Ismail Kamdar

Ismail Kamdar is the Founder of Islamic Self Help, author of over a dozen books, faculty manager of IOU, and a freelance writer.
Ismail Kamdar is the Founder of Islamic Self Help, author of over a dozen books, faculty manager of IOU, and a freelance writer.
Regarding Exams and Fasting: An Invalid Qiyas

Regarding Exams and Fasting: An Invalid Qiyas

There has been some talk recently about “updating” Fiqh to include exams as a valid excuse to delay fasting. This talk has come primarily from the modernist/liberal school of thought. Their argument is that Muslims are backward and too literal in their thinking and need to update Fiqh for the times.

This argument is flawed in many ways. The analogy of exams being a type of difficulty that leads to concession is flawed. The idea that our Fiqh processes are outdated and backward is also flawed. To demonstrate this, let us take a look at the main Fiqh Maxim governing who can delay a fast.

The main Fiqh maxim regulating this ruling is al-Mashaqa Tajlibu al-Taysir which can be translated as “Extreme Difficulty causes relaxation of the Law”. This maxim is found in all four madhabs and is a point of consensus among Sunni Muslims. The maxim is simple, the Shariah has built-in processes of flexibility to handle extremely difficult situations.

However, the maxim cannot be applied based on whim and desire. There is a list of difficulties that cause relaxation of the law. This list is derived from the Quran and Sunnah.

Types of Difficulty

There are primarily seven things that can cause relaxation of a law:
1. Coercion i.e. being forced to do something
2. Travel as traveling is difficult as you are outside of your comfort zone dealing with many unpredictable variables
3. Disease/Sickness
4. Forgetfulness i.e. people are not held accountable for lapses in memory
5. Ignorance i.e. ignorance can work as an excuse is some situations6. A general calamity like a pandemic or drought
7. Lack of legal competence i.e. laws do not generally apply to children, extreme mental health cases, and people who are asleep.

All of the above categories are explicitly stated in either the Quran or Sunnah. The verse of fasting (2:185) mentions two of these sources of difficulty: travel and illness, making these the two primary valid reasons to delay a fast. Scholars have included other health risks in this as well like pregnancy and breastfeeding.

The category of extreme difficulty is generally restricted to these seven things, except in rare circumstances where something else rises to the level of extremity. even then, these new circumstances can often easily fit into one of these seven categories. For example, the current pandemic falls under category six, and tyrannic regimes may trigger category one.

A Clear Process

The relaxation of laws, however, cannot be done based on perceived difficulty or manageable difficult. The very concept of worship has some level of difficulty built into it to make it a means of purifying the soul and exerting effort in pleasing Allah. If we allow relaxing the laws for any difficulty, that would mean excusing Fajr because we are tired, missing Asr because we are working, or delaying fasting because it is a hot day.

Almost any law can be modified if the category of Mashaqa is left open-ended without any parameters. Thus, it is restricted to those things found in the Quran and Sunnah, which are summarized in the list above.

Exams are a general difficulty. There is no health risk for the average student, nor is there any coercion to break the fast. The only time a student would be allowed to break a fast is if it becomes a genuine health risk, eg: dehydration. In that case, they are doing it due to the reason mentioned in the Quran, not because of exams.

Our Shariah does not need reform. It already has a built-in system to update Fiqh as and when needed via the principles of Fiqh and Maxims of Fiqh. These are guided by the goals of the Shariah. All of these concepts are derived from the Quran and Sunnah and categorized and explained by our pious predecessors.

Conclusion

If any new verdict is to be passed on an issue, it must be done utilizing the proper methodology of ijtihad, and not simply because “I think” or “I feel” or any other weak reason. Fiqh is a system with its own methodology, parameters, and experts. If you are not a Mufti, leave it to the Muftis to work out these details utilizing the proper methodology.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 0 comments
The Role of ʿUrf (Culture) in Fiqh

The Role of ʿUrf (Culture) in Fiqh

ʿUrf means custom or local culture. In Fiqh, the local culture can be used as a basis for deriving laws in areas that are culturally sensitive and not explicitly detailed in the Quran and Sunnah. Although the term ʿUrf is primarily used by Ḥanafī and Mālikī scholars, the principle of utilizing the local culture in formulating Fiqh rulings is actually found in every madhhab.

This is because all four madhhabs agree upon the Fiqh Maxim, al-ʿādah muḥakkamah (local culture is the deciding factor) which is considered one of the Big Five agreed upon maxims and a core foundation of Fiqh.

But what does ʿUrf really mean and how does it work in Fiqh? ʿUrf means that the culture of the good people (ahl fitra) of a society is considered source of local laws.

This is because Islam is meant to be multi-cultural and practical in every time, place and culture. Islam was not sent to unite the world upon a single culture, it was sent to be practical in every culture in every era. To achieve this, the laws of Islam remain flexible enough to accommodate different cultures.

In many areas of Fiqh, the rules are shaped by the local culture, and even when Muslims migrate to a new land, they are expected to adapt to the culture of the lands. It is not part of Islam to force a foreign culture upon the people of any land.

