Daily Checklist for the Spiritual Traveler to the Divine – Compiled by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Sha‘ār

Any individual wishing to turn to Allah on a daily basis should try their upmost to implement the following checklist and advice.This daily checklist was compiled by Shaykh Abd al-Rahman al-Sha’ar, son of Sidi Abu Munir, the longtime personal attendant of the great Damascene scholar of Islamic spiritually, Shaykh Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri.

صلاة ركعتين في السحر
1. Performing 2 units (rak‘a) of prayer in the last part of the night

أداء الصلوات الخمس جماعة وخصوصاً الفجر مع الخشوع والحضور في الصلاة
2. Performing the five obligatory prayers in congregation, especially Fajr, with presence and humility before God ﷻ

المحافظة على الوضوء
3. Consistency upon ablution (wudū’)

المحافظة على السنن الرواتب وأربع ركعات الضحى
4. Consistency upon the supererogatory prayers (sunan) associated with the obligatory prayers and four units of the morning prayer (duhā)

قراءة جزء من القرآن مع قراءة (الواقعة, الملك, أواخر البقرة والحشر) كل ليلة
5. Reciting a juz’ of Qur’ān every day, as well as al-Wāqi‘a, al-Mulk, and the endings of al-Baqara and al-Hashr every night

وقراءة (100) استغفار – (100) صلاة على النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم –       (100)  لا إله إلا الله – (100) سبحان الله وبحمده صباحا ومساء
6. Reciting 100x istighfār, 100x prayer on the Prophet ﷺ (salawāt), 100x lā ilāha illā Allāh, and 100x subhān Allāhi wa bi hamdihi every morning and evening

صلاة ركعتي التوبة كل يوم قبل النوم مع البكاء من خشية الله
7. Performing 2 units of the prayer of repentance (tawba) every night before sleeping, crying out of humility before God ﷻ

التصدق ولو بشيء يسير كل يوم
8. Giving in charity, even very little, every day

صيام الاثنين والخميس على قدر الاستطاعة
9. Fasting Mondays and Thursdays as much as one is able

الجدية التامة وقلة الخلطة وعدم الانشغال بسفاسف الأمور
10. Maintaining complete solemnity, spending little time intermingling with people, and not wasting time in trivial matters

حسن الخلق والتزام الآداب الشرعية
11. Having good character and maintaining the etiquette (adab) of the sacred law

الاضطرار والحرقة للوصول إلى الله تعالى وإشغال الفكر بالتقدم في السلوك وترقية الحال
12. Having a deep, burning need to arrive at God ﷻ and busying one’s thoughts with spiritual advancement and the elevation of one’s state

إحكام الصمت الشرعي واغتنام الوقت
13. Staying silent in accordance with the law and taking advantage of one’s time

النصيحة لكل مسلم
14. Advising every Muslim

محاسبة النفس كل يوم
15. Taking oneself to account every day

مسامحة الخلق أجمعين
16. Forgiving all people

التواضع والشعور بأنك أقل الناس قدراً
17. Being humble, feeling that one is the least worthy of people

الحرص على تتبع السنة في كل الأمور
18. Covetousness in following the Sunnah in all matters

التفاني وبذل النفس للدين
19. Spending and exhausting the self in service of the religion

ملازمة مجالس العلم
20. Constantly attending gatherings of sacred knowledge

قراءة أصول الطريق كل أسبوع مرة على الأقل
21. Reading the foundations of the spiritual path at least once a week

الابتعاد عن الأمور التالية
Avoiding the following matters:
– Love of being seen and of leadership | حب الظهور والرياسة
– Anger | الغضب
– Tale-telling | النميمة
– Backbiting | الغيبة
– Lying | الكذب
– Deceit | الغش
– Ostentation | الرياء
– Letting others hear of one’s religious works | السمعة
– Conceit | الغرور
– Mentioning immoral acts | الخوض في الباطل
– Arguing | الجدال
– Reliance on oneself | الاعتداد بالنفس
– Being intimate and delighted with the people of heedlessness | الانبساط والاستئناس مع أهل الغفلة
– Satisfying one’s hunger beyond filling one-third of the stomach | الشبع بمجاوزة ثلث المعدة
– Looking down upon other people | التعالي على الخلق
– Coveting this world | الحرص على الدنيا
– Sloth in acts of worship | الكسل في الطاعات

Parenting Question of the Week – Shaykh Hamza Karamali

* Courtesy of Basira Education

How do I answer my five-year old daughter when she asks, “Where is Allah?”

15-year olds in my Why Islam is True class learn how to answer this question. They learn that God is not in a space because space is a property of things in the created universe. Since God created the universe and is not something inside it, He exists without needing any space to exist in. The question is thus a loaded question that mistakenly assumes that God exists in a space. The correct way to answer a loaded question is to deny the mistaken assumption. The answer to this question is therefore, “God does not exist in a space.”

But five-year olds have simpler minds than 15-year olds. Your five-year old isn’t confused about whether or not God exists in a space. She is confused about something else.

When she asks you where her sister is, you point somewhere and say, “There she is,” when she asks where her father is, you point somewhere and say, “There he is,” and when she asks where her pet hamster is, you point somewhere and say, “There it is.”

When she asks, “Where is Allah,” she wants you to point somewhere and say, “There He is.”

Your job is to explain in simple language that: (a) God is not like the things that she sees around her, (b) that God’s relation to those things is a relation of creation, not a relation of location, and that therefore (c) God is “with” everything in the sense that He sustains it and keeps it in existence.

Based on that, here’s an answer you could give: “God is not like anything else. He created everything. He is with you wherever you are.”

The Prophetic Paradigm of Dealing With Problems – Shaykh Amin Kholwadia

* Courtesy of Darul Qasim

In this Pre Khutba talk, Shaykh Amin Kholwadia reminds the congregation that the absence of problems in society are not a sign of communal success or well being. Human nature and society is inextricably bounded to problems and challenges. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had to deal with problems and challenges on a daily basis. Furthermore, Islamic history is replete with events and episodes of turmoil and issues. Therefore, instead of rebelling against human nature, Muslims should adopt the approach and methodology of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in dealing with problems. He (peace be upon him) showed us through his blessed life that Islam teaches us how to navigate through human complexity. It is time that we realize this and embrace the Prophetic qualities of patience, forbearance, struggle, compassion and generosity in dealing with life and others. We should do our best in providing ease and assistance to those who are suffering from the challenges of life, and try to create a peaceful society by following the Prophetic model.

* Originally published on the 21st of October 2019

Adab 13: The Proprieties of Clothing and Dress

Ustadh Tabraze Azam gives a detailed account of the adab or the proprieties of clothing and dress.

 

Allah Most High says, “The garment of God-consciousness is the best of all garments” (Sura al-A‘raf 7.26) True clothing is that which leaves a spiritual imprint in our hearts whereby we recognise the Lordship of our All-Seeing Lord, and strive to work righteous deeds, remain distant from wrong and busy the heart with remembrance so that it may be moulded into something that shields us instantly from the unlawful. Taqwa, linguistically speaking, is the central focus of garments, protecting and shielding us from the weather and from unwanted gazes, and it is metaphysical taqwa that we seek to adorn ourselves with so that we may be hopeful to find Allah Most High’s Aid and Divine Care in this life before the next. 

1. Defining Nakedness and the Duty to Cover

Allah Most High says, “…Their nakedness became exposed to them when they had eaten from the tree: they began to put together leaves from the Garden to cover themselves.” (Sura al-A‘raf 7.22) And also, “O children of Adam! We have provided for you clothing to cover your nakedness and as an adornment.” (Sura al-A‘raf 7.26) From these and other verses, the jurists derived the obligation to cover one’s nakedness. In the context of covering, what is sought is opaque clothing which actually covers the area without displaying whatever is underneath and its colour. In doing so, we intend to fulfil a religious obligation and to guard our private parts from the unlawful and sin because “Actions are but by intentions.” (Bukhari)

The nakedness (‘awra) of men is from just below the navel till the bottom of the knee. For women in front of the opposite gender, it includes their entire bodies except face, hands and feet. In front of an unmarriageable kin (mahram), it is from navel to knee, and also the stomach and back; and in front of other women, it is from the navel to knee alone. When in seclusion, however, both men and women should strive to keep their minimal nakedness — navel to knee — covered as an expression of their modesty and humility before their Lord, unless there is a need to uncover such as when using the restroom or the like. 

With respect to children, there is some detail and some of the specifics may differ depending on how big or small any particular child looks. Generally, a very young child up to the age of about three or four has no nakedness of religious consequence. Then from four to seven, their nakedness is their private parts. From seven till ten, it gradually increases from just the private parts up to the navel and down to the knee; and then at age ten, their nakedness is akin to that of an adult. Having said all of that, it is important for caregivers and parents to ensure that children remain covered, within reason, and are taught about their nakedness and that the only person who can touch or uncover them in those sensitive areas is their mother. We live in difficult times and we are duty-bound to protect our children from harm and trauma. 

 

2. The Central Sunna of Looseness and Modesty

One of the central sunnas related to clothing and dress is that of looseness which is a result of preferring modesty. The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “Modesty is from faith.” (Bukhari) Praiseworthy modesty is a character trait which drives one to uphold the limits of the Sacred Law (shari‘a) in one’s life. Clothing is supposed to cover one’s nakedness and when it is tight, it is effectively akin to showing whatever is beneath it. This is why we need to be careful to ensure that the clothing we choose to wear is indicative of our values, namely, that covering well and fully forms the basis of how we present ourselves before those who are not permitted to see our bodies. 

Accordingly, both men and women should avoid form-fitting tightness, or simply tightness which sufficiently defines the size or shape of a limb between the navel and knee. Ladies should additionally be careful to avoid clothing which hugs the body, particularly in the chest area, but also generally around the rest of her nakedness. As an aside, praying in form-fitting, tight clothing is considered to be valid, yet prohibitively disliked (makruh tahriman) and seriously reprehensible because it is not the kind of covering that was sought in the prayer. Tightness is of degrees and the degree of blameworthiness would be in accordance with its extent.

3. General Sunnas in Dressing

There are a number of sunnas to keep in mind when dressing oneself, or even undressing! Given that clothing is a favour and blessing from Allah Most High, it only befits us that we begin to wear it from the right, as the Noble Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, used to “prefer the right in everything.” (Muslim) Similarly, we undress with the left first, allowing the right side to remain clothed for a lengthier period of time as doing this would be a form of honouring it. The same would apply to footwear which, incidentally, should be worn whilst seated, if required, like all clothing worn beneath the navel. There are two wisdoms in this: (1) you will generally be more covered whilst seated, and (2) you are less likely to have an undignified fall! 

Another sunna to be aware of is supplication in undressing which Imam Nawawi records from Ibn al-Sunni, “In the Name of Allah, the one who there is no deity save He (bismi Llahi ‘lladhi la ilaha illa Hu).” In the same vein, whenever the Blessed Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, wore something new, he would supplicate saying: “All praise belongs to God who clothed me in this and provided me with it without any power from me nor might (alhamdu li Llahi ‘lladhi kasani hadha wa razaqanihi min ghayri hawlin minni wa la quwwa).” (Abu Dawud) Moreover, he would often choose Fridays for wearing a new garment for the first time because Friday is a blessed occasion, the ‘Eid of the week, and deserving of being honoured. 

