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Conquering Mount Sawm, by Tushar Imdad-ul-Haq Bhuiya

Especially motivating for those dreading the long summer fasts, the following diary entries, written by British educator Tushar Imdad-ul-Haq Bhuiya, should provide reassurance that keeping hunger at bay isn’t as hard as it seems.Although describing the challenge of keeping a voluntary fast, the lessons are just as relevant for Ramadan.

After reading extracts from Brad Pilon’s Eat. Stop. Eat, encouragement from my teacher and reflection upon the Sunna, I decide to embark on the ultimate challenge for a food-loving Muslim: a voluntary fast. (And since it’s British summer time, the fast lasts from 02:30 till 9PM – 19½ hours!). What encouraged me was last Ramadan’s experience; we British Muslims dreaded the long summer fast of 2012 – the longest of its kind for almost 30 years! And yet, we did it. It wasn’t that hard. Indeed, I found this extract from a hindsight entry made last year under the title ‘Miracle of Fasting’:

“I somehow fasted from 4.50am till 9.30PM, possibly my longest ever. And it wasn’t hard – despite my normally having 3 square meals and 2 tea-breaks in that time! Allah made it easy, put baraka in my suhur and gave me energy, Alhamdulillah!”

So I went to sleep last night, after a late Isha, with the intention that if Allah would get me up at Tahajjud, only then would I fast with the following intentions:

  1. To follow the exalted Sunna, which should suffice us from having any other motive (though, as with other Sunnas, modern scientific findings help us appreciate the worldly benefits)
  2. To discipline my mind and nafs (self/soul) not to think about food all the time, and therefore
  3. Have a more productive day

02:50 AM

Allah woke me at 2:05AM and I knew He wanted me to try this experiment (perhaps so I could share it with SeekersHub Global readers!). I scrambled to the kitchen to prepare an odd suhur of instant porridge, last night’s pizza & chips leftovers, tea, a date and orange juice. Suitably stuffed, and after some fervent du’a, I’m ready to face the day… after the small matter of sleep!

1:15 PM

Breakfast wasn’t an issue as I was still full from suhur. No headaches or tiredness either. Skipped my compulsory tea-break at work without fuss. This is a big deal as, normally, the first moment after finishing my lesson at 10:30  I’d be rushing to the kitchen to make a cuppa! Got some less intensive down-time for the next few hours. Over half way now: so far, so good.

From a teacher’s point of view I find the ability to fast extraordinary. The nafs is like a teenager/child. Where it knows it has options, it’ll test the boundaries and ask for more than it deserves. However when the boundaries are clear from the outset of the day and one has made the firm resolve NOT to eat until sunset, the nafs grows quiet and barely a squeak of defiance is ever heard!

4:30

Three hours later and still no pangs, Alhamdulillah. I got a slight headache after hours of study on a Seekers Guidance course,  email checking and internet research. The research was worth it though: found out about The Fast Diet which contains much of the inspiration that got me started.

Now, after a brief rest, am pretty energized whilst tutoring the first of two lessons. Only two problems I’ve encountered so far: tendency to do excessive or useless internet jobs, and a longing for Maghrib time to come!

7:00

Last lesson done. Slight headache. Will rest for 20 mins before Tai Chi class at 7:30.

10:00

OK, Tai Chi was agony on my legs for some reason (found out later that this was due to my incorrect posture in one of the positions!) But Maghrib came upon me far from passing out due to hunger.

Conquering Mount Sawm…From the Outside

So if I could climb and conquer Mount Sawm outside Ramadan, anyone can. I’ll leave you with a few top tips that helped me get there:

  1. Have a strong intention for Allah.
  2. Consume a hearty, nutritious (I did have porridge remember!) suhur
  3. Read inspiring literature about benefits of the fast: if you’re not up to date with the two world famous and highly popular diets that lead incredible scientific support to the Sunna fasting system, then do read The Fast Diet by Mosley and Eat.Stop.Eat by Pilon
  4. Keep really busy. I’m sure you noticed my day was quite packed with different activities including work, study and fitness.
  5. Ponder that if millions of other Muslims around the world can do it, so can you. Mothers do this to get over the fear of childbirth. Fasting is not nearly as painful. If you need motivation outside Ramadan, when you are struggling to fast when most people aren’t, then there are a few things to consider: a) Your worship is especially likely to be more sincere. Keep your fast secret (as is recommended with all voluntary acts) and enjoy the special connection you have with Allah, knowing that you are fasting sincerely for His pleasure alone; b) The health benefits you learn from acting upon point 3 above is enough to inspire anyone to take up fasting weekly. Non-Muslims throughout the UK are ‘fasting’ Monday and Thursday due to the proven long-term benefits to health. As Muslims we have even more motivation; c) Although, not everyone is fasting, you can be sure that the ‘ulema of Taqwa, awliya and saliheen all fast regularly. It’s certainly comforting to know you are united with them in following the Sunnah of regular voluntary fasting.
  6. Allow yourself a Sunna qaylula (afternoon nap) after Zuhr; in long summer days this means you can get through plenty of work before your nap. Many nap straight after work. When you wake, it’s just the final lap with the finish line in sight.
  7. Enjoy and take advantage of the fact that you can be so much more productive on a fast day.

The Thought is Scarier Than the Experience

As we’ve all experienced, the thought of fasting – of not having one’s regular meals, of skipping one’s normal snacks – is actually a lot more frightening than the fast itself. Ironically, this is like productivity generally: the anticipation of how difficult it will be to achieve important goals is normally much worse than the actual experience.

And so the upshot is also the same: stop worrying; just do it! Ramadan Mubarak to all reading this and I’d be so grateful if you could remember me in your duas when you break your fasts.

Fruit Photo by Michael Stern. Clock picture by Christine Callahan.

Resources for Seekers

10 Ways of Benefit for Menstruating Women in Ramadan

Dread your period during the blessed month of Ramadan? Feel like you’re missing out on all the worship you could otherwise do? As Nour Merza writes, there is much to look forward to.

Every Ramadan, most women will have about a week in which they are unable to join in the major religious practices of the holy month: fasting and praying. Many women, when their menstrual period begins, find that their level of engagement with the high spiritual atmosphere of the month drops. The same goes for those whose postnatal bleeding coincides with Ramadan. For many of these women, frustration and a sense of lacking spirituality sets in.

This, however, shouldn’t be the case.

Menstruation, postnatal bleeding, and other uniquely feminine concerns are all part of Allah’s creation, which He created in perfect wisdom. They are not a punishment for women wanting to draw near their Lord. They are just part of the special package of blessings, opportunities and challenges that God has given uniquely to women. To refrain from ritual prayer (the salaat) and ritual fasting (the sawm) during this time is actually considered a form of worship, and, if done with the intention of obeying God, it earns women good deeds.

In order to take full advantage of the blessed month of Ramadan, however, menstruating women and those with postnatal bleeding can do more than refraining from ritual prayer and ritual fasting to draw near God. Below are ten ways that women unable to fast can boost their spirituality during this special month.

menstruating women in Ramadan

1. Increase dhikr

In the Hanafi school, it is recommended for menstruating women to make wudu, wear their prayer clothes, and sit on their prayer mat while doing dhikr during the time they would normally be praying. This would be especially good to do in Ramadan, a time of special focus on worship. In addition to the adhkar that are well-known sunnas – such subhanAllah, alhamdullillah and Allahu akbar – if you have a litany from a shaykh and are allowed to repeat it more than once a day, try to do it twice or three times for increased blessings. Dhikr has a special way of touching the heart, and by invoking God’s names whenever you can during this unique month you create the space, inshaAllah, for beautiful spiritual openings. See: The Effects of Various Dhikr – Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad

2. Increase du’aa

Du’aa is something we do very little of these days, but speaking directly to your Lord is one of the most intimate ways to connect with Him. The beauty of du’aa is that you can make it in any place or time. Take this opportunity to ask your Lord for all that you need in your life, and to draw near Him through either repeating the beautiful du’aas of the Prophet or reaching out to God with your own unique words. See: Ten Powerful Du’as That Will Change Your Life

3. Feed others

Whether it be your family, neighbors, community members or the poor, use the time you are not fasting to make meals that fill the stomachs and souls of those around you. Recite the salawat on the Prophet (pbuh) while making the food, as this imbues the food with spiritual benefit as well. Consider sponsoring iftar at your local mosque one evening with some other women who are in your situation, or volunteering at a local soup kitchen.  See also: “Manifesting Mercy: Feeding Your Way to God” – Nader Khan at Brampton Islamic Centre.

