Tarbiyat-i-aulad Workshop Part II

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

Cont’d from here.


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

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

  • Plan their life early so they can achieve more

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Make them your ṣadqah-i-jāriah 

Three things included in ṣadqah-i-jāriah are:

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

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

  • Reform yourself to reform the child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. Work on their intellectual development

  • Connect them to religious knowledge

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

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

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

  • Integrate secular education with religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13. Work on their behavioral and emotional development

  • Reinforce positive behavior

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

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

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

  • Have good expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. Work on their physical development

  • Incorporate play-time in schedule

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

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

  • Teach mental focus and sportsmanship through games

Three sports have been encourage in ḥadīth:

  1. Archery
  2. Horseback riding
  3. Swimming

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

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

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

  • Feed them healthy food

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

15. Work on their social skills

  • Get them involved in chores

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

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

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

  • Inculcate the spirit of helping others

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

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

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

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

16. Develop their faith and spirituality

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

  • Connect them to good mentors

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

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

  • Tell them motivational stories

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

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

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

  • Build their relationship with Allah (swt)

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

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

  • Build their identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17. Work on their ādāb and manners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implementation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Teacher Training Workshop

Teaching Methodology 

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

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

Learning Styles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Types of Intelligence

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

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

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

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

Example of a Mind Map

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

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

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

An experiment on importance of positive attitude and encouragement

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

Ways to Give Dars-i-Quran

Objective

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

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

Some points for preparation and deliverance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Components of Daura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing with controversial topics

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

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

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

Try doing more general muta’ala also.

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

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

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

The nitty-gritty of preparation

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

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

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

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

Hadrat Shah WaliUllah’s points for Dars

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

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

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

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

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

Two ways to prepare

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

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

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

Appearance

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

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

Experiences and ways of outreach

Deliver your message wisely

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fight to protect īmān

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

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

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

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

Don’t fret over numbers

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

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

Be sincere in counseling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarbiyat-i-aulad Workshop Part I

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemporary Issues Facing our Youth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategizing a plan of action

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

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

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

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

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

1. Befriend the child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Be vigilant of behavioral changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Be firm when needed, use dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Teach through analogies 

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

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

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

5. Redirect them to positive behavior

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Limit screen-time

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

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

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

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

7. Let them enjoy ḥalāl recreation

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

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

8. Be loving towards your spouse

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

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

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

9. Keep them connected to religious circles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cont’d here.

From Skeptical Doubt to Certain Conviction – 1

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


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

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

Translation by W. Montgomery Watt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BACKDROP AND SUMMARY OF THE TEXT

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

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

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

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

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

i. INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ii. PRELIMINARIES: SKEPTICISM AND THE DENIAL OF ALL KNOWLEDGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cont’d in Session II

Duties of Brotherhood – Session I

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You should make tawbah to Allah (swt) collectively.

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

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

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

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

i. Below Parity

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

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

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

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

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

ii. Equalizing

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

iii. Preferment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. To Render Personal Aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

رُحَمَآءُ بَيۡنَهُمۡ
Compassionate among themselves. [48:29]

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

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

3. To be Mindful of the Tongue

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

As for silence, when should the tongue be silent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cont’d in Session II

Maktubat-e-Rabbani Session 4

[These are rough notes from the fourth session of the workshop conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in UK, in 2011]

[Notes for Session 1, Session 2 and Session 3]


This letter is also talking about the shat’hat — the ecstatic utterances. Here Imam Rabbani (rah) just coins a new term which is called kufr of tareeqat as opposed to the kufr of Shar’iah. This needs to be explained a little. Kufr of Shar’iah means that a person becomes an unbeliever according to the teachings of Shar’iah in terms of aqeedah. As in he becomes an unbeliever in Allah (swt), or he ascribes partners to Allah (swt). That’s obviously terrible. That’s an apostate that a person loses their imaan.

What does it mean to have kufr of tareeqat? By the kufr of tareeqat or the kufr of tasawwuf, he means how a person can become a kafir as far as tasawwuf is concerned, not actually become a kafir, this is just a term he is using. We could just skip this whole thing altogether. The only reason now I’m stuck explaining this is because I have given it to you in the course packet. This is not something I should have given to you because there is no way I’ll be able to teach this in depth here. This is one of the things you will misunderstand if you read on your own. Let me show you straight up the line what you will misunderstand, and then you will understand why I’m worried.

The kufr of tareeqat is superior to the Islam of shari’ah, although it is inferior and lower than the Islam of the reality of shari’ah. What he is talking about here is actually a very simple thing that to even reach such a stage where, not that you believe in wahdat al-wujud as an aqeedah in the sense that you believe everything is one with Allah (swt), he is talking about the ecstatic utterances; that you are overwhelmed by such a feeling in dhikr that you actually feel for some moments, for some limited period of time, you feel as if all of the world is one with Allah (swt), so he called that kufr of tareeqat.

That’s the wrong thing to say. But a person gets out of it, which is the context in which he is saying this. If they get out of it, then the fact that they even reached such an ecstasy is greater than what he is calling the Islam of shari’ah, but it is lower than what he is calling the Islam of the haqeeqat of the shari’ah. There is a particular way he is using this term Islam of Shari’ah. This is not what we would call deen of Islam, or shari’ah.

He is saying that someone who is outwardly Muslim, but doesn’t have love for Allah (swt) in their heart, doesn’t have the feelings of Qur’an, doesn’t have the feelings of imaan, doesn’t have taqwa, tawakkul, ikhlas, sabr, shukr, khashiya, muhabbat-e-ilahi, muhabbat-e-Rasool Allah (sws), etc. He is just a Muslim in name. You would call it in English a nominal Muslim. Better than that nominal Muslim is that person who has all of these feelings, including taqwa, and was overpowered momentarily in those feelings that they made an ecstatic utterance which suggested that they thought that the world is one with Allah (swt). But then they repent from that. They have to repent from that. And even better than that person is the person who never-ever makes such a statement, and has all of those feelings the mu’mineen are supposed to have which are mentioned in Qur’an. This is what he is trying to say.

He chooses to label the first one Islam of shari’ah. It’s not deen of Islam. There’s actually a very famous hadith of Blessed Prophet (sws) where he (sws) talked about imaan, Islam, and ihsan (Hadith-e-Jibrail). There the word Islam is not being used for deen. There the word Islam is being used simply for outward appearance. So he is using the word Islam in the sense it has been used in the hadith. Similarly, in Qur’an there is a very famous ayah; there were some Bedouins, Allah (swt) told them don’t say amanna, don’t say you have imaan, but instead say you have Islam (49:14). You have something lesser because the inner reality of deen has not entered your heart. You just have the outward form.

So by the word Islam here he means the outward form, that’s why he uses the word Islam again for the greatest thing which is the reality of true deen. So he says better than having only outward Islam is having true deen but lapsing into an ecstatic utterance, which you make tawba from, and the best is to have the inward Islam, to have real deen inwardly, without ever having to lapse into that utterance.

Next letter.

He takes five ecstatic utterances by particular people in tasawwuf, and he addresses and analyzes each one in turns and he explains how each one taken on its literal meaning is incorrect, and it would be incorrect to follow these people in the literal meaning of their words thinking that the literal meaning of their words represents true teaching of Islam.

In the view of sober sufis (he gives this distinction between anybody who is sober and intoxicated) however, these words are the outcome of intoxication and the result of non-distinction between the reality of something and its symbolic form between the haqeeqat and the majaz (The translator has mistranslated this, it is majaz, not muzaj). Know that intoxication is a mark of wilayat, and sobriety is a characteristic of nabuwwah, parts of which are available to the most perfect followers of the Prophet (sws) (i.e. siddiqin). They get the same soberness (sobriety means their calm and control, that they don’t make these ecstatic utterances).

This is that explanation as to why Sahaba Karam (ra) would not make such utterances although they had the greatest feelings. So a person may ask the question that look you are saying that when a person is overwhelmed with feelings of love for Allah (swt), they may sometimes make these statements. So in the entire history of tasawwuf, there are no more than 5-10 people who made these statements like Mansur al-Hallaj, Rabia Basria etc. There are 5-10 people in the entire history of Islam rather I would say. Right now there are 1.2 billion Muslims on earth. Fifty years ago there were 1 billion Muslims on earth. Over the course 1400 years there have been hundreds of billions of Muslims, and out of the entire history of the ummah of Islam, only 5-10 people in tasawwuf made these ecstatic statements.

The reason I’m making this clear to you is that it means that statistically 0.0000001% go astray. But many times people engage in what you call fear mongering. They say we understand if you really are careful about tasawwuf, you follow shari’ah, you follow Sunnah, it would be okay. But you really don’t want to try that because don’t you see what happened to Mansur al-Hallaj? Mansur al-Hallaj said annal Haqq — I’m God basically, you really want to take that risk? So the risk is again 5-10 people in the whole history of the ummah who went astray. So you are not really putting yourself in that risk. If you are going to be that statistical about taking risk, you can no longer drive on the road, literally, because the statistics of being in a road accident is far greater than being on a tasawwuf road accident — on going astray on the path of tasawwuf. This is mere fear mongering.

The other difference is that the people who made ecstatic utterances didn’t know that a person can get into these ecstatic state on the path, otherwise they could have safeguarded themselves as well. Imam Rabbani (rah) has now explained it clearly to us. In other words, ever since Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah), nobody has ever made such an ecstatic utterance. He has successfully purged classical oriented tasawwuf from this problem. You may still have quacks who do all types of crazy things. People do crazy things in the name of Islam too. So people can do crazy things when they are on sufi’ism today. But rightly guided people on tasawwuf, in the history of Islam, 5-10 of them made a mistake. Ever since Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi, there’s no rightly guided person on tasawwuf who has ever made that mistake.

Next letter.

This is slightly contextual. Some people at the time of Imam Rabbani (rah) denied the need for prophethood and prophecy. They claimed that it is possible to obey Allah (swt) without obeying the Prophet (sws). So he simply says that obedience to Allah (swt) and obedience to the Prophet (sws) are exactly the same thing. This is clear in Qur’an that there is no difference.

مَنۡ يُّطِعِ الرَّسُوۡلَ فَقَدۡ اَطَاعَ اللّٰهَ
Whoever obeys the Messenger obeys Allah [4:80]

That person who obeys the Prophet (sws) it is indeed equivalent to as if he has obeyed Allah (swt). This incident is not about one of the rightly guided shaykhs who went astray. This is one of the rightly guided shaykhs who never went astray at all, but people misinterpreted some events. That also happens. The event was that some people said that mashaikh in the state of intoxication have uttered words that differentiate obedience to Allah (swt) and obedience to Prophet (sws) and speaking of choosing love of one over the love of the other.

For example, it has been reported that once Sultan Mehmud Ghaznavi, who was the Muslim ruler of the time, came to Khartan [?] during his rein when he was its ruler, and he put up camp there. He must have come for some reason. He sent his messenger to request his shaykh, Shaykh Abu al-Hassan Kharaqani (rah) to visit him. He instructed him that in case the shaykh was not willing to visit him, because sometimes the ulema and mashaikh didn’t like to visit the kings, then he should recite to him the verse:

يٰۤـاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡۤا اَطِيۡـعُوا اللّٰهَ وَاَطِيۡـعُوا الرَّسُوۡلَ وَاُولِى الۡاَمۡرِ مِنۡكُمۡ‌ۚ
O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. [4:59]

That you should obey Allah (swt), obey the Prophet (sws) and those who are in authority of you. This is also one of the most commented upon ayat of Qur’an that who are the ulul amr? Are they those who have a political authority over you, or are they those who have a religious authority over you? Religious authority would mean that you have to follow the ijtihad of the mujtahidun. Some people say it means both. Obviously, Sultan Mehmud Ghaznavi felt it meant people of political authority. So he meant it in the sense that in Qur’an Allah (swt) is asking you to obey me because I am the one in authority therefore you should come when I’m telling you to come.

This messenger went and as he invited the shaykh, he saw exactly this that Shaykh Kharaqani didn’t want to go. So he recited the verse. At that moment Shaykh Kharaqani (rah) said that I am still occupied with Allah’s (swt) obedience, I feel ashamed that I have not moved to the obedience of Prophet (sws), and what to say about the obedience to the ruler? It wasn’t his aqeedah statement. He was just saying this to the guard to get out of this issue. He wasn’t saying that I’m obeying Allah (swt) right now and I have not yet obeyed the Prophet (sws).

In fact, it’s mentioned in hadith that the Prophet (sws) has taught us not to associate with people who are corrupt rulers. There is no ayat in the Qur’an that actually says that. So the very act of Shaykh Kharaqani (rah) refusing to go to the king is actually based on him following that prophetic model. This was just a statement he was saying that you think that ulul amr means I have to obey Sultan Mehmud Ghaznavi so don’t you see there is an order in Qur’an that first obey Allah (swt) and then obey the Prophet (sws), and I’m still busy on the first. He could have said that I’m still busy with first and second, but then he would have said the next step is three, so to keep them from even giving that answer, he just said that I’m busy on number one. That’s all it was. It did not in any way mean that he was viewing these things as different.

Now he is going to talk about kashf. What should I write about kashf? In this field, the causes for mistakes are many and the possibility of error is great. He is making it clear that kashf and ilham is not an infallible source of religion. It is fallible. It is subject to error. There is a possibility of mistake. The occurrence of these revelations are as good as their non-occurrence. If you don’t get kashf, or if you get kashf, it’s equally good. Them happening or them not happening is equally the same thing.

There is no merit, no fadhilah that is attached to getting kashf. Because merit and fadhilah are attached to the siffat of Qur’an and siffat of sunnah. If you have more tawakkul on Allah (swt), that’s better than if you have less tawakkul on Allah (swt). If you have more kashf that’s not any better than you having less kashf. The kashf does not have value in deen. It occurs, but it doesn’t have value. That is a very important teaching to be made clear in tasawwuf.

The Path of Qurb-e-Nabuwwah vs. Qurb-e-Wilaya

Somebody asked him a question that you observed that one does not attain the nearness to Allah (swt) unless one has experienced fanaa and baqaa. He is also mentioning the state of jazba (rapture) in sulook — that’s another way to describe the stages I previously mentioned to you. The Sahaba Karam (ra) of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) are universally held superior to any wali of the ummah. Even that Sahabi (ra) who met the Blessed Prophet (sws) for a very short period is greater than all of the awliya combined. This is a fact. Even that Sahabi (ra) who met the Prophet (sws) just for a fraction of a second is greater than all the awliya of the history of Islam combined.

The question then is that do they complete all of these stages of fanaa, baqaa, sair, and sulook just in one short contact? Because if you are saying going through that journey is necessary to get to that final goal, which was the ultimate goal of being 100% attached to Allah (swt) and also doing work and khidmah and dawah in this world, then how did the Sahaba (ra) do it since they didn’t go through this whole long path?

