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Is COVID-19 a Divine Punishment? – Shaykh Ahmed El Azhary

“Is COVID-19 a punishment from Allah?” is definitely a repeated question these days. I know of many Muslims who are asking themselves as they see all the mosques around the world, especially al-Haram al-Makki and al-Masjid al-Nabawi, closed: Is this a sign that Allah is angry at us? Are we being punished from Allah for all of our wrong-doings and short-comings as Muslims? 

Well, the closure of mosques – and also the shutdown of life as we knew it just few months ago – is certainly a “reminder” from Allah that we are after all not in control of things. It is a reminder of all the bounties that we had and never were appreciative or grateful for. Praying in mosques, or I should rather say “The Mosque-life,” was a gigantic blessing that deserved and required from us more care, gratitude, and respect. The closure of mosques is perhaps a reminder that we as Muslims cannot be turning the houses of worship into arenas for egos to battle and for greed to manifest.

And while the closure of mosques is a reminder from Allah of how we should value the houses of worship, staying at home is also a reminder of how we ought to carry our family lives. It is a reminder that our homes require our absolute attention; that our families deserve that we invest more time in them; and that our children need our direct effort in educating and teaching them about both religion and life. 

So, COVID-19 is absolutely a reminder of all of these things and many more, but is it really a “punishment” from Allah? Allah the Most High has told us clearly in the Qur’an that we shall be tested. He said in verse (155) of Surat al-Baqarah: “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits but give good tidings to the patient.” And He said in verse (31) of Surat Muhammad: “And We will surely test you until We make evident those who strive among you and the patient, and We will test your affairs.” So, we were told in the Qur’an that there will be “tests” that shall bring to the surface what is hidden in our hearts and minds. For this reason, amongst others, we can say that such tests are in actuality blessings, because they provide us with inner illumination. They inform us about ourselves and give us opportunity to understand ourselves better. Hence, they help us to improve and develop ourselves spiritually, as Imam Ibn `Ata’ Allah (may Allah be pleased with him) said in his Aphorisms: “States of need are gift-laden carpets.” However, it is our response to these difficulties that defines whether or not they are punishments, because if one responds to such states of need with anger, irritation and annoyance that would imply that they are punishments, because obviously that would mean the person has failed the test. On the other hand, if one responds to such turbulences with patience and resilience that would suggest that these events were sent as means for expiation of sins and salvation from past misdeeds. Better than this, if one responds to these dire circumstances with acceptance, good-will and content, then that would be an indicator that one’s spiritual rank has elevated, and it is a sign of one’s closeness to Allah the Most High. So, in these regards, COVID-19 is one event – one test – that means different things and brings different results for different people. And Allah knows best.

May Allah grant us wisdom and awareness; keep us away from foolishness and pretension; and protect us from both the diseases of the body and the diseases of the heart. 


Biography of Shaykh Ahmed Hussein El Azhary:

Shaykh Ahmed El Azhary is a researcher in Islamic intellectual history and a teacher of Islamic traditional sciences. He’s currently a teacher of Hadith, Usūl, Logic, and Kalam at Rawdatul-Na`īm under the supervision of Habib `Ali al-Jifrī; and at Madyafat Shaykh Ismaīl Sadiq al-`Adawī (RA), a prominent learning center by al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo.

Formerly, Shaykh Ahmed worked as a Lead Researcher at Tabah Foundation. He was appointed by Habib `Ali al-Jifrī to architect the philosophical framework of Suaal initiative – an initiative concerned with modeling an Islamic philosophical response to contemporary existential questions, supervised by Shaykh `Ali Jumu`ah, Habib `Umar and Shaykh Usama al-Azhary. Shaykh Ahmed continues to participate in Suaal initiative through essays, public lectures, and workshops.

Shaykh Ahmed studied Anthropology at American University in Cairo and received his training in Leadership Communication from Tulane University and The University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is also a life-long learner. He holds a diversified portfolio of almost 50 certificates in a variety of subjects – extending from Teaching Character and Clinical Psychology of Children and Young People to Complexity Theory, Model Thinking and Conflict Analysis.

