Age of Jahiliyah

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Are You One of Those Sufis? by Mohamed Ghilan

Imam Abū Hāmid Al-Ghazzāli in his Deliverance from Error talks about having investigated all the intellectual discourses in order to find certainty. The only discourse he couldn’t intellectually comprehend was that of the Sufīs. He read their books and tried to figure it out, but eventually acknowledged that this was one discourse that can’t be intellectualized – it must be realized. That’s the meaning of his statement:

فعلمت يقينا أنهم أرباب الأحوال، لا أصحاب الأقوال

I knew with certainty that they [Sufis] are people of states, not people of statements

Islam is a tradition about obtaining a state. This is embedded within the name of the religion, which unlike others is not named after a person or location. It’s a state where those who see you are automatically reminded of God. If the only way you remind people of God is through your tongue, know that your state hasn’t really been transformed by the statements you utter. People ask what Sufism is, wondering if it’s about dancing and whirling or asking dead people in their graves for blessings or just hanging out with the brothers or sisters and singing nasheeds. It’s none of that. Sufism is the transformation of Sharīa (outward practices of Islam) into Haqīqa (inward reality of Islam). It’s the transition from statements into states. It’s the movement of knowledge from your brain into your heart. It’s the transformation of seeing the world using your sight into seeing it using your insight. It’s the beginning of an intellectual acknowledgement of Nothing Worthy of Worship Except God (Lā Ilāha Illa Allah) and ending with complete consciousness of that acknowledgement with your whole being (to worship God as if you see Him and if you don’t see Him know that He sees you).

It’s unfortunate that many Muslims have developed a type of allergy towards anything that carries the scent of Sufism. This is in much the same way that many Muslims have also developed a type of allergy to anything that carries the scent of Salafism. Both of these terms are constantly used by scholars of Islam to indicate different realities – Sufism as that of an internal realization, and Salafism as that of an external one. An important principle in Islamic jurisprudence states that judgment of a thing is a branch of conceptualizing it. If the conceptualization is faulty, it’s highly likely that the judgment is also faulty.

The heart of Sufism is about setting on the path of fulfilling the Quranic commands to leave the outward of sin as well as the inward of it (Al-Anaam 6:120). It’s about having a constant concern over the state of one’s heart, because when all is said and done, only a sound heart will be of benefit (Ash-Shuara’ 26:88). Sufism is about taking the recitation of the Quran with the tongue and turning it into a recitation with the heart. It’s about adhering to the Sharia not because of an ulterior motive of obtaining Paradise or avoiding Hell, but because God is deserving of it. It’s the ultimate realization of the love of God and fearing not His punishment, but His not accepting our always deficient prayer and fasting. It’s the hope that He accepts our repentance for not being able to fulfil his due rights upon us. This type of worship and relationship with God is what Imam An’Nawawi, in his commentary on his 40 Hadith collection, calls the Worship of the Free People as opposed to the Worship of the Slaves or the Worship of the Merchants.

Rābi’a al-‘Adawiyya said in one of her famous supplications:

يا رب إذا كنت أسلمت طمعا في جنتك فاحرمني منها، وإذا كنت أسلمت خوفا من نارك فأدخلني فيها، وإذا أسلمت طمعا في رؤية وجهك الكريم فلا تحرمني منه

O Lord, if I submitted hoping for Your Paradise, then deny me it, and if I submitted out of fear from Your Fire, then enter me into it, and if I submitted out of hope of seeing Your Blessed Countenance then don’t deny me it.

In the current age of Islamic discourse that focuses on the rewards that await the believers and punishments that await the transgressors, this supplication of Rābi’a is usually met with great apprehension. Many have misunderstood it to indicate a belittling of Paradise and Hell. However, what Rabi’a showed here was her complete submission to her Lord, seeking nothing in return but His acceptance. It’s a realization of her answer to a simple, yet profound question: if you knew that Paradise and Hell didn’t exist and once you die you will not come back, would you still worship God?

This language of love is usually lost upon the ones who go through life treating their relationships as balance sheets with assets and liabilities. Meanwhile they forget the verses praising those who seek the highest calling:

ومن أحسن دينا ممن أسلم وجهه لله وهو محسن

And who has a better religion than one who submits themselves entirely to God while doing good?  (An-Nisa’ 4:125)

ولا تطرد الذين يدعون ربهم بالغدوة والعشي يريدون وجهه

And do not drive away those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, they desire only His favour. (Al-Anaam 6:52)

واصبر نفسك مع الذين يدعون ربهم بالغدوة والعشي يريدن وجهه

And withhold yourself with those who call on their Lord morning and evening desiring His goodwill. (Al-Kahf 18:28)

ومن يسلم وجهه إلى الله وهو محسن فقد استمسك بالعروة الوثقى

And whoever submits themselves wholly to God while doing excellent work has indeed taken hold of the firmest thing upon which one can lay hold
(Luqman 31:22)

