Sunnism is suffering an identity crisis: other than not self-identifying as a Shī’ite, very few people who identify as Sunnīs can explain what beliefs makes a person a Sunnī. This has left a bleeding wound in people’s conception of Islām, through which infections such as Qādiyānism, Rāfidism, Progressivism, Modernism, and other forms of misguidance cause many well-meaning people great damage to both their faith as well as their worldly existence.
Otherworldly concerns of protecting people from the harm of odious deviation from the pure faith, which can delay or deny salvation, tag along with the deleterious effects of the pursuits of sectarian agendas in the guise of religion which are literally burning entire nations like Syria and Yemen to the ground in front of our eyes. At the same time Muslims living in North America and Europe are witnessing a coup against established legal, cultural and spiritual norms in the name of progressivism and liberalism, which confusingly seem to come from quarters which are, politically, less openly hostile to some version of an established Muslim presence. The chasm which is opening because of this coup threatens to divide what used to be the common Sunnī identity in these lands into a Reform/Conservative/Orthodox-type divide which currently exists in the Jewish community; the reform identity being roughly one of radically jettisoning canonical interpretive methodology and precedent. Conservatism is acknowledging the need to do what Reform Judaism did, while preserving the traditional forms of Judaism when practical. Orthodoxy has been seemingly left behind as an attempt to carry on the premodern Jewish theology and law, uninterrupted by modernity.
One should note that this divide within Judaism started from the United States, and has now pervaded the Jewish world, and likewise, if such a chasm formally opened up in the United States, it would be a matter of import for the entire ummah, as the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ stated, “You will follow those who went before you hand’s breadth for hand’s breadth, cubit for cubit, to the point that if they went into a lizard hole, you would also go into it.” They asked him ﷺ, “Do you mean the Jews and Christians?” He ﷺ replied, “Who else?” 
To the scholarly past of this ummah, the obvious place to find the necessary guidance to solve the above-mentioned problems should be in the books of ʿAqīdah of the Sunnī Kalām tradition; however, this seems to not be as obvious anymore to the ummah as it should be, and for that reason a number of problems arise.
The following tract, by Allāh’s help, is meant to investigate these problems, and to make the case that a serious revival of the study of ʿAqīdah in our communities is one of the foremost obligations upon Muslims today.
How Has the Study of Aqidah Fallen From Importance?
There are many reasons why the study of ʿAqīdah has fallen out of favor. Firstly, the lay public, due to sectarian influence of foreign groups, has come to see the word ʿAqīdah as a codeword for polemical infighting, something which most North American Muslims rightly intuit will lead to little or no benefit. Thus, the word ʿAqīdah now conjures up images of brothers pointing fingers upwards and asking, “Where is Allāh?” or whether or not you believe that the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ is omnipresent in all points of time and space. Such issues are irrelevant to the public. Worse yet, they are weaponized by some and result in dissention and division within congregations.
Secondly, many madāris have severely downplayed if not outright jettisoned the study of Kalām other than for the purpose of refuting heterodox groups. Worse yet, sectarian partisans use it to cut down other legitimate views within Sunnism, as if they are a patent falsehood, even though the matters at hand are, at most, differences of opinion. Although refutation is a legitimate purpose of the knowledge of ʿAqīdah, it is hardly the aim of its study. It is more important for a believer to know who he is, rather than who he isn’t: the former is based on the knowledge of revelation, whereas the latter is more conveniently facilitated by sectarian animus. It is important to note that revelation “taught man what he knew not”, whereas even the people of falsehood are adept at circularly refuting one another.
Thirdly, much of the lay public has come to the idea that the old works of Kalām, even if a sentimentally important part of our intellectual heritage, lack relevance to today’s more pressing issues. Many may ask, what can Rāzī, Ghazālī, and Juwaynī practically teach me to prepare for an encounter with New Atheism or Liberalism, or any number of other prevalent ideologies at odds with the way of life prescribed by revelation?
The Role of Scholars & Students of Knowledge
For the reasons outlined above, scholars and students of knowledge have a responsibility to act as facilitators and intermediaries between the laity and revelation’s Divine and prophetic sources. There are many benefits that the ummah will take from a clerical class well-grounded in Sunnī ʿAqīdah. Unfortunately, the very need for this class of specialists in the information age, something taken for granted in past generations, requires explanation today.
Pious and illuminated hearts and minds must disseminate the sacred creed of Islām, not use sectarianism to divide the ummah, build socio-political clout, or win followers and disciples, but in order to show Muslims who they are, rather than who they aren’t. Only then will people once more start to see the Sunnī ʿAqīdah as a source of guidance and intellectual-spiritual order.
Indeed, the balance between the rational need for limits and an inclusivity which can only come from the generosity of being connected to the Divine is found in the Sunnī creed. Achieving this balance is a hallmark of being an imām in this tradition. The emulation of the prophetic model is in bringing sincere believers together whenever it is possible, and separating individuals from the flock only when absolutely necessary. Thus, did Imām Ṭaḥāwī explicitly declare that anyone who meets even the most minimal standard for a valid islām is a walī of Allāh, even if they are sinners or, in some instances even misguided. It was a strong statement, and one he meant to make.
Large scale propagation of ʿAqīdah in such a way will negate the stigma of sectarianism by showing people the point of ʿAqīdah (a framework through which to view the world) and not a degenerate form of divisive sectarianism. It will also give people the understanding that whoever drives exclusionary sectarianism within the Sunnī populace, isn’t doing so as a representation of Sunnism; rather, it is a sign that something else is at play. In order to get the vastness of the ummah on to the same page in mind, then spirit and body, the framework of Sunnī ʿAqīdah must become the common thought currency between all Muslims, regardless of race, madhhab, Sufic association, socioeconomic status, occupation, or nationality.
The benefits to the ummah of the wide and proper dissemination of ʿAqīdah by no means stops there. Much of the abandonment of the commandments of the sacred Sharīʿah has to do with the lack of understanding amongst laypeople about the importance of Fiqh and its various sources rooted in revelation; If they understood the importance of the law, they would be more avid to implement it, appreciating the elegance by which they are inseparable. In that sense, an overemphasis on the sacred law in comparison to both ʿAqīdah and Taṣawwuf when ministering to the public may be a cause of its diminished acceptance amongst that same public, as it is tough to bring the body to do things when the mind and heart aren’t in it.
