Tarbiyat-i-aulad Workshop Part II

[These are rough notes from the workshop conducted by Dr. Zeeshan Ahmed in Karachi on March 4, 2018]

Cont’d from here.


10. View the child as life’s second chance to you

We may have made mistakes as a child. Perhaps not knowing the consequences, we ended up with bad habits, or in the wrong company, which we later regretted. Having known the pitfalls, we can design the lives of our children the way we want by guiding them and making du’ā for them.

  • Plan their life early so they can achieve more

Research has shown that to get expertise in anything, you need to put in 10,000 hours of focused effort with the guidance of mentors. If, for example, at this age I want to become a ḥāfidh, or master the Arabic language or English literature, I will not be able to put in that kind of time.

For me all of my decisions revolved around this question: what is the next best career move? For the next 2-3 years I will complete my college, then I will go into medical, or I will graduate from IBA, etc. When time is short, choices become limited. But when we are planning ahead for a 4 year old, a multitude of possibilities open up.

Students often say I cannot achieve this skill or target. I tell them look, what cannot be achieved in a week can be achieved in a month. What cannot be achieved in a month can be achieved in six months. What cannot be achieved in six months can be achieved in two years. What cannot be achieved in two years can be achieved in ten years. When we look at future with a long-term approach, we can achieve a lot more.

When we start planning for our children at a young age, assign them mentors and teachers, accumulate financial savings, we can make them:

  • Doctor + ḥāfidh
  • Expert writer + speaker + intellectually developed + madrassah taught

But once this time has lapsed, there is no way we can seize it.

  • Make them your ṣadqah-i-jāriah 

Three things included in ṣadqah-i-jāriah are:

  1. Doing a good deed that benefits people on a long-term basis, e.g. planting a tree, constructing a mosque, digging up a well.
  2. Teaching knowledge that people continue to benefit from.
  3. Bringing up a virtuous child.

All of these deeds will benefit a person even after they pass away. It is mentioned in a ḥadīth that a person was being punished in grave. When his child said bismillah for the first time and started reciting nāzrah Qur’ān, the punishment of the father was decreased. This was not because of his own deeds, but because of the deeds later done by his child.

  • Reform yourself to reform the child

Upbringing of a child is a golden opportunity to reform ourselves. I have noticed that Muslims in the U.S. are more conscientious of their child’s upbringing. They are aware that if they don’t work on their child, there won’t be any difference left between them and other non-Muslims. The parents who did not even attend Friday payers made sure they brought their children to Sunday school.

Most parents have this mentality: I don’t want my child to become a smoker (though they may themselves be chain smokers) or I don’t want my child to get into bad company (though they may themselves waste away in the company of their friends).

There is a du’ā in Qur’ān which has a precious gem in it — and it is my favorite. You can recite this with allahummā or rabbanā in the beginning:

Aṣliḥ lī fī dhurriyyatī, innī tubtu ilaika wa innī minal-muslimīn [Q: 46, 15]

Scholars have translated Aṣliḥ lī fī dhurriyyatī in two different ways.

  1. Grant them ṣalāḥiyat (from ṣulāḥ; capability; merit)
  2. Do their iṣlāḥ (rectification)

I try to make intention of both meanings while making this du’ā i.e. rectify their character and grant them capabilities which they will require for success in dīn and dunyā.

What is capability and rectification being combined with? This is from Qur’ān. When you are asking for iṣlāḥ, innī tubtu ilaika you are begging Allah (swt) that I have sought forgiveness for my mistakes, I return to you having left all my sins (taubah means rujū; to return).

Innī minal-muslimīn that I am from among Muslims. This is my identity so have mercy on me. I am the one to surrender, not the one to insist upon sins. There is a very latīf nisbat (subtle connection) that when my character is rectified, when I declare myself to be a Muslim, only then will goodness be sealed in my child’s character, only then will their rectification become a possibility.

