How to reach out to the innocent victims of zulm

[These are rough notes from a talk conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db)].

وَّذَكِّرۡ فَاِنَّ الذِّكۡرٰى تَنۡفَعُ الۡمُؤۡمِنِيۡنَ
And keep reminding, because reminding benefits the believers. [51:55]

There is an increasing amount of zulm, injustice and oppression being done in different parts of the Muslim world. Many believers become worried, sad and despondent when they see, or hear, or most often read about the incidents of this oppression.

Our response to this can be broken down into four categories:

1. Lose hope in Allah (swt) and become lazy

The first category is of those people who just feel sad or depressed and do nothing about the injustice. Rather their sadness at the injustices makes them more lazy in their deen. This is the worst response. This could not be part of the solution. In fact, they end up adding up to the problem by themselves becoming more dysfunctional in their relationship with Allah (swt) and as a member of the society.

2. Try to fix things without Allah’s guidance

Second category is of those people who overestimate their power to effect things. They forget that these matters are ultimately decided and governed by Allah (swt) and insist on some massive platform of action. Such people neglect other branches and efforts of deen. They sometimes even undermine their own worship, or seeking of knowledge of deen, or the understanding of Qur’an, and seerat of Nabi (sws).

Some of them even go further to suggest that all of the efforts — the learning and studying of deen, dawah of inviting others to Allah (swt), or guiding them out of sin — are pointless in face of the gross injustices. Therefore, everyone should drop every other aspect, branch, teaching, learning of deen and all effort should be directed towards eliminating the injustices in the world. This is the fallacy and the flaw in overestimating the human agency: they overestimate the role human beings have to play in this world.

3. Do nothing because it is the decree of Allah (swt) 

This group leans towards the other extreme that things are ultimately decided by Allah (swt) therefore humans should do nothing. They should not try, in any way, to remove the injustices in the world, or they should even accept and think that these injustices are due to sins of people, and until people are sinning, injustices will prevail. There is an element of truth to this, but the reality is that many times the injustices are done to the innocent and those who do not sin.

A perfect example of that is the injustice that is done to children. Even if we were to accept this statement that injustice is due to the sins of the adults of society, it’s still our job to try to protect those children from the injustices that are happening due to the sins of those adults. It does not mean that we leave the children, or the innocent, or the unprotected, undefended, at the whims of the tyrants.

4. Repel the bad, enjoin the good

The correct course of action is to realize Allah (swt) has guided us according to which we should try to speak up against injustice and try to repel and refute it. This is one good way to understand what Allah (swt) has mentioned many times in Qur’an:

اَمَرُوۡا بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ وَنَهَوۡا عَنِ الۡمُنۡكَرِ‌
Bid what is fair and forbid what is unfair [22:41]

To enjoin and try to establish that which is so good and virtuous that it is maroof — it is known and recognizable by any sane human being as being good; to establish that justice which everyone knows and agrees to be just. That is called maroof.

And to do nahi an al-munkar — to repudiate, to repel, to prohibit and save people. And if we cannot save them, then stop them in the most noble and dignified manner and in a way that their own dignity could be preserved. But if they are unrepentant and relentless and the only way to stop them may compromise their dignity, then in order to save the dignity of innocents, we have to expose them. We should do that nahi an al-munkar. But we should also acknowledge that it is only by the wish and will of Allah (swt) that any effort can have any level of success.

All of this is much easier said than done. This is also one of the great benefits of having truthful and pious guides, of which there are hardly a few left on this earth. Because they are the ones who always had the wisdom and acceptance of Allah (swt). When they were leading and spearheading the effort of amar bil maroof and nahi an al-munkar, there was blessing in that effort. There was justice and equilibrium in the effort.

Without that pious, blessed, knowledgeable and wise leadership, many times sincere members of the ummah find themselves at a loss in how to correct the wrong, how to remove the injustice, and how to defend or rescue the innocent.

Many times people make a mistake. Sometimes they over-reach and overreact, while other times they are too complacent and they underreach and underachieve. Meanwhile, Shaytan and a certain minority segment of humanity committed to creating evil and injustice in the world, are operating at a full speed.

Then you hear about horrors of injustice, horrors of betrayal, horrors that take place even within the people of deen. In fact, it is the most horrific precisely when a person who represents or symbolizes deen, is revealed to be a fraud. These things don’t happen overnight. Injustice takes place for a long time before it ultimately rears its ugly head.

Imam al-Haddad (rah) in his Book of Assistance (and not him alone, even other ulama) has written a very interesting thing. When you are doing nahi an al-munkar, if during the effort of repudiating that fitnah there is a higher probability that a greater fitnah will emerge, then you should not refute that fitnah. The jurists have even used this understanding to talk about rebellion against governments in Muslim land, if it leads to a worse situation for the masses.

Again, it is very difficult to figure out what is best for the masses, or what course of action will backfire, or what course of action will have a beneficial effect. It is very difficult to figure out how can I temper my reaction so I only have a positive effect. I have even met some very senior ulama who are unable to do this. Because they can’t figure it out, they choose the path of inaction. Then the injustices remain and the innocence continues to be effected.

Delusion of shaykhs and their false perceptions

Shuyukh were supposed to be guides and protectors of humanity. That’s why you will find that so many religious guides of the past used to spend a lot of time with the poor. They would sit and mingle with them.

Khwaja Muhiyuddin Chishti Hajveri (rah) converted hundreds of thousands of poor Hindu Indians from untouchable caste. He used to sit with them, talk with them, and reached out to them. He won them over by spending time with them.

This is the real meaning of barakah. Barakah is not that my shaykh has given me good advice on my business because of which I make a lot of money, therefore I should throw money at my shaykh. This is also a perversion of a relationship.

Some of the members of our South Asian community yani Indian/Pakistani communities who live in UK and South Africa, have this problem. I have met a few businessmen who had a shaykh who used to guide them in their business, so they used to throw money at their shaykh — not for work of deen, rather for luxury.

May Allah (swt) protect all ulama and shuyukh from students who end up spoiling them. May He instead grant them students who protect them from the pitfalls and traps of shaytan, nafs and the dunya.

Today there are some shuyukh who are so V.I.P that only the rich can get access to them — even though they may themselves come from towns where there are very poor people and they cannot even bat an eye towards that poverty.

There are some shuyukh who love to live in five star hotels and fly in first class, and live in fancy mansions. Then to protect their materialism, they delude their followers by telling them one story of a shaykh who used to be wealthy and who used to tell his students that it’s not about having wealth but about having love for dunya in your heart.

That was a different time. That was a time when the Ummah was ghalib (dominant). It was a time when the Islamic civilization was ghalib. It was a time when people in the Muslim world had luxuries.

In contrast, we live in a time of poverty, injustice, oppression, we live in a time when the Ummah is maghloob (destitute). What happened to the teachings of zuhd; abstinance from the dunya; to obstain from even that which is permissible?

There are very few people who are able to combine tasawwuf and tazkiya — with who? Not with the fake rally and call to justice that is done by western NGOs. The real call to justice that is part of our deen is especially to protect the oppressed and to remove the oppression from those who are oppressed i.e. to remove the mazlumiyyah from the mazlumin.

At the same time, we do see great efforts being done by many organizations. If I mention their names, it does not mean I know all about them or I have run a financial audit on them. But still, we are happy with their work; whether it is Islamic relief for al-Imdad, or Ummah Welfare or many other lesser known organizations. There are individuals trying to help the disaster-stricken, war afflicted poor and needy.

If we are not at all sensitive and not at all able to cure, or at the very least want to cure in our own humble, insignificant way, to make a dent in the wrongs around us, we are not going to be able to get perfect success in fixing the wrongs inside us. Yes, it is a very delicate matter. It requires a lot of wisdom, patience, guidance. But in deen, those are the very attributes that the path of dhikr and ilm is supposed to nurture in a person. The person on the path of ilm and dhikr, not only are they qualified and duty-bound to do dawah of deen, but they are also uniquely qualified because of their ilm and dhikr to help remove oppression and injustices in the world in a manner that is just and balanced, and in a manner that is pleasing to Allah (swt).

We should not think about how many injustices and oppression are out of our reach to fix, which indeed is the majority of them. We should think if there is one injustice that maybe we could have even reduced slightly through some humble and feeble effort of ours, if Allah (swt) has graced that effort with acceptance, surely there must be something like that. There could be one sunnah that could take a person even somewhat out of poverty, there may be some orphan, some rape victim, some molestation victim who we could have smiled upon, or nurtured, or given a place in our home, in our family, or in our heart — by giving them some feeling of love and support to counter the horrific abuse and hurt that was done upon them.

Could it not be that if there is a person who is deluded in committing sin, that we save them from their sin instead of blindly defending them? Could we not have guided them? Could we not have pressurized them to change and mend their ways? When one reflects, there are so many chances Allah (swt) has given us to be a sabab of khayr (source of goodness), to be a positive means of change and reform in others lives. It’s not just the shuyukh who can do islah (reform) of others. Allah (swt) has told all of us:

وَتَوَاصَوۡا بِالۡحَقِّوَتَوَاصَوۡا بِالصَّبۡرِ
And exhorted each other to follow truth, and exhorted each other to observe patience [103:3]

All believers who mutually enjoin one another to haqq — in truth, and to sabr — to patience, fortitude, perseverance, steadfastness on the path of deen. How many opportunities we had when we had to do these two things and how many times have we failed to do that? Had we helped someone out, maybe Allah (swt) would have helped us. This is the promise of Allah (swt) that if you help Allah (swt), He will help you. Ulama of tafsir explain that obviously Allah (swt) is beyond any need for help. It means if you help the deen, or the creation of Allah (swt), He will help you. This is Allah’s (swt) infinite mercy and infinite wisdom to show us the magnitude of importance of our actions.

If a person is trying to walk on the path of dhikr, trying to progress on the path of worship and they find themselves slacking, they cannot always drive in one lane. They should be trying to do something good for the ummah, for the poor, needy, oppressed. Maybe when they do that activity of khidmah, it may not even be dawah through speaking, maybe they don’t even mention deen to that person, maybe they simply try to uplift that person. That itself is deen.

Believe me, if any one of us was successful in doing khidmah and service to a person selflessly, after that act of khidmah, the opportunity of dawah will be immense. How many opportunities of dawah could have been created through acts of khidmah? This was one of the hallmarks of the sufis. Sufi was a person of service and khidmah and it was their service to humanity that had the effect of dawah on billions of human beings in accepting Islam.

It is so strange that people want to leave this aspect of tasawwuf out and they just want to have a very V.I.P elitist sufism. They just want to be bayt with a shaykh to get a sufi identity and personality, to tick that box in their list of deeni roles — so many young and even middle-aged maulanas and muftis feel the need to become a shaykh. They just want to be bayah to a shaykh so they get khilafat or to feel and act like a shaykh. It was not enough for them that Allah (swt) destined for them to become an Imam, or a khatib, or an alim, or a mudarris, or a sahib-i-fatwa mufti — the one who can write fatwa, the one who can do tas’hih and correct the answers of others and verify and certify others answers to be correct.

Sometimes some of us underreach, and sometimes some of us overreach. Those who overreach suffer from all types of jealousies and rivalries. They lose their akhlaq and sincerity. If there is anything a sufi was meant to be, it was to be mukhlis (pure, sincere and humble).

I was once standing in a group. One person mentioned something about not wanting to visit some country or talk to someone. Someone asked why? They said because they think I am a shaykh. Even in this small and personal conversation, he ended up admitting to me and the others that this is all just a perception. So why are we so insistent on maintaining this perception in front of people?

Real shuyukh viewed themselves as slaves of Allah (swt). They were not consciously thinking about creating and feeding this perception of mishikhiyat of their shaykhdom to people. Some of them do have humility, they have an unassuming personality. They are no actively, dynamically, artificially trying to present themselves as something else. These people truly view themselves to be nothing. Because of their humility and sincerity, Allah (swt) accepts them to be guides. This is true tasawwuf.

Even if there are a few mashaikh like that, but then their students forget the humility of their own shaykh and try to recast their shaykh. Recently a work was published in which the students of a shaykh, who had recently passed away, referred to him as a mujaddid. It is not wise to make such claims about the living or those who have so recently passed away.

This is quite a big problem in these circles that they view their shaykh to be the best shaykh in the world, better than other shuyukh, kutub al-irshad, mujaddid, etc. This is against the teaching and mizaj (temperament) of the ulama of Deoband.

Someone once read one of the quotes of Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rh) and came up with the term Ashrafiyya – yani a sort of silsila or a tareeqat that is going through Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah). He became quite upset and said that don’t call it that, don’t use my name to create new titles. Today we have people who use this term.

When we lose our humility, our sincerity, we lose out on the real opportunities of service because we are so insistent on these perceived opportunities — its a perception of khdimah and dawah. Meanwhile, the ordinary person who suffers, he had a right on the students, they had a right on the scholars and guides. They should have had sincerity and humility to become people of service — helping them and calling and inviting people to love for Allah (swt).

Any title; talib, talibah, zakir, zakira, murid, muridah, salik, salikah — these are all mere words. The reality is that you should take these learning and teachings and use them to remove the bad in the yourself and the evil around you. That is the real task.

The Ashab-e-kahf moved into the cave because of the terrible things unbelievers were doing in that society. But now we live in a world where the believers are doing terrible things in the society of the believers. There is so much fitnah in the Muslim world, so much murder, so much rape, lying, deception, fraud, corruption, oppression, violence, infidelity, adultery, neglecting of salah, leaving of the sunnah — these things have become so rampant and they are still on the rise in the society and families of the believers. This is the kind of fitnah I think even Ashab-e-Kahf could not have imagined — because for them it was a society of unbelievers that were doing these things.

We need to have our fortresses, caves and retreats. For some that may mean going on a jama’at in tabligh, for some it may mean going for umrah, or sitting in i’tikaf, or studying ilm a few hours a day, or memorizing Qur’an part time, we need that sanctuary to survive in this world. Until we build these sanctuaries in our daily life and schedule, until we have an escape and a retreat, we will get caught up in this fitnah. We will be dragged down with it.

If there is anyone who has been blessed by Allah (swt) that they have not yet been dragged into sin, or are not questioning their iman, they should not view it as their accomplishment. This is the protection of Allah (swt) that He saved us. Otherwise we are living in times when people just like us, and even better than us, have got caught up by this fitnah. Children just like ours, children better than ours, have fallen in this fitnah.

We should fall into sujood and show gratitude to Allah (swt) once we realize how much Allah (swt) has protected us. We should think as individuals we are lapsing in deen. But at the same time you should realize that even a drop of deen that you have, any good deed, any service or dawah that you ever did, any gathering you ever attended, any drop of knowledge you ever gained, all of this was from the mercy of Allah (swt).

Who were we to ever have learnt anything in deen? To have even attended a single gathering of deen? Who were we to have even entered Makkah Mukarramah or Madinah Munawwarah? This is the incredible mercy Allah (swt) that He granted these opportunities to wretched, non-practicing and lax people like us. We should be grateful and try to better ourselves in our deen.

If all of us in the ummah were to fix things on a small scale, Allah (swt) will fix things on the big scale. In the past, ulama and shuyukh have guided people to fix their own self on a small scale, then all of these efforts of deen, having their local small scale effect earned the pleasure of Allah (swt) so He fixed things on the big scale.

It is all the more important that people who fancy themselves to be on the path of tasawwuf should have more truth, honesty, humility and sincerity. How tragic it is that an increasingly large number of sufis have lost these very attributes. They left the path of truth for falsehood, humility for delusions of grandeur.

May Allah (swt) make us His humble slaves and accept us for a life of being of service to others.


On pre-destination and effort

Q. Why should we not live freely and do whatever we want if, according to a Hadith, actions are based on the way they end? If a sinner repents at the end of his life then he will have a good ending, as opposed to someone who spent his life doing righteous deeds but ended up a sinner and would have a bad ending. Then what’s even the point of trying?

Logically, we would take this chance.

The thing is, even if we look at our life in the light of this Hadith, we cannot afford to take the risk. Even by dunyawiand intellectual standards and logic, the safe-side principle would be to do good. At least there’s a chance of having a good death (from a Deeni perspective there is much more than a mere ‘chance’) if you make an effort to not sin and do tawbah when you do fall into sin, as opposed to when you don’t even make an effort, because that is 100% guaranteed fail. 

While the hadith you have quoted is correct, it is not supposed to make you think ‘then what’s the use’. This is not the reaction Allah swt wants from us. It should be more like ‘OK so if I sincerely make the effort throughout my life and even if I keep failing, Allah swt will inshaAllah grant me death on the way I ‘try’ to lead my life’. And the more we make an attempt, the more we are likely to succeed, the more we are likely to be protected from a death which is not befitting for a Muslim.  

In fact scholars and mashaikh have said that if a person continues to make effort towards Allah swt in this world, and even if he doesn’t succeed during his lifetime, it is against Allah swt’s Mercy to group him with those who didn’t make effort. Just like every ‘SubhanAllah’ will count to raise status in Jannah, how can we think that our efforts will go to waste? It is against Allah swt’s Karam to let our efforts go to waste. 

Also, Jannah and Jahannum are not like a pass/fail course – it’s not that Jannah is pass and Jahannum is fail. There are many, many levels. Even within those levels, it is not like an A or B grade. An A is an A whether at 90 or at 98, a B is a B whether at 89 or 80. That’s not true for Jannah and Jahannum. Every single moment, every single effort, every single fraction of a second that we made an effort towards Allah swt, will be written down in our Book of Deeds.  

It’s an effort worth making.  

Allah swt is so Kareem, He isn’t trying to put us into trouble. For all we know, just by virtue of our mediocre and worthless but consistent efforts, He might grant us forgiveness, which is anything but mediocre and worthless. And that’s the best thing about our Deen – we don’t lose out, AT ALL. Nothing goes to waste. 

In fact that is our reason for studying ilm (making an effort towards Him and changing ourselves as opposed to the world around us), and that is the reason for anything we do in Deen. As the last two verses of Surah Zilzaal say: 

“So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, And whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.” 

Also, let me just add here that it is a great trickery of Shaytaan to stop people from doing tawbah. There are a few reasons for this. 

  1. Shaytan was never able to do tawbah. He disobeyed Allah swt by not prostrating to Adam AS but then he could have just done tawbah. Even today he can do tawbah, but does not do it because of his egoistic issues. So he hates to see his enemy — Human beings — do something which he cannot get himself to do.
  2. There are two doors to Jannah: Taqwa (i.e. to not do sins) and Tawbah (to seek forgiveness if sin was committed). Door of Taqwa was already closed on us when we couldn’t stop ourselves from sinning. Now our hope is to get Jannah through Door of Tawbah, and this is the door which shaytan is trying to close on us by making us hopeless (we feel we will not be forgiven even if we seek forgiveness) or making us too hopeful (we feel we will be forgiven anyway so why make tawbah?).


Qur’anic Methodology

Levels of understanding Qur’ān

  1. To recite Qur’ān without knowing its meaning. Since Qur’ān is kalāmUllah, they will get the nūr through recitation even if they don’t understand it.
  2. To know the translation. They understand the vocabulary and know what the Arabic words mean.
  3. To have a deep understanding. They know the context in which the surahs were revealed, their connection, relevance, and interpretations over time etc.
  4. To have the feelings of Qur’ān.  On top of their deep understanding, they also have an emotional connection with it. 

There are some people who do not understand Qur’ān but they keep crying while reciting it. While there are also some people who know the meanings but they cannot feel it. For example, we all know the meaning of Surah al-Fātiḥah, but how many of us truly feel it during salah?

Allah (swt) says that it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you [Q. 2,216]. We can use our mind to come up with different interpretation for this. But Imām Ghazālī (rah) writes that sometimes a person commits a sin and he dislikes the sin so much that he repents and becomes even closer to Allah (swt).

How can the average man get guidance through Qur’ān?

There are many people in ummah who are illiterate. Then some people can understand it only on the surface-level. The question here is that there are so many people who do not academically study Qur’ān so how then can guidance be provided to the average man? 

Our scholars have divided Qur’ān in different topics such as taqwā, haya, sila reḥmī, etc. Different relevant verses are collected on a topic and they are explained in simple terms so people can get the gist of it.  

In Christian communities they sometimes have a bible-reading group. People form a circle – then the average man is asked to read and give meanings to words of bible. So these people explain whatever they can understand from their own minds. None of these people are scholars, they do not even know the original language of the bible.

When Muslims use this approach, the problem is that they have no knowledge or amal. And they have a very high chance of failing in doing the right tafsīr.  

For Islamic scholarship a person should have mastered several different subjects before getting into tafsīr or translation of Qur’ān.  

Ḥadrat Shāh WalīUllah Dehelvī (rah) was a big scholar of subcontinent. Ḥadīth sciences have reached us through him. He states that there are three levels for understanding Qur’ān . 