The concept of ʿUrf is derived from many evidences. The clearest is the verse of the Quran regarding the rights of spouses, “Live with them with maʿruf (what is considered good in the culture)”[1] The Quran does not explicitly state what the rights of the spouse are, it leaves it up to ʿUrf. Thus, the details of the rights of the spouse depends from culture to culture. Related to ʿUrf, Ibn Masud said, “What Muslims deem good is good in the sight of Allah.”[2]

Conditions for acceptance of ʿUrf

However, not all cultural practices are accepted as good in Islamic Law. There are strict conditions in place to prevent this principle from being abused. These conditions can be listed as five:

  1. It must be popularly and consistently followed by the majority.
  2. It must be the current culture at the time of the ruling.
  3. It cannot contradict a stipulated condition.
  4. It must not contradict Quran, Sunnah, and Ijmaʿ
  5. When ʿUrf and Qiyas contradict, Istiḥsān can be used to resolve the conflict.

When ʿUrf meets these five conditions, it becomes accepted as a source of local law. It is also important to note that ʿUrf is used primarily in muʿāmalāt (social dealings), rarely in ʿibādāt (acts of worship). This is because acts of worship are derived primarily from revelation, whole social dealings change from culture to culture, so the shariʿa remains flexible regarding the second, but not as much regarding the first.

As a result, ʿUrf is primarily used as a principle in the Fiqh of business, marriage, family, food, clothing, entertainment, and other social issues. This makes it extremely relevant to our times, and one of the core components in the contemporization of Fiqh.

Examples of ʿUrf

The way Muslims dress is largely dependent on ʿUrf. While covering the awrah (navel to knees for men, everything except face and hands for women) is an obligation, there is no set ruling on what type of clothing is needed to do this. The idea of Islamic Clothing is a misnomer that developed only in recent times. In most Muslim lands, the style of clothing is largely dependent on ʿUrf as long as it meets the requirements of the Shariah.

Similarly, the rights of spouses are largely dependent on ʿUrf. The Quran simply calls for good treatment of one’s spouse, without going into details. Good treatment is a cultural variable, as what is considered good in one country may not be considered good in another. In some cultures, women are expected to cook for their families, in other cultures men provide the food, and some cultures may outsource food preparation to others (servants in ancient cultures, restaurants in modern cultures). The debate on whether it is a woman’s duty to cook or not is dependent on culture, and the ruling will change with the change of cultures.

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[1] Quran 5:19

[2] Musnad Ahmad

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 0 comments
How to overcome procrastination

How to overcome procrastination

This is an extract from Getting The Barakah: An Islamic Guide to Time Management. Access the full ebook here or grab the Self Help Bundle to get this and nine other life-changing ebooks today!

Procrastination is the single most common word I hear whenever I bring up the topic of Time Management. “I’m a procrastinator” is the common reply people give me for why they are unable to meet deadlines or organize themselves well. Procrastination is treated like a fact of life, something inherit that can’t be changed or overcome, but this is nothing more than deceiving ourselves.

Procrastination is a habit, and a terrible habit too. However, like all other bad habits it can be overcome with strong will power, commitment and a reason to succeed.

The ability to change a bad habit and replace it with a good one is something every human has the ability to do, all we really need is motivation, and that is what I hope this chapter serves as, motivation to finally let it go.

In order to overcome procrastination, it is important that we understand its roots and causes. There are four main reasons why people procrastinate:

1. Lack of goals or vision

This has already been covered in details in a previous chapter. Goals are our motivation to go the distance and make something of our lives. Goals serve to motivate us, inspire us and give us a reason to face each day with renewed energy.

If someone lacks goals, they see no reason to commit to something, to do a good job or even to get it done on time. Life for such people is just a series of obstacles to survive with minimum effort, and so they leave every task for last minute and don’t really focus on quality either.

The first step to overcoming procrastination is to have goals to work towards. This will motivate you to organize your life in such a way that these goals are accomplished over time.

2. Deception

Shaytaan uses the trick of deception to get people to procrastinate, especially when it comes to righteousness and repentance. The common phrase “I’ll repent when I get older,” is a classic example of deceptive procrastination. We fool ourselves into thinking we have plenty of time to do something in the future.

In the case of repentance, procrastination is deadly and can cause great harm to one’s life in this world and especially in the Afterlife. Yet we apply this same mentality to other aspects of our lives. We think we have plenty of time to write that assignment, submit that report, prepare that class or prepare the meeting notes, until we realize that we don’t.

Then the rush is on, with great anxiety, fear and worry we rush to complete something at the last minute and the result is poor shoddy quality work, and a lot of unneeded stress.

The key here is to understand the deception of “later”. As Muslims we are taught to never leave anything for the future without saying “inshaa Allah” (If Allah Wills).


