Understanding the Qur’an
Recently, a renowned speaker Dr. Bilal Philips had visited Pakistan. I attended one of his event in Karachi. The topic for the day was ‘What makes Me a Muslim?’ After an introductory session, Dr. Bilal was up on the podium. He began his speech by laying emphasis on how important it is to truly understand the Qur’an instead of just reciting and memorizing it. He gave the analogy of donkeys carrying books on their heads for people who only memorize the Qur’an without acquiring knowledge of what Allah says in the Qur’an.
Why are We Created?
He then moved on to the topic and posed a question: “Why are we created?” He then answered his own question saying we are created so we can attain Paradise through worship. Our main purpose in life should be the pleasure of Allah. He referred to this Ayah from the Qur’an:
I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve Me. [Surah Ad-Dhariyaat, Ayah 56]
High Moral Standards in Islam
He moved on to explain that we, as Muslims, should have a high sense of morality – the consciousness of good and bad. He said the Prophet (SAW) was sent to sum up the highest of morality. He then quoted a Hadith of the Prophet (SAW) that in meaning indicated that there would be a lot of people who would externally appear to be people of Paradise but would actually be the people of Hell (fire).
Narrated by Sahl bin Saad Al-Saidi that Allah's Messenger (saw) and Al-Mushrikun met each other in a battle and started fighting. When Allah's Apostle (SAW) returned to his camp and when Al-Mushrikun returned to their camp, somebody talked about a man amongst the companions of Allah's Apostle (SAW) who would follow and kill with his sword any Mushrik going alone. He said, "Nobody did his job (i.e. fighting) so properly today as that man." Allah's Apostle (SAW) said, "Indeed, he is amongst the people of the (Hell) Fire." A man amongst the people said, "I shall accompany him (to watch what he does)" Thus he accompanied him, and wherever he stood, he would stand with him, and wherever he ran, he would run with him. Then the (brave) man got wounded seriously and he hurried to die quickly. So He planted the blade of the sword in the ground directing its sharp end towards his chest between his two breasts. Then he leaned on the sword and killed himself. The other man came to Allah's Apostle (SAW) and said, "I testify that you are Allah's Apostle (SAW)." The Prophet asked, "What has happened?" He replied, "(It is about) the man whom you had described as one of the people of the (Hell) Fire. The people were greatly surprised at what you said, and I said, 'I will find out his reality for you.' So, I came out seeking him. He got severely wounded, and hastened to die by slanting the blade of his sword in the ground directing its sharp end towards his chest between his two breasts. Then he eased on his sword and killed himself." when Allah's Apostle (SAW) said, "A man may seem to the people as if he were practicing the deeds of the people of Paradise while in fact he is from the people of the Hell) Fire, another may seem to the people as if he were practicing the deeds of the people of Hell (Fire), while in fact he is from the people of Paradise." [Sahih Bukhari, Chapter 54, Book of Jihad, Fighting for the Cause of Allah, Hadith No. 2898]
These are people who would visibly be following Islam but internally they would be void of all moral values. This strikes you as an alarming truth once you reflect upon its meaning. He said the most common names among Muslims are Muhammad and Fatimah. In reference to the Hadith quoted above, he said there would be a lot of Muhammads and Fatimahs in Hell. By saying this, he was trying to highlight the importance of acting upon the high standards of morality set by Islam and not just perform the Salah, fasting, Zakah etc as rituals.
He described Shahadah as one of the elements of Tawheed. Shahadah, he said, is an open declaration of your faith. When we say ‘La Ilahaill Allah Muhammadur Rasoolullah,’ we solidify our belief with this assertion that there is no Lord but Allah and Muhammad (SAW) is His Messenger. When we pronounce our faith, our declaration and our practice cannot be contradictory. When we claim the Oneness of Allah and affirm Muhammad (SAW) as His Messenger, we are announcing our obedience to Allah and His Messenger (SAW). Then we cannot be two-faced – we have to practice what we state in the form of Shahadah by being obedient to Allah and the Prophet (SAW).
Salah, is also a part of the Tawheed. He said the process of prayer should begin with the Wudhu.
