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The Prophet’s Golden Rule: Ethics of Reciprocity in Islam

Prophetic Love

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

The ethics of reciprocity, known as the “golden rule,” is any moral dictum that encourages people to treat others the way they would like to be treated. Although the term was originally coined by Anglican ministers such as George Boraston, the principle can be found in the sacred texts of the world’s great religions, as well as the writings of secular philosophers. Due to its ubiquity in many contexts, it has become an important focal point for interfaith dialogue and the development of international human rights norms.

The rule often appears as a summarizing principle of good conduct, the supreme moral principle of right action between human beings. Though not always understood literally, as it is often qualified by competing moral imperatives, it generally functions as an intuitive method of moral reasoning. Despite the different formulations, wordings, and contexts in which the rule appears across religions and traditions, Jeffery Wattles argues that there is enough continuity in meaning and application to justify describing the ethics of reciprocity as the golden rule.

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Some philosophers have scoffed at the rule, noting that a crude, literal adherence to the outward phrasing can lead to moral absurdities. Harry J. Gensler reponds to this criticism by formulating the rule in these terms: “Treat others only as you consent to being treated in the same situation.” Context matters in the process of moral reasoning; what the rule demands is not rudimentary application as much as it is ethical consistency vis-à-vis human beings, as the first principle from which the morality of an action is analyzed. It is the locus of one’s conscience, a guide for everyday behavior.

Moreover, application of the rule ought to be informed by a balanced collection of principles and values that manifest the rule in action. For this reason, writers throughout history have used the rule “as a hub around which to gather great themes.”  Notions of justice, love, compassion, and other virtues have all been related to the rule by various religious traditions. Accounting for all of these considerations and responding to common objections, both Wattles and Gensler have convincingly defended the golden rule from its detractors and have presented it as a viable principle for a modern moral philosophy.

Islam, as a world religion with over one billion followers, has an important role to play in facilitating dialogue and cooperation with other groups in the modern world. The golden rule in Islamic traditions has been explicitly invoked by numerous Muslim leaders and organizations towards this end. Recently, hundreds of Muslim scholars and leaders have signed the A Common Word interfaith letter, asserting that the Abrahamic faiths share “the twin golden commandments of the paramount importance of loving God and loving one’s neighbor.” The initiative grew into several publications and conferences, including the important and high-profile Marrakesh Declaration in early 2016, which cited A Common Word in its text as evidence of the compatibility between Islamic tradition and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Golden Rule in Islam

The Qur’ān ascribes a number of “beautiful names” (asmā’ al-ḥusnā) to God conveying virtues that Muslims, by implication, should practice, “The most excellent names belong to Him.”  Among the relevant names of God are Al-Raḥmān (the Merciful), Al-Wadūd (the Loving), Al-Ghafūr (the Forgiving), Al-Ra’ūf (the Kind), Al-‘Adl (the Just), Al-Karīm (the Generous), and so on. Embedded in this description of God are many of the moral themes traditionally associated with the golden rule.

The distinguished Muslim scholar and mystic, Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazzālī (d.1111), locates the golden rule within God’s loving nature as expressed in the verses, “My Lord is merciful and most loving,”  and again, “He is the Most Forgiving, the Most Loving.”  He authored a treatise on the names of God in Islamic tradition, discussing their theological meanings and his understanding of the proper way in which Muslims should enact those names. God, in his view, benefits all creatures without desiring any advantage or benefit in return:

Al-Wadūd – The Loving-kind – is one who wishes all creatures well and accordingly favors them and praises them. In fact, love and mercy are only intended for the benefit and advantage of those who receive mercy or are loved; they do not find their cause in the sensitivities or natural inclination of the Loving-kind One. For another’s benefit is the heart and soul of mercy and love and that is how the case of God – may He be praised and exalted – is to be conceived: absent those features which human experience associates with mercy and love, yet which do not contribute to the benefit they bring.

In other words, God should be understood as entirely and selflessly benevolent towards His creatures, without any need or desire for repayment. God does not benefit from the worship of His servants, nor does He take pleasure in punishing the wicked. Rather, God only prescribes worship and righteous deeds for the benefit of believers. By reflecting this divine nature in action, believers should unconditionally want for others the same as they want for themselves:

One is loving-kind among God’s servants who desires for God’s creatures whatever he desires for himself; and whoever prefers them to himself is even higher than that. Like one of them who said, ‘I would like to be a bridge over the fire [of hell] so that creatures might pass over me and not be harmed by it.’ The perfection of that virtue occurs when not even anger, hatred, and the harm he might receive can keep him from altruism and goodness.

