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The MuslimMax Series | How to Wake up at 4 am Daily

Ever attend the talk on maintaining your Ramaḍān momentum? Seems to be everywhere at the end of Ramaḍān, but in my experience few, if any, are impacted because Ramaḍān time is treated as a time of binge worship rather than an occasion for strategic habit development. I believe our speaking capital is better invested in teaching habits of worship that are practically integrated in the life of the typical Muslim. By doing so, Ramaḍān stops acting as a time of crash-and-burn binge worship and turns into a framework for building habits that should be at the core of every Muslim’s daily life. The first habit this series will look to develop is teaching the reader one method that has been successful in developing the ability to wake at 4 am daily (translation: this is how I did it, but it’s not the only way to get the job done).

Real Goals vs Guilty Goals

At the heart of every Muslim’s life priorities should be an aspiration to place in the highest level of Paradise. You’ll know the strength of that conviction by the conscious strategies you create to get there, and the active steps you take to making those strategies successful. You’ll likely fail many times, but oftentimes the intent and effort is just as important as attaining the goal itself. This is a Real Goal.

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In contrast, when one says, “I should change”, but no real effort takes place, either in planning or doing, it’s what I like to call a Guilty Goal. Guilty Goals are not true goals – they’re simply lip service placeholders in our minds, that allow us to acknowledge the virtue of some action while simultaneously making us feel guilty because, either we don’t really want to do them (lip service), or we don’t see a viable path forward to complete them.

For example, when asked, “Do you want to memorize the Qurʾān?” in a lecture, all hands shoot up. Who wouldn’t want to? But were we to ask, “Who has a one-, two-, five-, or ten- year plan to get it done,” the number of raised hands would disappear faster than chicken biriyani at an ifṭār.

The Bridge from Guilty to Real Goals: Daily Habits

I’m often asked about my eating and training strategies because of the shape I maintain, especially since I’m not a fitness professional, but a 9 – 5 software engineer with a wife and three kids. The most important strategy for getting into shape is the same as for waking at 4 am – it’s hardwiring neural pathways in your brain that converts new, frequent actions into lifelong habits.

Once those habits are firmly established, it becomes difficult to leave aside performing those habits. If you’d like to test it out, see how you feel when you don’t brush your teeth in the morning. Beyond avoiding close quarters in conversation and the gross feeling in your mouth, you’re subconscious mind will continually bang away at the walls of your mind letting you know something is wrong. There is so much negative reinforcement, you can’t help but go back and brush your teeth (at least, I hope so).

What if the pain of leaving a good action was more than the pleasure of leaving it? What if your mind rebelled and compelled you to go back and perform the action? Now you have a good habit established. We’ll discuss how to go about doing this, using the 4 am wake-up as our example.

How I Establish Daily Habits

When you begin any new activity, be it waking at 4 am or turning your health around, you’re both attempting to establish many new habits while breaking away from other established habits. That’s a tall order, and it’s why most people fail to change – it’s too much too soon. It’s the same reason why almost no one maintains their Ramaḍān momentum, and why they crash and burn come ‘Eid day. The following strategy outlines how I bring about change in my daily habits with the 4 am wake-up as the example.

Step 1: What’s In It For Me? Find Your Motivation

Before changing your habits, you need one or more compelling reasons to change. In the case of waking at 4 am, one habit I wanted to establish was praying at least 2 rakaʿāt of qiyām ul-layl every night. I chose 4 am because when the winter months hit, I would still be within a half-hour time frame before fajr, so no matter what time of year I was in, I could perform it.

But this isn’t the only reason I wanted to establish this habit. By waking early, I could also better prepare myself for the day, spend more time on other acts of worship (more dhikr, memorizing Qurʾān), more learning (preparing for certifications related to my job), getting more work done (I could get more done in an hour in the morning than during normal office hours), and if my wife woke with me, spend quality time with her while the kids slept, and we would both be bright and fresh during that time.

Sure, there are some days when I oversleep and wake up at 6:30am, and there are days when I wake up and just want to stand in the shower and veg out for more time since I have more time. It’s all fine because I have that time for myself to do just that.

For me, waking at 4 am is the foundation for success in all other areas of life. In particular, during the brief periods of time I consistently performed qiyām ul-layl, I found my du‘ā’s often answered with overnight delivery. All-in-all, this habit means a lot to me, and I believe very strongly in the benefit of establishing this habit and maintaining it for life.

