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The Fiqh of Forming Alliances and Building Coalitions

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by Mateen A. Khan

Islam and Muslims have a long history in America and are very much a part of the legacy of the United States. Muslims and non-Muslims have worked together, lived together, and played together. We have constructed institutions of peace and have even fought wars together. And so, we increasingly find ourselves having to form political and communal alliances. Often, this involves collaborating with groups whose values and teachings may be in direct opposition to Islamic morality. This article attempts to guide Muslim American leaders at all levels and the general Muslim public at-large in a direction which benefits the national interest and protects normative Islam.[1]

Assessing the Situation Through Jurisprudence

Muslims, in general, and their leaders, in particular, need to be thinkers by assessing and re-assessing individual situations. We cannot be swept up in the euphoria of nationalism or anti-establishment rhetoric by simply following the masses or the words of a dynamic speaker. After the Prophet’s ﷺ migration, jurisprudence and state legislation were unified under his guidance and the guidance of several khulafā’ afterward. However, since this time, the two have been separated, and Islamic scholarship has been engaged in a process of risk management and defense of normative Islam.[2] Our main priority as Muslims is to be able to believe, worship, and live our lives in a way that is pleasing to Allah. The Qur’an states rather clearly, “I only created humans and jinn so that they worship Me.”[3]The Qur’anic exegetes have explained ‘worship’ as obedience to the Divine. Every Muslim by necessity believes the All-Wise has guided us solely for our benefit. The role of Islamic scholarship and leadership has been and continues to be charting a course that defends normative Islam through a constant harm-benefit analysis.

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Whenever collaboration with another group is suggested, potential harm (mafsadah) and benefit (maṣlaḥah) is assessed through principles found in the Qur’an, Sunnah, and scholarly opinions. For this, we turn to the legal maxim of ‘the prevention of harms precedes the attainment of benefits’ (درء المفاسد اولى من جلب المصالح). This particular maxim is extrapolated among other things from the prophetic ḥadith, “If I forbid you to do something, then keep away from it. And if I order you to do something, then do as much as you can of it.”[4] It is based on this maxim, for example, that Muslims are not permitted to make beneficial changes to their property that might cause harm to their neighbor.

We may find mafsadah in the form of oppression through institutional biases. Ẓulm, one of the classical Arabic terms for oppression, is defined as “to place a thing where it doesn’t belong.”[5] It will be to give one something that isn’t his or her right or to withhold the legitimate right of another. Allah says, “Indeed, shirk is a great ẓulm.”[6] In other words, giving another what is the Right of Allah (i.e. obedience and worship) when He alone has given you life, nourishment, etc. is a very great ẓulm. Oppression is not only forbidden in our relationship with Allah, but also with one another. In a ḥadīth qudsī, the Prophet ﷺ quoted Allah saying, “My servants, I have made oppression unlawful for Me and unlawful for you, so do not commit oppression against one another.”[7] Repeatedly, the Qur’an associates oppression as a character trait of disbelief and not of Believers. If a harm is identified – for example, governmental discriminatory practices – then Muslims may rally against it using permissible means. We are not permitted to assist in it nor should we sit idle when we are capable of removing it.[8]

In collaborating, we may find benefits in the form of increased security, peace, well-being, or most of all, freedom to practice our religion. Maṣlaḥah, in the Islamic terminology, refers to what provides benefit and is consistent with the objectives (maqāsid) of the Sharī`ah. These objectives are extracted from the totality of the Qur’an and Sunnah and refer to – in order of importance – protection of one’s Islam, life, intellect, progeny, and property. It is worth noting that these objectives and benefits are secondary to what is explicitly stated in the Qur’an and Sunnah,[9] since they are extractions of divine text rather than explicit commands. For wisdoms and benefits that oppose the primary texts of the Shari‘ah are what the Noble Qur’an refers to as “desires” (al-ahwā’).[10] Hence, maṣlaḥah is not determined by unlearned individuals or the masses, because “if the truth had followed their inclinations, the heavens and the earth and whoever is in them would have been ruined.”[11] All this is to say that when the sharī`ah declares something as good, we take the necessary and legal steps to encourage it. When something is not mentioned in the primary texts (nuṣūṣ), – for example, securing voting rights for minorities – learned people may endorse it as a maṣlaḥah so the rest may fall behind it.

