Monday, May 31, 2010
Fitrah...The Natural State of the Human Being
In the name of Almighty God, Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. We live today in a world consumed with an imaginary view of what it means to be "human". An imaginary view fueled by deviant religious traditions and cult-like beliefs as well as years of over saturation of fantasy television and film. At the heart of every religious tradition is a quest for the truth of human existence. Why are we here? What is our purpose? These are questions that have consumed all elements of human civilization since the very beginning.
The prophet Abraham (peace and blessings be upon him), forefather of the three great monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, was the subject of one of the most profound and impactful stories of enlightenment and self-realization in human history. A story of one of the greatest human beings ever to live discovering the key to human existence. The Holy Qur'an relates the story...
Thus did We show Abraham the kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he be one of those who have Faith with certainty. When the night covered him over with darkness he saw a star. He said: "This is my lord." But when it set, he said: "I like not those that set." When he saw the moon rising up he said: "This is my lord." But when it set he said: "Unless my Lord guides me, I shall surely be among the erring people." When he saw the sun rising up, he said: "This is my lord. This is greater." But when it set, he said: "0 my people! I am indeed free from all that you join as partners in worship with Allah. Verily, I have turned my face towards Him Who has created the heavens and the earth Hanifan (Islamic Monotheism, i.e., worshipping none but Allah Alone) and I am not of Al-Mushrikeen (those who worship others besides Allah)." Surah 6: 75-79
In this story, we see that Abraham realized that the only thing that can truly be "the Almighty" is the unseen "mover and shaker" that is behind all that can be seen and experienced by man, rather than anything that IS experienced by man. In other words, he discovered Allah.
The word Allah, actually means something a little different than the English word "God". In English, the word "god" simply means something that is worshipped. It can be anything; a statue, a painting, a tree, a rock, a person, a supernatural being, or even just an idea or even one's self. Early English speaking Christians developed the concept of the capitol letter in order to distinguish the "gods" of their ancient pagan ancestors, and the "God" of Jesus Christ (peace and blessings be upon him) and of the Hebrew Bible. The word Allah is a very ancient Semitic word, possibly predating the Arabic language itself, which means "the originator, the creator, the only thing actually worthy of worship/ the only legitimate "god"" and was the word used for the Creator by Arabic and Aramaic speaking Jews and Christians before it was used by Muslims (and still is used by Arabic speaking Jews and Christians). When the Qur'an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) it was the word that the Creator Himself used to name Himself. It is for this reason that even us "English speaking Muslims" often use the word "Allah" rather than "God".
While their were prophets before him, their knowledge of Allah was not like that of Abraham. They were simply given knowledge of Allah, whereas Abraham discovered Allah through Allah's greatest gift to humanity; reason. He was able to reasonably deduce, before being given prophecy by Allah directly, the existence of Allah.
What then is our place in relation to Allah?
The Qur'an is, as we believe, the literal speech of Allah to his final prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). In it, Allah says,
"I only created jinn and man to worship Me" (Qur'an, 51:56)
This tells us more than it seems at first glance. When Allah says that He created us to worship Him, we must understand what "worship" means. It doesn't only just mean the stereotypical ideas of worship such as bowing, prostrating and invocation (although these are included), but it means obeying Allah's law (will) and serving Allah in the way He asked to be served. It means that we are created to serve Allah on His terms; NOT on OUR terms. This means that any religion created by man necessarily cannot and will not ever be accepted by Allah. Allah says in the Qur'an,
"And whoever seeks religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers" (3:85).
To clarify, the word ISLAM means "to submit to the will of Allah (God)". This does NOT refer exclusively to the religion of the followers of Muhammad (peace be upon him). Today, we as well as non-Muslims know the word ISLAM to be a proper noun referring to a specific group of people, but we must not forget that the word ISLAM is actually a verb in the Arabic language, not a noun. Therefore when Allah says this, He's referring to all human beings who recognize Allah, and strive, according to what knowledge they have, to live and worship on His terms; NOT their own. So this means that a Jew who knows nothing of Jesus Christ (p.b.u.h.) will not be judged for his ignorance nor would a Christian who doesn't know anything about Muhammad (p.b.u.h.). They will however be judged on what they DO know of the will of God. This is why Allah also says in the Qur'an,
"Surely those who believe (Muslims), and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians (don't exist today) -- whoever believes in God and the final judgment and does good (in this life), they shall have their reward from their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve" (2:62, 5:69, and many other verses).
