Introduction to Ethics and Theology

[These are rough notes from the first session of the workshop on Historical, Intellectual and Spiritual Approaches to Islam conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in Karachi, during Feb 2016]

Disclaimer: This is a purely educational course held to spread the teachings of Islam, with no intention of offending any sect or School of Thought.

Defining the Premises 

This series will cover three approaches to Islam:

  • Historical
  • Intellectual
  • Spiritual

The mistake some of us make is that we take singly or exclusively an intellectual approach to religion. We try to understand it only on the basis of our mind. We don’t realize that ultimately deen is a matter of the heart. In Qur’an Allah (swt) is addressing our heart. Blessed Prophet (sws) was gifted with a pure, noble and a beautiful heart. His (sws) heart won over the hearts of Sahaba (ra).

Vast majority of people who convert to Islam today, were you to ask them their story, they would tell you a story of the heart. Along the way there will be small triggers and decisions that may have taken place in their minds, but if you try to track their journey, it would come to be a journey of the heart. Therefore, there should also be an understanding of the spiritual aspects of Islam.

If a person takes all of these three aspects into account, then they would get this multi-dimensional, coloured, robust, in-depth picture of the deen of Islam. This is the overall approach that we are going to take to this course.

In the Western universities they have developed three models to study religion.

  • Faith-Based
  • Secular
  • Divinity School Approach

Faith-based: Sometimes it is also called a confessional study of religion. It means those people who confess, who profess their belief in that scripture, they try to go into an academic study of religion, but that academic study of religion obviously has a limit, because in the course of that study, they are not going to question the existence of Allah (swt); they are not going to question whether Blessed Prophet (sws) was really a prophet or not. That has already been decided by their iman. Those are the first principles that they assume and take for granted, and on that platform they want to study their deen.

For example, they still have, even though most people in Pakistan don’t know about it, a lot of madrassahs which are called seminaries. There are some very prominent seminaries, like the Jews Theological Seminary in New York, there is a Catholic Theological Seminary, and Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, and different denominations of Protestant seminaries. A few of them even have affiliations with top universities. One seminary in Chicago, the Graduate Theological Union, has affiliation with the University of Chicago – one of the top 5 schools. There is another seminary in Berkeley that has affiliation with University of California, Berkeley – also one of the top 10 schools in the US. Inside a seminary, they conduct a faith-based and confessional study of religion.

Secular: Secular study of religion doesn’t just entail, but it demands, it necessitates that you don’t bring your belief in Allah (swt), belief that Qur’an is kitab ullah, belief that Blessed Prophet (sws) is the prophet and messenger of Allah (swt), you don’t bring that to your study of religion. Your approach to religion should be, in their terms, quote unquote, open minded. It means that your mind should be open to disbelief; open to the possibility that Allah (swt) doesn’t exist; open to the possibility that the Qur’an may or may not truly be the word of God; open to the possibility that Blessed Prophet (sws) was the prophet, or he wasn’t. This is the secular study of religion.

In the US people who study in the departments of religion, most of the faculty and students aren’t believers of any particular religion. There are a number of believers as well, but they make it a point to divorce and separate their belief from the classroom, from the lecture and from their own writings. Literally, it’s a very conscious effort in trying to despiritualize their study of religion. That’s one way of studying it.

Divinity School Approach: In some universities, particularly in Harvard, Yale and Chicago, they have made another school called the Divinity School, they call it Div School for short. In this school of divinity a new approach is taken; trying to combine the faith-based confessional study of religion along with those elements of the secular study of religion that are not critical to or skeptical of the matters of belief. You can say it is a faith-based academic approach that is willing to engage in that level of academics that does not critic or call into doubt one’s very foundations of belief. This is the method which I will be taking with you in these sessions.

This is actually something that is extremely lacking in Pakistan. Here we just have madrassahs, or we have faculty that teaches religion, especially in the elite universities, that are not bound by the faith-based approach. You will find varying levels of iman in different professors of Islamiyat, and obviously that is a matter between them and Allah (swt), but they have chosen to adopt secular methods in terms of their teaching and they often try to divorce their faith from their teaching. I don’t feel there is a need to do that. Or, at the very least, if one were to argue that the secular university should operate on that principle, we still need institutes that combine both. We need, what we have called, the divinity school approach.

Critical v. Analytical

I want to show you the difference between these two terms because there is a lot of buzz here that you should have critical thinking. Critical thinking in of itself is a good thing, but you have to be very careful, because when a secular educational institute uses the word critical thinking, for some of them the underlying message is that you should be willing to critic Allah’s (swt) book Qur’an, you should be willing to critic Blessed Prophet’s (sws) sunnah. So the more proper term which I prefer to use is analytical thinking, analytical thought, which is also a term, you can Google it. In fact, there is a whole area of Philosophy called Analytic Philosophy, some people call it Analytic Theology, and this actually has been used very much in Divinity School approach in America by Christians who want to retain their core principles of faith and belief, while embarking on an academic study which has the historical, intellectual and spiritual approaches to understanding the religion.

Always remember that, if you ever hear any Islamic lecturer or an ’Alim counseling you not to adopt critical thinking, they are not saying that don’t use your mind. They are saying don’t engage in critiquing Allah’s (swt) Qur’an, or critiquing the sunnah of Blessed Prophet (sws). Any Islamic scholar is human; he is subject to critic, he is subject to review and refutation, he is subject to partial or full agreement – that’s for insan. But as far as Allah’s (swt) Qur’an and Blessed Prophet’s (sws) sunnah go, the word we are going to use is analytical i.e. we are going to analyze, we want to understand, we want to explore, we want to ponder, we want to reflect.

Introduction to Theology

In Arabic, there are two words used in theology:

  1. Aqidah
  2. Kalam

Aqidah: Strictly speaking, aqidah is normally translated as creed, or a creedal statement. For example, within Sunnis the most agreed upon creedal statement is a text written by Imam Abu Ja’far Tahawi (rh) known as Al-Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah; which is agreed upon by all the Sunnis, and even in terms of contemporary Pakistani/Indian Sunni division, known as Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahl-e-Hadith; all three of them agree on this aqidah; the Saudis agree on it, the Pakistanis agree on it, the Indonesians agree on it. And it has been translated in English by a very well-known, respected American convert scholar to Islam, Hamza Yusuf. His translation was published in America.

So aqida; creedal statement — what does this mean? A creedal statement embodies your basic set of beliefs about Allah (swt), prophecy, prophethood of Blessed Prophet (sws), angels, scriptures, life after death, resurrection, etc. They are very short statements. Another well known aqidah has been written by Imam al-Ghazali (rh), and some say he wrote it when he was in Quds sharif i.e. Jerusalem, and it is known as Ar-Risala al-Qudsiya fi Qawa‘id al-‘Aqa’id. It has also been translated in English, in fact both of these books are available on the internet. I’m not going to talk to you about aqidah in this course.

Kalam: Kalam is an analytical approach in trying to understand matters of faith. In English they sometimes translate it as Dialectic Theology. Ilm al-Kalam is all about going deep into different things that Allah (swt) has mentioned to us. For example, what is iman? What does it mean that Allah (swt) has a zaat; has an essence; has siffat – attributes?

You would be amazed at how deep some of the ulema explore some questions e.g. free will and predestination; these are questions that many university educated people ask, like do I have a free will if Allah (swt) knows everything, if Allah (swt) decrees everything? You will find lengthy discussions on this topic. Why did Allah (swt) create evil? Why did Allah (swt) create Shaytan? Why will Allah (swt) punish somebody eternally to hellfire, why not punish them for a finite amount of time? Why does Allah (swt) need to punish people?

I have, in my own personal one life, never yet encountered a single question raised by any philosopher or any Atheist, except that when I went back and researched I found that the ulema of kalam had already discussed and analyzed the same question at length, but using their understanding of Qur’an and Sunnah — and not merely on the basis of their intellect and rationality.

All of these questions have been addressed in ilm al-kalam. We will be talking about some of these questions in the upcoming session Science, Rationality and the New Atheism. I hope to do a couple of them today so you would get an idea how this system works. Every lecture that I’m giving you is just a drop in a very vast ocean. We could do a whole course on Islamic Theology. One could design an entire degree program on this; and there are such degrees in the world.

The point of these few sessions is just to give you a glimpse of, what I sometimes call, a behind-the-scenes tour. What happens when you go on a behind-the-scenes tour of a factory? You will not learn enough to build your own factory, nor will you learn enough to understand every element of the factory, but somebody will grab you by the hand and show you major things in that factory, and at the end they will take you right back to the exit door and send you on your way. If ever you decide that you also want to build a factory, or really understand a factory, for that you will have to embark on a much longer course of study.

Hadith-e-Jibrael & the beginning of Islamic Learning

This is a very famous hadith. It has been narrated both by Imam Bukhari (rh) and Imam Muslim (rh) in their Sahih collections. The reason I’m mentioning this to you today is that the classical study of Islam used to usually begin with this hadith, and this hadith was used to frame a discussion.

From ‘Umar, there is that he said, “While we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, one day a man came up to us whose clothes were extremely white, whose hair was extremely black, upon whom traces of travelling could not be seen, and whom none of us knew, [Syedna Umar (ra) must have realized that he was not from Madinah, so he must have come from somewhere else, and if he came from somewhere else and he made a desert journey, then his clothes should have been dusty and his black hair should have been dusty. All of you in Pakistan like to buy white cars, once a boy explained to me that black-coloured cars show dirt more. I said white will show the dirt more, he said no dark will show it more. And he was right as it turns out. So that’s what they mean here, there are both things; that the clothes were white and the hair was black.] 

He sat down close to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, [he cut through all our ranks and he went straight to Blessed Prophet (sws) and he sat by him] so that he rested his knees upon his knees and placed his two hands upon his thighs [which is a very intimate way; physical contact, considering he is a stranger, without a doubt, and he immediately asks a question, no salam, no introduction, no how are you, no who am I?] and said, ‘Muhammad, tell me about Islam.’ The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless with him and grant him peace, said, ‘Islam is that you witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and you establish the prayer, and you give the Zakat, and you fast Ramadan, and you perform the hajj of the House if you are able to take a way to it.’

He said, ‘You have told the truth,’ and we were amazed at him asking him and [then] telling him that he told the truth [normally a person higher in knowledge would tell you if you had spoken truly]. He said, ‘Tell me about iman.’ He said, ‘That you affirm Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and that you affirm the Decree, the good of it and the bad of it.’ [as I told you, aqidah, creedal statement, begins with this sentence and they just open it up, and they write a commentary of 6-7 points] He said, ‘You have told the truth.’ He said, ‘Tell me about ihsan.’ He said, ‘That you worship Allah as if you see Him, for if you don’t see Him then truly He sees you.’