Men are also encouraged in the sunna to wear white. The Beloved Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “Wear white clothes.” (Tirmidhi) The reason for the prophetic preference and encouragement to wear white was due to the fact that you can easily see any dirt or the like which has affected it, it is indicative of simplicity and humility, and it is also distant from particular types of ancient, natural dyes that were deemed problematic for men to wear. Despite this, the Blessed Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, would often wear other than white to indicate either permissibility or due to the absence of white. But on the two ‘Eids, the recommendation is to wear one’s best clothes, even if they are other than white, which was also the practice of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace. 

4. Restrictions: Jewellery and Certain Forms of Dress

Jewellery is permitted for women, yet not for men. The only exception to this is a silver ring which may be worn occasionally, unless somebody has a need for wearing one. In our times, this could be understood in the context of a wedding band which serves a strong societal purpose and is customary in many places. Otherwise, it is only considered to be a sunna for a man to wear a ring on the days of ‘Eid because they are days of dressing up much more than usual. The specific reason for this is that jewellery is considered to be from adornment and beautification (zina), something that is considered particular to women. Men may seek to be presentable or well put-together (tajammul), yet not excessively so that it becomes beautification. 

Similarly, there are some types of dress which are interdicted for men. For instance, silk is only exclusively permitted for women. Generally, a pure silk blend item of clothing may not be worn by a man unless the quantity of silk therein is less than roughly fifty percent. The Beloved Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, also interdicted the wearing yellow or saffron for men, either because they were deemed feminine or because of the dye and subsequent smell which omitted from them. However, given the lack of ancient methods of dyeing and a change in cultures, any item of clothing that isn’t exclusive to the opposite gender would be acceptable. Finally, clothing containing sizeable pictures of animate life is something that needs to be avoided.  

5. The Dress of Notoriety

It is reported that the Noble Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “Whoever wears a garment of fame in this life, Allah will clothe him in a garment of humiliation on the Final Day.” (Abu Dawud) The scholars point out to us that this includes many different types of impermissible clothing, such as silk for men, and clothing worn with ill intentions. Examples of the latter include wearing clothing with a desire to look down on others, to feel proud or conceited about the quality or worth of one’s clothes or even to wear that which is either very costly or too cheap, assuming that the quality indicates this. Of course, this is in relation to a particular segment of society, and not necessarily those of limited means, and it is also conditioned by social attitudes and standards. The hallmark is a believer is humility and the sign of sincerity is that one’s heart is the same before and after wearing the clothing in question. 

Another issue of note is dressing contrary to the customary clothing of the land. Many jurists extrapolated this from the aforementioned tradition (hadith) and affirmed its offensiveness (karaha) because of the shared meaning, namely, that it will be a cause for others to look and point at one and perhaps even lead them to slander. Perhaps in multicultural societies it can be less of an issue as most are used to seeing different styles of dress, but this isn’t universally applicable, especially if the dress isn’t representative of normative culture. Similarly, there are matters related to calling people to Allah (da‘wa) which need to be kept in mind as appearance can have an effect and perhaps even become a stumbling block to accepting the message; yet, undoubtedly, the opposite can also be true. So one has to exercise wisdom and act in accordance with what the other person may be drawn to. 

But it is also important not to make claims with one’s clothing, such as by wearing a large turban, especially when a person is not living up to such high standards. Otherwise it could be interpreted as a form of hypocrisy by professing love, but acting in clear contradiction to prophetic guidance. This is also perhaps the reason why previous societies had unspoken rules of dressing so that distinctions between classes of people were clear, namely, so and so can be clearly identified as a scholar, so and so is clearly from Ahl al-Bayt, and so on. Conformance in dress is praiseworthy out of an expression of love, but there are many religious duties that we may be unaware of, and correcting and giving attention to those deserves far more attention because Allah looks not to your bodies and wealth, but to “your hearts and actions.” (Muslim)

6. Imitating Disbelievers

An important issue which needs clarification is the idea of imitating the disbelievers. In a tradition reported by Imam Muslim, the Blessed Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: “Whosoever imitates a people is from amongst them.” (Abu Dawud) What counts as imitation? Fortunately, the jurists clarified this for us, and the entirety of the discussion may be summarised in the following points. Firstly, the matter at hand must be a distinguishing characteristic of people of another faith tradition, of the faithless, of the opposite gender, or even of morally and religiously corrupt believers. What this means is that if we take the example of a particular type of hat, wearing it would be a signifier that “I’m with them.”

Secondly, the matter at hand cannot be something of universal benefit, such as new computers, vehicles, medication or the like. Finally, the person must deliberately intend to do the thing in question because he wishes to be like the disbelievers. In fact, this is actually the crux of the matter. Just as the inward manifests on the outer body, the outer can have an impact on the inward, and when something is a manifest sign of those of other faiths and a person is doing it, there is a fear for their faith. For something to be religiously impermissible, then, based on the above, we are looking for a fulfilment of these three conditions. Otherwise, it may be blameworthy and wrong, yet not outright prohibited.

We ask Allah Most High to clothe us in godfearingness, to make us recognise the great blessings in our lives of clothing and covering, by His Generosity and Mercy, and to keep us on the path of the righteous, ever-grateful, until we breathe our last.  

And Allah alone gives success.


 

Adab 11: The Proprieties of Speech

Ustadh Tabraze Azam gives a detailed account of the adab or proprieties of speech according to the Sunna.

One day, a man was sitting with Qadi Abu Yusuf, a senior companion of Imam Abu Hanifa. After a period of extended silence, which was strange given that Qadi Abu Yusuf was the chief justice and an imam in Sacred Law (fiqh), and people wouldn’t usually remain silent around him for too long, the Qadi said to him, “Do you have a question?” The man, fearing a missed opportunity, mustered up enough courage to remark, “Of course! When does a person stop fasting?” Qadi Abu Yusuf replied, “When the sun sets,” The man paused for a moment, then said, “But what if the sun doesn’t set until half the night has passed?”

Sometimes, silence is just better. The Beloved Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, gave us a central principle with respect to speech when he said, “Whosoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, then let him say the good or remain silent.” (Muslim) In fact, there are so many traditions (ahadith) which point out the risks of speaking without due thought, and more importantly, need, that anybody who reads them regularly would begin to fear for his hereafter. In an age of social media where everybody has a voice, it’s imperative that we take a moment to step back, recall what our Lord wants from us, and recognise that we have two ears and one tongue, namely, that our listening should be twice as much as our speech.

1. The Rulings of Speech

The first thing to remember is that speech, like all other actions, has rulings. When the Noble Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, told our Master Mu‘adh to “Restrain this,” namely, the tongue, he replied, “Will we be taken to task for what we say?” The striking, vivid, prophetic answer should suffice all of us as a reminder of the danger and harm we can reap with our tongues: “Is there anything that topples people on their faces – or he said their noses – into the Hellfire other than the harvests of their tongues?” (Tirmidhi)

Thus, speech may be divided into that which is (1) obligatory, (2) recommended, (3) permissible, (4) disliked, and (5) unlawful. 

Obligatory speech is speaking up to command the good, or to correct the wrong by forbidding some vice, when the conditions have been met. Remaining silent in such cases would be impermissible, just as actually engaging in wrongful speech is impermissible. Examples of the latter include engaging in slander, talebearing, lying, and the like of which we’ll see more of shortly.  Similarly, fulfilling many of the rights of your fellow believers is mandatory, such as responding to their greeting of salam, or praying for them after they’ve sneezed, for instance. 

It is recommended to speak when the speech will be recitation of the Qur’an, other remembrances (adhkar), or supplication for oneself or another. Another praiseworthy action is bringing joy to the heart of a fellow believer, or simply saying something pleasant to him because this is a form of “charity.” (Bukhari) On the other hand, it is disliked to speak whilst (a) using the bathroom, (b) undressed, or (c) engaged in intimate relations and the like. Likewise, it is unbecoming to speak when the benefit in doing so isn’t clear, or to speak during discouraged times such as after the nightfall prayer (‘isha). 

As for permitted speech, it is that which is devoid of any resultant reward or sin. An example would be to ask somebody to bring you some tea, or to tell your child to avoid something harmful. Of course, whenever the permissible is conjoined with an intention for Allah Most High, it transitions from the merely permissible to the recommended. 

2. The Golden Rule of Silence

Some of the scholars explained that speech is of four types: (a) harmful, (b) beneficial, (c) harmful and beneficial, and (d) not harmful nor beneficial. Eternal consequences matter, and whenever something harmful and beneficial conjoins, the harm is considered to preponderate over any potential good. Accordingly, this rules out two types of speech. As for that which is not harmful nor beneficial, it is unnecessary and a waste of one’s effort and energy as one finds oneself in the loss of Sura al-‘Asr. The only thing left is beneficial speech and even that has otherworldly danger, namely, because it may lead to showing-off or pride or other blameworthy traits. 

It behooves anybody, then, to recognize that speech should only be used when there is some good in it. If you don’t have anything good to say, you should remain silent as this is the sunna. Interestingly, the Noble Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, instructed us to say the good, not the truth. Now, this isn’t permission to lie, obviously, but it gives us something of prophetic wisdom to work with. The prescriptions of the Sacred Law are always beneficial to us, whether we can see the good in them or not. Many of the early Muslims had much to offer in terms of directing believers towards silence. So twenty years from now, and when your husband asks how he looks in what used to be his wedding suit, be kind!

Imam Qushayri writes in his Risala that silence is the basis. But speaking when there is a manifest need is the manner of real men (namely, in the spiritual sense, so it applies equally to women.) He continues by stating that Abu ‘Ali al-Daqqaq, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “Whosoever remains silent when truth is required is a blind devil.” Therefore, when speech is required, you must speak.

3. Excellence in Speech

We were directed to observe excellence in all of our dealings. Consequently, excellence, or ihsan, towards ourselves and others entails that we speak normally with others, without trying to put on heirs. Moderation, too, is generally the emblem of piety. When speaking, avoid being too loud or too quiet, or speaking too quickly or slowly, or speaking sternly when encouraging towards the good and with gentleness when warning against evil. However, this latter point must be contextualized and stated in the correct manner lest that it be a means of pushing people away from religion. Moreover, and as an aside, the sunna is to be attentive to the speaker whilst he is speaking as this nurtures respect and minimizes unbecoming outcomes from “hearing” things that weren’t said or other misunderstandings.

Equally, it is important to train oneself to see the good in things and speak accordingly, turning a blind eye to the ugly. Allah Most High says, “When they come across falsehood, they pass it by with dignity.” (Sura al-Furqan 25:72) It is reported that some of the disciples were walking with the Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, and they came across the carcass of a dog. One of the disciples then remarked, “What an awful stench!” The Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, said, “It would have been better if you had said: ‘How white its teeth are!’” Regardless of the soundness of the report, we can learn something about dignity from it. 

