By Murtadha Gusau
In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Bestower of Mercy
All thanks and praise is due to Allah, we seek His help and forgiveness. We seek refuge in Allah from the evil within ourselves and the consequences of our evil deeds.
Whoever Allah guides will never be led astray, and whoever Allah leads astray will never find guidance. I bear witness there is no god but Allah, alone without any partners, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and His Messenger.
“O you who have believed, fear Allah as He should be feared and do not die except as Muslims in submission to Him.” [Quran, 3:102]
“O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Verily, Allah is ever watching over you.” [Quran, 4:1]
“O you who have believed, fear Allah and speak words of appropriate justice. He will then amend for you your deeds and forgive your sins, and whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly attained a great attainment.” [Quran, 33:70-71]
Verily, the most truthful speech is the Book of Allah, the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad, and the worst affairs are newly invented matters (in religion). Every newly invented matter is a religious innovation, and every religious innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in the Hellfire.
Respected Brothers and Sisters! Abu al-Darda (Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:
“… (Islamic) Scholars are the inheritors of the prophets…” [Related by al-Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad, Ibn Hibban and others]
Imam Ibn al-Qayyim said concerning this Hadith:
“This is from the greatest of the virtues of the scholars, since the Prophets are the best of Allah’s creation. So this means that their inheritors are the best of creation after them. Everyone that leaves behind inheritance has his property transfer over to his heirs, since they are the ones who will take his place after him. There is no one that will take the place of the Messengers, in spreading what they were sent with after them except the scholars. Therefore, they are the ones who have the most right to receive that inheritance. This indicates that the scholars are the closest people to the Prophets, since inheritance is only passed down to those closest to the one leaving behind inheritance. So, just as this is established when talking about monetary inheritance, likewise it applies to the Prophetic inheritance. And Allah specifies the granting of His Mercy to whom He wills. This Hadith also contains guidance for the Ummah to obey them, respect them, have esteem for them, and honour them, since they are the inheritors and successors of those who possess these (above) rights over the Ummah (i.e. the Prophets). Likewise, holding enmity for them and waging war against them is the same as holding enmity and waging war with Allah, as is the case with those whom they are inheriting from (i.e. the Prophets). Sayyiduna Ali said, ‘Loving the scholars is the Religion one worships Allah with.’ The Prophet reported from his Lord, that He said, ‘Whoever acts with enmity towards a friend (wali) of Mine, I declare war upon him.’ [Related by Imam al-Bukhari] The inheritors of the Prophets are the most noble and foremost of Allah’s friends. There is also an indication in this Hadith for the scholars to abide by the guidance of the Prophets and the methods they used in spreading the Religion, such as patience, forbearance, confronting the revilement of the people with kindness, being gentle with them, drawing them towards Allah through the best ways, and expending all kinds of efforts in advising them. For by doing this, they will achieve their share of this inheritance that is great in status and honourable in significance. This Hadith also reminds the scholars to raise the Ummah just as a father brings up his child. So they should raise them step by step, starting with the small forms of knowledge and then progressing onto the bigger forms of knowledge, imposing as much knowledge into them as they can, just as a father does with his infant child when he brings his meal to him. This is because the souls of humans with respect to the Prophets and Messengers are just like children with respect to their fathers. Rather they fall short of this status by far. This is why every soul that is not cultivated by the Messengers will not prosper and will not be made upright. As for the saying of the Prophet, ‘The Prophets do not leave behind dinar or dirham for inheritance, but rather, they leave behind knowledge,’ this is from the completeness of the Prophets and their vast sincerity towards the Ummah.”
Also Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said:
“This means that they inherit what the Prophets brought from knowledge. So they act as the Prophet’s successors (Khulafa) in each of their nations, in terms of calling to Allah, to obeying Him, forbidding disobedience of Him, and defending the Religion of Allah.”[Talabul-Ilm, page 46]
Servants of Allah! Allah the Most High said:
“When some of them asked [their preachers], ‘Why do you bother yourself preaching to people Allah will destroy, or at least punish severely?’ [the preachers] answered, ‘In order to be free from your Lord’s blame, and so that they may perhaps take heed.’ When they ignored [the warning] they were given, We saved those who forbade evil, and punished the wrongdoers severely because of their disobedience.” [Quran, 7:164-165]
Brothers and sisters! These verses are extracted from a story of the Bani Israel (Children of Israel) in the Quran and their transgression by fishing on the Sabbath. In his commentary, Imam Al-Qurtubi explains that according to these verses, the Children of Israel split into three groups: one group fished on the Sabbath, a group that forbade them from doing so, and a third group that remained quiet, neither transgressing nor forbidding the first group from their transgression. Knowing the expected punishment, the third group asked the preaching one, “Why do you bother preaching…? ”
Although it is clear that the group from the Children of Israel that broke the Sabbath was punished, and that the group forbidding them was saved, it is less certain what happened to the quiet group.
