Madhabs, Ijtihad & Ego

A most brilliant excerpt from Abdal-Hakim Murad

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“Because of the traditional pious fear of distorting the Law of Islam, the overwhelming majority of the great scholars of the past – certainly well over ninety-nine percent of them – have adhered loyally to a madhhab. It is true that in the troubled fourteenth century a handful of dissenters appeared, such as Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim; but even these individuals never recommended that semi-educated Muslims should attempt ijtihad without expert help….

Nonetheless, social turbulences have in the past century thrown up a number of writers who have advocated the abandonment of authoritative scholarship. The most prominent figures in this campaign were Muhammad Abduh and his pupil Muhammad Rashid Rida. Dazzled by the triumph of the West, and informed in subtle ways by their own well-documented commitment to Freemasonry, these men urged Muslims to throw off the shackles of taqlid, and to reject the authority of the Four Schools. Today in some Arab capitals, especially where the indigenous tradition of orthodox scholarship has been weakened, it is common to see young Arabs filling their homes with every hadith collection they can lay their hands upon, and poring over them in the apparent belief that they are less likely to misinterpret this vast and complex literature than Imam al-Shafi’i, Imam Ahmad, and the other great Imams. This irresponsible approach, although still not widespread, is predictably opening the door to sharply divergent opinions, which have seriously damaged the unity, credibility and effectiveness of the Islamic movement, and provoked sharp arguments over issues settled by the great Imams over a thousand years ago. It is common now to see young activists prowling the mosques, criticising other worshippers for what they believe to be defects in their worship, even when their victims are following the verdicts of some of the great Imams of Islam. The unpleasant, Pharisaic atmosphere generated by this activity has the effect of discouraging many less committed Muslims from attending the mosque at all. No-one now recalls the view of the early ulama, which was that Muslims should tolerate divergent interpretations of the Sunnah as long as these interpretations have been held by reputable scholars. As Sufyan al-Thawri said: ‘If you see a man doing something over which there is a debate among the scholars, and which you yourself believe to be forbidden, you should not forbid him from doing it.’ The alternative to this policy is, of course, a disunity and rancour which will poison and cripple the Muslim community from within.

In a Western-influenced global culture in which people are urged from early childhood to think for themselves and to challenge established authority, it can sometimes be difficult to muster enough humility to recognise ones own limitations. We are all a little like Pharaoh: our egos are by nature resistant to the idea that anyone else might be much more intelligent or learned than ourselves. The belief that ordinary Muslims, even if they know Arabic, are qualified to derive rulings of the Shariah for themselves, is an example of this egotism running wild. To young people proud of their own judgement, and unfamiliar with the complexity of the sources and the brilliance of authentic scholarship, this can be an effective trap, which ends by luring them away from the orthodox path of Islam and into an unintentional agenda of provoking deep divisions among the Muslims. The fact that all the great scholars of the religion, including the hadith experts, themselves belonged to madhhabs, and required their students to belong to madhhabs, seems to have been forgotten. Self-esteem has won a major victory here over common sense and Islamic responsibility.

The Holy Quran commands Muslims to use their minds and reflective capacities; and the issue of following qualified scholarship is an area in which this faculty must be very carefully deployed. The basic point should be appreciated that no categoric difference exists between usul al-fiqh and any other specialised science requiring lengthy training. Shaykh Sa`id Ramadan al-Buti, who has articulated the orthodox response to the anti-Madhhab trend in his book: Non-Madhhabism: The Greatest Bida Threatening the Islamic Shari`a, likes to compare the science of deriving rulings to that of medicine. “If ones child is seriously ill”, he asks, “does one look for oneself in the medical textbooks for the proper diagnosis and cure, or should one go to a trained medical practitioner?” Clearly, sanity dictates the latter option. And so it is in matters of religion, which are in reality even more important and potentially hazardous: we would be both foolish and irresponsible to try to look through the sources ourselves, and become our own muftis. Instead, we should recognise that those who have spent their entire lives studying the Sunnah and the principles of law are far less likely to be mistaken than we are….

