Nafs Lawwamah – A Khutbah

God the Exalted, in two short verses, ties the fate of humanity to “a day” and the means to salvation on that day by swearing by them both:

لَا أُقْسِمُ بِيَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ – وَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ

There is, by God’s oath, no doubt as to the truth of the Day of Judgment as well as the kind of soul that will find clemency there. The self-reproaching soul (نفس لوامة). As many commentators have pointed out, the term lawwamah (لوّامة) is an inflection that gives the sense of one who does such an action habitually that it comes to define that person. For example, the word for blacksmith, haddad (حدّاد) is also derived from this same form, giving the meaning that one who works with iron (hadid – حديد) to such an extent that that person becomes defined by that action. Similarly, the nafs lawwamah is that soul which calls itself into account with such frequency that God the Exalted defines that soul by this action and swears by it. Similarly, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, in his Tafsir al-Kabir, explains this term:

أنها هي النفوس الشريفة التي لا تزال تلوم نفسها وإن اجتهدت في الطاعة وعن الحسن

“It (nafs lawwamah) is that noble soul which does not refrain from rebuking itself and thus strives in obedience and doing good.”

Similarly, al-Mahalli and his student, Imam al-Suyuti, may God have mercy on them both, state something similar:

النفس اللوامة التي تلوم نفسها وإن اجتهدت في الإحسان

“The nafs lawwamah is that which criticizes itself and strives for perfection (ihsan).

It should be noted that this form of self-criticism is not criticism for the sake of criticism nor is it to be taken to extreme lengths. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم admonished his Community against inveighing against oneself to extremes:

لاَ يَقُلْ أَحَدُكُمْ خَبُثَتْ نَفْسِي ‏.‏ وَلْيَقُلْ لَقِسَتْ نَفْسِي

“None of you should say, ‘my soul has become evil or tainted’, but rather one should say my soul has become covetous.”Sahih Muslim.

At any rate, we can see a strong connection between the Day of Judgment and the self-criticizing soul. We are warned against taking this to the extreme. And lastly, I leave some words for contemplation, advice, from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم on how we might develop the habit of reproaching ourselves:

الكيسُ منْ دانَ نفسَهُ، و عملَ لمَا بعدَ الموتِ، و العاجزُ منْ أَتْبَعَ نفسَهُ هواهَا، و تمنَّى على اللهِ الأمانيَّ

“The intelligent person is the one who indicts his own soul and works for what comes after death while the imbecile is he that, having fallen under the authority of his passions, asks God for frivolities.”Tirmidhi amongst others.

Listen to the khutbah here.

Islam – Religion of Action Not Just Philosophy

Islam is a din of action not just philosophy. It is more than the decadent acquisition of knowledge. Many times we as Muslims describe the key tenets of our faith as abstracts: taqwa, ihsan (for a definition of taqwa, see the Glossary), etc. And yet, these two words, as they are used in the Qur’an are often in the imperative form: in other words, taqwa and ihsan are things you do, not simply think.

Who are the people of taqwa? God says:

لَّيْسَ ٱلْبِرَّ أَن تُوَلُّوا۟ وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ ٱلْمَشْرِقِ وَٱلْمَغْرِبِ وَلَٰكِنَّ ٱلْبِرَّ مَنْ ءَامَنَ بِٱللَّهِ وَٱلْيَوْمِ ٱلْءَاخِرِ وَٱلْمَلَٰٓئِكَةِ وَٱلْكِتَٰبِ وَٱلنَّبِيِّۦنَ وَءَاتَى ٱلْمَالَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِۦ ذَوِى ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ وَٱلْيَتَٰمَىٰ وَٱلْمَسَٰكِينَ وَٱبْنَ ٱلسَّبِيلِ وَٱلسَّآئِلِينَ وَفِى ٱلرِّقَابِ وَأَقَامَ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَءَاتَى ٱلزَّكَوٰةَ وَٱلْمُوفُونَ بِعَهْدِهِمْ إِذَا عَٰهَدُوا۟ ۖ وَٱلصَّٰبِرِينَ فِى ٱلْبَأْسَآءِ وَٱلضَّرَّآءِ وَحِينَ ٱلْبَأْسِ ۗ أُو۟لَٰٓئِكَ ٱلَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا۟ ۖ وَأُو۟لَٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْمُتَّقُونَ

“Goodness does not lie in turning your faces to the East or to the West. Rather, those with true devoutness are those who believe in God and the Last Day, the Angels, the Book and the Prophets, and who, despite their love for it, give away their wealth to their relatives and to orphans and the very poor, and to travellers and beggars and to set slaves free, who establish prayer and pay zakah; those who honor their contracts when they make them, and are steadfast even in poverty, illness, or duress. Those are the people who are prove truthful. They are the people who have taqwa.” Qur’an, 2: 177.