Imam Al-Qurtubi preferred the opinion that they were also saved, because they did not remain quiet as such, but displayed their disapproval of breaking the Sabbath and isolated themselves until the first group’s punishment was delivered.
My people! The significance of this story in the Quran is in the principle that it teaches, which is about what is expected of a believer (especially an Islamic scholar) when they see a form of transgression taking place in front of them. These verses serve as commentary on two other verses in the Quran. The first one is from Surah Al-Baqarah:
“We have made you [believers] into a middle nation, so that you may bear witness [to the Truth] before others and so that the Messenger may bear witness [to it] before you.” [Quran, 2:143]
As Muslims we are told here what quality defines us and how that translates into action. In commenting on this verse, it is related that the Beloved Prophet (Peace be upon him) explained that a middle nation means a “ just nation.”
The second verse comes in Surah Ali Imran:
“[Believers], you are the best community singled out for people: you order what is right, forbid what is wrong, and believe in Allah.” [Quran, 3:110]
Imam Al-Qurtubi relates that the best community here refers to the righteous and people of virtue among Muslims, who as mentioned in Surah Al-Baqarah are the witnesses upon other nations.
Brothers and Sisters! Over the past seven years or more we, as a Muslim community, have been witnessing some wondrous events in our political landscape, especially in the Middle East. Some leaders that have been propped up to subjugate the masses have either been toppled, or were toppled only to be exchanged for another version such as the case today in Egypt. Before that we watched, and continue to watch, as the people of Gaza resist the cyclical onslaught of attacks by Zionist terrorists, aided with U.S. weapons and support from the Egyptian and Jordanian governments who close border crossings to make sure Palestinians remain as suffocated and as easy targets as possible.
We watched the Saudi and UAE governments back the Egyptian military in their coup to bring back the oppressive regime that Egyptians rose up against. We saw the execution of a planned massacre in Rab’ah Square, acknowledged as the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history. We heard about the Saudi government having to spend $533 million to construct two new prisons in Riyadh and Jeddah, because their jails are too “jam-packed.” On record, there are more than 40,000 prisoners of conscience in Saudi jails.
One could spend pages listing off the atrocities committed by governments in the Muslim world today. But when it comes to most of our prominent scholars, we hardly hear much of even a word against these injustices. Worse yet, we have witnessed scholars either tacitly support their regimes through their actions, or even openly stand along with oppression against the oppressed, using religious rhetoric to do so.
As the inheritors of the Prophets, do you think they (Prophets) can behave the way you are behaving? The answer is capital NO!
We mostly hear our scholars speak against U.S. foreign policy, Guantanamo Bay, and cite references such as the 2013 report from Amnesty International on how U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have torn so many lives apart etc. What all of these condemnations have in common is that they speak against external forces attacking Muslims. However, when it comes to our own internal political affairs, or internal forces attacking Muslims, we see many of our scholars either silent, or standing with tyrannical leaders and corrupt politicians for photo opportunities right after they pray for their success.
“Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they change what is in themselves.” [Quran, 13:11]
This verse is often cited by those advocating a focus on changing one’s inner state, i.e., purifying the heart, as a pre-requisite for Allah changing our outer state. While there is something to this, it is not the complete story. There is nothing in the verse that says the external change will come without any external effort on our part.
Moreover, the verse is not speaking about individuals. It speaks about a people. If we apply this to the current affairs of our Muslim community at large, the verse translates to:
“Allah will not stop the external attacks against a people and their subjugation by foreign powers until they change their internal political situation, which allows for this to happen in the first place.”
Brothers and Sisters! The Beloved Prophet (Peace be upon him) is related to have said:
“Beware of the doors of leaders, for it is extremely debasing.”
He also said:
“Whoever attends to the doors of leaders will be tried and tested.”
Aside from these warnings against rubbing shoulders with corrupt and insensitive leaders, the Beloved Prophet (Peace be upon him) did allow for one exception where one can go to a leader. He said:
“Verily, from the greatest of Jihad is a word of Truth in the presence of a tyrannical leader.”
It is these teachings of the Quran and Hadith that gave rise to the historical accounts of a number of great and sincere scholars who rose up against tyrants, even if it meant not only their torture and imprisonment, but also their death in the most gruesome of ways.
My Respected people! The responsibility upon our scholars to speak Truth to power has never been greater. Too many of them do not appreciate enough how well informed many in the Muslim community are about politics and current events. The silence of a scholar in response to great acts of oppression teaches Muslims to be silent when such events take place. As for scholars who clearly stand on the side of oppression, the damage they inflict is much greater. It is no longer acceptable to compare a scholar to Al-Khidr and claim they may know something we do not. This excuse is often used to absolve some of our scholars from moral accountability based on outward behaviour. We live in a time when information is more readily available than ever. In fact, to claim that a scholar may know something we do not is to affirm they are so close to leaders that they are involved in behind the scene plots, which lead to corruption, terrorism, extremism, hunger, poverty, mass unlawful killings and imprisonments, and that the scholar is fine with it.
