I am in the Opinion of My Slave: On The Power of Positive Thinking – an article by Imam Abdul Latif Finch

A man of the past is recorded to have called upon Allāh with the following supplication:

O Allāh! O my Master! You have obstructed whom You have hindered from Your service. You have deserted whom You will among Your creation without any wronging nor accountability for what You do. You have destined hope in You in me. So do not join within me the reward of obedience with disappointment in what I hope for from You, O Generous One! [1]

I feel that these words are inspired and worth our attention. Below we will examine the principles indicated inside them and their import for us whom are alive, and are actively engaged with God, whether we realize it or not. In the end, the aim is to show that having a good opinion of Allāh is the most important decision one can make.

The Fact

A fact is that which is indisputably the case. The fact that we all must die at some point, for example, is necessarily true as “every soul shall taste death.” (3:185) We might be so bold as to say that the only thing guaranteed in life is death. No one is promised life, as many are stillborn. Some have short lives as they die in their youth. Others may live for nearly a century and a half. Nonetheless death is indisputably the case. It is a fact. This guaranteed event is why many people gravitate toward religion in the first place.

The Non-Fact

It seems that in practical religious life, whatever is actually the case with what God is doing with us at any given moment is not established and without dispute. In other words, on the receiving end, we aren’t equipped with full clarity as to where we stand with God or why He does or does not do something. An example of this is in the death of a child; why did He allow this child to die? In more personal instances the questions is: why did He allow my child to die? Though the same God we praised for providing us with progeny is the same God who might take them away, few of us would be able to answer, for sure, why He is doing this to us. What does this mean? Where do I stand with Him? Where does He stand with me? The fact is that the child is gone, but the reason as to the decision to take him / her is not something we would be able to establish. [2]

Generally speaking, when we can verify something in a most severe example, as in the above, we will be able to do so in instances that are less so. For illustration, it is well known in the Creed of Imām al-Ṭaḥawī that

God, the Sublime and Exalted, created Paradise and the Fire before creating [the world]. He then created denizens for both abodes. He admits to Paradise whomsoever He wills by His grace and condemns to the Fire whomever He wills by His justice. [3]

Practically, this implies that there is no activity that one may do that guarantees heaven for them, nor one that guarantees hell. The most pious of people can be entered into hell and the most wretched may be placed in paradise. Why? Due to our shortcomings all of us deserve the hellfire. On the other hand, people will only enter into paradise by God’s grace upon them. Well, doesn’t the testimony of faith and observance of Islam mean anything? Yes, they do and their abandonment is a grave matter. However, at the end of the day, just because one was born Muslim does not mean they will die one. One may come into Islam this morning and leave it by nightfall. The truth is, we never know exactly how we stand with our Creator. This is why we ask for guidance at least five times a day. We don’t have tomorrow in our hands. Thus, the proverbial ball is still rolling. Only God knows, for sure, where it will end.

The Opinion

Just as I will choose to pour the coffee in the morning, I may choose not to. The decision is based upon benefit; will it help me or not? If it helps me, I will drink it. Will it help me? I must think that it will or I wouldn’t pour it. If I have this good opinion about coffee I will take advantage of the pick-me-up. All acts are based upon this attitude; every activity is based upon some good opinion. We move toward benefit, we move away from harm (so as to avoid the opposite of good yet based in the quest for good none the less!). So, though we can’t determine our status with God at any one point, per se, what we do have, on our end, is an opinion about any given moment. This is to say; I don’t have the option to opt out of existing (even suicide can only occur if God permits one to die, hence so many botched attempts to do so). While here I must face the ambiguity of my position regarding the Lord of the Worlds, just as I do with the coffee and the chance that it might end up all over my shirt before arriving at work, with my opinion or perspective regarding Him. So, like coffee, as long as there is a relationship between us, we will have an opinion of God and based upon it we will choose to go toward Him or simply refrain. It is in the good opinion, that there is benefit to be obtained, just as in all choices, that causes us to choose to engage Him or to refrain from doing so.

The Importance of a Good Opinion of God

How very important, then, is the nature of this opinion? How irrelevant are the facts? In fact (excuse the pun), we can say that if our objective in establishing a relationship with God is to establish the non-negotiable, that our religion will be fully predictable, we may have as much luck in doing so as we do with our daily lives. What’s important to emphasize is that security is not found in actualities. Rather, security and salvation is found in resignation. Imam al-Ṭahāwī states, “No one is secure in his religion unless he resigns himself to God, the Sublime and Exalted, and His Messenger, peace be upon him, and consigns whatever obscures his understanding to the One who knows its meaning.” [4] This is to say that religion is not about establishing facts, for that is God’s domain. He also stated, “One’s footing in Islam is not firm save on the ground of resignation and surrender.” [5] In other words, if we were to be fixated on establishing facts, as seems to be the case for many Muslims who seem to be fanatical about authenticity, we would likely lose our footing in Islam as has happened to many who have taken that route.

