The Pedagogical Power of the Mawlid, Pt II

In this second part of a two-part article, Ustadh Salman Younas discusses the mawlid and its role in strengthening identity and belonging, and as a source of knowledge acquisition and consolidation.

Discussions on the mawlid and its permissibility often occur in a context where the focus is primarily directed towards determining the strict legal merits of this practice. Commonly, the questions asked in this legal context relate to understanding the notion of sunna, defining innovation (bidʿa), identifying the textual sources supporting or repudiating this practice, and forwarding the opinions of classical jurists. It is seldom the case that people attempt to analyze the mawlid beyond strictly and narrowly defined legal considerations and recognize it as a rather complex social and cultural phenomenon.

This is despite the fact that non-legal considerations are often essential to the issuance of a sound legal judgment. Though debates surrounding the mawlid are often presented in rather simple terms today, several classical scholars sought to view this practice in a broader light when trying to determine its legal status and merits. One of the considerations they took into account was the pedagogical and cohesive power of the mawlid, and the concerns they expressed prove to be quite relevant to Muslims today.

The Modern Crisis of Identity and Belonging

The modern world has ushered in several monumental shifts. One does not have to look very hard to see that religion has increasingly found itself against the ropes where it is inflicted with repeated blows from the defining ideologies and myths of our times – secularism, liberalism, humanism, progressivism, nationalism, capitalism, consumerism, equality, freedom, evolution, science, etc. These have left their mark on virtually every level – from the way political institutions are defined to peoples’ basic social and cultural expressions.

This has had a profoundly negative effect on the believer, the way he identifies himself and understands his faith, and his ability to navigate life meaningfully according to the dictates of religion. In place of an overarching unity comes an incoherent multiplicity. The community (umma) is replaced with the nation-state. Humans are no longer the custodians of the world but exploiters of it. Rituals have been set aside for endless amusement and mindless play. Truth is drowned in a sea of irrelevance, and a culture rooted in the divine has been mutated into trivial culture. There is one word that describes this state of man: heedlessness, or ghafla. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf succinctly describes heedlessness in his commentary on Matharat al-Qulub (p.73):

The ultimate trauma of heedlessness, then, is not seeing things the way they truly are. It is choosing a way of living that allows divine signs to pass one up without notice. The Prophet supplicated that God the Exalted show him things in their reality, distinguished and clear: ‘Show me the truth as truth and give me the ability to follow it; and show me falsehood as falsehood and give me the ability to avoid it.’

Divine signs pass by man at every moment of his existence for as Aldous Huxley remarked, humans have “an infinite appetite for distractions.” (Brave New World) Though distractions are many, it is entertainment and pleasurable indulgences that are arguably at the top of the list. Certainly, the tools of distractions have multiplied in the modern era. Television is an obvious example. The internet is another. There is also the so-called “festival boom” identified with the 20th century that arose as a result of economic and social advancements: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, and Easter are but a few of the more popular ones. They often reflect the values of society and instill them in the hearts of people. Independence Day, for example, fosters patriotic fervor, national identity, and national unity, and it does so effectively because it is a communal event that elicits happiness and rejoicing. It is no surprise that society as a whole is drawn to these events and often take on-board the values and messages they convey. And such events and celebrations are now everywhere, recurring month after month, year after year.

While several of these cultural festivities seem fairly harmless, the questions a believer should ask himself are: What are these actions rooting me in? How are they meaningfully connecting me to God? Where are they turning my gaze towards? These are what define the Muslim. Indeed, the salient feature of the believer – as individual and community – is possessing a worldview rooted in God, cognizant of Him, guided by His instruction and wisdom. The worldly and mundane are not always perilous, but they often take one down a road of heedlessness and ignorance. The positive identity, purpose, and sense of belonging characterizing the individual as a member of a godly community of believers is lost, buried under increasing layers of distraction and confusion. It is only ameliorated through knowledge, which tethers one to God and His Prophet (blessings upon him).

The Mawlid and Knowledge Acquisition

Just as knowledge has the power to generate emotion, emotion also motivates one in the acquisition of knowledge and plays an important role in its consolidation. Classical scholars recognized this in the context of the mawlid and the appeal of “foreign” festivals. Abu al-ʿAbbas al-ʿAzafi authored a text entitled al-Durr al-Munazzam fi Mawlid al-Nabi in which he directs his concern towards the interest ordinary Muslims display for Christian festivals on the occasion of the birth of Jesus and Yahya, peace be upon them. On these days, Muslims partake in lavish meals with their Christian neighbors, exchange gifts, markets are shuttered, and even Qur’an schools grant pupils a holiday. Consequently, Muslims become firm devotees of these festivals and express a keenness to inform themselves of the histories that surround them.

According to al-Azafi, the love and attachment Muslims exhibit for these festivals is rooted in childhood and, as expressed by Marion Katz, “rests on the pedagogical power of pleasurable indulgences.” There is a power in festivals and joyous events that is not always present in simple religious instruction. Indeed, al-Azafi describes how he visited various schools to teach children about the prophetic sunna and the concept of innovation. He quickly realized, however, that his approach and method was insufficient in establishing these points of knowledge in their hearts and minds. An alternative to Christian festivals had to be created, one rooted in Islamic traditions that produce happiness and rejoicing in a manner people find memorable and inspiring: “Festivals are an occasion of delight, joys, permissible play and licit amusement… and the things [people] rejoice in are established in their minds like engraving in stone.” (al-Durr al-Munazzam)

The mawlid in the eyes of a scholar like al-Azafi served a more fundamental purpose. It was a powerful pedagogical tool that sowed a pious love for the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, in the hearts of people, an interest in his life and teachings, and a deep connection to his person. It provided an opportunity for the community to come together not just as participants in a mundane festival, but a festival rooted in faith that centered around spiritual self-cultivation and spreading love of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, through both discursive means, such as reading of the sira and poems, and material delights. Indeed, these two means complimented each other with permissible pleasures creating a space and paving the way for knowledge acquisition. As the great jurist and imam of the Zaytuna Mosque, Muhammad ibn Qasim al-Rassa’ (d. 894/1489), advised while approving the mawlid:

Everyone who feels longing and love [for the Prophet] ought to manifest delight and gladness (al-surur wa-al-bishara) on that night and the following morning and treat his children and wife to whatever he can afford in order to receive its blessings. He should entertain them and teach them that he did so simply out of love for that night, delight in it, and concern for its merit. He should explain to them that it is the noblest of nights in the eyes of God, because on it the Messenger of God was born, and mention to them the description of the Messenger of God, his beauty and comeliness, his perfection, virtues and moral qualities, his speech and eloquence, his generosity and magnanimity, his character and clemency, his forgiveness and tolerance, his miracles and signs, everything that endears him to their hearts and exalts him. He should also teach them poems praising and extolling him. I and every other person who loves the Prophet consider this to be judicious and well-considered (min husn al-ra’y wa al-nazar), because teaching something [to a person] in his youth is like carving in stone – especially since youths are enamored of wonders, and [the Prophet’s] miracles are among the most wondrous things. (Tadhkirat al-Muhibbin, trans. M. Katz)

Al-Rassa’ continued by stating that the positive atmosphere surrounding this event should be extended beyond the domestic sphere. School children should be asked to dress in fine clothing, their classes should be decorated, and gifts presented to their teachers. All people should partake in the benefits of the mawlid. Charity should be given, and people instructed in the life of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him.

