How to navigate your way to Allah (part 2)

How to navigate your way to Allah (part 2)

The journey

How to travel safely, especially these days, can make one concerned or even anxious. It is no surprise therefore that scholars have written many books on the journey, often referred to as arrihla, or at-tareeq (the way), assafr (the journey) in different books. Essentially, they are all about the same thing: how to reach your destination safely.

We have many choices on which route to take – google maps has a variety, and then we need to choose between the motorways and the A roads, the scenic route, the country roads. Which will be safest, which will be the most direct route to where we are going?

How often have we taken a wrong turn? Or got on the wrong train? We often end up going in the wrong direction when we are hasty or not focusing. This ends up making the journey longer and makes us frustrated, exhausted and upset. It’s exactly the same in life.  We may take the wrong turn on our journey deliberately, or out of heedlessness or because we didn’t look carefully at the map. It may be that we were driving on autopilot or aimlessly wasting time. We might have wondered ‘I don’t know where this road will take me but let’s try it anyway.’ The beauty of the Quran is that it’s divine.  It is divine technology – divine google maps from Allah Almighty.

The prophets and messengers show the route

How to reach our destination safely was a matter of concern for every prophet and messenger that Allah Almighty sent. Allah, with His ultimate mercy, sent prophets and messengers to guide people, to teach them to navigate their way to Allah and how to reach their final destination safely.

When you meet someone for the first time, you sometimes feel instantly connected to them, as if you’ve known them all your life. This is the divine connection of the hearts. Allah Almighty said to the Prophet (peace be on him):

قُلۡ هَٰذِهِۦ سَبِيلِيٓ أَدۡعُوٓاْ إِلَى ٱللَّهِۚ عَلَىٰ بَصِيرَةٍ أَنَا۠ وَمَنِ ٱتَّبَعَنِيۖ وَسُبۡحَٰنَ ٱللَّهِ وَمَآ أَنَا۠ مِنَ ٱلۡمُشۡرِكِينَ

Say, Oh Muhammad, “This is my way; I invite unto Allah (i.e. to the Oneness of Allah – Islamic Monotheism) with sure knowledge, I and whosoever follows me with sure knowledge. (12:108)

The Shariah is the route

Which path is Allah referring to here? Sabeel is literally the street or the road in Arabic. Scholars have commented on this ayah that the path is a metaphor for the shariah which Allah revealed to people. This is such an important ayah in the Quran – it clarifies the way, the path, how to navigate to Allah.  He made it very clear. He taught the Prophet (peace be on him) and through him us, what to say, and how to have laser-sharp focus.

The Shariah is the map and path. It shows us what to avoid on the way, which roads lead to dead ends, and which are dangerous. The Shariah shows us where we might incur penalty charges and which one is the most direct route. It’s our choice but if we go the wrong way, we will incur penalties. There is no coercion in religion, but we all have to bear the consequence of our choices. 

Scholars defined Shariah in a variety of way. Literally, as per the dictionary, it is found under its root letters, sha raa, the path to or source of water.  Thus Shariah is a metaphor for the road that leads to satisfaction. A happy end.  Definition from scholars (technical) is theoretical and practical knowledge. 

Shariah guides us in three dimensions:

  • Theory – gives us the basis of faith (imaan) and belief (aqeedah).
  • Practical – gives us the Fiqh – the do’s and don’ts / halal and haram
  • Akhlaq – gives us the best character

The Prophet (peace be on him) said in many narrations, that whomsoever Allah wishes good for, He grants him a deep understanding of religion. Because the more you know how to navigate your way, the safer and closer and more beloved you are to Allah. The more you know, the better you will become through your practice of that knowledge.

Amongst the other narrations in the same vein, Anas ibn Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

“Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.” (Ibn Majah)

Seeking knowledge is obligatory

We cannot navigate our way without knowledge. What do we kneed to know? Basic knowledge for every Muslim is called al malum ad deen wa darurah – which is necessary knowledge for every Muslim, that you cannot live without, including how to pray, how to purify your body, your spiritual heart, your intention, as well as how to run your business, how to seek the halal, what you can eat, what you can’t eat, etc.

عن عثمان بن عفان -رضي الله عنه- عن النبي -صلى الله عليه وسلم- قال: «خَيرُكُم من تعلَّمَ القرآنَ وعلَّمَهُ».

‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“The best of you are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it to others.”  (Bukhari)

Therefore if you want to be among the best, then learn the Quran and teach the Quran, not only of memorising it or reciting it beautifully , but to inculcate it in your life.

عن أبي موسى الأشعري -رضي الله عنه- عن النبي -صلى الله عليه وسلم- قال: «مثَلُ المؤمن الذي يقرأ القرآن مَثَلُ الأُتْرُجَّةِ: ريحها طيب وطعمها طيب، ومَثَل المؤمن الذي لا يقرأ القرآن كمَثَلِ التمرة: لا ريح لها وطعمها حُلْوٌ، وَمَثل المنافق الذي يقرأ القرآن كمثل الريحانَة: ريحها طيب وطعمها مُرٌّ، وَمَثَل المنافق الذي لا يقرأ القرآن كمثل الحَنْظَلَةِ: ليس لها ريح وطعمها مُرٌّ». 

Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“The example of a believer who recites the Quran is like that of an utrujjah (citron fruit) ; it smells good and tastes good. While the believer who does not recite the Quran is like a date, which has no smell and is good in taste. And the example of a hypocrite who recites the Quran is like a sweet basil; it tastes bitter but smells good. And the example of a hypocrite who does not recite the Quraan is like the colocynth, which has no smell and tastes bitter.”  (Bukhari and Muslim)

This shows us that both recitation and application go together. This is how we navigate the way – through the knowledge of the Quran and through the knowledge of the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be on him). When we do that, it improves our character because we are following the guidance of Allah, and the guidance of the Prophet (peace be on him) and acting in accordance with the Shariah. This requires effort on our part, as anything in life.

At work we have CPD (continuous professional development). There is always something new to learn, to keep ourself up to date. This is at work, but what about our deen? What about in our relationship with Allah, with our family, our neighbours, and our community, and our friends? Therefore we require continuous learning and knowledge.  

The right way is they way of the Companions

The scholar of tafsir, Imam al Khazin (may Allah be pleased with him) wrote in his famous Tafseer al Khazin (Lubab al-Ta’wil fi Ma’ani al-Tanzil), of the verse “This is my way; I invite unto Allah (i.e. to the Oneness of Allah – Islamic Monotheism) with sure knowledge, I and whosoever follows me with sure knowledge. (12:108) is the right way as it is from Allah and was taught through the Angel Jibril.

Ibn Abbas (who was known as the Interpreter of Quran), the young companion who had very deep insight into Islam, as the Prophet had made the special dua for him: “Oh Allah give him the deep understanding of the religion and teach him the interpretation of the Quran” said:

قال ابن عباس إن محمدا صلى الله عليه وسلم وأصحابه كانوا على أحسن طريقة وأفضل هداية وهم معدن العلم وكنز الإيمان وجند الرحمن.

The Prophet (peace be on him) and his companions were (following) the best way and the best guidance and they were the source of knowledge and the treasure of faith and the soldiers of the Most Merciful.

If you want to follow the right path, you have to follow the Prophet (peace be on him) and his Companions, as they are the role models of Islam.

Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him, who was the Faqih of the Ummah, reported:

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ قَالَ خَطَّ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ خَطًّا بِيَدِهِ ثُمَّ قَالَ هَذَا سَبِيلُ اللَّهِ مُسْتَقِيمًا قَالَ ثُمَّ خَطَّ عَنْ يَمِينِهِ وَشِمَالِهِ ثُمَّ قَالَ هَذِهِ السُّبُلُ وَلَيْسَ مِنْهَا سَبِيلٌ إِلَّا عَلَيْهِ شَيْطَانٌ يَدْعُو إِلَيْهِ ثُمَّ قَرَأَ وَإِنَّ هَذَا صِرَاطِي مُسْتَقِيمًا فَاتَّبِعُوهُ وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا السُّبُلَ

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) drew a line in the sand with his hand and he said, “This is the straight path of Allah.” Then, the Prophet drew lines to the right and left, and he said, “These are other paths, and there is no path among them but that a devil is upon it calling to its way.” Then the Prophet recited the verse, “Verily, this is the straight path, so follow it and do not follow other ways.” (6:153) (Musnad Aḥmad)

