Not all communities of Muslim individuals are ideal. Nor, unfortunately, do all Muslim nations, institutions, or families measure up to the standard demonstrated by our Belovèd Prophet, Muhammad (ﷺ), his Companions and their Successors. In fact, Muslim individuals, even the best of us, do not always submit to the guidance brought to us human creatures by Allah’s prophets across history. According to the Quran, counsel and direction from our Creator have been provided to mankind throughout pre-history and history, from the time of Adam, our progenitor, up through today.
For never was there a community but that a forewarner went forth among them [with God’s commandments]. [Sûrah Al-Fâtir, 35:24]
We can say, accordingly, that humankind has always been provided with divine regulation. The Quran is a reminder, from Allah, of lessons to be learned from previous failures and successes, as well as a reiteration of what today’s human communities need in order to be secure, healthy, and just. Personal and intra-group happiness and fulfillment result from harmonizing oneself with the Creator-designed way of life.
COMING TO TERMS WITH OUR CONDITION
Our shamefully less than perfect condition is a hard fact already noted and bemoaned by most of us! We cannot change what has been, but we most certainly can work toward changing what will be—bi idhni Allah, ‘by the permission of God’. Yes, it IS still possible, once again, as the Prophet’s Community, to more fully please Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, ‘glorious and exalted is He.’
…Verily, Allah does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves; and when God wills people to suffer evil [in consequence of their own evil deeds], there is none who could avert it: for they have none who could protect them from Him. [Sûrah Al-Ra’d, 13:11]
Many decry our unbefitting remoteness from perfection —our lack of even close approximation to the Companions of Muhammad (ﷺ)— within the ranks of those of us who aspire to follow the perfection of our Creator’s personally mandated and sent-down-in-human-language dîn—that is, our God-conscious and God-fearing Way of Life, islâm.
True, none of us human beings can realistically expect to be ‘perfect,’ if you mean to live without fault or mistake.
Abu Ayyub Ansari reported that Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: If you were not to commit sins, Allah would have swept you out of existence and would have replaced you by another people who have committed sin, and who then asked forgiveness from Allah, and He would have granted them pardon.” (Saḥîḥ Muslim 2748b)
In contrast to our personal imperfections, there is a perfection to the Way of Life, the Dîn of Islâm preserved and passed down over the centuries to us. And we CAN achieve a full adherence to this Way of Life within the Ummah (Community) of Muhammad (ﷺ).
Today the unbelievers have given up all hope of vanquishing your religion (dîn). Do not, then, hold them in awe, but stand in awe of Me! This day have I perfected your religious law for you, completed my favor upon you, and willed that self-surrender unto Me [islâm] shall be your religion… [Sûrah Al-Mâ’idah, 5:3c —bold added for emphasis]
All thoughtful Muslims long for renewal of the previously vibrant Islam —which followed upon the completion of what was revealed for mankind through the definitive Messenger. That message was compelling to those seeking their Creator’s guidance—those not held hostage to their social privilege or to a personal position which could be lost by siding with the wrong group.
As a species, we humans relish, even insist on, a freedom to choose our own way, but then we bemoan the harmful results of our unwise and rash choices. Again rashly, many blame Deity for the cause-effect relationship that has brought injustice and suffering in our world, following on from ‘human error.’ Such independent and philosophically-unmoored ‘free-thinkers’ may reason that any kind of just, loving God could not allow such misery in our world. Therefore, no Deity worthy of our attention can be said to exist: For all intents and purposes, “God is dead” for modern man! That has become the widespread result of a freedom to choose unhitched from authentic guidance.
In fact, Allah has created the psyche of man such that he is left free to turn himself away from clear thinking, striving to make himself securely independent from his divine Source, i.e., to set himself up as self-sufficient.
No, indeed! most assuredly, man [is unmindful of his covenant with God. And thus he] does transgress, for he sees himself [as] self-sufficient. [Sûrah Al-‘Alaq, 96:6-7]
The purpose of divine guidance is to impress upon man, in unforgettable language, the universal psycho-spiritual laws of cause and effect: the group benefit and personal reward for doing (or participating in) good, and the personal [and community-wide] punishment for doing or participating in evil.
