Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Humility and Serving the people

Maulana Muzaffar Hussain (ra) of Kandhla (India) once was journeying to a place and on the way he met an old man who was struggling with his luggage and had put it on his back. Immediately he took the burden from the old man and carried it with him to his destination. The man asked him where he was from, and he answered 'I am from Kandhla'. Hearing this the old man said 'Oh so do you know that great saint Muzaffar Hussain, he is so devoted and righteous, such a great man...' and he went on like this for quite some time. Maulana simply answered 'hmm well I don't really think he is that wonderful actually, but yeah he reads his salah'. The old man was quite affronted by this, saying 'You can't say that about such a pious man, no, no he is truly great' but the Maulana merely replied 'No...I am telling you the reality', angering the man even more. A passer-by stopped to see why the he was so outraged, and immediately recognised Maulana Muzaffar. He told the old man 'Uncle, this is Maulana Muzaffar Hussain' at which he fell to the Maulana's feet weeping. Tears came to the Maulana's eyes as well, and he consoled him kindly.

(Hikayat Auliya, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi)

The lives of our elders were modeled on those of the illustrious companions and the good character that was found in them was consciously imitated by our pious predecessors. A similar account can be found in Tabaqat ibn Sa'd about the Prophet's (peace be upon him) companion Salman Farsi (May Allah be pleased with him)

In the caliphate of Hazrat Umer, (may allah be pleased with him) Salman Faarsi was appointed governer of Madain, and remaining true to what he learnt from the Prophet (peace be upon him) lived a meagre existence.

Once he was strolling the streets of Madain, as the commoners did, when a trader from Syria walked over. Thinking he was a lowly labourer, the trader ordered Hazrat Salman to pick up his baggage and without any hesitation he hoisted it on his back and followed the trader to where he wanted.

When the inhabitants of Madain saw their governor like this, they immediately rebuked the Syrian trader saying 'this is the Amir of the city'. Surprised and ashamed, he began to apologise and sought to take the load from Hazrat Salman but he refused saying 'no, I have made the intention to perform a good deed so I will see it through to the end' and did not stop till he took the baggage to the traders desired place.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Islam's treatment of non-Muslims

In the Caliphate of Hazrat Umer, radhiyallahu anhu, there was a very God-fearing Companion named Amr bin Saeed who was appointed the governer of Hims and he accepted on the condition that he will not take any salary for his service. There were a number of Christian dhimmi's under his governance at the time and one day, in anger, he said to one of them 'May God disgrace you!'. Immediately he began to wonder whether he had a right to say that and, finding that he didn't, went to see the Ameer-ul-Mumineen Hazrat Umer and gave his resignation saying 'If I didn't have this governance, those words would not have been said that caused hurt to the Christian'

(Islam mey madh'habi rawadaari pg 326)

Friday, 22 June 2007

Wedding spendthrifts

We have all probably seen the extravagance and spending-sprees that take place for a wedding, especially if we are South Asian. This has grown to alarming proportions, where even the most cash-strapped families have to book the banquet halls and serve the 4 or 5 dishes (excluding the meetha of course) to hundreds of barely known guests and make sure they give the obligatory 45 suits, 10 dinner sets, 56 pieces of jewellery, 20 more suits and 40 other bits and pieces their daughter (well her in-laws) might need, just so they won't be 'disgraced' in the community. No wedding lasts for less then four days, during which all manner of strange 'customs' have to be performed, and which mostly involve forking out yet more cash for their entertainment and food needs.

Apart from being totally un-Islamic, where simplicity is emphasised in weddings, it is disastrous for the more straitened families - who end up paying for these four days the rest of their life. Maulana Thanvi used be extremely averse to these customs, and worked tirelessly to eradicate them. He says:

At places I've seen people give their daughters so many clothes that even if she wore them her whole life they would not finish. Then what she does is, if she is generous gives them away to others and if she is stingy stores them in a box and most never again see the light of day. One has to ask, what is the point of giving so many clothes? But of course, where would be the admiration if they didn't? How would they show off and get peoples comments of 'look how much so-and-so gave to her daughter - there were this this many' and so on.

Once a very wealthy man married off his daughter, and in the dowry gave a palanquin, a rug, a wash can (lota!) and one Quraan majeed. He gave nothing else - no clothes or shoes or dinner sets - and instead bought her land worth one lakh rupees. He said that initially I had earmarked 1 lakh rupees for my daughter's wedding because I was going to do it with much fanfare and pomp. But then I thought how would all that pomp and show benefit my daughter - the people will just eat, frolic and go off, and my lakh rupees will be spent and my daughter will not get anything out of it. So, I have chosen to invest it in land for my daughter that she and her family will be able to live on for generations, and still nobody can mock me for stinginess or penny-pinching because I didn't keep the money for myself either.

