Back to the Basics: Adab

[Following is the transcription of a talk delivered by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed at the Islamic Centre of NYU during July 2007]

Today I thought that we would go back to the basic, which is ‘ibadah. Because a basic or a foundation is something that should not be understood basically. The power of the deen of Islam is that the ‘ulamā and ‘arifīn of our ummah went deep into the understanding of the basics. For example, these days I am reading a book by Shaykh ‘Abdul Wahāb Asha’ranī called “Risālat-ul-Anwār-ul-Qudsīya fī Bayān-e-ādāb-e-’Ubūdyah”, The Treatise on the Manifest Lights and Explanations of the Etiquette’s of being an ‘abd of Allah swt. Basically when the early Muslims read this verse of the Qur’an:

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ

‘I did not create the Jinns and the human beings except for the purpose that they should worship Me. (51:56)

… except to be my ‘abd, except to raise themselves up to this muqām of ‘ubūdyah, they did not view that as something basic or as something to take for granted. They did not bother fancying themselves with all types of detailed discussions on usūl and other fancy discussions that have become unfortunately increasingly the norm on college campuses. They wrote entire books on this basic: on what it means to be an ‘abd of Allah swt and what the adāb of ‘ubūdyah are.

Adab is something that if you take it into account, it enables you to reach your goal and your purpose quickly and in a better and more refined manner. Basically if you look at the difference between the Muslim ummah and other ummahs, many things stand out, but the one thing that stands out the most is that we are an ummah of adab. We worship Allah with a particular adab and we carry ourselves with a particular adab. Even the whole concept of hūqūq-ul-ibād in Islam is much more powerful than just human rights. Because to do something for someone out of virtue of being a human being is one level of compassion, but to do something for someone because as a human being they are also the creation of Allah is an altogether another level of compassion. To do something for someone not just because they are human but because ideally they should also be an ‘abd of Allah swt. To do something for a non muslim because they are human is one level of compassion., but to do something for them because they are mad‘ū (Addressed) by the da’wah of ‘ubūdyah is another level, because they are potentially also the ‘ibād of Allah swt. One time in their life, every human being took an initial pledge of ‘ubūdyah. Allah swt Asked every human being:

أَلَسْتَ بِرَبِّكُمْ قَالُواْ بَلَى

Am I not your Lord?. They said, .Of course, You are. (7:172)

Every human responded. That really means that every human being is an ‘abd of Allah. Either they have actualized the reality as an ‘abd or that reality is latent inside of them. That is why every insān remains a Mad’ū, remains Addressed by the Khitāb of Allah swt in the Qur’an. All of those verses in the Qur’an:

يَا أَيُّهَا الْإِنسَانُ مَا غَرَّكَ بِرَبِّكَ الْكَرِيمِ

O man! What has deceived you about your Gracious Lord (82:6)

Who are they Addressed to? They are Addressed to those who have the seeds of ‘ibādah inside of them. So the concept of hūqūq ul ibād is much more phenomenal than human rights and that is based on the concept of ‘ubūdyah. The whole purpose why Allah swt Sent Books, Revelation, and Scripture was to bring humanity up to this level of ‘ubūdyah. The whole purpose of sending Messengers and Anbya as was to raise people up to this level of ‘ubūdyah. In fact, if you look at power of the deen of Islam, even though Islam came to unite humanity with the Divine, by doing so it uplifts humanity to an unsurpassed level and really makes them the ashraf-ul-makhlūq or the greatest of all creations. Because through submission lies greatness. That’s why Imam Al-Ghazali rah in Ihya ūlūm ud- Din in his Book called Muhabbah says that the highest level of muhabbah for Allah swt, the highest love that a servant can have of love for Allah is just to be his ‘abd. There is nothing higher than the state of being a servant. That is why even in tashahhud every time we read salāh, we recite:

اشهد ان لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ

واشهدان محمدا عبده و رسوله

First and foremost we testify that the Prophet’s saw kamāl, perfection, greatness and completion lay in ‘abduhū: that he was the greatest ‘abd, the greatest servant of Allah swt. That is his greatest Sunnah, his greatest legacy. Wa rasūluhu is his message for us. None of us can aspire to be rasūl but we can aspire to do labbayk to his da’wah of risalah and the dawah of risalah is to live the life of an ‘abd. The Sunnah of the Prophet saw is contained in hadīth narrations. But the real Sunnah of the Prophet saw is the life he lived in front of the sahāba. And then they modeled and replicated that life and lived it in front of the tābi’een. Then they modeled and replicated that life and lived it in front of the tābi’ tābi’īn, and so on and so forth, it is a continuous and unbroken chain of transmission, generation after generation of Muslims. So the Sunnah is something living, not textual. In fact this is something that the orientalists don’t understand about the Sunnah. They think that it is only in the second or third century that we started textualizing the Sunnah. But that’s because the sahāba were people who were not worried about writing down a hadīth. When the Prophet saw said to ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar ra,

