Britishmisk's Blog

Category: Thoughts

Reflections on Ibn ‘Arabi – “I Follow the Religion of Love”

O Marvel! a garden amidst the flames.
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Kaa’ba,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.

Shaykh al-Akbar Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi is arguably the most controversial scholar within Sunni Islam, the only other individual to cause as much commotion within our tradition was his spiritual adversary, Shaykh al-Islam Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya. As Shaykh Hamza mentions, much of the work of Ibn ‘Arabi is outwardly kufr, and the snippet of poetry above from his collection of poetry Tarjuman al-Ashwaq can be interpreted as being such.

However as is with the nature of poetry, it cannot be taken at face value. Poetry at its pinnacle is a manifestation on the tongue on what the heart contains, and the nature of the heart is different to that of the mind, in that it is not necessarily comprised of things that are wholly logical and bound by the limits of the world (“My heavens and My earth cannot contain Me but the heart of My believing servant contains Me“). If we look at Ibn Arabi’s work in the context of orthodoxy we will find our way through ‘the sea without a shore’ that is the work of the ‘greatest Shaykh’.

In the creed of Ahl al-Sunnah wa’al Jama’ah we hold that all actions, good and evil, are created by Allah (“Say: I seek refuge in the Lord of Daybreak, from the evil which He created” 113:1-2), it is through a human being’s free will and choice that he or she acquires the action they choose to perform. When one comes to this realisation, it leads one to understand the statement of the Prophet (ﷺ‎) “to worship Allah as though you see Him”, for if everything around you is by the will and decree of Allah, then the means you see fade away and manifest to the heart the cause of all that is real, which in reality is al-Haqq, the Truth or the Ultimate Reality, that is Allah. Even the idol worshipper, who commits the gravest sin, can only do so because Allah has left that person to the choice they have made, and for the one who has become annihilated in the remembrance of Allah, even that is a reminder of Him, for it is a manifestation of the divine wrath, a single piece in the ephemeral world that serves its purpose simply to reflect the eternal.

So where does love fit into all this? In a hadith qudsi, Allah tells us through the words of His messenger (ﷺ‎): “I was a hidden treasure and loved to be known“, to this end Ibn ‘Arabi writes: “None but God is loved in existent things. It is He who is manifest within every beloved to the eye of every lover—and there is nothing which is not a lover. So all the cosmos is a lover and beloved, and all of it goes back to Him.” Once the aspirant sees Allah in everything, even seeing disbelief for him is a sign towards love of Allah, for it is a reminder of when his or her existence was not driven towards seeking the Ultimate Reality. Without witnessing wrath how would we know mercy? Without knowing misguidance (dalala) how we would we know what is guidance (huda)? For Ibn ‘Arabi, Islam is love, and love is his religion, for true love can only exist for Allah, and all exists by, for and through Allah.


See also: Shaykh Nuh Keller on Wahdat al-Wujud (Oneness of Being)

“God is Beautiful and He Loves Beauty”

The Prophet (ﷺ‎) said: “No one will enter Paradise who has an atom’s weight of pride in his heart.” A man said, “What if a man likes his clothes to look good and his shoes to look good?” He said, “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty. Pride means denying the truth and looking down on people.”  – Muslim

“Allah loves to see the effects of His blessing on His slave.” – Tirmidhi

When one travels in the Muslim world, what becomes apparent for even the most inattentive of travellers is the sheer amount of beauty that was imbued in the daily lives of Muslims. From a home in a Moroccan riyad, to a grand Imperial Ottoman mosque, to the bazaars full of craftsmanship and artistry, and then even to the tombs and graves of the righteous, from the cradle to the grave, Muslims used ethereal beauty to remind them of true Divine beauty. By infusing one’s life with things that are aesthetically appealing, it leads to healthy spiritual growth and a tame heart that is preserved from rancour and malice.

Reflecting on this in the so called post modern world, it gives us an indication of our current state of affairs. Here in the United Kingdom most Muslims grow up, not around imperial mosques, but housing estates. The “Islamic ornaments” on their walls at home weren’t made by a master in a guild working hours on end, it was mass manufactured in a factory in China (most likely by a non-Muslim). There are no rose gardens to hear nightingales sing, no bazaars to see artisans hard at work, all of this adds up to reflect on the kind of spiritual life we end up having. This isn’t just a problem with Muslims, it affects all people. One can see in any environment, when you replace craftsmanship with mass manufacturing, it leads to a number of adverse ends. Workers in sweatshops with dismal working lives, go home and reflect their state in the their families, they buy goods made in other sweatshops and the people working there do the same thing. Eventually you will end up with what happened in the north of England and those factories become too expensive to operate and maintain, they’re shipped to cheaper areas in the Far East, the workers in England lose their jobs, and in most cases the working environment for the people in the new areas of manufacture are much worse that what their colleagues in Europe put up with.

