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Dawah and Interfaith

Seeking Knowledge & Recognising Allah’s Blessings | Imam Abdullah Hasan

MuslimMatters

Lecture by Iman Abdullah Hasan | Transcribed by Zara T.

[The following is the video and transcript of Imam Abdullah Hasan’s lecture “Seeking Knowledge & Recognising Allah’s Blessings.”  The transcript includes slight modifications for the sake of readability and clarity.]

The lecture can be viewed here.

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As a preamble I want to make three points as a reminder for myself and a reminder for you, brothers and sisters, inshaAllah. Allah says in the Quran “And remind, verily the believers will be benefited from the reminder” inshaAllah. The first thing obviously is intention. I’m sure all of you brothers and sisters have attended classes on intention, the hadith on intention and so on and so forth. We’re always reminded about the intention, and this is very important. Some of the scholars of the past have mentioned that we should check our intention every morning and every evening. Why we are doing what we’re doing, before we exit our house, whether we’re going for our work, university, college, mosque, wherever we’re going, whatever we’re doing during the day, we have to ask ourselves the objective of my action, the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing, and if the thing that I’m going to do or accomplish during the day, if it’s not done purely for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), then that action will not be accepted by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Only the righteous deeds ascend to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Those deeds which were not done purely for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will not be accepted by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), will not ascend to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). So we have to really check our intention all the time. Sometimes a brother or sister can be very active in the field of Dawah, very active in seeking knowledge, very active in memorizing Quran and hadith and so on and so forth. But if the intention is not correct, then all those things that we’ve been memorizing, verses and ahadith and books and writing and giving Dawah and so on and so forth, will not benefit us on the Day of Judgment. The only thing that will benefit us on the Day of Judgment are those things that were done for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). All the scholars remind us that we always have to check our intention: why we are doing what we do.  And the second thing, obviously, as a correlation to that, our actions need to be according to the Sunnah of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

 

A second point that I want to remind myself is that obviously this is a great gathering. Whenever we remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), remember knowledge, or learn knowledge, the angels descend. This is part of our aqeedah, part of our creed, that the angels descend at these gatherings whether it be in the mosques or other places, when people gather to remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and to learn the ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) as the hadith in Bukhari and Muslim narrated by Abu Hurairah [ra] in which the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has angels in addition to the angels  who write their records. They go around, they roam around the pathways, the streets, and the houses and the different places. Their only purpose, their job description given by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is: they seek out the people of remembrance. They seek out those people who are learning the ahadith, learning the deen of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). And when they find a people remembering Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), (can also include learning about the religion, learning about the hadith, Tafsir, and so on and so forth) they call to each other and they say ‘Hasten to that which you see. Hasten to that which you were created for.’  And this is a long hadith in Bukhari and Muslim. Obviously it’s an authentic hadith. You go back to the chapter of Dhikr, you’ll find it there inshaAllah. It’s a hadith Qudsi. And then Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions, the angels, they go up and Allah asks them “How have you left my servants?” They respond “I left your servant remembering you, asking for Your forgiveness, asking for your Jannah, and so on and so forth.” At the end, the hadith ends by saying, the angels say there was a person who came for a need, he didn’t come to seek knowledge. He saw his friend coming towards a place of learning, he saw a friend and said, let’s go. His original intention was not to seek knowledge.  Allah says whoever sits among them, whoever sits among those people who are continuously, everyday, week in week out, learning the deen of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) whoever joins them haphazardly in an ad hoc manner, that person will not be damned . These are blessings of seeking knowledge. These are blessings of coming to a place of learning. And Alhamdulilah, we’re living in East London. In walking distances we have so many different masaajid, so many different institutions. Alhamdulilah Ebrahim college here is offering free classes. This is a blessing from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), And those of us who do not take the opportunity to learn from people who have studied, then they will be questioned on the day of judgment. They will not have any answer to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). They cannot say “Allah, there were no free classes.” “Oh Allah, there were no mosques around me.” because I know there are many places in the world, they do not have mosque in their locality. They have to travel miles, one hour, two hours, to go to a local mosque. Some places like America, even in the UK. So we are blessed to be part of this community, blessed to have centers like Ebrahim college and other centers that facilitate the dissemination of sacred knowledge. So we have to take that opportunity inshaAllah. Why is that? Because if you look at our scholars of the past, subhanAllah, read the seerah by Imam Al-Dhahabi and other books like that, how the scholars of the past sacrificed to convey the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (saw). They would walk for thousands of miles to convey, to learn a hadith, and then to teach it to their students.

