Your Lord is a Generous Lord (Gems from Prohibitions of the Tongue, Class 3 with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf)

Last year I started listening to a class from the 2012 Deen Intensive Rihla called Prohibitions of the Tongue. Recently, in preparation for Ramadan, and with the desire to improve my own speech, I’ve restarted my listening. Here are notes from Session 3. These are not complete notes, and all mistakes in notetaking are my own. (You can find my notes from the 1st lesson here, and from the second session here.)

  • Yesterday we were looking at the journey, the Rihla of life, and the central purpose of the human being, which is to know their Lord, to know their Lord in this body that Allah has placed us in for this time. We’ve been placed in this cage, and the soul is in the cage, and we’ve been told to do certain things. And we were reminded by Prophets who came. There were also long periods of time for certain people where they were not sent Prophets.
  •  One of the distinctions of Bani Israel is that they were given Prophet after Prophet
  • Line of the Jewish Prophets is Ishaq (Yaqub alayhis salaam). Prophet’s line is Ismaili line.
  • No people that didn’t have Prophets. Every people has had Prophets. We don’t know their numbers. Weak hadiths that indicate 124,000, we see these numbers mentioned in the books, but in the end the ulama say Allahu Alam.
  • The meaning of Islam is our relationship with our Lord which is submission to Allah. So we believe that islam abrogates what came before it.

