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If Only Someone Else Said it | Mufti Taha Karaan of South Africa

It was the year 17 after the Hijrah.

Two years earlier Amiru al-Mu’minin Umar (Allah be pleased with him) traveled from Madinah to Jerusalem to receive its keys from its patriarch Sophronius. This time, having left Ali ibn Abi Talib (Allah be pleased with him) in charge of things at Madinah, he was once again on the road to Syria. Accompanying him on this journey were Madinah’s leading Muhajirin and Ansaar. Their purpose was to come to the aid of Abu Ubaydah (Allah be pleased with him) who was under siege by the Byzantines in Hims, to disrupt alignment of the people of Upper Mesopotamia with the Byzantines against the Muslims, and to generally raise the spirits of the troops.

A grueling desert trek of some 800km, normally covered by caravans in three weeks, brought them to a village called Sargh. Today the Jordanian village of al-Mudawwarah stands close to its location, just 15km from the Saudi-Jordanian border. It was to this spot that the generals of the armies in Syria came to meet the Commander of the Faithful.

Umar’s strategy worked. A force which he ordered to be dispatched from Kufa to Hims under command of Qa’qa ibn Amr combined with the battalion of Khalid ibn Walid that had arrived in Hims from Qinnasrin before the siege. Their combined forces, together with the news of help on the way from Hijaz under Amiru al-Mu’minin himself, broke both the Byzantine spirit and the potential alliance with Upper Mesopotamia. In buoyant spirits, Muslim troops opened the gates of Hims and rushed at the now demoralized besiegers. The Byzantines broke and fled.

Three days later Abu Ubaydah (Allah be pleased with him) and his fellow commanders presented themselves before Amiru al-Mu’minin at Sargh.

Every reason existed for this meeting to be one of joy, optimism, and the sharing of triumph. Companions who had not seen one another for months if not years were meeting again. Stories of victory and courage would be shared, and collective thanks would be given to Allah. But most importantly, Umar would be there.

Umar, the rock that personified resoluteness, whose inspired leadership diffused confidence and trust in Allah, but who, by the severe austerity of his own conduct, stood like a towering bastion against the love of this ephemeral world that constantly threatened to creep into the hearts of his conquering subjects.

Yet, despite all the reasons for happiness and joy, a sombre cloud was hanging over the gathering at Sargh. For distressing news has been received from Palestine. In the town of Amawaas the plague had broken out.

Umar (Allah be pleased with him) called the commanders of his Syrian armies into conference. Along with the senior companions (Sahabah) who had come with him from Madinah, they took their seats on the ground: Khalid, Abu Ubaydah and Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan (Allah be pleased with them).

Opinions differed. Some felt that the journey should go ahead, while others thought it undesirable that the Muslim leadership should enter a land in which plague was spreading. Umar listened attentively. When the time came to decide, all fell silent. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on Amiru al-Mu’minin.

“I and those with me will return to Madinah.”

For a moment everything went dead silent. Time appeared to hold its breath. No one spoke. Amiru al-Mu’minin had spoken. The consultation was over. Umar rose to leave.

Suddenly the silence was pierced by a voice in anguish. It was Abu Ubaydah. He had been one of those who advised that the journey should go ahead. But it was not by the dismissal of his own advice that he was aggrieved. He believed, having been taught so by Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace), that all things, death included, happen by the foreordained decree of Allah. For Amiru al-Mu’minin to turn back at the news of plague appeared to go completely against the grain of this tenet of faith. Abu Ubaydah felt compelled to speak. He was after all this Ummah’s Custodian of Trust.

“Would you flee from the decree (Qadar) of Allah, Amiru al-Mu’minin? Would you flee from what Allah has preordained?”

A second silence imposed itself on the gathering, this one even more deafening than the first. Umar, having half turned away already, went stiff for a moment. Around them life went on in the usual clatter and banter of an army camp. But within that circle it grew very, very silent.

Umar slowly rotated back to face his interlocutor. A look of pain and dismay passed over his face. And then he spoke.

“If only someone else said it, Abu Ubaydah. How I wish those words came from the tongue of someone other than you!”

Umar loved Abu Ubaydah dearly and held him in the highest esteem. This was one of the ten men whom Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) promised Jannah. It was to him that Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) gave the epithet, Custodian of Trust of this Ummah. It was men such as he of who Allah said, “They are indeed and in truth the real believers”, and whilst walking on the face of this earth they heard revelation descending in which Allah declared to all the world that He is pleased with them and they with Him.”

It is not befitting that two men of such high stature differ so publicly. It is even less desirable that an aspect of faith should be drawn into their difference. And then, Umar just didn’t like having to go against Abu Ubaydah. But when truth requires to be stated, all other considerations recede into secondary status.

Before speaking his mind, though, Umar needed his discomfort to be heard. “How I wish, Abu Ubaydah, that it was someone other than you who spoke those words!”

A moment’s pause. And then, in his own characteristic fashion, Umar clarified an aspect of belief in Qadar which Abu Ubaydah appears not to have grasped or to have for the moment lost sight of.

