comments with examples.

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          Razi Ahmad

          March 15, 2010 at 2:17 PM

          Sorry for the confusion – I was referring to the khutbah, not necessarily through the daily Salaah.

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          March 16, 2010 at 8:18 AM

          Even if he didnt give lectures or fatawa, being an Imaam of a Masjid – and Masjid an-Nabawi, to boot – is an enormous responsibility because people automatically look to him as a role model. So on the one hand, he has to make sure his entire life is ‘clean’ and legitimate – not only meeting the minimum requirements as a normal Muslim, but rather, excelling in them, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – so that people wouldnt have the excuse to look at his actions and be misguided, or even slack off.

          Even if he never opened his mouth to talk to the people directly he has the ability to inspire millions of people one way or another, every time he leads the Salaah. Because of WHERE he leads the Salaah. In this manner, he is in a position of trust.

          On top of all that, he has to keep his actions ‘clean’ and ‘exemplary’ not because of what the people might say, but fi sabil illah alone. To try and ignore what the people say.

          Being a leader, a scholar, or an imaam of a masjid – Shaytan focuses his attack heavily on these people, because they are the pillars that support the community. if they are corrupted, then society will follow.

          So lets pretend, for a second, that his dhikr and recitation do not have an impact on the people. Even if it had zero impact, there is still the matter of the niyyah of the Shaykh remaining pure in the face of Shaytan’s attacks, and his responsibility in this regard, to Allah [subhanahu wa ta’ala].

          So these scholars have to walk a very fine line… on the one hand, they need to exert their utmost against Shaytan and maintain ikhlaas, and the other, they need to be role models of excellence for us, and on the third hand, they need to realize when they’re not performing up to par, and step down if required.

          ….But if they step down, are they succumbing to yet another one of Shaytan’s plots?

          Stress upon stress.

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      Abd- Allah

      March 15, 2010 at 2:09 PM

      his only responsibility as an employee of the government is to lead the daily prayers and give the Friday khutbah.

      Isn’t this enough of a responsibility for a person to handle? To lead the daily prayers at the Masjid of the Prophet peace be upon him?

      The Prophet peace be upon him says: “They lead you in prayer; if they get it right (the reward) is for you and for them, and if they get it wrong, (the reward) is for you and (the sin) is on them.”

      And the Prophet peace be upon him said: “The imam is responsible and the mu’adhdhin is trusted, O Allah, guide the imams and forgive the mu’adhdhins.”

      Or is it just because many Imams of masaajid don’t take this responsibility of theirs seriously, that we take it for granted?

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      Wael -

      March 16, 2010 at 11:30 PM

      NurKhan, go back and read the hadith about “The first amongst mankind to be used as kindle for hell-fire…” and you will see that studying the Quran and reciting it is enough of an obligation in itself to make a mu’min afraid.

      I hesitate to teach Quran for this very reason. But then, on the other hand, withholding knowledge is also a sin. So you see how the accumulation of knowledge right away becomes a burden…

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    Abd- Allah

    March 15, 2010 at 1:32 PM

    JazakAllah khayr for sharing this humbling story.

    As a side note, be careful about which shaykh you decide to give advice to, because some don’t want it, others are too arrogant to accept it, and some might just blow up in your face! Alhamdulillah, these types of “shuyukh” are not the majority, but keep in mind that they still do exist.

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    Mariam E

    March 15, 2010 at 2:09 PM

    Asalamu Alikum

    Jazakum Allah khair. May Allah protect all of our Shuyukh and raise their status in this life and the Hereafter.

