Imam Nawawi Hadith #19-Divine Destiny

I came across some old notes of mine (on an old blog) about a special SunniPath lecture a few years ago on the 19th Hadith from Imam Nawawi’s Forty Hadith collection. In the spirit of the hadith of the Prophet  (may peace be upon him) “Let him among you who (was present and) saw, inform him who was absent”, and because I’d like to remember these notes in my “virtual notebook” here are some gems from this mubarak event.

Firstly, a bit about Imam Nawawi:

Imam Nawawi is from Syria, and is called Nawawi because he was from the village of Nawa. He was born in 1233 C.E and is an Imam of the later Shafi’i school. He was the scholar of his time, and a master of the hadith sciences in particular. He is known especially for his book Riyad as-saliheen (Gardens of the Righteous), and his Kitab Adkar (a book of invocations). He compiled his collection of Forty Hadith however, because he wanted Muslims to have access to the foundational hadiths of Islam.

The narrator of this hadith is ibn Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet and the son of the Prophet’s paternal uncle. He was born 3 years before the  Hijrah, during the difficult time when the nascent Muslim community was being boycotted.  It was a source of hope for Muslim community to have children born in this time, and the Prophet made dua for ibn Abbas and asked Allah for knowledge and understanding of the deen for him.

The text of Hadith #19 is as follows. (translation from the SP event)

Abu al-Abbas ‘Abdullah bin Abbas (radiyallahu anhuma) reported: I was behind the Prophet  (sallallahu alayhi wasalaam) when he said: Oh young man, I will teach you some words (of wisdom). Be mindful of Allah, and Allah will protect you. Be mindful of Allah, and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, ask of Allah; if you seek help, seek help of Allah. Know that if the whole community were to gather together to benefit you with anything, it would benefit you only with something that Allah had already prescribed for you, and that if they gather together to harm you with anything, they would harm you only with something Allah had already prescribed for you. The pens have been lifted and the pages have dried.”

According to a line of transmission of other than that of al-Tirmidhi, it reads:

Keep Allah in mind and you will find Him in front of you. Get acquainted with Allah in times of ease and He will know you in days of distress. Know that what missed you could not have hit you, and what hit you could not have missed you. Know that victory comes with patience, relief follows distress, ease follows hardship.

We see in this hadith the Prophet in the role of a father figure, as ibn Abbas is very young when this incident occurs.  There are so many images in the media of the Prophet that are not favourable, and with representations it is important to be conversant with the hadith collections of the Prophet so we are able to counter these images with knowledge.

There are two different versions of this hadith, and it is important to reflect on the meanings of these two different narrations.

We brainstormed as a class about these differences, but one key difference is in the manner that the hadith talks about divine destiny. Each hadith gives us a different understanding of destiny. This is noteworthy because qada and qadr are fascinating topics that have fascinated Muslim theologians for centuries, and in this hadith we have a couple of different glimpses of this concept.

(Refer back to the hadith of Jibril to get an explanation of Qada and Qadr)

This hadith explains divine decree as knowing that what has passed you by was not going to benefit you. In other words, Allah is in control of our affairs and creates means and outcomes. This does not mean that Muslims are fatalists, but that with complete and total trust in Allah, whenever difficulties/sadness occurs, we have trust in Allah although we take the means available to us.

This hadith offers encouragement, something that is a common feature of the hadiths of the Prophet. We have many examples of hadiths where the Prophet lays out appropriate behaviour and encourages believers. Rarely do you find statements where the Prophet prohibits actions and does not offer alternatives. Here for example, we see the Prophet saying be mindful, and mindfulness has its own reward.

In this hadith we are taught about proper adab (etiquette) which is that as Muslims we rely on Allah in all affairs. This means that we take the best means possible, but we leave the outcome to Allah. Supplication is a powerful tool however, and it is possible that through supplication Allah will cause our destiny to unfold in different ways. Through supplication it is possible that Allah may ward off harm or cause some benefit.  Which is why when we ask, we ask Allah.

Book recommendation: Reflections of Pearls.

What is Mindfulness?

