The balancing act – taqwa of Allah vs people’s rights
Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated:
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was asked about the deed which will be foremost to lead a man to Jannah. He replied, “Fear of Allah and the good conduct.” Then he was asked about indulgence which will admit a man to Hell (Fire) and he answered, “The tongue and the genitals.” [Tirmidhi]
Translation of taqwa
This translation refers to taqwa of Allah as fear of Him, however, while part of taqwa is fear that does not convey the full meaning of taqwa. I would prefer to leave taqwa untranslated as it has a comprehensive meaning that is not captured in translation.
Foremost deed that will admit people to jannah
The foremost deed that will admit people to jannah is taqwa of Allah Almighty and good character. There is more to this hadith which Ibn Hajar has left out – the Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked which deed would admit people into hellfire and he replied: ‘the mouth and the private parts’.
In this succinct reply, he summarised for believers how to follow the path to jannah and how to avoid the path to hell in four words – two for jannah, and two for hellfire. His concise and comprehensive speech was a special rahma from Allah Almighty and a great gift and through it the Prophet (peace be upon him). He was able to show the layperson how to understand the path to Jannah without talking in volumes and making the strategy one needs to adopt easy to memorise.
Marketing companies use short, concise slogans to convey a clear message to their audience and viewers because people cannot digest too many concepts. This is our psychology, and the Quran and the Sunnah were ahead of any marketing tools, and market research.
Insight into the hearts of the Companions
What did the scholars say about these two? The full hadith gives us insight to the minds and hearts of the sahabah, the Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and shows us their concerns. Their question reveals their excitement and longing for jannah. They wanted to know the shortcut to jannah. We all love shortcuts. The Prophet (peace be upon him) responded by giving them a shortcut without breaking any rules. The shortcut to jannah is taqwa of Allah and good character, that’s it.
Their question was general – what gets people get into Jannah? There are plenty of possible answers to this question – many things one can do and one can refrain from, but how does one pick and choose, and prioritise?
Once a man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said, ‘Ya Rasool Allah, the rulings in Islam are too many for me.’ There are so many forms of worship – salah, fasting, zakat, etc but which one is the most important? Sometimes we want to jump the queue, as VIP’s do, and have special passes which get us to the front without having to wait.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) received this question many times and he (peace be upon him) knew the art of perceiving what lay beneath the question – the state of mind of the one asking it, which is important to know if you are to give the right answer to that person. Therefore at different times, he answered the same question differently to suit the person asking it – for instance on another occasion, narrated in Tirmidhi, he said keep your tongue moist with the remembrance (dhikr) of Allah.
The late shaykh and muhadith, Professor Shaykh Noordin Itr(may Allah have mercy on him) in his commentary on Bulugh ul Maram, dissected this hadith beautifully, saying it focuses on two rights – the rights of Allah, which is taqwa and the rights of people. This is the best summary I’ve come across.
Therefore if you want to get to Jannah, fulfill Allah’s rights in your life by applying the tawhid, monotheism in your ibadah, in your actions, and your words, and have sincerity in your relationship with Allah Almighty. Do not try to short-change Him. Fulfill Allah’s rights to the best of your ability – whether it is in the performance of our salah, or fasting, or paying zakat and bear in mind that He is watchful over you, subhanallah.
Do things which protect you, (this is the literal meaning in Arabic for taqwa) from Allah’s wrath and punishment. Fear is not an accurate to translation of taqwa, as it obedience to Him coupled with awe of His majesty and right to be obeyed.
Fulfilling Allah’s rights
In the hadith of Abdullah bin Amr, when the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked, ‘Is it true that you are praying all night, fasting all day?’ To which he replied in the affirmative. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, ‘Don’t do that.’ Most definitely the Companions were surprised. They did not expect to hear him say this, as the assumption is that worshipping Allah is good and the more you do it, the better. However, he said there are limits to worshipping Allah, ‘because your self has rights upon you, your family has rights upon you, and your guests have rights upon you, so give everyone their rights’.
Abdullah bin Amr was worshipping Allah, but at the expense of the rights of his family, his own body and probably his parents, guests and friends etc. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) was putting balance back in the equation.
Fulfilling rights of people
There are countless examples of those who charge full steam ahead in worshipping Allah, without noticing that they have neglected their duties to others along the way. Wives who are very pious and committed but do not realise that they are not fulfilling their obligations to their husbands, children, parents and family. This is quite common and many people fall into this trap as the Shaytan keeps telling you that what you are doing is much better than anything else.
During one course, a lady once had the courage to ask what she should do if her husband wants to have intimate relations at night, but she wants to pray qiyamul layl as it makes you closer to Allah. I told her that the answer would be a surprise because fulfilling your husband’s right is more rewarding than qiyamul layl. Not robotically, but with love and care because this is a protection for oneself and one’s spouse from haram. Thus when you do this and with the right intention it’s more rewarding than doing qiyamul layl, reciting the Quran and memorisation.
