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 Perverted Priorities: Who Is and Who Isn’t Muslim?

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Obedient Angel

Join date : 2011-04-30
Posts : 2448

PostSubject: Perverted Priorities: Who Is and Who Isn’t Muslim?   Thu Sep 27, 2012 3:06 am

“If you don't convert to (my sect) you might as well not convert to Islam!” exclaimed the 'uncle' to the young Christian lady. The lady's husband, a Muslim, had requested his elder friend to come and help explain to her why Islam is so important to him, and why he'd like her, too, to share in its joy. The husband was startled by this narrow-minded bombshell. The shocking words of the 'uncle' highlight a lack of priorities plaguing some of those who profess themselves to be Muslim.

It is understandable for someone to feel passionately about a cause which (rightly or wrongly) they believe to be true. I remember a rabbi relating how he went home after his first year at rabbinical seminary and began self-righteously passing judgment on and correcting what seemed to be a plethora of misdeeds and mistakes of his family. But passionate belief (even when correct) becomes problematic if it results in a narrowed vision of reality and truth, and even more so when it leads to behavior that turns others away from the Path to God.

The Prophet Muḥammad was once leading prayers when he heard a man in the congregation saying, “O God! Bless me and Muḥammad, and don't bless anyone else with us!” After the congregational prayer was over, the Prophet remarked, chastising him, “You have restricted a capacious [thing]!” (Sahih Bukhāri and others)

The blessings of God, and especially the spiritual blessing of right guidance embodied in the Final Revelation (the Qur'an), should not be confused with human constructions of group identity and boundaries. More specifically, some Muslims are sometimes (and any frequency is too often for something this important) too quick to declare someone to be outside the fold of Islam due to (i) imperfect practice, or (ii) disagreement on a non-core belief.

Priority is Bearing Witness

It is essential to realize that the believer's life is an ongoing journey of struggle to become a better person. None of us – including those born and raised as Muslims – are perfect. It is grossly unreasonable – nay, evil – to deny a neophyte entry to their newly-found faith, merely because s/he is not living a totally sinless life. The priority, for someone who has understood the basic message of Islam and voluntarily resolved to embrace Islam, is to help him/her to say the shahadatayn (the Declaration of Faith: “I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but God, and that Muḥammad is the Messenger of God”) without delay.

Anything else – be it taking a bath (ghusl) for ritual purification, or giving up a personal vice – can wait. Anything else on your own to-do list can wait too. The Prophet once even halted his Friday sermon to respond to a man who came to ask critical questions about belief. [Sahih Muslim and others] imām Nawawi, the Shafi`i jurist, writes in his encyclopedic Majmu` that his school's official position is that a Muslim is sinful for telling the ready convert to go and take a bath before having him/her say the shahada; indeed some Shafi`i jurists (Mutawalli and Baghawi) considered the one who gives such an order himself to have committed unbelief (by not realizing the importance and priority of the shahadah).

Similarly, the hopeful ready-to-submit-to-God should not be denied the shahadah merely on account of what we might consider as his/her sinful behavior, be it an attachment to alcohol or drugs, or involvement in an immoral or prohibited type of relationship. The priority is to help them aboard the ship of Divine Grace (by helping them say the shahadah); they can work on themselves in due course.

Even after the shahadah, the new convert should not be overburdened with duties and requirements. Give them time to grow, to learn, to discover, realize and make decisions and changes from their own conviction and at a fitting pace. The Prophet rebuked one of his companions for cursing a man who would repeatedly be found drinking alcohol, and declared that the drinker “loves God and His Messenger”. [Sahih Bukhāri and others] And he would instruct emissaries and teachers, before sending them on their mission, with the advice, “Make things easy, and don't make things difficult. Give people good news, and don't drive them away.” [Sahih Muslim and others]

Belief in the Fundamentals

It is of course necessary for an intending convert to have a general understanding of the core beliefs and practices of Islam (often called 'pillars': belief in God, Prophets, Scripture and the Hereafter, and performance of the shahadah, the prayer, fasting Ramadan, prescribed charity and the pilgrimage.) They are not required to know all the details, as these take time to learn, and in some cases are non-essential, or are not clear-cut and hence open to different interpretations.

The kernel of Islam, acknowledging the oneness of God, that God alone should be worshiped, and that the Qur'an is the book for human guidance revealed to the Prophet Muḥammad , is simple, despite its profundity and universality. Edward Montet described it as, “A creed so precise, so stripped of all theological complexities and consequently so accessible to the ordinary understanding might be expected to possess and does indeed possess a marvelous power of winning its way into the consciences of men.” [Edward Montet, La Propagande Chretienne et ses Adversaries Musulmans, Paris 1890, p. 17-8, as quoted by T.W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, London 1913, p. 337.]

