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

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

 

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

 

Shaykh Hamza: Yes, Allah says in the Quran:

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الجِنَّ وَالاِنْسَ اِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوْنِ

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sufis have a famous saying:

مَنْ عَرَفَ نَفْسَهُ عَرَفَ رَبَّهُ

Whoever knows himself knows His Lord.

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

This is worship.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

أُحِبُّ الصَّالِحِيْنَ وَلَسْتُ مِنْهُمُ   لَعَلِّي أَنْ أَنَالَ بِهِم شَفَاعَه

وَأَكْرَهُ مَنْ تِجَارَتُهُ المَعَاصِي   وَلَوْ كُنَّا سَوَاءً فِي البِضَاعَه

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

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

I hate the one who trades in acts of disobedience

even though we trade in the same kinds of goods.

 

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

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

 

تَعْصِي الإِله وَأنْتَ تُظْهِرُ حُبَّهُ  هذا محالٌ في القياس بديعُ

لَوْ كانَ حُبُّكَ صَادِقاً لأَطَعْتَهُ  إنَّ الْمُحِبَّ لِمَنْ يُحِبُّ مُطِيعُ

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

This is something that is outrageously impossible,

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

أَيُّهَا العَاشِقُ مَعْنَى حُسْنِنَا   مَهْرُنَا غَالٍ لِمَنْ يَخْطِبُنَا

جَسَدٌ مُضْنَى وَرُوْحٌ فِي العَنَا  وَجُفُوْنٌ لَا تَذُوْقُ الوَسَنَا

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allah Most High says in the Qur’an:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Tomorrow,

Whether you accept,

or reject;

Whether you love,

or hate;

with a gift,

I’ll always remain standing,

by your door,

yearning for nothing,

 but a gaze.

This gift,

my failings have shattered countless times,

yet I hold onto it despite it’s imperfection.

I have nothing to give,

besides this gift of which I speak:

‘tis my heart.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

How can we correct this?

 

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

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

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

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

Imam Malik has a famous statement:

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

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

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

 

تَعْصِي الإِله وَأنْتَ تُظْهِرُ حُبَّهُ  هذا محالٌ في القياس بديعُ

لَوْ كانَ حُبُّكَ صَادِقاً لأَطَعْتَهُ  إنَّ الْمُحِبَّ لِمَنْ يُحِبُّ مُطِيعُ

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

This is something that is outrageously impossible,

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Allah, He says in the Quran:

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

 

What does it mean for God to love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

أنتمْ فروضي ونفلي

أنتمْ حديثي وشغلي

You are my obligations and my supererogatory actions.

You are my conversations and my occupations.

 

يا قِبْلَتي في صَلاتي،

إذا وَقَفْتُ أُصَلّي

O my direction in my prayer

when I stand to pray:

 

جَمالُكُمْ نَصْبُ عَيني

إليهِ وجَّهتُ كلِّي

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Allah says:

 

لَقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِيْنَ قَالُوا اِنَّ اللَّهَ ثَالِثُ الثَّلَاثَة

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

 

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

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

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

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

This does involve sacrifice.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

أَلْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ العَالَمِيْنَ

 

Praising Him is an expression of our love for Him.

 

الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

 

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

 

مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّيْنِ اِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَاِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِيْنَ

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

العُلَمَاءُ وَرَثَةُ الأَنْبِيَاء

Scholars are the heirs of the prophets.

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


Talk about Islam with Shaykh Hamza Karamali (Episode 2 continued) – What is the Purpose of Life?

Dear readers, welcome back to the continuation of our 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.

continued…

 

Osama: You have forwarded the idea that Islam is an enlightened religion because it has the light of true revelation that other religions like Christianity and Judaism don’t possess. I would like to discuss this point in greater detail with you in another conversation, but for now, how do you respond to those who argue that, in reality, what Islam is lacking is an Enlightenment similar to one that Christianity went through?

What is your take on this?

 

Shaykh Hamza: The reason why people say that Islam needs an Enlightenment is that they look at the Muslim world and they see congestion on the roads, litter in public spaces, pollution in the air, grime on buildings, and rust and dents on cars.

They compare this image with the image of a modern Western city with fast-moving highways, clean streets, fresh air, tall steel skyscrapers, and shiny new cars.

When they think of the Muslim world, they think of unemployment, no industry, no science or technology, and when they look at the modern Western city, they think of the opposite.

So you have this contrast, and when people in the media say that Islam needs to be enlightened, what they are really looking for is the worldly prosperity that is associated with the Western world.

This worldliness is, after all, the lens of the Enlightenment (or as we decided to call it, the Age of Escape from Oppressive Religion) because when in this age people moved away from oppressive religion, which used the idea of afterlife, God, and spirituality to oppress other people, they also turned away from the ideas of afterlife, God, and spirituality that were associated with oppression, and focussed instead on the here-and-now.

Their goal is for us to use our full human potential in this life. That is the lens that they look through when they bring the two opposite images to mind. The idea of the Muslim world needing an enlightenment is driven by a desire to have these things in the here-and-now, and that is really the question that is being asked.

We have two responses to this question.

