The Trodden Path (Episode 13): Shaykh Wasfi al-Masaddi

In this series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed of South Africa will take us on a journey through the lives and biographies of some of the most celebrated and well known scholars of the twentieth and twenty – first century. These historical accounts will provide us with refreshing insights and lessons, and motivate us to follow in the footsteps of our pious predecessors.


In this thirteenth episode of the The Trodden Path series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed writes on the life of Shaykh Shaykh Wasfi al-Masaddi of Syria.

Shaykh Wasfi al-Masaddi (1335-1431=1917-2010)

Wasfī ibn Ahmad ibn Yusuf ibn Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Jalil was a devout scholar, a faqih and an excellent orator and a spiritual guide.

He was born in the city of Homs in Syria in 1917 (1335). His father was a scholar, while his mother was from the al-Jundi family.

His father, Shaykh Ahmad was closely connected to Shaykh Ahmad al-Tuzaqli al-Turkumani al-Naqshbandi who in turn was closely connected to Shaykh Khalid al-Naqshbandi.

He learnt the basic essentials of reading and writing and mathematics from his father. His father was an Imam and a teacher at one of the mosques in the city and he was the young Wasfi’s first Quran teacher.

After his elementary studies he enrolled at the al-Madrasa al-Waqfiyya that was under the supervision of Shaykh Muhammad Zahid al-Atasi (d.1366=1947). He studied at this institution for six years during which he studied Usul-Fiqh of the Hanafi madhhab, Nur al-Idah and the text of Mukhtasar al-Quduri and al-Kamil by al-Mubarrid all under Shaykh Zahid. Shaykh Wasfi resembled his teacher in his recitation of the Quran and in his gait.

Some of his other teachers were:

  • Shaykh Muhammad Yasin Basmar with whom he studied Imam Nawawi’s collection of forty Hadith, Arabic Grammar, Logic and other subjects.
  • His son, Shaykh Abu al-Sa’ud Basmar with whom he studied Arabic Grammar, Logic and Mukhtasar Ibn Abi Jamrah in Hadith.
  • Shaykh Anis al-Kalalib
  • Shaykh Muhammad ‘Ali ‘Uyun al-Sud
  • Shaykh Ahmad ibn ‘Umar Safi (1276-1367=1860-1948) with whom he read Tafsir alBaydawi
  • Shaykh Salim Safi
  • Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadi al-Khoja (1373=1953) who was an excellent Hanafi faqihShaykh Wasfi studied Hashiya Ibn ‘Abidin and Sharh al-Qastallani ‘ala Sahih al-Bukhari. Shaykh Wasfi and Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Uyun al-Sud were fortunate to have had special lessons with the Shaykh in the laws of inheritance and they studied al-Sirajiyyah.
  • Shaykh Tawfiq al-Atasi (1283-1385=1866-1965) with whom he studied Hashiya IbnAbidin
  • Shaykh Najm al-Din al-Atasi  (1278-1352=1859-1933) with whom he studied Multaqa alAbhur
  • Shaykh Taqi al-Din al-Atasi (1285-1360=1868-1941). Shaykh Wasfi and Shaykh Muhammad Tayyib attended lessons in Hashiya Ibn ‘Abidin with him.
  • Shaykh Abu al-Saud al-Atasi (1303-1364)
  • Shaykh Ibrahim al-Atasi (1268-1359)
  • Shaykh Muhammad ibn Khalid al-Ansari al-Himsi (1287-1364=1870-1945).
  • Shaykh Abu al-Nasr Khalaf al-Himsi (1292-1368=1875-1948). He was a scholar and a spiritual guide who had benefited from many illustrious scholars including Shaykh Badr al-Din al-Hasani, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Jafar al-Kettani and his father Shaykh Salim Khalaf al-Himsi. His father, Shaykh Salim had taken the Naqshbandi Sufi way from Shaykh Ahmad al-Tuzaqli. Shaykh Wasfi also took the Naqshbandi way from him.
  • Shaykh ‘Abd al-Ghaffar ‘Uyun al-Sud who was a close friend of Shaykh Wasfi’s father.

He met some ‘ulama from Damascus but did not receive ijazah from them. They are:

  • Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id al-Burhani
  • Shaykh Muhammad al-Hashimi
  • Shaykh Abu al-Khayr al-Maydani
  • Shaykh Salih al-Tunusi

He graduated in 1936 and got married in the same year. He remained closely connected to the Mufti of Homs, Shaykh Tahir al-Atasi (1276-1359=1859-1940) under whom he studied Jamu’ alJawami, alTawdih wa alTalwih, alHikam al-‘Ata’iyya and was even given the responsibility of transcribing the Shaykh’s fatwa’s. 