Shaykh Ahmed began his journey of studying traditional sciences about 20 years ago. In addition to studying with scholars from al-Azhar, he had the privilege of studying with visiting scholars from Algeria and India in a one-on-one format and was thus given an exceptional opportunity to study and discuss advanced-level texts of different sorts and over a long period of time. Shaykh Ahmed has more than 70 Ijazas from scholars from all over the Muslim world.


 

Two Hadiths about ‘Uqbah ibn Abi Muayt

Shaykh Jamir Meah clarifies two hadiths concerning the fate of ‘Uqbah ibn Abi Muayt and his children, ‘Umarah and Yazid.

Question:

Assalam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.

I just read the account of the battle of Badr in Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him. He records the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, telling ‘Uqbah ibn Abi Muayt that Hell will take care of his children before his execution. Also, below is a hadith from Sunan Abu Dawud.

Narrated Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud. Ibrahim said, “Al-Dahhak ibn Qays intended to appoint Masruq as governor. Thereupon Umarah ibn Uqbah said to him: Are you appointing a man from the remnants of the murderers of Uthman? Masruq said to him, ‘Ibn Mas‘ud narrated to us, and he was trustworthy in respect of traditions, that when the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, intended to kill your father, he said: Who will look after my children?’ He replied: ‘Fire. I also like for you what the Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him, liked for you.’”

What is the authenticity of these two reports? Why would the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, utter such harsh words? And how can we reconcile them with his character, blessings and peace be upon him, as a mercy to the worlds? Need help.

Your brother in faith.

Answer:

Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.

Thank you for your question.

The event of Uqbah bin Mu’ayt’s execution is one of many incidents that those seeking to undermine Islam and skew the perfect character of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, choose to focus upon. When read objectively, these narrations do not present any issues, nor contradict the noble rank of the Prophet or his being a mercy to the worlds, blessings and peace be upon him.

Uqbah bin Mu’ayt

Uqbah bin Mu’ayt was one of the fiercest and vilest antagonists of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, and the Muslims. Despite being a neighbor to the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, his acts of hatred towards the Prophet include; insults, mockery, throwing the entrails, blood, and waste of a camel on the Prophet as he prayed at the Kaba. Stepping on the Prophet’s neck while he was in prostration, spitting in the Prophet’s face, attempted murder of the Prophet by strangulation, blessings and peace be upon him, rejoicing at the death of the Prophet’s son Abdullah, and much more.

As you rightly said, the death of Uqbah is mentioned in the books of Prophetic biography, such as Ibn Ishaq. After the Muslims won at Badr, the enemy soldiers were taken captive. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, ordered that two of these captives were to be executed; Uqbah being one of them. This is absolutely understandable given his vitriol towards the Muslims and the suffering he had caused.

When about to be put to death, ‘Uqbah said, “Who will look after my children?” to which the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, answered, “The Fire.” Then he was executed. (Sunan Abu Dawud. The hadith has a sound chain of transmission.)

The Fire

The scholars have commentated on what the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, had meant by his answer “The Fire,” and it suffices us to quote what they have said as an explanation:

There are two opinions to his answer ‘The Fire,’ blessings and peace be upon him. The first is that the Fire will be their [‘Uqbah’s children’s] destruction, meaning if the Fire is to apply to them then so will it be [i.e if they die as disbelievers, then that will also be their fate].

The second possibility is that he, blessings and peace be upon him, was using a specific style of speech [uslub al hakim – in Arabic rhetoric, when one addresses a person with words that are not anticipated by the addressee, and which goes against the outward understanding of the word, in order to make it known that the import of the words are directed specifically to the person addressed], so the meaning is, ‘For you is the Fire,’ i.e. ‘Concern yourself with yourself and what is destined for you in the Fire, and leave the affairs of your children alone, for Allah is their Provider … and this [second opinion] is the correct opinion.
(Sharh Mishkat al-Masabih)

Perhaps the Prophet’s words “The Fire,” blessings and peace be upon him, were meant as additional castigation and punishment [of ‘Uqbah], not that he, blessings and peace be upon him, was stating that his [‘Uqbah’s] children will be in the Fire, for Walid and Umarah became Muslims on the Conquest of Mecca, and Allah is pleased with all the Companions. (Sharh Sunan Abu Dawud li Ibn Raslan)

In regards this event, we should note the following:

    1. 1. The plea of ‘Uqbah, “What about my children?” was a desperate attempt to escape the deserving death penalty and to be taken instead as a slave.

