Omar Qureishi -- taught Shafi’i fiqh and aqeedah classes at Rihla 2013, lives in Chicago.
On the Blessings of Sirah and Hadith Studies
Studying the Sirah is incredibly important because living in the modern world, in the West where all types of narratives and stories are put into question, human beings are living in communities where there is no narrative at all. They’re not able to make sense of their lives, where they come from or where they are and where they’re supposed to go. And that makes it difficult to have a community, because a community implies something that we share in common. People are left without a grand narrative to make sense of things, and this makes it difficult to live together and to grow as a community. The Sirah provides, in addition to all the stories of the Prophets in the Qur’an, the story of our Prophet, as it helps us humanize our religion, teaches how to apply our religion, how to live our faith, and the scholars of Hadith and Sirah have left us with such deep and detailed information about our Prophet that leaves us with a very rich tradition.
And of all the people that have lived in history, we can say that the only person that we have so much detail on is our beloved Prophet. Given the immense amount of work of our scholars in recording and reviewing, it’s not just important but an obligation to study, to know our Prophet, how he lived, how he looked like, how his family related to each other, who his children were – but at the same time, how he interacted with people, with Muslims and disbelievers, with weak believers and strong, with Christians and Jews, with polytheists, with so many different people. From the rich and the poor, the bereft of society, his relations leave us a full model of how we should behave.
Jews don’t have this understanding of Musa, alayhi Salaam. Christians don’t have this deep understanding of Jesus, peace be upon him. But we have that regarding our Prophet Muhammad, sal Allahu alayhi wa Salaam, and we don’t have to rediscover ourselves, we don’t have to have this discussion of ‘What does it mean to be a good person? What does it mean to be a person who is attached to God?’, as we already have that in our Prophet.
So studying our religion without studying the Sirah, studying fiqh or aqeedah without studying the Sirah, studying tasawwuf or suluk without studying the Sirah, everything is disconnected – Sirah glues all these fields of knowledge together coherently, gives a perspective for all of these sciences. Sirah gives perspective to fiqh, aqeedah, the spiritual path, everything that you’re studying. It behooves us to understand the Sirah and how to embody all the values of this faith.
‘Wa kana khulquhul Qur’an’ as Sayyidatuna Aisha told people who inquired about the Prophet, “His character was the Qur’an” – so studying the Sirah is studying the Qur’an, as his character embodied the Qur’an. The Qur’an through the Prophet’s life was not empty theory, you see it lived.
There are so many stories from the Prophet’s life that illustrate – we studied one in our Shafi’i fiqh class, studying the ahkam (rulings) of fasting is just straight rulings, this is what breaks your fast, this is what you have to do to have a valid fast, this is what you do when… but I like to infuse the teaching of fiqh with stories from the Prophet. One of the most beautiful examples is, from a hadith in Bukhari and Muslim, when a person came to the Prophet and said ‘I have destroyed myself, I have come to ruin.’ And the Prophet asked ‘What did you do?’ And the man said that he had had sexual relations with his wife during the day in Ramadan. He thought he was ruined, and the first suggestion that the Prophet told him was that ‘You should free a slave, preferably a believing woman.’ And the man replied ‘I don’t own any.’ Then the Prophet told him to fast sixty days, and the man replied ‘I’m not able to, look – I wasn’t able to fast one day.’ So the Prophet told him, ‘Well, can you feed sixty people?’ and the man replied ‘I’m the poorest one between these two hills, in Madinah my family is the poorest.’ The Sahabah (Companions) were present during this conversation, observing this dialogue, and the Prophet left and returned with a basket of dates, and said to the man, ‘Take this and feed your family.’ This shows how you interact with the ahkam, the fiqh – someone studying the fiqh might say “There’s no other way, you have to do this, this and that,” but the Prophet shows that mercy, not just the rulings but how do those rulings inform how we interact with each other, how do we apply them.
Konya is a blessed city. Mevlana and Saddrudin al-Qonawi, along with many other ulema, are buried here. Muslims visiting here from the West should see how a Muslim lives. How do we get along with other Muslims, how do we interact with them? Many Muslims living in the West don’t know how to deal with Muslims who are at a very different point in their faith; some are practicing at an ‘ideal’ level, and many times, if another Muslim is not practicing at that ideal level, we tend to exclude them. We make elitist and exclusive clubs, and our masajid become about that. Whereas in Konya, you walk down the street and you see everyone’s Muslim, they’re all at different levels of practice, and some may not know that much about their religion but you see their good character and treatment of those who appear to be Muslim, they greet them warmly and are happy to see them.
Muslims should be grateful for their religion and respect others regardless of their relative strengths or weaknesses, which is something that you see here and that communities in the West are often missing. That akhlaq (good character) that we see here expressed in Konya, where Muslims show love and gratitude to each other, is noteworthy and blessed. We can pray for each other and receive gifts and gratitude, even if we don’t share a language or culture.