By Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu, New Age Islam
11 October 2018
Ash-Shaykh-ul-Ummah Hazrat Imam-al Azam Abu Hanifa, the great founder of the foremost school of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam which is the Hanafi school, and likewise a great saint of Islamic Sufism was once asked by his student Hazrat Yusuf Ibn as-Samti: “What does it entail to have a heart of true piety (taqwah)? How can we attain the heart of genuine spirituality (ruhaniyyat)?”. Hazrat Imam-al Azam Abu Hanifa responded to his disciple’s question by saying that genuine piety and true spirituality depend on how we pay attention to Almighty Allah’s rights over us and on how we pay attention to the rights of our fellow humans over us. The believer’s relationship with Almighty Allah and his relationship with his fellow human beings ultimately form the true basis of genuine piety and true Islamic spirituality (See Tazkirah ul Qudsi al Imam Al-Azam Abu Hanifa [Holy Biography of the Great Imam Al-Azam Abu Hanifa, Damascus, Syria: Matba’ah Islamiyyah, 1965; pp. 13-14].). This was what Hazrat Shaykh Imam-al Azam Abu Hanifa beautifully yet practically replied to the equally beautiful and practical questions of his great pupil Hazrat Yusuf Ibn as-Samti...
I have observed and noticed that practically all literature written by our great Ahlus Sunnah and Sufi scholars were aimed at understanding the Holy Qur’an in its explication and elaboration of what it is to keep the rights of Allah over us and what it is to keep the rights of our neighbors over us. All the words of the classical Sunni and Sufi scholars of Islam perfectly compliment the message of the Holy Qur’an. We are therefore safe to say that in Islam, every effort of the believer to be pious and spiritual simply consists in following the excellent morals of the Holy Prophet Muhammad into the believer’s own life, which is just this: observing the rights of Allah to oneself (huqquq-ul-Llah) and observing the rights of others to oneself (huqquq-ul-ibad).
The following verse of the Qur’an shows the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s kindness and mercy to his Holy Companions, and this mercy and compassion of the Holy Prophet made his Holy Companions become more loyal and more attached to the Holy Prophet himself: “So by the mercy from Allah, (O Muhammad), you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude in speech and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter of what you ought to agree upon. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely upon Him.” (Surah Ahl-Imran 3:159).
In the holy city of Madinah after the period of the Hijrah (the Post-Migration Era of the Prophet), the Holy Prophet Muhammad was the chief executive of the Islamic city-state. During the Battle of Uhud which was a war that was imposed by the unbelieving Meccans on the Muslim Ummah, this very time was probably the most difficult phase of his prophetic ministry, and yet it was during this time that the above-mentioned Qur’anic verse was revealed (i.e., Surah Ahl Imran 3:159). Despite all the bleak and discouraging things that the Prophet faced during the Battle of Uhud, he still conveyed the sublime character manifesting “mercy of Allah”, “acting with leniency and forgiveness”, and of “not being rude or harsh hearted”. In short, our Beloved Prophet is indeed a true embodiment of Almighty Allah’s Divine Attributes of Mercy (Rahmah), Grace (Ni’mah), Forgiveness (Ghaffarah), and Compassion (Wadudah).
In the numerous books of Sirat-ul-Rasul (History of the Holy Prophet), we can read that our Blessed Prophet overcame numerous obstacles that could have hindered him in fulfilling his Prophetic ministry by carrying out with patience and perseverance the extremely difficult duties of prophethood, by completely trusting in Almighty Allah all his affairs, and by manifesting a tender heart displaying beautiful sensitivity towards others. It is worth recalling his sad and lonely life in Mecca, the early years of which, he was rejected by his very own clan, the Banu Hashim, with the notable exception of his uncle Abu Talib who was the only clan member of the Hashimi tribe who supported him. Likewise, let us recall the social boycotts against the Muslim community by the Meccans, the most severe acts of tortures inflicted upon the pioneering Muslims by the inhuman Meccan unbelievers to the point that the Blessed Prophet and His Holy Companions were forced to migrate away from their beloved city of Mecca, when there was nowhere for them to take refuge in their own city. Remember the many battles imposed upon the Prophet in Medina, the victories and defeats which lead to the historical ups-and-downs of the Early Muslim Ummah. Remember the myriads of martyrs of Uhud such as Hazrat Hamza (may Almighty Allah be pleased with him). Most of those who were martyred in the Battles of Badr and Uhud were loved deeply by the Prophet and their demise left scars of sadness and pain to his sensitive heart!
