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Shall I not be a Thankful Servant? A Brief Guide to Understanding Shukr

Let’s go back in time. Back to Madinah, through the masjid and to the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) home. We see him there, in the darkness of the night, praying to his Lord. He is crying as he reads the ayat of the Qur’an. He has been standing for so long  you see that his blessed feet have swelled and the skin is cracking.

Many of us would think what A’ishah, his beloved wife, raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) asked him afterward. She said, “O Prophet of Allah, why do you undergo so much hardship despite the fact that Allah has pardoned for you your earlier and later sins?” He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) responded, “Afala akuna abdan shakura? Should I not prove myself to be a thankful servant?”

We learn from this hadith that gratitude is shown through deeds. Shukr is by action. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was not commanded to worship to this degree but rather it was a complete act of devotion and thankfulness to Allah (azza wa jall).

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When we want to thank someone, we go the extra mile to make them happy, especially when they are beloved to us. We go to great lengths to show our parents, spouse or friend that we appreciate them. We offer our help without their asking. We plan time to spend together. We give them gifts without expecting one in return. We do whatever will make them happy. We show our love and appreciate through our actions.

Yet, how can we claim that we love Allah when we do not even act this way with Him? We do not abide by His Rulings. We hardly go past the bare minimum of worship. We do not honor His Book. We swear by His Name in vain. We are not shy to sin in front of Him while we are shy when others are watching. We delay our daily conversations with Him, and when we finally do go to pray, we do it as fast as we can – rushing back to what we think is more important than Him.

Would we ever claim to love our mother, spouse, or friend if we treated them this way? Would they feel that we love them and appreciate them if we treated them this way?

Aren’t we ashamed that we treat our family and friends better than we do our own Creator? Surely for Allah is the Highest Example.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not need us or our worship at all. We are not harming Him or benefiting Him in any way by worshiping Him or disobeying Him. He does not need anyone or anything, rather He is Self-Sufficient and always deserving of praise. This parable is to show how we contradict ourselves – we say that we love Allah, that we are thankful to Him, yet our actions show the complete opposite. Our actions show that we are careless, ungrateful and that we are very good at saying what we don’t mean.

What is Shukr

As a creation, we are wired to love those who give to us. In an authentic hadith, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us, “Give gifts and you will love one another.” Linguistically, shukr is used to describe a healthy cow – a cow that has visible signs of nourishment. Islamically, the scholars define shukr as the mentioning of Allah’s Blessings upon the slave’s tongue, the slave’s recognition of these blessings in his heart, and obedience of the limbs due to these blessings.

Being thankful to Allah does not mean to only say “alhamdulillah” or doing a quick sajdah when we feel blessed. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught A’ishah that night that you must show your thankfulness to Allah. You have to strive to prove it.

We also learn from the Qur’an that shukr is by action. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)says to the family of Dawud 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him):

34_13

“Work, O family of David, in gratitude.” (34:13)

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) did not say, “Be grateful!” rather He said to work in gratitude. We learn from the Prophet [saw] that the most beloved fasting and prayer to Allah is the fasting and prayer of Dawud 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him).

Thabit al-Binani (rahimahullah) says regarding this ayah, Dawud 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) would divide the hours of the night and day between his family so that there wouldn’t be an hour of the night or day except that a person from the family of Dawud would be praying, so Allah addressed them all by saying, ‘Work, O family of David, in gratitude. [Uddat al-Saabireen]

From this ayah, Imam ibn al-Qayyim (rahimahullah) states that there are three branches of shukr:

1. Knowledge: Knowledge is the foundation of shukr. We must be aware and knowing of the fact that Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) is the One who is bestowing us with these blessings. We attribute all of our blessings to Him ta’ala. Some people attribute good to themselves, and when they are faced with difficulty or hardship, they attribute it to Allah. This is not gratitude rather it is kufr, a defiant denial of Allah’s favors.

2. Recognition and Awareness: The slave remembers Allah and His favors with his tongue – by praising Allah, and remembering Him through supplication and words of remembrance, and acknowledges it in his heart. It is reported in Tafsir al-Qurtubi that Dawud (alayhi salaam) said, “O my Lord! How can I be grateful to You when gratitude is a blessing from You?!” Allah (azza wa jall) responded to him, “Now you have shown true gratitude (because you’ve recognized that all blessings are from Me).”

3. Deeds: The slave works in gratitude by being an obedient slave to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).  It is reported in Tafsir al-Tabari that Abu Abdur-Rahman al-Hubaly (rahimahullah) said, “Prayer is shukr, fasting is shukr and any deed done for the sake of Allah is shukr.”

Imam ibn al-Qayyim states that the pillars of being grateful to Allah are:

  1. Submission of the believer to Allah
  2. Love of Allah
  3. Acknowledging His favors
  4. Praising Him for His favors
  5. Refraining from utilizing the favors in a way displeasing to Allah

Benefits of Shukr

Allah calls mankind ‘ungrateful’ in many ayat in the Qur’an, and He says that only few of His slaves are grateful. It is easier for us to be heedless of His blessings because being a thankful slave is not easy. When we do show gratefulness to Allah, He blesses us in many ways:

1. Allah will increase you in blessings. He ta’ala says, “And (recall) when your Lord proclaimed: “If you thank, I shall certainly increase (My blessings on) you, and if you are ungrateful, then My torment is surely severe.'” (14:7)

2. Allah will reward you for being thankful. He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says, “Allah will give reward to the thankful.” (3:144)

3. Shukr saves you from punishment. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us in the Qur’an, “The people of Lot denied the warning. Indeed, We sent upon them a storm of stones, except the family of Lot – We saved them before dawn. As a favor from Us. Thus do We reward he who is grateful.” (54:33-35)

4. Allah will be pleased with you. “And if you are grateful, He is pleased with you.” (39:7)

5. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will love you.

