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Quran and Sunnah

The Myth of the Naturally Good Muslim

On a dark and stormy night in the dark cave of man’s mind, Shaitaan once lit a campfire and settled down to tell a story- a myth, in fact.  It went like this:

Once upon a time Islam was revealed to a Prophet of near God-like perfection.  He shared it with his friends, who were all superhumans lacking any embarrassing or inconvenient biological urges.   They implemented it with inspirational dedication, passion, and flawlessness.  Since then it has been passed down through the generations, and only a privileged few are able to embody the wisdom, piety, and errorless rejection of sin that its holiness demands. By Shaitaan, the End.

Shaitaan is possibly millions of years old and pretty damned (literally!) sneaky.  His goal, at the end of the day, is to get as many of us into hell with him as possible, and one of the ways that he does this is by using this myth of effortless, perfect implementation of Islam by effortless, perfect Muslims.

The idea is simple.  Shaitaan says:

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 Do it all perfectly or just stop, because you’re embarrassing yourself.

 In fact, a person like you has no chance of getting into Jannah. 

 In fact, just kill yourself now.  At least it will be over sooner.

His message is so insidious that people all over the world actually give up trying to be better Muslims because they fall short of their own expectations for how effortless and impeccable their Islam should be.  They try hard to implement Islam- they go through the motions even when their hearts aren’t in it, and because they find themselves being pulled in two directions, they assume they’re doing something hypocritical or wrong and they stop altogether.

Shaitaan wants you to believe that there are naturally religious people, and then there’s everybody else.  And the reason why you are having a hard time isn’t because spirituality is one of man’s greatest struggles, it’s because you aren’t one of the beautiful people.  So the sister who yearns for the wind in her hair gives up hijab because she feels like she’s living a lie. The brother who has a beard shaves it because he feels he doesn’t deserve one until he can quit marijuana.  The convert  won’t pray until they’re sure they’ve got all the words right.  All of these are success stories for the myth of the Naturally Good Muslim.  They are Muslims who, instead of realising that struggle was a sign of progress, saw difficulty as a sign of defeat.

Some people do fall for it.  Others- like Imam Sufyaan ath-Thawri- saw through this cheap trick and insisted on praying at night for twenty years even though he wasn’t “feeling it.”

NightJihadImagine if, one day he had just thrown his hands up and said “You know what? I’m not cut out for this, I’ve been praying for twenty years and I’ve yet to find this whole peace and contentment with my salah.  What’s the point? I’m never going to get it right…”

Shaitaan is trying to convince you that because your Islam is less than perfect, you’re a failure who should give up already. In reality, everyone is a sinner and the Jihad of the nafs is a constant struggle for everyone.  The best people aren’t those who sin, but those whose sins cause them to try even harder and draw even closer to Allah next time.  For some people, major sins can be major set-backs.  For others, they are life-changing events that mark the end of heedlessness and the beginning of seeking Allah’s pleasure.

Every Muslim is a combination of successes and failures when it comes to their religious practice.  So as a sinner, you’re in great company!  Everyone, everywhere, accumulates sin on a daily basis, and if everyone like you took Shaitaan’s advice and just killed themselves, we’d all be dead.

O My servants, you sin by night and by day, and I forgive all sins, so seek forgiveness of Me and I shall forgive you. 

-Excerpt from Hadith Qudsi, full hadith here.

Shaitaan wants you to think that the passing grade for this test is 100% and failure is everything else.  But if you believe him, then you’re buying into an insult to Allah.   How? Allah is The Most Merciful, Most Forgiving- Most Loving, Most Gracious, Most Kind- He alone has attained perfection and as The All-Knowing, He knows how and what we’re made of, so by what crazy logic would He mercilessly penalize us for not reaching a standard that He best knows that we can never attain?

Shaitaan might add at this point: well, ok, Allah is The Best.  But you can’t think that you’re getting into Jannah with *that* old sack of a soul.  Have you seen the state of your nafs?  Brother, it is bad.

If you think you’re too bad for Allah to forgive, then you’re grossly underestimating Allah’s capacity for forgiveness.  You’re implying that your teeny-tiny mortal capacity to sin is even greater than Allah’s capacity to forgive.  Please, don’t insult God. They don’t call Him Al-Ghaffar, The Continuously Forgiving, for nothing.

On the authority of Anas (may Allah be pleased with him), who said:I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) say: Allah the Almighty said:

O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind.

O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you.

O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great at it.

Related by at-Tirmidhi (also by Ahmad ibn Hanbal). Its chain of authorities is sound.

Whenever I read that Hadith, it puts a certain picture in my head, and in my primitive photoshop imagination, it looks like this:

Mountain of Sins

Mountain of Sins= Mountain of Rewards for Repentance.

Repentance for a mountain of sins is equal to a mountain of blessings.  So, the greater the sin you’ve committed, the greater the reward for seeking forgiveness.  Knowing that this is how Allah works helps us appreciate how truly generous Allah is in His forgiveness- instead of seeking forgiveness on a level -10 sin and only being returned to a clean slate with 0, we seek forgiveness on a level -10 and in response are given a +10 in its place.  AllahuAkbar.

Shaitaan wants you to forget that Allah is the Greatest- even in His capacity to forgive those who sincerely ask it.  He wants you to think that you only have two choices; perfection or failure, and since perfection ain’t gonna happen, what option does Shaitaan leave you? Killing yourself and getting it over with already.  But, there’s a third option that Shaitaan doesn’t want you to remember:

Between perfection and failure lies your only real choice:  Fight.

Fight shaitaan’s insistence upon your failure, fight your own soul’s inclination to sin, fight your own weaknesses and no matter how hard you’ve been hit or how long you’ve been laying on the ground- get up and keep fighting.  Fight shaitaan as hard as he’s fighting you, as long as he’s fighting you, and don’t stop fighting him until the Angel of Death draws your soul gently away from your body and into the safety of your grave, spacious and fragrant with the winds of Jannah, where you can finally relax a little, reassured and kept company by your good deeds until Allah raises you on Qiyama.

Just because your heart is aching right now, and you’re locked in the seemingly endless cycle of sin, regret, and self-reproach doesn’t mean you’re a lost cause.  It’s actually good news, and here’s why.  The human heart (or soul, or nafs) has three settings according to the Qur’an.

The Lowest, Default Setting: Nafs al-Amarra bis Su’

This cockatiel is obviously set on default.

This cockatiel is obviously set on default.

The lowest level is the Nafs al-Amarra bis Su’ or the soul that is inclined to evil, and a majority of humankind lives in this guiltless, no-regrets, live for the moment mode. This seems to be the default setting for most pop music as well.

