* Courtesy of Masjid al – Furqaan’s Youtube page
* Courtesy of Masjid al – Furqaan’s Youtube page
* Originally published on the 19/07/2019 (Masjid al -Furqaan)
* Courtesy of Masjid al – Furqaan’s Youtube page
After reading extracts from Brad Pilon’s Eat. Stop. Eat, encouragement from my teacher and reflection upon the Sunna, I decide to embark on the ultimate challenge for a food-loving Muslim: a voluntary fast. (And since it’s British summer time, the fast lasts from 02:30 till 9PM – 19½ hours!). What encouraged me was last Ramadan’s experience; we British Muslims dreaded the long summer fast of 2012 – the longest of its kind for almost 30 years! And yet, we did it. It wasn’t that hard. Indeed, I found this extract from a hindsight entry made last year under the title ‘Miracle of Fasting’:
“I somehow fasted from 4.50am till 9.30PM, possibly my longest ever. And it wasn’t hard – despite my normally having 3 square meals and 2 tea-breaks in that time! Allah made it easy, put baraka in my suhur and gave me energy, Alhamdulillah!”
So I went to sleep last night, after a late Isha, with the intention that if Allah would get me up at Tahajjud, only then would I fast with the following intentions:
Allah woke me at 2:05AM and I knew He wanted me to try this experiment (perhaps so I could share it with SeekersHub Global readers!). I scrambled to the kitchen to prepare an odd suhur of instant porridge, last night’s pizza & chips leftovers, tea, a date and orange juice. Suitably stuffed, and after some fervent du’a, I’m ready to face the day… after the small matter of sleep!
Breakfast wasn’t an issue as I was still full from suhur. No headaches or tiredness either. Skipped my compulsory tea-break at work without fuss. This is a big deal as, normally, the first moment after finishing my lesson at 10:30 I’d be rushing to the kitchen to make a cuppa! Got some less intensive down-time for the next few hours. Over half way now: so far, so good.
From a teacher’s point of view I find the ability to fast extraordinary. The nafs is like a teenager/child. Where it knows it has options, it’ll test the boundaries and ask for more than it deserves. However when the boundaries are clear from the outset of the day and one has made the firm resolve NOT to eat until sunset, the nafs grows quiet and barely a squeak of defiance is ever heard!
Three hours later and still no pangs, Alhamdulillah. I got a slight headache after hours of study on a Seekers Guidance course, email checking and internet research. The research was worth it though: found out about The Fast Diet which contains much of the inspiration that got me started.
Now, after a brief rest, am pretty energized whilst tutoring the first of two lessons. Only two problems I’ve encountered so far: tendency to do excessive or useless internet jobs, and a longing for Maghrib time to come!
Last lesson done. Slight headache. Will rest for 20 mins before Tai Chi class at 7:30.
OK, Tai Chi was agony on my legs for some reason (found out later that this was due to my incorrect posture in one of the positions!) But Maghrib came upon me far from passing out due to hunger.
So if I could climb and conquer Mount Sawm outside Ramadan, anyone can. I’ll leave you with a few top tips that helped me get there:
As we’ve all experienced, the thought of fasting – of not having one’s regular meals, of skipping one’s normal snacks – is actually a lot more frightening than the fast itself. Ironically, this is like productivity generally: the anticipation of how difficult it will be to achieve important goals is normally much worse than the actual experience.
And so the upshot is also the same: stop worrying; just do it! Ramadan Mubarak to all reading this and I’d be so grateful if you could remember me in your duas when you break your fasts.
Every Ramadan, most women will have about a week in which they are unable to join in the major religious practices of the holy month: fasting and praying. Many women, when their menstrual period begins, find that their level of engagement with the high spiritual atmosphere of the month drops. The same goes for those whose postnatal bleeding coincides with Ramadan. For many of these women, frustration and a sense of lacking spirituality sets in.
This, however, shouldn’t be the case.