In a time where Muslim children and adults find themselves enticed by a never-ending barrage of mindless entertainment and idle-amusement, the mawlid serves as a spiritual and religiously-rooted alternative. By appealing to the very same emotions and proclivities humans possess towards pleasurable indulgences and rejoicing, the practice of the mawlid has for centuries directing the Muslim collectivity towards something more transcendent, pure, and eternal. Its role in creating a community confident in its identity, united in its outlook, and grounded in love for its Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, should not be underappreciated, nor go unrecognized.

While the mawlid is not a panacea to the problems Muslims face, which are many, it has the potential to serve a valuable purpose in our society today when correctly practiced. Just as the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, replaced the festivals of Jahiliya with those of Islam, and just as the religion in general recognized the value of joyful celebration in creating a godly community of believers, the mawlid functions to replace the prevalent idle-distractions and amusements of our time with something more conducive to peoples’ faith and practice.


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.


The Pedagogical Power of the Mawlid, Pt I

In this first part of a two-part article, Ustadh Salman Younas discusses the Festivals of Islam, and the mawlid in particular, as a joyous expression of the greatest blessing from Allah.

Discussions on the mawlid and its permissibility often occur in a context where the focus is primarily directed towards determining the strict legal merits of this practice. Commonly, the questions asked in this legal context relate to understanding the notion of sunna, defining innovation (bidʿa), identifying the textual sources supporting or repudiating this practice, and forwarding the opinions of classical jurists. It is seldom the case that people attempt to analyze the mawlid beyond strictly and narrowly defined legal considerations and recognize it as a rather complex social and cultural phenomenon.

This is despite the fact that non-legal considerations are often essential to the issuance of a sound legal judgment. Though debates surrounding the mawlid are often presented in rather simple terms today, several classical scholars sought to view this practice in a broader light when trying to determine its legal status and merits. One of the considerations they took into account was the pedagogical and cohesive power of the mawlid,and the concerns they expressed prove to be quite relevant to Muslims today.

Islam and Communal Identity–Cohesion

Muslims are often left confused when it comes to questions of identity. Islam is presented to many people through the filter of a particular ethno-cultural community. This is then taught as the way faith is meant to be understood and practiced, which some manage without issue and others with varying degrees of schizophrenia. Of course, Islam as a universal faith largely transcends any particular ethnicity or culture, and the Shariʿa has established guidelines demonstrative of its accommodating and flexible nature. Generally, though, Muslims agree that Islam does bring with it a distinct identity in so far as identity is rudimentarily defined as the qualities of a people or group that make them different from others. In its theology and rituals, Islam distinguishes itself from other faith-groups, and those who accept Islam become members of a distinct community of believers who stand apart from others.

This point about community is important to take note of. Islam is not simply a matter of personal or individual identity, but a collective one that finds its greatest expression in the community. The most fundamental practices and pillars of Islam reflect the communal character of the faith. Prayer is at once a personal act of devotion to God demanded of each individual who is deemed morally responsible (mukallaf), but it is also inextricably tied to congregation and the mosque. In this manner, prayer forms a connection between God and the individual, and between the individual and other believers who come together as servants of God. Similarly, zakat is a pillar that quite clearly serves a social function. Wealth is collected from specific members of the community and distributed to others. The fact that several jurists stipulated that zakat be distributed locally further attests to the social dimensions of this pillar.

The various rituals of Islam, therefore, aim to create and uphold a vibrant, healthy, and godly community of believers. Membership within such a community preserves the faith of individuals, provides them with a sense of identity, self-esteem, and belonging, and motivates them to do good: “Assist one another in righteousness and piety, but do not do so in sin and transgression.” (Sura al-Maida 5:2) Indeed, our self-concepts and self-definitions are not simply based on the unique traits and characteristics of our individual self, but also our relational and collective-selves. On account of the aforementioned, communal identity and cohesion were at the core of the Islamic faith so much so that the very pillars of the religion were legislated with a view to achieving and sustaining them.

The Festivals of Islam

This concern to nurture a distinct identity among Muslims and create a healthy and vibrant community of believers also underpinned the legislation of the major festivals of Islam, namely the two ʿId’s. In a tradition related by ‘Aʿisha, the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said, “Every nation has its day of celebration, and this is our day of celebration.” (Bukhari) The function of these festivals as distinct markers of the Muslim community that set them apart from others is evident in this tradition. Indeed, other traditions mention that the two ʿId’s had come to replace the celebratory days that people used to observe during the days of ignorance:

The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, arrived in Medina during two days in which people were celebrating (yalʿabun). The Prophet asked, “What are these two days?” They replied, “We would celebrate these two days in the time of ignorance.” The Prophet said, “God has replaced these two days with two that are better: the day of sacrifice (al-adha) and the day of breaking the fast (al-fitr).” (Abu Dawud)

In addition to its role in developing a religious and social identity, fostering communal cohesion, and developing a universal Islamic culture shared among an otherwise diverse array of Muslims, the ʿId festivals were also catering to a deep-rooted and ineradicable element of human nature, namely the need to express joy, pleasure, and to partake in leisurely activity and amusement. The tradition of Abu Dawud cited above did not repudiate peoples’ engagement in celebratory activity or “play” but shows the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, providing alternative forms of celebration that were imbued with a religious character – not just play and amusement as seen in the tradition of ʿA’isha and the Abyssinians or the singing girls, but prayer, charity, maintaining family ties, spreading good-will, and thanking God for His blessings. In this manner, Islam made use of powerful human emotions, namely joy, love, and happiness, to evoke and instill religious sentiment in people and draw them closer to God.

While the Qur’an describes the world and worldly-life pejoratively as one of “idle play and amusement” (Sura al-An‘am 6:32), this applied primarily to people who had been distracted from God in these activities. The festivals of Islam, on the other hand, emanated from the faith, were rooted in it, and cultivated a community of godly individuals. These festivals demonstrated that Islam was a faith that understood and accommodated the needs of people. As the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said when observing the Abyssinians dancing in his mosque on ʿId day, “This is for the Jews and Christians to know that our religion has vastness in it.” (Musnad Ahmad) From the vastness of Islam was to provide a space for the community to collectively express its joy and thankfulness in a manner that was universal to all cultures: through celebration and festival. Like any other community, this collective expression and coming together in festive moments were integral to the identity, cohesion, and religious-rootedness of its members.

The Mawlid

The themes of identity, social cohesion, recognizing the human condition, and the power of pleasurable indulgences were considerations that scholars took into account on when justifying the practice of the mawlid. At its heart, the mawlid was a collective expression of thankfulness and joy over the coming of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, the greatest of creation and a mercy to all the worlds. Of course, humans manifest their thankfulness and joy in myriad ways: individually or collectively through a range of outward activities, such as praying, feasting, donning festive clothing, singing poetry, giving gifts, and so forth. The rituals of Islam themselves variously legislate these activities to express love, thanks, joy, and happiness. Indeed, they were an integral part of normative Islamic piety.

Given the plurality of human cultures and expressions, it would seem inevitable that communities would express their love and joy for the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, in different manners – each unique but united by a common, underlying motivation. So long as the individual activities that constituted the mawlid were permitted, many scholars reasoned that there should be no harm in partaking in this practice especially in view of the fact that the primary texts did not stipulate a particular form by which love of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, and rejoicing in him had to be observed. In this approach, scholars recognized and presented Islam for the universal faith that it was, one that brought under its umbrella an array of peoples who in the diversity of their tongues, tribes, races, languages, etc., expressed the most fundamental human emotions in different ways.