“Yes, indeed. We flee from Allah’s Qadar. Towards Allah’s Qadar. We flee from what Allah preordained to what Allah preordained.”

Consider this. You come with your flock to a valley with two sides. One side is lush and fertile, the other is dry. If you graze your flock on the fertile side, is it by anything other than what Allah preordained that you do so? And if you graze them on the dry side, is it by anything other than what Allah preordained?

The lesson was crystal clear. Nothing you do, no route you take, and no choice you make is beyond the pale of Qadar. Such is our belief in Qadar. So whatever you may want to question, do not question our belief in Qadar.

Among the men who had come with Umar from Madinah was Abdur Rahman ibn Awf (Allah be pleased with him). For some or other reason he was absent from this council. When he arrived a while later he was appraised of what had transpired between Umar and Abu Ubaydah. Unlike the others, though, he had actually heard something from Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) that had a direct bearing on the matter in question. And as was the habit of the Sahabah, he promptly transmitted what he heard.

“I heard Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) say: ‘If you hear about a plague in a land, then do not enter that land. And if a plague breaks out while you are there, then do not flee it and leave.’”

Although Umar did not know it at the time of his altercation with Abu Ubaydah, the hadith fell squarely on his side. But no surprise there. This was Umar, after all. The man whose words had so often before been confirmed by nothing less than revelation from on high. The one about who Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, if there is in this Ummah an inspired person as there were in previous nations, then it would be none other than he.

We could of course go on and on enumerating his merits and extolling his achievements. But this is where we stop.

We stop because what needed to be learnt has been understood. So often it is those we hold in the highest esteem who throw at us the accusation that our choices and actions go against belief in Qadar. The sincerity and concern for the religion with which they do so are probably no less than of Abu Ubaydah ibn Jarrah (Allah be pleased with him).

So how are we to respond?

Do we hit back in similar tone and innuendo? Do we reverse the accusations and guilt-tripping? And most importantly, do we succumb to the demands of base instinct and dispense with all reverence and respect?

Allah forbid than any of those thoughts should even come to mind. And if ever they do, then may Allah forgive us for even thinking that.

If we are to respond, we will respond in the manner taught to us by those who were taught by Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace). We will respond in the words and attitude of the one man of whom Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) said that if there were to be a prophet after him it would be he. Ours will be the response of Amiru al-Mu’minin Sayiduna Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him).

“If only someone else said it, Abu Ubaydah.”

How we wish, our dearest elders, that these hurtful words were spoken by someone other than your respected selves!

And that is as much as we will ever say.


Biography of Mufti Taha Karaan:

Mufti Taha Karaan is a Shafi’i scholar born in Cape Town, South Africa, to a family renowned in both its maternal and paternal lineage for Islamic scholarship. His father, the late Mufti Yusuf Karaan (may Allah have mercy on his soul), was one of the most distinguished Islamic scholars in the Cape.

Mufti Taha completed his Qur’anic memorization in one year at the Waterfall Islamic Institute, the oldest Islamic seminary in South Africa. During his stay, he assisted in the editing of the Qur’anic prints that the Institute has become famous for the world over. After finishing four years of the ‘alim course in two years, he journeyed to the Indian sub-continent and Dar al-Uloom Deoband, graduating from there in 1991 with the highest of distinctions, as did his father, in a class of over 700 students. He then travelled to the Middle East and completed a two-year graduate diploma at the Higher Institute for Islamic Studies in Cairo, Egypt.

Mufti Taha is the recipient of numerous chains of transmission (ijazaat), from well-respected scholars in India, Pakistan, South Africa, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, among others, in numerous fields of Islamic study.

Currently, Mufti Taha is the Mufti of the Muslim Judicial Council. He is a sought-after speaker at Islamic symposia and conferences but attends them sparingly, preferring to spend most of his time at the Islamic seminary, Dar al-Uloom al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah, that he founded in 1996. The educational thrust of the seminary reflects Mufti Taha’s own pioneering vision and commitment to squarely interface with the challenges of the modern age through the twin objectives of preservation and progress.

In his teaching, writing and legal verdicts (fatawa), Mufti Taha regularly addresses contemporary issues such as the challenges of post-modernity, feminism, Islamic economics and finance, the old and new Orientalisms, and fiqh issues affecting Diaspora Muslim communities.

His students describe him as divinely-gifted with encyclopaedic knowledge; possessed of a near photographic memory; an insatiable bibliophile within the Islamic sciences and without; a teacher that never ceases to inspire; endowed with an elegant calligraphic hand and a penchant for poetry; thoroughly unassuming, pleasant, brilliant and tender-hearted.

The End of a Crucial Decade in Human History – Shaykh Sadullah Khan

* Courtesy of Masjid al – Furqan

In this Pre Khutba talk, Shaykh Sadullah Khan discusses the importance of valuing and utilizing one’s time appropriately and constructively. He reminds the congregation that it is critical to reflect on how time has passed us collectively. With the completion of a decade, Shaykh Sadullah highlights the various local and global issues and events that have affected human beings around the globe. From the Arab spring to the fascist laws being passed in India, the past decade has shown the degradation of morality within human beings. Despite the wonderful technological and scientific advancements, we as human beings have failed in truly making a positive change in our societies. It is critical for us to be aware of what is happening around us so that we as Muslims may be able to engage in actions of virtue and benefit.