وَلَا تَقُولَنَّ لِشَيْءٍ إِنِّي فَاعِلٌ ذَٰلِكَ غَدًا إِلَّا أَنْ يَشَاءَ اللَّهُ

“And do not say about anything that I will do it tomorrow without saying if Allah wills,”

Surah Al-Kahf 18:23-24

This statement “inshaa Allah” is meant to be a reminder to us that the future is in Allah’s control so we shouldn’t delay anything that can be done today.

We don’t know what tomorrow has in store for us, so let us lift the veil from our eyes and realize that every moment lost through procrastination is wasted time that you can never get back for the rest of your life. The time for action is now, not tomorrow.

3. Perfectionism

Another cause of procrastination is perfectionism. This is the one thing that caused me to procrastinate in launching my writing career. I always wanted to be an author and to spend my days writing books.

I had many ideas and wrote many outlines, summaries and first chapters. However, I found myself unable to move forward beyond that due to my desire for my writing to be perfect.

I would look at my first draft, full of mistakes and in major need of editing, and think to myself that nobody is going to read this. I would end up putting it away frustrated and moving on to attempt my next project. Perfectionism stood in the way of writing or completing any important project.

One day I finally realized that my chain of thought was ridiculous. I am a human being, and the writings of human beings are never perfect. First drafts, in general, are always a mess. This is why we edit, and hire editors, and even have to publish revised editions.

I realized that if I want to have a career in writing, I need to let go of my desire to be perfect and just write. Write whatever comes to mind, I can always edit, rephrase, delete or expand upon it later. Once I realized this, the procrastination ended and the writings began to flow.

You too may have a goal that you have been putting off because it isn’t perfect. The only way forward is to realize that it never will be perfect. It is a human project and being human means embracing imperfection. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be your best effort. So let go of your desire for perfection and just focus on doing your best.

John Perry, the author of The Art of Procrastination, offers some valuable insight into how to overcome this problem:

You have to get into the habit of forcing yourself to analyse, at the time you accept a task, the costs and benefits of doing a less-than-perfect job. You must ask yourself some questions: How useful would a perfect job be here? How much more useful would it be than a merely adequate job…and you got to ask yourself: What is the probability that I will really do anything like a remotely perfect job on this? And: What difference will it make to me, and to others, whether I do or not?

Often the answer will be that a less-than-perfect job will be just fine, and moreover it’s all I am ever going to do anyway. So I give myself permission to do a less-than-perfect job now, rather than waiting until the task is overdue. Which means I may as well do it now. (Or at least start tomorrow)[1]

4. Instant Gratification

The fourth major cause of procrastination is the fact that many of us are programmed mentally to focus on instant gratification. The modern advertising industry thrives on instant gratification. From the time a child is able to understand, he is taught to prefer immediate delights over long-term deals. We grow up with this mentality and it has a detrimental effect on every aspect of our lives.

As Muslims, many fall into major sins like fornication because of focusing on instant gratification, instead of the long-term deal of marriage and the responsibilities that come with it. Likewise, people are looking for the instant fix, instant high, get rich quick schemes and even shortcuts to Paradise and Caliphate.

It is this instant gratification mentality that has led to the birth of modern extremist movements like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, who look for violent shortcuts to Paradise and Caliphate, instead of focusing on the long-term deal of purifying their souls and striving against their desires.

This mentality crosses over into our time management too. We may have goals and dreams, but the instant gratification of that next chat, next funny video, and next snack break gets in the way and causes us to procrastinate and often give up on anything that requires long-term effort.

This mentality is completely unislamic and destructive. The state of the ummah today is proof of this, on one hand the violent extremists seek shortcuts to Paradise, and on the other side the average Muslim prefers instantly satisfying his desires over working toward righteousness.

Islamic teachings emphasize the concept of Sabr which translates into many concepts like patience, persistence, self-restraint and consistency. All of these indicate long-term effort and long-term success. The idea of quick methods to success in this world or the Afterlife is a deception, unrealistic and unislamic.

Overcoming this barrier requires a shift in how we think and view the world. We need to understand that success, be it worldly or Afterworldly, can only be attained through long-term hard work. There is no shortcut to fixing the problems of the Middle East, just like there is no shortcut to training your soul or attaining financial success. If you want something, you need to be ready to commit to it long-term.

I will speak more about the concept of Sabr and its role in time management in a future chapter. The purpose here was to help us understand why we procrastinate. It is only when we understand why we have bad habits that we are able to move on and overcome them.

Positive Procrastination

As anti-procrastination as I may sound, I too procrastinate when it is beneficial. Procrastination, when planned, can actually be a very beneficial time management skill. Positive procrastination means to put things off until the right time to do it.

For example, if I am tired and it is after work hours, I choose to rest and have fun and put off any tasks until the next day. If it is work hours, and I am feeling drained, I take a short break and do something fun before getting back to work.

Some people might think I am procrastinating. After all, why put off until tomorrow what you can do today? My reply to that is, “Because I know I will do a better job at it tomorrow than if I do it now,”

If you have very high goals and aspirations, it is not possible to do everything in one day, one week, one month, one year or even one decade. You will have to plan and prioritise, and that means procrastinating the things you don’t need to do yet, in order to make time for the things you need to do now.

