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Understanding Priorities

In his autobiography, Imam Hasan al-Banna narrates the following incident, which occurred shortly after he began giving regular lessons in a small, local masjid.


One of these nights I felt a strange feeling, a feeling of disarray. I saw that the listeners were separated between themselves, even in their seating, and I had barely started speaking when I was taken off guard by a question.

“What is the ustadh’s (teacher) opinion on tawassul (praying to Allah through an intermediary)?”

So I said to him, “My brother, I do not think that you want to ask me only this one question. You also want to ask me about saying salat (blessings) and salam (peace) on the Prophet  ﷺafter the athan (call to prayer), and about reading surat al-Kahf on Fridays, and about saying sayyidina (our master) before the name of the Prophet ﷺ during tashahhud (the sitting after prostration in the second and last units of prayer), and about whether or not the Prophet’s parents are in Hellfire, and about whether or not the reward of reciting the Qur’an reaches the deceased, and whether the Sufi orders are a sin or praiseworthy…”

I began to list to him all the areas of disagreement that have existed in the past and which have been major areas of conflict between the people. The man was shocked, and he said, “Yes! I want the answer to all of these questions!”

I said to him, “My brother, I am not a scholar. I am just a simple teacher and civilian. I have memorized some verses of the Qur’an, some ahadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ), and some rulings from my readings in books. I am voluntarily teaching the people what I know. So if you ask me outside of what I know, then you have placed a burden upon me, and whoever says, ‘I don’t know,’ then they have given their fatwa (legal opinion). So if what I say pleases you and you see that there is good in it, then you are welcome to listen. However, if you want more details, then you should ask someone else from the noble scholars and specialists who will be able to answer your inquiries. As for me, this is all that I have, and Allah does not burden a person with more than they can bear.”

The man was taken aback by my response, and through it I was able to defuse the situation.  Most of the listeners were pleased and laid at ease by my response, but I did not want to lose the opportunity. So I turned to them and said, “My brothers! I know for certain that this brother and many of you did not want from this question except to know what the background of this new teacher is (referring to himself). Is he from the group of Shaykh Musa or from the group of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Sami’? This knowledge is of no benefit to you, and you have spent the last eight years in this fitna (tribulation). Eight years is enough. These issues have been areas of disagreement between the Muslims for centuries, and they are still in disagreement about them. Allah, Blessed and Glorious is He, wants from us love and unity and dislikes for us enmity and separation. I hope that you will all make a covenant with Allah right now to leave these issues and will instead focus your efforts on learning the foundations of your faith together with your brothers, on upholding the character, manners, and agreed-upon guidance of our faith, and on carrying out our obligations and recommendations. We should put aside excessiveness and delving into details until our hearts become pure and we all desire nothing other than the truth, rather than inquiring merely as a means of upholding an opinion that we have. At that point, we can all study together in an environment of love, trust, unity, and sincerity.”

Subhan’Allah (perfect and exalted is Allah). How much time has been wasted in our communities and on the internet arguing with one another in the name of Islam. Some may try to make themselves feel good by acting as if they are going to solve disagreements that have existed for centuries when in reality they may have just started praying only six months ago, and their accumulation of knowledge is still yet shallow. It’s time for us all to start focusing on the bigger things while not neglecting the “smaller” ones. It’s time to start focusing on the areas of agreement and respecting one another, especially when we have acceptable, scholarly disagreements.

Let’s all pick up the phone and call someone that is from a different “group” than us and see how our brother or sister is doing. There’s no difference of opinion on the importance of that.

About the author

Jamaal Diwan

Jamaal Diwan

Jamaal Diwan was born and raised in Southern California and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Third World Studies and a minor in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego . He accepted Islam in 2003 and has been married to his wife, Muslema Purmul, since 2004. He has served with the Muslim Student Association (MSA), MSA West, and Muslim American Society (MAS) at varying capacities. He remains an active MAS member and is a scholarship student with the Islamic American University. Jamaal is a graduate of the Faculty of Shariah at al-Azhar University in Cairo and has done some graduate work in Islamic Studies from the Western academic perspective. He recently finished serving as the Resident Scholar at the Islamic Center of Irvine (ICOI).

