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A Seeker’s Guide To Arabic Studies In Egypt – Part I

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By Hamza Vohra

 

Without a doubt Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) speech is a calmness to the ears. But like many, I never felt content with trying to understand the message in a language other than in what it was revealed.

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After graduating from the University of Connecticut last May, I decided to pursue my goal of learning the language of the Quran in a country where I could completely immerse in its culture, and most importantly, the Arabic language. Not having the slightest idea of how things worked nor having found much guidance online, I was adamant and decided to take my chances. Alhamdulillah -all praise is due to Allahsubḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)-, I find myself a year later being able to understand Arabic texts, write essays and converse in Arabic. I hope an article such as this can shed light on Arabic studies in Egypt for those with a similar intent.

LOCATION AND LIVING

Where exactly in Egypt are institutes located?

Whilst I’m sure that you will find Arabic institutes in Alexandria and perhaps Giza as well -even after the coup (a lot were closed down)-, Nasr City in Cairo definitely has the majority of them. You will find this city to be populated with foreigners from all over the globe. It’s quite remarkable in fact to see the diversity of the student body. Moreover, I found the students themselves to be very diverse in their previous Islamic/Arabic background. Some have previously graduated from other Islamic institutions and look to further their comprehension, whilst others were starting off from scratch – I was of the latter.
Where should I look for an apartment?

If you’re looking for apartments to rent in Nasr City, I recommend the following areas: Hayy Thamin, Hayy Tasi’, and Hayy ‘Aashir. These areas are in close proximity to most of the Arabic institutes in the locality. These areas are also heavily populated with private Arabic instructors and tutors. Hayy Thamin and Hayy Tasi’ are of the more opulent areas (I speak in Egyptian terms, and not Western standards!) and as a result are more expensive. Hayy ‘ Aashir may perhaps be a no-go for some Westerners because of its unclean-seeming roads and older apartments. I spent my entire year of study in Hayy ‘Aashir and adjusted really well, however. Hayy Aashir (and specifically Swissry Baa within Hayy ‘Aashir) is in close range to restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, and other local shops for all basic necessities. It’s always buzzing with people from early morning until late at night, and living there truly enriches your experience in my opinion. It might be wiser for married couples to consider Hayy Thamin or Hayy Tasi’ starting off, as I’m sure it’ll ease the transition from their respective countries.

As of late, the average 3-bedroom furnished apartment in Hayy ‘Aashir is about 2300-3000 Junays or Egyptian pounds. The average 3 bedroom furnished apartment in Hayy Thamin is about ‪3500-‬4000 Junays. These numbers do not include other bills such as electricity, gas, WiFi, etc. It is also important to note that these numbers can easily fluctuate depending on the year. Ideally, students ‪find roommates to split all expenses. ‬

*If you’re planning to spend Summer in Egypt, it’s vital that your apartment has a working AC. It gets very hot. A hot water boiler and washing machine are other amenities you might want to confirm are functional, prior to renting an apartment.

*If you do not have a precise location to your place of residence in Hay Thamin/Tasi’/’Aashir upon your arrival to Cairo, a popular landmark is “Souq Assayarat”; a huge car fair that takes place on Fridays. Majority of taxi drivers know of this place in Nasr City, in the event that they aren’t familiar with what “Hay” you are speaking of. Avoid booking your ticket to and out of Cairo on a Friday to avoid the heavy traffic caused by the fair. Use Uber or Careem to avoid being ripped off by the very ambitious taxi drivers you meet at the airport!

*In the event you fall ill, a very useful Android/iPhone application to use for a list of available physicians in your area is ‘Vezeeta’.

*An option to consider if you’re looking for a far more comfortable lifestyle, is Rehab. This city is about 20-minute car ride from Nasr City.

TUITION

What institute should I study at?

Arabic institutes are aplenty in Nasr City; some have recently been established whilst others have built a reputation over the years. These institutes include: Fajr, Kalimah, Al-Diwan, Al-Ibaanah, etc. Each institute follows a related syllabus (except for Al-Ibaanah which followS its own entirely).

What Is the difference between Group Study and Private Study?

I would like to clarify that there are two streams of study in Egypt: group study, which take place at the more well known institutes in a classroom-oriented atmosphere, and private study, which is conducted at your place of residence (or occasionally at an institute or at your instructor’s home).