While some people turn to crime, Muslims I have noticed tend to turn to conservative and narrow minded religiosity, in an environment that doesn’t promote beauty and spirituality this is to be expected. Taking into account the fact that most Muslims in the UK (and much of the western world) live in working class communities, it makes sense that many of us choose not to build elaborate mosques, or to wear tailored made clothes, or decorate our homes with ornate calligraphy. But I think we should. It could be argued that the mosques are already quite large and elaborate, but are they actually beautiful? I suppose it’s subjective, but does the beauty of our mosques infuse good character into us? They certainly do in Turkey, forget about the Suleymaniye and Sultanahmet, every mosque I’ve been to in Turkey, be it large and small, is beautiful, and it’s reflected in the character of the Turkish people, especially amongst those who frequent the houses of Allah (“How great is that army that conquers Constantinople…”). In the west when we choose to build a “beautiful” mosque we unfortunately model it on the definition of beauty as defined by the Gulf states, which is essentially defined by the “the larger/bigger/taller/more expensive the better”, which is far from the truth.

Many young Muslims (myself included) who become inclined to a more spiritually minded Islam, inevitably come across tales of asceticism (zuhd) and poverty related to the time of the Prophet (ﷺ‎) and the pious early generations. When reflecting on these accounts with our modern state of luxury in the developed world, it leads to a sense of inadequacy when seen in the light of those luminaries, and it makes one feel as though one should try their utmost in humbling oneself by the material things one is surrounded with, in some cases that means buying cheaper goods so as to protect ourselves from the temptations of the world. But when one looks at the hadiths quoted above this is not necessarily the case. It is dependent on how the heart is attached to the things of this world, if one wears nice clothes, and decorates one’s house, as long as the heart isn’t saddened by the loss of those things, it’s a sign that one is humbled by what Allah (ﷻ‎) has given. Indeed, if one looks at the lives of the spending of some pious early Muslims they may be considered extravagant in today’s terms: Nu’man bin Bashir (or it may have been Tamim bin ‘Aws al-Dari, I can’t remember) would wear an expensive thawb just for the night vigil. Imam Malik would wear a turban that cost 500 dirhams (silver pieces). Imam Abu Hanifa was a highly successful cloth merchant in Baghdad and would always dress as such, and insisted his students do similar. Imam Abu’l Hassan al-Shadhili would adorn himself with elegant clothing, so much so one of the Sufis who were more attuned to poverty remarked to him “Why do you display your riches to people?”, to which he responded “Why do you display your poverty to people? I keep my needs between myself and my Lord, whereas you make a show of them”.

For Muslims who find themselves in possession of a comfortable income, especially those of us from a South Asian background highly renowned for our frugal spending, it’s time we invest in higher quality goods and support Muslims businesses that encourage quality. And thus we enable ourselves to act upon the hadith of the Prophet (ﷺ‎), if we imbue ourselves with aesthetical beauty, as long as we do not let it take over our hearts, it will, God willing, lead to spiritual beauty. To this end I’ve created a list of Islamic related businesses which I have found ensure quality and workmanship in what they produce and sell. It is not an exhaustive list and I would encourage others to feel free and post in the comments section others whom they feel should be added to it and I will update accordingly.

Clothing

Shukr

Arts and Crafts

Dhikr Factory – Prayer Beads

Ian Abdul Lateef Whiteman – Typesetting, calligraphy, graphic design

Josh Berer – Calligrapher (Josh isn’t Muslim but his Arabic calligraphy is beautiful)

Mohamed Zakariya – Calligrapher

Muhammadan Press – Computer based calligraphy and design

Peter Sanders – Photographer

Prayer Bead Store – Prayer Beads(!)

Qashif Masud – Woodworker

Uns Fine Crafts – Prayer beads, jewellery, perfume

Scents

Ensar Oud – Oud oils

Oudimentary – Oud oils and wood

The Dawkins Delusion

Late last year Professor Richard Dawkins gave a frank and open interview with Mehdi Hassan on Al Jazeera regarding his views and opinions on religion and his general philosophy on life. Ever since then there has been a consistent, (and frankly quite pitiful) tirade between Hassan and Dawkins on twitter, in the most instances Dawkins deriding Hassan’s Islamic beliefs, in particular about Buraq (which Dawkins refers to as “a winged horse”) and the Night Journey and Heavenly Ascension of the Prophet (ﷺ). After numerous messages on Dawkins’s feed over the last few months criticising the Islamic religion it eventually lead to this infamous one last week:

Unsurprisingly this lead to a huge backlash online, but what was most surprising was the voice of opposition was coming mostly from atheists, who took offense at his implied bigotry in the statement. Dawkins’s response, with his usual sense of indifference, was that he was merely stating a fact, and took issue with people accusing him of being racist. In a sense Dawkins was correct, both in the statement he made, and in the fact that Islam is not a race. But it does not take away from the fact that the reason he posted the message was because he does have a bigoted (not racist) opinion of Islam and religionists in general. The former being highlighted further by another tweet he made previous to this one:

Yes, he was stating a fact, and it was true, but the implied message he is making is that the religion of Islam is one that holds people back from making intellectual progress and development, particularly in the field of science. His bigotry is further highlighted by the dichotomy in the two tweets posted above, in one he claims Islam did well in the Middle Ages, and in the other that the whole Islamic culture is a complete failure. Prejudice by its nature is illogical, the fact his two statements contradict one another and were made less than a month apart are a manifestation of the inward illogical prejudice he holds inside himself against people of faith. Ironically he gives the appropriate response to his first tweet in itself, if the religion of Islam hinders intellectual progress, how did its adherents achieve the breakthroughs and discoveries it did in the Middle Ages? The religion those people followed is the same as what myself and the other two billion Muslims in the world follow, so surely the religion itself is not what is to blame for the slow down in scientific progress. What he fails to mention is the socio-political factors that have led to the current state of the Muslim world in the modern era. When Europe’s long overdue intellectual heyday arrived in the form of the Renaissance (ironically enough the fuel for which was the achievement of the Muslim world), it led to European colonisation, which in turn resulted in the vast majority of the globe’s population to be ruled over by those who deemed them inferior (see Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’), which then meant that the third world developed an inferiority complex, (see Egypt: “We want a western style democracy…we don’t want that guy’s democracy…we want a coup…no we don’t want a coup…” etc). Professor Dawkins also fails to realise that the two main centres of learning in the classical Islamic world were Andalusia and Baghdad, the former being torn down by the Reconquista and the latter by the Mongol Horde.

Further rebuttal of his unnecessary social media tirades can go on, but the fact of the matter is Dawkins’s assertion that religion, and in particular the Islamic religion hinder development and innovation are ill-founded. It adds to the already weak foundation by which Dawkins promotes atheism. Admittedly I haven’t read ‘The God Delusion’ (ironically given all his criticisms of Islam he hasn’t read The Qur’an either so we’re on equal ground), but what is apparent in his approach to religion is the idea that if something cannot be proved, or is deemed impossible by the laws of physics, it must be rejected. So things such as the existence of a Higher Being, angels, the human soul, heaven and hell, can therefore not be accepted as they cannot be proven by science. What this therefore does is remove the possibility of anything metaphysical or existential to be even probable, which is where the problem lies. His thought is bound by the physical constants of the universe and empiricism. The universe is finite, it has a beginning and end, which has been proven by science, but what science cannot prove is what is outside of the universe, both in the sense of space and time. What was there before the universe? What is outside of it? What is after it? These things cannot be answered through the laws of the universe because the universe does not exist in those realms, the physical must therefore give way to the metaphysical. Logic dictates there must be something illogical, relative to the material world, that explains who we are and where we came from, and this is where religion comes in to try and answer those questions. For me personally the answers to those questions comes from Islam, and the reason why I chose this religion was because of The Qur’an. The Qur’an was revealed in Arabic, a language that is bound by such scientific rules of grammar that it is often equated to mathematics. Anyone can learn the vocabulary and grammar of the language to create speech, but no one has, is or will be able to, using the exact same components, create anything that comes close to The Qur’an. It begs to be accepted that only something other than a finite human mind could come up with such a text that opens the heart and shakes the soul as much as The Qur’an simply using the Arabic language. It in itself, like the universe, is a symbol that the physical must be complemented by the metaphysical. The universe, something so vast and amazing, yet bound by physical constants must have been created by a Higher Being, just as The Qur’an bound by the rules of Arabic must have come from the same source.

In conclusion, Dawkins is a scientist, he does not have a firm grounding in theology or philosophy that is sufficient to counter popular religious beliefs, particularly non-Christian ones. His approach to religion is very much a eurocentric western-oriented viewpoint, his understanding of the concept of God is founded on an anthropomorphised culturally Christian understanding, for someone who promotes atheism it begs to be asked why in this globalised age he hasn’t fully researched the eastern traditions and added them into his arguments. All these things are further compounded by his bigotry and derision of religion simply to provide a sensationalist edge to his preaching. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf once mentioned that Nietzsche’s atheism is far more convincing than the ‘New Atheists’ of today, so much so the Shaykh mentioned “Nietzsche took my religious spine, and shook it.” Unfortunately Dawkins comes nowhere close.

