The Month of Sha’ban: Prelude to Ramadan – Imam Zaid Shakir

* Courtesy of Imam Zaid’s Facebook page

Sha’ban is a month of good that introduces the great month of Ramadan. The Prophet, peace upon him, used to fast voluntarily during this month more so than in any other month. One of the motivations for that, as we will mention below, is that Sha’ban is the month during which the deeds performed by the servant ascend to God.

Usama b. Zayd relates: “The Prophet, peace and mercy of God upon him, used to fast so many days in succession that we said, ‘He will never break his fast.’ At other times he would go without fasting for so long until we said, ‘He will never again fast;’ except for two days, which he would fast even if they occurred during the times he was not fasting consecutive days.

Furthermore, he would not fast in any month as many days as he fasted during Sha’ban. I said: ‘O Messenger of God! Sometimes you fast so much it is as if you will never break your fast, at other times you leave fasting for such a long stint it is as if you will never again fast [voluntarily]; except for two days that you always fast.’ He asked: ‘Which two days are those?’ I replied: ‘Monday and Thursday.’ The Prophet, peace upon him, said: ‘Those are two days in which the deeds are presented to the Lord of the Worlds. I love that my deeds are presented while I am fasting.’ I said: ‘I do not see you fasting in any month like you fast during Sha’ban.’ The Prophet, peace and mercy of God upon him, said: “That is a month occurring between Rajab and Ramadan that many people neglect. It is a month in which the deeds ascend to the Lord of the Worlds, be He Mighty and Majestic, and I love for my deeds to ascend while I am fasting.” Related by Imam Ahmad and Imam Al-Nasa’i.

–  Imam Zaid Shakir

 

Below is Imam Zaid’s recent visit to SeekersGuidance, click below to watch.


About Imam Zaid Shakir

Imam Zaid Shakir is a co-founder, and senior Faculty Member of  located in Berkeley, CA. He is amongst the most respected and influential Islamic scholars in the West. As an American Muslim who came of age during the civil rights struggles, he has brought both sensitivity about race and poverty issues and scholarly discipline to his faith-based work.

Born in Berkeley, California, he accepted Islam in 1977 while serving in the United States Air Force. He obtained a BA with honors in International Relations at  in Washington D.C. and later earned his MA in Political Science at . While at Rutgers, he led a successful campaign for divestment from South Africa, and co-founded  formerly Masjid al-Huda.

After a year of studying Arabic in Cairo, Egypt, he settled in New Haven, Connecticut and continued his community activism, co-founding , the Tri-State Muslim Education Initiative, and the Connecticut Muslim Coordinating Committee. As Imam of Masjid Al-Islam from 1988 to 1994 he spear-headed a community renewal and grassroots anti-drug effort, and also taught political science and Arabic at . He served as an interfaith council Chaplain at  and developed the Chaplaincy Sensitivity Training for physicians at . He then left for Syria to pursue his studies in the traditional Islamic sciences.

For seven years in Syria, and briefly in Morocco, he immersed himself in an intense study of Arabic, Islamic law, Quranic studies, and spirituality with some of the top Muslim scholars of our age. In 2001, he graduated from Syria’s prestigious Abu Noor University with a BA in Islamic Sciences and returned to Connecticut, serving again as the Imam of Masjid al-Islam, and writing and speaking frequently on a host of issues. That same year, his translation from Arabic into English of The Heirs of the Prophets was published by Starlatch Press.

In 2003, he moved to Hayward, California to serve as a scholar-in-residence and lecturer at , where he taught courses on Arabic, Islamic law, history, and Islamic spirituality. In 2004, he initiated a pilot seminary program at Zaytuna Institute, which was useful in Zaytuna College’s refinement of its Islamic Studies curriculum and its educational philosophy. For four years, students in the pilot program were engaged in the study of contemporary and classical texts. In 2005, Zaytuna Institute published, Scattered Pictures: Reflections of An American Muslim„ an anthology of diverse essays penned by Zaid Shakir. He co-founded the , Oakland, CA. in 2007. He authored an award-winning text, Treatise for the Seekers of Guidance, a translation and commentary on Imam Harith al-Muhasibi’s work, Risala al-Mustarshideen in 2008. He is co-founder and chairman of  since 2009. The mission of United For Change is, through modern discourse, to create awareness of the broadest and most consuming topics within the Muslim community. The aim is to leverage the diversity through cooperation and goodwill and address the obstacles that have proven to be divisive.  His most recent work is Where I’m Coming From: The Year In Review, a new collection of his essays from 2010. Imam Zaid has also authored numerous articles and research papers on a wide range of topics.

