Are Sufferings meant to be a Lesson for Others?
Question: I have heard many scholars saying that innocent people suffer so that other people may learn a lesson ('ibrah) and turn towards the right path. Frankly, I have my reservations on this due to the following. There is so much misery in the world today. All you need to do is pick up the newspaper and see these nightmarish pictures splashed all over. I am still haunted by this picture of children who were found in an orphanage in Iraq last week, malnourished and tied to beds barely alive. Who is learning a lesson from the pathetic state of these kids? Hardly anyone, but these poor kids are suffering nonetheless. This is just one example.
This world is clearly divided into the haves and have-nots categorized as rich vs. the poor, able bodied vs. the disabled, to name just a few. The have-nots as we all know far outnumber the haves. In my opinion 80% belong to the former category. Now if people who are already enjoying in this world do learn a lesson from the latter and follow a righteous path as a result, they are in a win-win situation both in this life and the hereafter. Does that mean that a vast majority is suffering just for the benefit of a small minority. I am absolutely sure that here must be a reason for all this but 'ibrah does not appear to be a plausible explanation.
Answer: The sufferings people go through happen because of various reasons. Enabling others to learn a lesson through them ('ibrah) is just one of them. When a person suffers, he normally suffers in a particular aspect of his life. I mean, he may have a physical disability, for instance, but may have other aspects of his personality in a normal or better-than-normal state. A blind person normally has a more sensitive ability to hear and so on. It is incorrect to assume that an affluent and apparently healthy person is always happy and successful. We don't know the extent of sufferings such people may be going through in other aspects of their lives. The quality of life should be taken in its totality.
I do, however, agree that this world is divided in the material sense into two groups: haves and have-nots. But who promised that this world was going to be a perfect place? This phase of our life is only a trial. For that purpose it had to be somewhat imperfect. It is in the next life that we will have the result of this trial fully unfolded. Those who were rich and healthy (of course the two don't always go together) shall be held accountable for what they possessed. The others shall be accountable in what they possessed. Clearly haves will have much more to account for than the have-nots. Who then is at an advantage?
I agree that we can't offer a ready explanation for the suffering of children in Iraq and elsewhere. However, going by the understanding that God is absolutely fair, that He never does anything wrong, that He has designed worldly life as only one phase of our existence, and that our knowledge is limited and therefore we can't know all His secrets in this life, we have a good reason to feel comfortable that our world, which includes the life hereafter, is not going to remain unfair forever. The above explanation shouldn't lead one to feel complacent. The imperfection of this world is a test for us: We have to face the challenge and attempt to correct the problems of this life as best as we can. One of the things we'll be asked in our accountability would be as to how much we tried to make our imperfect world a better place to live for ourselves and for others.
Virtues and Evils of Tasawwuf
Question: What in your opinion are the virtues and evils of tasawwuf?
Answer: My opinion is that tasawwuf has the following problems from an Islamic point of view:
i) In tasawwuf one has to be unconditionally obedient to one's murshid (spiritual guide in tasawwuf). This blind acquiescence to someone other than the Prophet (sws) is an un-Islamic approach. The Qur'an tells us that we are responsible for our own deeds and that, on the Day of Judgement, the excuse that an individual followed his leader unwittingly would not be entertained at all as an excuse for a religiously incorrect behaviour.
ii) Many of the practices in tasawwuf which a murshid Sheikh demands of his docile disciple (murid) do not originate from the Prophet (sws). Such so-called spiritual practices are common amongst people of different faiths. For instance, many concentration exercises (muraqabah) amongst Sufis are the ones that you would find amongst the Hindus in their Yoga exercises as well. I remember when a couple of years ago the famous Sufi Nuh Keller came to LUMS, I attended one of his sessions. During that session he chanted some dhikr (words for God's remembrance) in a peculiarly distinct tune repeatedly. I immediately recalled the tune of it because I had only heard it a few days ago on a Sony-channel religious program where a Hindu Yogi was chanting a mantra in exactly the same tune before a large group of his disciples.
