Abu l-'Aasim al-Qasim bin Yusuf bin Muhammad at-Tajeebi as-Sabti al-Maghribi says,
"I requested the Shaikh, Faqeeh, respected Imaam, `Aalim, last of the pious predecessors and leader of the later generations, inimitable, fascinating, possessor of great eloquence and clarity of expression, the most knowledgeable person I have met in the East or West, Taqi ad-Deen Abu l-`Abbaas Ahmad bin Taymiyyah, (may Allah enable us to continue benefiting from him):
to direct me towards what would set right my affairs of Deen and Dunyaa; to point me towards those books on which I might rely regarding knowledge of Hadeeth, and similarly for other sciences of the Sharee`ah; to draw my attention towards the best of righteous actions after the compulsory duties; and to explain to me those goals which should outweigh all other aims; - all of this by way of concise guidelines. May Allah safeguard him, and peace and Allah's blessings be on him."
The Answer :
The Shaikh of Islam, Ocean of Knowledge, Ibn Taymiyyah, may Allah bestow His mercy and pleasure on him, answered as follows:
All Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.
To begin with the Wasiyyah : in my opinion, there is no Wasiyyah more beneficial than that of Allah and His Messenger for whoever understands it and follows it.
The Wasiyyah of Allah, Mighty and Sublime.
The Wasiyyah of Allah Exalted is mentioned in the following Aayah:
Verily, We have directed the People of the Book before you, and you (O Muslims) to Fear Allah
The Messenger's Wasiyyah
The Prophet enjoined on Mu`aadh (radi Allahu 'anhu) when he sent him to Yemen as a judge, the following:
"O Mu`aadh, fear Allah wherever you are, and follow up a bad deed with a good one and it will wipe it out, and behave well towards people."
The Excellence of Mu`aadh bin Jabal
Mu`aadh had a high status in the eyes of the Prophet (SallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), who once said to him, "O Mu`aadh! By Allah, truly I love you."
Sometimes, the Messenger would let Mu`aadh ride behind him on the same mount.
It is also narrated about him that he is the most knowledgeable person in the Ummah about the (issues of) Halaal and Haraam (Lawful and Prohibited) , and on the Day of Resurrection he will be raised up one step ahead of all the people of knowledge. Also, part of Mu`aadh's excellence is that the Prophet sent him to the people of Yemen as a preacher on his behalf, a caller, a man of understanding in the Deen, a giver of religious verdicts, and a judge.
He also used to compare Mu`aadh to Ibraaheem ('alayhis-salaam) , the friend of Allah and Imaam of mankind. Also, Ibn Mas`ood, used to say, "Verily, Mu`aadh is a leader of the people, he is Allah's obedient slave, and he is not of the polytheists" , thus comparing him to Ibraaheem.
With all these qualities of Mu`aadh, the Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) bequeathed to him this Wasiyyah, so we know that this Wasiyyah is comprehensive, and whoever understands it will see that it is so. Furthermore, it is an explanation of the Qur'aanic Wasiyyah.
The Reason for the Comprehensiveness of the Wasiyyah
As for the explanation of the comprehensiveness of this legacy, it covers the fact that there are two rights over a human being:
(i) The responsibility towards Allah, Mighty and Sublime;
(ii) The responsibility towards His servants.
Further, (the Wasiyyah also covers the fact ) that there will always be a deficiency in each person's fufilling of this responsibility, e.g. by missing a duty or doing something forbidden: hence the Messenger said, "Fear Allah wherever you may be". This statement is comprehensive and his words "wherever you are" confirm that the human being is in need of taqwaa (piety, fear of Allah) both secretly and in the open. He then said, "Follow up a bad deed with a good one, which will cancel it"; the example of this is that whenever a patient eats something bad for him, the doctor prescribes him to take something which will make him better. Since it is definite that a human being will commit sin, the wise person is the one who is continuously doing good acts in order that the effects of his bad deeds are cancelled out. In this hadeeth, the phrase "bad deed" is used first because the purpose here is to wipe out bad deeds, rather than to do good deeds; hence, this saying is like his (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam)'s saying about the bedouin's urine, "Pour over his urine a bucketful of water."
