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5 Steps Towards a Noble Life ….. On the Fingers of Abu Hurayrah

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“I, ya Rasulullah!” Such were the words of the great Companion, Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) in acceptance of the request of his beloved, when he asked, “Who among you will accept of me the following words and adopt and execute their meaning or teach someone to adopt them and act according to them?”

Then, as Abu Hurayrah recalls: “So he held my hand and counted five things according to my five fingers as follows.”

Upon pondering over this sentence, one can rightfully assume that this act of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) of teaching Abu Hurayrah in such a personal manner – one by one, on the fingers of his hand – was a significant step in the effort to keep these words etched in his heart. In fact, it was a method of aiding him in fulfilling the responsibility to which he agreed to moments earlier.

So, what were these teachings that numbered the fingers of Abu Hurayrah’s hand?

عن أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ رضي الله عنه ، قَالَ : قَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ :
( مَنْ يَأْخُذُ عَنِّي هَؤُلاَءِ الكَلِمَاتِ فَيَعْمَلُ بِهِنَّ أَوْ يُعَلِّمُ مَنْ يَعْمَلُ بِهِنَّ ؟ فَقَالَ أَبُو هُرَيْرَةَ : فَقُلْتُ : أَنَا يَا رَسُولَ اللهِ !
فَأَخَذَ بِيَدِي فَعَدَّ خَمْسًا وَقَالَ :
اتَّقِ الْمَحَارِمَ تَكُنْ أَعْبَدَ النَّاسِ ، وَارْضَ بِمَا قَسَمَ اللَّهُ لَكَ تَكُنْ أَغْنَى النَّاسِ ، وَأَحْسِنْ إِلَى جَارِكَ تَكُنْ مُؤْمِنًا ، وَأَحِبَّ لِلنَّاسِ مَا تُحِبُّ لِنَفْسِكَ تَكُنْ مُسْلِمًا ، وَلاَ تُكْثِرِ الضَّحِكَ ، فَإِنَّ كَثْرَةَ الضَّحِكِ تُمِيتُ القَلْبَ ) .
رواه أحمد والترمذي والطبراني في الأوسط
  1. Keep away from prohibited things and you will be the best of worshipers.
  2. Be content with what Allah has given you, and you will be the richest of people.
  3. Be good to your neighbor and you will be a true believer.
  4. Love for other people what you love for yourself and you will be a (perfect) Muslim.
  5. Do not laugh too much, for excessive laughter deadens the heart.

(Recorded by Ahmad and al-Tirmidhi)

“Keep away from prohibited things and you will be the best of worshipers.”

In such concise words, our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us that worship is not only in bringing forth good deeds, but also in abstaining from the prohibited. Extra prayers, fasting and charity are praiseworthy, but inclusive in worship is to be able to place boundaries between yourself and that which is haram. This is of particular importance to those sins that we may have become desensitized to, and as a result are prone to falling into them regularly.

Yusuf, 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), was in a situation with the wife of Al-Aziz, where there were many reasons available for him to easily fall into the haram. Yet he proved to be among the “best of worshipers” when she invited him to the forbidden, and he proclaimed; “I seek refuge in Allah (or Allah forbid)!” (Yusuf 12:23). In fact, his ardent will to stay away from the prohibited led him to prefer the life of prison; “O my Lord! Prison is dearer to me than that to which they invite me. Unless You turn away their plot from me, I will feel inclined towards them and be one (of those who commit sin and deserve blame or those who do deeds) of the ignorant.” (Yusuf 12:33).

To establish our personal level of ubudiyyah (worship) to Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), we should turn to our situation in cases where a sin is of easy access to us. Are we able to give our wealth in charity, yet weak when the desire to lie or indulge in ill-talk arises? Or perhaps it is easy for a person to perfect their conduct, yet they have fallen into the desire of not paying heed to acquiring their wealth from only the purest and halal of sources? The examples are many, and each of us can relate, on a personal level, which of the haram actions we are prone to slipping into.