The first is that, whereas in the case of Europe, there was a collusion between an established Church and a corrupt government to oppress people in the name of religion, that is not the case in the Muslim world today, nor has it ever been the case in our history.

Oppression in the Muslim world in recent times has not happened because of religion, but because of socialist dictatorships, and socialism is a child of the Enlightenment, not a child of Islam.

The corruption that has beset many Muslim countries, too, is a child of the Enlightenment because it comes from worldliness, a focus on the here-and-now, even at the expense of religious principles. If Muslim societies were religious, there wouldn’t be any corruption–corruption is religiously forbidden in the strongest of terms.

If Muslim societies were religious, we wouldn’t litter and we would be conscious of pollution–cleanliness, as we all know, is a part of our faith.

If Muslim societies were religious, they would excel in everything they did, in industry, in science, in technology, everything–the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) is narrated to have said that Allah loves for us to perfect everything that we do.

So even if we look through the lens of the here-and-now, the way to achieve it is to become more religious, not to become more worldly under the false pretext of an enlightenment that seeks to overthrow a nonexistent oppressive religiousness.

The second response is that being Muslim means that we look at the world through a different lens. For example, an illiterate old woman in the middle of Africa who lives in a small mud hut, who wakes up at night to prostrates to her Creator, who adores Him, loves Him, reveres Him, and cries before Him in prostration every night, but who is not surrounded by skyscrapers, nor does she have a shiny car, nor does she know anything about science or technology — from our lens, this woman is enlightened because she has found the purpose of her life, whereas someone who has all of the trappings of modern life and is pursuing the pleasures of this world while forgetting about God, forgetting about their soul, forgetting about the afterlife, forgetting about the purpose of their existence — they are not enlightened.

Being Muslim means that your whole perspective changes. And if you look at the world from this perspective, if you look at the congested city with old cars and dirty streets, and then, in the middle of all of this, you hear the adhan (call to prayer) from mosques all over the city, then that adhan drowns out the negativity associated with the congested city and old cars and dirty streets because the adhan drives us to the purpose of our lives.

This is not to say that streets shouldn’t be clean; they should be clean.

It is not to say that traffic shouldn’t be regulated; it should be regulated.

It is not to say that there should be no prosperity in this world; that is something that Allah gives us when we  turn to Him sincerely. That’s not the point.

The point is: is our purpose the here-and-now, as those who ask this question imagine, or is our purpose with Him and with the afterlife? It’s with Him and with the afterlife.

 

Osama: Great, now I’d like to request of you to summarise for us, how do Muslims understand the term purpose when asking the question: what is the purpose of life?

I ask this question now because we have discussed in a lot of detail what the presuppositions of pre-enlightenment Christian intellectuals influenced by Aristotelianism were, and what the presuppositions of post-enlightenment modernist and post-modernist intellectuals influenced by scientism were, about the use of the term purpose, and would now like to know what the presuppositions of Muslim scholars would be about the use of this term.

 

Shaykh Hamza: We believe based on evidence that God exists and that the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) is His final messenger. Based on this evidence-based belief, we see that this universe is created by a doer, a volitional agent, that is God.

God created this universe for a purpose. Everything in the universe is created for a purpose. He tells us these purposes in the Quran.

The locus of the entire universe is the human being, and the human being stands out because the purposes of everything else are found in relation to the human being, and the purpose of the human being is found in his relation to God.

Allah tells us why He created us in the Quran:

“I only created jinn-kind and mankind is so that they might worship me.” Qur’an, 51:56

The original Arabic of this verse has the letter lam before the verb, “to worship” — illa li ya‘budun. This lam is normally translated as “because”. With this translation, the verse would mean, “I created jinn-kind and mankind because I wanted them to worship me.” This is an incorrect translation here and it is not what this verse means.

Let me explain.

Allah created the universe with wisdom. The idea of purpose in the universe, for us, returns to the wisdom of Allah.

Allah’s wisdom is something that He creates in the universe.

To say that He creates everything with a wisdom is different than saying that He created everything with some motive. This is important to understand.

What’s the difference?

Well, when I explained Aristotle’s idea of the final cause, I gave you the example of the coat that I wear in order to become warm. The final cause, in this case–in order for me to become warm–is my motive. It is, in other words, a need that drives me to do something to fulfill that need–I need to become warm, so I wear my coat.

Behind every motive lies a need.

Needs move us, motivate us, to undertake certain actions.

This is how human beings work, and this is how Aristotle formulated his thought.

Now, when we ask about the purpose of the universe, then we have to look at the question in a different manner because Allah doesn’t need anything.

Everything needs Him; He doesn’t need anything.

That, in fact, is the meaning of the Qur’anic verse that all of us know: Allahu al-Samad (Qur’an, 112:2).  This means that Allah is al-Samad, which means that He is the one who everything needs but who Himself needs no one.

Allah Most High exists necessarily; everything else is contingent. He doesn’t need anything; everything needs Him. He is the absolute King and Master. He is the Sustainer and Lord of everything.

Since He doesn’t need anything, He cannot be driven by motives.

But everything that He creates has a purpose.

But that purpose is not a motive that drives Him to create that thing.