 

A predecessor of Ahmed ibn Hanbal [ra], a scholar named Zaid, look at the sacrifice that they made. Zaid ibn Hubab was a predecessor of Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal. He was a muhadith. He was a scholar in his local community. His student narrates that when we came to our teacher to seek hadith, our teacher could not come out of his house. He did not come out of his house to teach us hadith. Why is that? He began to teach hadith from behind his door, and the students would be outside sitting in the pavement, in the streets, and him behind the door, and he would narrate hadith and he would do sharh of the hadith. Why is that? And they say that “he did not have clothing that was appropriate for him to wear so that he can come out and teach us hadith.” Can you imagine this? He did not have the right appropriate clothes. He did not have a garment or clothes that was appropriate, suitable for narrating or coming out in front of the people. He made the door a hijab, a barrier between him and the students and he began to teach the students. This is the sacrifice that they made for us. And this is why we have the knowledge that we have now…the scholars of the past. Most of us are from the Indian Subcontinent. People like Shah Jalal and his companions, when they came from Yemen to Bangladesh, India, and so on and so forth, how much sacrifice did they make? They left their family, they left their homeland, they left their businesses and so on and so forth, to disseminate and convey the message of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Unfortunately, this zeal and passion, we have lost among some knowledgeable people and students of knowledge. How many Muslims perhaps live in Tower Hamlets probably sixty to seventy, eighty thousand Muslims, if not more Muslims live in Tower Hamlets. There are many mosque providing Islamic circles and Tafsir, Aqeedah classes, Hadith classes. Unfortunately, many of these circles are empty. And then the youth, they complain, “Our mosques are not doing enough.” It’s that you’re not taking the opportunity to go and learn…obviously there are weaknesses, there are shortcomings from certain institutions and mosques. But there are opportunities for everyone to avail themselves of the knowledge of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) ,the Deen of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). So we must really understand this point. Have the right intention, and also sacrifice. In order for you to learn knowledge, you have to make sacrifices. Whether you live in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Jordan, Saudi, wherever, in the Middle East, even here you have to make sacrifices. And if a student does not go, a real student, a true Talib al ‘Ilm, does not go through certain tribulation and hardship, if it becomes so easy for him, that means that person has not tasted the real taste of knowledge. All scholars, all people of knowledge go through certain trials and tribulations. It is not enough that we open our Facebook pages or YouTube channels and we listen to a lecture and that is it, I’ve become a scholar, I’ve become a student of knowledge. A student of knowledge, he comes and sits near people of knowledge. He takes and he writes. He takes notes, he takes from the people of knowledge. These are students of knowledge. So we have to bear in mind that sacrifice is very very important. And when we receive that knowledge, the actual word for knowledge in the Arabic language is what? ‘Ilm. The word ‘Ilm in the Arabic language is translated as knowledge. What we say knowledge in the secular tradition is completely different from the Islamic tradition, and that’s a different topic. To basically summarize it, knowledge in the western secular tradition is basically collecting or gathering mere data information. Knowledge in the Islamic tradition, in the tradition of the scholars of the past and present is not just mere information but also coupled with divine knowledge and also action. The Arabic language is so powerful, it’s so rich. If the root word of ‘Ilm, it comes from aieen laam meem. ‘Alam. And the word ‘Alam in the Arabic language has various meanings. The two most prominent meanings is: a sign or an indicator or a symbol. ‘Alam also means a flag of a country. What is the purpose of a flag? Indicates that country. Indicates the nationality of that country. So ‘Ilm, knowledge in the Islamic tradition is an indicator. It’s a sign. It’s a symbol of your obedience, your obedience to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).  And when a person is obedient to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), the consequence is that his actions show it. That’s why if you reverse the word ‘Ilm in the Arabic language, and scholars allow that in the Arabic language…you have the word aieen meem laam, which is ‘Amal. It’s not a coincidence, Arabic language is divine. If you go back to the history of the Arabic language, it’s divine; it’s not man-made. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) directly revealed the Quran in the Arabic tongue. So it’s not a coincidence. ‘Ilm is an indicator, it’s a sign. A sign of obedience to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).  The consequence is action. So we have the twins of faith, both information and action.  This is what true knowledge is. And when a person acquires that knowledge, it can elevate him, it can free him…the first word in the Quran to be revealed is what word? “Iqra”. The word “Iqra” means not only to read, but to recite, but to also learn, to convey, and so on and so forth. To establish an environment of learning and so on and so forth. Again if you use some of the words in that particular imperative, the word “raqqa” means what?  Enslavement. “Fa tahreeru raqabah”.  The scholars, in a nutshell say that when a person begins to read and gain knowledge, he is free from the bondage of ignorance. When a person is ignorant, he’s a slave to his own desires. When a person is ignorant, he’s a tool of the Shaythan. When a person is ignorant, Shaythan tells him to go that way or that way. But when he has knowledge, when she has knowledge of the divine, the Quran and sunnah of the prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), that person has a purpose. That person knows himself. That’s why scholars mention “Whoever knows himself knows Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).” Because he has a purpose in life. He has an objective, his Maqsad is Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). And result of that is Tarbiyah or Tazkiyah and Tahdeeb. What is Tahdeeb? The consequence of knowledge. If a person after getting knowledge is not elevating himself to the obedience of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), then that person’s knowledge is not benefiting him and we know the hadith of the prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). We know a person, when he begins to attain knowledge, it will elevate him in this dunya and the hereafter; as Allah mentions in the Quran. But a person can also be debased. He can become arrogant. That’s why the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said in an authentic hadith that “the most hated amongst you to me and the most distanced on the Day of Judgment to me amongst you is the one who is Mutafayyaqoon.” Mutafayyiq is from the word “fahaq”. It’s the same root of “fiqh”. Fiqh is understanding or intellect or knowledge. The opposite is Fahaq. Fahaq means the one who is pompous, one who is proud, one who is arrogant. He pontificates. He basically gets rid of people whenever he speaks because he thinks he knows everything. He thinks he’s all it, as the street language goes. He thinks he’s the don. He thinks he’s the king and the queen of the street. He’s become pomp and he becomes proud. And, in fact, the word Fahaq is a disease in the Arabic language. A disease that a camel has on the face. Now when that disease overtakes him, the face swells up until the actual animal dies, bursts. So when a person becomes knowledgeable, if the right intention is not there, he becomes arrogant, he becomes stubborn. If he’s not guided by the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), he becomes arrogant and stubborn and he bursts, and the people are distant from him. And the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, that person will be far away from me on the Day of Judgment. And the word Tahzheeb in the Arabic language means to discipline. The purpose of knowledge… it’s an indicator, is a sign of obedience to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). And the purpose of that is Tahzeeb or Tarbiya or Tazkiya which is education, or refinement, or discipline.

