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Islam’s Antidote to Extremism

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Islam addresses the topic of extremism much more than many people think. What’s interesting about the Islamic approach is that it solves the problem at its roots instead of attempting to solve the symptoms. My motivation for writing this piece is two fold. First is to counter what has become a fact in the minds of many non-Muslims that Islam is synonymous to extremism. Second and more importantly is to address some relatively recent examples of Muslim extremism and the fact that this goes against the very essence of Islam.

The Qurʾān does use the word Ghulow which can fairly be translated as extremism. In an address to the People of the Book, the Jews and Christians, it says:

“Oh People of the Book, don’t go extreme in your religion, and do not say about God except the Truth. Indeed, the Messiah Jesus the son of Mary is the Messenger of God, His Word revealed on Mary, and a spirit sent from Him” [Surah An-Nisa’ : 171]

In essence, the Qurʾān is saying that people can go into extremes in how they show love to a person. A good example is Prophet Jesus – peace be upon him. While one group went extreme in opposing Jesus, another went extreme in loving Jesus to a point that they worshiped Jesus and claimed that he was God or the Son of God.

Now this type of extremism is not limited to the People of the Book. This is why Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) warned his followers of the same. In a Hadith narrated by Bukhari he said,

“Do not exaggerate in praising me like the Christians have exaggerated in praising Jesus the son of Mary. Rather, say that I’m the Servant of God and His Messenger”

That doesn’t mean the Muslims later always followed this injunction. You still find examples of such exaggeration in Madeeh or Muslim poetry praising Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). For example, in a rather famous poem called al-Burda praising Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), the author claims:

So it’s from your generosity this life and the Hereafter

And from your knowledge, is the knowledge of the Tablet and the Pen

According to Islam, the [Preserved] Tablet has a record of what’s going to happen since the creation of this World till the Day of Judgment. Now, to claim that Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) has all this knowledge is not only an exaggeration but it goes directly against the Qurʾān that clearly states that only God knows the unseen or the future. The Prophet’s knowledge on the other hand is limited to what God revealed to him.

The Islamic history is not void of figures which Muslims went extreme over either. A prime example, an example that has quite a resemblance to the Jesus example in fact, is the person of Ali bin Abi Talib raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), the cousin of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). As one group fought Ali, mostly due to political reasons, another group started showing extreme love towards Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and his family, till believing that they are infallible or even divine. Although the group that showed enmity or hatred towards Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) has very much dissolved in history, there are still sects nowadays that show the extreme and undue love towards Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) such as the Shia and the Alawite.

In fact, going extreme in showing love or hatred towards anyone is the foundation of the many examples of extremism we see out there. Going extreme in loving a leader or a religious figure leads to blind following and to the conviction that they can never err. Again, Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) warned us against such tendencies. He said in a Hadith found in Tirmidhi:

“Love the one you love a little easy, for he could turn into someone you hate one day. And hate the one you hate a little easy, for he could one day turn into someone you love”

In other words, we always need to take it easy when it comes to matters of love and hate. Don’t be blinded by either love or hatred.

I keep marveling at this invaluable advice that we Muslims can’t seem to follow these days. We Muslims have turned into a very emotional people. Even when we claim to be defending the honor of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), we violate the very advice of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). When our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is insulted, we see people bursting into the streets full of anger. They burn flags, they destroy property, and they scream their lungs out. Is this really how the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) would like us to show our love towards him? Or is it better shown through following his example? No doubt, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) had emotions. But his emotions were controlled by intellect and reason, and were controlled by the Qurʾān and wisdom.

When we love our sheikhs (religious leaders) we love them too much. But when we turn against them, we hate them to death. We don’t have to go too far in history for this one. Only a few days ago, as I was watching the news coming out of Egypt, something appalling struck me. As painful as it was watching the undoing of democracy through a military coup led by General Sisi, what was more painful to me was how Muslim scholars and their students were treating each other. No one was spared, not even uniting figures like Sheikh Abu Ishaaq al-Huwaini or Muhammad Hassan, who were attacked for their so-called neutral position towards recent events. Of course, the main motivation for the stance of those two figures is to avoid bloodshed at any cost. But I guess no-one values that any more! The worst I saw, however, was on Facebook where one follower of Sheikh Salah Hazim Abu Ismail (who was wrongly jailed) was making du’a against Sheikh Yasir Burhami (the spiritual leader of Hizb an-Noor) to burn in Hellfire forever!! What a deranged mentality!

