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What Fasting Demands From Us | Mufti Taqi Uthmani

The following is an English translation of “Rozah Humsay Kia Muṭālbah Karta Hai” by Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Muhammad Taqī ‘Uthmāni, which was published by Idārat-ul-Ma‘ārif Karachi in 2012 CE/1433 AH.

By Shaykh Al-Islam Mufti Taqi Uthmani

[After Praise and Salutations]

I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Satan.

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With the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Very-Merciful.

Allah says:

“The month of Ramaḍān is the one in which the Qur’ān was revealed as guidance for mankind and as clear signs that show the right way and distinguish between right and wrong. So those of you who witness the month must fast in it…” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:185)

The blessed month of Ramaḍān is about to begin in a few days. Who among the Muslims does not know the greatness and blessedness of this month! The extent of His Mercy that descends upon His servants is unfathomable.

Allah Almighty has made it a month of worship. In this month, there are those actions that every Muslim knows and fulfills. For example, Muslims observe the fast in this month and they also know that the tarāwīḥ prayers are from the Sunnah. All praises are due to Allah that He gives Muslims the tawfīq to fast and He grants them the honor of attending the tarāwīḥ prayers. However, right now I want to shed light upon another aspect of this blessed month.

Ramaḍān is commonly viewed as only a month of fasting and tarāwīḥ, and that there is no other significance to it. Without a doubt, the fasting and the tarāwīḥ prayers are two major acts of worship in this month. However, the reality is that the blessed month of Ramaḍān demands more from us!

Allah says:

“I did not create the Jinns and human beings except for the purpose that they should worship Me.” (Surah al-Dhāriyāt, 56)

Were Angels Not Enough To Worship God?

Some people raise an objection that if the sole purpose behind the creation of human beings is to worship Allah, then why was there a need for creating humans in the first place, as the angels were fulfilling this role quite stupendously. When Allah said to the angels, “I am going to create a deputy on earth!” They asked: “Will You create there one who will spread disorder on the earth and cause bloodshed, while we proclaim Your purity, along with Your praise, and sanctify Your name?” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:30). Just as the angels questioned Allah regarding the humans, similarly, these people raise this objection.

The worship of Allah by the angels is of a different category than the worship of Him by humans. This is because their worship of Allah is without free-will. It is impossible for them to not worship Allah even if they do not want to. Allah has taken away from them the ability to commit a sin, feel hunger or thirst, and they have no sexual desires. So much so that they do not have the temptation to sin. Therefore, Allah has placed no reward for their worship, because if they cannot sin, then their worship without the temptation to sin is not a special feat (on their part). Thus, they receive no reward for it.

Take, for example, a blind man who has never seen the colors of this world, who never watched a movie in his life, nor did he ever glance upon a non-mahram woman. What has he done to prevent himself from these sins? Nothing, because he does not have the ability to commit these sins.

On the other hand, there is a man who has eyesight. In spite of his heart’s desire to gaze upon the non-mahram woman, he curbs his carnal desires and seeks refuge in Allah and lowers his gaze. Even though both these men are abstaining from these sins, there is a great difference between the two – the former is unable to commit those sins, whereas the latter has the ability, yet he prevents himself from committing them.

Therefore, if the angels do not eat the entire day, it is not something significant because they do not feel hunger nor do they possess the desire for food. Human beings, on the other hand, possess these desires, so much so even the noble Prophets of Allah were in need of food. Therefore, the disbelievers criticized the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) saying, “What sort of messenger is this, who eats food and walks in the markets?” (Al-Furqan, 7) It’s clear from this verse that the Prophets of Allah had the need for food as well. Since there is a desire for food and an individual curbs their desire and abstains from it because of the command of Allah, then this act is something special.

Human beings, in spite of having the desire for food, drink, and sexual relations, curb their desires when they remember Allah. Therefore, He placed special value to this abstinence from sins by granting a reward for it. Although they want to fulfill their carnal desires, due to the fear of Allah, they lower their gaze and prevent their eyes from glancing upon that which is prohibited; they prevent their ears from listening to the sinful sounds and indecent conversations; they leash their tongue from uttering words that are inappropriate; they prevent their feet from walking towards the places of sin. Human beings have been created for these acts of worship (i.e. abstaining oneself from sins out of Allah’s fear and obedience), whereas, the angels are incapable of it.

Story of Prophet Yūsuf:

The story of Prophet Yūsuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and that which he was tested with by Zulaykha is known to Muslims. The Noble Qur’ān states that Zulaykha offered herself to Prophet Yūsuf and invited him towards sin, and during that moment both of their hearts thought of the sin.

Surah Yusuf

And when Yūsuf reached maturity, We gave him judgment and knowledge. And thus We reward the doers of good. (22)

Surah Yusuf verse 23

And she, in whose house he was, sought to seduce him. She closed the doors and said, “Come, you.” He said, “[I seek] the refuge of Allah. Indeed, he is my master, who has made good my residence. Indeed, wrongdoers will not succeed.” (23)

Surah Yusuf 24

And she certainly determined [to seduce] him, and he would have inclined to her had he not seen the proof of his Lord. And thus [it was] that We should avert from him evil and immorality. Indeed, he was of Our chosen servants. (24)

(Surah Yūsuf, 12: 22-24)

Some among the laity think that to mention something like this about Prophet Yūsuf (may Allah grant him peace) is disrespectful towards him and find it objectionable. However, the Noble Qur’ān wants to explain (by mentioning this) that in spite of his heart thinking of the sin, Prophet Yūsuf chose to flee from her invitation out of his fear for Allah and reminding himself of His Grandeur, and by doing so he submitted himself to the command of Allah.