Scholars have pointed out a very strange thing. In Surah Kahf, which we try to recite on Fridays, there is the story of Khizr and Musa (as). Ḥadrat Musa (as) had demanded to know why he had repaired the wall, that too free of cost, for villagers who had not shown them any hospitality. Ḥadrat Khizr (as) replied here is the point of parting ways between me and you [Q: 18, 78] because your knowledge is different than my knowledge.

Then Ḥadrat Khizr (as) went on to explain the reasons behind his actions. For the last one, he said that there was wealth hidden beneath the wall that belonged to orphans. And had that wall collapsed, they would not have been able to recover it. Allah (swt) willed for that wall to be repaired so that when those orphans grew up, they could easily recover their wealth.

He highlighted one aspect of the orphans that their father had been a righteous man [Q: 18, 80]. Some scholars have commented that this was not their biological father, but a great grandfather seven generations back. If we consider this opinion, and based on some other narrations, it shows in our dīn there is a concept that the good deeds of parents can benefit their offspring for seven generations. If we are not pious, if we have character flaws and weaknesses, this is a motivation for us to fix them.

Another interesting thing to note is in Surah Nūḥ. For the vast majority of us, it is hard to stomach that anyone, even a kāfir, would be thrown in hell forever. And we are still just ummatī. Imagine, a prophet like Nūḥ (as), who is considered among the top six ūlul Anbiyā, made du’ā against his nation that O Allah, don’t spare even one of the unbelievers because if you leave them, they will only mislead others [Q: 71, 26-27].

Scholars have pointed out that it is the hallmark of prophets that they are well-wishers of their people, then why did Nūḥ (as) make this du’ā? They did research and said that these people would carry their children on their backs and point to Nūḥ (as) and say this is kazzāb (the biggest liar). If the children were being raised this way, what was the probability they would not lead others astray?

Mufassirīn have even written that the birth of Ibrāhīm (as) in the household of Āzar, and Kanʾān (the one who climbed up a mountain and drowned) in the household of Ḥadrat Nūḥ (as) are exceptions to the rule. By default, pious children are brought up in the household of pious caretakers.

The Islamic concept is that no matter how much we have sinned, if we make taubah today and try to leave those sins, we can start from scratch. Our choices play a big role in the psychological, behavioral, spiritual and iṣlāḥī decisions our child will make. So if we have been given a second chance in the form of our child, this should motivate us to reform our own character.

11. Work on their intellectual development

  • Connect them to religious knowledge

Parents in this day and age cannot afford to have intellectually weak children. Think about it — why is it mentioned in a ḥadīth that the sleep of an ʾālim is better than the vigil of an ʾābid? Why is one faqīh (jurist) considered a bigger threat to Shaytān than a thousand ʾābidīn? Why is ʾilm given so much value in dīn?

ʾIlm is an anchor. It helps us set limits. I have heard this from our scholars, and I have felt this myself during daura-i-ḥadīth where I benefited from Muftī Taqī Usmanī (db), Muftī Rafī Usmānī (db) and Maulānā ʾAzīz ur Rehmān (db), that the daura-i-ḥadīth of daura-i-nizamī is the closest you can get to having companionship of Rusūl Allah (sws) in this day and age. Because day in and day out you are studying ḥadīth, especially those who study this full-time. Their classes start at 8:00 AM and can last up to 11:00 PM.

At some point, you start feeling like the narrators of ḥadīth are like your own companions and you are directly learning from them. It is said that a person who experiences this daura has fewer chances of going astray. We should try to have some level of connection with that. We should try to make ʾilm the anchor for our children. Try to connect the child to this from the very start.

  • Integrate secular education with religion

A lot of religious people realize this so they send their children to madrassah for hifdh and they also send them to top schools. This is understandable because we want to give our child the best of both worlds, and it is a good intention to have.