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    March 15, 2010 at 5:35 PM

    May Allah reward you for this reminder

  19. Pingback: Shaykhs Need Advice, Too «

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    March 15, 2010 at 7:43 PM

    Beautiful, masha’Allah. What an amazing reminder. :)

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    Abu 'Ubaida

    March 15, 2010 at 7:56 PM


    May Allah (swt) increase his honor

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    Imam Zia

    March 15, 2010 at 9:13 PM

    Wonderful reminder, may Allah SWT give us all Ikhlas. Brother Nur Khan, Imamat even in front of a small community is a huge burden and commitment and trust. Even if you don’t count the khutbas, the lectures, the fatwas, leading prayer and making a mistake in it results in the deficiency of the prayer of the people behind you. And he is standing in the exact position and place in which the Prophet himself stood…what greater burden and trust could that be??

  23. Pingback: Shuyookh Need Advice, Too « Scattered Pearls

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    March 15, 2010 at 9:57 PM


    Its very beautiful reminder, May Allah help us with our ikhlas.

    I have this issue with how one can implement knowledge that he gains, that is everytime he learns something new : whether from reading the Quran or beneficial books, ahadith etc.? Everything he knows?

    Because I reda this book, that spoke about the great scholars of the past and how they were very worried about putting what they learned into action, otherwise it is a sin. Some Sahabas would learn every few ayahs then act on them, THEN learn few more!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

    Wallahi from start to end it scared me, because I thought there is so much that perhaps, small things, I learn everyday, and learnt but have not yet fully implemented, and if I did in the past am not consistent.

    I donot mean the fard/obligatory actions like salah or sawm etc.

    Subhannalh, it paralysed my thirst for learning a bit! I need to stop and acton everything I know otherwise these things are going to be a witness against me on the Day of Judgement.

    How does one do it?

    Jazakallah khair , ws

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    March 16, 2010 at 12:04 AM

    there is a lot of responsibility in leadership positions, especially when it comes to taking care of the Muslim community.

    this was a beautiful reminder, mA!

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    March 16, 2010 at 7:31 AM


    @Amad – …great start indeed :)

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    Faraz Omar

    March 16, 2010 at 9:01 AM

    Beautiful story masha Allah :) may Allah preserve the imaams of Muslims

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    March 16, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    I hardly ever comment on articles but this one, subhan Allah, left me speechless and compelled me to do so. May Allah preserve our shuyookh and bless us all with this level of ikhlaas.

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    abu Abdullah

    March 16, 2010 at 2:27 PM


    If Imam of Madinah is saying this, what is our level ( of imaan)? Allahul Musta’an. Great example for the imam to lead from front.

    How about sharing individual attempts ( if possible ) of achieving certain level of ikhlas in the things we do. Come on, give real life scenarios like what do you do when you try to check out items from walmart and music is going on where you can’t avoid it or the shelf is full of pictures you don’t want to look towards and .. most importantly having that (fake?) smile everytime during you come/go out of masjid when someone is in your way and you say alhamdulillah everything is fine ( just for the sake of it, without possibly meaning it for the sake of Allaah). Allaahu ‘alam.

    For example, Sporadically whenever i am asked to lead the prayer I try to remind myself and entire congregation that listen. (Its just a naseehah with no base in sunnah as far as i know.) Whatever you did till now its past. Now you are about to stand before Allaah, and this is your personal chance to speak to him. Your own worries, problems, thanks anything. our creator and if you are forgetful of any part of this prayer, be sure that its not going to be accepted. Stand straight and close. Allahu akbar. ( i may be wrong but i found it to be beneficial to me personally but again that riyaa thing creeps in your heart and you start battling it whether you did it for self or selfless reason.) may Allaah accept our deeds, ameen.

    PS one thing i also learn as a side note that its ok to narrate such incidents for educational purposes, even though imam himself wouldn’t really want things to be disclosed about him in this level ( got this from the way he pulled the author aside and told his personal story) so this does not count as backbiting instead sadaqa jariya inshAllaah.

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    March 16, 2010 at 7:30 PM

    For any ounce of goodness that is bestowed upon us by Allah, it is only a realization of the Mercy of Allah, and a means to further praise Him, Alhamdulillah.

    May Allah increase eveyone in ikhlaas, ameen.

