Posted by: Dawud Israel | November 30, 2011

Commentary on AHM’s Contentions: Traditional Islamic Education

Bismillah, walhamdulila wa salatu wasalam ala Rasulullah

Here is the first batch I have organized and commented on. I will probably update this repeatedly and might change the format.

96. Courtesy and knowledge are like two hands washing each other.
-Courtesy will remove blemishes in one’s knowledge, and if one is discourteous they will only be selective with their knowledge and dirty it
-Knowledge removes blemishes from courtesy for example understanding an adab or custom

57. Morality means more-reality.
-A lie is less-reality, but a truth is reality
-Patience is closer to reality because it allows things to arrive whereas anger may delay them
-Truth is in touch with morality and morality helps one see society with clarity, and the alternative is delusion

65. Wisdom consists mainly in the ability to recognise human weakness.
-Being realistic and compassionate as to people’s expectations rather than abstract, detached ideas

37. Renunciation is wisdom’s only door.
-The following quotes from Imam Muhasibi are relevant: 1) ‘People differ in worldly divestment in proportion to the soundness of [their] intellects, and the purity of [their] hearts. The most virtuous are the most intelligent and those who best understand God.’ and 2) ‘Anyone divested from the world finds his divestment in proportion to his knowledge, his knowledge in proportion to his intellect, and his intellect in proportion to the strength of his faith.’

83. Wisdom and safety are humility’s twin daughters
-Being arrogant can get you into trouble with hubris and over-confidence, and often you don’t learn much, whereas humility is a safe route which can show you insights you would have otherwise missed

97 Religion has only one door, whose name is Repentance
-The beginning of the spiritual path is repentance and continues with repentance, even if we are not sinning we could be repenting for our shortcomings in doing good

93. Religion is maximising the number of epiphanies we love.
-When we love religion more and more epiphanies we love God more and more

91. Respect the insights that can only be expressed by humour.
-A very British idea that is quite right

41. Religion is not what we do, but what we mean.
-Innal amalu bin-niyya, actions are by their intentions

2. How easy it is to forget how easy it is to forget!
-Forgetting forgetfulness, and man was created nisyan (forgetful)

11. The world is the instantiation of useful metaphors.
-AHM mentions in one of his papers, “Ayat are ontological reflections or instantiations of the Divine

24. It is not possible to be right in a way that is barren.
-Being ‘right’ has a fecundity to it, in some way it brings forth something new and good
-Even if one is wrong, one learns from their mistakes at the very least
-Even if it may be hidden right actions bear fruits that may be hidden and demand patience to seek out

Traditional Education
33. Heresy is the gad-fly that makes the horse trot.
-Without heretic movements it just may be religious scholars would grow complacent and the religious zeal would die

54. Tajdid involves liposuction, not resurrection.
-Revival or renewal, means getting rid of the excess that have built up rather than resurrecting both the good and the bad

72. Popular taqlid sounds like four-part harmony. Popular ijtihad is cacophony
-’Fides ex auditu – faith comes by hearing’
-Their is something beautiful in the reasoning of the madhabs, even when you hear the reasoning/dialogue it is as if you are hearing a very special song, something you won’t hear often, because it carries with it a special gathering of noble minds but with DIY ijtihad it has no significance and sounds like a jumbled remix

53. The ijma‘ is the least selective reading of Scripture.
-The more selective one is they lose out on the spirit of Islam

17. Prefer the rukhsa when it leads to recollection. Fear the azima when it leads to turbulence of the heart.
-A heuristic in deciding between taking the rukhsa (lax fatwa dispensation) or azima (a sticter adherence to the fiqh)
-The rukhsa should help us remember God, the mercy in being given it; it should not distract us

58. Then: many muhaddiths and few muftis. Now: many muftis and few muhaddiths.
-The difference might suggest a change in the needs of the community but also reflect that we cling less to the corpus of hadith and instead only access it selectively
-AHM says in one of his papers: “Today the „ulama, the real „ulama in a classical sense are few, but everybody is giving a fatwa. That‟s our condition. People convert to Islam and ten days later they are telling you well this group is not right and this view is not correct and this tafsīr has a problem, ma sha Allah. That‟s a sign of grave decadence. Now those people, when they look at the tree don‟t quite know what they are looking at because they haven‟t studied with gardeners who have been part of a tradition of maintaining that tree and its environment since it was planted. They don‟t know its ways and they can be lethally dangerous.”

93. The weaker the homework, the stronger the ideology. The stronger the homework, the stronger the din.
-If we don’t study carefully we will often fall back to ideological ‘attitudes’ as substitutes or auto-pilots of religious reasoning and wisdom

33. Dignity comes from respecting tradition, not from respecting oneself.
-Who can give one dignity if one toots one’s own horn?
-Respecting tradition makes one part of the dignity of the past, so it naturally follows

8 Faith may be measured by the number of verses that soften one’s heart.
-Count them and remember them

93. Traditional Islam is not the replication of the positions of the ancients; it is to seek what they sought.
-It is the same niyya, often coinciding with the same means but not always

86. The Ummi was the unequalled promoter of literacy.
-Literacy in the broad sense of the term, not in the literate sense of the word since the Prophetic example was adept at cultural literacy, diplomatic literacy, teaching literacy, economic literacy, psychological literacy, political literacy, the list goes on

44. Where the roots are weak, the branches are stiff. Where the roots are firm, the branches are supple.
-The more well-established one’s roots are the better the absorption and flow of mercy in the branches and their fruit; the less well-established the root the less mercy can be flowed out to the branches (the limbs/members of the body of Islam or the actions)
-AHM says in one of his speeches: “‘Have you not seen how Allahcoins a metaphor, a good word is like a good tree whose root is firm, whose branches are in the sky. Every season it gives its fruit with the permission of its Lord. And your Lord coins metaphors for humanity that perhaps they may remember.’ (Quran) The Usūl, the roots and the furū‟ the branches. The Usūl, the sources; how do we derive nourishment from the Qur‟ān and the Sunnah. And the branches, what are the implications of that nourishment for the way in which the shariah and the Muslim life develops and provides shelter and nourish to human beings.”