Private study, as the name suggests is one-on-one, as opposed to group study which includes a number of classmates. Each stream of study has its advantages and disadvantages, and it is up to the individual to see what is feasible for his/her circumstances before ultimately making a personal decision. I will attempt to highlight the pros and cons of each:

Group study:

a) The biggest advantage of group study at an institute is that there is a system of study in place. There is an entire syllabus that is followed along with exact start dates and end dates to each level. There are exams, homework assignments, and class presentations that are vital to your progression. You do not have to be concerned about your instructor’s reliability -which is a big concern with many private tutors (I will elaborate later on).

b) Another advantage of group study is that you have tons of students from all over the world in the institute that you may practice speaking Arabic with. The more you practice your speaking, the more you’ll progress. You want to utilize all the grammar rules/verbs/vocabulary/expressions you learn, and the best way to do that is by simply, speaking!

c) A huge disadvantage of group study, however, is your teacher’s inability to focus on you individually due to the number of students in the classroom. It is for this reason that many resort to private study and consider it a lot more constructive. I will mention more about this in the advantages of private study.

*Some may argue that the pace of instruction of group study at an institute is very slow. However I would argue that a new language is meant to be learned slowly and progressively. Furthermore, if you are to complete the entire syllabus at an institute, you would benefit  tremendously.

[Read Part II here]

Hamza Vohra is a graduate from UConn with a B.Sc. in Biology and a minor in Psychology. He is currently a student at the Islamic University of Madinah, furthering his knowledge of the Islamic sciences.

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    #Islam

    Dr Yaseen Mazhar Siddiqui: An Obituary Of A Scholar of Seerah

    A leading scholar of Islamic studies with focus on Seerah literature and history, he unconventionally broke many stereotypes—both orthodox and modern and all his life epitomized the cause of Islam on the intellectual front.

    With the death of Yaseen Mazhar Siddiqui, at the age of 76, Muslims in South Asia lost one of the most respected and leading scholars of Islam. A graduate of, and now professor at Aligarh University is less known in the West for his 29 books than for his Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts at the Aligarh Muslim University, India, published in London in 2002 by the Furqan Heritage Foundation. An eminent Muslim religious scholar, academic and historian who served as director of the Institute of Islamic Studies at Aligarh Muslim University. Siddiqui was a well-placed and reputed figure of great spiritual and intellectual insight recognized on national as well as international level. Siddiqui was instrumental over the past 30 years in the framing, development and streamlining the influence of Islam in Aligarh Muslim University. To commemorate the outstanding services of Hazrat Shah Waliullah and to promote the Islamic values, the Institute of Objective Studies instituted an Award known as “Shah Waliullah Award” to honour eminent scholars who have done outstanding work in Social Sciences, Humanities, Law and Islamic Studies. The fifth Shah Waliullah Award was rightly conferred on Prof. Mohd Yasin Mazhar Siddiqi, as the renowned scholar for his contribution to Sirah and Historiography in Islamic Perspective in 2005.

    Siddiqui was an exceptionally modest and humble man, with an intellectually engaging and honest commitment to Islam, away from self-eulogizing claims of pseudo-intellectualism. His commitment to Islam, which occupied him for his whole life, left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of people across territorial boundaries. One thing all this illustrates is Siddiqui’s intense sense of duty — a sense that he unthinkingly expected his colleagues to share. Siddiqui’s well-stocked mind, clarity and unflinching intellectual honesty devoted to respond the questions of Orientalist scholarship on Sirah literature and subsequent other corollaries. He had little time for Islam’s own accounts of its origins rather his interest revolved around “Qurʾān and Sirah” and its role in shaping the worldview of Muslims who are struggling to makes sense of their identity amid the challenges emerging from dominant discursive colonial Eurocentric episteme. Leaving the conventional hollow claims, without efforts to prove how and why so much sanctity is attached to Islam and its sources—Qurʾān and Sunnah/Sirah being the primary one, he reckoned, to fill the gap using contemporary sources and knowledge of Hadīth, from orientalist and now its pedigree of modernist claims. This task required both personal and intellectual bravery. As he knew the central beliefs of Islam, such as the way the Quran took shape, the place of Sirah, its underlying methodology, he was equally aware how outside scrutiny has tempered the flare, especially when the conclusions are expressed in a witty and sardonic style. His soft way of speaking, affectionate manner and hospitable nature made him a much-loved figure. Because of his erudition most people who came in contact with him thought of him as a teacher; many saw him as a spiritual mentor. With his humble appearance, it was easy to mistake him for a country bumpkin.