He said, ‘Tell me about the Hour.’ He said, ‘The one asked about it knows no more than the one asking.’ He said, ‘Then tell me about its tokens.’ He said, ‘That the female slave should give birth to her mistress, and you see poor, naked, barefoot shepherds of sheep and goats competing in making tall buildings.’ He went away, and I remained some time. Then he asked, ‘Umar, do you know who the questioner was?’ I said, ‘Allah and His Messenger know best.’ [look at his (ra) adab; he didn’t try to guess and score some CP points!] He said, ‘He was Jibrael who came to you to teach you your deen’.”

Now I’m going to open this up for you that how this is the beginning of studying deen. It begins with the last line ‘He was Jibrael who came to you to teach you your deen’. This is a very beginning, elementary definition, to what is deen. Deen means:

  • Iman
  • Islam
  • Ihsan
  • Social Reality [knowing that there is something coming i.e. the Hour; end of the world, and knowing the signs that will reveal the coming of that time.]

So all four of these constitute deen. Part of deen is to understand these three things i.e. iman, Islam and ihsan. Another part is this notion that there is an end of times which is a notion of the future. One is the historical past, one is the vision of the future. And secondly, there will be signs that indicate the decline that will lead to the end — that’s the understanding of a society. In modern terms we will call this Sociology. It’s an understanding of a social reality.

It is also implying that for deen, you need to be aware of the social reality, because, why are signs given? Signs are given for you to prepare, but if you don’t have your pulse on society and you don’t have a social reality, you will not be able to perceive those signs, you will not be able to take the heed which Allah (swt) wants you to by telling you of those signs. It means that part of deen is knowing there is a future as an end of the world, and that future is going to be marked by spiritual decline, and for this a person must be tracking the spiritual decline in society. Therefore, you can see why I have mentioned this notion of historical approach.

Disciplines of Islamic Learning

Following disciplines emerged in Islamic learning from the above mentioned constituents of deen:

Ilm al Kalam: First discipline that emerged was the study of iman, that was the subject matter of aqidah and kalam. This was a whole area of learning with a whole spectrum of scholars, again, across time, in historical context, who were also trying to capture the universal meanings of truths; a whole series of scholarship; books, treatises, discussions, debates, disagreements, consensuses taken on this question of iman – this is known as ilm al-kalam, or ilm al-aqai’id.

Ilm al Fiqh: Second, on the notion of Islam, Blessed Prophet (sws) has mentioned some of our obligations: prayer, fasting, zakah, hajj. A whole realm of scholarship developed around the study and understanding of this and that is known as ilm al-fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) and we will be covering it a few days later. It means to understand the commands and wishes of Allah (swt) from the sources of deen, from the Qur’an and Sunnah; to derive an understanding from the textual sources of Islam.

For example, here we understand that we have to fast. But what is fasting? How long is the fast? What breaks the fast? That’s not mentioned in this hadith. It’s mentioned that you should pray, but how do you pray? How many raka’at are in a prayer? What will invalidate your prayer? What are those things that, if you forget, you can make up for with two extra sajdahs? That’s not mentioned in this hadith. So a whole world was developed called the ilm al fiqh; which another whole area of study.

Ilm al Tazkiyah: Third was what is ihsan? A whole world was developed on this as well, we were given a target: worship Allah (swt) as if you see Him. First of all, what does that even mean? What does it mean that you worship Allah (swt) as if you are seeing Him? These are the things that are beyond the realm of rationality. Your rational mind will tell you I cannot see Allah (swt), but Blessed Prophet (sws) is saying worship as if you see Allah (swt). Obviously, there has to be something beyond rationality, some way of learning, some understanding.

This is the realm of the spiritual approaches. This is known as ilm al tazkiyah; the knowledge of spiritual purification. Later some people gave it the name tasawwuf, but its original, classical name is ilm al tazkiyah. It’s about how to create those feelings in yourself. If you cannot get the feeling that you are looking at Allah (swt) then know that Allah (swt) is looking at you.

Some people when they narrate this hadith, they use the word ta’budallah; make ibadah, it means all ibadah, not just the salah, not just the daily prayer. If you recite the Qur’an, recite it in a way that you feel as if you are seeing Allah (swt). If you recite durud sharif, salawat, do it in a way as if you are seeing Allah (swt). It can even be taken to mean a broader sense of ibadah; if you are doing any relief work, any humanitarian work, khidmet for society, even if you are spending time with your family (any and every aspect of your life, with the right intention, can be construed as ibadah of Allah swt) so it means do all of that with the feeling in your heart as if you are seeing Allah (swt).

How does a person do that? How does a person spend their whole life such that this feeling is always there? So we need some understanding for that. This needs to be opened up in tafseel; we need to learn it and be trained in it in order to acquire this. Why? Because this is also a part of your deen. This is why it is a great mistake that people make when they say that in Islam you just need to do these five things. Look at this hadith; Islam also means that you need to have this iman, it also means that you worship Allah (swt) with such feelings, and it also means that you have awareness of social reality; of the notion that the humanity is going on decline.

Tools of Analytical Interpretation

1. Intellectual Approach

a. Turning the knob

I’m going to go back to the hadith-e-Jibrael and show you a way the deen is analyzed i.e. its analytical study. I will start with this very last thing which are the signs of the Hour:

“The slave-girl will give birth to her mistress”

Some things in Islam are literal; we can understand them just by the linguistic meanings. For example, make hajj if you are able to. Understood. But what does this mean that the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress? When you are going into an analytical study of Islam, the question is that will you always take the text literally, or are you open to the idea that maybe the literal meaning is not only what is intended, maybe the literal meaning is a metaphor.

This is something we call turning the knob. The knob is the interpretive scope that you want to apply on any verse of Qur’an or any text of hadith. If you keep the knob at zero, the meaning is only literal i.e. there is a girl who is a slave who will grow up to have a daughter, and somehow that daughter will become free and she will choose to buy her mother as a slave, thus she will enslave her own mother. There is no metaphor here, no deeper meaning, no general meaning. That’s quite difficult to imagine. It’s almost impossible that someone would become free and enslave her own mother. But, strictly speaking, because now this is a faith-based element, our faith in the Blessed Prophet (sws) demands us to believe that that might very well happen. Allah (swt) knows best, I may not be able to see how it will happen, but there may come a time in the world when this will happen, and when that literally happens, I will understand it as the sign of the Hour.

Second option is to turn the knob a little, so lets say I turn it to 1. Here we will open up the meaning a little bit. Maybe Blessed Prophet (sws) is telling me a deeper meaning so I have to read into that language. The lesson we derive from the literal text is that it would be a terrible thing to do for a daughter to enslave her own mother. So if we take this lesson, it would mean that the daughter would not respect her mother. We may even take the meaning that she will be so disrespectful to her mother, she will view herself as the mother and make herself a female master of her own mother.

If you turn the knob further at 2, you will get a wider meaning. You will still keep the literal meaning, and the second meaning that daughters will disrespect their mothers. Third, it is just generally referring to social disorder and chaos. It is the over-turning, flip-flop, of the natural order of things. So, for example, now in 2016 I could say that in some Western countries they believe in the same-sex marriage which, otherwise, classically, in the vast majority of Western history and even today among many people in the West, has been viewed to be strictly between a man and a woman. If I turn the knob at 3 and take this wider meaning, this is called in Arabic amoom al ma’ana; ta’leel fil ma’ana — to create a broader understanding in the meaning from the lafz (articulated word). Then I would say this is a role reversal. Role is supposed to be that man and a woman get married. Now they are saying that man and man can get married, or woman and woman can get married.

Now what happens is that, depending on where you turn the knob, it would determine whether the sign has occurred or not. If I turn the knob all the way to point 3, you might say that same-sex marriages are happening in the world so this is a sign that the day of judgement is coming near. If a person keeps the knob at zero, so there is no slave-girl yet who has given birth to her mistress, you might say that the sign hasn’t happened yet. So you see it has mass implications. When you open up and explore, you get a wide range of meaning, so the term we are going to use for this is turn the knob. How far will you turn the knob?

That is another question that who is allowed to touch the knob. If anyone could touch the knob, there’s going to be a problem. Even on sound control over here, we always designate people who are going to be doing the sound and presentation. If everyone jumped in then, like they say, too many cooks spoil the broth. This interpretation cannot be completely arbitrary or completely random. There needs to be some guidelines, some limitations. I’m not going to do those guidelines with you in this course. This is just for you to understand that all these things come up when you want to have an analytical understanding of your deen.

“Barefoot, naked, destitute shepherds will compete with one another in constructing tall buildings”

Here if you keep the knob at zero, you can actually see this happening if you ever travel to Saudi Arabia or any of the GCC countries. Part of it is a kinayah (metaphor) to indicate that they are extremely poor and they are being used to construct sky-scrapers, you can see this today even in Makkah Mukarma. If this is the interpretation, and if this is a sign that is there even within hudood-e-haram itself where you will find Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Egyptians and even some Indonesians now, very poor people, this is called migrant labor who are being given very low wages, living about 10 persons to a room to save some money to send back home, and what are they doing? They are constructing tall buildings. Dubai had the highest one, and now Saudis are saying that we are going to make the highest one, so there is this notion of competition. So besides the barefoot and naked part, if you keep the knob at zero, the literal meaning is there.

If you turn the knob a little bit, you can get a more general meaning from that. Lets turn the knob all the way to 3. This could mean materialism, capitalism, this notion of free competition in order to pursue materialistic ends. So basically, it’s about the knob. One interpretive tool is the knob. Another tool is explanation, that’s different from interpretation. For example, worship Allah (swt) as if you see Him. You need an explanation on how to do this. So you open it up, you get explanation. But here, in interpretation, you turn the knob. So this is the first aspect where I give you a glimpse of theology. So I showed you how, like this hadith, is studied, understood and analyzed.

b. Building the workshop

What is iman? You might think that why do I need to ask this question when you just showed me the hadith that Angel Jibrael (as) asked the Blessed Prophet (sws) this question. It’s already been done. And Blessed Prophet (sws) responded that iman is to believe in the angels, the books, prophets, day of judgement, and the decree that everything good and bad comes from Allah (swt). But the reality is that now when you understand anything, for example in the case of iman, you have to do a second thing called a workshop.

In order to get a deep analytical understanding of your deen, you have to go to Qur’an and take every single verse that has iman, mu’min, alazina amanoo, mu’mineen, and bring it all to the table. You have to build a workshop even if you want to answer this one question that what is iman. Then you have to go to the hadith and take everything where Blessed Prophet (sws) has told us about iman, has described iman, and defined iman, and bring all of that to the workshop. It’s not easy! Don’t think the analytical approach means that you just use your mind and try to guess what iman is. In any academic endeavor, there are some sources, there is certain literature, certain fundamental truths that you have to engage. In Islam the fundamental truths are the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The answer you will get even to such a central, crucial question as this, would be multiple, multi-layered and it might even sometimes appear to have contradictions.

c. Linguistic Analysis

There is another aspect to the intellectual approach, which is linguistics. I can go deep into Arabic linguistics, I can do what is called the etymological study, I can look at the roots of iman; ا م ن; iman (ایمان) is related to aman (امن). Can the Arabic language itself tell me something about what is iman? Yes, it can. I could say that iman and aman are derived from the same note so iman means aman; all the words that are derived from the same root have an interrelationship (nisbah) what we call in Arabic alaqatu tashbeeh (interrelationship in meaning), that’s also something I will bring to the table.