Step 2: Anticipate the Unintended Consequences of the Habit

Changing oneself isn’t simply a matter of deciding you’ll act differently and then doing so. A number of areas of life should be addressed:

  1. Relationships: If I wake and sleep earlier, what effects will that have on my family’s routine? If this causes me to go to the office earlier, how will that affect my team’s established routine? If you see the potential for conflict, you should speak with the affected parties and ensure they understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If they anticipate problems, work out those problems to the satisfaction of both yourself and the other person.
  2. Energy Levels: Your own energy levels will be impacted by this change. On a daily basis, you’ll wake and want to go right back to sleep. If you stay awake, you may find performance deteriorates due to mind fog. I dealt with this by taking an energy drink first thing in the morning upon waking. I’m now at a point where I wake early without an alarm clock and don’t need the energy drink immediately.
  3. Daily Schedule: When my day started and ended later, I spent more time relaxing in the evenings because rest was all I wanted after a long day at work. By flipping my hours around, I was working on all those “important” priorities first thing daily, but I was no longer taking the time to relax and have fun. It was leading to a different type of mental burnout, and I didn’t anticipate that. If there are important activities in your life coming later in the day, make sure to find other times in your schedule to handle them.

Step 3: Persevere Through Initial Launch and Occasional Failure

The beginning of a dramatically new habit comes with the burden of overcoming existing mental and physical programming. If the change is too dramatic, then you’ll likely last anywhere between one day and one week before crashing.

To preserve through the initial launch, the change should be a challenge without being overpowering. If you’re already waking at 8am, then you would start at 7am in your first week, not 4 am. Your focus during this time is not qiyām ul-layl, studying, working out, or anything else. The goal is simple – wake up and stay up. If you want to take a long shower, walk around the neighborhood, or veg out on Facebook, go for it. If you woke at 7am and stayed up all day, congratulations, you succeeded.

The last point cannot be overstated enough. The goal is simply waking and staying up, no more. Even if you sleep late, it doesn’t matter – your goal is consistently waking up at the same time and staying up. The next week, you’ll move to 6am, the week after 5am, and the week after that, you can push to 4 am. If one hour increments are too much for you, wake earlier in half-hour increments. If even that becomes too much, aim for 15 minute increments.

Once you’ve established the habit, you’ll find that your wake up time may fluctuate. Sometimes I wake at 3am and can’t fall back asleep, and other times I wake at 4:30am to 5am. This range is acceptable for me, based on my own goals. If I were to wake up at 6am and beyond, I would consider that “oversleeping”. In this case, I consciously attempt to discern what may have caused the problem (in one instance, I worked out late in the evening and then slept late), and make sure to focus myself on not repeating the mistake, or if I repeat the mistake, setting up other means of waking (like my alarm). The key is that occasional failure is ok (and expected), just determine that a failure doesn’t mean the end of the habit, it’s just a part of our human imperfection, and strive again to maintain better consistency.

Another point to keep in mind – sometimes I intentionally “fail”, meaning, I realize I’ve awakened too many early mornings in a row while sleeping an average of 5 hours. When this occurs, I allow myself a recovery day (usually on a Saturday or Sunday) to knock out until 9am (that’s just my time, others may have their own).


I know many of you are excited to get started and running on this, but there are some exceptions such as if you’re:

  1. Pregnant or within 2 years of delivering a baby: Your schedule and hormones are far too upside down. Focus on a healthy delivery, and don’t try to force a sleep schedule with a new baby. In fact, set your expectations and don’t guilt yourself over not being able to achieve more during this time unless you have an awesome spouse who will help out and give you your own time.
  2. You Work the Graveyard Shift: You probably hit qiyām every night ;) But really, the point is that you don’t wake up simply to get up and get ready for work. Use the techniques outlined above to wake up 2 hours earlier to get other types of work done.
  3. People with medical sleep disorders: Seek the help of a competent professional. Let them know what you want to do and see how they can help you get it done.

Wrap Up

Becoming a consistent early-morning person isn’t about being a super duper tajwīd master shaykh floating on a magic carpet. It’s all about focusing on the goal, keeping it simple, making conscious, gradual improvements, and moving forward until you hit the target. Don’t worry about the days you fail, just keep trying until you get to enjoy the sweetness of front loading your day with all the most important things in your life. The gradual success that comes from it will snowball into this amazing feeling of accomplishment and happiness that honestly can’t be put into words.


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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.

Siraaj is the Operations Director of MuslimMatters as well as its new lead web developer. He's spent nearly two decades working in dawah organizations, starting with his chapter MSA in Purdue University, and leading efforts with AlMaghrib Institute, MuslimMatters, and AlJumuah magazine. Somewhere in there, he finds time for his full-time profession as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. He holds a bachelor's in Computer Science from Purdue University and a Master's certificate from UC Berkeley. He's very married and has 5 wonderful children



  1. Avatar


    October 22, 2012 at 5:18 AM

    Prophet ate 7 dates in morning.

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    October 22, 2012 at 7:06 AM

    Assalaamu Alaikum.
    JazakAllahu Khayran for this much needed piece of advice! May Allah SWT. make it easy for all those who give it a try, Ameen.