He is a frequent speaker at local and national Muslim events and has emerged as one of the nation’s top Islamic scholars and a voice of conscience for American Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Imam Zaid has served as an advisor to many organizations, and influential leaders. He is ranked as “one of America’s most influential Scholars” in the West; by , edited by John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin, (2009). Imam Zaid is a signatory along with religious and spiritual Leaders from around the world who presented the UN Secretary General with a declaration in support of the Paris Climate Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, marking the largest number of nations ever signing an international agreement. Inspired to work with religious groups on sustainable living and climate change in 2017, Imam Zaid is a Green Faith partner in action for the earth. The mission is to inspire, educate, organize, and mobilize people of diverse religious and spiritual backgrounds globally for environmental action. In 2018, CNN listed him among 25 influential American Muslims.

While many have cited Imam Zaid as example of Islamic moderation, his critics have questioned his moderate credentials by citing his expressed hope for the conversion of America to Islam and adoption of Islamic law in America. Dr. Ingrid Mattson stated that Imam Zaid is solidly grounded in the Islamic legal, ethical and intellectual tradition, which all Muslims share, as well as his personal understanding of the current political context.


 

 

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.


 

 

Giving Life to the Night of the 15th of Shaaban and Its Virtues – Ustadh Amjad Tarsin

In this talk Ustadh Amjad highlights the virtues of the night of the 15th of Shaaban, and encourages everyone to seek it out and to give life to that night.

 

The Arba‘iniyyat Genre between Past and Present

The Arba‘iniyyat Genre between Past and Present: Basis, Origin, and a Contemporary Example

By Massoud Vahedi

 

This overview aims to analyze a number of topics pertaining to the arba’iniyyat genre, which refers to the centuries-old practices of compiling forty-hadith pamphlets. This will be achieved by briefly looking at a contemporary forty-hadith series on Prophetic Parenting by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani. To properly elucidate the style and content of this series, beforehand there will be some discussion on the arba‘iniyyat genre, its legal authorization, and its most famous example, namely that of Imam al-Nawawi. All of these issues contain rich debates and discussions which remain unexplored in the English language. Thereafter, a discussion on a specific subset of Shaykh Rabbani’s commentary on his own collection will follow.

Until the present age, arba‘iniyyat continue to emerge and be written, dealing with a wide array of topics, such as marriage, morals, character, and more. The basis behind the origins of the arba‘iniyyat composition rests on a significant hadith from the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace from Anas, Allah be pleased with him: “Whoever preserves for my nation forty ahadith from the Sunna, I will be an intercessor for him on the Day of Resurrection.” (Ibn Ady; al-Kamil) This hadith has been narrated through more than a dozen transmitters with various wordings, all of which suggest the immense virtue for collecting and writing forty narrations so that they are learnt and benefited from. Despite the grand majority of scholars declaring these reports to be weak, the consistent practice of scholars throughout multiple generations has been gathering forty-hadith collections. This practice began early on with the inception of the eminent hadith scholar Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak, then Muhammad ibn Aslam al-Tusi, who was followed by al-Nasawi, thereafter by Abu Bakr al-Ajuri, and so on.

Despite us observing countless scholars collect their forty-hadith pamphlets, the content and theme behind the collections vastly differ. Al-Nawawi notes that collections before him exclusively focused on one of the following topics: fundamentals of creed and theology (usul), subsidiary matters (furu‘) pertaining to religious ordinances and acts of worship, asceticism (al-zuhd), religious piety and manners, religious exhortations, and so on. However, al-Nawawi did something revolutionary in his own collection that would grant his forty-hadith collection an eminent status until the end of time.