So the purposes that He creates in the universe aren’t things that drive Him.

If you return to the verse I cited above–”I only created jinn-kind and mankind so that they might worship me,”–you will notice that I translated the lam before the verb, “to worship” as “so that they might…” If I had translated it as “because he wanted ..” then it would mean that Allah Most High needs jinn and humans to worship Him. But that is not what the verse means.

The verse does not mean that Allah Most High needs us to worship Him.

He created us to worship Him?–Yes.

He created us because He needs us to worship Him?–No.

He tells us many times in the Qur’an that no one who disbelieves in Him does Him any harm whatsoever because, “Allah is completely free of needing anything in the universe.” (Qur’an, 3:57) He tells us many times in the Qur’an that, “whoever does good only benefits himself, and whoever does good only harms himself.” (Qur’an, 41:46) And the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) told us that Allah Most High says, “O My servants! You will never be able to harm Me, nor will you ever be able to benefit Me. O My servants! Were every single one of you, humans and jinn, to be as Godfearing as the one with the most Godfearing heart among you, that would not increase My Kingdom in the slightest. O My servants! Were every single one of you, humans and jinn, to be as wicket as the one with the most wicked heart among you, that would not decrease My Kingdom in the slightest.” (Muslim)

So Allah Most High doesn’t need our worship.

When He says that He created us in order to worship Him, He doesn’t mean that He needs our worship; He means that the purpose for which He has created us–our purpose that lies within us, the purpose of our lives, in other words–is for us to worship Him.

Let me give you an example.

If I were to take your cell phone and try and play baseball with it, I may or may not do well. I may hit a home run with it (unlikely!), or I might break your phone in my attempt to hit a home run (likely!). If it works, however, it is not going to work that well. Pretty soon, I will give up using the cell phone as a baseball bat, and go find an actual bat whose purpose is to be played baseball with.

Why doesn’t a cell phone work like a baseball bat? It doesn’t work because that is not the reason, the purpose that the maker of the cell phone made it for.

Similarly, Allah created us for the purpose of worshipping Him. That means that if We worship Allah, then it’s like we are playing baseball with a baseball bat, but if we turn away from that and stop worshipping Allah, then it’s like playing baseball with a cell-phone — life won’t seem to work for us because that is not what we were meant to do.

You might break, just like the cell-phone if it is used to play baseball.

You are going to find frustration, you are going to find depression, the world won’t make sense, the world will be pointless, and you will have all of these feelings because you are not fulfilling your purpose.

You will have a spiritual void, a sense of meaninglessness, a sense that things are right and that you aren’t doing what you should be doing. Much of what we discussed in our previous conversation, the spiritual void that people feel in their lives as a result of a lack of genuine religious company and practise, it stemmed from this lack of purpose.

But when you do what you were created for, when you worship Him in prostration, when you cry, when you recite the Quran, when you give charity, you will find within yourself a happiness that a million dollars won’t give you.

That’s what we mean by “purpose”.

 

Osama: Okay, it seems that we are now done with our discussion about the meaning of the term purpose when the question what is the purpose of life is asked by following three groups of people:

 

  1. Pre-enlightenment Christian scholars who were influenced by Aristotelianism: we discussed that the meanings that they gave to the term purpose were grounded within Aristotle’s conception of the four causes, in specific the final cause.
  2. Post-enlightenment atheist scholars who were influenced by Scientism, which grew as a response to the dogmatic teachings of the Church: we discussed that the meanings that they gave to the term purpose were grounded in a rejection of Christian theology and Aristotelian thought, which was used to justify those Christian teachings.
  3. Muslim scholars, who believe in the truth of the revelation of the Quran: we discussed that the meanings that they gave to the term purpose were grounded in the Quranic view that the wisdom behind the creation of mankind and jinnkind was that they may prosper and attain happiness as a result of their adoration, love, and worship of their Creator, Allah.

Now that we have gained a deep and strong appreciation of what the meanings of the term purpose are of these various groups of scholars, I’d like to turn your attention toward the second term that was used in the question, life.

 

Shaykh Hamza: Sure, though I would like to remind you that you haven’t shared your definition of the term life with me yet (smiles).

 

Osama: Thank you for reminding me to define my terms (smiles).

If I were to put on the hat of a pre-Enlightenment Aristotelian thinker, then I would most likely define life as being a term that refers to the existence of an individual human being or animal.

If I were to put on the hat of a post-enlightenment scientistic thinker, then I would most likely define life as the condition that distinguishes “living things” [animals and plants] from “non-living things”.

I am interested to know how you, as a Muslim, define the term life?

 

Shaykh Hamza: I don’t like your definition of life (laughs), and I don’t think that that is what people mean when they ask “what is the purpose of life?”.

I would like to say two things here.

The first is that the idea of “life” is related to the idea of “purpose”.

There is a field in science called biochemistry. Biochemists study the chemical processes of life. The emergence of biochemistry was very exciting for people who wanted to explain the world without any reference to God because it contains the idea that life can be explained through a series of chemical reactions.

