Beyond Halal-Meanings and Significance of Food in Islam

Sadly, the Muslim discourse on food has mostly revolved around the practice of Islamically slaughtered meat. This has led to a conflation of terms: halal/حلال with dhabihah/ذبيحة. Despite the claims to the contrary, there is a difference of opinion on the necessity to eat only dhabihah meat. But what is more tragic is that while Muslims obsess axiomatic about halal meat (hereafter referred to as dhabihah), they miss the forest for the trees in terms of whether nor such meats are good/طيب.

There are numerous Qur’anic verses that deal with the topic of food and eating and a great many of them emphasize “the good”, in Arabic known as tayyib/طيب. Oddly enough, this component, “the good,” is seldom discussed in terms of Muslim dietary needs. Being that “the good” is often expressed as a command from God (see examples below), how is it that Muslims are so unhealthy? Indeed, health seems to pass under the radar of Muslims despite the large number of Muslims who work in the health and medical fields.

Like so many things in is Islam, it is not simply concerned with the lawful, but also with the good. Oddly enough, it seems to be non-Muslims who are picking up on this notion, as halal is increasingly seen as a potentially health food choice:

Chickens: [are] raised in huge flocks indoors under crowded conditions, treated with antibiotics to prevent illness and promote rapid growth, and are ready to slaughter six weeks after hatching. Look for birds that were raised free-range without antibiotics and are Certified Organic, kosher, or halal.

I have noticed that a number of food products, from meat to even vitamins (the current brand of fish oil I use from Minami Nutrition uses halal gelatin for its capsules) which are looking to halal as a representative of organic or “the good.” The question I posed in the topic was: Is it possible, like kosher, to expand the notion or halal (which simply means “lawful” in fiqh terms)—increasingly seen as organic, etc.—to include non-meat items, whereby halal comes to be understand as “the good,”, a.k.a., tayyib. In other words, eating as a Muslim means to eat well. In order to do so, Muslims will need to stop conflating rules for principles (something Muslims do in many circles, not just related to food).

A friend of mine left me with some food for thought: Perhaps Muslims obsess about dhabihah, not solely out of a desire to gain God’s favor, but as a means of cultural, societal and even civilizational protest. Indeed, I know of many Muslims who hail from so-called cultural Muslim backgrounds that do not maintain regular prayers but are adamant on insisting they eat only dhabihah meat. I am left wondering about his insight on this issue.

كلو من طيبت ما رزقنكم

“Eat from that which is good from what We have provided for you.” [Qur’an, 2: 57]

يأيه الناس كلوا مما فى الأرض حللا طيبا ولا تتبعوا خطوت الشيطن إنه لكم عدو مبين

“O people!, eat from the good lawful things of the earth and do not follow in the footsteps of Shaytan as he is a clear enemy to you.” [Qur’an, 2: 168]

يأيها الذين ءامنوا كلوا من طيبت ما رزقنكم واشكرا لله إن كنتم إياه تعبدون

“O you who profess faith!, eat from that which is good that We have provided for you and show gratitude if indeed it is God alone you worship.” [Qur’an, 2: 172]

فكلوا مما ذكر اسم الله عليه إن كنتم بئايته مؤمنين

“Therefore eat from that which God’s name has been mentioned over if indeed you are believers in God’s Sign.” [Qur’an, 6: 118]

The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food?” – Joel Salatin.

You, as a food buyer, have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit,” Joel Salatin.

لا طريق إلى الوصول للقاء الله إلا بالعلم والعمل ولا تمكن المواظبة عليهما إلا بسلامة البدل

“There is no path to arriving at one’s meeting with God except by acquiring knowledge and deeds and yet there can be no establishing devotion to them except with a sound body,” al-Ghazzali

 

Further Readings

The Labels Halal & Zabihah and Why I Choose Local and Organic Instead: why some Muslims are looking to other alternatives to old-school halal.

Eat halaal! Organic is no substitute: an article on fellow blogger, Indigo Jo’s website. A response to the Hijabman’s article.

Polyface Farms: one of the most influential organic farms in America run by Joel Salatin.

Beyond Halal: a website/blog dedicated to looking at food beyond the realm of the permissible. They have a post feature the above articles, yours truly and more!

The Heart – A Khutbah at the University of Pennsylvania

The believer and the heart: how it can be influenced. How it should be protected.

Concerns of the Heart: [audio:http://www.marcmanley.com/media/mp3s/khutbahs/2011-12-16-upenn-the-heart.mp3|titles=Concerns of the Heart|artists=Marc Manley]

Protecting one’s heart

  • From without: الحواسّ الخمس
  • From within: suggestive imagination [الخيال]; passions [الشهوة]; anger [الغضب].

