Rare Autobiography by Omar Ibn Said, An Enslaved West African Scholar

The Library of Congress has recently discovered a rare manuscript, an autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, a slave hailing from West Africa.

The autobiography is 15 pages long, and is written in Arabic. He describes his life in West Africa, in a place called Futa Toro, between modern-day Senegal and the Gambia.

Omar Ibn Said was a wealthy man, and a practising Muslim, praying five times a day, fasting in Ramadan, and giving zakat. He documented the names of his teachers, saying that he had sought knowledge for 25 years.

In 1807, he was captured and brought by ship to South Carolina, where he was badly beaten and abused by the man who had bought him. He ran away, and was jailed. Eventually, he ended up in North Carolina,  in the house of someone called General John Owen, whose brother was the governor of the state.

Omar Ibn Said owned a copy of the Qur’an and the Bible. Although he was baptised to fulfil the social norms around him, he filled his autobiography with verses from the Qur’an and mentions of Allah. In his Bible, he wrote phrases such as, “All good is from Allah,” indicating that he had never really left Islam, despite what he had to do to conform. He died in 1864, only one year before slavery was abolished.

You can view the digital copy of his autobiography here. You can read the original article here.


Living the Ihya in South Africa – Shaykh Seraj Hendricks Full Interview

Are We Beyond Slavery? Not even close.

Goodness to Parents – A Reader

Goodness to parents is one of the greatest character traits one can have. Here are some of SeekersGuidance’s best resources on the subject.

The Virtues of Parents

The Powerful Dua of a Parent

Supplication of Excellence to Parents – Du`a’ Birr al-Walidayn 

The Noble Intention of Parents

Parents – Your Door to Allah’s Acceptance, by Ustadh Uthman Bally

Highest Virtues, Excellence with Parents

10 – Umm Ayman – The Prophet’s Mother After His Mother

Prayer of a Concerned Father, Surat al-Baqarah (verses 127-128)

How Can I Guide My Parents to the Right Path?

The Close Proximity of Single Mothers to the Prophet ﷺ

Authenticity of Hadith Stating That Paradise Lies Beneath the Feet of Your Mother

 

Related Articles

Serve Your Parents Now Before It’s Too Late, by Ustadh Salman Younas

The passing of Habib ‘Umar’s mother

Reconnecting With Family–Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil 

Can I Pay for the Hajj of My Parents? 

My Father Was Smarter Than I Thought – Faraz Rabbani

“To Mothers” – Moving Poem by Baraka Blue

The Passing of the Father and Grandfather of Ustadh Salman Younas

Navigating Common Problems

Dealing With a Dysfunctional Relationship With Parents 

How Can I Deal With My Difficult Mother in a Respectful Way

I Have Bad Dreams About My Late Father. What Can I Do?

How Should I Deal With a Mentally Ill Mother?

My Mother Is Not Muslim. How Can I Help Her?

My Mother Makes Supplications Against Me. Will Her Duas Be Accepted?

Can I Give My Zakat to My Father?

To What Extent Should I Obey My Mother? 

Should I Listen to My Husband or My Mother?

How Can I Advise My Mother to Come Back to Islam? 

How Can I Deal With My Elderly Mother Who Refuses Assistance

My Mother Does Not Want Me to Read up on Death and Judgement

Islamic Scholars Fund: Make an Impact With Your Zakat

In this video Shaykh Faraz Rabbani emphasizes the importance of having an Islamic Scholars Fund.

 In our times…

In traditional Muslim societies endowment supported the best and brightest young minds to become Islamic scholars. Islamic scholars were supported, so that they could dedicate themselves to teaching and providing religious guidance and clarity to the community. Unfortunately, in our times, we don’t have such institutions, as a result, the best and brightest young minds don’t pursue the path of Islamic scholarship, and Islamic scholars, even the most capable are not very often able to dedicate themselves to teaching, guiding and providing clarity.