  1. Level of the general public – to know the core teachings for example the basics of beliefs 
  2. Level of the scholars – they have an academic approach towards Qur’ān and they will understand it on a scholarly level 
  3. Level of the Awliyā – their understanding is such that they feel the feeling of every word in Qur’ān  

Difference between Makkī and Madnī Surahs 

The ones before hijrah are Makkī and after hijrah are Madnī. There are certain differences in Makkī and Madnī: 

  1. The style of explaining words is different. Makkī Surahs are smaller and have more rhyme and they appear clipped – in parts.  
  2. The audience is different. Makkī is by and large mukhātib (addressing) to kuffār. In Madnī the audience are Muslims.
  3. Subject matter is different. Makkī has more ayahs about Day of Judgement, Jannah and Jahannum. They also talk about the historical incidents of previous nations at length. Madnī ayahs are more about aḥkām (laws) like ṭalāq, and ikhlāqiyat e.g. do not raise your voice in front of Rusūl Allah (sws) [Q. 49,2]. 

Sources of understanding Qur’ān  

  1. To understand Qur’ān through Qur’ān. For example Surah al-Fātiḥah says guide us on the path whom You have blessed [Q. 1,7], while another ayah explains that these blessed people are siddiqeen, shuhuda, saliheen… [Q. 4,69] 
  2. To understand Qur’ān through Sunnah. Rusūl Allah (sws) was asked to recite the ayahs and then to explain them as well. This is waḥī-ghayr matlū (from tilāwah; waḥī that is not recited, that did not become a part of Qur’ān). It means they were not the exact words of Allah (swt) but the meanings were from Allah (swt) and Rusūl Allah (sws) would state it in his own words. This is ḥadīth. In addition to ḥadīth (verbal) the actions, forbidding of actions or permissibility of actions by Rusūl Allah (sws) all fall in sunnah category. This is also used to understand Qur’ān.  
  3. To understand Qur’ān through Aqwāl (quotes) of Ṣahāba (ra). All Ṣahāba (ra) received the knowledge of Islam on a kāmil (perfect/complete) level through Rusūl Allah (sws). Some of them were more involved in administrative tasks (like Ḥadrat Umar (ra)) while some were more involved in learning and transmission of knowledge (like Ḥadrat Abū Huraira (ra)), but they all had the complete guidance.
  4. To understand Qur’ān through history. Scholars will verify the sources of history. Not every history will be considered valid. Scholars do not derive rulings from this method but they can use history to explain certain stories or incidents. Also, these historical facts are not necessary for guidance of people, but just to develop their understanding of a particular time period.  

Q. If an ayah was revealed regarding some kafir or munafiq, will that apply to us today in this day and age? 

Every ayah of the Qur’ān has a general meaning, even though it might be specifically related to a certain person or a historical event. It will not just be for that specific time – Qur’ān is not time-bound. It will have a generic meaning and it will be applicable even in this day and age.  

Knowledge based approach: To have an in-depth knowledge of Qur’ān, ḥadīth and related sciences and coming to a conclusion on the basis of that deep knowledge.  

Pull quote journalism: To have a pre-conceived notion and then to look for ayahs or ḥadīth to support that point of view.

Muḥkamāt: Certain ayahs of Qur’ān are clear to understand. There is no room for any other meaning. Muḥkamāt means something that has a clear meaning. Qur’ān says that in it are muḥkamāt (verses with precise meanings) — they are the foundation of the book — and others mutashābihāt (unspecific) [Q. 3,7]

Mutashābihāt: It does not mean doubt. It means that it can hold different meanings and each meaning will be closely associated to one another and you would not know which meaning is the intended one on the surface-level.

For example: Allah (swt) is istawa (over) the Throne [Q. 32,4]. We do not know what this means because we cannot fully grasp the greatness of Allah (swt). Some say it means Allah’s qudrat is over the Throne, etc. But at the end they do say that only Allah (swt) knows best the real meaning behind this verse.

But the person who has a khot (fault) in their hearts will go after such ayahs. They might say that Allah (swt) has a physicality like the creation. While what they should have said was: Amanna bih (we believe in this). 

Why has Allah (swt) told us of these mutashābihāt? Qur’ān is Umm al-Kitāb. It has mostly muḥkamāt that holds guidance for us. Sifat (attribute) of īmān requires it to be bil ghayb (on blind faith). In Qur’ān at times Allah (swt) will point towards this sifat and what we have to say is that whatever it is, we believe in it. Deviant people will try to interpret it from their intellect. Because they think our intellect has the ability to understand everything.  

One of the reasons people leave Islam is because such interpretations confuses them. This problem is becoming more common now. A woman once went to a cafe in Lahore and saw a group of children discussing how to tell their parents that they had become atheists.

One philosophical assumption is that intellectually we are progressing and the human mind has reached the epitome of rationality in the evolutionary timeline and now there is nothing that we cannot understand intellectually. While Islamic understanding is that we have a rūh and our rūh also has a heart and that heart also has an intellect. Recent research also shows that our heart communicates with our brain that significantly effects how we perceive and react to the world.

Tafsīr has different types:

  1. Some ayahs are very obvious to understand. People who know Arabic language can understand them just by reading.
  2. Some ayahs cannot be understood just by reading, but to know their meaning is necessary for everyone.
  3. Some ayahs hold meanings that are not necessary for everyone to know and only scholars would need to know them.
  4. Some ayahs hold meanings only known to Allah (swt). Such as ayat–i–mutashābihāt.  

The beginning of tafsīr sciences

When Qur’ān was revealed, Rusūl Allah (sws) would tell Ṣahāba (ra) its meaning, then Ṣahāba (ra) would memorize those ayahs and apply them in their lives. Some ayahs would be revealed in response to particular situations. Qur’ān was explained in detail to Ṣahāba (ra).  

If a person has a good command on Arabic language, they can understand Qur’ān to a certain extent, but there is also a part that cannot be understood just with language. This is something said by Ḥadrat Ibn Abbās (ra) who was himself a great scholar.  

For example, to set limit for fasting, Allah (swt) said that you should eat and drink at night until you can differentiate between the white and black threads [Q. 2:187]. A Ṣahābī (ra) literally took two threads, one black and the other white, and waited till he could tell the difference between the two. When he told Rusūl Allah (sws) about this, he (sws) replied that by black and white thread the night sky and the light on the sky was meant.  

Reasons of Prophethood

  1. To recite Qur’ān
  2. To purify people (Ṣahāba (ra)) and the teachings of this purification would be taught generation after generation
  3. To explain the Qur’ān
  4. To teach wisdom through ḥadīth

Rusūl Allah (sws) told us the meanings and explanations of Qur’ān.  

Scope of Tafsīr

Q. Why do we need contemporary tafsīr if the meanings and explanation was given by Rusūl Allah (sws)? 

All the Ṣahāba (ra) had the knowledge of Qur’ān but some of them had more knowledge, because some spent more time with Rusūl Allah (sws) or dedicated their lives to ʾilm. Ḥadrat Ibn Masood (ra) said that there is no ayah of Qur’ān that anyone knows more than I do. If I would know of anyone who knew something that I did not, I would go and get that knowledge from them.

Why did he say that, isn’t that ujub? Because when Rusūl Allah (sws) left, a lot of people entered Islam. Now people could have doubted that since Rusūl Allah (sws) has left, perhaps the knowledge has also left. Ṣahāba (ra) made this claim to let people know that we have preserved the knowledge so do not have doubt that the guidance has left us.  

Scholars are the inheritors of Rusūl Allah (sws). It means that guidance and knowledge is still here. And scholars did not just get the knowledge, but also the feelings/kaifiyāt. 

Personal Interpretation 

Rusūl Allah (sws) made duʾā for Ḥadrat Ibn Abbās (ra) that O Allah give him understanding of deen and teach him interpretation of Qur’ān. This opens the door to interpretation. The meaning of this duʾā is that interpretation is there. But it also does not mean everyone can now interpret. 

There are two extremes.  

No Interpretation 

Some say there should be no tafsīr, because even if you do it you are still wrong.  

Mere Personal Opinion (IMO) 

The other extreme is the Qur’ān reading-group where lay people interpret knowledge. Even people with surfacy knowledge should not be doing this, let alone people who do not even understand Arabic. Ye joapka khyal hai na this is swimming in dangerous waters.  

Some people do convert after just reading the translation. But to interpret Qur’ān one needs to have a lot of knowledge. In personal opinion then we have things like I’m always connected to Allah (swt) so I do not need salah, etc. Interpretation strictly on basis of opinion is forbidden. [ref?] They will end up ruining their own beliefs and that of others.  

Well Founded Knowledge (WFK) 

This is the in-depth knowledge of Qur’ānic sciences on the basis of which interpretation is done.

History and Development of Tafsīr 


At the time of Ṣahāba (ra) there were some writings, but most of the preservation was done through memorization (Arabs had a very sharp memory). The Qur’ān that had been written was compiled after the passing away of Rusūl Allah (sws).  


Tabiʾīn were teaching Taba-Tabiʾīn. They were also compiling tafsīr work. Some great scholars from the time of Ṣahāba (ra) had some great students. These Taba-Tabiʾīn started writing down the teachings of their teachers. There’s a sequence of sources that takes precedence in Qur’ānic sciences:

  1. For WFK, first and foremost Qur’ān
  2. Then its explanation through Rusūl Allah (sws) himself
  3. The explanation of Ṣahāba (ra)
  4. Sayings of Tabiʾīn
  5. Sayings of Taba-Tabiʾīn
  6. The tafsīr and aqwāl of pious predecessors

Then on that scholars can build up their interpretation. They cannot say out of the blue that all these people have said this, but in my opinion this is what it means (as opposed to the accepted interpretation). This is what happens in scientific community as well. The greatest of scientists admit that they are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Historical groups 

Ṣahāba (ra) had traveled to spread out the knowledge and therefore different groups were formed in different regions. 

Makkan Group: Ḥadrat Ibn Abbās (ra) and his students — ʾAtā Ibn Abi Razā and Ikramah (rah), etc.

Madian Group: Ḥadrat Ubay Ibn ka’ab (ra) and his students Abū Āliya and Zaid Ibn Aslam (rah), etc.  

Kufī Group: Ḥadrat Ḥasan Basrī (rah), etc. 

We are never taught these things in our Islamic studies which is why students have a lot of doubts in their minds later on.  

Naqlī ulūm: To quote the aqwāl of Ṣahāba (ra), Tabiʾīn (rah) etc.  

Aqlī ulūm: To interpret on the basis of WFK. Not everyone can do it. According to one source you need to know 300 different ulūm before even qualifying for getting into this; in depth knowledge Arabic language, qirat, Qur’ān related knowledge — like knowledge of nasikh and mansūkh, in depth knowledge of fiqh, and those ayahs which ʿulamā have an ijmāʿ on, seerah, etc., etc. Tafsīr is an amānah and demands a high level of responsibility from the scholar.  


Teacher Training Workshop

Teaching Methodology 

When you are giving a lecture, ask students how many understand. They can give a sign like thumbs up if they understand, thumbs down if they do not, and mid-way if they understand somewhat.

If more than half did not understand then take responsibility for this and say something like, I could not explain it properly.” This way students’ confidence will not be crushed. If one or two students did not understand, then talk to them afterwards. Do not say anything during class that will draw attention to them and make them feel embarrassed.

Learning Styles

We all have different learning styles. We should try to identify the dominant learning style of our students.

  1. Visual Learners: Those who cannot remember till they have visually seen it.
  2. Auditory Learners: Those who remember after hearing.
  3. Kinesthetic Learners: Those who learn things by doing them.
  4. Learning through Note-Taking: Those who remember from taking notes.

If more students are visual then have a strategy to accommodate them to enhance learning. Kinesthetic learners are usually more in ratio, and auditory very few. It is also beneficial to tell students why you are using a certain strategy to teach them.

All this applies to adult learners as well. Adult learners need to be treated more respectfully. You also learn from them so it goes both ways.

For kinesthetic teaching, we can take children outside where they can use their senses to learn. For adults however, we may not be able to do this. Instead we can ask them to share their story with someone at home or teach a child something they have learnt. Make them do it. This is how they will learn.

We have to inculcate this in students that they should aspire to be a good human being — a good Muslim, rather than becoming a bara admi.

Our minds wander and so do students’ so lecture them for 10 minutes and take a 2 minutes break.

Purpose of learning is to act upon the knowledge. We belong to a Muslim country but when we look outside the places are dirty, there is trash everywhere. Even well educated people driving big cars throw out their trash on the roads, even though our dīn is a dīn of cleanliness. It means that the action is lacking. These are small things but application should be there.

Teaching is the best profession but unfortunately it is not given a lot of importance in our society. We should be happy if we are in this position.

Types of Intelligence

People have different types of intelligence. Some may have one dominant type of intelligence. Others may have a little of all of them. These types were categorized by Howard Gardner.

  1. Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence: These people are good with words. They are more into arts, etc.
  2. Logical/Mathematical Intelligence: They can calculate very fast. IT and engineering people usually fall into this category. Women can have this intelligence as well.
  3. Visual/Spatial Intelligence: These people can understand things graphically very well. They are good with maps and directions.
  4. Musical Intelligence: They can listen to a sound once and copy it in instruments.
  5. Naturalistic Intelligence: They learn better in a natural environment. They will have a lot of knowledge of plants, types of leaves, animals, space, stars etc.
  6. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence: These people are into sports. They have a good hand-to-eye coordination and physical control.
  7. Interpersonal Intelligence: Knowing what to say and when to say it. How to get help from others. Pakistani people are usually very good at this.
  8. Intrapersonal Intelligence: This is to know yourself very well e.g. knowing your weaknesses having an awareness of yourself.

Give students a feedback form at the end of the lesson asking them for keep”, start”, stop” and change”.

Make a mind map of the material that you have to teach.

Example of a Mind Map


I always try to get several students to answer my questions. If you get an answer from 6 students, the ones who know the answer but lack confidence will also reply. You can also say that if you raise your hand then I will not ask you.

When you want to praise the student, always say something like you gave a good answer” instead of saying you are very intelligent.” Because intelligence cannot be controlled. It is important to always praise the action that can be controlled.

If you want to criticize, do it nicely. First give them a genuine positive point. For example, you can say it was written nicely but you can improve this area.”

An experiment on importance of positive attitude and encouragement

Two girls were sent out of the room and were called in one by one. One of the girls was scolded and asked to find a yellow notebook. The other girl was encouraged to do the same. The girl who was scolded was not able to find it. Moreover, she was hurt and had a negative impact of the situation. This shows that having a positive attitude towards students and showing them encouragement is an important aspect of teaching.

Ways to Give Dars-i-Quran


Our objective should be clear that we want to connect both ourselves and others to Allah (swt). We want to bring ourselves to change both internally and outwardly.

Look for other incentives for yourself that you are having fun, you are enjoying etc. Because we are selfish, we want the best for ourselves and work more for our own benefit. If you are getting something out of it, you will work harder for it.

Some points for preparation and deliverance

The way we give lectures to our formal students is different. It has more detail. How we teach daura and dars-i-Quran is going to be different.

For daura you will have to be very selective. Here topics like inheritance law and divorce can be skimmed through. Focus more on ʾaqāid. If the topic of shirk comes up, do it in detail and differentiate the types of shirk.

Style and muta’ala is also going to be different whether you are doing the whole daura or some selected surahs.

You can divide your material into sections. Some ayahs can be collected together, then you can make them into a topic. Try to find rabt (connections and underlying themes) between topics. Rabt has a big impact because then everything seems connected and you also start seeing connections and find new points to share.

You must use your ʾaqal rather than doing naql (copying someone else). Your own style will make you good. If you try to copy someone else you like or admire, you will never be that good. However, in the beginning you have to do a little naql to know your style.

Prepare with an open mind. Mutaradifatul Quran by Maulana Abdur Rehman is a good book to use. It has meanings of words so you can see how different words have a slight variance in their meanings. Or you can see how the same word is used to give different meanings at different places.

Do tafakkur. Even when you are doing something else, keep your brains working. Instead of rushing through work, keep your mind open so ideas can keep coming.

Don’t think of how sinful you are rather think of whose Kalam it is that you are sharing.

You can read up on other non-religious material as well like history, psychology or science-related articles. You can use them in Dars as well. Do this once a week. Think: how can I use this?

You can stay up all night and do muta’ala and sleep after fajr.

Qur’ān is also a type of dhikr. Try to read before fajr. Since the material is a lot, time management is crucial and with good managerial skills the effects are magnified. Also try to do at least 1 hour of muraqaba daily. You can also do muraqaba after every salah, this will be in addition to the 1 hour muraqaba you are already doing.

Dīn’s khidmat has a lot of barakah but you will have to do all the work.

Components of Daura

  1. Tilāwat: There is no enjoyment without Arabic.
  2. Tarjuma: First do simple translation, then open it up and do a more detailed one. Use English and Urdu both.
  3. Tafsīr: Give some explanation with translation. You will not be able to do proper tafsīr because of time constraints.

Whatever you are doing, you have to plan before hand. Let students know the plan like tell them you are going to do it in sections. Students really appreciate knowing it before-hand.

For tilāwat, you can recite a lot of verses together or have some hāfiza recite them. You can also use an audio with good qirat then pause and do a section.

Translation and explanation have to be done together because of time limit.

Sometimes you will have to summarize certain parts and might even have to skip some verses.

The trick is to keep them from getting sleepy. Break is something motivating. You can have a stretch break and make everyone stretch themselves. If you feel the audience is getting sleepy then share a joke or ask a question. Keep a bag of tricks ready.

You have to ignite their passion. If you have a passion for a subject, share it.

If there is a teen crowd, you have to tone the material down to their level. Imagine if this verse was revealed today what would it mean? It is a difficult thing to do but try it. Girls love to know how things are applicable in their everyday lives.

At the end give them a take home point. Something like a practical point on how to act on the verse. This is what girls will remember. They will forget the academic points but they will remember this part.

Dealing with controversial topics

If there’s a controversial topic like hudūd or khilāfat, you can say some people say this…” You don’t have to take names. When you do radd (refute an argument), you have to give a strong point. But don’t get into this too much. Always talk about peace and community. For example, you can say Peshawar incident was wrong but don’t use strong words like labeling someone kafir etc. Allah (swt) knows best.

If people ask controversial questions on purpose, then ignore them. If someone is asking in innocence like this is something that happened to me then given them generic answers, for example you may say that killing an innocent or violence is wrong. Or that what happened is wrong but it does not mean that now we can go and kill them too.

Don’t shy away from controversial topics. This is what people need to hear. You need to know a little bit of history too.

Try doing more general muta’ala also.

Sometimes cultural difference is also an issue. For example, when people come here, they are shocked to see that we have helpers who do our work. And they also have a comparatively low paying job. But we live here so we know if we send that girl back home she will not go to school anyway and will get less food back at home etc. So we cannot judge others (in olden times) based on our culture or such differences. You can find a lot of material on slavery too.

There are some controversial topics that are common so you can collect material on them as well.

  • Hudūd Ordinance
  • Honor killings
  • Rajm
  • Blasphemy
  • Jihād

The nitty-gritty of preparation

Book recommendation: Daura tarbiya dars e Quran by Mufti Abu Lubaba Mansoor.

Do not focus on difficult topics in dars. Also try not to use too many Arabic words because most people are not able to understand them properly. You can use a few words to build up their vocabulary.

You don’t have to do sarfī/lughwī teḥqīq (grammatical break up of words). However, it is necessary to do this for some words for your own practice. For naḥwī teḥqīq (grammatical break up of sentence structure) you should ask seniors/teachers for different books and do muta’ala.

Your lughat (vocabulary) and translation should be excellent. Again Mufti Taqi Usmani sb’s translation is very good in this respect. Often you would find deeper meanings in the ayahs. There are some hidden points for example, why was  used in one ayah and wao used in another? Or why was the story of Zulaikha explained at such length when it could have been summarized? There is a reason behind these differences.

Hadrat Shah WaliUllah’s points for Dars

Qur’an has about 70 major sins. We can summarize them into 40 sins. Shah WalliUllah (rah) has categorized them in nations:

  1. ʾĀd was the nation that misused their power, they were destroyed through  the power of nature
  2. Samūd was the nation that misused technology they had a love for this world
  3. Nation of Lūt (as) had the social ill of immodesty, they were destroyed by turning the flat earth upside down over them, just like they had turned human nature upside down.
  4. Banī Israel was given fadhīlat (precedence) over other nations but when they disobeyed Allah (swt), they were turned into apes — a kind of disgrace.

Why are we told these stories in Qur’an? Allah (swt) wants to warn us that we can also fall into these sins, so we should be careful in our conduct lest we meet the same fate as the previous nations.