Our hearts are troubled by the things we see but we should take comfort in knowing that God is always manifesting His Truth:

وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَآ إِلَىٰٓ أُمَمٍ مِّن قَبْلِكَ فَأَخَذْنَٰهُم بِٱلْبَأْسَآءِ وَٱلضَّرَّآءِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَضَرَّعُونَ
فَلَوْلَآ إِذْ جَآءَهُم بَأْسُنَا تَضَرَّعُوا۟ وَلَٰكِن قَسَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَزَيَّنَ لَهُمُ ٱلشَّيْطَٰنُ مَا كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ
فَلَمَّا نَسُوا۟ مَا ذُكِّرُوا۟ بِهِۦ فَتَحْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ أَبْوَٰبَ كُلِّ شَىْءٍ حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا فَرِحُوا۟ بِمَآ أُوتُوٓا۟ أَخَذْنَٰهُم بَغْتَةًۭ فَإِذَا هُم مُّبْلِسُونَ

“We sent Messengers to nations before you, and afflicted those nations with hardship and distress so that hopefully they would humble themselves (42). If only they had humbled themselves when Our violent force came upon them! However, their hearts were hard and Shaytan made what they were doing seem attractive to them. (43) When they forgot what they had been reminded of, We opened up for them the doors to everything, until, when they were exulting in what they had been given, We suddenly seized them and at once they were in despair (44).” – Qur’an, 6: 42-44.

Involuntary suggestions: protect yourself from influences.

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: اتق الله حيهما كنت وأتبع السيئة الَحسنةَ تمحها وخالق الناس بخلق حسن – الترمذي

“The Messenger of God said: ‘Keep God in mind wherever you are; follow a bad deed with a good so that it offsets it and treat people with courtesy.’ Al-Tirmidhi”.

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: أكثر ما يدخل الجنة تقوى الله وحسن الخلق

“The Messenger of God said: ‘What allows many to enter paradise is taqwa of God and good character.’ Al-Tirmidhi”.

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: الزنا يوثر الفقر

“The Messenger of God said: ‘Illicit sex begets poverty.’ Al-Suyuti on ‘Abd-Allah ibn ‘Umar”.

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: ما أعز الله بجهل قط ولا أذل بعلم قط ولا نقصت صدقة من مال

“The Messenger of God said: ‘Illicit sex begets poverty.’ Al-Daylami on ‘Abd-Allah ibn ‘Umar”.

أَلَمْ يَأْنِ لِلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ أَن تَخْشَعَ قُلُوبُهُمْ لِذِكْرِ ٱللَّهِ وَمَا نَزَلَ مِنَ ٱلْحَقِّ وَلَا يَكُونُوا۟ كَٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا۟ ٱلْكِتَٰبَ مِن قَبْلُ فَطَالَ عَلَيْهِمُ ٱلْأَمَدُ فَقَسَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ ۖ وَكَثِيرٌۭ مِّنْهُمْ فَٰسِقُونَ

“Has the time not arrived for the hearts of those who have iman to yield to the remembrance of Allah and to the truth He has sent down, so they are not like those who were given the Book before for whom the time seemed over long so that their hearts became hard? Many of them are deviators.” Qur’an, 57: 16.

Time: A Khutbah

اقترب للناس حسابهم و هم في غفلة معرضون (۱) ما ياتيهم من ذكر من ربهم محدث إلا استمعوه و هم يلعبون (۲) لاهية قلوبهم و أسرو النجوى الذين ظلموا هل هذآ إلا بشر مثلكم أفتاتون السحر و أنتم تبصرون (٣) قال ربى يعلم القول في السماء و الأرض و هو السميع العليم (٤)

Mankind’s Reckoning has drawn very close to them, yet they heedlessly turn away (1). No fresh reminder comes to them from their Lord without their listening to it as if it was a game (2). Their hearts are distracted. Those who do wrong confer together secretly, saying, ‘Is this man anything but a human being like yourselves? Do you succumb to magic with your eyes wide open?’ (3). Say: ‘My Lord knows what is said in heaven and earth. He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.’ (4). [Qur’an: 21: 1-5]

ألهاكم التكاثر حتى زرتم المقابر كلا سوف سيعلمون ثم كلا سيعلمون

You are distracted in excessive accumulation! So much so, that you visit graves. No!, you will come to know. No indeed!, you will come to know! [Qur’an: 102: 1-4]

Time in the Dunya is a serious affair. Serious in a way in which we know this life “isn’t it”. We should never have the opinion of just “killing time” or just being distracted with nonsense, so much so, that in the tafsir of these verses, that you either do so all your life until you “visit the grave” or that you take competition/bragging/مفاخرة to such an extent, you have to go and visit the graves of your dead as did Banu Sahm and Banu ‘Abd al-Manaf. We must be careful with what we do with our time. We will be held accountable.