Check the Collaboration

Whether removing a harm or obtaining a benefit, our primary intent as Muslims is Allah’s Pleasure. Today in America, we live with non-Muslims while fulfilling all the rights due to them as neighbors. We work and engage in business with them while refraining from impermissible jobs and transactions as dictated by our religion. We share infrastructure, drinking water, and permissible foods. Islam allows all of this. While reminiscing one day, the Prophet ﷺ spoke of the Pact of the Virtuous (Hilf al-Fuḍūl). He praised the Pact and announced that had the same situation – an agreement enjoining a common maṣlaḥah shared with non-Muslims – come up today, he would join it readily. Not only is there no issue with Muslims joining non-Muslims for shared causes such as eradicating poverty or safe havens for abused women, but it may also be recommended or a communal obligation based on the situation.[12]

The contention lies when due to our small numbers, weaknesses, and other deficiencies, Muslim Americans often find themselves in need of collaborating with other groups who may hold ideas antithetical to Islamic morality. Groups may exist primarily to further another belief or lifestyle considered sinful by Islamic standards. Can we collaborate with them? If so, what are the conditions? Before we get into this discussion further, it behooves us to first review the Islamic injunction against helping another in sin.

Near the end of the second ayah of Surah al-Mā’idah, Allah states, “Rather, help one another to virtuousness, and to the fear of Allah. And do not help one another to sin and to aggression.” From the first part of the quoted line, we may work with people to assist in virtuousness, but the latter part strongly warns against assisting in sin. Muslims not only refrain themselves from sin, but also cannot assist another in it. As the Prophet ﷺ mentioned in an authentic hadith, “The one who directs towards sin is as the one who commits it.”[13] Conversely, this statement supports a weaker narration, “The one who directs towards evil is as the one who commits it.” Even stronger words have been attributed to the Prophet ﷺ that on the day of Judgment, a caller will declare, “Where are the sinners, those who followed them, and those who assisted them?” Such that even those who assisted by bringing them pens and ink will be gathered with them in an iron box and thrown into Hell.[14]

With this in mind, we can now turn towards prophetic history, in which we find many analogous examples of Muslims collaborating with non-Muslims. I would like to highlight four of them:

  1. In the Makkan period of the Prophet’s ﷺ life, he and the early Muslims underwent extraordinary hardships including torture at the hands of Makkan polytheists. For a time, a unilateral trade embargo was instituted against the Muslims. The Muslims, when able, continued to trade with the same non-Muslims that oppressed them and made trips together to other areas to trade with other non-Muslim tribes.
  2. Upon migrating to Madinah, the Prophet ﷺ formed a constitution with the Madinan Jews. The charter outlined how they were to live in one community as neighbors. They traded with one another, fulfilled each other’s rights, and shared a common infrastructure.
  3. With the treaty of Ḥudaybiyyah, the Prophet ﷺ made an agreement with the non-Muslim Makkans including issues about trade, extradition, and visitation.

We see in these instances that the Prophet ﷺ made agreements with the Makkan polytheists and Madinan Jews despite each group adopting elements of disbelief and un-Islamic morality. Through these joint activities, they warded off a greater harm that would have occurred by total segregation and isolation.

  1. Another example occurred during the Battle of Uhud. The Muslims set out from Madinah with one thousand men. Among them were the Hypocrites who would flee later under the leadership of `Abdullah ibn `Ubayy. The Prophet ﷺ, when setting out from Madinah, knew that among his soldiers were Hypocrites. Yet, he allowed them to accompany the Believers to remove a greater harm – the attack from the Makkan polytheists.

In these situations, the Muslims and non-Muslims agreed to fulfill shared goals, and in doing so, the two groups worked more in parallel than together. The Muslims did not intend to assist them in those things that were antithetical to Muslim beliefs although that may have happened as an unintended consequence. When sufficient need arises, Muslim American scholars in conjunction with other experts may recommend collaborating with non-Muslim groups – even those advocating un-Islamic beliefs and morality – with an important condition: the safeguarding of people’s Islam.