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    Born in India in 1944 in the Lakhimpur Kheri district of United Provinces of British India. He graduated in the traditional Dars-e-Nizami (pure religious textual studies of Islamic texts) studies from Nadwatul Ulama in 1959, and Master’s in literature from the University of Lucknow in 1960. He passed the intermediate exams from the Jamia Milia Islamia in 1962 and then acquired a B.A. in 1965 and B.Ed. in 1966 from the same University. In 1968, Siddiqui recieved a M.A. degree in History, M.Phil. in 1969, and Ph.D. in 1975 from the Aligarh Muslim University. Yasin Mazhar Siddiqui benefited from great teachers like Maulana Rabi Hasni Nadvi, Maulana Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadvi, Maulana Ishaq Sandelvi K. A. Nizami, Abd al-Hafīz Balyāwi and Rabey Hasani. Anwar was welcomed as an independent member of various advisory committees and expressed pride in the research done in the field of Sirah.

    Professor Siddiqui wrote more than 40 books and 300 research articles in Urdu, Arabic and Persian. His publications and presentations have reverberated throughout the discipline of Islamic studies and social sciences, profoundly shaping the scholarship of a new generation of scholars as they develop a thoughtful, knowledgeable, and critical approach to Seerah and history. He was well known for the great quality and high calibre of his originality of research in Islamic studies and all related subjects. He was recognized as one of the compelling and intellectually grounded voice on Seerah studies.  As a scholar and teacher, he embodied and followed strong moral and political principles, and formulated new ways of understanding the subject of Seerah, history, religious freedom, and the rights of religious minorities. His writings on the Prophet and his teachings garnered wide acclaim. He wrote extensively in reputed literary journal, ‘Nuqoosh’ and got international ‘Nuqush Award’, ‘Seerat-e-Rasool Award’ and ‘Sirah Nigari Award’. Two of his most popular works are Muslim Conduct of State and Introduction to Islam. The first book was Ehd-e-Nabwi mai Tanzīm-e-Riyāsat-o-Hukūmat and the second book The Prophet Muhammad: A Role Model for Muslim Minorities has gained such wide acclaim—mainly for the reason that its contents are divided into chapters (which stand on their own as a monograph) which deal with related specific subject matter. It is easy to understand how his style of presentation has endeared the book not only to common folk, but also to the people who would like to gain a reasonable insight into the true spirit of the teachings of Islam.

    Almost every country outside the traditional Muslim “heartlands” asserts Siddiqui in his book ‘The Prophet Muhammad—A Role Model for Muslim minorities is home to a Muslim minority population today. For such Muslim communities, the political perspectives reflected by the corpus of traditional fiqh are of little or no relevance, and can even be hugely problematic. Siddiqui therefore takes it upon himself to develop an understanding of Muslim jurisprudence that is particularly suited to their context, making a valuable contribution to the limited, but slowly expanding, corpus of writings on fiqh al-aqalliyat or fiqh for [Muslim] minorities. Siddiqui argues that the basis of fiqh for Muslim minorities must lie in the Makkan period of life of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his companions, a period of around thirteen years when the Muslims were a minority and did not enjoy political domination. In many senses, their position resembled that of Muslim minorities today. Muslim minorities need to see the role of the Prophet and the early Muslims in that period as a model for them to emulate, Siddiqui suggests:

    The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) had close personal ties with several non-Muslims in Mecca, and Muslim minorities, Siddiqui advises, must emulate him in this regard and must have “excellent social relations with non-Muslims” (p. 194).