  • Qur’an has some historical incidents. The translation by Mufti Taqi Usmani sb is very good in this aspect.
  • Qur’an mentions different beliefs and aḥkām (orders). It also mentions what will happen if we do not follow these orders.
  • Qur’an explains some concepts by way of stories and examples.

In each case, we have to categorize our material. At times Allah (swt) makes a claim. At times He gives reasons and proofs for the claim. And at times He asks the reader to ponder on certain aspects of life. Then at places Allah (swt) has also done tanbīh (to warn), for example Allah (swt) says: What is it that has deceived you from your kind and generous Lord? Then Allah (swt) gives tasallī (consolation) that no matter how much you have sinned, your sins can be forgiven if only you were to repent. Then at times Allah (swt) also removes shub’hāt (doubts).

Two ways to prepare

One is through listening to lectures. And the second is through muta’ala (consulting books). When you listen to someone else, you also pick up on their personality. You may use:

  • Anwarul Bayan by Maulana Ashiq Ilah Madni
  • Tafsir by Hadrat Maulana Manzoor Ahmad Naumani
  • Tafsir e Usman for an abbreviated version

Use a different tafsīr than your course book because you have already studied that one.


Have the masnūn appearance; wear good clothes and have grace. Use proper and good quality language. Don’t use difficult words. Simple and easy to understand urdu is elegant.

Your body language has to be according to the material. We cannot talk about hope with sin, or about heaven with hell because the body language for each would be different.

Experiences and ways of outreach

Deliver your message wisely

Allah (swt) wants us to have excellence. Excellence means to say the right thing at the right time and the right place to deliver the message in the right situation. When you explain something at the right moment, it will have an effect and people will understand.

Try to get others to experience the taste. A person who has not tasted mango would never know its flavor. If someone will get a taste of love through you, this experience can change their perspective.

Do dā’wah as though you are trying to make up to a friend who is mad at you.

Put a lot of effort in dhikr. Dā’wah is zero without dhikr. At times people do attend and listen but they don’t change perhaps because we are lacking in dhikr.

In the online world, there is absolutely nothing that can connect you. Most of the times you don’t even meet the students and the students never get to meet you. Sometimes you don’t even know their real names.

But what is the essence of online classes? The essence is only the connection of the heart. People will never come to you unless they have a connection of the heart with you.

Fight to protect īmān

Go to any university and you can clearly see these days our fight with Shaytān is not about actions anymore. It’s about īmān. You will find girls leaving their very īmān.

Sometimes we listen to things like Imām Mehdī will just have 313 companions. And we are astounded that how could this be possible? Wherever we go we do see a lot of Muslims. But most of us are too deep into sin and access of sins can lead to a loss of īmān.

If you get a message from someone, do not underestimate its importance. In the beginning it is usually a small sin, but that sin can lead a girl to atheism. Even if only a couple of people are coming, still do your work.

More and above all we need to worry about our own īmān. Often you can also learn a lot from the students and do your own rectification.

Don’t fret over numbers

After being rejected by the Quraysh, Nabi (sws) went to Tāif. Their whole community rejected him (sws). What did Nabi (sws) say? He said that Yā Allah, even if all of these people have rejected me, it doesn’t matter so long as You have not rejected me.

I find it cute that a girl started doing dā’wah in her university under a swing. Number should not be a problem.

Be sincere in counseling

It is very important to have ikhlāṣ and sincerity. We should want the best for others. We don’t just want to bring people to our circles. We want them to get connected to Allah (swt) even if that means going to some other place. One rule does not fit all.

Take initiative. If you have ideas, share them. People have a lot of passion at times but they don’t do anything because they feel things cannot be changed. For example, one girl had a lot of ideas but she felt that she should not try to change the system. But once she shared her ideas they were actually quite good.

You also have to listen, listen and listen. Listen to the thoughts of others and put yourself in their shoes and imagine what would you do? Some people have very dysfunctional families and at times you would feel like, yeah if I were in her place I also might have ran away.

You cannot always keep telling them to have sabr. Sometimes when girls share their problems, I get scared of giving them advice fearing what they might do how they might react to it. In times like these get help through counselling do mashwarah. Do not take these things lightly.

Another important thing while giving advice is to give them different options. Have a heart-to-heart talk with them. Feel it do not fake it. If you will fake it, they would know.

We often tell others we will make du’ā for them, and sometimes we also do it as well, but we should really make du’ā for them from the bottom of our heart.

At times we want to shake them up that what is wrong with you, why are you not progressing? Du’ā can be more effective than a two-hour conversation and it will save your time as well. Make du’ā for them at tahajjud, with their name, in sajdah posture because that is when you are closest to Allah (swt).

Tarbiyat-i-aulad Workshop Part I

[These are rough notes from the workshop conducted by Dr. Zeeshan Ahmed in Karachi on Feb 25, 2018]

The current circumstances have only emphasized the need to focus on the upbringing of our children.

A research was conducted in economics in which they were trying to measure negative utility. Participants were asked to choose from a set of options e.g. if you lose all of your teeth, or your foot gets burnt, which one would you prefer? If we conduct a similar survey on Muslims, especially Pakistanis, and were we given the option between getting rich or having respectful, intelligent and healthy children, we are more likely to choose the latter. If we were offered a title or an achievement at the cost of our child’s suffering, we would rather not have that achievement and prefer that our child be safe, healthy and successful.

In a way, caring for our children and offspring is in human fiṭrah (innate nature) and it is also a part of our dīn. The concept of tablīgh starts from this ayah: O you who believe, save yourself and your families from fire. 

It starts at home, from our spouses and children. Whatever you are mukallaf (responsible) for the most is being mentioned first. It is our desire that we want a good future for our children both in this world and the next; academically, health-wise, intellectually and spiritually.

A lot of what I am going to share today is from my own experience as I have always been interested in this topic. My passion has also led me to experiment with homeschooling and Islamic schools (as a member of their board). My eldest and youngest daughters are seventeen and three, respectively, with fourteen, ten and six year old sons in between. So I will be sharing my personal experiences in raising children of different genders at varying ages.

In some sense, upbringing of children is a lot harder these days than it was for the generation of our parents. In 2009, I was with a jamāʿt where a teacher shared with us the recollections of his own father from a time when they had collective societies. At that time, whenever a fresh harvest was laid out, the poor were given their share first before taking it to the market to sell at the market rate price. The children in villages and towns would go into different homes where they were provided food usually accompanied with some counseling and at times even reprimanding.

The collective societies used to take responsibility even for children of their neighbors, friends etc. Imagine a child being raised in such a community of a hundred individuals — how many people, besides the parents and grandparents, would play a role in his upbringing?

We cannot even bear if our own blood brother reprimands our children. Such an attitude gives rise to a very individualistic and exclusive society. For example, someone may say that Dr. Zeeshan goes around giving lectures on tarbiyyah of children but look at what his own child is doing. But they will choose not to say anything to me directly thinking I might take offence at such a statement. This poses a lot of challenges.

Remember, first and foremost, tarbiyyah is the responsibility of the parents. Unless you yourself are providing tarbiyyah to your children, do not expect them to get it from elsewhere. You cannot even depend on Islamic schools or madrassahs for this.

Contemporary Issues Facing our Youth

Of the issues that have just begun to prop up, one that often concerns us is the makhlūṭ tʿalīmī nizām (co-education). Once I invited an elderly respectable personality, who is also a madrassah head, to address the students at LUMS. He became quite concerned after his visit there.

In my opinion, girls and boys intermingling in a co-ed institution gets more attention because it is more conspicuous. However, another issue that is comparatively less conspicuous, but a good deal more dangerous, is the ideological corruption and fikrī irṭidād (intellectual deviations) being generated in these institutions. Since I have an academic background, I come in contact with such subtleties more. The extent to which the intellectual and philosophical corruption is taking place in these institutions is staggering.

The professors teaching in these universities, especially in the social science departments, are not Islamically aligned. When they raise philosophical questions pertaining to faith, such as the existence of Allah (swt), pre-destination and free-will, the student unacquainted with such debates is quick to doubt their īmān. It corrupts their belief in Allah (swt), prophethood, and weakens their relationship with Allah (swt) and Rusūl Allah (sws). Since faith is the foundation of development, whatever corrupts that poses the greatest threat to the development of the child.

Side by side, other widely spreading problems on campuses are alcoholism, drug addiction and sex. Media and government policies with regards to drugs (because government is concerned with its own agendas) play a huge role in this. Recently, a LUMS student died of drug overdose. Despite living in an Islamic state, what’s becoming of our youth should deeply worry and concern us.

Liberalism and other such trends aside, I am only mentioning the most pressing issues from the top of the list. The Islamic and eastern values are not “in” or “cool” anymore. A friend of mine, with his children enrolled in one of the top schools of Karachi, recently told me that his son requested the mother not to come pick him up from school in future. Reason being that she would be in her ʿabāya and niqāb. Some of the kids saw her and poked fun at him that his mother is a complete ninja. Since the child wanted to be with the cool crowd, he didn’t take well to such comments.

A similar thing happened to me. We began sending our children to an English teacher of a reputable institute. The children being hufādh would wear their topī, kurtā and shalwār while going there. One day they left their topī in the car on purpose. Some days later, they requested their sister and mother not to come pick them up.

We need to understand the types of pressure our children are facing. Though we may have a religious environment at home and we may take them to religious gatherings, the institutions they are attending are also doing their tarbiyyah, but in a different way. In his book on economics, Stephen Levitt has quoted findings from a research that the determinant of a child’s behavior, more than their parents, are their classmates, friends and immediate companions. Imām Ghazālī (rah) said that a person is on the religion of their closest friend. Research has proven this.

In our childhood, the exposure that could corrupt us the most was the VCR. Just imagine the heights this exposure has now reached; phone, tabs, laptops, game consoles are all within reach of our children. We will speak about this in detail later.

Ḥadrat Umar (ra) has said: I seek refuge from jald al-kāfir (proactive kāfir) and ʿijz al-mu’min (inactive Muslim). It means, in today’s terms, that the fāsiq or kāfir becomes active; strives to impact the social system and the media, and devices their own educational system. And the Muslim becomes lazy, dormant and gives away their agency to forces outside of their control.

So obviously then who is going to set the system? What is the dominant ideology in this day and age? I teach my eighth grader science. Clearly the dominant ideology, which is the underlying theme, is evolution. It is not creationism. Recently someone mentioned that in the religion section of a survey many Muslim children did not want to mention Islam.

Strategizing a plan of action

In the wake of such issues we tend to get depressed. There is a debate among ʿulamā that what is the biggest sin committed by Iblīs — was it hassad (jealously) or takabbur (pride)? Some ʿulamā are of the opinion that the first sin Iblīs committed was neither hassad, nor takabbur, rather it was being hopeless from the mercy of Allah (swt), following which he committed other sins. So there is no need to get depressed.

Another big problem, especially in the religious circles, is something which I call the ostrich-and-sand problem. We tend to turn our backs to all the risk factors and pretend everything is hunky dory. We delude ourselves into thinking that there are no issues at hand, that our children are well taken care of, whether at homes or their educational institutions and social circles.

We should realize we are living near the end of times. ʿUlamā have a consensus that the minor signs of the end of times have already occurred. Rusūl Allah (sws) and the prophets before him all warned their nations of the greatest fitnah which is the fitnah of Dajjal. Until we realize how big a fitnah this is, we will not understand how much effort we need to put in. How would a person feel if their child was being thrown in fire? That’s what Allah (swt) is saying: O you who believe, save yourself and your families from fire. 

If our child is living a lifestyle that leads to fire, we should be worried, it should act as a trigger warning. The parents, grandparents and the community in which the child is being brought up should sit together and discuss how to make this the number one priority for the child’s upbringing.

Next, we should make du’ā. We should cry and beg Allah (swt) to protect our children. Once we prioritize this, take action and make du’ā, it will inshāAllah not only help our own children but these children will also become a means to influence other children around them.

1. Befriend the child

At least one of the parents should be best friends with the child. Remember, the child will be on the faith of their best friend. Whoever the child opens up to is the person they would share their secrets with and turn to for advice. That is also the person they will pick up behavioral cues from.

My wife and I are currently having a debate on whether or not to enroll our youngest one in school, because academically she is already lagging behind. On the other hand, the one-on-one relationship of a child with their mother and/or father, before enrolling in school, is also crucial.

Rusūl Allah (sws) has taught us not to reprimand a child even on prayers before the age of seven. At the age of ten, you can reprimand and lightly tap them to show your disapproval. But before seven, you cannot even reprimand them. It is the tradition of our pious predecessors that they would not burden a child before the age of seven, let alone slap them just because they are not able to memorize some math tables. Be gentle with your child even if they are not performing well at school.

How can we befriend the child? You will have to play with them. How many parents who have children below the age of five give them a ride on their backs everyday? How many of them jump with them on the bed? How many of them play cricket or catch the ball? This is a well documented research that if you are not friends with your child during this age, they will not be your friend in their teenage, nor in your old age.

Once Rusūl Allah (sws) was being playful with a child. Someone was amused that I have never loved my children. Rusūl Allah (sws) said what can I do if Allah (swt) did not put reḥmah (mercy) in your heart?

Once at lunch time one of our kids started shouting and making a fuss so my wife went to check up on him. Turned out he wanted to share a very trivial thing he had done at school. Now the mother can either become irritated or she can take interest in what the child is saying. If you take interest in such trivialities, you may become their confidant in secrets.

Allah (swt) said in Qur’ān while addressing Rusūl Allah (sws): had you been rough, hard hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you.

I asked our Muftī sb whether Rusūl Allah (sws) was the same way with children as well? He replied, yes. During gatherings, like valimas, Rusūl Allah (sws) would sit with children and would feed them with his hand. Once Ḥadrat Ḥassan (ra) came to the masjid, he (sws) left his pulpit to pick him up. During one salah, he (sws) picked up Ḥadrat Umāmah (ra) during qiyam and put her back as he went down to make sajdah. Contrary to this, we fear if the child even comes in close proximation to us during salah, our salah will become invalid. Our strict vigilance and over cautious behavior is neither in our fiṭrah nor is it a part of sunnah.

2. Be vigilant of behavioral changes

There is a book by an American child psychologist, Michelle Bailey “Parenting your stressed child” in which she writes that you should watch out for any changes and anomalies in the behavior of your child.

For example, the child was fine but suddenly they are not hungry any more. Or their eating habits change out of the blue. It can also be something physical, for example, they start complaining of stomach aches. You should definitely get them checked from a doctor, but it can also be due to psychological stress. Or they are throwing more tantrums than usual, are agitated etc. Similarly, their sleeping habits may change drastically like sleeping too much or too little. It means there is something going on behind-the-scenes that is causing the behavioral changes.

Through observing behavioral changes, we have caught a couple of cases. In one case, one of our children who was in 6 or 7 grade started acting out. On investigation, we found out a friend of his had been saying inappropriate things to him. He had never had this kind of an exposure before. When he became exposed for the first time, he began behaving in strange ways. Such things are always reflected somewhere. We spoke with the class teacher and somehow got the child separated from that friend.

Another child became very lethargic and sad. We had long discussions trying to get the child to tell us what had happened. This is very important that one or both of the parents should sit down with the child and counsel them, engage them through questions, without trying to rush them. Turned out that our driver had been behaving with the child in an inappropriate manner. We have to understand this, Zainab’s case is a big eye opener for all of us. When we don’t keep such behavior on our radar, it leads to terrible injustices. We immediately fired that driver.

The child will divulge, they will open up about what is going on at school, with their friends, with helpers and housemaids, on playgrounds, with cousins, adults etc. But they will only do this if you are lenient with them. If the child can sense this leniency, they will befriend you. If you keep reprimanding them on little things, they will never find the courage to share such things with you.

If we do this with the intention of sunnah, we will get sawab for this as well. There was a teenage Ṣaḥābī (ra) and he used to love a bird. When that bird died, he got depressed. Imagine, Rusūl Allah (sws) is the seal of prophets, how much time would he have to spare for such trivialities? But he (sws) went to the young Ṣaḥābī (ra) and said Yā Abā Umair (O Abū Umair), what became of your bird? In a sense, he (sws) was sympathizing with the Ṣaḥābī (ra). We think such issues are trivial, we should just ignore them. But the impact Rusūl Allah (sws) had was ʿajīb (wondrous).

When Ḥadrat Abū Mādūra was young and he had not yet converted to Islam, he was saying adhān. But as soon as he came to shahādah part, he hesitated because he knew that’s what Muslims say when they convert. Rusūl Allah (sws) went up to him, put his hand on his head and encouraged him to keep going. He (sws) spoke to him so lovingly that Ḥadrat Abū Mādūra said the shahādatain and converted to Islam. He never cut the part of the hair where Rusūl Allah (sws) had touched his head.

3. Be firm when needed, use dialogue

It does not mean there should be no strictness whatsoever. On certain occasions, Rusūl Allah’s (sws) face would turn red from anger and he (sws) would do aʿirāz (give the silent treatment) so the person at the receiving end would abstain from making the mistake again. One of the parents has to be a bit strict on certain occasions. We will speak about the ādāb (etiquette) of reprimanding later on, which may differ from the popular psychological approaches.

The method you are going to choose for doing tanbīh (warning) and iṣlāḥ (rectification) will not be hitting. Instead, one or both parents should sit down with the child for 15-20 minutes and put them in the spotlight. Our goal is to change the child from within. I have an experience with Islamic schools. It is necessary for the students to pray there. Once a child there said that the school can force me to pray, but I will not make wudhū so my prayer will not be valid anyway. It shows that we cannot force a child to change. We have to somehow make them want to change.

Once a young Ṣaḥābī (ra) came to Rusūl Allah (sws) and said I think about a certain sin and I want to commit it. Rusūl Allah (sws) said how would you feel if the same sin was committed against one of your female relatives? He (sws) used dialogue to make him look at the situation from a different point of view.

When my sons were in grade 2, I took them out of school and homeschooled them. This way they didn’t lag behind academically and they were also able to complete their hifdh in 3-4 years. We taught them English, Urdu, Maths and Arabic ourselves and with the help of some tutors. Then we sent them back to school. During this period, when the children were neither going to school nor to a madrassah, one of them said a swear word while playing a cricket match. It was quite obvious by the way he had said that word that he had no idea what it meant.

My wife and I sat him down and talked to him. He said that when we were playing football in the playground, someone missed a goal and they said this word. Children usually learn through context. He heard the word and thought it is something said in this particular context.

We explained to him what swearing means (without telling him the meaning of the particular word because that was not important). We told him the ḥadīth that the nation that gets used to swearing loses their dignity in the eyes of Allah (swt). On one hand you are using your tongue to recite Qur’ān, and all these beautiful sūrahs, and on the other hand if you use the same tongue to swear then what will Allah (swt) think? There was no need to hit him, or reprimand him, we simply put him in the spotlight. We used cognitive intervention — dealing with thinking processes; changing his perspectives and showing him how to look at the situation from a different angle.

About a month after this incident, we were in the car so I asked them whether children on the playground were still using swear words. The elder one said that we don’t use swear words. If someone uses them we simply tell them we will not play with them if they will use such words. This is not something I had told him to do. He took the initiative to do this himself. It does not mean my children are angels. But it shows if we use dialogue instead of giving unsolicited advice, children will be able to make good decisions themselves. This is the change we want to instill in them.

My children are not perfect and it is not always easy. These days we are having a tussle on how much Clash of Clans should they be allowed to play. We are constantly trying to end their infatuation with this game. Nonetheless, there are times when certain outcomes have made me happy.

When my eldest was six, we sent him to Gymkhana to learn swimming. He was very enthusiastic about it. But when he went there and saw older girls in swimming suits he came back and told me I can’t swim with them, so please take me at another time. It hadn’t even occurred to me because he was still very young. But his initiative greatly pleased me. This inner initiative and desire to do the right thing is what we want to target. This cannot be instilled through beatings or by putting children under stress.

4. Teach through analogies 

Pedagogically meaning what was the teaching style of Rusūl Allah (sws)? To a great extent, Rusūl Allah (sws) would use analogies. To show the importance of salah, he (sws) used the analogy of a man who dives five times in the river. Then he asked the Ṣaḥābah (ra) whether or not that man would have any dirt left on his body? They said no. Rusūl Allah (sws) then said that when a person prays five times a day, that is how their sins are washed away. One is bland instruction; do this, don’t do that, etc. Another way is to use analogies that will create an active picture in the minds of the listeners. When you think about it, Allah (swt) will help you find the right analogies.

Once Rusūl Allah (sws) asked the Ṣaḥābah (ra) that is there anyone who would like go to the market and get two red she-camels without qata’-reḥmī (breaking social ties) and without ilzām (accusation)? Ṣaḥābah (ra) are thinking who wouldn’t want that! (red she-camels being the most prized possessions of Arabs at that time). He (sws) then equated their worth with reciting a couple of ayahs from Qur’ān in the masjid.