3 type of people hear about Islam

  • 1. Those who live among Muslims and see the true Islam. And these people the hujja is against them. If they die in that state of rejecting Islam the hujja is against them.
  •  2. People who live near the lands of Islam. These people are in a precarious situation because they’re exposed to it and they could know, but less so then the people among the Muslims.
  •    3.   And finally the people in far distant lands who have never heard of Islam. Imam Ghazali said if the people near the lands of Islam have a distorted image of Islam, then they are not judged according to their rejection of the distortion, because what they are rejecting is not Islam, but a distorted image of Islam. But he likens them to people among us who hear about false prophets that came and told lies, and people said oh they are just liars. No Muslim is interested in hearing about these people because they are told since they were a child that he is a false prophet.  And he (Imam Ghazali) said that this is also true of other people. Imam Ghazali is recognizing the sociological filters that people have. It’s very hard to penetrate, it’s quite rare for people to have a natural ability to penetrate beyond their historicity. And so he takes a very merciful view of that. Still, we believe that Islam abrogates. And that the true path and the last and final path is Islam.
  • Previous dispensations -Islam recognizes truth in them and recognizes good people among them, which is important. So you don’t make blanket statements about other traditions because good people among them and people of righteousness among them, people that are attempting to live according to their truths. So you’ll find righteous Christians practicing charity and doing other things.
  • So really the Muslim shouldn’t look with contempt at other people outside our faith. Islam is looking at people with the eye of mercy. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him did not look at people with contempt.
  • So whatever reason, there are long periods when Prophets don’t come. One of them is the time between the Prophet Isa and the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon them both. There are no Prophets between these Prophets.
  • Hunafa- people who naturally inclines to the truth.  Abu Dharr al-Ghifari was someone like that. He used to do sajda. Which is why when he heard about the Prophet,peace and blessings be upon him, he went immediately. He had amazing iman. He was a highwayman, but there was decorum, adab with the raiding. They only took so much, they left the women alone, and it rarely led to bloodshed. They knew bloodshed was dangerous because it leads to war.
  • The Quraysh were amazed when they saw his piety because he was a Ghifari. When he came to Makkah, the Quraysh started beating him because he went straight the Kaaba and declared his shahadah. When Abu Bakr came he said “this is a Ghifari”, and they all stopped because they didn’t want to mess with his tribe. Very tough man. Amazing man. The Prophet peace and blessings be upon him loved him. He is an example of someone who had a fitra belief.
  • I would argue that if you read Surah Baqarah, from beginning to end, can find the entire message of the Qur’an in Surah Baqarah.  Surah Baqarah is a restoration of this Abrahamic way. This fitra way. Its calling to this milah of Ibrahim that is free of the sectarianism, divisions, of all the deviations of previous traditions that have lost their way. It is time to come back. To get rid of the decorum that has clouded your mind, and get back to a simple prayer. To get back to this simple fitra way. And this is what Islam is calling humanity back to. It’s a stripped down way. It’s what you take on the lifeboat when the lifeboat is sinking.
  • As long as have water and Qibla, have nothing to worry about. I have had the blessing of living with bedouins, and one of the things the bedouin teach you is how little you need, because everything the bedouin needs is in a little box. Everything they own. And they live very well. They smile. Some of them have permanent smiles. Not worried about 401K or stock markets, because all they need is their tent, and don’t even need that, because if they don’t have it, will make it out of tree branches etc.
  •  So the fitra way is this way that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, came to restore. It’s the way of the original people. Fatir is the originator. Fitra is your original nature. And your original nature is to be happy, it’s not to be sad, the baseline of children is actually happy, they get sad when things happen, they get hurt, they get hungry, but there’s always a reason for their sadness. They’re not endogenously sad. Which is what the state of many modern people are. They’re sad but they don’t really know why they are sad. The baseline state for humans is to be happy. The baseline state for humans is to be honest. Which is why when you have a conversation with someone, they’ll believe you. Children are often embarrassingly honest. They haven’t yet learnt there is decorum, comportment in the world.
  • Fitra nature is also to be curious. Curiosity is part of fitra. You want to find out.
  • Fitra nature is to know and understand. All human beings have a desire to know.
  • And so all of these truths that have been restored with Islam, are a restoration of these ancient truths. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, because he knew that his way was for the last people, he gave us many warnings about things.
  • He knew for instance, about diversions and about the nature of lahw.  Like in the past, if you wanted to have lahw, you had to create your own diversions. Like unless you were wealthy, if you wanted to listen to music, you had to make your own music. Couldn’t just play music or turn on a machine. If you wanted to be entertained, had to go to a play outdoors. Could just turn on the TV, or download a film. So the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him warned us about too much diversions, and this is very important. And about the means of lahw – what the Turks call, “white people’s inventions”.
  • So the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him, knew that these means of entertainment would come and people would get lost in them, and so he warned his religion. And so that’s why we have a creative tension. You’ll never have something that has a power of diversion in Islam, but you’ll have a creative tension in Islam. Music is a good example. There are ulama who permit music and there are ulama who prohibit music and then there are people who make very clear caveats about what’s permitted and what’s not permitted. But the fact that we have a creative tension means that it prevents Muslims from completely falling into something that is inherently profoundly dangerous.  So Islam is never blanket. It’s always to create a beautiful balance and tension so that Muslims never go completely astray. They can deviate, but the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, put all these checks and balances in his religion. Which is why you can find hadiths which seem completely contradictory, but they’re actually not, they’re to create these dynamic tensions so Muslims will always maintain this balance so they don’t go completely overboard on either side.  Because you can become too strict, and there is no recreation, no relaxation.
  • There is a sahih hadith of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him going to a wedding, and asking Sayyida Aisha, do they have entertainment? Because the Ansar like entertainment. And then he told them to have entertainment. But it’s not something he wanted all the time because he knew the danger of it. You can become so entertained you can forget the purpose of your existence. Of why you’re here.
  • So these are really important aspects of our religion that the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him, saw because he understood the time he was living in and Allah showed him and revealed many things about the end of time that would become clear as time passed.
  • Prophet said I didn’t see any good except I indicated it to you, and I didn’t see any evil except I warned you about it.
  • In each time and place, it becomes incumbent for group of Muslims to learn the religion, preserve the religion and teach the religion and pass it on.

Two types of people in our religion: 

a) People who are the caretakers of knowledge: ulama and tulab ul ilm

b) People obliged to study with them

  • Relationship of trust and mutual respect.
  • Beware of tyrannical scholars who don’t allow you to question.  Sayyida Aisha asked questions.  And the sahaba felt comfortable, didn’t feel like they couldn’t ask, even though they had awe of the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him. But the Prophet did warn against asking too much questioning. He said, “Allah hates for you to gossip, and wasting money, and too much questioning.” But the ulama say this refers to things of fudul, excessive things.  But things about fiqh people asked the Prophet.
  • “Ask the people of knowledge if you don’t know.” So we’re commanded to ask.
  • This is very important. Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, praised the learners of Qur’an, but praised the ones with a vast knowledge. Maher in Qur’an, memorizes the Qur’an, knows the tajweed, knows the ahkam, the rulings, that’s the maher. He or she is the one you go to to learn to take your Qur’an from.

