Exemplars for our Time: Mini-Book Series of Modern Muslim Sages

EXEMPLARS for our TIME: A Ground-Breaking Publication & Unprecedented Collaboration, Needs Your Help.

We need your support for EXEMPLARS for our TIME, a ground-breaking mini-book series led by internationally acclaimed British photographer Peter Sanders (Meetings with Mountains, In the Shade of a Tree, The Art of Integration) and American author Michael Sugich (Signs on the Horizons, Hearts Turn).
Each book in the series will be professionally written, designed, edited and published. For anyone who has read Meeting With Mountains, Signs On The Horizons, or Hearts Turn, will know how the ihsan of these sages must be reflected in the ihsan of the books.

THE CALL TO ACTION

ONLY ONE WEEK TO RAISE $30,000 TO PRODUCE THE FIRST 5 BOOKS IN THE SERIES – photographic essays on the lives of the modern saints:

Book 1: Sidi Muhammad ibn Al-Habib (1872-1972) by Dr. Karim Lahham

Book 2: Habib Ahmad Mashhur Al-Haddad (1907-1995) by Dr. Mostafa al-Badawi

Book 3: Shaykh Murabit Al-Hajj (1913-2018) by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

 

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Summary Notes of Embracing Excellence: 30 Steps on the Straight Path (01) – Ustadha Shireen Ahmed

DAY 1: On Certainty

Synopsis: Ustadh Amjad starts this class by reviewing who is the author and why this text is important.  He then delves into the topic of what is certainty (yaqīn), and what are the benefits of having strong faith.  He explained that one’s certainty can be strengthened by three actions, and that believers have three degrees of certainty.

 

“Certainty (yaqīn) is the essential thing, and all other noble ranks, praiseworthy traits of character and good works are its branches and results.” (Imam Haddad)

Notes:

  • Imam Haddad was a 12th Century (Hijrī) Shafi’ī scholar who had a deep level of knowledge in many Islamic disciplines.
  • Certain books are constantly repeated as they are not just a matter of taking information from each chapter, rather it is a reminder to constantly purify our intentions
  • The strength of Ali’s (may Allah be pleased with him) faith & certainty
  • Yaqīn is a level above the general faith of an average believer
  • The difference between faith and certainty (faith can be shaken but not certainty)
  • In general people start by rectifying their outward, and then from there they start to rectify their character, and then they work to strengthen the Iman in their heart; although all of things are virtuous, the order is backwards.  One should start by strengthening their belief & connection to Allah (Exalted is He), the natural result will be a purification of their heart & character, and righteous deeds.

How One Can Strengthen their Belief & Certainty:

1) Listening attentively to the Qur’an, hadith, & stories of the prophets sent throughout time

    • Reciting the Qur’an strengthens our belief & certainty, while pondering on the meanings within it.  Listen with your heart as well as your ears.
    • The importance of reflecting on the signs around us; the Might and Power of Allah Most High; the stories of the past and what became of the people who did not follow the prophets sent throughout time
    • Example of Prophet Musa being pursued and reflecting on how that may have felt: Prophet Yusuf and the many tribulations he faced, but how he overcomes the trials
      • We learn from this to be people of patience, success at the end will be for the people of belief

2) Learn from the Kingdom of the heavens and the Earth, and the creatures within it

    • Example of Prophet Sulayman asking for a unique blessing from Allah
    • How one learns from documentaries about Allah’s absolute Majesty; reflecting on the galaxy and how it is only the lowest of the heavens; there is no creature on earth except that Allah provides for it; reflect on how all of these creatures glorify Allah (Exalted is He)
    • How detrimental it is for the human condition to not be connected with the natural world

3) To behave according to what one believes, outwardly & inwardly with zeal and determination

    • Act upon what you know, every time it increases you in your certainty in all of your acts of worship; when one distances oneself from acts of obedience one is severely weakened and shaytan can overcome them
    • The importance of using all of one’s energy to seek the pleasure of Allah
    • How the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلّم would find comfort and rest in the prayer
    • The results of good actions and how that helps us to taste the sweetness of faith

Benefits of proper certainty:

    • Acquiescence in God’s promise
    • Turning to God with pure longing continuously
    • Abandoning what distracts one from Him
    • Spending all one”s energy seeking His pleasure
    • Sets the foundation for having noble rank, praiseworthy character & good works

The Trodden Path (Episode 2): A Glimpse At the Lives of the Illustrious Scholars and Saints of the 20th and 21st Century.

In this newly anticipated series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed of South Africa will take us on a journey through the lives and biographies of some of the most celebrated and well known scholars of the twentieth and twenty – first century. These historical accounts will provide us with refreshing insights and lessons, and motivate us to follow in the footsteps of our pious predecessors.


In this second article of the The Trodden Path series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed writes on the life of the Syrian scholar, Shaykh Tahir Al-Jazairi (RA).

The Trodden Path

Shaykh Tahir Al-Jazairi (1268-1338=1852-1920)

His full name is Tahir ibn Muhammad Salih ibn Ahmad ibn Mawhub Al-Samouni Al-Jazaairi Al-Dimashqi.

This reformer and great scholar of tafsir, hadith, fiqh, usul, history and the arabic language was born in Damascus in 1852 (1268) where he passed away in the year 1920 (1338).

His father Muhammad Salih emigrated from Algeria to Damascus in 1846 (1263) along with the great Algerian leader Abdul Qadir Al-Jazairi. He lived there until he passed away in (1285). His father was a scholar in the Quraanic sciences and a reputable scholar in the Maliki Madhab. He was the authorized Mufti on behalf of the Madhab in Damascus.

Shaykh Tahir received his early education from his father; thereafter he studied with other ulama in Damascus. His father, Shaykh Salih migrated from Algeria after the French occupied their lands and imposed various pressures on the Muslims. He was a scholar and was responsible for Fatwa in the Maliki madhab in Damascus. He also read and repeated the lessons in Sahih AlBukhari on behalf of Shaykh Ahmad Al-Kuzbari in the Umawy Mosque. He authored a few useful books. He passed away in Damascus in 1868 (1285).

