The virtues of La iIaha illa Allah

The main pillars of Islam, imaan and ihsan are outlined in the famous Hadith of Jibril, which everyone should memorise. Some scholars say it is like the Fatiha to the Quran.

It is the one of main hadith of the sunnah and very comprehensive. Umar ibn al-Khattab reported:

While we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah, (peace be upon him) one day when a man appeared with very white clothes and very black hair. There were no signs of travel on him and we did not recognise him. He sat down in front of the Prophet and rested his knees by his knees and placed his hands on his thighs.

The man said, ‘O Muhammad, tell me about Islam.’

The Prophet said, ‘Islam is to testify there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, to establish prayer, to give charity, to fast the month of Ramadan, and to perform pilgrimage to the House if a way is possible.’

The man said, ‘You have spoken truthfully.’ We were surprised that he asked him and said he was truthful. He said, ‘Tell me about faith.’

The Prophet said, ‘Faith is to believe in Allah, his angels, his books, his messengers, the Last Day, and to believe in providence, its good and its evil.’

The man said, ‘You have spoken truthfully. Tell me about excellence.’

The Prophet said, ‘Excellence is to worship Allah as if you see him, for if you do not see him, he surely sees you.’

The man said, ‘Tell me about the final hour.’ The Prophet said, ‘The one asked does not know more than the one asking.’

The man said, ‘Tell me about its signs.’

The Prophet said, ‘The slave girl will give birth to her mistress and you will see barefoot, naked, and dependent shepherds compete in the construction of tall buildings.’

Then, the man returned and I remained. The Prophet said to me, ‘O Umar, do you know who he was?’

I said, ‘Allah and his messenger know best.’

The Prophet said, ‘Verily, he was Gabriel who came to teach you your religion.’ (Muslim)

The arrival of the angel in the form of a man

On this occasion Jibril came in human form. On a few occasions he came in his angelic form, with 600 wings reaching from the east to the west. He walked into the mosque of the Prophet (peace be on him) in Madinah. We can tell this because they did not have the pillars of Islam in place in Makkah. Salah was not introduced until around year 10 or 11 after the Mi’raj journey, a few years before the migration of believers from Makkah to Madinah to escape persecution.

Jibril’s appearance

There were no locks on the doors of the mosque, anyone could walk in. When Jibril arrived, Omar (may Allah be pleased with him), the narrator of the hadith observed that no one recognised him. His description is very beautiful. Why did Omar feel the need to tell us the details of his appearance? As the mysterious man was wearing immaculately white clothes and had dark hair. Usually hadith do not describe the people in such detail, and it would not make any difference to us reading this centuries later to know what colour his hair or his dress was, but details are telling, because Omar and the companions could not recognise this unknown man, who had arrived in their midst, without a trace of dust. Had he been a visitor he would have been dusty and dishevelled, whereas if was local, they would have known him. He was dressed like a local and fresh as if he had just came out of the shower, so they could not place where he had come from.

Out of the blue

Jibril arrived without warning. He walked in unannounced. This point is reflected in language of the hadith by the (إذ) idh (idh al fujaiyyah) which indicates the suddenness of his arrival. Out of the blue. To add to the air of mystery, he proceeded to come all the way up to the Prophet (peace be on him) as if he was a very close friend or relative, put his knees next to him, and according to some narrations, even placed his hands on  the Prophet’s thighs (peace be on him). No one does this unless they know you well. So people would have been wondering who he was.

The scholars extracted from this Hadith the etiquettes of seeking knowledge, to be humble, sit on your knees.

Style of questioning

At the end of the hadith, we find out that this was Jibril, whom the prophet peace be upon him could not recognise him, this time, who came to teach them the religion through the questions he asked the Prophet (peace be on him). This demonstrates the effective method he used to convey knowledge.

We see from this exchange, the importance of knowing what to ask, how to ask and when to ask questions. How to extract knowledge is an art. Jibril came to share this knowledge with others, and we can similarly ask a teacher questions that we know the answer to for the sake of the other students in the class who do not know it.

The etiquette of the Prophet (peace be on him)

The Prophet (peace be on him) said he did not suspect it was Jibril until he left, yet we see how beautifully he took the questions and answered them. He did not object to the questions, as some people feel their authority is challenged when they are asked. He would reply and be open minded even when Bedouins came and asked him questions with their rough manners.

