riyada in arabic means "training" or "discipline". It was used by the arabs in relation to horse taming. Sufis refer to their discipline as "riyadat an-nafs": disciplining the soul / training the ego. Today, the word riyada has come to mean "sports". There is an Arabic proverb that says: "The purpose of sports (riyada) is not to win cups, but to discipline the soul". This blog is here to help me discipline my soul and train my body.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

That Little Candle

Islam is a religion for all mankind, and currently has one fifth of the world as its followers...Now the Arab countries only represent a minority among Muslims, being themselves home to one fifth of all Muslims worldwide, but they are at the heartland of Islam, the birthplace of Islam... and in most cases they are the representatives of Islam. Martin Lings once gave a lecture a long time ago at an International Islamic Congress in Cairo. He was talking about the importance of returning "to that noble civilization whose function it is to create a worthy setting for the spirit of the religion". "But this return," he said, "can be accomplished only by the widespread setting of examples. Arabs, you are in the abode of Islam... and we look toward you from outside that abode and place our hopes in you. Do not disappoint us."[1]

The point is, even though the Arabs do not represent the majority of Muslims, they matter and they matter a lot. And so when I will be discussing what I see to be one of the biggest reasons for the decline of the ummah, do not take it lightly for the fact that this problem exists mostly in the Arab countries. Yes it exists mostly there and in some other places as well, but it is enough to be absolutely devastating to the Islamic community in its entirety, and sadly most Muslims are completely unaware of this.

Have you ever wondered why there are not many great Muslim thinkers out there? And why there are so many ignorant shaykhs and muftis out there, giving out ridiculous fatwas? Why, just why aren't there any sensible shaykhs and muftis out there? Why must we suffer while the ummah looks to incompetent fools for guidance? I can tell you one of the most important reasons, if not THE most important reason, but I do not know if this problem exists outside the Arab world as well. It's a widespread problem in the Arab world, but by the looks of some fatwas out there, I'm willing to bet this same problems happens in the most populous Muslim countries of the world as well (Indonesia, Pakistan, and India which, while not a Muslim country, has the second largest Muslim population in the world). Someone let me know if I'm right.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "By Allah, it is not poverty that I fear for you, but I fear that this world will be spread out in front of you as it was spread out in front of those before you, and then you will vie for it as they vied for it, and it will destroy you as it destroyed them".[2]

And, "Part of what I fear for you after I have gone is the beauty and attraction of this world which will be opened up to you."[3]

(No this is not it, just wait a sec).

Now the early Muslims cared not for this world, and money meant nothing for them, so that they did not worry themselves with acquirining it. The Muslims did not care for becoming merchants or bankers- they left that for the Jews. They did not care for becoming scribes or bureaucrats- they left that for the Christians. The highest possible goal for the Muslims were to become scholars, thinkers, philosophers.

"Allah will make the path to the Garden easy for anyone who travels a path in search of knowledge. Angels spread their wings for the seeker of knowledge out of pleasure for what he is doing. Everyone in the heavens and everyone in the earth ask forgiveness for a man of knowledge, even the fish in the water. The superiority of the man of knowledge (aalim) to the man of worship (aabid) is like the superiority of the full moon over the stars. The men of knowledge are the heirs of the Prophets. The Prophets bequeath neither dinar nor dirham; they bequeath knowledge. Whoever takes it has taken an ample portion."

- Prophet Muhammad [4]

Today, you see people envying movie stars and actors, and the way they live.. And envying the millionaire lifestyle... What they envy is nothing but distraction and play in a world that will eventually end.. What they envy and strive for is a life that leads to torment in the grave and in the hereafter. Why do they not envy the great scholars, or the awliya of Allah- why do they not envy those men who will have eternal bliss in the hereafter?

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "You may only have envy for two things: for a man to whom Allah has given wealth which he spends in the way of the truth, and for a man to whom Allah has given wisdom and he acts by it and teaches it."[5]

Look at the time in which Islam was the beacon of light in the world, how many great scholars and thinkers they had! Why? Because they knew that the pursuit of religious knowledge, and of wisdom, was the noblest of all pursuits. This is what they occupied themseleves with, and they did not worry about money. In order to make some money, thought, to survive, they chose one of the noblest of professions: Medicine- so that they could help mankind. Thus these very same people who wrote countless books on Philosophy, Religion, Mathematics and Astronomoy also wrote books on Medicine, and many of them were great poets to boot!