Sometimes the thing you need to do later is hard work and what you need to do right now is take a vacation. You shouldn’t feel guilty about that, it is in your best interest to take that vacation, recharge your body and mind and return revitalized ready to do a much better job than you would have done had you not taken the vacation.

This form of procrastination is good, as it is part of prioritizing and planning, and so it should be done without any feeling of guilt. Anything that benefits you in the long run is a good thing, even if that thing is a form of procrastination.

Just get started

So you have a goal, you know you shouldn’t procrastinate, you have a plan but you haven’t committed to it yet. Something is holding you back. Your mind is filling with excuses. If this is the case then you need to look yourself in the mirror and firmly remind yourself that there is no benefit in delaying anything good.

Every day wasted can never be returned. Why waste this precious resource? What do you have to lose if get started today on changing your lifestyle and focusing on your goals?

Think about your life in ten or twenty years’ time and where you would like to be then, and realize that if you want that, you need to start working towards it today. Delaying is not going to get you anywhere.

Remember that this whole drama is playing out in your mind and you control what you focus on and which thoughts you act on. So put aside the excuses, take control of your time and start changing.

“He who counts tomorrow as part of his life does not recognize death as it should be merited. How many days are to come but he will not be there! How many wishes he has for the days to come that he will not get! If you comprehend the terms of life and the speed with which it flees, then you will detest your desires and wishes,” Awn Ibn Abdullah[2]

New Habits – New Beginnings

Time management is a matter of replacing bad habits with good habits. We all have some habits that waste time or cause delays. Procrastination was focused on because it is the most common, but there are many others like laziness, oversleeping, overeating, and excessive socializing. Interestingly, the classical scholars referred to these things as corrupters of the heart.

Not only do they waste our time but they eat away at our souls and lead us down the part of wastage of other resources too like wealth and knowledge. If you are committed to time management then you need to be ready to change many habits over time.

The key to changing a habit is the following formula:

1. Identify bad habit
2. Identify good habit to replace it
3. Start replacing the bad habit with the good one today
4. Be consistent until the new habit is truly a habit (average 30 days)
5. After that, it gets easier, so you can move on to focus on changing another habit. Changing habits requires commitment and Sabr, but they serve only to benefit you and you have nothing to lose when replacing a bad habit with a good one.


[1] John Perry, The Art of Procrastination, p. 20

[2] Ibn Jawzi, Time Is Valuable, pp. 23-24

You can read the rest of this chapter in Getting The Barakah: An Islamic Guide to Time Management. Access the full ebook here or grab the Self Help Bundle to get this and nine other life-changing ebooks today!

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Time Management, 0 comments
Understanding Zuhd (Islamic Self-Discipline)

Understanding Zuhd (Islamic Self-Discipline)

To attain inner peace, we need to replace our materialistic paradigm with Zuhd. Zuhd is an often misunderstood Arabic term which in some circles is linked to poverty and self-torture. This is far from the Islamic understanding of this topic. The Arabic word Zuhd is often translated into English as Abstinence. While this translation is plausible, it is rather vague and easily misinterpreted.

The actual definition of Zuhd is to detach one’s heart from this world. Hence, self-discipline may be the closest English concept to Zuhd, but that too does not do the term justice. How we define Zuhd is very important. The definition shapes our understanding of the topic. When Zuhd is linked to poverty, it takes people in the wrong direction. When it is focused on the state of our hearts, it becomes a productive powerful tool for growth. Zuhd is not so much about wealth, status, or lifestyle as it is about purifying the heart of greed and materialism.

In this sense, Zuhd is the opposite of materialism. This is when we take materialism to mean the obsession with the things of this world causing one to forget the Afterlife. Zuhd means to focus on the next life, but without neglecting one’s portion of this world. This distinction is key as it separates the correct understanding of Zuhd from any misinterpretation. Islam is a religion of balance and does not ask us to abandon this world, rather it teaches us to prioritize the Afterlife.

Zuhd is necessary for attaining contentment and inner peace. A heart that is attached to this world is restless and always wanting more. A heart that prioritizes the Afterlife is content and at peace with the will of God. This is why Zuhd is a crucial topic to discuss when talking about inner peace.

There are many levels of Zuhd in Islam, the most basic level being to abstain from the prohibited things in this world like alcohol, gambling, fornication, and adultery. Abstaining from the Haram is obligatory upon every believer which makes this level of Zuhd obligatory on every believer. Striving for Zuhd is not just a higher ideal, it is necessary for purifying our souls.

The next level is to abstain from the disliked things of this world (Makruh) which includes wasting time, overeating, oversleeping, and bad manners. After prioritizing abstinence from the haram, we must abstain from the Makruh as well. Avoiding the disliked acts creates a barrier between us and Haraam because someone who stays away from the disliked acts is less likely to fall into the major sins.

