Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Imam Muhammad Sa'id Ramadhan al-Buwthi (r.a.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Imam Muhammad Sa`id ibn al-Mullah Muhammad Ramadhan al-Buwthi (r.a.), was born of Kurdish descent in 1350 AH / 1931 CE.  He was born in the village of Jilka.  He migrated to Damascus with his family when he was four years old.  The son of one of the foremost Shafi’i scholars of his time, Mullah Ramadhan (r.a.), he studied Arabic grammar, logic, and philosophy with his father, as well as Shafi’i jurisprudence and fundamentals of Islamic law and faith, and after graduating from the at-Tawjih al-Islami Institute of Damascus.

He then traveled to Cairo and joined the Faculty of Religion at al-Azhar.  He acquired the International Certificate in 1955.  The following year, he joined the faculty of Arabic Language at al-Azhar and acquired a Diploma at the end of the same year before returning to Syria.  He was appointed as dean in the Faculty of Religion at Damascus University in 1960, and deputed to al-Azhar University to attain doctorate in the roots of the Islamic law.  He graduated in 1965.

He was appointed as instructor in the college of law of Damascus University in 1965, as a deputy of the college and later on and as its dean.  He participated in many global conferences and symposia, and was a member in the royal society of the Islamic Civilisation Research in Amman, and a member in the higher board of Oxford academy.

He spoke Turkish and Kurdish as well as English.  He wrote no less than forty books on the sciences of religion, literature, philosophy and sociology, the problems of civilisation and issues in the Muslim world.  Among his works are Fiqh as-Sirah, “Jurisprudence from the Prophetic Tradition”, and al-Lamadzhabiyyah Akhthar Bid’ah Tuhaddidu ash-Shari’ah al-Islamiyyah, “Not Following a School of Jurisprudence is the Most Dangerous Innovation Threatening Islamic Sacred Law”, while his most recent work, as-Salafiyyah Marhala Zamaniyyah Mubarakah la Madzhab Islami, “The Way of the Early Muslims was a Blessed Era, not an Islamic School of Thought”, gained wide readership.

He lived in Damascus, where he wrote, taught at the university, and gave well-attended public lectures at several mosques.  He lectured almost every day in the mosques of Damascus and other Syrian cities.  Thousands attended his lectures.  He wrote in several newspapers and journals on Islamic topics including providing replies to a large number of questions he received, concerning verdicts or consultations important to the people.

Edited Transcript of Interview

Interviewer: Are they an accurate, pure, and untainted representation of Sufis and taswawwuf?

Imam al-Buwthi (r.a.): As far as previous generations are concerned, it is not possible for me to pass judgment on them because I did not live in those times.  However, I have read biographies of people such as Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (q.s.), Shaykh Raslan ad-Dimashqi (q.s.) and Shaykh Ahmad ar-Rifa`i (q.s.).  I swear by Allah, these people embodied prophethood, except that they did not receive Divine Revelation.

Interviewer: They embodied prophethood?

Imam al-Buwthi (r.a.): Prophethood, minus divine revelation.  In other words, if they had Revelation, they would have been prophets.  What I mean by that is that they represented, in their character, in their self-discipline, in their inner development, the life of God’s Messenger (s.a.w.).  However, since Divine Revelation was not present in their case, [obviously] they were not prophets or messengers.  And for such people, the foundation of their journey to Allah (s.w.t.) was the two wings of the Divine Book and the sunnah, and nothing more.  Shaykh ‘Abd al Qadir al-Jilani (q.s.), when death drew close to him, his son, whose name was also Musa like your name, was sitting next to him.  He gave him his parting advice.  Amongst what he said to him was, “My son, fly to the Truth with the two wings of the Book and the sunnah.”  And he warned him from bid’ah.  So, I do not want to speak about such people.  If I want to look for strict adherence to the proper methodology, it is in their lives that I will find such an adherence.  If I want to look for opposition to bid`ah, it is in their lives that I will find opposition to bid’ah.

However, if you are asking me about the thuruq of this age, I request that you show me a single thariqa’ from among them whose murshid possesses knowledge of Islamic law that is proficient and sufficient, who is aloof from this world and everything that it contains and is attached to it, and who possesses uprightness in his character.  I will go tomorrow to become his murid.  But I have looked everywhere, and have not found such a murshid.

Interviewer: What is the reason for this, respected shaykh?