True knowledge of God, and in turn awe of Him – This is the final end every Muslim is seeking. When looking upon the world, most people are amazed by its harmony, balance, and overall beauty. Sufism is about turning that amazement by the Creation into amazement by the Creator. A Sufī is one who doesn’t see the effects or the material causes of these effects. A Sufī sees the efficient cause behind it all. Rather than seeing it as a creation, a Sufī sees it as a manifestation of the attributes of God. Sufism is the path of transcendence from the physical to the metaphysical, and seeing the metaphysical within the physical. A Sufī is at heart a Salafi who adheres to Sharīa as a means to attaining this Haqīqa.

Increasing Spiritual Nourishment in Ramadan: Remembrance and Contemplation by Khalil Abdur-Rashid

There are two main duties that we have to perform inside of Ramadan: dhikr and fikr. During these 16-17 hour days when we’re fasting, we have to busy ourselves. Everyone talks about how difficult it is going to be to not eat and drink for so long, for so many days, during the heat of July, but Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) has not given us a burden we cannot bear. While we fast and decrease our intake of food and drink, our material manifestations of nourishment, we must increase our spiritual nourishment to replace it.

Dhikr

The way this is done is through dhikr, the remembrance of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala). While food and drink is the nourishment andrizq (sustenance) of the body, dhikr, the remembrance of Allah is the nourishment, and the rizq, of the ruh and the soul. If the soul is full, the body will be full even if it has no food in it. This is something I can attest to from personal experience, and many others can testify to that as well. If you begin a regimen where every day you are constantly remembering Allah, you will feel full despite the fact that you are going 16 hours and fasting. You have to combine this with Qur’an, and with the dhikr from the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ  that are known and accepted in our collections of hadith.

These recitations must be done with the tongue, and in the mind itself. For example, reading the Qur’an  as much as possible every single day should be the habit of every single Muslim. It is the habit of the Muslims to complete a juz every day. We are not supposed to be completing the juz of the Qur’an for the sake of completing the juz of the Qur’an. That’s not the purpose, to just check every day off that you’ve done it. The purpose of reading Qur’an every day is to feed your ruh, to feed your soul, while your body is fasting from food. Why? So that we can develop the habit of nurturing ourselves spiritually, and so that we don’t rely so much on material forms of rizq and nourishment.  So in the morning when you wake up to go to work, there should be dhikr on your tongue and in your mind. If all you know is “La ilaha illallah”, then there should never ever be five minutes of the day when you’re fasting where you don’t say “La ilaha illallah”, either with your tongue or your heart.

Constant dhikr of Allah is what is required during long fasts, and also during short fasts. The blessed opportunity  here is that the more that you remember Allah in your mind and in your tongue, the more your mind is taken off of the hunger.

Fikr

Related to dhikr is fikr. Fikr means contemplation, deep thought and reflection. It’s not enough for us to constantly read the Qur’an, and not ponder and reflect on what the Qur’an is saying. What’s the purpose of reading a juz of Quran, and you have no idea what is being said? What’s the purpose of reading the Qur’an, and you’re thinking about what kind of food you’re going to eat for dinner? What’s the purpose of reading Qur’an, and you’re thinking about what movie you’re going to see after iftar with your friends?

The purpose of the Qur’an is to concentrate and contemplate on the Quran, to really digest that. Subhanallah, the Prophetic adab (manners) of eating food, as we were taught by our Shaykh Muhammad Emin, is that you ponder and do fikr of the food that you are eating. If you are eating chicken, then you ponder where the chicken came from, which farm the chicken was raised on, how it was cared for, and how it got from that farm to the grocery store, and how it got to your plate. If you’re eating lettuce, think about where in the world did that lettuce grow, how was it harvested, and put on a truck and shipped to a grocery store.  You purchased that piece of lettuce that came from somebody’s farm and it’s now on your plate, and you gain nourishment from it.

If the adab of eating material food is that you contemplate and do fikr about the food, then what do you think the adab of reciting the Qur’an and taking in spiritual food is? Of course it is tadabbur, fikr and contemplation of the Quran. Whatever dhikr that comes out of your mouth, whatever form of remembrance that you choose to adopt during the month of Ramadan, you must accompany that with contemplation. What comes off of the tongue must be realized, understood and contemplated in the mind and in the heart. In that way, spiritual change is slowly produced.