Practical Ways to Show Shukr

Now that we know what shukr really means, how can we be among al-shaakireen?

1- Take the first step. For many of us, extra deeds seem difficult because we are so used to the little we do. Don’t think that you cannot do more, rather remember the hadith qudsi: “When my slave walks to Me, I run to him.” If you take that first step, which is the most difficult, Allah will make everything else easy for you. It’s time we push ourselves to do more for Allah (azza wa jall). It’s time that we don’t accept the bare minimum from ourselves. It’s time that we have great goals for our Deen just as we do for our education, career and families. And for this to happen, we go to step #2:

2- Seek the help of Allah by means of du’a. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us to say: “Allahumma a’inni ‘alaa dhikrika wa shukrika wa husni ebadatika. O Allah, help me to remember You, to be thankful to You and to worship You in the best way.” Say it like you mean it. Beg Allah from your heart with this duaa. Ask Him to make you from among His few slaves that are grateful.

3- Work, work and more work. Nothing comes without work. If we want to worship Allah more, we must work for it. If we want to enjoy our worship, we must put in the effort. For some, praying and fasting is easy. For others, it is extremely difficult. If it is difficult for you, don’t interpret it to mean that you do not love Allah. Rather, it means that you have to strive more and work more to see the fruits of your labor. Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) says,

29_69

And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good. (29:69)

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) used the word “jaahadu” here, meaning they strive and work hard for the sake of Allah (azza wa jall).

We can all do something extra in one way or another. Start slow and it will become easier, inshaAllah. You know yourself the best, so get out of your comfort zone to train yourself.

  • If you cannot fast three days every month, fast at least one day.
  • If you want to pray qiyam but already struggle with fajr, stay awake after fajr to remember Allah and read Qur’an before heading back to sleep, even for 15-30 minutes.
  • Keep your tongue moist with the remembrance of Allah by learning the du’as from the Sunnah for various actions we perform throughout the day.
  • Always do your adkhar – a collection of supplications and remembrances to make after fajr and asr prayers.
  • Keep a portion of day, even 30 mins, just to remember Allah – reading Qur’an, making du’a and reflecting.
  • Thank those around you. It is stated in a hadith, “Whoever does not thank the people has not thanked Allah.”
  • Help others in your community. You can help at a soup kitchen, or prepare a meal for a needy Muslim in your community.

Make it your habit to not belittle any good deed. If you have a chance to do a good deed, then do it. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said in the hadith about the man who gave a drink to the thirsty dog that, “Allah thanked him for that deed and forgave him.” (Bukhari) We learn from this that a small deed sincerely for Allah can earn Allah’s forgiveness and appreciation.

Al-Shakur: The Most Appreciative

Remember that this work of yours is not in vain. It may be difficult for you to fast those extra days. It may be hard for you to get to sleep early so you can wake up at night, but do not forget the One you are worshiping! You are worshiping Al-Shakur, The Most Appreciative. He ta’ala does not only look at your deeds, but He looks at the effort behind it. Imam al-Qurtubi (rahimahullah) explains this Name by saying, “He accepts the little from their good deeds, and repays them with a great reward.”

He is Al-Shakur, He does not waste your efforts. He does ihsan to you – utmost good by accepting your few deeds and giving you greater in return. He blesses you with something better when you leave something for His sake.

Allah, Al-Shakur, not only rewards you for your deeds but He increases them for you because He appreciates your obedience to Him. He is Al-Shakur of your shukr! While you are struggling to show your thankfulness to Him, Al-Shakur is keeping account of all that you do, of all the effort you are putting in, of how much you sincerely want to worship Him in the best way. He will reward you with what you do not even deserve. Our deeds can never earn Paradise, but this is how Al-Shakur shows His Appreciation to His righteous servants.

Always remind yourself of this Name of Allah (azza wa jall), it is the key to coming closer to Him. Remind yourself of the Day that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) shows His Gratitude by saying:

76_22

“Indeed, this is for you a reward, and your effort has been appreciated.” (76:22)

We ask Allah (azza wa jall) to make us of those who hear these words. May He make us among His truly grateful servants and we ask that He blesses us to worship Him, remember Him and thank Him in the best and most beautiful way. Ameen.

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Amatullah is a student of the Qur'an and its language. She completed the 2007 Ta'leem program at Al-Huda Institute in Canada and studied Qur'an, Tajwid (science of recitation) and Arabic in Cairo. Through her writings, she hopes to share the practical guidance taught to us by Allah and His Messenger and how to make spirituality an active part of our lives. She has a Bachelors in Social Work and will be completing the Masters program in 2014 inshaAllah. Her experience includes working with immigrant seniors, refugee settlement and accessibility for people with disabilities.

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Avatar

    abu Abdullah

    July 15, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    barak Allahu feeki..

    • Avatar

      abu Abdullah

      July 16, 2011 at 7:43 PM

      Remembrance said in the morning and evening

      ‘O Allaah, what blessing I or any of Your creation have risen upon, is from You alone, without partner, so for You is all praise and unto You all thanks.’

      …whoever says this in the morning has indeed offered his day’s thanks and whoever says this in the evening has indeed offered his night’s thanks.

