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How To Stop Being a Celebrity Shaykh Fanboy or Fangirl and Build Real Relationships With Them Instead

Omar Usman

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Random Muslim Person sees inspirational Islamic video on YouTube. Random brother or sister now feels speaker in said YouTube video is the solution to all of their life problems.

Random Muslim Person finds the Facebook fan page of said speaker. They now feel compelled to comment on every single one of their statuses. For example:

Popular Islamic speaker Facebook update: “Alhamdulillah Allah (swt) has blessed our family with a new baby, please keep us in your duas.” Random Muslim Person commenting on this status: “OMG SHEIKH CAN YOU PLEEEEEZ VISIT ME IN ANTARCTICA ITS MY DREAM TO MEET YOUUUUUU!!!” The only way this quote could be any more accurate is if it had an Emoji after every third word.

Love it or hate it, celebrity speaker culture is here. I wrote about this topic previously from the perspective of seeking fame. Now it is time to write from the perspective of how we view and approach Islamic speakers.

Social media has created a world where people become quickly popular – but also where approaching them is easier than ever. You may hear a talk that changes your life, and you can now just fire off a tweet at that person to thank them.

I recently read a book that outlined “fanboy/fangirl traps to avoid” when meeting a mentor (specifically an entrepreneurial mentor). I have adapted these traps for our context.

Before continuing, it is important to understand what is happening beneath the surface. It is easy to sit around and make fun of people for acting like wild pre-teens at a concert around imams, but it’s missing the underlying point of why this happens. When someone influences you, particularly in helping you come closer to Allah (swt), there is a natural inclination to want to connect with them. There is an inclination to build a relationship with them, seek advice from them, and even take mentorship from them.

I experienced this myself at the past AMJA conference when I *finally* got to meet Shaykh Jamaal Zarabozo after being a student of his books and lectures for over 10 years. Yes, I got giddy when I finally got to meet him, but it is important to understand the boundaries so that we can create healthy and productive interactions – whether online or offline.

With that, there are legitimate ways to connect with someone and build a relationship with them – no matter how busy and famous they are. On the other hand, there are ways to be completely creepy and weird.

1. OMG YOU ARE THE BEST

This is not the wisest way to begin corresponding with someone. There is nothing wrong with thanking someone for how they have impacted you, but don’t keep gushing. Thank them for how they impacted you, don’t thank them for being awesome.

If you keep emailing someone, and start each email with something like “Subhanallah shaykh you are so gifted…”, it will get awkward and uncomfortable. A better approach if reaching out to someone is saying something like, “jazakallahu khayr for your video about XYZ, I never thought about the revelation of Surah Iqra’ in this manner and it has really changed the way I approach…”

2. False Humility

This is one of my biggest pet peeves.

“Mashallah shaykh I was not even sure if I should write this email, I am so sinful and lowly, I do not know how you could even spend your precious time even wasting 5 seconds on my email, I really wanted to ask you something, but if you don’t reply it is ok, I know you are busy and I am nobody, and I am meaningless, and even opening this email will probably prevent you from hundreds of hasanat of dhikr so I apologize but I wanted to ask you…”

Seriously, get a grip.

They’re humans too. Act like it. Don’t be needy. This doesn’t mean you need to be arrogant and talk down to them – just be normal. Unfortunately being normal is a challenge.

Be respectful of a person’s time, but also have some dignity. An easy way to do this is to try to anticipate their answers and be succinct with something only they can answer. For example-

“Shaykh I really enjoyed your video on Uhud. I had some questions regarding the ayah you quoted. I tried checking a couple of tafseer books and asked my local imam about what you mentioned but I was unable to locate anything. I understand you are busy, but if you have time I would really appreciate if you can let me know how scholars arrived at the conclusion that…”

3. Solve all my problems!

Just because someone gives a great talk on repentance does not mean they can give you marital counseling. Or career advice. Or tell you what to major in. Or talk to your kids for 3 minutes and turn them into angels.

A huge downside of this celebrity persona is this assumption that just because someone is famous, or is able to garner 50k hits on a YouTube video, that they’re suddenly able to solve all problems. People will come up to an imam and ask something like, “A person in our community just got arrested, can you represent him in court?”

The imam will say something like “umm.. you need a lawyer” and they will say, “but no, we want you to do it, you are so amazing – we saw you on YouTube you know so much about Islam!”