 

The word Tahzeeb in the Arabic language, also if you look at the root of the word, it comes from the word zaa haa baa. Zahab-gold. So what the scholars mention is that when a person does Tahzeeb and also Tarbiyah, although they’re synonymous to education and so and so, but they’re distinct in the Arabic language. When a person does Tahzeeb…because the purpose of knowledge is what? Tahzeeb. Is to discipline your inner self. To discipline your inner character, discipline your behavior, is to make you obedient to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). And the purpose of that is educating yourself. The more a person does Tahzeeb, the more a person acquires knowledge, the more golden that person becomes. And the more golden that person becomes, the more stronger that person becomes because the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said that people are like metal, and gold is some sort of a metal isn’t it? So when a person acquires more knowledge, the more knowledge that he or she has, the more gold that person has and the more strong that person becomes. No affliction, no tribulation, no Shaythan, no Shaythan from the jinn kind and the human kind can take that person away from the right path. This is the essence of knowledge. And if that is not done, if a person is attaining knowledge and there is no Tahzeeb, there’s no Adab, there’s no manners, no etiquette, they can memorize the Quran, you can memorize the Bukhari and Sahih  Muslim and so and so..it will not matter. It will not matter. Because the weightiest thing on the scale on the Day of Judgment is Husnul Khuluq, as the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said in Ibn Majah and Tirmidhi. The most weightiest thing on the day of judgment on the scale is Husnul Khuluq, good character. If a person attains knowledge.. you see a lot of brothers and sisters, for ten years, they’re attending classes of knowledge, attending hadith classes, Tafsir classes, Aqeedah classes, Arabic and so on and so forth. But you see their behavior after ten years, it’ll still be the same as when you first met them before ten years. So what these people are getting is mere information which you can really obtain by yourself. You open up your computer, your iPad, whatever, iPhone even, and you just go to the different channels and books, you can obtain information. But the purpose of knowledge is to do Tahzeeb, to make you golden, to make you an obedient servant of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and to make you a servant of the community. That’s what the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said. This hadith is authentic, narrated by Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal in his Musnad. The pinnacle of intellect after a person obtains Iman is you basically behave well with people. You are in the service of your community. And when a person obtains knowledge, it’s not for yourself. Yes firstly and primarily it’s for yourself, but you have to give back to the community. You have to teach, you have to disseminate.

 

Just to finish up what I was mentioning before we departed for Maghrib, we said that  knowledge is an indicator of obedience to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), or we said it propels someone to obedience of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and the purpose behind that is to do tahzeeb, or tarbiya, to  discipline the soul, discipline the nafs, discipline the character or the deen of the Muslim and then he should or she should be in service to his or her community. And the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, The best Muslim is the one who is beneficial to the people, beneficial to his or her community. For this knowledge is gold, it’s a treasure that must be shared with other people. That’s why concealing knowledge is one of the kabaair as Imam Al- Dhahabi mentions in his book “Kitaab ul Kabaair,” concealing and hiding knowledge is among the major sins in the sight of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). So whatever we have, we have to disseminate, propagate, convey to our family members, our friends, our close compatriots and also our community. This is something that obviously many people have been neglecting in the past. Now there is a resurgence, Alhamdulilah in east London, in the UK, in the world really. There is a awakening among the youth, there is a resurgence among the Muslims that we have to focus on knowledge. A lot of activism took place, but knowledge was not given much importance although we had many Islamic seminaries all over the world. But in terms of the true comprehensive knowledge, it was not given importance. When you have knowledge, when you acquaint yourself with the Kitab Allah and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) you have to be active in your community. Sometimes we have activism without knowledge and knowledge without activism. So we had people who were activists but they made a lot of mistakes in the path of Dawah, in the path of being active, because they didn’t have the required knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah. And then you had knowledge without activism. Even in our community, we have many people who graduate from  Islamic seminaries, but how many of those people are really contributing positively to the betterment of the Muslim community in the UK?

 

We cannot do everything. Ebrahim College is focusing on knowledge. Ebrahim College cannot be a political party. The main focus of Ebrahim College, the main focus of Islamic education, is to disseminate, to impart on the students knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah so that they can go out and lift the veil of ignorance from the people. But if you have your hand in everything, you are jack of all trades, then you will not succeed. So if you’re students, full time students, then you’ll learn all the discipline but at the end of the day you’ll focus, you’ll specialize in one field: Either Islamic sciences that you prefer, whether it be hadith or Tafsir, or Aqeedah or Arabic language, and so on and so forth. You will become a master, you’ll become an expert in that.