In any case, it is important for us to acknowledge the limitations of our knowledge. I do not mean that we should accept that we aren’t intelligent but that there are epistemic limitations imposed upon us as a consequence of our being created beings. We simply cannot understand everything and to not understand this fact is a hallmark of misguidance. Imam al-Ṭahāwī states regarding this,

Whoever covets knowledge that was barred from him, discontented with the limits of his understanding, shall be veiled from pure unity, unadulterated comprehension, and sound faith on account of his covetousness. He will then vacillate between belief and disbelief, assertion and negation, and resolution and denial. Obsessive, aimless, skeptical, and deviant, he is neither an assertive believer nor a resolute denier. [6]

To put it differently, the objective is sound faith, not sound facts. Faith is an opinion. Sound faith and thus good opinion is achieved through submission. Part of realizing a submissive nature is recognizing one’s limits. If one is patient with their limitations and accepts them, they are granted what is beyond their comprehension by way of consistency in their faith, assertion, resolution and overall good opinion.

This approach lends itself to considering the import of the well-known statement attributed to the Prophet, peace be upon him, who speaks on behalf of his Lord, the Exalted, who said,

I am as My servant thinks (expects) I am. I am with him when he mentions Me. If he mentions Me to himself, I mention him to Myself; and if he mentions Me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly greater than it. If he draws near to Me a hand’s length, I draw near to him an arm’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him running. [7]

To restate it, God has said that He is in the expectation of His slave. Whenever she mentions Him, He is there. If done alone, then He does so alone. If done amongst others, then He does so amongst more. If she wants Him, He wants her more and with more zeal. God is not to be outdone. This all starts with the perspective of the slave: if she doesn’t think well of God, none of the rest of the relationship will be engaged; she won’t mention him, alone or otherwise and she won’t approach Him. Therefore the ball is in her court, in a manner of speaking.

Commenting on this Divine Tradition, Shaikh Aḥmad al-Tijānī, may God be pleased with him, as per his student, Sīdī ‘Alī Ḥarāzim Barāda, may God be pleased with him stated,

[It] has come down in some reports that Allāh, Great and Exalted, will cause a slave to stand before Him and say to him, ‘What was it that caused you to disobey me, until you even changed My command?’ Or, what has that meaning. The slave will then say, ‘My Lord! I thought that you would absolve me.’ So, He would forgive him because of his good opinion. [8]

This means that this person knew that God was capable of forgiving him. This is significant because many people slip by assuming that God cannot forgive them, as their sins are too great. God is the Most Powerful. In fact He is the one who grants or takes away power from whoever He pleases. There is no one who can over power Him whatsoever. If a person were to meet God assuming He could not forgive Him due to the strength of His sin, He would meet God as one who associates partners with God, namely himself.

Shaikh Aḥmad al-Tijānī, may God be pleased with him, continues his explanation saying,

And it has been reported of Yaḥya bin Akthum- and his state of affairs is well known- that one of those who saw him in a dream (subsequent to his passing) said to him, ‘How did Allāh treat you?’ He said, ‘He exonerated me.’ He said, ‘I said to him, ‘On what basis?’ He said: He said to me, Great and Exalted is He, ‘You did this, this and that.’ I said, ‘My God, what about that which is related regarding you?’ He (Allāh) said, ‘And what is it that is narrated concerning Me?” I said, ‘So and so related to me from so and so’- and I cited the narration all the way back to the Prophet, may Allāh bless him and grant him peace – that he, may Allāh bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘Verily, Allāh is too reluctant before one who has grown old in Islām that He should fail to forgive him’ (or what is equivalent to that). So He said, “So and so and so and so are truthful’- stating the entire narration. Then He said to me, ‘Go. For I have forgiven you.” [9]

Notice that when the slave was asked about his sinful nature, he in turn asked God about His Forgiving one. He didn’t do so to be contrary for if there were any time to be rebellious, obviously this would not be it. Rather, this person, despite his characteristics had firm conviction in God’s Mercy. As a monotheist, he knew that were it up to his actions he would go to the Fire but the affair is not up to them, for they are not God. Thus he cited a tradition of the Prophet, peace be upon him, whom he believed in as a way to call on the Mercy of God and to consign the issue to Him. This attitude is, according to Shaikh al-Tijānī, may God be pleased with him, the epitome of a goodly interaction with God. He says about this incident,

That is having a good opinion of Allāh, the Exalted. Thus whoever assumes good from God is treated in a good way. Whoever assumes bad of him, He treats him in accordance with his assumption. The one who assumes that he has nothing from Him except chastisement and punishment, Allāh treats him that way. Whoever assumes pardon from Him, Allāh treats him in kind. [10]

Indeed, this seems like simple logic. However Mercy is not a complicated affair nor something exclusively reserved for the “educated” or “intelligent.” Shaikh al-Tijānī, may God be pleased with him explains this aspect of a goodly interaction with God as he continues to say,

He, peace be upon him, was asked by a roaming Arab, ‘Who will be in charge of taking account of the creation on the Day of Judgment?’

Peace be upon him, said: ‘Allāh’, meaning Allāh will be in charge of taking account of creation on the Day of Judgment.

The nomad said to him, “Himself?’

He, may Allāh bless him and salute him, said, ‘Himself.’

Then the nomad laughed very hard. And the Prophet, may Allāh be pleased with him, said to him: ‘Why do you chuckle O nomad?’

The nomad responded: ‘When the bighearted one takes account, he is tolerant. And when he declares a verdict, he pardons.’