He studied Arabic, Turkish and Persian under Shaykh AbdurRahman Al-Banushnaqi. He also studied French, Syriac, Hebrew and the Ethiopian Language. He also knew some of the Berber tribal languages, particularly of those who inhabited parts of Algeria.

The scholars under whom he studied the various Islamic sciences with were many. One of them was Shaykh Abdul Ghani Al-Ghunaymi Al-Maydani (1222-1298=1807-1881, author of AlLubaab in Hanafi Fiqh, Sharh AlAqeedah AlTahawiyah and other books), who was one of the most senior Hanafi scholars who was a student of Imam Ibn Abideen (author of Rad AlMukhtar), one of the greatest Hanafi scholars in that century. From him, Shaykh Tahir learnt how to be thorough, accurate and precise when analyzing complex fiqh issues.

Shaykh Tahir devoted all his time and energy towards studying which also included studying the natural sciences. He also studied mathematics, astronomy and history. His knowledge of history was superb and in addition he was very well acquainted with the biographies of the previous scholars and their books.

In his youth, he was among the founders in a charitable organization that was established by a group of scholars of Damascus in 1877 (1294). In 1878 (1295), at the age of 26 he was appointed as a general inspector for the primary schools. During the period he served in this position, he wrote some books that were necessary at the time for pupils in various levels. Together with Shaykh Ala Al-Din Abidin (d.1888), they agreed to establish the Al-Jamiyat Al-Khairiyah Al-Islamiyah that was very active in Damascus and was responsible for establishing many schools.

In 1879 (1296) he attempted to gather in one place all historical manuscripts from the endowment libraries in Damascus. The result of his efforts was the establishment of the Zahiriyah Library that became one of the most prominent libraries in the Arab world because of its valuable collections of manuscripts.

After his success with this library he strove to repeat the same in Jerusalem to establish the Khalidiyah Library in Al-Quds. Shaykh Tahir continued to serve the knowledge of Islam through his writing, teaching, and promoting it through his libraries.

His activities increased after 1886 after he had abandoned his work with the government. He devoted his time to teaching and towards promoting various reforms.

In 1907 (1325), he faced some harassment and pressure from the Turkish authorities in Syria. As the result he immigrated to Egypt where its scholars welcomed him, especially the likes of Ahmad Taimur Basha and Ahmad Zaki Basha.

He refused to take a cent from the State, because he feared that he would be forced to be silent on issues that were not palatable to the leaders. Instead, he lived by sacrificing his most beloved possessions. He sold his books and his manuscripts in order to survive. Even in these desperate times, he chose to sell his books to Dar Al-Kutub Al-Misriyah for half the price he would have received from the British Museum because he wanted to ensure that the books remain in Muslim lands.

Shaykh Ali Yusuf and Ahmad Taimur Basha tried to allocate some position to him, which would enable thousands to benefit from his vast knowledge and at the same time he would receive a salary. He excused himself because of his old age and his inability to fulfill official administrative and time requirements and also because he was accustomed to reading and researching the whole night right until Fajr. This was particularly his practice in the last forty years of his life. He remained in Cairo for about thirteen years and in 1920 (1337) he became seriously ill, and he returned to Damascus. Soon after his return he was elected as a member of the Arabic Academy in Damascus and the Director of the Zahiriyah Library. He passed away four months later in 1920 (1338) and is buried on the Qasiyoun Mountain in Damascus, Syria.

As Shaykh Taahir was so careful about utilizing his time, he did not care about his appearance and dressed very shabbily. He never married and used to spend a great deal of the night with his friends and the remainder in reading and writing. He enjoyed swimming and walking as an exercise. He was very particular about performing his salah punctually to the call of the adhan, no matter where he was. He defended the Arabic Language and the Hijri Calendar.

Although he was modest by nature he was fiercely independent. He never accepted any gift from the rulers. When he was financially in need, he continued to sell some of his books. The most expensive and dearest thing to him was his books and the time he spent studying and conducting his research. Nothing at all distracted him. He was able to answer questions that were posed to him with ease and was very annoyed at those who tried to insult the scholars.

He used to prepare a large quantity of coffee that would last for a few days to save on preparation time.

He drank coffee to give him energy and to keep him alert and awake. Whenever he left his home he always carried a book or some notes from which he could benefit, thus never wasting any time.

Despite the great amount of time he spent in reading, he advised students to lessen their reading during the holidays and, instead, to increase their sporting and recreational activities. He maintained that, deep immersion into books could lead to seclusion and alienation from people. He in turn had an excellent relationship with many scholars of Damascus that included; Shaykh Abdul Razaaq Al-Baytar, Shaykh Abu Al-Khair Abidin, Shaykh Salim Al-Bukhari and his special friend Shaykh Jamal Al-Din Al-Qasimi (author of a 17 volume Tafsir titled Mahaasin Al-Tawil fi Tafsir Al-Quran Al-Karim, 1283-1331=1866-1914). Shaykh Tahir visited Shaykh Jamal Al-Din daily from the beginning of 1906 until he left for Egypt in 1907. He attended Shaykh Al-Qasimi’s lessons in Mustalah Al-Hadith and Tafsir. Shaykh Tahir even reviewed Shaykh Al-Qasimi’s book in Mustalah Al-Hadith. They continued to correspond with one another even when Shaykh Tahir was in Egypt. Many orientalist scholars respected him and consulted him on numerous occasions. The Jewish orientalist scholar, Goldziher was one such scholar who even attended the Shaykh’s lessons in Damascus and translated his book Towjeeh Al-Nazhr  into German.

He wrote many books, over 35 in number on various subjects. These include aqidah, ulum Al-Quran, tajwid, the science of hadith, sirah, usul, Arabic rhetoric, Arabic literature, the philosophy of natural mathematics, history and introductions to many Islamic manuscripts.