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    • The overall principle that the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) learned is that, if a correct action leads to a greater harm, then they should not apply that correct action. The people of knowledge have mentioned…

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  • Yes, very good advice. I’ve seen these same silly arguments rip communities apart. I don’t just mean arguments between Salafis and sufi’s or tablighis, but arguments between people of the same group.

    It’s preposterous we let these things divide us when our commonalities are much greater and more important.

  • as-salamu alaikum,

    post much appreciated: however, i think the directors of the website – this one – should be careful not to contribute to these types of arguments by putting up such articles as will cause such arguments, and enter unqualified readers into areas that will only increase their confusion:

    e.g. recently you posted an article translated from Dr Qaradawi on using weak hadith – try comparing that article with this one, and you’ll see that its exactly the thing Shaykh Banna was talking about. This is not the first time i have seen such articles, but the most recent.

    So, jazakum Allahu khairan for the good work, i hope it continues, and please keep this very reminder in mind when putting up content.


    • Excellent piece masha’Allah.

      Zakat – I don’t see a problem with shedding light on issues that scholars disagree about. When you know there’s different opinions on something, you’re less likely to be critical of those who don’t follow the opinion you follow. The message I got from this article was not that we should avoid discussing issues that scholars differ about, but that we shouldn’t get caught up in them (especially when we’re not qualified) and forget the unity and brotherhood that binds all Muslims.

      If people have knowledge and can discuss areas of ikhtilaf politely, respectfully, and without getting into fruitless argumentation, that contributes to broadening people’s horizons and helping them see a different perspective than their own.

  • Muhammad:

    Well said. Ashab said, “If one doesn’t know the differences of the scholars, he is not a scholar.”


  • Unity definitely is important .at the same time differences like that in thavassul should not be completely ignored .let discussions be polite (as should be discussions with people of other faiths),and in hope of guidin others rather than winning arguments .jazakallaha hayr

  • Dear Muhammad:

    I don’t know who you are, but the comment was directed to the site admins, not to general readership. A different perspective is fine, but my surmise is that the majority of your readership, perhaps yourself included, don’t know the conditions of a sahih hadith, let alone what makes one da’if – and that is fine, because such issues are not of urgent importance to the majority of Muslims, who are facing daily struggles that would cause children to become gray-haired.

    My point is that Shaykh al Banna clearly saw that addressing these latter matters took precedence over the former, and if that is the outlook of the site, then it should walk its talk.

    Dear Imam Suhaib:

    the question is, does your blog aim produce scholars by introducing them to differences of opinion? if the answer is yes, then b) is a blog a suitable medium for producing scholars?

    second: is an open blog the proper site for scholars to engage in such dialogue and debate?

    third: there are a similar number of quotes that show that knowledge isn’t taken in this manner – to merely post articles on islamic topics does not make anyone a scholar, or even a student. “This knowledge used to be honorable”, said Imam al Awza’i, “it was passed from man to man. Then it entered books, and people who were not qualified for it began to take it.” and imagine, this was before the printing press, which, when it came out, caused Imam Bajuri to note “The day the press came out, the hearts were sealed (yawma kharaja at-tabi’ tub’ia ‘ala al-quloob).”

    I have refrained from mentioning that Shaykh Qaradawi, notwithstanding his status in fiqh and current affairs, is not considered a reference in hadith matters; why didn’t you, for instance, go and ask Shaykh Muhammad Awwama for his opinion? Have I not read on your site that people are of specializations, and each knowledge should be taken from its folk?

    To go back to the first matter: if the aim is to bring people to Allah, then I humbly submit that these types of articles will not further that goal, and would ask that you consider the point for a minute or two before merely posting that those who write in support of what you are doing have “spoken well”.


