The Third of eight Discourses on ‘Amal,
10th November 2007,
Nizamia Mosque, Tokai, Cape Town, South Africa

This is a continuation of what we were doing last week. We were looking at ‘Amal as the foundation of the Deen. Ad-Deen al-Mu‘amala. We were also looking at Surat Luqman, and just at the point where we came to the advice Luqman gave to his son, we stopped. We read up to the preliminary Ayats that led up to that, but so that we would neither belittle nor fail to grasp the importance of this counsel of Sayyiduna Luqman, ‘alayhi salam, we had to make a stop.

Now we are going to look at another word. In Al-Bukhari and Ibn Hanbal we find the celebrated Hadith that Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: “I was sent to ennoble good character.”

‘Mukarim’ means to ennoble, or to make higher. Akhlaq is a word we so to speak stumbled over last time because we were not content with the terms which were being used. We did not like just the term ‘character’ because it is something much more sophisticated and complex than that. Khalq is really ‘created form’, is that not correct? Thus: “I was sent to ennoble the human form.” ‘Form’, remember, is not a static thing. The human form, like that of the animal, is not like in a snapshot – to understand the form of the lion, for example, you have to understand how it lives with the other lions, how it breeds, how it hunts, its habitat – you have to know the whole life-cycle to know what the form of the lion is. The dead dog is not a dog, as the ‘dogginess’ has left it. The essentialness of the dog entails all its characteristics, of how it behaves – its loyalty, but also how it is treacherous, it is a hunter, it gobbles its food – all these things make up the form. This is very important because the Sufis have always insisted that this difference is where many of the Fuqaha have failed to understand the true nature of the Deen, because it cannot be fixed in principles, in principles of law. It always goes back to this Akhlaq, this living form of the character of the human creature.

So we take this Mukarim al-Akhlaq of the famous Hadith as in fact a process that from the time of Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is what is working, as it were, among the people of the Muslim Community. Their being affected by it is what raises up the Muslims to this capacity to create great civilisation and to create sciences, and all the many aspects Islam brings to enhance life on this planet.

Thus, we are going to look at another term. It is a term which has almost vanished from the vocabulary of the people of Fiqh and ‘Aqida, but significantly it has been taken up and turned into its opposite by the political Arabs. The term is ‘Fata’. The plural in the masculine is Fityan, and in the feminine is Fatayat. The dictionary definition is ‘a young man having attained the full vigour of his manhood’. There is another term which comes from it, and that is Fatya – Futya – which is the reply that shows enlightenment on a question. If a question is given and there is a reply which enlightens, that is Fatya – ‘as if one had gained the power of that clarification’. So Fatya is a kind of illumination that allows one to see into a problem put in front of one.

We are going to look in our Qur’ans at Surat al-Anbiya’ (21:51-67):

We gave Ibrahim his right guidance early on,
and We had complete knowledge of him.
When he said to his father and his people, “What are these statues you are clinging to?”
they said, “We found our fathers worshipping them.”
He said, “You and your fathers are clearly misguided.”

They said, “Have you brought us the truth or are you playing games?”
He said, “Far from it! Your Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth,
He who brought them into being.
I am one of those who bear witness to that.
By Allah, I will devise some scheme against your idols when your backs are turned.”

He broke them in pieces, except for the biggest one,
so that they would have it to consult!
They said, “Who has done this to our gods? He is definitely one of the wrongdoers!”
They said, “We heard a young man mentioning them.
They call him Ibrahim.”
They said, “Bring him before the people’s eyes so they can be witnesses.”

They said, “Did you do this to our gods, Ibrahim?”
He said, “No, this one, the biggest of them, did it. Ask them if they are able to speak!”
They consulted among themselves and said, “It is you yourselves who are wrongdoers.”
But then they relapsed back into their kufr: “You know full well these idols cannot talk.”
He said, “Do you then worship, instead of Allah, what cannot help or harm you in any way?
Shame on you and what you worship besides Allah!
Will you not use your intellect?”

Now look at Ayat 60:

They said, “We heard a young man mentioning them.
They call him Ibrahim.”

Here we meet the term ‘Fata’, and it is identifying Sayyiduna Ibrahim, ‘alayhi salam, in this important event of early history. From this passage we derive three vital elements of Futuwwa. Firstly, Ibrahim is a youth. Secondly, Ibrahim teaches by an action, not words. He smashes the idols, and it is that action which turns the whole situation around. Another example I have seen of this in our own time is that Hajj ‘Umar Pasha would argue with these people who thought they were so clever and knew everything about modern economy and the nature of the Gold Dinar, and nothing, nothing would penetrate their intellects at all. Then, when he produced the gold coin, and it went into their hands, another understanding went into their hearts because he made the action of giving them the gold coin. When our Hafidh’s father presented the Gold Dinar to King Hasan II, at the moment he took it into his hand, everything changed. Because of that, the next day the King announced they would look into the collection of Zakat. Thus the second aspect of this is that, in this passage of the Qur’an, he teaches by an action and not words.

