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Wisdom: A Fresh Look at Islam (Part 1)

Al-Hikmah or wisdom means a total insight and having sound judgment concerning a matter or situation through understanding cause and effect phenomena.

Wisdom constitutes one of the three major teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Verse 2:129 of the Quran, below, expresses Prophet Muhammad’s mission with the three major categories: Al-Kitab (the knowledge of the Quran), al-Hikmah (wisdom) and al-Tazkiyah (the inner-self purification).

Each category is dependent upon the other. These three fundamental teachings combined are the foundations required to make the character of a true Muslim.

{Our Lord! send among them an Apostle of their own, who shall rehearse Your signs to them and instruct them in the Holy Qur’an (al-Kitab) and wisdom (Hikmah), and sanctify them (yuzakihim), for You are the Exalted in Might, the Wise.}

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Teaching wisdom is an integral part of the mission of the earlier Prophets. The Quran speaks of Prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them), how they were sent to teach wisdom along with their respective scriptures. For example, God speaks of Abraham saying:

{But We had already given the family of Abraham the Scripture and wisdom.} (An-Nisa’ 4: 54)

Similarly, God bestowed wisdom and knowledge upon Prophets Moses, Jesus, Lot, David and Solomon: (28: 14; 5: 110; 21: 74; 21: 79)

Sound judgments and placing things where they belong are actions not bound by place or time. Prophet Muhammad encouraged the believers to use wisdom in their approaches to the fullest extent, he said:

“Wisdom is like a precious commodity that is lost. A believer must always be in search of it. Wherever he finds it, he must act upon what it dictates.” (At Tirmidhi)

The above Islamic principles establish that wisdom constitutes a major part of the Muslim’s belief. Indeed, to understand and practice wisdom is to understand much of the essence and practices of Islam.

To substantiate this claim, the definition of al-Hikmah (wisdom) and its faculties must be carefully examined first.

Definitions of Al-Hikmah (Wisdom)

Some scholars like Imam Shafi’i interpret the word ‘al-Hikmah’ in verse 2: 129 above as the “Tradition or Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad”. Other scholars, such as the great Muslim scholar Ibn al-Qay’im al-Jawziyah in his book, Madarij al-Salikeen, defined ‘al-Hikmah’ scientifically and practically as follows:

Scientific Definition:

“Knowing and understanding the genuine nature of matters; the knowledge of relating results (effects) to causes as relevant to the physical composition and function of the matter, and with respect to Allah’s natural law (qadaran) and revealed law (shar’an).”

Practical Definition:

“Doing what is required in the right manner, at the right time, and in the right place.”

The definitions above explain wisdom’s distinct dynamic faculty, which adapt easily to the ever changing condition of people and their worlds. Wisdom’s faculties of approach can be used to manage any matter, at any time, in any place and under any circumstance.

Wisdom and Islamic Jurisprudence

One of the fields where al-Hikmah (wisdom) can facilitate Muslims affairs is in the area of Jurisprudence. For Muslims, jurisprudence is drawn from the Quran and the Sunnah (Tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad. The Quran provides supreme guidance for Muslims. Some of the guidance is specific while others serve as guidelines. The Sunnah expresses many of the Quranic injunctions in a more explicit and detailed form.

However, not every detail of life could possibly be addressed in the Quran, the Sunnah or the books of law. For this reason, wisdom fundament, with its elastic nature, can be adapted to fulfill the need for unknown religious verdicts. This can be done by satisfying its two conditions of knowing the matter’s natural composition (qadaran) and revealed rules (shar’an).

This theory works in two steps:

Step 1: Obtain full knowledge of the matter or situation to be addressed. This is to satisfy the physical and natural issues surrounding the condition of the matter, qadaran.

Step 2: Consider the Islamic grand rule, “harm shall not be caused or inflected on oneself or on others,” ‘la dharara wa la dherar.’ After the information has been collected for step1, the unknown religious verdict can be reached by realizing whether or not the matter of step one is harmful to anyone in particular or the people at large. Let us test the method by finding out whether or not the consumption of cocaine is allowed in Islam, since cocaine was not in use during the time of the Prophet.

Toxicants, including cocaine, are chemicals or natural substances known to adversely affect the normal function of the brain. Obtaining this information about cocaine satisfies step one above. In the light of the grand rule of step two, “Harm shall not be caused or inflected on oneself or on others”, it is given that cocaine impairs the normal function of the brain and renders it harm. The verdict therefore is: A Muslim cannot consume cocaine. Otherwise he or she violates the Islamic grand rule of step two.

When any issue or matter encountered in life is subjected to this simple approach, the resulting action will always be within the boundaries of the Islamic Law or Shari’ah.    

Wisdom and Management

Making actions based on wisdom is fulfilling much of the inter-dimension of Islam.

Wisdom dictates that a true Muslim is a person who manages his or her work with reason and rationality. He or she must thoroughly, precisely and earnestly study and evaluate each circumstance or situation on a matter, and then apply what is appropriate at the right time, in the right place, and in the right manner. Actions based on this approach can hardly fail.

Prophet Muhammad is the Muslim’s example and model; the following sections are cases showing his wise approaches and management of his affairs.

Wisdom in the Actions of Prophet Muhammad

In analyzing Prophet Muhammad’s management of his affairs, one readily finds that all of his actions were based on wise decisions and approaches. This fact is illustrated in his relations with his family, friends as well as foes and throughout his da’wah.

This article is not designed to examine every action of the Prophet to prove its point, but a review of few examples will give us a good grasp about the Prophet’s exemplary approach. The author selected and grouped some of the Prophet’s approaches in these categories: flexibility in approach, addressing people, selection of personnel and al-Hikmah practice in rituals.  

Flexibility in Approach  

Prophet Muhammad teaches that rationality and flexibility are integral parts of Islam. He demonstrated this belief in many ways. Consider for example the Prophet’s story upon returning from al-Ta’iff back to Makkah during the 9th. year of his prophethood.

After leaving Makkah to deliver his message in the city of al-Ta’iff, 150 Kilometers south of Makkah, Prophet Muhammad was turned down by the leaders of the city and had to return to Makkah, heartbroken. However, per Arabia’s customs he could not re-enter Makkah without the protection of a respected tribal leader, otherwise his life would be in danger. The Prophet, therefore, sent his servant Zayd ibn Harithah to seek tribal leaders for their protection. Al-Mut’im ibn ‘Addi, a respected leader, but idolater, accepted Muhammad’s request for protection. As was the tradition, Al-Mut’im ibn ‘Addi called on his strong sons to take the Prophet into Makkah and to circle Al-Ka’bah seven times announcing to Quraysh their protection of Muhammad.

For the following three years and until the Prophet migrated to Madinah, he was under the protection of Al-Mut’im ibn ‘Addi. During this period, the Prophet’s approach in reaching-out (da’wah) and in managing his affairs with Quraysh was different from his earlier approach. This time, he did not speak low of the idols as much; neither did he introduce himself to the people of Quraysh in the way and frequency he used to. Instead, he concentrated his da’wah work on the people who visited Makkah, especially during the season of pilgrimage. The Prophet’s newer course of action was very much driven by his recent visit to al-Ta’iff, which made him more vulnerable to be killed by Quraysh and forced him to be under the protection of an idolater.

This modified approach of the Prophet did not mean that he approved of the idols or that he was pleased with Quraysh as it was. It simply meant that one must maintain flexibility and rationality. Also, God created more than one strict way to deal with a problem. Although the Prophet’s new approach showed softness towards Quraysh, but in reality it served a far more significant and pressing issue: the Prophet’s own safety, for which Islam’s survival was dependent on. Moreover, the Prophet gave more attention to the people outside the city for da’wah; and as we know, Islam grew in Yathrib rapidly after the Prophet contacted some of its people.

The safety of the Prophet and the continuity of da’wah are far more important than acting on what might be considered tangential matters and less pressing issues, which can be addressed at a later time. In fact, this was exactly what had happened. A few years later, Quraysh, in its entirety, embraced Islam and the idols were destroyed as ten thousand Muslims peacefully opened the city of Makkah. In contrast to stiffness, flexibility in approach may indeed go well beyond its intended function.

Addressing People

On the issue of addressing people, there are literally hundreds of examples that illustrate how Prophet Muhammad foresightedly conveyed the right information, managed affairs and used al-Hikmah faculties in governing the processes. Here are a few examples:

a- Muhammad’s Journey and Quraysh

The first example took place after the return of the Prophet from his journey to Jerusalem, where he also ascended to the Heavens, known as “Isra’ and Mi’raj.” In Jerusalem he led the previous Prophets of God in a prayer at the Aqsa Mosque, and then he ascended to the heavens. In the Heavens he was in the presence of God and there he received the obligation of the Muslim five daily prayers.

Historians of the biography of the Prophet reported that after his miraculous journey to Jerusalem and ascension to the Heavens, the Prophet did not tell Quraysh the full story of his journey. Instead, he related to them the journey to Jerusalem only. Only to his companions did he speak the entire story of his journey to Jerusalem and the ascension to the Heavens.

The Prophet illustrated wisdom’s criterion of understanding the genuine issue of the matter and the near and far dimensions of its causes and effects. Quraysh was amused at hearing the Prophet’s story of his journey to Jerusalem, even though he told them of several specifics of the route to Jerusalem, about Jerusalem itself and about their own caravan coming from Jerusalem and the exact timing of its arrival to Makkah.

However, when they witnessed the caravan’s arrival at the time that the Prophet spoke of, they accused him of being a magician. Nevertheless, the Prophet’s wise action in refraining from telling Quraysh the story of his ascension to heaven, at that time, eliminated unnecessary discourse with them, which would surely further hinder his purpose of advancing his mission. Furthermore, his meeting with the Prophets in heavens, the various news of his ascension to the Heavens and the obligation of the five daily prayers he received can be of no value to the Idolaters.