His most important books are:

  • Irshad Alba (in teaching the Arabic Language)
  • Al-Tibyan (the science of the Quraan)
  • Towjih Al-Nazhr (in the science of hadith). This book is described by Shaykh Abu Ghuddah as one of the most extensive works on the subject. Shaykh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah edited and published the last two.
  • Al-Jawahir Al-Kalamiyah fi Al-Aqaaid Al-Islamiyah (Aqidah)
  • Al-TaqribilaUsul Al-Ta’rib (Arabic Grammar)
  • Sharh Khutab Ibn Nabatah(Poetry and Literature)
  • Al-Tazkirah Al-Zhahiriyah (articles on various topics)
  • Al-Uqud Al-Alaali fi Al-Asanid Al-Awali
  • Muniyat Al-Azkiya fi Qisas Al-Anbiya
  • Mukhtasar Adab Al-Katib by Ibn Qutaybah
  • Madkhal Al-Tulabila Fan Al-Hisaab

Some of his works are still manuscripts and have never been published. Some of the titles are:

  • Asna Al-Maqasid fi Ilm Al-Aqa’id
  • Al-Ilmam bi Usul Sirat Al-Nabi Alayhi Al-Salatwa Al-Salam.
  • Al-Tafsir Al-Kabir. (4 Volumes and can be regarded as notes to Tafseer Al-Baydawi).
  • Various others describing his travels to Alexandria and other places.
  • Various compilations of biographies of scholars of different eras.
  • Selections from Al-Muwafaqat by Al-Shatibi and Zaruq’s work in Tasawwuf

He could be distinguished from many of his contemporary scholars because he enjoyed the following:

  1. His initiatives in spreading education and establishing schools. Through his interaction with the Turkish authorities, he worked tirelessly to achieve this many times convincing people who owned large palatial homes to donate a portion, which could be used for a school. These schools were in all the cities of Syria and he even established a school for girls.
  2. He personally took charge of the syllabus. He did receive some opposition from certain sectors in Damascus, who wanted this knowledge to be exclusively for them and their families. He endured and persevered and because of his acquaintance with the governor, he was successful. He also encouraged and supported the establishment of a school dedicated to teaching the seven modes of recitation of the Quran.
  3. His active participation in establishing social and charitable organizations.
  4. His efforts in promoting history and various aspects related to the Arabic language.
  5. His role in bridging the gap in some way between realities and absolute aspects of Islam and modern science.
  6. His emphasis on education (tarbiyah) and ethics (akhlaaq).
  7. His activism through writing and keeping the people informed through the newspapers. Once Ahmad Zaki Basha received 10 000 pounds from the Minister of Education to publish rare books. A year passed and nothing was done. When a new minister was appointed, this amount was returned to the Ministry. Shaykh Taahir was very annoyed and upset and he felt that Ahmad Zaki had done a great disservice to the Ummah.

His students, Shaykh Muhammad Sai’d AlBani Al-Dimashqi, Muhammad Kurd Ali, Shaykh Ali Al-Tantawi and Shaykh Adnan Al-Khatib revered him and they wrote about his productive life and distinct personality.

 

* This biography may be found in the book: Muslim Scholars of the 20th Century by Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed


Biography of Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed

Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed is a well respected South African Islamic scholar who lives in Pretoria, South Africa. He studied at the King Saud University in Riyadh and the faculty of Shariah at the Islamic University of Madina. He has attained a M.A. in Islamic Studies from the University of South Africa. Through his extensive travels he has met and benefited from many senior scholars from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, India, Turkey etc. He has received numerous Ijazahs from the various scholars that he has met, studied with and served. He is currently a senior educator at the al – Ghazzali College in Pretoria.

He has authored two books:

  1. Muslim Scholars of the 20th Century.
  2. Muslim Scholars of the 21st Century.

He was one of the translators of Shaykh Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al – Maliki’s work: The Way of the True Salaf.


https://seekersguidance.org/articles/the-trodden-path-a-glimpse-at-the-lives-of-the-illustrious-scholars-and-saints-of-the-20th-and-21st-century/

The Ghazali Project for Children – Interview with Virginia Gray

Lola Elniaj sits down with an interview with Virginia Gray Henry, founder of Fons Vitae publishing house and Ghazali Project for Children.

 

Lola: It is obvious your work is infused with a spiritual sense of purpose but how did it come about?

Virginia: I majored in World Religions in university in New York. This was in the early 60’s.  And Islam was not even included back then. And we all had the idea it was 1001 Nights, camels and harems and Baghdad! We all had read 1001 Nights. But it wasn’t taught among the world’s religions. And I majored in Hinduism. And when I got out of university I was looking for a way, because every faith tradition is both a doctrine and a methodology.

In that, you finally come to realize that the aim of all faith traditions, every single one of them, is…(and we have the prophets and messengers and each one of them exemplifies humility and service and emptiness of ego. You empty of all that comes along with your nafs in order to be fully present when you meet God at the end of your life. And so you realize that you can’t really do that from just reading books)…that you actually need a spiritual direction; you need to see that alive.

So at the time, I was married to a Venezuelan film director and we became Muslim through reading Al-Ghazali and other books but at that time either they were crummy books, you know, like horrible paper, awful print, you know really embarrassingly crummy books or really academic books done by scholars at Cambridge and Oxford.  But those were done by what we call the Mustashriqeen or Orientalists translating some of the great books like the Mutanabee but the problem was that back in their minds, at least in our estimate, they were really serving the British and the people who needed to feel comfortable about colonizing all these Muslim countries. So there was always the element of sneering at Islam, the Prophet’s wives, whatever you have it. And I really felt this was really unfortunate.

So in the summer of ’68 we sailed over to Morocco on a freighter with 8 people and bought a Citroen car in Paris, and drove to Cairo which took about year because we saw all of Morocco. And then I got pregnant and we had a baby born in Libya, Hajar, and we lived in Baydha. And then we came into Egypt in the spring of ’69 and we met some of the most beautiful and saintly beings you can imagine! They were there, living in Cairo. There were three of them, in fact.