Truly a great scholar will make the Prophet proud. Abu'l Hassan ash-Shadhili, founder of the Shadhili tariqa, had a dream vision in which he saw the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) standing with Moses and Jesus (pbut), and pointing at Imam al-Ghazali. The Prophet was boasting to Moses and Jesus, saying, "Have either of your your ummah's produced a scholar as great as him?" and they said "No."

But now that all everyone strives for is material gains, what do they study? This brings us back to the situation in the Arab World. In most Arab countries, there comes a point either at the beginning or in the middle of high school where students are seperated and follow different streams: if you are an A or a B student, you take the Sciences stream... But if you are a C student or below, you may not take the Sciences and must study the "lower" stream, that of the Arts, like History or the Social Sciences or Literature. If only the Arabs would look at how the West calls these the "Fine Arts" while we nowadays look at them as the inferior sciences, to be taken only by those who are not smart enough to go into the Sciences!

So what happens to all the intelligent minds of the ummah (in the Arab world)? They get lost in pursuit of their business degrees and MBA's and their money and finances and that's how they come to forget about their religion. And what happens to all the bad students? They become the "thinkers" of the Arab World!

Ok, so now these students who are in the Arts stream are ready to go to college and take their tawjihi exams (or whatever the final diploma exams are called in their country)... Based on the grades that they get on these exams, they are told what they are allowed to learn and what they are not allowed to learn in University. If you have really good grades, you can still hope to go into something like Accounting.... But the lower the grades that you got, the less options are allowed for you to choose from.... And what is the lowest option possible? The option that takes in all the worst students in high school? The only option that you can take if you are not good enough to go into anything else? SHARI'A!!! O God, have mercy on your people for they do not know! SHARI'A!!!! Does it all make sense now? Why all the imams in our mosques are so close-minded? Why all our muftis are embarassingly stupid? Why the Muslim umma is kept so far behind? Because all (ok, most) our religious leaders went into sharia studies because they were too stupid to go into anything else!! That's why! And judging by the fatwas coming from scholars in other countries like India and Pakistan, I'm willing to bet it's the same. And even if they do not have that system in their education system, the same problem exists: the more intelligent and well-off people are not concerned with gaining a religious education.

But there is still much hope, do you know why? Because even if all these scholars are enshrouding the ummah in darkness, in their own darkness and ignorance, all it takes to light a dark room is one little candle. Subhanallah! You have vast spaces of complete darkness that are lit by the light of one candle, or one light bulb! And if the good Muslim worshipper is like a star, giving off a small amount of light (faith and knowledge), then the true scholar, the true possessor of knowledge, is like a moon, giving light to all those on the surface of the earth! Subhanallah!. When one Muhammad Iqbal emerges, or one Muhammad Asad, these thinkers of such great genius, their light is enough to give wisdom to all those who were covered in darkness. When a Nuh Keller or a Martin Lings emerges, shaykhs of such spiritual magnitude and such knowledge, their light is enough to give guidance to all those who were lost in the dark. When a Hamza Yusuf or a Zaid Shakir emerges, those who have such passion for their religion, their light is enough to arouse the passions of all those who were asleep in the darkness. When intelligent, sometimes genius people, dedicate themselves to their religion, they spread so much light that it does not matter how many ignorant shaykhs or mullahs are out there anymore. Be there one hundred or one million ignorant scholars sitting in the dark, when the light of that moon shines, it reaches all who are on the surface of the earth (on that side of the earth that is dark, i know, i know, but you get the point).

And why did such great minds dedicate themselves to their religion? Because they did not care about wordly possessions... They wanted the noble sciences that elevate one's mind and spirit far above the seven heavens.. And they became moons, and the inheritors of the Prophets. May God guide us upon the path of His Prophets and give us knowledge! Ya Nur!

So I implore all intelligent Muslims to try and gain as much religious knowledge as possible, and God's Messenger has promissed that "Allah will make the path to the Garden easy for anyone who travels a path in search of knowledge." [6]

And I ask especially those who have been given wealth by the grace of Allah, that they thank Allah for that blessing by dedicating their life to upholding his religion and spreading its proper teachings. If you already have been given wealth, why seek for more, when you can be doing the most noble thing that God created man to do?

"Your striving for what has already been guaranteed to you and your negligence of what is demanded of you are signs of the loss of your deep spiritual insight (baseera)."