As important as the dissemination of the sacred creed is, however, it can only be done on the heels of a solid understanding of it. This requires a depth of study by the scholarly class that goes beyond a basic minimum belief for a valid īmān. Maintaining a cohort of the learned who are custodians of such understanding is an obligation on communities; indeed, many a non-farḍ matter on individuals becomes a farḍ kifāyah on communities and sovereign states. This is the case for all of the disciplines necessary in order for the Dīn of Allāh to be understood, implemented, and defended at individual and collective levels.
Methodology is Critical
This brings us to another matter which is one of great concern to anyone who has dedicated their life to knowledge, beyond the pursuit of degrees, ijāzāt, clerical career opportunities and fame as preachers and leaders; that is the uṣūlī nature of the sacred Sharīʿah. Uṣūl are the universal principles which make up for framework within which the individual rulings of the sacred Sharīʿah fit. The uṣūlī nature of the sacred Sharīʿah, and its understanding was always the crown pursuit of the greatest of the scholars. In fact, to call a scholar an uṣūlī is to bear witness to the integrated seamlessness and encyclopedic knowledge of the sharīʿah, bringing names like Ghazālī and Shāh Walīyyullāh to mind. The idea is that the Dīn of Allāh isn’t just a scattered distribution of rules, verses, statements and prohibitions to be read atomistically; rather, those discrete data points fit into uṣūlī models and theoretical frameworks that undergird the different branches of learning in Islām. Thus, Ḥadīth is governed by uṣūl al-Ḥadīth, Fiqh is governed by uṣūl al-Fiqh, Tafsīr is governed by uṣūl al-Tafsīr, and so on. The reason is that without a methodology a person can hardly take an objective stance on any matter, much less understand large fields of information in a cohesive and cogent manner. All of these uṣūlī systems in turn are undergirded by ʿAqīdah, which is the Uṣūl of Uṣūl; it is perhaps for this reason that Imām Abū Ḥanīfah, may Allāh have mercy on him, named his work on ʿAqīdah with such a gravity, al-Fiqh al-Akbar.
Jettisoning a holistic Usūlī approach to the Dīn by fixating on individual verses, aḥadīth, and legal rulings has allowed the jackals and hyenas who prey on this ummah to masquerade as representatives of the Islām and flagbearers of the Sunnī tradition, whether they be in the form of modernists, terrorist groups, neo-Salafists, neo-traditionalists, neo-Kharijītes, or the like. When uṣūl are cast aside, such groups can now regurgitate particular data points from the Islāmic tradition with enough charisma to woo audiences to their respective agendas.
Modern day reductionists have peddled the idea that uṣūl are an unneeded vestige of medieval foolery, and must today be replaced by the empiricism of hard evidence in the form of literal text. While other scholarly endeavors like taḥqīq and takhrīj are worthy, they are not substitutes for uṣūl. Powered by the false confidence a literalist worldview engenders, unscrupulous operators resort to forcing the mismatched puzzle pieces together in new, scary and, incoherent ways. Indeed, many committed Muslims, upon encountering textual evidences produced by reductionists, find themselves at a loss to explain what is specifically wrong with such groups’ picture of Islām. From that pool, many subsequently join or at least tacitly support such groups, much to the spiritual, economic, political and social detriment of the ummah. Why would anyone bother to rearrange the sharīʿah in such a way? In order to deceptively harnesses the demographic, economic power of the love and zeal of the masses for Islām. If the Bolsheviks could do it, anyone can; indeed, their spiritual heirs, may Allāh protect us from them, continue do so.
Uṣūlī thinking imparts a methodology by which one can understand the Dīn at a deeper level. It also gives its practitioner the ability to consume and solve new problems and digest issues which arise from unprecedented circumstances. I would go one step further and say for the robust intellect, nothing in creation would be “new” anymore. Indeed, I can affirm that at least in my own experience many “new” challenges to Islām’s worldview are, in essence, rehashings of old challenges (albeit with different modalities). More often than not, historic iterations were far more sophisticated than contemporary ones. Due to the modernism’s reductionist approach, philosophers have become largely irrelevant in the popular arena: the new standard bearers of materialism are often scientists, hard or soft, whose touting of materialism (and the atheism which inevitably emerges from it), is sophomoric at best.
The idea that uṣūl, or understanding how to think, is distinct and in many ways superior to only knowing what to think, should not be lost on any rational person.
The Continual Benefit of Kalām and the Harm in Ignoring It
Yet another sad consequence of abandoning the study of ʿAqīdah has been well-intentioned and ostensibly Sunnī public intellectuals, often very accomplished in Western Academia, but lacking even a basic command of classical Arabic, hastily dismiss Kalām as not being relevant to the “new” challenges posed to Islām and its intellectual framework. The strange thing is that many who express sentiments like this lack competence classical Arabic, yet believe their readings in English qualify them to make such serious judgments. Can you imagine what a mockery would be made of someone who only could speak and read Urdu and whatever was translated into it began to comment with an air of authority on theoretical physics or cutting-edge medical research? Even more frustratingly, those intellectuals who can access classical Arabic rarely have actually taken the time to read the old books of Kalām in any serious way, much less with a teacher.
A noteworthy exception to the idea that all or most antagonists to the Kalām tradition are untrained in the classical Arabic sources are those who currently hold a position attributed to many of the salaf, namely that kalām is unsubstantiated speculation regarding revelation and the very nature of Allāh, thus a sin worse than theft and fornication, which is most widely ascribed to the Imām Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal, may Allāh sanctify his heart, and those who follow his school. Without casting any aggression toward this opinion which holds some merit, especially for the context in which it was first held, it goes without saying that such an approach will struggle to offer any help to a university student dealing with the ideological hailstorm on campus….
Such an attitude has gained currency among many generous and reverent defenders of Islām who opine that kalām held a useful function in the past, but gives the contemporary Muslim little preparation for the onslaught liberal modernity is directing at the world. Similarly, other less well-intentioned academic and post-colonial intellectual elites, hold en vogue a vision of Kalām as a kind of fossilized carcass, declaring it an irrelevant and even decadent feature of a past, best left behind. What’s fascinating here is that, both share a similar belief in history’s linear progress; somehow the future, solely by virtue of it being the future, necessarily brings with it more sophisticated challenges than the past did, a hallmark of haughty modernist thinking.