Instead of collecting forty hadiths dealing exclusively on one question or topic, he collected hadiths whose content encompasses all of these topics and combined them in a unique way in his compilation. Secondly, he picked narrations which have been declared by past hadith masters and jurists as embodying the main teachings of the religion or being from its foundational principles. Thirdly, he only picked narrations which he deemed to be authentic, with most of them being collected by al-Bukhari and Muslim. Fourthly, he removed the long chains for the hadiths of his collection so the narrations could be easily read and memorized by laymen. Lastly, Ibn Rajab also mentioned on this topic that Imam al-Nawawi’s noble and pure intention behind the compilation of his arba’in also paved the way for its positive reception among the Umma.

One excellent example of a contemporary forty-hadith collection comes from Shaykh Faraz Rabbani. His collection is entitled: Prophetic Parenting: 40 Hadiths on Raising Righteous Muslim Children. This collection contains hadiths pertaining to Prophetic Parenting, and has a comprehensive listing of hadiths which discuss how Muslims can be successful parents in the contemporary context we live in. The Shaykh extracts subtle gems from hadiths which the average reader may be completely unaware of. Owing to space constraints, regrettably only a few hadiths can be discussed here. The hadith that orders us to “marry the one of religion, so that you may be successful” (al-Bukhari and Muslim) has a number of hidden benefits that Shaykh Faraz skillfully extracts for his audience. Being a good parent is not something which starts after marriage, but actually well before the child is born. In fact, it starts even before one marries. In order to be a good parent, one needs to choose a righteous spouse that is actively concerned about the religious upbringing of their future children.

Secondly, a person might superficially read this hadith and think that the importance of being “one of religion” only applies while picking a spouse. But actually, upholding and sustaining religiosity also applies within the marriage, because otherwise the religious meaning and sanctity of the matrimonial bond will be lost in the middle of the journey. To only think that this applies while searching for a prospective spouse defeats the intended meaning. The key point here is that we can in religious terms actually become better spouses during the marriage. This is something that we can all improve on with ourselves and our partners. Another hadith in the Shaykh’s collection is: “If there comes to you someone whose religion and character is pleasing to you, then marry them. If you do not, there will be much tribulation and corruption on earth.” (Jami’ al-Tirmidhi) Shaykh Faraz derives two crucial benefits from this hadith. Firstly, we are reminded through this report that marriage is not an individual decision or matter. It actually has a strong social dimension as well. We can readily notice the social repercussions involved when marriages do not occur at a desired pace. To achieve this adequate rate of marriage both parties should be easy-going in decision-making.

Another hadith is reported from the authority of ibn Umar, that the Prophet Allah bless him and give him peace said regarding al-Hasan and al-Husain: “They are my two joys in this life” (Muslim). On this hadith the Shaykh beautifully explains how as Muslims we should not look at children as being burdens to be overcome, but as gifts that should be appreciated. Secondly, we should view them (and by extension our parenting) as being a means and vehicle to reaching salvation in the hereafter. We must be cognizant of the religious aspects as being a parent, because by doing so, we are rewarded for all the small and mundane things we for our children. By having the right intention, we will no longer see childrearing as being a collection of repetitive and mechanical tasks, but a duty and responsibility before our Creator which if done right means many good deeds.

Another hadith mentions on the authority of Abu Bakra how al-Hasan Allah be pleased with them would as a child would frequently would rise up on the back of the Prophet Allah bless him and give him peace when he prostrated during his prayer. The Prophet would rise up very slowly and put Hasan down gently. (Ibn Hibban and al-Tabarani) Here, Shaykh Faraz notes how in the Prophet’s actions there is a “sense of balance” between maintaining the serenity of the prayer and being flexible with a child’s playfulness. The key here is realizing this delicate balance and applying it today in our prayer places as much as possible.

We note that the Prophet Allah bless him and give him peace did not rebuke al-Hasan for his actions; in other words, he did not actively stop him from getting on his back. From this we can derive that natural childlike actions in the mosques are to be tolerated by parents. But when there are severe and excessive disturbances then deterrence is needed, lest the sanctity of the mosque or the quality of prayer of the congregants be violated. Regrettably, on the issue of children going to the mosques, many of us are often caught on one extreme and have lost the Prophetic model of balance and flexibility.

 


Massoud Vahedi is a Canadian doctoral student in political science. In terms of Islamic sciences, he has concentrated his studies in Mustalah al-Hadith (Hadith nomenclature) and Hanbali Fiqh.


