Posts

A Sufi & A Salafi – Love, Warmth and Friendship is Possible

Ustadh Abdul Aziz Suraqa (right) reflects on how small acts of kindness some 20 years ago has had a profound effect on his life.

After nearly twenty years, Allah blessed me to visit and spend time with my former neighbor and dear brother, Shaykh Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes, at the Toronto airport as he and his family were making their way back to the U.S.

He Saved My Life

Many of you know Shaykh Muhammad Mendes as a dynamic teacher and active member of the Muslim community in North America. What you do not know about Shaykh Muhammad is that he saved my life. Yes, that’s right. He saved my life. That might seem an exaggeration but it is true. He doesn’t know that so let me share a story with you all.
As a young Salafi in 1997, I moved to Columbus, Ohio and took a job as an apprentice electrician. One of the radiant, smiling faces in the masjid down the road from my apartment was none other than Shaykh Muhammad Mendes, who at the time was a University student. It turned out that we were neighbors on the same street. Shaykh Muhammad invited me to his home, fed me, sat with me, and spent time talking with me. Walking into his humble apartment was like walking into a different world–at least to me at the time. Books in Arabic and English filled his apartment–works from Islam’s greatest minds and spiritual masters, works from authors I never heard of un til visiting his home: authors like Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, Shehu ‘Uthman Dan Fodio, Shaykh Ahmad Bamba, Ibn ‘Ata’illah, just to name a few.

The Islam I Had Been Taught

The Islam I had been taught at the time condemned following schools of Islamic law, and here was Shaykh Muhammad Mendes, the first person I met who followed a school of law (Maliki) and had the ability to rationally and textually explain why it is legitimate and necessary , especially if one is study Islam’s vast legal tradition. I should add that when Shaykh Muhammad and I would spend time together in the masjid or in his home, it was not for the purpose of debating each other.
The Islam I had been taught at the time condemned Sufism (tazkiya, ihsan—Islam’s spiritual tradition)
as an aberration, and here was Shaykh Muhammad Mendes who patiently explained what Sufism was and wasn’t and allowed me to borrow many, many of his books. There I was, a Salafi youth secretly reading Imam al-Ghazali, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Shaykh ‘Uthman Dan Fodio, etc., and benefiting from them and enjoying their works.

Dignity, Warmth, Concern & Love

I was a Salafi and Shaykh Muhammad Mendes was not. We had lively discussions and disagreements, but never once did he argue, raise his voice, use harsh language, or make me feel like less than his brother in Islam. Even in our disagreements he exuded dignity and warmth and showed real concern and love. If we disagreed over something he would explain his position and I would explain mine—over tea and a smile.
Some time later I traveled to Yemen to further my study of Islam, and Shaykh Muhammad Men
des traveled to Syria (and elsewhere), and we lost touch with one another. I later learned that we were both in Morocco and Mauritania around the same time but never crossed paths.

So How Did He Save My Life?

In 2003-2004 I experienced something of an existential, Ghazalian spiritual crisis; the Islam I had practiced and studied was, for the most part, dry and unable to quench the thirst of my soul to know Allah and have a deep spiritual connection with Him. Prayer, once a joyous experience, had became a series of outward motions; something to be completed and out of the way.

“My passions kept me chained in place, while the herald of faith cried, ‘Take to the road! Take to the road! Life is brief, the journey is long. Knowledge ad deeds are nothing but mere outward appearance and illusion. If you are not ready at this very moment for the life to come when will you be ready? And if now you do not break your moorings, when will you break away?’ At that moment, I felt impelled to go; my decision to depart and escape would be made….'” —Imam al-Ghazali, Deliverance from Error

The path I was on took me to a dead end. Something had to be done. I took a job teaching English in an extremely remote corner of Europe and kept to myself: lots of time to reflect, take long walks in the forest; lots of time to wrestle with my own struggles and flaws.

