One day I found myself sitting in an Arabic beginners’ classroom. I was there taking a proficiency test and wanted to inquire if the teacher could tailor a specific speech and verbal discussion-only class for me. At that time I had just returned from Yemen and I feared for my Arabic. I really was worried that if I didn’t speak it, I would slowly lose it. After my test I kind of lingered around to see the teacher’s methods and what books he was using; so I joined in, and he let me do so. We were role-playing as you normally do if you were following a book similar to al-arabiya bayna yadayk where every unit opens with a hiwaar: a dialogue. The teacher had everyone do it, including me. The turn then came to man and he started reading his part. Like most of us who are non-native Arabic speakers, but who are used to incorporating Islamic phrases into our daily conversations, alhamdulillah, let’s admit it: we all over do it with the pronunciation! This happens without us noticing that it’s even in our usual halaqas and religious circles. Most of us, and may Allah forgive us, think that the deeper the makhraj or enunciation of a letter, the better, or the better Arabic-sounding it is. It is unfortunate that we also hear this in the recitation of our local imaams. Only when I was in Yemen that I noticed the significant toning down of that in speech. In formal settings and in khutbas at least. So when this man was reading in that manner, the teacher stopped him and pointed this out. He said, “easy, easy”. He said to pronounce the letters lighter and to not stress on them too much. He also added that the Arabic that we hear most Arabs speak (that sound like that) is the ‘lahja’ : colloquial or street/informal language, therefore unacceptable in Quranic recitations and in formal settings. SubhanAllah if you think about it, it’s true! Listen to a recitation of famous Qari right now and notice how easily he goes over the letters. It is in the manner in which he reads that makes the listener feel at ease.
That was one of the many reasons that made me think of addressing this topic, which is about taking things easy. It’s not just about Arabic pronunciation though, it’s about life in general. If we look into the Seerah, there are countless times where we are given a glimpse of the characters and approaches of the Sahabah, the ahlul bayt and even of Rasulullah himself. They were human beings who had the best of manners and had the most of knowledge in terms of the Qur’aan and the Sunnah but still got upset, jealous, appreciated humor and laughed. Did that make them any less pious? No. Were they still the best of people? Yes. So we should we follow them in all respects? Absolutely.
I decided to go with a Sahabi whose story is one that is close to my heart. I even chose him to write a 30-page bahth: research paper on back when I did my Arabic diploma (or dibloum :p)! This Sahabi is ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas. One of the oft-heard, widely narrated story in many books of hadeeth about him and from him was this one:
It was during the time of ‘Umar’s reign as khalifah, and he (‘Umar) used to have halaqas where he would consult the older and more senior Sahabahs about certain deen-y matters. ‘Umar one day introduced Ibn ‘Abbas, who at the time was a young boy, into the circle. The senior Sahabahs, as it were known to ‘Umar, were not comfortable about Ibn Abbas sitting amongst them mainly because they too had children his age, but they were not invited to these meetings, so why was Ibn ‘Abbas special? Obviously ‘Umar did not see Ibn ‘Abbas as just any young boy. The narration of Ibn ‘Abbas about this particular incident is as follows:
Ibn Abbas says: “[…] One day he [Umar] invited the Companions of Badr and called me also to sit with them. I understood that he had invited me to the assembly to prove his contention [about having me in such circles]. During the conversation Umar asked the Companions of Badr: “What do you say about Idha jaa nasrullahi wal- fath?…” [The last verse in Surah An-Nasr] Some said: “In it we have been enjoined to praise Allah and ask for His forgiveness when His succor comes and we attain victory.”Some others said that it implied the conquest of cities and forts. Some kept quiet. Then Umar said: “Ibn Abbas, do you also say the same?”I said no. He asked: “What then is your view? “I submitted that it implied the last hour of Allah’s Messengerﷺ ; in it he was informed `that when Allah’s succor came and victory was attained, it would be a sign that his hour had come; therefore, he, should praise Allah and ask for His forgiveness. Thereat Umar said “I know naught but what you have said.” In another narration there is the addition that, Umar said to the Companions: “How can you blame me when you yourselves have seen why I invite this boy to join the assembly?” (Bukhari, Musnad Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Ibn Jarir, Ibn Marduyah, Baghawi, Baihaqi, Ibn al-Mundhir).