In a hadith narrated by Thawban, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) warned against this when he described the situation of those who fall into the prohibited when they are far from the eyes of others. He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“I certainly know people of my ummah who will come on the Day of Resurrection with good deeds like the mountains of Tihaamah, but Allah will make them like scattered dust.” Thawbaan said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, describe them to us and tell us more, so that we will not become of them unknowingly.’ He said: “They are your brothers and from your race, worshiping at night as you do, but they will be people who, when they are alone, transgress the sacred limits of Allah.” (Ibn Majah).

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) himself was the utmost example of protecting himself from the haram. Anas narrated that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) passed a date fallen on the way and said, “Were I not afraid that it may be from a sadaqa (charitable gifts), I would have eaten it.” (Bukhari).

So while we undergo efforts to increase our good deeds, we should also pay heed to those evil deeds, whether they are actions of the heart, tongue or limbs, which bar us from reaching this status. This is particularly to those ones which come about in daily life, such as evil talk or letting our gazes roam. Let us become more aware of our actions and work on building a barrier that stands between us and Allah’s prohibitions, thus serving as a step in the path of earning this title of the “best of worshipers.”

“Be content with what Allah has given you, and you will be the richest of people.”

This beautiful part of the hadith, if truly and sincerely applied, can relieve heavy burdens off the most slender of shoulders. How many times have we allowed ourselves to be overcome by worries whose main source was not being fully content with what Allah has granted us?

We have laid forth excuses and placed barriers to our achievements, many of which arise from not being content. We tell ourselves, “If I lived in such and such place, I would be able to do such and such. And if I had what so and so had, I would….” The list is endless. It is true that perhaps we did not always openly proclaim such sentences, but we know that at times they have at least crossed our mind and deceived us into believing that our state of failure to achieve is unchangeable.

Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) says, (interpretation of the meaning) “And do not extend your eyes toward that by which We have given enjoyment to [some] categories of them, [its being but] the splendor of worldly life by which We test them. And the provision of your Lord is better and more enduring.” (Ta-ha 20:131).

In order to fulfill this command, we should remember that whatever Allah decrees for the believers is better for them, and this is only for the believers. We should also avoid looking towards those who have been given more than us in matters of this dunya and divert our attention to the state of those who have been given less; who are deprived of blessings that we forget in ourselves. Think of the poor laborer who is able to fall fast asleep in the middle of his busy workplace, and the wealthy businessman who is deprived of sleep in the softest of beds. Think particularly of those who have lost both; their dunya due to an unhappy life of misery and lost their akhira (Hereafter) due to being deprived of the blessing of Islam. You will surely feel that you are among the richest of creation. Our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“Successful is the one who has entered the fold of Islam and is provided with sustenance which is sufficient for his needs, and Allah makes him content with what He has bestowed upon him.” (Muslim).

Another aspect of contentment is keeping oneself from asking from others and avoiding being dependent on them. An example of such character is that of the Companions of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), who if they dropped their whip while mounted on their riding animal, would not ask someone to retrieve it for them, although it would have been easier. Rather they would dismount and pick it up themselves, because they did not want to be dependent on others.

The meaning of contentment is not to be stretched to the matters of the Hereafter, as it is only praiseworthy in application to matters of this world. As for increasing virtuous deeds, then ‘greed’ is more befitting since the Muslim should always be in search of more. Allah says,

Surah Hadeed

(interpretation of the meaning) “Race toward forgiveness from your Lord and a Garden whose width is like the width of the heavens and earth.” (Al-Hadeed 57:21).

Surah Qasas

Allah says, (interpretation of the meaning) “And your Lord creates what He wills and chooses; not for them was the choice.” (Al-Qasas 28:68). A man may be poor, yet healthy. Another may be wealthy, yet he wishes for good health more than wealth.  Be pleased with what Allah has given you, and you will be the richest of people. Through this principle, we are able to overcome Shaytaan’s technique of making us feel sorry for ourselves as well as purify our hearts of diseases, such as envy. Such a teaching is in fact a key to one’s very own gate to riches that even those with much gold and silver have not been able to unlock.

“Be good to your neighbor and you will be a true believer.”