Children will not understand this analogy. They, especially teenagers, are crazy about Mercedes, Lamborghini, etc., so that is a more fitting analogy to use. Look at what they are interested in. They go outside, they go to their educational institutes, there is no way they would not know about the PSL scores. You can also take interest and ask them what do you think which team will win? You should give them leverage in such things.

5. Redirect them to positive behavior

Rusūl Allah (sws) used a very practical approach in teaching. Once there was a young Ṣaḥābī (ra) who was eating from all over the plate (one of those big plates in which several people eat together). Rusūl Allah (sws) said Yā walad (O son) eat from what is placed in front of you. Later, there was a dish with different items in it, but he kept eating only that which was in front of him. Rusūl Allah (sws) then told him to eat other items as well.

Once I was observing which foot my children would enter the masjid with. I reminded them 2-3 times and noticed they changed their habit and began using right foot to enter. If the child develops a good habit at the age of 6-7 years, it is likely to stay with them for a lifetime.

Once a father came to me seeking counsel for his child. I told him homeschooling is a good option but it requires resources and parents should be willing to give a lot of time. He said my child cannot go to school. I asked him why. He said something along the lines that once the child used the bathroom there, it was filthy and somehow it effected him so much that he didn’t want to go to school anymore. He tried psychotherapy and ʿamliyāt etc., but nothing seemed to work. I gathered the children around and told them to do three things:

  1. Enter the washroom with your head covered
  2. Recite the du’ā before entering
  3. Always try to keep yourself pāk

This is what Rusūl Allah (sws) has taught us. Because children don’t to iḥtimām of these things, they get into trouble.

Once when my daughter was really young, she was praying her salah at supersonic speed. I remembered the ḥadīth — I thought ʿamlī tarbiyat is the best. I told her you should pray again. She slowed down a bit, but to complete the sunnah I asked her to pray again. By the third time, she had improved a lot. Now that she has grown up, her salah is probably better than my own. Point being we should focus on ʿamlī tarbiyat and use intervention, love and affection to get the child to change their habits.

6. Limit screen-time

Another big challenge for us is the digital interface; cellphones, social media, and video games. Interestingly, it is not just us maulvies who have a problem with this. American Pediatric Association, the elite association of children’s doctors, says the maximum screen-time for a child should be limited to two hours per day. This includes usage of tabs, laptops, cellphones, video games, etc.

These things can cause psychological disorders including autism, attention deficit and attention deficit hyperactivity (ADD & ADHD). The cartoons have so much music, fast-paced action and noise that even if an adult watches them, it will effect their psychological health.

We should also check the content children are being exposed to. My own humble opinion is that there is so much exposure out there, even if you try your best to protect the child, they will get to know about these things from somewhere else. So better that they watch it in your supervision.

I would even go as far to say that pick out some content which they will be interested in and show it to them. If you are into IT, you can edit them yourself, or you can get someone else to do it for you. This way you can censor the explicit parts, lower the volume of music (music cannot be removed completely otherwise the whole audio will get removed — we don’t yet have a better alternative to this).

7. Let them enjoy ḥalāl recreation

There was a professor at LUMS who said I want my children to become hāfidh and ʿālim. They are in a habit of eating too many ice creams, chocolates and burgers. I want them to leave these habits. I am a professor at this university so I can afford this lifestyle, but they may not be able to if they are going to be teaching at a madrassah.

Another professor there got to know about this — Dr. Iftikhar Zaman sb who has also been a head at Oxford in their Islamic studies department. He lives an ascetic lifestyle. He said that you are already stopping your children from so many ḥarām things, if you start restricting them on ḥalāl things too, it might backfire. You should let them indulge in ḥalāl things within reasonable measure. Give them chocolates but also get them into a habit of reading labels and ingredients. These days we have a lot imported products, even in Karachi, which may not be OK to consume.

8. Be loving towards your spouse

A secret determinant of a child’s behavior is the relationship of their parents with each other. My wife and I have noticed that whenever we fight, our children also fight with each other. We know the limits and dynamics of fighting, but children have no idea. They become way too aggressive. If parents have friction in their relationship and/or are constantly arguing, it will have an impact on the children. The love siblings have towards one another is also directly linked to the love of their parents. If parents are loving towards each other, it will trickle down in children as well.

One of our friends has a very reputable personality and his children are excelling in both dīn and dunyā. Someone asked him what did you do for the tarbiyyah of your children? He said that I kept their mom happy. At another time he said that his father would come home after isha salah, and he would make du’ā for 2.5 hours for his children. We may not be able to do that much, but we can try to at least make du’ā for our children for 20-25 minutes.

Try to have a good relationship with your spouse. Whenever you have differences, sort it out in your own room, where the children are well out of earshot. If the wife is angry, the husband should try to remain calm and vice versa. I have seen many children with serious psychological problems and often the root cause is the relationship of their parents.

9. Keep them connected to religious circles

I was in US when I witnessed this tale of two youngsters first hand. We had a very close community in Mississippi with Muslims from all over the world. We were about 200 individuals and were very well integrated. We had decided that whenever we have parties in our departments, we wouldn’t attend them unless absolutely necessary. Reason being they used to serve alcohol, pork and the general environment was also disturbing. So our social life was pretty much confined to our Muslim community — praying daily salah, eid parties, halaqah etc., everything.

Once an outsider visited us. We invited him and his wife to our place. He told us that I am a professor and I have a PhD. I have every luxury, I have my own home, I have two daughters and a son. I made a separate portion for each child. I sent my son to a university. He fell in love with an american girl. He didn’t leave Islam but he became alienated from us and never meets us anymore. He lives in your community here.

We suggested to them that at the upcoming eid party we can invite them and their son. And we can try to integrate the family. I still remember when they were telling us this story, the mother kept crying the whole time. It was like her entire world had come crashing down. They had a really big house, US citizenship — everything from a worldly perspective. But they lost their son.

When they met at the party, I still remember very clearly, the father tried to embrace the son but the son kept pushing him away. I observed and analyzed and what it turned out to be was that the parents had never connected their children to Islam, any Islamic community or the masjid. Had the son acquired these values during childhood, he would have never turned out this way.

The second story is of another boy. We received an e-mail from Islamabad/Pindi about a boy who was going to arrive there in a month or so. They had contacted the head at our Islamic center. He told us that this boy is Pakistani so see what you can do. That boy’s mamoo came from St. Louise and gave his hand in our hand. Their family wasn’t even very religious. He was a normal Pakistani boy, clean-shaved, very intelligent.

When they put his hand in our hand we got him connected to the masjid, because all of our activities, even cricket matches, would be linked to the masjid. He became a part of our community. He would always ask me for advice. He also had an affair in between and he asked me what is the right thing to do. I told him you should talk to your parents and get married.

Even if the child is connected to a religious community, we still have to be vigilant of who they are hanging out with. The parents should know the names of the close friends of their children. They should also try to keep in touch with the parents of those friends. When we take all these precautions, we can hope our children will turn out okay.

Remember, tarbiyyah is a lifelong war, not a battle. You will resolve one issue and another will prop up — behaviorally, spiritually, academically, health-wise. You have to view it as a fight of your lifetime. I know a really good child who became addicted to video games. His grades dropped and his mother says that he doesn’t even look like the same person anymore. Even if the child slips, it is okay to be a little firm, you can also place certain limits, but always try to remain friends with the child, make effort, and keep making du’ā.

From Skeptical Doubt to Certain Conviction – 1

[These are rough notes from the first session of the workshop conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) on Imām al-Ghazālī’s (rah) text ‘Al-Munqidh min al-Ḍalāl’ on March 10, 2013 in Karachi].

يٰۤـاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ وَكُوۡنُوۡا مَعَ الصّٰدِقِيۡنَ‏
O you who believe, fear Allāh, and be in the company of the truthful. [9:119]

Al-Munqidh min al-Ḍalāl
And Attachment to the Lord of Might and Majesty

Translation by W. Montgomery Watt


Allāh (swt) blessed this ummah with raḥmatan lil ʿālamīn, khātam an-nabiyyīn Rasūl Allāh (sws). Just like Allāh (swt) gave this ummah the greatest Prophet (sws), He gave this ummah the greatest companions (ra), and the greatest ṣiddiqīn and ṣāliḥīn in the history of any ummah. The greatest of the ṣiddiqīn is Syednā Abū Bakr as-Ṣiddīq (ra) — the imām of ṣiddiqīn. The ṣiddiqīn will continue to exist until the end of times. Ṣiddiqīn are the true believers and true followers of Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws), and true lovers of Allāh (swt). How they come to this level is a very interesting story for us, especially pertaining to Imām Abu Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (rah).

In a ḥasan ḥadīth Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) said that at the turn of every hijrī, Allāh (swt) will bring forth from the ummah a person who would do tajdīd — who will revive the dīn. That person is known as the mujaddid. This is something all the ʿulamā have accepted — although some have argued that there could be more than one mujaddid in one century, others have said there will be one mujaddid per century but for each field. Different ʿulamā have written who they feel, historically before them, was the mujaddid of their time. Perhaps one of the most agreed upon candidates for being a mujaddid of the 7th Islāmic century is Imām al-Ghazālī (rah). It means he revived the dīn in some way which was critically needed at that time in order to keep the baqā or the sustenance of that dīn. Many people who study Ghazālī in western universities and academia focus on his text Tahāfut al-Falāsafah (refutation of the philosophers). However, from the perspective of Muslim intellectual tradition and our understanding of our own history, that is not Imām al-Ghazālī’s (rah) major work. His major work was Iḥya ʿUlūm al-Dīn in which he revived different disciplines of Islāmic learning. Tahāfut al-Falāsafah was just an icing on the cake. Some of the greatest aspects of his legacy of tajdīd are:

  1. Revival of the spiritual aspect of dīn; bringing people to the feelings of dīn, particularly bringing the ʿulamā and ṭulabā (teachers and students of formal Islāmic learning) who knew the meanings of dīn to the feelings of dīn
  2. Articulation of tasawwuf and tazkiya i.e Islāmic spirituality
  3. Refutation of the false philosophical ideologies prevalent at his time

Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) was born in 1058 or 1059 AD and passed away in 1111 AD. He was born and raised in a place called Ṭūs, which is now in modern day Iran, which means he was ethnically Persian. In Persian society, the language spoken at that time was Arabic. In a way, he was a native Arabic speaker without being natively Arab. During this time, he was studying ʿulūm al-Islāmiyya — the different branches of Islāmic learning. He left Ṭūs in 1077 AD at the age of 19 years and lived the next 14 years in Nishāpūr, which is another city of modern day Iran. From 1077 to 1085 AD, he taught at Nizāmiyya college. He also served as an adviser to a very famous Seljud vizier known as Nizām al-Mulk from 1085 up to 1091 AD. In 1091 AD, at 33 years of age, he moved to Baghdād and was appointed as the sadr mudarris, the dean of academics, at the main Nizāmiyya college in Baghdād, which was the cradle of Islāmic civilization at that time.

In the year 1095 AD, at the age of 37 years, he experienced a “crisis of faith” which eventually caused him to stop teaching. He traveled and went to Damashq, Bayt al-Muqaddas, Makkah Mukarramah, Madīnah Munawwarah and Hebron. This traveling took about one to one and a half years. Around 1097 AD, he returned back to Baghdād where he spent the next nine years, up to 1106 AD, in khalwah and ʿibādah — in solitary devotion to worship. He also wrote his masterpiece Iḥya ʿUlūm al-Dīn during this period. After that nine year hiatus, in 1106 AD, when Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) was 48 years old, he was called back to Nishāpūr to teach. He resumed teaching in the Nizāmiyya madrassah in Nishāpūr after a gap of eleven years and continued until he died in 1111 AD, at a relatively young age of 53 years.

To give you a bit of a context, before Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) there was a philosopher known as al-Rāzī. There are two Rāzīs; the first one is Muḥammad Ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī who lived from 865 till 925 AD. This philosopher was deeply engaged with the works of Plotinus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle; let’s say the early Greek philosophy. Impressed and overwhelmed by that, he renounced his īmān and became an atheist. The person after him is Ibn Sīnā who lived from 980 to 1037 AD. Interestingly, this is one of the forgotten aspects of Ibn Sīnā that he severely critiqued the atheism of al-Rāzī. Although today people love these two together, Ibn Sīnā was not an atheist, in fact far from it. Although, there may have been certain other problems, but he was definitely a theist; he did not deny the existence of God. In one of his writings, he extensively critiques al-Rāzī. One of the early philosophers, al-Bīrūnī, also critiques al-Rāzī. Some say Ibn Sīnā was Shi’ī, some say he was Ismāʿīlī, a minority opinion also suggests he was Sunnī, Allāhū ʿālam. Imām al-Ghazālī’s concern with him are not these things. His concern with Ibn Sīnā was a mistake he had made, which is very important for us to reflect upon because we make a similar mistake today; he tired to reconcile the philosophy of neoplatonism and aristotelianism etc., with ʿilm al-kalām and come up with a type of fusion so that great thinkers like Muḥammad Ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī would never become atheists. On surface this intention is noble; he was actually worried about atheism. Hence, he articulated very rigorously his philosophy. In fact, this was his main impact on Thomas Aquinas who also thought he could reconcile rational thoughts with Christian theology.

Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) was living at a time when a lot of the learned, intellectual and educated people — regardless of being educated in dīn, science, astronomy or medicine — went through a craze of being inspired by al-Rāzī. Later, Ibn Sīnā turned the direction away from atheism to a more philosophical type of Islām so people were increasingly inspired by that. Then Allāh (swt) raised up Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) to turn the direction again back to a classical and spiritual form of Islām. There were thinkers even after Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) who were trying to find the right mix between different types of thoughts and different articulations of those thoughts. Just to show you a few names afterwards; another person was Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī who lived from 1149 to 1209 AD. He is also in the line of Imām al-Ghazālī (rah). Then there was a person called Ibn Rushd as well. You may end this with al-Dūsī [?] who critiques al-Ghazālī and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī.


This is Imām al-Ghazālī’s (rah) text al-Munqidh min al-Ḍalāl — rescuer from error or from being astray. Some people translate it as deliverance, but it means the deliverer or the rescuer which brought him to salvation from ḍalāl i.e. from being astray or  from being in manifest error. Some view al-Munqidh min al-Ḍalāl to be Imām al-Ghazālī’s (rah) very last work, some have put Minhāj al-ʿAbidīn after this, others have put his letter Ayyuhal Walad after this, either way this is one of his latter and final works. There is another title after this but it is unclear whether it is Imām al-Ghazālī’s own title or whether someone has edited it after his death which was Musilu ila Dhil-ʿizati Wal Jalāl — that which is going to connect a person to Allāh (swt) who is the Being of incredible honor and majesty. Contrary to what some people say, this is not really an autobiography of Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) because he does not mention everything about his life. However, you could call it a spiritual autobiography; he wants to share with people a certain part of his life and his journey which we have titled here in English From Skeptical Doubt to Certain Conviction. To actually pen down on paper the doubts, skepticism and questions he had and how he managed to reach a level of certainty in his conviction, is a very honest and generous thing for him to do.

A backdrop to this text is when Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) was teaching in Baghdād, all of a sudden he experienced a crisis that made him question the knowledge that he previously believed in. Initially, he felt he could not even rely on his own sense-perception. He started questioning knowledge, information and data that he had acquired through his sight, smell, hearing or from his touch. Then he began questioning his basic beliefs in Allāh (swt) because he felt that he had merely inherited those beliefs and he was following them just because he was born into it. This is the “crisis of faith” that he had:

  1. He doubted his ability to know
  2. He doubted the knowability of Allāh (swt)

Amazingly, he does not go through this crisis while being a secular student, he goes through this crisis while being of the most reknowned ʿulamā and scholars of his time; he does not go through this crisis as someone who hardly knows anything about Islām, he goes through this crisis with his deep ʿilm of tafsīr al-Qurʿān, ḥadīth, sunnah and shariʿah; he does not go through this crisis living in New York or Los Angeles, he goes through this crisis living in Baghdād — the cradle of Islāmic civilization of that time — a city of ʿulamā and awliyā’; he does not go through this crisis having not met real practicing Muslims, he goes through this crisis having seen real Muʿminīn and Muslimīn. Thus, one cannot overstate the profound magnitude of this crisis. During this time, he continues teaching and he will share with you how he pretends whilst going through the motions of praying, teaching and lecturing even though inside he is wondering and questioning. Eventually, he realizes this routine to be unsustainable and decides to experiment and experience; to interact with claimants who claimed to know Allāh (swt) with truth and certainty, and investigate their claims to see if any of their methods of knowing the truth would work for him. Thus, he goes through four predominant categories of seekers of truth. He is going to share with us how he interacted with each one of them and what his views and experiences were. He is also going to share with us how successful he views each of these four paths to be in bringing a person to the truth and a certain conviction in Allāh (swt).

You will notice that this risālah, like many of Imām al-Ghazalī’s (rah) other works, is written in response to a question. This was one of the most famous stories of that time that Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) left the Nizāmiyya college in Baghdād, disappeared for one and a half years, came back to Baghdād and refused to teach and interact with people, then after ten years he resumed teaching in Nishāpūr. His students knew this and all of them must have been curious; may Allāh (swt) reward this one fellow who did not just have the curiosity but also the courage to ask Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) regarding what had happened. This is what we call barakat al-saʿil; sometimes the questioner has so much sincerity and ikhlās that he elicits a whole risālah for the person who is asking.


All praise be to that Being with whose praise begins every single epistle, treatise and every speech; and may Allāh’s (swt) salutations and blessings be upon Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws), the chosen one, the one who is bestowed with prophethood; and all of those who are of his spiritual brethren; and all of his companions; all of whom were guides to guide humanity away from being astray and bring them to the path of Allāh (swt). O my brother in dīn; this is Imām al-Ghazālī’s humility that he did not say O my student, or O my lowly follower, or O my fan. This is also because Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is opening up and he is going to share with him a very personal experience. You asked that you should show to me the objectives of disciplines of learning and their inner nature. You have begged me to relate to you the difficulties I encountered in my attempts to extricate the truth from the confusion of contending sects and to distinguish the different ways, methods and ventures I made in climbing from the plain of naïve and second-hand belief (taqlīd) to the peak of direct vision. The word  taqlīd here has nothing to do with fiqh. Imām al-Ghazāli (rah) is talking about taqlīd in aqīdah. The Arabic word that is translated as vision is istifsār — ṭalab of tafsīr; seeking clarity of depth for oneself.

You want me to describe, firstly what benefit I derived from ʿilm al-kalām, secondly, what I disapprove of in the methods of talīm (these were the Ismāʿīlī of the time, later he is going to call them Bāṭinīyah), thirdly what I rejected of the methods of philosophy, and fourth, what I approved in the way of tasawwuf. You also want to know what essential (primary) truths became clear to me in my manifold investigations into the doctrines held by men, why I gave up teaching in Baghdād although I had many students and why I returned to it in Nishāpūr after a long interval. I am proceeding to answer your request for I recognize that your desire is genuine. This is barakat al-saʿil — he said the only reason I am responding is because you have ikhlās. But in this I seek the help of Allāh (swt) and I place my trust and dependence on Allāh (swt), and I seek refuge in Allāh (swt) meaning he is doing it in the name of Allāh (swt), for the sake of Allāh (swt). What he is really saying is that I want Allāh (swt) to give me ikhlās in responding to you. This is the barakah of kūnū maʿa ṣādiqīn [Q. 9, 119] — Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) and his student have no ethnic, linguistic or family ties. There is a relationship of ikhlās. This is also Imām al-Ghazālī’s (rah) humility that he made duʿā to Allāh (swt) to grant him ikhlās in his efforts and attempts to answer the question. May Allāh (swt) perfect you on the right path and soften your heart to receive the truth. As the first answer, he makes duʿā for the person. In fact, this is the real answer which he has given at the outset.

The different religious observances and religious communities of the human race and likewise the different theological systems of their religious leaders, with all the multiplicity of sects and variety of practices, constitute ocean depths in which the majority drowns and only a minority reaches safety. Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is writing this 900 years ago, and this is something people ask today that there are so many different views out there, so many movements, so many ideas, so many ideologies; what am I supposed to do? This is not something new. This is something the ʿulamā have been aware of and have addressed, and they have even experienced and gone through this process themselves. I will say what Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) said back then is still true today; those who try to investigate this, the majority of them will drown and only a minority will be able to navigate these murky waters.

