REFLECTIONS

Website: www.ummah.com/reflections

Quarterly: Issue No 21

Muharram 1423

 

A MUSLIM AND HIS ISLAMIC IDENTITY

 

When we consider the religion of Islam and look at the actions it requires its followers to observe, be they part of worship or normal social dealings and consider also the practices Islam forbids, we are bound to conclude that it is very difficult for a Muslim who wants to abide by Islamic teachings to hide his identity. Indeed a Muslim has a unique identity which is reflected in his manners and behaviour. He is always polite, kind, steering away from what is vulgar or obscene in words or actions. His humility, which is enhanced by his recognition that he is liable to make mistakes and slip into error, means that he is likable, sociable and caring for others. These characteristics are imparted to a Muslim first and foremost by his faith. It is Islam that requires its followers to be kind to others and to always prefer what is likely to cement good relations with their fellow human beings. From another point of view, every Muslim has a task which he must fulfil. If he fails to do this task, he will be questioned about it by Allah. I am here referring to the duty of every Muslim to convey the message of Islam to other people and make it known to them that Allah requires them to follow his last messenger, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and implement the code of living embodied in his message. It may be added here that not every Muslim can provide a good example of what Islam means in practice by living up to requirements of his faith. When people see in a Muslim man or woman who is an exponent of every virtue and who refrains from everything that does not fit with the noble position Allah has given to mankind, they want to know what gives him his refined sense of propriety. They do not need to go too far to discover the source. It is Islam, his faith which Allah has perfected as a way of life which brings out and enhances every good aspect in a human being and weakens every evil tendency. Why on earth would anyone be reluctant to own to the fact that he is a Muslim, unless he fears to lose some of the esteem of other people. Only those who are hostile to Islam or those who are ignorant of its nature may have an unfavourable attitude towards the Muslims. With the first group, a Muslim is not likely to win respect even if he disowns his religion altogether. The mere fact that he comes from a Muslim family is sufficient for those who are hostile to Islam to classify him among Muslims. Not even a person like Salman Rushdie wins any respect or esteem from the enemies of Islam. They may wish to utilize him for their own purposes, but they will never look at him with any genuine respect. With those who are ignorant of Islam, such an attitude does not earn him any privilege. Indeed, if he appears in the distinctive colours of Islam, he has a greater chance of winning their respect. If he speaks to them about the teachings of Islam in those areas which come under discussion they are bound to appreciate the wisdom of Islamic legislation. I speak about this from personal experience. Many a non-Muslim who knows very little about Islam begins to appreciate its wisdom and its comprehensive and logical approach to life, once he hears about the Islamic legislation relevant to a practical question that is faced by all human societies. Take for example the Islamic system of divorce. When an open minded non-Muslim learns about the proper Islamic legislation in divorce cases and how Islam safeguards the interests of both partners and gives each one his or her rights, he cannot fail to express his admiration for Islam. This may be the first step toward winning a friend to Islam and may be winning, in time, a new Muslim. Some say that we should not quote from the Qur'an or the Hadith in our discussions with non-Muslims. On the contrary, when we support our argument with evidence from the Qur'an or the Hadith, we show that it is not merely a personal view. It is the view of Islam that we are advancing. We will definitely draw attention of people to the strong logic of Islam and its profound argument. They will respect us for being religious. On the other hand, how will non-Muslims know about Islam if we do not tell them about it?  We are required by Allah to make HIS message known to mankind. If we do not speak to them about it, they will remain ignorant of it. We will have failed in a duty which Allah has made incumbent on every Muslim. To be a Muslim only in presence of Muslims is to impose on ourselves the life of a mental ghetto which makes us always inward-looking. This is contrary to the nature of Islam which is outward-looking, because it considers every human being a potential believer. Indeed, mankind is the material with which Islam deals in order to produce a super-society which is characterized by the fact that its members "enjoin the doing of what is right, forbid what is wrong and believe in the Oneness of Allah."  That is the best human society.

 

IS IT REAL VIRTUE?

 

Hazrath Uwais Qarni (rahmatullahi alayhi) was a contemporary but not a Sahaabi of our beloved Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam.  Seeing his beloved Prophet undoubtedly would have been the greatest achievement of his lifetime.  For any believer no event could have been of greater emotional or spiritual value than a chance to see the last of the Messengers of Allah in person, to shake hands with him, to listen to him and to learn directly from him.  But Uwais Qarni's mother was old, blind, and disabled. He had to constantly take care of her and that responsibility did not permit him to take the trip from Yemen to Madinah Munawwarah to meet his beloved Prophet. He missed the chance to become a Sahaabi --- the highest category of any group of believers. But his piety earned him the title of Khairut Tabiyeen or "the best of the generation following the companions," from the Prophet himself.  Later when he did visit Madinah Al-Munawwarah, Sayyiduna Umar (radiyallahu anhu) sought him and asked him to pray to Allah for him, explaining that he made the request for prayers because the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, himself had advised him to do so.