2. Historical Approach

Now were you to take the historical approach, it would add that how do all of these verses on iman have been understood historically by the tafsir tradition. So now I will add to the workshop every single mufassir’s commentary on every single verse of iman. Obviously, that is not necessarily binding upon me but it’s something I should look at. Similarly, I have to take every hadith scholar’s (muhadith) commentary and understanding and explanations (tashrih) of every hadith that mentions iman. I’m building a huge workshop, then I’m going to dive in and read all of that stuff and try to figure out the basic crux of what is iman.

3. Spiritual Approach

Spiritual means the living embodiment of deen; those individuals in the ummah who have had this iman, because, obviously, deen isn’t just about the theory. Deen must necessarily also have a practical, real, lived, exampled and legacy in a real living tradition. Those people who really are mu’mineen, saliheen mu’mineen, mutaqeen mu’mineen, zakireen mu’mineen, sadiqeen mu’mineen, awliya mu’mineen — all of these words are in Qur’an — what was their spiritual state? What was their condition that described the feeling of iman? What does it feel to have iman in a heart? What are those things that can increase or decrease the strength of iman in one’s heart?

Living tradition will tell me all of this. Sometimes these people expressed their iman in poetry, sometimes in prose, sometimes they wrote letters and treatises explaining what makes a person’s iman strong, or weak. I’ll have to add all of that from the spiritual, lived tradition, the legacy and practical aspects of iman. All of this needs to be done if you want to truly get an understanding of your deen; intellectual, spiritual, historical; the text, the context, the interpreted tradition, the linguistic aspects, the lived aspects, the feelings aspect — all of that just to answer this question that what is iman.

Positions on Iman

After the Islamic tradition built this workshop and they looked at all the things I’ve just mentioned to you, they came up with four answers to this question that what is iman.

  1. Heart: Iman is a feeling that lies in the heart only. Simply feeling the feelings of iman.
  2. Tongue: If someone expresses iman with their tongue i.e. they simply say ash’hadu an la ilaha illallahu wa ash’hadu anna muhammadan abduhu wa rasuluh, they just have to say it with their tongue and it will be enough for iman.
  3. Heart & Tongue: They have to do both. They must truly believe in it in their heart and they must also express it with their tongue.
  4. Heart, Tongue & Actions: Iman means to believe in your heart, to express it with your tongue, and to perform the actions of iman. The way they express it is that al ’amalu dakhil i.e. actions are a part of iman, they are not something separate.

Showing you the whole workshop would take up a lot of time. When I was a full-time student of Sahih Bukhari, its chapter on iman is like a dozen pages, and we had to spend a few hours everyday, 6-days a week, for a couple of months just to do kitab al iman, just to understand that one part of the workshop about those hadith that Imam Bukhari (rh) narrated on iman. There are many other hadith and verses, linguistics and all of that. So the workshop is very in-depth but I’ve fast forwarded it to show you the conclusion. There is no fifth conclusion that came out in the entire history of Islam.

Why is this important? Sometimes you might get a question; I’ll give you a very classic example. It happens many times in this community that there is a Pakistani boy who has gone abroad to study in America or UK and he comes back and he says that I want to marry this girl and it turns out that the girl was born to an Atheist family, and the girl is an Atheist. Now parents come to me that our son wants to get married to an Atheist! But you yourself had sent him abroad, you put him in a university which was an open minded decision you took, where he lived in an open society, in an open environment, with open interaction with the opposite gender, so when you created so much openness these things can happen. Then they say that we have explained to him that the girl must accept Islam and the girl has agreed.

What does it mean to accept Islam? So for some people it’s just about saying the sentence. So what she means is that look I really want to marry you and you want to marry me and all I have to do is say this sentence in front of a few people, so I’ll say the sentence and we will get married. Sometimes the parents are also happy with that. They say that son, as long as she is willing to say the sentence (they will euphemise it in a nice way) only Allah knows what’s in the heart. That’s true too; only Allah (swt) knows what’s in a person’s heart, but many times a person reveals their heart.

If somebody comes and says I’m an Atheist, I can’t say that only Allah (swt) knows if there is iman in his heart or not. Obviously Allah (swt) knows, but I also know now because he has said there is no iman in his heart. It doesn’t mean that the human being cannot know things; we can know things! But to know things we need to receive it from an authentic source. If someone else tells me something about someone, that’s not an authentic source. But if a person himself tells me that I don’t have iman in my heart, that’s an authentic source, it’s a source of knowledge, I’m entitled in my deen to say this person does not have iman because he himself told me that he doesn’t have iman.

What happens is that the girl says that I’m still an Atheist, but I’m willing to recite this sentence, and sometimes the boy’s parents will say that it’s fine as long as you recite the sentence. Now, it depends on what position you take. If you take the second position that iman is just reciting the sentence with the tongue, then you are good to go and you can get them married. But if you take any other position on the board, because all the other three have a heart, she will truly have to believe in her heart, but she’s saying I don’t do that, so this marriage will not be valid. That goes back to what social reality a person has. Your understanding of deen effects the issues of social reality.

There are so many issues like this. For example, who has to pay zakah? A person who just says it with their tongue, or a person who believes it in their heart? There are things like marriage where we do need to identify this question to determine as to who has iman or not. There are certain societal, family, collective, interpersonal aspects of Islam that require this question to be defined.

Defining the Boundaries: Inclusivism & Exclusivism

When you are talking about definitions (e.g. the definition of iman) to define something also means to create its border. The Arabic definition for border is hadd; hudood i.e. borders; to define something. In formal science concerned with definition, which is called taxonomy, you try to define things so precisely that it includes all elements of that set (inclusivism) and excludes all the elements that are not a part of that set (exclusivism).

It would mean to define iman so precisely that everyone who has iman would be included in that definition, and also people who don’t have iman should be excluded from that definition. That’s also a word in Qur’an and it’s called kufr; and there is a word kafir; kuffar — people who don’t have iman. That’s also a concept of Qur’an. Right now people are not learned enough to handle the topic of what is kufr in a sensitive, academic, non-violent, non-extremist manner. So right now I chose to do iman for which I gave you this much of an answer; howsoever you answer the question what is iman, it will also necessarily give you an answer to your question what is not iman. When you decide what is iman, you will, as a necessity, end up also deciding what is not iman.

Multiplicity of Meanings

Now I’m going to go back and show you what caused these four positions to emerge. There is this notion of multiplicity of meanings, which you will very quickly encounter, very first day in the first session I’m going to show you upfront why there is multiplicity of meanings. This itself disturbs some people. They don’t understand. A nice, well-intentioned, ordinary Muslim says how can there be disagreement on something fundamental like iman? In order to understand why there is disagreement, you need to go behind the scenes and appreciate how that disagreement came about. Yes, there are some disagreements that come about because of ideology, sectarianism. But the point is to show you that there are some disagreements, meaning multiple, divergent understandings which come only through this analytical, academic study of Islam.

When you take into account the intellectual, historical and spiritual approaches, you build the whole workshop, and you start turning the knob, you are going to get multiple meanings. Without the workshop, without touching the knob, without using all three approaches, you can end up with just one meaning.  But when you start doing all of those things that I have shown you up till now, you will start getting multiple meanings on very many things.

ءَامَنَ ٱلرَّسُولُ بِمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيۡهِ مِن رَّبِّهِۦ وَٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ‌ۚ كُلٌّ ءَامَنَ بِٱللَّهِ وَمَلَـٰٓٮِٕكَتِهِۦ وَكُتُبِهِۦ وَرُسُلِهِۦ لَا نُفَرِّقُ بَيۡنَ أَحَدٍ۬ مِّن رُّسُلِهِۦ‌ۚ وَقَالُواْ سَمِعۡنَا وَأَطَعۡنَا‌ۖ غُفۡرَانَكَ رَبَّنَا وَإِلَيۡكَ ٱلۡمَصِيرُ
The Messenger has believed in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, and the believers as well. All have believed in Allah and His angels and His Books and His Messengers. “We make no division between any of His Messengers,” and they have said: “We have listened, and obeyed. Our Lord, (we seek) Your pardon! And to You is the return.” [2:286]

Blessed Prophet (sws) believed in all that was revealed by Allah (swt), and all the believers also believed. So here you can see another concept of iman. Let me give you an example, how many of you have iman that I have a watch in my hand? All of you raising your hand are wrong! Alazina yu’minoona bil ghayb; iman means to believe in the unseen. You could see the watch. That’s called mushahada in Arabic. You have eye-witness testimony. How many of you have iman that I have a pen in my pocket? If I told you I have a pen in my pocket, you would have iman based on if you believed I was a true person. Allah (swt) is saying here that ’amana Rasulu; Blessed Prophet (swt) believes, bima; in each and every single thing, munzila elaihim min Rabbihi; that has been revealed to him (sws) from his Rabb, and the believers also believe in that.

[to be cont’d.]

Channeling Negativity

[These are rough notes of a talk delivered by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed db on Saturday, March 25, 2017]

Sometimes Allah (swt) puts a person in a situation where there is no way out for them, except by turning towards Him. There is nothing they can do to change their situation. Many times these situations prompt a certain emotional reaction. If the person reacts in a negative way, then that situation, which could have been a means of developing qurb (proximity) with Allah (swt), while not necessarily making them distant from Allah (swt), can surely leave them stuck. On the path of suluk (spiritual development), there is ‘uruj (going forward), wuquf (getting stuck) and ruju’ (going backwards, in reverse).

A woman who is listening to talks like these is obviously trying to come closer to Allah. There maybe something out of her control in her surroundings, in her environment, maybe in her children or in-laws that might be holding her back. So she may feel as though she is in a tug. So for example, maybe she comes to a gathering, or she reads, or she teaches and she drowns herself in the dhikr for Allah (swt), but when she comes back home, her husband is watching TV, or her kids want to watch a movie, so this complete rupture, culture shock creates an emotional reaction.

The first feeling is sadness and despondency whereby she loses her motivation and inspiration. That spiritual connection and yearning she had felt earlier gets lost. You have to protect these feelings from things outside of your control. You cannot lose it due to something that is happening even in your own home, because that will lead to depression. Your emotional feelings should not affect your spiritual feelings. To some extent you have to employ a certain level of ‘ajnabiyyat (alienation), even if it’s in your own home, or with your own spouse.

