Etiquettes of One Seeking the Truth


Our Daily Fatiha and the Quest of Salman Al-Farisi

Between twenty and thirty times a day we recite al Fatiha. And each time, we request that Allah guide us to the straight path. We are ‘seekers of the true path, not the path of those Allah is angry with, nor the path of those who have gone astray’. In repeating this so many times a day, we are confirming the understanding that the Truth is not a location you arrive at but a journey that ends only with your last breath. A journey of seeking the straight path in every action, intention and emotion of our day, everyday.

Salman al Farisi is a companion that the The Messenger ﷺ endeared to our heart. There are specific incidents that make him beloved to us. The Prophet ﷺ ordered a trench to be dug around Medina at Salman’s suggestion¹. The Prophet ﷺ  agreed with his advice on balance in one’s life when Salman counseled his friend Abu Dharr on the subject². Most of all we are all moved by Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ declaration, “Salman is of us Aal al Bayt.”³

But it is Salman’s quest for the Truth that is legendary. His story was one that the Prophet ﷺ  liked for the Sahaba to hear.

Although it is told in a simple, straightforward manner, there are parts where one cannot help but pause and think. 

Following are some tips from the journey of one of the most renowned seekers of Truth:


1.  How to react when role models let us down: 

Salman was the son and heir of a man of wealth, power and position. He forsook it all to follow a caravan that would lead him to the head of the Christians then. He had spent a day with Christians in worship and had seen enough to know that this religion was the truth, so he immediately wanted to learn more and from the most knowledgeable Christian of the time.

As soon as he met the man, he put himself under his service intending to learn from him. The man proved to be an ill-mannered, wicked hypocrite who hoarded for himself the alms and charity people gave to the church. When he died, Salman exposed him to the people. Salman did not turn against the religion because he was mistreated by this person. He did not turn against the Christianity because the man misrepresented it. Salman separated between the truth and one who claimed he embodied that truth. He remained with the new leader of the faith who took over and found him to be the best of men. The incident did not become pivotal in his path nor did it become an identity symbol.

We put ourselves down when we rely on Muslims around us to be the true representatives of Islam. Other than our Prophet ﷺ  no one is perfect and above making mistakes. The Quran even commented on the Prophet’s ﷺ behavior when a more proper action was recommended. It is unfair to us and to the role models we look up to, when we expect perfection of them or believe they are above making mistakes. Our first Khalifah Abu Bakr spoke of something scholars call today ‘seeing obedience’ as opposed to ‘blind obedience’. He started by declaring that he was put in the position of ruling them but did not believe he was the best amongst them. Then he asked the people to support him as long as he did what was right and to correct him when he did wrong 

  قد وليت عليكم ولست بخيركم، فإن أحسنت فأعينوني، وإن أسأت فقوموني 

As those in a role model or authority position, firstly, we need to remind ourselves and others that we are neither perfect nor the best just because we have this position.  Secondly, we need to be open to correction when we do wrong. As members of society whether newcomers or seasoned, it is our right and our duty to seek knowledge and mentors, to learn our deen, and to assess a person’s behavior based on how closely it follows Islam and not to assess Islam by people’s behavior. Furthermore, it is important that we are critical of the deed not the person. If we are gifted enough to approach the person in private and inquire and explain how a certain act they are committing is wrong, so be it. If not, perhaps a private note might be less upsetting. 

A woman who allows her mother-in-law’s challenging idiosyncrasies about cleanliness to turn her off to maintaining tahara in her home has lost sight of what Allah wants of her. Sometimes we allow ourselves to turn our focus away from what is required from us by God to rebelling against individuals in our lives or making a statement. An abusive spouse must not be allowed to extend their harm so that it affects our Iman. 


2.  What to do when our journey keeps getting interrupted or seems to drag out indefinitely:

 

The good role model died, and Salman having asked him who was like him travels to another land to continue his quest of the truth and this is repeated two more times before the last person tells him that no one is left of the pure Christian belief and tells him to seek a prophet whose time has come. Not the passing of time, nor the repeated relocating, nor the death of each good teacher he found nor the prospect of traveling further, weakened Salman’s resolve. He was persistent in seeking the truth. 

We go through stages in life. Each stage comes with its hardships and pleasures. A mother of young children may feel distant and drained. A student at the end of the year may feel stressed and distracted. A breadwinner may feel totally consumed. But Islam is a religion of every moment and every day.