On the contrary, if there is no desire in the heart towards the sin, no ability to commit it, and there is no urge to fulfill desires, then refusing the invitation of thousands of Zulaykhas is of no significance! It is, however, important when there is the temptation, the heart desires it, and the environment encourages it, and then in submission to the command of Allah one says, “مَعَاذَ الله” “I seek refuge of Allah” (Surah Yūsuf, 12:24). This is the worship that Allah has created mankind.

Our Lives Have Been Traded:

Since the purpose behind the creation of humanity is to worship Allah, it should have been that we worshipped Him day and night without having permission to do anything else.

Allah says:

Surah Tawbah 9:11
“Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise.” (Surah al-Tawbah, 9:111)

Since our lives have already been traded as the verse explains, we have no claim of ownership in our life, rather it is a sold product. Had Allah commanded us to worship Him day and night, prostrate to Him long hours, and had the prohibited us from busying ourselves with any other activity besides His worship, it would have been a just command, because we have been created for the sole purpose of worshipping Him.

However, my life be sacrificed for Allah, He bought our lives and wealth, and He gave a full price of it in exchange of Jannah, and then He returned the lives and wealth to us. Moreover, He allowed us to eat, drink, and earn a livelihood. With that, He just commanded us to establish the five daily prayers (along with a few other obligations) and He commanded us to abstain from a few things. Besides these obligations and a (few) prohibitions, we were given liberty to live as we please. All of this is from His Mercy and His Grant.

Come Towards Your Purpose In This Month:

Allah knew that by allowing human beings to engage in earning livelihood their hearts would slowly be covered with heedlessness. Therefore, from time to time, Allah placed opportunities for His servants to remember Him and turn back to Him.

For eleven months, we work, trade, do labor, farmlands and grow crops, enjoy our family and friends, eat and drink, and as a result, we begin to become heedless. So Allah placed this month of Ramaḍān to remind people of their purpose of life, the purpose for which they have been created and sent to earth. So that they could engage in worship and reconnect with Him, and seek forgiveness for the sins that have accumulated in the past eleven months. So that they can uncover the curtains of heedlessness that have enveloped their hearts, and cleanse their hearts of darkness so that they can reach the potential (for which they were created).

Mufti Taqi what is fasting?

What Does “Ramaḍān” Mean?

The correct pronunciation of Ramaḍān is with a fatḥah (zabar) on the letter meem (م), i.e. رَمَضَان (Ramaḍān). To pronounce it with sukūn on the letter meem, i.e. رَمْضَان (Ramdan) is incorrect. As for its meaning, much has been stated, however, linguistically it means scorchedness, extreme heat that burns. The very first time this month was being named, it was during a scorching summer, therefore, they called it “Ramaḍān”.

However, the scholars explain the reason for naming this month as Ramaḍān is that in this month Allah burns the sins of His servants out of His Mercy and Benevolence. Therefore, remove the curtain of heedlessness from your heart and cleanse it from the darkness of sins. Repent for the sins committed in the past eleven months and seek forgiveness in this month for the mistakes and shortfalls. Come back to Allah and begin a new chapter in your life!

The Noble Qur’ān states:

“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:183)

This means that the fast of Ramaḍān is made obligatory in order for us to develop taqwa and put an end to the life of heedlessness. Just as a machine needs servicing for its parts to function properly, Allah has made this month a means to “overhaul” His servants’ hearts so that they can live with renewed conviction.

Take A Break:

Therefore, this month demands from us that we make time for it. Just the fast and tarāwīḥ prayers would not be enough, rather we must free ourselves from other obligations that have kept us busy in the past eleven months. We should focus on our life’s purpose and the purpose of our creation.

If for some reason, we are not able to free up this month solely for the worship of Allah, then we must make as much time as possible, however much our circumstances allow us, and we need to utilize it in the worship of Allah. For this, we would need to plan ahead and have a (personal) Ramaḍān program.

How to Welcome Ramadan?

There has been a practice of welcoming Ramaḍān that originated from Egypt and Syria and now has spread in many countries. Basically, a couple of days prior to the beginning of Ramaḍān, a community event is hosted to welcome the month. It is hosted with sincerity and noble intentions. However, it is often those very practices that begin with noble intentions that later take the form of reprehensible religious innovation, and in a few places, it has taken such a form already.

The best way to welcome the month of Ramaḍān is to reschedule your daily routine for the coming month to give you the most time for worshipping Allah. Before Ramaḍān begins, think of all those activities that can be reduced in the upcoming month that can free you up for increased worship. If someone is able to free up their entire month then Subḥān-Allah, otherwise, free yourself up as much as you can by abandoning that which can be abandoned or delaying that which can be delayed until after the Eid, so that you can spend as much of your time in the worship of Allah.

This is the best way of welcoming the month of Ramaḍān. If by the Will of Allah, someone is able to reorganize their routine for Ramaḍān then they will be able to avail the most of this month by reaching its true spirit and the abundance of blessings that come with it. Otherwise, the month will pass by and you will not be able to benefit from its true spirit and blessings.