In the same vein, one of the righteous used to say “good morning” to wild pigs and stray dogs that he passed, and when asked about it, he commented that he was getting himself accustomed to saying the good! It is also reported that a group of the corrupt were paddling by in a stream besides Ma‘ruf al-Karkhi and his companions. The companions asked Ma‘ruf to pray against them as they were drinking wine and playing unlawful instruments. So they raised their hands, and Ma‘ruf said, “O Lord, make them glee with joy in the hereafter as you have made them joyful in this life.” Astonished, they asked him how he could make such a supplication given the impermissible they were engaged in. He replied, “Their rejoicing in the hereafter will come about because of their repentance in this life.” May Allah be pleased with him!

The Beloved Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “If a person says, ‘People have gone to ruin,’ he is the most ruined of them all.” (Muslim) How so? Because of his conceitedness with respect to his state and actions, and his causing believers to despair from Allah Most High’s mercy. 

Another sunna is to be brief with one’s words so as to speak only to the extent of the need. Going beyond that can lead to situations which may comprise one’s religious comportment, or worse, make one say something which will be a source of later regret. Note, as previously explained by Imam Qushayri, speaking is the dispensation, or rukhsa, so the basis is in using it sparingly or at least with wisdom. There is nothing like safety, as Imam Nawawi, may Allah be pleased with him, noted. 

4. Self-Control in Speech

When clear benefit has been ascertained, the sunna is to engage others with excellence, holding oneself to standards of decency that befit a believer who is striving to emulate his Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and especially if he claims love. As such, foul language needs to be completely shunned, not only because it is impermissible and interdicted, but because it is at odds with the manner, or adab, a strong, faithful believer is trying to uphold. The Noble Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “The believer is not given to reviling, cursing, obscenity, or vulgarity.” (Tirmidhi) If you are habituated to using such language, ask Allah Most High to free you from its shackles and grant you the ability to express joy or disappointment in a manner that is pleasing to Him. 

Modesty is from faith,” (Bukhari) said the Beloved Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace. The way of the Qur’an and the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, is to avoid explicit references to matters that are unbecoming, such as when referring to the nakedness (‘awra). This is why the Qur’an alludes to the publicly undignified, specifically in the context of ablution (wudu) and cleanliness, and also intimate relations, by saying, “But if you are ill, on a journey, or have relieved yourselves, or have been intimate with your wives and cannot find water, then purify yourselves with clean earth.” (Sura al-Ma’ida 5:6) The scholars explain that a proper islamic education brings about a sense of refined decorum and modesty which prevents a person from mentioning certain things inappropriately and without express need. 

When it comes to self-control, a number of matters require attention. Unsurprisingly, these are the matters whose implications are religiously quite serious, namely, oaths, vows, promises and divorce. If you find yourself making too many oaths or promises, or threatening your spouse with divorce, you need to work on your self-restraint. Neglecting promises is one of the signs of hypocrisy, and failing to uphold the contents of oaths has expiatory consequences. But neither is encouraged unless you have the full conviction to carry out what you say, and the details of both may be sought elsewhere. The Companions (sahaba) were people of their word, and this is one of the traits of true believers. 

5. Unlawful Speech 

Something that was touched upon earlier was the impermissibility of certain types of speech. Practically, this means that it is not permitted to engage in any of it without a genuine, shari‘a-countenanced reason. The honour of your fellow believer is sacred and inviolable, as our Beloved Messenger, Allah bless him and give him peace, informed us. (Muslim

Generally, there are two types of impermissible speech: that which relates to another, and that which relates to yourself. The former is more dangerous because it affects the rights of others, and its harm may reach you in the hereafter. The Blessed Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “The bankrupt from amongst my community is the one who will come on Judgement Day with his prayers, fasts and alms, yet he swore at so and so, wrongfully accused so and so…” (Tirmidhi) The remainder of this lengthy tradition (hadith) apprises us that those wronged will come to receive their rights by taking this person’s good deeds. For anybody who believes in the reality of the hereafter and divine justice, this should make us all at least think twice or three times before reeling off a word or two by which one falls into the divine wrath. (Bukhari)

The types of speech which fall into this category are numerous, but some of the most important to keep in mind are as follows: (1) slander (ghiba), namely, to mention a fellow believer in their absence with words that they would dislike; (2) talebearing (namima), namely, saying words which worsen relations between people, or that which entails the divulging of something private; and (3) lying (kadhib), namely, to deliberately say something false. Finally, one of the cancers affecting the community of believers (umma) is anathema (takfir). This is something that must be left for the Muslim judge (qadi), or at the very least, senior jurisconsults (muftis), because ordinary people do not understand subtleties and intricate rulings. Condemning people to the Hellfire is extremely dangerous, the peril of which is palpable for everybody to see, both in our times and in recent history. 

6. Dignified Joking and Jest 

The condition for the permissibility of joking is that it is free of lying. Thereafter, it should be in moderation, like with all things, and it should certainly not turn into mockery or ridicule. Insulting one’s fellow believers is not permissible as many verses and traditions attest to. When free from the undignified, making believers laugh, bringing joy to their hearts and putting a smile on their face is a tremendous action worthy of a huge reward, particularly when coupled with an intention for Allah Most High. There are a number of traditions (ahadith) which record the humour and joking of the Beloved Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace. 

We pray that the All-Merciful overlooks our many shortcomings, increases us in presence and sincere following, and grants us the clarity and capacity to make speech-judgements that are in line with our next-worldly goals and hopes. All blessing and facilitation is from Him, Most High.

And Allah alone gives success.


 

 

In Defence of Prophet Ibrahim from Modern Misconceptions – Shaykh Abdurrahim Reasat

Ibrahim: The Father of Prophets

No study of the life of the Final Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, can ever be complete, nor properly understood, without a look at the influence of his greatest ancestor: Ibrahim. A man whose life and teachings have affected billions throughout history. A man who prophets look up to with pride, and gratitude for being from his progeny.

Ibrahim was always imbued with prophetic insight. Even as a child he was able to show his people the folly of worshipping statues which could not hear, speak, nor defend themselves – let alone anyone – else from harm.

He was shown signs of the perfection and power of Allah, Most High, that the majority of humanity will never be privy to; “In is such a tremendous way did We show Ibrahim the inestimable kingdom of the heavens and Earth!” (6:75). He was a man who not only had the highest degree of faith and certainty, but someone who was who received the greatest honour available to a human being: direct communication with the Creator through revelation.

Beyond Criticism

We live in times where almost everyone, to some degree, has been exposed to frameworks and paradigms that are not in line with the understanding and worldview Allah teaches us through revelation. Sometimes, due to personal trauma, or the witnessing of injustice or cultural misrepresentations of Islam, people ask questions which are entirely misplaced.

Had Islam been understood on its own merits, and from an unbiased perspective, external paradigms would not be able to influence people’s understandings of individuals and events Islam holds significant. No…not just significant – but sacred!

Ibrahim was created to be a messenger of God. This entails that all his actions which were carried out due to revealed instructions were done so based on revelation from a truly wise and omniscient being. They were far beyond the scrutiny of these aforementioned paradigms.

The Barren Valley

An example of such misplaced judgements is the criticism of Ibrahim and Sara for him taking Hajar and her infant Ismaʿil  from what is modern-day Hebron to a remote, barren valley that would come to be the location of the most frequented site of pilgrimage on the planet: present-day Mecca.  That very pilgrimage is a commemoration of this event.

We know that Sara found it difficult emotionally when Hajar gave birth. Can you blame her? Was she not human? Did she not have feelings? Did she not spend decades of her life longing for children? Is this not a basic human desire that both men and women alike have? Did she not want to give birth to an heir to her loving husband who faithfully supported her for decades?

Or is it the case that people who are looked up to due to their closeness to Allah slowly become robots devoid of emotion? Do they shed their humanity, and behave as beings unattached to themselves or the world around them? Of course not!

She had a normal emotional response, and out of love and concern for her Ibrahim was commanded to take mother and son to Mecca. It would be interesting to see how one of her critics would fare in the same situation. In the Islamic narrative there is no indication whatsoever of any sort of mistreatment of Hajar from Sara.

Fulfilment – Not Deriliction – Of Duty

When Ibrahim left Hajar in the desolate valley, she turned to him and said, “O Ibrahim, where are going after leaving us in this valley in which there is nothing – human or otherwise?” She repeated the statement and he did not look back at her. Eventually she asked, “Did Allah command you to do this?” “Yes!” he replied. “Okay; He won’t ever let us perish!”  she confidently said. (Bukhari).

Looking at this event with the proper context shows us that Ibrahim was obeying the instructions of Allah, who clearly had a wise plan for all those involved. Ibrahim’s actions were exemplary. His not turning to respond to Hajar speaks volumes about his greatness. He was conflicted between the love he felt for Allah and his duty to Him, and the love he felt for Hajar and the son he had been blessed with by Allah in his eighties.

Had he turned around and spoke to her, he might have been overwhelmed by his emotions, and struggled to fulfil the divine command. After all, the primary allegiance of believer – let alone a prophet – is to Allah. We are Allah’s and He owns us: “Indeed Allah has purchased from the believers their very lives and properties in exchange for the Garden.” (9:111).

The same struggle is apparent a decade later when he is commanded to sacrifice the same son. Ismaʿil asked his his father to lay him face down lest his emotion at the sight of Ismaʿil be a hindrance to fulfilling the divine command.

The Tests Of Ibrahim

The tests Ibrahim faced were beyond what most of humanity could bear. His devotion and duty to the Creator who made him and gave him all he had were his primary concern. All others in His life were a gift from Allah, and consequently, they were an impetus to further devotion to Allah.

His test was to leave his dependents in a place which would usually claim the lives of people – trusting their fate to the caring hand of Allah. His test was to show that he would place his loyalty to his Maker above all else – even if it meant sacrificing his dear son, at the time when he would feel his loss the most.

Hajar and Ismaʿil were never meant to perish there. The knife was never meant to cut. He, however, had to hear and obey. His test was to suffer the separation from them, and to take the means to sacrificing his child.

Yet, his success in those trials – despite the obstacles he faced –  is testament to his greatness in his service of Allah. “Indeed Ibrahim was [as good as] an entire nation, utterly devoted to Allah, inclining away [from falsehood], and he certainly was not an idolater. Grateful – even for the least of blessings! [Allah] chose him and guided him to a truly magnificent, straight way.” (16:120-121).

Projection

Wrongdoing exists. No one denies this. Islam provides all the tools to establish justice in this word, and leaves its enforcement to us. Life is a test, after all! Those with the best conduct will attain greater, everlasting rewards than those will lesser conduct.

For a man to run away from his dependants, leaving them stranded, needy, and prey to societal harms is wrong. There may be many tragic cases of this, but let’s not project the wrongdoing of this scenario onto the prophet Ibrahim.

Seeing things though the filter of ‘feminism’ and decrying the ‘patriarchal’ undertones of the narrative of Ibrahim is clearly missing the mark. We should not conflate one of the greatest manifestations of the human potential to attain greatness through selfless service to Allah with this selfish dereliction of duty present in our societies.

To see things as they are, we must distinguish the between facts, but after peeling away the alien paradigms imperceptibly imposed on us through a lifetime of exposure to irreligious frameworks. Otherwise, all that will occur is the projection of our cultural baggage onto people, laws, and a religion, which are actually an antidote for the state we are in.