Fikr is very important. This fikr should be contemplated in moments of ease and hardship throughout the fasting day. We all have times in the day when the fast is easy for us and we have moments where it is hard. During the hard times the recitation of the Qur’an should increase, and the dhikr should increase. With that, the reflection should increase, and should be deeper. We should give more attention to the deeper meanings of what we are saying. In the times of hardship, if we put more energy into recitation and contemplation we find that the pains of hunger and thirst disappear. All those physical sensations are drawn back and become less of a priority. They literally disappear into oblivion and are eviscerated while you are doing dhikr and remembering Allah. Because our hunger and thirst come from Him, He can remove it. He removes it traditionally through the remembrance of His Attributes, His Book and all the adhkaar that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ narrated in the authentic collections of hadith.

Dhikr and fikr. May we increase our spiritual nourishment and find deeper meaning in our life in this month.

Malcom X, Converts & Moving Past Window Dressing Islam

Malcolm X, Converts & Moving Past Window Dressing Islam

Malcolm X, Converts & Moving Past Window Dressing Islam

Mohammed Saleem on 16 February 2015

Mohammed Saleem

America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered ‘white’—but the ‘white’ attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.

-The Autobiography of Malcolm X 1

Growing up Muslim in greater white America, Malcolm X was a figure rarely spoken of.  This was no different in the insular immigrant Muslim community, borne out of an ignorance of the full trajectory of his life, its own racial attitudes and ethnocentric concerns, and a disinterest in the struggle for black liberation (and indeed most issues facing indigenous minorities). If there was a cursory mention of him, it simply parroted the narrative and assessment of Malcolm that white Christian America defined for them: He was one of those Black Muslims (not a real one), he was dangerous, he ruffled feathers, he was unpalatable to his society—in other words, he was the opposite of what most immigrant Muslims were trying to achieve in their materialistic American dream that promised security. Like most immigrants, trying to gain a socioeconomic foothold in the land and establish themselves was the paramount concern; interest in the local struggles unpopular to their masters, the ruling white establishment—no matter how severe the injustice—was not.

While second-generation Muslims enjoyed the economic comforts of what their immigrant parents had established for them, finding relevancy in the American landscape and forming a distinctly American Muslim identity was the challenge. For me, and I’m sure countless others, the fateful day was when, by chance, I came across The Autobiography of Malcolm X as a teenager browsing in the library. To my astonishment, as I flicked through the pages, a chapter titled “Mecca” caught my eye and I read on. For the first time in my life, there it was, an example of a real American Muslim that rang true. The specifics of our alienation may have differed, but its essence, and the path to rectifying it, was the same. Any notions of cultural dissonance and ambiguity were finally clarified into a vision of who the American Muslim should be—reflections of the spiritual light of the Messenger ﷺ, calling humanity to what is greater than themselves, while freeing them from the yokes of injustice and barriers that prevent them from reaching their God-given potential.

Whether you are “immigrant” or “indigenous”,The Autobiography of Malcolm X is the book every American Muslim needs to have close to their heart. His moving account of the Hajj, in particular, and the ensuing transformation he experiences is required reading. We do him a great disservice however when we limit our conception of him to only the Hajj.Pigeonholing Malcolm to his Hajj experience alone also reflects our tendency to do the same to convertsin general, as we often ignore their life experience preceding their Islam, even though those experiences fostered their Islam and could, if we allowed it, foster our own awakening. Reflecting on the period of Malcolm’s life after the Hajj is therefore essential because it highlights our need to integrate our role as callers to Islam with the call to justice.

After the Hajj in April 1964, Malcolm travelled extensively throughout Africa and the Middle East (two separate trips spanning a total of six months) forming relationships with leaders while highlighting the struggle of black Americans in a greater global context, calling on the world to support their liberation. Before Hajj, locally at home, he had established the Muslim Mosque Inc. to serve as the spiritual base for Muslims. After Hajj, he founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), a non-religious organization that allowed non-Muslims and Muslims to participate. The two organizations were conceived to be complementary, one serving the spiritual needs specific to Muslims themselves and necessary for black liberation, the other seeking broader cooperation with those of other faiths to achieve that same goal. The flowering of his faith did not make him more exclusive, but rather made his efforts moreexpansive, as the fight for black liberation was a human issue, not simply for those of African descent. True faith expands both merciful love and justice, rather than restricting it.

Several of his contemporaries in the Muslim world hoped however that he would stress calling people to orthodox Islam after Hajj, perhaps hoping his outspoken focus on black liberation would fade away or cease. They failed to understand that truly internalizing Islam as Malcolm did bolstered and guided his effort to serve humanity, first and foremost by addressing the most pressing injustice facing his community—fighting white supremacy. It was a call he would never abandon, as it was inseparable from his very religious identity.3

This attitude is sadly shared by many “born” Muslims in our relationship with our brothers and sisters who have accepted Islam. Like Malcolm, we expect their “Hajj moment”, their entrance into the faith, to mark the abandonment of every concern and struggle they had in their “pre-Islamic” life. “You’re Muslim now, there is no longer racism. We are all brothers. You can forget about the other causes now.”  That may not be exactly what we say, but it’s what we mean.