This idea seems to be validated in the colonized mind when it soaks in the stark reality of disenfranchisement and defeatism that surrounds it. I state here unequivocally that the ability to marshal armies and death-raining technology does not necessitate intellectual superiority. Nor is the ability to kill and enslave people an attribute of the ḥaqq.
Yet still many Muslims wonder: what could discussions regarding the classical ideas about materialism or polemical refutations of the Muʿtazilah and Bāṭiniyyah have to do with answering Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Liberalism, and the like?
The answer is more than you think.
The arguments of scientists against religion are not as seemingly unassailable as they may appear. As empirical philosophers, they themselves have jettisoned a large part of rationality from their own discourse, vaingloriously declaring that if it can’t be seen, heard, tasted, touched, smelled or measured, it doesn’t exist. Such an unexamined statement, when taken to its logical conclusion, would have us revert to Roman numerals and render the Big Bang a rational conundrum.
The arguments for kufr, all of which, whether in the form of polytheism or atheism, all depend on affirming the divinity of the material things of this universe, in similar, but subtly different ways.
It is a maxim of the scholars based on a number of statements of revelation that all the different types of kufr, ultimately comprise of one millah. For example some said that God resides in everything. Others said that God was born in the flesh. Some said that there is no God. All, however, in order to explain the incoherence of everything spontaneously existing from nothing, stated that the material universe must have always had attributes Muslims ascribed to the Divine. Many resort to claiming it existed in some cyclically reiterating form, and thus will continue to do so, possessing pre-primordiality and eternity, both being essential attributes of what we call God. It is against this backdrop that Islām, rather than assigning Divine attributes to the creation, affirms Allāh’s being thoroughly unlike His creation and transcendent above it.
It is from this basis that the Kalām tradition painstakingly refutes many possible contortions and adjustments that kufr can, has, and will make in order to free itself from the trap of its own initial incoherence. Through study of those refutations, a roadmap to answers to modern obsessions like “if God is so omnipotent, why are children born with deformities?”; “why can’t we refer to God as a she,”; or “If God exists, show him to me, and if you can’t, admit He doesn’t exist,” comes into clear view. Once the existence of Absolute Truth is established and necessarily affirmed, the moral and existential chaos of an absolutist relativist (yes, I’m aware of how silly it sounds) liberal modernity is resolutely challenged. Without that affirmation, answering simple questions like “Who am I?” becomes cumbersome.
I’d like to conclude, not by neatly wrapping the discussion up, but by throwing a number of doors open, namely the doors of ijtihad, which were never closed in the first place, at least for those whose purview it was and remains. Ijtihād is a very interesting idea, one of which many speak but few understand. Much like playing on a professional sports team is the preserve of the elite of that sport, ijtihād is an actual reality for those few who combine the God-given spiritual and intellectual strengths needed to have a shot at it, with the years of hard work and practice. Also, much like professional sports, although there may be only a handful of legitimate practitioners of ijtihad, there are thousands, if not millions of pretenders behind them ready to dream about it, talk about it and offer their detailed commentaries about it—commentaries bearing various levels of insight and/or connections to any kind of reality. The current reductionist, atomistic approach that is in fashion amongst the intelligentsia is an antagonist to an uṣūlī, methodologically consistent approach to anything in the Dīn; the lack of study of ʿAqīdah shuts out the student from uṣūl at the ground floor as ʿAqīdah itself forms the foundation of uṣūl.
The preservation of ijtihad and its requisite branches of learning requires that there be a body of literature and group of people who can trace the final product of the various branches of Islāmic learning from source materials to the final prescriptions found in the canonical texts of the different sciences. A pseudo empirical-textual fixation not only subverts the superiority of the living tradition as described above, but also renders ijtihad practically meaningless. Supplanting the importance of uṣūl, which is the craft of ijtihad, games the system in the direction of literalism, or worse yet, a type of literalistically-inspired mya in which each individual, who may be busy becoming a doctor, shopping, on Facebook and Twitter, and giving their opinion, interprets text based on the meaning that most strongly occurs to them.
In such a nightmarish reality, truth, authority, reason and orthodoxy are replaced with a type of democracy of stupidities. This has been described in the ḥadīth of the Messenger of Allāh : “Whoever speaks about the Qurʾān by his own opinion is wrong even if [he happens to be] right.” The implication here is that the methodology by which the truth is sought is so horrid that it nullifies any possible benefit of randomly arriving at a correct conclusion. The similitude is one of a person who, instead of waiting to land at the airport and taking a cab home, jumps from the airplane as it flies over his house; timing his jump with a nearly impossible accuracy. Even if he is lucky and arrives at his destination, his arrival is not in any worthwhile manner.
Aside from the damage such an approach inflicts on the intellectual establishment of the Dīn due to its rabid irregularity, what is perhaps most tragic is how such intellectual vigilantism robs the top minds of the ummah of the chance to see the bigger picture when it comes to the sacred sharīʿah. Muslim scholars do not celebrate Abū Ḥanīfah and Mālik, amongst the salaf and Imām al-Ḥaramayn, Ghazālī, Shāṭibī, Qarāfī, Shāh Waliyyullāh, and others from the latter generations for amassing pages filled with attestations to particular rulings. Rather, they are looked to as beacons of light for their ability to explain the uṣūlī theory upon which the well-known precedents of the Sharīʿah were based. In many cases, they showed how that same uṣūl could be used to extrapolate rulings where no precedent existed.
Such a big picture understanding of the sacred Sharīʿah can only come from an uṣūlī understanding, the appreciation of which can only come with a solid foundation in the robust study of ʿAqīdah; without it you lose the Ghazālī and are left with the Ghazālī for Kids series.
Understanding how to think is indeed the crown jewel of ijtihad which is the difference between the ignoramus who will be punished even when arriving at the correct conclusion, versus the true ʿĀlim who will be rewarded twice for his correct conclusions and once for those which fall short of the mark. Thus, abandoning the study of ʿAqīdah is worthy of far more concern than many perceive.