Seeing the narrative of Ibrahim through the vase scope of divine revelation, its wisdom, and its great purpose and benefit for all leads to seeing the greatness within the great. Looking at it through our own myopic cultural baggage, however, only leads us to seeing wrongs which are not actually there.

Are You Making the Most of Your Wuḍūʼ? (Podcast Transcript) – By Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

The following is a transcription of “Are You Making the Most of Your Wuḍūʼ?” podcast.

 

People ask: “What are the spiritual meanings of our ritual ablution?” – the wuḍūʼ. 

Very often people forget that the ritual ablution – wuḍūʼ – is an act of worship. Very often our wuḍūʼ turns into a routine: “I need to pray, so let me do my wuḍūʼ, let me finish my wuḍūʼ.” So sometimes it just becomes routine: “I’m doing this, so I can now go and pray.” 

And this is true, in that wuḍūʼ is a means to be able to pray, but it is at the same time an act of worship. So one needs to pay attention to it. 

Other people make a mistake with respect to the wuḍūʼ, in that they become excessive and fall into misgivings about it. They put all their focus on worrying and that is a mistake, because the Prophetic teachings give us a balance, that we do things in a right way, as best we can, but we attach our hearts not to our actions but to the One we are doing the actions for. 

So what is the wuḍūʼ? The word wuḍūʼ in Arabic, comes from waḍā’a, from radiance, and naẓāfa, cleanliness. So the purpose of wuḍūʼ is to clean oneself in a ritual manner to be ready to pray, and it is a means of radiance, because the outward washing has a sense of spiritual purification and spiritual illumination. 

So when we make wuḍūʼ we have to keep in mind that we begin the wuḍūʼ with intention: “Why am I making wuḍūʼ?” For the sake of Allāh. This is an act of worship. It contains a beautiful reminder that God loves purity, God loves beauty. So you are readying yourself for the encounter with your Beloved. 

So you begin with the intention. In fact, some of the great masters of spirituality, like Imām Aḥmad Zarrūq, he says that presence of heart in prayer begins with presence of heart in the ritual ablution, in the wuḍūʼ. So you begin with intention: “I am seeking Allāh through this action,” and you behold the meaning that each of the limbs that you wash, that you are seeking to rid it of blameworthy qualities, and to adorn it with the qualities of spiritual illumination, the qualities beloved to Allāh. So that when you wash your hands, intend to wash yourself of all acts that are sinful that you may have committed with your hands, in your dealings, in your actions. And to acquire with your effort, and your actions all those qualities that are beloved to Allāh. When you rinse your mouth, you intend to rid yourself of vile speech, and the consumption of anything that is displeasing to Allāh, and to characterize yourself with speech that is beloved to Allāh, of remembrance and supplication and recitation of Qur’ān, and speech that inspires others, that encourages others, that assists others. Likewise, when wash your face, you intend to wash away directing yourself in life towards all that is displeasing to Allāh, and to characterize yourself with those radiant concerns, the concerns for God Himself and for all that is beloved to Allāh in your life. When you wash your arms, the same meanings, that you be of those who receive their book of good deeds in their right hand, the hand in which the righteous receive their book of good deeds on the Day of Judgment, not to be of the people of perdition, those who receive their book of deeds in their left hand. That you perform the actions of the servants of good, not the actions of those who turn away. Likewise, with your feet, that you direct your feet towards all that is pleasing to Allāh, and that you rid yourself of directing yourself in life towards all that is displeasing to Allāh. 

In the ritual ablution, in the wuḍūʼ, not only is it from the Prophetic example to begin in the name of Allāh, by saying bismiLlāh, but it is also from Prophetic practice to remain in remembrance of Allāh throughout the wuḍūʼ, So with each of the actions that we perform, before you wash your mouth engage in remembrance, before you wash your face engage in remembrance. You can say lā ilāha illa Allāh, or subḥān Allāh, or to make a du’ā, make an interactive wuḍūʼ. With each action ask Allāh for meanings related to that particular action. This was not only from the broad Prophetic practice, but the early Muslims used to engage in frequent supplication at each of the stages of wuḍūʼ. In some of the great books of Islām, like the Beginning of Guidance by Imām al-Ghazālī, are suggested particular supplications that you can recite at each stage of your wuḍūʼ, and this is the kind of wuḍūʼ that results not just in physical cleanliness and then to be outwardly ready to pray, but it results in inward purification, inward radiance, and a spiritual readiness to pray. And this is why when we finish the wuḍūʼ, we take a sip of the water source from which we are making wuḍūʼ, and then we look up to the Heavens, we raise our finger, and we make the testification of faith, and we make the du’ā: 

“رَبِّي اجْعَلْنِيْ مِنَ التَّوَّابِيْنَ وَ اجْعَلْنِيْ مِنَ الْمُتَطَهِّرِيْنَ”

Oh Lord, make me of the oft-repentant and make me of those who purify themselves completely!” 

And these are the two meanings of the ritual ablution: complete repentance and complete purification, illumination, and readiness for the prayer.

The Day of Arafah – Shaykh Faid Mohammad Said

* Originally Published on 20/08/18

What is the Day of Arafah? How do we know that it is so special? And what should we do on this day? Shaykh Faid Mohammed Said covers these topics in this article.

In the name of Allah the Most Merciful, The Most Compassionate,

“Indeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve [lunar] months in the register of Allah [from] the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are sacred. That is the correct religion, so do not wrong yourselves during them.” [Qur’an, 9:36]
Amongst months there are those that are sacred, amongst days there are those that are chosen, and among days there or those that hold the utmost blessing. The Ten Days of Dhul Hijjah, and in particular the Day of Arafah, are the most sacred and blessed day in the Islamic calendar for the following reasons.
1) Sacredness: Allah Most High swore by these ten days, showing the importance and blessing of these days over others. [Qur’an, 89:2]
2) Mention: Allah has mentioned these ten days in the Qur’an and the culmination of these ten days in the Day of Arafah: “That they may witness benefits for themselves and mention the name of Allah on known days over what He has provided for them of [sacrificial] animals. So eat of them and feed the miserable and poor.” [Qur’an, 22:28]
3) Good Action: Good action is loved by Allah Most HIgh in these ten days, with the Day of Arafah being one of these ten (Imam al-Darami)
4) Completion of the Blessing on the Muslims: The Day of Arafah is also the day on which the blessing upon us, the Muslim community, was completed. a Jewish man said to Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) that there is a verse in your book that we (if we were you) would take as a day of celebration. Umar asked which day he was referring to, to which the man said the verse in Surah Al-Maidah. Umar responded by saying that he knew this verse and that it was revealed in Arafah while the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) was standing before the Companions, and recited: “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion.” [Qur’an, 22:28].
5) Fasting: For the one who fasts the Day of Arafah, Allah Most High forgives the year prior and the year to come (Imam Muslim).
6) Feast: Eid al-Adha is a day of celebration especially for the people who stand (in supplication/prayer) on the Day of Arafah. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said that the Day of Arafah, the 10th of Dhul Hijjah and the Days of Mina are feasts of Eids for us (Imam Muslim).
7) Best Supplication: The Best of Dua is that on the Day of Arafah (Imam Tirmidhi).
8) Salvation: There is no day on which Allah Most High pardons more of His creation than the Day of Arafah (Imam Muslim).
In all of the days of Hajj, the standing on the Day of Arafah is the greatest moment and the culmination of the Hajj.
In standing on the blessed Day of Arafah, we have been given a great blessing in the time in which we can stand, as the Day begins at sunset/Maghirib (today) and ends at Fajr on the Day of Eid. Hence, we have a full day and two nights, which may be a reason why Allah will forgive us for the year prior and the year to come!
In implementing and following the above, we are in actuality appreciating the advice of our Beloved Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace), who wanted nothing for us other than blessings, as Allah Most High told us in the Qur’an at the end of Surah At-Tawbah:  “There has certainly come to you a Messenger from among yourselves. Grievous to him is what you suffer; [he is] concerned over you and to the believers is kind and merciful.” [Qur’an, 9:128]
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) was the one that Allah told that he is not responsible for the implementing his message but that he only needs remind us about it, but the Messenger’s love and care for us went beyond any reminder, and as such, let us love and honor His word of advice for us by honoring this Day of Arafah!
In addition, after the honor and love for the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), we should honor this Day for its rights and blessings.
May Allah Most High forgive our sins, and may He give us the success to pray for each other, care for each other, and be kind to one another, all in following our Master, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), as Allah said in Surah Al-Ahzab (21): “There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah the greatest example for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often.” [Qur’an, 32:21]


 

The Gifts of Hajj – Habib Umar

The Meaning of Hajj

Sayyidi al-Habib Umar bin Hafiz (may Allah preserve him) reminds us that the linguistic meaning of Hajj is seeking or intending. Thus the people of Allah are constantly performing Hajj because they are constantly seeking Allah. Just as their whole year is Ramadan, likewise their whole year is Hajj. Just as those performing Hajj respond to the call of Allah by saying “labbayk” they are swift to respond to the call of Allah. They take themselves to account and leave that which is disliked and dubious in all their states and actions. They reject the desires of their lower selves and they are the furthest of people from that which is prohibited. They constantly receive new blessings from their Lord so they constantly renew their ihram. Day and night they make tawaf around the House of their Lord, the One to Whom they turn themselves with absolute sincerity until nothing remains in them which is directed to other than Allah.

The bounty of Allah is available at all times of the day and night. This is why Allah swears by the morning light (duha) and by the night that He has not forsaken His Beloved (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), nor is He displeased with him.

If the Hajj has not been made possible for you, join with those making Hajj and share in their reward: by spending your wealth for the sake of Allah on your relatives, on the needy, by turning to Allah with your whole being. Make numerous your footsteps to good places, especially at the time of Fajr, and you will receive glad tidings from the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace): “Give glad tidings of complete light on the Day of Judgement to those who walk constantly to the mosque in the darkness.” Those whose light is complete will no doubt be in his company (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) on the day on which Allah does not disgrace the Prophet and those who believe along with him. Their light stretches out in front of them and upon their right sides.

Ask to be present with them, and thank Allah for allowing our spirits to be with them. So many hearts in the far East or the far West receive the gifts of `Arafat and Mina because of their truthfulness with Allah.

 

Actions That Carry the Reward of Hajj

Nothing of course can equal actually performing the Hajj and worshipping Allah in those blessed places. However, since Allah knows that many people long to make Hajj every year but are unable to do so out of His generosity He made the reward for certain actions similar to the reward of a supererogatory Hajj.

1. Remembering Allah from Fajr until Ishraq. The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “Whoever who prays Subh (Fajr) in congregation and then sits in the place where he prayed remembering Allah until the sun rises and then prays two rakats has the reward of a complete Hajj and `Umrah.” He repeated “complete” three times.

2. Attending a gathering of knowledge. The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “The one who goes out to the mosque wanting only to learn good or teach it has the reward of a complete Hajj.”

3. Going to the mosque for the congregational prayer. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “Whoever performs ablution in his house and then goes out to perform the obligatory prayer in the mosque has a reward similar to the reward of a Hajj pilgrim. Whoever goes out to perform the mid-morning prayer (Duha) has a reward similar to the reward of the one performing `Umrah.”