My people! Muslim scholars are supposed to be the real inheritors of Prophets. They provide the moral compass for the Muslim community at large. It is absolutely within their responsibilities to be well aware of current events and speak against oppression. Otherwise, we cannot claim to be the best of nations or the witnesses that Allah has decreed for us to be. This is not to say that every individual scholar is required to have a say in politics. But every individual scholar must at the very least condemn oppression and injustice when it has clearly manifested itself to everyone. If not, we cannot claim to be the upholders of lofty principles.
Servants of Allah! Without scholarly guidance, without telling the truth to everyone, we will see average Muslims taking matters into their own hands, as is happening today in our midst, and in cases where prominent scholars stand on the side of oppression we will see some Muslims completely discredit Islamic scholarship. One of the consequences of this is the extreme we witness today with the appearance of groups calling themselves the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Jihadists, etc. All of those men who joined these groups openly slander all prominent scholars, especially those who seem to have shameful stances in support of oppression against defenseless Muslims. By then, it will be too late to issue condemnations of such extremists and dissociate from their actions, because the question that will present itself will be “Where were you before?”
Brothers and sisters! I suppose our starting point can only be this advice from the Prophet (Peace be upon him):
“Whoever comes to the doors of the leader is put to trial.” [Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi]
Discussion about this, I must admit, is a difficult and delicate one; so I’ll try to be as nuanced and even handed as possible. And Allah’s help is sought.
My people! This concern, first off, is not new. Scholars down the ages of Islam have cautioned the scholarly community about the trial (Fitnah) entailed in rubbing shoulders with corrupt politicians, insincere leaders or insensitive governments. Ibn al-Jawzi sketches the usual pious concerns, thus:
“From the Devil’s deception on the jurists (Fuqaha/Islamic Scholars) is them mixing with the corrupt leaders, corrupt politicians and unjust sultans, flattering them and leaving-off censuring them when able to do so. And perhaps they find allowances for them when there really isn’t one, in order to attain some worldly thing … In summary: entering upon corrupt and insensitive leaders entails great danger. For the intention may be good at first, but then may change by them honouring you or bestowing [gifts] on you; or by [you] harbouring worldly ambitions; or by not being able to avoid flattering them; or leaving-off censuring them. Sufyan al-Thawri used to say: ‘I don’t fear them debasing or disgracing me. Rather, I fear them being generous towards me so that my heart inclines towards them.’” [Talbis Iblis]
Again, teasing out the soul’s psychology in this matter, and the subtle cravings of the ego, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said:
“Also, many of the Salaf (Pious predecessors) used to forbid those who desired to order the kings with good or prohibit them from evil, from entering upon them … And this was from fear of the Fitnah of entering upon them. For when he is at a distance from them, the ego deceives the person into believing he will order and forbid them, and be stern with them. However, when he comes face to face with them, his soul is swayed towards them. For love of being honoured is concealed in his ego. Hence, he starts to flatter them, he is over lenient with them, and perhaps he grows fond of them and loves them – especially if they treat him well and hold him in high regard, and he accepts this from them.” [Ma Zi’ban Ja’i’an…]
Of course; and this is the second point, this avoidance is by no means categorical, nor absolute. Ibn Abdul Barr rounds-up the chapter in which he relates the Salaf’s dislike of entering upon corrupt leaders and insincere kings, stating:
“The meaning of this entire chapter is with regard to the wicked and oppressive leader (al-sultan al-ja’ir al-fasiq). As for the just among them, and the virtuous among them, then entering upon them; meeting them; and assisting them to rectify affairs is from the best deeds of righteousness … Thus when a scholar enters upon the leader now and again, and whenever there is a need; and he says what is good and speaks with knowledge, then that is good and is a means of Allah’s pleasure until the Day he meets Him. Such meetings, however, are usually a Fitnah; and safety lies in abandoning what is in them.” [Jami’u Bayan al-ilm wa fadlihi]
Respected Brothers and Sisters! One will not find a ‘one-hat-fits-all-sizes’ rule in this area. For the needs and variables of each state, country or polity are different. The whole affair hinges on benefits and harms and final outcomes; and rests on the individual scholar’s intention and ability to cope with the Fitnah, and the openness or otherwise of the leader or regime. If a scholar feels strong enough in faith or feels obligated to to do so, or/and the leader is open to advise, then one enters and does ones duty wisely, courageously and respectfully (respectful, if not of the actual leader, then of the office they hold).