 

For example, if you had a group of people and if you had a truck, if you had a car or a truck, and twenty people wanted to move the car or the truck in one direction, to the right. But one person who is sitting on the driver’s seat, he has control of the wheel. 50 or 100 people will want to push the truck to the right hand side. But that one person, he has control of the what? The wheel. And he is directing the truck to the left. Who will succeed? The driver will succeed because he has his hands on the right object. He’s focusing his energy on the right area. Even if you have a thousand people, they will not be able to steer the truck in the direction they desire. The truck will always go to the direction that the driver desires. If you focus on a particular thing, then you have to give your best, not go this way or that way. And this is the reason our community has not been successful. Our focus is on the wrong place. Our focus is sometimes on some people, too much activism. Although I don’t deny that, it’s very important. But what is more important is acquiring knowledge. The reason why our community is like this is because we don’t have the correct knowledge. We don’t have the correct understanding of the Quran and Sunnah of the prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). And that’s why the prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), the  first thing he did was give the Sahabah the right knowledge. Tazkiya. He was sent to purify them and to teach them the book and the commentary of the book, as some scholars mention, the Sunnah of the prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

 

I want to go through with you a hadith of the prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), recorded by Imam Bukhari in his Sahih in which Ibn Abbas [ra] said that the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, There are two blessings from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) which many people are deprived of, many people are deluded by. They are good health and free time. This is an amazing hadith. Very short hadith, but if you really ponder over this hadith, understand this hadith properly and try to apply it in your day to day lives, then InshaAllah your days, your day to day life will be more productive.

 

We know that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), He created us for a purpose. And that purpose is to worship Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). In Surah Mulk, Allah mentions He has created this life and death to “test who among you is ahsanu ‘amala”. He didn’t say aktharu ‘amala. As I mentioned in the beginning, you can do a lot of actions, but if there is no quality, then it doesn’t really matter. We shouldn’t look for quantity. We should look for quality. The deeds that we’re doing, are they in accordance to the Shariah of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)

 

That’s why Ishan, what  is Ihsan? This is what Ihsan, excellence is. To be productive. Not just in worshiping Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), following certain formulas, movements, but really having excellence in your worship.

 

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) placed us for a purpose in this Dunya: to worship Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and to know Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Imagine all of the human beings, all of the creation, the whole universe, imagine all of the creation of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) in a big examination hall. Imagine this. This is the Dunya. This is a similitude of the Dunya. We are taking an exam. We are in a big examination hall and there are invigilators. The angels are watching over us. The human being does not utter a single word except a recorder records everything. A recorder records every single thing that we say, every single movement that we do. Everything will be witnessing for us or against us on the Day of Judgment. The duration of this exam is from when a person becomes mature till death. The differences between this exam and the other exam is: the other exam, we know how long it will be…1 hour, 2 hours. But this exam, we don’t know how long it is. For some of us it may be 30 years, or 20 years, or 50 years or 60 years. Imagine if your teacher, he said, you have got a one hour exam. And then after 10, 20 minutes, he says no you have got 10 minutes left, and you have so many questions that you want to answer. What would you do, relax and chill? No, anything that comes in your mind, you will write. Similarly as a Muslim, the reason why Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created us is to worship. And if we do not know our time or the length of our life in this Dunya, and we know that Malakul Mawt is always watching over us, always trying to take our soul, if we know that then we should always exert effort in the obedience to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) the same way the student, when he knows that he’s got 10 minutes or 5 minutes left will exert all effort to finish the questions. Similarly, we should be in that state of mind.

 

Now there are certain questions that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wants us to ask ourselves and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) asks us to answer. And the first and the most important one is the obligations and commandments. Are we fulfilling the obligations and commandments set by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)? That is number one. Second question that we have to ask ourselves and answer, the question by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is, the prohibitions set by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), are we avoiding those prohibitions? Are we avoiding those things that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has made unlawful for us? Thirdly, the blessings that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has given us, are we giving thanks to Allah? This is the topic we’re going to discuss slightly. The blessings that we have, the different kinds of blessings, health or wealth or knowledge, whatever blessings that we have, are we giving thanks to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)? And the trials and tribulations…because as Muslims, as believers, we will face trials and tribulations; Allah mentions many times in the Quran. “We will indeed test you as we tested the people before you to see who among you are truthful and who among you are not truthful”. So the trials and tribulations will always be there, and we have to prepare for that mentally, psychologically…and this hadith is reminding us of the blessings given to us by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and the greatest blessing after obviously iman, is good health. Good health is the most amazing ni’mah that anyone can be given by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). If you ask anyone who’s been healthy and then suddenly they become ill or they’re in the hospital, they would do anything just to go back to the good health. And also free time, that’s why the prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) mentions that these are the two blessings that many people are deluded by, many people are deprived of. And those people who have good health and free time, they’re the lucky ones. They’re the fortunate ones. And those who do not spend their time in the way of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), when they are young, when they are healthy, if they do not spend it in the obedience to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and they do not spend their free time in the obedience to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) then obviously we know from the other hadith they will be questioned on the day of judgment. You may ask: what kind of blessing? Whatever blessing that we have. When I say blessing, it doesn’t mean if someone has a million pounds in his bank account, he is blessed. No. we are blessed just because Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has given us life. This is enough, this is the greatest blessing, that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) chose to place us in this Dunya. And on top of that, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) chose us to become His servants, to become part of the Ummah of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). This is the greatest blessing, Iman. Iman is the greatest blessing, you cannot repay that. That’s why some of the scholars of the past, Ahmad ibn Hanbal and others said that if the kings knew what we have, what we possess, they would raise their swords against us to fight us for it. Not for treasure, but for iman. They would raise their swords to fight us for it. So any kind of blessing-free time, good health, good education, good family, good society. Any kind of blessing that we can think of is from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