The Cobbler Principle – Advice for Muslims in the Workplace

Something I hear a lot from many young professional Muslims is their perceived struggle to balance an enriched spiritual life with a working professional one. Many young Muslims in their adolescence, as part of their growth as Muslims pick up on the teachings of our pious predecessors with regards to the dunya, or “lower world”. They learn that greed, avarice, arrogance, love of wealth/power/status, were shunned by all the people of piety and righteousness throughout history, whether they were prophets, awliya – saints,  or siddiqun – truthful ones. This isn’t reserved for the Islamic tradition, zuhd or asceticism is found in most world religions, particularly in the eastern traditions.

But for those of us here in the western world, putting food on our table isn’t cheap, and neither is keeping a roof over our heads, so as our blossoming younger generation leave the bliss and idleness of university life, the reality of living in the modern world dawns on them. Gone are the days of spending sleepless nights in the ISoc prayer room engulfed in prayer and meditation, to be replaced with an early night in because you have to catch the tube at 8 in the morning (and get up for the dawn prayer before that). For many Muslims  who tend to be in the early 20s to mid 30s category, this starkness of life can have a negative effect, and leaves many people wondering “Where am I going with my life?”, “Am I doing the right thing by chasing the world?” and so on.

The fact this happens to many people, particularly of those of a spiritual disposition, highlights something that was glaringly missed by them in their formative years, that is the realisation that everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen, are by the decree of God. Now many people on reading that will say they have known that all along, but notice the use of the word realisation. The fact that divine decree and destiny are fundamental aspects of Islamic theology, means it is understood and accepted by everyone, but the realisation of the fact is quite different. What that entails is to become submitted to, and acceptive of what life has dealt to you. A principle known in the Islamic tradition as sabr, a higher form of patience that entails both inward and outward calm in the face of either uncertainty or affliction.

So how does this translate to the workplace? One train of thought that I talk about with Muslims is what I have come to call “The Cobbler Principle”, i.e. approach your employment like a cobbler. A cobbler (an old-timey shoemaker), would get up in the morning, go to work, do what he needs to do, and come home. He works to suffice himself in this world, his drive in life is not to make shoes, that’s his occupation and he keeps it that way, for a Muslim the motivation for life is God, but for life to go on one needs to work, so work provides the means to carry on moving towards God. And that has many multifaceted results. Work provides one with money to give to charity, it provides the ability to perform the pilgrimage, it enables one to provide for ones family, which is a religious obligation and by definition an act of worship, and quite importantly for us in the west in the long run, it provides a means for us to become a more economically independent and politically more influential demographic of society.

If God has decreed for you that you are to work, it is the responsibility of a Muslim to be accepting and patient of that decree, and  then to ensure it doesn’t take one away from the remembrance of God, rather he or she should turn that work itself into remembrance by understanding the realisation of God’s divine decree, and mould one’s intention to fulfil that purpose. God willing people will find themselves more relaxed and at peace with themselves in the workplace, and that will result in a more spiritual outlook on life.

Mosques in Britain – where do we go from here?

As the number of practicing Muslims in the UK has steadily grown since the 1950s, the number of mosques in Britain unsurprisingly has also risen. Many of them have a story to tell, whether it’s through its congregants, its decor, in its position in the town or city in which it is located, each facet can potentially make up one small part in the multicultural story of post-colonial Britain. For example, given the number of Muslim immigrants to the country were (and many still are) part of the working or lower middle classes, many mosques were originally not purpose built, and started in any kind of location that could be found. Whether it be in an abandoned church, pub, shop front or so on. As time progressed and the congregation grew, the mosque was built upon, enlarged and improved. As one mosque got too busy and full, or more Muslims shifted to a different part of town, another one was built, and that was eventually enlarged and improved.

Now, we’ve reached a stage for someone living in a major urban centre such as London, finding a place to pray is not an issue. But unfortunately, given the number of different groups and organisations that have developed in the UK, these mosques very seldomly work together in any kind of cohesion, and what results are a number of different issues that affect the community at large. Eid on different days, the continuation of sectarian divides, the lack of sharing of resources, there are a number of problems mosques in the UK face today. Yet however we continually see up and down the country new ones being built or rebuilt. In some areas such as Cambridge or Canterbury, both places I’ve lived in, there is only one main mosque in the city, and the building of a new larger one is required to meet the basic needs of the community. But in larger urban areas such as London, Birmingham or Manchester, the problem isn’t so much that the city needs a place to pray, it’s just because there’s a particular area within the city that isn’t close enough to a mosque for people to attend regularly.

