By Shafiur Rahman
Virtue is not due to the abundance of deeds that one performs; rather it is due to it being sincerely for Allah, correct in accordance to the Sunnah.
How many times have you heard someone say practising Islam or being a ‘religious’ Muslim is difficult? Reflect on the following.
Imam Al-Bukhari in his Sahih relates the following hadith (record of the words of the Prophet, peace be upon him) in the chapter On the Deen Being Ease.
It is related from Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah said:
“The deen is ease. Whoever makes the deen too hard for himself will be overpowered, so direct yourselves to what is right, follow a middle course, accept the good news of the reward for right action, and seek help [(o reach your goal by being constant in worshipping) in the morning, evening and some of the night.” (Al-Bukhari)
“The deen is ease”
The word deen means obedience; a state of abasement and submissiveness.
In the hadith, ad-deen is referring to Islam as the means or the vehicle by which one is obedient and in a state of humble submission to Allah (exalted is He). It is synonymous with Shari`ah (Islamic law) and includes both Islam (i.e. practice) and iman (faith).
The word yusr (ease / easy) means ease, facilitation without constriction.
Ibn Abi Jamrah in his commentary of the abridged Sahih of Al-Bukhari, Bahjat Al-Nufus, highlights a number of ways the statement ‘the deen is ease’ can be understood and demonstrated. Some of them are as follows.
1- Deen here can be understood as both iman and Islam together. Iman (faith) is ‘easy’ in the sense that it is straightforward without any complexities. This is demonstrated in the hadith where the Prophet tests the slave girl to see whether or not she is a Muslim. He was satisfied by her action of simply pointing to the sky to indicate that Allah is above his creation and by her attesting to the fact that he was the Messenger of Allah.
As for the ease in Islam, the practice, this is demonstrated by the famous hadith where a person asks the Prophet about the obligations of Islam and the Prophet tells him about the five obligatory prayers, the obligatory fast of Ramadan and the obligatory zakah (charity). Each time the person asked if there was anything more than the obligatory prayer, fasting and zakah the Prophet replied that there wasn’t unless he wanted to do something extra voluntarily. While the person was leaving he said to himself: by Allah I will not increase nor decrease from that. The Prophet said he has succeeded if he is truthful.
2- The ease here could be referring to what you have been given as a deen compared to the previous nations and the fact that you have only been obligated with that which you have the capacity to do. Allah has removed the burdens that were in the Shari`ah of the previous nations from this Ummah (Muslim community). For instance, the process of repentance for this Ummah is made by regret, giving up the sin and seeking forgiveness whereas for some previous nations repentance was through capital punishment (for some sins).
Another example is that unlawful things for us have been made lawful in times of necessity whereas this was not the case for previous nations. Also the fact that Allah has only burdened us with obligations that we have the physical and intellectual capacity to fulfill, for if he did burden us with something beyond our capacity, it still would have been acceptable as He is All Wise and the Omnipotent Whose decisions none can overturn. Therefore it is from His favour and bounty that He has forgiven us and only made us responsible according to our capacity. As He says in the Qur’an: “Allah does not burden the soul beyond its capacity”. (Al-Baqarah 2:286)
Therefore the one who is made responsible for that which one had the capacity to bear then that is from ease and not from hardship.
3- The ease here could be that religion is easy for the one who has knowledge of the religion and it is difficult for the one that is ignorant of the religion.
4- The ease referred to here could be the fact that the legal texts that imply an obligation without any room for other interpretations are few in number. The vast majority of legal texts are open to different interpretations (that lead to more than one valid legal option) and therefore this is ease and flexibility from the Master to His servants.
5- The ease referred to here could be to shorten one’s hopes, because shortening one’s hopes is amongst the causes that assist one in the religion so that the religion becomes easy. This is due to the fact that when one’s hopes are shortened covetousness is reduced, zuhd (detachment from unnecessary things) becomes easy and performing good deeds becomes light. This is similar to what the Prophet mentioned: “When one of you wakes up in the morning, do not expect (to live) till the evening and when one of you goes to sleep in the evening do not expect (to live) till the morning”.