…if one enjoins charitable offerings, or [the doing of] what is right, or reconciliation among people … whoever does this, seeking the pleasure of God, then We shall give him a magnificent reward. But as for him who, after guidance has been vouchsafed to him, cuts himself off from the Prophet and follows a path other than that of the believers – him shall We leave unto that which he himself has chosen, and shall cause him to endure hell: and how evil a journey’s end! [Sûrah Al-Nisâ’, 4:114-115]
How then can we take upon ourselves the responsibility of bringing about the revival we need for ourselves and our communities? Let us not repeat what has not been working. How can we simply return to Islam’s foundational commitment and practices so as to repeat what originally DID work in the lives of individuals, as well as what DID result in an exemplary community of Muslims? That is the major underlying issue of our times.
The cause-and-effect stakes become bigger and bigger as the population of Planet Earth expands increasingly. All around us we see powerful corporations and individuals acting in the interest of maximizing profits for their ‘shareholders’ while worshipping the short term ‘bottom-line.’ The world system is often disproportionately impacted as a result of ungodly choices on the part of a few. We Muslims must remove ourselves from haram (Islamically ‘unlawful’) practices —to the extent possible. Nevertheless, when we return, each of us, to doing our own small part for the common good, we all win —and the results could be astounding!
RECLAIMING OUR HERITAGE
So then, the full divinely-prescribed ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ have been concluded and spelled out, in complete and corrected form, and are to be followed by any would-be-correct follower of God’s guidance—that is, for a complete muslim functioning in a God-fearing Ummah. The above quoted verse (5:3c) is embedded in a passage (Q 5:1-5) containing several ayat from among the 200-some, divinely-conveyed, instructive verses regarding what is to count for Muslims as ‘lawful’ and what is not. The imperfect people of Muhammad, like the imperfect people of Moses, were to be bound to their Lord in a personal and community-wide covenant. Following on from the injunction-rich passage (Q 5:1-5) is the following:
God does not wish to place any strain upon you. Rather, He intends to purify you and to perfect His blessings upon you, so that you may give thanks. And remember [with reverence] the grace of God upon you and His [solemn] covenant which He has covenanted with you, when you said: We hear and we obey! So fear God. Indeed, God is all-knowing of all that is [harbored] within the breast [of people]. O you who believe! Be ever upright for [the sake of] God, bearing witness [to truth] with [impartial] justice. Therefore, let not detestation [for some people] induce you to be unfair. [Rather,] be fair! For to do so is, indeed, closer to the fear of God. So then, fear God! Indeed, God is all-aware of what you do. God has promised those who believe and do righteous deeds, that for them there is forgiveness and a magnificent reward [awaiting]! [Sûrah Al-Mâ’idah, 5:6-9]
The prescriptions of Divine Guidance relate to how we Muslims as a unified and interacting community are to negotiate the choices and difficulties of daily practical community life. These detailed prescriptions, as well as the foundational principles of Islam, are laid out in divine Word (the Qur’an). Indispensable also is the exemplary manner of life (Sunnah) of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), which has been meticulously preserved and passed down to us. And by the way, let us give heed to the strong Hadiths we have in our toolkits while we seriously undertake the training of a new, vibrant community of Hadith scholarship.