19 The mujtahid does no more than turn the soil.
-Its not far-fetched for the answers to problems to already be there, but hidden under the surface, the mujtahid can turn it and show the deeper meaning and the other side of a fiqh issue

26. Ijaza is transfusion.
-Elsewhere in AHM’s writings he refers to the ‘lifeblood of the Scriptures’
-The closeness of the knowledge in it intimate experience but that it also carries through in one’s actions and alters oneself in a physical manner, that is, in our deeds and moods
-AHM may be referring also to sufi methods of transmission

51. Without long commentaries, it would be easy to throw the book at people.
-The literal reading of this would mean the long commentaries that add extra weight to the books so its too difficult to throw
-The less literal reading is that long commentaries prevent violence due to faulty religious understanding

23. Preaching presupposes inculturation.
-Inculturation is a term used in the Catholic Church for adapting Christianity to non-Christian cultures, a term that could be of particular use to Muslims in the West for adapting Islam to the society
-What AHM is saying is preaching tries to accomplish this, but for Muslims we need not try as hard as the Christians do because Islam with its breadth is more natural and suited to adapting

98. Exoterism is mediocrity.
-The mirror image of this being Esoterism being sanctity or holiness

67. Islam = arithmetic
Iman = reading
Ihsan = writing.
-Islam is the learning of tawhid, Iman is the understanding of Islam and being emotionally attached to Islam and Ihsan is acting, producing and sharing that and giving it more life

6. Tradition is the puddling-clay of faith.
-Puddling-clay is used to construct simple ponds, the tradition holds the water of faith in
-The choice of puddling-clay as a metaphor for tradition may reference flexibility, diversity in shape, how it can be constructed anywhere, and rely on rain-water whereas a watering well doesn’t have that advantage

68. A mosque is not built, it is written.
-The mosque is a place decreed by Allah for His worship, and not one’s own choice
-A deeper understanding of this might be explained by the fact the 15th century Ottoman architect constructed Mimar Sinan constructed over 100 mosques of which only a few remain standing; simply because it is built does not mean it will remain

-By fiqh what is meant is understanding of the religion though it deals more with the ‘how-tos’, halal/haram and reasoning of Islam

14. A Sufi is anyone who knows that fiqh means understanding.
-Sufism also involves fiqh and ijtihad of the soul and spiritual matters
-One must understand oneself in the journey to understand one’s Lord

28. A madhhab is a grammar of the Law.
-Grammar can change the meaning in substantial ways
-Here is an example of the importance of grammar floating around the web:
A woman without her man is nothing.
A woman, without her man, is nothing.
A woman: without her, man is nothing.
-Language expertise is necessary for understanding the Sharia

35. The best way to make fiqh complicated is to teach that it is simple.
-One must understand people in making them understand fiqh, to tell them its simple and they will become over-confident and be discouraged and disgruntled by its nuance, but tell them its complex and they will appreciate it and be honoured to study it

96 The fiqh does not require hagiography to be hajji-ography.
-The biography of the pious is not limited or necessitated by their ritual acts of ibada but can refer simply to their understanding and wisdom

25. Without fiqh there is only opinion.
-AHM refers to madhabs as telescopes to see with maximum clarity, and to Do-it-Yourself ijtihad is a lot like trying to build a telescope yourself

13. Real fiqh is always a vernacular Islam.
-Terminology and lingo varies by time and region and there is an understanding of the true meanings that is necessary in order to have a full understanding of a particular fiqh issue

4. Fiqh is the joyful focussing on the moment.
-Fiqh connects each moment with ibada and this is how joy is found in consecrating every instance
-Note the British spelling of focussing as opposed to the American focusing

70. There are no loopholes in the Law, only well-crafted opportunities for sloth or gratitude.
-The ‘loopholes’ are not there, the Law demands excellence though there is room for mistakes and ease, of which one may be grateful or on a higher level, those loopholes are tests from God to see who will have the ahsanu amala (best action, Surah Mulk, v. 2) and who will make shukr to Allah for them

66. Do not number fiqh among your worldly concerns.
-Many approach fiqh as a boring textual material when in fact it carries with it an otherworldly spirituality and baraka
-Sufis will often just teach fiqh and it can be through its baraka that someone is purified

79. Ijma‘ records unity in order to supply it.
-Past unity carries into the future by virtue of historical fact. If we had no examples of unity in the past, would we continue that tradition?

