SHAYKH HAMZA YUSUF TALKED TO NAZIM BAKSH ABOUT THE SEARCH FOR VIRTUE, BEAUTY AND LOVE IN AN AGE OF HATE, ANIMOSITY AND RESENTMENT.
The convenient response to those who revile your religion is to return the favour. The more virtuous position however is to forgive. Forgiveness as you know, while less in virtue when compared to love, nevertheless, can result in love. Love, by definition, does not require forgiveness. What many Muslims today seem to forget is that ours is a religion of love and our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, was the Habib, the Beloved. How did love, the defining virtue of our community, come to be replaced by an urge to redress wrongs, to punish instead of to forgive?
It is the result of Muslims seeing themselves as victims. Victimization is a defeatist mentality. It's the mentality of the powerless.
The word victim is from the Latin “victima” which carries with it the idea of the one who suffers injury, loss, or death due to a voluntary undertaking. In other words, victims of one’s own actions. Muslims never really had a mentality of victimization. From a metaphysical perspective, which is always the first and primary perspective of a Muslim, there can be no victims.
We believe that all suffering has a redemptive value.
If the tendency among Muslims is to view themselves as victims which appears to me as a fall from grace, what virtue must we then cultivate to dispense with this mental and physical state that we now find ourselves in?
The virtue of patience is missing. Patience is the first virtue after tawba or repentance. Early Muslim scholars considered patience as the first maqam or station in the realm of virtues that a person entered into.
Patience in Islam means patience in the midst of adversity. A person should be patient in what has harmed or afflicted him. Patience means that you don’t lose your comportment or your composure. If you look at the life of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, you will never ever find him losing his composure.
Patience was a hallmark of his character. He was ‘the unperturbed one’ which is one of the meanings of halim: wa kaana ahlaman-naas. He was the most unperturbed of humanity. Nothing phased him either inwardly or outwardly because he was with Allah in all his states.
Patience is a beautiful virtue the cry of Prophet Yaqub.... "fa sabran jamil." Patience, it appears, is not an isolated virtue but rather it is connected to a network of virtues. Should Muslims focus on this virtue at the expense of the other virtues?
The traditional virtues of a human being were four and Qadi Ibn Al-Arabi considered them to be the foundational virtues or the ummahatul fadaa'il of all of humanity. They are: prudence, courage, temperance, and justice.
Prudence, or rather practical wisdom, and courage, are defining qualities of the Prophet. He, upon him be peace and blessings, said that God loves courage even in the killing of a harmful snake.
Temperance is the ability to control oneself. Incontinence, the hallmark of intemperance, is said to occur when a person is unable to control himself. In modern medicine it is used for someone who can’t control his urine or feces. But not so long ago the word incontinence meant a person who was unable to control his temper, appetite or sexual desire. Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates one’s appetite in accordance with prudence. In early Muslim scholarship on Islamic ethics, justice was considered impossible without the virtues of prudence, courage and temperance.
Generosity as a virtue is derived from courage because a generous person is required to be courageous in the face of poverty. Similarly, humility is a derivative from temperance because the humble person will often restrain the urge to brag and be a ‘show-off’ because he or she sees their talents and achievements as a gift from Allah and not from themselves.
Patience as a virtue is attached to the virtue of courage because the patient person has the courage to endure difficulties.
So 'hilm' (from which you get 'halim'), often translated as forbearance or meekness if you wish, is frown[ed] upon in our society. Yet it is the virtue we require to stem the powerful emotion of anger. Unrestrained anger often leads to rage and rage can lead to violence in its various shades.
Our predecessors were known for having an incredible degree of patience while an increasing number of us are marked with an extreme degree of anger, resentment, hate, rancor and rage. These are negative emotions which present themselves as roadblocks to living a virtuous life.
A patient human being will endure tribulations, trials, difficulties, hardships, if confronted with them. The patient person will not be depressed or distraught and whatever confronts him will certainly not lead to a loss of comportment or adab.
Adab, as you know, is everything.
Allah says in the Quran: ‘Isbiru was-sabiru.' “Have patience and enjoin each other to patience.” The beauty of patience is that ‘inallaha ma'as-sabirin’ Allah is with the patient ones. If God is on your side you will always be victorious. Allah says in the Quran "Ista`inu bi-sabiri was-salat.'" Isti'aana is a reflexive of the Arabic verb `aana which is “to help oneself.” Allah is telling us to help ourselves with patience and prayer.
This is amazing because the Prophet, peace be upon him, said “if you take help, take help from God alone.” And so in the Quran Allah says: ista`inu bi-sabiri was-salaat.
This means taking help from patience and prayer because that is the means by which Allah has given you to take help from Him alone. How is it then that a person sees himself as a victim when all calamities, difficulties and trials, are ultimately tests from Allah.