Look, this is what intelligent people do!

Monday, 18 June 2007

How to rectify yourself - part 2

Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rahmatullahi alaihi) says:

The best opinion, however, is to perform both of these things simultaneously. That is, to work on letting go of sins and displeasing acts whilst increasing your worship, zikr and connection with Allah. The realised (muhaqiq) Shaykhs are all in favour of this method, though the main thrust is always on what the seeker himself feels more attuned to.

Our Shaykhs always used to find out the temperament of the seeker before guiding him. Once, Maulana Muneer Nanotwi came to Haji sahab (Haji Imdadullah) and asked to be taken in for guidance. Haji sahab asked him 'Tell me, if there is a field with much weeds and dereliction, would you first clean it all up and root out the weeds and thistles, thereafter planting seed or would you first plant seed and clean it after?' Maulana answered 'I would plant the seed first - at least something will be there to reap, the cleaning could be later. We don't know how long the weeding might take and the season might be over by that time' Haji sahab laughed at that answer and decided the Naqshbandi method was best for him.

As I was saying, seeing the lack of free time, inclination, the short lifespans of the people at present, it was decided that the best method was to take both ways side by side - to clean and weed the terrain and plant the seeds as you clear it up.

There is not a more obvious example of this than in the prescribed practices of shar'iah. Where one is encouraged to sleep little (sleeping too much being displeasing) he is also told to worship Allah in that time in Tahajjud and Taraweeh. Similarly, one is not told to simply silence his tongue from lying and gossiping and idle talk, but also to recite the Quran and remember Allah at the same time.

In this method, there is a great benefit to be gained. The reason being that a lot of seekers of the pleasure of Allah fall prey to a mistake in this regard. That is that they exert themselves in trying to shun all relations and things around them, thinking that once I am free from these distractions I will be able to turn solely in attention to Allah. This is in itself a good intention, but sometimes he does not go about it the right way.

When he is cutting out from his life these 'wordly' things, he does not simultaneously fill his heart up with Allah's love and devotion. The result is that there comes a time when his heart is completely empty, since he did not actively engage his heart in connecting with Allah - or he aimed to but did not perform much effort in this regard, especially since connecting with Allah is actually connecting with an unseen thing which is difficult to immerse yourself in fully without due striving.

So, he has emptied his heart from all other things, but has not matched it with attaching himself to Allah's love, and his empty heart becomes easy prey for Shaytan.

So, to protect yourself from this danger, extricate yourselves from your wrong habits but at the same time fill in the vacuum with love for Allah, by increasing your good deeds and remembrance.

(Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Taqleel-ul-kalaam, pg 200-201, Published Maktaba Thanvi, Karachi. )

Saturday, 16 June 2007

How to rectify yourself.

As you know, Tasawwuf is a science, the science of self-purification. It is a branch of Islam just as valid as the other branches such as Tafsir (science of explaining the Quran) and Fiqh (science of extracting rulings).

According to Maulana Thanvi, there were two theories as to how self-purification should come about. What method should we use that will make us pious and righteous Muslims? One was to concentrate on letting go of the sins that we are accustomed to commiting, and once that is achieved, we should then work on improving and increasing our good deeds and worship. The other way was to start loads of zikr, worship and good deeds immediately and the sins would then slink away themselves. Though both methods are good and beneficial, the first method was more preferred by the Chishti's whilst the latter by the Naqshbandi's (this makes it clear why there are different Tariqa's, they differ in methodology but the goal is the same).

In the first instance, the priority is given to shunning his sins since they argue that this is the most important for a Muslim and supercedes nafl worship (as the Prophet [peace be upon him] said: If you guard against the forbidden things, you will be the most devout of men' Ahmad, Tirmidhi). Maulana Thanvi says that it is like when doctors want to give medicine to remedy the disease and then concentrate on strengthening the patient but the downside is that the person may while his life away in this battle and not gather many good deeds and dhikr in the time - he may even lose hope and give up.

The second group says that the person should immerse himself in zikr and ibadah, and this should itself help to erode the bad habits he has (Allah says 'establish regular Prayer: for Prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds [29:45]). The danger with this is that the person may become complacent, thinking that since he does so much worship, one sin here and there won't really matter. Maulana Thanvi compares it to feeding a person strengthening potions when he is ill - it'll probably just strengthen the persons illness, making it worse. (Maulana was a doctor specialising in herbal medicine).

The great Maulana then comes to his own conclusion, which I will detail insha Allah in the next post.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Etiquettes of Guests and Hosting Them

The son of our teacher (Ra), a doctor, was such that once Maulana Gangohi happened to visit him and at that time there was no food in the house. He frankly informed him of the situation saying that the house is empty of food, I don't feel like getting a loan and there are quite a lot of people around who will be more than happy to entertain you if you would like. Maulana Gangohi refused and said if you are hungry and then I will stay hungry as well, I am your guest and so the Maulana did not eat a thing until the evening.

