Monthly Archives: October 2009

On the Passing of Mountains – Shaykh Adib al-Kallas

Shaykh Jihad H Brown – 23 Oct 2009

sh adib

“God does not take away knowledge by stripping it from the breasts of men. Instead, He takes it away by taking away the scholars in death. Until there no longer remain scholars; and people take the ignorant as their leaders. They are asked, and they proceed to answer despite not having knowledge. They are misguided and they misguide others.”

–Prophet Mohammed

It is the way of great men to travel on and leave behind gaps that cannot be filled. The Muslim world is currently experiencing the emptiness of such a gap. Sheikh Muhammad Adib Kallas died this week in Damascus. He was a master of theology and a jurist par excellence. Moreover, he was an example of a sage who inherited not just his knowledge, but his character, from the Prophet Mohammed through an unbroken chain of transmission.

Not only was he erudite and sharp-witted – he continued to read logic with students throughout his final illness just to keep his mind nimble – but he was exceedingly gentle. He was dedicated to both his students and his family, loved them dearly, and nurtured them. Tenderness and sagacity, that is how I remember Sheikh Adib. It is well known that he is the one who teaches ambitious students of knowledge in Damascus to say: “I don’t know.”

Born in 1921 in the heart of Old Damascus, in the shade of the Omayyad Mosque, Sheikh Adib began his pursuit of sacred knowledge in the early post-Ottoman period of the 1930s. He was understudy to some of the greatest names in recent Damascene history. He imbibed knowledge from them while learning was still organic in the Muslim World, well before it would become tainted by modernist reactionism. Between him and the Prophet Mohammed were only 18 masters.

Later, when the Soviets sent their atheist conundrums to Damascus, government ministries would forward the challenges to Sheikh Adib, who would, in turn, make short order of them.

He was courageous and humble all in the same moment, and inspired confidence as well as an ethical approach to law in his students and colleagues alike.

The scholars of Islam who have taken their knowledge in this way have a balancing effect on society. They combine a grounding in the authentic cultural identity of their people with a deep-seated sensitivity to the human condition and the well-being of community.

Their learning is beyond reproach, operating in accordance with systematic intellectual principles, wholesome spirituality, and lofty aims and purposes. The purposes that guide them are the preservation of life, intellect, religion, human dignity, and private property, as delineated by the Andalusian al Shatibi and al Ghazali before him. These men inspire our citizenry to be ethical human beings who combine education with compassion.

It is my contention that the sustainability of wholesome and balanced society is contingent on our ability to maintain the organic methods of learning and spiritual development that these men continue to leave behind them.

Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi

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Today’s Children, Tomorrow’s Landscapes

childrenShaykh Jihad H Brown – 17 Oct 2009

There is a great deal of attention being focused on the idea of sustainability. Usually such discussions centre around development, the environment and economics. At the very same time, the concept of sustainability lies at the heart of any approach to raising children and the preparation of future generations.

But it is sustainability with a twist. The survival of the species has been identified as an objective inherently “engineered” into the natural system.

But while the survival of the fittest mentality – in our jungles of concrete and steel – will ensure the continuance of our species-specific flesh and blood, it isn’t the ingredient that will ensure the future of our humanity, that elusive “missing link” that differentiates us from the beasts of the Earth and the drive to forage for food and shelter that we share with all animals. We shall not forget that Maslow’s needs constituted an ascending hierarchy.

Our consideration of a more optimal future is a function of four premises.

It is a factor of looking first at what has been best and most enriching about the past and present. Second, looking toward the characteristics of a preferred environment in the future. Third, an assessment of the realities of the current situation and the possibilities that avail themselves to us as we speak. Fourth, to forecast the resources and opportunities that we expect to become (or not become) available to us tomorrow. Let us add to that a fifth element: a thoughtful consideration as to what might be the best case conditions and scenario for the occupants of that future.

All of this goes into our vision of a preferred future state of affairs. But that is merely a canvas. Our children are both the paint and ultimately, the painters.

Just as we are responsible to paint as creatively as our predecessors have inspired us and prepared us to, so too will they. In our children lies the content of tomorrow’s landscape. It is a combination of both envisioning and enabling in a spirit of fidelity.

The ingredient of fidelity is tripartite; fidelity to the best interests of children, fidelity to roots and cultural identity, and fidelity to the spiritual purpose of the world.

While many a parent is concerned to provide the best education, the keenest opportunities and the finest training, none of this will bring holistic fulfilment unless it is built upon a foundational principle and a sound bedrock.

The foundational principle is divine success (tawfiq). None of us controls our own destiny but we do influence it. A person may do all the right things but achieve no success. When intentions that are right and correct are accepted by Allah, He gives in return the success that is only His to give.

The sound bedrock is love of God and His Messenger, good character and respect for elders.

It is only upon this that, in turn, parents may erect the scaffolding of life and leadership skills, education and vocational training.

Career-focused learning, however, is not education. It is vocational training only. Education is cultural enrichment, and when that is illuminated with God’s consciousness it is an extraordinary thing indeed.

When we can see child development and education as being multi dimensional, both ontologically as well as spanning multiple times and spaces, we can truly take pride in what we contribute to the future.

Shaykh Jihad delivers the Friday Khutba in Abu Dhabi and teaches on Monday’s. Refer to the “Classes” tab above for more information.

Honesty, a Cost Benefit Analysis

Shaykh Jihad H Brown – 10 October 2009

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. So if point B is what you need, why not just reach out and grab it if you can? Why follow the route of protocol or etiquette? Why take the high road of principle if the low road will get you there quicker? Why take a detour around sacred ground when walking on the grass will work just as well? Plus, nobody’s looking.

And morality; morality never turned a profit. In fact, when morality starts to turn a profit, the name probably no longer applies. We live in an age in which quantity reigns. Measurability is the criterion of value. The profits to be gleaned from “misrepresentation” seem soundly to outweigh anything that might be gained through honesty.

The Prophet Mohammed was asked if a Muslim might perpetrate all types of crime while still retaining his or her faith; this included things as heinous as theft and adultery, for which of course there is prohibition and punishment. He replied in the affirmative to all of these; yes, he would still be considered Muslim. But when asked whether a Muslim might lie, here he drew the line. To lie would put a Muslim beyond the pale. We keep forgetting that one, don’t we?

The Prophet also said that a man will consistently speak truth until his name is inscribed among the truthful. Another will continue to lie on a consistent basis until he is written as a liar. However, if he were called by the name that he’s earned for himself, I’m sure he would spit and splutter with preposterous irreverence. The very euphemism “misrepresent” denotes how the habit has found its place as part of acceptable behaviour.

It has been said that to be an honest person means first to be honest with God. I disagree. In order to be honest with God, one has first to be honest with oneself. This is where the conundrum of a great many people sits. Quite often we want to believe in the reality we’ve fabricated for ourselves. We have the utmost confidence in the self-image that we’ve fashioned as a customised avatar, replete with the “paragon of virtue” option. Just look at popular entertainment. From professional wrestling to X Factor, we want to be led to believe that this is spontaneous and not contrived. We like to conceive of ourselves as “red pill” people; there goes that avatar again.

Ibn Ata al Sakandari said in his aphorisms: “Nothing drives you like delusion.” What is actually meant here is that nothing herds you along as though sheep in a flock like self-delusion. A person needs to have a moment with him or herself and ask: “Am I content with life in the herd?” The answer may very well be a “yes”.

Honesty is the mark of men. “Misrepresentation” rhymes with “no backbone”. Virtues like honesty reify us as human beings. Deceit is a spiritual flaw. Our age idealises the “flawed angel”. But there are romantic flaws, and there are awkward ones. Lying to people, lying to oneself, is not glamorous.

But if that’s not sufficient to persuade us to review our policies and procedures, perhaps the practical repercussions will pull our mutual coat. The soundness of social stability in any civilised society is based on trust.

If we stop and think to what degree we have no recourse but to trust our neighbour or the stranger on the street to be a human being and not descend into the animal kingdom, it’s actually quite frightening how vulnerable we all really are.

Friday Khutba – Maryam bint Sultan Mosque, Khalidiya, Abu Dhabi, & Reliance of the Traveller Class – Monday after Isha, Mohammad bin Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Suffering & The Reciprocal Agenda

Shaykh Jihad H Brown – 03 October 2009

The human condition is inextricably linked to suffering. It is a necessary quality of the nature of the world. Likewise, the commitment to relieve the suffering of others is a necessary quality of the Way of Islam.

But it is a reciprocal spiral. All people seek a reprieve from their pain. It is the human reflex. The relief from that pain, however, is to be found in the action of relieving the pain of others.

The prophetic hadith says: “Whosoever relieves an anxiety of a believer, Allah will relieve an anxiety of his on the Day of Judgement.” Anxiety, a pain of mind, has physical repercussions. It is a vicious circle, because more often than not, the causes of the mental anguish that is affecting the physiological dimension are also physical, tangible or tactile to begin with. It would be stellar if we were all examples of the stoic model of courage and unassailable fortitude. But alas, “man has been created weak”.

It creates the scenario, or sets the stage for this sublime transaction of Islamic cosmology, this exchange of peace at the level of heart and mind. However, a further cause for worry is produced when we stop to reflect on how often we actually engage in relieving the suffering of others and find how often we’re more likely to be causing stress to our fellow man. It would be a great accomplishment if we could cease being agents of sorrow.

They say that practitioners of Jainism walk with brooms before them to avoid harming a single insect. Would that our affairs had reached such heights of subtlety. In order to even start thinking about such nuances we would have to stop and listen to the sound of crunching under our feet as we amble through life, leaving a wake of crushed hearts and minds strewn behind us.

So here is the agenda. It is a reciprocal one. The first hadith implied that the reward for helping others is a deferred reimbursement. But another text shows how the arrangement provides for this world’s needs also. “Allah does not cease to be in the assistance of His slave so long as His slave does not cease to be in the assistance of his brother.”

Anxiety, grief, suffering and pain come in many forms and few of us escape the trauma, or the drama. But the path to relief lies in seeking out opportunities to bring relief to others.

Whether it be at the level of threats to human existence itself, like those addressed by the millennium development goals, or at the level of personal experience of the world, the relief of poverty, access to education, children’s health, fair treatment and equal treatment of women and the disempowered, maternal health, the treatment of debilitating disease, and environmental health; all of these provide scenarios for you to offer your abilities and express your humanity.

At this same level the top 10 problems facing humanity for the next 50 years have been delineated by experts as the following: energy, water, food, environment, poverty, war, disease, education, good governance and accommodating an expanding world population.

These are general difficulties that challenge all people. There are still other challenges to human well-being that are ethnic or region-specific. Likewise, there are threats to the conditions of people’s lives that are “natural” disasters, but there are still other avoidable disasters that are intentionally visited upon targeted groups.

Islam offers the compassionate motif of the man who, coming across a struggling person, stops what he’s doing to help the other shoulder his burden.

Shaykh Jihad delivers the Friday sermon at Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi, and has classes on Monday nights at Mohammad bin Zayed Mosque. For more information refer to www.salaamexpat.com/abudhabi

“Reliance of the Traveller” Class back on

Dear all

Please note that the Monday night class on “Reliance of the Traveller” and Imam al-Ghazali’s “Minhaj al-Aabidin” have recommenced at Mohammad bin Zayed Mosque after Isha.

See you there

For a map: http://tinyurl.com/expatmuslimsad

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