So how does one know that scholarship is sound?

  • Certain things were put as checks and balances so that we know.
  •  To be with the majority of people. (the jama’a) The vast majority. The ulema will not agree on error. There are things that are known by consensus, that the ulema over time agreed on. So there were many qira’at. But the ulema agreed that there are 10 qira’at.  And they agreed on tajweed. So when you study your Qur’an, you have to take it from someone who is in an isnad, who knows the ahkam. And so they have to know how to give the words their proper rights. So words have haqq and mustahaqq. Like at the end of an ayah, has a certain bounce. These are things that you have to learn, so you take it from someone who knows.
  • And then there are things like fiqh.  There are people who talk about “why do we have to have madhabs?” Why can’t we just love each other, and get rid of differences? First of all, language by its nature is ambiguous. This is very important to acknowledge. If you study in Arabic, there is a process in Arabic. Have to study vocabulary. Vocabulary is very extensive in Arabic. Can go on and on on. And vocabulary never ends. They say only a Prophet can encompass Arabic. No human being can learn the whole entire language of Arabic. It’s too vast.
  • But the hadith is more difficult than the Qur’an. The Qur’an has a Arabic vocabulary that is more limited than the hadith vocabulary. But the Qur’an is gharaib, it has words that are unusual. In Arabic, acacia tree is well known. The Arabs like to name their men after trees, because trees are great things. They give you shade, they protect you, you can make things from them. So Talha is something strong. But in the Qur’an, in Surah Waqiah the same word is the banana tree. You only get that from tafsir. It’s not the normal usage.
  • In hadith, difference of opinion of the 6 days you fast in Shawwal. Whether it’s 6 days in the beginning of whether it’s 6 days of Shawal. Imam Malik, and Imam Ghazali differed.  And the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him didn’t clarify,  the language is ambigious.
  • The sahaba knew that the same question could have same answer. Sayyiduna Umar’s answer vs Ibn Abbas was different.
  • So this is the religion. You have to have an elasticity to your mind. You have to expand your horizons. The unity is with diversity, but the diversity has its limits. It has boundaries. There are limits to interpretation. Interpretative limits. Hermeutical limits. You can’t go beyond those. And those are determined by the great imams of Islam. They have determined these limits.

So who do you take your fiqh from?

The sunni Muslims agreed on these four imams.

  • And some people say, well they are all men, and people can make mistakes. This is a lack of understanding of what the madhabs are. The madhabs are not one individual. Malik is part of a school.
  • The madhabs follow a particular methodology. The methodology comes from their own genius and the environment they are coming from. When you adopt a madhab, you adopt a school. And the school has 1400 years of revising. Literally. Overall, the great scholars of these madhabs recognized the validity of the other schools but adhered to their schools because of the proofs within them.
  • How do we know who to follow? Most of you, if you’re Pakistani, you’re Hanafi and Maturidi, though you may not know it.  And your family, your ancestors almost invariably Naqshbandi, Qadiri or Chisti, because 100 years ago, 70% of the Muslim ummah followed a tariqa. Vast majority of Muslims.
  • People of tasawwuf were the most fervent followers of the sunna of the Prophet.
  • People who abuse religion are worse than Mafia. Really, because when you become a victim of one of these people, it causes a profound distrust in the heart. It’s one of the worse things that can be done to a human being. Because human beings by their fitra, trust human beings. If you display piety, you should be pious. But to be a complete fraud..
  • If you’re not worried about nifaq (hypocrisy), biggest sign you’re a munafiq. But should not use religion for personal enurement, as they say in legal jargon. For acquiring things.
  • And in aqida people have agreed on certain schools. Have been clashes but eventually agreed on these basic aqidas.
  • Imam Tahawi – predecessor of Maturidi, though a contemporary.  His methodology is a non-speculative one, doesn’t get into issues of qalam.