So he, peace be upon him, was silent and left him with his good opinion. He did not worry him about it. [11]

If there had been an issue with the perception of this simple ‘Arab nomad, the Prophet, peace be upon him, would have been obliged to censor and correct him for it. However he did not do so, peace be upon him. Thus we may understand that there is nothing wrong with his attitude. For this reason Shaikh al-Tijānī, may God be pleased with him, adds this incident to his citations of a goodly interaction with God. However, this disposition is tempered with due respect for God’s prohibitions as alluded to by his words. He says,

Having a good opinion of Allāh is the most important decision one can make. May Allāh preserve our positive estimation of Him! Amin

“Thus, having a good opinion of Allāh is the most important decision one can make. May Allāh preserve our positive estimation of Him! Amin” – Imam Abdul Latif Finch

Then, a good opinion of Allāh, even if the one who has it is absorbed in it, it being his heart’s predisposition, will prove beneficial for him with Allāh. So his good opinion is not rendered useless. However, in the context of the Sacred Law (meaning if left solely to juristic consideration) such an attitude is avoided (on the grounds that) it inhibits there being something to fear Allāh for or due to lack intimidation regarding His punishment. Some of them have named it as one’s “being deluded in Allāh.” [12]

When considered from a purely legal standpoint, a supremely optimistic attitude toward the reception of God’s Mercy can be dangerous. The reason it can be hazardous, according to outward considerations, is because one may not fear God as they should and therefore fall into delusion regarding their Master. The slave is the slave, the Lord is the Lord. If the slave were to do whatever they want expecting the Lord to forgive them, the roles are reversed. Not only is God not given His right in this scenario, but also one may attract something to themselves they do not want due to their open disrespect toward their Creator.

Here, however, the Shaikh seems to be indicating a subtle and thus more inward point. If one were to have an inappropriate opinion regarding the dynamic between God and herself, such as seeing Him as an oppressor and the like, then that would cause her to actually rebel against God. It may also cause one to go so far as to leave Islam altogether, a situation that regrettably occurs all too often. So, just as God is quoted to state in a tradition, as narrated Abu Hurayra, may God be pleased with him, the Messenger of Allāh, peace be upon him, said: “When Allah completed the creation, He wrote in His Book which is with Him on His Throne, ’My Mercy overpowers My Anger.’ [13] Likewise it is appropriate that one give preponderance to God’s Mercy over His Anger, yet not deny it altogether. That is to say, though there are two sides to the coin, God Himself has indicated which one He Himself favors, but denying the other side would be a mistake, indeed.

Shaikh al-Tijānī continues his explanation of the importance of a good opinion saying,

It has been related regarding Abū Nawwās, the famous poet- and his state of affairs is well-known, by one of the Virtuous: I saw him in a dream after his death in a beautiful, praiseworthy state. I said to him, ‘How did Allāh treat you?’ He said, ‘He forgave me.’ I said, ‘On what account?’ He said, ‘Because of some couplets which I said at the time of my death.’ I said to him, ‘What are they?’ He said, ‘They are by my head on a pillow.’ I came to it and found four couplets there:

O Lord! Verily my sins are great in number / but I known that Your pardon is greater.

I call upon You Lord, as you have commanded: in private. / Thus, if You reject my hand, then who will have mercy?

If none can have hope in You except the righteous / So, in whom can the offending criminal have hope?

I have no intermediary with You except hope / And my beautiful opinion, and that I am a Muslim.

Allah forgave him on behalf of the attitude toward him that was expressed in these couplets. On the whole, what is relied upon in the range of what has been confirmed is that whoever meets Allāh with a good opinion of him in that He will pardon his sins, even if he is the most preoccupied with it, He will meet with pardon from his Lord. And who ever is not like that, then his affair is with Allāh. It does not matter if he is frequent in humbling himself from his sins, in the suggested times of his days, seeking pardon, and abandoning the blameworthy, while his attitude towards God remains incorrect.[14]

To put it in a different manner, if one is outwardly engaged in all that they are required to do so as to be clean from sin but are polluted with a bad opinion about God, their efforts are to no avail. This is because, as the tradition of Abu Hurayra, may God be pleased with him, states, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, ‘Verily, Allah does not look at your appearance or wealth, but rather He looks at your hearts and actions.’ [15] Notice that the heart, i.e., its state, comes before the actions. Therefore, we may consider the heart as the source of one’s external actions and if it is stained with a bad opinion, all the externally “good” actions are blemished with it as well.

After reading thus far, it may be suggested that we have no say in what comes from us to God, for whatever comes to them from God is written. This is not the issue. The point at hand is not to delve into the secrets of predestination for we have already mentioned that our relationship with God is not based in facts. We do not have to have 100% clarity as to the what and the how in order for it, i.e., our relationship, with God to exist. Rather, as long as I can consider God in a good way or a bad way, which I definitely will do, then I can also change this view if necessary. This is my perspective of the dynamic between my Maker and me, and this is the aspect of this link that I am responsible for, not decoding the reality of destiny.

