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Aspects of Moderation
by amadou fall gaye   
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Last edited: Monday, May 14, 2007
Posted: Monday, May 14, 2007

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(i) Duality of Human Nature :

God has invested man with body and soul so that the may appreciate materialist things as well as moral values. He did not make man purely spiritual like the angels, since for life on this planet to flourish, it was necessary that man should have this duality in nature. Man must be material because the universe is material and were its inhabitants spiritual they would be out of place.

On the other hand, the spiritualism of man is just as essential, for if man was created in purely material guise, lacking in spiritual capacities and moral values, he would have been no better than the animals. Man would never bave been able to conceive of God and worship him. Life, therefore, would have been an ocean of dark materialism unpierced by any ray of light from mind or soul which is the true secret of humanity and the reason for its being.

(ii) The Acknowledgement of Human Nature:

Having been created in this dual content material and spiritual, man's instincts and emotions ought then to be rightly recognized. We have to admit that man is full of the desire to eat, drink, dress, marry, move about, be moved by friendship and enmity.

We have to appreciate that, being human man is ambitious and curious to discover the secrets of things, to find out their causes, that he moves from the unknown to the known, that he not only errs but pursues right ends, and that he faces dangers and embarks on adventures. To him this is all too natural. To order man to go against his nature is impossible; man cannot be told to stay in a cave or on top of a mountain feeding only upon its herbage and sipping raindrops. Equally, we cannot strangulate, or even arrest, human activity and block its attainment of cherished goals

Man cannot be told to abstain permanently from the good things of life, since he was created to enjoy them. He cannot be asked to lead a solitary life when he is instinctively social. It is against man's nature to deny himself a wife because he happens to be an individual member of a species which is only complete when male and female mix.

It would be sheer stupidity to command him to set aside his mind and take everything for granted, for he was granted this mind by God himself to use. Instinct, therefore, rejects that which is opposed to it. It is everlasting, and everything else is super imposed upon it or affected by it; it cannot remove it or transform it.

(iii) The Facilitating and Training of Instinct :

Islamic jurisprudence has recognized human instinct in all its ordinances, whether in dealing with dogma itself or with regard to morals and rites.

Moderation is the theme of all Islamic regulations in this respect. It is the prevailing principle. It thus strikes a happy mean upholding both the rights of the body and the rights of the soul and maintaining a balance between the needs of each. Islam has consequently been described as the religion of instinct.

The people among whom this religion arose and grew were described as moderate because their standards were moderate.

The Quranic verse with which we opened this study stresses the fact that, since the people of this faith are the arbiters among the nations of the world, it follows that their standards are the most fitting and that the Muslims, being in possession of these standards, should be a model for all peoples as they had been before they discarded their mission and abandoned their stand.

The Prophet was the declared arbitrator in all differences concerning the interpretation or application of dogma and Sharia regulations. The Quran says : "By they Allah, they can have no (real) faith until and unless they make thee judge in all disputes between them and find in their hearts no resistance against the decisions."

This was only logical, since the Prophet was the keeper of this Shari'a charged with its interpretation, elucidation and application. consequently, if people happen to come across any situation that leads to a difference in viewpoint, a decision of the Prophet would be the last word in the matter.

(iv) Simplicity of Dogma and Ease of Implementation

Simplicity of dogma and ease of implementation constitute the principle underlying any of the Shari’a regulations. The following are a few examples:

(a) The idea of God in the conscience of a believer means all good. God commanded us to think about his work whilst we are forbidden to think about his nature. The reason is simply that His work is evident and is capable of being perceived by our senses as well as conceived by our mind. We can think about it as much and as profoundly as we wish, without any fear of getting lost.

God’s nature, however, is beyond our minds which are accustomed to the use of standards and criteria, analogy and definition.

Thus, a believer whose faith in God is confined to the idea of an almighty, all-perfect deity, without going any deeper into the details of God’s nature, is a man of perfect faith.

Some people became irretrievably lost when they tried to fathom with the help of their minds the depths of God’s nature. Believing that they were able to conceive the nature and reality of Allah, they made comparisons and established relationships between Allah nature and attributes, differing in opinion as the whether the latter were the same of different fro the former, whether attributes exist by themselves or within the nature, whether they are as old or equally old, etc., etc.

