Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Our teacher – an eight-year-old

By Na'eem Jeenah (aka Zabalaza)

I was very proud of my nephew when my sister told me what had happened. And I decided I was going to ask him about it so he would know I was proud. When I did, however, he smiled shyly and refused to repeat the story, saying instead that his brother should tell it to me.

The source of my – and Faheem’s parents’ – pride was an incident that had happened a few days earlier. The maulana at the local masjid had approached my older nephew after salah and told him that he needed to wear a topie (hat) to the masjid and if he did not, then his salah ‘will not be accepted’. The maulana is also the kids’ madressa teacher. This issue of the hat for salah was not a new issue for Suhayl and Faheem. It had arisen earlier and had caused some confusion in their minds since their father hardly ever wore a hat when he prayed.

On this occasion, having, it seemed, cleared his confusion, the younger brother piped up: ‘But the Prophet didn’t always wear a topie when he made salah. Sometimes he took off his hat and put it in front of him.’ I can imagine that such a challenge from an eight-year-old could have been somewhat perplexing and irritating for some people. It does not seem like the maulana was irritated or upset, however.

‘Who told you that?’ he asked Faheem.

‘It’s in the book,’ the boy replied.

So, he was told to bring ‘the book’ to show the maulana his evidence.

A strange situation, this. Firstly, you have an eight-year-old challenging a maulana, who is also his teacher, an authority figure in his life. Secondly, and importantly, his challenge is on an issue of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), which is supposed to be his teacher’s domain.

Nevertheless, the child – perhaps too young to realise the significance of this gauntlet that he threw down at the feet of the maulana (or, perhaps, this gauntlet that was thrown down at his feet by the maulana) – agreed.

That evening he took down his parents’ volumes of Fiqh us-Sunnah, authored by Egyptian scholar Sayyid Sabiq, and paged through them until, with a little help from his mother, he found what he was looking for. He carefully marked the relevant page and passage and, the next day, took the fiqh volume to the masjid to show the maulana his daleel (proof, evidence). He produced his proof and the maulana responded with… silence. I don’t think it was because he did not want to argue with an eight-year-old. I suspect he realised the child was right and, dare I say it, the teacher had met his match in his student.

The passage my nephew had selected reads: ‘Ibn ‘Asakir related that the Prophet would sometimes remove his cap and place it in front of him as a sutrah. According to the Hanifiyyah [the followers of Imam Abu Hanifa], one can pray with his head uncovered. In fact, they prefer this if it is done out of a sense of humility and awe. There is no evidence whatsoever that it is preferred to cover one’s head while praying.’

I listened to the older brother telling story – even though I had already heard it from their mother.

The question, of course, is why was I proud about my nephew. It is not, as I am sure I will be accused, because I am ‘anti-‘ulama¯’. I am not. Rather, it is because I believe that Muslims should be creatures who excel in the use of one of the greatest gifts of Allah – our intellect. It is a duty to do so; the Qur’a¯n commands it repeatedly. And using the intellect, the ‘aql, means constantly being critical.

It means questioning – everything. It is this questioning that the Qur’a¯n encourages. Allah, in the Qur’a¯n, also openly discusses the questioning of those who doubt His existence; He then provides the necessary arguments to counter their doubts. The sahaba questioned the Prophet (s) – often. The women of Madinah sent a delegation to the Prophet (s) because they wanted to question Allah: they wanted to know why it was that He always spoke, in the Qur’a¯n, to the men and not to women (except through men). It was after this enquiry that Allah responded with the verse 33:35. And, thereafter, Allah always referred to both genders.

If these women felt it was not out-of-place to question Allah about His revelation, surely we should have no fear to question other human beings about we understand about this or that aspect of Islam? And yes, even if that human is an ‘alim / scholar / professor / academic / intellectual / anything else that sounds important.

I listened to my nephew and thought about what a good example he had set for all Muslims, for all human beings. And I reflected on the fact that he did it so nonchalantly, as if questioning a person in authority was the most normal thing to do. Then I realised that the problem was with me, who thought it wasn’t the most normal thing to do.

I was also thrilled that, not only did my nephew question and criticise someone in direct authority over him, he felt it necessary and was able to produce the necessary proof to back up his criticism. He did not say nasty things to the maulana, did not call him ‘conservative’ or ‘traditional’ or use any other label, did not shout and scream, did not threaten the man with the fire of hell. He had done the most reasonable thing under the circumstance: point out the error and then produce the evidence to show why it was an error. And the maulana, to his credit, recognised the correctness of the criticism – even when it was produced by an eight-year-old – and accepted it without further argument.

Although I didn’t mention anything then, I wondered later what would happen if Faheem took to the masjid the volume of Fiqh us-Sunnah with the ah?a¯di¯th which show that one may pray salah while wearing one’s shoes – as did the Prophet (s) and his companions.

4 comment(s):

  • Salam Na'eem. That's wonderful. There are no bad guys in your narration. But you left out crediting the parents for raising that fine nephew of yours!

    By Blogger Jafar, at 4/07/2005 07:57:00 AM  

  • Salaams Na'eem

    Your nephew is an example to us all. To be able to disagree with someone without acrimony is something us proud adults sometimes find difficult (well, I do.)

    May Allah bless this boy and his family and you for telling this story. I'm sure it will be retold by many, insha Allah.



    By Blogger Julaybib, at 4/07/2005 09:22:00 AM  

  • If I had a child like that and I was about to die. If all I had to offer to the world, was that son as Sadaqa. I would feel that I had done almost enough. I do not say enough, for I never feel satisfied in doing enough for God. However leaving a son like that, would be a dream come true.

    By Blogger prejudice, at 4/13/2005 09:41:00 AM  

  • if i had a son like that i'll bury my head in shame - for bringing him up tho think that he infer rulings from the hadith - as if he was a mujtahid!

    May Allah bless the muhaddithin who have already told us that the hadith is WEAK!!

    Those who wish to infer their way to deviation will obviously continue.

    May Allah bless us all.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/29/2006 08:08:00 AM  

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