 

Drawing Closer to Allah – Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad expounds on the hadith of the supererogatory acts, and makes clear the criteria for determining if someone is a wali of Allah.

In the famous Bukhari hadith narrated by Abu Hurayra, Allah be pleased with him, the holy Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, says – with the words of his Lord, so this is a hadith Qudsi where Allah Himself is speaking: “Whoever harms a wali of Mine, I declare war upon him. My slave draws nearer to Me with nothing more beloved to Me than that which I have made obligatory upon him. And then My slave continues to draw near to Me with optional acts (nawafil) until I love him. And when I love him I become the ear with which he hears, and the eye with which he sees, and the hand with which he smites, and the foot with which he walks. And if he seeks My protection I will surely grant him My protection. And if he seeks My victory I will surely grant him the victory.”

As you know this is one of the great hadiths of Islam. It has a name. It is the hadith al-nawafil. The hadith of the nawafil or the optional, supererogatory acts of religion. And it’s telling us something fundamental. The ulama gives these names to a small number of hadiths, because they have something in them that is essential to the din – of the usul, the roots, not of the furu‘, the branches.

So what is the root of our religion that is being expounded, that is being taught to us by Allah Himself in this beautiful hadith? See how He begins it. He begins it by grabbing our attention – by talking about enmity and war. That’s the thing that we most fear. And what we fear more than human war, is fear of war from Allah Most High. Who could stand against that?

The Principle of Wilaya

He says, Exalted and Most High, “Whoever harms a wali of Mine, I declare war upon him.” This is announcing that this hadith is going to be about a particular principle: the principle of wilaya. The principle of being a wali. Do we next get a technical definition of what exactly that means? We don’t. Because the Qur’an and the Hadith, and these hadith qudsiyya particularly, speak to the heart. Speak to the deeper aspect of human intuition. Speak to the core of us, the qalb (heart) and the sirr (secret). The sirr which is the center of our religious life.

We’re not going to get some technical, theological definition here. Instead we’re told how to get there and what it might be like and what are the consequences in practice. See how the hadith goes on. It seems to change direction in a surprising way. It says, “My slave draws nearer to Me with nothing more beloved to Me than that which I have made obligatory upon him.”

It begins again with an attractive principle. It started with fear. Who wants Allah’s war? Then it talks about love. Another thing all human beings are going to be magnetized by. But it’s not love for ourselves. In this hadith, Allah is saying that His love is for those things which He has made obligatory upon us.

The Path of Religion

When we begin in the path of religion we ourselves may be very far from being lovable. That’s why we don’t say, in our religion, “Allah loves everybody.” Allah loves that which is true and good and beautiful. He loves that which we are called to become. And He loves our origin in the nature of Adam, peace be upon him, which is “ahsan taqwim” (Sura al-Tin 95:4). But He doesn’t love us in all our forgetfulness, in our sinfulness, in our envy, and all of the stuff that we do. It is not possible for the Supreme Being to love imperfection. He loves what we are called to be.

In this beginning of our path, and this is a journey that the hadith is telling us about, He has said that He loves the obligations. What is it about us in our religious life that is really most beautiful? When are we in the state, truly, of khilafa and Adamiyya? It is when we are following these obligations. It is when we are sajid (in prostration). It is when we’re following the Sunna and particularly the obligatory things. The five pillars and the other obligations. Those are the aspects of our life that Allah loves. And the other stuff, not so much or not at all.

This language that the hadith uses, which is of “drawing near.” It specifically says this. This is about the journey, not about the state. The journey of religion is a journey. It is suluk, wayfaring, spiritual traveling. Nobody ever stands still. In religion, if you don’t constantly make an effort, that will be like trying to ride a bicycle on the streets of Cambridge. If you’re not pushing the bicycle will fall over. Constantly, we are required, in order to persevere with this journey, to make an effort. And the first effort is to make sure we get these obligations right.