And I do not free myself from blame. Indeed the human self is inclined to evil, except when my Lord bestows His Mercy (upon whom He wills). Indeed my Lord is Forgiving, Merciful.” (Surah Yusuf: 53)

Knowing that it’s possible to have varying levels of soundness to one’s heart/nafs- Muslims don’t rely on the soundness of their heart to provide a compass to morality.  It is not your heart’s job to point you towards what’s right, it only points you towards what it wants.  So in a sense, you don’t follow your heart as much as your heart follows you.

Have you seen the one who takes as god his own desire? Then would you be responsible for him? Surah Al Furqan: 43

The Medium Setting: Nafs al-Lawwama

“I do call to witness the Resurrection Day. And I do call to witness the self-reproaching Soul.” Surah Al-Qiyamah: 1-2

This is a soul that battles with its desires, that commits sin and then reproaches itself and tries harder next time.  It has awareness of its shortcomings, but despite its imperfections, it hasn’t given up. Your guilt and self-reproach about the shortcomings in your Islamic practice are evidence of having made progress on your spiritual journey.  The bad news is though, is that Shaitaan is trying to knock you down a notch so that instead of trying harder, you just stop trying altogether- whether because you’ve killed yourself, or because you’ve decided that you’re a hypocrite and you’ve written yourself off as ever being a “good” Muslim.

Alhamdulillah though, Allah has good news for the Reproaching Soul.

“And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous- Who spend [in the cause of Allah ] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good; And those who, when they commit an immorality or wrong themselves [by transgression], remember Allah and seek forgiveness for their sins – and who can forgive sins except Allah ? – and [who] do not persist in what they have done while they know.” Qur’an 3:133-135

The very fact that you are aware of your shortcomings, even pained by them- is reassuring proof that you have a Nafs al-Lawwama.  If you didn’t care, didn’t want to care, and didn’t even want to hear about why you should try to give a care- well, that would be worse.  Sure, you’d probably be happier and more “at peace with your self,” as many modern proponents of self-worship would say, but you’d actually be wallowing in heedlessness.

The Highest setting: Nafs al-Mutma’inna

“O you satisfied soul. Return to your Lord pleased with yourself and pleasing to Him. Enter among My servants. And enter My paradise.” (Surah Al-Fajr: 27-30)

You might not be here yet, but that’s ok.  You can still strive to accomplish this.  The Contented Soul, or the Satisfied Soul, is the highest setting for your heart.  It is a place of happiness, peace, acceptance, and sweetness of faith.  It takes hard work to get there, and Allah has good tidings for the Contented Soul but get this- not even the Contented Soul is a perfect soul.  It’s just a very happy one, and very close to Allah. I’d write more about it, but I’ve yet to get there myself. :)

So, in a nutshell:

  • No one is perfect except Allah, so don’t hate yourself for being an imperfect Muslim.
  • You’re not the only one accumulating sin every day that you’re alive, so don’t let Shaitaan pick on you.
  • The difference between a good Muslim and a bad Muslim is not that one sins and one doesn’t- it’s that one seeks forgiveness & tries harder, and one doesn’t.
  • Shaitaan’s trying to trick you into thinking you’re a failure so that you give up.
  • Believing him is the only way to lose.
  • Fighting him is the only way to win.

There’s one more thing that we need to remind you of:

No Soul

On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear.

That means that whatever situation you’re in -despite how hard it seem and how badly Shaitaan is trying to bring you down- you can overcome this.  You can succeed.  You can find a way- either out or through- that is pleasing to Allah and perhaps even terribly frustrating to Shaitaan.

There is nothing coming that you can’t handle, not because you’re great, but because Allah is the Greatest.  He knows what you’re capable of, and He promised your challenges would never exceed your strengths.  Allah sets us up for growth, not failure. And Allah never, ever breaks His promises.

Shaitaan, on the other hand, has been lying to you. He’s saying that anyone who’s struggling with deen shouldn’t even bother to try, whereas Allah gives double the normal reward to those who have difficulty reading Qu’ran.  The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him said “The magnitude of the reward goes along with the magnitude of the affliction.” (Tirmidhi)

The more you’re afflicted now- whether it be with stress, illness, financial difficulties, emotional turmoil or self reproach- the more you will be rewarded when you succeed, and the fact that you’re struggling right now isn’t a sign that you should just give up and kill yourself, it’s an invitation from Allah to come closer to Him.

Will you accept?

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Zeba Khan is the Director of Development for MuslimMatters.org and the producer of the newly launched Muslimmatters Podcast, as well as a writer, speaker, and disability awareness advocate. In addition to having a child with autism, she herself lives with Ehlers-Danlos Sydrome, Dysautonomia, Mast-Cell Activation Disorder, and a random assortment of acronyms that collectively translate to chronic illness and progressive disability.

49 Comments

49 Comments

  1. Pingback: afraid | it is written

    • Avatar

      Mariam Mohsin

      August 11, 2014 at 12:48 PM

      Masha ALLAH, just amazing…So we all feel the same all the time I guess. :) I had been discussing this with my sister just yesterday, its like you read my mind.
      JazakALLAH khair :)

  2. Avatar

    BK

    December 4, 2013 at 12:53 PM

    Jazakillah khair sister !

    This is a great nafs-motivation read . When i start feeling low,I would write similar notes and read it to myself for motivation , but this is the best note mashAllah . Henceforth , when I am upset with my failures, I shall try to remember to read this article.

    Wassalam. May Allah help us reach the nafs al mutmainnah status

    • Avatar

      BK

      December 4, 2013 at 12:54 PM

      InshAllah…….

  3. Avatar

    ahmed

    December 4, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    I thought I was the only one who went through the described internal struggle. When I would wonder if any of the righteous predecessors went through struggles like mine, I’ve gotten the thought: of course not, they were “righteous.”

    This article really hit home for me. I’m sure Shaytaan must have tried to come in the way of you writing the article in one way or another. JazakAllah Khair for writing this article, sister Abez.

  4. Avatar

    Said Hasan

    December 4, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    JazakaAllah khayr sister for your kind beneficial wise advise.
    I love to be excellent and reach the level of Ihsaan.
    An obssession for perfection = failure
    A desire for excellence = success

  5. Avatar

    Amatullah

    December 4, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    BarakAllahu feek ukhty! MashaAllah this is amazing! Great reminder and eye opener! May Allah make us among the nafsul mutmainnah! Amiiin!
    This is a goox insight into Shaaytan’s plot and better ammunition for us! <3

  6. Avatar

    Manna

    December 4, 2013 at 9:54 PM

    JazakAllahu khyr. BarakAllahu feek. Excellent reminder!

  7. Avatar

    nina arief

    December 4, 2013 at 10:02 PM

    Lovely read !! and very inspirational..

  8. Avatar

    Debra

    December 4, 2013 at 11:22 PM

    Assalamu alaikum.

    Barak Allahu Feek. Nice post.

    I was looking for a way to email you personally, but gave up.
    I have a small suggestion. Please review this statement:

    But, there’s a third option that Shaitaan doesn’t want you to forget about it:
    Between perfection and failure lies your only real choice: Fight.

