Forests

It sometimes seems to me that we frequently miss the wood for the trees.

Case in point: my companion recently shared a story purporting to be a conversation between the prophet Musa and his Lord, in which he asks Allah whether He gave the privilege of talking directly to Him to any other person. In the story, Allah is said to reply:

“O Musa, during the last period I am going to send a nation, the ummah of Mohammed, with dry lips, parched tongues, emaciated body with eyes sunken deep into their sockets, with livers dry and stomachs suffering the pangs of hunger. When they call out to me, they will be much closer to me than you O Musa! While you speak to me there are 70,000 veils between us, but at the time of iftaar there will not be a single veil between Me and those fasting in the ummah of Mohammed. O Musa, I have taken upon myself the responsibility that at the time of iftaar I will never refuse the dua of a fasting person!

When my companion shared this story with me, I thought to myself: “I doubt this is an authentic hadith, because every nation before us was likewise instructed to fast.” But I did not say anything. I find that when I am fasting, the impetuous ego is very much diminished and less inclined to argue. So, while it sounded to me like the reverent folk tales of Turkish Islam — told to instil love of the prophet amongst the common man — I just smiled and took from it its clear intent.

But alas, my companion was less fortunate when it came to her friends, each of them slinging back a refutation as fast as Google could retrieve their query from its vast index of petitioners pursuing authenticity. Two friends responded with the same web page, almost simultaneously, proving, once and for all, that there was absolutely no basis to this alleged hadith at all, both its isnad and matn unsound.

Alas, they could not see the forest; only the trees.

Of course it is true that all the sources indexed by Google, both Salafi and Traditionalist, agree that the part regarding the conversation between Musa and his Lord is just a story, of unknown provenance. As a hadith of the prophet, peace be upon him, it is naturally deemed inauthentic. Some go further, stating that in suggesting that ordinary believers are closer to Allah than a prophet of God, the text contains clear munkar.

Yes, but the forest.

What is this closeness that the story speaks of? In the Qur’an, Allah says that He is closer to man than the life-giving link between his head and his heart:

“And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than his jugular vein.” — Qur’an 50:16

And the Book says:

“And when My servants ask you, concerning Me — indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me and believe in Me that they may be guided.” — Qur’an 2:186

Could it be that this folk tale was attempting to intimate a closeness like this, to inspire the fasting person to ask of their Lord whatever should be their innermost desire?

Note that nobody disputes the last part of the story, that the dua of the fasting person is accepted when they break their fast at iftar time. “There are three prayers that are not rejected,” reads a well-known hadith judged sound: “the prayer of a father for his child, the prayer of the fasting person and the prayer of the traveller.” Other variants, likewise judged sound, exist, conveying the same meaning.

I say: step back to survey the vast forest spread out before us. Then you might appreciate the meaning obviously meant. Could you not be kind, and take from the story what is good and obviously true: to have great hope that at the time of the breaking of your fast, Allah will answer your prayers? Could you not embrace that which you could clearly believe in, and leave the rest?

Here is another folk tale that may be relevant here:

It is said that Musa, peace be upon him, was walking with his disciples one day when they came across a donkey’s corpse. One of them said it smells so bad. The other said it looks so ugly. Musa, however, looked and said: ‘Mashallah, its teeth are so white.’

Seek out the good. Seek out the forest.

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