6- The ease referred to here could be to perform good deeds in reverence to the rights due to Allah since the religion belongs completely to Allah. When one does this the religion becomes easy due to the sweetness of obedience, performing deeds become effortless, and in fact, one is nourished by the deeds performed for the sake of Allah.
“Whoever makes the deen too hard for himself will be overpowered (…)”
Ibn Hajar says that it means that whoever overburdens himself by excess in performing religious deeds without being gentle (on himself) will be incapacitated (to continue), cut off and therefore overpowered.
Ibn Hajar cites Ibn Munir as saying: ‘… this hadith contains knowledge from the emblems of prophethood. Indeed we have seen and people before us have seen that everyone who goes to extremes in the religion is cut off (from continuity). The intended meaning in the hadith is not to stop a person trying to perfect their acts of worship, for that is something praiseworthy, rather it is warning against the type of excess that leads to boredom, or against excess in supererogatory acts that leads to forsaking that which is more recommended, or that which leads to the performance of an obligation outside of its designated time.
The example of the aforementioned is if someone prayed the whole night fighting off sleep until sleep overtook him in the last part of the night whereby he slept past the Fajr (Dawn) Prayer in jama`ah (congregation) or past the best time for Fajr prayer or past sunrise after the designated time for Fajr prayer”.
Imam Ahmed narrates: “You will not attain this (deen) by excessiveness and the best of your deen is ease”.
“(…) so direct yourselves to what is right, follow a middle course, (…)”
Ibn Hajar says fasadidu (which is translated here as direct yourselves to what is right) means sticking to as-sadad (which is correct without excess or deficiency). The lexicographers say as-sadad means balance/moderation (tawasut) in actions.
Ibn Rajab says at-tawasut (balance) in religious deeds is to not fall short of whatever one has been commanded to do and to not burden oneself with that which is beyond one’s capacity.
Ibn Rajab also says about the word qaribu (translated here as follow a middle course) that it carries the same or similar meaning to as-sadad. Ibn Hajar says it means if you cannot achieve the ideal then do your best to attain that which is as close to the ideal.
“(…) accept the good news of the reward for right action (…)”
Ibn Hajar says it means to accept glad tidings of the reward for continuous action even if it is small. Meaning the glad tidings is for someone who cannot perform deeds to the ideal and that he will not lose any reward if it was not due to his intentional shortcomings. The object of the glad tidings is the reward, however the actual word itself (reward) is omitted in the hadith to induce a sense of veneration and magnificence towards the reward.
Ibn Rajab says it means to convey glad tidings to the one who traverses the path of obedience to Allah (exalted is He) through moderation, consistency and balance for he is the one who reaches the destination.
Indeed the path of moderation and balance is more virtuous than other paths, so the one who travels this path is given glad tidings. For, indeed moderation in adhering to the path of Sunnah (prophetic tradition) is better than exerting great effort in other paths. The best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad so whoever follows his path is closer to Allah than anyone else.
Ibn Rajab continues to explain that virtue is not due to the abundance of deeds that one performs; rather it is due to it being sincerely for Allah, it being correct in accordance to the Sunnah, and by the abundance of knowledge and actions of the heart. So the one who is more knowledgeable about Allah, His religion, His laws and His Shari`ah (religious law), and more fearful of Him, more loving of Him, and has more hope in Him is more virtuous than the one who is not in this state even if the latter performs more physical deeds than the former.
That is why some of the predecessors used to say that Abu Bakr (may God be please with him) did not excel others by much fasting or salah (prayer) but rather it was due to something deeply embedded in his heart. Some of them said the thing that was in his heart by which he excelled others was deep love for Allah and His Messenger and sincere counsel for Allah’s slaves.