Hearing this always makes me smile. It is saturated with great lessons, one of the obvious ones being that age is not a factor when it comes to the possession of knowledge and wisdom. Of course we also know that Ibn ‘Abbas was not just any young boy. He had the advantage of being from the family of the Prophet in that he was the son of Al-Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet, and also the nephew of the wife of the Prophet, Maymoonah . Yet lineage was not enough for this youngster who was overzealous about learning from his cousin, the esteemed Prophet of Allahﷺ. he even shadowed the Prophetﷺ closely wherever He went. This gave him countless of opportunities to learn directly from what the Prophet’s day-to-day habits were, how He did things like wudhu, what he ate, and even what Surahs He read in Zuhr and Asr- which no one can know unless they sat down and studied the Prophet’s lips intensely and had great attention skills! No doubt he was attached to Rasulullahﷺ. Such was this ‘Abdullah.
What really amazes me about this Sahabi was his amount of knowledge and his approach.The relationship between the two. Firstly let’s look at his position and relationship with the Prophetﷺ:
1. Rasulullah mixed his saliva with his when he was a baby before he was nursed by his mother
2. When he was just 10 years old, Rasulullah called him the Shaykh of Quraysh (a prediction, a foreshadowing)
3. Rasulullah used to make many duaa’s for him (majority of them accompanied with His hugs ). Among them are:
- اللهم علمه الكتاب والحكمة : O Allah teach him the Book and Wisdom
- اللهم فقهه في الدين وعلمه التأويل : O Allah give him understanding of the religion and teach him proper interpretation
- اللهم بارك فيه وانشر منه : O Allah put Barakah in him and spread the Deen through him
- اللهم علمه الحكمة : O Allah teach him Wisdom
- اللهم علمه الكتاب : O Allah teach him the Book
4. The ‘advice to youth’ hadeeth was given directly from the Prophetﷺ to him:
….يَا غُلاَمُ إِنِّي أُعَلِّمُكَ كَلِمَاتٍ احْفَظْ اللَّهَ يَحْفَظْكَ احْفَظْ
“Young man, I will teach you some words. Be mindful of God, and He will take care of you. Be mindful of Him, and you shall find Him at your side. If you ask, ask of God. If you need help, seek it from God. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you, they would not be able to help you except if God had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you except if God had written so. The pens have been lifted, and the pages are dry.”
It is not known as ‘Advice to Youth’ but I named it as such because the Prophetﷺ addressed Ibn ‘Abbas as ‘ghulam‘, meaning young man in this hadeeth, and the hadeeth matn itself is a nothing short of a list of great advice for the young student of knowledge.
From this it becomes clear to us why he had the greatest of understanding of the Quran among others. It was all down to the constant duaa’s of the Prophet, his own efforts to be with the Prophet as much as he could, and let’s not forget, Allah’s will. SubhanAllah, it’s so true that من يرد الله به خيرا يفقهه في الدينز : If Allah wants good for a person He grants him understanding of the Deen. That was indeed true in the case of this amazing Sahabi.
How was he known among the Sahabah?
‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar: This is the most knowledgable amongst us with regards to what was revealed to Rasulullahﷺ ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ood gave him the nickname ‘tarjamaan al-quran’ : the Interpreter of the Quran, when he himself is an interpreter of the Quran.
Best interpreter of the Qur’an, check.
Was a scholar in many fields of knowledge such as poetry, Arab history before Islam, inheritance laws, Arabic language and etymology.
Extremely knowledgable, check.
Masruq ibn al-Ajdah: Whenever I saw Ibn ‘Abbas, I would say that he is the most handsome of men. When he spoke, I would say that he is the most eloquent of men. And when he held a conversation, I would say that he is the most knowledgeable of men.
Handsome, eloquent and knowledgeable, check, check and check.
From all of this, he earned several nicknames. Among them are, Habr-ul Ummah : The Learned One of the Ummah, given to him by Ubay Ibn al-Ka’ab. Al-Bahr: The Sea, due to the expanse and depth of his knowledge. You will find that in some hadeeth narrations, the sahabah would would actually allude to him by this name like, “I asked Al-Bahr..”. Amazing!
Tawoos al-kaysaan is a tabi’ee who used to only sit in the circle of Ibn ‘Abbas: and people would criticize him for not taking full advantage of his time in Madinah (Tawoos had come all the way from Yemen). He said to them that in the beginning he used to sit with all the sahabah, and met all 500 of them, and every time they differed, they would all end up agreeing on the statement/opinion of Ibn ‘Abbas! So that was why he decided to dedicate his time just sitting with this fountain of knowledge.
