Talk about Islam with Shaykh Hamza Karamali (Episode 2) – What is the purpose of life?

Dear Readers, welcome back to the second 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: Salam ‘alaykum Shaykh Hamza, As always, it’s a great blessing to be talking to you. In our previous conversation, we talked about the concept of religion, it’s relevance, and the experiential and logical proofs for it. Today, as a follow-up to that conversation, I’d like to pose a more practical question to you: What is the purpose of life?

Shaykh Hamza: Wa ‘alaykum salam Osama. I’m happy to be talking to you again! Let’s start in the same way as our last conversation: define your terms! When you ask, “What is the purpose of life,” what, in your mind, do you mean by purpose and and what do you mean by life?

Osama: Of course, that is a pertinent reminder. When I use the term purpose, I mean: the reason for which something is done or created, or, the reason for which something exists.

Shaykh Hamza: Okay great, let’s start with purpose; so you’ve defined the word purpose as, the reason for which something is done, created, or for which something exists. Now, someone who asks what the purpose of life is, and uses purpose to mean what you have just said, often doesn’t realize that he thereby presupposes many things. For example, someone who asks the question, “What is the purpose of life,” and means by purpose, “the reason for which something is done,” this person presupposes that life is something that has been done by someone for some reason. In the back of his mind, he is accepting that there is someone, a doer, a volitional agent who made the the phenomenon of life for some reason. Someone who says purpose is “the reason for which something is created,” (the second part of your definition) goes even further to presuppose that this doer, or volitional agent who made the phenomenon of life is God. The latter part of your definition, however–“the reason for which something exists”–does not explicitly reveal this presupposition. People who have this latter part of the definition of purpose in their minds may or may not presuppose that there is a Creator or Maker of life. Aristotle, for example, believed that all things exist for a reason that is embedded within them and that this reason drives them towards a particular end. He called this reason the “final cause” (telos) of things, and it was one of four kinds of causes that he postulated drove things in the world to change. I won’t dwell on these four causes now, but I will may have to return to some of them later as we will try to understand why a scientific understanding of the universe is often incorrectly equated with a purposeless understanding of the universe. So Aristotle believed that it was these final causes within things that gave them their purpose, not God. Aristotle did believe in God, but not in the same way that we do. More on that at a later point in our conversation, in sha’ Allah.

Osama: Sidi, these days a lot of people in the West do not believe in God, and most have not read anything about Aristotle. Don’t you think the presuppositions of modern people about the term purpose will be different to the ones that you have highlighted so far?

Shaykh Hamza: Yes, most people today would have different presuppositions about the term purpose because we live in a post-Enlightenment and postmodern world that is heavily influenced by a worldview grounded in modern scientific reasoning that seeks to explain the universe without any reference to God.  So today, when people ask the question, “What is the purpose of life?” they are most likely  not asking from the perspective of someone who believes in God, nor are they asking from the perspective of Aristotle, rather they are probably asking from the perspective of modern science. But I think that Aristotle is still important because people’s perspective today has its roots in a reaction to a Christianized Aristotelianism.

Osama: Can you elaborate on the relationship between modern science and this “Christianized Aristotelianism”?

Shaykh Hamza: Good question! To answer this properly, I’ll need to give you a brief history of modern science so that you can appreciate how we got to where we are now. Modern science came out of a period in the history of Western Europe called the ”Enlightenment.” I am saying quote-unquote “Enlightenment” in quotation marks because true “Enlightenment” comes from the light of Allah Most High that He sends through His prophets–”Allah is the protector of the believers: He takes them out of the darknesses into light.” (Qur’an, 2:256) “Into light”–in other words, He enlightens them. I think I talked about this period in our previous conversation, right?

Osama: Yes, I recall that you mentioned to me that this was a period in Western history in which oppressive and corrupt religion was displaced, through revolution in some places and gradual movements in other places, because oppressive religious state structures in Europe wronged people by denying them property rights, trapping most of them in a life of serfdom in which they were bought and sold with the land they belonged to, wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few people, and religious people would use religion to become wealthy.

Shaykh Hamza: That’s right, and in this conversation, I want to tell you something else about this period. Not only was this a period when the Christian Church was corrupt, it was also a period when it forcibly imposed a view of the universe that was, scientifically speaking, wrong. It taught by religious and political writ that the earth was at the center of the universe and that everything else–the sun, the moon, the planets, the stars–revolved around it. It took this position of Aristotle and “Christianized” it. (We’ll talk more about that later.) A number of scientists (most notably Copernicus and Galileo) challenged this view based on empirical evidence, but the Christian Church used its political authority to persecute and silence them. When, during the Enlightenment, the political power of the Church was taken away, scientists gained the freedom to use their minds and do science, and so science began to flourish. That’s what brought us to the world that we live in today.

Osama: I see, so from the perspective of the scientists, it seems that the Age of Enlightenment truly was, to a certain degree a period of “enlightenment” because it allowed intellectuals to reasonably question and critically examine the dogmatic teachings of the Church in order for the truth to prevail, right?

Shaykh Hamza: Yes, it was “enlightening” from the perspective that it sought to critically evaluate the dogmatic teachings of the Church, but the reactionary nature of the Enlightenment movement led to a hyper-correction in which things went from one extreme to another one. So they took steps towards enlightenment, but they never got there.

Osama: I learned from your “Introduction to Logic” course how Aristotelianism became a part of Christian theology by passing first through the Muslim world, and then from there to Christian Europe. I think that the introduction of Aristotelianism into Christianity–what you just called a “Christianized Aristotelianism”– led to the downfall of the state-sponsored Church in the Enlightenment. I think that Christian scholars, despite their intention to prove as valid the beliefs forwarded by their religion through rational means, failed to recognise the false-truths that were “unprovable” through rational means, like for example, the Trinity, which Christians to this day have a tough time explaining.  This type of blind imitation that rejects the rules of correct reasoning, I estimate, is exactly what the Quran asks us to abandon, when God urges us to use our intellects. I would argue that this type of intellectual reasoning, which sought to prove the validity of a religion that had admixed within it falsehood, and that had no access to preserved revelation, must have been what led to the development of tension between the Christian theologians and empirical scientists; and this is probably what brought about the Age of Enlightenment in the West. Scientists like Copernicus and Galileo must have justifiably been opposed to the authoritative imposition of incorrect intellectual and scientific positions. Now, I think that in their zeal to rid their society of false, corrupt, and oppressive religion, the Enlightenment scholars must have opposed anything that sought to justify it; hence Aristotelianism too must have become a victim of their justifiable and long overdue intellectual onslaught of false and unjust religion, namely Christianity.