Jibril called the Prophet (peace be on him) ‘Ya Muhammad’ familiarly, rather than ‘Ya Rasul Allah’, and his language, tone and gestures were all part and parcel of the teaching package.

Tell me about Islam

We are familiar with the five pillars, regardless of their sequence. There are plenty of narrations which state that:

‘Islam is built on five’ (Bukhari and Muslim)

The first of these is of course, ‘Islam is to testify there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah’. Lā ilaha ʾilla Allah, Muḥammadun Rasūlu Allah

The second is salah, which was revealed in the way we know it now as five times a day, during the Isra wal Miraj (the journey to Jerusalem and then the ascension to heavens) around 2-3 years before the migration to Madinah.

Fasting and Zakat was commanded in the 2nd year after Hijra. Hajj was the last pillar, commanded around the ninth year. Therefore this probably took place the last year of the Prophet’s life (peace be on him), as Hajj wasn’t an obligation until the 9th year after migration.

There is a different narration which states that Hajj was revealed in the 7th or 8th year after migration, but Ibn Hajar al Asqalani, the great muhaddith commented it was most likely year 9. Is it important when this hadith was revealed? Knowing the timing gives you an idea of what was going on.

The completion of the message

There were some rulings revealed after this hadith, but Jibil came to summarise for the ummah the teachings which had been imparted to believers over the years and to cement the concepts in their mind. Now, even very interesting young children know the five pillars!

Do not underestimate this summary. It keeps you connected to the main sources of connection with Allah. Salah, Zakat, Siyam, Hajj are the outward actions of Islam.

Shahada

Shahada is a belief, but its verbalisation is an action.

Lā  ilaha illa allah, Muḥammadun Rasūlu Allah is to testify your belief.

We need to reflect on this.

The virtues, meanings and evidences of shahada

The shahada is the gate to enter Islam. You cannot be a Muslim without taking this. Regardless whether it is made with depth of belief or not (only Allah knows this), unless the words are vocalised one cannot be classified as a Muslim. Why is this important? It has implications such as the burial of the body. If their shahada was not witnessed by anyone, there is no proof they were Muslim and would not be buried in a Muslim cemetery or have funeral prayers said for them (salatul janaza). To our knowledge they were not Muslim.

The highest branch of faith

Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:

Imaan has 70 odd branches. The most excellent among these branches is the saying of ‘La ilaha illa allah’, (there is no God but Allah), and the smallest branch is to remove an obstacle from the wayside. And ‘Haya’ (modesty) is an important branch of Iman. (Bukhari)

Therefore the shahada is a gate to enter.

This is a very important hadith, so we delivered two courses on it and two retreats on its meaning. We see from it that the highest branch is La ilaha illa allah, and the lowest is to remove an obstacle from the street.

We used to have a shaykh, who said his shaykh taught him that to connect all the branches together and have the reward of 70 odd branches, say La ilaha illa allah, Muḥammadun Rasulu Allah  while you remove something from the street, and you will carry out the highest and the lowest branch simultaneously. Since I heard this, back in 1988, I have always done this.

Renewal

Saying the shahada often is a way to keep renewing your imaan.

Abu Hurayrah reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:

‘Renew your faith.’ They said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, how can we renew our faith?’ The Prophet said, ‘Say often there is no God but Allah.’ (Musnad Ahmed)

Purification

Saying the shahada helps us purify our hearts and delete our sins.

When a person truly believes in Tawheed in his heart, and he excludes from that everything other than Allah in terms of love, veneration, glorification, awe, fear, hope and trust, in that case his sins will all be erased, even if they are like the foam of the sea, and they may be turned into good deeds. For this Tawheed is the greatest elixir; if an atom of it were to be placed on mountains of sins, it would turn them into good deeds. (from Jaami‘ al-‘Uloom wa’l-Hikam)

Key to Jannah

La ilaha illa allah’ is the key to Jannah:

Everything has its key, and the key to Paradise is the witnessing that there is no god but Allah. (Tabarani)

Muadh narrated that the key for the gate of Jannah is the testimony of La ilaha illa allah.

No one but who says it with sincerity is admitted to Jannah. (Muslim).