Imam al-Buwthi (r.a.): Well, I do not know.  The nafs is as it always has been – and I do not absolve my own nafs from this – “Verily the nafs is ever commanding of evil.”  The whole business of being a murshid is a dangerous business.  It is a slippery road.  The murshid, when he tastes the pleasure of leading others, the pleasure of having a following; it is something that is almost intoxicating.  When he sees people kissing his hand day and night, and some almost willing to kiss his knees and his feet; when he sees things like this, he begins to believe and imagine that he has become someone great.  And the nafs is a constant presence.  If such a person has not spent long periods of time in self-reproach, reminding himself that he is nothing, and that he has done so many bad deeds, he will not be able to withstand these pressures.

Furthermore, when he finds his muridun bringing gifts for him, giving him money; even if I did not have an appetite for wealth when it was first given to me, I begin to develop one.  I begin to desire wealth.  I begin to desire position.  I begin to desire humility and deference from people because I am such an important and great human being.  All of this is fitnah for me.  A fitnah!  A fitnah!  And the person who does not fulfill the essential requirements for being a murshid, yet somehow becomes a murshid, this responsibility is dangerous for him, and dangerous for his muridun.

Just to make what I am saying clearer for you, my brother, let me present to you the opposite picture.  Let us turn to the age of Shaykh Ahmad ar-Rifa`i (q.s.).  Now that is an amazing man.  He always used to say in his gatherings, in front of his muridun, something that he would repeat again and again – that he was not a shaykh, and not a murshid, and warned against people looking at him in that light.  He said in one of his gatherings – and this can be found in his book, al-Burhan al-Mu’ayyid: “May I be resurrected with Fir’awn and Hamman if I consider myself better than anyone from among you.  “I am not a shaykh.  I am not a shaykh.  My name is Little Ahmad, the Nothing.  Or better yet, Nothing, the Nothing.”  This is what he used to say.  And he used to say, “The murshidun whom Allah (s.w.t.) Favours with karamah conceal them, just as a woman conceals her menstruation from others.”

Compare between this and what we see from murshidun of our times.  Some of them extend their hands for people to kiss, to teach them kissing hands, and if one of them does not kiss their hands they consider him negligent in his duties.

Interviewer: But is there something wrong with kissing the hand out of respect?  There are many people who would even wish to kiss your hand, but you absolutely refuse?

Imam al-Buwthi (r.a.): Yes, yes.  Why do I refuse my dear brother?  I swear by Allah (s.w.t.), the One besides Whom there is no other god, I feel embarrassed before Allah (s.w.t.) when someone from among the people kisses my hand.  Because I know myself, and my Lord is One who Conceals and Veils the mistakes of His servants.  He Conceals so much.  He Conceals.  I know my shortcomings.  I know how much I have fallen short in my relationship with my Lord.  Yet, He Makes it so that the people only see the positive side of me, and He Hides the rest from the eyes of people and keeps it something hidden between us.

So, if some innocent person comes to me, who only sees my outer state and does not know my inner state, it is true that he does not know, but does Allah (s.w.t.) not Know?  How can I say to him, “Go ahead, kiss my hand, it is ok, so that you may learn proper etiquette,” while Allah Azza wa Jal is Watching me and Saying, “Have you not done this?  Have you not done that?  Are you not the one who sees such and such in yourself?”  This is what prevents me from allowing people to kiss my hand.

Imam Sa’id Ramadhan al-Buwthi (r.a.) was martyred in Damascus, Syria, on the 21st March, 2013.  He was 84 years old.  The report is from here: Imam Sa’id Ramadhan al-Buwthi (r.a.) & 30 Others Killed in Damascus Mosque Suicide Blast

A large explosion killed at least 42 people inside a central Damascus mosque on Thursday including the top Sunni religious cleric in Syria Shaykh Mohammad Sa’id Ramadhan al-Buwthi (r.a.), one of the major remaining Sunni supporters of President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled government.

Syria state media called the explosion a suicide bombing carried out by “mercenary terrorists against the Syrians,” and it appeared to be one of the worst attacks on worshipers since the Syrian civil war began two years ago.  The main armed insurgent group, the Free Syrian Army, denied responsibility, saying it would have never targeted a mosque.  The official news agency, SANA, said at least 84 people were wounded in the blast at the Iman mosque and published photographs on its Web site depicting the aftermath, with large pools of congealed blood, shattered glass and splintered furniture littering the mosque’s interior.