    I think you might have changed your mind on the wording at some point while editing and lost the meaning you intended. I think you mean that Shaitaan WANTS you to forget to fight. So, maybe you meant to write,

    But, there’s a third option that Shaitaan doesn’t want you to REMEMBER:
    Between perfection and failure lies your only real choice: Fight.

    or

    But, there’s a third option that ALLAH doesn’t want you to forget about it:
    Between perfection and failure lies your only real choice: Fight.

    or something along those lines.

    If i am wrong, please forgive me my errors and clarify for me my misunderstanding.

    Fi amanillah

    • Avatar

      Abez

      December 4, 2013 at 11:27 PM

      AssalamuAlaikum Debra- well spotted, you are 100% correct! Thank you for pointing that out, we’ll make the changes asap. :)

  9. Avatar

    mohibullah

    December 4, 2013 at 11:59 PM

    Was amazing ,lovely read and very inspiring .Jazakallah o khair

  10. Avatar

    Ismail Kayode Olaoye

    December 5, 2013 at 4:27 AM

    Jazakumullahu khairan Sister,

    May Allah answer all your prayers. He (SWT) owns the neurons and all other cells in our bodies (including your son’s); May He take control of these and heal your son bi qudratihi…As for your mum, may Allah grant her His Hidayya….Keep this up. May Allah preserve you and us.

  11. Avatar

    Ayisha

    December 5, 2013 at 5:00 AM

    Thank you for this inspiring post. It really came at a time I really needed to read such a post to remind me not to despair and always go back to Allah to ask for forgiveness anytime.

  12. Avatar

    Muhammad

    December 5, 2013 at 9:05 AM

    Salaaam, do you have a facebook page?

    • Avatar

      Abez

      December 5, 2013 at 9:13 AM

      Walaikum Assalam brother- sorry, no public FB page but I do have a blog?

  13. Avatar

    saniya

    December 5, 2013 at 10:21 AM

    jazakillah kharun sister for such beautiful and intriguing reminder.

  14. Avatar

    Kayvee

    December 5, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    Mashallah this was a great post.

    My halaqa teacher used to always give the examples of Abu Sufyan and Umar (ra).

    Both of those men were at one point a staunch enemy to Allah, His Messenger and Islam.

    They even wanted to kill the Prophet as one point.

    And yet, Allah guided them out of their mercy.

    Alhamdulilah none of us are in that state where we want to harm the prophet

    And If Allah can guide people like Abu Sufyan and Umar who originally were haters of Islam, then there is hope for us too.

    And today we consider Umar and Abu Sufyan as the Companions of the Prophet.

    The underlying message here is to Never lose hope in the mercy of Allah

    Allah says that His Mercy is greater than His Wrath.

  15. Avatar

    The Perfumed Veil

    December 5, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    This article really helped me. When I have trouble committing to prayer, I remember that we don’t always have to “feel” it and just keep going. Being a perfectionist gets in the way, but reading things like these lets me see everyone is going through the same struggle.

  16. Avatar

    Kayvee

    December 5, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    Dear Sister,

    I heard of this along time ago. I hope it is beneficial

    http://www.autismtreatmentcenter.org/contents/about_son-rise/history_of_the_son-rise_program.php

  17. Avatar

    Yasmeen

    December 5, 2013 at 1:13 PM

    JazakAllah Khayr! I feel like this often but have never actually realized that this was a trick of the shaitaan, or that this was even happening to me. For example, I would tell myself to commit to praying all the sunnah and nafil prayers everyday. However, when it would come time I would think “I didn’t even feel the sweetness of the fardh prayers. I’m not even doing those right and I wanna add more?” Then I wouldn’t. Or if I would set my alarm to pray tahajjud and would dread it going off at night I would think praying tahajjud wouldn’t mean anything because I’m dreading doing it and I have to force myself to.

    So I would like to thank you for bringing this to my attention and having me realize that this is what is happening and that its fine to feel these feelings. And most importantly, to not have these feelings drive me away from doing any good deeds. The quote from Imam Sufyan ath-Thawri really hit home for me.

    • Avatar

      Abez

      December 5, 2013 at 1:45 PM

      Wow- sister- your example was far better than the few I put in the article. SubhanAllah, Shaitaan can be such a tricky jerk!

  18. Avatar

    Zaid Syed

    December 5, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    Very good article ma sha Allah. An imaan booster. May Allah reward you with Nafs Al mutmainnah!

  19. Avatar

    Javaid

    December 5, 2013 at 3:41 PM

    JazakAllah Khair sister,

    Great narrative. Brought tears to my eyes. May Allah swt give you the reward. May He give complete health to your boy and guide your mother to Islam.

  20. Avatar

    soad

    December 5, 2013 at 4:33 PM

    Jazak allahu Khayre sis, this is something I really needed to read. Subhanallah, such an eye-opening article that speaks directly to the soul. Shaytan’s tricks are something i’m sure we can all relate to. Please write more insightful articles of this nature.

  21. Avatar

    Aminah

    December 5, 2013 at 6:53 PM

    Alhamdulillah for sharing this article. This answered lot of my worries. May Allah always be with you and your family. Aminn.

  22. Avatar

    Animashaun Oluwasegun

    December 5, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    May Allah forgive us and guide us all.

  23. Avatar

    Mahnoor

    December 5, 2013 at 9:43 PM

    I always have the thought of being a perfectionist get in the way of doing what I want to do. This article reminded me that all Shaitaan wants me to do is give up, and will end up turning me away from Allah. The Prophet (P.B.U.H.) had never gave up, which is why I shouldn’t either. Jazak Allah Khayr sister! May Allah bless you and your family for as long as you live! Ameen!

  24. Avatar

    kayvee

    December 6, 2013 at 10:52 AM

  25. Avatar

    Aasia

    December 6, 2013 at 10:56 PM

    Jazaki Allahu khairan Ukhtee for this much needed reminder. Truly we must never give up on attaining what Allah wants us to attain.

  26. Pingback: The Myth of the Naturally Good Muslim | The Imperfect Muslim

  27. Avatar

    Abubakr Jr.

    December 8, 2013 at 3:37 AM

    Salaaam,

    Great article, kinda long, but good material.

    SOMEONE MAKE AN INFOGRAPHIC WITH THE THREE NAFSES (Nufoos?) PLZ – I’d do it but I have finals to study for :D

    Also reminded me of that poem from Musky Misc ” Nafs Alamara… Gonna Do what I wanna”

  28. Avatar

    Abubakr Jr.

    December 8, 2013 at 3:43 AM

    Also, this line was priceless, mA. “…guiltless, no-regrets, live for the moment mode. This seems to be the default setting for most pop music as well.” I imagined Demetri Martin narrating this, lol, not sure why.