So we began meeting with people our own age from Japan, and from France, and from England,and many countries, who were also looking for spiritual direction and guidance. And so we spent ten years studying in Al-Azhar in special studies in Arabic, Fiqh, Tajweed. And our son Mustafa was born there.  And after ten years of that we thought ghasb ‘anna– it’s our responsibility to give back. We now see what it really is. By that time we had worked with the Saudis and made a film about Muslims making the Hajj, (featuring)Muslims from as far as Taipei, Kyoto, Kuala Lampur, Indonesia.

So we have come to understand the beautiful nature and quality of the Muslim people, which is really magnificent-never mind in the desert how a mechanic would take us in when our car broke in the Algerian desert and make sleep in their only bed. You know that’s really touching you know.

Then, after all those years of study, we move to England in ‘79 and opened Jam’iyat Alnusoos Alislamiya (Islamic Text Society). The idea would be to start getting really amazing scholars from japan to California and translate all the great Islamic classics. Beautifully translated but also produce it beautiful and highest form of publishing and typesetting because we saw a need and started to fill the gap.

So it began at Cambridge.The children grew up there, and I did a Master’s in Education started a doctorate. We had a beautiful building on Green Street.  We had some wonderful Saudi friends who made it possible for us to have a whole building with a book store. And we started with Abdul-Hakim Murad (Tim Winters). He was just coming out of Pembroke. He was in his early twenties and he was already brilliant in Arabic. And so he translated the first of our Ghazali series which is book 40, which is on death and what comes after, from the ‘Ihaya’ Uloom Ideen. And we knew him and we’ve been close to him all the way through. I mean I just went with him to Bosnia this past August and I actually worked in the war with him in the ‘90’s and he is the one who actually has named my publishing company, the new one – Fons Vitae. So anyway we started this publishing in England and began doing Al-Ghazali and we were trying to do things in the “ahsani taqweem” (in the best form) and it worked. I am very happy to say I can’t tell you how many Islamic publishers copy us. And I am so glad they are because the amount of beautiful books are being produced by Muslims is really wonderful

 

Lola: What would you say is your role as Muslim publisher?

Virginia: Well, you see there are two kinds of things going on.  If you look at the publishing lists of Oxford and Cambridge universities (press or slash?) Yale. Most of the books by modern day scholars and academics are really about the changing scene, ISIS or politics, or history. And I am not interested in any of that. Because life is extremely quick. I mean this last 25 years since I’ve been back in America has gone in a flash. Like Omar Alkhayam said: Life is like the snow on the desert’s ((breast)). It’s that fast. The reason I was interested in religion to start with even as a child, is that friends of mine, even at 15 and 16 years, died and I wanted to know where are they, what happened, what is death. And everyone wonders about that and that’s why I focused on religion, but I’ve always thought that I’m about to die. And I’m right. I am. In a way, you and I, we think we’ve got all this time but time is very fast and in a certain sense we both are already dead and we’ve got just a few minutes left in our mind. If you think about the past 10 years in your mind, it’s just a few ideas. And it’s going faster all the time.

So we focused on the inner life and how to prepare and cleanse the soul in order to meet God. So that’s been our thrust. I have zero interest in the refined little things that people do their doctoral thesis on. That’s well…they’re all talking to each other. But they aren’t giving anything that will address the real question at hand that we are going to die very quickly and you know we really never had any time. If you devoted your whole life to your inner life, you would barely have time, much less to go off in a thousand different directions.

So anyway, the one thing that I did think (of how others view our role as publishers) was just a couple of years ago, might be 3 or 4, in Marrakesh.There was a huge festival done in honor of Fons Vitae and it was very touching. It was organized under the auspices of the king.Scholars came from all over Europe and everywhere to talk about our books, and I presented the Ghazali (for Children project) as well. And they said the reason they were doing it because (and this is very touching) because Fons Vitae has devoted itself for keeping the magnificence of the Islamic spiritual heritage in print for the West. Because you see it’s in Arabic and French, and many languages but at least Fons vitae is the foremost Sufi publisher in the world.

Islam is a beautiful religion. It has everything, it is wonderful, it has inner dimensions.  There’s something for everybody, every moment of their lives. And I had met people who can’t stand Ghazali, who can’t stand Sufism, who’ve led lives of perfect service, perfect humility,who honestly were sanctified at death. So it’s not Sufism or literalism, but it’s really doing the thing which is at the core of the whole thing which is finally being humble and putting everything else aside to serve

 

Lola: How did the Ghazali for children project come about and what was the process of turning this magnum opus into a children’s series like?

Virginia: What got me off on to this whole path was when I was about 22 and read in the New York public library Ghazali’s “almunqith Min aldhalal”, (Deliverance from Error). His spiritual autobiography which he wrote towards the end of his life, after he wrote the “Ihya’. In it, he describes his crisis where he was teaching in Baghdad and he was the equivalent of the president of Oxford and Harvard today and everyone looked up to him, and he knew everything and he won every argument and then he really looked, he realized, “I know the truth but I am not able to do it”. And that’s a crisis I feel I am going through in my life. And I am trying to go inward now at the lasts second but the Ghazali children’s project has been a God sent. But anyway, then when Ghazali had written in his autobiography: “My soul is on a crumbling bank. Up, up, and away. If not now, when?!”

And you know when I read that and I was only 22 and I mean by the time you are 22 you already know it all. You know what the deal is. You (don’t) have to read about it over and over and over again. It’s clear in all faith traditions and the essence of human life. I was so scared by that that I fell in love and wanted to know more about Alghazali. With his quotations from the Qur’an and Hadith and quotations from the Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din.’”, I was in a state like very high but I was like clinging to the pages with my fingernails. I could read it. I could go high with it. But when I shut the book I was still me and I didn’t know how you could incorporate those great teachings into your own daily outlook.

