Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An Issue with Slavery | Dr Hatem Al Haj

By Dr Hatem Al Haj


The issue of slavery may be of the hardest issues to discuss. Our collective conscience as a global community is extremely averse to the discussion because of a variety of factors, not least of which is the cruel treatment slaves suffered for centuries. Many preachers find it difficult to talk about the issue, particularly when they are asked why Islam did not take an immediate and absolute abolitionist stance from it. Furthermore, reference books of Islamic law have extensive discussions of the rulings pertaining to the slaves, which cause many educators discomfort when they have to address them. In the following article, I will attempt to highlight some of the facts about Islam's stance from slavery.

A Historical Matter

To begin with, any discussion of slavery in Islam that does not put the issue in its proper historical context will be flawed. No heavenly religion sought to deplete the institution of slavery more than Islam did. Islam would, therefore, welcome the current state of abolishment of slavery worldwide, and it would certainly be keen on all the nations of the world maintaining that. A central credo of Muslim conduct is that when they engage in any agreement, they must make good on their agreement. To this point Allah said:

“يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ أَوۡفُواْ بِٱلۡعُقُودِ‌”

{O you who have believed, fulfill [all] contracts…} (al-Mâ'idah 5: 1)

This article's defense of the Islamic stance on slavery and its mention of the excellent treatment of the slaves in Islam is only a matter of a historical and theological importance. After all, a Muslim must never posit that any Divine legislation revealed to any messenger of God was sub-ethical. An abolitionist stance at the time of revelation would have not been wiser or more ethical, and would have not served the cause of emancipation of the slaves of the time.

Never Racist

The second most important point to highlight is that slavery in Islam has never been a racist practice. There were slaves of all nations in the early history of the Muslim state. Even before Islam, the Arabs had slaves of all races. The most famous slaves in the history of Islam are Salmân the Persian, Bilâl the Abyssinian, and Suhayb the Roman. Indeed, as British historian S.H. Leeder writes, the issue of color was irrelevant to the early Muslims.

“TAKE away that black man!” exclaimed the Christian Archbishop Cyrus. “I can have no discussion with him!” when the Arab conquerors had sent a deputation of their ablest men to discuss terms of surrender of the capital of Egypt, headed by the negro Ubâdah, as the ablest of them all.

To the scared archbishop's astonishment, he was told that this man was commissioned by the General Amr; that the Moslems held negroes and white men in equal respect— judging a man by his character and not by his colour. [S.H. Leeder, Veiled Mysteries of Egypt and the Religion of Islam (New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1913), 332.]

Slavery before Islam and in Other Religions

Slavery existed before Islam, and it spanned nearly every culture, nationality, and religion. While it may have not been known among hunter-gatherer populations, it was a part of every ancient civilization. In both a socio-geographic and religious context, slavery was both normalized and tolerated worldwide, including in pre-Columbian America. Slavery was also common in Africa. In fact, in non-Muslim Africa, there were wide-spread pagan practices associated with slavery, such as burying one or two young slaves alive next to their deceased master. The spread of Islam is credited with ending this practice. [Gordon, M. (1989). Slavery in the Arab world. New York: New Amsterdam. p. 7.]

Upon further research, it becomes apparent that no religion encouraged the ending of the practice as much as Islam did. Moreover, no religion encouraged the beneficent treatment of the slaves as much as Islam did.

Here are some mentions of slavery in the Bible. (Note that the new translations changed the word “slave” to “servant,” to be politically correct!):

Numbers 31: 17-18

“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”

This is a clear communication attributed to Moses 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) allowing the enslavement of concubines and having sex with them.

Leviticus 25: 44-46

“Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.  You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly…”

Exodus 21: 2-11

“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.  “If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him.  “If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone.  “But if the slave plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,' then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.”

Will Durant (an American historian and philosopher) describes the position of the Church as follows:

The Church did not condemn slavery. Orthodox and heretic, Roman and barbarian alike assumed the institution to be natural and indestructible; a few philosophers protested, but they too had slaves… Pagan laws condemned to slavery any free woman who married a slave; the laws of Constantine ordered the woman to be executed, and the slave to be burned alive. The Emperor Gratian decreed that a slave who accused his master of any offense except high treason to the state should be burned alive at once, without inquiring into the justice of the charge. [Will Durant, The Story of Civilization: Vol. 4, The Age of Faith (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950.]