Allah love

Commentators of the Qur’ān often found the rule implied in several verses. When ‘righteousness’ (taqwá) is first mentioned in Qur’ān (when reading cover-to-cover), classical exegetes typically define it by appealing to traditional wisdom-sayings. Abū Isḥāq al-Tha’labī (d. 1035) narrates several exegetical traditions to define and explicate the meaning of righteousness. The early authorities Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 778) and Al-Fudayl ibn ‘Iyāḍ (d. 803) say that the righteous man (al-muttaqī) is “he who loves for people what he loves for himself.” Al-Junayd ibn Muḥammad (d. 910), on the other hand, disagreed with them and took it a step further, “The righteous man is not he who loves for people what he loves for himself. Rather, the righteous man is only he who loves for people greater than he loves for himself.” In Al-Junayd’s telling, true righteousness is not simply the equality implied in the golden rule, but rather a definite preference to benefit others that amounts to altruism (al-īthar).

In contrast, the Qur’ān severely rebukes cheaters in weights and measurements, “Woe to those who give short measure, who demand of other people full measure for themselves, but give less than they should when it is they who weigh or measure for others!” That is, they demand full payment for themselves while they give short-change to others. The golden rule was understood by Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1209) to be the clear implication of this passage, as he reports the saying of the early authority Qatādah, “Fulfil the measure, O son of Adam, as you would love it fulfilled for yourself, and be just as you would love justice for yourself.”

Most of the explicit golden rule statements in Islamic tradition are found in the Ḥadīth corpus, the sayings and deeds of Prophet Muḥammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). According to Anas ibn Mālik (d. 712), the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

None of you has faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.Click To Tweet

This is the most prominent golden rule statement in the Ḥadīth corpus. The two leading Sunni Ḥadīth scholars, Muhammad ibn Ismā‘īl al-Bukhārī (d. 870) and Muslim ibn al-Ḥajjāj (d. 875), both placed this tradition in their “book of faith,” near the introductions of their respective collections. The implication is that the lesson in the tradition is essential to true faith itself, not simply a recommended or value-added practice.

Commentators sometimes mention that “all good manners” are derived from this tradition and three others, “Whoever believes in God and the Last Day, let him speak goodness or be silent,” and, “It is from a man’s excellence in Islam that he leaves what does not concern him,” and, “Do not be angry.” Like many religious writers and philosophers, Muslim scholars took note of the summarizing function of the golden rule as a broad principle for good conduct.

A key question for the commentators was the meaning of ‘brother’ in the tradition of Anas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). It is generally agreed upon that ‘brother’ refers to Muslims, but several commentators expanded the meaning to include non-Muslims or unbelievers. Prolific author and Shāfi’ī jurist, Muḥyī al-Dīn al-Nawawī (d. 1277), explained the tradition this way:

Firstly, that [tradition] is interpreted as general brotherhood, such that it includes the unbeliever and the Muslim. Thus, he loves for his brother – the unbeliever – what he loves for himself of embracing Islam, as he would love for his brother Muslim to always remain upon Islam. For this reason, to pray for guidance for the unbeliever is recommended… The meaning of ‘love’ is to intend good and benefit, hence, the meaning is religious love and not human love.

Al-Nawawī’s concept of “religious love” (al-maḥabbat al-dīnīyah) parallels the distinction Christian writers made between agape (ἀγάπη) and eros (ἔρως). The highest form of love, according to him, is that which is purely benevolent for God’s sake, in opposition to sinful passions, caprice, or ordinary types of love.

Although inclusion of non-Muslims in a broader brotherhood of humanity was not universally accepted, proponents of this interpretation found a strong case for their position in all of the permutations of the golden rule in the Ḥadīth corpus. Even from the traditions of Anas alone, inclusive language was used by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) often enough to justify a universal golden rule:

None of you will find the sweetness of faith until he loves a person only for the sake of God.Click To Tweet

None of you has faith until he loves for the people what he loves for himself, and only until he loves a person for the sake of God, the Great and Almighty.

The servant does not reach the reality of faith until he loves for the people what he loves for himself of the good.

In particular, a variant in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim reads, “…until he loves for his brother – or he said his neighbour – what he loves for himself.”  In this version, Anas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) is unsure if the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said ‘brother’ or ‘neighbor.’ If neighbors are included, the term would certainly apply to non-Muslims as well.

