On Steadfastness, Miracles and the Challenges of Today

“Steadfastness is the essence of miracles”

Reflection: This is a famous saying passed down by the scholars and ascetics through generations. I first heard it mentioned by Muhammed Mujir al-Khattabi, a Syrian muhaddith who studied with many of the famous scholars of Syria and whom I had the honor of meeting in Istanbul. He mentioned the quote in a profound context which I’ve reflected on several times since then.

What he said was this: “Often times, our young people come to us and ask about the miracles mentioned in the books of the scholars and the ascetics. They wonder why nothing like what has been reported are occurring in our times. So either they go on to deny what has been mentioned in the books or they simply reach the conclusion that they, and everyone around them, are too worthless in the eyes of Allah to be granted anything like this.

What they need to know though, is that in the times of fitna in which we are living, steadfastness is the essence of miracles (in Arabic: “al-istiqaamah ayn ul-karaamah”).”

Firstly, I’ll just try and explain some issues related to the quote and then go on to mention some of it’s lessons:

Miracles: There are several different types of miracles mentioned by the scholars, the most well-known probably being a “mu’jizah” which is the kind of miracle specific to the prophets (as). This miracle is conjoined with a challenge to replicate the miracle for the ones that deny the message.

Another kind of miracle is the “karamah” which can occur for a saint (wali). The scholars mention that any miracle possible to occur for a prophet can also occur for a saint, only they are not connected to a challenge. Many miracles of this kind has been reported authentically through time, one of the famous ones being the story of Umar (ra) telling his army to retreat to the mountain while he was standing on the pulpit in Madinah and they were fighting the battle far away.

There are other types of miracles such as “ihaanah” which is humiliation of one falsely claiming prophecy (like Musaylimah the Liar spitting in a well to make it gush forth and it dried up) and “istidraaj” which is something supernatural occurring for a deviant person to make him go further astray (many “miracles” claimed to occur for people of other religions could be put under this category, if they actually took place). [1]

Fitnah: The word “fitnah” literally means to cleanse gold from it’s impurities by putting it into fire. It is used with different meanings (that relate to the literal meaning) throughout the Qur’an, but is most often used as a term for distress and tribulations that befall us. Sometimes it can come in the form of difficulties like sickness, war or natural disasters and other times it might be temptations such as money, admiration and attention from the opposite gender. [2] When the Sheikh mentioned that these are times of fitnah, then this is probably clear to everyone from all the tribulations befaling the Muslims in the East (like war, poverty etc.) and the West (like temptations, islamophobia etc.).

Steadfastness: The Arabic word istiqaama literally means to be moderate (i’tidaal), neither falling short or exceeding the limits. When used by the Qur’an and the Sunnah it generally means to follow Islam without falling short in ones obligations or transgressing the limits of the Shariah. A person who is mustaqim has basically reached the pinnacle of worship, being steadfast on performing what Allah has commanded him and staying away from what He has forbidden him. [3]

Lessons: Now you might think that the above-mentioned doesn’t exactly sound easy. So why did the Sheikh express the saying as a way of comfort? Here’s a few of the lessons we can understand:

  • The quote had different meanings in different periods of history. Originally it was used by ascetics to warn against people who aspired to perform miracles, but ended up leaving the Sunnah. They did this by pointing out that the true miracle was to be steadfast on the Shariah without deviating. While this is still relevant to our times, we might also understand it as a message to be hopeful even while our spiritual condition as an Ummah seems far away from the earlier generations. This is especially the case because…
  • The understanding of steadfastness does, in some ways, depend on the general state of affairs. This is, to my undestanding, the reason why the Sheikh mentioned the trials we go through in our times. It is in a sense a miracle that so many young people are practicing Islam in the West (as well as other parts of the world), when they have every opportunity for haram and one is constantly being influenced and exposed to un-islamic concepts through TV, internet, work, university etc. I’m often amazed during Friday prayers when I see a masjid packed with people at 2 pm, which is supposed to be working hours in my country. This is all from the mercy of Allah and we should feel blessed if we are able to practice Islam in these difficult times, even with occasional slips, on a consistant basis.
  • While these are troubling times indeed, one should continuously push oneself to reach higher in terms of worship and avoidance of sins. The stories of the earlier generations of Muslims might seem like an ideal that is impossible to reach, but one needs to understand that the ulema included many of these stories to make the people aspire for more and never be satisfied with their current condition. In other words: If you shoot for the stars you might not reach them, but at least you’ll make it to the moon.

 

[1] http://seekershub.org/ans-blog/2017/02/19/can-accept-miracle-ascribed-pious/

[2] Fath ul-Bari, Kitab al-Fitan, Ibn Hajr al-Asqalaani (English translation: It seems like a English translation project has been started by Khalid William, from which the first book has been published)

[3] Lisaan al-‘Arab, Ibn Manzur / Sharh Sahih Muslim, Imam an-Nawawi (Unfortunately, neither of them is translated according to my knowledge)

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