Second question, whether the Sahaba (ra) got fanaa and baqaa due to the spiritual attention of the Prophet (sws)? — just through the sohbah in that they got it from the heart of the Prophet (sws) and that’s it — they got it all? That could have been a possibility. Maybe the questioner is himself thinking of possible answers. Maybe for Sahaba (ra) it was an instantaneous journey because they didn’t do it through the process of dhikr or the process of nafl i’tikaf (chilla). They did it through the sohbah of the Prophet (sws). Just being in the company of the Prophet (sws). So he is asking if that’s the reason. Or was it by virtue of their submission to Allah (swt)? Was it because of their perfect taqwa? Is that how they got wilaya?

Lastly, he wanted to know whether they became aware of sulook and jazba by undergoing these experiences or without them? So the, quote unquote, experiences that occur to a person on the path, did the Sahaba (ra) also experience them or did they get to the destination without going through these experience? But if they did not have them, and they didn’t receive the attention of the Prophet (sws), would we call them bid’ah hasana (good innovation)?

Bid’ah hasana is a topic that we have talked about in detail in the bid’ah workshop. This is a concept that was mentioned by Syedna Umar (ra) in a hadith of Bukhari. He was ameer al-mu’mineen — so it’s after the Prophet (sws) has passed away — he enters Masjid-e-Nabwi in Ramadan and he sees Sahaba (ra) praying in multiple groups. When he (ra) walks in, he orders that they should all form one group.

Syedna Ubay ibn Ka’b (ra) protests and asks what are you doing? The Prophet (sws) never did this. You are doing something new. You are saying that all of us should pray tarawih in one jama’ah in the masjid, you are saying there should not be multiple simultaneous jama’ah at the same time offering tarawih. And the word that is used is bid’ah. Syedna Umar (ra) responded — this is a conversation between two of the greatest sahaba in Masjid-e-Nabwi — he says na’imal bida’t al-haza that this is such a wonderful bida’h which I’m doing. Then Syedna Umar (ra) does it, all the Sahaba (ra) agree, Syedna Ubay ibn Ka’b (ra) is quiet so he also agrees, and from that day until today there has always been only one jama’ah of tarawih in Masjid-e-Nabwi.

Who instituted this practice? Syedna Umar (ra). What are the words which he has used which Imam Bukhari (rah) has recorded? He used the word bida’h. He knew how Blessed Prophet (sws) had used the word bida’h in hadith. He knew the hadith that Blessed Prophet (sws) said every bida’h is dalalah (i.e. leads a person away from truth) and every dalalah leads to hellfire, etc. But he also knew that when Blessed Prophet (sws) used the word bida’h at that occasion, he (sws) had in mind every bida’h and innovation that was against shari’ah. He understood the meaning of the word and did not confine himself to the wording of the word. The writer of the letter was an ‘alim so he knew about this concept (and he was asking with reference to it).

Imam Shafi (rah), who is from the tabi tabi’in, from the salaf, also completely believes in bida’h hasana. He makes a whole long argument in his books and establishes the case for a whole category of actions that should be called bida’h hasana. This ‘alim is asking Imam Rabbani (rah) if that’s what this is. That all of these experiences you have to go through and those four stages, maybe they are bida’h hasana.

Imam Rabbani (rah) gives two answers. This is one of the difficult letters. You must know that in order to understand these points, you should rather see me and spend some time with me. Because there is only so much you can respond in a letter. We have the same problem — there is only so much you can do over an e-mail. For example, if you asked me the question that what is fanaa and what is baqaa, what is hairat, what is ilham and what is kashf, I can’t write an e-mail in response to something like this. You will have to come see me, we would have to have some interaction. You cannot communicate all knowledge through letters and e-mails. Anybody who is involved in education, is studying, or teaching, will understand this.

It is not easier for you to appreciate truth which no one has so far disclosed. He is going to disclose a bit of it and I will explain that. This is maybe his most amazing understanding of tasawwuf. However, now that you have raised these questions, I have no option except to discuss them. I will, however, do them briefly (because this is a letter). The qurb to Allah (swt) that one attains through this whole process of fanaa, baqaa, suluk and suyur is the qurb of the awliya. It is the qurb which the awliya of the ummah attain. However, the qurb that the Sahaba Karam (ra) got because of their association with the Blessed Prophet (sws) was the qurb of nabuwwah.

Sahaba (ra) got the closeness to Allah (swt) that the Blessed Prophet (sws) had. We are not saying that the Sahaba (ra) became prophets. We are saying that they got the qurb to Allah (swt) that the Prophet (sws) had. To show you this, in Akhirah there is a place called Jannat al-Firdous. It is not just for Anbiya (as). The entire ummah has ijma on this that all the Anbiya (as) will be in Jannat al-Firdous, and non-anbiya will also be in Jannat al-Firdous. There are seven Jannahs. Allah (swt) has not made the system, although that may have been a possibility, and it would have made rational sense to us, that the qurb of the Anbiya (as) in Akhirah would be more than everyone else. So whatever their level of Jannah is, that would be just for Anbiya (as), and maybe Sahaba (ra) would be in level 2.

However, Sahaba (ra) will also be in Jannat al-Firdous. As far as qurb with Allah (swt), He has opened it up to all of the truest followers of the prophets who are called siddiqeen in the Qur’an and the greatest of them is Syedna Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (ra). In other words, he is saying that the Sahaba (ra) are closer to Allah (swt) than the awliya are. They received this qurb through Prophet (sws) by following him (sws), and in that qurb (when you get the qurb that the Prophet (sws) had) there is no fanaa, baqaa or suyurHe is making two points:

1. It is a higher qurb.

2. There is no process for that. Only the Sahaba (ra) could get that and they got that through the sohbah of Blessed Prophet (sws), because the sohbah of Blessed Prophet (sws) is infinitely more powerful and intense than fanaa, baqaa and all of those things that a person could try to do by means of dhikr.

However, it is many times superior to the qurb of the awliya. This is the first order qurb, while other is the second order qurb — he means the real qurb, the highest level of qurb that you can get, because when you can’t have union, what can you have? You can have nearness, and that’s in Qur’an:

فَاِنِّىۡ قَرِيۡبٌؕ
Then (tell them that) I am near. [2:186]

وَنَحۡنُ اَقۡرَبُ اِلَيۡهِ مِنۡ حَبۡلِ الۡوَرِيۡدِ‏
We are closer to him than (his) jugular vein. [50:16]

اُولٰٓٮِٕكَ الۡمُقَرَّبُوۡنَ‌ۚ
Those are the ones blessed with nearness (to Allah). [56:11]

This is a Qur’anic concept — the qurb of humanity with Allah (swt). What’s the maximal level of qurb you can get? We are not talking about unity. The maximal level of qurb is qurb-e-nabuwwah; the closeness that the Prophet (sws) had. The Sahaba (ra) were gifted with that closeness, that is infinitely superior than the qurb-e-awliya. You are surprised by the answer. Many people can come up with this question but they don’t understand the answer. You will not be able to come up with an answer on your own. That’s why you need people who understand things like qurb. The mashaikh of tasawwuf understand these things.

Maybe you can’t appreciate the tone and tenor of this letter in English. He is saying what in the world are you talking about? In Urdu we would say Sahaba (ra) ka qurb kahan aur aap awliya ka qurb kahan, aap tou zameen aur asmaan k farq ki baat kar rahe hein. You are talking about the difference of day and night. You are comparing incomparable things. The qurb of Sahaba (ra) and awliya is radically different. We need to understand the greatness of Sahaba Karam (ra) also, we don’t understand that. Jannat al-Firdous means they have the same level in Akhirah in terms of qurb with Allah (swt). That’s an amazing thing.

People do not generally know this truth. You will find that sometimes a person would think Shaykh Qadir Jillani (rah) is as great as the Sahaba (ra). That’s a crazy thing to think. In this regard, the scholars are no better than the common man. Even some ulema don’t understand the real maqam of Sahaba (ra). Then he quotes a poem had Ibn Sina sung like a sufi, everyone who is called a qalandar would have been a saint. It’s a bit difficult to explain to you, there are many puns going on here. It’s a sarcastic statement. I don’t want to go into who are the qalandars because that will take me out of my objective right now.

However, if one wants to achieve the prophetic qurb — let’s say someone says I also want to be among the siddiqin — that’s also something that Allah (swt) has opened up, in other words Jannat al-Firdous is not closed. It is still open-admissions. Who knows who can make the criteria, but it’s not just for Anbiya (as) and Sahaba (ra). Anyone who can make themselves among the siddiqin can get Jannat al-Firdous.

That’s why we need to realize why are we on earth? What are we doing? Really, we don’t understand the choices we have made. If for the sake of career, you lose Jannat al-Firdous, and you just get Jannah, even that is a stupid choice. In the name of balance, you should not want to sacrifice Jannat al-Firdous. I don’t think anyone would want to sacrifice being an abdi sahaba — because in Jannat al-Firdous you will also be in the company of Prophet (sws) for all of eternity. One is Madni Sahabi, one is Jannati sahabi. You will become a sahaba — not sahaba in the earthly sense, but you will be the companion of the Prophet (sws) in Jannat al-Firdous like they were his (sws) companions in Madinah Munawwarah or Makkah Mukarramah. That’s still open.

How can a person get that qurb? He says there are two ways to get that. One is by going through fanaa, baqaa and all of these journeys, and in further trying to get the qurb of the siddiqin and the qurb of the awliya — these are both words in Qur’an. One once achieves the prophetic qurb by the saintly qurb, he cannot avoid fanaa, baqaa, jazba and sulook (because these are the basic principles of the way of wilaya). But if one does not take qurb in this way, and follows instead the sulook of nabuwwah, (they follow the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah directly and don’t go through this fanaa and baqaa thing. So the Sahaba (ra) followed the way of the prophetic qurb, which has nothing to do with fanaa, baqaa, jazba and sulook).

In my letters, wherever I have written that my fair’s above sulook and jazba and above illuminations and appearances, I meant this qurb. He also feels he went beyond this stage. I will explain to you what the importance of that is. This is what was revealed to me while I was in the company of my shaykh. I wrote to him that something has been revealed to me with which meditation on the Self stands just as the meditation on the world stands on meditation on the Self. These are all terms we cannot do for you today: sair-e-anfusihi and sair-e-anfaki afaki are also two terms that he uses.

I said, I have not words other than that to express that thing. Many years later, however, when that wonderful thing became perfect, I put it into words. Praise be to Allah (swt) who guides us to the truth and never could we have found guidance had He not guided us. Indeed, it was the truth which the messengers of the Lord brought forth for us. Thus the terms fanaa, baqaa, jazba and sulook are innovations. But here he is using the word mohda, not bida’h, by this he means these are new things. They were not around at the Sahaba (ra). No Sahabi (ra) thought about fanaa, baqaa, suyur; they did not think like that and they did not go through that. These are the creations of the awliya. Maulana Jamī (rah) writes the first man to talk about fanaa and baqaa was Abu Saeed Kharraz (rah). 

Now I’m going to explain the difference between these two paths which was taken from several letters of Imam Rabbani (rah). He wrote in this letter that he himself went through this path (i.e. qurb-e-wilaya). Afterwards, he went more deep into dhikr, taqwa and sunnah. Then it was unveiled to him the way to get the qurb of the siddiqin, which is called qurb-e-nabuwwah, without going through this whole path. That’s how the Sahaba (ra) got the qurb — through the sohbah of the Prophet (sws). The question then is how can a person who is not a nabi and not a sahabi get into Jannat al-Firdous? How can they get the qurb of Allah (swt) for all of eternity? And do they have to go through this process of fanaa and baqaa etc? Imam Rabbani (rah) outlined the path is of qurb-e-nabuwwah vs. the path of qurb-e-wilaya.

  1. Both paths are there but he chose to teach the former. He ends up within the course of his life and the course of all of his letters in favor of teaching people qurb-e-nabuwwah. Although there are some of his earlier readings where he does talk about the need for fanaa and baqaa, but towards the end of his life, he comes completely onto this path and takes people on this path.
  2. You can reach qurb-e-nabuwwah through qurb-e-wilaya. It’s possible that you can go through those four stages; fanaa, baqaa and get the qurb of the awliya and then keep going to get the qurb of the sahaba, siddiqin and anbiya. That’s also possible.

He feels he has found a way to take people directly on this path, even though this path is longer and more difficult, but at least it doesn’t require a person to go through all that. In a whole series of letters he outlines what is the difference between these two paths. This is what I will compare out for you. These are all features and the reasons thereof why he prefers this path.

1. Qurb-e-wilaya is a path of ecstasy and qurb-e-nabuwwah is the path of sobriety.

There are no ecstatic utterances on the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah. This is what was later called the mujaddadi silsila and sulook — so the naqshbandi mujaddadi way is a way in which you are not going to have these ecstatic utterances. You will not say any of those things. You will not feel overwhelmed by emotions to say those things, as some people who went through the path of fanaa and baqaa got stuck on that. When they got stuck, sometimes they made an ecstatic utterance.

2. Qurb-e-wilaya can cause elimination of duality and qurb-e-nabuwwah firmly maintains duality.

In the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah, you preserve the duality of Allah (swt) and the world. It means that Allah (swt) is One and the world is something else. They are two — they are not one. In this path, he says, it will never ever occur to you that the world and Allah (swt) are one. Whereas in the path of qurb-e-wilaya there is danger that a person may eliminate that duality i.e. they may no longer view Allah (swt) and the world as two things. They will view both as one.

3. Qurb-e-wilaya initially aims at removing duality and qurb-e-nabuwwah never aims at elimination ever.

There is no attempt to eliminate duality in the first place in the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah. There is no attempt in trying to forget the difference between the world and Allah (swt). When you forget the world, you remember only Allah (swt) plus one more thing which is the difference between the world and Allah (swt). On the path of qurb-e-wilaya, the people forgot the world, and forgot everything other than Allah (swt) including the difference between the world and Allah (swt).

3. Qurb-e-wilaya aims at eliminating the Self identity and qurb-e-nabuwwah aims at preserving Self identity.

You will not forget your identity, this is what I am saying, you are not trying to eliminate the world altogether in the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah. You will retain your self identity and your will. Whereas in qurb-e-wilaya, you are also trying to eliminate your very will itself. In the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah, what you will eliminate is what you can call the evil objects in your will. In other words, you have to eliminate your bad and unlawful desires, will, wishes, without having to eliminate your very emotion itself.

For example, in English the word anger is always used negatively, but there are certain cases where you should be legitimately upset about something. In order to eliminate the unlawful anger, you don’t have to eliminate anger altogether. You just have to eliminate the evil objects and the unlawful parts of the anger. There is something that you will eliminate, but not everything entirely. You can imagine that in the path of qurb-e-wilaya, you burn, incinerate and then remake yourself. On the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah, you only burn and incinerate those parts that are not according to the shari’ah.