For example, let’s say I travel to Blackburn/London on the weekend, and spend that whole weekend sharing and listening to nasihah (counsel); after one to three days, all of our mind and soul would be redirected towards Allah (swt), and then on Monday, we go back to our research, and sometimes encounter different people. Now, because that is not my home, you can all understand and imagine how I compartmentalize that. I don’t let that other environment intrude in my relationship with Allah (swt). You may also have to do this with maybe your own family at home.

It doesn’t mean you become a stranger to your family, or you become a social recluse. It doesn’t mean you don’t function, and don’t fulfill your roles as a mother, daughter etc. It just means that you inwardly maintain the feelings for Allah (swt). In fact, you should reflect even more, and develop more fikr (concern) for others. You need to channel it in a positive way. It doesn’t matter if you think your in laws or husbands will not change. It’s in your control to keep your own mukhlis genuine concern for them.

If they don’t change, and you think they’re stubborn, then your fikr for them should be as stubborn. Your fikr should also be as inflexible and rigid. Your fikr should  refuse to bend and adapt. You should also walk with your armour protecting your own spirituality. All of us can be sad about our family, in-laws etc. but you need to channel that in a positive way. Like we discussed the term miskin yesterday — when you are feeling trapped by challenges with nowhere to move, then we should have yaqin [firm conviction] at that point. Miskin believes that Allah can suffice him, and ONLY Allah (swt) can suffice him. We can try everything, but miskin feels that no-one can help him except Allah (swt).

So there are two things that can happen; one thing that can happen is Allah (swt) will accept your du’as and bring about change. Another possibility is that Allah swt wants you to be in this test forever, so yes, some of you say, it’s been like this for 5-10 years etc. The question is, will you give into depression or will you maintain your yaqin and connection with Allah (swt)?

Lets accept it at this point — maybe it is impossible for those affecting you to change, but do you change? You will be amazed at the types of situations some women go through, for example, for some of them their husbands were totally off deen, but then these women created their own environment. They found a way to preserve and continually increase in their relationship with Allah (swt). We can say it is impossible as far as the present and past goes, but as for the future, only Allah (swt) knows, so you should always have hope that things could change for the better. Allah (swt) may choose to bring khayr. For some divine wisdom, He (swt) may choose not to change that situation; either way, we should be fine.

It is easy to go into depression, despair etc. I know women in such situations who kept going even though for them it was a traumatic experience. They didn’t just survive in deen, but in dunya also. The whole world can tell them they are finished, but anyone who goes through zulm, or a traumatic experience, they won’t be able to carry on unless they turn entirely to Allah (swt).

Allah (swt) will never keep a person in one state permanently. Allah swt has promised in Qur’an:

إِنَّ مَعَ ٱلۡعُسۡرِ يُسۡرً۬ا
So, undoubtedly, along with the hardship there is ease. [94:5]

‘Usr is a word denoting extreme difficulty which Allah (swt) will follow up with yusr. You should always have hope in that promise of Allah (swt). For those of you who are studying online, you may have experienced exam anxiety at some point. However, ultimately, on the day of exam you are fine, because you know the exam will end in a couple of hours. Say you have an exam that starts at 9 AM and ends at 12 noon; guaranteed, it will definitely become 12 noon (if we live), and one way or another it will end. This notion of knowing the end will come lessens the difficulty. Allah (swt) wanted us to feel this in this verse too — that ‘usr will definitely end, and Allah (swt) will actually even bring ease. No matter how bad an exam goes, there is still happiness after it ends — you will celebrate its ending. Same goes for any situation Allah (swt) puts you in.

May Allah (swt) accept us, and every relationship for His sake. May He (swt) not allow things outside of our control affect our spirituality. May He make us the living embodiment of the ayah:

وَتَوَاصَوۡاْ بِٱلۡحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوۡاْ بِٱلصَّبۡرِ
And exhorted each other to follow truth, and exhorted each other to observe patience. [103:3]

وَآَخِرُ دَعْوَانَا أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

Heirs of the Prophet (sws)

The superiority of the religious scholar over the devout worshiper is like the superiority of the full moon over other heavenly bodies. The religious scholars are the heirs of the prophets. The prophets leave no money as a bequest, rather they leave knowledge. Whoever seizes it has taken a bountiful share.

[Imam Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, and Ibn Majah relate this hadith in their compilations.]

The scholars have learnt the knowledge of deen and spread it throughout the ummah. Yes, sometimes in some ages there have been groups with misguided knowledge. For example, at the time of Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal (ra) the Ameer had a batil aqeedah (wrong belief) which Imam Hanbal took a stand against. He was pelted with stones but he did not back down. Similarly, during each time-period true scholars have worked hard to preserve this knowledge. We have a whole jama’a (group) of scholars behind the knowledge that we have today which was preserved by them.

What constitutes The Knowledge?

كَمَآ أَرۡسَلۡنَا فِيڪُمۡ رَسُولاً۬ مِّنڪُمۡ يَتۡلُواْ عَلَيۡكُمۡ ءَايَـٰتِنَا وَيُزَكِّيڪُمۡ وَيُعَلِّمُڪُمُ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ وَٱلۡحِڪۡمَةَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُم مَّا لَمۡ تَكُونُواْ تَعۡلَمُونَ
As also We have sent in your midst a messenger from among you, who recites to you Our verses, and purifies you, and teaches you the Book and the wisdom, and teaches you what you did not know. [2:151]

Allah (swt) has told us the purpose of prophethood, and the duties thereof which comprise of the following:

  1. Tilawat (recitation)
  2. Tazkiya (purification)
  3. Taleem al Kitab (meanings of Qur’an i.e. tafsir)
  4. Hikmah (through the words and actions of Prophet (sws) i.e. sunnah)

All of these are included in knowledge. They have been transferred from generation to generation. This is complete guidance and guidance will not be lifted from us till the end of times.

Imam Ahmad (ra) relates from Syedna Anas (ra) that the Prophet (sws) said:

“The similitude of the religious scholars on earth is that of the stars in the sky, by which [people] are guided through the darkness of the land and sea.”

The legacy of Prophet (sws)

The legacy of Blessed Prophet (sws) is both in the form of pure revelation i.e. text, and also a pure and noble heart will be able to preserve this knowledge in its true essence. There are two Reasons why we have lost our connection with this tradition:

  1. We have lost our qadr (appreciation) for sacred knowledge
  2. We do not have respect for the people of knowledge anymore

We have turned sacred knowledge into drawing room discussions. The scholars are being discredited and taunted. In Pakistan this inclination to ridicule and make light of teachings of prophethood is getting worse day by day. In this day and age, there is a great need to revive the tradition of valuing and upholding the sacred knowledge.

It is true that certain people who are not true scholars do mislead and misguide people. However, we know that this knowledge is preserved till the end of times so there is always a jama’a that will be on haq (truth) in every age. We need to find these people. We have to learn to trust our scholars once again because they are the only source to get guidance of deen.

Important Terminologies

Literal meaning: A pathway, a path
Istalahi (figurative) meaning: Certain laws extracted from Qur’an and Hadith.

We get scared of this word thinking it is something too strict and rigid. But in reality shariah is everything that brings a person back to their fitrah (innate nature) and connects them to Allah (swt). Shariah forms the basis of an equitable society, and it is a means of eliminating evil and oppression.

It includes haram and halal as well, but more broadly speaking it is a way which, when followed, will grant us love of Allah (swt). People deride shariah saying this is a straight and narrow path. This is not true at all. It is a broad pathway on which a person can tread easily – it is like a highway, but regardless of how broad the highway is, if you get out of its boundary, then you are a goner.

Literal meaning: To understand/understanding
Istalahi meaning: Set of principles from Qur’an and Sunnah upon which Islamic jurisprudence is based.

Extremely deep understanding of a subject matter.

Usul al Fiqh
The study of principles and rules upon which Islamic jurisprudence is based.

Example: there is a well and I need to take out water from it but I do not know how to do it. I will take a bucket and tie it with a rope to get the water out. Quran and Hadith are a treasure, like a well, but we are standing outside the understanding of Quran and Hadith, then we will make certain rules and principles. On the basis of these rules and principles we will understand Quran and Hadith. Then after understanding we will derive rulings out of them. For example, Quran says:

يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ لَا تَقۡرَبُواْ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَأَنتُمۡ سُكَـٰرَىٰ
O you who believe! Do not go near Salah when you are intoxicated [4:43]

And also that:

يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ إِنَّمَا ٱلۡخَمۡرُ وَٱلۡمَيۡسِرُ وَٱلۡأَنصَابُ وَٱلۡأَزۡلَـٰمُ رِجۡسٌ۬ مِّنۡ عَمَلِ ٱلشَّيۡطَـٰنِ فَٱجۡتَنِبُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تُفۡلِحُونَ
O you who believe! Wine, gambling, altars and divining arrows are filth, made up by Satan. Therefore, refrain from it, so that you may be successful. [5:49]

How to act on both of these ayahs? With the ruling of Nasikh and Mansookh we know that the previous ayah was mansookh after the new ruling came.

Literal meaning: Superlative form; from juhd; to strive

  1. Highest level of physical exertion: jihad
  2. Educational exertion: ijtihad
  3. Spiritual exertion: mujaahida

Those who exert themselves in the knowledge of deen.

Four sources of theoretical knowledge

  1. Wahi – there is no ikhtilaf (difference of opinion)
    1. Quran (wahi-e-matlu [words and meanings are both from Allah (swt)])
    2. Sunnah (wahi-e-ghayr matlu [meanings are from Allah (swt) but words are from Blessed Prophet (sws)])
  2. Ghayr wahi – there is ikhtilaf
    1. Ijma (the evidence for this also comes from Quran and Hadith)
    2. Ijtihad (usually people get stuck here – where is this coming from? Actually ijtihad is also taken from Quran and Hadith)

Example: Sahaba (ra) were going on a ghazva and an ayah was revealed:

وَمَا كَانَ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ لِيَنفِرُواْ ڪَآفَّةً۬‌ۚ فَلَوۡلَا نَفَرَ مِن كُلِّ فِرۡقَةٍ۬ مِّنۡہُمۡ طَآٮِٕفَةٌ۬ لِّيَتَفَقَّهُواْ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَلِيُنذِرُواْ قَوۡمَهُمۡ إِذَا رَجَعُوٓاْ إِلَيۡہِمۡ لَعَلَّهُمۡ يَحۡذَرُونَ
It is not (necessary) for all the believers to go forth [In case there is not a general call for jihad]. So, why should it not be that a group from every section of them goes forth, so that they may acquire perfect understanding of the Faith, and so that they may warn their people when they return to them, so that they may take due care (of the rules of Shari‘ah). [9:122]

That for Muslims it is not necessary that all of them should leave for the ghazva. Rather they should separate from every division a small group of people. Why? So that they can do tafaqquh (get an extremely deep understanding of religion) and then they can warn the people when they return.