Now, chemical reactions do have a relation to life. That they are related to life is undeniable–all of modern medicine is based on this. But is life a series of chemical reactions? No it is not. And anybody who asks the question “what is the purpose of life” knows deep down within them that life is more than a series of chemical reactions, it is more than what the biochemists say.

Animal life (we’ll put plant life aside for a moment) is historically associated with the idea of voluntary movement. An animal is anything that moves voluntarily. When a lion roars, it roars voluntarily. There is some sort of volition involved: he can roar or not roar. Likewise, I, as a human being, when I speak, my speech is voluntary–I can choose to speak or not speak.

Animal life thus  is associated with voluntary action.

Note that this is a very different kind of definition of “life” that you will get in biology because biology examines life from the perspective of efficient causes, from the perspective of chemical reactions, not from the perspective that I am bringing, which was there in the Christian tradition as well as the Muslim one, and it probably has its roots in Aristotle.

Any sensible human being would look at things like this. And so I guess that when I say “any sensible human being would look at things like this”, this is a jab in the ribs of scientists who want to do away with a God-centered perspective of the world, life, and everything. Because when they say that life is just a series of chemical reactions, they are not sensible.

Just look inside and ask yourself: if they were to publish volumes and volumes of books with chemical reactions and tell you that this is life, would you believe it? No you won’t!

Life has to do with volition and voluntary movement.

That is life with respect to animals but with respect to human beings, it is something more.

Why?

Because human beings have a mind and a soul, and they can use their minds to reflect on the universe to see that it was created by God, and they can see that they are responsible to God, and they can see that their life has a purpose and that the purpose of their life is to worship Allah (Glorified is He) so that when we are resurrected and we meet Him on the Day of Judgement that we will be successful forever in our life to come. These are things that we as human beings can see. (Remember, this is all based on evidence because we have evidence-based belief in our religion.)

So human life is characterized not just by voluntary motion, but by voluntary motion that is governed by mind rather than instinct.

Animals act, however, is based on instinct.

Human beings, on the other hand, can reflect, decide to go one particular way or another, discern right from wrong, and they can choose to do the right, and choose to turn away from the wrong.

I would say that somebody who asks, “What is the purpose of life?”, they are not asking about the purpose of some bacterium, but they are asking about the purpose of human life, because they are searching for purpose, we are searching for purpose, and we feel that we know that there is a greater purpose for which we are created.

So I will rephrase your question: Instead of asking, “What is the purpose of life?” we should ask, “ “What is the purpose of my life?” or we should ask,  “What is the purpose of the life of human beings?”

In these questions, life is not a chemical reaction. In these questions, “life” means the choices that we make to do things based on our mind.

This question is revealing; it is actually asking: “what kinds of choices should I make?” or “what kinds of things should I do in my life?

That’s the question, and that what I think is being asked.

 

Osama: I must say that I truly admire what you have said with regards to life, and how the human mind and soul is what differentiates human life from animal life.

I have an important question though; considering that we live in a world dominated by materialistic and scientistic thought, how is one able to prove the existence of the soul, which seems to be an abstract and immaterial reality?

 

Shaykh Hamza: Well, the Enlightenment has created a materialistic worldview. It has created, along with modern science, a way of looking at the world in terms of matter–things that you can touch, feel, sense, measure, and do experiments.

It seeks to understand everything through this lens, including the human being.

The human being is not matter, the human being is more than matter. Matter makes up the body of the human being. What makes the human being alive, what gives the human being life, what makes the human being who he is, is not the matter that we can sense. What makes the human being who he is, is his soul.

If you were to ask me, “How do we know that the soul exists?” I would say that the soul is “you” — it is known through introspection. All of us know that there is an “I”.

If you were to ask me, “What is “I”?” I would say that “I” am not the cells in my body. The cells die and they are regenerated. After so many years, almost every cell in your body is replaced with a new one. This means that you are not your cells, that is not who you are — that comes and goes.

If you were to ask me: “Who are “you”?” I would say that the physical “you” changes. You were a child, and then you grew up to become an adult. You grow old and everything about you changes but you are “you”, you remain “you”, and you know that “you” haven’t changed.

If you were to ask me: “What is the “you”, the “I”, the thing that gives you your identity, the thing that makes you alive by virtue of which you have volition, and gives you the ability to choose?”

I would say that this is your soul.

We all know that it is there.

It is the unchanging “I” as the physical and material aspects of the body change but the “I” aspect doesn’t.

Science is materialistic, so it doesn’t explain things using the soul, it explains things using biochemistry, chemical reactions, electrical impulses — that is how it explains the phenomenon of life.

Science explains life with reference to reproduction and metabolism but it doesn’t actually explain what life is — life is consciousness.

There is a problem that philosophers and scientists grapple with and it hasn’t been answered yet, it is called the problem of consciousness.

The problem of consciousness is that none of these things explain what it means to be conscious. When we are conscious, we feel pain, happiness, sadness, and we make choices — we have experiences. These experiences, we know, they are not chemical reactions. My happiness is not a chemical reaction, my sight is not a chemical reaction — this is consciousness. I am conscious of something, I know, I choose, and I do.

If you were to ask me: “What’s the locus of consciousness and all of these experiences?” I would say that the locus is the human soul.