4. Gain Islamic knowledge

Use the extra time and energy you have from not fasting and praying to increase your knowledge of the faith. Listen to scholars discussing timely issues on our SeekersHub podcasts, form a small circle of non-fasting women who can commit to reading a book on Islam and discuss it together, or take some time to read articles on the religion from trusted online sources, such as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s blog or Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad’s article collection at masud.co.uk. See also: Importance of Intention in Seeking Knowledge.

5. Increase your charity

We are surrounded by countless blessings, so make sure to spread those blessings in the month of Ramadan. Give money to a good cause, such as supporting Syrian refugees, helping a local poor family with school fees, or supporting students of Islamic knowledge through programs like SeekersHub’s #SpreadLight campaign. In a very busy world, we may have little opportunity to give our time to help others in charity – giving money takes minimal time, but brings great benefit. See: Eligible Zakat Recipients, Giving Locally vs. Abroad, Charity to a Mosque, and Proper Handling of Donations.

6. Make your responsibilities a form of worship

Sometimes, women are overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the home and young children, and cannot make time to do things like study or sponsor an iftar. In these circumstances, renew your intention regarding your role as a mother and a wife. See these demanding and time-consuming roles for what they are: responsibilities that you are fulfilling to please God, which makes them a type of worship. Ask God to accept all your work as worship, and approach all that you do in this way. This will make even the most mundane of tasks, such as changing another diaper, cleaning up  another spilled cup of apple juice, or making yet another dinner a way for you to gain the pleasure of your Lord. See: Balancing Worship and Caring for a New Child.

7. Listen to the Quran

menstruating women in Ramadan

Although the Hanafi schools holds that women cannot cannot touch the mushaf or recite Quran while experiencing menses or postpartum bleeding, they are able to listen to the recitation of the Quran. Doing so offers much benefit in a month that has such heavy emphasis on reciting the book. You can take special time out of your day to listen to it, such as while children are napping, or you can listen to it while in the midst of cooking or cleaning the house. See also: Listening to Qur’an While Occupied With Other Tasks

8. Increase Repentance

Ramadan is an excellent time to increase repentance to God. Use moments when others are praying or breaking their fast to ask God to forgive you and your loved ones and to keep you from returning to sin. All we have is a gift from Allah, so even forgetting that for a moment is a deed worth asking forgiveness from. Know that God is the Forgiving, and trust that, as our scholars have said, the moment you ask for forgiveness you are truly forgiven. See also: Damaged Inner State? Imam Ghazali on Repentance

9. Babysit to help mothers worship

Mothers with young children often find it difficult to go to the mosque because they worry that their kids will disturb others who are praying. Since you don’t need to be at the mosque, volunteer a night or two (or more!) to babysit the children of a young mother who would love to go pray taraweeh. If you have young children of your own, you can tell the mother to bring her kids to your house before the prayer. By helping this woman worship, you will gain the same good deeds she gets from going to that prayer. See: I Love Being A Woman!

10. Spread love and light

Use the extra time and energy you have to share the joys of Ramadan and Eid with your non-Muslim friends, peers and neighbors. Invite a work colleague for an iftar, make a special Ramadan dish and give it to a neighbor, or take time to make special cookies or gift bags for peers at the office or in school to hand out during Eid. By sharing these happy moments with friends and colleagues in the non-Muslim community, you counter the negative narratives about Islam in the media. More than that, however, you become someone who creates bonds in an increasingly isolated world, reflecting the beauty of the Prophetic light to all those around you. See: How Can Muslims Become More Effective Community Members?

Cover photo by Edward Musiak. Tasbih photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly. Quran photo by Mohmed Althani.

Resources for Seekers

Ten Ways to Prepare for Ramadan From Now

With Ramadan just around the corner, many of us are looking for ways to make sure that this will be the year we change, writes Nour Merza. With this in mind, here are ten ways to prepare yourself for Ramadan.

1. Make the right intention

Beginning right now, make an intention that this Ramadan will be a time of great spiritual effort and sincerity. To help turn that intention into reality, make checklists of both daily goals for Ramadan (read a section of Quran or a beneficial lecture every day, etc.) and goals for the overall month (visit a home for the elderly, invite two non-Muslim friends for a chance to experience iftar, etc.).

See What Is the Intention” in The Complete Guide to Fasting

2. Prepare your body

Make sure you are up to par physically by adjusting the amount and quality of your food intake. Start by eliminating snacks and have smaller meals in the weeks leading up to Ramadan. Also reduce your caffeine intake so that the lack of your morning coffee or afternoon tea doesn’t debilitate you in the first few days of the holy month. Of course, if you’re fasting during the month of Sha’baan, you’re halfway there.

See: Ramadan Detox for a Healthy Ramadan – Dr. Rehan Zaidi of MysticMedicine

3. Review all medical situations before Ramadan

Make sure to get your medical business in order before Ramadan arrives. If you suffer from a particular illness, check with a doctor, preferably one who understands the importance of fasting, on whether fasting is a reasonable option for you. If you are taking medication, ask your doctor if you can take your doses during non-fasting hours instead of during the day. Also, check if there are options to take your medication via injection instead of orally, as in the Hanafi school injections do not break your fast.

See: When Does an Illness Allow One To Break The Fast?

4. Observe voluntary fasts

Voluntary (nafl) fasts are a great way to help prepare the mind, body and soul for Ramadan. If you can do it, follow the Prophetic sunna and fast the month of Shaaban, which comes just before Ramadan. If that proves too difficult, try to implement some of these other sunnas: fasting on Mondays and Thursdays, or fasting on the ‘white days’ of each Islamic month: the 13th, 14th and 15th.

See: Should I Fast on the White Days or Mondays and Thursdays?, and Merits of Sha’ban Muwasala

5. Increase Quran recitation

Many people aim to do a complete reading of the Quran at least once during Ramadan. If you don’t have a habit of reading the Quran daily, take this as an opportunity to incorporate that habit into your life. This will enable you to read longer sections of the book during Ramadan. Even if doing a complete reading of the Quran during Ramadan is too difficult, making a habit of reading one page or even a few verses a day will bring many blessings during the holy month and afterwards, as the Prophet (pbuh) said: “The most beloved of actions to Allah are the most consistent ones, even if in little amount.”

See: Our Relationship with the Quran – Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari

6. Perform extra prayers

prepare for Ramadan

Credits: Ccarlstead

If you have no missed obligatory prayers to make up, start to pray voluntary sunna prayers to prepare yourself for the extra prayers that take place in Ramadan. If you do have missed obligatory prayers, use the time you would give to the sunna prayers to make some of them up. Don’t feel that you are missing out on the opportunity to do voluntary sunnas, because God says in the famous Hadith Jibreel, “My servant draws near to Me by nothing more beloved to Me than that which I have made obligatory on him.”

See: Informative to Transformative: How to Upgrade Your Prayer, and Praying the Confirmed Sunnas with Make-Ups: I Feel Overwhelmed.