Safeguarding Islam

Our Islam is our most important possession. It is the cause of revelation and the source of our connection with Allah. Its protection is the highest objective. So much so that when the Prophet ﷺ and his Companions were unable to safeguard their deen, Allah commanded them, “O My servants who have believed, indeed My earth is spacious, so worship only Me.”[15] They were given the order to leave their beloved hometown of Makkah. We find in each instance of Muslim collaboration with non-Muslims, Allah and His Messenger ﷺ made clear the distinction between a path of guidance and one that displeases Allah. For example, after the Treaty of Ḥudaybiyyah, Allah reaffirmed Islam as the truth, “It is He who sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth to manifest it over all religion.”[16] Similarly, after the Battle of Uhud, He said, “And what struck you on the day the two armies met was by permission of Allah that He might make evident the Believers. And that He might make evident those who are Hypocrites.”[17] The purpose of the distinction is to safeguard our religion by pointing out our differences. Collaboration at the expense of one’s religion will be impermissible without taking steps to safeguard it. If there is a risk of altering or losing Islamic beliefs, then clarification must be made. Interestingly (and perhaps a subject of another article) this is not only true when collaborating with groups whose primary agenda is antithetical to Islamic beliefs, but also during mundane life-activities when Muslims are the dominated minority.

How do we safeguard our Islam?

  1. Gain Knowledge. One must learn the basic, necessary knowledge about Islam, its tenets, rulings, wisdoms, and guidance. A relationship with people of knowledge is key to fostering one’s religion and filling in knowledge gaps when coming across new challenges. “Ask the people of knowledge if you don’t know”[18] and, “The cure to ignorance is to ask”[19] are just a hint as to the vast amount of Islamic texts on this subject.
  2. Keep company with the pious. Just as important as knowledge is companionship with the pious since the hadiths equate our religion with the religion of our companions.[20] The Qur’an states about un-Islamic companionship, “And whoever among you takes them as an intimate friend, he is one of them.”[21] Islam has been passed from Prophet ﷺ to Companions and so on among the pious. Connect yourself to that lineage.
  3. Love Islam. Stemming from the first two is an apparent Islamic identity through the love of Islam. Muslims need to be comfortable with their identity without feeling as if they must hide. Even more, their love for Islam should surpass anything else.[22] Otherwise, indiscriminating friendship and partnership with non-Muslim organizations can garble one’s beliefs placing their very Islam at risk.[23] Whether individually or communally, identity tells others who you are and your religion, what you stand for or against.
  4. Know what is Islamic and what isn’t. A very important condition, which applies to Muslim leaders especially when working with groups with beliefs antithetical to Islam, is that those who take on the role of making decisions for and leading the Muslim public also take on the responsibility of warning them of the dangers in that decision by distinguishing what is Islamic and what is not. Foremost in this responsibility, is the danger to each Muslim American’s Islam. For example, if a need arises such that we form a coalition with LGBTQIA groups, it is imperative that everyone be aware the coalition is one of achieving a shared goal and that their morality is antithetical to our divinely-mandated morality. Yes, this might place us in the precarious position of defending their human and civil rights while simultaneously vocalizing their lifestyle as a sin that draws Allah’s displeasure. We have a duty to both. This is an essential safeguard to protect the Islam of the Muslim public and future generations.

Additionally, working with non-Muslim groups in not a permission to work un-Islamically. We may not commit the harām hoping for a benefit. At times, our leadership may leave something preferable (mustaḥabb) or allowable (mubāḥ) as the Prophet ﷺ had expressed near the end of his life. He said to his beloved wife, “O `Ā’ishah! Were your nation not close to the pre-Islamic Period of Ignorance, I would have had the Ka`bah demolished and would have included in it the portion which had been left.”[24] He ﷺ left a preferable action (to include the left-out portion) to avoid a harm (confusion among the Quraysh).[25] That being said, in general, we must still abide by the guidance and necessary dictates of the Sharī`ah. When the direction of the Qiblah was changed, the Prophet ﷺ was concerned about what the Jews would say about it. Allah counseled him saying, “So if you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, indeed, you would then be among the wrongdoers.”[26] Avoiding a perceived harm (the statements of the Jews) is not permission to engage in the impermissible (not fulfilling Allah’s command). The Prophet ﷺ is reported to have said, “A death in the obedience of Allah is better than life spent in the disobedience of Allah.”[27]