The types of actions by which sins can be forgiven
It is also most appropriate that the good deeds be of the same nature as the bad deeds, for that is most effective in cancellation. The recompense for sins can be averted through several things:
(i) Tawbah (repentance);
(ii) Istighfaar (asking for forgiveness), even without repentance, for Allah does forgive in answer to one's supplication even if he has not repented; however, if repentance and forgiveness are combined (i.e. a person stops sinning and petitions for forgiveness), then that is ideal.
(iii) good and correct actions which are Kaffaaraat (expiating sins). The Kaffaraat are of two types:
a) specified Kaffaraaat, i.e. in those actions for which the Sharia has fixed an expiation. Examples of such Kaffaaraat are those for commiting intercourse while fasting in Ramadaan, for saying to one's wife, "you are like a mother to me", for violating certain prohibitions during Hajj or leaving some of its obligations, or for killing game in the Haram; all these have established allotted ways to expiate the sins, of four types: sacrifice, freeing a slave, charity and fasting.
b) general Kaffaaraat, as Hudhaifah radiAllahu 'anhu said to 'Umar radiAllahu 'anhu, "Fitna is caused to a man due to his family, wealth and children; so prayer, fasting, charity, enjoining goodness and forbiding evil wipe this out." Also on this point, the Qur'aan and saheeh ahaadeeth prove that the five daily prayers, Friday Prayer, fasting, Hajj and other actions expiate sin, regarding which it is said, "Whoever says such-and-such or does such-and-such, then he is forgiven, or his previous sins are forgiven." There are many of these types of actions; whoever researches into the books of Hadeeth will find them in abundance, particularly in those books compiled regarding the virtues of actions.
Influence of the habits of Ignorance, especially of the Jews & Christians
It should be known that care regarding expiation of sins is one of the most important needs of a person, for otherwise one acquires habits similar to those of the Days of Ignorance, especially in this age and those ages where Revelation and Messengership has stopped. Even one who is brought up amongst people of Knowledge and Faith finds himself polluted by many aspects of Jahiliyah, so what about one who does not have that advantage?!
In the Saheehs of Bukhaari and Muslim, there is a hadeeth on the authority of Abu Sa`eed that the Messenger said, "You will certainly follow the ways of those nations who were before you, span by span and cubit by cubit, so much so that even if they entered a lizard's hole, you would follow them." They said, "O Messenger ! (Do you mean) the Jews and the Christians ?" He said, "Who else ?"
This hadeeth is supported by the Qur'aan: ... they had their enjoyment of their portion, and you have yours as did those before you, and you indulge in idle talk as they did ...
This hadeeth is supported also by many saheeh and hasan narrations.
This matter does affect even the elite people who are attributed with the Faith, as several of the Salaf, e.g. Ibn `Uyainah, have said, "that some people attributed with Knowledge have become affected by many of the conditions of the Jews, and some of those attributed with Piety have been affected by many of the conditions of the Christians", as will be perceived by one who understands the reality of the deen of Islam, with which Allah Ta'aala sent the Messenger , and compares with the situation of the people.
With the situation as it is, that person whose heart Allah has made open, and is firm on the light that Allah has given him, who was dead and then Allah brought him to life and gave him light by which he could move among the people; for such a one, it is necessary to be aware of the conditions of Ignorance and the path of the two nations, "those who incurred (Allah's) anger" and "those astray" i.e. the Jews and Christians, so he may realise which things have affected him.
Hence, one of the most beneficial things for both the advanced and ordinary person is knowledge of what he can do to liberate himself from these pitfalls, and that is to follow up bad deeds with good ones, good deeds being the actions, manners and characteristics which Allah has recommended on the tongue of the last Prophet ().
Another category of things which avert the consequences of sinning is "expiating misfortunes", i.e. whatever causes hardship or suffering, be it fear or sorrow, or harm to one's wealth, honour, body, etc.. However, of course, these misfortunes are not the work of the person himself.
Next, after the Messenger () had covered Allah's right in the first two clauses, i.e. to act righteously and to rectify any harm done, he said, "... and behave well towards the people", thus turning to the right of one's fellow worshippers.