The Importance of Wudhu
Dr. Bilal gave a tip for those who cannot concentrate during Namaz. He said when we make Wudhu, we’re fundamentally washing away our sins. This, he said, with reference to the following Hadith of the Prophet (SAW):
Abu Hurairah narrated that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: When a bondsman-a Muslim or a believer-washes his face (in course of ablution), every sin he contemplated with his eyes, will be washed away from his face along with water, or with the last drop of water; when he washes his hands, every sin they wrought will be effaced from his hands with the water, or with the last drop of water; and when he washes his feet, every sin towards which his feet have walked will be washed away with the water or with the last drop of water with the result that he comes out pure from all sins. [Sahih Muslim, Chapter No. 2, Purification (Kitab Al-Taharah), Hadith No. 475]
Instead of making the Wudhu something we hurriedly perform, we should reflect upon the Hadith of the Prophet (SAW); we should recount all our sins while we cleanse ourselves for prayers and take this reflection onto our prayer mats. There would be no way we wouldn’t be able to concentrate on Salah after that, he said. He also said that there’s a misconception that we have to keep reciting some Ayah or Duas while we perform the Wudhu. There is only one dua that the Prophet (SAW) made after the Wudhu and it is as follows:
Umar bin Al-Khattab narrated that Allah's Messenger (SAW) said, "anyone performs ablution and makes it a perfect ablution and says (I bear witness that there is no God besides Allah who is the One, Who has no partner and I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger. 0 Allah! Cause me to be among those who repent and cause me to be among those who purify themselves), then all eight doors of Paradise are opened for him that he may enter whichever door he chooses." [Sunan At-Tirmidhi, Hadith No. 55, A 17316, 17398, Muslim 234, Abu Dawud 169, 609, Nisai 151, Ibn e Majah 470]
Continuing his discussion on Salah, he said Wudhu is just a preparation for Salah. Just like the Sunnah Salah is preparation for the Fardh Salah – so that we may concentrate better during Fardh Salah.
Repenting to Allah
He further emphasized on the importance of being repentant by comparing the situation of the Satan and Hadhrat Adam (AS). He asked the audience, was it that what the Satan did more severe or graver than what Hadhrat Adam (AS) did. No, he replied to his own question. It was the same – disobedience to Allah. So then what was the difference between Satan and Prophet Adam (AS)? It was that he (AS) repented. And the Satan was arrogant with his sin.
He also mentioned that Allah has elevated the Prophets’ (AS) status over other human beings and thus, His punishments for the Prophets (AS) are greater as well. Allah forgives us more easily than He did the Prophets (AS).
Zakah is another pillar of Tawheed. It instills the moral characteristic of generosity within a human being. Zakah is the obligatory act of charity that encourages kindness and generosity so much that people begin performing voluntary acts of charity like giving Sadaqah, etc.
Fasting, also a part of Tawheed, is restraint from the displeasure of Allah. It is to avoid the things that are Halal so as to increase the willpower within an individual. It helps increase the resolve of a person so much that it becomes easy to curb themselves from the things that are Haram.
Hajj, another pillar of Tawheed, teaches one to be patient. If you perform all the rituals but do no practice patience, it is of no use. Dr. Bilal then went on to discuss the dilemma of a woman, who has no Mehram to go with her for Hajj. He said Allah rewards this woman for her intention as intent in these situations (when unable to perform the act) earns a greater reward from Allah than performing the actual deed itself.
Belief in Angels
Belief in angels is also a part of Tawheed. Allah is aware of everything that we do whether it is recorded or not but our deeds are documented so that we may practice God consciousness.
Belief in the Book
Continuing on, he pronounced the Belief in the Book as part of Tawheed. Defining this, he said the practical application of the Book for us Muslims was given to us in the form of the Messenger (SAW) in order to show us that all the commands of Allah were possible to be carried out.
Belief on the Judgement Day
The belief on the Judgement Day is also part of Tawheed. The trust in the day of reckoning and accountability is very much a part of our faith. That is why, we are to practice God consciousness in our lives and are urged to ‘choose our friends well.’ It is because our company defines us: it makes us who we are and we become adaptive of the habits of our friends.