7. Give charity

Use the weeks leading up to Ramadan to increase your acts of charity, be that in the form of giving money to needy people or worthy causes. These could be anything from sponsoring a Syrian refugee family, to  supporting scholars and students of sacred knowledge through SeekersHub’s #SpreadLight campaign. Giving charity is a way to purify your wealth, and you can enter the month of Ramadan in a greater state of purity. It also opens doors for great good in your life, for the Prophet (pbuh) has told us, “Allah says, ‘Spend, O son of Adam, you will also be spent on.’”

See: How Much Should I Give in Charity?

8. Engage in service (khidma)

Spend some time before Ramadan to find a local charity or community service opportunity to work with, whether it be in an Islamic environment or in the wider community. If you begin well before Ramadan starts, you will adjust to the environment before you begin fasting, so that you can explain to co-workers  why you can’t join them for a coffee break or a meal.

See: The Roots of Fruitful Service and Seven Counsels for Successful Service and Activism – Advice from Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

9. Focus on your character

Imam al-Ghazali discusses the inner dimensions of the fast in his Revival of the Religious Sciences , which you can observe before Ramadan arrives. He mentioned that one must learn to fast with all the limbs, from all that harms the heart. You can, for example, avoid certain television shows to keep the eyes from seeing nudity, leave particular conversations to keep the ears from hearing foul language, and control the ego to keep the tongue from argument or backbiting. The inner fast is among the most important aspects of fasting Ramadan and is often more difficult than the physical fast from food, water and sexual relations, so the earlier you begin to practice this, the better.

See: The Inner Dimensions of Fasting – Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali

10. Organize your life to minimize waste, overconsumption and the ills that come with this

One of the major concerns about how Muslims practice Ramadan today is the high level of overconsumption and waste that takes place during the holy month – a reality which is completely antithetical to the Prophetic tradition. Imam Zaid Shakir and others have spoken about ‘greening’ Ramadan as practiced today in the Muslim community, while Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad has suggested that Muslims use Ramadan to support ethical, fairtrade companies.

prepare for Ramadan

Credits: Mathew Paul Argall

Imam Zaid’s mosque in Oakland, California offers a great model for doing this. With a little bit of extra organization and commitment, communal iftars are served on borrowed crockery and silverware (from friends, neighbors or a local Muslim restaurant) instead of their disposable variation. Washable handclothes are used instead of paper towels. The amount of trash saved by these actions – especially over the course of the month – is enormous, and embodies the Prophetic example of being, as the Quran describes, “a mercy to all the worlds.” See: Global Warming and Wasterfulness

Written by Nour Merza. Cover photo by Oliver Hegenbarth.

Human Motivation in Sura al Nahl

Dr Issam Eido writes on two similitudes in Sura al Nahl and the example of the bees, and explains what we can learn from them about human motivation.

Allah Most High presented in the Meccan Sura, al Nahl, two consecutive similitudes which contain a number of juxtapositions:

Allah has presented a similitude: a slave in bondage, incapable of anything; and he who We have provided an excellent provision, so he spends from it privately and publicly. Are they the same? All praise belongs to Allah – yet most of them do not know.

And Allah gives another similitude of two men: one is unable to speak, incapable of anything and a source of weariness for his master. Wherever he directs him he does not bring any good whatsoever. Would he ever be equal to him who commands [the good] with justice and is firmly upon a truly straight way? (Sura al Nahl, 16:75-76)

These two similitudes succeed the mention of the bee (nahl), the word which the entire chapter is named after. Moreover, the themes of this chapter, in general, center around the bee as a representation of [human] actions, and the value of hard work, earning, effort, and making society thrive.

The essence of the inspiration given to the bee is summarized in the following divine command, “…then take the paths of your Lord which have been subjugated for you.” (Sura al Nahl 16:69) [This is done] in a manner which reflects habitual practice and effort, with no sign of haughty resistance, nor boredom in the making of a drink of various colors which has a healing for humanity, and within it is a tremendous lesson for those who reflect. This lesson is not restricted to the honey alone; rather it is found in the habitual work ethic of the bee itself.

Centrality of Divine Oneness

One cannot understand the two similitudes which were mentioned after the bee without recourse to the vivid imagery and expressive indication of the workings of the bee in producing honey. With this context, it is possible to understand the contrasts found in these two examples: the first, a slave in bondage, incapable of anything, contrasted with someone who God has given an excellent provision; he spends it secretly and openly.

The second similitude is a mute, who is also incapable of anything, and is a burden on his master; regardless of what he is directed to he does not bring any good. He is contrasted with someone who commands [what is good] with justice and is firmly on a truly upright, straight path.

After a quick look at a number of Qurʾanic commentaries which explain these two examples, we find that the issue of divines oneness is central to both similitudes. The chapter of the bee was revealed to the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, in the Meccan period, and the Meccan Qurʾan, by its nature, deals primarily with the issue of divine oneness and the afterlife.

Consequently, we can understand the reason which compelled the Qurʾanic exegetes – coupled with some contextual causes of revelation (asbab al nuzul) – to tie these two similitudes to the issue of comparing belief with disbelief, idolaters with monotheists, idols incapable [of anything] with God Almighty, the lazy disbeliever with the active believer, and a particular individual mentioned by name in a cause of revelation with someone who is his opposite.

Freedom from Impulses

Regardless of what [the interpretation] is, through a contextual reading of these two similitudes in light of the symbolism of the bee and its work ethic, we perceive the strong, essential connection the Qurʾanic text intends to indicate here. Namely, the juxtaposition of the work ethic resultant from goodness, with indolence, idleness, and unproductiveness, which all result from defeatism and laziness.

Through analysis, we find that the first similitude is imagery of a bonded slave, who has no will or capacity: he has neither the strength nor the motivation to work. From this imagery, the mind cannot conceptualize the image of a slave in bondage who is owned by his master.

The image speaks of a slave whose will and mind are in submission to something in particular, and he in turn, has become a slave to it, incapable of anything beyond its scope. This image should be brought in mind in contrast with the other slave who only see what he owns as provision sent to him by Allah.

At this point we must take a step back to understand an important and central issue which was emphasized by the Qurʾanic text in this context: “Allah has preferred some of you over others in provision.” (Sura al Nahl, 16:71) We can see a slave free from his egotistical impulses among which are avarice, desire, greed, and envy.

Obedience and Personal Choice

In the provision of others, he sees nothing but the gifts of his Generous Lord. As a result, the ultimate end of provision with such as slave is that he spends is privately and publicly, because of his complete certainty that the matter is pre-ordained. Here the strength and motivation of the human being is freed from the bondage of shackling egotistical worries; those which turn the human being into a bonded slave, incapable of anything.

In addition to provision, there is another factor which the Qurʾanic text emphasized, which is in a verse that succeeds the two similitudes:

God brought you forth from the wombs of you mothers not knowing anything. And He made for you [the faculties of] hearing and seeing, and emotional hearts that, hopefully, you may be thankful. (Sura al Nahl 16:78)

Here the imagery is perfected when the Qurʾanic text establishes the equality of all of humanity, be they men or women. Each of them came into existence without knowledge. However, the capacity to learn is present, and it occurs through the faculties of hearing and sight, and hearts.

Through personal choice, the human being can either make these faculties (hearing, sight, hearts) shackled incapable of anything; or he can make them motivated, energetic, freed from their bonds, spending publicly and privately. Everyone, without exception, has the special quality of subjugation which God Most High mentioned just after this over a number of verses “Have they not seen the birds subjugated in the midst of the sky? None holds them save God … Clearly, you are only obliged to convey.” (Sura al Nahl 16:79, 81)

The Cure for Defeatism

In the second similitude the issue of productivity comes across much more clearly through the contrasts of “mute” and “incapable” [and their opposites]. The quality of inability is repeated twice in both examples, and it is essential in the allusion to lack of productivity, laziness, indolence, and defeatism.