Shaykh Hamza: Exactly! Alright, now that we understand why a non-religious scientific perspective has become the prevailing worldview that modern people–sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously–ascribe to, let’s return to our discussion of what pre-modern Western intellectuals would have presupposed of the term purpose. You should keep in mind that the incorrect scientific positions that the Church upheld were actually directly taken from the natural philosophy of Aristotle — that is why I mentioned him at the beginning of our conversation. One of the aspects of this natural philosophy that the Church found theologically useful was its emphasis on final causes (teleos) –the purposes of things, which I explained to you at beginning of our conversation too. We saw earlier that Aristotle believed that the purposes of things were embedded within them, and drove those things to change and realize their purposes. The Church appropriated this view of the universe from Aristotle and it interpreted the final causes of things in a way that was consistent with its own belief in God, which was very different from the way Aristotle believed in God. For Aristotle, God was like an inanimate cause that didn’t have a will, that didn’t have any volition, that couldn’t choose to do anything, from which the universe necessarily followed just like burning follows from fire. For the Church, on the other hand, God actually created the universe, so He was someone who acted out of His free-Will (this is also what we believe and also what Jews believes). So the Church took Aristotle’s natural philosophy, and the universe was interpreted to be a universe that God had designed with purposes that it was meant to fulfill. Now, Aristotle also believed that the earth was at the center of the universe, so they appropriated that, too, and made it part of their religious belief that the Earth’s being at the center of the universe reflects the fact that human beings are the most special creation of God.

Osama: Is this an illustration of why the science-versus-religion debate began in the Western world? It seems that the scientists were at odds with Christianity, and by extension Aristotelianism too, as it was used as a tool by the Church to prove its own theology and philosophy.

Shaykh Hamza: That’s right, so when scientists challenged the Church on scientifically incorrect beliefs like the earth being at the center of the universe, science and the Church became enemies, and that’s why the science-religion debate exists in the Western world. Aristotelianism, too, became an enemy of the scientists by both virtue of its conflict with science and by virtue of its historical association with the Church that forced its natural philosophy on others. Because of this enmity with the Church and with its accompanying Christianized Aristotelianism, scientists sought to understand the world in a way that was devoid of God and final causes. They said that they wanted to understand things not in terms of their final causes, the purposes that the Church had taught were embedded by God within them, but instead in terms of what Aristotle called the efficient cause.

Osama: I understand what you mean by the term final cause, but what do you mean by efficient cause?

Shaykh Hamza: The efficient cause was another one of the four causes that Aristotle believed in, and scientists sought to emphasise the efficient causes of things in the universe over their final causes in order to remove God and final causes from the philosophical–or, in a modern idiom, the scientific— analysis of the universe. Let me explain the difference between the efficient cause and the final cause. The efficient cause comes before its effect whereas the final cause comes after. Let’s say, for example, that I feel cold and so, in order to become warm, I wear my warm coat. The efficient cause of my wearing my warm coat is my feeling cold. My feeling cold (the efficient cause) comes before I wear my coat (the effect). My final cause, or purpose, or the reason why I wear my coat, however, is so that I can thereby become warm. My becoming warm (the final cause) comes after I wear my coat (the effect). The efficient cause drives me to wear my coat and if I am driven by a purpose (as all sane human beings are), then my purpose in wearing the coat (the final cause) is realized by doing the action, by my wearing my coat. So the final causes come after, and reflects the motive of the doer, and the efficient cause reflects the thing that drives someone to do it. In Aristotelianism, everything in the universe is alive and driven by purposes, similar to the way that human beings are. The seed has a purpose, a final cause, embedded into it. Its purpose, its final cause is to become a tree. And it has efficient causes that drives it towards becoming a tree–water, soil, and sunlight. Scientists who studied the universe sought to rid our analysis of the universe from these final causes, which were emphasized by the church in order to highlight the action of God, and focus solely on efficient causes. They thus got rid of both the oppressive Church and the irrational Aristotelianism.

Osama: This is an important discussion because one can definitely notice these subtleties when one studies science in college. We are not taught why the sun shines, or why flowers grow, or why it rains, but rather the emphasis is always on how the sun shines, or what makes flowers grow, or how it rains. The “why” question seems to be either ignored, or left for you to figure out for yourself, or is left for philosophy or religion. It seems like, as you pointed out, this is due to science focusing only on the efficient causes behind phenomena as opposed to its final cause.

Shaykh Hamza: Correct, and the reason for this is that modern science was formed in the crucible of all these tensions in the Enlightenment period. To illustrate the point you made about the way science is taught in classrooms today, you will notice that when you learn that plants grow through a chemical reaction called photosynthesis, in which chlorophyll converts sunlight into energy that drives an endothermic chemical reaction between carbon dioxide and water to produce glucose and oxygen, you don’t learn that God created plants so that livestock could graze on them so that, in turn, humans could benefit from the milk, meat, skin, and wool of those livestock (which is what the Qur’an, for example would tell us). You learn about efficient causes, but you don’t learn about final causes. Another example. When you study fire in your school science class, you learn that it is the visible effect of a chemical reaction called “combustion”, in which a flammable gas is ignited to begin an exothermic chemical reaction between that gas and between oxygen to produce water, carbon dioxide, and heat. You don’t learn that God made fire so that we could warm ourselves in the cold (as the Qur’an would tell us), cook food, and drive cars, trucks, and airplanes. You learn about efficient causes, but you don’t learn about final causes. This is what we do when we study science. We focus on efficient causes and try as best as we can to ignore final causes, to ignore any kind of purpose in the universe. (We are not always successful in this. Biology is a prominent example of our failure–it is impossible to understand the organs of the human body, for example, without reference to purpose.)

Osama: Shaykh Hamza, it seems like we have come to agree that the reason why modern people have presuppositions of the term purpose, which are grounded in an atheistic worldview influenced by scientism, is the because of the outcome that ensued due to the tension that existed between a Christianised Aristotelianism and the western scientific community prior to the Age of Enlightenment. We also seem to agree that the Enlightenment, was to a degree, enlightening because it freed western civilisation of false and oppressive religion, and allowed the western scientific community to finally pursue their intellectual endeavours without fear of persecution. I don’t see anything wrong with what happened in the Age of Enlightenment so far, what do you think went wrong?

Shaykh Hamza: Well, this modern scientific view of the universe is wrong, just as the preceding Christianized Aristotelian view of the universe was wrong. They are wrong in different ways, but they are both wrong. Deep down inside us, we all know that this modern scientific view of the universe is wrong. Despite the fact that our science classes teach us–sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly–that the things in the universe don’t happen for any purpose, that they just happen because a bunch of a atoms and molecules randomly (whatever that means!) bumped into each other, we still find ourselves asking the question, “What is the purpose of life?” The fact that we insist on asking this question despite our modern education reveals that we know deep down inside us that there is something fundamentally wrong with this view of the universe. The search for purpose is embedded into what Muslims call the fitra; it is embedded into our souls and primordial natures. Because of our fitra, our souls, our primordial natures, we instinctively search for purposes, and when science tells us that there is no purpose in the universe, only efficient causes, we know that there is something missing. That is why we ask about the purposes of things. That is why we ask about the purpose of life. My reading of the Enlightenment is that it  was also , in reality, motivated by a search for purpose because the Christianity of that time wasn’t doing its job for people–it wasn’t giving them purpose. So people saw in their fitra, in their souls, and in their primordial natures, that their purpose wasn’t being fulfilled and they were moved by the Enlightenment to discover the true purpose of their life. The trajectory their search for purpose took, however, went off-course. They missed Islam and hence missed discovering the purpose of their life. They went from one state of purposelessness (Christianity) to a state with even less purpose (modernism) to another state with even less purpose (postmodernism). Their search for purpose took them farther and farther from their purpose because they weren’t enlightened by the light of revelation.

Osama: There is a lot to unpack in what you  have said here. Why do you think the Enlightenment was motivated by a search for purpose?

