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The Fallacy of Philosophical Logic & Reasoning An Insight into Ibn Taymiyya’s Radd ‘ala al-Mantiqiyyin

The great British philosopher, logician and mathematician, Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) wrote in his autobiography (1950, p. 395):

When I survey my life, it seems to me to be a useless one, devoted to impossible ideals. My activities continue from force of habit, and in the company of others I forget the despair which underlies my daily pursuits and pleasure. But when I am alone and idle, I cannot conceal from myself that my life had no purpose, and that I know of no new purpose to which to devote my remaining years. I find myself involved in a vast mist of solitude both emotional and metaphysical, from which I can find no issue.

Russell’s reflections are typical of those who trust in a particular style of reasoning as the means by which human beings can know and understand themselves and the world they live in. After a lifetime devoted to this style of reasoning, they become disappointed with reason altogether because it is unable to account for the most general, fundamental and most obvious of all realities: namely, that humans are intelligent and the world is intelligible to them, that the world seems to demand and reward human curiosity. Reason cannot account for the existence of reason. It is so, but reason cannot tell us why and how it is so.

Reason also cannot account for how and why we understand and respond to notions of value, like love, justice, truth, beauty, happiness, and their opposites. Notions like these form the basis of all the important practical judgements we make in life: who and what we like or dislike, what we strive for, our own behaviours and lifestyle and how we respond to others. We cannot define these values in any way that will apply to all situations or be agreed and accepted by all people. And yet in judging actual, particular situations we somehow know when these values are adequately expressed and when they are not.

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All human beings understand these values and have words for them.  They also have the competence to express themselves generally: they have the competence to hold in their own minds and convey to other minds, their perceptions of the real world outside them, and the feelings prompted by those perceptions. More than that, they can think, remember and imagine many things that are not directly prompted by anything in the world outside their minds. All human beings have this ability to express themselves, spontaneously and uniquely, with or without a prompt from someone else or from the world outside the mind. This ability takes different forms in different environments: humans do not all speak the same language, but they do all speak.

Our competence to hold perceptions and impressions in the mind, within the system of signs that we call language, and to hold them independently of any condition in the world outside the mind, enables us to compare this and that, to see patterns, to make analogies, to make suppositions, to plot and plan. This is how we learn: we make mistakes in perceptions and judgements, then we work through the errors and improve our perceptions and judgements; our plans go wrong, and then we try to make better plans. Because we can store what we have learnt in our language, what we learn and how fast we learn gathers pace and volume. Again, it is a mystery on top of a mystery that we can keep doing this and yet never seem to run out of storage space: our minds and language systems are, for all practical purposes, unbounded. Human beings do not just collect the food given in the world like nuts and berries and cereals, and the flesh of hunted or reared animals, they combine flavours and textures and fragrances: they cook, and so enlarge their own appetite as well as their ability to survive in different environments. This applies in all domains of human activity.

Nevertheless, for all its curiosity, its linguistic and rational competence, the human mind cannot see the whole of itself in action. We cannot predict or control all the conditions that affect our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions; we cannot predict or control all the consequences of our actions, not even upon ourselves and those near us, let alone upon people far removed from us in place and time, not to speak of the earth’s life-system as a whole. We can watch other people looking but we cannot, ourselves, see ourselves in the act of looking. That is how it is. We can know that we will die, but we cannot, so to speak, live through our own death. We can live through other people’s death, never our own. It is at this boundary that we experience our deepest need to know and understand, and the reason and language that seemed to serve us so well here fail us. This is the boundary of the seen and the unseen.

The need to cross this boundary is the root of the religious impulse. If there were no input from the unseen, this impulse could not exist. But it does exist. We are flooded with feelings of uncertainty, about why we exist at all if we are to die, why we have feelings, motives and effects in the world that we cannot fully understand, why we are followed by our past though it is no longer there, why we are thrown towards our future in great rushes of hope and fear. If there were no input from the unseen these feelings would paralyse us. But there is input: it is this that we call religion. Of this there are numerous forms in the world. The believers say the only reliable form of religion is what has been conveyed by the Prophets, men informed by God from the unseen and informed about the unseen. Muslims are exceptionally fortunate in that what our Prophet informed us about is perfectly preserved in the Qur’an, and almost as reliably preserved in the record of his teaching and example, the Sunna.