Islam's Answer to the Dilemma of Slavery

It may be said that Islam did not take an absolute abolitionist stance on the institution of slavery, and this is true. One must remember, though, that during the time of the ministry of the Prophet (SA), not only was the immediate abolitionist approach not proposed by any religious or secular order, but it would have been infeasible. Furthermore, it might have resulted in a great deal of social and economic turmoil, not only for the communities at large, but firstly for the many slaves who would have not been able to fend for themselves.

In addition to this, the dilemma of the war captives and what to do with them made slavery the surest path to the preservation of their lives. In the past, due to the scarcity of resources, armies could not keep the captives in prisons and feed them, etc. It was also not always possible to free them because then they would regroup and go back to fighting.

Finally, since the enslavement of captives was a common practice of all armies, it would have been unexpected for the Muslims to be taken as captives if they lost and yet be mandated to free all the captives if they won.

Hence, Islam's answer to the dilemma of slavery can be summarized in two major points:

  1. Gradual depletion of the institution by cutting off its tributaries and widening its runoffs
  2. The enjoinment of the excellent treatment of the slaves as long as the institution survived

In the following paragraphs, I will address these two points.

The Gradual Depletion of the Institution of Slavery

When one wishes to deplete a river of its water, there are two possibilities: either cut off its tributaries or increase its runoffs. Relating this analogy to slavery, in terms of the cutting off of tributaries, before Islam a person could be condemned into slavery through various means, including a man selling his own wife or child, child abandonment, debt-slavery, captivity in war, kidnapping, or as a punishment for certain crimes. Islam cut off all of those tributaries feeding into the river of slavery except for one: captivity in war, for, as mentioned previously, it was a logistical necessity at times, and more importantly, enslavement helped protect the captives' lives. Despite that, Islam recommended freeing those captives. The Prophet said:

“فُكُّوا الْعَانِيَ يَعْنِي الْأَسِيرَ وَأَطْعِمُوا الْجَائِعَ وَعُودُوا الْمَرِيضَ”

Free the captives, feed the hungry and visit the sick.” (Bukhari)

Islam's Encouragement of the Emancipation of Slaves

In Islam, the emancipation of slaves is considered one of the greatest virtues and ways of earning the Lord's pleasure. Listed here are some pieces of evidence to this effect from the Qur'an and the Sunnah:

Allah said:

“وَهَدَيْنَاهُ النَّجْدَيْنِ*فَلَا اقْتَحَمَ الْعَقَبَةَ *وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا الْعَقَبَة* فَكُّ رَقَبَةٍ”

{And have shown him (humankind) the two ways [of good and evil]? But he has not broken through the difficult pass [to righteousness]. And what can make you know what is [breaking through] the difficult pass? It is the freeing of a slave.} (Al-Balad 90: 11-13)

“لَّيْسَ الْبِرَّ أَن تُوَلُّواْ وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ وَلَكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةِ وَالْكِتَابِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ وَآتَى الْمَالَ عَلَى حُبِّهِ ذَوِي الْقُرْبَى وَالْيَتَامَى وَالْمَسَاكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَالسَّائِلِينَ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ …”

{Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves;…} (Al-Baqarah 2: 177(

Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“من أَعْتَقَ رَقَبَةً مُسْلِمَةً أَعْتَقَ الله بِكُلِّ عُضْوٍ منه عُضْوًا من النَّارِ…”

Whoever frees a Muslim slave, Allah will save all the parts of his body from the (hell) fire as he has freed the body parts of the slave.

Sa`eed ibn Marjânah said that he narrated that hadith to `Ali ibn al-H@usayn, and he freed his slave, for whom `Abdullâh ibn Ja`far had offered him ten thousand dirhams, or one thousand dinars. (Bukhari)

Abu Hurayrah also narrated that he Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“من أَعْتَقَ شِقْصًا له في عَبْدٍ أُعْتِقَ كُلُّهُ إن كان له مَالٌ وَإِلَّا يستسعى غير مَشْقُوقٍ عليه”

“Whoever frees his portion of a common slave should free the slave completely by paying the rest of his price from his money if he has enough money; otherwise the price of the slave is to be estimated, and the slave is to be helped to work without hardship until he pays the rest of his price.” (Bukhari)

Islam also offered the expiation of many sins by the freeing of slaves (a much more conducive way of redemption than giving money to a religious institution).