What To Do With The Free Time

When you have made yourself a Ramaḍān routine and freed yourself up with extra time, how would you utilize this time?

The fast of Ramaḍān is obligatory, that much is certain. As for the tarāwīḥ prayers, it’s importance is also known. Whoever has an atom’s weight of imān, and honor and respect for the blessed month of Ramaḍān, they increase their acts of worship in this month. It is because of this reason that we see people who normally do not pray the five daily prayers in the mosque outside of Ramaḍān are also among those who stand in the long tarāwīḥ prayers. All thanks are due to Allah that because of the blessings of this noble month, the believers increase their ṣalāh, dhikr (remembrance) of Allah, and the recitation of the Noble Qur’ān. However, one important aspect that gets neglected, when it should be the top-most priority for this month, is abstaining from sins and trying to make Ramaḍān a sin-free month.

Whoever has an atom’s weight of imān, and honor and respect for the blessed month of Ramaḍān, they increase their acts of worship in this month.Click To Tweet

We should make sure that we protect our gaze by not looking at inappropriate things. We should protect our ears and tongues from listening and speaking that which darkens our hearts, and in this blessed month of Ramaḍān we should try to completely abstain from the disobedience of Allah. If you are able to spend this noble month free from sins then you are worthy of being congratulated and you have attained the blessings of this noble month, even if you did not offer a single supererogatory (nafl) prayer, nor did you increase the recitation of the Qur’ān or engaged yourself with the dhikr.

We have spent the past eleven months the way we have; Allah is offering this month to cleanse ourselves from our sins. Commit to yourself that you will not disobey Allah, that you will not lie in this month, nor would you backbite, or have an evil glance. Decide now that you will neither engage with bribery nor would you misuse your ears by listening to that which is prohibited, and that you will not consume riba (interest) for this one month alone!

Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi (d. 1943 CE/1362 AH)[1] once stated:

When an individual spends a sin-free Ramaḍān, Allah will put in their heart the urge to abandon the sins completely. Shaykh Ashraf Ali ThanwiClick To Tweet

Make a commitment to yourself that this is a month of Allah, the month of worship, the month to acquire taqwa. Every individual must self reflect on what kind of sins they are engaged in and then they must commit to themselves that they would abandon these sins in this blessed month.

What Kind of Fast Is This?

Fasting means to abstain from eating, drinking, and fulfilling sexual desires. All of these are by nature permissible in Islam – eating and drinking are permissible and for a man and a woman to fulfill their sexual desires through the institution of marriage is also permissible.

However, while fasting if you abstain from these three things, which are otherwise permissible, but you do not abstain from that which is already prohibited, e.g. lying, backbiting, evil glances, is this fasting? If someone is fasting from these three things, but they are lying or backbiting, or in order to pass the time they are watching indecent movies, would this be called a fast? They have abandoned that which was permissible but they did not abstain from that which is otherwise prohibited. It is, for this reason, the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Whoever does not give up false speech and acting upon it, Allah has no need of his giving up his food and drink” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 1804).

It is true that from the legal point of view their fast would be valid, and if they were to ask a mufti, they would not be obliged to make up that fast after Ramaḍān. However, even though there is no making up for such a fast, they certainly have washed away the reward and blessings that accompany it. Therefore, such an individual failed to acquire the spirit of the fast.

The Purpose of Fast Is To Kindle The Light of Taqwa:

Ramadan Verse

As mentioned earlier that the Qur’ān says, “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:183). This verse mentions the purpose of fasting is to kindle the light of taqwa.

Some scholars have said that the way fasting instills taqwa is by breaking the powerful hold of base human and animal desires. When a fasting person bears hunger, it crushes within them their base desires, which makes acting upon a sin, less attractive to them.

On the other hand, Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi, may Allah elevate his ranks, said that the fast, not only curbs base desires, rather it is in of itself a noble means of acquiring taqwa.

What is the Meaning of Taqwa?

Taqwa means to abstain from sinning while being conscious of the greatness of Allah. In other words, to constantly remind myself that I am a slave of Allah and He is watching me, and I will have to answer in front of Him; with this in mind, when a person abandons a sin, it is called taqwa.

As Allah says:

“But as for he who feared the position of his Lord and prevented the soul from [unlawful] inclination, then indeed, Paradise will be [his] refuge.” (Surah al-Nāzi‘āt, 79:40-41)

Hence, taqwa is when an individual out of the fear of standing in front of Allah, stops themselves from fulfilling their base and carnal desires.

My Lord Is Watching Me

Fasting is the best training for acquiring taqwa, even for a flagrant sinner, for when they fast their condition changes. On a hot summer day, when such a fasting person is alone in their room and they have their personal fridge with cold water, in spite of their desire to drink that cold water they don’t! If they do so there is no other person around to reproach them and they could very easily go out for ifṭār in the evening with friends, and no one else would know. However, they do not do it because their fasting was for Allah and they know that He is Watching.

Fasting is the best training for acquiring taqwa, even for a flagrant sinner, for when they fast their condition changes.Click To Tweet

Therefore, the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:
“Indeed your Lord said: ‘Every good deed is rewarded with ten of the same up to seven hundred times over. Fasting is for Me, and I shall reward for it.’ (Jāmi‘ al-Tirmidhi, 764).