Menstruation, postnatal bleeding, and other uniquely feminine concerns are all part of Allah’s creation, which He created in perfect wisdom. They are not a punishment for women wanting to draw near their Lord. They are just part of the special package of blessings, opportunities and challenges that God has given uniquely to women. To refrain from ritual prayer (the salaat) and ritual fasting (the sawm) during this time is actually considered a form of worship, and, if done with the intention of obeying God, it earns women good deeds.
In order to take full advantage of the blessed month of Ramadan, however, menstruating women and those with postnatal bleeding can do more than refraining from ritual prayer and ritual fasting to draw near God. Below are ten ways that women unable to fast can boost their spirituality during this special month.
In the Hanafi school, it is recommended for menstruating women to make wudu, wear their prayer clothes, and sit on their prayer mat while doing dhikr during the time they would normally be praying. This would be especially good to do in Ramadan, a time of special focus on worship. In addition to the adhkar that are well-known sunnas – such subhanAllah, alhamdullillah and Allahu akbar – if you have a litany from a shaykh and are allowed to repeat it more than once a day, try to do it twice or three times for increased blessings. Dhikr has a special way of touching the heart, and by invoking God’s names whenever you can during this unique month you create the space, inshaAllah, for beautiful spiritual openings. See: The Effects of Various Dhikr – Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad
Du’aa is something we do very little of these days, but speaking directly to your Lord is one of the most intimate ways to connect with Him. The beauty of du’aa is that you can make it in any place or time. Take this opportunity to ask your Lord for all that you need in your life, and to draw near Him through either repeating the beautiful du’aas of the Prophet or reaching out to God with your own unique words. See: Ten Powerful Du’as That Will Change Your Life
Whether it be your family, neighbors, community members or the poor, use the time you are not fasting to make meals that fill the stomachs and souls of those around you. Recite the salawat on the Prophet (pbuh) while making the food, as this imbues the food with spiritual benefit as well. Consider sponsoring iftar at your local mosque one evening with some other women who are in your situation, or volunteering at a local soup kitchen. See also: “Manifesting Mercy: Feeding Your Way to God” – Nader Khan at Brampton Islamic Centre.
Use the extra time and energy you have from not fasting and praying to increase your knowledge of the faith. Listen to scholars discussing timely issues on our SeekersHub podcasts, form a small circle of non-fasting women who can commit to reading a book on Islam and discuss it together, or take some time to read articles on the religion from trusted online sources, such as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s blog or Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad’s article collection at masud.co.uk. See also: Importance of Intention in Seeking Knowledge.
We are surrounded by countless blessings, so make sure to spread those blessings in the month of Ramadan. Give money to a good cause, such as supporting Syrian refugees, helping a local poor family with school fees, or supporting students of Islamic knowledge through programs like SeekersHub’s #SpreadLight campaign. In a very busy world, we may have little opportunity to give our time to help others in charity – giving money takes minimal time, but brings great benefit. See: Eligible Zakat Recipients, Giving Locally vs. Abroad, Charity to a Mosque, and Proper Handling of Donations.
Sometimes, women are overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the home and young children, and cannot make time to do things like study or sponsor an iftar. In these circumstances, renew your intention regarding your role as a mother and a wife. See these demanding and time-consuming roles for what they are: responsibilities that you are fulfilling to please God, which makes them a type of worship. Ask God to accept all your work as worship, and approach all that you do in this way. This will make even the most mundane of tasks, such as changing another diaper, cleaning up another spilled cup of apple juice, or making yet another dinner a way for you to gain the pleasure of your Lord. See: Balancing Worship and Caring for a New Child.
