By Shafiq Morton
Giving the ceremonial dars, or lesson, at the 93rd consecutive Mawlud un-Nabi celebration at the Azzawia in Cape Town, Shaykh Seraj Hendricks said that after ‘Ilm ut-Tawhid, the knowledge of God’s oneness, the famous 11th century colossus Imam Hamid Abu Ghazali had listed ‘Ilm un-Nubuwwah, the knowledge of prophethood, in his Ihya.
This was above the Seerah, or the biography of the Prophet Muhammad, which mapped out his life events. Tired of the petty argumentation and legal niggling of his era, Ghazali had felt that an appreciation of the nature of the Prophet would better serve the Muslim community.
With the ill-informed dominating current Islamic discourse, especially on social media, Shaykh Seraj said that certain enriching and illustrative aspects could be derived from the Ghazalian approach, which was heart-based – the trope of the qalb being the centre of the spiritual human universe.
To this effect, Allah did not look at our shape, our colour, our external appearance or our wealth – but our hearts and our deeds. The ashab, the Prophetic Companions, reflected a perfect synthesis of this through their mahabbah, or love for the Prophet [saw], whose own unconditional love radiated outwards to the cosmos.
On one occasion, the Prophet [saw] had refused to curse the idolaters who were persecuting his Companions in Makkah. “O, Messenger of Allah, pray against them,” the Companions had pleaded. But the Prophet [saw] had replied: “Indeed, I was not sent to invoke curses; I was sent as a mercy.”
Shaykh Seraj added that we had to be guided by the Qur’anic precept of not allowing our hatred of something to deviate us from justice. Knowledge of the Prophet [saw] meant knowing that he was a man of clemency – through and through.
Prophetic mercy, he said, was epitomised in the Qur’anic verse [21: 107]: “And we have sent you (O, Muhammad) but as a mercy for the ‘alameen [all of Creation, including men and jinn]…”
Scholars have disagreed as to whether this includes unbelievers or not, but the more correct interpretation is the one given by Ibn ‘Abbas that the Prophet [saw] is the sabab, the cause, of mercy – and consequently – punishment being lifted.
Ibn ‘Abbas says whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day will have mercy decreed for him; as for the one who does not, he will be rescued – by virtue of the Prophet’s blessings – from the types of retributions dished out to ancients such as the people of Nuh, the tribe of ‘Ad and the Pharaoh’s army.
Ibn Haythami explains that in the sending of Muhammad, may peace rest on him, there is mercy even for his enemies; their chastisement will not be hastened. Even Abu Lahab, unusually mentioned by name in the Qur’an, has a respite in hell when on Mondays water drips from his thumb due to him having freed the slave, Thoraya, on news of his nephew’s birth.
The point is Allah will not cause a ‘Biblical’ calamity to descend upon a people because of the mercy granted to us by the birth of Muhammad [saw], said Shaykh Seraj. As the Qur’an [8: 33] explains: “And Allah would not punish them while you [Muhammad] are amongst them, nor will he punish them while they seek forgiveness.”
There was a need to reclaim a balance via the concept of ‘Ilm un-Nubuwwah, or Prophetic knowledge and grace. But the question is whether we have really understood the true concept of what prophetic essence is. Our departure point should be tolerance and respect, in the sense that the Rasullulah [saw] came to draw people closer to God, not to chase them away from God.
Said Shaykh Seraj, “The culture of cursing destroys the spirit of bringing people closer to their Deen. The Prophet [saw] was not sent to exact punishment.”
He commented that no-one could perfect their character unless they were able to express indifference as to whether they were denied things or given things – or, whether one had achieved status or not achieved status. These would all be serious distractions on the path of Allah, to the extent where a famous saint once said someone cursing him was the same as someone praising him.
Shaykh Seraj quoted the famous Egyptian mystic, Dhul-Nun Misri, who said that the heart was like a jug. It couldn’t be full and empty at the same time. Like the heart it would always be full of something.
In conclusion, he quoted a Hadith in which one of the Madinah Ansar approached the Prophet [saw] in a dejected state, intense grief written all over his face. The Prophet [saw], concerned at this, approached the man like an affectionate parent and asked him what was bothering him.
“Ya, Rasullulah,” said the man in a sad voice, “you are more beloved to me than myself, my whole family and my wealth. I think about you constantly and we seek your company day and night. But tomorrow you will die, and I will die, and you will be raised high in the heavens with the prophets and saints, but even if I go to heaven, I will not see you again…”
The Hadith reports that after a while Jibril [as] had come down with the following revelation [4:69] that the “one who obeys Allah and his Messenger is the companion of the prophets, the saints, the martyrs and the righteous ones to whom Allah has granted his Grace. They are the best friends that one can have.”
And when the Prophet [saw] had informed the man of this, his heart had taken flight and he had danced with joy.