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The True Scholar: A Person of Knowledge and Action by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

This podcast is a recording of a talk that Shaykh Faraz Rabbani gave in Johannesburg Habib Umar’s tour. He speaks about the definition of a true scholar.

Click here to access the podcast. 

In Johannesburg, Shaykh Faraz spoke about the characteristics of a true scholar, or, a true Sufi as, “A person of knowledge who acted upon their knowledge, so Allah granted them knowledge of what they didn’t know.”

The first step to this, is simply being a person of knowledge, or ilm. Each time has its particular challenge. In our times, we see many educated Muslims who still have questions and doubts. We need to remain connected to sacred knowledge, so that we can help others clear up their doubts and misconceptions. Complaining about people who are disrespectful or rude will not help. In fact, even knowledgeable people can start having doubts if they disconnect from the knowledge and their teachers. Therefore, we should always have a regular routine of learning, even if small.

The second step is aml, or action. We have a responsibility to embody our knowledge and take our deen seriously. The Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and give him peace, was known as The Honest and Trustworthy, even before he became a Prophet. We carry the trust of the religion, and we should ask ourselves whether we are fulfilling that trust.

The third aspect is haal, or our state with Allah. We should be engaged in correcting ourselves, and work on spiritual purification. A great scholar from Damascus, Shaykh Ali Zafar, used to give fiery sermons, saying, “O you who have turned away from your Lord! O you who have forgotten the command of your Lord!” The listeners used to cry and repent. One of his students went back to visit his hometown, and was asked to give a sermon. He did it in the same way as Shaykh Ali had, but before two minutes had passed, the congregants got angry and beat him. When he returned and told the story to his Shaykh Ali, he told him,” My son, when I address people, I am addressing people, I place myself in front of myself. I’m not putting anyone down, I’m talking to myself. And because I’m being true to Allah, people are being affected.”

May Allah allow us to be those who apply what they know, so Allah gives them knowledge of what they do not know.


How the Ihya Overcame Apartheid–Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

Mishkat Media have produced a wonderful interview with Shaykh Seraj Hendricks on the deep influence of Imam al Ghazali in Cape Town, and the Shaykh’s own role in the struggle against apartheid.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks is among the third generation of scholars who have been teaching the Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din (Revival of the Religious Sciences) in South Africa. The Ihya is a 40-volume work on Islamic ethics, spirituality, and religious practice, written by the great Imam Ghazali. It has gained fame not as a manual of Islamic law, but because of its essential focus on spirituality and purification of the self. Shaykh Seraj’s grandfather was reportedly the first man to bring the book to the lands, where he was delegated to teach it.

Shaykh Seraj’s first exposure to the Ihya series, was the Book on Halal and Haram, which was when he was eighteen. He found himself fascinated by it. While studying psychology in university, he interviewed a scholar called Shaykh Mahdie, who was in his seventies. Shaykh Mahdie mentioned that he had just finished his 20th reading of the Ihya. Later on, Shaykh Seraj learned that it was part of the litanies of the Ba’lawi spiritual path, to do 20 readings of the Ihya in a lifetime.

In this interview, he speaks of the Ihya and its effects on the South African communities. Religious scholarship was established when the Dutch colonisers exiled many Muslims leaders to South Africa. Rather than cutting off the spread of Islam, ot served to establish a small community, whose leaders painstakingly kept up their religious practices. They dedicated rooms in their houses for worship, and kept up the readings of Sura Yasin and the litanies of the B’lawi tariqa, with their love for spirituality and connecting with Allah. In this way, Islam survived through slavery and colonialism. However, it still had to suffer through apartheid.

The Muslims were heavily involved in the struggle against apartheid. Shaykh Seraj himself was imprisoned briefly for his role in the movement. While in prison, he was invited by other prisoners to give a talk in the prison square. He began preaching that Muslims should not harbour hostility to others, even to the prison guards. He then turned to the prison guard in charge, and reminded him that oppression is not limited to a particular group, but is a mindset build on prejudice, and that the guard, a dehumanized being, needed their help as much as anyone else to overrule oppression. The guard got angry and threatened to shoot.

Shaykh Seraj finishes the interview with encouraging all Muslims to support institutions that teach Islam, in order to overcome personal and societal barriers.

 


Posted with gratitude to Mishkat Media. Connect with Shaykh Seraj Hendricks at Azzavia Mosque in Cape Town, South Africa.


Resources for Seekers

The Position of Culture in Islam – Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah

Is Islam and the culture mutually exclusive? Or can Islam enrich an existing culture?

What is a Cultural Imperative?

As Dr. Umar Faruq Abd Allah explains, good cultural conventions have the power of law. They are given the same priority that law has, as long as they do not actually contradict Islamic law. Unfortunately, this is an idea that we have lost over the past 200 years.

This does not, of course, mean that we begin to drink alcohol if we come to a culture in which alcohol is prevalent. This only applies to cultural practices which agree with the rules we follow as Muslims. What this means is that Muslims are never aliens, no matter where they go. This was the way Muslims lived for a thousand years. This is why scholars called Islam a crystal clear river; because it is pure and clear, reflecting the color of the bedrock.

Therefore, if the culture was Chinese, Islam would look Chinese. If the culture was Indian, Islam would look Indian. If it goes to Europe, Islam would look European–such as Bosnian culture, which was a beautiful European Muslim culture, destroyed during the genocide.

Story of the Ethiopians in the Masjid

In the time of the Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and give him peace, a group of Ethiopians came to Medina to meet their Prophet for the first time. They fasted the month of Ramadan, and on Eid day, they celebrated with the people of Medina. Filled with joy, they began singing in the masjid, beating drums and dancing with spears. When Umar ibn al Khattab tried to stop them, thinking that it was disrespectful behaviour, the Prophet intervened and told the Ethiopians to keep playing.

This teaches us that African Muslims remain Africans. Just because they become Muslims, does not make them any less African.

The Mosques of China

In China, there are many mosques that beautifully reflect the cultural customs of those times and places. For example, in the city of Shiyan in Northeastern China, there is a mosque with a rather short minaret. In China at that time, the Chinese culture did not like tall buildings in the central Confucian area. To respect that, the Chinese Muslims built a minaret that suited their purpose, but was in line with the cultural customs at that time. In addition, the mosques were surrounded by the gardens with the traditional Chinese designs, designed to bring peace and comfort to the heart. By passing through the gardens, people became prepared to enter the mosque ready and focused for prayer.
Beyond architecture, Chinese Muslims used their culture in many others ways. For example, they refined Arabic calligraphy in a way that suited the Chinese pen, writing phrases like, “There is no God but Allah,” and the 99 Names of God, from top to bottom, using the unique Chinese brush strokes.

Indonesia and Malaysia

The first mosques in Indonesia and Malaysia were built with the structures of the Sacred Mountains in mind. These structures were compromised of four pillars, and three or more layers of roofing, and were always used to built temples. By using these structures to build their mosques, the Muslims were able to have a mosque that was respected as a sacred place in line with the customs at the time. This did not mean that their religion was compromised in any way.
They would also build huge drums outside the mosques. In the forest-thick areas, voices could not be heard, and neither could the adhan. The people’s culture had developed a complex drum language, which could be heard for miles. In this way, the Muslims were able to call people to pray with the drums, although they would also call the adhan to fulfill the Sunnah.
There are pools of water in the mosque courtyards, in which the people had to wade through before entering the mosque. In the rice-paddy civilization, the peasants would spend a lot of time in muddy fields, and mud would be spread wherever they walked. Rather that to have an enforcer yelling at people to clean themselves, which would deter them from coming again, the Muslims decided to build the pools instead, which would ensure that the mosque remained clean without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Islam and Culture

Muslims are not cultural predators, and Islam has not come to destroy culture. The governing concept was, “unity in diversity.” Today, cultures are being destroyed through the global mono-culture, which is not a culture. Because of this, usually the way we dress doesn’t carry a specific message of our identity.


Resources for Seekers

Letter To A Cape Townian Muslim, by Shaykh Riad Saloojee

Shaykh Riad Saloojee looks back at Cape Town. Triggered by the live stream dhikr from Awwal Masjid, he reminisces on the sounds and sights, the daily happenings and grand occasions, and penned this lovely letter of farewell to the city he loves and had to leave in haste.

Assalāmu‘alaykum wa raḥmatullāhi wa barakātu,

I am writing this letter to you. But it’s also for me.

I left Cape Town for Canada in haste because of illness. I didn’t have time for a proper goodbye. It was a hard and fast break from the past. There was no time to reflect or reminisce or recollect.

A month has passed. My attention was devoted to convalescing. But even as my physical strength was returning, alḥamduliLlāh, I felt an inexplicable and barren sadness.

I first attributed this feeling to the frigid winter, grey-clouded skies and cabin-fever. I mentioned it to my wife. She told me to listen to the Awwal Masjid dhikr on MixLR.

And when I finally did yesterday, every dear memory of my 11-year life in Cape Town revived in me – and my frozen heart shattered into a million tears.

I’ve never been one to feel homesick. Is home really a physical geography? Other countries, too, neighbour on sea and mountains. How important is culture and custom in itself? Some prize difference even as others hold fast to the familiar. Geography, culture, custom are all valued only for the meanings woven into them by the fabric of our lives.

When the dhikr played, there was no memory of a Point where you could see an endless ocean South, East and West; or a mountain sculpted perfectly into a table (but only when you came at it from its good side); or daily weather so coquettish that it forces you to pack for four seasons; or waiting for fresh koeksisters on Sunday mornings with an aunty in curlers, a fireman and a policeman; or the shukrans of cashiers that are clearly not Muslim.

When the dhikr played, I remembered the adhān you could hear every time salāh came in, no matter where you were; I remembered the Jumu‘ah Mubārak messages to remind you that this was not any day, but the ‘Eīd of the week – where men and boys attended in angel-white thawbs, women in Ka‘bah-black abayas; I remembered how everyone wore a fez in the masjid; I remembered the congregants that raised their voices in Divine remembrance after salāh with a formula that, though the same, was always intoned with genuine emotion; I remembered people lingering in dhikr and du‘ā’ long after the mosque emptied; I remembered the familiar faces of elderly botas making the mosque their home during their twilight years; I remembered the takbīrs of ‘Eīd; I remembered people who took the Mawlid more seriously than life itself; I remembered my teachers who worked side jobs to make ends meet so that they could continue to teach; I remembered mapping out routes to visit the wondrous, resting places of the Awliyā’ and how some of those places must be earthly-pictorials of Paradise itself; I remembered the Burdah and how those who came, came with love, and how I wished to be among them; I remembered a teacher of mine who kept teaching at the height of a debilitating illness, day after day, night after night. And other memories, so poignant, so moving, that I only have strength to bring them to heart in fragments.

On the Day when we are called to account for our histories, it is only the space-time of His remembrance that will matter: those times, places and spaces where we remembered Allah, celebrated Him, loved Him, congregated and departed because of Him. What else is more worthy of being deposited in the vaults of our commemoration? Or of being the precious, shared capital of our social experience?

And this – the customs, cultures, times, places and spaces – are simply inanimate forms given life only through the hearts that inhabit them – hearts that love Allāh, love His Messenger (ṣallalāho ‘alayhi wa sallam), revere the symbols of His dīn. Hearts that illuminate you, remind you, provide you true solace in the winter of your life, and give you the strength to keep walking to Him, and never stop, come what may. What is more valuable in all our histories? More worthy of mourning for its loss?

It is from His Divine Beauty that the true beauty of Cape Town lies in His remembrances and the reverence for His symbols, at a time when one of our greatest crimes lie in a collective religious life of academic, political or social pursuit conceitedly cultured with the profanity of our heedlessness.

The Messenger (ṣallalāho ‘alayhi wa sallam) told us that the one who does not thank people does not thank Allāh. To melt this tundra in me, I have to say to you – teacher, colleague, fellow student, friend – may Allah reward you during these 11 years for the invaluable company of your heart’s remembrances. May He increase you in His remembrance and the lifelong pursuit to beautify your character.

“Play the Awwal dhikr in your background,” my wife said.

Yā Laṭīf, may it be, and never cease, always and forever. Āmīn, Thumma Āmīn.

Cover photo by Mickey Bo.

VIDEO: Shaykh Faraz Rabbani on How Islam Spread in the Blessed Land of South Africa

Shaykh Faraz SouthAfrica2015-zikrattheattic-5Rabbani and the SeekersHub team have just returned from the SpreadLight tour of South Africa. Here he gives an excellent and concise summary of how Islam came to and spread in this blessed land.

For more content from this tour, explore the SeekersHub website.

 

 

PHOTOS: Zikr At The Attic – SeekersHub’s Spreadlight Tour in Johannesburg

An evening of remembrance and nasheed hosted by The Kolia Family (Lenz Attic) with Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Shaykh Yahya Rhodus and Sidi Nader Khan. Follow the Spread Light tour of South Africa. 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 years. This will serve as an ongoing charity (sadaqa jariyah) so please donate today.

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PHOTOS from Grasmere, South Africa with Shaykh Yahya Rhodus

After a brief introduction by Abdul-Rehman Malik, Global Programs Director of SeekersHub, Shaykh Yahya Rhodus delivered this beautiful talk to a lively audience in Grasmere, South Africa, with live translation into Zulu. Shaykh Yahya began first by saying the SeekersHub team are guests in the blessed land of Africa, but at the same time they are not – find out why. Listen in full on the SeekersHub podcast.

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In Grasmere: “Inspirational Stories from the Lives of the Righteous”, Shaykh Yahya Rhodus

After a brief introduction by Abdul-Rehman Malik, Global Programs Director of SeekersHub, Shaykh Yahya Rhodus delivered this beautiful talk to a lively audience in Grasmere, South Africa, with live translation into Zulu. Shaykh Yahya began first by saying the SeekersHub team are guests in the blessed land of Africa, but at the same time they are not – find out why.
Follow the Spread Light tour of South Africa on the SeekersHub website. 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.

 

In Soweto: “Allah is Beautiful and Loves Beauty: Celebrating the Beautiful Messenger”

Shaykh Yahya Rhodus delivered a beautiful talk in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa – a session, which ended with two local women embracing Islam. Listen to it in full on the SeekersHub podcast.

Follow the Spread Light tour of South Africa. 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 years. This will serve as an ongoing charity (sadaqa jariyah) so please donate today.

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In Soweto: “Allah is Beautiful and Loves Beauty: Celebrating the Beautiful Messenger”

Shaykh Yahya Rhodus delivered this beautiful talk in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, during a session which ended with two local women embracing Islam.
Follow the Spread Light tour of South Africa on the SeekersHub website. 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.