The cleric who was killed, Imam Sa'id Ramadhan al-Buwthi (r.a.), 84, was one of the most senior figures in Sunni Islam and was easily the most important religious figure to die so far in the war, in which more than 70,000 people have been killed.  His early support for the government in the Syrian civil war was considered crucial to Mr. Assad’s legitimacy because the insurgency has drawn largely from Syria’s majority Sunni population.  Mr. Assad is a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, and his closest advisers and loyalists are Alawites.

“He was the most important Sunni clerical supporter of the Assad regime,” said Joshua M. Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and author of the Syria Comment blog, which has tracked the Syrian conflict’s progression from a peaceful political uprising to a sectarian-tinged civil war.  “It is a great blow to the regime and the remaining Sunni supporters of the president.”  Mr. Landis said the imam had been reviled by some Syrian revolutionaries when he came out early in the conflict to denounce the uprising.  He was known for having a prodigious memory, was the author of at least 40 books and was ranked 23rd on a list of the most influential 500 Muslims in the world.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion.  But the SANA report blamed armed insurgents. “This massacre adds to the crimes perpetrated by the mercenary terrorists against Syrians,” the agency quoted Mr. Assad’s Baath Socialist Party leadership as saying in a statement.  “They target everything including the mosques and houses of worship.”  The agency quoted the Ministry of Religious Endowments as saying the imam had been “martyred while giving a religious lesson” in the mosque.  “The malicious hands of traitors killed the great scholar because he was the voice of Syria, the right of Syria and the image of Syria,” it quoted the ministry as saying.

Some Syrian fighters and anti-Assad activists reached by telephone said they would not be surprised if the government were responsible for the mosque explosion.  “I expect the regime to be involved in this assassination,” said Abu Tamam, a member of an insurgent group called the Jundilla Battalion. ”He is just a religious figure and not a state figure.  He used to have influence, but today he’s an extra burden on the regime.”

But others expressed strong doubts that Mr. Assad’s operatives would have killed the imam or bomb a mosque in the heart of Damascus.  “The regime will never get rid of such an important figure,” said an antigovernment activist in Turkey.  “He’s like the spiritual father to Bashar.”

Hania Mourtada reported from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut.

Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi issued a statement on the martyrdom of Imam Sa’id Ramadhan al-Buwthi (r.a.).  He said, “We have sadly received the news that the great Allamah Dr. Sa`id Ramadhan al-Buwthi (r.a.) was martyred today in a car bomb in Damascus.  It is a big calamity for Muslims in losing such a great figure who was a mujaddid for the Diyn and who defended Islam and the doctrine of the Ahl as-Sunnah for several decades.  We received news that he was planning to move out of Syria and that he began to understand the atrocities of the Assad regime there.  On hearing this, the regime decided to get rid of him, hence he was surrounded by heavy security who limited his movement.  However, we denounce his killing whether the regime did it or the takfiri groups.  People should not be killed in a political struggle especially because of their opinions.

We offer our condolences to his family, his students, and to the people of Damascus and we pray for him and for all who were killed with him, twenty-one martyrs, that Allah Almighty Grant him and them the highest ranks in al-Firdaws.” 

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Submitting to Allah (s.w.t.) in All Conditions

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is a transcript of discourse delivered by Mawlana Waffie Mohammed.

We have spoken of the importance of cultivating faith in our hearts.  We remind ourselves of what Allah (s.w.t.) Tells us:

The desert Arabs say, “We believe.”  Say, “Ye have no faith; but ye (only) say, ‘We have submitted our wills to Allah,’ for not yet has Faith entered your hearts.  But if ye obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not belittle aught oft your deeds: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful.” (Surah al-Hujraat:14)

If we have true faith in your heart it will manifest throughout our entire personality and when that happens, we will submit to Allah willingly.  There are some who profess to have faith but as Allah (s.w.t.) Says:

In their hearts is a disease; and Allah has Increased their disease ... (Surah al-Baqarah:10)

This meaning that they do not really have faith.  And Allah (s.w.t.) Expounds about such people in the very beginning of Surah al-Baqarah:

Of the people there are some who say: "We believe in Allah and the Last Day" but they do not (really) believe.” (Surah al-Baqarah:8)

In reality they are professing to be something they are really not.  There is something else in their hearts.  We need to culture our hearts to ensure that faith enters and remains there, because the heart is the centre or nucleus of the personality.  And if the heart has true faith it will manifest itself throughout the entire personality.  We must understand that we, on one hand, want our entire personality to meet the expression made by Abraham (a.s.):

… “Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds: (Surah al-An’am:162)

He understood so well the importance of his complete personality being in total submission to Allah (s.w.t.).  And that is what we should all strive for.  If we want to get close to our Lord we need to aspire for it.  We cannot put anything between us and Him.  If we love the world more, it will ultimately come between us.  The true believer, in all conditions, learns to submit to Allah (s.w.t.) no matter what the circumstance may be.  We are living for His sake and He will not let us down.  He will Give us all sorts of trials and always remember that the higher we go, the more the trials we will get.  Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) is reported to have said, “When Allah Loves a servant, He Tests him.”  This is recorded by Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.).

