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Blessing of a Long Life

طُوبَى لمن طالَ عمرهُ ، وحَسُنَ عمَله

Glad tidings to the one whose life is long and deeds exemplary.

[Tirmidhī 2251, 2252, Kanz al-‘Ummāl, Mishkāt al-Maṣābīḥ 2270, authenticated by al-Albānī]

In a world that obsesses over centenarians (those that live beyond 100 years) and super-centenarians (those who live past 110), these words of the Prophet could not be more timely. This great lesson was narrated through the Companion ‘Abdullah bin Busr al-Aslamī who recalls that he once witnessed some Bedouins, known for their frank and crude manners, appearing before the Prophet and asking him, Hey Muhammad, who is the best of people? Never losing patience nor exhibiting the least bit of annoyance, the Prophet at once moved to serve his appointed role as teacher and guide, replying with words that continue to ring through the ages: Glad tidings to the one whose life is long and deeds exemplary.

A long life is truly a great blessing. It is also one of the most sought after things in this world. The Qur’ān remarks that there are even those who wish to live for a thousand years [2:96]. That certainly remains true today. The secret to longevity remains the holy grail of modern medicine and one of the most profitable areas of scientific and medical research. The obsession with life expectancies, infant mortality and other stats related to life-span are quite obvious. We proudly keep tabs on those who are octogenarians (more than eighty years old), centenarians (more than 100) and up. Last week, the oldest documented person in the Guinness Book of World Records died, who happened to be a gentle woman from Brazil who passed away at the age of 114.

The Qur’ān affirms time and again that no one shall live forever, and that death is the inevitable end of all. And yet, at the same time, the Prophet also affirmed the blessing of a long life. Longevity is a desirable thing indeed, and the Prophet went as far as congratulating and sending salutations on those blessed with long years.

But the Prophet mentioned two things here: lifespan and lifework. These precise words contain the perfect balance to understanding the total life of a human being and what constitutes a commendable life and legacy. There are many who obsess over the longevity of life with no concern for its content. And there are others who refuse to acknowledge the blessing of a long life at all and emphasize only one’s contribution.

In his masterful way, the Prophet was teaching humanity that while the quantity of one’s life is indeed important and praiseworthy, but what is more important than that is the quality of one’s life. While a life that extends a good length and span is desirable, but what is more desirable is that it also contains meaningful content. In Islam, both quantity and quality, size and content, lifespan and lifework matter.

Each of our positive deeds impacts others in beneficial ways and increases our spiritual rewards and ranking with our Creator. Therefore, the greater the amount of time and opportunity spent in these endeavors, the greater our legacy and rewards. That is why a long life is a blessed thing for believers.

However, despite the universal interest in achieving longevity of life, unlocking the secrets to the life-span remains as elusive today as it ever was. The problem with survival rates, predictions of life expectancy, giving the terminally ill how long they have left to live, etc. is that that these numbers simply don’t work nor do they apply to individual cases. The Qur’ān repeatedly affirms that God alone knows the time and location of one’s death, and nothing can avert that by any degree. That knowledge is best left to God. When humans begin to use numbers and stats to predict life and death, not only does it make life difficult and invite unhealthy thoughts and emotions, but they also wind up ruining lives and making some wealthy at the expense of others.

The Prophet mentioned two things, one of which is mostly out of our control (our lifespan) and the other mostly within our control (our lifework). He was teaching us to acknowledge the first blessing which is out of our grasp, while at the same time, focusing and working on the second blessing which is within our grasp. From another perspective, a long life is a great blessing that comes with a great responsibility: to do good with that life.

The early Muslims recognized this great blessing and this great responsibility. Once an infant-child was brought to the Prophet in Madīnah by his mother seeking counsel and blessing. The Prophet supplicated for the child, asking that—among other things—Allah bless him a long life. That child did indeed live a long and productive life, not missing any opportunity to establish his legacy and increase his ranks. His name was Anas bin Mālik and he outlived the Prophet by almost a century, making him one of the last Companions to leave the earth at the age of 103. He was an important source of knowledge for the Muslim world for nearly a century, and continues to be so today. In our tradition he represents the third most prolific narrator of ḥadīth, and there is no single book of ḥadīth or sunnah that does not mention his name. He was able to leave such a monumental legacy because of these two things: a blessed life-span and blessed life-work. He was our greatest centenarian.

Are You Smarter than . . .

Have you ever come across someone who was content to be dumb? In fact, intelligence is one of the most universally sought after human qualities. There is a tremendous emphasis in our society on being smart, IQ scores, cleverness, etc. In this brief khutbah we examine what is true intelligence and foolishness, from the perspective of the greatest and smartest human being that ever live- the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon Him. [click to listen]

Message from Uwaymir Anjum

IMAG0609Dear Almaghrib Brothers and Sisters, Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah

I am thankful to Allah for allowing me to spend two uplifting and blessed days with such dedicated and intelligent Muslims sisters and brothers in faith. I enjoyed teaching you and learning from you; your questions and thoughts are invaluable for me, and will continue to make me think more and strive better.

I had promised a few things during the lectures. From what I can remember, these were: the lecture presentations (attached) and a list of recommended books (provided below).

Please feel free to remind me if I am forgetting something. I’d love to hear thoughts, questions and suggestions from each one of you; feel free to use the email address I have provided uwaymir at yahoo dot com. Some of you had particular questions or requests; please feel free to contact me, I’d love to be of help if I can.