Because religion informs us about what we have not directly perceived, and more importantly, because it begins in an act of affirmation — we must affirm the truthfulness of the Prophets and their teaching before we begin to live by that teaching and its truth becomes a certainty for us – there is a human tendency to resist religion, to rebel against the Prophets, to distract from their message. This can take the form of an outright denunciation of the Prophet’s message as a fairy-tale or nonsense. But it can also take the form of an approval of the Prophet’s message as a necessary comforting delusion for the masses, but still a delusion. This approval is expressed in two ways: either the delusion is corrected by re-stating the Prophet’s message in the language of philosophical propositions which convey the message in abstract concepts, rigorously assembled as an argument. Or it can take the form of a thoroughly subversive alternative to the Prophet’s message, which claims insight into the unseen just as the Prophet’s message does, but is fundamentally contrary to the Prophet’s message: so if the Prophet teaches that God is absolutely other than His creatures, the alternative teaches that God and His creatures are essentially one and the same; if the Prophet teaches that Pharaoh was a wicked tyrant who is punished in this life and in the hereafter, the alternative teaches that Pharaoh understood the reality that he and God are essentially the same, and so he, Pharaoh, is entirely forgiven.

These two ways of resisting the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) message have in common the idea that this message is not expressed as it should be, that what it says in fact is not what it means; what it says is not how things really are. In short, both these ways believe that the revelation does not establish the truth, rather it establishes the rules and norms of a civic religion, a way useful to the elites for keeping the masses in order. The truth is something else, known to the philosophers, or known to the ittihadi Sufi shaykhs. These two ways have something else in common, namely the legacy of Greek philosophy, albeit the falasifa and the mutakallimun depend more heavily upon Aristotle, and the ittihadi Sufis depend more heavily upon Plato. Ibn Taymiyyah’s Radd ‘ala l-mantiqiyyin is a reasoned polemic against both, and one of the most vigorous defences of realist thinking ever written. Needless to say, he defends realist thinking, not for its own sake, but for the sake of defending Islam as a belief and as a way of life.

Imam Ibn Taymiyyah (661-728/1263-1328) was a great Muslim thinker of Damascus. Besides his excellence in the traditional Islamic sciences, he was a great expert in logic, philosophy, theology and linguistics. He admits that had there been no Prophets, the philosophers would have been the best people on the face of the earth. He appreciates that philosophers raise and think about the right questions. But they do not have the right tools to get the answers that will benefit them or humankind. This is a point that he has elaborated in most of his major works, like Dar’ al-ta`arud bayna al-`aql wa-l-naql, al-Radd `ala al-mantiqiyyin and many of the essays and articles collected in Majmu` al-Fatawa.

In al-Radd `ala al-mantiqiyyin, he discusses in detail the methodological problems of philosophical logic, which is praised by the philosophers as the criterion or measure of right thinking, i.e., it has the same importance for reasoning as grammar has for language. His argument is that a methodology which can work within the domain of any narrowly defined discipline cannot necessarily work in other domains, and certainly does not hold for human reasoning as whole. His criticism against Greek logic is not that it cannot work in a limited disciplinary context, but that it should not be applied as a sort of test to every science and every effort of reasoning. (The philosophers and theologians explicitly deployed it in the discourse on metaphysical and theological questions, and in the argumentation used in jurisprudence and Arabic grammar.)

In the Radd Ibn Taymiyyah focuses on four claims of the logicians:

(1) that tasawwur (conceptualisation) cannot be attained except through hadd (a particular style of definition);

(2)that  tasdiq (affirmation, judgement) cannot be established except after qiyas al-shumul (syllogism; a particular style of reasoned demonstration);

3) that the hadd leads to reliable tasawwur;

and (4) that the qiyas leads to certain or near-certain tasdiq. Ibn Taymiyyah demonstrates the errors of the logicians in all four points in their theoretical discussions and practical application.

[For a detailed discussion of this subject please refer to the online seminar by Dr Mohammad Akram Nadwi on al-Radd `ala al-mantiqiyyin (Refutation of Greek Logicians) of Ibn Taymiyyah as part of the Introduction to Classical Islamic Texts Series at Cambridge Islamic College –]

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Shaykh Mohammad Akram Nadwi is an Islamic scholar from the Indian city of Jaunpur and a graduate of the world renowned Nadwatul Ulama (India) where he studied and taught Shariah.Shaykh Akram is a Muhaddith of the highest calibre who has specialised in Ilm ul Rijal (the study of the narrators of Hadith). He has Ijaza (licenses) from over 600 scholars. Shaykh Akram Nadwi has a doctorate in Arabic Language and has authored and translated over 25 titles on Language, Jurisprudence, Qur’an and Hadith.In May 2010, he completed a monumental 457-volume work on the lives of female scholars of Hadith in Islamic History. Also now available in English is Madrasah Life (2007) the translation (from Urdu) of his personal memoir of a student’s day at Nadwat al-Ulama.Shaykh Akram is the recipient of the Allama Iqbal prize for contribution to Islamic thought. As a leading scholar steeped in traditional Islamic learning and in modern academia, Shaykh Akram is a former research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Oxford.He is the Dean and the Academic Director of the Cambridge Islamic College.