 

A man came and complained to a scholar. He said: Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has not blessed me with any blessings. And the scholar looked at him and said: Will you sell your eyesight for, for example 100,000 pounds? He said no. Will you sell your ears for 100,000 pounds? He said no. Will you sell your hands for 100,000 pounds? No. Will you sell your legs for 100,000 pounds? He said no. And the scholar said: you complain yet you possess millions and billions of pounds. You would not sell your bodily parts to anyone and these are the greatest of Ni’im given by Allah: good health and your bodily functions. You possess these blessings and yet you complain to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Second thing we can take from this hadith is that these blessings that we have, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) did not give these to honor us, necessarily. Sometimes Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gives us these blessings to test us. Many people believe that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tests us only by giving afflictions and trials and tribulations. No. Allah also gives blessings, Allah gives money, Allah gives good health, Allah gives knowledge, Allah gives long life, to test us. If this was the case, then the prophets and the messengers would be billionaires, because if you only think Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tests us through afflictions and tribulations, and by that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) honors us and makes us rich, elevates us in this Dunya and the Akhirah, then the prophets and messengers would be the most richest of people. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) also tests us, gives us trials and tribulations through the blessing.

 

When  Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) blesses the human beings, blesses the Insaan different kinds of blessings, he says My Lord is generous with me. And then Allah says, but when Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) takes away some Rizq, takes away some blessings, then he complains.  He complains to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He): Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) debased me. No. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) takes away sometimes the blessings from the human being to awaken his soul, awaken his heart, to test him. Imagine if a teacher, you’re in a class, there are 10, 20 students in a class.  If a teacher gives one person a massive book, 1000 page book and the second person, he gives a 500 page book. Second person will say well why have you given him such a big book and given me a book that is smaller?  Gives the third person a book that is only 300 pages. To the fourth person he gives a book that is only 200 pages, and so on and so forth.  And the people who’s books are smaller, they are complaining. They say look, why did our colleague, why did he get a massive book?  100,000 book. That means he’s favored by the teacher. And imagine in that situation, the teacher says the book that you received today from me you have an exam in two hours. So study the book. What would happen? Those who were given the pamphlet will say “yay”, I’ve got 2 hours to read 10 pages..I’ve got 2 hours to read 15 pages. Easy. But a person who will receive a book of 1,000 pages, 2,000 pages will say SubhanAllah. It’s not a blessing. This is a great burden. Similarly this is the way Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tests us. Sometimes He gives more of a blessing to test us. And when He deprives us of something it doesn’t mean Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) doesn’t love us, doesn’t mean that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not care for us. He cares for us even though He may have deprived some of the blessings that other people have. And the criteria of Taqwa, of righteousness is not how much wealth we have. The criteria of Taqwa is: the most noble among you in the sight of Allah is the one who has the most Taqwa, is aware of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)

 

How can we succeed in the examination? There are three ways the scholars mention:

 

The first is: we have to give thanks to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) with our heart. Any of the blessings that we have, free time, good health, good job, good education, and so on and so forth, place yourself with the people of Palestine or Afghanistan or Syria at the moment. We’re blessed, we’re like kings compared to what’s happening over there. So any blessing that we have, we have to internalize that these blessings are from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Whatever blessing we have is from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). If you attribute the blessing that you have to yourself or to other human beings, this is Shirk. If you say the blessing that I have is from my own handy work, it’s not from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)..this is shirk. And this is obviously haram. This is the trap Qarun fell into. He became arrogant, he became from the Muttafayyiqoon. He became pompous, proud. He said these blessings I’ve got, it’s from my own knowledge, my own handy work. Not from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). What happened? Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) debased him and destroyed him. So whatever blessing we have: knowledge, health, or free time, we attribute that to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

 

Then, we show gratitude to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) with our tongue: do d

Dhikr, say Alhamdulilah. As for the bounty of your Lord, you speak of it.  Obviously not showing off. You don’t memorize a hadith and announce to people, “I’ve memorized a hadith.” Some people do that, isn’t it? They’ve memorized a surah..they go on Facebook: “I’ve memorized Surah Mulk today, Alhamdulilah.” No.  you praise Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), you thank Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). If your intention is to encourage others, that’s something else. That is allowed. If you have some blessing, you have to speak of it. Some people, I’ve come across, they’re well off. They’ve got their Dunya. They’ve got businesses, they’ve got houses, they’ve got good clothes and so on and so forth yet you see them complaining, “I have nothing.” “If only Allah gave me more.” And these people, it’s obviously a disease. When a person does that, then Allah will take the Ni’mah away from that person.