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us to be moderate even when it came to simple rituals. In casting rocks during Hajj symbolizing the casting of the devil out of our lives, he advised that we use small rocks. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in fact made using big rocks a sign of extremism. Nowadays we see some Muslims throwing even sandals during Hajj thinking they’re getting at the devil. Perhaps, they don’t realize that it might be the devil playing them since they’re not following the way of their Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Another example is how we scream “Allah Akbar” for any occasion. One time the Companions were going over a hill and they started shouting “Allah Akbar”. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded them to calm down and he said, “take it easy on yourselves! For sure the One you’re calling is neither deaf nor absent. Indeed the One you’re calling is all-hearing and very near”.

We Muslims nowadays need to take it easy, but with intellect and reason!

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Born and raised in Lebanon, Hlayhel began attending study circles at his local mosque when he was ten. He came to the United States at 17 and studied electrical engineering at the University of Houston. At its MSA, he met Sh Yasir Qadhi and worked together to raise Islamic awareness on campus. Hlayhel studied traditional sciences of Aqeedah (Islamic creed), Fiqh (Islamic law) and Nahw (Arabic grammar) under Sh Waleed Basyouni and Sh Waleed Idriss Meneese among others. After settling in Phoenix AZ, he worked tirelessly, in the capacity of a board member then a chairman, to revive the then dead AZ chapter of CAIR in order to face the growing Islamophobia in that state and to address the resulting civil right violations. Today, he's considered the second founder of a strong CAIR-AZ. In addition, Hlayhel is a part-time imam at the Islamic Center of the Northeast Valley in Phoenix, husband and father of four. His current topics of interest include positive Islam, youth coaching, and countering Islamophobia.



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    August 3, 2013 at 2:30 AM

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    JazzakAllahu khair. I like these types of articles-ayat, hadith, and nice, concise analysis.

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    August 3, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    As-salaamu ‘alaykum

    Sub’haanallah, very well written article, bringing up a good point. Due to the title I thought it was going to address the issue of terrorism, but instead was about the broader topic of extremism, using Islam as a cloak. In that sense it’s a better reminder, as it covers terrorism, and the more common form of extremism practiced by ‘normal’ Muslims everyday.

    I especially loved the part where the author says “We Muslims have turned into a very emotional people.” I cannot think of a better way to describe certain groups of Muslims. If we’re not apathetic, non-practicing, ‘Ramadan/Hajj/Eid-only Muslims’, then we’re extremist, emotionally unstable, lack of impulse control, and downright angry, aggressive Muslims. Where has the balance gone, where has the moderation gone, where has the middle-path gone, where has the Sunnah of Allah’s Rasul (s.a.w.s.) gone indeed…

    I don’t think I can over-emphasise enough how important this topic is today. In an age of increasing Islamic awareness, by the Muslims and non-Muslims, it is important that in the process of increasing our spirituality, ‘reviving’ our Islamic identity, we ensure we do not fall into the dangers of extremism, portraying Islam in an incorrect light, taking ourselves away from what Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) has come with, away from the Qur’an and Sunnah, and earning the displeasure of Allah (s.w.t.)

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    August 3, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    “Although the group that showed enmity or hatred towards Ali raḍyAllāhu ‘anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) has very much dissolved in history, there are still sects nowadays that show the extreme and undue love towards Ali raḍyAllāhu ‘anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) such as the Shia and the Alawite.”