After focusing on points pertaining to strengthening our own souls, the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) third piece of advice relates to strengthening one’s belief through the fulfillment of the rights of those around us.  A wonderful opportunity is present everyday to try and strengthen our bond with our neighbors. It is one of the most virtuous of deeds; the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

“Jibreel kept advising me of the rights of neighbors so much that I thought he would make them my heirs.” (Agreed upon).

Whether it is through a smile, a kind word or a simple gift, all of these kind actions have an effect on the hearts and are of the best forms of silent da’wah. The sign of the true mu’min is that he is good to his neighbors; perhaps it may be such a simple deed for some, but the reward is great.

“Love for other people what you love for yourself and you will be a (perfect) Muslim.”

This advice from the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is repeated often in gatherings, lectures and articles. Although it may be easy to say, this much-needed characteristic that strengthens community bonds and raises our status as Muslims, actually requires effort in achieving. This is because we sometimes limit the application of this characteristic to our hearts only and do not extend it practically in our lives. So, if for example, we love that we have knowledge, we should love that others have access to this knowledge as well. If we love that our acts of worship are done in a correct manner, likewise should this love stretch forth so that we may teach those whose worship may be contrary to the Shari’ah while they know not. When you have knowledge that what they are doing is incorrect and would not like for yourself to be left in the darkness if you were in their place, try to gently correct them and teach them what is right. Passing on knowledge is one example; by reflecting and asking ourselves the question of ‘would I like this for myself?’ before many acts and words is a step in the path of applying this principle in everyday life.

An extraordinary example of putting this teaching into practice is that of some of our righteous predecessors. Ibrahim al-Nakha’ee rahimahullah was a’war al-‘ayn (blind in one eye), and his student Sulayman ibn Mihran suffered from weak eyesight (a’mash al-‘ayn). Ibn al-Jawzi related a story about them in his book Al-Muntathim that they were walking in the streets of Al-Kufah headed to the masjid.

As they were walking, Imam Al-Nakha’ee said, “Sulayman, can you take one road and I take another? For I fear that if we were to pass together by the foolish people, they would say, ‘A’war – one eyed – is leading an a’mash – bleary eyed- (through the road) and they would then have backbitten us and fallen into sins.”

So Sulayman replied, “O Abu ‘Imran! What is wrong then when we are rewarded while they are sinful?”

Ibrahim al-Nakha’ee replied, “SubhanaAllah! Bal naslam wa yaslamun! Rather, that we be safe (from their backbiting) and they be safe (of sin) is better than if we are rewarded and they are sinful!” (al-Muntathim fee Tareekh al Muluk wal Umam).

Their application of this principle reached heights that perhaps we never even thought it could reach. Such were the hearts that understood the meaning of the one who wished good for his people even after he died in the ayah (interpretation of the meaning); “It was said, “Enter Paradise.” He said, “I wish my people could know of how my Lord has forgiven me and placed me among the honored.” (Surah Yaseen 36:26,27)

36:27 Surah Yaseen

“Do not laugh too much, for excessive laughter deadens the heart.”

For every believer who wishes to keep the heart alive with faith, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught in the final advice of this hadith that excessive laughter is a cause for a dead heart. Let no believer assume that this implies he or she must wear a frown in order to keep the heart alive with faith, for the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) had the most cheerful countenance and taught us that to smile was a rewarded act of sadaqa.

Hence, if we are among those who have trouble keeping a cheerful face, this is not an opportunity to prove the virtue of such an expression, rather it is a chance to rethink and realize that while excessive laughter is denounced, a smile is praised and written as a good deed. Such a simple change in expression, will surely lead us to see notable change in our hearts towards others and in their character towards us.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) used to make his Companions laugh and his Companions would make him laugh. But he taught us not to be excessive in laughter for it will cause a dead heart and dry eyes. Let us not be among those who only keep the company of those who make us laugh and find anyone else “boring.” Or those who only attend lectures of those who have the highest sense of humor. Or those who read only that which makes them laugh and watch only those programs that make them laugh. Rather, even in laughter, our religion teaches moderation. It is possible to forget this, and that is why our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) did not forget to remind us; so that we may pay attention to the weight laughter carries in our everyday lives.