Muḥammad ibn Ismā’īl al-Ṣanʻānī (d. 1768), a Yemeni reformer in the Salafi tradition, includes in his legal commentary a chapter on “the rights of the neighbor,” in which he employs some of the broadest language of the late classical to early modern period. Based upon the word “neighbor” in the version of Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, he concludes:

The narration of the neighbor is general for the Muslim, the unbeliever, and the sinner, the friend and the enemy, the relative and the foreigner, the near neighbour and the far neighbour. Whoever acquires in this regard the obligatory attributes of loving good for him, he is at the highest of levels.

Perhaps most significant is Al-Ṣanʻānī’s inclusion of enemies (al-‘aduw) in the list of people covered by the golden rule. In this case, the rule has at least some kind of application to every single human being.

The servant does not reach the reality of faith until he loves for the people what he loves for himself of the good.Click To Tweet

‘Abd Allāh ibn ʿAmr (d. 685), who is said to have been one of the first to write down the statements of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), narrates his version of the golden rule, “Whoever would love to be delivered from Hell and admitted into Paradise, let him meet his end believing in God and the Last Day, and let him treat people as he would love to be treated.” The rule here is a means of salvation and is expressed in terms of good behavior, rather than religious love.

Abū Hurayrah (d. 679), the most prolific narrator of Ḥadīth, also shares what he heard from the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), “Love for people what you love for yourself, you will be a believer. Be good to your neighbour, you will be a Muslim.” Like the tradition of Anas, the rule is associated with both true faith and good treatment of neighbors.

Sometimes Ḥadīth traditions do not explicitly state the golden rule, but it is drawn out by the commentators. Tamīm al-Dārī (d. 661) reports that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said three times, “Religion is sincerity.” The companions said, “To whom?” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) replied, “To God, to His book, to His messenger, and to the leader of the Muslims and their commoners.” Ibn Daqīq al-’Īd (d. 1302) explains at length the meaning of sincerity or good will (naṣīḥah) in each context. As it relates to common people, he writes that sincerity is “to take care of them with beautiful preaching, to abandon ill will and envy for them, and to love for them what he loves for himself of good and to hate for them what he hates for himself of evil.”

Al-Nuʿmān ibn Bashīr (d. 684) relates the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) parable of the faith community as a single body, “You see the believers in their mercy, affection, and compassion for one another as if they were a body. When a limb aches, the rest of the body responds with sleeplessness and fever.”  A variant of this tradition reads, “The Muslims are like a single man. If the eye is afflicted, the whole body is afflicted. If the head is afflicted, the whole body is afflicted.”  The idea is that Muslims should have empathy for one another by sharing the burden of each other’s pain, as stated in another tradition, “The believer feels pain for the people of faith, just as the body feels pain in its head.”  Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥalīmī (d. 1012) inferred the golden rule from this parable:

They should be like that, as one hand would not love but what the other loves, and one eye or one leg or one ear would not love but what the other loves. Likewise, he should not love for his Muslim brother but what he loves for himself.

Later commentators would develop this idea further. Ibn Daqīq draws upon the parable of the faith community in his commentary on the tradition of Anas, writing, “Some scholars said in this tradition is the understanding that the believer is with another believer like a single soul. Thus, he should love for him what he loves for himself, as if they were a single soul.”  Ibn Ḥajar al-Haythamī (d. 1567) makes the same connection, saying that to love one another means “that he will be with him as one soul (al-nafs al-waḥīdah).”

Yazīd ibn Asad, another one of the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) companions, recalls that he said to him, “O Yazīd ibn Asad! Love for people what you love for yourself!” In a variant of this tradition, the Prophet (ṣ) asks him, “Do you love Paradise?” Yazīd says yes, so the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) replies, “Then love for your brother what you love for yourself.”  In yet another variant, Yazīd’s grandson quotes the sermon of Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) upon the pulpit, “Do not treat people but in the way you would love to be treated by them.”

Failure to live up to the golden rule could result in dreadful consequences in the Hereafter, especially for Imams and authorities. Ma’qil ibn Yasār, while on his deathbed, recounted what he learned from the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), “No one is appointed over the affairs of the Muslims and then he does not strive for them or show them good will but that he will never enter Paradise with them.” In another wording, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)said, “He does not protect them as he would protect himself and his family but that Allah will cast him into the fire of Hell.” In this regard, a Muslim leader must necessarily treat their followers as they would treat themselves and their own families, if such a terrible fate is to be avoided.