Each separate group thinks that it alone is saved. ‘And each party is rejoicing in what they have’ [Q. 23, 55]. This is what was foretold by the greatest of the prophets Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) who is as-Ṣādiq al-Amīn — who is the truthful one and trustworthy — when he said: ‘My community will be split up into seventy-three sects and but one of them will be saved.’ What Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) had foretold  has indeed come about. This is another famous question we get that the Blessed Prophet (sws) said there would be seventy odd, or seventy-two, or seventy-three sects and only one of them will be saved. In another work of Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) Faysal al-Tafrīqa, he mentions another ḥadīth which we traced as being an authentic ḥadīth which I had actually never heard myself until I came across that work of Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) that Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) has also said: ‘My community will split up into multiple sects all of whom will be saved but one.’

The way Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) joined these two ḥadīth in that work was that he said there are two types of differences in sects; one are the differences of creed and theology which are so critical that it puts a person either inside or outside īmān; the other are differences of methodology within the ahl al-īmān but those differences do not put a person outside īmān; they all remain inside. I am amazed at how few people know and even I myself did not know the second ḥadīth while everybody knows the first one. Certainly, there is a notion here that Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) is very much trying to show that there are a lot of ways to go astray; there is a lot of ḍalālah. Someone who is a sincere seeker who knows this ḥadīth would naturally be very hesitant, cautious and afraid. Today’s rational mind would think I have only one out of seventy-three chance of getting it right.

From my early youth, since I attained the age of puberty before I was twenty, (this is also showing you the understanding of youth in Islām; youth ends before your twenties after which you are considered an adult) until the present time when I am over fifty, (this is an ishāra for those involved in Ghazālī studies that this is one of his last works since he passed away at the age of 53 years) I have ever (meaning he is still doing it) recklessly launched out into the midst of these ocean depths, I have ever bravely embarked on this open sea, throwing aside all craven caution; I have poked into every dark recess, I have made an assault on every problem, I have plunged into every abyss, I have scrutinized the creed of every sect, I have tried to lay bare the inmost doctrines of every community. All this have I done that I might distinguish between true and false, between sound tradition and heretical innovation. This was what today you would call his intellectual curiosity, or even his intellectual honesty in seeking truth.

Whenever I meet one of the Bātinīyah (the people of talīm; the Ismāʿīlī ), I like to study his creed; whenever I meet one of the Ẓāhirīyah, (this was another movement of that time of literalists who took every thing at its face-value meaning; for example, if Allāh (swt) uses the word in Qurʿān: The hand of Allāh (swt) is over their hand’ [Q. 48, 10], not all but the most extreme position they would take is that Allāh (swt) literally has a hand that is a part of a body and Allāh (swt) has a body) I want to know the essentials of his beliefs; if it is a philosopher, I try to become acquainted with the essence of his philosophy; if a Mutakallim (which is translated as a classic theologian; a person of ʿilm al-kalām), I busy myself in examining his theological reasoning; if a Mutasawwif (a person of tasawwuf), I yearn to fathom the secrets of his tasawwuf. You can see that I do not like the English translation Sufi and mysticism, we prefer to stick to the Arabic); if a mutaʿabbid (a person who is doing ʿibādah all the time; sometimes this was called zuhd; sometimes this was also taken to an extreme and even though Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) said: la rehbānīyata fil Islām; there is no monasticism in Islām’, there were some individuals historically who lived a monastic life and they were known as mutaʿabbidīn), I investigate the basis of his intense practices of ʿibādah; if one of the Zanādiqah or Muʿaṭṭilah, I look beneath the surface to discover the reason for his bold adoption of such a creed. You can imagine that Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) probably did indeed investigate seventy-three sects, here he has given us a few names.

To thirst after a comprehension of things as they really are was my habit and custom from a very early age. It was instinctive with me, a part of my Allāh’s-given nature, a matter of temperament (abā) and not my choice or contriving. Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is making it clear that my journey, which I am going to share with you, is descriptive, not prescriptive; I am not prescribing or telling you to do these things; I am merely describing that it is my nature to go into every single detail.

Consequently as I drew near the age of adolescence the bonds of mere authority (taqlīd) ceased to hold me and inherited beliefs lost their grip upon me, for I saw (this is also a classic question asked by university students) that Christian youths always grew up to be Christians, Jewish youths to be Jewish and Muslim youths to be Muslims. In Iran and Iraq there were significant non-Muslim minorities living at that time completely peacefully. Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) was clearly interacting with them and asking them about their behavior as well. I heard, too, the Tradition related to Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) according to which he (sws) said: ‘Everyone who is born is born with a sound nature (fiṭrat al-salīm) but it is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Magian.’ My inmost being was moved to discover what this nature (fiṭrah) really was and what the beliefs derived from the authority of parents and teachers really were. He thought of taking guidance from that ḥadīth that there is something called fiṭrah; some internal, inherent, intrinsic humanity. He wanted to discover that inside himself which was inherent so that he could distinguish it from that which was acquired from society. The attempt to distinguish between these authority-based opinions (that is what he means by acquired knowledge) and their principles developed the mind, for in distinguishing the true in them from the false, difference appeared. When he saw what was true and what was false, he began to see the differences in different methods, methodologies and sects.

I therefore said within myself: ‘To begin with, what I am looking for is knowledge of what things really are, so I must undoubtedly try to find what knowledge really is.’ He asked himself this question that what does it mean to know; what is knowledge; how do I know the knowable; is something knowable; am I able to know it; how will I know the knowable? This is also called epistemology which is concerned with how do we know what is knowable and how do we know that knowable. It was plain to me that sure and certain knowledge (ʿilm al-yaqīn; ʿilm al-ḍururī; ʿilm al-qati’; absolute; unequivocal; irrefutable knowledge) is that knowledge in which the object is disclosed in such a fashion that no doubt remains along with it, that no possibility of error or illusion accompanies it, and that the mind cannot even entertain the possibility of error or illusion. He is now defining what certain knowledge should be; he wants to get such a knowledge that has no doubt, no skepticism, no possibility or even a hypothetical possibility of doubt in it; something that is absolutely sure. Secondly he says, certain knowledge should also be infallible (no scope or possibility of error) and this infallibility or security from error is such that no attempt to show the falsity of the knowledge can occasion doubt or denial; if I really know something with certainty and someone else tries to refute or disprove it, none of their refutations and proofs will make me budge at all; I can never doubt or deny what I know. To know something with certainty means every refutation, every counter-argument that may come to you does not even put the slightest doubt in that thing which you know. He has come up with an extremely high benchmark for what is certain.

Even though the attempt is made by someone who turns stones into gold or a rod into a serpent. The only result is that I wonder precisely how he is able to produce this change. Of doubt about my knowledge there is no trace. Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is not saying that people can turn stones into gold or a rod into a serpent necessarily; rather that I should be so certain about it that even if an alchemy or a miracle worker were to come and do something like that and say this proves that I know what you are saying is wrong, I would still be 100% sure of what I know; Allāhū ʿālam how you turn stones into gold, but your ability to do that still does not give any credence to your refutation of what I know to be true; what I know to be true is still true. For example, you know that 2 + 2 = 4 — were someone to come in right now, wave their hand and make the chair fly across the room, you might be amazed, but even then if he says 2 + 2 = 5, you will say that is incorrect. If anything would amaze you it would be that someone who can make a chair fly with the wave of their hand does not even know that 2 + 2 = 4. By changing rod into serpent Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is not in any way referring to Syednā Mūsá (as) that if a nabī comes to me and says something I will not believe it. He is saying even any miracle worker will not be able to shake me from my knowledge, that is what I call certain — I witness, I see it myself first hand, even that will not budge my certainty. After these reflections I knew that whatever I do not know in this fashion as I have described above and with this mode of certainty is not reliable (if all these things I cannot say about a knowledge, that knowledge is not reliable) and infallible knowledge; and knowledge that is not infallible is not certain knowledge. Now he has set a very difficult task for himself. He is not setting this for himself in his fifties, he is recalling to the person what standard he had set for himself as he had embarked on his journey to know.


After he decides the definition of knowledge, he says, thereupon I investigated the various kinds of knowledge I already had and I found myself destitute of all knowledge with this characteristic of infallibility. I looked inside myself what are all the things that I al-Ghazālī think I know at this time. None of them met the criteria I had set up except two things; for none of the things could I say that I have certain knowledge except two things:

  1. Sense-perception: if I see something as white, I am certain it is white; if I see something to be a table, I am certain it is a table; if I hear a clapping sound, I know it is a clapping sound.
  2. Necessary truths: These are also called maxims; for example, 2 + 2 = 4.

Other than that there is nothing I know with certainty. Most important thing missing from this list was īmān. That was the key thing. You can imagine what is going to happen to him; he sets up a criteria for certainty of knowledge using this definition; he looks inside himself and decides the only thing I am sure of is what I can see. This is way before people even came up with the English term empiricism; the word empiricism does not exist in English language at this point. Nonetheless, Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is saying something which today philosophers call empirical; you can only know for sure that which you can see; that which is demonstrated in front of you; that you can perceive. So I said: ‘Now that despair has come over me (because īmān in Allāh (swt) did not make it into the list; he was a sincere person and if someone who has belief all of a sudden sets up a definition for which they no longer have certain belief, they are going to start panicking; which is also a good thing because it shows sincerity), there is no point in studying any problems (investigating them has no benefit because I will never be able to resolve it to a level of certainty) except on the basis of what is self-evident, namely necessary truths (maxims) and the affirmations of the senses (sense-perception); these are the only two tools I have, therefore I should not take up any issue which I cannot access with these two tools. I must first bring these to be judged in order that I may be certain on this matter.

Then, he asks himself another question, am I even certain about these two tools? Is my reliance on sense-perception (sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste) and my trust in the soundness of necessary truths (2 + 2 = 4 etc.,) of the same kind as my previous trust in beliefs I had merely taken from others and as the trust most men have in the results of thinking? Do I really know what I see is certainly what is there? Maybe I should open this up for investigation and questioning also. Do I really know that 2 + 2 = 4? That is something my Math teacher told me; that is also something I have accepted on authority of elders, teachers and transmitters, therefore, perhaps I should question that as well. Or is it a justified trust (can I justifiably trust these two tools) that is in no danger of being betrayed or destroyed?

I proceeded therefore with extreme earnestness (I made this the passion and mission of my time) to reflect on sense-perception and on necessary truths; now Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) feels the need to question the tools of knowledge; first he had questioned what knowledge itself is; then he questioned how do you know knowledge; now he is questioning whether the tools of knowing ever really know anything; to see whether I could make myself doubt them; remember how he had defined certainty; no matter what refutations or questions are raised, you would not have any doubt. Here, he is saying let me raise questions against sense-perception and see if any doubt arises. If the doubt arises, it would mean I cannot trust my sense-perception at the level of certainty. The outcome of this protracted effort to induce doubt was that I could no longer trust sense-perception either. Doubt began to spread here and say: ‘From where does the reliance on your five senses come? The most powerful sense I have is sight; this is something everyone today in media will also tell you; vision is the most powerful of your senses. When it looks at a shadow, it sees the shadow standing still and judges that there is no motion.’ But in reality, in terms of astronomy, the earth is always moving, and therefore in relation to the earth and the sun, this relationship is always moving and so the shadow is always moving. In theory, when Sun is at its zenith, there will be one second when the shadow does not move. Depending on the curvature of earth; latitude and longitude, after the shadow comes down and before it starts extending on the other side, there are certain minutes at the time of zawāl when you do not pray; for these 5-7 minutes it remains stationary, but normally, if you look at the shadow at lets say 10 A.M., you will say the shadow is not moving or extending; your brain will give you the data that it is stationary but astronomy will tell you it is moving. Therefore, he starts questioning that is sight even reliable?

Then by experiment and observation after an hour it knows that the shadow is moving and, moreover, that it is moving not by fits and starts but gradually and steadily by infinitely small distances in such a way that it is never in a state of rest. What a beautiful mathematical explanation; infinitely small distances — later when calculas was discovered in the mid-17th century, that is what was called the limit of X as it approaches 5 (a constant); there are infinitely small steps X takes to reach 5 but because Math cannot handle that, it says X is 5. Math teaches you that you cannot handle the infinite so you should go back to the finite. If the ʿaql cannot fathom the infinite divisions you can make between 4 and 5, then how can you expect ʿaql alone, without wahī, to understand the infinite nature of ākhirah? Another example Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) gives is when it looks at the heavenly body (i.e. astronomical objects that are in the sky) and sees it small, the size of a shilling; yet geometrical computations show that it is greater than the earth in size.’ For example, you look at the sun perceiving it to be the size of a quarter. Your eye cannot tell you how big the sun is; it is the geometrical computations or astronomical algorithms that show you it is greater than the earth. Similarly, your eyes will tell you the star is there but in the astronomical reality that star may have died out many years ago and what you see is the light it sent out millions of years ago; or you see the star as the size of a dot while that star may be millions of times bigger than the sun.

In this and similar cases of sense-perception the sense as judge forms its judgments, but another judge, the intellect; ʿaql, shows this sense repeatedly to be wrong; and the accusation of being wrong cannot be refuted. Since the ʿaql said the sun is not that size; the star is not that small; the shadow is moving, therefore, he moves to another tool which is the ʿaql — the rational intellect; because if the rational intellect can prove the sense-perception to be wrong, he now wants to check if the rational intellect can also be wrong.

To this I said: My reliance on sense-perception also has been destroyed. Perhaps only those intellectual truths which are first principles (or derived from first principles) are to be relied upon, such as the assertion that ten is more than three, that the same thing cannot be both affirmed and denied at one time; if I say it is raining outside, you cannot say ‘yes, it is raining’ and ‘no, it is not raining’ at the same time, that one thing is not both generated in time and eternal; you can either say that this world did not exist and then big bang brought it into existence, or you can say this world has always been around, you cannot say both, either we were born or we have always been around, you cannot say we were born on this day and we have always existed, nor both existent or non-existent; something cannot be maujūd and ghayr-maujūd at the same time that this mouth exists and does not exist at the same time; you will have to go to some really wild philosophers, and there are some people in California who can argue this to you, that is a very strange understanding of life, nor both necessary and impossible. All of these are what he was calling the intellectual truths; that I can no longer rely on what I sense and the only thing that is left for me are these types of truths. That is the only thing I know with certainty.

Sense-perception replied (he is writing it as a story that my sight, hearing and touch etc., said to me): Did you not expect that your reliance on intellect truths will flare like your reliance on sense-perception? Fine, you are not trusting us because you say sometimes we maybe wrong and you are so happy to side with this big thing ʿaql thinking it can never be wrong, so let us show you how your ʿaql, too, can be wrong. You used to trust in me, then along came the ʿaql and it proved me wrong. It proved that the sun really is not the size it seems. If it were not for the ʿaql, you would have continued to view whatever I said to be true; you would have thought that the shadow is not moving had you never known astronomy, had you not known that the earth is moving; for example, certain people even today believe that the earth does not move because they perceive it to be still. I had a teacher in the madrassah who had spent years there never leaving the madrassah compound. Once we were doing a text of old philosophy which said that the earth is not moving and gave many refutations of the counter view. The students were having fun with me because they knew I was from abroad. They said: ‘Ustād Jī this fellow thinks that the earth is moving.’ The teacher looked at me and said: ‘Aḥmaq! Is it moving? Can you feel it move?’ This is also a type of empiricism; he was saying that because his vision was showing him that if the earth was moving on its axis at the speed science tells you, things would be flying off of the surface of the earth. It means that without that particular ʿaqlī understanding of whatever the centrifugal forces of gravity are, you would have trusted your vision. That is what the vision is saying. May Allāh (swt) bless that ʿālim; he may not know that the earth is moving and you may think in one aspect of your life you have a juzʿī knowledge of this particular thing more than him that planet earth is a sphere that rotates around its axis and that the whole earth is orbiting around the sun. That ʿālim knows more about Allāh’s (swt) mercy moving into the hearts while we may know more about this piece of mud rotating around its axis. This is the difference; this is the choice we have made in our life.

Perhaps behind ʿaql there is another judge who, if it manifests itself, will show the falsity, fallibility and possibility of error of ʿaql in judging, just as, when ʿaql manifested itself, it showed the falsity of sense in its judging. He calls it the suprarational faculty; there is a faculty beyond rationality; just like there was a faculty called rationality that showed sense-perception can be wrong, what if there was a faculty beyond rationality that can prove rationality to be wrong?

Me and myself hesitated a little about the reply to that (here, nafs does not mean ego; it means he himself), and vision heightened that difficulty by referring to dreams. He gives the example of a transrational suprarational experience a person has: Do you not see how when you are asleep your mind believes things and imagines circumstances, holding them to be stable and enduring? Even modern neuroscience will say the brain (ʿaql) functions while dreaming. In fact, that is how they can tell you are dreaming; by putting instruments on your head they will record the activity of your brain. Your brain was functioning when you were dreaming that you were in, for example, Madīnah Munawwarah. At that time your ʿaql, your mind, in that dreamlike state fully thought that it was there while you were actually in your home. So long as you are in that dreamlike state, you have no doubt about it whatsoever.MāshāʿAllāh some of you have very complicated (lucid) dreams; that I was dreaming and in the dream I realized I was dreaming, then in the dream I realized that I realized I was dreaming! However, normally when people dream, they do not realize it is a dream, especially when they are having vivid dreams.

Is it not the case that when you woke up you realized all that your mind had believed was unfounded and untrue? Therefore, another judge can come and tell you what your mind held to be true was something that was untrue. Why then are you so confident that your waking beliefs, whether from sense-perception or from intellect, are genuine? What your mind thinks to be true is true in respect to your present state; but it is possible that a state will come upon you whose relation to your waking consciousness is analogous to the relation of the latter to dreaming. When dreaming, you were confident what your mind believed to be true in a dream to be true, but when you woke up you knew it was no longer true, then why are you so confident that when you are awake what your mind thinks to be true is, in fact, true? Maybe, you will wake up from this wakefulness; maybe one day you will see something beyond this life which will make you realize that many of the things that you thought to be true in the wakeful state were, in fact, untrue. Can you deny the possibility of such a thing?

Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) had said that I will only view to be true that thing which can withstand all doubts. The sense-perception is now putting doubts in ʿaql using the example of the dream — that maybe this whole life is a dreamlike state and maybe we will wake up on the Day of Judgment and realize that many of the things that our mind thought was true in this world are not true, can that not be a possibility? If Imām al-Ghazālī’s (rah) response to that is: ‘Yes, that is a possibility.’ Once he sees the possibility, he will no longer have certainty in ʿaql either, because certainty in ʿaql meant, as Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) had himself defined it, that you can never entertain the possibility of the ʿaql being untrue. Now, by this analogy of dream, Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is going to have to entertain the possibility of yet another state of being which will make him realize that his merely rational state of being was not true.

When you have entered into this (transrational and suprarational) state, you will be certain that all the suppositions of your intellect are empty imaginings. It may be that state that the people of tasawwuf claim as their special ‘state’; when they reach a certain level of fanā, ʿistighrāq and ʿistihḍār; when they go deep into this state of dhikr of Allāh (swt), which has nothing to do with ʿaql, it has to do with their qalb; so there were the five senses, then there was ʿaql, and now he is bringing yet another faculty of perception which is called the qalb; when they entered into the state of their qalb, in that state they realized what their ʿaql had thought was wrong. Until one enters into that state, they will never know, just like the person who is dreaming only on waking up will realize what they held to be true in the dream was wrong, they will never be able to realize that until they wake up. The only way to ascertain what one feels to be true in their current state to be really true is when they enter the next state. Vision is saying that just like after your state of vision there was a state of ʿaqlī analysis, is it possible after that ʿaqlī analysis there is a state of qalbī feeling; and it is only when you enter into the state of the qalbī feeling that you will know that your state of ʿaqlī analysis was wrong? That is a possibility because if you have demonstrated its reality in the dream-and-wake analogy, it means there is a possibility in the ʿaql-qalb analogy, and when it is a possibility, the ʿaql is no longer infallible in the way Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) defines infallibility.

This is a bit difficult that is why I am repeating it in different ways, but as long as you get some idea, that is sufficient for now.

Not only is this a possibility, there are a group of people who are laying claim to this. They are saying: ‘When I do dhikr of Allāh (swt) in my qalb, I get a feeling of qurb even though my ʿaql will tell me Allāh (swt) is baʿīd.’ Your ʿaql will tell you that you are a lowly mortal creature on earth and Allah (swt) is a transcendental Being; huwa warā al-warā, thumma warā al-warā, thumma warā al-warā; but when a person enters into the sate of the qalb, of heart-felt dhikr, they will feel that Allāh (swt) is qarīb, as He Himself has said in Qurʿān: ‘Fa innī qarīb’ [Q. 2, 186]. What can perceive that qurb? Your eyes cannot perceive the closeness of Allāh (swt), the sense-perception cannot do that; your ʿaql cannot perceive the closeness of Allāh (swt), rational-intellect cannot do that; there is another state, the heart, qalb, that can perceive the qurb of Allāh (swt). What’s going to happen here, I am just going to lay it out for you at the outset; the existence of Allāh (swt) can be known with certainty through the faculty of heart’s perception which is called qalb. It cannot be known with certainty, in Imām al-Ghazālī’s (rah) understanding, through sense-perception nor from ʿaql’s perception.