Belief in Destiny
The belief in destiny makes up a part of our Tawheed. This belief persuades you to stay steadfast, never give up and have complete faith that there’s good in whatever calamity or troubles you are facing currently. Even if you cannot comprehend the good presently, you must keep complete assurance in the goodness of the outcome of your suffering. As the Prophet (SAW) has said:
Suhaib reported that Allah's Messenger (SAW) said Strange are the ways of a believer for there is good in every affair of his and this is not the case with anyone else except in the case of a believer for if he has an occasion to feel delight, he thanks (God), thus there is a good for him in it, and if he gets into trouble and shows resignation (and endures it patiently), there is a good for him in it. [Sahih Muslim 2999; In-book reference: Book 55, Hadith 82; USC-MSA web (English) reference: Book 42, Hadith 7138 (deprecated numbering scheme)]
Dr. Bilal explained this Hadith as a win-win situation for the believer saying there’s good for the believer in either case.
He also said that the believers receive reward only when they are patient and do not broadcast their endurance to the world. He quoted the following Hadith:
Narrated by Anas that the Prophet (SAW) said, "The real patience is at the first stroke of a calamity." [Sahih Bukhari Chapter No: 23, Funerals (Al-Janaaiz), Hadith 389]
Another variant of the above Hadith is as follows:
Narrated by Anas bin Malik that the Prophet (SAW) passed by a woman who was weeping beside a grave. He told her to fear Allah and be patient. She said to him, "Go away, for you have not been afflicted with a calamity like mine." And she did not recognize him. Then she was informed that he was the Prophet (SAW). So she went to the house of the Prophet (SAW) and there she did not find any guard. Then she said to him, "I did not recognize you." He said, "Verily, the patience is at the first stroke of a calamity." [Sahih Bukhari Chapter No: 23, Funerals (Al-Janaaiz), Hadith 372]
Make Islam Real!
Instead of just practicing plain rituals, we need to bring about the moral goodness as well that our religion teaches us. When we recite the Kalimah, it’s not just mere words, it is a belief that we must exercise through our minds and hearts. We need to build up on our God consciousness and start exhibiting honesty in our behavior. We need to be able to do the right thing because of the fear of Allah, because He’s there and He’s watching us. We need to make ourselves aware of His Presence, His Control and Power over our lives and everything that we do. The state of being wary of Allah all the time is called Taqwa.
Taqwa is the essence of Tawheed and it is the essence of Islam. To accomplish Taqwa, we need to bring this reflection into our prayers – we should worship Allah as if we see Him. Once we bring this struggle into our prayers, we will be able to take this consciousness forward into our daily lives. We will then succeed in carrying out His Commands, being distinctly aware that He is Watching over all our affairs. When we observe Taqwa, we aren’t just limiting ourselves to beliefs or the idea of Tawheed, we’re actually living Islam.
Selective practice means to choose the parts of religion that appeal to you and the ones you find easier and to disregard the aspects you feel are difficult. According to Dr. Bilal, selective practice of Islam at your own convenience is equivalent to not practicing. It’s like saying that “Our desire is our God,” he said. He said we need to live Tawheed in fullness by struggling to understand and practice the Commands of Allah as much as we can.
The Attitude of Gratitude
Dr. Bilal explained the importance of gratitude in Islam. Gratitude is the essence of belief – it is the practical application of Tawheed. It’s so important that it was made to be the first words Alhamdulillah that we recite during prayer – Alhamdulillahir Rabbil Aalameen in Surah Fatiha. The ‘attitude of gratitude’ prevents depression. He clarified the misconception of praying two Raka’ah of Nafil Salah for gratitude saying the Prophet used to pray Sajda As Shukar instead:
Narrated by Abu Bakrah that when the Prophet (saw) heard news that made him happy, or for which one should be happy, he would fall down prostrate in gratitude to Allah, the Blessed and Exalted.
[Sunan Ibn Majah Chapter No: 7, The Chapters of Establishing the Prayer and the Sunnah Regarding Them, Hadith no: 1394, Grade: Hasan]
Dr. Bilal said Sujood ush Shukar is Sunnah Muaqaddah and it does not require ablution or purification of any kind, neither does it require the proper Qibla direction. Females can perform the Sujood even during menstruation. He moved on to explain the procedure of making this Sujood. You are only required to prostrate – but the prostration should desirably be of a long length, during which you should reflect upon all the good that is there in your life. You are supposed to recount the as much of your Blessings in life as you can, starting your search from just the day before. You are meant to reflect on your Blessings during the Sujood until you accept His Mercy.