Although the Hanafi schools holds that women cannot cannot touch the mushaf or recite Quran while experiencing menses or postpartum bleeding, they are able to listen to the recitation of the Quran. Doing so offers much benefit in a month that has such heavy emphasis on reciting the book. You can take special time out of your day to listen to it, such as while children are napping, or you can listen to it while in the midst of cooking or cleaning the house. See also: Listening to Qur’an While Occupied With Other Tasks
Ramadan is an excellent time to increase repentance to God. Use moments when others are praying or breaking their fast to ask God to forgive you and your loved ones and to keep you from returning to sin. All we have is a gift from Allah, so even forgetting that for a moment is a deed worth asking forgiveness from. Know that God is the Forgiving, and trust that, as our scholars have said, the moment you ask for forgiveness you are truly forgiven. See also: Damaged Inner State? Imam Ghazali on Repentance
Mothers with young children often find it difficult to go to the mosque because they worry that their kids will disturb others who are praying. Since you don’t need to be at the mosque, volunteer a night or two (or more!) to babysit the children of a young mother who would love to go pray taraweeh. If you have young children of your own, you can tell the mother to bring her kids to your house before the prayer. By helping this woman worship, you will gain the same good deeds she gets from going to that prayer. See: I Love Being A Woman!
Use the extra time and energy you have to share the joys of Ramadan and Eid with your non-Muslim friends, peers and neighbors. Invite a work colleague for an iftar, make a special Ramadan dish and give it to a neighbor, or take time to make special cookies or gift bags for peers at the office or in school to hand out during Eid. By sharing these happy moments with friends and colleagues in the non-Muslim community, you counter the negative narratives about Islam in the media. More than that, however, you become someone who creates bonds in an increasingly isolated world, reflecting the beauty of the Prophetic light to all those around you. See: How Can Muslims Become More Effective Community Members?
Beginning right now, make an intention that this Ramadan will be a time of great spiritual effort and sincerity. To help turn that intention into reality, make checklists of both daily goals for Ramadan (read a section of Quran or a beneficial lecture every day, etc.) and goals for the overall month (visit a home for the elderly, invite two non-Muslim friends for a chance to experience iftar, etc.).
Make sure you are up to par physically by adjusting the amount and quality of your food intake. Start by eliminating snacks and have smaller meals in the weeks leading up to Ramadan. Also reduce your caffeine intake so that the lack of your morning coffee or afternoon tea doesn’t debilitate you in the first few days of the holy month. Of course, if you’re fasting during the month of Sha’baan, you’re halfway there.
Make sure to get your medical business in order before Ramadan arrives. If you suffer from a particular illness, check with a doctor, preferably one who understands the importance of fasting, on whether fasting is a reasonable option for you. If you are taking medication, ask your doctor if you can take your doses during non-fasting hours instead of during the day. Also, check if there are options to take your medication via injection instead of orally, as in the Hanafi school injections do not break your fast.
Voluntary (nafl) fasts are a great way to help prepare the mind, body and soul for Ramadan. If you can do it, follow the Prophetic sunna and fast the month of Shaaban, which comes just before Ramadan. If that proves too difficult, try to implement some of these other sunnas: fasting on Mondays and Thursdays, or fasting on the ‘white days’ of each Islamic month: the 13th, 14th and 15th.
Many people aim to do a complete reading of the Quran at least once during Ramadan. If you don’t have a habit of reading the Quran daily, take this as an opportunity to incorporate that habit into your life. This will enable you to read longer sections of the book during Ramadan. Even if doing a complete reading of the Quran during Ramadan is too difficult, making a habit of reading one page or even a few verses a day will bring many blessings during the holy month and afterwards, as the Prophet (pbuh) said: “The most beloved of actions to Allah are the most consistent ones, even if in little amount.”
If you have no missed obligatory prayers to make up, start to pray voluntary sunna prayers to prepare yourself for the extra prayers that take place in Ramadan. If you do have missed obligatory prayers, use the time you would give to the sunna prayers to make some of them up. Don’t feel that you are missing out on the opportunity to do voluntary sunnas, because God says in the famous Hadith Jibreel, “My servant draws near to Me by nothing more beloved to Me than that which I have made obligatory on him.”
Use the weeks leading up to Ramadan to increase your acts of charity, be that in the form of giving money to needy people or worthy causes. These could be anything from sponsoring a Syrian refugee family, to supporting scholars and students of sacred knowledge through SeekersHub’s #SpreadLight campaign. Giving charity is a way to purify your wealth, and you can enter the month of Ramadan in a greater state of purity. It also opens doors for great good in your life, for the Prophet (pbuh) has told us, “Allah says, ‘Spend, O son of Adam, you will also be spent on.’”