Seeds Upon Seeds That Grew Many Years Later

In those difficult days and nights , for some inexplicable reason, my mind and heart kept returning to the memories of the times Shaykh Muhammad Mendes and I had spent together years before . The memories of the warmth and beauty of his character , his optimism, his good opinion of others —these memories inspired me to climb out of the pit I dug for myself . Of course, getting out of that pit required much more than just pleasant memories (that’s a story for another day), but without a doubt it was the time with Shaykh Muhammad Mendes in 1997 that planted seeds upon seeds that grew five or six years later.
I consider Shaykh Muhammad Mendes as such, “and we do not exonerate anyone above Allah ”
(نحسبه كذالك ولا نزكي على الله أحداً). Never underestimate the power of simple, unpretentious warmth of character with those around you. You never know, it might be a seed that Allah causes to grow much later in the person’s life. May Allah preserve Shaykh Muhammad Mendes and give him light upon light and reward him on behalf of those seeds planted in 19 97. Amin.

Resources for seekers

Cover photo: USDA

Should I Repeat My Past Prayers Because I Was Not Following a Sunni School of Law?

Answered by Shaykh Umer Mian

Question: Assalam’aleykum

I was following an understanding of Islam outside of the four sunni schools of law. Now I am following the hanafi school. Do I need to repeat my past prayers? I was also wiping over normal socks for wudu.

Answer: Wa alaikum as-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu

As long as one’s prayers were performed correctly according to one of the four Sunni schools of fiqh (i.e. Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, or Hanbali), the prayers would not have to be made up. With regards to the ruling on wiping over normal socks, you should consult a Hanbali scholar, as the Hanbali school is the most permissive on this issue.

Please see:

A Reader on Following Schools of Thought (Madhabs)

Do the Differences Between the Legal Schools Render Our Worship Full of Errors?

Repeating Prayers in Maliki School for Not Doing “Dalk” in Wudu

Must I Repeat Prayers Behind an Imam With a Short Beard or Bare Head?

Wiping over Knitted Socks During Ablution (Wudu)

Wassalam,
Umer

Photo: irumge

Who or What is a Salafi?

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Can you please explain me what do you mean by “Salafi” and what is their belief and how do they differ from Sunni Creed?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Walaikum assalam,

This was explained by Shaykh Nuh Keller in the article below. Other articles about the traditional Islam, and the errors of Salafi/Wahhabi methodology may be found at Sidi Mas’ud Khan’s excellent site: www.masud.co.uk

Faraz Rabbani.

Who or what is a Salafi?
Is their approach valid?
© Nuh Ha Mim Keller (1995)

The word salafi or “early Muslim”in traditional Islamic scholarship means someone who died within the first four hundred years after the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), including scholars such as Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi’i, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Anyone who died after this is one of the khalaf or “latter-day Muslims”.

The term “Salafi” was revived as a slogan and movement, among latter-day Muslims, by the followers of Muhammad Abduh (the student of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani) some thirteen centuries after the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), approximately a hundred years ago. Like similar movements that have historically appeared in Islam, its basic claim was that the religion had not been properly understood by anyone since the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the early Muslims–and themselves.

In terms of ideals, the movement advocated a return to a shari’a-minded orthodoxy that would purify Islam from unwarranted accretions, the criteria for judging which would be the Qur’an and hadith. Now, these ideals are noble, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with their importance. The only points of disagreement are how these objectives are to be defined, and how the program is to be carried out. It is difficult in a few words to properly deal with all the aspects of the movement and the issues involved, but I hope to publish a fuller treatment later this year, insha’Allah, in a collection of essays called “The Re-Formers of Islam“.

As for its validity, one may note that the Salafi approach is an interpretation of the texts of the Qur’an and sunna, or rather a body of interpretation, and as such, those who advance its claims are subject to the same rigorous criteria of the Islamic sciences as anyone else who makes interpretive claims about the Qur’an and sunna; namely, they must show:

that their interpretations are acceptable in terms of Arabic language;
that they have exhaustive mastery of all the primary texts that relate to each Question, and
that they have full familiarity of the methodology of usul al-fiqh or “fundamentals of jurisprudence” needed to comprehensively join between all the primary texts.
Only when one has these qualifications can one legitimately produce a valid interpretive claim about the texts, which is called ijtihad or “deduction of shari’a” from the primary sources. Without these qualifications, the most one can legitimately claim is to reproduce such an interpretive claim from someone who definitely has these qualifications; namely, one of those unanimously recognized by the Umma as such since the times of the true salaf, at their forefront the mujtahid Imams of the four madhhabs or “schools of jurisprudence”.

As for scholars today who do not have the qualifications of a mujtahid, it is not clear to me why they should be considered mujtahids by default, such as when it is said that someone is “the greatest living scholar of the sunna” any more than we could qualify a school-child on the playground as a physicist by saying, “He is the greatest physicist on the playground”. Claims to Islamic knowledge do not come about by default. Slogans about “following the Qur’an and sunna” sound good in theory, but in practice it comes down to a Questionof scholarship, and who will sort out for the Muslim the thousands of shari’a Questions that arise in his life. One eventually realizes that one has to choose between following the ijtihad of a real mujtahid, or the ijtihad of some or another “movement leader”, whose qualifications may simply be a matter of reputation, something which is often made and circulated among people without a grasp of the issues.

What comes to many peoples minds these days when one says “Salafis” is bearded young men arguing about din. The basic hope of these youthful reformers seems to be that argument and conflict will eventually wear down any resistance or disagreement to their positions, which will thus result in purifying Islam. Here, I think education, on all sides, could do much to improve the situation.

The reality of the case is that the mujtahid Imams, those whose task it was to deduce the Islamic shari’a from the Qur’an and hadith, were in agreement about most rulings; while those they disagreed about, they had good reason to, whether because the Arabic could be understood in more than one way, or because the particular Qur’an or hadith text admitted of qualifications given in other texts (some of them acceptable for reasons of legal methodology to one mujtahid but not another), and so forth.

Because of the lack of hard information in English, the legitimacy of scholarly difference on shari’a rulings is often lost sight of among Muslims in the West. For example, the work Fiqh al-sunna by the author Sayyid Sabiq, recently translated into English, presents hadith evidences for rulings corresponding to about 95 percent of those of the Shafi’i school. Which is a welcome contribution, but by no means a “final word” about these rulings, for each of the four schools has a large literature of hadith evidences, and not just the Shafi’i school reflected by Sabiq’s work. The Maliki school has the Mudawwana of Imam Malik, for example, and the Hanafi school has the Sharh ma’ani al-athar [Explanation of meanings of hadith] and Sharh mushkil al-athar [Explanation of problematic hadiths], both by the great hadith Imam Abu Jafar al-Tahawi, the latter work of which has recently been published in sixteen volumes by Mu’assasa al-Risala in Beirut. Whoever has not read these and does not know what is in them is condemned to be ignorant of the hadith evidence for a great many Hanafi positions.

What I am trying to say is that there is a large fictional element involved when someone comes to the Muslims and says, “No one has understood Islam properly except the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and early Muslims, and our sheikh”. This is not valid, for the enduring works of first-rank Imams of hadith, jurisprudence, Qur’anic exegesis, and other shari’a disciplines impose upon Muslims the obligation to know and understand their work, in the same way that serious comprehension of any other scholarly field obliges one to have studied the works of its major scholars who have dealt with its issues and solved its Questions. Without such study, one is doomed to repeat mistakes already made and rebutted in the past.

Most of us have acquaintances among this Umma who hardly acknowledge another scholar on the face of the earth besides the Imam of their madhhab, the Sheikh of their Islam, or some contemporary scholar or other. And this sort of enthusiasm is understandable, even acceptable (at a human level) in a non-scholar. But only to the degree that it does not become ta’assub or bigotry, meaning that one believes one may put down Muslims who follow other qualified scholars. At that point it is haram, because it is part of the sectarianism (tafarruq) among Muslims that Islam condemns.

When one gains Islamic knowledge and puts fiction aside, one sees that superlatives about particular scholars such as “the greatest” are untenable; that each of the four schools of classical Islamic jurisprudence has had many many luminaries. To imagine that all preceding scholarship should be evaluated in terms of this or that “Great Reformer” is to ready oneself for a big letdown, because intellectually it cannot be supported. I remember once hearing a law student at the University of Chicago say: “I’m not saying that Chicago has everything. Its just that no place else has anything.” Nothing justifies transposing this kind of attitude onto our scholarly resources in Islam, whether it is called “Islamic Movement”, “Salafism”, or something else, and the sooner we leave it behind, the better it will be for our Islamic scholarship, our sense of reality, and for our din.

Wassalam,
Faraz Rabbani