Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Ten Promised Paradise, Or How Would You Like Your Cat Sliced (2/3)

In Part 1, we have alluded to the intricacy of the much touted idea of unity and suggested that disagreement or dispute is very much part of human nature.  Disagreement and dispute are as old as mankind themselves, as illustrated in the story of Cain and Abel (Qabil and Habil).

Halfway through it, the Hadith of Ten Promised Paradise was presented and its background analyzed. 

Now, there are many others whom the Prophet specifically mentioned will be the people of Paradise, such as Bilal bin Rabah, Ammar bin Yassir, Salman Al Farisi, to name among the well known ones.  The Prophet also mentioned others who fell martyr during the wars, such as his uncle, Hamzah bin Abdul Muttalib, whom he said will be the leader among the martyrs (syuhada).  But to be singled out in one breath, as per the aforementioned Hadith, has its own special significance. 

One the one hand, the Prophet was saying that no matter what these people do, they will enter Paradise, since he stated it unequivocally.  On the other, it implies that these people will not do things that will disqualify them from entering Paradise.  Combining these two points together, it will throw some light on our understanding of what Islam is all about.


Because even with cursory examination of their lives, we find that they lived rather varied lives.  Some even engaged in actions which, for the lack of better word, appeared to be rather uncalled for. 

As a way of reminder and in order to know who are the companions concerned, let’s reproduce the aforementioned hadith, as narrated by Saeed bin Zayd, as appeared in the collection of Abu Dawood:
"I bear witness to the Apostle of Allah (SAWS) that I heard him say: "Ten persons will go to Paradise: "Abu Bakr will go to Paradise, Umar will go to Paradise, Uthman will go to Paradise, Ali will go to Paradise, Talha will go to Paradise: Zubair bin Al-Awwam will go to Paradise, Sa'd bin Abi Waqqas will go to Paradise and Abdur-Rahman bin Awf will go to Paradise. If I wish, I can mention the tenth." The People asked: "Who is he?" so he kept silence. They again asked: "Who is he?" He replied: "He is Saeed ibn Zayd."
As for the first two, Abu Bakar and Umar, nothing really needs to be said about them.  They are beyond reproached.  Both of them led the kind of lives which are always preached by the teacher of religion: extreme piety, strict justice, no favoritism, and utter disregard to the material comfort.  Only the extreme Shiites will talk bad about these two.

In this case, Umar is especially exemplary.  While Abu Bakar never cared about material comfort, and he continued to live in poverty even after becoming caliph, it has to be remembered that Abu Bakar lived during the time of scarcity. 

When Umar became caliph, however, he conquered the two most powerful empires at that time: Persia and Rome.  Wealth was abundant during his time, but he continued living like a pauper.  He was also very strict in appointing the officer to the office.  None of his close relatives, even the most competent ones, was allowed to assume any significant position.

As Muawiyah used to say, “The Prophet and his two closest companions never cared about the material comfort, but the Prophet and Abu Bakar lived during the time of scarcity.  Umar lived in the time of abundant, but never cared about it either.  As for us, we indulge in luxury.”

As for the other eight companions, or at least seven of them, similar things cannot be said.  They lived varied lives, and some of their decisions may be deemed controversial, if not altogether inappropriate.  Yet, all of them were promised Paradise during their lifetimes.  This means that whatever actions taken by them, none can be considered a major flaw. 

It goes to show that great as they were, they were still humans.  It also means that Islam is not a rigid way of life.  These companions led varied lives, but they were examples for us to follow.

The third person after Abu Bakar and Umar, whose name is Uthman, presents a different picture from two of his predecessors.  He was pious, humble, extremely generous, and in many ways, a paragon of virtue.  But he did allow himself of material comfort.  His house was big, and his clothes were generally of a rather expensive kind. 

He was also accused of being a bit too lenient in applying justice.  He would rather forgive than to punish, even when executing punishment appears to be a more appropriate course of action.

Furthermore, he had appointed many of his close relatives to important positions.  Among the famous ones were Muawiyah, his second cousin, as the Governor of Sham, and Marwan bin Hakkam, his cousin, who was appointed as his secretary.  Uthman was accused of nepotism, favoritism and cronyism.  It was because of this accusation that people revolted against him, which ended up in his assassination.

But Uthman was also the man whom the Prophet gave two of his daughters to be married, one after the other.  He was also the man whose wealth the fledgling Islamic community benefited the most, as the Prophet himself attested in one of his sayings.

As for Ali, his virtue is exemplary and his wisdom is beyond matched.  But during his time as the fourth caliph, he plunged himself in many civil wars.  In fact, throughout his reign, which lasted about four years and a half, it was colored by one civil war to another.  Many tens of thousands were dead due to these civil wars. 

Before Ali became caliph, he shone above the rest in every endeavor he undertook.  But as a caliph, he got mixed reviews.  He was most unlucky as compared to his three predecessors.  While they were elected by the companions during peace time, he was forced by the rebels who revolted against Uthman to assume the caliphate office.  He inherited the troubled nation left by his predecessor.  It was because of this reason that the civil war was unavoidable.

As for Talha and Zubayr, their virtues are too numerous to mention.  But both of them died fighting against Ali, when the later became caliph.  This was the first civil war that Ali had encountered.  

In fact, it was the first civil war among the Muslims. Nay, not just any Muslims, but leading companions to boot.  Ali fought the army led by Aisha, the wife of the Prophet, in whose army both Talha and Zubayr were the commanding leaders.  This is the great tribulation that continues to haunt us Muslims till these days.