We look how He tried His Beloved (s.a.w.).  He was an orphan, born in the most aristocratic family but they were so humble.  His mother could not even afford a wet nurse.  And look at how he was able to draw all the people close to him.  He never forced them.  On one hand, they knew if they were associated with him they would get Blessings from Allah (s.w.t.) and on the other, they knew they will learn to culture and cultivate their personalities.  The test of faith of the believers is the Trials from Allah (s.w.t.).  When the trials come, will we run to someone else other than Allah (s.w.t.)?  When everything is good and peaceful, our faith is not truly tested.  As Allah (s.w.t.) Says:

There are among men some who serve Allah, as it were, on the verge: if good befalls them, they are, therewith well content; but if a trial comes to them, they turn on their faces: they lose both this world and the Hereafter: that is loss for all to see! (Surah al-Hajj:11)

Some people sit on the fence.  When everything is nice and rosy, there are no complaints; but when they are afflicted with some hardship they lose faith and trust in Allah (s.w.t.).  This is what we have to be careful about.  Any of us can display levels if hypocrisy at anytime if we give something priority over Allah (s.w.t.).

Every day, ‘Umar (r.a.) would visit a companion who Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) made a special du’a for.  This particular companion thereafter possessed the ability to identify a hypocrite.  So gifted was he that whenever there was a janazah of a hypocrite, he would not attend and this led ‘Umar (r.a.) to scan the crowd to see if this particular companion was present.  If he was not present, ‘Umar (r.a.) would refrain from leading the janazah because he knew the deceased was a hypocrite.  And every day, ‘Umar (r.a.) would visit this blessed companion and ask, “Am I a hypocrite?”

It is quite easy to fall into complacency.  For example, when swalah time enters and we do not pray our swalah because of some worldly preoccupation; what happens?  These are the things what we need to be careful about.  A true believer is a humble person because on one hand they know their Lord is Close to them and on the other they know they can make mistakes at anytime.  Our heart is like the pearl inside an oyster.  We must try your best to keep it bright and shining.  We ask our Lord for Forgiveness for the wrong we would have all committed.  Yes, we make mistakes but if our intention is Allah (s.w.t.), He will Help us.  We must strengthen our hearts through His remembrance and through this insha’Allah, Satan will not get the better of us.  We all have one life to live and every day that passes is a day gone.  May Allah (s.w.t.) always Protect us, Guide us and Bless us, insha’Allah.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Notes on the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 4

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The fourth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew contains two quite distinct sections.  The first half, until verse eleven is the account for the Temptation of Jesus (a.s.) by the Satan.  The second section deals with Jesus' (a.s.) early Galilean ministry and the gathering of his first disciples.

Matthew 4:1-11
1And now Jesus was led by the Spirit away into the wilderness, to be tempted there by the devil.  2Forty days and forty nights he spent fasting, and at the end of them was hungry.  3Then the tempter approached, and said to him, “If thou art the Son of God, bid these stones turn into loaves of bread.”  4He answered, “It is written, Man cannot live by bread only; there is life for him in all the words which proceed from the Mouth of God.”  5Next, the devil took him into the holy city, and there set him down on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, "If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down to earth; for it is written, ‘He has Given Charge to His angels concerning thee, and they will hold thee up with their hands, lest thou shouldst chance to trip on a stone.’”  7Jesus said to him, “But it is further written, ‘Thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the proof.’”  8Once more, the devil took him to the top of an exceedingly high mountain, from which he shewed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, 9and said, “I will give thee all these if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”  10Then Jesus said to him, “Away with thee, Satan; it is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and serve none but him.’”  11Then the devil left him alone; and thereupon angels came and ministered to him.