  3. Avatar


    October 22, 2012 at 2:43 PM

    A fine post. I actually have been feeling that just waking up for Fajr and staying up doesn’t leave enough time for me to do other things (blogging, reading, Quran reciting, working out), so this is definitely a good idea when it comes to handling priorities and being more productive.

    I dont think I could do 4:00am though but will attempt a 5:00am routine. Inshallah, I’ll be able to apply it.

  4. Avatar

    Reshma Rahiman

    October 22, 2012 at 2:48 PM

    I found this article relevant becasue for the lat one week I have been trying to achieve this goal..with lil success, I have a 6 month old and a body clock that is more in tune to being a night owl ..but i definitely still want to try because prophet Muhammed S.A.W.S used to wake up at 4 am and led a very productive life… InshaAllah!

  5. Avatar


    October 22, 2012 at 3:39 PM

    It’s always a delight reading your articles Siraaj. Very good tips and advice. Waking up early really is beneficial, for all the reasons you have outlined.

  6. Avatar


    October 22, 2012 at 5:34 PM

    @umbudi: Thanks for sharing :)

    @Muslimah: wa iyyak and ameen.

    @Asif: I found waking after fajr leaves me only time to get ready for work, and there is so much more one can benefit right before.

    @Reshma Rahiman: May Allah make you successful, and if it’s too much, be patient and wait a bit and try again.

    @AM: Jzk for the positive feedback on the article (and others), if you have your own tips for waking up early, would appreciate reading them =)

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    Dawud Israel

    October 22, 2012 at 8:28 PM

    Ahh, I see you highlighted the increment method. :)
    Barakallahu feek.


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    October 22, 2012 at 10:20 PM

    What an amazing coincidence that you publish this post at a time that I have launched myself on my ‘Early Riser’ quest. I overslept my goal for 3 days in a row and have been feeling quite guilty about it. Reading this post helped pull me out of my guilty despair.

    And I am off to buy some energy drinks.

  9. Avatar


    October 23, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    Really motivating article. I’m interested to read further about real goals vs guilty goals, where can I find more about this?

    • Avatar


      October 23, 2012 at 5:19 PM

      Glad you liked it, guilty goals vs real goals is something I thought of myself and would likely have to think more deeply to expand on it :)

  10. Avatar


    October 23, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    Make Dua’a before going to bed asking ALLAH(swt) to wake you up at 4am..
    Drink 1 or 2 glasses of water before going to bed.. that will force your body to wake up early even if you dont want to..

    • Avatar


      October 23, 2012 at 5:17 PM

      Great reminder, this is the most important rule of all – keep asking Allah in your du’aas to be among those who wake early, good catch!

  11. Avatar


    October 24, 2012 at 4:11 AM

    Assalam i wil give it try

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    October 24, 2012 at 6:23 AM

    Baraka Allahu fik Brother Siraaj very sound advice.

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    October 26, 2012 at 12:55 AM

    Great tips masha’Allah. Small goals are definitely key and I’m glad that was highlighted in the article. In addition, a rare and forgotten sunnah that can help people in this early waking schedule is “Qayloolah” or the afternoon power nap. It can seriously do wonders.

    Check out this talk on Sleep Management for more info:

    • Avatar


      October 28, 2012 at 2:49 AM

      Salaam alaykum Zahra,

      Great additional point, and it was something some of the reviewers of this article on the MM team pointed out as well (and I didn’t add because I mistakenly thought the article was coming out tomorrow :)).

      Having said that, I didn’t originally add it because at the time of the article, I was not napping much (or at all) throughout the day. Like myself, I think many working professionals will find it difficult to pull off, and stay-at-home parents with non-school age kids may find it the same, so I wrote it with a “worst-case scenario” in mind.

      But definitely recommend the qayloolah, I now ride a train and bus to work, and napping on the bus for 20 minutes is great at the end of the day!


  14. Avatar


    October 29, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    I have something to add to your very useful article brother Siraaj. 
    Now this is for everyone:
    If you are the type of person who just cannot wake up in the morning, who overhears the 4 alarms and keep sleeping, then you must try this new method that I just found: 

    When you have a day off from work or college, or just some time for yourself in weekends, do this: 
    In the mid of the day, set your alarm to ring after 10 minutes, lay down in your bed and close your eyes (you have to pretend to sleep). When you hear the alarm ring, get up immediately! – You just did, what you need to do in the morning. Try this a few times in a day, and you’ll actually be able to hear the same alarm and get up the same way every morning, Insha’Allah. :) 

    Hope this was useful. Insha’Allah. 

    • Avatar


      October 29, 2012 at 4:09 PM

      that’s a really interesting trick – did you pick that up from somewhere, or was it something you figured out yourself?


  15. Avatar


    October 29, 2012 at 4:25 PM

    Indeed it is.. I found it on the net and I’m gonna try it soon insha’Allah. The woman who wrote it also commented that after using this method, she never failed to wake up early in the morning. Subhan’Allah!

  16. Avatar


    October 31, 2012 at 11:55 AM

    I always admire people who can wake up early to perform tahajjud and other prayers. May i will become like those people. InsyaAllah.

  17. Avatar


    November 1, 2012 at 3:34 AM

    Great piece.
    But I have read this kind of article many times in past. In fact I am aware about most of the method. But somehow that doesn’t help. Passing judgement is one thing and implementing is totally something different.
    Can you help me on this front …

    • Avatar


      November 1, 2012 at 9:08 AM

      Salaam alaykum Asim,

      Absolutely. Let’s start with step #1 – what are you looking to get out of waking early?


  18. Avatar


    November 3, 2012 at 7:20 AM

    jazakallahu khair

  19. Avatar


    November 4, 2012 at 7:27 AM

    The post was amazing. I’m looking forward to give it a try.

  20. Avatar

    Binth Zaman

    November 8, 2012 at 10:33 AM

    There’s this hadeeth which states that Allah subhanahu wata’ala descends to the lowest heavens during late night hours…just to answer the prayers of his servents who would supplicate at that time..This one really worked for me

    • Avatar


      November 13, 2012 at 1:34 PM

      Salaam alaykum,

      Great motivator, this would fall under step #1 for me – what are the reasons that drive you towards waking up (and it would be one of many).


  21. Avatar


    November 12, 2012 at 11:58 PM

    I like your style of writing. I have been searching for a faith for myself and my family, and I am also a professional(dentist). Have you written any primers/introductions to the faith? I would be really interested to see a practical approach to conversion to islam.

    • Avatar


      November 13, 2012 at 1:33 PM

      I haven’t written any primers on conversion, but being married to a convert myself and paying attention to the issues repeatedly brought forward by them, I realize this is an issue that needs addressing.

      Are you interested in converting to Islam?


      • Avatar


        November 13, 2012 at 2:25 PM

        I am not certain. I am trying to figure out my religion since we had our child. The appeal of Islam to me is that at its core its simple and logical (there is no God but God). Parts of the quran are beautiful to me, and parts appear redundant, but never overtly violent. What concerns me is the actions of many of the muslims I know, and how the muslim world appears to backwards. It is a very hard question, but I need a religious identity, especially for my little girl. The catholic church I was raised in is dying, islam seems on the up swing.

        • Avatar


          November 13, 2012 at 3:46 PM

          I hear you on the complexity part of things. I grew up in a household with a Christian father and a Muslim mother. I was blocked from more traditional Muslim learning during that time, and by the blessings of God, my mother who wasn’t versed in the academic particulars gave me the most important lesson of all, and that was establishing a strong, personal bond with God, first and foremost.

          When that was established, it served as a foundation for everything else of practice and ritual that followed. I can’t be intellectually honest and say every Muslim is that way. Irrespective of the simplicity of the revelation, humans are complicated and have human issues (myself included), and with our weaknesses, our jealousies, arrogance, ignorance, and other basic human failings, we can complicate something which at it’s core is really very simple – our Creator is One All-Powerful being, and He made us with the sole purpose of worshiping Him alone.

          As I understand it, where we differ fundamentally with the catholic faith is in the placement of Jesus – is he the Son of God, or something else? We affirm him as a Messenger of God, one who came with Revelation from God in the same manner that Moses, Noah, and Abraham did. His miracles are like those of the previous 3 mentioned – they are signs from God, and a result of God’s power, and not something inherent in and of themselves. We believe and affirm his miraculous birth from the virgin mary (there is a chapter entitled maryam, check that out in your Qur’an if you haven’t), but we also believe that just as God created Adam with neither father nor mother, and Eve from Adam’s rib, Jesus was also created likewise from one parent without need for another as a miraculous sign to accept his message.

          I know that the modern Muslim world is backward in many ways. However, I think a better approach is not to base one’s belief of a religion on the way people implement it, but to evaluate people based on the ideas they ascribe themselves to instead.

          If you’d like to talk further, feel free to contact me at siraaj AT muslimmatters DOT org, would happy to continue talking either here in the comments or through email, whichever you prefer.

      • Avatar


        March 7, 2013 at 3:42 PM

        I question to u
        what will benifit u if someone convert to muslim

  22. Avatar


    November 13, 2012 at 7:24 PM

    email sent

  23. Avatar


    November 14, 2012 at 6:37 AM

    Good advice for making any lifestyle change really!

    My real question is what time do you actually go to sleep? Do you believe we generally need 8 hours of downtime to recover from an average days work?

    InshAllah will try to implement some of your advice…

    • Avatar


      November 14, 2012 at 4:27 PM

      I usually hit the sack between 9 – 10:30pm now, before changing i was doing 2 – 3am. Six to seven hours is typical for me, but if i have a five hour night or two, i make it up on the weekend.