The use of the word ecstasy here is interpolation; the translator is inserting words. Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is not saying anything about union or ecstasy. The translator has interpreted the word ḥāl as ecstasy because that is their non-Muslim understanding of Sufism. Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) was not talking about that, he was talking about tasawwuf. Ḥāl means ḥālat al-qalb; ḥālat al-fanā; it does not mean union or ecstasy. It may be that that state, which is the state that lies beyond the state of ʿaql, which the people of tasawwuf claim as their ḥāl which occurs when they have withdrawn into themselves; ‘Wadhkur Rabbaka fī nafsik’ [Q. 73, 205], and are absent from their senses: ‘Tabattal ʿilaihi tabtīla’ [Q: 73, 8]; they are unaware of their vision, their eyes are closed, their ears are closed, their tongue is not tasting, their nose is not smelling; they are unaware of their senses, they witness states (or aḥwāl) that do not tally with these principles of the intellect.

One example Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) has given us is of ḥāl of tasawwuf; another example is that perhaps that state is death. Maybe after a person dies, they enter into a state which is beyond the state of the ʿaql, in which they can critically assess what the ʿaql thought to be true and realize it is untrue; just like when a person wakes up they can critically assess what they thought was true in the dream was actually untrue. Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) has used the same analogy in a ḥadīth: ‘The people are dreaming; when they die, they become awake.’ So perhaps life in this world is a dream by comparison with the world to come; and when a man dies, things come to appear differently to him from what he now beholds, and at the same time the words are addressed to him: ‘We have removed your veil from you; so your sight today is sharp’ [Q. 50, 22]. In life, things that appear to be real are actually unreal. People perceive that the dunyā is the be-all and end-all of existence. It is only when they die that they will fully realize that the ākhirah is the be-all and end-all of existence. Right now, they do not feel: ‘Qul matāʿu al-dunyā qalīl’ [Q. 4, 77]; that this dunyā and all that it contain is but a trifle, that realization will come when they enter the next state which is after their death. 

Let’s just pause here. This is something that Allāh (swt) knows best. When a person dies and their rūḥ and body is laid in the grave, there is some type of perception that remains; I am not saying that the person in the grave knows what is going on on the planet earth, but it also does not mean they are completely unaware. Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) said: ‘When a person dies their grave will either be a garden from the gardens of Jannah or a pit from the pits of the fire of Jahannam.’ In that sense, there is some shaʿūr; there is some perception that the person in the grave is going to be able to feel and perceive that garden from the gardens of Jannah or that fire from Jahannam. In that state, in either of those cases, the person would realize that the dunyā was untrue. If they are, inshāʿAllāh, in the garden from Jannah, they will realize that all of those things that they thought were pleasurable in this world were nothing. Similarly, if they are, al-amān al-ḥafīẓ, in the state where their grave is a fire from the fires of Jahannam, they will also realize that all those things that they thought were worth it in the world were truly not worth it at all. This is why Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) has mentioned the verse about the veil; it means the veil on perception that existed in this world will be lifted, ʿIllā māshāʿAllāh if someone really has ḥaq al-yaqīn in the ākhirah; otherwise we cannot really perceive ākhirah while living in this world. However, on the Day of Judgment it will be crystal-clear that ākhirah is Real.

One question that students have at this point in text is that Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) is talking about doubts, skepticism, journey of faith, how can he along the way also use Qurʿān and ḥadīth when at this point he is not even certain that Allāh (swt) exists; therefore he is not certain that the Qurʿān is true; therefore he is not certain that the Prophet (sws) was a prophet; therefore he does not believe that the ḥadīth references are truths? Simple answer is that at this point Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) has become uncertain of everything and he is stuck with all types of things that are in the realm of possibility. He is considering different possibilities and seeing which possibility will lead to certainty; just like he makes use of sense-perception at the level of possibility; he makes use of his ʿaql at the level of possibility thinking may be that will give him certainty; then the state beyond ʿaql is also something he accepts because technically it is possible because of the dream analogy — even now he is accepting Qurʿān at the level of possibility that perhaps it will lead him to certainty, similarly he is using ḥadīth at the level of possibility. The crux is going to be that from all of these possibilities, the one that leads him to certainty, he will view that to be certainly true. He is not trying to prove Qurʿān through Qurʿān; he is exploring the concept of certainty through whatever he has in front of him because at this point, everything that is in front of him is viewed by him as equally possible, yet equally uncertain. People say he should not have used Qurʿān and ḥadīth, rather he should have used his ʿaql alone, but why? For Imām al-Ghazālī (rah), at this stage, ʿaql is not certain, that is also at the level of possibility, so why then can he not use Qurʿān and ḥadīth in his journey towards certainty even if he holds them right now at the level of possibility? There is no circular logic taking place; he is not using the verses and ḥadīth to prove the existence of Allāh (swt). He is also open to existence of other positions which shows his intellectual honesty; he is open that those too could lead to certainty and he keeps questioning, keeps considering, keeps pondering, keeps percepting.

Cont’d in Session II

Duties of Brotherhood – Session I

[These are rough notes from the first session of Duties of Brotherhood conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in 2011]

وَّذَكِّرۡ فَاِنَّ الذِّكۡرٰى تَنۡفَعُ الۡمُؤۡمِنِيۡنَ
And keep reminding, because reminding benefits the believers. [51:55]

This is an excerpt from Imam al-Ghazali’s (rah) work Ihya Ulum al-Din. He was born in 1058 AD and passed away in 1111 AD which, in solar years, was 900 years ago. It’s quite amazing that 900 years later people are still translating his work to English, Turkish, Persian and Urdu. They are still studying and learning from him.

Previously we had mentioned that there are continually new methods, but sometimes there is so much barakah in an old method to reach your goal that the ummah keeps using that old method. Imam al-Ghazali’s (rah) Ihya Ulum al-Din is like that. The ways of all awliya and mashaikh; Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jillani (rah), Imam Bahauddin Naqshband Bukhari (rah), are like that. Their ways and methods are old but they have a lot of relevance and barakah in them even today.

There is a concept known in Qur’an as akhuwah, or ikhwah. It means that the mu’minin are brethren. The word here used is brotherhood, but without having to go into the whole discussion of gender interaction, in some sense some of these things are going to apply to all of your fellow mu’minin; it applies to women believers and fellow women believers in the sense of sisterhood; it applies to male believers and their fellow male believers in terms of brotherhood.

I’m not going to highlight them right now because our audience is all men, but a few of those things would also apply to a fellow Muslimah who will also have some rights over you, not necessarily in terms of interaction and emotional engagement, but in terms of khidmah, or some help, should she require it. For example, if there is an aged woman, there are many rights that she has over her fellow believers, even including the male believers.

Here Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is generally talking about the rights believers have on one another, but every now and then he is also talking about the adab of salikeen; the brethren on the path; the fellow seekers of the pleasure of Allah (swt); the fellow travelers of the path of tazkiyah, ehsan, tasawwuf and suluk, the adab they should have with one another. These two things are not separate. In fact, this is supposed to be the greatest model of brotherhood and the greatest model of compassion, love, respect, kindness and gentleness that two fellow students of the same teacher, or two fellow seekers on the same path leading towards Allah (swt) should have with one another.

You are going to find that Imam al-Ghazali (rah), along with quoting the Qur’an and Sunnah, is also going to site sayings of the mashaikh of tasawwuf, of the awliya ullah, of their teachings of adab and akhlaq, and sometimes site examples of the comradery, chivalry and close-nit relationship between fellow seekers on the path. Some of you might find that quite intense. Certainly, the modern mind is going to rebel at a few things. In fact, the very first chapter is going to hit you very hard. It has to do with money.

The contract of brotherhood is a bond between two persons, like the contract of marriage between two spouses. Nikkah is an aqad, an actual conscious contractualization of a relationship, that a person consciously enters into a bond. Here, just by being a fellow Muslim, whether you know it or not, you actually enter into a bond with every single fellow believer, and one-to-one bond with every single one of them. In marriage, you get a bond with one spouse. By entering iman, you get bonds and links with 1.2 billion mu’minin and muslimin all over the Muslim world.

Just as marriage gives rise to certain duties which must be fulfilled, so does the contract of brotherhood confer upon your brother a certain right over your wealth and property, your person, your tongue, and your heart, by way of forgiveness, prayer, sincerity, loyalty, relief and considerateness. So he has pointed out eight items and has written about each of them in separate fasl i.e. chapter.

1. To Grant Them Right Over Your Wealth and Property (Asset; Maal)

Blessed Prophet (sws) said that two brothers (i.e. two fellow male mu’minin, or two fellow female mu’minat) are likened to a pair of hands, one of which washes the other. First of all, Imam al-Ghazali (rah) through this hadith shows a simile, the likeness, the metaphor of the example of two hands, because the pair are mutual assistant towards a single aid. So the first thing to know is the nature of this bond in theory; just like in chemistry we have covalent bonds in theory, every single Muslims is a part of this huge molecule known as the ummah. We have bonds with every other atom of the ummah.

This is radically different from the secular philosophy that teaches the concept of individualism, which, at its highest articulation, was called atomism that actually suggested that every human being is a separate atom; not part of any molecule; not part of any broader substance. Imam al-Ghazali (rah) makes it clear that it’s not like that. The second you enter iman, you become a part of a very large group. You form bonds with every single one.

What is the purpose of the hand? To grab something, to stave off something, to protect oneself against harm, to acquire something that one needs such as food. So two hands mean the two mu’minin have the same goal. Their goal is Allah (swt) and they are going to be mutual assistants to one another. That’s why throughout our deen you will find an emphasis on jama’ah. Allah (swt) does not want you to take a solo flight towards Him. Allah (swt) doesn’t expect you to be successful in that. He wants that you should link yourself with others. Especially for men, their prayer is in jama’ah. Hajj is also offered in jama’ah, although it could have been at any time of the year had Allah (swt) wanted you to come alone. Anyone can come to Arafah alone. Allah (swt) makes us go there in a jama’ah such that all the ummah stands there on one single day; Yaum al-Arafah and pray to Allah (swt) as a jama’ah. That’s why Allah (swt) also says in Qur’an:

وَتُوۡبُوۡۤا اِلَى اللّٰهِ جَمِيۡعًا
And repent to Allah O believers, all of you. [24:31]

You should make tawbah to Allah (swt) collectively.

So it is with two brothers that they are like two hands. Their brother is only complete when their comrades, i.e. their fellows, assist one another in a single enterprise, since the two are like one person. Another hadith of Blessed Prophet (sws) is that the whole ummah is like one body. The entire ummah is like one entity.

This entails common participation in good fortune and bad. It means that if good befalls you, remember this is the chapter about wealth, so he is going to take it in the sense that if one individual in the ummah has been blessed by Allah (swt) with wealth, or a good fortune financially, then that good fortune must also fall on his brother. How can one Muslim have wealth while the other remain poor? How can one Muslim receive any bounty and blessing from Allah (swt) and the other person remains unaffected by that bestowal? It means to share; there should be mutual sharing. Similarly, if a tragedy, travesty, in this case financial poverty, afflicts a Muslim, it should afflict the heart of the other one, although it may not afflict the lifestyle of the other one.

And they should have partnership in the future as well as the present moment. This partnership and sharing isn’t just for the here and now. It should last all the way till a person is alive. That requires an abandonment of possessiveness and selfishness. You should have to abandon greed, that I want this for myself or that for myself, or I want to save so much for myself. When it comes to donation, I give a little bit. When it comes to savings, I save a lot. We should view our savings account, although it might be in our name, as if it belongs to all of the brothers.

Now he gives these three degrees for sharing property and assets with one’s fellow Muslim; three darajat or levels which a person can do.

i. Below Parity

The lowest degree is where you place your fellow Muslim brother on the same footing as your slave or your servant in attending to his needs from your surplus. If some need befalls him, and you happen to have more than you require to satisfy your own needs, you give them spontaneously, not obliging them to ask. To oblige them to ask is the ultimate shortcoming in brotherly duties.

What does he mean by treating him like your slave? It means you don’t give them parity, you are not treating them as an equal. You are letting him live in a lower financial state than you. You don’t feel it’s necessary to raise him up to an equal egalitarian financial status as yourself. But, while he is lower than you, if he falls in a state of need, hajah, then you will fulfill that need. This means charity will be given on an as-and-when-needed basis. Charity will not be given to empower them socially, to uplift them economically or to take them out of the class they are in. Lowest level is that charity will be given just on need basis.

You will find that the best of people today are like this. The best are only on the first degree. But Imam al-Ghazali (rah) speaks about something that even the best of us lack i.e. the adab of being on the first degree — that you give to him spontaneously such that you are not obliging him to ask. You don’t put him in a position where he has to ask. To oblige him to ask is the ultimate shortcoming in brotherly duty. This is what a lot of us don’t do. If someone gives only on as-and-when-needed basis, when do they determine the need? They think if they ask me, I will give it to them. They even think that because I’m really good friends with that person, so if they needed something I’m sure they would ask me. If he hasn’t asked me, he must be fine.

Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is saying that is too laid back. That is too passive. Our job is to know the condition of our brother, and our job for ourselves is to be able to check whether they have this need or not. We should not put them in that position where they have to present their need to ask us. You should want for yourself and for your fellow Muslims that the only being we ask is Allah (swt), and whenever we need something in this world, I should give it to him without him asking.

The crux of all of this is this hadith that none has perfected his iman unless he loves for his fellow believer what he loves for his own self. What should we love for our self? Let’s suppose he is as good a friend to you as you think you are to him. Put yourself in the role-reversal, if you are in need, despite the fact that he is a good friend, would you be comfortable asking him for money? I think most of us will say no, I would be embarrassed to ask him for money no matter how good a friend he is to me. So why did you think so quickly that he would come to you if he ever needed it? This is the adab of the lowest degree.

ii. Equalizing

You place your brother at the same footing as yourself. You are content to have him as your partner in your property to treat him like yourself to the point of letting him share equal. It means to tell him that what is mine is equally yours. You are free to take whatever I have. I have two sweaters, one is yours. Al-Hassan al-Basri (rah) the great Tabi’i – one of the greatest leaders of the followers of companions of Blessed Prophet (sws) – said that there was once a person who would split his wasteband between himself and his brother. Those of you who are desi may understand apna kamarband adha kar k dusre ko de diya. It is not exactly a belt, otherwise he would just be standing there with two halves of a belt not knowing what to do! It’s like a long rope used to tie loose and baggy trousers. So even that he would share with his fellow Muslim.

iii. Preferment

The third degree, highest of all, is that you prefer your brother to yourself. You set his need before your own. You would rather have them benefit from it. You would rather have them enjoy. So let’s say you have enough money that only one child can go to a good school and the other child has to go to a poor school, you would rather have your brother send their children to the good school and you will deal with the situation sending your child to the less good school. Can you imagine who could think like that? We work so hard and strive to earn money for the education of our children. We would never even on the farthest remote reaches of our imagination have made that intention that I will not do it for my children, instead I will do it for so-and-so’s children who lives in a disadvantaged location, and I will pay for his children to get the good education and I will send my children to the disadvantaged school. Never could we even dream like that.

Self-sacrifice is one of the fruits of this degree. So at this third degree the person slaughters their nafs. They lose their own desires, wishes and their own ambitions. They prefer their fellow Muslims to their ownselves.

Now here tradition tells how sufi fraternity, I will just comment here once on the translator. Obviously when people translate certain things in English, some people give it their Judeo-Christian equivalent. I would never like to use the word fraternity and not only because of what happens in American universities where they have JCRs and MCRs. Tradition here also doesn’t mean hadith, it means the reports from earlier Muslims.

What happened was that there was a group of people seeking pleasure of Allah (swt) and they were slanderously misrepresented to one of the rulers of the Muslim Empire at that time. The ruler ordered that they should be executed. He must have found in his view that they were guilty of committing apostasy; unbelief.

One of the accused was Abu al-Hussan al-Nuri (rah). When the group was called in front of the ruler, he recognized Abu al-Hassan al-Nuri (rah) who was standing at the front. He was a bit surprised because he knew him to be a pious, righteous, mutaqi, saleh, mu’min, but since he had already issued the order of execution, he had to continue with that. The ruler thus ordered the group to line-up again in the opposite direction. His intention was that at the end he would spare Abu al-Hassan al-Nuri (rah) and say in front of the court that so many people have been executed so the one left can leave.

However, when the people moved and the order was changed, Abu al-Hassan (rah) quickly moved to the front of the line. The ruler ordered them to line-up several times but every time Abu al-Hassan (rah) ended up at the front. Now the ruler thought that what am I going to do? He finally called him aside and he asked him that howcome he kept moving to the front? Abu al-Hassan replied that I wished my brothers, rather than I, should have a few more moments to live. In other words, now it’s a question of life. Whoever dies first will have a less life. The one who dies at the end of the line will have a few more moments to live. I would prefer my brothers to have life itself, to live more minutes than me, that’s why I present myself first.

The end of the story was that the ruler was impressed by Abu al-Hassan’s (rah) adab and akhlaq towards his fellows. He saw that he was the living embodiment of the hadith that you should love for your fellow believer what you love for yourself. And he realized that if this person is the associate of this whole group, this whole group must be righteous and pious and I must have been misinformed. He waved his order of execution and all of them were spared.

The lesson of the story also shows that there is barakah in adab. Many times we don’t realize that. Sometimes, when some of the joint ventures and projects that we do fail, or they collapse, or they don’t take off as much as we want them to do, it’s because we didn’t have adab with our fellow project workers. Sometimes loss of adab leads to a loss of barakah. Even if you are doing a project of khidmah, you will end up doing less khidmah because you will have less barakah in that khidmah, because you had less adab with one another.

If you do not find yourself in any of these relationships with your brother, that at the very least we should help them when they are in need, then the aqd, the contract of brotherhood has not concluded into innerself; inside you don’t really view that person as your fellow Muslim. You don’t really view them as your fellow believer. You don’t really treat them as your brother. All that lies between you is just a formal connection.

We love to say “assalamualaikum, brother, how are you doing brother?” That’s not brotherhood. Brotherhood isn’t just the mere exchange of salams. Is that all you would do with your blood brother? With your blood brother, you would try to keep a track of him, you would know what’s going on in his life, you would make sure you find out about his worries before he has to tell them to you. If you don’t have any of these three, then all that lies between you two is a mere formality, a superficial connection, lacking real force that has no haisiat, no haqiqat, no value and reality, in reason or religion. Even deen will not give any value to such a relationship, and even aql will not attribute any value to such a mere formality type of a relationship.

Then one who is content not to put his brother first might as well be the brother to the people of the graves. We would not want to use the word tombs here. Ahl al-qubur means the people of the graves; the people of the cemetery, the people of the graveyards. It means that he himself is also as good as dead for those people. He is not a real or living brother. As for the lowest degree, it is also unacceptable for truly religious people. If you really want to be salihin, siddiqin, sadiqin, the lowest degree is not going to cut it. You have to at least view the fellow brother as equal, if not prefer him to yourself.

Utba’ullah Ghulam came to the house of someone whose brother he had become saying that I need 4,000 of your money. The other said to him take 2,000. He declined the offer saying you prefer this world to Allah (swt)? Are you not ashamed to claim brotherhood in Allah (swt) when you say such a thing? Sometimes, some people would form a nisbat or a bond of brotherhood with one another. For example, this is sunnah, when Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) and Sahaba (ra) migrated from Makkah Mukaramah to Madinah Munawwarah, the migrant were called muhajirun, and the receivers, the helpers, were called ansar. Syedna Rasool Allah (sws), for the large majority of them, paired each one off in nisbat-i-mwakhat. One muhajir brother was made brother with one particular ansar. One Makki Sahaba (ra) was made brother with one particular Madni Sahaba (ra).

Sometimes, later on in history, some people revived this sunnah. So at some point this man was paired off with Utba’ullah and he needed some money. The implication being that he had the money. Notice that we do this sometimes with people who are close to us. We bargain with a person on their need. This is not a financial transaction; we are not selling him a commodity. They need 4,000 and for us the cold calculation of money starts; I am not the only person he knows, he could probably get 500 from X and 300 from Y and 200 from Z and 1000 from T, so I will give him 2,000. The mathematical cold processor which is the love for dunya in the mind makes all these calculations just in a fraction of a second.

Utbah said what kind of brotherhood is that? If you have 4,000 and I need 4,000, then I should get 4,000. It also shows you how frank the earlier Muslims were. He gave him, like we say in Urdu, khara jawab. He responded immediately and frankly. You prefer the world to Allah (swt)? Are you not ashamed to claim brotherhood in deen lillah fillah with me for the sake of Allah (swt) and say such a thing?