However, in this example there are two other traits which have a very interesting usage: the first being “mute”, which is a quality mentioned in the Qurʾan with others such as blindness and deafness, to describe the disbelievers. But the inability to speak has been mentioned independent of blindness and deafness here for the first time in the Qurʾan, and in the context of criticizing someone who does not speak.

It is well known that there are many texts in the Islamic tradition which criticize [excessive] speech and praise silence, but the context here criticizes the inability to speak here whilst contrasting it with praise for the man who commands justice.

Motivation Toward Betterment

We can infer the motivation and indolence from this juxtaposition. Motivation to better society, to help the wronged, to stop oppressors, to strive, to earn, to make [society] thrive. The mute here is not just the state of silence, the mute here is the state of defeatism which does not want change. For you to see something wrong in society and for you to just lower your gaze [from it].

Here, it is also possible to appreciate the second contrast. There is the one who is a burden on his master – the man who cannot move or speak except with what his master tells him to do. His good is the good of his master, and his evil is the evil of his master. He is incapable of seeing good himself; unable to perceive good, evil and the concept of justice without his master specifying it. He is in contrast to the one who is on a truly straight way.

The description of the second man as being on a truly tremendous way is an expression of the motivation and deeds of this man. The word “on” here carries meanings which express vigor and movement. He is firmly on this way; no one can dictate to him [what to do], active, a master in his own right, free in his will and capacity.


Dr Issam Eido is a former Visiting Professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic from the University of Chicago Divinity School (2013-2015). His teaching interests focus on Modern and Classical Arabic language, Arabic Literature, Islamic Studies, and Qur’anic Arabic. Prior to the Syrian uprising, Eido served as a lecturer in the faculty of Islamic Studies in the Department of Qur’an and Hadīth Studies at the University of Damascus. While undertaking his doctoral work in the mid-2000s, Eido solidified an international reputation among Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies experts.

Currently, his research focuses on the question of Authenticity and the shaping of authoritative Islamic texts among Muslim scholars in the Islamic formative period.


Change Happens: Qur’anic Principles for Social Change–Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

What is change? How does change happen? What is the purpose of change? What are the spiritual and worldly keys to change—for the individual, for groups, for communities, and for believers?

In the first part of the series, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani speaks about the definition of change, reform, and rights.

What is Change?

There is not, in fact, any intrinsic benefit mentioned in the Qur’an about change. Rather, we are called upon to change from an undesired state to a desired one, in accordance to what Allah has deemed to be good and true. Not only are we responsible to change our own states, but we also have  a social responsibility to have concern for the greater societal good.

Furthermore, we are taught about reform (islah). Something is considered to be reformed when it is free of harm. Therefore, a righteous person is called a salih, or someone who had made a personal change and fixed themselves.

We also have a definition for good. We have a moral criteria, we do not believe that good is relative. For example, just because someone is very rich, does not mean that we can steal from them. Allah has upheld justice, and His justice is not punitive. Rather, it is restorative. Justice entails that we are required to give everyone their rights, and deal with them in the best possible way.

Some obligations comes through choice, while others are circumstantial. For example, after choosing to get married, it is our duty to do well by our spouse. However, if we see someone bleeding on the sidewalk, it is our responsibility to help them, even if we haven’t been the cause of their injury.

In conclusion, we see social change as a responsibility, not as a whim-based function. We should be having a sense of responsibility to work to improve the lives of the poor or oppressed, rather than waiting until a picture goes viral.


Resources for Seekers

 

Sura al Kahf: Dhul Qarnayn and Tawfiq – Shaykh Walead Mosaad

Shaykh Walead explains the story of Dhul Qarnayn and highlights the key lessons and significant themes from which we can learn.

The last parable in Sura al Kahf talks about Dhul Qarnayn.

وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَن ذِي الْقَرْنَيْنِ ۖ قُلْ سَأَتْلُو عَلَيْكُم مِّنْهُ ذِكْرًا

They ask you concerning Dhul Qarnayn. Say: “I shall recite to you remembrance of him.” (Sura al Kahf 18:83)

Dhul Qarnayn was someone who was given power and sulta (lordship) and he presided over the East and the West. That caused many of the scholars to conclude there was no person history who was actually able to do that – if indeed it was a man – except for someone like Alexander the Great.

Again, it’s not a not a tenant of faith that it was Alexander the Great. We just know that he is referred to as Dhul Qarnayn in the Qur’an. Different reasons are given as to why he was called that. The word qarn actually means horn. One narration is that he had two or four braids of hair that looked like two horns, and that’s why he was given that name.

The Rank of Dhul Qarnayn

Some say that when he goes between East and West there is symbolically one horn in the East and one in the West. Most of the narrations say that he was not a prophet, even though some mentioned he could have been. He was a good man either way and he was more like a king than a prophet.

Or he could have been a prophet-king in much the same way that Sulayman, peace be upon him, was. But again, it’s the moral of the story that we{re looking at rather than the details of it.

إِنَّا مَكَّنَّا لَهُ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَآتَيْنَاهُ مِن كُلِّ شَيْءٍ سَبَبًا

We made him strong in the land and given him the means to all things [he wishes to achieve]. (Sura al Kahf 18:84)

The Firmness of His Belief

Allah uses the term: tamkin. It is one of those things that is not necessarily good, not necessarily bad. It’s like wealth. It means having the ability and the power to pretty much achieve anything that you want to. That can be a blessing and that can be a curse. If it is used in the right way it is a blessing. If it is used in the wrong way it is a curse.

To have that level of power and sulta to just move your finger and people run and ask you what you want could be a power or a blessing or it could be a curse. But this is what Dhul Qarnayn was given.

فَأَتْبَعَ سَبَبًا

And he took to the road. (Sura al Kahf 18:85)

حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَغْرِبَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَغْرُبُ فِي عَيْنٍ حَمِئَةٍ وَوَجَدَ عِندَهَا قَوْمًا ۗ قُلْنَا يَا ذَا الْقَرْنَيْنِ إِمَّا أَن تُعَذِّبَ وَإِمَّا أَن تَتَّخِذَ فِيهِمْ حُسْنًا

Till, when he reached the setting-place of the sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring, and found a people thereabout. We said: O Dhul Qarnayn! Either punish or show them kindness. (Sura al Kahf 18:86)

In other words, if you’re going to conquer these people either deal with them with kindness or deal with them by punishing them if they don’t submit. Obviously back then we’re talking about a different understanding of relationships between people and how things will run.

Remember we’re not talking about the Sharia of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him. Rather, we’re talking about something that precedes it by a millennium, if not more.

قَالَ أَمَّا مَن ظَلَمَ فَسَوْفَ نُعَذِّبُهُ ثُمَّ يُرَدُّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِ فَيُعَذِّبُهُ عَذَابًا نُّكْرًا

He said: As for him who does wrong, we shall punish him, and then he will be brought back unto his Lord, Who will punish him with awful punishment! (Sura al Kahf 18:87)

وَأَمَّا مَنْ آمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَهُ جَزَاءً الْحُسْنَىٰ ۖ وَسَنَقُولُ لَهُ مِنْ أَمْرِنَا يُسْرًا

But as for him who believes and do right, good will be his reward, and We shall speak unto him a mild command. (Sura al Kahf 18:88)

ثُمَّ أَتْبَعَ سَبَبًا

And he took to the road. (Sura al Kahf 18:89)

حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَطْلِعَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَطْلُعُ عَلَىٰ قَوْمٍ لَّمْ نَجْعَل لَّهُم مِّن دُونِهَا سِتْرًا

Till, when he reached the rising-place of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We had appointed no shelter therefrom. (Sura al Kahf 18:90)

The Peoples of East and West

It is said that he ran into these people and then he moves on. Alexander the great crossed from east to west and that everything including sunrise and sunset was under the salta: under the power of Dhul Qarnayn.