  24. Avatar

    Saud SwisH

    November 19, 2012 at 7:44 PM

    Great article bro. It actually means more(and is more motivating) when advice is given by something who actually does it. JazakAllah Khayr!

    And your humor is great – LOL @ the number of raised hands would disappear faster than chicken biriyani at an ifṭār.

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Shaykh Seraj Hendricks: An Obituary

This article was originally published at Al-Madinah Institute.


An internationally recognised Islamic scholar, who saw spirituality, justice, and knowledge as integral to an authentic religious existence.

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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.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, who passed away on the 9th of July 2020 at the age of 64, was a scholar of international repute, able to communicate and engage on the level of state leaders, religious scholars and the broader public. As a scion of one of the most prominent Islamic institutions in South Africa and internationally, who also spent a decade studying at the hands of the most prominent of Makkan scholars, he not only inherited a grand bequest, but expanded that legacy’s impact worldwide. In particular, he upheld a normative understanding of Islam, embedded in a tradition stretching back more than a millennium – but deeply cognisant of the needs of the age, including the need to strive to make the world a better place.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks was a high school English teacher between 1980 and 1982 in Cape Town before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 1983 to study at the Umm al-Qura University in Makka. Before this, he spent many years studying particularly at the feet of his illustrious uncle, the late Shaykh Mahdi Hendricks – erstwhile Life President of the Muslim Judicial Council and widely regarded as one of the foremost scholars of Islam in southern Africa – as well as his father, Imam Hassan Hendricks.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks studied the Islamic sciences for more than a decade in the holy city of Makka, spending three years at the Arabic Language Institute in Makka studying Arabic and related subjects, before being accepted for the BA (Hons) Islamic Law degree. He specialised in fiqh and usul al-fiqh in the Faculty of Shariʿa of Umm al-Qura University and graduated in 1992. Shaykh Seraj took ijazat from both the late Sayyid Ahmad Mashur al-Haddad and Sayyid ʿAbd al-Qadir b. Ahmad al-Saqqaf, as well as his extensive time spent with the likes of Shaykh Hasan Mashhat and others. These scholars are all known as some of the pre-eminent ‘ulama of the ummah in the 20th century, worldwide.

Additionally, he obtained a full ijaza in the religious sciences from his primary teacher, the muḥaddith of the Hijaz, the distinguished al-Sayyid Muhammad b. ʿAlawi al-Maliki, master of the Ṭarīqa ʿUlamaʿ Makka – the (sufi) path of the Makkan scholars. Together with his brother, the esteemed Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, Shaykh Seraj and I wrote a book on this approach to Sufism entitled, “A Sublime Way: the Sufi Path of the Sages of Makka”. Alongside his brother, he became the representative (khalifa) of the aforementioned muhaddith of the Hijaz.

Further to his religious education, Shaykh Seraj was also actively engaged in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa during the 80’s and early 90’s, alongside the likes of figures like Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool, comrade of Nelson Mandela, and the renowned journalist, Shafiq Morton. His commitments to furthering justice meant insistence on expressing constant opposition to injustice, while fiercely maintaining the independence of the institution and community he pledged himself to his entire life. At a time when different forces in Muslim communities worldwide try to instrumentalise religious figures for partisan political gain, Shaykh Seraj showed another, arguably far more Prophetic, model.

The shaykh also was keenly supportive of the rights of women, whom he saw as important to empower and cultivate as religious figures themselves. His students, of which there were many thousands over the years, included many women at various levels of expertise. I know it was his wish that they would rise to higher and higher levels, and he took a great deal of interest in trying to train them accordingly, aware that many unnecessary obstacles stood in their way.

After his return to Cape Town he received an MA (Cum Laude) for his dissertation: “Tasawwuf (Sufism) – Its Role and Impact on the Culture of Cape Islam” from the University of South Africa (UNISA), which is currently being prepared for publication as a book. He translated works of Imam al-Ghazali, and summarised parts of the Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihyaʾ ʿUlum al-Din), most notably in the Travelling Light series, together with Shaykhs ʿAbdal Hakim Murad and Yahya Rhodus.

Some of his previous positions included being the head of the Muslim Judicial Council’s Fatwa Committee (which often led to him being described as the ‘Mufti of Cape Town’), lecturer in fiqh at the Islamic College of Southern Africa (ICOSA), and lecturer in the Study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). He was a member of the Stanlib Shariʿa Board, chief arbitrator (Hakim) of the Crescent Observer’s Society, and was listed consecutively in the Muslim500 from 2009 to 2020. He was also appointed Dean of the Madina Institute in South Africa, a recognised institution of higher learning in South Africa and part of the world Madina Institute seminaries led by Shaykh Dr Muhammad Ninowy. Shaykh Seraj was also appointed as professor at the International Peace University of South Africa, holding the Maqasid Chair for Graduate Studies.