These are but a few of the assumptions with which they kept themselves and others occupied and by which they opened wide the doors of doubt arid sedition. These people could be said to have reached the same level of error as those who claimed that God has a son or that angels are the daughters of God, both groups add to God the product of their imaginations, and try to picture divinity in a material form while the reality of man's self and soul, to say the least, still remains an object of the deep unknown.

Other people went to the other erroneous extreme by claiming that this universe is the product of chance and will continue to be driven by chance until something goes wrong, leading it to corruption and disintegration.

The two factions are guilty of error and, each stands at the farthest extreme of exaggeration; some believe in Allah but indulge their minds in a pursuit beyond the capacity of the mind, and the other deny the existence of Allah regardless of His undeniable work.

The Quran addressing both faction, stresses that the right path is the one they had missed, saying "Verily, this is my way, leading straight; so follow it and do not follow other paths, for they will lead you astray."

In other' verses Allah urges man to think about His creations and the way He controls the world. The Quran says "Behold, the creation of heavens and earth and the rotation of night and day are indeed signs for men of understanding."

It also says

"Behold all that is in the heavens and on earth."

Other verses are

"Think of the beginning of creation. Contemplate how God gives life back to earth after it becomes dead."

"Travel around in the world and see (His work). Behold (His work) in your own selves."

Describing Himself and stressing the fact that He is beyond man's mind, God says

"He is the irresistible, over towering above his worshippers and He is the all-wise and all-Known. There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him, and He hears and sees everything."

"He is God, the one and only God, the eternal, the absolute. He begetteth not, nor is He begotten, and, there is none like unto Him"

"The creator of heavens and earth, how could He have a child while He had no mate ? He created everything and he is all-knowing He cannot be seen but He sees everything."

The Quran did not tell us about the nature and reality of God but concentrates on pointing out His work and acts

The Quran, meanwhile, records the argument which took place between Moses and Pharaoh when Moses announced that he was a messenger of God. Pharaoh tried to put Moses into a dilemma'.

Pharaoh asked Moses "What is God? "`

Thus Pharaon questioned Moses about the reality of God. Had Moses tried to answer him, he would have I put himself an impossible position and one of endless controversy. If he declined to answer, he would have admitted defeat. Moses, however, had a wise reply to give to Pharaoh.

He said "He is the Lord of heavens and earth and what is in between."

In effect, Moses's answer was tantamount to telling Pharaoh that he could not ask about the reality of God because such a quest was above and beyond Pharaoh's mind. You could only ask about His work, Moses inferred, and then you would learn that lie is the Lord and Master of everything on earth, in heaven and in what lies between the earth and heavens.

This answer was a fitting one. Pharaoh, naturally, was not satisfied and tried to draw out Moses further. Moses drew attention to another aspect of God's work by saying

"He is your Lord and the Lord of your ancestors." This reference to man's creation by God was meant to drive home a clear proof of God's power which could not be easily denied or overlooked. Yet Pharaoh pointed out to the gathering present that Moses had not answered his question and charged him with stupidity

Moses once more drew attention to the indisputably evident work of God when he added, "The Lord of East and West", referring to sunrise and sunset which are two constant and regular phenomena, providing irrefutable proof of the power of the Almighty.

This verbal battle between Moses and Pharaoh serves to illustrate the way in which Pharaoh insisted on venturing into the unattainable and on pursuing an endless road that leads nowhere, thereby sowing the seeds of doubt in the minds of the susceptible.

On the other hand, it shows an equal insistence on the part of Moses upon changing the discourse in the direction of a knowledge of God through a knowledge of His works and acts. This is certainly the path of believers - the middle road.

(b) Islam takes a middle stand between those who believe in determination and those who believe in free will.

There are verses in the Quran which each one of these two schools of thought uses in order to substantiate its theory.

The controversy between the two schools is endlessly lengthy, but a man who objectively reads the Quran can easily "see " the truth as it is expounded in Allah book.

Every person doubtlessly feels two things together :

Firstly, he acts voluntarily or refrains from actions out of his own free will. Thus whoever claims that man is driven against his will, like a feather in a storm, is someone who denies the self-evident.

Secondly, circumstances, universal and social and beyond man's control may sometimes block the exercise of man's will, or may sometimes coincide with man's will, with the result that this will is carried out and realized. Thus man's will is not overpowering or the most dominating factor.

Therefore, we come to the conclusion that since these circumstances are not basically and essentially the creation of an individual or a group of individuals but are ultimately an act of God, man has two sides - man may act and react voluntarily, yet lie is driven by certain forces and subject to certain causes pertaining to God.

To sum up, mail's actions are subject to a balanced system; he has a free will which he exercises within the framework of causes and circumstances

This idea is understood from the verse "Allah hath created you and your acts". thus action belongs to man and creation belongs to God. The same idea is evident in the verse "It was God who hit when you did."

And the verse "You are invincible when Allah supports you, but if he forsakes you who else could back you ?" This explains why, when embarking on a certain action, we appeal to God to guide our steps.

The same applies in rites of worship and religious observance as well as conduct. Prayer, for instance, means that man detaches himself from the world of materialism and is fused with the Spirit. This state takes place in certain definite and appropriate times so that man is not detached per manently from his worldly business and life; he is not allowed to indulge in this worldly material life completely till his soul is enslaved.

Fasting also is not complete abstinence by day and night, but rather a temporary deprivation for a short duration, following upon which man may enjoy the good things of life. In this way, a person has the opportunity of satisfying his material and physical needs while drilling and purifying his soul.

The same spirit of moderation is evident and explicit in regulations concerning the alms tax, marriage and divorce, war without aggression, punishment with justice and so on - a middle way without extremes or exaggeration in either direction.

Allah gives a general rule in this connection in the verse "Oh ye who believe, make not unlawful the good things which God hath made lawful for you; but commit no excess, for God loveth not those given to excess. Fat of the things which God hath provided for you, beautiful and good, but fear God in whom ye believe." The Quran thus establishes one of the most important principles of Islam by which God has made the Muslims a truly moderate nation. This principle is based upon taking human instinct into consideration. The Quran rejects the rites adopted by followers of other religions and by some philosophers, such as torturing one's soul by denying the body the satisfaction of its natural needs in an attempt to refine and strengthen the spirit . The Quran forbids this process. The joys of life were described as good, which means they do not harm body or soul. To enjoy oneself within the limits prescribed by the Shari'a is an act of piety and a sign of faith in God.

Scholars have explained the reasons for the revelation of those verses in several hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) as reported by al-Bukhari. The narrative goes as follows:

"Three persons came to the house of the Prophet's wives asking about the Prophet's acts of worship. When they found out, they said : "Where do we stand in relation to the Prophet ? God has forgiven him all his sins, both the early and late ones."

One of them said : "I will spend my nights in prayers." Another said : "I will fast the whole year". The third said "I will never marry." When the Prophet was told about the decisions of the three persons, he said : "By God, none of you could be more fearful of Allah than myself. Yet I fast and break the fast; I pray part of the night and sleep the rest, and I marry. Whoever rejects my way of life does not belong to me."

The Prophet has thus emphasized that moderation in worship is not incompatible with piety and fear of God. This was the middle course charted by the Prophet for his people. This course forbids deviation from the natural way of life, which proves the error into which some people fall when they prefer rough garments rather than comfortable dress (i.e. if they can afford the latter ), and coarse food to delicious nutritive meals, and abstinence to Legitimate intercourse with women. Such deprivations certainly weaken the body and consequently the mind and soul.

(v) the following verses further illustrate our point:

"Oh children of Adam. Wear your best apparel at time and place of prayer. Eat and drink without excess, for God loveth not those given to excess. Say: who hath forbidden the beautiful and good things which God hath bestowed ? say : "They are provided in this world for those who believe and the enjoyment thereof is accepted on the Day of Judgement. Thus do we explain the signs in detail for those who understand."

These two verses prove the principle of moderation in Islam. They establish rnan's right to enjoy food, drink, dress, etc. within the limits which serve the interests of both body and soul. They also imply certain rules which make life easy and help to raise human standards materially and spiritually:

(a) The Quran commanded people to be fully dressed whenever they go into the mosque. Commentators said that in pre-Islamic times men and women used to go around the Ka'ba stark naked, on the pretext that they could not worship God attired in clothes they had worn when they sinned.

The question of dress is, in fact, a matter of taste and custom. Some people, nudists for example, claim that nudism is a return to the simplicity of nature. Another group of people, in an attempt to justify the deliberate practice of putting on poor clothes, claim that in so doing they are driven by a desire to reach closer to God through such a sacrifice.

Whatever the reasons or philosophy adopted in justification of nudism, whether actual or symbolic, complete or partial, the Quran forbade it all.

The Quran told the story of Adam and Eve at the time they were driven out of paradise. It is related that they both became conscious of their genitals whereupon they gathered leaves to hide them. The moral of the story is that by nature man abhors nudism, and that if nudism was accepted, it would have been plausible to have it practised in paradise. But it was not so.

The verse further says :

"Oh, ye children of Adam, we have bestowed raiment and plumes upon you to cover your shame as well as to be an adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness is the best."

It is significant to note here that the verse mentions dress and plumes, the latter being additional accessories for ornament. It is also significant that as far back as the time of Adam dress was considered essential. God meant it to be a feature differentiating man from animal and a sign of human dignity and other values generalized in the verse.

"We have honoured the children of Adam, provided them with transport on land and sea, given them for sustenance, things good and pure, and conferred upon them special favours above a great part of our creatures."

Another verse mentions the "raiment of piety and righteousness" which underlines further the necessity of dress in general, spiritual as well as material. Another verse still says :

"Oh ye children of Adam, let not the devil tempt you in the same manner as he did when he got your parents out of paradise, stripping them of their raiments to expose their shame."

This is a still further reference to the fact that to be dressed up is one of the criteria of perfection.

The above verses were followed by the verse "Wear your best apparel at every time and place of prayer."

It is clear that the matter is that people should be nicely dressed when worshipping, for if people appear in their best in the presence of a king, it is all the more reason to be so in the presence of the King of Kings.

It should be noted that the verses were addressed to the "Children of Adam" as a whole and were not addressed to a certain group specifically, since the command was meant for mankind at large and has the broadest human significance.

(b) The latter part of the verse speaks of food and drink. Eating and drinking are two natural functions practised both by man and animals. The question which may come to one's mind is why they should form the theme of a divine command addreseed to man

exclusively. Would such a natural biological act need any guidance ? The answer is that the command is surely meant to lead to the limitation which followed and which was embodied in the other command, namely, "without excess". The verse aims at saying "Satisfy your nature but without exaggeration." The same limitation applies, in my opinion, to dress and adornment.
The Quran orders moderation in every facet of man's life. The Prophet followed the same line in his teachings. He said : "Eat, drink, dress and alms; do not be excessively niggardly or excessively extravagant."

Ibn Abbas said : "Eat to your satisfaction and dress to your taste without miserliness or extravagance."

(c) The verse that followed was addressed to the Prophet in the form of a disapproving question. It said "Who forbade the adornments of God which He hath provided for his servants and beautiful gifts ?" This emphasises a few essential stipulations.

The original rule is that everything is lawful for man except when there is a specific provision to the contrary. This rule is based on the verse "God hath created for your enjoyment everything on earth." Man, therefore, shall not forbid anything without legitimate evidence to support the opposite stand without the existence of such evidence anything is considered lawful. This rule is applied to any form of dealing not known before, unless there is proof to the contrary.

This proof, moreover, should be on an authentic Sharia basis and not a mere verdict based on analogy, or stemming from sheer puritanism.

Furthermore, attributing the word "decoration" to God means that it is not only legitimate, but also that God wishes people to enjoy it.

Still another point of interest which derives from the Quranic verse is that Islam call upon people to enjoy the good things of life rather than be satisfied with the essentials. Islam calls on people to look forward to a better standard of living to a decent and dignified life to attain this objective one has to work more, produce more, and exercise initiative and enterprise. This all leads to development of the economy and the progress of civilization. the result is peaceful and honest competition worthy of God's appreciation

This meaning is emphasized by the verse saying that the good things of life are provided for the believers in this life and for the enjoyment of which the believers shall not be taken to account on the Day of Judgement. The reference to the believers in this verse is intended to signify that believers know God's restrictions and abide by His rules.

(vi) A basic principle of the Islamic Shari'a , a principle of vast educational and social importance, is included in the Prophet's teaching-namely, that, "Acts are judged by intentions and everyone is rewarded accordingly." This rule is confirmed by the Quran and Sunna.

