Ramadan Discourse

Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib

(tafsir on 7:156-157)

This was a discourse which Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib gave in his zawiyya in Meknes in the year he died. He was over 100 at the time.

[This was originally published in the journal, Islam, in 1976. I don't know who did the translation]


I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Shaytan. In the Name of Allah the All-Merciful, Most Merciful. Peace and blessings be upon our Lord and Prophet, Muhammad the Chosen, the Noble, and upon his family and Companions in abundance. There is no power nor strength except in Allah, the High, the Great. Glory be to You! We have no knowledge except what you have taught us. You are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. O Allah, open to us Your wisdom and cover us with Your mercy, O Possessor of Majesty and Generosity.

Allah, to Whom belongs glory and power, says in His Mighty Book: "My mercy extends to all things but I will prescribe it for those who have taqwa." (7:156)

We have started with this sura which we talked about last year when we reached the words of the Almighty, "My mercy extends to all things." The name of this sura is Surat al-A'raf. Every sura takes its name from a word in it. So, for example, Surat al-Baqara is called al-Baqara because Allah mentions a cow (baqara) in it. It is the same with Ali 'Imran, an-Nisa' and so on. This sura is called al-A'raf. Allah says in it, "on the ramparts (al-a'raf) there will be men." Every sura is named after a word in it. This sura was revealed to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, in Makka.

In any case, we reached His words, "My mercy extends to all things." This mercy, which embraces all things, is a mercy without limit, but there is also a mercy which is confined. This unlimited mercy encompasses animals, plants, angels, Prophets, Messengers, awliya', and even the mushrikun and the kafirun. They all comes within the scope of this mercy which entails existence and provision. Allah ta'ala gives them existence and sustains them. But then He makes them differ in their beliefs. Among them are mu'minun, kafirun and hypocrites. They all share in existence and sustenance.

This blessing includes even Iblis. Even he shares in it. Once he was with one of the gnostics ('arifin) and said, "I too claim a share in that mercy because Allah says, 'My mercy extends to all things.' and I am a thing." The gnostic replied to him, "But Allah has limited it by His words, 'I will prescribe it for those who have taqwa.'" He told him, "You don't know anything," – This was Iblis talking to Sahl ibn 'Abdullah – "because how can something which Allah has made unlimited then have limits imposed on it?"

This mercy without limit concerns existence and sustenance. Everyone is included in it. The kafirun have existence and sustenance, so has Shaytan and so has everything else. However differentiation exists. So what is it in? In iman. The people who follow the Prophets and Messengers and trust them have a special place. They will be among the people of the Garden. They will enjoy the vision of the Noble Face of Allah. But the people who have only existence and sustenance without any iman will have their payment in the Fire for ever. For ever in the Fire. Because Allah says, "I will prescribe it," i.e. that mercy for whom? "For those who have taqwa." Therefore the man who wants mercy must have taqwa.

What is taqwa? It is obedience to all the commands of Allah and avoidance of all that is forbidden. The things that Allah has commanded us to do are the prayer, zakat, fasting and hajj, and the things He has forbidden us are pride, envy, malice, hatred, bad thoughts about others. These people will taste that mercy because they have taqwa. "I will prescribe it for those who have taqwa." We have said that taqwa means to obey all the commands, and the man who has taqwa of Allah like this will receive mercy. He will experience mercy in this existence, in his grave, at his rising, and in the Akhira. But the man who does not have taqwa will be in misery. He will be punished in this existence, in his grave, in the Akhira, in everything of his. Taqwa gains for you every good quality. Allah ta'ala says, "I will prescribe it for those who have taqwa." Sidi Ibn 'Ashir says:

The attainment of taqwa is by avoidance and obedience,

    inward and outward. Thus you obtain it.

It has four divisions for the traveller

    on the path of profit.

He lowers his eyes to what is forbidden

    and restrains his ears from evil.

He guards his private parts

    and fears the Witness.

He delays matters until he knows

   what Allah has decreed for him in them.

