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History and Seerah

Seerah Series | Part 3: Why Study Seerah, and the Pre-Islamic Arabia | Dr. Yasir Qadhi

Lecture by Dr. Yasir Qadhi | Transcribed by Zohra

This is Part 3 of the sīrah series, click to read Part 1 and Part 2

[The following is the video and transcript of Shaykh Yasir Qadhi’s Lectures on sīrah. The transcript includes slight modifications for the sake of readability and clarity].

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Wa Ashadu An La Ila ha IllAllāh Wah dahu La Sharrika Lahu Wa Ashadu Anna Muhammadan Abduhu Warasuluhu – Amma Ba’ad

What is Sīrah?

We are in the process of doing introductory lectures before actually jumping into the life and times of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). These introductory lectures comprise of background information and motivation for why we should be studying the sīrah. So today inshā’Allāh ta‘āla we shall begin by discussing what exactly is the sīrah and why we should study it. We’ll try to mention something about pre-Islamic Arabia. So we’re going to set the stage and continue next week and the week after that, for the coming of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

Before we begin with the birth of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), we need to describe the world in his time. So we’re going to begin by doing that today and continue for the next week or two. We begin by describing the word sīrah. What does the word sīrah mean? The word sīrah comes from the Arabic word/verb: Saara Yaseeru/Sairan, which means to traverse or to journey. The verb sīrah actually comes from the verb ‘to travel’ and the reason why it is called the sīrah of a person is because it means the biography of a person you are travelling his journey, you are walking in his path following his footsteps. So when we study the life and times of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), it is as if we are following in his footsteps, as if we are travelling in his journey. That is why the biography of a person is called the sīrah.

Even though the Arabs would call the sīrah the biography of any person, as soon as the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) came, the Muslim scholars exclusively used it for the biography of the best human being. And so no scholar says sīrah except that he means – the biography of, the life and times of our Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Now in order to understand the sīrah of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), you don’t begin with his birth, you must begin with the world at that time; that is why every single book of sīrah from the classical books, up until the modern ones, have the introductory sections. And we’re going to begin with that today after we summarize some of the benefits of studying the sīrah.

Why study sīrah?

Why study the sīrah? Why spend our time coming here to understand the sīrah of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)?

The benefits are numerous. First and foremost, Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has commanded us to know this man. This is an obligation that Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has put upon us. We have to know this person. There are over 50 verses in the Qurʾān that command us to take the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) as an example.

Benefits of studying the Sīrah

Perfect role model

Of them: Laqad kaana lakum fee Rasulillahi uswatun hasanatun liman kaana yarju Allāha wal yauma wal Akhera wathakara wAllāhah katheeran.

Laqad kaana lakum – Indeed there is for you – fee Rasulillah – in the messenger of Allāh – uswatun hasanatun – an exemplary manner, a perfect conduct – uswa – means something you follow – hasana – means a perfect – So you have in the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), the perfect example to follow. Therefore, the study of the life and times of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), is the study of somebody we need to follow.

The amazing thing is that no matter what angle you look at the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), you will benefit from that. So one angle we look at is in terms of religion, in terms of how we worship Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).  We look at it in terms of manners and morals, of mercy and tenderness. Also we look at the sīrah in terms of leadership. What did the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) do as a leader? We look at the sīrah in terms of how he was as a father and a husband, and we will find benefit in this. No matter which angle you look at the life and times, the purpose of risalah, the purpose of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sending Prophets is that we have a living example to follow. Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us in the Qurʾān that if we wanted we could have sent angels.

There is a verse in the Qurʾān that says: “… but what would you have done had we sent angels? You would have rejected.

Why? Because these are not like us, how can we follow them? So of the perfection of Allāh’s wisdom is that He sends human beings in flesh and blood, people like ourselves, born of women, married, and having children; but then the difference is they are chosen by Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and they are made role models and examples.