As for Abdul Rahman bin Auf, his virtues, like other companions, are too many to enumerate.  But most people know him as the businessman par excellence.  He was rich beyond belief, if we are to take some of the stories at the face value.  He didn’t live like a pauper, but lived comfortably. 

He did not choose to live like his close friend, Umar Al Khattab, but Umar never faulted him for his wealth.  In fact, it was his wealth, along with Uthman’s wealth, that Umar benefited the most during the famine that hit Arabia during Umar’s reign. 

Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas, meanwhile, was noted as the General who conquered the Persian Empire.  After the Battle of Qadisiyyah, of which he led, the Persian Empire was slapped with the definitive blow.  It took many more years before the remnant of the empire to be annihilated, but it was after that Battle, which took place in the year 636 AD, that the Persian Empire crumbled to the ground. 

After Persia was conquered, Sa’d was appointed as the Governor of Basrah by Umar.  As a Governor, Sa’d built the wall around his house because people kept disturbing him.  For that, he was accused by the population as being a difficult leader to seek the audience.  In his characteristic move, Umar instructed for the wall to be burned down, which was done.  Umar also later on dismissed him of his position.

Umar, however, did not put blame on him, which is why Sa’d was selected as one of the six candidates to replace him.  Sa’d did not become Umar’s successor, however, but continued to support Uthman, who was chosen as the third Caliph after Umar.

But when Ali assumed the role as the fourth Caliph, and subsequently entered into numerous civil wars, he chose to be neutral, neither siding with Ali, nor against him.  He refused to pledge his obedience to Ali, nor to Ali’s rivals.  He died a wealthy man.

Saeed bin Zayd, the companion who narrated the aforementioned hadith, as mentioned in the Part 1, was the brother in law of Umar.  He took part in all major battles that the Prophet engaged.  He dutifully served the same during Abu Bakar, Umar and Uthman, although rarely as a leader.   He was as competent as any other men mentioned above, but he never aspired to be a leader. 

When Umar was stabbed, which led to his death, Umar did not select Saeed among the candidates to replace him, on account of him being Umar’s close relative.  During Ali caliphate, like Sa’d Abi Waqqas, he chose to remain neutral. 

Also like Sa’d, he later regretted his decision not to join Ali’s party against Muawiyah.  It was probably because of this that when people talked abusively about Ali after the latter had died, Saeed rose to defend Ali.  The point he wanted to make is that people shouldn’t talk ill of Ali, because Ali was already guaranteed the Paradise.  Whatever decision he had made during his rule, which was marked by one civil war to another, was the best decision he could make given the time and situation.

The foregoing is cursory examination of the lives of ten companions who were promised Paradise even before their death. 

Ten we say?  Have you counted the number properly?  It is only nine, is it not?

Yes, the narration through Saeed bin Zayd as reported by Imam Abu Dawood somehow placed the Prophet himself as number one, which of course is odd.  The hadith may have reached him in that manner, and Abu Dawood, being scrupulous he was, dared not change the text although it sounded odd.    

To know the missing name in the list, we have to use other narration through Abdul Rahman Auf as reported by Imam Tirmidhi. 

Who was the other leading companion promised Paradise?  We shall mention his name in our concluding part.  Stay tune. 

End of part 2

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Ten Promised Paradise, Or How Would You Like Your Cat Sliced (1/3)

Al Ghazali used to say that the Muslims are very good at division.  By that, he made it look as if he was talking about one of four most basic arithmetic functions.  The other being summation, subtraction and multiplication.  But then he continued: if you see two Muslims arguing, probably they belong to three groups.

People during his time loved to differ.  But this love for polemics seems to be human nature.  It affects not only the Muslims, but others as well.  For instance, the Christians are said to have about 33,800 denominations, as reported in the Newsweek Magazine some years back.

Against that huge number, we the Muslims can take pride in ourselves, because we only have two sects: Sunni and Shiite.  In Sunni, we only have four schools of thoughts (mazaahib).  The Shiites too have about as much. 

Malays and their Muslim brothers in South East Asia belong to the mazhab of Shafie (mazhab being singular of mazaahib).  The Indians, Pakistanis and the Turks are Hanafites; the Africans, except for the Egyptians, are mostly Malikites; and the Saudis are Hanbalites. 

Our Shiite brothers in Iran, Iraq and Bahrain, meanwhile, are Imamiyah; in Sana’a Yemen, the Zaydiyah; in parts of Syria and Lebanon, the Alawiyah and the Druze, both of which are the variations of Ismailiyah.

So, we can take comfort in not having too many variations and denominations.  But can we? 

The reality, of course, is not that neat.  What was prevalent in Al Ghazali’s time is also prevalent in ours.  It is an established fact that we love to argue and to differ.  We like to take a fight not only with others of different faiths, but also among ourselves. 

We say the Hanbalites are fine, but not the Wahabis.  If we ask, who are the Wahabis, the answer given is that they are the Saudis.  But the Saudis would rather consider themselves simply as Muslims, or at most Hanbalites, not Wahabis.  The name Wahabi is what we label them, not how they look at themselves. 

In Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, we pride ourselves of being the followers of Shafie’s Mazhab.   But if Imam Shafie were to come and mingle with us, he would be surprised at how his name is being used or abused by us.  When Shafie formulated and put forward his opinion, he also accepted the opinion of others.  But when we “follow” Shafie, we reject what others say, including those who are also the followers of Shafie’s mazhab.  If we are to include politics into the equation, the differences get compounded. 

