Monday, January 24, 2011

The Challenge of developing the Islamic Personality in the Western Lands

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

For the one who aims to build and develop the personality it is important to treat everyone according to their level. Therefore, to apply a method of personality development that has achieved results in places where the hadhara (culture) is deep rooted and where the inclinations for the deen are ingrained in the people and apply the same process upon others brought up surrounded by disbelief and detached from their aqeeda is a mistake and would not achieve the correct development of the personality. This does not mean that the culture that is studied should be different, as the curriculum of study would set the basis for the mentality and the disposition, this is necessary in all cases.

However, those responsible for the development such as those amongst the da'wa carriers need to appreciate that those born into societies which have been shaped by disbelief and consequently have little Islamic knowledge, are riddled with negative traits and inclinations and thus require much more treatment, especially of the disposition (nafsiya). Many who are brought up in our lands despite not having many .of the correct concepts would already have many of the correct Islamic inclinations such as less individualism and the feeling of responsibility towards the family as is evidenced by people working long hours in difficult conditions in order to look after even their distant relatives. The positive inclinations such as respect towards ones parents, love of the Prophet (saw), giving of sadaqa, good treatment of the guests, modesty of women and hatred of khamr are other examples of what is common in many people in our societies.

Further to this, those who are attracted to the call in those lands where oppression and suppression is the norm - tend to be those who already have some Islamic background and often have much more developed inclinations and often even good foundational concepts even before formally beginning their study of the ideological culture. It is common to see amongst them many of the good morals such as honesty and humility, good sentiments such as the love of the ummah and good qualities such as the regular recitation of the Quran and a personal relationship between them and their lord developed by their regular performance of the salah, dua and zikr. Often they also have knowledge regarding various aspects of the deen including aqeeda, seerah, aspects of fiqh, etc - even if these are carried without clarity. Therefore when they study the correct concepts in a systematic manner their personalities are moulded and enhanced quickly, the inconsistencies in their aqliya and nafsiya are removed by the linkage to the singular basis of the aqeeda.

The reality of people especially those brought up surrounded by disbelief is clearly different. Whilst there is a minority who may be similar to those in our lands due to their attachment to the deen, this pool of people is small and would be the obvious starting point for those working for revivaL However, the majority of people are clearly far away from the deen and both in their aqliya- and nafsiya. -It is true that many-from-amongst-them-have-some~ attachment to the deen, children learn from a young age how to recite the Quran and attend the masaajid, they fast in ramadhan - however when we look at their personalities especially of the youth there is a wide difference between them and those attracted to the work to resume the Islamic way of life in our lands. Their minds are full of popular culture from celebrities and sports personalities to music and pornography. Pride, arrogance, love of wealth, lying, deception, cheating, following ones lust, individualism are some of characteristics that are commonplace. Their actions resemble the disbelievers as many commit zina, take intoxicants including alcohol and drugs, lie, slander, backbite, use foul language etc. Therefore although the spark of change can be implanted in some who then wish to reform their personalities, great attention must be paid to filling their minds with the knowledge of the deen, removing this corruption in their nafsiya and moulding the correct inclinations. For those who long to achieve this the best example can be found in the manner in which Rasoolullah (saw) transformed people from jahiliyya into the most refined personalities described by Allah:

وَالسَّابِقُونَ الْأَوَّلُونَ مِنَ الْمُهَاجِرِينَ وَالْأَنْصَارِ وَالَّذِينَ اتَّبَعُوهُمْ بِإِحْسَانٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُوا عَنْهُ

"The vanguard (of Islam), the first of those who forsook (their homes) and of those who gave them aid, and (also) those who follow them in all good deeds, well-pleased is Allah with them as are they with Him," [TMQ 9:100]

Failure to pay attention to this leads to the development of abnormal personalities. It leads to a type of split personality or fake personality which superficially seems to be Islamic but below the service is devoid of spirit. There are cases of individuals who are developed intellectually in the sense of being able to prove the aqeeda, understand the meaning of ideology, society, thought etc and even possess good political awareness yet at the same time have a weak relationship with their creator, are not able to recite the Quran properly and have not read its translation, are unaware of the lives of most of the Prophets the stories of whom the Quran is filled with, are rebellious to their parents in a manner that would anger Allah and care more about following the political events then connecting with their Lord in Salah which has been described by the Messenger (saw) as, "The Mi'raj (ascension) of the believer."

In time their activity depletes and they fall out of the work, overtaken by life. Occasionally their violation of the shar'a rules is noticed especially to those who closest to them such as their wives/husbands and family members. They are usually able to hide their behaviour in public. Many of them feel guilty for this as they know in their heart that there is a contradiction in their behaviour and inclinations to the concepts they have studied, therefore they are not real hypocrites in the sense of disbelief however they are hypocrites of the second type, who have hypocrisy in their behaviour.

There are others who are initially enthused and active in propagation, who also make their own effort to study aspects of the deen often related to increasing their ability to convince others, reply to questions and answer arguments yet in time they burn out, feeling a spiritual void. Some of them even begin to resent the work and yearn to fill the spiritual vacuum they feel and turn their back on the work seeing it is a type of political manipulation rather than the work of the Prophets.

