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Talk about Islam with Shaykh Hamza Karamali (Episode 1) – Is Religion Relevant in the 21st Century

Dear Readers,is religion relevant

Welcome to our first conversation with Shaykh Hamza Karamali as part of the “Talk About Islam” series. My name is Osama Hassan, and I will be having monthly conversations with Shaykh Hamza Karamali around topics that we are faced with as we struggle to live as Muslims in the modern age. Shaykh Hamza is the Dean of Academics at SeekersGuidance, and is one of our senior teachers. Today’s topic is the relevance of religion in the 21st century.

Osama: Salam ‘alaykum Shaykh Hamza, It’s great to be here talking to you today.

Shaykh Hamza: Wa ‘alaykum salam Osama, it’s nice to be talking to you too. How can I be of service today?

Defining Religion and Modernity

Osama: I have a question for you: Is religion relevant in the 21st century?

Shaykh Hamza: That depends on what you mean by “religion”, “relevance”, and the “21st century”.

Osama: Well, “religion”, as I see it, could be defined as an organised system composed of a doctrine and method that serves to express adoration of an unseen Divine Being. As for the question of religion’s “relevance” in the “21st century”, it arises for me due to the staggering advancements that have been made through scientific inquiry and empirical observation after the breaking away of academic institutions from ideas like religion, mythical beings, and unseen realities.

Shaykh Hamza: Great! Let’s start with your definition of religion: “An organised system composed of a doctrine and method that serves to express adoration of an unseen Divine Being.”According to this definition, the answer to the question, “Is religion relevant in the 21st century?” might be, “Yes” or it might be, “No”.

For example, the Christianity of pre-modern Europe was “an organised system composed of a doctrine and method that served to express adoration of an unseen Divine Being” and it led to bloodshed, intolerance, and a corrupt collusion between the Church and the State to oppress the general masses, keeping them poor, hungry, and weak while the officials of the Church and the State became rich, fat, and strong.

This Christianity fits the definition of religion that you gave, and if we substitute it into the question to ask, “Is the Christianity of pre-modern Europe relevant in the 21st century?” the answer is, “No”, not in the 21st century, nor in any other century!

Buddhism is also commonly classified as a “religion” and would come to most people’s minds if you asked the question, “Is Buddhism relevant in the 21st century?” If you look, for example, at the ongoing Buddhist genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar, the answer is again, “No.”

Strictly speaking, however, Buddhism doesn’t fit the definition of “religion” that you have given because it does not express adoration of a Divine Being. It seeks instead to break free of all attachments, even attachments to God. That suggests that we might need to re-think the definition of “religion” that you have given. Let’s come back to that thought.

Islam also fits the definition of religion that you have given. If you were to ask me, “Is Islam relevant in the 21st century?” I would say, “Absolutely!”, because it fills a moral and spiritual void that no other religious or non-religious system can fill. But that’s not because its an “organised system” that is composed of a “doctrine” and “method” that serves to express “adoration” of a Divine Being.” It’s not because it’s a “religion” in the way that you have defined religion. It’s for a different reason.

Defining religion as an “organized system of beliefs” can turn it into a political ideology because the ones who are in charge of organizing the and regulating the system of beliefs will use it to further their own political ends and to oppress and terrorize others–as I illustrated with the example of pre-modern Christianity and the example of Buddhism. Islam fits the definition of religion that you have given, but it is not a political ideology.
I think that in order to answer your question, we need to work with a different definition of religion. I also think that we need to think carefully about your question itself, as it makes a number of false assumptions that I do not agree with. We need to think carefully about the historical circumstances that lead people ask this question in the first place.

Osama: Okay, so how would you define “religion”?

Shaykh Hamza: Well, the Arabic word that is most commonly translated as “religion” into English is “deen”. Traditionally, Muslim scholars have defined this word as:
وضع إلهي سائق لذوي العقول السليمة باختيارهم المحمود إلى ما هو خير لهم بالذات
(which means) Rules that come from God, which drive people of sound reason to make good choices to voluntarily do what is really and truly in their best interests.

Let’s unpack this definition.

God sent the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) to teach people “rules” that were “really and truly in their best interests”. So he taught us how to have a relationship with God, how to worship Him, and how to love Him. Then, he taught us how to live with others, and this involved teaching people how to have a happy marriage, how to cultivate sincere friendships, how to have kindness towards one neighbours, and how to build functional and happy communities.

He came to teach us these “rules” because they were “really and truly in our best interests” not only in this life, but also forever. Let me say that last part again: “… not only in this life, but forever.”

Now, if you think for a moment about the question that you are asking, “Is religion relevant in the 21st century?” you will see that there is an implicit assumption in your question. You are asking about the utility of religion in this world in the 21st century. But what about our eternal lives after death? Your question assumes that religion has a limited and time-bound benefit in this world in the 21st century. But that is false. The true and lasting relevance of religion is in the after life because we only live in this world for a limited period of time, but we live after our deaths forever. The benefits that we accrue from religion in this world dwindle to nothing in the face of the everlasting benefits that it leads us to in the next world.

You asked: “Is religion relevant in the 21st century?” I think that the more important question that we need to ask is, “Is religious relevant for our eternal lives after death?”

Let’s return to the definition. But let’s return with the idea in our minds that this world is not all that there is and that the value of religion isn’t merely that it gives us purpose and meaning in this life, but that it also comes to tell us to look beyond this life, to tell us that there is much more than this life, and that religion–according to the definition that I am now working with–is the only way to success in that life.

So the definition tells us that religion drives people of sound reason to make good choices that lead them to voluntarily do what is truly good for them.

Now, your definition used the word, “doctrine”. Saying that religion is “doctrine” carries the connotation that it is something that you accept and cling to despite it being irrational. But that is not what religion means to us. The definition that we are working with tells us that it is something that people of sound reason voluntarily choose to do because they see that it is something that benefits them forever. Religion is rational. The sensible thing to do is to be religious, to believe in God and the Messengers that He sent to us, and to believe in the afterlife.

The definition that we are working with also tells us that God doesn’t want to drive us to follow His rules by coercion, but He wants to us to use our reason to see that religion is really and truly in our best interests — extremely relevant to us, in other words — and then to make our own good choices to freely do what is in our own best interests.

This is important to keep in mind because, in our times, when we say that religion consist of “rules”, it leads people to imagine that religion is something that is imposed on them against their will, that it is dictatorial (or “theocratic”), like an organized system that is imposed by an infallible pope who appoints and oversees bishops who comprise a Church that is your only path to God, and which is then imposed by the State onto the masses. The Church and the State then collude to put an end to heresy and to tell the masses that they need to give money to Church officials to have a happy afterlife, and the Church officials proceed to fill their pockets with their money. This is not religion according to our definition because it is forced. This is what I meant when I said earlier that Islam is not a political ideology.

In true religion, compulsion is inconceivable because religion, or “deen”, is a set of rules that God reveals for our own benefit that He wants us to choose to follow through our own choices after coming to reasoned conclusions. If somebody goes and compels somebody to behave in a certain way then it is not religion, or “deen”, because they haven’t chosen it for themselves.

So that’s how I would define “religion”. You can see that if you understand “religion” in this way, you won’t ask the question that you have asked. You’ll ask some other question.

Is Religion Relevant?