Yet the Prophet said that differences are blessings to his Ummah.  On our part, however, we often take these differences to be curses instead.

In fact, we go one step further.  We always call for unity, for tolerating differences.  In spite of the call for unity, ironically, the number of diverging groups keeps increasing.  When we have differences with the group that we belong, we get out of the group and form the new one.  Yet, we have the audacity calling for unity.

I always find this issue—the issue of unity, of agreement and disagreement, of similarities and differences—fascinating.  It is an age old issue; primordial, in fact.

Before Adam was created, the angels were already asking Allah as to why He wanted to create a creature who will certainly indulge in mischief, fighting against one another.  Allah simply answered in His characteristic way: I know what you know not. 

It did not take long before the angels’ prophesy came to be realized.  As soon as Adam had children, the older son, Cain (Qabil), killed his younger brother, Abel (Habil), over some disagreement. 

We need not bother ourselves with the source of the disagreement between Cain and Abel, or who is right and who is wrong.  This story is well known.  It is told both in the Quran and the Bible.  The fact remains that even the first generation of mankind were already engaged in what we are engaging now. 

Relatedly, one of my readers, a good friend of mine, sent this email to me.  Allow me to quote him verbatim:
Can you tell us a story about unity in Islam.  From my knowledge, right from the start of Saidina Osman, we already divided into faction.  Why we never unified into one. In Malaysia we have 2 parties which are UMNO and PAS.  Can ISLAM be one? No more faction, i.e., wahabi, druz, syiah…no more Saudi, Syria, Libya….
Frankly, I have no answer to his question.  For the moment, however, I have a story somewhat relevant to the theme we are discussing.
After Syaidina Ali bin Abu Talib was assassinated and the caliphate went to Muawiyah, people sometimes criticized the late caliph.  One day, sitting in a mosque, one of the leading companions of the Prophet, Saeed bin Zayd, overhead a man abused Ali.  Irritated, he got up and said:
"I bear witness to the Apostle of Allah (SAWS) that I heard him say: "Ten persons will go to Paradise: "Abu Bakr will go to Paradise, Umar will go to Paradise, Uthman will go to Paradise, Ali will go to Paradise, Talha will go to Paradise: Zubair bin Al-Awwam will go to Paradise, Sa'd bin Abi Waqqas will go to Paradise and Abdur-Rahman bin Awf will go to Paradise. If I wish, I can mention the tenth." The People asked: "Who is he?" so he kept silence. They again asked: "Who is he?" He replied: "He is Saeed ibn Zayd." [Abu Dawood]
Now, you may have heard of the above hadith before.  It is called the Hadith of the Ten Promised Paradise.  If you are not familiar with that hadith, google it and you will find many entries about it.

I googled it myself and found many entries. In spite of the many entries about the above hadith (Google found 896,000 entries for that search), none satisfactorily explains the background as to why it was narrated in the first place.  To fill that gap, I shall try to offer my perspective on it. 

The first thing to note is that the narrator himself is relatively an obscure figure to the non specialist, although he was one of the leading companions, and included in the Ten Promised Paradise which in itself is a great honor.  We are familiar with the names Abu Hurayrah, Aisha, Ibnu Abbas, Abu Darda, Ibnu Umar, etc., but we rarely hear the name Saeed bin Zayd. 

I have mentioned him in passing in The Story of Hunafa Part 3.  He is the son of the hanif, Zayd bin Amr, and the brother in law of Umar Al Khattab.  He appeared in the famous story of Umar’s conversion as the brother in law who got beaten by Umar.  But it was Umar who got famous, not Saeed.

Saeed bin Zayd was probably among the least known leading companions, although he always participated in every major event that took place either during the Prophet’s time, or after his death.  He was always foreshadowed by his celebrated brother in law, Umar Al Khattab.  On his part, he never aspired to be in the leadership position and always shunned limelight. 

Although he was among those qualified to be considered for Umar’s successor as a caliph, the latter did not nominate him on account of their blood relationship.  Even supposed he was chosen, he would have given way to his more illustrious colleagues.

He supported and pledged his allegiance to the first three caliphs after the Prophet died.  But when Ali assumed the caliphate and fought against Muawiyah over the issue of retaliation over the assassination of Uthman bin Affan, he chose to remain neutral.  He neither sided with Ali, nor with Muawiyah, believing that the two shouldn’t engage in the civil war.

But when Ali was assassinated, and Muawiyah took over the reign as the caliph, it became a habit for some to criticize and abuse Ali.  Muawiyah himself respected Ali and considered the latter to be his worthy opponent.  Alas, it is always the case that the followers tend to be more extreme than the leader.  As we have earlier noted, the followers of the mazhab of Shafie tend to be more “Shafiite” than Shafie himself.

To further clarify the matter, do note that the above quoted hadith appears in the Book 40, Number 4632 of Abu Dawood.  This version does not give much background as to why the generally taciturn Saeed made that kind of remark.  The clearer version appears in the subsequent hadith by the same compiler.  For readability, I shall not reproduce the hadith verbatim but rather narrate it in a story form.

One day, Saeed entered the Mosque of Kufah and was greeted by one of his friends there.  A moment later, one man started to speak abusively.  Saeed then asked his friend whose name was Rabah bin Al Harith whom this man was abusing.  Upon being told it was Ali, he scolded his friend for not doing anything about it.  Saeed then stood up and narrated the hadith as quoted above.  He then added:
The company of one of their man whose face has been covered with dust by the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) is better than the actions of one of you for a whole life time even if he is granted the life-span of Noah.
Now, you need to pay particular attention to this phrase: [a] man whose face has been covered with dust by the Apostle of Allah. 