An urgent area of need

A few years ago SeekersHub started collecting zakat to support students of knowledge in need, to support deserving Islamic scholars. Very quickly we discovered that this is an urgent area of need, we found many cases of scholars in the most dire of circumstances. Scholars like a leading Arab scholar with disabled children whose medical bills meant that he had to work long hours and was unable to teach actively, was unable to write or research. With your support this scholar has been able to teach thousands of students around the world, and has authored many really beneficial religious works.

Lost, now found

Your support has also helped students dedicate themselves to study, students such as Sufyan, living in a suburb of Paris, who was dismayed, lost and confused about how he could study, how he could serve the community by becoming a scholar of Islam. With your support, Sufyan is now well on the path to becoming a capable teacher and scholar of prophetic guidance.

Female scholarship

Students like the many female students of knowledge whom we are supporting, mentoring and guiding to become future female scholars of Islam. How can we celebrate the great history of female scholarship in Islam, the thousands of female scholars in 9th century Baghdad if we’re not committed now, to support present day female students of knowledge?

The scholars tell us that the best charity is the charity that has the greatest impact.

Questions and Answers – Radical Gratitude Series

What is true gratitude, and how can it make a difference in our lives? In this segment, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani and Ustadh Amjad Tarsin answer some commonly asked questions about this topic.

 

Q: How do you find ways to forgive when it’s very difficult?

A: This is a good question, because we should be real in how we cultivate spiritual ideals. The first thing to do is look at the life of the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, and see the incredible honor that stemmed from his forgiveness. His forgiveness of the Quraysh after the Conquest of Mecca was more than about a few arguments. He and his followers had suffered 20 years of serious aggression, wars, torture, and physical and psychological harm. However, his heart was so attached to Allah, and he wanted what was best for his people. Therefore, when he was given the upper hand, he chose forgiveness.

Forgiveness is one of the biggest steps to healing from pain, and resentment continues to burn us. Sometimes our nafs blocks this meaning from us. If someone is being harmed, then we have the right to prevent that. After that, we can try to look for excuses for them. If that’s difficult, you make duaa for them, that Allah guide them.

Q: How is it possible to have patience without being passive?

A: Scholars say that everything has a knowledge-based response, and then an action-based response. Before we try, we should keep in mind what patience means. Neither patience or gratitude are passive. Gratitude is more than seeing the good; it is using things for what it’s used. For example, being grateful to live in Canada does not mean ignoring the wrongs done by the Canadian government. Rather, we use our blessings to do what Allah has commanded us to do-work towards truth, justice, mercy and the prevention of harm.

Q: How does one explain gratitude to children?

A: Syed Naqib al-Attas, one of the most brilliant minds in education of the 20th century, broke down children’s education into three components. Firstly, there is tarbiya, or education, raising the child. Secondly, ta’deeb is the instilling of correct manners and etiquette to any situation.  Finally, ta’leem is teaching the child, which can be done in many ways.

Q: What about someone who isn’t feeling the essence of gratitude in his heart?

A: Ultimately, Allah does not squander an atom’s weight of good. The scholars define a good action as, “anything that has even a residual aspect of good.” The devil will try to suggest that you are not grateful enough, or not sincere enough, but flee from those thoughts.

About the Series

“If you are grateful, We shall surely grant you increase,” Allah promises in the Qur’an. “Should I not be a truly grateful servant?” said the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In this seminar, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani and Ustadh Amjad Tarsin explore Radical Gratitude: How Thankfulness Transforms Our Life and Religion.


Creating a Blessed Home : A Reader

This reader covers various topics relating to creating and nurturing a happy and blessed home.

A Blessed Home

The Adab of Homes – Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Prophetic Supplication For Moving to a New House

Look At Everything as a Blessing from Allah and Nurture Gratitude

How Not to Let Stress Get Your Down

Is Seeking Counselling A Sign of Weakness? by Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil

How Should I Uphold My Family Ties?

What Are the Rewards of Cleaning One’s Home?