Things to understand from this ayah:

  1. Virtue and merit of fiqh is because it requires excellence, dedication and deeper understanding. Fiqh has a quality to uphold.
  2. There is a constant effort that a person has to make in ilm.
  3. This is a specialized activity that certain special people would do.
  4. If we imagine that someone is at the time of Prophet (sws) in Madinah and he really wants to do this tafaqquh. Though he has the faculty it will have to be seen if he has the capability to do this. A chosen few will do it. Even all Sahaba (ra) did not do it.
  5. IMP: If the few people left behind get this deep understanding and knowledge, then those who return will have to follow those few people of knowledge. They have to do taqleed. They have to follow because they did not have the time to put in that effort or capability to understand deen at such a deep level. It does not mean one group is superior to the other. It means one group will benefit the other just like in a community different people do different tasks to build up a functioning society.

Tafaqquh in Quran

We have a treasure of Quran and Hadith from which we have to take out the rulings.

يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ أَطِيعُواْ ٱللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُواْ ٱلرَّسُولَ وَأُوْلِى ٱلۡأَمۡرِ
O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority [4:59]

Syedna Abu Huraira (ra) while explaining the ayah, explained ulul amr to mean scholars and leaders both. So leaders in knowledge and political leaders both have to be followed because they have to administer the society. Layman will follow the lead of a specialized group.

Q. This ayah means that if there is disunity on a point between scholars, that disunity is a disunity of ummah? 

This is not the case because the differences of opinion is not on the basis of aqeedah (creed). And in Islam we can see that there is flexibility to some extent in things unrelated to aqaid.

Q. Ulema have hijacked knowledge, so how do we understand this in the context that only certain people can become the scholars?

Its like saying certain doctors have hijacked the health department. Can everyone lead the health department? No, but the capacity to gain knowledge can be developed. If you have the capability, no one is stopping you from gaining knowledge.

Another capacity Allah (swt) has given is to become close to Allah (swt). Everyone  has this capability so no one has hijacked this, and this is the thing that truly matters. Another wrong criticism is that people compare this to the Christian concept of Papacy where their pastors tell them you are doomed to hell, or you are going to heaven – but this does not apply to Islam at all.

Q. Why is there a need for rulings/usul?

It is like saying why don’t I jump in the well to get the water. We will not go to ijtihad unless and until we require a ruling that is not clearly mentioned in Qur’an or Hadith. We cannot use ijma or ijtihad for things that are clear in Qur’an and Hadith for example, no new meaning would be derived for namaz etc.

We only go to it if we have a masla (jurisprudential issue) that has not been discussed in Hadith or Quran. For example, the case of test-tube babies. In Qur’an there is nothing relevant to test tube babies, nor in Hadith because it was not a reality of that time. But our deen is not stagnant, is gives a structure that can answer according to the changing societal needs. If we had a fixed structure, it would not have been able to develop with society. Qur’an and Hadith have both themselves pointed to the direction of ijtihad and ijma. And we are talking about people who have put their entire lives on the path of knowledge.

Scope of Fiqh and ijtihad

On Difference of Opinion

Sahaba (ra) also used to have a difference of opinion. Regarding the prisoners of war from Battle of Badr, the opinion of Nabi (sws) and Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) was to be lenient with them and let them off. While Syedna Umar (ra) was of the opinion that they should be killed so as to inhibit them from spreading mischief over and over again. Later revelation was revealed in favor of the opinion of Syedna Umar (ra).

مَا كَانَ لِنَبِىٍّ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ ۥۤ أَسۡرَىٰ حَتَّىٰ يُثۡخِنَ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ‌ۚ
It is not befitting a prophet that he has captives with him unless he has subdued the enemy by shedding blood in the land. [9:67]

Hanbli, Shaifi’i, Hanafi, Maliki is not ikhtilaf. These are different Schools of Thought with varying set of rulings. Their usul  are different on the basis of which the mujtahid derives the rulings.

Some parts of Qur’an are so difficult to understand that even biggest of scholars have to exert themselves. When laymen like us read Qur’an we don’t even realize what level of depth the ayah holds. For example, Allah (swt) says in Qur’an:

إِنَّمَا جَزَٲٓؤُاْ ٱلَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۥ وَيَسۡعَوۡنَ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ فَسَادًا أَن يُقَتَّلُوٓاْ أَوۡ يُصَلَّبُوٓاْ أَوۡ تُقَطَّعَ أَيۡدِيهِمۡ وَأَرۡجُلُهُم مِّنۡ خِلَـٰفٍ أَوۡ يُنفَوۡاْ مِنَ ٱلۡأَرۡضِ‌ۚ
Those who fight against Allah and His Messenger and run about trying to spread disorder on the earth, their punishment is no other than that they shall be killed, or be crucified, or their hands and legs be cut off from different sides, or they be kept away from the land (they live in) [5:33]

Which punishment is meant here?

Q. Why do you say that in order to understand Qur’an you need to have a deep knowledge, but Qur’an itself says, that We have made it easy to understand?

وَلَقَدۡ يَسَّرۡنَا ٱلۡقُرۡءَانَ لِلذِّكۡرِ فَهَلۡ مِن مُّدَّكِرٍ۬
Indeed We have made the Qur’an easy for seeking advice. So, is there one to heed to the advice? [54:17]

Qur’anic knowledge is of three types:

  1. Aqeedah
  2. Akhlaq/adaab, desciption of Jannah Jahannum etc
  3. Fiqh and rulings

Certain ayahs are very easy to understand. The person with deeper knowledge can explain these on a higher level, but on a superficial level ordinary people can understand them as well. Now the hiraba ayah mentioned above is extremely difficult to understand even on a superficial level. For certain ayahs we need a very deep understanding of Qur’an. So in that context it means We have made Qur’an easy to get feelings of, to get tawheed from, to get general guidance from.

We can see in certain ayahs there are words that have capacity to hold deeper meanings. If Allah (swt) wanted to use certain other words, Allah (swt) could have made every ayah very clear cut. The fact that Allah (swt) chose these words means that Allah (swt) wants the ayahs to hold this capacity of a broader meaning.

Making case of ’Ijtihad

Nabi   (sws) asked a Sahabi (ra) that if you wanted a ruling, then what will you do? He (ra) said that I will look into Qur’an. Nabi (sws) said if you do not find it in Qur’an then? He replied I will look at your (sws) sunnah. Nabi (sws) asked again if you do not find in sunnah? He (ra) said I will do ijitihad on my opinion. Nabi (sws) was happy with this answer and said that all praise be to Allah who has guided the messenger of the Messenger (sws). This has opened door for ijtihad, so we can see that ijtihad is also sunnah.

Harith ibn Amr reported: Some men among the companions of Mu’adh said the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, sent him to Yemen and the Prophet said: How will you judge? Mu’adh said, “I will judge according to what is in the Book of Allah.” The Prophet said: What if it is not in the Book of Allah? Mu’adh said, “Then with the tradition (sunnah) of the Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet said: What if it is not in the tradition of the Messenger of Allah? Mu’adh said, “Then I will strive to form an opinion (ijtihad).” The Prophet said: All praise is due to Allah who has made suitable the messenger of the Messenger of Allah. [Sunan At-Tirmidhi]

Limiting ’Ijtihad

Just because the door of ijtihad has opened does not mean that anyone can do ijtihad. Nabi (sws) also sent that Sahabi (ra) who had a very high and deep level of deen. We cannot depend for guidance on those people who do not even have a complete knowledge of deen. Even in some very general issues we go to specialists e.g. we might say we do not appreciate your opinion on dieting because we would rather go to a professional nutritionist.

If someone says this ruling is not the opinion of Nabi (sws) but of a scholar. Our reply to them is that Nabi (sws) had appreciated and allowed for scholars to do ijtihad in certain cases (only for the rule not found in Qur’an and Hadith, or are not clear).

’Ijtihad at the time of Sahaba (ra)

There was a 149 jama’a of scholars among Sahaba (ra) and from amongst them 15 or 7 had the highest authority and their opinion was given highest regard (i.e. they were mujtahideen).

No Sahabi (ra) ever gave an opinion on something that was already in Qur’an or Hadith. People say things like do you follow Imam Abu Hanifa (rh) or do you follow Qur’an? Imam Abu Hanifa (rh) was doing ijtihad based on the teachings of Qur’an and Hadith.

Qur’an has over 6,000 ayahs and the ones giving hukam are only 350. These ahkam (rulings) are related to the issues ummah at that time had faced. But what about the ummah that will come in future, where things will change with time and certain new issues will prop up?


The Mujtahid Sahaba (ra) if all agreed upon a single ruling then it would become an ijma. Ijma would then become binding based on this Hadith:

Allah will never let my Ummah agree upon misguidance, and the hand of Allah is over the group (Jama’ah), so follow the great mass of believers, and whoever dissents from them departs to hell. [al-Tirmidhi]

Q. If I say all the students in this class agree on something, then will it be an ijma? Or if I say that all the scholars agree but I do not agree on that then is it not ijma?

Our opinion does not matter as we are laymen. We are speaking about the scholars of a very high caliber here. If we spend our lives in the path of ilm and exert ourselves then our opinion will matter as well. The opinion of big scholars will matter.

قُلۡ هَلۡ يَسۡتَوِى ٱلَّذِينَ يَعۡلَمُونَ وَٱلَّذِينَ لَا يَعۡلَمُونَ‌ۗ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُوْلُواْ ٱلۡأَلۡبَـٰبِ
Say, “Can those who know and those who do not know become equal?” It is only the people of understanding who are receptive of the advice. [39:9]

Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) would ask Sahaba (ra) that what opinion do you have about this issue? Or do you know of any rule that could be relevant to it – so he would be asking for guidelines. Why was Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) asking when he had so much knowledge himself? He was the oldest companion of Nabi (sws).

There was a group that used to say we will follow all other rulings of Islam but not give zakah. Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) said we will fight them, but Syedna Umar (ra) said that we can fight later because otherwise people will say that Sahaba (ra) are fighting among themselves and this will lead to discord. But Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) did so much takeed (i.e. emphasized) that later Syedna Umar (ra) also sided with his opinion.

Example of Ijtihad

We look at the reason for ruling. For example, liquor is haram and its reasoning is intoxication. This reason can be found in hashish, marijuana etc. So they are ruled as being haram as well. This is the method Sahaba (ra) employed that they would ask do you think there ever was a situation that could be applicable here, from which a more general ruling could be derived?

At the time of Syedna Umar (ra) there were a lot of conquests, and for so many newly converts it became an issue as to who would tell them about Islam? Syedna Umar (ra) would send Qadhi (judges) to different areas so that a system of justice was developed. Sunnah is like a spring, the asal is there but so many other branches burst forth from it. Our root is Qur’an and Sunnah. All other knowledge is derived from them.