Who is he? 

He is none other than Ali.  If we read the seerah of Ali, then we would know that he is known by two nicknames (kunyah).  The first is Abul Hassan, for he was the father of Al Hassan, the grandson of the Prophet; and the second is Abu Turap, the Father of Dust. Saeed was essentially saying that “you, the abuser of Ali, are not even an iota of what Ali was.  A day of Ali is better than your actions for your life time, even if you live as long as Noah did.”

As we know, Noah lived for one thousand years minus 50, as Quran puts it in Chapter 29 verse 14.  Or, in our plain language, 950 years.

But the significance of this hadith lies not in the way it was narrated, although that is quite interesting in itself.  Neither is the significance lies in the fact that these companions had been promised Paradise even before their death, although that in itself is indeed a great honor.  After all, what can be a greater honor than being promised a Paradise while one is still alive, thereby explicitly giving a guarantee that no matter what he does, he won’t go wrong.

So, what is the significance of this hadith?  We shall answer that question in the next part, insyaAllah.  Stay tune.
End of Part 1

Monday, February 20, 2012

Imam Mahdi: Do We Know What We Are Waiting For?

Some of my readers would like me to write about Imam Mahdi.

At the outset, I must say that it is not exactly the subject I feel comfortable writing.  Not because I have nothing to say about it.  Not also because the subject is too controversial to my liking.  But because the subject itself is problematic.

As I see it, if we indulge too much in the subject, we risk falling into heresy.  Yet, if we ignore it altogether, we would put ourselves in peril.  What is needed is therefore a proper perspective, a balanced view on the matter.

Now, the first thing we need to understand about the subject of Imam Mahdi is that it falls under the Islamic Eschatology and Messianic Movement categories.

This big word, eschatology, simply refers to the matters concerning the end of the world, which, by implication, also means the end of mankind.  Messianic movement, on the other hand, deals with the issue of the Savior (Messiah) who will come towards the end of the world.  Both concepts come together.

The basic idea is this. 

Towards the end of the time, just before the Judgment Day (Qiyamah), the world will be filled with wrong doing, injustice and tyranny.  The Great Beast (Dajjal) and Gog and Magog (Yajuj and Ma’juj), among others, will appear and bring total corruption to the face of the earth.

Then Imam Mahdi will appear, followed by the second coming of Isa Al Masih (Jesus Christ), who will put the earth in total order and justice.  Soon after, the Last Hour or the Day of Judgment will take place.  Then everything will be destroyed.

Let’s ask ourselves: Is this something we should be eagerly waiting?  Is there a purpose in waiting for everything, including ourselves, to be destroyed? 

The second thing we need to do is to separate between the eschatological and the messianic issues.  The eschatological issue is fine.  We need to know the signs of the end of the world.  Not knowing those signs would put us in grave danger, should we live in that era.

Yet, we should not be too overzealous about those signs.  For instance, among the signs signaling the end of the world are the appearances of the Great Beast or Dajjal and the God Magog or Yajuj Ma’juj

As to these, some people say that they already appear.  They are Americans, these people say.  A few decades ago, they were Russians as well. 

Well, in case we read history, a thousand years ago these signs already came.  They were known as the Crusaders.  And eight hundred years ago, they were known as Mongolians, under the ferocious Genghis Khan.  But the world has not ended, has it?  If it has, I won’t be writing this piece, and you won’t be reading it as well.

Still, we need to be mindful of those signs.  Just don’t be too over zealous about them.  As long as we adhere faithfully to the Quran and the Sunnah, we should be saved.  After all, the real danger of the Great Beast and the Gog Magog is not that they will eat us alive, but they will turn us into disbelievers. 

If they merely eat us alive but our souls are still intact, there is no real harm in that.  But if they turn us into disbelievers, then our souls will be damned forever.  Then again, are we not to protect our faith with or without their appearances? 

The question is rhetorical, of course.

The more problematic issue is the Messianic Movement.  The messianic movement exists in many faiths, not only in Islam.  The Jews also have it, as do the Christians and many other religions.

In case you are not familiar with the term, the messianic movement has to do with the coming of the Messiah.  Messiah is English for Al Masih Arabic and Mashiach Hebrew.  Literally it means the anointed.  What it really means is the savior, or the deliverer.  When the Messiah comes, he will save the world and deliver mankind from corruption, injustice and falsehood.

In Islam and Christianity, he will be Jesus in his Second Coming.  Imam Mahdi is also towards some extent a Messiah, or at least a precursor to the coming of the Messiah.  In Judaism and other faiths, the concept is more complex.  Let’s not bother ourselves with this complexity.

But there are two problems with the messianic movement which we must be mindful about. 

First, throughout history, there have been too many false messiahs.  Some of the more familiar ones are Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and Sayyid Ali Muhammad. 

We are more familiar with Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, because he had created the well known Qadiani or Ahmadiyah Movement, but who is Sayyid Ali Muhammad?  He is the founder of what is known as the Bahai faith.  Like Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, he also claimed himself to be Al Mahdi. 

Both of these figures happen to have many followers, and their influences continue until these very days.  There are many others less well known messianic movements led by the false Mahdi.  All those who follow these false Mahdi ended up having their faith at stake.

The Christians, too, have their own versions.  Among the famous ones are the Peoples Temple and the Branch Davidian movements.  These are the recent Christian messianic movements that ended in disaster.

