Monday, 6 December 2010

Book review: The excellence of knowledge

The excellence of knowledge: The virtue of Salaf over the Khalaf
Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali
Daar us-Sunnah Publishers
Alhamdulillah I have loved reading this book. It is very important for us to know what sort of knowledge is beneficial for us as our life is too short to waste in gaining knowledge that is not going to benefit us in any way. What scares me more is the possibility that I may end up reading something which will affect my faith (creating doubts, confusion) and ruin my chance to gain closeness to Allah (SWT). There is a beautiful supplication at the start of the book which I hope can help us in gaining beneficial knowledge, insha-Allah.

The prophet (SAW) said, “Allah! Benefit me by what You have taught me, teach me what will be of benefit to me and increase me in knowledge.” [Tirmidhi # 3393 and Ibn Majah # 3833]

I just tried to quote from the book a bit so that you can have an idea about the book. It is a must have book for any library, mashallah. It’s not really a thick one so you may be able to finish reading it in one or two days, insha-Allah.

In the Qur’an, Allah (SWT) sometimes mentions knowledge in a praiseworthy way referring to beneficial knowledge and at other times in a blameworthy way referring to knowledge that is not beneficial at all. He (SWT) taught us a beautiful dua in the Qur’an. “And say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” (Surah TA Ha 20:114) It is also mentioned in the Qur’an that only learned amongst His servants do truly fear Allah (SWT).

According to Imam Ahmed (May Allah have mercy upon him), the foundation of knowledge is the fear of Allah (SWT). Therefore, the foundation of knowledge is that knowledge which leads to fearing Him, loving Him, drawing close to Him, taking comfort with Him and ardently desiring Him. Then this is followed by knowledge of the rulings of Allah (SWT), all that He loves and is pleased with. Whosoever realises these two types of knowledge, he has found beneficial knowledge, he has attained beneficial knowledge, a fearful heart, a content soul and supplications that are responded to.

Our beloved messenger Muhammad (SAW) has taught us a beautiful dua in this regard: “Allah! I take refuge with You from knowledge that does not benefit, from a heart that has no fear, from a soul that is never content and from an invocation that is not responded to.” (Muslim#2722)

The author argues that the beneficial knowledge is to strictly follow the text of the Book (the Qur’an) and the Sunnah, to understand their meaning and in order to do so, confine oneself to what has been reported from the companions, the successors and their successors in matters to do with the Qur’an, hadith, the lawful and the prohibited, asceticism, softening of the heart, gnosis and other things.

“Awza’i said, ‘Knowledge is that which the companions of Muhammad (SAW) conveyed, anything else is not to be considered knowledge’.” This is also stated by Imam Ahmed.

Our salafs used to be very careful with their dealing with people. They refrained from excessive argumentation and debating, they did not do so because of ignorance and inability, rather because of knowledge and the fear of Allah (SWT). Those who came after them, who did speak much and went to great lengths in widening issues, did not do so because they had knowledge that the salaf did not, rather due to love of speech and lack of scrupulousness (wara’).

Some of the Salaf said, “When Allah SWT desires good for His servant, He opens for him the door of action. When Allah SWT desires evil for His servant, He locks the door of action and opens instead the door of disputation.”
Ibn Mas’ud (RAW) said, “Sufficient knowledge is it that one fears Allah SWT and sufficient ignorance is it to be deceived of Allah SWT.” Others said, “Whoever fear Allah SWT is the scholar and whoever disobeys Allah Him is the ignoramus.”

Our beloved prophet (SAW) advised Ibn Abbas (RAW), “Be mindful of Allah SWT, He will be mindful of you. Be mindful of Allah SWT and you will find Him in front of you. Know Allah SWT in times of ease and He will know you in times of hardship.” (Tirmidhi)

The sign of knowledge that is not beneficial is pride, arrogance and conceit. Such a person seeks high position and ranking in this world and competes for it. He loves debating to show off his knowledge! It is reported from the prophet (SAW) that whoever seeks knowledge for this purpose, ‘for him is the Fire, the Fire!’(Ibn Majah)
In summary, the author concludes, in these corrupt times, it is very important for us to stick to the Salafs. Regardless of whether it be in the foundation of the faith or its subsidiary issues, the tafsir (Exegesis) of the Quran, the explanations of the hadith, asceticism, matters which softens the heart, points of benefit and wisdom, exhortations – whatever the Salaf spoke. And we should try to avoid excessive debating and argumentation.
I hope the review helps and it’s not too long!

You can also read the book online at http://www.kalamullah.com/excellence-of-knowledge.html

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Na'ima B. Robert : Boy Vs Girl

Boy vs girl is a story of a twin brother and sister, Faraz and Farhana written by a very talented sister Na'ima B. Robert. I was eager to get hold of the book as soon as possible and alhamdulillah I loved reading it. I think it's a must for every teenager and their parents and anybody who is interested in helping the young Muslims to be better in deen and dunya, insha-Allah. It can also be read in educational institutions and youth book clubs to discuss the issues it raises, in details. The author has mentioned briefly the common issues our youth have to face on a daily basis i.e. peer pressure, lack of communication and understanding between parents and teenagers, identity crisis, lack of Muslim role models, racism, prejudice, cultural baggage, ignorance of the faith etc. The close relationship between the brother and sister is really beautiful mashallah. Thinking about my own kids, I make dua to Allah swt to bless my children with that sort of a relationship insha-Allah. I lost my brother when he was three and a half and this story reminded me of my sweet brother who was always very close to me.
Farhana and Faraz want to be better Muslims. They want to implement the Islamic regulations in their day-to-day lives. However, due to the societal pressure around them, they are struggling to reach to their destination. Even families and relatives can be a big obstacle in getting closer to Allah swt. Needless to say, how damaging peer pressure can be!

One of the inspiring role models in the story is auntie Najma, a university educated, niqabi sister who is aware of her rights and responsibilities and trying to live her life according to Allah swt's guidance. She is very independent-minded but at the same time behaves wisely around the relatives who are following their age-old culture and deluded in thinking that this culture is based on Islam. I know how it feels to be in that sort of situation when you are trying to follow the Qur'an and the sunnah but most of the people in the community think that you are just a rebel and trying to deny your so called 'glorious heritage'. Auntie Naj is also aware of what the youth are going through on a day-to-day basis unlike the most Muslim adults. That’s why the kids felt that they can talk to their auntie without being judged or ridiculed. Unfortunately they couldn’t do the same with their parents which again is a very common scenario in our community.

Na'ima has also mentioned the hypocrisy among the community. Unfortunately lots of Muslim youths are engaged in drugs, gangs and girls/boys and so forth and in most cases, the families do not even have a clue of what their children are up to. We need to understand that for the youth it's not easy either living in a society where some values and norms are very contradictory to our faith. And to make the matter worse, most of the Muslim parents are leading a life based on their respective cultures and traditions, and not the real Islam. This leaves the youth confused and creates an identity crisis. As the young generation of Muslims in the West, how do we define ourselves? Are we Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Somalis or just British? Or are we just Muslims who are happen to be here? These are not easy questions to answer. Our youth desperately need our understanding and support. As parents we need to be aware of all the problems they are going through and help them without the judgemental attitude we seem to have. Lots of adults also show rather an apologetic attitude thinking if they say too many (!) positive things about their faith they may get chucked out from this country. It just proves that deep down we are still a community of economic migrants and unfortunately we still haven’t moved on.

The other characters in the story are quite interesting too. These characters are quite common in our societies. For example, Shazia comes from a religious family and is expected to wear hijab but she lacks the conviction. Although she knows that her dad is right, she is not that convinced that she needs to wear it as she thinks she is ugly! Once again it reminds me of the lack of confidence and self-esteem among young girls. Even lots of hijabi girls suffer from low confidence in their appearance and hence, we see so many of them wearing so much make-up and jewellery with their eye-catching, figure-hugging hijab to compensate! Sometimes I feel so annoyed looking at these girls, thinking what’s the point of wearing hijab, when everything else that they are wearing is in contradiction to the cloth on their head??? Being super skinny or leading a lifestyle to reach size zero is another scary trend on increase even in Muslim community! Let’s admit it; we are part of this society and the changes in this society will affect us too. We are not living in a cocoon, which some of our parents can afford to live in but we cannot.

Guys like Skrooz (whose real name is Khalid) is another interesting character which I bet can be found quite a lot in our society. They enjoy bullying and terrorising people and that’s how they find satisfaction and a sense of achievement?! He shows resentment towards the bad things in the society but at the same time he does not show any remorse committing crimes. He spends time with 'gora' (white) girls but makes sure his sister doesn’t get involved in any relationship as he believes that will damage the ‘honour’ of his family! He even dreams of marrying a decent girl to start a family! There are so many poor girls from the Indian sub-continent who unfortunately get married to this sort of messed up boys with the ‘blessing’ of their parents and lead a life of hell for the rest of their lives! I can’t help but blame the parents who are stupid enough to think that a girl from another society (who is completely unaware of this future husband’s past) can change the life of their bad son when they couldn’t do it themselves!

Ahmed Ali is another good role model mentioned in the story who is a Muslim graffiti artist. I think I know where the author got the inspiration from :-) I love the work of Mohammad Ali as it’s really fascinating mashallah, and he can be a great role model for the youth Insha-Allah. You can find out more about him on his website http://www.aerosolarabic.com/v2/index.php

Overall, this is a very good book to read. I am sure you will enjoy reading this book, insha-Allah. I hope Na’ima writes more books insha-Allah. We really need writers like her to help the community to raise a good generation of Muslims, insha-Allah.

You can find out more about the author at http://www.naimabrobert.co.uk/
I am a big fan of her magazine ‘SISTERS’ mashallah.
Her book ‘From my sister’s lips’ is another great book mashallah which I loved reading. Hopefully I would like to do a review of the book in future insha-Allah.
Na’ima is also doing quite a lot for the youth mashallah. Have a look at her recent blog http://muslimteenauthor.blogspot.com/

Saturday, 29 May 2010

A Muslim girl’s guide to life’s big changes

Author: Rayhana Khan
Ta Ha Publishers Ltd
Written from a ‘big sister’ perspective, this book explains briefly all the issues young Muslim women may face in their life. The author encourages the young girls to remember her advice as an older sister who has been through what they are about to experience: ‘Stop, think and question all that you do in your life.’ She talks about school life, basic knowledge of Islam, hijab, behaviour, socialisation and the physical changes girls will experience from the age of nine onwards. There is a small quiz section to test how safe our Muslim identity is. She also explains in details how to take care of our bodies as women.

An excerpt from the book:

“The most simple but most effective thing you can do at any time is to pray to Allah (SWT). Be proud to be Muslim and stand up for your beliefs. Remember your aim is to please Allah (SWT) not your friends. Islam is about respect, kindness and decency. You should keep clean, dress decently, keep good company and speak good language. This is what makes you beautiful - the kind of person you are and how you treat people - not the way you dress and your accessories. You should try to learn what is in the Qur’an and the hadith and follow it.”

The book is quite easy to read and you will be able to finish reading in an hour or less. Mothers should try to go through the book as well as it can give them some idea of what young girls may be going through and they can discuss issues with their daughters. As the author has just touched upon very briefly about the issues faced by Muslim girls, it is important for parents to elaborate on the issues and try to help daughters to make the right choice during their transition from childhood to adulthood.