It is the human soul that feels happy, pained, sad, and that has love, and it is the human soul that knows God. Empirical observations don’t take you there.

Finally, if you were to ask me to summarise in exact terms: “What is the reality of the soul — what is it exactly?” I would say, well, we don’t know (smiles).

We know it is there but we don’t know what it is.

Allah tells the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) that:

قُلِ الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّي وَمَا أُوْتِيْتُم مِنَ العِلْمِ اِلَّا قَلِيْلًا

Say: The spirit is from the tremendous affair of my Lord, and you’ve only been given a little bit of knowledge.

 

In other words, the soul shows human weakness and incapacity, and that is who we are. We are incapable and weak and so we need Allah. The fact that the very thing that we are — the “I” — we can’t fathom it, it shows how weak and incapable we are.

The fact that we can’t fathom it, however, doesn’t mean that it is not there.

We can’t fathom God, but we know that He is there, we have evidence that He is there.

How can we fathom God when we can’t even fathom ourselves?

The ruh, or the human soul, is a tremendous creation of God, He swears by it in the Quran:

وَنَفْسٍ وَمَا سَوَّاهَا

By the great soul, and the tremendous One who fashioned it.

 

Whenever Allah swears an oath by something, it means that it is tremendous, and this is one of the greatest creations of Allah.

This is the soul and that is how we know that it exists.

 

Osama: That seems to be a fair explanation of the soul though I’d be very interested to talk about in detail with you in one of our future conversations. You said that the soul is what feels love, happiness, and  sadness etc. I’d be interested to find out how this ties in with our purpose, which is to love God. I wonder how the soul “loves” God? I won’t ask you to answer this question now, let’s leave it for another conversation because we have had a pretty long conversation thus far (smile).

Let’s conclude Shaykh Hamza, if I were to ask you to please answer the question “what is the purpose of life?” directly after having considered the meanings of the individual terms purpose and life, how would you answer this question?

 

Shaykh Hamza: Well, the first step towards answering this is to understand the concept of life, which we discussed in great detail just now, and in order to understand that concept, we need to understand who you are. The question of what life is revolves around who you are, and as we discussed, you are your soul.

A great Muslim poet, an early Afghan Shafi’i called Abul Fath al-Busti, who lived almost a thousand years ago wrote:

يَا خَادِمَ الجِسْمِ كَمْ تَشْقَى بِخِدْمَتِهِ

أَتَطْلُبُ الرِّبْحَ فِي مَا فِيْهِ خُسْرَانُ

أَقْبِلْ عَلَى النَّفسِ وَاسْتَكْمِلْ فَضَائِلَهَا

فَأَنْتَ بِالنَّفْسٍ لَا بِالْجِسْمِ اِنْسَانُ

O servant of the body, how miserable will you be by serving your body?

Do you seek profit in that in which there is loss?

Turn to the soul and complete its perfections,

for it is by virtue of your soul that you are a human being, not by virtue of your body.

So, what is the purpose of your existence as a soul?

 

As a soul that has the capacity to discern the fact that Allah created it, and sent messengers who it can discern are genuine, to call you to the worship of Allah?

Allah created souls before He created bodies.

We had a life before the life of this world — it was called the universe of souls (‘alam al-arwah).

Allah mentions in the Quran:

وَاِذْ أَخَذَ اللَّهُ مِنْ بَنِيْ آدَمَ مِنْ ظُهُوْرِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ وَأَشْهَدَهُمْ عَلَى أَنْفُسِهِمْ أَلَسْتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ قَالُوْا بَلَى شَهِدْنَا

Allah brought out all of the souls that would ever exist, He then addressed them: Am I not your Lord? They said, Indeed we witness [your Lordship].

We know Allah, we knew Him before we came into this world, we spoke to Him and recognized Him, and remnants of this conversation are imprinted in us. As we come into adulthood from childhood, this yearning for the knowledge of Allah, which is the purpose of our existence, drives us as we search for our purpose in life, and we find that purpose when we use our mind that is enlightened by the light of revelation to discern our Creator and what He wants from us by listening to the messengers, and living our lives according to what they convey from Allah — worshipping Allah and making Him our sole goal in our lives.

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الجِنَّ وَالاِنْسَ اِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوْنَ

I only created jinn-kind and mankind so that they might worship me.

 

This is the purpose and wisdom for which Allah created us, and then He placed within us a recognition of this wisdom. This is why when we incline towards this world for the fulfilment of our desires, we do not find within ourselves happiness and we don’t find within ourselves that we are living a purposeful and meaningful life.

Our purpose is realised by looking beyond this world into the world through which we, through our soul, will persist. If we worship Allah in this life, it gives us eternal felicity in the next life and we fulfill the purpose for which we were created.

All of this is not because Allah needs something — because there is a difference between a motive and wisdom — and purposes with respect to Allah are wisdoms not motives.

Allah did this out of sheer generosity so that we could be happy in this world and attain to eternal felicity in the next world, and that is the purpose of our existence and life.