    Holla at me admins #doubleposting #slickerthanoliveoil #come-at-me-bro…ther

  29. Avatar

    salma

    December 8, 2013 at 8:01 PM

    What a beautiful article, I needed this, its so crazy because it is such a simple formula, however it further reflects the shaytaan’s goal to make us forget! and our nature to forget also, may Allah reward the person/people who wrote this, and those who posted and shared it attain the highest status, and the highest Jannah, the best in the life and the next. Ameen

  30. Avatar

    reema

    December 9, 2013 at 2:17 AM

    Alhamdulillaah…awesome…just awesome. Love you sister Abez for the sake of Allaah. You are too special *hugs*

  31. Avatar

    Dini

    December 10, 2013 at 4:23 AM

    Masha Allah, thank you very much for this wonderful reminder.

    You article brought me in tears. May Allah SWT blesses you, aameen yaa Rabb.

    Wassalamu alaykum..

  32. Pingback: Talha Muhammad Tayyab (talhatayyab) | Pearltrees

  33. Avatar

    Student129

    December 10, 2013 at 8:04 PM

    Salaam and Thank You so much dear sister for a wonderful and informative article! May Allah Bless You for your good works inshaAllah.
    One thing my husband told me that I won’t ever forget, is to teach myself to catch the shaytan. By catching shaytan he meant to be one step ahead and to be constantly aware of my own thoughts, emotions and in turn actions. By being in the constant present, always aware, we can catch the shaytan when he is trying to fool us. Eventually, if you catch the shaytan enough, it will try more sophisticated tactics to diverge you from the Right Way, but we have to keep striving, inshaAllah.

  34. Avatar

    silent_observer

    December 10, 2013 at 10:57 PM

    Very well expressed..JazakAllah Khair for the article and reminder- ‘Fighting him is the only way to win.’ its a continuous battle with him,so many tricks he uses to deviate our minds, constantly pouring thoughts and not letting us become still…Surely would like to watch him burn in hell for troubling us humans so much!

  35. Avatar

    atiya

    December 15, 2013 at 1:31 PM

    Jazakillah khair sister for this amazing article !!! Needed this reminder ”No one is perfect except Allāh, so don’t hate yourself for being an imperfect Muslim.”

  36. Avatar

    Naushad Shafkat

    December 15, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    Have only finished reading a quarter of this and my eyes filled up. Not only is this well written it has substance. Really inspiring and full of hope for us all -hope which is in very short supply if not actually extinct. Going to share it with everyone I know for this is just BRILLIANT!

  37. Avatar

    nousheenkhan

    December 16, 2013 at 12:04 AM

    jazakAllah very very nice article. iman booster may Allah SWT gives u reward and grant all of us nafs e mutmainah,and success us in fighting with shaitan ameen

  38. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    December 16, 2013 at 8:46 AM

    asa,

    love your story and just wanted to add: I am a convert and I will never forget learning to pray. I had to hold a book in front of me for the times I would forget what to say or do in the beginning. I was told not to do it, but I did it anyway and kept at it. My prayer still needs work, but al hamdulillah, I have not given up yet.

  39. Avatar

    Aisha

    December 22, 2013 at 8:36 AM

    MashAllah I REALLY enjoyed reading this article alhamdulillah. And I’d never heard of that quote by Imam Sufyaan! جزاك الله خيرا sisters for the article :)

  40. Avatar

    Malik Junaid

    October 2, 2014 at 5:28 AM

    Jazakallahu khaira … Wallahi i feel so much peace n tranquility in heart after reading this article. This article fills me with lots of hope n enthuaism to fight harder now insha allaah… May Allaah bless you

  41. Avatar

    madiha asif

    March 24, 2015 at 3:37 PM

    Jazak Allahu khairan katheera . I feel so peaceful in my heart after this reading .. someone ask me ques …and I got ans here . . Thanks again.

  42. Avatar

    Andre

    August 7, 2016 at 5:20 PM

    Thank you so, so, SO much for this ! I come back here and read this often… I struggle with obsessive compulsiveness which, among other things, leads me to believe there’s no hope I can be a good Muslim, there’s no hope, et cetera despite trying my best to do what (I hope!) Allah wants me to.. this is an enormous source of comfort for me when I’m struggling with these difficulties.

  43. Avatar

    Sameera

    September 15, 2017 at 12:37 AM

    This saved my life. Allah swt will bless you so much for this. Inshallah we can meet in jannah, ill be working best I can now. Thank you so much ❤❤❤❤

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#Islam

The Prophet’s Golden Rule: Ethics of Reciprocity in Islam

Prophetic Love

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

The ethics of reciprocity, known as the “golden rule,” is any moral dictum that encourages people to treat others the way they would like to be treated. Although the term was originally coined by Anglican ministers such as George Boraston, the principle can be found in the sacred texts of the world’s great religions, as well as the writings of secular philosophers. Due to its ubiquity in many contexts, it has become an important focal point for interfaith dialogue and the development of international human rights norms.

The rule often appears as a summarizing principle of good conduct, the supreme moral principle of right action between human beings. Though not always understood literally, as it is often qualified by competing moral imperatives, it generally functions as an intuitive method of moral reasoning. Despite the different formulations, wordings, and contexts in which the rule appears across religions and traditions, Jeffery Wattles argues that there is enough continuity in meaning and application to justify describing the ethics of reciprocity as the golden rule.

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Some philosophers have scoffed at the rule, noting that a crude, literal adherence to the outward phrasing can lead to moral absurdities. Harry J. Gensler reponds to this criticism by formulating the rule in these terms: “Treat others only as you consent to being treated in the same situation.” Context matters in the process of moral reasoning; what the rule demands is not rudimentary application as much as it is ethical consistency vis-à-vis human beings, as the first principle from which the morality of an action is analyzed. It is the locus of one’s conscience, a guide for everyday behavior.

Moreover, application of the rule ought to be informed by a balanced collection of principles and values that manifest the rule in action. For this reason, writers throughout history have used the rule “as a hub around which to gather great themes.”  Notions of justice, love, compassion, and other virtues have all been related to the rule by various religious traditions. Accounting for all of these considerations and responding to common objections, both Wattles and Gensler have convincingly defended the golden rule from its detractors and have presented it as a viable principle for a modern moral philosophy.

Islam, as a world religion with over one billion followers, has an important role to play in facilitating dialogue and cooperation with other groups in the modern world. The golden rule in Islamic traditions has been explicitly invoked by numerous Muslim leaders and organizations towards this end. Recently, hundreds of Muslim scholars and leaders have signed the A Common Word interfaith letter, asserting that the Abrahamic faiths share “the twin golden commandments of the paramount importance of loving God and loving one’s neighbor.” The initiative grew into several publications and conferences, including the important and high-profile Marrakesh Declaration in early 2016, which cited A Common Word in its text as evidence of the compatibility between Islamic tradition and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Golden Rule in Islam

The Qur’ān ascribes a number of “beautiful names” (asmā’ al-ḥusnā) to God conveying virtues that Muslims, by implication, should practice, “The most excellent names belong to Him.”  Among the relevant names of God are Al-Raḥmān (the Merciful), Al-Wadūd (the Loving), Al-Ghafūr (the Forgiving), Al-Ra’ūf (the Kind), Al-‘Adl (the Just), Al-Karīm (the Generous), and so on. Embedded in this description of God are many of the moral themes traditionally associated with the golden rule.