One of our friends once told me when he was studying in Foundation Public, the Qārī sb there, his mannerism, and even the books he used to teach were all very dry. During this time, a priest visited them to preach Christianity. These priests have a very good training in articulation. On top of that, the book he used was also very colorful. So naturally he was inclined towards the attractive presentation.

If you look at science books in our curriculum, they are very colorful and interactive. You can check this for yourself. I teach my children so I noticed in the books of seventh and eighth grade science, the underlying theme is very clearly evolution. It is not creationism. There will be very subtle narratives that will infuse a virus in the child’s brain.

As a result of all this, we are developing two personalities in the child — one is being developed in the madrassah, where they are getting tarbiyyah, studying Qur’ān etc, and the other is being developed in the school. These are two detached worlds with no integration. Tablīgh, taʾlīm and tasawwuf do have a religious narrative, but it does not link up with the scientific theory of creation of the world.

My own opinion is this, and I have discussed this with scholars as well, that we need to create an integration of concepts from both science and religion in the takhayyul (intellect) of the child. But parents will have to do their homework, they will have to do research.

One time I picked up a documentary for my children. I don’t remember its exact title but it was about the history of the entire creation. It starts 13.7 billion years ago with zero volume after which Big Bang happens. I did some research on how I could integrate it with our concept of creation. So I asked them what was the ayah where Allah (swt) says the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and We separated them [Q. 21, 30]? In a way now the Big Bang theory is being reconciled. Always make the connection where it is due.

In another place, Allah (swt) says that We sent down iron [Q. 57, 25]. The video goes on to show that all the heavy metals came down on the earth. So there is a connection between the two.

Then a big asteroid banged with the earth, one mass was separated and began rotating around the earth. Thus the moon was formed. It is scientifically sound and a good description. You can also ask your child that why did Allah (swt) create the moon? Science can tell us how it was created, but it cannot tell the ‘why’ behind it. This is the limitation of science.

Many scientists don’t believe in God, but they do believe that there is a brilliant mind behind the creation of the universe that has generated perfect symmetry, balance and design. People like Richard Dawkins firmly adhere to atheism. They say that we are certain there is no god. But majority of scientists, though they don’t believe in a personal god, do say that we believe in the god of engineering, we believe in the god of science and maths, we believe in the god of design. A big name among these is Fredrick Hoyle who said:

The probability of the universe emerging out of random forces or by chance is less than the probability of a hurricane sweeping through a junk yard and assembling a 747 Jumbo aircraft.

Scientists have stated that if the expansion rate of this universe was less than a millionth of a second, it would have collapsed ages ago. If its expansion was greater than billionth of a second, the matter would have scattered and a solid structure like earth could have never been formed. We should try to look for these proofs and evidences in the scientific community.

A theist scientist once asked Richard Dawkins that you are so sure god does not exist, but what if after death you do find out that there is a god, and you had to face him, what will you say to him? He replied that I will ask god: Sir, why did you take so much pain to hide yourself?

This goes to show how ghabī (ignorant) and aḥmaq (foolish) they are. The name of Allah (swt) is al-Bātin (The Hidden One), but it is also ad-Dhāhir (The Manifest). All of us who believe can testify of many signs of Allah (swt) that are manifested daily. So many ayahs and proofs from Qur’an are daily experienced by us in everyday life. But he who has been blinded by Allah (swt) is not able to perceive His presence.

Coming back to the reasons behind the creation of the moon, Allah (swt) says that we created the moon for mankind to mark fixed periods of time and for the pilgrimage [Q. 2,189]. There are signs in the lunar phases.

Science tells us that modern homo-sapiens evolved over a period of 200,000 years somewhere in Africa. Then there is our own narrative that Allah (swt) created Ḥadrat Ādam (as) and Ḥadrat Ḥawwa (as) and it states the reasons for their creation. If we don’t link these concepts, it will give rise to doubts and skepticism in the mind of the child later on. We should device a system where Islamic schools and communities create an integrated narrative for the children. This will take the intellectual development of the child to a whole new level.

