Tuesday, 13 October 2009

A warning we should heed: Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad

The message of Islam is that pursuit of money for its own sake is unnatural, inhumane, and will lead us to catastrophe


O you who believe! Let not your wealth nor your children distract you from remembrance of Allah. Those who do so, they are the losers. (63:9)
This verse in the Qur'an is an invitation for humanity to make a relatively small effort in this world, in return for the eternal reward of the hereafter. It is a call to save ourselves from becoming fixated on our wealth and on providing our children with the latest gadget and games, which ultimately are mere distractions from our remembrance of the creator.
But humans are short-termist; we think primarily of our pleasures now rather than the harmony and serenity of the world to come. Chapter 102 of the Qur'an says that we are distracted by competing in worldly increase, until we finally end up in our graves where we will be questioned about our excesses.
Does this mean that it is wrong to own things? Of course not, as money and offspring can be positive things in the life of a believer, and we do of course have basic needs which need to be met. But we must remember that the pleasures of consumption are quickly gone, while lasting benefit comes only from using our wealth to uphold the rights of others; namely the orphan, the traveller, and the needy. Wealth is thus truly ours only once it has been given away.
Those who are genuinely distracted by worldly increase, and who make it an end in and of itself rather than as a means towards something better are in effect guilty of a form of idolatry. Ours is an age that has made idols of the great banks and finance houses, driven to frenzy by competition amongst billionaires who are kept awake at night by the thought that a rival might make a business deal more quickly than them. A banker who can asset strip companies and throw its employees out onto the street is someone who is in the grip of an obsession that has thrown him beyond of the normal frontiers of humanity.
Neo-classical economics has traditionally focused on four things: land, labour, capital and money, the first three of which are finite, while the fourth, money, is theoretically infinite, and is therefore where human greed has been particularly focussed. Thus arose a system where someone could, with approval, set up a bank with only £1, and then lend £100 using property and other assets promised by others as security.
The lender now has £100 including interest, which they earned by just sitting there and doing nothing. On the basis of this £100, they can then lend £1000, and on and on, until the cancerous growth lubricated by greed becomes so huge that it leads to a fundamental breakdown in the system. Such a system based on usury, with interest as the bizarre "price of money" which itself becomes a commodity, was once prohibited by all faiths. People had a simple and natural intuition that the commoditisation of a measurement of value would open the door to trading in unreal assets, and ultimately to a model of finance that would destroy natural restraints and even, potentially, the planet.
In the classical Islamic system, by contrast, money is the substance of either gold or silver. With a tangible and finite asset being the only measure of value, there is a great deal more certainty about the value of assets and the price of money. This basic wisdom was though not just a theoretical ideal; it succeeded. Muslim society at its height was mercantile, and it was successful. Never was money assigned its own value and never was it seen as an end in and of itself.
Since the abolition of the gold standard however, theoretical limits on the price of money were removed. Last year's meltdown, whose final consequences were unguessable, was a sign of the inbuilt dangers of a usurious world. Humans are naturally short-termist but in times of crisis we must take stock. As with the related environmental crisis, now is the time to be smarter and more self-restrained. The believer is in any case allergic to the mad amassing of wealth, since he or she expects true happiness and peace only in the remembering of God and in the next world.
Now is the time to think seriously about finding an economic system to replace the one whose dangers have just been revealed. Upon the conquest of Mecca, a verse of the Qur'an was revealed commanding people to give up what remained of their interest-based transactions, upon which a new system based on the value of gold and silver was initiated.
Those who relied so heavily on the old system would of course have been unable to understand a system without banking charges, but not only was such a system created but a successful civilisation was created using these ideas.
Last year we peered into the abyss; now we must apply self-restraint and wisdom, before complete catastrophe ensues.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Praise of Shaykh ‘Abd Allah Bin Bayyah

Praise of Shaykh ‘Abd Allah Bin Bayyah (b. 1935) By Shaykh Yūsuf al-Qaradāwī (b. 1926)(May Allah preserve them both)

Praise of Shaykh ‘Abd Allah (SWT) Bin Bayyah (b. 1935) By Shaykh Yūsuf al-Qaradāwī (b. 1926) (May Allah (SWT) preserve them both)

Indeed it is from God’s blessings upon a person that they be acquainted with great people—those who have their scholarly importance, their religious importance, and their intellectual (fikrī), spiritual (sulūkī), and reformist (islāhī) importance. This is a blessing that deserves gratitude, and I believe that among the favours of God (Most High) upon me, and from His beneficence towards me, is that I know one of the unique scholars the like of whom time is rarely generous [in bringing forward].