The distinguished Muslim scholar and mystic, Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazzālī (d.1111), locates the golden rule within God’s loving nature as expressed in the verses, “My Lord is merciful and most loving,”  and again, “He is the Most Forgiving, the Most Loving.”  He authored a treatise on the names of God in Islamic tradition, discussing their theological meanings and his understanding of the proper way in which Muslims should enact those names. God, in his view, benefits all creatures without desiring any advantage or benefit in return:

Al-Wadūd – The Loving-kind – is one who wishes all creatures well and accordingly favors them and praises them. In fact, love and mercy are only intended for the benefit and advantage of those who receive mercy or are loved; they do not find their cause in the sensitivities or natural inclination of the Loving-kind One. For another’s benefit is the heart and soul of mercy and love and that is how the case of God – may He be praised and exalted – is to be conceived: absent those features which human experience associates with mercy and love, yet which do not contribute to the benefit they bring.

In other words, God should be understood as entirely and selflessly benevolent towards His creatures, without any need or desire for repayment. God does not benefit from the worship of His servants, nor does He take pleasure in punishing the wicked. Rather, God only prescribes worship and righteous deeds for the benefit of believers. By reflecting this divine nature in action, believers should unconditionally want for others the same as they want for themselves:

One is loving-kind among God’s servants who desires for God’s creatures whatever he desires for himself; and whoever prefers them to himself is even higher than that. Like one of them who said, ‘I would like to be a bridge over the fire [of hell] so that creatures might pass over me and not be harmed by it.’ The perfection of that virtue occurs when not even anger, hatred, and the harm he might receive can keep him from altruism and goodness.

Allah love

Commentators of the Qur’ān often found the rule implied in several verses. When ‘righteousness’ (taqwá) is first mentioned in Qur’ān (when reading cover-to-cover), classical exegetes typically define it by appealing to traditional wisdom-sayings. Abū Isḥāq al-Tha’labī (d. 1035) narrates several exegetical traditions to define and explicate the meaning of righteousness. The early authorities Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 778) and Al-Fudayl ibn ‘Iyāḍ (d. 803) say that the righteous man (al-muttaqī) is “he who loves for people what he loves for himself.” Al-Junayd ibn Muḥammad (d. 910), on the other hand, disagreed with them and took it a step further, “The righteous man is not he who loves for people what he loves for himself. Rather, the righteous man is only he who loves for people greater than he loves for himself.” In Al-Junayd’s telling, true righteousness is not simply the equality implied in the golden rule, but rather a definite preference to benefit others that amounts to altruism (al-īthar).

In contrast, the Qur’ān severely rebukes cheaters in weights and measurements, “Woe to those who give short measure, who demand of other people full measure for themselves, but give less than they should when it is they who weigh or measure for others!” That is, they demand full payment for themselves while they give short-change to others. The golden rule was understood by Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1209) to be the clear implication of this passage, as he reports the saying of the early authority Qatādah, “Fulfil the measure, O son of Adam, as you would love it fulfilled for yourself, and be just as you would love justice for yourself.”

Most of the explicit golden rule statements in Islamic tradition are found in the Ḥadīth corpus, the sayings and deeds of Prophet Muḥammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). According to Anas ibn Mālik (d. 712), the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

None of you has faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.Click To Tweet

This is the most prominent golden rule statement in the Ḥadīth corpus. The two leading Sunni Ḥadīth scholars, Muhammad ibn Ismā‘īl al-Bukhārī (d. 870) and Muslim ibn al-Ḥajjāj (d. 875), both placed this tradition in their “book of faith,” near the introductions of their respective collections. The implication is that the lesson in the tradition is essential to true faith itself, not simply a recommended or value-added practice.

Commentators sometimes mention that “all good manners” are derived from this tradition and three others, “Whoever believes in God and the Last Day, let him speak goodness or be silent,” and, “It is from a man’s excellence in Islam that he leaves what does not concern him,” and, “Do not be angry.” Like many religious writers and philosophers, Muslim scholars took note of the summarizing function of the golden rule as a broad principle for good conduct.

A key question for the commentators was the meaning of ‘brother’ in the tradition of Anas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). It is generally agreed upon that ‘brother’ refers to Muslims, but several commentators expanded the meaning to include non-Muslims or unbelievers. Prolific author and Shāfi’ī jurist, Muḥyī al-Dīn al-Nawawī (d. 1277), explained the tradition this way:

Firstly, that [tradition] is interpreted as general brotherhood, such that it includes the unbeliever and the Muslim. Thus, he loves for his brother – the unbeliever – what he loves for himself of embracing Islam, as he would love for his brother Muslim to always remain upon Islam. For this reason, to pray for guidance for the unbeliever is recommended… The meaning of ‘love’ is to intend good and benefit, hence, the meaning is religious love and not human love.

Al-Nawawī’s concept of “religious love” (al-maḥabbat al-dīnīyah) parallels the distinction Christian writers made between agape (ἀγάπη) and eros (ἔρως). The highest form of love, according to him, is that which is purely benevolent for God’s sake, in opposition to sinful passions, caprice, or ordinary types of love.

Although inclusion of non-Muslims in a broader brotherhood of humanity was not universally accepted, proponents of this interpretation found a strong case for their position in all of the permutations of the golden rule in the Ḥadīth corpus. Even from the traditions of Anas alone, inclusive language was used by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) often enough to justify a universal golden rule:

None of you will find the sweetness of faith until he loves a person only for the sake of God.Click To Tweet

None of you has faith until he loves for the people what he loves for himself, and only until he loves a person for the sake of God, the Great and Almighty.

The servant does not reach the reality of faith until he loves for the people what he loves for himself of the good.

In particular, a variant in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim reads, “…until he loves for his brother – or he said his neighbour – what he loves for himself.”  In this version, Anas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) is unsure if the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said ‘brother’ or ‘neighbor.’ If neighbors are included, the term would certainly apply to non-Muslims as well.

Muḥammad ibn Ismā’īl al-Ṣanʻānī (d. 1768), a Yemeni reformer in the Salafi tradition, includes in his legal commentary a chapter on “the rights of the neighbor,” in which he employs some of the broadest language of the late classical to early modern period. Based upon the word “neighbor” in the version of Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, he concludes:

The narration of the neighbor is general for the Muslim, the unbeliever, and the sinner, the friend and the enemy, the relative and the foreigner, the near neighbour and the far neighbour. Whoever acquires in this regard the obligatory attributes of loving good for him, he is at the highest of levels.