On teachers

  • Some of the Andrusians argued that you could be an autodidact, don’t need teachers. Ibn Khaldun wrote a whole book on this subject. Sidi Ahmed Zarruq said they came to three conclusions about this:

1) You have to look at what type of shaykh is it. So they said for talim, this is a shaykh who teaches you a text. Just teaching you outward knowledge you need for your deen. Instrumental arts and then the high arts. The instrumental arts are like grammar, rhetoric, logic, mathematics, these are the intruments, the tools of learning, to use Dorothy Sayers’ term. For the tools of learning generally you need a teacher, but there are brilliant people who can learn without teachers. For certain people, the teacher is superfluous.  Much of our learning is autodidactic as you know. Many of the things you know you’ve learned just from reading books for instance. But there are certain things where it is very dangerous. Medicine for instance. You don’t want to go into surgery and have the surgeon say my dad was a surgeon and I read his library.

  • So they said about the shuyukh ul talim, that generally you should take a teacher – especially in fiqh and aqida, you have to have a teacher in fiqh and aqida. But in other things, if you’re really smart, you could teach yourself Arabic. You could. There are really good resources, there are good books, you could if you were really smart. But teachers will help you. But in general, Allah has made it His sunna that you need teachers in things, because they will always – something i learnt from a Muslim musician in England, he said, “what does practice make? And I said “perfect,” “ practice makes perfect.” And he said, “no. Practice makes permanent. If you’re practicing the wrong thing, you learn mistakes.”

  •  The shaykh of talim, you have to have a teacher because they will show you these things. With Qur’an you need a teacher.

2) Second type of shaykh is the shaykh of tarbiyyah. This is a shaykh who has outward  knowledge but also has knowledge of the heart. The doctors of the heart know the hearts of people. The Prophet gave things specific to individuals. You see this in the hadith. Like with a person who is miserly, will be encouraged to give. None of the illnesses of the heart are permanent.

3) Shuyukh who can literally elevate you by nadhara, by looking at you. These people you have to visit them. They are rare, but the earth always has those people.

  • This religion is iman, ihsan and islam. You need teachers, and everything is on a decline.
  • “Real fiqh is taking easy things from trustworthy sources. As for being harsh, everybody is good at doing that.” Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah is like that, he’s a real faqih.
  • Being in the company of good people will elevate your state.
  • Sidi Ahmed Zarruq said “don’t keep company except with the one who his state elevates you, and his words direct you to your Lord.” Sidi Ahmed Zarruq said this is in your regular company, not with the shaykh. Really, be with people that their states are good state. Very important. Suhba is very important.
  • Sidi Ahmed Zarruq wrote a book called  “The Guidance of my Lord when you lose the murabbi.” It’s a letter. This is an age, I’m not going to deny that there are murabbi, but this is generally an age when there are more fakers than genuine people.  Genuine problem. But there are sincere people and there are good people.
  • If you’re sincere and looking for someone to help you, will find good people.

A poem that comes to mind:

The Fear of God by Robert Frost

If you should rise from Nowhere up to Somewhere,
From being No one up to being Someone,
Be sure to keep repeating to yourself
You owe it to an arbitrary god
Whose mercy to you rather than to others
Won’t bear to critical examination.
Stay unassuming. If for lack of license
To wear the uniform of who you are,
You should be tempted to make up for it
In a subordinating look or toe,
Beware of coming too much to the surface
And using for apparel that was meant
To be the curtain of the inmost soul.

  • Your Lord is a generous Lord. And He is the Giver of Gifts. Expect big things from Your Lord. Expect big gifts and you’ll get big gifts. He is as you expect Him to be. Just being in this room is a big gift.
  • Just put your head on the ground. We don’t deserve anything we get. We’ve done nothing. We don’t deserve anything, Who are we? Really.
  • “Don’t say you’re nothing, don’t say you’re something, say Allah!”
  • Because if you say you’re nothing, means just looking at yourself. there has to be something there, to see the nothing.
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