Such concise words, amounting to the fingers of one hand, yet beautiful in meaning and  comprehensive in application. With the same enthusiasm of Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with Him, who took upon himself the task of taking care of them until they reached us, let us work on remembering them, applying them and letting them affect our lives. Perhaps now, you will look at your fingers and view them from a different perspective, as you count on them 5 steps towards a more noble life.

Mariam is of Middle Eastern origin, raised in North America, not quite settling in one specific place. After living up in the North of North America, she has shifted continents and currently residing in a rapidly flourishing, historical city located in the desert of Arabia. She is a recent graduate of the American Open University, with a Bachelors in Islamic Studies. She believes that regardless of where a person is, writing is a tool to reach out and express that which inspires, touches and affects them. So she writes; perhaps that which inspires her will be a source of good for at least one other person.

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Amatullah

    March 17, 2010 at 5:40 AM

    SubhanAllah, jazaaki Allahu khayran!

    I think this is the first time I’ve reading that complete hadeeth, I’ve seen parts of it before but never knew it had a story behind it, may Allah reward you for sharing this amazing gem!

  2. Avatar

    Abdus Sabur

    March 17, 2010 at 6:02 AM

    Jazakallahu khair for the beautiful reminder :)

  3. Avatar

    abu Rumay-s.a.

    March 17, 2010 at 7:35 AM

    jazakie Allahu khairun… indeed the reminder benefits the believer…I pray that all of us a benefit from this excellent reminder. ameen..

    just a suggestion that parents/teachers can make this article “Hadeeth of the month”…..

  4. Avatar

    Ibrahim

    March 17, 2010 at 7:57 AM

    Masha’Allaah

    Beautiful post!

    JazakAllaahu khair :)

  5. Avatar

    ummahmed

    March 17, 2010 at 8:59 AM

    Assalamualykum,

    Jazakillahu khairaa.Mashaallah..Once a sister said “In a momin`s world there is no “IF” .”He/ she will always be thankful and content with Allah.

  6. AbdulHasib

    AbdulHasib

    March 17, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    jazakillahukhaira

    sh.Muhammad al-‘Araify did a really nice dars on this hadith last year in Masjid Quba – can check it out here iA if anyone is interested in more fawai’d from this hadith.

    http://quran-karem.com/play-6122.html

    • Avatar

      Mariam E

      March 17, 2010 at 9:30 AM

      Asalamu Alikum,
      It was a similar lecture by the same Shaykh that was the main inspiration behind this piece. Jazakum Allah khair for sharing.

  7. Avatar

    abu Abdullah

    March 17, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    barak Allah khayr ukhti, jazak Allah khayra for sharing.

    Working strongly on being grateful, alhamdulillah.

  8. Avatar

    coolguymuslim

    March 17, 2010 at 11:19 AM

    beautiful, jazakAllahkhair

  9. Avatar

    Abez

    March 17, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    JazakAllahuKheiran! This is a wonderful reminder, is very well written, and I would love to see more like this. This is the first time for me to come across this Hadith, and I think it’s going to become one of my favorites. :)

  10. Avatar

    Me

    March 17, 2010 at 2:04 PM

    Assalaamu alaikum,

    Jazaki Allahu khairan.

    Just to all the writers in general, can you please place the verses of the Quran in its orginal Arabic form? I know some already do that. May Allah reward you all.

    • Avatar

      Mariam E.

      March 17, 2010 at 2:15 PM

      wa Alikum asallam warahmatu Allah

      Jazakum Allah khair for your suggestion. I completely agree with you and will keep this in mind inshaAllah.

  11. Avatar

    Mariam E.

    March 17, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    Asalamu Alikum warahmatu Allah

    Jazakum Allah khair for your comments. I ask Allah to make this hadeeth a source of khayr and benefit.

  12. Avatar

    NahyanInc

    March 17, 2010 at 4:11 PM

    Jazakallahukhair sr.Mariam.

    This was an excellently written article and a great reminder. mashaAllah.

  13. Avatar

    ma

    March 17, 2010 at 5:33 PM

    nice article i love it. can you give the link of the dars by Arifi behind this hadeeth. with english or french subtitles please jazakallah khair

  14. Avatar

    Abd- Allah

    March 17, 2010 at 6:53 PM

    JazakumAllah khayr for the reminder. Some one should put together all the hadiths which involve counting things on the fingers and post them as an article.