الله نور السماوات و الأرض مثل نوره كمشكاة فيها مصباح المصباح في زجاجة الزجاجة كأنها كوكب درّى يوقد من شجرة مبركة زيتونة لا شرقية و لا غربية يكاد زيتها يضيء و لو لم تمسسه نار نور على نور يهدى الله لنوره من يشاء و يضرب الله الأمثال للناس و الله بكل شيء عليم (٣٥) في بيوت أذن الله أن ترفع و يدكر فيها امسه يسبح له فيها بالغدو و الأصال (٣٦) رجال لا تلهيهم تجارة و لا بيع عن ذكر الله و إقام الصلوة و إيتاء الزكوة يخافون يوما تتقلب فيه القلوب و الأبصار (٣٧) ليجزيهم الله أحسن ما عملوا و يزيدهم من فضله و الله يرزق من يشاء بغير حساب (٣٨)

God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The metaphor of His Light is that of a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, the glass like a brilliant star, lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor of the west, its oil all but giving off light even if no fire touches it. Light upon Light. God guides to His Light whoever He wills and Allah makes metaphors for mankind and God has knowledge of all things (35). In houses which God has permitted to be built and in which His name is remembered, there are men who proclaim His glory morning and evening (36), not distracted by trade or commerce from the remembrance of God and the establishment of salah and the payment of zakah; fearing a day when all hearts and eyes will be in turmoil (37) — so that God can reward them for the best of what they did and give them more from His unbounded favor. God provides for anyone He wills without reckoning (38). [Qur’an: 24: 35-38]

Food for thought: This was very timely, even though it was written in 1934. Just substitute “Muslim” for “art” in relation to our approach to Qur’an, Sunnah, fiqh, etc.:

When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement.”

— John Dewey, from Art As Experience. Again, the analogy that can be drawn between Islamic law/studies and what Dewey calls “art” here is intriguing.

Knowledge of the truth about the world of empirical things can indeed be achieved and increased through inquiry made by generations of mankind. But true knowledge has an immediate bearing on the individual man as it pertains to his identity and destiny, and he cannot afford to suspend his judgment concerning its truth, as it is not meant to be something that can be discovered eventually by future generations.”

Islam, Secularism and the Philosophy of the Future by Syed Muhammad Naqib al-Attas.

We must strive to be observant for time can pass and actions can be made to seem good to us, even though in reality, they may not be pleasing to God!

تالله لقدَ اَرسلنا إلى أُمَمٍ من قبلك فزين لهم الشيطان أعمالهم فهو وليهم اليومَ و لهم عذاب اَليم

By God!, We sent Messengers to communities before your time, but Shaytan made their actions seem good to them. Therefore today he is their protector. They will have a painful punishment. [Qur’an: 16: 63 ]

و إذا مس الإنسان الضر دعانا لجنبه أو قاعدا و قائما – فلما كشفنا عنه ضره مر كأن لّم يدعنا إلى ضر مسه – كذالك زين للمسرفين ما كانوا يعملون

And when calamity touches mankind, he calls out to Us, on his side, sitting down, or standing. Yet when We remove his affliction, he passes along as if he never cried out to us when the harm touched him. In this way the deeds of the musrifun are made to seem fair and pleasing to them. [Qur’an: 10: 12]

Note: God did not say ما كانوا يفعلون but said ما كانوا يعملون. The significance here is deeds, not simply actions. In otherwords, worship.A musrif is someone who squanders, who wastes, who is immoderate.

Make good use of your time!

و لا يحسبن الذين كفروا أنما نملى لهم خيرٌ لأنفسهم – إنما نملى لهم ليزدادوا إثما – و لهم عذاب مهين

Those who are kafir should not imagine that the extra time We grant to them is good for them. We only allow them more time so they will increase in evildoing. They will have a humiliating punishment. [Qur’an: 3: 178]

The Purpose of Time

و جعلنا اليل و النهار ءايتين – فمحونا ءاية اليل و جعلنا ءاية النهار مبصرة لتبتغوا فضلا من ربكم ولتعلموا عدد السنين و الحساب – و كلَ شىء فصلناه تفصيلا

We made the night and day two Signs. We blotted out the Sign of the night and made the Sign of the day a time for seeing so that you can seek favor from your Lord and will know the number of years and the reckoning of time. We have made all things very clear. [Qur’an: 17: 12]

أمن هو قانت – انآء الليلِ ساجدا و قائما يحذر الاخرةَ و يرجوا رحمة ربه

What of him who spends the night hours in prayer, prostrating and standing up, mindful of the Next World, hoping for the mercy of his Lord? [Qur’an: 39: 9]

Time Management

Be cognizant of time, as Shaytan will whisper to you to make time for this and that useless thing. It is an illusion that we have time, especially because we think we are young. Manage the time and space of your affairs!

