“Connecting With Our Islamic Legacy” is derived from a Khutbah delivered by Imam Osamah Salhia of MAS Charlotte
Full Audio of the Khutbah at the bottom of this article
“We sent not before you, except men to whom we have revealed among the people of the cities. Have they not traveled through the earth and observed how was the end of those before them? And indeed the home of the hereafter is better for those who are conscious of Allah. Do they not think?” (Qur’an 12:109)
The teachings of Qur’an and Sunnah have always emphasized the importance of studying history and sociology. Islam has conveyed symptomatic issues related to the rise and fall of nations in order to teach us a greater moral lesson. History is important for any nation, and is important for us as Muslims. Connecting with our Islamic legacy is critical to our growth. History helps us understand society, it helps us understand people, and it gives people a sense of identity. This is why every nation makes teaching history an integral part of its curriculum. Any nation that is oblivious to its past cannot hope to have a prosperous future.
It is integral to the growth of our children that they learn of the lives of our predecessors. Allah (SWT) says in his book, “In their lives there was an example, there were lessons for those of understanding.” Allah says about the predecessors, “And each [story] We relate to you from the news of the messengers is that by which We make firm your heart.” It is so important that we give our children alternative heroes so that when we ask our children, “Who are your heroes?” their answers should not be Batman, Iron Man, and Superman. Our Islamic history has real life heroes who achieved so many great things! We need to connect ourselves and our children to the lives of our predecessors. How can we expect our children to feel a sense of attachment to their faith, when they lack understanding of our history and our Islamic legacy?
The fact is that we have become disconnected from our Islamic legacy and this has detrimental effect upon us as Muslims. Sometimes if you ask our children about the most prominent companions they would not know much about them. This is something that I have heard happen when teenage boys were asked about Abu Bakr, they could not provide any information about him. This is just one of the detrimental effects that happened due to disconnecting from Islamic legacy. The second is our lack of knowledge regarding major events in our Islamic timeline. The third, which is very evident in today’s social and political issues, is that Muslims have become divorced from the intellectual foundations of our Islamic civilization. This has given way to the rise of extremism.
Why has extremism come about? It has come about through those who do not understand our intellectual foundations. The problem of interpretation is one that is one of the biggest problems Muslims find in the twenty-first century. Our ummah has been hit so hard in the past hundred years. The Colonial and Post-colonial era in the Muslim world has affected the quality of leadership. Whether it is Islamic scholarship or secular scholarship; our moral code, social standards, and social justice have all been affected.
The problem of interpretation is rooted in a lack of understanding the nature of sharia. This is a system of law that has crossed all boundaries of language, ethnicity, culture or geography and has existed for over one thousand years. Nowadays we ask “What is sharia?” The people will respond “sharia, is stoning people, sharia is cutting off their ears, and poking their eyes, sharia is this and sharia is that.” Even when you ask many Muslims, the first thing that might come to their mind is civic punishment. They don’t realize the vast, expansive nature of our civilization, and the social institutions that it offered. Islam, as a civilization, has offered so much for humanity. Those who demean sharia in such a way do not understand its nature or its variables. They do not understand there are mechanisms within Islamic law that have preserved it from becoming outdated. Sharia’s mechanisms accommodate diversity, exceptions, special circumstances, and consider time and place.
The biggest enemies of sharia are those who corrupted the system of interpretation that our scholars have carried to us for 1400 years. These people have no understanding or rational reasoning of Islamic teachings, but they claim to be Muslims. Then they will bring a text of law from several hundred years ago and try to apply and promote it as is. This act is downright corruption; it is inconsiderate to the variables that Islam has considered. In fact, if you were to bring any law, even the state laws in our own country from 100 years ago, people would denounce it as corrupt, narrow-minded and backwards. Does this mean that truth is relative? No, we are not saying that truth is relative. This means that our law, with its constants and variables, is considerate to human development and human growth.
You see this respect to development and growth in the life of the prophet (SAWS) in the gradual prohibition of alcohol for example. For a period of time, alcohol was not prohibited. In fact, Allah advised the believers, “don’t come near to the prayer halls while you are intoxicated.” This was before Islam had prohibited alcohol. Does this mean that alcohol is ok and halal for us now because for a period of time alcohol was halal? No! Allah understands that people need time to grow. People need time to accept things. This is the unique thing about our sharia that makes it applicable in all times and places.
One of the greatest dangers of our disconnection to Islamic legacy is a corrupt understanding of religiosity. Islam is a way of life; it’s not simply a religion. People understand religion as being limited to the places of worship. Islam was never like this, Islam was a way of life for centuries, which people adhered to and lived in accordance with.
When you think of sharia while looking at our past with understanding, you will see that sharia in Islamic civilization was a primary motivator for Muslims to study. Sharia was a source of inspiration in civil engineering, architecture, medicine, philosophy, economy, calligraphy, poetry, literary works, physics, math, geology, anatomy, hospitals, universities, and social institutions. Sharia encompassed the totality of arts, sciences and human interest. This was what that the Islamic civilization offered while the rest of the world was in the dark ages. While the rest of the world was still disputing amongst one another regarding basic human rights, Islam was thriving in its golden age. If you look at at some of our old classic masjids you’ll find that there were hospitals and universities attached to them.
Islam promoted the development of knowledge over a thousand years ago. In 859 the first university, Al-Qarawiyyin, was opened in Morocco by Muslim women; Fatima and Mariam Al-Fihri. While the rest of the world was debating whether to give women basic rights, these women were establishing a system of higher learning which was later adopted by the rest of the world. Andalusian Spain was recognized as the center of knowledge to the extent that people from Europe would come to Andalusia to learn at its universities and schools. Muslims developed medical sciences, and established care for the mentally ill. In the 13th century Ibn Nafis perfectly described pulmonary circulation which led to a reshaping of medical knowledge and human anatomy.
How can we reclaim our Islamic legacy and bring its lessons to our modern lives?
First, we need to connect our children to the broad spectrum of sharia and its teachings. Figures that have carried it to this day in age. We need to convey to our children, the lives of those beacons of light, the Prophet (SAWS), and the companions, and the generations that came after. We need to carry to them this guidance. We need to try to live to their standards. How they strove to achieve such great things.
Secondly, we need to study our history. Islamic history had its ups and downs. It had its things that were good and it had its things that were very corrupt. It had people who were very corrupt and oppressive and it had its people who were just and upright. We need to study our past and understand that not everything in our past is good.
Finally, we need to teach our children the history and heroes of our Islamic legacy. They need to know everything about these great people in order to live by that standard. They need to recognize and identify with these people who were our predecessors. This is our role as parents and as integral parts of the society that we live in.
If we continue to abandon our Islamic legacy, then only those who have corrupted it will be speaking for all of the ummah.