Abū Umāmah al-Bāhilī (d. 705) tells the story of a young man who came to the Prophet (ṣ) to ask for permission to indulge in adulterous intercourse. The Prophet engages him in an imaginative role-reversal, asking a series of Socratic questions and appealing to the young man’s conscience to convince him against it, “Would you like that for your mother? Would you like that for your sister?” The young man, naturally, expresses his disapproval had someone else committed adultery with the women of his household. The logical conclusion, as stated by the Prophet, is to consider the golden rule, “Then hate what God has hated, and love for your brother what you love for yourself.”

Hatred for the sake of God is a fine line to walk, between righteous indignation and unjustified malice. At least some of the earliest Muslims adopted the familiar refrain: love the sinner, hate the sin. According to Mu’ādh ibn Anas, this is how the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) defined hatred for the sake of God, “The best faith is to love for the sake of God, to hate for the sake of God, and to work your tongue in the remembrance of God.” Mu’ādh said, “How is it done, O Messenger of God?” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “That you love for people what you love for yourself, hate for them what you hate for yourself, and to speak goodness or be silent.” The noble form of hatred is simply the inverse of the golden rule; if one sees another sinning, hatred should be for the evil deed because it harms its doer. At the same time, one loves good for the sinner by hoping for their repentance and divine forgiveness.

“Do not hate each other, do not envy each other, do not turn away from each other, but rather be servants of God as brothers.”Click To Tweet

Ibrāhīm Ad’ham (d. 782) remembers during his travels that he overheard a pair of Muslim ascetics discussing the love of God amongst themselves. Intrigued, he interjects himself into the conversation to ask, “How can anyone have compassion for people who contradict their Beloved [God]?”

The unnamed ascetic turns to him, saying:

They abhor their sinful deeds and have compassion for them, [pray] that by preaching to them they might leave their deeds. They feel pity that their bodies might be burned in hellfire. The believer is not truly a believer until he is pleased for people to have what is pleasing to himself.

The commentator ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Rajab (d. 1393) corroborates this interpretation, which he ascribes to the righteous predecessors (al-salaf al-ṣāliḥ). Hence, it not correct for a Muslim to carry malicious hatred in the sense of desiring to harm others. A believer ought to love for sinners to repent, to be guided, and to be forgiven. In this regard, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) admonished us, “Do not hate each other, do not envy each other, do not turn away from each other, but rather be servants of God as brothers.”

Conclusion

The irreversible march of globalization is producing an urgent need for people of different backgrounds and beliefs to find common ground. As the world grows closer together, with it grows the imperative to recognize each other as members of one human family. The ethics of reciprocity – the golden rule – is the best conceptual vehicle to advance this necessary intercultural dialogue and cooperation.

Islam is one of the world’s great religions, with over one billion followers living on every continent and speaking hundreds of languages. If peace on earth is to be actualized, Islam and Muslims must be a partner in it. Muslims need an entry point for understanding non-Muslims, just as non-Muslims need a way to begin understanding Muslims. Islam’s golden rule can provide a bridge between these worlds.

It is not reasonable to expect that the golden rule by itself can solve all the conflicts of the modern world, but what it can do is activate the innate conscience of human beings in a process of collective, intercultural moral reasoning. By accepting at the outset the premise of human equality and the obligation of moral consistency, we can work together to develop the mutual understanding and respect needed for people of different beliefs to live together in harmony. The golden rule itself is not the answer per se, rather it is the right question at the start; it is the first step in a journey we must take together, the first conversation in a dialogue we must have.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.

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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.

Justin Parrott has BAs in Physics and English from Otterbein University, an MLIS from Kent State University, and an MRes in Islamic Studies from the University of Wales. He is currently Research Librarian for Middle East Studies at New York University in Abu Dhabi (NYUAD). Justin embraced Islam in 2004 at the age of 20. He studied Islam from a traditional perspective with local scholars and Imams. He served as a volunteer Imam for the Islamic Society of Greater Columbus until 2013. He is currently the faculty advisor and volunteer Imam for the Muslim Students Association at NYUAD.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Fritz

    March 26, 2020 at 7:52 AM

    Great in theory but as price gouging during the covid crisis (especially by muslim retailers) shows that in practice not so easy.