Along with avoiding the Makruh, we also need to avoid doubtful matters to attain this level. These refer to things which the scholars have differed over. i.e. any issues in which one scholar may say something is permissible but another may say that it is prohibited. This includes things like listening to musical instruments, shaving the beard, and frequenting doubtful places. These things may be differed over on websites, forums, and books of Fiqh, and one is free to follow whichever opinion one believes is strongest. However, the safer route is to avoid anything that is doubtful, because avoiding the doubtful protects one from falling into the Haram.

There exists an even higher level of Zuhd than all of this. This is the level of piety, the level of the friends of Allah; abstaining from permissible things that waste time. For someone who already strives to avoid the prohibited, disliked, and doubtful matters and wants to take his abstinence to a higher level, the next level is to avoid the permissible things that distract you from Allah.

This concept may sound strange to some, and it is not necessary to attain salvation, but it is the path to higher levels of spirituality. This level of Zuhd means abandoning permissible things that you find distracting so that you can focus on what is important. This level of Zuhd is actualized when someone chooses to study Islam or read a book over watching a series or playing a videogame. While the latter may be Halal, the former is more virtuous and beneficial. Prioritizing that which is virtuous and beneficial over that which is permissible is the essence of focusing on the Afterlife.

There are many benefits that one can gain from living a life of Zuhd. Not only does it lead to contentment and inner peace, but it frees up time and resources that can then be put to better use. The same time and money that was previously spent in extravagant gatherings and unnecessary branded items can now be used for charity, humanitarian efforts, and personal development. The result is a better usage of one’s time and a happier soul.

Dangers of Materialism

Materialism is the opposite of Zuhd and it is the dominant mindset in the modern consumer culture. We are bombarded through the media, education system, and marketing industry with messages of greed and extravagance. We are taught that to be happy we need a certain type of car, home, and a degree from a specific university.

Yet all of these things are superfluous and have no real impact on a person’s happiness. Happiness is not related to what you own, rather it is related to what you do with your life.

Materialism is a major problem today which is taking people away from Allah, consuming lives, causing mental health problems, and breaking families. (NOTE: Materialism in this article is referring to the spiritual disease of obsessing over wealth and worldly possessions.)

Allah warns us against materialism in Surah At-Takaathur:

“The competition to pile up the good things of this world (At-Takaathur) distracts you until you visit the graves (i.e. until you die), No! Then you will come to know! Again, No! Then you will definitely come to know! No! If only you had true knowledge! (of the end of a person who chases this world) You will definitely see Hell-fire! You shall see it with your own eyes! Then, on that day you will be asked about how you spent the bounty (that Allah blessed you with).”

Surah At-Takaathur 102:1-8

As mentioned in this Surah, the worst result of materialism is that it causes a person to forget the purpose of life. We become so obsessed with gaining more and more of this world that we forget about what is most important, pleasing our Creator and building our homes in the Afterlife. This is what we are supposed to strive for.

Materialism is the opposite of Zuhd. It is an obsession with collecting worldly things. Materialism is all around us in the modern world. Schools, universities, family, culture, television, and advertisements all seem to be pushing a materialistic agenda. Materialism is not a happy road to go down, it is a deceptive path that leads to many psychological and behavioral problems. From among the dangers of materialism are the following:

  1. Corruption of intentions – Materialism leads to a person being obsessed with this world. This obsession clouds one’s judgment and messes up one’s intentions. A person who is obsessed with his world will not think about the Afterlife, make decisions based on the pleasure of Allah or develop noble goals. Greed clutters his mind and he becomes obsessed with selfish pursuits that take him away from the pleasure of Allah. This in turn leads to many other problems.
  2. Lack of contentment – When one’s heart is detached from Allah and obsessed with the world, the result is restlessness and a lack of contentment. Such an individual is never satisfied, always looking at things that he doesn’t have, desiring them, and never grateful for what he has.
  3. Fear of poverty – No matter how wealthy he becomes, a materialistic person is so obsessed with his wealth that he is constantly afraid of losing it all. He fears poverty more than anything else. As a result, he can’t sleep well at night and is obsessed with hoarding his wealth. This in turn makes him stingy.
  4. Debt – If a materialistic person doesn’t have the wealth to purchase whatever he desires, he decides to purchase it on loan. How many people today drive cars they can’t afford and live in homes that they can’t pay off? These things are purchased on loan in order to have the worldly possession here and now. The result is a lifetime of debts that fills the heart with a guilty feeling and removes any sense of inner peace
  5. Jealousy – A materialistic person eyes the possessions of others and if he can’t afford them himself, he becomes jealous of others. This jealousy builds up and causes him to do evil things in order to undermine the good in others or take away what is rightfully theirs. It also ruins his relationship with Allah as he becomes ungrateful and begins to question Allah’s decision to give that other person what He did not give him.
  6. Hatred – A materialistic person’s jealousy of someone eventually boils over into pure hatred. He begins to hate those who have that which he can’t have. Along with this, he begins to hate the righteous and the religious people. People who have hearts full of hatred cannot experience inner peace
  7. Anxiety – A materialistic person is always worried about the future and whether he will be financially secure in the future. His obsession with having everything he desires in this world drives him crazy with anxiety. This feeling keeps him up at night and stops him from enjoying what he currently has.
  8. Depression – Depression is very common among the wealthy today. This is because of materialism. A Wealthy person whose heart is attached to Allah can fight off depression but a materialistic person does not have that connection with Allah and so he experiences an emptiness inside.
  9. Enslavement to society – Finally, obsession with this world drives people to become enslaved to the fashions, expectations, and norms of society. Such a person is not free to be himself or chase his own goals. He is too caught up in keeping up appearances and looking good. This consumes his life and destroys his sense of purpose and identity.

