Tuesday, September 15, 2015

On the wings of Angels: Reflections on the Hadeeth of Jibreel

[Note: The following is an edited version of the lecture given in the Spirituality session at the Toledo Masjid.]

We are looking at one of the most important narrations in the Islamic tradition. Most of us know this Hadeeth already, and even if  we don't, the contents are so well known out of necessity anyways. As an obvious example, if we ask any Muslim "What are the five pillars?" he will automatically begin reciting them, without knowing this hadeeth!

This hadeeth has two versions. There are minor and major differences, but the substance is the same. [Ft.#1]. In our discussion, we will make use of both versions. This is also an important exercise because we often remember one version of a text, and think a mistake has been made when we hear another version with slightly different wordings being quoted by a speaker.[ft.#2]

A man comes to the Prophet and asks about four things. The man was a stranger, unknown to the locals, yet, the normal signs of travel were absent! We begin where the man began. [1] "What is Islam?"  [2] "What is Imaan?". So we find a difference between Islam and Imaan

The Qur'an is very clear on this. We are told:

 قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا
The Bedouins  say "We have Imaan."

They would tell the Prophet [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] this. So Allah Almighty tells his Prophet to respond.

قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا
Say: Don't proclaim Imaan, rather, say "We have submitted" [i.e. we are Muslims]

Submission, in our hadeeth here, is defined as the five pillars, all of which involve action. Even the first one, it's a verbal action, to proclaim one's acceptance of being One God worthy of worship and that Muhammad was God's messenger [Ft.#3]

The Bedouins are highlighted because they lived away from town, further away from personal interactions with the Prophet, so the development of real Imaan would be limited. In addition, they were seen as a people who were rough and dangerous. The Qur'an itself mentions, about the same people, the following:

لأَعْرَابُ أَشَدُّ كُفْرًا وَنِفَاقًا وَأَجْدَرُ أَلاَّ يَعْلَمُواْ حُدُودَ مَا أَنزَلَ اللّهُ عَلَى رَسُولِهِ وَاللّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ (9:97)

The Bedouins are the most virulent in Kufr and Hypocricy, most likely to be unaware of the limits that Allah has sent upon his Messenger.

Islam is the first step, defining Imaan

Being a 'Muslim' [one who does 'Islam'] is only the first step. Many texts within both the Qur'an and Hadeeth literature show this.

"Islam" leads to Imaan.  Imaan is that which one is confident or secure about. The Prophet here mentions that it is having Imaan in God, His angels, meeting with him, his messengers, and having Imaan in the resurrection.

Once that confidence is planted in the core of the heart, that transforms the Muslim to a Mu'min!

Your Islam brings you to Imaan. That cultivation brings Allah to mind. So Islam is the first step, Imaan is the second step. Notice that the Qur'an says

إِنَّ الصَّلاَةَ كَانَتْ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ كِتَابًا مَّوْقُوتًا
Verily, Prayer is mandated on those with Imaan at prescribed moments in time.[Q 4:103]

It doesn't say "for the Muslims". It says "for those with Imaan." So the Mu'min goes to pray when it is time. The Mu'min sees the universe as a testimony to the Divine authority. It may be worth reading the Soorah Al-Mu'minoon [Chapter 23] for a detailed description of those with Imaan as well as their responsibilities.

In addition, let us recall the Prophet's statement "None of you have Imaan until [Hattaaa] you love for your brother what you love for yourself."

[3] "What is Ihsaan?"

The Prophet's profound reply is the apex of this Hadeeth:

To worship Allah as though you seem him.

That development- to reach the state of Ihsaan, is the apex. The person who reaches Ihsaan is called a Muhsin.

إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

Verily, Allah loves those who have/do Ihsaan. [Q 2:195 and 5:13]

[4] "Inform me about the hour [As-Saa'ah]!"

When this query was posed, the Prophet says "the one questioned about it doesn't know any better than the questioner."

The man replies "Then [at least ] tell me about its signs."

The Prophet is unlike the other messengers in one respect. He is the final Prophet. No other Prophets or scriptures will come, so part of his job was to deliver some indicators  of the Saa-'ah.

"The servant woman [amat] will give birth to her master, when you see barefoot, naked shepherds competing in building tall buildings."
Another version of this statement reads "You will see deaf, dumb, blind, barefoot shepherds competing in building as if they are kings."  [Ft.#4]

These- and similar Ahadeeth- have been variously interpreted throughout the ages, but we can understand the Prophet's statement here to speak on social upheaval.  Every time it occurs, when things are turning upside down, be on the lookout that judgement can be near.

With regards to the "Hour", the scholars have coined some interesting phrases. " Saa'ah al Kubraa" or the "Great hour" refers, in their terminology, to the actual day of judgement, the final day. The moment when all humans will have a public accounting.  saa'ah as Sughraa, or the "Small hour", refers to our own death!

So we can look at this hadeeth in both ways. Even looking at today's world, we can identify these indicators in our midst now, so we should be on the lookout for the GREAT HOUR!

We see the social order completely turned upside down. We live in a time when children can totally break away from their parents and vice versa, even murder each other, and it's seen as a regular occurrence.

Saheeh Al-Bukhari and Muslim both report that the Messenger of Allah [peace be upon him] said, about the final age:

Time will become short, and Fitan [trials] will become prevalent, as well as much slaughter.

This seems to describe our time very accurately!

"Barefoot, naked sheperds competing in building tall buildings" is -likewise- a perfect description of the Persian Gulf societies. Only a generation or so ago, they were goat-herders and the like, now- their societies are flush with cash.

Hadeeth Jibreel has combined four issues, like the four wheels on a car. All four are required to move from place to place, station to station. So while it does discuss theology, it also discusses action and- most importantly- consciousness!

There has been [and continues to be] people of knowledge, but no faith. People of faith, but no practice. People of form and ritual, but no substance. This Hadeeth of the Prophet tells us for the need for faith, understanding, striving to always to do better [the dictionary meaning of Ihsaan] and awareness that the hour, either the great one that will affect all mankind, or the small one that affects us as individuals, can come at any time.

These are heavenly lessons. To get them is to fly on the wings of the angels. Thus, it is apt that Jibreel, the angel of revelation, is the one who teaches this directly to the Muslim community.


[1] Al-Bukhari's text has the narrator as Abu Hurayrah, whereas Muslim has 'Umar ibn Al-Khattab.  Muslim has the sequence as "Islam, Imaan, Ihsaan, and Saa'ah" whereas Al-Bukhari has Imaan coming first. Also, "Meeting with him" is missing from Muslim, which, instead, has, as part of Imaan "to believe in destiny, both good and bad". Muslim's narration has a physical description of the stranger [ "White clothes, no signs of travel, excessively black hair"] identified as Gabriel, whereas Al-Bukhari has no description given.

[2] This writer quoted a hadeeth from Saheeh Muslim which reports the Prophet as saying "The hand of God is over the community" [Yadullaahi 'alal Jamaa-'ah] in a speech and was told this was incorrect, as the questioner only knew the version which says "The hand of God is WITH the community" [Yadullaaahi Maa'al Jamaa-'ah]. Both carry the same import, but it's important to recognize that there are differences in the narrations, due to a number of factors-including human error and such. These have all been recorded within the literature of the traditions.

[3] The five pillars are mentioned in this hadeeth, as well as other narrations. The pillars are recognizing the Oneness of God and the Messengership of Muhammad, Prayer, Charity, fasting in  Ramadan and the pilgrimage to Makkah.

[4] This narration is cited by Al-Hanbali, Ibn Rajab [ b.1335], in Jaami'ul 'Uloom wal Hikam.