If you want to do something you should ask about it first. "Ask the people of the Reminder if you do not know." (21:7) No action is left to our own intellects. Not eating or drinking or clothing. The whole business refers back to what? To the Muhammadan Shari'a. "Whatever the Messenger gives you you should accept and whatever He forbids you you should forgo." (59:7)

Then comes taqwa against shirk. Shirk is the subject of much discussion by the 'ulama' of this time and they ascribe it to people. We divide shirk in two: open shirk and hidden shirk. Open shirk: a man must know the attributes of Our Master – subhanahu – because if he does not Allah, he cannot make Him one. Sidi Ibn 'Ashir says:

The first duty of the one under obligation

    who has been given clarity

Is to know Allah and His Messenger

    by the attributes on which the ayats are based.

If people know Allah by His attributes, they will not go wrong. They will know the vastness of the attributes of our Master and that no one has any part in them, neither Prophet nor angel nor wali nor Messenger. If a man does not know Allah, he cannot help but be destroyed. They say, "Sayyiduna Muhammad cured you" or "So-and-so helped me," and so on. But if a man knows Allah – effective power belongs to Him, particularised will belongs to Him, absolute knowledge belongs to Him, particularised wisdom belongs to Him – if he knows Allah in this way he will not be destroyed. If he knows Allah in this way, he will never, for example, associate Him with angel, wali, Prophet or Messenger.

All the 'ulama' are agreed about this: that the first obligation of a man is to know Allah by His attributes. And what are His attributes? There are the attributes of the Essence of Allah, the salbiyya attributes, the ma'ani attributes, and the ma'nawiyya attributes. There are twenty attributes that everyone should know. The first attribute is existence. Our Master has the attribute of existence, but His existence is not like our existence. His existence is beyond-past-time. He has no beginning. Beyond-past-time, no beginning. And His existence is obligatory. We divide obligations into two: the obligations of the Shari'a and the obligations of the intellect. The obligations of the Shari'a are those things for whose performance you are rewarded and for whose abandonment you are punished. The obligations of the intellect are those things whose non-existence cannot be conceived. This existence of our Master is an obligation of the intellect. His non-existence cannot be conceived, because He is beyond-past-time and going on for ever. If the obligatory nature of His beyond-past-timeness is in your intellect and the obligatory nature of His going on for ever is in your intellect, you will never condition His existence. He has Beyond-past-timeness and Going-on without end. These two attributes apply to the Essence of Allah ta'ala.

Then there are the salbiyya attributes. They are Beyond-past-timeness, Going-on without end, Unaffectedness by events, and Oneness of Essence and Attributes. They do not take anything away from Allah, although this is what the mutakallimun assert, rather they take away from our intellects all that cannot be applied to Allah. If we know that Allah is Beyond-past-time, we cannot form a picture in our intellects of His coming into being in time, and if we know He is Going-on without end, we cannot conceive of His annihilation. Likewise, if we recognise that He has unlimited wealth, it is impossible for us to imagine Him ever being in need. And so on ... If we recognise that is not affected by events, we know that nothing can be equal to Him, not in His Essence, not in His attributes, and not in His actions. This is the first thing a man should know. Sidi ibn 'Ashir says about this:

The first duty of the one under obligation

    who has been given clarity

Is to know Allah and His Messenger

    by the attributes on which the ayats are based.

This is where the Wahhabis and others like them go wrong when they say, "You don't know Allah. You are committing shirk." But if a man knows Allah in this way he cannot make any mistake. He will never confuse Allah with anything else.

Our Master has necessary attributes. Beyond-past-timeness to which there is no beginning. Not equal to Him is any Allah or Messenger or wali or angel. "Nothing is equal to Him. He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing." "And not equal to Him is anyone." No equal, not in His Essence nor His Attributes nor His Actions. If a man knows His Lord he just cannot go wrong. He knows that nothing can be similar to Him. It is Him we serve as slaves, Him we prostrate to, Him we bow to, and Him we glorify.

The whole creation is variegated into many layers. Everything has its own degree. There are the degrees of the angels, the degrees of the Prophets, the degrees of the Messengers, the degrees of the awliya'. Everyone has his own degree. But everyone is a slave to Allah. "Everything in the heavens and the earth comes to the All-Merciful as a slave." All of us are slaves to our Master.