On Family – Pause for Thought with Journalist Abdul-Rehman Malik

Guiding One’s Family Towards the Good

A Blessed Marriage

Love, Marriage, and Relationships in Islam: All Your Questions

What Makes A Marriage Work – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

What Can Help Endure a Difficult Marriage Due to Financial Issues?

How Do I Deal With an Unhappy Marriage?

A Wife’s Right to Housing Seperate From Her In-Laws

Keys to Successful Muslim Marriages

Blessed Parenting

The Powerful Dua of a Parent 

How To Make the Prophet Muhammad Real for Small Children

Our Children: Nurturing the Prophet’s ﷺ Spiritual Intelligence

A Ragged Shirt and Toast Crust: Raising Successful Children 

Keeping Family Ties Through Intergenerational Trauma – Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil

Keep Calm and Mother On–Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil 

An Exhausted Mother’s Eid Reflections

Frequently Asked Questions – Social Justice Series

In this series, Shaykh Walead Mosaad speaks about defining social justice in the Islamic paradigm. In this segment, he answers some frequently asked questions about the topic.

Q: Should we partner with groups with whom we have some differences of opinion?

A: The Qur’an tells us to co-operate in good and God-fearingness. Is it not wrong to ally with someone on a just cause, however you should take care. Many times, these issues are political in nature, with a sense of “we do something for you, you do something for us.” If you do go into an alliance with such a group, you should go in with eyes open and be clear on which points you agree and don’t.

Q: How should we act as a Muslim minority?

A: For most of Islamic history, Muslims have been the minority, in places like Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and more. Places that do have a Muslim majority, such as Somalia, Indonesia, Kenya and Mozambique, became such without a single Muslim army entering them. Being a minority group is nothing new in Islamic history.

Q: How should we navigate unjust laws? 

A: We need to make a distinction between the laws that we can accept, and the laws that we absolutely cannot accept. For example, if a government makes a low forbidding people from praying five times a day, then we need to do something about it. However, if the law relates to things that are not required by Islam, we should follow it, but can oppose it or work towards it.

Q: How should we view the idea of civil disobedience?

A: On one hand, if we agree to live in a society, we should abide by the law. However, there may be situations that arise when we might need to take action, such as when Rosa Parks protested racial segregation. Civil disobedience does not always mean breaking the law, but we should be careful not to harm the people we seek to convince. For example, having a protest that shuts down an airport, will do the most harm to people who need to fly for medical reasons, or to meet important deadlines. We have to consider what we will be doing, and whether it will actually help the outcome.

Q: What should we do if we are called to jury duty?

A: There is nothing impermissible about being a member of the jury, and it is generally a civic duty. However, you could do what many scholars did, which was to avoid being judges. Once, Imam Abu Hanifa and two other scholars were called to be interviewed for the position of Qadi, or judge. The first pretended to be insane, and Abu Hanifa declared that he was unfit for the post, which caused the ruler to dismiss them both. The third was confused as to what to say, and became the Qadi by default.

Q: What advice would you give to parents of children who feel marginalised?

A: We cannot shield our children from the world, and we should teach them that these things are going to happen. We need to give them a good sense of identity. From a young age, we should instil in them a sense of self-worth, and that the dunya will necessarily include tribulations.

Q: Why is speaking about social justice important, while most Muslims lack even basic tawheed (creed)?

A: Questioning peoples tawheed is questioning their Islam, so that is not a fair assessment to make. If a person believes in Allah and His Messenger, part of their tawheed would necessarily be upholding social justice, as well as the rest of the Prophetic teachings.

About the Series

Social justice has been the focus in recent times of Muslim activists and communities. More often than not, the methods and objectives employed in Muslim social justice work has drawn from practices of other communities and traditions not necessarily rooted in Islamic principles. Does the Islamic tradition contain relevant principles that can be drawn upon to inform social justice work?


The Patience of Umm Ayyub

Umm Ayyub was an ordinary lady with extraordinary patience and strength.

