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.

Community Foresight – Many Fingers Make Light Work

A listserv started and maintained by Da’ood Nasir

Funerals. They are something we generally do not like to think about. I say this based on evidence of observation in the way in which Muslim communities tend to handle funerals (hereafter referred to as janazah). I’m not talking about the etiquette, or lack thereof, that is displayed at so many jana’iz (pl. janazah): that subject deserves its own post (forthcoming? Make du’ah for my typing skills). What I am talking about are two things: one, community obligations and two, easy deeds for one’s scale.

As for point one, let’s examine it from rom a fiqh point of view: jana’iz fall under the heading of fard al-kifayah/communal obligations. It is our responsibility as a community to bury our dead, not the state’s. What seems to frustrate this process is often times a lack of planning, admittedly on both parties: the deceased (or in this case, the formerly living) and the Muslim community at large. Part of what I feel should be incorporated into the new masjid paradigm we see trying to form in America is help in the area of life planning, or more specifically in this case, death planning (feel free to suggest some other terminology — I know this sounds awful). This is equally important for both legacy Muslims as well as so-called convert Muslims. I have seen many funerals go awry due to improper planning of wills and last testaments. Not that we want to hand every new Muslim a copy of the Qur’an, a prayer rug and then a last-will-and-testament kit (bean pie is optional), but it would be pretty good to have a will-template made up and on-hand, downloadable from a masjid’s website or obtainable from its front office. It would also help to perhaps conduct workshops on this from time to time to keep it in the community’s periphery vision. But I digress.

Point two: easy deeds. What do I mean by easy deeds? There is a well-cited hadith from Ibn Majah, narrated by Abu Hurayrah, that details the fate of those who die in a state of debt:

نَفْسُ الْمُؤْمِنِ مُعَلَّقَةٌ بِدَيْنِهِ حَتَّى يُقْضَى عَنْهُ

“The soul of the believer is attached to his debt until it is paid off.” (Hasan)

For me, this hadith illustrates the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم overarching wisdom in that he saw all sides and all aspects of his community. The Muslim community will always be made up of those who will need the help of others and that these people should not necessarily be looked down upon simply because of economic hardship. In fact, helping one’s brother or sister from a hardship is an excellent and “easy” opportunity to acquire lofty deeds for one’s scale as is noted in another hadith (also narrated by Abu Hurayrah), as recorded in Sahih Muslim:

مَنْ نَفَّسَ عَنْ مُؤْمِنٍ كُرْبَةً مِنْ كُرَبِ اَلدُّنْيَا, نَفَّسَ اَللَّهُ عَنْهُ كُرْبَةً مِنْ كُرَبِ يَوْمِ اَلْقِيَامَةِ , وَمَنْ يَسَّرَ عَلَى مُعْسِرٍ, يَسَّرَ اَللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ فِي اَلدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ, وَمَنْ سَتَرَ مُسْلِمًا, سَتَرَهُ اَللَّهُ فِي اَلدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ, وَاَللَّهُ فِي عَوْنِ اَلْعَبْدِ مَا كَانَ اَلْعَبْدُ فِي عَوْنِ أَخِيهِ

“If anyone relieves a Muslim believer from one of the hardships of this worldly life, Allah will relieve him of one of the hardships of the Day of Resurrection. If anyone makes it easy for the one who is indebted to him (while finding it difficult to repay), Allah will make it easy for him in this worldly life and in the Hereafter, and if anyone conceals the faults of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his faults in this world and in the Hereafter. Allah helps His slave as long as he helps his brother.”

For me, I am concentrating on the first part of the hadith, “If anyone relieves a Muslim believer from one of the hardships of this worldly life…”. I cannot tell you how many notifications for jana’iz have come through brother Da’ood Nasir’s listserv: Islamic Information E-mail Network, of Muslims who have passed on. Often these Muslims who are passing, may Allah have mercy on them and grant them Jannah, have non-Muslim family who may or may not be amicable to a Muslim funeral, are in debt, or are incapable (them or their families) of paying the costs of the funeral. Our communities seem to have no issue in investing millions of dollars into buildings but commits very little to human causes. My thoughts are thus: could we, as a community, set up an emergency fund to help these Muslims alleviate their debt by removing this hardship or the hardship of the cost of the funeral. Perhaps something as simple as a weekly or monthly donation program in which members of the Muslim community could contribute to this fund which would be especially allocated to this particular effort. In the end, it would be a win-win situation for the dead as well as the living, who will be joining them shortly.

These few notes here are not meant to be taken as dictates but rather as a means of starting important conversations in our various communities across America to help facilitate the growth and maturation of the Muslim community in America. And God knows best,

For more information on Da’ood Nasir’s e-mail network you can reach him at nasir [at] nasirkeyman [dot] net.

Religious Dispatches – Thoughts on Post-Thanksgiving

Some post-2012 Thanksgiving thoughts I thought I’d share from a Philadelphia parking lot.

On the Authority of Abu Hurayrah as collected by Imam Muslim:

“When you hear a man say, ‘The people are ruined,’ he himself is the most ruined of them all.”

إذا سمعت الرجل يقول هلك الناس فهو أهلكهم

On the authority of Salih bin Bashir bin Fudayk as collected by al-Dhahabi:

“Fudayk came to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and said ‘O’ Messenger of God, they are claiming that the one who does not make hijrah is destroyed’. He صلى الله عليه وسلم replied, ‘O Fudayk!, establish prayer, pay the Zakah, renounce evil and live in the land of your people wherever you like.”