The Temptation of Jesus (a.s.) by Satan is the best known and most studied portion of the Gospel text.  Satan tempts him three times: with food to relieve Jesus' (a.s.) fast, with testing God, and with control of all the kingdoms of the earth.  This is God Demonstrating the superiority of His prophet, who did not fail where the majority of the Children of Israel did.  He mastered the carnal self by rejecting food.  He mastered the doubts of faith by demonstrating perfect understanding of his relationship with the Divine and he mastered the spiritual self by rejecting the material world.  There are several references to the period after the Book of Exodus since this is the section of the scripture Jesus' (a.s.) draws his quotes from.

From a taswawwuf point of view, this heralds the beginning of Jesus’ (a.s.) mission.  One who has not subdued the nafs and bound the ego has no place to guide another.  It is a process that is constantly repeated amongst the Elect, by every prophet and messenger, every shaykh and every imam.  Elijah (a.s.) and Moses (a.s.) in the Old Testament fasted forty days and nights, and so Jesus Elijah (a.s.) and Moses (a.s.) in the Old Testament fasted forty days and nights, and so Jesus (a.s.) as following their sunnah.  The forty days in the wilderness is his khalwat, his seclusion from the world to silence the internal dialogue and annihilate the Self.  Any sort of seclusion is generally at least forty days since that is the time it takes for the soul to adjust.  This sort of fasting where the fast is only broken at the end of the period is known as swaum wiswal.  It is not permitted for a Muslim to perform such an act of ‘ibadah unless he or she has known fana’ and baqa’

An interesting feature of Satan’s temptation is the dueling of Scripture.  And this has ever been his method.  Satan and his kind are the very first to quote scripture, whether it is Muslim or Christian or Jewish or another.  And hence we have to be wary of people who are so quick to quote the Qur’an and ahadits as well.  One of the primary features of Jesus’ (a.s.) ministry was to expose those who quoted the Words of God to justify going against His Divine Will and Justice.  This is especially the feature of the Wahhabi sect.

The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart:
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice; Act I, Scene III

This account uses language from the Old Testament.  The three scriptural passages cited by Jesus (a.s.) are not in their order in the book of Deuteronomy, but in the sequence of the trials of Children of Israel as they wandered in the desert, as recorded in the book of Exodus.

Deuteronomy 8:3
3He Disciplined thee with hunger, and then Sent down manna, food unknown to thee and to thy fathers; He Would teach thee that man cannot live by bread only, there is life for him in all the words that proceed from the Mouth of God.

The meaning of this is clear.  It is not food that sustains us.  It is God Himself.  The food is a wasilah, a means.  It also refers to the food of the soul.  The body may seem to be sustained by the food of the world, but many neglect to feed their soul.  The temptation of making bread out of stones occurs in the same desert setting where Jesus (a.s.) had been fasting.  The wilderness mentioned here has since the fifth century been believed to be the rocky and uninhabited area between Jerusalem and Jericho, with a spot on Mount Quarantania traditionally being considered the exact location.  From this mountain, we get the concept and word ‘quarantine’ in English.  The desert was seen as outside the bounds of society and as the home of demons.

Satan quoted the following verse to tempt Jesus (a.s.):

Psalms 91:11,12
11He has Given Charge to His angels concerning thee, to watch over thee wheresoever thou goest; 12they will hold thee up with their hands lest thou shouldst chance to trip on a stone.

But this verse was taken out of context.  It refers to the trials of those who are in service.  It is not a license to take the Lord n vain.  Satan deliberately omitted the last line, “lest thou shouldst chance to trip on a stone.”  This gives a clear context that this refers to Divine Protection from accidents and not deliberate acts.  And Jesus (a.s.) replied thus:

Deuteronomy 6:16
16Thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the proof, as thou didst at the Place of Challenge;

It is the height of bad adab to challenge the Divine Will.  The first to do so and the first to be condemned for it is Satan himself.  Doing so implies that the challenger knows better than the Divine.  The sin committed is shirk.  Most Christians consider that holy city refers unquestionably to Jerusalem and the temple to which the pinnacle belongs is thus identified as the Temple in Jerusalem.  I have no doubt it is so since the only other holy city would be Makkah and its time had not come yet.  And the centre of Judaism is the Temple of Jerusalem.

What is meant by the word traditionally translated as pinnacle is not entirely clear since the Greek diminutive form ‘pterugion’, ‘little wing’, is not extant in other architectural contexts.  Parapet would be more accurate, and the New Jerusalem Bible does use the translation ‘parapet’.  The only surviving Jewish parallel uses the standard word ‘sbyt’, which means ‘roof’, not ‘wing’.  The term is preserved as ‘wing’ in Syriac translations of the Greek.