Know the difference between obligation and recommended
There are things which are recommended and things that are essential. They are not equal. Yet sometimes we treat them as though they are the same. For instance, qiyamul layl is not an obligation; it’s not even a wajib, it is less than the obligation but certainly very rewarding. But if there’s a conflict between fulfilling an obligation or people’s rights and the luxury of performing qiyamul layl what takes precedence? Praying two rakaats qiyamul layl is not like praying two rakaats Fajr. Fajr is an obligation, therefore you cannot skip it as you are punishable if you miss it, but there is no punishment for missing two rakahs of qiyam.
I am making this point because in the midst of carrying out our obligations to Allah Almighty we sometimes lose sight of balance and priorities. That is why we need to learn what we can compromise or negotiate, and what we cannot. Otherwise we treat recommendations like obligations and neglect obligations for the sake of recommendations. Leaving the farida for the sunnah or even less than the sunnah – the nawafil is absolute ignorance.
Yet it is quite common for people to neglect their duties towards their family in the pursuit of pleasing Allah, when Allah did not prescribe worshipping Him to the exclusion of the rights of others.
Islam is a religion of balance – between Allah’s rights and people’s rights. On the list are the rights of one’s parents, spouse, children, relatives, family and friends etc.
Know your priorities
We have come across many narrations regarding the importance of having good character. Character impacts our dealings with everyone. In particular, for instance, in marriage. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us how to choose a future spouse, he was educating parents that if someone proposes for their daughter, and has good character then accept his proposal.
Of course, they should be able to support their wife, and finance the marriage, but the hadith is saying that top on the list of priorities when seeking a spouse is character. It is not wealth. It is not beauty. In the same vein, when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was addressing men who are getting married, he said women are married for four things, their wealth, beauty, status, and deen. Of these the lady who is firm and practicing her deen is the most desirable because she will look after her husband, his reputation, and their children. If she is practicing her religion correctly she will be a good person and this will shine through in all aspects of her life.
This point is encapsulated in the hadith that ‘a person can reach the level of the one who fasts all day, the one who does qiyamul layl all night only by having good character.’ Even though they did not fast all day or pray all night, their reward is just as great.
Good character enables you to reach that high level. Among the very first revelations, Allah Almighty stated to the Prophet (peace be upon him) in Surat al Qalam, ‘Indeed you have the best form of character’ [68:4]. Good character is crucial and important and it makes or breaks any deal especially marriage. It’s not wealth or status or class that makes or breaks a deal. It’s character and deen. Don’t reject someone because of their class, check their character first.
I remember young man who was an English convert was interested in a Pakistani Muslim lady. He met her university, and proposed to her. Her family was a very traditional Pakistani family, so her father said no, without even seeing the boy. The boy was very committed, very learned in the deen and active in giving dawah etc. and she was on the same page. But her father refused. They asked me to intercede, but despite my best efforts I failed to persuade him. I said his qualities were enough for any parent to want in their son in law. But he replied, ‘What shall I say to my community?’ I was surprised. Is one’s community more important than Allah? He was not prepared to have a white boy married to his daughter. How would he defend that in front of Allah on the Day of Judgement?
In another case somebody rejected a boy because he was from a lower class. Is this taqwa of Allah? Is this how you judge, according to someone’s class, or colour? We still have jahiliyah choices in us; culture dominates our decisions, our minds, our way of thinking not taqwa of Allah Almighty. Just imagine for a second Allah asks you, ‘Why did you refuse this person? At least see them and then decide. Fear Allah! This is jahiliyah! Complete nonsense!
What leads to hellfire?
The Companions then asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) what leads to Hellfire. Just as in an exam you ask the teacher which questions are worth more marks, and what could make them fail, the Companions wanted to know what would cause them to fail.
There is long list of things we should avoid, but the Prophet (peace be upon him) made it clear, concise, deep, and easy to understand and follow. The foremost thing that leads to hellfire is the mouth and the private parts. Of course this is metaphorical. The mouth means what comes out of the mouth, such as slander, kufr, assassinating somebody with your tongue, insults, backbiting, rumours etc. The most used limb in the body is probably the tongue. It requires barely any effort to move unlike other muscles. The tongue can wag all day long. Therefore people have to control their tongue because it has the capability to send them to hellfire.
In the narration of Mua’dh (may Allah be pleased with him) when he asked the Prophet (peace be upon him), ‘Are we accountable for what we utter with our tongue?’ The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied, ‘Yes, what brings people to hellfire nose-first is the harvest of the tongues.’ In other words, the consequences of what they utter, for instance promises.
The other dimension to the tongue, is that it is organ with which we eat. And we have to ensure we only eat what is halal. Again this applies literally to our food and drink and metaphorically to our income. Our earnings have to be halal.
Other than the tongue, we have to protect our private parts from any haram. Zina is a major sin. Therefore protect your private parts from that, by avoiding everything that leads to your private parts being engaged in haram such as looking at the haram, listening to the haram, being in an environment that leads to the haram.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – Sunday Hadith Class 12th Dec 2023
Transcribed by Rose Roslan
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