Most of us, or all of us, try very hard to carry out the rules and regulations of Islam. I think that all of us pray five times a day, give zakah when it should be given, fast when fasting has to be done, and go on haj and umrah when we are by the means. These things are very normal for us to do. And we do them very consistently and we do them every day. But somehow it appears that when we do them, it does not feel as if we are experiencing any spiritual development, or any kind of spiritual joy in what we are doing. We are going through the process of doing these things but somehow or other, I don’t know whether you’ve had the kinds of experiences that I’ve had in this regard, somehow or other we feel that we are not attaining what we would like to attain with what we are doing.
Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) said in a hadith that Islam is built on five things, and he mentioned the Shahadah, salah, zakah, fasting and haj. He said that Islam is built on these five things. He did not say that Islam consists of these five things. And there is a major difference between the two. When he said that, he was telling us that these five matters are the foundations of our religion, that the foundations of the totality of our religion are these five things. There is a massive structure on top of the foundations, and that if we want religious success we also have to look at the top structure, not only at the foundations. The foundations we have to adhere to, of course, otherwise we have no or very little religion.
The question that I am asking is: Do we perhaps not have serious shortcomings with regards to our adherence of the matters of the top structure? I want to mention one or two things that I have come across in my studies and in my experience of Islam in order to have a look at why things are going wrong with our practices. For example, there is a hadith (Prophetic Tradition) about Sayyiduna Umar (r.a.) that you all know about because I’ve spoken to you about it previously, but let me repeat it for you. One day Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) asked Sayyiduna Umar (r.a.) about his love for him. Sayyiduna Umar said: “Ya Rasulallah, I love you very much but I love what is between my shoulder blades more.” In other words he loved himself more than what he loved Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) became upset and said: “O Umar, you must love me the most. Change now, now!” The matter was so urgent that he was told to change at once. Our love for him (ﷺ) must be the greatest love in the hearts of human beings. And so when it comes to human beings the person that must stand in front as far as our love is concerned, is Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). This is such an urgent matter that Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) told Sayyiduna Umar (r.a.) that he had to change his love or the pattern of his love immediately. It is so important. We also learn that Sayidduna Umar (r.a.) had a major shortcoming in his Islam. He must have had otherwise Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) would not have given him that instruction. And the shortcoming that he had in Islam was the fact that his priorities with regards to his love for human beings were wrong.
Of course, loving Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) is not an easy matter, especially because of the distance in time between us and him. Many scholars have defined love of Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) as being obedience to his Practice. If it was only this, then Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) would not have asked Sayyiduna Umar (r.a.) to change, what was definitely, his feeling. In other words, it appears that love for Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) has not only to do with obedience to him but also has to do with a deep feeling of intense love for him. This feeling of love is a Divine grant to one as one strengthens one’s link to him, through one’s shaykh. I cannot see it in any other way. Love for the Prophet (ﷺ) is a grant from Allah Almighty as one walks a path of intense obedience to the Prophetic Practice under the spiritual guidance of an authorized shaykh. I see it like this.
The other story I have also told you already. I’m going to repeat this story to you: At the time of the Prophet (ﷺ), there was a young man named Alqamah. He was very diligent in obeying Allah by engaging in prayer and fasting and spending in charity. Then he fell ill and his illness became serious. His wife went to the Prophet (ﷺ) and said: “My husband, Alqamah, is on his deathbed. I therefore came to tell you, Messenger of Allah, about his condition.” The Prophet (ﷺ) (then) sent for Ammar or Suhaib and Bilal, and told them to go to him (Alqamah) and have him repeat the Shahadah. Thereupon they went to him and found him in agony of death. They asked him to say “La illaha illallah,” but his tongue was unable to pronounce it. At that, they came and told the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) that he was unable to repeat the Shahadah. The Prophet (ﷺ) asked: “Is either of his parents alive?” He was told: “Messenger of Allah, his mother is, but she is very old.” The Prophet (ﷺ) sent her a message that if it was convenient for her (that is if she was able to go out), she should come to him. The Prophet’s messenger came to her and informed her of the Prophet’s message. She said: “May my life be a ransom for him, it is my pleasure to go to him!” She then stood up, leaning on her walking stick, and came to the Prophet (ﷺ) and greeted him. The Prophet (ﷺ) returned her greeting and said to her: Umm Alqamah, tell me the truth, for otherwise Allah Most High will reveal the truth to me! What is the situation concerning your son Alqamah?” She replied: “Messenger of Allah, he prays much, fasts a great deal, and spends a great amount in charity.” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “And what about yourself?” She said: “Messenger of Allah, I am angry with him.” He said: “Why?” She replied: “Messenger of Allah, he has preferred his wife over me and has disobeyed me.” Then Allah’s Messenger said: “Umm Alqamah, surely your anger has prevented Alqamah’s tongue from pronouncing the Shahadah.” He then turned to Bilal and said: “Bilal, go out and collect a quantity of firewood.” She said: “Messenger of Allah, what do you plan to do?” He replied: “I will burn him in front of your eyes.” She said: “Messenger of Allah, he is my son! My heart cannot bear you burning him in front of my eyes.” He said: “Umm Alqamah, Allah’s punishment is more severe and more lasting! Therefore, if you want Allah to forgive him, be reconciled to him. By the One in Whose Hand is my soul, the praying, fasting and spending in charity (which he has done) are of no benefit to Alqamah as long as you are angry with him!” Thereupon she said: “Messenger of Allah, I call upon Allah Most High and His angels and the Muslims who are present to be my witnesses that I am pleased with my son Alqamah.” Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Bilal, go to him and see whether he is now able to say ‘La illaha illallah’ or not. It may be that Umm Alqamah is saying something for my sake which is not in the heart.” Thereupon Bilal went and, entering the door, he heard Alqamah saying: ‘La ilaha illallah.’ (Concerning this), Bilal remarked: “It is surely true that while Alqamah’s mother was angry with him his tongue was tied, and now that she is pleased with him his tongue was freed.” Alqamah died the same day. The Prophet (ﷺ) came to him and gave the order for his washing and shrouding, and then prayed the funeral prayer for him and buried him. He then stood by the side of his grave and said: “You company of Immigrants (Muhajireen) and Helpers (Ansar), if anyone favours his wife over his mother, Allah and His angels and all the people curse him! Allah does not accept his spending (in charity) and his uprighteousness unless he repents to Allah, the Glorious and Majestic, and reconciles with her and attains her pleasure, because Allah’s pleasure consists in her pleasure and Allah’s anger consists in her anger” (Tabarani and Ahmad).
Alqamah’s salvation depended on his mother’s forgiveness. I’m going to repeat that. The success of his Islam, the acceptance of his Islam, the uttering of
لاَ إِلٰهَ إِلاَّ اللهُ
(La ilaha illallah) depended on his mother saying: “I forgive my son”. Alqamah had one major weakness in Islam and that is, he placed his wife above his mother. Here we see that there are certain rules regarding our family relationships that have a major impact on our Islam.
In another hadith reported by Abu Hurayrah (r.a.), Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) was asked: “Messenger of Allah, who is most deserving of care by me?” He replied: “Your mother.” He asked: “And then?” “Your mother.” He asked: “And then?” “Your mother.” He asked again: “And then?” “Your father.” In other words, Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) placed the mother three stations higher than the father. This means that as far as the children are concerned they must place their mother three stations higher than their father. The question we must ask ourselves is: Are we doing that? If we are not doing that, there is a serious shortcoming in our Islam.
In other words, when it comes to our family relationships, we must be very careful because some of those family relationships impact on our Islam. In the case of Alqamah, his Islam could only come right when his mother said: “I forgive my son”. It did not only have to do with forgiveness, it had to do with the mother’s forgiveness. And so the acceptance of all the praying, all the fasting and whatever else Alqamah did, depended on a few words from his mother. And if those words did not come, he would not have been able to say:
لاَ إِلٰهَ إِلاَّ اللهُ
(La ilaha illallah: there is no god other than Allah) as his final words. We have learnt, number one, that we have to get our relationship with Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) in order, other than our salah, other than our zakah, other than all those things that we do. And we have learnt, number two, that our attitudes towards our mothers, in fact our parents, must be right.
Let me come to something else related to all of this. On many occasions when we have to decide between doing something for Allah’s sake and doing something else, we make the wrong choice. If, for example, we have to go to a dhikr, we only attend the dhikr if we are free. In other words, we will only attend the remembrance of Allah Almighty if we have no other appointments. Sometimes I have to pick up certain people to bring them to the dhikr and they tell me they cannot go that night because there’s a birthday celebration in the family. They go to the birthday and they leave the remembrance of Allah. What kind of choices are we making if we do that? Are we making the right choice with Allah? I want to talk to you about this a little bit more. And the question that arises in our spiritual development, in our spiritual growth, in what we are striving for, is, are we making the right choices when it comes to Allah? Do we say, for example: “My wife, I’m sorry, but I think it is of far greater spiritual importance for me to go to the dhikr than to go to the birthday party.”
Now the question I’m asking is: “Are we making the right choices and decisions when it comes to Allah Almighty?” Just imagine that on a particular day you prayed five times, you made sunnah fasts, you sent out bread for sadaqah, and when the evening comes you fornicate. Do you think that this has no impact on your overall ibadat? Is each set of ibadah in an enclosed compartment and nothing can impact on it? Do we believe that when we sin against Allah, this does not impact on our overall spirituality, and that it does not corrupt the good that we had done? On another level, when Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (r.a.) became the khalifah successor of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ)) some of the Arabs refused to pay zakah. He said at the time: “Do they not know that if they do not pay zakah, their salah is not accepted?”
And it does not matter the good that you do; if you are disrespectful to your parents Allah curses you. We have to understand that Islam is an integrated whole, and to derive full spiritual benefit from its practices, one needs to practice, as far as possible, its totality. One must always be in obedience, always be in obedience to Allah and to His Messenger (ﷺ). There is no short cut to spiritual achievement. There is no way that one can achieve a high degree of spirituality unless one is constantly in a state of obedience to all aspects of Islam.
We have to work with our Islam until we reach that stage at which we can say: “O Allah, everything that I am doing, I am doing for Thy sake. O my Lord, let it be so for me.” Why are we not prepared to say: “O my Lord, it doesn’t matter what my family demands of me, but my salahs are for Thy sake. It does not matter what my community demands of me, but my life I am living for Thy sake. It does not matter what people demand of me, but I want my death to be for Thy sake. It doesn’t matter what people think of me, what people want from me, but when I act as a Muslim, it is for Thy sake.” Why can we not say that, or why can we not at least strive for that? Because we are not doing that, sorry to say this, but because we are not doing that, we have serious shortcomings in our Islam. And so we pray five times a day regularly, fast, give sadaqah and haj but our commitment to Allah Almighty is extremely shallow. If this were not so we would be producing very pious people in the community but we are not doing that. The few that we have have almost all died.
What is happening to our religious standards? What is happening to our confidence in Allah? He says: “Ask Me.” We say: “Let’s march!” Why is it that we can send 30 000 marching for Palestine or for other matters but when we were asked to come to the Tana Baru to celebrate the praises of Allah and supplicate to Him for help when Iraq was invaded, less than fifty persons turned up. Whether we like it or not, we have, like many others, taken Allah Almighty out of our affairs. We have secularized our affairs to such an extent that we don’t want to celebrate Allah’s praises together because some mindless people have declared such gatherings innovations, and in the process they have misled large groups of Muslims. Look at our history and you will see that when the early Muslims came here they kept their dhikrs going and Islam survived.
It appears that there are deliberate distortions of the teachings of Islam, and deliberate silence of its teachings, to meet secular political ends. I read the other day in the newspaper that someone has said that in jihad you can kill innocent people. Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) had said: “Don’t kill children, don’t kill old people, don’t kill women, don’t kill non-combatants.” He said that! But our “leaders” say: “No, that does not apply anymore.” I worry, you see, because the distortions and silences are slowly chipping away at Islam and providing a religious environment in which the religion cannot produce pious people anymore. We do not need smart people or learned people. We have enough of those. We need pious persons to carry and energize the community. Unless we do this, this community is going to go down. Let me tell you something very quickly. One of the reasons for the survival of Islam here and the fact that Islam disappeared in America at the same time that the slaves went there was because Allah had sent pious people here. Islam could survive because it was being kept in and spread from the hearts of pious people. The words of Islam were in the hearts of pious people and Islam survived. In a Hadith Qudsi Allah Almighty tells Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ), when speaking about His pious servants: “I am remembered by their remembrance.” It was because of this phenomenon that Islam survived here despite the fact that for more than 150 years we did not have Qur’ans or madrassahs or masjids. We only had the hearts of pious people.
Islam came from their hearts to the hearts of the slaves. Today the hearts of pious people are almost no more, and Islam is battling to survive. At that time Islam came from their hearts, not from their heads. Islam has to do with hearts not only with minds. When these pious people said “Allah”, it came mainly from their hearts and a little bit from their tongues. When they said they put Allah first, it was their hearts speaking. When they put Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) above all human beings, it was their hearts giving expression to their love for him. Today … well … I do not know. Where are our pious people? We need their hearts. Where are they?
We must start looking at the practice of our own Islam and start striving for piety. One day we are going to stand on our own in the Divine Court and we will have to answer for ourselves. There is going to be nobody else that is going to stand there and answer for us. Come now! Surely we’ve enough strength in our hearts to tell ourselves that we must start walking another path in Islam. We have enough strength in our hearts, enough time to say: “O my Lord, I am for Thee,” and: “O my Lord, Thy Prophet stands first in my life.” Surely we can do that. None of those things are impossible. There are no impossibilities in Islam. You must not tell me that certain things are impossible to achieve in Islam otherwise the religion would not have come as it did. Nothing is impossible in Islam. If we want to become Awliya, the possibility is there. If we want to become siddiqs, the possibilities are there. If we want to become shuhada, the possibilities are there. If we want to become salihin, the possibilities are there. Nobody must ever tell me that Allah has sent the Qur’an with impossibilities. Islam is not like that. Islam is a religion filled with possibilities. Allah Almighty has said, “O my people, I am giving you a religion with possibilities for you and I have created you in such a way that you can attain the possibilities.” That is our religion. Allah has placed in each one of us a spark, a Divine Spark. We have unlimited possibilities within us. Why are we not doing something about them? Why do we say these things are important, and those things are more important, and then we neglect the possibilities of reaching a high spiritual station? We ask Allah: “O please our Lord, Thou art our Creator, please help us,” through the blessings of Suratul Fatihah. We will recite this … that Allah must guide us, must help us in our religion and strengthen our hearts and make our hearts for Him and He must be for us Number One. We ask Allah for that, and we must feel in our hearts that we want that from Him. Allah will not deny His servant who comes to Him and opens his heart and says: “O My Lord, for Thee, I ask through 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]