Pitfalls in the Quest for Knowledge

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  • Pitfalls in the Quest for Knowledge




    Approaches to Dealing with Preferable Acts

    There are a number of ways that people fall into
    error when trying to
    put into practice
    acts deemed by Islamic Law to be preferable.

    1.Practicing a
    supposedly preferable act before
    confirming its validity

    Some students,when they hear about a preferable act
    that is supposedly
    established in the
    Sunnah,they hasten to put it into practice before making sure that it
    is authentic.

    Once,I saw a young man walking about with a turban
    wrapped around his
    head.In our
    country,Saudi Arabia,such a turban is very peculiar,so his dress was
    quite conspicuous
    and strange.I approached him and asked:“Why are you wearing this turban
    in stark
    contrast to the customs of your country?”

    He replied:“Because the Prophet (peace be upon
    him)used to wear it.”He
    then went on
    to mention some fabricated hadîth about the virtues of the
    turban,one of which states that
    it is the dress of the angels.The truth of the matter is that there is
    not a single authentic
    hadîth that extols the virtues of the turban.

    Another example of applying a supposedly sunnah act
    is shaving the
    students are in the habit of doing this because of certain hadîth
    that they read without
    referring to what the scholars have had to say on the matter.

    A slightly different case is the tendency some young
    men have to
    condemn the practice
    of standing to greet someone who comes into the room.They do so on the
    basis of hadîth
    that allegedly prohibit this practice.

    Now,I am not going to say that there is no room for
    disagreement on
    this issue,but the
    prohibition of people standing in reverence to their kings has little
    to do with a person
    standing to shake his brother’s hand.

    Sheikh `Abd al-`Azîz b.Bâz gave a very
    good answer to a
    questioner who asked about
    this matter.He said:“This is a sign of good manners.As long as standing
    to greet
    someone and shake his hand is the custom in your country,then it is
    simply part of good
    manners and is not prohibited.And Allah knows best.”

    Therefore,before a person practices something he
    believes to be part of
    the Sunnah,he
    should make sure that it actually is.

    overboard in putting into practice an act
    established by the

    Once it is established that a given act is part of
    the Sunnah,it should
    be put into practice
    in a balanced and reasonable manner.This is especially true if putting
    it into practice
    involves other people.

    Take the matter of straightening the ranks of
    worshippers before
    performing the
    congregational prayer.I have noticed that some young people seem to
    think that
    straightening the ranks means that everyone should press his heels
    against the heels of
    those standing on either side of him.This is clearly going overboard in
    the matter and
    causes discomfort for the other worshippers.It also causes the person
    doing it to take his
    mind off his prayer.Is this behavior really established by the
    Sunnah?Let us look at the

    The Prophet (peace be upon him)said:“You should
    straighten your ranks
    or Allah will
    bring divisions between you.”
    Al-Nu`mân b.Bashîr,the narrator of the hadîth,then
    observed:“I have seen that one of
    us would press his heel against his companion’s heel and his shoulder
    against his
    shoulder.”Sahîh al -Bukhârî (676).Sahîh

    When we consider this hadîth closely,it becomes apparent that the
    case being made with
    it is unacceptable.

    First of all,the Prophet (peace be upon him)did not
    command us to touch
    our heels.He
    only commanded us to straighten our ranks in prayer.This just means
    that everyone
    should be in line with each other;no person should not be more forward
    or more to the

    Also,al-Nu`mân said:“I have seen that one of
    us would press his
    heel against his
    companion’s heel.”What comes to mind is that the person being spoken
    about did this at
    the beginning of his prayer to make sure that he was in line with the
    people next to him,
    since the heel is a good way to determine this.Therefore,as long as a
    person is sure that
    he is in line with everyone else,then he does not have to keep contact
    between his heel
    and the heel of his companion.

    A third point is that it is almost impossible to
    literally place your
    heel against the heel of
    the person standing next to you.You actually have to extend your foot
    same goes for the shoulder.You often have to lean into the other
    person.If you lean into
    the person on the right,you end up widening the gap between you and the
    person on the

    This shows us that the hadîth,on the face of
    it,is not telling us
    to go out of our way to
    press our heels together.It is only telling us to avoid gaps in our
    ranks and that we should
    all stand in a straight line when we pray.Some people go overboard in
    putting this into
    practice and cause a lot of discomfort and consternation for their
    fellow worshippers.