Imam al-Ghazzali, may God have mercy on him, left us with this excellent advice:

اجتهد أن لا يراك حيث نهاك و لا يفقدك حيث أمرك قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم قال عز و جل ما تقرب إلي المتقربون بمثل أداء ما افترضته

Managing time and affairs. Strive to not be seen where God has forbidden you to be and likewise, strive to not be found absent where God has commanded you to be. The Messenger of God, peace and blessings upon him, said: “God the Almighty has declared: ‘no one draws closer to Me, from those who draw close, than by maintaining what I have made obligatory on him.’”

Listen and download the khutbah here.

Library of Islamic Books and Documents

For the students of Islamic studies, lay or otherwise, I thought, as I go, I would like to or provide books or other documents for download. I may also provide some reviews for books I’ve read in English on Islamic studies as well.

Books For Viewing & Download

‘Ilm Tajwid al-Qur’an علم تجويد القرآن: [download PDF] a concise introduction to science of  tajwid (rules for reciting the Qur’an) by Syrian scholar, Muhammad Hisham al-Burhani. Shaykh al-Burhani has been a faculty member of the University of Damascus in the department of Islamic jurisprudence [fiqh] as well as having spent some time in the Gulf, teaching at the University of al-‘Ayn [جامعة العين في أبي ظبي] in Abu Dhabi. I will be using elements of this book to teach a tajwid class for UPenn’s MSA, starting Spring 2012.

Kitab al-Miftah fi al-Sarf كتاب المفتاح في الصرف: [download PDF] a short introduction to sarf (morphology) by the medieval scholar of Arabic language, al-Jurjani (full name Abu Bakr Abd al-Qāhir bin Abd al-Rahman bin Muhammad al-Jurjānī). The work here is a short but concise intro to the study of Arabic morphology. Recommended for students who are able to read in Arabic but are looking to tackle the study of sarf in the Arabic language.

Bidayah al-Hidayah: [download PDF] a classic in the field of Muslim spirituality as well as moral and ethical excellence, Imam al-Ghazzali’s Beginning of Guidance is also available in a bilingual edition translated by Mashhad al-Allaf via White Thread Press.

Tafsir Ibn Abi Hatim: [download PDF] a large early tafsir by Abu Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn Abi Hatim al-Razi [born in al-Rayy in 240/854]. The son of a well-respected scholar, Abu Hatim al-Razi, this tafsir is based on the accounts of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم, the Companions, and the Inheritors [may God be pleased with all of them]: امتاز هذا التفسير بأنه جمع بين دفتيه تفسير الكتاب بالسنة و آثار الصحابة و البابعين بالإسناد.

Hikam Ibn ‘Ata Allah: [download PDF] a collection of aphorisms by the Alexandrian scholar. A few minor errors in the copy until I get a chance to re-type a new one. English and Arabic edition.

al-I’tisam: [Vol. 1 and Vol. 2PDF; Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 .docx; ebook format with .epub and .mobi files] by Imam al-Shatibi—literally translated as Holding Fast—is an important volume on fiqh, especially as it relates to the Sunnah. The two volumes go into detail on such important topics as bid’ah, as well as clarifying actions and spontaneous actions. I hope to be able to translate this work into English.

Sunan al-Darimi: [download the PDF] the author’s full name being ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Darimi (181H–255H), his Sunan is a hadith collection among the other prominent collections such as the Muwatta’ of Imam Malik and the Musnad of Imam Ahmad, etc. Despite its title as a Musnad, it is not arranged by narrator in the manner of other musnads, such as that of Tayalisi or Ibn Hanbal. It is arranged by subject matter in the manner of a book of Sunan, like the Sunan Ibn Majah.

al-Mudawwanah [10 parts]: a classic Maliki text on fiqh. I wrote a small piece about it here. Download the 10 parts here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 [PDF’s].