  1. Avatar


    March 13, 2015 at 8:41 AM

    Awesome!!! MashaAllah – really love this article. Please MM post more such articles on philosophy, logic and reasoning. It really helps get an insight into how thoughtful and amazing muslim scholars really were. Islam really calls for very deep reflection. Loved it very much!

  2. Avatar

    Stardusty Psyche

    March 19, 2015 at 9:23 AM

    Atheists like Russell and I do not “trust in…reasoning as the means…”. Immediately, brother Nadwi, I see you lack even the most basic understanding of the atheistic philosophy you are commenting on.

    We atheists are well aware that there is the potential for faulty perception and faulty reasoning. We simply do our best to perceive and reason as well as we seem to be able to do. “Trust” simply is not a factor.

    Neither do we become disappointed with reason itself, rather, we come to the realization through reasoning that human life has no ultimate purpose relative to the universe as a whole. Our lives only have the meanings we and our fellow humans assign to ourselves. Such meaning, our reasoning tells us, is transitory and ultimately insignificant as compared to the fate of the universe as a whole.

    Reasoning does account for intelligence. Reason most certainly does account for the existence of reason itself. Brains have evolved. You can read all about it from thousands of sources.

    Love, beauty, justice and all the rest are evolutionary artifacts, often observable in other species besides homo sapiens sapiens. Biological and cultural evolution have resulted in our having empathy and connections to each other and our environment because they impart a net survival advantage, or are side effects of such evolutionary processes.

    Indeed, we are pattern seeking animals that seek explanations for phenomena we perceive, both outside ourselves and within our own thoughts. Lacking any good explanation we invent imaginary explanations. Thousands of such speculations have been made up over millennia taking the form of almost uncountable imagined gods and spirits you would now dismiss as mere fantasy.

    We atheists share in your dismissal of all these thousands of imagined gods and spirits. We just go one god more :-)

    Stardusty Psyche

    • Avatar


      March 26, 2015 at 2:57 PM

      Appreciate the etiquette in which you posted that comment.

      Nonetheless, I’ve always found the verse below to be so relevant to atheists:

      “Think [Prophet] of the man who has taken his own desire as a god: are you to be his guardian? Do you think that most of them hear or understand? ” (The Qur’an 25: 43-44)

      In ditching religion, they form their own religion. In dismissing God, they construct their own god to worship – not one made of clay or stone, but of pure desire. Whatever conclusion they stumble upon by solely relying on reason, they blindly follow and wholeheartedly adopt into their lives. That is until their reason says something else, and their lives change 360 degrees.

      It is unfortunate that in ignoring their very nature, and its longing to worship one God and one alone, they invite so much instability in their lives and so much confusion. If they ever stumble upon the truth, and that is a big IF, it is after centuries of trial and error.

      • Avatar


        March 27, 2015 at 1:29 AM

        “A” is the shortest name I have ever encountered !-) Ok, maybe that means answer or author or something…

        Why would you suppose that atheists worship anything at all? Qur’an 25: 43-44 is not at all insightful into the atheistic outlook. Why would we consider ourselves to be gods if we think there are not gods at all?

        It seems theists theists are so steeped in worship of a god of some sort that most generally seem to assume we all must worship something as a god, so lacking any one of the thousands of proposed deities then theists such as yourself apparently feel obliged to identity who or what my “god” is.

        I don’t have a god, or a worship object, or a worshiped concept…most especially not myself or any of my faculties.

        “Blindly follow”…”wholeheartedly adopt”…”instability”…”confusion”. Gee whizzz, I am one really messed up guy!!!

        Sorry A, but we atheists are not blindly lurching from fad to fad, blindly following and wholeheartedly adopting. Most of us think scientifically, which is to say provisionally and evidence based.

      • Avatar


        March 27, 2015 at 5:22 PM

        What truth? Moslem truth, my Christian truth, my friend’s Jewish
        truth, or our atheist’ buddy’s truth?
        Scientifically, our mind is the primary creative force in our reality, and
        the law of attraction principles apply, cant deny we all have atoms inside
        billion years old if you believe there are satellites up there.i mean, we can deny, does not mean it does not exist.. anyone can deny anything :) i am denying everyday things that dont belong in my “picture” of reality, we all are, but I hope that existence of atoms is a common belief between us, even with our spiritual and religious differences. God is the same, in my view, but I
        accept is not in yours on in any other individual’s perspective. My ego is
        not hurt if Atheists or anyone else dont believe in God, much less in my
        God. My relationship with God is my own, and is no better or worse than
        yours. Its my private perspective, and I am also free to think the world
        would be a much better place if people saw my “truth”. You can argue that
        i should listen to yours, I am not arguing that point of view towards mine,
        saying mine is the right one, the real one, or the best one. I try to love
        you all, within the principles of unconditional love, without expecting
        retribution, and I am sorry we cant talk more about things we have in
        common, instead of talking about our differences all the time.
        Not using this my convenient “truth” to get away of my terrestrial human
        positive compassionate duties that include trying my best to give
        unconditional love (Buddah’ type :) , that in my perspective are clearly
        drafted in my mind.