51 Orthodoxy, like heterosexuality, is a corporeal, majoritarian mode of being.
-Ahlul Sunnah wa’l Jammah: The reference is to the Jamaah or Jamhur, the body of Muslims

51. He who does not love fiqh has no body.
-A play on words, no body/nobody since the one who does not love the diversity of fiqh is alone and also because fiqh is connected to the physical body and spiritual body of actions (amal)

38. Fatwa: only the mad do not pray. Taqwa: only the mad do not pray.
-A subtle difference between zahir (outward manifest) and batin (inwardly hidden)
-The fatwa gives allowance and excuse to the medically insane regarding worship, that is, they do not pray because they are mad whereas taqwa sees the lack of prayer, though one is able, as the sign of madness

30. We need not remain in the dark without dark al-idrak.
-Without understanding of understanding (fiqh) we are in the dark and lost, but we will remain in the dark until we go and learn

62. Fiqh is a sword for Theotormon.
-Theotormon is tortured by his Judeo-Christian morality and stiffled with indecision but Fiqh is a sword of guidance for him to free himself from indecision and powerlessness

17. Who is better: the one who is all fitra and no fiqh, or the one who is all fiqh and no fitra?
-The classical sufis warned against spirituality without adherence to the Sharia and to abandon a sufi who does not write hadith and teach fiqh
-But if one is just pure fitra then one is much more pure and then learning fiqh may come more easely

47. ‘Islamic’ and ‘un-Islamic’ are not the only adjectives. (‘And the differences of your tongues and colours.’)
-We use these two terms when we could use the more ‘islamic’ terms of haram, halal, makruh, mubah, wajib, etc. or the more humane and honest adjectives that would brings us closer to the deen that might include: frightening, different, adventurous broken, beautiful, alive, revive, gentle, slow, African, Indian, Indonesian, American, British, sensible, thankful, scattered, fragmented

-AHM refers to Kalam as an ‘apologetic and therapeutic space’

62. Kalam is negative theology. Sufism is positive theology.
-Kalam tells us what God is not, Sufism tells us Who God is. And the purpose of our creation is to know Allah.

22. Theology is the quest for the least silly definition of God.
-A-ra’ayta man ittakhada ilahahu hawah, says the Qur’an: ‘Have you seen the one who takes his own passions to be his god?’

51. Ash‘arism: the turn to the Sunna is a turn towards reason, for the Sunna neglects nothing that is from God.
-Reason is from Allah and turning to the Sunnah is a reasonable course, and approaching epistemology through the Sunnah is more reasonable than to approach it through some detached philosophical abstraction

78. Mu‘tazilism: unity and justice. Ash‘arism: unity and justice and mercy. (‘And thy Lord shall surely give unto thee …’)
-Why spirituality is superior to theological disputes, that even in theological disputes our character is seen, that even in theological disptes Allah is acting and involved, and Allah had mercy upon those theologians who saw Allah’s Rahma
-Arguably you could say the Mu’tazilites were lacking compassionate

17. Where there is no iman there is no theology.
-In the time of the Sahabas there was no such thing as Aqida, in fact, Iman was the term used and the basis of Aqida is that iman and belief the Sahabas held
-One cannot approach Aqida debates without iman first
-Theology is an expression of Iman, it is not its substitute

23. A theology which attributes the jalal to a failure of jamal must end in secularity.
-Majesty as a failure of Beauty, ends in secularity, perhaps meaning that if we feel justice is only justice when mercy is absent then it leads to a divorce from God because of the mechanistic nature of justice, and the absence of the transcendence of mercy. What amazes the believers most is that Allah forgives and this is beautiful to see

49. The foundation of Action is Theology. The foundation of Theology is Faith. The foundation of Faith is Action.
-Amal comes from Aqida which comes from Iman which is nourished by Amal
-The saying of La illaha ilallah is an Action (Amal)

82. It is in its Ash‘arite occasionalism that Islam most radically sacralises the world.
-Each act of Islam is separate from the previous, each event has it’s own sanctity.
-This is referred to in the next Contention

48. It is not arbitrary creation that is amazing; what is amazing is the perfect occasions He employs. ‘Do you see any flaw in the Merciful’s creation?’
-In Asharite Occasionalism every moment is created by Allah anew, but the miracle is that we do not notice it

77. The proof of God is the form of the proof.
-This may be a reference to Plato’s Theory of Forms
-What AHM is saying is worth considering that the ‘form’ is all that is needed to prove God’s existence, the ‘content’ of the proof is not needed

87 God is not a reality to be explained; He is the explanation of reality.
-A very powerful, concise aphorism. God is indeed beyond time and space. Can we imagine that?

77. That there is evil is good, but evil is not good.
-Rumi: He punishes because He is merciful
-Without evil we would not appreciate good, but this does not make evil good or noble


29. ‘The pillars of Beauty are truth and purity, and whosoever would find the one must love the other.’ (Nur-uddin Stephen.)
-AHM refers to Elaine Scarry’s idea that Beauty leads to a radical decentering, that provides ethical intuition and access to timeless truth

41. To learn truth is always to relearn. To lapse into falsehood is not always to relapse.
-Falsehood is not in our nature, but truth is in our nature with the fitra (primordial disposition to haqq)

93. Truth is already present, in all its splendour.
-Even if there is a lie present that doesn’t make truth disappear in fact the truth is still present, but being hidden by the lie and with time can collapse and shrivel up because lies are made up and hard to recall whereas truth is fact
-If AHM is referring to Truth as in al-Haqq or Haqiqa then that suggests the omnipresence of God

47. The Truth can be lived; it cannot be thought.
-Imam Ghazali speaks on this point that it takes a lifetime to understand the meaning of Truth

3. Truth is too big to fit into our minds, but our minds are small enough to fit into Truth.
-The search for truth is connected to ego and capability, if we want to fit the truth into our minds out of wanting to subordinate it, we can’t because we are not capable of it
-When we fit into Truth, it is because it is much grander than us, and AHM may be referring to the Divine as only knowable in part: ‘My incomprehension of God is my comprehension of Him’ (Abu Bakr)
-Hinting towards humility

99. Truth is the further shore of love.
-One must travel the path of love (mahaba) to reach Truth

God and Tarbiya

42. There is no worship without knowledge. We have been created to know Him.
-The purpose of worship is to know Allah, but we need some knowledge to start worshipping so our worship is sandwiched between sacred knowledges

96. We know God through takhalluq. The ethical is the way.
-AHM refers frequently to the hadith, ‘takhalluq bi akhlaqillah, take upon yourself the akhlaq or character traits of God’ and in taking on those attributes in our moral life we come to know God in an intimate way that resembles His ever closeness to us

30. God is always there for us, but never on our terms.
-What do our terms compare to God’s?
-What terms we do have that He didn’t reveal to us?

