It does not matter what we do as Muslims, whether we are praying, whether we are fasting, whether we are making du’a, whether we are making dhikr, whatever the case might be, whatever our behaviour might be as Muslims, there’s always just one law that applies and that is the Divine Law, the Law that Allah has sent through the Qur’an and through the Sunnah. This combined law that we call the Divine Law and that comes through the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ), we refer to as the Shari’ah. Now there are some people that refer to the word Shari’ah as those laws applicable to our ibadat and our person to person and social relationships. There is one scholar who says that the Shari’ah is everything that Allah has revealed to Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ), everything with regard to all matters. We should memorize that definition because I think that’s an important definition for our understanding of Islam.
So there is never a situation for which you can say that you can act outside of the Shari’ah. There’s never a situation like that. Muslims can only act within the confines of the Shari’ah. There is never a moment when one is not a Muslim. The moment we go outside the Divine Law, we are in trouble. Allah has prepared a certain road for us to walk, and has said: “This is the road that you must walk. If you walk this road, then you are walking the road of the Shari’ah.”
There can be nothing higher than the Divine Law. There can be nothing higher than what Allah says. Nothing! So there can be nothing higher than the Qur’an. There can be nothing higher than the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). There is nothing higher than that. Any other things that people say cannot be above that. You cannot say that Allah says but Imam Shafi says. There are no “buts” to the Divine Words. There is nothing higher than the Divine Law that governs all our actions, and I want you to please understand that. Now, this road that we walk, it is a very broad road. People like Imams Shafi, Abu Hanifah, Achmat ibn Hanbal, Malik and others, took the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and arranged them in such a way that we can follow the rules easily. Of course, they also used other acceptable approaches when rulings on certain matters were not to be found clearly in the Qur’an and Sunnah. So if you want to learn Islam, you can learn that understanding of Islam from any of the Imams, some of them or all of them. We are just in no position to do what those respected Imams had done. They established for us a very broad road within which we can act.
There is one matter we have to understand. When we talk of the Sunnah of Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) we are referring to the sum total of his day-to-day religious practice, both what was obligatory and what was not obligatory. For a full understanding of what we must do we must go to the Qur’an and this Prophetic Practice. It is for this reason that Allah says: “Obey Allah and obey the Messenger.” We must also understand that the Prophetic Practice was not only based on the Qur’an (his whole being reflected the Qur’an) but also on all other Divine Instruction and Guidance he (ﷺ) received. This means that the religious behaviour of the Prophet (ﷺ) was never outside Divine Guidance. On so many occasions he used to wait for Divine Guidance when he did not have a ready answer on some matter. Jibril (a.s.), under Allah’s orders, of course, always came to help. Thus, the Prophetic Practice is the best model (the uswatun hasanah) for our practices, and there is no human element in those practices. Every religious practice the Prophet (ﷺ) did was from Allah. One can now also understand why Allah promises to love those who follow the Prophetic Practice. This Practice embodies the Will of Allah for us (When I use the word Sunnah here I am not referring to its definition in Jurisprudence in which a sunnah is something that is rewarded if done but it is not punishable if not done).
There are people who, because of their intense love for Allah Almighty and their intense love for Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ), practise their Islam in a very special way. They practise the rules and regulations of Islam in the strictest possible way. What does that mean? It means that they try to obey the Qur’an and the Prophetic Practice as far as humanly possible. In addition to this they try to do every little action that they know of that Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) did. I’ll give you an example of how far some of them have gone. Sayyiduna Umar (r.a.) had a son, his name was Abdullah, Abdullah ibn Umar (r.a.). He saw one day that Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) stopped his camel at a certain spot. So whenever Abdullah ibn Umar came to that spot, he would also stop his camel there. People asked him why he did that? He replied that it was because Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) used to stop his camel there. That was the extent to which they followed the actions of Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). We of course have dropped and dropped and dropped most of what Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) said and did.
When we were in Lefke recently, I used to watch Mawlana Shaykh Nazim in action. When he have finished eating, he would take a piece of bread and wipe his plate clean. We were always taught as children that blessings might be in the last bit of food. He demonstrated this to us. He would wipe his plate clean with a piece of bread and put the bread into his mouth. When we have finished eating, what do we do? He picks up the crumbs from his lap and puts them into his mouth. These pious people follow as strictly as they can, every single thing that Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) did and said. Those people who follow the Qur’an in this way and follow the Sunnah this way, they become the pious people in this world. I want to repeat this to you. Those people who obey the Qur’an strictly, very, very strictly in doing exactly what Allah tells them to do and they obey the Sunnah in the same way, they are the people who have become the pious people in this world. Not the others, the “moderners”, who take every opportunity to discard the Sunnah.
I want to repeat to you what I’ve said because this is important for us to understand. There are certain people who have decided that they want to follow the religion of Islam in the strictest possible way, especially in not ignoring any aspects of the Sunnah. Whatever Sunnah they find they try to apply in their lives. Allah says:
قُلْ أَطِيْعُوا اللهَ وَ الرَّسُوْلَ
Say: “Obey Allah and His Messenger” (iii: 32).
We say: “No, we will obey only those things we accept or have time to do.” The pious people do not react like that. They always try their very best to obey the Sunnah. So with the salah, for example, those people will pray Tahajjud, Ishraq, Duha, and Awwabin. They will look after these non-obligatory prayers almost as if they were obligatory. So strict they are in obeying the Sunnah. When they pray their obligatory salahs, they check very carefully what the non-obligatory prayers and dhikrs are that are associated with those obligatory prayers, and do them.
These are the people on whom Allah has sent Divine Lights upon their hearts. They are the people whose hearts are for their Lord. Don’t want to be “modern”, be “conservative”. Check very carefully: “What does my Lord say,” and do that! Those people who do these things walk the strictest road in the Shari’ah (in obeying the Divine Law). I watched one of these people in Lefke, I watched him, how he observed the Sunnah, strictly observing it. They don’t show any disrespect to the teachings of Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). I want to end off with a Hadith Qudsi, a holy hadith. In this hadith, Allah tells Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ): “If My servant comes towards Me with those things that I have made obligatory upon him, and continues to come to Me with those things that I have not made obligatory upon him” – that is those things that My most beloved Messenger, Most honoured Messenger, the Seal of the Prophets made his practice – “until I love him”. We want love from Allah Almighty, look at this hadith. So we must not imagine that if we only observe the obligatory things that Allah will love us. He says: “No, I only love you if you do what I say and if you do what My most beloved Messenger says.”
And Divine Love? مَا شَاءَ اللهُ (Ma sha Allah: what Allah wills), if one gets Divine Love, Allah raises us and raises us and raises us in rank. That is part of the gift of Divine Love. He raises us and raises us and raises us in rank because when we say: “O Allah! Fill our hearts with love for Thee” we also say: “and fill our hearts with love for Thy most beloved, most honoured Messenger, the Seal of the Prophets who is in Thy Presence.” We cannot say: “O Allah, I love Thee.” NO! We must say: “O Allah, I love Thee and I also love Thy Messenger.” And as we strive observing and loving, Allah raises us in status by pouring Divine Light into our hearts. And we are transformed into pious people. One cannot become pious if one ignores aspects of the Prophetic Practice. We are only imagining that. That is why Allah says in the Qur’an with regards to Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ):
لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِى رَسُوْلِ اللهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِّمَنْ كَانَ يَرْجُوا اللهَ وَ الْيَوْمَ الآخِرَ وَ ذَكَرَ اللهَ كَثِيْرًا
We have indeed in the Apostle of Allah a beautiful pattern for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day, and who engages much in the celebration of the praises of Allah (xxxiii: 21).
Look at this verse. Allah tells us about the special qualities of those who take Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) as a model for their behaviour. So please, I’m appealing to you. If we want to walk this special road in Islam, we must see that it is the road of obedience of the Shari’ah. Don’t do anything that Allah has not decreed or Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) has not brought. Don’t do that! Don’t say that we can do things above His Law. People talk like that in the community. That is why one shaykh defined tasawwuf as the strictest obedience of the Shari’ah. There is never ever any circumstance that you can say: “I am above the Shari’ah or I am a position higher than the Shari’ah.” How dare we say things like these. Anybody who says these things doesn’t understand his religion. If anybody asks us how we are or what we are doing say that we are trying hard to obey the Divine Law.
My word, you know, we are only given one chance because we have one life. If we mess up we cannot come back to correct our mistakes. Be very careful. We must be very careful with our Islam, very, very careful. Every step that you take must be according to His Law. Always be like that. We ask Allah to help us, to guide us, to protect us, to place us under His banner, and to fill our hearts with love for Him and to fill our hearts with love for the most precious, most honoured Seal of the Prophets in His presence. We ask Allah for that. If our hearts speak passionately to Him, He will never say, as I always say: “Go away.” He will never say that. He will always say: “O My servant, if you come to Me a little bit, I will come to you much more. If you come walking to Me, I’ll come running to you.” Allah says that. So He loves us. He has prepared wonderful things for us but there is only one thing, we must obey Him and we must obey His Messenger (ﷺ). We ask for this 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]