    • Asalamu alaykum,

      Dear Zakat:

      Dr. Muhammad Awwama is a close friend of Sh. al-Qaradawi and appeared on his show a number of times even talking about the topic of using weak hadith. As for Sh. Qaradawi’s hadith credentials, I would refer you to the book of Dr. Akram Nadawi regarding the asanid of Qaradawi and his level of scholarship in hadith. While he is no Dr. Awwama, he is certainly qualified to write about this topic. And while some have tried to question him, he is, as many Ulema have told me, “The Imam of many in this umma.”

      Secondly, there are a number of talented people behind the scenes at this site whose knowledge serves to guide what is posted. They, when they have time, chime in on certain issue presented and offer stimulating discussions for those interested. al-Humdulillah we have people trained in all four madhabs here, many are Azharis, have earned ijazas and have memorized the Qur’an with multiple recitations. Some have finished their alim courses and other are doing their M.A degrees in Islamic studies. Also, they have a good number of scholars, from the current Mufti of Egypt to the former head of the Comparative Fiqh Department at al-Azhar and Imam of the Malikis here in Cairo, if there are any pressing issues.

      Thirdly, a quick scan of many of our contemporary scholars from Dr. Wahba Zuhayi, Dr. Salman al-Awda, Sh. Muhammad al-Hassan al-Shanqiti, Sh. bin Bayyah and others show that such articles are written by them and published for the masses to read and engage. Mashallah, many of these scholars such as Sh. bin Bayyah have given this site an ijaza to translate their words and present them to English speaking Musilms.

      Finally, while Imam al-Bayjouri (ra) is a respected scholar and mujadid of al-Azhar, his statement, as you know, is not a hujjat in shari’ah, nor does it carry any legal weight. However, if we look at the actions of al-Habib (sa) he used every possible means to communicate his message to the people from the hill of Safa, to his beautiful speech and voice. Thus, we are simply following the guidance of the scholars we have taken shura with and the example of the Prophet (sa). I’m sure you are not contending that an Umma without a printing press is much better than one with it?!

      Perhaps, some scholars and students of knowledge fetish to see things return to those days has done little but contribute to a slow, ugly, murky separation between the masses and those who are traditionalistic? I would differ with you and state, as the axiom goes, “The wasail do not come before the maqasid.” None of these classical ways of teaching are based on a nas, ijm’a or revelation, so changing them and adopting to the times is not something evil within itself. Maybe this fetish to hold onto the old ways of teaching is doing nothing but pushing the masses of people away and creating students who are unable to deal with the contemporary problems of today’s times? I studied that way for 10 years, sat on the floor, memorized texts and lived with a sheikh. While there is nothing like it, I’m not sure how it can be replicated in today’s world and be effective?

      Having studied those words of al-Banna with different scholars it would appear that you have missed the boat. For in other places, the Imam himself wrote about this topic in a public newspaper, a copy of which I have; and he devoted a large amount of time addressing the differences of the Umma from the issues of sifat, tasawwuf, fiqh and politics, getting permission to do so from the scholars of al-Azhar who did not censure him.

      Jazakallhu khayran for stopping by and giving us your nasiha,

  • Dear Imam Suhaib,

    jazakum Allahu khairan for taking the time to reply; I understand your time is valuable and thank you for spending some addressing this matter.

    just to avoid confusion:I did not mean to give the impression that religious knowledge should be concentrated in a few, and withheld from many, but rather meant that there are means by which one seeks it, and these means will influence the way the seeker interacts thereafter with their knowledge and with others. In short, we have to distinguish between knowledge and information, the latter of which can certainly be taken from the internet. Often, though, this information will come without many other essential things that are supposed to be taken alongside it. The problem is that we now confuse this information, which we thereafter neither properly contextualize, understand, nor know how to implement, with knowledge; thus, some have remarked that it is really a type of “new ignorance”.

    One could argue the idea, and we may disagree on a couple of points, however, I appreciate your reply and the work that you and those on this site are doing and ask Allah to benefit you all and benefit by you.


  • wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,


    The obligation is upon me to thank you for stepping up and offering such important advice to myself. Nasiha is a sign that one loves his/her brothers and I hope you will continue to offer your gems of wisdom to this faqir?


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