Shaykh Hamza: Living in the Age of the Enlightenment wasn’t pleasant. It was a period of revolution and civil strife. One of the reasons why that strife happened was that people knew within them that the societies in which they lived didn’t fulfill the purpose of their lives. They knew that the dogma of the Church wasn’t fulfilling their purpose, so they sought to fulfill it themselves through their reason. That’s why the Age of Enlightenment is also called the Age of Reason, in which we were to free ourselves of religious dogma by not doing things because God told us to do them, but because we wanted to do them, This is what we call humanism.

Osama: Right, so civil strife and revolution was a symbolic of a deeper problem, which was that the dogmatic religious teachings of the Church weren’t fulfilling the purpose that human beings sought to fulfill, so in their search to fill this void, they resorted to humanism. What is humanism, what is its relation to the post-Enlightenment world, and to the larger question of purpose?

Shaykh Hamza: Humanism is centered around the human being. It is the idea that things should be seen from the perspective of “me” and “I” and how “I” as the human being in general can maximise my own benefit by using my reason. I use my reason to find prosperity, eliminate poverty, to spread tolerance, to attain happiness, good health, and longevity, to reduce the infant mortality rate, and so on. This is humanism. It produced the dreams of the Enlightenment. We went from an oppressive Church-oriented society, in which we felt upset, to this world, to the pursuit of these dreams. Now, these dreams are good, but they are not the purpose of our lives. As religious people, as Muslims, we want these good things, too. However, we were not created to achieve these dreams. We were created for God. When we look at our existence in this world through these dreams, we look at the world as though there is no afterlife. This leads to societies in which, once again, we know within us that the purpose of our lives is not being fulfilled. And, once again, we feel oppressed. This is how humanism relates to our larger question about purpose. As for the relationship of humanism with other post-Enlightenment ideas, let me give you a few reasons why it failed, and how western intellectuals resorted to other ways of thinking. Events of the 20th century have rudely woken us up from our dreams to reveal the senselessness, the purposelessness, and the oppression of our post-Enlightenment world of “reason”. 20 million people died in the four years of World War I, 80 million in the six years of World War II, and two nuclear bombs destroyed the entire cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All of the deaths of the two world wars and the dozens of modern conflicts since then have shown that as a result of human reason, as a result of the science and technology that was born out of the Age of Reason, the Age of “Enlightenment”, as a result of that, “enlightened” human beings have killed more people in the last one hundred years than they have in thousands of years before that. We all know this. We recognize this. And the rude awakening that the dreams of the Enlightenment are not meant to be, has left us disappointed and pessimistic about the Enlightenment project. From this disappointment has come a way of thinking that we call Postmodernism. Modernism  is the Enlightenment. Postmodernism is after the Enlightenment when we lost confidence in the Enlightenment project.

Osama: Before you go on, let me confirm my understanding here with you. So what you have argued thus far is that the Enlightenment produced various expressions of thought like humanism that were broadly grouped under modernism, and the dreams and ideals modernity called us to, through the use of reason, weren’t fulfilled because these ideals too were not the purpose of our life. Instead, because we didn’t pursue the actual ideals that were meant to fulfill our purpose, we ended up with events like World War I and II, which eventually caused the western civilisation to lose hope in the project of the Enlightenment and Age of Reason, as a result of which we find ourselves in a postmodern world, wherein the project of Enlightenment has been deemed to have failed. Am I following correctly thus far? If so, can you please explain what is postmodernism, and how does it relate to the larger question of purpose that we are investigating?

Shaykh Hamza: That’s right, you’re with me so far. Now, postmodernism is a pessimistic view of human beings. It’s the view that anybody who has power is corrupt and must always be suspected of harboring a desire to benefit at the expense of those under his power. (Sounds like pre-Enlightenment Europe, doesn’t it? Can you see how we’ve come full circle?) The goal of postmodernism is to curb the power of anyone who has power, to never trust anyone who has any authority, and to have the individual freedom to do whatever you want, to say whatever you want, and to interpret things any way that you want. Postmodernism is explicitly non-rational (the opposite of the reason-oriented spirit of Enlightenment modernism) and also explicitly purposeless. That makes it very difficult to have a reasoned dialogue with a postmodernist. It also breeds a non-rational anger, frustration, and vindictiveness in its most ardent adherents. That anger, frustration, and vindictiveness becomes its purpose. It has many different manifestations. Feminism is a manifestation of Postmodernism. Post-colonialism is a manifestation of Postmodernism. The LGBTQ movement is a manifestation of Postmodernism. Many kinds of strange art and music are manifestations of Postmodernism. The list goes on. Enlightenment humanism sought purpose in the abandonment of religion under the guise of reason. That failed to fulfill the purpose of our lives because it focuses on this world and turns away from God and the afterlife. Postmodernism was an offshoot of Enlightenment humanism and sought purpose in the critique of power and the promotion of an extreme individualism that seeks to disturb the norms of surrounding societies and seeks to stand out, but that, too, hasn’t helped us find the purpose of our lives because it, too, focuses on this world and turns away from God and the afterlife. Our purpose is found in true religion, in the submission of our souls to God through the guidance of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), and living this life for the afterlife. Where do we go from postmodernism? Maybe we are going to go to post-postmodernism (laughs) or maybe we will finally discover the revelation of Islam as being true (smiles).

Osama: Now, by mentioning that the revelation of Islam truly presents the world with a solution to its philosophical problems and  lack of purpose, you are bound to have many who are going to doubt this notion by pointing to history to say that religion has already failed us in the West, why should we trust it again?

Shaykh Hamza: Well, when we look back at the history of Western Europe and refer to the Age of Enlightenment as the Age of Reason we are saying that the Christian Church suppressed our reason and that we found enlightenment by using our collective social will to put an end to oppression and our minds to decide for ourselves what is best for us. The idea that the false dogma of the Church should not be accepted on authority, and that we find enlightened by using our reason is correct. But the idea that this happened in the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason is not correct. It didn’t happen then. It actually happened a thousand years before that time in the age of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), who called the ancient Arabians to turn away from the false dogma of the Qurashite idolatrous establishment, and to become enlightened by shining the light of divine revelation onto their lives and then using their enlightened reason (enlightened by divine revelation, in other words) to make choices that fulfilled the purpose of their lives. There are many, many verses in the Qur’an that tell us that the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) was sent to take believers out of the “darknesses” of disbelief into “light” of belief (e.g., Qur’an, 2:257, 5:16, 6:39, 13:16, 14:1, 14:5, and many others). There are also many, many verses that command us to use our minds. “Won’t you use your minds?”–afala ta‘qilun–is a common expression of censure that is mentioned at the end of more than a dozen verses. And the Arabian polytheists are frequently censured for clinging mindlessly to the customs of their ancestors and refusing to use their reason to discern the truth and follow it. There is not a single verse in the Quran that tells people not to use their minds, not to reason, not to think. Thinking and reasoning is what our religion is based on, and the first obligation of every human being is to use their mind, their reason to discern that God exists, that the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) is His messenger, and that God will resurrect us and bring us to judgment after we die. The first obligation of every human being, in other words, is to discover the purpose of their lives. Now, the Enlightenment thinkers also used their minds, but not to discover the purpose of their existence. They used their minds to expose the hypocrisy and contradictions of the Church institution and its beliefs. But they didn’t go all the way. They didn’t go on to use their minds to rationally show what the purpose of our lives is. They didn’t do that because their rational inquiry was not enlightened by the light of genuine divine revelation.