4. Qurb-e-wilaya is the path of enaba and qurb-e-nabuwwah is the path of ijtiba. 

He describes qurb-e-nabuwwah as rah-e-ijtiba (rah means path) and qurb-e-wilaya as rah-e-enaba. Qurb-e-nabuwwah is viewed as the path chosen by Allah (swt) for you, and qurb-e-wilaya is the path of enaba where you will try to attain Allah (swt) through your own acts. He has taken this word from Qur’an:

اُولٰٓٮِٕكَ الۡمُقَرَّبُوۡنَ‌ۚ
Those are the ones blessed with nearness (to Allah). [56:11]

Muqarrab in Arabic is ism maf’ool; it doesn’t mean those who draw near to Allah (swt), it means those who are drawn near by Allah (swt) to Him. So in Arabic it would mean qurb-e-nabuwwah is the path where you will get the qurb of the muqarrab, while qurb-e-wilaya is the path where you are trying to get the qurb of the muqarrib. Maqurrib means you yourself are trying to draw close to Allah (swt) as much as you can. While muqarrab means Allah (swt) will Himself draw you close to Him. It is a Qur’anic term.

5. Qurb-e-wilaya views nafl ibadah as a means to qurb and Qurb-e-nabuwwah views it as gratitude for qurb. 

In the path of qurb-e-wilaya, you engage in a lot of nafl ibadah because you view your ibadah as a means of acquiring the qurb you are trying to get. In the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah, you also do a lot of nafl ibadah, but you don’t view it as a means, you do it out of shukr, gratitude and gratefulness for the qurb that Allah (swt) bestowed upon you. In one of his letters, Imam Rabbani (rah) quotes a hadith that someone asked the Blessed Prophet (sws) that why do you (sws) do so much ibadah? The Sahabi (ra) meant that he (sws) is Anbiya al-Mursalin suggesting he (sws) would not need that. The Blessed Prophet (sws) replied that should not a slave be grateful to their Lord? So the notion was that this ibadah was done out of gratitude.

6. Qurb-e-wilaya is the path of kasbi and Qurb-e-nabuwwah is the path of fadhli.

In qurb-e-wilaya, because you are trying to attain this on your own, you can call this kasb: you are trying to earn wilaya on your own. While in the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah, the qurb is bestowed upon you by Allah (swt). It is not something you can acquire on your own so you become, what we call, fadhli.

لِكَ فَضۡلُ اللّٰهِ يُؤۡتِيۡهِ مَنۡ يَّشَآءُ‌ ؕ وَاللّٰهُ ذُو الۡفَضۡلِ الۡعَظِيۡمِ
It is Allah’s bounty that He gives to whomsoever He wills, and Allah is the Lord of the great bounty. [6:4]

This is the fadhl of Allah (swt) and He gives it to whomsoever He wants. And Allah (swt) is the possessor and giver of great fadhl. So on this path, whatever qurb you get, you view it as a great fadhl of Allah (swt) on you. You are not going to view it as an achievement of your lengthy fasts and sleepless nights etc. Then, you become a faqir in this sense:

اَنۡتُمُ الۡفُقَرَآءُ اِلَى اللّٰهِۚ
You are the ones who need Allah. [35:15]

You view yourself as needy of that fadhl. If we were to explain this in Urdu, we would say you are a fadhli faqir. You are a faqir; a person who is needy and dependent on the fadhl, on the great generosity of Allah (swt). When a person transforms themselves into that, when they write off all other aspects of their personality and reduce themselves to this aspect of their identity, that’s when they get that qurb with Allah (swt). That’s what’s called being siddiqin and salihin. That goes right back to what he had said earlier that the end of everything is ubudiyyah — to end up in a state of absolute servanthood and slavehood. This method brings a person to that state of ubudiyyah.

7. Qurb-e-wilaya takes out love for Akhirah and Qurb-e-nabuwwah retains love for Akhirah.

In the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah, you only have to give up love of this world. Whereas, there were some people on the path of qurb-e-wilaya who used to give up on the love of this world and the love of the next world. In some of his letters, Imam Rabbani (rah) critiques Rabia Basria (rah) who is very famously known to have been walking with a bucket full of water and a piece of wood which was on fire, and she said that whoever is worshiping Allah (swt) because they yearn for Jannah, I’ll set fire to their Jannah, and whoever is worshiping Allah (swt) because they have fear of Jahannam, I’ll put out the fires of the Jahannam which they are afraid of. What she was trying to suggest was that it was a higher level of worship to worship only out of love for Allah (swt), as opposed to worshiping out of yearning for Jannah or fear for Jahannam. Some people’s aqal may tell them today that that’s correct. Imam Rabbani (rah) said that it is incorrect because Allah (swt) has said in Qur’an:

يَدۡعُوۡنَ رَبَّهُمۡ خَوۡفًا وَّطَمَعًا
They call their Lord with fear and hope. [32:16]

You should make du’a to Allah (swt), worship and call upon Him in both hope and fear. Because this is what Allah (swt) wants, and the highest level of ubudiyyah is to submit yourself according to every ayah of Qur’an, therefore hope of reward and fear of punishment is ubudiyyah, and there is nothing higher than ubudiyyah. Thus, it is not higher to worship Allah (swt) only out of love, and not out of desire for Jannah and fear from Jahannam. You must love Allah (swt) out of love for Him, also have hope and yearning for Jannah, and also have fear of Jahannam.

There are many examples of this. For example, Blessed Prophet (sws) — the greatest of ‘abd — made it clear in the beginning when he taught us the du’a Allahumma inni as’aluka al-Jannah, Allahumma ajirni min an-nar. It is correct that this was an instruction for ummah on how to make du’a, but it was also a reflection of his (sws) heart. He (sws) had that same fear and hope. He (sws) was an ‘abd. Highest is to worship Allah (swt) the way He wants us to worship Him. So, the love of the next world is good in qurb-e-nabuwwah which is the love for Akhirah. Whereas sometimes in qurb-e-wilaya people felt love for Akhirah should also be left, because Akhirah is also ghair. Jannah is also ghairullah, isn’t it? Jannah is not Allah (swt) any more than this world is Allah (swt). They said you should even stop loving that.

In other words, for Imam Rabbani (rah), love for Allah (swt) includes all the loves that Allah (swt) has Himself commanded us and wants us to have. Love for Jannah, or yearning for Jannah, if you will, is part of love for Allah (swt), it is not viewed as that love for ghairullah which you have to take out from your heart. Then Allah (swt) says further — and they are fearful of Us. Kana is from istamrar — they were always fearful of Us. Because Allah (swt) wants that we should always be fearful of Him, so fear of Allah (swt) and fear of Jahannam is part of being close to Him.

8. Qurb-e-wilaya’s end goal is dhikr and Qurb-e-nabuwwah’s end goal is dawah.

For Imam Rabbani (rah), the end aspect was that a person should teach, preach and guide to shari’ah, do dawah, iqamat, ihya, tajdeed of deen, and that he viewed to be greater than the dhikr of the sufis. The people who were on the path of qurb-e-wilaya felt that dhikr was greater than dawah and establishment of deen. He says no, in the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah, which is the path of tasawwuf he was teaching, doing khidmah, dawah and revival of deen is greater than dhikr.

It doesn’t mean you don’t do dhikr at all. He was a shaykh of tasawwuf, he used to guide people and teach them to do dhikr. It should not be misunderstood. Sometimes people only listen to the part they want to hear. So the people who like dawah are like that’s exactly what we have been saying all this time that all the sufis should leave tasawwuf and join the tabligh. That is not what Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah) is saying. You still have to do dhikr. Dhikr is the means that will enable you to do dawah, that is why you cannot dispense at dhikr. It is not an end in of itself. The first function of dhikr is to put love for Allah (swt) in your heart and to bring it to that level of qurb. The second function of dhikr, when you get that love, is that it enables you to do dawah.

وَ لَا تُطِعۡ مَنۡ اَغۡفَلۡنَا قَلۡبَهٗ عَنۡ ذِكۡرِنَا
And do not obey the one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance [18:28]

Allah (swt) is saying don’t listen to the dawah of that person whose qalb yani spiritual heart is empty of dhikr of Allah (swt). Allah (swt) is commanding in Qur’an.

9. Qurb-e-wilaya focuses on mujahida and Qurb-e-nabuwwah focuses on sunnah.

That’s another feature, in qurb-e-nabuwwah you follow the sunnah. That is your mujahida. If you want to fast, fast on most Mondays and Thursdays and 13th, 14th and 15th of the month — that’s it. No need to fast everyday with just water. It is permissible to do that, but in Imam Rabbani’s concept of tasawwuf, the only mujahida you need to do is to bring yourself in alignment with sunnah. That is enough disciplining of the soul that you need to do. Whereas in the path of qurb-e-wilaya, people used to do lots of mujahida, and that actually started at the time of Sahaba (ra) in that they used to fast perpetually. It was something that the Prophet (sws) did not do, it was still permissible for them to do it.

Next letter.

On the day of Judgement, we should be questioned about shari’ah, not tasawwuf. Entrance into Jannah and salvation from Jahannam depends upon obedience to shari’ah. That’s why the Anbiya (as) (who are the best of creation) preached and taught Shari’ah, and they made salvation from Jahannam conditional upon shari’ah. This is one of the things Imam Rabbani (rah) keeps talking about; shari’ah and sunnah. Hence, the greatest virtue lies in preaching the shari’ah, because the greatest of human beings are the prophets (as), the function of the prophets is to teach, establish and preach shari’ah, therefore the greatest human activity is to teach, preach and establish shari’ah. And reviving its provisions that have been neglected (particular to his time) the sh’a’irullah (the manifestations, the hallmarks of shari’ah) are in ruin. Imagine if he is writing this 480 years ago, how would he describe the situation today?

For in doing it (in reviving the shari’ah) one does the work of the prophets and participates in their mission and legacy. They are the best of creation and the greatest honor is reserved for them, even though others can spend hundreds of millions in Allah’s (swt) way. That’s why his particular way of dawah was not just through one particular angle. It was not just to teach people dhikr. It was to bring people on to shari’ah. That’s a problem with a lot of our dawah groups that they also initially begin it as a means to an end, but they end up making it an end in of itself. Some people in tasawwuf are like that as well. Being a student of tasawwuf is a means, it is not an end in of itself that you think now I’m a student, or I’m naqshbandi, like you have arrived at some destination. It is not a destination. It is a car which should be used to travel.

People today don’t like this type of tasawwuf because this is the type of tasawwuf that is hard on their nafs. We want the type of sufism where we can still lead a life that is not according to sunnah. We want that type of sufism where we don’t have to follow shari’ah. We want that type of sufism where we can listen to music. That’s the type of sufism a lot of people like today. It is not because these are teachings of tasawwuf, it is because of their nafs. That’s the type of tasawwuf nafs likes.

Moreover, when you practice the shari’ah, you conquer the nafs because shari’ah is designed to subdue the nafs. If someone wants to get rid of nafs al-ammara, they should adopt shari’ah themselves and every aspect of sunnah — everything, even this hadith where Blessed Prophet (sws) has said wearing an imama teaches a person hilm; gives them forbearance; gives them strength to withhold; gives them a stronger hold on the lease of their nafs. Every drop of shari’ah and sunnah is what defeats the nafs. The shari’ah was designed by Allah (swt) to subdue the nafs which was also designed by Allah (swt).

In spending money, on the other hand, Self sometimes feels gratified. There may be a lot of people like that today who give a lot of money in charity and they think that’s their deen. That is not sufficient for deen. That is definitely a part of deen in terms of sadaqah. But really, like he said people feel gratified, I have seen people who will spend like a few $1000s on a completely mundane vacation, but if they give $100 to the masjid, they feel so proud. They give themselves such a big pat on the back. If they give $500 to the masjid, they feel like they are the greatest philanthropist alive in the ummah, and they will drop $500 on a completely pathetic thing, like a traffic ticket or something. They want their names written on the masjid. I saw a masjid like that in your country England, but I will not take the name of the city.

Be sure the money which is spent on strengthening rule of shari’ah or preaching deen is a higher order virtue. To spend a penny on that is equal to spending millions in other ways. From the four aspects I showed you of his life, this is the aspect of revival of shari’ah, revival of deen. That is what these people were, that is why they were called mujaddid — they were the renewers and revivers of deen. They were not just trying to teach people dhikr and make them sufi. They had a greater goal in mind.

You cannot say how is it possible to give priority to students who are bonded over sufis who are emancipated. He is talking about the students of the madrassahs, and he is saying that it is better to spend money on students there because they are studying ‘ilm which is going to enable the deen and shari’ah to be revived, instead of funding a person who wants to go for, let’s say, four months to do dhikr — like people get scholarships to study. If you can get a scholarship to study history, you can also get a scholarship to do dhikr. There have been endowments like that in Islamic history that someone would say I want to go for a few months to do dhikr, and someone else would say fine, you go and work on yourself and I will take care of your household expenses. It is a nice thing to do just like it is a nice thing to give someone scholarship to study. But he is saying even greater than that is to spend on the students of ‘ilm in madrassahs because that is the effort which will revive deen and shari’ah.

So the student is not yet liberated and is nevertheless the cause of liberation of others. What he meant by liberation was in the sense of getting liberated from nafs. There were people who would say you should spend money on the sufis because they have liberated themselves from the nafs, why do you want to instead give money to the students of madrassahs who may not yet have liberated themselves from their nafs? He says this is not a problem. They are getting the knowledge which will enable them to liberate masses of people.

He (i.e. student of ‘ilm) preaches shari’ah to benefit others, even if he has not benefited himself. The sufi has emancipated only himself and has nothing to say to others. This is not the type of sufi Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah) is creating. It is not going to apply to those who are students of knowledge. But the other type of sufi who is on the path of qurb-e-wilaya and if he is just doing dhikr and ibadah, he is not trying to revive shari’ah, he is not doing dawah, then he is only saving himself. Unfortunately when some of our friends do dawah they make it sound like everyone in tasawwuf is like this. That everyone in tasawwuf is worried about their own self and they say things like woh infradi mehnat hai, ham ijtama’i mehnat karte hein.

It is plain that one who is instrumental in saving many people is better than the one who is occupied with only saving himself. However, if a sufi has completed fanaa, baqaa and sair (through the path of qurb-e-wilaya) and then they come to qurb-e-nabuwwah, they return to the world and they engage in preaching of humanity, they do the work of the prophets (as). I told you there was going to be that path also that you could get qurb-e-nabuwwah through qurb-e-wilaya. So when you get qurb-e-wilaya after going through fanaa, baqaa, sair and you engage in dawah, in establishing deen and shari’ah, you get qurb-e-nabuwwah also. He is the preacher of shari’ah and belongs to the ulema of shari’ah. This is the favor of Allah (swt) which He bestows upon whomsoever He likes. He is the most Beneficent.

If, along with the work which you are doing, you could also enforce the shari’ah, you would be doing the work of the prophets (as) and rehabilitating the desolate house of Islam and restoring its glory. We sufis who just do dhikr on our own, if, on the other hand, work for years and years and even lay down our lives in dhikr, we shall never reach anywhere near the people who established the shari’ah. 

Suppose a person who is engaged in dhikr suddenly finds a blind man standing at the realm of a well and were that blind man to take another step he would fall into the well. What is better for this man — to continue in his dhikr or to save the man from falling into the well? There is no doubt that to save the blind man from falling into the well is better than to continue doing dhikr of Allah (swt). God does not need that person and does not need his dhikr, but the blind man needs his help and he needs someone to save him. Therefore, saving the blind man in this scenario is a form of dhikr in obeying the command of Allah (swt).