Final Thoughts

As a group, we must ask some hard questions as to who represents us. Beyond expertise in their field and enthusiasm for activism, our representatives must have some basic working knowledge of normative Islam. They will be actively forming relationships with fellow Americans and groups with Islamically divergent beliefs and practices. Will they lean towards ideas against well-established Islamic tenets? Will their own beliefs be affected such that they are rendered unfit to guide the Muslim public? For example, if a Muslim is not firm in his or her religion such that s/he can withstand the proselytizing efforts of evangelicals or atheists, it will not be permissible for him or her to work with them. This responsibility is not for everyone. Both Islamic scholars and activists need to be aware of the limits of their knowledge and develop a humility to acquiesce to experts in other areas.

Islam encourages Muslims to live and cooperate with non-Muslims. We are one nation, and we share a land, governance, and a future. We should extend a hand to work together on shared values and goals. In times of need, when differences exist between us and other groups that are antithetical or even directly oppositional to our morality, we may still work alongside one another as long as we safeguard our religious moralities. “Sufficient need” should be assessed jointly between properly trained Islamic scholars and various leaders of the relevant fields involved. Inter-Islamic cooperation is necessary before intra-organizational cooperation can be fruitful. In fulfilling our responsibility to Muslim and non-Muslim Americans, we can never lose sight that our accomplishment lies in obedience to the Creator.

The success of Muslims lies in Allah’s Pleasure even if they be in bondage. If we gain power and act to displease Allah, then what is the difference between our governance and that of Fir`awn’s? Rather, worry about pleasing Him and connecting with Him. Be committed to Islam and its guidance. You’ve tried following those false idols for some time. Now, bow down before Your Lord, ask about your needs, and see what happens! (paraphrased from Shaykh Ashraf `Ali Thanwi)[28]

Dr Mateen A. Khan is a Emergency Medicine Doctor and a graduate of the Aalimiyah program at the illustrious Dar ul Uloom Canada. He has ijazah to teach the Sahih Sittah as well as other subjects.

 

[1] Normative Islam refers to the tenets of belief and practice representing the majority of Islamic scholarship since the Prophet ﷺ. Many narrations attributed to the Prophet ﷺ, the salaf al-ṣāliḥīn, and scholarly consensus indicate that the path of divine guidance is the path of the majority.

[2] Mohammed, A.M. Muslims In Non-Muslim Lands: A Legal Study with Applications, p. 125-128.

[3] Surah al-Dhāriyāt: 56

[4] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: 7288, Ṣaḥīḥ li Muslim: 1337b. Retrieved from Sunnah.com

[5] Lisān al-`Arab

[6] Surah Luqmān: 13

[7] Saḥīḥ al-Muslim: 2577a. Retrieved from Sunnah.com

[8] `Umdah al-Qārī: 12/290, Dār al-Ihyā’ al-Turāth al-`Arabī

[9] Al-Muwāfaqāt lī al-Shāṭibī, Kitāb al-Maqāsid

[10] Usūl al-Iftā wa Ādābuhu lī Muftī Taqī Uthmānī, Chapter on Maqāsid al-Sharī`ah

[11] Surah al-Mu’minūn: 71

[12] `Umdah al-Qārī: 12/290, Dār al-Ihyā’ al-Turāth al-`Arabī

[13] Sunan al-Tirmidhī: 2670. Retrieved from Sunnah.com

[14] Rūh al-Ma`ānī under Surah al-Qasas: 17

[15] Surah al-Ankabūt: 56

[16] Surah al-Fatḥ: 28

[17] Surah Aal-Imrān: 166-7

[18] Surah al-Naḥl: 43, Surah al-Anbiyā’: 7

[19] Sunan Abū Dāwūd: 337. Retrieved from Sunnah.com

[20] Sunan al-Tirmidhī: 2378. Retrieved from Sunnah.com

[21] Surah al-Ma’idah: 51

[22] Rahmānī, K.S. Samāhī Baḥth wa Naẓr. Apr 2012. P. 67-68.