From the Dawn of History – Stories of Light

From the Dawn of History

Join award-winning author Mehded Maryam Sinclair with your family as she takes you on a breath-taking journey through:

  • The Formation of the Universe and Planet Earth
  • The Creation of the First Human
  • The Divinely-Intentioned Establishment of Human Life on Earth
  • The Procession of the Divine Messengers
  • The Fulfillment of the Message in the Prophet Muhammad,
    may Allah bless him and give him peace

Foster in your hearts a true, deep certainty in our Divinely inspired history. Foster in your family a deep bond of shared listenings and meanings.

Register Here

Studying History

Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch

Question: Assalamu alaykum

Is studying the biography of someone considered backbiting (ghibah) if bad qualities of that person are mentioned?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate

Backbiting

Reading and studying about past peoples is not considered backbiting. Backbiting is restricted to the definition given by the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace), where he said, “Your mentioning of your fellow believer in a way that they would dislike…” [Muslim]

Don’t Curse the Deceased

However, you should refrain from cursing such people or stating that they are definitely going to the Hell-Fire.

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Do not curse they deceased. For surely they have gone ahead to that which they put forth.” [Bukhari]

We Are Not The Judge Of Others

These are matters which are unseen to us and we do not know how such people’s lives ended.

As Allah, Most High says, “They are a people who have passed, for them is what they earned and for you is what you earned. And you will not be asked as to what they did.” [Qur’an; 02:134]

May Allah bless you for your question
Allahu A’alam

Wassalam,
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch

Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a graduate from Tarim; student of Habib Umar and other luminaries; and authorized teachers of Qur’an and the Islamic sciences.

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.

The Trodden PathShaykh 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.


The Trodden Path (Episode 8): Shaykh Yusuf ibn Ismail Al-Nabhani

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 eighth episode of the The Trodden Path series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed writes on the life of Shaykh Yusuf ibn Ismail Al-Nabhani.

The Trodden PathShaykh Yusuf ibn Ismail Al-Nabhani 1265-1350=1849-1932 (Palestine)

Yusuf ibn Ismail ibn Yusuf ibn Ismail ibn Muhammad Nasir Al-Deen Al-Nabhani was a scholar, a poet, an author and a Qadi whose lineage links up with Banu Nabhan, a Palestinian Bedouin tribe who settled in the town of Ijzim near Haifa in North Palestine. He was born there in 1849 (1265) where he grew up.

He studied the Quraan under his father who was a righteous scholar and a meticulous memorizer of the Quraan whom Allah blessed, even in his old age, by maintaining all his senses and he spent most of his time in various acts of worship. His father’s daily practice was to read one third of the Quraan and thus completed the Quraan thrice every week.

Shaykh Yusuf’s father sent him to Cairo, Egypt to study. For six years 1866-1872 (1283-1289), he studied at the Al-Azhar under illustrious and accomplished scholars and masters in the Shariah sciences. One of them, Shaykh Ibrahim Al-Saqaa (d. 1298) was probably the leading scholar at the time and was known for his precise understanding. Shaykh Yusuf spent about three years studying under him, during which he read the two commentaries Al-Tahrir and Al-Minhaj of Shaykh Zakariya Al-Ansaari together with their marginalia by Al-Sharqawi and Al-Bujayrimi. His other teachers were:

  1. Shaykh Al-Sayyid Muhammad Al-Damnahuri (d. 1869-1286)
  2. Shaykh Ibrahim Al-Zurru Al-Khaleeli Al-Shafi’ (d. 1870-1287)
  3. Shaykh Hasan Al-Adawi Al-Maliki (d. 1881-1298)
  4. Shaykh Abdul Hadi Naja Al-Abyari (d. 1888-1305)
  5. Shaykh Shams Al-Deen Muhammad Al-Anbabi (d. 1908-1326)
  6. Shaykh Abdul Qadir Al-Rafiie Al-Hanafi (d. 1905-1323)
  7. Shaykh Yusuf Al-Barqawi Al-Hanbali

 

After graduating, he returned to Ijzim, Palestine where he held various courses and lessons in his home town. He travelled frequently to Beirut and Damascus where he met prominent ulama. One of the leading scholars he met was Shaykh Mahmood Effendi Al-Hamzawi with whom he read the beginning of Sahih Al-Bukhari and obtained a general written Ijazah. He is presumed to have met Shaykh Abdullah ibn Idris Al-Sanusi, Shaykh Muhammad Abu Al-Khair Abideen, Shaykh Husain ibn Muhammad Al-Habashi, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Abdullah Al-Khaani and other renowned scholars.

He went to Istanbul twice where he worked for several years and worked as the editor of the Al-Jawaaib newspaper and proof read some Arabic books. His monthly salary was ten pounds for editing and proof reading for about two to three hours daily. The newspaper’s owner was very sad when Shaykh Yusuf planned to leave this job for his new position as a Qadi in Iraq. He offered him the chance to work as his partner or accept an increase. Shaykh Yusuf refused both these offers.