        Meaningful to me means Its expressed by anyone’s example of servicing
        others, wiht great examples of their convictions (aka passion, because
        passion can take us to places that talent cannot reach) and at the same
        time neutrality in judging others by our own standards. Anyone is free to believe whatever they want, and being neutral in harmony with the universe means that the sum of the activity=0 Zero, Nada. Thinking that I am right and you wrong, only exists in my own little head, and vice versus.

        I think one needs to be careful sometimes with words that only a
        few in the world know the meaning, words that might hide that golden
        nugget, but can also keep them prisioners in their own sandbox foreva! :D.

        What can we do together instead of trying to say loudly how good we are, how much do we really know about any given subject?
        You don’t get respect by demand it, it happens by our own example.

    • Avatar


      March 26, 2015 at 8:36 PM

      Your comments typify the usual atheist rhetoric but they fail to address the deeper epistemological concern, viz. Münchhausen trilemma. Read about that and then you will understand the significance of what is described here:

      • Avatar


        March 27, 2015 at 2:22 AM

        Thanks for the link, Sperc. Not to my surprise, it consists of a few interesting subjects raised in the framework of straw men, poorly reasoned arguments, and hopelessly vague scriptural quotes.

        ‘philosophical skepticism’ and ‘philosophical naturalism’ are defined in terms that simply do not represent any seriously held positions.

        Meaning is relative. One thing means something in relation to something else. Meaning is descriptive of relationship. Thus, all of existence has no meaning in this sense, because by definition there is nothing outside of all of existence for all of existence to relate to.

        Indeed we may entertain the notion that we do not exist, but, in entertaining that notion we are drawn inexorably to the realization that we must exist in order to entertain the notion that we do not exist. Cogito ergo sum.

        I can consider the speculation that I am god and you are all simply figures of my divine imagination, and neither you nor I can absolutely disprove that speculation. But, I have no positive evidence for that speculation, and in principle, there is no upper bound on the number of such speculations that might be put forth, so it seems infinitesimally likely I am god. I thus choose to live my life on the provisional basis that I am more or less what I perceive myself to be since that seems to be born out by my everyday experiences.

        It is true, Sperc, that I did not attempt an exhaustive dissertation on epistemology, but this is pretty basic stuff here…certainly nothing new that I have somehow uniquely expressed.

        As far as getting wisdom from the Qur’an…well, no…there is about a half a cupful of some good rehashed common knowledge, and the rest is either fantasy, or nonsense, or violent fascism or just mundane pointlessness.

        In case you have not noticed, a very great deal of violence and destruction is being perpetrated in the world right now in the name of Allah’s word as it was delivered by his messenger and the example of said messenger…led by people with very deep theological and scholarly knowledge of the Qur’an and the Hadith.

        All in all, the Qur’an is about the last place I would look to for any kind of positive or useful insights.

        So, I do appreciate the interesting link, but given the poorly constructed philosophical arguments plus the vague and rather pointless Qur’an quotations Dr. M. Nazir Khan unfortunately did nothing to improve upon all such articles of Islamic philosophy I have read thus far.

      • Avatar


        March 27, 2015 at 5:38 PM

        Stardust, I’m surprised you were unable to address the issue specifically raised – namely Munchausen’s trilemma. I understand that you may be academically unequipped to handle such questions, but don’t underestimate yourself! Try and read up about Munchausen’s trilemma and attempt a thoughtful response. No dissertations required, just a direct answer. The trilemma pertains to evidentiary justifications – so you can keep repeating phrases like “positive evidence” but it reveals only that you are oblivious to the fact this is precisely the notion that is problematized by the trilemma. Try seeking education, it’s not a bad thing y’know.

        And unfortunately, just calling the article poor reasoning and then spouting red herrings about ‘moslem violence’ is unlikely to get you anywhere in intellectually competent dialogue. You are in a position to adjudicate very deep and sound theological knowledge of Quran and Hadith? Please. Do tell – which basic references on principles of jurisprudence are you familiar with? Ibn Qudamah’s (d/620H) Rawdah al-Nadhir? Ibn Hazm’s (d.456H) al-Ihkam? al-Zarkashi’s (d.794H) Bahr al-Muhit? Let me know. And please do yourself a favour so you don’t repeat the fallacies outlined here:

  3. Avatar


    March 19, 2015 at 11:08 AM

    “Reason also cannot account for how and why we understand and respond to notions of value, like love, justice, truth, beauty, happiness, and their opposites.”

    This is not true. There’s a considerable body of research that looks at the biological bases for love, beauty, and so on.