Spend some time before Ramadan to find a local charity or community service opportunity to work with, whether it be in an Islamic environment or in the wider community. If you begin well before Ramadan starts, you will adjust to the environment before you begin fasting, so that you can explain to co-workers why you can’t join them for a coffee break or a meal.
Imam al-Ghazali discusses the inner dimensions of the fast in his Revival of the Religious Sciences , which you can observe before Ramadan arrives. He mentioned that one must learn to fast with all the limbs, from all that harms the heart. You can, for example, avoid certain television shows to keep the eyes from seeing nudity, leave particular conversations to keep the ears from hearing foul language, and control the ego to keep the tongue from argument or backbiting. The inner fast is among the most important aspects of fasting Ramadan and is often more difficult than the physical fast from food, water and sexual relations, so the earlier you begin to practice this, the better.
One of the major concerns about how Muslims practice Ramadan today is the high level of overconsumption and waste that takes place during the holy month – a reality which is completely antithetical to the Prophetic tradition. Imam Zaid Shakir and others have spoken about ‘greening’ Ramadan as practiced today in the Muslim community, while Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad has suggested that Muslims use Ramadan to support ethical, fairtrade companies.
Imam Zaid’s mosque in Oakland, California offers a great model for doing this. With a little bit of extra organization and commitment, communal iftars are served on borrowed crockery and silverware (from friends, neighbors or a local Muslim restaurant) instead of their disposable variation. Washable handclothes are used instead of paper towels. The amount of trash saved by these actions – especially over the course of the month – is enormous, and embodies the Prophetic example of being, as the Quran describes, “a mercy to all the worlds.” See: Global Warming and Wasterfulness
The Maqasid podcast is a series of brief, half-hour lessons discussing the altruistic aspects of knowledge, devotion and service, many of which are critical to the well-being of the Muslim soul. With poise and dedication, Shaykh Yahya covers various aspects of chivalry and companionship which could better strengthen and grow the relationships between modern Muslims, as it once did in the past.
The first set of lessons cover a book by Imam Abdulwahhab ash-Sha’rani known as Adab As-Suhbah, or the Etiquettes of Companionship. Through the life stories of the pious, the Shaykh thoroughly explains the significance of some of the most important aspects of good companionship in the context of Islam and how we can implement and integrate them into our own lives. Among the most important of these are selflessness, humility and understanding, and the removal of hasad, or envy, in our hearts towards our companions. He provides targeted steps for Muslims to take to practically increase love and affection in our daily relationships with our fellow human beings, and it makes for a compelling series.
The next set of lessons which are currently ongoing cover Imam Al-Husayn Al-Sulaimi’s Kitab-Al Futuwwa, or the Book of Spiritual Chivalry. This series is expansive and rich in classical Islamic etiquette of moral conduct between Muslims, and Shaykh Yahya touches upon important experiences in human life that relate to the points he discusses. While similar to the traits of Adab As-Suhbah, these characteristics are highly specific and indicate the reality of chivalry that comes from genuine love for the sake of Allah. Both moving and relatable, this podcast will surely make us reconsider our social priorities as family members, friends and neighbors of one another.
Personally, this podcast had a positive impact on me, particularly when I was in a place of uncertainty with my companions. Questioning their intentions towards me, I realized that companionship for the sake of Allah is purely just that, and I can’t take anything my friends do, say or act towards me in a personal light. Those who genuinely love me will reciprocate my efforts for them, and if they do not, I must be the better friend, partner and relative and give them 100% regardless of their attitude towards me. Loving for Allah’s sake removes the burden of conflict, sensitivity and suspicion from among friends, near and far, as it enhances a rational manner of approaching companionship.
The example of the Prophet, his Companions and the pious is sufficient for us, and to emulate their strong, unbreakable bonds between one another is truly a goal to be achieved in one’s life. Islam is a social religion, not one of individualism and isolation, and to be able to live in harmony with one’s family and friends (and to maintain that harmony) essentially contributes to our purpose in life – to submit to Allah and envelop Islam in our lifestyle.