To encourage us along these practical lines, that is to help us to focus on what is within our grasp as opposed to be lost in our heads about what is not, Shaikh al-Tijānī, may God be pleased with him, wrote the following:

Human ambition is irresistible and overpowers all creation. Once you have attached yourself to an objective and spent yourself in attaining it with earnestness such that no wavering, nor turning back, nor afflictions (i.e., complaints, etc ) commensurate with striving, nor doubt, nor hesitation in believing it can be attained, occur but rather, one believes they will either attain the goal or die trying, their aspiration will reach it’s objective even if the objective is to be found behind the Throne of God (i.e., very far away).[16]

This is to say that as long as we want something enough to where we don’t give up in attaining it, God will reward us with it, if He wills. The sign that He wills, perhaps, is that we do just that! This concept reminds me of a tradition of Aisha, may God be pleased with her, wherein she narrated the Prophet, peace be upon him, said “O people! Do only those good deeds which you can do, for Allah does not get tired (of giving reward) till you get tired,..” [17] In other words, as long as we are happy to act God is happy to receive. Again, God is not to be outstripped by anyone, thus a person is happy with her because He is happy with Him first and gives her the ability to do what also ends in his pleasure. Another longer tradition supports this idea,

Abū Hurayra reported: The Messenger of Allāh, peace and blessings be upon him, said: Whoever loves to meet Allah, Allāh loves to meet him. Whoever hates to meet Allah, Allah hates to meet him. Aisha said, “O Prophet of Allāh, is it because of the dislike of death? For all of us dislike death.’ He said: It is not like this, rather when a believer is given the glad tidings of the mercy of Allah, His pleasure, and Paradise, then he loves to meet Allah and Allah loves to meet him. When a disbeliever is given news of the punishment at the hand of Allah and hardship to be imposed by Him, he hates to meet Allah and Allah hates to meet him. [18]

In any scenario, there is a relationship between the sentiments of the slave and God’s position regarding them. This is, at least in my modest opinion, quite an interesting reality.

To continue with this narration regarding Abū Nawwās, Shaikh al-Tijānī, may God be pleased with him, goes on to say,

And it has been related by some of the common folk about his state, that it was well known that he indulged in what was not acceptable. He died and was seen after his death in a good state. The one who saw him said, “How did Allāh treat you?” He said, “He treated me in the best of ways.” He said, “On what account?” He said, “On account of a supplication that I used to humbly pray.” He said, “What was it?” He said, “I used to say, “” O Allāh O my Master! You have obstructed whom You have hindered from Your service. You have deserted whom You will among Your creation without any wronging nor accountability for what You do. You have destined hope in You in me. So do not join within me the reward of obedience with disappointment in what I hope for from You, O Generous One! [19]

The obedience he seemed to intend in this supplication was one of having a good opinion of His Lord. As stated above, I believe these words are inspired. However, it is not the words that are of any real significance. Rather, the attitude toward God that produced them is of the utmost import to us. This man was a sinner, apparently, and probably did not live the most exemplary life. Many of us can relate to that lifestyle, if truth be told. Some of us, on the other hand, consider ourselves to be quite righteous. If we are ostensibly so, based upon our obedient track record, we do not want to be that person who has spent their lives working for a God that we think negatively of, only to find in the end that the attitude we displayed toward Him spoiled our efforts. Rather, we want to put God above all of our shortcomings. A negative thing is not a positive one. What is positive is what is sufficient. That which is negative is therefore not so. A negative opinion of our Lord is one that assigns insufficiency to Him. To assign inadequacy to God is to make Him other than God. To worship other than God is a grave mistake. Thus having a good opinion of Allāh is the most important decision one can make. May Allāh preserve our positive estimation of Him!

Imam Muhammad Abdul Latif Finch

Sept 2015

[1] ‘Alī Ḥarāzim Barāda, Jawāhir Al-Ma’ānī, trans. A.L. Finch (n.p.: Al-Shārika al-Dawliyya li al-Ṭibā’, 2011), 2:8.

[2] To be thorough it is also not something we are to ask, “He is not questioned about what He does –it is they who will be questioned.” (21:23) However, whilst enduring such a loss one can hardly be blamed for such questions coming to their heart. Allah knows best.

[3] Aḥmad al-Ṭaḥāwī, The Creed of Imam al-Ṭaḥāwī (n.p.: Zaytuna Institute, 2007), 72.

[4] Al-Ṭaḥāwī, 56.

[5] Ibid.,56.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Saḥiḥ al-Bukhārī

[8] Barāda, 2:6.

[9] Ibid., 2:6.

[10] Ibid., 2:7.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Saḥiḥ al-Bukhārī

[14] Barāda, 2:8.

[15] Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim

[16] Aḥmad al-Tijānī, Aḥzāb Wa Awrād, ed. Muḥammad al-Ḥafidh, trans. A.L. Finch (Taghzūt: Dar al-Tijānī li al-Ṭibā’ wa al-Nashr wa al-Tawzi’ wa al-Tarjama, n.d.), 104.

[17] Saḥiḥ al-Bukhārī

[18] Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim

[19] Barāda, 2:8.

Bibliography

Barāda, ‘Alī Ḥarāzim. Jawāhir Al-Ma’ānī. Translated by A.L. Finch. Vol. 2. N.p.: Al-Shārika al-Dawliyya li al-Ṭibā’, 2011

Al-Ṭaḥāwī, Aḥmad. The Creed of Imam Al-Ṭaḥāwī. Translated by Hamza Yusuf. N.p.: Zaytuna Institute, 2007.