What this results in now is the constant demand for funds to build new mosques, and as the standard has now been set on what a mosque in Britain should be like, an inaccurate standard in my opinion, the councils for these mosques go out seeking funds that are just not within the wider community’s budget. Because your standard Mosque has a dome and minaret, your new one needs to have one as well, the other mosques don’t have an English speaking imam or resources for new converts, so don’t worry about that, no one expects that from you. As the community has diversified and grown beyond its immigrant working class heritage, unfortunately many of its place of worship haven’t.

So what is a potential solution for mosques in Britain to improve? In many Muslim countries you have a concept of a Jami’ mosque, a large mosque within a city centre that is built to cater for the large number of people who need to attend Friday prayers. You then also have a number of smaller ‘satellite’ mosques, “non-Jami’” that are built for the standard five daily prayers, so that people don’t have to walk long distances to attend prayers in congregation. Traditionally these mosques would work as ‘back ups’ in case the Jami’ mosque got too full on Friday. I think we as a continually growing community need to look at this option for our mosques in this country. Rather than continuously building large Jami’ mosques, pockets of Muslims in areas where the nearest mosque is not walking distance away should set up small centres of gathering for the five daily prayers. This can be as simple a place as a converted shed or garage, a handful of people who are the most knowledgeable in faith from this microcosm of people take on the responsibility of leading the prayers, and at most you have somewhere between 20-30 congregants (including women). On searching Google I can’t find the UK legislation that deals with organising gatherings of private worship at home, but you wouldn’t place the mosque in an area where people would have to drive to get there, it would solely be for people in the surrounding streets. The benefits of performing worship in this way are numerous. People who would generally not attend prayers, or those who faced difficulty in attending them in the main mosque, would now find it a lot easier. You would get to know who your neighbours are, you would meet them on a regular basis, as opposed to the large number of people you could potentially meet at a large-scale mosque. This leads you to finding out when your neighbours need any help, whether it be financial or otherwise, you can ascertain if someone living nearby is eligible for zakat and give them your donation, as opposed to a faceless charity online. Because the mosque is a community based initiative by local people, you avoid sectarian divisions, partisan mosque committees are not required, but scholars should still be consulted when needed. Gatherings of knowledge can be more commonplace and personal if there is a person of knowledge who lives nearby who can carry out classes and gatherings of dhikr. Women who were forgotten about or ignored by larger mosques have a simpler place to meet and seek knowledge if they choose to.

In this way you start a centre of spiritual development from the root. Rather than focusing on the exoteric features of the building, you start off in the way of the Prophet’s (ﷺ) mosque, a place of gathering and remembrance that builds on the faith of the local people. By making initiatives in the grass roots we have the potential to develop and progress our community collectively much more than large organisations who face many diseconomies of scale. We have traditionally been a people focused on community, yet we lack much that others have, especially when you look at the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, the Ahmadiyya, or the Dawoodi Bohras, they look out for one another, they help each other when they need it, because they know who is who in their community and they find out who needs help. We lack that, and there’s many reasons for it, but as we grow we need to change, and for that to happen we need to do things a little differently going forward.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf: A Tribute

For those of us who remember a pre-9/11 world, the English speaking Muslim community, was pretty dull. That may be a bit of an over exaggeration, to be fair I was only 15 when 9/11 happened, and I was still at the beginning of my development as a self-motivated (struggling) practicing Muslim. So as a result I didn’t do as much reading or research as I have done since then. Or it may be specific to the British Muslim community, for years we’ve had to put up with non-English speaking community ‘leaders’ . 9/11 of course caused a media storm that’s still lingering nearly 10 years on, in its initial stages the spotlight was put on ‘young, homegrown radicals’ being spawned as a result of them being unable to relate to their ‘leaders’, and all of a sudden Mosque committees up and down the country almost uniformally said: “Hey man, this is some serious stuff.” Sine then there has been some effort by Mosques to recruit home grown scholars or at least those who have a firm grounding in English. Of course things didn’t change quick enough and 4 years later 52 people were bombed in my home city. Ironic it took a massacre for us to realise things were going terribly wrong, akin to the reality of racism in Europe post the holocaust.

