Islam and the Problem of Evil

Islam and the Problem of Evil

In The Name of Allah, The Merciful, The Generous

Islam and the Problem of Evil [1]

By Timothy Winter – Summarised by Haroon Sidat

Dr Winter begins by outlining a number of approaches to the question of theodicy in Islam.[2] Firstly, that patience and virtuous endurance will lead to a reward later on. Secondly, suffering can be seen as the wages of sin. Thirdly, as for those who are innocent, ultimate justice – though not always served in this world – will be served after the eschaton. Fourthly, a Muslim as someone who submits or is resigned to God, will see distress as a form of divine favour. This echoes somewhat the Sufi Weltanschauung if you like. However, there remains the duty to reduce suffering wherever possible. Fifth, trials are a form of discernment and that earthly atonement for misdeeds take place for what would otherwise attract punishment in the next world. Finally, there is the idea of a ‘soul-making theodicy’ where suffering acts as a divine pedagogy, or via purgativa.

            However, these explanations are open to challenge. For example, what to say of Prophets who suffer though they are effectively sinless, and, though they are tested, they are all already perfect beings. Before moving on, we are reminded that the suffering of children and animals is best understood with them being gifted paradise and receiving justice respectively, as their indemnity for the tribulations of this world. But what of innocent adult suffering?            Firstly, much comfort can be found that in the fullness of time, human forgetfulness and the intensity of paradisal delights will help expunge the memory of any earthly misery. Recourse to eschatology was a frequent move but that didn’t stop theologians searching for ways to interpret God that allowed His actions to be justified in this-wordly terms. The Mu‘tazilites opted for the cosmic justice machine arguing that God created the best of worlds and they thus restricted His freedom in stating that He must be just. Against this choiceless Mu’tazilite deity emerged Ash‘ārīsm which contested the limited divine freedom and capacity: it is empirically demonstrable that ours is not the best of all worlds, since, by applying the constraints of the Mu’tazilites, God would not be able to create suffering for those who would eventually end up in hellfire – yet they reasonably exist. Beginning with God’s omnipotence and freedom, Ash‘ārīsm, boldly, denies objective moral facts. Cue Ghazālī, good and evil, for humankind, are relational qualities that vary with which to that they relate, and not of qualities of essences; two people may see a single action as good and bad.

            Firstly, much comfort can be found that in the fullness of time, human forgetfulness and the intensity of paradisal delights will help expunge the memory of any earthly misery. Recourse to eschatology was a frequent move but that didn’t stop theologians searching for ways to interpret God that allowed His actions to be justified in this-wordly terms. The Mu‘tazilites opted for the cosmic justice machine arguing that God created the best of worlds and they thus restricted His freedom in stating that He must be just. Against this choiceless Mu’tazilite deity emerged Ash‘ārīsm which contested the limited divine freedom and capacity: it is empirically demonstrable that ours is not the best of all worlds, since, by applying the constraints of the Mu’tazilites, God would not be able to create suffering for those who would eventually end up in hellfire – yet they reasonably exist. Beginning with God’s omnipotence and freedom, Ash‘ārīsm, boldly, denies objective moral facts. Cue Ghazālī, good and evil, for humankind, are relational qualities that vary with which to that they relate, and not of qualities of essences; two people may see a single action as good and bad.

            For Ash‘ārīsm, all that is created is from God (including evil) but this is an oversimplification and discourtesy. ‘Evil’ is a locution that carries a negative evaluative content so far as it is experience by our human subjectivity, but it is a fallacy to state that evil per se is a divine enactment. To summarise our discussion thus far, ‘divine omnipotence includes the capacity to impose suffering that by human measuring is certainly unjust or unbearable, but this cannot compromise the principle of divine wisdom.’

            For the Māturīdīs, the divine predicate of wisdom led to a beautiful outcome, which was, to a certain extent, humanly knowable. Their claim, as opposed to the Ash’ārī’s – who insisted that wisdom was in effect a synonym for divine agency – was that suffering served a higher purpose which might be only to known to God. What emerged was a mode of argument that stated that humanly perceived imperfections in the created order are in fact signs of God’s existence. Ghazālī, however, with his distinction of ‘nothing possible is more splendid than the actual’ quietly doubted the nominalism of Ash’ārīsm – of a meaningful wise deity. For him, there was the possibility of seeing everything in creation as perfect; the devout must look on God’s works as showcases of His perfect wisdom, building on the Qur’ān’s cosmological arguments.

            Finally, for Sunni theologians, God did not inhabit the same moral community as humans: He is not a component of the Cosmos and neither is he comparable to other entities. Put simply, he is not some sort of humanoid. The utility of theodicy lies in its ability to serve as a pedagogic tool, which for Ghazālī, exists mainly for the majority of the faithful who require a God that is accessible ‘by anthropopathic descriptions.’ For the metaphysicians amongst us, this is all unnecessary. We shift from a God of ‘resemblance’ (taṣbīh) to a God of ‘otherness’ (tanzīh). In the end, it is this otherness of God that leaves theodicy helpless.

  And only Allah knows best.


[1] See The Cambridge Companion to the Problem of Evil edited by Chad Meister and Paul K. Moser.

[2] Theodicy is a specific branch of theology and philosophy, which attempts to solve The Problem of Evil—the problem that arises when trying to reconcile the observed existence of evil in the world with the assumption of the existence of a God who is fully good (or benevolent) and who is also all-powerful (omnipotent). A “theodicy” also refers to any attempted solution to this conundrum.

Drinking wine and prayer not being accepted for forty days

Drinking wine and prayer not being accepted for forty days

There are a number of Prophetic sayings (aḥādīth) regarding the one who consumes wine and their prayer not being accepted for forty days. Among them is the following:

Narrated but ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (may God be pleased with him):

مَنْ شَرِبَ الْخَمْرَ لَمْ يَقْبَلِ اللَّهُ لَهُ صَلاَةً أَرْبَعِينَ صَبَاحًا فَإِنْ تَابَ تَابَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ فَإِنْ عَادَ لَمْ يَقْبَلِ اللَّهُ لَهُ صَلاَةً أَرْبَعِينَ صَبَاحًا فَإِنْ تَابَ تَابَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ فَإِنْ عَادَ لَمْ يَقْبَلِ اللَّهُ لَهُ صَلاَةً أَرْبَعِينَ صَبَاحًا فَإِنْ تَابَ تَابَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ فَإِنْ عَادَ الرَّابِعَةَ لَمْ يَقْبَلِ اللَّهُ لَهُ صَلاَةً أَرْبَعِينَ صَبَاحًا فَإِنْ تَابَ لَمْ يَتُبِ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَقَاهُ مِنْ نَهْرِ الْخَبَالِ قِيلَ يَا أَبَا عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ وَمَا نَهْرُ الْخَبَالِ قَالَ نَهْرٌ مِنْ صَدِيدِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ

The Messenger of God (ﷺ) said: “Whoever drinks wine, prayer is not accepted from him for forty days. If he repents, then God will accept his repentance. If he returns to it, then God will not accept his prayer for forty days. If he repents, then God will accept his repentance. If he returns to it, then God will not accept his prayer for forty days. If he repents, then God will accept his repentance. If he returns to it a fourth time, God will not accept his prayer for forty days, and if he were to repent, God would not accept his repentance, and he will be given to drink from the river of Al-Khabāl.” They said: “O Abu ‘Abdur-Raḥmān! What is the river of Al-Khabāl?” He said: “A river of the pus from the inhabitants of the Fire.”


Though there has remained some disagreement by the fuqahā, the jurists, as to what exactly constitutes khamr, or wine (and it’s ruling), wine itself is nonetheless forbidden, as affirmed by the Qur’an and Prophetic sayings. There are four verses in the Qur’ān in relation wine:

وَمِن ثَمَرَاتِ النَّخِيلِ وَالْأَعْنَابِ تَتَّخِذُونَ مِنْهُ سَكَرًا وَرِزْقًا حَسَنًا ۗ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ

“And from the fruits of the date palm and the vine, from which you derive strong drink and a goodly provision. Surely in this is a sign for a people who understand.” (Qur’ān, 16:67)

This is a Meccan verse and alludes towards intoxication. Strong drink translates sakar, which etymologically refers to something that is intoxicating and is thus in reference to the wine that can be made from either grape (the fruit of the vine) or dates. This verse, suggests that the strong drink of the date palm and the vine is among the many blessings God has bestowed on human beings. Qurānic verses coming later on in Madinah begin to discourage the consumption of intoxicating beverages and eventually prohibit them altogether. The next verse sets this in motion:

يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ ۖ قُلْ فِيهِمَا إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَإِثْمُهُمَا أَكْبَرُ مِن نَّفْعِهِمَا

They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, “In them there is great sin and [some] benefit for mankind, but their sin is greater than their benefit.” (Qur’ān, 2:219)

People understood from this verse that the prohibition of wine is to follow. The Qur’ān recognises that there are some benefits of drinking wine. Imām al-Qurtubī mentions that it helps with digestion, makes a miserly person magnanimous, gives boldness to the timid, gives colour to the face, helps one to have sex, and makes one feel good for a short time. However, the harms outweigh the benefits.

The third verse can be viewed as a gloss of the previous verse and states:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَقْرَبُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَنتُمْ سُكَارَىٰ حَتَّىٰ تَعْلَمُوا مَا تَقُولُونَ

“O you who believe!, Draw not near to unto prayer when you are drunken until you know what you are uttering.” (Qur’ān, 4:43)

Here, the consumption of wine was reduced to times that would not cause prayer to be misread. This part of the verse was reportedly revealed when some of the Companions of the Prophet attempted to pray after having drunken wine (when it was still permissible) and incorrectly recited a Qurānic passage during prayer. The fourth verse instructs Muslims to avoid wine (and gambling) entirely:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّمَا الْخَمْرُ وَالْمَيْسِرُ وَالْأَنصَابُ وَالْأَزْلَامُ رِجْسٌ مِّنْ عَمَلِ الشَّيْطَانِ فَاجْتَنِبُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

“O you who believe!, Wine, gambling, and idols, and diving arrows are are but means of defilement, of Satan’s doing. So avoid it that haply you may prosper.” (Qur’ān, 5:90)

إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَن يُوقِعَ بَيْنَكُمُ الْعَدَاوَةَ وَالْبَغْضَاءَ فِي الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ وَيَصُدَّكُمْ عَن ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَعَنِ الصَّلَاةِ ۖ فَهَلْ أَنتُم مُّنتَهُونَ

“Satan only desires to sow enmity and hatred among you through wine and gambling, and to turn you away from the remembrance of God, and from prayer. Will you then refrain?” (Qur’ān, 5:91)

Islamic jurisprudence, basing itself upon the corpus of Prophetic sayings and practice (Sunnah), has consistently viewed the last revealed verse as the authoritative one that abrogates the legal implication of the other three.

Consequences of wine consumption

بَين الله تَعَالَى أَن فِي الْخمر مفسدتين: مفْسدَة فِي النَّاس، فان شاربها يلاحي الْقَوْم يعدوا عَلَيْهِم، ومفسدة فِيمَا يرجع إِلَى تَهْذِيب نَفسه، فان شاربها يغوص فِي حَالَة بهيمية، وَيَزُول عقله الَّذِي بِهِ قوام الاحسان

 Despite its benefits, consuming wine leads to loss of one’s rational faculties, quarreling, violence, promiscuity, and impaired judgment. Recall that one the aims of the divine law is to ensure one’s happiness in this world. This can only be achieved if civilization is allowed to function unhindered. Alcohol consumption inevitably leads to many societal, health and mental problems which are very clear for all to see. As for the religious consequence, it takes one away from the remembrance of God, since it leads one to stoop towards their animalistic side.

وَلما كَانَ قَلِيل الْخمر يَدْعُو إِلَى كَثِيره وَجب عِنْد سياسة الْأمة أَن يدار التَّحْرِيم على كَونهَا مسكرة، لَا على وجود السكر فِي الْحَال.ثمَّ بَين النَّبِي صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ أَن الْخمر مَا هِيَ، فَقَالَ:” كل مُسكر خمر وكل مُسكر حرَام ” وَقَالَ: “الْخمر من هَاتين الشجرتين النَّخْلَة والعنبة ” وتخصيصهما بِالذكر لما كَانَ حَال تِلْكَ الْبِلَاد، وَسُئِلَ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَام عَن المزر والبتع، فَقَالَ: ” كل مُسكر حرَام ” وَقَالَ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ:” مَا أسكر كَثِيره فقليله حرَام “

Scholars determine that the legal reason for the prohibition of drinking wine is because it is a drink that intoxicates. Though the traditions may not be exhaustive in listing the types of wine that are forbidden, any drink that results in intoxication is also forbidden to consume, like many modern-day alcoholic beverages. In the Ḥanafī school, the fatwa as it stands, is that of Imām Muḥammad (Durr al-Mukhtār), in that the quantity of alcohol is irrelevant.[1]

 The ḥadīth in particular

أَن ظُهُور صفة الْبَهِيمَة وغلبتها على الملكية بالإقدام على الْمعْصِيَة اجتراء على الله وغوص نَفسه فِي حَالَة رذيلة تنَافِي الْإِحْسَان وتضاده، وَيكون سَببا لفقد اسْتِحْقَاق أَن تَنْفَع الصَّلَاة فِي نَفسه نفع الْإِحْسَان وَأَن تنقاد نَفسه للحالة الإحسانية.

 As for ḥadīth stated above, there is a distinction scholars like to make between acceptance in terms of validity and acceptance in terms of reward. Acceptance in terms of validity means that one performed all of the prayer’s conditions, pillars, and necessary actions outlined by the jurists. Consequently, the prayer is valid and it does not need to be made up. Acceptance in terms of reward means that one may have performed the prayer in the correct manner but it is dependent upon God’s generosity if its performance is rewarded.

The aforementioned ḥadīth indicates that one who drinks intoxicants will not receive the reward for the prayers performed for forty days unless one repents. This is because they have allowed their soul to stoop towards their base desires and allowed it to overcome its angelic side. Hence, they are being deprived of the benefits of prayer.

It does not mean that the prayers are invalid and need to be made up because they are missing a condition of validity. Rather, it demonstrates the beauty of Islam because even if one wronged themselves, there is still hope for forgiveness and making a new beginning.

أَن الْقَيْح وَالدَّم أقبح الْأَشْيَاء السيالة عندنَا وأحقرها واشدها نفرة بِالنِّسْبَةِ للطبائع السليمة، وَالْخمر شَيْء سيال فَنَاسَبَ أَن يتَمَثَّل مَقْرُونا بِصفة الْقبْح فِي صُورَة طِينَة الخبال

As for the final part of the ḥadīth, description of pus is used to draw a link between wine, a flowing substance and another flowing substance: what they share in common is that they are both detestable substances.

Despite its legal prohibition, wines retains an important spiritual and symbolic significance in Islam. It is among the pleasures of the Garden of Paradise and is among one of its four rivers:

مَّثَلُ الْجَنَّةِ الَّتِي وُعِدَ الْمُتَّقُونَ ۖ فِيهَا أَنْهَارٌ مِّن مَّاءٍ غَيْرِ آسِنٍ وَأَنْهَارٌ مِّن لَّبَنٍ لَّمْ يَتَغَيَّرْ طَعْمُهُ وَأَنْهَارٌ مِّنْ خَمْرٍ لَّذَّةٍ لِّلشَّارِبِينَ وَأَنْهَارٌ مِّنْ عَسَلٍ مُّصَفًّى ۖ

The parable of the garden that has been promised to the reverent: therein lie rivers of water incorruptible, rivers of milk, whose flavour does not change, rivers of wine delicious for those who imbibe, and rivers of purified honey. (Qur’ān 47:15)

It is a sublime substance of which the inhabitants of the Garden will partake:

يُسْقَوْنَ مِن رَّحِيقٍ مَّخْتُومٍ

They are given to drink of pure wine sealed. (Qur’ān, 83:25)

The contrast between the Quran’s mention of wine as one of the enjoyments of the Hereafter and the explicit prohibition against drinking wine in this world served to make wine and intoxication a potent symbol in Sufi discourse for knowledge of God (ma’rifah), and for the encounter with the divine and the realisation of the reality of the Divine Presence, which ordinarily one cannot experience in this life, but which the pious will enjoy in the Hereafter and the spiritually realised might enjoy inwardly in this life. Moreover, as wine can represent simultaneously both the forbidden and the sublime, it served as a powerful symbol of certain Sufi spiritual practices and experiences, particularly ecstatic ones, the intensity of which was sometimes the subject of criticism by exoteric authorities.

And only God knows best.

[1] According to Ḥanafī school, the legal definition of khamr is the juice of grapes or date syrup (nabīdh) that has been fermented to a point that the sugar turned to alcohol, thereby making it into an intoxicant. The proof of this is in the decisive, unequivocal texts of the Qu’rān and Prophetic sayings, as the narrations of the prohibition of khamr together comprise multiple-chain transmission (tawātur). Its prohibition is also confirmed by scholarly consensus. The Prophet also said, “Intoxicants are from these two trees,” while pointing to grapevines and date-palms. (Muslim). There is also a consensus of the companions regarding this type of wine. What this means is, that any other form of intoxicant that is not included in the above definitions (grapes and dates) cannot legally be called khamr, and therefore the ruling would have to be based on scholarly legal judgments, known as ijtihād, or by analogy, which is known as qiyās. Therefore, any type of intoxicating drink made of barley, honey, figs, or anything other than those things that are clearly mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah, requires some detail and is subject to a difference of opinion. The evidence for such views are discussed in great detail in many works, including Sharh Ma‘ānī al-Āthār of al-Tahāwī, Sharh Mukhtasar al-Tahāwī of al-Jassās, al-Tajrīd of al-Qudūrī and al-Mabsūt of al-Sarakhsī. For a useful summary see:



Causes of distortion in Islam

Causes of distortion in Islam

إحكام الدّين من التحريف

Fortifying the Religion from Distortion

It is the duty of all Muslims, and in particular, the ‘ulamā, the scholars of Islam, to ensure that Islam retains its pristine nature and is protected from being distorted (taḥrīf). Especially in an age where we are witnessing a small group of individuals using Islam for their own personal motives. Among the many causes of distortion in the religion are the following:


Being lax with matters such as prayers and education will lead to successive generations ultimately neglecting them. The teaching of religion and acting upon knowledge will become extinct, and enjoining good and forbidding evil will cease. Before long, customs will emerge that oppose the religion and the nature of people will conflict with the demand of the divine law.[1] Eventually, a time will come where nothing of the religion will remain. The cause of such laxity is to be found in a number of things:

عدم تحمل الرِّوَايَة عَن صَاحب الْملَّة وَالْعَمَل بِهِ

The absence or lack of regard of transmitting from the founder of the religion (i.e. the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) and [failing] to act upon it. In essence, refusing to accept the proof of the prophetic traditions or taking them as a means of guidance for the conduct of our daily affairs.

الْأَغْرَاض الْفَاسِدَة الحاملة على التّأْوِيل الْبَاطِل

Corrupt intentions which lead to distorted and false exegesis and interpretations. This can stem from untrained individuals of the sacred sciences providing false exegesis to please leaders or trying to fit the divine law to suit modern concerns.

شيوع الْمُنْكَرَات وَترك عُلَمَائهمْ النَّهْي عَنْهَا

The spreading of evil acts and the scholars’ failure to forbid them. It is obligatory for scholars to remain firm in speaking the truth and standing up for justice.

Unnecessary hair-splitting

In essence, this occurs when the ruling of something that is ordered or forbidden is overextended to another ruling that resembles the original ruling in certain ways[2] or where a certain part of the ‘illah (reason for the legislation) is found. It can also occur when this ruling is overextended to some of its anticipated sources or motives.[3] Thus, the following can occur:

وَكلما اشْتبهَ عَلَيْهِ الْأَمر لتعارض الرِّوَايَات الْتزم الأشد، ويجعله وَاجِبا

When something is ambiguous due to a conflict with the traditions of the Prophet, holding firm to the most stringent view and making it obligatory.[4]

وَيحمل كل مَا فعله النَّبِي صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ على الْعِبَادَة، وَالْحق أَنه فعل أَشْيَاء على الْعَادة

To take everything that the Prophet did as an act of worship though the truth is that he did certain things according to the custom of his time. [5]

Being excessively strict

This occurs when acts of worship are pursued which the law-giver did not command, such as continuously fasting, praying the entire night, to remain celibate, to disengage from the world, and making recommended acts as something that is compulsory. Thus, you have the saying of the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him:

لن يشاد الدّين أحد إِلَّا غَلبه

‘No one makes religion too strict but that is overwhelms him.’ [6]

Preference (istiḥsān) [7]

فيختلس من أسرار التشريع، فيشرع للنَّاس حَسْبَمَا عقل من الْمصلحَة

This occurs when certain inner meanings of the law are appropriated by [ignorant] people according to what they think is the beneficial purpose. As an example, the Jews believed that the Law-Giver only commanded punishments (ḥudūd) as a deterrent and a mechanism for reforming society (i.e. not to be actually applied) so they considered stoning as an act that leads to dispute and hence something that would lead to a worse outcome. Therefore, they applied the principle of preference in sanctioning the blackening of the face and skin (of an adulterer) with coal instead.

            Ibn Sīrīn says:

أول من قَاس إِبْلِيس، وَمَا عبدت الشَّمْس وَالْقَمَر إِلَّا بالمقاييس

‘The first one to apply analogy was Iblīs and the worship of the moon and sun only came about through analogy.’

And from al-Ḥasan (al-Baṣrī) that he recited the following from the Qur’ān:

خلقتني من نَار وخلقته من طين

‘You created me fire and You created him from earth.’

and he then went on to say:

قَاس إِبْلِيس وَهُوَ أول من قَاس

‘Iblīs used an analogy and he was the first to use an analogy’ [8]

The crux of the matter here, and this is important, is that the istiḥsān of the ignorant ones is blameworthy, and not the istiḥsān of scholars of law, since this type analogy, is a proof in the religion.

Following consensus (ijmā’) without any basis

وَذَلِكَ فِيمَا لَيْسَ لَهُ أصل من الْكتاب وَالسّنة، وَهَذَا غير الْإِجْمَاع الَّذِي اجْتمعت الْأمة عَلَيْهِ فَإِنَّهُم اتَّفقُوا على القَوْل بِالْإِجْمَاع الَّذِي مُسْتَنده الْكتاب وَالسّنة أَو الاستنباط من أَحدهمَا

This occurs when consensus is declared on issues that do not find their basis in the Qur’ān and Sunnah. This is not the consensus which the community has agreed upon, since consensus is agreed upon when it is founded upon the Qur’ān and sunna, or is directly derived from one of them. For Allāh says:

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمُ اتَّبِعُوا مَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ قَالُوا بَلْ نَتَّبِعُ مَا أَلْفَيْنَا عَلَيْهِ آبَاءَنَا ۗ

‘When it is said unto them, “follow what God has sent down,” they say, “Nay, we follow that which we found our fathers doing.”[9]

This often occurs when people claim consensus of their forefathers whilst remaining ignorant of the Qur’ān and sunnah. This is was what led to the Jews denying the prophethood of Jesus and Muḥammad, may peace and blessings of God be upon them; because they [blindly] followed their ancestors.

To [blindly] follow the legal decisions of someone who is not entirely fallible i.e. someone other than a Prophet

تَقْلِيد غير الْمَعْصُوم أَعنِي غير النَّبِي الَّذِي ثبتَتْ عصمته، وَحَقِيقَته أَن يجْتَهد وَاحِد من عُلَمَاء الْأمة فِي مَسْأَلَة، فيظن متبعوه أَنه على الْإِصَابَة قطعا أَو غَالِبا، فيردوا بِهِ حَدِيثا صَحِيح

 This occurs when someone other than a Prophet (whose infallibility is established) – a learned scholar – uses independent reasoning (ijtihād) and his followers assume that his answer is absolutely correct or correct in most cases, and thus, they reject a sound ḥadīth.

إِنَّهُم اتَّفقُوا على جَوَاز التَّقْلِيد للمجتهدين مَعَ الْعلم بِأَن الْمُجْتَهد يُخطئ، ويصيب، وَمَعَ الاستشراف لنَصّ النَّبِي صَلَّى اللهُ  عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فِي الْمَسْأَلَة والعزم على أَنه إِذا ظهر حَدِيث صَحِيح خلاف مَا قلد فِيهِ ترك التَّقْلِيد، وَاتبع الحَدِيث

This type of taqlīd is different from the one the rightly guided community has agreed upon, since it is agreed that taqlīd is permissible in following scholars of independent reasoning (mujtahidūn) whilst recognising that they may err or be correct, and if a reliable ḥadīth comes which opposes them, then taqlīd in this instance should be abandoned and the ḥadīth followed. [10]

The Prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him, stated in relation to the verse:

اتَّخَذُوا أَحْبَارَهُمْ وَرُهْبَانَهُمْ أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ وَالْمَسِيحَ ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا إلَاهًا وَاحِدًا ۖ لَّا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ ۚ سُبْحَانَهُ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ

‘They have taken their rabbis and monks as lords apart from God, as well as the Messiah, son of Mary, though they were only commanded to worship one God. There is no God but he! Glory be to Him above the partners they ascribe.’[11]

إِنَّهُم لم يَكُونُوا يَعْبُدُونَهُمْ، وَلَكنهُمْ كَانُوا إِذا أحلُّوا لَهُم شَيْئا اسْتَحَلُّوهُ، وَإِذا حرمُوا عَلَيْهِم شَيْئا حرمُوهُ

‘That is was not that they used to worship them, but rather if they said that a thing was permitted to people, then they would take it as such, and that if they forbade them something, then they would take it to be forbidden.’ [12]

Mixing one religion with another

خلط مِلَّة بِملَّة حَتَّى لَا تتَمَيَّز وَاحِدَة من الْأُخْرَى، وَذَلِكَ أَن يكون إِنْسَان فِي دين من الْأَدْيَان تعلق بِقَلْبِه عُلُوم تِلْكَ الطَّبَقَة، ثمَّ يدْخل فِي الْملَّة الإسلامية، قيبقى ميل قلبه إِلَى مَا تعلق بِهِ من قبل لَمْ يَزَلْ أَمْرُ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ مُعْتَدِلاً حَتَّى نَشَأَ فِيهِمُ الْمُوَلَّدُونَ أَبْنَاءُ سَبَايَا الأُمَمِ فَقَالُوا بِالرَّأْىِ فَضَلُّوا وَأَضَلُّوا

This occurs when a person enters Islam but maintains some form of emotional attachment to what they believed in before. So much so that they will seek methods to make room for what they had before to bring it into Islam. Thus, we have the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, saying:

لَمْ يَزَلْ أَمْرُ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ مُعْتَدِلاً حَتَّى نَشَأَ فِيهِمُ الْمُوَلَّدُونَ أَبْنَاءُ سَبَايَا الأُمَمِ فَقَالُوا بِالرَّأْىِ فَضَلُّوا وَأَضَلُّوا

‘The situation of the Children of Israel was balanced until there rose among them those of mixed descent and the children of prisoners of (other) nations so they spoke on the basis of their own opinions and went astray and led others astray.’[13]

وَمِمَّا دخل فِي ديننَا عُلُوم بني إِسْرَائِيل وتذكير خطباء الْجَاهِلِيَّة وَحِكْمَة اليونانيين ودعوة البابليين وتاريخ الفارسيين والنجوم والرمل وَالْكَلَام

Among other things which have become interpolated in our religion are the canons of the Children of Israel, the exhortations of sermons of the age of ignorance, Greek sciences, propaganda of the Babylonians, history of the Persians, astrology, geomancy, and rationalist theology.

And only Allah knows best.

[1] As the Qur’ān, for example, states, ‘Then they were succeeded by a generation who neglected prayer and followed based desires’ (19:59).

[2] For example, by not eating or engaging in sexual intercourse before dawn because the law giver intended by fasting to subdue the lower self.

[3] For example, making it forbidden to kiss one’s spouse when fasting based on the view that it induces sexual intercourse or that it is similar to it. Though it is obviously not and the Prophet corrected this misunderstanding in this case.

[4] For example, to make ablution compulsory for that which has touched the fire.

[5] For example, the dietary preferences of the Prophet.

[6] Al-Bukhārī and Nasā’ī. The Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, said, ‘Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by worshipping in the mornings, the afternoons, and during the last hours of the night.’

[7] This is not referring to juristic preference as understood and practiced by scholars of Islamic legal theory since this is legitimate deviation from qiyās in which a discretionary interpretation is used more freely with the goal of being a ruling for the public interest. Here, however, we are referring to the preference practiced by those not versed in legal theory.

[8] References (including subsequent ones) can be found in al-Dārimī, bāb taghayyur al-zamān wamā yaḥduthu fīhī. (the changing of the age and what changes in it).

[9] Qur’ān, 2:170.

[10] Though this is not a straightforward matter as it requires a number of options and processes to be followed by those trained in the sacred sciences.

[11] Qur’ān 9:31

[12] at-Tirmidhī.

[13] Ibn Mājah.

The fruit of love is ‘loving’ obedience to God ​

The fruit of love is ‘loving’ obedience to God ​

A Discussion on the Proofs from Revelation Concerning Love for God

بيان شواهد الشرع في حب العبد الله تعالى

Through the Qur’an, Sunnah and the consensus of the community (umma), Imām Ghazālī makes it clear that the love of God and His Messenger (may God bless him and grant him peace) is an obligation. Yet, he asks, how could something that does not exist be made an obligation? Clearly, aiming at those who claim that love for God merely means obedience, he goes on to say that obedience is the effect and result of love. Hence, he logically deduces that obedience must necessarily be preceded by love; obedience is the fruit of love.

This is significant for another reason that is not set out in the actual text. It appears to provide an answer to the oft-asked question of why one should perform acts of obedience. Should not a pure heart and ethical disposition suffice? Why do we need to engage in worship if one’s heart is pure? The answer, in short, is that when one is truly in love the acts of obedience are not just mere rituals or series of movements but a genuine form of loving obedience. For when one falls in love, they ask not why they ought to perform the act but willingly perform them out of sheer love. Our worship ought to be a reflection of our inner state.

و يروى أن عيسى عليه السّلام مرّ بثلاثة نفر قد نحلت أبدانهم و تغيّرت ألوانهم فقال لهم: ما الّذي بلغ بكم ما أرى؟ فقالوا: الخوف من النار، فقال: حقّ على اللّه أن يؤمن الخائف، ثمّ جاوزهم إلى ثلاثة أخرى فإذا هم أشدّ نحولا و تغيّرا فقال:ما الّذي بلغ بكم ما أرى؟ قالوا: الشوق إلى الجنّة؟ قال: حقّ على اللّه أن يعطيكم ما ترجون، ثمّ جاوزهم إلى ثلاثة أخرى فإذا هم أشدّ نحولا و تغيّرا كأنّ على وجوههم المرايا من النور فقال: ما الّذي بلغ بكم ما أرى؟ قالوا: حبّ اللّه عزّ و جلّ فقال: أنتم المقرّبون أنتم المقرّبون

It is reported that Jesus (peace be upon him) passed three men whose bodies were wasted and whose countenances were stark with pallor. He asked them, “What has happened to you that I see?” They answered, “Fear of Hell.” He said, “It behoves God to give safety to him who fears.” Then he passed on to another three even more emaciated and pallid; he asked them, “What has come upon you that I see?” They replied, “Longing for paradise.” He said, “It behoves God to give you what you hope for.” He passed on to yet another three and indeed, these were surpassingly gaunt and utterly altered, as though their faces had become mirrors of light. He said, “What has happened to you that I see?” They replied, “We love God.” At this, he exclaimed, “You are those brought near to God! You are those brought near to God! You are those brought near to God!”

Yaḥyā ibn Mu’ādh said, “His forgiveness (‘afw) consumes sins; what then of His contentment (riḍwān)? His contentment consumes hopes; what then of His love? His love astonishes understanding; what then of His affection (wudd)? His affection causes oblivion of all but itself: what then of His grace (luṭf)?”

اللهم إني أسألك حبك، وحب من يحبك، والعمل الذي يبلغني حبك، اللهم اجعل حبك أحب إلى من نفسي، وأهلي، ومن الماء البارد

Who are the Aṣḥāb yamīn (people of the right side) and is complete sincerity in actions necessary?

Who are the Aṣḥāb yamīn (people of the right side) and is complete sincerity in actions necessary?

Aṣḥāb yamīn (people of the right side)

The next group is called the Aṣḥāb yamīn (people of the right side). They will be placed on the right of the Divine throne and their deeds will be placed in their right hand. They are of various types:

  1. They are close to the sābiqūn (the one’s who excel) but have not acquired complete perfection; they suffice with the bodily form without completely realising the spiritual aspect.
  2. They are the ones of contention; of two sides where one is weakly angelic and the other is strongly animalistic. Or it is the case that it is weakly animalistic and apathetic when it comes to remembering God.
  3. They are the one’s of inner integration; they have a very weakly angelic side and engage in difficult spiritual exercises or reciting litanies when their animalistic side is strong.

Complete sincerity

Iḳhlās (sincerity) requires that an action is performed solely for the pleasure of God. However, our faith simultaneously recognises human frailty. Hence,  one’s worship is accepted even though it may not acquire complete sincerity. For example, on feeling a sense of remorse after seeing a person in poverty, ones gives charity whilst mixing this with the intention of receiving the reward for this act. Or someone, due to social pressure, performs their prayer combined with the intention of receiving the reward for this action. While others may be prevented from fornication or drinking alcohol both by fear of God and fear of people. In all such cases, their worship is still accepted.

فَيُقبل منهم ذالك بشرط أن تَضْعُف قلوبُهم عن الإخلاص الصّرف، وأن تمسك نفوُسهم بالأعمال أنفسِها

This action is accepted from them on the condition that their hearts are too weak for absolute sincerity and that their souls can only cling to the act themselves.

Therefore, while perfect sincerity is always the ideal, persisting with actions performed in this way will ensure that they are accepted.

We find support for this in the statement of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ:

الْحَيَاءُ خَيْرٌ كُلُّهُ

‘all modesty is good.’[1]

This is because due to the wisdom of earlier times, in modesty there was considered both weakness and a goodness; goodness if the display of modesty was done voluntarily, and weakness if it happened involuntarily. The Messenger of Allah ﷺremoved such distinctions. Therefore, a good action done out of weakness is also accepted.

Occasions of angelic light

Though the ‘people of the right side’ may not experience permanent angelic light, there are moments when it does twinkle for short times. For example:

  1. When they ask for forgiveness (from God) and blame themselves
  2. When they remember God in seclusion and their eyes flow with tears
  3. When their souls cannot control evil due to weakness in their innate disposition
  4. When they recollect a sin and are pained by it

In summary, the ‘people of the right side’ lack one of the two virtues of the sābiqūn (one’s who excel) whilst achieving the other. [2]

[1] Abū Dāwūd.

[2] They are mentioned previously: concentration on God and; strong fiṭrah (innate constitution).

Who are the ​Sābiqūn (the one’s who excel) mentioned in the Qur’ān? and why is it important for us?

Who are the ​Sābiqūn (the one’s who excel) mentioned in the Qur’ān? and why is it important for us?

In the Name of Allah, The Most Merciful, The Especially Merciful

طبقات الأمة باعتبار الخروج إلى الكمال المطلوب أو ضدِّه

The Levels of the Ummah with Regard to Achieving the Desired Perfection or its Opposite

The entire humankind is the community of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. Those who have responded and accepted his message are considered Muslims – the ummah ijābah (the ummah that has accepted his call) while the one’s that are yet to accept his message are called the ummah da’wah (the ummah to whom the call has been extended). In acquiring human perfection (kamāli maṭlūb) people are at various levels.

It is hoped by reading the descriptions outlined below we can at the very least attempt to bring out such qualities in our own lives.

The Qur’ān explains:

And you shall be of three kinds: the companions of the right; what of the companions of the right? And the companions of the left; what of the companions of the left? And the foremost shall be the foremost. They are the one’s who will be brought nigh. [1]

This first verse refers to believers and non-believers whilst the following refers solely to the believers:

Then We bequeathed the Book to those of Our servants who We had chosen. Among them are those who wrong themselves, those who take the middle course, and those who are foremost in good deeds, by God’s leave. That is the greatest bounty. [2]

Sābiqūn (the one’s who excel)

The highest level is for the mufahhamūn (the instructed ones) about whom we have already mentioned.[3] Thereafter, the next group is the sābiqūn (the one’s who excel). They are of two types: al-rāshiḳhīn fī al-‘ilm (firm in knowledge) and the rāghibīn fī al-‘amal (striving in action). The first group is the one who is sleeping when their latent potential is awakened by the prophetic message that reaches them. In their inner state, there is no contradiction between the angelic and animalistic traits; it is harmonious and integrated. They are like the mujtahidīn fī al-madhab (independent scholars in a school of law) i.e. those who use their own interpretations within the scope of possibilities offered by previous rulings within their own legal school. [4]

 The second group is the one’s who engage in spiritual exercises and turn towards God in order to gain control over their animalistic side. Thus they acquire intellectual and practical perfection which bring forth divine visions, guidance, and illumination. They are the Sufi orders.

Both these groups combine two things:

  1. They devote their strength to concentrating on God and seeking to be near Him.
  2. Their fiṭrah (innate constitution) is so strong that the desired acquired habits are presented to them as they are, without the need to consider their embodiments, and they only need the bodily forms to express these traits and as a means to attain the traits through them.

From among them are the following:

  1. mufarridūn (the one’s who retire to lead a solitary religious life): by turning their attention to God and excessive remembrance of Him they acquire a lofty status.
  2. ṣiddīqūn (the truthful ones): distinguished by their strictness in obeying God and pure devotion to Him. In addition, they possess perfect reason and the strength of character.
  3. Ṣhuhadā’: (the martyrs): they command good and forbid evil, and they have strength, energy and complete self-control in their nature, becoming a habit for them. On the day of resurrection, they will be resurrected arguing with the unbelievers and giving evident against them. [5]
  4. Al-rāshikūn fī-l-‘ilm (firmly rooted in knowledge): they possess wisdom, intelligence, and strong self-control. When they heard from the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) knowledge and wisdom, this impressed them to show obedience and devotion to perfect themselves by knowledge. The possession of thorough knowledge became a habit with them.
  5. ‘Ubād (the worshippers): they perceive the benefits of worship with their own eyes such that they become enveloped with light and they worship God with great insight.
  6. zuhhād (the ascetics): they turn away from the world which carries no meaning to them. They are certain of the Resurrection and the pleasure reserved there.
  7. Those prepared for the deputyship (Caliphate) of the Prophets: they worship God through the virtue of justice, and by removing away wrongs and corruption.
  8. Aṣhāb al-khulq al-ḥassan (possessors of good character): they are people of magnanimity in generosity, modesty, and forgiveness of the one who wrongs them. They remain patient over calamities. Generosity is natural to them and an inseparable habit.
  9. Muṣhabbihūn bi al-Malā’ika (those resembling the angels): they are people who persevered in the observance of purity, prayer in seclusion, limited speech and sleep. It is mentioned that certain Companions used to be greeted by the angels. [6]

Each of the aforementioned groups possesses an innate capacity which requires awakening from prophetic knowledge and an acquired capacity[7] to be made ready to take up the divine law. Through both of these capacities, perfection is achieved. [8]

[1] Qur’ān 56:7-11.

[2] Qur’ān 35:32.

[3] They are of many types and varying capacities: the perfect one (kāmil); the wise one (ḥākim); the Caliph; the one aided by the holy spirit; a pure guide (hādi muzakkī); the leader (imām); a warner (mundhir) and a prophet.

[4] There is the ḥadīth, ‘the learned are the heirs of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave neither dinar nor dirham, leaving only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion.’ (Abū Dāwūd, Ibn Mājah, at-Tirmidhī).

[5] This description challenges the prevailing notion that this definition is restricted and reserved solely for those who die in the cause of God.

[6] ‘Imrān bin Ḥusayn narrates that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ forbade to cauterize; we cauterized but they (cauterization) did not benefit us, nor proved useful for us. Abū Dāwūd said: He (‘Imrān bin Ḥusayn) used to hear the salutation of the angels: When he cauterized, it stopped. When he abandoned, it returned to him. (Abū Dāwūd).

[7] There are many others, briefly, they include: the trustworthy, the martyrs, perfect person, firmly established in knowledge, unique persons, the Godly persons, persons of fine behaviour, worshipping devotees, ascetics, persons who bear resemblance to the angels, persons who are moderate in deeds of virtue and vice.

[8] Those among the ‘instructed ones’ who are not sent on a mission to people, are counted as the ‘ones who excel.’

Imām Ghazālī’s Strategy in Kitāb al-Maḥabba

Imām Ghazālī’s Strategy in Kitāb al-Maḥabba

Over the coming months we will be attempting to provide a series of summaries on various discussions from the thirty sixth book of the Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, titled,  ‘love, longing intimacy and contentment’ (kitāb al-maḥabba wa’l-ṣhawq wa’al-uns wa’l-riḍā). This is the second part of the introduction (you can find the first part here: The Love of God as a Paradox)

It is worth exploring very briefly Imām Ghazālī’s strategy in the book. He begins with the Qur’an and Sunnah, then statements by Sufi masters; followed by “rational proof-texts” (ṣhawāhid ‘aqlīya) and highly structured argumentation. This is then followed by a methodical analysis of the nature and causes of love; the central theme being that God alone merits love. For him, the highest of all pleasures is in the knowledge of God, insofar as he is knowable to us. However, and fundamentally, God is unknowable to the human intellect. It is this unknowability that sustains the longing for God.

Ghazālī states that love as we know it begins by self-love; our love is always self-interested and combined with our greed to go on living. He then moves his argument forward by stating that we do not love other people or things for themselves. When we display love towards others it is not because we love them, rather it is for the kindness they bestow. This is still an illusion. The beggar who loves the one who gives him something, the benefactor, and the benefactor who takes pride in giving something to him are both deluded. This is because the benefactor is merely and instrument of benevolence since the promoting of benevolence has been willed by God himself. The beggar should thank God and the benefactor ought to realise that the beggar was an instrument by which God’s compassion is made manifest. Hence, we are shadows through whom the true actor plays out His part.

‘The Ghazālīan love of God is an eternal courtship in which the Beloved constantly responds to the lover’s suit with inexhaustible favours of insight’ (Eric Ormsby)