Apart from fiqh and usul al-fiqh, some of Shaykh Seraj’s primary interests are in Sufism, Islamic civilisation studies, interfaith matters, gender studies, socio-political issues and related ideas of pluralism and identity. He lectured and presented papers in many countries, sharing platforms with his contemporaries. Shaykh Seraj taught a variety of Islamic-related subjects at Azzawia Institute in Cape Town, where he was its resident Shaykh, together with his brother Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks. His classes showed an encyclopaedic knowledge that was rooted in the tradition, while completely conversant with the modern age.

But beyond his classes, he was a pastoral figure to many – a community made of thousands – whom he gave himself completely to, in service of the religion, and counselling them as a khidma (service), with mahabba (love), in accordance with the Prophetic model. Many urged him to restrain himself in this way, fearing for his health, which suffered a great deal in his final years as a result – but he saw it as his duty.

The Shaykh was an international figure, a teacher to thousands, and an adviser to multitudes. Many today ask the question as to why ‘ulama truly matter, seeing as it seems so many of them can be compromised by different forces in pursuit of injustice, rigidness and petty partisanship. Such a question will not be asked by those who knew Shaykh Seraj, for in him they saw a concern for spirituality, not paltry political gain, and a commitment to justice and wisdom, not oppression or slogans. In him, many saw, and will continue to see hope for an Islamic commitment to scholarship that seeks to make the world a better place, rising to the challenge of maintaining their values of mercy and compassion, and exiting the world in dignity.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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.

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Obituary of (Mawlana) Yusuf Sulayman Motala (1366/1946 – 1441/2019)

Monday, September 9, turned out to be a day of profound anguish and sorrow for many around the world. In the early morning hours, news of the death of Mawlana* Yusuf Sulayman Motala, fondly known as “Hazrat” (his eminence) to those who were acquainted with him, spread. He had passed away on Sunday at 8:20 pm EST in Toronto, after suffering a heart attack two weeks earlier.

Dar Al Uloom Bury, Yusuf Sulayman Motala

A master of hadith and Qur’an. A sufi, spiritual guide and teacher to thousands. A pioneer in the establishment of a religious education system. His death reverberated through hearts and across oceans. We are all mourning the loss of a luminary who guided us through increasingly difficult times.

Monday, September 9, turned out to be a day of profound anguish and sorrow for many around the world. In the early morning hours, news of the death of Mawlana* Yusuf Sulayman Motala, fondly known as “Hazrat” (his eminence) to those who were acquainted with him, spread. He had passed away on Sunday at 8:20 pm EST in Toronto, after suffering a heart attack two weeks earlier. (May the Almighty envelope him in His mercy)

His journey in this world had begun more than 70 years ago in the small village of Nani Naroli in Gujarat, India, where he was born on November 25, 1946 (1 Muharram 1366) into a family known for their piety.

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His early studies were largely completed at Jami’a Husayniyya, one of the early seminaries of Gujarat, after which he travelled to Mazahir Ulum, the second oldest seminary of the Indian Sub-Continent, in Saharanpur, India, to complete his ‘alimiyya studies. What drew him to this seminary was the presence of one of the most influential and well-known contemporary spiritual guides, Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi (d. 1402/1982), better known as “Hazrat Shaykh.” He had seen Mawlana Zakariyya only briefly at a train stop, but it was enough for him to understand the magnitude of his presence.

Mawlana Yusuf remained in Saharanpur for two years. Despite being younger than many of the other students of Shaykh Zakariya, the shaykh took a great liking to him. Shaykh Zakariya showered him with great attention and even deferred his retirement from teaching Sahih al-Bukhari so that Mawlana Yusuf could study it under his instruction. While in Saharanpur, Mawlana Yusuf also studied under a number of other great scholars, such as Mawlana Muhammad ‘Aqil (author of Al-Durr al-Mandud, an Urdu commentary of Sunan Abi Dawud and current head lecturer of Hadith at the same seminary), Shaykh Yunus Jownpuri (d. 1438/2017) the previous head lecturer of Hadith there), Mawlana As‘adullah Rampuri (d. 1399/1979) and Mufti Muzaffar Husayn (d. 1424/2003).

Upon completion of his studies, Mawlana Yusuf’s marriage was arranged to marry a young woman from the Limbada family that had migrated to the United Kingdom from Gujarat. In 1968, he relocated to the UK and accepted the position of imam at Masjid Zakariya, in Bolton. Although he longed to be in the company of his shaykh, he had explicit instructions to remain in the UK and focus his efforts on establishing a seminary for memorization of Qur’an and teaching of the ‘alimiyya program. The vision being set in motion was to train a generation of Muslims scholars that would educate and guide the growing Muslim community.