      Above could be a nice add for ways to Thank Allah daily.

      Does shukr include being content with Allah about what one does not has ? Isn’t it sub set of Sabr? may Allah make us content with His decree, in all situations. Ameen.

  2. Avatar

    MuslimNoise

    July 15, 2011 at 8:59 AM

    Nice advice, brilliant piece. It’s important for us to understand what it means to be thankful and how we should go about doing this properly to gain maximum reward and a boosted iman.

  3. Avatar

    MuslimAmerican

    July 15, 2011 at 10:45 AM

    When i hear or read the verse 76:22, it brings tears to my eyes.

    Rabbana taqabbal minna innaka antas sameeul aleem. Ameen.

    Jazak Allah Khair

  4. Avatar

    Fear Allah

    July 15, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    Ameen! Beautiful article ukhti, Jazakillahu khairaa!

    a very comprehensive analysis of shukr… should be its own brochure/booklet.

  5. Avatar

    The Shardul of Allah

    July 15, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Jazakhallah Khair for this beautiful reminder.

  6. Avatar

    FloussOnline

    July 15, 2011 at 12:42 PM

    salam aleykum,

    masha’Allah, beautiful !

    “5- Refraining from utilizing the favors in a way displeasing to Allah” …this struck me, because we don’t really think of it in when thinking about Shukr…

  7. Avatar

    sara

    July 15, 2011 at 1:04 PM

    jazakillahu khairan ukhti al-kareema, Amatullah. <3

  8. Avatar

    Ibn Masood

    July 15, 2011 at 3:36 PM

    now THIS, is an article mashaAllah. BarakAllahu feeki.

    If only we got the same amount of comments on these articles as political ones, wAllahu musta’aan.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      July 18, 2011 at 3:40 AM

      So true – we should have a LOVE button-
      Share, digg, retweet
      It really encourages our writers when people leave generous comments :)
      Please do start a blogversation here on how you (our readers) exhibit shukr to Allah Subhanwa Ta’ala

  9. Avatar

    farhen ahmad

    July 15, 2011 at 9:45 PM

    feeling closer to Allah by reading this
    jazakAllah for printing such a wonderful article

  10. Avatar

    shiney

    July 16, 2011 at 12:52 AM

    May Allah Reward you and Bless you for writing this sister! I had almost forgotten that hadith where the Prophet (SAW) said, “Shall I Not Be a Thankful Servant?”
    JZK for the beautiful reminder=)

    May Allah (SWT) make us all among those who Thank Him the He way He deserves to be thanked. AMEEN

  11. Avatar

    birkah

    July 16, 2011 at 8:24 AM

    JKhair for the comprehensive article. I gained a basic understanding of shukur last summer, and it changed my relationship with Allah SWT. I briefly wrote about the ayah that was the catalyst:
    http://birkah.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/give-thanks-get-more/

  12. Avatar

    Jamilah Iman

    July 16, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    Ameen!!

  13. Avatar

    ummmanar

    July 16, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    jazakallahu kirn sister this is good reminder may allah guid us all to the right path and make us of the shakirun,

  14. Avatar

    Amal

    July 17, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    jazaki Allahu khairan

  15. Avatar

    Abu Ubayday

    July 17, 2011 at 5:29 PM

    Jazakhallah Khair!

  16. Avatar

    Nasteha

    July 17, 2011 at 11:44 PM

    May the Almighty God bless you tremendously for this amazing article.jazakallahu kheiran kathiran

  17. Avatar

    birkah

    July 18, 2011 at 6:57 AM

    Can you please explain why a health cow is called Shukur? Im guessing due to the sign of nourishment, which will bring the indidivudal profit, hence they should be thankful. JKhair.

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      July 21, 2011 at 6:20 PM

      That can be one explanation. From what I’ve learned and heard, it means that the blessings are apparent..Just like you are able to see the healthiness of the cow, you can see the blessings of Allah in your life as well. Allah knows best.

  18. Avatar

    Mariam E.

    July 19, 2011 at 6:02 AM

    Asalamu alikum warahmatu Allah

    mashaAllah, beautiful! May Allah reward you and increase you in good.

  19. Avatar

    Sadaf Farooqi

    July 19, 2011 at 8:23 AM

    Beautiful article. It brought tears to my eyes, especially this part:

    “While you are struggling to show your thankfulness to Him, Al-Shakur is keeping account of all that you do, of all the effort you are putting in, of how much you sincerely want to worship Him in the best way. He will reward you with what you do not even deserve.”

    Barak Allahu feeki, Amatullah.

  20. Avatar

    Amatullah

    July 21, 2011 at 6:21 PM

    Jazakum Allahu khayran for the comments everyone :) may Allah accept our deeds.

  21. Avatar

    Reehab

    July 24, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    Beautiful :) Tabarak Allah.

  22. Avatar

    Tariq Nisar Ahmed

    July 24, 2011 at 3:51 PM

    Allah make it a cause of Jannat al Firdaus for you.

  23. Avatar

    Sanusie

    January 8, 2013 at 7:34 AM

    We thank you a lot for sharing your knowledge and wisdom.

  24. Avatar

    Musodiq Bello

    August 23, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    Very beneficial article!!

  25. Pingback: Gratitude challenge: day 3 | Aysha la Rosa

  26. Pingback: Gratitude | Stories for Muslim Kids

  27. Avatar

    Muhammad Majeed

    November 25, 2015 at 1:12 PM

    Please explain who used the meaning of Shukr a healthy cow, when and where it was used, Thanks

  28. Avatar

    Mohammed Bilal

    June 26, 2016 at 12:38 AM

    Subhanallah, very nice article indeed..