One Faqih Sahaba (ra) was sent to Yemen. This shows the entire Yemen had to do taqleed of one Sahaba (ra) [i.e. follow him]. At the time of Syedna Ali (ra) qiyas increased more. The point is that during the time of Sahaba (ra) the institutions of ijma, qiyas and ijtihad had already begun to establish.

Tabi’in & Circles of Learning

Tabi’in were the people who would get the company of Sahaba (ra) to learn about the life of Nabi (sws).  Many many tabi’in would acquire knowledge under one Sahabi (ra). In the time of Tabi’in, halaqas (circles of learning) were developed where religion would be learnt in different regions. Almost 25 such halaqas were developed for ijtihad. But not more than them because not everyone could be a part of these halaqas. These halaqas were making the rules for making the laws. That’s how different Schools of Thought came about with differences in opinion.

One misunderstanding should be clarified that ikhtilaf does not mean larai, it does not mean scholars hold grudges against one another. In case of difference of opinion, which one should be given tarjeeh? There should be a system that would determine this, otherwise people will just end up following their nafs. The solution to this is not that we pick and choose one opinion according to our temperament and say others are false. No, all are correct but we will follow just one.

So in our deen there is room for difference of opinion but there are certain conditions that need to be met. Not everyone is entitled to having an opinion. This method of ijtihad was approved by Blessed Prophet (sws) and was exercised during the time of Sahaba (ra) and then later Tabi’in and Taba Tabi’in and so forth.

Six Negative Attributes

Having bad relations with people leads us to having a bad relation with Allah (swt). When it comes to our interpersonal relationships, there are a few negative attributes which we should try to get rid of.

Goal 1: Ghaflah-free life – Heedlessness

Ghaflah means being neglectful; not paying attention to others. Parents may say this about their children that they don’t ask about us anymore. It’s not nafrat (hatred), just ghaflat. Even parents know their children don’t dislike them. At work, the employer may say that our employee works like an outsider — they don’t consider the work their own personal responsibility. Even if you love someone, ghaflat causes problems in that relationship. We have to fight our ghaflat. Ghaflat causes distance and separation between people. Such a person will eventually become negligent towards Allah (swt) as well.

Goal 2: Ghibah-free life – Backbiting

Sometimes it is hard to understand how can ghibah be greater than zina. Ghibah causes suspicion between people and at times that suspicion never goes away. If a daughter-in-law finds out that her mother-in-law said something about her, then it’s finished between the two. Now daughter-in-law will always be vary of the mother-in-law. It breaks the hearts of people and creates discord between them.

We have taken it to the next level so much so that we do ijtimai-ghibah (collective backbiting). We are so stubborn, we don’t admit that we do it, and we make excuses instead. We are creating an environment of mistrust. Having bad-gumani is haram (impermissible), don’t even think it’s makrooh (disliked). Ghibah is leading us to bad-gumani.

Everyone knows that we should ask for forgiveness but we are too embarrassed to do it. We should get in this habit of seeking forgiveness. Some people even do ghibah of Allah (swt) saying “I don’t know why Allah (swt) did this to me”. Why not you? Allah sends difficulties on everyone, and you are being disloyal to Allah (swt). Even hassad (jealousy) is a type of a complaint about Allah’s (swt) division.

Goal 3: Ghil-free life – Malice

Ghil is to have hatred, spite, ill-will for someone. Blessed Prophet (sws) has said that you cannot stay angry with each other for more than three days.

“It is not permissible for a man to forsake his Muslim brother for more than three days, each of them turning away from the other when they meet. The better of them is the one who gives the greeting of salaam first.” (al-Bukhaari; Muslim).

On lailatul qadr, a person with ghil will not be forgiven. A Sahabi (ra) used to forgive everyone [1]. You can make du’a that O Allah if there’s any bad feeling in my heart, I make tawbah for it and ask You to take it out. You have to bring Allah (swt) into the equation, do it for a few nights, Allah (swt) will take the hatred out. This is the act of a Jannati [said Sahabi (ra) was given the glad tidings of entering Paradise]. We clean our teeth every night, and these Sahaba karam (ra) used to clean their hearts.

Goal 4: Ghulu-free life – Stubbornness

Ghulu is being stubborn on your own personal understanding (might also be of Shariah). Saying my way or the highway. Advice for husbands: never put your foot down in matters of dunya, save it for matters of deen. People come with divorce questions on things like she wanted to leave early but I wanted to leave later.

There is some flexibility in Shariah, we must have that flexibility also. People love to argue over their opinions. No need to always find out what is the better position. A person once said, I have taken courses on astronomy, I don’t prefer the time at which you pray isha, but I pray at your time because I know there’s flexibility in it. Adab and akhlaq means you are willing to sacrifice your own preference.

Another form of ghulu is that religious people who are good in one thing feel they don’t need to better themselves in other aspects of life. Similarly, some people do a lot of humanitarian work, it’s a very good thing, but if these people neglect their ibadah, then that’s ghulu.

Goal 5: Gharur-free life — Pride

There are three levels to it, ujub, kibr and takabbur. Ujub doesn’t go out without ragra. This is misconception that tazkiyah is only dhikr, tazkiyah is ragra (strenuous disciplining). That’s why you can’t do it for yourself because you will be too lenient on yourself. Ragra is like super-duper martial arts training. Pride manifests itself in different ways, for example, the muadhin says prayer is better than sleep, but our attitude says my sleeping is better than fajr, or that my own fashion is better than what Allah (swt) wants for us to wear. This is having gharur towards Allah (swt).

Goal 6: Ghazab-free life — Anger

We have anger towards other people, and even towards our own family. Keep a lid – it means don’t react at all. People sometimes even get angry with their shaykh, their ustad (teacher). Once a person said to Hadrat Thanvi (rh), whenever someone comes to you, you really discipline and train him the hard way. He replied, if they come to me in a state of an animal, then I also have to take out my knife (for slaughtering).

Another person once said to Hadrat Madni (rh), you are so soft on people while Hadrat Thanvi (rh) is so strict (kind of trying to butter him up). Hadrat Madni (rh) replied actually Hadrat Thanvi (rh) is the surgeon, and I’m like a nurse! This was his humility.

Tazkiyah is about intention and effort, not about success. Allah (swt) just wants you to want it. Is there anything as easy as this? But you have to really want it, beg for it, do whatever you can to get it. These are just some of the bad attributes, there are innumerable more. Look at the flash-points in your life to recognize them. May Allah (swt) purify us from all of the negative attributes.

[1] Imam Malik narrates on the authority of Anas ibn Malik (RA) who said, “We were sitting in the company of the Prophet (SAW) when he said, ‘Soon there will appear before you a person from among the dwellers of Paradise.’ Soon thereafter, a person from the Ansar (Helpers of Medina) appeared – his beard was dripping with water which he had used to perform ablution, holding his sandals with his left hand. The next day, the Prophet (SAW) said the same thing. And the same person appeared in the same manner [as he had appeared the first time]. On the third day, the Prophet (SAW) said the same thing again, ‘Soon there will appear before you a person from among the dwellers of Paradise.’ And the same person appeared in the same manner as he had appeared the previous two times. “When the Prophet (SAW) got up and left, Abdullah ibn Amr (RA) followed the man – he then said to him, ‘I had a dispute with my father and so I took an oath that I will not go to him for three days. [Now that I have no place to stay] Is it possible for you to accommodate me till the three days pass? “The man replied, ‘Yes.’“Anas (RA) says: “Abdullah ibn Amr (RA) used to say that he stayed with that man for three days. He did not see him getting up at night [for qiyaam-ul-layl]. However, when he used to toss and turn in his bed, he used to engage in the remembrance of Allah and say ‘Allahu Akbar’. He would eventually get up for the Fajr salah. “Abdullah ibn Amr (RA) says: “However, I never heard him say anything but good. When the three days passed and I was on the verge of considering his good deeds to be very few and insignificant, I said to him, ‘O servant of Allah! There was neither any dispute nor any separation between me and my father. Rather, I heard the Prophet (SAW) say on three occasions about you: ‘Soon there will appear before you a person from among the dwellers of Paradise.’ And on each of these three occasions, it was you who appeared. I therefore decided to live with you and see what deeds you do that I could emulate you. However, I did not see you doing many good deeds. How, then, have you reached the rank concerning which the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said about your being from among the dwellers of Paradise?’ “The man replied, ‘I do not do anything more than what you have seen. However, I do not bear any deceit to any Muslim nor do I envy anyone for the good which Allah has given him.’

Advice by Imam al-Ghazali

Imam al-Ghazali (rh) gave the following advice to those involved in religious work.

Things you should not do

  • Arguments and futile discussions. 
  • Preaching what you do not practice. Preach yourself first. If you start practicing, then you can start preaching it. Give up pretentious talk. Do not be fake in teaching. Allah (swt) detests the fake.
  • Getting involved with the ruling class. Do not be impressed by the elite. Refrain from praising celebrities because Allah (swt) dislikes praising the sinners.
  • Accepting generosity from kings or those of a higher status. You will end up feeling indebted. You should be independent of the ruling power.

Things you should do

  • Be with Allah (swt) the way you would want your servant to be with you. Before taking an action, think if your hypothetical servant  did that act, would it please me or not?
  • Love for others what you love for yourself.
  • Live as if you have a week to live. You should prepare to improve yourself according to this mentality.

The State of Educational System in the Muslim World

Talk by Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Taqi Usmani
Translated by Umer Ansari 

[After salutations, peace and blessings upon Prophet Muhammad]

Peace be upon you all,

The President of the University (Darul-‘Ulum Karachi), Grand Mufti of Pakistan, my respected brother Mufti Rafi’ ‘Uthmani has stated on numerous occasions, and I have also been able to mention this idea Mufti Shafi’ ‘Uthmani had once articulated at a gathering: After the creation of Pakistan, we need a new educational system.

Before Pakistan was created, there were essentially three major Islamic educational systems in effect (in South Asia):

  • The system of Dārul-‘Ulum Deoband
  • The system of Aligarh Muslim University
  • The system of Darul-‘Ulum Nadwatul Ulama

In 1950 or 1951, Mufti Shafi’ ‘Uthmani said that after the creation of Pakistan, we do not need educational system of Aligarh, Nadwa, or Deoband anymore, rather we need a disparate educational system that follows in the footsteps of our predecessors (aslaf). It was strange that the Grand Mufti of Deoband would say that we do not need Deoband, instead we need a new educational system.

Akbar Allahabadi commented on these three major systems that were prevalent in India:

ہے دل روشن مثال دیوبند ، اور ندوه ہے زبان ہوشمند
اب علی گڑہ کی بهی تم تشبیہ لو ،  ایک معزز پیٹ تم اس کو کهو

In reality, the greater depth of my father’s vision was not comprehended because of which we are now faced with innumerable setbacks. These three educational systems in India were natural nor were they innate, they were rather borne out of a reaction to the educational system and colonization established by the British. If we were to look at our centuries-old educational system, we will not find any difference between them and the regular schools. From the very beginning until colonialism, the Islamic schools or universities provided both religious and secular education [1] together.