 

A man came to the prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Authentic narration recorded by Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal in his Musnad.  A man came to him, he was well off. He had a lot of goats and cows and sheep and so on and so forth. But he was wearing ragged clothes. And the prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said to him, “does this person have any money?”(Why is he wearing torn and ragged clothes?) and he said to him: are you poor? Do you have any money? He said Alhamdulilah, Allah has blessed me. Allah has blessed me with a great fortune. He said why aren’t you wearing decent clothes, appropriate clothes, when you go out? And the prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “If Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) bestows upon you wealth, then let it be shown on you.” If a person has some wealth, you don’t show that you’re poor, you don’t show that you’re wearing bad clothes and so on and so forth. This is riyaa . Some people do this. They try to be obedient to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) but in essence, they’re showing off. If Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has given some wealth, any kind of blessing, then let it be shown on you. Obviously you have to be careful you’re not showing off, not to be boastful. And part of Ash Shukr bil Qalb is we increase in our Dhikr, increase in our recitation of the Quran, increase in our learning of the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), we enjoin the good and forbid the evil. But there is no point in learning the hadith, there is no point in coming to classes if you do not enjoin the good and forbid the evil. Enjoining the good and forbidding the evil is the result of taking knowledge. Why are you acquiring knowledge? To propagate and convey to the people. Why? To get rid of the munkar in the community. Some people, they learn all their lives but when it comes to action, when it comes to disseminating that, conveying that knowledge and getting rid of the munkar in the community, they’re behind the scenes.

 

The companions of the prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), Hamzah [ra] or Khalid ibn Waleed, how many surahs did they know? Khalid ibn Waleed, Hamzah, they narrated that they only knew a handful of surahs, short surahs. But you can see, they had the basics, they had the fundamentals. But they went out and they conquered lands, they went out and enjoined the good, forbid the evil. The action has to be there. There has to be a balance. There are people in the field of Dawah, but without knowledge. There has to be a balance.

 

The third is that we have to show gratitude to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) with our actions. When we have knowledge, when we have the blessings, we have to show it in our actions. For example if a person has knowledge, as I mentioned, he has to go and teach, or she has to go and teach it to other people. If a person has maal, wealth, that person needs to give in the way of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). If a person has a good body, a physical and able body, he needs to support his weak brothers and sisters, wherever they are. Whatever skill you have is a blessing from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and you have to utilize it in the way of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). When a person does that, when a person shows gratitude, the result is what? “If you are grateful to Me, I will increase in your bounties. But if you are ungrateful then My punishment is very very severe.” Showing gratitude to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), that’s why it’s a circle. When a person attains knowledge, he knows or she knows it’s a blessing from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). And he knows or she knows that he or she needs to give thanks to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), then he or she will need to go out and disseminate that. If a person is sitting behind his laptop and becoming a Facebook Mujahid or Twitter Mujahid, there is no point in going to hadith lesson and so on and so forth. You have to go in the community. You have to equip yourself .you don’t go blind, otherwise Shaythan will take you this way and take you that way, propel you this way and propel you that way. You have to equip yourself and then go. Some people also have the tendency, “I’m not a scholar, I’m not knowledgeable. So, I can’t give Dawah.” We should not think like that. Dawah is obligatory but the responsibility of a scholar will be different from the responsibility of a student of knowledge. And his responsibility will be different from the responsibility given to a politician. And his responsibility will be different from a mother. And her responsibility will be different from a daughter and son and so on and so forth. Everyone needs to do their part. Everyone has a role to play in this Dunya.

 

We have to see. That’s why I began by saying, “the one who knows himself knows Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).” So we have to know who we are, what is my purpose in this Dunya? What is my purpose in learning knowledge? What is my purpose in learning Arabic? What is my purpose in learning hadith? Some people have this attitude that I want to become a student of knowledge, become a scholar, I will do a 5-6 year degree in Islamic studies, so I can go in the speakers circle, go around and give lectures, go to universities and mosques and give lectures. That should not be our intention. If this is our intention, then we should stop and pause and rectify the intention. The main intention is that we rectify ourselves and rectify the community. Not to become super stars, not to become Youtube warriors and Youtube muftis and Mufti Wiki and Mufti Google and so on and so forth. No, it’s to rectify oneself and rectify their community.

 

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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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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 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 likable 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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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

charity

I have spent about a decade serving the impoverished domestically and recently, abroad. I don’t work for a major charity organization, I work for my community, through grassroots efforts. It was something embedded in me while learning Islam. Before starting a charity organization, I started studying Islam with Dr. Hatem Alhaj (my mentor) and various other scholars. The more I studied, the more I wanted to implement what I was learning. What my community needed at the time was intensive charity work, as it was neglected entirely by our community. From that, I collected 10 lessons from servicing those in need. 