The status of celebrity makes people infatuated with seeking solace only in that. It’s like your kid asks you to play catch with the football in the yard, and you say you refuse to learn how to throw a football unless Payton Manning comes and teaches you himself.

Don’t let your love of someone more well-known cause you to undervalue those near you. I contend that the greatest casualty in the YouTube age is the local imam.

 4. Can I study with you?? Please?? I’ll be your best student ever!

This quote from Pamela Slim sums it up:

Think about the current mentors in your life. Did you like and trust them immediately? Or did your relationship grow with time and work and mutual support? Sometimes in your desire to learn as much as you can from people you admire, you ask them for specific support and guidance without having any consideration for their time . A favorite is “You are an expert in my field, would you mind reviewing my twenty-page business plan?”

Alternative: Respect your own time and that of busy people. Mentors grow naturally, they are not manufactured.

Social networking enables us to connect quickly, but that can easily fool us into thinking we are building a relationship. Can you imagine someone going up to Qari Abdul Basit after he does a recitation and saying, “I loved your recitation! Do you have a few minutes? I’d like to recite the entire Qur’an to you so you can correct my tajweed and beautify my voice.”

Ridiculous, but people do exactly this via email, Twitter, and Facebook comments to Islamic speakers on a daily basis.

5. Can I get a retweet?

This is a bad case of entitlement. “Shaykh you have 50,000 Twitter followers, can you retweet us?”

This is extremely annoying and puts Islamic speakers in an awkward position. They want to be helpful, but the reason that they have huge followings is because they add value to their audiences. If they retweeted everyone who wanted a shout out (because they’re too lazy to build their own followings, or worse – too lazy to do work meaningful enough to attract a following) then their timeline would turn into the never ending Juma announcements from hell and they would lose all their followers.

It’s like going to someone’s house, knocking on their door, interrupting dinner with their family and saying – “Assalamu Alaikum! You don’t know me, we’ve never met, I looked up your address on Google. My name is IslAm4LyfeMuslimmDude75 and I’m currently crowd funding $100,000 to help create Ebola proof prayer beads. I’d really appreciate it, since I don’t know anyone and no one will support my project, if you could take out your phone, call all your friends, and ask them to donate. JAZAKS!”

A better way to do this is simply share a project without expecting anything in return. You can tweet at someone and say “Salam shaykh, wanted to share our new Ebola proof prayer beads – check it out” and leave it at that. The best communication is one that doesn’t require a response.

6. The Dark Side

Watch out for the day that the celebrity imam does or says something that Random Muslim Person doesn’t agree with. They will become the most hated pariah faster than you can break your wudu. People swing wildly from loving someone to hating them, and then loving them again, and then hating them again. This is easiest way to be perceived as unstable and crazy.

If someone does something you don’t agree with, you don’t need to crucify them online. Let them know with a little bit of manners why you’re upset and how what they said may have affected you. Everyone makes mistakes.

How to Build Real Relationships

Change your mindset from thinking someone is awesome, and therefore wanting to be affiliated with them. You’ll never find a mentor by tweeting at someone and saying “mentor me please! please by my shaykh!”

The way to truly connect with people is by adding value to them. If you notice someone is teaching a course on a particular topic – be the person who sends them helpful research. Send them the cool quote or anecdote that they might find useful.

Focus on the impact of their work, not them. You won’t connect with someone by flattering them. Show them how their work impacted you. Show how you took something they taught and implemented it, and what the outcome of it was.

Find a way to help them accomplish something, or solve a problem for them without them asking.

The more you’re able to do this, the more that you put yourself in a position of becoming a trusted advisor, or a valuable contributor – not a weirdo on the internet. The beauty of social media is that it’s easier than ever before to be in a position of adding value to others and building relationships with them. Once you do this, they will naturally become mentors, teachers, and people you can go to for advice.

A big theme for this entire social media project is understanding that social media is a tool, a magnifying lens. You can use it to drive people away, or you can use it to create invaluable connections. The latter just takes a little more work and thought, but the end result is incredible.