In the verse, Allah mentions Jews and Christians because both of these religions were divinely revealed, meaning they originated with real Revelation from Allah (although they have deviated since then; actually not unlike many groups of Muslims as well). Then Allah also says "whoever believes in God and the final judgment and does good". The means that even an isolated jungle person who has never heard of the Bible or the Qur'an or any of these divinely inspired religions, they are still judged on what they DO know. This brings us to the issue of fitrah.
The word "fitrah" means "disposition, nature, constitution and instinct". This concept in Islamic theology refers to a persons innate sense of longing for the divine. It is a fundamental part of every human being as Allah creates us strictly for the purpose of worshipping Him.
Our ability to reason, as I mentioned, is one of our great gifts, just as Allah gives great gifts of strength, speed, invisibility, and flight to jinn. And, just like those gifts, our gift of reason is one of our greatest tests in this life. It is our ability of reason that ultimately allows some of us to deny Allah's existence entirely. This is the ultimate miss-use of that great gift. Their are other miss-uses of the gift as well that ultimately result in the many varied religious traditions that we see across the human spectrum today. That ability of reason is what allows us to start making our own terms for worshipping Allah instead of submitting ourselves to HIS terms. It is why some people make statues or trees or rocks or even people to be intermediaries between them and Allah. That's why even polytheistic religions have knowledge of Allah. The Hindus call Him "Rahman" and the Native Americans called Him "The Great Spirit". However, in these religious traditions, they create systems of worship set around certain elements of their culture and surroundings that represent to them the various attributes of Allah. It short, they set up partners with Allah. This is how idolatry works. When left unchecked eventually it can lead to rejection of Allah altogether, or even the replacement of Allah with the self (as in traditional Buddhism).
Our proverbial "jungle man" who knows nothing of the Bible, the Qur'an or any divinely revealed religious scriptures or teachings, still, as all humans do, have the innate knowledge that SOMETHING beyond our physical realm and what we can experience with our senses does indeed exist, and they have the ability, through there capacity of reason, to understand the oneness or tawheed of Allah. Just as the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) did.
We, as humanity need to get back to understanding our fitrah. It is only the return to this fundamental understanding of our existence that can save us from our social ills. However there are other elements of fitrah. All human beings are born with the fitrah of "submission to and worship of the Almighty". However we are also individually created with unique gifts and talents that make us, individually, who we are in society.
In the Muslim community, it is very common to see this scenario. You have one brother at the masjid who is...lets say....a mechanical engineer. He's a devout Muslim more or less. He makes all his prayers either right on time or within the window of time allotted for them. He fasts every day in Ramadan and whatever he must miss he makes up. He gives his required zakat. Sometimes a little more, sometimes not. He hasn't been to Hajj yet but intends to. He reads the Qur'an but not really as much as he should, and he mostly relies on listening to more qualified scholars when faced with uncertain religious-law questions. On the other hand, he is very successful in his work. He has a deep passion for what he does for a living and has for as long as he can remember, and couldn't imagine himself doing anything else.
Now, you also have another brother. This brother, masha'Allah, not only prays every one of the five fardh ul ayn prayers exactly on time but also makes every sunnah rakaat and makes countless nawafil rakaats throughout the day. Not to mention standing in Qiyam ul Layl every night for hours at a time. He not only fasts during Ramadan, not missing a single day, but also fasts every Monday and Thursday and fasts on other recommended days as well like Yawm ulAshurah. Whatever money he makes he gives most of it (save only what he absolutely needs to survive) to charity. He is seen day and night in the mosque praying and reading and reciting the Qur'an. He also spends countless hours studying tafseer and fiqh books written by the great Islamic theologians of the past, and even has memorized large portions of the Sahih ul Bukhari. He is consequently, someone who is often sought for advise on religious matters. As far as work, he isn't really skilled in any sort of field but works at a warehouse, packing boxes and often goes from one job to another due to layoffs and cut-backs. He is not concerned with this because for as long as he can remember all he's ever wanted to do with his life was devote it to the deen
Here's the question...which one of these brothers would most consider a better Muslim? Most people would consider the second of the two to be a better Muslim. Some might say the first brother as he is more likely to be taking care of his family. The real answer to that question is neither.........or maybe both. Neither one is necessarily better than the other because Allah creates us with unique inclinations to certain fields and careers in this life. In a hadith narrated by 'Abdullah bin Mus'ud, the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him said, " a human being is put together in the womb of the mother in forty days, and then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and then a piece of flesh for a similar period. Then Allah sends an angel who is ordered to write four things. He is ordered to write down his/her deeds, his/her livelihood (what they will do for a living/career), when and how he/she will die, and whether he/she will be happy or miserable in this life. Then the soul is breathed into him."