Osama: So you’re arguing that reason, when used correctly, is bound to lead human beings to recognise God and His true message to humanity?

Shaykh Hamza: Yes, that is correct. A common analogy that Imam al-Ghazali and other scholars used to describe the relationship between revelation and reason is that revelation is like a light and reason is like the eyes. So if you go into the entrance of a dark cave and shine a light, then you can use your eyes to find your way, but if you enter without any light, then you will grope around in the dark and get lost. Allah sends us prophets and messengers to bring us revelation, which is a light that enlightens our minds to help us reason clearly. He tells us that that the Torah that He gave to the Prophet Moses (upon him be peace) contained “light” (Qur’an, 5:44), that the Evangel that He gave to the Prophet Jesus (upon him be peace) contained “light” (Qur’an, 5:46), and He tells us that he revealed a “light” to the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) (Qur’an, 7:157), and that the Qur’an takes us out of darknesses into “light” (Qur’an, 14:1, 57:9, and 65:11). The Quran is a light because when you read it, it illuminates the way, and when you examine it, it makes sense. The Quran is guiding you to use your mind without any coercion and when you use this guidance and think correctly, you will independently come to the conclusion that Islam is true, Allah exists, and that He sent the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) as the last messenger. The Enlightenment thinkers were unable use their reason to discover the purpose of their lives because they weren’t enlightened. They didn’t have the light of revelation to enlighten their thinking and reasoning. You need the light of revelation in order to use your reason properly otherwise you will make mistakes. You might be correct on many conclusions, but you will make mistakes, not on every point–you might reach many correct and valuable conclusions–but on the things that really matter, the things that give purpose to our lives, you will make mistakes. There’s many good things that came out of the Enlightenment, just as there were good things that came from Aristotle before the Enlightenment. But enlightened thought requires revelation, and it is not possible for us to discover the purpose of our lives without recourse to revelation. In conclusion to our discussion about the Enlightenment, what I am saying is that calling what happened in Western Europe the “Age of Enlightenment” is a misnomer.

Osama: Why do you call the Age of Enlightenment a misnomer, especially, when it took the western world out from the dogmatic teachings of the Church?

Shaykh Hamza: It’s a misnomer because true enlightenment only comes through a mind that is enlightened by revelation. So when the mind is enlightened by revelation, the conclusions that it comes to will move a person to turn his soul towards the worship of Allah. It will move him to the fulfill the purpose for which he was created. In contrast, a mind that turns away from revelation and tries to be independent will grope about in the dark and make mistakes. Because it hasn’t been enlightened by revelation, it won’t see the light, it won’t know what it is supposed to go towards. This will end up destroying the soul by turning it towards the pursuit of worldly possessions — the “here-and-now” — and that pursuit is a feature of the Age of Enlightenment. The Age of Enlightenment has turned human beings away from focusing on God and the afterlife to focusing on the here-and-now, away from God to focusing on the human being, not as he was meant to be — someone who fulfills purpose of his life — but as someone who is focused on maximising pleasure and prosperity in this life.  Just look at the statistics: Canada, for example, is set to lose 9000 churches over the next decade because religion is no longer important to communities (link to: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/losing-churches-canada-1.5046812). Even though we believe that Christianity has been corrupted and has strayed from the original teachings of the Prophet Jesus (upon him be peace), it still officially promotes the ideal of living for God, for others, and for the afterlife, and goes against the Enlightenment ideal of the here-and-now, and the decline of those ideals in Canadian society is moving people even further from fulfilling the purpose of their lives.

Osama: If you hold the Age of Enlightenment to be a misnomer, do you have a different name that better describes that period in history?

Shaykh Hamza: A better name for what happened in Western Europe in this period is the “Age of Escape from the Oppression of False Religion”. So the Age of Enlightenment, in reality, was the “Age of Escape from the Oppression of False Religion”. If we, as Muslims, were to write a history of Europe, that is what we would call it. When “Enlightened” societies turned away from God, religion, and from focusing on the afterlife, they did this because false religion was being used to oppress people. They saw this and they turned away from it. They didn’t find enlightenment through false religion so they left all religion. The path to true enlightenment would have been to leave false religion and adopt true religion, enlighten the mind with the light of revelation to take the soul towards the purpose for which it is created, namely to love, adore, and worship Allah, and to focus on the afterlife. But that path–on a large-scale, at least–has not yet been taken. I want to emphasize here that the Age of Enlightenment–as Western historians would call it–or the Age of Escape from the Oppression of False Religion–as we would call it–wasn’t bad or evil. It was an escape from something bad and it was a step in the right in the direction because it threw off the shackles of blind faith and sought to discover the truth through the mind. These are all admirable things that we agree with. But just as the false and oppressive religion of western Europe didn’t give us the purpose of life, humanism and modernism, as I explained just a little while ago, also didn’t give us the purpose of life. That’s why people disappointed in the modernist project have turned to postmodernism. But postmodernism, too, doesn’t give us the purpose of life because it is anti-reason, and it is anti-purpose–that is the reality of the postmodern age and postmodernism. Postmodernism is, in many ways, even more entrenched in worldliness and even further from God and the afterlife than modernism was. So if we want the purpose of life, we need to turn to revelation, and to use that to turn with our souls towards Allah and the afterlife. Allah Most High says, “You prefer the life of this world even though the next life is better and more lasting.” (Qur’an, 87:16).

 

To be continued…


Osama Hassan is an Australian of Pakistani descent who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Finance from Curtin University. He is currently pursuing studies in the Islamic sciences and Arabic in Amman.


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The Ethical Treatment of Animals

Cori Mancuso reflects on the Islamic moral and theological approach towards the treatment of animals, the controversial practices of industrial animal farming, and provides practical advice and recommendations on ethical consumerism in the Muslim community.

 

What are the Rights of Animals in the Modern World?  

Animals are part of our everyday lives and environment; whether one owns a pet, keeps livestock, or eats meat. Yet few Muslims today are aware of Islam’s rulings regarding ethical animal treatment and consumption, or the centuries’ worth of scholarly literature on the topic. This literature reflects our scholars’ profound understanding of the rights and responsibilities that come with our relationship with animals. Modern agricultural and farming practices such as intensive animal farming, machine slaughtering, and animal experimentation, are among a few of the most controversial trends which directly oppose the Islamic moral and ethical treatment of animals.

As consumers and participants in the global world, it is essential that Muslims make every effort in aligning their actions and attitude towards a greater awareness of the proper treatment of animals in their everyday lives.

 

What Does the Qur’an Say About Our Relationship With Animals?