Someone with whom this profound truth has resonated should not be denied admittance to the House of Islam – nor expelled from it after entering – merely because of their not understanding, or having difficulty accepting, a more peripheral or secondary point of belief or practice. It pains me for an overt Muslim to be declared an unbeliever, or to be frightened away from Islam (and I have seen such cases personally) because of their not being convinced with the prevalent view about the place (or otherwise) of certain punishments and regulations in Islam (e.g. whether and when capital punishment is mandated for apostasy, or stoning for adultery, or the legal status of hijab).

I am not advocating complete relativism, nor denying the value and importance of Muslim scholarly endeavor and its opinions, nor am I saying that opposing views are always legitimate or correct. What I am pleading for is tolerance; of giving the benefit of doubt, whenever possible, to other professed Muslims who seem to be misinterpreting a sacred text. We are entitled to believe that a particular interpretation is wrong, even potentially sinful, but that does not justify excommunicating a person who holds to that interpretation, unless it involves something clear-cut and essential to Islam. Imām al-Shafi`i termed such core issues 'public knowledge' (`ilm al-`amma), and examples he gave to illustrate it are: the obligation and form of the five prayers and of fasting Ramadan, and the prohibitions of fornication, murder, theft and wine, and other such things, “in which error is not possible, nor [is it open to] interpretation or dispute.” [Shafi`i, al-Umm] Ibn Abi'l-`Izz, in his commentary on Tahawi's Creed, has discussed how a person may not be excommunicated on the basis of a shubha: a genuine misunderstanding s/he has reached on the basis of a sacred text.

Renowned theologian Abu'l-Hasan al-Ash`ari, who studied, debated and refuted many heterodox Muslim sects, declared on his deathbed to one of his students, “Bear witness that I do not judge any of the People of the Qibla to be unbelievers.” Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi, after quoting this account, mentions that his own personal belief is along these lines, and that he heard similar words from his teacher Ibn Taymiyyah towards the end of his life, “I do not declare anyone of the ummah an unbeliever. The Prophet said, 'None but a believer takes care of his ritual purity (wudu').' So, whoever adheres to the prescribed prayers in a state of purity (wudu') is a believer.” [Dhahabi, Siyar A`lam al-Nubala']

Da'wah without Judgement

The problem, as one of our Shuyūkh remarked to us, is that today we want to be muftis and judges (declaring a person to be inside or outside Islam), whereas the Prophet was an inviter to God's way (da`iya). So, rather than worrying about the creedal judgment on a particular person, we should be more interested in asking ourselves, “How can I help him understand that he is mistaken?” Indeed, in some cases it might even be a case of, “How can I correct or fine-tune my own understanding of this issue?”

A believer is expected to be humble, and part of humility is acknowledging the limits of our individual knowledge: both of details of the religion, as well as of the inner workings of other people's hearts. If you consider yourself a Caller to God, then you should be calling to those things that are unambiguously and centrally part of God's revealed religion of Islam, and not to your own sect or interpretations of Islam. By all means, let us continue meaningful dialogue, and furthering the education of ourselves and others. But let's realize the kernel and the priorities, so that we don't hinder or expel others who are genuinely seeking or attempting to navigate the Path to God.

The author is the Muslim Chaplain at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a lecturer at Brandeis University.

Keeping Priorities Straight

By: Jasser Auda

In his well-known book, Al-Hikam (Words of Wisdom), sheikh Ahmad Ibn `Ataa'illah As-Sakandari says:
A sign of following one’s whims is to be active with optional good deeds while being lazy with required obligations.

The next step in our journey to Allah requires sound knowledge and deep understanding. The Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) said:

“If Allah wishes to elevate someone, He grants him knowledge (fiqh) of the faith”. (Al-Bukhari)

Knowledge (fiqh) is not only about the judicial rulings pertaining to the practical rituals and social aspects. In principle, fiqh means the deep understanding and full comprehension of the Islamic law and its different rulings. This deep understanding of the Islamic law is very important in our journey to Allah.
In Islamic law, there are principals (usul) and secondary issues (furu`). Principals have priority over secondary issues. There are required obligations and optional good deeds. Obligations have priority over optional deeds.

There are major sins and minor sins. Major sins take priority, in terms of avoiding them, over minor sins. The action of the heart is more important than the action of other organs of the body, and thus has higher priority. The sin committed in the heart is more dangerous than the sin committed by the other organs. And so on.

