ISRA Retreat on Nawawi’s Arba’een: The Qur’an is our Constitution and Hadith are a Light

If you were to ask me the things that struck me most from the first day of the Islamic Studies and Research Association (ISRA) Retreat that took place this Gregorian New Year’s weekend, it could be summed in these two oft-repeated sentences by the speakers: “The Qur’an is our constitution” (Syed Zain Al Abedin, the founder and president of ISRA) and “the hadith are a light” (Sh. Muhammad Mendes). I’ve just been ruminating over the word “constitution” and all that it signifies since Brother Syed gave his introduction to the retreat. A constitution is a manual…a guide…a law to follow…but it also is what comprises us (or what should be comprising us)…which brings me back to the wisdom of Sh. Muhammad Mendes at the SeekersGuidance Retreat in Tennessee this June when he reflected on Imam Ahmadu Bamba (ra) and the Prophet (saws) who both kept company with the Qur’an, and thus were Qur’an-ic. Ah…the company we keep…to tell you the truth, I had a bit of difficulty with the company we kept this weekend. Not all of it, but some of it. In all honesty, it probably was because I initially suffered from a comparison of this retreat to the one I went to in June (SeekersGuidance “Journey to Allah”). I don’t know if I’d call this a retreat…it was a little stress-inducing on my end. I’d rather call it a two-day study session. But then there was the issue of different states and levels in iman, islam, and ihsan…which became very apparent when babysitting equaled watching, movies (which many of us out-of-towners didn’t approve of) and listening to Nawawi’s Arba’een meant talking completely through it on the sister’s side…it was a little hard to grapple with in the face of a conference focusing on ihsan (excellence)…

La ilaha il Allah, my pet peeves aren’t worth talking about. I’m sure I probably annoyed some people too. Actually, I’m 100% sure of it. Just ask my husband. He’ll vouch for my stress level at the time. I probably drove Noora insane, too. But while I can’t tell you much about Columbia, South Carolina (where the retreat was held), I can tell you that the masjid where the retreat was held, Masjid Noor-al-Huda, was very welcoming. Even with the TV movie watching and talking, I saw members of the South Carolina congregation bringing food for us travelers to eat from their homes. I saw them stand back from the lines so that we could eat first. And if anyone was wanting for a smile or a hug, they needn’t look anymore. I don’t even know if the women from South Carolina got to hear much from the retreat–a few of them seemed to always be in the kitchen cooking…mashAllah. The community at Masjid Noor-al-Huda exemplified true Southern hospitality and the usual cliques that are present at masajid seemed to be non-existent. The masjid seemed to be a mix of Desis and African-Americans (almost all of whom were in shalwar kameez–even under some abayas), and I felt welcomed too even in a very shamsi jilbab.

But most of all, I felt a little closer to the ahl (people of) hadith. While reading and reciting Nawawi’s Arba’een, we were in Nawawi’s company…and even more than that, we were in the company of rasulAllah (saws). The light of the hadith shone…what was recited and said were the words of a prophet…the best words to be heard besides the Speech of Creator of Prophets. And we learned these hadiths through the work of a man who didn’t sleep in his bed or get married…who fell asleep at his table every night writing these hadiths down so that we would know them. We, the generation, who came a thousand years later…

Nawawi writes in his introduction a hadith that has been transmitted by many companions in many different versions (Ali, Abu Huraira, Mu’adh ibn Jabal, Ibn Umar, Ibn Abbas, Abu Darda (ra) among them) that the Prophet (saws) said:

“Whosoever memorizes and preserves for my people forty hadith relating to their religion, Allah will resurrect him on the Day of Judgment in the company of jurist and religious scholars.”

It’s agreed to be a weak hadith despite its numerous transmissions. And Nawawi writes that even though scholars are agreed that a weak hadith can be put into practice if virtuous deeds are concerned, he does not rely on this hadith but the following sound hadiths in writing this Arba’een (along with the practice of scholars before him to bring together forty hadith):

“Let him who was a witness among you inform him who was absent.”


“May Allah make radiant [the face of] someone who has heard what I have said, has learnt it by heart and has transmitted it as he heard it.”

So in this Arba’een, Nawawi informs us that he is bringing together forty very important hadiths…all of them which have been described by scholars as axes of Islam or a half, a third, etc. of Islam, and deemed to be sahih, the majority of which are in the collections of Bukhari and Muslim…the first hadith said to be 1/3 of our deen by Imam Al Shafi’i (ra):

“Actions are but by intention and every man shall have but that which he intended. Thus he whose migration was for Allah and His Messenger, his migration was for Allah and His Messenger, and he whose migration was to achieve some worldly benefit or to take some woman in marriage, his migration was for that for which he migrated.”

Shaykh Muhammad Mendes informed us that hadiths also have many layers of meanings, and that the companions understood hadiths in different ways. He revealed some layers that I hadn’t even thought about in this hadith. Shaykh Muhammad informed us that we are all muhajirs (emigrants) in some way. We make hijra (emigration) not only physically in earthly movement, but also from the haram (forbidden) to the halal (permissible), from bid’a (blameworthy innovation) to the sunnah (prophetic practice), from the makruh (discouraged) to the manduh (recommended). The migration spoken about in this hadith can be physical or spiritual. And we must all make hijra from toxic environments–the bad influences in our life..the bad company that we sometimes keep. The highest hijra in life is the hijra of ghaflah (heedlessness)–when we move from heedlessness to muraqabah and mushahada (meditation that leads to consciousness and witnessing of nothing but The Creator). Intentions are the ruh (the spirit), but you can’t just have good intentions. You have to have a body for the spirit. You have a place of action. What distinguishes a Muslim who is awakened is that they are consciously, actively living their life…they precede every step that take in life with intention..and make multiple intentions for one action, thus magnifying their reward…

Again, we were told that hadiths are a light by Shaykh Muhammad. He mentioned that some scholars could see spiritual light (nur) coming from people’s mouths as they recited Qur’an…a lesser light for people reciting a hadith qudsi…and an even lesser light for those reciting hadith nabawi (prophetic hadith). But still it’s a light. And while I had high hopes of actually being able to read every hadith in this book, and perhaps memorize one and get some of that light, I guess it is sufficient that we covered the few that we did. Covering a little allows one to go in depth, while covering a lot only allows one to glaze over…and as Shaykh Muhammad Mendes told us in reviewing the first hadith “Actions are by intentions…”, you only get what you intend. Some may spend a day with a shaikh and get more in that little time than those who spend months or years…we must come with our glasses empty, not full of the dirt of this world when learning. In all honesty, I’m still trying to figure out Allah’s purpose for me here. Maybe it is was just to awaken me to take some active steps in preserving forty hadiths so that I can be raised in the ranks of scholars as well. Maybe it was to inform those of you who were absent. Maybe it was to be written among those who pointed you to the good so that your faces could be radiant by learning the hadith and transmitting them to your own families and friends…

This was my second ISRA event. I previously attended one of their Isra and Miraj Conferences some years back, but this was my first retreat. Known for their mawlids and conferences dealing with aspects of rasulAllah’s life (saws) such as the isra and miraj, the Islamic Studies and Research Association aims to develop the ummah dynamically through a focus on iman, islam, and ihsan, unity, and the promotion of tasawwuf.

2 thoughts on “ISRA Retreat on Nawawi’s Arba’een: The Qur’an is our Constitution and Hadith are a Light

  1. Pingback: A Season for Everything: Some Jewels for the Summer « THE SANDAL

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