To be truly mindful, one is cognizant and conscious. It means to respect Allah’s limits, and adhere to the sacred law and have taqwa. At the highest levels, it is to have scrupulousness, (wara’a).

Mindfulness is a covenant between us and Allah. If we remember Allah, Allah will remember us. Deeply reflected upon, this hadith acts as a balm for troubled hearts.

Verse for contemplation: Ali Imran: Verse 186 (3:186)

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This is your struggle

Your mental imprisonment is so great the only thing you can think of is fighting halfway across the world. You can’t conceptualise any positive work here where Allah has placed you. This is escapism, truncated worldview, cowardice. Do something where Allah has placed you. Otherwise all your college education, your writing, your technical skills, everything you have, are all to waste. Allah did not put you here in vain. If Allah wanted you to be halfway across world,  He would have put you there. So this place this is your battle. It is a battle of ideas, ethics, decency, and you can choose to wage that struggle or run away.

~Imam Zaid, Knowledge Retreat 1432 (speaking after several questions about the appropriate response to oppression/occupation in other parts of the world)

There was a Mother Who Knew How To Be a Mother

Last year, on the fourth day of the Knowledge Retreat Shaykh Yahya spoke about Tarim (a city in Yemen) and told us that before children go out, their mothers help them prepare for different scenarios they might encounter by asking questions like, “what will you do if you see an old man by the road? And “what will you do if you see the masjid door open?” And the children respond by saying, I will help the man and see if he needs anything, I will close the door of the mosque and so on and so forth. And through this process the mothers of Tarim help these critical meanings and intentions to grow in the hearts of their children in order for them to meet what they may encounter in the best way possible

The same morning during Dr Umar’s class, he said hearing Shaykh Yahya’s story made him think of when he moved to Georgia from Nebraska as a child and how his mother helped him prepare for what he would encounter on the first day of school, because Georgia at that time was a very different world; it was the deep South. His mother explained to him the questions that the other children would likely ask him, and the best way to respond. And sure enough, the same questions were asked, Dr Umar responded in the way his mother advised him, and everything worked out just like she said it would. And Dr Umar stopped for a moment and said:

There was a mother who knew how to be a mother.


The moment touched me deeply. Then on the last day of the retreat, Dr Umar spoke to us about his mother again, and about her passing, may Allah be pleased with her, and said said “everything I am, I am because of her.” And from his voice and expressions, we all had tears in our eyes, and prayed for own families and mothers as well as Dr Umar’s in that moment. 

What I thought about afterwards was how true that statement is. What we are, and the gifts and personalities we develop are very much a product of our families. To give something to your own family in turn and be a positive influence, it is necessary to be a strong person on your own and someone who has actively worked on purifying their heart. It takes struggle to prevent your own fluctuations in faith impact the consistency of your routines.

I’m at home right now for a visit, and in the past few days I’ve been thinking about the things here I’ve always taken for granted. Whether it is the day beginning before dawn with sounds of people getting out of bed and getting ready for prayer and Qur’an, or quiet dhikr being the accompaniment to meals and snack preparation, or people getting up for prayer as soon as the time comes in, or structured sleep routines, or the many other ways I see the sacred in the mundane, I’ve always just thought of home being “like that.” I’ve assumed everywhere was a place of reading, and seeking development and growth as a shared endeavour. But of course nothing is naturally a particular way, it requires effort and striving and active intention on a daily basis to create a beautiful home. To be someone to anyone, to be mothers and sisters and friends and daughters who know the reality of their roles, it is necessary to be firstly full people ourselves.

This Is Not A Religion Where We Just Talk

   This is not a religion where we just talk.  It is not about philosophizing or intellectualizing, or lofty conceptualizations, it is about actions. It is not just wagging your tongue.  The simple person who is busy with cleaning masjid, shoveling snow, maybe can’t tell you about Rumi and the 25 benefits of isolation and solitude but he is a bigger Sufi than person who is just asking about these benefits. Faith has to give fruit of action  Not about philosophizing and saying the light went on when the shaykh talked about 20 benefits of such and such and  I memorized 18 and didn’t implement a single one. If faith doesn’t take root in action, faith should be questioned.

~ Imam Zaid, Knowledge Retreat 2010/1432