The compilation of hadiths into a small group, 40, has been a tradition for some time in the history of Muslim scholarship. ‘Ulama’ (scholars) have recognized the limits and constraints placed on the average Muslim in their pursuit of requisite and inspirational knowledge of Islam. By compiling a smaller number of Prophetic narrations, often under an overarching theme, it was a way to help make the Deen accessible to Muslims so they might better improve their relationship with Allah. The 40 American Hadith is a gesture in that same direction, a collection of Prophetic wisdom aimed and tailored for a modern American Muslim, to assist him or her in their daily aspirations to walk, live, and breathe, as Believers.
Let’s face it: many Muslims today revel in what Hugo Lindgren calls “pessimism porn”. Like its debaucherous cousin, pessimism porn delights in the fall, decay, and decimation of society. In the Muslim context this usually involves interpreting current events in light of certain statements of the Prophet, may Allah grant him safety and peace. These range from rampant murder to the prevalence of lying, as in the following hadith,
إِذَا ضُيِّعَتِ الأَمَانَةُ فَانْتَظِرِ السَّاعَةَ قَالَ كَيْفَ إِضَاعَتُهَا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ قَالَ إِذَا أُسْنِدَ الأَمْرُ إِلَى غَيْرِ أَهْلِهِ، فَانْتَظِرِ السَّاعَةَ
“‘When trust disappears look for the Hour’. It was asked, ‘How will it disappear?’ to which the Prophet, may Allah grant him safety and peace, replied, ‘When authority is delegated to other than those who deserve it, look for the Hour’.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, #6496)
The question at hand here is not the truthfulness of the statements of the Prophet ﷺ or even the general demise of culture and society but rather, why do so many of us seem to take a strange delight in this foretelling? Even a cursory reading of Muslim eschatology paints an undoubtedly unpleasant picture of the future. But is this something that should be revelled in? Or is it perhaps instead a twisted way of abdicating ourselves out of the responsibility and challenge of carving out a dignified existence even in the midst of hardship? My feeling is this is more towards the latter than the former.
To say that the last several hundred years of history have been hard on Muslims would be an understatement. Colonialism and its descendants not only defeated Muslims on their home turf, but mentally struck a blow that, though perhaps not completely vanquishing them, certainly made recovery from it difficult as well. And, in my opinion, part of what has hampered this recovery effort has been a shift of our imaginations and resources from rebuilding and recuperating to languishing in the revelry of the end of times. A proverbial suicidal thought, which, like many actual suicidal thoughts, are symptomatic of bigger issues — a cry for help — and reveal that a person has often submitted to their worst fears of being a failure, or worse, to despair.
Yet our Holy Book not only admonishes us from falling prey to despair but charges us with the task of seeking a way out of such a dark hole:
قُلْ يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِن رَّحْمَةِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
“[Muhammad] say! [I, Myself, have said], ‘All My servants who have wronged their own souls, don’t lose hope of God’s mercy, for God can forgive all sins. He truly is the Forgiving and the Merciful!’ ” (Qur’an, 39:53)
In other words, despairing thoughts mask and veil one from the presence and access to not only God’s mercy, but to one of His greatest gifts: forgiveness and redemption. So I ask again, have we fallen prey to despair and have we taken the apparently easy way out by revelling in the demise of society as a means of vindicating ourselves from the obligation to achieve and succeed, even when times are tough? And if so, how can we justify this in the light of verses like those above and narrations (our 40 American Hadith) from the Prophet such as this one:
يدرُسُ الإسلامُ كما يدرُسُ وَشيُ الثَّوبِ حتَّى لا يُدرَى ما صيامٌ، ولا صلاةٌ، ولا نسُكٌ، ولا صدَقةٌ، ولَيُسرى على كتابِ اللَّهِ عزَّ وجلَّ في ليلَةٍ، فلا يبقى في الأرضِ منهُ آيةٌ، وتبقَى طوائفُ منَ النَّاسِ الشَّيخُ الكبيرُ والعجوزُ، يقولونَ: أدرَكْنا آباءَنا على هذِهِ الكلمةِ، لا إلَهَ إلَّا اللَّهُ، فنحنُ نقولُها فقالَ لَهُ صِلةُ: ما تُغني عنهم: لا إلَهَ إلَّا اللَّهُ، وَهُم لا يَدرونَ ما صلاةٌ، ولا صيامٌ، ولا نسُكٌ، ولا صدقةٌ؟ فأعرضَ عنهُ حُذَيْفةُ، ثمَّ ردَّها علَيهِ ثلاثًا، كلَّ ذلِكَ يعرضُ عنهُ حُذَيْفةُ، ثمَّ أقبلَ علَيهِ في الثَّالثةِ، فقالَ: يا صِلةُ، تُنجيهِم منَ النَّار ثلاثًا
“Islam will slowly wear away in the way embroidery on a garment wears away until such things as fasting, prayer, worship and charity will be known to no one. The Book of Allah will be taken away at night, and not one verse of it will remain on earth. There will, however, remain a group of old and enfeebled men and women, who will say: ‘We knew our forefathers upon the following words: “La ilaha illallah”, so we too repeat them’. On account of this narration Silah (from the Successors of the Companions) said, ‘What benefit will that bring them? Saying “La ilaha illallah”, when these people didn’t even know what prayer, fasting, worship or charity were?’ Hudhayfah, the Companion (and narrator of this hadith), turned away from Silah but Silah repeated his question three times to Hudhayfah and each time Hudhayfah turned away. Finally Hudhayfah turned to Silah on the third time and said, “Silah! It will save them from Hell,” repeating this three times.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, #4049, graded by al-Albani as “sound”)
There are two aspects to this particular narration that caught my attention. Firstly, the Prophet, may Allah grant him safety and peace, definitively speaks about the gradual decline of the world, where Islam itself will seem to wear away like “embroidery on a garment wears away” until nothing remains on the earth, not even the Qur’an. Secondly, the conversation shifts from the Prophet, may Allah grant him safety and peace, to a conversation that is taking place between Hudhayfah and Silah bin Zufar, after the Prophet’s death, itself a sign of the Hour, as attested to by Awf bin Malik:
أَتَيْتُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فِي غَزْوَةِ تَبُوكَ، وَهْوَ فِي قُبَّةٍ مِنْ أَدَمٍ فَقَالَ اعْدُدْ سِتًّا بَيْنَ يَدَىِ السَّاعَةِ، مَوْتِي
“I went to the Prophet, may Allah grant him safety and peace, during the Battle of Tabuk while he was sitting in a leather tent. He said, ‘Mark these six signs that will indicate the approach of the Hour: [first of them will be] my death.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, #3176)
Yet the meaning of this hadith is not one of sadness but happiness, even in the face of an unenviable reality: Islam has essentially disappeared! Silah bin Zufar’s response might be said for the purposes of this article, to be us: dismay, shock, and even scorn. “What benefit will that bring them? Saying ‘La ilaha illallah’ ” was his response. But it was Hudhayfah, that great Companion of the Prophet, may Allah grant him safety and peace, who gives us the true meaning here: God’s Light can never be eclipsed, even in the darkest of hours. May we take heed and inspiration from Islam, shun despair and seek the forgiveness, mercy, and reward from our Lord, His Garden of which just one of them is equal to the breadth of the heavens and the earth.
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