To get more articles like this about the Fiqh of Social Media, please enter your email address below – you’ll also get a free copy of the 40 Hadith on Social Media:



Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters and Qalam Institute. He teaches Islamic seminars across the US including Khateeb Workshop and Fiqh of Social Media. He has served in varying administrative capacities for multiple national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow his work at ibnabeeomar.com.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    zee aba

    December 3, 2014 at 12:34 AM

    Please don’t use Ebola in a joking manner – thanks

  2. Abez

    Abez

    December 3, 2014 at 2:15 AM

    Dear Respected Eminent Shaykhul-Internet

    SubhanAllah, this article has been instantly life-changing for me. As a lowly bipedal homosapien reader, I don’t know if I am even worthy of commenting on it, but I just had to say that you are the best writer on Muslim Matters, possibly even the entire internet.

    I have written some articles on the internet too, and I would be grateful, Ya Shaykh, if you could maybe read, like, share, tweet, and cite some of them in your future works.

    Best and humblest regards,

    Zeba Khan

    (PS: Since someone was going to violate the rules in the comments section anyway, I took the liberty to violate them all upfront so there’s no pressure going forward. Excellent article, JazakallhuKheiran)

  3. Pingback: HOW TO STOP BEING A CELEBRITY SHAYKH FANBOY OR FANGIRL AND BUILD REAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH THEM INSTEAD | PASS THE KNOWLEDGE (LIGHT & LIFE)

    • Avatar

      Muna Bushra

      December 3, 2014 at 11:34 AM

      Really enjoyed reading this, many good and funny points as well.

      Think one can’t really imagine how difficult it is unless one is a shaykh oneself. People are at different levels, so what may be normal behaviour for someone may seem extreme or going too far for another.

      Nowadays one is afraid of asking a shaykh anything in case it gets misunderstood and end up looking for answers in “google shaykh” to be on the safe side.

  4. Avatar

    Katiba

    December 3, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    you forgot about entertaining hopes of flirting with or marrying the guy.

  5. Avatar

    Abeer

    December 3, 2014 at 3:46 PM

    Great article MW..so on point. Jazak Allah khair

  6. Avatar

    Kalimatil

    December 3, 2014 at 5:58 PM

    Salaam, just briefly skimmed through this, and already cracked up laughing. Definitely coming back to read the rest lol iA

  7. Avatar

    Aeesha S.

    December 3, 2014 at 9:21 PM

    I think you went a little too over the edge with your post. Nicely written but the sarcasm is downright bogus. Thumbs down.

  8. Avatar

    White stripes

    December 4, 2014 at 8:59 AM

    Bismillaah

    Assalaamu alaykum warahmatullaahi wabarakaatu

    Thank you brother Omar for this post, may Allah accept and reward you according to the best of your intentions.

    There were many points that you mentioned herein that resonated with me and I am sure with others who are familiar with this culture. Allaahumma baarik alayhi.

    Having said that, I also found the post to have a denigrating tone and didn’t appreciate this. I hope you’ll consider this comment and try to understand why it would be received in such a manner.

    As a suggestion, lets look at the psychology behind the behavior of people who ‘show intense interest ‘ in our Islamic scholars shall we, and try to offer an alternative to such behavior. I’d also like to suggest that we put forward diplomatic ways of response for people who find themselves in the situation of being put on a pedestal.

    In my experience, people often don’t like to take responsibly for their experiences and feelings so they’re aren’t upfront about being weirded out by another person. Our society is one that encourages us to say things that are not true and to behave in ways that do not intrinsically honor the human being, all for the ‘benefit’ of worldly recognition and social acceptance.

    The most respectful act I feel, that someone in that position could do to counteract the fanatical or excessive behavior of another is to be honest and kind in communicating the truth of what they are experiencing and seek Allah’s assistance for the message to be received in good faith.

    To Katiba: Kindly elaborate as to why you feel entertaining hopes of marrying a ‘ celebrity shaykh’ who is desirable from a particular woman’s perspective is part of the ‘celebrity shaykh fanboy or fangirl’ culture.

  9. Avatar

    Mohammad

    December 4, 2014 at 9:56 PM

    Assalamu’alaikum,

    It can also lead to shaytan working extra hard on the shaykh. Some of the most knowledgeable scholars dont speak english, dont have twitter, fb and yet they have almost no following..

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#Islam

The Spirituality Of Gratitude

Shaykh Tarik Ata

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Gratitude

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

What Does Shukr Mean?

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

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

Gratitude in Knowing That Allah Loves Us

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

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

Blessings Even in Hardship

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

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

Allah knows best.

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

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

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

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

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

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Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi

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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

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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