The essence of being good-natured to people is that: he who cuts off relations with you, that you keep an association with him, giving him greetings, respecting him, supplicating for him, asking Allah to forgive him, speaking of him in good terms and visiting him; he who deprives you of knowledge, benefit and wealth, you give them in return; and he who does an injustice to you regarding blood, wealth or honour, you forgive him. Some of these actions are obligatory and others are recommended.
As for the "great character" which Allah described Muhammad ()'s way, it is no other than the complete Deen, comprising of everything that Allah commanded him with, as explained by Mujaahid and other knowledgeable commentators; it is no other than the implementation of the Qur'aan, as 'Aa'isha RadiAllahu 'Anhaa said, "His character was the Qur'aan", and the reality of it is an eagerness to put into practice those things that Allah loves, with purity of soul and openness of heart.
Tafseer of the word 'Taqwaa'
All of the above ideas do emanate from the Wasiyyah of Allah mentioned at the beginning, and this should be understood as such that the word 'Taqwaa' is very comprehensive, covering the fulfilment of all of Allah's orders, whether they are ones of obligation or recommendation, and also the refraining from all that Allah has forbidden, whether it is totally prohibited or strongly discouraged; hence, it includes both the right of Allah and the right of his slaves. However, wherever 'taqwaa' specifically refers to fear of the consequent punishment refraining one from indulging in the prohibited, it is clear from the context; an example of this is in the hadeeth of Mu`aadh (under discussion), and similar is the hadeeth of Abu Hurairah which Tirmidhi has narrated and declared to be saheeh,
The Messenger of Allah () was asked about that which mostly earns people entry to Paradise; he replied, "Taqwaa and goodness of character." He was also asked about that which mostly earns people entry into the Fire; he replied, "The mouth and the private parts."
In a narration of a saheeh hadeeth from 'Abdullaah bin `Umar, the Messenger said,
"The most complete of the believers in eemaan is he who is the best of them in character."
Hence, the Prophet told us that perfection of Eemaan lies in completeness of one's goodness of character; it is known that all of Eemaan is Taqwaa. However, this is not the place for a detailed discussion of the fundamentals and branches of Taqwaa, for that would cover the Deen in its entirety.
The origin and root of all good is Ikhlaas (pure sincerity), i.e. that the slave directs all worship and seeking of assistance purely towards his Lord, as in Allah's statements:
You alone we worship and Your aid alone we seek.
... then worship Him, and put your trust in Him ...
... in him I trust, and unto Him I turn.
... then seek sustenance from Allah, and serve Him, and be grateful to Him.
This is done in such a way that the slave terminates his heart's connection with the created, whether with regard to benefiting from them or acting for their sake, but instead preoccupies himself with his Exalted Creator, the means of attaining which is to supplicate Him for everything required out of poverty, necessity or fear, etc., to carry out every beloved action for the sake of His good pleasure. If someone were to implant this type of Ikhlaas firmly and thoroughly, it would not be possible for him to be affected by any punishable trait.
After the obligatory acts the best action is Dhikr Allah (Remembrance)
As for the next question regarding the best action after the obligatory duties, an answer which is totally comprehensive and detailed for everyone is not possible since it would vary according to each person's differing capabilities and opportunities. However, what is agreed upon by all those who have knowledge of Allah and His commands, is that in general, the best thing with which a slave can occupy himself is the Dhikr (Remembrance) of Allah. In support of this is the hadeeth from Abu Huraira radiAllahu 'anhu which Muslim narrates:
"The loners (mufarridoon) have taken the lead." The Companions asked, "O Messenger of Allah! Who are the loners ?" He replied, "Those men and women who remember Allah in abundance."
Similar is narrated by Abu ad-Dardaa' radiAllahu 'anhu in a report of Abu Daawood:
"Shall I not inform you of the best of your actions, the most pure in the sight of your Master, the one which raises your ranks highest, that which is better for you than giving gold and silver (in charity), and better for you than your meeting your enemies, so that you strike their necks and they strike yours?" The companions urged, "Of course, O Messenger of Allah! (Inform us!)" He replied, "It is the Remembrance of Allah."
The virtues of the Remembrance of Allah are confirmed by proofs of insight, narration and analysis from the Qur'aan and Eemaan.