    As Siddiqui succinctly puts it:

    Muslims all over the world, especially Muslim minorities, have to prove that they are the best community, devoted to the cause of protecting mankind against suffering and blessing everyone with happiness, regardless of caste, colour or creed. Their position is of the best community and their duty is to serve mankind […] Their presence must guarantee help for everyone, especially of their non-Muslim country. However, this cannot be affirmed merely verbally or by recounting old stories. They have to prove it by their conduct. (p. 194)

    This monograph and his other works are a brilliant contribution to the on-going debates about fiqh for Muslim minorities. It provides valuable insights for developing new and more relevant understandings of Islamic jurisprudence in Muslim minority contexts, envisaging the possibility of reconciling Islamic commitment with Muslim minority-ness, an issue that has largely escaped the attention of Islamic scholars but one that has sometimes been, and continues to be, a troubling one for many Muslims living as minorities. Siddiqui’s diverse and intellectually engaging work that speaks eloquently to a wide spectrum of readers with different backgrounds and interests. To use terms such as “monumental”, “one-of-a-kind”, and “exceptional” to describe this work is not exaggeration. A committed Muslim, throughout his career Siddiqui maintained the principle of genuinely evidence-based research. Dapper and courteous, he was a highly effective communicator, quoted widely in the local context  as well as cited in academia.

    A direct criticism to his work also emerges from scholars who assert that in his Introduction of The Prophet Muhammad—A Role Model for Muslim minorities’ Siddiqi (p. 62) formally describes himself as a humble and error-prone human being. However, he then proceeds to negate the worth of all previous biographies of the Prophet, claiming that these ‘conventional’ authors used ‘outdated methodology and lines of argument’. Consequently, according to him, all previous studies of the Makkan period were ‘markedly inadequate’ and ‘the entire life history of the Prophet remains to be analysed’ since ‘no biographer of his has ever given thought to this obvious fact that the Makkan period of his life represents the phase of subjugation’. Therefore, Siddiqi considers the conventional treatment of the Makkan and Madinan periods of Islamic history as ‘downright pernicious’ (p. ix). One wonders indeed whether the author is aware of some of the most popular biographies of the Prophet—beyond the classical ones: Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Hisham, and Ibn Kathir—including the works by Muhammad Hamidullah, Muhammad Haikal, Martin Lings, Karen Armstrong, and Tarik Jan, all contradicting his assertions.

    With quite a serious criticism on his assertions about various aspects of mis-reading the Seerah of the Prophet there still remains a lot to be talked about his contribution to diverse areas of Islamic Studies. And though he is no longer here to share his thoughts, he has done enough to enable us to think with him. Certain towering intellectuals become integral to the vey alphabet of our moral and religious imagination. They live in those who read and think them through-and thus they become indexical, proverbial, to our thinking. Siddiqui lived so fully, so consciously, so critically through the thick and thin of our times that he is definitive to our critical thinking, just like Mustafa Azami, Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, or other Muslim luminaries are. He was – and remains – a brilliant intellectual, whose legacy of rethinking certain conventional assertions around Islam and efforts still reverberate today and will continue to do so.

    He cultivated with joyous attention her relationships with family and friends. He mentored, as one of his students mentioned once, with remarkable care and intensity, demanding their best work, listening, responding with a sharp generosity, coming alive in thought, and soliciting others to do the same. He immersed himself, in illness and heath, in reading the Quran post morning prayers and transformed himself and transmitted the values of thought and love, leaving now a vibrant legacy that will persist and flourish among all whose lives were touched by his life and work.

    May Allah Almighty bless him with the loftiest of abodes in the Gardens of Firdaus in the company of Allah’s beloved Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and grant all those who cherished him patience.

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    #Current Affairs

    Role of The Faqih: A Case Study In The Closures Of Mosques During COVID-19

    When the announcement of the closure of mosques came in the UK, the Muslims divided into two parties; there were those who opposed this decision whilst others were in favor of this decision. Those against began to deem those mosques as not wanting good for the Muslims and as straying away from the sunnah whilst throwing all sorts of accusations against those scholars of Fiqh who issued this ruling. As for the second group who were in favor of the ruling, they cited medical benefits in closing down the mosques (i.e. preventing spreading) as well as applying their logic to the situation. Before delving deeper into this issue, we need to first understand who the Faqih is, as well as what power of authority the Fuqaha have in Islam.

    Who is the Faqih?