  15. Avatar

    Zulander

    March 17, 2010 at 7:23 PM

    Masha’Allah this is a great reminder. JazakiAllahu khairan!

  16. Avatar

    Sadaf Farooqi

    March 18, 2010 at 12:14 AM

    May Allah reward you for beautifully explaining this lovely hadith!

    Being good to one’s neighbors also includes forgiving them for hurting you in anyway, or wronging you. Also, it includes maintaining good relationships with them even if they have fought you vehemently in the past.

    I used to live in an apartment complex for many years. I witnessed firsthand the huge fights and blowups that took place between families, which started on the minimal of pretexts (such as a child climbing on the car of a neighbor). The families would not talk to each other, or even greet each other, for years after such fights. This is the point we should keep in mind — being good to our neighbors means forgiving them and moving on as if nothing happened.

    Neighbors have rights also because we inadvertently end up harming or offending them now and then, because of living in such close proximity. E.g. a party or dinner at one house can disturb the sleep of the neighbors next door; a child of one family might bully the child of another in the same neihborhood; one family’s litter can fall over and dirty the next-door neighbor’s yard; one couple’s fight may be overheard through the window, which can result in spread of the “juicy” details during neighborhood gossip sessions, etc.

    May Allah guide us to act upon the advice of our beloved Prophet [صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَ سَلَّم]. Ameen.

    • Avatar

      Mariam E

      March 18, 2010 at 3:12 AM

      Asalamu Alikum warahmatu Allah

      Jazaki Allah khair sister Sadaf. It’s very true, sometimes overlooking one small thing can prevent many big problems.

      Another point to notice is how the Prophet sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam related Eman (faith) directly with being good to neighbors in the hadeeth above, as well as other ahadeeth, such as:

      By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer.” It was asked, “Who is that, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “One whose neighbour does not feel safe from his evil.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

  17. Avatar

    Bint'Athar

    March 18, 2010 at 7:27 PM

    JAzak’Allahu Khayran!! :)

  18. Avatar

    Hakim

    March 19, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    Asalamualaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuhu. Amazing, just amazing. Thank you for posting this, your reward is with Allah azzawajal.

  19. Avatar

    shuja farooq

    March 19, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    aslamu alaikum

    what a perfect reminder to read right after coming back from Jummah!!

    jazak’Allah, this was beautiful

  20. Avatar

    ummmanar

    March 19, 2010 at 1:54 PM

    masha’allaah this is the best hadith I have heared. jazakie allahu khairun for sharing .we need more of these reminders.

  21. Avatar

    abu abdAllah Tariq Ahmed

    March 20, 2010 at 9:23 AM

    MashaAllah, my new favorite MM article! May Allah reward its author, and every person in the chain of good people who related these words, back to our beloved Prophet, may the praises of Allah and His Peace be upon him.

    And glad tidings for Allah’s Messenger said “May Allah make radiant the face of someone who has heard what I have said, learnt it by heart, and transmitted it as he heard it.” (as a teacher taught in class from the hadith of at Tirmidhi)

  22. Pingback: Abez sez Assalamualaikum! » Blog Archive » Lessons from Abu Huraira’s fingers :)

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The Unexpected Blessings of Being Alone

Juli Herman

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My seven-year old son sat on the ground, digging a hole. Around him, other children ran, cried, and laughed at the playground.

“He’s such a strange kid,” my oldest daughter remarked. “Who goes to the playground and digs holes in the ground?”

In an instant, scenes of my ten-year-old self flashed through my mind. In them I ducked, hiding from invisible enemies in a forest of tapioca plants. Flattening my back against the spindly trunks, I flicked my wrist, sending a paper shuriken flying towards my pursuers. I was in my own world, alone.

It feels as if I have always been alone. I was the only child from one set of parents. I was alone when they divorced. I was alone when one stepmother left and another came in. I was alone with my diary, tears, and books whenever I needed to escape from the negative realities of my childhood.