    I find this a little disturbing – are you Mr Hlayhel saying Shia/alawites are inherently extremeists and in effect there beliefs invalid? We should be very careful cause statements like that can be seen as secterian.
    Most of the extremism today are perpetrated by sunni extremists

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      August 6, 2013 at 10:34 AM

      I think the word extremism in this article can easily be misconstrued. Because it doesn’t directly talk about the extremism we are made to think of ourselves through reading the western views of our belief. Rather, it deals with the most dangerous one in my view: The one that many of us can easily FALL by behaving similarly to our forefathers, how they (our Christian forefathers) FELL by over glorifying our leaders to whom was given the gift of wisdom by Allah. For ‘their’ fathers (our forefathers’ fathers) I am certain this wasn’t an issue. They could glorify without making them equal to Allah. But the problem was they couldn’t see their children (us, today) who were misinterpreting this love/the over glorification. I liken it to the game Chinese whispers.

      I am supposed to be from the Alawite sect. I respect my lineage whoever that might be. As children my mother had not disclosed what sect we are from to us because of the threats from Sunni sects. I must remind you all that Sunni’s are supposedly Muslims as I thought I was one too. Even if she explained the situation then, I wouldn’t have understood, as I cannot understand it even now.

      Talking to one young Alawite who had been brought up openly as one, she feels Quran is been stolen and been changed by Sunnis so she feels she shouldn’t read it. (Sounds familiar? Christian history might be repeted?). She also feels Ali was like God Himself on this earth. (Sounds familiar?) When I confronted her with certain points, she said something like a Jehova’s witness person once said to me; “well this is what we believe.”

      Sunnis are no different. Hearing some of the songs written makes me cringe when I hear how Muhammed (sav) is glorified and how much he is loved and even some of the prayer books demands us to love him more than anyone in this world. I can’t find such love to give. I insist to give all my love to my Allah (swt).

      • Avatar

        Anas Hlayhel

        August 6, 2013 at 9:25 PM

        I applaud your courage writing openly about your beliefs. I think if we are too sensitive to discuss those issues, we will never resolve any matter. As you pointed out, I have brought several examples of Sunni extremism and I have much more. Likewise, it’s not sectarian to say that considering Ali either a deity or infallible is extremism. How else would we correct extremism if we don’t call it out. Claiming that Ali is infallible is almost equivalent to saying that he was a Prophet since this is a unique attribute to Prophets.

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          Syed Haider

          December 18, 2013 at 10:25 PM

          I apologise but these things must be said, I am sorry if I cause offence.

          You’re conflating way too many issue to be fair to anyone and you have no real authority to call anyone extremist. If people have a 1400 years of theology to back them up and they’ve been discussing something for that long – you are in no position judge whether is extreme or not. I respect your talent and your learning , but compared to the great Shiekhs of either Sunnah or Shia you’re quite young and do not have the standing.

          I’m Shia but I’m not going to debate the theology with you, as I’m even less qualified to make a judgement. But I’ll be very clear that no serious Shia scholar places Ali above the Prophet Muhammad. Infalibility is a very complex concept and need to be understood in Arabic with the appropriate theological exploration to be tossed around so simply. We love the Prophet because Allah loves the Prophet as totally Habibullah, we love Ali because the Prophet loved him totally. That’s the order of hierarchy God first, the Prophet next.

          If anything you can accuse us of loving the Prophet too much, in that we do not accept that he was “just a man” and will not contemplate he was “like you and me”. He was the ultimate example of the human condition in submission to God. The complete creation, Rahmat to the world. Yes, he was man but he was what the perfect man should be. We will never reach that level of submission.

          I would rather have my love for the Prophet called as “extreme” than treat him like some lawyer who turned up with a set of dry laws about how distribute zakat and conduct commerce. Which is what people seem to have don to him recently. We have become a people fixated on legalism and process – rather than realising that Allah gives us this great faith because of his love for us and his ultimate creation epitomized in the person of Rasoolillah.

          With the Druze, their theology is very very different from Ithan=asheri and Ismaili. You should know enough not to conflate the two together – even if the other brother does so. You are in danger of letting the current state of politics in the levant cloud your judgement in terms of analysing the precepts of these separate sects.