According to a verse of the Quran

"Verily, : We have revealed the Book unto thee in truth, so serve Allah in sincere devotion." Another verse says : "When a matter is resolved upon, it would have been best for them were they true to God.", A third verse says : "They were commanded only to worship God devoutly and sincerely, offer their prayers and pay Zakat, and this is the right religion." These and many other verses help to prove that the basis of action is sincerity; good faith and honest intentions.

It is not incompatible with good intention in worship if a man couples with an act of worship a plausible and honourable worldly intention. This again stresses the fairness and moderation of the Islamic Shari'a. For instance, it would not detract from a man's reward were he to go to the mosque in order to pray and enjoy the company of the other people present in the mosque.

Again, a man may fast (apart from the obligatory fast of Ramadan) for reasons of health. Similarly if a man should wish, in addition to performing an obligatory rite like pilgrimage, to see Mecca, enjoy a vacation, or get away from the tedious routine of every-day life. It is reported that the Prophet resorted to prayers whenever he felt like relaxing and shedding some of the burdens of material life. He used to say : "In prayers I find perfect solace and relaxation."

A man should not be in error if he gave charity for its sake but also in order to experience the pleasure of giving. The Caliph Al-Mansour used to say "If people knew how much we enjoy forgiveness. they would not have missed a chance to do us wrong." Forgiveness of course is an act of worship favoured by God.

The moderation of Islam and the significance of the intention prompting a certain act are further illustrated by the fact that the Imam (leader in group prayer) may cut down the prayers to the legitimate minimum if the group includes even one aged person. The same thing was done by the Prophet when the group he led happened to include a mother whose child started to cry enabling her to take care of her child.

In contrast, the Shari'a rejects covert bad intentions and ulterior motives. God punishes the act of going at one's objectives in a devious way.

In fact, the first penalty to which mankind was rentenced was when Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden because they sought to attain immortality by the wrong way - disobedience to God's command Adam and Eve, were deceived by Satan who told them "Your lord only forbade you (to eat from) this trelest you should become angels or immortal."

There are many verses in the Quran which show that God punishes ill-intentioned persons, inflicting upon them the opposite of what they were seeking to achieve .These verses include the following "They have taken gods other than Allah in an attempt to gain power Nay, these gods will reject them and turn against them." And "Evil will harm only the authors thereof."

Islamic jurisprudence deprives a person of his right to inheritance if he kills the person from whom he would have otherwise inherited.

A man who marries a divorced woman before the end of the waiting period shall have his marriage annulled and can never marry her.

A man who divorces his wife on his death-bed in an attempt to deprive her from inheritance shall have his divorce oath annulled and the woman's rights are reinstated.

A man who claims that another has committed a sin punishable by law and is later proved to have committed perjury shall be sentenced to the same punishment he meant the other to suffer.

These are but examples illustrating the principle that action is judged by intention. It thus became abundantly clear that Islamic Shari'a sought justice and moderation while foiling dishonest intentions.

(vii) Charity is another field where the moderation of Islam is apparent:

According to the Shari'a charity should not lead the donor to become destitute and, therefore, should not exceed more than one-third of a man's wealth. The significance is that there is no sense or purpose served in trying to rehabilitate somebody by depriving oneself or one's family. The Prophet said "The best charity is given from the surplus." That is to say that its source should be a man's profit.

It is reported that a man came to the Prophet with a piece of gold to be distributed as charity among the poor saying "I have nothing left."

The Prophet returned it to him and said "It is wrong for a man to give away all his wealth to become a burden on the community." By so doing, the Prophet aimed to show that charity should not be a cause of poverty which in turn damages the structure of society.

Another story contributing to the elucidation of this principle was reported by Abu Sa'id al-Kduri. He said "A man entered the mosque where the Prophet and a group of Muslims were present. The Prophet, noticing that the man was poorly dressed invited those pre sent to give up some of their garments. They did so. The Prophet then invited the people to offer charity and the poor man immediately gave up one of the two garments he had just received. The Prophet instantly ordered him to take back the garment." The idea was that in giving up the dress the man was donating half his property, a ratio which was unacceptable since it was not moderate.

A well-known story is also told of a man asking the Prophet's permission to donate all his money to charity. The Prophet refused him permission and the man reduced his offer until he reached one-third. The Prophet, while accepting the offer, instructed the man that the one-third was a high percentage and the ceiling where charity must stop.

The Prophet's teachings in this respect are based on the teachings of the Quran. The Quran says "Neither be niggardly nor extravagant (in charity), for then you will be overcome by grief and regret." It also says : "Pay the dues on the day of harvest without excess." This verse refers to Zakat (alms-tax) which is obligatory. Hence, God commanded that it should be paid promptly on harvest day.

Another verse upholding the principle of moderation says : "Render unto kindred, the poor and the way farer their due. But squander not, for squanderers are the kin of devils."

Islam gives priority of right in terms of charity to those whom a man is responsible for maintaining. The Prophet says "Begin by those whom you provide for."

Even that which a man spends for his own purposes is considered charitable. A man told the Prophet "I have a dinar (a piece of coin) which I want to give as charity." The Prophet said : "Use it yourself." The man added : "I have another." The Prophet said to him "Give it to your wife." The man went on : "I have a third." The Prophet said "Give it to your children." The man insisted : "I have a fourth." The Prophet replied "Give it to your servant." The man at last said "I have still one more." The Prophet finally said "Do whatever you like with it."

This story helps to show that charity is whatever a person spends to satisfy his personal and family requirements as well as to help the poor. Hence, the falseness of the claim made by some people that charity is humiliating and degrading to the poor.

The meaning of charity was even extended by the Prophet to include good deeds regardless of their nature, material or moral. He said "Every good deed is charity."

Islam permits the giving of charity openly as well as secretly, but each case depends on the circumstances. The Shari'a did not overlook those subtleties. Manifest charity may be useful if it is meant as a good example or to urge others to follow by stirring their sense of generosity. Meanwhile, the case may be one where charity should be discreetly given, as in offering it to someone who once was well-off, or when the donor wishes to guard against vanity.

The Quran said : "It is well to declare your charity, but it is better still to give it discreetly."

The Prophet said : "Blessed be the man whose left hand is not aware of what his right hand giveth."

On many occasions, however, the Prophet urged that charity be declared or given in the open. He used to invite charity and collect it in public in a manner similar to the modern practice of gathering donations and contributions. Clearly society faces differing sets of circumstances some of which call for declaration and others call for discreetness in giving. The Shari'a provides a fair solution by stipulating that the nature of the circumstances be taken into consideration.

A further note is necessary before concluding this discussion of Islamic moderation in charity. In certain cases, Shari'a allowed certain people - the great, truly generous and highly-placed - to exceed the proper percentage in charity to the extent of giving up all their wealth. These cases were allowed because of specific reasons and in the service of specific public interests . Such people are certain not to regret whatever sacrifices they make.

For example, the Ansar (the people of Medina who supported the Prophet and his new faith), used to give whatever little they owned to the immigrant Meccans. They were lauded by God in the Quran "They gave them preference over themselves though poverty was their lot."

The urgent situation of the immigrants rendered this act necessary. The new Islamic society in Medina, in the circumstances then prevailing, found it imperative that money should be handed over in this way. Under such circumstances, poor though a man might be, if he could afford it he might well give as charity whatever little he has. Those who tried to belittle the good act of the poor charitable person have been reprimanded by God. He said "Those who slander and ridicule believers who volunteer charity, though having nothing to give but their labour, shall be ridiculed by God and sustain great torment." The verse refers to people who volunteered all they had, however little, in times of emergency and catastrophe. The moral is self-evident - little things add up to much. Again, a poor man giving up all that he owns provokes the wealthy to con- tribute much.

The story is told of a man from the Ansar who received a guest one night. His wife told him that there was only enough food for their children. The man ordered her to put the children to bed and turn out the light, then present the food to the guest so that the guest might not notice that the host was not eating.

A glorious example of sacrifice is provided by two of the Prophet's companions, Omar Ibn AI-Khattab and Abu-Bakr. The Prophet ordered that charity be collected for later distribution among the needy. Omar brought in half of what he possessed. The Prophet asked him What did you leave for your family ? Omar replied "As mush" Abu-Bakr brought in all that he owned and in answer to a similar question from the Prophet about his family said "They have Allah and his Messenger."

But those were special cases involving people of great spiritual initiative and leadership. What was al lowed them could not be the general rule.

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