This does not mean the world is free of aggression and that victims have suddenly vanished. What I’m talking about [here] is a person’s psychology in dealing with hardship.
The sacred law has two perspectives when looking at acts of aggression that are committed by one party against another. When it is viewed by those in authority the imperative is to seek justice. However, from the perspective of the wronged, it is not to seek justice but instead to forgive.
Forgiveness, `afwa, pardon, is not a quality of authority. A court is not set up to forgive. It’s the plaintiff that’s required to forgive if there is going to be any forgiveness at all. Forgiveness will not come from the Qadi or the judge. The court is set up to give justice but Islam cautions us not to go there in the first place because ‘by the standard which you judge so too shall you be judged.’
That's the point. If you want justice, if you want God, the Supreme Judge of all affairs, to be just to others on your behalf, then you should know that your Lord will use the same standard with you.
Nobody on the ‘Day of Arafat’ [a special day during Hajj] will pray: “Oh God, be just with me.” Instead you will hear them crying: O Allah, forgive me, have mercy on me, have compassion on me, overlook my wrongs. Yet, these same people are not willing to forgive, have compassion and mercy on other creatures of God.
We are not a people that are required to love wrongdoers. I must loath wrong actions, but at the same time we should love for the wrongdoers guidance because they are creatures of God and they were put here by the same God that put us here. And Allah says in the Quran “We made some of you a tribulation for others, will you then not show patience.” In other words, God set up the scenario, and then asked the question: ‘will you then not show patience?’ Will you subdue the inordinate desire for vengeance to achieve a higher station that is based on a conviction that you will be forgiven by God if only you can bring yourself to forgive others?
Imam Al-Ghazali and earlier Miskawayh in his Tahdhib al-akhlaq, argued that for these virtues to be effective, they had to be in harmony. Otherwise, they said, virtues would quickly degenerate into vice. Do you think that these virtues exist today among Muslims but that they are out of balance? For example, the Arabs in the time of the Prophet had courage, but without justice it was bravado. Prudence without justice is merely shrewdness. Do you think that Muslims are clamoring for justice but have subsumed the virtues of temperance and prudence?
Yes. Muslims want courage and justice but they don't want temperance and prudence.
The four virtues relate to the four humors in the body. Physical sickness is related to spiritual sickness and when these four are out of balance, spiritual and moral sickness occurs. So when courage is the sole virtue, you no longer have prudence.
You are acting courageously but imprudently and it's no longer courage but impetuousness.
It appears as courage but it is not. A person who is morally incapable of controlling his appetite has incontinence and thus he cannot be prudent nor courageous because part of courage is to constrain oneself when it is appropriate. Imam al Ghazali says that courage is a mean between impetuousness and cowardice.
The same is true for incontinence.
The person who has no appetite is not a temperate person but an impotent person and that's also a disease. Someone may have immense business acumen but uses it to accumulate massive amounts of wealth. That is not a prudent person but a crafty or clever person. Prudence is a mean between the extremes of stupidity and craftiness or what the Arabs call makr. The maakir is the one who is afflicted with the same condition that has afflicted Iblis the maakir, the clever.
The interesting point to note about the four virtues is that you either take them all or you don’t take them at all. It’s a packaged deal. There is a strong argument among moral ethicists that justice is the result of the first three being in perfect balance.
Yes, Miskawayh and Aristotle as well.
What I've realized is that people who don't have patience are often ridden with anxiety and tend to behave as if they can control the outcome of events in their lives.
They even think that destiny is in their hands.
They argue that if you do this and this you will achieve power, as if we have the ability to empower ourselves. Most of the contemporary Islamic movements seem to think that without state-power a moral or an ethical Islamic society is impossible to achieve. Why do you think that is the case?
I think victimization is the result of powerlessness.
The point is that powerlessness is our state. Powerlessness is a good state, not a bad one because all power is with God alone and He will make you powerful or powerless.
I'll give you an example.
If you go into the Alhambra Palace in Granada you will see written everywhere al `izu-lillah which means that strength, dignity and power is with God alone. By the time you get to the end of the last room it is changed to al` izu li maulana Abi
`Abdillah or power and authority is with the protector Abu Abdallah, the last Caliph of Andalus or what is now southern Spain. So it begins with power and strength is for God alone and it ends with power, strength, and dignity is for our master Abu Abdillah.
The point here is that if you want power, God won’t give it to you, but if you want to be powerless for the sake of God, God will empower you. That's just the way it works and here I am talking about the people of God.
Allah has divided the world into two types of people -- those who are God-focused and those who are focused on other than God.
The people that are focused on God will always follow certain principles and God will always give them the same results. The people who think that they are focused on God, but in fact are focused on other than God will never get success from God. The reason is that if they did indeed get success from God they would end up disgracing the religion of God by claiming to be people of God.
There are many outwardly religious people on the planet that think they are the people of God and they get frustrated when they are denied victory.
This causes them often to get angry and you see their methods becoming more and more desperate.
They fail to recognize that authority is not given to them because they’re not truly focused on God. They are instead focused on worldly power and they are self-righteous and self-centered in their arrogance, thinking that they are right while everyone else is wrong.
The verse in the Quran that sums this up is in Sura Baqarah. Allah says, “They say no one will enter paradise unless they be a Jew or a Christian, These are vain wishes. Say to them, bring your evidence if you are speaking the truth. “Balaa man aslama wajhahu lillahi wa huwa muhsinun.” “No, rather the one who resigns his entire being to God is the one.”
Ibn Juzay al Kalbi says: aslama wajhahu means he who submits his entire being to God which is Ihsan or excellence in one’s worship. When the human being is in a state of submission - wa huwa muhsinun - everything that comes from him is beautiful and virtuous. Ihsan - ethics, virtuous, beauty, excellence - indicates that a human being will have his reward from his Lord. This is not from the God of a religion, but the God of the individual in a state of absolute submission. “Upon them there is no fear nor will they grieve.”
To me, this is the greatest testimony that Islam is not about identity politics. Some among us want to reduce Islam to identity politics. They label themselves and point accusing fingers at each other. Allah says “indeed the one who has resigned his entire being to God and is virtuous, that is the one whose reward is with his Lord and upon them shall come no fear nor will they grieve.
Replace the Jew and the Christian for some modern-day Muslims and you end up with the same phenomenon described above. The hadith says you will follow the Jews and the Christians to the extent that if they go down a lizard’s hole you'll go down with them. This is an authentic hadith.
The hadith says every child is born with an inherent nature. The Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, didn't say every child is born a Muslim as a sociological identity. It says every child is born in a state of fitra and it’s the parents who determine its sociological category, to give it a modern interpretation.
You have painted a very interesting landscape in terms of Muslim behaviour in the contemporary period but we are seeing evidence of resentment among some Muslims today which is very strange indeed. I am wondering how this might be related to a sense of victimization?
Of course it is. Look for example at the word injury. It comes from injuria, a Latin word that means unjust. So if I perceive my condition as unjust it is contrary to the message of the Quran. Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in we hold ourselves as responsible. It gets tricky to navigate especially when it comes to the oppressor and the oppressed.
The Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, along with the early Muslim community, spent 13 years purifying themselves in Mecca. These were years of oppression and thus serious self-purification accompanied by an ethic of nonviolence, forbearance, meekness, and humility.
They were then given permission to migrate and to defend themselves. At this point they were not a people out to get vengeance and they were certainly not filled with resentment because they saw everything as coming from God. I’m not talking about being pleased with injustice because that's prohibited. At the same time we accept the world our Lord has put us into and we see everything as being here purposefully, not without purpose, whether we understand it or not.
We believe evil is from the Qadr (decree) of Allah and it's for a purpose, but there are two sides to choose from - the side of good and the side of evil. In order for you not to fall into the Manichean fallacy, God reminds you that not only is the struggle an external struggle but evil is an internal struggle as well. Therefore, those very things that you see on the outside they are also on the inside and to make it even clearer, the struggle inside is the greater Jihad because if you are not involved in the internal struggle you are not going to be able to fight the external one.
Maulana Rumi said whenever you read Pharaoh in the Quran don’t think that he is some character that lived in the past, but seek him out in your own heart.
So, if we've got all these negatives, vices, not virtues active in our hearts, love, it appears is an impossible task.
The modern Christian fundamentalists always talk about Islam as a religion devoid of love. It’s a very common motif in these religious fundamentalist books that attack Islam. They say “our religion is the religion of love and Islam is the religion of hate, animosity, and resentment.” Unfortunately, many Muslims have adopted it as their religion, but that doesn’t mean resentment has anything to do with Islam.
Love (Mahabba) is the highest religious virtue in Islam. Imam Ghazali said that it is the highest maqam or spiritual station. It is so because trust, zhud (doing without), fear, and hope are stations of this world and so long as you are in this world these stations are relevant, but once you die they can no longer serve you. Love is eternal because love is the reason you were created.
You were created to adore God. That’s why in Latin the word adore which is used for worship in English is also a word for love, adoration. You were created to worship God, in other words, to love Him because you can't truly adore something or worship something that you don't love. If you are worshipping out of fear, like Imam al Ghazali says, it's not the highest level of worship, but its lowest.
In other words, if you are worshipping God out of fear, if the reason that you are doings things is because you are afraid of Him, that he is going to punish you, that’s the lowest level of worship. That’s why it was said about the Prophet’s companion Suhaib al Rumi that had there been no fire or paradise he still would have worshipped Allah.
A vast number of young Muslims today who have the energy to run down the road of hate do so thinking that it is a display of their Iman [faith]. What do you say to help them understand that hating wrongs has to be balanced with the virtues of mercy, justice, forgiveness, generosity, etc.?
I think one has to recognize that there are definitely things out there to hate but we have to be clear about hating the right things for the right reasons in the right amount.
The challenge is to get your object of hate right and hate it for the right reason. In other words, there are things that we should hate for the sake of God.
Oppression is something that you should hate. Its not haram to hate the oppressor, but don’t hate them to the degree that it prevents you from being just because that is closer to Taqwa (awe of Allah).
The higher position is to forgive for the sake of God. God gives you two choices -- the high road or the low road -- both of them will get you to paradise. We should strive for the highest.
Anger is a useful emotion. God created anger in order that we could act and respond to circumstances that need to be changed.
Indignation is a beautiful word. Righteous indignation is a good quality and even though it is misused in modern English it’s actually a good thing. It means to be angry for the right reasons and then it is to be angry to the right degree because Allah says, “Do not let the loathing of a people prevent you from being just.”
In other words get angry but don’t let that anger get the best of you, don’t allow it to overcome you to the point where you want vengeance because vengeance is God’s alone. Allah is al-Muntaqim, The Avenger of wrongs. Human beings are not here to avenge wrongs they are here to redress wrong, not to avenge them.
The ideal of loving those who revile you is the station of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.
In the midst of the worst battle of his career, the battle of Uhud, he prayed, “Oh God guide my people for they do not know what they are doing.” He could not have uttered that if he had hatred in his heart. He could not have embraced Wahshi as his brother, the man who killed his most beloved uncle, if he had hatred in his heart. He could not have taken the oath of allegiance from Hind who ordered and paid for the assassination of Hamza and then bit into his liver to spite the Blessed Prophet if he had hatred in his heart. He took her oath of allegiance and she became a sister in faith. The Messenger of Allah is the best example.
He is the paragon who said: “None of you truly believes until he loves for his fellow man what he loves for himself.”
And the reason why I say fellow man is that I think it’s a very accurate translation because Imam an Nawawi said that he is your brother because we are all children of Adam and Eve. So we should want for our fellow man guidance, a good life, and a good afterlife. None of you truly believes, in other words our Iman is not complete until we love for others what we love for ourselves and that includes the Jews, Christians, Buddhists and the Hindus.
That breaks down the 'us versus them' paradigm that tends to inform the way Muslims see the world and themselves in it. That has been taken to a new level now in some of our mosques where the kuffar is a degree under and we don't have to pay attention to anything they say either about us or to us. Did our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessing, behave like this at all? I mean was he dismissive of anyone who wasn't from his community? It seems preposterous to convince anyone that we care about their welfare when we deride them.
The point is that if you want to guide them then you have to be concerned with the way they perceive you. You have to be concerned with how they feel.
The reason the Prophet upon him be peace and blessings, did not kill hypocrites was because he did not want the non-Muslims to say Muhammad kills his companions as a way of scaring people from entering into Islam. So he preferred an action that will cause non-Muslims to look at Islam as a religion they would prefer to enter.
The Prophet, peace be upon him was concerned to such an extent with what others thought that when one of his companions said that the Persians and Byzantines did not take letters seriously unless they had a seal on them, he told his companion to make him a seal.
He was concerned about how he presented himself to the people. Once he was combing his hair and Aisha, his blessed wife, asked him why he did that before he went out and he said my Lord commanded me to do this. In other words, to go out looking presentable to people is not vanity.
Some Muslims get caught up in clothes and they get upset when others wear a tie and suit. They think it’s hypocrisy and that it is inappropriate. On the contrary, if one’s intention is correct, it’s actually an act of worship because you are doing it in order to present Islam, not yourself. You are, like the Prophet, recognizing that you are an ambassador of a religion and it becomes like the seal that the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessing, pressed onto the letters.
Many Muslims have divided the world into two groups -- us and them. They will support Saddam Hussein because he’s a Muslim. In other words, they will support a man who may have killed more Muslims than any Muslim leader in the history of Islam or perhaps all of them put together.
The argument from this segment of our Muslim community is that “I will back a mass murderer and go to a demonstration with his picture because he’s a Muslim and other people are Kuffar.” On the other hand, many Americans will back unjust American intervention simply because they believe “my country right or wrong.” Both sentiments [are] a form of tribalism and we are people of faith in God Almighty, not people of tribal allegiance.
SHAYKH HAMZA YUSUF