The Qur’an and Hadith outline the moral and theological significance of animals and their relationship with mankind. Allah Most High says in the Qu’ran “It is He who created for you all of that which is on the earth.” (Surah al Baqarah 2:29) Human beings were given permission to make use of animals in terms of transportation, clothing, shelter, warfare, hunting, food, and drink. (Musa Furber; Rights and Duties Pertaining to Kept Animals) The Qu’ran honors several types of animals, including livestock, camels, birds, cows, sheep, and fish. There are three chapters of the Qur’an named after specific animals, such as The Bee (Surah an Nahl 16), The Ant (Surah an Naml 27), The Spider (Surah al Ankabut 29) and The Elephant (Surah al Fil 105). We are encouraged to reflect upon animals and created beings as a means of gratefulness and appreciation towards The Creator. One’s treatment towards animals reflects one’s state of guidance; ethical treatment of animals is a sign of guidance and appreciation, while one’s mistreatment of animals is a sign of misguidance and ungratefulness towards the Creator and His creation. (Musa Furber; Rights and Duties Pertaining to Kept Animals) Our state of guidance is reflected in our behavior towards animals, making it of utmost priority to realign our behavior towards that which we were commanded and created to uphold.

 

Treatment of Animals in the Hadith Literature

As the Qur’an clearly outlines the proper moral and theological approach towards animals, the Hadith specifies how one should properly interact with and keep animals. The Hadith collections emphasize the overall necessity of mercy, avoidance of harm, and proper care towards animals. For those who mistreat animals, this is a major sin worthy of Allah’s punishment (Musa Furber; Rights and Duties Pertaining to Kept Animals). In a well-known hadith, reported from Ibn Umar, Allah be pleased with him, says “The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: ‘A woman was tormented because of a cat she had confined until it died and for this she entered Hellfire. She did not provide it with food or drink as it was confined, nor did she free it so that is might eat the vermin of the earth.’” (Muslim ibn al-hajjaj; al-Musnad al-sahih) For those who treat animals with mercy and compassion, there is a great reward with Allah Most High. The companions of the Prophet, Allah be pleased with them, asked the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace “O Messenger of Allah, is there a reward for us even for serving these animals?” He said ‘Yes, there is a reward for rendering service to every living animal.’” (Bukhari; al-Sahih)

 

Injunction of Eating Halal and Tayyib

In the modern global economy, there is a veil between humans and animals in terms of meat and dairy production. Although there is a growing movement towards farm to table, organic, and humane certified products, the vast majority of people participate in the industrialized agricultural system of slaughter, production, and consumption. Animals living under these conditions have little to no movement, are raised in inappropriate housing without sunlight or air, and face regular trauma and injury (Musa Furber; Intensive Animal Farming). All of these practices violate Islamic law and our religious principles. Animals cannot be raised under these conditions for the mere purpose of economic gain or efficiency. The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, warned the believers that committing unlawful acts affects the acceptance of our deeds.

Allah has enjoined us to avoid the doubtful and unlawful matters. This alone should be enough to concern us regarding our direct and indirect involvement in industrial animal farming production and consumption. As individuals and as a community, we must strive to prevent, alleviate, and offer alternatives to industrial animal farming.

 

Practical Advice on Ethical Consumerism  

Muslims are commanded to eat of the halal and tayyib, “O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Satan.” (Surah al Baqarah 2:168) We are reminded to do all things in the most excellent manner and with ihsan. This includes making conscious decisions surrounding our purchases and consumption of animal products and goods. How does one go about acquiring halal and tayyib products?

For starters, Muslims should purchase halal-certified meat products, preferably from local farmers and butchers. When inquiring about the farming and production practices of a halal farmer or business, one should be asking the following questions “Is the animal raised in a wholesome and humane environment? Is the animal distressed or mishandled during transportation? Are the animals slaughtered in an ethical and merciful manner? Are the animals killed away from the view of other animals?” (Ezra Ereckson; Animals in Islam).

This is easier to recognize when one purchases locally or as a group from a local halal butcher. In cases where this is not applicable or accessible, there are other options such as inquiring into the specific halal certification on the label and purchasing meat and animal products online. There is no standard government sanctioned or internationally recognized halal certification, so we must be cautious about this labelling. Most halal certifications regulate the slaughter of the animal, not the conditions in which they are kept or how they are raised. In terms of halal and tayyib meat and dairy products, Beyond Halal.org offers an online directory of farmers and businesses around the world which are providing quality halal meats and dairy products.

Mufti Musa Furber, offers several recommendations for individuals, communities, and scholars to address the inhumane production and consumption of animals. (Musa Furber; Intensive Animal Farming) Although Vegetarianism and Veganism are on the rise, these are not viable options for most of the Muslim community given that Islam still requires animal sacrifice for specific religious rites. Also, they do not address or counteract the mainstream practice of industrial animal farming. It is among the sunnah of our Prophet, and all the Prophets, Allah bless and give peace on all of them, to eat meat in moderation. It would be beneficial to reduce the amount of meat in one’s diet, or to adopt more healthy alternatives to meat products.

As a Muslim community, we must create alternative farming initiatives which raise animals in a lawful manner and provide permissible and nourishing products to the community. As consumers, we must strive to find lawful sources of meat and dairy, even at the expense of paying higher prices. Lastly, many animal products can be substituted by alternative materials and consumable goods. Furber challenges the scholars and religious leaders of our time to address many of these controversial legal issues related to industrial animal farming and halal certification standards. (Musa Furber; Intensive Animal Farming)

 

As believers, we are called to be an example to humanity and stewards on this earth. This is a great honor and responsibility. We must be willing to start with ourselves and address our own individual lifestyles. Then we can begin to work as a community to adopt and promote the ethical treatment of animals according to our tradition. We have been commanded to be stewards of the earth, to eat of lawful and nourishing bounty, to perfect our character and actions, and to treat all animals with compassion and mercy.


Cori Mancuso is a graduate in Religious Studies at Lycoming College. While seeking sacred knowledge, she develops content for SeekersGuidance and Sabeel Community.


 

The New Zealand Massacre – Shaykh Nuh Keller

Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller writes a touching and inspiriting letter to the Muslim community in the wake of the New Zealand massacre. New Zealand massacre

In the Name of Allah Most Merciful and Compassionate

Letter to New Zealand
Saturday 16 March 2019

Brothers and Sisters:
as-Salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatu Llahi wa barakatuh, wa ba‘d:

All praise is Allah’s for all of His blessings, inward and outward; And the highest of blessings and peace unto His prophet Muhammad and all who follow him until the end of days.

In the Name of Allah Most Merciful and Compassionate:
How gloriously exalted in beneficence above all
is He in whose hand alone is sovereignty;
And He has absolute power to do anything.
Who created death and life
to try you as to which of you is better in works;
And He is the Invincible, the All-forgiving (Koran 67:1–2).

Allah tells us the Angel of Death will inexorably overtake each of us, believer and unbeliever: to the believer a complete relief, but to those with no belief a dreadful disaster:

‘Our Lord, and enter them into
lush groves of Eden that You have promised them,
with all who were righteous of their forefathers, their wives, and their offspring:
Verily it is You who are the All-powerful, the All-wise.
‘And shield them from their ill-deeds;
And whom You shield that day from their ill-deeds,
You have shown true mercy:
And that is the mighty undying triumph.’
Verily those who would not believe shall be called to:
‘Truly Allah’s loathing for your doing so is even greater
than your loathing for your own selves now;
When you were invited again and again to faith,
yet you only disbelieved’ (40:8–10).

Death is thus the beginning of our permanent existence forever with Allah and the end of our world of trials and tribulations, to either triumph or ruin. The perpetrator of this crime should be shown the full rigor of the law in this world, while true and entire divine justice can only be shown to him in the next, which is without end.