 

For all of the other actions, Allah will reward tenfold or seventy fold or hundred, even up to seven hundred times for charity. However, fasting is the only action that Allah has said that He will reward it because this is an action that is done solely for His sake. This awareness is taqwa, and fasting is one of the means and the manifestation of it.

Furthermore, as you are getting trained to acquire taqwa by abstaining from drinking that cold water then why do you not take it a step further? Why do you not abstain from the unlawful when you go out to work? Just as you fear Allah for drinking that cold water while fasting, why do you not fear Allah while dealing unlawfully in your business or at work? Why do you not prevent your eyes from the evil glances and your ears from the unlawful sounds and your tongue from the unlawful speech? Your Ramaḍān training course will only be complete if you abstain from all the unlawful things.

Just as medicine is necessary to cure a disease, so is the abstinence from that which causes it or adds to it! Allah has made fasting obligatory in this month in order for us to acquire taqwa, but that cannot be without the abstinence from sins. If you turn on the air-condition of your room, but you don’t close up your windows, it will not cool your room. Similarly, if you leave the windows of sins open, your fast will not be able to give you it’s desired benefit.

Real Objective Is To Obey

As mentioned earlier, fasting curbs the base desires within a person, however, this is a (secondary) wisdom behind it. The real objective of fasting is to obey the command of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Whenever they command us to eat, eating at that moment is the dīn, and whenever they command us to stop eating, then at that moment the dīn is to stop. The entire dīn revolves around obeying Allah and His Messenger.

You fasted the entire day and when the command came to open it at the sunset (ifṭār), it is recommended for you to haste in opening the fast and it is disliked to delay without a valid reason. The real objective of fasting is to obey Allah’s command and not to follow one’s desires. In regular circumstances, greed is a reprehensible characteristic. However, when He commands us to be greedy then acting upon it has it’s unique pleasure. A poet says:

چوں طمع خواہد زمن سلطان دیں

خاک بر فرق قناعت بعد ازیں

When the King commands to be greedy,

Dirt be upon being content.

When the Rabb of the worlds is commanding us to be greedy in ifṭār (by hurrying) then there is no pleasure in delaying it. On the other hand, if someone eats a morsel a minute prior to the sunset then they have broken their fast and now they will be sinful along with a penalty (kaffārah) of fasting sixty consecutive days. The issue here is not of eating a morsel or a minute prior to the sunset, rather it is the disobedience of Allah. The command of Allah was to open the fast after the sunset, which they disobeyed, therefore, they are now obligated to pay the penalty in the form of sixty consecutive fasts.

Likewise, for suhūr (the pre-dawn meal), it is recommended to delay closer to the dawn. Some people have dinner around 10 pm or 12 am and then they go to sleep until Fajr. This is contrary to the Sunnah. The practice of the Companions was to delay the suhūr and eat until it’s last-minute because this is the time in which eating is not only permissible but rather it is commanded by Allah. Therefore, as long as the time remained, they would consume their pre-dawn meal because this is in conformity and obedience to Allah’s command.

This dīn is all about obedience and this is what a believer is getting trained for in Ramaḍān. Shaykh Thanwi used to say: “Allah is saying to the believer to eat, whereas, the believer does not eat, then this is neither obedience nor servitude. Listen! There is nothing in having suhūr and there is nothing in leaving it, instead, there is everything in His obedience! Therefore, when He commands you to eat, so eat! Do not act otherwise.”

Seek Purity in Livelihood

Another important point that I want to shed light upon is the importance of consuming halāl at least in this month. You want to avoid a situation where you open your fast from the wealth that is polluted by riba or you have your suhūr from the wealth earned through bribery. What kind of fast would it be in which the suhūr and ifṭār are from harām wealth? Therefore, prevent yourself from harām earning and seek help from Allah! Speak to Him and say, “O Allah! I want to consume halāl, save me from the harām.”

Some people have halāl livelihood, however, because of their carelessness, some harām gets mixed with their earnings. For such individuals it is very easy to avoid harām, they just need to be extra careful in this month in how they do things at work. On the other hand, there are those whose primary mode of earning is from a harām source, for example, they might be dealing with interest. Regarding such individuals, Dr. ‘Abdul Ḥayy al-‘Ārifī (d. 1986 CE/1406 AH)[2] suggested that they should take a month leave from their work and only utilize the funds from halāl source for this month; if possible try to find another halāl work during this time. If this is not possible, then take a (non-interest bearing) loan for this month’s expenses and have a firm conviction that they will only consume and feed their family from a halāl source.

Ramaḍān is the month in which Satan gets chained and locked away. Therefore, it becomes much easier to abstain from sins. In spite of the increased worship in this blessed month, try to abandon the sins.

Conclusion

The third important note I would like to make before I conclude is to avoid anger in this blessed month. This month is of patience and forbearance, therefore, avoid anger so that you can abstain from the sins that follow it.

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
“If one of you is abused by an ignorant person while fasting, then let him say: ‘Indeed I am fasting.’” (Jāmi‘ al-Tirmidhi, 764)

As for worship in this month, it is known to all the believers that the fasting and tarāwīḥ prayers are the most important acts of worship. Additionally, the recitation of the Qur’ān is also an important form of worship, because in this month Angel Jibreel would review the entire Qur’ān with the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). Therefore, increase the recitation of the Qur’ān as much as you can.