1. My bubble burst

One of the first things I experienced was the bursting of my bubble, a sense of realization. I, like many others, was unaware of the hardship in my own community. Yes, we know the hadith and see the events unfold on the news and social media, but when a father of three cried before me because a bag of groceries was made available for him to take home, that moment changed me. We tend to forget how little it takes, to make a huge difference in someone’s life. This experience, made me understand the following hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Every Muslim has to give in charity.” The people then asked: “(But what) if someone has nothing to give, what should he do?” The Prophet replied: “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity (from what he earns).” The people further asked: “If he cannot find even that?” He replied: “He should help the needy, who appeal for help.” Then the people asked: “If he cannot do (even) that?” The Prophet said finally: “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds, and that will be regarded as charitable deeds.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 524. I

t is simply an obligation, due to the amount of good it generates after you do this one action. I then realized even more how beautiful Islam is for commanding this deed. 

2. Friendships were developed on good deeds

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Serving the poor is a great reward in itself. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Save yourself from hellfire by giving even half a date-fruit in charity.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 498. But it is better done with a team, I began building a team of people with similar objectives in serving the needy. These people later became some of my closest friends, who better to keep close to you than one that serves Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) by helping the neediest in the same community you reside in. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so look whom you befriend.” [reported by Abu Dawood & Tirmidhee] This is turn kept me on the right path of pleasing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Working with a team removes a lot of the burden as well and the depression that might occur seeing the saddest stories on a daily basis. Allah says in the Qur’ān, “Indeed the believers are brothers.” (49:10). Sometimes there is a misconception that you have to have a huge office or a large masjid in order to get work done. But honestly, all you need is a dedicated group of people with the right intention and things take off from there. 

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: 'If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.' - Al-Tirmidhi,Click To Tweet

3. Made me thankful

This made me thankful for whatever I had, serving the less fortunate reminded me daily to turn to Allah and ask for forgiveness and so be thankful. This kind of service also puts things into perspective. What is truly important in life? I stepped further and further away from a materialistic lifestyle and allowed me to value things that can’t be valued by money. I learned this from the poorest of people in my community, who strived daily for their family regardless of their situation — parents who did what they can to shield their children from their harsh reality. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1376. They had a quality about them, despite their poverty status. They were always some of the kindest people I have known. 

dardir

4. People want to do Good

I learned that people want to do good; they want to improve their community and society. I began to see the impact on a communal level, people were being more engaged. We were the only Muslim group helping indiscriminately in our county. Even the people we helped, gave back by volunteering at our food pantry. We have schools where small kids (under adult supervision) partake in preparing meals for the needy, local masajids, churches, and temples, high school kids from public schools, and college organizations (Muslim and nonMuslim) visit frequently from several cities in neighboring counties, cities, and states. The good spreads a lot easier and faster than evil. People want to do good, we just need more opportunities for them to join in. United we can rock this world.

“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.” Malcolm X. Click To Tweet

5. Smiles

Smiles, I have seen the wealthiest smiles on the poorest people. Despite being on the brink of homelessness, when I saw them they had the best smile on their faces. This wasn’t all of them, but then I would smile back and that changed the environment we were in. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Charity is prescribed for each descendant of Adam every day the sun rises.” He was then asked: “From what do we give charity every day?” The Prophet answered: “The doors of goodness are many…enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms–all of these are charity prescribed for you.” He also said: “Your smile for your brother is charity.” – Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 98. Smiles are truly universal.

6. It’s ok to cry

It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah said: “A man who weeps for fear of Allah will not enter Hell until the milk goes back into the udder, and dust produced (when fighting) for the sake of Allah and the smoke of Hell will never coexist.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi and al-Nasaa’i. There are situations you see that hit you hard; they fill your heart with emotions, but that never swayed my concrete belief in Allah’s wisdom. Crying before Allah, not just out of fear, but to be thankful for His Mercy upon you is a relief.

7. Learning to say no

It was one of the hardest things I had to do, a lot (if not all) of the requests I received for help were extremely reasonable. I do not think anyone asked for anything outrageous. Our organization started becoming the go-to organization in our area for help, but we are one organization, with limited resources, and a few times we were restricted on when or how we could help. This is where learning to say no became a learned skill. Wedid do our best to follow up with a plan or an alternative resource.

8. It is part of raising a family and finding yourself

How so? Being involved in your community doesn’t take away from raising your family, it is part of it. I can’t watch and do nothing and expect my children to be heroes. I have to lead by example. Helping others is good for my family’s health. Many people living in our country are consumed with their busy lives. Running out the door, getting to work, driving the kids to their after school activities, spending weekends taking care of their families, etc. So people have a fear of investing hours in doing this type of work. But in reality, this work puts more blessings in your time.

One may feel they are taking time away from their family, but in reality, when one comes back home, they find more peace in their home then they left it with. By helping others, I improve the health and culture of my community, this in turn positively impacts my family.

I enjoy being a softie with my family and friends. I am a tall bearded man, and that image suited me better. I am not sure what made me softer, having kids or serving the poor. Either way, it was rewarding and defined my role and purpose in my community.

I learned that you make your own situation. You can be a spectator, or you can get in there and do the best you can to help. It gave me an opportunity to be a role model for my own children, to show them the benefit of doing good and helping when you can.

