Bismillah ir Rahman ir Rahim
Our brothers and sisters in Singapore, on the other side of the globe, have asked us to speak to them on some of the problems of the modern world and how the Muslims should deal with them.
We are honored indeed and we feel unworthy of that honor, for we are neither a shaykh-al-Islam to pass fatwahs, nor an alim, but we are humbly charged to serve a flock of Muslims in America. Although we feel unworthy to answer these questions ourselves, we were fortunate to have had teachers who were alims, and true shaykhs and we may be able to answer with their words.
When my shaykh charged me to speak publicly, he told me the following story of Behlul ad-Dana. You may not know who Behlul ad-Dana was. He lived in Baghdad when Haroun ar-Rashid was the khalif of the Abbasid Empire. He appeared as crazy person who lived on the streets, but in reality he was a wali-ullah and there are many stories about him in the Sufi tradition.
In the Islamic tradition we have a certain respect for people who behave unconventionally; we call them “majzub.” The word comes from “jezebe,” to attract. “Jazib” is someone attractive; “majzub” is someone who is in a continuous state of ecstasy because Allah hu Ta'ala has suddenly poured His manifestations upon him and he is crushed under their weight.
One day Behlul went to the market place in Baghdad, and on a stand he placed three human skulls, quite similar to each other, next to a huge nail, with price tags on each skull. The first one cost one cent, the second one cost one dollar, and the third was priced at a million dollars. People came and told him, "We know you are not right in the head, but what is that? Selling skulls in the market? They are all the same! And why do you price one at one penny, another at one dollar and another at one million dollars?"
Behlul took the big sharp nail, and hit the skull priced at one cent very hard and repeatedly on the temple. The nail wouldn’t penetrate. Then he hit the temple of the skull worth one dollar. The nail easily went into one side and came out the other side. Then he hit the temple of the third skull, worth one million dollars. The nail easily went in one side but wouldn’t come out from the other.
And my shaykh said, people are like that. When you speak, make sure that the people to whom you are talking hear you, and understand what you say, and agree with it, and are able to act upon what they hear. If one of these conditions is absent, then it is best that you keep silent. I am sure that my audience meets these conditions.
Furthermore, Rasulallah (saws) says “If you are asked for something, you should give it if you can.” And he also said, "Consult so that you will be sure."
Now I will humbly try to answer the questions.
How should a Muslim wife and husband behave towards each other?
On that subject we should also include: How should parents behave towards their children? and, How should people behave towards their parents? Because Rasulallah (saws) says, "Marry and have children so that I will be proud of you on the yawmid-din.” A proper marriage does not only depend on the relationship of the husband and the wife, but also on the relationship of the offspring to their parents and vice versa.
The details on this subject are so vast that even the specialists with PhDs cannot manage to answer them. In reality it is not a subject which relates to religion but to cultures. For instance, what we really want to understand is what a husband’s attitude towards his wife should be in accordance with our religion. I would say that a husband’s tyranny of his wife is not the monopoly of the Muslims alone. It existed two thousand years before the advent of Islam, and in ancient Greece, which the west considers as the cradle of civilization. In Athens, 500 BC, the women barely had rights above those of the slaves, and in England all the way to the 20th century, women not only could not vote, but they and what they possessed belonged to their husband; they couldn’t divorce, and couldn’t even be decently educated.
But in the 21st century, we Muslims are still infected by the sickness of tyrannizing our wives, parents and children, and we come up with unfounded arguments, using our religion to "prove" that our actions are ordered by our religion. It is undeniable that religion has an influence on certain cultural and social behavior, but seldom on social behavior that is wrong and blameworthy.
Some husbands think that they are being good Muslims by tyrannizing their wives and children. In modern times, when many of the young newly married women have to work outside the home to make money, they are also obliged to cook and clean and take care of the children, and work hard to have good relations with their in-laws, while they are often restricted from caring for their own parents.They also face other demands too intimate to be mentioned here. All this and more is expected from the wives without any condition or reservation, in the name of Islam. If our religion really has given this right to men, how could they behave otherwise?
So I would like to ask to those men who demand unconditional obedience from their wives and children: which ayat, which hadith, orders women to obey their husbands? I emphasizeunconditionally. Which ayat, which hadith, says that a women has to work around the clock, outside of the home, as well as at home, supporting the family, cooking, cleaning, educating and taking care of all the needs of the children, and satisfying her husband's physical needs as well? Is there no obligation for the husband?