No Heights without Foundations

Do we really know the obligatory beliefs? Do we really know how to do the obligations of prayer and fasting? Before we go on to think about more fancy stuff, have we got the foundations correct? As the ulama say, “They never reach the heights because they neglected the foundations.” We should always think carefully and constantly about, for instance, all of these thousands of prayers that, insha Allah, it will be our nasib to say in our lives – are we sure that we’ve got them right? Are we sure that we’ve got the basic rules of wudu right?

What is more ridiculous than somebody leaving out one of the arkan, basic obligations, when it might take him only a couple of seconds. And he repeats that defective ‘ibada the rest of his days. Let’s make sure that we get these usul right, because it is those things, the aspects of our life as lowly beginners beginners, that Allah, Exalted and Most High, loves. At least in those situations where we are, outwardly at least, in the state of obedience, Allah Most High loves that aspect of us.

The hadith is linking this journey – this suluk, this taqarrub, this literally drawing near to the Creator – to the principle of the Divine Love. In our theology this is always very important. How can we fly our finite selves to the pleasure of the Infinite Being? What can we do that can satisfy the perfection of an Infinite Being? Well, not very much.

Even the obligations that we do are probably done inadequately. We may be outwardly compliant. Who knows where we are inwardly? Who knows what my niyya or intention is? Who knows what we’re really thinking about during these outward forms? But out of His love, because at least we have the outward manifestation of this, that is an aspect of us that He truly loves. And in that state we should be able to begin to find our peace, which is what we all crave.

The Principle of Love

So there is this principle of love in this hadith. And there is this principal of taqarrub: drawing near to Allah, Exalted and Most High. Then the hadith goes on. It’s not just about stopping with the obligations and Allah loves that part of us. No, it’s about progressing. “Thumma!” the Arabic then says. “Then, My slave continues to draw near to Me with optional acts until I love him.”

Now it becomes serious, more serious. It’s not those outward acts that He loves, of the various things that are existent in our lives. It’s our selves. We can be loved by the Creator, Exalted and Most High, despite our maggot-like mortality. Despite the eminent weakness of who we are, and how we think, and everything that we do, He can actually love us. And that is from His generosity, His magnificent mercy that He loves us. But that doesn’t just come without an effort. What is required is these optional acts.

Beyond the obligations there must be something more. Somebody who does the outward fundamentals with ikhlas or sincerity, insha Allah, has the key to Paradise. But there’s more to it than that. There are so many additional things, and the additional things include deepening and perfecting the outward acts, as well as learning about additional acts. As well as learning about fasting on Ashura, you can think about fasting in Ramadan, but better. I could really stop lying. I could really stop being distracted. I could really stop all of the stuff that we do that makes the fast a kind of outward thing but not always an inward flowing reality.

So the nawafil don’t just mean the extra prayers, the extra fast, and the Umra, and those other things. It means deepening what we already have. And if we do that that Allah, Exalted and Most High, is making us this extraordinary promise. Whatever the world might think of us, Allah will love us if we are in that situation. That’s an extraordinary thing. Out of all the orders of creation, Adam, peace be upon him, is singled out for this unique, divine love.

Chosen above All Creation

At the beginning of the human story, the Angels, even, were commanded to bow down to him. Not to Mount Everest. Not to the Andromeda galaxy. Not to space and time itself. But to Adam, peace be upon him, because of the greatness of the divine love for His creature (safiy). This specific title says that Adam, peace be upon him, is the chosen. People say, “I can understand Ibrahim, peace be upon him, is the khalil (friend) of Allah, and Musa, peace be upon him, being kalim Allah (the one who spoke to Allah), and our master Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him, being habib (beloved of) Allah. Yes, but safiy Allah? Chosen? When he was the only one? Not much of a choice.”

Chosen indeed! Over all the other elements of creation. Over the angelic realms. Over the rocks. Over the Great Rivers. Over the mighty seas. Adam, peace be upon him, is the one to whom even the angels in their perception, in their infallibility, are commanded to bow down. That is the extent of Allah’s love for His greatest summit of creation.

Not just this dust that Iblis, Allah curse him, saw, but the luminosity of the ruh (spirit) which has been breathed into Bani Adam, which make us something unusual and unique in creation. And of all of those countless tens of millions of species, and of all of those other planets that they can just dimly glimpse through telescopes, the only entity that we really know in the whole wide cosmos that can actually think, that can be ethical, that can make meaningful choices is our weak selves – Bani Adam.