Deuteronomy 6:13
13Then beware; then thou wilt be in danger of forgetting that it was the Lord Brought thee out of the land of Egypt, where thou hadst dwelt in slavery.  Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, to Him only shalt thou do service, and swear by no other Name than this.

What Jesus (a.s.) has said here is essentially the first part of the shahadah.  He has declared the Sovereignty of God and that is ever the role of the prophets and the saints.

Matthew 4:10
10Then Jesus said to him, “Away with thee, Satan; it is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and serve none but him.’”

Once the temptations are over, the devil departed and Jesus (a.s.) being looked after by angels.  Presumably, they brought him food to break his fast.  In the original Greek of the Gospel according to Matthew, ‘the Devil left him’ was in the historic present tense, indicating a lack of permanence, that the devil would later return to further tempt Jesus (a.s.).

It is important to note that Satan did not become manifest until after the baptism by John (a.s.).  Ablution is a shield against Satan, the nafs and sihr.  And for something to be treated, it has to be known, found and addressed.  The first verse of this section makes it clear that the Spirit, the Holy Ghost is the one who led Jesus (a.s.) into the desert.  Our understanding is clear that Jibra’il (a.s.) was Sent to bring him to the place of khalwat, seclusion.  While Satan's goals were his own, the testing of Jesus (a.s.) was Ordained by God.

The Gospel of Matthew here uses the Greek word ‘diabolos’ rather than the Hebrew ‘Satan’ used in the Gospel according to Mark.  Both words roughly translate as ‘accuser’ or adversary’, but semantics aside, it is clear that both terms were understood as the name of a specific being, Iblis.

This fasting by Jesus (a.s.) became the model for the practice of Lent in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, a ritual that lasts forty days, but is today has become debased to less than total abstinence.  Protestants, in general, do not see this passage as a justification for Lent.  Martin Luther felt the ritual was artificial, but useful in focusing the minds of the faithful.  John Calvin felt the entire notion was silly and that if imitating Jesus (a.s.) was truly the path to salvation then believers should be striving to walk on water or turn water to wine.  The Protestants have never truly understood spirituality and thus did not see fasting as the ‘ibadah that it is.

It is important to note that in the earlier versions of the Bible, the term ‘Son of God’ did not appear.  Rather, Jesus (a.s.) was always referred to as the ‘Son of Man’.  Like many of the Bible translations, they have been updated to suit the tastes of the congregation and less emphasis has been put on the fidelity to the earliest extent text.

Matthew 4:12-17
12After this, hearing of John’s imprisonment, he withdrew into Galilee.  13And now, forsaking the city of Nazareth, he came and settled down in Capharnaum, which is by the sea-shore, in the country of Zabulon and Nephthalim, 14in fulfillment of what was said by the prophet Isaiah: 15”The land of Zabulon and Nephthalim, on the sea road, beyond Jordan, the Galilee of the Gentiles!  16The people that abode in darkness has seen a great light; for men abiding in a land where death overshadowed them, light has dawned.”  17From that time onwards, Jesus began to preach; “Repent,” he said, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The Early Galilean ministry begins from this passage when Jesus (a.s.) goes back to Galilee from the khalwat in the wilderness after rebuffing the temptations of Satan.  In this early period, Jesus (a.s.) preaches around Galilee and appoints his first disciple.  The return of Jesus (a.s.) to Galilee follows the arrest of John the Baptist (a.s.).   The early teachings of Jesus (a.s.) result in his rejection at his hometown.

Jesus (a.s.) is often portrayed as serving as one of John the Baptist's (a.s.) disciples during this period.  This is in line with the concept of a murid learning from his shaykh.  Even the prophets had their teachers.  The arrest of John the Baptist (a.s.) caused an important change in Jesus' (a.s.) ministry since now, it is his time.  In the area by the Jordan, it is presumed that Jesus (a.s.) adopted John the Baptist's (a.s.) ministry.  Baptism, however, was the sunnah of John the Baptist.  It was not something Jesus (a.s.) was known to do.

At the time of Jesus (a.s.), Capharnaum or Capernaum was a sizeable town on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, with a population of perhaps ten thousand.  Capernaum was located in Naphtali, but it was near Zebulun.  The town is mentioned nowhere in the Old Testament, but does feature in all four Gospels.  The Gospel according to Matthew does not mention why Jesus (a.s.) chose Capernaum to relocate to.  The town was prosperous due to its location on the large lake and also its position on the Via Maris, the Damascus to Egypt trade route.