Al-Tijānī, Aḥmad. Aḥzāb Wa Awrād. Edited by Muḥammad al-Ḥafidh. Translated by A.L. Finch. Taghzūt: Dar al-Tijānī li al-Ṭibā’ wa al-Nashr wa al-Tawzi’ wa al-Tarjama, n.d.


Muhammad Abdul Latif Finch converted to Islam at the age of 20 and has earned ijazas in Islamic Sciences including Quranic Sciences, Hadith, Maliki and Shafi’i Jurisprudence, Usul al-Fiqh, Seerah, Logic, and Arabic Grammar and Morphology under the tutelage of numerous scholars, including Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Shaykh Salik bin Siddina, Imam Zaid Shakir, Shaykh Abdur Rahman Taahir, Qari Umar Bellahi, Shaykh Abdullah Ali, and Shaykh Yahya Rhodus.

Imam Muhammad Abdul Latif Finch co-founded the Lighthouse Mosque in Oakland, California where he served as the Imam till for 3 years until he resigned in 2012 to focus on his graduate studies. In addition, he was a teacher and a program developer for Deen Intensive Foundation, Seekers Guidance and has assisted Zaytuna College ‘s Summer Arabic Intensive program for three years in a row.

 Imam Muhammad Abdul Latif Finch has recently attained a Master’s degree in Philosophy at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, a member of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

Many thanks to Imam Muhammad Abdul Latif Finch for contributing to this blog.

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Aḥmadiyya and the Nature of Muḥammadaic Sainthood – an article by Imam Abdul Latif Finch

Introduction:

            Ḥ.m.d is an ‘Arabic root which indicates commendation, laudation. [1] A commendation is an expression of approval. To approve is “to attest (something) with authority.” [2] When these root letters are expressed in their various patterns, multiple meanings manifest for us to consider. “Aḥmad,” is such a name appearing as a form of these foundational letters, which will be contemplated here. The Quran embraces this form when addressing the Messenger of God, (ﷺ), when it states,

And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, “O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allāh to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad.” But when he came to them with clear evidences, they said, “This is obvious magic.” [61:66]

Regarding this Qurānic sign, Shaikh Ibrāhīm Niās, may God be pleased with him, stated

“…of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Aḥmad,” ‘(‘Isā, (ﷺ)) gave glade tidings regarding the coming of the Prophet, (Muḥammad) (ﷺ) and that his name in the revealed books was “Aḥmad.” God preserved this name such that He never named any one such before the Messenger, upon him be peace, so that there wouldn’t be any ambiguity (as to who is referred to when the name is used). His name Muḥammad signifies the time his appearance drew close. The monks and priests discussed the fact that a messenger named Muḥammad is to come from the Inviolable Precinct (in Makka). There were six children from amongst his people named “Muḥammad.” They include Muḥammad ibn Salma, Muḥammad ibn Aḥyaḥa…however none of these children had amongst them anyone who claimed to be a prophet nor have a state that would cause anyone to speculate about him being the Messenger of God( ﷺ).

“…whose name is Aḥmad,” he said, (ﷺ), ‘I have five names. I am Muḥammad. I am Aḥmad. I am al-Māḥī, by whom God erases disbelief. I am al-Ḥāshr, the one who gathers the people at my feet. I am al-‘Āqib, the last of the Prophets. I am Ṭāhā. I am Yāsin. He has a thousand names, the most famous of which are his name in the heavens, “Aḥmad,” and “Muḥammad.”

 

Aḥmad is an exaggerated expression of the concept of praise (fi-l ḥamd). Muḥammad is on the pattern of mufa’al of the concept of praise that acts as an amplification of praise as well. Also from the names is al-Ḥamādūn. The previous books depict the community of Muḥammad as al- Ḥamādūn, those who praise God in every state. When they eat, they say, ‘al-ḥamdulillah.’ When they drink they say, ‘al-ḥamdulillah.’ When they put on clothing they say, ‘al-ḥamdulillah.’ In good times they say, al-ḥamdulillah,’ and in bad times they say, ‘al-ḥamdulillah.’ (They also say it) when they die, when resurrected, and when they enter into Paradise.’ [3]

 

Here we will demonstrate that “Aḥmad,” indicates the intimate friendship that the Prophet (ﷺ) has with God, reflected in the authority to praise Him. This clout consequently denotes some of the mastery inherent in the slavery of the Messenger of God, (ﷺ). All these characteristics manifest in his sainthood or Aḥmadiyya.

Al-Walī is one of the Divine Names. The Book mentions, “Alläh is the Walī of those who believe; He causes them to come out of the darkness into the light [2:257]” and “Allāh is the Walī of the pious.” [45:19] Obviously God’s attributes have neither beginning nor end. When applied to human beings, the name does have limitations. Michel Chodkiewicz mentions some of these constraints

‘The Muslim exegetes […] attempted to classify the different meanings of wali in the sacred Book. Muqātil (eighth century) detected ten meanings which can in fact be reduced to two. The first is directly related to the idea of proximity […] is the primary meaning of the root, and signifies, according to the context, ‘friend,’ ‘companion,’ ‘relative,’ ‘ally,’ ‘counselor.’ The second meaning is ‘protector’ or ‘governor.’ The existence of these two classes of meaning is connected with the very nature of the word wali. This word is constructed on the ambivalent fa’īl pattern which in Arabic can possess both an active sense (normally expressed by the form fā’il) and a passive sense (corresponding to the form maf’ūl). Thus the wali is simultaneously one whom is close, the beloved, he who is protected, taken in charge, and the protector, the ‘patron’ (in the Roman sense), the governor (al-walī, the active principle constructed on the fā’il paradigm. [4]