This is the meaning of the hamla al-amana (carry this trust). Allah Exalted and Most High offered this Amana to the heavens and the earth and the mountains but they refused to carry it. And they were afraid of it. And He caused man to carry this Amana. This knowledge, this capacity to choose, this capacity to say, “la ilaha illa Allah,” volitionally, rather than compelled. And then what do we do? “He who has proved a tyrant and a fool.” (Sura al-Ahzab 33:72)

We carry this Amana. We have the capacity to be these luminous beings, with this miraculous capacity to see, to understand, to name, to choose, to be ethical, to be better than anything else. But we choose the other stuff. This is “asfala al-safilin.” (Sura al-Tin 95:5) They’re supposed to be in the best of forms, but human beings, when they’re not the best of forms, can be the worst of the worst.

The Two Paths before Us

What is more impressive in the world than the real wali who is in complete outward and inward conformity and obedience and love with his Creator, Exalted and Most High? Nothing finer. What is lower in the world than the one who’s cheating and lying and defrauding people and being brutal? What it worse? [Is there] anything in the animal kingdom worse than that tyrant? No. [Is there] anything in the natural world lower than that tyrant? [Is there] anything in the wide universe that we know of that’s more disgusting than Firaun and Haman? No. Human beings will say, No.

So we can follow Musa, peace be upon him, or we can follow Firaun. There is the possibility of this najdayn. “We have guided him to the two paths.” (Sura al-Balad 90:10) And everybody has that choice. Those two paths are in front of us not once or twice in a lifetime, but at every moment. There is no conscious waking moment in our lives when there isn’t the right thing to do, which is there, and a lot of wrong things which we could also do in that situation.

This is what is meant by constancy. This suluk is constant. This iqtirab, this becoming closer to our Lord and His favor is a constant effort. It’s like riding your bike down King’s Parade. You have to keep going or you’ll fall off. Similarly, the constant effort in order to avoid the lower possibilities, the gravitational force that pulls us down to egotism, to vice, to stupidity, to self-pity, to the ugly things that human beings are good at. Then Allah in His grace can raise us up. Until we get this amazing outcome: “Until I love him.”

If you have that – even though in the madhhab of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama‘ – we generally say wali doesn’t know that he is a wali. If he sees amazing things happening to him and Allah’s favor, he says: “I’m afraid this is some divine ruse.” This is Ibrahim ibn Adham, concerning whom the most amazing things happened, and people came to him from East and West for his prayers. A luminous individual who’d given up his kingdom just for the sake of Allah, Exalted and Most High. Whenever something amazing happened to him in a sign of the divine favor he would look frightened and say, “I’m afraid this is some divine ruse.”

That’s the brokenness and the beauty of the one who is truly close to Allah. He is the humblest of people. Even though Allah and his angels know that he is the best of people. This is one of the secrets of religion and one of the reasons for the beauty of those people.

This Divine Love

This divine love, we may not know it. We may possibly see signs and say, “AlhamduliLlah, Allah has been generous to us.” But generally as we move on this path of iqtirab and suluk, drawing closer to our Lord, we kind of shrink in our awareness of ourselves. Firaun is convinced that he is “your greatest Lord.” Our master Musa, peace be upon him, is the humble refugee and outcast. That’s the difference.

The tyrant soul is the inflated soul of the high net-worth individual, a billionaire, the one with the executive yacht who really thinks that the world is there to serve him. But Allah, Exalted and Most High, in His grace and His love is more likely to be with the weak and the poor and the despised and refugees and the poor taxi drivers, whoever they are. Those are the people who truly are in this state of mahabba, and whom Allah loves, which is why the holy Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, prays to his Lord to be resurrected among the poor. Not among even grandiose, pious, Islamic bankers, no, among the poor. “O, Allah, resurrect me in the company of the destitute.” Their egos are humbled but their hearts can be luminous.

The hadith doesn’t stop here. It goes on and then tells us something even more shattering and something that we need to think about carefully lest we misunderstand. It’s a sound hadith. It’s from Bukhari. There’s no problem about whether this is right. But how is it right? “When I love him,” Allah says, “I become the ear with which he hears, and the eye with which he sees, and the hand with which he smites, and the foot with which he walks.”