Then Imam al-Ghazli (rah) gives advice. Who is he giving advice to — just to be clear, so we don’t feel too hopeless — he is giving advice to those mentioned above when he said if you want to be truly religious people, the lowest degree is not going to be good enough for you.

Secondly, you ought to avoid muamalat with a person who is at the lowest stage of brotherhood. He is not saying spiritual feelings, feelings of love, but you should not want to become business partners with such a person. You should not want to have a joint entrepreneur venture with such a person.

If you have a spiritual brother, do not deal with him in his worldly affairs, he means if he is at this stage. This is a well-known thing, unfortunately, that if you have a close Muslim friend, one of the best ways to lose him is to make him your business partner, and for university students, by making him your roommate. They can’t even share one kitchen together. They would have been great friends when they lived separately, but when you put them together then you will see.

Imam al-Ghazali saw people and knew these things, like a person with 50 years of experience as a woodman would know all the different types of wood. He would know maple, oak, cherry etc. He would know which two would look good with one another, which ones can be joined with one another. These people were the masters of hearts. They had worked with so many different types of hearts of so many different types of sinners that they knew what would work with what. So he is advising that if the person has not gotten on the first level, don’t engage in muamalat/financial dealings with them. They will be a source of hurt, grief and sorrow for the both of you.

As for the highest degree, this corresponds with the description of the true mu’minin mentioned by Allah (swt) in Qur’an. That is this concept of shura.

وَاَمۡرُهُمۡ شُوۡرٰى بَيۡنَهُمۡ وَمِمَّا رَزَقۡنٰهُمۡ يُنۡفِقُوۡنَ‌ۚ‏
They agree on their affairs by mutual consultation and they spend freely of what we have bestowed upon them. [42:38]

The interesting nisbat Allah (swt) is mentioning here is that they do mutual consultation, shura, in Urdu mashwara, because they are viewing themselves as equals. And they also spend freely. They may decide and discuss the issue together as peers but they spend freely on one another. This is the highest degree which is to prefer our brothers to ourselves.

They are co-owners of worldly goods without distinction in status. Again, to take the roommate example, if they have a fridge, if you are on second degree, whatever you put in it, you would be happy if your roommate shares in it, and whatever he puts in the fridge, you would be happy to share in it. If you are on third degree (highest) you would notice what he likes and you would buy that for him. Let’s say you like orange and he likes apple juice. Next time you shop, you will not just buy orange juice, you will also buy apple juice. Third degree means you only have £2 from which you can either buy orange or apple juice. You will buy apple juice and put it there for him.

Finally, you will not do, what we call, ehsan jatlana; you will not let him know. That’s another problem with us. “O brother, you know I went to the store and I only had £2 and I knew that you liked apple juice, so I bought apple juice.” We are losing points with Allah (swt) to gain points with makhlooq. Do it for the sake of Allah (swt), no need to tell. When you made him feel it, you lost. You are supposed to do it in a way such that he never knows. He should be thinking seems like my roommate started liking apple juice. Maybe I am rubbing off on him.

All of you may never say it, but you feel it in your heart. When you open the door and see he has taken the last crescont, do you feel it? Does it hurt you a little bit? Do you get a little sting? Then you are not at the right level. How much does a crescont cost? You should be happy that Alhamdulillah I thought that was Allah’s (swt) rizq for me, ya Allah I am so grateful that You made it a means of rizq for my brother. I love you Allah, you are so kind to me. That’s how you should feel when you see the crescont is gone, when the ben & jerry’s ice cream is finished.

There were those who would shun the fellow-ship of a man because of his expression ‘my shoe’, thereby attributing to himself. It means he views the shoes as his? I can’t be his roommate.

Fatal al-Mausuli (rah) once came to his brother’s house when he was away, and asked his wife to bring him his money-chest. Opening it, he took from it whatever he needed. He went to someone’s house, and he probably needed some money, but the man wasn’t there. He told the wife that wherever he keeps the money, bring that bag to me. He opened the wallet and took whatever he needed. When that person came home, he was told of the incident. He had an attendant, a slave, to whom he said, if what you say is true, then you are free. He was so happy that Allah (swt) made this fellow brother of mine so comfortable with me that when I wasn’t home he felt he could take my wallet and take my money. I’m so happy he took my ATM card without even asking me and he made as much withdrawal as he needed. That’s what it means. So delighted was he at his brother’s deed. 

Once a Tabi’i (rah) came to Syedna Abu Huraira (ra) and said that I wish to take you as my brother in Allah (swt). Syedna Abu Huraira (ra) said do you know what that means? He replied, no. He said, you have no greater right to your dinar and dirahim, to your money, than I have. Once we are brothers, we are the same. What is your maal is my maal, and what is my maal is your maal. So he said I’m not ready for that yet. Then Abu Huraira (ra) said that you can leave me. 

Ali ibn Hussain (rah), the great grandson of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws), once said to a person that does one of you put your hand in the pocket or purse of your brother and takes what he needs without permission? They said none of us do that with one another. He (rah) said then you are not brothers. You are not brothers until you are at that level of closeness that you can take money out of the wallet of the other person. I told you the first chapter will be difficult for you. This is the most difficult one for the contemporary Muslim.

Some people called upon al-Hassan al-Basri (rah) and asked him, Abu Sayid (this was his kunyat), have you prayed your salah? He said yes. They said we are asking because people in the market have not yet prayed. So Hassan al-Basri, one of the greatest ulema of the Tabi’in, said who takes his deen from the people of the market? I hear that one of them refused his brother a penny. And al-Hassan said it as if it amazed him. He wasn’t denigrating them because they were market people. What was the thing that made him scoff at the people of the market? What was the thing about them that made him think they should not be followed? They had refused their brother a penny.

Once a person came to Ibrahim ibn Adam (rah) as the latter was leaving for Bait al-Muqaddas, (may Allah (swt) restore Bait al-Muqaddas to us and enable all of us to visit it one day) and said that I want to be your companion on the journey. He said you can come on the condition that I have more rights to your goods than you yourself do. I see you have a nice, big suitcase with you, and I have a little rucksack with me, so I will have more rights to your goods than you. He said no. He replied I admire your sincerity.

Ibrahim ibn Adam (rah) would never differ from a person who would accompany him on a journey. He would only choose a companion who would be in harmony with himself. It also shows that a person can, and maybe should, look at what we call munasibat. Munasibat means compatibility, congeniality, affinity. I’m not talking in terms of required muamalat. But in extra muamalat, extra interaction with fellow Muslims, you should interact with those you know you can successfully, mutually, beneficially interact with.

On one occasion, his traveling companion was a sandal strap merchant. At a certain resting post in the journey, someone presented Ibrahim ibn Adam with a bowl of soup. He opened his companion’s bag and took out some of the straps — as you know the strap is a piece of the sandal so this person manufactured and sold those particular pieces that were used in assembling the sandals — and he dropped them in the bowl and returned it to the person who had given him the bowl of soup. When his companion came along, he asked where are those straps which were in my bag? How much did the soup cost? You must have given him 3 straps. Be generous and generosity will be shown to you.

What he did was that after eating the soup he put those straps in the empty bowl. After eating the broth, which was a gift from the person, he wanted to return the bowl in which the broth was given. Then he decided that I have to give that person something. I have nothing to give him, but my companion is carrying his business goods, his straps, and  wherever he goes he will trade them. So I will take two out and put them in the bowl, that way we can do khidmah of the person who sent this soup to us.

When the companion came back he noticed that two of my straps are missing. So he said that no we have to be generous to them. Be generous and generosity will be shown to you. This can mean two things. One was Ibrahim ibn Adam (rah) was teaching him that if you give the straps, Allah (swt) will continue to show generosity to you. Or he was trying to do ’amal on it himself; that this person has sent soup to me, he is being generous to me, I should now become the second half of this generosity, I should also give him a gift. Even though he gave it to me not selling the soup, not expecting any return, but since he was generous to me, the adab of my deen teaches me that I should be generous to him. I had to take two of your straps in order to fulfill that teaching of deen, to become generous back with him.

Ibrahim bin Adam once gave a donkey belonging to his companion without his permission to a man he saw walking. Can you imagine that I take the keys of your car and give it to the poor fellows on the bicycle? When his companion came along, he said nothing and did not disapprove. Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is teaching by way of example that what is the munasiba; travel with that person who knows what you are going to do.

The greatest story for this is of Khizr (as) when Sydna Musa (as) tries to become his traveling companion. Khizr (as) tells him that you are not going to be able to have sabr with me. You will not be able to handle me as a traveling companion. Musa (as) insisted that I can, he took three chances after that:

 هٰذَا فِرَاقُ بَيۡنِىۡ وَبَيۡنِكَ‌‌
“Here is the point of parting ways between me and you.” [18:78]

This is now the separation, the parting of ways between me and you. You can see that lesson from Qur’an also that if there is no munasiba (understanding, there is no trust), then it may not be a well advice to pick that person as a companion.

The son of Syedna Umar (ra) says that one of the companions of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) was given the head of a sheep. That companion thought to himself that my brother such-and-such, who was also his fellow sahaba, needs it more than I do. He thought that though I am hungry and somehow Allah (swt) has sent this food for me, but I know that so-and-so must also be hungry so I should send it over there. When he sent it over there, the person who received it said that so-and-so is also hungry so he sent it over there, it kept getting sent round and round till it came back to the first person after going through seven hands.

Seven Sahaba Karam (ra) preferred their fellow companion over themselves. Now we don’t know maybe when the first companion got it back, he thought maybe Allah (swt) wants to give it to me so he may have eaten it at the end, but seven people got sawab out of it. When you have more adab, you have more barakah. Had he eaten in the beginning, that would have also had barakah, but giving it away initially granted reward and pleasure of Allah (swt) to seven other Sahaba (ra) by preferring their fellow believer to themselves.

Masruq (rah) owed a heavy debt. His brother Khaytama was also in debt. It doesn’t mean his blood brother. Masruq went off and paid khaytama’s debt without him knowing and Khaytama went off and paid Masruq’s debt without him knowing. They both paid each other’s debt. They were more worried about the debt of their fellow brothers than their own debt. Can you imagine that today? I don’t want to get into that because 99% of loans that are taken today are not okay, but let’s say someone took an interest-free education loan to study and he is graduating and thinking I have got this £5,000 loan and the other friend also took interest-free education loan to study and he is also graduating knowing he has this £5,000 loan. But he thinks I will work and I will pay off half of his loan and he will never know about it. The other one also thinks I will work first and pay off his loan and he will never know about it. Can we find such an example today?

In the example of the ansar and muhajir, Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) made nisbat-i-mwakhat between Syedna Abdur Rehman ibn Awf (ra) and Sa’ad ibn ar-Rabi’ (ra). The latter offered to put the former i.e. Syedna Sa’ad (ra) offered to put Syedna Abdur Rehman (ra) first in preference, both materially and spiritually. He said may Allah (swt) bless you in both respects. Syedna Abdur Rehman (ra) responded that may Allah (swt) bless you in both respects, thus preferring his brother the same way as his brother preferred him.

What happened first that Syedna Sa’ad (ra) made du’a for Syedna Abdur Rehman (ra) that may Allah (swt) bless you both in monetary rizq and also spiritually give you higher ranks of taqwa, higher ranks of sabr, higher ranks of tawwakul and may Allah (swt) bless you with ease in this world. Then Syedna Abdur Rehman (ra) responded back that may Allah (swt) bless you. This is the concept of preferring and equalizing. The first gesture was preferment, to give tarjih to your fellow Muslim. The first is to give tarjih to your fellow mu’min — even in du’a.

Let’s say both you and your fellow Muslim brother have an interview at 9 AM for the same job. You both show up at 8:58 AM and are both sitting in the waiting room. You both have two minutes to make du’a. So you spend two minutes making du’a that he gets the job. That’s preferment; that you prefer him over your own job. Equalizing would mean you spend one minute making du’a that you get the job and one minute making du’a that he gets the job.

Abu Sulaiman ad-Darani (rah) used to say if I own the whole world to put in the mouth of a brother of mine, meaning if I could take the whole world and make a morsel out of it and feed my fellow Muslim, even then I would feel that I have done too little. He also said that when I feed a morsel to a brother of mine, I am feeding it to him but I feel the taste of it in my own throat. That is what in Arabic is called ita’am — feeding another is even more pleasurable — akal ta’am — than eating it yourself. In Urdu you can say khilany ka maza khany k maze se zyada hai.

Spending on fellow mu’minin is even worthier than giving sadaqah (not zakah) to the poor. Syedna Ali (ra) said that twenty dirham that I give to my fellow mu’minin are dearer to me than the hundred I give to the needy. This may be that special case of nisbat-i-mwakhat; Syedna Ali (ra) was a mahajir who was paired with an ansar (ra). He also said to make a meal and gather my brothers around it is dear to me than freeing a slave. This shows what we are well-known for all over the world, especially our Arabi brothers, this is how we show our joy and affection to each other, over meals.

In putting others first, everyone should follow the example of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws). He (sws) once entered a thicket with one of his Sahaba (ra) and gathered two toothpicks one crooked and the other one straight. It’s not a toothpick, it’s actually a miswak. He (sws) gave the straight one (i.e. the nicer one) to his sahaba (ra). Sahaba (ra) said ya Rasool Allah (sws) you are more entitled to the straight one than I am. The Blessed Prophet (sws) responded that when a fellow accompanies a fellow, when a friend accompanies a friend, if only for one hour of the day, he will be asked on the Day of Judgment to account for that time that he spent in the company of his fellow; that whether he fulfilled his duty to his brother in that hour or whether he neglected it.

Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) was thinking that about himself. He (sws) is the prophet while the Sahaba (ra) was an ummati — obviously the prophet should get the nicer one. But the way Blessed Prophet (sws) viewed it was that he is not just my ummati. He came with me on this journey. He is my travelling companion so I have to prefer him. You see that especially in children that they don’t like to do this. If they get something, they would immediately pick the better one for themselves. It maybe the case with adults too. Go back to your fridge where there are two crescont; one is slightly bigger than the other. You will go for the slightly bigger one and leave the smaller one for your friend.

Back when we used to eat meals together in our madrassah, it was known which students you should sit with and which ones you should not sit with. I was of the ones you could sit with Alhamdulillah. But that’s because I was a slow eater and not because of the other reason. I remember one student particularly said this to me when we were doing takhassas course that it seems you don’t like meat. I said, actually I do like it but you guys finish it by the time I get a chance to eat. He smiled and ever since he got this information he used to love to sit with me!

Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) indicated by his own example that putting the companion first, putting ones fellow first, was to fulfill one’s duty to Allah (swt), because Allah (swt) has rights over us in terms of our traveling fellows and companions.

On another occassion, Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) went out to a well to wash himself. Syedna Huzaifa (ra) took a robe and stood screening the Blessed Prophet (sws) while he washed and bathed. Then Syedna Huzaifa (ra) sat down and washed himself and Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) took the turn to hold the sheet to screen him. Syedna Huzaifa (ra) said Ya Rasool Allah (sws) what are you doing? May my father be ransomed for you; literally it means I would give up my own father for you and my mother too. He meant don’t do khidmat of me. Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) insisted and said each time two people are accompanied together, the more beloved to Allah (swt) — ahabbu — is that one of the two who is kinder to his companion.

There is a hadith of Sahaba (ra) that whatever Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) taught, he (sws) wanted to be the first one to do ’amal on it himself. He (sws) did ’amal on every hadith himself. He (sws)  did it to teach others, yes, but also because he (sws) too was a servant and slave of Allah (swt). Like we say ash’hadu anna muhammadan ’abduhu wa rasuluhu; first and foremost he (sws) is the servant and slave of Allah (swt) and then His prophet and messenger. When Allah (swt) inspired him (sws) with this meaning that the more beloved to Allah (swt) is the one who is kinder, he always wanted to be the one who was kinder, and he always succeeded.

بِالۡمُؤۡمِنِيۡنَ رَءُوۡفٌ رَّحِيۡمٌ
And for the believers he is very kind and merciful. [9:129]

Allah (swt) said in Qur’an that he (sws) is with all believers ra’uf ar rahim; kind and gentle; soft and merciful — and these qualities are mentioned about Allah (swt) as well.

Malik Deenar and Muhammad ibn Wasi’ al-Azdi went together to the house of al-Hassan al-Basri but he wasn’t there. Muhammad bin Wasi’ took out a basket of food and started munching on it. Malik said to him, clap your hands to fetch the master of the house. Muhammad paid no attention to his words and went on eating. Malik was more for politeness (formality in manners).

Then Hassan said, my dear Malik, we are not used to being so shy of one another than you and your fellows appear i.e. you are doing takalluf with us and we are not used to that. We would like it that you should walk around the house and start eating food. So with this he indicated to make oneself at home in a fellow Muslim’s home is part of true brotherhood. This is why Allah (swt) in Qur’an al Karim has mentioned which homes, the buyut, you can enter: your own home, or that of a friend, or the home to which you have the keys. The ishara Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is giving is that although one’s brother would give the keys of house to another permitting him to act as he saw fit, a brother felt piety required him to refrain from eating.

There was one Sahabi (ra) who had given the keys to his home to another Sahabi (ra). Even though he was trying to show him that my home is like yours, the Sahabi (ra) who received the keys was still feeling a bit shy and hesitant. In his mind, he was thinking even though he has been so nice to give me the keys, still it is not nice of me that I should treat his home as my home. Allah (swt) sent wahi down in Qur’an and said you can go into it freely. If he is opening up his home to you like that and giving you the keys, you should feel that you should be able to go in as freely as you want. This was the first duty which was pertaining to material sharing — sharing our wealth, property and assets with our fellow believers.

2. To Render Personal Aid

Personal aid means not to hire somebody to help, for example, not to call the cab when you can drive the person yourself. Do it yourself. DIY khidmat of your fellow mu’min. To render personal aid in the satisfaction of their needs to fulfill and the fulfillment of their need, in attending to them without waiting to be asked and giving them priority over private needs. Same thing that which he said before, to oblige him to ask is the ultimate shortcoming in brotherly duty — that your fellow Muslim has a need, and you know of that need, or rather it should have been your duty to have been informed about that need, but either you neglected to do that duty being unaware of his need, or you knew but you still waited for him to ask — you waited for him to ask — that is the ultimate neglect of brotherly duty. It also means to give them priority over your own needs.

Here, too, there are different degrees as was in the case of material support. Lowest degree consists of attending to the need when asked and when in plenty. It means I will help this person when they ask me and when I have time to do so. This is the classic case of my experience in this country; over and over we get this message: if you need something, let me know. I have never responded to any such SMS. Even if I am in the most dire state of need, I will not respond to such a person. People love to send this. They are waiting to be asked. And, if they have time, when in plenty, then they will tend to your need. But at least it is showing cheerful joy and pleasure and gratitude. That is a good thing, they have one degree that they will genuinely, joyfully, happily, kindly, generously, showing pleasure and gratitude do what you have asked.

Someone said that if you ask your brother to satisfy a need and he does not do so, then remind him for he may have forgotten. If he still does not do it, pronounce Allahu Akbar over him as if he is a mayyat, and recite this verse:

وَالۡمَوۡتٰى يَـبۡعَثُهُمُ اللّٰهُ
As for the dead, Allah shall raise them up. [6:36]

If a person is sleeping and you shake him, he wakes up. If you shake something and it does not wake up, it does not mean it is sleeping, it means it is dead. You asked him once, then you reminded him the second time, you shook him, he still did not remember so you should pronounce Allahu Akbar over them.

Ibn Shabruma (rah) once satisfied a great need for one of his brothers. That brother later brought him a present. Ibn Shbruma (rah) asked him what is this? He said this is a present for you because of the great favor you did to me, you helped me in that great need. He said no, keep it, may Allah (swt) preserve you. And then he told him, if you ask your brother for something you need, and if he does not exert himself to satisfy your need, then wash for prayers, meaning make wudhu for salah, and pronounce four takbirs for salat al-janaza over him and count him among the dead. I think we would have a lot more janazas were we to do ’amal on this!

Ja’afar ibn Muhammad (rah) said that I make haste to satisfy the needs of my enemies lest I reject them and they do without me. Enemy means, let’s say somebody has envy or jealousy for you, or they did backbiting to you or they are in a cut-throat competition in school, cut-throat competition in the office with you — you know they have something against you. But you also happen to know they have a need. Ja’afar ibn Muhammad (rah) would actually go and fulfill the need of the person.

What would we do? We would be angry that why does this person have envy and enmity towards me? If we found out about their need, we would be happy that they have this suffering. We would revel and enjoy the fact that they have a need they are waiting to be fulfilled. Lest I reject them and they do without me — he was worried that what if I reject them and they try to make it without me? I don’t want them to be mustaghni/independant of me. Even if they are my enemies, they are still my fellow believers.

