Thursday, December 24, 2015

Growth and fertility - celebrating the Prophet’s birthday in Cape Town

Shaikh Ahmad Hendricks, Azzawia, Cape Town.
THE MAWLUD-UN NABI, the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birth, was held in the Azzawia in Cape Town as it has been held for the past 90 years, with the recitation of the riwayats – or sections – of the famous 300 verse poem (The Jewelled Necklace of the Magnificent Prophet) written by the Madinah scholar, Sayyid Ja’fr ibn Hasan ibn Abd ul-Karim al-Barzanji, in the 18th century.

The Barzanjis are a famous line of Shafi’i scholars. They originally hailed from the Kurdish areas of modern-day Iraq, and migrated to the Prophet’s city of Madinah. The mawlūd was addressed by Shaikh Ahmad Hendricks, an imam at the Azzawia and a khalifah – or representative – of the famous Hijazi scholar, the late Sayyid Muhammad ‘Alawi al-Maliki.

Speaking in the Cape Town patois of Afrikaans and English, the Shaikh referred to the special events surrounding the Prophet’s birth, such as fourteen towers of Chosroes’ palace in Persia collapsing and the Zoroastrian flame, nurtured for over 1,000 years, suddenly extinguishing itself.

He then alluded to the nur – or light – of the Prophet, saying that at his birth it was recorded that there was a “light”.  Of course, one had to realise that this light was  metaphorical, as much as it was literal – such as A’ishah finding a needle in the Prophet's chamber due to his spiritual effulgence.

The tradition, or Hadith, “…the first thing Allah created was my light…” whilst regarded as weak by some scholars was, however, substantiated by the Quran stating “We brought you a light (the Prophet) and a Clear Book (the Quran)…”

Shaikh Ahmad, stressing the qualities of the Prophet and his mercy, referred to the four women who’d suckled him: Aminah (his mother), Barakah (the Abyssinian), Thuwaybah (the former slave of his uncle Abu Lahab) and Halimah, his Bedouin wet-nurse who looked after him until he was five years of age.

There was wisdom and guidance in all of this, especially relating to the Prophet’s status and honour. Aminah had borne the essential Adamic light, [its miracle apparent at Muhammad’s birth when she’d seen the towers of Syria].

Barakah, an African maidservant whom the prophet loved dearly, had laid to rest any notions of race being superior. Halimah had witnessed great blessing. Hailing from Hawazim, a poverty-stricken region, she’d travelled to Makkah to find a child to suckle, which was a custom of the ancient urban Arabs.

They’d usually sent their infants into the desert with wet nurses believing it would strengthen them. For many of the rural women, suckling was a means of subsistence. But as Halimah arrived in Mecca, all the babies had been taken. An orphan called Muhammad was her only, and less profitable, option.

Yet the minute she adopted him her breasts had overflowed with milk, her camel’s udders had filled and when she got home, her livestock had flourished and her crops had thrived. Also, during his stay in the desert, an Angel had miraculously opened Muhammad’s chest, removed a black clot from his heart, and infused it with wisdom and knowledge.

The Shaikh then mentioned that this was the “heart” of the Deen, the subtle essence of Islam; no inherent wisdom would mean no ways to appreciate knowledge [no inherent taqwa – or compassionate God-awareness – would mean no recourse to the Divine].

Also, the Prophet’s orphanhood reflected inspired sagacity in that he was not seen to have any familial agendas – no political conspiracy or ulterior motives could be attached to him in a world of Meccan intrigue.

To get close to the Prophet, said the Shaikh, was to get close to his mercy. It was evident that through Halima we’d been shown this. There was great boon in the agency of the prophet and his family. The Meccans had used the good name of the Prophet’s uncle, Ibn ‘Abbas, in their successful invocations for a drought to be broken. The point is that through intimacy with the Prophet comes growth and fertility.

However, notions that one could not celebrate the life, and the birth, of the Prophet had to be dispelled, he said. The Prophet had fasted on Mondays in celebration of his birthday. Thuwaybah, the slave-girl of the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Lahab, was freed due to his joy at the birth of Muhammad. 

And whilst Abu Lahab (the Father of the Flames) had become one of his greatest enemies, Abu Lahab had appeared in a vision after his death to one of his family members in a dishevelled and unhappy state.

In it Abu Lahab [reported in the authoritative Bukhari and related by Urwah ibn al-Zubair][1] had said that because he’d freed Thuwaybah in joy at the birth of his nephew, every Monday (the day the Prophet was born) his sojourn in hell had been relieved by being able to drink a little water dripping from his fingers.

More the point, suggested Shaikh Ahmad, if such a person as Abu Lahab is so rewarded by Allah, what about the one spending his whole life close to the blessed Prophet ?

In terms of being able to celebrate the Prophetic legacy on a given day, the Shaikh referred to the fast of Ashurah or 10 Muharram, when the Prophet had asked the Jews of Madinah why they’d fasted on this day. When told it commemorated the day when God had freed Moses from the Pharaoh, the Prophet had replied the Muslims had a right to Moses as well, and urged them to fast on this specific day.

Finally, Shaikh Ahmad mentioned that the dictum “the Prophet did not do it” had never been a principle in Islamic legislation. All jurists agreed that not practising an action could never be appropriate evidence in law. In other words, this could never be the juridicial basis for making anything haram, or forbidden, as so many do.

When the Prophet did not practice something, a responsible person had to embrace the gamut of possibilities surrounding the non-action. For example, the Prophet not eating lizard himself, but not prohibiting it – or refraining from the tarawīḥ prayer in the mosque during his lifetime because he feared it would become obligatory.  The lack of the Prophet doing something could never be used as legal proof in Islam, he said.
[1] Many Salafi-Wahhabis discard this Hadith. However, its narrator – who remembers this incidence as a child – became one the jurists of Madinah and was a trustworthy person, a pre-requisite for narration. The Hadith is rejected by the literalists because it is believed there is a “missing link” between Urwah and the relator of the dream, believed to be Ibn ‘Abbas, the Prophet’s uncle – himself an authoritative source. Scholars argue that Urwah would not have included this narration had he been unsure of its authenticity, and nor would have Bukhari.

Distinguished scholars, such as Ibn Hajr al-‘Aini and Qastallani, did not question its narration, but rather, interrogated the prospect of a dream being used to effect a legal ruling conflicting with Revelation. They all recognised Abu Lahab’s incident as an exception. Ibn Hajr said: “I declare…that the above-mentioned divine grace occurs due to Allah’s pure Generosity on those unbelievers from whom occurs an act of kindness to the Prophet, and the likes of that…”

Furthermore, this account has even been accepted by the Salafi-Wahhabi godfather, Ibn Taimiyya, and countless others. As Shaikh Ahmad iterated: the point is that if even someone like Abu Lahab is rewarded, what about the one who spends his life close to the Prophet? 

Photos Copyright Shafiq Morton

Monday, December 21, 2015

Dr Na'inna from Egypt graces Cape shores with melodious Qur'anic recital

Dr Ahmad Na'inna, one of the world's most celebrated qaris - or Qur'anic reciters - visited the shores of South Africa recently. He spent an evening at the Azzawia in Cape Town entrancing the audience with a tapestry of melodious recital. Influenced by one of Egypt's greatest qaris, Shaikh Mustafa Ismail, Dr Na'inna has a range of sound that is perfect in pitch and seamless in transition. Joining him for the evening were a number of Shaikhs, including Shaikh Muhammad ibn Yahya Ninowy and Shaikh Seraj Hendricks. Ustadh Muhammad Hakim from Aleppo, who is a munshid - reciter of devotional poetry or nasheed - also mesmerised those present with his strong voice.

In full cry....

The Zawiya was packed...




Dr Na'inna with the Shuyukh...

Ustadh Muhammad Hakim

Multi-media moment...
In conversation...

Photos Copyright Shafiq Morton

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Reading the Road to Prophethood

Another prophetic road, to Prophet Job's village in Jordan.
IN the Jordanian desert north towards the Hijaz there is a Roman road. Brushed by the sand, its paving is in remarkable condition. But in Jordan, where there are hundreds of archaeological sites, an old road over a thousand years old is not that big a deal.

I was shown this bit of timeless master engineering en-route to ancient Bostra, where there is a Buttum tree under which a 12 year-old Muhammad (SAW) sat over 1,400 years ago. This was when he journeyed to Sham with a caravan led by Abu Talib, his uncle, and Bahira the monk recognised him as a prophet.  

The reason why I remember this road is because it where the Prophet (SAW) once walked. And whilst the Buttum tree is a surviving “Companion”, this road is one of the last physical vestiges there is of the Prophet’s (SAW) existence in our bleak Wahhabi epoch.

I have often thought of that road, now wandering into the sandy wastes of a forgotten trail. Metaphorically, it certainly has its message, but what I think it tells us is that the Prophet (SAW) had a life before Prophethood, and that this must have surely have influenced his later actions.

And whilst the Qur’an is resplendent with examples – provided by Qadi Iyad in his Ash Shifa’a – of the acute facilities prophets are born with, I’m convinced that their environments would have played a critical role in their make-up. A Prophet’s primary purpose is to deliver a message – and crucial to this task would be an understanding to whom they would have to deliver that message.

A personal criticism that I have of the mawlūd celebrations is that each year the Prophet (SAW) is dragged out of an abstract ether and re-created, often in a crude and fanciful form. What I mean is that there is never any context as to who exactly is Muhammad (SAW). 

Context is the key that unlocks history, not sentiment.

In the 21st century – which is a fragile era – idealised, one-dimensional prophetic caricatures can only serve the extremists and fuel the sceptics, such as Richard Dawkins, who snorts that we believe in a man who rode a winged horse.

Nonetheless, a question of context is: was it Prophethood, or was it just the message of the Qur’an that was brought down in Ramadan?  Was the Hira experience on the Mount of Light, then, the elevation of an already prophetic personality to that of a Messenger, the mantle moving from Ya Nabi to Ya Rasul?

Of course, it’s just a question. But I do feel that most conventional teaching so often ignores the early years – which is surely the context – the scene sitter, as it were, that raises the real questions of the Seerah, or Prophetic biography.

That is why this lonely Roman road in Jordan is so important to me. Every time I think of it, it helps me to understand for myself who the Prophet (SAW) really was. But before I get to it in further detail, there is also another road that must be mentioned.

This is the path to Madinah that the Prophet (SAW) took as a child with his mother, Aminah, to meet her Khazraj cousins. There the six year old boy learnt to swim and fly kites, showing the Prophet (SAW) at an early stage the value of play and leisure – and immediately raising the question as to why extremists hate kites.

Aminah, may Allah bless her, died en-route to Makkah after their visit, and was buried at Abwa. How many of us see her grave as a powerful, if not under-estimated, matriarchal symbol? The Prophet (SAW) might have been orphaned young, but already several women had been seminal influences in his life, his wet-nurse Halimah, his slave-girl Barakah, and his mother Aminah.

Not only would his orphanhood have imbued him with an understanding human vulnerability, it would have made him realise the value of compassion, qualities these women in his early years would have shown.

If one observes his monogamous 25 years with Khadijah, his first wife, and her influence as friend, lover, and counsellor (and was she not the first Muslim?) it becomes a travesty that so many contemporary scholars ignore the hugely significant “feminine side” of the Seerah. 
How could this have not influenced Muhammad (SAW), the Messenger?

But back to the Bostra road and the Makkan caravans. As part of these caravans, the young Prophet (SAW) would have learnt a lot about business; he would have learnt how to negotiate, how to handle money, how to deal with people, how to cope with contrasting cultures and how to understand the value of contracts – I’m convinced, for example, that these experiences informed his strategy on the Treaty of Hudaibiyya, which led to the conquest of Makkah.

Travel is the University of Life and as such, I resent the simplistic notion that the Prophet (SAW) was “illiterate”, a kind of autistic tabula rasa, a blank slate when he received the first Qur’anic revelation. The Prophet (SAW) was unlettered, yes, but he wasn’t “illiterate”. There is a huge difference.

The Prophet (SAW) understood the metaphor of language; in fact, he was master of dialect (yet another caravan influence?) and could speak to different tribes in their own idiom. This is certainly not the discourse of an “illiterate” man whose speech was described by Umm Ma’bad as a “string of pearls”.

My point is that life – the road – taught the Prophet what we would call “heart knowledge” and innate wisdom. For when the Angel Jibril came to him with the first verses of the Qur’an at the age of 40, he was already literate in terms of worldly matters. What the Qur’an did to him – an unlettered man in reading and writing, but not illiterate in experience, compassion, instinct and essential sagacity – was to give him the spirit of “iqra’”, the literacy of the universe.

Translation of Sayyid Muhammad al-Maliki’s Manhaj launched in South Africa

EARLIER this week a seminal work of one of the 20th century’s greatest Islamic scholars, Sayyid Muhammad ‘Alawi al-Maliki, was published in English translation by the International Peace College South Africa and the Kaaf Trust of Cape Town.

The Manhaj us-Salaf fi Fahm un-Nusus wan-Nadhariyyah wal Tatbiq [translated as The Way of the True Salaf] is a work aimed at correcting the error that fuels the fires of Islamic extremism world-wide.

The Salaf, who represent the best of the prophetic era, also symbolise the loftier aspirations of all Muslims. However, the term “Salaf” has been abrogated by those who have wished to transform it into a latter-day “reformist-Arabist” movement based on crude literalism, violence and intolerance.

This idea of discarding the vibrancy, dynamism and diversity of Islam originally festered in the sands of the Najd – an area of modern Saudi Arabia that the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH], in a famous saying, refused to bless.

Its founder was a wayward scholar, Shaikh ibn ‘Abd ul-Wahhab, who was condemned even by his own brother and father. He is recognised as the founding spirit of the Salafi-Wahhabi movement, a movement that joined forces with tribal chieftain, Ibn Sa’ud, at the end of the 18th century when Ibn ‘Abd ul-Wahhab married Ibn Sa’ud’s daughter in a political pact.

After the Ottomans put down the Wahhabi forces of Ibn Sa’ud who’d massacred thousands of Sunnis and Shi’ah across the Middle East for being “unbelievers”, the family rose from the sands of exile a hundred years later to create the modern Saudi state – the only country named after a family – in 1923.

Since then, Wahhabism has been the wellspring of Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab, the Taliban, Boko Haram, Abu Sayyaf, Jabhat an-Nusra, ISIS and so many other extremist groupings. And whilst these extremist movements constitute less than 1% of 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, they have managed to paint an extremely negative picture of Islam.

Sayyid Muhammad, who is a direct descendant of the Prophet, wrote over 100 books and the Manhaj was one of his final works before his untimely passing in Mecca in 2004 at the age of 58. During his life the Sayyid had warned and advised the Sa’udi authorities against extremism, prompting him to pen the Manhaj.  

Rendered into English by a team of South African translators from IPSA and the University of South Africa (UNISA), the Manhaj is now accessible to a broad English-speaking audience.

Launched in Johannesburg and Cape Town, the Cape Town launch was hosted at the Azzawia where a former student and representative of Sayyid Muhammad, Shaikh Seraj Hendricks, resides as imam together with his brother, Shaikh Ahmad.

Guest speaker at the event was Dr Wasif Kabli, a well-known Hijazi businessman, philanthropist and author, who was a student of Sayyid Muhammad’s father, Sayyid ‘Alawi, and who was a friend  of Sayyid Muhammad. Dr Kabli said that Muslims subscribed to “wasitiya”, the middle way of reason, peace and tolerance.

“Wasitiya has changed from age to age, life today is different to the 14th century, and we have to acknowledge that. As Muslims we have to be kind to all of Creation, Muslims, non-Muslims, the plants, the animals, the insects, the environment. We have to show compassion and kindness by example,” he said.

The launch was also attended by another luminary, Sayyid Idris al-Fasi who hails from the saintly Idrisi family whose forefather, Moulay Idris, established a place of spiritual learning at Fez in the 9th century. Sayyid Muhammad’s family originates from the Idrisi line, and according to Sayyid Fasi, Sayyid Muhammad had stayed at his house on his last visit to Morocco in 2004.

Shaikh Seraj Hendricks and Dr Wasif Kabli.

Guests are honoured.

Second right: Sayyid Idris al Fasi.

Sh Fakhruddin Owaisi (IPSA) introduces Dr Kabli.

Addressing crowd.

Talking wasitiya.

Sayyid Idris talks.

Attentive audience.

Sayyid Muhammad al-Maliki.

 Images Copyright Shafiq Morton.