The Peoples Temple messianic movement was led by Reverend Jim Jones, who claimed himself to be the Messiah.  He along with about 1,000 of his followers committed mass suicide in the Guyana jungle in 1978, apparently because there was no point of living anymore, since the world is ending. 

The Branch Davidian movement, meanwhile, had a crossfire with the FBI after the siege lasting for 50 days in the city of Waco, Texas.  The siege ended with many deaths on both sides.  This event occurred more recently, about two decades ago.  In 1993 to be more precise.

The above is the first danger of over zealousness with Imam Mahdi or the Messianic Movement.  If we are not careful with our faith, we can fall into the trap of false Imam Mahdi or false Messiah. 

The second danger is the opposite of the first, namely, when the true Messiah finally comes, he is ignored and disbelieved.  This already happened in history.  The Jews were waiting for their Messiah.  But when he came, their scholars, leaders and many common folks among them not only rejected him, but they plotted to kill him as well. 

Killing him they did, or at least they thought they had killed him through crucifixion, with the help of the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. In case you are wondering whom I was referring to, that Messiah was none other than Jesus Christ or Isa Al Masih.

There was also another occurrence, and this affected the Jews as well.  In the Seerah, we know that the Jews in Madinah and Sham were waiting for the new Prophet (or new Messiah if you like).  When Muhammad the Prophet really came, we know what happened.  Only a handful followed him.

For the reasons explained above, I personally feel that we should approach the issue of Imam Mahdi with an objective mind: neither irrational, nor “too rational” either. 

Some well known rational scholars, including the much celebrated Muhammad Iqbal, do not believe in the concept of Imam Mahdi.  Iqbal thought that it has no basis in the Quran and the traditions.  To him, it is an Iranian or a Shiite concept.

Al Maudoodi, on the other hand, regards him merely as a reformer or a revivalist (mujaddid), who will be raised every 100 years to reform what had been deformed by bida’ah (innovation).  The concept of mujaddid is unanimously agreed by all scholars.  Disagreement is only on who is the Islamic Reformer in any given century.

This modernistic or rationalistic thinking does not seem to be surprising, because the concept of Imam Mahdi is most fertile among the Shiites.  They are obsessed with that.  If we are to believe what the Shiites say, there have been too many Imam Mahdi already.  And the Shiite concept about Imam Mahdi is far more complex than what the Sunni believes.  But let’s put those differences aside.

Be as it may, since many leading scholars, including the much celebrated Ibnu Khaldun, believe that the traditions (ahadith) about Imam Mahdi are well grounded, albeit with Shiite leaning, it is therefore not wise to reject it altogether.  While Imam Bukhari and Muslim, the twain who compiled the most authentic traditions, did not record anything about Imam Mahdi per se, Imam Abu Dawood, Ahmad and Tirmidzi did. 

Personally, I would suggest that we take a balanced view about this matter.  We should not be too overzealous about it, but should not disregard the issue completely either.  The first is to guard ourselves against the false messiahs, and the second is to guard ourselves against disbelieving in him, should he come during our times.

In the final analysis, if we faithfully adhere to the Quran and the Sunnah, I suppose it does not matter one way or another, because we already have the trustworthy criteria to judge between the truth and the falsehood.  Thus, anyone claiming himself to be Imam Mahdi but his teaching contradicts the Quran and the Sunnah, then he is a fake. 

On the other hand, anyone whose teaching and practice are grounded in the Quran and the Sunnah, we should follow him, even though there is no honorific title Al Mahdi given to his name.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Is It Cronyism, Or Just In The Blood?