The story obviously tells us about the status of mothers in Islam and the virtue of serving one's parents. But there is even a bigger lesson here. Sometimes there is a fine line between apparent virtue and real virtue; between what we like to do and what we must do; between religion as hobby and religion as the serious business of obedience to Allah. This is a delicate issue because the conflict between duty and desire may be camouflaged by the apparent virtuosity of the deeds. To detect the difference and make the right choice requires balance, sensitivity, and wisdom---qualities that are central to Prophetic teachings.

Jihad in the battlefield is a very important Islamic institution and the Qur'an and Hadith are full of merits of those who are willing to lay their lives to uphold Truth and fight falsehood. Yet there were occasions when the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, sent back aspiring mujahids back to their homes to take care of their old parents when their parents really needed them.

Consider a small incident from the life of a great scholar, mujahid, sufi, and jurist, Hazrath Abdullah ibn Mubarak.  Among his many virtues is that he was fond of performing Hajj regularly and even paid the expenses of all the members of his Hajj group. During one such trip he saw that at a stopover, the people of another caravan threw a dead chicken into the trash.  Moments later a little girl emerged from a nearby house, and rushed home with that dead chicken.  Being very curious, Abdullah ibn Mubarak followed her.  He found that the girl lived with her widowed mother and they had no source of income.  They had been starving for days.  Seeing this he gave all the money he had for the Hajj trip to the poor family and returned home.  The Hajj being voluntary was a personal passion.  It meant a lot and he had already undertaken a big part of the difficult journey.  But when faced with the need of a destitute family, he immediately knew what he had to do.  His commitment was not to the Hajj trip, but it was to serving Allah.

Today as individuals and groups we seem to be lacking that perspective. We have heard that something is good but we do not know its limits nor do we realize how it fits in the big picture. Many examples can be given. Some of us have heard that leaving our homes to invite people to Islam is a great act.  It indeed is.  But if one's own family needs him and leaving it alone will expose it to dangers then it is not. In such cases it would be performing a hobby and not doing a duty.  In some parts of North America, Muslims have built big empty mosques when what the community really needed was a full time Islamic school.  But million dollar mosques as status symbols become pet projects in ways that a school cannot.

In the best case we are wasting resources by having the wrong priorities.  In the worst case we are putting a religious cover on our own desires, without even realizing it.  In each case the solution begins with a critical self-examination.  It would help to occasionally ask ourselves what would we do if we were in place of Hazrath Uwais Qarni? Or Hazrath Abdullah ibn Mubarak?

 

PIGEON-HOLE MENTALITY

 

One of the major problems Muslims have got themselves into is the "necessity" to identify themselves as groups or schools.

When we meet a fellow Muslim, we immediately want to put him into a pre-defined box or pigeon-hole. "Oh, he's a so and so" or "Oh, he's one of that group" etc. This is a relatively modern phenomenon, no doubt kindled by the powers of colonization. One does not find in the books of the classical ulama any mention of groups or movements being better than one another. The only distinction made is that of correct and incorrect aqeedah (belief).  Never did Imam Al-Ghazali (rahmatullahi alayhi) extol the virtues of the graduates of Nisapur over non-Nisapuris.  The fuel for this modern behaviour is ignorance. It is only when someone who does not understand the religion that one feels a need to rely on the “group” mentality.  Only when one does not comprehend the heart of Islam that one busies oneself with superficial appearance.

So, what we see in reality is that our Madaaris have produced a large number of people who are incapable of comprehending the issues and concepts behind the mere words of the books. The only way these people feel any confidence in what they say is when they identify themselves with some large “group”.  Because they are unable to fathom the depths of Islamic thought, anything they cannot recognize or explain they immediately dismiss it as being "from another group" and so to be condemned.

But, Alhamdulillah, not all the people coming out of these Madaaris are so unfortunate.  Indeed recently we see that the number of seriously intellectual and academically able students and teachers is growing.  It is this batch of people who now have a responsibility to change this "pigeon-hole" mentality, and break through the barriers of race, school, country etc. and re-unite the scholars of Islam globally.  We need to identify the forces that are damaging the ummah (from within and outside Islam) and concentrate our efforts on those collectively.  The time has come to stop shouting slogans and holding rallies, but start learning the ways of our illustrious predecessors and putting them into practice.

Therefore, we must re-instate our values and systems. We must teach our younger generation that it is not the place one comes from or the university from which one graduates that is the source of respect, but rather the way one lives one’s life.  Our scholars have always praised their predecessors on the basis of their lives and the service they provided for the ummah, not on the basis that they went to the same madrasah or university or that they belonged to the same cult or movement.

 

Our Most Merciful Rabb says:

"And put all your trust (in Allah), if you are indeed believers." [Al-Qur'an : Al-Maa’idah : verse 23]

 

I request your humble du'aas.

 

Abdul Haq Abdul Kadir

Umhlanga Rocks, KZN

South Africa