Monday, January 27, 2014

Actions are judged by intentions:human relationships in light of the hadeeth

The Messenger of Allah was reported to have said "Actions [al'A'maal] are only to be evaluated with regards to the intention[ft.1], and for all there is due but what he intended. So whosoever has made Hijrah for worldly considerations [Dunya], or for marriage with a woman [ft.2], his hijrah is to what he made hijrah for.[Bukhari, Kitaab Bada' al wahy, 1:1]


This narration is perhaps the most famous hadeeth in the Muslim world. It is quoted by scholars and lay people alike. Partly, it has become so popular because it is the very first narration quoted in many small hadeeth anthologies, such as An Nawawi's Al Arba'een An Nawawiyyah [forty hadeeth], and of course it is the very first narration found in Saheeh Al Bukhari. For the sake of brevity and focus, we have omitted the chain of transmitters [Isnaad] as well as any discussion on it.

The immediate implications or understanding of this narration are obvious. Due to the lack of freedom of religion, constant persecution and dangers, the followers of the Prophet, upon whom be peace and blessings, had to make hijrah, meaning they had to migrate to places where their spiritual development would not be arrested. The first migrants went to Abyssinia, wherein the local authorities treated the Muslims with respect. Eventually, the Prophet himself, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, went to Yathrib, which later on became known as Madinah al Munawwarrah, or Madinat un Nabi, the Prophet's city, or simply Madinah for short. It was in Madinah that the base of Islam was established.

The importance of Ikhlas, sincerely doing something because you want that act to be counted as an act of virtue or a means to attain closeness to Allah, is given here, as well as throughout the Qur'an and many other Prophetic narrations. Indeed, this teaching regarding Ikhlas is apparent in something like Prayer itself. Before prayer, one must have "intention" before reciting the opening Takbeer. "O Allah, it is my intention to offer such and such salaah for your sake" or any similar expression. This can also be done in the heart, rather than verbal. None can know when you offer the ritual of prayer or the ritual of fasting that you are truly doing it for Allah or doing it in order to be seen, to conform to social expectations.

Applying this hadeeth in human interactions

The first lines of the narration "actions are only to be evaluated with regards to intention" certainly have applications in the physical world, in the relationships between family members, spouses and friends. If the intention [Niyyah] is good within a person, then the other person making judgment on it should take that into consideration. Indeed, according to the Messenger of God, this is the only thing[ft.3] that should be used to base the judgements on. This hadeeth does not advocate being naive or a simpleton, but it does advocate what is generally taught in Islam, and that is the concept of positive conjecture, Husnudh dhann [ft.4]. When the intention is known to be good, actions that result from the intention, especially when those actions have actually have not generated any harm, should not be held against the person.

In life, all people make judgements, have egos and make mistakes. Holding things against others, especially when intention was always good, is another sign of an unhealthy spiritual situation. A situation that is best resolved by contemplation, supplication to Allah, consulting the book of Allah and people of wisdom[ft.5].

[1] This is my translation, but in the article title I have retained the usual English rendering. The Arabic words are Innamal 'a'maalu bin niyyat.

[2] In Saheeh Al Bukhari the words Imra-atan yatazawwajuhaa appear, whereas the text used by Imam An Nawawi has the words Imra-atan yankihuhaa. Both phrases have the same meaning, marriage with a woman.

[3] The word Innama, which is the first word in the Arabic text, is a particle of restriction [Hasr] in grammar. Thus, we have rendered it, in context, as " actions are only to be evaluated with regards to the intention". Also see footnote 1 above.

[4] This concept is explained further in

[5] Qur'an 4:35 teaches, as an example, that when a marriage problem emerges, parties from both the husband and wife are to work to solve it. This serves many benefits, including preserving the privacy and standing of the couple.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Divine internet connection: Salaah in the life of a Muslim

Prayer is obviously important. Of this, all religions agree. Indeed, the Christian scriptures assert to "pray unceasingly" [ 1 Thessalonians 5:16]. It is a universal institution, and while differences exist between religions as to the format of prayer [and even within the same faith community], all hands are in general agreement as to its value and importance. This article seeks to take a look at prayer from an Islamic perspective.

[1] Salaah is our main connection with Allah

This is easily gleamed from the meaning of the word Salaah itself, which is related to the word silah, meaning tie or connection. It allows us to express our yearnings, our inner-most hopes and aspirations, to the Lord of all . In short, Salaah is an act that is done in order for us to see God beyond an intellectual possibility, to see God as real! It's certainly best to view God as real now, rather than on the day of judgement, because acknowledging that on the day of standing [Yawm ul Qiyaamah] will be pointless. Indeed, in the Qur'an, we are told of Pharoah, who had seen himself as Divine [ Q 79:23], finally he recognized the truth when death approached [ 10:90-91], but it was too late then. In these regards, it's important to recall that the Qur'an says:

Art thou not aware that it is God who makes the night grow longer by shortening the day, and makes the day grow longer by shortening the night, and that He has made the sun and the moon subservient [to His laws], each running its course for a term set [by Him]  and that God is fully aware of all that you do?   Thus it is, because God alone is the Ultimate Truth,  so that all that men invoke instead of Him is sheer falsehood; and because God alone is exalted, truly great![ Q 31:29-30, Muhammad Asad translation]

   [2] Why five daily salaahs?

The most important reason is that the Qur'an, the most authentic source, tells us to offer them [ Q 11:114, 17:78, 50:39, 30:17,among many verses ]. The hadith literature also tells us the Prophet [صلى الله عليه وسلم] himself mentions them. In addition to the textual evidences, the simple fact is that God is "needed" at all times. God does not take a day off! So we wish to be in regular communion with the one who is the best of providers, the Lord of this world and the next, the one who is the most forgiving and merciful. Thus, if we believe in God, it's logical to seek to be regular in our seeking of him! 

 Allah! Nothing deserves worship except He, the Self-Subsisting, Eternal. Slumber does not overtake him, neither does sleep. To Him belongs what is in the Heavens and what is in the Earth. Who possesses abilities of intercession, except by His permission? He knows what is between them, and what is behind them. None grasp of his knowledge, except by his will. His throne encompasses the Heavens and the Earth, He does not tire in protecting them both, and He is the Most High, the Magnificent”[ Q 2:255]

[3] "I'm a sinner, so it would be hypocritical to do my salaah"?

This opinion is very widespread. However, as long as we have life there is a chance to correct or to make up for whatever sin[s] we commit. Moreover, there are many ahadith [sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings] which speak of salaah as a means of expiating or erasing one's sins in the presence of Allah. One hadeeth phrases it in the following manner:

Anas reported that a man came and said to the Prophet "O messenger of Allah! I have done an act that requires punishment [Hadd], so impose the punishment on me!" He [The Prophet] did not ask him regarding it, then came time for salaah [wa hadaratis salaat] , the man prayed with Allah's messenger [Fa-sallaaa Ma'a Rasoolillaah]. After salaah, the man again asked for the sentence to be done to him, to which the Prophet responded " Have you not offered salaah with us?" . The man said he had. The Prophet responded "Consequently, Indeed Allah has forgiven your sin or your [normally required act] that required punishment [Fa Inn-Allaha Qad Ghafara Laka dhanbaka aw Haddaka] [Bukhari and Muslim]
 [4] "I get distracted in Salaah!"
This is another issue, an important one. This is another reason why five salaahs daily are required. If distracted or unhappy with the salaah, that just gives more inspiration to do better in the next salaah.
[5] "I don't know how to do it all in Arabic"

Our advice is to learn the words and the format of salaah from a person, rather than in books. It's actually very easy. Moreover, if you do make mistakes in recitation or movements, be confident that you are trying, and that sincerity is what's recorded in the presence of Allah.

[6] "My work schedule doesn't permit any time for salaah"

A very real concern. In the USA and Western nations in general, there does exist allowances for lunch breaks and the like. Take that as the opportunity to pray.Moreover, if the need is such, one can pray in private, perhaps in an office or even the car, away from staring eyes ! Whatever one does, we suggest never going to bed before having completed your salaahs!

[7] Salaah while traveling

One can shorten and combine [which is usually called in arabic Jam'u baynas salaatayn] salaahs. Meaning, for example, at Dhuhr time, pray two rak'ahs of Dhuhr, and immediately afterwards pray two rak'ahs of 'Asr, even though it's Dhuhr time. You can do this also at 'Asr time. For Maghrib and 'Ishaa, you can offer the three rak'ahs of Maghrib, and right afterwards offer two Rak'ahs of 'Ishaa, even though it's Maghrib time! 

In addition, if conditions warrant, one doesn't have to offer standing, bowing and prostrating, nor face the Qiblah. Rather, one can do the acts by gestures, and face whatever direction necessary. The Qur'an says: "And to Allah belongs the east and the west. so whereever you [might] turn, there is the face of Allah. Indeed, Allah is all-encompassing and knowing." [Q 2:115 Saheeh international translation]

[8] "Handicap prevents Salaah"

The Qur'an itself recognizes that salaah can be done in any posture when the need exists [Q 4:103]. In a similar fashion, if water is unavailable for Wudoo' [ablution], using clean soil in a symbolic way can serve the same function. [ see Qur'an 5:6]. 

[9] "Difference between Du'a and Salaah"

Du'a and Salaah are usually translated by the English word "prayer". In practical terms, Du'a is an informal plea from the heart. One can use texts from the Qur'an or Hadeeth, but it's really just a plea. "God have mercy on so and so" is a Du'a! Salaah is that act of worship that does include some pleas, but it's main function is to remind us about Allah, to connect us to Allah, and to be an act that encourages us to be regular in our moral actions and to stay away from unethical conduct [ Qur'an 29:45]. So there is a difference between the two. Both should be done in a consistent manner, but the salaah itself serves the higher function.

This article has not explored the Fiqhi details of Salaah, and may have left many unanswered questions. Nonetheless, we hope this brief analysis has encouraged the reader to become stronger in his/her observance of Salaah. The Prophet is reported to have said that on Judgement say, it will be the first thing asked about in the Divine court [Tabaraani]. 

Wa Aakhara Da'waana anil Hamdulillaahi rabbil 'aal ameen.





Friday, January 10, 2014

Some pictures

Salaam, every now and then I receive requests for pictures. So, here are some.

From the top, The Islamic center of Greater Toledo [ISGT], 9/11 program sponsored by UMAT. "Make a way for unity week" presentation at the University of Toledo. "Learning from Jesus: benefitting from the Messiah" program at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam. To the left is Imam Ibrahim A Rahim, and the right is Qari Haji Khatis.