Perhaps most significant is Al-Ṣanʻānī’s inclusion of enemies (al-‘aduw) in the list of people covered by the golden rule. In this case, the rule has at least some kind of application to every single human being.

The servant does not reach the reality of faith until he loves for the people what he loves for himself of the good.Click To Tweet

‘Abd Allāh ibn ʿAmr (d. 685), who is said to have been one of the first to write down the statements of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), narrates his version of the golden rule, “Whoever would love to be delivered from Hell and admitted into Paradise, let him meet his end believing in God and the Last Day, and let him treat people as he would love to be treated.” The rule here is a means of salvation and is expressed in terms of good behavior, rather than religious love.

Abū Hurayrah (d. 679), the most prolific narrator of Ḥadīth, also shares what he heard from the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), “Love for people what you love for yourself, you will be a believer. Be good to your neighbour, you will be a Muslim.” Like the tradition of Anas, the rule is associated with both true faith and good treatment of neighbors.

Sometimes Ḥadīth traditions do not explicitly state the golden rule, but it is drawn out by the commentators. Tamīm al-Dārī (d. 661) reports that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said three times, “Religion is sincerity.” The companions said, “To whom?” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) replied, “To God, to His book, to His messenger, and to the leader of the Muslims and their commoners.” Ibn Daqīq al-’Īd (d. 1302) explains at length the meaning of sincerity or good will (naṣīḥah) in each context. As it relates to common people, he writes that sincerity is “to take care of them with beautiful preaching, to abandon ill will and envy for them, and to love for them what he loves for himself of good and to hate for them what he hates for himself of evil.”

Al-Nuʿmān ibn Bashīr (d. 684) relates the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) parable of the faith community as a single body, “You see the believers in their mercy, affection, and compassion for one another as if they were a body. When a limb aches, the rest of the body responds with sleeplessness and fever.”  A variant of this tradition reads, “The Muslims are like a single man. If the eye is afflicted, the whole body is afflicted. If the head is afflicted, the whole body is afflicted.”  The idea is that Muslims should have empathy for one another by sharing the burden of each other’s pain, as stated in another tradition, “The believer feels pain for the people of faith, just as the body feels pain in its head.”  Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥalīmī (d. 1012) inferred the golden rule from this parable:

They should be like that, as one hand would not love but what the other loves, and one eye or one leg or one ear would not love but what the other loves. Likewise, he should not love for his Muslim brother but what he loves for himself.

Later commentators would develop this idea further. Ibn Daqīq draws upon the parable of the faith community in his commentary on the tradition of Anas, writing, “Some scholars said in this tradition is the understanding that the believer is with another believer like a single soul. Thus, he should love for him what he loves for himself, as if they were a single soul.”  Ibn Ḥajar al-Haythamī (d. 1567) makes the same connection, saying that to love one another means “that he will be with him as one soul (al-nafs al-waḥīdah).”

Yazīd ibn Asad, another one of the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) companions, recalls that he said to him, “O Yazīd ibn Asad! Love for people what you love for yourself!” In a variant of this tradition, the Prophet (ṣ) asks him, “Do you love Paradise?” Yazīd says yes, so the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) replies, “Then love for your brother what you love for yourself.”  In yet another variant, Yazīd’s grandson quotes the sermon of Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) upon the pulpit, “Do not treat people but in the way you would love to be treated by them.”

Failure to live up to the golden rule could result in dreadful consequences in the Hereafter, especially for Imams and authorities. Ma’qil ibn Yasār, while on his deathbed, recounted what he learned from the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), “No one is appointed over the affairs of the Muslims and then he does not strive for them or show them good will but that he will never enter Paradise with them.” In another wording, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)said, “He does not protect them as he would protect himself and his family but that Allah will cast him into the fire of Hell.” In this regard, a Muslim leader must necessarily treat their followers as they would treat themselves and their own families, if such a terrible fate is to be avoided.

Abū Umāmah al-Bāhilī (d. 705) tells the story of a young man who came to the Prophet (ṣ) to ask for permission to indulge in adulterous intercourse. The Prophet engages him in an imaginative role-reversal, asking a series of Socratic questions and appealing to the young man’s conscience to convince him against it, “Would you like that for your mother? Would you like that for your sister?” The young man, naturally, expresses his disapproval had someone else committed adultery with the women of his household. The logical conclusion, as stated by the Prophet, is to consider the golden rule, “Then hate what God has hated, and love for your brother what you love for yourself.”

Hatred for the sake of God is a fine line to walk, between righteous indignation and unjustified malice. At least some of the earliest Muslims adopted the familiar refrain: love the sinner, hate the sin. According to Mu’ādh ibn Anas, this is how the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) defined hatred for the sake of God, “The best faith is to love for the sake of God, to hate for the sake of God, and to work your tongue in the remembrance of God.” Mu’ādh said, “How is it done, O Messenger of God?” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “That you love for people what you love for yourself, hate for them what you hate for yourself, and to speak goodness or be silent.” The noble form of hatred is simply the inverse of the golden rule; if one sees another sinning, hatred should be for the evil deed because it harms its doer. At the same time, one loves good for the sinner by hoping for their repentance and divine forgiveness.

“Do not hate each other, do not envy each other, do not turn away from each other, but rather be servants of God as brothers.”Click To Tweet

Ibrāhīm Ad’ham (d. 782) remembers during his travels that he overheard a pair of Muslim ascetics discussing the love of God amongst themselves. Intrigued, he interjects himself into the conversation to ask, “How can anyone have compassion for people who contradict their Beloved [God]?”

The unnamed ascetic turns to him, saying:

They abhor their sinful deeds and have compassion for them, [pray] that by preaching to them they might leave their deeds. They feel pity that their bodies might be burned in hellfire. The believer is not truly a believer until he is pleased for people to have what is pleasing to himself.

The commentator ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Rajab (d. 1393) corroborates this interpretation, which he ascribes to the righteous predecessors (al-salaf al-ṣāliḥ). Hence, it not correct for a Muslim to carry malicious hatred in the sense of desiring to harm others. A believer ought to love for sinners to repent, to be guided, and to be forgiven. In this regard, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) admonished us, “Do not hate each other, do not envy each other, do not turn away from each other, but rather be servants of God as brothers.”

Conclusion

The irreversible march of globalization is producing an urgent need for people of different backgrounds and beliefs to find common ground. As the world grows closer together, with it grows the imperative to recognize each other as members of one human family. The ethics of reciprocity – the golden rule – is the best conceptual vehicle to advance this necessary intercultural dialogue and cooperation.

Islam is one of the world’s great religions, with over one billion followers living on every continent and speaking hundreds of languages. If peace on earth is to be actualized, Islam and Muslims must be a partner in it. Muslims need an entry point for understanding non-Muslims, just as non-Muslims need a way to begin understanding Muslims. Islam’s golden rule can provide a bridge between these worlds.

It is not reasonable to expect that the golden rule by itself can solve all the conflicts of the modern world, but what it can do is activate the innate conscience of human beings in a process of collective, intercultural moral reasoning. By accepting at the outset the premise of human equality and the obligation of moral consistency, we can work together to develop the mutual understanding and respect needed for people of different beliefs to live together in harmony. The golden rule itself is not the answer per se, rather it is the right question at the start; it is the first step in a journey we must take together, the first conversation in a dialogue we must have.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.

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Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1

Alhamdulillah, it’s a great blessing of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that He has given us both the opportunity and ability to come here tonight to study and explore the meanings of His words in Surah Maryam. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accept this effort from all of us and place it on our scale of good deeds.

Alhamdulillah, in our last series we were able to complete the tafsir of Surah Al-Kahf. InshAllah, in this next series, we’ll be exploring the meanings, lessons, and reminders of Surah Maryam. Tafsīr is an extremely noble and virtuous discipline. The reason why it’s so noble and virtuous is that it’s the study of the divine speech of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). As mentioned in a hadith the superiority of the speech of Allah over all other speech is like the superiority of Allah over all of His creation. There’s nothing more beneficial and virtuous than studying the Quran. And by doing so we’ll be counted amongst the best of people. As the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “the best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.”

All of us need to build a stronger relationship with the Quran. The Quran is full of wisdom and guidance in every single verse and word. It’s our responsibility to seek that guidance, understand it, contextualize it and more importantly act upon it. Tafsīr is such a unique science that it brings together all of the other Islamic sciences. While exploring a Surah a person comes across discussions regarding Arabic grammar and morphology, rhetoric, Ahādīth, fiqh, sīrah and all those studies that are known as the Islamic Sciences. One scholar described the Quran as an ocean that has no shore, بحر لا ساحل له. The more we study the Qur’ān the stronger our relationship with it will become. We’ll become more and more attached to it and will be drawn into its beauty and wonder. The deeper a person gets into tafsir and studying the more engaged and interested they become. They also recognize how little they truly know. It develops humility. That’s the nature of true knowledge. The more we learn the more we recognize we don’t know. May Allah ﷻ allow us all to be sincere and committed students of the Qur’ān.

Surah Maryam

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Surah Maryam is the 19th surah in the Quran. It is a relatively long Makki surah made up of 98 verses. Some commentators mention that it’s the 44th Surah to be revealed, after Surah Al-Fatir and before Surah Taha. It has been given the name Maryam because Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions the story of Maryam (as) and her family and how she gave birth to Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) miraculously at the beginning of the Surah. Just like other Makkan surahs, it deals with the most fundamental aspects of our faith. It talks about the existence and oneness of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), prophethood, and resurrection and recompense.

The Surah is made up of a series of unique stories filled with guidance and lessons that are meant as reminders. One of the main themes of this Surah is mercy… It has been mentioned over 16 times in this Surah. We’ll find the words of grace, compassion and their synonyms frequently mentioned throughout the sūrah, together with Allah’s attributes of beneficence and mercy. We can say that one of the objectives of the Surah is to establish and affirm the attribute of mercy for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). That’s why all of the stories mentioned also have to do with Allah’s mercy.

Another objective of the Surah is to remind us of our relationship with Allah ﷻ; the concept of Al-‘Ubūdiyyah. These are the two major themes or ideas of this Surah; the concept of Rahmah and the concept of ‘Ubūdiyyah (Mercy and Servitude).

The Surah can be divided into 8 sections:

1) Verses 1-15: The surah starts with the story of Zakariyya (as) and how he was given the gift of a child at a very old age, which was something strange and out of the ordinary.

2) Verses 16-40: mention the story of Maryam and the miraculous birth of Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) without a father and how her community responded to her.

3) Verses 41-50: The surah then briefly mentions one part of the story of Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), specifically the conversation he had with his father regarding the worship of idols. The surah then briefly mentions a series of other Prophets.

4) Verses 51-58: Mention Musa and Haroon 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), Ismail 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Idrees 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) to show that the essence of the message of all Prophets was the same

5) Verses 59-65: compare and contrast the previous generations with the current ones in terms of belief and actions.

6) Verses 66-72: Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) addresses the Mushrikoon rejecting their false claims regarding life after death and judgment.

7) Verses 73-87: continue to address the Mushrikoon and warn them regarding their attitude towards belief in Allah and His messengers. They also mention the great difference between the resurrection of the believer and the resurrection of the non-believer.

8) Verses 88-98: contain a severe warning to those who claim that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has taken a child. They also express that Allah is pleased with the believers and mentions that one of the objectives of the Quran is to give glad tidings to the believers and to warn the non-believers.

Story

From various narrations, we learn that this surah was revealed near the end of the fourth year of Prophethood. This was an extremely difficult time for Muslims. The Quraysh were frustrated with their inability to stop the message of Islam from spreading so they became ruthless. They resorted to any method of torture that they could think of; beating, starving and harassing. When the persecution became so severe that it was difficult for the Muslims to bear it, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) gave permission to migrate to Abyssinia. “For in it dwells a king in whose presence no one is harmed.” 10 men and 4 women migrated in the 5th year of Prophethood secretly. After a few months, a larger group of 83 men and 18 women migrated as well. This migration added more fuel to the fire. It enraged the people of Quraysh.

Umm Salamah [rahna]narrated, “When we stopped to reside in the land of Abyssinia we lived alongside the best of neighbors An-Najashi. We practiced our religion safely, worshipped Allah without harm and didn’t hear anything we disliked. When news of our situation reached the Quraysh they started to plot against us…” They decided to send two delegates to persuade An-Najashi to send the Companions back by offering him and his ministers’ gifts. The plan was to go to each minister with gifts and turn them against the Muslims. So they went to each minister with gifts and said, “Verily, foolish youth from amongst us have come to the country of your king; they have abandoned the religion of their people and have not embraced your religion. Rather they have come with a new religion that neither of us knows. The noblemen of their people, from their fathers and uncles, have sent us to the king asking that he send them back. So when we speak to the king regarding their situation advise him to surrender them to us and to not speak to them…” The minister agreed.