كن فى دنيا كانك غريب او عابر سبيل

Live in this world as if you are stranger or a way farer (Bukhāri)

Do you think ‘Abdulullah Ibn ‘Umar ra went and wrote it down, came book and showed it to the Prophet saw and said that, look I wrote it down and memorized it. The Prophet saw would have said that wasn’t the objective. The objective was to transform your life. Are you living your life according to this teaching? Imagine somebody writes something down and memorizes it, but imagine that person who submits his life to something he heard. Do you think he can forget that sentence? There is no way! So the real original Sunnah as transmitted by the sahāba, who were the first greatest teachers of the ummah after the Prophet saw, was a living tradition. That living Sunnah was the state or station and living mentality and outlook of ‘ubūdyah. How to live your life as an ‘abd, as a perfect slave of Allah swt. These days we put so much emphasis on ta’leem and certainly, by the grace of Allah swt we witness an ever increasing rise of ‘ilm programs. Programs that plug you in on weekends, intensives, seminars, short courses, the whole sort of gamut where we can increase our ‘ilm-ul-zāhir or our knowledge of the deen of Islam. And that is very important. But we fail to balance that or to join with that another program which the Prophet saw did which was tarbī’ah. In other words, the Prophet saw was not just an intellectual instructor. He was a moral up lifter. He was a spiritual purifier. Allah Says in the Qur’an that there are four reasons I sent the Prophet (SAW) to you:

لَقَدْ مَنَّ اللّهُ عَلَى الْمُؤمِنِينَ إِذْ بَعَثَ فِيهِمْ رَسُولاً مِّنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ

Allah has surely conferred favor on the believers when He raised in their midst a messenger from among themselves who recites to them His verses and makes them pure and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom (3:164)

So ta’leem is one aspect of nubūwwah and the inheritors of the Prophet saw are carrying that out today, but tazkya is also an aspect of nubūwwah. Purifying people’s heart and soul and bringing them back to the adab of being an ‘abd of Allah swt and uplifting them to the haqīqah of’ubūdyah. This is also an aspect of his Prophet hood and if we want to live a life that is truly according to the Sunnah, a life that is desired by Allah swt, such that we ourselves become objects of His desire, such that Allah swt would Yearn to reward us on the Day of Judgment, we will have to plug ourselves into a program not just of ta’leem but also of tarb’īah. So as to become people of adab. The Prophet (saw) also said that in a hadīth:

انىبعثت معلم

Verily I was sent as an instructor (Ibn-e-Mājah)

… and this instruction was in ta’leem as well as adab. Now what does it mean to have adab. Am going to briefly discuss with you the several different types of adab that we’re supposed to have. Am going to try and emphasize the things that are under emphasized. Adab goes beyond just being a good human being, a good member of society, a good husband, a good wife, a good child, a good doctor, a good engineer. All of that is part of adab but you have heard that ad infinitum.

1) First and foremost is the adab towards Allah swt.

We talk so much about how much adab we should have towards one another. Why don’t we look at the adab that one should have towards their Lord. And really when you look at the Qur’an-e-Karīm and the stories of the prophets in the Qur’an, that is the one thing that strikes you most in their stories. Despite being anbyā, despite having a level of intimacy with Allah swt that none of us can imagine: being Kalīm-ul-Allah, having received the Speech of Allah, having interacted with the angels but yet there is so much adab, manner, etiquette, propriety and properness with which they viewed Allah swt. If you look at their du’ās, the humility of their du’ās,the humility of their interaction with Allah swt, it is phenomenal. And that is perhaps one of the reasons why Allah has put these stories for us in the Qur’an-e-Karīm. Because that is something we lack, adab towards Allah swt.

What does it mean to have adab. Adab means that if there’s someone around me that I respect or someone who has a greater rank or some level of seniority or superiority, I behave differently in front of them. I have good adab in front of my father, teacher, a Shaykh or an ‘ālim, in front of an elder. That means that I will change my behavior due to the presence of that person around me. Well, Allah swt is Present everywhere. If we respect and acknowledge the superiority of our family members, teachers, friends, brothers and sisters, why is it that we fail to acknowledge the superiority of Allah swt. That is why a famous Shaykh once told his student that: oh my student, when you commit a sin, you close all the doors through which makhlūq can see you. You draw the curtains, you draw the blinds, lock the door, make sure no one is around to witness you commit that act of sin. Does that mean that out of all the beings in the world, Allah swt is the least valuable in your eyes? That you would be ashamed if someone saw you, if somebody knew you had done that sin. You hide the tracks, erase the files, and cover your sins: Are you not ashamed before Allah swt? Where is the adab towards Allah? And that is something the sahāba had. When you succeed in the first lesson all of the other lessons fall into place. A person who has adab towards Allah, will obviously have adab for people because they are the ‘ibād ul Allah. If you don’t have adab towards Allah, then there is no way you can fully realize your own humanity. There is no way you can fully have compassion for humanity when you don’t have the first step, that is adab towards Allah.