The edifice has stood for centuries, withstanding the most bitter blows of its enemies. Only from within can it be weakened. No doubt, Islam has its intelligent foes among whom this fact is well-known. The spectacle of the disunity and fitnas which divided the early Muslims despite their superior piety, and the solidity and cohesiveness of Sunnism after the final codification of the Shariah in the four Schools of the great Imams, must have put ideas into many a malevolent head. This is not to suggest in any way that those who attack the great madhhabs are the conscious tools of Islam’s enemies. But it may go some way to explaining why they will continue to be well-publicised and well-funded, while the orthodox alternative is starved of resources. With every Muslim now a proud mujtahid, and with taqlid dismissed as a sin rather than a humble and necessary virtue, the divergent views which caused such pain in our early history will surely break surface again. Instead of four madhhabs in harmony, we will have a billion madhhabs in bitter and self-righteous conflict. No more brilliant scheme for the destruction of Islam could ever have been devised.”

P.S.: I strongly recommend reading the entire article for its full context and further elaborated content: UNDERSTANDING THE FOUR MADHABS – the problem with anti-madhabism

Peace. 

3 Types of People

*I know this blog post might make very little sense on a general level. On a personal level, though, it is everything.

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Of the many kinds of people one can meet, I have most often encountered three types of people in my life:

a) Those with a backbone (self-made)

b) Those with a semi-backbone (tentative)

c) Those without a backbone at all (moldable)

 

TYPE A

These people have made great men and women of themselves against all odds. Now I am not talking about famous people that have made it into history books– I’m talking about individuals I know, be they family or friends or even merely someone I’ve heard of. These people who either lacked (some very simple examples) money, parental support, access to proper education resources, got bullied in school, or disadvantaged in any other way— and yet they defied every social assumption of being miserable and rose above what they were. If they were ignorant, they acknowledged it and sought out the knowledge; if they were financially limited, they were proactive and did not expect the money to grow on trees; if they lacked parental support, they did not lose all sense of morality and lose themselves in the vain pleasures of this world, but rather self-disciplined themselves and raised themselves better than any parent could.

There are so many more examples besides the ones I have just presented, but I think you get my point. These self-made individuals, in all cases, sought God’s help and had both hope in His mercy and fear (taqwa) of Him. These people are my role models and everyone I look up to, every single person, has in some way overcome difficult obstacles in their lives and risen above what they might have ever deemed possible.

 The fascinating thing about these people is that they are not always successful– they fail quite often. But they learn from their failures and refuse to let it define them. They live life– not let life outlive them.

These people, in short, have a backbone.

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TYPE B

These people want to be great. In fact, these people look up to people of Type A, so they have their sense of priority figured out! However, Type B people want what they don’t work for– or rather, they just can’t bring themselves to work it. Procrastinators on a general than rare-exceptional level. These people may put the intention to work very hard for a specific goal, and may indeed aim pretty high– but then at the very tip of the finish line, at the very bare minimum, they give up and settle for the mediocre. They succeed, but only on a passing level– and yet if they put in their all, they can truly become something great.

The problem with these people are, they don’t have full trust in God– at least not always. When they remember Him they strive and strive, but in moments of forgetfulness, they give up, and sometimes lose hope in whatever endeavor they were working towards and hence never continue in its path. Instead they’ll seek something easier, something less tiresome but less worth it, and settle for the least.

There is still hope for people of Type B people to become self-made… but only if they develop an intense desire to achieve excellence and do things with ihsan. Otherwise, they will be stuck in this hole that most of society is content to be in, because it doesn’t realize it’s in it.

 The fascinating thing about these people are, they can easily be re-directed in the right direction. They just need a little (friendly) push, a word of encouragement, and purifying of intentions. All is not lost if you are a Type B person.

Your backbone is not born yet… Just be patient and you’ll grow a backbone!

But now… 

Type C

I don’t often run into these people, and when I do, I run the other way as soon as I can. These people are the very opposite of Type A except in one regard of the ‘final prize’. You see, just as Type A aims for the best, so does Type C. The difference?

Type A actually seeks God’s help while taking full means to achieve whatever reward is in store for them.

Type C, on the other hand, may or may not seek God’s help; but whether they do or not– they will not lift a finger to make their dreams come true.

Type C people are usually lazy, boring, lack personality and are easily mold-able depending on what they think society expects of them. Somehow they think the best of both worlds is owed to them. Type C folk believe that they are naturally special people who don’t have to do any self-development– yet still, miraculously. expect the best of everything to come their way. They either passively wait for destiny to sweep them off their feet while steadily becoming a potato in front of the TV, or they ask someone to do the work for them.