Yet the most ingenious system Islam legislated was to give the slaves control over their passage into the world of the free by allowing them to purchase their freedom with the help of the community that was ordered by Allah to support their cause. Allah says:

“وَٱلَّذِينَ يَبۡتَغُونَ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ مِمَّا مَلَكَتۡ أَيۡمَـٰنُكُمۡ فَكَاتِبُوهُمۡ إِنۡ عَلِمۡتُمۡ فِيہِمۡ خَيۡرً۬ا‌ۖ وَءَاتُوهُم مِّن مَّالِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلَّذِىٓ ءَاتَٮٰكُمۡ‌ۚ”

{…And those who seek a contract [for eventual emancipation] from among whom your right hands possess – then make a contract with them if you know there is within them goodness and give them from the wealth of Allah which He has given you…} (An-Noor 24: 33)

This was beneficial for the slaves who had to be weaned from independence on their masters for provisions, for they would face problems if they suddenly found themselves required to provide themselves with food, clothes and shelter. (One must not underestimate what this could have meant to the stability and security of the society if the slaves were all freed at once by a mandate). It was also beneficial for the masters who were, to a great extent, dependent on the slaves for their businesses.

This was also favorable for the community, for they would see responsible people, who knew the value of work and labor, moving from the ranks of the slaves to those of the free.

Finally, in attestation to what I mentioned above about the Islamic plan for the depletion of slavery, C. Snouck Hurgronje said:

Setting slaves free is one of the most meritorious pious works, and, at the same time, the regular atonement for certain transgressions of the sacred law. So, according to Mohammedan principles, slavery is an institution destined to disappear. [C. Snouk Hurgronje, Mohammedanism (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1916), 129.]

Islam's Enjoinment of the Excellent Treatment of the Slaves

The excellent treatment of slaves in Islam is a fact that I will try to highlight by proofs from the textual and historical accounts, including testimonies by non-Muslim historians and thinkers.

In the Qur'an there are several verses commanding the good treatment of slaves, including:

“وَاعْبُدُواْ اللّهَ وَلاَ تُشْرِكُواْ بِهِ شَيْئًا وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا وَبِذِي الْقُرْبَى وَالْيَتَامَى وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَالْجَارِ ذِي الْقُرْبَى وَالْجَارِ الْجُنُبِ وَالصَّاحِبِ بِالجَنبِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ وَمَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ إِنَّ اللّهَ لاَ يُحِبُّ مَن كَانَ مُخْتَالاً فَخُورًا”

{Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side, the traveler, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful.} (an-Nisâ' 4: 36)

The Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded us repeatedly to treat the slaves with mercy and compassion. One of his last recommendations to the Muslims, prior to his death, was to fear Allah regarding their slaves. A quick review of the following hadiths will further testify to his instructions regarding the excellent treatment of slaves:

“ولا يَقُلْ أحدكم عَبْدِي أَمَتِي وَلْيَقُلْ فَتَايَ فَتَاتِي غُلَامِي”

None of you should say: My slave (abdi) and My slave-woman – for you are all (Allah's) slaves, and the Lord is Allah, Most High. (a sound hadith recorded by Abu Dawood)

Al-Ma`roor ibn Suwayd narrated: I saw Abu Dharr al-Ghifâri wearing a cloak, and his slave, too, was wearing a cloak. We asked him about that (how both were wearing similar cloaks).

He replied: Once I abused a man, and he complained of me to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) asked me,

“يا أَبَا ذَرٍّ أَعَيَّرْتَهُ بِأُمِّهِ إِنَّكَ امْرُؤٌ فِيكَ جَاهِلِيَّةٌ إِخْوَانُكُمْ خَوَلُكُمْ جَعَلَهُمْ الله تَحْتَ أَيْدِيكُمْ فَمَنْ كان أَخُوهُ تَحْتَ يَدِهِ فَلْيُطْعِمْهُ مِمَّا يَأْكُلُ وَلْيُلْبِسْهُ مِمَّا يَلْبَسُ ولا تُكَلِّفُوهُمْ ما يَغْلِبُهُمْ فَإِنْ كَلَّفْتُمُوهُمْ فَأَعِينُوهُمْ”