    • Avatar

      Rizwan Ahmed

      March 27, 2016 at 10:14 PM

      I am a geneticist, and there is no biological reason for ‘love’ or ‘justice’ as used in the typical sense. In fact, the evolutionary instinct points in the opposite direction. Could you provide references?

  4. Avatar


    March 26, 2015 at 8:31 PM

    The article by M. Akram Nadwi expresses an idea that is very similar to what is fully flushed out in detail here:


  5. Avatar


    March 26, 2015 at 10:06 PM

    “and one of the most vigorous defences of realist thinking ever written.”

    This is a joke, right?

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 16: The Best of You

Now that we have learnt about fruit out of season, let’s now talk about the best of you.

I want you all to think about your closest friends and how you treat them. 

Question: Would anyone like to share how they try to treat their closest friends?

That’s wonderful! You try to be thoughtful and considerate of their feelings. You bring snacks to share with them, you may buy or make them a gift.

Question: Now, I want you to close your eyes and think of the way you treat your family members. Is it the same?

Question: Why do you think that there is a difference between the way we treat our friends and the way we may treat our siblings or parents?

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Yes, we do spend a lot of time together. We see each other when we’re cranky or frustrated. Sometimes we want our own space to think, or we don’t want someone interfering with our things. Those are all valid reasons. But, do you know that it is more beloved to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that you treat your family members better than you even treat your friends?

It’s true! In a hadith, Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) reported: The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: 

عَنْ عَائِشَةَ قَالَتْ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ خَيْرُكُمْ خَيْرُكُمْ لِأَهْلِهِ وَأَنَا خَيْرُكُمْ لِأَهْلِي وَإِذَا مَاتَ صَاحِبُكُمْ فَدَعُوهُ

“The best of you are the best to their families, and I am the best to my family.” 

Question: What are some ways we can be the best to our family members? I’m going to share with you a hadith that may help you get some ideas: 

وعن أبى أمامه الباهلى رضي الله عنه قال‏:‏ قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم‏:‏ “أنا زعيم ببيت في ربض الجنة لمن ترك المراء، وإن كان محقاً، وببيت في وسط الجنة لمن ترك الكذب، وإن كان مازحاً، وببيت في أعلى الجنة لمن حسن خلقه” ‏(‏حديث صحيح رواه أبو داود بإسناد صحيح‏).‏

“I guarantee a house in Jannah (Paradise) for one who gives up arguing, even if he is in the right; and I guarantee a house in the middle of Jannah for one who abandons lying even for the sake of fun; and I guarantee a house in the highest part of Jannah for one who has good manners.”

If we work on these three things: less arguing, no lying, and good manners, alongside all of your other suggestions, we will be rewarded with Jannah, inshaAllah

Question: Do you think we can all work hard to be the best to our family members?


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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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Remembering Mufti Naeem (Jamia Binoria)

Guest post from Areeba Baig

Sometimes you are so busy with life you don’t think much of where it all started, how you became who you are, the journeys you took and the people who helped you along them. And then something happens which forces you to pause. Only then you remember there were people who played a major role in shaping you to the person you are today, in turning your dreams which you thought would remain dreams forever into a reality.

I’m remembering now.

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I was just one of his thousands of students. Not one of the best, not even close to accomplished. I’ll admit I wasn’t even someone who was considerate enough to keep much contact, keep him updated, despite how much he had advised us to. As the years went by, the relationship, even memories, faded away.

And yet I haven’t been able to focus on anything else all week long. Not surprising, of course, considering the influence he had and the role he played in enabling me to study. It’s surprising, rather, how I took his presence granted for all of these years.

I wasn’t sure whether I’d share this initially. I was writing this to sort my own mind and thoughts. Then I remembered he would tell us that he hoped we’d remember him with goodness all our lives, and share his words when we teach in the future, the same way he’d always quote his own teachers and mention them by name when he taught. A legacy through ‘ilm. Sadaqah jariyah. That is all he ever worked for.

Apart from the final year Bukhari class, I didn’t have much direct encounter with him, but my entire stay in Pakistan was due to him and under his care. It was his invitation and his hospitality that brought me ther,e so everything about my stay in Pakistan is intrinsically linked to him and his family.

When I went to Pakistan to study back in 2006, there were few, if any, quality Alimiyyah programs in America for girls. I chose Pakistan because I had family there. But, really, I chose it because of his school. There are many seminaries in Pakistan, but it was only his that really accommodated foreigners.

He would go out of his way to encourage and allow foreign students in and accommodated every request or need along the way. Although he had many other responsibilities, foreign students were his personal guests. He understood that traveling so far and studying in a land where everything was different was a big adjustment and sacrifice, so he did his best to make it easier. He also understood the stakes here; if these students could successfully study and go back to their lands, the benefit they could have in their communities was critical.