About 8 years ago Hamza Yusuf called up and he was very sad because he said his children were going to an Islamic school and it wasn’t working out. Probably because it was so dry and rote and not fun. So we hatched the idea for the Ghazali children’s project.  Everyone said, how can you do Ghazali for children? But what it was that it was my own salvation in a certain sense, the beginning of my own spiritual life, because I sat with the Book of Knowledge, the first book of the forty of the Ihya. And that particular book is said to be a summation, the essence of the entire ‘Ihya’ Uloom Ideen, in this book 1. And everyone said don’t start with it. It’s really hard. But how could you not start with book 1?

I sat right here behind on this couch. So I sat there for 4 yrs.

Four years read it very slowly. First I printed it all out. We had all of these books translated. Hamza Yusuf picked the latest critical edition of Alghazli, the Arabic edition by the Darul Manhaj press in Jeddah. We would print out, let’s say, book 1 and send it to a scholar. So in the case of book 1 it would be Ken Honerkamp (Abdulhadi) You have to be very careful when you choose a translator, because it is their (level of viewing the world) that will flavor the entire book, and if the person themselves is not seeking the inner life they are not going to be able to translate it right. And a lot of them were done by Abdurrahman Fitzgerald who lives in Marrakesh who is a saintly being. And they are wonderful.

And then after they put them into English, they go to editors; Muhammad Huzein who has Gazali.org the greatest Ghazali website, most complete in the world and his wife who is a top editor for every publisher in the world. They then very carefully put these translations into English that could be read by parents and teachers as well as scholars. It’s totally scholarly but it just doesn’t use words that are just too high all the way through. And then I take a print out of this and would go through this and circle every key idea because you can’t leave anything out because Ghazali builds. You can outline what he says. And each thing is based on what comes before. It is utterly brilliant.

And Hamza Yusuf I think said to me once “the Ihya is the Qur’an in a usable order and if you did everything that Ghazali said, you would have arrived as it were at true being.”

So I was sitting with the book of knowledge and imaging how I would say it to my granddaughter who was 5 or 6 at the time, and so I sort of whispered it.  How I would really get it across to her?

So the Book of Knowledge is forty stories which deal with all those essential points about the nature of the heart.

 

Lola: What were your deepest aims and purposes of this project? How did you go about turning a private prayer into a public work?

Virgina: A man is putting the whole project into Swedish. It is now going into 12 languages the Urdu one is already being used in Pakistan, and Al-Azhar University did the Book of Creed children’s book in Arabic for their school system.

But the Swedish translator had said honestly until he had this system he had no way to talk to his children about such profound concepts .

Think about it, how do you start to tell your children about the deeper realities? Well why figure it out when Ghazali already did it?

We have a huge pilot school program with over 180 schools all over the world

Some people don’t have the money to buy the books and if they sign up for our pilot school, we can send them the pdf’s and they can use them in their classes. But the pity is that the books are so beautiful; big and hard-back and exquisite illustrations. Such a shame that Muslims parents who don’t buy books, wouldn’t buy this because when the children see the beauty of the books they realize the importance of the subject. The subject is the only subject (purification) the Prophet of God, Allah bless him and give him peace, said “I only came to teach good character”.

What it is that we are doing here, is the inner Sunnah. It’s easy to be told do ten of these, three of these, use siwak, etc. the outer Sunnahs. But what about the inner state of mind? The literal inner state the inner Sunnah? And this is what’s been left out (from mainstream teachings of Islam to children)

In the stories we have a motif. There are some children walking home from school in an anonymous Muslim town somewhere in the world. and they are discussing how their parents are upset with them about being late to prayers but we don’t know the meaning behind why we have to do it.

So they find a forgotten garden (quite a symbol) and they go and find a beautiful clearing with flowering trees and rabbits and they agree we’ll meet here and talk about our concerns. And then they think but who will answer our questions? And then they recall sitting in the park everyday this beautiful old man with birds all over him feeding squirrels etc. named hajj Abdullah. Hajj meaning he has made THE pilgrimage to his heart, right?! And Abd Allah servant of God. And so they go to him and he says yes I will come and answer your questions but not from myself. it will be through the great writing of imam Alghazali.

So that’s how it’s done. Right from the start even the book on wudu and prayer.
Allahu akbar” is it just moving your lips? Or shouldn’t we also be in mode of being that is for that.

And he (Alghazali) said when you open your prayer and do the takbeer you should gather yourself into your heart, and be totally attentive and present with God. When you say Subhan Allah you should be in a state of awe. When you say: “ihdina alsirata” should inspire a state of lowliness and seeking guidance.

With each aya there is a different way to be. And this state of being when you do it in prayer, the prayers become full of light. It’s even fun doing it in this way.

Being awake to the inner dimensions of it and learning over time to be present and awake and not just mouthing words and doing postures without understanding.

Hamza Yusuf says Islamic education has ta’leem, the learning of everything, which we need to do.  And tarbiya which is the character change.

In terms of our methodology, each book comes with a work book, and a teacher’s manual and a full curriculum, chapter by chapter. And each chapter in the curricula has a Qur’anic or a Hadeeth passage to which the whole core teaching relates and then of course the workbook has fun things to do and then the curricula has play acting as its major thing.

I have to say it saved my life. I can work on myself because I have the tools to do it. Now I have the meanings. I didn’t see the meanings. I didn’t see what was really going on. I was just taught the five pillars and “do this” and “don’t do that”.

 

Lola: Can you tell me about your Interfaith work?