The third aspect is that, following that, he then calls on the intellect. The last Ayat reveals:

He said, “Do you then worship, instead of Allah, what cannot help or harm you in any way?
Shame on you and what you worship besides Allah!
Will you not use your intellect?”

At that point, then, from the action, he brings in the intellect. So the intellect follows the action. We will see also that that in turn has, prior to it, something else.

We will now go to Surat al-Kahf (18:10 & 13):

When the young men took refuge in the cave and said, “Our Lord, give us mercy directly from You
and open the way for us to right guidance in our situation.”

We will relate their story to you with truth.
They were young men who had Iman in their Lord and We increased them in guidance.

Now we will look at Ayats 23 and 24 of the same Surat:

Never say about anything, “I am doing that tomorrow,” without adding “If Allah wills.”
Remember your Lord when you forget, and say, “Hopefully my Lord will guide me
to something closer to right guidance than this.”

Why we put these together is because this counsel, as it were, comes after the event. The event is this ‘initiation’ by Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, of the youths in the cave. Again, they are defined as being Fata. It is the same term. In both the Qur’anic references we have seen, the ones concerning Sayyiduna Ibrahim, ‘alayhi salam, and the ones concerning the youths in the cave, we notice that both events imply that they have been constrained to worship other-than-Allah. We confirm that they choose rather to have death than to worship something other than Allah. So in both cases there is a categoric rejection of worshipping idolatrously something that is other than the Divine. This is the event in which the youth fulfils his highest being – one case being one of the prophets of Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala.

In Ayat 10, which we have just looked at, it indicates that they asked for direct knowledge from Allah – Rahma – here shown to be the foundation of knowledge.

So they asked for direct knowledge from Allah. That is something that was put into their hearts without anything between them and this illumination from Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala. In this language of Tasawwuf that is called Tajal-liyat – illumination into their hearts. This is the order of things. What we are seeing is direct knowledge from Allah. From the direct knowledge, the illumination from Allah, there comes right knowledge for their particular situation. Do you see? The discrimination comes after the illumination. Remember that last week I said I would respectfully contradict Imam Ghazali when he said ‘Ilm al-Mukashafa had to come after ‘Ilm al-Mu‘amala. Although we understand why he said that, and it is a sensible thing to say, it is nevertheless not true because the reality is that the illumination comes from Allah, and it is that illumination which makes it possible for you to make the right action, to make the right judgment, because it comes from Allah.

So from the ‘Ilm Laduni comes the right knowledge, Rahma itself, for their particular situation. Look at Ayat 13 again:

We will relate their story to you with truth.
They were young men who had Iman in their Lord and We increased them in guidance.

So firstly, they had Iman. First, there was inwardness, and then they were given guidance, then they knew what to do. Iman preceded this specific knowledge of knowing what to do. The Furqan came after the illumination. Look at Surat al-Anbiya’ (21:51). This is further confirmation of what we have been saying:

We gave Ibrahim his right guidance early on, and We had complete knowledge of him.

In his Tafsir, Tabari says: “This means that Allah gave him this when he was still a child.” In other words, something was put into him in his childhood that was this Ruhani light which led him through his tremendous experiences he had as the Prophet of Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala.

A very famous Sufi, Abu Hafs an-Nishaburi, who died around 265 A.H. was one of the great Fityan – one of the great people of Futuwwa, of Khorason, and he defined this science as: to teach by the action, not the word. Abu Hafs was a Murid of Abu Turab an-Nakhshabi, one of the oldest masters of Futuwwa. According to Hujwiri in his famous Kashf al-Mahjoub, he was also one of the teachers of Ibn Hanbal in Fiqh. It is very important in fact that you know that the great, great Sufis of the early days were absolutely laced in, locked in, connected with, and taught from and by the great Fuqaha and the great ‘Ulama – even the ones who gave us our Madhhabs. It is very important you realise this because it is now covered over as if it were not the case. But here is this great Sufi who, according to Hujwiri, was one of the teachers of Ibn Hanbal in Fiqh.

In the mosque of Baghdad, Imam Junayd, who held Abu Hafs in the highest esteem, asked him before the assembled Shuyukh, “Abu Hafs, tell us, what is Futuwwa?” And Abu Hafs said, “You answer. For you have been granted a tongue of wisdom.” Junayd replied, “For me, Futuwwa consists of abolishing the vision,” meaning of the self, “and to break all the links,” meaning with society. Abu Hafs replied, “What you say is very beautiful, but for me, Futuwwa consists above all in straight behaviour, and in not to ask anything from anybody.” This is a devastating kind of opposite to the reply of the great Imam Junayd. “For me, Futuwwa consists above all in straight behaviour, and in not to ask anything from anybody.” At this, Imam Junayd instructed everyone in the mosque of Baghdad to stand up out of respect for him, because he had given the unmatchable definition.