2. At least one of his sons, Yazid was legally an adult and a disbeliever at the time, who assisted the Quraysh at the Battle of Badr. Both he and his brother Umarah later became Muslims.

3. ‘Uqbah had done everything in his power to hurt and destroy the Muslims, who up until Badr, had not fought with the Quraysh at all. ‘Uqbah was well aware of what the loss at Badr would mean for him. Additionally, the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, had previously warned him that he would execute him one day for his oppression and aggression, but since ‘Uqbah was in a position of power, he mocked the warning.

Harshness

The response of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, to ‘Uqbah’s plea was deserved and just. If the response seems harsh to some, then it is important to know that the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, never took personal revenge or acted out of spitefulness for the sake of his own person and grievances.

The person of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, is an intrinsic part of the the religion, and abuse and attack on his person is abuse of Allah, the religion of Islam, and the Muslims in general. And it is for their relentless and vehement crimes against Allah, his religion, and the Muslims, that certain figures such as ‘Uqbah were put to death and given harsh treatment. This is the context in which the answer of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, is correctly understood.

This is made clear by the fact that Allah revealed a verse mentioning the death of ‘Uqbah, “On the day when the wrong-doer gnaws his hands, he will say: ‘Ah, would that I had chosen a way together with the messenger!’” (Sura al-Furqan 25:27)

If critics take exception at the Prophet’s words, blessings and peace be upon him, and use it as a proof of a lack of his mercy and an example of a barbaric “medieval” nature (particularly compared to the false “meek-as-a-lamb” image put forward in regards the personality of Christ) they need only to look at the New Testament to find similar “harsh” expressions reportedly expressed by Christ, such as when he addresses the scribes and Pharisees and their evil designs against him and his followers: “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Mathew 23:33) In other words, Hellfire has now become your fate.

Perspective

Given what we have mentioned above, it’s important to now put the death of ‘Uqbah in perspective. Out of seventy something captives taken at Badr, only two were executed: ‘Uqbah being one of them. And this was due to their unrelenting persecution of the Muslims.

As for the remaining prisoners of war, we will allow the words of William Muir, who we should note was a Christian evangelic orientalist, and held very biased and unfair criticisms of Islam, to describe for us the treatment of the remaining captives from the Battle of Badr, so we may draw our own conclusions as to the mercy and character of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him:

In pursuance of Mahomet’s commands, the citizens of Medina, and such of the refugees as possessed houses, received the prisoners, and treated them with much consideration. ‘Blessings be on the men of Medina!’ said one of these prisoners in later days; ‘they made us ride, while they themselves walked: they gave us wheaten bread to eat when there was little of it, contenting themselves with dates. (The Life of Mahomet)

Turning the Other Cheek

From the above, it is clear that these is not the cold-hearted acts of a callous leader, nor the principles of a barbaric religion, as some would have people believe to be the case.

For mercy to be attributed to a person, it does not mean that the person is obliged to always turn the other cheek or pardon, nor to refrain from exacting just punishment. This is a false notion. In the same way, God’s punishing those who deserve punishment does not inhibit His being attributed by Mercy or being deserving of the Names Al-Rahman and Al-Rahim: the Most Merciful and Most Compassionate.

Merciful Not Weak

In worldly affairs, particularly affairs of the state, every situation must be assessed on merit, and sometimes it is necessary to exact the law or bring people to justice. To not do so in situations which demand it can be considered a weakness and dangerous.

It is well known that in war, there are times when certain individuals must be put to death. For not only are they deserving of such a fate for their heinous crimes, but it also serves the purpose of putting a final end to the threat they pose (and thereby bringing justice and peace), sending a clear warning to enemies that such aggression will not be tolerated, as well as showing a sign of strength.

We see a similar incident concerning Salahuddin al-Ayyubi and Reginald (Reynald) of Chatillon when the former regained Jerusalem from the crusaders. Salahuddin had captured King Guy of Jerusalem and Reginald, and chose to spare the life of the King, yet did not extend the pardon to Reginald, who was a particularly lawless crusader who had robbed, killed, and enslaved Muslim civilians, as well attempting to dig up and kidnap the body of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him!

