If one examines very closely the verses of the Qur’an, one will see that at different points in the Qur’an Allah Almighty gives us indicators or indications that help us in our spiritual development. Throughout the Qur’an one finds that. Certain matters or certain statements are made and if one examines those statements very carefully one will see that those statements are there specifically to help us in our understanding of Islam, in our practice of Islam and in our attitudes that we have with regard to our large number of matters. One of the statements that has been intriguing me for the last few days is the statement in which Allah says:
سَمِعْنَا وَ أَطَعْنَا غُفْرَانَكَ رَبَّنَا وَ إِلَيْكَ الْمَصِيْرُ
We hear and we obey. We seek Thy forgiveness, and to Thee is the return (ii: 285).
This is a very difficult one for us. It’s very difficult for us to understand that we must be able to say: “O Allah, I am listening to Thee.” Very difficult! This is because when Allah says these words, He is talking to us. When we recite the Qur’an, Allah is talking to us. When we read the Qur’an, Allah is talking to us. He talks to us through the Qur’an. And He tells us: “Listen!” This comes from Him. In a similar way all the traditions of Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) when he spoke to his Companions (r.a.) were in fact all under the guidance of Allah Almighty. He (ﷺ) never did or said anything without Divine Guidance on the matter. So when he spoke about certain matters, those matters were as Allah wants. So Allah is talking to us and His Messenger (ﷺ) is talking to us.
When we get the instructions in the Qur’an, we say: “O my Lord, we are listening to Thy Words.” This is the first stage of obedience. When we hear something or read something or acquire something in some way, our response must be: “I am listening.” The next stage of obedience comes immediately when we say: “And we obey.” This is very important in our spiritual development, very important if one wants to go from one step to the other step in our spiritual growth and that is to be able to accept that kind of arrangement as outlined in the verse. That is the Divine Arrangement. The Divine Arrangement is: “When you hear My words or when you hear the words of My Prophets, listen and obey!” After we have listened and after we have obeyed, we must appeal to Him for forgiveness, and we must remember that every single matter with regard to us goes back to Allah. We must remember that! This is a very important verse for our religious development.
Now sometimes there are matters in Islam which we find a little bit difficult to understand mainly because of the way we think. A lot of our thinking has been determined by our education. And because we have gone through a period of secular education, an education in which there is no god, we tend to think in certain ways. In education we never have “We listen and we obey”. We have “we listen”, and then we can question as much as we wish to. That’s the way we are made to think. This thinking has been determined to a large degree by our education. However, Allah says that we must not think in this way. When it comes to Him, when it comes to what He says, when it comes to what His Messenger (ﷺ) says then we must think differently. This is very difficult because we’ve been reared and educated in a certain way. In geography, history, psychology and other disciplines one can think like that, not in Islam. When it comes to Islam the rule is “we listen and we obey”.
Now another matter was raised with me during the week. A lady asked me why it is necessary for her to ask her husband if she can do a certain thing when what she wants to do is her business with God. There are certain rules and regulations that have been laid down in Islam, for example, when you get married there is now a special commitment from husband to wife and wife to husband. Part of that commitment is that the husband now has a religious authority in the home. He’s the imam. Allah has stipulated it like that. He has made him the imam of the house. This means that he is responsible for the religious activities which go on inside that house. Then also he has been placed in charge of his wife as protector. She cannot, for example, leave the house without his permission and knowledge. Why is that so? Surely, if he is supposed to protect her then he must know where she is. All the time he must be aware of where his wife is because she is under his protection. If she wants, for example, to do sunnah fasting, she must ask his permission. The reason is that he might need her for other reasons. You know what I’m talking about. And that comes first. Also, for example, if she wishes to go on a Sunnah Haj or Umrah, she must ask his permission. If he says no then she must listen to him. For her Fard Haj, Imam Shafi’i (r.a.) says she must ask his permission also but Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) disagrees. He says that for any obligatory matter the wife need not ask the husband’s permission because she is under the order of Allah Almighty. So although it might appear that the woman has to ask permission for certain matters, there are very deep religious reasons for these. This is very important for her thinking. She must say: “I must obey my Lord even if He tells me that I must ask my husband every single day for certain things with regard to me.” When she asks her husband she is in obedience to Allah. Obedience to Allah takes priority. If her husband says no and she obeys then she is in obedience to Allah, not only to her husband. That is the religious ruling on the matter. We must understand how these things work.
Women have been given one of the greatest gifts by Allah Almighty. The gift they have been given is that Allah sends all His new creations through them. All His new creations of human beings He sends through them. And the souls that He has created, He sends through them. They are so special by Allah that even the creation of Sayyidatuna Hawa (r.a.) is hidden. It is hidden because they are so special. Now women have been granted certain specialities but they want to be concerned about asking permission from their husbands for certain things. Look at the difference between the two things; being given a massive responsibility by Allah for receiving His new creation and having to ask your husband if you can go on haj or not, for example. You must see the difference between the two things. Women are so special by Allah that even the creation of Sayyidatuna Hawa (r.a.) is clouded in mystery. So special! And what He has given women, He did not give to men. We must start understanding that. Women must start understanding their position in the cosmos, their position in the universe. They have a cosmic function that we do not have. And the cosmic function is to receive the souls. The other things are so small in comparison to this, why do you want to get excited about them?
One other matter was raised with me. Let me explain something to you. In Islam, when it comes to certain religious activities and certain branches of knowledge from the beginning of Islam, these things were sent down in chains or silsilahs of barakah. Let me give you an example of this. While Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) was memorizing the Qur’an, he at the same time passed on the memorized parts to certain of his Companions, such as Sayyidunas Umar and Uthman (r.a.), and also some of the lady-Companions. They had obtained permission (ijazah) from him (ﷺ) to memorize. They in turn passed on the memorized portions and later the whole Qur’an to others. And so the memorization was passed on from one generation to the other, with permission, in a chain of barakah or along silsilas. In this way the memorization was authenticated. So if you want to learn the memorization of the Qur’an, go to somebody who is linked in the chain. He carries the full barakah of that chain. Some of us, for example, went to study recital of the Qur’an by Shaykh Muhammad Salih Abadi. He had studied recital and memorization of the Qur’an by some of the major shaykhs in Mecca. They had received permission to teach people to recite and memorize the Qur’an, a permission that goes right back to Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). And so the teaching of the Qur’an is based on permission. These things are not like that today anymore. People do not take the chains seriously, and so there is little barakah in their teaching. Shaykh Muhammad Salih Abadi had many students to whom he gave permission to teach. When they teach the recital of the Qur’an, they teach on the basis of permission that goes right back to Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ).
Another example of this is that Shaykh Mahdi Hendricks of the Azzawiyyah gave certain of his students permission to teach haj. Whom did he get ijazah from? From his shaykhs, and they from their shaykhs, right back along the chain. So the teaching of the different aspects of Islam was always on the basis of ijazah, on permission. It was always like that. These things were not accidental. That is how teaching and learning were fashioned.
One day there was a great scholar here from the Comoros Islands. His name was Shaykh Omar Abdullah. He had come to know about Shaykh Mahdi Hendricks and he had come to know that this man was a great scholar. He went to visit Shaykh Mahdi and asked for a book on Islam. He read from the book and Shaykh Mahdi agreed that what he was reading was correct. You know why he did that? He wanted to get into the chain to Shaykh Mahdi and to his shaykhs in Mecca, and then right back to where the teaching originally started. He wanted to be in that chain, and so for a few minutes he acted as a student and Shaykh Mahdi as a teacher. He said at the time that if he had to live in Cape Town he would sit at the feet of Shaykh Mahdi every day.
Now exactly the same chains apply to the passage of certain dhikrs. Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (r.a.) had received certain dhikrs and du’as from Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) and had been granted permission from him (ﷺ) to recite them. This was the first ijazah. Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (r.a.) passed them on to Salman al-Farsi (r.a.). And from him, the dhikrs and du’as were passed down with permission to recite them, right down to Mawlana Shaykh Nazim. And so they had come down in a chain of barakah, down … down … down to Mawlana Shaykh Nazim. He had given me permission. The chain continues. I had given other people permission. The chain continues.
One of the reasons for the fact that today people who have studied Islam do not show any spirituality is because they have not studied in these chains. Their behaviour is just as before. Some of them have memorized the Qur’an but they show no changes in behaviour because they are not linked into the chains or silsilas. The barakah come through these silsilas. That is how education was always in Islam. Of course now it has changed. Now you go to universities, even non-Muslim ones, and you do courses in Islam, and you are given a degree afterwards. Now just think Islamic knowledge is sacred knowledge … just think. Surely, if you are busy with sacred knowledge, busy with intensive study of sacred knowledge for three, four, five or six years, how must you not be? What kind of person must you not be? Today, if you want to learn about Islam, you can go to universities outside the Islamic world and the person who lectures might not even be a Muslim. We have completely lost the chains of barakah. People don’t talk about it anymore. Nobody will ask who your shaykh is, and if he is linked into a chain.
One day Shaykh Abu Bakr Abduraoef told me that he had gone back to Cairo in order to recite the Qur’an fully from memory to the imam of the Al-Azhar Masjid. The reason he wanted to do this was because he wanted to get into the chain of Qur’anic reciters that goes right back to the Prophet (ﷺ). Unfortunately Shaykh Abu Bakr’s mother became ill and he had to come back. But look what he had told me. He wanted to go all the way to Cairo to get into that chain. These things are disappearing today. We must ask Allah for understanding of our religion. And when you send your children to do hifz, for example, check. Is this person in a chain? Who taught him?
Today many of these things have gone. If one wants to do a PhD in Islamic studies you go to a university in Europe or America and you’ll get it there under non-Muslim supervisors. There’s no barakah, no blessings. We ask Allah to guide us, to protect us and to give us goodness all the time. We ask this in what we are doing, and to give us understanding of our religion. We must read a lot. Read especially the history of Islam. Read the history of Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) so that you can understand where certain things come from. You know even with lecturing, one has to have permission to lecture. We have to ask permission from Mawlana Shaykh Nazim. I am sending out the lectures now because he told me that I could talk and write what I wished. I’m still acting on permission at my age.
We ask for guidance from Allah with the blessings of Suratul Fatihah …
And Allah knows best, and I ask forgiveness for any mistakes or distortions in what I have said, Amin.
Selected Talks by Yusuf da Costa [Published 2008]