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    Wael -

    March 16, 2010 at 11:27 PM

    Thank you brother for this glimpse into the doubt and stress in the hearts of individuals that we “the public” tend to think of as beyond all of that. And this reminder of the importance of purity of intention, and that in fact nothing is more important.

    Also for sharing us a very private moment and letting us learn from it, Insha’Allah.

  32. Pingback: Yahya Ibrahim: Shaykhs Need Advice, Too « A World of Dreams

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    Umm Ismael

    March 19, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    Asslam u alaikum wr wb
    JazakALLAH! That is beautiful! To stand where the Prophet (saw) stood and not start considering it an ordinary mundane duty that some of us do when working in the way of ALLAH comes easily to us, is another aspect highlighted to us, Sometimes ALLAH Chooses us for His work but we start considering it a daily routine, until it is snatched away. May ALLAH Help us!

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    Sadaf Farooqi

    March 20, 2010 at 5:02 AM

    This post made me realize how blessed we are to have people with such ikhlaas among us. May Allah protect and preserve our shuyookh.
    O Allah, grant us ikhlaas. Ameen!

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    March 21, 2010 at 9:52 AM

    Great post, as a young Imam myself this hits very hard; I was just thinking about this when I read it.
    May Allah forgive us all.


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    Abu Ibrahim

    March 25, 2010 at 3:12 AM

    By far the one of the BEST post on MM. May Allah azza wa jal reward you and the Shaykh over and over again.

  37. Pingback: Imaams of the Haramain - Part IX - Page 70 - IB Islamic Forum

  38. Avatar

    Nur Taher

    September 21, 2010 at 12:19 AM

    can you guys give me yahya Ibrahim’s contacts please, I have this question that is private, and i urgently need an answer to it. and yahya is the only one I can trust……

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    December 5, 2010 at 6:22 AM

    “Trust”… Subhan’allah… Another amazing read. I have a question … If a “Shaykh” takes advantage of this trust, portrays himself very differently behind closed doors, is a compulsive liar, impinges upon the rights of others, does not seek the forgiveness of those he has wronged should others be warned about him?

  40. Pingback: MM Treasures: Shaykhs Need Advice Too -

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    September 18, 2012 at 7:47 AM

    Very touchy

  42. Avatar


    September 18, 2012 at 4:42 PM


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    September 20, 2012 at 11:10 PM

    Subhanallah. I’m speechless. These type of discussions are so needed. Whether one is khateeb or Islamic university graduate, don’t we all suffer from these ‘common’ issues ? Who here that has been involved in dawah or gave or gives lectures to the masses has not fallen or called to something that he is guilty of ? We all love Allah even tho we sin against Him everyday. We all love the gathering of the pious even tho we are not one of them. We all hate sinners yet even tho we are one of them. I know myself that I have been giving khutbahs for some time , many many years and I always feel so ashamed of my sins that when I stand n preach, I actually consciously ask myself. that I’m probably the worst sinner here. And no this is not trying to be humble, this is how I feel. If I were to make the duaa that shaykh saleh made, I might not be around. Maybe others feel the same. Also reading that hadith makes me almost wish I was not involved in dawah out of fear of opening myself to be judged in that category and then being dragged on my face. May Allah protect us.

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He Catches Me When I Fall: A Journey To Tawakkul

Tawakkul- a leaf falling
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While discussing an emotionally-heavy issue, my therapist brought up the point that in life we can reach a point of acceptance in regards to our difficult issues: “It sounds cliche, but there’s no other way to say it: it is what it is.”

Okay, I thought, as I listened. Acceptance. Yes, I can do this eventually. She went on to add: “It is what it is, and I know that everything will be okay.””

Tears had already been flowing, but by this point, full-blown sobs started. “I…can’t….seem…to ever…believe that.” There. I had said it. I had faked being confident and accepting, even to myself. I had faked the whole, “I have these health problems, but I am so together” type of vibe that I had been putting out for years.