Our prayers are imbedded in the day. Intention turns mundane actions into acts of worship. My father-in-law used to say at every meal and before he went to bed, “I intend to strengthen myself for obedience.نويت التقوي على الطاعة ” This summer I met a newlywed who got her ijaza in Quran by heart a few months after her wedding. She had started memorizing during the year of her engagement. I met the mother of triplet toddlers who got her ijaza in the ten qira’as. These were not extraordinary women. They were focused, and they had mastered the art of carving out time for what is important whatever the circumstances, because it is always one set of circumstances that takes place of the other as we move through the stages of life.

You are judged by your effort not necessarily the result. You are rewarded for your struggle to stay focused on pleasing your Creator and to do what is right. You are rewarded for your persistence in seeking Allah’s rida. Focus and Akhira Glasses allow you to transform every mundane daily chore into an act of worship.


3.  What to do when the journey entails much sacrifice:

 

He tells us that with the last monk, he had begun to acquire wealth and that he had a flock of sheep. It is easy to be young and on the road, seeking something lofty. But when you are settled, and you have begun to gain material comfort, it becomes more difficult for one to uproot oneself and give up not only comfort but possession and money as well. Salman never hesitated. The Truth was ever-present in his life as something worthy of all sacrifice. Thus did he exchange all he owned to a caravan, in return for the trip to the Arabian Peninsula. 

Realizing the true value of guidance assures us that no other blessing can be compared to it. When the companion Suhayb gave up all the wealth he had accumulated to Quraish in order to be allowed to migrate to Medina, the Prophet ﷺ  welcomed him saying, “Profitable was your deal/trade O, Abu Yahya!” Prophet Muhammad says, “Sadaqa is proof.” Giving and sacrificing is a sign of sincerity.

In his book, SACRIFICE THE MAKING OF A MUSLIM, Khurram Murad defines sacrifice as “giving up something we love and to we attach value only for something we love more and to which we attach greater value.” It is the “more” here that is emphasized. Do you love Allah more than your time, money, family ties, friendship, ego, opinions, comfort? In explaining how Islam is a path of struggle he says:   

You enter Islam by saying shahadah (bearing witness). But you can live in Islam only by constantly doing shadadah. Doing  Shahadah will bring you in ceaseless confrontation with false gods inside you, and with those outside you. It will also require a ceaseless striving to reshape self and society so as to attest to your witnessing.


4.  What to do when hardship escalates, and one feels thwarted at every turn:

 

But things here were to take a turn for the worse. The people of the caravan that he trusted sold him as a slave, and he soon found himself serving a Jew in a city where the prophet he was seeking did not live. He did not take this to be a sign that what he was pursuing was a false truth or that he had wasted his life in search of something he was not about to attain. Along with persistence, there was patience. Even after finally meeting the Messenger ﷺ and accepting Islam, Salman still had to wait until he was able to buy his freedom before he could reach his goal of companionship.

Patience is highly valued in Islam. One level of sabr is exercised by bearing what you cannot change. A higher level of patience is disciplining yourself to do what is difficult for you. In both cases the purpose is pleasing Allah. Sabr is an act of worship and is mentioned ninety times in Quran. As believers, we will be given many chances to exercise this act of worship in our lives.

Sometimes qadar is incomprehensible and what helps in bearing it with sabr is trust in God and recognizing the ease imbedded in it or living in expectation of the ease to come.

In Islam we have a month each year to practice sabr in Ramadan. We are told that in an argument to stop arguing though you are in the right will grant you a house in the highest place in Jannah. We are taught that to control one’s anger is a sign of strength. Hardships and trials are an opportunity to gain the reward of sabr.

The uncomfortable and painful circumstances we suffer are no longer viewed as misfortunes.  Sometimes they are the disturbance needed to help us shake the love of dunia from our hearts; sometimes they are a window that opens new horizons of closeness to Allah ﷻ; sometimes they are a reminder of how weak and powerless we are and how deeply and intensely we need to turn in full submission to our Lord. These can be benefits of sabr.