May Allah be pleased with Ibn ‘Abbas! Descriptions of Ibn ‘Abbas are all extremely positive, and at a great length about the extent of his knowledge. We know for sure that Allah Himself has blessed and allowed him such a high understanding. After one has established this fact that without a doubt, the one who truly had immense knowledge of the ahkaam and hudud of Allah was ‘Abdullah Ibn Abbas, one might wonder how and what his approach was like..
Often we would think that such a big ‘aalim would be the strictest of men in the halal and haram department and all other aspects of the deen, right? Possibly uptight too due to his immense knowledge of the athaab: punishment that a sin could incur a person. Knowledge makes you an obedient and law-abiding person, but wisdom makes you smart about where and when to apply a certain rule and to whom it applies. And guess what? ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas’ fiqh is known to give the most lenient of fatawas among other Sahabah! His approach was the easy road. In fact his Fiqh is called the Easy Fiqh, Fiqh Al-Muyassar.
Here was a man who was known to understand the Qur’aan better than any other man other than Rasulullah, and he knew exactly the laws of Allah that are detailed out in the Quran, and also knows the Sunnah in and out from spending so much time with the Prophet, yet his fiqh is known as Al-Fiqh Al-Muyassar, The Easy Fiqh? He only had one wife whom he loved dearly- which should tell you something :), gave specific tailored fatawa (as they should be) to the people, meaning he would give different answers or solutions to two different people although they had come to ask him the same question; he had the ability to interpret their character and analyze their situations and contexts accordingly. That is wisdom. We know that he had wisdom for sure due to the duaa of the Prophet: ‘O Allah teach him the Book and Wisdom”.
Yes, he was human and he judged according to and with his humanly qualities which was bestowed upon him, which means that he could be wrong, but we cannot ignore the fact that his approach fills one with so much hope and husndhann: good thoughts about Allah. And that is a huge requirement in ibaadah, to have hope that Allah is going to forgive you, save you, give you that thing which you prayed for etc. The Prophetﷺ said: “when one of you makes a du’a, then let him be firm and determined in his du’a[…]” (Tirmidhi]. Also, the validity of a person can be judged when a person has passed on- as the saying of Ibn Mas’ood goes, “Whoever wants to follow a path, let him follow the path of one who has died,” so that if his/her end is good then we know he/she has lead a life pleasing to their Lord, while if his/her end is bad, then we know it is the opposite. In this case ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas’ death was something so beautiful. (The narration is at the end of this write-up.)
In line with the topic of ease, in the Qur’aan we find that Allah uses the word yasr in the context of the carrying out of an ibaadah; basically on living life in accordance to the deen.
1) فَاقْرَءُوا مَا تَيَسَّرَ مِنْهُ : So recite what is easy from it [Al-Muzzammil, 20] *on performing Tahajjud
2) يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ بِكُمْ الْيُسْرَ وَلاَ يُرِيدُ بِكُمْ الْعُسْرَ : Allah intends for you ease, and he does not want to make things difficult for you. [Al-Baqarah, 185] *on fasting
3) فَإِنَّمَا يَسَّرْنَاهُ بِلِسَانِكَ لِتُبَشِّرَ بِهِ الْمُتَّقِينَ وَتُنذِرَ بِهِ قَوْمًا لُدًّا: So we have made this easy in your own tongue, only that you may give glad tidings to the pious & righteous and warn with it the quarrelsome. [Maryam, 97] *on reciting the Qur’an
4) فَإِنَّمَا يَسَّرْنَاهُ بِلِسَانِكَ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ : Certainly, We have made this easy in your tongue, in order that they may remember. [Ad-Dhukhan, 58] *similar to the previous verse, on the language of the Qur’an.
5) وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي : And ease my task for me [Taha, 26] *Musa on carrying out da’wah.
Notice here how the Prophet of Allah asks for his task to be made easy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting ease in your life. Some among us think it’s better to suffer here than in the aakhirah, so they never ask for a task to be easy. I remember I used to like a quote that read “I ask You, God, not for an easier task but for broader shoulders”, and I had liked it without knowledge. While it sounds brave and poetic, in duaa we are encouraged to be humble and glorify as well as acknowledge God’s ability to change our situation- in this case make a situation easier to handle. While that is true that it is better to ‘suffer’ here than suffer in the Aakhirah, we should never wish for it. We should never wish for difficulty. We wish that life is both easy here and in the afterlife. Aameen. As in the duaa:ربنا آتنا في الدنيا حسنة وفي الآخرةحسنة وقنا عذاب النار : Our Lord give us goodness in this world and in the hereafter goodness and save us from the torment of the Fire. Goodness can mean barakah, peace, victory, and in all of them a degree of ease. Even in difficulty we find ease or comfort in knowing that it is a test from Allah. So ask Allah to يَسِّرْ your task.