The mawlid when expressed as a celebratory festivity served similar functions as other festivals. It was a unifying occasion that brought believers together as a lively community of piety. It rooted and expressed their identity as believers, followers, and lovers of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him. It fostered pride in the community and strengthened connections between individuals. It motivated individuals to do good and reconnect with the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, by taking inspiration and assistance from others. It made people reflect on their history and the blessings of God – His greatest blessing, in fact. The benefits of the mawlid are innumerable, and its role in nurturing a community imbued with love of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, cannot be understated.


Adab 09: The Proprieties of Fridays

Ustadh Tabraze Azam writes on the proprieties of Fridays, the sermon, prayer, Qur’an recitation, and supplications.

Out of His pure grace, Allah Most High has blessed the Muhammadan community (umma) with a day as special and sacred as Friday. The Noble Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, remarked that Allah has made it “an Eid for the believers.” (al-Muwatta) A day of joy, then, blessings and magnificent rewards from an all-Generous Lord, if only we took some moments to pause and reflect.

It behooves us to recognize that Friday is not like any other day, but rather the chief (sayyid) of days, so we should endeavor to treat it differently. It is the day in which much good and righteous work, which may be otherwise lost or missed throughout the week, may be made up and surpassed. It is the day in which the bounties of Allah will continue to reach us in the hereafter, the day in which our sins from the previous week are expiated for, and the day for which the scholars have listed over a hundred virtues.

As the moments of our collective lives pass, we should strive to present ourselves before the sweet, graceful winds of Allah’s Mercy as they pass us weekly. And what better state than to greet them with complete gratitude (shukr) and full propriety, or adab, so that we can sow our humble seeds of sincere worship in hope of a momentous harvest in the next life.

The Purificatory Bath and Dress

The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “Whoever performs the ritual ablution on Fridays has done well; and whoever bathes has done what is superior.” (Abu Dawud) It is an highly emphasized sunna to bathe on Fridays for those attending the Friday prayer. The reason for this is so that the prayer can be prayed with the most complete form of purification out of veneration for the tremendousness of the obligatory, major, congregational prayer of this day.

However, there is a more expansive position that states the sunna of bathing on Fridays is unconditional, and thus, applies to all Muslims, whether they’re attending the prayer or not. This is particularly useful for life in a western context where many of those attending the prayer may be simply unable to bathe right before attendance. As an aside, some of the early Muslims (salaf) would use Fridays as an opportunity to engage in conjugal relations with their spouses, and then bathe accordingly, so that they could head out into the world with lesser worldly distraction.

Further, it is recommended to take care of one’s personal, bodily upkeep on Fridays, unless one is trying to uphold the recommendation of avoiding such upkeep during the first ten days of Dhu’l Hijja [namely, until one’s animal has been sacrificed, if sacrificing]. That includes clipping one’s nails, from both the hands and feet, shaving one’s underarm hair and the hair below the navel, trimming the mustache, and other similar matters. You should also use the tooth-stick (siwak) and apply perfume.

Thereafter, it is from the sunna to dress in your best clothes. Needless to say that if you cannot, due to work or other undue hardship, it would be excusable. But the basis is that venerating the prayer and the occasion is from venerating the blessing of being gifted with witnessing the day itself. Many scholars encourage the wearing of white because it was the type of clothing the the Blessed Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, used to encourage wearing most of the time. “It’s the best of your clothing,” he said, Allah bless him and give him peace. (Tirmidhi)

However, the practice of different lands naturally differs, so wearing lighter colors in the summertime and darker shades in the winter is also quite reasonable, and actually the custom in some Muslim societies. This is due to the fact that “white” could also be understood as lighter colors, because of the shared meaning, and darker shades will usually hide the effects of any adverse weather. But what is minimally expected is something dignified, modest and covering as this is the central point.

Qur’an Recitation: Sura al-Kahf and Other Chapters

Recitation of the Qur’an is a strongly encouraged act of devotion on Fridays. Many scholars note the virtue of reciting even the night before, which is, religiously, the “night of Friday,” as well as on the actual morning itself. Moreover, the evening before, Thursday night, is also a time to increase in glorification (tasbih) and seeking forgiveness (istighfar).

The most emphasized recitation on Fridays is that of Sura al-Kahf. Our Master, Abu Sai‘d al-Khudri, may Allah be well-pleased with him, said, “Whosoever recites Sura al-Kahf on Friday will have an illuminating light between this Friday and the next.” (al-Mustadrak) On the night before, some scholars have noted the praiseworthy nature of reciting Sura al-Dukhkhan and Sura Ya Sin, and even Sura al-Baqara and Sura Aal ‘Imran. Some have said that if one finds any of the aforementioned to be a high bar to uphold, then recite Sura al-Ikhlas much instead.

Nevertheless, whatever you can do, however little it may be, is superior to nothing at all. But strive to make your recitation meaningful. Take a moment to ask Allah Most High for the matters which are praiseworthy, and to seek His protection from the manners and ways of the godforsaken. Consider also using a copy of the mushaf which has the translation or exegesis besides it, if it helps.

Sending Many Blessings on the Prophet and Supplication

Of the greatest of actions a believer can engage in is sending blessings upon the Noble Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace. Sending blessings on Fridays is especially meritorious, as he himself instructed us. In a lengthier tradition (hadith) recorded by Abu Dawud, the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “So send many blessings upon me therein [i.e. Fridays], for indeed your blessings are presented to me.” ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud, the noted sandal-bearer of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, is reported to have encouraged recitation of the following on Fridays: “O Allah, send blessings upon the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace (allahumma salli ‘ala Muhammadin salla ‘Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).” (Hilyat al-Awliya’)

But of course, any simple formulation of sending peace and blessings upon him would fulfil this, even if it’s only “allahumma salli ‘ala Muhammad.” Interestingly, some of the scholars noted that sending “many blessings” means to recite at least three hundred blessings during the night and three hundred in the day!

In another tradition (hadith) of note, the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, informed us that, “Indeed, there is a moment on Friday that not a single Muslim coincides with whilst he is asking Allah for [something] good, except that He gives it to him.” (Muslim) The scholars have come to different conclusions regarding the indication of this tradition (hadith). Some said that it appears either at sunrise, at midday (zawal), after the mid-afternoon prayer (‘asr) or at sunset, and others said that it is at some point between the moment at which the imam takes his seat on the pulpit (minbar) for the sermon and until he says the exiting salams of the prayer (Muslim).

Ideally, one would strive to catch the varying times, even if only briefly. The reality of supplication, nevertheless, is that its greatest manifestation is when one asks with complete neediness and sincerity, maintaining a sense of presence of heart and mind in one’s intimate discourse with the Divine. Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah al-Sakandari remarked, “Whenever He loosens your tongue with a supplication, realize that He wants to give to you.” (al-Hikam)

Attending the Friday Prayer

An oft-forgotten sunna is to arrive early for the Friday prayer. Fortunately, especially given our busy lives, and particularly work on Fridays, contrary to the practice of many Muslim societies, there are varying scholarly positions of what being early entails, yet starting, generally speaking, after sunrise. The scholars would usually explain that the morning is divided into six parts, with those arriving in the first attaining the greatest virtue.