  29. Avatar

    AYEINA

    March 27, 2017 at 2:34 AM

    gratitude was the reason we started #AlhamdulillahForSeries and then the #gratitudeCAPTIONcontest to spread positivity <3

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#Islam

Identity Scholarship: Ideological Assabiya And Double Standards

The Prophet helped the Arabs overcome their asabiya (tribalism) and enter a new defining bond of Islam. The criterion for right and wrong was no longer clan membership, but rooted in the religion of Islam. Muslims were instructed to defend the truth, command good, and forbid evil regardless of tribal affiliation. Asabiya does not just relate to kin-based tribes.  One of the resurging traces of jahilya affecting our discourse is ideological tribalism. In ideological tribalism, we hold double standards between our tribe and other tribes, and overlook fallacies in our group that we would not for other groups. Just as we protect an idea that represents our identity, when a personality reflects our group identity, there is a personal reason to defend the personality. It then becomes instinctual then to double-down in discussions even when wrong to show group strength, which at this point is a survival mechanism and not a true dialectic. Abandoning a quest for truth and succumbing to an in-group vs. out-group dichotomy leaves us to defend falsehood and dislike truth. Refusing to accept truth is one way the Prophet described arrogance. 

Group belonging

One of the main drivers of identity scholarship is group belonging. When we focus on defending our group rather than principles which extend beyond group delineations we prove false our claims of wanting the truth.  The burden of moral responsibility is not offset by finding someone to follow [1]. Charismatic leaders have an ability to tap into latent desires of individuals and awaken in them the desire to be part of something greater than themselves. Their own identities are often validated by following the charismatic figure, and they then work hard to preserve the group as they would to preserve their own selves.

According to Ann Ruth Willner, charismatic authority “derives from the capacity of a particular person to arouse and maintain belief in himself or herself as the source of legitimacy. Willner says that the charismatic leadership relationship has four characteristics:

  1. The leader is perceived by the followers as somehow superhuman.
  2. The followers blindly believe the leader’s statements.
  3. The followers unconditionally comply with the leader’s directives for action.
  4. The followers give the leader unqualified emotional commitment.
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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Charismatic leadership satisfies our desire to be part of something bigger, and paradoxically, to hand all power over to someone else can make us feel more powerful because we think that person is the best version of ourselves. We feel that we have gained ‘agency by proxy.’ We have also dumped all responsibility for decisions onto the leader- what Erich Fromm, the scholar of Nazism, called an ‘escape from freedom.’ When we are in a charismatic leadership relationship, our sense of self-worth gets (attaches) attached to the identity of the leader, so that we take personally any criticism of that leader, and have as much difficulty admitting flaws or errors on the leader’s parts as we do on our own. Because we see the leader as us, and we see us as good, we simply can’t believe that he or she might do bad things” (59) [2].

Charismatic leadership is emotional and works on desires. This type of leadership has no relation to truth. It exists and persists due to feelings, hence contradictions, double-standards, and outright hypocrisy aren’t issues for those in the relationship. Even when the leader confidently behaves irresponsibly, followers do not think less of him. What is inconsistent and irresponsible for an out-group observer is charming to members of the in-group. As Miller points out: 

Followers don’t expect charismatic leaders to be responsible for what they say, nor to behave responsibly; their irresponsible behavior is part of their power. Their use of hyperbole and tendency to be unfiltered in speech are taken to signify their passionate commitment to the in-group (60).

Such loyalty is not specific for charismatic leaders, The Minimal Group Paradigm shows that we have more empathy for our in-group even if that in-group is arbitrarily assigned, and we will act biased in their favor against an arbitrarily assigned out-group. This is a tendency against which we must actively fight to maintain clarity in thinking and fair standards in discussions. When group loyalty is prized there is a fear of opposing the group, which obliterates any chance of scholarly discourse. Questioning a position becomes akin to questioning authority and leaves the questioner ostracized and out-casted. When the out-group is pejoratively labeled, there is an additional fear of thinking like or ending up in that group. 

Identity scholarship

Rather than looking at the argument constructed and judging whether or not it is sound, identity scholarship approves or dismisses arguments based on the person making them. Arguments are then validated by personalities and not standards of scholarship.  This is a dangerous shift from reasoning and evidence to personalities. 

Identity scholarship leverages the need to belong and centers the personality over the argument. However, focusing on the strength of arguments and not the personality is especially important given that the term ‘scholar’ or ‘shaykh’ is applied to vocationally trained Muslims, seminal graduates, preachers, or to those who display a scholarly caliber in Islam alike. This is a sufficient crisis. The term is heavily equivocated, and should never serve to stand in place of standards of scholarship in discourse. 

Ambiguity in the term ‘scholar’ or ‘shaykh’ is exploited by groups to strengthen their influence. Not always pernicious, this is the natural progression of proselytizing via group identity. An in-group who will dismiss dissenting voices for not having studied long enough, not obtaining ijazas, will promote voices of similar or less educated Muslims when those voices are in their ‘in-group.’ Titles like ‘ustadh’ and ‘ustadha’ are quickly conferred upon those who are volunteers or proponents of the ‘in-group’ even with minimal study. Advocating for the correct paradigm is rewarded more than a knowledge based approach to issues. Giving titles to those with social capital in your in-group is also an effective way for brand expansion. For example, loosely affiliated students with avenues into the growing Muslim mental health field are often referred to as ‘ustadha.’  Also, traditionalists will often promote in-group religious figures engaging in no-risk activism like condemning already popularly condemned figures as exemplary ‘scholars and activists’ who should be followed by other activists.  