It came with a lot of humility. Soon after starting I realized that all I am is a facilitator, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is giving an opportunity of a lifetime to do this work, a line of work very little people get to engage in regularly. My advice to my readers, if you can serve the poor do so immediately before you get occupied or busy with life.

Helping others is good for my family’s health.Click To Tweet

9. Dawah through action

As I mentioned before I did spend time studying, and at one point developed one of the top dawah initiatives in the country (according to IERA). But the reality is, helping the less fortunate is my type of dawah, people started to associate our food pantry and helping others with Islam. As an organization with one of the most diverse groups of volunteers, people from various religious backgrounds found the environment comfortable and hospitable. I began working with people I never would have worked before if I had stuck to traditional dawah, studying, or masjid involvement, all of which are critical. This became a symbol of Islam in our community, and while serving, we became those that embodied the Quran and Sunnah. For a lot of those we served, we were the first Muslims they encountered, and Alhamdulilah for the team we have. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) also says in the Quran: “So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you” (3:159). It is our actions that can turn people away or towards Islam.

10. Once you serve the needy, you do this for life

I wasn’t volunteering on occasion,— this was an unpaid job that was done regularly. I got requests and calls for emergencies daily at times. It took up hours upon hours every week. As a charity worker, I developed experience and insight in this field. I learned that this was one of the best ways I could serve Allah [swt. “They ask you (O Muhammad) what they should spend in charity. Say: ‘Whatever you spend with a good heart, give it to parents, relatives, orphans, the helpless, and travelers in need. Whatever good you do, God is aware of it.'” – The Holy Quran, 2:215

I believe the work I do with the countless people that do the same is the best work that can be done in our current political climate and globalization. My views and thoughts have evolved over the years seeing situations develop to what they are today. This gave me a comprehensive outlook on our needs as a society and allowed me to venture off and meet people top in their fields like in social activism, environmentalism, labor, etc.

I want to end with three sectors in society that Muslims prosper in and three that Muslims can improve on. We strive on individual education (noncommunal), distributing and organizing charity, and more recently being politically engaged. What we need to improve on is our environmental awareness, working with and understanding unions and labor rights, and organizing anti-war movements. 

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#Islam

Swallowing Your Pride For A Moment Is Harder Than Praying All Night | Imam Omar Suleiman

Iblees was no ordinary worshipper. He worshipped Allah for thousands of years with thousands of prayers. He ascended the ranks until he accompanied the angels with his noteworthy worship. Performing good deeds was no issue for him. He thanked Allah with his prayers, and Allah rewarded him with a lofty station in Paradise. But when Adam was created and given the station that he was, suddenly Iblees was overcome by pride. He couldn’t bear to see this new creation occupy the place that he did. And as he was commanded to prostrate to him, his pride would overcome him and doom him for eternity. Alas, swallowing his pride for one prostration of respect to Adam was more difficult to him than thousands of prostrations of worship to Allah.

In that is a cautionary lesson for us especially in moments of intense worship. When we exert ourselves in worship, we eventually start to enjoy it and seek peace in it. But sometimes we become deluded by that worship. We may define our religiosity exclusively in accordance with it, become self-righteous as a result of it, and abuse people we deem lesser in the name of it. The worst case scenario of this is what the Prophet (peace be upon him) said about one who comes on the day of judgment with all of their prayers, fasting, and charity only to have it all taken away because of an abusive tongue.

But what makes Iblees’s struggle so relevant to ours? The point of worship is to humble you to your Creator and set your affairs right with His creation in accordance with that humility. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that whoever has an atom’s worth of pride in their heart would not enter paradise. The most obvious manifestation of that pride is rejecting the truth and belittling someone else. But other subtle manifestations of that pride include the refusal to leave off argumentation, abandon grudges, and humble yourself to the creation in pursuit of the pleasure of the Creator.

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Yaqeen

Hence a person would rather spend several Ramadan’s observing the last 10 nights in intense prayer seeking forgiveness for their sins from Allah, rather then humble themselves for a moment to one of Allah’s servants by seeking forgiveness for their transgressions against him, even if they too have a claim.

Jumah is our weekly Eid, and Monday’s and Thursday’s are our weekly semblances of Ramadan as the Prophet (s) used to fast them since our deeds are presented to Allah on those days. He said about them, “The doors of Heaven are opened every Monday and Thursday, and Allah pardons in these days every individual servant who is not a polytheist, except those who have enmity between them; Allah Says: ‘Delay them until they reconcile with each other”

In Ramadan, the doors of Heaven are opened throughout the month and the deeds ascend to Allah. But imagine if every day as your fasting, Quran recitation, etc. is presented to Allah this month, He responds to the angels to delay your pardon until you reconcile with your brother. Ramadan is the best opportunity to write that email or text message to that lost family member or friend and say “it’s not worth it to lose Allah’s forgiveness over this” and “IM SORRY.”

Compare these two statements:

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “He who boycotts his brother for more than three days and dies during this period will be from the people of hellfire.”

He also said:

“I guarantee a house in the suburbs of Paradise for one who leaves arguments even if he is right.”

Swallowing your pride is bitter, while prayer is sweet. Your ego is more precious to you than your sleep. But above all, Allah’s pleasure is more precious than it all.

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