Importance of Following the Righteous Predecessors

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We Are the Sum of Our Habits

Our infrequent acts of good or bad do not define us. Rather we are what we do day-in day-out. Therefore, to be the best men we can be we must weed out the bad habits and cultivate the good.

Our character and our success in this life and the next depends largely on our habits: the things we do consistently day-in and day-out. It is not our random acts that define us; it is the small daily acts that make us who we are. For example, a generous person isn’t the one who one day decides to give $1000 to charity after a lifetime of miserliness. The generous person is the one who consistently gives a dollar a day. It is like the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ:

“Adhere to truth, for truth leads to good deeds and good deeds lead to Paradise, and if a man continues to speak the truth he will be recorded as honest before Allah. Beware of lying, for lying leads to wickedness and wickedness leads to the Hellfire, and if a man continues to lie he will be recorded as a liar before Allah.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

In other words, a person is considered honest or a liar if they consistently tell the truth or lie. Telling a lie once doesn’t make you a liar, even if it is a huge lie, but if you habitually lie, then this does make you a liar, even if they are only little “white” lies.

Another benefit we can derive from this hadith is that habits can be either positive or negative, so it is important to develop good habits and to avoid bad habits. In this next hadith the Prophet ﷺ describes how a bad habit develops over time:

“Indeed, when the slave (of Allah) commits a sin, a black spot appears on his heart. When he refrains from it, seeks forgiveness and repents, his heart is cleansed. But if he returns, it increases until it covers his entire heart. And that is the “stain” that Allah mentions: ‘Rather, their hearts have been stained by (the evil) they used to commit!’ (83:14)” (At-Tirmidhi)

Once a habit is formed it can be difficult to get rid of, and this is true of both good and bad habits as this second narration shows:

“…the result is that there will become two types of hearts: one white like a white stone which will not be harmed by any turmoil or temptation, so long as the heavens and the earth endure; and the other black and dust-coloured like a broken vessel, not recognizing what is good or rejecting what is abominable, only following its desires.” (Muslim)

Therefore, the goal for every Muslim should be to develop good habits and remove bad habits, as this is the only route to success in this life and the next.

So how are habits formed? As the ahadith above suggest, habits are formed by repetition of an act (e.g. sins) and a perceived reward from that act (e.g. fulfillment of abase desires). For example, a person has a habit of smoking when they are stressed and that helps them to relax. Over time this becomes a habit.

Charles Duhigg (author of The Power of Habit) breaks the habit into 3 parts: the cue, the routine, and the reward. He calls this the “habit loop”. In the smoking example, the cue is the stress, the routine is the smoking, and the reward is the feeling of relaxation. Knowing your habit loop can help to change the habit. Charles Duhigg lays out a number of steps to work out the habit loop and to change the habit:

Step 1: Identify the cue or trigger

When you feel the urge for your habit note down the time, the place, if anyone else is around, what you were just doing, and what emotion you are feeling at the time. Keep a diary of these 5 things, the one that stays the same every time is the cue.

Step 2: Identify the reward and the desire

The next step is to identify what craving is being satisfied by this habit. This is done by substituting the habit for other things to see if the craving is satisfied. For example, if you have a habit of drinking soda, the craving could be because you are thirsty, tired, or even bored. So to work out what the craving is you substitute your soda for water, or a coffee, or anything else that could possibly satisfy the craving, if the craving is gone after that then you know that that satisfies the craving. For example, instead of soda you drink some water. That didn’t take away the craving, so next time you take a walk. That did the trick so now you know that exercise also satisfies your craving.

Step 3: Create a new routine

Now that you have identified the cue and the reward you can create a new routine. To do this Charles Duhigg recommends you write down a plan, such as:

When           cue         , I will           routine         , because it provides me with        reward     .

Where it says “cue” you write the trigger that you identified in step 1. Where it says “routine” you write an activity that satisfies your craving. Where it says “reward” you write the craving that you identified in step 2.

For example, I have a bad habit of smoking at work. I did the first two steps and found that I always take a cigarette break whenever I start to get bored with my work and i find that if I take a coffee break with a colleague it satisfies the same craving as the cigarette break, so i make this new plan:

When I get bored at work, I will take a coffee break with a colleague, because it provides me with break from work and some time to socialize.

I write this on a post-it note and stick it on my computer where it can act as a reminder. After doing this for a week or two it should become a habit.

The habit loop can also be used to build good habits. We still use the cue-routine-reward loop, but in this case we will choose an action that we do every day that can act as our cue. For example, we choose as our cue waking up in the morning, or brushing our teeth, or breakfast, etc. The cue that we choose will become our reminder to perform the habit.

It is important to remember that the goal is consistency not quantity. In fact you want to start off with small actions so it is so easy you have no excuse to not do it. The Prophet ﷺ said:

“Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.” (Ibn Majah)

Finally, there should be a reward for completing the action, so remember to pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for getting it done. Also you should know why you are doing the action and remind yourself of that. For example, if your new habit is to exercise, then remind yourself of your reason for exercising, i.e. to lose weight, get fit, etc. It is important to know the reason or goal for this habit you are building, because if you are just doing it because people are telling you to you will not experience much of a reward or sense of satisfaction. For example, people keep telling you that you should pray every day; instead of just taking their word for it read the many hadith on why you should be praying everyday and write them down as a motivational reminder.

When you have your habit loop write it down in a plan and put it somewhere that you will see it. The following are some examples of a habit loop plans:

Every day after lunch, I will read Quran, because Allah will give me 10 rewards for every letter that I read.

As soon as my adhan app tells me the prayer is in, I will pray, because the 5 daily prayers wipe away sins, and is the first thing that will be brought to account on the Day of Judgement.

 

 

Haters Gonna Hate

You can’t please all the people all the time, but you can please Allah with worship and good deeds and the rewards from the Almighty are much more worthwhile.

A man, his wife, and their donkey were traveling through town on their way to the market. The man and his wife were both walking beside the donkey when someone shouted, “Look at these two fools! They have a donkey but they are not riding it. What’s the point of the donkey!?” Upon hearing this the man helped his wife on to the donkey and they carried on their journey. A while down the path they heard another person say, “Look at this man! Talk about whipped. His wife rides on the donkey like the Queen of Sheba while her tired, old husband has to walk alongside.” The wife didn’t like that so she told her husband to ride on the donkey whilst she walks for a bit. Then they passed by a lady and she said, “Look at this lazy man making his wife walk whilst he rides on the donkey. How lazy!” By now the husband and wife were a bit confused on what to do so they chatted for a while and decided that they should both ride the donkey together. So they carried on their way confident that nobody would have any further objections, but then they passed a group of people and they started muttering amongst themselves, “Look how they abuse that poor old donkey! How do they expect the donkey to carry them both!”

Moral of the Story: You can never please the people. No matter what you do someone will find fault with it. So what should we do? Instead of trying to please the people, instead change your focus to pleasing Allah, because Allah, the Most High, said:

“The enjoyment of (worldly) desires—women, children, treasures of gold and silver, fine horses, cattle, and fertile land—has been made appealing to people. These are the pleasures of this worldly life, but with Allah is the finest destination. Say (O Prophet), ‘Shall I inform you of what is better than all of this? Those mindful of their Lord will have Gardens under which rivers flow, to stay there forever, and pure spouses, and the pleasure of Allah.’ And Allah is All-Seeing of (His) slaves.” (Aali Imran:14-15)

And He, the Almighty said:

“As for those who believe and perform good deeds, then the Most Merciful will bestow upon them love.” (Maryam:96)

And this hadith of the Prophet ﷺ explains how that love will be bestowed upon them, he ﷺ said:

“If Allah, the Most High, loves (His) slave, He calls out to Jibril, ‘Indeed, Allah, the Most High, loves so and so, so love him.’ So Jibril will love him and he will call out to the people of the Heavens, ‘Indeed, Allah loves so and so, so love him’ So the people of the Heavens will love him, the Allah will place the acceptance (of his love) on the Earth.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

The way to achieve Allah’s love and pleasure is through obedience and acts of worship, Allah, said:

“Indeed, those who believe and do good—they are the best of (all) beings. Their reward with their Lord will be Gardens of Eternity, under which rivers flow, to stay there for ever and ever. Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him. This is (only) for those in awe of their Lord.” (Al-Bayinah:8)

And the Prophet ﷺ said:

“Allah, the Most High, says, ‘My slave will continue to perform voluntary acts of worship until I love him, and if I love him then I will be his hearing that he hears with, his sight that he sees with, his hand with which he reaches out, and his legs with which he walks.’” (Al-Bukhari)

And sometimes pleasing Allah means that you will have to upset some of the people of the Dunya, even if those people are your closest relatives and friends. Allah said in the Quran:

“You will never find a people who truly believe in Allah and the Last Day who are loyal to those who oppose Allah and His Messenger even if they were their parents, children, siblings, or extended family. For those believers, Allah has instilled faith in their hearts and strengthened them with a spirit from Him. He will admit them into Gardens under which rivers flow, to stay there forever. Allah is pleased with them and they with Him. They are the party of Allah. Indeed, Allah’s party is bound to succeed.” (Al-Mujadilah:22)

So do not despair at the critics criticising or the haters hating. These people cannot be pleased; they have a disease in their hearts that makes it impossible for them to be happy at the sight of someone working hard to succeed. Ubadah bin Samit reported that the Prophet ﷺ took an oath from a number of the Sahabah that they would stand for the truth where ever they are without fearing the blame of the blamers (Al-Bukhari).

The Muslim man knows his religion and practices what he knows with confidence. He is a man of principles and he unapologetically stands by those principles even when it is not the status quo or the popular opinion. The Prophet ﷺ said:

“The religion started off as strange and will return to being strange, so give glad tidings to the strangers.” (Muslim)

The popular opinion isn’t always the right one, but those who have the courage to stand by what is true and what is just will be loved and remembered for it in the long run, even if they are attacked and misunderstood at the time of their stand. Those who cowwer, apologise and seek to appease the critics will be dismissed and forgotten.

For example:

The Prophet and his followers were attacked and slandered for their beliefs only for his attackers and slanderers to then accept his teachings and embrace Islam within less than a decade.

Imam Ahmad was imprisoned and tortured because he refused to say that the Quran was created. Today he is remembered better than the rulers who imprisoned him, more than a thousand years after his death and his madhhab is followed by millions of Muslims worldwide.

Martin Luther King was attacked and criticized for standing up against the oppression of blacks in America only for him to become one of the most revered figures of American history.

Nelson Mandela was labeled a terrorist and was imprisoned only for him to go on to become the president of South Africa after his release.

Muhammad Ali was convicted, stripped of his boxing titles, and banned from boxing for 4 years because of his opposition to the Vietnam war and the white establishment only for him to become one of the most beloved and respected athletes of all time.

Stay true to your beliefs, don’t sacrifice your principles for the sake of acceptance, and don’t fear the blame of the blamers.

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Luqman Al-Hakim

This post is a brief biography of Luqman Al-Hakim. A wise man mentioned and praised by Allah in His Quran. This post features in the TMM Muslim Heroes series.

Luqman Al-Hakim or Luqman The Wise was an Ethiopian man known for his great wisdom and piety. He was described in a number of narrations as having dark brown skin and a broad nose and was said to have lived during the lifetime of Dawud (alaihi assalaam).
Luqman was a pious man who was fascinated by the world around him. He would observe the beauty and order of the creation and the lessons and signs therein that reflect the magnicence of the Creator. Luqman was a shepherd by trade and it is said that he also worked as a tailor and sone say he was a carpenter.
One day Allah sent the angel Jibra’il to Luqman and he gave him a choice of being granted kingship or wisdom and he chose wisdom. Allah, the Most High and Glorified mentioned this in His Book:
“Indeed, We blessed Luqman with wisdom.” (Luqman:12)
It was reported in some hadith that after he was blessed with great wisdom Allah tested him with a great tribulation. Luqman was captured by slavers and sold into slavery unjustly. The man who bought him recognized his high level of intelligence and wisdom and as a test he told him to slaughter a sheep and bring to him the two best parts. Luqman did as he was instructed and brought him the heart and the tongue. The slave owner then told him to do the same thing but this time to bring him the two worst parts, so Luqman did as instructed and brought him once again the heart and the tongue of the slaughtered sheep. The man was puzzled by this and asked him to explain his choices. Luqman told him that if the heart and tongue are upright then they are the best parts of the body, but if they are corrupt then they are the worst parts of the body. The slave owner was delighted by this and soon word spread of the great wisdom of this Ethiopian slave. People came from far and wide to speak to him and seek his advice and guidance.
A man came to Luqman one day whilst he was in a majlis with a large group of people and he said to him, “Aren’t you the slave who used to tend sheep with me in such and such a place?” Luqman replied, “Yes.” Then he continued to ask, ” So how did you reach the position that I see today?!” Luqman said, “By Allah’s decree, fulfilling the trust, honest speech and not talking about things that don’t concern me.”
In another narration a man approached Luqman and said, “You’re Luqman, the slave of Bani Hishaas.” Luqman said, “Yes.” He continued, “You’re the black man who tends to sheep with me!” Luqman replied, “As for my skin color then that is quite apparent, but what is it that perplexes you?” The man said, “How the people sit at your feet, wait at your door, and are so pleased by the things that you say!” Luqman said, “O son of my brother! If you do as I say then your situation can be the same: I lower my gaze, I guard my tongue, I am moderate when I eat, I guard my private parts, I perform my duties, I fulfil my covenants, I honor my guests, I take care of my neighbor, and I don’t talk about things that don’t concern me. That is how I was blessed with this stature.”
After he was emancipated he travelled to Palestine and was made a judge by Prophet Dawud (alaihi assalaam) in his court.
There are a number of lessons we can learn from Luqman’s life:
  1. There are two types of intelligence that which is learned through keen observation or teaching and that which is innate and cannot be learned.
  2. Wisdom is better than power.
  3. With wisdom comes status and the love of the general people.
  4. True wisdom is piety and obedience to Allah.
  5. Allah tries those whom he blesses with wisdom and guidance with the hardest tribulations.
  6. If one is patient during times of hardship Allah will bless him with great rewards.
  7. A person’s worth is not determined by their race or status, but rather by their piety and character.
  8. A trait of intelligent people is that they don’t talk a lot, but when they do it is with purpose and meaning.
  9. The importance of not talking about things that doesn’t concern you or you don’t understand.
  10. The importance of guarding the tongue and purifying the heart from its diseases.
  11. The importance of eating healthy foods and moderate portions.
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*The information in this post was based on the narrations mentioned by Ibn Kathir in his history book Al-Badayah Wan-Nahayah.