But time passes and Type C soon wonders, how come I’m not getting as much as Type B or Type A? What’s wrong with me? They’ll fail to realize it’s their lack of taking initiative, their passivity, their reactiveness instead of proactiveness, that is leading to their doom. Maybe when they hit their third or fourth decade of life, they might start seriously questioning their lives. But then this would lead to self-blame, and it’s easier to point the finger of blame at someone else instead.

The fascinating thing about Type C people is that they have extremely high expectations of everything and everyone around them– but none of themselves. They expect the world to be at the service of their feet, but they can’t even serve themselves, let alone serve others in return.

 These people, in short, do not have a backbone. They rely on others that do to give them their prizes so they can feel they do.

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However, it’s never too late to be a Type B or Type A– but it will be just much harder and take a lot of sincere effort.

I know many Type B people and a few Type A– but alhamdulileh, praise be to God, many Type B people I know have realized their traps and are actively working their way to Type A. But sadly, and frustratingly, I’m increasingly meeting Type C people these days… I try to avoid them like the plague, because everything about their presence de-motivates and un-inspires.

I pray I, and you, and she, and he, and we can all be members of Type A: people who will make a difference, beginning with ourselves. Only with that can there be any hope be of, inevitably, changing the world.

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And Allah knows best. ~

— A.S.

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Hope in Allah Precludes Failure

Hope in Allah Precludes Failure

“Verily, hope encourages and steers one towards patience; hope arises from having a good opinion of Allah; hope in Allah precludes the possibility of failure. But why should we be so confident that hope in Allah precludes the possibility of failure? If we were to study the characteristics of generous people, we would find that they take special care of those who think well enough of them to turn to for help. They will also tend to eschew those who think ill of them. What is important here is that they refrain from hurting the hopes of those who single them out for help. Then what will be the case regarding the Most Generous One, Whose kingdom is not decreased in the least when He gives even more than what the hopeful ones expected from Him in the first place?”

-[Excerpt from the book: ‘Don’t Be Sad’ , p.330]

Mystery Solved!

*Dedicated to that so-sweet-soul that left me a friendship letter when I took a brief nap in SSMU the other day (see previous blog post). She finally told me who she is.. and subhanAllah, she was actually the first person I’d initially guessed! Out of respect of her wishes, I will not say her name. She is a blessing from above and my angel of a friend– and I think that description alone suffices.
The mystery was solved only today, Mar.14 (at last!) when she let me read her journal entry of the incident. I thought it was filled with so much deep wisdom and cuteness that I sought her permission to share it.
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Something awesomely strange happened 3 weeks ago.
I was searching for a quite place to enjoy the sister’s Samosas before I rush back to studies. I thought to myself  “Club’s lounge will be calm, and I won’t know anyone there. Surely I can eat quickly and quietly.”
Something about all sleeping people is angelic (it is known as the small death- as the soul temporarily leaves the body while one is sleeping).
Sleeping people are vulnerable, and I can’t help but feel merciful and thoughtful of them.
My eyes quickly spotted Aya as I entered. Whatever she had to go through to sleep here, away from people, at noon, at Juma’a time, I thought.
I felt like consoling her, encouraging her, and letting her know I love her for Allah. I impulsively took out my notepad, and started writing. I don’t know where all the words came from, but I just wrote. I didn’t hesitate to use ink. I didn’t think twice before writing. Heck, I didn’t even read over what I wrote, not even once. As I wrote the second paragraph, I felt that that is what I wanted to hear from someone. As I was going through a hard time myself, those were the words that I came across in the last few days collectively that made me cheer a little.
I figured, I sincerely wanted to advise and help her. I didn’t care if she knew who it was from, as long as it helped her. I also thought it would be fun for her to receive a letter this way. She was sleeping after all, and the opportunity kept screaming.
I wanted to read over what I wrote, but a sudden sense of acceptance came: that what I wrote is perfect the way it is. I also felt a sudden sense of urgency: I needed to leave the paper Now. Who knows when she would wake up? I damned my bulky shoes with every step I took, fearing she would wake up as I approached. I was easily able to leave the letter folded under the elastic, as her bag was in a perfect position for me. I couldn’t help but wish ‘please don’t wake up don’t wake up’, and I tried imagining what an awkward situation it would be had she woken up finding me stalking her and her bag.
After I was a couple of meters away, I sighed out of relief. I walked away quickly, and I went outside not even hungry any more.
I was surprised how quickly the word spread. Aya seemed very confused, and her updates sounded worried and anxious about the anonymity. I soon started feeling more and more guilt. I wrote 2 drafts at different time points apologizing to her about pretending I had no idea about the letter, and about putting her in this emotional vortex. Something/someone always kept me restrained. I felt a voice inside me saying, “Wait. Just a little more. You wanted to help her right? Why do you need to tell her now? She is going through a phase, and it will be over soon. Just be patient”.
Soon enough, she wrote a post about it, and I discovered Allah’s wisdom. Like I can never imagine. How I was inspired the words. How I was inspired not to tell her in the suspenseful week. And why me? She wrote how it helped her realize the blessings of friends, and loving for Allah. She seemed to be content with not knowing who the author was after all. I hope the anonymity ultimately helped her think deeper about the meaning and the story, rather than who wrote it. It helped the people she discussed the letter with. It helped and hopefully inspired the people who read her post. Would it have left 1/10th the effect had she known immediately that it was me? Because she had to be the detective, because all the focus was on the content, unattached from the human imperfections, it made her spend more time thinking about it. It made me think about it more as well. Of course, I am not writing this claiming credit for this brilliant wit. I didn’t know what I was doing, it was Allah’s plan for everyone from the beginning.
It made me realize, the out-of-human scope wisdom Allah has. I feel extremely eager to share with her the other side of the story, and how it is equally mysterious to me. I want to discuss with her the beauty of Allah’s wisdom in this shared experience.. (and let her believe it didn’t just fall from the sky 🙂 ). One day.
Subhan Allah.
And as she always ends her words: Allah knows best.”
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Oh man. These kinds of moments are what Paradise on earth is made of.  May Allah bless all of us with them!
This brings to mind one of my all-time favorite quotes:
~ “An act of goodness is of itself an act of happiness. No reward coming after the event can be compared with the sweet reward that went with it.”
And to conclude… yes you guessed it!…
Allah knows best. 🙂
A.S.