Establishing the first Muslim seminary, in the absence of any precedent, was a daunting task. The lack of support from the Muslim community, the lack of integration into the wider British community, and the lack of funds made it seem an impossible endeavour. And yet, Mawlana Yusuf never wavered in his commitment and diligently worked to make the dream of his teacher a reality. In 1973 he purchased the derelict Aitken Sanatorium in the village of Holcombe, near Bury, Lancashire. What had once been a hospice for people suffering from tuberculosis, would become one of the first fully-fledged higher-education Islamic institutes outside of the Indian-Subcontinent teaching the adapted-Nizami syllabus.

The years of struggle by Maulana Yusuf to fulfil this vision paid off handsomely. Today, after four decades, Darul Uloom Al Arabiyya Al Islamiyya, along with its several sister institutes, also founded by Mawlana Yusuf, such as the Jamiatul Imam Muhammad Zakariya seminary in Bradford for girls, have produced well over 2,000 British born (and other international students) male and female ‘alimiyya graduates – many of whom are working as scholars and serving communities across the UK, France, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, the US, Canada, Barbados, Trinidad, Panama, Saudi Arabia, India and New Zealand. Besides these graduates, a countless number of individuals have memorized the Qur’an at these institutes. Moreover, many of the graduates of the Darul Uloom and its sister institutes have set up their own institutes, such as Jamiatul Ilm Wal Huda in Blackburn, Islamic Dawah Academy in Leicester, Jami’ah al-Kawthar in Lancaster, UK, and Darul Uloom Palmela in Portugal, to just mention a few of the larger ones. Within his lifetime, Mawlana Yusuf saw first-hand the fruit of his labours – witnessing his grand students (graduates from his students’ institutes) providing religious instruction and services to communities around the world in their local languages. What started as a relationship of love between a student and teacher, manifested into the transmission of knowledge across continents. In some countries, such as the UK and Portugal, one would be hard-pressed to find a Muslim who had not directly or indirectly benefited from him.

Mawlana Yusuf was a man with deep insights into the needs of Western contemporary society, one that was very different from the one he had grown up and trained in. With a view to contributing to mainstream society, Mawlana Yusuf encouraged his graduates to enter into further education both in post-graduate Islamic courses and western academia, and to diversify their fields of learning through courses at mainstream UK universities. As a result, many ‘alimiyya graduates of his institutes are trained in law, mainstream medicine, natural medicine and homeopathy, mental health, child protection, finance, IT, education, chaplaincy, psychology, philosophy, pharmacy, physics, journalism, engineering, architecture, calligraphy, typography, graphic design, optometry, social services, public health, even British Sign Language. His students also include several who have completed PhDs and lecture at universities. His vision was to train British-born (or other) Muslim scholars who would be well versed in contemporary thought and discipline along with their advanced Islamic learning, equipping them to better contribute to society.

Despite his commitment to the establishment of a public good, the shaykh was an immensely private person and avoided seeking accolade or attention. For many decades he refused invitations to attend conferences or talks around the country, choosing to focus on his students and his family, teaching the academic syllabus and infusing the hearts of many aspirants with the love of Allah through regular gatherings of remembrance (dhikr) and spiritual retreats (i’tikaf) in the way of his shaykh’s Chishti Sufi order.

During my entire stay with him at Darul Uloom (1985–1997), I can say with honesty that I did not come across a single student who spoke ill of him. He commanded such awe and respect that people would find it difficult to speak with him casually. And yet, for those who had the opportunity to converse with him, knew that he was the most compassionate, humble, and loving individual.

He was full of affection for his students and colleagues and had immense concern for the Muslim Ummah, especially in the West. He possessed unparalleled forbearance and self-composure. When he taught or gave a talk, he spoke in a subdued and measured tone, as though he was weighing every word, knowing the import it carried. He would sit, barely moving and without shifting his posture. Even after a surgical procedure for piles, he sat gracefully teaching us Sahih al-Bukhari. Despite the obvious pain, he never made an unpleasant expression or winced from the pain.

Anyone who has listened to his talks or read his books can bear testimony to two things: his immense love for the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his love for Shaykh Mawlana Muhammad Zakariya Kandhlawi (may Allah have mercy on him). It is probably hard to find a talk in which he did not speak of the two. His shaykh was no doubt his link to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) in both his hadith and spiritual transmissions.

Over the last decade, he had retired from most of his teaching commitments (except Sahih al-Bukhari) and had reduced meeting with people other than his weekly dhikr gatherings. His time was spent with his family and young children and writing books. His written legacy comprises over 20 titles, mostly in Urdu but also a partial tafsir of the Qur’an in classical Arabic.

After the news of his heart attack on Sunday, August 25, and the subsequent effects to his brain, his well-wishers around the world completed hundreds of recitals of the Qur’an, several readings of the entire Sahih al-Bukhari, thousands of litanies and wirds of the formula of faith (kalima tayyiba), and gave charity in his name. However, Allah Most High willed otherwise and intended for him to depart this lowly abode to begin his journey to the next. He passed away two weeks later and reports state that approximately 4,000 people attended his funeral. Had his funeral been in the UK, the number of attendees would have multiplied several folds. But he had always shied away from large crowds and gatherings and maybe this was Allah Most High’s gift to him after his death. He was 75 (in Hijra years, and 72 in Gregorian) at the time of his death and leaves behind eight children and several grandchildren.

