Bare Minimum Islam

When someone tells me that I should or shouldn’t do such and such because it says so in the Sunnah, I have one of three reactions:

  1. What, another rule?
  2. How was I supposed to know that?
  3. What does that have to do with being a good Muslim?

When I decided to become a Muslim, I was told that all I had to do was say the Shahada.  Then I was told that I had to believe in  and abide by the Five Pillars. Fine, I can handle that. But when I get told that I have to eat with my right hand only or remove all my body hair, I want to scream. Muslims who inform me of these rules are dead serious; there’s no doubt in their minds that you have to do these things or … What? Go to Hell? Seriously? That’s what Allah cares about?

I get that we’re supposed to obey Mohammad. I even understand the value of following his example. And I realize that it’s from the Sunnah that we get our instructions about exactly how to pray. But it seems to me that we have to use both common sense and discrimination when it comes to choosing which ahadith are to be followed.

An argument could be made that Muslims don’t have to follow any ahadith. After all, the Qur’an is supposed to be enough. Giving the Sunnah the same authority as the Qur’an seems to me to be a form of idolatry. Mohammad was just a man. He was not divine. We are to submit to Allah alone.

And then there’s the issue of whether or not a hadith is even genuine. The Qur’an has a perfect provenance: it came straight from Allah through the angel Gabriel. But we have no such assurances about the Sunnah. Human witnesses are not infallible. I appreciate that great care has been taken to establish the strength or weakness of a hadith. But we still can’t be 100% sure the way we can be about the Qur’an.

The advice I usually see is to consult an imam about these issues. Well, I’m sorry, but imams are human. Their opinions can be tainted by their own prejudices and cultural backgrounds. And, besides, how do you know if a certain imam is even qualified to issue fatwas? Who do you go to if you have doubts? Do you just pick someone off the Internet? And what if you don’t know Arabic?

I’m not opposed to learning ahadith and following the Sunnah. But I have to have something to hold onto when I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the rules and regulations that are thrown at me. I need to know what the bare minimum is for being a Muslim. And I believe I’ve found that in the very name of our deen: Islam.

Submission to Allah is the key. If I’m truly submitted, Allah will show me the way.

Published by

Ellen

Editor and chief writer at I, Muslimah and Femagination. Ellen also contributes regularly to Elevate Difference. She is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with two cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

10 thoughts on “Bare Minimum Islam”

  1. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said : What I told you not to do, definitely don’t do it; And what I told you to do, try as much as you can to do it.

    And regarding the issue that he was human, it’s true. However this doesn’t mean that he speaks for himself; he speaks by direct inspiration from Allah (Whether, Quran or Sunnah)

    Allah says in sura (Alnajm) verse 4:
    {your companion (Muhammad) has neither gone astray nor has erred. 3 Nor does he speak of (his own) desire. 4 It is only a revelation revealed.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Mohamed. But aren’t there two kinds of ahadith: the hadith nabawi, which are sayings that Muhammad made on his own, and the hadith qudsi, which are sayings that Muhammad made through divine inspiration? All I’m saying is that it’s extremely hard for a convert (or for any Muslim for that matter) to learn every ahadith. I just hate the feeling that I get from some Muslims that they’re better than I am because they do some obscure thing I’ve never even heard of.

  2. Asalamu aliakuam Ellen!

    Of course, it would be hard for you. It’s hard for some of us raised as Muslims our entire lives! I don’t know why anyone would think that you would ‘know’ all these ‘littler’ rules already. BUT, here’s the thing. There’s one thing about ‘not knowing the little rules and even maybe not following them’ and there’s another completely different thing of throwing out a ‘huge/big’ rule- the big rule being “obeying the Messenger and taking his hadiths”.

    Like that’s what brother Mohammed and I are concerned about.

    I mean, let’s take a look at the Qur’an and see what it says, okay? (Brother Mohammed posted a great ayah, but here are a couple more)..

    Say, [O Muhammad to the people], “If you should love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” 31. Say, “Obey Allah and the Messenger.” But if they turn away – then indeed, Allah does not like the disbelievers. (32) (Surat Al Imran:)

    Certainly Allah conferred a benefit upon the believers when He raised among them a Messenger from among themselves, reciting to them His communications and purifying them, and teaching them the Book and the wisdom , although before that they were surely in manifest error. (Surah Al-e Imran, 164)

    Whoever obeys the Messenger, he indeed obeys Allah, and whoever turns back, so We have not sent you as a keeper over them. (Surah An-Nisa, 80)

    And whatever the Messenger has given you – take; and what he has forbidden you – refrain from. (surat al hashr 6)

    It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path. (Surah Al-Ahzab, 36)

    You know, the Prophet himself warned us of this ‘time”:

    The Prophet said, “There will come a time when a man sitting upon his couch is told a hadeeth and he replies, ‘Between us and you is the Book of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic. What we find in it to be lawful, we take as lawful and what we find in it to be forbidden, we take as forbidden.’ Indeed, what the Messenger of Allah has forbidden is like what Allah has forbidden.”

