Did you ever get this intense feeling that knowledge saved you?
I attended two beautiful talks this weekend by two of my most beloved teachers and thinkers. Although they didn’t speak about the same topic or even in the same place; an underlying message was in their talk which for me communicated the role of knowledge in saving you at defining moments in your life!
Let me explain…
One touching story told was of a woman who was ruthlessly and physically abused by her husband. She summoned up the courage to leave him and save her life and this courage stemmed from her knowledge of the religion. Unfortunately, a generic advice is given in difficult situations to be patient. The sister felt that it was her knowledge of Islam that saved her from this situation of abuse as she knew this was something she should not be patient with for the sake of Allah. Rather; this was a situation so difficult and that for the sake of Allah she must leave it and be patient with the outcomes. Had it not been for this woman’s deep and critical understanding of the concept of patience in Islam she might have stayed in a difficult situation because of this wrong understanding of patience that is most often conveyed. For her, knowledge clarified the boundaries of what is acceptable and what isn’t.
I can never be grateful enough for some moments in my life where I too felt knowledge saved me from taking a horrible path in life. One of those instances was in the summer of 2008, I had a serious dispute with a number of my friends about whether or not it was acceptable for us to continue seeking knowledge from a renowned Islamic institution that brought us together. This institute played a major role in our lives and equipped us with beneficial knowledge that shaped our Islamic identity. There was a campaign from a local group of Muslims who followed an extreme and unreasonable version of Islam that basically deemed anyone who wasn’t on their understanding a deviant; the concept of tolerance when it comes to acceptable differences of opinion was more or less absent from their beliefs. While their beliefs were unreasonable, to those of us who were new to practicing Islam, enthusiastic and completely unaware of the diversity Islam allows we were sold on some of their teachings. Those beliefs were especially convincing when they are propagated with the premise of protecting your Deen, knowing your teachers and sticking to the Quran and Sunnah. After all; they used verses of the Quran and statements of scholars that were very convincing on the surface. Those of course were chosen selections and many of them taken out of context.
It was in this atmosphere that my friends and social support group decided it was no longer acceptable to be students of the institute that brought us together in the path of seeking Islamic knowledge. I experienced a serious social pressure to take a stance and boycott this institute or be boycotted myself. Being boycotted myself wasn’t easy either, after all, I am a social butterfly that loves her friends and prefers being accepted over having enemies. It was one of the most confusing times of my life and one of those days that helped shape the person I am today. My confusion was stemming from the fact that this opinion was attributed to a respectable scholar and I felt that rejecting it was equal to rejecting a fundamental part of my Deen. The reality was however; that something did not feel right. It didn’t feel right that the wrong person was asking the wrong question, asking it the entirely wrong way and based on wrong principles. I now know they were based on wrong principles but at the time, the principles troubled me and I couldn’t accept them. I needed to understand why they troubled me but I lacked knowledge to critically assess them.
How do you end confusion and lack of understanding? How do you get clarity when something doesn’t sit well with you?
I was restless. I could not stop researching and seeking answers from people that I respected but I honestly didn’t have access to anyone that could understand my questions and give me answers. My religious friends made up their minds after the fatwa of the shaykh and the matter was closed for discussion and I was ostracized for not accepting the decision. My non-religious friends supported me by listening but of course it didn’t make sense to them. I appreciated their kindness to hear my pain but the bewildered looks on their faces is still pricelessly hilarious. I explained the dilemma to my one of brother who wisely taught me a beautiful dua:
اللهم أرنا الحق حقاً وارزقنا إتباعه، وأرنا الباطل باطلاً وارزقنا اجتنابه
“O Allah show us the truth as truth and inspire us to follow it; and show us the falsehood as falsehood and inspire us to avoid it.”
I said it nonstop and even woke up for Qiyam, something I rarely did just to get an understanding.
It was one of those highly emotional and spiritual moments of making dua and asking for clarity that I experienced a striking inspiration. I had a playback moment and to this day I’m amazed at the guiding inspirations Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala gives us. This memory was of Shaykh Muhammad Alshareef teaching History of the Khulafa’ in Chicago summer of 2006. In my playback moment I clearly heard Sh. Muhammad’s voice say: “At the time of fitnah, nothing benefits you except sound knowledge.” I cried at the realization that I was missing sound knowledge to benefit myself in the face of this fitnah.