Reginald was executed shortly after being captured by Salahuddin. Yet despite this, Salahuddin remains a revered figure who was and still is acknowledged and praised a great deal in the West for his chivalry, generosity, and mercy. Salahuddin’s decision to execute Reginald is generally accepted as an expected and normal decision of a military leader in that situation.

Hadith of Masruq

You mentioned the hadith that, “Al-Dahhak ibn Qays intended to appoint Masruq as governor. Thereupon Umarah ibn Uqbah said to him, ‘Are you appointing a man from the remnants of the murderers of Uthman?’ Masruq said to him: ‘Ibn Mas‘ud narrated to us, and he was trustworthy in respect of traditions, that when the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, intended to kill your father, he said, “Who will look after my children?” He replied, “The Fire.” I also like for you what the Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him, liked for you.’” (Sunan Abu Dawud)

This hadith has a fair chain of transmission. What is apparent from the narration is that the words of Masruq: “I also like for you what the Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him, liked for you,” was a bitter retaliation to Umarah opposing his appointment as governor and connecting his name with assassination of Sayyidna Uthman. It is not to be understood as something the Prophet actually meant, as discussed above. And Allah knows best.

I hope this clarifies the matter.

Warmest salams,

Jamir

Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani.


Is There Always Punishment for a Sin?

Answered by Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat

Question: Asslamu Alaykum

Is the repentance of a person who used to draw accepted if he stops doing it. Or is there always a punishment for it on the day of judgement.

Answer: As-salamu ‘alaykum

Anyone who sincerely repents from a sin will be forgiven and will not face the consequence of that action on the Day of Judgement. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘Someone who has repented from a sin is like a person who has no sin’ (Ibn Majah).

May Allah grant you the best of both worlds.

[Shaykh] Abdul-Rahim Reasat

Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat began his studies in Arabic Grammar and Morphology in 2005. After graduating with a degree in English and History he moved to Damascus in 2007 to study and sit at the feet of some of the most erudite scholars of our time.

Allah’s Mercy Over His Wrath: What Does It Mean For Us? by Shaykh Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes

Allah’s Mercy Over His Wrath: What Does It Mean For Us? by Shaykh Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes

Capturing the Spirit of Ramadan
Mercy, Forgiveness and Salvation

Every night our Ramadan scholars will explore one of the three key spiritual goals of Ramadan. Each talk will conclude with a dynamic conversation as we explore mercy, forgiveness and salvation deeply and see how we can attain these divine gifts practically. These talks will enliven and inspire us as we begin our nightly ‘isha and tarawih prayers.

Daily at 10:00 pm EST. Attend in person at SeekersHub Toronto or watch live. 

Let’s #GiveLight to Millions More

We envision a world in which no one is cut off from the beauty, mercy and light of the Prophetic ﷺ example. A world where the dark ideology of a few is dwarfed by radiant example of the many who follow the way of the Prophet ﷺ. But we can’t do it alone. We need your support. This Ramadan, we need you to help us #GiveLight to millions more. Here’s how.

How Do You Distinguish Between a Test From Allah and Punishment? [Follow-Up Questions]

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam
Question: Assalamu alaykum,
I have follow-up questions regarding this answer: How Do You Distinguish Between a Test From Allah and Punishment?
1) Can you further distinguish between expiation of sins vs raising of ranks?
2) Specifically, how is calmness distinct from mere patience?
3) How is contentment distinct from merely avoiding complaining?
4) What is obedience of heart? (versus mere obedience of body)?
5) If we find ourselves in the first category or second (i.e. that of sins or expiation of sins), can we “raise” the purpose/goal of the trial through intentionally altering the “symptoms” i.e. complaining less, so that it becomes an expiation of sin rather than a punishment?

Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
I pray that you are in the best of health and faith, insha’Allah.
(1) Expiation of sins is for them to be covered over, which is distinct from being raised in degrees.
(2) Patience is remaining firm upon that which will be pleasing to Allah. Calmness is serenity after uneasiness and worry. [see: A Reader on Patience and Reliance on Allah]
(3) Contentment is the heart’s joy at the unfolding of destiny. [see: Contentment: the Property of the Believers – Shaykh Yahya Rhodus – Video and: Divine Decree, Contentment, and Lessons From the Prophet’s Life] Complaint is objecting to Allah. [see: Things Inconsistent With Accepting Fate – Imam Ghazali]
(4) Obedience of the heart can include actions which pertain to the heart such as sincerity, trueness, and good opinion, as opposed to obedience of the body, such as prayer and fasting.
(5) Yes, and this realization is a gift from Allah.
See also: Struggling to Have Children: Ten Key Etiquettes of Du’a
And Allah alone gives success.
wassalam,
Tabraze Azam
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani.

Why People With a Lot of Sins Will Go to Paradise While Others With Few Mistakes Will Go to Hell?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam
Question: How to reconcile between stories where Allah shows mercy to great sinners like the man who killed one hundred people and the fact that people who have made a lot of acts of worship will nonetheless be punished like evil scholars?
Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
I pray that you are in the best of health and faith, insha’Allah.
Such narratives are sufficient to teach us not to rely upon our works.
Ibn `Ata’illah said, “Among the signs one is relying upon actions is a lessening of hope when a slip or setback occurs.” [see: Contemporary Wisdom – Imam Zaid Shakir on the Hikam of Ibn Ata’illah]
Allah will grant the believers Paradise out of His Infinite Largesse and Bounty, not due to their imaginations of the greatness of their works. In reality, we can never fulfil what is due to Allah.
However, this doesn’t negate the importance of works. Works must be there, and anybody who understands anything about the one ordering will rush to lift his dues. The entire religion revolves around acts of worship.
Allah Most High said, “But those who believe and do good deeds will be given the Gardens of Paradise. There they will remain, never wishing to leave.” [18.107-108]
And Allah alone gives success.
wassalam,
Tabraze Azam
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani.

A Reader on the Problem of Evil, Suffering, Destiny, and Allah’s Mercy

“Do not despair of Allah’s mercy.”[Qur’an, 39.53]

The Problem of Evil and Suffering
The Problem of Evil and a Summarized Islamic Response

and Divine Wisdom
Why Do Good People Suffer While Bad People Get Away With Crimes?
Destiny
Belief in Destiny, It’s Good and Evil
Destiny and Human Responsibility in Islam
Can Supplication Change Destiny?

Divine Decree, Contentment, and Lessons From the Prophet’s Life
Allah’s Mercy
The Reality of Allah’s Mercy and the Divine Wisdom Behind Suffering
Understanding Allah’s Attributes: Love & Mercy
Seeking Allah’s Mercy by Being Merciful
Qur’anic Reflections: Keys to Allah’s Love and Mercy (Qur’an 3.29-31)

Is Allah Punishing me for my Past Sins through the Trials in my Life?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam
Question: Salam  Alaykum
I have just become infertile and I want to know if I caused it by sinning in my past or if it was always destined to happen? I am afraid of losing everything else. I always thought everything that occurs was pre ordained now I’m afraid it was my fault.
Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
I pray that you are in the best of health and faith, insha’Allah.
No, trials aren’t necessarily the result of sins. [see: How Do You Distinguish Between a Test From Allah and Punishment?]
Have a good opinion of Allah, remove the unlawful from your life, repent from all sin, get up before Fajr and pray, asking Allah to give you contentment (rida) and make the trial easy to bear, and work on your state with Allah, striving for an increase in gratitude and patience.
Please also see: Struggling to Have Children: Ten Key Etiquettes of Du’a and: Divine Decree, Contentment, and Lessons From the Prophet’s Life and: Can Supplication Change Destiny? and: A Reader on Patience and Reliance on Allah
And Allah alone gives success.
wassalam,
Tabraze Azam
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

How Do You Distinguish Between a Test From Allah and Punishment?

Answered by Shaykh Faraz A. Khan

Question: My family and I are currently going through a lot of difficulties. My question is, how does one differentiate between a test from Allah and a punishment? What should we do in either case?

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,

I pray this finds you in the best of health and states. May Allah grant you and your family ease and relief from your trials, amin.

Some Criteria and General Advice

One’s own behavior during the trial is a strong clue as to why the trial was sent.