Wisdom dictates that when a particular information does not fit the time and place nor serve the purpose, that information should not be addressed. This faculty of wisdom in today’s world is a science called Reliability, or the study of how reliable an act or a design is.

b- Hudaybiyah Peace Treaty Negotiations 

The second example took place prior to the negotiations that led to the Hudaybiyah peace treaty between the Muslims and Quraysh. For many years the Prophet had been seizing opportunities to introduce his message to people, and for many years Quraysh had been working to spoil out his chances and work. During the fifth year after his migration to Madinah, the Prophet intended to visit Makkah to perform the Lesser Pilgrimage, Umrah, and to give the Muslims a chance to practice their faith and to show the Makkans Islam’s high qualities.

The Muslims set out for their journey to Makkah, all dressed uniformly in white clothes, and brought with them the sacrifices to be slaughtered at the Ka’ bah. Quraysh, however, refused to allow them to enter the city. The Muslims camped at a place called Hudaybiyah at the outer skirt of Makkah and negotiated with Quraysh a peace treaty that called, among other things, for no Umrah that year, and instead to return the following year to perform it. During the initial course that led to this treaty, Quraysh sent five different messengers to the Prophet to convey their objection to his visit. In return, the Prophet conveyed to these mssengers his clear intent for visiting the Ka’ bah.

When the first three messengers did not change Quraysh’s position in denying the Muslims’ right to pilgrimage, the Prophet started modifying his approach and improving the mechanisms in conveying his intent. Prior to the arrival of each of the following messenger, the Prophet set up a reception stage to suite the character and personality of the messenger, so as to increase the effect in persuading Quraysh to let the Muslims complete their Umrah.

Al-Hulath ibn Alqamah was the next messenger. He was the Abyssinian leader in Makkah. Many Abyssinians used to come to Makkah for the purpose of serving God and Ka’bah. Abyssinians had made an agreement with Quraysh to be their alliance, in return, Quraysh allow them to be the attendees of the pilgrims.

When the Prophet learned that al-Hulath ibn Alqamah was the messenger to be sent to him, he said: “He is from the people who praise God,” and he asked his companions to graze their animals of sacrifice at a near distance from him. When al-Hulath observed the Muslims dressed in the pilgrim white clothes and the animals to be sacrificed grazing by them, he was not only convinced of the pure Muslims’ intent for pilgrimage, but felt that Quraysh breached the agreement between them by refusing pilgrim’s entry into Makkah. He, therefore, returned to Quraysh without even meeting with the Prophet. He addressed Quraysh saying:”O people of Quraysh, by God our alliance with you was not based on preventing people from making pilgrimage. How could you prevent people from entering the House of God? By the One whom Hulath’s soul is in His hand you are to allow Muhammad to do what he has come for, or I will call upon all Ethiopians to rebel against you and break our alliance.” Quraysh replied: “Be patient, we will resolve this matter with Muhammad in a manner that would please all of us.”

The improvements in the reception of al-Hulath seemed to work well. However, Quraysh was still dissatisfied and sent another messenger; this one was Urwah ibn Masoud al-Thaqafi, a leader of Thaqeef in the city of al-Ta’iff. Urwah was treated by his people much like a king by his entourage. Urwah’s reception stage took on a different face, and was attended by several of the Prophet’s companions, including Al-Mugheerah ibn Shu’bah, the cousin of Urwah. Some of the companions were acting as guards while others were setting around the Prophet as counselors.

During the course of negotiation, Urwah attempted to physically grasp and shake the Prophet’s beard as a sign of intimidation. Upon this, Al-Mugheerah intercepted his hand and said: “Stop your hand from reaching the face of the Prophet or you will have no hand.”

Then Urwah asked the Prophet who was this man talking to him in such manner?

The Prophet replied: “He is your cousin, Al-Mugheerah ibn Shu’bah.”

Urwah was astonished to learn that one of his own relatives was so unfaithful to him, but yet treats Muhammad with such respect. In a similar manner, other Muslims displayed their deep love, loyalty and respect to the Prophet. During the time for prayer, some of the Prophet’s companions used the same water that he used for ablution on them as a sign of love and as blessing.

The Muslims changed Urwah’s impression as a result of their staging as can be seen from his address to Quraysh:

“Oh leaders of Quraysh: I visited Caesar in his castle and Hercules in his kingdom and Negus and his people, but, by God I have never seen a king among his people loved as much as Muhammad amongst his companions. By God they will not allow an atom of harm to reach him.I see that you reconsider your position with Muhammad.”

Al-Hulath and Urwah were more instrumental in conveying the message of the Prophet to Quraysh than the previous messengers. The attitudes of Quraysh were changed towards the Muslims. These changes were the primers to the peaceful treaty of Hudaybiyah that took place in the following few days.

The Prophet was successful—he spoke the language that his people understood, and placed things where they belong. This was not all, the Prophet has indeed shown other valuable criteria like:

– Rationality and flexibility.

– Work on issues directly relevant to the problem.

– Consider fine details, specifics, not vague approaches.

– Creativity; invent, improve and fix the method of work.

– Efficiency; use available means effectively, even when they seem minute or insignificant.

– Prayers and supplications are not substitute for genuine actions and earned labor.

To be continued…

Source: Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies (IAIS) – Article republished with author’s kind permission.