Who Am I?: Understanding Muslim Identity in Light of the Prophet’s Way ﷺ – Shaykh Faraz Rabbani and Ustadh Amjad Tarsin
Allah Most High says, “Say: this is my way. I call to Allah, with insight—I and those who follow me.” The Prophet’s way (peace and blessings be upon him) is one of calling oneself and others to Allah. This requires four things: knowledge, action, devotion, and service. In this seminar Shaykh Faraz Rabbani and Ustadh Amjad address the identity of the Muslim these key characteristics of the Prophetic Way.
WHAT IS OUR IDENTITY?
Shaykh Faraz started by asking attendees, “how can we define identity”?
Some of the answers from the attendees included defining identity through: profession, loyalties, what governs actions, what people engage in, the filter through which we see the world, our environment, aspiration, values, feelings, belonging, behavioural patterns, thoughts, and belief.
There are many possible to identify one’s self. Shaykh Faraz gave the example of a train with many cars. Different cars has people engaged in different activities. Which car would one find themselves in?
To answer this question, one would have to answer the question of: how are you first? Some scholars deemed this question as being very deep. So much so that they disliked the question because it is often asked with insincerity. The question could also be stated as: “how did you come to be?”
This question really addresses how we perceive reality. It is usually the immediate and tangible that is real to us. But is everything immediately around us real and existing on its own?
There is a necessary being that brought all those tangible and immediate things around us into existence. So we actually think of things upside-down. What is more real, the cup or the One who created and sustains the cup.
Shaykh Faraz then addressed the levels of being. There is the Necessary Existent: Allah, God, The Supreme Being. And there is the merely possible, which is everything that is brought into existence by God. It exits and continues to exist by the creation and sustenance of God.
So really we, and the rest of creation possess nothing of our own. All creation is brought into existence by God. We believe unequivocally that we are sustained in every moment by God.
When someone passes away we say “inna li Allah w inna ilayhi raji’un”, to God we belong and to Him we are returning. The phrase is stated in the present tense. We are always returning to God, at every moment.
God defines our identity in the Qur’an: “O people, you are in absolute need of Allah – and Allah alone is for of all need, and worthy of all praise.” [Qur’an, 35.16]
So we are the absolutely needy of Allah.
We usually express neediness to Allah when we are in a state of hardship. The reality is, is that we always need Him, at all times. We need Him for your very existence itself. There are two blessings that no one is free of: the blessing of existing, and the blessing of being sustained.
We do not ask Allah, because He does not know. Rather, our supplication is the expression of neediness, expressed through the asking of our needs. Our ask is not a list of demands. That is why “dua is the essence of worship”. Because worship expresses our humility and neediness before Allah.
Surat al-Fatiha defines our servitude to Allah. “You alone do we worship – and You alone do we rely upon” . Worship is expressing complete submission and complete neediness to the One worshiped. We rely upon Allah, because in absolute terms we do not possess anything for ourselves.
What is the path of identity? “Truly, you have in the Messenger of Allah the most beautiful of examples for whoever seeks Allah and the Next Life” [Qur’an, 33.21] This is the second part of our identity after realizing that we are worshipers of Allah. Because the way of worshiping is by following the example of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
What about the other identities? They are there, and we recognize them. They are part of the richness of life. Our backgrounds, origins, occupations. However, that is not your reality. What you do could change.
HOW CAN WE REALIZE OUR IDENTITY?
In the second part of the seminar, Ustadh Amjad then carried on from where Shaykh Faraz stopped. He recapped quickly some of the points regarding looking at the bigger picture of creation and where the human being lies in that framework. Then he moved on to talk about how to fulfill the human potential by following the most complete human being, and of all creation, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
Ustadh Amjad pointed out that this seminar addresses some of the existential questions. The Qur’an though having a lot of knowledges, addresses questions related to your soul.
The question is of “who am I?” is an age old question. The question also comes with other questions like, where am I, when, how am I? The Qur’an provides guidance regarding those questions.
These are universals. When we understand these universals we would be able to deal with the particulars. So it is important to understand universals, and not get lost in particulars.
Who is God?
We need to answer this to get the full picture. We have to know the absolute (God) in order to understand the contingent (the rest of creation).
Ustadh Amjad quotes Sayyid Naquib al-Attas, one of the foremost contemporary philosophers and thinkers, who says: “What we are saying is that knowledge, as referring to meaning, consists of the recognition of the of the proper things in the order of creation, such that it leads to the recognition of the proper place of God in the order of being and existence.”
How do we understand that? Through looking at the Prophetic model and mirror.
When we look at the high example of the character of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) it helps us identify who we are. His example guides as to what kind of people we should be. We should be bearers of mercy, excellence, goodness, dignity, nobility, etc.
He provides us of a complete model of the perfected human being. Allah created us with great potential. To fulfill this potential, we must follow the Prophetic model.
You are the absolutely needy of Allah. So we shouldn’t be arrogant. We should be humble. Yet we have been honored by Allah. The path of realizing the potential is by following the Prophet. “The Messenger of God is a most excellent model for those of you who put your hope in God and the Last Day and remember Him often.” [Qur’an 33.21]
Once you understand your place in this life, you will be in harmony. Not necessarily that everything is easy, but your soul will be at rest. You have the whole picture.
IDENTITY AND PURPOSE
In the final session, Shaykh Faraz recapped the idea of humans being servants of God, and that the best way to fulfill that is by following Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). We should ask ourselves: “is our conduct reflective of that?” He said that, this should drive the purpose of our lives, and colour all aspects of our lives.