Islamic scholars should also keep this juristic maxim in play: Ma la yudrak kulluhu la yutrak ba‘duhu – ‘If one cannot achieve the whole, one does not give-up [achieving] the part.’ What a scholar must not be is a sheepish partisan voice piece for the outrages and injustices of power, or an apologist for it. The scholar’s burden is neither to pander to the palace, and nor to the public. It is simply to be principled according to the dictates of piety.
My people! Another Fitnah scholars must be circumspect about is: giving fatwas under siege. Ibn Hamdan, a highly accomplished legalist in the Hanbali school, explains:
“Fatwa is not to be given in a state where the heart is preoccupied or inhibited from examination or careful deliberation; because of anger, hunger, thirst, sadness, grief, fear, melancholy, overwhelming joy, sleepiness, fatigue, illness, irritating heat, intense cold, or needing to answer the call of nature.” [Kitab Sifat al-Mufti wal Mustafti]
If, as can be seen from above, pretty much any debilitating emotional or physical state renders giving a fatwa a no no, what about the state where a mufti is under relentless socio-political and psychological pressures to get Islam to conform to the essentially atheistic, tyrannical, unjust and liberal landscape? Or the case where a mufti’s mind and moods of the heart have already been significantly colonised by the attitudes of the dominant [Western] monoculture? How will that affect the quality, integrity and correctness of the fatwa? To think this does not already happen is to live in a cocooned or naive state. How else can one explain why proposed maqasid-based reforms to the shari‘ah so often seem to be of Western inspiration. “The public interest (maslahah, maqsad),’ says Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, ‘always turns out to take the form of what is intelligible and desirable to those outside Islam.” [Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions, by Murad]
For the above reasons and more, scholars, perhaps more than ever before, need to be very careful and spiritually rooted. The temptations that are touted before them, or the convincers to compromise aspects of the faith and its scholastic teachings, are perhaps greater now than they’ve ever been. Fitnahs so easily throw intellects off balance, and sullying the intentions of a single scholar is more beloved to Iblis (Satan) than causing a thousand feet of the general Muslim public to stumble. For such reasons our fiqh needs to be deepened and made much wiser; reading and intellectualisation need to be both broadened and sharpened; an atmosphere needs to be cultivated of being less judgemental and more judicious; hostility to sins needn’t be carried over to sinners; and the ego’s pretensions need to be reigned in and conditioned by humility and spiritual poverty (faqr). If we’re not spiritually-anchored, there’s a huge danger of being cast adrift in the tumultuous socio-political storms of the age.
As scholars try to remain alert against the Fitnah of corrupt and insensitive governments domesticating them; as they train themselves to deliberate not just on quick-fix fatwas or short term goals, but the longer-term vision too; and as they deepen the virtue of zuhd in their personal lives (the Prophet (Peace be upon him) stated:
“What is little but suffices is better than what is plentiful but distracts.” [Musnad]
Let them also not loose sight of the following:
Where the Makkan Quraish failed to see the disconnect between them and the pure message of Abrahamic monotheism or tawhid; and failed to heed the discontent and exploitation of the masses by a powerful, wealthy elite, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) saw it, felt it, and Allah caused him to give voice to it. The fact that: “The scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.” [Abu Dawud], as one hadith says, should cause them to follow suite in seeking to heal the disconnect and discontent; in whatever community, and in whatever time or place they find themselves.
We beseech You, O Allah, to protect our scholars, and increase them in goodness, understanding, courage and wisdom. We ask that You place honour in our hearts for sacred knowledge and its inheritors. And save us, O Lord, from poisoning our souls by slandering the scholars and sincere leaders. Ameen!
I ask Allah to assist us in living by the Quran and Sunnah. I pray He lets us recognise the truth for what it is and helps us to follow it, and that He lets us see falsehood for what it is and helps us to avoid it.
O Allah! Guide us and protect us from the causes of ignorance and destruction! Save us from the defects of ourselves! Cause the last of our deeds to be the best and most righteous! And forgive all of us.
My respected people! Anything good I have said in my today’s Khutbah (Sermon) is from Allah the Almighty, and any mistakes are my own and we seek refuge in Allah from giving wrong advice and from all forms of calamities and fitnah. And I ask Allah’s forgiveness if I stepped beyond bounds in anything I said or I do.
May Allah be praised; and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon His Messenger Muhammad and upon his family and Companions.
May the souls of the innocents, whose lives were brutally and senselessly cut short in the terrorists attacks at Zamfara, Borno, Yobe states, Mubi, Numan in Adamawa State, and everywhere in the world rest in perfect peace, ameen.
With this I conclude my Khutbah (Sermon) and ask Allah, the Almighty and the Sublime, to forgive all of our sins. So seek his forgiveness, He is all forgiving and Most Merciful.
This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday Sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Friday, Rabi’ul-Awwal 5, 1439 AH (November 24, 2017), by Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and late Alhaji Abdurrahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: +2348038289761.