The cry of cronyism is a popular cry in politics and business, but if we look at history, empire is built with the help of cronies.  No one can build anything of substance alone.  He needs his supporters.  These supporters, however, are not called cronies, but friends, associates or family members.
Muhammad the Prophet too did not establish the first Islamic Nation alone.  The Prophet, upon him be peace, did it through his close friends, family members and relatives.  
No Muslim worth his salt, however, would call his supporters, cronies.  Even the writers hostile to the Prophet do not venture to call them cronies.  They are called his companions. 
Now, if we look at the meaning of the word, we know that crony means long time friend.  Literally speaking, therefore, the leading companions of the Prophet are all his cronies, for they are his long time friends.  For an important appointment, such as leading an army, the Prophet always chose his crony.  Yet, no eyebrows were raised to this practice.
And Muhammad the Prophet is not alone in this practice.  Every man of note throughout history always relies on his cronies for support, and always appoints his cronies for important positions. 
Has the world changed?  Has the acceptable practice in the days of old become unacceptable in our times?  Or, do we miss something in this cry of cronyism?
A peek at the Seerah of the Prophet would perhaps shed some light on the issue.  The decision made by the Prophet in the light of this matter had never been objected except on two occasions.  The first was the distribution of booties after the Battle of Hunayn, and the second was the appointment of a leader in the expedition to Syria.  Let’s briefly look at both.
The Battle of Hunayn took place after the conquest of Makkah, in 8 AH (630 AD).  Having recently conquered Makkah without much resistant, the Muslims--with added strength from the newly converts, the people of Makkah--did not at first took the battle seriously and thereby suffered a temporary defeat. 
Mindful that it was not the number which led them to victory, they regrouped and renewed the fight.  They were victorious shortly thereafter, gaining abundant spoils of war, including cattle and slaves.  The Prophet gave most of the spoils of war to the recently converts, and the "veteren" Muslims who came to conquer Makkah, most of them were Helpers (Ansars, people of Madinah), were left only with very little booties. 
The tongues quickly wagged.  Muhammad had favored his people, namely his native folks, the Quraysh who had only recently converted.  All meat is given to his people, while all we get is bone, the Ansars murmured. 
The complaint reached the Prophet, and he called one of their leaders, Sa’d bin ‘Ubadah, to his tent.  He asked Sa’d to speak, to which the latter responded: 
“The Helpers are furious at you about the distribution of the booty that you had won. You have allotted shares to your own kinsmen and forwarded lots of gifts to the Arab tribes. But this group has obtained nothing.”  
“What do you think of all that?” The Prophet asked.
“O Messenger of Allah. You know that I am nothing but a member of this group.”  Sa’d replied.  In case you need translation, it was his way of saying he was also not happy with the Prophet’s decision.
“Call out on your people and bring them forth to me into this shed.” Said the Prophet.
Sa‘d went out and summoned them.  When they came, the Prophet spoke to them inquiringly:
“I have been told that you are angry with me. Didn’t I come to you when you were astray and Allah guided you? You were poor and Allah gave you wealth. Weren’t you foes and Allah made you love one another.”
“Yes,” they said, “Allah and His Messenger are better and more gracious.”
They already answered in a positive way, since they did not challenge the Prophet’s decision straight to his face.  But the Prophet knew that the matter was not yet settled.  All they did was saying the truth. Of course Allah and the Prophet are better, but the issue was about the spoils of war.  Seeing that they said nothing further, the Prophet provoked them:
“What prevents you from replying to the Messenger of Allah, O tribe of Helpers?”
Not knowing what else to say, they merely replied: “What should be the reply, O Messenger of Allah, while to the Lord and to his Messenger belong all benevolence and grace.”  .
To this reply, the Prophet rejoined:
“But by Allah, you might have answered and answered truly, for I would have testified to its truth myself: You came to us belied and rejected and we accepted you; you came to us as helpless and we helped you; a fugitive, and we took you in; poor and we comforted you.  You Helpers, do you feel anxious for the things of this world, wherewith I have sought to incline these people unto the Faith in which you are already established? Are you not satisfied, O group of Helpers that the people go with ewes and camels while you go along with the Messenger of Allah to your dwellings. By Him in Whose Hand is my life, had there been no migration, I would have been one of the Helpers. If the people would go through a valley and passage, and the Helpers go through another valley and passage, I would go through the valley and passage of the Helpers. Allah! Have mercy on the Helpers, their children and their children’s children.”
To that passionate speech, brief, but came from the heart of their beloved Prophet, the audience wept until tears rolled down their beards, and they said:
“Yes, we are satisfied, O Prophet of Allah, with our lot and share.”
That was the first occasion. 
As for the second, towards the end of his life, the Prophet assembled the largest army he ever assembled, said to be around 30,000 men to march to the Roman frontiers, Sham.  In that battalion, he appointed his grandson, Usamah bin Zayd, to be the leader.  Usamah was barely 20 years old at that time, or only 18 according to some. 
In that army, there were leading companions like Abu Bakar and Umar, but they were made to be ordinary soldiers.  Even the celebrated general, Khalid Al Walid, was in the army, but he too was made only ordinary soldier.
Thinking that perhaps the Prophet had made the wrong decision by appointing the young Usamah to be their leader, many of them objected.  Facing them, the Prophet asked:
“What would you say if his father was appointed instead?” 
It was a rhetorical question, of course.  Zayd bin Haritha, the adopted son of the Prophet and the father of Usamah, had become a martyr about three years back, in the war known as the Battle of Mu’tah.  He led an army of 3,000 strong to fight against the Romans army, whose number was said to be 100,000 strong, or 200,000 according to others.  The Battle of Mu’tah was the first encounter between the Muslims and the Romans. 
It was also the battle that the celebrated general, Khalid Al Walid, took part for the first time as a Muslim.  Khalid had recently converted at that time, and was made only an ordinary soldier.  In that battle, one after another the leaders appointed by the Prophet—first Zayd bin Haritha, then Jaafar bin Abu Talib and finally Abdullah bin Rawahah—fell martyrs.
Since the Prophet only mentioned those three, there was a vacuum in the leadership after Abdullah Rawahah fell martyr.  The Muslim army asked Khalid to take over the leadership, and the famous general managed to save the tiny Muslim army against the behemoth Roman army from total annihilation.  For his role in that battle, the Prophet called Khalid Al Walid “The Sword of Allah.”
Rhetorical perhaps the question was, but it had it desired effect, for the companions answered in unison: “We willingly submit.”
“Usamah is just as capable as his father.  Follow him, but support him with your good council.”  The Prophet rejoined. 
The companions did not take long to see that the Prophet meant what he said.  They had seen how Usamah performed in the Battle of Hunayn.  During that Battle, in which the Muslim army was ambushed, Usamah was among the few men who continued to fight with the Prophet.  He helped turning the near-defeat Battle into victory.
There was also personal reason.  His father was martyred in the first encounter between the Muslims and the Romans at the Mu’tah.  Usamah was told to lead the army to where his father went, with the mission to teach a lesson to the Romans who had been terrorizing the Muslims at the frontiers for the last couple of years.  Of all people, Usamah would be more keen to see the mission succeed, for he had a personal score to settle with the Romans.
Usamah was to lead, but he was told by the Prophet to seek good council from the senior companions who were more experience in war.  Usamah was wise enough to know that he was still a rookie in war as compared to the leading companions, but his role was symbolic. 
The Prophet had that in mind, and the leading companions soon came to understand the wisdom of their Prophet.  Even if that was not apparent to others, it was apparent to Abu Bakar.  Muhammad the Prophet died before the army left Madinah, but as soon as the Prophet was buried, Abu Bakar who took over the leadership ordered the army to dispatch exactly as the Prophet had planned, in spite of some reservation from the companions.
From the above two cases, we come to the crux of the matter. 
No man is an island.  Nothing of substance can be achieved without the help of others.  Great men or women throughout history did not achieve greatness alone.  They received help from their friends, companions, associates, or family members.
Muhammad did not achieve greatness alone, but through his companions.  So were Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and many others.  And after greatness is achieved, it was perpetuated by their close friends or family members. 
It was Julius Caesar who paved the way for the Roman Empire, but it was his nephew, Octavius, better known as Augustus Caesar, who became the first Roman Emperor, and through his descendants and relatives, made the Roman Empire great.
Genghis Khan established the Mongol Empire—the largest empire ever accomplished by a single conqueror—through the help of his friends and children.  This great empire was perpetuated by his children and their descendants.
Alexander the Great took over the leadership from his father King Philip, and expanded the small Greek Empire into a huge one.  This he did through his associates.  Since he did not have any children, it was his associates who perpetuated this large empire into a few smaller dynasties.
As for Napoleon, well, he died as a prisoner in an island of St. Helena.  Enough said about him.
As for Muhammad, we know that after his death, the Islamic Empire was perpetuated by his close family members.  His first four successors were all his in laws.  In fact, the fifth caliph, Muawiyah, who established the Umayyah Dynasty, was also his in law.  We have narrated it in All In the Family. 
The objection on cronyism is therefore not about favoring one’s family members, associates, friends or relatives.  After all, who can we rely for support if not from those we know well and trust fully.  As is often the case, these would be friends, family members or our associates.  We would be crazy to rely on some strangers.
Cronyism is not about favoring friends or family members.  It is human nature to favor those whom we love. 
It is about the perceived lack of worthiness of these favored ones.  While crony simply means long time friend, cronyism brings with it the connotation of favoring friends for no reasons other than the fact that they are our friends.
Thus, when the Helpers understood that the Prophet was not actually favoring his kinsmen in the distribution of booties after the Battle of Hunayn, but was simply trying to win the hearts of the newly converts, and that what was left with them, the Prophet himself, was much better than all the wealth in the world, they readily accepted his decision.
Likewise with the appointment of Usamah bin Zayd as the leader of the contingent to fight against the Romans.  The companions felt that Usamah was too young for the role.  Some even ventured to say that the only reason Usamah was appointed was because he was the adopted grandson of the Prophet.  But when the Prophet said that the appointment was because of Usamah’s capability, aside from the symbolic reason surrounding it, and not merely because he was the adopted grandson, they willingly submitted.
Alas, the companions of the Prophet were of different breeds.  If the current leader makes that kind of decisions and gives that kind of answers, I wonder whether people will acquiesce.  Even the third Caliph, Uthman bin Affan, whose service to Islam was too numerous to enumerate, was accused of practicing the policy of favoritism, by his contemporary no less.  Many of those who were not happy with him were leading companions.  What more the people of our times.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Info Seerah: The Story Of Four Hunafa (4/4)