Become a fan of the Shari`ah Zone

One should be aware of those differences and their implications; otherwise, he/she will be following whims and not a proper understanding of the Islamic law. Without the knowledge of priorities, one will be following the outward appearances and not the essence of the faith.
For example, if you have some money by which you can either perform pilgrimage or help in improving the building of a mosque, a proper understanding entails that you perform pilgrimage first. Pilgrimage is an obligation and one of the pillars of Islam, and thus it has to be performed first, whereas improving or beautifying the building of a mosque is optional and in fact not necessary. If you give priority to the optional deed over the principle obligation then, the Sheikh says, you will be following your whims not the right path.

However, if this money is needed for medication for your elderly mother, for example, then you should spend this money on her and delay the performance of pilgrimage. Taking care of your mother is an immediate obligation, while pilgrimage is an obligation that could be delayed. If you do the opposite, then this is a sign of following whims and not proper knowledge.

Unfortunately, some people perform optional good deeds while they are careless with basic obligations of the faith.
Another example is that, if you have a limited time either to perform the obligatory prayer on time or perform the two rak`ah (units of prayer) of greeting the mosque, and if you perform the optional prayer, you will miss the obligatory one, then what should you perform first? The answer is to perform the obligatory prayer first. If you perform the prayer for greeting the mosque and thus you miss the obligatory prayer, this is a sign of misunderstanding and following whims.
Unfortunately, some people are keen on performing optional good deeds and especially ritual formalities, while they themselves are careless with basic obligations of the faith. It is agreed that being kind to one's parents is an obligation:

{For your Sustainer has ordained that you shall worship none but Him. And do good unto [your] parents. Should one of them, or both, attain to old age in your care, never say "Ugh" to them or scold them, but [always] speak unto them with reverent speech}. (Al-Israa’ 17:23)

It is also obligatory to return the trusts to people:

{then let him who is trusted fulfill his trust, and let him be conscious of Allah}. (Al-Baqarah 2: 283)

A believer is also required not to curse. The Prophet said:

"It is not fitting for a believer to be a curser or a defamer". (Al-Bukhari in his Al-Adab al-Mufrad)

Unfortunately, in our present-day societies and communities, we find some people who claim that they follow the Prophet's way of life, i.e., his way of dressing, his outward appearance, his way of sitting, the color of his clothes, etc. Yet, you find the very same people mistreating their parents, using corruption as means to make fortunes, misusing the public trust or resources, or cursing and backbiting other people. In other words, they are fulfilling the outwards looks while missing the obligations.

Some other people may not perform the obligatory prayers, but they perform the Eid prayer even under the most difficult circumstances, even though the Eid prayer is optional. This is another example of following whims.

Some people commit grave sins in public and sometimes on TV. The same people, ironically, are in the habit of performing `Umrah every year! Umrah is optional, but refraining from spreading mischief is obligatory.

We often hear a hadith in which Allah speaks about optional good deeds.

"And my servant continues to draw near to Me with optional works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks". (Al-Bukhari)

If we perform the obligations such as prayers, zakah,… we shall enter Paradise.
But we forget that “And my servant” is not the beginning of the hadith. The beginning of the hadith in all of its different narrations goes like that:
"My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the duties I have enjoined upon him".

If we perform the obligations such as prayers, zakah, fasting and pilgrimage, giving up sins, being kind to parents, treating the young and the old gently, and so on, we shall enter Paradise. When the Prophet was asked about Islam, he did not begin with the formalities or outward looks. A bedouin came to the Prophet and said, "O Allah's messenger! Inform me what Allah has made compulsory for me as regards the prayers." He replied: "You have to offer perfectly the five compulsory prayers in a day and night, unless you want to pray optional prayer".

Here the Prophet did not detail the optional prayers, but he continued to mention the other obligations as we read in the rest of the tradition.

The bedouin further asked, "Inform me what Allah has made compulsory for me as regards fasting." He replied, "You have to fast during the whole month of Ramadan, unless you want to fast more as optional fasting." The bedouin further asked, "Tell me how much zakah Allah has enjoined on me." Thus, the Prophet informed him about all the fundamentals of Islam. The bedouin then said, "By Him Who has honored you, I will neither perform any optional deeds nor will I decrease what Allah has enjoined on me. The Prophet said,

"If he is saying the truth, he will succeed and will be granted Paradise”. (Al-Bukhari)

The Prophet's last words in this hadith imply that if we are sincere with Allah in performing the obligations without ever performing the optional deeds, we will succeed and be granted Paradise.

We pray to Allah to grant us correct understanding and sound knowledge so that we can journey to Him in the most guided way.

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