    Another example is an imam who,wishing to apply the
    Sunnah in
    prayer,prolongs the
    congregational prayer inordinately.You might find him reading the
    chapters al-A`râf and
    al-Tûr during the sunset prayer,justifying himself with some
    hadîth that show it was a
    practice of the Prophet (peace be upon him).By doing this,he places
    hardship on the
    congregation and causes some of them to avoid coming to prayer.

    It is strange that he justifies himself with what
    the Prophet (peace be
    upon him)did on
    occasion,but neglects the Prophet’s command when he said:“If one of you
    leads the
    people in prayer,then make it short,because among the people there will
    be children,
    elderly individuals,and those who are sick.”In one narration,he also
    said:“…and those
    who have a need to fulfill.”Sahîh al -Bukhârî
    (88,662).Sahîh Muslim

    We say to such people:Is this what you do in the
    name of the Sunnah of
    the Prophet
    (peace be upon him)?Taking the condition of the people into
    consideration is also part of
    the Sunnah.Lengthening the prayer is not all that the Sunnah entails.We
    must be
    moderate in doing so and consider the needs of the believers.

    3.Failure to
    weight the merits and demerits of doing

    An old saying goes that a man builds his castle while tearing
    castle down.A
    person may perform some preferred act established by the Sunnah,but in
    the process of
    doing so,neglect another act which is obligatory.Similarly,a person may
    something that is disliked in Islamic Law,but in doing so falls into
    something that is
    prohibited.This is clearly wrong.

    Islam does not encourage divisions.Fostering rancor
    and hatred are not
    among its
    objectives.A person might stress applying a preferred act so much that
    he causes the
    people to turn away from him.He might foster hatred between them as
    well.This is why
    the people of knowledge have said:“Reconciling the hearts of the people
    is required,
    even if it means leaving off an act that is recommended by the Sunnah.”

    Let us look at a few examples:

    First Example:

    If someone comes to a group of people who are in the habit of saying
    “Bismillâh al-Rahmân
    ar-Rahîm”out loud when performing their audible prayers,then he
    should do so
    as well if he leads them in prayer.Not doing so could cause them to
    disdain him or bring
    about differences among them.It could lead to an argument breaking out
    in the mosque.
    The scholars have determined that it is alright to recite these words
    out loud if it will
    foster unity among the people in the mosque.Likewise,if he comes across
    people who do
    not say “âmîn”audibly during their prayers,he should do the
    same,even if he is of the
    opinion that it should be said audibly.

    Second Example:

    Sometimes,disputes erupt with respect to the number of units of prayer
    that should be
    performed for the Tarâwîh prayer in Ramadân.It often
    leads to heated arguments,
    lengthy debates,and divisions within the community.The matter
    however,is only
    whether performing a certain number of prayer units is preferable or
    merely permitted.

    Third Example:

    Some people take the issue of shortening the clothes to extremes.Some
    young people
    only allow their garments to fall below their knees to the length of
    four fingers.Some
    allow their garments to fall halfway own their shins.I do not say that
    what they are doing
    is wrong.What I do say however is that if a young man wears a garment
    of reasonable
    length that neither falls below the ankles nor attracts undue
    attention,then this is more
    likely to be acceptable to the people and have a positive effect on

    This type of exaggeration that we see in the matter
    of shortening one’s
    clothing may be
    due to a certain way of understanding the Sunnah.It may also be due to
    a hidden desire to
    show off.If a person wishes to test his heart in such a matter,he
    should look towards the
    preferable acts in the Sunnah that he performs that are not seen by
    others,acts that
    require some effort.This would include keeping up the remembrance of
    Allah and
    praying voluntary prayers at home.In matters like these,one really
    feels the effects of
    practicing recommended acts.

    others for not engaging in recommended

    Some people treat recommended acts as if they are
    obligatory.If they
    see someone
    neglecting one of these recommended acts,they condemn him,though it may
    be that the
    matter at hand is one wherein people differ.A good example of this is
    the practice of
    sitting for a moment after making prostration before rising to perform
    the next unit of
    prayer.Another example is the practice of praying two units of prayer
    upon entering the
    mosque at times when formal prayers are forbidden by Islamic
    who perform these acts have a tendency to condemn those who do not.
    This is wrong.These are not Islamic duties.There is room for leeway
    here.We should
    focus our attentions on matters of primary importance before attending
    to these matters
    where the evidence points almost equally well to more than one
    opinion.A person who
    prefers one opinion on these matters should not try to compel others to
    agree with him.
    We must research such matters in a wise and insightful manner,without
    trying to impose
    our view on others and without becoming severe.


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