5.  Proper mood and attitude of a Seeker of Truth:

 

After many years of embarking upon this path, Salman finally hears the Prophet’s name mentioned by his master and his brother under the palm tree he is picking dates from.  Salman tells us he became so agitated and excited that the whole tree began to shake with him and that he practically fell down upon his master. While descending, he started asking his master questions regarding what he heard, so that he was struck upon his face for his forwardness. Not time, age nor distance lessened the intensity of his thirst for the Truth. 

There are emotions that wear out with age, there are others that fade with familiarity, and there are emotions that simply get spent. The emotion of love / longing / ecstasy (that remains unaffected by anything except the numbness of one’s heart due to sin) is a person’s feelings toward his Creator.  Second to that are the feelings toward one who brings him closer to his Creator — namely Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.


6.  In seeking a role model to follow, hold them up to an authentic set of rules:

 

Despite his excitement, Salman puts his conclusion that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, to the test of the three proofs he was given by his last teacher. 

In our day and age, people are inclined to judge and criticize everyone. Our elders, teachers and scholars are people that we must respect. Those who have a say over us, we must obey, but it is never a blind or groveling obedience. We are obeying Allah in essence when we obey those He asked us to obey. Yet it is a selective and conditional obedience. We never obey anyone in what is disobedience to Allah and His orders; in that way it is selective: 

وان جاهداك على أن تشرك بي ما ليس لك  به  شيئا فلا تطعهما وصاحبهما في الدنيا معروفا 

Also, we must hold people up to the rules and regulations of Quran and Sunna; that is what makes it conditional.  Any deviation lessens our trust, and no one is above the orders of Quran and the example of the Prophet ﷺ.


7.  How to perceive your journey:

 

Salman was known to be a humble companion. He did not expect people to revere him for all he had been through. He did not dwell upon his sacrifice or hardship. He tells his story in a matter of fact tone never presenting any part of it as extraordinary or himself as heroic. 

We must always remember that whatever the cost, the Truth we have been allowed to find is priceless. There is nothing we can humanly endure that could be offered in return or as recompense.

In a time when seekers of the truth wish to be coddled, expect utopian communities and feel entitled to an easy ride, it befits us to examine and emulate the path of Salman. Patience and perseverance are essential manifestations of our faith. Life is not fair, that is why there is a Hereafter. To be human is to make mistakes but the best of us are those who make amends and are oft-repenting. 

Muslims are human, even when they are role models. They have their weaknesses, sometimes those weaknesses affect their image and role. I cannot hold them responsible for my doubts about Islam.  In fact, each of us needs to ask herself: am I there for my fellow Muslim? Do I have her back? Will I risk our friendship to make her uncomfortable or angry in this life in return for comfort and peace in the next? Lastly and most importantly: Do I realize how private and one on one my relationship with my Lord is? Am I missing out on how rich, intense and poignant it can be by tying it to the behavior or misbehavior of those I meet?


Footnotes:

¹ The digging of a trench was a Persian tactic of war and the Arabs had not heard of it. Prophet ﷺ  Muhammad acted upon Salman’s proposal.
² On a visit to Abi al Darda’, Salman noticing that he fasted all day and prayed all night and payed little attention to his wife said to him, ‘Your body has a right upon you, and your wife has a right upon you and your Lord has a right upon you so give each their right.’ Abi alDarda reported this to the Messenger ﷺ who said, “Salman speaks the truth.”
³ On the day of the battle of Khandaq, the Prophet ﷺ  designated a group of people to each portion to be dug. Salman was known for his physical strength, so the muhajireen called out, ‘He is one of us,’ and the Ansar called out, ‘No, he is one of us,’ at which point the Prophet ﷺ  said, ‘Salman is one of us, a member of my household.’

2 Responses to Etiquettes of One Seeking the Truth

  1. Qurat August 7, 2018 at 1:24 am

    This was so beautiful! My favorite lines, out of so many inspiring words, are:

    “In repeating this so many times a day, we are confirming the understanding that the Truth is not a location you arrive at but a journey that ends only with your last breath. A journey of seeking the straight path in every action, intention and emotion of our day, everyday.

  2. Qurat August 7, 2018 at 4:22 am

    This was so beautiful! My favorite lines, out of so many inspiring words, are regarding Surah alFatiha1:

    “In repeating this so many times a day, we are confirming the understanding that the Truth is not a location you arrive at but a journey that ends only with your last breath. A journey of seeking the straight path in every action, intention and emotion of our day, everyday.”

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