Someone may say that concepts control actions so therefore how can they feel a contradiction between their behaviour and concepts? This is due to viewing things simplistically. For it is important to appreciate that man holds a variety of concepts and especially in the case of a transitional personality it is common for him to hold multiple reference points initially. The fact that he believes in the creator and the truth of the Quran does not automatically nullify the influence of the criterion of benefit that he has been following for years. Concepts can be easily taken in the third person sense, even value judgements so he could study the categories of ahkam shariah yet not refer to them. It is easier to change someone's husn and qubh concepts regarding life than their personal criterion for determining khair and shar. As the first are impersonal external judgements regarding actions whilst the other are a persons actual motivations. Thus once someone adopts the aqeeda, he possesses the correct basis, however this does not mean that automatically his entire behaviour would become in accordance to it. For this to occur it requires constant linkage of the aqeeda to the various actions and inclinations, this is a gradual process which is in fact the process of culturing that the Prophet (saw) went through with the companions. The example of Umar ibn al-Khattab demonstrates this when the Messenger said to him that he should love him more than his wealth, his family and even himself.

The Prophet (saw) said: "No one of you has true Iman unless his inclinations are in accordance with what I brought".

We should take heed in the ahadith about the heart.

The Prophet (saw) is reported to have said: “It is only called the qalb (heart) because of how it can change. The similitude of the heart is like a leaf hanging by the trunk of a tree that is being blown upside down by the wind.” [Ahmad, it is hasan according to al-Iraqi]

The Prophet (saw) used to say often: “O changer of the hearts, make my heart firm upon your religion (deen).” The companions said, “O Messenger of Allah, we believed in you and what you have brought. Do you fear for us?” He answered, “Yes, verily, the hearts are between Allah’s fingers and he turns them any way he wills.” [Tirmidhi, sahih according to Albani]

If care is not taken to ensure that the individuals adopts the belief in the true sense affecting not only his mind but his heart such that its rust is removed then this form of hypocrisy will inevitably exist where someone externally seems like an ideological Islamic personality but in reality is still a mixed personality but with a stronger Islamic mentality.

Abdullah ibn Umar narrated, "Allah's Messenger (saw) said, "These hearts become rusty just as iron does when water affects it.' On being asked what could clear them he replied, 'A great amount of remembrance of death and recitation of the Qur'an.'" [Al-Tirmidhi, 673]

This hadith sheds light on the manner of linking the aqeeda in order to purify the nafisya, it requires triggering the instincts such that the aqeeda and the concepts emanating from it are taken in the personal sense truly affecting the individual. This is what was embodied in the training of the companions, the theme of the Surah's revealed in Makkah clearly demonstrate this. The powerful verses repeatedly highlight the weakness of man in front of his Lord, the inevitability of death, the terror of the day of judgement, the greatness of the Lord of the Universe, the example of previous generations and Prophets, etc. It is clear that the theme of the Makkan Surah's is to strengthen the personality of the believers as well as exposing the be1iefs, practises and traditions of the disbelievers. Looking at the verses more focussed on the believers the particular emphasis on issues related to the nafsiya becomes apparent containing repeated emphasis triggering the fear and veneration of Allah. The powerful verses strike the emotions, touch the heart and bring tears to the eye.

If a da'wa carrier has a problem with the idea that his carrying of the call may lead him to be brought to tears due to the fear of Allah in front of his students, companions or in public then his idea of culturing is far away from that of our beloved Messenger and maybe more akin to the intellectualisation of the communists or philosophers. The example of Abu Bakr Siddiq (ra) and his recitation of the Quran should suffice The Prophet (saw) said “Tell Abu Bakr to lead the people in the prayer." 'Aisha said, "Abu Bakr is a soft-hearted man and he would be over-powered by his weeping."

It is also reported that the Prophet (saw) said:

“The one who remembers Allah and his tears flow from the fear of Allah, until his tears fall on the ground he will not be punished on the Day of Judgment.” [Reported al-Haakim who declared it sound and az-Zahabi agreed with him on this].

What gave Bilal ibn Rab'ah whose lineage was unknown amongst a people who prided themselves on their lineage, who was a foreigner in a racist society, one whose Arabic wasn't pure in a nation in which purity of language was of importance, who did not own property and in fact was himself property due to being a slave - what made him so strong and confident of his belief to stand up to his slave master Umayah and endure the punishment and to remain constant after that as a da'wa carrier at the side of the Prophet? He then went onto to become the first Mu'azzin, one of the fighters of Badr and eventually the governor ofIraq at the time of Umar. Surely it wasn't his level of political information or the ability to analyse political events.

If someone is reluctant in looking to the manner in which the best of creation cultured the companions in Makkah then they have been blinded. It is true that today we are dealing with existing believers whereas as the Messenger (saw) converted people to the deen and then developed their personality, however the reality of building and developing the personality is the same. The texts mention that the revival today will come on the path of Prophethood and therefore the preparation of the da'wa carriers who strive for revival needs to be based upon the Prophetic model.