    In traditional Islamic scholarship, the Faqih is the scholar who specialises in the field of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). This speciality does not come over night, but rather through many years -perhaps even decades- of studying, training and then applying those skills developed, as with an any other field of profession. The student of Fiqh begins by studying the basics of the Shari’ah through studying a number of primer texts at this level. This level of study will normally be done based upon a single Madhab (school of thought) and can take up to a year or two depending upon the speed of their teacher. Once the student becomes prolific and understands the rulings of Fiqh of a particular Madhab, they will then move onto the second level, known as Marhalatu At-Tadleel (the level of evidences). This second level will allow a person to now look at the various rulings that they had learnt in level one and analyse the evidence that these rulings are based on. The next level up is Marhalatu Al-Muqaran (the level of comparative jurisprudence). At this stage, a person begins to learn about the different schools of thought and how they differ in their rulings, along with analyzing the evidences for these differences in opinion. This stage of study is the most vital as it can take anything between three to five years. The final level then is Marhalatu At-Takhasus (the level of specialisation) by which a student of Fiqh spends a year or two gaining the tools in analysing Islamic jurisprudence, enabling them to issue a ruling based upon a specific circumstance. The years spent to successfully complete each level may differ from teacher to teacher, or from institute to institute.

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    Now the question arises: those who dispute or speak ill of the scholars of Fiqh for their ruling, which level are you at (that is if you have started!)? After all these years of study, you will find that the true Faqih is tolerant and easy going in issues where legitimate differences of opinion exist and that is because knowledge truly humbles you. As for the person who has studied very little Fiqh however, you will find them rigid in their approach.

    ‘Dar Al-Mafasid wa Jalb Al-Masa’lih’

    When a Faqih issues a ruling, not only do they rely upon the science of Fiqh in deducing that ruling, but they will use a number of other sciences to support their extrapolation. As mentioned previously pertaining to the ‘level of specialisation’, the student of Fiqh gains some tools: these are grasping an understanding of those supporting sciences; Usul Al-Fiqh (Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence), Qawaid Al-Fiqh (Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence) and Maqasid Ash-Shari’ah (Objectives of Islamic Law). A true Faqih will use all of these sciences to arrive at a ruling. We have the perception that when a Faqih issues a ruling, they pull it out from their back pocket, but no, a lot of work goes into this. If we now apply this to the issue of the closure of the mosques due to COVID-19, let us analyse this issue.

    In the science of Qawaid Al-Fiqh, we have a principle known as ‘Dar Al-Mafasid wa Jalb Al-Masa’lih’ (warding off the harms and bringing the benefit) which essentially entails ‘weighing the pros and cons.’ An action or item may be deemed impermissible due to the overwhelming harm it may bring even if it brings some sort of benefit. An easy example to understand this principle is the issue of alcohol which Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) spoke about within the Qur’an:

    يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ ۖ قُلْ فِيهِمَا إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَإِثْمُهُمَا أَكْبَرُ مِن نَّفْعِهِمَا
    They ask you about alcohol and gambling. Say, ‘In them is great sin and benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit’” [Surah Baqarah; 219]

    Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) acknowledges that there is some benefit within alcohol, but Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions that it also contains evil, meaning it has its harms. A person who consumes alcohol becomes intoxicated whilst their intellect becomes tainted; they lose control over their speech and actions, potentially leading them to commit horrific sins such murder or fornication. How many crimes do we see being committed due to the effects of intoxication? In another mode of recitation, this verse replaces the word كَبِيرٌ (great) to كثير (many). Both recitations are valid, and from the beauty of the science of Qiraat in showing the miraculous nature of the Qur’an, is that the different modes of recitation complement one another. Not only is the evil contained with alcohol great, but it leads to many types of evil. So because of this greater harm over the benefit, alcohol is impermissible in Islam.