Recommendations for Learning & Promoting Sunnī ʿAqīdah
Take a course in a basic text of ʿAqīdah like that of Imām Ṭaḥāwī, Ibn Abī Zayd, Ibn ʿĀshir, or the like with an erudite and qualified scholar, like the mashāyikh at reputable institutions like Ribat, Dār ul-Qasim or Masjid al-Huda. If you don’t have access to in-person classes, listen to a recording of the explanation of the complete text of the ʿAqīdah Ṭaḥāwiyyah here.
Contact organizations like Imam Ghazali Institute or those listed above, and coordinate bringing such a course to your community targeting community leadership, students of knowledge, academics, as well as the public at large.
Support, seek advice from, and give a platform to those scholars who truly understand, believe in, uphold, and promote the Sunnī tradition, not merely as identity, but as a functional basis for viewing the world.
Novice Students of Knowledge
Read, master, and memorize a simple matn like those mentioned above, in Arabic, and take time to read through their commentaries.
Familiarize yourself with the intellectual history of Sunnī ʿAqīdah, and be able to trace how it has developed from the age of Risālah, the Salaf, the founding of its three main classical traditions, namely the Ashʿarī, Māturīdī, and Atharī schools, and how they dealt with major intellectual challenges in the past, like the Muʿtazilah and the Bāṭiniyyah.
Seek out a qualified teacher in one of those three traditions, who can competently teach you beginning and intermediate Kalām works, and demonstrate to you the connection between the text and the school of Kalām; the Ḥanafī school of fiqh being deeply connected to the Māturīdī school of Kalām, the Shāfiʿī school being deeply connected with the Ashʿarī, and the Ḥanbalī school with the Atharī. As for the Mālikī school, it was initially associated with the Atharī school, but after the fitnah of Ibn Tumart’s false claim to being the Mahdī, built on robust dialectics, they en masse took up the Ashʿarī school in order to defend the integrity of Sunnī creed from further spurious assault. Keep contact with said teacher and refer back to him or her whenever questions regarding the creedal implications of any legal, social, political or other issue comes up.
Advanced Students of Knowledge
Teach a class based on a basic text, like those mentioned in the recommendation section for regular folks at least twice a year; it will solidify your knowledge of its contents and allow you to see their implications in other matters you would have otherwise been heedless of, due to them being in your mind constantly. Additionally, it will be a good way of paying the zakāt due on they knowledge you have accumulated.
Read the intermediate and advanced books of your Kalām tradition. The advanced level texts will orient you with the opinions of the other schools as well. Do not suffice with that; rather read the texts of the other schools in order to get a fresh and accurate picture of their arguments.
In addition to your teachers, keep contact with a group of students who are at your level of study and reading and discuss matters of import in the intellectual, social, political and cultural life of the Muslim and the world around. When appropriate, write about such topics for the benefit of other students of knowledge and even the general public.
Use ʿAqīdah as a way of grounding your view of the world around you, allowing you to extricate yourself from getting caught up in ancillary issues, which while important, take a secondary importance when compared to those residing in the space of creed.
Sh. Hamza was born in Whittier, California and lived in Southern California until the age of ten when he moved to Blaine, Washington. He later attended the University of Washington and in 2004 completed a Bachelors of Science in Biochemistry and a Bachelors of Arts in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. He served as the president of the University of Washington Muslim Students Association, one of the largest and most active student groups on campus, as a student senator for two years, and as the Senate-appointed member of the special funding committee. After graduation, Hamza went on to pursue traditional Islamic studies, which took him to Syria and Egypt where he studied the Arabic language; Morocco, Mauritania, and the UAE, where he studied the madhab of Imam Malik, grammar, usul al-hadith, and the two renditions of the qira’ah of Imam Nafi’, Warsh and Qalun, and finally Pakistan where he had the opportunity to study tafsir, usul al-hadith, hadith, ‘ilm al-rijal and Hanafi fiqh.
All of these studies culminated in him receiving an ijazat al-tadris, literally meaning “a license to teach” which is the equivalent in Pakistani Islamic seminaries to a MA in Arabic and Islamic studies, as well as an unbroken chain of transmission by which to narrate the hadith of such books as the Muwatta of Imam Malik, the Sihah al-Sittah (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i and Ibn Majah), and the Sharh Ma’ani al-Athar of Imam al-Tahawi.
 Narrated by Bukhārī, Muslim, Ahmad and others. The narration translated is from Bukhārī.
 Many ardent proponents of sectarianism will argue passionately that these matters are of key importance to the belief of every Muslim. This flies in the face of the fact that if these matters were so essential to a person’s islām, they would have been explicated very clearly in one of the undisputable scriptural sources of dīn and on the tongue of the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ.
 Kalām being the medium of the study of advanced ʿAqīdah in most Sunnī madāris
 al-ʿAlaq 96:5
 This responsibility comes hand in hand with the responsibility of the public to heed their teachings and admonishments.
 Ironically so-named
 One of the unfortunate consequences of the collapse of widespread and endowed patronage of the people of knowledge is that in order to prosecute their mandates, many scholars have become part time politicians in order to fund their projects, keep masjid boards at bay, make a living or even find a platform to be heard. Although it is part of the prophetic mandate for the ʿUlamāʾ to maintain a well-cultivated relationship with the public, there is an inherent tension between being a visionary representative of the Ḥaqq as transmitted through revelation and recruiting the resources from laypeople who view such support not as a sacred duty, but as transactional. Unfortunately, due to this conundrum, some scholars have turned to demagoguery and the trappings of cults in order to extract optimal support from their followers, while maintaining a level of control that mitigates the transactionality of that support; the problem here is that in solving one problem, a bigger one is created: the training of zombie-like masses who can no longer critically engage Islām, rather only parrot what their leader says. Such a model is not the one left to us by the Messenger of Allāh.
 Imām here meaning an acknowledged authority in a field of learning amongst the sciences of revelation, as opposed to an imm in a local mosque.
 An Arabic word for guardian and friend, it is the term most commonly used to denote sainthood amongst Muslims when used in the context of piety.
 As long as such a misguidance doesn’t rationally necessitate negating Islām outright.
 Herein lies a sign pointing to the prophetic methodology of teaching faḍāʾil or what the virtues of things are. Faḍāʾil as a branch of knowledge sometimes suffer the stigma of being less important than the rulings to which they point. However, inasmuch as they are necessary to engender the requisite respect in the hearts and minds of those who are morally obliged to follow those rulings, they may come to play a role which is much more important that many first think. Abandoning their mention is a departure from prophetic pedagogical methodology.