In addition to it, moist your tongue with the constant remembrance of Allah while you walk, drive, run your daily errands. Recite the following:

سُبحَانَ اللهِ و الحَمدُ للهِ و لا إلهَ إلا اللهُ و اللهُ أكبر

“Subḥānallāhi wal-Ḥamdolilāhi wa Lā ilāha illallāhu wa Allahu Akbar.” 

“All the praises are due to Allah, and all the thanks are due to Allah, and there is no god except Allah, and Allah is Greater.”

Also, increase the salutations upon Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), increase seeking your forgiveness and the number of supererogatory prayers. During the suhūr time, you have an ample opportunity to offer the taḥajjud prayers, therefore, wake a little earlier and offer a few taḥajjud prayers. Try to have focus in your salāt; the men should join the congregational prayers in the mosque, and above all avoid the sins.

May Allah give us the tawfīq to act upon what we have learned today, and may Allah make this Ramaḍān a month full of blessings, and allow us to fully benefit from it. Amīn.

Muhammad Taqī ‘Uthmānī, Karachi.

[1] Hakīm al-Ummah Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi was a twentieth-century erudite scholar from the Indian subcontinent. He was a Hanafi jurist, a scholar of hadith, an expert in Islamic philosophy, and a Sufi shaykh. His collection of Urdu fatwas “Imdādul Fatāwa” are a reference work for every South Asian Dār al-Iftā‘ that issues religious legal opinions according to the Hanafi school. He studied under luminaries of the likes of Mawlana Muhammad Qāsim Nānotwi, Mawlana Rashīd Aḥmed Gangohi, Shaykh al-Hind Mawlana Maḥmūd al-Ḥasan, and threaded the spiritual path under Shaykh Ḥāji Imdādullah Muhājir Makki. Among his prominent students were Shaykh Ẓafar Aḥmad ʿUthmānī and Grand Mufti Muhammad Shafī‘ ‘Uthmānī.

[2] Dr. ‘Abdul Ḥayy al-‘Ārifī was one of the most prominent successors of Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi in the path of tasawwuf. He was the spiritual guide of Shaykh Mufti Taqi ‘Uthmāni until he departed this world in 1986 CE. His body was laid to rest in the Dār al-‘Ulūm Karachi’s graveyard.

“إنَّ اللهَ اشْتَرَى مِنَ المُؤْمِنِيْنَ أَنْفُسَهُمْ وَ أمْوَالَهُمْ بِأَنَّ لَهُمُ الْجَنَّةَ.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Adnan

    May 5, 2019 at 12:45 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,
    Would you happen to have the original urdu version? JazakAllah

  2. Avatar

    Sister Evie in New Zealand

    May 6, 2019 at 3:26 PM

    Assalamu’alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
    Please forgive me if I’m wrong to ask for a correction. The paragraph to mention the Story of Prophet Yusuf Alaihi Salam seeking refuge of Allah, as I quoted herewith “and then in submission to the command of Allah one says, “مَعَاذَ الله” “I seek refuge of Allah” (Surah Yūsuf, 12:24).” is actually mentioned in Surah Yusuf 12:23, instead of in Surah Yusuf 12:24. Jazakumullahu khayran.
    Allahu musta’an. Wassalamu’alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.

  3. Avatar

    Abdullah

    May 9, 2020 at 9:22 AM

    As salam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuhu!
    JazaakAllah khair for the article.
    Ther reference to Surah Taubah 9:111 in Arabic is incorrect. 9:11 has been referenced by mistake.

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#Islam

Identity Scholarship: Ideological Assabiya And Double Standards

The Prophet helped the Arabs overcome their asabiya (tribalism) and enter a new defining bond of Islam. The criterion for right and wrong was no longer clan membership, but rooted in the religion of Islam. Muslims were instructed to defend the truth, command good, and forbid evil regardless of tribal affiliation. Asabiya does not just relate to kin-based tribes.  One of the resurging traces of jahilya affecting our discourse is ideological tribalism. In ideological tribalism, we hold double standards between our tribe and other tribes, and overlook fallacies in our group that we would not for other groups. Just as we protect an idea that represents our identity, when a personality reflects our group identity, there is a personal reason to defend the personality. It then becomes instinctual then to double-down in discussions even when wrong to show group strength, which at this point is a survival mechanism and not a true dialectic. Abandoning a quest for truth and succumbing to an in-group vs. out-group dichotomy leaves us to defend falsehood and dislike truth. Refusing to accept truth is one way the Prophet described arrogance. 

Group belonging

One of the main drivers of identity scholarship is group belonging. When we focus on defending our group rather than principles which extend beyond group delineations we prove false our claims of wanting the truth.  The burden of moral responsibility is not offset by finding someone to follow [1]. Charismatic leaders have an ability to tap into latent desires of individuals and awaken in them the desire to be part of something greater than themselves. Their own identities are often validated by following the charismatic figure, and they then work hard to preserve the group as they would to preserve their own selves.