Today, I am a lone niqab-wearing Malay in the mish-mash of a predominantly Desi and Arab Muslim community. My aloneness has only been compounded by the choices I’ve made that have gone against social norms- like niqab and the decision to marry young and have two babies during my junior and senior years of undergrad.

When I decided to homeschool my children, I was no longer fazed by any naysayers. I had gotten so used to being alone that it became almost second nature to me. My cultural, religious, and parenting choices no longer hung on the approval of social norms.

Believe it Or Not, We Are All Alone

In all of this, I realize that I am not alone in being alone. We all are alone, even in an ocean of people. No matter who you are, or how many people are around you, you are alone in that you are answerable to the choices you make.

The people around you may suggest or pressure you into specific choices, but you alone make the ultimate choice and bear the ultimate consequence of what those choices are. Everything from what you wear, who you trust, and how you plan your wedding is a result of your own choice. We are alone in society, and in the sight of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) as well.

The aloneness is obvious when we do acts of worship that are individual, such as fasting, giving zakah, and praying. But we’re also alone in Hajj, even when surrounded by a million other Muslims. We are alone in that we have to consciously make the choice and intention to worship. We are alone in making sure we do Hajj in its true spirit.

We alone are accountable to Allah, and on the Day of Judgment, no one will carry the burden of sin of another.

مَّنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۗ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا

“Whoever accepts guidance does so for his own good; whoever strays does so at his own peril. No soul will bear another’s burden, nor do We punish until We have sent a messenger.” Surah Al Israa 17:15

On the day you stand before Allah you won’t have anyone by your side. On that day it will be every man for himself, no matter how close you were in the previous life. It will just be you and Allah.

Even Shaytaan will leave you to the consequences of your decisions.

وَقَالَ الشَّيْطَانُ لَمَّا قُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَعَدَكُمْ وَعْدَ الْحَقِّ وَوَعَدتُّكُمْ فَأَخْلَفْتُكُمْ ۖ وَمَا كَانَ لِيَ عَلَيْكُم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ إِلَّا أَن دَعَوْتُكُمْ فَاسْتَجَبْتُمْ لِي ۖ فَلَا تَلُومُونِي وَلُومُوا أَنفُسَكُم ۖ مَّا أَنَا بِمُصْرِخِكُمْ وَمَا أَنتُم بِمُصْرِخِيَّ ۖ إِنِّي كَفَرْتُ بِمَا أَشْرَكْتُمُونِ مِن قَبْلُ ۗ إِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

“When everything has been decided, Satan will say, ‘God gave you a true promise. I too made promises but they were false ones: I had no power over you except to call you, and you responded to my call, so do not blame me; blame yourselves. I cannot help you, nor can you help me. I reject the way you associated me with God before.’ A bitter torment awaits such wrongdoers” Surah Ibrahim 14:22

But, Isn’t Being Alone Bad?

The connotation that comes with the word ‘alone’ relegates it to something negative. You’re a loser if you sit in the cafeteria alone. Parents worry when they have a shy and reserved child. Teachers tend to overlook the quiet ones, and some even complain that they can’t assess the students if they don’t speak up.

It is little wonder that the concept of being alone has a negative connotation. Being alone is not the human default, for Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was alone, yet Allah created Hawwa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) as a companion for him. According to some scholars, the word Insaan which is translated as human or mankind or man comes from the root letters that means ‘to want company’. We’re naturally inclined to want company.

You might think, “What about the social aspects of Islam? Being alone is like being a hermit!” That’s true, but in Islam, there is a balance between solitary and communal acts of worship. For example, some prayers are done communally like Friday, Eid, and funeral prayers. However, extra prayers like tahajjud, istikharah, and nawaafil are best done individually.

There is a place and time for being alone, and a time for being with others. Islam teaches us this balance, and with that, it teaches us that being alone is also praiseworthy, and shouldn’t be viewed as something negative. There is virtue in alone-ness just as there is virtue in being with others.

Being Alone Has Its Own Perks

It is through being alone that we can be astute observers and connect the outside world to our inner selves. It is also through allowing aloneness to be part of our daily regimen that we can step back, introspect and develop a strong sense of self-based on a direct relationship with Allah.