    Maqasid Ash-Shari’ah

    If you look specifically at the issue of the closure of mosques, there is benefit in keeping them open during COVID-19: people will be able to come and worship Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) together, boost their Imaan, benefit from the Jumu’ah khutbah, strengthen brotherhood and sisterhood but at the same time, there are harms attached with this. Keeping mosques open could allow the mixing of people to cause the virus to spread amongst each other (carriers spreading it to those who are healthy) which could potentially cause death. At this juncture, I want to bring in another related science of Islam: the science of Maqasid Ash-Shari’ah. This science outlines the objectives of Islam and presents them as five:

    1. Protection of Faith or religion (din)
    2. Protection of Life (nafs)
    3. Protection of Lineage (nasl)
    4. Protection of Intellect (‘aql)
    5. Protection of Property/Wealth (mal)

    All of the laws of the Shari’ah are based upon achieving these five objectives. For example, the Shari’ah prohibits a Muslim from visiting soothsayers or practising magic because it involves kufr which can destroy a person’s faith. In another example, why did Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) forbid fornication and adultery? If a child is born out wedlock, the lineage is destroyed, thus not fulfilling one of the objectives of the Shari’ah. The earlier example of the prohibition of alcohol is a means of preserving one’s intellect which is objective number four in the science of Maqasid Ash-Shari’ah. Moreover, an illustration of Islam’s preservation of a person’s wealth is the prohibition of ambiguous business transactions like that of gambling because a person is uncertain of how much they will gain. When a buyer and a seller meet to trade, the price and the product/service must be clarified for both parties to understand and have full acknowledgement of; it is impermissible for a person to pay for something in return for an ambiguous product or service.

    One of the objectives of the Shari’ah is to preserve life. The coronavirus has proven to be a fatal and we have recently seen that it does not differentiate in attacking between the young, old, sick or healthy; everyone is susceptible. Anyone who contracts it can find them self in a life-threatening situation. So yes, keeping mosques open during this pandemic has its benefits, but the harms it brings is far greater, and the sciences of Islamic jurisprudence dictates that if harm is greater than the evil we must leave or push away that harm.

    Learning from the Seerah

    During the lifetime of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), the scholars of Seerah state that the Jumu’ah prayer was made obligatory in Makkah, however despite this the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) never offered the Jumu’ah prayer in those 10 years until he migrated to Madinah. When he came to the boundary of Madinah -what we know today to be Quba- the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) offered the first Jumu’ah prayer in Islam. The scholars mentioned that from the reasons the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) did not offer Jumu’ah prayer within Makkah despite it being legislated by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was due to the hostile environment created by the pagan Arabs against Islam. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) remained patient and thus, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) blessed him when he conquered Makkah some years later proclaiming the greatness of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Similarly, we too must be patient upon the decree of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was -and still is- the best human being created by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and the most God-fearing, yet he had Fiqh to understand his situation and the circumstances around him. This is how the Faqih has been trained to pass his rulings. Even if you look within the books of Islamic history, when life-threatening plagues would hit the Ottoman empire, the mosques would close so as to prevent the plague from spreading and taking lives. Yes, it causes us emotional pain to see the mosques closed because of our love and attachment to the House of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) but our religion is not based upon emotions, rather upon evidence and principles.

    If we fall ill, we would take the advice of a medical doctor because we know that they are specifically qualified and trained to deal with our health. However, when a Faqih, known for their credibility and truthfulness within the science of Fiqh explains an issue, why do we brush them off?Click To Tweet Yes, we can seek further elaboration, but dismissing them without a just or valid reason is something which Islam is most certainly against.

    The objective of this article is to provide a small insight into the role of the Faqih and how they operate with the amazing and vast science of Fiqh in order for us to achieve greater appreciation for the sciences of Islam and the roles played in delivering those sciences to the general Muslims. Our religion mandates that we take knowledge from credible sources and people. During this pandemic, it is essential we take medical guidance from qualified doctors and experts, and as for Islamic guidance, we take the advice of qualified scholars and Fuqaha. When a new contemporary issue arises facing the Muslims, abstain from being the first to speak regarding its rulings, but rather wait for the bona fide Fuqaha to speak and thereafter, seek guidance and clarification. For as Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions within the Qur’an:

    فَاسْأَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
    So ask the people of knowledge if you do not know.” [Surah Anbiya; 7]

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    Aqeedah and Fiqh

    Prosperity Islam And The Coronavirus Problem

    Hadith: “Hasten to perform good deeds before seven events: Are you waiting for poverty that makes you forgetful? Or wealth that burdens you? Or a debilitating disease or senility? Or an unexpected death or the False Messiah? Or is it evil in the unseen you are waiting for? Or the Hour itself? The Hour will be bitter and terrible.