Matn al-Risalah of Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani: [download the PDF]. Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani was a scholar devoted to the education of the youth. His scholarship still remains in a prominent position as one of the earliest proponents of education in history. The book is a summary of the main aspects of Aqidah (Faith), Fiqh (Jurisprudence) and Akhlaq (character), and explains the essences of education in terms of these three principles. It was divided into 45 small, easy to read and understand chapters.

Mushaf al-Sahabah: a small volume [PDF] on the 10 recitations via the accounts of the Companions.

Sahih Ibn Hibban [two parts]: 1, and 2 [PDF’s]. A great muhadith and Shaykh, Muhammad Ibn Hibban al-Busti [also known as Ibn Habban], died in the year 354/965. His collection of hadith were compiled as Sahih Ibn Hibban. The hadiths in his book are arranged neither as in a musannaf nor as in a musnad. Ali b. Balban rearranged the hadiths and published them as al-Ihsan Fi Taqrīb Sahih Ibn Hibban. Ibn Hibban’s collection contains 2647 hadiths, which do not appear in the collections of Bukhari or Muslim, published in legal order in the book Mawarid al-Zam’an Ila Zawa’id Ibn Hibban by Nur al-Din ‘Ali b. Abi Bakr al-Haythami.

al-Wabil al-Sayyib: by reknowned scholar Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah [download the PDF]. The volume, also know in English as The Invocation of God, is a commentary on his master’s work [Shaykh al-Islam, Ibn Taymiyya], al-Kalim al-Tayyib, or The Goodly Word, also available in English.

Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah [in 3 parts]: a short hadith collection from one of the early sources. Volume 1, 2, and 3 in PDF format.

Sahih al-Bukhari [in 12 parts]: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. All are Microsoft Word documents [.doc extension]. This files will only work on a PC to my knowledge, as the font is formatted for the PC. However, if you have a dual-book Mac with a PC side, it should work.

Sahih al-Bukhari [in 12 parts]: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. All are PDF documents. These files are best if your machine [Mac, for example] cannot read the Arabic font from a PC.

Mukhtasar al-Akhdari: a short Maliki text on worship [‘ibadat] by the reknown scholar Abu Zayd ‘Abd al-Rahman Bin Muhammad al-Sagir al-Akhdari. Word .doc, PDF or eBook format — Arabic only.

Tafsir al-Jalalayn: one of the most significant tafsīrs for the study of the Qur’an, Tafsir al-Jalalayn is generally regarded as one of the most easily accessible works of Qur’anic exegesis because of its simple style and one volume length. Download as a PDF.

Mushaf Riwayah Warsh ‘an Nafi’: a PDF document. For audio files of the entire Qur’an in the Warsh recitation, see here.

Mushaf Riwayah Qalun ‘an Nafi’: a PDF document. For audio files of the entire Qur’an in the Qalun recitation, see here.

Mushaf al-Susi min Abi ‘Amru al-Basri: a PDF document. For audio files of the entire Qur’an in the al-Susi recitation, see here.

Mushaf Riwayah Khalaf ‘an Hamzah: a PDF document. For audio files of the entire Qur’an in the Khalaf ‘an Hamzah recitation, see here.

Hans Wehr Arabic-English Dictionary: The Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic is an Arabic-English dictionary compiled by Hans Wehr and edited by J Milton Cowan. First published in 1961 by Otto Harrassowitz in Wiesbaden, Germany. Download as a PDF.

Muslim Development Course – Round One: Class Notes

Course Objective: to encourage the development of Muslim thought, action, and behavior, both individual and social, in such a way that our practice of Islam reflects a deeper and more personal understanding, ownership, and embodiment of the divine principles on our part, found in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him.

Here’s a short list of the things we’ll look at in this course: Who are we? Before we can understand Islam we must know ourselves. Prologue – Life in the Hijaz: to what extent does jahili life play in our understanding of Islam? Revelation – big “R” versus little “r”: Allah as the God of nature and human history. Topography: Getting a lay of the land: the Prophet’s heritage and the build up to the Revelation. Introduction to Qur’anic Language: re-textualization: how did Allah make use of preexisting terms and ascribe new meanings to them? How is this important for us to understand? Introduction of Muslim Morals and Ethics: themes from the early Revelation.

  • Day One
  • Day Two & Three
  • Day Four

Day One

Here are some quick notes of the topics we talked about today

Taqwa: What’s In A Word?

We took a quick look at the word taqwa, from a few lines of Jāhiliyyah poetry, and examined what it meant. In the Mu’allaqah, Zuhayr said:

و قال سأقضي حاجتي ثم أتقي * عدوي بألف من روائى ملجم

“I will satisfy my vengeance [on my brother’s killer by taking his life!], then I will defend myself from their reprisal with a thousand horses, all bridled in support of my cause!”