4. Performing the Friday Prayer. Sa`id bin al-Musayyib said performing the Friday Prayer is “more beloved to me than a supererogatory Hajj.”

5. Performing the Eid Prayer. One of the Companions said: “Going out to pray Eid al-Fitr is equal to performing `Umrah and going out to pray Eid al-Adha is equal to performing Hajj.”

6. Fulfilling the needs of your brother or sister. Hasan al-Basri said: “Going to fulfil the need of your brother is better for you than performing Hajj after Hajj.”

7. Being good to your parents. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) commanded one of the Companions to be good to his mother. If you do so, he said: “You are a Hajj pilgrim, a person performing `Umrah and someone striving for the sake of Allah (mujahid).”

8. Performing obligatory actions. The slave can only draw near to Allah by performing supererogatory actions after first having performed that which is obligatory. This includes purifying one’s heart from forbidden attributes and guarding one’s tongue and limbs from committing forbidden actions. All of this is much harder on the lower self than many supererogatory acts of worship.

Finally there is no action more beloved to Allah on the Day of Eid than making a sacrifice. The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) told his beloved daughter Sayyida Fatima al-Zahra that she would be forgiven for her previous wrongdoings with the first drop of blood to be shed from the sacrificed animal. She asked if this reward was specifically for the household of the Prophet and he replied: “For us and for all the Muslims.”

 

Talk about Islam with Shaykh Hamza Karamali (Episode 3) – What is True Love?

Dear readers, welcome back to the continuation of our third episode of our periodic conversations with Shaykh Hamza Karamali as part of the “Talk About Islam” series. Shaykh Hamza Karamali is the Dean of Academics at SeekersGuidance, and is one of our senior teachers.

 

 Osama: Let’s begin by connecting this conversation to our previous one, in which we talked about the purpose of life. My first question is: Is it the purpose of our life to truly love the Divine?

 

Shaykh Hamza: Yes, Allah says in the Quran:

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الجِنَّ وَالاِنْسَ اِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوْنِ

“I only created jinn and mankind so that they might worship Me.”

 

This worship (‘ibadah) of Allah is closely tied to the idea of loving (mahabbah) Allah.

To worship Him means to love Him, it means to know Him.

The acts of obedience that we do in order to worship Him are an expression of our love for Allah.

The purpose of our existence is to worship Allah, and this worship is adoration, and so the purpose of our existence is to love Allah but not in the way that many might imagine, and maybe this leads into your question about true love.

 

Osama: The ayah of the Koran that you cited specifically mentions the term worship (‘ibadah).

How are the concepts of knowing (ma’rifah) and loving (muhabbah) Allah related to worshipping (‘ibadah) Him?

 

Shaykh Hamza: In the Arabic language, the concept of worship (‘ibadah) is linguistically related to the concept of slavehood (‘ubudiyyah). Both of them share the triliteral root ‘aynba’dal. The relation between the two words is that worship (‘ibadah) is the expression of our slavehood to Allah.

I once heard Shaykh Abu Munir (may Allah Most High preserve him), the personal servant of the late Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri, explain that there are four kinds of slaves:

  1. The one who is a slave out of fear—this kind of slave worships Allah because he fears being punished in the Hellfire. He knows His Lord as someone who punishes people for not worshipping Him.
  2. The one who is a slave out of a hopeful desire—this kind of slave worships Allah because he hopes that Allah will reward Him with Paradise. He knows His Lord as someone who rewards people for worshipping Him. This slavehood is higher than the previous one because this kind of slave knows who Allah is better than the previous one does. Like the previous one, he knows that Allah Most High punishes people for not worshipping Him, but He also knows that His mercy outstrips His wrath and that He is someone who is kind, generous, loves to give.
  3. The one who is a slave out of submission—this kind of slave worships Allah out of sheer submission to Him. Like the previous two kinds of slaves, he fears the Hellfire and hopes for Paradise, but He sees them both, like everything else that exists, in the grasp of his omnipotent Lord. The omnipotence of His Lord strikes his heart before the terrors of Hellfire or the joys of Paradise because He sees the Hellfire and Paradise as manifestations of His Lord’s omnipotence. He knows that struggling against His Lord by trying to be free from Him is hopeless, so He surrenders, He submits. There is a sweetness to this submission that is not found anywhere else. Submission to God is not like submitting to another human being. Submission to God is something that we can accept because God deserves our submission. And we can see that because He doesn’t need our submission, the reward that He has promised for those who submit to Him is His pure largesse. Submission to another human being, on the other hand, is bitter because we are just as human as anyone else and there is no reason why we should submit to anyone else like us. We would only submit to someone else if they threatened us with danger or if they promised us some kind of reward. Both the danger and the reward would return to some kind of selfish motive that this other human being would have. Neither the danger nor the reward would be sincerely and genuinely for our benefit.
  4. The one who is a slave out of love—this kind of slave worships Allah out of love. Like the first slave, He fears the Hellfire; like the second slave, he hopes for Paradise; like the third slave, he surrenders to His Lord; but he goes beyond all of them because He sees everything in the universe as a manifestation of Allah Most High’s kindness, generosity, and love. Everything that happens in the universe, to him, is sweet. Unlike the previous kind of slave, who merely surrenders to the commands of His Lord, this kind of slave goes beyond what His Lord commands to search out everything that He loves, even if it is not obligatory. He’s propelled by love to have slavehood to His Lord. Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Shagouri (may Allah have mercy on him) used to say that someone who methodically fulfills his obligations to his Lord (salik) is walking to Him, but someone who is in love with His Lord is flying to Him.

This last kind of slavehood is the highest kind of slavehood. And this is how love (muhabba) is related to slavehood (‘ubudiyyah).

Love (muhabba) is also related to the idea of knowing Allah (ma’rifah), which, in turn, is also related to the idea of slavehood (‘ubudiyyah).

The Companion Ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) explained the verse, “I only created jinn and mankind so that they might worship me.” as, “I only created jinn and mankind so that they might know me.” He explained worship, in other words, as knowledge of Allah Most High.

Knowing Allah (ma’rifah) means to experientially realize that He is the Master of every single atom in the universe, that He created the universe from nothing, and that He needs nothing, and that everything else needs Him. This is not just a conceptual realization in the mind, but a realization in one’s heart that pervades one’s soul. So when one knows Allah as He really is, there’s a beauty to the being of Allah that the heart perceives and falls in love with.

The Sufis have a famous saying:

مَنْ عَرَفَ نَفْسَهُ عَرَفَ رَبَّهُ

Whoever knows himself knows His Lord.

 

This means that whoever knows that he is a needy, indigent slave, will realize thereby that he has a Lord who doesn’t need anything, is Powerful, and everything that he has comes from His Lord.

 The scholars of Sufism describe and teach that the deepest knowledge of who Allah is does not come through the mind but through the heart. He is known through realizing one’s neediness to Him. That’s the knowledge of Allah–it’s a realization. This knowledge can only exist if there is submission and slavehood, if there is a feeling of one’s neediness, and a realization of His Power, His Might, His Will, His Kindness, His Generosity, His Forgiveness, and–ultimately–His Godhood. It can only come if those things are realized in the heart.

Conceptually, slavehood (‘ubudiyyah) to Allah is different from loving (mahabbah) Allah, which is different from knowing (ma’rifah) Allah, but whenever one is there, the other two are also there, and each enriches the others. Since they are always found together, one can use them interchangeably, and one can say that the purpose of our life is to know Allah, to love Him, or to worship Him.

 

Osama: In simple terms, could you kindly provide working definitions for each term?

 

Shaykh Hamza: The scholars of tafsir define the worship of Allah as the utmost expression of lowering and humiliating oneself to the object of one’s worship. The best outward expression of it is the prostration. When we prostrate, we take the most honorable parts of our body–the face and the head–and we put them down on the ground before Allah. By doing this, we are lowering and humiliating ourselves completely before Allah. This is the essence of worship.

To a modern humanist reader, the idea of humiliating oneself before God might sound unpleasant, but it is, in fact, extremely pleasant. As I explained above, submitting to God is sweet but submitting to a human being is bitter. In the same way, humiliating oneself to God is sweet, but humiliating oneself to another human being is bitter.

When we humiliate ourselves before God, we fulfill the purpose of our existence, which is to worship Allah, and in return, Allah Most High honours us because He is the Most Generous. When we humiliate ourselves before Allah, He raises our rank. When we realize our weakness, He aids us with His Power. When we realize our ignorance, He aids us with His Knowledge.

This is worship.

As for the knowledge of Allah (ma’rifah), Ibn ‘Ajibah in his lexicon of Sufi terms, defines it as perpetually witnessing Allah with a heart that is madly in love. The “perpetual witnessing” (mushahadah) that Ibn ‘Ajiba has mentioned in his definition of love also has a definition, but the challenge with Sufi definitions is that they describe a reality that is not shared by everyone, and so as we go from definition to definition, we might find that we don’t really get anywhere. The way to understand the realities that the Sufis are defining is to undergo a spiritual development and then experience them for oneself.

Definitions work for concepts that are in the public domain, meaning concepts that can be understood by everyone regardless of their spiritual development. For example, the human being is commonly defined as a “rational animal.” We all understand the meaning of “rational” and we all understand the meaning of “animal. Therefore we all understand what a “rational animal” is and the definition of “human being” helps us understand what a human being is.

But spiritual experiences are personal experiences that are not shared by everyone. When someone who has had an experience tries to define it for someone else, the definitions will only be useful for someone who has had the same experience, or, perhaps, someone who is on the verge of having that same experience. For the rest of us, they don’t lead to a full understanding of the term that is being defined, but only an approximate understanding. This is something we should keep in mind when defining these terms.

Let’s return to the definition of the knowledge of Allah, which used the term “perpetual witnessing” of Allah (mushahadah). Elsewhere in his dictionary of Sufi terms, Ibn ‘Ajibah defines “perpetual witnessing” as the witnessing of the heart as a result of one’s indigence, which is only realised vis-a-vis Allah Most High’s being completely free of need from everything besides.

 

Osama: Could one potentially say that knowing Allah (realization of one’s indigence to Allah) leads one to loving Him?

 

Shaykh Hamza: Yes, one could understand it like that.

 

Osama: Now that we have gone over the distinction between the ideas of knowing, loving, and worshipping Allah, I’d like to return to the main question of this conversation: What is true love?

 

Shaykh Hamza: Right, so you’re asking me about what “true love” is. However, before we get into that discussion, I’m interested in knowing why you have used the adjective “true” here. It seems to imply that there is a kind of love that is false. I agree with this distinction, but I’d like to know what, in your mind, is the concept of “false love”?

 

Osama: Well, when I think of love, what immediately comes to mind is human love, an example of which is the kind that exists between a man and a woman. Often, however, one sees that a person may claim “love” yet still harm their “beloved.” One naturally wonders in such a situation about the genuineness and truth of such a person’s “love” for their “beloved” — this then brings up the distinction of “false love” versus “true love”.