“Rallying of the Muhammadaic Forces”

*An essay from Imam Zaid Shakir’s book “Where I’m Coming From”.

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“The uprising of righteous souls will not be that of frenzied mobs descending into the streets. It will be the rising up of committed believers from the sweetness of sleep in the privacy of their homes, to stand before their Lord in deep devotion. That uprising will not begin during the day, nor will it be played out before flashing lights and cameras. It will begin during the night before the watchful gaze of God.

The feet of its soldiers will not be clad in boots smashing against pavement. Their feet will be bare, caressing carpets, straw mats or clammy cement, supporting hearts tearfully beseeching their Lord, evoking His Grace, seeking His Succor, acknowledging their faults and limitations and seeking their strength through Him.

When they emerge into the light of day they themselves will be the light that a dark world is seeking. They will be teachers not preachers. Their message will be ancient for it will be a rearticulating of the prophetic teachings– as reiterated in the Qur’an:

  • Do not join partners with God in worship for doing so is an unforgiveable sin (4:48)
  • Make God the ultimate object of your love, for doing so is a sign of true faith (2:165, 9:24)
  • Do not commit murder or take innocent lives, for doing so is a crime that has unfathomable implications (25:68, 17:33)
  • Uphold the dignity of all humans, for it is a gift from God (17:70)
  • Work against corrupt, unethical business practices for they are condemned by God (26:181-183, 83:1-3)
  • Feed the hungry for it wards off Hell and is a manifestation of lofty religiousness (74:44, 90:14-16)
  • Assist the needy, for they have a right in our wealth (51:19, 70:24-25)
  • Be loving and merciful to your spouse for it is a Sign of God (30:21)
  • Do not oppress anyone, for God hates oppressors (3:57, 3:140, 42:40)
  • Do not fornicate for it is a grave abomination and a source of a severe otherworldly punishment (25:68)
  • Do not corrupt the earth and disrupt the natural balance governing worldly ecosystems for doing so brings about devastating consequences (33:41, 55:6-15)
  • In all things follow the example of the Noble Prophet for ir is a key to salvation (33:21)
  • If tested with warfare do not violate the rules of engagement established by God, for victory only comes from God, not from lowly, treacherous tactics. (2:177, 3:126)

These forces will bring life to morally and spiritually dead societies for they themselves have been revivified by the life-giving message of Islam: “O Believers! Respond to God and the Messenger when they invite you to what gives life” (8:24). Their existence will be defined by purpose as they strive to embody the message of faith translated in lives of devotion. The lives and souls of others they touch will be quickened with those same realities.