Wa qāla sa-aqdī hājatī thumma a’ttaqī ‘aduwwī bi alfin min rawā’ī muljami.

The important thing to note here is the use of taqwa– it’s the word that Zuhayr uses to “defend himself”.  To help define this, let’s look at what al-Tabrizi says, concerning taqwa:

الإتقاء أن تجعل بينك و بين ما تخافه حاجزا يحفظك

“Taqwā is the idea that you [A] place something — a barrier — [C] between yourself and that which you fear could destroy you [B].”

What al-Tabrizi is us is that taqwa is a type of self-defense or self-preservation system or technique to ward off destruction by placing something between yourself and that impending doom. For the Muslim, this is nothing other than protecting oneself against the Punishment of Allah on the Day of Judgment through the practice and accumulation of good deeds. Our example of this from the Qur’an was from suwrah al-Baqarah:

و اتقوا يوما لا تجزي نفس عن نفس شيئا و لا يقبل منها شفاعة و لا يوخذ منها عدل و لا هم ينصرون

“Defend yourself against a day that will come where no soul shall be of assistance to another whatsoever – nor shall it put forth an intercessor in its place – no compensation will be taken from it – nor shall there be anyone to come to its aid.” [Q: 2:47]

Here, Allah is commanding man to defend himself against His punishment on a day in which there will be no help, intercession, or aid from another person. In other words, protect yourself before it’s too late. For other similar uses of taqwa, see these verses: 2: 24, 2: 103, 2: 189, 2: 281, and 3: 131 for further examples.

Day Two & Three

The History of Modern American Thought — Deism and the Legacy of Enlightenment Thought in Europe and America

The European Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that sought to put the faculty of human reason at the forefront of interpreting and understanding reality.  Through this process, reason and reliance on rationalism came to put Christianity and its religious thinking at something of a “disadvantage”.  The disadvantage stemmed from Christendom’s inability to respond to the claims of Enlightenment thinkers.

For our purposes, Deism, from the Latin “deus“, meaning “god”, can be thought of thus: a belief system in which one recognizes the existence of a supreme being or creator without the need for any formal or “organized” religion.  Deists [those who practice Deism] claim that belief in God can be achieve through the sensoria or the human senses [again, with an almost total reliance upon the faculty of observation] alone without out any external influence.  Deism also rejects the notion of the supernatural: Revelation, revealed books, prophets, miracles, and the like.  They draw no discerning line between the supernatural and the superstitious.  For the Deists, to believe the Qur’an is the word of God would be just as superstitious as believing in “lucky stars or numbers”.

While the Enlightenment’s heyday was during the 1700’s, some scholars put its time line as from the middle 1600’s to the early 1800’s.  It died out by the early 19th century but its descendants continued on to what came to be known as Deism.  In fact, Deism, with its similar reliance on rational thought, had a tremendous influence on the Founding Fathers of the United States.  Some, such as Benjamin Franklin, were essentially card carrying members, while others, such as Thomas Jefferson—more an admirer of Deism—actually belonged to one of its descendants: Unitarianism.  It is Jefferson’s and his compatriots’ adherence to Unitarian thought—whose values are rooted in Deism—that played a role in how they defined the separation of Church and State.  For in Unitarian/Deistic thinking, there is no revelation; no Divine Law.  Thus, there could be no good reason to include religion in the decision making process of government.  This, along with a desire for religious freedom [amongst other reasons], explains how they chose to exclude religion from government.

Summary

  • rejects revelation, miracles, prophets, etc.
  • puts complete reliance on human reason to be able to know the cosmos and God
  • the Enlightenment lasted from the middle 1600’s to the early 1800’s
  • while the Enlightenment declined in popularity, it was succeeded by Deism
  • Deism went on to have tremendous influence: the Founding Fathers; 19th-century-thinker Charles Darwin [1809—1882], who was an English Naturalist [another descendant of Enlightenment/Deistic thought] who is responsible for the theory of evolution, eventually became an atheist. Darwin’s theory on evolution removed any potentiality for God remaining active in the cosmos [a remote or absent god]
  • was a driving force behind the separation of Church and State

So why do we need to know all of this?  The answer is that if we are to both understand ourselves better—to know the history of our own thought processes—as well as to give more effective da’wah, then we must know the method and history of how people think. In this case, American people.

Along with this greater understanding of America’s intellectual history is a need for understanding Islam [the Qur’an and the life/Sunnah of the Prophet] that also encompasses its themes and history. In today’s class we looked at the two major themes of Qur’anic revelation: the Makkan period, and the Madīnan period.

