Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flashback ma sha'Allah. Harvard Crimson coverage of the courtship, engagement and marriage of two students of mine--Ustadh Daniel Jou and Ustadhah Ola Aljawhary--while they were students at Harvard College. Daniel and Ola met at the Harvard Islamic Society, of which they were both leading members.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sh Suheil Laher's translation of the section entitled "The Pitfalls of [Sacred] Knowledge, and an Explanation of the Scholars of Evil and the Scholars of the Hereafter" from Mukhtasar Minhaj al-Qasidin, which is, as Sh Suheil describes it, "Ahmad al-Maqdisi's summary of Ibn al-Jawzi' abridgment of al-Ghazzali's Ihya' `Ulum al-Din." Al-hamdu li-llah, we have taught this text for years at Harvard Islamic Society.

The Scholars of Evil are those whose aim in [acquiring] knowledge is to obtain comfort in the world, and to attainment worldly rank in the eyes of people. Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) has narrated that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said,
“Whoever learns knowledge by which the Countenance of Allah should be sought, yet learns it only to attain some worldly provision, will not find the fragrance of Heaven on the Day of Resurrection.” [Abu Dawud]
And in another hadith, [it is narrated] that he said,
“Whoever learns knowledge in order to vie thereby with the scholars, or to argue thereby with the foolish, or to turn people’s faces towards him [in admiration] thereof, shall be in the Fire.”[Tirmidhi, He clasified it as weak.]
There are many ahadith about this. Some of the salaf said, “The most regretful person at [the time of] death is a neglectful scholar.”

1. Know that what is required from the scholar is that he establish the commands and prohibitions [of Islam]. He is not required to be an ascetic, nor to relinquish the permissible. However, it is fitting that he curtail [his indulgement] in [things] of the world as much as he is able. People vary, and not every body is amenable to austerity. It has been narrated that Sufyan Thawri (may Allah have mercy upon him) used to eat well, saying,
“If a beast is not treated well fodder-wise, it will not [perform] work.” [On the other hand], Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (may Allah have mercy upon him) used to sndure a tremendously austere life. Physiques [indeed] differ.

2. Among the characteristics of the Scholars of the Hereafter is that they know that the world is paltry and that the Hereafter is noble, and that the two are like two co-wives, and so they give preference to the Hereafter. Their deeds do not contradict their words. Their inclination is towards the beneficial knowledge of the Hereafter, and they shun those fields of knowledge which are of limited benefit, giving prioity to those whose benefit is greater.

In this regard, it has been narrated Shaqiq Balkhi (may Allah have mercy upon him) asked Hatim,
“You have kept my company for a long time. What, then, have you learned?”

He replied, “Eight things.

Firstly : I looked at creation, and saw that every individual has a beloved [person or thing], but when he reaches his grave, his
beloved is separated from him, and so I made my beloved my good deeds in order that they could be in the grave with me.

Secondly : I looked at the words of Allah, the Exalted, (meaning), ”And he prevented the Self from caprice,”[Qur'an, 79:40] and thus I exerted [my Self] in eliminating caprice, until it settled upon the obedience of Allah.

Thirdly : I saw everyone who has anything of value guarding it, and then I looked at the words of Allah, the Flawless, the Exalted, (meaning),”That which you have shall perish, while that which is with Allah is enduring,” [Qur'an, 16:96]. and so whenever I obained anything of value, I turned it towards Him [by expending it in charity] in order that it might endure for me with Him.

Fourthly : I saw people referring back to wealth, lineage and nobility, although they are [worth] nothing. Then, I looked at the words of Allah, the Exalted, (meaning), “The noblest of you before Allah is the most pious,”[Qur'an, 49:13]. and so I practised piety so that I could be noble before Him.

Fifthly : I saw people envying one another, and then I looked at [Allah] The Exalted’s words, (meaning), “We have apportioned their livelihoods amongst them,”[Qur'an, 43:32] and so I forsook envy.

Sixthly : I saw them having enmity towards one another, and then I saw [Allah] the Exalted’s words, (meaning), “Satan is an enemy to you, so take him as an enemy,”[Qur'an, 35:6] and so I gave up enmity to them and took Satan alone as my enemy.

Seventhly : I saw them expending their selves in pursuit of sustenance, and then I looked at [Allah] the Exalted’s words, (meaning),
“There is not any beast on the earth except that its sustenance is [binding] upon Allah,”[Qur'an, 11:6] and so I busied myself with His rights over me, and I relinquished [pursuit of] that which is guaranteed for me by Him.

Eighthly : I saw them placing their trust in their commerce and manufacturing and their bodily health, and so I placed my trust in Allah, the Exalted.”

3. [Also] among the characteristics of the scholars of the Hereafter is that they are ill-at-ease with the rulers, and wary of mingling with them. Hudhayfah (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Beware of the stations of sedition!”
They asked, “And what might those be?”
He replied, “The gates of the leaders. One of you enters upon the ruler and then corroborates him with lies and mentions [in his praise qualities] which he does not possess.”
Sa`id ibn al-Musayyib (may Allah have mercy upon him) said, “When you see a scholar calling upon the leaders then beware of him, for he is a scoundrel (literally: a thief).”
One of the salaf said, “You will not attain any of their world without their taking something better [away] from your religion.”