As a person whose whole private and public life were always exposed in the scrutinizing public eye of the Arab polytheists, our Holy Prophet’s loving affection towards Almighty Allah and towards the people, his moral excellence and compassionate sensitivity throughout his 23 years of prophetic ministry should become our pattern as to how we ought to beautify our life by taking our Prophet’s virtuous life as our ideal and as our example for emulation. The ethical excellence and the profound spirituality of our Beloved Prophet were one of the main reasons why many idolaters in the whole of the Arab Peninsula were converted to Islamic monotheism during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet’s period of messengership.
As believers, we need to take-in this excellence of the moral and spiritual life of the Prophet into our own hearts, minds and actions. We ought to take our Prophet Muhammad’s holy life as our exemplar in living our lives as Muslims. As humans, we bear the same toil and duty as the Prophet: we work, earn, spend, we live among other peoples and establish various kinds of relationships with them—and we must again take the Holy Prophet as our pattern in the matter of living a genuinely compassionate and humane life in relating to and in dealing with others. As believers we are responsible in mirroring the beautiful character of the Prophet in our respective lives and we are likewise responsible in showing the beauty of true Islam to our neighbors and friends.
As Muslims, it is truly indispensable to have pure and loving heart towards Almighty Allah and towards our fellow human beings by our always being sensitive in respecting the rights of Allah and that of others (huqq-ul-Llah wa huqquq-ul-ibad). Although we may not have a heart of the same fortitude and purity as that of the Prophet’s heart, however, as believing persons and with the awareness of our servanthood towards Almighty Allah, the spiritual aim of our Islamic life should be to attain a heart capable of paying attention and respecting Allah’s rights and our fellow humankind’s rights upon us.
Almighty Allah reveals in the Holy Qur’an: “And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them harshly and cruelly, they say words of peace (Salaam!).” (Surah Al-Furqan 25:63.). Realistically speaking, we will not come across good people at all times in our life; there will always be people who will test our patience, our moral endurance and our spiritual fortitude by vexing, taunting, troubling and persecuting us. However, according to this Qur’anic passage, it is the believer’s duty to react to our persecutors with greetings of “Salaam!” or “Peace be with you!”. Saying “Salaam” is the sign of a sound heart, of a heart at ease, as mentioned in the above Qur’anic quotation from Surah Al-Furqan. In other words, a pure and clean heart or a "heart at ease" is a heart which has reached security and peace, a heart of taqwah (piety) that respects the rights of Allah and the rights of fellow humans. Saying “Salaam!” sincerely to one-and-all is an affirmation of peace in our whole being, and a commitment of a genuine Muslim towards world peace and harmony among all peoples of good will...
May our Beloved Allah have mercy upon us and make our hearts truly a heart of ease, peace and love for one and all—a sensitive and compassionate heart manifesting the spirit of moral excellence coming from the divine personality of our Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his Holy Companions). Amen, a thousand times Amen!
Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu is Associate Professor-VI of Philosophy and Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines (UP), Cebu City. He was former Academic Coordinator of the Political Science Program at UP Cebu from 2011-2014. He is the present Coordinator of Gender and Development (GAD) Office at UP Cebu. His research interests include Islamic Studies particularly Sunni jurisprudence, Islamic feminist discourses, Islam in interfaith dialogue initiatives, Islamic environmentalism, Classical Sunni Islamic pedagogy, the writings of Imam Al-Ghazali on pluralism and tolerance, Turkish Sufism, Muslim-Christian dialogue, Middle Eastern Affairs, Peace Studies, Ataturk Studies, Mughal Studies, and Public Theology.