Osama: Well, before I ask some other questions, I’d like to ask one more question to further this discussion: Why do you think people question the “relevance” of “religion” in the 21st century?

Shaykh Hamza: Because we live in a post-Enlightenment world, and the Enlightenment was a period in Western history when oppressive and corrupt religion was displaced through revolution in some places and gradual movements in other places because there was an oppressive religious state structure that wronged people by denying them property rights, trapping most people in a life of serfdom in which they were bought and sold with the land they belonged to, wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few people, and religious people would use religion to become wealthy.

Allah Most High describes this historical circumstance in the Qur’an:

إن كثيرا من الأحبار والرهبان ليأكلون أموال النّاس بالباطل ويصدون عن سبيل الله
Surely, many Christian monks and Jewish Rabbis consume the wealth of people without right, and turn them away from God’s path [9:34]

This verse condemns the indulgences that Martin Luther protested against to begin the Reformation. (The Qur’an called for a Reformation, too!)

When religion is associated with this kind of reality on the ground and then people rise up against the oppression — which they should have risen up against — they do away with religion completely. They were right when they marginalised the religion that they experienced — it was false religion. But to then extend that understanding of religion to all other types of religions — all “organized systems that have a doctrine and method and seek to express adoration of a Divine Being” — to make that extension is a fallacy that logicians call a “hasty generalisation”.

One of the features of the Enlightenment is the focus on the here-and-now, on human success and material prosperity here-and-now, and forgetting about the afterlife. So the church would say: you’re a serf because it’s the decree of God and since we are the people of God, we are your only avenue to God, and in the afterlife you’ll have a good life if you pay us lots of money and make us fat (laughs).

The natural response to this type of religion is: “Forget you! Forget your religion! I want relevance and happiness in this life.”
This is where questions like, “What is the relevance of religion in the 21st century?” come from.

Osama: What I can gather from what you have said is that in the past religious leaders colluded with the state to consume the wealth of people in the name of religion. This led to an establishment of an oppressive religious hierarchy, which the people came to despise (and rightfully so). This caused them to overthrow this type of religion in the name of freedom, justice, and reason. This period in which they overthrew oppressive religion came to be known as the Age of Enlightenment.

So when we hear people question the relevance of religion, it is due to the traumatic experiences of these peoples with oppressive religion in past that causes them to question religion’s relevance in the present.

Well, if we were to agree with all of that, then the question still remains: why should one give religion another go when it has, through experience, demonstrated that it doesn’t work?

People have already had a bad experience with it, what’s your proof that your religion is actually going to work?

Shaykh Hamza: You used the terms “proof” and “experience”. Embedded in your question is the idea that when someone uses the word, “proof” they are usually looking either for a “logical proof” or an “experiential proof”.
The logical proof of the validity of a religion, in brief, is that the universe is evidence for the existence of God, and the character of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace), and the miracles that were manifest at his hand–which we know of with absolute certainty because they have been mass-transmitted through generations of people since his time–are evidence that he was a genuine messenger from God.

These logical proofs are unpacked in a podcast that I produce for SeekersGuidance called Why Islam is True and also in a series of courses on Islamic Theology that I teach starting with the Step 2 Umm al-Baraheen course. I’ll refer you to those resources to further investigate the logical proofs.

But people look for more than logical proofs; they look for “experiential proofs”. What is an “experiential proof”? It is finding happiness. People just want to be happy. The happiest people that I have met have been people of religion. People of religion not in the way that you defined it but in the way which corresponds with the definition that I gave. I have met many religious people who don’t have huge houses but are extremely happy.

I was once with a student of the late Shaykh ‘abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri (Allah have mercy on him), who was a spiritual guide in Damascus who taught people how to find and love Allah Most High. This student of Shaykh ‘abd al-Rahman once visited me when he was suffering from pancreatic cancer — which is one of the most aggressive and dangerous kinds of cancers — while he was going through chemotherapy, an extremely unpleasant and painful treatment, and so I asked him how he was feeling.

In response to my question, he talked for about 20 minutes about how Allah Most High doesn’t need anything and hence hasn’t created the universe because He needs anything, but out of His sheer generosity, to give to us, to make us happy. At times, someone might go through something that seems unpleasant but it has only been created for his own happiness. He also told me stories of righteous people that he had met who went through extreme difficulties but were grateful to Allah Most High throughout, and saw everything as happening through the agency of the One they loved. He said all of this from the depth of his heart with complete conviction, and I saw within him a happiness that I had not seen anywhere before.

Let me give you another example. Here in Jordan, we have janitors that take care of our buildings, and these janitors come from poor countries to earn money in Jordan to send back to their families. Some of these people that I have met are among the happiest people that I have come across. They are cheerful when they talk to me, they are always talking about relying on Allah Most High, they live simple and uncomplicated lives, the things that give me worry and grief don’t seem to affect them at all!

Another example is a close friend of mine who became Muslim and left a very successful life behind him in America. He had a car, house next to the beach, all of the things that people in the 21st century believe give you happiness–entertainment, substances, living on the edge, travelling, you name it. But he wasn’t happy. So he left everything and travelled in search of happiness. He ended up in Kenya where he tried to live with the tribal folks but was instructed by them to leave because they feared that he would die of disease if he lived with them. So he left for Egypt where he became Muslim and lived as a farmer for three years. He told me that those three years were the best years of his life.

So I think that people are searching for an experiential proof of religion, and the answer is right here, so try it out and you will find it, but trying out requires sincerity, humility, gratitude, and a desire to love and worship God.

Osama: You mentioned that “it [the experiential proof] is right here so try it out”, what do you mean by that?

Shaykh Hamza: The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said that God says:

“I Am as My servant thinks of Me, and I Am with Him when he remembers Me. So if he remembers Me to himself, then I remember him to Myself, and if he makes mention of Me in a gathering of people, then I make mention of him in a better gathering of angels.”

The narration continues:

“Whoever comes close to Me by a handspan, I come close to him by an arm’s length;
Whoever comes close to Me by an arm’s length, I come close to him by a fathom; and
Whoever comes to Me walking, I come to him running.”

All of these are metaphors that express the fact that if somebody turns to God, the small steps that they take towards God, will be met by huge blessings that will come to them from God.

So “trying it out” means acknowledging that you have a Creator, and every single benefit that you enjoy in this life was granted to you by that Creator, not because of anything that you did, but because of His Generosity, and so you realize that you have fallen short of what He deserves from you, so you turn to Him in repentance, and seek to know what He has asked you to do, and you do that with sincerity towards Him.

The Way to Happiness

In order to do that, you must find other people who are trying to build such a relationship with their Maker, because you cannot do it on your own. So by keeping their company, working with them, spending time with them, being inspired by them, and making that the purpose of your life, that is what is meant by “trying it out”.

Osama: For most people who work full-time jobs, or are studying at academic institutions, taking the time out to “find” such people is asking a lot. Many people due to the struggle to make ends meet, don’t even get time to pray in the mosque, or spend proper quality time with their family members.

A point to note, however, is that when most people do find time off from their busy schedules, they usually gravitate towards entertainment, food, or other forms of pleasure to find happiness.

Is this the right approach to finding that happiness? Where does one find happy people whose sole purpose in life is to live to please their Beloved Maker?

Shaykh Hamza: So you have to take a handspan, take a step, and walk the walk.