Obviously, every scholar of Islam has always said, “Don’t take that literally. Don’t think that your hand is God’s hand in any literal sense.” No, that’s the way of people we call the hashwiyya. In Medieval Islam there was a sect of people who said, “The faithful way of reading the Qur’an and Sunna is to interpret everything in the most literal possible way. So, Allah actually has some kind of physical form and He sits on something.”

This is not the way of the of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama‘. Obviously, if you use the hashwiyya method for a hadith like this, then you’re going to get all kinds of strange difficulties, and it won’t be tawhid. Allah, exalted and Most High, cannot inhere in anything physical because He is infinite. He cannot have finite extension. You cannot have a body. This is the error of the Christians. With the incarnation they thought the infinity of Allah, Exalted and Most High, can somehow be squeezed and crunched into the confines of the physical body of the first century Palestinian Jew and that is muhal (impossible). It doesn’t work.

The Principle of Tawhid

We have to interpret this according to a criterion that saves the principle of tawhid. Some people can go astray in this, but it’s important. So what does it mean? Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani in his great commentary, the greatest commentary of commentaries of Bukhari, Fath al-Bari, has a long discussion on this. He says, “Some of the ulama say, that when Allah says he becomes the eye with which you see, He means you only see the things that He has commanded you to see. And when he becomes the foot with which you walk that means you only go to the things that He has commanded you to go to.” That’s one interpretation. It is a perfectly valid one.

There are others which are about obedience. That is to say, you only use these outward faculties that you have in obedience to Him, Exalted and Most High. So you’re conforming to the divine command. Others will say, Allah, Exalted and Most High, is the One who is, in His qualities of course, the ground of all being in creation. Why are the Angels bowing down to Adam, peace be upon him? Not because of his Adamiyya, his humanity as such, but because of the sirr that is there. There is something noble about the perfected human being. There is something noble about the one who Allah truly loves, which means that it is more than a question of just guidance, but looking at that person can bring you to a higher spiritual state. How is that possible?

We know that the Sahaba used to go just to look at the holy Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him. This is the hadith of Umm Waraqa. They used to go just to look at him. As if just to look at him was an ‘ibada. There is something in the quality of the perfected human being that is a reminder. How does this work? Well, the hadith is saying precisely this. But the hadith then goes on to speak about the consequences. Not to engage in dangerous metaphysical speculations, but to talk about consequences. “And if he seeks My protection I will surely grant him My protection. And if he seeks My victory I will surely grant him the victory.”

This is how the early Muslims were with their amazing victories, inwardly, spiritual, military, economics, everything. That amazing civilization they produced, East and West, almost overnight, was because they were in this state of Adamiyya. Because of their absolute ‘ubudiyya, their slavehood to Allah, Exalted and Most High, in them, they manifested something of the agency of the divine intention. They were in a state of muwafaqa.

Back to the Beginning

So, to take it back to the point with which we began and this deep mystery. What is it for somebody could be in the state of iqtirab, to be close, to receive the divine love, what exactly is that all about? We’re not allowed to misunderstand it, but the hadith is saying that it is important. What does it mean to be close to Allah, Exalted and Most High? This doesn’t mean geographical closeness or temporal closeness. It means something deeper. And Allah, Exalted and Most High, has describing Himself as al-Qarib. “If my slave asks concerning Me, I am near. I respond to the prayer of the one who makes supplication when he calls upon Me.” (Sura al-Baqara 2:186) He is al-Qarib.

This iqtirab of which the hadith speaks means going close to the One who is already qarib (near). He is never mentioned as ba‘id in the Qur’an and in the hadith. No, He is always close, but we are ba‘id. We are really far, because the lower shaytanic self within ourselves likes to see the world as just being a bunch of things causing other things and neglects the divine reality that is propelling absolutely everything. The divine Names that never cease to be an action in every single moment, in every single movement of every atom in creation, there is the divine agency. That is al-Qarib. “Closer to you than your jugular vein.” (Sura Qaf 50:16)

So that whatever one does is, as it were, just a reflection of Adam’s status with Allah. That one acts simply in accordance with the divine command. Acts as an agent of the divine instruction on earth. That extraordinary thing, that place which is the recipient of the divine mahabba, is what the hadith is referring to as al-wali.