Taking the time to reflect on worship and the words of Allah gives us the opportunity to meaningfully think about it. It is essential that a person gets used to being alone with their thoughts in order to experience this enriching intellectual, emotional and spiritual experience. The goal is to use our thoughts as the fuel to gain closeness to Allah through reflection and self-introspection.

Training ourselves to embrace being alone can also train us to be honest with ourselves, discover who we truly are, and work towards improving ourselves for Allah’s sake. Sitting with ourselves and honestly scrutinizing the self in order to see strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement is essential for character development. And character development is essential to reach the level of Ihsaan.

When we look into who we want to be, we are bound to make some decisions that might raise eyebrows and wag tongues. Being okay with being alone makes this somewhat easier. We should not be afraid to stand out and be the only one wearing praying or wearing hijab, knowing that it is something Allah will be pleased with. We should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in even if it makes us unpopular. Getting used to being alone can give us the confidence to make these decisions.

Being alone can strengthen us internally, but not without pain. Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”

All our prophets experienced this ‘pain of independence’ in their mission. Instances of different prophets being rejected by their own people are generously scattered in the Quran for us to read and reflect upon. One lesson we can extract from these is that being alone takes courage, faith, conviction, and confidence.

 

We Come Alone, Leave Alone, Meet Allah Alone

The circumstances that left me alone in the different stages of my life were not random. I always wanted an older brother or someone else to be there to rescue me from the solitude. But the solitude came with a blessing. Being alone gave me the time and space in which to wonder, think, and eventually understand myself and the people around me. I learned reflection as a skill and independent decision-making as s strength. I don’t mind being alone in my niqab, my Islam, or my choices. I’ve had plenty of practice after all.

Open grave

You are born alone and you took your first breath alone. You will die alone, even if you are surrounded by your loved ones. When you are lowered into the grave, you will be alone. Accepting this can help you make use of your moments of solitude rather than fear them. Having the courage to be alone builds confidence, strengthens conviction, and propels us to do what is right and pleasing to Allah regardless of human approval.

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Why Israel Should Be ‘Singled Out’ For Its Human Rights Record

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians.

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israel, occupied Palestine

Why is everyone so obsessed with Israel’s human rights abuses? From Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to North Korea to Iran. All these nations are involved in flagrant violations of human right, so why all the focus on Israel – ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Clearly, if you ignore these other violations and only focus on Israel, you must be anti-Semitic. What else could be your motivations for this double standard?

This is one of the most common contentions raised when Israel is criticized for its human rights record. I personally don’t believe in entertaining this question – it shouldn’t matter why an activist is choosing to focus on one conflict and not others. What matters are the facts being raised; putting into question the motives behind criticizing Israel is a common tactic to detract from the topic at hand. The conversation soon turns into some circular argument about anti-Semitism and the plight of the Palestinian people is lost. More importantly, this charge of having double standards is often disingenuous. For example, Representative Ihan Omar has been repeatedly accused of this recently and her motives have been called ‘suspicious’ – despite her vocal criticism of other countries, especially Saudi Arabia.

However, this point is so frequently brought up, I think that perhaps its time activists and critics simply own up to it. Yes – Israel should be singled out, for some very good reasons. These reasons relate to there being a number of unique privileges that the country enjoys; these allow it to get away with much of the abuses it commits. Human right activists thus must be extra vocal when comes to Israel as they have to overcome the unparalleled level of support for the country, particularly in the US and Canada. The following points summarize why Israel should in fact be singled out:

1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens

When Iran and North Korea commit human right abuses, we don’t have to worry about everyone from journalists to clerics to average students on campuses coming out and defending those countries. When most nations commit atrocities, our journalists and politicians call them out, sanctions are imposed, they are taking them to the International Court of Justice, etc. There are instruments in place to take care of other ‘rogue’ nations – without the need for intervention from the common man.

Israel, however, is unique in that it has traditionally enjoyed widespread ideological support, primarily from the Jewish community and Evangelical Christians, in the West. This support is a result of the historical circumstances and pseudo-religious ideology that drove the creation of the state in 1948. The successful spread of this nationalistic dogma for the last century means Israel can count on ordinary citizens from Western countries to comes to its defense. This support can come in the form of foreign enlistment to its military, students conducting campus activism, politicians shielding it from criticisms and journalists voluntarily writing in its support and spreading state propaganda.