Somebody who is caught up with life to such an extent that he doesn’t find time for himself needs a break from his lifestyle. He needs to take himself out of that environment. Everyone feels that need. Everyone takes themselves out of that lifestyle. They normally do that by taking a vacation to some tourist destination or by finding some other means of entertainment. You only have to glance at the glitz of the entertainment industry to get an idea of how much time and money people are spending on entertainment.

But entertainment is just a distraction from the underlying problem, not a solution to it.

Ibn ‘ata-Illah al-Askandari says: “The anxieties and worries that people carry in their hearts are there because they don’t have an experiential relationship with Allah.”

So if somebody is caught up and finds himself in a situation where they feel unhappy and feel something missing, then they should look at this statement of Ibn ‘ata-Illah and try it out.

“Trying out” means that instead of going out on a vacation or spending money on entertainment, you need to take time off and go and visit someone who is really and truly happy to learn how you can really and truly become happy yourself.

Unfortunately, people like this are rare now; and they’re even rarer in the West.

I live in a community here in Amman where I have a teacher, Shaykh Nuh Keller, and the reason why I live here is because here there is somebody who is like that who I can watch and learn from so that I can become like that. There are people here that visit and take time off to spend time here. There are other people as well, like Habib Umar bin Hafiz, who visits places around the world. Actually, Shaykh Nuh also visits around as well.

So we should find people who have a spiritual relationship with God, and teach people how to have a spiritual relationship with God. We need to create time in our lives to visit such people, learn from them, and listen to them. Then we can go back to other things that we need to do in our lives.

Going towards entertainment won’t give you happiness, and won’t solve your problems; it is simply a distraction.

The Spiritual Void

Osama: You mentioned the aphorism of Ibn ‘ata-Illah al-Askandari, in which he astutely points out that anxieties and worries are actually a symptom of a deeper problem, which is the absence of a real experiential and spiritual relationship with God.

To further what you have said, I find it no wonder then that we see a rise in mental health related issues, especially in the West. I was, for example, not that long ago reading an article on BBC that pointed out that there has been a stark rise in anxiety and depression related issues within high-school students in Australia. This is not a peculiar problem to Australia; based on my limited experience, I feel it is a global epidemic that is growing day-by-day. The technological advancements aren’t helping either because they are making entertainment and immediate gratification even more accessible to people thereby fuelling this spiritual void even further.

Escapism may be the real problem here; we are running away from this spiritual void that we have created within ourselves by getting rid of religion completely from our lives. That may explain why you will find that people don’t find meaning in their careers, education, family, and relationships.

What do you think is the cause of this spiritual void? Are we experiencing this void because we have replaced sound religion with amusement and entertainment?

Shaykh Hamza: The cause of this spiritual void, I feel, is not just seeking pleasure through entertainment, rather it comes from broken homes. Part of the the rules that came from God in the form of deen (religion) are rules for creating a home environment that works.

A home environment that works is one in which there is a father who works, a mother who is at home to take care of the family and the house, children who love to be at home because they feel the love between the father and mother. The home is haven for everyone in it. We need this because as we have social needs. The family structure, which is made up of husband, wife, children, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, with the rules of the responsibilities that each has to the others, is extremely important to preserve.

In our times, the mother and father often both work full-time, and, since they are often not religious, the home, instead of being a haven, becomes a scene of arguments and abuse. The grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts, are busy dealing with the same problems in their own homes.

All of this is a result of people no longer being religious. Keep in mind that a religious person is not just someone who follows a series of rules. He is a person who has humility, reverence for God, sincere love and desire for the welfare of others, patience in the face of trials, responds to bad with good, and who lives his life not just for selfish desires but in order to help others. So now when you don’t have people like this and religion is taken out of the picture, then when they come together and have a marriage, then the marriage will end up in a series of fights, breaking of dishes, and various forms of abuse. Psychological, sexual, verbal, and forms of physical abuse have now become common as a result of this void.

But the rules are also important. I am a father in a local Boy Scouts troop for my children and the children of the community. In order to be officially certified as a scout leaders by the Boy Scouts of America, all adults must complete a course on “Youth Protection Training” to protect the young boys from the dangers of child abuse which is now extremely prevalent. The rules that are mentioned in the training manuals are very similar to the rules that were God revealed to us through the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). I thought to myself, if we just followed the Divine Law, then these problems would just go away.

So, for example, we have rules of khalwa (seclusion with the opposite gender). These rules stipulate that an unmarried man and woman who are not related to each other cannot be alone in a room together. Now, over a thousand years ago, the fuqaha explained that these rules also apply to a man and a young boy–for a man to be alone with a young boy is just as prohibited as for him to be alone with an unrelated woman.

We also have rules of ‘awra (concealing one’s nakedness). According to these rules, men and boys cannot reveal the area between their navel and knees to anyone else, not even another man.

So when we were doing this youth protection training with all of the fathers and children, all I had to do was to teach them these Divine Rules. We should all know these rules. We should all realize that these rules are there to protect us and our children from harm.

Now, when these rules are abandoned, then we have societies where women and children are abused, and things like pornography become common, promoting abuse even further. The effects of this psychological, physical, and sexual abuse is apparent in the people who come and are looking for happiness. Then, to search for the solution in entertainment is only going to make the situation worse. So the problem is not just in entertainment; the problem is also in not following the rules of religion. God sent us these Divine Rules not because He needs something from us but because they are in our own best interests.

It is not possible for us to attain happiness without having reverence for the rules that the Allah Most High has given us for our own benefit. We need to learn these rules of worship, buying and selling, marriage and divorce, inheritance, so that we can return to living as healthy families and communities.

Osama: So if the solution lies in following and revering the rules that God has revealed to us for our benefit, what then is the first step to realising these rules in our life?

Shaykh Hamza: What steps should one take? One should find people who are living in this way and try to keep as much of their company as possible, and one should learn the rules by which one should live one’s life. We have courses on SeekersGuidance through which you can learn most of these rules in a way that is relevant to modern life.

The technical term for living a life that is based on following these rules is taqwa. Taqwa literally means to protect yourself from harm, and the greatest harm that we can protect ourselves from is Allah Most High’s punishment in the Hellfire. We do that by doing what Allah Most High has commanded us to do and avoiding what He has commanded us to avoid. A person with taqwa he protects himself by following these rules.

People of taqwa are rare because the way in which most of us conduct our lives is based on our desires and whims. A person of taqwa, however, is somebody who does certain things, and doesn’t do other things. That’s why people of taqwa stand out in our societies, it is because they fear God, and protect themselves from harmful things by avoiding them even when everyone around them is doing them.

These things may seem very difficult and unsurmountable but they are not. We should start with small steps and make du’a (supplicate Allah Most High). Remember: go a handspan, an arm’s length, then walk, and Allah Most High will respond far beyond your expectations.

Osama: Brilliant, so what you have argued so far is that true religion is relevant, and is, indeed, a path to happiness. You have forwarded the idea that this path to true happiness cannot ever be successfully realised without following and revering the Divine Law.

Now, to learn this Divine Law, and to practise the realities that are embedded within these laws, people will have to look towards practising Muslim scholars. In our times, however, we find that many Muslims, due to their cultural and educational backgrounds, haven’t been exposed to religious people that are truly practising and religious. Often, many will look up to a religious preacher, but after a while, find out that they are not as what initially met the eye. Sometimes the issue lies with the religious person’s character or education, and sometimes it lies with the person misconceiving the true nature of the religious person. In any case, this creates trust issues and can become a barrier for people in trusting Muslim religious leadership.