Shaykh Yusuf left Istanbul for the first time for Iraq and went to Kawi Sanjaq, a district in Mosul. Thereafter he returned to Istanbul. In (1300), he left for the second time when he was appointed as the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court in Latakia, a Mediterranean Sea port. 

After five years of distinguished service, he was transferred to the position as Chief Judge in Jerusalem, Al-Quds. Eight months later, he was promoted in1888 (1305) to Chief Justice of Beirut, Lebanon where he remained for about twenty years.

Some of his books are:

 

  • Riyad Al-Jannah fi Azhkaar Al-Kitab wa Al-Sunnah
  • Jami’ Karamaat Al-Awliya
  • Al-Majmuaat Al-Nabhaniyah fi Al-Madaaih Al-Nabawiyah
  • Wasaail Al-Wusool ila Shamaail Al-Rasul
  • Afdal Al-Salawaat ala Sayid Al-Saadaat
  • Tahzheeb Al-Nufoos
  • Hujat Allah ala Al-Aalimeen
  • Al-Fath Al-Kabir
  • Nujoom Al-Muhtadeen
  • Al-Sabiqaat Al-Jiyaad fi Madh Sayid Al-Ibad
  • Al-Sharaf Al-Muabad li Aal Muhammad
  • Al-Anwaar Al-Muhammadiyah
  • Khulasat Al-Kalam fi Tarjeeh Deen Al-Islam
  • Hadi Al-Mureed ila Tareeq Al-Asaanid
  • Al-Fadaail Al-Muhammadiyah
  • Al-Asaalib Al-Badia’t fi Fadl Al-Sahaba wa Iqna’ Al-Shia’
  • Muntakhab Al-Sahihayn
  • Al-Ahadith Al-Arbaeen fi Fadl Al-Jihad wa Al-Mujahideen
  • Arbaoun Hadithan fi Arbaeen Sighatan fi Salat ala Al-Nabi
  • Al-Bashaair Al-Imaniyah fi Al-Mubashiraat Al-Manaamiyah
  • Dalil Al-Tujaar ila Akhlaaq Al-Akhyaar
  • Al-Dalalaat Al-Wadihaat Sharh Dalaail Al-Khayraat
  • Hizb Al-Awliya Al-Arbaeen Al-Mustaghitheen bi Sayid Al-Mursaleen
  • Husn Al-Shir’ati fi Mashruiyat Salat Al-Zhuhri izha Taddadat Al-Jumuah
  • Irshaad Al-Hayaraa fi Tahzheer Al-Muslimeen min Madaris Al-Nasara
  • Ithaf Al-Muslim bi Ahadith Al-Targheeb wa Al-Tarheeb min Al-Bukhari wa Muslim
  • Jawaahir Al-Bihaar fi Fadaail Al-Nabi Al-Mukhtar
  • Mithal Al-Na’l Al-Shareef 
  • Mufarrij Al-Kuroob wa Mufarrih Al-Quloob
  • Al-Nazhm Al-Badi’ fi Mowlid Al-Shafi’
  • Qurrat Al-Ayn min Al-Baydawi wa Al-Jalalayn
  • Rafu’ Al-Ishtibah fi Istihalat Al-Jihat ala Allah
  • Al-Tahzheer min Itikhaazh Al-Suwar wa Al-Tasweer
  • In some of his works he strongly criticized Ibn Taymiyah, Ibn Qayim, Muhammad Abduh, Jamal Al-Deen Al-Afghani and Rashid Rida. He was specifically critical of Ibn Taymiyah’s fatwa affirming direction and place to Allah, but he also praised and applauded Imam Ibn Taymiyah’s book Al-Sarim Al-Maslul ala Shaatim Al-Rasul. 
  • There are various treatises in Hadith in his handwriting in the archives in Rabat, Morocco.

After retiring, he engaged in writing and worshiping and he traveled to Madinah where he lived for a while. 

He returned to Beirut where he passed away in the beginning of Ramadaan in 1932 (1350). One of his last students, Shaykh Husayn Usayran, passed away in July 2005 and was about 97 years old.


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.


 

The Trodden Path (Episode 5): A Glimpse At the Lives of the Illustrious Scholars and Saints of the 20th and 21st Century.

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 fifth episode of the The Trodden Path series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed writes on the life of Shaykh Muhammad Abu Zahra

 

The Trodden Path

Shaykh Muhammad Abu Zahra 1316-1397=1898-1974 (Egypt)

Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Mustafa, Abu Zahra was born in the city of Al-Malla Al-Kubra in Egypt in 1898 (1316).

As a young boy, he studied at the Al-Ahmadi Mosque in Tantaa, where he memorized the Quraan and some basics in the Islamic Sciences.

Then he joined the Shariah School, from which he graduated with excellent results in 1924. His certificate was equivalent to that of the Cairo Darul Uloom.