Mawlana Yusuf educated, inspired and nourished the minds and hearts of countless across the UK and beyond. May Allah Almighty bless him with the loftiest of abodes in the Gardens of Firdaws in the company of Allah’s beloved Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) and grant all his family, students, and cherishers around the world beautiful patience.

Dr Mufti Abdur-Rahman Mangera
Whitethread Institute, London
(A fortunate graduate of Darul Uloom Bury, 1996–97)

*a learned Muslim scholar especially in India often used as a form of address

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Reflection On The Legacy of Mufti Umer Esmail | Imam Azhar Subedar

“An ocean of knowledge which once resided on the seabed of humbleness has now submerged below it, forever.”

“Why didn’t you tell me!! You call me your younger brother, but you couldn’t even tell me you were ailing?!”

I could’ve called you or visited you so I could apologize for all the pain I caused you; thank you for all the good you did for me throughout my life despite all that pain. if nothing else, just so I could say goodbye to you.”

(My selfish mind continued to cry out as I stood in front of his grave— praying.)

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As I sat down to compile my thoughts, upon returning home, I put my feelings of loss aside and tried to analyze your decision of not informing me about your illness from a different perspective.

Possibly, your own.

Why would you tell me?

This was just like you. You never wanted to hurt a soul; forget about making them worry about you, augmenting their own worries. For you were the sponge for our worries, the shock absorber of our concerns, and the solid wall that shouldered the pain of those around him.

You weren’t just a big brother, my big brother, you were a true human. A lesson on humanity.

You were always there for me.

“I GOT A QUESTION” sent at 2 AM.

“Sure” was your response.

We spoke for over 40 min.

That night.

Your strength reflected my weakness- always urging me to do better, be more like you.

I was told you were in hospital by a close family member early Friday morning before Jummah prayers. I was supposed to call you. That was my responsibility. However, the preparation of the Friday Sermon was my excuse not to do so.

As I exited from delivering the Friday services, I received a message from you, the one who was spending the last days of his life in a hospital, never to be seen outside of the confines of those walls ever again.

That message you wrote- you knew me so well.

“As-salaam alaikum, I thought you were already American?”

(You were catching up with me as I had become an American citizen the day before. You wanted to congratulate me, without complaining to me.)

“I heard you are in the hospital?! How are you? What’s going on?” I asked immediately.

“Getting some treatment done. Mubarak on your American citizenship” was your response.

Diversion. A stubborn man with a heart of gold. You wanted to celebrate people even at the cost of your own life.

Your last words to me were digital, even though your connection with me spans a lifetime. As much as I wish I had heard your voice one last time, I try to find the beauty in that communication too as I can save and cherish those last words.

We grew up together in Canada in the ’80s- Mufti Umer and I. Our fathers were tight- childhood buddies. He ended up becoming the inspiration for my family to trek towards a path devoted to Islam, beginning with my brother and then myself.

He was my support from the time when I came to England to study at the Dar Al Uloom and wanted to call it quits and go home, to when he hosted me when I visited him in Austin in 2002, all the way till 2019, after I was married and settled with kids he loved like his own.

He visited us here in Dallas and had met them in his unique way of showering them with love. And why wouldn’t he? My wife and I are here under one roof all because of his earnest desire to help people.

He introduced us to each other.

“I want you to marry my younger brother.” A message he sent to my wife over 17 years ago.

She was his student. He was her mentor, support beam, confidante, and best friend. (Well, we all feel like he was our best friend, only because he truly was.)

I am sharing my life story not only because he was an integral part of it, but throughout (he was also a major part of my wife’s life when she really needed him) but because that final text message wrapped it all up- the gift that he was to me and my family. It showed how much he was invested in us as individuals, as a couple, and as a family.

That message wrote:

“I thought you’ve been a citizen since marriage.”

(FRIDAY, AUGUST 30TH @ 3: 07 PM)

This is just my story featuring Mufti Umer Ismail.

I am confident that there are thousands more out there without exaggeration.

I’ll conclude with a word he corrected for me as I misspelled it on my Facebook page a few months ago when Molana Haaris Mirza, a dear colleague, passed away in New York. He didn’t do it publicly, he did it through that same Facebook text messenger that kept us in touch- with love and sincere care for me in his heart.

“As-salaam alaikum the word is Godspeed. Sorry for being [a] grammar freak.”

(MARCH 28TH, 2019 @6: 04 PM)

Godspeed, my dear brother. Godspeed.

Azhar Subedar

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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.

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