It is related that Shaykh Abdul Qadir al-Jaylani (Allah have mercy on him) said that trials occur for one of three reasons, each of which has a sign:

(1) Due to sins, the sign of which is the person’s lack of patience and much restlessness and complaining during the trial; or

(2) As expiation for sins, the sign of which is patience and not complaining or being restless, along with obedience being easy on the body; or

(3) As a way to raise one’s rank to the highest of degrees, the sign of which is contentment and calmness, along with obedience being easy on both the body and the heart.

[Nahlawi, Al-Durar al-Mubaha fil Hazr wal Ibaha]

In any case, one should strive to remove the unlawful from one’s life; seek much forgiveness and make much repentance; and focus on being patient and content with Allah’s decree, all the while continuing to make dua that Allah bring ease and relief from the trial.

Related Answers

How Do I Cope With the Constant Hardships and Challenges in My Life?

A Reader on Patience and Reliance on Allah

Family Problems: Maintaining Conviction in Allah During Difficulty & Tribulation

Advice to a Young Cancer Patient

Prophetic Supplications to Cure Illnesses

Struggling to Have Children: Ten Key Etiquettes of Du’a

 

And Allah knows best.

wassalam
Faraz

Checked and Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Good Deeds & Salvation: Putting Our Works Into Perspective

Answered by Sidi Salman Younas

Question: What role do actions play in salvation?  There are, of course, Muslims out there who have adopted ideas similar to the Christians that belief is all that you need to be saved. What would you advise that I tell them.

Answer: assalamu `alaykum

All that one needs to be saved is Allah. Neither actions nor beliefs alone guarantee one’s salvation.

`A’isha (Allah be well pleased with her) narrates that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Perform your deeds properly and in moderation, and know that one’s deeds will not cause anyone of you to enter Heaven, and that the most beloved of actions to Allah are the most consistent ones even if little in amount.” [Bukhari]

Abu Hurayra (Allah be well-pleased with him) narrates that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “There is no one whose deeds will cause him to enter Heaven. It was said, ‘Not even you, Messenger of Allah?’ He (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘Not even me unless my Lord envelops me with His mercy.'” [Muslim]

In another narration the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “There is no one whose deeds will cause his salvation. It was said, ‘Not even you Messenger of Allah? He (Allah bless him and grant him peace), ‘Not even me unless my Lord takes hold of me with mercy.'” [Muslim]

Understanding Allah’s Greatness:

In order to understand  the narrations properly, as well as the relation of one’s deeds to salvation, some key points of belief need to be outlined. The most essential is knowledge that Allah is not obligated to do anything.

Imam Nawawi, while explaining the above narrations, states, “Know that the position of Ahl al-Sunna is that reward, punishment, obligatoriness, impermissibility, and other than them two from the categories of moral responsibility, are not established by the rational intellect (`aql). All of this and other than it is not established except by recourse to divine revelation. The position of the Ahl al-Sunna is also that there is absolutely nothing obligatory on Allah Most High. Rather, the cosmos is His possession, and this world and the next are subject to His mastery; He does in them whatever He wills. So, if He punished every obedient and righteous slave and caused them to enter the Fire this would be considered equitable justice from Him, and if He honored them, blessed them, and entered them into Heaven then it is a gracious favor from Him. If He graciously favored the disbelievers and entered them into Heaven it would also be akin to this. However, He Most High has informed us – and His message is true – that He will not do so…” [Sharh Sahih Muslim]

Similarly, Imam Bajuri states, “So, the position of Ahl al-Sunna is that His rewarding us is due to pure gracious favor that is not admixed with compulsion or obligation [to do so].” [Tuhfat al-Murid]

Imam Haramayn al-Juwayni, the teacher of Imam Ghazali, states, “Similarly, with a person who is highly respected within his family, if he is generous with his son and provides all his needs, and the son honors him, respects him and seeks his approval and strives to earn it, therefore, that person is not owed in regard for his assistance anymore then he has already obtained from the beneficence that has accrued to his credit. If then this is the situation with a person who provides services to another like himself, a servant who tried to compare his own acts of service with God’s bounteous generosity to him in any single instance would find the beneficence of God completely acquitted and fulfilled in regard to any of his own good deeds.” [Kitab al-Irshad]