For example, even in certain masajid their are committee members competing for elections. If one member finds out the other one has some difficulty, the former would be so happy and overjoyed that maybe he will get caught up in that, maybe he will not be able to campaign enough, maybe he will not be able to get enough votes. Actually, we rejoice when we find out our enemies have needs. They did not think like this — they thought even if they have enmity towards me, I am still his fellow Muslim. If he has a need, I will fulfill his need. That is how they used to win over the hearts.

Sometimes there is a misunderstanding between two people which leads to a feeling of hostility or resentment. Sometimes it gets so confusing, you cannot clear it up. It might even be that if you go to clear it up, it gets more confusing. You just mess it up. What you have to do in such a situation is to do something for them completely separate from that situation. You may not get that opportunity immediately, but once you do that, Allah (swt) unravels the knob on its own.

One Muslim in the early days would see to the maintenance of his brother’s wife and children for forty years after his brother’s death — attending to their needs and providing for them such that they missed only the father’s person. They didn’t miss the father’s support because this person was offering that support. Unfortunately, that’s not something we can talk to you about in this country, but we would just tell you certain shuhada who leave behind families, this is their right over us that we should look after their families. Obviously, they will miss the person because that person was their father, you can never replace that personality. But other than that, all of their needs should be taken care of. They should feel as if they have this support and strength of a man in their house even if that particular man has been taken up by Allah (swt).

Indeed, they would try to treat them so well as they may have not even been treated by their own father. Not personal love, it may mean showering them with gifts and support. It was known for a man to go regularly to his brother’s household who had passed away and inquire from family widow that he left behind, have you oil, have you salt? These were staple items. Many times they would just drop off bags of salt and pouches of oil at their door.

If a man was traveling with his brother and anything was needed, he would attend to it unbeknown to his brother. This is how brotherhood and compassion are shown. If a man does not manifest compassion towards his brother in the same degree as to himself then there is no goodness in him. Be as true to others as you are to yourself. Be as caring to others as you wish to be cared for yourself.

Maymun ibn Mehran (rah) said if you reap no benefit from a man’s friendship, then his enmity will not hurt you. This is talking about the reverse side. One side was that we should give, care and help as much as we can. The second side is that if someone else is our friend, we should not try to reap benefits, we should not try to extract help from them. You should not expect it of them, demand it from them, force it out of them. If you don’t do that and that person who is your friend for some reason turns into an enemy, you will not lose anything in terms of personal aid because you were not taking any aid from them from the beginning.

Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) said surely Allah (swt) has vessels on this earth namely our hearts; qalb; spiritual heart, those hearts considered dearest to Allah (swt) are the purest, the strongest and the finest. Purest means pure from sins. Strongest means strongest in iman. Finest means finest towards their fellow Muslim brothers. In short, your brothers’ needs ought to be like your own or even more important than your own. You should be on the watch for times of need, not neglecting the situation anymore than you would your own.

We always watch out for ourselves. We are checking am I going to be okay? Will I be able to make this month’s finances? Do I have enough for this year? Do I have enough for this summer? We are keeping track of ourselves. Just like that, we should keep track of someone else. These people were also harīth; they wanted the opportunity to help others. They were searching and keeping track, they wanted to monitor when and who is in need because they wanted to help that person.

We are the opposite. We want not to know to the best of our ability. If someone forces us to sit down and broadcast his need to us, only then will we feel some type of duty and obligation to help them out. You should see that he does not have to ask — you can see, over and over again Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is repeating this — nor to reveal his need to appeal for help. Rather, you should attend to it as if you did not know you had done so. You yourself should also not feel that you helped him.

In a famous hadith Blessed Prophet (sws) has said that you should give charity with your right hand such that your left hand does not even know. Similarly, you should help your fellow believer in such a way that even you are not self-conscious and not aware that you helped him. You should not see yourself having earned any right by virtue of what you have done. You should not feel that you are entitled to that person’s support, you should not even feel that you are entitled to that person’s love, or their appreciation, or their gratitude. You should never do something for someone with that intention that you are going to make them indebted to you; whether financially indebted to you, or emotionally indebted to you in terms of gratitude, gratefulness and thankfulness. Rather, we should count it as a blessing and a kindness from him that he did an ehsan on me, it was his favor on me, I am indebted to him that he has allowed me a chance to help him.

You should not confine yourself to simply merely satisfying his needs, but you should try from the start to be even more generous to prefer him and put him before your own relatives and children. It means if he needs £10, you should give him £20. Why are you keeping him on this borderline situation? You only helped him so much that he did not fall, but you are not helping him to walk.

Al Hassal al Basri (rah) used to say that our brothers are dear to us than our own families and children because our families remind us of this world while our brothers remind us of Akhirah. This relationship which is khalasatan lillah fillah — solely, exclusively in the name of Allah (swt) for the sake of Allah (swt) — whenever we sit with those people, all we think about is Allah (swt) and Akhirah. When we sit with family, although that aspect is there, but there is also a worldly aspect to our family relationships.

Don’t get this wrong. He is not saying that you should have any disdain for your family. It means a very high love and enjoyment for family, but even higher than that was the enjoyment they got from those relationships that were purely for the sake of Allah (swt).

Al Hassan al Basri (rah) also used to say that if a man stands by his brother all the way until the end, right till the climax of need or whatever difficulty is afflicting him, then on the Day of Judgment Allah (swt) will send angels from beneath His throne to escort that person to Jannah.

Then in another tradition (tradition here does not mean hadith, this is what we call khabr, the early Muslim non-prophetic tradition) tells that whenever a person visits their brother, fellow Muslim, out of longing and yearning to meet them, then an angel calls out from behind and says that you have done well and there should be a well for you in the garden of Paradise. There is a question of how can you say this about the angels? Only Allah (swt) and Blessed Prophet (sws) can tell us what the angels say. Sometimes when you see narrations like this, it means they are giving an emotional expression to a reality that was mentioned in hadith.

For example, Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) said in a hadith that when you help your fellow Muslim in any need, Allah (swt) will help you in your need. And in another hadith he (sws) said when you make du’a for any fellow Muslim, Allah (swt) sends an angel who says three things: ameen, wa laka, ameen. For example, you made du’a for X. Allah (swt) sent an angel who said ameen to your du’a for X. Then the angel said wa laka making the same du’a for you and again the angel said ameen on his own du’a. So X got your du’a and angel’s ameen, but you got angel’s du’a and angel’s ameen. You actually got something better. This is expressed in this way that when you help someone, the angel would come and say something like you have done well and there will be a well for you in Jannah.

Ata ibn-e-abi Raba’ (rah), one of the great tabi’in, said seek out your brothers after three occassions. They must visit when they are sick, which is called ayadat al-mariz. If they are busy, help them. If you see them caught up in so much busyness, and you have some fursat, faraghat, free time, try to help them. And if they have forgotten, remind them. Especially if they have forgotten Allah (swt), remind them. If they have forgotten the Sunnah of Blessed Prophet (sws), remind them.

وَّذَكِّرۡ فَاِنَّ الذِّكۡرٰى تَنۡفَعُ الۡمُؤۡمِنِيۡنَ
And keep reminding, because reminding benefits the believers. [51:55]

Allah (swt) says in Qur’an that you must recollect and remind because that recollection and reminding benefits believers. That ayah is basis for all courses, all talks and lectures. It’s not enough just to read Qur’an and hadith on your own, because Allah (swt) said in Qur’an wa zakir — Allah (swt) has commanded some individuals to make nasiha, give advice, counsel, admonish and remind. Because indeed that reminder tanfa’u al-mu’minin — that act of reminding is of great benefit to the believers.

There are many ways to do this type of dawah. There is no one particular jama’ah to exclusively do dawah. We should all have this dawah aspect in our lives. A lot of us slack in this. There are people in our sphere, in our circle of interaction, some of whom are so close that they are even in the sphere of influence, but we don’t remind them at all. Some of the brothers in tablighi jama’at are very good at this. They don’t leave any stone unturned. They go in Pakistan to get a haircut, within one minute they are talking to the barber. Before you know it, the barbar is being given a full bayan about Allah (swt). Most of us would just sit there and will not say anything. That was an interaction and every interaction is an opportunity.

Sometimes you may even be sitting there watching and thinking in your own cynical and sarcastic way that look at the barbar, he is so annoyed. Sometimes you have to annoy people. He is getting annoyed at that moment, he may have forgotten Allah (swt) so much that he may not respond to the call of that reminder. But maybe in a few weeks Allah (swt) may send him some test, meaning Allah (swt) is going to shake him up, and he may remember some of the words that his brother had told him. That brother opened a door for him. He is not willing to walk through that door at that moment, but the door was shown to him whether he liked it or not. Later on, if there comes a time when he is willing to walk through that door, he will remember it.

I’m not saying do it every time and in every situation. It requires wisdom and hikmah also. But most of us let every opportunity go — every barbar, every taxi driver, every Muslim we interact with, we don’t say any word of nasiha to them. It should not be like that either. Every now and then, if you get the opportunity, chat the person up a little bit, don’t say too much but at least say a couple of lines. Share something that you heard, share some ayah of Qur’an, share some hadith of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws), share some words of nasiha, share something from your own life to make him personally close. Offer him something.

Maybe he will buy it, you never know. He may not look interested but how do you know? Can you see inside the hearts of people that they are uninterested? Offer him something and, even if he displays disinterest, just leave it there for him as food for thought. Maybe he will take a bite later. First intention to make is that I’m actually reminding myself: If nothing else, I may buy it. I heard this thing, I don’t do ’amal on it myself, but when I told the barbar that day, I realized that I should better do ’amal on it myself, so I bought my own dawah.

It was narrated that Abdullah ibn Umar (ra) was looking about right and left, he was looking around in front of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws). Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) asked him what are you looking for? He said there is someone beloved to me who I am searching for, but I don’t see him. Maybe he was thinking Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) came out of Masjid an-Nabwi and he (sws) is sitting with us and he (sws) is going to talk to us, and where is that favorite friend Sahaba (ra) of mine who is missing out on this? Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) said if you love someone, you should ask his name, his father’s name, where he lives. If he is sick, visit him and if he is busy, help him.

Blessed Prophet (sws) was teaching Abdullah ibn Umar (ra) that it is not enough just to be fond of him. You should have gotten to know him — ta’arafu — you should have asked his name, father’s name in order to identify him. Otherwise if he gets sick, how are you going to visit him? If he has a need, how will you find out how to help him? How will you keep track of him if you have no idea what his name is? It happens many times, I go places and ask you know this person? Plenty of times I get the reply, no I don’t know him, though sometimes I have seen him in the masjid but I have never talked to him. If I ask the one who knows his name, what does he do? He would say I have never asked him that.

By the way, this is a very special hadith that Syedna Abdullah ibn Umar (ra) narrates about his own interaction with Blessed Prophet (sws). Maybe because he was quite young, Blessed Prophet (sws) had a very special, what we call, andaz-i-tarbiyat, a special way of training him. In another narration, the hadith mentions the words that you should remember the name of his grandfather, his tribe, you should really do ta’aruf — you should really get to know him. He is your Muslim brother. Today we have our work brothers, you work in Cambridge, it should not be that when you get back on the bus and go home you wonder who was that brother with the blue shirt? Ask his name. Ask him what he does. Ask him where he lives.

Ash-Shami (rah) said of a man who keeps company of another, then says he knows his face but not his name (that’s what we say in Urdu mein shakal se janta houn, naam nahi ata hai –same case hundreds of years ago), that is the knowledge of a fool. What type of people were they and what type of people are we?

Syedna ibn Abash (ra) was asked who is the dearest, most beloved people to you? He said the one who sits in my company. Allah (swt) said in Qur’an:

يٰۤـاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ وَكُوۡنُوۡا مَعَ الصّٰدِقِيۡنَ‏
O you who believe, fear Allah, and be in the company of the truthful. [9:119]

When we adopt taqwa and sit with the sadiqin, we should feel something for the sadiqin and, we are learning here, the sadiqin also feel something back for us. He also said if someone sits in my company three times without having need of me, I learn where he is placed in the world.

Syedna Mullah said my sitting depends on three things: on my approach I greet him, on his arrival I make him feel welcome, when he sits I make him comfortable. They honored the sitting with one another. If we used to love to sit with them, they also used to love it if we sat with them. Allah (swt) said:

رُحَمَآءُ بَيۡنَهُمۡ
Compassionate among themselves. [48:29]

They are full of rehmah — full of mercy to one another. This is the ayah describing the feelings believers have for one another. Imam al-Ghazali (rah) commented that these words point to compassion and generous treatment. Part of complete compassion is not to partake in solitude of delicious food — to go eat your chocolate ice-cream secretly in the corner alone. I’m guilty of doing this; having cookies and Ben & Jerry’s when the kids are sleeping. Rather should the brother’s absence be stressing and the separation sad. You find this when you look at the tales of the lovers of one another for the sake of Allah (swt). They would be in a gathering enjoying and then they would realize that X is missing. The fact that X is missing would make them sad.

So, not to partake in solitude. If Allah (swt) has given you happiness, then share that happiness. When you share that happiness, you will multiply it. Allah (swt) has given you a joy not to enjoy alone — that’s why sunnah walima is a part of our deen — when Allah (swt) gives you that joy, you don’t want to just have that joy alone. In our deen, the first expression of the joy is to share that joy, proclaim that joy, announce that nikkah, gather people to a meal and show them how happy you are.

3. To be Mindful of the Tongue

First duty was financially helping; sharing in one’s property, wealth, assets and possessions. Second duty was helping which Imam al-Ghazali (rah) called personal aid. Third duty concerns the tongue. Sometimes the duty requires that the tongue should be silent. At other times, the duty towards our fellow Muslims requires that we should speak out. It is going to take some learning and some hikmah/wisdom and du’a to Allah (swt) to figure out when is the occasion to be silent and when is the occasion to speak out. Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is going to help us here.

As for silence, when should the tongue be silent?

  • The tongue should not mention a brother’s faults in his absence (ghibah) or in his presence.

If you have such a relationship with that person, let’s say your younger brother, in his presence, but alone, not to expose him or embarrass him, not simply to shout at him, rather to rectify and guide him, you can discuss a fault of his with him. In such a case, that’s okay. Here it means to broadcast or expose that person’s faults, whether they are present and you expose their faults live in front of others, or you expose him in his absence, that is not something a person’s tongue should do.

Rather should you feign ignorance. For example, if someone asks you, “Do you know so-and-so? I heard that brother actually did X?” Even though you also know he did it, you should say, “Oh really? Allahu ’alam.” Close the discussion at the start. As opposed to saying, “Yeah I know he did X, but do you know he also did Y?” That’s what we do. Instead say Allah (swt) knows best — that’s always a correct statement, even if you do know.

  • You should not contradict him when he talks, nor dispute nor argue with him.
  • You should not pry and quiz him about his affairs.

On seeing him in the street or about some business, you should not start a conversation about the object of your coming and going, nor ask him about this. For perhaps it will be troublesome to him to discuss it, or he may have to lie about it. Like, “Dude, where are you going?” “Nowhere.” Obviously, he is going somewhere. If he says nowhere to you, he doesn’t want to share it with you. You don’t give him a second and say, “What do you mean nowhere? Where are you coming from?” Now he gets even more embarrassed. What difference does it make to you where he is coming from or where he is going? His right to you when you met him in the street was simply that you say salam to him, not to make him disclose completely where he is going or where he is coming from or what he is about to do.

This is why Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) said la tajassasu — don’t have this curiosity. I know people may not ask this question with a bad intention necessarily, but Blessed Prophet (sws) is training us. In another hadith, Blessed Prophet (sws) said min husni islami mar’i tarqu ma laya’ni — that from the beauty, nobility, excellence of the deen of Islam of a person is that they leave the things that don’t concern them. Don’t concern yourself with where he was coming from, what he was doing, where he was the previous night, unless there is a particular reason that maybe of concern to you, but 99% of the times it is not, so you should not ask.

Look at Imam al-Ghazali’s (rah) hikmah 900 years ago, still valid today. Perhaps it will be troublesome to discuss it or he may even have to lie about it. May be he did something so embarrassing that when you put him on the spot, although he should not lie, we are not excusing him, but because you put him so much in the spot, he ended up lying. You put him in that position. If there is something he wants to share with you, he will share it with you himself. Look at the adab — they were the people who used to think carefully. They viewed every interaction with every follow Muslim as something not to be taken lightly or forgranted.

We have to have husn-i-sulook. We need to have most noble way of dealing with the person. We should be conscious about what we should or should not say but without being nervous and unnatural. Once a person is trained in these adab, they come naturally. This is one of the gift of iman that every person Allah (swt) has gifted with iman, the sunnah adab and akhlaq comes naturally to them. They just have to learn it, practice it a little bit, then it will flow naturally from them.

The first time you hear it, it may seem a bit difficult to do. Don’t worry. Once you learn and practice it, it will flow naturally with ease. That will become your personality. That’s the power of deen that if you want the personality of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws), it can be your personality. It means his (sws) temperament, outlook, mannerism, kindness, compassion, his ways of dealing with people can become our way of dealing with people, if we want to follow his sunnah, his teachings of adab and akhlaq. If we became like that with one another, imagine how united the ummah would be. Don’t get me wrong. There will still be differences. Unity does not mean uniformity. It has never meant that in ummah. Even Sahaba Karam (ra) had differences. Unity is something else altogether.

So we have covered a few things in there: not to mention faults in absence or presence, not to contradict or dispute, not to pry and quiz about his affairs.

  • Keep silent also about the secrets if he confides in you and on no account divulge them to a third party, not even to his closest friends.

This is the hadith of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) al majalasu bil amanah. Some of you may be wondering in these few lines, I have mentioned several hadith to you that Imam al-Ghazali (rah) did not mention. Why did he not do so? This is our contemporary problem. We want that everything should be extremely well documented with references to all hadith. It is understandable for us. But in Imam al-Ghazali’s (rah) time, and the people he was talking to, they all knew hadith. Hadith was standard education for a Muslim. Every hadith I’m saying, they all knew it.

These types of books and works were just to take them to the final step to live those hadith and to feel those hadith. The purpose of these books was not to teach them the hadith. Because many of us don’t know hadith, it would be nice for us to have those hadith added to the translation so that along with getting Imam al-Ghazli’s (rah) help on living the hadith, we could actually do the knowing of the hadith as well.

You should understand this, it’s not that Imam al-Ghazali (rah) did not know hadith or he was not concerned with hadith or he just likes talking his own words. He is talking to an audience that knows hadith. In fact, the vast majority, if not all of his works, were addressed to ulema who were formal students and scholars of hadith. In many of his letters he addresses them point-blank directly by name and chastises them that you spent so many years studying and you still don’t feel it, what have you gotten from the sunnah? You have known thousands of hadith and you still don’t have the adab? He goes after them by name, point by point, and he does it in many other places in Ihya. In fact, this is universally accepted by all Muslim and non-Muslim historians that Ihya Ulum al-Din was written primarily by Imam al-Ghazali (rah) for the ulema. It is such a tragedy that the ulema don’t read it anymore.

So, al majalasu bil amanah literally it means gathering, but even conversations that you have with one another, are an amanah, unless it’s understood that you are talking about something that does not in any way require confidentiality. What does it mean that don’t even talk to it about to their close friend? For example, you may be friends with Abdullah, Abdullah is also friends with X. Abdullah tells you that I lost my scholarship for next year, and has some discussion with you about that. Because you think outwardly Abdullah is equally close friends with X, don’t assume Abdullah has told X. When you see X, don’t say, “Hey did you hear Abdullah lost his scholarship?” He will say no. So you breached a trust. When Abdullah told you, he was telling you, he wasn’t telling you to tell X. In fact, if Abdullah is close friends with X, he will tell him in his own way, in his own time.

We have this habit in ourselves of too much broadcasting. We hear and we broadcast. This is what Blessed Prophet (sws) is telling us that al-majalasu bil amanah. It doesn’t mean that only if the person explicitly tells you. Abdullah didn’t tell you not to tell anybody else, yes. But your nabi Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) told you not to tell anybody else. It’s about our habits. We have too loose of a tongue.

Do not reveal anything about those secrets, not even after separation and estrangement. Let’s say you are no longer friends with that person for whatever reason, misunderstanding happens, you part ways, even then you should not betray him. You should not think that the confidentiality of agreement in relationship was only when we were friends and now we are not such close friends. It’s a lifelong amanah. For to do so would be meanness of character, it means it is just bughz, ghil; it is just malice, spite and retribution. You are just doing it to be mean.

For example, you are roommates with someone. What that person does in that flat is not the business of the entire building. They are sharing close corners with you, so you may get to see certain things about them. You may get to know them more intimately. Those intimate details of their close personal lifestyle, their habits, their character, are not meant for you. He does not have to say about every single thing that don’t tell anyone about this. It’s understood that you are not supposed to share and broadcast these things to other people.

Cont’d in Session II