From these points, it becomes very clear that materialism is a dangerous mindset that every Muslim must avoid. In order to attain inner peace, Zuhd is crucial.

Misconceptions about Zuhd

Before we discuss how to nurture our Zuhd, we first need to clear up all misconceptions on this topic. As with most Islamic concepts, 1400 years of history has led to many things being misunderstood and misinterpreted over time. Zuhd is one such concept.

In some circles, the word Zuhd or Zaahid (person who has Zuhd) conjures up an image of a poor person who doesn’t work and dedicates all his time and effort to worship Allah. However, this idea contradicts the practice and attitude of the Prophets, Companions, and early Muslims.

Zuhd does not necessitate poverty. Islam does not glamorize poverty or regard it as an ideal in life. Rather, one of the fundamental goals of Islam is the preservation and development of wealth. Wealth is important for Muslims as it is a resource that can be used to worship Allah, uplift society, and make this world a better place.

This can clearly be seen in the practice of the Sahaba. The leading Sahaba were not all poor people, some were wealthy traders and it was through their wealth that the community was uplifted and the ummah empowered.

The first believer was Khadija (RA) and she was a wealthy businesswoman. In the early years, it was her wealth that supported and funded the Dawah of her husband Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Likewise, the first man to embrace Islam was Abu Bakr (RA) and he was also a wealthy and influential businessman. He used that wealth to purchase slaves who had converted to Islam and set them free. Abu Bakr (RA) was among the greatest examples of Zuhd, yet he worked, earned well, and used that money to uplift society.

Uthman Ibn Affan (RA) was also one of the early converts and one of the greatest companions, yet he was a well-known millionaire. During the Madinan era of the Prophet’s life, it was the wealth of Uthman (RA) that funded many of the expeditions and purchased many necessities for the community, including their primary source of water. Abdur Rahman Ibn Awf (RA) was also one of the ten greatest companions. He too was a wealthy businessman who used that wealth to uplift the ummah and fund the expeditions of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

All of these examples make it quite clear that many of the greatest Muslims did not abandon earning a living or gaining wealth. They were wealthy, worked hard, and utilized that wealth to benefit the ummah. That is the essence of Zuhd: To keep wealth in one’s hands, and not let it enter one’s heart.

This makes it quite clear that Zuhd does not mean poverty, abandoning work, or abandoning the good things of this world. Zuhd is a condition of the heart and it reflects in how we deal with this world and with wealth itself. A person can earn well, work hard, be wealthy, and still have Zuhd. Alternatively, a man can be poor, lazy, and still be attached to this world. It is essentially the condition of the heart that reflects one’s level of Zuhd.

Zuhd does not mean abandoning the basics of life and enforcing upon oneself hardship. Allah sent Islam as a gift to humanity to remove hardship and help us attain that which is beneficial for us. Allah wants us to enjoy the Halal and benefit from what He has created.

To enforce difficulty upon oneself is not acceptable and against the fundamental goals of Islam. Ayesha (RA) narrated about the Prophet (peace be upon him) that whenever he was given a choice between two things, he would choose the easier of the two as long as it was halal. In this way, he set the example for us that Islam teaches us to choose the easier path to Paradise as long as it is Halal.

Zuhd is not about dressing shabby, because the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions would dress well. He taught them that dressing well is part of the beauty that Allah loves from us. Zuhd is not about being strict and unfriendly because you are focused on the Afterlife. There was nobody more focused on the Afterlife than the Prophet (peace be upon him) but he laughed, joked, smiled, and was one of the friendliest people you would ever meet.

Many of the misconceptions about Zuhd reflect a strict difficult understanding of Islam. This is in of itself a problem as Islam is meant to be the religion that brings ease to mankind. Obeying the laws of Allah should make life easier for us. Therefore, any understandings of Islam that encourage unnecessary hardship and abandoning the beneficial things of this world are incorrect understandings.

Tips for maintaining Zuhd

Now that we have defined Zuhd, cleared up misconceptions about it, and explained the dangers of materialism, we can now focus on how to grow and nurture our Zuhd. The following tips will assist you in keeping the world out of your heart and staying focused on the obedience of Allah.

Look at those who have less than you, not those who have more than you

This is taken verbatim from a Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It has also been proven true by modern psychological studies. The way it works is that whenever you feel the pull of this world, look at people who have less than you and are still content and happy.