What Are Your Deeds? Allah’s Creation

The above becomes clearer when one realizes what one’s deeds really are: a creation of Allah. Unlike certain groups that believed that humans create their own choiceful acts, the Ahl al-Sunna unanimously agree that all of one’s actions are created by Allah. This is clear from the verse, “Allah created you and that which you do.” [37: 96] The commentators of the Qur’an agree that the vast majority constituted this as a proof of Allah’s being the creator of all actions. [Razi, Tafsir al-Kabir; Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzil; Qurtubi, Jami` al-Ahkam al-Qur’an]

Similarly, the scholars defined “divinely given success” (tawfiq) as “Allah’s creating the ability to perform acts of obedience within the slave.” [Bajuri, Tuhfat al-Murid; Sawi, Sharh `ala al-Jawhara]

As such, since our actions are a creaton of Allah and only came into being due to His will and omnipotent power, the servant has no right to claim that his deeds will cause his salvation, or that he deserves salvation due to them, since his deeds properly belong to Allah who created them, not the servant himself. Deeds not only include outward rituals, but also inward belief and convictions, all of which are blessings bestowed upon us by Allah. As the Qur’an states, “Whatever blessing you have, it is from Allah.” [16:53]

Imam Nawawi, while explaining the verse “enter heaven enveloped in what you did [of good acts]” [16: 32], states that “entering heaven is due to actions, yet divinely give success (tawfiq) to perform those acts, being guided in having sincerity in them, and their acceptance is due to Allah’s mercy and gracious favor.” [Sharh Sahih Muslim] Ibn Hajar `Asqalani stated that some scholars, such as Ibn Battal and Qadi `Iyyad, stated that one’s entry into heaven is purely out of Allah’s mercy whereas the degree where one will be in heaven is commensurate with one’s deeds. This was also mentioned by Ibn al-Jawzi, who added that since actions are only for a limited earthly time-span, the eternal reward of heaven is not, strictly speaking, due to them but due to Allah’s blessing upon the servant. [Fath al-Bari]

The Goal is Allah: Putting Deeds Into Perspective

At the same time, this does not mean that one can leave performing the deeds that one has been commanded to perform. It remains an obligation on every morally responsible individual to fulfill the command of Allah Most High and strive to do so with excellence. This is not only decisively conveyed in the Qur’an but the narratives in question also state this unequivocally, such as the statement “perform your deeds properly and in moderation”. When closely looked at, it becomes clear that the purpose of these narratives is not to completely deemphasize the place of works, but to put them into correct perspective. The lessons that the narratives convey include:

[1] Being moderate and not excessive in one’s worship: The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “This religion is ease and none makes it difficult except that it will overwhelm him. So, perform your deeds properly and in moderation…” [Bukhari] The wording of this narration is akin to the wording of the narratives related to our discussion here.

Imam Sakhawi quotes `A’isha (Allah be well-pleased with her) as stating that the ploy of the devil in relation to the servants duty to perform certain acts revolves around making him go to excess or making him lax in fulfilling these duties. [Maqasid al-Husna] The best way is to take the middle path and do a moderate amount of work with presence and purity of heart. Bakr al-Muzani said, “Abu Bakr did not surpass the Companions of the Prophet with [abundant] fasts and prayers but due to something in his heart.” [Saffarini, Ghida al-Albab; Ghazali, Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din]

[2] Being consistent in one’s deeds (mudawama): Some of the narrations, after mentioning that deeds are not a guarantee of one’s entry into heaven, clearly state that the most beloved of works to Allah is the good deed that is done consistently.

[3] Reflecting on the mercy and generosity of Allah (tafkir): Qadi `Iyyad says that the purpose of stating that none will enter heaven except he whom Allah shows mercy and generosity towards is not to demean the status of righteous acts. Rather, it is to allow the servant to contemplate on the fact that actions are only carried out and completed by the favor and generosity of Allah. Good deeds are in fact a sign to the slave of Allah’s mercy pouring down upon him. [Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir; Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari]

[4] Thanking Allah for all of the blessings He has given one (shukr): The Qur’an states, “If you are thankful, I shall certainly increase you.” [14: 8] The scholars have defined “thankfulness” as “the slaves directing all that which he has been blessed with towards that which it was created for.” [Bajuri, Tuhfat al-Murid] This should be expressed with one’s heart, tongue, and all of one’s limbs. This should not only be for the continual bestowal of these blessings, which include acts of worship, but also out of realization that Allah is truly deserving of all thanks. Even the mere existence of a person is enough of a reason to thank Allah.