 The mind being the spiritual seat of cognition, and the locus of correct ʿAqīdah.
 The heart being a spiritual organ from where intentions originate, the rectification of which is the subject of Taṣawwuf.
 For instance having memorized the entirety of the Qurʾān isn’t an integral component of faith in any individual, but it is a farḍ kifāyah on communities to maintain and produce those who carry and transmit the divine text.
 As made up of an aggregate of small units which are analyzed and interpreted in isolation of others.
 The differences in uṣūl amongst the madhāhib being the reason we have different madhabs.
 Literally, the Greatest Fiqh
 There are a number of popular figures who have raised great amounts of money and garnered large followings from demographically Sunnī populations, despite their utter disdain for the actual Sunnī creed in private. This is because their heterodoxy, if clearly labeled as such, would not find much support at all. Interestingly, a hallmark of Sunnism has always been isnād or an open declaration of one’s sources of knowledge, giving us the benefit of transparency as opposed to deception.
 Neo-salafists being those who claim that they can bypass tradition in order to hearken back to the pristine Islām of the early generations. This is opposed to Sunnism which always held tradition as a great ark in which to preserve that same tradition and dispense it to the generations.
 All those who use the Dīn to air unjustified economic grievances, and all those who believe in their hearts that some kind of redistribution of wealth will solve the problems that only a rectified heart can solve.
 One of the hallmarks of modernist thinking is that the “newness” of a thing is directly connected to some sort of value it possesses. From a physical science point of view, we know that since the dawn of creation, there is nothing physically new, as matter and energy are neither created, nor destroyed. If that is the case for physical things, then what about the abstract and intangible universe of ideas? Furthermore, in the realm of ideas, something which was true yesterday is true today, and vice-versa, what relevance should “newness” have to ideas for an uṣūlī thinker in the abstract realm? In the dissemination of ideas, which is more of a political matter, these things are important, but in the world in which intellectuals transact, they rapidly lose currency amongst serious thinkers.
 Like physicists and chemists
 Like Sociologists, Anthropologists, and the like.
 A noteworthy exception to the idea that all or most antagonists to the Kalām tradition are untrained in the classical Arabic sources are those who currently hold a position attributed to many of the salaf, namely that kalām is unsubstantiated speculation regarding revelation and the very nature of Allāh, thus a sin worse than theft and fornication, which is most widely ascribed to the Imām Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal, may Allāh sanctify his heart, and those who follow his school. Without casting any aggression toward this opinion which holds some merit, especially for the context in which it was first held, it goes without saying that such an approach will struggle to offer any help to a university student dealing with the ideological hailstorm on campus. Even then, a negation of kalām as scholastic theology is far from a negation of the importance of ʿAqīdah. The majority of Muslim scholarship, at any rate, didn’t see kalām in the post-salaf context as an abomination; I feel that radiant lamp of truth preserved in the kalām tradition would be unfairly thrown into the garbage heap of history by many at a time of darkness when the ummah acutely needs its light.
 الكفر ملّة واحدة
 Which, ironically, has yet to be empirically proven; who has an imaginary friend now?
 It is interesting that in attempting to explore this question, cotigo ergo sum is considered to be a treasure of Farangī philosophy: in our tradition, one doesn’t even begin the long journey of understanding reality, without paying the toll tax of fanā. Indeed, when reading the works of kalām, one quickly realizes that the more intellectually taxing exercise isn’t the refutation of kufr, rather that of refuting heterodox groups which operate under the umbrella of Islāmic identity, like the Muʿtazilah, Khawārij, and the Rawāfiḍ, who dared not challenge God head on, but strayed by overlaying their own sophistry over revelation. Thus, the more skilled refutations are not those of kufr, but of the spurious interpolations of the nafs, which gave rise to heterodoxy in Islām, which is expressed in the refutation of such groups. Thus, one can restate a reality mentioned above through its opposite: the journey to kufr can only begin in earnest by the complete affirmation of nafs, Allāh forgive and protect us all, and give all of us a good end.
 Not all spiritual achievements are virtuous. Some are evil, and many others are morally neutral.
 The Hindu concept of the illusory conception that each individual has of the world around him. To others it is an illusion, but to the individual in question, it is real; thus there is no such thing as a reality anchored at any absolute truth, rather an array of quasi-truths, which may be completely true, but only to the individual who holds them as such.
 This seems to be the direction in which the enfranchised elites of both the Muslim world and the world in general are both headed, if they haven’t already taken up residence decades ago.
 Tirmidhī: بَابُ مَا جَاءَ فِي الَّذِي يُفَسِّرُ القُرْآنَ بِرَأْيِه
 Being represented in the Salaf by the concept of Tafwīḍ, or vouchsafing the knowledge of that which is unclear to Allāh, rather than anthropomorphism.
 المعيار المعرب, المجلّد الثاني
The Spirituality Of Gratitude
The Quran tells the reader of the importance of gratitude in two ways. First, worship, which is the essence of the relationship between man and the Creator, is conditional to gratitude “and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship” (2:172). The verse suggests that in order for an individual to truly worship Allah then they must express gratitude to Allah and that an ungrateful individual cannot be a worshiper of Allah. The second verse states the following “And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me” (2:152). The Arabic word used, translated here as ‘deny,’ is kufr which linguistically means to cover up. The word was adopted by the Quran to refer to someone who rejects Allah after learning of Him. Both the linguistic and Quranic definitions are possibly meant in this verse and both arrive at the same conclusion. That is, the absence of gratitude is an indicator of one’s rejection of Allah; the question is how and why?
What Does Shukr Mean?
Understanding a Quranic concept begins with understanding the word chosen by the Quran. The word shukr is used throughout the Quran and is commonly translated as gratitude. From a purely linguistic definition, shukr is “the effect food has on the body of an animal” (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 200). What is meant here is that when an animal eats food it becomes heavier which has a clear and visible effect on the animal. Therefore, shukr is the manifestation of a blessing or blessings on the entirety of a person. From here, spiritualists understood the goal of shukr and added an extra element to the definition and that is the acknowledgment that those blessings are from Allah. Thus, the definition of shukr as an Islamic spiritual concept is “the manifestation of Allah’s blessings verbally through praise and acknowledgment; emotionally on the heart through witnessing the blessings and loving Allah; and physically through submission and servitude” (Ibid).