How does one interpret the hadiths: "The best men are those who are best to their wives," and, "The most perfect believer in faith is the one who has the finest character, and the best of them is the one who is kindest to his wife." We know that our Prophet (saws) helped his wives with the household chores, to the point of taking needle, and thread, and sewing the tears in his own clothing. He took time to amuse his wives and tried to make them happy. Are we then only to imitate him in praying and fasting, and do we forget to take him as an example of a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, and a true human being? Some men think they are superior to their wife and children because they are physically bigger and stronger; or some men imagine that they are intellectually superior to them, which has been proven wrong by modern science; or even spiritually superior, because some of them go to jamaat prayers in the mosques, where often women are not welcome, or not permitted by their husbands to go. For those who think their size and strength makes them superior, perhaps an elephant or a hippopotamus is superior to them. For those who imagine that they are more clever and spiritually advanced than their wives, I say that, instead of this giving them license to tyrannize and abuse their wives, the example of our Prophet (saws) who was superior to all of us, should be considered, and like him, men should be kind, considerate, protective, generous and together with their wives.
I remember, years ago when I was a young dervish, my shaykh married a young couple. To the groom he said, "This woman is Allah’s gift to you. Allah entrusts her to you to love, to take care of, and to see to all her needs and to make her happy, and to live in peace. Those are your obligations, and if you do not perform your obligations you will be sinning." And to the bride he said, “My daughter, Allah has rewarded this man by entrusting you to him. He is obliged to love you, satisfy all your needs and make you happy and content. The only obligation you have towards him is to protect the sanctity of your home and nothing else."
A short while after, the husband came to complain that his wife did not do any housework, nor do anything for him, she just sat and amused herself. The shaykh asked to talk to her, and told her, “My daughter, when I told you that you had no obligation towards your husband, I failed to mention that for all the obligations he has towards you, he does not get any reward from Allah, and sins if he fails to make them, and is punished, while you are neither sinning nor are going to be punished for not taking care of him and your home. Allah will reward you at least ten times for what you do for him. But if you do not care to please Allah, nor care to receive His rewards, and if you continue not to care about him and your home, our religion permits a man to marry more than one wife. Perhaps he should marry a second wife who will do the household chores and take care of him." No sooner said, the young bride became a perfect wife, and took care of her husband and home thereafter.
Another advice my shaykh used to give to the newly married was that a marriage would be happy and lasting if the husband and wife would be willing to fulfill each others' wishes rather than their own, thereby not being selfish.
Perhaps a man comes home tired, and all he wants is to have his dinner and be with his family a while and go to bed, whereas the wife, who was bored the whole day, wants to go out for dinner, and perhaps go to a concert, a theater or visit friends. If the wife insists on staying home to please her husband, and the husband wants to go out to please his wife, even if they argue with each other, it is a sweet fight, contrary to the usual fight, when they both insist on what they each want for themselves; then that marriage is going to be a good and lasting marriage.
My shaykh also gave this advice in choosing wives and husbands. First, the wife should be more attractive than the husband; second, the wife should be younger than the husband. In fact the formula which my shaykh’s shaykh, Fahreddin Efendi (ra) gave was that the wife should be half her husband's age plus seven years. Third, the husband should be richer or have the potential to be richer than his wife; fourth, they should both be devout believers, and fifth, they should both come from devout families.
PARENTS AND CHILDREN
A Muslim's life does not only continue in the hereafter forever, but also continues in this world as long as the world lasts. Our children and grandchildren and their children’s children are our continuation on the face of this planet. Our books of good deeds and sins are not closed by our demise, but continue with the good deeds and sins of our children, which belong to our accounting long after we are gone. Therefore, the education of our children is of the greatest importance. The Prophet (saws) says, "The best of fathers are those who are teachers to their children." Parents should not only teach by words, but through their behavior and character, which have a greater impact on the child’s future life, which then will affect his children. This duty of being a teacher is perhaps more important for the mother, for by her nature she is more loving, caring and devoted to her children. The education of the child starts already when the fetus is in her belly, not only with what she eats and drinks, and the physical conditions in which she lives, but also through what she hears and sees are important for the development of the child. Then, upon coming to this world, the child is given a name. A good name is extremely important and the ritual in our religion is such a beautiful one.