How to increase our adab towards Allah swt?

The first way to is to increase in our ‘ilm know about Him. It’s extremely sad that we know so many things about so many entities and ideologies, but we know so little about Allah swt. Surely, Allah swt is a Transcendental Being, He is warā ul warā beyond our comprehension. However, He has Put information about Himself in the Qur’an so that we can have some understanding of Him. He did not leave himself majhūl. That is part of His Mercy. He could have Created us on this earth and told us nothing about Himself. Out of his mercy, He Has Revealed Ninety Nine of His Attributes in the Qur’an. How many of us even know just the Names, let alone the ‘ulamā used to know the Names, and the deep hidden meanings of those Names. Imam Al-Ghazali (rah) has written a whole book on the Ninety Names of Allah, you can get that on Amazon. Imam Bahaiqī (rah) has also written a book, you can even get that on Amazon. It’s not that difficult in this day and age. We don’t even know about Allah. How many of us can say that we know the difference between Rahmān and Rahīm, that His Mercy is so beautiful that it has so many multiple shades. How many of us can tell the difference between navy blue, peacock blue and sky blue. We would be able to point them out in the t-shirts of the boys present here. We understand the different shades of the color blue. The differences between the Rahamāt of Allah. Rahmān and Rahīm. Ghafūr and Ghaffār. The Shades of His Maghfirah. That He is Tawwāb. What are these things? Why has He Revealed these things in the Qur’an? So that we know and come to love Him. I am professor in a university abroad. If I don’t know the names of my students, they would think that I don’t have adab. If there is a student and I don’t know his name, he would feel that is so insulting. He would think: he doesn’t even know my name! That shows he is totally disinterested in me. That is what Allah swt would think about us. That I have Revealed my Asmā ul Husnā. I have Revealed them in the Qur’an. They are not just mere names, they are the Asmā ul Husnā, the most Beautiful Names, and my servants don’t even know my Name. Let alone know the Meanings of my Names. Let alone know the meanings and subtleties of My Names. Let alone use those as bridges to connect themselves to me, to become ‘abd-ur-Rahmān, ‘abd-ur-Rahīm. How can you make yourself that when you don’t even know the differences between them? How can you become ‘abd-ul-Allah when you can’t even become ‘abd-ul Rahman?

So it is part of our adab towards Allah swt to increase in our ‘ilm of Him. Obviously we should learn everything about the Deen of islam. But most of us have that deficiency that we haven’t yet made that niyyah or that commitment. So one place to start is with the Ninety Names of Allah. The other is to go through the Qur’an and at least learn all the verses that pertain to Allah: about His Being, His Essence, His Attributes, about His Relationship with us. That’s why Allah swt uses certain phrases for the believers in the Qur’an-e-Karīm:

مَن كَانَ يَرْجُو لِقَاء اللَّهِ

For those whose hopes are in the meeting with Allah (in the Hereafter, let them strive); (29:5)

How can we yearn to meet Allah on the Day of Judgment when we don’t even know anything about Him? No person yearns to meet a stranger. That’s why Allah has Chosen to reveal Himself in the Qur’an.

2) The second adab that we should have is adab towards the Qur’an.

Having a daily contact with the Qur’an-e-Karīm is critical. To recite it in Arabic as well as to read it with understanding. Both are essential. When we recite the Qur’an, we get to experience a Sifat of Allah because the Qur’an-e-Karīm is an Attribute of Allah, it is the Kalām of Allah. When we recite the original arabic Qur’an on our tongues, we are actually engaging Allah in a way that we never can at least in this world. So to recite the Qur’an-e-Karim on a daily basis. It comes in a hadīth that recitation has incredible fazāil, virtue and merit. Every letter we recite carries a virtue, even alif lām mīm. And that was a sign for people in the future. That even recitation without understanding carries merit because even the Arabs who knew arabic language did not know the meaning of alif lām mīm. The Prophet saw was asked: will we get reward for reciting even alif lām mīm? And he replied: yes, even for alif lām mīm. It is a separate project altogether to study Arabic, to read and study the Qur’an in authentic translation under the guidance of authentic ‘ulamā, and that has its own importance. But to read the Arabic original is our contact with the Qur’an. That is our adab towards the Qur’an, the right the Qur’an has over us.