Based on this definition, the goal of shukr can be broken into five categories. First, gratitude that brings about the submission of the individual to his benefactor. In order for an act to be worthy of gratitude, the beneficiary must conclude that the benefactor’s action was done for the sake of the beneficiary – thus making the benefactor benevolent. In other words, the benefactor is not benefiting in the least (Emmons et al 2004 p. 62). When the individual recognizes his benefactor, Allah, as being completely independent of the individual and perfect in of himself, one concludes that the actions of the benefactor are purely in the best interest of the beneficiary resulting in the building of trust in Allah. The Quran utilizes this point multiple times explicitly stating that Allah has nothing to gain from the creations servitude nor does he lose anything from because of their disobedience (Q 2:255, 4:133, 35:15, 47:38). Through shukr, a person’s spirituality increases by recognizing Allah’s perfection and their own imperfection thus building the feeling of need for Allah and trust in him (Emmons et al 2002 p. 463).
Gratitude in Knowing That Allah Loves Us
The second category is love for the benefactor. Similar to the previous category, by identifying the motive of the benefactor one can better appreciate their favors. “Gratitude is fundamentally a moral affect with empathy at its foundation: In order to acknowledge the cost of the gift, the recipient must identity with the psychological state of the one who has provided it” (Emmons 2002 p. 461). That is, by recognizing Allah’s perfection one concludes that his blessings are entirely in the best interest of the beneficiary despite not bringing any return to Him. Thus, the Quran utilizes this concept repeatedly and to list a few, the Quran reminds the human reader that he created the human species directly with his two hands (38:75), he created them in the best physical and mental form (95:4), gave him nobility (17:70), commanded the angels to prostrate to him out of reverence (38:72-3), made him unique by giving him knowledge and language (2:31), exiled Satan who refused to revere him (7:13), allowed him into Paradise (7:19), forgave his mistake (2:37), designated angels to protect each individual (13:11) and supplicate Allah to forgive the believers (40:7-9), created an entire world that caters to his needs (2:29), among plenty of other blessings which express Allah’s love, care, and compassion of the human.
The remaining three categories revolve around the individual acting upon their gratitude by acknowledging them, praising Allah for them and using them in a manner acceptable to Allah. In order for gratitude to play a role in spirituality the blessings one enjoys must be utilized in a manner that connects them with Allah. Initially, one must acknowledge that all blessings are from him thus establishing a connection between the self and Allah. This is then elevated to where the individual views these blessings as more than inanimate objects but entities that serve a purpose. By doing this one begins to see and appreciate the wisdoms behind these created entities enlightening the individual to the Creators abilities and qualities. Finally, after recognizing the general and specific wisdoms behind each creation, one feels a greater sense of purpose, responsibility, and loyalty. That is, engaging the previous five categories establishes love for the benefactor (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 203). Observing the care and compassion of the benefactor for his creation establishes the feeling of loyalty towards the one who has cared for us as well as responsibility since He created everything with purpose.
Blessings Even in Hardship
One may interject by referring to the many individuals and societies that are plagued with hardships and do not have blessings to appreciate. No doubt this is a reality and the Quran address this indirectly. Upon analysis, one finds that the blessings which the Quran references and encourages the reader to appreciate are not wealth or health; rather, it is the sun, the moon, trees, and the natural world in general. Perhaps the reason for this is what shukr seeks to drive us towards. There are two things all these objects have in common (1) they are gifts given by Allah to all humans and all individuals enjoy them and (2) humans are dependent upon them. Everyone has access to the sun, no one can take it away, and we are critically dependent upon it. When the Quran draws our attention to these blessings, the reader should begin to appreciate the natural world at a different level and Surah an Nahl does precisely that. This chapter was likely revealed during the time of hijrah (immigration); a time when the companions lost everything – their homes, wealth, and tribes. The chapter works to counsel them by teaching them that the true blessings a person enjoys is all around them and no matter how much was taken from them, no one can take away the greater blessings of Allah.
In sum, these verses bring light to the crucial role shukr plays in faith. It serves as a means to better know Allah which can be achieved through a series of phases. First, the individual must search for the blessings which then leads to a shift in perspective from focusing on the wants to focusing on what is available. This leads to greater appreciation and recognition of the positives in one’s life allowing the person more optimism. Second, the person must link those blessings to the benefactor – Allah – which reveals many elements of who He is and His concern for His creation. Once this is internalized in the person’s hearts, its benefits begin to manifest itself on the person’s heart, mind, and body; it manifests itself in the form of love for Allah and submission to him. Shukr ultimately reveals the extent of Allah’s love and concern for the individual which therein strengthens the trust and love of the individual for Allah and ultimately their submission to Him.
Allah knows best.
Emmons, Robert A., and Charles M. Shelton. “Gratitude and the science of positive psychology.” Handbook of positive psychology 18 (2002): 459-471.
Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough, eds. The psychology of gratitude. Oxford University Press, 2004.
Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. madārij al-sālikīn bayn manāzil iyyāka naʿbud wa iyyāka nastaʿīn مدارج السالكين بين منازل إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين [The Levels of Spirituality between the Dynamics of “It is You Alone we Worship and it is You Alone we Seek Help From]. Cario: Hadith Publications, 2005.
 Islamically speaking, it is not befitting to claim that Allah has a psyche or that he can be analyzed psychologically.
Download a longer version of this article here: The Sprituality of Gratitude
Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1
Alhamdulillah, it’s a great blessing of Allah that He has given us both the opportunity and ability to come here tonight to study and explore the meanings of His words in Surah Maryam. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity. May Allah accept this effort from all of us and place it on our scale of good deeds.
Alhamdulillah, in our last series we were able to complete the tafsir of Surah Al-Kahf. InshAllah, in this next series, we’ll be exploring the meanings, lessons, and reminders of Surah Maryam. Tafsīr is an extremely noble and virtuous discipline. The reason why it’s so noble and virtuous is that it’s the study of the divine speech of Allah . As mentioned in a hadith the superiority of the speech of Allah over all other speech is like the superiority of Allah over all of His creation. There’s nothing more beneficial and virtuous than studying the Quran. And by doing so we’ll be counted amongst the best of people. As the Prophet said, “the best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.”