Love for the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

Another blessing of studying the sīrah is that it is the number one way to increase our love of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). There is no other way as effective and powerful to increase our love for the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), than by studying his life and times. A sad fact about our ummah is that unfortunately we have neglected this study, and we have sidelined it and most of our children are completely ignorant of the sīrah of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). They don’t even know the names of his children, or the important dates such as when did he emigrate, how old was he when way came down. And yet they know so much of this dunya and it is embarrassing for us as parents that our children know so much of movie stars and actors and sports personalities; but they have no clue as to the reality of the person whom they should know about. So by studying the sīrah of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), our love for him increases, and conversely it demonstrates that our love is a two-way street. When you study, your love goes up; In order for your love to go up, you need to study, and if you truly love this man, you will study him; and a sign of loving someone is to want to know more about that person. This is human nature.

For example, when I’m travelling I’m calling up my children and asking them, “So what did you do today?” I mean what they’ve done doesn’t affect me. “What did you have for breakfast?” Who cares? It’s not going to affect me. But this is a sign of love, because when you love somebody you want to know everything about them. So, anybody who claims to love the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), but he doesn’t study his life and times, wallāhi, this is a sign that he does not love him. If you claim you love this man, and yet you don’t care to study him, you don’t care to read his biography, or  you don’t care to find out facts about him, what type of love is that? This is not the love that we understand as human beings; so to study the sīrah is a sign of love and through studying the sīrah, it increases our love, so it is a circle. The more we love, the more we study. The more we study, the more we love.

Understanding the Qurʾān

By understanding the sīrah, a third benefit is that it helps us to understand the Qurʾān. The Qurʾān is a very complex book, a very profound book, and it cannot be understood without context. For example – when you hear:

Wad duha Wal Laili Iza Saj’a. Ma Waddaka Rabbuka wama qala

 Your Lord has not abandoned you, nor has He shown you any harshness.

You will not understand this verse, until you understand the sīrah. When was it revealed? Why was it revealed? The context of the revelation was, when the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was facing persecution  he was wondering – why isn’t Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) helping me? Why isn’t the Nasr of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)coming? Why isn’t the wahy coming? Why isn’t the Qurʾān coming? For weeks no Qurʾān came down and the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) began thinking : “Maybe my Lord has abandoned me.”

This is early on.  This was in the first year of revelation, and Shayān is giving him bad thoughts, and so immediately Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) reveals:

Wad duha Wal Layli Idhza Saj’aa . Maa Wadda’aka Rabbuka wa ma qalaa.

It is a sign of optimism. What is duha? It is the breaking of the light. To this day amongst humanity, what does duha signify? A new day, light is coming. When there is light it is an optimistic sign.

And Allāh is telling him: Maa wadd’aka Rabbuka wa maa qalaa. Walal Aakhirartu Khairullaka minal ulaa.

Be patient. What’s going to happen is better than what is happening now.

It’s the beginning of the day. Dawn is coming, the sun is coming up. So until you understand this sīrah, the surah doesn’t make any sense to you. So, by studying the sīrah, the Qurʾān gains meaning, profundity. Without the sīrah, the Qurʾān has no context. Without context, you will never be able to truly appreciate the Qurʾān.

Raising our Īmān in hard times

Another benefit of studying the sīrah is, it raises our hopes and spirits and blesses us with optimism; especially in our times when we’re facing Islamophobia, and a little bit of persecution. WAllāhi to call it persecution is even embarrassing when we look at what the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and the aābah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) went through. We, in America, are not being persecuted in that sense. Nonetheless, times have changed in the last ten years. Now we are facing a little bit of the heat. We need a source of direction, a source of optimism.

By studying the sīrah, we can understand that the people before us suffered even more, and we compare our trials and tribulations to theirs. And in fact, a beautiful point here – the Qurʾān tells us that Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is telling the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) stories of the earlier prophets, i.e. sīrahs of the earlier prophets. Why?

Wa Qullanna kussu alayka min ‘abaada rusuli, ma nuthabbituhee fu aadak.

We’re going to recite to you stories of the previous prophets in order that your hearts attain affirmation Nuthabit Bihi Fuadak – we are going to make you feel more firm and optimistic.