Indeed he is none other than the supremely erudite (al-‘allāma) Shaykh ‘Abd Allah (SWT) ibn Bayyah, whose renown in knowledge and eminence has reached the horizons, and whom [people] far and near have come to know. I have known him for many years in the context of conferences and councils in which he participated with his knowledge, ideas, and efforts.

The reality is that the more I have come closer to him and got to know him better, the more I have loved him and [the more] he has risen in my estimation. Rarely does a person combine both love and esteem for an individual: there are people whom one esteems and respects but does not love, and there are those whom one loves and has a strong emotional [attachment] to, but one does not esteem them and respect them.

As for those for whom one combines [both] love and esteem, they are few [in number], and among these few is the Shaykh ‘Abd Allah (SWT) ibn Bayyah, who God has given numerous excellent qualities. He combines [religious] conservatism and liberalism: he is a conservative individual, but he is not closed; and he is an individual who facilitates, but he is not lax. He is a Mālikī: he has memorized the fiqh of the Mālikīs, their texts (mutūn), their commentaries (shurūh), their supercommentaries (hawāshī), and their various poetic codifications of disciplines (manzūmāt), but he is also supremely erudite in fiqh in general, and comparative fiqh. He is Salafī in creed, but he is also a Sūfī, with spiritual inclinations, without monasticism, just as our Shaykh Abū al-Hasan al-Nadwī said that he adopts Sūfism on the basis that it is spirituality, and purification for the soul, and connection with God, Blessed and Exalted is He. Shaykh ‘Abd Allah (SWT) ibn Bayyah is [thus] between Salafism and Sūfism.

He also combines what people in our age call purity of origin (asāla), and being contemporary (mu‘āsara), for he is a man of authenticity, connected to the [Islamic intellectual] heritage, cognizant of it, well aware of its various treasures in fiqh, exegesis, hadīth, history, literature, and other [disciplines], but he is [at the same time] not distracted from the [present] time, for he lives the time, its problems, its various currents, unlike many of our scholars who live alone in the past, and do not know anything about the present, while Shaykh Ibn Bayyah knows the past, lives with the present, and peers into the future.

Perhaps it is his knowledge of the French language, on the one hand, and his assuming [positions] of great responsibility in his country—more than once he was a minister, and more than once he bore great responsibilities—perhaps all of this has made him open up to the age and look to it with an eye, and look to the [intellectual] heritage with the other eye. For this reason he has concerned himself with the aspects of Islam pertaining to reform and renewal, and the necessity of changing the umma to that which is more blessed and better, by means of changing its thoughts, changing its learning, changing its aspirations, or what the Qur’an has expressed as “souls”: “Indeed God does not change the condition of a people until they change their own souls” [13:11].

The reality is that the excellent qualities of Shaykh ‘Abd Allah (SWT) ibn Bayyah are [so] many [that] this place does not have the room for [their enunciation], and the [aforementioned comments] are simply passing thoughts by means of which I express the eminence of the Shaykh, and express my love for him; and [they are also] a prayer that God brings us together with him, for I believe he is one of the righteous (sālihūn), one of the doers of good, God willing, and I say, as Imam al-Shāfi‘ī has said:

I love the righteous, and I am not one of them;

Perhaps through them I will attain intercession.