    I’d know that you might think- yeah- but seriously, how do we know which ones to follow? The great news is that we have a whole science dedicated to that. I suggest you check this link out: http://muttaqun.com/scienceofhadith.html

    Also, I wrote an answer to someone about ‘the eyebrow hadith’ thing that might interest you. “Like are we really going to hell if we don’t follow this?” http://dearlittleauntie.blogspot.com/2010/07/sweat-free-eye-brows-and-i-bow.html

  3. You are right; we must be very careful before accepting any hadith, because there are so many hadith that seem way out of line, or even don’t comply with the Qur’an and yet they have been labelled as authentic because those involved in sorting out fake hadith from real ones regard the people involved in the chain as authentic. But we must put our logic and belief in the Qur’an before any hadith, because alot of subjectivity has gone into the sorting out of the hadith. This is natural- these are sayings that have been transmitted over a thousand of years, and although we have done our best to assess the honesty of each person involved in the chain, we cannot assume that each person heard it correctly and passed it on correctly. We’ve all played Chinese whispers as kids and know how different sayings can turn out to be from the original!

    Also, there was a point of time in history where there was alot of corruption. Many of the leaders of the islamic empire after our Prophet were politically motivated. Mu’awiya, for example, is believed to have gone on a campaign of hadith inventions to suit his interests. These are not nice facts about islamic history, but it is necessary to acknowledge these times to know of the possible falsities we may be accepting into our religion.

    As a general guide, we can classify acts as follows:
    -Ja’iz: allowed. Doing/not doing makes no difference (eg choosing to drive or walk, eating an apple, etc)
    -Wajib: obligatory. Not doing is punished and doing is rewarded (eg prayer, zakaat)
    -Mustahab: recommended. Doing is rewarded but not doing is not punished. This is where a large proportion of sunnah fits. (eg saying bismillah before eating, performing ablution before sleeping..)
    -Makrooh: not recommended. These are acts that are allowed and doing is not punished, but avoiding them is rewarded. (eg eating with the left hand, praying with a full bladder…)
    -Haram: not allowed. Doing is punished, not doing (for the sake of it being haram) is rewarded

  4. Ellen,

    As a convert, I understand your frustration. There comes a point in time that we (converts and non) need to step back from everyone’s judgment, opinion and advice and pray directly to God for guidance. One major difference between Christianity and Islam is that the prophet Muhammed (pbuh) emphasized our DIRECT relationship with our Creator. Thus, it is our right to seek him when the advice of others do not help us.

    Thankfully, we have also been given the Quran and a body of knowledge about the prophet’s teachings. One of my good friends once said that when we are in doubt, we should seek knowledge from the Quran ourselves and various sources like scholars, books, etc. We also need to work with our culture. For example, I may be able to relate to a “Western” scholar more so than a scholar from the Middle East. Thank God that there are scholars who speak (and write) in English and can communicate knowledge in Islam effectively from a point of view that is familiar to us.

    Islam should not be difficult. The prophet (pbuh) encouraged Muslims to invite others to Islam and to make things easier for them. I have also met individuals who are too caught up in their own cultural upbringing and cannot even distinguish in their minds that they are converging religion and culture.

    There are times, too, when we just need to use our heads when making decisions (you can’t imagine how uncommon common sense really is :s). For example, I am left-handed and have also been told that it’s sunnah to eat with right hand. I don’t dispute this, but I also put it into context. People in that time ate with their right because they wiped their butts with their left (sorry, but it needs to be said). If others believe that “the devil is invited to the table” if you eat with your left (as I was once told), then they are superstitious which contradicts teachings in Islam. If someone’s advice is new or doesn’t make sense, then begin by researching its origin yourself. If it isn’t compelling, then just file it in your mind somewhere and when (and if) it ever makes sense as the right thing to do, then you do it when you are ready.