Did you abuse him by slighting his mother? You are a man who has jahiliyah (pre-Islamic ignorance and disbelief). He added: Your slaves are your brethren upon whom Allah has given you authority. So if one has one's brethren under one's control, he should feed them with the like of what he eats and clothe them with the like of what he wears. You should not overburden them with what they cannot bear, and if you do so, help them (in their hard job).>> (Bukhari 3:46:721)

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) unequivocally prohibited the separation between a mother and her slave child. Abu Musa reported that he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“لَعَنَ رسُولُ اللَّهِ – صلى الله عليه وسلم – من فَرَّقَ بين الْوَالِدَةِ وَوَلَدِهَا وَبَيْنَ الْأَخِ وَبَيْنَ أَخِيهِ”

May he be cursed, he who separates a mother from her child or a brother from his sibling. (A weak hadith recorded by at-Tirmidhi)

And for one who humiliates his slave by beating him or slapping him, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“من لَطَمَ مَمْلُوكَهُ أو ضَرَبَهُ فَكَفَّارَتُهُ أَنْ يُعْتِقَهُ”

He who slaps his slave or beats him, there is no expiation for this but to free him. (Muslim)

The Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was always concerned about the wellbeing of the salves that he would always mention them at the times where he expected the greatest attention from his audience, such as the time of his death and during the Farewell Pilgrimage, where he had the largest audience in his lifetime. “As for your slaves, male and female,” he exhorted them at the Farewell Pilgrimage, “feed them with what you eat yourself and clothe them with what you wear. If you cannot keep them or they commit any fault, discharge them. They are God's people like unto you and be kind unto them.” [Gordon, M. (1989). Slavery in the Arab world. New York: New Amsterdam. p. 19.]

Because of the aforementioned examples of the divine and prophetic instructions regarding slavery, no other nation or religious group in the world treated slaves better than the Muslims did, and here are the testimonies of the non-Muslim historians and leaders regarding this very fact:

On the attitude of the Muslim master towards his slaves, American historian and philosopher Will Durant writes:

…he handled them with a genial humanity that made their lot no worse – perhaps better, as more secure – than that of a factory worker in nineteenth-century Europe… It is astonishing how many sons of slaves rose to high place in the intellectual and political world of Islam, how many, like Mahmud and the early Mameluks, became kings. [Will Durant, The Story of Civilization: Vol. 4, The Age of Faith (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950), 209.]

At the end of the 18th century, Mouradgea d'Ohsson (an Armenian historian and diplomat who wrote extensively about the Ottoman Empire) declared:

There is perhaps no nation where the captives, the slaves, the very toilers in the galleys are better provided for or treated with more kindness than among the Muhammedans. [H. A. R. Gibb and J. H. Kramers, ed., The Encyclopaedia of Islam: New Edition, vol. 1 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1986), 35.]

Napoleon Bonaparte, a military leader who was Emperor of France from 1804 to 1814, is recorded as saying about the condition of slaves in Muslim countries:

In the East, slavery never had the same characteristics as in the West. The slavery of the East is that which is seen in the Holy Scripture: the slave inherits from his master and marries his daughter. Most of the Pashas had been slaves; a great number of grand viziers, all the Mamluks, Ali Bey al-Kabir, and Murad Bey had all been slaves. They started by performing the most menial services in the house of their master and subsequently rose in status because of their merit or through favours. In the West, on the other hand, the slave was always below the domestic servant; he occupied the lowest rank… (Christian Cherfils, Bonaparte et l'Islam d'après les Documents Français & Arabes (Paris: Libraire de la Cour d'Appel et de l'Ordre des Avocats, 1914), 124.)


I would conclude by emphasizing that Islam was keen on the emancipation of the slaves, and it enjoined this throughout its teachings. The original and natural state in which God created his servants is the state of freedom, and He desires a return to that freedom. Let us all pray for the deliverance of all people from all forms of disguised slavery that exist in our world today and for the end of all manifestations of subjugation of people by others.

Dr Hatem Al Haj is a member of the the Permanent Fatwa Committee, Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America (AMJA). He has a PhD in Comparative Fiqh from al-Jinan University, Tripoli, Lebanon. He is Mishkah University's dean in the College of Islamic Studies, English

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Judging People As Good Is Also Prejudice

“Too much admiration breeds contempt. It is better, I think, to just be understood.”

—the character Salima in His Other Wife by Umm Zakiyyah


“It's not good when Pakistani girls marry Black men,” she said to me.

