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On Identity

When `A’isha was asked what the Prophet’s character was, one of the greatest scholars of the Qur’an replied with a question, “Have you not read the Qur’an?”

The Qur’an then, was the Prophet’s identity: one was the other.

We all know of his other identities.

It should be interesting to know how his Companions were identified. One of them was identified as “Al-Siddiq” (the Truthful one). Another was identified as “Al-Farooq” (Differentiator between Truth and Falsehood). Another was known as “Hawariyy” (A Supporter), yet another as “Ameenul Ummah” (The Trustworthy of the Ummah); another as “Saifullah” (Allah’s sword).

Some of them were identified as “The `asharah al-mubashsharah” (those that were given promise of Paradise in their lives itself); and a great number as “Badri,” while others as “he who participated in Bay` al-Rizwan, etc.”

The following are some examples of how the historians identify the Companions of the Prophet:

عن شداد بن أوس رضي الله عنه و كان بدريا / عامر بن ربيعة عن أبيه رضي الله عنه و كان بدريا / عن مرثد بن أبي مرثد الغنوي و كان بدريا / عن عبد الله بن الأرقم عن جده الأرقم و كان بدريا / أخبرني رجل من أصحاب بدر / عبد الله بن حذافة كان من أصحاب بدر / ‘ن ابن أبي أوفى صاحب رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم وكان قد شهد بيعة الرضوان / حشم بن حارثة الأنصاري الأوسي شهد بيعة الرضوان / وذكر بعض أهل العلم أنهم ثمانية أخوة صحبوا النبي، صلى الله عليه وسلم، وشهدوا بيعة الرضوان وهم أسماء وهند وخداش وذؤيب وحمران وفضالة وسلمة ومالك بنو حارثة بن سعيد بن عبد الله بن غياث.

Shaddad b. Aws narrated this, and he was a Badri / `Amir b. Rabi`ah narrates from his father, and he was a Badri .. Hisham b. Haritha al-Ansari al-Awsi was present during the Ridwan Pledge ..” The rest goes on in the same vein.

We could produce a few pages to identify Companions as they have been identified in our historical works: as Badris, Uhudis, Khandaqis, Khaybaris, etc. The last citation of our examples above should be interesting to some. It says:

“Some people of knowledge have said that they were (that is, those under discussion) eight brothers who acquired Companionship of the Prophet, on whom be peace, and were present with him during the Ridwan Pledge (when they pledged to die for Islam, then and there, at Hudaybiyyah). Their names are as follows (chroniclers have clarified that the first two were males): Asma’, Hind, Khidash, Dhu`ayb, Humran, Fudalah, Salamah, Malik: all progeny of Banu Haritha b. Sa`eed b. `Abdullah b. Ghayyath.”

Sounds interesting? Or no?

Women also adorned the spiritual cosmos. `A’isha was identified as `A’isha. To this day she remains identified as `A’isha. Her name is her identity; so that when you say now, “`A’isha said so and so ..” the listeners know which `A’isha is meant. “Batool” is another star in the heaven. One was known as Umm al-Masaakeen. Another was known as “Shaheedah.”

There were many others of the better half gender who were identified as participants in important events. E.g.,

أم منيع الأنصارية شهدت بيعة العقبة / الفارعة شهدت بيعة الرضوان / أم عمارة نَسِيْبَةُ بنتُ كعب وكانت قد شهدت بيعةَ العقبةِ / وقد قاتلت أم سليم يوم حنين

Umm Muay` al-Ansariyyah was present at the `Aqabah Pledge, al-Fari`ah was present at the Ridwan Pledge, Umm `Ammarah .. at the `Aqabah Pledge, while Umm Sulaym fought at Hunayn.”

These are random examples. There are more stars in the sky than you can count.

None of them was identified as a great businessman, or was known by the profession he followed: an artist, a story-teller, a sportsman, a poet, a traveler, etc.

It should be enlightening to know how Allah identified believers. He said in the Qur’an:

لَيْسَ الْبِرَّ أَنْ تُوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ وَلَكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةِ وَالْكِتَابِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ وَآتَى الْمَالَ عَلَى حُبِّهِ ذَوِي الْقُرْبَى وَالْيَتَامَى وَالْمَسَاكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَالسَّائِلِينَ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَأَقَامَ الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَى الزَّكَاةَ وَالْمُوفُونَ بِعَهْدِهِمْ إِذَا عَاهَدُوا وَالصَّابِرِينَ فِي الْبَأْسَاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ وَحِينَ الْبَأْسِ أُولَئِكَ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْمُتَّقُونَ [البقرة : 177]

Piety is not (in) that you turn your faces towards the east or the west. Rather piety (is in) him who believed in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Books and the Prophets. And he gave wealth ‑ despite it being dear ‑ to the kindred, orphans, the destitute, the wayfarer, to those who ask, and, to (ransom) slaves. Moreover, he Prayed (assiduously and spiritedly), and gave the zakah; and those who fulfill their promises when they make them; and those who endure with fortitude: poverty, illness, and, (remain steadfast) at moments of great stress in the battlefield. It is these who are truthful, and it is these who are godfearing.

So, if one is trying to identify a “believer,” he might look for the qualities stated in the verse above.

A hadith identifies a person otherwise identified as believer, by identifying him as an untrue believer. Said the Prophet:

مَنْ مَاتَ وَلَمْ يَغْزُ ، وَلَمْ يُحَدِّثْ نَفْسَهُ بِالْغَزْوِ مَاتَ عَلَى شُعْبَةٍ مِنَ النِّفَاقِ

He who died but did not fight in the Cause of Allah, and did not intend to fight, died on a branch of hypocrisy.”

Another hadith identifies a Muslim by saying what he can never be:

قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ -صلى الله عليه وسلم- « أَرْبَعٌ مَنْ كُنَّ فِيهِ كَانَ مُنَافِقًا خَالِصًا وَمَنْ كَانَتْ فِيهِ خَلَّةٌ مِنْهُنَّ كَانَتْ فِيهِ خَلَّةٌ مِنْ نِفَاقٍ حَتَّى يَدَعَهَا إِذَا حَدَّثَ كَذَبَ وَإِذَا عَاهَدَ غَدَرَ وَإِذَا وَعَدَ أَخْلَفَ وَإِذَا خَاصَمَ فَجَرَ »

وَقَالَ (قي رواية أخرى): « آيَةُ الْمُنَافِقِ ثَلاَثٌ وَإِنْ صَامَ وَصَلَّى وَزَعَمَ أَنَّهُ مُسْلِمٌ ».

There are four characteristics that if found in someone, he is a pure hypocrite; but if one of them is there, he has that much of hypocrisy, unless he gives it up: When he talks he lies, when he pledges he dishonors, when he promises he fails and when he argues he speaks foul.” Another narration adds, “Even if he Prayed, fasted, and claimed that he is a Muslim.”

We may add another hadith to demonstrate what goes to identify a Muslim. Said the Prophet,

سيكون أمراء من بعدي يقولون مالا يفعلون ويفعلون مالا يؤمرون فمن جاهدهم بيده فهو مؤمن ومن جاهدهم بلسانه فهو مؤمن ومن جاهدهم بقلبه فهو مؤمن لا إيمان بعده

There will be rulers after me who will say what they will not do, and do what they have not been ordered. So whoever struggled against them with his hand is a believer; whoever struggled against them with his tongue is a believer; and whoever struggled against them with his heart is a believer. Beyond this there is no belief.”

What will be a Muslim’s identity during the closing days of life on earth? A hadith informs:

“إن الإسلام بدأ غريباً وسيعود غريباً كما بدأ فطوبى للغرباء”. قالوا: يا رسول الله ومن الغرباء؟ قال: “الذين يصلحون عند فساد الناس”.

Islam started as a stranger and will end up a stranger, as it began, therefore, good news for the strangers.” He was asked, “Messenger of Allah, who are these strangers?” He answered, “Those who reform when the people are corrupt.”

How is a Muslim’s soul identified when it is taken up to the heaven immediately after death? The Prophet said,

وَيَخْرُجُ مِنْهَا كَأَنْتَنِ رِيحِ جِيفَةٍ وُجِدَتْ عَلَى وَجْهِ الْأَرْضِ فَيَصْعَدُونَ بِهَا فَلَا يَمُرُّونَ بِهَا عَلَى مَلَإٍ مِنْ الْمَلَائِكَةِ إِلَّا قَالُوا مَا هَذَا الرُّوحُ الْخَبِيثُ فَيَقُولُونَ فُلَانُ بْنُ فُلَانٍ بِأَقْبَحِ أَسْمَائِهِ الَّتِي كَانَ يُسَمَّى بِهَا فِي الدُّنْيَا حَتَّى يُنْتَهَى بِهِ إِلَى السَّمَاءِ الدُّنْيَا فَيُسْتَفْتَحُ لَهُ فَلَا يُفْتَحُ لَهُ ثُمَّ قَرَأَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ { لَا تُفَتَّحُ لَهُمْ أَبْوَابُ السَّمَاءِ وَلَا يَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ حَتَّى يَلِجَ الْجَمَلُ فِي سَمِّ الْخِيَاطِ }

“(When it is taken up) a most foul carcass-like smell that ever was there on earth is exuded. As they (the angels) rise up to the heaven, they do not pass by any group of angels but they ask, “Whose revolting soul is this?” They answer, “Of so and so,” identifying him by the worst of his names by which he was known in this world; until, when they reach the earthly-firmament, they seek the door to be opened. But it is not opened.”