4. And among the characteristics of the scholars of the Hereafter is that they are not hasty to pronounce religious verdicts, and that they pronounce verdicts based only on that [material] whose authenticity they are certain of. The salaf used to pass on [the task of pronouncing] a verdict until it returned to the first [of them]. `Abdur-Rahman ibn Abu Layla (may Allah have
mercy upon him) said, “I met, in this mosque, one hundred and twenty of the companions of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), and there was not one of them who, when asked about a hadith or for a religious verdict, did not wish that his brother would save him the task. Now, we have reached the stage where audacious people who lay claim to knowledge come forward to answer questions which, were they presented to `Umar ibn al-Khattab, he would have gathered the people of Badr and sought their counsel.”

5. And among their characteristics is that most of their investigation is into the knowledge of deeds, how to prevent the things which cause their corruption, cloud the heart and stir up devilish suggestions, for the form of deeds is simple and easy, the difficulty lying only in purifying them. The fundament of religion is to protect oneself against evil, and protection cannot really be achieved without recognising [the evil].

6. And among their characteristics is that they probe into the inner dimensions of the deeds of the Shari`ah, and take note of the wisdom therein. However, if they fail to discover the reason [for a religious ruling which is clear-cut, such as why prayer is 5 times daily rather than more often or less often], it suffices them to submit to the Law.

7. And among their characteristics is that they follow the [Prophet's] Companions and the best of the Successors, and guard against every newly-invented matter [in religion, i.e. heresy].

Monday, May 02, 2011

Harvard professor quoted in NPR article "Is it Wrong to Celebrate Bin Laden's Death

Impromptu celebrations erupted near the White House in Washington and ground zero in New York when news of Osama bin Laden's death was reported and tweeted.

Laura Cunningham, a 22-year-old Manhattan reveler — gripping a Budweiser in her hand and sitting atop the shoulders of a friend — was part of the crowd at ground zero in the wee hours Monday. As people around her chanted "U-S-A," Cunningham was struck by the emotional response. She told New York Observer: "It's weird to celebrate someone's death. It's not exactly what we're here to celebrate, but it's wonderful that people are happy."

Those mixed feelings get at the heart of the moral ambivalence of the moment: Of course there is relief that an evil mastermind cannot commit acts of terror in the future. But is it ever a good idea — from a spiritual or philosophical standpoint — to celebrate with beer and good cheer over the death of anyone, even a widely acknowledged monster?

Not 'Our Finest Moment'

The Roman Catholic Church responded to the news of bin Laden's death with this statement: "Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every event is not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace."

"I think that's on the mark," says Mike Hayes, a campus minister at the University at Buffalo. "As a Catholic Christian, I cannot celebrate the death of anyone, especially when it is done violently. Naturally, my human nature fights against that idealism, especially when I think of those who I lost personally that day and all those who lost their life on 11 September."

However, adds Hayes, who runs the Googling God blog for young adults, "I don't think that the celebrations in the streets were our finest moment as Americans, and reminded me much of the anger I felt at seeing Afghans dancing in the streets at the fall of the Towers on that dreaded day."

Hayes says: "We are called to forgiveness. And that is the only way that we can be truly free. Holding onto our hatred keeps us in slavery to bin Laden's madness and gives the terrorists continued power over us."

There is also a sense of false elation, he adds, "because many believe that the world is a safer place because of this death. That relief is probably misguided."

Is Rejoicing Morally Justified?

Still, some Americans are wrestling with the rightness and wrongness of the party-like responses. A popular status update on Facebook today is a quote attributed to Mark Twain: "I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure."

On a practical level, some people are concerned that such public displays of elation — similar to those following a sports victory or a political election — will create more animosity and even greater danger. "This closes a chapter, but the most sobering aspect of this is that this is not the end," Jack Cloonan, a former FBI special agent, told The Huffington Post. "The reasons they hate us have not subsided, and this could reinvigorate things."

And the question remains: Is there moral philosophical justification for rejoicing over the demise of someone like bin Laden?

"Most people believe that the killing we do in war is justified as the only way to disable an enemy whose cause we believe to be unjust," says Christine Korsgaard, a philosophy professor at Harvard University. "And although it is more controversial, many people believe, or at least feel, that those who kill deserve to die as retribution for their crimes.

"But if we confuse the desire to defeat an enemy with the desire for retribution against a criminal, we risk forming attitudes that are unjustified and ugly — the attitude that our enemy's death is not merely a means to disabling him, but is in itself a kind of a victory for us, or perhaps even the attitude that our enemy deserves death because he is our enemy."

It is important, Korsgaard says, "not to confuse the desire for retribution with the desire to defeat an enemy. But because terrorism partakes of both crime and war, it is perfectly natural, and perhaps legitimate, to have both of these attitudes towards Osama bin Laden: to think that we had to disable him, and to think that he deserved to die."

The two sentiments should be kept apart, she says. "If we have any feeling of victory or triumph in the case, it should be because we have succeeded in disabling him — not because he is dead."