I sat behind the desk in my office trying to maintain a pleasant expression. It was moments like this that I both treasured and dreaded. I'd always taught my students that they could talk to me about anything, that they didn't have to feel ashamed about their feelings and emotions, and that if they ever needed a listening ear, I was there.

Naturally, it had taken some time for the students to trust me enough to open up and be honest. They were teenagers after all. They viewed most adults with distrust. They even viewed most teenagers with distrust. Sometimes they didn't even trust themselves. So they sat through most classes looking disgruntled and irritable, glancing every now and then at the clock or their wristwatch.

Time will pass. Will you?

My students laughed when I told them about the sign that one of my teachers had taped over the clock when I was in high school.

But as time went on, my students began to look less disgruntled and irritable, and more curious and attentive. Then finally, they relaxed. And when that happened, they became little bursts of energy with so much on their hearts and minds that there wasn't enough time to get through all of it. But I tried my best to incorporate into each lesson and assignment what was most important to them. Every essay, discussion, and debate had their personal touch, and sometimes it was designed entirely by them.

“There's no use teaching in a context that nobody cares about or understands,” I'd tell them whenever they asked why I even bothered adjusting the lesson themes for them. “Learning begins when you see yourself in what is being taught,” I'd explain. “Besides,” I'd joke, “even I'm allergic to boredom.”

“Why do you think it's a bad idea for Pakistani girls to marry Black men?” I asked my student in as neutral a voice as I could muster. I knew my recent lesson theme regarding overcoming cultural and racial prejudice had inspired this office visit, so I told myself she had every right to express her feelings to me after class.

However, on a personal level, it was difficult to withhold expressing my disagreement with the blanket generalization. It wasn't that I thought it was a good idea for Pakistanis to marry African-Americans. It was just that I disliked using the terms good or bad regarding anyone's halaal options, especially for something as intimate as marriage.

“When we let them,” she said, speaking candidly as a representative of Pakistani culture, “things always turn out bad.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, genuinely curious about what she was referring to.

“They usually seem like good men,” she explained, “but then they don't treat the girl right, and she ends up miserable. Then the marriage falls apart, and it hurts the whole family.”

I waited, expecting a more comprehensive explanation. But the extended silence told me that she didn't have anything else to add.

An apologetic look crept on her face as she realized that her words could possibly be offensive. But I nodded to acknowledge that I'd heard her, though I had a different perspective.

“When things turn out like that,” I said finally, “it's usually because other cultures are unfamiliar with Black American culture. So you have no way to distinguish between a good or bad person for marriage. A person whose external appearance suggests he is a good Muslim is automatically counted as a good man to marry. But another person from that same culture would see signs that you wouldn't because they are more familiar with the subtle red flags that someone on the outside wouldn't pick up on.”

I then explained to her the dangers of feeling comfortable making assumptions about a group of people simply because you felt you'd already assumed the best but they let you down.

“Starting off with the assumption of good is usually just the flip side of starting off with the assumption of bad,” I told her. “They're really not too different from each other.”

And often, the former leads to more long-term prejudice than the latter, I explained. Because it's much more difficult to change your prejudicial attitude once you imagine you've already “given them a chance.”

Unhealthy Prejudice

Unhealthy prejudice isn't only in judging certain people as generally bad. It is also in judging certain people as generally good. Too often, in our efforts to fight our inclinations toward superficial prejudice, we engage in overcompensation and voluntary blindness, as many cultural groups do in their enthusiasm to embrace “the other,” whether in friendships or marriages.

Here, if our cultural or privileged background consistently judges another culture or group negatively, we go to the opposite extreme by consistently judging them positively. But in both cases you are using superficial cues to come to a conclusion about someone, and this is the very essence of prejudice.

Of the harms of the presumption of good in a people is that when we face clear evil amongst them (as we inevitably will with any group of human beings), we either rationalize the evil and thus become a force against good. Or we give up entirely and become even more prejudiced than before, thinking, “I thought they were good, but they really are corrupt!”

Yet the very meaning of bigotry is the inability (or refusal) to look at others as individuals who are fully human just like you.

Thus, lack of prejudice requires the assumption of neither good nor evil. In fact, it requires no assumptions at all. Except the assumption of humanity.

Therefore, the only way to overcome unhealthy prejudice is to allow a person's character, as displayed in their patterns of speech and behavior, to tell us of their good or evil. Just as your own patterns tell others of yours.

Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of the If I Should Speak trilogy. Her latest novel His Other Wife is now available. Read HIS OTHER WIFE novel now: CLICK HERE.

To learn more about the author, visit or subscribe to her YouTube channel.

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How Being Chronically Late for Salah Affects Your Productivity & What to Do About It

How Being Chronically Late for Salah Affects Your Productivity & What to Do About It | ProductiveMuslim

Image credit: Quratulain Tariq

“Allahu Akbar… Allahu Akbar…”

I hear the adhan through the windows of my office, and I see the pop up on my computer, “It’s time for dhuhr prayer.”

Few minutes earlier, I just started getting into the flow of my work and I don’t want the momentum to be lost. So I tell myself, “I still got 20 minutes until iqama time. Let me wrap this up and I will make it in time, in sha Allah.”

25 minutes later, I know salah started and I am frantically trying to send that last e-mail before rushing off to make a quick wudhu and join the prayers. I am late, again!

And this was not only for zuhr prayer, but for all 5 daily prayers: late for fajr because I woke up late, late for zuhr and ‘asr because of work, late for maghreb because of rush hour, late for ‘isha because of dinner!

And each time I was late, I felt bad, and told myself, “This is the last time I will ever be late!” And guess what? For the next salah, I was late again. In fact, I was the brother who seemed to have a permanent position in the last rows of every musalla/masjid I entered.

Initially, I was taking this lateness lightly. In fact, I fell into the classic trap of shaytaan and said to myself: “Alhamdulillah, brother, at least, you pray, and in the masjid as well! Masha Allah, how many brothers are out there who do not pray in the masjid, or pray at all!” But slowly I realised, this lateness was making an impact on my spirituality and character, and affecting my overall productivity.

Why being chronically late for salah is bad for you?

When you are always late for salah, it says a lot about you and your character. It shows that you lack discipline, internal strength, and integrity to be where you are supposed to be ‘on time’ for your most important appointments of the day, and you are not dependable.

No one likes to say about themselves that they are not dependable or lack discipline, but actions speak louder than words, and being late for salah is the first warning that you are on a slippery slope towards being chronically late in everything else in your life.

قالُ الحَسنُ البَصري:

إذَا هَانَت عَليكَ صَلاتك فَمَا الذي يَعـزُ عَليـكْ ؟!!

.بقدر ماتتعدل صلاتك تتعدل حياتك

ألم تعلم أن الصلاة اقترنت بالفــلاح …

“حي على الصــــــــلاة حي على الفـــلاح”،

، فكيف تطلب من الله التوفيق وأنت لحقه غير مجيب

Al-Hasan Al-Basri raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said:

“When salah is the least of your concerns, then what is your most important concern? As much as you fix your salah, your life will be fixed. Did you not know that salah was equated with Success: ‘Come to Prayer, Come to Success.’ How can you ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for success when you are not responding to His right upon you?”

If you are wondering why there is a delay in your sustenance, in your marriage, in your work, in your health, look into your salah: are you delaying it?

Why are we late for salah?

When I started looking deeper into myself and asked myself why am I ALWAYS late for salah, it boiled down to 3 spiritual reasons and 3 practical reasons:

Spiritual reasons

  1. Lack of understanding of who Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is: My lateness for salah was, unfortunately, a sign that I had not understood who Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is. I failed to comprehend His Power and Majesty. You probably have heard the cliche’ example of “If you are invited by the King or the President or the Prime Minister of a country, would you not attend in your best manners, best clothes, and very early? How come when Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), the King of kings, invites us for salah, we do not take this invitation seriously?” I will go a bit deeper than this and say, ‘If we truly have faith in the unseen and have faith in the Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) telling us that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wants us to meet Him 5 times every day in our salah, then we should take salah more seriously.’
  2. Lack of appreciation of the gift of salah: It always fascinates me how salah is the ONLY OBLIGATION that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in the Heavens during the Israa and Mir’aj journey. Every other obligation was revealed here on earth. It is as if Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is sending the message that salah is so important that He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wants to gift it personally to Prophet Muhamad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his Ummah. When we are late for salah, what does that tell us about our appreciation of this gift from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)?
  3. Lack of knowledge of the relation between salah and rizq (sustenance) : The number one excuse people (including myself) use for being late for salah is that they are chasing after their sustenance. You hear excuses such as “I have a meeting…”, “I have an important call…”, “I have a lecture…” etc.
    What we fail to realise is that by delaying our salah and taking salah so lightly, the barakah is being removed from our sustenance even if we make material gain during the period we miss salah. Allah Ar-Razzaq says in the Qur’an:

    “And enjoin prayer upon your family [and people] and be steadfast therein. We ask you not for provision; We provide for you, and the [best] outcome is for [those of] righteousness.”[Qur’an: Chapter 20, Verse 132]

    Notice how Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) linked salah with seeking provision and He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is promising us through these verses that if we pray and enjoin our families to pray, He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will provide for us.