All of us need to build a stronger relationship with the Quran. The Quran is full of wisdom and guidance in every single verse and word. It’s our responsibility to seek that guidance, understand it, contextualize it and more importantly act upon it. Tafsīr is such a unique science that it brings together all of the other Islamic sciences. While exploring a Surah a person comes across discussions regarding Arabic grammar and morphology, rhetoric, Ahādīth, fiqh, sīrah and all those studies that are known as the Islamic Sciences. One scholar described the Quran as an ocean that has no shore, بحر لا ساحل له. The more we study the Qur’ān the stronger our relationship with it will become. We’ll become more and more attached to it and will be drawn into its beauty and wonder. The deeper a person gets into tafsir and studying the more engaged and interested they become. They also recognize how little they truly know. It develops humility. That’s the nature of true knowledge. The more we learn the more we recognize we don’t know. May Allah ﷻ allow us all to be sincere and committed students of the Qur’ān.
Surah Maryam is the 19th surah in the Quran. It is a relatively long Makki surah made up of 98 verses. Some commentators mention that it’s the 44th Surah to be revealed, after Surah Al-Fatir and before Surah Taha. It has been given the name Maryam because Allah mentions the story of Maryam (as) and her family and how she gave birth to Isa miraculously at the beginning of the Surah. Just like other Makkan surahs, it deals with the most fundamental aspects of our faith. It talks about the existence and oneness of Allah , prophethood, and resurrection and recompense.
The Surah is made up of a series of unique stories filled with guidance and lessons that are meant as reminders. One of the main themes of this Surah is mercy… It has been mentioned over 16 times in this Surah. We’ll find the words of grace, compassion and their synonyms frequently mentioned throughout the sūrah, together with Allah’s attributes of beneficence and mercy. We can say that one of the objectives of the Surah is to establish and affirm the attribute of mercy for Allah . That’s why all of the stories mentioned also have to do with Allah’s mercy.
Another objective of the Surah is to remind us of our relationship with Allah ﷻ; the concept of Al-‘Ubūdiyyah. These are the two major themes or ideas of this Surah; the concept of Rahmah and the concept of ‘Ubūdiyyah (Mercy and Servitude).
The Surah can be divided into 8 sections:
1) Verses 1-15: The surah starts with the story of Zakariyya (as) and how he was given the gift of a child at a very old age, which was something strange and out of the ordinary.
2) Verses 16-40: mention the story of Maryam and the miraculous birth of Isa without a father and how her community responded to her.
3) Verses 41-50: The surah then briefly mentions one part of the story of Ibrahim , specifically the conversation he had with his father regarding the worship of idols. The surah then briefly mentions a series of other Prophets.
4) Verses 51-58: Mention Musa and Haroon , Ismail and Idrees to show that the essence of the message of all Prophets was the same
5) Verses 59-65: compare and contrast the previous generations with the current ones in terms of belief and actions.
6) Verses 66-72: Allah addresses the Mushrikoon rejecting their false claims regarding life after death and judgment.
7) Verses 73-87: continue to address the Mushrikoon and warn them regarding their attitude towards belief in Allah and His messengers. They also mention the great difference between the resurrection of the believer and the resurrection of the non-believer.
8) Verses 88-98: contain a severe warning to those who claim that Allah has taken a child. They also express that Allah is pleased with the believers and mentions that one of the objectives of the Quran is to give glad tidings to the believers and to warn the non-believers.
From various narrations, we learn that this surah was revealed near the end of the fourth year of Prophethood. This was an extremely difficult time for Muslims. The Quraysh were frustrated with their inability to stop the message of Islam from spreading so they became ruthless. They resorted to any method of torture that they could think of; beating, starving and harassing. When the persecution became so severe that it was difficult for the Muslims to bear it, the Prophet gave permission to migrate to Abyssinia. “For in it dwells a king in whose presence no one is harmed.” 10 men and 4 women migrated in the 5th year of Prophethood secretly. After a few months, a larger group of 83 men and 18 women migrated as well. This migration added more fuel to the fire. It enraged the people of Quraysh.
Umm Salamah [rahna]narrated, “When we stopped to reside in the land of Abyssinia we lived alongside the best of neighbors An-Najashi. We practiced our religion safely, worshipped Allah without harm and didn’t hear anything we disliked. When news of our situation reached the Quraysh they started to plot against us…” They decided to send two delegates to persuade An-Najashi to send the Companions back by offering him and his ministers’ gifts. The plan was to go to each minister with gifts and turn them against the Muslims. So they went to each minister with gifts and said, “Verily, foolish youth from amongst us have come to the country of your king; they have abandoned the religion of their people and have not embraced your religion. Rather they have come with a new religion that neither of us knows. The noblemen of their people, from their fathers and uncles, have sent us to the king asking that he send them back. So when we speak to the king regarding their situation advise him to surrender them to us and to not speak to them…” The minister agreed.
Then they went to the king, offered him gifts and said the same thing… The ministers tried to convince him as well. An-Najashi became angry with them and said, “No, by Allah, I will not surrender them to these two and I don’t fear the plotting of a people who have become my neighbors, have settled down in my country, and have chosen me (to grant them refuge) over every other person. I will not do so until I summon them and speak to them. If they are as these two say I will give them up, but if they aren’t then I will protect them from these two and continue to be a good neighbor to them as long as they are good neighbors to me.”
al-Najāshī then summoned the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions. When his messenger informed the Prophet’s Companions that they were to appear before the king, they gathered together to discuss what they should do. One of them asked, “What will you say to the name (al-Najāshī) when you go to him?” They all agreed on what they would say to him, “By Allah, we will say what our Prophet ﷺ taught us and commanded us with, regardless of the consequences.” Meanwhile, al-Najāshī called for his priests, who gathered around him with their scrolls spread out before them. When the Muslims arrived al-Najāshī began by asking them, “What is this religion for which you have parted from your people? You have not entered into the fold of my religion, nor the religion of any person from these nations.”
