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Advice of Leading Muslim Scholars on Seeking Islamic Knowledge

Shaykh Faid Muhammad Said, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Shaykh Yahya Rhodus, Shaykh Salek bin Siddina and Habib Ali al-Jifri: the keys to succeeding on the path of knowledge, the adab of gaining Sacred Knowledge, and the blessing and high rank of this path.

 

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The Blessing of Knowledge, by Shaykh Faid Muhammad Said

Allah has promised that He will facilitate the path to Jannah for anyone who embarks on the journey to seeking knowledge. Imagine being in the company of the “pious ones” in the Eternal Garden. Can you afford to lose out on this opportunity? Listen to Shaykh Faid Muhammad Said explain how clear and easy Allah has made this choice for us and start today by taking a free course with SeekersHub from the comfort of your own home.

The Point of a Shaykh and a Path

I have learned from this shaykh since I was a little boy. This shaykh is very pious, masha Allah, and he has never done anything harmful to me or anyone. But lately people have been telling me that he dislikes me or avoids me and it is effecting me. So I went to my shaykh and asked him: “Do you dislike me?” and he said, “No. I do not dislike you.” I keep on bothering him with my doubts and I feel as if it is effecting my relationship with him.

I do not want a new shaykh because I already benefit from my shaykh and he is the one who taught me about Islam and is a blessing from Allah Mashallah. But he does have a lot of favorite students and those are the ones that tell me that he dislikes me. I know he doesn’t but I ended up falling for their lies. I am not one of my shaykh’s favorites but behind my back I know my shaykh once said that he worries about me a lot and then during the day he does put time aside to talk to me.

I was wondering if you could tell me how to make sure he does not dislike me and how to fix my relationship with him?

Your relationship with your shaykh should not be a personal one: he is not your buddy, and it does not matter whether you “like” each other.

The point of the shaykh is to direct to Allah, and help you get through the obstacles that stop you from being a true slave of Allah. As long as that is happening, don’t worry about anything else, and don’t listen to anyone else either.

Let it be just you, your shaykh and Allah, until it is just you and Allah, and then just Allah. That is the point of a shaykh and a spiritual path.

Farid

Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani.

Shaykh Emad Effat – Shaykh of the Revolution, Martyr of al-Azhar

Dr H. A. Hellyer remembers Shaykh Emad Effat seven years on from his death.

Seven years ago today, Shaykh Emad Effat died of a gunshot wound when Egyptian soldiers clashed with demonstrators – of which Shaykh Emad was one – protesting against the country’s military leaders in downtown Cairo. He became known as “Shaykh al-Thawra” (the shaykh of the revolution) and “Shaheed al-Azhar” (the martyr of the Azhar). Seven years on, I still ponder a great deal about Shaykh Emad, what he represented, what lessons he taught those of us who believed in the January 25th revolution of Egypt, and the roles that religious leaders play today in the region from whence he came.

The Azhari

Shaykh Emad was an Azhari shaykh, in the old mold of what it meant to be an Azhari ‘alim (scholar). He earned several degrees: the first in Arabic language from Ain Shams University, the second in Shari‘a at the Azhar University, and then a diploma in Islamic jurisprudence, also from al-Azhar University. Before his more extensive studies in the Islamic tradition, he was more sympathetic to an ultra-conservative form of Salafism – but in his 20s, shifted to a more mainstream Sunnism.

He taught in the old rooms of the Azhar mosque, in a very traditional manner – and upheld the traditional methodology (minhaj) of the Azhari collective of learning. That meant, as Imam al-Saffarini describes it in his Lawami’ al-Anwar, the two major schools of theology (the Ash‘aris and the Maturidis), the minor school (the Athari or Hanbali) of theology, the Sunni schools of law, and Sufism. That is historically normative Sunnism, and the largest body of Muslims historically have followed precisely that. I’m not aware if Shaykh Emad was a member of a specific tariqa (Sufi order) – I do know that he taught texts from the orders, including the famous Hikam (Aphorisms) of Ibn Ata’illah, a luminary of the Shadhuli order of Sufis.
Shaykh Emad Effat
And at the same time, he was a deep believer in contextualization, in the finest tradition of his Azhari upbringing. As his student, Ibrahim al-Houdaiby mentioned of him, “The shaykh greatly respected expertise and listened closely to experts in all fields and gladly sought the advice of social studies specialists before expressing his opinion on something in their field. He criticized “preachers” and “shaykhs” who talk about God’s religion without being qualified.” How few, it seems, that pay genuine attention to this important note today, despite it resonating through the ages from various ‘ulama.