What is your advice to people that struggle to build lasting, true and real relationships with pious and religious people?

Shaykh Hamza: I once heard Shaykh Nuh Keller relate a story of a man who came to Shaykh ‘abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri, and started to praise him excessively. Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahman responded by telling him to place his trust in Allah. He told him that if you place your trust in people, then you will be disappointed, but if you place your trust in Allah, then you will never be disappointed.

It is a very difficult experience to place your trust in the hands of a person who you believe is religious, and to then end up being disappointed by them, perhaps through mistreatment, perhaps through betrayal, perhaps through a breach of trust. If that happens, the lesson to take is that we should rely on Allah, not on people.

This goes back to the hadith in which Allah Most High says, “I am as my servant thinks of me to be.”

Your relationship with other people should be for the sake of Allah, which means that your intention should be to reach closeness to Allah. You should realize that Allah has placed people around you so that you can benefit from them and use them as a means to get close to Him. The goal is not to gain the love of people; the goal is to gain the love of Allah.

(For example, ) excessive formalities with one’s teachers is wrong. We have to respect people of piety and knowledge but you we also need to have a normal human relationship with them. I remember one of my teachers, Shaykh Muhammad Shuqayr, frequently citing the hadith, “I and the people of taqwa from my ummah are free of formalities.” Now, this is not an authentic hadith, but its meaning is true. When you take a teacher, you always need to remember that he is a fallible human being who Allah Most High has created for you to take as a means to get close to Him. You show him respect, you learn from him, but he is not the goal; the goal is Allah Most High. If he falters, if he makes a mistake, if he falls short of what Allah Most High has commanded, if he gets angry at you, if he forbids you from ever attending his classes again, that does not mean that you can’t benefit from him in the future, and that also does not mean that you should forget about everything that you have benefited from him in the past. Every human being will have faults. Perfection is only for prophets. We don’t rely on people. We rely on Allah Most High.

If you read the stories of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace), great Companions like Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him) and  ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him), you will find that people would go up to them, disagree with them, tell them they were wrong, and at the same time realize that they were the best of the ummah of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).

I think that the loss of trust that you mention comes from not having a proper relationship with a religious person. The way to have such a relationship is to have humility towards them, to appreciate their knowledge and religiousness, to see that this person has something that you don’t have, and you go to that person to learn what you don’t have and use that to go towards Allah Most High, all the way remembering that we are all fallible.

Osama: Before I ask you the final question, I find it pertinent to review some of what we have discussed.

We started off by defining “religion” as the Muslims scholars have defined it. Then, we went over the proofs for the trueness of Islam as a religion. These proofs were divided into two: logical and experiential.  You briefly summarised the logical proofs for us, which you go through in detail in the Islam is True series and the Umm al-Baraheen course. Then, we talked at length about the pursuit of happiness, and how the experiential proof of true religion lies in being happy.

Now, after having a good idea of what religion is. and what it is supposed to do; I ask: How is this religion relevant to us in a time wherein mankind has made staggering advancements in technology through empirical observations and scientific endeavour; has science not in the 21st century replaced religion?

Have we not realised that, in reality, there are only material realities in the world? In this post-Enlightenment and postmodern world, most people have dismissed religion and immaterial realities as mythical; what is your take on that?

Russell’s Teapot and other Analogies

Shaykh Hamza: Bertrand Russell, a 20th century atheist,  represents some of what you said about mythical creatures. He has this analogy called Russell’s Teapot. He explained his analogy in the following words:

Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

Historically, the Church’s theology integrated with Aristotelian science and it was imposed upon people as religious dogma. Then, Copernicus and Galileo scientifically challenged this religious dogma by arguing that if you use your mind and your eyes, then you will see that the Earth goes around the Sun, not the other way around, as the Church and Aristotelian science taught. The Church said that we do not want to use our mind let alone use our eyes. The general approach of Christian philosophers and theologians since (even after they accepted the conclusions of modern science and threw away Aristotelianism) has been to say that we cannot prove religion by reason but, at the same time, religion also cannot be disproven by reason so we don’t want to let go of it. So Russell came up with his Teapot analogy.

He is saying that if you want to believe in something, then you should believe in it based on clear evidence. He is arguing that a religious person who responds in the way that I just described is like someone who believes that there are tiny teapots go around the sun.

But we disagree with this type of religion. We say that everyone is obligated to use their mind and reason to establish the truths of religion. We also believe that if you were to use your mind correctly, then you would come to the conclusion that God does indeed exist, that the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) was genuinely God’s messenger, that there is, indeed, an afterlife, and that Islam is true.

So we don’t agree with the fact that religion is a fairytale. That’s my response to the final part of your question. As for the beginning of the question, it is based on a trajectory of emotion, thought, and history that is unique to the modern Western psyche. We should not understand the world according to this trajectory. We should understand the world according to the trajectory of prophecy from God, beginning with the Prophet Adam, going through the Prophet Moses, then the Prophet ‘Isa (or Jesus), and ending with the final Prophet Muhammad (may Allah Most High bless them all and give them peace), all of whom taught us to use our reason to discern the truth of the divine rules that they taught, so that we could freely choose to do what would benefit us forever.

The trajectory of the Western psyche is very different. According to this trajectory, masses of oppressed people in Western Europe revolted in the name of science and reason against the Church. It was through this reason-based revolt against “religion” that they found morality and freedom. They thought that by ridding themselves of religion, they would release themselves from its shackles in order to gain morality and freedom, and this is what created the modern world. This is called “modernity”. Modernity is full of hope and prind in a reason-based revolt against religion. It believes that we can now use our reason to create a Paradise on Earth. Your question reflects this hope and pride when you talk about the “staggering achievements” of technology and the replacement of religion by science.

But we no longer live in modernity. We don’t live in a modern world. We live in postmodern world. Postmodernism was born after the First and Second World Wars. To call them “World Wars” is a misnomer. They were not conflicts between all countries of the world. They were conflicts between the “modern” societies of Western Europe and America (plus Japan in WWII). We shouldn’t  call them “world wars”, but “wars of modern Western states that destroyed the world”. 50 million deaths in WWI and 70 million in WWII. These are huge numbers. Think about them for a second. The population of Canada is 35 million. It’s like all of Canada being killed three times over and then a couple of million more. The “staggering achievement” of modernity is not the technology that the tiny fraction of the world’s population has the privilege of using everyday; it is the nuclear bomb that destroyed entire cities in WWII and which threatens to destroy all of us all over the world should another world war ever break out again (may Allah Most High protect us!). The technology that the Enlightenment gave birth to has enabled us to kill each other on a scale that has never been imagined in human history.

This modern violence gave birth to postmodernism, which, unlike modernism, is anti-rational, and is based on the idea that whenever human beings have power, it will always lead to oppression. We now believe that the human power of modernism leads to oppression, not panacea, as the Enlightenment promised.  