          W’salaam and may Allah reward your efforts in fostering understanding.

          • Avatar

            Modest Muslim

            February 24, 2014 at 4:03 AM

            Yes, dude, Shia Muslims respect Ali just the way God and His Prophet directed us.

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    August 5, 2013 at 6:47 AM

    I totally agree with this, Islam doesn’t allow extremism, if someone is extremist, then its his personal thoughts & actions & we cannot label the whole nation. Respect & Prayers are sent from Pakistan. Stay Blessed.

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    August 5, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    Note the Ayah from Surat Al Nisa quoted is not – 71 but 171 {4:171} ( Please correct it.

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    Mohammad Abdul

    August 5, 2013 at 7:45 PM

    Thank you for the article, it has raised some important points and issues, but i do think that we must separate some issues out. The Prophet (saw) did discuss extremism within Islam but i think this is different from the extremism which Muslims are being accused of by particular governments and commentators. The extremism which governments and commentators are accusing Muslims about is because of political agendas and not necessarily true, certain governments and commentators accuse Muslims of extremism to demonise them and Islam an i think these contexts need to be kept in mind while discussing extremism.

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      Anas Hlayhel

      August 6, 2013 at 9:13 PM

      You are correct .. in fact this was somewhat intended. What’s happened is that western media has dictated what the definition of extremism should be. But, if Islam has a different or more comprehensive definition, we should revive that definition.

      Having said that, Islam does address the extremism you have in mind as well. Inshaa’Allah I’ll try to write a second installment on this topic with this in mind

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    Fatima Ariadne

    August 6, 2013 at 8:30 AM

    Thank you for this article. But now in this time the definition of extremism itself has shifted. In the time of Prophet, extremism is exaggeration in practicing religions, but now those who are against the Western imperialism in Muslim lands are deemed “extremists” by mainstream Western media.

    Agree too that now Muslims are greatly divided because of extreme polarity of love/hatred. It’s sad really when a muslim treat his brothers and sisters with vile namecallings, “may you burn in hell” or such just because they don’t share the same view.

    • Avatar

      Anas Hlayhel

      August 6, 2013 at 9:18 PM

      You are right but I don’t think we can blame all our extremism on Western propaganda. I think some of it is true. We are killing each other, we are excommunicating each other, don’t you think?

      BTW, what I wrote about could lead into the modern version of extremism. I don’t we can or should separate the two. Extreme love/hate or extreme practice can be one of the root-cause of modern extremism and Allah knows best

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    Irfan Rashid

    August 11, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    You presented the case of Ali(R.A) as an example of extremism, please clarify that it was the kharijites who were on the wrong side, Muawiyah(R.A) actually did not start the war. It was actually the rebels(mostly allied with Ali(R.A)) that did so and created misunderstandings.

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    August 17, 2013 at 7:58 PM

    Alhamdulillah. Thank you for writing this.

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    April 23, 2014 at 4:55 PM

    Assalaamu alaikum
    I read a fatwa in by shaykh bin baz which says non muslims(other than people of book) can be forced to embrace islam & the verse of no compulsion & all verses of peace are abrogated. It says we should fight polytheists till they become muslim! Is this fatwa correct and how should we refute it? The following fatwa claims that its abrogated, is it correct? the fatwa’s link::

    • Avatar

      Fitzgerald Mistral

      March 27, 2016 at 6:47 PM

      Bin Baaz is not a reliable scholar. He’s in the pocket of the BinSaud mafia, and by extension the controllers of the BinSaud mafia. He issues fatwas that are in line with the politics of the desert thugs currently in power in Occupied Arabia.

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He Catches Me When I Fall: A Journey To Tawakkul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no sin in grief Click To Tweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Day I Die | Imam Omar Suleiman

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

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

A wise man once said to me,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Spirituality Of Gratitude

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

What Does Shukr Mean?

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

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

Gratitude in Knowing That Allah Loves Us

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

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

Blessings Even in Hardship

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

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

Allah knows best.

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

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

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

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

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

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