    Islam encompasses all of human experience. We believe in the good and bad from divine decree. The ‘problem of evil’ is not a Muslim dilemma because the abode of this world is a test, and the next life is the abode of recompense. Those who do evil in this world may enjoy comfortable and pleasurable lives. Pious Muslims on the other hand may live in immense suffering and oppression.

    One’s state with Allah is not known through worldly position.

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    The Quran has lots of mention of suffering in this world and the reward for the pious is constantly in the hereafter. Distance from the Quran distances us from what our Creator told us about living in His world.

    Habituation to feel-good religious programs and motivational talks has left us unable to know how to be serious. The Coronavirus pandemic should be all the motivation we need for serious learning and hasten to good deeds.

    New-age religion and the prosperity gospel

    Modern Islamic discourse intertwines notions of sulook (spiritual wayfaring) with new-age spiritual ideas which make spiritual progression a self-centering endeavor of ‘personal development.’ Missing from this discourse is submission to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), which entails doing what one is obliged to do- even if there is no apparent personal win. A self-centering religious perspective is antithetical to true religion, and ironically a spiritual pursuit becomes a selfish pursuit.

    Within this approach, we see our practice of Islam not in terms of fulfilling obligations or understanding we must develop virtues we lack; rather we approach Islam as consumers and form identities around how we choose to be Muslim. This is visible on marriage apps where Muslims will brand themselves around how often they pray, whether or not they eat halal, and how practicing they are. Once this identity is formed, such Muslims are less likely to experience contrition and ultimately improve. The self is then a commodity on the marriage market.

    When it comes to worship, for example, giving charity becomes an ‘act of kindness’ to fill the quota of selfless acts to becoming a better person. In other instances, acts of worship are articulated in worldly language, such as fasting in Ramadan being a weight-loss opportunity. One can make multiple intentions, but health benefits of fasting should not be used to articulate the primary benefit of fasting. In other instances, some opt to not pray, simply because they don’t feel spiritual enough to pray. This prioritizes feelings over servitude, but follows from a ‘self’ focused religious mentality.

    Much like the prosperity Gospel, Muslims have fallen into the trap of teaching religion as a means of worldly success. While it is true that the discipline, commitment, and work ethic of religious progression can be used for material success, it is utterly false that religious status is on any parallel with material status.

    Too many Sunday schools and conferences have taught generations that being a good Muslim means being the best student, having the best jobs, and then displaying the power of Islam to non-Muslims via worldly success and a character that is most compliant to rules. Not only does this type of religion cater to the prosperous and ignore those suffering, it leaves everyone ill prepared for the realities of life. It comes as a shock to many Muslims then that bad things can happen even when you work hard to live a good life. The prosperity gospel has tainted our religious teachings, and the pandemic of COVID19 is coming as a shock difficult for many to process in religious terms. There will be a crisis when bad things happen to good people if we are not in touch with our scripture and favor a teaching focused on worldly gains.

    Why it leads to misunderstanding religion

    Tribulations, persecution, and events that are outside of our control do not fit the popular self-help form of religion that is pervasive today. Islam means submission, and while we must avoid fatalism, we cannot delude ourselves into idolatry of the self. An Islam that focuses on our individual life journey and finding ourselves has no room for the ‘bad stuff.’ This type of religion favors well-to-do Muslims who are used to the illusion of control and the luxuries of self-improvement. Those who believe that if you are good then God will give you good things in this world will have a false belief shattered and understand the world is not the abode of recompense for the believer.

    Islam means submission, and while we must avoid fatalism, we cannot delude ourselves into idolatry of the self.Click To Tweet

    Tribulations may then effect faith because it questions the often subconscious teachings of prosperity gospel versions of Islam that we are in control of our own destiny, if we are good enough we will succeed. If this is the basis of a person’s faith, it can be proven “wrong” by any level of tribulation. Having one’s ‘faith’ disproven is terrifying but it should make us ask the question: “Does this mean that Islam is not true, or does this mean that my understanding and my way of living Islam are not true?”

    My advice is do not avoid struggle or pain by ignoring it or practicing “patience” just thinking that you are a strong Muslim because you can conquer this pain without complaint. Running from pain and not feeling pain will catch up to us later. Learn from it. Sometimes when we are challenged, we falter. We ask why, we question, we complain, and we struggle. We don’t understand because it doesn’t fit our understanding of Islam. We need a new understanding and that understanding will only come by living through the pain and not being afraid of the questions or the emptiness.