"Those who have taqwa" against shirk – manifest and hidden. We have been talking about manifest shirk. Hidden shirk is very common in people. Such as the person who says, "It was so-and-so who helped me," or "that medicine which I took was what cured me of that illness." What is that called? That is hidden shirk. Someone says, "It was so-and-so who did that thing for me," or "this material is what gave me warmth. If it wasn't for it, I would have died of the cold." Or again, "That drink that I had was what quenched my thirst." This giving intrinsic reality to the means is known as hidden shirk, but only if you give them effective power, not, of course, if you know that Allah is the cause of things when they happen. You could say that the cloth was the means of my getting warm, or this food was the means by which I was satisfied. It is always necessary for there to be a means. Means must always exist, and an unseen witness of them. But most of the time people go wrong. "If it wasn't for so-and-so, I would never have achieved my aim."

What do you mean? It is Allah who gives it to you. "It is He who subjects to you all that is in the heavens and the earth from Him." However you must thank the means. Really. Thank the one at whose hands you receive a good thing, thank him either by some good action or by making a du'a'. "If someone has done you a good service, repay him, and if you cannot, then pray for him until you think he has been repaid." say, "Such a one has helped us and has been the means to good things. O Lord, take his hand! O Lord, give him expansion! O Lord, protect him and his children!"

This we must do, but at the same time we must not forget that it is Allah who benefits us. He subjected the other to us and He turned his heart towards us so that the good thing reached us. But if we ascribe the whole thing to the creature, that becomes hidden shirk. Allah says, "Most of them do not believe in Allah without associating others with Him." (11:106) Try to understand this. A man who affirms the Unity must do so inwardly and outwardly. The means have no innate effectiveness, not even if the means is a Prophet or a wali or an angel or a Messenger. If it was not for the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, we would not know Allah. He is His means to our happiness. We will all – insha'Allah – be among the people of the Garden through following him. These things are all means, but Allah ta'ala is the Doer. There is no Doer but Allah.

Allah made these means as His instruments and we must show correct behaviour towards them. You should not let there be a case of anyone doing anything for you or giving you anything without you turning to him in thanks. If you have something to repay him with, then give it to him, and if not, then pray for him until you think you have fulfilled your obligation to him, But if you hold him to be the effective cause and believe that it was really him who caused the thing to be given to you, that he did it with his own power, then this is shirk and it might even turn out to be manifest rather than hidden.

He says, "Those who have taqwa." We have been explaining to you the meaning of taqwa. Allah says in His Mighty Book, talking about its benefits, "Have taqwa of Allah and He will give you knowledge." "Allah only accepts from those who have taqwa." "Those who have taqwa will be in Gardens and rivers on couches of sincerity with the King, the Powerful."

So you see, taqwa is the means to all good, both in this existence and in the Akhira. If you have taqwa of Allah, He will make your provision easy to obtain, you will be loved by His slaves, and your life will be made easy for you here and in the Akhira. When you go to the grave you will find it comfortable, and when you go to the Place of Rising, you will find the same. On the other hand, if you have no taqwa you will be in misery both in this existence and the Akhira. Taqwa is what collects together all the good. Allah, tabaraka wa ta'ala, says, "He who has taqwa of Allah, He provides him with what is enough for him." The thing a man needs is taqwa. And if you have taqwa of Allah, you will carry out the commands and avoid what is forbidden and accompany the people of blessings.

No one can come to anything except by specific means. And as for those people who say that means are unnecessary – where would they get knowledge from it there wasn't an 'alim to teach them? How could they see anything? You must affirm the means. It is necessary to have the means accompanied by wisdom. But watch out that you do not give them innate effectiveness and say, for instance, "If it was not for so-and-so, I would never have attained that thing." No! So-and-so is only the means and Allah is the Doer and Designer. But beware that you do not deny the means, saying that people have no part in it. This is a serious mistake. Why is that? Because it is haqiqa without Shari'a. The Shari'a makes things clear for us and gives everything its due. The Prophet, and he is that created being who is the means to our Islam, said to us, "If someone does you a good service, repay him." Know that he is the means to the good thing you received. All this that I have been saying has been about the ayat: "My mercy extends to all things but I will prescribe it for those who have taqwa." (7:156)

Then He says, "and pay the zakat." This zakat is what people today disregard almost completely, and in this they go very badly wrong. They say, "These taxes and rates we pay take the place of zakat." But that is not the case. Zakat is for those who are weak and poor, and these people still exist. "Surely your sadaqa is for the poor and the destitute." The taxes we pay are to support the administration so that they can guard the roads for you and ensure your safety, and so that you can rest tranquil in your homes. If there wasn't any support for the administration we would live in chaos. If we need the people to guard us and to watch over the roads and these things require financing, from where does the money come? From the people. We cannot say that we do this instead of zakat. This support of the administration and the taxes which go towards it are so that the whole business can be kept going. That is how we can have people to guard us and watch over us and do things to our benefit. We could never do them by ourselves. If there was no administration, we would not be able to manage. The administration over us is from us. This gathering is to their credit. If there was no safety you could not come and I would not see you.