Maybe it was the hormones of a third pregnancy, confronting the realities of life with multiple chronic diseases, family problems, or perhaps a midlife crisis: but at that moment, I did not feel deep in my heart with true conviction that everything would be okay.

That conversation led me to reflect on the concept of tawakkul in the following weeks and months. What did it mean to have true trust in Allah? And why was it that for years I smiled and said, “Alhamdulillah, I’m coping just fine!” when in reality, the harsh truth was that I felt like I had not an ounce of tawakkul?

I had led myself to believe that denying my grief and slapping a smile on was tawakkul. I was being outwardly cheerful — I even made jokes about my life with Multiple Sclerosis — and I liked to think I was functioning all right. Until I wasn’t.

You see, the body doesn’t lie. You can tell all the lies you want to with your tongue, but after some time, the body will let you know that it’s holding oceans of grief, unshed tears, and unhealed traumas. And that period of my life is a tale for another time.

The short story is that things came to a head and I suddenly felt utterly overwhelmed and terrified daily about my future with a potentially disabling disease, while being diagnosed with a second major chronic illness, all while caring for a newborn along with my other children. Panic attacks and severe anxiety ensued. When I realized that I didn’t have true tawakkul, I had to reflect and find my way again.

I thought about Yaqub (Jacob). I thought long and hard about his grief: “Yaa asafaa ‘alaa Yusuf!” “Oh, how great is my grief for Joseph!”

He wept until he was blind. And yet, he constantly asserted, “Wallahul-Musta’aan”: “Allah is the one whose help is sought.” And he believed.

Oh, how did he believe. His sons laughed and called him an old fool for grieving over a son lost for decades. He then lost another dear son, Binyamin. And yet he said, “Perhaps it will be that my Lord will bring them to me altogether.”

There is no sin in grief Click To Tweet

So my first realization was that there was no sin in the grief. I could indeed trust Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) while feeling a sorrow so profound that it ripped me apart at times. “The heart grieves and the eyes weep, but the tongue does not say that except which pleases its Lord. Oh, Ibrahim, we are gravely saddened by your passing.” These are the words of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) for a lost infant son, said with tears pouring down his blessed face, ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

I thought of the Year of Grief, Aamul-Huzn, when he, Allah’s peace be upon him, lost the woman who was the love of his life and the mother of his children; as well as an uncle who was like a father. The year was named after his grief! And here I was denying myself this human emotion because it somehow felt like a betrayal of true sabr?

Tawakkul, tawakkul, where are you? I searched for how I could feel it, truly feel it.Click To Tweet

Through years of introspection and then therapy, I realized that I had a personality that centered around control. I expressed this in various ways from trying to manage my siblings (curse of the firstborn), to trying to manage my childbirth and health. If I only did the “right” things, then I could have the perfect, “natural” birth and the perfect picture of health.

When I was diagnosed with a chronic disease, these illusions started to crack. And yet even then, I thought that if I did the right things, took the right supplements and alternative remedies and medications, that I wouldn’t have trouble with my MS.

See, when you think you control things and you attempt to micromanage everything, you’ve already lost tawakkul. You’ve taken the role of controlling the outcome upon yourself when in reality, your Lord is in control. It took a difficult time when I felt I was spiraling out of control for me to truly realize that I was not the master of my outcomes. Certainly, I would “tie my camel” and take my precautions, but then it was a matter of letting go.

At some point, I envisioned my experience of tawakkul as a free-fall. You know those trust exercises that you do at summer camps or company retreats? You fall back into the arms of someone and relinquish any control over your muscles. You are supposed to be limp and fully trust your partner to catch you.

I did this once with a youth group. After they fell–some gracefully and trusting, some not — I told them: “This is the example of tawakkul. Some of you didn’t trust and you tried to break your fall but some of you completely let go and let your partner catch you. Life will throw you down, it will hit you over and over, and you will fall–but He, subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), will be there to break your fall.”

I am falling. There is a degree of terror and sadness in the fall. But that point when through the pain and tears I can say, “It is what it is, and no matter what, everything will be okay”, that right there is the tranquility that comes from tawakkul.

