Upon a Brink, Fiqh of Faith, Giving Up

Issue 963 » September 8, 2017 - Dhul Hijja 17, 1438

Living The Quran

Upon a Brink
Al-Hajj (The Pilgrimage) Sura 22: Verse 11

"And among mankind some worship God upon a brink: if good befalls him, he is content thereby, but if a trial befalls him, he is turned over upon his face, losing this world and the Hereafter. That is the manifest loss."

Upon a brink is understood to mean "in a state of doubt" or that one's belief is superficial, on the outer reaches of one's consciousness and not in the heart. According to al-Tabari, this refers to people like the Bedouin of the Prophet's time, who would come and embrace Islam if there were some material benefit to be had, but who would go back to their old ways once that benefit was no longer available. If their lives were going well, with material wealth and sons, they would affirm the Prophet's veracity, but if they were afflicted with bad economic conditions and having only daughters, they would go back to their former ways.

For others, this verse provides a general description of hypocrites, whose religion is informed by a superficial notion of what is good for them. They are upon a brink in that the slightest discomfort topples them from faith. They lose both this world — because the material goods they thought they would attain will be lost — and the Hereafter — because they were heedless of the true nature and rewards of faith.

Compiled From:
"The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary" - Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Fiqh of Faith

"If God wishes to elevate someone, God grants him knowledge (fiqh) of the faith." [Bukhari]

Knowledge (fiqh) is not only about the judicial rulings pertaining to the practical rituals and social aspects of the faith. In principle, fiqh refers to the deep understanding and full comprehension of Islamic law and its different rulings.

In Islamic law, there are principles (usul) and secondary issues (furu). Principles have priority over secondary issues. There are obligations and optional good deeds. Obligations have priority over optional deeds. There are major sins and minor sins. Avoiding major sins takes priority over avoiding minor sins. The action of the heart is more important than the action of other organs of the body, and thus has a higher priority. The sin committed in the heart is more dangerous than the sin committed by the other organs. And so on. Be aware of those differences and their implications; otherwise, one may be following a whim and not a proper understanding of Islamic law. Without a knowledge of priorities, one may follow outward appearances. For example, if you have some money by which you can either perform the pilgrimage or help in improving the building of a mosque, a proper understanding entails that you perform the pilgrimage first. The pilgrimage is an obligation and one of the pillars of Islam, and thus it has to be performed first, whereas improving or beautifying the building of a mosque is optional and in fact not required.

However, if this money is needed for medication for an elderly parent, for example, then you should spend this money on them and delay the performance of pilgrimage. Taking care of one's parents is an immediate obligation, while pilgrimage is an obligation that can be delayed. Doing the opposite is a sign of following one's whims, not proper knowledge.

Unfortunately, in present-day societies and communities, some people claim that they follow the Prophet's (peace be upon him) way of life, that is, his way of dressing, his outward appearance, his way of sitting, the colour of his clothes, and so forth. Yet, the very same people may mistreat their parents, amass a fortune through corruption, misuse the public trust or resources, or curse and backbite against people. In other words, they fulfil the outward but miss the obligatory.

Compiled From:
"A Journey to God: Reflections on the Hikam of Ibn Ataillah" - Jasser Auda


Giving Up

The letting go is a real death, a real dying; it costs us an enormous amount of energy, the price, as it were, which life exacts from us over and over again for being truly alive. For this seems to be one of the basic laws of life; we have only what we give up. We all have had the experience of a friend admiring something we owned when for a moment we had an impulse to give that thing away. If we follow this impulse — and something may be at stake that we really like, and it pains for a moment — then for ever and ever we will have this thing; it is really ours; in our memory, it is something we have and can never lose.

It is all the more so with personal relationships. If we are truly friends with someone, we have to give up that friend all the time, we have to give freedom to that friend — like a mother who gives up her child continually. If the mother hangs on to the child, first of all it will never be born; it will die in the womb. But even after it is born physically it has to be set free and let go over and over again. So many difficulties that we have with our mothers, and that mothers have with their children, spring exactly from this, that they can't let go; and apparently, it is much more difficult for a mother to give birth to a teenager than to a baby. But this giving up is not restricted to mothers; we must all mother each other, whether we are men or women. And whenever we do give up a person or a thing or a position, when we truly give it up, we die-yes, but we die into greater aliveness. We die into a real oneness with life. Not to die, not to give up, means to exclude ourselves from that free flow of life.

But giving up is very different from letting someone down; in fact, the two are exact opposites. It is an upward gesture, not a downward one. Giving up the child, the mother upholds and supports him, as friends must support one another. We cannot let down responsibilities that are given to us, but we must be ready to give them up, and this is the risk of living, the risk of the give and take. There is a tremendous risk involved, because when you really give up, you don't know what is going to happen to the thing or to the child. If you knew, the sting would be taken out of it, but it wouldn't be a real giving up. When you hand over responsibility, you have to trust. That trust in life, that faith, is the courage to take upon yourself the risk of living and dying — because the two are inseparable.

Compiled From:
"Giving Up is Different From Letting Someone Down" - David Steindl-Rast