Click here to listen to listen to “Knowledge, Devotion and Service” by Shaykh Yahya Rhodus.
Animals are part of our everyday lives and environment; whether one owns a pet, keeps livestock, or eats meat. Yet few Muslims today are aware of Islam’s rulings regarding ethical animal treatment and consumption, or the centuries’ worth of scholarly literature on the topic. This literature reflects our scholars’ profound understanding of the rights and responsibilities that come with our relationship with animals. Modern agricultural and farming practices such as intensive animal farming, machine slaughtering, and animal experimentation, are among a few of the most controversial trends which directly oppose the Islamic moral and ethical treatment of animals.
As consumers and participants in the global world, it is essential that Muslims make every effort in aligning their actions and attitude towards a greater awareness of the proper treatment of animals in their everyday lives.
The Qur’an and Hadith outline the moral and theological significance of animals and their relationship with mankind. Allah Most High says in the Qu’ran “It is He who created for you all of that which is on the earth.” (Surah al Baqarah 2:29) Human beings were given permission to make use of animals in terms of transportation, clothing, shelter, warfare, hunting, food, and drink. (Musa Furber; Rights and Duties Pertaining to Kept Animals) The Qu’ran honors several types of animals, including livestock, camels, birds, cows, sheep, and fish. There are three chapters of the Qur’an named after specific animals, such as The Bee (Surah an Nahl 16), The Ant (Surah an Naml 27), The Spider (Surah al Ankabut 29) and The Elephant (Surah al Fil 105). We are encouraged to reflect upon animals and created beings as a means of gratefulness and appreciation towards The Creator. One’s treatment towards animals reflects one’s state of guidance; ethical treatment of animals is a sign of guidance and appreciation, while one’s mistreatment of animals is a sign of misguidance and ungratefulness towards the Creator and His creation. (Musa Furber; Rights and Duties Pertaining to Kept Animals) Our state of guidance is reflected in our behavior towards animals, making it of utmost priority to realign our behavior towards that which we were commanded and created to uphold.
As the Qur’an clearly outlines the proper moral and theological approach towards animals, the Hadith specifies how one should properly interact with and keep animals. The Hadith collections emphasize the overall necessity of mercy, avoidance of harm, and proper care towards animals. For those who mistreat animals, this is a major sin worthy of Allah’s punishment (Musa Furber; Rights and Duties Pertaining to Kept Animals). In a well-known hadith, reported from Ibn Umar, Allah be pleased with him, says “The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: ‘A woman was tormented because of a cat she had confined until it died and for this she entered Hellfire. She did not provide it with food or drink as it was confined, nor did she free it so that is might eat the vermin of the earth.’” (Muslim ibn al-hajjaj; al-Musnad al-sahih) For those who treat animals with mercy and compassion, there is a great reward with Allah Most High. The companions of the Prophet, Allah be pleased with them, asked the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace “O Messenger of Allah, is there a reward for us even for serving these animals?” He said ‘Yes, there is a reward for rendering service to every living animal.’” (Bukhari; al-Sahih)
In the modern global economy, there is a veil between humans and animals in terms of meat and dairy production. Although there is a growing movement towards farm to table, organic, and humane certified products, the vast majority of people participate in the industrialized agricultural system of slaughter, production, and consumption. Animals living under these conditions have little to no movement, are raised in inappropriate housing without sunlight or air, and face regular trauma and injury (Musa Furber; Intensive Animal Farming). All of these practices violate Islamic law and our religious principles. Animals cannot be raised under these conditions for the mere purpose of economic gain or efficiency. The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, warned the believers that committing unlawful acts affects the acceptance of our deeds.
Allah has enjoined us to avoid the doubtful and unlawful matters. This alone should be enough to concern us regarding our direct and indirect involvement in industrial animal farming production and consumption. As individuals and as a community, we must strive to prevent, alleviate, and offer alternatives to industrial animal farming.