According to Ann Ruth Willner, charismatic authority “derives from the capacity of a particular person to arouse and maintain belief in himself or herself as the source of legitimacy. Willner says that the charismatic leadership relationship has four characteristics:

  1. The leader is perceived by the followers as somehow superhuman.
  2. The followers blindly believe the leader’s statements.
  3. The followers unconditionally comply with the leader’s directives for action.
  4. The followers give the leader unqualified emotional commitment.
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Charismatic leadership satisfies our desire to be part of something bigger, and paradoxically, to hand all power over to someone else can make us feel more powerful because we think that person is the best version of ourselves. We feel that we have gained ‘agency by proxy.’ We have also dumped all responsibility for decisions onto the leader- what Erich Fromm, the scholar of Nazism, called an ‘escape from freedom.’ When we are in a charismatic leadership relationship, our sense of self-worth gets (attaches) attached to the identity of the leader, so that we take personally any criticism of that leader, and have as much difficulty admitting flaws or errors on the leader’s parts as we do on our own. Because we see the leader as us, and we see us as good, we simply can’t believe that he or she might do bad things” (59) [2].

Charismatic leadership is emotional and works on desires. This type of leadership has no relation to truth. It exists and persists due to feelings, hence contradictions, double-standards, and outright hypocrisy aren’t issues for those in the relationship. Even when the leader confidently behaves irresponsibly, followers do not think less of him. What is inconsistent and irresponsible for an out-group observer is charming to members of the in-group. As Miller points out: 

Followers don’t expect charismatic leaders to be responsible for what they say, nor to behave responsibly; their irresponsible behavior is part of their power. Their use of hyperbole and tendency to be unfiltered in speech are taken to signify their passionate commitment to the in-group (60).

Such loyalty is not specific for charismatic leaders, The Minimal Group Paradigm shows that we have more empathy for our in-group even if that in-group is arbitrarily assigned, and we will act biased in their favor against an arbitrarily assigned out-group. This is a tendency against which we must actively fight to maintain clarity in thinking and fair standards in discussions. When group loyalty is prized there is a fear of opposing the group, which obliterates any chance of scholarly discourse. Questioning a position becomes akin to questioning authority and leaves the questioner ostracized and out-casted. When the out-group is pejoratively labeled, there is an additional fear of thinking like or ending up in that group. 

Identity scholarship

Rather than looking at the argument constructed and judging whether or not it is sound, identity scholarship approves or dismisses arguments based on the person making them. Arguments are then validated by personalities and not standards of scholarship.  This is a dangerous shift from reasoning and evidence to personalities. 

Identity scholarship leverages the need to belong and centers the personality over the argument. However, focusing on the strength of arguments and not the personality is especially important given that the term ‘scholar’ or ‘shaykh’ is applied to vocationally trained Muslims, seminal graduates, preachers, or to those who display a scholarly caliber in Islam alike. This is a sufficient crisis. The term is heavily equivocated, and should never serve to stand in place of standards of scholarship in discourse. 

Ambiguity in the term ‘scholar’ or ‘shaykh’ is exploited by groups to strengthen their influence. Not always pernicious, this is the natural progression of proselytizing via group identity. An in-group who will dismiss dissenting voices for not having studied long enough, not obtaining ijazas, will promote voices of similar or less educated Muslims when those voices are in their ‘in-group.’ Titles like ‘ustadh’ and ‘ustadha’ are quickly conferred upon those who are volunteers or proponents of the ‘in-group’ even with minimal study. Advocating for the correct paradigm is rewarded more than a knowledge based approach to issues. Giving titles to those with social capital in your in-group is also an effective way for brand expansion. For example, loosely affiliated students with avenues into the growing Muslim mental health field are often referred to as ‘ustadha.’  Also, traditionalists will often promote in-group religious figures engaging in no-risk activism like condemning already popularly condemned figures as exemplary ‘scholars and activists’ who should be followed by other activists.  

If a person has been doing this long enough they become ‘shaykh,’ and then eventually a ‘senior scholar’ with assumed wisdom and spiritual insight, worthy of deference. I am well acquainted with the unfortunate irony in traditional circles where those who push a manhaj of studying at the feet of scholars have by and large not done so beyond attending general lectures by visiting scholars.  Many do not even know Arabic, but their zeal and tenure of feel good lectures in a community primarily interested in nasheeds and tea coupled with their promoting the right figures secure for them a scholarly status by generations who venerate the theory of studying at the feet of scholars. 

Thus authority and titles are conferred by virtue of in-group allegiance. 

Slip into demagoguery

When we accept an in-group and out-group dichotomy and don’t argue fairly, we lay the foundation for demagogic discourse. As Patricia Mill-Roberts writes “If people decide to see things as a zero-sum game- the more they succeed, the more we lose, and we should rage about any call made against us, and cheer any call made against them- then democracy loses” (13). The best way to avoid this is by maintaining fair discussions and letting go of double standards. Arguments appealing to in-group or out-group positions rather than being based in fact should not be accepted regardless of which group they are coming from. Several tactics used in these types of arguments are described below. 

Creating a strawman

Falsely representing the out-group is a common tactic in demagogic discourse. One example is portraying out-group critics as only critics. The critic is frozen in time as someone who has accomplished nothing, helped no one, and as only one who sees the faults in others. The in-group then goes on to list what they have accomplished -‘albeit with some faults’- to not seem as braggarts, but insists that those faults are magnified by the arm-chair critics. 

Another example is labeling Muslims more concerned with academic preservation and development as Muslims in ivory towers. This suggests knowledge is only relevant if immediately actionable and discounts the role of theoretical knowledge in both present and future action as well as an intrinsic end.  