He taught Arabic and some Islamic subjects at the Darul Uloom and at the Faculty of Usul-Deen at the Al-Azhar University, as well as at the Faculty of Law at the University of Cairo.

He also occupied the position as lecturer for post-graduate studies from 1935 (1354). He was a member of the Higher Council for academic research and Head of the Shariah Department. He was the Deputy of the Faculty of Law and the Institute for Islamic Studies.

Hundreds of ulama from all over the world studied under him and it was he who established the Shariah Department at the University. He used to deliver lectures and lessons without any remuneration. He was invited to many parts of the world to deliver talks and to participate in seminars and Fiqh academies.

He contributed greatly to the Islamic World through the many books he wrote. His books are about eighty in number some of which are volumes; these are in addition to the many articles and fatawa he issued.

Some of his most famous books are: (titles translated from Arabic)

  • Discourses on the History of the Islamic Schools of thought.
  • Lectures on Christianity
  • The Life of the Prophet Muhammad and Biographies of Imams Abu Hanifah, Malik, Shafi’, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ibn Hazm, Ibn Taymiyah, Zaid ibn Ali and Jafar Al-Sadiq
  • The Laws of Inheritance and Succession
  • Muslim Personal Law
  • Usul-Fiqh
  • Studies in Riba (Interest)
  • Islam’s planning of the Society
  • Crimes and Punishment in Islamic Jurisprudence
  • A Commentary on the Laws of Bequest
  • International Relations in Islam
  • Discourses on Marriage and the Contract
  • Discourses on the Laws of Endowments
  • Lectures in Comparative Religion
  • Lectures in Jafari (Shia) laws of Inheritance
  • The History of Dispute and Argumentation in Islam
  • Social Insurance in Islam
  • A Book on the Manner of Delivering Khutbah’s
  • The Encyclopedia of Islamic Jurisprudence

 

Shaykh Abu Zahra was known for his courage for the truth. He was a very honorable and kind hearted person. He possessed a strong memory and the ability to invent and think of new things. He debated with clear and strong proof. In his era, people were pre-occupied with his writings and his views in Fiqh. He was willing to oppose any deviant idea, as well as those who were the students of orientalists or were influenced by secularist ideas.

The ruler of Egypt at the time issued an order that prevented Shaykh Abu Zahra from teaching at the University and from delivering any talks in the mosques. He was even prevented from speaking on the radio or appearing on television or even writing for newspapers. Instead many of the smaller newspapers were encouraged to attack his character and personality.

In an interview with Shaykh Abu Zahra in December 1960, he was asked about what should be done regarding a leader who assisted in corrupting the country and whether he should he be obeyed?

He replied, “Indeed Allah does not love evil and corruption, the worst of leaders is the one promotes evil and corruption. Any leader who does this, then his punishment is Jahanam, because authentic Hadith have been reported wherein the Prophet prohibited the chopping of trees and plundering of land during war even if it were in enemy territory. So how can such acts be permissible in the land of Islam?

Those who do that deserve the punishment of highway robbers and those who support them deserve the same punishment.”

He strongly opposed those Muslims who were influenced by foreign and western ideas that stated that a country couldn’t be established on religious principles.

He fought all attempts by the government to distance the Shariah and re-structure it to suit their desires. He participated in a number of debates with the government in which he always emerged victorious. He opposed the government’s proposal to adopt family-planning. He also resisted the Socialists and he annulled the fatwa passed by some permitting some forms of interest.

The government’s attempts to silence him, whether peacefully or by force were all unsuccessful.

On one occasion, an arrogant judge opposed Shaykh Abu Zahra and criticized his books. The Shaykh replied that these books were written for the pleasure of Allah, they were not prescribed to anyone, and neither did any government take the responsibility of distributing it.

He was once invited to a large Islamic Conference together with a number of prominent ulama from the Muslim World. The president of the host-country was an oppressive tyrant who in his opening address at the Conference spoke about the ‘socialism’ of Islam. The President called on the ulama to support him and to proclaim this as being the truth. Many were helpless and bewildered. Shaykh Abu Zahra asked for a chance to speak. He said: “We, the ulama of Islam, who know the law of Allah in matters of the country and in matters related to peoples’ problems, have come here to proclaim the truth as we know it, so the leaders of the countries should stop within their limits and they must leave Ilm for its people so they may openly proclaim the truth. You have been kind to invite the ulama and now you must listen to their views so that you don’t pronounce a view that they regard as incorrect. We ought to fear Allah regarding his Shariah.”

The President of the host-country was alarmed and afraid, so he requested that one of the scholars stand and defends him against Shaykh Abu Zahra. No one complied and the conference was abandoned after the first sitting, when the President stormed out of the hall.

 

Shaykh Abu Zahra passed away in Cairo in 1974 (1397) and the Janazah Salaat was led by the Shaykh of Al-Azhar, Shaykh Muhammad Al-Fahaam.