We live in a postmodern world, not a modern one. Your question is full of optimism in reason and technology. That optimism is gone for anyone who has studied world history, and for anyone who follows the conflicts that continue to plague our world today. Modernism has not brought us happiness. Ask the Syrians if it has brought them happiness; ask the Rohingya if it has brought them happiness; ask the Africans if it has brought them happiness. If you are an American, if you are a Canadian (me!), if you are a European, if you are an Australian (you!), you are part of a privileged minority.

The world that modernity created is not as great as we think it is. Internally, within our privileged societies, there is a profound internal sadness, and externally, outside our societies, we have expressed this sadness by destroying countries all over the world.

This takes us back to the question that you started with, about religion being relevant in the 21st century. I would say, based on the last couple of answers, that not only is it extremely relevant, but it is absolutely necessary, necessary for our happiness, necessary for our security, necessary for the preservation of human life. But remember that even more important than its relevance and necessity in the 21st century is its relevance and necessity in our everlasting lives to come in the afterlife.

Osama: Shaykh Hamza, it has been a pleasure talking with you today. I look forward to having many more insightful conversations with you. Thank you, and al-salam ‘alaykum.

Shaykh Hamza: You are most welcome, wa ‘alaykum al-salam.


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.


Why Islam Is True E05: God and Science

Why Do We Die? – Shaykh Hamza Karamali

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on Atheists, Balance, and Responsibility

Exploring Tawhid: Islam as a Universal Civilization

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks reflects on the profound meanings and realities of the concept of tawhid, beginning with the words: La ilaha illa Allah.

The defining statement of Islam “La ilaha illa Allah” (there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah), captures the inherent civilization of oneness and unicity upon which Islam is built. This unicity is accompanied with a sense of the sacred ontology of spirituality; that is, the very nature of our reality and our being – when viewed through the lens of tawhid – is that our essence is sacred. It mirrors tawhid. One of our shortcomings is that we have externalized spirituality and abandoned its internalization. There is therefore a dire need to re-inject Islam with this awareness of inner spirituality – a need that demands the re-exploration of the very notion of tawhid.

Allah says:

The one who has indeed succeeded is the one who purifies himself, remembers his Lord and prays. But you prefer the worldly life, while the Hereafter is better and more enduring. Indeed, this is in the former scriptures, the scriptures of Abraham and Moses. (Sura al-A‘la 87:14-19)

The Qur’an promotes purification and tazkiya (cleansing) of the self through dhikr (spiritual remembrance) and du’a (invocation), and states categorically that the Akhira (the afterlife) is better for us than the Dunya (material existence). Yet we as human beings have come to prefer and prioritize the Dunya – some to the point of abandoning the Akhira altogether. The Qur’an then reinforces the universality of this message by stating that it is one that has been confirmed in the earlier scriptures.

However, the “self-image” of the Qur’an is highly pragmatic in that it deals with realities, emotions, people and communities. It recognizes the palpable context of the Dunya – whilst the message is clear that the Akhira is better, it does not condemn the Dunya. On the contrary, it views our earthly existence as a “Dar al-Balah” – as an abode of trials in which we will be tested.

Furthermore, Allah declares:

He who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deeds: and He is the Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving. (Sura al Mulk 67:2)

The sequence of this verse (ayat) places “death” before “life”, reminding us firstly that death is both a creation of Allah and a transition to the next life, and not merely a lifeless condition of absolute nothingness. But in its pragmatism, the Qur’an also reminds us of our earthly responsibilities:

Do not forget your portion in the Dunya. (Sura al-Qasas 28:77)

And thus we recognize the profoundness of one of our most oft-repeated supplications:

Our Lord, grant us the best of this Dunya [world] and the best of the Akhira [the hereafter]. (Sura al-Baqara 2:201)

It is in this reflective state of the believers, who ask and seek for the best of both “worlds”, that we find ourselves as an “ummatan wasatan”, a balanced community … a community dynamically located in this world but with a supremacy of focus on the world to come. In this regard, all of us, as men and as women, have two roles to play: that of Ubudiyyah (being the bondsmen of Allah) and that of Khilafa (being representatives/vicegerents of Allah) in this world.

Wasatiyyah thus becomes a balancing act between these two functions, because if we prioritize our Khilafa and forget that we are the servants of Allah, we may become tyrannical. On the other hand, if we immerse ourselves only in Ubudiyyah, then we forget our social responsibilities towards our communities; or even collapse into form of servility unbecoming of our dignity as human beings. To embody these two roles and become communities of equilibrium and justice, we must locate ourselves within a spirituo-moral locus of Islam as a “Way of Being” before our conception of it as “a Way of Life” – which is a somewhat externalised way of viewing and practising the Deen (Religion as a “way of being” and “becoming” in consonance with the Divine Principle of tawhid). As a ‘Way of Being’, it presents us with the potential to change and to transform internally. This perspective finds a powerful resonance within the Qur’an where it states:

Allah will not change the external conditions of a people until they change that which is within themselves. (Sura al-Ra‘ad 13:11)

We often focus excessively on changing the conditions outside of ourselves – and those of others. Immersed in our dunyawi (worldly) delusions, we have externalized and exteriorized change and transformation to our detriment. This attitude constitutes the “heart” of self-righteousness. And so it is that we fail to realize that it is only when we change that which resides within ourselves – within the very core of our hearts and minds and souls – that Allah will change our external conditions and allow us to be the vessels of that social change.

Further emphasizing the importance of our internal realities, Allah says:

Soon will We show them our Signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth. (Sura al-Fussilat 41:53)

We will only be able to read these ayaat ­- these symbols and signs of Allah – through the process of tazkiyatu n–nafs (purification of the Self). Attempting to recognize and understand the signs and symbols of Allah is what forms the foundation of interacting with the Divine – it is what links us with spirituality. Herein lays our “identity” as Muslims. Ours is an internal, spiritually focussed and centred identity. “Identity” in Islamic Spirituality encompasses an ontology of being. It is an existential condition. To fully realise this demands a number of things: that we interrogate ourselves both spiritually and ethically; that we reflect upon and modify our conduct and comportment where necessary; and that we ask ourselves to what degree we are prepared to undergo the requisite transformation. From this point of departure, we may trace the trajectory of our Islamic “identity” along the oft-mentioned triad of the Nafs: from the Nafs al–Ammarah Bi s-Su’ (the Inciting Self) through the Nafs al-Lawwama (the Reproachful Self) to the Nafs al-Mutma’inna (Tranquil self/self at rest). It is only after we have cultivated the ability to objectively criticize ourselves (the Lawwama of the Self) that we are able to attain that serenity and inner peace – that Itmi’nan. Without this tranquillity there can be no peace between ourselves and Allah, ourselves and creation, or that sublime condition of inner peace.

It is therefore necessary that we ask ourselves important questions about the state of our Islamic education – referenced in Arabic as Tarbiyyah (to nurture, enrich, refine and cultivate). It is imperative, too, that we identify the points of reference for such a process. How – in more specific terms – and in a holistic manner, we are able to connect the idea of tawhid with Islam as a universal Din. Allah says,

The Religion before Allah is Islam (submission to His Will). (Sura Aal Imran 3:19)

How do we translate this into our educational models. What are the principles that underlie our educational processes?

There are three important aspects to consider:

The individual – how, for example, are individuals and individuality constituted?
Society – how do we understand the histories, the values and the norms of societies?
The content of reality – namely, its relation to both the material and spiritual contexts?