"And so let them worship the Lord of this House who has preserved them from hunger and secured them from fear." There has to be a means to this "securing from fear." There must be a functioning administration which maintains people to guard us and to watch over the roads so that people can travel in safety and so that people who want to come can do so in safety, and so that people can sleep in their houses in safety. We must not begrudge the administration anything we give them and we must realise that what we give is to meet the cost of our security, to pay those who work towards it. But zakat, no, that is exclusively for the poor and destitute. Look out for the weak and destitute and take care of them. Give to them until you have paid what is due from you.

"Those who have taqwa and pay the zakat and those who believe in Our Signs." The signs of our Master are many. He shows them to us through the Revealed Books. What do we believe in? The Torah, the Injil, the Psalms, and the Furqan, and we believe in the angels and in all those things that are hidden from us, the things of the Akhira, such as the Rising, the Sirat, the Balance, the Basin, the Garden with its ascending degrees and the fire with its descending degrees.

"Those who have taqwa ... and believe in Our Signs." Then He says, "and those who follow the Messenger." Now the Banu Isra'il asked for precepts during the time of Sayyiduna Musa. Allah gave them, but they did not accept them and so He gave them to us, the Muhammadan community. He said, "I give you the whole earth to pray in wherever you go, and I authorise you to recite your Torah without using the Book." They said, "We will only pray in a synagogue – knowing quite well what Allah had told them – and we will not recite the Torah except from scrolls." Allah – subhanahu wa ta'ala – says to us, "The earth has been made for Me a mosque and a pure place." This is what Allah has given us. We do not have to look for a mosque when we want to say the prayer. No matter where we are when the time of prayer comes, we can say the prayer there. But as for them, this is veiled from them and they will only pray in their synagogues. Our Master gave them a choice in this matter and they choose the synagogue. And they also chose not to recite their Torah by heart like we recite the Qur'an. Allah made the Qur'an easy for us. We can recite by heart. Some recite by heart and others by the Book. This is veiled from them and they can only recite when the Torah is in their hands. This just foes to show. Allah gave all the easy things to the Banu Isra'il and they did not accept them. When they refused to accept them, who did Allah give them to? To this Muhammadan community. "Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet whom they find written down with them in the Torah and the Injil."

A complete description of Sayyiduna Muhammad is written down in the Torah and his description is also in the Injil, but the enemies of Allah changed and altered the Injil and changed and altered the Torah. This was so that those in power among them and their 'ulama', or those they call 'ulama', could deceive the majority of the people and keep them under their control. The Torah and the Injil were both full of descriptions of Sayyiduna Muhammad and of this Muhammadan community, but, as we said, the enemies of Allah changed and altered them.

He said, "Whom they find written down with them in the Torah and the Injil, commanding them to do right (ma'ruf) and forbidding them to do wrong (munkar)." Ma'ruf is the best of what is in the Shari'a, and He forbids them what is opposed to the Shari'a. "Commanding them to do right and forbidding them to do wrong and making good things halal for them." The things that are good have been made halal for us and other things He forbids us like wine or smoking, for example, like snuff and everything that has a smell. The mu'min is required to give these things up, and if it is not in his power to do so and he cannot find a cure, he should begin to cut down on it and take it like a medicine. Because there are people who are advised against doing something and then they just do not know what to do. There was a sharif with me on hajj who used to smoke, poor man. I said to him, "Now you've performed hajj and visited the Prophet, give this up." So he gave it up. Then we went to get the bus back to Jeddah and he nearly got into a fight with the driver of the bus. I saw that his eyes were red and that he was completely out of control, so I said to him, "Go and take that medicine of yours! But reduce the amount and make the intention of using it only as a cure."

If the protection of Allah is with a man and he manages to give the thing up in one go, then that, of course, is the best thing, but if he knows that he will not be able to, he should take less of it and be aware that he is only doing it to cure himself. This is so that he can put his house in order and so that everything doesn't go sour on him. However, if he just indulges his appetite, taking one after another, then that is a real disaster for him.

Allah ta'ala says, "and making bad things haram for them and relieving them of their heavy loads and the chains which were around them." Among the Banu Isra'il if a man committed a wrong action, he would be told, "Go and take your own life," or "Go and wander in the desert until you die," or "Burn your clothes." Their affairs and their tawba entailed great suffering. As for us, He has lifted that suffering from us. A man commits a wrong action, then makes tawba to our Lord, asks for forgiveness, and Allah accepts his tawba. "It is He who accepts tawba from His slaves and pardons their wrong actions and He knows what they do." (42:23) In any case, the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Tawba erases all before it." It wipes out everything. It removes every single of your wrong actions. But with the Banu Isra'il it was otherwise. Their tawba was not like this. Allah told them, "Go and wander until you die" or "Take your own life." Allah ta'ala lifted this hardship from us." "Relieving them of their heavy loads and the chains which were around them."

"Those who have iman in him and glorify him." What's the meaning of glorify? Honour him. "To glorify" here means "to honour". These are people who do not honour him and they are mistaken because Allah has ordered us to honour what He has honoured. Allah has said about Sayyiduna Muhammad, "Those who give their hands to you, give their hands to Allah." And He says, "He who obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah." Allah has ordered us to honour what He has honoured and we do so to fulfil His command. The exaltedness of his degree is such that no one can hope to attain it.

It is byt the hand of Sayyiduna Muhammad, salla'llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, that Allah has shown mercy to this community – by him we are able to recognise Allah, enter the Garden, and enjoy the vision of the Noble Face of Allah. "And glorify him and help him to victory," against their enemies.

"And follow the Light that has been sent down with him." What was that? "And follow the Light that has been sent down with him." What is the light that was sent down? It was the Qur'an. "And follow the Light that has been sent down with him." What is it that was sent down with Sayyiduna Muhammad? It is the Qur'an. In this Qur'an Allah has gathered together everything. In it is the meaning the Torah, the meaning of the Injil, the meaning of the Psalms, and every other matter. In it Allah has gathered together for us everything. We need only to focus our hearts – on what? On the Book of Allah! And on the Sunna which makes it clear!

Allah ta'ala made the Qur'an an encircling ocean, but in it there are certain things to which we have no immediate access. The Sunna came and made clear to us the things that were difficult to understand in the Book of Allah. Then after that the right-acting 'ulama' came, and they too elucidated for us the things which were not clear. In any case the Book and the Sunna are the path which leads to happiness. "He who takes hold of the Book of Allah and the Sunna of His Messenger."

However the only who can know this is the one who knows its people. The ordinary man who spends all day in idle pursuits, wasting his days – if he wants to learn about the Book and the Sunna he must frequent the people of Allah who are those who will teach him how to perform the prayer and how to do wudu' and how to recognise Allah. If he does this he will undoubtedly gain a great gift. But if, for example, he just stays in his everyday occupations, he will go to the mosque without any knowledge. "Allah cannot be worshipped except with knowledge. "Seeking knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim man and woman." It is the duty of every man to teach his wife how to do wudu' and ghusl and how to do everything she is required to do, what she should do where her periods are concerned. The responsibility for her is on his shoulders. "All of you are shepherds, and all of you will be questioned about your flock." A man should ask his son, "Have you done the prayer or not?" When he comes in, say to him, "Have you come from school, did you perform the prayer there?" If he replies, "No, I haven't," tell him, "You know tomorrow on the Day of Rising you will be asked about the prayer." If he finds his father insisting day after day about the prayer, it is inevitable that he will do it. But if he comes in and no one asks him, he will never say the prayer.

Now in our time there is great laxity. We need teachers who command and fathers who are firm with their children. If the man who teaches commands, and the fathers says to his son when he comes home, "Have you prayed or not?" he will undoubtedly be aware of his Deen and he will undoubtedly perform the prayer. However, if, for instance, the teacher prays but does not tell his pupils to, and similarly a father does not ask his son, he will grow up without a scrap of the Deen and will never perform the prayer.

Allah ta'ala says, "And follow the Light that has been sent down with him, they are the ones who are successful." They are the ones who are successful: those who follow Sayyiduna Muhammad, salla'llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, and follow what came with him, the Book and the Sunna. They are the ones who will reap the harvest both in this world and the Akhira.

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