 

Osama: I ask God to increase you, to grant you the best of both worlds, and to grant all of us, all human beings, the ability to be able to fulfill their real purpose for being alive in the most resplendent of ways that pleases the One who made them the way they are.

Thank you, and I look forward to our next conversation.

al-Salam ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.

 

Shaykh Hamza: Amin!

Wa ‘alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.

 


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.


https://seekersguidance.org/articles/is-religion-relevant-in-the-21st-century-interview-with-shaykh-hamza-karamali/

 

Is the Purpose of Life Entertainment?

Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah

Question: Assalamu alaykum

I recently became committed to Islam however before this and for much of my life I spent alot of time with people who strongly believed that the purpose of life was entertainment.

How do you get through to someone who believes life has no greater purpose and how can I break this within myself?

Answer: Wa’alaykum assalam. Thank you for your question.

Modern culture is aggressively geared towards entertainment and making the most of this life in terms of worldly matters. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of the true meaning of the temporal life on earth, which is a mere test and a bridge to the real life in the Hereafter.

This World

Life on earth is not for entertainment, but rather it has been created with Divine Wisdom and for great and sublime purposes. Allah Most High says ‘And We created not the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, for mere play.’ [44:38].

Yet, at the same time this worldly life has also been created as a place of distraction in order to test us, and to differentiate between those who seek the truth and those who ignore it.

Allah the Exalted has said, ‘Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion. Race toward forgiveness from your Lord and a Garden whose width is like the width of the heavens and earth, prepared for those who believed in Allah and His messengers.’ [57: 21- 22]

The Purpose of Life

The purpose of life, as you rightly mention, is to worship Allah, for Allah Most High has said, ‘And I created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me’ [51:56]. However, this is not because Allah has any need of our worship, but rather, He ‘Has created death and life that He may test you which of you is best in deed.’[67:2]

Ultimately then, God has created us to worship Him because He has made it the means to for our success, to gain His Mercy, and that He may bestow his infinite Generosity and Bounty on us. It is us then who benefit and are in need of worshipping Him.

Of those who ignore the worship and remembrance of Allah, He Most High says, ‘Then woe unto those whose hearts are hardened against remembrance of Allah. Such are in plain error.’ [39:22], and ‘Leave them to eat and enjoy, and let them be preoccupied with [false] hope. They will come to know!’ [15:3]

How to Remember the Purpose of Earthly Life

Read Quran: Every believer should have an amount of Qur’an they read daily, even if little. The Qur’an is God’s direct words to man and contains the message that we need to succeed in both worlds. Reading it daily reminds us constantly of our purpose in life and that this life is just a passing phase, for this is the purpose of the revelation itself. As Allah says, ‘We have not sent down the Qur’an unto you to cause you distress, but only as a Reminder to those who fear [Allah]’ [20:1-2]

Reflect on Death: The Prophet ﷺ said, ‘Remember often the destroyer of pleasures [meaning death]. Never does a servant remember it during hardship except that it will become easier for him, and never does he not remember it during ease except that it will become harder for him,’ [Ibn Hibban]. I would recommend reading Imam al Ghazali’s ‘The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife’ which has been translated by the Cambridge Text Society.

Knowledge: Seeking religious knowledge builds one certainty in the triviality of this world compared to the next. Please seek out local classes in sciences such as belief, fiqh, tafsir, and seerah. If you there are no local scholars available, then consider taking a course with us at SeekersHub. You can find our courses here.

Company: Seek out the company of people who are serious about their religious practice. However, being religious doesn’t mean not joking or not having fun at all. In fact, being playful and seeking out lawful entertainment can be recommended, within limits. Please read the following answer:

How Can I Find Balance in Religious Practice?

May Allah grant us all a life full of good deeds and accept it from us, and honour us with a good ending in life.

Warmest salams,
[Shaykh] Jamir Meah

Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. In 2007, he traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he spent nine years studying the Islamic sciences on a one-to-one basis under the foremost scholars of the Ribaat, Tarim, with a main specialization and focus on Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continues advanced studies in a range of Islamic sciences, as well as teaching. Jamir is a qualified homeopath.

Why Was I Created?

Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari

Question: A sister is very disorientated with life nowadays, and is questioning her existence. Why exactly was the world made? Why did Allah need people on this earth? Why make humans, when He had angels? Why not make them all Muslims and the world a happy place? The sister is under the impression that she would prefer to be a robot than a person with free will.

Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

Praise be to Allah. May Allah’s peace and blessings bestow upon our beloved Prophet, his family, companions, and those who follow them.

Dear Questioner,

Sometimes when someone questions the very purpose of life, their doubt is a manifestation of other issues, some of which may go back to the person’s faith, and the strength or weakness thereof.

These are all important concerns that I will try to address to the best of my ability.

1. The purpose of our creation: Allah says, I did not create the jinn and mankind except for My worship.[51:56] Allah created us with fitra, a pure, primordial nature that seeks to return to its Lord. This innate fitra in the human being desires only to worship Allah. As Muslims, our purpose in life is profound, yet simple. We strive to bring all aspects of our outer and inner beings in complete conformity with what Allah has commanded.