This ideological and nationalistic attachment to the country is the prime reason why it is so incredibly difficult to have any kind of sane conversation about Israel in the public sphere – criticism is quickly seen as an attack on Jewish identity and interpreted as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation by its supporters. Any attempts to take Israel to account through standard means are thwarted because of the political backlash feared from the country’s supporters in the West.

2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower

The US is Israel’s most important and closest ally in the Middle-East. No matter what war crimes Israel commits, it can count on America to have its back. This support means the US will use its veto power to support Israel against actions of the UN Security Council, it will use its diplomatic influence to shield any punitive actions from other nations and it will use its military might to intervene if need be. The backing of the US is one of the main reasons why the Israeli occupation and expansion of the colonial settlement enterprise continues to this day without any repercussions.

While US support might be especially staunch for Israel, this factor is certainly not unique to the country. Any country which has this privilege, e.g. Saudi Arabia, should be under far great scrutiny for its human rights violations than others.

3)  Military aid and complicity of tax-payers

US tax-payers are directly paying for Israel to carry out its occupation of the Palestinian people.

Israel is the largest recipient of US-military aid – it receives an astonishing $3 billion dollars every year. This aid, according to a US congressional report, “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians. Activists and citizens thus have a greater responsibility to speak out against Israel as their government is paying the country to carry out its atrocities. Not only is this aid morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal under United States Leahy Laws.

4) The Israeli lobby

The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful groups in Washington and is the primary force for ensuring continued US political support for the nation. It consists of an assortment of formal lobby groups (AIPAC, Christians United for Israel), think-thanks (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), political action committee or PACs, not-for-profit organizations (B’nai B’irth, American Jewish Congress, Stand for Israel) and media watchdogs (CAMERA, Honest Reporting). These organizations together exercise an incredible amount of political influence. They ensure that any criticism of Israel is either stifled or there are serious consequences for those who speak up. In 2018 alone, pro-Israel donors spent $22 million on lobbying for the country – far greater than any other nation. Pro-Israel lobbies similarly influence politics in other places such as the UK, Canada, and Europe.

5) One of the longest-running occupation in human history

This point really should be the first one on this list – and it is the only one that should matter. However, because of the unique privileges that Israel enjoys, it is hard to get to the crux of what it is actually doing. Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, over 50 years old, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history.

Israel continues to steal land and build settler colonies the West Bank – in flagrant violation of international law. It has implemented a system of apartheid in these territories which is reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa. The Gaza strip has been under an insufferable siege which has made the living conditions deplorable; it has been referred to the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’. In addition to this institutional oppression, crimes committed against Palestinians include: routinely killing civilian protesters, including teenagers and medics, torture of Palestinians and severe restrictions on the everyday movement of Palestinians.

The brutality, consistency and the duration for which Israel has oppressed Palestinians is alone enough reason for it being ‘singled out’. No other nation comes close to its record. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Israel’s propaganda machine has effectively painted itself as just another ‘liberal democracy’ in the eyes of the general public. Any attempt to bring to light these atrocities are met with ‘suspicion’ about the ‘real’ motives of the critics. Given the points mentioned here, it should be evident that the level of support for Israeli aggression is uniquely disproportionate – it is thus fitting that criticism of the country is equally vocal and unparalleled as well.

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This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible

Who Accounts For This Pillar of Islam

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Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji

As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations.  We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.

Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion.  Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone.  There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.

No, it’s not ikhtilaf

The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat.  The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.  

It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined,  free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically,  the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.   

The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds.  We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?

Show Your Work

We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules.  In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.  

Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.

You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2

Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them?  Why or why not?

Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts?  What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.

Bubble Charity

In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor.  There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.

The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.   

As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent.  Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.

People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble.  Fisabilillah.

Dawa is the new Jihad

Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past.  Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.  

Indeed dawah is a broad category.  For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah.  Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.   

No Standards or Accountability

Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.  

The Shift to Meaninglessness

Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.

Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it.  It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.

Footnotes:

  1. The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
  2. In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.

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