Makkah: the Revelation begins in Makkah, a small city located in a forgotten part of the world. At this time [7th century c.e.], Arabia and the Arabs were of little to no importance outside of the Hijaz.  But as one of my teachers told me, there was a great wisdom in Allah choosing the Arabs as the people who would first receive His Message. It took a group of nobodies and made them somebodies.  The Arabs of this early period were instilled with a sense of dignity [different than pride!]—a dignity that comes from making God central to one’s life—which is what carried them out of the Arabian peninsula and out to the known world.  This God-centered dignity is quite different from nationalistic types of identity, where one’s sense of worth and pride are not necessarily rooted in a practice that seeks to please Allah.

The early Makkan suwrahs are mainly concerned with trying to awaken the human being to the Ultimate Reality—there is no god but God and Muhammad is His Messenger—and bring his or her understanding of reality into conformity with that reality.  The world has been created by a Creator, a God, and it was not done so without purpose:

والذين يذكرون الله قياما وقعودا وعلى جنوبهم ويتفكرون في خلق السماوات والأرض – ربنا ما خلقت هذا باطلا سبحانك فقنا عذاب النار

“And those who remember God, either standing, sitting, as well as sitting on their sides and is given to frequent contemplation about the creation of the heavens and the earth respond: ‘O our Lord! You have not created this without purpose. You are without peer or similitude so protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” [Q: 3: 191]

This process of “reorientation” by Allah seeks to take the mundane [normal] world of humans and transform it into one where everything is a sign that speaks to us of God’s existence:

تسبح له السماوات السبع والأرض ومن فيهن

“The seven heavens and the earth proclaim none other than lā ilāha illa Allah as well as whoever is in them.” [Q: 17: 44]

In fact, as we noted when looking at Muslim history, when Muslims veered too far off course and began to concentrate more on “conquering” than on empowering, things “fell apart”.  The great empires of al-Andalus [Muslim Spain] and the Ottomans dissolved over internal strife.

Another theme to the early Revelation is to set free and empower the human being from slavehood to this life.  One of Islam’s primary objectives is to open up and set free human beings:

إذا جاء نصر الله والفتح

“When comes the help of God and the Opening.” [Q: 110: 1]

In this verse, many English translators have translated the word “fat’h” as “conquering” or “victory”.  But in fact, its root of f-t-h is more akin to “opening”.  And in particular, the opening here is referring to the Opening of Makkah, upon the Prophet’s [s] final return to Makkah.  This retaking of Makkah was a bloodless transference of power.  The result was literally, the opening of the minds and hearts of the Makkan people to the message of Islam.  When they saw that the Prophet [s] was not interested in subjugating them but rather delivering them into Islam, the numbers of Muslims grew tremendously.

This theme of opening has been repeated before.  In fact, one of the early scholars of Islam, a companion of the Prophet [s], said that the “manifest victory [opening] was not the retaking of Makkah, but was in fact, the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah:

إن فتحنا لك فتحا مبينا

لّيغفرَ لك الله ما تقدم من ذنبك و ما تأخر و يتمَ نعمته عليك و يهديَك صراطا مستقيما

و ينصُرَك الله نصرا عزيزا

“Without a doubt, we have granted you [Muhammad] the clear, manifest victory. In order that Allah might forgive you for what you have done regarding your sin, as well as pardoning any later ones, and complete His favor upon you and guide you to a straight path. And so that Allah may help you with a great assistance.” [Q: 48: 1‐3]

The man who initially arbitrated for the Quraysh [against the Muslims] was Suhail Bin ‘Amr. In his initial meeting with the Prophet [s], he refused to acknowledge him as the Messenger of Allah, instead the Prophet had to settle for putting “in the name of your Lord” and “Muhammad Ibn ‘Abdullah” on the contract.  While this enraged some of his companions, he saw it as achieving a “manifest victory”: giving the Muslim a legitimate seat at the Ka’abah.  For without it, the Muslims would have always been seen as an “other” in Arabia. Now there were no psychological or cultural barriers between being an Arab, a Makkan, and being a Muslim.

In the years that followed the Prophet’s death [s], the Arabian peninsula threatened to revert back to its pre-Islamic ways.  It was through the courageous efforts of some of the companions that kept Islam alive.  One such companion was the aforementioned Suhail Bin ‘Amr.  After seeing how the Prophet dealt with the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah and finally, with the Opening of Makkah and its people, Suhail became Muslim [his son, Abu Jandal, had converted some years before].  So when Suhail fought to keep Islam alive after the Prophet’s demise [s], he was struggling for his own deen, his own religion.  If we want our youth and new shahadahs to strive for Islam, we must impart to them a sense of ownership of Islam.