Virginia: I have always been an interfaith person because of the passage in the first book I read on Islam in 1966 was called “Focus on Islam” and on the opening page it said: “We have sent at all times prophets to people in their own language”. And I thought that’s wonderful because I majored in world religions, and of course God is merciful and He doesn’t leave somebody out. He doesn’t. So I’ve always been interested in, not just faiths tolerating one another, but learning to admire one another because each faith has some very special beautiful things that we can learn from each other. So I’ve done a lot of interfaith work and publishing. We did a book with Prince Ghazi of Jordan called “The Common Ground Between Buddhism and Islam”

Because Buddhism is focused on emptiness and mindfulness. Being empty of all but God and being mindful. And if you think of the essence of Islam is faqr (holy poverty) and humility and the remembrance of la ilaha illa Allah so they are not very different.

I’ve worked on something international that is based here (Kentucky) called the Festival of Faiths board for 25 years.

(As for) the local network of interfaith work, the Muslims here in Louisville Kentucky (Let’s just say the Pakistani doctors) are doing amazing things and they are loved by our community and our mayor. For example, there’s a Christian group that has created something that’s called a Water Step which is a device that can be taken by/into interior land and it’s like a car batteryIt is taken by land and it can purify like fifty gallons of water in a minute. And when Haiti had those terrible devastating floods, these Muslim doctors paid for that to be put in Haiti and then when there were floods in Pakistan they gave the Christian group $200,000 and went with them and trained their Pakistani brothers and worked on the water. And it’s that kind of thing that should be going on between all faiths.

Somebody had gone just this past week (Feb 2019) here in Louisville into a Hindu temple and desecrated it and the Muslims were there first. Everyone was there standing with the mayor and there to help clean it off. And that’s the way we should be. We are a human family. There’s no point in disliking another group because of a religion they’ve been raised. Ghazali said: I noticed the Jews raise their children as Jews and Christian children of course taught Christianity by their parents etc etc and Ghazali says: “I wonder who we were before our parents said, ‘here’s the package’”.

These are our human brothers and we should just have nothing but mercy and love and compassion and respect for everyone. I can’t imagine being taught anything less than that.

All religions have a form, and because Islam has a form that is copying the Sunnah it is beautiful that no matter where you go in the world because people are practicing the Sunnah you can find yourself at home no matter where you go. It’s all beautiful.

Sufism: Its Essence & the Traits of its People: Book by Habib Umar

What is Sufism? This new treatise by Habib Umar ibn Hafiz and translated into English by Ustadh Amjad Tarsin, covers the principles of Sufism and the characteristics of those who follow it.

What is Sufism?

This book seeks to clarify the meaning behind this often-misunderstood term. Sufism, or tasawwuf as it is known in the original Arabic, is the science of purifying the heart for the purpose of reaching Allah. This is done by acting with ihsan, or excellence, in every situation, and following the sunna of the Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and give him peace.

A true Sufi is someone who has reached the station of ayn al-yaqin, or the witnessing of certainty, which usually comes after many years of hard work. The people who try their best, but have not yet reached, are really quasi-Sufis, or mutasawif. As for the people who love them, but are not actively trying to progress spiritually, are attempting to resemble Sufis.

The Traits of Sufis

There are many people all over the world, who claim to be Sufis. Habib Umar outlines the ten traits that must be followed by anyone who claims to be a Sufi. These traits are universal to the various spiritual paths.

  1. Knowledge of the Qur’an and the Sunna: This forms the very foundation of the Sufism, and any actions that contradict the basics of Islam, are not from Sufism. This also means that the Sufis strive to follow the  sunna with utmost excellence. In fact, the isnad (chains of transmission) of all the major works of Qur’an, hadith, tafsir (Qur’anic exegesis), fiqh (jurisprudence) were passed down through the people of Sufism. Therefore, everyone today who is qualified to teach any of these sciences, has Sufis in their chain of transmission.
  2. Concern with perfecting the heart for the sake of Allah: Since Allah looks towards our heart, not our outward forms, Sufis prioritise working on their hearts to attain ihsan. Sufism is not about singing, clapping, or wearing specific clothing. Rather, it’s about removing everything besides Allah from the heart.
  3. Sincerity. Sufis should be extremely meticulous in analysing their actions, making sure that they are solely for the sake of Allah, and shy away from praise and recognition.
  4. Trueness: This entails doing everything possible to do a deed for the sake of Allah alone, with no pride or ostentation. This also means being humble enough to accept advice from everyone, and not to mind if others turn away.
  5. Humility of the heart: There are countless verses, hadith and stories which emphasise the centrality of humility. A Sufi does not raise themselves above others, or believe that they are better than anyone else, preferring instead to carry themselves with humility.
  6. Recognising the people of honor, and eliminating envy: By showing honor to people who posses it, they strive to give everyone their rights, and not have envy towards anyone.
  7. Remembering Allah abundantly: Sufis strive to make dhikr and remember Allah, with presence of heart, as much as possible.
  8. Conveying with excellence and eliminating discourteous argumentation: They strive for excellence by avoiding arguments unless absolutely necessary. If an issue arises, they clarify it in the best manner.
  9. Responding to evil with goodness, and having concern: A Sufi has utmost concern for others, and does their best to strive for their wellbeing. They forgive those who wrong them and respond to any evil they face with goodness.
  10. Love of Allah, preferring Him over all else: In their daily life, they consider Allah more important than everything, and strive to attain his love.

Sufism: Its Essence & the Traits of its People, is published by Dar al-Turath Islami. If you would like to learn more, consider enrolling in our On-Demand course The Path of Spiritual Excellence.


New Translation of the Abridged Ihya Ulum al-Din

Mokrane Guezzou has completed a new translation of Salah Ahmad al-Shami’s abridgement of the Ihya Ulum al-Din.

Given the title, Revival of the Religious Sciences: An Abridgment, this new translation of Salah Ahmad al-Shami’s abridgement of Imam al-Ghazali’s Ihya Ulum al-Din will be available in January 2019.

Translated by Mokrane Guezzou, the author and translator of such works as The Adab of the True Seeker by Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Buzaydi (2013); Red Sulphur by ‘Abd Allah al-‘Aydarus (2015); and The Onlooker’s Delight: The Biography of Shaykh Abd al-Qadir Jilani by Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (2016), this beautifully produced new work published by Serenity Productions is a must have for all Muslims who wish to build their relation to Imam al-Ghazali’s seminal and timeless masterpiece.

