American Abu Talibs : Some Reflections Part I

One of the most amazing figures in the life of the Prophet (saw) is his uncle Abu Talib.  It would be hard to argue that while Abu Talib was alive, there was anyone who did more to help and assist the Prophet (saw) and the Muslims in general than Abu Talib.  Indeed Abu Talib did not hesitate to suffer and to allow all the people under his direction and leadership, even those who were not Muslim to suffer rather than to betray his nephew Muhammad (saw) and the message that he (saw) proclaimed.

 I want to revisit some of the details of Abu Talib’s relationship with the Messenger of God (saw) to remind ourselves just what an amazing figure he was.  Then I want to reflect on some of the people and events in our own time and place who have caused me to be reminded of the phenomenon that Abu Talib represents. 

Important Note: I do not intend to tell you whether Abu Talib died as a Muslim or not.  It is a fundamental principle of Islam that only Allaah (swt) knows the fate in the hereafter of any specific individual.  Through revelation, Allaah (swt) sometimes will reveal the fate of certain people.  There are well known ahadeeth and tafseer which scholars have taken to indicate that Abu Talib never accepted Islam.  Other scholars have tried to argue that the matter is not clear or that there are even indications that Abu Talib did indeed die as a Muslim.  My understanding is that this is something which the average Muslim is not required to know the answer to, and certainly I am not qualified to weigh in on the scholarly debate.  While certainly the reality of Abu Talib’s life and his relationship to the Prophet (saw) makes any believer hope for the best for him, there are also valuable lessons to be gained from considering the possibility that he was not Muslim and the reality that throughout his life he was at the very least not openly Muslim, and yet he did what he did.

Abu Talib ibn ‘Abdul-Muttalib and his relationship with the Prophet (saw):

The Prophet (saw) was the son of ‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Abdul-Muttalib of the prominent clan of Banu Hashim of the tribe of Quraysh of the town of Makkah.  The Prophet’s father died either before his (saw) birth or shortly thereafter.  The Prophet (saw)’s mother was Aaminah bint Wahb and the Prophet (saw) was born in the house of Abu Talib.  When the Prophet (saw) was six years old, his mother Aaminah returned to Allaah (swt) and the Prophet’s grandfather ‘Abdul-Muttalib became his guardian.     ‘Abdul-Muttalib used to love the Prophet (saw) very much, even more so than his own children.  After two years of being his guardian, however, ‘Abdul-Muttalib was nearing his own death when he ordered that his son, Abu Talib, the Prophet’s (saw) uncle, should become the guardian of the Prophet (saw) after his death.  Abu Talib would love the young Muhammad (saw) as much, or almost as much as ‘Abdul-Muttalib.  While Abu Talib loved the Prophet very much and the family was a noble one, Abu Talib was not wealthy and as soon as he was able the Prophet (saw) was working.

Abu Talib would often travel to Ash-Sham (Greater Syria)…(To be continued soon inshAllaah)

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4 Responses to “American Abu Talibs : Some Reflections Part I”

  1. Brendan Says:

    What do (saw) and (swt) mean?

  2. abunooralirlandee Says:

    Sorry, bro.

    (saw) stands for salla Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. This is the Arabic phrase that Muslims mention whenever we say the name of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and it means “May the Peace and Blessings of God Be Upon Him” Sometimes you will see people use the English acronym (PBUH) for Peace Be Upon Him. Muslims are taught to pray for blessings upon any of the Prophets when we refer to them.

    (swt) stands for the Arabic phrase subhanahu wa ta’ala. This means “Glory to Him, the Most High” which is a phrase Muslims often use to glorify God when mentioning Him.

    I hope it doesn’t seem stilted to non-Muslim readers, but for a Muslim it would be bad manners to mention the names of God and His Prophets without including these glorifications and prayers. (Some scholars even hold that one should write out the whole phrase rather than abbreviating it as I have done here.)

    I appreciate you reading this series even if it seems to deal with “religious” issues because I would appreciate your take on it at the end when I get to my conclusions in relating Abu Talib to present day American society.

    Peace.

  3. Brendan Says:

    Thanks for the literary explanations.

    I am of two minds about such requirements. On the one hand, I can see the point, under the thinking that one should not casually invoke the name of revered figures (cf. Judeo/Christian Commandment “You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.”) Following along this line, it seems reasonable to argue that the required phrases should always be spelled out in full.

    On the other hand, one of the first things that ever bothered me about organized religion (Catholic, in my case) was the insistence upon ritualistic repetition. For one thing, it seems to me that if one believes in a god who can sense one’s thoughts, there is no need to express reverence out loud, over and over. Either you’re sincere and He knows it, or you’re not, and saying it just adds a dose of hypocrisy.

    For another, virtually any phrase loses its meaning when said over and over. Think, for example, of people who are unable to speak about someone who has died without saying, every time, “God rest his soul.” Or, to move it away from religion, think of the irritation provoked by people who can’t make an optimistic statement without appending “Knock wood” and people who can’t utter a direct observation without prepending “Quite frankly.”

    And to be a little ridiculous about it, I imagine that were the full-phrase-always requirement to gain traction, the immediate reaction would be for most electronically savvy Muslims to program macros to generate the words automatically, leading, inevitably, to another theological dispute.

    On the gripping hand, I grant the jarring aspect in my own mind when people don’t use words like “please” and “excuse me.”

    So I guess, in the end, I can appreciate the social lubrication of stock phrases within a shared culture or faith. I confess that I do find them distracting, though. Which is not to say that you must stop doing it, or I will stop reading your blog, of course. ;^)

    I appreciate you reading this series even if it seems to deal with “religious” issues because I would appreciate your take on it at the end when I get to my conclusions in relating Abu Talib to present day American society.

    I’ll give it a try.

    Peace to you, too.

  4. abunooralirlandee Says:

    Brendan,

    I think you come close to the major issue here with two of your points.

    First, ritual….I can understand the argument about why ritual is problematic, but at the end of the day there is a deep reason why all traditional spirituality is heavily based on ritual. Yes, the problem of hypocrisy or going through the motions or doing things without getting the intended benefit is there, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Ritual is deeply important. Disciplined practice is how we get better at something. Practice is how things become deeply ingrained in us. The spiritual challenge is to continue to make something meaningful but refusing to do something consistently does not in and of itself make one more virtuous or even more sincere when one does it. This is a deeper point but I hope you catch my drift.

    On a more everyday plane, you also hit on it with your reference to ‘please’ and ‘excuse me’. As I mentioned in my initial response, this particular issue is about manners. What if someone said when they noticed you were taken aback by their rudeness, look I only say please or thank you when I REALLY mean it otherwise I’d be a hypocrite. No, you should say it all the time and you should also try to mean it all the time.

    I actually find it quite touching if somebody when mentioning someone who has died says “God rest his soul.” And while there are a few times where it may be obvious that there is some ulterior motive or underlying irony, most of the time I think people who use it really mean it. Muslims usually say a phrase which means “may Allaah have mercy on him/her” and I truly hope that when I return to the Creator people will say that little prayer for me when they mention my name and of course, I hope that they’ll really mean it.

    Good points though Brendan, and I must say I’m consistently impressed with your ability to have serious, thoughtful observations on such a wide range of topics. I think this is a good quality in a person in general (although there has to be room somewhere for prioritizing a realm of concern) but I know it’s the most important quality to have in the blogosphere.

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