And I dislike the one whose wares are sins

Even though I am equal to them in wares

I ask God, Glory be to Him and be He Exalted, to shower blessings upon the life of Shaykh ‘Abd Allah (SWT) ibn Bayyah, benefit the umma through him, benefit the religion, the religious, Islam, and the Muslims through him, and bless all his family and progeny, and that He raises us [in the Hereafter] together, with those [around] the Messenger of God, may God bless him and give him peace, with “Prophets, the veracious (siddīqīn), the martyrs, and the righteous (sālihīn), and how blessed they are as companions! [4:69]”

Translated from http://www.binbayyah.net/ by Usaama al-Azami for suhaibwebb.com

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Advice on Studying in Syria By Sidi Saqib Hussain

Learning Arabic

My experience of foreign students is that they tend to rush into Islamic Studies without first having put in the necessary groundwork in terms of their Arabic. This is to some extent understandable, as most people have only a limited amount of time they can be away from home. However, it is definitely worth doing some focused language studies before embarking into the Islamic Sciences, especially if one is willing to study for a number of years (6 or more), as really is necessary to understand all the main sciences at a good level. I suggest that a beginner might find it useful to go through the following steps:

1 – Work through an English-Arabic textbook, or two, and learn the vocabulary and grammar systematically.

The majority of people tend to start either with a basic classical Nahw text (like al-Ajrumiyyah) or a modern Arabic textbook for teaching Arabic to foreigners (e.g. al-Kitab al-Asasi or The Medina University course). My experience of learning Arabic and seeing how much progress people who have taken various different routes to the language have made, has demonstrated to me beyond doubt that both of these approaches are grossly deficient.

Classical Nahw texts were written by Arabs (or scholars of the Arabic language) who spoke fluent classical Arabic, for Arabs who spoke fluent classical Arabic, as a means to analyse the language. It was never intended that texts like al-Ajrumiyyah would be used to teach foreigners Arabic! This is clear from even a cursory look at the way the books present the information – the focus is entirely on abstart theorising of grammatical categories, rather than practical usage.

As for al-Kitab al-Asasi etc., quite apart from the several errors in these books, they were written for use by modern Arabic teachers, who can’t speak the languages of their internationally diverse students. Using them, when one has recourse to much more accurate, much more systematically laid out and much more complete grammars of the Arabic language written in one’s own mother tongue, is I believe a terribly inefficient way to start.
I would suggest Haywood and Nahmad – the grammar covered is to a good level and is systematically presented. You should aim to get through at least the first 35 chapters, which means memorising the vocabulary and being able to do the excercises in your head. Note that this may require you to do the exercises and go over the grammar a number of times (e.g. six, seven or even more). In particular, you should understand and memorise the weak verb tables (e.g. (i) doubled verbs – you should know the difference in verb conjugation between verbs on the patterns radda yaruddu, farra yafirru andmalla yamallu, (ii) defective verbs – you should know the difference in verb conjugation between verbs on the patterns nasiya yansaa, da’aa yad’u andramaa yarmee). As a second textbook, Teach Yourself Arabic, Tritton (published around 1950, not the modern textbook) is very useful – it will reinforce the rules you learn from Haywood and Nahmad, as well as provide extra vocabulary and useful phrases.

2 – After about Chapter 23 of Haywood and Nahmad, you should be able to start reading (with some difficulty at first, and with the help of a dictionary) stories for children in Arabic.

In particular, Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi has a number of books in this genre, such as Qisas al-Nabiyyeen and al-Qira’at al-Rashidah; both series are written especially for foreigners learning Arabic by someone who was an expert of the language. As your reading becomes more fluent, and once you’ve completed up to about Chapter 30, you should start reading as much modern and classical authors as you can. Try various authors – it’s vital at this stage not to pick someone who’s style one finds too difficult, as that can be off putting. It’s important also to vary what you read – it’ll help maintain interest and increase your vocabulary.

Three authors deserve special mention, namely Ramadan Buti, Yusuf Qaradawi and Mohammad al-Ghazali – all have a lot of literature on a fairly wide range of subjects, and, though one might not necessary agree with all of the ideas expressed in their works, as the topics they address are contemporary and interesting, it will certainly help your Arabic. If you want to read something more classical at this stage, then both Abu Hamed al-Ghazali and Ibn Taymiyya should be considered, as they both have a very readable and relatively easy style (except of course in their more technical works, like Ghazali’s al-Mustasfa, his work on Usul al-Fiqh, which should be avoided). May I suggest something like ‘Minhaj al-Abidin’ by al-Ghazali as a starting point? In addition, any small monographs you find on subjects of interest to you would be useful at this stage.

It is imperative, when reading, to take down and memorise the useful vocabulary you come across (i.e. vocabulary that will help you express yourself and converse at a high level with other students and, later your teachers – too high a focus on concrete vocabulary items, such as the names of various vegetables, flowers, will at this stage be a hinderance). Keep the vocabulary sheets for the different books you read separate – this will help you, later on, to indentify the preferred style of different authors, as well as notice mistakes in the lexical usage of modern authors (e.g. many authors like to use the verb tasaa’ala to mean ‘to wonder’, wheras, in fact, it has no such meaning in classical Arabic, and is an entirely modern, and therefore, stricly speaking, incorrect use).

3 – At some point (but not before you’ve learn’t Arabic!) you will have to start working through an Arabic grammar book

Probably something like ‘al-Durus al-Naywiyyah’, three books in a single volume, which will introduce you to the grammatical terminology used by the Arabic grammarians, as well as introduce you to the science of I’rab (parsing sentences, which the beginner should not concern himself with, despite what any well-meaning Arabic teacher would have you believe!). I suggest that you do books one and two well – memorise all the information and be able to parse the example sentences without difficulty. I strongly advise against studying anything classical at this stage (e.g. ‘Qatr al-Nada’) – it will be far too detailed, and it’s unlikely that you’ll derive significant benefit. At a more advanced stage, as far as advanced Arabic-English grammars go, you should consider ‘Wright’s Grammar’ and ‘A Grammar of Classical Arabic’ (Fischer).

4 – In terms of dictionaries,

For the moment I Imagine Hans Wehr is sufficient – it covers all the usages that you are likely to encounter at the start of your Arabic education, and is very well laid out. It should be noted however that this is, strictly, a modern Arabic dictionary, based on the usage of Arabic in the media and by modern writers. As such, it is replete with errors from a classical Arabic viewpoint, and should not be relied upon by the serious advanced student (although, for the reasons mentioned earlier, he will continue to find it useful). My advice is that once you attain some degree of fluency in you reading, you should use Hans Wehr in conjuction with a dictionary for advanced learners, namely Hava. The latter will give you the classical signification of a term, but the definitions given are sometimes, due to their berevity, not entirely clear, and at other times unwieldy. You should also start using an Arabic-Arabic dictionary as soon as you feel able. I have found ‘al-Mu’jam al-Wasit’ to be the most helpful – it’s published by the Cairo Arabic Language Academy. At a more advanced stage, you should Lane’s Lexicon for Arabic-English dictionaries (an unparrallelled work in 8 volumes), and ‘Mukhtar al-Sihah’ for Arabic-Arabic dictionaries.

Abi Nur

Last year I completed the third year of Abi Nur’s 3 year Arabic program for foreigners (Ta’hili); although it has a number of shortcomings, the most patent of which is the ridiculous number of subjects (seventeen!), many of which are of little to no benefit, I would still recommend it to anyone who wants an overview of the Islamic Sciences and what they involve from a traditional perspective. Subjects covered include Hadith (memorising most of Nawawi’s 40 Hadith and reading a modern commentary), Usul al-Hadith (’al-Bayquniyyah’), Fiqh (Shafi’i – ‘al-Fiqh al-Manhaji’, a modern text by three Damascene scholars) Nahw (’Tahdheeb Qatr al-Nada’) and so on. In the second year, one is expected to memorise Juz 29, and in the third year an equivalent of another 2 Juzs from various parts of the Quran (I don’t know about the first year as I went straight into the third year, but I suspect that you have to memorise Juz 30); opting out of any of the subjects is not an option. The main benefit for me was being able to listen, for 6-7 hours every day, to reasonably good Classical Arabic from the teachers.
Abi Nur also does a 6-level program for beginners, with each level lasting 2 months. I’m afraid I don’t have much detail on this program, but I know it is ongoing. Although Level 1 is in theory for complete beginners, you should work through at least some of the steps above before enrolling to really benefit. The focus is solely on Arabic, although one is obliged to attend Tajwid lessons too (there is no Quran memorization).

As with any course, how much the student gets out of these above-mentioned programs is really down to his dedication, intelligence and organization. Students have been known to start speaking very good Arabic after only a few weeks of studying, and others cannot manage it even after a number of years.

Private Studying

The other option is to study privately, i.e. one teacher to a small group of students, usually in the teacher’s house or else in a mosque. Most long term students tend to try combining studies at an institute with private studies. Short term students usually go for one or the other, depending on how much they’ve done before coming to Damascus – really, to study privately with a good teacher, one would need to have a good grasp of spoken Classical Arabic. The advantage over studying at an institute is that one can just focus on the subjects which are to one’s interest, the quality of the teachers is generally higher, and one gains a much better feel for what studying traditionally would involve. However, it isn’t necessarily very easy to find good private teachers; one needs to be fairly well connected with people who’ve been here a while, and even then people are often reluctant to ’share’ their teachers with others. Even once one has started studying, there is every possibility that things like financial or time constraints on the teachers, or even government restrictions (all private teaching has to be approved!), will mean that the lessons are cancelled, meaning that you have to find another teacher.

There is actually a lot more that could be said on these topics, but I think that’ll do for now! I hope it’s of some use.


Found on the Wall of Mother Teresa Home

Found written on the wall in Mother Teresa's home for children in Calcutta:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Syed Qutb: Biography, History & Explanation of Notions

From http://www.spittoon.org/archives/2764

What’s wrong with Syed Qutb? I’ve heard this said many times by different people. Some see him as a hero, others the inspiration behind terrorist movements like al-Qaeda. There are even those, like Inayat Bunglawala, who see him as nothing more than a little controversial. In this article I will be taking a brief look at Qutb’s life and ideas, and why he is still admired by militant Islamist movements today.

Early Career

Syed Qutb was born in 1906 in Musha in the Asyut province of Upper Egypt. In his early twenties he moved to Cairo and worked as a teacher for the Ministry of Public Instruction. During this period he was also interested in literature and became known as a literary critic. It is noted that Qutb was liberal in the early part of his life, at one point he even advocated nudism:

He worked as a teacher and on occasions became culturally confused, as for instance when he started to advocate the concept of nudism
(Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World by Nazih Ayubi, Pg 137, Routledge, 1991)


In 1939 he started working for the Ministry of Education and in 1948 he travelled to the United States to study education. Qutb was initially an admirer of Western culture and its secular politics, but after a period of trying to integrate with American society he became disillusioned. He wrote:

It is astonishing to realize, despite its advanced education and its perfectionism, how primitive the American really is in its views on life…Its behavior reminds us of the era of the ‘caveman’. He is primitive in the way he lusts after power, ignoring ideals and manners and principles…It is difficult to differentiate between a church and any other place that is set up for entertainment, or what they call in their language, fun,

In his book ‘The America that I saw’ Qutb wrote about an incident when he entered a church and the pastor was playing the gramophone and women and men were dancing together. For Qutb it was unimaginable for this to be happening in a place of worship. He mentions another incident where he was approached in the street by a prostitute. His darker skin colour also made him a victim of racism in America; Qutb began to believe that it was Western culture that produced such people. He was also upset about the United States’ overwhelming support for the state of Israel. Qutb believed Jews to be the root of all evil. He decided not to stay on in the United States and once he finished his studies he returned to Cairo.

The Muslim Brotherhood

Returning to Egypt, Qutb was determined not to let Egyptian society become like American society. In Cairo he joined Hasan al-Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement and became chief editor of their literature. In 1952 the Egyptian monarchy was overthrown by a group of army generals calling themselves the Free Officers. Qutb initially supported the Free Officers, who were led by Muhammad Nagib and later Gamal Abdal Nasser:

Indeed Qutb’s support for the revolution was so strong that he sent an open letter to Muhammad Nagib asking the latter to establish a just dictatorship
(Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World by Nazih Ayubi, Pg 138, Routledge, 1991)

When it became clear that Nasser wasn’t going to establish the kind of political system the MB wanted they turned against him and in 1954 tried to assassinate him. In retaliation Nasser imprisoned many members; Qutb was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour. In prison he was tortured and witnessed members of the MB being tortured in front of him. It is believed these incidents encouraged him to become a jihadist ideologue.

Ignorance (Jahiliyya)

It is generally acknowledged that Qutb was inspired by Mawdudi. He borrowed and expanded Mawdudi’s concept of Jahiliyya, a pre-Islamic term for ignorance. Mawdudi had used this term to describe the state of Muslims in the Indian Sub-Continent. Qutb claimed the entire world had reverted to an age of neo-paganism, ignorance and Barbarism:

The entire world is steeped in Jahiliyya… this Jahiliyya has transferred the reigns of sovereignty to the hands of man and assigned the overlordship of men to some persons…
(Milestones by Syed Qutb, Trans –S. Badrul, Karachi, International Islamic Publishers, 1981, P49)

The concept of Jahiliyya was taken one step further by Qutb. He believed Nasser had become like the modern day Pharaoh, who thought he was god, whilst his officials had become like pagan worshippers – worshipping Nasser and not god. Hence Nasser and his officials were deemed no longer to be Muslims, despite professing to be so, and therefore they could justifiably be killed. This takfiri logic is the same justification used by militant Islamist groups today like al-Qaeda: any Muslim not working for Islamist goals is a bad Muslim who has not understood his religion properly and is a legitimate target.

Qutb believed the way to rid the world of Jahiliyya was through offensive Jihad:

Jihad is an inherent necessity in Islam, emancipating human beings from the shackles of false and fabricated masters…
(Sayid Qutb. Jihad in the cause of Allah- In Milestones, 2nd Ed, Translated by S. Badrul Hasan, M.A, Karachi, Pakistan, International Islamic Publishers Ltd, 1988, Pg 107-42)

Qutb also believed only he and his colleagues were proper Muslims:

Since the Ummah is not “genuinely” Islamic, there is no Ummah save that formed by the true believers, that is Qutb and his circle
(Sivan. Radical Islam, esp., chapter 1, quotes pp.14-15)


In an article he wrote about American women, Qutb stated:

…the American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs — and she shows all this and does not hide it.
(David Von Drehle,
A Lesson In Hate Smithsonian Magazine)

Coming from a small village to the big city of Cairo was a complete culture shock for Qutb. His dislike of the way women went around unveiled perhaps explains why he was always a bachelor; Qutb never married because he could not find a woman pure enough for himself, one that had not been contaminated by Jahiliyya.


Like the other leaders of Islamist movements (Banna and Mawdudi) Qutb was not an Islamic scholar. He was, however, an academic with a good understanding of the prevalent ideologies of his time. Qutb recognized the appeal of Marxist thought amongst the poor and displaced Arabs in the Middle East and he set out to design a thought system that would supersede it. Qutb believed that a revolutionary vanguard needed to be created that would not be contaminated by Jahiliyya. This movement would then overthrow the corrupt regimes and establish in their place his political Islamist system. All regimes in Muslim majority countries were jahil and therefore could justifiably be fought.

Qutb was executed in 1966 on charges of treason but his ideas live on and today continue to inspire militant Islamists. Ayman al-Zawahiri was directly inspired by Qutb, Taqiuddin al-Nabhani exchanged ideas with him and Osama Bin Laden studied under his brother Muhammad Qutb in Jeddah University. Militant Islamists still look up to Qutb today and claim to be fighting the same battle that he was; fighting jahiliyya using the same method advocated by Qutb; aggressive Jihad.