Preserving our Identity


(Summary of Mufti Ebrahim Salejee’s majlis - Saturday 30th January)

One of the popular kings in Islamic history is Harooon Ar-Rasheed who was from the Abbasid khilaafat, powerful and mighty. The very unique thing in all of them was that they may have taken to luxury and comfort, but they maintained their independence. In the presence of the disbelievers living around, they did not show any weakness or inferiority complex. Rather the countries that they had captured, they had seen to it that it was their influence that will run. Most of these North African countries, in fact all of them were not Arabic speaking, be it Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, etc. they were not Arabic speaking. The moment Islam set foot in these countries then it was the Arabic language that flowed. Right up till Somalia and some parts of Ethiopia. They had seen that their language, culture and ways flowed. At no time did they feel inferior. This is a genuine challenge; when we live in an Islamic minority then we will have to do something to preserve our identity. We cannot just depend on some group like the tableegh jamaat feeling that they will do it and on account of their effort we will sustain ourselves. Each person needs to consider and count himself equally responsible.

In the early 90’s when Russia had opened and people were coming into Russia from different countries, there were jamaats that were also coming in. It was one of the hot summer days and they came across someone selling ice cream. So one of the jamaat members offered to purchase some ice cream. The Russian Muslim who was there said, “Astaghfirullah, how can you do such a thing!” Nevertheless, they did not buy it. When they got back, they asked the reason for this. So they got into contact with one of the seniors and he explained that when the revolution took place in the country we thought of ways to preserve our identity. We were not allowed to openly practise Islam, youngsters could not go to the musjid, etc. There were various ways that we thought of. One of the things we had agreed upon was that we would not purchase anything prepared by a disbeliever. Thus, we took it as if it was haraam and considered it extremely serious. Hence, any Muslim who wished to live in that culture and he moved out he was as if ostracised. You will hardly find a person from these countries, na‘oozubillah that he has moved away from his religion. So this is a concern that when we are a minority then we have to preserve ourselves.

Our elders that came to this country, one of the ways of them preserving their identity was that they maintained and spoke their vernacular and home language up to 20 to 30 years ago. In this way we had some way of identifying ourselves, but when we will allow the cultures of others to enter into us then we will collapse. Hence, we will need to understand that we are in a minority and we will have to pass on something to the future generations. Those who came before did something that they passed on to us. It is like a relay, that the baton has been passed on to us and we have to pass it on to the one after us. If everyone thinks of this seriously, unprejudiced, sincerely and with a sense of responsibility, Allah Ta‘ala will then put it into his mind that don’t do this and do this.

The Sahaabah (radhiyallahu ‘anhum) are moving into different countries and Khaalid (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) is invited for some dialogue with the Persian King. They laid down silken carpets for him. The silken carpets in that time were so expensive that in Hazrat ‘Umar’s (radhiyallahu’anhu) khilaafat when the wealth of Persia came into Madeenah then just the amount of a musalla size of a Persian carpet, was nothing less than a million rands if converted nowadays. So this was what they had prepared. But when Hazrat Khaalid (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) had gone he shifted the carpet completely. The king told him that I have rolled out the carpet to honour you and you have brought disregard for yourself. Hazrat Khaalid’s immediate reply was that there cannot be anything more honourable than the carpet of Allah Ta‘ala, He has prepared the land beneath. So you cannot show me additional respect than the respect that Allah Ta‘ala has shown me. I don’t need this for my respect. It may be something that is the glitter of your eye but not my eye. See the independence they had and the confidence they had in their own culture.

When the Muslims lost India to the British, some of the positions that the Muslims held were still maintained and recognised. The English were small in number and since the Muslims were ruling for so long they had the expertise and the knowhow, so they had to preserve the people in their positions. The viceroy had come in. So some people just to curry favour changed their dress etc. However, there was one Moulana Abdul Jabbaar who said that I cannot bow down to them and adopt their culture. Islam has given us the respect, but since it is now the law so I have to go and meet but it does not mean that I have to change my attire in any way. When the viceroy saw the kurtah and clothing he actually held it out of joy and said that this is royal attire.  