    1. Also, sunnah refers to the path of the prophet (pbuh) and includes actions, habits, and ways of doing things. If Muslims do not put the ways of the prophet (pbuh) into context. That would mean we would have to give up any innovation after his (pbuh) time. That means we would have to stop evolving culturally, technologically, scientifically, linguistically and in any other ways we could call “progress”. It would mean freezing the natural progress and evolution of civilizations. Which doesn’t have logic.

  5. “If someone’s advice is new or doesn’t make sense, then begin by researching its origin yourself. If it isn’t compelling, then just file it in your mind somewhere and when (and if) it ever makes sense as the right thing to do, then you do it when you are ready.”
    Sister Maha, the above is a brilliant piece of advice without falling into kibr (pride) and rejecting that which may be the right thing to do although it may not at present align with our personal opinions and beliefs.
    Sister Ellen, I understand your frustration with all the rules being thrown at you and the Muslims expecting you to be able to follow everything at the speed of light. In my opinion, born Muslims often expect too much out of the converts and in fact would like them to have memorized the Quran the day after they declare the shahadah, okay I am stretching this too far, but hopefully you do understand my point. I would like for people to see the glass half full and not half empty. I am sure you may have already brought about many changes in your life since the day you have said the shahadah.
    Although, I am not a scholar in religion, I would only advise to listen to what people may have to say and not to reject anything right away for we may not know if it is the right thing to do. We may not have the proper insight and the understanding at present. Ofcourse, you should always turn to God because sincerity will inshallah steer you towards the right direction. From my personal experience, often times I have found myself understand a concept after I would have been through an experience myself or developed an insight usually through reading or discussing with someone who may be more knowledgeable. I have also found patience and dua as other key ingredients in this process.
    Although this topic is not about using right hand to eat, since it has been mentioned, I would like to present some of my understanding on this issue. The only thing I know on this issue is a hadith by the Prophet (pbuh) where he advised the Muslims not to eat with the left because the shaytaan eats and drinks with the left. I have read from some sources that the Arabic word shaytaan is derived from shatana which means the far thing. Muslims are advised to act and behave in a way far from the ways of shaytaan. Now, I will not try to drill down deeper into trying to understand how the Shaytaan eats, does he use a fork and knife, or imagine him to be sitting at the dining table having a steak or chicken and rice. If the hadith is authentic, I will take it and try to understand it in context and if I am able to, apply it in my personal life. I understand that sometimes Muslims do have beliefs that are really superstitious and are baseless. The only point I am trying to make is that we should not judge anything to be superstition without a thorough analysis. We as humans, throughout the day, behave and act in certain ways, express emotions and gestures, etc. The animals and the birds do that too. Here is a question to think about, Can it not be possible for Allah’s creations whether we can see them or not to be acting in a certain way of which we may not know of directly except through authentic statements from the Prophet? For example, we all believe that Mary was pregnant with Jesus without any man touching her. If someone gets pregnant in our time, we would have hard time trying to believe that it could be a miracle rather than any biological cause. However, in case of Mary, we Muslims believe it is a miracle because it is mentioned in the Quran which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
    I hope I wasn’t too vague in trying to explain my point here:)
    If anything is right with my comments, it is from Allah and any wrong is from me!
    Salam,
    A brother

  6. I can’t thank you all enough for your thoughtful comments. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I realize that it wouldn’t be good to pick and choose the rules we agree with and only follow those.I also realize that there can be great blessings just in being obedient, even when we don’t fully understand the reasons.

    It could it be that I’m worrying too much or overthinking the issue. I have a tendency to do that!

    Sorry that I took so long to answer. I’ve been off the Internet for over a week because of a family emergency. I value my sisters and brothers in Islam and feel blessed that you took the time to address my concerns. Alhamdulillah!

    1. Assalamallaikum Ellen,

      there is a misconception that whatever is told or taught is Islam or what Allah tells us to do is tough, unfair etc etc….but u have to understand one key point…. Allah swt does not need anyone ….if the whole world was not to believe in Islam or worship him…it does not matter to him at all….what he tell us is for our benefit and for the benefit of mankind…..

      for example….eating with your right hand….if you see the reason behind it is that shaytan or ibliss eats with his left hand so we dont follow that and eat with the right hand. But on the other hand scientifically if you notice…we use our left hand for our cleansing purposes etc…so by using the right hand to eat will hinder the transmission of germs , diseases etc…..

      Like this if you analyze, every small little teaching in Islam will have a monumental reason behind it. You might want to listen to a few talks of Brother Nouman ali khan. A very well versed speaker who will be able to better explain on this. Jazakallah

      1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate what you wrote very much. I’ll look into Brother Nouman ali Khan, but I think you explained your points very well.

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