Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

Rajab 1424 H
September 2003
Volume 16-09 No : 201
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Our Dialogue

Sufism And The Concept of Mentor
Failure in Marital Duties
Computer Games
Too many Movements in Prayer
How to Read the Qur'an

By Adil Salahi

Sufism And The Concept of Mentor

Q. What is Sufism? What are its main tenets and traditions? Does Islam approve of it? Is there a concept of mentor and disciple, or Pir and Mureed, in Islam?

A. Sufism is a host of ideas or disciplines which seek to enable a person to be closer to God through worship, glorifying God’s name and offering voluntary prayers as well as the remembrance of God’s name and attributes in all situations. It also aims, through the same actions, to purify one’s soul and weaken one’s worldly desires. This is the general idea, but there are numerous Sufi or mystic schools which differ in their main ideas and detailed practices.

Hence, it is difficult to apply any generalization to all Sufi trends. Whatever we may say about Sufism, we may find a group here or there to which the description does not apply, yet that group remains a Sufi group.

It can be safely said that under Sufism people seek to win God’s pleasure without having to fight for God’s cause. The traditional trend of Sufism when Islam had to fight its enemies was to sit in mosques or private places where the Sheikh, or Pir, would be surrounded by his disciples and they spend many hours in what they call, thikr, or the remembrance of God, glorifying and praising Him so many times in different formulas and texts. Moreover, they praise the Prophet in superlative terms which may often be unacceptable from the Islamic point of view.

Having said that, I realize that there were Sufi groups in different parts of the Muslim world who fought for Islam, particularly against colonial authorities. A prime example is that of Sudan where Sufi tradition was leading the fight against the British imperialist army. But perhaps these examples are the exception that proves the rule, and most Sufis throughout history tended to overlook the concept of fighting for God’s cause in order to dedicate themselves to worship, adding to it methods, phrases and statements which the Prophet did not teach.

Some of the Sufi groups went into excess with regard to their beliefs and concept of God. They advocated the concept of pantheism, or the unity between God and universal existence, so as to consider everything and all beings God, who is present everywhere, in all places and all objects. This is, no doubt, a deviation from the proper Islamic concepts and beliefs. The more they went into this, as some of their leading figures did, the further away from Islam they went. Thus, they no longer believed in God’s oneness and transcendence.

As such, they could no longer be Muslims. Hence, we should be very careful if we deal with any Sufi group. We must establish first of all what they say about pantheism. If we discover any trace of it in what they advocate, then we must have nothing to do with them, even though their activities may be appealing.

All Sufi groups rely heavily on the relationship between the Sheikh, or Pir and his disciple, or Mureed. They instill in their followers the need of blind obedience to the Pir, who may have inspiration from God on matters that affect his disciples and the community at large. They do not equate such inspiration with revelation received by prophets, but they raise the Sheikh, Pir or mentor to a status higher than that of a human being. Hence, obedience of his orders is obedience offered to God. In some Sufi circles, the Pir relies on the ignorance or the trust of his disciples to defraud them of their money or to do things that may be prohibited by Islam.

Needless to say, there is no such concept in Islam. Every one of us is responsible for his or her deeds, and the only guidance that should be followed is that provided by the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The Sufis may say that their mentors only follow these for guidance, but the fact remains that many of these mentors have very little knowledge of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. They like the privileges associated with their position and they are very reluctant to give them up. Hence, they become guilty of deception and fraud. Their disciples are ignorant of this fact and allow themselves to be led without thinking. In the end they find themselves ruined.

The only proper way is to increase one’s knowledge by studying Islam under trustworthy and knowledgeable scholars. When one has sufficient knowledge, he or she can judge what is being said properly and steer away from what is in conflict with the Prophet’s Sunnah. There is much in the Sufi tradition that is in such conflict.


Failure in Marital Duties

Q. May I put to you the case of a married woman whose husband provides all the material needs of the family, but fails to have any conjugal relationship with his wife. She is almost certain that he gets all his needs in this area outside the family home. When she speaks to him about this, he accuses her of being ungrateful, since he provides for her and their children. What course is open to her?

A. There are two issues involved here: the lack of the relationship and the suspected extra-marital affair. Both husband and wife are required to give each other fulfillment of their sexual desire so as to help each other maintain their chastity. Failure in this area is regarded in the same way as failure in other important duties, such as the provision of an appropriate standard of living, a home, etc. Scholars even define the minimum requirement of one sexual intercourse in every monthly cycle. Needless to say, this must be outside the woman’s period, because intercourse during the period is forbidden.

What this means in the case of our reader is that she has a genuine complaint which must be redressed. It is best solved between the married couple themselves, if possible.

The woman should try to get her husband round to change his attitude by any suitable means. If this proves impossible, then she may involve a close relative or friend.

However, there may be reasons not to do so, if the husband takes this as an excuse to blame his wife for involving others in something that is, by nature, very private. Hence, my advice is that she should try and solve it directly with her husband, even if this requires taking a strong stand.

The fact remains that this is a serious matter, because a husband who abandons his wife, and she suspects that he has outside affairs, practically encourages her to do likewise. Let us hope that there is no question that the lady in this case would ever be tempted to sin. May she have the strength necessary to resist any such temptation.

Scholars consider such failure by the husband to be sufficient grounds for divorce, should the wife apply for it. This means that it is open to the wife to apply for divorce on grounds of lack of attention to her needs.

The other issue is that of the woman’s suspicion that her husband is unfaithful. Let me say to her that suspicion is detrimental to marital relations. Therefore, she should not give way to suspicion, unless she has clear proof.

If she has such proof, then she has a very serious situation to consider. Shemay wish to discuss the matter with her family first and agree with them what to do. May God guide her to the best solution to her problem.


Computer Games

Q. A young reader who wishes to remain anonymous has given me the details of a discussion he has had with a friend concerning the permissibility of computer games. He is convinced that computer games are not appropriate for a Muslim young person because:

  1. they waste a lot of time
  2. they may contain un-Islamic ideas as they are made by non-Muslims
  3. they may have a negative effect on health through fixing one's eyes so intently on the monitor, and
  4. they stop a person from thinking about some beneficial ways to use his or her leisure time.

A. I would like first to say that I am impressed by my young reader’s argument and by his choice of the word “inappropriate” to describe computer games and wasting much time playing them. Some people may go as far as saying that playing such games is forbidden, giving the same reasons, but we cannot do that, because only God has the authority of forbidding anything. To start with, everything is permissible unless we have a statement or a basis to make it forbidden. Hence, we refrain from saying to anything that it is forbidden until we are certain of the basis on which we establish such a view.

That computer games waste a lot of time is a fact. Many are the young people who spend hours on end playing them. This may lead to neglecting essential duties, such as attending to one’s studies or one’s work. Or they may lead a Muslim to neglect his prayers, or giving them a secondary position. Islam is keen that Muslims use their time beneficially.

The Prophet tells us that one of the first things we have to account for on the Day of Judgment is the use of our time. He also says: “Two blessings in which many people have a raw deal are health and spare time.”

This Hadith means that people abuse these two blessings, causing themselves ill health by theiractions and wasting their spare time without trying to do something whichbenefits them either in this life or in the life to come. Thus they are unjust to themselves by wasting these two blessings.

Having said that, I should add that Islam does not forbid that people should have some fun. The Prophet also says: “Give your hearts and minds some relaxation every now and then, for when hearts are tired out they become blind.”

If one finds relaxation in computer games, then he may play them, provided he does not allow such games to dominate his time.

As for the fact that these games are generally made by non-Muslims, this does not affect the ruling. If a game is made by a Muslim and contains some un-Islamic ideas, it is unacceptable. So we have to look at each game independently and consider its contents. It may be acceptable or not, regardless of its source.


Too many Movements in Prayer

Q. Some people do too many movements in prayer such as fussing about their clothes, hair, face, checking their pockets, blowing their noses, etc. When it happens that the person next to me in prayer does such movements, I find myself distracted. What could be done in such a situation, particularly when one feels that such movements only become necessary after the person concerned has started his prayers.

A. This is unfortunately true of a minority of people. The origins of this is a difference between schools of Islamic law on what movements invalidate prayer, with one school saying that any three movements in succession would render a prayer invalid and another allowing any movements without an adverse effect on prayer validity. At one period of time, the scholars of this latter school took a hard attitude toward other schools and made a point of contradicting them. This was manifested in making many movements in prayer, to show that the other viewpoint was wrong.

It was an unnecessary, childish attitude, but it lingered on beyond its usefulness, if any. Hence, one meets the odd person who does such movements out of habit, rather than any deliberate intention.

It is useful in most cases to tell the person concerned that his action is improper, but this must be done with utmost care. Normally such people will adopt a hard attitude if they feel that you are behaving to them as a teacher addressing schoolchildren. My advice is that one should stress two points: the first is that one should reflect the sort of manners that suits a person standing in front of God and addressing Him. Since we offer our prayers to God, we are actually in a meeting with Him, and when one stands up to pray, he is standing in God’s presence. Therefore, his behavior must conform to what is suitable in such presence. Any one of us who attends his boss at work behaves in a way that signifies respect. He does not begin to make the sort of movements such people do in prayer. It is only reasonable that, when they are in God’s presence, they should refrain from what is contrary to a respectful attitude.

The other point is that of distracting the people standing close to them in prayer. This should be taken into serious consideration by them, because they will realize that the question here is one of spoiling other people’s worship.

If you speak to one such person and he tells you that you should not bother with him, but concentrate on your prayer, you may gently tell him that you try hard, but his movements disturb you. If he is still defiant, then cut the argument short, because prayer should never be the subject of such a futile argument.


How to Read the Qur'an

Q. How should I read the Qur'an to seek its guidance and to overcome my day-to-day problems?

A. In whichever way you read the Qur’an, you get some benefit from it. Even when you do not know the meaning of what you are reading, your awareness that you are reading God’s word which He revealed to provide guidance for mankind gives a feeling of satisfaction for doing an act of worship. It also ensures reward for you because God credits us with 10 good deeds for every letter of the Qur’an we read.

However, the Qur’an should be read for contemplation and implementation. Since it provides guidance for mankind, they should make sure that they understand this guidance and carry out its directives.

This will ensure that we remain on the right track, reap the benefits of being so guided and be happy with the result of our efforts of implementing Qur’anic teachings.

If your knowledge of Arabic is not at a level that enables you to understand the Qur’an well, then you need to refer to a good translation of its meaning. You need also to study what commentators say about its meaning, so that you know how to implement its teachings. Do not think that this is a daunting task.

You may approach it gradually and read regularly a reliable commentary.


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