If a person has been doing this long enough they become ‘shaykh,’ and then eventually a ‘senior scholar’ with assumed wisdom and spiritual insight, worthy of deference. I am well acquainted with the unfortunate irony in traditional circles where those who push a manhaj of studying at the feet of scholars have by and large not done so beyond attending general lectures by visiting scholars.  Many do not even know Arabic, but their zeal and tenure of feel good lectures in a community primarily interested in nasheeds and tea coupled with their promoting the right figures secure for them a scholarly status by generations who venerate the theory of studying at the feet of scholars. 

Thus authority and titles are conferred by virtue of in-group allegiance. 

Slip into demagoguery

When we accept an in-group and out-group dichotomy and don’t argue fairly, we lay the foundation for demagogic discourse. As Patricia Mill-Roberts writes “If people decide to see things as a zero-sum game- the more they succeed, the more we lose, and we should rage about any call made against us, and cheer any call made against them- then democracy loses” (13). The best way to avoid this is by maintaining fair discussions and letting go of double standards. Arguments appealing to in-group or out-group positions rather than being based in fact should not be accepted regardless of which group they are coming from. Several tactics used in these types of arguments are described below. 

Creating a strawman

Falsely representing the out-group is a common tactic in demagogic discourse. One example is portraying out-group critics as only critics. The critic is frozen in time as someone who has accomplished nothing, helped no one, and as only one who sees the faults in others. The in-group then goes on to list what they have accomplished -‘albeit with some faults’- to not seem as braggarts, but insists that those faults are magnified by the arm-chair critics. 

Another example is labeling Muslims more concerned with academic preservation and development as Muslims in ivory towers. This suggests knowledge is only relevant if immediately actionable and discounts the role of theoretical knowledge in both present and future action as well as an intrinsic end.  

Even when it comes to the epitome of practical action, Allah tells the Muslims to not all go out in battle, but to have groups remain behind to study.

Condescending discrediting

One way demagoguery characterizes the out-group is by a “dithering, wavering, impaired masculinity, and weakness…”(66).  Just as Rudy Giuliani dismissed those protesting Trump’s 2016 win as “professional protestors” with nothing else to do in life, so do we dismiss dissenting voices. 

Terms like ‘keyboard warrior’ should be dropped from the vernacular of anyone who uses the internet for Islamic education. If the internet is good enough for theatrical Ramadan reminders and choreographed Islamic reflections, it should also be good enough for dissent and valid critiques.[3] We have to embrace the fact that the internet is not a pretend medium; social media posts are used in newsfeeds, are reacted to on the mimbar, and even prompt live events. If we dismiss valid criticisms made online as the act of ‘keyboard warriors’ we should also call those giving dawah online ‘studio daa’is.’  

Discrediting due to inexperience

Experience is an important element in answering questions and dealing with different scenarios, and, should rightly be considered when one is looking for a teacher, etc. However, frequently, the standards for what constitutes experience are used inconsistently. The same individuals who refer to young teachers as ‘shaykh’ or ‘mufti’ while in their in-group, dismiss ‘shaykhs’ and ‘muftis’ in the out-group of similar age and experience, arguing that a person can’t be a ‘real’ mufti because studying 7 years doesn’t make anyone a scholar. Graduating from a seminary or Islamic university will be the standard for members of an in-group to be called scholars, but the out-group will be ‘immature graduates’ who have not learned wisdom.  Wisdom itself will be defined as the avoidance of actions which challenge the in-group. Likewise an activist saying the right thing and echoing in-group talking points will be called ‘ustadh,’ but if from the ‘out-group’ dismissed as a Godless- activist’ that just hates hierarchy. 

Victimization and Victimology

Demagoguery thrives on the in-group being victimized by the out-group. It is common for religious figures to dismiss valid criticism as nothing but hate, envy, or ignorance [4]. When criticized by activists, it is common to label them as ‘anti-clerical’ activists who only have an issue with Islamic leaders because they are neo-Marxists. 

‘Neo-Marxist’ is used as a catch-all term to discredit those who disagree with the positions of some religious leaders to insinuate the disagreements are rooted in hate for hierarchy or authority thus being illegitimate. Even conservative and practicing Muslims are labeled as ‘leftists’ and ‘Godless activists’ for simple critiques. In Sufi groups, disagreeing with leadership is often said to be the result of being spiritually veiled, or the work of ‘dark forces’ and ‘shayateen’ dividing us. If we can agree that black-magic and evil-eye are real but should not be the first culprit in a failing marriage, let’s also look for practical failures when religious organizations break down before we start blaming the ‘shayateen.’  

On one hand the in-group claims they are victims, on the other they blame the out-group for having a victim mentality.  This may seem like an obvious contradiction, but as Miller explains,  

If condemnation of out-group behavior is performed by a very likeable persona, then onlookers are likely to conclude that the rhetor would never engage in the behavior she or he is condemning. This maneuver is especially effective with people who believe that you can know what someone believes by listening to what values he or she claims to espouse, and with people who think you can predict behavior by listening to values talk (who believe that ‘good people- that is, people who say the right things- don’t do ‘bad’ things) (56) 

Another tactic is using terms like ‘victomology’ to belittle legitimate grievances of being wronged and falsely representing those grievances as an attitude of being a victim in life.