The Hasani and the Husayni

Shaykh Emad was also a member of the official Azhari establishment. By that, I mean he engaged in a rather direct fashion with officialdom writ large. From 2003 until his death, Shaykh Emad held the position of “amin al-fatwa,” or the “director of religious verdicts” at Egypt’s Dar al-‘Ifta – a part of the state’s Ministry of Justice, which issued religious verdicts to citizens and state departments that requested them. One of his most beloved teachers was the then grand mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa’.

But there was another aspect to Shaykh Emad Effat – and it was the aspect that led him to protest against the military leaders of Egypt in late 2011.

Ironically, one of the most vivid testimonies to that came from the grand mufti, who was immensely critical of that aspect of him. As Dr Waleed Almusharaf recalls, in a piece that deserves to be read again and again: “He never asked my opinion on going down to [Tahrir] square,” said the Grand Mufti, “He blamed me for not going there myself. He would say of it: ‘the air around Tahrir now, is purer to me than the air around the Kaaba.’ I criticized him for the statement.”

His widow, Nashwa Abdel-Tawab, said, “During sit-ins at Tahrir Square [in January and February of 2011, when the revolutionary uprising broke out], he would go to work in the morning and spend the night in the square.” Shaykh Emad believed in that revolution – as a way to “enjoin the good and forbid the evil,” as the Qur’anic verse stipulates. During the day, he would continue his work, as an ‘alim that was part of the official state apparatus. And at night, he went to Tahrir Square, and called for accountability of that same state apparatus. He saw no contradiction in that – but he did so on the basis of principle.

A dear friend of mine, bore witness to the fact that at one time he was in Shaykh Emad’s office, a policeman called Shaykh Emad on the telephone to ask about the permissibility of shooting unarmed protesters. Shaykh Emad was absolutely categorical – from within that same state institution – that this was absolutely forbidden (haram). Engagement with that state authority structure was something he did – certainly – but he did so on the basis of principle, and that principle included speaking truth to that same structure. As Dr Waleed Almusharaf reminded us, in what I describe as the “Husayni” aspect of Shaykh Emad Effat: “When the time for elections [in 2011] came, he declared, without fear of blame, his opinion that to vote for ex-members of the [Mubarak] regime is a sin outright, as it is to vote for anyone who has been proven to be corrupt, whether from the past regime or not.”

There was a sense of Shaykh Emad Effat bringing together what I would call the “Hasani” and the “Husayni” approaches to power. The former being an engagement with it, to minimize damage and lessen conflict. The latter being an opposition to it, through open declarations. For Shaykh Emad, they were intertwined – by consistency, by persistent adherence to principle, by a refusal to bow to authoritarianism of any type.

Consistency

When it came to the clashes in late 2011, his wife said, “He wasn’t able to join the Cabinet sit-in, but when he saw [the violence], he couldn’t just stand and watch people dying, so he went down to the protest.” “He didn’t advocate violence,” she added. “He was there to show solidarity with the protesters.”

It might be too easy to say “different strokes for different folks” – because the implication is that there isn’t a consistent principle at play here. But the reality is that the Husayni way of open opposition is appropriate in some situations – and the Hasani way of minimizing damage in another – and they are both Prophetic. And they both revert back to that age old set of prescriptions for the duty of “forbidding the wrong and enjoining the good.” Is such engagement effective? What about those who suffer from that engagement? What about those who would suffer without such engagement? What is the extent of that engagement that is necessary? Can it be limited? Should it be?

And if one cannot do it right and properly – then the option of staying out of it is not a bad option in the slightest. But then we apply the principles consistently. If I learned anything from Shaykh Emad’s example, it was that just because one bad power is not as bad as another bad power, it does not give that lesser bad power immunity from justifiable critique. In the world of the good, the bad and the ugly, the existence of the bad doesn’t give the ugly a free pass. And even when it seems unrealistic and difficult, striving to be of the good is its own recompense, in his world and the next – even if it means you’re damned by both the bad and ugly in response.

Nuances

But there were other nuances to Shaykh Emad’s life and witness, which were subtle, while immensely important. When Shaykh Emad went on protests, for example, he didn’t do so wearing his traditional Azhari garb. He purposely went almost incognito. His students knew he went on protests – and respected him for it – but he did not leverage his religious authority identity when he did so. He went as a son of Egypt, and even as a man of religion. Indeed, because he was a man of religion. He loathed the usage of religious imagery and language for unethical purposes. To one of his students, he said that he didn’t wear his Azhari garb, as he didn’t intend to represent the Azhari institution, nor Dar al-Ifta’, when he went on protests – he sought only to be there as an Egyptian concerned for his country’s future. “Love of one’s homeland is from faith” – a Prophetic narration that is questioned in terms of authenticity, but not in terms of meaning.

Ibrahim al-Houdaiby, also my friend, once tweeted about the massacre of the Copts in Maspero, which took place a couple of months earlier in Cairo. He declared that any talk which does not begin with the condemnation of the massacre, was “an affront to humanity and patriotism.” Shaykh Emad, who tweeted nine times in his life, added, “And to religion.”

That was the place of religious vocabulary in Shaykh Emad’s lexicon – to stand for truth against power, not in trying to explain away the abuses of power through verbal gymnastics. He was clear about that when it came to the Egyptian state – even though he worked in one of its institutions – and he was clear about it when it came to sectarianism. The Maspero massacre was nothing if not a sectarian outrage – perpetrated by state institutions, and defended by religious populists in the Brotherhood and others. Not Shaykh Emad.

I found that condemnation of the Maspero massacre doubly interesting, because it signified something very clear. It indicated to me – then, as it does now – that a man of religion like Shaykh Emad rejected authoritarianism and the use of power against the vulnerable by the powerful. Whether in the name of religion or otherwise; whether by the state, or by non-state actors. This, irrespective of his commitment to traditional Sunnism – or, I think he would say, because of that commitment. Shaykh Emad didn’t advocate complete disassociation from the corridors of power, though I believe he also respected this as a legitimate choice. But he was consistent.

Adab

In the years running up to the outbreak of the revolutionary uprising in Egypt in 2011, Effat wrote to al-Houdaiby, when he mentioned something about respect for shaykhs. The answering is telling:

“There are all these good words about respect for shaykhs, giving them leeway and excuses, but where is God’s right to His own religion? Where is the right of the public who are confused about the truth because shaykhs are silent, and your own silence out of respect for senior shaykhs? What is this new idol that you call pressure? How does this measure to Ahmed ibn Hanbal’s tolerance of jail and refusing to bend and say what would comfort the unjust rulers?”

“What is this new idol you invented? The idol of pressure! If we submit to these new rituals, to this new idol, we would then tolerate everyone who lies, commits sins and great evils under the pretext of easing pressure and escaping it. Oh people, these pressures are only in your head and not in reality. Is there a new opinion in jurisprudence that coercion can be by illusion? Have we come to use religious terms to circumvent religion and justify the greater sins we commit? So we use legitimate phrases such as pros and cons, the lesser of two evils, and pressure to make excuses for not speaking up for what is right and surrendering to what is wrong!”

“Shaykhs of Al-Azhar used to leave their resignations in the drawers of their secretaries and told them: if you see us submitting to pressure then hand over the resignation to the press. When they are honest to God, He makes them victorious and cherishes them.”

Ends

If there were two sentences I think summed up his life, it would be this one by his widow, followed by one of his students. The first was written about his life during the uprising – the second about his life, and his death, during the revolutionary period.

[Shaykh Emad] would go to work [in Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyya] in the morning and spend the night in the square. – Nashwa El-Tawwab

[Shaykh Emad] stood before the bullets and the rest of it. – Dr Waleed Almusharaf

But if I were given a chance to repeat something longer, perhaps it would be this – a recollection of his first lesson after Mubarak’s ouster in 2011, recalled by al-Houdaiby. Shaykh Emad was an exemplar of the inheritors of the Prophets – may we benefit from him, and may God perfume his resting place.

“I urge everyone, especially my students, to pause and reflect. The gauge is not the success of the revolution but taking a stand. Revolutions can be aborted, and sincere calls can be defeated. Some prophets, peace be upon them, will come alone on the Day of Judgment, some were killed, and that is not a measure of failure. Not at all; the gauge is one’s stand.

“Do not look at the consequence of what has happened but look at its nature and what it was. What was your position? Where were you? Why were some of us present in classes and at prayers, but absent at these blessed moments? We must reassess and hold ourselves accountable because God, with His mercy, extended our lives, and so this is an opportunity to re-evaluate. As long as we breathe there is room for repentance and revision. The end is the gauge. It is not too late. Perhaps what is coming is harder than what has passed.”


Ustadh Dr Hisham A. Hellyer (Biography from A Sublime Way: the Sufi Path of the Makkan Sages).

A noted scholar and author focusing on politics and religion, Dr Hisham A. Hellyer was born to an English father and to an Egyptian mother of Sudanese and Moroccan heritage and HHasani and ʿAbbasi lineage. He was raised between London, Cairo and Abu Dhabi, before receiving degrees in law and international political economy from the University of Sheffield, and a doctorate from the University of Warwick. He began researching Islamic law, theology and spirituality in his teens, keeping the company of and studying under a number of classically trained-scholars in the UK, Egypt, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and elsewhere, receiving ijāzāt from a number of them. They include the likes of Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, the former head of the fatwa department of South Africa’s Muslim Judicial Council, and the khalifa of the Makkan polymath and sage, Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki.

Dr. Hellyer’s career has included positions at and affiliations with the Brookings Institution, Harvard University, the American University in Cairo, Cambridge Muslim College, and the Centre for Advanced Studies on Islam, Science and Civilisation (CASIS).

He is a frequent commentator and columnist in various media in the United States, Europe and the Arab world, and is included in the annual global list of The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the world (The Muslim 500). Among his written works are “Muslims of Europe: the ‘Other’ Europeans” (Edinburgh University Press), “A Revolution Undone: Egypt’s Road Beyond Revolt” (Oxford University Press) and “The Islamic Tradition, Muslim Communities and the Human Rights Discourse” (editor)(Atlantic Council). Dr Hellyer works between London, Washington DC, and Cairo, where he continues to research, teach, and study. @hahellyer


http://seekershub.org/articles/video/imam-haddad-neo-sufism-dr-hisham-hellyer/
http://seekershub.org/articles/video/nasheed-hub-qasida-burda-part-10-petition-ones-state/
http://seekershub.org/articles/events/mawlid-zawiya-masjid-cape-town-19-nov-2018/

Wird without the Permission of a Spiritual Guide

Shaykh Farid Dingle gives advice on making it a habit to remember Allah by taking up a wird and whether permission from a spiritual guide is necessary.

Question:

Assalam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.

I have a question about the “Al-Wird al-Latif.” This Wird is common and based on the prophetic Sunna. Can I read this Wird (say, two times a day) without the permission of my Shaykh or any other Shaykh? Or can I be harmed if I engage in these litanies without their permission?

Jazak Allah khayr.

Answer:

Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.

It is permissible and recommended to make a habit of reciting any form of remembrance (dhikr) that has come with a sound or even passably weak chain of transmission, for the general divine command, “Remember Me and I will remember you.” (Sura al Baqara 2:152)

As for any other form of remembrance (dhikr), it is also recommended in principle, even if it is non derived directly from one of the prophetic formulae, and even if it is repeated.

That said, what we have heard from certain scholars is that repeating certain names of Allah repeatedly without any guidance from a spiritual guide (murshid, pir) can be dangerous and should be avoided.

It is worth noting that the litany (wird, wazifa) formulae of the various scholars are like medicine: they are designed to deal with specific problems, and not supposed to be taken without guidance and counsel.

In light of this, we would encourage anyone without a spiritual guide with whom they have contact to just keep themselves to the well-known and established morning and evening remembrances that are found in books of fiqh and hadith.

And Allah knows best.

Farid

Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani.


"He Came With a Blanket that Smelt Like Baby Urine"

Why did Habib Umar bin Hafiz give his students a blanket that smelt like baby urine? Habib Mundhir al-Musawa gives the answer and talks about his relationship with Habib Umar in an interview given shortly before his death. With genuine humility, he describes his early days seeking knowledge and then his first steps in calling to Allah.

He talks about the key to his success, his immense attachment to his Shaykh, Habib Umar bin Hafiz. The film is interspersed with footage of Majelis Rasulullah, the intense gathering which he established in Jakarta, Indonesia.
This short film titled ‘The Shaykh and the Murid’ gives a unique insight into the life of one of the heroes of our times, Habib Mundhir al-Musawa, may Allah have mercy upon him. In his short life, Habib Mundhir had a huge impact on thousands, if not millions of people and was a cause of many people returning to Allah.  Our thanks to Muwasala for this video.

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blanketsCover Photo by Daniel Orth

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Protecting Our Inheritance by Protecting Muslim Scholars, by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani explains the importance of supporting the inheritors of the Prophets; our scholars.