Moreover, and on the one hand, the tensions that may arise between “individuality” and “individualism” (particularly as they are often-times embraced in the contemporary world as ruthless and necessary forms of competitiveness – the corporate world providing just one of the spaces for some of its worst manifestations), and our notions of “collectivity” on the other, need to be urgently addressed. These tensions are fraught with the potential to lead to unrest and wars.

With a view to more fully grasping these complexities we need to understand that the aims and purposes (maqasid) of education are both intrinsically and intimately linked to our ultimate convictions.

We, as Muslims, need to ask ourselves and critically examine what our ultimate convictions are about human nature and society. What Quranic or Sunnic template do we need to foreground in order to express and actualize those ultimate convictions? Again it needs to be re-emphasized that as Muslims we are governed by spirituo-ethical values. These values form the foundation of the concept of adab (right and fair conduct – or virtuosity) and is far more important than ilm (knowledge), without diminishing the exalted station of knowledge in Islam in any way. As the Arabic proverb goes, “al–adab fawq al-ilm”, (adab is above knowledge), because without good conduct and virtuosity, knowledge reduces to mere information. One can be a tyrant and yet be the most learned and informed of people.

We come to realize that Islam is thus based on unity of knowledge and servitude to Allah through service to the creation, as well as the centrality of revelation, because we view the cosmos itself as reflective and symbolic of higher realities.

Islam and tawhid as our aqidah (belief and theological system), are thus synthetic in nature. It is an approach that builds towards a dynamic and regenerative concept of unity (as opposed to being merely deconstructive or reductionist). It continuously strives to inform us of the interconnectedness and wholeness of all things, of the intimacy and meaningfulness of the created order, so that we can transform both ourselves and the world within which we live. This we cannot do without the characteristics of justice, fairness and equality (for example, between males and females). In addition, if we cannot do justice to ourselves how can we do justice to others? If we cannot forgive, how can we expect to be forgiven; if we show no mercy, how can we expect mercy to be shown to us; if we cannot love, how can we expect to be loved? Even more so, the blameworthy attribute “malicious envy” (hasad), for example, is not condemned so much for the pain it causes others, but for its horrific potential to bring spiritual ruin and destruction upon the soul guilty of such envy. Allah cares for all His creation! Said the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him:

Malicious envy (hasad) destroys the goodness (hasanaat) in us in as much as fire devours wood. (Abu Dawud: Hadith 2653).

There ought to be, therefore, several natural consequences for societies who embrace and build themselves on tawhid:

1. Tawhid forces us to embrace and look to the essence of being human rather than the happenstances of our creation in which we played no part. It relegates race, ethnicity, nationality, gender and language – those things for which we are not responsible and have not come by way of acquisition. If we really internalize tawhid, it marginalizes secondary qualities and forces us to recognize the essentials of our existence and obliterate the contingencies.

2. Tawhid engenders love and mutual respect; it urges us to respect all human beings, to argue in the best of ways, and to invite to the way of Allah in the most excellent manner and with wisdom. The Quran is emphatic about this.

3. Tawhid demands from us that we both verify and establish truth. Whenever we view tawhid as an Ultimate Truth, everyday truthfulness becomes symbolic of this higher truth.) This matter of faithfulness to the truth plagues us as an ummah (community of believers). Allah says,

O you who believe! if an evil-doer comes to you with information, then first verify it, lest you harm a people in ignorance. (Sura al-Hujarat 49:6)

This is a Divine imperative, and so if we embrace tawhid we will not be easy victims of falsehood and malicious speculation; and herein lies the safeguards and protection for societies and communities that have the potential to be both wholesome and fructifying.

4. Maintaining purity and clemency in our societies – without clemency we can never establish truth and justice. Only when we internalize kindness, compassion and generosity, will we naturally strive to free ourselves from fitnah, scandals, divisiveness and arrogance. Also included here is the elimination of poverty, as poverty militates against the stability and unicity of our societies, so we should strive to empower the incapacitated and disadvantaged.

5. Respecting the freedom and the dignity of all human beings, including both personal and intellectual freedoms.

6. Implementing consultation (shura), co-operation and mutual assistance.

7. Striving for justice that is vitally alive in valuing both the rights of Allah and the rights of people and the rights owing to ourselves.

Without understanding the inherent diversity that goes along with tawhid, our aqidah becomes another form of totalitarianism and tyranny. Even those people who call themselves “muwahidun” (proponents of the Oneness of Allah) have failed to embrace the importance of diversity.

Allah says,

O humakind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may come to know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah are those of you with taqwa. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (Sura al-Hujarat 49:13)

We need to realize that in this context Allah speaks to “humankind” and not just “believers”. That which are ultimately important are not the properties with which we are born and in which we have had no hand, but what we acquire (as mentioned earlier). The best of us and most honored of us therefore – and according to the Quran – are those who have taqwa. Taqwa is that form of higher consciousness of Allah that enables us to become both “personifications” of the highest values enunciated by the Qur’an and representatives of the most endearing qualities of Prophethood.

The most worthy qualities are those which we can acquire, not those which are the accidents of our creation (like the colors of our skins, languages, gender or nationalities). Taqwa is eminently attainable and open to all, from the poorest to the richest – it a kind of spiritual democracy, which, when we align ourselves with tawhid – we may discover and realise within ourselves that spiritual station of becoming muttaqin.

However, we cannot achieve this if we cannot embrace and live with diversity. Taqwa is available to those who are able to both live with and be enriched by diversity. Only in this way can we become the vehicles of tawhid, and hopefully align ourselves with the Will of Allah, the Most High. Unrealized (including crass modes of literalism) and superficial understandings avail nought, no matter how stringently we enact the externals of our ‘ibadah. If we cannot embrace diversity, we cannot fulfil our roles as khulafa and be true practitioners of tawhid. Says Allah, the Most High,

Do you not see that Allah sends down rain from the sky? With it We then bring forth produce of various colors. And among the mountains are tracts white and red, of various hues, and (others) raven-black. And so amongst people, and crawling creatures and cattle, are they of various colors. Those truly fear Allah among His servants who have knowledge, for Allah is exalted in Might, oft forgiving. (Sura al-Fajr 35:27-8)

And yet again,

And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours. Indeed herein are signs for those who have knowledge. (Sura al-Rum 30:22)

Islam is the last of the Revealed Faiths. If we cannot see beyond the walls of our ghettoized cultures; if we cannot see beyond our dress codes (which in essence form a part of the beauty within a ubiquitous diversity). If we cannot see beyond our stubborn social codes (particularly the gendered ones). If we cannot see beyond the many fossilized features of our increasingly regressive religious mindscapes, then we call a lie upon our claim to have embraced the liberating beauty of Islamic universality. We would have called a lie upon our much-professed tawhid that constitutes that axis of Divine unicity around which the many-hued and kaleidoscopic beauty of Allah’s Creation rotates. And we would have called a lie upon ourselves in the face of the verse in the Quran,

And we shall reveal to them our Signs along the horizons and within their own souls until it becomes manifest to them that He is the Truth. (Sura al-Fussilat 41:53)

From the distant edges of our visual perceptions to the very core of our souls, we are called upon to bear witness to the wondrous nature of tawhid encapsulated within the equally wondrous nature of multiplicity. Islam is a universal civilization of Oneness within a universe of diversity. To those who reject or scorn this we say, as the Quran does:

To you your Way and Religion and to me mine. (Sura al-Kafirun 109: 6)

What more need be said?