She was a very ordinary women, so ordinary that you wouldn’t notice her. She was so ordinary that I still don’t know her name to this very day.

I don’t remember where I first met her, or when I met her. In fact, I don’t  think I ever actually met her. Rather, I’d see her, floating around in the background at various masjid and community organization events across the city.

She always wore the exact same clothes, a dark blue hijab and a white square hijab, folded over her head and secured under her chin. She said very little. In the beginning I thought that she didn’t speak English well, but later I found out that her English was quite good, despite the fact that she had recently immigrated from the Middle East with her husband and their two little girls.

Her husband was a very nice man, always helping others and driving their daughters to Qur’an classes at the masjid. From what it seemed, they were a stable and happy family.

All this time, I didn’t really take note of her. I didn’t even know she was pregnant with her third child, a boy, until someone from the community told me that she had gone to the hospital to deliver, only for the medical staff to inform her that his heart was no longer beating.

She gave birth to a stillborn baby, and named him Ayyub, after the patient Prophet, peace be upon him. The janazah prayer was held in the masjid and then the tiny coffin was taken to be buried.

Patience In Losing A Child

It can’t be easy to lose a child at any stage, much less through a stillbirth. The Umm Ayyub must have felt extremely sad, but she bore it all with extraordinary patience. Some sisters who visited her said that she was up and taking care of her family as normal. The words “Alhamdulillah” were always on her lips. After such a difficult situation, doing routine things takes enormous courage and strength, and she must have had a lot of it.

I didn’t think too much about her situation, besides sympathizing with her difficulties. Later, as I grew older and wiser, I learned more about the enormous rank granted to mothers whose children have died.

In a Hadith related in Sahih Tirmidhi the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said:

“When someone’s child dies, Allah Most High asks His angels, ‘Have you taken the life of the child of My slave?’ They say yes. Allah then asks them, ‘Have you taken the fruit of his heart?’ They say yes. Thereupon He asks, ‘What has My slave said?’ The Angels say, ‘He praised you and said, Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (To Allah we belong and to Him we will return)’ At that Allah replies, ‘Build a home for my slave in Jannah and call it ‘Bayt al-Hamd’ (The Home of Praise).’”

Khalid al-‘Absi said, “A son of mine died and I felt intense grief over his loss. I said, ‘Abu Hurayra, have you heard anything from the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, to cheer us regarding our dead?’ He replied, ‘I heard the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, say, “Your children are roaming freely in the Garden.” (Bukhari)

If there was one thing I learned from this experience, it was that sometimes the most amazing people are not the ones that we look up to most. Sometimes, they are the most ordinary people that we don’t notice.


The History of Social Justice – Social Justice Series

In this series, Shaykh Walead Mosaad speaks about defining social justice in the Islamic paradigm. This segment covers the history of social justice, from the times of the Ancient Greeks until today.

Social justice as we know it was first codified by John Rawls in his book A Theory of Justice, published in 1971. He based his theory upon “a veil of ignorance,” from a position where no one one anything about anybody: not their age, economic stats, race, or even gender.

From this basis, he came up with two standards. Firstly, that each person should have equal rights to the most extensive privileges available to other people enjoying the same. Secondly, that inequalities should be arranged so that no one person would be blocked from occupying any position.

Some people criticised this, saying that while it sounded great in theory, in reality people do have positions of privileged, so it would not be possible to give everyone exactly the same social position. In addition, Rawls did not have a plan of action as to how to implement this. Nonetheless, his theory formed the blueprint for many groups.

Plato and Socrates also had similar conceptions of justice. According to them, justice was embodied in a just man. Knowledge and reflection were both the keys to justice. They also believed that justice was one of the cardinal virtues, which sustained and perfects the other three: temperance, wisdom, and courage.

The challenge with philosophical theories, is that few people follow philosophers as a way of life. Rather, philosophers were mostly talking amongst themselves. However, a large amount of people would follow the Prophets’ message.

St Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic theologian, took it a step further by saying that justice was Divine. He believed that justice was a habit, by which a person gave everyone their due through perpetual will.

About the Series

Social justice has been the focus in recent times of Muslim activists and communities. More often than not, the methods and objectives employed in Muslim social justice work has drawn from practices of other communities and traditions not necessarily rooted in Islamic principles. Does the Islamic tradition contain relevant principles that can be drawn upon to inform social justice work?


Frequently Asked Questions – Living Green Series

The Living Green Series takes us through our responsibilities towards green living and environmental stewardship. In this segment, the panel speakers answer some frequently asked questions.

At the end of the panel, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Leslie Adams, and Ustadh Amjad Tarsin answer some questions about environmentalism and living green.

Why isn’t environmentalism  a more prominent issue in the Muslim community?

Every community goes through developmental stages, especially when they are a minority group. In terms of the Muslim community, the  priority of the first generation immigrants were financial security, as well as building religious centres for their children’s sake. Similar to voting, these relatively new communities are  addressing them a generation later, after their more pressing needs have been fulfilled.

Is there a connection between sin and environmental damage?
Yes, because sin comes from heedlessness, which is lack of concern. A lot of environmental damage comes from lack of concern and carelessness. For example, so much water and food is wasted because of our carelessness because we don’t realise the impact of what we are using.

How can we find out whether our smartphones, and other  products, have been ethically produced?

Before buying anything, we should do our research as much as possible and find out whatever we can about that material. In addition, we should make an effort to seek change ourselves. For example, we could write to companies to express our concerns, and share our research within our social circles.

About the Series

What is the place of green and environmental stewardship in Islam? How does the Qur’an view concern for the environment?  What is your responsibility towards the environment? Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Ustadh Amjad Tarsin and Shaykh Ali Hani answer these are other critical questions by citing several prophetic traditions emphasising environmental consciousness and awareness.


Resources for Seekers

 

The Problem of Evil – Why We Suffer Series

“Why We Suffer” is a series that explores why there is suffering in the world, and how we should respond to evil according to Allah’s teachings. In this segment, Shaykh Hamza Karmali speaks about the so-called “Problem of Evil.”

The so-called “”Problem of Evil, is the name given to a false dilemma about suffering: If God is kind and good, then why is there so much evil in the world?

The root of philosophy began with the Ancient Greeks. The philosophers of the time came up with the idea of humanism, which was the idea that “man is the measure of all things.”  This meant that the person themselves determines whether something is good is bad, right or wrong.

This idea was rediscovered in the Renaissance, where the corrupt church would demand indulgences, or monetary favours in exchange for lessening the donor’s suffering in the afterlife. The church also had the idea of the “absolute rule,” of the monarchy, which the peasants had to unconditionally follow.

The peasants’ natural response would be, “What about me? Why is this oppressive ruler sanctioned by God over me? Why can’t I use my mind?”

As Muslims, we agree so far. We believe that rulers should not oppress the people, and we know that we are encouraged many times in the Qur’an to use our minds. We do not object to using rational thought, but rather  seek to understand it in its proper context.

However, the difference begins. Philosophers believe that life is divided into pleasure and suffering, which means that anything that causes suffering is bad. Muslims believe that this life is a combination of pleasure and tribulation, while the afterlife is filed with pleasure only.

Here lies the core of our approach to suffering. As Muslims, we believe that Allah sends us trials and suffering in order to tests us. These test are only temporary, and will be compensated for in the Hereafter. Having this perspective allows us to look at suffering in a positive and hopeful light.

About the Series

Shaykh Hamza Karamali (Dean of Academics at SeekersHub Global) and our founder Shaykh Faraz Rabbani explain the Islamic understanding of why there are tests, trials, evil and suffering in this life. They address questions such as: What is the wisdom and purpose behind evil and suffering in this life? How should we respond to evil, suffering, tests, and trials? What are the spiritual teachings of Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) to respond with trials?


Resources for Seekers