For confused young people such as myself, we went looking for answers in the post-9/11 world. And in that age (and to this day) there was only one person you turned to, Google. Which explains why it took me so long to find Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. It was in 2006/2007 that I had the great opportunity to live for a year in the city of Cambridge, and I got my first taste of the ‘Imam al-Ghazali’ of our time, Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad. At the same time, one of my acquaintances, who would eventually become one of my best friends became a student of Shaykh Abu Ja’far, from there it snowballed and I was onto Mas’ud, Sunni Path, Shaykh Suhaib Webb, and of course Shaykh Hamza. I eventually realised my local Mosque attendees were not a bunch of a heretical deviants as Google would have me think, that the phrase “Qur’an and Sunnah” had been oversimplified as an advertising slogan for Muslims pandering orthodoxy, that I can’t make my own rulings and just pick and choose what I feel like doing and turning my back on a thousand years of the greatest scholars of human history, the list of changes I went through goes on.

I’ve listed quite a few different factors that affected me at this time, but why Shaykh Hamza in particular? Why not dedicate a post to Shaykh Abdal Hakim, as brother Da’wud Israel has done? (To be fair he said he’d do a whole week). He was my first true experience with orthodoxy, I say experience, it was more of him giving the khutbah through the speakers and me paying attention. But then again, he is on regular speaking terms with one of the best friends I mentioned earlier, I have listened to more of his talks, bought more of his books, read more of his articles, live only 50 miles away from him, at one point lived in the same city as him, hell I even gave him a lift once (It’s a long story and he probably doesn’t remember me), so why Shaykh Hamza?

Shaykh Hamza, in our modern day and age, love it or hate it, represents Muslim orthodoxy today, he has inadvertently become the face of traditional Islam. Unfortunately for some people that means ‘Sufism’, but I’m not going to go into that, I’m just going to say that Shaykh Hamza currently isn’t even in a Tariqah or has a Murshid, nor does he even talk about the time he did. His lectures are all over YouTube, his face is all over the Internet, when it comes to a moderate orthodox for Muslims, particularly in North America, he’s what people think of, and I’m happy it’s him.

I realised the effect Shaykh Hamza has had when I went to a seminar on potential Arabic teachers for the institute I study at. One of the founders mentioned in the late 90s and early 2000s young Muslims started to want to learn about Islam and actually study it, as opposed to the few Muslims who grew up in Mawlana families, and it was because of Shaykh Hamza. This was further brought home to me by a wonderful blog post on the Habib Umar tour site. He brought to life the scholars and institutions of the Muslim world. If it wasn’t for him, people wouldn’t know about Mauritania, or Tarim, Shaykh Ahmad Zarruq, Imam al-Ghazali, these are things he talks about regularly and it’s stuff he brought into the open which ordinary Muslims like me across the English speaking world would have never heard of. It then begs the questions, is he the mujadid, the renewer of Islam in our century? No. As much as this is a tribute to Shaykh Hamza, it is a tribute to his teacher, Shaykh al-Islam Murabit al-Hajj, the mujadid of our time.

He is Sidi Muhammad ould Fahfu al-Massumi, aged at over 100 years old, the word I have heard best describe him is a ‘sage’. In a world of YouTube and 24 hour Islamic satellite channels, it seems most appropriate that the greatest scholar of our time time resides in a simple tent in the Sahara desert. At a young age he mastered the 18 sciences of Shari’ah, and went on to memorise all ten readings of the Qur’an and the six major collections of Hadith, as well as many other texts. At the age of 19, after promising his mother he would return, he left his village to perform the Hajj on foot, a journey that took a total of three years. Since then, thousands of scholars have learnt from him, many of whom have gone on to become great luminaries in their own right. In the 1980s Shaykh Hamza, then still a student, set out to the remote area of Tuwamirat, to study under the man who would have the greatest impact on his life. I personally believe the main reason why Shaykh Hamza has become so prominent in the world today is because of the time he spent with Murabit al-Hajj, having personally lived with him in his tent for a period of time. Perhaps the greatest piece of evidence we have that Murabit al-Hajj is one of the renewers of Islam in our time, is that despite the fact he lives in one of the remotest parts of the world his influence has a global effect, Shaykh Hamza being one of those examples. This post is a tribute to him, his tribe, his nation, and all those who have taken from him. May Allah raise his rank and grant us more like him.