So think about this – when our prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) heard the stories of the earlier prophets, what did it do to him? It gave him more optimism, gave him more īmān. How about us then? Don’t we deserve even more so for our īmān to go up and we study the life and times of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)? So the studying of the life and times of the prophets and of the previous generation’s prophets of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), it brings about an immediate benefit – Nuthabbitu Bihi Fua’da – to resolve, to affirm your īmān by studying it.

Prophet’s life as a miracle

Yet another benefit of studying the sīrah, which many of us don’t think about, is that the sīrah itself is a miracle of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). When somebody asks you, what are some of the miracles of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)? We start thinking – the splitting of the moon, the talking of the tree, etc., and we don’t think that in fact his whole life is a miracle from beginning to end. His whole life is an indication that he is a prophet of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Coming from where he came, with the education, or the lack of it, and yet coming forth with the message, the profundity, the scripture, and the eloquence of the Qurʾān. Where did this come from? And in addition to that, his patience, his perseverance, and his success that came in the middle of ancient pagan civilization that had nothing. There was no civilization, no script; they didn’t even have two- story buildings, no libraries. They couldn’t even read and write, and yet the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), came from the midst of a backward and uneducated, barbaric nation. They were really a barbaric nation and within 20 years, look what happened? Within 50 years Islam began to spread, and within 100 years, it ruled the world.  This is a miracle from Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and the sīrah is the beginning of that miracle – how he lived, the power that he wielded, and yet the simplicity with which he lived his life, the sacrifice that the aābah would have made had he asked them to do, but he didn’t. And it is impossible for any human being not to be affected by that power, luxury, and wealth, unless there is a divine sincerity in him – a pure sincerity that is there for the sake of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

The famous scholar Ibn Hazm from Andalus, says “WAllāhi, if the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) had not been given any miracle other than his life and his times, it would have been sufficient to prove that he is a Prophet of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), if he had not been given any other miracle other than his sīrah. The sīrah is the best indication that he is the Prophet of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).”

Of course there are many facets here, his own life and times, how he revolutionized Arabia, and how he changed the entire world from where he came – from a humble origin, a shepherd in Makkah, and what happened with the message he came with. Immediately he became a leader within 20 years. Nobody could have ever predicted that a group would come from Arabia and destroy the Persian empire and start knocking on the doors of the Roman Empire until it starts diminishing, wiping it out. Nobody would have predicted that a new group from Arabia would come with a new religion, a new theology, a force that cannot be equalled with the mighty empires of Rome and Persia. And yet Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) opened up the doors, and Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) allowed this group of people who were less educated and even less civilized. The aābah did not even have the civilization that the Romans and Persians did. They did not have the weaponry and yet they had victory, and Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) blessed them and made them Muslims, because they had this religion.

So by studying the life and times of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), we see a miracle that Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sent him.

1 of 4

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Sh. Dr. Yasir Qadhi is someone that believes that one's life should be judged by more than just academic degrees and scholastic accomplishments. Friends and foe alike acknowledge that one of his main weaknesses is ice-cream, which he seems to enjoy with a rather sinister passion. The highlight of his day is twirling his little girl (a.k.a. "my little princess") round and round in the air and watching her squeal with joy. A few tid-bits from his mundane life: Sh. Yasir has a Bachelors in Hadith and a Masters in Theology from Islamic University of Madinah, and a PhD in Islamic Studies from Yale University. He is an instructor and Dean of Academic Affairs at AlMaghrib, and the Resident Scholar of the Memphis Islamic Center.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Melanie

    March 21, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    Jazaka Allah Kharyun, Dr. Qadhi for the reminders..i love the written transcript so much easier for me to read and review.

  2. Avatar

    yellow roses

    March 21, 2014 at 12:38 PM

    May Allah continue to bless you and your family !!! This came at the right time for me.

    • Aly Balagamwala

      Aly Balagamwala

      March 22, 2014 at 10:10 AM

      Dear Sister

      Jazakillahu Khairin for your regular comments on our site. Please note that our Comments Policy states that you must use your name, a Kunyah or a valid blog handle if it is linked to your blog and a valid email address. This has been pointed out to you earlier in a couple of comments. Kindly help us by following the guidelines of the Comments Policy.

      Best Regards
      Aly

  3. Avatar

    Shifaya

    April 8, 2014 at 12:23 AM

    JazakAllahu Khayran for the wonderful transcription. Looking forward for part 4, In Shaa Allah :)

  4. Avatar

    Mohammed

    April 15, 2014 at 8:24 AM

    Masha Allah this is scholarly work. Keep up the good work. Jazak Allah khairan

  5. Avatar

    Thasneem

    April 24, 2014 at 2:09 AM

    Assalamu alaikum! I have a few questions to be answered by Dr. Yasir Qadhi. I have been listening to his lectures on the Seerah of the Prophet Muhammad ( PBUH ) uploaded by MemphisIslamicCenter on YouTube and have covered upto Hudaybiyya.
    1. It was told that Kunooth was recited by Prophet Muhammad ( PBUH ) only at times of calamity for the Ummah as a whole as in the massacre at well of Mauna and Al Raji and not in the Fajr prayers.
    2. It was also told that the period of Iddah is one menstrual cycle and not 3 months or 4 months & 10 days as argued by some.
    3. The last question is the gusl for Janabath. Is it necessary for gusl or just the ablution will clean you from the state of impurity.
    There are many views regarding these. Can you please explain further the different views by renowned scholars and the Sunnah practiced by our prophet. I would like to know the view of Dr. Zakir Naik also since I follow some of his lectures and find them to have been researched.
    Jazakallahu khaira!

  6. Avatar

    Kari

    May 20, 2014 at 8:11 PM

    Assalamu Alaikum. JazakAllah Khair for the transcript! Really appreciate it..

  7. Avatar

    sayyadi

    June 27, 2014 at 1:13 AM

    Jazakallah. An islamic historian student from Nigeria.

  8. Avatar

    Gul

    September 27, 2014 at 9:06 AM

    السَّلاَمُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَرَحْمَةُ اللهِ وَبَرَكَاتُهُ
    JazakAllah Khayran for the transcription of this series. It has been immensely helpful. I was wondering if you are going to be doing the rest of the videos of this series?

  9. Avatar

    Sarah

    November 2, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    Please do the others! These are hugely beneficial. jazakallah khayran

  10. Avatar

    Safwan

    February 7, 2015 at 12:58 PM

    Jazak’Allah Khair for this.

    For anyone wanting more transcribed notes for the seerah lectures, please visit https://www.scribd.com/safwan9khan.

    I have (as of writing) completed notes for all the lectures up to lecture 61. The remaining will be complete within the next two months inshaAllah. Please share with others if you find them beneficial.

    • Avatar

      Abdullah Sherazi

      October 29, 2015 at 10:26 AM

      Assalamu Alaikum Brother,

      Can you send me the transcripts in my email abbudm@yahoo.com?

      JazakAllah Khairan for your hard work.

    • Avatar

      Haris Khan

      December 10, 2015 at 10:57 PM

      I can’t download it from Scribd as it required payment for registration. Please, please I need them all. Can you email me at hariskamalkhan717@gmail.com?

  11. Avatar

    abu Hamzah

    March 25, 2015 at 12:32 PM

    As salamu alaikum. have Zohra written more notes than 3 parts. The notes are really good mashaAllah.

  12. Avatar

    Fatuma Abdi

    April 18, 2015 at 10:41 AM

    Assalama Aleikum.I have learnt a lot.Jazakallah kheir may Allah bless you

  13. Avatar

    Ibrahim

    June 11, 2015 at 5:19 AM

    Assalamu alaikum..I learnt a lot from Dr. Yasir..Also looking for the transcripts of the other parts of the seerah series by Dr. Yasir.(part 4 to part 104) .. Got only the first three transcripts here..Is there any link where i can get all the transcripts regarding the seerah series??Appreciate any suggestions..Allah Hafej

    • Avatar

      Safwan

      November 29, 2015 at 10:17 AM

      Please see http://www.scribd.com/safwan9khan. Alhamdhulillah I have transcribed the entire seerah series. InshaAllah they will be beneficial to you. JazakAllah Khair.

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#Current Affairs

Will The Real Aya Sofia Please Stand Up?

They say history is the biography of great men and women. Well, history is also the story of great buildings. This case is rarely more painfully obvious than when it comes to identity of The Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofia (“the Holy Wisdom”).

Church, Mosque, Museum: the Aya Sofia has lived under many guises over the years and each transformation came hand-in-hand with momentous political change. This year, it was no different.

By reverting to the previous designation of Aya Sofia into a mosque, the Turkish courts have set off a firestorm of controversy across the world. It is understandable that faithful Christians would object. The sense of loss they must feel is the same feeling that many Muslims get when they see the Grand Mosque of Cordoba’s conversion into a cathedral. However, what is confusing is that some Muslims are also conflicted – or even downright hostile – to the idea of the Aya Sofia being used as a mosque.

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

Why are they upset? Is there weight to their feeling that this was an act that was against the laws and spirit of Islam? How true is it that this was pure political theatre?

A summary of the arguments are detailed below as each point reveals a great deal about us as Muslims today and our current mentality:

The Vatican – a clear example of Museum and Church buildings in one

1. “It should just remain a museum…”

The Aya Sofia IS remaining a museum. The ruling states and the government echoes that it is a mosque and museum but, unfortunately, if you read the headlines you will be given the impression that the museum is being destroyed. This is not the case.

The world is full of buildings with dual functions. The White House is the seat of government and the residence of the President. The Vatican is a museum, a church and the home of the Pope. St Paul’s Cathedral is a tourist attraction as well as functioning church. If Muslims alone were somehow exempt from the ability to combine museum and mosque in one building, then that would be very strange indeed. Yet that is exactly what opponents of the mosque designation are saying.

What opponents for the reversion of the building are arguing for is not for the preservation of the museum – in fact, it will be more accessible than ever by becoming free and open till the late evening – but for the prevention of worship in a building that was built and intended for that very purpose.

2. “It was illegal to turn it into a mosque in the first place…”

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing: many Muslims quote the example of Umar (R) and his treatment of the Church of The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In fact, this is the number one excuse used by many so-called Muslim intellectuals who lazily have projected their own biases on to our pious predecessors. They say, not without a little pious sanctimony, that Umar (R) exemplified that Islam is not a triumphalist religion and – though he could have converted the church into a mosque – he chose not to.

For most of history, it was common practice that any conquering army gained full ownership of the conquered lands. Islamic law was actually quite progressive in this regard, stipulating that property in surrendered lands would remain with their owners and not the conquerors. It was only if a land was taken without surrender, according to Imam Al Qurtubi amongst others, should their properties be forfeit. Jerusalem surrendered and Damascus surrendered. Constantinople – despite multiple attempts requesting it to do so – did not. Therefore, Islamically and according to the norms of the time, the conversion of the Church into a mosque was legal.

This is highlighted by the case of a district of Constantinople called Psamatya (present day Koca Mustafa Pasha) whose residents surrendered to Muhammad Fatih separately. The area had the highest density of extant churches, since none were touched or taken over.

Muhammad Fatih and The Patriarch Genaddios discussing the patriarchate

3. “But it has been a museum for so long now, so why turn it back?”

Some sources say that they have found evidence of the Church being purchased by Muhammad Fatih with his own money. The evidence has yet to be verified by external sources although it is accepted by the Turkish authorities, but even if you withhold it, the established status of the entire complex as a Waqf (Islamic endowment) is definitive. Waqfs cannot be unilaterally taken over or converted to another use.

The reality is that the conversion of the Aya Sofia from mosque to museum was a highly contentious decision taken in a manner that went against the then legal, moral and spiritual standards. It was a state sanctioned action to satisfy a political objective of the hyper-secular post-war Government. This was an injustice and it is not a good look to say that an injustice should be allowed to continue because it has been there for over eight decades.

4. “We don’t need more mosques in Istanbul…”

Would anyone think it reasonable if their local mosque was taken over unilaterally by the Government and then, when they ask for it back, they are brushed off by officials saying, “there are lots of mosques in the city and many are half empty: we are keeping this one.” Of course not. So, if it is not good enough for you, why should it be good enough for anyone else? In fact, this was the argument used by the RSS in taking over the Barbari mosque in India.

A mosque is not a property like every other. It is owned by Allah and not something we are allowed to rationalise or barter away. Allah has no need for even one mosque, but that does not mean we should stop building them or start giving them away. To go by the utilitarian argument, then anything that is not in full use by its owner is fair game for someone else to usurp. We would never accept this for our possessions so how can we accept it for something that does not belong to us?

The hadith about the conquest of Constantinople and praising Muhammad Fatih

5. “This is all a politically motivated…”

Every decision in a public sphere is political, or can be construed to be political, in some way. Building the Aya Sofia into a magnificent cathedral was a political decision by Justinian. Turning it into a mosque upon conquest was also a political decision by Muhammad Fatih. Stopping prayers in the mosque and converting it into a museum was a political decision by Mustafa Kemal. And now, returning the building to use as a mosque and museum is also a political decision by the current Turkish state.

The question is not whether it is a political act to convert the building: it will always have a political dimension. The question is whether you like the politics of someone who was praised by the Prophet ﷺ in a hadith and turned it into a mosque (Muhammad Fatih) or someone who insulted that same Prophet ﷺ as an “immoral Arab” and turned it into a museum (Mustafa Kemal.)

Pick a side.

The Grand Cathedral of Cordoba – formally the Grand Mosque

6. “This will hurt the feelings of non-Muslims and make us look bad.”

This is perhaps the only real argument of them all that has any weight to it. All the previous arguments are intellectual (and less than intellectual) smokescreens for the desire to not hurt the feelings of others – especially when we need all the friends we can get. This is understandable given our current geopolitical situation. This is also why you are more likely to find those Muslims living as minorities objecting to the change of status, reflecting their own precarious situations in their respective countries.

However, if looking at it objectively, we see that this argument also has limitations. Muslims are equally if not more hurt at the ethnic cleansing that took place in Andalusia. Does that mean we get the Al-Hambra or the Cordoba Mosque back? What about the Parthenon – since that used to be a mosque – conquered by the same Muhammad Fatih? What about the Kremlin, where St Basil’s Basilica was made from bricks of a Tatar mosque? And can we have the Philippines back while we are all trying to not offend each other?

Making decisions such as these on the highly subjective grounds of causing offence is not only impractical, but untenable. Many expressions of Islamic faith outside a narrow paradigm of what is palatable to specific audiences, can be seen as offensive to some. If we were to make decisions based first and foremost to protect the comfort of others, you would end up with a set of groundless rituals rather than a faith. It is the equivalent of changing your name to Bob instead of Muhammad since you were worried that even Mo was too exotic. Sometimes, the proper practice of our faith and upholding of our cultural and historical traditions will upset others not because what we are doing is deliberately offensive or wrong, but because we have different values and different standards.

Conclusion

What is most upsetting about the change of use for the Aya Sofia is the double standard at play. Athens has not even one mosque whilst Istanbul has hundreds of churches and synagogues: yet the Greeks are calling the Turks intolerant. The Roman Catholics plundered the Aya Sofia of all treasures and took them to St Marks church in Venice (where they still are to this day): yet it is the Pope that says that he is distressed at the Muslims – who preserved the Byzantine inheritance- for turning it into a mosque and Catholic churches calling for a day of mourning.

All the commentators calling for it to not be converted back into a mosque are also correspondingly mute regarding the Granada Cathedral built on site of a mosque, or the Barbri Mosque turned temple in India, or the Al Ahmar Mosque turned into a bar in Palestine.

But this is human nature and they will shoot their shot. Nonetheless, as Muslims, if we are against the reversion of the Aya Sofia to be a mosque again, then we really need to take a long hard look at ourselves. Just as Muhammad Fatih conquered Constantinople, we need to conquer our own ignorance, our own inferiority complex and our own insecurities.

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#Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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History and Seerah

Podcast: Five Historic Events That Rocked The World During Ramadan | Dr. Muhammad Wajid Akhter

We all know that Ramadan is the month of fasting, abstinence and reflection. Ramadan also just happens to be a month of awesome history defining events that shaped the world we live in today.

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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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