May the Almighty guide the responsible authorities to improve the safeguarding of lives of the citizens of their lands, and to effect laws for adequate security vetting of those given permits to carry lethal weapons, especially ones which have no relation to hunting whatsoever.

May Allah in His infinite mercy inspire every one of us to regard our own lifespans, however long and prosperous, as short as they actually are, and to fill them with works that please Him; to comfort, protect, show true love to, and help the bereaved survivors of this terrible tragedy; and give us the tawfiq to be the best of good neighbors to everyone whom we live near—all for His incomparable Self, Amin. Allah tells us that what we can do and see is finite, while its consequences are both infinite and created with a divine surpassing due Wisdom, which we have been created to understand, benefit
from, and move on. My sincerest condolences in your sorrows and estrangement; may
Allah help you and keep you,

wa s-Salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatu Llahi wa barakatuh,
Nuh Keller

Acquisition of the Clear Light: Part 1

This is the first part of a series of translations of Habib Umar’s work, Qabs al-Nur al-Mubin, an abridgment of Imam al-Ghazali’s Ihya Ulum al-Din.

In the Name of God, the Gracious, the Most Merciful

Praise is due to God, who is all aware about the subtleties of the souls, who is all knowing about the secrets of the hearts. May His Peace and Blessings be upon the master of the messengers, the unifier of the religion and upon his pleasant and pure household.

To proceed, the honor and virtue of a human being is in relation to his inclination towards knowledge about Allah Most High which is that which renders him beautiful, complete and honorable in this world, and is a means of preparation and provision for the Hereafter.

This aforementioned inclination towards knowledge takes place in one’s heart, as the heart is the knower of Allah Most High, that which causes proximity to Allah Most High, serves Allah Most High, strives towards Allah Most High, is the recipient of the manifestations from Allah Most High and the limbs are but followers, helpers, and tools.

The heart, soul, spirit and intellect are synonymous in meaning which is a subtle spiritual substance divinely governed. It is the very essence of a human being and the point of perception for the Gnostics among them. So this subtle, knowledgeable and gnostic substance of a human being is at times referred to as a heart, spirit, intellect, or soul.

At times, the heart is referred to as a piece of flesh like a pine-cone in form, positioned at the left hand side of the chest which is the same heart present in animals and it is from the visible material world.

The soul is sometimes referred to as the container of a human being’s capacity of anger and desire. At times, the soul is referred to as a light body originating from the heart’s cavity, which disperses by means of arteries to the rest of the body.

The intellect is sometimes referred to as the means to knowledge of the true reality, and if what is meant is the comprehension of sciences, then this is the heart, and at times all four of these words share this meaning.

Soldiers of the Heart

The heart has three types of soldiers.

Firstly: a type that is dispatched towards obtaining that which is beneficial and appropriate, such as a desire or a protection from that which is harmful and incompatible, such as anger. His dispatching is referred to as will.

Secondly: That which causes the movement of the limbs towards the obtaining of these objectives which is referred to as capability.

Thirdly: That which perceives and comprehends things similar to the role of spies. This is the power of sight, hearing, smelling, taste and touch which is referred to as knowledge and perception.

Explanation of the Distinct Characteristics of the Human Heart

What distinguishes the heart of a human being, resulting in his great honor and his worthiness of attaining proximity to Allah Most High, is knowledge and will.

As for knowledge: It is knowledge pertaining to affairs of this life, the Hereafter, and intellectual realties. These things surpass the senses and no other animals partake in them.

As for will: If, through the medium of intellect, the end result and rectification of something becomes known, it brings about a strong inclination within one’s self towards that which is beneficial, its respective practical means and yearning towards it, which is neither similar to the desire’s yearning nor the will of animals. In fact, it is opposed to desire, as at times desire could shun a surgical operation whilst the intellect yearns for it.

So the heart of a human being is distinct in terms of its knowledge and will which differentiate it from the rest of the animals, in fact, even from the youth at its prime stage of its natural disposition, as this only takes place once puberty has been reached and one thereafter attain theses sciences through two stages:

Firstly: One’s heart must contain the core and fundamental knowledge, that is the science of the impossibility of impossible things and the possibility of outwardly possible things [logic], without which the speculative sciences are not attainable. However, their proximity is possible. This is like unto someone who, as far as the art of writing is concerned, only knows the inkwell, the pen, and the alphabet. He has gained proximity to the art of writing but has not attained it.

Secondly: To acquire knowledge through experience and contemplation, which is like a storage tool which one refers back to whenever one desires.

The people of this stage have innumerable ranks, surpassing one another in relation to the larger or lesser amount of knowledge, the honor and baseness of such knowledge, the method of attaining it, as some hearts receive it through divine revelation, and others through learning and acquiring it rapidly and slowly, so therefore the ranks of advancement are innumerable and the furthest of such ranks is that of the Prophet to whom most, if not all realities become manifest without effort or difficulty, in fact, through divine manifestation in the shortest possible amount of time.

The most honorable type of knowledge is knowledge of Allah Most High, His Qualities, His Actions, as by it, a human being is rendered complete and this completion results in his felicity and suitability for the Splendored and Perfect Companionship. The body is a vehicle for the soul, the soul is the location of one’s knowledge, and knowledge is a human being’s objective and distinct quality which is the very reason of one’s creation.

A human being is ranked between the animals and angels in that his nourishment and reproduction is like a plant’s, his senses and movement is like an animal’s, and his features and extension is like an engraved picture on the wall. What distinguishes him is his knowledge of the realities of things.

Whoever uses all of his limbs and strength whilst depending on this for attainment of knowledge and work, is similar to the angels and as for the one who directs his concerns to the pursuit of bodily pleasures, eating just as the grazing livestock eat, has as a result, declined to the lowest of animals.

It is possible to use every single limb as a means of arrival to Allah Most High. The one who uses them in this way attains success, however, the one who deviates from this, is lost and is unsuccessful.

A summary of felicity is for one to make his meeting of his Lord his objective, the Hereafter his place of settlement, this life as his temporary settlement, his body as a vehicle and his limbs as helpers.

Ali, Allah ennoble his countenance, described the hearts by saying: “Verily Allah Most High has vessels upon His land and they are the hearts and the most beloved of these to Him, are the most soft, pure and solid, thereafter he explained this by saying: The most solid in terms of religion, the purest in terms of certainty, and the softest towards brothers, which is an indication to Allah Most High saying: ‘Severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves,’ (Sura al-Fath 48:29) and His saying: ‘The similitude of His light is a niche in which there is a lamp.’” (Sura al-Nur 24:35)

Ubay ibn K’ab, Allah be pleased with him, said: “What is meant is, the similitude of the light and the heart of the believer. He Most High further says: ‘Or is like the depths of darkness in a vast deep ocean.’” (Sura al-Nur 24:40) which is the similitude of the heart of a hypocrite.

Zayd ibn Aslam, Allah be pleased with him, said about His saying: “In a preserved tablet” that this is the heart of a believer.

Sahl stated: “The similitude of the heart and the chest is like that of the Throne and the Chair. These are likenesses of the heart.”

 


This is part one of a translation of al-Habib Umar bin Hafiz’s abridgment of Ihya Ulum al-Din by Imam al-Ghazali entitled Acquisition of the Clear Light, not only provides the reader with a concise understanding of the Ihya but also serves as clear guideline to the main themes and focal points within the actual book.