    Our faith needs to be able to encompass reality in its good and bad, not shelter us from reality because, ultimately, only God is Real.

    Unlearn false teachings

    Prosperity religion makes it much easier to blame the person who is suffering and for the one suffering to blame himself. As believers we take the means for a good life in this world and the next, but recognize that acceptance of good actions is only something Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows, and that life is unpredictable.

    Favor from God is not reflected through prosperity. It is a form of idolatry to believe that you can control God or get what you want from God, and this belief cannot even stand up to a distanced tragedy.

    Responding appropriately requires good habits.

    Tribulations are supposed to push us towards God and remind us to take life very seriously. Even with widespread calamity and suffering, many of us still have a very self-centered way of understanding events and do not hasten to good actions.

    For example, reaching old age is supposed to be an opportunity to repent, spend more time in prayer, and to expatiate for shortcomings. Old age itself is a reminder that one will soon return to his Lord.

    However, we see many of today’s elders not knowing how to grow old and prepare for death. Most continue in habits such as watching television or even pick up new habits and stay glued to smart phones. This is unfortunate but natural progression to a life void of an Islamic education and edification.

    Similarly we are seeing that Muslims do not know what to do in the midst of a global crisis. Even the elderly are spending hours reading and forwarding articles related to Covid-19 on different WhatsApp groups. This raises the question of what more is needed to wake us up. This problem is natural progression of a shallow Islamic culture that caters to affluence, prosperity, and feel-good messaging. Previous generations had practices such as doing readings of the Quran, As-Shifa of Qadi Iyad, Sahih al-Bukhari, or the Burda when afflicted with tribulations.

    If we are playing video games, watching movies, or engaging in idle activities there is something very wrong with our state. We need to build good habits and be persistent regardless of how spiritual those habits feel, because as we are seeing, sudden tribulations will not just bestow upon us the ability to repent and worship. The point of being regimented in prayer and invocations is that these practices themselves draw one closer to God, and persisting when one does not feel spiritual as well as when one does is itself a milestone in religious progression.

    While its scale is something we haven’t seen in our lifetime, it’s important to recognize the coronavirus pandemic as a tribulation.  The response to tribulation should be worship and repentance, and a reminder that ‘self-improvement’ should not be a path to becoming more likable or confident only, but to adorn our hearts with praiseworthy qualities and rid them of blameworthy qualities. Death can take any of us at any moment without notice, and we will be resurrected on a day where only a sound heart benefits.

    Our religious education and practice should be a preparation for our afterlife first and foremost. Modeling our religious teachings in a worldly lens has left many of us unable to deal with tribulations to the point where we just feel anxiety from the possibility of suffering. This anxiety is causing people to seek therapy. It is praiseworthy for those who need to seek therapy, and noble of therapists to give the service, but my point is the need itself serves as a poignant gauge for how much our discourse has failed generations.

    Benefit from Solitude

    We should use solitude to our benefit, reflect more, and ponder the meanings of the Quran.  Completing courses on Seerah, Shamail, Arabic, or Fiqh would also be good uses of time. What should be left out however are motivational talks or short lectures that were given in communal events. In such gatherings, meeting in a wholesome environment is often the goal, and talks are compliments to the overall atmosphere. When that atmosphere is removed, it would be wise to use that normally allotted time for more beneficial actions. Instead of listening to webinars, which are not generally building an actual knowledge base that the previously mentioned courses would, nor is it a major act of worship like reading and reflecting upon the Quran. In other words, our inspirational talks should lead us to action, and studying is one of the highest devotional acts.

    The pandemic should serve as sufficient inspiration and we need to learn how to be serious. I urge Muslims to ignore motivational and feel-good lectures that are now feel-good webinars, and focus on studying and worshipping. We should really ask if we just lack the capacity to move beyond motivational lectures if we still need motivation in the midst of a global pandemic.  The fact that after years of programming the destination is not the Quran for ‘processing events’ or studying texts for learning is symptomatic of a consciously personality oriented structure.

    Muslims struggling to process a pandemic (opposed to coping with associated tragedies, such as loved ones dying or suffering) show the lack of edification feel good talks can produce.

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

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