Being oppressed (mazlum) does not require living a tough life, being a victim in life, or being part of an oppressed group. We are told by the Prophet that delaying a payment owed while being capable of paying is oppression (Muslim). When our God given rights are transgressed upon, we are mazlum in that situation. It is not uncommon however to see Muslims want to claim their rights and express they have been wronged to be dismissed as those who love to be victims. Ironically, this is even done by organizations that describe themselves with the leftist concept of ‘safe spaces.’  

Disregarding Nuance

“Demagoguery is comfortable because it says the world is very simple, and made up of good people (us) and bad people (them)” (24). 

We must understand that if someone does not see an issue as black or white, it’s not because they are obviously corrupt, willfully ignorant, or stupid.  The word nuance itself triggers cynicism and is treated as an excuse to employ mental gymnastics to deny what is ‘obvious.’  The fact of the matter is when it comes to khilafi issues there is generally a vast scope of acceptable actions, and when it comes personal ijtihaadi matters for policy there is often no clear-cut best answer. Thus in such matters the objective is to come to a best resolution or course of action. In short, we should all take appropriate measures in our decisions to ensure the benefit outweighs the harm. Certain positions are cautioned against due to the likelihood of harm to one’s religion, but that likelihood may not serve as evidence that one has harmed his religion. As the great scholar Muhammad Awama relates in Ma’laam Irshadiya, the way of the scholars is to leave people in what they are following as long as it is correct and has a valid legal perspective [5]

Scholarly discourse

Advice from recognized experts in a field carries weight, but it should not be conflated with a scholarly argument. A common mistake is to confer authority upon an opinion outside the area of one’s authority. Scholarly works must prove themselves to be scholarly as stand-alone works. Even if a great scholar has published many scholarly works, his advice should be taken as advice. For example, Imam al-Ghazali was a great scholar, but Dear Beloved Son is not a scholarly work.  We have a malfoozaat (wisdom-sharing) tradition that is precious, but we must know where to place it in the hierarchy of Islamic knowledge. 

Islamic scholarly discourse should be evidence based, demonstrative of legal proficiency, and cater to Islamic concerns. Those engaging should share the evidence for what they say, the sources of the rulings they share, the difference between the reason for a ruling and the wisdom of a ruling [6], understand contextual fatwas,[7] and understand which rulings are based on urf and which rulings are intrinsic obligations or prohibitions. These are just some elements of Islamic scholarly discourse, and it cannot exist alongside identity scholarship. 

There should be private forums with prerequisites where scholarly discourse can take place. When these discussions move outside of their proper place other issues such as discussing weak or aberrant (shadh) fiqh opinions arise, which to an undiscriminating audience all will seem co-valid on the spectrum of differing opinions in sharia. Promoting aberrant positions caters to our cultural preferences of thinking outside the box and carries the façade of an intellectual approach to Islam. In Maharam al-Lisaan (Prohibitions of the Tongue) Muhammad Mawlud lists both mentioning the conflict between the Sahabah, and mentioning aberrant opinions as prohibitions.  This is not due to the utterance being sinful, but rather to the misconceptions it can lead to for the average Muslim if not properly addressed.  

There may be a need to dismiss open innovators and those spreading misguidance, because there is no end to the possibilities of innovation and it obfuscates what should be self-evident, and can be very difficult for even scholars to refute in ways that resonate with those affected by innovation. The double standard as previously mentioned is when lack of formal credentials is only a problem for out-groups. 

How to have productive discourse

Islamic historical discourse has its share of polemics. There are commentaries, fatwas and treatises which insult valid ijtihad and even refer to the entirety of a madhab with epithets. Some scholars were harsh and had a penchant for polemics. Transgressions into mockery and slander were not condoned, and belligerent attitudes were something scholars sought to check with reminders of adab al-ikhtilaf (the etiquettes of disagreement). While the previously mentioned certainly existed and such an approach may serve to strengthen positions of the in-group to the in-group, it does not make for productive dialogue with the out-group.

Outside of scholarly discourse, when we debate policy and Islamic positions, we need to have sincere, fact based arguments with the goal of arriving at truth. Our ability to accept truth no matter who says it shows we have transcended in-group vs. out-group tribalism and have entered the realm of sincere discourse.  Overcoming in-group tribalism and following the truth, rather than blindly following our ‘fathers’ is a central message in the Quran. 

And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.” Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided?  2:170 

Arguments on points should never be personal. We should train ourselves to evaluate arguments and understand that people we like can make mistakes, and people we dislike and generally disagree with may be right on certain matters. 

Don’t take cheap shots if you disagree with someone, such as pointing out a typo to insinuate incompetence. 

It’s important to leave double-standards, and to point them out when someone is employing them.  When one side is unfair or uses double standards, it encourages the opposition to act in kind, and the discussion devolves into a fight. When disagreeing with someone, never insult that person.  When a personality is attacked, the response will be defending the personality, and the entire discussion is derailed. 

Sharing a post, or article should not be seen as endorsing an individual or a post. Sometimes it’s a means of opening a discussion, other times to share beneficial points even if the entirety of what is shared is not beneficial. Furthermore, endorsing an individual in one area is not a blanket endorsement, and should never be taken as such.  The Hanafi tradition was able to benefit from legal fatwas while not accepting theology of Mu’tazilite scholars. Likewise, many of our best tafseers are from Mu’tazilite scholars. The widely studied and highly regarded Tafseer al-Baydawi is basically a reworked Mu’tazilite tafseer without the Mu’tazilite aqidah. Scholars have been able to ‘take the good and leave the harm.’ 

