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A New Article By Tarek Mehanna

In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

You would likely find the prison environment to be boring.

The color scheme of the place - an exotic array of grays and off-whites - itself does wonders in dulling the mind. Most people cannot live without entertainment, and entertainment options are limited in here. Prisoners typically opt for TV. Since I don't watch much TV, I thus spend quite a bit of time in my cell reading.

My reading is all over the place (history, sociology, astronomy, medicine, and plenty of newspapers), but the field most enjoyable to me is that of Hadith. Its academic merit is obvious and foremost, but it also provides a more personal benefit. It is related that the great scholar and Mujahid, 'Abdullah bin al-Mubarak, used to spend a lot of time alone. He was once asked: "Aren't you lonely, sitting by yourself?" He replied: "How can I be lonely while sitting with the Prophet (peace be upon him), the Sahabah, and the Tabi'in?" He was referring to the books he was surrounded with that contained their life stories and narrated statements. Each time such a book is opened, the reader is indeed reaching back through time, to another part of the Earth, to meet the Prophet and the thousands of people who comprised the best generations of human history, and to learn from their wisdom.

You reach out to their time, and you find that they reach out right back to you. You'll find that some of the Prophet's most affecting words are those in which he described the believers who live near the end of time (may Allah include us among them). For example:

* He described us as being his brothers. Abu Hurayrah related that Allah's Messenger once went out to visit the graveyard, and when he arrived, he greeted the dead by saying: "Peace be upon you, O group of believing people, and if Allah wills, we will join you." He then added: "I wish that we could see our brothers." The Sahabah asked: "Messenger of Allah, aren't we your brothers?" He replied: "You are my companions. Our brothers are those who will come later."

* He described us as having the best Iman, due to the fact that we believe in him without having even seen him. 'Umar bin al-Khattab related that while a group was sitting with him, the Prophet asked them: "Tell me who of the believers you think is best in Iman." After a few people gave their answers, he settled the matter: "They are people who haven't yet been born and will come after me, will believe in me without seeing me, and will affirm what I say without seeing me. They will find pages bound together (i.e., into a book), and will implement what they find written on those pages. Those are the believers who are best in Iman." In another authentic hadith, he said: "Glad tidings once for those who see me and believe in me. Glad tidings seven times for those who believe in me without seeing me."

* He described our reward as being greater than that of the Sahabah, as Abu Tha'labah related that Allah's Messenger said to a group of them: "After you, there will be days in which patience will be as difficult as grasping tightly to a burning coal. The one who does good during those days will get the reward of fifty people who perform the likes of your deeds." He was asked: "O Messenger of Allah! Fifty of us, or fifty of them?" He replied: "Indeed, they will get the reward of fifty of you. You are able to find those who assist you in doing good, while they will find nobody to help them."

Some scholars used ahadith like these to show that there will be people at the end of time who reach such a degree of virtue so as to actually surpass that of an individual Sahabi (as opposed to from a collective perspective, from which there is no dispute that they were the best generation). This is why just as we come across mention of the Sahabah and attempt to visualize them and their utopia in awe, they - being a people who took the Prophet's words seriously - also attempted to visualize us and our world in awe when he described us to them.

What would they think if they visited our world?

The Sahabah emerged during the era of Jahiliyyah. That was a time when the previous religions had been distorted from their pure, original forms through changes that infected them over the centuries. Such innovations stuck because rather than fulfill their responsibility to combat them, the scholars of those religions who knew the truth instead stayed quiet or went into hiding to escape persecution. The truth thus died along with them, resulting in the distorted versions of Judaism and Christianity people follow until today. By the time the Prophet was sent to correct this, nobody remained on Earth who knew the truth except for a handful of outcasts, as he himself described: "Allah looked to the people of the Earth, and He despised them all - Arabs and non-Arabs - except some remnants of the People of the Book."

Were the Sahabah to visit our world, they would be walking into a repeat of this. Just as they saw the Makkans having invented for themselves a religion containing mere remnants of the teachings of Ibrahim, the Sahabah would see the 'Western Islam' the people have invented for themselves today and recognize nothing but remnants of what they were taught by the Prophet in Madinah. Of all things, they would be most saddened to see many claimants to Islam still clueless about what he taught is the very tightest bond of Iman itself: Wala' & Bara' - this despite the untold amount of material that has been authored and translated into every imaginable language on the topic, and despite us living in an era where the enemy has done away with all pretense. The Sahabah would wince at the fact that while the hypocrites they faced in Madinah at least were opportunists who sided with the believers when they had the upper hand, today's hypocrites unconditionally side with the enemy through thick and thin.

In the oft-cited hadith, the Prophet said: "Islam began as something strange, and it will revert to being something strange. So, glad tidings to the strangers." Explaining this, al-Qadi 'Iyad wrote that "Islam began among a few individuals. It then spread and became strong. This will be followed by a decline until it reverts to existing among a few individuals, just as it began." One version of this hadith provides a detail about these strangers: "They are those who withdraw from their tribes," and al-Harawi explained that the Prophet here was "referring to the Muhajirin who migrate from their homelands to Allah, the Exalted." The Sahabah would today recognize these strangers that the Prophet had described to them - men & women who believe in him and affirm what he said without seeing him, who found his words in the pages of books and were inspired to implement what they found, and who have nobody to help them in this except Allah. They would immediately recognize these outcasts - men & women who flee to the Dawlah as they once did, thereby incurring the wrath of every taghut as they once did - and look at them in awe.

Seven centuries ago, not too long after their first defeat there, the Mongols invaded Sham for a second time. During those years, Ibn Taymiyyah composed an essay in which he wrote that "from the greatest gifts that Allah bestowed upon the one He wants good for is that He allowed him to live in this era in which He is renewing His Din, and resurrecting the slogans of the Muslims and the power of the believers and the Mujahidin such that they resemble the forerunners from the Muhajirin and the Ansar. Whoever is a part of this today is considered to be from those who followed them in good, with whom Allah is pleased and who are pleased with Him, and for whom He has prepared gardens underneath which rivers flow in which they will live eternally. That is the supreme success. So, the believers should thank Allah for this difficulty which is actually a gift of generosity from Him, and this tribulation which contains a great blessing." He then wrote: "And I swear by Allah that if the early forerunners from the Muhajirin and Ansar - like Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthman, 'Ali, and others - were alive today, from their best deeds would be their striving against these criminals (i.e., the Mongols)."

Of the blessings Ibn Taymiyyah was referring to - and one which exists today - is the fact that, as the Prophet said (in a lesser-known wording of a well-known hadith): "Worship in times of tribulation is equivalent to a migration to me." Another scholar, Ibn Rajab, wrote that "the reason for this is that during the times of tribulation, people tend to follow their desires and abandon the Din. Their condition thus resembles that of the era of Jahiliyyah. So, if there emerge from between such people individuals who hold firm to the Din and worship their Lord, doing what pleases Him and avoiding what angers Him, such individuals will be equal in status to those who migrated away from the people of Jahiliyyah to Allah's Messenger while believing in him, following his orders, and avoiding his prohibitions."

It is thus a group within the Ummah which clings to the truth during such days, while the rest of it strays. In that same essay, Ibn Taymiyyah also wrote that "it has been authentically reported through numerous chains of narration that the Prophet said: "There will always be a group of my ummah that is victoriously upon the truth until the Hour comes, and they will not be harmed by those who abandon or oppose them," and it has been authentically reported that they are in Sham. So, this test has divided people into three categories: i) the victorious group, and they are the Mujahidun against these spreaders of evil; ii) the group opposing them, and they are the sowers of corruption, along with these confused claimants to Islam who hide behind them; and iii) the group that has abandoned them, and they - even if still Muslims - are those who refrain from striving against the corrupters. Every man should look to whether he is from the victorious group, the group that has abandoned them, or the group opposing them. There is no fourth group." The full text of this essay can be found in the 28th volume of 'Majmu' al-Fatawa.'

Commenting on that same hadith, an-Nawawi wrote: "It could be said that this group is dispersed between the various categories of believers. Some of them are courageous warriors, some are experts in Fiqh, some are experts in Hadith, some are ascetics, some are those who enjoin what is good and forbid what is wrong, and some are known for other forms of good. And they are not necessarily concentrated in one location. Rather, they could be scattered throughout the Earth."

I read this in a book of Hadith written nearly eight centuries ago, but I'm told the matter is nowadays being discussed on TV. Indeed, as an-Nawawi concluded, "this hadith contains a clear miracle, in that what is described here has existed - praise is due to Allah - from the era of the Prophet until today, and will continue to exist until the Hour."

Written by: Tariq Mehanna
Saturday, the 11th of Dhu al-Qa'dah 1435 (6th of September 2014)
Marion CMU


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