Dr. Bilal also recommends the Sujood ush Shukar for those facing depression. He advises to prostrate daily for about a month to see remarkable relief from depression.
Goodness to Parents
Goodness to parents is an example of practical application of Tawheed. It serves as the link between faith and application. He moved on to grieve over the culture of the world that now acts as if parents are a burden on their children. Children leave their parents in old homes in the West. Dr. Bilal categorizes this as moral collapse – total decline in morality. He said in the West, people talk about child abuse but they do not mention parent abuse. He stated that every 3 parents out of 5 are being abused by their children when they are helpless and old. Despite the fact that the Ten Commandments deliver the same message about setting high standards of morality in our behavior towards our parents.
Goodness of parents is one of the most important commands of Allah. Every trial, every shortcoming is not be blamed on parents. They are to be respected and treated with kindness always.
The Importance of Surah Al-Baqara
According to Dr. Bilal, Surah Al-Baqara defines Tawheed in detail and Surah Al-Ikhlas summarizes the concept of Tawheed. Surah Al-Baqara is to be recited to rid one’s house of demonic presence. Following is the Hadith:
Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (SAW) as saying “Do not make your houses as graveyards. Satan runs away from the house in which Surah Baqara is recited.” Reference: Sahih Muslim 780, In-book reference: Book 6, Hadith 252, USC-MSA web (English) reference: Book 4, Hadith 1707 (deprecated numbering scheme)
Dr. Bilal said that whoever memorized Surah Al-Baqara was considered a Hafiz in Prophet’s time. This Surah is so highly ranked because of the completeness of Allah’s teachings in it. This Surah is superior to the whole of the Qur’an. The following Hadith highlights the significance of having learnt Surah Al-Baqara:
Narrated Abu Hurairah: "The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) sent an expedition force [comprised] of many, and he asked each what he could recite, so each one of them mentioned what he could recite - meaning what he had memorized of the Qur'an. He came to one of the youngest men among them and said: 'What have you memorized O so-and-so?' He said: 'I memorized this and that and Surat Al-Baqarah.' He said: 'You memorized Surat Al-Baqarah?' He said: "Yes.' He said: "Then go, for you are their commander.' A man among their chief said: 'By Allah [O Messenger of Allah]! Nothing prevented me from learning Surat Al-Baqarah except fearing that I would not be able to stand with (in voluntary night prayer).' The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: 'Learn the Qur'an to recite it, for indeed the parable of the Qur'an for the one who recites it and stands with it (in prayer) is that of a bag full of musk whose scent fills the air all around. And the parable of the one who learns it then sleeps while it is in his memory is that of a bag containing musk that is tied shut.'"
Reference: Jami at-Tirmidhi, Chapters on the Virtues of the Qur’an, English Reference: Vol. 5, Book 42, Hadith 2876, Arabic Reference: Book 45, Hadith 3116, Grade: Hasan (Darussalam)
Dr. Bilal also emphasized on the learning methods of the companions of the Prophet (SAW). They memorized 10 Ayahs of the Qur’an at a time and would not move on until they had started living by those Ayahs. The following Hadith shows how long it took for a companion of the Prophet (SAW) to learn Surah Al-Baqara:
Yahya related to me from Malik that he had heard that it took Abdullah ibn Umar eight years to learn Surat al-Baqara. (Surah 2)
Reference: Imam Malik’ Muwatta, Chapter: The Qur’an, USC-MSA web (English) reference: Book 15, Hadith 11, Arabic reference: Book 15, Hadith 483
Dr. Bilal said certain acts have been ritualized such as just reading the Qur’an without executing it in real life, kissing the Qur’an when it falls etc. These acts were never performed during the time of the Prophet (SAW). The Qu’ran isn’t being taught or followed in the way it was taught during the Prophet’s (SAW) time.
Dr. Bilal said people often wonder what a trial actually represents – a test or a punishment from Allah. It all really depends on how you perceive the trial. If you treat it as a punishment, it becomes one but if you identify it as a test from Allah and try to be patient and persevere, being steadfast and righteous, you can earn reward from Allah. According to Dr. Bilal, trial is an Imaan purifier. Refer to the following Hadith:
Ibn 'Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them) reported that the Prophet (SAW) visited a bedouin who was sick. Whenever he visited an ailing person, he would say, "La ba'sa, tahurun in sha' Allah [No harm, (it will be a) purification (from sins), if Allah wills]."