We have narrated the way of Hanafiya in Part 1, and introduced the first and second Hunafa, Uthman bin Huwarith and Zayd bin Amr, in Part 2 and Part 3, respectively.  Now, let’s turn to the last two Hunafa.
The first of these two is Waraqah bin Nawfal.  He is well known.  He is the cousin of Khadijah, the wife of the Prophet.  He is well known because he was the one whom Khadijah brought Muhammad to meet when the latter was shaken upon receiving the first revelation.  By then, he was an old man of about 80 years old.
Unlike Uthman bin Huwarith who had some political ambition and finally decided to embrace Trinity Christian to further his cause, or Zayd who decided not to follow any of the established religions during his time but would rather continue searching for the true Hanafiya religion, Waraqah became a scholar. 
He decided to embrace Christianity, but not of trinitarian kind.  It is said that he was an Ebionite Christian, the Christian sect that considered Jesus to be a man, not a God.  He learnt the old scriptures and knew that the foretold prophet was forthcoming, and was hoping to meet him while he was still alive.
Also unlike Zayd bin Amr who went far and wide looking for an answer, and came back when the answer was to come from his own country, Waraqah remained in Makkah.  He knew Muhammad personally, and respected the latter highly, and was elated when at last the Prophet he was waiting finally appeared.
Now, the story when Muhammad received his first revelation is well known, and need not be repeated here.  Suffice to say that the experience had shaken him to the bones.  While his beloved wife Khadijad tried her best to comfort him, his mind was still not at peace.  So she brought him to her cousin, Waraqah bin Nawfal.
Listening to the story, Waraqah consoled his cousin’s husband, saying that he was not possessed by the Demon, but instead was visited by the Archangel, whom he called Namus, but we call Gabriel (Jibril).  Being learned in the ancient scriptures, and knowing Muhammad personally, it quickly dawned upon him that this was the much awaited prophet.  So, he told Muhammad as such.   
But his consoling words were added with serious warning: “If only I am still alive by the time people would oppose and drive you out, then I would surely have defended you with all my might.”
Thus consoled that he was not losing his mind, Muhammad was shocked again to learn that his life was about to be stormy.  Not long thereafter, the old Waraqah died.  He died as Muslim. 
Thus, unlike his colleagues, firstly Uthman who was a Hanif who died a Trinitarian Christian, and secondly Zayd who was a Hanif who died a Hanif, Waraqah was a Hanif who became an Ebionite Christian but died a Muslim.
The last Hanif was Ubaydillah bin Jahsh.  He was the brother of Zaynab bint Jahsh, the cousin of the Prophet who later on became his wife as well.  Ubaydillah was therefore the Prophet’s cousin as well.  He was the younger companion of Waraqah, and probably followed the way of Waraqah before Muhammad became a prophet.
He became among the earlier converts.  Waraqah probably told him to embrace the religion brought by Muhammad, which he did.  He was married to Ramlah bint Abu Sufyan, more popularly known as Umm Habibah.  Yes, the same Abu Sufyan who fought against Muhammad before he converted to Islam after the Prophet conquered Makkah.
After the persecution imposed upon the Muslims, Ubaydillah left Makkah and migrated to Abyssinia (Ethiopia).  This occurred in the fifth year of Prophethood.  Somehow, after some years in Abyssinia, mingling with the Christians there, he got attracted to their Christianity and became a Christian. 
It is said that one of the reasons for his conversion was because he wanted to continue drinking wine, but this is probably only a speculation.  Allah guides whomever He wills. In any case, because of his conversion, he was forced to divorce his wife Umm Habibah, whom the Prophet married later on.
Since he was no longer a Muslim, he never came back either to Makkah, as some of his companions did before the migration to Madinah, or to Madinah, when the Migration that marked the turn of the event took place.  Instead, he died in Abyssinia as a Christian.  He was a Hanif who became Muslim but died a Christian.
Allah guides whoever He wills, and leads astray whoever He wills.
The End