When you remember Allah (swt), you only attend to one duty: the duty towards Allah (swt) (haqooq Allah). When you try to save people, you attend to two duties: doing your duty towards Allah (swt) (that if you are able to teach and preach, you are doing that) and your duty towards your fellow human beings that they have a right over you that you should save them, if you have that ability. In fact, to do dhikr at that time could even be a sin — to keep doing dhikr and let that man fall could even be a sin. Doing dhikr is not always good. At times not doing it is better than doing it.

For example, instead of teaching you from 10 AM to 6 PM, I could have stayed at oxford and done dhikr from 8 AM to 8 PM. That’s what I gave up to be with you. My speed is less but considering maximum speed, may be I could have even completed the recitation of the entire Qur’an during that time. Have you ever thought about that? It is not just my example, there are so many people who give talks and teach, –why in the world do they do that? If they have that free time, they could just do their own ibadah. Because it is a responsibility that has been placed on us by our teachers, this is what we have to do. But this does not mean you can get by with zero dhikr. You cannot do that either.

You see, the car needs fuel. If you keep putting fuel in the car and never drive it, that is a problem. If you try to drive the car without fuel, that is also a problem. You will only understand this if you have a teacher — that which stage you are at: are you at the stage where you should be filling up the fuel or should you be driving, then filling up fuel a bit as you go? You would not know. You cannot self-diagnose yourself anymore than you can self-diagnose yourself for a small illness — that whether it is bacterial or it is viral, you cannot even tell that. Your doctors would not even know if it is gram-positive or gram-negative unless they run sophisticated tests.

Remember that dhikr means to avoid forgetting Allah (swt) in any way that is possible. Contrary to what people think, dhikr is not exclusively saying la ilaha illallah, or saying Allah, Allah. In fact, every act that is in compliance to the ahkam/commandments of Allah (swt), is dhikr. Whether you are positively doing the things which you should do or you are staying away from His negative commands and prohibitions. If you go to business, and you run your business model according to shari’ah, your business is dhikr. If you go to the clinic and lower your gaze whole day, that time at the clinic counts as dhikr.

Even the buying and selling in which you observe the regulations of the shari’ah is dhikr. Similarly, marriage and divorce that is carried out according to shari’ah is dhikr. Why are you doing these acts according to shari’ah? Obviously you are conscious of Allah (swt), you have not forgotten Him. Because you remember Him, you want to be shari’ah compliant. That is dhikr. Dhikr which consists the formal dhikr, consists of making remembrance of the names of Allah (swt), the attributes of Allah (swt), is more affective and more helpful in generating the feeling of love for Allah (swt). If you run your business according to shari’ah, you are not going to feel feelings of love for Allah (swt). If you sit down to do tilawah, or pray nafl, make du’a, make dhikr, make tasbih, you will get love for Allah (swt).

Formal dhikr is more beneficial in getting His qurb. But dhikr that consists of submitting to the commandment of Allah (swt) is less effective in getting qurb. However, some people have acquired these qualities as a result of practicing dhikr in the sense of obeying Allah’s (swt) commands and avoiding His prohibitions. Such cases are few, but it is possible. For example, if a person feels that if I do more ibadah type dhikr, let’s say it will soften his heart and give him more fear of Allah (swt). But there may be a person that everyday makes sure to keep their business according to shari’ah, and then that God consciousness, that taqwa that they have, that will also brings them to the same fear of Allah (swt) for which otherwise people had to do lots of tilawah, tahajjud and dhikr and du’a for. It’s possible. That gives you scope, for those of you who want to continue as professionals in your life. But it has to be a very shari’ah compliant life.

On the other hand, the dhikr which is saying the names and attributes of Allah (swt) is the means to the dhikr, which is obeying the rules of the Shari’ah life. That person who makes more dhikr is more likely to follow shari’ah, because dhikr puts inside them the emotional desire to obey that Being they have fallen in love with. Doing this type of formal dhikr increases love for Allah (swt), the more love you have for Allah (swt) the more you would want to obey Allah (swt). Again, he is showing you that dhikr is a means to obeying rules of shari’ah. For it is impossible to observe the rules of the shari’ah in all manners unless one has a strong love for the giver and sender of that shari’ah, and the strong love for Allah (swt) depends on strong dhikr of Allah (swt) by making dhikr of His names and His attributes. Allah swt said in Qur’an:

وَلِلّٰهِ الۡاَسۡمَآءُ الۡحُسۡنٰى فَادۡعُوۡهُ بِهَا‌
For Allah there are the most beautiful names. So, call Him by them. [7:180]

You have to call upon Allah (swt) with them. You have to use them in du’a. It is there in Qur’an. The Blessed Prophet (sws) did not tell us how to do ‘amal on that. There is no hadith that tells you how to use the names of Allah (swt). Now are you going to accuse Blessed Prophet (sws) for not accomplishing his (sws) mission? No, his (sws) mission was his (sws) prophethood. Allah (swt) can give hidayah in other ways. Where will you get the hidayah on how to make du’a and dhikr using asma al-husna, when you will not find it in hadith or Qur’an? Allah (swt) has given that hidayah to the ulema, just like there is so much hidayah in the books of tafsir. Hence, one has to say formal dhikr in order to do this noble dhikr (of following shari’ah).

Next letter.

The reward for fard is infinitely more than the reward for sunnah, and the reward for following sunnah is infinitely more than the reward of any nafl act. But you have to have a proper understanding. It does not mean that you think I will never do any nafl ibadah again, because Allah (swt) Himself has told you to do nafl ibadah. Let’s take the example of nafl ibadah called durud salawat. Everybody knows reward for fard is more than sunnah, reward for sunnah is more than nafl, but that same Allah (swt) commanded you to do nafl. The du’a of asma al-husna commanded by Allah (swt) in Qur’an is nafl. Making durud salawat is also nafl.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا صَلُّوا عَلَيْهِ وَسَلِّمُوا تَسْلِيمًا
O you who believe, do pray Allah to bless him, and send your Salam (prayer for his being in peace) to him in abundance. [33:56]

You have to be a completely Qur’anic insan. The problem is that you use your aql while trying to understand. It’s part of the whole materialistic thing — your priorities. We have to do everything; we must do fard, we must do sunnah, but we must also do nafl. It is part of deen and we want to follow all the hidayah in the deen. For example, if there is a person who says I have never made du’a using all the asma al-husna, he is missing something in deen. That is a problem because it is in Qur’an.

Next letter.

Baqaa is better than fanaa. Teaching the deen, preaching and reviving the shari’ah is better than remaining stuck in that stage where you are absorbed in Allah (swt) and just doing dhikr. And I tell you, emotionally you would not want to come out of it. Who in the world would want to do that — even if you had the choice, you would rather enjoy doing dhikr from 10 AM to 6 PM than listen to me, if you had that ability. I don’t know how many of you can say I did dhikr for 8 hours straight and just broke for zuhr, lunch, tea etc. We may not have that ability, but even if you do have that ability, sometimes you have to do other things. Deen is not about what you enjoy, deen is about what Allah (swt) wants you to do.

He is addressing those awliya ullah who went through the path of qurb-e-wilaya and he is trying to pull them into qurb-e-nabuwwah. He is trying to tell them I know you have gone through fanaa, and you went through the four suyur, you did not make any ecstatic utterances, and you are feeling a lot of qurb with Allah (swt), but now I want you to take another step. I want you to sacrifice the time you spend in dhikr and I want you to engage in dawah and establish shari’ah.

A lot of his letters are written to his students and ulema counseling them that you must do work of deen. And he was successful by and large. He did not get ahl-e-ilm (people of knowledge) or ahl-e-baseerat (people of deep insight) or ahl-e-tadabbur (those who consider consequences of things) or ahl-e-tafakkur (people of deep contemplation); he did not get the doctors and the PhD doctors to do work of deen, he got the people who were doing dhikr, the ahl-e-dhikr, who were remembering Allah (swt), to do work of deen. That turned back the tide entirely on Akbar’s incredible and devastating attack on deen of Islam. This was one of his brilliance; combining dhikr and dawah. It is so unfortunate that people have tried to separate these two. 

Next letter.

Every Prophet (as) is a preacher and is trying to preach the shari’ah. There are various levels of preaching and preachers of varying grades. The ulema are preoccupied with preaching the outer form of shari’ah, while the sufis are preoccupied with preaching the inner form of shari’ah. However, the one who is both an ‘alim and sufi is excellent for preaching both the inner and outer form. He is the true successor of the Blessed Prophet (sws). He has mentioned this in many writings written to ulema to bring them into dhikr, because they were ulema and they were doing dawah only on the basis of their ‘ilm and didn’t have dhikr in their heart. He wanted to make them better in their dawah. He told them you need to do dhikr because only then will you be ulema worthy of the work of Anbiya (as) and a manifestation and embodiment of this hadith:

Al-ulema warasat al-Anbiya
Scholars are the heirs of the Prophets. 

The scholars who master the outer and inner form of shari’ah, they are the heirs of the Prophets (as). Some people think the scholars of hadith are the best in the Muslim community. However, they consider them best in all of the sections of ummah, that is doubtful. But if they consider them best in all of the scholars of outward form of shari’ah, that is possible. The best in all of the ummah are those preachers who teach the entire shari’ah; tafsir, hadith, fiqh, dhikr, tazkiya — all of it. They teach the complete deen. That includes the hadith, but it is much more than hadith.

Just make sure you don’t misunderstand this: he is saying those who teach hadith only, as opposed to those who teach fiqh only, as opposed to those who teach everything in hadith, fiqh, tafsir, and tazkiya. These are the three groups he is comparing. He was writing to hadith scholars and fiqh scholars, not trying to get them to leave that, but to add to that. He meant in addition to teaching people words of hadith, try yourself to do dhikr so you feel the feelings of hadith and then make yourself the person who does not just teach the wordings but brings people to the feelings of those words of hadith as well. You are getting an insight into how he was doing the work of tajdeed.

Next letter.

This is about karamat. Very briefly, he is saying having kashf and not having kashf are equal. Having kashf is not an issue of having merit or virtue, just like that karamat are also not an issue of merit or virtue. The person who has karamah is not at all better than the person who has one because being better is based on taqwa, sunnah, ibadah, deen etc.

Next letter.

Imam Rabbani (rah) had written several letters regarding ibn Arabi. This is one of the shorter ones towards the end of which he writes that he feels ibn Arabi was mistaken but Allah (swt) is still pleased with him despite his mistake. This is a different take from those people who don’t think ibn Arabi is mistaken at all, or others like Imam ibn Taymiyya (rah) who was quite harsh on ibn Arabi and felt that Allah (swt) is not pleased with him at all. Imam Sirhindi (rah) does husn-e-zan and he feels that he was mistaken, but he was not misintentioned and considers him to be among the people Allah (swt) is pleased with, even though we will denounce, censure and make clear that we disagree with his mistake.

Q&A

What is the linguistic definition of Shari’ah?

Shari’ah in Arabic language means way or a path. It is also sometimes used to identify a way or a path to a source of water in the desert. The use of the word Shari’ah in Islam means living that way of life that remains within the boundaries of halal and never crosses out and goes into the area of haram. The understanding of what is halal and what is haram, which is derived from Qur’an and Sunnah, is called fiqh.

It appears to me that in the path of qurb-e-nabuwwah doing dhikr would not be enough and we have to be involved in some type of khidmah of deen. In this notion, what would be, quote unquote, enough?

These are the six things:

  1. Taqwa
  2. Ibadah
  3. Sunnah
  4. Dhikr
  5. Sohbah
  6. Khidmah

This equals wilaya. All of these can be established from Qur’an, let alone from hadith. When are you ready for what? Different people have different propensities but in our lifetime everybody should do some level of khidmah of deen to get the qurb, because the siddiqin are not just true followers of the Blessed Prophet (sws) in terms of sunnah, but they were true to him (sws) in terms of his (sws) mission and message. They were true in the sense that they had this fikr. That’s why khidmah can be done in many ways. That’s why we are saying that in tabligh and tasawwuf, or ‘ilm and tasawwuf, or jihad and tasawwuf, or in any type of activity in tasawwuf, there is no competition. These are different categories. These are multiple ways of doing khidmah of deen.

This is our basic concept about the khidmah of deen — I will first say it in Urdu and then I will translate it for you in English. Ham khidmat-e-deen k tamam shoboun k qaail hein, kisi eik shobay ki afzaliyat k qaail nahi hein. We believe in merit and virtue of all areas and branches of khidmah of deen. We do not believe, nor will we accept from anyone, a statement of superiority of one particular branch over the others. You will see that even within ‘ilm; did Imam Bukhari (rah) write tafsir? Are you going to accuse him that he is against Qur’an? Can anyone talk like that?

Not doing something does not mean you are against it. For example, I don’t go on tablighi jama’at, but I’m not against it, I love the work of tabligh, I love it. If I don’t do it doesn’t mean I am against it. That’s like me telling Maulana Tariq Jameel (db) you are against tafsir, because he is actually a very good ‘alim and he could write tafsir if he wanted to, but he doesn’t write it. Not doing something doesn’t mean a person is against it.

Also, I will tell you that in khidmah we also want to follow the path of ijtiba which means don’t try to self-select yourself for a particular khidmah. People make this mistake that they think let me sit down and see which khidmah I should do. No, work on the first five and see which khidmah Allah (swt) opens up for you. The door Allah (swt) opens up for you will be easy for you to get through. If you keep knocking on doors then it’s very difficult.

This is a great lost sunnah of Blessed Prophet (sws) which was his (sws) human resource management. He (sws) knew which Sahabi (ra) was great for which khidmah. He knew khadim of ‘ilm from a mujahid. Blessed Prophet (sws) allotted Sahaba Karam (ra) to their respective khidmah tasks. For example, he (sws) told Abu Huraira (ra) to be among as’hab-e-suffa and made him a muhadith. He (sws) told Ubay ibn K’ab (ra) to recite Qur’an and made him Imam of the Qurra’.

That’s also a sunnah, not even nafl, to put yourself as a student of a teacher who can know you like the Blessed Prophet (sws) knew Sahaba (ra) and therefore can allot you to a khidmah. Let them open the door for you, allot you a khidmah that is suited for you, you will have qabuliyyah, the same way Blessed Prophet (sws) allotted khidmah to the Sahaba (ra). They didn’t select themselves. Nobody is going to say Syedna Khalid ibn al-Walid (ra) was against hadith because he hardly narrated any. Nobody is going to say Syedna Abu Huraira (ra) was against jihad because he hardly went on any. Khidmah was given by Blessed Prophet (sws), and in this day and age it can be given by a shaykh, or you can just ask Allah (swt) to open up a door for you.

XX

Indeed who are the awliya of Allah (swt) other than the people of taqwa? Taqwa in the beginning means stopping sin one by one. So in the beginning we have to leave sins, we have to start increasing our ibadah (fard, wajib and “sunnah”) both in consistency and quality (there is no question of quantity there because these are fixed). Third is you have to increase in your quality and quantity of sunnah; number of mansoon sunnah du’as you know, number of masnoon sunnah du’as you say and in quality the number of sunnah du’as you feel. After eating when you say Alhamdulillah, do you really feel it from your heart, or do you say it real quick with your tongue?