[23] Shafi, M. Maariful Quran. Surah al-Ma’idah: 51.

[24] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 1586. Retrieved from Sunnah.com. When the Ka`bah was last rebuilt by the Quraysh, they left out a portion (ḥaṭīm) from the rest of the building. The Prophet ﷺ indicated here that he thought of rebuilding the Ka`bah and including this portion in the building.

[25] Sharḥ al-Nawawī `ala al-Sāḥīḥ li Muslim, Book of Hajj, Chapter on Demolishing the Ka`bah and Rebuilding It. Also, Ahsan al-Fatāwa of Mufti Rashīd Ahmad, Vol. 6, Pg. 38-39.

[26] Surah al-Baqarah: 145

[27] Majma` al-Zawā’id: 5/241

[28] Al-Ifādāt al-Yawmiyyah: 5/168-9

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Muhammad

    April 13, 2017 at 8:56 AM

    In Shaa’a ALLAH, informative. It provides fundamental perspective to challenges faced by the Muslim minority.

  2. Avatar

    Ahmad B.

    April 14, 2017 at 4:34 PM

    Assalamu ‘alaikum Br. Mateen,

    Jazakumullahu khayran for a well-though out, informative piece that departs from the spirit and specifics of normative Islam. As usual, the devil is in the details, so I’m wondering if you could clarify what you mean when you say, with respect to LGBT groups: “Yes, this might place us in the precarious position of defending their human and civil rights while simultaneously vocalizing their lifestyle as a sin that draws Allah’s displeasure. We have a duty to [do] both.”

    Which “human and civil rights” do you mean specifically, and under whose normative paradigm are these to be determined when deciding as a community which specific claims we support and which we don’t? LGBT groups *claim*, for example, the right to marriage on “discrimination” grounds. Five Supreme Court justices agreed with this, while four strongly disagreed. Hilary Clinton, a liberal Democrat, did not recognize such a right either as recently as five years ago. Our Shari’a certainly does not recognize, on its own terms, anything like the “right” of a man to marry another man and, in fact, criminalizes the behavior upon which such an arrangement serves to confer legal and cultural–and hence, moral–legitimacy. [Given the definition you quote of zulm, “to place a thing where it doesn’t belong,” sodomy is, by definition, a flagship example of zulm.]

    So working *with* LGBT and other groups against, say, racism, poverty, or the excesses of runaway capitalism is one thing. But what does it mean, exactly, to support the “human and civil rights” of the LGBT community as a discrete identity group when, in our religion, we don’t even accept the notion of an essentialized, social identity based on sexual desire? From our perspective, people are men and women, Muslim and non, etc., some of whom choose to engage in same-sex behaviors and relationships. Almost every right they demand *as a class of people* has the direct effect of normalizing their behavior in society, which seems like it’s something we should oppose, given the first part of your essay which provides strong statements against assisting people in sin.

    This is particularly the case when the rights claimed–like that to marriage–directly serve to enshrine the legitimacy of homosexual practice, even at the expense of normative social institutions like (male-female) marriage and natural family bonds, which the Shari’a values very highly and which we, it would seem, should recognize a strong social and state interest in preserving. Gay marriage is currently a moot point, but if another conservative justice is appointed to the Supreme Court under Trump and the court were, say, to overturn the Obergefell decision, what would our stance then be? “Alhamdulillah, that’s wonderful news. Some of the craziness is being rolled back, the oppression of an unjust law (since it enshrines and enables zulm) has been removed, and we are happy to see things moving more in a direction of what Allah approves” or “Let’s get out and march against this encroachment upon the ‘human and civil rights of a minority,’ which we are duty bound to fight for and uphold, even while proclaiming their lifestyle and behavior sinful and unpleasing to God”?

    Jazakumullahu khayran,
    Ahmad B.

  3. Avatar

    Ahmad B.