“I don’t think you could search America, sir, and find two men who agree on everything.” – Malcolm X

We need to uplift our intellectual level and drop disclaimers like “I don’t agree with everything in this article” or “I don’t agree with everything he said.”  It is only worth stating when you do agree with everything someone says or does.  The common disclaimers should be taken as givens and we shouldn’t capitulate to a cultural push of walking on egg-shells so no one accuses us of supporting the wrong person or idea. 

It is critical we operate under the assumption that sharing a panel with or working with an individual is not an endorsement of that individual. Likewise, working with an organization is not an endorsement of that organization. Such associations are attacked as potentially confusing to the average Muslim, but we must work towards establishing that such actions are not support. 

Here we see an ambivalent conceptualization of the ‘average Muslim’ as someone who both deserves transparency from religious scholars for their actions as well as one who is easily confused or misled by the actions of Muslim scholars. If we can accept both propositions, that a scholar’s actions are not proof, and that working with someone and sharing posts and platforms do not equate support for every particular view or stance of a person, we may set the foundation for being issue focused rather than personality focused. 

In conclusion, it is important we all hold ourselves to high standards of discourse and not support behavior or fallacies from our in-group that we would deride from an out-group. The groups themselves are inevitable and not a problem, but we have to work to overcome the natural ideological tribalism that accompanies group membership.  If we personally transcend in-group bias and reflect it in our discourse, we can overcome the pettiness and hypocrisy that stifles productive discussions. 

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 16: The Best of You

Now that we have learnt about fruit out of season, let’s now talk about the best of you.

I want you all to think about your closest friends and how you treat them. 

Question: Would anyone like to share how they try to treat their closest friends?

That’s wonderful! You try to be thoughtful and considerate of their feelings. You bring snacks to share with them, you may buy or make them a gift.

Question: Now, I want you to close your eyes and think of the way you treat your family members. Is it the same?

Question: Why do you think that there is a difference between the way we treat our friends and the way we may treat our siblings or parents?

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Yes, we do spend a lot of time together. We see each other when we’re cranky or frustrated. Sometimes we want our own space to think, or we don’t want someone interfering with our things. Those are all valid reasons. But, do you know that it is more beloved to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that you treat your family members better than you even treat your friends?

It’s true! In a hadith, Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) reported: The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: 

عَنْ عَائِشَةَ قَالَتْ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ خَيْرُكُمْ خَيْرُكُمْ لِأَهْلِهِ وَأَنَا خَيْرُكُمْ لِأَهْلِي وَإِذَا مَاتَ صَاحِبُكُمْ فَدَعُوهُ

“The best of you are the best to their families, and I am the best to my family.” 

Question: What are some ways we can be the best to our family members? I’m going to share with you a hadith that may help you get some ideas: 

وعن أبى أمامه الباهلى رضي الله عنه قال‏:‏ قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم‏:‏ “أنا زعيم ببيت في ربض الجنة لمن ترك المراء، وإن كان محقاً، وببيت في وسط الجنة لمن ترك الكذب، وإن كان مازحاً، وببيت في أعلى الجنة لمن حسن خلقه” ‏(‏حديث صحيح رواه أبو داود بإسناد صحيح‏).‏

“I guarantee a house in Jannah (Paradise) for one who gives up arguing, even if he is in the right; and I guarantee a house in the middle of Jannah for one who abandons lying even for the sake of fun; and I guarantee a house in the highest part of Jannah for one who has good manners.”

If we work on these three things: less arguing, no lying, and good manners, alongside all of your other suggestions, we will be rewarded with Jannah, inshaAllah

Question: Do you think we can all work hard to be the best to our family members?

 

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Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas | Book Review

In the second decade of the 21st century in America, Muslims consider themselves “as American as apple pie,” don American-flag hijabs, and consider their presence and participation in American politics as a crowning achievement. There is little to no resemblance between the majority of the American Muslim population today, and the very first Muslims who landed in America – not as privileged individuals, but as enslaved people at the hands of vicious white colonizers who had already decimated the Indigenous population and who had no qualms about destroying the lives of their slaves. Dr Sylviane A. Diouf’s book “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” tracks the journeys and experiences of African Muslims who found themselves shipped aboard slave-trafficking vessels and taken to the other side of their known world. From their induction into the Transatlantic slave trade, to their determination to uphold the five pillars of Islam – regardless of their circumstances – to the structure of the enslaved Muslim community, their prized (and dangerous) literacy, and their never-ending resistance against slavery, Diouf illustrates in incredible detail the powerful and painful experiences of enslaved African Muslims, and the legacy that they left behind in the Americas.

This review of “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” will focus on the unique qualities and formidable faith of the very first Muslims in the Americas, and the legacy that they left for Muslims in the Americas today.

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In Chapter One, Diouf begins by answering the very first question that arises when considering the path of enslaved African Muslims: how did they end up enslaved in the first place? Slavery already existed as an institution in Africa, though vastly different from the horrifying standards of the European slavers. Between the existing slave trade, military conflicts that created prisoners-of-wars who were then sold as slaves, and the European propensity for kidnapping innocent people, many Muslims found themselves swept into the Transatlantic slave trade. These same Muslims were the ones who provided us with much of the knowledge that we have today regarding the American slave experience. Most African Muslims were literate, due to the religious and cultural importance of education; of those enslaved, many were religious scholars or students of knowledge. They described how they were captured, the torturous journey of the slave caravans across the continent, and the even more horrific experience of the slave ships themselves. These men also documented their lives as slaves, and indirectly, provided deep insight into their own inner nature. 