جاء فديك فقال يا رسول الله إنهم يزعمون أن من لم يهاجر هلك. قال يا فديك, أقم الصلاة وآت الزكاة واهجر السوء

Ramadan Preparation Part Too: A Khutbah

From the previous khutbah, we continue the topic of religious responsibility, deeds, and taqwa, all as a part of increasing our religious literacy. To sum things up again, we noted that taqwa can be thought of as a set of reflexes – a self-defense system if you will – for the believer. Again, to quote al-Tabrizi’s from the collection, al-Hamasah:

الإتقاء أن تجعل بينك و بين ما تخافه حاجزا يحفظك

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

So with this in mind, we will look at how avoiding disobedience can server as our “barrier” to put in between ourselves and what may lie in wait for us on the Day of Judgment. Let’s triage some of the acts of disobedience.

Avoiding Disobedience

This can prove to be one of the most difficult things a believer can do: put their desires in check so as to avoid the displeasure and disobedience of God. We forget that God has promised us that on the Day We Stand, our limbs themselves will bear testimony of what we did:

يوم تشهد عليهم ألسنتهم وأيديهم وأرجلهم بما كانوا يعملون

“On that day their tongues, hands, and feet will testify against them about what they used to do.” [Qur’an: al-Nur, 24].

So by keeping this in mind, we may be able to encourage ourselves, through hope and fear, of avoiding disobedience, by reminding ourselves that our eyes, our hands, and our tongues will testify against us. But the glass is not all half empty. As we shall see, as Ibn al-Qayyim relates a saying of one of the Salaf, that sins are also opportunities to return to obedience to God. He quotes in his work, al-Wabil al-Sayyib:

إن العبد ليعمل الذنب يدخل به الجنة و يعمل الحسنة يدخل بها النار

“A servant may commit a sin by which he goes to Paradise and he may do a good deed by which he enters the Fire.” [Hilyah al-Awliya’ wa Tabaqat al-Asfiya’, 242.]

Be careful here not to misconstrue Ibn al-Qayyim’s words: it’s not that sins in and of themselves are something “good”, but rather, when one commits a sin, there is the opportunity to feel shame, remorse, and to be regretful in committing the act. We all commit sins so we should never feel secure that because we’re doing other good deeds that we do not need to seek Allah’s forgiveness. On the other hand, if good deeds become something prideful, then we lose the benefit of those actions. In fact, if the servant heads down this path, he or she runs the risk of Allah abandoning them to their pride. But with so many things, God has given us a head start to obedience by not “leaving us to ourselves”. Again, Ibn al-Qayyim says:

العارفون كلهم مجمعون على أن التوفيق أن لا يكلك الله تعالى إلى نفسك والخذلان أن يكلك الله تعالى إلى نفسك

“Those who are Aware are in agreement that tawfiq [Divine Success] is that Allah does not entrust you to yourself and that Allah’s displeasure is that Allah leaves you to your pride, vanity or heedlessness”

God the Exalted has given us God to rely on. It is only when we are heedless, prideful, or both, that we are “left to ourselves” as we read in the Qur’an:

فنذر الذين لا يرجون لقاءنا في طغينهم يعمهون

“And so We left those who have no hope in meeting Us in wandering blindly in transgression.” [Qur’an: Yunus, 11]

From time to time, we allow Shaytan the Accursed to trick us into thinking that [aside from associating partners with God] the sins we have committed are beyond even God’s clemency to forgive and redeem. This quandary further illustrates the importance of understand God by the Attributes that Allah chose: al-Ghafur, al-Rahman, al-Tawwab, etc. These Names and Attributes, in the Divine Reality, are capable of forgiving the sons and daughters of Adam, even if their sins Were to be “like the foam on the ocean.” But despair leads to heedlessness which deceives us in giving up hope in meeting our Creator and being forgiven for our transgressions.

Mercy Over Wrath

In the modern discourse surrounding Islam, there is far little mentioned concerning the mercy and love that God has towards the Creation. This is especially absent in how Islam is presented towards non-Muslims, which has taken on a dry, textual, and ritualistically-empty practice. And yet, as we see in this hadith Qudsi [Divine Narration], God set a fundamental approach as to how the Creation would be treated:

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم لما قضى الله الخلق كتب في كتابه على نفسه فهو موضوع عنده إن رحمتي تغلب على غضبي

“The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, stated: When God decreed the Creation, God wrote in [His] Book in regards to His Self-which is laid down with God-that ‘My mercy precedes My wrath.'” [Abu Hurairah reports this in Muslim]

So as we prepare to greet the month of Ramadan, seek the Creators mercy and clemency. Strive to avoid disobedience through the limbs and the heart and keep this du’ah in mind:

يا حي يا قيوم برحمتك نستغيث لا تكلنا إلى أنفسنا ولا إلى أحد من خلقك طرفة عين وأصلح لنا شؤوننا كلها

“O Ever-Living, O Self-Subsistent, by Your mercy we beseech Your help. Leave us not to ourselves nor to any of Your creation for even the blink of an eye. Set right for us all our affairs.”
Listen to and download the khutbah below:

Additional Resources

For the reference to a “fiqh of the cubicle” [from the audio], see Imam Suhaib Webb’s khutbah.