Then they went to the king, offered him gifts and said the same thing… The ministers tried to convince him as well. An-Najashi became angry with them and said, “No, by Allah, I will not surrender them to these two and I don’t fear the plotting of a people who have become my neighbors, have settled down in my country, and have chosen me (to grant them refuge) over every other person. I will not do so until I summon them and speak to them. If they are as these two say I will give them up, but if they aren’t then I will protect them from these two and continue to be a good neighbor to them as long as they are good neighbors to me.”

al-Najāshī then summoned the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions. When his messenger informed the Prophet’s Companions that they were to appear before the king, they gathered together to discuss what they should do. One of them asked, “What will you say to the name (al-Najāshī) when you go to him?” They all agreed on what they would say to him, “By Allah, we will say what our Prophet ﷺ taught us and commanded us with, regardless of the consequences.” Meanwhile, al-Najāshī called for his priests, who gathered around him with their scrolls spread out before them. When the Muslims arrived al-Najāshī began by asking them, “What is this religion for which you have parted from your people? You have not entered into the fold of my religion, nor the religion of any person from these nations.”

Umm Salamah [rahna] narrated, “The Person among us who would speak to him was Jaʿfar ibn abī Ṭālib [rahnu] who then said, “O king, we were an ignorant people: we worshipped idols, we would eat from the flesh of dead animals, we would perform lewd acts, we would cut off family ties, and we would be bad neighbors; the strong among us would eat from the weak. We remained upon that state until Allah sent us a Messenger, whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and chastity we already knew. He invited us to Allah – to believe in His oneness and to worship Him; to abandon all that we and our fathers worshipped besides Allah, in terms of stones and idols. He ﷺ commanded us to speak truthfully, to fulfill the trust, to join ties of family relations, to be good to our neighbors, and to refrain from forbidden deeds and from shedding blood. And he ﷺ forbade us from lewd acts, from uttering falsehood, from wrongfully eating the wealth of an orphan, from falsely accusing chaste women of wrongdoing. And he ﷺ ordered us to worship Allah alone and to not associate any partners with him in worship; and he ﷺ commanded us to pray, to give zakāh, and to fast.” He enumerated for al-Najāshī the teachings of Islam. He said, “And we believe him and have faith in him. We follow him in what he came with. And so we worship Allah alone, without associating any partners with Him in worship. We deem forbidden that which he has made forbidden for us, and we deem lawful that which he made permissible for us. Our people then transgressed against us and tortured us. The tried to force us to abandon our religion and to return from the worship of Allah to the worship of idols; they tried to make us deem lawful those abominable acts that we used to deem lawful. Then, when they subjugated us, wronged us, and treated us in an oppressive manner, standing between us and our religion, we came to your country, and we chose you over all other people. We desired to live alongside you, and we hoped that, with you, we would not be wronged, O king.” al-Najāshī said to Jaʿfar [rahnu], “Do you have any of that which he came with from Allah?” Jaʿfar [rahnu] said, “Yes”. “Then recite to me,” said al-Najāshī. Jaʿfar [rahnu] recited for him the beginning of Surah Maryam. By Allah, al-Najāshī began to cry, until his beard became wet with tears. And when his priests heard what Jaʿfar [rahnu] was reciting to them, they cried until their scrolls became wet. al-Najāshī then said, “By Allah, this and what Mūsa (as) came with come out of the same lantern. Then by Allah, I will never surrender them to you, and henceforward they will not be plotted against and tortured.”

Describing what happened after the aforementioned discussion between al-Najāshī and Jaʿfar [rahnu], Umm Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “When both ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ and ʿAbdullah ibn abī Rabīʿah left the presence of al-Najāshī, ʿAmr [rahnu] said, “By Allah tomorrow I will present to him information about them with which I will pull up by the roots their very lives.” Abdullah ibn Rabīʿah who was more sympathetic of the two towards us said, “Don’t do so, for they have certain rights of family relations, even if they have opposed us.” ʿAmr said, “By Allah, I will inform him that they claim that ʿĪsā ibn Maryam is a slave.”

He went to the king on the following day and said, “O king, verily, they have strong words to say about ʿĪsa (as). Call them here and ask them what they say about him.” al-Najāshī sent for them in order to ask them about ʿĪsa. Nothing similar to this befell us before. The group of Muslims gathered together and said to one another, “What will you say about ʿĪsa when he asks you about him?” They said, “By Allah, we will say about him that which Allah says and that which our Prophet ﷺ came with, regardless of the outcome.” When they entered into his presence, he said to them, “What do you say about ʿĪsa ibn Maryam?” Jaʿfar raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “We say about him that which our Prophet ﷺ came with – that he is the slave of Allah, His messenger, a spirit created by Him, and His word, which he bestowed on Maryam, the virgin, the baṭūl.”

al-Najāshī struck his hand on the ground and took from it a stick. He then said, “ʿĪsa ibn Maryam did not go beyond what you said even the distance of the stick.” When he said this, his ministers spoke out in anger, to which he responded, “What I said is true even if you speak out in anger, by Allah. (Turning to the Muslims, he said) Go, for you are safe in my land. Whoever curses you will be held responsible. And I would not love to have a reward of gold in return for me hurting a single man among you. (Speaking to his ministers he said) Return to these two (men) their gifts, since we have no need for them. For by Allah, Allah did not take from me bribe money when He returned to me my kingdom, so why should I take bribe money. The two left, defeated and humiliated; and returned to them were the things they came with. We then resided alongside al-Najāshī in a very good abode, with a very good neighbor.”

The response was simply amazing in its eloquence. A believer puts the needs of his soul before the needs of his body. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts the Surah by saying,

Verse 1: Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Sad.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts Surah Maryam with a series of five letters. There are many different saying or explanations regarding these five letters. The most correct opinion is that these are from the broken letters. There are 29 different Surahs in the Quran that start with the broken letters. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone knows the meanings of these letters. They are a secret from amongst the secrets of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), meaning that no one knows what they truly mean. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows their meanings so they are from amongst the Mutashaabihat, those verses whose meanings are hidden.

However, we do find that some great Companions, as well as their students, sometimes gave meanings to these words. For example, it’s said that it is in acronym and each letter represents one of the names of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Kaf is for Al-Kafi or Al-Kareem, “haa” is for Al-Hadi, “yaa” is from Hakeem or Raheem, “’ayn” is from Al-‘Aleem or Al-‘Adheem, and “saad” is from Al-Saadiq. Others said that it is one of the names of Allah and it’s actually Al-Ism Al-‘Atham or that it’s a name of the Quran. However, these narrations can’t be used as proof or to assign definitive meanings. They offer possibilities, but no one truly knows what they mean.

Now the question should come to our mind that why would Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) start of a Surah with words that no one understands?

1) To grab the attention of the listeners.

2) To remind us that no matter how much we know there’s always something that we don’t know.

3) These letters are the letters of the Arabic language and the Quran was revealed at a time that was the peak of eloquence of the language and it was their identity. The Quran was revealed challenging them spiritually and intellectually. The Arabs never heard these letters being used in such a majestic way.

4) To prove the inimitable nature of the Quran.

Allah then starts the story of Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was one of the Prophets sent to Bani Israel. He was the husband of Maryam’s paternal aunt. He was also one of the caretakers or custodians of Baitul Maqdis.

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Heart Soothers: Idrees Al Hashemi

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Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

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

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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