Muslims are commanded to eat of the halal and tayyib, “O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Satan.” (Surah al Baqarah 2:168) We are reminded to do all things in the most excellent manner and with ihsan. This includes making conscious decisions surrounding our purchases and consumption of animal products and goods. How does one go about acquiring halal and tayyib products?
For starters, Muslims should purchase halal-certified meat products, preferably from local farmers and butchers. When inquiring about the farming and production practices of a halal farmer or business, one should be asking the following questions “Is the animal raised in a wholesome and humane environment? Is the animal distressed or mishandled during transportation? Are the animals slaughtered in an ethical and merciful manner? Are the animals killed away from the view of other animals?” (Ezra Ereckson; Animals in Islam).
This is easier to recognize when one purchases locally or as a group from a local halal butcher. In cases where this is not applicable or accessible, there are other options such as inquiring into the specific halal certification on the label and purchasing meat and animal products online. There is no standard government sanctioned or internationally recognized halal certification, so we must be cautious about this labelling. Most halal certifications regulate the slaughter of the animal, not the conditions in which they are kept or how they are raised. In terms of halal and tayyib meat and dairy products, Beyond Halal.org offers an online directory of farmers and businesses around the world which are providing quality halal meats and dairy products.
Mufti Musa Furber, offers several recommendations for individuals, communities, and scholars to address the inhumane production and consumption of animals. (Musa Furber; Intensive Animal Farming) Although Vegetarianism and Veganism are on the rise, these are not viable options for most of the Muslim community given that Islam still requires animal sacrifice for specific religious rites. Also, they do not address or counteract the mainstream practice of industrial animal farming. It is among the sunnah of our Prophet, and all the Prophets, Allah bless and give peace on all of them, to eat meat in moderation. It would be beneficial to reduce the amount of meat in one’s diet, or to adopt more healthy alternatives to meat products.
As a Muslim community, we must create alternative farming initiatives which raise animals in a lawful manner and provide permissible and nourishing products to the community. As consumers, we must strive to find lawful sources of meat and dairy, even at the expense of paying higher prices. Lastly, many animal products can be substituted by alternative materials and consumable goods. Furber challenges the scholars and religious leaders of our time to address many of these controversial legal issues related to industrial animal farming and halal certification standards. (Musa Furber; Intensive Animal Farming)
As believers, we are called to be an example to humanity and stewards on this earth. This is a great honor and responsibility. We must be willing to start with ourselves and address our own individual lifestyles. Then we can begin to work as a community to adopt and promote the ethical treatment of animals according to our tradition. We have been commanded to be stewards of the earth, to eat of lawful and nourishing bounty, to perfect our character and actions, and to treat all animals with compassion and mercy.
Cori Mancuso is a graduate in Religious Studies at Lycoming College. While seeking sacred knowledge, she develops content for SeekersGuidance and Sabeel Community.
As believers, we are well aware that there is nothing that happens beyond the gaze of the Divine. That Providence arranges things in ways that may not seem quite apparent to all of us in the moment, but that it is a staple in the ‘life-diet’ of the believer that the arrangement exists and is wise. In other words, ‘coincidence’ is, objectively speaking, something of an elaborate myth, meant only to explain to the modern secular mind that which we do not have the ability to necessarily comprehend. But the believer well knows that there is an adab (etiquette) to the workings of the world, and that the nizam (order) of time and space has umpteen lessons – if we would only pause to observe them. The racing speedster cannot be surprised when the natural beauties of the world pass them by. In truth, it’s only they who are passing.
In the hours following the New Zealand attack, following that awful and dreadful massacre, the very first congregational prayer (jumma’) was held at the almost completed new mosque in Cambridge, England. As one passes around the elaborate and beautiful building, one is struck by the symbolism of the tree-like structure within. The beams feel and look bright, and light – but they are made of timber, drawn from trees that that have roots deep in the ground, while gazing towards the heavens. That project has taken more than a decade to come to fruition – but just like the most beautiful of trees, which can take far more longer than that to emerge into their fullness, the mosque will, insha’Allah, materialise into a grand testament to the tenacity of the visionaries that sunk their efforts into it.