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The Day I Die | Imam Omar Suleiman

Janazah, funeral, legacy, Omar Suleiman, Edhi
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Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (may Allah be pleased with him) in the midst of the torture he endured at the hands of his oppressors used to say: baynana wa baynahum aljanaa’iz, which means, “the difference between us and them will show in our funerals.” The man who instigated the ideological deviation that led to his torture was an appointed judge named Ahmad Ibn Abi Du’ad. At the moment of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal making those remarks, it appeared Imam Ahmad would die disgraced in a dungeon but Ahmad Ibn Abi Du’ad would have a state funeral with thousands of mourners. Instead, Imam Ahmad persevered through his struggle, was embraced by the people, and honored by Allah with the biggest Janazah ever known to the Arabs with millions of people pouring in from all over. Ahmad Ibn Abu Du’ad was cast aside and buried without anyone attending his janazah out of revulsion.

Now sometimes righteous people do die in isolation, and wicked people are given grand exits. There are people like Uthman Ibn Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) who was murdered by the people of fitnah, then buried at night far away from the people out of fear of the large numbers that would’ve poured out to his janazah and potentially mobilized against his oppressors. But it may be that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) inspired Imam Ahmad with the vision to see his victory in this life before the next. To elaborate a bit on his statement though, allow me to reflect:

A wise man once said to me,

“Always put your funeral in front of you, and work backwards in constructing your life accordingly.” 

With the deaths of righteous people, that advice always advances to the front of my thoughts. When a person passes away, typically only good things will be said of them. But it’s important to pay attention to 2 aspects about those good things being said:

1. Is there congruence in the particular good quality being attested to about the deceased.

2. Are those good qualities being attested to actually truly of the deceased. 

The first one deals with consistency of character, the second one with sincerity of intention which is only known by the Creator and His servant. In regards to the first one, take our sister Hodan Nalayeh (may Allah have mercy on her) who was murdered tragically last week in a terrorist attack in Somalia. Everyone that spoke of her said practically the same thing about how she interacted with them and/or benefitted them. There is complete harmony with all of the testimonies about her. And in that case we all become the witnesses of our sister on the day of judgment, testifying to her good character.

For many that pass away, neither the deceased nor the community fully appreciates the way they benefitted others until that day. It was narrated that when Zainul Abideen Ali Ibn Al Husayn (may Allah be pleased with them), the great grandson of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) passed away, he had marks on his shoulders from the bags he used to carry to the doorsteps of the poor at night when no one else was watching. The narrations state that the people of Madinah used to live off his charity not knowing the source of it until his death.

How many people will miss you when you die because of the joy you brought to their lives? How many of those that you comforted when they were abandoned by others? That you spent on when they were deprived by others? That you advocated for when they were oppressed by others? 

Will your family miss you because of an empty bed in the home or a deep void in their hearts? Will it be the loss of your spending only that grieves them, or the loss of your smile? Will it be the loss of the stability you provided them only, or the loss of your service and sacrifices for them?

But Zainul Abideen didn’t care for the recipients of his charity to know that he was the source of it, because He was fully in tune with it’s true Divine source. He didn’t want to be thanked in this world, but in the next. He didn’t want the eulogy, he wanted Eternity. 

He understood that if you become distracted by the allure of this world, you may merely become of it. Focus on bettering the future which you cannot escape, rather than the present that you cannot dictate. Focus on the interview with the One who needs no resume, rather than the judgments of those who are just as disposable as you. 

اللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْ خَيْرَ زَمَانِيْ آخِرَهُ، وَخَيْرَ عَمَلِيْ خَوَاتِمَهُ، وَخَيْرَ أَيَّامِيْ يِوْمَ أَلقَاكَ

“O Allah, let the best of my lifetime be its ending, and my best deed be that which I seal [my life with], and the best of my days the day I meet You.”