In the Masoretic text, the authorative Hebrew text of the Jewish Scriptures, the last line of Matthew 4:15 reads ‘region of the Gentiles.’  The word for region is ‘galil’ and that become Galilee.  The switch does not much affect the meaning of the verse as Zebulun and Naphtali were both in Galilee.  Referring to Galilee as the area of the Gentiles was significant.  Whilst Galilee had a large Jewish population, the majority of the people then were Gentiles.  The theme was to  show that Jesus' (a.s.) message is meant for both Jews and Gentiles.  In Islam, we believe that Jesus (a.s.) was sent first to the Jews to correct their misunderstanding of Scripture and when they refused to accept him, he preached to the Gentiles.  There is a common pattern of Jesus (a.s.) being persecuted by the Jews, as had happened with the arrest of John the Baptist (a.s.), but having a more receptive Gentile audience.

Isaiah 9:1,2
1Land of Zabulon and Nephthali, its burden at first how lightly borne!  But after-wards affliction weighed on it, Galilee, by the sea road where the Gentiles dwell west of Jordan.  2And now the people that went about in darkness has seen a great light; for men abiding in a land where death overshadowed them, light has dawned.

It is believed that this section is an intentional reworking of the text from Book of Isaiah.  It contrasts the darkness of the Assyrian invasion of that time to the encroaching paganism of the Roman Empire’s domination but it promises that there is a light in the darkness.

The second half of this chapter is generally seen as the introduction to the ministry of Jesus (a.s.) that will take up the next several chapters of the Gospel and in the Sermon on the Mount that begins immediately after this chapter.  This section introduces Jesus' (a.s.) two main interlocutors.  This section describes the calling of the first four fishermen, who become his first disciples: Simon Peter (r.a.), Andrew (r.a.), James (r.a.), and John (r.a.).  They abandon possessions and family to become fishers of men.  The last three verses introduce the crowds that Jesus (r.a.) addresses.  The last verses also serve as a summary of Jesus' (r.a.) ministry outlining the three forms it takes: teaching, preaching, and healing.

Matthew 4:18-22
18And as he walked by the sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brethren, Simon, who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen); 19and he said to them, “Come and follow me; I will make you into fishers of men.”  20And they dropped their nets immediately, and followed him.  21Then he went further on, and saw two others that were brethren, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in the boat with their father Zebedee, repairing their nets, and he called them to him; 22whereupon they dropped the nets and left their father immediately, and followed him.

Verse 18 introduces two of Jesus' (a.s.) most important followers, the brothers Simon (r.a.) and Andrew (r.a.).  Both of these figures play an important role in the Gospels and are given prominent roles by almost all Christian churches.  The Gospel according to Matthew immediately mentions that Peter is an alternate name for Simon (r.a.).  This has the effect of changing the meaning of Matthew 16:18 from Jesus (a.s.) bestowing a nickname upon Simon (r.a.) to merely using a nickname that had long been attached to him.  Throughout the Gospel, the name Peter is used, Simon being used on rare occasions.  The name Simon is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Shimeon, a common Jewish name.  Both Andrew and Peter are names of Greek origins.  Evidence for Andrew being used as a name for a Jew dates back to 169 BC.

The Sea of Galilee at the time was known for its prosperous fishing industry.  This was mainly based around fishing for sardines, carp, and smaller fish.  Various methods were used, but nets were common.  Fishing was a common occupation of the region and that the disciples seem to own their own equipment is evidence that they were relatively prosperous.

The phrase ‘fishers of men,’ is one of the most well known lines in the entire New Testament, and the most important metaphor for evangelism.  The image probably had an important role in the adoption of the Ichthys as a symbol of early Christianity, not the Cross which came much later.  The reference has also often been moved from the disciples to Jesus (a.s.), with him being called the ‘fisher of men,’ and the image of Jesus (a.s.) as a fisherman is second only to that of Jesus (a.s.) as a shepherd.

The command to "follow me" refers to following as a disciple would a rabbi or a shaykh.  Any good rabbi or teacher would have a group of disciples around him, any prophet would have his companions and any shaykh would have his muridun.  Thus this is a sunnah common to almost all the prophets and continued today in Islam.