Even when it comes to the epitome of practical action, Allah tells the Muslims to not all go out in battle, but to have groups remain behind to study.

Condescending discrediting

One way demagoguery characterizes the out-group is by a “dithering, wavering, impaired masculinity, and weakness…”(66).  Just as Rudy Giuliani dismissed those protesting Trump’s 2016 win as “professional protestors” with nothing else to do in life, so do we dismiss dissenting voices. 

Terms like ‘keyboard warrior’ should be dropped from the vernacular of anyone who uses the internet for Islamic education. If the internet is good enough for theatrical Ramadan reminders and choreographed Islamic reflections, it should also be good enough for dissent and valid critiques.[3] We have to embrace the fact that the internet is not a pretend medium; social media posts are used in newsfeeds, are reacted to on the mimbar, and even prompt live events. If we dismiss valid criticisms made online as the act of ‘keyboard warriors’ we should also call those giving dawah online ‘studio daa’is.’  

Discrediting due to inexperience

Experience is an important element in answering questions and dealing with different scenarios, and, should rightly be considered when one is looking for a teacher, etc. However, frequently, the standards for what constitutes experience are used inconsistently. The same individuals who refer to young teachers as ‘shaykh’ or ‘mufti’ while in their in-group, dismiss ‘shaykhs’ and ‘muftis’ in the out-group of similar age and experience, arguing that a person can’t be a ‘real’ mufti because studying 7 years doesn’t make anyone a scholar. Graduating from a seminary or Islamic university will be the standard for members of an in-group to be called scholars, but the out-group will be ‘immature graduates’ who have not learned wisdom.  Wisdom itself will be defined as the avoidance of actions which challenge the in-group. Likewise an activist saying the right thing and echoing in-group talking points will be called ‘ustadh,’ but if from the ‘out-group’ dismissed as a Godless- activist’ that just hates hierarchy. 

Victimization and Victimology

Demagoguery thrives on the in-group being victimized by the out-group. It is common for religious figures to dismiss valid criticism as nothing but hate, envy, or ignorance [4]. When criticized by activists, it is common to label them as ‘anti-clerical’ activists who only have an issue with Islamic leaders because they are neo-Marxists. 

‘Neo-Marxist’ is used as a catch-all term to discredit those who disagree with the positions of some religious leaders to insinuate the disagreements are rooted in hate for hierarchy or authority thus being illegitimate. Even conservative and practicing Muslims are labeled as ‘leftists’ and ‘Godless activists’ for simple critiques. In Sufi groups, disagreeing with leadership is often said to be the result of being spiritually veiled, or the work of ‘dark forces’ and ‘shayateen’ dividing us. If we can agree that black-magic and evil-eye are real but should not be the first culprit in a failing marriage, let’s also look for practical failures when religious organizations break down before we start blaming the ‘shayateen.’  

On one hand the in-group claims they are victims, on the other they blame the out-group for having a victim mentality.  This may seem like an obvious contradiction, but as Miller explains,  

If condemnation of out-group behavior is performed by a very likeable persona, then onlookers are likely to conclude that the rhetor would never engage in the behavior she or he is condemning. This maneuver is especially effective with people who believe that you can know what someone believes by listening to what values he or she claims to espouse, and with people who think you can predict behavior by listening to values talk (who believe that ‘good people- that is, people who say the right things- don’t do ‘bad’ things) (56) 

Another tactic is using terms like ‘victomology’ to belittle legitimate grievances of being wronged and falsely representing those grievances as an attitude of being a victim in life.

Being oppressed (mazlum) does not require living a tough life, being a victim in life, or being part of an oppressed group. We are told by the Prophet that delaying a payment owed while being capable of paying is oppression (Muslim). When our God given rights are transgressed upon, we are mazlum in that situation. It is not uncommon however to see Muslims want to claim their rights and express they have been wronged to be dismissed as those who love to be victims. Ironically, this is even done by organizations that describe themselves with the leftist concept of ‘safe spaces.’  

Disregarding Nuance

“Demagoguery is comfortable because it says the world is very simple, and made up of good people (us) and bad people (them)” (24). 

We must understand that if someone does not see an issue as black or white, it’s not because they are obviously corrupt, willfully ignorant, or stupid.  The word nuance itself triggers cynicism and is treated as an excuse to employ mental gymnastics to deny what is ‘obvious.’  The fact of the matter is when it comes to khilafi issues there is generally a vast scope of acceptable actions, and when it comes personal ijtihaadi matters for policy there is often no clear-cut best answer. Thus in such matters the objective is to come to a best resolution or course of action. In short, we should all take appropriate measures in our decisions to ensure the benefit outweighs the harm. Certain positions are cautioned against due to the likelihood of harm to one’s religion, but that likelihood may not serve as evidence that one has harmed his religion. As the great scholar Muhammad Awama relates in Ma’laam Irshadiya, the way of the scholars is to leave people in what they are following as long as it is correct and has a valid legal perspective [5]

Scholarly discourse

Advice from recognized experts in a field carries weight, but it should not be conflated with a scholarly argument. A common mistake is to confer authority upon an opinion outside the area of one’s authority. Scholarly works must prove themselves to be scholarly as stand-alone works. Even if a great scholar has published many scholarly works, his advice should be taken as advice. For example, Imam al-Ghazali was a great scholar, but Dear Beloved Son is not a scholarly work.  We have a malfoozaat (wisdom-sharing) tradition that is precious, but we must know where to place it in the hierarchy of Islamic knowledge. 