So said the great Ibn Ata'Allah al-Iskandari, that scholar and wali whose hikam (wise sayings) are taught in every corner of the Muslim world! If you have been provided enough material wealth to live, then instead of striving for more of what has already been provided for you, strive for that which is a religious obligation (fareeda) for you : "Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim" [7]. Other versions of this hadith say, "Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim, man and woman."

What do you think this 'Ilm is, that the Prophet is talking about in all these ahadith, this knowledge? Do you think that all the sciences and arts of the Islamic Civilization had existed at the time of the Prophet? No, they came later. There was only one 'ilm, one science, one type of knowledge, that the Prophet meant in all these ahadith encouraging us to acquire it and teach it: religious knowledge.

And if you are not wealthy and need to work in something, then know that being a writer or a thinker, or a da'i or a scholar does not prevent you from having a job to earn a living. The great thinker and writer Muhammad Iqbal dedicated his life to the cause of Islam, but worked as a lawyer on the side to earn a living. He was a lawyer AND he had enough time to inspire millions of Muslims and to help create the country of Pakistan, for it was his dream to create a country based on nothing but Islam (the fact that Pakistan has fallen far from that ideal is not his fault!!) My favorite Muslim da'i in the Arab World, Shaykh Muhammad bin Musa al-Shareef, other than spending a lot of time giving lectures on Islamic tv channels and teaching students, works as a pilot for the Saudi airlines to earn a living! Muhammad Asad was a journalist and then became a Pakistani ambassador (despite the fact that he was Austrian!)

If you are living outside the predominantly Muslim countries and cannot find someone to give you a proper traditional Islamic education, and you can afford it, please go here--> Sunni Path. If you are living in a predominantly Muslim country, go find a famous shaykh or scholar and learn from them.. In many cases it's completely free, and you can do it on the weekends!

You don't have to become another Muhammad Asad or some great Muslim philosopher. You just need to become a smart, educated, open-minded possessor of Islamic knowledge... I'm not asking you to be a moon... All you have to be is a little tiny candle to spread your light to the corners of a room in the dark!

And Muslim governments, and Arab nations... Do you want to significantly reduce that "religious fanaticism" you fear so much? Stop putting the knowledge of Islam in the hands of the worst thinkers in your country!!! Raise the standards for those wishing to learn Shari'a... Stop idiots and high school failures from becoming the leaders of their communities and the distributers of knowledge, for it is because of their ignorance that fanaticism can spread so easily. Fight fanaticism with knowledge. That is what we need to do.

What we need to do is to emulate our ancestors who made the Islamic civilization shine like a beacon for all the world... All these great geniuses, they where greatly versed in religious knowledge and in many other fields as well. That's what we should strive for. We need to go back to the age in which the brightest minds of the ummah are Philosopher-Shaykhs, Historian-Shaykhs, Astronomer-Shaykhs, Mathematician-Shaykhs, Surgeon-Shaykhs, Healer-Shaykhs, and yes, even sometimes Merchant-Shaykhs, etc. And we need to go back to a time when just being a Shaykh, or a religious scholar, was held in the highest esteem. Back then, parents used to sell their houses and live in the street in order for their children to learn at the hands of Shaykhs and become great scholars. What we need is that our most brilliant minds leave their hopes of money and riches, and start working to gain the Gardens of the heareafter... We need our most brilliant minds to want to become, to aspire to become, the inheritors of the Prophets. Only that would bring about a change in the Muslim World.

“Verily Allah and His angels, even the ant in its hole and the fish in the sea, verily they all pray for he who teaches people good.” [8]

1. "What is the Spiritual Significance of Civilization?
2. Agreed Upon. Riyad as-Salihin: On the Excellence of making do with little of this world and the encouragement to have little of it and the excellence of poverty
3. Ibid.
4. Narrated by Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi, and Ibn Majah. Riyad as-Salihin: The Excellence of knowledge
5. Agreed Upon. Ibid.
6. Sahih Muslim. Ibid.
7. Authentic. Reported by Bayhaqi.
8. Authentic. Reported by Tabarani. Why Should I Study (Islamic Knowledge)? Note: The "Muhammad al-Shareef" who wrote this article is NOT the same Muhammad b. Musa al-Shareef that I mention in the blog.


Blogger DA said...

wow. That explains a LOT. I'm sure desis must have a similar problem; how else to explain some of the wierd shit coming from pakistan?

May 7, 2006 at 11:21 PM

Blogger Silencer said...

tis a crime against the religion.

May 7, 2006 at 11:36 PM


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