The Shari’ah has stipulated that it is not an individual obligation (Farḍ al-’Ayn) to become a scholar (‘alim), rather it is a communal obligation (Farḍ al-Kifayah) [2]. A town or a country having enough scholars will have its communal obligation fulfilled. However, it is an individual‘s obligation to learn the basic obligations of the Deen; this is incumbent upon every Muslim. So in the previous educational system, every Muslim would receive education to learn their individual obligations, and then, if they wanted to pursue higher education in the religious sciences, they had those opportunities available, and if a student wanted to pursue higher education in secular sciences, then they had those opportunities available as well.

A few days ago, my older brother Mufti Rafi’ ‘Uthmani was in Morocco. There are two major cities in Morocco — Marrakesh and Fes. I was in the city of Fes last year, and my brother also visited it this year. They have a university called University of Qayrawan which is still operational. If we were to look into our history, we would find four major Islamic universities:

  • The University of Qayrawan in Fes, Morocco
  • The University of Zaytuna in Tunis, Tunisia
  • The University of Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt
  • The University of Darul-‘Ulum Deoband in Deoband, India

Qayrawan University was established in the 3rd century Hijri (i.e. 9th century CE) in the city of Fes. In their records they have claimed — and I haven’t found any other claim against it — that it is not only the oldest university of the Muslim world, rather it is the oldest university in the entire world! What does this mean? In Qayrawan University, the curriculum then included the religious sciences like Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh, along with Medicine, Mathematics, Astronomy and all the modern secular sciences that are now called the ‘Aṣri ‘Uloom [3].

Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and Qaḍi ‘Iyaḍ had taught there, along with a long list of our predecessors (aslaf), and their teaching spots are preserved to this day, including the spot where Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Rushd taught, the spot where Qaḍi ‘Iyaḍ gave lectures, and the spot where Ibn al-’Arabi al-Maliki taught. This is one of the oldest universities of the world. The smaller madaris would certainly have existed but the Qayrawan University existed as a university where all the religious and worldly sciences were taught (under one roof). Even today, the University has replicas of the scientific inventions that were developed in the 3rd and the 4th century Hijri from that university. Legendary Islamic religious scholars studied in this university along with the famous philosopher Ibn Rushd and other major scientists of that era.

Their system was designed as such to provide obligatory education to everyone, and then for higher studies in religion, the student would take relevant classes and for mathematics, medicine or other worldly sciences, the student would take those classes within the same Qayrawan University. Similar was the case in Zaytuna University (in Tunis) and Al-Azhar University (in Egypt).

All three of our oldest universities had such an educational system that you would find both Qaḍi ‘Iyaḍ, who was the Imam of Hadith and Sunnah, and Ibn Khaldun, who was the Imam of History, very similar in their appearances. One would not be able to identify who was the scholar of religious sciences and who was the scholar of worldly sciences. Their appearance, their clothing, their culture, their manner of speaking was similar. If you look at our scientists like Farabi, Ibn Rushd, and al-Biruni, their appearance was similar to our Mufassireen, Muhadditheen and Fuqaha. They used to pray, they knew the issues of Ṣalaḥ, and the issues of fasting. So the basic foundational knowledge that is an individual obligation upon every Muslim, was known to all Muslims, and it was taught to all the pupils across the board.

The separation occurred when the British came with their educational system and a well thought-out plan [4] to remove Deen from the land. Faced with this issue our elders were compelled to react in order to preserve the knowledge of individual obligations of the Muslims and thus they established Dārul-‘Ulum Deoband. However, the reality (of our educational system) was that which had existed in the Qayrawan University, Zaytuna University and in the preliminary days of Al-Azhar University.

If Pakistan would have been truly a Muslim state, then as my father had stated, we would not have needed Aligarh, Nadwa or Dārul-‘Ulum Deoband in the first place, instead we would have needed Qayrawan and Zaytuna University; a university that would have been the center of learning for all of the various sciences, with all of its graduates having the same foundation of the Deen whether they became engineers, doctors, or chose to tread the path in any other field.

The educational system that was imposed upon us — it only taught us to be intellectually enslaved. Akbar Allahabadi truly stated:

اب علی گڑہ کی بهی تم تشبیہ لو ،  ایک معزز پیٹ تم اس کو کهو

It completely destroyed the rich history and tradition of the Muslims. The result of this is the great divide evident among the Muslims, where one group that is graduating from this system does not even know their individual obligations (Farḍ al-’Ayn); they do not know what their individual obligations are =- they are completely unaware! Secondly, they have been conditioned to think that if they want to be progressive and think intellectually, then they must divorce their own system and look towards the West.

It is saddening to see graduates of this educational system, or doctorates, or professors, criticize the students of knowledge like us on a daily basis, accusing us of closing the doors to Ijtihad, as it used to have a significant place in the Qur’an, Sunnah and Fiqh. However, there are fields where the doors to Ijtihad are wide open, for example in science, technology, mathematics and other secular studies. Why did they not prepare Mujtahids that could have done Ijtihad in the field of medicine and contributed a new development in that field? Or those who could have contributed in the field of Astronomy? These fields were (and still are) wide open.

A few days ago, a fellow forwarded a clip in which a religious scholar was being questioned:

“Mawlana sahib, the contribution of Ulema is known but why is it that there has not been any scientist or doctor or a new invention from the Ulema? What do you have to say about this?”

Oh servant of God, you should have questioned yourself that with the education you have received, has there been a Mujtahid that has invented a new thing? Here, the doors of Ijtihad are sealed shut such that whenever anything is said by the Englishmen, it is accepted without any fact checking. If the West says that something is harmful to your health, then so it is; and if they say otherwise then so it becomes? For a couple of years, the egg yolk was thought to increase cholesterol level and thus it was considered harmful for the body, but now suddenly all the doctors are saying that egg yolk is fine to consume and there is no harm in it. Why is that? It is so because the West said that it is fine to consume, so you accepted that it must be true without any research. There are plenty of herbs across our lands, why have you never researched them to find their medicinal use? The Blessed Prophet (sws) has mentioned the benefits of black cumin (kalonji), why have you never researched on it?

Acquiring knowledge once used to be a respectable venture to serve the people — to serve the creation of God, and that was the actual objective of learning. If through this venture a person would acquire any economic gains, that would have been a side benefit. Today, the sole objective of seeking knowledge is for economic gains — to learn as much as you can so that you can take as much wealth out of another’s pocket. Your knowledge is only beneficial if you can earn more than other people?

Look around and see how many people are studying and graduating with a Master’s and PhD degree. Look at their intentions as to why they are studying. They are studying so that they can have a good career, so that they can get a good job, and so that they can earn more money.

The concept of education has been overturned by making the object of learning just earning money. There is no concept of serving the community and humanity in this educational system. The result is that everyone is engaged in a race to earn more and more, and they do not have any concern for their community, or a desire to serve people or the humanity. They are busy day and night in earning as much as they can, so much so that people have resorted to deceit, theft, and murder. From among the people who have graduated from this system, how many have served humanity and benefited the people?

We were taught by the Messenger of Allah (sws), peace and blessings be upon him, not to engross ourselves in this dunya, and not to make this dunya our sole objective, however, this educational system flipped that worldview. So my respected father used to say that we need to re-overturn this post-colonial mindset, and go back to tread the path that was shown to us by Qayrawan University and Zaytuna University and the path that was shown to us by the early days of Al-Azhar University, as its system has also been overturned.

Since we could not get that system established at a governmental level, we at least tried to preserve the system of Darul-‘Ulum Deoband, and because of that, madaris were established.

However, we want our people to step by step move towards that system that we once had, and towards that end, you have watched the presentation preceding this lecture. By the grace of God, we have madaris spread across the nation (of Pakistan) and they are fulfilling the communal obligation, and they are probably just 1% of the nation. The 99% of the nation that is attending the prevalent system, and the way they are becoming intellectually enslaved to the Englishmen; I often advise both male and female teachers that for God’s sake take this generation out of this intellectual enslavement, and give them a vision of a free people and a free nation that possesses freedom of thought.

Not everything that comes from the West is bad, as there are many things that are also good. So take the good that the West has, and leave the bad. If we act on this principle then we can reach our desired destination.

Allama Iqbal has commented on this in beautiful [Persian] couplets:

قوت مغرب نہ از چنگ و رباب , نی ز رقص دختران بی حجاب
محکمی او را نہ از لادینی است , نی فروغش از خط لاتینی است
قوت افرنگ از علم و فن است , از ہمین آتش چراغش روشن است
حکمت از قطع و برید جامہ نیست , مانع علم و ہنر عمامہ نیست

“The power of the West comes not from lute and rebeck,
not from the magic of tulip-cheeked enchantresses,
its solidity springs not from irreligion,
its glory derives not from the Latin script.

The power of the West comes from science and technology,
and with that selfsame flame its lamp is bright.
Wisdom derives not from the cut and trim of clothes;
the turban is no impediment to science and technology.” [5]

[Parts of speech have been omitted for clarification]


[1] ‘Aṣri ‘Uloom (عصری علوم) has been translated as worldly sciences or secular education.
[2] Farḍ al-’Ayn (فرض العین) is an individual obligation that every Muslim is obligated to know about and fulfill it. For example, the 5 daily obligatory prayers.
Farḍ al-Kifāyah (فرض الکفایه) is a communal obligation. If a significant people from a community fulfill it then it is fulfilled on behalf of the entire community, but if no one fulfills it then the entire community is sinful. Example of this is the Funeral Prayer.
[3] See footnote [1] above.
[4] Reference is being made to Lord MaCaulay’s plan that systematically removed Persian, Urdu and Arabic as a language of instruction, and forced English in the schools in British India.
[5] The English translation of the Persian couplets are by A.J. Arberry

(This was an English translation of a 30 minutes talk by Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Taqi ‘Uthmāni given at the “Adae Shuker” ceremony on March 15, 2016 that was organized by the Hira Foundation School, which is a division of Dārul-‘Ūlūm Karachi. Link of the original lecture:–ane5Xk)

Free-will and Predestination

Introducing the Debate

The debate is how helpless is the man vs. how much authority he has – this is a very vast topic. Philosophers have debated it in different ways, for example in Existentialism.

There are two premises we have to take into account at the onset. First, Allah (swt) is al-Aleem; He has all the knowledge, including what has come to pass and what will happen in the future. Allah (swt) has Transcendental nature which means Allah (swt) has created time but Allah (swt) is pure from the limitedness of time. There is no past, present or future for Allah (swt). We understand past as a time that has elapsed, and a new time that will come as our future. Allah (swt) does not view time like that.

Imagine there is a board and on that board you draw past, present and future linearly. The time represented on the board is linear, but at the same time if you look at the board, past, present and future will be visible at one glance. This is a bit difficult to grasp but crucial in order to understand the nature of this debate.