Islamic scholarly discourse should be evidence based, demonstrative of legal proficiency, and cater to Islamic concerns. Those engaging should share the evidence for what they say, the sources of the rulings they share, the difference between the reason for a ruling and the wisdom of a ruling [6], understand contextual fatwas,[7] and understand which rulings are based on urf and which rulings are intrinsic obligations or prohibitions. These are just some elements of Islamic scholarly discourse, and it cannot exist alongside identity scholarship. 

There should be private forums with prerequisites where scholarly discourse can take place. When these discussions move outside of their proper place other issues such as discussing weak or aberrant (shadh) fiqh opinions arise, which to an undiscriminating audience all will seem co-valid on the spectrum of differing opinions in sharia. Promoting aberrant positions caters to our cultural preferences of thinking outside the box and carries the façade of an intellectual approach to Islam. In Maharam al-Lisaan (Prohibitions of the Tongue) Muhammad Mawlud lists both mentioning the conflict between the Sahabah, and mentioning aberrant opinions as prohibitions.  This is not due to the utterance being sinful, but rather to the misconceptions it can lead to for the average Muslim if not properly addressed.  

There may be a need to dismiss open innovators and those spreading misguidance, because there is no end to the possibilities of innovation and it obfuscates what should be self-evident, and can be very difficult for even scholars to refute in ways that resonate with those affected by innovation. The double standard as previously mentioned is when lack of formal credentials is only a problem for out-groups. 

How to have productive discourse

Islamic historical discourse has its share of polemics. There are commentaries, fatwas and treatises which insult valid ijtihad and even refer to the entirety of a madhab with epithets. Some scholars were harsh and had a penchant for polemics. Transgressions into mockery and slander were not condoned, and belligerent attitudes were something scholars sought to check with reminders of adab al-ikhtilaf (the etiquettes of disagreement). While the previously mentioned certainly existed and such an approach may serve to strengthen positions of the in-group to the in-group, it does not make for productive dialogue with the out-group.

Outside of scholarly discourse, when we debate policy and Islamic positions, we need to have sincere, fact based arguments with the goal of arriving at truth. Our ability to accept truth no matter who says it shows we have transcended in-group vs. out-group tribalism and have entered the realm of sincere discourse.  Overcoming in-group tribalism and following the truth, rather than blindly following our ‘fathers’ is a central message in the Quran. 

And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.” Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided?  2:170 

Arguments on points should never be personal. We should train ourselves to evaluate arguments and understand that people we like can make mistakes, and people we dislike and generally disagree with may be right on certain matters. 

Don’t take cheap shots if you disagree with someone, such as pointing out a typo to insinuate incompetence. 

It’s important to leave double-standards, and to point them out when someone is employing them.  When one side is unfair or uses double standards, it encourages the opposition to act in kind, and the discussion devolves into a fight. When disagreeing with someone, never insult that person.  When a personality is attacked, the response will be defending the personality, and the entire discussion is derailed. 

Sharing a post, or article should not be seen as endorsing an individual or a post. Sometimes it’s a means of opening a discussion, other times to share beneficial points even if the entirety of what is shared is not beneficial. Furthermore, endorsing an individual in one area is not a blanket endorsement, and should never be taken as such.  The Hanafi tradition was able to benefit from legal fatwas while not accepting theology of Mu’tazilite scholars. Likewise, many of our best tafseers are from Mu’tazilite scholars. The widely studied and highly regarded Tafseer al-Baydawi is basically a reworked Mu’tazilite tafseer without the Mu’tazilite aqidah. Scholars have been able to ‘take the good and leave the harm.’ 

“I don’t think you could search America, sir, and find two men who agree on everything.” – Malcolm X

We need to uplift our intellectual level and drop disclaimers like “I don’t agree with everything in this article” or “I don’t agree with everything he said.”  It is only worth stating when you do agree with everything someone says or does.  The common disclaimers should be taken as givens and we shouldn’t capitulate to a cultural push of walking on egg-shells so no one accuses us of supporting the wrong person or idea. 

It is critical we operate under the assumption that sharing a panel with or working with an individual is not an endorsement of that individual. Likewise, working with an organization is not an endorsement of that organization. Such associations are attacked as potentially confusing to the average Muslim, but we must work towards establishing that such actions are not support. 

Here we see an ambivalent conceptualization of the ‘average Muslim’ as someone who both deserves transparency from religious scholars for their actions as well as one who is easily confused or misled by the actions of Muslim scholars. If we can accept both propositions, that a scholar’s actions are not proof, and that working with someone and sharing posts and platforms do not equate support for every particular view or stance of a person, we may set the foundation for being issue focused rather than personality focused. 

In conclusion, it is important we all hold ourselves to high standards of discourse and not support behavior or fallacies from our in-group that we would deride from an out-group. The groups themselves are inevitable and not a problem, but we have to work to overcome the natural ideological tribalism that accompanies group membership.  If we personally transcend in-group bias and reflect it in our discourse, we can overcome the pettiness and hypocrisy that stifles productive discussions. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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