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

September 2014.


Is It Permissible to Marry Someone Who Has a Different Religious Orientation?

Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah

Question: Assalamu alaykum

My family and myself are sunnis and my girlfriend happens to be salafi and does not do Mawlid or believe in Wasillah of any kind even from our beloved prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him).

I fell in love with this woman for she is a gentle, nice, kind person, prays everyday everything I was looking forward to. She says she will respect our Mawlid but won’t participate in it if there is one at my place. My family also claims that this is a very difficult decision for them. What should I do?

Answer: Wa’alaykum assalam. Thank you for writing to us. I pray you’re well.

There are two aspects to your question to consider; first, the relationship you are in, and secondly, the suitability for marriage.

Relationships

You mention that the woman in question is your girlfriend. As is commonly known, Islam puts limits on gender mixing outside of marriage and unmarriageable kin, and this is for a number of reasons. For further information, please refer to this answer:

Why Does Islam not Allow Boyfriends and Girlfriends?

As such, it would be improper to continue to have a relationship outside of marriage, unless you need to know one another for the purpose of marriage, in which case communication is permitted with supervision. Seclusion is prohibited.

Suitability and religious orientation

If the prospective spouse is someone who generally follows one of the 4 schools of law (madhabs) and one of the 2 schools of belief (‘Ashari or Maturidi schools), then there is no objection to marrying.

Within these schools, there are some who differ on the permissibility or recommendation of certain practices, such as the celebrating the mawlid and tawassul etc.

In your case, if it is something you and your family feel passionately about, then you may have to consider these matters more carefully in order to avoid problems later. However, do take into account that she has already told you her position on these matters, so you cannot go into the marriage expecting her to change later or be surprised if your children are influenced by her positions.

If, however, she is not someone who adheres to the above traditional schools, then the situation is more complex and you should certainly consider how your differences in religious understanding will affect your relationship and closeness, as sharing religious values and outlook is the most important foundation for harmony between spouses and when raising children. If the differences are great, they can become a point of anguish, and even resentment, at the deepest level, as you may find yourselves pulling in different directions and preventing each other’s religious progression. In such cases, marriage would not be advisable, even if you get along otherwise.

Take advice from others, such as your parents, teachers, local imams, and good friends, and pray Istikhara.

I wish you the very best,

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 Does Islam Seem So Difficult to Follow?

Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah

Question: Assalamu alaykum

Why are there so many rules in Islam which are really difficult to follow? Allah does not need us, so why does He punish us if we disobey him?

Answer: Wa’alaikum assalam, jazakum Allah khayr for your question. When anything in life, including religion, becomes difficult or overwhelming, it’s important to take a step back to give yourself some breathing space. You’ve already taken a step in the right direction by asking.

Moral and legal responsibility

The objective of religion is the benefit of mankind in this life and the next. In this life, religion provides the necessary guidance for both individual and social prosperity, as well as providing clear boundaries in which to conduct one’s worldly affairs. The fulfillment of these goals leads to felicity in the afterlife as well.

Like any code of law, the shariah should not be made too difficult for people, but at the same, because this life is a temporary test, and like all other tests (think of exams and interviews!), there is obviously some hard work, struggle, and sacrifice required. The result of which is the eternal bliss of Paradise.

This is why the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Paradise is surrounded by hardships and the Hellfire is surrounded by desires’ [al Bukhari, Muslim]. Imam Nawawi, explaining this hadith says, ‘It means that nothing will help you to reach Jannah except experiencing hardships. … Hardships include striving in worship and persevering upon that, and patience in the face of hardships.’ [Sharh Sahih Muslim]

Everything in steps

The Qur’an tell us that, ‘Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship’ [2:185], and that, ‘On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear’ [2:286].

This approach to the religion is corroborated by many hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), one of them being, ‘Religion is easy, and no one overburdens himself in his religion but he will be unable to continue in that way. So do not be extremists, but try to be near perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded.’ [al Bukhari, Muslim]

Religious practice has to be sensible, so that we do not become so overwhelmed that we’re repulsed by the religion, or repulse others from it. The middle way is to go gently, and keep building our faith and practice gradually. One should not take on too much that it becomes unbearable, yet not do so little that one remains stagnant and stale. It is akin to learning to swim, too shallow and you go nowhere, too deep and you’ll drown.

In practice, this means,

1. Start with the absolutely obligatory acts and avoid major sins. Ensure you are fulfilling others rights as much as possible.

2. Gradually add emphasized supererogatory acts and do one’s best to avoid minor sins.

3. Continue like this until you feel like you want to push into an extra gear in the religion, in learning, practice and observance.

4. Throughout all this, keep learning about the religion by taking beneficial courses that are manageable for you, and attending useful lectures. I recommend a mixture of seerah and tafsir with some basic aqidah and fiqh. The heart and soul need to continually be reminded of knowledge and words of wisdom in order to be motivated to act and to grow.

As you develop in the religion, you will naturally be able to observe more of it and adapt, and at each stage it won’t seem hard or overwhelming. More importantly, the law will stop being simple outward actions, but rather inspired and filled with the spirit of the law, which stems from the love of Allah and His Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). At this point, even difficult actions become easy, second nature, and even preferred.

This is the meaning of the Hadith Qudsi, in which Allah Most High informs us, ‘My slave approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than what I have made obligatory upon him, and My slave keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him.’ [al Bukhari].

Allah does not need us so why punish us for disobeying Him?

It’s true, Allah doesn’t need us, but we do need him for everything, including our very existence. Unlike humans, who act on motives and reasons, Allah has no motives in rewarding or punishing us, because He has no need of anyone or anything. If He wanted, He could punish the righteous and reward the disobedient. Any reward for obedience is purely from the Magnanimity of Allah, and any punishment for disobedience is from His Justness.

For this reason, everything in the Shariah is exclusively for our benefit, whether human wisdom can perceive it or not. Therefore, try to be optimistic and go gently with yourself and others, but always moving forward in the religion, and make Allah your recourse in all that you do. He won’t let you down.

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.

If There Was No Life After Death Would Religion Be Meaningless?

Answered by Ustadh Sharif Rosen

Question: Assalam alaykum

If there was no life after death would religion be meaningless?

Answer: as-Salamu ‘alaykum.

Jazakum Allah khayran for your question.

Religion remains ever vital to the human experience, even apart from considering the afterlife. With respect to Islam, in particular, its enduring relevance owes not only to its aim of directing us towards the Creator of the heavens and the earth, but also, crucially, to its provision of a framework for discovering a life imbued with balance, wisdom and meaning. As Allah says, “To whoever, male or female, does good deeds and has faith, We shall give a good life and reward them according to the best of their actions” [Qur’an 16:97]. While no shortage of opinions has ever existed on what the “good life” consists of, or how it is attained, revealed scripture offers us the soundest criteria by which the moral and spiritual degrees can be known, that is, the very means towards the promised good life — in the one to come, but certainly in the present as well.

