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"We tell you the stories of the Messengers so we may make firm your heart" – Ustadh Salim Mauladdawila

The stories told by and of the Messengers of Allah are not for mere entertainment and neither are the rituals Muslims perform as part of their religious practice. Each one is pregnant with meaning as Ustadh Salim Mauladdawila explains.

Of the recorded events in the lives of the prophets, one of the most historically significant is certainly the migration of the prophet Ibrahim with his wife Hajar, and infant son Ismail. Ibrahim, following God’s command, took his family from their home in the Levant to settle in the desert valley of what would become the holy city of Makkah. Fully aware of the difficulty of their task, he would leave them in that uncultivated valley to God, with only some dates and water for nourishment, before leaving and praying to God for their protection. When they inevitably ran out of water Ismail began to cry, and out of sheer despair Hajar climbed the nearest mountain, Safa, desperate to see someone in the area, but no one was to be seen. She descended Safa and, as Imam al-Bukhari relates the Companion Abdullah Ibn Abbas saying, “When she reached the valley she lifted the hem of her dress and ran as a distressed person runs, crossing the valley and reaching [the mountain] Marwa. She ascended and looked out, but she didn’t see anyone. She [travelled between them] seven times. The Prophet said, ‘That is why people run between [Safa and Marwa].’ When she reached Marwa [the final time], she heard a voice. She told herself to be silent, and she listened. Again she heard the voice and said, ‘I have heard you. If you have [aid], aid!” And behold! She saw an angel at the place of Zamzam, digging the earth with his heel (or his wing), until water appeared”.

The prophet Muhammad ﷺ narrated this story to his companions not as mere entertainment, but, as is said in the Quran, “We tell you the stories of the Messengers that we may make firm your heart” [11:120]. Stories in hadith and the Quran serve as examples, encouraging us in our faith and connecting us to our fellow believers in eras beyond our own.

Due to her strong faith and piety, God ensured that Hajar, whose actions would indirectly affect the course of human history, would be a woman remembered by believers thousands of years after her passing. Everyone who has ever had their thirst quenched by Zamzam has Hajar to thank, and the millions of believers who would travel to Makkah from throughout the world tell her story.
Uniquely out of our religious acts of worship, the Hajj was not sanctified by the actions of the prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Indeed, the prophet Muhammad himself was ordered to perform the Hajj as we do, following in the footsteps of the prophets, messengers, and believers who lived before him. Hajj is not only a gathering of Muslims from all walks of life in our lifetime, but it connects us to the very first believers, the last believers, and to the believers in the celestial and unseen realms. In the Hajj, we see that our own belief is but a fruit of believers thousands of years before us.
The prophet Ibrahim would later return to the valley he left his family, and go on to rebuild the Kaaba, aided by his now mature son Ismail. As God says, “And when Ibrahim and Ismail raised the foundations of the House” [2:127]. Explaining this verse, scholars of Quranic exegesis have said that the archangel Gabriel manifested himself to Ibrahim, and ordered him to rebuild the Kaaba from the original foundations laid by the prophet Adam AS.
When Adam, the first human, was created, God told the angels the reason behind his creation, stating, “I will create a vicegerent on earth” [2:30]. Interestingly, God always intended for humans to live on Earth, as evidenced here, yet resided our forefather in heaven. An effect of this and his expulsion from heaven was that he was imbued with a longing for his Lord’s pleasure and for the celestial.
Subsequently, as Adam roamed the Earth, Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi narrates that he complained to God of his loneliness. It was then that he was ordered to build the Kaaba, establishing on Earth a physical place of connexion to the heavens for himself and all believers after him. God says in the Quran, “Verily the first House established for humanity was that at Bakka: blessed, and guidance for the worlds” [3:96], Bakka being one of the names of Makkah. Adam’s longing for the divine forms a part of our fitra, or inherent nature, spoken about by God, “So direct your face toward the religion completely; the fitra of God upon which He has created all people” [30:30]. Fath al-Mousili, the Iraqi gnostic, remarked on the topic, “We were a people of heaven, then Satan cursed us to the Earth. Thus we only have worries and sadness until we return to the abode we were expelled from”.
Imam al-Baghawi relates that once the prophet Adam completed construction of the Kaaba and had circumambulated it, the angels informed him that they themselves had built the Kaaba and performed Hajj 2000 years prior to him. Further, all prophets after Adam were to perform Hajj and circumambulate the Kaaba, it being rebuilt as necessary over the passage of time. This continued, as stated by al-Tabari in his landmark work of Quranic commentary, until the time of the flood of Nuh, when the Kaaba was raised to the heavens. Thus the Earth was bereft of its Kaaba until it was rebuilt by Ibrahim.

The Kaaba, then, is not simply an ancient architectural curiosity, dwarfed by modern architectural wonders; it is our prime place of connecting to our Lord and reconnecting with countless believers who have walked the Earth before us. God says, “We made the House [the Kaaba] a place of assembly for people and [a place of] safety. And take the place where Ibrahim stood as a place of prayer” [2:125].

The Kaaba unites all Muslims not only across the barriers of wealth, race, and ideology, but also across time, and even species. Numerous hadith mention the presence of angels at the Kaaba, and al-Fakihi recounts in his book on the history of Makkah that even animals have travelled there to worship. Imam al-Bukhari narrates that located in the seventh heaven above the Kaaba is its likeness in the celestial realm, al-Bait al-Ma’mur, “where 70,000 angels pray daily, and when they leave, they never return”, and Abi Dawud relates that the Mahdi, the promised redeemer of Islam of whom the Prophet told us about in rigorously authenticated hadith, will come forth in Makkah. And the Kaaba isn’t alone in bringing us this profound unity: the “place where Ibrahim stood” is the stone he stood on when building the Kaaba, and God ordered us to pray there; we walk between Safa and Marwa retracing the footsteps of Hajar; we throw stones at the Jamaraat during Hajj emulating the prophet Ibrahim, who threw stones at the devil there; the sacrificial animal slaughter is done commemorating the story of Ibrahim and Ismail; and we gather at Arafat, on the same day of the lunar year where believers have been gathering annually for over 1000 years. All of these sacred places and their religious rites have meanings far greater than their outward forms.
Entering this blessed month of Hajj, we should know that it was made sacred by God even before he created humans: “Indeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve [lunar] months in the book of God, [from] the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are sacred” [9:36]. We are now but the latest people to have been blessed with this realisation. Islam is a living tradition, one which began thousands of years ago before the prophet Adam and will continue for untold generations to come. We, Muslims living 1425 lunar years after our prophet’s passing, are the present link in that tradition, and the need for us to realise its importance is arguably more important now than ever before. Unfortunately, when Islam, and religion in general, is under attack from so many directions, it is easy for one to lose their bearings. When we are portrayed as a foreign belief and something that should be feared, it is easy to forget that we are not at all strange. It may be lost to us that the very first of creation were all believers, and we are simply trying to following in their wake. We are a link which, according to a recent Pew survey, makes up 23% of the world’s population, and the Hajj is calling us to unity: unity in belief in God, and unity amongst ourselves.
The Prophet is quoted as saying, “Verily God has ordered me to make my speech, remembrance; and my silence, contemplation; and [what I look at], a lesson”. The believer, then, should endeavour to derive benefit from everything that is around them, and now is a prime time for contemplation, reflection, and connexion.

To paraphrase Goethe, if we cannot draw from thousands of years of our history, we are living from hand to mouth. Knowing the stories behind religious rituals and seeing their meanings allows us to unite with all Muslims, strengthening our individual and communal identities with centuries of belief. Being grounded in our religious tradition brings well-needed perspective into our lives; we begin to understand the value of this blessing of faith, and we begin to understand why we believe.

The Muslim is not a single, lone human carried to and fro by aimless tides. We are not the flotsam of civilisation; we are here with purpose. When we see that we were created as “a vicegerent on Earth”, we can understand the responsibility that is upon us as individuals and do our best to live up to it. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said in a hadith narrated by al-Tabrani, “The most beloved people to Allah are the most beneficial of them for the people”. Let this, then, be the starting point from where we begin everything we do, and the more we are united, the more beneficial we can be.

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Hajj: So Much More Than Just A Gathering, by Ustadh Salim Mauladdawila

The Hajj brings millions of Muslims together on a horizontal plane each year but it is so much more than just an enormous gathering. Ustadh Salim Mauladdawila brings us back to a core message of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ – the call to and importance of unity amongst Muslims and what there is to gain from it.

Nearly 1384 years ago to the day, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ addressed his Companions on the Hajj pilgrimage. In the valley of Urana and the foot of Mount Arafat, The Prophet ﷺ sat upon his camel al-Qaswa’ before his Companions and advised them in what was subsequently knows as his ‘farewell sermon’. Imam Muslim relates the beginning of the sermon from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir as follows:

“Verily your blood and your wealth are [made] sacred upon you, like the sacredness of this day of yours, in this month of yours, in this land of yours.”

Two days later, in the holy valley of Mina, The Prophet again addressed his companions from upon his camel. Imam al-Bukhari narrates that he spoke, “O people! What day is this?”
They replied, “It is a sacred day.”
He then asked, “What land is this?”
They replied, “It is a sacred land.”
He asked again, “What month is this?”
They replied, “It is a sacred month.”
The Prophet then said, “Verily your blood, your wealth, and your honour are sacred upon you like the sanctity of this day of yours, in this land of yours, in this month of yours.”

Brotherhood forged

Certainly one of the greatest accomplishments of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was the sacred brotherhood he forged amongst the Companions. The unity found in the melting-pot of Medina at the time of his passing was a living example of the Quranic verse, “O people! We created you from a male and a female, and made you races and tribes, that you may know one another. Surely the noblest amongst you in the sight of God is the most god-fearing of you” [49:13]. Previously-warring Bedouin Arab tribes made peace, Persians were brothered with Ethiopians, and the wealthy befriended the freed slaves. The emphasis the Prophet placed on this unity in his farewell sermon is a fitting capstone to his prophetic message, and the Muslim nation today would do well to reflect upon the poignancy of his words.

The conditions of unity

The unity the Prophet spoke of is a sanctified part of our religion. A Muslim’s blood, wealth, and honour are, as Imam al-Nawawi comments, even more sacred than the holy times and place the Prophet mentioned. As a part of Islam, unity has conditions, and cannot simply be claimed without it having a reality. In the Quran, God tells us signs of its establishment. He says, “Surely all believers are brothers. So reconcile between your brothers, and fear God, so that mercy may be shown to you” [49:10], and “The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, establish prayer, give zakat, and obey God and His Messenger. God will have mercy upon them” [9:71]. True unity, then, manifests itself as “[reconciling] between [our] brothers” and “[enjoining] what is right and [forbidding] what is wrong”. It is unity founded upon mercy, and as long as our unity is lacking this mercy, it cannot be called true.

The consequence of merciful unity

In the second halves of the quoted verses, God tells us that a direct consequence of this merciful unity between Muslims is that we receive mercy from Him. Indeed the Prophet tells us, “The merciful are shown mercy by The Merciful [God]”. The Cordovan hadith scholar Ibn Batal explains that the initial mercy between the believers is itself out of God’s mercy, hence, when the believers give the unity forged between them its due, God invariably increases their unity and exposes them to an even greater portion of His mercy. Sanctifying what God has sanctified and giving our unity a reality, we enter into a state of continuous exponential improvement. Conversely, when we do not do this, we expose ourselves to God’s anger, for as the Prophet explained to us, “God will not be merciful to those who are not merciful to mankind”.

When we lie, cheat and plot

Many Muslims today could benefit from being reminded about the sanctity of our unity. When we lie to and cheat one another, when we plot and scheme against our brothers, we are directly calling upon ourselves God’s wrath; and for what gain? Regrettably, it is all too often that we hear Muslims slandering, attacking, disgracing, and shaming other Muslims over frivolous affairs. Imam al-Bukhari narrates in his book of prophetic etiquette al-Adab al-Mufrad, “If one is fed at the expense of a Muslim, God will feed him like it of hell. If one is clothed at the expense of a Muslim, God will clothe him like it of hell. If one achieves a position of ostentation and hypocrisy at the expense of a Muslim, God will put him in a position of ostentation and hypocrisy on the Day of Resurrection”. Will we let these teachings of our Prophet  ﷺ fall on deaf ears?
Several Companions tell the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ looking upon the Kaaba saying, “Verily God has ennobled you, venerated you, and glorified you, and a believer is even more sanctified than you”. The Prophet ﷺ also said, “Whosoever wrongfully harms a believer, it is as if he has destroyed the Kaaba”, and Imam Ibn Majah relates him saying, “The destruction of the world is less [in the sight of] God than wrongfully killing a believer”. Calls of disunity today are heard far and wide, be it on the pulpits of our mosques or in endless social media messages. Vitriolic diatribes have, in some circles, sadly replaced religious knowledge, and we find Muslims seemingly well-versed in technical religious arguments showing ignorance of the basics of cleanliness and prayer.

Together we are stronger

The Quran says, “And hold firmly to the rope of God all together and do not become divided. And remember the favour of God upon you: when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favour, brothers. And you were on the edge of a pit of the fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does God make clear to you His verses that you may be guided” [3:103]. Islam united the Companions of the Prophet and was their salvation. Through remaining united our predecessors in faith accomplished amazing deeds and attained greatness in the sight of God. Imam Malik bin Anas, one of the most highly regarded scholars in Islam and founder of the Maliki madhhab, is famously quoted as saying, “The end of this nation will not be righted except by what righted the beginning of it”. Working towards unity, then, should be of paramount importance to us, and God has given us generous incentives to unite. The reward of our five daily prayers is multiplied by 27 if we pray them in congregation. Once a week a congregational prayer is obligatory upon us. Twice a year we gather in a larger congregation for the Eid prayers. Zakat is a decentralised social welfare charity established over 1300 years ago specifically to benefit needy individuals, as many of the scholars state, in one’s local community. We fast for one month a year, gaining a small taste of the hunger that the less fortunate live every day. Undoubtedly the greatest embodiment of this is the annual Hajj pilgrimage, where Muslims gather from all walks of life, from all corners of the globe, don identical clothing, and perform the one great act of worship at the same place, at the same time.
In the midst of this powerful expression of the immense unifying force of Islam and its respect for humans of all backgrounds such that “surely the noblest amongst you in the sight of God is the most god-fearing of you”, we cannot help but feel united. One feels amongst brethren before their creator, a member of a community who have left their homes desiring only their Lord. Good actions become easy. Generosity and forgiveness become one’s natural disposition. We encounter amazing acts of kindness and humanity on Hajj and we leave feeling firmer than ever in our faith and proud to call ourselves ‘Muslim’. All this is an example of God’s mercy, which he promised us when we “enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, establish prayer, give zakat, and obey God and His Messenger”.

Hajj is not just a gathering

We should strive, then, to ensure that our gathering in this holy place, where the Prophet told us of the sanctity of unity, is not merely an assembly of bodies, for Hajj is no mere assembly. Those who are blessed to travel this year should do so representing their families, communities, cities, and all Muslims behind them. They should stand before our Lord as one nation in heart and in form, for how repugnant would it be to outwardly honour the Kaaba, but inwardly commit acts worse in God’s sight than its destruction? Those who travel should return striving to maintain the bonds which they felt when they were in that sacred place. For those not fortunate enough to perform the Hajj, they should pray for those who do travel; for their safety and for the acceptance of their Hajj, for in God’s acceptance is renewed forgiveness and mercy for us all. And we should all pray for all Muslims, and do whatever little we can to spread mercy amongst both believers and non-believers.
Islam’s message is complete and we are to take it all as it was given to us. God told us that we are allies, so we should be so. The Prophet told us that our fellow believers are sanctified, so we should treat them so. The Prophet told us, “You shall not enter heaven until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another. Shall I not direct you to a thing which, if you do it, will foster love between you? Spread the [greeting of] salaam between yourselves”, so let us begin with this small step and may God encompass us all with his divine mercy.
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