In this new series of articles and podcasts, Ustadh Tabraze Azam discusses the meaning of adab and what it means for a Muslim to do things in the right way.

In the Name of Allah Most Merciful, Most Compassionate.

Zakariyya al Ansari, the great polymath, shaykh al Islam of his time, and teacher and guide to generations of scholars, wrote in his masterful commentary on Qushayri’s Epistle on Tasawwuf: “The goodly life (al hayat al tayyiba) is only attained by bringing the heart to life,” pointing to the Qur’anic verse:

Whoever does good, whether male or female, and is a believer, We will surely bless them with a good life, and We will certainly reward them according to the best of their deeds. (16:97)

Hearts come to life when they are watered with the divine breezes and revelatory springs of guidance embodied by the beloved Messenger, Allah bless him and give him peace. From the tremendously grand to the seemingly mundane, our religion teaches us how to live a life pleasing to Allah Most High.

And herein lies the ultimate goal of those nigh unto Allah Most High: the desire to respond, “O believers! Respond to Allah and His Messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life.” (8:24) The desire to be pleasing: “Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him.” (98:8) The desire to worship: “I did not create jinn and humans except to worship Me.” (51:56)

Worship entails humbly seeking Allah Most High in all of one’s affairs. Yet, what the scholars remind us time and time again is that you do not need to be standing on the prayer mat to be in a state of continual worship. Rather, merely altering an intention, for example, can change something otherwise permissible into an act of worship.

Reorienting Our Point and Realities

What this series of articles aims to do, with the permission of Allah Most High, is to highlight the sunna of the sunna, namely, the manners or decorum of undertaking different matters in life. It hopes to point out ways in which you can seek Allah Most High in your day to day life. In Islamic parlance, this is termed adab, which is, essentially, the right way of doing something.

Adab, from the Arabic root a-da-ba, linguistically contains an idea of propriety or correction. Munawi further explains that adab is actually “training the self and attaining gracious character traits.” Hence, any form of action that brings about a religiously praiseworthy outcome, or causes somebody to exhibit gracious traits, is termed adab.

The reality of adab, thus, is that it is a manifestation of gracious character (al khuluq al hasan) about which the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “The most perfect of believers in faith are the most gracious of them in character.” (Tirmidhi, Al Jami‘)

Allah Most High says regarding His messenger, Allah bless him and give him peace, “And you are truly a man of outstanding character.” (68:4) And in speaking of this station himself, it is reported that the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, remarked, “My Lord taught me adab.” (Even if the wording here isn’t soundly established, its meaning, however, is.)

Adab and Fiqh

What we can sometimes forget in our seeking to apply the law (fiqh) we are taught is that the religion must be taken as an organic whole. Fiqh cannot be divorced from the sunna of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and the high moral and ethical standard he displayed, upheld and encouraged. If fiqh is to be truly and soundly applied and understood, it must necessarily correspond to the way of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, fully. Anything that ignores the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, is not true religion (deen), but merely a wrongful claim to the treasures of prophetic inheritance (wiratha nabawiyya).

Manners, and sunnas generally, are important because these are the matters which beautify actions to the point where they begin to actually resemble the guidance of the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace. This is why it is reported that one of the early righteous, Ruwaym, may Allah sanctify his secret, advised, using the similitude of bread: “Make adab your flour and actions your salt” – indicating the proportions required of each in order to make something that tastes like bread, and for our purposes, something that looks like Prophetic guidance.

In pointing to this reality, the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “None of you truly believes until his very desire is in accordance with that which I have brought.” (Nawawi, Al Arba‘un, relaying from Maqdisi’s Al-Hujja). Missing his way is missing the point and the essential nature of his message.

True Adab

The master of the spiritual path, Imam Junayd al Baghdadi, may Allah sanctify his secret, stated in an aphorism: “Slavehood (‘ubudiyya) is holding fast to adab.” So we ask Allah Most High that He bless us with true adab. An adab which befits those who are striving to seek Him in their affairs. The kind of adab which colors His elect. And an adab by which we win unto His Divine Pleasure in this life before the next. Amin.

In the coming articles, we’ll be looking at some of the proper manners to be upheld in a variety of different circumstances, such as, seeking sacred knowledge, reciting and dealing with the Qur’an, supplicating, earning a living, fulfilling rights, disagreeing, and manners related to homes and mosques.

And Allah alone gives success.

In this new series of articles and podcasts, Ustadh Tabraze Azam discusses the meaning of adab and what it means for a Muslim to do things in the right way.



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"Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a similar reward"-- The Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him)