Next is to have sohbah. Allah (swt) has commanded us in Qur’an:

وَكُوۡنُوۡا مَعَ الصّٰدِقِيۡنَ
And be in the company of the truthful. [9:119]

To get this path of wilaya and sidq, you have to keep yourself in the company. That’s a command of Qur’an. When I used to teach this course, I would teach from the text of ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (rah), he said clearly in his text that if you find a person with these qualities you should make that person your shaykh. For him his shaykh was ibn Taymiyya (rah). It may not be the exact same thing. The word bayah, tasawwuf, silsila may not have been there but it doesn’t matter. Sohbah means put yourself in the company of someone.

If one would like to make bayah to a shaykh, how does the communication and the bond play out?

There are different ways in which this relationship has played out in history and contemporary times. According to some biographies, Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah) only met his shaykh three times. After meeting his shaykh till when he passed away, there was a lapse of five years (check). For every person, it works out differently just like it did for Sahaba Karam (ra). Syedna Abu Huraira (ra) met Blessed Prophet (sws) just a few years before the Prophet (sws) passed away. Syedna Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (ra), on the other hand, knew the Blessed Prophet (sws) even before the manifestation of nabuwwah. There were some sahaba (ra) who lived in as’hab as-suffa, some who lived in Madina Munawwarah, others who lived in surrounding areas like some sahaba in Yemen who came ever so infrequently. There have been different types of relationships and there is no one single model.

That said, a person needs to assess. I can give you my own example, because giving my own example is safe as I am not talking about, hurting or praising anyone else. We met our shaykh in end of May of 1994 and I have spent pretty much seventeen years because now we are in May of 2011. In the first couple of years, he came to America twice a year, then four times a year, then back to twice a year. Later, I myself moved to Pakistan in 1999 and I was there for eleven years. In Pakistan, obviously I met him more than two or four times a year. Sometimes when I go to Lahore, even though I spend more days there as compared to Karachi and Islamabad, but because when I’m at home then I’m obviously busy with family, so those people actually felt that they got less time. In fact, people of Pakistan sometimes say that you people of England get more time. Point being living in the same city does not necessarily mean greater access.

How does the relationship work out on its own? Shaykh is just a means, he is not an end in of himself. If a person cannot benefit from regular but infrequent contact, it is unlikely they will benefit from more contact. Our own practice, when we take students to tutor and guide on this path of dhikr, is generally we have twice a year as the absolute minimum of live sohbah. So if anyone sends me an e-mail from a place where I feel they cannot come from twice a year, they should consider that.

The purpose of shaykh is to teach you dhikr. If you do the dhikr, then you respond and tell the shaykh I am doing this dhikr and then work on improving the quality of dhikr. Then maybe I might give you additional dhikr to do. For that type of tutoring, we should always try take out time to inform, which can be through e-mail, SMS or in person. Second type of tutoring is tutoring taqwa, ibadah, sunnah — for that we give bayan. We have live bayans as well as many recordings online. The words that are spoken don’t always have to be heard live. But twice a year live meeting should also take place.

Everything I’m saying is for men, by the way. It’s quite different for women. Because for them there are Islamic rules and we never want to see women in our life. But I will also say that women are becoming more and more like the men. Historically, women in Islam for most part used to remain in their homes. Now we have women university students, women doctors, women lawyers — so they are as exposed to the radiation of society as men are. We didn’t have this before. Tasawwuf wasn’t prevalent among women before because they didn’t have these problems. They didn’t have the sins that they needed to get taken out of because they were pretty much fine living simple lives in their homes. They could even become bayt to a shaykh and get one letter, get the dhikr and benefit from it their whole life. They would never need to ever contact again. That’s the pure era we used to have.

Second, particularly in our silsila, in my own practice because Alhamdulillah my wife has also been a student of our shaykh for many years, we very much focus on the women. And I think women need to have as much access to the teachings of tasawwuf and tazkiya so that they can do better khidmah, especially those women who have ‘ilm of deen, or women who have those abilities. Imam Rabbani (rah) used to tell the men also who had ‘ilm to do dhikr so they could do better dawah, but we as men cannot reach the women. Only women can reach other women. So it is important to work and try to prepare women who can do khidmah of deen and to bring women to that level of dhikr, because we need women to do that dawah to other women. Therefore, sometimes for women also it’s very important to be more regular in their dhikr.

That’s pretty much how it works and sometimes a person may even be fortunate enough to find a shaykh in their own city who holds weekly gatherings. For example, when we were living in Lahore, every Thursday we would meet these boys there. Really, there are some men who need that. When I look back I can see there were some boys that had they not gotten their weekly dose over the course of several months, they would not have been able to change. At the same time, I have also seen people who have only met me twice a year and they have been able to change. That’s what I’m saying, it’s not the meeting so much, it’s just reinforcing, encouraging, it’s motivating etc. But the person should have a desire of their own.


وَآَخِرُ دَعْوَانَا أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ


 

The Spiritual Path; Concepts – I’tidal and Ihtiyat; Training; Practice

[These are rough notes from the second day’s morning session of Historical, Intellectual and Spiritual Approaches to Islam conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in Karachi, during Jan, 2017]


Today I want to say some very important things to you about the Spiritual approach randomly. Not everything is in the title. We load it up a little bit just for fun.

The Spiritual Path: Effort, Humility & Sincerity

This is the asal (core) of the path. The whole purpose of tazkiya, tasawwuf, dhikr is ‘amal. Sometimes people get too caught up in the concepts and theories that they become an end in of themselves. There is only one end and goal — a’maal; taqwa, ikhlas, sidq, ibadat, akhlaq — there is a whole range of a’maal. Some people get stuck in the theory somewhere, or they get stuck in haal; this has happened to a couple of people.

You need to understand that in 1400 years of Islam, there have been very few people; Mansur Hallaj, Ibn Arabi, and a few others who got stuck in haal. Statistically you are talking about 0.0000001% of people, it doesn’t mean you leave the teachings for that. They got diverted from their goal. They got some feeling along the way, which is called haal or kaifiyah, and they started making that the goal. And they also made a bigger mistake perhaps of trying to make others make it their goal. That’s a problem we are still stuck with today. For example, fanaa fillah is just an Arabic phrase. It’s the same thing that Allah (swt) says in Qur’an:

وَاذۡكُرِ اسۡمَ رَبِّكَ وَتَبَتَّلۡ اِلَيۡهِ تَبۡتِيۡلًا
And remember the name of your Lord, and devote yourself to Him with exclusive devotion. [73:8]

Tabattul ilayhi tabteela means fanaa. It means that lose yourself in the remembrance of Allah’s (swt) name so that you remember His name to the exclusion of everything else. Arabs are like that, they just come up with different words. Like the Arabic word for head covering is khimar, today people call it hijab. Arabic word for the gown or the cloak that women wear is jilbab, today people call it abaya. The Arabic word in Qur’an for proper recitation is tartil, today people call it tajweed. This has happened in many other fields also.

The Arabic word in Qur’an is tabattul, people call it fanaa. But fanaa is not a goal itself that you train people to get fanaa. You train people to have the dhikr of Allah (swt) so they remember Him such that they never sin and they constantly do ‘amal. Yes, in the training process sometimes they may have a phase of fanaa.

For example, the purpose of western education is not to give you fanaa in that field. It’s to give you training and expertise so that you practice with proficiency in that field, but somewhere along the way, in final exams’ week or in residency, you might get fanaa; you might drown so deeply in your field that you just forget everything else except that particular essay that you are writing about. But that’s not the goal. That’s just an experience that occurs along the path towards the goal. The asal is ‘amal. The reason people lack in that is due to a lack of effort, or lack of humility, or lack of sincerity. These are the three things.

Some people think it’s because of their lack of concepts or lack of theories or a lack of dedication to the cause or that I’m not a hardcore enough sufi. That has nothing to do with it. You don’t have to be more sufi.  You just need to put in effort, you need to have humility, and you have to have sincerity. If you do this, believe me your a’maal will go up. If you just increase your sufi identity or your sufi theory, your a’maal might not go up. I’ll even go further, if your a’maal go up only due to increasing your sufi identity and theory, that’s a delusion. You will not get istaqamat on such a’maal. That would be a fleeting, ephemeral, transitive stage.

Effort: sa’i; humility: ajz/ajzi; sincerity: ikhlas. Sa’i + ajz + ikhlas = guaranteed formula for your a’maal to go up. This is the summary of how Blessed Prophet (sws) trained the Sahaba Karam (ra). The accounts of Sahaba (ra) are captured in many ahadith. The amount of effort they made for their tazkiya, the amount of effort they made in their ibadah, the amount of effort they made in jihad fi sabil lillah, the amount of effort they made in dawah of deen; it’s phenomenal, so was the amount of humility and sincerity they had. This is the recipe.

If you are after something other than ‘amal, then I could have recited Iqbal’s poetry and Rumi’s poetry and talked to you about Ibn Al-Arabi and wahdat al-wujud, and gotten all philosophical and theosophical and you would have also said we have never attended a dars like this before. But that would not have benefited you. So I’m just using this title to tell you a couple of things.

Concepts

  • Imam al-Ghazali (rah)
  • Imam ar-Rabbani Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah)
  • Shaykh Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (rah)
  • Shaykh Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah)

I’m going to talk to you about these four people. I’m just sharing with you my own individual journey. This is not all-encompassing. The authentic tradition of Islamic learning and spirituality has thousands of scholars. We are not a group of just 3-4 people. Thousands upon thousands of people have successfully found the path of ‘amal and have guided others to it. I’m mentioning these four for a number of reasons.

  1. Personally I have been able to benefit from them.
  2. These people have published works so it’s something that can guide us. Because we don’t have authentically attributed published work of a lot of great guides of the past.
  3. They have works that are accessible in languages that you people know which is English and Urdu.

Even for the above reasons, there are more than these four scholars available. Even the number of people I have benefited from in my life is more than four, obviously. The number of past great ulema and shuyukh who have their works in Urdu and English are also greater than four. This is just a beginning point. You could choose to begin with a totally different list. But I’m going to tell you some particular teachings of these four. You can find these teachings outside of these four. But the teachings are critical.

Imam al-Ghazali (rah)

Imam al-Ghazali (rah) came in a time in Islamic history when the ummah was ghalib (dominant), which was perhaps the most ghalib time in the history of Islam. We are talking about Baghdad at its prime. We are talking about when Europe was in the drudges of its dark ages. We are talking about an incredible moment in Islamic history.

The second predominant feature of his time was that immediately before him, in fact a century before him, notwithstanding the fact that the ummah was ghalib at that time, a lot of great learners and great minds of Islam started following Greek philosophy and neoplatonism. He comes after Ibn Sina — and Ibn Sina is not the first. There is a whole line of people before him; Al-Kindi, Al-Razi, Al-Farabi. These are big names. People are doing PhDs on these guys today. They had a huge impact. This was dangerous because while you had the height of Islamic civilization and, although there were some areas in philosophy that had nothing against Islam, you also had a lot of things that were departures from Islam.

First lesson from Imam al-Ghazali’s particular approach was that if there is a dominant epistemology in our age — for us today it’s called secular liberalism, in his century and the century that preceded him it was the Greco-Arabic tradition — what he did to the Greek philosophy is the same thing that we have to do to secular liberalism. There was a scholar of Ghazali studies that talks about this approach in American terms as the good, the bad and the ugly. So Imam al-Ghazali (rah) took all of the philosophy and he divided it into the good, the bad and the ugly. The ugly is outright kufr. The bad is bida’h. The good is perfectly acceptable. The same thing is true for secularism and liberalism; there are some things that are good, there are some things that are bad and there are some things in them that are downright ugly.

What Imam al-Ghazali (rah) did was an incredible thing in his century and that’s why — there is a hassan hadith of Blessed Prophet (sws) which mentions that there will be a mujaddid, a person, at the turn of every hijri/century, who will be raised by Allah (swt) from the ummah to renew Islam [1] — the overwhelming majority opinion of that century is that Imam al-Ghazali (rah) was the majuddid of his time.

Second lesson is something he did for tasawwuf. He extracted the good in philosophy and sometimes explained tasawwuf using that good philosophy because he thought that if I have to catch the philosophers in dawah, the closest way I can do that is by showing them that the virtues for which they love the philosophers so much are to be found all the more in the awliyah. I’m not saying that the only dawah in the world is the one done on the English speaking elites, but if you are going to do dawah on English speaking elites, it could be done in the same way in which Imam al-Ghazali (rah) tried to reach out to the people of his time, using something they could resonate and connect with.

Now I’m going to move quickly to his theories, concepts and practices of tasawwuf. Three of the main features of Imam al-Ghazali’s understanding of tasawwuf are as follows:

1. The way he talks and writes about yaqeen; it is one of the most beautiful articulations that when you embark on a path of dhikr and worship, when you start leaving sins, when you start becoming a person of practice, when you start having taqwa and sunnah, it’s only then that you will get yaqeen. A big misunderstanding we find today is that people say the reason I don’t practice is because I don’t have yaqeen. They have reversed it. You will only get yaqeen through practice. His own individual life story is about that. He wanted this yaqeen, he felt he didn’t have it, and he embarked on a journey to increase his own ‘amal and practice in order to get that yaqeen. That life-effort and sacrifice of his is also a big lesson to us. Sometimes you will have to sacrifice. Simply speaking, sometimes you have to pinch your dunya to get more deen. Sometimes you have to squeeze your dunya to get closer to Allah (swt). He was willing to do that. That was one aspect of his yaqeen.

2. His excellent explanation on naboowah. His understanding of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) and the concept of prophethood and prophecy is one of the most brilliant things that we have ever read. It shows that his love and connection with Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) is beyond just emotional. He views Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) as a murshid/shaykh/hadi. This was his relationship with the Sunnah and Hadith. He really took the Prophet’s (sws) entire sunnah, everything. The way he talks about one hadith of Prophet (sws) is the same way some people — and this is a big problem today that we don’t talk about the Prophet (sws) this way but if shaykh says something that blows the person away. He talks about the Prophet (sws) this way. It’s ajeeb when he talks about hadith, although, he wasn’t a hadith scholar and it’s not like he has huge hadith commentaries, but when he talks about tasawwuf and he talks about these hadith about practice, adab, akhlaq, the way he explains it and talks about it — it’s beautiful. It shows the way to get tarbiyyah from naboowah and tarbiyyah from the sunnah.

3. The way he talks about akhlaq. You will have to go a little deeper to figure this one out. Initially, you will feel uncomfortable that he is trying to use the philosophical explanation of virtue, ethics and character to rope in the philosophers. But when you see how deeply he understood the depth of akhlaq of Nabi-e-Karim (sws) and the refinement of character that Allah (swt) wants insan to have, that’s also amazing. His expositions on acquiring good character are also available as a whole book titled Ihya Ulum al-Din or The Revival of Religious Sciences. 

These are the three things: yaqeen, naboowah and akhlaq. I’m not saying Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is the only person who has done that. I’m just using a few thinkers to highlight to you the real content matter of spirituality. You can get it from whoever you are comfortable with.