33. In practice, ‘remembering God’ can only mean ‘remembering the Covenant.’
-The Covenant may refer to the mithaq of humanity from the loins of Adam alayhi salam when they were asked by Allah ‘Alastu bir-rabbikum, Am I not your Lord?’ and we all replied ‘Bala shahidna, Yes to this we bear witness’ and this was our first dhikr
-It may also refer to the mithaq of the Prophets (to follow Muhammad salallahu alayhi wasalam should he arrive among them) and the shukr of his Risala (Prophethood)
-‘Practice’ may refer to actions carried out by the hand, that we honour that past agreement

57. God acts in the asbab, not through them.
-This is better understood Asharite Occasionalism and how it differs from the Maturidi stance
-AHM says in one of his papers, ‘And as months and years went by, I could not help but recognise the ‘conscious’ nature of the Absolute, as I played chess with Him. I would advance an argument, and He would show me an answer. All events acquired a religious meaning, as I entered what the Sufis call the ‘hidden game.’ In gently liberating me from the Greek web of the Trinity, He certainly showed me His existence.’

52. God’s ada shows that we are made in His image. He functions according to sunan and is not diminished by them. ‘Acquire the character traits of God!’
-We are not diminished by following a sunna, nor does God’s following His sunan diminish Who He is
-Another reference to the aforementioned hadith, takhaluq bi akhlaqillah

23. Self-knowledge without Divine knowledge? Divine knowledge without self-knowledge?
-’He who knows himself, knows his Lord’ (Imam Ali)

12. If God is not within, there is nothing to be within; if He is not without, we are without Him.
-Various hadith mention that nothing can encompass or contain God but the heart of the believer.


29. For ignorance to submit to knowledge, the many must submit to the One.
-We must submit not to a scholar or school of thought, but to Allah, but submitting to the ulema is a manifestation of submitting to Allah

61. Jahiliyya is ‘knowing no other way’.
-Did the Arabs of Jahili times ever see other ways? Did the mushrikeen see other ways?

99. If you seek light, avoid the narrow view.
-The name of Allah, an-Nur, the Light, is of particular significance

4. Faith is not faith unless it seeks understanding.
-In Islam faith is not simply fideism, but seeks out an understanding because of belief in its value and because we have been created to know God

80. ‘Pride is the denial of the Truth’. (Hadith)
-Pride by its nature will deny Truth, and so having both pride and truth together is impossible

49. Does the path of Islam grow broader or narrower?
-Worth pondering over

81. ‘Fear of God is knowledge enough. To be pleased with one’s knowledge is ignorance enough.’ (Bint Umm Hassan)

99. The limited love to limit, while the open love to open.
-Some people are insecure or easily irritated and want to close the doors and windows while others are more tolerant and will open doors for people

19. Lord, forgive us their ignorance.
-Hint to the Prophetic dua, Allahummaghfir li qawmī fa innahum lā ya’lamūn – O Allah forgive my people for they do not know

65 We are too busy being right to have time for God.
-Sometimes its not a matter of right or wrong but how one deals with those questions with patience and adab that is beloved to Allah, and will really show who really has a good standing with God

19. Followers of Antichrist see with only one eye, whose name is Zahir or Batin.
-People who see with one eye, monoptic vision lack depth perception
-Other references to Zahir and Batin AHM has made is that the two points of the Dhul-Fiqar represent the Zahir and Batin and it was unsheated against the Khawarij


92. Do not believe the confessions of tortured texts.
-There is adab with texts and getting any Islamic text to say something has more to do with the force (torture) place upon the text than the actual ‘confession’
-The word to use here would be ‘eisegesis’ which refers to the misinterpreting of a text in such a way as to introduce one’s own ideas into the text

25. The reading of Scripture is sufficient; but we are not sufficient readers.
-AHM makes us ask if our ears are out of tune with the Qur’an or unaccustom to it
-How we read and the time we take in reading the Qur’an is often enough to render many modern issues moot and remove the malcontent of Muslims and distortion of Islam but we somehow find no time for an indepth reading of the Qur’an
-Note the word ‘sufficient’ which denotes taking one’s provision from the Qur’an in reading it, rather than ‘efficient’, which denotes a constricted reading
-Repeated reading of the Qur’an will teach you to become a sufficient reader

90. Scripture defines mercy, but is not an alternative to it.
-We cannot resort to the Qur’an only when we want to be argue or pronounce takfir upon someone because it illustrates mercy
-One shouldn’t have the mindset of only reaching for the Qur’an in order to justify strictness

95. To slouch, and to suck one’s pen, are signs that one has never read Scripture.
-To think on one’s own ideas indulgently is a sign of decadence when the Qur’an is more deserving of that concentration
-The verses of fear makes us sit erect and put down our nafs in our stomach