Ibn Masood was the most knowledgeable person in Fiqh (Islamic law) and during his lifetime. The Prophet (peace be on him) had taught him and testified many times on different occasions that Abdullah ibn Mas’ud was a very knowledgeable person. He said:

“Whoever wants to follow a path, let him follow the path of one who has died, for the living are not safe from fitnah. I mean the Companions of Muhammad (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him). They were the best of this ummah: the purest in heart, the deepest in knowledge and the most straightforward. Allah chose them to accompany His Prophet and establish His religion, so recognise their status and follow in their footsteps and adhere as much as you can to their example of conduct and attitude, for they followed true guidance.” ( Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr in Jaami‘ Bayaan al-‘Ilm wa Fadluhu, and also in many of the books of Ahl as-Sunnah)

This is a very deep statement and also  very humble as he is saying to the people around him that they should follow the Companions who passed away like Abu Bakr and Omar (may Allah be pleased with them) rather than himself, as he does not know if he may go astray, but they were the best of  Ummah, after the Prophet (peace be on him) and had the purest hearts and most profound  knowledge, as their source was the Prophet (peace be on him) himself.

The Companions were mirrors of the Prophet (peace be on him

Without doubt we envy these Companions. They had the pleasure and the honour and the privilege of being in his presence (peace be on him), listening to his recitation, performing their salah behind him, accompanying him on his travels and supporting him in his troubles. They were there with him, at his house, in his mosque and they learned with him. They were down to earth, and would sit on the floor, ate whatever was available, and easy going about worldly matters. When it came to matters of religion they were careful and meticulous. They were beautiful people to be around.

The Companions were not fussy and did not complain, as many people do today. People who always have to have things a certain way make awful companions. They make life difficult for everyone around them. You have to think carefully what you say in front of them, as they may take it the wrong way.

As Ibn Mas’ud said Allah chose the Companions to establish his deen, his religion. So we should know their virtues, follow their tracks and cling to their teachings as much as we can and learn from their character because they were the mirror of the Prophet’s character (peace be on him) and they were on the straight path. 

The humanness of the Companions

Some might say why don’t we follow the Prophet (peace be on him) directly. Of course that is the best person to follow, but having said this, the Companions reflected different facets of the Prophet’s (peace be on him) character – some reflected his humility, some his easy-going nature, some his generosity, and some his humour. The Prophet (peace be on him) combined all the traits.  Ibn Mas’ud is saying that we need to learn more about the Companions and their biographies as they demonstrate the teachings of the Prophet (peace be on him) in action. Also we know the Prophet (peace be on him) was perfect in every way and supported by divine revelation, but when we talk about the Companions, we can relate to their humanness. Though they had the honour the companionship of the Prophet (peace be on him) they were not immune from making mistakes or sinning so when they demonstrated their goodness and we see how they followed the path, we can aspire to be like them. We can imagine the time when the message was freshly revealed, people did not believe, people were plotting, negotiating, and opposed to the message. Accepting Islam was not an easy option. Far from it. Yet these Companions saw the light and embraced the message.

Similarly, we need to see that light, which emanates from the Quran and sunnah of the Prophet (peace be on him) and embrace that.

The etiquette of learning

With knowledge we need the right intention. We need effort and consistency. We need revision and authentication. We need a good clear source of knowledge. We do not acquire it from any book which seems nice, but through authenticate sources. We don’t authenticate knowledge by how it makes us feel. We have stringent rules when it comes to hadith and the sunnah of the Prophet  (peace be on him). We need to authenticate knowledge before we learn and spread it.

Secondly, with this knowledge of course, we need to a pure intention. Why we are seeking the knowledge? Scholars have written many books, since Abu Hanifa onwards. There is the book Adab al Aalim al Muta’alim, The Etiquettes of Knowledge Seekers and the Etiquettes of Scholars, by Ibn Jam’ah and Imam Nawawi.

Sometimes when we learn with no etiquette – one of our teachers used to say such knowledge is  like a wild horse. You cannot tame it without good character. You need good character to control this knowledge. Otherwise it will be against you not for you. It will take you to the wrong path.

I did come across real examples in life, not just through reading, of people who sought knowledge, not for the sake of knowledge, but for the sake of position, for a job, or whatever, and when they were tested they fell. May Allah keep us on the straight path and protect us from delusions.