But Who Is the Wali?

There is a lot of talk in Muslim cultures about the wali. We know that it is present in the Hadith. It is present in this hadith. What exactly does it mean? Waliya in Arabic means to be close. It is quite close to the idea of qarib. Allah, Exalted and Most High, uses it with reference to Himself. “Allah is the Wali of those who have faith.” (Sura al-Baqara 2:257) Interesting divine Name, like some of the others, like Latif, like Rahim, that can be used by human beings as well as by Allah, Exalted and Most High.

In this context, the Wali, the One who is the divine friend, the divine Patron, the one who takes responsibility for and is the Patron of, and lovingly guides and helps and protects the salihin (righteous). That is the Wali. That is what it means when we refer to Allah, Exalted and Most High, as al-Wali.

When this refers to a human being what can it mean? What ought it to mean? Well, the ulama here say, closeness. Of course, through this process of iqtirab, of drawing close, one is in proximity to the divine in whatever mysterious and ineffable and difficult way we may conceptualize that, because He is not in a place. But closeness, closeness to His love. Closeness to His obedience. Closeness to conformity to His command. Closeness to the sakina, to the peace, which is in His is presence. This is what it means.

Waliya also in Arabic has the sense: to be consecutive. It is said, “The wali is the one whose actions succeed one another uninterruptedly in conformity with the Sunna.” This is how Imam al-Qushayri defines. Who is the wali? Never mind elaborate definitions of some metaphysical something. Look at the practice. By their fruits you shall know them. Who is the wali in Islam? According to Imam al-Qushayri in his Risala, “It is the one whose actions succeed one another without anything else interrupting them in conformity to the divine command.”

By their Fruits…

Abu Yazid al-Bistami, one of the great, mysterious early Muslims, who is himself revered as a great wali, was told once in this masjid there is a wali. Now any Muslim knows that if you hear of such a person that is true, you want to get near him, because he can pray for you, and his prayers are more likely to be answered than your own. Whenever Muslims travel to a new institution or new town or new country they want to know who is a wali, because their presence is beneficial. They are somebody who is completely, inwardly as well as outwardly, in conformity with the Kitab and the Sunna.

He was told, “There is a wali in that masjid.” He goes to that masjid and there is this man who is doing his ‘ibada. At the end of his ‘ibada the man gets up, and Abu Yazid is watching. And the man makes this disgusting sound with his throat. The kind of noise that you hear sometimes often and mysteriously when people are making wudu in the mosque. Abu Yazid doesn’t speak to him when he comes out. He says, “Somebody who does not look after one of the courtesies of the Shari‘a, how can he be looking after some of the secrets of Allah in creation?” It is not possible. This is fundamental. This is the essential criteria.

Do you want to know who is really a wali, and you don’t want to read a million texts of metaphysical speculation that probably don’t get to the heart of it, and may confuse you if you’re not a super scholar? Just see, first of all, is that person is conformity with the Qur’an and the Sunna? Secondly, does the company of that person make you remember Allah and feel closer to your Lord? Is it, per proximity, something that increases your desire for ‘ibada. That increases your love for human beings, that increases your humility, that makes you want to go out and help people, and see the best in people?

The Firm Criterion

This is the criterion that we offer in Islam. Conformity with the Kitab and the Sunna, because anything else is not Islamic. But also this proximity that comes about with this iqtirab. This mysterious state where the wali is seeing with eyes that, as it were, the eyes that Allah is seeing with. Whatever that means. However we conceptualize it.

Ibn Hajar offered 17 different explanations for this to the common among the ulama. Whatever that might mean is not given to us to know, but we respect them. The key criterion is conformity to the Kitab and the Sunna, and that quality has to be perceived by our soul, so that in the company of those people we are healed and improved and made upright, insha Allah.

May Allah increase the number of His awliya in this umma, and make us their followers, and help us to seek them out, and insha Allah, by them to draw near to true rather than false victory and protection to this umma in these difficult times, insha Allah. Amin.


This post was transcribed, edited, and hyperlinked from a sound file of a lesson given by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad that was published on Youtube by tradarchive on 2 March 2017.