According to Muqātil, the root word w.l.y. may be considered in two capacities. The first (walāya) is the common application of the term wali (commonly translated as, “saint.”), i.e., one whom is God’s friend, having all the makings of one drawn near to God. This aspect of the term may be exemplified in the Quranic sign, “Know well that the confidants (saintly servants) of God; there will be no reason for them (awliyā, the plural of wali) to fear, nor shall they grieve.” [5] [10:62]

An object is known through its attributes. The one who knows another’s attributes best may be said to be the most intimate in knowledge of the latter. The walī (saint) is intimate with the knowledge of God. Therefore, he/she is familiar with God’s attributes. God’s attributes are essentially praiseworthy. Therefore, the walī is closely acquainted to His fundamental praiseworthiness. Every prophet is a walī. The Prophet (ﷺ) is the best of the prophets. As his walāya is commensurate with his prophethood and he (ﷺ) is the greatest of the prophets, it follows that he is also the greatest of the awliyā and the most capable of praising Him due to his superbly intimate knowledge of God’s attributes. His name, “Aḥmad,” or “The Most Praising” indicates this station as Shaikh Ibrāhīm mentioned above, “Aḥmad is an amplified expression of the concept of praise (fi-l ḥamd).” The Most Praising is also the most intimate. When one is intimate with another there is a kind of synchronicity between the two. According to ‘Amr ibn al-Jamūḥ, the Prophet,(ﷺ) stated “the awliyā are those who, when you see them, you are reminded of Allāh.” [6] In other words, the intimacy between the friend of God and their Maker is such that to see the former is to “see” the latter though only symbolically. The Divine Tradition says, “My awliyā among My servants, and My beloved among My creatures are those who are remembered with My remembrance, and I am remembered with their remembrance,” [7] a statement that further emphasizes this point. After all, one can say “Allāh” without remembering the Prophet (ﷺ) but one cannot say “Aḥmad “ without remembering Allāh. Therefore, the name “Aḥmad” indicates the intimate friendship or walāya that the Prophet (ﷺ) has with Allāh.

The second application of the root word w.l.y. as explicated by Muqātil above (wilāya) provides for a more terrestrial application of the term walī; one who governs. To repeat the previous formula, one is known through their attributes. The one who knows another’s attributes best may be said to be the most intimate with the latter’s characteristics. The walī is intimate with God. Therefore, he/she is familiar with God’s attributes. God’s attributes are essentially praiseworthy. Therefore, the walī is closely acquainted to His fundamental praiseworthiness. Therefore, as compared to one who is not as closely associated, the walī serves as an authority regarding God’s praise. One who has authority regarding God’s praise is rewarded with God’s pleasure. The one rewarded with God’s pleasure has God on his/her side. The one with God’s assistance is victorious in the earth. Therefore, it is through God’s ḥamd (praise) that the walī yields influence in the world and the hereafter.

An anecdote of such worldly authority is found in the Leader of the Faithful, Umar ibn al-Khaṭāb, may Allāh be pleased with him

It has been narrated on the authority of ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar that ‘Umar, may Allāh be pleased with them, had sent an army for a military campaign. He had appointed a person as the leader of this army, who was called “Sāriya.” While ‘Umar, may Allāh be pleased with him, was giving a sermon, he started saying: O Sāriya! To the mountain! After this, a message-bearer came and said: O Commander of the faithful! We were fighting against our enemies. They had almost defeated us. When we heard someone calling out: O Sāriya! To the mountain! We stood with the mountain at our back and Almighty Allāh gave them a crushing defeat. [8]

As the khalīfa (vicegerent) of Aḥmad (ﷺ) he was also both a governor and a friend of God through proximity to His praise at one and the same time. As such, he had God’s facilitation to cause Sāriya to hear him at a mountain in Persia, hundreds of miles away. He was able to do so through Allāh’s leave alone and by virtue of his association with the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ). This indicates that the Prophet’s (ﷺ) that the intimacy and authority endures in his representatives after him.[9]

‘Umar, may God be pleased with him, occupied the station of the external regency of the Prophet (ﷺ). Acting as Aḥmad’s substitute (ﷺ), the new khalīfa’s task was to further establish the worship of God on the planet. One charged with such a task has been given authority regarding h.m.d. (praise). Both Umar’s success in expanding the borders of Islām, and the open miracles he performed show the support he received from the Divine. It follows that his own state of intimate friendship with God or Aḥmadiyya proves this station’s authority to praise Him in this world.