3) The third is adab towards the Prophet saw.

The Prophet saw is not a historical figure for Muslims. He is the be all and end all of our life! He is the human being who we should know the most about. These days, young men know more about sports players than about the Prophet saw. They know more about movie actors, know more about fictional characters. Know more about the fictional character Seinfeld, what types of things he did and what types of things he said. Young men can recite to you three to four ahadīth from memory. You ask them about Jerry Seinfeld, and they will be able to mention fifty different things that he said in any language. Allahu Akbar. Adab towards the Prophet saw is gaining ‘ilm about him. If you have adab towards someone you seek to know everything about them and seek to model yourself after them. Learning from the seerah, studying his life, his biography, his mission, his message so we can answer to that mission and message. So that we can be a carriers of that mission.

4) The fourth is adab towards his teachings, ahadīth, actions, & taqrīrāt (silences).

Everything he did. Even his silence is viewed as golden. Even those things that he was silent about have been recorded by the sahāba. It is viewed as precious and as tacit consent in Islamic law. Adab towards Qur’an and Sunnah also means that if we ever come across something or we hear a verse from the Qur’an or a hadīth from the Prophet saw and we don’t understand what it means. Or sometimes, more honestly, it rubs us the wrong way. Because some of us, myself included, might have been exposed to a liberal arts education. There are certain things inside of us because of which we question and we don’t understand initially. What is the adab for when that happens? The adab is to seek an explanation, to seek knowledge, to understand the proper meanings of that verse in the Qur’an or of that hadith of Prophet saw. Until we get that knowledge, we should do tawaqquf (restrain judgement). Then sometimes it happens to a young person that they find out the true meaning. But they still don’t understand. It still rubs them wrong way. They very genuinely ask, I don’t understand why the Prophet saw would say that, or why Allah says that in the Qur’an. I know that’s what has been said. I have understood the meanings. But I don’t understand why. Understanding the why behind Islam is valid if you pursue it validly. And that takes a lot of research. If we go to a doctor and ask, why does this antibiotic cure my virus. He’ll say okay, if you want the answer to that question, that will take you years. You should go back to school, take biology and chemistry and then study medicine for eight years. It’s a perfectly valid question: Why does that antibiotic cure that virus, but the process to get the answer takes times. If you’re willing to invest that time, you will find that every single question you have will be answered. Alhamdulillah in my own studies, and its been probably ten years now since I first formally started studying Islamic knowledge that, never yet had a question in mind and heart except that I researched it and someone before me had the same question. We are not new people. They were thinking Muslims around before 2007. There have been much more brilliant minds than yours and mine that have engaged the Qur’an and Sunnah. So number one, never yet had a question except that I found it in a book of Hadīth or Tafsīr. Number two, someone had an answer that satisfied me and number three, never yet had a question except that when I looked it up, that person had several other questions that were much more devastating intellectually than mine. So it takes time and research. People who want to deeply study Plato, they spend five, six years doing a PhD in Classics. Same is the case with Aristotle and all of the Greek Philosophers. They have to study all the available secondary literature and that is when they will be allowed to be an assistant professor at NYU . That’s the adab they have towards their ‘ilm. That’s the adab they have towards their ‘ulamā, towards their salaf (elders). Muslims used to have the same thing. If a Muslim did not understand something, he did not comment on it. He used to think: okay, I have to go back. I have to hit the books. I have to see what Imam Rāzi has to say, what Imam Al-Ghazali has to say, what Zamakhshari has to say, what Alūsi has to say, what Ibn-e-Kathīr has to say. Once I am done with all of that, then maybe something I say will have some worth or some value.

I will just end by saying that adab is something that Allah swt has enabled all of us to understand internally. It’s part of our consciousness, part of our fitrah because all of the basics of Islam have been pre programmed into the essence of humanity. Not only is Islam perfectly designed for humanity, humanity was perfectly designed for Islam. It’s a perfect fit. So sometimes trying to increase ourselves in Islam simply means going back and fixing the basics of humanity. And adab is one of those basics. May Allah Enable all of us to increase in our adab, especially the ādāb of ‘ubūdyah. Allah swt Says in the Qur’an:

وَاعْبُدْ رَبَّكَ حَتَّى يَأْتِيَكَ الْيَقِينُ

‘and worship your Lord until comes to you that which is certain (15:99)

… only through ‘ibādah will you get yaqeen. Not through tafaqquh, not through tadabbur, not through ta’aqqul: only through ‘ibādah. The more and more we increase in our ‘ibādah, the more and more we become people of worship, and the more action along with ‘ilm-ul-zāhir, the more we will come to this muqām of yaqeen.

Taken from HERE

1 Comment

  1. Reader says:

    JZK. Last bit was really informative

Leave a Comment