Types of Dhikr
The basic method of Dhikr is that the slave makes a habit of putting into practice those adhkaar (phrases of dhikr) which have been taken from the teacher of goodness, the leader of the righteous, Muhammad (sallAllahu `alayhi wa sallam), such as:
- those adhkaar which have a fixed timing, e.g. at the beginning and end of the day, when going to sleep and waking up, and after the compulsory Prayers;
- those adhkaar which are specified for certain actions, e.g. eating and drinking, putting on clothes, sexual intercourse, entering and exiting the Masjid and the toliet, or at the time of rain and thunder, etc.. As regards both these types of Dhikr, books have been written under the title of "Actions of the day and night."
There are also those adhkaar which are unrestricted, i.e. they are not confined to some special time or occasion; of these, the most excellent is Laa ilaaha illa-llaah (There is no true deity except Allah), but sometimes according to the situation, some phrases such as Subhaan Allah (Allah is Glorified), Al-hamdu li-llaah (All Praised be to Allah), Allahu Akbar (Allah is the Greatest) and Laa Hawla wa laa Quwwata illaa bi-llaah (There is no power or movement except by Allah) become more excellent.
Further, it should be known that everything that brings mankind closer to Allah, whether it is the saying of the tongue or contemplation of the heart, for example in acquiring knowledge, commanding good and forbidding evil, this is all part of the Dhikr of Allah. Hence, one who is occupied in seeking beneficial Knowledge after fulfilling the obligatory acts, or takes his place in a gathering where Fiqh (Understanding) - that which Allah and His Messenger have named Fiqh - is read and taught, this also an excellent Dhikr of Allah. When you consider this, you will thus realise that there is no major controversy among the early people of knowledge regarding the most excellent of actions after the obligatory duties.
Istikhaarah (asking Allah to decide on one's behalf)
In those matters where the slave is in doubt, he should seek Allah's guidance in deciding, for he who seeks help in decision from Allah will never be ashamed. He should do this often and also supplicate often, for that is the key to every benefit, and not be impatient saying, "I have asked but not been answered," and he should seek to find the best time to supplicate, for example the last part of the night, at the time of Adhaan, after the obligatory Prayers, at the time of rain, and others.
The Best Goal is Trust in Allah
As for the next part of the question, about the highest prize to aim for, the answer to this is that the best prize to have is Trust in Allah, reliance in Him of His sufficience, and keeping a good opinion of Him, the latter being that if anyone is anxious regarding their subsistence then he should turn to the shelter of Allah, as the Exalted said, from what is narrated by His Prophet, "O My servants, all of you are hungry except for those I have fed, so seek food of Me and I shall feed you. O My servants, all of you are naked except for those I have clothed, so seek clothing of Me and I shall clothe you." In this regard there is also the hadeeth which Imaam Tirmidhi narrates from Anas RadiAllahu 'anhu, who said that the Messenger of Allah said, "Each of you should ask for his needs from Allah, even if the lace of your shoe breaks, because if Allah does not facilitate it, it will never be possible."
Allah Ta'aala says in His Book: ... But ask Allah for His bounty ...
He, Glorified, also says: And when the prayer is finished, then you may disperse through the land, and seek of the Bounty of Allah.... Although this aayah is in the context of the congregational Friday Prayer, its meaning applies to all the prayers. This is why - and Allah knows best - the Prophet instructed the person entering the masjid to say, "Allahumma -ftah lee abwaaba rahmatik (O Allah open the doors of Your mercy for me)", and when leaving the masjid to say, "Allahumma innee as'aluka min fadlik (O Allah give me of Your Bounty)" ; also, the Friend of Allah (Ibraaheem) `alaihis-salaam had said, So seek sustenance from Allah, serve Him, and be grateful to him.
This is a command, and a command signifies obligation. Therefore, to seek help from Allah and to entreat to Him in the matter of livelihood and others is a major principle. Further, it is important in seeking a livelihood that one should acquire wealth with generosity of heart so that he may be blessed in it, and without greediness. Neither should he make wealth the primary aim; rather, he should regard wealth much as he regards the toilet, which he has need of but it has no place in his heart, and he only resorts to it when necessary.