The first people he reached was were more advanced. They had homes, rooms, and roofs over their heads. And their way of life was relatively easy.

The second group of people he reached at the rising place of the Sun – in other words, the East – were a people who had no permanent shelter, but were perhaps nomads.

Much in the same way that the Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula were nomads in many parts of the peninsula, whereas in Mecca and in Medina they were sedentary.

كَذَٰلِكَ وَقَدْ أَحَطْنَا بِمَا لَدَيْهِ خُبْرًا

So (it was). And We knew all concerning him. (Sura al Kahf 18:91)

ثُمَّ أَتْبَعَ سَبَبًا

And he took to the road. (Sura al Kahf 18:92)

That is, he left again or he took further means.

حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ بَيْنَ السَّدَّيْنِ وَجَدَ مِن دُونِهِمَا قَوْمًا لَّا يَكَادُونَ يَفْقَهُونَ قَوْلً

Till, when he came between the two mountains, he found upon their near side a folk that scarce could understand a word. (Sura al Kahf 18:93)

The People of the Valley

The word al saddayn means something that blocks, but in this particular context it means the two mountains: a valley, essentially. The mountains were so close together that you can actually build a dam or build like a gate to protect the area between the two mountains.

He came upon these people and they couldn’t understand one another because their languages were mutually unintelligible. They spoke no common language. They had to resort to sign language and hands and writing in the sand and so on.

قَالُوا يَا ذَا الْقَرْنَيْنِ إِنَّ يَأْجُوجَ وَمَأْجُوجَ مُفْسِدُونَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَهَلْ نَجْعَلُ لَكَ خَرْجًا عَلَىٰ أَن تَجْعَلَ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَهُمْ سَدًّ

They said: O Dhul Qarnayn! Gog and Magog are spoiling the land. So may we pay you tribute on condition that you set a barrier between us and them? (Sura al Kahf 18:94)

These are the same tribes of the people of the hour. We don’t know exactly who they are. They are said to originate somewhere in the Far East, from the Mongolian steppes or wherever it might be.

They are conquerors, but they do it in a way where they they destroy people. So these people offer to pay some type of tribute on the condition that Dhul Qarnayn set a barrier between them and Gog and Magog.

قَالَ مَا مَكَّنِّي فِيهِ رَبِّي خَيْرٌ فَأَعِينُونِي بِقُوَّةٍ أَجْعَلْ بَيْنَكُمْ وَبَيْنَهُمْ رَدْمًا

He said: That wherein my Lord has established for me is better [than your tribute]. But help me with strength [of men in your numbers] and I will set between you and them a barrier. (Sura al Kahf 18:95)

آتُونِي زُبَرَ الْحَدِيدِ ۖ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا سَاوَىٰ بَيْنَ الصَّدَفَيْنِ قَالَ انفُخُوا ۖ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَعَلَهُ نَارًا قَالَ آتُونِي أُفْرِغْ عَلَيْهِ قِطْرًا

Give me pieces of iron – till, when he had leveled up [the gap] between the cliffs, he said: Blow! – till, when he had made it a fire, he said: Bring me molten copper to pour thereon. (Sura al Kahf 18:96)

فَمَا اسْطَاعُوا أَن يَظْهَرُوهُ وَمَا اسْتَطَاعُوا لَهُ نَقْبًا

And [Gog and Magog] were not able to surmount it, nor could they pierce [it]. (Sura al Kahf 18:97)

قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَحْمَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّي ۖ فَإِذَا جَاءَ وَعْدُ رَبِّي جَعَلَهُ دَكَّاءَ ۖ وَكَانَ وَعْدُ رَبِّي حَقًّا

He said: This is a mercy from my Lord; but when the promise of my Lord cometh to pass, He will turn it to dust, for the promise of my Lord is true. (Sura al Kahf 18:98)

وَتَرَكْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ يَوْمَئِذٍ يَمُوجُ فِي بَعْضٍ ۖ وَنُفِخَ فِي الصُّورِ فَجَمَعْنَاهُمْ جَمْعًا

And on that day we shall let some of them surge against others, and the Trumpet will be blown. Then We shall gather them together in one gathering. (Sura al Kahf 18:99)

The Tawfiq of Dhul Qarnayn

He built a wall like any other wall. They couldn’t get over it. In other words, they tried. And nor could they pierce it. Nor could they scale it. It was too high.

Notice the difference between how Dhul Qarnayn views this work, and how the one with the two gardens, viewed his. The latter said: “This is for me and it will never go away. I don’t think I’d find anything better.” And he put no effort into it or very little effort.

Now look at this. This is a completely man-made structure. It’s not like the garden that had the river flowing in between and things were just happening so easily. It took a lot of labor.One would think that it probably took months if not longer to build this wall.

Nevertheless, Dhul Qarnayn says: This is a mercy from Allah, but if the promise of my Lord comes to pass on that day when everything will be destroyed it will be destroyed. I was just a tool. I helped to bring about that which Allah has promised. And the promise of my Lord is true.


This lesson by Shaykh Walead Mosaad is part of the On Demand Course: Giving Life to Sura Al Kahf, in which Shaykh Walead explains the key lessons of Sura al Kahf: the four great stories in it and the four great tests they represent. Namely the tests of faith, wealth, knowledge, and power. Download the entire lesson-set here.

View other SeekersHub On Demand Courses here.


Sura al Kahf: Gratitude – Shaykh Walead Mosaad

Shaykh Walead Mosaad tells the story of the man of two gardens who was ungrateful for the blessing he was given and what we can learn from this.

Sahib al jannatayn or the man of the two gardens is the next parable. In reality it was one big garden. It was surrounded by date palm trees. A river ran though it and it had crops in its center.

The mufassirun mentioned that this garden was self irrigated. The man didn’t have to do anything. It was an amazing garden. Allah Most High Says:

وَاضْرِبْ لَهُم مَّثَلًا رَّجُلَيْنِ جَعَلْنَا لِأَحَدِهِمَا جَنَّتَيْنِ مِنْ أَعْنَابٍ وَحَفَفْنَاهُمَا بِنَخْلٍ وَجَعَلْنَا بَيْنَهُمَا زَرْعً

Strike for them a similitude: Two men, unto one of whom We had assigned two gardens of grapes, and We had surrounded both with date-palms and had put between them tillage. (Sura al Kahf 18:32)

So there two men, one of the men had this garden of grapes and it’s surrounded by big trees and it has a river running through it and also has crops for tillage. In other words it’s self-sustaining – a perfect garden.

The First Mistake Made

Some of the narrations say they were brothers, or first cousins, or from the same tribe. Some say that the other man had something similar to it, or that he had wealth similar to it, but he spent it all in the way of Allah Most High and was left with nothing for himself.

كِلْتَا الْجَنَّتَيْنِ آتَتْ أُكُلَهَا وَلَمْ تَظْلِم مِّنْهُ شَيْئًا ۚ وَفَجَّرْنَا خِلَالَهُمَا نَهَرًا

Each of the gardens gave its fruit and withheld naught thereof. And We caused a river to gush forth therein. (Sura al Kahf 18:33)

He didn’t have to do much to maintain it. It was there and the rivers were flowing and everything was going great. It was a marvel of agriculture.

وَكَانَ لَهُ ثَمَرٌ فَقَالَ لِصَاحِبِهِ وَهُوَ يُحَاوِرُهُ أَنَا أَكْثَرُ مِنكَ مَالًا وَأَعَزُّ نَفَرً

And he had fruit. And he said to his comrade, when he spoke with him: I am more than you in wealth, and stronger in respect of men. (Sura al Kahf 18:34)

Here’s where the problems begin. This verse is now kufr ni‘ama, a denial of blessing from Allah. What is important is that a denial of blessing from Allah can lead to outright kufr which is denial of Allah altogether.