30 Scripture to Law is as a vessel, not a manual.
-It only captures parts and one must carry the vessel back to the Scriptural source again and again
-There is no short-cut or index for the deen


-AHM mentions in one of his essays, “The Qur’an calls itself “Light” on many occasions; indeed, its God’s name is The Light, and the transformation of the world which it seeks is classically seen by apologists as a tanwir, an “Enlightenment” because it sweeps away superstition, priestcraft and dead Aristotelian verbiage.”
-Elsewhere AHM experiments with audio metaphors of the Qur’an, it’s ‘sonic and discursive totality’ and the ‘Qur’anic cantillation’ because in a sense we Muslims reason and think musically with an ear for both majesty and beauty. Here AHM experiments with other metaphors for understanding the Qur’an, but the word metaphor might not be a good description, because after all if the Qur’an is uncreated then it is not limited in its nature and is open to the possibility of diversity in its manifestations

75. If you want light in your house, use electricity from a sustainable source.
-The Qur’an is the sustainable source, and light refers to spiritual light and illumination

97. The Koran is prism or it is prison.
-We see through it, the way the Light (Nur) is broken up into the variant colours of the spectrum in our day to day experience where that Nur manifests
-It is a prison either for us, with our fear of God or for the disbeliever who is barred from it and misguided by the Qur’an

95. The Qur’an shows, it does not just explain.
-The Qur’an shows in many ways but the most powerful ones is when it explains or comments on something you have been thinking about privately
-The Qur’an provides examples of previous nations and parables of people who preceded us

19. He is dead who does not feel the Qur’an move in his hands.
-He may be hinting to the Qur’an nudging one’s world
-Perhaps AHM is referring to a spiritual vertigo sort of feeling
-Which way does it move? Up. The feeling one gets while reading the Qur’an is that it is ascending

26. Revelation is the opposite of the cluster bomb.
-It implodes into us but the more precise reference is to how the Qur’an came to the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasalam) as a heavy strain

46. Like solar prominences, the Koran’s bibliotheophanies indicate the energy of its self-celebration.
-Solar prominences burst forth from the sun similar to solar flares except that they last much longer, the Qur’an bursts forth with Nur in a similar manner lasting for a very long-time and this is a sign of its self-celebration, of which there are many verses
-The Qur’an as a rising place is mentioned in one of AHM’s papers

68. Revelation is everything that allows us to discern the Good.
-’Hal jaza’ul ihsan ilal ihsan – Is there with good, other than good?’ (Qur’an)

47. An ayah is a wetnurse. When born we suckle, when we die we are weaned.
-The ayat or signs around are nourishing us and making us stronger for the life of the akhira, rather than being blunt with us the Qur’an lets us understand Allah’s Haqq through the dunya

14. Remember: you once knew the whole Qur’an.
-Perhaps a reference to the fitra and pre-eternal question, Am I not your Lord?

-AHM has said in one of his essays, ‘the first Muslims were detached, versatile, and sober they were not schematic, proud and indifferent to indispensable dimensions of human totality’

34 The sunna is our epistemology.
-It is the basis of our knowledge, it is not simply our slogan

46. The sunna is an optic.
-It is how we come to see things, perhaps more specifically this could mean see life through his lifestory salallahu alayhi wasalam (the Seerah)

30. The fitra tells us that nature is a medicine. The Sunna allows us to take it.
-Our hearts tell us there are signs in Nature and the Sunna with its many examples of references to nature (Mt. Uhud shaking or the weeping tree by his pulpit)
-We have a tradition of Prophetic medicine which is the more superficial reading of this Contention

67. To conform to the Sunna is to ‘conform to God’. Do not think that there is freedom anywhere else.
-The liberation in following the best possible conformity and not worrying if there is something ‘better’ out there

58. To say that there is nothing after the Sunna is to accuse it of infertility. ‘Truly, your detractor is the one cut off.’
-The verse referenced is a hint to the Fountain of al-Kawthar
-To suggest the Sunna will not bring forth more good suggests its failure. We can learn from the generations that came after the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasalam) because they are like us, in that they want to adhere to the sunna so we can learn from them how to come closer to emulating the Sunna
-The hadith about good sunna and bad sunna is relevant here
-AHM says in one of his speeches: ‘The way to be true to the earliest generations of Muslims, is to be true to those who alone are authorized to teach the religion, because they have it had it from those, who have had it from those who have had it from those who actually held the hands of the sahāba (radi Allahu anhum). That’s the only way back.’

16. There is no neutral understanding of the Companions’ view of the Sunna.
-The Companion’s may have understood certain sunnas differently but they did not differ in the value they say in all of the Sunna
-AHM connects use to the Companion’s understanding of the Sunna rather than simply saying our understanding of the Sunna since they were first witnesses to it

100. Feuerbach : theological epistemology is anthropology. The Sunna : anthropology is theological epistemology.
-‘It is not as in the Bible that God created man in his own image. But on the contrary, man created God in his own image.’ (Ludwig Feuerbach)
-Feuerbach felt religion was really the study of man, that God was a manifestation of human feelings and a projection of human ideals whereas The Sunna is a lived social experience upon which we base our understanding of our religious sciences, whereas
-So in other words the Sunna is the study of man which is the basis of our theological sciences, what one can take away from this is that if belief in God is not connected to the Risalah (Prophethood) then God can indeed be merely a wishy-washy projection of our imagination whom we mold like an idol

21. The fact that the Sunna does not demand imperfection does not mean that it demands perfection.
-The sunna does not demand we be imperfect nor perfect, but that we simply try our best

74. Praying through someone is not praying to someone. Praying because someone is praying is praying to someone.
-Showing off in prayer (surah al-Maun) is riya/shirk but praying through someone (tawassul) is praying through someone has to do with their righteousness and standing before God, in the way the Intercession of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)
-Tawassul is mentioned in the hadith as done through Abbas radiallahu anhu, many people make this a problematic issue because the commit the Iblisian sin of putting reason before revelation
-One can also understand the durud/salawat an-nabi as a tawassul

35. Islam is not set in stone; stone is set in Islam.
-The Black Stone is set in the Kaaba perhaps as a sign relating to this metaphor, that stone is subordinate to Allah and will never be worshipped again
-Islam has bid’a as a mechanism of growth and internal safety of its healthy functioning in obligatory, praiseworthy, neutral, and blameworthy bid’as

70. Not every idafa is Arabic.
-Not every addition to Islam has to be in Arabic, meaning other cultures and ideas can play a role, for example, the digging of the trench which was an idea of Salman al-Farisi or the handshake which was a bid’a Abu Musa al-Ash’ari and his Yemeni clan introduced to the Muslims

86. The greatest subtraction is the claim that all addition is subtraction.
-The notion that nothing can be added to Islam (i.e. bida hasana) is perhaps the greatest subtraction because it would mean we have no Qur’an in paper form

Narrowing/Opening the Straight Path

8. Religion that seeks to be no more than a time capsule is likely to be claustrophobic.
-The metaphor of a time capsule is appropriate because it suggests how we cannot capture the past but only part of it which will not be enough, but this will not be the case if we remember Islam is more than a time capsule because it is not confined to one time alone

73. Preaching: this is an age for rukhas , not for ‘aza’im , and for conservatism, not for liberalism.
-We have the rukhsa in Islam and its there for a time and place and is still valid, so we shouldn’t shy away from it, but at the same time we must approach the rukhsa with an attitude of conservatism, not of liberalism.

50. The recipe for chaos: the qat‘i grows until the zanni is almost abolished.
-If everything in Islamic epistemology is to be absolute rather than probable/speculative, then we our mistakes become absolute
-Something like ruqya is a zanni act, being cured by Qur’an recitation is a probable thing but it doesn’t always work since it may have to do with the piety of the reciter, but if people think its qat’i and it doesn’t work, then their faith is shaken.

80 Belong, not short.
-Belong to the community you are in
-Be long as in be detailed and nuanced rather than reducing Islam to slogans and platitudes

9. The truly-taken rukhsa makes you grow a little; the falsely-taken rukhsa makes you shrink rapidly.
-We should watch our intention in taking the rukhsa, is it to please our nafs or to remain true to our Islam?

16. Compliance is no excuse for strictness.
-Just because we must comply with Islam does not mean we be overly strict and over-tax ourselves
-Compliance with the good must look at the feasibility of performing it and the experience of it

80. Laxity is not the only form of decadence.
-Strictness is a form of decadence

44. Religion should help us to include more, not less.
-The universality of Islam must allow for as many passengers as possible

89. If you crave narrowness, crave a narrowness that is filled with mercy.
-The reference might be intentional to the womb which in hadith is said to have been derived directly from Divine ar-Rahman

Misunderstood scholarship/For the Scholars

93. Being at ease in the company of scholars is a proof of faith.
-Why are we uneasy with scholars? Is it because we are uncertain that Allah is using them?

61. Religious leadership is an opportunity to be frightened of God.
-If one makes a mistake in the position of leadership then it has its effects on all the people, but one must remember there is accountability from Above and from below
-The Christian saying ‘nolo episcopari’ which means ‘I do not want to be the bishop’ is the phrase that is used as a false humility, since humility is what is the criteria

66. If the imam slips, consider him a victim of amazement.
-The opportunities for saying subhanallah are endless and leadership is included in this

59. The ability to perform ijtihad makes the scholar less judgmental, and vice-versa.
-I am not certain about this Contention but I suspect what AHM is hinting to is that one must imagine all sorts of possibilities and therefore one is less judgmental because they search in the body of Islam for any possibility that they can find

33. The preacher should neither lower the price of his goods, nor price Islam out of the market.
-’If this person, I kept telling myself, was one of God’s chosen salesmen on earth, then there must be something very wrong about the whole business’ (Roald Dahl)

52. Never trust a leadership position you find convenient.
-It may be a test or a trap from Shaytan

48. Text without context is pretext. ‘He withdraws knowledge by withdrawing the ulema.’
-This is important in understanding eisegesis and how Islamic texts can be misused for evil ends
-This is especially important in understanding controversial debates in Islam

17. The most useful person for the Umma is the true mujtahid; the false mujtahid is its worst enemy.
-After a while it becomes hard to tell the difference, in our era even the scholars have become confused

27. Many of our priests are in the wrong religion.
-There is a Prophetic hadith that every community has its Christians and Jews, people who emphasize the Letter without the Spirit (Zahir), the Spirit without the Letter (Batin) whereas Islam is the conjoining of both.

2. We must not overestimate the calamities of our age. A misplaced rigorism is less dangerous than an improper liberalism.
-An improper liberalism will release the nafs and it is is worse than being unnecessarily strict

40. The ulema must be as the tribunes of the plebs.
-The ulema must intercede for the lower-classes (i.e. the poor) in the face of government injustice, but this broadly also refers to the fact the ulema have a responsibility to the people

51. Woe betide the scholar who, at the end of his career, says ‘I wrote this’, and ‘I said that’, but did not heal a single soul.
-People account for books in this world, but Allah accounts for hearts in the Next

3. A faqih in first class? And pigs will fly…
-The pigs do fly in our times with what we know as swine flu. The reference is most likely to this hadith: Darimi relates that ‘Imran bin Muslim al-Minqari said:
I told Hasan (al-Basri) one day about something he had said, “O Abu Sa’id, that is not what the fiqh scholars (fuqaha) say.” He said: “Woe to you! And have you ever seen a single faqih? The faqih is but the abstinent of this world, the desirous of the next, the discerning in his religion, the perpetual in his Lord’s worship” (Darimi [23], 1.94: 299. S).