Back to the knowledge and the approach of ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas, he is a great role model to me personally because he was a man of Qur’an and Sunnah true and true. Islam is a way of life and what a way of life is supposed to do is to assist and facilitate life, i.e. ease it. I’m not just talking about concessions and leniencies in certain situations in Fiqh-y matters. I’m referring to the entire scope of Islam that Allah has revealed to our beloved Teacher, Muhammad ﷺ.
So if you see someone who does not seem to be consistent with his/her dressing, or does something out of the ordinary that you would not expect to come from them, be easy. Try to judge the situation with as much wisdom as you can. Always remember that what your naked eye perceives is not always a true reflection of a situation. Treat others with the same respect as you would want to be treated, regardless of who they seem to be. With regards to yourself, do not limit yourself into thinking that the deen is a slim road. Nay, Allah’s mercy is wide. I’ve been down the path of taking matters with extremity and I was a harsh and angry person to say the least. I think everyone who is trying to practice the deen goes through this at some point, especially in the early stages. But I am beyond content and happy now to say that I am much more at ease and more calm when I take the deen seriously but in a way that is non-constricting. You will find this balance inshaAllah when you try to understand what and why you are doing a certain deen-y rite. Take sadaqah for example. Instead of doing it just because it is a sunnah and you want to do it just because it’s a Friday, so double rewards, try to understand the wisdom behind it. Rasulullahﷺ says that it purifies wealth and increases it because you are lifting the strain of another person, and in turn Allah fixes what needs mending in you: it may be your wealth, it may be your character, even the removal of an incoming harm. So getting your mind to be present in whatever you do really helps you become less of a rigid person. A Muslim should be a person with whom everybody, regardless of race or religion or background, feels at ease.
The Prophetﷺ said “This religion is easy. No one becomes harsh and strict in the religion without it overwhelming him. So fulfill your duties as best you can and rejoice. Rely upon the efforts of the morning and the evening and a little at night and you will reach your goal.” [Sahîh al-Bukharî]
Since it is Ramadan, I thought I’d share a small, positive, ease-enabled thing that I’ve changed up this time around and that is in how I have chosen to approach the Quran. All these years I’ve hidden under the reasoning that since Ramadan is ‘ajr sale time’, therefore it is smart to make use of the opportunity by completing at least 1 round of the Qur’an. While this is true, this year I am making it a point to make myself present- mind, body and soul into every inch of an aayah, even if it is as simple as فَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمْ الْمُفْلِحُونَ : they are the ones who prosper/are victors. I do not want to race with anybody in ‘khatam-ing’ the Qur’an, but I do want to race them in its understanding. (And I hope ‘race to goodness’ encompasses that :)) How this is ease-enabled is in the fact that from the exterior i.e the pace that I’m going, it would seem that I won’t be able to even complete the entire mushaf (when I’m pausing for 5 minutes after every aayah) by the end of Ramadan, but I’m taking it ‘easy’ and lingering a while longer to give time for reflection after a Juz':chapter. I’m taking it easy in the sense that I’m in no rush. But the rewards inshaAllah, especially if you have the intention to embody the messages of the Qur’an, we pray, are immense. Aameen.
If you are still not convinced about how ease fits into Islam and why you should soften up and take things easy, I’ll leave you with the narration of the burial of this gem of Islam, Al-Bahr, Habr-ul Ummah, Al-aalim ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas and dissect for yourself what this beautiful incident symbolizes. May Allah make the Qur’aan our companion in the grave and a witness for us on the Day of Reckoning.
“Ibn ‘Abbas died in at-Ta’if, and a bird, the likes of which had never been seen before, was seen at his funeral. The bird entered the hole in the ground where Ibn ‘Abbas was to be buried. So, we looked and waited to see if it would come out, and it didn’t. When his body was finally placed in the ground, we could hear the verse
“O, the one in rest and satisfaction! Come back to your Lord, Well-pleased and well-pleasing!”
being recited from the edge of his grave, but we were unable to find out who had recited it.”
[Reported by al-Hakim in ‘al-Mustadrak’ (3/543), and it is authentic]
يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ارْجِعِي إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَرْضِيَّةً فَادْخُلِي فِي عِبَادِي وَادْخُلِي جَنَّتِي.