The first mistake he makes is that he attributes his wealth to himself and does not see it as a blessing from Allah. He says the word ana (I). Anytime you see the word ana in the Qur’an it’s bad news. The first one to say ana is Shaytan: ana khayrun minhu … “I am better than him. I am made from fire. He is made from clay and dirt. Hence I am better.”

Isn’t the man saying a similar thing? “I have more money. I have more wealth. And hence I will be more respectful, have a better reputation, be more powerful in the eyes of men and those that I think count.”

Being Self-Important

So it began with this ujub: being impressed with oneself. The reason that no one should be self-impressed is because there’s no you here in the whole thing. Especially something like this. Look at the verse before it. Look at how Allah describes it. It goes back to Allah who is the One who made the river spring forth in the middle of it. Who is the One that made the fruits bear what they bear.

When you talk about crop farming, especially if it’s your livelihood, there’s nothing really that can teach you as much tawakkul as that. The farmer works and his harvest is once a year, maybe twice a year depending on his crop. The rest of the year he’s digging, he’s tilling, he’s seeding, he’s maintaining, he’s irrigating, and he’s not getting a dime back.

Nothing is coming back in income and the whole hope is that the crop will be so successful that at harvest time all of his needs and income for the year will come from that single crop. That’s a lot of tawakkul.

So what this man did completely contravenes that. Perhaps because it was so effortless for him. Perhaps this made him think: “I did all of this and it was so easy.” He didn’t have to struggle, to irrigate – the river burst forth and ran through it. He didn’t have to make tributaries and have it run and all these type of things. It ran on its own and he became deluded by this fact. And then he looked at his friend or his brother. “You gave your whole thing away. You’re stupid. Look at me.” It begins with self-attribution.

The Sins of Pharoah and Qarun

The same thing happened to Qarun who was from the Umma of Musa, peace be upon him. What was the worst thing that he said? The people said about him: “Look how great he is, and he has all of this. We wish we had like the same as Qarun.” And Qarun says: “I have been given this because of my knowledge. I have been given this because I did things right.” He’s attributing it to himself. And Allah destroyed him. The earth enveloped him and swallowed him.

The same thing happened to Pharaoh. He said ana in the worst way: ana rabbukum. Not even Satan could say that. Pharoah said: “I am your lord.” Again, the ana gets involved.

Taking all of these things into consideration you come to no other conclusion than that the worst thing that can happen to someone is they have this ana, this jabarut, this tyrannical overtaking of themselves by themselves. Because of what they attribute to what they think they’ve done, what they think they deserve, what they think they’re entitled to.

But then it gets worse.

وَدَخَلَ جَنَّتَهُ وَهُوَ ظَالِمٌ لِّنَفْسِهِ قَالَ مَا أَظُنُّ أَن تَبِيدَ هَـٰذِهِ أَبَدًا

And he went into his garden, while he is wronging himself. He said: I don’t think that all of this will ever perish. (Sura al Kahf 18:35)

He is only wronging himself, at the end of the day, for when you say something wrong or do something wrong the one who’s going to pay the highest price is yourself. One of the things that happens when people start attributing things to themselves as they become deluded and they think: “I’m always going to be like this.” These are things people take for granted.

And then finally the culmination:

وَمَا أَظُنُّ السَّاعَةَ قَائِمَةً وَلَئِن رُّدِدتُّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّي لَأَجِدَنَّ خَيْرًا مِّنْهَا مُنقَلَبًا

I don’t think not that the Hour will ever come, and if indeed I am brought back to my Lord I surely shall find better than this as a resort. (Sura al Kahf 18:36)

Denying Allah’s Blessing

The denial of the blessing from Allah Most High leads to the denial of Allah. Because when you deny the Day of Judgment you deny Allah. This is serious kufr. You don’t think Allah has better than what you think you have here? And you don’t think the Hour is coming?

But notice the tasalsul – the chain. See how one step leads to another. First he says: “I’m better than you because I have more than you.” Then he says: “I don’t think it will ever go away.” And finally: “I don’t even think even the Hour will come. I think this is it and I have everything.”

Then his Sahib, his friend, comes back to him.

قَالَ لَهُ صَاحِبُهُ وَهُوَ يُحَاوِرُهُ أَكَفَرْتَ بِالَّذِي خَلَقَكَ مِن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ ثُمَّ سَوَّاكَ رَجُلًا

His comrade, when he spoke with him, said: Do you not believe in Him Who created you of dust, then of a drop [of seed], and then fashioned you a man? (Sura al Kahf 18:37)

The Duty of Care

Here is an important point. Allah says: His friend or companion said when he spoke with him (yuhawiruhu). The word yuhawiruhu means he is having a discourse with him. He didn’t say: “O my God! are you like a kafir? What the heck? Are we not brothers? How could you say this?” No, he actually has a concerned discourse.

Moses was called upon by Allah Most High to speak in soft tones to Pharaoh. So what about this person and his brother? He’s no worse than Pharaoh. Even in those things that may come out that are shocking, whether we hear from a Muslim or non-Muslim, sometimes people just say things to shock and sometimes they don’t know what they’re saying.

Rather than condemn them to hell as may be the initial impulse, let’s try to save them from hell first. This is what he’s trying to do. He’s trying to make him think, to reconsider what he just said. He’s not just bringing him back to his own creation. He’s bringing him back to the creation of Adam, peace be upon him, because the gardener wasn’t created from dust or dirt, our father Adam was.

Back to the Beginning

This is kind of an overture to how we all actually began. That we came from dirt, from our father Adam, peace be upon him. And then after that we became the pollinated seed from the mother and the father. Then he made you into a man. So when you’re developing inside and you’re an embryo, then become a fetus, and then you go through these three stages of development, did you do that yourself? Is that all about you?

Should you be someone who is haughty and arrogant because you did that and it was perfect? What is difference between you and the fetus and the perfection therein and all of the resources that the fetus the baby needs are perfectly provided much in the same way that your garden is working?

The companion is appealing to the gardener’s intellect. He’s appealing to his sense of recognizing inherent truth when you’re presented with it. He implores him to reconsider his words and gives him a parable. And then he is emphatic:

لَّـٰكِنَّا هُوَ اللَّـهُ رَبِّي وَلَا أُشْرِكُ بِرَبِّي أَحَدًا

But He is Allah, my Lord, and I ascribe unto my Lord no partner. (Sura al Kahf 18:38)

Gratitude Is the Way

What is the conclusion? Well, if Allah created you from dust, and then from a single seed, and then made you into a man – and only a God can do that and no one else – then why scribes partners with that or why ascribe that to yourself? Hence your assertion is false. It can’t be right.

And then he tells the gardener what he should have said.

وَلَوْلَا إِذْ دَخَلْتَ جَنَّتَكَ قُلْتَ مَا شَاءَ اللَّـهُ لَا قُوَّةَ إِلَّا بِاللَّـهِ ۚ إِن تَرَنِ أَنَا أَقَلَّ مِنكَ مَالًا وَوَلَدًا

If only, when you entered your garden, you had said: That which Allah wills (will come to pass)! There is no strength save in Allah! Though you see me as less than you in wealth and children… (Sura al Kahf 18:39)

Here he says: Contrast what you said before with what I would have said as a believer. If you had entered your garden and said: ma sha Allah, la quwwata illa biLlah – this is by Allah’s mercy, this is by Allah’s will, there is no power and there is no strength except through Allah, then you recognize this blessing.