Abdullah Al-Aqeel praised him in a speech after his death where he said, “Allah has chosen Shaykh Abu Zahra, a brave man, an excellent scholar, a prominent jurist and a mujtahid, a very intelligent person who spent his life serving Islam…”

Dr. Muhammad Rajab Al-Bayoomi said in his book, that Shaykh Abu Zahra was the refuge and solace for the scholars in any crisis. He was sharp-witted, very eloquent and very strong and convincing in his arguments. He was known for his sincerity and his harshness against the oppressors. He was pressurized, but he never succumbed.

Shaykh Salih Al-Jafari, Imam of the Al-Azhar, also commemorated his death by speaking about Shaykh Abu Zahra and his personality.


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.


 

 

 

The Trodden Path (Episode 2): A Glimpse At the Lives of the Illustrious Scholars and Saints of the 20th and 21st Century.

In this newly anticipated 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 second article of the The Trodden Path series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed writes on the life of the Syrian scholar, Shaykh Tahir Al-Jazairi (RA).

The Trodden Path

Shaykh Tahir Al-Jazairi (1268-1338=1852-1920)

His full name is Tahir ibn Muhammad Salih ibn Ahmad ibn Mawhub Al-Samouni Al-Jazaairi Al-Dimashqi.

This reformer and great scholar of tafsir, hadith, fiqh, usul, history and the arabic language was born in Damascus in 1852 (1268) where he passed away in the year 1920 (1338).

His father Muhammad Salih emigrated from Algeria to Damascus in 1846 (1263) along with the great Algerian leader Abdul Qadir Al-Jazairi. He lived there until he passed away in (1285). His father was a scholar in the Quraanic sciences and a reputable scholar in the Maliki Madhab. He was the authorized Mufti on behalf of the Madhab in Damascus.

Shaykh Tahir received his early education from his father; thereafter he studied with other ulama in Damascus. His father, Shaykh Salih migrated from Algeria after the French occupied their lands and imposed various pressures on the Muslims. He was a scholar and was responsible for Fatwa in the Maliki madhab in Damascus. He also read and repeated the lessons in Sahih AlBukhari on behalf of Shaykh Ahmad Al-Kuzbari in the Umawy Mosque. He authored a few useful books. He passed away in Damascus in 1868 (1285).

He studied Arabic, Turkish and Persian under Shaykh AbdurRahman Al-Banushnaqi. He also studied French, Syriac, Hebrew and the Ethiopian Language. He also knew some of the Berber tribal languages, particularly of those who inhabited parts of Algeria.

The scholars under whom he studied the various Islamic sciences with were many. One of them was Shaykh Abdul Ghani Al-Ghunaymi Al-Maydani (1222-1298=1807-1881, author of AlLubaab in Hanafi Fiqh, Sharh AlAqeedah AlTahawiyah and other books), who was one of the most senior Hanafi scholars who was a student of Imam Ibn Abideen (author of Rad AlMukhtar), one of the greatest Hanafi scholars in that century. From him, Shaykh Tahir learnt how to be thorough, accurate and precise when analyzing complex fiqh issues.

Shaykh Tahir devoted all his time and energy towards studying which also included studying the natural sciences. He also studied mathematics, astronomy and history. His knowledge of history was superb and in addition he was very well acquainted with the biographies of the previous scholars and their books.

In his youth, he was among the founders in a charitable organization that was established by a group of scholars of Damascus in 1877 (1294). In 1878 (1295), at the age of 26 he was appointed as a general inspector for the primary schools. During the period he served in this position, he wrote some books that were necessary at the time for pupils in various levels. Together with Shaykh Ala Al-Din Abidin (d.1888), they agreed to establish the Al-Jamiyat Al-Khairiyah Al-Islamiyah that was very active in Damascus and was responsible for establishing many schools.

In 1879 (1296) he attempted to gather in one place all historical manuscripts from the endowment libraries in Damascus. The result of his efforts was the establishment of the Zahiriyah Library that became one of the most prominent libraries in the Arab world because of its valuable collections of manuscripts.

After his success with this library he strove to repeat the same in Jerusalem to establish the Khalidiyah Library in Al-Quds. Shaykh Tahir continued to serve the knowledge of Islam through his writing, teaching, and promoting it through his libraries.

His activities increased after 1886 after he had abandoned his work with the government. He devoted his time to teaching and towards promoting various reforms.

In 1907 (1325), he faced some harassment and pressure from the Turkish authorities in Syria. As the result he immigrated to Egypt where its scholars welcomed him, especially the likes of Ahmad Taimur Basha and Ahmad Zaki Basha.

He refused to take a cent from the State, because he feared that he would be forced to be silent on issues that were not palatable to the leaders. Instead, he lived by sacrificing his most beloved possessions. He sold his books and his manuscripts in order to survive. Even in these desperate times, he chose to sell his books to Dar Al-Kutub Al-Misriyah for half the price he would have received from the British Museum because he wanted to ensure that the books remain in Muslim lands.

Shaykh Ali Yusuf and Ahmad Taimur Basha tried to allocate some position to him, which would enable thousands to benefit from his vast knowledge and at the same time he would receive a salary. He excused himself because of his old age and his inability to fulfill official administrative and time requirements and also because he was accustomed to reading and researching the whole night right until Fajr. This was particularly his practice in the last forty years of his life. He remained in Cairo for about thirteen years and in 1920 (1337) he became seriously ill, and he returned to Damascus. Soon after his return he was elected as a member of the Arabic Academy in Damascus and the Director of the Zahiriyah Library. He passed away four months later in 1920 (1338) and is buried on the Qasiyoun Mountain in Damascus, Syria.