For all intents and purposes, getting there in sufficient time to get a place in the front row, besides the pulpit (minbar), with some moments of worship before the proceedings begin, would be sufficiently early for most and what the traditions (ahadith) are directing toward. The latter issue of being close to the place from where the sermon will be delivered is also a religiously legislated and encouraged action. The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “Attend the sermon, and sit close to the imam.” (Abu Dawud)

As you enter the mosque, it is recommended to intend the spiritual retreat (i‘tikaf) and pray the prayer of greeting the mosque (salat tahiyyat al-masjid), on condition that it is not a disliked time to pray. Practically, this would refer to the moment the sun is at its zenith (zawal), or highest point in the sky. However, given the disagreement on the issue among the legal schools, and even within the Hanafi legal tradition, it wouldn’t be necessary to correct anybody except from the perspective of wishing well and good for them (nasiha).

Imam al-Ghazali notes that it’s also virtuous to pray a voluntary prayer, reciting therein, Sura Ya Sin, Sura al-Sajda, Sura al-Dukhan and Sura al-Mulk respectively. (This is actually his dispensatory set of chapters!) After the entry of the time of the noon prayer (zuhr), the sunna is to pray the strongly emphasized (sunna mu’akkada) four cycles (rak‘as). The sunna is to pray another four cycles, with one set of exiting salams at the end, after the Friday prayer is over.

Finally, there are two miscellaneous issues to keep in mind. Firstly, what if ‘eid happens to also fall on a Friday? The overwhelming majority of Islamic scholarship held that the obligation to pray the Friday prayer remains, and nobody has an excuse to omit it. Not that it requires clarification, but the ‘eid prayer is a duty (wajib), yet the Friday prayer is a decisive obligation (fard), and getting priorities right would entail ensuring that the obligation gets taken care of before something lesser. And secondly, ladies aren’t obligated to attend the Friday prayer.

But if there is some benefit to be attained, such as being with religiously upright company (suhba), or hearing an inspiring lecture live, then it would be fine to attend on condition that (a) it doesn’t entail the neglect or non fulfillment of other duties, (b) the sanctity of the space is upheld by, for example, dressing in modest, covering clothing, and (c) there is a safe and dignified space for women.

The Sermon (Khutba)

Allah Most High says, “O believers! When the call to prayer is made on Friday, then proceed diligently to the remembrance of Allah and leave off your business. That is best for you, if only you knew.” (Sura al-Jumu‘a 62:9) The general rule is that whenever there is a sermon, one is duty-bound to remain silent and be attentive, irrespective of the language the sermon is being delivered in. As an aside, giving a sermon in other than Arabic in environments where Arabic is not understood is both valid and permitted.

The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “If you say to a fellow attendee on Friday, ‘be quiet,’ and the imam is delivering the sermon, you have slipped.” (Bukhari) Note that what is meant is that he has violated the sanctity of the sermon. The most emphasized of sermons is the one before the Friday Prayer, given that it is a condition for the prayer’s validity. Consequently, it is the kind of sermon that many people will often be in attendance for, and thus, it is important to know the details of how to act therein.

The moral obligation to remain silent extends to all forms of speech as the sermon is being delivered, whether it be saying the greetings of salams to a fellow attendee or “amin” to the imam’s supplications, and until the end of the prayer itself. Technically, the duty begins at the moment the imam proceeds to rise for the pulpit (minbar). What then of the position that the “moment of acceptance [of supplication]” occurs between the two sittings of the sermon?

The scholars explain that the supplication made in the heart at this time is also of real consequence, and the moment will not be missed by supplicating sincerely without actually uttering anything. Your spiritual state can also be a form of supplication (lisan al-hal). The imperative to remain quiet at this time is so emphasized that even in the case of harm, you would only say something if it cannot be averted by mere motioning and the like. (As for a pre-sermon lecture, one should give it the respect it deserves, but the rulings aren’t quite the same.)

The same applies to the sunna four cycles (rak‘as) before the Friday prayer, namely, that it is impermissible to pray them during the sermon as it would distract one from the duty to be attentive, let alone the recommended prayer of greeting the mosque (tahiyyat al-masjid). However, if you’re already praying, you may simply complete the prayer. If you do arrive late, and during the sermon, you would delay this sunna prayer until after the obligatory Friday prayer, whereby you would pray two sets of four cycles (rak‘as).

The only exception to praying at this time would be in the case that a person missed the same day’s dawn (fajr) prayer. The reason for this is that maintaining order (tartib) between makeup prayers (qada’) is also a duty, yet more so, since the subsequent prayer’s validity depends upon its fulfillment. Hence, you would pray in this instance to ensure that your Friday prayer is valid.

Praiseworthy Deeds and Actions

There are a number of other meritorious actions which can obviously take place at any time, but are specifically encouraged by the scholars on Fridays. Marriage ceremonies, for example, are ideally to occur on Fridays and after the mid-afternoon prayer (‘asr). Similarly, visiting graveyards on Fridays is generally praiseworthy, as is giving something in charity (sadaqa). Another tremendous act of devotion is the prayer of glorification (salat al-tasbih). This is specifically encouraged by the scholars as a prayer which should be prayed, at the very least, yearly. The person who can make a consistent habit out of it, such as on Friday mornings, is certainly somebody blessed and chosen by Allah Most High. Note that the prayer of seeking aid in memorizing the Qur’an is to be prayed on Thursday night.

As for traveling on Fridays, it is permitted without dislike, as long as you avoid doing so after the entrance of the time of the noon prayer (zuhr). In such a case, you would need to pray before heading out. Any type of trade after the first call to prayer (adhan), or anything which delays one’s attendance at the Friday prayer, is usually wrong and impermissible. Another issue is that fasting is both valid and permitted on Fridays. However, due to the fact that there are conflicting traditions (ahadith), and consequently differences between the jurists, it is perhaps superior, barring other considerations, to omit fasting that day unless it coincides with your fasting habit or you conjoin with a day before or after it.

In closing, let us remind ourselves of the virtue of those who die on Fridays. It is reported that the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “Whoever dies on Friday or its night is inscribed with the reward of a martyr, and is protected from the tribulation of the grave.” (Tirmidhi) We ask Allah to bring our hearts to life by virtue of our striving to bring our Fridays to life. And we ask Him to increase us in the great, lasting good deeds (baqiyat salihat), particularly those on Fridays, with the kind of sincerity and love that will be pleasing to Him for eternity.

And Allah alone gives success.


The Believer Is the Mirror of the Believer

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani presents five lessons we can take from the hadith, “The believer is the mirror of the believer,” and how to realize this in our lives.

It is a great blessing of Allah Most High that He has granted us the means of turning to Him on a daily basis with our obligatory prayers. On a weekly basis through the Friday prayer. To serve for us as reminders of our purpose and duty in life to turn to Allah, to submit to Him, to worship Him, and to express our gratitude and thankfulness to Him.

The worship that we engage in, what is the prophetic impulse – the impulse of our beloved Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him, in our worship? The impulse is thankfulness. It is gratitude. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said: “ Should I not be a thankful servant?

So we serve, Allah Most High, we submit, we worship out of gratitude and thankfulness, recognizing all the blessings that we have from Allah. And from the great blessings of Allah upon us is that He has sent to us a Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him, who granted us clear guidance that is easy to bring into one’s life. That transforms one’s life from the merely mundane, from the merely worldly into something that enables us to turn to Allah, to seek Allah, to take the steps to attain closeness to Allah Most High and contentment.

The Speech of the Prophet

Allah describes the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, as a mercy for all creation. “We have not sent you except as mercy to all creation.” And from that gift of mercy that the Prophet is, blessings and peace be upon him, is the way he gave us guidance. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said in the hadith related in the sahih: “I was granted encompassing speech.”

The words of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, are few. You will hardly ever find a hadith in which the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, spoke for paragraphs. He spoke in phrases and sentences and he said very little. What he said, blessings and peace be upon him, was full of impact. It was full of meaning. One of the countless marvelous hadith of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, is a hadith that we’re going to touch upon, which are the words of the beloved Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him: “The believer is the mirror of the believer.”

One of the reasons the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, spoke in words that are statements of wisdom, that he didn’t spell out everything, is to empower us as believers, so that we reflect on his example. And so that we can derive from it meanings that are not just specific to a particular context, but that are generalizable to any circumstance. It will speak to you wherever you may be. Whatever you may be facing.

The Reflection and What Reflects

“The believer is the mirror of the believer.” This is very intriguing because there’s two believers mentioned, and there’s a mirror. Which one are you? Are you the reflect the one who’s reflecting or the one who is reflected? Both are possible. I’m just going to touch on five lessons that one can derive from this hadith.

The first lesson has to do with the company that one keeps. A believer is a mirror of the believer. If you want to know your standing as a believer, your state as a believer, what do you need to do? You need to become someone who keeps good company. The company that you keep will transform who you are.

They say that when it comes to learning you’re affected as much by socialization, even at a high level of academic achievement, as you are by simply your intelligence and what you study. If someone wants to go into a field of research, for example, you’re affected as much by the company that you keep in terms of your achievement, as you are by your own levels of intelligence and your own study. There are many reasons for this, but it is very true in your state as a believer.

The Company You Keep

The company that you truly keep is not just the physical company that you keep, but what do you do on your on your time on, says, Facebook, because that’s virtual company. And what extent of that real and virtual company that you keep is a company of believers that you want to become like? The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, told us in another hadith that: “A person will be with those they love. A person is on the way of their close companions. So let each of you look carefully as to whose close company you keep.” Because that’s where you’re at in your din.

That’s both a warning to consider what company that you keep, both real and virtual, and also, what do you keep the company of people for? So you might become keeping company with the best of believers, with people that are really impressive, but you can just hang out with them because they’re cool or they’re fun to be with. In those kinds of situations it can just be hanging out and that’s good. But there’s a higher aspiration that you want to benefit from them as a believer, as one who believes in Allah and turns to Allah Most High.

You want to see the reflection of good qualities. Someone is generous. So don’t just freeload of them. Learn generosity from them. You have another friend you like being around her, because she’s always smiling. Try to take that as a mirror from which you benefit in your own standing with Allah Most High. Having a cheerful, positive countenance is beloved to Allah Most High. It’s from the wing of the beloved Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him.

The Sunna Is Balance

The second lesson has to do with being a mirror for others. What is a mirror? It shows you things as they are. Why do you look in the mirror in the morning? When you do look in the mirror intend to follow the Sunna of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, used to look at the mirror in the morning before he’d go out in public.

When he’d be out for an extended period of time, the beloved Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him, used to have certain things that he’d keep with him. Amongst them was a small mirror, because Allah is beautiful and He loves Beauty. And Allah means the Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him, beautiful, but he took care of his appearance for the sake of Allah. And also because how you dress and how you look affects relationships.

The sunna is balance. You take the benefit now you can derive from a mirror, but it is against us to not to look excessively. So you keep a mirror with you and you look and you fix yourself up without looking excessively. That’s what a mirror does. It reflects. It shows you what you need to correct. So you should be a mirror for others.

The Good Companion

Firstly, you should be reflecting virtue, so that you are the good companion. When people keep company with you, they benefit from the way you are. They benefit from your attitude. They benefit from your company. And it’s not a question of saying religious things. It’s not about talking din. It’s about living din. That you smile. That you have concern for others. That you’re caring. That you’re respectful. They’ll benefit from that company even if you don’t say a thing about religion.

The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, used to be silent most of the time in his gatherings with the Companions, may Allah be well pleased with them. They learned more from his silence than we learn from his speech, blessings and peace be upon him. Because the way he was in his relationship with Allah, taught them as much as his words, blessings and peace be upon him.

Be a mirror for others: 1) in the way you conduct yourself, 2) that you’re true to them. The mirror, if it is as it should be, shows you things as they are. They come to you looking for advice and you’re honest with them. You have sincere concern for them.

Sincere Concern for Others

If someone comes and says for instance: “You know I want to marry Zubayr. What do you think?” And you know that Zubayr is just a bag of problems, but he’s your first cousin. If they find out that you said that Zubayda shouldn’t really marry Zubayr, it’s going to cause problems. So you say: “Oh, you know, he’s a good guy.” And he’s not. That is not being a true mirror for Zubayda.

It entails being true in your relationships. Of course, with wisdom, with the intention of sincere concern and benefit. Not just out of harshness. The mirror doesn’t hit you. The mirror shows things as they are so that you’re able to improve. Reflect on that. Being a mirror for others is to inspire them to the good.

The third is to instill in them thankfulness. One of the sunnas of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, when you look in the mirror is that, if you find anything good you praise Allah Most High. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, had a dua that he recited. “O Allah, just as you have made my form beautiful, make my character beautiful.” It’s an expression of thankfulness, not an expression of conceit.

You spend a lot of money getting that haircut. You look at in the mirror, you don’t go into self-praise. You go into praise of Allah. It’s a blessing from Allah. Or you always wanted you know some effect of your martial arts, and finally you have a swollen nose. Finally you bloodied. Instead of feeling all that, you thank Allah Most High.

You try to reflect good for others by being true to them, by inspiring them by your own example, and thirdly by instilling in them a positive perspective. A lot of people are down. A lot of people feel sadness and sorrow. By reflecting in them, the good; by reminding them of Allah, about His blessings, you inspire them to be thankful, which is one of the purposes of a mirror.

Who Is the Believer?

The fourth lesson that we can learn from from the words of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, is to consider the believer here not to refer to an individual, but the believers at the whole. That in relation to the things that happen around us, what is the first response that we have as a believer? The MSA lost it lost its mind, let’s say, and they started protesting the film and the cartoons and this and that. What do you do?

Are you responsible for what’s going on in Islamabad or Cairo or Tunisia? No, you’re not. – If you are, go and fix what you did. – But you’re not responsible. The first thing that you do is to see what goes on around you as a mirror for yourself. When you see others exhibiting rage, anger, and ugly conduct, you’re responsible, first, for yourself. Are you out of control?

Maybe not all the time, but sometimes when provoked, when your dad starts talking Pakistani politics or putting down Punjabis or you know dissing Sudanese or Lubnanis or whoever they put down. How do you respond? It’s very easy to say those people over there, how come they do this? But very often we are, ourselves, the Firaun, on occasions. Then when you see things happening around you, you take a lesson. That’s true in the Qur’an as well.

Look to Yourself

When you read the stories in the Qur’an, you don’t say: “O, what a bunch of losers, Firaun and his people. It’s an address to you. You’ve see in it a mirror for yourself. “Do I have Firaunic tendencies?” If you do, then rectify yourself. You take what’s happening around you as a mirror.

Then you look at what public response you should have. If nothing else, you pray that Allah changes things for the good. You see what you can do about it, but the first thing begins with an inward response. Then what is going on.

The believer is a mirror of the believer: al mu’min. The al prefix in Arabic has very different usages. One of them is we say: “Hadha huwa al-rajul.” It can also refer to the one who had the complete qualities of rujula. Like the saying: “He’s the man.” Or they used to say. I don’t know if you guys say it anymore.

You say, “He’s the man,” meaning, he’s all that. He has what we respect in terms of manliness. So, the believer it is a mirror of the believer. Who is the believer? He is the Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him. Your relationship with the Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him, it is not just: “O, that’s so beautiful. He was such a kind person, masha Allah.” That’s supposed to be a mirror for you. That you see in that what the good is and you consider what you need to be changing.

Truly Reflect Prophetic Virtue

The true believer is the one who most truly reflects prophetic virtue. You always turn to the Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him, so that you can learn what virtue is. What good is. With what intention? One, to be inspired and that itself increases you in faith, but more importantly to look at what you need to be improving on. The mirror teaches you. That mirror is the act of reflecting on that image that is implanted.

It also tells you that you should have such clear knowledge of the Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him, you should be able to see that image of the Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him, so that you can reflect on it and be transformed by it, which entails learning about his example, his conduct, his character, his worship, his way in life. The way he was with others. The way he was with his Lord. These are some of the lessons that we can take of the many many lessons of the hadith.

The fifth lesson, and it’s subtle but many of the great scholars have mentioned it in their commentaries on the hadith. It’s metaphorical as mentioned by Shaykh And al-Qadir Jilani and by by others as well of the hadith commentators. The believer is the mirror as it were of the Believer, al-Mu’min, and that is Allah Most High.

Polishing the Heart

The believers’ heart is meant to be a mirror for the light of divine guidance. We know from the hadith of the Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him, that the heart is what Allah Most High looks at. Allah does not look at your bodies and forms, rather He looks at your hearts. The heart trusts so that it can no longer shine light. The heart darkens through one’s sins. The polish of the heart is seeking forgiveness and remembrance of Allah.

It’s not that you can see Allah in your heart in some physical way. No, your heart should be reflecting the light of divine guidance, the light of faith. And if you don’t find that, if you find that faith is a distant glimmer, it’s a flicker that you recognize once in a while, then know that you have a heart that requires polishing.

How do we polish that heart? The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said: “The polishing of the heart is the remembrance of Allah.” He said, “The polishing of the heart is seeking forgiveness. The polishing of the heart is to say, ‘la ilaha illa Allah,’ and keep your tongue moist with the remembrance of Allah.” So that the light of faith is shining in your heart. So that you find contentment and clarity and you can see things as they truly are.

May Allah Most High make us of those who recognize and reflect on and are realized in the meanings of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, saying: “The believer is the mirror of the believer.”

 


Leaving Sins, Both Manifest and Hidden

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani expands on Sura al-An‘am 6:120, detailing what it means to leave manifest and hidden sins, and to find contentment in Allah.

One of the times when people really hurt themselves is in trials, because outwardly the trial itself doesn’t harm you in any way whatsoever. Whatever happens outwardly doesn’t harm you in any way whatsoever. What harms you is how you respond to what happens to you.

If you drown in a tsunami you’re not harmed in any way. If you respond to it right; you accept that you die. You die a martyr. You’re eternally in paradise. You weren’t harmed. Someone beats you up, but you were patient. It’s not the outward that harms you. It is how you respond to it.

So in trials, knowing how you turn to Allah Most High, how you respond, is one of the greatest of possibilities, because if Allah loves the servant He sends them trials.

Whoever Is Content Shall Find Contentment

If you respond to the trial in the way that is pleasing to Allah, you are the beloved of Allah Most High. At the same time the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, told us that Allah sends us trials. Whoever is content with Allah shall find contentment. Whoever is angered, whoever is upset, shall find anger and upset.

Whoever is content shall find contentment, meaning that they’ll find Allah’s contentment and Allah will place contentment in their hearts. Whoever is angered and upset will find the anger and upset of Allah upon them. And they will find a heart state of anger and upset.

This is one of the hidden sins. No one sees it. And it’s subtle because it is not simply what you claim, but actually how you are. One way of looking at leaving outward and inward sin. Leaving outward sin is leaving disobedience to Allah Most High. Leaving inward sin is leaving objection to Allah Most High.

That is integral to faith. One of the pillars of faith is that you believe, that you have conviction in, and accept and submit and surrender to the reality of divine decree. That it’s good and it’s bad are from Allah Most High.

Trials Are Tremendous Opportunities

This is why trials are a tremendous opportunity from Allah Most High. The righteous would rejoice more in trials then the common person rejoices in blessings. As the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him said: “The people most tested are the prophets, and then the righteous, and there were those from the people before you who would rejoice more in tribulations than you rejoice in blessings.”

Why? Because they saw the trials, the tribulations, the difficulties as being opportunities of expressing one’s love of Allah. Of expressing the true thankfulness to Allah. Of expressing one’s slave-hood to Allah. Of expressing one’s recognition of the Lordship of Allah Most High.

Shaykh Abd al-Rahman al-Shagouri said: “The slaps of the beloved, how sweet they are.” Because the lover realizes that everything is from the Beloved, and everything that is from the Beloved is beloved.

Ibn Ata’illah al-Sakandari said: “Let your knowing that it is He who is trying you diminish the pain of trials.” And are you accustomed to anything from Him except excellence and has He has he made you habituated to anything but what is good for you? You just need to learn how to turn in each situation in the way that is entailed by that situation.

What Is Entailed by Leaving Sin

Part of what is entailed by leaving sin that is hidden his contentment and surrender to Allah Most High. This is from hidden sin and from the sin that a lot of people are in. “Why is a lot doing this to me?” You are married you wanted a happy marriage. That’s not the way of the believer.

What should the believer seek? “I consign my affair to my Lord. And Allah indeed knows well His servants.” He knows what they need. He knows what they’ll benefit from. He knows what’s good for them. Allah is telling us that He will test us both with good and with bad as a trial. And the trial of good is sometimes more intense than the trial of difficulty.

One of the great Imams of the spiritual path, Ibn Ajiba, in his dictionary of spiritual terms, says that rida (contentment) is to face destruction with a smiling face. Everything that’s coming to you is coming from Allah, so you face it with a heart that is smiling.

The Vision of the Believer

The believer sees with two eyes. One eye is the eye of faith. “Say, It is all from Allah.” At that level the believer is smiling regardless of what’s happening. It’s from Allah. This is the creating of Allah. If He is your beloved, the lover has no objection to their beloved.

Ibn al-Farid says: “Punish me with what You will other than distance from You. For You will find me the most loyal of lovers.” And this is love. This is how love is, otherwise it’s mere pretense.

Another definition of contentment is happiness that one finds in one’s heart as destiny (qada) descends. Qada refers to the blows of destiny. You lost your job and the heart should be smiling. It’s from Allah. You take the outward means because that is what slave-hood entails. You take the means but you see everything as being from Allah Most High.

Another definition of contentment is to leave your choice for the sake of Allah – in what Allah has chosen and made to pass. We make our plans, we take our means, but it is Allah’s choice that comes to pass and you surrender your choice to His.

Leaving Your Plan for His Plan

You are planning to do your PhD and you’ve saved for it and worked for it, and done this and that. Then something happened and your parents need you. They need you to work and not to do your PhD right now. So you leave what you planned for what Allah is pointing you towards.

Yet another definition of contentment is for one’s hard to find expansiveness and to leave all objection to what comes to one from the One and Overwhelming: Allah Most High. That’s contentment. Surrender.

This is a reality of Islam: it is taslim. To leave self-direction. That is that you try to force your preferences in life rather than submitting to what is from Allah and what Allah is pointing one too. Leaving your personal choice.

You take the means. This is what you’d like to do. This is what appears to be good. But as things unfold, if you are awake and conscious and reflective, other things are entailed. So as things unfold you leave your choice for what is preferable with Allah Most High. You leave what you would like to direct yourself to to what Allah is directing you to.

Consigning One’s Affairs to Allah

This is the meaning of consigning one’s affairs to Allah Most High. How do you attain this contentment in surrender? Ibn Ajiba says: “It begins with patience,” which is to hold yourself to what is pleasing to Allah. “And to struggle.” To force yourself to be content. To surrender. To say, “Okay, this is what is right. I’ll do it even though I don’t feel like it.” Fake it…

The first step is patience. The intermediate level of contentment and surrender is to find serenity and to hold yourself to serenity. When the thoughts of objection and dislike come, you don’t even listen to the whisperings of why. “The lover is death to those who deny love.” To be a believer you need to learn how to love.

The end of contentment and surrender – to be fully realized by contentment and surrender – is when you find rejoicing along with that serenity and no impulse towards objection or dislike. These are stations of believers, because in every moment you are in a state of being completely enveloped by divine bounty, and by divine mercy, and by divine blessings.

The Lover Moves by the Grace of the Beloved

Hence the divine command: “Say, in the bounty of Allah and His is blessing, in that let them rejoice,” (Sura Yunus 10:58) because the contentment and surrender is with Allah and to Allah, so that whatever comes from Allah is accepted. True contentment and true surrender is with Him, Most High.

This is a little of what can be mentioned regarding this great verse: “Leave sin, both manifest and hidden.” (Sura al-An‘am 6:120). One has to be careful that one not only leaves disobedience manifest and hidden, but also leaves objection to one’s Lord, Most High.

The first step on the path to Allah is to leave the thing that calls you to turn away from the path to Allah, or that holds you back on the path to Allah, which is what the essence of sin is. May Allah make us of those rush to Him and who draw close to Him. Amin.


Begin Right, Begin Light: New Year Message by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

As 2019 begins, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani encourages us to look forward positively and see everything around us as signs from Allah.

Much is going on in the world, much that can be considered stressful, disappointing and devastating However, the believer looks at the world as a sign of Allah.

The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, when he would wake up for night worship, would recite:

Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], “Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.  (Sura Ali Imran, 2: 190-191)

Signs in the creation point to the Creator. A believer looks from the eye of faith; everything in this world is from Allah. The struggle of servitude is figuring out how to turn to Allah in the moments where He manifests.

Life is about the Beloved, and there is one Beloved: Allah. The believer sees everything in their life as good, and reminds themselves about Allah’s call to seek Him and know Him.

When we begin something with Bismillah, we are saying, “I am doing this with Allah, for Allah, reliant upon Allah.” These are the keys to the beginning of guidance.

Let’s begin our year with light, and make our year a year of light. Let’s make everything for Allah, reliant on Allah, with Allah and conscious of Allah. If love for Allah is true, what is there to worry about? Everything else is mere dust.

However, there are things to do, so let us direct ourselves to the highest of matters in the best of ways, recognising our shortcomings.

May Allah grant us the most blessed of years, most blissful of years, a year of light, where we begin right and end right, beginning with Allah and ending with Allah. We are Allah’s and to Him we are ever returning.

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.


Shaykh Emad Effat – Shaykh of the Revolution, Martyr of al-Azhar

Dr H. A. Hellyer remembers Shaykh Emad Effat seven years on from his death.

Seven years ago today, Shaykh Emad Effat died of a gunshot wound when Egyptian soldiers clashed with demonstrators – of which Shaykh Emad was one – protesting against the country’s military leaders in downtown Cairo. He became known as “Shaykh al-Thawra” (the shaykh of the revolution) and “Shaheed al-Azhar” (the martyr of the Azhar). Seven years on, I still ponder a great deal about Shaykh Emad, what he represented, what lessons he taught those of us who believed in the January 25th revolution of Egypt, and the roles that religious leaders play today in the region from whence he came.

The Azhari

Shaykh Emad was an Azhari shaykh, in the old mold of what it meant to be an Azhari ‘alim (scholar). He earned several degrees: the first in Arabic language from Ain Shams University, the second in Shari‘a at the Azhar University, and then a diploma in Islamic jurisprudence, also from al-Azhar University. Before his more extensive studies in the Islamic tradition, he was more sympathetic to an ultra-conservative form of Salafism – but in his 20s, shifted to a more mainstream Sunnism.

He taught in the old rooms of the Azhar mosque, in a very traditional manner – and upheld the traditional methodology (minhaj) of the Azhari collective of learning. That meant, as Imam al-Saffarini describes it in his Lawami’ al-Anwar, the two major schools of theology (the Ash‘aris and the Maturidis), the minor school (the Athari or Hanbali) of theology, the Sunni schools of law, and Sufism. That is historically normative Sunnism, and the largest body of Muslims historically have followed precisely that. I’m not aware if Shaykh Emad was a member of a specific tariqa (Sufi order) – I do know that he taught texts from the orders, including the famous Hikam (Aphorisms) of Ibn Ata’illah, a luminary of the Shadhuli order of Sufis.
Shaykh Emad Effat
And at the same time, he was a deep believer in contextualization, in the finest tradition of his Azhari upbringing. As his student, Ibrahim al-Houdaiby mentioned of him, “The shaykh greatly respected expertise and listened closely to experts in all fields and gladly sought the advice of social studies specialists before expressing his opinion on something in their field. He criticized “preachers” and “shaykhs” who talk about God’s religion without being qualified.” How few, it seems, that pay genuine attention to this important note today, despite it resonating through the ages from various ‘ulama.

The Hasani and the Husayni

Shaykh Emad was also a member of the official Azhari establishment. By that, I mean he engaged in a rather direct fashion with officialdom writ large. From 2003 until his death, Shaykh Emad held the position of “amin al-fatwa,” or the “director of religious verdicts” at Egypt’s Dar al-‘Ifta – a part of the state’s Ministry of Justice, which issued religious verdicts to citizens and state departments that requested them. One of his most beloved teachers was the then grand mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa’.

But there was another aspect to Shaykh Emad Effat – and it was the aspect that led him to protest against the military leaders of Egypt in late 2011.

Ironically, one of the most vivid testimonies to that came from the grand mufti, who was immensely critical of that aspect of him. As Dr Waleed Almusharaf recalls, in a piece that deserves to be read again and again: “He never asked my opinion on going down to [Tahrir] square,” said the Grand Mufti, “He blamed me for not going there myself. He would say of it: ‘the air around Tahrir now, is purer to me than the air around the Kaaba.’ I criticized him for the statement.”

His widow, Nashwa Abdel-Tawab, said, “During sit-ins at Tahrir Square [in January and February of 2011, when the revolutionary uprising broke out], he would go to work in the morning and spend the night in the square.” Shaykh Emad believed in that revolution – as a way to “enjoin the good and forbid the evil,” as the Qur’anic verse stipulates. During the day, he would continue his work, as an ‘alim that was part of the official state apparatus. And at night, he went to Tahrir Square, and called for accountability of that same state apparatus. He saw no contradiction in that – but he did so on the basis of principle.

A dear friend of mine, bore witness to the fact that at one time he was in Shaykh Emad’s office, a policeman called Shaykh Emad on the telephone to ask about the permissibility of shooting unarmed protesters. Shaykh Emad was absolutely categorical – from within that same state institution – that this was absolutely forbidden (haram). Engagement with that state authority structure was something he did – certainly – but he did so on the basis of principle, and that principle included speaking truth to that same structure. As Dr Waleed Almusharaf reminded us, in what I describe as the “Husayni” aspect of Shaykh Emad Effat: “When the time for elections [in 2011] came, he declared, without fear of blame, his opinion that to vote for ex-members of the [Mubarak] regime is a sin outright, as it is to vote for anyone who has been proven to be corrupt, whether from the past regime or not.”

There was a sense of Shaykh Emad Effat bringing together what I would call the “Hasani” and the “Husayni” approaches to power. The former being an engagement with it, to minimize damage and lessen conflict. The latter being an opposition to it, through open declarations. For Shaykh Emad, they were intertwined – by consistency, by persistent adherence to principle, by a refusal to bow to authoritarianism of any type.

Consistency

When it came to the clashes in late 2011, his wife said, “He wasn’t able to join the Cabinet sit-in, but when he saw [the violence], he couldn’t just stand and watch people dying, so he went down to the protest.” “He didn’t advocate violence,” she added. “He was there to show solidarity with the protesters.”

It might be too easy to say “different strokes for different folks” – because the implication is that there isn’t a consistent principle at play here. But the reality is that the Husayni way of open opposition is appropriate in some situations – and the Hasani way of minimizing damage in another – and they are both Prophetic. And they both revert back to that age old set of prescriptions for the duty of “forbidding the wrong and enjoining the good.” Is such engagement effective? What about those who suffer from that engagement? What about those who would suffer without such engagement? What is the extent of that engagement that is necessary? Can it be limited? Should it be?

And if one cannot do it right and properly – then the option of staying out of it is not a bad option in the slightest. But then we apply the principles consistently. If I learned anything from Shaykh Emad’s example, it was that just because one bad power is not as bad as another bad power, it does not give that lesser bad power immunity from justifiable critique. In the world of the good, the bad and the ugly, the existence of the bad doesn’t give the ugly a free pass. And even when it seems unrealistic and difficult, striving to be of the good is its own recompense, in his world and the next – even if it means you’re damned by both the bad and ugly in response.

Nuances

But there were other nuances to Shaykh Emad’s life and witness, which were subtle, while immensely important. When Shaykh Emad went on protests, for example, he didn’t do so wearing his traditional Azhari garb. He purposely went almost incognito. His students knew he went on protests – and respected him for it – but he did not leverage his religious authority identity when he did so. He went as a son of Egypt, and even as a man of religion. Indeed, because he was a man of religion. He loathed the usage of religious imagery and language for unethical purposes. To one of his students, he said that he didn’t wear his Azhari garb, as he didn’t intend to represent the Azhari institution, nor Dar al-Ifta’, when he went on protests – he sought only to be there as an Egyptian concerned for his country’s future. “Love of one’s homeland is from faith” – a Prophetic narration that is questioned in terms of authenticity, but not in terms of meaning.

Ibrahim al-Houdaiby, also my friend, once tweeted about the massacre of the Copts in Maspero, which took place a couple of months earlier in Cairo. He declared that any talk which does not begin with the condemnation of the massacre, was “an affront to humanity and patriotism.” Shaykh Emad, who tweeted nine times in his life, added, “And to religion.”

That was the place of religious vocabulary in Shaykh Emad’s lexicon – to stand for truth against power, not in trying to explain away the abuses of power through verbal gymnastics. He was clear about that when it came to the Egyptian state – even though he worked in one of its institutions – and he was clear about it when it came to sectarianism. The Maspero massacre was nothing if not a sectarian outrage – perpetrated by state institutions, and defended by religious populists in the Brotherhood and others. Not Shaykh Emad.

I found that condemnation of the Maspero massacre doubly interesting, because it signified something very clear. It indicated to me – then, as it does now – that a man of religion like Shaykh Emad rejected authoritarianism and the use of power against the vulnerable by the powerful. Whether in the name of religion or otherwise; whether by the state, or by non-state actors. This, irrespective of his commitment to traditional Sunnism – or, I think he would say, because of that commitment. Shaykh Emad didn’t advocate complete disassociation from the corridors of power, though I believe he also respected this as a legitimate choice. But he was consistent.

Adab

In the years running up to the outbreak of the revolutionary uprising in Egypt in 2011, Effat wrote to al-Houdaiby, when he mentioned something about respect for shaykhs. The answering is telling:

“There are all these good words about respect for shaykhs, giving them leeway and excuses, but where is God’s right to His own religion? Where is the right of the public who are confused about the truth because shaykhs are silent, and your own silence out of respect for senior shaykhs? What is this new idol that you call pressure? How does this measure to Ahmed ibn Hanbal’s tolerance of jail and refusing to bend and say what would comfort the unjust rulers?”

“What is this new idol you invented? The idol of pressure! If we submit to these new rituals, to this new idol, we would then tolerate everyone who lies, commits sins and great evils under the pretext of easing pressure and escaping it. Oh people, these pressures are only in your head and not in reality. Is there a new opinion in jurisprudence that coercion can be by illusion? Have we come to use religious terms to circumvent religion and justify the greater sins we commit? So we use legitimate phrases such as pros and cons, the lesser of two evils, and pressure to make excuses for not speaking up for what is right and surrendering to what is wrong!”

“Shaykhs of Al-Azhar used to leave their resignations in the drawers of their secretaries and told them: if you see us submitting to pressure then hand over the resignation to the press. When they are honest to God, He makes them victorious and cherishes them.”

Ends

If there were two sentences I think summed up his life, it would be this one by his widow, followed by one of his students. The first was written about his life during the uprising – the second about his life, and his death, during the revolutionary period.

[Shaykh Emad] would go to work [in Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyya] in the morning and spend the night in the square. – Nashwa El-Tawwab

[Shaykh Emad] stood before the bullets and the rest of it. – Dr Waleed Almusharaf

But if I were given a chance to repeat something longer, perhaps it would be this – a recollection of his first lesson after Mubarak’s ouster in 2011, recalled by al-Houdaiby. Shaykh Emad was an exemplar of the inheritors of the Prophets – may we benefit from him, and may God perfume his resting place.

“I urge everyone, especially my students, to pause and reflect. The gauge is not the success of the revolution but taking a stand. Revolutions can be aborted, and sincere calls can be defeated. Some prophets, peace be upon them, will come alone on the Day of Judgment, some were killed, and that is not a measure of failure. Not at all; the gauge is one’s stand.

“Do not look at the consequence of what has happened but look at its nature and what it was. What was your position? Where were you? Why were some of us present in classes and at prayers, but absent at these blessed moments? We must reassess and hold ourselves accountable because God, with His mercy, extended our lives, and so this is an opportunity to re-evaluate. As long as we breathe there is room for repentance and revision. The end is the gauge. It is not too late. Perhaps what is coming is harder than what has passed.”


Ustadh 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 and Moroccan heritage and HHasani and ʿAbbasi 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, receiving ijāzāt from a number of them. 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


http://seekershub.org/articles/video/imam-haddad-neo-sufism-dr-hisham-hellyer/
http://seekershub.org/articles/video/nasheed-hub-qasida-burda-part-10-petition-ones-state/
http://seekershub.org/articles/events/mawlid-zawiya-masjid-cape-town-19-nov-2018/

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.