A number of other ‘ulama granted him ijazah. They include:

  • Shaykh Muhammad al-‘Arabi al-Tubbani (1315-1386=1897-1966) whom he met during his Hajj in 1950. On this journey he also met Shaykh ‘Alawi al-Maliki, Shaykh Muhammad Nur Sayf and Shaykh Amin al-Kutbi.
  • Shaykh Muhammad Makki al-Kettani (1312-1393=1894-1973). This erudite scholar was the son of an illustrious scholar in addition to having studied under many luminaries. He was fond of Shaykh Wasfi and even suggested that the Shaykh be appointed as the guide and advisor for all Islamic activities. When Shaykh Makki passed away, Shaykh Wasfi was allowed to see the deceased before his body was taken from the home. On seeing him Shaykh Wasfi said that never in his life had he seen a deceased person like Shaykh Makki with beauty and nur clearly visible.
  • Shaykh Muhammad Yusuf al-Binnori (1326-1397=1908-1977) who studied under Shaykh Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri, Shaykh Shabbir Ahmad Uthmani and others. Many prominent scholars narrate from him. Shaykh Wasfi met him during the Hajj of 1950 and he granted ijazah to both Shaykh Wasfi and to Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Uyun al-Sud.
  • Shaykh ‘Abd al-Muhsin al-Ustuwani (1275-1383=1859-1963). He studied under some illustrious scholars who included; his father, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadit al-Ustuwani, Shaykh Salim al-Attar, Shaykh Sa’id al-Ustuwani and Shaykh Mahmud Nasib al-Hamzawi.
  • Shaykh Nu’aym al-Nu’aymi al-Jaza’iri (1327-1393=1909-1973) who narrated from Shaykh Muhammad Tahir ibn ‘Ashur, Shaykh Salim Bo Hajib and Shaykh Mahmud ibn al-Khoja. This scholar came from Algeria to Homs with the intention of studying the modes of recitation under Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Uyun al-Sud
  • Shaykh ‘Alawi al-Maliki (1329-1391=1910-1971) whose chains of transmission were compiled in a book by his son, Shaykh Muhammad ‘Alawi al-Maliki.

After his father’s demise in 1935 he assumed the responsibility of leading the Salat and teaching at the al-Qasimi Mosque. He had trained and acquired the skill as a public speaker during his father’s lifetime.  During his father’s last illness he fulfilled his father’s duties of leading the Salat, delivering the lectures and conducting lessons. He read Tafsir alKhazin with his father in the very mosque. He remained the public speaker (khatib) at the mosque until 1980 when he moved to Saudi Arabia.

He conducted a lesson in the Qasimi Mosque after Maghrib that was attended by students of sacred knowledge and another after ‘Asr for the public. Every Tuesday he had a lesson at his home and every Friday after ‘Asr in the main mosque. He conducted a lesson daily after Zhuhr at the Dalati Mosque.

During these lessons he taught Tafsir al-Khazin, Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Maraqi al-Falah, Hashiya al-Tahtawi, Shar’at al-Islami, al-Anwar al-Muhammadiyya an abridged form of al-Mawahib al-Laduniyya by Shaykh Yusuf al-Nabhani. His practice was to complete the entire book and then continue with another. There were times when he may have repeated a book. He remained dedicated towards calling people to Allah. One of his close friends and aides in the field of Da’wa was Shaykh Mustafa al-Sibai’. 

Shaykh Wasfi’s approach was one that relied on solid proof without any bias towards any religious group or faction. He adopted the way of his Shaykh, Shaykh Abu al-Nasr Khalaf al-Himsi.

Shaykh Wasfi was appointed as a teacher at the Shari’ah Institute that was established in 1946 and a year later he assumed administrative duties at the same place. He withdrew from teaching for about five years and thereafter he resumed where he continued until 1982.

The reason for his withdrawal is that the Shari’ah Institute was known to have had very high academic standards and much of this was attributed to the fact that an excellent teacher like Shaykh Wasfi taught the students in the former years, thus providing them with a firm foundation. However when he was assigned some administrative duties he taught the senior classes and with the result the former classes were neglected. He therefore felt that his presence at the institution was of no benefit and resigned. He returned to his teaching after persistence from his friend, Shaykh Muhammad al-Tayyib. In total he served the institution for thirty-three years.

In 1952 he was appointed as the official teacher of the region of Homs. This was during the period of the Mufti, Shaykh Tawfiq al-Atasi. He held this position until 1980.

He played a very significant role in preserving and renovating the mosques of Homs especially the Mosque of Khalid ibn al-Walid and the attached institution. He also contributed to the preservation of al-Mu’addas Mosque in 1977 that the Christians had tried to convert into a church. In 1978 he worked towards renovating the al-Qasimi Mosque.

In 1980 he migrated to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia where he taught Quran at the King ‘Abd al-Aziz University for about six years during which he also conducted some lessons in Sirah. It is interesting to note that when he had arrived in Jeddah, the university required his certificates. However Shaykh Wasfi had studied under the shuyukh and thus requested that the Shari’ah Institute in Homs issue him with a letter of recommendation acknowledging that he had served the institution for many years as a teacher. This letter was issued and on this basis he was appointed as a teacher at the university in Jeddah. He delivered the Friday sermon in the Abu Dawud Mosque in Jeddah for about twenty-five years. He had a weekly lesson in Fiqh, Hadith and Tafsir for people from Homs who were residing in Jeddah and another for Damascenes and a public lesson after ‘Asr during Ramadan. Many sort to meet him and even to pose their questions to him. Shaykh Salman Abu Ghuddah and Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahman Hajjar and others were among the many who frequented his lessons.

After many years he finally returned to Homs where he was warmly received by the ‘ulama and the public. He continued to move between Jeddah and Homs until he passed away in Homs on the morning of the 25th August 2010 (15th Ramadan 1431). The Janazah Salat was performed at the Khalid ibn Walid Mosque and he was buried in the Kathib Graveyard.

Shaykh Wasfi was a handsome man of fair complexion who was distinct with his clothing. He was an effective lecturer, a successful teacher and a person of captivating personality. His gatherings were filled with immense benefit. He was blessed with insight and knowledge from Allah.

His face was bright and radiant and some his students mentioned that if a person looked at him then he was reminded of Allah. In addition if a person wished to free himself from the anxieties of life, then merely sitting in the Shaykh’s company will be a source of comfort and peace. He was a person whom the young and the old, the layman and the scholar was attracted to on seeing or meeting him for the first time. He was extremely humble before the people and before his Creator. He was eager to serve people and in doing so was an example of kindness and generosity. He possessed immense love for Allah and His beloved Prophet Muhammad.

 


Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed is a well respected South African Islamic scholar who lives in Pretoria, South Africa. He studied at the King Saud University in Riyadh and the faculty of Shariah at the Islamic University of Madina. He has attained a M.A. in Islamic Studies from the University of South Africa. Through his extensive travels he has met and benefited from many senior scholars from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, India, Turkey etc. He has received numerous Ijazahs from the various scholars that he has met, studied with and served. He is currently a senior educator at the al – Ghazzali College in Pretoria.

He has authored two books:

Muslim Scholars of the 20th Century.

Muslim Scholars of the 21st Century.

He was one of the translators of Shaykh Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al – Maliki’s work: The Way of the True Salaf.

In These Last Days of Ramadan, Support the Spread of the Prophetic Legacy – Imam Yama Niazi

Imam Yama Niazi discusses the Islamic Scholars Fund and the critical importance of supporting students of knowledge and qualified teachers around the world.

“This is a fund that helps and supports our teachers, our scholars, our da’ees and those who call to Allah (subhana wa ta’aala) ).” – Imam Yama Niazi

We need your help to raise $1 million in Zakat and Charity to urgently support scholars in need around the world.

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) is reported to have said: “Scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets.” 

But in times of crisis, when our mosques and religious institutions are closed down, our scholars are left unsupported and struggling to survive. Taking up odd jobs to provide for their families, leaving our communities bereft of the light and guidance it’s in utter need of.  Therefore there is no better, more important initiative than the spread of knowledge. 

Don’t Let a Faith Pandemic Happen: Support Our Islamic Scholars Fund This Ramadan 

Give your zakat and charity to the Islamic Scholars Fund in these blessed last days of Ramadan to help deserving religious scholars and students. In these difficult times, knowledge has even greater impact; and your support will help it spread. 

Through your support and contributions of Zakat and Charity – to the Islamic Scholars Fund – you are directly helping deserving qualified scholars and students.  and becoming a part of the Prophetic legacy.

“The example of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah is like a seed [of grain] which grows seven spikes; in each spike is a hundred grains. And Allah multiplies [His reward] for whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.” [Quran 2:261]

Donate now to ensure scholars have the support required to continue their priceless service to their communities.

Support the spread of sacred Knowledge through the Islamic Scholars Fund in these last days of  Ramadan, by giving your zakat and charity to help us raise $1 million for deserving students and scholars in need around the world. 

On behalf of everyone here at SeekersGuidance, please accept our gratitude for everything you have contributed, and we pray you have a blessed end to Ramadan.

Wasalaam,

Waseem Mahmood
Business Strategy Manager

SeekersGuidance: The Global Islamic Seminary

 

In These Last Days of Ramadan, Help Sustain Sacred Knowledge – Dr. Hadia Mubarak

In the current global crisis, many deserving scholars and students have been left unsupported; knowledge is critical in these testing times, and you can help to sustain it’s spread.

Dr. Hadia Mubarak talks about the Islamic Scholars Fund and the importance of supporting students of knowledge and qualified teachers around the world.

“Whatever crisis we are facing never eliminates our need for accurate and reliable religious knowledge, so it is absolutely critical that we support religious scholars across the world.”  Dr. Hadia Mubarak

Don’t Let a Faith Pandemic Happen: Support Our Islamic Scholars Fund This Ramadan.

We need your help to raise $1 million in Zakat and Charity to urgently support students of knowledge and qualified scholars in need around the world.

Knowledge is critical in these testing times, and you have an opportunity by donating your Zakat and Charity to help sustain it’s spread.

This Ramadan, help people around the world find light and guidance by supporting deserving scholars. Give your zakat and charity to support scholars who need it, when their knowledge is needed most.

Hadith: The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) reported to have said: “Scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets.”  [Related by Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ibn Maja, Ahmad, Ibn Hibban, and others] 

Support the Spread of Sacred Knowledge through the Islamic Scholars Fund this Ramadan, by giving your Zakat and Charity to Help Us Raise $1 Million for Deserving Students and Scholars in Need Around the World. 

On behalf of everyone here at SeekersGuidance, please accept our gratitude for everything you have contributed, and we pray you have a blessed end to Ramadan.

Wasalaam,

Waseem Mahmood
Business Strategy Manager

SeekersGuidance: The Global Islamic Seminary

Support Seekers Spread Clarity in Confusing Times with Shaykh Abdul Rahim Reasat

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SUPPORT OUR GLOBAL ISLAMIC SEMINARY

SPREAD CLARITY IN CONFUSING TIMES:  SUPPORT SEEKERS SPREAD THE LIGHT OF GUIDANCE 

Help us raise $1,000,000 this Ramadan to reach one million students in our online courses.

With your support, SeekersGuidance has served over 250,000 students in our online courses so far. In 2019 alone, we have served almost 4 million unique visitors to our website.

However, in these testing times, the need to spread clarity and guidance is even more critical. Your support will help us reach 1 million students and tens of millions of visitors – so they can gain clarity and certitude in these confusing times. 

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Give now to our #SpreadClarityNow campaign, to spread clarity and guidance when it’s needed the most. You can support our Seekers Growth Fund in TWO ways

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No other Islamic Seminary reaches as many people, so consistently, so easily, with such clarity, so imagine how much greater that impact could be if we are able to increase this capacity.

“The example of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah is that of a grain that sprouts seven ears, each bearing one hundred grains. And Allah multiplies for whomever He wills. Truly, Allah is All-Bountiful, All-Knowing.” (Qur’an, 2:261)

On behalf of everyone here at SeekersGuidance, please accept our gratitude for everything you have contributed.

Wasalaam,

The Development Team

SeekersGuidance: The Global Islamic Seminary

SeekersGuidance is 501(c)(3) registered Not for Profit. Donations are tax-deductible in the USA.

Ramadan Seminar Q&A Session – Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

* Originally posted on May 8, 2018

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani answers questions on the fiqh of fasting, including the nullifiers of fasts, expiation for broken fasts, and the spiritual retreat.

Among the many questions and points Shakyh Faraz addresses, he mentions that if one breaks fast deliberately or by accident, the time of fasting is not over, and one is able to fast, then one refrains from everything a fasting person refrains from until fasting ends. This is a sign of contrition and remorse.

Hasten to Break Fast

The Shaykh also mentions that one should not delay breaking fast excessively out of a mistaken sense of piety or fervor. Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said:

قَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ أَحَبُّ عِبَادِي إِلَيَّ أَعْجَلُهُمْ فِطْرًا

Allah Mighty and Majestic said: “The most beloved among my servants are those who hasten to break their fast.” (Tirmidhi)

Be Tactful and Considerate with Others

But one must also remember that when in a group of people who believe they are in the right to delay, one must be discreet about the matter and not make disagreement a point of contention or rancor. If you consider breaking it in such a situation do it tactfully.

These and many others points and rulings are covered in this session. And you should listen to it even if you know all the answers as there is no harm and abundant good in reviewing what one knows and strengthening one’s knowledge.

May Allah grant us eternal success in the blessed month of Ramadan and in all the months He has decreed for each and every one of us until we are brought before Him. Amin.


Shaykh Faraz Rabbani spent ten years studying with some of the leading scholars of recent times, first in Damascus, and then in Amman, Jordan. His teachers include the foremost theologian of recent times in Damascus, the late Shaykh Adib al Kallas, may Allah have mercy on him, as well as his student Shaykh Hassan al Hindi, one of the leading Hanafi fuqaha of the present age. He returned to Canada in 2007, where he founded SeekersHub in order to meet the urgent need to spread Islamic knowledge–both online and on the ground–in a reliable, relevant, inspiring, and accessible manner. He is the author of Absolute Essentials of Islam: Faith, Prayer, and the Path of Salvation According to the Hanafi School (White Thread Press, 2004.) Since 2011, Shaykh Faraz has been named one of the 500 most influential Muslims by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center.

Support SeekersGuidance in our effort to bring the light of Prophetic Guidance to Muslims everywhere completely free of charge.


 

Getting the Most Out of Rajab – Habib Umar

There are a number of ways to get the most out of Rajab. Some of the most important are as follows:

1. Seeking forgiveness in abundance and making sincere repentance;
2. Making a sincere resolve to seek to approach Allah through performing acts of obedience and avoiding acts of disobedience;
3. Assessing your state, rectifying it and striving to follow the Prophet ﷺ in all that you do;
4. Improving your performance of the prayer by making sure that you implement the sunnahs pertaining to the prayer and pray with presence of heart. Also strive to pray in congregation in the first row without missing the opening takbir;
5. Improving your relationship with the Qur’an by increasing the amount you read and reflect upon daily and seeking to act upon it;
6. Being consistent in reading your adhkar in the morning and evening, after the prayer and in your varying states (such as eating, entering the house and preparing for sleep);
7. Improving your interaction with your family, friends, relatives, neighbors and with Allah’s slaves in general and the elect of His slaves specifically;
8. Fasting whatever days you are able to, especially Monday and Thursday and the White Days (13th, 14th and 15th days of the month);
9. Giving a portion of charity and doing what you can to help those in need and treating them kindly;
10. Worshiping Allah in these nights, especially in the last portion of the night. Improve your state at this time so as to enter into those who Allah praises in the Qur’an: Those who spend their wealth (in charity) and seek forgiveness in the last portion of the night.

The Trodden Path (Episode 10): Shaykh Esa Mannun

In this series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed of South Africa will take us on a journey through the lives and biographies of some of the most celebrated and well known scholars of the twentieth and twenty – first century. These historical accounts will provide us with refreshing insights and lessons, and motivate us to follow in the footsteps of our pious predecessors.


In this tenth episode of the The Trodden Path series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed writes on the life of Shaykh Esa Mannun of Palestine.

Shaykh Esa Mannun 1306-1376=1889-1956 (Palestine)

Esa ibn Yusuf ibn Ahmad Mannun was a great scholar of Fiqh, a specialist in the Shafi’ school and a reputable scholar of Usul-Fiqh.

He was born in 1889 (1306) in the village of Ain Kaarim on the outskirts of the city of Quds. This area was known for its beauty, fresh, unpolluted air, sweet, refreshing water and it was an area surrounded by grape and olive trees. Many would come here for their summer vacation on account of the beautiful environment and the generosity and affable nature of the local people. 

Shaykh Esa grew up in this pure environment. His parents were good practising Muslims with a noble background. His grandfather, Ahmad Mannun made sure, that his grandson while still very young, developed a thirst for knowledge and a love for reading and he encouraged him in every possible way.

His father, Yusuf, desired that his son work with him on his grape orchard, but the boy was not very keen. He would remain with his father for short periods, after which he would return to school. His grandfather helped him by speaking to his father and urged him not to let his son be distracted from schooling and acquiring knowledge. 

Thereafter, Esa dedicated even more time and studied with passion and a desperate desire in search of knowledge. It was then through the mercy of Allah that he was blessed by having had the opportunity of studying under a great teacher, Shaykh Yusuf Al-Habiyah, who devoted a lot of time and attention to the young Esa. Because of his intelligence and wit, he excelled way above his friends; as a result, Shaykh Yusuf taught him some additional lessons that were not included in the school syllabus. He taught him the Quran and helped him memorize it. Shaykh Esa also studied Arabic grammar, Lexicology, Fiqh and Tawhid after having grasped all the requirements of the school syllabus, which included subjects like mathematics, history and writing skills.

When he sat for the examination at the Darul Ma’arif in Al- Quds, he impressed the examiners to such an extent, that they were prepared to have him appointed as a teacher in one of the schools on the outskirts of the city. When he learnt about this, he pressurized his grandfather to convince a friend of his to intervene so he would not be sent to another area, as he was not prepared to leave his Shaykh, with whom he had spent so much time.

Shaykh Esa treasured the time with his Shaykh, even though it resulted in a decrease in his salary and reduced the possibility of being promoted.

He taught at the school for one year. Being fifteen years old, he was the youngest teacher at the school. He had a desire to study at the Al-Azhar University. In 1902 (1322), he intended to travel to Egypt to continue his studies. He faced some pressure from his parents, but he continued to be good and kind to them, until they finally granted him permission. During his time in Egypt, he was fortunate to have had the opportunity to have met and become acquainted with some of the senior scholars of the time.

It was his practice not to attend the lesson of any scholar until he prepared it thoroughly and understood it. When the teacher began the lesson, he listened attentively to find out if his understanding of the subject conformed to what the teacher said. In most cases this was true. The only reason why the teacher in many cases was better was because he had the chance to refer to many more and rare references that were not available to the students. Shaykh Esa however was admired both as a student and a teacher.

He had a great desire to benefit from the different scholars. He would rise before Fajr and after the Salat, he attended lessons conducted by the scholars. He sat with one Shaykh and after sunrise he would proceed to another and then another in this way until before Asr. Thereafter, he rested for a while and had his lunch. These lessons he attended were voluntary.

After Asr Salat, he returned to the Al-Azhar to revise his lessons and prepare the lessons for the next day. He continued in this way until late at night. When this was over, he would carry his books and return to his room to continue his normal routine from the morning. He was known amongst his friends for his hard-work and the effective way in which he utilized his time.

Five years after joining the Al-Azhar, the teachers at the University decided to introduce some new policies. They decided to place those students who studied privately under scholars of their choice in formal studies that would correspond with their academic level. They decided on a period of 12 years. For this they carried out examinations that were conducted by committees of Ulama. As a result of this examination Shaykh Esa was placed in the ninth year, even though he was only in Egypt for five years.

This encouraged him to sit and attempt the International Examination, which was only permitted to students after 12 years. He occupied himself during the vacation, and during his years as a student, he only went home once. He did not go home again until he was appointed as teacher at the Al-Azhar. 

Some of his most notable teachers were:

  • Shaykh Salim Al-Bishri, the Shaykh of the Al-Azhar.
  • Shaykh Muhammad Hasanain Makhluf, father of Shaykh Hasanain Makhluf who was the Mufti Egypt and a member of the Council of Ulama.
  • Shaykh Abdul Hakm Ataa, under whom Shaykh Esa studied Tafsir and Usul.
  • Shaykh Muhammad Ulayan who was known for his precise understanding and was a famous scholar of Tawhid and logic.
  • Shaykh Muhammad Bakhit Al-Mutiie, who was a renowned faqih and Usul specialist of his time. He was the Mufti of Egypt and a person with many books to his credit.
  • Shaykh Muhammad Abduh, who was also the Mufti of Egypt and a person known for his eloquence.
  • Shaykh Muhammad Al-Rifa’ie, who was a person who had dedicated most of his time and effort to the study of Hadith.
  • Shaykh Ahmad Nasr

Certificates and Acknowledgements:

The practice at the Al-Azhar was that a student studied with a Shaykh for a length of time. When he felt that he had the ability to enter the examination, he would present an application to the Committee of Scholars of the Al-Azhar. The examination was conducted orally by a panel of the senior ulama. This examination was very difficulty during which the student was tested on many subjects. 

Shaykh Esa presented his application and did not wish to waste time. When he realized that a month had passed and he still did not receive any notice of his examination, he continued with his usual practice. Many of his colleagues were eager to study with him because of his ability to clarify difficult issues. While studying and preparing for the examination he had the opportunity to go and enquire about his application. He was taken by surprise, when one of the supervisors asked him to immediately sit for the examination. He was happy and he praised Allah for this. He went forward without any fear or hesitation, even though he did not have with him any book to revise from. During the examination he answered by quoting texts from memory in a very eloquent manner. This impressed the examiners and they all agreed to award him the certificate with the highest results.

After completing the examination, he returned to his friends with whom he used to study. He informed them that he had just completed the examination that lasted six hours, and he was successful. They were thoroughly amazed. This outstanding event occurred in 1911 (1328). His success encouraged his friends to take the examination.

After having achieved this certificate, he was confident to try and obtain the highest academic certificate available at the time, at the Al-Azhar. This examination was very difficult because it included various branches of Shariah and the Arabic Language.

He began preparing for this examination. Usually there would be a time period of a few years between the two examinations. However, Shaykh Esa because of his exceptional intelligence, applied one year after he received the first certificate. He passed without any difficulty and all members of the examining committee were highly impressed including the Head of the examination, Shaykh Muhammad Shakir, the father of Shaykh Ahmad Shakir. This was in 1912 (1329).

The practice at the Al-Azhar at the time was that those who applied for this examination were given certain important sections and topics to prepare. The student would have to answer questions on these. This examination was also conducted by some of the most senior scholars of the Al-Azhar. The topics were chosen from sixteen different sciences of Shariah, namely: Fiqh, Usul-Fiqh, Tafsir, Hadith, Tawhid and subjects related to the Arabic language such as grammar, syntax, rhetoric poetry etc. Subjects like logic, research methodology and ahklaq were also included. 

Usually, a student, after he was granted the topics would choose a senior scholar who would help him prepare him for the examination. Shaykh Esa however, began studying and explaining these subjects to his friends and they were in no need to seek the assistance of another scholar.

On the day of the examination, he proceeded to the examination centre where the examination committee was present and was headed by Shaykh Abdul Hakm Ataa. Some examiners informed him not to hasten with Shaykh Esa because if they completed the examination in a short time, another student would be sent and there would not be sufficient time for that.

Shaykh Esa sat in front of the committee for about eight hours, responding confidently. They realized that he was different from the students they were accustomed to questioning. In his presence he was awarded his result, which too was an unusual practice.

Coincidentally, while he was in front of the committee, Shaykh Muhammad Shakir walked in and began questioning him on some intricate issues. The Shaykh answered eloquently and he left a lasting impression on the committee and the students and scholars at the Al-Azhar.

In 1912, there was no real need to appoint graduates as teachers, but the deputy of the Al-Azhar approached Shaykh Muhammad Shakir and asked if they were in need of teachers who could teach writing skills and calligraphy, Shaykh Esa was summoned to participate in a writing contest from which a teacher would be selected. Many prominent scholars in this field were present. However, due to Shaykh Muhammad Shakir’s acquaintance with Shaykh Esa, he was called to resume his post as a writing teacher.

When he arrived on the first day for lessons, Shaykh Muhammad Al-Dinari presented the time-table to him. He was shocked to find that he was assigned to teach all the subjects except Fiqh because the students in that class were all Hanbali while he was Shafi’. He immediately returned it, saying that it was wrongly assigned to him. Instead Shaykh Al-Dinari reassured him that there was no mistake. Shaykh Esa was very happy.

He remained a teacher in the first level for a few years, after which he was promoted to the second level, and then to the highest level in the Faculty. He was soon the most prominent teacher of Shariah. He continued teaching Usul-Fiqh to the fourth year students for a number of years. During this period, he wrote his book Nibrasul Uqul fi Tahqiqil Qiyas inda Ulamail Usul which was acclaimed by many scholars.

When the department for specialization was introduced, he was granted the task of teaching the students one of the most comprehensive books in Usul-Fiqh (Musallam Al-Thubut) and its commentary by Abdul Ali Al-Laknawi Al-Hindi.

In 1918, when only 30 years old, he was appointed to oversee the Syrian students and their dormitories. One of his accomplishments while serving in this position was when he noticed the absence of a good system to control the funds for the students. He studied the Waqf system and implemented it in such a way whereby he had excess funds at the end of every year.  He was also appointed to the section that prepared teachers for the various faculties. He was assigned the task to teach Tawhid and Usul-Din, a duty, he continued to do for a long time. He taught some of the most important and difficult works on the subject namely; Al-Mawaqif by Allamah Al-Iijee with its commentary by Allamah Jurjani and Al-Maqasid by Allamah Sa’d Al-Din Al-Taftazani.

On one occasion, there was a problem at the Syrian students’ dormitories. Shaykh Esa visited the Shaykh of the Al-Azhar, Shaykh Muhammad Mustafa Al-Maraghi with the intention of resolving the problem. Shaykh Maraghi enquired about where and what he taught: When he replied and informed him that he taught at the Faculty of Usul-Din and he taught the likes of Al-Mawaqif, Shaykh Maraghi was taken aback and he began questioning him on some complicated issues. Shaykh Esa explained to them clearly and confidently and this pleased and satisfied Shaykh Maraghi. He then enquired if he had any books to his credit. Shaykh Esa told him about his book Nibrasul Usul…. He asked for a copy then allowed him to deal, with the dormitory problems in a manner he saw suitable and further reassured him of any assistance in any matter. This incident was an acknowledgement and approval by Shaykh Maraghi for Shaykh Esa.

In 1939, Shaykh Esa presented his book to the Council of senior Ulama to achieve recognition and to be regarded as a member of the Council. He was unanimously accepted by all, despite being the youngest. The King of Egypt awarded him the gala uniform as an honour in 1941.

He worked with the endowments to improve the conditions for the students. The number of students he was responsible for would some times reach 500 and they included Palestinians, Syrians, Jordanians and Lebanese. 

He visited the students and discussed their lessons with them and motivated and encouraged them to devote more time and effort to their studies. Many prominent scholars came out from these dormitories.

His home was also a place of learning. Students would gather and benefit from him while many were preparing to sit for the examination. His gathering commenced after Asr and ended late after Esha. This used to continue for about two months before the examination. He did this voluntarily and with the intention of promoting Ilm.

When the Shariah Qada College was closed to foreigners, who did not have an Egyptian Certificate, he continued to intercede on their behalf until the students were permitted to study there.

In addition, when the various faculties were established at the Al-Azhar, one of the conditions of enrolment was that the student must have a high school certificate. This was not easy for most foreigners; as a result, they were deprived entry. Shaykh Esa again interceded on their behalf at administration level. They finally agreed, on condition that every faculty had its own entrance examination. This was another contribution to the Muslim World.

He had a lot of care and concern for the foreign students and would invite them to his home in Ramadan to break their fast. He would set aside certain times when students would visit him at his home and he entertained them on the days of Eid. He was like a father to them and would assist them financially and any other way possible.   

Many of these foreign students experienced great difficulties because of their lack of knowledge of the Arabic language, and as a result they could not further their studies. They complained and Shaykh Esa took up the matter with Shaykh Maraghi, and subsequently a committee was formed in 1941 headed by Shaykh Esa to look into students’ grievances. He presented some suggestions to the Shaykh of the Al-Azhar.

He had a special concern for the Palestinian students, especially after the disaster in 1948 when their access to food supplies was cut off. He worked with Al-Azhar Organization for the freedom of Palestine to try and provide some funds for these students. These were noble and virtuous actions that helped protect and nurture a nation.

Positions Held:

In 1944, he was appointed as Head of the Faculty of Usul-Din, because of his excellent administration and his compassion and because he was a person who was concerned about the welfare of the institute. He was able to disassociate himself from all controversies. He believed that the Al-Azhar was a trust from Allah, with which Allah had entrusted the Ulama, and because of it Cairo sparkled above the other cities. In fulfilling this trust, he visited the teachers and lecturers in their classes and listened to their lessons and he questioned the students to ascertain the level of their comprehension. Before leaving, he would advise them to listen to their teachers’ explanation and to prepare the lesson before coming to class. 

In 1946, after the excellent manner in which he administered the Faculty of Usul-Din, he was transferred to the Faculty of Shariah.

Co-incidentally Shaykh Esa was one of the ulama who questioned and examined Shaykh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah, when he was a student at the Al-Azhar and he was very pleased with Shaykh Abu Ghuddah’s answers and praised him in the presence of the examining committee.

Shaykh Esa remained in charge of the Faculty of Shariah for about ten years. Some of the reasons why he was so effective and successful are:

  • He would proceed very early to the faculty, at times before the staff.
  •  He was very precise in everything he did.
  • He was well acquainted with the students and the teachers.
  • He had a deep insight in selecting the panel of Ulama that was to examine the students.
  • He was concerned about the welfare of the institute, the teachers and the students.
  • He was not interested in amassing wealth or earning high salaries.
  • He advised the authorities to utilize the graduates in various departments of education.

He spent about 42 years of his life at the Al-Azhar, either teaching or in administration or even serving on various committees.

He was at one stage, the head of the Hadith Council and a member of the Fatwa Council and the Committee that reviewed the syllabi. He participated in many research projects in matters of waqf and personal law.

In 1954, he reached the age of retirement, so he requested from the administration to absolve him from administrative duties and to allow him to spend more time on academic research and writing. A function was held in his honour where students and scholars praised him.

After retiring, he remained at home devoted to his books. The Ulama of the Al-Azhar still did not want to leave him, so they appointed him as the Head of the Hadith Council that was set up to revise the book (Al-Jamu’ bayn Al-Sahihayn) by Hafiz Al-Humaidi. He maintained this position until he passed away.

Ever since his student days, Shaykh Esa had a love for books and he acquired many irrespective of the price. Once, he bought a manuscript, and after studying it he realized that it contained a portion from Imam Al-Nawawi’s book Al-Majmu’ in the Shafi’ madhab. He was very happy and encouraged the scholars to have it published. He was so impressed with the book that he decided to complete the book continuing from where Imam Al-Nawawi and Imam Taqi Al-Din Al-Subki stopped. He wrote about 100 notebooks of about 40 pages each after which, he passed away.

Even though Shaykh Esa was so busy, he still managed to write many books. Some of his books are:

 

  • Nibrasul Usul fi Tahqiqil Qiyas inda Ulamail Usul.
  • Completion of Al-Majmu’ by Imam Nawawi.
  • A treatise on the rules of Hajj.
  • Discourses in Tawhid and Usul – Fiqh. 
  • A Treatise, refuting the claims of those who wish to make Ijtihad in this era.
  • The law on killing an apostate.
  • Discourses on the Tafsir of some verses of the Quran that were aired over the radio in the month of Ramadan.

 

The above are his works that have been printed. Those not printed are innumerable.

His Personality and Character:

He was a person of lofty aspirations; he was honourable and trustworthy. He disliked arguments between the ulama. He opposed Taha Husain and his views regarding fasting in Ramadan questioning the one who really has the right to Ijtihad. He loved research and used his time to maximum benefit. He was very friendly in his approach and in his speech. He displayed a high degree of trust in Allah.

Death:

He passed away in 1956 (1376). Many prominent scholars attended his funeral including the Shaykh of the Al-Azhar, students, government officials and journalists. His Janazah was performed in the Al-Azhar mosque and he was buried in one of the graves near Imam Shafi’s grave.


Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed is a well respected South African Islamic scholar who lives in Pretoria, South Africa. He studied at the King Saud University in Riyadh and the faculty of Shariah at the Islamic University of Madina. He has attained a M.A. in Islamic Studies from the University of South Africa. Through his extensive travels he has met and benefited from many senior scholars from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, India, Turkey etc. He has received numerous Ijazahs from the various scholars that he has met, studied with and served. He is currently a senior educator at the al – Ghazzali College in Pretoria.

He has authored two books:

  1. Muslim Scholars of the 20th Century.
  2. Muslim Scholars of the 21st Century.

He was one of the translators of Shaykh Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al – Maliki’s work: The Way of the True Salaf.


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

Ibrahim: The Father of Prophets

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

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

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

Beyond Criticism

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

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

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

The Barren Valley

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

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

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

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

Fulfilment – Not Deriliction – Of Duty

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

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

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

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

The Tests Of Ibrahim

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

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

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

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

Projection

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

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

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

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

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

The Gifts of Hajj – Habib Umar

The Meaning of Hajj

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

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

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

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

 

Actions That Carry the Reward of Hajj

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Shaykh Hamza: Yes, Allah says in the Quran:

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الجِنَّ وَالاِنْسَ اِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوْنِ

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sufis have a famous saying:

مَنْ عَرَفَ نَفْسَهُ عَرَفَ رَبَّهُ

Whoever knows himself knows His Lord.

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

This is worship.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

أُحِبُّ الصَّالِحِيْنَ وَلَسْتُ مِنْهُمُ   لَعَلِّي أَنْ أَنَالَ بِهِم شَفَاعَه

وَأَكْرَهُ مَنْ تِجَارَتُهُ المَعَاصِي   وَلَوْ كُنَّا سَوَاءً فِي البِضَاعَه

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

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

I hate the one who trades in acts of disobedience

even though we trade in the same kinds of goods.

 

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

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

 

تَعْصِي الإِله وَأنْتَ تُظْهِرُ حُبَّهُ  هذا محالٌ في القياس بديعُ

لَوْ كانَ حُبُّكَ صَادِقاً لأَطَعْتَهُ  إنَّ الْمُحِبَّ لِمَنْ يُحِبُّ مُطِيعُ

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

This is something that is outrageously impossible,

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

أَيُّهَا العَاشِقُ مَعْنَى حُسْنِنَا   مَهْرُنَا غَالٍ لِمَنْ يَخْطِبُنَا

جَسَدٌ مُضْنَى وَرُوْحٌ فِي العَنَا  وَجُفُوْنٌ لَا تَذُوْقُ الوَسَنَا

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allah Most High says in the Qur’an:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Tomorrow,

Whether you accept,

or reject;

Whether you love,

or hate;

with a gift,

I’ll always remain standing,

by your door,

yearning for nothing,

 but a gaze.

This gift,

my failings have shattered countless times,

yet I hold onto it despite it’s imperfection.

I have nothing to give,

besides this gift of which I speak:

‘tis my heart.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

How can we correct this?

 

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

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

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

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

Imam Malik has a famous statement:

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

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

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

 

تَعْصِي الإِله وَأنْتَ تُظْهِرُ حُبَّهُ  هذا محالٌ في القياس بديعُ

لَوْ كانَ حُبُّكَ صَادِقاً لأَطَعْتَهُ  إنَّ الْمُحِبَّ لِمَنْ يُحِبُّ مُطِيعُ

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

This is something that is outrageously impossible,

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Allah, He says in the Quran:

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

 

What does it mean for God to love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

أنتمْ فروضي ونفلي

أنتمْ حديثي وشغلي

You are my obligations and my supererogatory actions.

You are my conversations and my occupations.

 

يا قِبْلَتي في صَلاتي،

إذا وَقَفْتُ أُصَلّي

O my direction in my prayer

when I stand to pray:

 

جَمالُكُمْ نَصْبُ عَيني

إليهِ وجَّهتُ كلِّي

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Allah says:

 

لَقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِيْنَ قَالُوا اِنَّ اللَّهَ ثَالِثُ الثَّلَاثَة

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

 

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

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

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

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

This does involve sacrifice.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

أَلْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ العَالَمِيْنَ

 

Praising Him is an expression of our love for Him.

 

الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

 

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

 

مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّيْنِ اِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَاِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِيْنَ

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

العُلَمَاءُ وَرَثَةُ الأَنْبِيَاء

Scholars are the heirs of the prophets.

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