Category: History&Society

Shaykh Muhammad Taha Karaan (d. 2021)

إِنّا إِذا اِلتَقَتِ المَجامِعُ لَم يَزَل ** مِنّا لِزازُ عَظيمَةٍ جَشّامُها

وَمُقَسِّمٌ يُعطي العَشيرَةَ حَقَّها ** وَمُغَذْمِرٌ لِحُقوقِها هَضّامُها

Among us still, when gatherings convene,

Are stalwarts who, in crisis, rout untruth,

Apportioners who give our own their due,

Not more, men vigilant in equity.

[Labid, pre-Islamic poet]

With a heavy heart and profound sorrow, I add my voice to the many grieving the tragic demise of Shaykh Muhammad Taha Karaan, who lost his life to Covid just under a week ago. Shaykh Taha was a prominent South African religious scholar of Indonesian ancestry, who had studied in his native South Africa, as well as in India and Egypt. His legal school was Shafi`i, and he followed it without fanaticism. He served as Mufti of the Muslim Judicial Council of South Africa after his father.

I never met Shaykh Taha, but have communicated with him by email, off and on, going back more than twenty years. I don’t remember how exactly the correspondence started, but over the years we discussed various issues related to fiqh, Sufism, Shi`ism, and modernism. Even though he is by far my senior in terms of knowledge, and is also older than me, yet he was not at all pretentious, and his humility left a profound impression on me. Once, after a hiatus in our communication, I remember he emailed me, his message opening with, “Suheil, As-salamu `alaykum, Taha from Cape Town, South Africa here.” A few years later, when I informed him that I wanted to include his name on a list of potential speakers to give a guest lecture in Harvard’s Islamic Legal Studies Program, he wrote back, “I was going to write to you earlier and suggest that you do not include my name in your list but I never got around to it. Somehow I just do not see myself walking Harvard’s hallowed halls….” When I once pointed out to him a slip in translation in something he had written, he accepted the correction gracefully and humbly. Another thing I learnt from Shaykh Taha was that one can be firmly grounded in the Islamic tradition, and pious, yet critical of some accretions to the tradition if they lacked a basis in revelation.

Shaykh Taha would sometimes share details of projects he was working on. Back in 2006, he had the intention to produce a critical edition of Kifayat al-Nabih, a book of Shafi`i fiqh by Ibn al-Rif`a (d. 710H). (This is the same book in which Ibn al-Rif`a ascribes to Imam al-Shafi`i the view that the beard is obligatory, contrary to what Imam al-Nawawi mentioned in terms of it being merely recommended). The entire text is distributed over 10 volumes of manuscript. Shaykh Taha told me that he was intending to transcribe one volume per month, but that a more realistic estimate was two years – still impressive, given his other responsibilities, including being the founder and principal of a seminary in Cape Town. He eventually abandoned that project, with disappointment, when Dar al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyya announced that they had published the work in 21 printed volumes. Thereafter, he informed me that he had started writing a ta`liq (critical commentary) on the Hanafi text al-Hidaya, pointing out where the author’s representation of the Shafi`i school is inaccurate. He also expressed his intention to write a review of Dr Jonathan Brown’s book The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim, which he had a favorable view of. I hope that his family and students will be able to find his unpublished manuscripts and that they will eventually see the light of day.

Shaykh Taha would also inquire about, and take profound interest, in my own studies and projects (once again a testament to his indulgence and humility, for as I already pointed out, he was far above me in knowledge). He encouraged me to publish my translation of Muqaddimat Sahih Muslim (Imam Muslim’s preface to his Sahih in which he discusses some aspects of the history and methodology of hadith), which I had translated, along with selected commentary by Imam al-Nawawi, about 25 years ago. (I never did publish it, and the work has since been published by at least two other people.)

On one occasion, I asked Shaykh Taha if he had plans to visit the USA. He replied that he didn’t, and then quoted the following lines of Imam al-Shafi`i’s poetry:

تغرب عن الاوطان في طلب العلا ** وسافر ففي الاسفار خمس فوائد

    تفريج هم واكتساب معيشة *** وعلم وآداب وصحــــــــبة ماجد

Become estranged from home, seek loftiness!

And travel, for in travel are five gains:

Dispelling worries, earning livelihood.,

And knowledge, manners, noble company.

He added that if he were ever to visit the US, he would enjoy my “noble company.” May Allah bless Shaykh Taha, and make me worthy of his good opinion of me.

Shaykh Taha did not travel to the US. The last email exchange I had with Shaykh Taha was almost ten years ago. I regret that I let the conversation lapse; it was definitely my loss. Shaykh Taha has now left this world and is now travelling through the stages of the Hereafter. May Allah grant him forgiveness, mercy and blessings, and accept him as a martyr (as the hadith conveys about the believer who dies in an pandemic). May Allah grant strength and steadfastness to his family.

When the Prophet Muhammad’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) son Ibrahim died, he said that the deceased infant would have a wet-nurse in Heaven (Bukhari and Muslim). On the basis of this hadith, some Muslim scholars have extrapolated and concluded that a believer whose pursuit of something is interrupted by death will be able to resume it in Heaven. So, we hope that Shaykh Taha will continue to pursue his passion for knowledge in Heaven.

For more on Shaykh Taha, see:

A Principle in Jarh & Taʿdil (Accreditation and Discreditation)

A Principle in Jarh & Taʿdil (Accreditation and Discreditation)

`Allamah Taj al-Din Ibn al-Subki says,

“One whose leadership and uprightness have been established, whose extollers and accreditors abound, and whose discreditors are rare, and there are circumstances indicating the reason for his discreditation – by way of partisanship to a school of thought or something else – we do not heed discreditation of him.  We deal with him as upright; otherwise, if we were to open this door, and to start giving absolute precedence to discreditation, none of the Imams would remain for us unscathed, for there is no imam whom [some] maligners have not maligned, and in [whose malignment ] some fools have not destroyed [themselves].

Hafiz Ibn `Abdil-Barr composed a chapter, in his book on knowledge, about the verdict of scholars’ statements about one another.   In it, he began with the hadith of Zubayr (may Allah be pleased with him) ascribed [to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace)], “The malady of the nations before you has crept towards you : envy and hatred . . . .”  And, he narrated through his isnad, on the authority of Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) that he said, “Listen to the knowledge of scholars, but do not affirm them against one another, for by He in whose Hand is my soul, indeed, they differ with one another more than the goats in a corral.”

And, on the authority of Malik ibn Dinar : he said, “Take by the sayings of the scholars and reciters in everything except their statements about one another.””tribalism-1201697_1920

We informed you at the start that discreditation is not accepted from a discreditor – even if he details it – with regard to one whose [acts of] obedience [to Allah] outweigh his acts of disobedience, whose extollers [outnumber] his critics, and whose commenders [outnumber] his discreditors – if there are circumstances which [are such that] reason testifies that the like of them can incite [someone] to defamation of the one he is discrediting.  [These circumstances can be] by way of fanaticism to a school of thought, or worldly vying such as may occur among rivals, or other [factors] besides those.  So, we say, for example : the words of Ibn Abi Dhi’b about Malik are not to be heeded, nor [those of] Ibn Ma`in about al-Shafi`i, nor [those of] al-Nisa’i about Ahmad ibn Salih. [This is] because these are famous imams, [and so] the discreditor of them becomes comparable to one producing an obscure report [which,] if it were authentic, is such that there would be abundant motives [for others] to report it [as well, but since no such abundant reports exist], certainty is established about its untruthfulness.

Among that which should be investigated when [considering] discreditation is : the state of beliefs and differences in them, with regard to the disreditor and the discredited.  Often, the discreditor may differ with the discredited in [peripheral issues of] doctrine, and discredit him because of that.  This was alluded to by al-Rafi`i when he said, “It is imperative for the commendors [of narrators] to be free of rancor and partisanship to a school of thought, out of fear that that may incite them to discredit an upright individual, or to commend a transgressor, and [in fact] this has occurred for many of the imams.”

Shaykh al-Islam Taqiyy al-Din Ibn Daqiq al-`Id, in his book, “Al-Iqtirah” has indicated this, saying, “The reputations of the Muslims are one of the pits of the Fire [of Hell].  Two groups of people have stood at its brink : the hadith scholars and the judges.”

One of the examples of that which we have mentioned above is the statement of one of [the scholars] about al-Bukhari, “Abu Zur`ah and Abu Hatim forsook him on account of the issue of the Word [of Allah].”  Alas, what a calamity!! Is it permissible for anyone to say Bukhari is to be forsaken, when he is [in fact] the bearer of the standard of this vocation, and the forerunner of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama`ah?

Among [the examples of this also] is the statement of one of the corporealists (Mujassimah) about Abu Hatim Ibn Hibban, “He was not very religious; we expelled him from Sijistan because he denied a limit for Allah.”  Alas!  I wish I knew who is more deserving of expulsion : one who considers his Lord limited, or one who declares His transcendence above corporeality!!

The examples of this abound.”

[al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, vol. I, p. 187] 

Similarly, Hafiz Ibn Hajar reports, under the biographical entry for Muhammad ibn al-Muthanna,

“`Amr ibn `Ali was asked about [Muhammad ibn al-Muthanna and Bundar, whereupon he replied, “Two reliable individuals; everything is accepted from them except for that which they say about one another.”]

[Tahdheeb al-Tahdheeb, vol. IX, p. 427)]

 [See also:  “Fawatih al-Rahamut,”  vol II, p. 154;  “al-Raf` wa al-Takmil fi al-Jarh wa al-Ta`dil,” by M. `Abdul-Hayy al-Laknawi. ]

IMAGE CREDIT: johnhain, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/tribalism-antagonism-opposition-1201697/#

Fasting Ashura: yes or no, and if yes how many days?

Ashura is the 10th of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar.
Fasting One Day
It is recommended, in the Sunni and Zaydi Shi`i schools, to fast the day. There are numerous sahih hadiths about its fasting, some of them mentioning that it was an obligatory fast in the days before fasting Ramadan became obligatory.
وَسُئِلَ عَنْ صِيَامِ يَوْمِ عَاشُورَاءَ. قَالَ: ” يُكَفِّرُ اَلسَّنَةَ اَلْمَاضِيَةَ (رواه مسلم)
وقال أحمد بن عيسى بن زيد بن علي (عليهم السلام) في أماليه: صوم الأيام البيض، ورجب وشعبان، والإثنين والخميس حسن جميل، وجاء فيه فضل كثير، وكذلك يوم عاشوراء
Fasting Two Days
According to one sahih hadith, the Prophet Muhammad later expressed his wish to also fast on the 9th of Muharram (the day before Ashura), but he died before that could happen.
قال (ص): لئن بقيت إلى قابل لأصومن التاسع (رواه مسلم)
وعن أبي عبد الله عليه السلام عن أبيه، أن عليا عليه السلام قال: صوموا العاشوراء التاسع والعاشر، فإنه يكفر ذنوب سنة (وسائل الشيعة)
Hence, Sunni fuqaha’ in general recommend fasting both the 9th and 10th of Muharram. This view can be found among Twelver Shi`ah as well, as I return to later.
Fasting Three Days?
A hadith of disputed reliability says that the Prophet recommended, along with the fast of Ashura, fasting either the day before or the day after.
عَنْ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ رضي الله عنه قَالَ : قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : (صُومُوا يَوْمَ عَاشُورَاءَ ، وَخَالِفُوا فِيهِ الْيَهُودَ ، صُومُوا قَبْلَهُ يَوْمًا أَوْ بَعْدَهُ يَوْمًا) (رواه أحمد)
One version (with a weak isnad) indicates all three days.
Hence, some Sunni fuqaha’ recommended fasting the 9th, 10th and 11th. This is because even if the hadith about this should turn out to be false, it would still be recommended to fast the 11th of Muharram based on the sahih hadith that recommends optional fasting in this month.
أفضلُ الصيامِ بعدَ رمضانَ شهرُ اللهِ المحرَّمُ (رواه مسلم)
There are risks in taking a weakly-substantiated position and making it normative across the board. A more precautionary position would therefore be that if one wishes to fast the 11th, it would be prudent to intend it as a general fast of Muharram rather for Ashura specifically.
Some fuqaha recommended fasting all three days (9th, 10th, 11th) specifically in cases when the dates are uncertain (i.e. you are not sure which day exactly is the 10th) in order to be safe. This was the view of Ibn Sirin and Tawus (both scholars of the Tabi`in) and was adopted by Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal.’
Fasting Zero Days, or Part of a Day
The dominant view among Twelver Shi`ah is that it is not recommended to fast Ashura. One narration in the Twelver hadith books suggests that it is a fast that was abandoned after Ramadan became obligatory. Other narrations (in Twelver Shi`i books) condemn its continued fasting as a practice initiated by the killers of the Prophet’s grandson al-Husayn, their purpose being to give thanks for his death.
Nevertheless, the Twelver scholar al-Hurr al-`Amili indicated that it is recommended to fast the 9th and 10th with grief (in contrast to the murderers of Husayn, who fasted it out of joy).
وعقد في وسائل الشيعة بابا: استحباب صوم يوم التاسع والعاشر من المحرم حزنا، وقراءة الاخلاص يوم العاشر ألف مرة والافطار بعد العصر بساعة . وبعده: باب عدم جواز صوم التاسع والعاشر من المحرم على وجه التبرك بهما.
According to one narration he cites, Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq recommended abstaining from food and drink the major part of the day of the 10th, until after `Asr but before Maghrib.’
Final Words
The killing of the Prophet’s grandson was a tragedy, and is a source of grief for Sunnis and Shi`ah. If you fast Ashura, it should definitely not be with the intention of celebrating Imam Husayn’s murder. I hope we can at least start understanding each other better, and realize what we have in common, even if we don’t end up agreeing on everything. And I am pretty sure the Sunnis and Zaydis who fast Ashura are not doing it to celebrate the killing of al-Husayn.

Femicide in Pre-Islamic Arabia

“And [on the Day of Judgment] when the baby girl who was buried alive shall be asked, for what sin was she killed?” (Quran, 81:8-9)

Quranic exegete Biqa`i (died 1480 CE = 885 H) commented:
Throwing [the baby girl] into the grave dug for her is similar to the stars swooping down and falling (which is mentioned earlier in 81:2)…. 
Since this was the simplest way of killing among them (the pre-Islamic Arabs), and they used to think that this was not of significance ….. 
[God] has made clear that He does pay attention to it, and that it is no escaping [that child] being resurrected [on the Day of Judgment] and being made capable of understanding and replying. 
So [if even the innocent child shall be questioned by God] then what do you think will be the fate of the offender? She will be questioned [not due to any guilt on her part, but] in order to censure her killer, …. 
….for the [pre-Islamic Arabs] used to bury daughters alive out of fear of poverty or of being shamed [by their community, for having had a daughter rather than a son]. So, they would say: It is better for us to send [the daughters] back to God [by killing them]. 
[But] there were [also] people among them [the pre-Islamic Arabs] who were nobler than to do such things, and others who would rescue buried-alive girls and raise them. 
 
 

﴿وَإِذَا ٱلۡمَوۡءُۥدَةُ سُىِٕلَتۡ بِأَیِّ ذَنۢبࣲ قُتِلَتۡ﴾ [القرآن، سورة التكوير 8 و 9]  قال البقاعي: وإلْقاؤُها في البِئْر المَحْفُورِ لَها قَرِيبٌ مِن انْكِدارِ النُّجومِ وتَساقُطِها. ولمّا كانَ هذا أهْوَن القَتْلِ عندهم وكانوا يَظُنُّونَ أنَّهُ مِمّا لا عِبرَةَ بِهِ، بَيَّنَ أنَّهُ مُعْتَنًى بِهِ وأنَّهُ لا بُدَّ من بَعْثِها وجَعْلِها بِحَيْثُ تَعْقِلُ وتُجِيبُ  وقال: فَما ظَنُّكَ بِمَن هو فَوْقَها وبِمَن هو جانٍ، وسُؤالُها هو عَلى وجْهِ التَّبْكِيتِ لِقاتِلِها، فَإنَّ العَرَبَ كانَتْ تَدْفِنُ البَناتَ أحْياءً مَخافَةَ الإمْلاقِ أوْ لُحُوقِ العارِ بِهِنَّ، ويَقُولُونَ: نَرُدُّها إلى اللَّهِ هو أوْلى بِها،  وقال: وكانَ فِيهِمْ مَن يَتَكَرَّمُ عَنْ ذَلِكَ ومَن يَفْدِي المَوْءُوداتِ ويُرَبِّيهِنَّ 

Stereotypes

A man from the Maghreb had been entrusted with 100 dinars to bestow on a sharīf (descendant of the Prophet) in Madīna. Upon arriving in Madīna, he was informed that all the sharīfs are Shīˁites, who revile Abū Bakr and ˁUmar, so he did not give the money to a sharīfite man he had met.
That night, he saw the Prophet in a dream, along with Fāṭimah, Abū Bakr and ˁUmar. The setting was Judgment Day, and people were crossing the path over Hell (ṣirāṭ). Fāṭimah elicited a pardon from Abū Bakr and ˁUmar for her descendant’s vilification of them, and then criticized the man (from the Maghreb) for interfering in the matter. The man awoke from the dream in fright, and taking the money in hand, immediately sought out the same sharīf. He gave the money to him, and then found out that the man did not actually revile Abū Bakr and ˁUmar.
[`Abdullah al-Ghumārī, al-Naqd al-Mubram, p.69]
Musalsal Hadiths

Musalsal Hadiths

هَتَفَ العِلمُ بالعمَلِ فَإنْ أجابَهُ وإلّا ارْتَحَلَ (رواه السيوطي في جياد المسلسلات بإسناد فيه رجال مجهولون)

‘Knowledge calls out to action. If it responds to it [then it stays], but otherwise it departs.” [ʿAli ibn Abi Talib, d. 661CE]

This is the last narration in Suyuti’s (d. 1505CE) compilation Jiyad al-Musalsalat. The musalsalat genre in hadith comprises narrations whose isnads (chains of narration) contain a pattern repeated at multiple generations in the chain, e.g. each narrator having the same name, or performing the same action while narrating the hadith.

The most common musalsal hadith is the ‘Hadith of Firstness,’ “The merciful ones will be treated mercifully by the Source of Mercy (God). Be merciful to those upon the earth, [that] [God] who is in (i.e. above) Heaven be merciful to you.” Since the time of Sufyan ibn ʿ Uyayna (d. 815CE / 198H), it has been a tradition that the “hadith of Firstness” be the first hadith that a student hears from his hadith teacher.

The above quote from ʿAli has 9 successive narrators each saying, “My father told me that ….” Most of these hadiths have weak chains of narration. The above quote from Ali contains a number of narrators about whom we do not know much (i.e. we don’t know how reliable they were). The most reliable (sahih) musalsal hadith is that it which each narrator recites Surat al-Saff after narrating the hadith.

Suyuti compiled 85 musalsal narrations in his book al-Musalsalat al-Kubra, and then selected 25 of the best of these for the compilation Jiyad al-Musalsalat. Note that ‘the best 25 of the 85’ does not necessarily mean that they are all reliable (sahih); some are, but others are merely stronger than the rest.

These musalsal hadiths continue to be transmitted to this day with the patterns replicated, and are a type of collector’s item for students of hadith. i.e. these hadiths are fun!

Suyuti probably chose to end the book with this quote from ʿAli in order to remind us that the main objective of acquiring Islamic knowledge is to act on it; to become a better person, to contribute positively to the world, and to grow in love for God. i.e. You can have fun (including dabbling in musalsal hadiths), but at the end of the end of the day, make sure you have done something you can be proud of when you face God.

PICTURE CREDIT: Hans Braxmeier, from https://pixabay.com/photos/chain-jewellery-gem-valuable-2119612/#

Skyscraper Sunsets

Skyscraper Sunsets

SkyscraperSunsets

Sunset and sunrise times vary with altitude. This has consequences for the timing of prayers and breaking of the fast on skyscrapers and mountains,as well as in planes (How much? We’ll see shortly.) But this is not as new a phenomenon as one might think, and even people on the ground might need to make some adjustments regarding sunset time. Read on if you are interested!

 

 

Book_of_Wonders_folio_36a_cropped

 

About 1,100 years ago, the Hanafi jurist Ibn Abi Musa was asked by the people of Alexandria (Egypt) about the time of iftar (breaking the fast), given that someone atop the Lighthouse of Alexandria would be able to see the sun for a significant length of time after it had clearly set (disappeared) for people on the ground. He replied that those on the ground can break their fast when they see the sun as having set, but those atop the lighthouse are not allowed to break the fast as long as they can still see the sun. [Badai` al-Sanai`, DKI, 2/576]

 

800px-PHAROS2013-3000x2250

 

The lighthouse (منارة) of Alexandria (a.k.a Pharos) was built in the 3rd century BC, commissioned by Ptolemy I (although various legends attribute it to Alexander the Great and others). It was over 100m high, probably built from limestone, and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. According to a legend reported by historian Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 1229CE / 626H), there was a hot spring inside that could heal leprosy and other diseases. [Yaqut al-Hamawi, Mu`jam al-Buldan]

TabaqatHanafiyyahIbn Abi Musa (d. ca. 946CE/334H) was the chief justice of Baghdad, and a man respected for his piety and ascetic lifestyle. He wrote several books on fiqh, including commentaries on some of the works of al-Shaybani, an abridgment of the work his contemporary al-Karkhi, and a work on usul al-fiqh. His full name is Abu `Abdillah Muhammad ibn `Isa). He was found dead, apparently killed by burglars, around the year 334H. [al-Jawahir al-Mudi’ah fi Tabaqat al-Hanafiyyah, 3/295-6 and 4/63]

PHAROS_Scale_Comparison

 

Yaqut al-Hamawi (historian, belletrist and grammarian, d. 1229CE / 626H) gave the lighthouse’s height as 230 cubits (i.e. 105m), but by his time, the top 20m or so had already collapsed due to an earthquake in 956CE / 345H. So, at the time of Ibn Abi Musa’s fatwa, the lighthouse was likely to have measured around 120m tall, which is approximately the height of a 25 – 30 floor modern building. This is taller than the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception,in Washington DC (100m), and comparable to the Willis Building (125m, UK’s 36th tallest).

 

 

 

Variations in Sunset Times

So, how much difference does it make for prayer and fasting times Experts today tell us (see here and here) that sunset time gets later by approximately one minute for every 1,500m. That means the sunset delay from the top of the Pharos of Alexandria (150m), and indeed even from the top of today’s Burj Khalifah (828m), would be less than a minute. Some contemporary fatwas advise people atop the Burj to add 2-3 minutes (to the time used by people at ground level), probably to include a safety margin.

Uncertainties at Ground Level Too!

It is worth noting that exact sunset time can vary not only due to altitude, but also due to atmospheric conditions and other factors (see here and here for further details). Many Hanafi jurists therefore advise those who are using calculated sunset times to wait an additional 3 minutes before breaking the fast or performing the Maghrib prayer. Those living at high latitudes (beyond 60 degrees north of the Equator) would be well-advised to allow for a greater error-margin.

IslamicFinderSettingsThe popular IslamicFinder.org website for prayer-time calculation allows you to adjust the settings specify how many minutes to add to the calculated sunset time to produce the listed Maghrib time. But if you do this, make sure you don’t end up praying `Asr too late as a result! While `Asr time ends at sunset, and in light of the uncertainties and variations, it would be advisable to finish `Asr at least 3 minutes before the calculated sunset time, just as it is advised to pray Maghrib only 3 minutes after the calculated time. Of course, if you were inescapably delayed (or even if you were a bit negligent), such that less than three minutes remain before sunset time, you should go ahead and pray immediately; the prayer might still be on time.

800px-QaitbeyCitadel

A couple of final comments before we close.

One: What happened to the lighthouse? The remnants of the Pharos Lighthouse were removed, and a fort built on its platform in 1480CE / 885H by Mamluk Sultan Qaitbay.

 

 

799px-San_Stefano_Grand_Plaza,_Alexandria,_Egypt

The tallest building in Alexandria today is the San Stefano Grand Plaza measuring in at 135m high; approximately the same height as the original lighthouse!

May these and other current monuments of human achievement be preserved, and serve as sources of benefit to humankind. And may terrorists, and others who seek wanton destruction, be foiled.

 

Eventually, all material things of this world pass away in the natural course of time. As the famous poetess Khansa’ (d. 645CE/24H) wrote:

All men shall with Fate's hearthstones be assailed,
And lofty homes too one day shall come down.

 

May we, in these remaining days of Ramadan and thereafter, reflect on reality, and what we are building in the spiritual realm.Khansa_AthafidDahr.png

PICTURE CREDITS:

The Knowledge-Voyagers

The Knowledge-Voyagers

Cosmetic_icon_Itinerant_ScholarPeople have long traveled for diverse reasons, and there were various types of voyagers in the medieval Muslim world, including ardent pilgrims, wandering dervishes, and enterprising merchants. But, starting in the 8th century CE (2nd century Hijri), another large contingent joined the ranks of the itinerants: many Muslims began traveling extensively in pursuit of sacred knowledge, especially (but not limited to) to hear and write down ḥadīths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) from those who were transmitting them. This spontaneously gave rise to a remarkable, informal, decentralized,

unregulated, diverse global information network. We get some idea of the extent to which this voyaging reached by observing that ˁAlī ibn al-Ḥasan ibn ˁAsākir (d. 571/1176, a major hadith-voyager and chronicler) compiled a book called “The Forty City [Narrations]” (Arbaˁūn Buldāniyyah), which contained forty ḥadīths heard from forty different teachers in forty different cities, tracing back to forty different Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, and dealing with forty different topics. In his prelude to the book, he describes the hadith-voyagers:

So, [the adīth-folk] intently pursued gathering [adīths] in all moments and circumstances, flying to [different] lands like eagles and falcons, consequently living lives of poverty and destitution in [willing] exile from home, and tolerating – on this quest – coarse food and clothing.”

It became unusual for someone laying claim to knowledge to not have traveled to seek knowledge from distant teachers. A couple of prominent exceptions are Imām Mālik ibn Anas (d. 179/796, the eponym of the Mālik school of law) and Abū Bakr ibn Mujāhid (d. 324/936, the famous canonizer of the Seven Quranic Readings, whose scholarly travel was restricted to his hajj travel to Makka).

Imam al-Shafi`i (d. 204H) wrote some lines of poetry encouraging people to travel. Three centuries later, Qadi Tartushi (d. 520H, a Maliki jurist and judge) wrote a rejoinder, discouraging people from travel, on the basis that times had changed. You can read both pieces of poetry, with their translations, here.

So, what about today? Two quick points:

1. Start Local

Scholars of the past would not travel for knowledge until they had exhausted the knowledge available to them locally. Most large metropolitan areas in the US (and probably many other countries) have individuals within them who are qualified to teach you the basics of one or more Islamic disciplines, and perhaps even things beyond that. It is rather a waste of money to travel overseas simply to learn the ABCs of a discipline that you could learn at minimal cost and without travel. If you delay your educational voyage until after you have mastered the basics, your overseas studies can also be more productive (such as by studying advanced texts that you couldn’t study locally). Of course, if you have additional legitimate motives for travelling overseas at an early stage, such as to spend some time living in a city where you hear the call to prayer (adhan) fives times a day, or to sightsee, or visit relatives, then that is a separate matter, and you are free to make your decision after due thought and diligence.

2. What about technology? Can’t I be a virtual globetrotter, attending online classes in multiple countries, and save the costs of traveling? Yes, you can do that, and might get the same information content, but you won’t get the intangibles and other elements that constitute the full experience: The tiring exertions and other difficulties of travel that will make you truly value what you got out of the trip…. The invaluable face-to-face dimension of student-teacher interactions through you which you can experientially learn things about behavior, manners and ethos in a way that you won’t find in a book…. and if you are traveling to a different country, the broadening of horizons that comes from living in a different culture and seeing the challenges and joys of its people. For an advanced seeker of sacred knowledge, travel is almost essential.

And of course, if you want to be a knowledge-voyager, then as with any deed by which you intend devotion, check your intentions.

IMAGE CREDIT: Itinerant Scholar, taken from https://dota2.gamepedia.com/Itinerant_Scholar, that website’s content provided under the terms of CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Lady Zaynab’s Karbala Lament

After the tragedy of Karbala (in the year 61H / 680 CE), in which the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Husayn was slaughtered along with many of his family members, the following lines of poetry were recited by Zaynab bint `Ali (Husayn’s sister) (according to another version it was Zaynab bint `Aqil, Husayn’s first cousin):

Tell me what you would say if the Prophet of God were to ask: 
What, O what have you done, O ye readers of God's Final Book? 
To the folk of my household, my dear kith and kin, after me? 
See now half of them captives and half drenched in blood lying slain. 
Is this what I deserve? Nay, aforetime I warned you, quite clear, 
Lest you later betray me, mistreating my own flesh and blood.

ماذا تقولون إن قال النبي لكم * ماذا فعلتم وأنتم آخر الأمم
بعترتي وبأهلي بعد مفتقدي * منهم أسارى ومنهم ضرجوا بدم
ما كان هذا جزائي إذ نصحت لكم * أن تخلفوني بسوء في ذوي رحمي

Abul-Aswad al-Du'ali, a close companion of `Ali ibn Abi Talib, 
responded upon hearing these words,
"We will say (to God): Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, 
and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, 
we will surely be among the losers. [Quran, 7:23]"
رَبَّنَا ظَلَمْنَآ أَنفُسَنَا وَإِن لَّمْ تَغْفِرْ لَنَا وَتَرْحَمْنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ ٱلْخَـٰسِرِينَ

Sources: Tarikh Dimashq, Ansab al-Ashraf, Muruj al-Dhahab  with slight variations in the wording of the lines of poetry

Biography : Abu Saʻd Abd al-Karīm al-Samʻānī

Abu Saʻd Abd al-Karīm al-Samʻānī (nicknamed “Qiwām al-Dīn”), Shafi`i jurist and hadith-master, was an illustrious scion of the scholarly Samʻānī family. His father, Abul-Muẓaffar, was the Mufti of Khorasan, but died while Abu Saʻd was young, and the son was therefore raised by a paternal uncle and other relatives, who instilled in him the scholarly zeal of the family. He travelled extensively in pursuit of sacred knowledge, being especially devoted to the study of hadith, and his teachers totalled over 4,000. Abu Saʻd was born in Merv (in what is today Turkmenistan) in 506H / 1112 CE, and died in the same city in 562H / 1167 CE.

[Sources: Dhahabi, Siyar Aʻlām al-Nubalā’; Ibn Khallikān, Wafayāt al-Aʻyān]