Words to Live By

In this article we look at an amazing piece of advice from the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ for the Muslim man.

 

“Fear Allah wherever you are, do good deeds after doing bad ones, the former will wipe out the latter, and behave decently towards people.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

These three pieces of advice from the prophet Muhammad make up the code by which the Muslim man lives. If you follow these three rules in your life your dunya and akhirah will both be a success.

 

“Fear Allah where ever you are…”

Allah is All-Seeing, All-Hearing, and All-Knowing, so no matter where you are He sees, hears, and knows everything you think, say and do. Like as Luqman, the Wise, said to his son:

“O my son, indeed if wrong should be the weight of a mustard seed and within a rock or somewhere in the heavens or in the earth, then Allah will bring it forth.” (Luqman:16)

Yes! On everything you did in your lifetime, big or small, good or bad, will be recounted back to you on the Day of Judgement. Nothing will be missed or forgotten.

So if you are at work, fear Allah; if you are at home, fear Allah; where ever you are, fear Allah.

 

“…do good deeds after a bad deed, the former will wipe out the latter…”

After advising us to fear Allah at all times and in all situations, the Prophet ﷺ tells us what to do if we slip and do a bad deed, because lets face it we are only human and it is inevitable that we will all, at one time or another, do a bad deed. The Prophet ﷺ tells us that good deeds wipe away bad deeds, such as performing the prayer, or fasting, performing umrah, giving charity, etc. The Prophet ﷺ said about the prayer:

“If there was a river at someone’s door  and he took a bath in it five times a day would there remain any dirt on him?” The Sahabah responded, “Not a trace of dirt would remain.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “That is the example of the five prayers with which Allah blots out evil deeds.” (Al-Bukhari)

And he ﷺ said:

“Al-Umrah to Al-Umrah is an atonement for what is between them.” (Al-Bukhari)

He ﷺ also said:

“Charity wipes away sin as water extinguishes fire.” (At-Tirmidhi)

 

“…and behave decently towards people.”

Then after reminding us about our responsibility to Allah the Prophet ﷺ proceeds to advise us regarding our responsibilities to our fellow man. Good manners are an essential part of the Muslim man. The Muslim man treats people as he likes to be treated and he understands his duty, as a Muslim, to everyone around him. Whether they are a family member, a neighbor or a stranger on the street, everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and good manners. The Prophet ﷺ said:

“If kindness is added to something it beautifies it, and if it is removed from something it disfigures it.” (Muslim)

And he ﷺ said:

“The things that most lead people to Jannah are fearing Allah and good manners.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

 

This hadith belongs to a group of hadith known as the jawaami’. These are hadith that have few words but great meaning, and this hadith is a perfect example of that, because this hadith manages to incorporate almost the whole religion within three short sentences. If you were to implement this one hadith in your life it would be sufficient for your success in both the Dunya and the Akhirah.