Imam Rabbani Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah)

Let’s look at the history. If you know your Mughal history, he was living first at the time of emperor Akbar, then Jahangir and finally, just at the latter moments, Aurangzeb. If you look at the history from Akbar to Aurangzeb, you will find a huge transformation. Akbar was a person who had gone way astray in terms of his deen, so much so that he made a new deen which he first called Deen-e-Akbari and later Deen-e-Ilahi. I mean, even to make a new deen itself is wrong. And to name it after yourself is also wrong. But then to call it Deen-e-Ilahi!

One element of that deen was that people should make sajdah to Akbar. I don’t think I even need to go further — that one thing is enough. There is a lot though, if you were to ever see, you would be stunned how it was all made possible, how anyone could incorporate all this. But because he was the Mughal emperor, he had the state, he had the enforcing mechanism, he actually implemented and enforced his deen on the entire South Asian continent — which is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan.

If you know your history about Aurangzeb, he repealed and reversed all of that entirely and actually revived the Qadhi courts, Islam and Shari’ah. How did this transition happen? How did you go from an emperor like Akbar to an emperor like Aurangzeb? Literally, even Hindu historians write that this transition took place due to one man. It was a one-man show; Imam Rabbani Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah). If you want to talk about bringing a systematic change, these awliyah ullah have done it. He’s not alone. There are other examples like this. There are awliyah ullah and mashaikh who have done it. That’s one of his major features. But right now I want to use some of his writings to highlight some concepts in tasawwuf for you.

1. He purified the aqa’id. He was able to entirely purge and purify tasawwuf from notions of wahdat al-wujud; that the world is a shadow of Allah (swt), and all these, what in fancy English they call theosophical concepts — trying to insert philosophy into theology. His writings have refuted each and every one of these things.

2. He cleared out the concept of bid’ah; which in English you call the innovative practices. So when you think you are doing practices and a’maal to get closer to Allah (swt), whatever you can think of even today, he has already spoken about it. Be it the concept of milad-e-nabi, tombs and shrines, all such things. He is the first person in South Asia to write about all the issues and to write about them forcefully. These things are still going on today, unfortunately, in many places. But you find that this person tried to stop it. And he was very successful and was able to, at least, save some of the rightly guided awliyah, mashaikh of his time who were beginning to show some of those tendencies. He was able to swerve a lot of them back on to the path of Shari’ah. In fact all of the Chishti, Qadri, Suhrawardiyya, the mashaikh of the time, are all indebted to him and they all acknowledge him like that. If it wasn’t for him, we would still be going that way.

3. He wrote extensively on the notion of Shari’ah. He views Shari’ah not just as law but as a way of life. He says the whole purpose of the path of tasawwuf is to live and practice Shari’ah. For example, in one of his writings he says that those people who live and practice and call others to a Shari’ah life are far better than the sufis who are simply doing their own dhikr for hours in the mountains. He understood that  you can’t just benefit yourself. You have to benefit others. And you can’t just make dhikr. Dhikr is not an end in of itself. It’s a means. The goal of every believer is to follow Shari’ah.

Ihtiyat and I’tidal

Shaykh Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi & Shaykh Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah)

Now I will show you, it’s not just about tasawwuf, but in every part of religion, I think it may just be the nature of religion. Religion is a very delicate matter and there is always some slight, off-course wearings and leanings, and every now and then someone keeps having to steer the boat aright. That’s what happens in our own journey towards Allah (swt) as well. No matter how learned we might be, no matter how much we want to be sincere, every now and then we have a little bit of off-course leanings, a little bit of departure, and if there is somebody who is looking at us and tracking us, they will try to keep us on track. This is what these two had done, I’m combining them because it was a combined effort on their part as they are contemporaries of each other.

All of the above is done, they have yaqeen, tabiyyah through naboowah, akhlaq, pure aqa’id, elimination of bida’at, establishing and understanding that the true goal is Shari’ah. So they did all of that and a few more things. Not that they were absent in the others, but they added a few more things. I have been talking about this a lot and that is to combine the path of ihtiyat and i’tidal. This is the hallmark of Hadrat Gangohi and Thanvi (rah). Otherwise, normally a person in the name of ihtiyat loses their i’tidal. And sometimes in the name of i’tidal, they lose their ihtiyat.

What does that mean? Let’s take, as an example, the field of dawah in case of ihtiyat. I have traveled to some places, and without naming them, I have seen some circles in Pakistan that have become very closed-circuit communities. What happens is just 50-300 families, who are all ultra-conservative and ultra-orthodox, group together and basically they think everyone else is completely astray and doesn’t practice properly. Such communities are not able to help others. They are making the same mistake about which Imam Rabbani (rah) said that the individual sufi who is just making dhikr on the mountain — this is not an individual but a small community. That’s not the mission of dawah because Nabi-e-Karim (sws) did outreach.

On the flipside, it doesn’t mean you drop your ihtiyat, but you have to have i’tidal in dawah. Like I used to tease the kids that let’s say I call somebody on Jumu’ah to have a concert in the masjid right before Jumu’ah. In the name of concert you will all come and once I see you there, I will unplug the guitar, plug in the mic and give the azaan and then I got you. That would also be a way to do dawah, but there is no ihtiyat in that. So you have to have i’tidal. There is a certain amount of outreach you can do, and this is a very tricky thing, so I will give you an example.

Once I went to a country and one of these people who I think have ihtiyat, I celebrate and solute them for their incredible taqwa, but they don’t have the i’tidal. So he critiqued me because I do this radio program for South Africa on Thursday nights. The name of the radio is called Channel Islam International, just so you know, it’s an Islamic radio station. I also accept that there are a couple of things they do that may not be strict. They don’t happen on my program, but there are a couple of things they do that I may not necessarily agree with. Although they do have a mufti; they have a Shari’ah adviser who is actually known to be a fairly strict person in that country.

So this person started critiquing me that you are a shaykh and you speak on a radio. I say okay, Mufti Muhammad Shafi (rah) used to do a program on Radio Pakistan at a time when on Radio Pakistan there were also, not during his program, but there were musical programs, readings of dramas, plays and all types of things, which is much worse than anything Channel Islam International does — they don’t have any music. Why did Mufti Shafi (rah) do that? Because he had that i’tidal. In his own program, there is ihtiyat. But he is going to use that opportunity for dawah. He is going to do that outreach. He is not going to say that I’m not going to go on radio. This was their foresight. Mufti Muhammad Shafi (rah), as you know, is one of the great students of Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah). He is in that thanvi tradition.

Now that we have done the example of ihtiyat and i’tidal, there are three particular things: the concept of a Shaykh, non exclusivity and formal dhikr.

1. Clearing the concept of a Shaykh: It is a natural human tendency to do, what you can call, hero-worship or personality worship. There is a tendency towards shakhs parasti. Marx Weber captured this concept when he talks about charismatic leadership — there’s charisma, authority, attraction, persona, etc. Remember, ihtiyat and i’tidal. On the one hand, you need this to inspire and motivate people. If you lower them too much then people will view them as having no authority whatsoever and consequently they will not be able to inspire and motivate others. More importantly, they will not be able to do islah — they won’t be able to correct them. You will not take islah; rectification, correction, guidance, instruction, daant dapat unless somebody has some authority over you.

At the same time, you have to have i’tidal. If you elevate a person too much then there’s going to be a problem. The shaykh is a means, he is not the end, just like a professor is a means, he is not the reason you go to the university. He is a means to help and guide you as an instructor. He is not the end. He is a part of the process. He is not the process. In this particular concept, even more significant than their writings was their own practice. The kind of shaykhs these two were is really a role model for how to be a shaykh. I don’t know how to explain this to you because I am bringing you to this side of the table, so to speak. These are very personal things that I have personally benefited from. If someone wants to know how should a shaykh be, how should a shaykh interact, these two people are perfect role models for this. Nobody’s perfect, but they were near perfect, excellent role models for this. More than their writings, it was their own lived lives.

Sometimes you might experience this in your corporate jobs. If you had a really good manager and you thought that’s the way a manager should be, and if you trained under that person for a long time, then when you become a manager you will use the same managerial practices and things that you noticed in that good manager that you had the good fortune to train under. It’s important that we take an example from more recent past for that. Because Imam al-Ghazali and Imam Rabbani (rah) were living in times so different that to be a shaykh today like they were is just not going to happen. If we tried to do that, it would be very awkward. There would be a lot of, what we call, takalluf and tasanno; there would be a lot of formality and artificiality in that. These two i.e. Hadrat Gangohi and Thanvi (rah) are great examples in that regard.

2. Promoting Non-Exclusivity: I’m trying to address some misconceptions that exist in certain circles of tasawwuf. Non-exclusivity means that they were not exclusive — that you could only be their student or that they were the only shaykh or that they considered their method to be the only method. Interestingly, and I’m a very blunt person, everyone, including the traditions that I myself may belong to and respect, and even some of the people today in Shaykh Thanvi’s own tradition have fallen into this exclusivity. They say things like ham sirf Hadrat Thanvi ko mante hein. Jo Hadrat Thanvi kahein wohi sahi hai. That’s completely against his own mizaj.

Someone from his own line once told me that a person wrote to Shaykh Thanvi (rah) that I’m looking for a shaykh. He wrote back saying there is this one Chishti Shaykh, one Qadri Shaykh, and this one Naqshbandi Shaykh. Interestingly, first thing you notice is that he did not mention himself. Number two, he gave him recommendation from each of the three different methodologies that were prevalent at his time. Today were you to write to somebody, they will say we only accept Hadrat Thanvi — ham sirf unhi ko mante hein aur iss hi silsilay mein these 3-4 people exist in Pakistan and you should only go there.

There is a famous incident of a person who goes to Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi to become a student, he sends him to Shaykh Madni. Shaykh Madni sends him back to Shaykh Thanvi. They are just playing tennis with him! Even more importantly, by non-exclusivity they tried, even though some time after the person passes away, the legacy is not as intact as it used to be when they were alive, but they did try that being a student of a shaykh should not become some type of a separate group identity. It’s not sectarianism because sect means a difference in aqeedah and theology. But it sometimes becomes such a distinct group that the Arabic word tafarruqa; making of firqa — can apply, not in terms of theological sect but in terms of some distinct and differentiated group.

This is very difficult to do. I myself have not been able to 100% successfully do this. The sign for this non-exclusivity is what in Arabic we call adm-e-mugha’ira. Mugha’irat means that when two people are sitting, they should not feel ghair-ghair to each other. If I sit next to a person of tableeghi jama’at, I shouldn’t feel that he is in tableegh and I’m not. If I make him feel like that, or if he makes me feel like that, then one of us is guilty of being an exclusivist. Or, similarly, if I’m a student of one shaykh, and I meet a student of another shaykh, and if we feel that he is not my peer-bhai, and it creates a little, not animosity, but some slight fasal (distance). Having any group identity should not create any fasal — it cannot be a faasil in your ummah identity.

That’s much easier said than done. I can’t even 100% manage this. But the point is to at least articulate that and to keep repeating and reinforcing it, and to try your best to practice it and lead by example.

3. Formal dhikr. There are two types of dhikr.

i. Those adhkar that are thabit min as-Sunnah — you can call them masnun adhkar. There are quite a lot of them; Subh’an Allahi wa bi hamdihi Sub’han Allahil Azeem, la hawla wala quwwata illa billah, la ilaha illallah — lots and lots of salawat, durud sharif, istighfarat, du’as etc. Muhadithin have compiled whole books on this. One of the greatest works on this, which was also recently translated into English, and is also available in Urdu and Arabic, is a book by the great Imam an-Nawawi himself titled Kitab al-Adhkar or The Book of Remembrances where he tried to gather a very large amount of the adhkar that are mentioned in the authentic, reliable hadith of Nabi-e-Karim (sws).

ii. The second type of dhikr, I’m coming up with this term myself, I’m not coining or formally launching a terminology, what you call wadha’ mein istilah, that you go and run with this, you can call it izafi dhikr or extra dhikr, maybe you could call it a training method or a tool. Bottom line is, this is that mode/method/form of dhikr which is not mentioned in the Sunnah. If I were to be more precise with you (I have talked about this in the last year’s workshop and established it from the sahih hadith, you can refer to it if you missed that, you can make dhikr that is not mentioned in the sunnah. Otherwise the first question that comes is that how can you make dhikr that is not mentioned by Nabi (sws) or is not part of the sunnah?

It has been established from the same sunnah that it is absolutely permissible and acceptable to do a form of dhikr that was not done by the Prophet (sws). Let me first tell you about the second type. You just have to trust me on this and see because I have established it through proofs and references in slides from last year. But even though it is permissible to do that extra dhikr, how you conceptualize that extra dhikr, how you emphasize and prioritize it, what role this extra dhikr should or should not play in your spiritual development, that is also a brilliant articulation of Shaykh Gangohi and Thanvi (rah). So I will share that with you.

1. It is permissible. They make that clear also.

2. Its status/darajah is secondary but in the initial stages, its benefit to you might be primary. This is a bit tricky. It’s a unique thing. The way they explain this is that this dhikr is being done first as ‘ilaj meaning it’s a cure. For example, let’s go back to the first type of dhikr which is the masnun dhikr, even greater than that is the fard dhikr, like salah. What happens is that someone even in faraid has an illness of ghaflah, waswasa and heedlessness which doesn’t go away by praying more fard salah, let alone by praying masnun dhikr.

What a person needs is something which is an ‘ilaj/cure. This secondary in status dhikr, which is the non-sunnah dhikr, which were methods of dhikr designed by awliyah ullah (hence vary which is why you have different terms like naqshbandi, chishti, qadri — these terms actually refer to different methods of dhikr) they are of secondary status in terms of their ajr; their sawab is much less than the ajr/sawab you would get from doing the sunnah dhikr, but in the beginning, they are done as ‘ilaj/treatment and they can treat the problem more than the mansoon dhikr because the masnun dhikr was for qurb, which comes later, mutlaq qurb, while these dhikr are designed specifically for specific ailments.

You can say, in terms of medicines, some are target medicines and some are general tonic. But because it is secondary in status, and because it is being used as an ‘ilaj, so it should never be a goal in of itself, it’s only a means and it’s a means to an end of being able to do the masnun adhkar without the ghaflah. That is its purpose. As soon as a person reaches that stage where they can do the masnun adhkar without the ailments and ghaflah, then they no longer need to do the adhkar of the silsila or the adhkar of the awliyah. They simply have to do the adhkar of Nabi-e-Kareem (sws).

Shaykh Gangohi (rah) was also very deeply inspired by Imam Rabbani (rah)  — he wrote explicitly when talking about this naqshbandi method of dhikr that the beginner, the muqtadi, should initially do this type of formal dhikr to cure the illness of ghaflah, wasawa, lust, anger etc. Then, he says, for the person who is intermediate such that his major ailments have been resolved, should do more tilawat of Qur’an al-Kareem — that’s masnun. That’s thabit min as-Sunnah. He should do kathrat-e-tilawat, and should drop that formal dhikr to a very small amount. After that, the person should just pray nawafil; tahajjud, ishraq etc, as far as extra dhikr is concerned.