Revival of the religious Sciences An Abridgement

With its four major sections dealing with Acts of Worship, Norms of Daily Life, Qualities Leading to Perdition, and Qualities Leading to Salvation, a Muslim can gain a better understanding and appreciation of what it is that makes firm our relationship to Allah Most High and His Chosen Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, and how to manifest that relationship to everyday life and thereby make our way to the Hereafter brighter and blessed with ease and grace.

As Imam Taj al-Din al-Subki remarked: “If people had no concern for any of the works authored by scholars save the Revival, it would suffice them.”

For more information visit Serenity Productions.


The Write Legacy: Interview with Dr Saadia Mian and Sr Ambareen Syed

Fatimah Gomez interviews two female Muslim authors, who were guest speakers at the recent Muslim Women’s Literary Conference. 

Dr. Saadia Mian

Fatimah: Today we have the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Saadia Mian, author of Crowning Venture, and a deeply inspiring person who also completed the memorisation of the Qur’an.

Dr. Saadia, you gave a beautiful uplifting talk about the journey of your book The Crowning Venture, and how this book has changed your life. I’d like to start off from the beginning— where did your writing journey essentially begin?

Dr. Saadia: Well to start with, I was writing on and off for the past five years, usually being inspired by the journeys that my medical career took me upon. I was always a reader, and this has enabled me to write even more.

Fatimah: From what you mentioned during your talk, writing The Crowning Venture was something very personal and involved you telling your reader many personal experiences that you went through along your journey in memorising the Qur’an. Can you tell us how you were so motivated write about these experiences, no matter how personal they were?

Dr. Saadia: Well you see, I realised that if I didn’t let people know and understand the beauty of the journey that comes with learning the Qur’an, nobody would ever know how journey is. I always ask myself, “Is this a message that will help others?” And with this mindset, we as writers have to be willing to write freely from our hearts and not be afraid of what others think of our writing or how they will respond.

Fatimah: And who would you say motivated you the most along your writing journey?

Dr. Saadia: Well, I had amazing editors that really pushed me to write what I wanted to convey to my readers without worrying about anything. They always supported me and encouraged me to write now and they would be able to edit everything later accordingly.

Fatimah: Many of us struggle with articulating the seriousness of our writing. How would you say is a good easy to show others how serious you are with your writing?

Dr. Saadia: I would say just keep on writing, push aside your fears and get your feelings out with your words. Eventually people will come to realise how passionate you are.

Fatimah: And what would be one piece of advice you’d like to leave us with?

Dr. Saadia: The best thing that I can tell you is to find people who are willing to support you and who you can lean on throughout your writing journey. This path of writing isn’t meant to be travelled alone.

Fatimah: Thank you Dr. Saadia, for giving us this amazing opportunity of benefiting from your experience and words.

Dr. Saadia: You’re very welcome.

You can find out more about The Crowning Venture here. 


Sr. Ambareen Syed

Fatimah: Here we also have with us Sister Ambareen Syed, author of the Henrietta Gee series and mother of six beautiful children.

Tell us, Sister Ambareen, where did you first discover your passion for writing?

Sr. Ambareen: Well, ever since I was young, I was always a big reader. I loved reading sci-fi books and when I started to hit my teen years, I started entering contests with my manuscripts and won them, which encouraged me forward along my writing journey.

Fatimah: And what inspired you to write the Henrietta Gee series?

Sr. Ambareen: It began with storytelling. I used to create stories of this girl named Henrietta and tell them to my kids. They always begged me for more stories and this encouraged me to write them down. Eventually, these stories grew into the Henrietta Gee series.

Fatimah: Amazing. It’s always beautiful seeing inspiration coming from your own children.

Sr. Ambareen. (Laughs.) Yes, definitely.

Fatimah: How would you advise Muslim writers of today to embed the spiritual perspective into their writing?

Sr. Ambareen: Firstly, we must understand that other people will always connect differently to our writing, compared to how we do. But it’s also important that we take advantage of this opportunity of literacy that has been presented to us and use this, striving to uplift our society with our works.

It also comes back to your intention. You have to think of your intention before you write, think about what kind of feelings you want to leave your readers with. What kind of lesson do you want them to think about and take to heart. This makes a difference in our manuscripts because it gives a meaning to our words, creating a message for our readers.

Fatimah: Very important. I know a lot of young writers out there today who are passionate about their work but don’t feel encouraged enough to stay motivated along the journey of literacy. What would you like to tell them to encourage them forward?

Sr. Ambareen: Keep writing. Just keep along at it, don’t even bother to edit your ideas. You want to let the creative process and ideas flow out first, and then later you can hard-core edit everything.

Fatimah: Well thank you so much Sister Ambareen. I’m so glad that you were able to share some of your time with us and hopefully, have motivated and inspired others with your words. Until next time.

Sr. Ambareen: Alhamdulillah, it was my pleasure.

You can find out more about the Henrietta Gee series here. 


Fatimah Gomez is 15 years old, and the second eldest  of five. She’s currently in high school and has had a passion for writing since age 9. Recently, she completed her first book for Muslim youth, which she intends to publish soon. She enjoys playing and watching soccer, training for taekwondo, jdm cars, discovering the beauty in art and poetry and connecting with Allah’s creation.


Red Sulphur: A Spiritual Treatise – Free eBook

The Red Sulphur, written by Imam al-Aydarus, is a short treatise on spiritual wayfaring. It has been translated into English and is available as a free eBook.

Al Kibrit Al Ahmar or The Red Sulphur was written by Abdullah ibn Abi Bakr al Aydarus who lived the 800s AH/1400s CE. He lived in Tarim, Yemen, and taught both the outer and inner sciences of Islam.  Scores of students graduated at his hands, many of whom went on to become great teachers in their own right.