Secondly, Allah (swt) is al-Qadir; He is the Faail-e-Haqeeqi i.e. the Real Doer. Any action can only occur by the allowance and decree of Allah (swt).

The Paradox

Considering Allah swt is al-Aleem i.e. His knowledge encompasses everything from past and future, and Allah swt is also al-Qadir over everything, so what is the standing of a man’s effort? How much control do we have?

One position could be that Allah swt has control over everything and man has no control whatsoever. Allah (swt) will choose for us and force us to do the action.

وَلَوۡ شِئۡنَا لَأَتَيۡنَا كُلَّ نَفۡسٍ هُدَٮٰهَا
And if We had so willed, We would have led everybody to his right path (by force). [32:13]

If we assume that the human race is completely helpless i.e. it does not matter how much good deeds they do, they will still go to hell, if it was destined for them, then the root of our deen will be dissolved. Because then there is no need to work hard or to do good deeds.

A person may think that I will not do anything because Allah (swt) will make me do it anyway, so I don’t have to bother. Such a person while doing grocery shopping may keep standing in line saying that Allah (swt) will get everything done so I’m just waiting. This is a ridiculous situation.

Second position could be that the man is in complete control over everything. Imagine what life on Earth would be like in this case. If a man could control everything, then he would want to know the future. There is a certain kind of knowledge that a man cannot handle, for example, to know when and where a person would die. With the constant fear of death looming over him, it would be very hard for him to take any action. Second, if he knows before-hand this person is going to betray him, this will be the outcome of this decision, this person will have these situations in life, it will make no sense to reward him for his choice because he already had the knowledge.

Third position is that Allah (swt) knows everything completely and absolutely, but the man is in control of his own actions. However, there are some parameters that Allah (swt) has set for the man and he will act within those limits. They are not majboor in their actions. You should be clear about this because sometimes people are not able to differentiate between knowing and doing.

For example, Allah (swt) knows how we are going to spend this Ramadan. But will this knowledge effect our actions? Even the person who is close to you can easily predict what you are going to do next, and in fact that is exactly what they do. Because of their closeness to you, it is easy for them to make the predictions.

A mother knows how her child will respond to a certain situation. Allah (swt) knows a man better than he knows himself. So Allah (swt) knows what we will do in future. But this knowledge does not mean that this prediction will have an effect on our actions. This is also because Allah (swt) is not bounded by time. We are time-bound and for us events happen sequentially. For Allah (swt) past, present and future are all existing together.

Another example is of a professor who knows before-hand about a student who has not attended any class that he will fail the course. And he does. He does not fail because the professor had predicted that, rather he failed because he had missed the classes.

Role of Nature & Nurture

Nature: If a man has the genes of generosity and his child also inherits it, or a man has a genes of excessive anger, and his son also inherits this, so people debate that what is the fault of the person if this is in his genes and nature?

For example, if there is a person in Philadelphia who is very angry by nature because of which he is often violent with his wife, we would naturally say that he should get himself treated even though he claims he inherited it from his parents. If you have a problem then you should get yourself treated accordingly.

Nurture: If how you have been brought up is the only thing that effects your actions then the son of Nuh (as) should not have been an infidel. Nature and nurture kind of encompass us but within those boundaries we have a choice for our actions.

Every heart has the ability to accept haq (the Truth). Whenever we come across haq, our hearts recognize it as the truth. Then we have a choice to either accept it or reject it. When we keep rejecting the truth, then our hearts are hardened.

وَلَا يَكُونُواْ كَٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ مِن قَبۡلُ فَطَالَ عَلَيۡہِمُ ٱلۡأَمَدُ فَقَسَتۡ قُلُوبُہُمۡ‌ۖ وَكَثِيرٌ۬ مِّنۡہُمۡ فَـٰسِقُونَ
They must not be like those to whom the Book was given before, but a long period passed on them (in which they did not repent), therefore their hearts became hard,
and (thus) many of them are sinners. [57:16]

Allah (swt) has sent prophets (as) so that people who do bad deeds would start doing good deeds. This was the sole purpose of sending guidance. The people in history have killed prophets and have gone at wars with them. Despite this constant rejection, Allah (swt) still sent His guidance. Every person has already seen Allah (swt):

وَإِذۡ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِنۢ بَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ مِن ظُهُورِهِمۡ ذُرِّيَّتَہُمۡ وَأَشۡہَدَهُمۡ عَلَىٰٓ أَنفُسِہِمۡ أَلَسۡتُ بِرَبِّكُمۡ‌ۖ قَالُواْ بَلَىٰ‌ۛ شَهِدۡنَآ‌ۛ
(Recall) when your Lord brought forth their progeny from the loins of the children of ’Adam, and made them testify about themselves (by asking them,) “Am I not your Lord?”
They said, “Of course, You are. We testify.” [7:72]

Everyone has the seed of love for Allah (swt) in their hearts. With a little grooming that seed will grow. Everyone holds the potential to accept haq.

Role of Consent in Being Created

Another debate is people object why was I created in the first place when I did not agree on being created? A lot of Existentialists ask this question. By being created we can get the opportunity to get qurb (proximity) of Allah (swt). For example, when a child is taken to a park, he is being given the opportunity to have fun there, but if the child keeps on crying in a corner, that’s his choice. Being born is a thing of joy because every child is a potential wali of Allah (swt).

وَإِذۡ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلۡمَلَـٰٓٮِٕكَةِ إِنِّى جَاعِلٌ۬ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ خَلِيفَةً۬‌ۖ
(Remember) when your Lord said to the angels,
“I am going to create a deputy on the earth!” [2:30]

Christians have this concept that our creation was to compensate for the original sin. Look at what Allah (swt) is offering you! He is saying that you have been sent here as the Khalifa (representative) of Allah (swt).

Why Forever?

Some people have panic attacks thinking they will live for an infinite amount of time. To understand why the afterlife is forever, let’s take the example of an old man who is an Atheist. You go to him and say that you have spent your whole life denying Allah (swt), now that your time of death is near so why don’t you take imaan at least now? He does not take imaan and says even if I were to live forever, I would continue to deny Allah (swt) (nauzubillah).

Then there is a pious old man who has been worshiping Allah (swt) his entire life. And you tell him that you have spent enough time worshiping Allah (swt) so why don’t you just relax now? He will say no, even if I was given forever I would never stop worshiping Allah (swt).

Hadith: ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab relates that he heard the Messenger of Allah (sws), say,

Verily actions are by intentions, and for every person is what he intended. [Agreed upon]

So the reward according to the intention is that the pious man will forever live in heaven because he intended to obey Allah (swt) forever. And the Atheist will forever remain in hell because he intended to forever deny Allah (swt).

Now imagine there is a third old man who is a Muslim, but sometimes he does good deeds and sometimes he does bad deeds. The way to purify a sinner who has not repented is that he will be burnt in hell (illa mashaAllah i.e. Allah (swt) may forgive them out of His Mercy) till they are purified, then they will go to heaven. This is because the intention of this man was to go to Jannah but unfortunately his actions were not up to the mark. Contrary to this, the pious old man had both his intention and actions up to the mark so he would directly go to heaven. And the Atheist had neither intention nor action so he will go to hell.

Allah (swt) is Infinite – Allah (swt) has been since time immemorial and will remain for evermore. Allah (swt) created man who is time-bound but Allah (swt) wants the man to be infinite as well. Allah (swt) created man so that they are granted Jannah, which is a place that will last till eternity. The asal (real purpose) of insan is Jannah, and with the right actions his destination is also heaven. But Allah swt is also al-Muqsit (the Just One), which means that someone who has done no effort should not get the same reward as the person who has done the effort.

The Question of Evil

People say that if Allah (swt) is the All Merciful then why is there evil in the world? So imagine the world with no evil in it. For example, a man is going to kill someone, but Allah (swt) intervenes and stops him because He is al-Qadir, He has the power to do so, and says no you cannot kill this man. Then will imaan bil ghayb (belief on the Unseen) remain? Imaan is definitely only on the unseen, and if people were able to see and witness directly the power and might of Allah (swt), that is mushahida. On the Day of Judgement even the kuffar will say that we believe:

وَلَوۡ تَرَىٰٓ إِذِ ٱلۡمُجۡرِمُونَ نَاكِسُواْ رُءُوسِہِمۡ عِندَ رَبِّهِمۡ رَبَّنَآ أَبۡصَرۡنَا وَسَمِعۡنَا فَٱرۡجِعۡنَا نَعۡمَلۡ صَـٰلِحًا إِنَّا مُوقِنُونَ
And (you will wonder) if you see the sinners hanging their heads before their Lord (and saying,) “Our Lord, we have now seen and heard, so send us back, and we
will do righteous deeds. Surely, (now) we are believers.” [32:12]

But Allah (swt) will say now it is that you believe? It means that now it’s too late to believe because now you have seen. Now you have done mushahida – it is not belief when you have seen something clearly.

قُلۡ يَوۡمَ ٱلۡفَتۡحِ لَا يَنفَعُ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوٓاْ إِيمَـٰنُهُمۡ وَلَا هُمۡ يُنظَرُونَ
Say, “On the day of decision their belief will not be of any use
to disbelievers, nor shall they be given any respite.” [32:29]

At times Allah (swt) does send help from ghayb (unseen). But this is not the norm. Allah (swt) has created a system to stop the evil and that is called ehsan, shariah and sunnah. Allah (swt) wants evil to be removed from this world. One man who was in IMF of some organization of this sort, and he was saying that if all the rich people gave away a small portion of their wealth then world poverty will be eradicated. If the system created by Allah (swt) was followed, poverty would be eliminated.

Sometimes we suffer because of the nafs of another person [i.e. injustice]. Nabi (sws) says that mu’min has good even if some blessing comes their way or some evil comes their way. Because when they are grateful, they get reward and when they show patience, they also get reward.

On the authority of Suhaib (ra) he said: The Prophet (sws) said:

Amazing is the affair of the believer, all of his affair is good. If something of good/happiness befalls him he is grateful and that is good for him. If something of harm befalls
him he is patient and that is good for him” (Sahih Muslim)

Allah (swt) has told us what we should and should not be doing. If the people do not stop their evil actions and Allah (swt) has to forcefully stop them then imaan bil ghayb will not remain.

One reason for having evil is that people can recognize and appreciate goodness. When we look at evil in our society, we crave for goodness all the more, and will be motivated to achieve it, and it is also a way to test us.

Some people debate that Allah (swt) has not created evil, because creating evil is bad, and attributing it to Allah (swt) would be wrong. It is important to distinguish between creating evil and doing evil. Creating evil is not a bad thing. Doing evil is a bad thing. The university system has both an F grade and an A grade. The university wants its students to get A’s. However, some students do not work hard enough and end up getting F’s. It’s a failure owing to the choice they have made which cannot be attributed to a fault in university’s system.