Heavy on the scales

Nothing competes with the weight of La ilaha illa allah on the Day of judgement. The shahada carries the heaviest weight.

Daily adkhar

It was part of the daily adkhar of the Prophet (peace be on him). He used to recite it 100 times.

Abu Hurairah asked the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), ‘Who is the happiest person and will receive your intercession’. He replied, ‘The most blessed of people to have my intercession on the Day of Resurrection are those who say there is no God but Allah, sincerely from the heart’. (Bukhari)

He replied here La ilaha illa allah, without completing the rest of it ‘Muhammadur Rasul Allah’. Does this mean the latter part of the testimony is not necessary? Many of those who invite people to Islam on TV take this hadith and discount the need to say the rest, however, without wishing to restrict access to Jannah, which is Allah’s decision, the great scholar Ibn Hajar al Asqalani said he was merely abbreviating the shahada in this statement, and that the latter part of it was a given. Other scholars agreed. You cannot chop off the second part of the shahada.

Whoever came after this revelation, as agreed by scholars, commented that it is not enough to believe in Allah, and reject His Messenger (peace be on him). It is one package – the Shahaadatayn (twin declaration of faith).

 Lasting goodness

The Quran mentions in two places, Al-bāqīyāt al-ṣāliḥāt in Surat al Kahf:

 Wealth and children are [but] adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring good deeds (al-bāqīyāt al-ṣāliḥāt) are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one’s] hope. (18:46 and in Surat Maryam 19:76)

Abu Saed al Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) said ‘Increase your dhikr of deeds which last, and the Prophet (peace be on him) confirmed that these are takbeer (Allahu akbar), tahleel (alhamdulilah), tasbih (subhanallah), and la hawla wa la quwatta ila billa.

The hadith of the Bitaqa

Abdullah ibn al Aas (may Allah be pleased with him) said that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

Allah will select a man from my ummah before all the creatures on the day of resurrection. He will select one of the ummah and he will display to him 99 records of deeds and these records will be long as the sight can reach.

Then Allah will say, ‘Do you deny anything from this? Were my guardian scribes unjust to you?’

He will say, ‘No! Oh, My Lord’’

Allah will say, ‘Do you have any excuse?’

He will say, ‘No, My Lord!’

Allah will say, ‘Yes, you have! For there is a good deed and on this day you will not suffer any injustice from us’.

Then a card containing la ilaha illa Allah will appear.

Allah with say, ‘Come and witness the scale!’

He will say, ‘My Lord! what is this card supposed to do with all these records!’ (Remember the man had 99 bad records and each one as far as the eye can see)

Then the records will be put on one side of the scale and the card on the other and the records will weigh lighter and the card will be heavier.

Nothing is heavier than the name of Allah.

(Tirmidhi and Imam Ahmad and ibn Majah and is a very authentic and a well-known hadith known as Hadith al-Bitaaqa.)

On the authority of Muadh bin Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) who said:

‘There is no one who testifies that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, sincerely from the heart, but Allah will protect him from Hell” (Agreed upon)

Muadh was so excited by this that he asked should he not tell everyone this narration, but the Prophet (peace be on him) told him not to spread it, as he felt it would make believers complacent. Therefore Muadh did not reveal this narration until his dying breath, when he passed on this amanah.

As you can see again and again the Prophet (peace be on him) was emphasizing the importance of ikhlas and the heart in the shahada, otherwise it would be just be lip service. But even with their ignorance, the people of Makkah knew that the shahada was not an empty phrase but carried responsibility with it.

Delivered by Shaykh Haytham Tamim on 14th August 2020 at the Thursday Knowledge Circle. What Every Muslim Should Series.

The Testimony of Faith has been written about by the renowned scholar, Shaykh Abdullah Sirajuddin, rahimahullah, a great muhaddith and faqih from Aleppo. You can buy it because it is a beautiful exploration of the shahada. He wrote many books on tafsir, seerah, shama’il and hadith, on many different topics. My shaykh, Shaykh Nuruddin ‘Itr (may Allah protect him) who was at the Shariah college of the University of Damascus, used to say the closest book in style to Imam Nawawi is Shaykh Abdullah. Shaykh Abdullah was his maternal uncle (mamu), father in law and his shaykh.

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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.