That was basically what the Sahaba Karam (ra) did. Their real extra ibadat was to pray long nawafil because that includes tilawat — you recite Qur’an inside salah, so it includes the tilawat, and it includes the first thing which is yad-e-ilahi. So you did the formal dhikr to cure the ghaflah in order to remember Allah (swt). Then you did recitation of Qur’an. Now you can pray salah while reciting Qur’an and remembering Allah (swt). He says that’s the best way to go. But it’s a process.

Imam Rabbani (rah) is also very firm on this third thing. In fact, Imam Rabbani (rah) took it one step further which is dawah, that even then when you have reached this level, better than doing a lot of nawafil salah is to do dawah. He is very focused on dawah. That’s why you find that the people who are from his line are more into dawah. And you find that the people who are in other lines are less subdued, let’s say, about their dawah.

Going back to non-exclusivity, one of the things that was there with Shaykh Gangohi and Thanvi (rah), which may not be here today in those who claim to follow any of these people, is that they would not judge others according to their own mizaj (temperament). For example, if there is one mizaj, or temperament, that most people shouldn’t make so much dawah. So, fine, I follow the temperament that you should try to make maximum dawah. If someone is on the temperament that I follow a line of shuyukh who don’t believe so much in making dawah, rather their focus is on own ibadat and that’s it. Fine, I’m not going to judge you on my temperament. That’s fine if your shaykh said that, you can do that. Don’t do dawah.

I was talking to you about tasawwuf, but when it comes to usul of dawah, then the greatest person for that is Maulana Ilyas (rah) and his fikr was that dawah should be as much as possible because dawah is what benefits the masses. He took this from his understanding of Naboowah — the anbiya (as) came not just to guide small groups of humanity to Allah (swt), the anbiya came to guide masses of humanity to Allah (swt), and the way to guide masses of humanity isn’t through darul uloom or madrassah, it isn’t through high level tasawwuf. The way to guide masses is through dawah. He is also basically in that mizaj of Imam Rabbani (rah).

The non-exclusivity thing is to not judge others who may have another valid, acceptable, no doubt different to yours mizaj. That’s also something very hard to do, it is much easier said than done. We have not been able to achieve or enact 100% success as I already told you, in the non-exclusivity thing. I will share with you something about that also. Once I asked one of my teachers, Maulana Manzur Ahmed Chinyoti (rah), who passed away a few years ago, a question pertaining to this non-exclusivity thing. I said, Ustad Jee, I notice this in people that whoever is in one line, he just thinks that his line is better. Let me just do this in Urdu first and then I’ll translate it in English for you.

Mein ne poocha k mein ne dekha k har banda apne kaam ko afzal samajhta hai. Tou unhoun ne farmaya k dekhein haqeeqat ye hai k ham deen ki khidmat k har shobay ki fazeelat k qaail hein, kisi eik ki afzaliyat k ham qaail nahi hein. Mein ne kaha Ustad Jee yehi to muamla hai k har banda apna hi shoba, apna hi mizaj, apna tareeqa, apna shaykh, apna idara, apna manhaj, apna maslak — jo bhi hai — uss hi ki afzaliyat k qaail hein.

Unhoun ne kaha k haan, iss zamanay mein aisa hai. Waja yeh hai ab iss zamanay mein logoun ka imaan kamzor hai. Un k imaan ki kamzori ki waja se woh chal nahi sakte jab tak woh apni uss line ko afzal na samjhein. Tou aap un ko na cherein, unko apne iss junoon mein chor dein, aur jo kisi bhi kaam mein nahi lage hein, aap unki fikar karein k woh kahin lag jaein. Jo lagey hein, bhaley hi thora sa tuasib un mein ho, thora sa junoon un mein ho, ya thora sa woh apne hi tarz ko afzal samajhte houn, kam az kam woh uss mein lag tou gaye. Jo nahi laga hai un ki fikar karein. 

Alhamdulillah, I had so much sukoon from this answer. That’s the way I even managed exclusivity, because I told you you cannot eliminate it. For the people who are listening in the other countries who know English, my teacher said that we believe in the virtue and merit of every single branch of deen, and every single way of serving and guiding and practicing deen, but we don’t believe in the unique and exclusive superiority of one way over all the rest. When I said this is exactly what I’m asking. This is what I have seen in people that whatever they practice, whoever they are affiliated with, whatever group they have a membership in, wherever they study, or whoever their shaykh is, they view that to be superior to others. He said that yes, this is a problem in the current age because the imaan of people is weak. Because their imaan is weak, they will not be motivated and inspired and stimulated to do ‘amal unless they think their way is better.

If you think about it, it’s kind of true in your dunya also. When you choose to major in physics, why would you study all night to become a scientist — if that’s your goal? It must be because you think physics is better than economics. And if a person is stuck thinking I don’t know what to major in, I don’t know if I should do physics or economics or philosophy or history — he’s stuck and he keeps going around in circles. Then if the guide says this is the better way, he will quickly make the decision.

That’s a nice, beautiful way and this is why you need the living tradition also, you really need to sit with living mashaikh, shuyukh and ulema. This one nugget, this one sentence from this one person has helped me for years. It was from a 10 minutes conversation. This conversation happened in 2003. For 13 years this 10 minutes conversation has given me immense guidance. There are not many people like that left on this earth that you spend 10 minutes with them and you can be guided for 10 years of your life.

So I jumped back to the non-exclusivity. And I ended up with Imam Rabbani (rah) taking it even one step further — to dawah. There are different understandings. I have already talked to you about dawah in terms of the i’tidal and ihtiyat. The purpose of this was not to confine you to just these four, but to show you that there are very real, substantive things to be learnt from this tradition. I just showed you what I learnt from these four. And I think all of you would agree that that was some real learning that took place. This is real help for us, real guidance and tarbiyyah.

In order to do practice, there are two things. I’m going to do these very quickly for you. The first is the training — to be trained to do a’maal, and the second is for me to tell you what those amaal are, which is called practice.

Training

Training is the motivation, inspiration and learning to become a person of ‘amal and practice is to describe concretely and discreetly what are those a’maal and practices that we should be trying to do.

Sohbah

There is a lot of emphasis on sohbah in our deen. This is something I did in a bit more detail last year, so I’m not going to repeat it, but I would just say those verses and hadith for you.

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

It might be difficult, no doubt, to find out who are as-sadiqeen. But you might be able to find at least relative to yourself, that this person has more sidq (truthfulness) than me. That’s enough for you to benefit from a person. You can actually benefit from a person who may not be 100% siddiq, but if he is more siddiq than you, you can benefit from them tremendously. Whenever there comes the time that you are no longer able to benefit from that person, Allah (swt) will take you onward and guide you further. The words kunu and ma’a — both of these Arabic words are intense. Kunu, as you know, is from kun fayakun. It talks about your very wujud (your Self). That’s an intense level of company — that to what extent you will align your wujud with that person’s wujud. Ma’a is from ma’iyyah which is the most intense and intimate companionship.

Al mar’u ‘ala deeni khaleelihi fal yantur ahadukum man yukhaalil
A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so each one of you should look whom you befriend. [Sunan Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi]

A person will be on the deen of whoever they choose to make their khalil — which, again, is what we call a bosom buddy; your real best friend. So Prophet (sws) further said that each and every one of you should reflect and consider carefully, man yukhaalil, who you choose to make your khalil. Make that a wise choice. This is enough; one verse and one hadith will be enough to establish it.

How does sohbah work? It’s slightly different for men and women. It’s significantly different for men and women. For men, in the good old days, when there was no travel, there were no airlines for Shaykh Thanvi (rah) to fly all over the world to. I’m sure if there were airlines in his time, although his mizaj was not at that level of dawah, but still he would have traveled to some extent. Normally the students would themselves go and travel and spend some time in the sohbah of a shaykh.

That’s another beautiful thing about these two — especially Shaykh Rashid Ahmed Gangohi (rah), that when he felt a person had benefited enough from his sohbah, he would actually prevent him from traveling to him. There’s a beautiful letter between one of his students and him, and you can tell that the student is desperate to go but the shaykh is writing refusing, and this is going on. The Shaykh then finally writes him agar aap ko wahan beth kar mujh se faida nahi mil sakta, aap ko mere pass aa kar bhi faida nahi miley ga.

He said if you are not able to benefit from all that I have already taught you, and instructed you in, and all our prior companionship and sohbah, and sitting in your own home-town if you haven’t reached that level yet (it wasn’t a first time, it was after an association of sohbah), then you are not going to benefit any further by coming to me. He didn’t let him come. Their letters and their lives are a very good behind-the-scenes look at how shaykh-student relationship is when you look at these two shuyukh. Of course bayan, workshops, courses, all of these things are sohbah. For women, it’s confined to that — bayan, workshops, online bayan, recordings etc. There is no question of being in the front row or in physical proximity, physical company or traveling with shaykh etc.

Ta’leem

Ta’leem means that you need the teachings. There are teachings in our deen that if you read them they will have an effect, but if you are taught them they will have a deeper effect. There are teachings on how to control your gaze, how to control your anger, how to improve your concentration in salah, teachings about love for Allah (swt) and love for Nabi-e-Karim (sws). Being taught those things has a deeper effect than simply reading them on your own. That is one aspect of training — to be in a relationship where there is somebody who teaches you.

In our method, teaching is bayan. Because when you are taught something then many times, but not necessarily always, I can completely confess I don’t think my teaching has an effect on everybody, but generally when I was taught by my teachers, being taught by my teachers was more motivational and inspirational to me. In other words, it led me to ‘amal — the asal is practice. Being taught made me practice it. Sometimes reading it wouldn’t make me practice it. That’s the kind of person I was. If you are a person like that, this is the system for you.

Tarbiyyah

Tarbiyyah is slightly different than ta’leem. The way we do this is that ta’leem is bayan and tarbiyyah is majlis. Majlis is a more intensive type of training for those people who really want to be pushed. This is also islah — for someone to be corrected, rectified and molded. One is that I want my practice to change, I need ta’leem for that. Second is that I myself want to change, I need tarbiyyah for that.

If I want my practice to change, I need some instructions on how to practice and some motivation and inspiration to practice that. Second is that I want myself to change, that is tarbiyyah. When a person comes to you with that intention, that’s what I call a majlis. Again I’m not launching a new terminology. Personally this is when I feel there are a bunch of people sitting in front of me or I want to gather a bunch of people who are coming with that intention, that we have been listening to bayans and learning about the practices, now we want ourselves to change. I also call it ragra; islah/tabiyyah.

Tazkiyah

In English it means purification. The reason I put it last is because it’s the asal. All of the sohbah, ta’leem and tarbiyyah is to purify oneself of sins and to purify oneself of anything that is even slightly displeasing to Allah (swt). That’s the asal of all these things. In other words, these three things are done for the sake of ‘amal, practice, and for the sake of purification as well. Because the big aspect isn’t just to do good a’maal, but it is to leave the bad a’maals as well. That’s what we are talking about when we talk about tazkiyah. And obviously you need all three. Sometimes being in good company helps you stay away from sins. Sometimes learning how our deen guides us to stay away from sin helps us stay away from sins. Sometimes you might realize that a sin is so deeply ingrained in me that I will never be able to leave it unless I change. It’s not just about changing my company and increasing my ‘amal. Until I change, the sin won’t leave me.

Ta’luq

This is another aspect of training, but it is coincidental, it occurs along and during the process of this training, during the sohbah, ta’leem and tarbiyyah, which was done for the sake of tazkiyah and for a’maal. Naturally, the longer you associate with any professor, you sort of get to know them and they sort of get to know you. Then a relationship starts, then it develops, then it builds. It takes place overtime. This also has to have balance.

Purpose of the shaykh is sohbah, ta’leem and tarbiyah for the sake of tazkiyah. The purpose of the shaykh isn’t ta’luq that I want to be in a relationship with the shaykh. I’m obviously talking about men, because some of them look at us with puppy dog eyes and they just want to be in this deep relationship with the shaykh. For them that’s what it’s about. This can also have some negative consequences. Then they start noticing that who is closer to shaykh, who did the shaykh pick to make the slides, why didn’t he pick me to make the slides? Then all types of negative externalities and crazy things start coming up — why did he go on his car, why didn’t he go on my car? He remembered his name, he still doesn’t yet know my name.

The ta’luq is not the asal. These tags can be used for different things so focus on the concepts and forget the tags. It’s not about your personal friendship with the shaykh. That’s a coincidental or incidental, non-essential, ghair-maqsudi thing that can happen. And it might not happen. I benefited from so many teachers in my madrassah about whom I cannot say I had a personal ta’luq with or that they had a personal ta’luq with me. In fact, two teachers just popped up into my mind — one who I did have a personal ta’luq with and second who I didn’t really have a personal ta’luq with, but in terms of ilm, I benefited equally from both of them. That was the asal. That’s why they were my ustad so I would learn ilm of deen from them.

So this is coincidental, incidental, it can happen, it may happen, it may not happen, it might sometimes happen, it may not always happen. Maqsud is tazkiyah and a’maal, as long as you are making progress in that, that’s the asal. Still, the question remains that if the ta’luq happens then what is it? There are aspects of that ta’luq beyond that who makes the slides and in whose car do you go, and whose house do you stay in. That’s totally irrelevant. There is something that to some extent is beneficial in tazkiyah and that is the level of correspondence, a level of individual guidance, a certain aspect of individual counseling, that can and may take place. Two of the structures for that are as follows in terms of Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah):

  1. It’tila
  2. It’tiba

It’tila means that when you have someone who you can inform about any spiritual hiccups, any problems, any obstacles, seeking some individual guidance, counseling, but that ittila will only have benefit if you do it’tiba i.e. you follow the naseeha that is given to you. The proof for this is that Nabi-e-Karim (sws) said:

Ad-deenu naseeha
Religion is sincere counsel. [Muslim]

That all of deen consists entirely of good counseling and advice. For that to work, for naseeha to be deen, there must be somebody giving the advice, there must be somebody hearing the advice, there must be some following of that advice and there should be some change and transformation in ‘amal due to that advice. Some people would call that islahi ta’luq.

For example, my teacher of Bukhari Sharif, who was also a shaykh — Shaykh Sufi Sawwar — he doesn’t do it anymore because he has become quite old, but back when I used to study he had this rule that if you want to be my student in tasawwuf, you first have to write me 20 letters and you have to get 20 replies and he might not always reply to every letter. Once you write 20 letters and get 20 replies then I will know you are serious in your desire to change because 20 times you would have reached out and consulted and tried to learn, and 20 times I would have guided you and understood and then I will decide whether I feel there is munasiba, affinity, compatibility, and then I will decide whether to take you as a student. Different shuyukh have different ways of admissions, enrollment, registration and education.

I am very deliberately sharing these things with you so that those who actually are students can understand. It was a failure of ours to not explicitly explain these things to our own students and therefore some of them ended up with their own understanding of these things. This is also a duty of ours. I am still unsure about this because for me personally I have always had a lot of affinity with Imam Rabbani’s and Maulana Ilyas’ (rah) feeling about dawah. That’s why what I used to do was that anybody who would ever come to me, I would think Allah (swt) has sent them, I have to take them because how can I say no to somebody who wants to learn anything?