 

 

Image: Courtesy of Rajesh Satankar on Flickr.

Honesty is Always the Best Policy

The Muslim man is always honest. It pains and sickens him to tell a lie.

The Muslim man is always honest even when it is to his own detriment. Allah, the Most High, said:

“O you who have believed, stand firm for justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives.” (Nisa:135)

Very few habits can destroy a man’s honor faster than lying. When a man is caught in a lie once it puts doubts in the minds of his family and companions and cause them to question everything he says. The liar isn’t believed even when telling the truth. Muhammad bin Ka’b Al-Qurdhi said:

“The liar only lies due to contempt he has for himself.” (Rawdatul Uqala)

Lies may seem small, but one lie often needs to be followed by another and another, and lies give the liar permission to do as he pleases, as the Prophet ﷺ said:

“Be honest, because honesty leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise. A man continues telling the truth and trying hard to tell the truth until he is recorded with Allah as a truthful person. Refrain from lying, because lying leads to wickedness, and wickedness leads to the Fire. A slave (of Allah) continues lying and trying hard to lie, until he is recorded with Allah as a liar” (Muslim)

A man who is honest at all times is a man of courage and honor, but a man who frequently lies is cowardly and untrustworthy. In fact the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ informed us that frequent lying is one of the characteristics of a hypocrite.

A man can become conditioned to lying until the lies roll off the tongue with ease and without thought. The only cure for this is to first ask for Allah’s help and forgiveness and then, with determination and consistency, train the tongue to tell the truth. The tongue is a muscle and like any muscle in the body it can be trained and exercised until what was previously hard becomes easy. The important thing is to train it and condition it to speak only the truth.

Remember Allah only forbids us from things that are harmful, so if He, the Most High, has forbidden us from lying then it must be detrimental to our well being, whether we realize it’s harm or not.

I will close with a saying from our righteous predecessor Umar bin Abdulaziz:

“I haven’t lied since I learned that lying adversely effects the liar.”

TMM

Image: Courtesy of Barbara Piancastelli on Flikr

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

The Muslim man works hard to provide for his family.

The Muslim man has many responsibilities. His first and foremost responsibility is to his Lord; to worship Him alone and to be obedient to him. After his responsibility to his Lord  one of his most important duties is to work and provide for his family.

The Muslim man knows that it is his duty alone to keep a roof over the heads, clothes on the backs, and food in the stomachs of his family. This is the purpose of the man. He is the breadwinner and the protector. Allah, the Most High, said:

“The father of the child shall bear the cost of the mother’s food and clothing on a reasonable basis” (Al-Baqarah:233)

This doesn’t mean that he must be super rich and give his family everything they want and need, because Allah decreed that there will be rich people and poor people, so we can’t all be wealthy. Rather the Muslim man provides for his family in the best way he can and he works hard for the money he earns. The Prophet ﷺ said:

“No man earns anything better than that which he earns with his own hands, and what a man spends on himself, his wife, his child and his servant is charity.” (Ibn Majah)

There is a lot of honor in a hard days work for a hard days pay. The Muslim man hates to sit idol. He keeps himself busy in the service of his family. Umar bin Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

“I hate to see a man totally free, not doing anything from the work of the life of this world nor the Hereafter.” (Al-Hilyah, 1/130)

Laziness and procrastination are the enemy of the Muslim man. They are obstacles in the face of happiness and success. The Prophet ﷺ even used to teach the Sahabah to seek refuge in Allah from laziness, he said:

“O Allah! Indeed, I seek refuge in you from sadness and depression, weakness and laziness, cowardice and miserliness, being overcome by debt, and being overpowered by men.” (Al-Bukhari)

It is interesting that the Prophet mentioned sadness and depression along side laziness, because these things often go hand in hand; either the laziness leads to sadness and depression or the sadness and depression leads to laziness or incapacity.  Umar bin Al-Khattab also said:

“The happiest of people is the one under whose care people are happy because of him, and the most miserable of people is the one under whose care people are miserable because of him.” (Munaqib Umar, Pg 130)

The Muslim man derives pride and satisfaction from his work and from the things he is able to do for his family.

So to all of you Muslim men out there, work hard, take care of your families, and don’t forget to seek refuge from laziness and weakness with the Prophet’s dua on a regular basis.

Image: Courtesy of Anthony Abbott on Flikr