This treatment wasn’t just for western students. This is how he treated every student who came from afar. Students from Thailand and Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Tajikistan, Russia and Fiji; students from remote villages in Sindh and Baluchistan and other parts of Pakistan all called his madrasa their home. And that’s one of the biggest things that sets him apart.

As Mufti Rafi said, “His service to foreign students can never be forgotten. There is no similar example in any other madrasa.”

When I last visited Pakistan two years ago, a classmate of mine and now a teacher at the madrasa for the past decade asked me “We don’t get many students from America anymore the way we used to before. Why? You guys aren’t encouraging kids to study anymore?”

It dawned upon me then that his dream to spread this knowledge worldwide had already begun to be realized. I told her there were now so many programs and schools and teachers in America that students didn’t need to go abroad the way they did before.

Thousands of his students, male and female, are teaching across the world. He’d proudly tell us of his students starting madrasas in remote villages in Baluchistan and Sindh. “These girls are educating their entire villages and communities, people didn’t even know how to say the Kalima before. People come from miles away to learn from our students.”

It is this that really gave him joy and fulfillment.

At a time when the political climate in Pakistan made it difficult for foreign students, he took responsibility for all of them. He promised them he would take care of them. He fought for their right to study. He built relationships with ambassadors of other countries. He opened his doors to both foreigners and anyone else who wanted to see what a madrasa is like. He invited the media to come and see a madrasa from the inside, to show them that far from being places of extremism and violence, they were places of learning and teaching sacred knowledge. He so earnestly believed that madrasas could and should exist in the modern world, and he knew it wouldn’t be possible without building links with the outside world, something that many madrasas were hesitant to do then.

His efforts and attitude enabled so many to come and study the words of Allah and the Prophet ﷺ. Even those who didn’t attend his institute benefited from his presence, knowing that he was there to stand up for them if anything was to happen. He didn’t discriminate when it came to helping others. Any foreign student of any institute was welcome at his place.

There are so many stories of entire families traveling to Pakistan to study at his seminary. And many more of them entrusting their children to him completely. He fulfilled that trust.

There was a girl in my class from Tanzania. When she was about 9 her uncle came to Pakistan for Tabligh, and upon visiting the seminary he was impressed with the opportunities here for girls. Mufti Naeem invited him to send his children, and he went back and brought four of his daughters and nieces to study. The girls grew up there. They first memorized the Qur’an, then started the alim course. He came back eight years later at the graduation ceremony of the oldest girl and decided to take all the girls back because the separation had been too long. He brought home with him four hafizas of the Qur’an, one who had completed the alima course, and another who had nearly completed it. Her uncle’s plan was that the oldest girls would tutor the rest in their studies and then they’d all teach together in their city in Tanzania. We had laughed then at the idea of her and her cousin teaching the younger cousins books like Mishkat, but we missed the bigger point, that this was how knowledge is shared and spread.

There was another girl in my class from Sri Lanka. Her entire family moved to Pakistan and both parents and all three siblings enrolled. They first memorized the Qur’an, and then completed the course before returning to Sri Lanka.

These are just some of the hundreds of stories of people studying at his seminary, who otherwise wouldn’t have that chance, and then going back to benefit others. This was his constant emphasis. Study and teach those who don’t have access. Always be involved in teaching, he told us in one of our final lessons. Even if you have no formal teaching opportunity, just invite people to your home to learn.

His concern for girls’ Islamic education in particular is especially noteworthy. Of course, there are many seminaries and institutes of Islamic knowledge for girls in Pakistan, and many people who support them. But he was one of the influential people who was an outspoken proponent from the beginning and truly believed in the potential. He was also one of the few who accommodated female foreign students, especially those who were there without family.

Before I went to Pakistan to study, my father consulted other scholars. Some discouraged him. Doing an Alima course isn’t that important they said, especially with all the difficulties and risks of going far from home. It’s not fard to study the deen at that level. Karachi was going through a very unstable period back then so they did have a point. We also inquired with other girls madrasas in Karachi, that were closer to where my extended family lived (Jamia Binoria was in the outskirts of Karachi). But they all said they don’t allow girls over the age of 13 and they don’t encourage Americans to attend.

Mufti Naeem, rahimahullah, was the only one who really encouraged it. He’s the one who understood the value and need, who was willing to take responsibility for it all, despite the risks. He’s the one who kept inviting my father, and reassured him everything will be taken care of, that there would be nothing to worry about. He accommodated all our requests and needs, to the point of welcoming my grandmother into the madrasa community and allowing her to spend her day there whenever she liked. He assured us that my only worry should be to study. Everything else will be taken care of.