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Info Seerah: The Story Of Four Hunafa (3/4)

In Part 2, we have narrated the brief account of the first Hanif, Uthman bin Huwarith.  To those who have missed that part, a Hanif is one who follows the way of tawheed, the way of Abraham.  For more, please go to the introduction of this subject in Part 1.
Also in Part 2, we have introduced the second Hanif, Zayd bin Amr.  Who was Zayd bin Amr?
He was the cousin of Umar bin Al Khattab, because Al Khattab, the father of Umar, was his uncle.  His father Amr, and Al Khattab, were brothers.  They were sons of Nufayl.  They belonged to Adiy clan, of which Al Khattab was one of their leaders.
Zayd was not only critical but rejected the Quraysh’s way completely.  He was searching for the way of Abraham, but no one was to guide him.  His critical attitude to the way of the Quraysh had angered them.  Since Al Khattab was the elder within his clan, the responsibility to reign Zayd fell under his shoulder. 
Now, Al Khattab was pretty much like his son, Umar: stern, strict, unbending and can be physical.  He controlled Zayd the way he knew best, by giving the latter a good deal of beatings.  If Zayd did not participate in the important ritual of the Quraysh, then Al Khattab was there to kick his butt.
Later in his life, Zayd felt that such was not the way to live.  Not only that he did not know how to live as a Hanif, but he also got beaten frequently by his uncle for refusing to follow their way.  One day, leaving his family behind, he escaped and travelled far and wide, looking for the true religion.
There were Christians and Jews already, but he thought that they were not the true Hunafa, so he kept searching.  Knowing that Abraham used to live in Palestine, he went there, looking for answer.  By chance he was told by one of the monks that the prophet who would bring the true religion was about to appear, and he would appear from his country, Arabia.
Travelling far and wide, only to be told that the answer would be forthcoming from his own hometown, he came back, hoping to meet the foretold prophet.  Alas, he was murdered on his way back. 
The Prophet used to say that Zayd bin Amr is the dweller of Paradise, a special paradise for people like him.  He had a son, Saeed bin Zayd, who embraced Islam as soon as Muhammad became a prophet.  Saeed and his wife were among the early converts. 
In case you are wondering who is this Saeed, the son of Zayd the Hanif, he was the brother in law of Umar Al Khattab.  Well, he married Umar’s sister, Fatima.  He was the one who got kicked by Umar when the latter went searching for Muhammad in rage, to kill the Prophet.  Umar was not yet a Muslim at that time. 
This story is well known, but let’s narrate it briefly here. 
True to his character, Umar felt that enough was enough.  Being intelligent, he knew the source of the problem was Muhammad.  The way to solve the problem, of course, was to eliminate its source.  Muhammad had to die, he decided.  He knew if he killed Muhammad, the Bani Hashim would kill him.  But he didn’t care, for all he wanted was to solve the problem with these pests called Muslims.
Alas, he was shocked to learn that his sister and his brother in law had been Muslims all along, but they kept it secret from him.  Wanting to put his house in order first, Umar went to his sister’s house, gave Saeed a good beating, but ended up embracing Islam. 
While this story is well known, not many perhaps know that the brother in law whom Umar beat was none other than Saeed, the son of Zayd the Hanif.  Saeed was not only his brother in law, but his son’s cousin as well.  His cousin, Zayd bin Amr, was a Hanif who died a Hanif.
Unlike his colleague, Uthman bin Huwarith, who died a Christian, Zayd died a true Hanif.  He would have died a Muslim had he lived long enough to meet Muhammad as a prophet.  Alas, both of them died before Muhammad was anointed as a prophet. 
But while Zayd died a blissful death although he was murdered, since the Prophet mentioned that he was a dweller of Paradise, the same could not be said about his colleague, Uthman.
The other two Hunafa, i.e., Waraqah bin Nawfal and Ubaydillah bin Jahsh, managed to meet Muhammad when the latter assumed his prophethood.
We shall cover both of them in the final part.  Stay tune.
End of Part 3