Which brings us to the second aspect of your funeral, the sincerity of the good you’re being praised for. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “increase your remembrance of the destroyer of pleasures.” Death only destroys the temporary pleasures of this world, not the pleasure of the Most Merciful in the next. Keeping that in perspective will help you work towards that without being distracted. If it is the praise of the people you seek, that is as temporary as the world that occupies both your worldly vehicle ie. your body, and your companions in this world who shall perish soon after you.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned the one who passes away with the people lavishing praise on him that he is unworthy of. In a narration in Al Tirmidhi, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “No one dies and they stand over him crying and saying: ‘Oh what a great man he was! Oh how honored he was!’ except that two angels are appointed for him to poke him and say: Is that really you?”

But if it is Allah’s praise that you sought all along, the deeds that you put forth shall await you in your grave in the form of heavenly ornaments. Those that were known to the community, those that were known to only a select few, and those that were known by no one but Allah and you.

May Allah give us all a good ending, and an even better eternity.

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The Spirituality Of Gratitude

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The Quran tells the reader of the importance of gratitude in two ways. First, worship, which is the essence of the relationship between man and the Creator, is conditional to gratitude “and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship” (2:172). The verse suggests that in order for an individual to truly worship Allah then they must express gratitude to Allah and that an ungrateful individual cannot be a worshiper of Allah. The second verse states the following “And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me” (2:152). The Arabic word used, translated here as ‘deny,’ is kufr which linguistically means to cover up. The word was adopted by the Quran to refer to someone who rejects Allah after learning of Him. Both the linguistic and Quranic definitions are possibly meant in this verse and both arrive at the same conclusion. That is, the absence of gratitude is an indicator of one’s rejection of Allah; the question is how and why?

What Does Shukr Mean?

Understanding a Quranic concept begins with understanding the word chosen by the Quran. The word shukr is used throughout the Quran and is commonly translated as gratitude. From a purely linguistic definition, shukr is “the effect food has on the body of an animal” (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 200). What is meant here is that when an animal eats food it becomes heavier which has a clear and visible effect on the animal. Therefore, shukr is the manifestation of a blessing or blessings on the entirety of a person. From here, spiritualists understood the goal of shukr and added an extra element to the definition and that is the acknowledgment that those blessings are from Allah. Thus, the definition of shukr as an Islamic spiritual concept is “the manifestation of Allah’s blessings verbally through praise and acknowledgment; emotionally on the heart through witnessing the blessings and loving Allah; and physically through submission and servitude” (Ibid).

Based on this definition, the goal of shukr can be broken into five categories. First, gratitude that brings about the submission of the individual to his benefactor. In order for an act to be worthy of gratitude, the beneficiary must conclude that the benefactor’s action was done for the sake of the beneficiary – thus making the benefactor benevolent. In other words, the benefactor is not benefiting in the least (Emmons et al 2004 p. 62). When the individual recognizes his benefactor, Allah, as being completely independent of the individual and perfect in of himself, one concludes that the actions of the benefactor are purely in the best interest of the beneficiary resulting in the building of trust in Allah. The Quran utilizes this point multiple times explicitly stating that Allah has nothing to gain from the creations servitude nor does he lose anything from because of their disobedience (Q 2:255, 4:133, 35:15, 47:38). Through shukr, a person’s spirituality increases by recognizing Allah’s perfection and their own imperfection thus building the feeling of need for Allah and trust in him (Emmons et al 2002 p. 463).

Gratitude in Knowing That Allah Loves Us

The second category is love for the benefactor. Similar to the previous category, by identifying the motive of the benefactor one can better appreciate their favors. “Gratitude is fundamentally a moral affect with empathy at its foundation: In order to acknowledge the cost of the gift, the recipient must identity with the psychological state of the one who has provided it” (Emmons 2002 p. 461).[1] That is, by recognizing Allah’s perfection one concludes that his blessings are entirely in the best interest of the beneficiary despite not bringing any return to Him. Thus, the Quran utilizes this concept repeatedly and to list a few, the Quran reminds the human reader that he created the human species directly with his two hands (38:75), he created them in the best physical and mental form (95:4), gave him nobility (17:70), commanded the angels to prostrate to him out of reverence (38:72-3), made him unique by giving him knowledge and language (2:31), exiled Satan who refused to revere him (7:13), allowed him into Paradise (7:19), forgave his mistake (2:37), designated angels to protect each individual (13:11) and supplicate Allah to forgive the believers (40:7-9), created an entire world that caters to his needs (2:29), among plenty of other blessings which express Allah’s love, care, and compassion of the human.

The remaining three categories revolve around the individual acting upon their gratitude by acknowledging them, praising Allah for them and using them in a manner acceptable to Allah. In order for gratitude to play a role in spirituality the blessings one enjoys must be utilized in a manner that connects them with Allah. Initially, one must acknowledge that all blessings are from him thus establishing a connection between the self and Allah. This is then elevated to where the individual views these blessings as more than inanimate objects but entities that serve a purpose. By doing this one begins to see and appreciate the wisdoms behind these created entities enlightening the individual to the Creators abilities and qualities. Finally, after recognizing the general and specific wisdoms behind each creation, one feels a greater sense of purpose, responsibility, and loyalty. That is, engaging the previous five categories establishes love for the benefactor (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 203). Observing the care and compassion of the benefactor for his creation establishes the feeling of loyalty towards the one who has cared for us as well as responsibility since He created everything with purpose.

Blessings Even in Hardship

One may interject by referring to the many individuals and societies that are plagued with hardships and do not have blessings to appreciate. No doubt this is a reality and the Quran address this indirectly. Upon analysis, one finds that the blessings which the Quran references and encourages the reader to appreciate are not wealth or health; rather, it is the sun, the moon, trees, and the natural world in general. Perhaps the reason for this is what shukr seeks to drive us towards. There are two things all these objects have in common (1) they are gifts given by Allah to all humans and all individuals enjoy them and (2) humans are dependent upon them. Everyone has access to the sun, no one can take it away, and we are critically dependent upon it. When the Quran draws our attention to these blessings, the reader should begin to appreciate the natural world at a different level and Surah an Nahl does precisely that. This chapter was likely revealed during the time of hijrah (immigration); a time when the companions lost everything – their homes, wealth, and tribes. The chapter works to counsel them by teaching them that the true blessings a person enjoys is all around them and no matter how much was taken from them, no one can take away the greater blessings of Allah.

In sum, these verses bring light to the crucial role shukr plays in faith. It serves as a means to better know Allah which can be achieved through a series of phases. First, the individual must search for the blessings which then leads to a shift in perspective from focusing on the wants to focusing on what is available. This leads to greater appreciation and recognition of the positives in one’s life allowing the person more optimism. Second, the person must link those blessings to the benefactor – Allah – which reveals many elements of who He is and His concern for His creation. Once this is internalized in the person’s hearts, its benefits begin to manifest itself on the person’s heart, mind, and body; it manifests itself in the form of love for Allah and submission to him. Shukr ultimately reveals the extent of Allah’s love and concern for the individual which therein strengthens the trust and love of the individual for Allah and ultimately their submission to Him.

Allah knows best.

Emmons, Robert A., and Charles M. Shelton. “Gratitude and the science of positive psychology.” Handbook of positive psychology 18 (2002): 459-471.

Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough, eds. The psychology of gratitude. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. madārij al-sālikīn bayn manāzil iyyāka naʿbud wa iyyāka nastaʿīn مدارج السالكين بين منازل إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين [The Levels of Spirituality between the Dynamics of “It is You Alone we Worship and it is You Alone we Seek Help From]. Cario: Hadith Publications, 2005.

[1] Islamically speaking, it is not befitting to claim that Allah has a psyche or that he can be analyzed psychologically.

Download a longer version of this article here: The Sprituality of Gratitude

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