A newborn child is held in the arms preferably of a wise man, or the father, who chants the adhan into the baby’s right ear and the qamet al-salah into his left ear, followed by pronouncement of the given name of the child, and identified as the son or daughter of the mother. In our religion one does not chant the adhan or qamet al-salah unless it is followed by a prayer, and there is no prayer unless the adhan and qamet al-salah are chanted before it. There is no prayer after the adhan and qamet al-salah are chanted to the child’s ears, and there is only one prayer when there is not an adhan or qamet al-salah before it, which is the funeral prayer. So at birth, the adhan and the qamet al-salah of the baby’s funeral prayer are chanted into his ears, a beautiful reminder of our temporality, and of the importance of the remembrance of death.
When Rasulallah (saws) was about to leave this world, he called his ashab and said, "Soon I will leave you and go to my Lord, but I am leaving you with two great teachers. One is a speaking teacher and the other is a silent teacher."
The Ashab asked, 'Who is the speaking teacher and who is the silent teacher?'
"The speaking teacher is the Qur'an al Karim and the silent teacher is the remembrance of death, he replied.
After the naming of the baby, the child principally stays in the mother’s care until puberty and after puberty the responsibility of the male child falls mostly on the father, who is obliged to teach his son and partly his daughter how to live like a believer and a Muslim.
There was a venerable shaykh named Vefa during the Ottoman Empire. Both he and his wife were very devout and blessed with proper adab. When the wife was pregnant with their son, she went to visit a friend of hers and there was a bowl of fruit, including lemons, in the room, and as it happens sometimes to pregnant women who have a terrible yearning, she desired a sip of lemon juice from the lemons she saw in the bowl. Being too shy to ask her friend for a taste of lemon, when the hostess left the room for a few minutes, she took a lemon, pierced it with her hair pin and sipped some drops of lemon juice, then put the lemon back in the bowl. Years later when the son was six or seven years old, while playing in the street before their house, the child took the habit of piercing with a nail the soft water containers made out of animal skins which the water sellers had at that time. Finally the poor water sellers complained to shaykh Vefa, who was terribly embarrassed. Instead of reprimanding the child he said to his wife, "The mischief that child is doing is certainly caused by something wrong which we must have done. I can’t remember doing anything wrong which resembles what the child is doing. Dear wife, have you ever done anything wrong?" And she remembered the incident in her pregnancy. She asked Allah’s forgiveness, bought a basket of lemons and brought them to her friend whose lemon she had punctured, and asked her forgiveness. The child then stopped doing mischief to the water carriers.
Tawba, istigfar, is perhaps not well understood by some Muslims. Allah in His mercy may forgive any sin we do against Him, with the exception of running partners to him, but the wrong we do to other people, in fact to any of His creation, is not forgiven by Allah unless we obtain the forgiveness of the people we have wronged. In fact, we are told that on the Day of Last Judgment we will be forced to give our good deeds to the person we wronged or whom we owe, and when we run out of good deeds we will be receiving his sins, unless we receive his pardon in this world.
There is a Turkish proverb which says the grandchild’s mouth puckers from the taste of the lemon which his grandfather ate.
As far as our responsibility to our own parents, our Prophet (saws) says: "Paradise is under the feet of the mothers." We can never hope to repay the nine months during which our mother carried us in her belly and fed us with her blood, and afterwards with the sweet milk from her breast, or her care and devotion to her last breath. Allah hu Ta'ala says in the Qur'an al Karim that we are not even supposed to say "oof" to our parents. We care about how we can be happy in our own homes with our own wives and children when we leave the parental home, and seldom think about our thanklessness to our parents. May they and Allah hu Ta'ala forgive us.
EPILOGUE AND FAITH
We humbly touched on some of the questions asked, but I sincerely think that the dilemma is not in the solution of specific problems, and in the way that Muslims should deal with them. The question is: do we really believe, and are we truly Muslims? If we were, would these problems even exist?
I don’t know if you have ever heard or read the farewell sermon of our Prophet (saws). It is quite short, and it mostly deals with specific practical problems of the Muslims, such as the rights of the man and wife in marriage, the rights of children, matters of inheritance, respecting contracts and pledges, lending money, abolishing interest, ending blood feuds and bloodshed among people, etc. like we have been talking about today. The messenger of Allah did not talk much about spiritual matters except he said, "O believers, I leave you a trust which, if you hold fast to it, you will never go astray. That trust is Allah's words, the Qur'an al Karim."
He knew that he was talking to true believers, real Muslims. Because they were believers they understood, agreed and were able to follow his instructions.
Faith in Allah is a prerequisite to practicing Islam and to living like Muslims, which most of us lack today. The sad state in which the Muslims find themselves today is from lack of knowledge, lack of education. The first word Allah hu Ta'ala revealed to his Prophet was IKRA, read, learn. We don’t. The Prophet, (saws) said, "Seek knowledge even if it is in China." You who are in Singapore are quite close to China, but a thousand five hundred years ago it was very far.