Practical reasons

  1. Underestimating how long things will take: I used to have the wrong perception of time where I think it takes me 10 minutes to get to the masjid. But I forget to factor in the time it takes me to make wudhu, go downstairs, leave the office building, walk across to the masjid, and put my shoes away before finally entering the masjid. The time taken from the moment I leave my office till I get to the masjid is actually closer to 20 minutes and not 10 minutes!
  2. Procrastination: A lot of times the reason why I am late for salah is that I procrastinate on a task earlier on those days or weeks. This procrastination then leads to impending non-negotiable deadlines that I have to meet and does not allow me to make it for salah on time.
  3. Enjoying the ‘rush’: Deep down, I used to enjoy the ‘rush’ that the time between adhan and iqama provides. As soon as adhan goes off, I switch to laser sharp focus and I get a lot done in those 20 minutes, but of course, at the expense of salah.


How to break out of being chronically late for salah?

Being chronically late for salah is a pattern and the moment you understand how that pattern develops, you can make small tweaks in your daily life and mindset, and develop a new pattern that helps you make it to salah on time – every time. Below are the top 10 tips to break out of being chronically late for salah:

  1. Own up to the problem: Admit you have a problem of being late. If you think you are OK, and that you should be applauded for just praying, then you will never take this lateness seriously. By realising that being late for salah is not what Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) or His Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) love, it forces you to own up to the problem and want to do something about it.
  2. Redefine punctuality as a matter of faith: We hear the verse from the Qur’an that says:

    “…Indeed, prayer has been decreed upon the believers a decree of specified times”[Qur’an: Chapter 4, Verse 103]

    Let us internalize it and make it part of our faith. Ask yourself the following questions:
    Do you truly believe that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is calling you to meet Him?
    Do you truly believe that salah is His gift for you?
    Do you truly believe that success, sustenance, and barakah will come from praying on time?
    If you do, then be punctual with your salah and show Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that you are eager to meet Him.

  1. Note the benefits of being on time for salah: Unfortunately for some people, they think it is a waste of time to be early for salah. They say, “What will I do? Just sit there and wait?” What they do not realise is the immense virtue of simply waiting for salah. I will mention three ahadith to inspire you:

    1. Narrated ‘Abdullah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):
    I asked the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) “Which deed is the dearest to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)?” He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) replied, “To offer the prayers at their early stated fixed times.” [Bukhari]

    2.Narrated Abu Huraira raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):
    Allah’s Apostle ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “The angels keep on asking for Allah’s Blessing and Forgiveness for anyone of you as long as he is at his Musalla (praying place) and does not do Hadath (passing wind). The angels say, ‘O Allah! Forgive him and be Merciful to him.’ Each one of you is in the prayer as long as you are waiting for the prayer and nothing but the prayer detains you from going to your family.” [Muslim]

    3. Narrated Abu Huraira raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):
    The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “If the people knew the reward for the zuhr prayer in its early time, they would race for it. If they knew the reward for the ‘isha and the fajr prayers in congregation, they would join them even if they had to crawl. If they knew the reward for the first row, they would draw lots for it.” [Bukhari]

  2. Stop work at adhan: Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur’an:

    “So woe to those who pray [but] those who are heedless of their prayer” [Qur’an: Chapter 107, Verses 4-5]

    This verse is a stern warning for those of us who pray but are heedless of their prayers and do not give it its due attention. The safe thing to do, when you hear the adhan or you know it is time for salah, is to get ready for it and answer the call of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

  1. Shoot to arrive 5-15 minutes early: I explained in a previous post about how I wake 45 minutes early before Fajr regardless of the season. The same principle I now apply for other daily prayers. I had set an alarm 30 minutes before when I am supposed to leave for the masjid and that gives me 30 minutes to wrap up whatever I am doing and get to the masjid 5-15 minutes early.
  2. Time yourself: One of the ways that helped me understand how long it truly takes me to get from my office to the masjid, was to use a timer. So I will press start on a timer as soon as I leave my office and press stop when I enter the masjid. This gives me an accurate door to door estimation of how long it takes me to get to the masjid and I build that into my schedule. If you do this exercise you will be surprised at how the little things add up and end up delaying you without you even realising.
  3. Keep things at specific places: One of the biggest reasons people end up late is they misplace something they need before going out. Could be their keys, wallet, handbags, etc. Do not fall for this and keep things at a particular place and leave important things (keys, wallet etc.) by the door that you are not wasting time trying to find them and ending up waiting for salah.
  4. Keep a salah clock in around the house: To inspire your family to always pray on time and not delay salah, purchase one salah wall clock and have it somewhere centrally in the house. Train your children when they hear the adhan from this clock (especially if they do not live close to a masjid) to drop what they are doing and get ready for salah.
    And this is a note to parents: If your kids see you are careless about salah and do not drop what you are doing to get ready for it when the adhan goes off, guess what the children will learn!
  5. Plan your life around salah: All the aforesaid tips boil down to planning your life around salah. What I recommend my coaching clients to do is to block time out for salah in their calendars and set a 30-minute reminder before each one. This way they will not accidentally place a meeting or a call or an errand during salah time and end up delaying salah. As we say on ProductiveMuslim:

    “Plan your life around salah and not the other way around!”

  6. Do not put anything between you and salah: I learned this from a scholar who said that his teacher told him never to place anything between him and salah. What this means is that you should not place an errand or a task or somebody between you and salah. The moment the adhan goes off, do not say ‘I will pass by the groceries and then head out to salah’ or ‘I will send this e-mail and then I will pray’ or ‘I will beat the rush hour traffic then I will pray.’ Do not place anything between you and salah. This is the guidance of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who would be with his family helping them and serving them, but when the adhan is called, he would proceed for salah.

‘Aishah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was asked: “What did Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) used to do inside his house?” She answered: “He used to keep himself busy helping members of his family, and when it was the time for salah (the prayer), he would get up for prayer.” [Bukhari]

The tips in action

“Allahu Akbar… Allahu Akbar…”

I hear the adhan through the windows of my office, and I see the pop up on my computer, “It is time for zuhr prayer.”

I stop what I am doing because I already had a 30-minute head start to wrap up, go make wudhu and head to the masjid. I arrive 10 minutes early, pray the sunnah prayers, make dua, and read the Qur’an. I pray in jama’a in the first row, and sit after salah to complete the athkar, and pray the sunnah prayers. I come back to the office refreshed, rejuvenated and ready for another productive session at work.

What a difference from my rushed, and late salah!

Final note

Here is a thought I always keep in mind to push me to go early for salah: Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us that on the Day of Judgement when the people of Heaven enter Heaven, and the people of Hell enter Hell, there will be a special day every week (Friday according to most hadith) where people of heaven will be called to meet Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). On that Day, we will be sitting in rows and speaking to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). But the interesting bit is: How close you are to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) on that Day, i.e. which row you will be sitting at, depends on how early you used to go for Jumuah.

It was narrated that ‘Alqamah said: “I went out with ‘Abdullah to Friday (prayer), and he found three men who arrived before him. He said: ‘The fourth of four, and the fourth of four is not far away. I heard the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) say: “On the Day of Resurrection people will gather near Allah according to how early they came to Friday (prayer), the first, second, and third.’” Then he said: ‘The fourth of four, and the fourth of four is not far away.’” [Ibn Majah]

Those who are always keen to be in the first rows of the masjid for Jumuah will be the closest to Him on the day Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) meet people of the Heaven. Now think about it this way: If throughout the week, you’ve been practicing with the 5 daily prayers to be there early and on-time, don’t you think it’d be easier for you to be early for Jumuah?

So next time when you are tempted to be late for salah (especially for Jumuah), ask yourself: Am I willing to fall further and further behind in the rows on that Day when there will be nothing sweeter or more special than being closer to Him?

May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) make us all of those who are in the front rows in this life and the next.

What are your tips for always being early to salah? Share them with us in the comments!

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONSNever be late again, 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged by Diana DeLonzor



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