19. Tradition: esoterism is subject to the exoteric. Reform: the esoteric is subject to exoterism.
-In Tradition the spiritual batin matters are hidden and judged by amal and outward actions, as mentioned in the Prophetic hadith, so the outward actions are signs and justifications for righteousness, but in a ‘reform’ understanding of Islam, the inner baatini matters are cited as justification for righteousness without any need for outward signs of righteousness, which is the reverse of the Sunna
-This can be see in a Progressive Muslim understanding of Islam that resembles an Antinomianism

36. Revivalism is frequently a necrosis.
-It kills of what is living, and even if it were dying already it kills it prematurely
-In another Contention he alludes to how only organic matter can decay and perhaps the reference to organic has to do with the gradual growth of Islam

31. ‘Islah’ can never mean more than ‘amelioration’.
-Islah or reform as its translated can not be more than improving upon the past, otherwise if it tries to rebuild from the ground up it fails
-Another meaning of ameliorate is to make more tolerable and give it more appeal, which does not mean changing it

17. The radicals are announcing only one thing: ‘Attention! This vehicle
is reversing!’
-The radical insecurity and desire for safety from the unknown future is to retreat and for some reason everybody must be warned as if its a staged performance

43. The new creed: there is no islam but Islam, and Muhammad is the messenger of Islam.
-The reification of Islam and excess focus on the religion rather than Allah. This is definitely the message you get in the media about Islam, rarely is Allah spoken about even though we are the ultimate monotheistic religion

19. Redefine religion, but do not derefine it.
-The point made is the religion is refined enough, what is helpful is to redefine it so that it penetrates the heart. The destructive tendency alluded to is how in order for religion to be accepted by secularism, it needs to strip it of all meaning.

62. It is the Muslim, not Islam, that cries out to be reformed.
-Elsewhere AHM mentions the Sharia holds up the Umma better than the Umma holds up the Sharia
-The problem is the Muslim soul is not prepared to accept that it needs repairing but is ready to point at Islam as the source of the cause and this may have its link in the fact our society is an information society and not focused on the soul as much as we should be

27. We need an Erasmus, not a Luther.
Erasmus was critical of Luther, defending the ulema and how Islam has survived upto today

89. Only through tradition are we an umma semper reformanda.
-The latin means the Umma must always be reforming, and AHM reminds us that without the tradition reform is impossible and yet the true tradition of Islam is always reforming peoples souls and growing

Modern Islam

41. If you want to judge modern Islam, acquire a taste for beauty.
-We must not look for the ugly in the Ummah but in a globalized world see the beauty in how things play out and the diversity in our experiences of Islam

85. We want to make religion as small as ourselves; just as we have made our homes as ugly as ourselves.
-Related to the previous Contention on beauty and modern Islam
-References to ‘Truth is too big to fit into our minds, but our minds are small enough to fit into Truth.’
-Making our homes as ugly as ourselves may suggest how architecture is understood and how we use space in our homes, ‘as ugly as ourselves’ might refer to television or how all the furniture is pointed towards the television
-The connection between home and religion may have to do with the line between private and public in Islam and the Contentions in the Family Life section may be relevant, namely in the problems of adultery, divorce and broken families

58. Modern Islam: triumphalism without a triumph.
-One is reminded of George Bush’s ironic, ‘Mission Accomplished’
-Were we to triumph would we really bask in triumphalism? Did the Salaf have triumphalism? Or did they follow the Prophetic example of using their triumphs as opportunities to forgive (al-afuww ma’al qudra) and heal the umma?

42. They think to cut the medieval flowers, but what they leave behind is stubble, not the green shoots of Spring.
-You only get one chance with the flower of tradition, if you cut it down, it won’t sprout again
-It might be worth visiting some Qur’anic metaphors to nature
-AHM says in one of his speeches: “But the difference between ālim the and the amateur is that the „ālim says we‟ll deal with the tree as it is, we keep it going, alhamdulillahwe still have it and over the years it has acquired a certain magnificence, that in itself has the right to be respected and enjoyed. The amateur scholar says no, the best thing is to cut it down and well be back in 1453 again, or indeed back at the time of the hijra, in the time of the prophet (SAWS). This is really what is at stake. We have a tree that is more intact than the trees of the other ummahs. But we have, given the nature of the age, an increasing proliferation of people who misunderstand it; who are not grateful for it, who can‟t see its current beauty, who have not trained with those who have been looking after it, and think that the solution is actually to cut it down. The great calamity in our age is not that Islam needs a reformation, or that we need a liberal Islam, the great calamity is that we are not being true to our own traditions of scholarship.”