Translator: Abdullah Salih, converted to Islam in 2003 and thereafter, embarked on a journey of seeking knowledge in the Valleys of Hadramouth in the beautiful city of Tarim. He was fortunate enough to sit in the company of Habib Umar, where he studied under him various sciences such as, but not limited to, some of the original works of Ihya as well that of the abridgment. He now resides in Namibia with his family and is engaged in Dawah activities locally as well as internationally.


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Are We Beyond Slavery? Not even close.

Sufism: Its Essence & the Traits of its People: Book by Habib Umar

What is Sufism? This new treatise by Habib Umar ibn Hafiz and translated into English by Ustadh Amjad Tarsin, covers the principles of Sufism and the characteristics of those who follow it.

What is Sufism?

This book seeks to clarify the meaning behind this often-misunderstood term. Sufism, or tasawwuf as it is known in the original Arabic, is the science of purifying the heart for the purpose of reaching Allah. This is done by acting with ihsan, or excellence, in every situation, and following the sunna of the Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and give him peace.

A true Sufi is someone who has reached the station of ayn al-yaqin, or the witnessing of certainty, which usually comes after many years of hard work. The people who try their best, but have not yet reached, are really quasi-Sufis, or mutasawif. As for the people who love them, but are not actively trying to progress spiritually, are attempting to resemble Sufis.

The Traits of Sufis

There are many people all over the world, who claim to be Sufis. Habib Umar outlines the ten traits that must be followed by anyone who claims to be a Sufi. These traits are universal to the various spiritual paths.

  1. Knowledge of the Qur’an and the Sunna: This forms the very foundation of the Sufism, and any actions that contradict the basics of Islam, are not from Sufism. This also means that the Sufis strive to follow the  sunna with utmost excellence. In fact, the isnad (chains of transmission) of all the major works of Qur’an, hadith, tafsir (Qur’anic exegesis), fiqh (jurisprudence) were passed down through the people of Sufism. Therefore, everyone today who is qualified to teach any of these sciences, has Sufis in their chain of transmission.
  2. Concern with perfecting the heart for the sake of Allah: Since Allah looks towards our heart, not our outward forms, Sufis prioritise working on their hearts to attain ihsan. Sufism is not about singing, clapping, or wearing specific clothing. Rather, it’s about removing everything besides Allah from the heart.
  3. Sincerity. Sufis should be extremely meticulous in analysing their actions, making sure that they are solely for the sake of Allah, and shy away from praise and recognition.
  4. Trueness: This entails doing everything possible to do a deed for the sake of Allah alone, with no pride or ostentation. This also means being humble enough to accept advice from everyone, and not to mind if others turn away.
  5. Humility of the heart: There are countless verses, hadith and stories which emphasise the centrality of humility. A Sufi does not raise themselves above others, or believe that they are better than anyone else, preferring instead to carry themselves with humility.
  6. Recognising the people of honor, and eliminating envy: By showing honor to people who posses it, they strive to give everyone their rights, and not have envy towards anyone.
  7. Remembering Allah abundantly: Sufis strive to make dhikr and remember Allah, with presence of heart, as much as possible.
  8. Conveying with excellence and eliminating discourteous argumentation: They strive for excellence by avoiding arguments unless absolutely necessary. If an issue arises, they clarify it in the best manner.
  9. Responding to evil with goodness, and having concern: A Sufi has utmost concern for others, and does their best to strive for their wellbeing. They forgive those who wrong them and respond to any evil they face with goodness.
  10. Love of Allah, preferring Him over all else: In their daily life, they consider Allah more important than everything, and strive to attain his love.

Sufism: Its Essence & the Traits of its People, is published by Dar al-Turath Islami. If you would like to learn more, consider enrolling in our On-Demand course The Path of Spiritual Excellence.


Questions and Answers – Radical Gratitude Series

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How does one explain gratitude to children?

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

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

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

About the Series

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


Balancing Family and Seeking Knowledge – Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil

Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil, a student of knowledge, teacher and mother, offers valuable advice to women who wish to pursue studies in sacred knowledge.

I am a mother of two children under 3 and a half years, and everyday is a juggling bonanza of love and service.

There are my physical acts of service for my daughters; bathing them, cooking, feeding them, tidying up, helping use the potty, driving them to swimming class, preschool, playdates and parks.

There are my emotional acts of service; playing with them, helping them feel safe and unconditionally loved, accepting their big feelings, helping them with conflict resolution, and setting empathetic limits.

There are my mental acts of service; reading to them, teaching them phonics, teaching them numbers, and describing different patterns in the world.

Most importantly, there are my spiritual acts of service; connecting their hearts with Allah and His Messenger, Allah bless him and give him peace, through telling them stories, bringing them to gatherings of Divine remembrance, and being their spiritual role model, even – or especially – when I make mistakes, apologise and make amends.

Balancing Family Duties

On good nights, both of my daughters sleep well – or as well as they can, given their tender ages. On bad nights, at least one or both of them wake every 1-2 hours, in varying states of distress. Allah has gifted me with two living tahajjud alarms, alhamdulilah.

In the precious pockets of free time that I have between all of this, I revise my Arabic, my Shafi’i fiqh, write, and counsel. I do so little now, compared to my days as a full-time student of knowledge, years ago. I do so little, and yet, I strive to do so daily, and this hadith comforts me:

Narrated by Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, who said:

“Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately and know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, and that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little.’”[Bukhari]

Despite my scarcity of free time – and perhaps, because of it – every day with my daughters helps me refine my character in ways nothing else can. My capacity for patience, gratitude, forgiveness, contentment and wonder has been pushed to new heights. They can either break me, or make me grow. Truthfully, it has been a potent combination of both. My love and commitment to raising them peacefully has taught me to undo old and painful triggers. I am calmer because of them.

While I raise my daughters, through the long days and the nights, I make dua for their safety, guidance and well-being. The world we live in today is unkind to women. Women and women’s work are undervalued. The sacred covenant of marriage is no longer a refuge for too many women around the world. Toxic masculinity has harmed so many levels of the ummah. Hurt people hurt people, and there is so much pain in our world.

Why We Need Female Scholars

Because of the troubled times we are in, more than ever, we need to hear the voices of women in Islamic scholarship. We need more women trained in traditional Islamic sciences. We need more women whose hearts are alight with love for Allah and His Messenger, Allah bless him and give him peace, so wherever they are, in whatever role they find themselves in, they will be means of God-centred connection, compassion, and guidance. We can speak of Allah and His Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) ourselves, and follow in the luminous footsteps of our blessed foremothers. We have a rich history of female scholarship, and it is up to us to learn more about our heritage, and teach our sons and daughters.

If you are a young female student of knowledge, my advice to you is this: make the use of your free time. Devote yourself to your study of sacred knowledge, and study as much as you can, as deeply as you can. Know that when you get married and have children, everything will change. In the early years of motherhood, your needs will come last, and this will chafe your nafs, but it will be good for your soul. You will grow alongside your children. Everything you have studied will manifest in how you are with your household. You cannot speak of patience and forgiveness if you do not embody it, and you will get better at it, one mistake at a time. Choose love and forgiveness, especially when it is difficult. And one unimaginable day, your children will peel away from you, and you will suddenly have long, luxurious, uninterrupted hours to yourself, to study and to teach. And yet, your heart will be bruised from longing for your children. This is the nature of the dunya – it is always imperfect. There is always something missing. This is not our final home.