As mentioned above, the name al Walī belongs to God. His Names abide forever. The Hereafter is a realm without end. The one blessed with the name walī, then, is suited for the Hereafter for like his name suggests, his/her station will also endure permanently in the Hereafter. As the Prophet (ﷺ) is the greatest walī, his authority will manifest in a superior fashion in the Hereafter just as it does in this world. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “I am the master of the children of Adam on the Day of Judgment, and I am not boasting. The Banner of Praise will be in my hand, and I am not boasting. There will not be a Prophet on that day, not Adam nor anyone other than him, except that he will be under my banner. And I am the first one for whom the earth will be opened for, and I am not bragging.” [10] We see the honor that he has, ﷺ regarding praise’s banner here. We also see that the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is master of the descendants of Adam (ﷺ). This fact is apparent in at least two ways: his slavery and mastery. Both aspects are manifested in the following tradition:

It was narrated from Abu Hurayra, may Allāh be pleased with him, that the Messenger of Allāh (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “I will be the leader of mankind on the Day of Resurrection. Do you know why that is? Allāh will gather mankind, the first and the last of them, in one place, so that the caller will be able to make them all hear his voice and the watcher will be able to see them all. The sun will be brought close and the people will suffer such distress and trouble that they will not be able to bear it or stand it. The people will say, ‘Don’t you see in the state you are in and the condition you have reached? Why don’t you look for someone who can intercede for you with your Lord?’ The people will say to one another: ‘Go to your father, Adam.’ So they will go to Adam (ﷺ) … I will go and prostrate beneath the Throne. Then I will be given words of praise such have never been given to anyone before me, then it will be said, ‘O Muhammad! Raise your head; ask, for it will be given to you, and intercede, for your intercession will be accepted.’ I will raise my head and say, ‘My ummah, O lord! My ummah, O Lord!’ It will be said, ‘O Muhammad, admit from among your ummah those who will not be brought to account from the right-hand gate of Paradise, and they will share the other gates with the people.’ He said, By the One in Whose hand is my soul, the distance between two of the gate-posts is like the distance between Makkah and Humayr, or between Makkah and Busra.” [11]

Here, on the Day when all people will be concerned over their own fate, the Prophet (ﷺ) will be concerned about all of humanity. A weak tradition states, “The servant of a people is their master,” [12] however, its meaning is emphatically strong. Given that the Prophet (ﷺ) will serve as the intercessor for the Day of Judgment to relieve people from the agony of awaiting

On the Day when all people will be concerned over their own fate, the Prophet (ﷺ) will be concerned about all of humanity

On the Day when all people will be concerned over their own fate, the Prophet (ﷺ) will be concerned about all of humanity

judgment, we can see the extent of his service to mankind. As the Great Intercession is an honor only granted to him (ﷺ), his mastery over the rest of creation seems abundantly clear as all will rush to him on that Day, prophet and non-prophet alike. This authority eloquently reflects some of the mastery inherent in the slavery of the Messenger of God (ﷺ).

A perfect wali (one drawn close and one who governs) or has complete Aḥmadiyya, a fact that may be illustrated in the famous tradition of Abū Hurayra, may God be pleased with him, who narrated through the Prophet (ﷺ) that God said

Whosoever shows enmity to My friend, I shall be at war with him. My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about [seizing] the soul of My faithful servant, he hates death and I hate hurting him. [13]

It may be understood from the words, “were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him,” that this person has a special kind of access to God. This specialness is a result of his/her submission to Him. This harmony may reach such a stage that whatever He wants is what he wants. This relationship manifests in the latter’s supplications being answered and God’s will manifest through him/her on the earth. Indeed, this appears to epitomize the meaning of the term khalīfa (vicegerent), the representative of God’s presence in the terrestrial realm. With reference to these two aspects, Imam al-Qushayri states, “Both of these descriptions are necessary for a wali to be a true wali, from his discharge of the rights due to God Most High through close study and full performance and God’s continual protection of him in joy and sorrow. “ [14]

To this end, Chodkiewicz states regarding these two aspects of intimate and friendship:

One of these is ‘to be a friend,’ and the other is ‘to direct, to govern, to take charge.’ Thus the walī, and properly speaking, is the ‘friend,’ he who is close; but as ibn Manẓur emphasizes in the Lisān al-‘arab, he who is also the nāṣir, ‘he who assists’ and the mudabbir, he who disposes. [15]

The two faces of the root w.l.y. (walāya and wilāya) merge into the personality of the individual described in the above tradition. The one who has intimacy with God’s praise is given intimacy and authority. The Prophet’s name, Ahmad denotes the intimate friendship, and authority of the Prophet’s (ﷺ) attributes manifested in the servant hood of the Prophet (ﷺ) as attested to in the display of his slavery on the Day of Judgment; a submission that will earn God’s attention, and grant him, ﷺ the authority that will cause people who were at a distance from God to have His intimacy, God willing.

Conclusion

We have stated above that when we look at the subject of God’s praise, the name “Aḥmad” indicates the intimate friendship or walāya that the Prophet (ﷺ) has with Allāh. Through the same evaluation we have shown that it is through God’s ḥamd (praise) that the walī yields influence in this world and the hereafter through their wilāya. The authority afforded to the Prophet, Aḥmad, (ﷺ) on the Last Day is, arguably, the objective of the appearance of the name al-Walī made manifest through him, ﷺ , and eloquently reflects some of the mastery inherent in the slavery of the Messenger of God (ﷺ). As such, the Prophet’s name Aḥmad is indicative of an inner reality or Aḥmadiyya, (sainthood) lying beneath his prophet hood that endures well after prophecy has ended in the world. It is both the epitome of intimacy with God and authority within His creation.

Imam Muhammad Abdul Latif Finch

2015

 


[1] The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic s.v. “Hamd.”

