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Fitna

Two or three years ago in one very insignificant corner of the internet, a huge argument broke out between proponents of vaguely different interpretations of Islam, between brothers if you will. To the casual observer, such as myself peering in, it seemed like a skirmish on the border. But its effect on others was catastrophic.

Some of our fellow Muslims, many of them converts to the deen, had already lived through the Salafi inquisitions of the late 1990s that had demanded that the enthusiastic new faithful declare exactly which type of Salafi they were. Some Muslims, distraught by the collapse of the structures that had sustained their nascent faith, found their iman shattered and left the fold soon thereafter. Others held on, trusting in the guidance of Allah, recalling that they became Muslim for the sake of God, not for the sake of people, insisting that the schism would not shake them.

For some, salvation came in the form of what would later be called Traditional Islam. Early websites introduced them to material that had largely been unavailable in the English language until then and a new way forward emerged. Their old enthusiasm for their faith returned as they grasped hold of isnads and ijazahs connecting them back to the Prophet, peace be upon him. The sunnah sprang back to life in their lives, revealed in their conduct and words, and in their appeal to the words of the Prophet, peace be upon him, whenever they perceived shortcomings in themselves and those around them.

For a while it seemed that they had found themselves in the midst of a different kind of community, one that would not succumb to the very human failings they had witnessed previously. This community was, it was thought, less self-righteous, gentler, more grounded in the humility that faith promotes.

All of sudden, however, that illusion was blasted to pieces. In the tempest of an argument that came from nowhere, the very voices that had called people to faith now raged with a sectarian intolerance that stunned those who had benefitted from them in the past. It was apparent to me as an outside observer—still just a Muslim lacking investment in any particular group—that many of the participants were oblivious to the impact of their involvement in the new schism. They certainly did not see how their standing fell in the eyes of people who had once respected them immensely, and what that loss of guidance meant for them.

Some, distraught by the apparent disintegration of a firm foundation beneath them, found their iman teetering on the brink and left the fold soon thereafter. Others held on, trusting in the guidance of Allah, recalling that they became Muslim for the sake of God, not for the sake of people, insisting that the schism would not shake them. But just as this was not the first, it would also not be the last, and the aftershocks and convulsions went on, buffeting believers to and fro over the weeks and months that followed.

For some who had invested heavily in their faith, it was a calamity amongst calamities that severely tested them. Alas, for some it was the catalyst for a certainty that none of us would wish for now: that certainty in nothingness, that those of us who have been atheist have had the misfortune to experience in full. It was, if you like, The End.

Yet all of us are tested by degrees. Some of us by the call of our own nafs or childlessness. Some by divorce and in bringing up severely disabled children alone. Some by the destruction of their homeland and being forced to live as a refugee until the end. Some by a great flood, or by the pollution of their livelihood. Some by the death of a loved-one to cancer. Some by their own terminal illness. Some by slaughter and oppression. Some by wealth, and ease, and love and light and happiness. And some by the fitnas that return time after time.

My Qur’an teacher taught his class one day that the word fitna is of the Arabic root alfatn. In days of old there were people who would mix lesser metals with gold for personal gain, but their deception could be detected by tossing coins into the flames of a fire. The process of separating true gold from false in this way is know as alfatn. It is the law of God, our teacher taught us, to put people through tribulation to separate those made from gold from the rest:

2. Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?

3. But We have certainly tried those before them, and God will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars.

4. Or do those who do evil deeds think they can outrun Us? Evil is what they judge.

5. Whoever should hope for the meeting with God—indeed, the term decreed by God is coming. And He is the Hearing, the Knowing.

6. And whoever strives only strives for the benefit of himself. Indeed, God is Free from need of the worlds.

7. And those who believe and do righteous deeds—We will surely remove from them their misdeeds and will surely reward them according to the best of what they used to do.

8. And We have enjoined upon man goodness to parents. But if they endeavour to make you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them. To Me is your return, and I will inform you about what you used to do.

9. And those who believe and do righteous deeds—We will surely admit them into Paradise among the righteous. {Surah al-Ankabut}

Nothing that happens in our lives occurs without the will of God. And it has been said that those most loved by God are often tested to ever greater degrees, raising their standing before their Lord beyond our wildest dreams. At times, when the darkest and most difficult moments descend, we may stumble and err, for of course we are but human. But our Lord is known as the Most Merciful, the Compassionate, and He leaves the door to repentance open for us repeatedly.

They said: “We give thee glad tidings in truth: be not then in despair!” He said: “And who despairs of the mercy of his Lord, but such as go astray?”  {Qur’an 15.55}

The door is open for as long as he prolongs our lives.

O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it. {Hadith Qudsi}

Here I am reminded of that old parable of the lost sheep from my childhood. Indeed of the parable of the prodigal son. May God keep us all on the straight path and raise us in a good state on the Day of Judgement. And may He guide those who have lost faith back to His Way, raising them stronger than before.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, was once asked, ‘What actions are most excellent?’ He replied, ‘To gladden the heart of human beings, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful and to remove the sufferings of the injured.’

He, peace be upon him, also said, ‘Give glad tidings and do not repel the people. Make things easy for the people and do not make it difficult for them and make them calm with glad tidings and do not repulse them.’

Are any more words required?

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5 Comments

  1. As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    My Qur’an teacher taught his class one day that the word fitna is of the Arabic root alfatn.

    All Arabic root-words are verbs, not nouns — the root would be fatana, meaning both “he tested” and “to test”.

    I’m not really sure what this recent fitna (of 2 or 3 years ago) you are talking about refers to, but the “Salafi inquisition” affected only “salafis” who were mostly a different demographic from those who got involved in the traditionalist movement, particularly in America. Traditionalism was a bottom-up movement among young English-speaking Muslims who wanted an authentic traditional Islam that wasn’t affected by the Indo-Pak Bareilawi-Deobandi schism (i.e. you no longer had to keep some of your friends secret from the others) and which it wasn’t necessary to learn Urdu to be part of. It was also about providing comprehensive rebuttals to the “salafi” claims to keep young people from falling for them.

    The “inquisition” wasn’t just about requiring “that the enthusiastic new faithful declare exactly which type of Salafi they were” – it was aimed at everyone in the western “salafi” communities, and tore apart long-standing friendships and even marriages and resulted in businesses going bust because of boycotts. I’m not sure how many of the victims ended up as traditionalists.

    This latest bout of fitna has less to do with doctrine as with class, with perhaps a culture clash between some of the converts and the lifestyle in the Middle East where they spent time or settled, with some genuine abuses, and with a breakdown in tolerance, and this may have something to do with the end of the Bush administration which required Muslims to have at least some solidarity with each other.

  2. Ibn 'Alawi

    “All Arabic root-words are verbs, not nouns — the root would be fatana, meaning both ‘he tested’ and ‘to test’.

    A small point (just for benefit): The stronger view of the morphologists is that Arabic roots derive from nouns [asma’] and not verbs. That is because [1], Allah says that He taught Adam the names [asma’] of everything, and [2] nouns are simpler because they do not denote a “doer” or particular time [past, present, or future].

    Nice post.

  3. Rufaidah Al-zeer

    A much needed reminder. We are indeed tested. Sometimes a darkness descends upon us, such that is like the darkest part of a stormy night where one would not see his own arm outstreched befor him. Allahuma we ask for Your Light and we beg for forgiveness.

  4. Salaam Alaikum,

    ‘that certainty in nothingness, that those of us who have been atheist have had the misfortune to experience in full.’

    As an ex-atheist, that sums things up better then anything else I have read on the matter.

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