You will find in the world many people who don’t earn much but are content and focused on the obedience of Allah. Looking at such people makes you appreciate your own situation, and lowers your desire to pile up the things of this world. The next time you feel the pull of this world, try this. It works wonders for one’s faith and contentment.

Avoid sources of materialism

In order to avoid materialism, we must abandon its sources. In the modern world, this includes the advertisement industry. The advertisement industry revolves around getting people to desire and want things that they don’t need. These adverts are often designed by people who have studied NLP and they utilize this knowledge to make the adverts appeal to one’s mind. The result is that when one looks at such an advertisement (whether it is on television, radio, a billboard, or a poster) one feels the desire to purchase the item, even though you don’t need it and didn’t desire it before.

The way to avoid this is to stay in control of your own mind and not allow the advertisements to affect you. Look at them objectively and decide rationally whether it is really something you need or just something someone else is trying to convince you that you need.

Likewise, we should be careful of the salespeople’s tactics. Salespeople are in the business of selling stuff, and they wouldn’t be good at their job if they were unable to convince you that you need what they have to sell. Too many people fall for marketing tactics too easily. When dealing with salesmen, be realistic. Objectively look at whether you really need the item or not, and do not be afraid to say no if you do not want it. Sometimes it can be difficult to say no to a pushy salesperson but it is a skill that is needed in order to avoid clutter and piling up the things of this world.

Keep the right company

Avoiding the sources of materialism includes being careful about who we hang out with. We often take on the qualities of our closest friends and so if you are constantly hanging around snobbish materialistic people, this company will have an effect on you. They may prod you into purchasing the latest expensive items, take a loan to keep up appearances or feel bad and ungrateful for what you have because they have more than you. Staying in the company of such people is very dangerous for one’s Zuhd.

On the other hand, good company will keep you focused on the pleasure of Allah. If your friends are righteous people who are focused on the obedience of Allah, they will remind you accordingly. Their contentment and gratitude will rub off onto you, and their noble goals will inspire you to take up likewise noble goals.

Keep the Afterlife as your priority

While there is nothing wrong with earning well and enjoying the Halal things of this world, the key to maintaining Zuhd is to remain focused on the Afterlife and the pleasure of Allah. This keeps us in check and stops us from falling too deep into this world.

In every business deal, every purchase decision, every life decision, focus on the pleasure of Allah. This should be the overriding factor governing every aspect of our lives. If we make Allah’s pleasure our priority, every worldly decision of ours will be rightly guided and bring us closer to Him, even when we are making money and growing wealthy. Staying focused on the Afterlife includes remembering that on the Last Day, we will be responsible for every dollar we earned or spent. Allah will ask us how we earned it and how we spent it. This thought should keep us in check and keep our purchasing and business decisions guided in the right direction.

Live within your means

The modern lifestyle entices people to live off credit. Instant gratification demands that we get what we want as soon as we want it, even if we can’t afford it. The result is a lifetime of debts to pay off and never experiencing inner peace. Living a debt-free life is crucial for attaining inner peace and it directly related to Zuhd. The key is to live within your means. If you mean $1000 a month, then live off $900 and save $100 a month (or save $50 and give $50 in charity). Likewise, if you earn $2000 a month, live off $1800 and save the rest or donate to charity. If you can’t afford something, save up for it. Only if it is a necessity should you borrow money. Then too it must be a Halal loan i.e. interest-free loan.

When you choose to live within your means, you are taming your Nafs (desires) and training yourself to be patient. In doing so, you reject the pull of this world and focus on the pleasure of Allah. This also helps you sleep better at night and attain inner peace as you do not carry around the psychological burden of owing people money.

Purchase only that which you are going to use

How many of us have entire storage units full of junk that we bought but don’t use? Many people can’t resist the urge to buy things and as a result, we pile up the things of the world. Because we spent so much money on these things, we feel bad to give them away. As a result, we pile them up and never use them.

These items remain in our lives as a sign of our lack of will power, and our inability to let go of the world. If you want to experience Zuhd and inner peace, start by decluttering and simplifying your life. Let go of all the things that are piling up in your life but benefitting nobody. Don’t purchase such things in the future and put your wealth to better use instead. This takes us to the final point.

Spend time and wealth in the path of Allah

The concept of charity in Islam exists to purify our hearts from materialism and keep us grounded in the obedience of Allah, no matter how wealthy we become. This is why it is so important to have a habit of being generous.  

Every time you spend time and resources in the path of Allah, you free your heart a bit more from this world and grow closer to your Creator. This is clearly seen in the example of the companions. Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Abdur Rahman Ibn Auf (RA) were all wealthy individuals but they were extremely generous and would always be willing to give large sums of wealth in charity. They were never afraid to part with their wealth. They would spend on others and so Allah assisted them in both worlds and helped them attain success in this world and the Afterlife. Charity with a pure intention is one of the greatest ways to maintain Zuhd, no matter how wealthy or poor we are.

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Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 3 comments
How to analyze self-help advice the Islamic way

How to analyze self-help advice the Islamic way

The Self-Help industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar global phenomenon. Every day new books, articles, and videos flood the market offering a variety of tips, hacks, and advice on how to meet your goals and excel in life. But not all of it is Islamic or even halal. Often, Muslim readers are left confused regarding which advice to follow and which to cast aside as unislamic.