Today we don’t have to go to China. Knowledge is at the tip of your fingers; just type it in your computer; both the theory of relativity of Einstein and the interpretations of the Quran al Karim are all available in an instant, but we would rather play video games.
We call the period before Islam jahiliyyah– the period of ignorance. Perhaps we are in a worse period of ignorance today, because there are more distractions which prevent us from seeing reality, more fun and games, more things to have, even more useless knowledge.
Knowledge is not to split the atom and create a horrible explosion to kill tens of thousands of innocent people. Knowledge is to look and learn about the universe, and to see Allah’s hand in it. Allah is invisible, inconceivable, unimaginable, but His manifestations are everywhere. His sifaat, attributes, Hisfiil, actions, are everything that exists and everything that happens.
The one who can truly see that need not even be literate. A Bedouin was making his prayers in the middle of the desert. A cynic came upon him, and said, "You pray five times a day to Him, fast the whole month in Ramadan, and give your hard earned money in zakat and obey everything He orders. You worship a god which you cannot even see. Show Him to me and I will also be a Muslim."
The Bedouin said, “Do you see these round marks which go all the way to that sand dune; what are they??"
The man said, “Why, of course, they are the foot prints of a camel.”
The Bedouin replied, “But you do not see a camel, only the signs which he left, and you know that it exists.”
On that the man became a Muslim.
Hadrati Ali (krwh) said, “I do not worship a God whom I do not see.” Hd. Abu Bakir (ra) said “In all my life, in everything I looked at, I have seen the hand of Allah in it.” It is only when one is in that state that one truly has faith. Although Allah has no place, if one knows that He is everywhere, and everything everywhere is not Him, but from Him, then how can one misbehave, hurt others, lie, cheat, be thankless, be heedless, impatient or complain in His very presence?
How do we reach that state? Years ago a young German woman who wanted to become a Muslim came to my shaykh. My shaykh, at length, explained Islam and finally said that Islam is giving up one’s small will for the sake of the greater will of Allah hu Ta'ala, and submitting to it.
The woman said “I know what I want but I do not know what Allah wills. How do I submit to Him when I don’t know what He wants me to do?"
The shaykh said that in Islam we have two touchstones, which show us what is gold and what is lead, what is right and what is wrong, in the opinion of our Lord. One is the Qur'an al Karim, the other is the Hadith-i Sharif.
The woman said, “I do not know Arabic, and when I read The Qur'an in German I do not understand much of it."
The shaykh agreed and said that half of the Qur'an al Karim is “mutashabbihat,”: symbolic, and allegorical, and very difficult, even impossible, to understand. And the other half loses a lot when translated.
And as for the Hadiths in tens of thousands, the woman said they were difficult to find in German, and too many to remember.
Then the shaykh said, “Read your own Qur'an.”
“What is my own Qur'an?” asked the woman.
“Your conscience,” said the shaykh.
"But there is a barrier between me and my conscience which prevents me from reading it,” she replied.
Then the shaykh said, “I will tell you a simple way; if you follow it, you will be safe. When you think, when you talk, when you are about to do something, consider if that thing which you are thinking or feeling or saying or about to do is good for you and good for others. If it is only good for you, and bad for others, Allah doesn't want you to do it. If it is both good for you and good for others, it pleases your Lord. But what pleases your Lord most is if it is good for many others but not for you. Even if it is painful, you should do it. That is the best thing for you."
Allah knows best.
May Allah hu Ta'ala keep us on the straight path, bless us with the truth of Islam, and beautify us with the Adab-i Qur'an al Karim, and Adab-i Muhammadi, and although separated from each other by thousands of miles, as we were communicating with each other during these brief moments, may Allah hu Ta'ala unite all of Ummati Muhammad, and bring them together and instill in our hearts what the Beloved of Allah, the Prophet (saws) said in his farewell sermon: "A MUSLIM IS A BROTHER TO THE MUSLIM, THEREFORE ALL MUSLIMS ARE BROTHERS."
May Allah hu Ta'ala gather us on yawmid-din under the safe place of the Liwa' al-hamd and close to the one whom he has sent as His mercy upon mankind and intercessor for the sinners such as ourselves, Amiin bi hurmati sayyid al mursalin Taha wa Yasin.
Shaykh Tosun Bayrak al Jerrahi al Halwati