The Prophet then recited the ayah [7: 40]: “The gates of the heaven will not be opened for them, nor will they enter Paradise until a camel can pass through a needle’s eye-hole.”

How is a Muslim identified in the grave?

قَالَتْ أَسْمَاءُ ، يُؤْتَى أَحَدُكُمْ فَيُقَالُ لَهُ : مَا عِلْمُكَ بِهَذَا الرَّجُلِ فَأَمَّا الْمُؤْمِنُ أَوِ الْمُوقِنُ فَيَقُولُ : هُوَ مُحَمَّدٌ هُوَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ -صلى الله عليه وسلم- جَاءَنَا بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ ، وَالْهُدَى فَأَجَبْنَا ، وَاتَّبَعْنَا ثَلاَثَ مَرَّاتٍ. فَيُقَالُ لَهُ قَدْ كُنَّا نَعْلَمُ أَنَّكَ كُنْتَ تُؤْمِنُ بِهِ فَنَمْ صَالِحًا ، وَأَمَّا الْمُنَافِقُ أَوِ الْمُرْتَابُ فَيَقُولُ : لاَ أَدْرِى أَىَّ ذَلِكَ قَالَتْ أَسْمَاءُ ، فَيَقُولُ : لاَ أَدْرِى سَمِعْتُ النَّاسَ يَقُولُونَ شَيْئًا فَقُلْتُ.

Asma’ said (reporting the Prophet), “(The angels) ask one of you (in the grave), ‘What do you think of this man?’ As for a Mu’min, or a true believer, he says, ‘He is Muhammad. He is the Messenger of Allah, peace on him. He came to us with clear signs and guidance. We responded positively and followed him.’ This happens three times. Then he is told, ‘We knew anyway that you had believed in him. So, go to sleep now.’ As for the hypocrite or the doubter, he replies, ‘I know nothing of this.’”

(Asma’ added), “He says, ‘I know nothing. I just heard people say such things (i.e., he is a Prophet), and so I repeated (the same thing, without believing).’”

How is a man identified with his Lord? Says a hadith:

وَإِنَّ الْكَذِبَ يَهْدِى إِلَى الْفُجُورِ وَإِنَّ الْفُجُورَ يَهْدِى إِلَى النَّارِ وَإِنَّ الرَّجُلَ لَيَكْذِبُ حَتَّى يُكْتَبَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ كَذَّابًا

Lies lead to corruptions; and corruptions lead to the Fire. Surely, a man keeps lying until he is written with his Lord: A Liar.”

How will a man be identified on the Day of Judgment? A hadith gives an example:

الْمُقْسِطُونَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ عَلَى مَنَابِرٍ مِنْ نُورٍ عَنْ يَمِينِ الرَّحْمَنِ ، وَكِلْتَا يَدَيْهِ يَمِينٌ ، الَّذِينَ يَعْدِلُونَ فِي حُكْمِهِمْ وَأَهْلِيهِمْ وَمَا وَلُوا

The rightly-judging persons will be on the podiums of Light on the Day of Judgment by the right hand side of Al-Rahman, and both his Hands are right hands – those who act justly in their decisions, in their family, and in affairs they are given the charge.”

Hadith-reports about those who love each other for the sake of Allah, or those who will enter Paradise through the Rayyan Gate, are quite commonly quoted. Here is another kind of identity that a man can earn:

“إِنَّ الْغَادِرَ يُرْفَعُ لَهُ لِوَاءٌ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ يُقَالُ هَذِهِ غَدْرَةُ فُلاَنِ بْنِ فُلاَنٍ” – وعن أبي سعيد رضي الله عنه عن النبي قال لكل غادر لواء عند استه

A treacherous person will have a flag by him on the Day of Judgment and it will be announced, ‘This is the treachery of so and so.’”

Abu Sa`eed al-Khudri added that every man of treason will have a flag by his hips.

The law keepers draw a picture of the criminal from the description of witnesses to the crime. The above enumerates a fair number of features. Each one of us can paint a picture of his own by using these features. The picture on the canvas is his or her identity, and not what he or she imagines about himself or herself. One may keep in mind all along, during the picture drawing process, with the Prophet’s words written in bold, “Even if he prayed and fasted, and claimed that he is a Muslim.”

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