I am not just talking about science. I am talking about current literature. When I became the dean at KSBL, I started reading books on leadership management. One of our Ustad Jī invited me to Jamia Tur Rasheed for their congregation. He gave me a strange topic: ʿUlamā k liye maʿāshartī aur samājī qiyādat (social leadership roles for the scholars).

The gist of it was that usually NGOs take social initiatives to volunteer in villages and other rural areas. People in these areas are simpletons. They pick up religion from the behavioral cues of these volunteers. Our madrassah-based scholars should make it a habit to initiate and partake in these activities.

I also mentioned three leadership qualities that are taught to every individual who is brought up religiously:

  1. Clear mission, vision and purpose.
  2. The spirit of serving others. Rusūl Allah (sws) gave us the model of leadership: raʾīs al-qaumī khadimuhā (the leader of a nation is its servant). We need to infuse this spirit in children from an early age. The leadership skills are all about having this inkasarī (modesty) and ʾijz (humility); not to view oneself as a somebody. This is our core-level training in dīn.
  3. The importance of having a strong character. They are taught to be qawwī (have integrity) and amīn (honest). Our dīn is focused on these character traits. There was a research conducted to rank leadership qualities. Guess which trait made it to the top of the list? Subordinates and leaders alike ranked it as the core trait for leadership. It was trustworthiness of the leader.

You can connect all of these Islamic values to current literature. Wherever they do not align with our values, we will critically assess them. Our core is dīn. The knowledge provided through waḥī far outweighs any knowledge we have gained through our intellect.

When science was primitive and backwards, it had not discovered many of the things we know today. It is still primitive to a great extent. Our future generations will call us primitive the same way we consider our previous generations primitive (in science and technology). Ultimate source of knowledge is waḥī — it is our dīn.

13. Work on their behavioral and emotional development

  • Reinforce positive behavior

B.F. Skinner, the greatest proponent of behavioral school, says that children will adopt the characters for which they get positive reinforcement. Likewise, they will avoid doing what they get negative reinforcement for.

Imagine, a child just won a trophy for a sports tournament. As soon as the father enters home, the mother exclaims, ‘look, what a great achievement our child has accomplished!’ The child will experience this moment-by-moment, their hearts will feel ecstatic and euphoric. Next time they will try even harder. If we celebrate whenever they secure top positions, it will reinforce that behavior.

We can apply the same strategy elsewhere. For example, the father proudly tells the mother, ‘today he prayed all twenty tarāwīḥ with me without fidgeting, and followed the imām perfectly.’ If we appreciate these behaviors, they will keep getting reinforced in their characters.

  • Have good expectations

Rusūl Allah (sws) would rarely reprimand anyone. He (sws) was gentle and kind in counseling and expected good from everyone.

There is an article “12 things parents of successful children do.” It is research-based with a very strong evidence to support its claim. The Qārī sb of our children once quoted the exact findings of this research — and I was amazed at this man’s insight even though he had never read the research himself. The research shows that parents who have high expectations, their children excel significantly more in education, sports and other areas than those parents who don’t have any expectations from their children.

This research was conducted in schools, universities, military academies and corporations. Researchers would first assess cadets, students or employees. Then they would identify a superstar/high-flying/gifted group, and an average/mediocre group which was the control group. The researchers would then measure their performance after a lapse of one year over a duration of 3-4 years (it was a longitudinal study).

They found out that the progress trajectory of the gifted group kept on increasing every year. And the gap between their trajectory and that of the control group also kept increasing. You might say so what’s the big deal? They had already identified the gifted group, so their trajectory was obviously going to increase more.

The interesting part is that the assessment researchers had done in the beginning was completely bogus. They had lied. The gifted group was just a random sample. There was no evidence to support they had better analytical, logical or linguistic skills. The question is then why did the random sample keep performing better every year? There were two reasons:

  1. Change in self-image: The gifted group began seeing themselves as gifted so they gained more confidence.
  2. Change in attitude of others towards them: Teachers, military generals, supervisors, etc., began treating them differently. When an average person made a mistake, they would say you are incapable of doing any better. But when the gifted person made a mistake, they would say we expect better from you, we will give you some time to figure out how to fix this problem. The attitude was completely different.

This is called the Pygmalion effect — mothers and fathers should look it up — it means whatever we expect from people, after a while it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The frustration of getting the child to memorize something can cause the mother, father or teacher to say something negative. Even if they control the urge to hit the child, or call them names, they will still scold them saying something like: You still don’t get it? If you say something like this, the child’s self-image, the way they perceive themselves, will be destroyed. It is not easy! Even I have made this mistake. But when we read about its impact, we should realize the harm it can do.

14. Work on their physical development

  • Incorporate play-time in schedule

Suppose you are doing everything for the child; they are doing hifz, studying maths and other subjects from tutors, and you are also giving them time. On top of that, there is another very important thing. Once a friend of ours was telling us that I was reading a book between the time of ʿAsr and Maghrib. Muftī Taqī Usmanī sb said this is not the time to read a book. This is the time to play. In the madrassah, children are encouraged to play some sort of sports during this time. ʿAsr to Maghrib is a time fixed for going out and having fun.

At one point when my children were doing hifz, I made them join a cricket club. At another time, I signed them up for a soccer club. This way it was inculcated in their schedule.

  • Teach mental focus and sportsmanship through games

Three sports have been encourage in ḥadīth:

  1. Archery
  2. Horseback riding
  3. Swimming

You would think Rusūl Allah (sws) would say something like don’t even leave the masjid without your prayer beads, but he (sws) is telling us to do horseback riding, to teach our children archery and swimming.

Recently, my khala brought a small basket and a ball. I also started playing with the kids. We had a competition. I coached them too that look, don’t keep all the focus on the basket. Feel the ball, feel its texture, feel its weight in your hand and notice how it swings when you throw it. In archery, you are taught the correct way to focus on the bull’s eye; it develops your psychology about how to focus on goals in real-time and what practical steps to take to achieve them.

Just like in a sports competition, we focus on the goal to beat someone at the game, in studies we can focus on a goal and achieve it. It gives rise to a competitive spirit, but a healthy one. When the child says I got good grades, give them a pat on the back. When they say I got better grades than X, discourage them from doing so. Healthy competition means we want others to succeed as well. This spirit of sportsmanship and physical development can be taught through games.

  • Feed them healthy food

With good nutrition and a balanced diet, they will achieve more intellectually and also perform their religious duties in a better way. There is a ḥadīth that whoever eats ʿajwa khajūr in the morning, poison and magic will not harm them. There is also an emphasis on eating talbīna, which can be included in breakfast. Get your child in the habit of eating whatever has been mentioned in tib-e-nabvī. Pastries, chocolates, cold drinks — try to talk them out of these things. I have experienced this personally that if you do tarbiyyah of the child, they can have a lot of resistance towards these things. Tell them from a young age that this will increase your body fat, it will make you obese in future, etc.

15. Work on their social skills

  • Get them involved in chores

In 1938, Harvard started its longest study on 268 sophomores, of whom only 19 are alive now and are in their 90’s. The study looked at their habits at that time and compared them to how their lives turned out in future. Results showed that the children who were in the habit of doing household chores:

  1. Were more independent
  2. Struggled less in jobs
  3. Did not get addicted to drugs
  4. Developed more socially
  5. Were able to empathize more with the poor and needy. They were more likely to be kinder towards their helpers and drivers because they knew how much effort they had to put in in getting the work done.

We parents usually make excuses for the child e.g. we say they are tired so I will do the dishes, or they have an exam so I will make their bed. Our first reaction is that let the children study. But what was the sunnah of Rusūl Allah (sws)? It was taught to men as well, that when you go home, you should help around in chores. If the father does it, the mother does it, then children will automatically do it too. If the children know someone is going to do their work, they will not do it. That’s one reason why we did not keep a helper. Our children were becoming too dependent on her.