Likewise, regarding ihsan, God says:

وَٱبْتَغِ فِيمَآ ءَاتَىٰكَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلدَّارَ ٱلْءَاخِرَةَ ۖ وَلَا تَنسَ نَصِيبَكَ مِنَ ٱلدُّنْيَا ۖ وَأَحْسِن كَمَآ أَحْسَنَ ٱللَّهُ إِلَيْكَ ۖ وَلَا تَبْغِ ٱلْفَسَادَ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ ۖ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُفْسِدِينَ

“Seek the abode of the Next World with what Allah has given you, without forgetting your portion of this world. And do good as Allah has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption in the earth. Allah does not love corrupters.” Qur’an, 28: 77.

A lack action, something we are guilty of as a community, is one of the things the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم warned us about:

النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال‏:‏ ‏”‏ خيركم قرني، ثم الذين يلونهم، ثم الذين يلونهم‏”‏ قال عمران‏:‏ فما أدري قال‏:‏ النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم مرتين أو ثلاثاً ‏”‏ ثم يكون بعدهم قوم يشهدون ولا يستشهدون، ويخونون ولا يؤتمنون، وينذرون ولا يوفون، ويظهر فيهم السمن

The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: said, “The best of you, are my contemporaries, then those who follow them, then those who will come after them. (‘Imran said, I do not know if he said this twice or thrice). Then, they will be followed by those who will testify but will not be called upon to testify; they will betray the trust, and will not be trusted. They will make vows but will not fulfill them, and obesity will prevail among them.” Related by ‘Imran bin al-Husayn as well as Ibn ‘Umar from Ibn Hibban amongst others.

Truthfulness is not simply a state of mind but also what one does. Both the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and Abu Bakr رضى الله عنه had titles, based on their actions:

  • Abu Bakr was “al-Siddiq” because he did actions of trustworthiness and came to be known by them/كيف سمّى أبا بكر “الصديق”؟ قد تصدق
  • The Prophet was called “al-Amin” because he was reliable, trustworthy and saw to others/كيف سمّى النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم؟ قد أمن وأمّن

And with God is all success.

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Exercise in Islamization – Should(n’t) Islam Equal Good Design (?)

The following is an exercise in “Islamization”. Islamization may feel too large or charged a term but it is precisely the word I plan to use with a group of MSA students this weekend at our retreat. The idea behind Islamization is that one looks to one’s environment and is able to see, infuse or somehow impose or appropriate purpose upon that thing in such away it reminds oneself of God, of the Messenger صلى لله عليه وسلم or some other “Islamic” principle by which we can enrich our lives as Muslims.

All too often I see Muslims (particularly young Muslims) laboring underneath a cloud of inferiority, insecurity and just plain doubt as to what they can (or most likely) can’t do as Muslims. Part of this ailment hails from a lack of intellectual authority over their lives as Muslims. Simply put, they are not literate as Muslims, despite the fact that many are highly educated. So when I came across a documentary this weekend on Netflix entitled Objectified,  I was struck by Japanese designer, Naoto Fukasawa, when he expressed what he felt “good design” was:

“Design dissolving in behavior. Design needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.” – Naoto Fukasawa, industrial designer, former head of IDEO.

Immediately, my mind went to not design, but to Islam. For was not Islam something that should be and come natural to the human being? So I played a little experiment that I shall continue this weekend, but substituting the keyword of “design” with a variety of “Islamic” vocabulary in order to appropriate an idea/ideal, whose origin was not “Islamic” per se, but nonetheless, resonated well, exceptionally well in my opinion, in that it showcased the ghaayah or goal that Islam has with the human being and thus provided some clues as to how one must just go about “dissolving [it] in [one’s] behavior”:

Islam dissolving in behavior. Islam needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Qur’an dissolving in behavior. Qur’an needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Sunnah dissolving in behavior. Sunnah needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Taqwa dissolving in behavior. Taqwa needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Ihsan dissolving in behavior. Ihsan needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Adab dissolving in behavior. Adab needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Akhlaq dissolving in behavior. Akhlaq needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Shari’ah dissolving in behavior. Shari’ah needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.

Finding Our Moral Compass

Finding Our Moral Compass is a two-part lecture regarding the fundamental principles of Islamic spirituality (tasawwuf) and a discussion of the stations of certitude (maqamat al-yaqin) based on the work of ‘Abd al-Wahid b. ‘Ashir, Al-Murshid Al-Mu’in, with additional insights taken from Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali’s, Garden of the Seekers and Reliance of the Travelers (Rawdat al-Talibin wa ‘Umdat al-Salikin).

The text for this lecture is based on al-Murshid Al-Mu’in ‘ala al-Daruri min ‘Ulum al-Din (The Helpful Guide to Essential Religious Knowledge) has been studied by Maliki students of Morocco for over 3 centuries. The author is ‘Abd Al-Wahid b. ‘Ashir (1040 AH/1631 CE), a versatile scholar from Fes, Morocco. This work covers the fundamentals of the three pivotal topics of the Islamic teachings: Islam, Iman, and Ihsan (practice, belief, and ethics). Our focus will be in the third area (Ihsan). In particular, we will concentrate on what Ibn ‘Ashir terms ‘The stations of certitude’ (maqamat al-yaqin) after an introduction into the principles of the Islamic conception of moral refinement.

Shaykh Abdullah Ali’s lectures are an excellent opportunity for Muslims looking to expand their depth of understanding of Islam as well as glean some insights on how to elevate their practice of the religion.