15. Islamic modernism: a danse macabre flirting with the spiritual death of the Enlightenment.
-Modernised aspects of Islam are dancing to the tune of modernity and will lead to the spiritual death the Enlightenment brought
-I suspect the phrase Islamic modernism rather than Muslim modernism might hint to how Muslims have embraced certain modern ideas like adhan clocks or Islamic conferences and technology that take away from the spiritual feel of Islamic teaching, and of note might be the fact AHM doesn’t speak at too many Islamic conferences

-Three words are worth keeping in mind in this section preterition (that salvation is a done deal), apocatastasis (that due to God’s grace everybody will be saved) and theophilanthropic/ist (someone who loves both God and humakind)

72. There is no better way to limit the Divine mercy than by limiting Islam.
-AHM repeatedly mentions the Divine Mercy and its significance is important not to limit Islam
-I may be wrong in this because he used the word ‘better’ instead of ‘worse’ but I may be confusing myself here

69. Exclusivism is less oppressive to the oppressed than to the oppressor.
-This can apply to theological issues or political issues like American Exceptionalism
-For example, if I say that a people somewhere that I have never met will not be saved, they are not bothered by it
-It is more oppressive to the oppressor because it may be a sign of mental problems, arrogance, and ultimately an obsession over exclusivism leads to self-satisfaction and spiritual growth is stagnated

26. The bigger the intention to compress the biggest truth into the smallest community, the smaller the credibility of Providence.
-The idea of an economy of salvation in Christianity discredits God’s beyond infinite capability

99. It’s quite a hard thing to respect
 A God who our prayers would accept,
 We splash and we preen
 Then we fidget and dream,
 So proud to be of the Saved Sect.
-Its hard to imagine God would accept our weak prayers
-Splash may refer to wudhu, preen means to be narcissistically proud, we fidget because we aren’t sure and yet we dream of ourselves as chosen ones
-The limerick structure displays the childishness of thinking you are the only one saved, like a spoiled brat
-Are we worthy of being the Saved sect referred to in the hadith about the 72 ‘sects’ that will be in hell? I should mention that hadith is interpreted to mean that their stay will not be eternal but temporary, only the most pious will be saved and their is another hadith that states that 72 ‘sects’ will be in Paradise

1. We have turned the Sunna Theologica into a Sunna Contra Gentiles.
-The theology of the sunnah into the sunnah on one side and the Other/Gentile on the other
-We interpret the sunna racially or tribally, when in fact there are no borders to it, in one of AHM’s essays he suggests the sunna as gradations, not boundaries

35. Do not doubt another’s salvation until you are certain of your own.
-An excellent reminder


89. Tribalism flourishes where Truth is neglected.
-What does one care about tribes when one is preoccupied with the Truth?

8. Truth is stronger than faction.
-A play on words, that truth is stronger than fiction
-The following hadith mentioned in 40 Hadith Nawawi is relevant, ‘O my servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to become as pious as the most pious heart of any one man of you, that would not increase My kingdom in anything. O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as wicked as the most wicked heart of any one man of you, that would not decrease My kingdom in anything. O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to rise up in one place and make a request of Me, and were I to give everyone what he requested, that would not decrease what I have, any more than a needle decreases the sea if put into it.’

90. Dialogue: from the It to the They to the You to the We.
-Here we have a map of dialogue and unity in the form of pronouns, which pronouns are you using?
-Police officers observe the use of pronouns as a sign of guilt and culpability

57. Where there is no division in vision there is vision even in division.
-If we can see the big picture then we understand that the divisions in our umma may have a purpose, which could be to help people along a trajectory of guidance or that each group has a role to play, for example the philanthropic work of the Aga Khan has helped many Muslims regardless of ‘factions’.

52. Vulgar factions cause long division.
-The more vulgar one is to another faction the more difficult it is to heal the wounds
-Division is a mathematical play on words of repeatedly dividing reducing the number of people in those factions until they disappear
-Long division may refer to the fact the more vulgar one is the more one finds to disagree about and divide people over

30. Pious repudiations of polyphony usually yield monotony rather than plainchant.
-To disapprove of more than one voice or opinion, in favour of the ‘correct opinion’ usually yields to a drab monotony
-At a different level, when people say ‘You are doing too much,’ or ‘only focus on one thing’ and that somehow this is better than doing more may yield a monotonous boredom that pushes one away

60. Conformity can be more radical than alienation.
-In an age when alienation and ‘rebellion’ is the norm then conforming to tradition is a very radical act

54. A heretic never claims to be a heretic, he claims to transcend orthodoxy.
-Many heretic movements in Islam claim to correct Islam, with words like tasfiya, as if they are caretakers of the religion
-AHM may be referring to the hadith of the 72 sects as well, which many sects use to justify themselves

75. Be wrathful against error in its depriving, not in its difference.
-An error that is different is not a threat to Islam, especially if it does not deprive us
-However an error that does deprive us, especially of mercy, ease and opportunities for spiritual growth is deserving of our anger, an example maybe the censoring of hadith

88. Unless one has the Islam of the Name, one has only the name of Islam.
-The Islam of the Name is perhaps a reference to the Divine Names and the taking upon the moral character traits of Allah

36. The ‘universal’ religion is not merely the religion that claims to be for all; it is the religion that claims that God has always been for all. There can be no Muslim ‘scandal of particularity’.
-scandal of particularity is the Christian problem that the specific person of Jesus who is the only way to God
-Islam has no such concept but believes that religion of the haneefs, of Abraham and Noah who precede the Christian and Jewish communities with monotheism

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.


  1. This is gold. Jazakallahu Khairan!

  2. JazakAllah Khair, this is pretty great mashAllah.

  3. The ‘contention’ that “A madhhab is a grammar of the Law”, I think, ought to also be understood thus: Grammar is to language as a Madhab is to Law. I think this is what Abdal Hakim Murad’s ‘Understanding the Four Madhabs’ mentions too.

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