  • Inculcate the spirit of helping others

There was another study conducted by Duke and Pennsylvania State University on about 800 kindergarten children. They started in 1991 and tracked the children until they reached 25 years of age. They found out that the children who mingled with others in kindergarten and were kind and helpful were:

  1. More successful in the long run.
  2. More likely to end up in a good employment situation
  3. More likely to end up in a good social relationship, especially marriage.
  4. Less likely to end up in prison.
  5. Less likely a become a drug addict.

I often tell my children that when I was in matriculation, our maths was very hard. I had some classmates who would ask me for help, perhaps assuming I was the helping type. The benefit of this was that I did not have to prepare alone. We often think if we help others, we will lose out and they might get better grades than us. But the reality is that skill and knowledge are two things which the more you share, the more they will increase for you.

So I asked my children whether they were helpful to their classmates? They said I don’t say no if they ask me for help. This habit will inculcate good social skills and also help them in their knowledge. They will not have to prepare separately for exams. We have to infuse these social skills from an early age. This will help them in becoming productive and achieve more. The sunnah concept is to be very kind towards others.

16. Develop their faith and spirituality

We will have to do our homework, and find creative and innovative ways to do this.

  • Connect them to good mentors

If there is an elderly pious person in iʿtikaf, you can take your son to sit with him. Their grandmother or some other elderly from the family can also help them connect with Allah (swt). My earliest connection with Allah (swt) came from a Ramadan where our nani, khala and mamoo would sit together, recite Qurʿān, do tasbīḥāt etc.

We were also given incentives and treats for finishing a certain amount of tasbīḥ, so we would be competing with each other. We used to pray nafl and make duʿā for our exams.A small child is deeply effected by such an environment.

  • Tell them motivational stories

Our nani used to gather us around and tell stories from Qurʿān or from the life of Rusūl Allah (sws). She had read a lot of tafsīr books so she would relate the stories in great detail. We should understand the psychology of children and prepare before-hand. Reading stories from the book can turn the children off. Try to build the narrative yourself. Anyone with good storytelling skills can do this.

These stories should be linked to the children and their lives. My son recently heard the story of Ḥadrat Sulaimān (as) and he was so impressed that he (as) could control winds, jinns, insects, animals, etc. I asked him would you like to be like Ḥadrat Sulaimān (as)? He said I cannot be a prophet, but I do want to be like him. I didn’t tell him this distinction, the credit goes to the schoolteacher.

Then we can tell them that Sulaimān (as) did not love this world even though he had a command over it. He didn’t care about how powerful his kingdom was, he cared about what mattered to Allah (swt). He said that saying one sub’hānAllah is better than my entire kingdom.

  • Build their relationship with Allah (swt)

This is the central thing. If this has been built then other things will get construct around it.

We have told our children to make duʿā because it always gets accepted, especially of children, and also when one is traveling. Once we were going to Murree and children really wanted to see snowfall. So at that point they started making duʿā for it. We thought that now we are stuck because there is no snowfall in March/April. But when we got there, we experienced a sleetfall. That time it was not just the children whose imān got stronger, but ours too.

  • Build their identity

One big anchor our children are missing out on is that they don’t get to know themselves. We don’t focus on their identity. What is the aspiration we build for them? To become a doctor or an engineer is too small a goal to aspire towards. Their identity should not revolve around their jobs or careers.

In the entire history of creation, what is their status? Do we tell them that they are masjūd-i-malāʾika (the one whom angels bowed down to)? Do we tell them that now that they are fasting, Allah (swt) is proud of them in front of the angels? That if they follow the path of Allah (swt) at such a young age, they will get the shade of His throne when there will be no shade besides it? Do we tell them of their importance of being the ummatī of Rusūl Allah (sws). Did we ever talk about the fadhīlat of this ummah? This is the last ummah but it will be the first to go to heaven.

Secondly, we have to inform them about this time which is close to the coming of Dajjāl. Economics has a principle of demand and supply. There has always been a demand for the people of īmān and taqwa, but now we are running out of supply. Ask them how many children in your class are careful in their speech? How many of them pray five times a day? Think about the blessing Allah (swt) has given you.

If children are being ungrateful when things don’t go according to plan, I build them up a bit and tell them about Syria. What is happening to the children over there? What is happening to the children in Afghanistan? We can’t show them graphic videos or pictures but we can still give them a rough idea of what is going on. They have no idea where their parents or siblings are. They are living with some other family in another country. Do they have a breadwinner? Do they have safety like we do here?

Also make them understand that there maybe dangers, but when they turn to Allah (swt), He will protect them. Hifz is also a fortress of safety. If they do good, Allah (swt) will choose them for the good in this world. There is no match for what Allah (swt) has given them (religiously).

We only truly felt this after 9/11 happened. Here, if you are slacking behind, people will gently nudge you. If you don’t show up at the masjid, they will ask about you. But things in U.S. were completely overturned. There was shooting and our masjid was attacked. People were pressurized to not go there, they were getting their beards shaven.

I realized that to continue with this external get-up (sunnah) one had to have a very strong reason behind it. It was only then that I recognized myself, and only then was I able to feel the pleasure mentioned in ḥadīth that a time will come when following sunnah will be like holding ember in one’s hand. The person who revives sunnah at this time will get the reward of a hundred martyrs.

In another ḥadīth it is narrated that if a person’s life was at stake, but they choose īmān because they feel the same repulsion for reverting from īmān that a person feels towards being thrown in fire, Allah (swt) will put the sweetness of īmān in the heart of such a person. The feeling that I gained during that time in U.S. was something else. A child who goes to a modern/secular school, yet sticks to their values, Allah (swt) will grant them this sweetness as well. They will also build a strong sense of identity. When they get this identity, they will be able to cope with much more in life.

17. Work on their ādāb and manners

The reflex action for most parents is that the child should be at ease, even if they end up in trouble. There are doubts too, like if I ask the child to do chores or help around, I would wonder if I am doing this for the child or my nafs? But it should work like this: you are makhdūm (the one being served) and they are khādim (the one who is serving).

They should try to initiate salām. If I come out of the masjid first, I try to pick up my father’s shoes for him, and try to make my children do the same for me. We are more likely to think: I don’t want my child to do these things, I will pick up my shoes myself. No! Make the child do it. Help them build this habit.

When I had my operation for hernia, I would sit on a chair and pray. One of my nephews lives with us. He knew I would come downstairs slowly. We have one old van that doesn’t drive very smoothly. So he would run downstairs, open the gate and start the other car that drives smoothly. He is not my son, but he has the tarbiyyah of a madrassah. Then he would keep waiting for me. He would open the door for me. Then in the masjid sometimes he and my son would compete in bringing a chair for me.

It was during this time that I realized what a big blessing these children are. If they become doctors and engineers, but don’t even bat an eye towards me, then what’s the use of their education? As opposed to whatever they become, even if they are not able to contribute that much monetarily and economically, but at least they have respect for their father, their chacha, their dada, etc.

My father in law once went with a jamāʿt on a gasht. They went to a house in DHA. In that area, home owners usually don’t come to the gate. So a khānsāmā (footman) opened the door. They told him to send his sāḥab. He said that ḥadrat I am the sāḥab of this house. The jamāʿt was a bit surprised. They all went inside. Then he relayed his story.

He said that I was a khānsāmā and this house belonged to another sāḥab. He had children who were all highly educated. They went abroad and got settled there. His wife also passed away and he was left alone at home. When he got sick, he told his four sons that I have become old and I need one of you. You can decide among yourself who would come and take care of me like I took care of you in your childhood.

