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The Stoics | Ramadan Reflections

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ASalamu Alaykum,

One of the most profound statements I came across while in prison was Ibn Taymiyyah’s commentary on sadness.

He wrote that “as for sadness, neither Allah nor His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) enjoined it. In fact, He prohibited it on multiple occasions, even in regards to religious matters.” He then referenced a number of examples in the Qur’an (3:139, 9:40, 36:76, and 57:23), and explained that “this is because sadness is pointless, and Allah doesn’t enjoin anything pointless.

Yes, one who is sad isn’t sinning if his sadness isn’t accompanied by anything haram. He can in fact be rewarded and praised for a quality that accompanies his sadness, so he’s lauded in that sense and not due to the sadness itself – such as his sadness due to an affliction in his own religiosity, or the afflictions of Muslims in general.

So such a person is rewarded according to his heart’s love of good and hatred of evil… However, if this results in weakness of the heart and its being distracted from what Allah and His Messenger did enjoin, such sadness is condemned and rejected from that angle…”

Sadness is a natural response to our gaping wounds of Gaza, Guantanamo, and beyond. Our crying emojis are as ubiquitous as the somber tones that accompany each bit of relevant footage circulating online.

But as Ibn Taymiyyah pointed out, this is blameworthy when it manifests as weakness. It’s especially so when we know that multiple studies have shown the pleasure centers in a bully’s brain being stimulated when he sees his victim suffer. Now connect this to the fact that for the Prophet and the Sahabah, it was at their lowest points that they were the most stoic, even going out of their way to project strength. Some snapshots:

• Hamra’ al-Asad: After the bloody defeat at Uhud, the Prophet deliberately gathered only the Sahabah who had experienced that defeat to successfully chase after the very army that had just defeated them;

• ar-Raji’: After being captured and sentenced to death, Khubayb prayed two rak’at before his execution, then went out of his way to clarify to his captors that “had I not been worried that you’d think I feared death, I would’ve prayed for a longer time”;

• ‘Umrat al-Qada’: In the post-Hudaybiyah order, the mushrikun had stoked rumors that the visiting Muslims were weakened by the fever of Madinah. In response, the Prophet commanded the Sahabah to perform the first three rounds of tawaf at a more rapid pace than the others (known as ramal), all in order to dispel any perception of weakness in their ranks.

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So whether facing the military defeat, captivity, or political incapacitation described above, there was a deliberate method applied by the Prophet and those who stood with him in the face of whatever was thrown at them.

It was the same method of the previous Prophets and those who stood with them, who {“never lost assurance due to what afflicted them in the cause of Allah , nor did they weaken or submit…”} (3:146)

And those who have been scorched by the same flames of fitnah today have likewise learned that there’s no room and no time for complaint or weakness.

Cut down on the crying emojis. Whatever is thrown at us, we have no choice but to suck it up with a straight face and move on, because our leader (صلى الله عليه و سلم) taught us that “the strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer…”

– Tariq Mehanna

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Tariq Mehanna
Former Prisoner