Ihsan -The Path to Excellence

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    An extract from a sermon delivered on the occasion of Eid ul Fitr by His Eminence Maulana Muhammad Abdul Aleem Siddiqi (R.A.) at the Jama Masjid, Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1950

    On the 18th of February 2012, Assembly of Intellectual Muslim (HAKIM) have sent six of their members to a lecture organized by Dar al-Andalus, Suffah Study Circle of Singapore at Orchard Parade Hotel. The lecture entitled “The Meaning and Experience of Happiness in Islām” was delivered none other than Malaysian-based scholar, the honourable Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas.

    Right from the start, Prof. Al-Attas had confined his lecture upon two questions raised with regard to the topic of meaning of happiness in Islām as he brilliantly wrote in a monograph and included as the second chapter of his magnum opus – Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islam. He mentioned before this topic cannot be elaborated succinctly in 2 hours as it took him one whole semester at ISTAC before to lecture on this in detail and at length. He intended on that day to touch basic matters pertaining to the topic.

    The first question touched upon whether is it necessary for the Muslim to understand the Western conception of tragedy before we could understand the meaning of happiness in Islām.

    Prof. Al-Attas stressed that though it is not necessary to understand the Western conception of tragedy that flourished in their great works since the Iliad of Homer, Poetics of Aristotle, it is pertinent for the Muslims of today to understand the exact opposite of saʿādah as alluded in Qurʾān – which is shaqawāh rendered into English approximately equivalent of ‘great misfortune’, ‘misery’, ‘straitness of circumstance’, ‘distress’, ‘disquietude’, ‘despair’, ‘adversity’, ‘suffering’.

    The end of Ramadan need not signal an end to the feeling of increased spiritual connectedness. Sarah Joseph explores 40 ways to keep the Ramadan spirit strong.Ramadan is a time of increased worship in our lives.   In addition to the fasting, there is often an increase in other areas of worship, for instance the reading of Qur’an, and giving in charity. Keep these things up, even if it is only a small amount. The Prophet  [s] said, “The deeds most loved by God are those done regularly, even if they are small.” (Bukhari and Muslim).

    Often has it been stressed and stressed rightly that Islam is not a mere creed but a way of life. In the same strain, it might be stressed that Islam is not merely a Religion but a Discipline. In other words, it concerns itself not only with our salvation in the Hereafter but also with our success in this world: and for that purpose it provides us with comprehensive behaviour and a spiritual Materia Medica.

    My approach to this topic is based on the fact that the individual is the building block of any society, and also to the fact that Allah has laid special emphasis on the individual and his/her spiritual and moral upliftment during the month of Ramadan. If the individual is islamically sound and sincere, then the society will become Islamic. I have looked briefly at how Allah and his Rasul (upon whom be peace -uwbp) has explained how the individual can best utilize this special month to develop a personality that is based on Qur'an and Sunnah.

    As Muslims our approach to this very important month should be as though we are entering into a training programme put together by Allah and His Rasul (uwbp) for each of us individually. Consequently we note that Ramadan is preceded by Rajab and Shaban, which are pre-training periods, since extra (nafl)-voluntary fast and zikr (remembrance of Allah) are recommended. Therefore as Ramadan enters, a Muslim becomes prepared to undergo some level of spiritual, physical and moral training for what Qur'an describes as: "La Allakum tattaqoon" - so that you may become pious and virtuous. (2:183)

    Shaykh Sa`id Ramadan al-Bouti is a well-respected modern-day scholar and author who is most popularly known for his esteemed work Fiqh us-Seerah. In my time in Damascus, I saw hundreds of people from every walk of life – mothers and shopkeepers, students and cab drivers, young and old – flock to his weekly classes at different masajid in the city to benefit from his knowledge.  Known for his eloquence and deftness in language, one would often see foreign students sitting in his classes with dictionaries in hand, understanding only parts of his talks but fully absorbing how Arabic is spoken by someone with true mastery of it.  Shaykh Bouti is also known for his sharp intellect and – at times – acerbic critique and comments.  During one of his Friday sermons, when he noticed an attendee taking a picture of him on his cell phone, he interrupted his line of thought to rebuke him by saying, “O you who is worshipping your device!  How is it that you use this time for other than remembering Allah?”  A full biography of Shaykh Bouti is quoted below.

    I wanted to share with you this short clip from a television interview with Shaykh Bouti for a few reasons.  In the remarks he makes regarding modern-day tariqas (often translated as Sufi orders), we come to realize that people do not always easily fit into one designated ‘camp’ or another – pro-Sufi or anti-Sufi, Salafi or anti-Salafi, etc – and that we should not be quick to put people in such pre-constructed labels or boxes.  We also learn that taking a critical stance on an issue does not necessarily mean that one finds it devoid of benefit.  Most significantly, we see from this clip the intense importance of sincerity and being honest with ourselves in our relationship with Allah, especially for those who teach and call others to Islam.

    May Allah bless our teachers and grant us the beautiful quality of sincerity in our efforts.

    Issue: All praises and thanks are due to Allah & He suffices; peace be upon His chosen servants.  You asked, may Allah honor you, concerning the practice of setting up circles in the masjid for the purpose of dhikr, in particular the raising of their voices when reciting LÃ ilha illa Allah.  Is this (practice) hated or disliked (makruh) or otherwise?

    This article examines two fundamental concepts essential to the dynamic application of Islam: bid‘a (innovation) and ijtihad (critical thinking for solutions to new problems). Both concepts are meant to preserve continuity with Islam’s original sources while renewing the religion’s vitality as a dynamic faith. Correct understanding of bid‘a and ijtihad is an essential element of Islamic literacy, the basic understanding of Islam that all members of the Muslim community must have. Bid‘a serves as a regulatory mechanism for the elaboration of the religious law but is not meant to be an obstructive force, impeding new ideas and silencing open discourse. Bid‘a has different shades of meaning and is not always negative; it applies equally to innovations that are obligatory, recommended, or merely neutral. Ijtihad, on the other hand, is the creative dimension of Islamic law. The obligation to perform it falls on each Muslim community in the context of its particular time and place. Ijtihad is not solely an obligation of scholars; it also is incumbent on the Muslim rank and file, who are required to think critically about which scholars to follow.

    "Know ye (all), that the life of this world is but play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting and multiplying, (in rivalry) among yourselves, riches and children. Here is a similitude: How rain and the growth which it brings forth, delight (the hearts of) the tillers; soon it withers; thou wilt see it grow yellow; then it becomes dry and crumbles away. But in the Hereafter is a Penalty severe (for the devotees of wrong).And Forgiveness from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure (for the devotees of Allah) And what is the life of this world, but goods and chattels of deception?” (Chapter 57, verse 20)

    Ihsan is the striving for excellence [primarily spiritual but can include all aspects of life].  Sadly mediocrity has become the norm and depravity is the new low in conduct.  According to Abu Huraira, the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:  "I have only been sent (as a Messenger in order) to perfect noble character (of mankind)." Character has been replaced with personality.  Many are motivated to search for a better way.  With the marketing sophistry befitting the corporate world, plebeians are offering themselves up as spiritual guides.  It is timely to raise the questions; is it necessary to have a spiritual guide and if so what are the necessary pre-requisites of a spiritual guide?  What must the seeker know/do to ensure that a charlatan does not entrap them?  Ibn Abbad of Ronda addressed these and other related issues in the following letter that offers wise counsel which is still relevant today.

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