He is teaching the gardener how to capture the blessing. This ayah is like a madrassa – it’s a school in the sense of all the meanings that come out of it. And you can see its manifestations. When you say: ma sha Allah, la quwwata illa biLlah, this is called tying up your blessing. Make sure it doesn’t go away.

How do you tie up your blessing? By recognizing it. How do you increase your blessing? By thanking Allah.

لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ

And if you are thankful then I will only increase you. (Sura Ibrahim 14:17)


This lesson by Shaykh Walead Mosaad is part of the On Demand Course: Giving Life to Sura Al Kahf, in which Shaykh Walead explains the key lessons of Sura al Kahf: the four great stories in it and the four great tests they represent. Namely the tests of faith, wealth, knowledge, and power. Download the entire lesson-set here.

View other SeekersHub On Demand Courses here.


Sura al Kahf: The Opening Verse – Shaykh Walead Mosaad

Shaykh Walead Mosaad gives an overview of Surah Kahf, its virtues, significance and the background context for the reasons it was revealed.

Abu Darda’ reported that Allah’s Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him, said: “If anyone learns the first ten verses of the Sura al Kahf by heart, they will be protected from the Dajjal.” (Muslim)

Abu Sa’id al Khudri reports that the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said: “Whoever recites Surat al Kahf on Jumu‘a a ray of light will shine for them from one Jumu‘a to the next.” (Nasa’i, Bayhaqi, Hakim)

Sura al Kahf is the eighteenth of 114 suras in the Qur’an. But as many of you are aware, generally, the order of the chapters is by length. Sura al Baqara, for instance, is the longest. It’s not the first but the second after al Fatiha. Most of the long chapters of the Qur’an are Medinan in terms of their Revelation. So there’s two broad types of Qur’an at least from the aspect of when and where it was revealed. The Qur’an revealed in Mecca and the Qur’an that was revealed in Medina.

The longer chapters – there are exceptions — generally are revealed in Medina, because you have a much more sort of elucidation of mu‘amalat, of relationships and how to deal with one another, especially with the People of the Book. Whereas in Mecca the chapters are much shorter. Virtually all of the chapters in the last few juz are Meccan in origin.

Sura al Kahf comes exactly in the middle. There are fifteen juz before and about fifteen juz after it. Imam Tahir ibn Ashur he says that the actual middle word or middle letter of the whole Qur’an is found in Sura al Kahf. He said one opinion is that it’s in the verse:

وَلْيَتَلَطَّفْ وَلَا يُشْعِرَنَّ بِكُمْ أَحَدًا

And let him behave with care and courtesy, and let him not inform any one about you. (Sura al Kahf 18:19)

The Middle Point of the Qur’an

The first ta’ in talattaf is the middle letter of the whole Qur’an, such that all the words or letters before it are equal to all the words and letters after it.

Much like the beginning of the Qur’an which begins with the words in Sura al Fatiha 1:1:

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

the second half of the Qur’an begins with the words in Sura al Kahf 18:1:

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَىٰ عَبْدِهِ الْكِتَابَ

So both halves begin with al hamd. That I think is the quintessential type of dhikr. It
encompasses all of the other types of dhikr because when you say Alhamdulillah, I think inherent in the meaning is Allahu akbar, and subhan Allah, and la hawla wa la quwatta illa bi Allah. Because when you say all praise – all that is good in life and in the next life, all that we have that makes us who we are – is due to Allah Most High, that has the meaning of tanzih.

It has the meaning of ultimate transcendence, because we’re saying the praise is for no one but Allah. When we when we are making a transcendent statement about Allah Most High we mean that there is nothing comparable unto Him. Nothing could be like Allah Most High. Essential in understanding praise is that we shouldn’t praise anything except that we know its ultimate source is Allah.

Sabab al Nuzul

The mufassirun say that for many of the verses there are certain hadith that give us an idea, an inkling, about this thing called sabab al nuzul, which means the reason for revelation. What we mean by reason for revelation isn’t that the verse came as an answer to a particular question at the time, or that it was only valid for that particular question. All of the mufassirun, all of the commentators, agree that the meaning or the lesson is in the overall meaning of the verse, not the specific particularity of how and when and why it was revealed.

We know that much of the Qur’an, not all of it, but much of it was revealed in response to something that was going on at the time. Sometimes the response in the verses will not be so explicit but rather implicit. One of those implicit instances is here and in the beginning of Sura al Kahf, when it says

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَىٰ عَبْدِهِ الْكِتَابَ وَلَمْ يَجْعَل لَّهُ عِوَجًا

Praise be to Allah Who hath revealed the Scripture unto His slave, and hath not placed therein any crookedness.

Perhaps you might recall from hadith that our Lady Hawa, or Eve, was created from the crooked rib of the Prophet Adam, peace be upon him. Crooked doesn’t mean vile or wicked. It means bent when speaking of physical things. So if you have a stick that’s crooked it means there is some kind of curvature to it. That it is bent in shape. When we talk about things that are not physical however then it can mean something that is off, something that is not on the right path, something that would be the opposite of mustaqim.

No Crookedness in It

Why did Allah Most High say in this particular verse: “and hath not placed therein any crookedness”? That seems like a given. Why would even that have to be emphasized? Why would Allah have say that specifically? This gives us an inkling into the sabab al nuzul, the reason or circumstances behind the revelation of this verse.

It is said there were two from among Quraysh at Mecca at the time – one of them being Al Nadhr ibn al Harith, another one being Uqba ibn al Mu‘it – who were from the kuffar, from the disbelievers, and among the staunchest opponents of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace. They learned that there were People of the Book, specifically the Jewish tribes, in Medina, and they had an inkling that what the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said and what was being revealed to him seemed to coincide with some of what the Jews knew.

So they went to Medina – this is before the Hijra – to get advice about to deal with him, Allah bless him and give him peace. The Jews instructed them to ask the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, about three things. “Ask him about the Ruh (the spirit). Ask him about the People of the Cave. And ask him about Dhul Qarnayn. See what he says about these things.”

Only if ALlah Wills

They go back to Mecca and sit with the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and they ask him these three things. Imam Ibn Ashur says the one specifically about the Ruh is directly addressed in Sura al Afasy 17:85:

وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الرُّوحِ ۖ قُلِ الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّي وَمَا أُوتِيتُم مِّنَ الْعِلْمِ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا

They are asking thee concerning the Spirit. Say: The Spirit is by command of my Lord, and of knowledge ye have been vouchsafed but little.

Which means that no one has a definitive answer as to what it is. It is one of the secrets of creation. But the other two are in Sura al Kahf. It said that the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: “I will tell you tomorrow,” anticipating revelation in that regard. However he, Allah bless him and give him peace, did not say insha Allah. Hence, in the later verses of Sura al Kahf (18:23-24) we read:

وَلَا تَقُولَنَّ لِشَيْءٍ إِنِّي فَاعِلٌ ذَٰلِكَ غَدًا
إِلَّا أَن يَشَاءَ اللَّـهُ ۚ

And say not of anything: Lo! I shall do that tomorrow,
Except if Allah will.

So there was a period of fifteen days where there was no revelation about it. The Quraysh thought they finally got something over on the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace. For fifteen days he was silent about the things that he was asked about, Allah bless him and give him peace. Only then was Sura al Kahf revealed beginning with this verse:

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَىٰ عَبْدِهِ الْكِتَابَ وَلَمْ يَجْعَل لَّهُ عِوَجًا

Saying that this was revealed and that there’s no crookedness in it.

So contrary to what the Quraysh were thinking, or what they wanted to promote about the Qur’an, and about the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, there’s nothing in it that’s crooked. And this sura, then, is going to show how exactly that is so.