What happened next was not a magical disappearance of my confusion; but it was a slow and steady discovery of scholarly teachings that shaped my beliefs about tolerance, acceptance, and differences of opinion. I came across what dazzled me as a golden advice from Shaykh AbdulMuhsin AlAbbad in which he specifically addresses the specific principles this group was preaching. Those teachings are well founded in our Islam; but for some reason they were not conveyed by this group in their attempt to manipulate the minds and the hearts. I was surprised that the same scholars they hold in high esteem spoke out against their methodology, but of course those opinions were not being translated and at times they were being dismissed as not relevant. It was sad how if only the majority of those who followed this path could speak and understand Arabic, they would have easily been able to come across these evidences that would teach them the errors in their thinking. If visualization helps, imagine telling a lion whose hungry and lacking food in his territory that if he crossed the boundaries set for him to look for sustenance he would be attacked and killed. Because of the fear, he loses courage to challenge the limits so he lives weak or dies slowly out of hunger. Fear ingrained in people in this methodology is leading them to boycott people and organizations that could offer them a lot of spiritual development. The fear is causing them to not use their knowledge as a tool for critical thinking. So they stay in a place of diminished spiritual growth that leads to diminished growth in their social community. What a waste of potential! This is not what Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala desires for us!
Fitnah is basically a trial or a situation you go through. When you go through it, you never come out the same way. You always come out shaped differently. This is exactly what this experience did to me. It was a time of serious confusion and searching. I went through an internal battle between conforming and critically assessing what I believed. It was hard to abandon a place of knowledge that I personally felt appreciative of and saw so much benefit in the mission. My friends were quick to point out imperfections that my mind couldn’t grasp really. I think looking back a picture was in their head and they wanted things to be exactly like the picture in the their head or else it was not good enough. And since the reality is not matching the picture, we must abandon the reality. It did not feel right; Allah could not possibly want us to abandon organizations, teachers and friends that stand for the noble cause of calling and guiding to the path of Allah. Yet, the sad reality is so many people I know take this path of rejecting goodness because of minor issues of disagreement that our Islam allows. Our religion is the religion of critical thinking; but if we are not equipped with the tools we cannot be critical in our thinking and assessing of situations. The continuation on the path of seeking sound and diverse knowledge strengthens this ability to be a critical thinker; hence, my favorite quote of Imam Ahmad is: “with the pen until the grave.” Learning is a life-long journey, basically.
My friends and I were definitely not the same with one another anymore and we definitely were not a team anymore. What was lost will never be understood until what we had is realized. We had a beautiful community of support and encouragement; something I believe we must be a part of to support our spiritual journeys. We came together out of a sheer desire to submit to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and seek His pleasure. We supported one another by reminders and halaqas, cooking and eating together, visiting the sick together, traveled for knowledge, learning and memorizing Quran, volunteering for a bigger cause, playing tennis, soccer and telling stories and jokes. We sought one another for support with our weaknesses and in a beautiful way embraced our strengths. We were so amazing that other girls were so eager to become a part of us and feel supported in their journeys to become Muslimahs. It makes me sad to say that shaytaan succeeded in breaking up our connection and community. Till this day it brings tears to my eyes how beautiful our friendship was, the diversity of our personalities and talents that together with the love of the Deen could have done so much for our community and for humanity. Shaytaan succeeded at breaking it all because we lacked knowledge and lacked some wisdom that comes with age and experiences. I still dream of having that community of support and I ask Allah to bless me with it again and equip us with the knowledge and wisdom of protecting it from shaytaan.
It’s true that I lost something seriously beautiful. But what I gained is something so much more beautiful. It’s so beautiful it brings me endless feelings of gratitude to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala for putting me through this difficult experience. Perhaps something for me to share in future posts.
اللَّهُمَّ انْفَعْنَا بِمَا عَلَّمْتَنَا , وَعَلِّمْنَا مَا يَنْفَعُنَا , وَزِدْنَا عِلْمًا إِلَى عِلْمِنَا
Oh Allah, benefit us with what you taught us, teach us what will benefit us, and increase us in knowledge
“I’m curious to know if there was a defining moment in your life where you too felt knowledge saved you? If you found this to be inspirational at all, then your story could also be inspirational.