    April 14, 2017 at 4:46 PM

    By the way, by “departs from the spirit and specifics of normative Islam,” I meant “takes these as its point of departure” (a compliment), not “departs from these” in the sense of “abandons them” (which would have been a critique). I apologize if there was any confusion.

    Ahmad B.

  4. Avatar

    DI

    June 9, 2019 at 1:43 PM

    Dr. Khan,

    A good attempt. But you really didn’t get into any ‘fiqh’ of the matter per se. There are also instances of Muslims having protection of non-Muslims in Mecca.

    I used to think we need alliances with LGBT but now I changed my mind. They are not a good ally when it comes to success. More of a liability really. Here is why:

    1) The LGBT community does not need an alliance with Muslims. They are doing fine on their own. They are smart and know how to use marketing to their benefit.

    2) We are not capable of making an alliance with LGBT or even benefiting from it – Sunnis can barely make alliances with Shi’a’s, Ismailis and Qadianis.

    3) LGBT will very quickly challenge us because they know Muslims who are gay. How do we respond?

    4) The whole “Hate the sin and not the sinner” line does not make any sense. This sin is a part of that person. Ulema who teach tarbiya and tazkiya, make the point some people have built their whole lives around certain sins so it is hard to make a change from that. Similarly, LGBT have built their whole identity and lives around LGBT lifestyles.

    The reality: Muslims are on their own and only have Allah. We have no reliable allies. It is better for us to build up our own strength. Make the marketplace want to market to Muslims. Become an economic force independent of oil-money. That is more likely to benefit us.

    If we do want to build alliances – we need to start first with building alliances with journalists and news publications.

    di.

  5. Avatar

    Ali

    June 17, 2019 at 8:28 PM

    I really, really am enjoying this conversation. Thank you for a wonderfully written article. I also liked the comments by Ahmad B. Ahmad B. do you have any suggestions as to how to address LGBT “REALITY” in our society? Any practical ideas as to what can/should be done as far as Muslims are concerned? Being an imam myself, I need to know how other Muslim scholars are addressing this topic. When I am invited to a high school to speak about Islam, I occasionally get questions about Islam’s position with regards to LGBT. The Quran is very clear about it while the laws in USA are something else. So, how does one reconcile between the two? Thank you.

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#Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 15: Fruit Out of Season

Now that we have learnt about making our intentions big, let’s now talk about fruit out of season.

Who can tell me who Maryam raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) is

Yes, she was the mother of ‘Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), and also the best woman to ever live. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur’an that He chose her over all the women in the world.

Question: Do you know that she was also the niece to a Prophet? Does anyone know her uncle’s name? 

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His name is Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), good job! Do you know that Prophet Zakariya  'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)  was actually inspired by something he saw in Maryam’s raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) room? It’s unusual for adults to admit that they learn from younger people, but we actually do, all the time! 

One day, Prophet Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) went inside Maryam’s raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) room and he saw fruit that was out of season. 

Question: Can anyone tell me what fruit would be out of season in the spring, but we love to eat it in the summertime? Can we get that same fruit in the wintertime?

Well, Maryam raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) would get fruit that was supposed to only grow in the summer during the wintertime too! This was a gift that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) would give her. Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was so amazed by this! He asked Maryam raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) how she came upon the fruit and she replied:

 هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللَّـهِ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَاءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ

“It is from Allah. Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without measure.” [Surat Ali ‘Imran; 37] 

Now, by this time, Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was very old. And when you get to be very old, it is very unusual to have any more children. Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his wife never had any children at all. But, he was so inspired by what his niece said that he raised his hands in dua’ and asked Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for a child. Even though having a child seemed  impossible because it was “out of season” for Prophet Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) he asks anyway knowing that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) can grant us anything- even if it is not “in season!”

Question: Can we get that same fruit in the wintertime?Did Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) answer Prophet Zakariya’s 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) dua’? 

Yes! Prophet Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was blessed with Yahya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), who too became a Prophet and was the cousin of Prophet ‘Isa  'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)!

This shows us that it’s never too late or too early to ask for what our heart desires. Maybe Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will grant you something that is out of season too!

 

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