While many other girls madrasas in Pakistan suffice with the standardized curriculum for girls, which back then (it has since changed a bit) was an abridged version of the regular curriculum and especially subpar when it came to subjects like Arabic. Jamia Binoria had its own curriculum, which included a very strong Arabic curriculum. Many other teachers including my late teacher, the principal of the girls division, Maulana Masood Baig rahimahullah, had a role in this but it was also something Mufti Naeem would take pride in and mention. It’s something I took for granted initially and only much later did I learn that most madrasas in Pakistan, and perhaps even worldwide do not have a strong Arabic program for girls, which makes it very difficult for them to pursue independent research and further studies after graduation.

Jamia Binoria was also one of the few madrasas in Pakistan then that had an ifta (mufti) course for women. In my final year, at least once a week he’d encourage us to enroll in it the next year. He’d tell us how important doing takhassus fil ifta was, how if he was to have it his way he would make ifta a requirement for all students. He would emphasize how much there is a need for female mufti(a)s, how there are already thousands of male Muftis, but they can never replace the role a female one can have.

He’d talk about how proud he was of all the female ifta students, how every time he looks at their work he’s so impressed. “They’re better than our male students,” he’d say. “Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t become a mufti. If a woman can become a surgeon or engineer why can’t she become a mufti?”

As a teacher he was always encouraging, appreciative of the smallest of achievements, and ready to praise and make du’a for his students. The term “mushfiq” is what everyone is using to describe him, because that is what he was. Loving, caring, encouraging.

In Pakistan, teachers don’t really praise students; the tendency (both in schools/colleges and madrasas) is to put students down. And yes, too much praise can be dangerous, but a little bit of encouragement and upliftment is needed. He wouldn’t withhold this.

There was a curtain in our classroom, separating the male teachers from the students. This was the standard system of all girls madrasas in Pakistan, preserving religious guidance and cultural sensitivities regarding modesty and hijab while still enabling students to communicate with and build a positive relationship with male teachers. Hadith classes usually involve a student reading the Arabic text, with the teacher interrupting every now and then to explain. He would make it a point to ask the name of the person who read and praise them and make du’a for them.

It’s these little things that would encourage us all to work harder to succeed. He would often call my father and keep him updated and congratulate him on mine and my sister’s progress. Knowing that despite being in charge of 5000+ students and a host of other responsibilities, he was personally invested in our success always helped drive us to work hard.

He taught Bukhari with passion, you could sense the love for the Prophet ﷺ in his words. The Bukhari class was more than just facts and technical explanation. There was always a practical lesson. He strongly emphasized that knowledge must lead to action and he always made his classes reflect that. He would say, my goal is to teach you in a way you’ll never forget, that you still hear my voice when you read these hadiths the way that I hear my teacher’s voice when I read them, and that you carry these lessons with you lifelong the way my teachers enabled me to.

Now I hear his voice, not just in those hadiths but in every hadith or ayah I read. Everything has a connection with him for it is in his madrasa that I studied everything. It is in his madrasa, and through him, that Allah allowed the doors of knowledge to be opened for me, and for that I am forever indebted.

Hospitality is another word that defines him. Anyone that has visited him can testify to his boundless hospitality. This is something he practiced with both words and actions. It’s something he strived to build in his students and family too. I remember him going off on a tangent once in Bukhari. In a hadith in Kitab al-Nikah, the topic of guests came. He talked about how guests are a blessing, how we should always honor guests, how we should never complain about guests. “Many people complain about the work involved in hosting. They complain when they have family that constantly visits. Guests are a blessing from Allah. When you go to your homes remember this. Don’t ever complain about guests.”

I’ve always remembered this when someone is coming over.

My friend tells me that after his passing, as people crowded his house for ta’ziyah for his family, something that of course was more challenging and complicated with covid-19, his wife mentioned, “He would always tell us to honor guests. So what can I possibly do now?”

Thankfully others intervened and told people that it is best to show sympathy by genuinely doing what’s best for grieving family, which in these circumstances means not visiting so as not to afflict them with more worries and difficulties.

His hospitality meant that the doors of madrasa were always open to those who needed help. Beyond hospitality, he took care of those around him. Orphans, widows, converts to Islam. The madrasa was a shelter for so many who didn’t have a shelter. There would always be some girls sheltering there. He’d take care of their expenses and education and even get them married when they were ready if needed.

Once, he was hosting the wedding of a convert girl. This girl had spent quite some time at madrasa so everyone was excited. Obviously it wasn’t logistically possible to invite all of the students to the wedding but my classmates decided to try to get an invite anyway. When he came in to teach Bukhari the day before the wedding, they broached the subject of the upcoming event, knowing he would be excited to talk about it. He took the bait and started talking about the wedding plans and arrangements. “But we aren’t invited,” they said.

“You aren’t? Why didn’t anyone invite you? I am inviting you all. You all can come as my special guests.” He replied.

His wife wasn’t too pleased with us, “You have no shame in asking for an invitation, in taking advantage of the softheartedness of your teacher like that?”