Reference: Al-Bukhari, Riyad as-Salihin, Chapter: The Book of Visiting the Sick, Sunnah.com reference: Book 7, Hadith 14, Arabic/English book reference: Book 7, Hadith 907
Dr. Bilal elaborated that every pain removes sin if only you are patient with it. He encouraged us to say Subhan Allah and Astaghfirullah whenever we get afflicted with calamity or problems. He even joked saying, “I’m not asking you to say Alhamdulillah.”
Question and Answer Session
Intention for Good Deeds
The questions asked if it was necessary to make an intention consciously every time we try to accomplish a good deed. Dr. Bilal’s answer to that was that if the general intention when performing a certain act is good or even non-specific and does not involve evil, then Allah will reward the individual for it if He wills.
Goodness to Parents
The question was whether we should be good to our parents even if they are unjust to us. The answer was that goodness to parents is a must in general. There may be a problem with our perception in discerning them as unfair. Regardless of the evil that we perceive of them, the goodness they have shown us is bigger than anything unreasonable on their part. This applies to all cases except extreme cases in which parents abuse their children physically or sexually. In those cases, it is better to seek help. There are other cases in which the parents ask you to disobey Allah or the commands of the Prophet (SAW), in which the rights of Allah are greater and more important than the rights of the people.
Dhikr of Allah
There may be deeds which we may perform in abundance but we can never do too much Dhikr of Allah. We should make it a point to do Dhikr to please Allah at all the times that we can.
Having a Mahram is necessary only for travel. If a father goes with his daughter and helps her settle in another country or city for study purposes, verifies that her whereabouts and residential area are secure and leaves her there to study on her own, it is valid. This is because a Mahram is not required when living somewhere but only while travelling.
The question was if it was necessary for men to keep beards. Dr. Bilal answered saying it is very vague to pronounce having a beard as only Sunnah because a Sunnah has various levels: Fard, Wajib, etc. Keeping a beard is a Fard Sunnah. Keeping a stubble or a French beard is not sufficient, it has to be a proper beard that can be termed as one. Saying this, he emphasized again that there should be a balance in the inner and outer Islam. They should both be implemented together. He gave the analogy of a kernel and a shell. The kernel and the shell both have to be strong together. The shell would crumble if the kernel is weak and the kernel would be unprotected if the shell is weak.
Lowering the Gaze
The question was about how to lower the gaze when studying in a co-educational university. The answer was to avoid staring not to “keep the gaze so much to the ground that you bump into a pole.” The objective is to find the middle way – to become a balanced nation.
The question was whether music is Haram or Halal. Dr. Bilal mentioned that in all matters pertaining to Ibaadah, everything the Prophet (SAW) taught us is Halal and the rest is Haram and in all other affairs, everything is Halal unless declared Haram by the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW). He answered the question saying that music is fundamentally Halal but there are aspects of it that are forbidden. Wind and string instruments are forbidden. Daff and singing of girls below the age of puberty is allowed. Adult females may sing for women only. If the content of the song is Haram, then it is Haram. Singing by males is allowed to be listened to by everyone, including females. The drum for the beat is also allowed.
Dr. Bilal cited a few examples of universities and colleges he had visited in Pakistan, a couple of which were of complete Islamic background. He had inquired the students over there regarding cheating. He had asked students who had never cheated in their exam to raise their hands. He had witnessed only a couple of hands raised. He alluded to this as a form of declining morality. He lay emphasis on the fact that the graduating class should exhibit higher moral values. This is only achievable if strong ethical values and honesty is instilled within kids starting from the grass root level.
Alhamdulillah, this concludes my humble attempt at recreating what I learned from Dr. Bilal’s lecture. Please note that none of the points quoted in the article comprise of any personal viewpoint of my own. I have just ventured to put down whatever Dr. Bilal spoke about during the lecture. It may not be a complete account but I have aimed to recollect as much detail as possible.
I have also tried my best to search for authentic Ahadith with references that were quoted by Dr. Bilal Philips and to verify each and every bit of detail that I have written. Still, if you find any mistakes whatsoever, please do feel free to point them out.
Special thanks to my friend Maryam Kaiser and her family for their generous input and for helping me out with determining the authenticity of some Ahadith and clarifying confusions that arose during composition of this article.