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Chapter 5. Grazing the Gardens

In a well-known hadith, the Prophet relates, "If you pass by the Gardens of Paradise, graze therein." The Companions asked, "What are the Gardens of Paradise?" He said, "Circles of dhikr [remembrance of Allah]." Whenever he mentioned this hadith, lbn Masud would say, "I do not mean gatherings of sermonizers, but study circles." A similar hadith has been related by Anas ibn Malik.

Ata al-Khurasani said, "Gatherings of dhikr are gatherings to study the lawful and unlawful, how to buy and sell, how to perform well the Prayer [Salah] and the Fast [Sawm], [the laws of] marriage and divorce, how to perform the Pilgrimage [Hajj], and similar mat­ters.' Yabya ibn Abi Kathir said, "A lesson in jurisprudence is Prayer." Abu Suwar al-Adawi was sitting in a study circle, which included in attendance a young man who exhorted the assembly to say, "SubhanAllah [Glory be to Allah!]" and "al-hamdulillah [All Praise is for Allah!]." Abu Suwar became angry and said, "Woe unto you! What then is the purpose of our gathering?"

This indicates that the gatherings of dhikr are not merely utter­ing the words "Subhan Allah, Allahu Akbar, al-hamdulillah," and similar meritorious phrases. Rather, they include those gatherings in which the commands of Allah, His prohibitions, the lawful and unlawful, and that which He loves are discussed. Perhaps this lartter form of dhikr is more beneficial than the former, since knowledge of the lawful and unlawful is obligatory for every Muslim in proportion to his needs. As for mentioning Allah with the tongue, it is largely voluntary and only rarely obligatory, such as dhikr in the mandatory Prayers.

What Knowledge is Mandatory for the Muslim

As for the knowledge of Allah's commandments knowing what gains His love and pleasure and what incurs His anger, such knowledge is obligatory for everyone. For this reason it has been related, "Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim." Hence, it is obligatory for every Muslim to learn the requisites of purification, Prayer [Salah], and Fasting [Sawm]. Furthermore, it is mandatory for everyone who has wealth that he learn what is obligatory in terms of Charity [Zakat] due to the needy, doing what is voluntary and what is compulsory, Pilgrimage [Hajj], and Jihad.

Similarly, it is mandatory for everyone who buys and selis that he learn what transactions are Lawful and which are unlawful. As Umar said, "No one sells in our market except one who is knowledgeable of the religion." A similar hadith has been related on a weak chain by Ali who said, "Understanding of religion precedes commerce. One who engages in commerce without properly understanding the religion falls into usury with little chance of escaping from it."

Abdallah ibn al-Mubarak was asked, "What knowledge is obligatory?" He replied:

lf a man does not have any wealth, it is not required that he learn the rulings of Zakat. If his wealth reaches the nisab [minimum level of wealth that obliges one to pay Zakat], it is obligatory that he learn how much he should give in Zakat, when to give, and to whom. Other taxable possessions should be created in similar fashion.

Imam Ahmad was asked about a man, "What knowledge is incumbent for him to seek?" He said, "The requisites for establish­ing Prayer and the divine commandments relating to Fasting and Zakat." He then mentioned the basic laws of Islam and said, "It is appropriate that he learn these." He also said, "Obligatory knowl­edge is that which is indispensable for performing his Prayer and establishing his religion." You should know that knowledge of the lawful [Halal] and unlawful [Haram] is honourable. lt includes learning that which is individually and communally obligatory. Some scholars have written that learning the lawful and unlawful is better than voluntary worship, among them are Imam Ahmad and lshaq.

Reluctance in Giving Religious Verdicts

The early imams were cautious about speaking about [the lawful and unlawful], because one who speaks about such matters is relating information from Allah, enunciating His commandments and prohibitions, and passing on His sacred law. It was said about Ibn Sirin, "If he was asked about something regarding the lawful or the unlawful, his colour would change. He would be transformed until he no longer seemed the same person." Ata ibn al-Sa'ib said, "I met people who, when asked for a religious verdict, would tremble as they spoke." It is related that when Imam Malik was asked about a legal matter, it was as if he were suspended between Heaven and Hell.

Imam Ahmad was extremely hesitant to speak on the lawful and unlawful, to claim that something was abrogated, or related matters which others would too readily expound. He frequently prefaced his answers with phrases such as, "I hope that...," I fear ...," or "It is more beloved to me...."

Imam Malik and others used to frequently say, "I do not know." Imam Ahmad would often say on an issue about which the righteous predecessors had various opinions, "The most likely answer is, 'I do not know.'"

Dhikr, Iman, and Ihsan

Gatherings of dhikr also include gatherings of Quranic exegesis [tafseer] and gatherings in which the way of the Messenger of Allah is related. Discussions that include the narration of hadith along with its explanation are more complete and virtuous than those involving narration only. These gatherings also include the discus­sion of all the legitimate Islamic sciences, along with their evidences and proofs. These sciences deal with outer knowledge and the inner knowledge of beliefs, constant awareness of Allah's watch over us, and the heart's perception of Allah's presence. The latter two com­prise the constituent knowledge of Ihsan [excellence in worship].

These gatherings also include the knowledge of humility, love, hope, patience, contentment, and other states of the soul. In the hadith of Angel Gabriel, ihsan has been designated by the Prophet as constituting [part of the] religion. Hence, understand­ing ihsan properly is essential to properly understanding Islam.

The Two Circles

Such gatherings are better than gatherings whose sole purpose is to remember Allah [dhikr] by repeating the phrases, "Subhan Allah," "alhamdulillah," and "Allahu Akbar." This is because learning one's religion is obligatory on either every individual or the community at large. Whereas, dhikr by extolling Allah is optional [in most cases].

One of the righteous predecessors [Salaf] of Islam entered the mosque of Basra and saw that two circles were established. In one sat a ser­monizer, in the other a jurist. He prayed a special Prayer in which he asked Allah's guidance as to which of the two circles he should join. He fell asleep then saw in his dream someone saying to him, "Do you consider the two gatherings equal? If you wish, I will show you the seat of Gabriel in the circle of the jurist."

Zayd ibn Aslam was among the most distinguished scholars of Madinah. He had a circle in the mosque in which he would teach Quranic commentary, hadith, jurisprudence, and other religious sciences. A man came to him and said:

I saw in a dream an angel who said to the people of this gathering, "This host is secure in the Gardens of Paradise." Then he sent down to them a tender fish, which he placed in front of them. Thereupon, a man came to them and said, "Verily, I saw the Prophet, Abu Bakr, and Umar emerging through this door. The Prophet, was saying, come with us to Zayd. Let us sit with him and listen to his teaching.' Then the Prophet went, sat beside you, and grasped your hand."

lt wasn't long after this vision that Zayd died, may Allah have mercy on him.

Despite what we have mentioned regarding the preference of knowledge to admonitions, the scholar must occasionally admon­ish people by relating stories to them. This is necessary to remove hardness from their hearts by helping them to remember Allah and His awesome power. The Quran includes this approach.

Hence, the learned jurist, in reality, is one who thoroughly understands the Book of Allah and implements it. Ali said, "The truly learned scholar is one who does not cause people to despair of Allah's mercy; nor does he give them warrant to rebel against Allah; nor does he leave the Quran, giving preference to other books." The Prophet himself applied this orientation.

He used to encourage his Companions in his sermons, fearing that he would otherwise overburden them.