Once a person came to the office and complained that he had come through the madrasah forecourt and not a single student greeted him with salaam. I apologised to him, but I then asked him whether he had a topee on or not when he came through. He replied that he did not have a topee on at that time. I told him that perhaps the students did not realise that you were a Muslim and they felt to themselves that if they make salaam you will feel intimidated. Won’t you feel intimidated if a Hindu greets you with ‘namaste’? You will feel that why is he greeting me like this. Don’t you feel uncomfortable? You will feel that he is counting you as a Hindu. So the students did not know that you are a Muslim. But isn’t it a point of reflection that a Muslim could not identify that you were a Muslim. Now there are certain things that are unique to Muslims and are the ways and culture of Muslims. So why must we throw it out. Look at the wearing of a topee. We will leave out the discussion of whether it is sunnat or whether namaaz is valid without it. But looking at the wearing of the topee, is it a practice common among others or is it unique to Muslims. It is unique to Muslims. Even if it is a Jew, but he wears a skull cap, not a topee or mosque hat. So there are things that are unique to Muslims and are used to identify Muslims. Why should we abandon our identification? It must be an honour and a thing of respect and something that we attribute ourselves to.

Hazrat Moulana Badre ‘Aalam (rahmatullahi ‘alaih) was one of the greater muhadditheen and greater auliya that lived about 60 years ago. He passed away in Madeenah Munawwarah and is buried in Jannatul Baqee’. After 15 years when they dug up his grave they found his body intact as they had buried him, whereas it is a system in Baqee’ that they recycle the graves after a few years since with the heat and weather conditions the bodies decompose very quickly. Many South Africans would spend some time with Moulana when they would go for hajj. He used to hear regarding the kind of life people that used to live in the western countries, whether in Europe or South Africa. Hence, he made some recommendations. He would say that the great day of the week is Friday. So make this day distinguished from the rest of the days of the week. If you are preparing a special dish then let it be on Friday. If the children are wearing good clothes then let be on Friday and if you are giving them some pocket money then give it on Friday. We don’t need to identify with the non-Muslims. They don’t follow us and nor do they force us to identify with them. Then why should we identify with them or anything that is attributed to their celebrations. We should not bring any colour or light to it. If we want to give a gift to a worker or friend then let it not be around their times of celebration. We will do it perhaps in Ramadhaan or on a Jumu‘ah or ‘Eid Day; on an occasion that relates to us or the day that is important and significant to us. And if they ask us why on this day then we will have a chance to give them da’wat. Muslims are not cold they are warm, but it does not mean that they will identify with other cultures. Muslims are understanding and when they are understanding they will explain. Who knows that just on account of showing this type of respect we will earn our salvation in Jannah. So we do not need to excuse ourselves and make up stories.

Hence, we see that in any situation when we need to do our obligation we should not feel embarrassed and feel ourselves as inferior. One person passed a remark to a Sahaabi that your Nabi showed you everything and even taught you how to go to the toilet. This Sahaabi did not take it as a taunt. Instead he took it as an opportunity to explain to him. He said yes, our Nabi (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) has taught us, and he has taught us civilised ways that when we go to the toilet then we should not face the qiblah and we should not use things like bones and glass for istinjaa as one may hurt oneself and we should use our left hand. Now this person is impressed, that this Nabi came from the Arabs who did not have any culture, how did he pass on such values to you? Where did he get it from? So this Sahaabi did not feel embarrassed. Really our clothing, namaaz, azaan, etc., are all attractions. If it is namaaz time, we should call out the azaan and perform our namaaz. What is there to be embarrassed to perform wudhu and call the azaan. There is no embarrassment; in fact many of the disbelievers feel attracted when the azaan is called. You find that many disbelievers who live near a musjid do not want to give up their residence. Many professionals say that you do not know what this thing does to me. They actually stop their work at the time of azaan. They respect and identify these things. Others look at it with respect, and the people that have it consider it as inferior. Wherever we are, if it is namaaz time we will call out the azaan, but obviously we will not disturb those around. If we are on the plane, we will not read a long namaaz and jam the aisle. We will make wudhu but we will not spill the water all over the place in the toilet. If the water has fallen we will take the tissue and dry it up. And don’t take half an hour in the toilet, where you are making miswaak for ten minutes and then wudhu for another five minutes. It is not yours. Everybody has a right to it; be considerate. Try and minimise your time in it and just do the minimum. Try and leave it in a better condition than when you entered it. Now the next person feels that Islam teaches something. We do not realise what Islam is teaching us. It teaches us cleanliness and consideration. We will not do our namaaz at the time that they are serving their passengers. As you are performing the namaaz you will not read Surah Yaseen and Surah Tabaarak. We will just read ‘inna aa’taina’ and ‘qul huwallah’, complete the namaaz and move on. They will then feel relaxed and comfortable with us. Do it the right way and you will not create the wrong impression. So do these things of Islam openly and don’t feel inferior in any way.

Around the 1980’s when the madrasah just opened we used to take in a lot of school going students. Wearing Islamic attire, especially a topee and keeping the pants above the ankles was something unheard of, but I made it a precondition for admission. I could understand that wearing of a kurtah to school was not possible. People were still young and growing up and for them to take a big jump like that was difficult. The other precondition was that whether it is summer or winter you will have to perform your Zuhr namaaz at school because in winter by the time they come back they will miss their Zuhr. The school did not like this idea. Hence, the non-Muslim principal called me up. Now it was a battle of survival.  You have to stand for your students and it was not being prejudice, but we need our values and our systems and we need them to prevail. We need to understand that we are in the minority and therefore we need to be brave. For Islam, can’t we act strong. For our finance and material progress don’t we stand firmly for our rights? The principal complained about their dressing and that it does not conform to the school dress. In passing the principal tells me that before coming to school every morning I read the Quraan and I find a lot of inspiration in it. Now I know this was just to bribe me. We went through this cheap politics in India. So to buy me off he told me this. He then told me that this topee does not conform to the standards, and in the school we have different classes of students and if they want to wear their clothing then how is it going to work. I didn’t pay much attention to this. When he saw that I was not paying attention to this he asked me, “What is the position of a topee in Islam?” He called all the staff and teachers at the high school into the staff room. There was a Muslim teacher teaching English who was also part of the staff. Now, I am thinking that if I say that this is sunnat or mustahab etc. then he will say it is just optional, so leave it out. And further, mustahab and fardh etc. are all technical terms and he will not be able to understand it. So I took him in a different tangent altogether and told him that the position of a topee in Islam is like the importance of a trouser on your body. Now the topic was closed and not left for any negotiation. He did not know what to say after that. In the meanwhile the Muslim teacher interjected and said that we phoned Mr. Deedat and he said that it is just an optional thing. Now sometimes it is your own people that let you down. You can understand that in a school situation everyone is looking for a promotion, and this is subject to the principal’s approval. If he gives you his blessings then you are promoted. The situation was such that we can’t even run this person down, but we have to get it working and we can’t run down Mr. Deedat; at that time he was hitting the headlines, national and international. At least we have some hero, though we may differ in certain things but we cannot run down the Muslim in front of a kaafir. Allah Ta‘ala put the answer in my mind. So I turned to the Muslim teacher as he was the one that had posed the question. I told him that aren’t you an English teacher. He said he is. I told him that you have specialised in English, but if I give you a complicated case in medicine from a journal, can you comment on that passage and present it to the doctors? Will they accept it? They will not accept it because you have not specialised in that field, though you are specialised in English. The same will apply if you are asked to interpret the law. If an attorney is in court and the court asks him from where he got the interpretation of the law and he says that he got it from the English teacher, will it be acceptable? Obviously it will be rejected. I then told him that though we hold Mr. Deedat in the highest regards but he is a man that has specialised in comparative religion; he has not specialised in theology. He is recognised in comparative religion. He is not a man that is referred to for theology. So it is wrong for you to quote him.

Why should we feel inferior in our deeni matters? We should feel that this is the way. If we cannot do it then we should accept it that this is on account of our weakness, but we should realise that this is the standard by which we need to move. At least we cry to Allah Ta‘ala and say that I am supposed to be doing it but it is my weakness that I am not able to do it. Who knows, Allah Ta‘ala will bless you on account of you acknowledging your weakness rather than you trying to legitimise. This legitimising has become the order of the day. An accountant came to me and said that he was previously working for a kaafir company and now he is in a Muslim company. I asked him whether he is happy and he replied that he is, as he gets time for his namaaz etc. But then he says that he has a problem. He says that I am in the accounts department and because the company does big business, at times they need to do financing. But when I see the operation I cannot find a difference between the conventional financing and what they call the muraabahah financing. And to make it worse there is a Hindu above me and he too cannot find the difference. Look at how it impacts on that non-Muslim. On the one end we say that Islam has got a solution, but we cannot convince that non-Muslim that we are not involved in interest. Our ways need to be chalk and cheese. This half way in and half way out is not on.

Many people like to give you their two pence, and I don’t say that they are doing it with any bad intention, but I will say that they do not think what they are talking about. They do not see things holistically. Someone came to me and said that da’wat is for non-Muslims, so why do you do da’wat and tableegh with the Muslims. I explained to the person that the command of the Quraan Shareef is ‘come into Islam completely’ because you can only be an example if you are a complete Muslim. Otherwise, what Islam are you going to invite the non-Muslim to? He will say that if I am womanising then you are womanising, if I am dealing in interest then you are also dealing in interest, if I gamble then you are also gambling. So everything we do is the same. Hence, what are you inviting me towards? Therefore, you do not have anything to invite him towards.

In this era some of the trials are very strange. One engineer was here. He told me that he is working for a major corporate and the protocol there is that when a man meets a lady then they will have to do mouth to mouth, not resuscitation. So I asked him that do they do it only for man to woman or also man to man. When I told him this he said that it seems that they are prejudice. You can see that this is on account of the contamination of the nafs. It is a purely nafsaani thing. It is lust, but they will call it respect, etiquette and protocol of the company. This is all nonsense. Then it becomes difficult for a normal person to differentiate the right from wrong. A normal person cannot see what the wrong is. Therefore, the need to preserve our identity at any level and forum. One should feel that it is my duty.

In Surah Waaqi‘ah, Allah Ta‘ala speaks of the Hereafter, that you will be sorted out into three groups, ashaabul-yameen –  the people of the right, ashaabush-shimaal – people of the left, and as-saabiqoon – the foremost. And Allah Ta‘ala says that the foremost are the foremost; the ones that have excelled are the ones that have excelled. In this world Allah Ta‘ala has made our temperament such that we want to excel and have the best. We want the best food, best car, the homes must be the best, the location must be the best. We won’t want to stay anymore in Isipingo, we must have a holiday house in Cape Town. So we want the best. There are those who can afford and those who cannot afford. Allah Ta‘ala has designed us and when He has designed us He knows our temperament and He knows what we aspire for. Thus, He tells us that the ones who have excelled they are the ones who have excelled. In Surah Waaq‘iah Allah Ta‘ala says as-saabiqoon and perhaps for the same people He says wa liman khaafa maqaama rabbihi jannataan – those who fear the time when they will have to stand before their Rabb, they will have two jannats. This is the higher class in Jannah and Allah Ta‘ala is describing them in different ways. In one place they are described as those who have excelled and overtook everybody else and in another place they are those who fear the time when they will stand before Allah Ta‘ala for accounting purpose; they are not relaxed.

In around the 1960’s the jamaat work started here in South Africa and I used to observe them. We used to also go and for us it was like an outing. We understood it at our level. But I remember that at that time they used to emphasise on us that before going to sleep sit on your bed for at least five to eight minutes and take stock of yourself, what bad you have done for the day and what good you have done. For the good that you have done make shukr, and for the wrong ask Allah Ta‘ala’s forgiveness and make a resolve to correct yourself and think of a remedial process of correcting yourself; that I am engaged in gheebat so how do I correct myself? I am using my eyes incorrectly how do I correct myself? Don’t become complacent. They would say that before sleeping take stock of yourself because in any practice if there is no accounting and no checks and balances then that is a recipe for failure and destruction for that business. You are not looking for the weak points and you are just continuing. You are not checking and then it will collapse. So when a worldly thing can collapse then can’t your deeni things also collapse? Hence, you are checking where are your weak points and looking how to correct yourself. For the wrongs that you have done you are asking Allah Ta‘ala’s forgiveness. If you can bring about a remedial process, then bring it about and if you can’t then ask someone for help. This is what is meant by ‘For the one who fears the time that he will stand before his Rabb are two jannats’ and ‘Those who are the foremost, they are really the foremost’.

So in what have they excelled? There must be something in which they have overtaken others. The ‘Ulama explain that they have excelled in several ways. If it is an obligation then they are the first to do it. If it is namaaz time then they are there early in the front rows. They are not coming at the last minute and then sluggishly going to the toilet and making wudhu and when the namaaz is about to start they are joining in. Rather they are there in advance. So Allah Ta‘ala is watching that this person is coming in advance and he is hoping for more mercy. The muazzin has barely started the azaan and he is already in the musjid. So he is anticipating My mercy, he is looking forward. If there is any other deeni matter then he is there first. If there is a janaazah then he will not wait and say that there is some other chacha and we will wait for him. Look at Hazrat Abu Bakr and Hazrat ‘Umar (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma). This was their type of race. ‘Umar (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) is thinking that one day I have to overtake Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu ‘anhu). So he is thinking of how to overtake him. He finds out how Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) starts his day. They tell him that he starts by serving and assisting an old and handicapped person. Hence, ‘Umar (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) thinks that I will go today to help him, feed him and clean him. As he reaches the residence of this person, he finds that Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) had already been there and cleaned up whereas he was the khaleefah at that time. ‘Umar (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) then says that I can forget of overtaking you for even one day.

Overtaking can be in anything. It is not just restricted to namaaz. For example, in the executing of the rights of others, winding up of the estate, etc. I will see to it that I am foremost in executing his right. If it is something that is owed to the wife then I will see that I make sure she gets her rights. Sometimes we think being foremost is only in namaaz and roza etc. and in other aspects when it is pointed out to us that this is the wrong way then we will say that one day we will do that also. So we are just restricting it to a few aspects. Hence, in every matter we need to see that we are the foremost to exercise the rights to the next person. People normally speak of going for arbitration instead of legal proceedings and going to court etc. I say that in approximately 35 years of my experience in these things there has been just one case where the person had come to me and told me that Moulana you are the first stop and the last stop. Whatever you tell me to do, I will do it whether it is for me or against me. I will not ask for your references. Just tell me what to do.

We think to ourselves that da’wat is just in a few practices that we know. That person who came to ask regarding tableegh to non-Muslims, I told him that it is at two levels. You need to advertise and market the product. You are selling samoosas but the samoosas are not fully done, will it sell? You can only sell it if it is fully done. You are selling cool drinks on a hot day but they are warm and not chilled, will anyone buy it? So to give that da’wat to that non-Muslim you will have to get it complete. One is to bring it to perfection on the inside and the other is to bring the one who is outside inside. The tableegh jamaat have taken one responsibility and they are seeing to it that they bring it to perfection on the inside. But they find that their plate is full and there have no space for any more. Now this other responsibility is still outstanding, you may start it off. When he heard this he immediately remained silent. To speak is easy but to come into the field and do the work is difficult. Just to command and give comments is easy. So it is a very selective type of deen that we wish to lead.

Coming back to the arbitration aspect, there was just one person in all these years. So it shows how much more we still have to work within ourselves. I was surprised that I told this person that this is no obligation, but just to quell your differences, give 5 million to your brother whereas he only had about 10 million. Without batting an eye, he said alright Moulana, I am going and he went. Allah Ta‘ala alone knows what karaamat that person had and what ikhlaas and sincerity he had that his business just grew and now as it stands I imagine that he is worth approximately 80 to 100 million. I attribute it to his honesty and humbleness. He did not want to rob and cheat and he had that deep down respect for his deen. This is called complete. So overtake in all aspects. In whatever I can do, in fulfilling people’s rights, respecting people, showing good character, etc. In every aspect, I am showing a higher standard. You want to be excelling and foremost, Allah Ta‘ala says that I have everything in my treasures, but are there any takers.

When Nabi (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) went for mi’raaj, he had met Ebrahim (‘alaihis salaam). We know this hadeeth of mi’raaj and it is quite strange. We hear it time and again. But very seldom do we realise what we are reading. In the next life there will be a lot of movement. Nabi (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) is meeting Ebrahim (‘alaihis salaam) perhaps in the 7th heaven. Then Moosa (‘alaihis salaam) is in the 6th or 5th heaven and he meets him. Moosa (‘alaihis salaam) suggests to Nabi (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) to go and ask for a concession for the number of namaaz. This means that the people who have left this world can still be of some benefit to you. Can there be a greater benefit than reducing the number of namaaz from 50 to five. Now look at the swift movement; all the Ambiyaa (‘alaihimus salaam) are then congregating at Baitul Muqaddas to read salaah behind Nabi (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam). This is a clear hadeeth. However, all this is not of their own accord, but by divine permission.

My mind is going to another hadeeth. We talk of the movement in the Hereafter. Moosa (‘alaihis salaam) met Aadam (‘alaihis salaam). This appears in Bukhaari Shareef. Moosa (‘alaihis salaam) tells Aadam (‘alaihis salaam) that you are our father, but why did you have to go and eat from the tree. It is because of your mistake that all of us had to land up on earth. Now we have to go through this whole struggle to work our route back to Jannah. So Aadam (‘alaihis salaam) had to speak. Look at how freely the Ambiyaa (‘alaihimus salaam) could speak with each other. Aadam (‘alaihis salaam) says that aren’t you Moosa, to whom Allah Ta‘ala spoke directly. This is your position. Don’t you find in the Taurah which was revealed upon you that Aadam has eaten from the tree, and all this was recorded, written and decreed 40 years before my (i.e. Aadam’s) creation. He replied yes. So Aadam (‘alaihis salaam) says that when it was decreed, you cannot blame me for it. But just to clarify, if we commit a wrong then for our use and benefit we cannot say that it was decreed for me. You can only say this when you take your seat in Jannah. Look at it, Aadam (‘alaihis salaam) only said this when they had passed the parameters of this world. Otherwise whilst he was here, when Allah Ta‘ala asked, “why did you eat from this tree, didn’t I prohibit you”? At that time, he did not say that You had decreed this, so how can You hold me responsible. Instead, he said, “Rabbana zalamna anfusana.” So it means that in this world you cannot use taqdeer as a cover. Yes, in Jannah if someone asks you that weren’t you that big rogue and how did you come here? At that time you can say that it was decreed for me. Otherwise, if you were able to use taqdeer as a cover then there will be no system in this world. Someone can kill the next person and say that it was decreed for me. Someone can kidnap another person’s child or daughter and say that it was decreed. So as long as we are in this world we will be subjected to this system. Once we go beyond the parameters of this world, that is the universe and not just earth because if someone commits murder in space he will still be taken into account. So once you pass the parameters of this universe there you can use taqdeer as a cover up.  

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