It is this idealization of Muslims that causes us to be blinded to the evident racism both in and outside the community, as well as the real social problems on our very doorstep living in America. Many an African-American Muslim has heard the critique from their Christian counterparts: “You moved from the back of the bus to the back of the mosque.” Yes, this phenomenon is a product of racism, but it also stems from the immigrant Muslim communities’ overall failure to learn from the struggles and culture of those who convert. The thinking essentially is: We were always Muslim. These are the issues that really matter to our tribe of Islam, adopt our cultural identity and narrative to replace your own, and forget everything else. It’s not just racism, it’s our feeling of religious superiority and authenticity, a type of intra-Muslim exceptionalism based on our own cultural standards rather than the overarching Divine message.

This reality on the ground in our communities will always then be fodder for both critics and non-Muslim supporters of Malcolm himself. As powerful as his Hajj account may be for Muslims, skeptics have always called into question the real meaning of his post-Hajj conclusions about race. In 1967, Reverend Albert Cleage went so far as to state that Malcolm could not have been duped by the “window dressing” at Hajj, noting the reality of racism and slavery in the Middle East.4 Others posited that the Autobiographyintentionally idealized the Hajj as a form of religious propaganda. Even some of Malcolm’s own followers questioned his new conclusions about race relations that were reflected in the letters he wrote while abroad.

Was his experience on Hajj not entirely “real” because racism exists in the Muslim world, or could they simply not believe that this type of brotherhood could exist at all, regardless of religious affiliation?

Muslims would argue the emotions and insights experienced by Malcolm were in fact undoubtedly real, based on their own personal experiences, yet this does not negate the fact that racism exists in the Muslim community. When we are in congregational prayer or performing the rites of Hajj alongside people of different colors and cultures, there isreal brotherhood—within that act of ritual worship. This is evident by the fact that the thoughts about these differences between us are absent in our minds as we perform these acts. Even a racist Muslim would not likely be bothered by or even consider the race of the worshiper in close contact with him as he performs his prayer. That these conscious feelings are removed in this ibadah, no matter how brief this may be, is the mercy and beauty that God has blessed the community of Muhammad ﷺ in these rites of congregational worship. We do not pray in parallel, we are connected, at the very least temporarily, as human beings together in worship of Allah alone.

The degree by which we inculcate the universal message of Islam and demonstrate our taqwa (God-consciousness) to the Creator depends on how much we strive to extend that feeling of brotherhood beyond these acts of ritual worship. Malcolm was blessed with the insight to see that this could be extended beyond worship, that Islam could solve the race problem, if Islam was truly practiced as it was intended to be by God and His Messenger ﷺ.

That was, and is, his lasting challenge to the American Muslim community, fifty years later. Making the brotherhood a reality requires that we truly learn about the issues and struggles unique to the life experiences of both our co-religionists from different backgrounds and our neighbors of other faiths. For converts, it means appreciating and learning from the positive elements of their life prior to their testimony of faith. When Hakim ibn Hizam (may Allah be pleased with him), who lived for 60 years prior to accepting Islam, asked the Prophet ﷺ what would happen to his prior good deeds, which notably included maintaining good relations with others, charity and freeing slaves, the Prophet replied, “You embraced Islam with all the good deeds which you did in the past”.5 His very acceptance of Islam, in fact, was the result of the good he had done previously, and he would be rewarded for both.

How then could we ever expect someone to leave or diminish a struggle for which the gift of Islam was its reward? Indeed, it should be the reverse; we must embrace that struggle not only to serve the obligation of justice Islam mandates on us, but to share in the blessings and spiritual gifts from that struggle. Moreover, the Prophet ﷺ made it a point to indicate that he would still fulfill the pledge of Hilf-ul-Fudul, an agreement safeguarding the safety and security of people by the Quraysh before his Prophethood. Good causes remain good causes, regardless of the parties involved, and we must not be reticent to work with anyone. Like Malcolm’s OAAU, we don’t need to require Muslim membership to collaborate.

Our goal must be to actively seek out and support whatever benefits people on the ground, rather than passively react to an endlessly negative news cycle that only serves to paralyze and distract us from the greater good. If those causes happens to benefit Muslims, that is a blessing, but it is never the intent. “And no one has in his mind no favor from anyone for which a reward is expected in return, except the seeking of the pleasure of his Lord, the most High” (The Qur’an, Al-Layl: 19-20). We are only the best community when we enjoin what is just for the sake of God alone, not for the sake of appearances or secondary motives. As Malcolm taught us that is the only way we can cure ourselves of the deeply entrenched cancer of racism. The struggle has to be our own and emanate from pure hearts that implore God to remove this disease and make us beacons of light in the world, so that the spirit of Hajj permeates all our relationships. To strive for anything less would be window dressing Islam.

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