But that’s how he was. Always rushing to take care of everyone around him. Solving problems, fixing things.

No problem was too small for him to address personally. He told us once about a former student who lives abroad who called him and asked if he could add photos of the girls’ campus to the website. The website had photos of the boys campus but not the girls. She missed the madrasa and wanted to see it again. He had photos taken and put up right away.

That’s the type of person he was. People would go to him for anything big or small and he’d oblige.

I remember when his own father passed away, he came a day later to teach his class. We asked about his father and he broke into tears. He shared the story of his father, the last moments, highlighting how his father was continuously reciting Qur’an until the end.

It is people like him who bring barakah to institutions, he said. Madrasas run through spirituality, not through money. Make dua this institution continues to run. He was worried about fulfilling his responsibilities after his father passed. He cited that with the passing of each scholar, degeneration follows.

Now we’ve lost another link to the previous generation.

He was a simple man. Whatever he did he did for the institution, for all madaris, for the deen. No personal benefit or enjoyment. No fun vacations. No days off. Just working for the people.

He didn’t care what people thought. It wasn’t glamorous work. Being under the spotlight meant there would always be people out there to criticize. But that didn’t bother him. He just went out of his way to serve the people, to do things that nobody else was doing, that many didn’t even see the point of doing.

Mentioning him won’t be complete without also mentioning his family, especially his wife. If he was the father figure of all students, his wife was/is the mother, especially of the girls. They were a team. She’d be with him on many of his travels. She was also the head in charge of the girls school, his representative at madrasa. Always looking out for the girls affairs, always ready to address issues that needed care, always extending hospitality. She took care of the girls as if they were her own daughters, especially those who had no family nearby. Because of her active involvement with the madrasa, he also was always an integral part of it, always accessible, always concerned about the girls. The madrasa was a family effort, and his entire family served it day in and day out.

May Allah always protect her and allow her to continue.

Although one the most defining thing about him is his service to others, which he spent his life doing, it never came in the way of worshipping Allah. He was a man who was always reciting the Qur’an, following the footsteps of his own father. A man who never left tahajjud. A man who always finished a recitation of the Qur’an in taraweeh independently every year. A man who always prayed in congregation. Even on his last day, though he was feeling unwell the whole day, he prayed at the masjid. He came home from Maghrib, rested for a while, felt more unwell. They took him to the hospital and he passed away on the way, before Isha.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon.

It is examples of my teachers like him and others which have given me the energy to carry on teaching even when life is busy, and balancing everything is difficult. Remembering their advices and their constant urging that teaching is a right that knowledge upon us, has always reminded me that it is not optional, that it is not a favor we do upon anyone, but rather an honor and trust Allah has given us.

What I feel now is a renewed purpose to continue this work and to internalize all the lessons from his own life.

I learned from him that the road less traveled may be difficult to take, but it is a necessary road to take to cause lasting good, and that sometimes the most benefit is in doing things that others are not doing.

I learned from him what it means to be the people about whom Allah says, “La yakhafun fillahi lawmata laim.” They do not fear the blame of the blamers. I learn that it is only Allah who we should work to please, because it is to Allah we will return, and as long as we are sincere and on the right path, there is no need to worry about what others say.

I learned from him to think beyond my own benefit and to think of the benefit of those around me. To think beyond the needs of the present, and consider the needs of the future generations as well.

I learned from him that while you should dream big and work hard, small efforts should never be underestimated. It is small efforts that grow into the big things that help fulfill those big dreams. No dream is too big if Allah’s help is with us and no action too small for Allah’s reward.

I learned from him what it means to be a hafidh of the Qur’an. That more than just memorizing the words, it means to fill one’s life with the Qur’an, and to regularly and always recite it, and to understand and implement it.

I learned from him that no matter how busy a person may be, it is always possible to have time for the Qur’an if a person wills it. The ability to recite the Qur’an is an issue of devotion and priorities, not an issue of the availability of time.

I learned from him that our character and our dealings with people speak much louder than any other words, that a student is more likely to remember and feel inspired by a kind word than a long lecture.

I learned from him what it means to be hospitable and generous with one’s time, and that this is the first step of dawah and teaching. I learned what it means to serve others for the sake of Allah. By lowering ourselves in front of others for the sake of Allah, we are only raised in rank by Allah.

But most of all, I learned that knowledge increases and multiplies as it is shared. I learned that the benefit of knowledge is not limited to the teacher and student, but rather it flows to the entire community. I see from his example how just one person of knowledge can have the ability to change the lives of hundreds of thousands, if Allah so wills it. And I learned that the legacy of sacred knowledge is the most valuable legacy to leave.

May Allah accept his efforts, overlook his shortcomings, raise him to the highest levels of Jannah, and increase his sadaqah jariyah.

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