So as the hadith mentions, when we are but babies in the womb, we are given the fitrah, of what we will do with our lives in terms of career. This of course explains why we all have certain areas of expertise or areas of interest in which we've always been incline to or in which we've always been naturally talented. Allah, in an indirect way, also mentions this concept of the idea of "specializations" in the Qur'an. Allah says in Surah at Tawbah, verse 122...
"And it is not for the believers to go forth [to battle] all at once. For there should separate from every division of them a group [remaining] to obtain understanding in the religion and warn their people when they return to them that they might be cautious."
Thus, in this verse, Allah creates the need for some to specialize in studying the deen (religion) so that they may warn the others. All Muslims are required to seek knowledge as it is reported by Anas ibn Malik that the prophet (p.b.u.h.) said, "It is the duty of every Muslim to seek knowledge", and knowledge of the religion is the best of knowledge as the prophet (p.b.u.h.) also said, according to the narration of Mu’awiyya bin Abu Sufyan, “The one for whom Allah wills good (khayr), He grants him fiqh in the deen.”
However, the truth is that not everyone can be a mujtahid or someone who devotes their life to the study of the deen and is qualified to give fatawa (legal rulings). If everyone did this, as the second brother in the above example, then who would be the doctors, engineers, journalists, artists and so on? Some use this as an argument for following a madhab or an established school of thought. I might cautiously agree but I feel it is extremely important that Muslims avoid taqleed or taking legal rulings from scholars without knowing anything of their sources. A good scholar of Islam, in giving a ruling, will always first quote the Qur'an, then the Sunnah, then the ijma' or consensus of previous scholars and THEN give his/her opinion. If a scholar only gives their opinion without quoting the Qur'an and Sunnah and without paying homage to the scholars of the past, I personally either don't listen to that scholar at all or take their opinion with a whole lot of salt (in other words I'm very cautious about their opinion).
But, inevitably, most of us will not be mujtahidoon or scholars of Islamic law. So, we inevitably turn to people who are mujtahidoon to learn our aqeedah or the "ins and outs" of our deen. But, "that's ok". We should not look to those with more knowledge of the deen as "better Muslims" than those with less. If you are one of those Muslims with more knowledge of the deen, you should never look down on those with less knowledge as being "ignorant" or "less faithful". Also if you are one of those with less knowledge, you shouldn't feel yourself to be less of a Muslim than those who spend all their time in the masjid reading, reciting and praying, and nor should you look down on them as being backward or overly-zealous. We are all created for varied purposes in this life. By finding and fulfilling that fitrah, we who are not mujtahidoon are contributing as much to the ummah as those who are. Because, it is what Allah created us to do. A doctor contributes as much to the Ummah as a scholar of hadith does. A skilled artisan contributes as much as a skilled mufaseer, and a skilled musician or journalist contributes just as much as a skilled da'ee.
I bring this issue up because there tends to be quite an imbalance within the Muslim community in terms of what career fields you see most Muslims doing. Within mainstream Muslim communities you see an over abundance of doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc. If any of you have ever looked at the matrimonial ads in Islamic Horizons magazine you know the joke. Every single ad is a doctor, looking for another doctor, or a lawyer looking for another lawyer. This is very true of the immigrant Muslim community, and I understand why. I understand that most of those immigrants came to become doctors and engineers and such, pressure their children who are born American, to do the same, for the sake of being financially stable. Believe me I understand the importance of financial stability. However, we as the Muslim community in America, suffer severe deficiencies in media, arts, education, military and law enforcement and other "not so high paying" career fields. Those of you who are doctors ought to understand this. The prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) said, "The Muslim Ummah is like the human body, when one part of that body aches, the entire body aches". So comparatively, when a persons body gets A LOT of protein (which is a good thing) but not enough fruits and vegetables, it creates health problems due to the imbalance. We likewise as the Ummah, face problems due to imbalances in how we are not only enriching our own community, but how we are contributing to the larger American melting pot as well. We are slowly starting to see more Muslims in fields like TV and film, music (halaal that is not shake your booty, MTV stuff), journalism, literature, and also necessary fields such as the military and law enforcement, but we need to be encouraging more of it as parents, as community leaders and as brothers and sisters in Islam. May Allah guide us all towards the siraat ul mustaqeem and give us the hidayah to live in this life as a traveller....concerned for our surroundings and those we meet along the way, but always keeping an eye on our ultimate destination.
...And Allah Knows Best...