Here, the reason for the arrival of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, becomes clearer; he manifests the divine Mercy in sending humanity an exemplar who teaches and models excellence, the benefits of which we are called to experience in our personal lives, homes and communities. Centuries of rigorous preservation and refinement of our understanding of the prophetic teachings attest to the need to look to his example for the moment-to-moment insights that help us to deepen our embodiment of God-conscious living. And make no mistake, living as such is needed with urgency now, as the absence of prophetic virtues in our societies has always corresponded directly to the ascendance of injustice, hatred, unspeakable violence and incivility. Thus, when we incline towards the vision and method of the Chosen One, Allah bless him and give him peace — who Allah says was “Only sent as a mercy to all the worlds” [Qur’an 21:107] — we realize the height of human possibilities in this life — before we step across the threshold into the unseen.

And Allah knows best.

wa-Salamu ‘alaykum.

[Ustadh] Sharif Rosen

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadh Sharif Rosen is the Muslim Chaplain at Williams College (in the Northeastern United States) where he works to enhance campus life through spiritual and pastoral care; advocacy and coalition building; and deepening mutual understanding within and between communities.  His formative Islamic studies, past and ongoing, have been at the hands of scholars connected via unbroken transmission to the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.  Most of Sharif’s training occurred in Amman, Jordan from 2008 – 2013, with a focus on creed, ritual law, spirituality, Quranic recitation and exegesis and through which he has received permission to transmit his Islamic learning.  Sharif has a B.A. in History from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and is now completing his graduate studies.  He completed the Classical Arabic program at the Qasid Arabic Institute in Amman, where he was also the Director of Student Life.  He currently serves as the Vice President for Educational Chaplaincy with the U.S.-based Association of Muslim Chaplains.

Are You Pursuing Happiness?

Are you pursuing happiness? How do we pursue it in the modern world? Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad discusses the meaning and pursuit of happiness in our lives. He eloquently describes the role of religion and specifically Islam in defining and pursuing happiness.

Shaykh-Abdul-Hakim-MuradShaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, also known as Timothy John Winter, is one of the most influential and highly regarded Muslim scholars in the world today. He is Director of Studies (Theology and Religious Studies) at Wolfson College and Shaykh Zayed Lecturer in Islamic Studies at Cambridge University, United Kingdom. He is Dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, which trains imams for British mosques. He has translated a number of books from the Arabic, including several sections of Imam al-Ghazali’s Ihya’ Ulum al-Din. He is a frequent international speaker and writer and also a regular contributor to the prestigious BBC Radio 4’s prestigious Thought for the Day.

Resources on happiness:

Cover photo by Muhammad Irfanul Alam.

“Religion Is Ease”, So Should We Take It Easy?

What does it mean when we are told “this is a religion of ease” – do we take it easy in matters of religion or is the meaning more subtle? Shaykh Faraz Rabbani explains this and provides a tafsir of a dua that the Prophet (saw) told a companion never to leave after each salah. Full details in this brief podcast.

All SeekersHub programming is free so consider joining us online or at the Toronto Hub where Shaykh Faraz Rabbani teaches regularly. Your financial support is crucial to our #SpreadLight campaign, which seeks to provide truly excellent Islamic learning to at least 1,000,000 seekers of knowledge in the coming year! This will serve as an ongoing charity (sadaqa jariyah) so please donate today.

Perfect Beauty: Umm Ma’bad’s Description of the Prophet by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani relates and explains Umm Ma`bad’s Description of the Prophet at SeekersHub.
During the migration from Mecca to Medina, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and Abu Bakr stopped at the dwelling place of Umm Ma`bad, an elderly lady. She was amazed by the Beloved Messenger of Allah (peace & blessings be upon him & his folk), and described him beautifully to her husband. Imam al-Iraqi conveys this in his 1,000-line poem about the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).

SeekersHub Global endeavors to nurture individuals to manifest the guidance of the Qur’an and Prophetic teachings in their own life. Visit us at www.SeekersHub.org for more information about our free online courses, reliable answers service, and engaging media.

The Menace of So-called “Jihad” – Imam Zaid Shakir

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To see the original post: Click here
[Speak out]
Those of us who have been speaking out against the menace of so-called “Jihad” must redouble our efforts.
“Jihad” is far more than a threat to the lives of unsuspecting innocent people, both here in the West and in Muslim countries. It is a threat to our religion, in terms of how Islam is being represented by the advocates of “Jihad” and how it is being perceived by others.
Muslim scholars cannot remain silent and allow this misrepresentation to go unaddressed.
As for those youth who have been alienated by the systematic “othering” of Muslims in the post-9/11 anti-Muslim climate that is deepening here in the West, they would do well to consider a different set of religious teachings when studying Islam.

[True religion]
True religion is not to be found in emotional and sensational reactions to current events and mind-numbing atrocities.
True religion is not to be found in a self-glorying end brought on by a hail of bullets or a murderous act of suicide.
Rather, true religion provides the spiritual direction needed to find one’s self-worth and human value in ones relationship with God.
True religion provides the solace and succor needed to find inner peace even when outer realities are crushing.
True religion provides nobility that empowers its possessor to fearlessly challenge oppressors while mercifully protecting innocent life, regardless of the race, religion, color or creed of the blameless.
True religion provides a path to heaven that is paved with devotion, lofty morals and patient, dignified struggle against the schemes of one’s ego, the vicissitudes of the world and the vagaries of both power and powerlessness.
As for those who are deceived into believing that wanton murder, mayhem, destruction, suicide and inviting war and hatred against one’s coreligionists represent an express road to paradise, they should think deeply before embarking on that path.
Religion teaches and history demonstrates that such a path is a sinister, nefarious route that winds steadily, oftentimes irreversibly, into a deep, dark cold abyss.
“When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.” Friedrich Nietzsche
—-
Relevant Resources:
A Powerful Description of True Servants of Allah – Imam al-Sulami
Mufti Taqi Usmani Clarifies His Stance on Jihad
Islam vs. ISIS: A Letter to Baghdadi from Leading Scholars
The War Within Our Hearts – Imam Zaid Shakir
Answers:
Jihad, Abrogation in the Quran & the “Verse of the Sword”
Imam Nawawi On Fighting The Ego (Nafs)
Understanding the Hadith, “I Was Ordered to Fight the People Until They Testify…”
Understanding the Qur’anic Verse “Slay them wherever you find them”: Balance, Justice, and Mercy in Islamic Rules of Jihad

The Role of the Sunnah & Religion in the Modern World – Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (Cambridge Muslim College)

“You have indeed in the Messenger of Allah an excellent example for him who hopes in Allah and the Last Day, and who remembers Allah much”
(Surah Ahzab 33:21)
Excellent of Examples:

Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was sent to mankind as an “excellent example” for us all to follow. Undoubtedly emulating the Prophetic way will lead to success in this world & the hereafter.

But how do we adhere to the Sunnah in this fast paced modern world in which we all live? How should the Sunnah impact our daily lives & character? How can the Prophetic methodology bring us a sense of peace & meaning to our lives?
What is this lesson about?
This lesson eloquently elucidates how human beings are capable of rising above other orders of creation without exception if they are in sync with their primordial states.
Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad discusses the importance of realising we all have a practical choice and not just a theoretical demand on how we conduct our lives. We have a choice to either descend to the lower depths of our caprices or to rise to a higher level by ascending to reality itself.
The trodden path of the Prophets has been laid out before us and we should strive with urgency to commence the journey and reconnect to the lofty virtues for eternal felicity.
—–
Relevant Resources: