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Who is Really Insulting the Prophet (S)?

Concerning Cartoons, Insulting the Prophet and the Way Forward

Muslims’ Love for the Prophet (S)

For a Muslim, the act of loving, honoring and cherishing the Prophet (S) is an inseparable part of one’s faith and one’s identity. Historically, the Muslim Ummah has unanimously agreed that a Muslim must follow the Prophet (S) in all affairs; indeed, one cannot obey God unless one obeys His Messenger (S).[1] Muslims understand that their Islam rests upon the central figure of the Prophet (S): one cannot worship God unless he worships Him in the same manner that His Messenger (S) worshipped Him. For this reason, Muslims hold the Prophet (S) as a beloved central figure, and they know that their faith is incomplete unless he is more beloved to them than anyone else in existence.[2]

Given this background of the centrality of love for the Prophet (S), Muslims may be confused when they have to deal with the following scenario: what should we as Muslims do when the Prophet (S), who is more beloved to us than all of humanity combined, is insulted, mocked and denigrated? For a lover, there is nothing more painful than to hear his beloved’s name be insulted.

The Legal Position of Muslims Living in Non-Muslim Lands versus Muslim Lands

All Muslims living in non-Muslim lands must abide by the law of the land in which they reside. Muslims are not permitted to break the law in the land in which they reside. If the Prophet (S) is insulted or mocked by non-Muslims in non-Muslim lands, Muslim citizens in such lands should resort to other means, such as political influence, protests, education of others, etc., in order to combat attacks and satire against the Prophet (S). They can and should exercise the rights afforded to them within that non-Muslim land, such as freedom of speech, freedom of press and freedom of assembly, to make their voices heard.  If they feel the law of a given land does not allow them to practice their religion, then they must no longer reside in that land. With this understanding, it is important for us to reiterate that Muslims do not ever condone or justify the use of violence by private citizens in non-Muslim lands under the banner of protecting the religion or the Prophet (S).

This should be a well-known fact, but since reading comprehension is not what it used to be, it should be restated in clear and unequivocal words: violent acts by Muslims living in non-Muslim lands are not sanctioned or permissible by Islamic Law.

As for Muslim lands, if the Prophet (S) is insulted or mocked by any group of people, then it is considered as a crime against the state itself. However, it is not the duty or the prerogative of private citizens to take such matters into their own hands. Muslim citizens cannot play Batman – crimes must be dealt with by the existing legal authority, and private enterprises to deal with criminals are considered to be illegal as well. Rather, it is the duty of the Muslim legal system, vetted by a Muslim government, to implement the official process of apprehending such criminals for blasphemy, bring forth a due legal process, and mete out punishment if a remorseless guilty verdict has been reached (including up to the death penalty). As Muslims, we do not apologize about the extent of these punishments that are applicable in Muslim lands. A government has the right to implement whatever laws it wishes to implement within its own borders—for people not living within that land to insist that a Muslim government follows another law is arrogance of the highest and most pathetic order.

The Freedom of Speech Issue

We must also understand that the term “freedom of speech” has been grossly misunderstood by both Muslims and non-Muslims. Our faith encourages us to speak out against oppression and injustice, and we should support the rights of human beings everywhere to be able to speak freely on such matters. However, just because someone can say something doesn’t mean they should say something, especially when that speech is emotionally hurtful to 1.5 billion human beings. Freedom of speech affords an oppressed group of people to speak up without fear of reprisal; it does not mean that a group already in power further humiliate their defeated opponents by attacking the symbols they hold dear—that is simply rubbing salt into the wound.

For example, a person has the right to use the “N” word, but it doesn’t mean that a cultured and intelligent American citizen would use this term to refer to black-Americans. It is a term filled with racism, denoting hatred and signifying the humiliation of numerous generations of a historically cultured people; in short, it is the ugliest word in the English language. Similarly, insulting the Messenger of God (S) is even more hurtful to Muslims; we should not apologize about feeling emotionally upset by such statements. We have every right to respectfully yet passionately voice our opinion on this matter.

It is troubling, therefore, to see some Muslims adopt the position of “je suis Charlie”. While we will not stop the rights of non-Muslims in non-Muslim lands to say things, we will not and must not voice our acquiescence that this is a good thing—the mantra these days seems to be that if you are a “moderate Muslim”, you will utter this phrase in solidarity. As Muslims, we must be nuanced in our stance on this matter. Just as we would not stop non-Muslims from drinking alcohol, gambling or committing adultery in their own lands, we also would not encourage or support people doing such things. For example, if there were plans to build a casino in my neighborhood, I would politically oppose this proposition to the fullest of my legal ability, but I would not violate the local laws in order to bring about my goals. Similarly, even though they must not take such matters into their own hands, Muslims cannot support the alleged “rights” of people to denigrate and mock the Prophet of Islam (S). Supporting such a stance would be tantamount to abandoning the very faith that he brought.

The Spiritual and Moral Position of Muslims in All Lands

While we may become understandably upset when the Prophet (S) is mocked or insulted, we should also take solace that any attempt to insult him is ultimately futile. Allah has promised to protect the Prophet (S), so he can never be insulted, even if all of mankind were to gather together and attempt to insult him.[3] Since Allah has said that He will protect him (S), Muslims must believe that Allah’s Words are true. If Muslims believe that any attempts to insult the Prophet (S) have succeeded, then they must be wary lest they commit a theological crime: in essence, if you feel that the Prophet (S) has been insulted and need to violently do something to defend his honor, then you are saying that Allah isn’t doing a good job at protecting him, so you have to get involved. And when that happens, the irony of defending the Prophet (S) by breaking the very Law he brought and violating the very rights of that Creator that he sought to reconnect us with is indeed mind-boggling.

A useful side discussion is for Muslims to ask: if we are angry that the Prophet (S) is insulted, why are not similarly angry when Allah is being insulted by similar foul speech and actions? Modern times are filled with countless and unfortunate examples where God is mocked and ridiculed on a daily basis. Millions of people sin against God and deny His Religion, yet Allah doesn’t obliterate these people. The greatest human enemy of Allah, the Pharoah of Musa (A), went so far as to declare himself as God. Allah didn’t immediately destroy him; instead he sent to him a Noble Messenger (A), with the instructions to speak a “kind word” to him.[4] This is the patience of God before He executed His Plan; Muslims must take solace that Allah is not “asleep” at the post, and He will continue protecting His Messenger (S) in the manner in which He deems best.

We should also understand that this is not the first time the Prophet (S) has been insulted. A cursory reading of the Prophet’s (S) biography has dozens of examples of insults, abuse and attempts at humiliation that were carried out by his enemies. We have not read properly read the Sīrah if we think that this is the first time he has been insulted. In each of these situations, he dealt with these insults with compassion, displaying a dignity that was more damaging to his opponents than any weapon. For example, when the Quraysh, in their clever attempts to insult him, decided to refer to him as “Mudhammam” (one who is blamed/scorned), a word play on his name instead of “Muhammad”. When he heard this, he replied with joy that Allah was protecting him: “Are you not amazed at how Allah turns the insults and curses of Quraysh away from me? They insult Mudhammam, they curse Mudhammam, and I am Muhammad!” [5]

The Prophet’s (S) Tradition in the face of attempts to insult is one of self-restraint and contentment with God’s Protection. The epitome of this is found in the famous incident when the Prophet (S) and Abu Bakr (R) were sitting near the Ka`bah and some of the Quraysh began to insult him. The Prophet (S) remained silent and said nothing. Abu Bakr (R) could only restrain himself for so long as his Beloved was being insulted, so he got up and defended the Prophet (S). Shortly thereafter, the Messenger of Allah (S) walked away from the area. Later on, Abu Bakr (R) asked him why he went away; the Prophet (S) replied that while Abu Bakr (R) had been silent, the Angels were protecting him, but when he began defending the Prophet (S), the Angels left, so the Prophet (S) left as well.

Historically, Muslims have been respectful to academic and intelligent refutations against the Prophet (S) and Islam. For example, John of Damascus (d. 749), a Christian monk living in Muslim lands, was a scholarly opponent of Islam and felt that the Prophet(S) was a false Prophet.[6] Muslim scholars did not condemn him, but instead engaged in respectful academic debate with him. As for disrespectful insults towards the Prophet (S), Dante Alighieri’s (d. 1321) Inferno is but one historical example of mockery against the Prophet (S).[7] At a time when the Muslim empire was the dominant superpower in the world, there were no calls for Dante’s head or emotional public outcries. Muslims were sophisticated enough that they knew they had other matters to attend; they were content that God would deal with those who mocked His Beloved (S). It is useful for us to reflect upon the same.

Can He Really Ever Be Insulted?

We must first affirm to ourselves that the Prophet (S) can never truly be insulted by any enemy of Islam. When Allah has declared Himself as his Protector, what other protection does he need?[8] Can he whose name is inscribed on the Throne of God ever truly be insulted? Can he whose very name means “one who is highly and excessively praised” every truly be insulted? Can he for whom God and His Angels send prayer and salutation upon ever truly be insulted?

In the previously mentioned Mudhammam example, we should remind ourselves that the name Muḥammad (including the guttural ḥā) has only one meaning. Thus, when we hear the enemies of Islam say his name as “Ma-ham-med” (or some other pronunciation), we should rejoice that they’re referring to someone else, and that Allah is protecting His Prophet (S) by not allowing his enemies to even properly refer to the object of their attempted derision. How pathetic is that: they’re not able to succeed in their evil intent because they can’t even say his name properly.

As for caricatures and cartoons, these imply that a real image exist in the first place. This is the beautiful wisdom in there being no real image of the Prophet (S) in existence. What can mere paper hope to capture of the beauty of the best of creation; he who was more beautiful than the full moon[9]; and he who was so handsome that had the women of Zulaykhah seen him, they would have cut out their very hearts?[10] Thus a cartoon image that allegedly depicts the Prophet (S) can never be considered as depicting him; it is as close to representing him as a stick figure representing a human being. Muslims should be secure that their Prophet’s (S) beauty, honor and legacy can never be tarnished by his enemies. When no real image exists, no caricature can exist.

The way forward for Muslims begins with asking ourselves this very important question. Instead of being preoccupied with the question, “how dare they insult the Prophet?”, we should ask ourselves, “how dare we insult the Prophet?”. We should ask ourselves if we have been insulting the Prophetic legacy through our speech and actions long before any cartoons. We should feel that our sins and inadequacies are more embarrassing and hurtful to the Prophet (S) than any cartoon. We should know that every Muhammad the liquor store owner, Muhammad the wife-beater or Muhammad the fraudulent businessman is more insulting to the Prophet’s (S) name than any satire. And we should feel guilty that our failure to uphold his beautiful legacy in our practice, speech and thoughts is more offensive to him than any picture could be. In short, let us not think that this attack on the Prophet (S) started with these recent cartoons; the insult to his legacy began long ago. They didn’t start the fire; we did.

The Real Issue at Hand: Cartoons and Spiritual Toddlers

It is ironic that cartoons, a form of entertainment for children, can elicit such anger among the Muslim community, turning adults into worse than unruly children. Perhaps this is more a reflection of our collective spiritual toddler state, indicating we have much ethical and moral self-reform work to do if we ever hope to grow up. The childish actions of some Muslims in response to childish actions of others betrays a larger sense of political impotence that Muslims have in the current global state of affairs. Just as children learn lessons from certain events in their childhood, we as Muslims should collectively learn and move forward from events such as this.

Our first order is to recommit ourselves back to honoring the legacy of the Prophet (S). This starts with learning about his life story, his physical description (shamā’il) his characteristics, his likes/dislikes and his practices, implementing as many of these as we possibly can. We must learn about the lives of his family, his Companions and the inheritors of the Prophetic Legacy, and appreciate how they practiced this—spiritually, socially and politically—throughout Muslim history. Only by learning, can we start practicing, and only by practicing, can we renew our goal of honoring the Prophet rather than tarnishing his legacy.

Finally, it is said that revenge is a dish best served cold. The aim of those who attempt to insult the Prophet (S) is to take people away from him and hate him. We must counter this aim by telling others about the Prophet (S), the Perfect Human Being who taught us how to be human beings. If Muslims can use such events to spread his message, in our speech and in our actions, in such a way that more people come to this religion (and in turn, more people love him (S)), then we have done our job. We must enthusiastically re-dedicate ourselves to this task, so that we have some proof before God that we at least tried to do something, and we at least have some excuse with the Lord of Muhammad (S). They want to make people hate him; we, by God’s Permission, will make more people love him.

What greater revenge do we want?

[1] Surah al-Nisā’, Verse 80.

[2] Paraphrased from the well-known ḥadīth: On the authority of Anas b. Mālik, the Prophet (S) said: “None of you have complete faith until I am more beloved to him than his children, his parents and all of mankind combined (Kitāb al-Īmān, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim).

[3] Surah al-Mā’idah, Verse 67.

[4] Surah Ṭā Hā, Verse 44.

[5] Narrated by Abū Hurayrah, recorded by Imam al-Bukhārī.

[6] John of Damascus authored a famous work, The Fountain of Wisdom, of which the second section, Concerning Heresy, primarily deals with refuting Islam. For example, he wrote: “From that time to the present a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst. This man, after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy. Then, having insinuated himself into the good graces of the people by a show of seeming piety, he gave out that a certain book had been sent down to him from heaven. He had set down some ridiculous compositions in this book of his and he gave it to them as an object of veneration.”

[7] Dante went so far as to place the Prophet(S) in Hell along with the Schismatics. For details, see Canto 28. It should also be noted that Dante suffered much humiliation later in life, spending most of his later years in exile, before dying of a fatal infection.

[8] Sūrah al-Taḥrīm, Verse 4: “…then indeed Allah, He is his Protecting Friend, and Jibrīl, and the righteous believers; and furthermore, the Angels are his helpers.”

[9] Narrated Jābir b. Samurah: “I saw the Messenger of Allah (S) on the night of the full moon, and he was wearing a red cloak. I began to look at him, and I began to look at the moon, and indeed he was more beautiful to my eyes than the moon (al-Dārimī).”

[10] The Mother of the Believers, `Ā’ishah (R) famously wrote a couplet that if the companions of Zulaykhah had seen his beautiful face, they would have cut out their hearts instead of their fingers.

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Notes from IIE Talk

Notes from Institute of Islamic Education Alumni Reunion 2014
(for more information about IIE, please visit: http://iieonline.org/)

kr’s note: I was very fortunate to have attended the annual IIE Alumni Reunion earlier today. It was great to see old friends; it was even better for this wayward student to meet his old teachers. What follows are some notes I took from the talk. May God allow us to benefit from this. Any mistakes in translation and transcription are undoubtedly mine.

Topic: Concerning Ramadan and the Qur’an

–The relationship between the Qur’an and Ramadan is an inseparable one, Allah establishes this in 2:185 by showing how this month is defined by the sending down of the Qur’an. The greatness of both these entities is linked to one another. Whenever we read the Qur’an, we should be reminded of Ramadan, and whenever we think of Ramadan, we should be reminded of the Qur’an. Both honor one another. The month is like a vessel that contains a precious commodity (the Qur’an).
–Previous nations were also given fasting, and this was also given to them in Ramadan. Previous nations were also given Books, and these were also always revealed in Ramadan.
–So fasting is prescribed in Ramadan because it is a “preparation” in order to receive the Words of Allah. Hence, when Allah called Musa (A) (7:142) to Him, he spent 30 days fasting (which was the month of Ramadan) as preparation to receive Wahy. So when the 30 days were complete, he cleaned and groomed himself, including washing his mouth. Allah asked Prophet Musa (A) why he did this, and he (A) replied that he did this as preparation to recite the coming Revelation. Allah told him that He wanted him to be in this state, “bad breath” and all, to receive the revelation, so He told him to fast 10 more days to “re-prepare” (hence making the 40 days on Mt. Sinai) to receive revelation. So from this, we understand that fasting is basically a preparation to receive and recite the Words of Allah.
–This is also why the Prophet (S) would go for long periods of time, 10-20 days, in the Cave of Hira when he was in Makkah. His wife, Khadijah (R), would pack for him a small amount of food because he was fasting. He was in a state of fasting, in Ramadan, when Wahy came to him as well. Allah wanted to prepare His Messenger (S) for the task of reciting the Qur’an.
–The Qur’an was the first speech of the Lawhe-Mahfuz (Well-Preserved Tablet). When there was nothingness, Allah created the Pen and told it to write the Lawhe-Mahfuz. The Qur’an was the first part of it. It came down to Bayt al-Ma’mur initially. Bayt al-Ma’mur is the House of Allah in the Highest Heaven. The Prophet (S) saw Ibrahim (A) during the Mi’raj seated with his back rested on this House with hordes of children playing around him. Abdullah b. `Abbas (R) said that if a bucket were lowered from Bayt al-Ma’mur, it would fall directly onto the roof of the Ka’bah. And then on Laylat al-Qadr when the Prophet (S) first received revelation, it came to the Lowest Heaven, and then was revealed over a period of 23 years.
–Allah sent down this Qur’an, starting in Ramadan, to be a guidance for people. The Qur’an is meant for us down in this world. It is not meant for us to raise it back up by wrapping it in cloth and putting it in a high place. Allah sent it down and we “send it back up”. We should be weary because Allah said that He will raise the Qur’an before the mass destruction of the Day of Judgment, so when we raise the Qur’an like this (ie, not use it and simply keep it for display), we are asking for destruction. Allah will remove the Qur’an before this destruction, just as a nation protects its assets before a war and resulting destruction.
–We should be weary because Allah can do away with us (4:133) and bring another people who will value this Qur’an.
–The analogy of reading the whole Qur’an is like praying all the rak’ahs of a prayer. When we read only one part, it’s like praying only the obligatory portion of the prayer. So reading one part of the Qur’an is like only praying 4 rak’ahs of fard for Zuhr. Yes, your obligation is fulfilled, but you should feel incomplete that you’ve missed out on the perks of the Sunnah and Nafl of Zuhr; this is how we should feel when we miss out on parts of the Qur’an in recitation, especially if we miss parts during Taraweeh.
–The Prophet (S) loved the Qur’an so much; oftentimes, he would recite from Surah al-Baqarah to Surah al-Ma’idah in one rak’ah(!), and this was outside of Ramadan, so imagine how much more he loved to recite during Ramadan, especially his recitation to Jibril (A) during this month.
–The Companions (R) therefore also loved the Qur’an. It was for this reason that `Umar(R) established the Taraweeh, putting forth Ubay b. Ka’b (R) as the first Imam of Taraweeh.
–Those who claim knowledge of hadith and say that Taraweeh was not done during the time of the Prophet and Companions should not even use the term hadith, they have no right to even use it! They should know that the Prophet (S) led this prayer for two nights in congregation, each night there were more Companions (R) than the previous night. On the third night, the entire masjid was filled with Companions (R) who were eagerly awaiting him (S) to come out and lead them. But he did not lead them because he feared Taraweeh might become fard upon the Ummah. So appreciate the Adab (respect) of the Companions that they patiently waited until sahur time for him to come out. No one left or began asking where he was. Today, we get nervous and upset if the Khateeb is even 2 minutes late. None of them left, and then when he came out and told them why, they understood. But those who claim to know hadith, they should know that our Mother, Aisha (R), said that the Prophet (S) never started a prayer and then stopped it. So he would not have stopped the Taraweeh on that third night, he merely prayed it in his home.
–How can they say Taraweeh is not Sunnah when the Prophet (S) said, “Hold fast to my Sunnah and the Sunnah of Rightly-Guided and Rightly-Guiding Caliphs”. So when `Umar established this, none of the Companions (R) objected. If this was against the Sunnah, wouldn’t they have raised an objection?
–We should appreciate that Taraweeh is a vessel that is inside another vessel (Ramadan) for the honoring of the Qur’an. All of this is to make it easier for us to build and strengthen a relationship with Qur’an.
–Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi (RA) commented on the verse, “Indeed, the Qur’an of Fajr is witnessed.” Usually, we read longer portions in Fajr, and if this longer portion is so honored, imagine how honored the longer portions that we recite in Taraweeh must be?
–Memorizing the Qur’an is mustahabb (recommended and praiseworthy), but forgetting what one has memorized is haram.
–Revise what you have memorized in preparation for Ramadan, not in preparation for Taraweeh
–All the great scholars of the past would leave all other subjects (Fiqh, etc) in Ramadan and immerse themselves with the Qur’an, especially with recitation, but also with anything to do with the Qur’an. The great Tafseer al-Jalalayn was written by two authors; Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti started his half on the 1st of Ramadan and finished it on the 10th of Shawwal, so it took him 40 days to write a tafseer on 15 juz, imagine the barakah that was in his time. This was because of his love for the Qur’an and also because of the month of Ramadan.
–The reward for reciting the Qur’an is tremendous. We know the famous hadith that says for every letter one recites, one will receive 10 rewards, and that alif is a letter, laam is a letter and meem is a letter. The scholars of the past were so enamored with this that they counted the verses, words, letters, dots, vowel marks, diacritical marks, etc., to catalog how many rewards the reciter will receive. One can find these exact numbers in books such as Itqan of al-Suyuti and Mawlana Na’eem’s (RA) Tafseer al-Kamalayn
–Advice to huffaz: you must recite the entire Qur’an in Taraweeh, you cannot lead with 4-5 people and think you have led Taraweeh. Ramadan is a time for you to make up for any deficiency in revision you may have had in the other 11 months. Even if you have to take time off from school/work to do this, you must do your revision. You don’t have to lead in a large masjid, just get 2-3 people and read in your home.
–The month of Ramadan is a time for being involved with the Qur’an. Recitation of the Qur’an is a priority, but you may wish to supplement it, if you have time, with reading any Qur’an-related materials, such as Tafseer, etc. But most of us need to prioritize recitation this month over all else.

Notes from Mawlana Arshad Madani (hafizahullah) Talk

kr’s note: I’m still waiting for the audio recording to further edit/add to this. I unfortunately did not take my notebook with me to the lecture (shame on me), so this is from what I remember from this past Monday evening. I will update this post once I re-listen to the recording, inshallah. For those who attended, please feel free to add things I may have left out or misquoted. May God forgive me for any mistakes in narrating, translating and transcribing the gems of the Shaykh in this early draft.

Notes from Mawlana Arshad Madani (hafizahullah) Talk at IIE, June 16, 2014

–Lecture started with mentioning of verse 66:6, wherein Allah commands the believers to save ourselves and our families from the hell-fire. The address is not to all of mankind, but it is to the believers, so the believers must obey and follow. But it is a daunting task to save one’s self and one’s family from the hell-fire, so Allah makes following His Command easier by sending us the examples of the Prophet (S) and the Shari’ah to help facilitate obeying this Command.
–In order to save our families from the hell-fire, the process must begin even before we start our families. We cannot wait to have families and then think how will we save them. So when we look for spouses, the Prophet (S) gave us the advice that we should look for deen above all else, as opposed to things that man generally looks for (beauty, wealth, status, etc). If your future spouse lacks deen and fear of Allah, then all these attributes are of no benefit to carry out that Command.
–Saving ourselves from the Fire starts with recognizing the reality that Shaytan exists and can influence us. We are not above being influenced by Shaytan. So even when we have intimate relations with our spouses, the Prophet (S) taught us du’as to protect ourselves and any potential offspring at the time of conception from the influence of Shaytan.
–The effect of the mother’s ibadah will be manifest on the child as she is pregnant. If she has a relationship with Allah, the Qur’an, etc., it will be easier for the child to have a relationship with these as well. This is why we should marry someone who has taqwa above all other qualities.
–As soon as the child comes into the world, the father has the responsibility to recite the adhan in the child’s ears. Modern science and medicine may say this has no benefit because the child’s hearing system is not developed, but we do it because the Prophet (S) told us to do so. We don’t look for scientific proof for the sunnah because we trust him (S). So we recite the adhan in the child’s right ear, and the iqamah in the left ear. The adhan has the reminder of the two most important lessons for the child: the first part has takbeer and shahadah (reminder of Iman), the second part (Hayya `ala-‘l-Salah/Hayya `ala’l-Falah) has the reminder to do righteous actions (`amal salih).
–We should teach our children “La ilaha ill Allah” as their first words with the hope that these will be their last words as well. Instead we teach them every other word first before the most important ones.
–The Prophet (S) (or Mu’adh b. Jabal (R), I don’t remember exactly) said: “Cause them to fear Allah”. So we should spend time with our children telling them about Jannah and Jahannam in detail, giving them hope and fear. This is how we teach them to fear Allah. We should not hold back in the descriptions of both places.
–Shari’ah mandates that by the age of 7, they must pray. We sometimes feel that teaching deen is separate from teaching dunya, but we should appreciate the wisdom in teaching deen properly, we will teach them dunya concurrently. So if they have to pray by the age of 7, we will also have to teach them how to keep their clothes clean, how to clean themselves, how to make wudu, etc. So by prioritizing teaching them salah by age 7, we will end up teaching them knowledge of the dunya as well (personal hygiene). This is the beauty of the Shari’ah, it prioritizes the practice of deen, but don’t think it will neglect the important knowledges of the dunya.
–In some places, as soon as the mother becomes pregnant, the parents enroll the unborn child onto wait lists for a top private school. If we can do this even before child is born, what are we doing for the child’s deliverance from the hell-fire before and after he is born?
–We should separate the beds of children by age 10. This was wisdom given at a time when haya (modesty) was present, so this is even more relevant at a time when modesty is not present.
–We must take the deen completely, cannot take certain parts and leave out certain parts. So for example, the Prophet (S) never prevented women from coming to the masjid. But he also said that the best line for men is the first row, and the best line for women is the back row. Why? Because this allows the most separation. After the fard prayer, the women Companions (R) would immediately leave and pray their sunnah at home, whereas the men would wait 5-10 minutes and pray their sunnah at the masjid. This again allowed the separation, unlike our masjids where we loiter and linger around between the genders. The Masjid during the Prophet’s (S) time had 3 doors: two for men (Bab Jibril and Bab Salam), and one for women (Bab al-Nisa). The men Companions never used the women’s door and vice versa. `Umar and his son (`Abdullah b. `Umar) never went through the women’s door. Even now, these doors are there at the Prophet’s Mosque. So each gender had their own entrance, this is not to diminish women or men, but to reflect a reality of society and promote the general good. So if we’re going to take the sunnah, we should take the entire practice of it, not just the parts we like.
–Even in prayer, if the Imam makes a mistake, the men are supposed to loudly say Subhanallah or Allahu Akbar, whereas the women make a clapping sound to indicate. The fuqaha have even discussed whether the clapping should be done palm-to-palm or palm-to-back-of-hand.
–We should encourage our children to pursue dunya studies as well, this is also important, but we must teach them the knowledge and practices necessary for them to save themselves and their future families from the hell-fire. This is the only way we can fulfill the Command of 66:6.

A Tongue Twister Poem of Wisdom

kr’s note: I recently came across this poem that’s a wonderful example of the richness and depth of the Arabic language. It’s certainly a tongue twister, but it’s also filled with useful wisdom and advice that is still relevant to us in these times. Also, you probably should not read this out loud because many people will think you’re using bad language =). A special thanks to two very close mentors who helped me refine this translation.

Arabic Fakka Poem

Translation:
The best of people is the one who bridles his tongue (lit: restrains his jaw) and opens his hand (in charitable giving and working)
The worst of people is the one who loosens his tongue (lit: loosens his jaw) and closes his hand (as a miser)
So how many a loose (charitable) hand stopped many tongues*
And how many a closed mouth loosened many hands**
So keep closed your mouths and open up your hands!
*Alternatively, this line may be understood that there were many who by opening up their hands (in generosity) were able to keep their own mouths shut, ie, they were busy working and thus were able to refrain from and/or didn’t have the time to use their tongues for destructive purposes. Or can also mean that because such a person was generous, he kept other mouths shut (three possibilities here: he fed others (so their mouths were shut), he worked for others (so people shut their mouths of speaking ill of him), or he worked and ensured to keep his mouth shut (through his selfless generosity)
**Alternatively, this line can mean that there were many who because they shut their mouths, they were able to open their hands, ie, they stayed quiet and thus were able to spend freely and work for others. Or because they kept their mouths closed from speaking ill, they were able to encourage others to open their hands in charity and good works.
Alternatively, this can be translated and summarized as =):
know-your-role-and-shut-your-mouth

Tafseer and Balaghah Questions, Part 2

kr’s note: The previous post regarding a balaghah(rhetoric) question I asked one of my teachers about the Qur’an was quite well received, so I figure another post on a similar topic might be of interest to my readers.

My Question:
So in Surah al-Ṣāffāt, there’s an interesting “refrain” of ayahs that’s always mentioned after each story of the Prophets mentioned, the four ayahs of “wa tarakna”… until “innahu min `ibadinal-mu’mineen”
But then when the story of Prophet Ibrahim (A) is mentioned, we see the “inna kadhalika” comes in 37:105:
قَدْ صَدَّقْتَ الرُّؤْيَا ۚ إِنَّا كَذَ‌ٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُحْسِنِينَ
and then when the “refrain” ayahs come, the “inna” is not present (37: 108-111)
وَتَرَكْنَا عَلَيْهِ فِي الْآخِرِينَ
سَلَامٌ عَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ
كَذَ‌ٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُحْسِنِينَ
إِنَّهُ مِنْ عِبَادِنَا الْمُؤْمِنِينَ
Any particular reason for this? Is it as simple as the “inna” is left out the second time because it was already mentioned in verse 105?
My Teacher’s Reply:

For two reasons, “Inna” is not mentioned the second time:

1) It was already mentioned in Ayah 105…as you mentioned…
2) In the other stories, the “Inna Kadhalika”…usually comes at the tail end of the story.  It usually comes in the second to last verse in each sequence, but in this story of Ibrahim (A), after verse #110. There is still a bit more of the story left with mention of Ishaq (A) so no “Inna” mentioned here otherwise one might think the story has ended.

Now the question arises: why is that type of verse (ie, كَذَ‌ٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُحْسِنِينَ) mentioned two times and for other prophets, it is only mentioned once?  Well,  because Ibrahim (A) is Ibrahim (A), he deserves the extra mention to distinguish him exclusively among all the other Prophets.

So the next question is, OK fine, the above points are understood, so why wasn’t the “Inna Kadhalika” mentioned at the tail end of the Surah as the other stories? Well…Ibrahim (A) is special and deserves to be treated differently from others.  His whole family made tremendous sacrifices in submitting to Allah, He was ready to sacrifice his son just because it was the order of Allah — that’s what you call submission! And that submission was so beloved that his story had to be distinguished accordingly, so the language had to reflect that Divine Acceptance.

The Profoundness of Spelling in the Arabic Language

kr’s note: I recently asked one of my teachers a question that I had been thinking about for a while. He gave such a fantastic response that I asked him permission to share it with everyone and he agreed. I personally was blown away by his excellent answer, and perhaps you all may find some benefit in this explanation as well.

—–

My Question: Quick question for you: usually we see the word “fitrah” (فطرة) is written with a ta-marbuta. But in Surah al-Rum, verse 30 (see below), it’s written with a ta rather than ta-marbutah. Any significance for this? I’ve read that certain Arab tribes would write it like this so the Qur’an uses this as well, but any specific reason that why within this particular ayah (which is a pretty powerful ayah) this spelling is used?

30:30

Then set your face upright for religion in the right state– the nature made by Allah in which He has made men; there is no altering of Allah’s creation; that is the right religion, but most people do not know–

My teacher’s reply:

ok..coming to your Fitrah question… a really really interesting question… a wonderful question… ok words of praise out of the way…

Next point…there are a few words which are written in a similar manner: words like ni’mat, rahmat, masiyat, lanat, etc. So yes, there are many words which are written like fitrat (فِطْرَتَ) , where the Taa is muftoohah or mabsootah, and they are not marbutah or maqboodah.

why have they been written as mubsootah? well…that’s how it was in the Rasm Uthmani (script) or there were tribes who wrote those words that way.

Also, a person can use their own logic to come up with reasons why those words have been written in every single place of its mention or only in certain places why it is mabsootah…so use your logic and do Qiyas….

So why was the word fitrah here written with an open taa in this ayah (فِطْرَتَ) ? The word Fitrah (فطرة)  denotes the innate nature present in every human to be inclined towards the worship of one creator if they make an effort to seek the
truth, i.e. worship of Allah. So every human should be open to accepting the truth because the pathways have been opened for him.

So the Taa in fitrah in this ayah (فِطْرَتَ)  is open and spread out because the soul is open to accepting the truth. That is how the soul has been created. That open acceptance is innate. If the soul was not created in such a manner, then the disbelievers would say that we never had the ability to accept the truth because our hearts and souls were sealed and we were created in this locked up chained up marbootah fashion. But in this verse, it is being pointed out that…no…your souls and your hearts and your minds were created in a manner that they would openly accept the truth because that is how they were created. You had the ability within you to cast away those shackles and chains of kufr and you didn’t need to stay locked up and closed up because the fitrah of Allah is open to every single human.

So that’s that…fascinating eh?

The next part…interesting stuff here…the letters FAA TAA RAA (فطر)  give the meaning of opening up something after a prolonged closure. That is why we have IFTAR (افطار) in Ramadhan. We open up our fast because we have been fasting so Fatoor/futoor (فطور) means to open our fast after fasting all day. So the amazing point here is that the Taa is open (ie, فِطْرَتَ)  and not closed and the word fitrah itself denotes and gives that meaning of being open!  So the word fitrah with the open taa (فِطْرَتَ)  here…is giving the meaning of “open” twice: once with the word fitrah with the three root letters and then secondly with the open taa.

The message here is simple: “Mankind! Humanity! Accept the “open” invitation from your creator and humble yourselves and submit!”

so carrying on… the root letters of fitrah giving the meaning of being opened after being closed. So we can say that the person’s soul is really closed till it opens up with the acceptance of Islam, and once the person returns to the fitrah state, it is only then that the soul and the heart are truly open. Otherwise, a person out of his own choice has sealed the mind/soul/heart by not opening up to the fitrah. So when a person accepts Islam, he has finally came out of that closed state and opened up and did iftar and maximized his fitrah.

Finally, the openness of the letter taa and the root meaning of fitrah conveying the meaning of “open”, both also hint towards this point that the religion of Allah (Islam) is open for everybody. It is not restricted like some religions and cults are.

The Popular Translation

kr’s note: This post was inspired by several talks I recently heard wherein I found the popular translation to be problematic.  I think that most people hear these translations and don’t make much of it, and consider to be a part of the normative dialogue. And it is true that while words have multiple interpretations and going between two complex languages such as Arabic (far more complex) and modern day English (filled with peculiarities) is a difficult task, it is important to understand how we come to understand seemingly unassuming ideas as well. Finally, this is not referring to academic translations but rather to refer to our everyday conversations, including our weekly Friday sermons.

The abundance of translation resources has opened new doors of accessibility in understanding sacred texts, especially the Qur’an. This is a useful thing, in most cases, given the seeker has an understanding a priori of what he is trying to find, and that accessing a particular resource is more a confirmation of what was already known, rather than an effort to inductively learn. The popular translation that results from this, especially in the discourses of those without knowledge of Arabic, can become problematic under certain conditions. Foremost among these problems is if a translation or understanding  of sacred text violates theology, either implicitly or explicitly, and this spreads among the popular discussions as a result.

This is not a matter of semantics, I believe, for Arabic is the most precise and scientific of languages. In the study of sacred texts, especially the Qur’an, one must understand that each word has a role in the overall understanding, that there is no randomness as to why a certain word was used in a given verse when perhaps several other words would have indicated the same thought. There is an academic as well as spiritual implication for these words, which is beyond the scope of this essay, but the larger point is to ask ourselves that in our efforts to understand divine texts in non-Arabic languages, not only must we ensure accuracy in translation, we must ensure our theology is preserved in the process.

For the sake of brevity, I will illustrate two examples of where the popular translation may undermine theology.

The first example is the popular translation of Surah al-Duha, Verse 7. The verse ( وَوَجَدَكَ ضَآلاًّ۬ فَهَدَىٰ  ) is often translated as “And He found you (O Prophet(S)) lost (wandering) and He guided you” or some variation of the sort. [1]  Indeed, looking at even the popular written translations (eg, Yusuf Ali, Pickthall, etc), there is a preponderance of using the word “found”.   In Arabic, the verb (وَجَدَ) indeed means to find, which implies that the one finding has lost something. This works well for humans, for we lose things all the time and then find them.[2] But it doesn’t work so well for God, because He doesn’t “find” in the way we find things because that would imply He has lost something in the first place, which we all know would be completely antithetical to Allah’s All-Knowingness. Now, there is room for nuance in English as well because we use the word “find” in non-literal senses as well, for example, “I found Assassin’s Creed 3 to be ridiculously awesome” or something similar, so one can make the argument that the translation implies this sense of the word “found”, and if so, then that’s OK, because then (وَجَدَ) would be understood as “He knew” (عَلِمَ). This is similarly how we should view this word in this verse.

A more problematic one is how to translate/explain the word ( ضَآلاًّ۬). Here the translations again mainly use a similar word “lost/unguided/wandering”, which is a literal translation of the word. For example, (ضَآلّة) literally refers to a lost camel that wanders in the desert. People get lost all the time, and that’s fine in the sense of traveling and not knowing directions. And people may be lost and wandering religiously before they come into Islam, and that’s fine too. But we can’t use this same word or have a similar understanding–ḥāsha-lillah–for the Prophet (S). He was not “wandering” or “unguided” before the formalization of his Prophethood. Our theological understanding is that Prophets are always Prophets since the time of spiritual creation (in the rūḥ state), and that the Prophet (S) was the first of creation. [3] It is blasphemous to think that the Prophet (S) was misguided or not aware of Allah before Prophethood. While several of the translations on the above link do a better job [4] with this verse, our overall understanding must not be one wherein we equate the Prophet’s (S) pre-Prophethood state to a pre-convert state.

A second example is the popular verse (2:152) (فَٱذۡكُرُونِىٓ أَذۡكُرۡكُمۡ وَٱشۡڪُرُواْ لِى وَلَا تَكۡفُرُونِ). The popular translation, including the one often mentioned by our neighborhood khateebs (may Allah bless and preserve them) is along the lines of “So remember me and I shall remember you…”. For humans, we tend to forget [5], so remembrance for us is necessary. The Qur’an reminds us that in essence, all of Revelation is to remind human beings of the primordial truth of Allah’s Oneness that they already knew and testified to long before they came into this world. The word remembrance therefore includes a prerequisite of forgetting. For Allah, clearly He is All-Knowing and His Knowledge is absolute and He never forgets. So our understanding of “I shall remember you” cannot include a sense of Him “remembering” us because He never forgets about us(20:52), even when we forget about Him. A more holistic understanding of this verb is needed here as well, one that includes ideas such as Allah elevating us when we remember Him; causing us to be remembered by the Angels when we remember Him; etc.

Again, these are beyond semantics because I have heard in both sermons and popular conversation people talk about these ayahs with an understanding that violates theology. For example, I recently heard one well-intentioned khateeb state that if one does not remember Allah, Allah will “forget” that person. He was clearly trying to inspire the audience to make more dhikr, which is great, but the idea that Allah will “forget” was problematic.

I believe we can use the popular translation terms (eg, “found”, “remember” as used in the above examples) but there needs to be an explanation when using these terms to avoid casting doubt or misunderstanding into the minds of the audience. This may require a few more sentences by a speaker to clarify, especially in public settings, but seems to be a necessary addition. Translation allows for people to understand and appreciate sacred texts in their respective languages, but we must ensure that theology is preserved at all costs. There is no benefit to understanding a verse if that leads to misunderstanding God.

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Footnotes
[1]
For a comparison of 40+ translations of this verse, this webpage is useful

[2]
Or in my case, my wife, mom, etc., end up finding them for me since I never know where “x” is.

[3]
It is related that Jabir ibn `Abd Allah said to the Prophet : “O Messenger of Allah, may my father and mother be sacrificed for you, tell me of the first thing Allah created before all things.” He said: “O Jabir, the first thing Allah created was the light of your Prophet from His light, and that light remained (lit. “turned”) in the midst of His Power for as long as He wished, and there was not, at that time, a Tablet or a Pen or a Paradise or a Fire or an angel or a heaven or an earth. And when Allah wished to create creation, he divided that Light into four parts and from the first made the Pen, from the second the Tablet, from the third the Throne, [and from the fourth everything else].”

[4]
For example, Mufti Taqi’s translation “And He found you unaware of the way (the Shari‘ah ), then He guided you” is better. For a slightly more mystical understanding, this is good: “He found you lost in (His) love (and that of His people), and gave you guidance (so as to enable you help the people reach the goal).” I believe our understanding here must be a holistic one, but more importantly, we cannot think that the Prophet was “not guided”.

[5]
It is part of human nature to forget. The scholars of language state the word for man (insān) is related to the verb (نَسِىَ) which means “to forget”