Convey the message

When you practice what you’ve learnt, when you improve your character, then you still have one thing to do – you still have to pass on the message.

The Prophet (peace be on him), when he made the Farewell Hajj (pilgrimage), delivered his Last Sermon (Khutbah al Wada), in 3-4 different khutbahs (sermons) – one in Arafah, one in Mina and one in Muzdalifah. In that khutbah, which was the lengthiest and longest speech he delivered, as  narrated by Jabir bin Abdillah (may Allah be pleased with him) who memorised the Hajj speech, the Prophet (peace be on him) said:

Pass on the message, may Allah have mercy on you, pass on the message even if it’s only one verse. (Muslim)

This means everyone has to deliver and convey the message even if it’s just one verse. I usually say you don’t need to have a PhD in Shariah to convey the message, it’s enough to have good character and good understanding and this alone is a good way to convey the message. Even if it’s only verse.

Don’t feel that you are not qualified or that you don’t know enough. The best way to convey Islam is through good character and good understanding. Convey the message by being trustworthy, kind, nice, compassionate, truthful, helpful and supportive. Moreover, you have to have a soft heart, pure intention, and be willing to learn and improve, because this will help you reach your destination safely.

The prophetic way to encourage good and deter people from what is wrong is not in a harsh way or with an in your face approach. It is the kind way, the gentle way, as the Prophet (peace be on him) used to do to remind people about what is right and what is wrong. This is how he delivered his message (peace be on him).

Purify your heart

Purity of the heart is very important on our journey. It’s not enough just to pray, fast, give zakat and perform salah. I am pretty sure we have come across practicing Muslims who lack good character and are not nice to deal with. This can be frustrating, as you feel they are a poor representation of Islam. I came across some ladies in hijab sisters arguing and swearing at each other in the market, or Muslim men swearing and fighting – they do not the represent the message of Islam. That is why we need to work on ourselves

With knowledge we need to improve our character. Knowledge alone without tazqiyah (purification of the heart) is dry and can lead to trouble. Knowledge alone is not enough, we need to combine knowledge with purification. This is a science of tazqiyah, some people call it tasawwuf, some of it might be in line with Quran and sunnah and some of it might not. So, let’s just stick to the tazqiyah which is in line with the Quran and sunnah, rather than something which might be disagreed upon to a certain extent.

‏إِلَّا مَنْ أَتَى ٱللَّهَ بِقَلْبٍۢ سَلِيمٍۢ ‎‏يَوْمَ لَا يَنفَعُ مَالٌۭ وَلَا بَنُونَ ‎

The Day when there will not benefit [anyone] wealth or children, but only one who comes to Allah with a sound heart.”  (26:88-89)

At the end of the day, nothing will help us except coming to Allah with a sound heart. How do we achieve a sound heart? The answer is: gradually. As we can see the Quran was revealed over 23 years, 13 in Makkah and 10 in Madinah, so we will not be able to do this overnight. It’s an ongoing process and effort, but we need to make progress. Let’s start with the basics, by fixing our salah, our fasting and our zakat.

‏وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌۭ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى ٱلْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِٱلْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ ٱلْمُنكَرِ ۚ وَأُو۟لَٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْمُفْلِحُونَ ‎

Let there be a group among you who call ˹others˺ to goodness, encourage what is good, and forbid what is evil—it is they who will be successful. (3:104)

No doubt there will be obstacles on the way. Al Ghazali in his great work, Ihya Ulum ad Din, talks about these spiritual obstacles in detail and how to navigate these obstacles, how to improve your inner reality, how to purify your heart from the diseases and then he goes deeper and deeper into these diseases of the heart. He talks about how to remove kibr (arrogance), ria (ostentation), showing off, seeking fame, suppressing the ego in a very methodical way. It’s very useful inshallah to learn about the purification of the heart.

Allah Almighty mentions in many verses of the Quran the concept of tazkiyah.

Tazkiyah is purification The Quran states clearly Qad ‘aflaha man-zakkah and Qad ‘aflaha man-tazakka.

so he who purifies it is surely successful. [91:9]

Successful is the one who purified it. [87:14]

Prophet Ibrahim’s (peace be upon him) supplication of acceptance 

When the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) was building the Kaaba, he made a supplication

 Rabbana ta-qabbal minna; ‘innaka ‘Antas-Samee-‘ul Aleem.