You are probably better aware than I of the distinction that scholars make between a lustful sort of attraction to another as opposed to one that is grounded in love for the other. The lustful sort of attraction for the other often superficially adorns itself with the outward mantle of love yet is empty of its inward reality. This might explain why a person claiming love can harm their beloved; it is probably because they have mistaken lust for love.

“True love”, it seems, has the element of effacing the ego, prioritizing the happiness of the beloved over the self, and self-sacrifice, whereas “false love”, or lust in this case, is a type of aggrandizement of the ego, prioritizing the happiness of the self over the beloved, and an objectification of the other.

This is what comes to my mind when I think of the distinction between “true love” and “false love”.

 

Shaykh Hamza: That’s very good! The Sufis talk about human emotions. They talk about emotions like love, gratitude, envy, and anger. These emotions have been placed within us because they find their true meaning in relation to Allah.

A righteous person, like any other human being, feels love, anger, good envy (wishing for something good without wishing that it be taken away from anyone else), gratitude, but the way in which those emotions are realized for a pious person is different to the way in which they are realized for the common person. The point here is that we can understand what these emotions mean with respect to Allah if we step back for a moment to understand what they mean in relation to other human beings.

I once heard from Shaykh Abu Munir that someone came to one of the great spiritual guides of recent times to take the Sufi path from Him in order to draw close to Allah. So the spiritual guide asked him, “Have you ever loved something in your life, even if only a cat?” to which the man replied, “No.” and the spiritual guide ordered him to leave and not return until he had loved something because if someone who seeks Allah Most High doesn’t know what it means anything, then he won’t be able to learn what it means to love Allah.

One of the things that this story shows is that Allah Most High created all of our emotions within is for a great wisdom. We need all of them. Someone who is close to Allah Most High isn’t someone who is devoid of emotion. Rather, someone who is close to Allah is someone who has all of his human emotions, but attaches them to Allah Most High. His emotions are all for the sake of Allah. When that happens, our full human potential is realized, and we flower. This is how the human being finds the purpose of his existence.

 

Osama: So what is true love with respect to other human beings?

 

Shaykh Hamza: The global monoculture has done away with true love. Most of us no longer understand what it means to truly love another human being. This was, however, understood very well by the ancient Arabians, even before the advent of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). The ancient Arabians were a people who loved poetry, and in their poetry, they loved to write about love. We’ll read some of their poetry today.

In ancient Arabian poetry, there is a kind of love that is called “the love of the tribe of Bani ‘Udhrah” (al-hubb al-‘udhri). Let’s call it, “‘Udhrian love.”

There’s a famous line in the Burda of al-Busiri towards the beginning of the poem where the author of the Burda describes what his love for the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) has done to him–he says that his has turned pale and that he is crying tears of blood. He has an imaginary conversation with someone who blames him for wasting his life in this kind of love, so he says to his blamer:

O you who blames me, in ‘Udhrian love, I ask you to excuse me.

But if you were fair and objective, then you would never blame me.

In other words, if you understood what I was going through, then you wouldn’t blame me, but rather, you would feel sorry for me, help me, and support me.

 

Osama: Could you please describe what you mean by ‘Udhrian love?

 

Shaykh Hamza: Bani ‘Udhra were a tribe from Yemen. Now, there is a sahih hadith in which the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said that the people of Yemen have very tender hearts. Perhaps one of the manifestations of this tenderness was the love of Bani ‘Udhra.

They say that when the men of the Bani ‘Uzrah tribe fell in love with a woman, they would wither away and die. This often happened when they were unable to marry the woman they loved because, for example, her father had accepted the proposal of some other suitor. There are stories about people from Bani ‘Udhra dying in this manner from the time of the Companions. They would become silent, not speak to anyone for a year, lie in bed, be immobile, compose poetry (often cryptic except to those who knew what they were suffering from), and, eventually, die. This long illness and death was the mark of ‘Udhrian love.

You might wonder how true love and death are related. Someone who is truly in love doesn’t want anything for himself. If there is anything that he wants for himself, then he is an impostor, he is someone making a false claim, and he is someone who has a selfish motive, he is someone who is trying to take advantage of another person.

The Sufis use imagery of human love as a metaphor to describe the love that a human being has for Allah. So they tell the story of a man who went to a woman and told her that he loved her and that he finds her very beautiful. She replied that he should turn around and look in the other direction where her sister is standing because her sister was even more beautiful than her. When the man turned around, there was no one there. When he turned back to the woman, she slapped him and told him to get lost. It turned out that there was no sister. She had only been testing the genuineness of his love.

The lesson of the story is that someone who is truly in love doesn’t even turn to look at anyone else. This goes back to the definition of knowing Allah that we just talked about–we read that someone who knows Allah Most High is perpetually witnessing Him. His witnessing is perpetual because he doesn’t turn to look at anything else.

Now, I’m just describing what the Sufis say because I find it beautiful, not because I am actually realized in any of it. Imam al-Shafi’i used to say:

 

أُحِبُّ الصَّالِحِيْنَ وَلَسْتُ مِنْهُمُ   لَعَلِّي أَنْ أَنَالَ بِهِم شَفَاعَه

وَأَكْرَهُ مَنْ تِجَارَتُهُ المَعَاصِي   وَلَوْ كُنَّا سَوَاءً فِي البِضَاعَه

I love the righteous, even though I’m not one of them,

It maybe that because of them I will find on the Day of Judgement that they will intercede for me,

I hate the one who trades in acts of disobedience

even though we trade in the same kinds of goods.

 

The only thing they want is the beloved, and they’ll give up everything they have–even themselves–for the beloved in order to express their love, even if it means that they wither away and die, because the point of life is the beloved and nothing else. Giving your soul out of love for the beloved is the ultimate expression of love.

The Sufis have many different definitions for love. One of these definitions is that love is when you prefer the one you love over yourself. That’s why when someone truly loves Allah, their love will reveal itself as outward obedience to Allah Most High. They will do what He has commanded and shun what He has forbidden:

 

تَعْصِي الإِله وَأنْتَ تُظْهِرُ حُبَّهُ  هذا محالٌ في القياس بديعُ

لَوْ كانَ حُبُّكَ صَادِقاً لأَطَعْتَهُ  إنَّ الْمُحِبَّ لِمَنْ يُحِبُّ مُطِيعُ

You disobey God while showing to others that you love Him,

This is something that is outrageously impossible,

If your love for Him was true, then you would have obeyed Him,

Verily, the lover is utterly obedient to the one who he loves.

 

If a lover hears what their beloved wants, they rush to go and do it. They prefer what their beloved wants to what they themselves want.

By the grace of Allah Most High, I haven’t listened to modern pop music for a long, long time. But sometimes when you walk into a store, there’s something playing, and when you listen to what’s being said, it’s usually about what the singer imagines to be love. The singer sings about kissing, hugging, and needing the beloved, etc. This is not true love! Love is not what you want the other person to do for you; love is when you want to do everything for the other person, and this is what ‘Udhrian love illustrates.

Nobody understood love except for the ancient Arabians, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Allah Most High chose them to be the people who would carry His final revelation all over the world.

 

Osama: You mentioned that the lover wants to give up everything for the Beloved, in other words, a lover has unconditional love for their beloved. Now, on this point, modern Christian philosophers like William Lane Craig, point out that Islam’s God is not as loving as the God of Christianity because the God of Islam hates disbelievers, sinners, and transgressors. People like that point out that if a human being can have such great capacity for unconditional love, of which many examples were cited in our conversation, why does the God of Islam not have such a capacity? If He did, they argue, there would be no suffering, nor would there be people who would be destined to go to the Hellfire forever and ever.

 

Shaykh Hamza: Someone who asks these questions is really far from being in love.

Let’s return to the example of human love, if you were to talk to a marriage prospect and tell her that they don’t really love you, and that you expect her to love you because women these days don’t love their husbands, and that if they women truly loved their husbands, then they would take care of them and listen to them (smiles) … You then go on to tell her that you were recently in a conversation with [Shaykh] Hamza who told me that the lover is the one who listens to everything that her husband says, and I won’t stand for it if you don’t listen to me and love me (laughs). What do you think she will say? She will probably say, “Go to Hell!”

Now Allah Most High is not like a human being, so you have to delete the example of your prospective wife from your mind, but if someone goes to Him and tells Him that they expect Him to love them, then Allah Most High will not just tell them, “Go to Hell!”, he will actually throw them into Hell!

The type of thinking that you have described comes from having the idea of love all wrong.

The starting point is not going to God and saying that you don’t love me, and you must do such and such thing for me. This is how this ties in with knowing Allah and worshipping Him. True love for Allah is this selfless love that is like the love of people of Banu ‘Udhra. It is a giving of oneself completely to Allah, wanting Him, and doing anything for Him.

The imagery that the Sufis use for this is a lover who is wooing his beloved. There is a woman who you are in love with, you say to her that you will do anything for her, and you want her to marry you, but she says that she’s not interested. When women say that they are not interested, this is not what they mean, what they’re really doing is that they are testing you.

Here’s a marriage tip for you: if your wife decides not to show much interest in you, it means that she wants you to chase after her. Women love to be chased after and wooed. And the act of chasing after one’s wife (or wife-to-be) and wooing her is something that Allah Most High has made natural to men.

This is why the imagery that the Sufis use for our loving Allah Most High is a that of a lover who is wooing his beloved.

There is a qasidah (poem) ascribed to Shaykh Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi (Allah have mercy on him), in which he says:

 

أَيُّهَا العَاشِقُ مَعْنَى حُسْنِنَا   مَهْرُنَا غَالٍ لِمَنْ يَخْطِبُنَا

جَسَدٌ مُضْنَى وَرُوْحٌ فِي العَنَا  وَجُفُوْنٌ لَا تَذُوْقُ الوَسَنَا

O you who are in love with our beauty, the bride price is high for the one who is proposing to us:

an emaciated body, a soul that is in longing, and eyes that will never taste sleep. 

 

The beauty of Allah, here, is a reference to His necessary existence, the fact that He is need of no one while everyone is in need of Him.

The emaciated body, here, is a mark of ‘Udhrian love, as the lover (that’s us!) is withering away in love because of the long nights of worship and days of fasting that he knows Allah Most High loves.

The soul in longing, here, is one in difficulty and distress because it is longing for the Beloved, and because the Beloved is not coming, the soul is begging, longing, and pleading by vowing that it will do anything just to be with the Beloved.

The eyes that don’t taste sleep, here, they say that when somebody is in love like that, then they are thinking of their beloved all night and for those who are seeking Allah this finds expression in worshipping Him at night.

This is the price that we need to pay: we give something, and Allah asks for more, so we give more, and He asks for more, and we are constantly knocking at His door, and this is a test from Allah to see whether or not we truly love Him or not. If we are like that man who looked away to look at the more beautiful sister, then we are turning away from Allah, and we have shown Him that we don’t deserve to be with Him. But, if we persist, then eventually the door will be opened, and we will be with Allah. This is the ultimate quest for the seeker: to be with the beloved.

Now, going back to your question, that question is asked by someone who doesn’t deserve the love of Allah. If you were to talk to any other human being like that, they would tell you to get lost. The same applies, with greater force, to Allah.