To read more about Shaykh Murabit al-Hajj, I would recommend the following links:

Student and Admirers of Murabit al-Hajj
Sophisticated Purity
Another Mother of the Believers

Abdullah Quilliam – BBC World broadcast and book review

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (aka Tim Winter) recently did an excellent feature on Abdullah Quilliam (which after listening to it, I realised the ‘u’ isn’t silent) for the BBC world service. You can find it here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00d0vhr

Also featured in this programme was Ron Geaves, a lecturer at the University of Liverpool who recently published a book on the life of Abdullah Quilliam and the state of Muslims and Islam in Britain during the Victorian era. I actually read this book last year, but for some reason never got round to reviewing it, so here goes:

The book is very insightful and interesting for anyone who knows about and is interested in the life and work of ‘Shaykh al-Bri6annia'(sic) William Abdullah Quilliam. It reveals a number of things about his life that many people who purport to be his admirers from many different circles would find very surprising (Anyone heard of the Quilliam Foundation?). For example the fact that he was a Zionist and supported the Jewish diaspora of the world to have a homeland in the Middle East. Albeit under the authority of the Ottoman Sultan as protected dhimmis. I think he would have a much different opinion today if he had seen what the Jewish homeland would eventually go on to become. Or the fact that he was patriotic royalist and supported both the Queen and the Ottoman Sultan. Or the fact he was a practising polygamist. One of the most surprising things the book reveals is after Shaykh Quilliam had to leave his Liverpudlian community, he went on take the persona of Henri de Leon, who I always thought was a completely separate person altogether. Monsieur Leon would go onto become involved with the Mosque at Woking, the oldest surviving in the country.

What is the most important aspect of the book however, is not the life of the man himself, but the legacy he and his community left behind for British Muslims today. The power and courage this man had would put the Muslim community to shame today. Looking back on his achievements, and what he and his compatriots had to put up with, in a time when racism and bigotry was common, when multiculturalism was an era away, he stood up for his faith and never lost his conviction in the face of pure hatred. For us today who are given halal meals in public buildings, literally served on a plate, prayer rooms in every hospital and airport, it’s people like Shaykh Quilliam who laid the foundation for the cushy lifestyle we take for granted as British Muslims today. He literally suffered for us, and we have done very little to repay his legacy. Recently the media made a show of a survey that gave an estimate of the number of British reverts to Islam. When I first read the article, I thought two things, one I’m not surprised, and two, that’s nowhere near how many there should be. For those of us from the immigrant communities, we have done next to nothing to support the converts in our community. Our mosques continue to cater for an archaic older generation, who in the very near future will cease to exist. The services in these mosques continue to be neither in English nor Arabic, but the language of the community who founded it, of which the younger generations of that community have very little understanding of. We continue to spew out incessant amounts of ‘literature’ for the service of ‘dawah’, forgetting that the only real piece of reading that has every historically brought people to our faith was the Eternal, Uncreated Word of Allah that is the Qur’an. (I’ve never heard of anyone becoming interested in Islam by reading a random pamphlet they get given on the street). Though progress has been made, it is slow, all of what we are doing, and what we have yet to achieve, was done by Shaykh Quilliam well over a century ago from the very beginning. The fact that we have so many people coming to the One True Faith is testimony to its greatness, and not because we have done very much to facilitate it.

If we had carried on the old traditions of Shaykh Quilliam, Shah Jalal, Moinuddin Chisti, the Arab traders who travelled to the African coast/Southern Indian/the Pacific archipelago, who knows what the state of Islam would be right now today in this country. Shaykh Quilliam, for British Muslims, stands as a reminder of what we need, and hope to achieve, something we should have done a long time ago. Recommended reading for anyone who wants to make a difference for Muslims and Islam in this country.

Women: The Spiritual Masters of Islam

Recently I went to a friend’s house where he invited Sheikh Abu Ja’far al-Hanbali to first of all perform a nikah, and afterwards was kind enough to stay with us and give us an intimate discourse in Islam regarding any questions we may have. The Sheikh like most orthodox Hanbalis, is an adherent of the Qadri Tariqa. I took it as an opportunity to ask him some questions regarding the Qadri path and there was one thing he mentioned, which I did not ask about but I found very profound. I am paraphrasing the following from memory, so I apologise for any mistakes:

“Women do not have a tariqa. They don’t need one. That’s because they are naturally inclined towards a higher spiritual level. If you look at the female companions around the Prophet (SAWS) and the questions they asked him, they were all questions based on fiqh, they didn’t ask about aqeedah, because they didn’t need to. All the great spiritual women of our history such as Rabia al-‘Adawiyah [al-Basri], they did not have a tariqa.

Afterwards I thought about what he said and it made a lot of sense.

The only hadith I am aware of in my limited knowledge of them, where a woman is involved in anything Aqeedah related was when the Prophet (SAWS) asked a woman “Where is Allah?” to which she replied “Above the Heavens”. If we take it in the context of what the Sheikh said, it has a much more profound and deeper meaning. Why did he (SAWS) ask the woman this? How did she know the answer? To this day male scholars have pondered over, studied, and interpreted this simple hadith that was spoken by a simple believer whose voice would echo through the ages.