For anyone interested in spiritual writings of Ibn Taymiyya or Ibn al-Qayyim in translation, please contact me directly. For many reasons that you can guess, there is a lack of good books on or by Ibn Taymiyya in English on either his political thought or spirituality. Ibn Taymiyya is a very challenging writer because of his encyclopedic knowledge full of references that common Muslims are not familiar with. Ibn al-Qayyim, the most brilliant and devoted disciple of Ibn Taymiyya, is easier and more organized. I have been translating his Madarij al-Salikin for Aljumuah Magazine for the last five years; I could send you a subset of those writings if you are interested—although I suggest reading the whole magazine. Also, I have some more advanced articles on Ibn al-Qayyim and Ibn Taymiyya’s spiritual writings, which I can provide upon request.

A list of recommended books

On Ibn Taymiyya,

Ibn Taymiyya Expounds on Islam by Abdul Haqq Ansari (available for download at http://www.scribd.com/doc/16603238/Expounds-on-Islam-by-Ibn-Taymiyyah?autodown=pdf) This one is the best and most extensive anthology of his writings to my knowledge.

The Hanbali School of Law and Ibn Taymiyyah: Conflict or Conciliation (Culture and Civilization in the Middle East) by Abdul Hakim I. Al-Matroudi. This is a very decent academic but accessible study by a Saudi scholar of Ibn Taymiyya’s jurisprudence.

Public Duties in Islam: The Institution of the Hisba by Ibn Taymiyya

Ibn Taymiyya: Muslims under non-Muslim Rule by Yahya Michot (Interface Publictions, 2006). This is an example of how Ibn Taymiyya’s writings have been misused in the contemporary Muslim world. The author is Prof. at Hartford Seminary, a respected Muslim scholar and convert, whose own bias is evident in the book.

Sayyid Abul A`la Mawdudi, The Islamic Movement: Dynamics of Values, Power and Change, ed. By Khurram Murad (Islamic Foundation, 1998)

Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Islamic Awakening: Between Rejection and Extremism

Winning the Modern World for Islam, by Abdessalam Yassine (Justice and Spirituality Publishing, 2000)

On Muslim women in particular,

Al-Muḥaddithāt By Muḥammad Akram Nadwī. This is one of the best and most learned accounts I come across of early Islamic tradition on women in good English, very inspiring.

In Arabic, I had mentioned to some sisters Abd al-Haleem Abu Shaqqa’s Tahrir al-mar`a fi `ahd al-risala

Ma`a salamatillah,

Your brother in faith,

Uwaymir Anjum

Gems from Islamic Political Theory

Adapted from the insightful series of lectures by Dr Uwaymir AnjumIMAG0609

Ask yourself these questions. . . Is Islam an individual matter? Does it have anything to do with the public sphere, with matters of governance? Does Islam have any vision for governing societies?

Muslims would generally agree that governing according to Islam, aka Khilāfah, aka Islamic state, is something necessary or at least something commendable. But ask yourself this— when was the last time you heard a lecture about the Khilāfah, or about the fiqh of the Islamic state? In contrast, when was the last time you heard about the fiqh of prayer, or fasting, or about dhikr? Have we reduced Islam to personal fiqh? What has happened to the domain of Islamic political thought?

It is a matter of faith for us that Islamic teachings remain as relevant today as they ever were. Politics is in essence managing our resources for a greater, collective good, about working together as communities, and as an ummah. In Arabic the term is siyāsah, which is found in the following Prophetic ḥadīth:

كَانَتْ بَنُو إسْرَائِيلَ تَسُوسُهُمُ الأَنْبِيَاءُ، كُلَّمَا هَلَكَ نَبِيٌّ خَلَفَهُ نَبِيٌّ، وَإنَّهُ لاَ نَبِيَّ بَعْدِي. وَسَتَكُونُ خُلَفَاءُ فَتَكْثُرُ

The Israelites used to be governed/managed (politically) by the prophets. Whenever one of them died, another took his place. But there will be no prophet after me, but only khulafā’ (caliphs). [al-Bukhārī, Muslim and others]

The terms also finds itself from a report from ‘Umar:

خطبنا عمر بن الخطاب فقال قد علمت ورب الكعبة متى تهلك العرب، فقام إليه رجل من المسلمين فقال: متى يهلكون يا أمير المؤمنين؟ قال: حين يسوس أمرهم من لم يعالج أمر الجاهلية ولم يصحب الرسول صلى الله عليه وسلّم

Once ‘Umar addressed us and said, I indeed know, by the Lord of the Ka‘bah, when the Arabs will be destroyed. A man stood up and asked, When will they be destroyed O Commander of the Faithful? He replied, When they entrust their affairs (siyāsah) to those who have not eradicated the matters of jāhiliyyah and those who will not be from the Companions. [Muṣannaf Ibn Abī Shaybah, al-Bayhaqī]

So politics (siyāsah) is an essential part of human collective life and hence an integral part of the religion of truth.

But our collective lives are a mess. We have many great individuals among us who are quite diligent in their prayers and even cry when reading the Qurʼān, but when they sit in committees to run a masjid or a school or an event, chaos breaks loose. Tensions rise, accusations are leveled, backbiting occurs!

The Judgment of Akhirah is about individuals, but the Prophet of Islam established communities, social environments and, yes, states. They didn’t focus on knocking on doors and reaching every individual person but they had a broader mission. The majority and bulk of Arabia did not embrace Islam when each person was convinced of its truth, but when the writing on the horizon changed after the conquest of Makkah. The early Muslims conquered lands but did not force Islam on individuals. Why did the masses embrace Islam, then? The Muslims established order and institutions and a new way of organizing things, the writing on the horizons changes, and that brought the masses of people to them.

The Prophet and early Muslims had a profound sense of mission. We owe it to them to try to understand what that was and what happened to us. . . .