iii) Tasawwuf sets forth for itself the target of getting back to become a part of God as the ultimate goal of a genuine Sufi. The life of paradise and being eligible to be a part of it is not even a part of the objectives of a true Sufi. For him we have emerged from God and we have to return to Him in the literal, physical sense. That is why the word for death in Sufi dictionary is "wisal" which means "joining", this life being "firaq", which is "separation".
iv) Sufis believe that the entire existence is a part of God. "No one exists except Allah (la mawjuda ilallah)" is the ultimate kalimah of Sufis. The kalima "La Ilaha Ilallah" is for the ordinary people and the beginner Sufis.
v) For a Sufi, khatm-i nubuwwat doesn't mean that angels cannot come to communicate with humans anymore. Sufi saints have all along claimed that they have been receiving guidance from angels directly. If you read the da'wah literature of Ahmadis (Qadiyanis) you would find that they are challenging the Muslim claim that it is a unanimous Muslim understanding that the chain of the prophets has come to an end after prophet Muhammad (sws) by presenting volumes of evidence from Sufi literature which claim that angels of God have very much been visiting Muslim Sufis after prophet Muhammad (sws). (If you want to know the truth of these experiences, please read my article "Experiencing Jinn" on my site www.khalidzaheer.com).
Please don't consider the last three points as exaggerated claims. There are scores of evidences to prove them from the writings of famous Sufis like Abu Ishmael Harwi, Imam Ghazali, Shah Wali Ullah, Shah Ishmael Shahid, Ibn 'Arabi etc. If anyone claims that the Sufi understanding is anything otherwise, he is either unaware or lying for the "noble" purpose of not causing people to be upset on receiving such shocking revelations. It is only through gradual indoctrination that a docile murid starts believing in all these "truths" when he reaches the higher spiritual levels to experience them himself.
Tasawwufhas its virtues as well. The following are some of them:
i) Sufis are very good at reaching out to people through effective psychological techniques. They know how to influence people; for that purpose they work really hard. They would spend long hours at times even with a single individual, solving even very small worldly problems. Alongside that, they are so pleasant, polite, and soft in their approach that an ordinary person can't fail to be impressed by them. They maintain a good group of a number of disciples who together form a strongly knit unit. The members of a Sufi group are like a very strongly knit family with the murshid as its central, galvanizing force.
ii) The exercises of dhikr suggested by Sufis and the other things suggested in the path of tasawwuf (tariqah) give people a sense of relief from tension, and a feeling of solace. Indeed this virtue is what most people are seeking through tasawwuf at least at the initial stage of their affiliation. Relief from tension is an objective which brings a large number of people close to other forms of mysticism as well. Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and other faiths have their respective versions of mysticism. Indeed tasawwuf is the Muslim version of mysticism. When mysticism adapts to the conditions of Jews, it takes the form of Kabala; when it adapts to the conditions of Muslims it becomes tasawwuf. In all its forms it offers the virtue of a feeling of tension-free solace to its followers.
Giving Zakah on Wife's Jewellery
Question: Zayd is compelling his wife to pay zakah over her jewellery, though she is a housewife and has no source of income. What should Zayd's wife do in this scenario? Please clarify his responsibility?
Answer: As a good husband, Zayd should give his wife's zakah. If he doesn't, it's still his wife's responsibility to give zakah on the jewellery she is keeping with herself, and not using in the normal day-to-day life. By definition, she is a wealthy person, though she doesn't have cash with which she can give zakah. The next best option for her then is to sell a part of her jewellery to enable her to pay zakah.
Let's not forget that it's the wife's responsibility to give zakah on her wealth. The husband, according to the Qur'an, is obliged to look after his wife well. Paying zakah on behalf of his wife is not binding on him. However, as a good husband, he should help his wife in this matter. In case he declines to help, which of course is not recommended, the wife has to sell a part of her wealth to give zakah.
When You are wrongly Accused
Question: I had been eagerly attending halaqah sessions in my area, but much to my dismay, I had to experience something unfortunate. A lady shouted at me and wrongly accused me of something. Later, she apologized and I continued attending the sessions. She repeated the same over and over again – accusing and apologizing – to the point that I stopped attending the sessions.
I would just like to know whether or not there any Ahadith or any surah from the Qur'an that can shed some light on how to deal with this situation? Do you believe I have done the right thing in leaving the group?
Answer: I am sure what the lady was doing to you was wrong. However, if she has been apologizing to you, you should continue to forgive her from your heart. We really don't know what her motives might have been in doing so, and it is not for us to investigate them. However, if you think that some part of her objection was justifiable, try as best as you can to remove it from your behaviour. I am sure that it is more likely that there was nothing wrong in the manner you were behaving. However, it is always a good idea to look at oneself critically to cleanse oneself from all weaknesses.
I would also advise you to continue to go the halaqah if you were otherwise learning from it. Your act of going there despite the unpleasant incidents you experienced would go a long way in pleasing God Almighty. Moreover, forgiving the lady despite the option of not doing so shall, insha Allah, enable you to be forgiven by the Almighty for many acts you did wrong in the eyes of the Almighty on the Day of Judgement, when all of us will be desperately looking for ways to be forgiven for our sins.
Demotivation at seeing others Succeed through Unfair Means
Question: After reading this question please don't think of me as a materialistic person, I am just honestly trying to ask a question that has always been on my mind. Since I started going to school I was told by my parents to work hard, and that is all what I did for all those years for my life. I always got my grades and even now I do. However over the past few years I have realized one thing. I know that only God decides who gets what but still sometimes it is extremely painful to see people not only getting away with the help of cheating, bribing etc. I don't know why sometimes due to this I feel a loss. I feel that this problem might stay with me forever. I mean even once I graduate sometimes I might not be preferred because I was playing a fair game. Some how this just makes me lose the will to pray. I mean I will pray but my devotion might not be there. Sometimes I feel that I even lose my devotion towards studying. I hope that you can help me sort this problem out.
Answer: Because this worldly life is a trial and it is not the place where you can get the true results for your efforts, things are going to remain, at least on some occasions, the way they are. The reason for this being so is that in order for this life to be a trial, there has to be freedom allowed to people. That freedom is then both used and abused. Had there been no possibility of it being abused, there wouldn't have been a trial.
I am not suggesting that you give up working hard or looking for good opportunities in life. Go for the good opportunities the Almighty has made available for you, stretch yourself as best as you can to do justice with the talent the Almighty has given you, but never be too obsessed with the idea of achieving success in this life. True success can only come in the Hereafter, where everyone is going to be judged in accordance with his/her sincerity and efforts. Success of this world is always a bonus and a trial in itself.
What I am saying then is that you change the focus of your attention from this life, which can never be fair, to the next one, which is bound to be fair. However, in order for your next life to be successful, you have to do well in this life morally and spiritually. In order for a good moral and spiritual performance, you need to do well with the talent the Almighty has given you. If while using that talent, you achieve worldly success too, thank your God for it. If you don't achieve much, don't be disappointed, because success was never guaranteed to you in this life. In the process, if you lose because others in competition are not playing a fair game, you are not, in reality, a loser. It is those who are apparently gaining some worldly success though wrong means who are losing in the real sense. If you can, have sympathy for such people and try to help them understand the fact that what they are achieving in this world in the manner they are doing it is going to cause them to confront lots of difficulties in the next life.
The Qur'an says:
The one who desires the rewards of this fleeting life alone, We shall give him in it what We shall desire, but then We have prepared for him Hell wherein he will fall despised, helpless. And the one who desires the rewards of the Hereafter and strives for it befittingly, and is a true believer as well, the rewards of such a person are never going to be wasted. As for this life, We bestow all – those who are obsessed with the love of this life and those who are striving for the Hereafter – with the blessings of your Lord. And you will not find the grace of your Lord withheld from any of them. See if you want to confirm how We have exalted some over others in this life, but be sure that the life of the Hereafter is far better both status wise and quality wise. (17:18-21)