None of them wanted to come so they kept delaying it. So much so that the father was admitted to the hospital, and the doctors declared he would not survive. His khānsāmā contacted the sons and told them that he was going to pass away soon and wanted to meet them all. The father had so much zarf (tolerance) that even at this stage he did sila reḥmī (tried to maintain social ties). They replied that when he passes away, get him buried. The father found out about this and transferred ownership of his home to the khānsāmā.

When the father passed away, his sons came back. But for what reason? They wanted ownership of the house. They gave some money to the khānsāmā and sent him on his way. He said hang on a second. What’s the rush? This is my property. You are most welcome to stay here as long as you want to, but I am the owner of this house. When the sons heard this, they beat him up. But later they found out about the documentations so they couldn’t do anything and left.

Why did this happen? The sons got the best education but the nisbat was not there. If you don’t teach the child dīndārī, if you don’t get them connected to Allah (swt) and Rusūl Allah (sws), they will not get connected to you. If they cannot recognize their biggest murabbi (caregiver and provider) Allah (swt), then what hope do you have? Whenever I see my children going through some difficulty, I refer to Allah (swt) first. I say that I am just a father, but You are their Rabb. I can take them to doctors, I can give them medicines, but only You can give them health.

So teach your child ādāb and manners, teach them respect for you and others. But this will only happen when they have a relationship with Allah (swt).

Implementation

All of this will only happen if you have a daily schedule for the child. There should be a specified time for madrassah, for tarbiyyah, for Urdu, English, Arabic, hifz, for family time. Our family time is on Sundays but now we are doing these workshops so today my eldest one said to me that Abba you used to do family time with us on Sundays but now you just go to bayāns and talk about doing family time.

Family time should be there. You can ask the children where they would like to go. You can take them out for breakfast or play with them or take them out for a drive. Keep a break from ʿAsr till Maghrib. After ʿIsha, try to put children to bed early. But it can also be a time of tālīm and sharing things. All of these things can only be managed if we adjust them into daily schedule. Implementation is not possible without nizām al-auqāt (time table).

This whole workshop is just a starting point. You will keep discovering more your entire life by practicing, learning from ʿulamā and child psychologists. But also take note of differences e.g. ʿulamā will say within certain boundaries, with all etiquette and ādāb, tadrīb is allowed in certain cases. The child psychologist will say this should not be done at all.

But it is important to know the ādāb and etiquette of tadrīb. Some of our pious predecessors would make wudhū and offer nafl salah before doing tadrīb. You cannot hit on the face. You cannot hit in a way that leaves a mark on the body. You cannot hit a child less than the age of ten years.

There are many other restriction. Be careful about them. Ideal method would be to put them in the spot and talk to them. Make them feel uncomfortable by engaging them in dialogue. Tadrīb, though permissible, is the very last resort. It can backfire too, so always be cautious in using this method.

Implementation of all of this will take time. Change happens slowly and gradually. First, you have to realize how crucial this is. Then this resolution will have to made everyday. There will be issues, children will mess things up, then you will have to set them aright. You will have to make duʿā. When your child messes up and your heart is broken, the duʿā you make at such a time will be more dear to Allah (swt). You will worry about this, and talk to other people to get advice and ideas. But the point is, you have to give priority to this in your life.

May Allah (swt) give tawfīq to all of us.

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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 

Khulfā-i-Rāshidūn 

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 

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

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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

Objective

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.

Appearance

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 U.S. 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, U.S. 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.

Cont’d here.

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
DELIVERANCE FROM ERROR
And Attachment to the Lord of Might and Majesty

Translation by W. Montgomery Watt

BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE LIFE AND WORKS OF IMĀM AL-GHAZĀLĪ

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.

BACKDROP AND SUMMARY OF THE TEXT

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.

i. INTRODUCTION

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.

ii. PRELIMINARIES: SKEPTICISM AND THE DENIAL OF ALL KNOWLEDGE

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