That, too, is the story of Western Islam. It’s a story that bears repeating, as we all collectively process the awful tragedy and calamity that befell our brethren in that part of the Western umma in New Zealand. A catastrophe that we must note, and take stock of, as we all continue to build and maintain the existence and presence of our communities of the West. The question remains – as, indeed, it always has – how we do so.
A few hours after the jumma’, I had the pleasure of addressing a group of young Cambridge students who were completing a reading of “Adab al-Murid” by Imam Abdullah b. Alawi al-Haddad, one of the most noted scholars of the umma. His closing advice and counsel (nasiha) to the reader is one that reminds us all that the path to spiritual excellence is indelibly connected to two things. The first is sincerity with God. The second is good conduct with people. Much of the closing part of this universal text is precisely that – reminding people that if they would follow God, then they must follow, in a practical sense, the best model of good conduct, which is His Beloved, the Prophet, ‘alayhi salat wa salam.
It is not always easy. It is a tall order. The Holy Prophet was a man who was not merely merciful; rather, he was a man who was mercy embodied. It is for no ‘coincidence’ that he is described in the very word of God as a ‘mercy to all the worlds’. Great sages have, for centuries, discussed at length how that mercy is then exemplified in his practice, his approach, even his basic mannerisms. And he was, it must be said, a man whose time was challenging, hard, and difficult. His enemies sought to obliterate his message, destroy his community, and negate the possibility of the survival of this religion.
Through his courage, wisdom and perseverance, we are who we are today – the inheritors of a noble tradition that has seen great adversity in the past, and yet has thrived. It will never be the sunna of this religion that we are despondent or in despair – rather, it is the practice and mark of this religion that we lift each other up out of worldly bondage, which includes the slavery of evil emotions and urges over ourselves.
But it is difficult. Because when the reading of the text – whether it be that one by Imam al-Haddad, or this one by this author – we all walk out that door into the world. A world where we know we will be faced by trials and tribulations. The answer to that remains – as it always has.
We know that God will never give us something we cannot handle – even if we might not like it. We know that we have been given all the tools we require – even if the medicine we might take is bitter. But as we note that world, we remember – it may appear, as one of our teachers reminded us recently, that the mountain is too big, and cannot be surmounted. But this is a travesty created of our own small minds – because every mountain can indeed be turned into a molehill, by the grace of God. Particularly if we seek to overcome through a heavenly breeze.
As the noble sage, Ibn Ata’illa al-Sakandari said: “Nothing is difficult, if you seek it through your Lord; nothing is easy, if you seek it through yourself.”
As we thus consider the path forward, we are reminded, therefore, of that primordial lesson – to be sincere with the Creator, and to engage in good conduct with His creation. We are reminded to be valiant to the oppressed. We are reminded to be chivalrous to the vulnerable. We are reminded to speak truth to the repressor. We are reminded to oppose the one who would victimise the weak. We are reminded to stand firm in the face of injustice – and we are reminded to do all of this with the intention of seeking the face of God.
Be forewarned – a reminder to myself as well to all of you – that there are no short-cuts in this regard. There are far too many among us who would seek to deal with the difficult situation that Muslims find themselves within by then engaging with the rhetoric and discourse emanating from the conservative right of western politics. In some peculiar way, they might be fooled into thinking that such ideologues, who share a nexus with the populist nationalism and white supremacism that led to the New Zealand attack, could somehow be turned into our allies.
What they fail to recognise, however, is that such ideologues are who they are precisely, and impossibly otherwise, because of how they view Muslims and the modern world more generally. It is not impossible that they might be shorn away from such frames – and, indeed, the world has seen this happen many a time. Muslims believe in the transformation of the basest, most rusty of hearts into the most illuminated of lights. But transformation means transformation. Do not fall into the trap of thinking such ideologues are somehow to be allies against a secular modernity animated by leftism, feminism, cultural Marxism, and all other ‘isms’. Rather, their aim is to play you in this game – and they know this game far better than you. Reject it, and ithbat makanak – hold your position, stand your ground, and be uncompromising against the compromising of principle.