ربنا زدنا في علمنا وانفعنا به

“O’ Our Lord!, increase us in knowledge and make us benefit from it!

Day Four

In our last class, we discussed the importance of making room for our brothers and sisters, even though they may not appear to be people of significance. We discussed the story of al-Arqam Ibn al-Arqam, the cousin of the Prophet’s [s] cousin, who, out of generosity, donated his house in Makkah, at the foot of Mount Safa, to the service of Islam. This house, named Dar al-Arqam, of “The House of Arqam”, was the first safe heaven for the Muslims to gather, pray, and spread their da’wah.

We also discussed the Treaty of Ḥudaybiyyah. This was a pact what was signed by the Muslims and by the Quraysh to allow the Muslims access to the Ka’abah. Quraysh had elected Suhail Ibn ‘Amr as their representative to barter and negotiate with the Muslims. Famously, this is where the Prophet [s] agreed to sign his name as Muhammad Ibn ‘Abdullah [s] instead of Muhammad, the Messenger of God. There was a number of concessions that the Prophet made that day but in the end, it achieved his goal of successfully delivering the message of Islam to the people of Makkah. In the end, Suhail himself became Muslim after he saw how the Prophet negotiated and how he dealt with the people of Makkah at the Fatḥ al-Makkah.

Some interesting facts about the Treaty of Ḥudaybiyyah:

  • There was to be a truce of 10 years between the Muslims and Quraysh.
  • Those who wished to leave Makkah and go to the Prophet [s] in Madinah but did not obtain permission from someone of authority in Makkah, the Muslims must send them back. If, however, someone from Madinah wishes to leave Muhammad [s] and the Muslims and return to Makkah, s/he may do so freely.
  • Suhail Ibn ‘Amr, while making this treaty, held some animosity towards the Muslims because his own son, Abū Jandal, had become Muslim.

Moving on from above, we next discussed the more subtle nature of tawhid. Most of us are familiar with the notion that tawhid means “oneness”, or as it relates to Islam, the “Oneness of God”. Tawhīd, however, means more than simply stating one recognizes that God is one, but that one’s actions, one’s internal thoughts reflect this truth. For Muslims, tawhid points to Allah, the One God, and therefore, for Muslims, life takes on a special type of focus, where one is always aware of his or her Return to God.

ثم إلينا مرجعك فننبئكم بما كانوا تعملون

“Then you will be returned to Us and We shall inform you all of what you used to do.” [Q 10: 23]

On the other hand, we talked about the term, takthir [تكثير]. While shirk may be the theological opposite of tawhid, takthir is its linguistic opposite and can allow us to think a bit more clearly on the subtle dangers of shirk by talking about it through the lens of takthir.

In many ways, takthir denies any purpose to life by refusing to point back, from the many, to the One.  Instead, it sees that there are many “gods” and from them, many more things abound.  The Qur’an refutes this, by stating life most certainly does have a purpose as well as a Creator:

و يتفكرون في خلق السموت والأرض ربنا ما خلقت هذا باطلا

“And they reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth, saying: ‘O our Lord! You have not created this without purpose!'” [Q3: 191]

Islam should bring the many into focus, into a view that points to The One versus, as Muhammad Iqbal said:

“The various natural sciences are like so many vultures falling on the body of Nature, and each running away with a piece of its flesh.”

Finally, some words from our esteemed imam, Imam al-Ghazzali wrote, concerning this life:

“The should take care of the body, just as the pilgrim on his way to Makkah takes care of his camel; but if the pilgrim spends his whole time in feeding and adorning his camel, the caravan wil leave him behind, and he will perish in the desert.”

In a collected hadith, the Prophet [s] relates to us:

أثقل ما يوضع في الميزان يوم القيامة تقوى الله و حسن الخلق

“The heaviest thing to be weighed on the Scale on the Day of Judgment will be taqwā of God and goodness of character.”

من ظن أنه بدون الجهد يصل فهو متمن – و من ظن أنه ببذل الجهد يصل فهو مستغن

“For the one that thinks that he will achieve his goal without effort is a wishful thinker – and for the one that thinks that he shall, by the expending of effort, be successful, is presumptuous.”

Reading List

Finally, let me say it was my pleasure to teach this course on behalf of the Quba Institute. It was the first time I taught this course, and thus it was something of an “experiment”. Please feel free to leave me your feedback and comments and of course, if you have any questions about what was covered, please contact me.