Allah did not create us because He needs us. He is beyond all needs. We are in need of Allah. The wisdom of our creation is known only to Allah. It is not for us to question the wisdom of the Divine. Rather, we say, “We hear and obey.” The angels themselves asked Allah, “And when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to place a viceroy in the earth, they said: Wilt thou place therein one who will do harm therein and will shed blood, while we, we hymn Thy praise and sanctify Thee ? He said: Surely I know that which ye know not.”[2:30]

Our creation is one of the signs of Allah. According to the tafsir of Ibn Kathir, Allah favored us by mentioning us before He had even created us. Ibn Kathir interprets the meaning of ” Surely I know that which ye know not,” as: “I know that the benefit of creating this type of creature outweighs the harm that you mentioned, that which you have no knowledge of. I will create among them prophets and send messengers. I will also create among them the truthful, martyrs, righteous believers, worshippers, the modest, the pious, the scholars who implement their knowledge, humble people and those who love Allah and follow His Messengers.”

2. Even if the whole world were Muslim, would we necessarily be happy? Happiness comes from inside. Allah purposely created us with linguistic, ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious diversity. Allah says in the Qur’an, “Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto Allah ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ.” [5:48]

This diversity is one of the signs of Allah’s greatness. In all our difference and variation, He sent us divine guidance in the form of books and messengers. Encountering people who hold different beliefs from ours should not discourage us. Rather, this should strengthen our faith and encourage us to study our way of life more deeply.

3. As Muslims, we are required to believe in Allah’s decree or predestination. Part of Allah’s decree is that human beings have limited free will. It is wrong to say that we have no free will whatsoever. For example, Allah knew that I would sit down and type this question. Based on His knowledge, He facilitated the means for me, such as my computer and my chair. However, I made the choice to sit down and answer this particular question at this particular time, when I could have chosen otherwise.

Allah rewards or punishes based on the choices we make. He knows whether we will make good choices or bad ones. However, He leaves it up to us to pick from a vast array of choices in how we live our lives. Please tell your friend to sit down and count the blessings Allah has given her; she’ll never be able to, because they are too numerous. Why wish to be created as a robot? Robots don’t have hearts, souls, or minds. It is the presence of these qualities that makes us human. For this, we should thank Allah.

I pray this is of benefit.
And Allah alone knows best.

[Ustadha] Zaynab Ansari

Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadha Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq is a native Southerner with Northern roots. She spent several years studying the core Islamic sciences, including Arabic, jurisprudence, Qur’anic recitation & commentary, Hadith, and Prophetic biography in Damascus, Syria at Abu Nour Masjid’s college preparatory program. Upon her return to the United States, she continued her Islamic studies privately with Shaykh Khalil Abdur-Rashid, Imam of New York’s Iqra Masjid, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, educational director of SeekersGuidance, Shaykh Jamal Ud-Deen Hysaw, and Dr. Fareeha Khan, Assistant Professor of Religion & Anthropology at Willamette University.

Keys to Having Presence with God, by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

“He is with you wherever you may be,” reminds Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, in this Friday sermon  at Masjid Jamiat-ul-Ansar. “The Lord of the Heavens and the Earth, the tremendous Reality, He is close and near you. Does this humble you?”

Allah has granted us the gift of being conscious of this reality. This is tremendous, and can only come in the form of a gift because none of us truly deserves it. This gift entails gratitude. Faith is a tremendous gift that has eternal consequences. Even if we chose to believe, who inspired us to it?
Allah tells us in the Quran, “Say: It is all from Allah.” The gift of faith is one we have not earned;  therefore, gratitude is the response.
So what is true gratitude? True shukr or thankfulness is using every blessing given to you in turning to Allah.

Never forget Him.

Gratitude of faith also entails that we nurture this faith. There is a tremendous difference between one that says I believe and the one who is present and conscious of the meaning of faith. Therefore, along with gratitude, knowledge is an essential key to attaining presence with your Lord.
The point of the prayer is the one you are praying to – Allah is the focus – and prayer is the key to being in His presence. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said “My complete joy, the joy of my eyes, was placed in the prayer.”
Why? Because prayer is presence with the one you love, with the one you are seeking…That is why whenever things were going on in the life of the Prophet, he would turn to prayer.
If Allah treated us as we deserved we would be lost, for our heedlessness is vast and our lack of gratitude is apparent. Allah deals with us with Mercy and enriches us when we provide him with as little as 10 minutes of presence and manifests good in it. Along with prayer comes continuous reflection and remembrance of God, in nurturing this our hearts find rest, solace and comfort.
[cwa id=’cta’]

Truly in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest

The first preoccupation of hearts is to seek answers to two fundamental questions: Who am I? Who is my Lord? In engaging in worship or remembrance, the restlessness leaves our hearts and we reconnect to our spirit. In a time before existence, we confirmed who our Lord is and in remembrance we return to this reality.

Be Busy With Allah.

So when you work, do it for Allah. The true meaning of your work is the potential to be in the presence of Allah and that is the true essence of your living. Those who are accomplished are those whose trade nor other dealings busy them from Allah. What are they busy with? They are busy with Allah. When anyone is with the one they love, does anything actually shake them?