Do not fall to despair, nor to despondency – because the truth is, history remains, as our sages often remind, in good hands. It is our task to be as we were and as we are – souls that remember that primordial covenant, where the lordship of the Divine is recognised – and which presupposes thus duties upon us. To be, as was stated, sincere with God, and to behave well with people.
We ask God to shower His mercy upon the beautiful souls that were taken from this world, and to grant them the highest stations of paradise; to admit them into the ranks of the martyrs; to strengthen their families, as they come to terms with their loss. To give us all the spirit of courage and bravery that the chivalrous embody; the power of heart that would hold forth against all odds; the fortitude of faith that would be as a light in our hearts, a fortitude that cannot be trembled.
Ustādh Dr Hisham A. Hellyer (Biography from ‘A Sublime Way: the Sufi Path of the Makkan Sages’)
A noted scholar and author focusing on politics and religion, Dr Hisham A. Hellyer was born to an English father and to an Egyptian mother of Sudanese & Moroccan heritage and Ḥasanī & ʿAbbāsī lineage. He was raised between London, Cairo and Abu Dhabi, before receiving degrees in law and international political economy from the University of Sheffield, and a doctorate from the University of Warwick. He began researching Islamic law, theology and spirituality in his teens, keeping the company of and studying under a number of classically trained-scholars in the UK, Egypt, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and elsewhere. They include the likes of Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, the former head of the fatwa department of South Africa’s Muslim Judicial Council, and the khalifa of the Makkan polymath and sage, Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki.
Dr. Hellyer’s career has included positions at and affiliations with the Brookings Institution, Harvard University, the American University in Cairo, Cambridge Muslim College, and the Centre for Advanced Studies on Islam, Science and Civilisation (CASIS).
He is a frequent commentator and columnist in various media in the United States, Europe and the Arab world, and is included in the annual global list of ‘The 500 Most Influential Muslims’ in the world (‘The Muslim 500’). Among his written works are ‘Muslims of Europe: the ‘Other’ Europeans’ (Edinburgh University Press), ‘A Revolution Undone: Egypt’s Road Beyond Revolt’ (Oxford University Press) and “The Islamic Tradition, Muslim Communities and the Human Rights Discourse” (editor)(Atlantic Council). Dr Hellyer works between London, Washington DC, and Cairo, where he continues to research, teach, and study. @hahellyer
Whether it is having debates on forums, writing lengthy Facebook posts, coming up with catchy tweets, or posting pictures of your student adventures on Instagram, the base assumption that every student (actually, every person) should have is that these are largely ways to aggrandize the self (nafs) whether one realizes this or not.
Spiritually, it is destructive for a student. From the perspective of ilm-seeking, it corrupts intentions and distracts a student from the higher aims of seeking knowledge: God. There is an element of putting oneself out there and assuming a role before one is actually ready to step into the spotlight. There are indications that one feels his opinion counts and needs to be spread (if you pass a glance at how many shares your post got, you know you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons).
There is a hidden desire that perhaps people should follow me – the layman taking the hand of the learned. Often times, there is argumentation, sometimes ill-will developed towards others, and the construction of a false image for the public. The consequence of this is summed up in a famous legal maxim:
“Whoever rushes something before its time is punished by being prevented from attaining it.”
If you are a beginner student, stick to studying and worship. Don’t waste the opportunity God gave you by occupying a station that He did not place you in.
This is a problem of my generation. Go look at our elders, such as Shaykh Nuh Keller, Shaykh Hamza, Imam Zaid, Habib Umar, Mufti Taqi, and others. How many of them were putting themselves out while still students? None of them. They waited. They focused their attention on what they needed to do – on seeking knowledge for the sake of God. They understood the statement of Ibn Ata’illah:
“Bury your existence in the earth of obscurity. If something sprouts before it is buried, its fruits will never ripen.”
They took counsel from their teachers. They rectified themselves spiritually in addition to gaining knowledge of the outward. And God eventually opened the door of scholarship and spreading knowledge for them… and how beneficial was it when it was opened at the time He desired and not when they desired it.
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.
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