 


This lesson by Shaykh Walead Mosaad is part of the On Demand Course: Giving Life to Sura Al Kahf, in which Shaykh Walead explains the key lessons of Sura al Kahf: the four great stories in it and the four great tests they represent. Namely the tests of faith, wealth, knowledge, and power. Download the entire lesson-set here.

View other SeekersHub On Demand Courses here.


Sura al Kahf: Key Themes and Meanings – Shaykh Walead Mosaad

Shaykh Walead Mosaad gives a concise overview of some of the key meanings and themes found in Sura al Kahf, and the lessons we can draw from it.

Abu Darda’ reported that Allah’s Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him, said: “If anyone learns the first ten verses of the Sura al Kahf by heart, they will be protected from the Dajjal.” (Muslim)

Abu Sa’id al Khudri reports that the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said: “Whoever recites Surat al Kahf on Jumu‘a a ray of light will shine for them from one Jumu‘a to the next.” (Nasa’i, Bayhaqi, Hakim)

The Quran instructs us often in the forms of archetypes, which means that the parables, the stories, are not just mere stories to be recollected and have a nice history lesson about. In fact when we talk about Sura al Kahf we find that many of the details that some of you may want to know, such as, what were the names of the people of the cave? How many were they? How long did they actually stay there or sleep? What happened after they were found? The Sura actually doesn’t give you a lot of details about that because that’s not the point. The point is the lessons that we can learn.

The Qur’an is a Light

As we know the Qur’an is about 600 pages long, six thousand or so verses. It can’t cover every aspect, every encounter, that you’ll have in your life. And it’s not meant to do that. It’s meant to enlighten you.

Many of you know the hadith that have been reported about the merits of reciting this particular chapter of the Qur’an on Fridays. That it expiates one sins from one Friday to the next. It is a protection from the Dajjal or the Antichrist. Some other reports mention that it’s a protection from the punishment of the grave. And it’s supposed to be recited every Friday.

I thought a little bit about this. Why every week? And why particularly as a protection from the Dajjal? Every week means that it’s not just something to be read and dispensed with. But even if you have a regular chat or litany of Qur’an that you do, nevertheless you’d still include Sura al Kahf. So it might be one of the most off recited chapters of the Qur’an, f you are following the Sunna of reciting every Friday.

Additionally this idea of the Masih al Dajjal, as a tenet of faith we believe that this particular being or individual will be, and there will be great trials and tribulations associated with him towards what we would call the end of days.

Four Major Parables

If you look at Sura al Kahf and the parables that are in it, you’ll find the four major parables.

    1. 1. The people of the cave often referred to in the Judaic and Christian traditions as the Seven Sleepers.

 

    1. 2. You have the Sahab al Jannatayn: the two men of the gardens that they owned.

 

    1. 3. Our master Musa and our master Khidr or Abd al Salih: the righteous servant.

 

    4. Dhu al Qarnayn that many of them mufassirun (exegetes) mention as being Alexander the Great.

So you have things that predated by many many many years the prophethood of the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him. Yet somehow in each of them there’s a particular archetype or paradigm for us to learn from.

We know that in the trials and tribulations associated with the Dajjal towards the end of days that this will be a culminative process. In other words, it will culminate in that. It doesn’t start with that. In other words, our view of history, or the Islamic world’s view of history, is one that is looking at successive decline. Our decline does not mean that we will be declining in terms of the technological prowess and the things that were able to do.

The Decline of Humanity

These people that were talking about in Sura al Kahf got around on the back of a donkey and today we can fly in machines that go a thousand times the speed or ten thousand times the speed of the donkey. We can create materials that, if at one point maybe there was a million people living on the face of the earth we have things now that could probably kill all of them in one fell swoop.

We’re not talking about this type of decline, but a decline in the most important facet, the most important aspect. It’s a decline in our own humanity, in that which defines us as human beings. And what defines as human beings is not the things that we can create, not the things that we can make, but rather the actualization of those attributes in the human being that are reflection of the attributes of Allah. There is a correlation between the two.

Knowledge, wisdom, compassion, mercy – the very things that we seek from Allah Most High, those are things that should be embedded within us and those are things we should seek for our own selves. This decline began with the death of the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him. And there will be no prophets after him. The only time we’re going to get a minor reset when the Prophet Isa, peace be upon him, comes. Not so much as a prophet with a new revelation but as a follower of the last Prophet, Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him.

The Minor Devils

We get a reset then, but until then, there is this steady period of decline in our own humanity. That means we may have the Dajjal, with capital t-h-e, at the end, or capital D. But we are going to have many many dajjalene: many, many people who incorporate the attributes of an imposter who sows corruption and havoc on the earth.

I’m talking about your very own self. Everybody within themselves has this this jabarut, this type of tyranny within themselves. We have the potential for it and one of the things about your humanity is to recognize that you do have the potential for this. Realise that just because you are the son or the daughter of this person or that person, or you’re from this particular town or lineage or tribe, it doesn’t make you immune.

One of the things about the believer is that they have a confidence in Allah Most High but at the same time their Iman (faith) is one where they realize that they can never truly fulfill all of its aspects. That’s why many of the theologians said it is valid for one to say: “I am a believer, insha Allah.”

Some of the other theologians said no that sounds like kufr, because you’re not sure if you’re a believer or not. But the ones who said it it is allowed and that it is valid, explain that what is meant is: “I want to believe that I have a true Iman (I have a sincere faith) and that it will ultimately be accepted by Allah Most High. So what we teeter on is whether this is going to be accepted by Allah and that automatically puts you in a position of humility.

The Meaning of Slavehood

What is the first verse of the Sura al Kahf?

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَىٰ عَبْدِهِ الْكِتَابَ وَلَمْ يَجْعَل لَّهُ عِوَجًا

Praise belongs to Allah who sent down upon His slave the Book and has not assigned to it any crookedness. (Sura al Kahf 18:1)

When we talk about the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him, in his highest status, he would say: “I am a messenger and I am a prophet and I am a slave of Allah.” So your highest recognition of your humanity is recognizing first and foremost that you’re a servant of Allah, that you’re a slave. And that complete agency is not for you, it is all for Allah Most High.

Sura al Kahf begins this way, reminding us right that this Book was revealed to the slave Off Allah. When Musa, peace be upon him, meets Al Abd al Salih, the righteous servant, that we know as Khidr, peace be upon him, again it’s referring to him as a slave. And this is a man who knew things Musa, peace be upon him, didn’t know.

There’s a lesson in that for us. That in order for us to actualize the most important and beautiful aspects of humanity we have to be slaves. As the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said: “You’re a slave to that which you love.”


This lesson by Shaykh Walead Mosaad is part of the On Demand Course: Giving Life to Sura Al Kahf, in which Shaykh Walead explains the key lessons of Sura al Kahf: the four great stories in it and the four great tests they represent. Namely the tests of faith, wealth, knowledge, and power. Download the entire lesson-set here.

View other SeekersHub On Demand Courses here.


Adab of Dua 27: Impermissible Duas

Allah Most High says, “I am near – I answer the call of the one who calls upon me (2:186).” Yet, many of us wonder: Are my duas being answered? Is there a certain dua I have to read for each of my concerns? Do my duas have to be in Arabic?

In this series of short talks, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani explains the reality of dua (supplication) and how to turn to Allah. It is based on a classical text on the same subject by the great Shaykh al Islam Zakariyya al Ansari.

This video looks at the five different legal rulings that a dua can take, including when it is haram.

He divided this work into the 11 concise, apt sections described below.

1. The reality of dua
2. Our being called on to make dua
3. The great virtue of dua
4. The integrals of supplication, its wings, and its means
5. The conditions of supplication
6. Its proper manners
7. The times of dua and the state in which it should be made
8. Signs of acceptance of dua
9. Explaining the religious ruling of dua
10. Some encompassing supplications
11. Explaining what the greatest Divine Name is

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