As Shaykh Taahir was so careful about utilizing his time, he did not care about his appearance and dressed very shabbily. He never married and used to spend a great deal of the night with his friends and the remainder in reading and writing. He enjoyed swimming and walking as an exercise. He was very particular about performing his salah punctually to the call of the adhan, no matter where he was. He defended the Arabic Language and the Hijri Calendar.

Although he was modest by nature he was fiercely independent. He never accepted any gift from the rulers. When he was financially in need, he continued to sell some of his books. The most expensive and dearest thing to him was his books and the time he spent studying and conducting his research. Nothing at all distracted him. He was able to answer questions that were posed to him with ease and was very annoyed at those who tried to insult the scholars.

He used to prepare a large quantity of coffee that would last for a few days to save on preparation time.

He drank coffee to give him energy and to keep him alert and awake. Whenever he left his home he always carried a book or some notes from which he could benefit, thus never wasting any time.

Despite the great amount of time he spent in reading, he advised students to lessen their reading during the holidays and, instead, to increase their sporting and recreational activities. He maintained that, deep immersion into books could lead to seclusion and alienation from people. He in turn had an excellent relationship with many scholars of Damascus that included; Shaykh Abdul Razaaq Al-Baytar, Shaykh Abu Al-Khair Abidin, Shaykh Salim Al-Bukhari and his special friend Shaykh Jamal Al-Din Al-Qasimi (author of a 17 volume Tafsir titled Mahaasin Al-Tawil fi Tafsir Al-Quran Al-Karim, 1283-1331=1866-1914). Shaykh Tahir visited Shaykh Jamal Al-Din daily from the beginning of 1906 until he left for Egypt in 1907. He attended Shaykh Al-Qasimi’s lessons in Mustalah Al-Hadith and Tafsir. Shaykh Tahir even reviewed Shaykh Al-Qasimi’s book in Mustalah Al-Hadith. They continued to correspond with one another even when Shaykh Tahir was in Egypt. Many orientalist scholars respected him and consulted him on numerous occasions. The Jewish orientalist scholar, Goldziher was one such scholar who even attended the Shaykh’s lessons in Damascus and translated his book Towjeeh Al-Nazhr  into German.

He wrote many books, over 35 in number on various subjects. These include aqidah, ulum Al-Quran, tajwid, the science of hadith, sirah, usul, Arabic rhetoric, Arabic literature, the philosophy of natural mathematics, history and introductions to many Islamic manuscripts.

His most important books are:

  • Irshad Alba (in teaching the Arabic Language)
  • Al-Tibyan (the science of the Quraan)
  • Towjih Al-Nazhr (in the science of hadith). This book is described by Shaykh Abu Ghuddah as one of the most extensive works on the subject. Shaykh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah edited and published the last two.
  • Al-Jawahir Al-Kalamiyah fi Al-Aqaaid Al-Islamiyah (Aqidah)
  • Al-TaqribilaUsul Al-Ta’rib (Arabic Grammar)
  • Sharh Khutab Ibn Nabatah(Poetry and Literature)
  • Al-Tazkirah Al-Zhahiriyah (articles on various topics)
  • Al-Uqud Al-Alaali fi Al-Asanid Al-Awali
  • Muniyat Al-Azkiya fi Qisas Al-Anbiya
  • Mukhtasar Adab Al-Katib by Ibn Qutaybah
  • Madkhal Al-Tulabila Fan Al-Hisaab

Some of his works are still manuscripts and have never been published. Some of the titles are:

  • Asna Al-Maqasid fi Ilm Al-Aqa’id
  • Al-Ilmam bi Usul Sirat Al-Nabi Alayhi Al-Salatwa Al-Salam.
  • Al-Tafsir Al-Kabir. (4 Volumes and can be regarded as notes to Tafseer Al-Baydawi).
  • Various others describing his travels to Alexandria and other places.
  • Various compilations of biographies of scholars of different eras.
  • Selections from Al-Muwafaqat by Al-Shatibi and Zaruq’s work in Tasawwuf

He could be distinguished from many of his contemporary scholars because he enjoyed the following:

  1. His initiatives in spreading education and establishing schools. Through his interaction with the Turkish authorities, he worked tirelessly to achieve this many times convincing people who owned large palatial homes to donate a portion, which could be used for a school. These schools were in all the cities of Syria and he even established a school for girls.
  2. He personally took charge of the syllabus. He did receive some opposition from certain sectors in Damascus, who wanted this knowledge to be exclusively for them and their families. He endured and persevered and because of his acquaintance with the governor, he was successful. He also encouraged and supported the establishment of a school dedicated to teaching the seven modes of recitation of the Quran.
  3. His active participation in establishing social and charitable organizations.
  4. His efforts in promoting history and various aspects related to the Arabic language.
  5. His role in bridging the gap in some way between realities and absolute aspects of Islam and modern science.
  6. His emphasis on education (tarbiyah) and ethics (akhlaaq).
  7. His activism through writing and keeping the people informed through the newspapers. Once Ahmad Zaki Basha received 10 000 pounds from the Minister of Education to publish rare books. A year passed and nothing was done. When a new minister was appointed, this amount was returned to the Ministry. Shaykh Taahir was very annoyed and upset and he felt that Ahmad Zaki had done a great disservice to the Ummah.