This is the basis of the good life and the foundation of a community of virtue and service. This is the foundation of meaningful and lasting social reform. It is on this basis that we can hope for the emergence of a community of truth whose light cannot be hidden or diminished by any amount of distortion and defamation. Let each and every one of us commit ourselves to being part of that community. God is calling us and history is echoing His call. Who among us is ready to respond?”

Grades & Goodness

I know, I know– I should be studying right now.

In fact, I should be pulling all-nighters with Redbull (never tasted it… doesn’t appeal to me) with the amount of work I have to do in so little time. Yet I’m oddly very calm about it all– it’s very typical of me to remain always calm until the last possible minute when it comes to midterms and assignments. But despite my laid-back attitude, something just ticked me off right now– a simple comment, a simple sentence, and I just need to write about this or it will be very distracting while I try reading my bioinorganic chemistry textbook.

My friend, a fellow teacher, posted this on Facebook about 20 minutes ago:

i care more

Now. What do you do on Facebook when you like something?

You like it. So I ‘liked’ it.

You can also comment. So I commented my approval.

Then some guy writes this:

   “ya but it takes good grades for the most part to be the mover and shakers of society… “

I didn’t bother replying to that. I don’t know him, probably never will, and I’m not much of a debater… and even if I was, publicly putting him in his place would be more humiliating and a booster for my ego than anything else.

So silent I remained.  But my immediate thought was… “Really bro? Does it really?”

I’m not saying grades are irrelevant to getting good society roles– you need them for admission to college and university and so forth– but they’re not inclusively the only factor, if even one of the important ones. I think society values wealth, influence, connections, networking, and corporate interests far more than the percentage value you got on your grade eight science test.

This brought to mind something interesting my bioinorgic professor recently said (just quoting him is making me feel guilty I’m not using this time to study for his midterm!):

“I always wonder why schools and universities make you sit through examinations. It’s not representative of real life. Never after this will you be asked during your life to sit down and write everything you’ve ever learned to memorize on a piece of paper.” (Then he adds with a chuckle) “But of course, there is a purpose behind examinations. It’s the way humanity works. Many people won’t put in the effort to learn without being forced to.”

There is some wisdom behind that, I must say. I do see that many people wouldn’t bother to open up a textbook from the 80’s casually in their free time and use it for pleasure reading. (You never know, though!) But I think that the reason that people wouldn’t bother schooling themselves is really for the reason the school system itself is set up. They’re not against education, they’re against rote meaningless learning.

Back to grades– I think it’s ironic that the classes I got lower marks in, yet struggled and put in my all, I believe I understand better than classes I may have gotten 100% in high school, yet can’t for the life of me recall what I learned there. I struggled endlessly in high school physics– stayed after school every day until I understood the problem– and passed I did, but not with the 100% I got in biology. Yet I can honestly say I benefited more from that physics class until now, than I did in a biology class that I was simply expected to spew out the words I memorized off a diagram. After the final exam, I never thought about it again.

So are grades representative? Not necessarily. Did my 100% in biology high school indicate somehow I was going to become a biologist in society and make a difference? No. I instead opted for chemistry and physics, the things I struggled in, and made it my mission to help others see the relevance of seemingly irrelevant things (at that point of their lives).

To my dear my Facebook brotha-from-anotha-motha: To be a mover and shaker of society, you need something called courage and determination and strong will and a vision. These things are not learned from “punishments in the form of exams” (Sugata Mitra) and nor are they necessarily determined from the amount of information one can spew out. Because the sad reality is that school often feeds lots of information, and not necessarily always education, into young minds.

I do believe assessment is important, though.. but must every assessment be done so under pressure? Public speaking is critically important for future leaders– but must that one and only French oral presentation to be presented by a shy student who stutters and is an introvert have to be the one determining grade on whether or not he ‘knows’ French?

Grades frighten me a lot because I am afraid to fall into the same mistakes that I am criticizing. Will I be just another person imposing useless pressure on my students or will I actually somehow bring out the best of them? Will my classroom be just another dreaded hour of the day or will it be a safe zone, a community, a learning place for all?

I don’t know. But John T. Gatto’s words give me a sliver of hope:

“Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored… Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues.”

… InshaAllah! Time will tell.

the short road

And God knows best.

A.S.