Abu al-Darda’ (Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.” [Related byTirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ibn Maja, Ahmad, Ibn Hibban, and others] Ibn al-Mulaqqin, Zayla`i, Ibn Hajar, and others seemed it sound (hasan) or rigorously authentic (sahib)]
When Fudayl ibn Iyad (Allah be pleased with him) heard this hadith, he commented, “The people of spiritual wisdom (hukama’) are the inheritors of the prophets,” [Ibn Nu`aym, Hilyat al-Awliya, 8.92] explaining the nature of knowledge that is ultimately sought.
The knowledge possessed by these scholars is the knowledge deemed beneficial (al-`ilm al-nafi`) by Allah and His Messenger (ﷺ). This knowledge was defined by Imam Ghazali as being, “Knowledge of the way to Allah Most High and the next life.”
Brought to you by Ha Meem Foundation in association with Ashford & Staines Community Centre.

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How To Attain Focus, Patience And Stillness In A Chaotic World

“The scholars sacrifice immediate benefit for long-term benefit,” Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Today, the modern world lives in convenience, expecting to be served, rather than to serve. Although some may argue that convenience and technology save time and reduce physical labor, we continue to complain that we do not have time or energy, reducing ourselves to potatoes sitting on the living room’s couch.

Focus: a salient virtue within Islamic mysticism

Traditionally, focus — a salient virtue within Islamic mysticism — was regarded as a core characteristic of the aspirant, especially among the Sufis. As such, the saints were focused individuals who, despite the calamities they faced, were depicted in the Qur’an as, “Those who are neither fearful nor sad.” In simple words, the saints enjoy the present moment, leaving their past to the will of God and their future to His decree. Hence, the seeker of knowledge is, essentially, a seeker of God, striving, with discipline, practice, and patience to maximize his benefit in every moment while taking the most excellent of ways to do so.

Impatience: Your place is where God has positioned you

Patience is a trait that the seeker should inculcate to facilitate depth in knowledge. In his lexicon on Sufi terminology, Ibn Ajiba defines patience as, “An imprisonment of the heart in submission to God’s command.” Impatience, if understood by the contrary (mafhum al-mukhalafa), would be to release the ego in contradiction to God’s command.
To understand this better, my math teacher, Dr. Yousseif Ismail, once told me that impatience was the desire to cross the current moment that God had willed for you to be in, for a moment that you believed to be better for yourself. In practice, patience is significantly important to the student for a number of reasons.
Firstly, our teachers say, “Your place is where God has positioned you,” suggesting that one should be content with one’s condition, wherever God has decreed him to be. The student of knowledge should recognize that he is a student and must act according to the etiquette of one.

Unstable premises lead to faulty conclusions

As for the second, in order to have depth in knowledge, the student of knowledge should not speak without internalized and externalized foundations that inform his speech, unless a need arises to do so or he is given permission by his teacher(s). The reason given for this is closely related to the he first: a student should not speak in the place of a scholar, fooling the community and inciting his own ego — a celebrity preacher. Unstable premises lead to faulty conclusions; hence, the true aspirant takes the time to ground himself in knowledge, submitting to his current instant, and follows the lead of his teachers throughout.

Prioritise your objectives

To maximize my own time and focus, Shaykh Faraz advised me to have a clear objective of my studies, so I applied the categories of need to my own studies. The scholars divide need into three categories:

  • necessities (dharuriyat)
  • needs (hajiyat)
  • perfections (takmilat)

For example, when considering a new home, you ensure that its foundations are strong, since the house will collapse without solid ground. Then after, you may inspect the ceiling and walls for cracks, because a house is incomplete without these secondary things. After ensuring the house is livable and safe, you might begin to think of ways to beautify your living space with artwork, curtains, rugs, although such adornments are not essential to a house — you can live without them. Similarly, like any profession, one needs to take the proper means to acquire his goals; otherwise, means become ends.
Lastly, in taking steps towards focus, the individual must seek the counsel of God, a metaphysical correspondence to his subjective reality, and the advice of masters, an earthly exchange from experts for an objective assurance (istikhara wa istishara). Thus, remember that you are the present; the future passed a moment ago, but take from those who have passed and know that God is ahead — you are in between the two.
Yousaf Seyal

 Photo by Frida Eyjolfs

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Creating & Sustaining North American Muslim Scholarship

Muslim Scholarship

One from the archives! Shaykh Faraz Rabbani at the 2007 Muslim Students Association National Continental Conference, with Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, on fostering home grown Muslim scholarship.

Creating & Sustaining North American Muslim Scholarship

Shaykh Yasir Qadhi (left) and Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

One from the archives! Shaykh Faraz Rabbani at the 2007 Muslim Students Association National Continental Conference, with Shaykh Yasir Qadhi (who can be heard in the question and answer session towards the end).