The arrival on earth of the Last Messenger, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, heralded the renewal and laying down of the foundations of law and justice. It is a new and final Divine dispensation for mankind. ‘Amal takes on a form: Nabawiyya. The Book and the Sunna reveal a new model for ‘Amal. It is elevated. That is, the norm is raised up. ‘Amal: ‘Ayn–Mim–Lam: the Arabic word means ‘to be active’. It is in its root the ‘camel’ itself. The camel, because it takes its meaning from its action, from its movement. The meaning of the camel is that it takes you from a place to a place.

The ‘Amal in Islam is raised to higher degrees than mankind had known. ‘Amal becomes transformed into Birr. Birr is a very complex word, a very important word in the Arabic language, and many ‘Ulama have written books on the subject of Birr. Birr is ‘just’ action. More, it is just action in the light of Divine Guidance, which is what we have been talking about in relation to the youths in the cave and to the young Prophet Ibrahim, ‘alayhi salam. Birr means therefore that the ‘Amal is now transformed into something else which is not only action, but ‘just action’ in the light of Divine Guidance. Let us look at Surat ash-Shura (42:36-39):

Whatever you have been given is only the enjoyment of the life of the dunya.
What is with Allah is better and longer lasting for those who have Iman and trust in their Lord:
those who avoid major wrong actions and indecencies and who, when they are angered, then forgive;
those who respond to their Lord and establish Salat,
and manage their affairs by mutual consultation
and give of what We have provided for them;
those who, when they are wronged, defend themselves.

This is the new dispensation that has been brought by the Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, through the Revelation and through his own life and performance. This is a new dispensation – it has not been before. This is the Birr, and it is a dynamic. It is a rising in stations. This is the Mukarim al-Akhlaq of Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. It is that the Muslim becomes someone who, in the life process, improves himself all the time, all the time, all the time.

This is the motor power released by the Revelation and its Master. It is a striving, a reaching beyond, a self-transformation – it is Futuwwa. A Hanbali Faqih, Ibn Mi’mar, wrote a book of Fiqh called ‘Kitab al-Futuwwa’. Islamic Futuwwa predated and predesigned the christian rules of chivalry which created the whole of European civilisation in the Middle Ages. Futuwwa is the adoption of an attitude and conduct, elevated, so that it is the image of the People of Jannah. According to Tabarani, one day Anas was ill. Some of the Companions came to visit him. Anas turned to his servant and said, “Give my friends something, even if it is only a piece of bread. I heard the Messenger say, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, ‘Excellence of behaviour is a quality of the People of the Garden.’”

Futuwwa is to maintain harmony among the brothers. Bayhaqi and Daraqutni record that Abu Sa‘id, one of the Ahl as-Suffa, told that a man had prepared to entertain the Messenger and some Companions. When the food was laid out, one of the Companions did not eat, saying that he was fasting. The Messenger, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, then said, “Your brother has invited us and gone to a lot of trouble!” Then he added: “Eat! Fast another day if you want.”

Futuwwa is correctness in attitude and inner state. It has been reported from ‘Urwah in Ibn Hanbal, Muslim and Tirmidhi, that Sufyan ibn ‘Abdullah ath-Thaqafi said, “Oh Messenger! Give me a word in Islam thanks to which I will not need to question anyone after you.” The Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, replied, “Say: ‘I believe in Allah,’ and be straight.”

Again, notice all this connectedness between the people of Fiqh – the ‘Ulama – and the Sufis. Yusuf al-Husayn, the student of Ibn Hanbal, visited Abu Yazid al-Bistami, the great Sufi, and asked him, “Who do you counsel me to take as a friend?” Abu Yazid replied, “The one who will visit you when you are sick, and the one who will pardon you when you behave badly.”

Futuwwa implies perfect harmony between the brothers. Al-Musayyib ibn Wahdi said, “Any brother to whom you say, ‘Come!’ and who replies, ‘Where?’ is not a true brother for you.” Imam Junayd’s Murid, Abu Bakr al-Kattani, said, “Futuwwa is to be aware of the lost time of ignorance and to take account of it wisely. I heard of a man who suddenly became aware that he was sixty years old. He counted his days for the first time and realised that they added up to twenty one thousand, five hundred days. The man became so full of fear, he passed out. When he was revived he said, How terrible! If I had done a wrong action every day, I would come before Allah covered in wrongs. But I have done wrong things tens of thousands of times a day!’ and he passed out a second time. When they tried to revive him they saw that he was dead.”