Despite the intense pressure and demands on African enslaved people to renounce their ‘heathen faith’ and be inducted as Christians, African Muslims demonstrated a commitment to Islam that should cause modern Muslims today to feel deeply ashamed in comparison. The very first words that Job ben Solomon (Ayuba Suleyman Diallo) uttered, after running away and then being discovered in Pennsylvania, were the shahaadah; Omar ibn Sa’id wrote numerous Arabic manuscripts, in which the shahaadah was always found (Diouf, 2013, p. 72-73). When Catholic priests tried hard to educate slaves about Christianity as part of the conversion process, the African Muslims were both resistant and unimpressed; they were already familiar with many Biblical stories, thanks to their Qur’anic education. Of those who seemed to have accepted Christianity, many did so only outwardly, while confirming their belief in Allah and His Messenger in every aspect of their lives. Indeed, in Brazil and other areas where there were large concentrations of Muslim slaves, the Muslims established underground madaaris to maintain and pass on their Islamic knowledge and education. Muhammad Kaba Saghanughu was a man whom the missionaries had thought was successfully converted when he provided all the right answers to their pre-baptismal questions – eleven years later, in a Baptist Missionary Society notebook, he wrote a 50-page fiqh manual in Arabic that encompassed the rulings of salaah, marriage, and other topics. 

Slavery did not stop the African Muslims from maintaining their salaah in whatever manner they could manage, considering their circumstances. Some did so in secret, while others insisted on upholding their salaah in public, to the extent that these incidents were recorded by the descendants of slaves and slaveholders alike. In Brazil, the African Muslim community – both enslaved and freed – held together so strongly that they were able to secretly establish Salatul Jumu’ah and attend gatherings of dhikr, even in the face of intense scrutiny (Diouf, 2013, p. 88-89). 

Perhaps one of the most greatly moving examples of enslaved African Muslims’ dedication to their Islam was that even in the midst of the utter poverty of slavery, they found a way to uphold zakaah, sawm, and Hajj. In Brazil, it was recorded that the Muslims would end Ramadan with the exchanging of gifts, no matter how simple they were; in truth, these gifts were zakaatul fitr and zakaatul maal.

In other areas, the descendants of Muslim slaves recalled that their parents and grandparents would make rice cakes called saraka at least once a year – saraka was a corruption of the Arabic word sadaqah, and the rice cakes were a Jumu’ah tradition in West Africa. (Diouf, 2013, p. 92-94) In Ramadan, many Muslims sought to fast; indeed, despite the incredible hardship and lack of nutritious food that the slaves already endured, there were those who fasted voluntarily outside of Ramadan as well, often by pretending to be ill. They knew that their situation meant that fasting – in Ramadan and outside of it – was not obligatory on them, and yet, to them, no circumstance was bad enough to warrant not even attempting to observe Ramadan. Hajj was another pillar of Islam that was both impossible and no longer obligatory on the enslaved Muslims; yet in Brazil, in a house that was used as a masjid, there were illustrated depictions of the Ka’bah – demonstrating the emotional bond that the African Muslims had with the Sacred House. 

Throughout Diouf’s book, the overwhelming theme that arises is the fierce commitment that enslaved African Muslims had to Islam. It was not superficial, shallow, or easily shrugged away in the face of difficulty. Instead, the African Muslims held onto their belief in Allah and their daily, lived practise of Islam, even when they had every excuse to relax their obligations. They upheld their Islamic and cultural dress code, not just at its minimum standard of modesty, but in a way that clearly demonstrated their religious identity (Diouf, 2013, p. 101-110). They found ways to make prayer mats and dhikr beads; they gave their children Muslim names in secret, when they were expected to present themselves as Christians; they even strove to observe whatever they could of the Islamic dietary code, by refusing to drink alcohol or eat pork – Ayuba Diallo went so far as to only eat dhabiha meat that he himself slaughtered (Diouf, 2013, p. 119-122). The enslaved African Muslims valued their Islamic identity above all. Even in slavery, they knew that their ‘izzah came from their Deen – and so did those around them, who noted their unique bearing in the face of the horrors of slavery. 

The story of the African Muslims who were enslaved and brought to the Americas is not merely a history lesson, or a token homage in honour of Black History Month. It is a story that echoes the persecution of the earliest Muslims in Makkah, and applicable to Muslims today. Muslim minorities in the West are often all too eager to complain of our difficulties and to seek religious exemptions for our minor inconveniences. Yet who are we in comparison to the earliest African-American Muslims, who endurable the unspeakable? Who are we, with our privileges, with our very freedom, in comparison to those Muslims who were stripped of everything and everyone they knew and loved, and who still held ever tighter to the Rope of Allah? One may say that it is unfair to compare us and them; that to recognize their struggles should not mean invalidating the challenges we face today. Certainly, we face numerous different fitan that are very different from what they experienced, but the truth is that we should compare our attitudes with those of our predecessors. We should be ashamed of our own weaknesses in times of privilege compared to their strength in times of oppression. More importantly, we must learn from them what it means to have such a relationship with our Creator and our Deen that we are capable of surviving and thriving in even the worst of circumstances. 

May Allah have mercy on the enslaved African Muslims who endured one of this Ummah’s historic tragedies, and may He make us of those who demonstrate their strength of love for Him through every tragedy of our own.

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