A marfoo` Hadeeth which is related by Tirmidhi and others is, "He who gets up in the morning with this world his greatest concern, Allah disperses his collected gains and puts its loss in front of him, and only that of the world comes to him which is written for him. And he who gets up in the morning with the Hereafter his greatest concern, Allah gathers for him his works and creates richness in his heart due to them, and the world comes to him subserviently."
One of the Salaf said, "Each of you is in need of the world but you are in more need of your portion in the Hereafter. Therefore, if you are in search of your portion in the Hereafter first and foremost (and you should be so), then achieve your portion of the world in passing, such that it is taken care of as it comes.
Allah Exalted says, I have only created jinns and men that they may serve Me. No sustenance do I require of them, nor do I require that they should feed Me. For Allah is He who gives (all) sustenance, Lord of Power, steadfast (forever).
With regard to the best skill, or specifying one skill over another, be it handicraft or trade, building or agricultural, etc., this varies among people, and I know of no all-embracing answer, except that when an opportunity presents itself to a person, then he should seek help in decision from Allah through the Istikhaarah learnt from the Teacher of Goodness , because there is unlimited blessing in that, and then adopt whatever is easy for him. Thus he will not have to go to great hardship in another line, unless there is any Sharee`i objection to the initial possibility, in which case it is a different matter.
As for which book(s) one may depend on for the different fields of Knowledge, this is a wide topic, and again, the answer to this varies according to people's backgrounds in different lands. This is because in each land, one field of learning or way or mode of thinking may be easier than another, but the source of all good and blessings is that one seeks help from Allah the Glorified in acquiring knowledge inherited from the Prophet SallAllahu 'alayhi wa Sallam, because that is what is truly fit to be named "Knowledge". Anything else is either not knowledge at all even though people call it so, or it is knowledge which is not beneficial, or it is beneficial knowledge, in which case it is neccessarily true that there exists in the inheritance of Muhammad SallAllahu 'alayhi wa Sallam that which replaces it, being similar to or better than it.
The person's effort should thus be to understand the purposes of the Messenger in his commands, prohibitions and his various other sayings. When the heart is contented that something is indeed what the Messenger intended, then he should not waver from it as far as possible, whether it is regarding his duties to Allah or to the people. In all branches of knowledge, he should strive to hold firmly to principles narrated from the Prophet ; if he is in doubt regarding any matter about which the people of knowledge have differed, then he should supplicate to Allah with the du`aa' which appears in Saheeh Muslim narrated by 'Aa'ishah, that when the Messenger first stood for the night prayer, he would say, "O Allah! Lord of Jibreel, Meekaa'eel, and Israafeel, Originator of the Heavens and the Earth, Knower of the Unseen and the Present ! You judge among your slaves regarding what they have differed in. Guide me to the truth regarding that in which they have differed, for truly, You do guide whomsoever You wish to a path that is straight." This is because Allah Exalted has said, as narrated by His Messenger from Him, "O My slaves, all of you are astray except those that I have given guidance to, so seek guidance of Me and I shall guide you."
As for a description of books and compilations, the questioner will have heard from me what Allah has made easy on other occasions. I will say this much now, that out of all the compiled books which have been divided into chapters, there is none more beneficial than the Saheeh of Muhammad bin Ismaa`eel al-Bukhaari,; however, this alone is not enough to cover the major principles of the knowledge, nor can it fulfil all the objectiaves of one who seeks to dive into the ocean of knowledge, because it is imperative that other Ahadeeth, and the words of the people of Fiqh and the people of knowledge of those matters in which certain people are specialised, be known, for the Ummah has progressed in all fields of learning. He whose heart Allah enlightens, He guides him through whatever of all that reaches him; but he whose heart Allah blinds, more and more books only increase him in confusion and misguidance, as the Prophet said to Ibn Labeed al-Ansaari, "Do the Jews and Christians not have the Tauraat and the Injeel? So what benefit did these bring them?"
We ask Allah Almighty that He sustains us with guidance and firmness, and puts into our hearts those things by which we will receive guidance and keep us protected from the mischief of our sins, and that after giving us guidance, he may save us from deviation, and grant us Mercy from Him, for He is the Generous. All Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, and His blessings be on the most noble of the messengers.