[5] Realizing one’s complete neediness towards Allah (faqr): This is the very definition of “God”, namely He whom all others are in utter need of and who Himself is in need of nothing. [Bajuri, Tuhfat al-Murid; Sawi, Sharh `ala al-Jawhara] Abu Bakr al-Shibli said, “Neediness is that a slave not be in need of anything other than Allah.” [Qushayri, Risala]

[6] Relying on Allah alone, not one’s works (tawakkul): The Qur’an repeatedly mentions reliance on Allah stating, “Place your reliance in the Living God, the Undying” [25: 58] and “Whoever places his reliance on Allah then He is his sufficiency.” [65: 3]

Reliance on Allah entails recognizing His oneness, which is a oneness in essence, attributes, as well as acts. When one realizes that the acts one performs are in reality not from oneself but from Allah then one ceases to rely solely on works. Rather, the servant then turns to the Creator of those works. Imam Ghazali states, “When this was unveiled to you, you did not cast a glance towards anything other than Him. Rather, your fear was now from Him, and your hope towards Him… If the doors of unveiling were opened to you this reality would be made patently clear to you with a clarity more complete than witnessing with actual sight.” [Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din]

Abu `Abdullah al-Qurshi was asked about reliance and he stated, “It is being attached to Allah in every moment.” Ibn Masruq stated, “It is submitting to the blows of fate and sacred rulings.” Abu Usman al-Hiri said, “It is sufficing with Allah while being dependent upon Him.” [Qushayri, Risala]

It was in this context that Ibn Ata’illah said, “One of the signs of relying on deeds is loss of hope when a misstep occurs.” [Hikam] Those who rely on Allah never lose hope, whereas those who rely on themselves eventually slip and plummet. The prophetic narratives regarding the insufficiency of deeds is a reminder of this point.

[7] Being sincere in servitude (ikhlas): All of the above indicates a higher reality, a reality seldom understood or consciously realized, which is that the reason why Allah is worshipped and should be worshiped is because He is Allah, the Master of everything. There is a difference, as scholars have stated, between an individual who carries out the command of a king because he wants to spend the night at his castle, or have some gift bestowed upon him, and between someone who does so because the king truly deserves such service, regardless of any benefits that may accrue from it.

Among the definitions of sincerity given are: “It is singularizing the Real in one’s obedience through resolve, and this is that one desires to seek closeness to Allah through his obedience and nothing else”; “It is forgetting that deeds exact reward in the next life”; “Lowering one’s gaze from catching sight of [one’s] actions”; “It is a secret between Allah and the slave”; “It is that its possessor not desire repayment for it in the two abodes [this world and the next]”; “That you not see in your acts other than Allah”. [Qushayri, Risala]

Conclusion: Opening the Doors to Allah’s Bounty

The conclusion to all of this is that neither faith alone nor deeds suffice in guaranteeing salvation for one. Rather, it is only though Allah’s mercy and favor that any individual will enter heaven. This is indicated by numerous prophetic narratives.

Yet, at the same time, this does not absolve anyone of the duty to believe and perform righteous deeds, as commanded by Allah. Doing so is a sign of Allah enveloping the slave in His mercy and blessing him with divine success. The narrations of the Prophet (Allah bless him) seek to make people understand the role and place of deeds in our Islamic tradition, and to turn hearts towards the one favoring one with those acts, towards the one who is sought through those acts.. When this is done and the heart attaches itself to Allah through purity, complete reliance, thankfulness, need, sincerity, and faithful following of the sunna, one will be blessed with righteous works and divine favors, both in this world and the next.

In essence, the prophetic words and teachings are a means for us to find increase in our worship, to optimize it, and to allow us to be submerged in the immense bounties of Allah Most High. It is a key to the door that leads to divine bestowals, if followed and understood correctly.

May Allah grant us success in this life and the next.

And Allah Knows Best
Wasalam
Salman

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani