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The First Thing We Lost

In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

New Letter from Tarek:

"The First Thing We Lost"

It became a routine.

Each morning, we'd leave our cells and make our way down to the gray door, only to find it locked. So we'd stand there until the guard came to unlock it. Later, however, the morning shift was assigned to a different guard - one who'd conveniently unlock the door before unlocking our cells. I made my way downstairs to nonetheless find a small group waiting at the door. The routine had left them thinking it to be locked. I looked around, asked if anyone had bothered to check the door, then pushed it open and walked out.

Routine wears down your sense of awareness. It turns the mindful into the mindless, and prison is defined by it. A prisoner is confined to the same space, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and people - all for years on end. The climate of routine is so pervasive in here that many become mindless of much of what they do. Mindlessness gives way to boredom, and boredom gives way to distress.

The world is itself a giant prison, and your life contains its own set of distressing mindless routines. In fact, one of your routines as a Muslim is to remind yourself that you can escape these distressing routines because {"indeed, the remembrance of Allah relaxes the hearts."} (13:28)

So why don't you always find that relief?

You don't find it because you escape one routine by falling into another. Even the remembrance of Allah will bore you when it regresses into a mindless routine, as Ibn Mas'ud told his students that "I don't teach you more frequently because I don't want to bore you. Indeed, Allah's Messenger (sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) would only preach to us occasionally out of fear that we'd become bored." And Ibn 'Abbas told one of his students to "teach the people once a week; if that's not enough, then twice a week; if that's not enough, then three times a week. Don't make them bored of the Qur'an."

This factors in the limits of the student. But mindlessness sometimes lies within the khatib himself, as one of the Salaf said that "an admonition is useless unless it comes from the heart. If it comes from the heart, it goes to the heart. But if it comes from the tongue, it goes in one ear and out the other."

Reciting the Qur'an can also regress into a mindless routine, as the Prophet warned that "one who recites the entire Qur'an in less than three days doesn't understand." That this would become common in our times was foreseen even by Ibn 'Umar, who said that "we started this ummah. You'd find one of the best Sahabah fluent in just one surah or so of the Qur'an. This was because the Qur'an was weighty for them, and they were granted knowledge & implementation of it. But the later part of this ummah will find the Qur'an to be light, such that a child or non-Arab will recite it while knowing nothing about it."

Fasting can also regress into a mindless routine, as the Prophet warned that "it's possible for a fasting person to gain nothing from his fast besides hunger & thirst." He also said that "one who fasts everyday hasn't fasted." Explaining this, Ibn Rajab wrote that this is because "such a person no longer experiences the challenge of fasting or absence of food, drink, and lust. Fasting for him has become a mere routine that he's used to."

Salah can also regress into a mindless routine, as the Prophet warned that "one can get up to pray, only to have nothing written for him except a tenth, ninth, eighth, seventh, sixth, fifth, fourth, third, or half of it."

Your very ascription to Islam can regress into a mindless routine, as the Prophet said that when a munafiq is interrogated in his grave, he'll respond: "I don't know! I heard the people saying something, so I said it!" He'll then be assigned a deaf, dumb, and blind man carrying a hammer that could pulverize a mountain. But the man will use this hammer to pulverize the munafiq, after which Allah will reconstruct his body to facilitate another beating. This hadith teaches us that mindless Islam is no Islam, as Ibn Hajar wrote that the hadith "serves as a condemnation of blind following in matters of belief in light of the punishment inflicted on the one who said "I heard the people saying something, so I said it!""

In fact, the first thing we lost was the honor of worshipping Allah and meaning it, as Hudhayfah once said that "the first thing you'll lose of your din is khushu'." What they all warned about back then is now a major disease plaguing us today. If you want to know where you stand, ask yourself some questions:

* When I say the Shahadah, have I regressed into a mindless routine? Or do I understand its implications and mean it from the bottom of my heart? al-Mawdudi said that "the difference between the believer and the kafir isn't the chanting of a few words. Obviously, uttering a phrase or two itself isn't the point. The real difference comes when you consciously accept this belief and completely adhere to it in your life. Repeating the word 'food' doesn't satisfy your hunger; chanting the contents of a medical prescription doesn't cure your disease. Likewise, saying the Shahadah without understanding it won't bring about the revolution it's meant to bring about. This will happen only if you grasp the full meaning of this belief, accept it, and follow it in letter & spirit. You avoid fire because you know it burns; you avoid poison because you know it kills. Likewise, if you grasp the real meaning of Tawhid, you'll avoid all forms of kufr & shirk in your words & deeds."

* When I stand up for Salah, have I regressed into a mindless routine? Or do I mindfully take my time, understand the words coming out of my mouth, and pray like I mean it? Rifa'ah az-Zuraqi described how he was one day praying behind the Prophet. When he raised his head from ruku', he said: "Allah heard those who praised Him." A man behind him then said: "Our Lord! All praise is for You - praise that's plenty, good, and blessed." When the Prophet finished, he asked: "Who said that?" The man said: "I did." The Prophet said: "I saw over thirty Angels racing to be the first to write it." The man (who other narrations clarify was Rifa'ah himself!) meant each letter that came out of his mouth, as Ibn Hajar explained that "it's been said that the wisdom behind the particular number of Angels assigned to this dhikr is that it matches the number of letters the dhikr is composed of (i.e., exactly thirty-three letters in the original Arabic)."

* When Ramadan begins, will I regress into a mindless routine? Or will I be mindful and fast like I mean it? The Prophet said that "whoever doesn't have the intention to fast prior to the onset of dawn has no fast." Commenting on this hadith, ash-Shawkani wrote that "this apparently means that it's mandatory to renew your intention each day." In fact, there was a righteous woman of the past who was known for singling out the hottest days of the year to fast in. When people asked her why she did this, she explained that "if the price goes down, everyone buys" - i.e., she was so ambitious that she was after the deeds that others couldn't handle. In fact, this is itself a way to safeguard yourself from routine, as the Prophet explained that he fasted more of Sha'ban than other months because "that's a month that people neglect."

* When I open up the Mushaf and recite, have I regressed into a mindless routine? Or do I mindfully take my time, understand the words coming out of my mouth, and recite like I mean it? al-Fudayl bin 'Iyad was a highway robber who was in love with a girl. One day, as he was scaling a wall to visit with her, he heard a man reciting {"Isn't it time for the believers to let their hearts soften to the remembrance of Allah and the truth that came down...?"} (57:16) So he said: "O Lord! It's time!" He immediately repented, and from that point on, he instead became known for his love of the Qur'an. He was especially known for the care he put into his recitation, such that a friend of his described that "his recitation of the Qur'an was sad, pleasant, slow, and smooth, as if he was addressing someone."

* When I stand up to deliver a khutbah, have I regressed into a mindless routine? Or does it come from my heart so that I mean every word?

Back in the day, the most well known khatib of the Crusaders was a Frenchman named Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard inspired many Western Europeans to travel abroad to fight the Muslims. The second Crusade began in 542 AH (1147 CE), in the form of a coalition under the leadership of Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany. Their plan was to start at Asia Minor, then make their way to Dimashq. The reason they'd set their sights on Dimashq was that one of their priests, a man named Elijah, claimed to have had a dream in which 'Isa bin Maryam gave them glad tidings of conquering the city. As the Crusaders made their way to Dimashq, Ibn al-Jawzi stood in the city's Masjid al-Umawi and delivered a khutbah in which he said the following:

"O people! What's wrong with you? You forgot your din, abandoned your honor, and refrained from aiding Allah's cause, so He didn't aid you. You think that honor belongs to the mushrik. But Allah reserved honor for Himself, His Messenger, and the believers. Woe to you! Aren't you pained and torn apart to see the enemies of both Allah & yourselves appearing in your land that was irrigated with the blood of your forefathers? They humiliate & subjugate you while you were once the rulers of the world! Aren't your hearts shaken, your zeal stoked, as you see your brothers surrounded by the enemy and suffering all types of attack? Will you eat, drink, and enjoy the pleasures of life while your brothers over there wear clothes of flames and sleep on beds of burning coals?"

He continued, saying that "if you aren't knights of war, then clear the way for the women to turn its wheel. Then go perfume yourselves and apply your eyeliner, you bearded & turbaned women! Otherwise, get on your horses! Here are their bridles & reins. O people! Do you know what these bridles & reins are made of? The women crafted them out of their own hair since they have nothing else to offer. I swear by Allah that these are the braids of young virgins so concealed & protected in their homes that their hair has never been touched by sunlight."

He continued, saying that "if you're unable to place them on those horses, then take them and place them on yourselves as locks & braids, because this is the hair of women. Don't you have any feeling left within yourselves?" He then tossed the bridles into the audience and yelled: "O pillars of this masjid, sway! O stones of this building, collapse! O hearts, burn out of pain & sadness! The men have lost their manhood!"

Soon after that khutbah, seventy thousand Crusaders laid siege to Dimashq. Over 130,000 of the city's residents went out to face them. They fought bravely, and they fought fiercely. Those who were too old or weak to fight gathered in groups throughout the city to make du'a'. The fighting continued until Muslims from as far away as Halab and even Mawsil converged on the city to help their brothers. Once the Crusaders saw those armies advancing, they fled and eventually returned to Europe in defeat (but not before Elijah was killed). Because Ibn al-Jawzi's words came from the bottom of his heart, they went straight to the hearts of his audience.

And so it's because the Salaf escaped the prison of mindless routine that they successfully found relief in the remembrance of Allah, as al-Muzani once described the man from whom Ibn al-Jawzi is descended by saying that "Abu Bakr didn't excel you through a lot of fasting or praying. Rather, he was better than you because of something that settled in his heart."

Written by: Tariq Mehanna
Saturday, the 5th of Sha'ban 1439 (21st of April 2018)
Marion CMU


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