Resources for the Seekers:

Etiquette of Social Media – Ustadh Amjad Tarsin

As main tools of communication and connectivity, Social Media is everywhere, and with immediacy. Ustad Amjad Tarsin calls us to ponder to what end? For what purpose?

Two individuals could be doing the exact same thing, and one is rewarded and one may be punished. What gives? What is the difference between the two?  Ustadh Amjad invites us to ponder on the value of purpose and intention in every deed and action performed by the individual; what makes or breaks our actions?
“As believers we do not go off on auto pilot” reminds Ustadh Amjad; the urgency lies in reflecting and making purposeful intentions. “Social media should not be a replacement for real life.”

Ask yourself, “what purpose is this for– to what end? How does this connect me to Allah ?” Sure , social media offers you anonymity from the creation and instant connectivity; but Allah is always with you and aware of all that you do–even before you think of it. What then have you to show your Creator? what is it that you wish to share with your Lord?

The believer should have purpose in life with God-consciousness and intentionality as the provisions and tools for true, long lasting success.

Cover photo by  MKHMarketing

Resources for the Seekers:

Zafar’s Story: How a Successful Banker Finally Found Purpose Through SeekersHub

“I can now be a part of a cause that has saved me… and I can help bring that benefit to the world at large.”

Zafar was an uber successful, high flying banker at the top of his game. But when the financial crisis of 2008 hit, his entire life went into a tail spin.
Watch this video to learn how Zafar recovered from the crash and finally found his purpose.

Earn the reward of ongoing charity. 
The Prophet ﷺ said, “When a man dies, his deeds come to an end except for three: sadaqa jariya (ongoing charity); knowledge which is beneficial, or a virtuous descendent who prays for him.”
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How do I find purpose in Life? 11-part class with Shaykh Walead Mosaad

This class was conducted by Shaykh Walead Mosaad as part of Sakina Collective’s Spring 2015 Semester roster of classes. The class caters to an American Muslim audience who seek to apply the Prophetic teachings in their daily lives. The topics and discussions were organic and were set as per the feedback received from the attendees. The topics discussed reflect the wide range of issues American Muslims contend with on a daily basis from spirituality to child-rearing to doubts about religion to finance.

The 11 parts are entitled

  1. Cultivating the inner life
  2. Addressing doubts about Islam
  3. Overcoming Obstacles to more consistent worship
  4. How do we deal with suffering
  5. He She is neither family or spouse – how de we deal with each other?
  6. How can I be friends with my neighbours and coworkers without compromising my deen?
  7. How do I tackle the responsibility of my children’s upbringing?
  8. Islam and finance
  9. How do I find purpose in Life?
  10. Anger Management
  11. Etiquette of discourse and disagreement

Listen to them all here

Resources for seekers

Is There a Hadith Forbidding Entering Coffee Shops?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Question: As salam Alaykum,

My husband thinks that there is a Hadith forbidding to go to coffee shops. Is it true?

I sometimes spend time in it for Qur’an memorization when I can’t do otherwise.

Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

I pray that this message finds you well, insha’Allah.

There aren’t any traditions (hadith) concerning coffee shops because it wasn’t present nor discovered at that time.

In general, it would be permitted to go to a coffee shop as long as it is safe and dignified because it is not a place of sin. But if, in a particular culture or society, it is a place where only the corrupt gather, it should be avoided.

If your husband is objecting, you should talk to him tactfully and find out why he feels the way he does. May Allah Most High grant you success and facilitation.

Please also see: Should I Eat at Restaurants With Food Cross-Contamination Problems? and: The Prayer for Drinking Coffee – The Power of Purpose and High Intentions, by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

And consider taking the following free class: Islamic Marriage: Guidance for Successful Marriage and Married Life

And Allah alone knows best.

wassalam,
Tabraze Azam

Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

“Only The Dead Stand Still” – Dr Bano Murtuja on Muhammadan Activism

Dr Bano Murtuja on Muhammadan Activism

Bano-MurtujaDr Bano Murtuja argues that being an ‘activist’ is the natural state of a believer, the one Allah ‘brings to life’ – and being alive is to change as necessary. However, Dr Bano warns that we have collectively failed in this responsibility. Find out what she means in the above video.

Dr. Bano is a co-founder and the first managing director of SeekersHub Toronto. Her training includes successfully completed the three-year Micro Madrasa Program in the United Kingdom, with direct study under Shaykh Ibrahim Osi-Efa, Ustadha Nagheeba Hayel, and Shaykh Haroon Hanif.

Dr Bano is the mother of several young children and is the Managing Director of Nader Khan’s First Spring Records company. She is a contributor to the SeekersHub Answers service and has extensive experience as a counselor and mentor, as a community leader and activist and is an experienced public speaker. She is an engaging and effective teacher, whose intelligence, insight, commitment, and concern have benefited countless troubled and sincere souls.

Dr Bano Murtuja’s writings on SeekersHub include

Resources for seekers:

Do You Want to Learn More?

Consider taking an online course with SeekersHub. It’s free for everyone, anywhere in the world. There are over 30 titles to choose from, including Understanding the Prophetic Way: Imam Nawawi’s 40 Hadith Explained.