For Ladies Without Families

And if, dear sister, Allah does not write marriage or children for you, know that you are still beloved to Him. Being on the path of sacred knowledge and teaching it will become your mother’s milk, and your path of nourishing those around you, just as it was for our Mother ‘Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her. There will always be a need for you, and your time can be spent mentoring families who need your wisdom and connection to Allah. It will never be same as having a husband or a children of your own, so trust that Allah will recompense you for your sacrifice and patience.

May Allah grant tawfiq to all of those on the path of study, and teaching. May He facilitate the days and nights of all mothers, especially those who are juggling their studies and teaching of the deen. May He help manifest the fruits of our sacrifice through the gift of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren who love Allah and His Prophet and may we all be reunited in Jannahtul Firdous.


Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil has spent almost two years in Amman, Jordan, where she learned Shafi’i’ fiqh, Arabic, Seerah, Aqeedah, Tasawwuf, Tafsir and Tajweed. She continues to study with her Teachers through Qibla Academy and SeekersHub Global. She also graduated with a Psychology and English degree from University of New South Wales.


Overcoming Greed, Opening Yourself To Gratitude, by Shaykh Faid Mohammed Said

Shaykh Faid Mohammed Said reminds us that one of the worst attachments we have is to greed. It blinds us and incapacitates us. How did the men and women before us overcome this?

Bismillah-ir Rahman-ir Raheem
Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) said in the Qur’an, in Surah Yusuf (3):  “Indeed We have related to you the most beautiful of stories…”
In these stories, Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) speaks in the Qur’an about the Anbiya, the Saliheen and sometimes He also mentions the oppressors so that we may take from it a lesson for ourselves.
Also, by relating to us stories, Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) is telling and teaching us about human nature; and one of the worst attachments to our nature is greed.  Greed for money and more broadly, greed for loving and wanting everything, which can turn into jealousy and envy and can also cause undue stress.
In this regard, Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) tells us in the Qur’an the story of Ibrahim (alaih salam): a Nabi, standing in front of the oppressor king Nimrod, and in describing this meeting Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) tells Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasalam) and us in the Qur’an:  “Have you not considered the one who argued with Abraham about his Lord [merely] because Allah had given him kingship?”  (Surah Al-Baqarah, 258)
In this ayah, Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) is saying that He is the one that made Nimrod a king and gave him power, and Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) gave kingship and power to someone who was a disbeliever.  But Ibrahim (alaih salam) was certain in his knowledge that in reality Nimrod was given nothing, as he was not given the gifts of iman, guidance and piety!
This are the Saliheen! They are lost in counting the blessings of Allah (subhana wa ta’ala)!
Also, Nimrod did not only have kingship and power, but that power extended to having control over Ibrahim (alaih salam) as well, but it was Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) who gave Nimrod that power, and if there were to be any khayr in it, than it would have been given to Ibrahim (alaih salam), hence the thought of jealousy never occurred.
In Surah Al-Qasas, Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) tells us a story about Syedina Musa (alaih salam), in which Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) describes how Musa (alaih salam) was going through a lot of hardship, while Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) gave his cousin, Qarun, power and wealth beyond imagination.  Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) gave an example of the extent of Qarun’s wealth in describing the key to the doors of his stores, which was so rich that it could only be lifted by the strongest man of that era.
Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) shows us human nature in telling that when Qarun went out with all his wealth, supporters and subjects, it was the human nature in people that made them feel jealous of Qarun, and they all wished to be him. What they saw in Qarun was his wealth, his comfort and his ease; but no one wanted to be like Musa (alaih salam)!  The people did not see a Nabi, or the one who speaks to Allah (subhana wa ta’ala), all they saw was an exterior of a man who was going through hard times, and hence no one wanted to be like Musa (alaih salam).
But when Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) destroyed Qarun and the earth swallowed him and his wealth, the same people who were in awe of him said that it was a blessing that they were not like him; these are the very people who wished before to be Qarun, and now they were thanking Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) for not being like him!
In these stories, there is a lesson:  the people that were following the opponent of Ibrahim (alaih salam) saw that he was a powerful king, and as such they did not see the khair of Ibrahim (alaih salam), his Nabuwwah and that he was Khalilullah!
The people that were following the opponent of Musa (alaih salam) saw his opponent’s wealth and resources, which did not allow them to see the khair of Musa (alaih salam), his Nabuwwah and that he was Kaleemullah!
In applying the lesson to us we must know that in every time there will be Nimrods and Qaruns, but there will also be the Saliheen as well!  So in taking lesson, we should strive to align to the Saliheen and not the Nimrods and Qaruns of our time.  The Saliheen are in our time as well, and they are the ones that have been truly blessed, despite their apparent disrespect and neglect by people; people will only miss the Saliheen when they are no longer there!
If it was in the judgment of the previous people to want to be Qarun and Nimrod, we should be wise and learn from that mistake, and instead of wanting to be someone else, we should be grateful for what we have.
WE should be grateful and smile!
If you have the blessing of time, be grateful and smile, because many people wish for this.
If you have the ability to walk, talk and hear, be grateful and smile, because many people wish for this.
If you have food on your table and a roof over your head, be grateful and smile, because many people wish for this.
If you have a family, be grateful and smile, no matter how difficult they might be, because many people wish for this.
If you have a husband or wife, no matter how bad you may think they are, be grateful and smile, because many people

wish for this.
Do not wish to be anyone else, and be happy with the hikmah of Allah (subhana wa ta’ala), because the very person you
wish to be, you may not know what they are going through.  There are many things in life to be grateful and happy for, so smile!
At the end, Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) said in the Qur’an:  “If you are grateful to Me, I will increase you!”
And this is our first message of the year.
May Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) make this a year of khair, and may He guide us, as He granted us a great beginning, and continue to guide us. May Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) clear from our heart all that is other than Him, remove any love other than His and that of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasalam); may Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) make our hearts a place for no one other than Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) and Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasalam).
We wish for you and for us a year full of ibadah, remembrance and praise of Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) and a year of salawat upon Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasalam).  May it be a year of reconnecting with the Qur’an through reading, understanding and implementing it.

Resources for seekers

Shaykh Faid SaidShaykh Faid Mohammed Said is a jewel in the crown of traditional Islamic scholarship in the United Kingdom and we at SeekersHub are ever grateful for his friendship, guidance and support. He was born in Asmara, Eritrea, where he studied the holy Qur’an and its sciences, Arabic grammar and fiqh under the guidance of the Grand Judge of the Islamic Court in Asmara, Shaykh Abdul Kader Hamid and also under the Grand Mufti of Eritrea. He later went to study at Madinah University, from which he graduated with a first class honours degree. In Madinah, his teachers included Shaykh Atia Salem, Shaykh Mohamed Ayub (ex-imam of the Prophet’s Mosque, peace be upon him), Professor AbdulRaheem, Professor Yaqub Turkestani, Shaykh Dr Awad Sahli, Dr Aa’edh Al Harthy and many other great scholars. Shaykh Faid has ijaza in a number of disciplines including hadith, and a British higher education teaching qualification. He is currently the scholar in residence and head of education at Harrow Central Mosque, United Kingdom. Read his articles on the SeekersHub blog.