[2] Douglas Harper, “Commendation” http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=commendation&allowed_in_frame=0 (accessed January 21, 2014).

[3] Ibrāhīm Niās, Fī Riyāḍ Al-Tafsīr, vol. 5 (Tunis: Majma’ al-Yamāma li-al-Ṭabā’a wa-al-Nashr wa al-Tawzī’, 2010), 135-137. For an exact tradition that confirms the multiple names of the Prophet, (ﷺ), see Shamā-il Tirmidhī Chapter 051, Ḥadīth Number 001 (360).

[4] Michel Chodkiewicz, Seal of Saints (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1993), 24.

[5] The Quran refers to God’s friendship in several instances in the Book.  “Allāh is the Walī of those who believe; He causes them to come out of darkness into light.” [2:257] “Allāh is the Walī of the pious.’ [45:19] Know you not that it is Allah to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth? And besides Allah you have neither any Wali (protector or guardian) nor any helper. [2:107] Verily, among mankind who have the best claim to Ibrahim (Abraham) are those who followed him, and this Prophet (Muhammad SAW) and those who have believed (Muslims). And Allah is the Wali (Protector and Helper) of the believers. [3:68] Allah has full knowledge of your enemies, and Allah is Sufficient as a Wali (Protector), and Allah is Sufficient as a Helper. [4:45] Your ally is none but Allah and [therefore] His Messenger and those who have believed – those who establish prayer and give zakah, and they bow [in worship]. [5:55] Indeed, those who believe and do righteous deeds and establish prayer and give zakah will have their reward with their Lord, and there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. [2:277]

[6] For the specifics regarding this tradition see Gibril Fouad Haddad, The Muhammadan Light (Londom: Centre for Spirituality and Cultural Advancement, 2012), 268-269.

[7] For details regarding this tradition see ibid., 269.

[8] Dalāil al-Nubuwwah, Ḥadīth No. 2655; Mishkātul Masabīḥ, Bab al-Karamāt; Zujaja al-Masabīḥ, Bab al-Karamāt)

[9] These representatives are found scattered throughout the world. It is to this end that we find a report that states,”

Verily, ‘Umar, may God be pleased with, exited the mosque.  He found Mu’ādh crying at the grave of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ). So he asked him, ‘What makes you cry?’ ‘Words I heard from the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) who said, ‘The slightest example of ostentation is polytheism. Whoever shows enmity with one of God’s friends has had a declaration of war made against him. Allāh loves the exposure of the hidden ones who are God-conscious whom were they to disappear no one would miss them. When they are present no one knows them. Their hearts are lamps in the darkness. They come forth from every gloomy recess of the Earth.’ Narrated by Mu’ādh ibn Jabal as found in the collection of al-Hāfiḍ a-Mundharī in his “al-Targhīb wal-Tarhīb 148/4

[10] Jāmi’ al-Tirmidhī, Chapters on Virtues, Ḥadīth 3975

[11]  al-Bukhārī, 4712

[12] Narrated by Ibn ‘Abbās, Anas ibn Mālik, and Sahl ibn Sa’d. Anas’s version states, “The servant of a people is their master and the one who gives them drink is the last to drink.

[13] Al-Bukhārī

[14] Abu’L-Qasim al-Qushayri, Sufi Book of Spiritual Ascent, trans., Rabia Harris, 4th ed. (Chicago: KAZI, 2006), 249-250.

[15] Chodkiewicz, 21.

Sources

al-Qushayri, Abu’L-Qasim. Sufi Book of Spiritual Ascent. Translated by Rabia Harris. 4th ed. Chicago: KAZI, 2006.

Chodkiewicz, Michel. Seal of Saints. Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1993.

Haddad, Gibril Fouad. The Muhammadan Light Londom: Centre for Spirituality and Cultural Advancement, 2012.

Harper, Douglas, “Commendation” http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=commendation&allowed_in_frame=0 (accessed January 21, 2014).

Niās, Ibrāhīm. Fī Riyāḍ Al-Tafsīr. Vol. 5. Tunis: Majma’ al-Yamāma li-al-Ṭabā’a wa-al-Nashr wa al-Tawzī’, 2010.

Wehr, Hans, The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic London:Macdonald and Evans, Ltd., 1974.


Muhammad Abdul Latif Finch converted to Islam at the age of 20 and has earned ijazas in Islamic Sciences including Quranic Sciences, Hadith, Maliki and Shafi’i Jurisprudence, Usul al-Fiqh, Seerah, Logic, and Arabic Grammar and Morphology under the tutelage of numerous scholars, including Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Shaykh Salik bin Siddina, Imam Zaid Shakir, Shaykh Abdur Rahman Taahir, Qari Umar Bellahi, Shaykh Abdullah Ali, and Shaykh Yahya Rhodus.

Imam Muhammad Abdul Latif Finch co-founded the Lighthouse Mosque in Oakland, California where he served as the Imam till for 3 years until he resigned in 2012 to focus on his graduate studies. In addition, he was a teacher and a program developer for Deen Intensive Foundation, Seekers Guidance and has assisted Zaytuna College ‘s Summer Arabic Intensive program for three years in a row.

Imam Muhammad Abdul Latif Finch has recently attained a Master’s degree in Philosophy at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, a member of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

Many thanks to Imam Muhammad Abdul Latif Finch for contributing to this blog.

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