Imam al-Aydarus was the first of his tradition to write books to reach students far and wide, since his contemporaries and teachers would mostly focus on the students around them, as well as those who had travelled to learn from them. In less than 100 pages, the author codifies the main concepts and foundational beliefs of the Ba Alawi spiritual path. However, this book is universal and is just as relevant for any individual who is serious about getting nearer to Allah.

Designed for those beginning the beautiful path of spiritual wayfaring, this book outlines the steps one must take on the path to reaching Allah. Beginning with the necessity of keeping the company of a learned teacher and how to tread the spiritual path, The Red Sulphur goes on to codify a variety of basic beliefs for the devoted aspirant, such as Godfearingness, having a good opinion of others, and having a correct understanding of creed. It then lists other conditions and steps, such as the ten stations for the spiritual wayfarer and the many states that one passes as they grow in their quest towards Allah Most High.

The Red Sulphur is available in English and in Arabic as a free download from The Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman, Jordan.


What Ghazali’s Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din Means to Me

Sister Tuscany Bernier offers an insightful reflection on the very personal impact that the Ihya Uloom al-Din had on her.

The Ihya ‘Ulum al’Din ( The Revival of the Religious Sciences) is a 40-volume work, the mangus opus of the great scholar Imam Ghazali. The Imam also compiled a Mukhtasir, or abridgement, which captured the essence of each volume into a chapter, making it a single, 40-chapter book.

The Ihya and I met in unique circumstances.  In April 2015, I bought a copy of the Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din…or at least I thought it was the whole Ihya. It wasn’t until last year that I realised it was actually the Mukhtasir, or abridged version.

As it happened, I did not open the book for several months. Looking in its direction, I would sigh at how much dust it was collecting.

Eventually, I joined a small women’s group, designed to explore leadership, feminism, and spirituality. Participating in the group inspired me to stretch my mind to explore what I didn’t understand. Thus, I picked up the book I had desired to read the most – the Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din. Before opening its pages, I made dua that Allah Most High grant me understanding and I aimed to clear my intentions.

Over the next nine months of the program, I poured over the 470+ pages in front of me. On the very first page, there was a hadith narrated from Allah’s Messenger, Blessings and peace be upon him, that said, “Belief is without clothing: its dress is piety, its beauty is modesty, and its fruit is knowledge.”

I was hooked.

The first quarter is titled “Al Ibada”, or worship, and the first chapter covers the virtues of seeking and imparting knowledge.The book then takes you through the second quarter based around or religious practices and onward into the third quarter, al-Muhlikat or moral vices. The final quarter brings the text to a close by focusing on the saving virtues, or al-Munjiyat. The final chapter is a reminder to take the time to remember death, which ultimately brings the entire book to a earnest, yet beautiful closure.

My mind felt simultaneously calmed by the constant invocation of Allah Most High, and stimulated by the diverse concepts brought up in each chapter.  I finished it over those nine months, but I often try to revisit the text that brought me so much happiness.

However, reading a translation by myself was nowhere as exciting as reading the original, or learning about it with esteemed scholars  through SeekersHub’s free on-demand course, Renewing Religion: Overview of Ghazali’s Ihya. But at the time I was reading it, I had no clue any of these resources existed.


Last year, I had the pleasure of reading a different translation – one much closer to the full Arabic original. It was at this point I realised that the book I’d initially read was only the Mukhtasir, and that every chapter of the Ihya could be considered a book on its own! In fact, the book I was reading was the first one of these books. It was called “
The Book of Knowledge” and was considered the backbone of the methodology course at the seminary that I was studying at.

The Ihya brought me closer to my understanding of the religion on a different level and for that, I thank the scholar who wrote it in the 11th century, Abu Hamid al Ghazali. Almost every topic within its pages was relevant to the human experience and thus, touched my heart centuries later.


Tuscany Bernier is from Indiana where she lives with her husband and two cats. She is passionate about cultural diversity and women’s studies. She published her first book in 2015 and hopes to write more in the future. You can visit her website for more information.


The Fitra Lessons 4/4 – Dr Umar Faruq Abd Allah

Dr Umar Faruq Abd Allah talks about the Sibgat of Allah and how it pertains to taking on the color of Allah, which is the Fitra of Islam.

Allah Might and Majestic says in Sura al Baqara 2:138:

صِبْغَةَ اللَّـهِ ۖ وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ مِنَ اللَّـهِ صِبْغَةً ۖ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ عَابِدُونَ

The baptism of Allah; and who is there that baptizes fairer than Allah? Him we are serving.

The word translated here as baptism: “sibgat,” connotes notions of dyeing or coloring of cloths, notions of immersion into a substance such that one takes on the coloring through and through.

The Dye of Allah

The Dyer of the cloth being Allah Most High. Allah dyes His servants in the most lasting and most beautiful of colors. This indicates that the Fitra – this coloring – is natural and that it promotes our inherent beauty in disposition and character.

The context of this verse also suggest that the baptism of the People of the Book, Jews and Christians, comes through the mediation of men. Whereas the baptism of Muslims by Allah comes to us directly from Allah.

The Fairest Stature

In Sura al Tin 95:1 Allah says:

لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ

We indeed created Man in the fairest stature

Referencing the Fitra or our true nature. This goes against our common understanding when viewing creation through worldly eyes. The common conception, if we look through history and so on, is that man generally behaves badly. That implies, in the perspective of the Qur’an, that man generally behaves contrary to his nature.

This is an important point that one must not lose sight of. The call of Allah, the call of Revelation, is the true call for us to return to nature – primordial nature. The Fitra. It is a call to immerse ourselves in the coloring of Allah.

Allah’s call to the Truth is His call for us to truly become who we are. This is the return.


Dr Umar Faruq Abd Allah taught a series of four lessons based on his book Al Iman Fitra during his visit to Cairo 23-27 February 2018. The lessons were orignally recorded and posted online by The Qadriyya Association.