Monday, November 12, 2012

Travels with the Pious: Muádh ibn Jabal, the Father of Ijtihad

SITUATED in the Jordan valley, and surrounded by hills, the grave of Mu’adh ibn Jabal – one of the Ansar of Madinah – used to be a lonely spot. When we first visited it in the 1990’s, the maqam was marked by an open air forecourt and a humble, domed burial chamber.

Though lovingly tended, it was slightly rundown. I can remember an old man from Kuwait making impassioned du’ah.

Today the site has been restored. A mosque and a garden are now attached to the mausoleum. This tasteful renovation, incorporating the old with the new, is a far cry from Saudi Arabian policy with regards to heritage.

The Salafi-Wahhabi vindictiveness – of constructing urinals over 1,400 year-old sites in places such as Makkah – is counterpoised by the sensitivity with which the Jordanians honour Prophetic legacy on their soil.      

We arrived at the grave of Mu’adh ibn Jabal after midday. It was one of many stops in a busy schedule, and I can remember an officious caretaker trying to prevent me from taking pictures.

It was annoying.  My driver, Salim, became agitated with this and while he argued with the caretaker, whom he felt had insulted his guest from South Africa, I did manage to sneak a few images – but none inside the burial chamber.

After discarding my cameras and visiting the tomb of Mu’adh ibn Jabal, where there was the distinct subtle, musky smell of sanctity, we prepared to pray Dhuhr, the post midday prayer. It gave me time to gather my thoughts.

In his Companions of the Prophet, author Abdul Wahid Hamid describes Mu’adh ibn Jabal as being a “handsome and imposing character” distinguished by sharpness of wit and black eyes and curly hair.

Mu’adh ibn Jabal had become Muslim at the hands of Musaib ibn ‘Umair (ra), an emissary whom the Prophet (SAW) had sent to Madinah.  As a citizen of Madinah, Mu’adh ibn Jabal had been one of the Ansar, the residents who’d helped the destitute Muslim émigrés from Makkah.

It was Mu’adh ibn Jabal’s keen intellect that the Prophet (SAW) had polished during his 13 years in the Yathrib oasis. Mu’adh ibn Jabal had not only been one of the six acknowledged compilers of Qur’anic Revelation, but had received the accolade that he was most knowledgeable on matters of halal and haram.
His talents had seen him being posted to Yemen by the Prophet (SAW) as the leader of a group of educators; this after the region had embraced Islam. Before departing Madinah by caravan, the Prophet (SAW) had put the following questions to his Companion:
“O, my beloved son of Jabal, according to what criteria will you judge?”
“Ya Rasullulah, by Allah’s word, the Qur’an,” he’d replied.
“And if you find nothing therein?”
“Then I will judge according to your traditions, ya Rasullulah.”
“And if you find nothing therein?”
“Then, my beloved Rasullulah, I will exert my intellect to form my own judgement,” Mu’adh ibn Jabal had answered.
This had pleased the Prophet (SAW), who’d said:
“Praise to Allah, the Almighty, who has guided the son of Jabal,  the envoy of the Rasullulah, to that which pleases him.”
The Prophet (SAW) had then accompanied Mu’adh ibn Jabal to the outskirts of the city, suggesting that he would perhaps not meet him again, and that when his Companion returned to Madinah he would only see the Prophet’s (SAW) mosque and grave.
Scholars articulate that this moment was a clear sign that the Prophet (SAW) had – through Mu’adh ibn Jabal – officially opened the doors of ijtihad, the academic process of logical deduction on legal or theological questions.
Mu’adh ibn Jabal might have been the first Islamic scholar to have been granted permission to practice ijtihad, but he would never see the Prophet (SAW) alive after that. I’ve often wondered how he must have responded to the Prophet’s (SAW) final words.
The stories of Mu’adh ibn Jabal are many – like his wife complaining that he’d returned from distributing Zakah (alms tax) without a dirham and her disbelief at his cryptic excuse he’d taken no payment for his services because a “supervisor” had been “watching” him. She’d approached the Caliph, ‘Umar (ra), who’d laughed at her words and given her his salary.
It was Mu’adh ibn Jabal who’d testified via the tongue of the Prophet (SAW) that Allah, the Highest, looks upon the Muslim community on the 15th of Sha’ban and forgives all His Creation, except for polytheists and those hell-bent on hatred.
Mu’adh ibn Jabal is also a key narrator in the Hadith (via Muslim and Ahmad) that those who recite the tahlil “la ilaha ilallah” (there is no God except God) as their last words will enter the gates of Paradise.
During the Caliphate of ‘Umar (ra) the territories of Sham, or greater Syria, needed teachers due to Islam’s rapid expansion. The three of the six Qur’anic compilers were sent away. Ubaidah ibn Samit was ordered to Homs; Abu Darda was dispatched to Damascus and Mu’adh ibn Jabal to historical Palestine.
It was in Palestine that Mu’adh ibn Jabal inherited the political leadership of Sham. This occurred after the death of Ubaidah ibn Jarrah (ra) during a plague that would eventually decimate thousands of  Prophetic Companions.
Sadly, Mu’adh ibn Jabal would be destined to fall ill too, and it is recorded that on his deathbed he’d turned towards the Qiblah and welcomed death, “a visitor” that had come after a “long absence”.
Mu’adh ibn Jabal, a humble servant of Islam, passed away hundreds of kilometres from home while unquestioningly performing his duties. For the Companions of Muhammad (SAW), overseeing a growing empire,  there would be no such thing as a quiet autumn to their lives.
In the next article of this series, insha Allah, we’ll focus on one of these Prophetic Companions who fought in every battle from Badr until the siege of Istanbul, and who died outside the city ramparts – not from war wounds – but of old age.