Event Review: Amidst the Turmoil: Seeking Clarity & Balance by Ustadh Usama Canon
The first lecture in the Clarity and Balance Tour series of workshops and lectures by Ustadh Usama Canon and organised by SimplyIslam saw the Singapore Post Auditorium filled with more than 200 people seeking knowledge on a Friday evening.
Ustadh Usama began his lecture by stressing the importance of maintaining faith even though we live in challenging times, referencing the the hadith of the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa salam) where he said that his ummah is like the rain, it is not known which of it is better, the first of it or the last. Ustadh Usama explained that what this statement means is that the community will always have good in it, even in the end times and even times of strife like ours.
The ustadh related that he once confided in one of his teachers that all the strife he saw in the world weakened his faith. His teacher replied that all of this strengthened his faith because it confirmed what was prophesied by Rasulallah (sallahu alaihi wa salam). Ustadh Usama explained that even though we did not see the miracles granted to Rasulallah (sallahu alaihi wa salam), all of the widespread killing, mass ignorance, prevalent fornication and disease, and earthquakes, that we see was foretold by the Prophet. This should increase us in faith because we know he spoke the truth.
Ustadh Usama stated that people today sometimes wonder why they were made Muslim at such a time when Islam is weak and hated, wishing instead that they had lived in the one of the golden ages of Islam. He compared such fantasising to objecting to the decree of Allah, as though humans knew better than God how their affairs should go.
“The end of time will not come until someone will tell a lie and it will immediately reach the horizons of the Earth”
Quoting the above hadith, he said that anybody can make a Youtube video or Twitter post, and regardless of the value of the content it would reach thousands. He gave examples of ignorant statements that he had either himself heard or heard about from friends as examples of some of the ignorance that pervades religious discourse in these days.
Ustadh Usama spoke of a friend who had heard in a sermon from the minbar that if one were to break fast with Shi’a, it would invalidate one’s fast. The ustadh repeated this story to his teacher, a faqih, who simply stated said that the Prophet ate with idol worshippers. It was a difference of degree rather than kind, the ustadh stated, between such extreme statements and believing that it was valid to kill other Muslims over differing beliefs. He related another story of a friend who had brought a non-Muslim friend to Friday prayers, only to discover the whole khutbah was about the permissibility of lying to a non-Muslim to get them to convert.
Ustadh Usama stated that as a result of such misguided views, young people were being drawn to extremism because these views were being taught as the core of the religion.
Piety according to the age
Ustadh Usama recalled the hadith of the Prophet, sallahu alaihi wa salam, in which he told the companions that though they would be destroyed were they to leave a tenth of the religion, there would come a time when whosoever practices a tenth of his religion will be saved.
He related the famous story of Imam Shafi’i complaining to his teacher Al-Waqi’ of his poor memory, which for Imam Shafi’i was simply the inability to remember the order of two narrators in a chain of narration of hadith. Al Waqi’ rebuked his student, saying that the only way to improve his memory was to leave sin. According to Ustadh Usama, the “sin” that caused Imam Shafi’i’s forgetfulness was that he accidentally glanced at a woman’s ankle, with another opinion stating that he had seen a woman’s face when the wind blew her niqab up.
It was a blessing for us that we were not held to the standards of the pious predecessors, and he explained that piety had to be judged according to the times in which we lived.
Ustadh Usama gave some advice for those wishing to face the challenges of this age.
He first advised that we go to teachers who are specialised in the religious sciences that we require help in, whether tajwid, fiqh, tasawuf, or others, as well ask help from our elders, and others in the community. He said listening to so-called “shaykhs” on Youtube and Twitter rather than seeking the advice of local scholars and elders was a cause of people going overseas to fight in what they believed were “righteous” wars, rather than confronting the problems in their own communities.
For the youth in the audience, he spoke of how our views on life and religion would inevitably change over the years. As an example, he said that in a conversation, one of his teachers explained to him that he viewed the texts he had studied thirty years ago in a new light thanks to insight gained over the years. Ustadh Usama advised that it was not wise to grow publicly. Especially in the age of social media, he stated that it was not advisable to post all our views online only to revise them a week later and apologise for our old views, with the hashtags #newperspective and #rebranded.
Ustadh Usama also advised that we be comfortable with where Allah has placed us. He explained that this did not mean that we should expect to never move on with our lives, but rather that the situations that we are currently is exactly where Allah wants us to be. Referring to an aphorism of Ibn Ata’illah which stated that perhaps that wanting to be in isolation remembering Allah when one had to work and take means to earn a living, was perhaps a hidden desire to escape from their responsibilities. Ustadh explained that the responsibilities of having to work, study and support a family are difficult, compared to simply making dhikr alone on the beach. Those who had to work twelve or more hours a day to support their families, that was their jihad.
Ustadh Usama said that heart work was hard work, and that anybody hoping to change the world had to first change themselves, and admit that there was plenty of room for improvement within themselves. He quoted verse 66 of Surah At-Tahrim in the Qur’an “Save yourselves and your families from a fire, whose fuel is men and stones”. He stressed the need to work on our hearts and eliminate arrogance, envy, vanity, and laziness.
His final piece of advice was to slow down, and understand that everything takes time. Ustadh Usama said that he first converted, he was an angry, disgruntled young man. He had asked one of his shaykhs what advice he would give young people who wanted to make a difference in the world, and the shaykh simply replied, “Get married”.
Getting married, Ustadh Usama explained, would help heal society and spread justice by creating just, well-adjusted families. He added that spirituality was similar to getting married in that there’s often a honeymoon period where everything is happy and wonderful, especially for those who convert into the religion. And after the honeymoon is where the real work of building one’s religion and building a community, and getting one’s affairs right with Allah. This, he said, had to go beyond clicktivism and slacktivism.
Question and Answer
Responding to a question on attaining contentment despite facing opposition in life, the ustadh said that we should take the moral high ground against enemies. He quoted Surah al-Fussilat verse 34, saying “Respond with a better response, and then suddenly the one whom you have enmity with will be as if they were a dear friend“. Ustadh Usama warned that this did not mean enduring abuse towards oneself or one’s family, but that one should attempt to remove oneself from such situations, yet not be vengeful and make du’a for one’s enemies.
Patience, he said, was not simply not doing anything and enduring difficulties, but instead involved perservering and attempting to change the situation one was in.
To another question on whether knowledge or activism was better, he said that it was not a matter of comparing but rather that the two were complementary. He quoted the hadith of the Prophet, “Whoever of you sees an evil must then change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then with his heart. And that is the weakest of faith.” He stressed that the term used was “change” and not “stop”, and that we needed to have the mindset of not simply stopping wrongdoing but changing things for the better. Knowledge and action had to complement each other, and it was of primary importance, he said, that first and foremost we learn fardhul ain, and the rulings regarding whatever transactions we were taking part in.
I have had the privilege of attending several sessions with Ustadh Usama during his visits to Singapore over the past few years, and have always gained tremendous benefit from his grounding in the traditional sacred sciences, understanding of modern day issues, and willingness to share his personal experiences when teaching. This public lecture was no exception.
He tackled many of the issues facing the ummah today, including extremism and widespread ignorance. One thing I found interesting was that the ustadh made the observation that though fitnah literally means discord, linguistically it refers to the process of purifying and refining gold. InshaAllah reflection on this fact will bring benefit to the ummah, by understanding that all the strife we see in the world or even in our personal lives is merely a means of purifying ourselves and moving towards better states.
Ahmad Zhaki Abdullah
Ahmad Zhaki holds a degree in English Literature from the University of London. He is a full-time executive at a local research institute and a part-time writer.