And ˹remember˺ when Abraham raised the foundation of the House with Ishmael, ˹both praying,˺ “Our Lord! Accept ˹this˺ from us. You are indeed the All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (2:127)

He called upon Allah to accept this work from his son Ismail and himself. He in his 80-90s and his teenage son, Ismail had built the Kaaba together. His dua reflects his sincerity and left a lasting lesson for us, not to be complacent that any of our deeds will be accepted. Whenever we do any obligation, or fulfil any command, don’t just tick the box and think you’re done. Always ask Allah to accept it from you. No matter how well you think you did it or how many conditions you think you fulfilled or etiquettes you followed, because you never know if your action has been accepted or not.

When you ask for it, make sure you mean it.

Then Ibrahim said:

Rabbana waj-‘alna Muslimayni laka wa min-zurriyyatina ‘Ummatam Muslimatal-lak; wa’arina manasikana wa tub’alayna; ‘innaka ‘Antat-Tawwabur-Raheem

Our Lord! Make us both ˹fully˺ submit to You and from our descendants a nation that will submit to you. Show us our rituals, and turn to us in grace. You are truly the Accepter of Repentance, Most Merciful. [2:128]

And then Ibrahim (peace be upon him), in Makkah, made dua for our Ummah, saying:

Rabbana wab’ath feehim Rasoulam-minhum yatlou ‘alayhim ‘ayatika was yu’allimuhumul-Kitaba wal-Hikmata wa yuzakkeehim; innaka ‘Antal-‘Azeezul-Hakeem

Our Lord! Raise from among them a messenger who will recite to them Your revelations, teach them the Book and wisdom, and purify them. Indeed, You ˹alone˺ are the Almighty, All-Wise. (2:129)

He specifically asked for the people of Makkah, where his son grew up, amongst the Arabs (though they themselves were from Iraq) that they would be sent a messenger who teach them about Allah and purify them. Yuzakkeehim (purify them) is the core of the ayah and whenever we refer to purification it stems from tazkiya.

Acceptance of Prophet Ibrahim’s supplication

As the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) was the answer to Ibrahim’s dua, the messenger from their community, in some narrations the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

I am the supplication of my father Ibrahim. (ibn Hisham, Tabari)

This is why when we do attahiyatin our salah, we include Ibrahim (peace be upon him) as a payback for his supplication, which Allah Almighty accepted and sent from that Makkan community, Muhammad (peace be upon him), the light for the whole of the world, for humanity.

The Prophet (peace be on him) would fulfil the dua of Ibrahim (peace be upon him) by:

  • Reciting the revelation
  • Teaching the Book
  • Purifying them
  • Teaching the Wisdom

Be gracious and kind

Of course we are human and we all make mistakes. The way the Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us to accommodate people nicely. We accommodate people by being nice to them. In Arabic there is a saying, ‘Meet me, don’t feed me’ which means be good to me when you meet me, I am looking for what you can give me. A lavish dinner accompanied by unpleasant company is not enjoyable. But a welcoming face, even if they only have olive oil with zhatar (a very humble dish) to offer would be preferable.

The Prophet (peace be on him) confirmed the importance of the character in many narrations that a believer can reach the highest level of the one who stays up all the night worshipping Allah (qiyam al layl) all night and fasting during the day, through his good character, even if he did not fast or stay up in qiyam al layl.

Husn Al Khuluq – have the best character

عن جابر بن عبدالله -رضي الله عنهما- مرفوعاً: «إن من أحبكم إلي وأقربكم مني مجلساً يوم القيامة أحاسنكم أخلاقاً،

Jābir ibn ‘Abdullāh (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace upon him) said:

“Indeed, among the most beloved and nearest of you to me on the Day of Judgment are those of you who have the best moral conduct” (Tirmidhi)

The three things we need for our journey to Allah is beneficial knowledge and good character (which is the application of the knowledge) and constant purification.

Shaykh Haytham Tamim delivered on 15th March 2022 to the Al-Manaar New Muslim Group

Transcribed by Shamaila Jawaid

The etiquette of learning


Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.