Umm Salamah [rahna] narrated, “The Person among us who would speak to him was Jaʿfar ibn abī Ṭālib [rahnu] who then said, “O king, we were an ignorant people: we worshipped idols, we would eat from the flesh of dead animals, we would perform lewd acts, we would cut off family ties, and we would be bad neighbors; the strong among us would eat from the weak. We remained upon that state until Allah sent us a Messenger, whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and chastity we already knew. He invited us to Allah – to believe in His oneness and to worship Him; to abandon all that we and our fathers worshipped besides Allah, in terms of stones and idols. He ﷺ commanded us to speak truthfully, to fulfill the trust, to join ties of family relations, to be good to our neighbors, and to refrain from forbidden deeds and from shedding blood. And he ﷺ forbade us from lewd acts, from uttering falsehood, from wrongfully eating the wealth of an orphan, from falsely accusing chaste women of wrongdoing. And he ﷺ ordered us to worship Allah alone and to not associate any partners with him in worship; and he ﷺ commanded us to pray, to give zakāh, and to fast.” He enumerated for al-Najāshī the teachings of Islam. He said, “And we believe him and have faith in him. We follow him in what he came with. And so we worship Allah alone, without associating any partners with Him in worship. We deem forbidden that which he has made forbidden for us, and we deem lawful that which he made permissible for us. Our people then transgressed against us and tortured us. The tried to force us to abandon our religion and to return from the worship of Allah to the worship of idols; they tried to make us deem lawful those abominable acts that we used to deem lawful. Then, when they subjugated us, wronged us, and treated us in an oppressive manner, standing between us and our religion, we came to your country, and we chose you over all other people. We desired to live alongside you, and we hoped that, with you, we would not be wronged, O king.” al-Najāshī said to Jaʿfar [rahnu], “Do you have any of that which he came with from Allah?” Jaʿfar [rahnu] said, “Yes”. “Then recite to me,” said al-Najāshī. Jaʿfar [rahnu] recited for him the beginning of Surah Maryam. By Allah, al-Najāshī began to cry, until his beard became wet with tears. And when his priests heard what Jaʿfar [rahnu] was reciting to them, they cried until their scrolls became wet. al-Najāshī then said, “By Allah, this and what Mūsa (as) came with come out of the same lantern. Then by Allah, I will never surrender them to you, and henceforward they will not be plotted against and tortured.”
Describing what happened after the aforementioned discussion between al-Najāshī and Jaʿfar [rahnu], Umm Salamah said, “When both ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ and ʿAbdullah ibn abī Rabīʿah left the presence of al-Najāshī, ʿAmr [rahnu] said, “By Allah tomorrow I will present to him information about them with which I will pull up by the roots their very lives.” Abdullah ibn Rabīʿah who was more sympathetic of the two towards us said, “Don’t do so, for they have certain rights of family relations, even if they have opposed us.” ʿAmr said, “By Allah, I will inform him that they claim that ʿĪsā ibn Maryam is a slave.”
He went to the king on the following day and said, “O king, verily, they have strong words to say about ʿĪsa (as). Call them here and ask them what they say about him.” al-Najāshī sent for them in order to ask them about ʿĪsa. Nothing similar to this befell us before. The group of Muslims gathered together and said to one another, “What will you say about ʿĪsa when he asks you about him?” They said, “By Allah, we will say about him that which Allah says and that which our Prophet ﷺ came with, regardless of the outcome.” When they entered into his presence, he said to them, “What do you say about ʿĪsa ibn Maryam?” Jaʿfar said, “We say about him that which our Prophet ﷺ came with – that he is the slave of Allah, His messenger, a spirit created by Him, and His word, which he bestowed on Maryam, the virgin, the baṭūl.”
al-Najāshī struck his hand on the ground and took from it a stick. He then said, “ʿĪsa ibn Maryam did not go beyond what you said even the distance of the stick.” When he said this, his ministers spoke out in anger, to which he responded, “What I said is true even if you speak out in anger, by Allah. (Turning to the Muslims, he said) Go, for you are safe in my land. Whoever curses you will be held responsible. And I would not love to have a reward of gold in return for me hurting a single man among you. (Speaking to his ministers he said) Return to these two (men) their gifts, since we have no need for them. For by Allah, Allah did not take from me bribe money when He returned to me my kingdom, so why should I take bribe money. The two left, defeated and humiliated; and returned to them were the things they came with. We then resided alongside al-Najāshī in a very good abode, with a very good neighbor.”
The response was simply amazing in its eloquence. A believer puts the needs of his soul before the needs of his body. Allah starts the Surah by saying,
Verse 1: Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Sad.
Allah starts Surah Maryam with a series of five letters. There are many different saying or explanations regarding these five letters. The most correct opinion is that these are from the broken letters. There are 29 different Surahs in the Quran that start with the broken letters. Only Allah alone knows the meanings of these letters. They are a secret from amongst the secrets of Allah , meaning that no one knows what they truly mean. Only Allah knows their meanings so they are from amongst the Mutashaabihat, those verses whose meanings are hidden.
However, we do find that some great Companions, as well as their students, sometimes gave meanings to these words. For example, it’s said that it is in acronym and each letter represents one of the names of Allah . Kaf is for Al-Kafi or Al-Kareem, “haa” is for Al-Hadi, “yaa” is from Hakeem or Raheem, “’ayn” is from Al-‘Aleem or Al-‘Adheem, and “saad” is from Al-Saadiq. Others said that it is one of the names of Allah and it’s actually Al-Ism Al-‘Atham or that it’s a name of the Quran. However, these narrations can’t be used as proof or to assign definitive meanings. They offer possibilities, but no one truly knows what they mean.
Now the question should come to our mind that why would Allah start of a Surah with words that no one understands?
1) To grab the attention of the listeners.
2) To remind us that no matter how much we know there’s always something that we don’t know.
3) These letters are the letters of the Arabic language and the Quran was revealed at a time that was the peak of eloquence of the language and it was their identity. The Quran was revealed challenging them spiritually and intellectually. The Arabs never heard these letters being used in such a majestic way.
4) To prove the inimitable nature of the Quran.
Allah then starts the story of Zakariyya . Zakariyya was one of the Prophets sent to Bani Israel. He was the husband of Maryam’s paternal aunt. He was also one of the caretakers or custodians of Baitul Maqdis.