His students, Shaykh Muhammad Sai’d AlBani Al-Dimashqi, Muhammad Kurd Ali, Shaykh Ali Al-Tantawi and Shaykh Adnan Al-Khatib revered him and they wrote about his productive life and distinct personality.

 

* This biography may be found in the book: Muslim Scholars of the 20th Century by Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed


Biography of Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed

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.


https://seekersguidance.org/articles/the-trodden-path-a-glimpse-at-the-lives-of-the-illustrious-scholars-and-saints-of-the-20th-and-21st-century/

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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Spirituality Reflected Through Activism – By Shaykh Sadullah Khan

In this article, Shaykh Sadullah Khan deeply reflects on the life of Imam Abdullah Haron RA. Imam Abdullah Haron RA was a South African scholar, community leader, and political activist who stood against the apartheid regime in South Africa. He was martyred during his incarceration under the apartheid regime.

* The original source of this article is from the Muslim Views (March 2019):

http://muslimviews.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/MV-March-2019-LoRes.pdf


Shaykh Sadullah KhanHafidh-ul-Quran at 14, Imam at 31, Martyred at 45: ash-Shaheed Imam Abdullah Haron.

Having lost his mother in infancy, reared lovingly by his dear aunt Mariam and tutored in Makkah by the likes of Shaikh Abdurrahman al-Alawi al-Maliki, all impacted on the spiritual roots of this noble icon in our historic struggle against racism and injustice in South Africa.

As one who loved to constantly recite the Quran, as one who fasted every Monday and Thursday, Imam Haron’s spiritual consciousness demanded of him that he engage the world around him in a proactive manner.

As imam and spiritual leader of Al-Jamia Mosque (Stegman Road), in Claremont, he promoted youth programmes, initiated adult male and female classes, organised study circles and encouraged women to participate in the mosque’s executive activities.

He created discussion groups, established the progressive Claremont Muslim Youth Association, publishing the monthly bulletin Islamic Mirror, co-founded and edited the community newspaper Muslim News and, through these, he addressed spiritual, cultural, religious, social and political issues.

All of these played a functional role in engaging the community, informing the community, binding the community and enlightening the community.

Imam Haron’s spirituality was informed by the Quran, which imbued his life with clarity of moral purpose, and was exercised through social engagement rather than withdrawal from society. His moral depth and spiritual strength was evident in:

  • his fiery determination in standing up and publicly denouncing the apartheid state when his peers were cowed by the racist government. And it was highly uncommon for religious people to engage in ‘politics’ because it was neither socially safe nor politically correct to do so;
  • his preference was to walk the walk rather than talk the talk, living his ideals in practice by active involvement with all strata of civil society rather than sermonising and projecting beautiful visions and solutions without practical implementation;
  • his stand when the Group Areas Act threatened Al-Jamia mosque by forced removals. He said, ‘The precincts of the mosque are inviolable and the building sacred forever. No mosque can be sold or destroyed.’
  • his active involvement with the Defence and Aid Fund to assist freedom fighters, political prisoners, exiles, those who were banned and their families (who were often forgotten);
  • his ethical commitment to physically go and uplift the impoverished through personal interaction despite laws that were designed to keep people apart; so much so that even those not of his faith recognised his spiritual stature by calling him ‘mfundisi’ (holy/ religious man);
  • his physical ability, enormous courage and selfless dedication to endure harassment, interrogation, torment and torture for 123 days (even till death) without ‘selling out’ to the notorious brutality and power of the oppressors.

Imam Haron’s activism personified the ethical message of the Quran that he had memorised. Bearing witness (shahadah) is the foundation of spiritual life and Imam Haron lived the Shahadah and died a shaheed (martyr).

A martyr is never defeated nor conquered; they killed his body but his mission is alive. They silenced his voice but his message continues to inspire. His body lies buried but his spirit lives on; it lives in every person he taught and helped (young or old, male or female), in every poor home he visited (in Bonteheuwel or Langa), in every life he touched (Muslim or not).

The pain of his death and the memory of his martyrdom should evoke a moral responsibility on our collective conscience to ensure that the blood of martyrs is never spilled in vain.


Biography of Shaykh Sadullah Khan

Shaykh Sadullah Khan memorized the Qur’an at the age of eight, studied law in South Africa, journalism in Britain and Islamic studies in Egypt. He has spearheaded youth development programs in South Africa and the USA for two decades; has been an inspiring religious leader, motivational speaker and an educator for the past 25 years. Shaykh Sadullah is currently the COO of the Islamia College, in Cape Town, South Africa.