The Gospel according to Matthew consistently emphasises the importance of renunciation in coming to Jesus (a.s.), as represented by the fishers' abandonment of their nets.  Fishing was a profitable, but capital intensive, occupation and abandoning everything would have been an important sacrifice.  This abandonment of worldly possessions was taken as a model by later Christian ascetics.  From an Islamic point of view, it is an abandonment of dunya in the pursuit of the Divine, zuhd.  Whilst Islam has limits for the zahid, early Christian ascetics were noted for their excesses of ascetism.

Verse 21 introduces two more of Jesus' (a.s.) disciples, James (r.a.) and John (r.a.).  They are the last disciples introduced in the Gospel other than Matthew himself later.  This verse is quite similar to verse 20 where Simon Peter (r.a.) and Andrew (r.a.) choose to follow Jesus (a.s.).  The immediacy and renunciative nature of their becoming disciples is enhanced as James (r.a.) and John (r.a.) are not only giving up worldly goods but also abandoning their father.  The breaking of family ties was not absolute but only for the purpose of spiritual training.

Matthew 4:23-25
23So Jesus went about the whole of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every kind of disease and infirmity among the people; 24so that his fame spread throughout the whole of Syria, and they brought to him all those who were in affliction, distressed with pain and sickness of every sort, the possessed, the lunatics, the palsied; and he healed them.  25And a great multitude followed him, from Galilee and Decapolis, Jerusalem and Judaea, and the country beyond Jordan.

This verse outlines Jesus' (a.s.) life as an itinerant preacher in Galilee.  It divides his ministry into three sections: teaching, preaching, and healing.  Unlike the other Gospels, the Gospel according to Matthew makes a clear distinction between teaching and preaching.  Here, teaching is only commentary on the Scripture and the Laws, while preaching is public proclamation of the faith.  The mention of teaching in synagogues is noteworthy.  That Jesus (a.s.) being permitted to speak in a synagogue would indicate that he was a respected figure and also that he could speak Hebrew in addition to the Aramaic that was the common language of the area.  Jesus (a.s.) was viewed as a bona fide scholar of Judaism.  Jesus (a.s.) preached the Gospel of the kingdom, literally the good news of the kingdom.  While John the Baptist (a.s.) preached about the kingdom coming in the near future, Jesus (a.s.) preached of it in the present.  Whilst John the Baptist (a.s.) preached in the wilderness, Jesus (a.s.) preached in the towns and cities as well.

The term ‘the people’ occurs fourteen times in the Gospel according to Matthew, and that it is almost always short for ‘the Jewish people.’  This is reinforced by later parts of the Gospels that portray the healing of Gentiles as an unusual event.  Despite Galilee's large Gentile proportion, Jesus' (a.s.) ministry was mostly confined to Jews.  The mention of synagogues reinforces this.  He was a prophet Sent to the Jews first and foremost.

The Roman province of Syria covered a huge area.  The text likely meant the area immediately to the north and northeast of Israel.  One late manuscript has ‘synoria’, ‘region’, in place of Syria, a meaning that would also make the passage more credible.  Syria is often considered to be the location where the author of the Gospel according to Matthew wrote the gospel.

Verse 24 mentioned Jesus' (a.s.) healing power and this one goes into more detail.  The general understanding of disease among the Jewish community at the time was that it was in atonement for sin.  Thus Jesus' (a.s.) healing power is a subset of his ability to grant forgiveness of sins.  This did not make him God but indicated that he was Divine, like any prophet.

It is important to note that Jesus (a.s.) was Given the Gift of Healing just as every prophet was Given a Gift appropriate to their time.  Moses (a.s.) had great miracles since he dealt with the magical might of the Pharaohs.  The Roman Empire prided itself on its healing.  Jesus (a.s.) was there to show the extent of the Divine Gift.  He even healed death.

Verse 25 the author's affinity for geography, and especially place names.  This verse lists the places from which people came to follow Jesus (a.s.).  These are: Galilee, Jesus' (a.s.) homeland; the Decapolis, literally "the Ten Towns", largely Greek cities; Jerusalem, the political and spiritual capital of the region; Judaea, the heartland of the Jews to the south of Galilee and Peraea, an area to the east of the Jordan River.  Including  Syria in the previous verse, this covers the entirety of the Holy Land, with the notable exception of Samaria.  The Jewish author of the Gospel viewed this area in a negative light as almost all Jews did.  This is a definitive answer that Jesus (a.s.) was a prophet just like any prophet and Sent to a specific people whilst Muhammad (s.a.w.) the final prophet was Sent for all.

We Sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures. (Surah al-Anbiya’:107)