Anybody who wants to enroll, we don’t have anything — no fee, no criteria, there is nothing, we have open admissions and enrollment — in academics, tasawwuf, dhikr, everything. But overtime, I thought about this and I told you that I also do view Mualana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and Mualana Gangohi (rah) to be very excellent examples of ideally how a person should be a shaykh. Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah) had much more hurdles placed which you would have to pass before you could become their student. There was some criteria to become their student.

Then I reflected (this is also a good way for you to see why I always say historical, intellectual and spiritual — because you have to look at all things) for every person, for every thinker, other than Nabi-e-Karim (sws), what they think is partly due to their context. So I tried to think that although Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah) wouldn’t accept everyone as a student, but if he was in this context advising me, would he advise me the same thing?

I found several differences in the two contexts. The first was that in his time there were many shuyukh. If you turn someone away and tell them to find a local shaykh, who also has the same amount of munasibat with them, he would actually be able to do that, because there were hundreds and hundreds of shuyukh. That’s not so much the case in this day and age. Second, the vast majority of people who used to go to him, with notable exceptions, were very practicing, pious people of deobandi adherence. Many times people who come to me, again not all, but a large number who come are people who are not from very religious family backgrounds and maybe from English educated elites, and if I turn them away where are they going to go? And I would be scared to do that.

I am still working this out. Should I still keep the open admissions and teach whatever I have learnt, although what I have to offer is limited, because I am over stretched and over committed nor do I live in one place? Mostly it works. But every now and then Shaytan tries to play with somebody’s head — that you did join and now you are not benefiting, aap ne uss waqt eik jazbe mein kiya, and now shaykh is not in Karachi and you are wondering and you are left to your nafs and shaytan. This happens less than 10% of the times, but it sometimes happens to people.

I accept this is one of the elements of nazool in our times that just like the society is not perfect, the system is not perfect, nothing is perfect. There is no perfection left anymore. There is no perfection in tasawwuf. There is no perfection in ilm. We are all imperfect people living in an imperfect time with imperfect relationships. The question is how to make the best out of it?

For me the easier position, and I still think it’s the true position and that is to do tawwakkul on Allah (swt). And I still think if Allah (swt) puts someone in front of me, Allah (swt) put him there, Allah (swt) is making him say this to me, so I would say yes. Allahu Aalam how it’s going to work out practically. But Allah (swt) is the ultimate guide, and that I have seen with this online audience. That’s an amazing thing so I address all of them. We have people who are online students, who have never ever even been maybe in the same country as me in their life, and the way they write in their emails, and the way they benefit — I’m amazed.

That’s Allah (swt) guiding, it’s not me. It shows me what I told you — effort, humility, sincerity — and that doesn’t come from the shaykh. That’s entirely in the student. You can’t even ride on the shaykh’s humility, effort or sincerity, it’s your own effort, entirely your own humility and your own sincerity that will do it for you. And I have seen that in not just a few but a dozen. Sometimes I’m amazed and I confess this to them also that sometimes I get so busy so I catch up on emails altogether. Sometimes there will be a person whose 2-3 emails I would be reading together, because I couldn’t read them all as they came in.

Let’s take the example of a woman, for example, there’s a woman who wrote that please make du’a I want to start wearing the hijab. I wouldn’t even have read that email, so I didn’t make du’a. Next email that I started hijab, make du’a I wear niqab. Third email Alhamdulillah I’m wearing niqab. I’m reading all three emails together. Clearly you can see it’s not my du’as that make it happen. And there maybe women who may have heard hundreds of bayans of mine in Karachi and they may never think of adopting more haya. It’s not always about only the sohbah and only the ta’luq, without negating these things, it’s much more about a person’s effort, humility and sincerity. In any case, the goal is ‘amal, and the goal is tazkiyah.

Practices

The very last thing to show you today are practices. I’m just going to give you headers. Each one has a lot of instructions, ta’leemat and tarbiyyah about it.

Leaving Sin

The first one is leaving sin. We have several bayans on this topic. You can go and listen to them on our website. This is a constant and a lifelong ‘amal, because we keep sinning. It’s very rare that a person reaches that level of taqwah that they actually say that they stop sinning entirely. At that level there is no concept of leaving sin, because there would be no sins to leave. I would even go further, even if someone reaches that, they wouldn’t know that about themselves, and if they ever think that about themselves, that’s a bit dangerous. That could itself be a door that could very much open into sin.

Ibadah

Second is ibadah. One greatest ‘amal in our deen is still ibadah. Don’t underestimate ibadah. Don’t overestimate khidmat (service) and akhlaq (refinement of character) so much that you think they are substitutes for ibadah. Don’t overestimate good akhlaq that you think it can compensate for bad ibadah. These are very big misconceptions that people have. There is nothing like that in this world. For example, you can be the greatest husband, but that wouldn’t compensate if you are a bad father. Your kid will say, look, I know you treat mom very well, but you are terrible to me. You would say but I’m a great husband. He will say it’s irrelevant. It does not compensate for the fact that you are a terrible father.

Similarly, the most amazing akhlaq cannot compensate for poor ibadah. That’s not the meaning of those hadith. This is why you need to be taught hadith formally. When Nabi-e-Karim (sws) said those hadith about the virtue of akhlaq and khidmah, he (sws) wasn’t negating ibadah. You have to also look at those hadith that talk about ibadah. They are all there and no one is negating or cancelling the other. You have to have a holistic and complete understanding.

Two ways to increase ibadah:

1. In the masjid

For the men, you should try to increase your ibadah in the masjid. Sometimes sit a little bit before salah, sit a little bit after salah, do intezar of salah, that’s also a hadith, that also gives a person reward. When you sit after salah, you linger in the after affects of salah because Allah’s (swt) gaze of mercy falls on the person while a person prays salah, it doesn’t stop when a person does salam, it stops when they get up, they do airaz, when they move away from the place where they prayed salah. As long as you remain sitting in that place where you prayed salah, you are still in shower of the radiant nur of Allah (swt) even if you have said salam. It’s only when you get up and move, which is called airaz, it’s only then you exit from the shower of nur.

You should go before and you should linger after. This is what you do when you go to the dawat of a friend. We like to get there early and we hang out later. You need to have that feeling sometimes, not in every salah as you have to go back to meeting or your class, I understand that, but there are many times we pray salah when there is absolutely nothing that we have to do afterwards and we came from doing absolutely nothing. In a few of those nothings, try to linger. Those who want to do more, sometimes try to sit from fajr to ishraq. Sometimes sit from asr to maghrib, or another time when you get a chance.

2. At home

Second is that you should try to establish some environment of ibadat in your home. For the women it’s only the second one, and for men they should also try to establish the second one. That’s also something your children will see. The children will not see the ibadah you do in the masjid. They don’t see the bayans you give in the workshops. They see how you are at home. You have to have some level of ibadah at home. It was the practice of women in earlier Islamic communities that they would designate a part of their home which they would call masjid al-bait. This is a formal term in the works of the fuqaha which means that they would have a corner or a room where they would have their musallah and it would be their ibadat khana.

We have so many places in our houses; mehman khana, bawarchi khana etc. This is also a place and it helps because you are not that strong and you have to be honest about it. We are not that strong that we feel spiritual in our bedrooms and living rooms. That’s a problem. What is wrong with the interior design of our living rooms and bedrooms or what is wrong with the a’maal of ghaflah that we do that we don’t feel the dhikr of Allah (swt) there? But if you can’t change all of that right now, at least have some room which you can call no-ghaflah zone. This is the room where no ghaflah can take place in the house. When you designate that place, you will feel more closeness and connection with Allah (swt). This is especially for the women, but the men also should do this as a family.

Nafl Ibadah: Group/Individual

Next is group and individual ibadah. Individual ibadah is clear. There has always been a question among the jurists about the extent to which group nafl ibadah is permissible and there is a range of opinions of jurists on many different matters. Here again I will say practice i’tidal and ihtiyat; don’t do entire nafi of it, but don’t be exclusively reliant on it either. Some people only do dhikr when they do it in a group. You should be doing individual dhikr. Yes, occasionally you might join group dhikr. So I gave you a relative ratio for that.

I will even go further, you will only get benefit from the group dhikr if you are a person of individual dhikr. If you never make your own individual dhikr of Allah (swt), you just randomly, arbitrarily, occasionally attend group dhikr, it’s not going to change you in terms of tarbiyyah, it’s not going to remove you from sin in terms of tazkiyah, it’s not going to change your ‘amal. It will still be good — you will get reward, you will stay away from ghaflah, you will get certain benefits from it, but it wouldn’t be able to take you all the way. If a person does individual dhikr regularly, then if they sometimes do group dhikr, it can really give them a boost.

Nawafil Adhkar — Guided Regimen

Next is the nawafil adhkar. Here for example the question is what do I do? If I sit from fajr till ishraq, if I sit from maghrib till isha, what am I supposed to do in that time? We suggest to people that you should follow some guided regimen so that you do it systematically. For example, if someone makes the intention to improve their physical health, they don’t just randomly workout. They do some research or they go to some fitness trainer and they make a plan of action, they decide the exercises, the weights, and they follow that plan of action systematically under some level of guidance and instruction.

If you were to look at Imam an-Nawawi’s (rah) Kitab al-Adhkar, there are so many adhkar out there, and then especially for those of us who are at that earlier stage in that we need a cure for ghaflah and sin, then this means are there any extra, secondary adhkar of the awliyah that actually could directly cure my illness of ghaflah and sin so that I can move on to the adhkar of qurb and wilaya? This is the guided regimen.

We are going to start with masnun soon with a focus on du’as. I want to do the tafsir with you of every du’a in Qur’an. You learn those du’as and you know the translations but you need to understand it to really feel the feelings of du’a. This is one example of masnun adhkar.

Secondary adhkar is tazkiya, qurb and thawab. The secondary adhkar are done for ‘ilaj, but the qurb and thawab of the masnun adhkar is greater than the qurb and thawab that you get through the secondary adhkar. It should also be clear that masnun adhkar are not empty of tazkiya. That’s a general tonic, you get general tazkiya through the masnun adhkar.

For example, a person goes to a shaykh and says that I know the Blessed Prophet (sws) has said in many ahadith that you should remember death but I’m not able to do it. Shaykh tells him every night before you go to sleep, they call it muraqaba-e-maut (contemplation of death) for a few minutes imagine that you have died, you are lying there as a mayyat and people are praying janaza over you. People are taking you up, putting you in the grave and then they are putting mitti over you. One by one each person is walking away and you are left all alone in your grave. When he comes back after a few days of doing this, he says, shaykh can you undo this? Because I can’t work and all I’m thinking about is death.

Now you understand the ‘ilaj part? It kicks a person. This concept of muraqaba-e-maut is not in the sunnah. The Blessed Prophet (sws) never told any Sahaba (ra) that. Some mashaikh and ulema say the answer it’s because Sahaba (ra) already had these things so they didn’t need to be told — they had suhbat-e-Rasool (sws). When they heard about these things live, then:

وَقَالُوۡا سَمِعۡنَا وَاَطَعۡنَا‌
and they have said: “We have listened, and obeyed.” [2:285]

We don’t have access to that so sometimes we need a little jolt. Again, if you start doing that for the rest of 40 years of your life, there is no need for that. This was a tool. Once you get that remembrance of death, you can go back and do some masnun adhkar.

Husool ‘Ilm — Guided Curriculum

There is some place where you should begin. There should be a process for you to attain and acquire fehm — an understanding and knowledge of deen.

Purification of the Heart

This means two things:

  1. Remove Bad Attributes: Can be unlawful lust, envy, jealousy, pride, anger, laziness, negative opinions, doubts, skepticism, there’s a long list.
  2. Adopt Virtuous Attributes: The good feelings in the heart of compassion, softness, gentleness, love for Allah (swt), love for Blessed Prophet (sws) etc.

In these two things the sohbah, tarbiyyah and ta’leemat are very effective. It’s very beneficial to get the training, learning and the practice to do these things.

Practice

The initial part of practice was all about you and Allah (swt). But don’t think a’maal is confined to that. There is another aspect of a’maal as-Saleh and that is about you and others. People love to talk about haquq Allah and haquq al-ibad — but that term is misleading also. It’s not just about the rights. You have to go beyond your rights. It’s not that I will only do what people’s rights are on me. Maybe some things I’m telling you are beyond the rights they have on you.

Interpersonal Relations

It can be marriage, siblings, parents, children, these are the family relations. It can be employees, employer, colleagues, fellow students, teachers — any human interaction, let me rephrased that, any human interaction that Allah (swt) has placed you in has certain adaab, usul, and could be used as a means of pleasing Allah (swt). That’s also a learning, training and a practice.

Professional Societal & Humanist Ethics

This is about how you earn; to earn virtuously, lawfully which Allah (swt) has mentioned as halal and tayyib.

يٰٓاَيُّهَا النَّاسُ كُلُوۡا مِمَّا فِى الۡاَرۡضِ حَلٰلًا طَيِّبًا
O people, eat permissible good things out of what lies in the earth [2:168]

That’s basically what I’m calling ethics. Halal is a shari’ah matter — it’s permissible and legal. Tayyib means it should be virtuous. I have spoken about this a lot in the previous session. Basically, you should have compassion for the mazloom, the poor, and the uneducated — this is just the beginning. These are societal responsibilities, it’s not their haq necessarily, but it doesn’t matter. You are a member of the society and you try to become a person of khyr — of good in the community. I should also add the word ummah. So it’s about practicing ethics in your profession, your circuit, then in the broader sense of society, then in an even broader sense of ummah, and an even broader sense of humanity.

Dawah

This is a major thing. I’m very much in this mizaj of dawah on your friends, colleagues, neighbors, family, random rickshaw drivers — this is a new field of dawah that I’ve jumped into — Uber and Careem drivers. And they are very receptive also. I can just be quiet or talk on the phone the whole time. But Allah (swt) put me with a person for 30 minutes of my life, probably I will never meet him again until the Day of Judgment, may be on that day Allah (swt) decides to send me to Jannah based on those 30 minutes with that guy. It’s quite possible. So having the spirit and feeling of dawah is also important. Maybe another thing to add here could be du’a, because dawah and du’ah work together. You have to do both. They are almost like lazim and malzum as we say.

Khidmah

There has to be some element of service. No doubt, if someone has an opportunity of service right at their homes with elderly, needy or sick parents, you could get it right at home. But if you don’t have it at home, then search for it. It can be orphans, widows, elderly, poor, illiterate, oppressed, refugees, homeless — there’s a whole long list and each one has millions in it.

You will not be able to do all of this instantly. I just gave you the list and some of you, especially the younger people, should not make the mistake of trying to do everything. This is a common mistake so don’t set a plan of action for yourself that is outside your reach. Reach for what is in your range and Allah (swt) will put that which is out of your reach in your range. That’s how it works, as opposed to reaching for what’s outside of your range, falling flat and sitting and crying — which is something, I’m sorry to be blunt, a lot of men in their 20s are stuck in. What I did right now is called ragra — in case you wanted to know what is islah and tarbiyyah.


[1] Surely, Allah will send for this ummah at the advent of every one hundred years a person (or persons) who will renovate its religion for it. [Sunan Abu Dawood]