Allah Most High says in the Qur’an:

Allah loves the godfearing. (Qur’an, 3:76)

 

Godfearingness entails that one protects oneself from the wrath of Allah Most High. So the love of Allah is connected with His fear. We love Him, yet we fear Him. How can you love someone that you fear?

We fear Him because He is dangerous, He can send us to the Hellfire.

We love Him because despite the fact that we deserve nothing, He still showers us with His blessings and promises us with paradise even though we don’t deserve to go there, and also because He is Beautiful so we love Him. Within this love there is a sense of undeservedness.

In the question that you cited, however, there is no sense of undeservedness. To the contrary, there is every sense of deservedness.

To summarize, the answer to this question is that it is what logicians call a “loaded question”. For example, if Allah loves us, then why is there suffering? This question assumes many things: it assumes that Allah loves us, it assumes that if He loves us then there will be no suffering, and it assumes that we don’t need to do anything, that all we need to do is sit back and wait to be loved by demanding it. All of these assumptions are false, and we don’t agree with them. We hope that Allah loves us, but we need to earn His love.

The love of Allah is not a given; it is something that needs to be earned, and so in the famous hadith of wilayah in the Forty Nawawi, Allah says:

My servant doesn’t draw closer to Me with anything more Beloved to me than the things that I have made obligatory, and He continues to draw closer to Me with non-obligatory acts until I love Him.

This hadith tells us how to be someone who Allah loves. If we want Allah Most High to love us, then we must do what He has made obligatory on us and then do even more than that. The hadith continues and then describes the experiential knowledge of Allah that comes when the love is there. That is why knowledge, love, and worship are related.

Allah created us to love Him, and He described to us how we tread that path to love Him. When we tread that path to love Him, then He loves us, but people who don’t tread that path to love Allah and turn away from Allah by being arrogant and by being at war with Him, these people Allah doesn’t love.

So does Allah love us? Well, none of us will know until we die, and if we complete our lives as people who Allah loves, then the answer is yes, and if we die as people who Allah doesn’t love, then the answer is no. That’s how we need to look at the problem.

The type of thinking in your question is a result of the Humanist and Enlightenment thought that we have talked about in our previous conversations. This type of thinking is human-centered and focused on “I, Me, My, Now, and My terms”, and somebody who does that cannot fulfill the purpose of their existence because they don’t know themselves. We saw that the one who knows himself, knows his Lord. So this person, he thinks that he is something great whereas we are not something that great; as long as someone thinks that they are someone great, then they won’t know Allah because to know Him they need to feel that they are nothing, and only then will they see that Allah is everything.

The God-centered view is not “I, Me, My, Now, and My terms”; it is “You, You, You, and You”, and when we look at the world like that, then we find the purpose of our existence.

 

Osama: I have some lines here in which a lover expresses his love for his beloved:

 

Tomorrow,

Whether you accept,

or reject;

Whether you love,

or hate;

with a gift,

I’ll always remain standing,

by your door,

yearning for nothing,

 but a gaze.

This gift,

my failings have shattered countless times,

yet I hold onto it despite it’s imperfection.

I have nothing to give,

besides this gift of which I speak:

‘tis my heart.

 

Now, in these lines which were inspired by a song, the writer admits his failing of not being able to express his love in just the right way, but he says that he will always keep trying and hoping that maybe one day the beloved will accept him despite his imperfection. This, it seems, is an expression of the indigence and neediness of the lover in front of the beloved. Is this the type of indigence that we want to have in front of Allah?

 

Shaykh Hamza: Yes, absolutely. The lines are a beautiful expression of true love, and that is exactly what we need to do in front of Allah’s door to keep on trying to show our love. The Sufis would use lines such as these to express their relationship to Allah. This goes back to what we said earlier about human emotions; the spark needs to be there through one’s relationship with other human beings, and this then gets redirected to Allah. That spark is there in these lines, and when one sees that and feels it, then one needs to come to the realization that this can truly be realized with respect to Allah.

 

Osama: Good actions, it seems, like the gift of which the lines speak, should not be looked at as a means that entail and justify Allah’s love. Rather, it seems that when one does good outward actions, it must be coupled with knowledge of one’s imperfection, and too with complete indigence to Allah in hope that He may accept one’s worship as an expression of one’s love and slavehood.

Often we find that we as people practicing religion, instead of viewing our actions as imperfect, and having hope in Allah that He will accept them despite their imperfection, we sometimes look upon our actions with pride.

How can we correct this?

 

Shaykh Hamza: Worship has an inward element (knowing and loving) and an outward element (doing something with the limbs). When we talked about knowing and loving Allah and their relation to worshipping Him, we saw that they are all related and are found together.

So what I think you are trying to describe is that when there is outward worship but the other two inward elements aren’t there, then it is not true worship — there is something that is off. It might appear to be worship but it is not.

Someone might have a long beard, they might recite Quran, they might give religious lectures, they might appear to be religious, they might tell others to be religious, they might be a religious figure, and they might be calling people to worship Allah, but, even though they are doing all of these things, it may be that they don’t know what it means to worship Allah because their actions are making them proud and causing them to look down on others. Perhaps they feel entitled, or that other people should respect them, or that they should give them deference because they feel that they are people of God. This happens, and has been happening for a long time.

Imam al-Ghazali, when he wrote his magnum opus, one of the best books ever written in Islam, Ihya ‘ulum al-din, which means, “Bringing the religious sciences back to life,” when he wrote this book, he gave it this name because he believed that people like this had caused the religious sciences to die. So somebody who studies Sacred Law or tafsir or some other religious science, but their study doesn’t humble them, nor is their studying and teaching an expression of loving Allah, then what they are doing is just an outward form without the inner reality. The people who they teach feel and see that the inner reality is missing, and they are driven away from such people. This is what happened in an extreme form to the Christian Church before the Enlightenment, as we discussed in our previous conversations. That’s why people were driven away from religion. The people of religion were people they hated and detested because they were using religion for their own selfish motives. So when a religious person uses worship and obedience for his own selfish motive in order to be high in the eyes of other people, or for him to be higher in his own mind over other people, then the worship is not there — it is outward movement but the inward reality is not there. The inward reality of worship is that it is an expression of one’s love to Allah, one is giving one’s self up for Him. So when that is missing, then something is off.

Imam Malik has a famous statement:

Whoever studies Sacred Law and doesn’t study Spirituality becomes a transgressor, whereas someone who studies Spirituality and doesn’t study Sacred Law becomes a heretic. The one who joins between them both is realized.

The person who studies Sacred Law and doesn’t study Spirituality disobeys Allah inwardly through the outward actions that he is doing that seem to be obedience, whereas the one who studies Spirituality and doesn’t study Sacred Law disobeys Allah outwardly because he doesn’t keep to the limits that Allah has set. The one who joins between them both is realized; this is what you were referring to when you spoke about “balancing” the letter and the spirit.

We need the outward form with the inner reality. That’s what the line of poetry was in reference to:

 

تَعْصِي الإِله وَأنْتَ تُظْهِرُ حُبَّهُ  هذا محالٌ في القياس بديعُ

لَوْ كانَ حُبُّكَ صَادِقاً لأَطَعْتَهُ  إنَّ الْمُحِبَّ لِمَنْ يُحِبُّ مُطِيعُ

You disobey God while showing to others that you love Him,

This is something that is outrageously impossible,

If your love for Him was true, then you would have obeyed Him,

Verily, the lover is utterly obedient to the one who he loves.

 

The one who has inward love has outward obedience. This means that if love is there, then the outward will be there. If the outward is not there, then it means that the love is not there inside. And if the outward is there, that doesn’t guarantee the love, but you need to take the means to bring that about as well.

 

Osama: Love, it seems, is more of a continuum as opposed to an attainment that one achieves. Can one ever claim to have attained unto the absolute love of the Divine?

 

Shaykh Hamza: I certainly don’t know the answer to that question.

 

Osama: We’ve established that when one inwardly  knows and loves one’s beloved, then the outward sign of it is obedience, and this obedience can sometimes even make one wither away like the people of Bani ‘Udhra because of the selflessness that it entails. Related to this, the Sufis point out in their poetry that in reality Allah is both the Lover (muhibb) and the Beloved (mahbub); if this so, how does Allah’s Love manifest itself for His Beloved creation?

 

Shaykh Hamza: Theologically, this question is problematic because when you ask a “how” question with respect to Allah, then what you are seeking to do is understand Allah in human terms. That is why frequently, theologians, when they talk about Allah they say “bila kayf”, which means “without any modality”, which means that He doesn’t resemble anything that we have experienced.

As an example, we will see Allah in Paradise, but bila kayf, without modality, without “how”, because the meaning of the question “How?” is, “Of the things that I have experienced, which one does this resemble?” So when someone asks you, “How does honey taste?”, you say “Like sugar.”, and your response is only understood by someone who has experienced the taste of sugar, otherwise they won’t understand. So what you are trying to do is that you are giving an analogue, you are giving something similar. The answer to a “How?” question is: “Like something else.”. So with regards to Allah, the “how” is not something that we can understand with the mind.

Let’s start with theology: in the science of ‘aqidah, there are two approaches.

Allah, He says in the Quran:

Allah loves the godfearing. (Qur’an, 3:76)

 

What does it mean for God to love?

The theologians, they will say that the reality of love is a change that comes about in the heart. So, when you fall in love with somebody, there is a pain that you feel in the heart, there is an emotional change that happens in the heart. Then, when this emotional change happens, then it drives you to do for the beloved, for the one you love, whatever it is that they love.

There are a number of divine attributes that are described in human terms. Take, for example, His Mercy. Mercy for us is a tenderness of the heart that you feel when, for example, you see a poor man that passes by. When that happens, your heart becomes tender, and this emotional change, i.e. your heart becoming tender, drives you to put your hand in your pocket to give that poor man some money. He is also described as being Grateful (al-Shakur). You become grateful as a result of an emotional change that comes about in your heart when somebody does you a favour, and this drives you to return their favour.

When Allah is described in these terms, we subtract the emotional change aspect from the description because Allah is perfect and therefore He does not change. We interpret these things to mean the consequences, the end-result of the emotional change. So, when you love someone, then you do for them what they love. When Allah loves us, then He does for us what we would love for Him to do to us, but there is no emotional change on His part because Allah is Perfect and does not change. When Allah has Mercy on us, He fulfills our needs, but there is no emotional change. When Allah is Grateful to us, He rewards us for the good deeds that we do, but there is no emotional change.

This is what the theologians do. They are good at telling you what Allah is not. At the end, then, what you’re left with is not a lot of difference between Allah’s Love, His Gratitude, and His Mercy because all of them return to giving us things that we desire so you might as well use one name for all of them.

So what I just described was the approach of ta’weel, figurative interpretation. This is a particular type of figurative interpretation called majaz mursal, which is explained in detail by the scholars of balaghah, or Arabic eloquence.

Another approach to such names that seem to describe Him in ways that seem to imply that He resembles His creation is to start off by denying that He resembles His creation (so you deny that there is any emotional change), and to then consign the meaning to Allah Most High. You say, “Allah knows what it means; I don’t know what it means.” This is called tafwid.