The following three incidents demonstrate the person and disposition of one woman’s husband, Muhammad—given by the most attentive and perceptive observer of the Prophet’s every action. CAishah, furthermore, was daughter of the Prophet’s closest age-mate Companion and confidant, Abu Bakr Al-Sadiq. This contributed to her possession of a most advantageous viewpoint —stemming from her earliest childhood— by which to judge his character and his interactions with men and women of all stations in life:
(1) Yazid ibn Yabnus said, “We went to CAishah [wife of Prophet Muhammad] and said, ‘Umm al-Mu’minîn [‘Mother of the Believers’], what was the character of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ like?’ She replied, ‘His character was the Qur’an. Can you recite the surah entitled “The Believers”?’ [Then] she said, ‘Recite: “It is the believers who are successful: those who are humble in their Prayer; those who turn away from worthless talk; those who actively pay zakat; those who guard their private parts.” (Q 23:1-5)’ She said, ‘That was the character of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.'” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 14.308)
(2) It was narrated that a man from Banu Suwa’ah said: ‘I said to CAishah: Tell me about the character of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).’ She said: ‘Have you not read the Qur’an: “And verily, you [O Mohammed] are on an exalted (standard of) character?” (Q 68:4) She said: ‘The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was with his Companions, and I made some food for him, and Hafsah made some food for him, too, but Hafsah got there before me. So I said to the slave girl: “Overturn her bowl.” She went and caught up with [Hafsah], who was about to put (the bowl) in front of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). [CAishah’s slave girl] overturned it and the bowl broke, scattering the food. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) gathered the pieces and the food on the leather mat and they ate. Then he sent for my bowl and gave it to Hafsah, and said: “Take this pot in place of your pot, and eat what is in it.” And I did not see any expression of anger on the face of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).’” (Sunan Ibn Majah 2333)
(3) Narrated Sa’d bin Hisham: I divorced my wife. I then came to Medina to sell my land that was there so that I could buy arms and fight in battle. I met a group of the Companions of the Prophet (ﷺ). They said: Six persons of us intended to do the same (i.e. divorce their wives and purchase weapons), but the Prophet (ﷺ) prohibited them. He said: “For you in the Messenger of Allah there is an excellent model.” (Q 33:21) I then came to Ibn CAbbas and asked him about the witr [final Prayer of the night numbering an odd number of rakCah units] observed by the Prophet (ﷺ). He said: I point to you a person who is most familiar with the witr observed by the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). Go to CAishah. In going to her I asked Hakim b. Aflah to accompany me. He refused, but I adjured him. He, therefore, went along with me. We sought permission to enter upon CAishah. She said: Who is this ? He said: Hakim b. Aflah. She asked: Who is with you ? He replied: Sa’d b. Hisham. She said: Hisham son of CAmir who was killed in the Battle of CUhud? I said: Yes. She said: What a good man CAmir was! I said: Mother of the Faithful, tell me about the character of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). She asked: Do you not recite the Quran? The character of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was the Qur’an. I asked: Tell me about his vigil and Prayer at night. She replied: Do you not recite: “O thou folded in garments…” (Q 73:1…). I said: “Why not?”
When the opening [passage] of this Surah (Q73:1-9) was revealed, the Companions stood praying (most of the night) until their feet swelled, and the concluding verses (Q 73:20) were not revealed from heaven for (another) twelve months. At last the concluding verses were revealed and the prayer at night became voluntary after it had been obligatory. I said: Tell me about the witr of the Prophet (ﷺ). She replied: He used to pray eight rakCahs, sitting only during the eighth of them. Then he would stand up and pray another rakCah [the witr unit]. He would sit only after the eighth and the ninth rakCah. He would utter the [closing] Salutation only after the ninth rakCah. He would then pray two rak’ahs sitting and that made eleven rakCahs, O my son. But when he grew old and became fleshy he observed a witr of seven, sitting only in the sixth and seventh rakCahs, and would utter the Salutation only after the seventh rak’ah. He would then pray two rakCahs sitting, and that made nine rakCahs, O my son. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) would not pray through a whole night, or recite the whole Qur’an in a night or fast a complete month except in Ramadan. When he offered prayer, he would do that regularly. [Except] when he was overtaken by sleep at night, he would pray twelve rakCahs.
The narrator said: I came to Ibn ‘Abbas and narrated all this to him. By Allah, this is a true report [about the Prophet’s practice of his voluntary night Prayer]. Had I been on speaking terms with her, [he said,] I would have come to her and heard it from her mouth. I said: If I knew that you were not on speaking terms with her, I would have never narrated it to you. (Sunan Abi Dawud 1342)
There can be no doubt, then, based upon a Hadith like those above—and based upon the resulting actions of the Companions and their Successors—that the observed model of Prophet Muhammad was taken to be exemplary and authoritative for his Community. So were the verses that his Companions observed coming to him prophetically through Angel Jibril (Gabriel).
Whether learning Islam for the first time or revising its principles and exploring its Well-Trod Path, each of us, as part of his or her own community, all of us —together and individually— need to tune ourselves both to the general and to the specifics of this divinely-guided Religion. Section I of this current expedition begins at the overview level and wends its way into Section II, the how-to’s and why-for’s of the perfect example left for us by our blessèd Prophet (ﷺ).
…To be continued in Part 2