At Islamic Self Help, we strive to offer Islamized self-help resources that weed out the bad and keep only that which does not contradict our tradition. Utilizing a variety of techniques, we are able to separate good advice from bad advice utilizing sound Islamic principles. In this article, I will share some of these principles so that you too can read more critically, and can identify what is acceptable and what is not.

The Theological Lense

The first thing you need to do is analyze the advice for any problematic beliefs. Islam is founded upon theology (Aqidah). Our beliefs are the core of our faith, and we cannot accept any teachings that contradict our core theology. In the self-help industry, there are a lot of ideas floating around that contradict Islamic theology. Most of it is very subtle and may fly over the heads of the average reader. The only way to avoid this is to critically read such advice in light of Islamic theology.

Some of these ideas that contradict Islam are the following. The idea that you control your own destiny is false in Islam. Qadar (destiny) is one of the six pillars of faith, and Muslims firmly believe that Qadar is in the hands of Allah. The idea that you can attract money into your life by thinking positive thoughts contradicts Islamic theology. In Islam, we believe that our sustenance is already predetermined by Allah, we only decide how we earn it. Thoughts are not magical things that can override Qadar. Most importantly, the idea that you decide your own purpose in life contradicts the very fundamentals of Islam. The Quran clearly states that our purpose in life is to worship/serve Allah, we cannot accept any ideology that contradicts this.

The Legal Aspect

After theology, the next important aspect of our faith is the legal side i.e. Fiqh. When analyzing self-help advice, we must weed out any advice that is Haram (prohibited) in our religion. This requires at least a basic understanding of Islamic Law, and if one is in doubt, ask a scholar for clarification. Regarding legal issues, sometimes it is obvious when a self-help tip is haram, and sometimes it requires some deep thinking.

An obvious example is the idea promoted by some circles that one-night-stands boost self-confidence. In Islam, fornication and adultery are prohibited major sins, so a believer can never even consider following such an idea. Likewise, if a self-help author recommends any drugs to boost creativity. As recreational drugs are prohibited in Islam, a Muslim cannot even consider following such a tip. There may be other tips in these books that contradict the laws of Islam like accumulating interest in one’s bank account, upsetting one’s parents, and breaking family ties in pursuit of personal goals. As Muslims, we must be vigilant and analyze every piece of advice in light of Islamic law.

The Spiritual Impact

The third angle from which any advice needs to be analyzed is its spiritual impact. Islam is a deeply spiritual religion and our spirituality cannot be compromised for worldly goals or desires. One of the fundamental teachings of Islam is that we sometimes need to sacrifice our worldly desires for the sake of Allah. The modern self-help industry sometimes teaches the opposite. Rooted in individualism, many of these books and videos preach the pursuit of one’s own desires, even at the expense of one’s relationship with God.

Before we embrace any self-help idea or follow any self-help tip, we must do an analysis of whether it will cost us some of our spirituality or not. Any self-help tips that fuel greed, lust, selfishness, or arrogance needs to be shunned as these are viewed as spiritual diseases in Islam. A self-help guru may advice you to live life to the fullest and accomplish everything your heart desires before you die. As a Muslim, you cannot accept this advice because you know that obedience to Allah and preparation for the Afterlife takes precedence over fulfilling one’s desires. It may be difficult to analyze the impact a tip will have on one’s spirituality without a strong foundation. As with legal and theological issues, the rule remains the same; when in doubt, consult an Islamic scholar.

A Matter of Character

The fourth and final criterion to utilize when analyzing self-help tips is character. Akhlaq (good character) is a core component of Islam. We cannot compromise our integrity for anything. When a self-help tip comes from a purely materialistic and capitalistic perspective, it may encourage dishonesty and treachery in pursuit of one’s worldly goals. The believer can never embrace such ideas, as a believer’s character is his honor.

There are many great self-help books out there that focus on good character and that are rooted in good character. The authors may have extracted their principles from Christianity, Buddhism, or other sources. As long as these principles do not contradict Islamic character, it is acceptable to follow their advice. But not all self-help authors have such principles and backgrounds. Some are purely materialistic, some may be greedy capitalists, many are con-artists trying to earn a quick buck, and some are narcissistic self-promoters. It is the works of these kinds of self-help gurus that may encourage bad character. In any case, all self-help advice must be analyzed according to the principles of Akhlaq.

Conclusion

Over the years, I have compiled many Islamic self-help resources on topics ranging from time management to self-confidence. For each of these topics, I utilized these four core methods to separate the permissible from the impermissible. By analyzing any self-help tip or principle in light of Islamic beliefs, laws, spirituality, and character, we are able to extract what is good and Islamize is, while rejecting that which contradicts the fundamentals of our religion. Armed with these four principles, you should be able to read or study any self-help resource critically and separate the good from the bad yourself with the help of Allah.

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Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Leadership, 2 comments