The Sufis like this approach because, they say that as one comes closer to Allah, one experiences the meanings of these Names in an inexpressible way, one comes to understand the meaning of Allah’s love in an inexpressible way.

You alluded to something about Allah being the Beloved and the Lover in your question. This is how some Sufis express their experience of Allah’s Love in their poetry. What they say is that our Love for Allah transforms into a realization of our complete dependence on Allah. It transforms into a realization that the love we have in our hearts is something that Allah has created within us; it transforms into a realization of forgetting about oneself and focusing only on the Beloved; it transforms into a realization in which one loses one’s identity. So when one loses one’s identity, one forgets about oneself and focuses on Allah alone, and all one sees is Allah and His Love, and one doesn’t see oneself. The Sufis describe this experience in various lines of poetry.

I don’t have the qualification to explain these lines of poetry but that’s what they say.

Ibn al-Farid, possibly the most eloquent poet to ever talk about loving Allah Most High, described the same experience as follows.

 

أنتمْ فروضي ونفلي

أنتمْ حديثي وشغلي

You are my obligations and my supererogatory actions.

You are my conversations and my occupations.

 

يا قِبْلَتي في صَلاتي،

إذا وَقَفْتُ أُصَلّي

O my direction in my prayer

when I stand to pray:

 

جَمالُكُمْ نَصْبُ عَيني

إليهِ وجَّهتُ كلِّي

Your Beauty is before my eyes;
To it I direct my entire being

 

 Osama: How are the ideas of pain and sacrifice related to the idea of love? They say that love is a painful path that demands a sacrifice of the self.

Must one necessarily face pain and sacrifice in order to attain unto love?  Christians often allude to the sacrifice of Jesus when they talk about the love of God.

 

Shaykh Hamza: The idea of sacrifice is in us, it is not in Allah.

The Christians got it wrong because they say that God sacrificed Himself in order to show His love to us. This is completely wrong! Allah doesn’t need us. He doesn’t need to sacrifice Himself. We are the ones who need Him. He doesn’t need anything.

For Him to have a son, and the son to be God, and for that god to die is completely senseless. Who would worship a god that dies and is killed by other people? You wouldn’t feel very needy of that God. This is also ascribing a defect to Allah.

 

Allah says:

 

لَقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِيْنَ قَالُوا اِنَّ اللَّهَ ثَالِثُ الثَّلَاثَة

Those who say, “Verily, Allah is the third of the trinity,” have surely disbelieved. (Qur’an, 5:73)

 

There are many other verses that describe such a belief as associating partners with Allah. To hold such a belief is to ascribe defects to Allah; it’s an insult to Him.

Allah’s love for us doesn’t involve any sacrifice because for Him to sacrifice something for us would be an expression of His neediness, which is a defect for Him because it would imply some kind of human power over God.

This idea of the crucifixion, the divinity of Christ, all of these are foreign Greek pagan intrusions upon the true monotheism of Prophet Jesus Christ upon him be peace.

What we need to ask is: What do we need to do in order to show our love for God?

This does involve sacrifice.

It involves sacrifice because it entails preferring the one who we love over ourselves.

I really want to do something, but I will show God that I love Him by preferring not to do what I really want to do. You can think of that as a sacrifice.

 

Osama: How can a loving God be Vengeful (al-Muntaqim) to His creation, and why would He want to Abase (al-Khafid) His creation?

 

Shaykh Hamza: The theologians explain that Allah Most High’s names are divided into two categories: those that have an opposite, and those that don’t. Both the names that you’ve mentioned–al-Muntaqim and al-Khafid–have opposites. The opposite of al-Muntaqim–the One who “takes vengeance” (I’ll explain shortly why I’ve put the translation in quotation marks)–is al-Shakur–the One who is “intensely grateful” (again, I’ll explain shortly why I’ve put the translation in quotation marks). The opposite of al-Khafid–the One who lowers–is al-Rafi‘–the One who raises.

Examples of names that don’t have an opposite are al-Qadir–the All-Powerful–and al-Qawiyy–the Almighty. The opposites of these names are impossible for Allah Most High. For Him to be unable to do something or for Him to be weak would be a defect that conflicts with His godhood.

Names that have an opposite describe what Allah Most High does. They are descriptions of His actions. Theologians call these attributes sifat al-af‘al. Or, in other words, they are descriptions of His acts of creation. Since Allah Most High can do absolutely anything, since His actions are unconstrained by any limitation, He can do an action and its opposite: He can create and destroy; He can reward and punish; He can support and abase. The absolute freedom of Allah Most High to do anything, regardless of whether it is in our interests or against our interests, is what it means for Him to be God and for us to be His slaves. That is why we worship Him: we seek His mercy, His forgiveness, His gentleness, and we seek refuge from His wrath, His punishment, His rigor.

Names that don’t have an opposite describe who He is. They are descriptions of Allah Most High Himself, descriptions of His perfections. Theologians call these attributes sifat al-dhat. His knowledge, His power, His will, His life are all descriptions of Allah Himself.

Now, in order to answer your question, we need to note three things.

The first is that Allah Most High’s “vengeance” and His abasing His creation are both descriptions of His actions, not of Allah Most High Himself. He is, in other words, someone who “takes vengeance” and someone who abases His creation, just as He is also someone who is “intensely grateful”, and someone who honors and raises His creation. In your question, you asked, “How can a loving God be vengeful?” The way that you’ve used the adjective “vengeful” suggests that it’s a permanent attribute that describes who He is rather than an attribute of what He sometimes does. Remember that Allah Most High does whatever He wills and when He tells us that He can harm us (such as with the two names that you’ve mentioned), He is reminding us that He is God and we are His slaves, that He doesn’t need us and that we need Him, that He deserves our worship and submission and we shouldn’t approach Him with a sense of entitlement. This returns to the question about slavehood and love that we began this conversation with.

The second thing to note is that human language falls short of the majesty of Allah Most High. This returns to an earlier part of this conversation in which we asked what it means for God to love. We saw that when we say that Allah Most High has  mercy, gratitude, or love, then we need to strip these words of the accompanying emotional changes. Once we do that, we have two options: we can either give the words a figurative interpretation (ta’wil) or we can consign their meaning to Allah Most High.

The same applies to Allah Most High’s “vengeance”. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi explains that “vengeance” in human beings comprises three things: (1) extreme anger, (2) a severe chastisement that is delayed (an immediate chastisement is not normally called “vengeance”), and (3) that the chastisement lead to the quenching of some kind of thirst for revenge. When we use “vengeance” with respect to Allah Most High, we need to subtract this third meaning because it is an emotional change and Allah Most High is perfect and transcendently beyond any kind of change. So we understand Allah Most High’s vengeance as a severe chastisement that does not befall immediately, but after some time, without there being any quenching of some kind of thirst for revenge. When you problematized vengeance for Allah Most High, you were assuming that it comprises the quenching of some kind of a thirst for revenge. You can now see that it doesn’t.

As for Allah Most High’s abasing His creation, recall that the meaning of worship returns to a voluntary abasement of oneself to Allah Most High. There is a general theme in the Qur’an that someone who does not voluntarily lower themselves before Allah Most High through worship in this life will be forcibly lowered before Him in the afterlife, whereas someone who does voluntarily lower themselves before Allah Most High will be raised by Allah Most High in the afterlife. This raising doesn’t just happen in the afterlife; it even happens in this life. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “No one humbles himself for the sake of Allah except that Allah Most High raises him.” (Muslim)

The third and final thing to note is that your question–“How can a loving God be …”–assumes that God loves everyone. That is a false assumption. Allah Most High says in the Qur’an, “Allah does not love those who do wrong.” (Qur’an, 3:57) He also says, “Allah does not love any vain and arrogant person.” (Qur’an, 31:18) He also says, “Allah does not love any utterly ungrateful and sinful person.” (Qur’an, 2:276) Those who receive Allah Most High’s vengeance–in the meaning that I have just described above–are those who Allah Most High does not love.

If you think about it, it should make sense that God does not love everyone–why else would He send people to the Hellfire? Would you really think it fair that a criminal who had mercilessly tortured and killed millions of other human beings should be someone who God loves and sends to Paradise?

 

Osama: We began our conversations with a discussion about the relevance and significance of religion; that made us realise that true religion is a path to felicity. This path to felicity, which we established as the purpose of our life in our second conversation, is the path to knowing, loving, and worshipping God. In this conversation, we’ve described what it’s like to be in true love, in other words, we’ve talked about what it means to fulfill our purpose. Now, from hereon, what do you think is the next step, where do we go from here? I would think that these discussions should spark within us the desire to know how to fulfill this purpose, and reach unto the love of the Divine.

 

Shaykh Hamza: Allah sent us Messengers to call us to Him, to call us to love Him, and to explain to us the way to loving Him.

When we worship Allah everyday, we pray five times a day, we recite surah al-fatihah, we praise Allah:

 

أَلْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ العَالَمِيْنَ

 

Praising Him is an expression of our love for Him.

 

الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

 

We bring to mind His Mercy, this is again something that drives us to love Him.

 

مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّيْنِ اِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَاِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِيْنَ

 

The core of the Fatiha is asking Allah to show us the straight path.

 

What is the straight path? The straight path is the path of guidance.

 

The idea of a “path” is a common Qur’anic metaphor. I didn’t understand this metaphor until I started taking my sons on hikes in beautiful forests and canyons here in Jordan. When you enter a forest and you’re trying to find your way, then you are looking for a path to follow. What is a path? It is something that other people have walked on. It’s ground that you can see is well-trodden and then you can discern that people have walked here and it took them somewhere so you walk on the same path.

Sometimes when I go on hikes with my family, we say that we don’t need a guide and that we will figure out the way ourselves. When we do that, we often get lost because the path is sometimes not that clear. If you have a guide, the guide can show you where to go so that you don’t get lost.

Allah Most High calls His Prophets guides and He calls His Quran guidance. The Qur’an is, in other words, ia map that’s showing the way, and He calls the trajectory of our lives, the choices that we make He calls it a path, and so the guides are there to show us where to go. The path is a straight and wide path, and so it is very difficult to get lost; it is not veering this way or that; it doesn’t lead you into the bushes, and behind the trees — on such a path you can get lost.

The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) came as a guide on a clear straight path, and our goal is to listen to him, to listen to revelation, to learn the beneficial religious knowledge that he brought.

Beneficial religious knowledge is knowledge that teaches us how to make choices in our lives that will help us reach the afterlife with felicity, that will help us love Allah and fulfill the purpose of our life.

 

The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

I have left you on a clear, straight path, it is as clear at night as it is during the day. Nobody veers from it except somebody who is destroyed.

You have to be really bent on turning away from God to veer from the path; it is clear, the evidence is there: God exists, the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) is the messenger of Allah, the path is here but we have to learn about it. That’s what the messengers came to teach us. Their teachings were preserved by the scholars who followed him.

That is why the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

 

العُلَمَاءُ وَرَثَةُ الأَنْبِيَاء

Scholars are the heirs of the prophets.

Prophets don’t leave behind money, dinars or dirhams, but they leave behind religious knowledge, so whoever takes religious knowledge has taken a great share.