In his book 'The Essential Elements of the Islamic Nafsiyya' written under the guidance of Sheikh Ata Abu Rashta it states:

"We should not miss the opportunity of reminding the Da’wah carriers, especially those who are working to resume the Islamic way of life by establishing the Righteous Khilafah state, of the reality in which they work. They are surrounded by the clashing waves of the enemies of Allah. If they are not with Allah by day and by night, how then can they drive their way in the different walks of life? How can they reach their desired aim? How can they elevate higher and higher? How? How?

Finally, the Da’wah carriers should reflect on two enlightening hadiths which will light up their path so that they achieve their objectives and quicken their steps:

«أول دينكم نبوة ورحمة ثم خلافة على منهاج النبوة... ثم تعود خلافة على منهاج النبوة»
“The beginning of your Deen was Prophethood and mercy and then it was Khilafah on the way of the Prophethood…then the Khilafah will return on the way of the Prophethood.” This hadith contains the good news of the return of the Khilafah by Allah’s leave. But it will return like the very first Khilafah; the Khilafah of the righteous ones, the companions of the Messenger of Allah (saw). Whosoever is eager to see its return and yearns to witness it then let him strive for it as a believer so that he is like the companions of the Messenger of Allah (saw). "

It is not enough to simply emphasise the reading of texts or books related to building the nafisya, as one can read through them as a chore or listen to them in a manner that he is used to listening the Friday sermon - in a way that is almost monotonous having little or no impact on the heart. Rather, those who actually possess the required qualities must be the ones who inculcate these qualities in others for it is difficult for the one who does not possess them to do so, if he were to achieve that it would be more by chance and the individual effort of the student rather than his own. For example, how can someone who is arrogant teach someone to be humble? Or someone who doesn't really have the love of Allah and His Messenger nurture that love in others? Someone who is two-faced make another a transparent person with pure sincerity?

Putting aside the philosophical errors of the Sufis, this is what the classical Tasawuf masters like al-Ghazali intended to impart. Their literature is useful, as it is intended to aid in the development of the nafsiya. After tasting the sweetness of Iman and feeling the love of Allah and His Messenger they aimed to inculcate that in others. It is for this reason we find them all referring to the following hadith, it is one that make us think whether we have achieved what is mentioned in it:

"I will declare war against him who shows hostility to a pious worshipper (walî) of Mine. And the most beloved things with which My slave comes nearer to Me, is what I have enjoined (frD) upon him; and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing nawâfil (praying or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory) till I love him, so I become his sense of hearing with which he hears, and his sense of sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he grips, and his leg with which he walks; and if he asks Me, I will give him, and if he asks My protection (Refuge), I will protect him; (i.e. give him My Refuge) and I do not hesitate to do anything as I hesitate to take the soul of the believer, for he hates death, and I hate to disappoint him." [Reported by at-Tabaraani in al-Kabeer]

The development of others is also aided by the atmosphere that surrounds them as is indicated by various ahadith. Therefore the atmosphere amongst the da'wa carriers can aid in the process of development such that when a student begins his study and activity he would feel in others the true Islamic qualities. He would be immersed in the atmosphere of knowledge where ayat and ahadith are discussed as well as aqeeda, fiqh, politics, economics, seerah, Arabic language and tafseer as well as one in which people undertake the mandubat such as the salah in the jama'ah, giving of gifts, being good to the neighbours, giving of sadaqa, the frequent recitation of the Quran, visiting the sick and the graves, performing the ghusl of the dead bodies and attending the janaza prayers. If this is neglected the atmosphere could become one dominated by activities, discussing others, gossiping, triviality, time wasting, bureaucracy, egoism, giving and following orders leading-to people fearing others instead of fearing Allah. An atmosphere-can be-sensed by those who interact with it, if it is incorrect it could lead to many negative perceptions which may lead to people being perceived as some type of gang a cult or only sloganeering activists rather than those who are carrying the work of the Prophets.

The sincere da'wa carrier instead of arrogantly brushing aside these perceptions would deeply contemplate the causes of it and work to rectify them. Those who encountered the atmosphere of the Sahaba or the great scholars of the past were often positively affected by it, even those who opposed the opinions of some of the Ulema would praise them for their piety and knowledge rather than scorn them.

Abu Ismael al-Beirawi


Light-upon-Light said...

Alhamdulilah. great article. great reminder for every activist.

SadafAH said...

JZK it is a great article. However the following paragraphs i did not fully understand-

"If a da'wa carrier has a problem with the idea that his carrying of the call may lead him to be brought to tears due to the fear of Allah in front of his students, companions or in public then his idea of culturing is far away from that of our beloved Messenger and maybe more akin to the intellectualisation of the communists or philosophers. The example of Abu Bakr Siddiq (ra) and his recitation of the Quran should suffice The Prophet (saw) said “Tell Abu Bakr to lead the people in the prayer." 'Aisha said, "Abu Bakr is a soft-hearted man and he would be over-powered by his weeping."

It is also reported that the Prophet (saw) said:

“The one who remembers Allah and his tears flow from the fear of Allah, until his tears fall on the ground he will not be punished on the Day of Judgment.” [Reported al-Haakim who declared it sound and az-Zahabi agreed with him on this]."

Could you please explain this in further detail?