It also made me reflect on the matriarchs of my family. My mother, her mother and her mother were all very similar with the regards to the vigour in their faith. Many of us will have mothers and grandmothers both here and back home who are always constantly praying and making dhikr of Allah, always reciting Qur’an, always making d’ua. This is despite the fact that they will most likely have never taken a formal class in religion, let alone give bayyah to a Sheikh. Ihsan comes to mothers naturally in their very nature of being a mother. One of the most spiritually uplifting and inspiring things Allah can place a person into has been reserved only for women.

Take it into the context of men who need to read volumes of books, go to numerous classes, listen to countless scholars, but never in any point in their life achieve the complete level their grandmother back in a village thousands of miles away has achieved.

I see this today even in our sisters in this country. Go to any Islamic bookshop you will nearly always find a humble sister in hijab looking for her next book to read. Go to any class the sisters will always have notes and pens ready to internalise what they’re learning. Even though she knows she doesn’t have to, she still goes to the Masjid to pray with the jama’a because her heart yearns to.

It makes you think, if it wasn’t obligatory for us, how many men would still go to the Masjid to pray?

And to Him is our return.

Change of shift

I’ve decided to change the nature of my posts on this blog. I’m cutting down and hopefully try to cease completely on my Islamic opinionated articles, as my opinions regarding the one true faith of Allah are completely pointless and a waste of time. Instead I will concentrate on more general topics and keep my opinions to my reviews.

And to Him is our return.

Crescentwatch changes its moonsighting policy

Crescentwatch.org, the moon sighting wing (if it can be called that), of Zaytuna college has this year changed its policy for moonsighting. Previously their policy was to go with a naked eye observation for the west coast of America, this being the usual preferred method of the Malikis, which is the school most of the Zaytuna teachers adhere to (if not all of them). But they have decided to change their policy to go with a global moonsighting rather than specific to the west coast of America. The reasoning behind this change being explained by Imam Zaid Shakir here.

I personally tend to lean towards the original opinion of Zaytuna in that the crescent moon should ideally be spotted with the naked in the locality. However reading Imam Zaid’s comments I can only but commend the institute for looking at the situation of its community and being robust and adaptable enough to be willing to make sacrifices and changes.

Having said that, Allah is the best of planners. In the year Crescentwatch changes its policy, the moon was sighted on the west coast at the same time most of the world did. Which was on Wednesday evening, which moon the Saudi Arabian government was looking for remains a mystery. Is their policy to go with a global moonsighting, or whether its sighted in Makkah? As this graph shows it was impossible to see the moon in Makkah on Tuesday evening. If they were going with a global sighting, that would mean the moon could have only have been visible in South America, and according the Crescentwatch report, it was not sighted in South America on Tuesday either:

Crescentwatch has not yet received any reliable reports of the new crescent moon being sighted anywhere on Tuesday, August 10th. Astronomical visibility forecasts indicate that the most likely places to sight the new crescent moon tonight are in South America and the Caribbean (see visibility charts here). We have received numerous reports from Bolivia, Brazil, Guyana, Trinidad, Barbados, and Suriname all indicating that many people went out to look and the moon has not been seen.

We are awaiting further reports from Chile and other key parts of the Americas. We will update this site as more reports come in. We expect to make a final announcement here by 8:30pm PST.

*Crescentwatch adheres to the traditional principal that Islamic lunar months begin and end based on the confirmed, verifiable sighting of the new crescent moon.
Last Updated: Aug 10, 2010 18:51 PST
Posted: Aug 10, 2010 18:32 PST

Why our ummah is so keen to be bed fellows with the Saudi Arabian government still remains a mystery to me. These are the same group of people who slaughtered thousands when the invaded the Hejaz, called the the French military of all people to release the Haram in Makkah from the hands of heretics in the 70s. (If the king of Saudi at the time considered himself the be the ‘Guardian of the Two Holy Sanctuaries’ he would have lead an army himself to release the holiest site in our faith). And when Iraq invades Kuwait they ask the US government to help protect them, clearly violating the verse of the Qur’an stating “Do not take the Christians and Jews as ‘awliyah” which in this context is referred to as military allies.

Apart from the small glimmer of hope, which was the reign of King Faisal, Saudi has had nothing going for it in terms of being an honourable nation. Its time our scholars rise up to the current challenges of our nation, the same way Zaytuna are at the forefront of progressive traditional scholarship in the west. If we just sit blindly by and let the Saudis make our decisions for us then we have no hope for our future and our generations to come.

And to Him is our return.