  2. Avatar

    Handsome Jack

    March 26, 2020 at 8:57 PM

    Sadly it’s a distortion of Christ’s Golden Rule with the emphasis on ACTION – “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you”; Mohammed’s is the opposite, emphasizing desires and narcissism with “Want for others what you want for yourself.” It’s completely different. Like, If I WANT a giant mansion and 72 virgins, then Mohammed’s saying I should want everyone else to have a mansion with 72 virgins? That’s a whole misunderstanding of the Golden Rule, it’s more about disavowing individuality.
    Also, it’s very insulting that you used “Do not hate each other, do not envy each other, do not turn away from each other, but rather be servants of God as brothers.” as some sort of verse that stresses tolerance of non-muslims. It clearly doesn’t and is clearly referring to fellow Muslims. Sad.

  3. Avatar

    silas

    March 27, 2020 at 7:52 AM

    Islam does not have such a “golden rule” as Mr. Parrott states. It actually has the opposite rule. Muhammad taught,

    “It has been narrated on the authority of Abdullah b. ‘Umar that the Messenger of Allah said: I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and they establish prayer, and pay Zakat and if they do it, their blood and property are guaranteed protection on my behalf except when justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah.”
    “Sahih Muslim”, volume 1, #33

    Muhammad continued to send his soldiers out farther and farther to conquer, attack, and dominate non-Muslims. This is not “reciprocity” this is aggression against “the other,” i.e. non-Muslims.

    Muhammad did not teach or demonstrate love toward those who rejected him as a prophet. Instead he attacked them. For instance:
    – Muhammad has Abu Afak, a 120 yr old Jewish man murdered because he rejected Muhammad’s claim to be a prophet
    – Muhammad had Asma Marwan, a women with five children murdered because she objected to Abu Afak’s murder
    – Muhammad tortured Kinana to death to obtain “treasure”
    – Muhammad defrauded one of his own soldiers and took away his slave because she was beautiful and Muhammad wanted her
    – Muhammad let his slaves rape female prisoners of war.

    All of this is documented in the Islamic theological materials.

    Justin Parrott is deceived just as Adam Gadahn was deceived. Gadaha started out telling the same myths that Parrott told, but ended up working for Al-Qaeda.

  4. Avatar

    Rattilonline

    April 8, 2020 at 7:48 AM

    Jazakom Allah khayra

  5. Avatar

    TellawaOnline

    April 8, 2020 at 7:53 AM

    Jazakom Allah khayra

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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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Coronavirus

A Doctor And A COVID19 Patient: “I will tell Allah about you.”

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By Dr Farah Farzana

I get bleeped at around 2.30am to review a patient. A Pakistani gentleman admitted with Covid19.

The lovely nurse on duty says, “He is on maximum amount of oxygen on the ward, but keeps on removing his oxygen mask and nasal cannula, very confused and is not listening to anyone.”

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I arrive as soon as I can to the ward. I stare at him through the glass doors of the closed bay, while putting on my inadequate PPE.

He looks like he is drowning, he is gasping for air, flushed and eyes bulging like someone is strangling him.

I immediately introduce myself, hold his hands and he squeezes my hand pulls it close to his chest. Starts to speak in Urdu and says he doesn’t know what is going on, he cannot understand anyone and he is so scared.

I give him my Salam and start speaking to him in Urdu. His eyes fill up with tears and hope.

I explain to him he really needs to have his oxygen mask on as we are trying to make him feel better. He tells me he is suffocating with the mask and he doesn’t like the noise. I grab his arm help him sit up in his bed.

We exercise synchronising his breathing and I put the mask and nasal cannula back on.

He asks me Doctor, am I going to die? I cannot hear the voices anymore, they don’t come to visit, everything is quiet and silent, like Allah is waiting to take me to Him. I am lost for words and tell him we are doing all we can to make him feel and get better. He tells me he has been speaking to Allah, he doesn’t care for himself just his family. I know he is scared and feels so alone. I tell him I’m here with him and am not leaving yet. I monitor his saturations and surely they come straight back up. I tell him I am going to give him medications for his temperatures and fluid in his lungs.

He agrees to take them.

He asks me why I didn’t come to see him until now, because I am his own. He says when he speaks to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) he will tell Him about me and that I am a good person and I cared for him.

I get a little choked up.

I can’t gather my thoughts before my bleep goes off again. I have to leave now though I tell him I have lots of patients who need my help. He begs me not to leave, but understands after a while and lets me go.I take off my inadequate surgical mask (PPE) before I leave the bay I look back at him to smile and he smiles back. We both wave goodbye. I can see tears rolling down his cheeks.

I don’t know how he will do, how he is now but I cannot stop thinking about him. I always assume positive outcome if I don’t get called back during the night to see the patient again. Plus it was such a busy night I had no time to stop to reflect, and I continued with a smile.

I speak fluent Bangla and my Urdu isn’t very good. But that night Urdu flawed so effortlessly out of my mouth without any hesitation and I was able to say exactly what I needed to him *SubhanAllah*.

My heart breaks for the minority patients, with language barriers. They are fighting this battle more alone and scared than ever.
Normally, they would rely on family members to translate for them, but given the current situation they must feel helpless.

It’s not just the suffering it’s the suffering alone that pulls on my heartstrings.

‘Indeed, to Allah we belong and to Him we shall return’
Quran 2:156

When all this is over, please remember to appreciate the little things.

  • Appreciate your freedom.
  • Appreciate all the hugs and love.
  • Appreciate your health and your health service.
  • Appreciate your families and loved ones.
  • And just be grateful to be ALIVE.
  • Stay at home. Save lives.
    #stayhome #nhs #gratitude

Courtesy: Facebook post

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I Once Spent Ramadan Semi-Quarantined, Here’s How It Went

Even though it was over 10 years ago, the memory of that Ramadan is seared into my mind.

I’d just taken my first consulting job – the kind in the movies. Hop on a plane every Monday morning and come home late every Thursday night. Except, unlike in the movies, I wasn’t off to big cities every week – I went to Louisville, Kentucky. Every week.

And because I was the junior member on the team, I didn’t get the same perks as everyone else – like a rental car. I was stuck in a hotel walking distance from our client in downtown, limited to eat at whatever restaurants were within nearby like TGI Friday’s or Panera. This was a pre-Lyft and Uber world.

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A couple of months into this routine and it was time for Ramadan. It was going to be weird, and no matter how much I prepared myself mentally, I wasn’t ready for it — Iftar alone in a hotel room. Maghrib and Isha also alone in a hotel room. Suhur was whatever I could save from dinner to eat in the morning that didn’t require refrigeration.

Most people think that with the isolation and extra time you would pass the time praying extra and reading tons of Quran. I wish that was the case. The isolation, lack of masjid, and lack of community put me into a deep funk that was hard to shake.

Flying home on the weekends would give me an energizing boost. I was able to see friends, go to the masjid, see my family. Then all of a sudden back to the other extreme for the majority of the week.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that Ramadan with the prospect of a quarantined Ramadan upon us. I wish I could say that I made the most of the situation, and toughed it out. The truth is, the reason the memory of that particular Ramadan is so vivid in my mind is because of how sad it was. It was the only time I remember not getting a huge iman boost while fasting.

We’re now facing the prospect of a “socially distanced” Ramadan. We most likely won’t experience hearing the recitation of the verses of fasting from Surah Baqarah in the days leading up to Ramadan. We’re going to miss out on seeing extended family or having iftars with our friends. Heck, some of us might even start feeling nostalgia for those Ramadan fundraisers.

All of this is on top of the general stress and anxiety of the COVID-19 crisis.

Ramadan traditionally offers us a spiritual reprieve from the rigors and hustle of our day to day lives. That may not be easy as many are facing the uncertainty of loss of income, business, or even loved ones.

So this isn’t going to be one of those Quran-time or “How to have an amazing Ramadan in quarantine!” posts. Instead, I’m going to offer some advice that might rub a few folks the wrong way.

Make this the Ramadan of good enough

How you define good enough is relative. Aim to make Ramadan better than your average day.

Stick to the basics and have your obligatory act of worship on lockdown.

Pray at least a little bit extra over what you normally do during a day. For some, that means having full-blown Taraweeh at home, especially if someone in the house is a hafiz. For others, it will mean 2 or 4 rakat extra over your normal routine.

Fill your free time with Quran and dua. Do whatever you can. I try to finish one recitation of the Quran every Ramadan, but my Ramadan in semi-quarantine was the hardest to do it in. Make sure your Quran in Ramadan is better during the month than on a normal day, but don’t set hard goals that will stress you out. We’re under enormous stress being in a crisis situation as it is. If you need a way to jump-start your relationship with the Quran, I wrote an article on 3 steps to reconnect with the Qur’an after a year of disconnect.

Your dua list during this Ramadan should follow you everywhere you go. Write it down on an index card and fold it around your phone. Take it out whenever you get a chance and pour your heart out to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Share your stresses, anxieties, worries, fears, and hopes with Him.

He is the Most-Merciful and Ramadan is a month of mercy. Approach the month with that in mind, and do your best.

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