Near Maghrib time, a man came to the house saying that so-and-so was cured from your medicine and he sent these eleven rupees. Immediately the doctor went to the Maulana saying 'Hazrat, it is in your blessed presence we have received some provision, now I'm definitely going to buy some delicious food for us to enjoy' The Maulana said that there was no need for that, something ordinary would suffice but he still insisted as they had both been very hungry all day. And so they all enjoyed a sumptuous meal by Isha time.

The host should be similarly frank with his guests, but the guest himself should not be overly so and start requesting this delicacy and that drink and this bed. The second thing is that if the host wants to be particularly formal with his guests then for how long will he be able to keep it up? How many loans is he going to take? Because many people have a habit of visiting those who are known for their good spread. So much so that the poor guy becomes exasperated by the constant entertaining and even then they don't stop, it's simply free food for them.

Once in Thana Bhawan there was a similar person who used to be inundated with guests and visitors and it got to the point where he had to borrow money to pay for all the niceties. He complained to me about this and I told him from now on don't make any effort, if you have enough chapaati's put that in front of them whether they eat to their fill or not, don't borrow money to serve anything - when they are going to stay hungry they'll stop coming. That's what he did and soon enough he was rid of them.

So these type of 'guests' don't care a jot about the feelings of their host, they are just interested in the food whatever the situation of the housekeeper. In fact some people travel simply for that reason - they'll get all kinds of nice food from places.

There was an Islamic student in Kanpur who used to say that those people who finish their books and graduate are quite foolish, because then we don't get the easy bread and butter from our hostel. Thats why we are still lying around and don't get past 4rth grade, if we completed our studies who'd give us our roti's?!

So that good-for-nothing was aiming for roti's even from studying!

(Maulan Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Hurmaat-ul-Hudood, pg 104-5, Published Maktaba Thanvi, Karachi)

Monday, 11 June 2007

On a coffee break?

An amusing anecdote which I thought I'll share with you, if only for it's general interest:

Once a person asked his Shaykh, are there differences between the styles of pious shuyukh? He said well find out. Go to that mosque and three of the pious are seated there - slap each one of them. So he went and gave the first one of his best, the dervish slapped him back with equal vigour, and sat down. The second ignored him completely and the third started massaging his hand saying oh I hope you did not hurt yourself in the process.

Another good story but not one that you should try at home!:

One saint used be overcome with 'haal' a lot. Haal is when the saalik erupts in emotion and in this condition may utter words of a dubious nature (who can forget Bistaami and his 'glory be to me' and al-Hallaj 'ana al Haqq'). So this saint also used to be overcome from his love from time to time and his mureeds became quite alarmed at the strange comments he would make in this state. They told their Shaykh that this is rather unsavoury and he should stop lest he be sinning. (Maulana Thanvi, at this point, said that this is how mureeds should be, ever-vigilant against anything that contravenes shari'ah, be it even from their Shaykh.) The Shaykh answered 'Very well, next time it happens and I say something like that, set upon me with your swords' and so they got ready. After a while, the same haal came upon him and the Shaykh uttered the same words, at which each mureed lunged upon him. They were shocked to see that, by the will of Allah, the swords had no effect on their Shaykh and they sat down rather dazed. The Shaykh explained to them in spite of giving the command for his death, the words still came out which shows that he could not control the love that envelopes him in that time and hence Allah saved him.

(Taken from various speeches of Hazrat Ashraf Ali Thanvi)

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Sufi Principles Revisited - No. 2 Eat Less

Rain, isn't it so pure and beautiful? Yet, in some of the places it falls, it yields flowers and fruits and in others - nothing but weeds and thorny grass. Likewise is the effect of blessings and favours showered by Allah upon his servants. If a person is decent and upright, even after drinking a simple glass of cold water, he will fall to the ground in gratitude and humility, and he will think that despite so many sins I am favoured so much -water, ice, refreshment - even though I am deserving of ruin for my deeds.

In reality, blessings should have precisely this effect, but if someone is a lowlife anyway then what can be done of that? When this cretin receives favours, he is not thankful and instead gets more arrogant and sure of his wrong ways. These are his antics when he actually receives food and provision, imagine what will happen when he goes hungry! He'll probably lose his faith.

You have probably noticed that it is the poor and downtrodden who usually turn apostate whereas this is very rare amongst the well-off and well-fed. For this reason, I think ordering the masses to restrict their food and drink is not a good remedy any more. The times are different and less charged with fervour, and so one should not deprive themselves of food. Instead, eat and contemplate Allah's favour, and in this way your love for him will increase far more then if you kept yourself hungry.

(taken from Taqleel-Ta'am baSurat as Siyaam, pg 79-80, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi)