Luqman was a wise man who was known as such in Arabia. He enjoyed a position of leadership in his community. Some of the famous Arab poets like Ŧarafah bin ‘Abd, Salmah bin Rabeeʻah, Imra-ul-Qais, and Labeed had mentioned him in their poems. Some knowledgeable Arabs also had a collection of his bon mots.
Luqman believed in Allaah and Tawĥeed and was a practising Muslim. The Qur’aan mentions an anecdote of his life when he was giving his parental advice to his beloved son, most probably when passing on the leadership to him. His advice is centred on the importance of Towheed and Islamic behaviour. Through his example, Makkans were told that Islam, particularly Towheed, is not something new which the Prophet was presenting to the world for the first time. Towheed is not only witnessed by the signs in the universe but also by the people whose wisdom they recognize. If they value wisdom of previous thinkers, Luqman offers an example worth following.
Surely, we gave Luqman wisdom to be grateful to Allaah – and if someone thanks Allaah, he does so for his own self; while if someone refuses to do so, then Allaah is absolutely free of needs and Praiseworthy in His own right.
And remember when Luqman advised his son saying, “O my son! Do not ascribe any partners to Allaah. Indeed, Shirk (1) is a grave iniquity.”
And We have enjoined on man to care about his parents. His Mother bears him, and after much discomfort and many difficulties, weaning occurs in two years. This is so that you thank Me and your parents; to Me is your final destination. However, if they try to pressure you into assigning partners in godhead with Me, then do not obey them in this matter, but continue to accompany them kindly in the world, and follow only the path of those who turn exclusively towards Me.
“O my son! If anything as tiny as a mustard seed were hidden in a mountain or anywhere in the heavens or in the earth, Allaah will bring it forth. Indeed Allaah is the Knower of subtleties and All-Aware.O my son! Establish Salaah, enjoin what is right, forbid what is wrong, and persevere against what befalls you. Indeed, this kind of commitment requires strong determination (2). And neither turn your cheek away from people in arrogance nor walk on earth proudly. Verily, Allaah does not like any arrogant boaster. Rather, walk moderately and lower your voice; undoubtedly, the most unpleasant voice is the braying of a donkey.”
1 There is no appropriate equivalency for ‘Shirk’ (‘i’ pronounced as in ‘irk’) in English. Shirk is assigning or ascribing partners to Allaah, equating anything or anyone with him, worshiping anyone or anything besides or along with Allaah, polytheism, idolatry, and the like.
2 Another meaning is that this kind of high standard of commitment to Islamic mission has been emphatically enjoined.
Wisdom Leads to Shukr (Gratitude to Allaah) and Tawĥeed
Wisdom is the capability of a person to draw right conclusions from the clues or signs he observes regarding the important matters in life for which there are no obvious answers. Wisdom is more than intelligence. It is intelligence plus honesty, sincerity, and quest for the truth as well as a keen attitude of thinking independently and breaking free from the influences of the society and thoughts of other people. Intelligence without honesty and sincerity leads to demagoguery. Intelligence without quest for truth will lead to wrong conclusions. Human mind is very powerful. It can create arguments and justifications for utterly wrong conclusions. An intelligent person who is not independent from the views of society will end up justifying whatever a society believes in whether right or wrong. Hence, honesty, sincerity, quest for truth and independence of thought must all go hand in hand with intelligence to arrive at right conclusions.
At some stage of one’s life, people usually wonder: Where do I come from? Is it just coincidence that I came into being? Was I created? Why is the whole ecological system and environment so life sustaining? Who created me? Is it just a chance occurrence that all resources of nature are designed to fit my needs and to enhance my life? Who provided for me? Why am I here? What is expected of me?
When a wise person considers these questions, he comes to the conclusion that we are a planned creation of a Creator (Allaah) who is so kind and merciful that He took special care of our needs while designing and creating this universe. This realization about His thoughtful planning for our sustenance leads the person to appreciate Allaah’s kindness and express his gratitude towards Him. It also motivates him to find what does Allaah want from us and to behave accordingly to please Him. Actually, the gratitude to Allaah permeates his thoughts, and shows in his words and actions. Mentally, he is fully cognizant that whatever capabilities and resources he has are all endowed by Allaah. Verbally, he acknowledges His kindness and favours, praises Him, remembers Him and educates others about Him. Practically, he acts according to His commands and dedicates his life in His service. Only a gratitude encompassing all three aspects is a real gratitude.
Considering that all the components of the universe work harmoniously and that the same laws of nature govern the whole universe, the wise person concludes that the Creator has to be One. Thus he exclusively devotes his worship, obedience and gratitude to Him alone. As He is the Creator and Provider, the wise man’s sense of fairness and gratitude keeps him from giving the same importance, status or regard to anyone but the Ultimate Benefactor Himself.
Hence, the wisdom of a person leads him to be grateful to Allaah, and the gratitude leads to non-compromising Towheed. There is a direct relationship between human wisdom and gratitude to Allaah and Towheed. A wise person is he whose wisdom guides him to a strong feeling of appreciation towards Allaah alone. Otherwise, the greatest scholar on the earth is not wise if he misses this point.
Who benefits from Gratitude?
Luqman was a wise person. That is why he was very thankful to Allaah. Many people are not. However, a person’s being thankful or thankless to Allaah does not make any difference whatsoever to Him. His infinite power and authority, His ownership and sovereignty over the whole universe and everything and everyone in it, His grandeur and magnificence, His lovability and praiseworthiness – nothing whatsoever is affected even if all of the human beings and Jinns either become thankful or become thankless. His attributes are absolute, infinite and eternal. His majesty is above and beyond of needing any appreciation or praise. He is Praiseworthy in His own Right and every particle in the universe witnesses that reality.
Being appreciative or ungrateful does, however, make a lot of difference to the person himself. If a person is thankful, he enjoys the rewards of being so both in this world and the Hereafter. In this life, he follows the proper lifestyle that pleases Allaah and that benefits his own self; he enjoys the resulting tranquility and good attitude; and above all, Allaah awards him more of His mercy and bounties. In the Hereafter, Allaah appreciates his works and rewards him abundantly. On the other hand, a thankless person loses all these benefits and suffers the evil consequences in both worlds.
As a wise man, Luqman wanted the best for his son. He wanted his son to succeed both in this life and life Hereafter. So, he wanted to give him the best advice he had learned through his wisdom and experience. Starting with the most important of all matters, he advised his son never to commit Shirk, never to ascribe any equals to Allaah and never to give the same importance, priority, respect, obedience or devotion to anybody as should be given to Allaah. Doing so is the greatest injustice a human being can commit.
What is Shirk?
Shirk (‘i’ pronounced as in ‘irk’) is usually translated as idolatry or polytheism, but it is more than that. In addition to polytheism, it is also shirk to ascribe any equals to Allaah or to give the same importance, priority, respect, obedience or devotion to anybody as should be given to Allaah. Any one who practices shirk is called Mushrik.
Shirk can take many forms. It may be part of one’s faith or it may just pertain to one’s actions. A person is Mushrik by faith, if he considers any other entity in the world:
Equal to Allaah SWT in any way, shape or form;
Sharing godhead in any respect with Allaah SWT (Allaah’s partner in Divineness);
Possessing any attribute to the same level as Allaah SWT; or,
Having the same status, importance or significance in one’s life as Allaah SWT.
From this perspective, for example, people who think that Jesus and “holy ghost” are one and the same as Allaah SWT, His partners in godhead or different manifestations of God are committing Shirk. Another example is that of Hindus who believe in and worship many gods. They are also Mushrik. This kind of Shirk is caused by an inaccurate concept of God or belief in Allaah SWT.
The second category of Shirk is from the perspective of attitude and behaviour, i.e. theoretically a person claims to believe in oneness of Allaah SWT, but practically does not give the unique importance and priority to Allaah SWT as He should have in a believer’s life. For example, a claimant to belief in Allaah SWT will be considered to be practising shirk if:
Words, verdicts or commands of any person or entity are given the same weight, priority or importance as, or even higher than, that given to the words or commands of Allaah SWT;
Policies, ideas, orders or propositions that are inconsistent with the words of Allaah SWT are accepted or adopted while neglecting or ignoring the words of Allaah SWT;
One’s own desires and aspirations are given precedence over the goals and priorities set by Allaah SWT for the believers;
Obedience of Allaah SWT is made subservient to one’s own preferences, understanding or wisdom. For example, if a person fulfills a command of Allaah SWT only when he likes it, agrees with it or is able to justify it in his own mind, that person has effectively made the obedience to the command of Allaah SWT subject to his own preference, understanding or wisdom. In such situations, the person is in reality worshipping his own wisdom or preference, not Allaah SWT.
Why is it injustice?
Injustice is nothing but violation of others’ rights.
Being the only Creator and Provider, It is the right of Allaah to be worshipped, obeyed, and deified exclusively. The person who commits shirk violates the most sacred of the rights, hence commits the greatest of injustices. In addition, while committing Shirk, the Mushrik uses all the resources and means which Allaah has created. That is another aspect of this grave injustice – the resources of Allaah are used to serve entities other than Allaah.
It is also the greatest injustice one can do to or cruelty a person can inflict on himself. Any sin is an injustice to one’s own soul because the person is attracting the punishment of Allaah by sinning. Shirk is the greatest sin that Allaah does not forgive unless a person abandons it in his life and repents from it completely. Those who die on Shirk will be punished severely without being forgiven at all. Thus, a Mushrik is also unjust and cruel to himself.
Balanced Approach in dealing with Parents
Respect of and kindness to parents are so important that the Qur’aan mentions them right after our duties to Allaah. It specially emphasizes the respect and kindness to mother because she is the one who suffered the most during pregnancy, delivery and nursing of the child. Even here while quoting Luqman’s advice to his son, Allaah SWT has inserted a parenthetical comment not only to reiterate parents’ rights but also to teach the children how to handle a conflict if obligation to parents interferes with obligations to Allaah.
Not all parents are wise like Luqman to guide their offspring aright. Some parents may coerce, influence or try to persuade their offspring to commit Shirk, to do un-Islamic actions, and to adopt sinful behaviour. How should children respond to parental pressure, considering high importance of the respect and obedience for one’s parents?
The Qur’aan clarifies that despite parents’ rights being extremely important, Allaah’s rights are supreme. Obedience to parent can only be subject and subordinate to obedience of Allaah. Thus, if parents insist on or try to influence in a matter that will result in disobedience of Allaah, the pressure must be resisted and their demand refused in that matter, still being kind and nice to them in serving them and looking after them. Although our behaviour to them must be the best, but in the matter of religion we must listen only to the person who presents the truth about Allaah and His commands.
Moreover, religious matters should be decided on the basis of evidence and knowledge, not on the basis of the status of the person who presents an idea. Shirk is always based on ignorance, emotions and blind following of the traditions of forefathers. It is never supported by facts and knowledge. Hence, it must be rejected outright. Similar approach should be used on other religious issues. If it is a religious matter, it must be based on clear evidence from the Qur’aan and the Sunnah.
This should be especially noted by all those whose parents are non-Muslims, or have inappropriate Islamic beliefs, heretical ideas, westernized thinking or strong cultural loyalties. They should neither give in to their pressures nor get into angry conflicts with them. The parents should nicely be informed about the appropriate Islamic opinion without getting into arguments and without compromising on Islamic teachings. They should still be served lovingly in worldly matters.
Remember! Our final destiny is with Allaah. He knows exactly who digresses from the path of Allaah. The complete factual record will be presented: whether it is the parents who are using their influence unduly or the children who are disobeying them improperly; and, whether you refuse to listen to a person who is calling you towards true faith or whether you resist the parental pressure and demonstrate your loyalty to Allaah by following the caller to Islam. It will all be exposed and judged accordingly.
Allaah’s Limitless Knowledge of Subtleties
After exhorting his son not to ascribe any equals to Allaah, Luqman continues to tell him about the power and knowledge of Allaah. He stresses that Allaah’s knowledge is so complete, comprehensive and all-inclusive that tiniest piece of information or the minutest detail about anything anywhere in the universe is known to Allaah. It may happen to be in the depths of the seas, core of the earth, heart of mountains or the farthest corner of the universe, Allaah is aware of it. Even a fleeting thought that crosses a person’s mind, a hidden motive or even the subliminal factors stored in one’s unconscious mind are all in Allaah knowledge.
With perfect and absolute knowledge, Allaah can hold every person fully accountable for everything he has done, in the light of the motives for and the influences under which it was done. Nothing can be hidden and nothing can escape His attention. The perfect knowledge of Allaah SWT also ensures perfect and uncompromised justice to everyone. Both accountability and justice require complete knowledge of facts, issues and situations. As Allaah’s knowledge is perfect and absolute, no crime will be overlooked (3) and no injustice will take place.
3 The mercy and forgiveness of Allaah is not the topic of the discussion. That will be covered in its own appropriate place.
This also indicates the uselessness of the Shirk. Many people deify some personalities in the hope of benefiting from their intercession on the day of judgement. As it is only Allaah who has the perfect knowledge and no one else in the universe has that knowledge, it does not make sense for the knowledgeable Allaah to listen to ignorant intercessors. It is also foolish to believe that Allaah will commit injustice by favouring a criminal while knowing his crimes just because of someone’s intercession.
4 The true nature of intercession will be discussed while commenting on Aayatul Kursiy.
Moreover, many people commit Shirk because they do not have proper concept about the knowledge of Allaah. They assume that Allaah cannot know about the situation of all people and attend to their situations at the same time. So they try to find some personalities who can talk to Allaah on their behalf. Hence, Shaytaan concocts for them their personal intermediaries or helpers under the pretext that these intermediaries can pay direct attention to their adherents and better look after their interests than Allaah who has to look after every human being. To get the special attention from these so-called intermediaries, people try to win their approval and to become their favourites through extra devotion to them instead of Allaah. That leads to their deification and to shirk.
Thus, the Muslim father has advised his Muslim son on two very critical aspects of faith so that his understanding of the faith is strengthened and the possibility of compromise that can gradually happen due to the influences of the society around them is minimized.
Establishing Salaah – the centre pillar of Deen
Luqman then advises his son to establish Salaah as the foundation of all the good actions because once it is established in its true sense and spirit, as mentioned in the discussion on Aayat-ul-Birr, it becomes the catalyst for all goodness of the individual and the society.
Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil
Although promoting truth and devoting one’s life to the Islamic mission is every Muslim’s responsibility, when it is done by those who are in the position of leadership, authority or influence it is termed as enjoining good and forbidding evil. They have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that such an environment and situation is created in the society that people are stimulated and encouraged to do good. Even if an idea of doing bad occurs to someone, he is discouraged by the purity of the environment and surroundings. They have an obligation to ensure that all media and communication resources, advertising, literature, and statutory resources are used to promote good and forbid evil. In addition, they provide through their own behaviour good role models and they use their personal influence, their words, deeds and authority for the same purposes as needed. Teachers, parents, elders, religious leaders and political leaders, even older siblings – anyone in the position of influence has the responsibility to create such an environment.
Steadfastness – the highest standard
The way Luqman mentioned about patience and steadfastness, it indicates that hardships and troubles are inevitable when a person dedicates to the reformation of the society. Efforts to break vicious cycles and to change status quo raise the ire of the Shaytaan as well as those who have vested interest in the status quo. Those who have been involved in the Islamic work have experienced first hand how they are accused, abused and persecuted viciously. The more dedicated a person is, the more he is abused. It is so definite that when a companion expressed his love for the Prophet, he responded,
“If what you say is true, then be prepared to face poverty because those who sincerely love me financial hardships descend on him as fast as water flows downwards.” (Al-Mustadrak 8014)
The inevitability of difficulties for an Islamic worker explains the significance of Luqman’s statement that this work is befitting only for those who have courage, determination, firmness and unbeatable resolution to withstand all that comes in the way of Allaah. It is not a job for the faint-hearted or those who cannot take pressure. It requires nerves of steel and firmness of rock to withstand the ferocity of the opposition without swerving from one’s position regardless of what happens. That is why it is an act of high standard and a highly emphasized work. That is why it is key to salvation and success with Allaah.
Shunning Arrogance, Adopting Humility
People who think they are better than ordinary people in any respect such as wealth, status, beauty, family background, wisdom, education, etc. tend to develop an attitude that shows in their egotistical body language. Their walk and talk portray their inner feelings of superiority or being special. Their interaction with common folks shows arrogance in their mannerism. This arrogance is of satanic origin. A Muslim is supposed to value human dignity and human equality. He understands that all human beings are essentially the same. As a person, none is better than others. He knows that beauty, wealth, status and family are absolutely not the yardstick of human value. Most of these factors are beyond human control anyway. They are decided for people by Allaah and He gives and takes away as He wills. A Muslim is cognizant that Allaah can deprive him of everything any time. Hence he is always appreciative and humble.
The attributes that create a difference are one’s morals, ethics and good behaviour. People who practice Islam properly, consistently and fully are better than others because of their personal performance and moral accomplishments, not because of some hereditary factors or chance elements. Their attitude, actions, choices, contribution to society, etc are consistently better. However, sometimes a good person may develop ‘holier than thou’ attitude under influence of Shaytaan. But a Muslim who has been enlightened by the light of Islam and fulfils his duties well for Allaah is never proud of his accomplishments. Rather he is thankful to Allaah for this guidance and sincerely wants to share this guidance in humility with other people. Gratitude to Allaah and humility in front of people go together. A person who is grateful to Allaah cannot be arrogant to people. Both are anti-thesis to each other. The basis of arrogance is belief in personal glory, while a grateful person believes in Allaah’s endowment. They cannot gather in one person at the same time.
As Luqman was a leader of his people and he was to pass on leadership to his son, he is stressing this need of avoiding arrogance and practising humility. It was necessary because leadership and piety may get to the head of a person under the influence of Shaytaan, arrogance may creep in, thus, making the person not only lose Allaah’s favours but also effectiveness of leadership. Pride creates a barrier between a leader and his people, making leader lose touch with his people, weakening their relationship and leader’s capability to lead.
In addition to turning away from people in arrogance, two other manners of displaying haughtiness are: proud gait and talking down on people loudly. Luqman advised his son to be careful in both of these areas. He advised him to adopt moderate gait – one that exudes confidence, not weakness; but is characterized by humility and down to earth attitude, not arrogance. He also asked him to tone down his voice to show gentleness, not coarseness. It does not mean that loud voice should not be used when needed to project voice in larger groups of people. It simply means that a person should adopt a habit of keeping his voice low because softer tone is more respectable and pleasing.
As you can see, Luqman the wise admonished his son in for all the four components of success mentioned in the Al-Asr in his own manner. On the faith side, avoidance of Shirk and clear concept of Allaah’s knowledge and His power to have full accountability and justice were emphasized. Being a Muslim, the son knew the article of faith. Just the reinforcement of two crucial concepts was needed. The category of good deeds was represented by establishment of Salaah because once Salaah is established in its true sense, other good actions of Deen fall in place. To promote truth, enjoining good and forbidding evil was specified. Then, patience and steadfastness were clearly emphasized and qualified as the job of special people. This shows the significance of these four essential elements. It also demonstrates that they have been the fundamental Islamic obligations for every generation of Muslims.
The avoidance of arrogance and practising humility mentioned at the end, are acts of piety expected of the believers from the good deeds category. They have been mentioned at the end because of their close relationship and special significance to the obligation of enjoining good, forbidding evil and maintaining constancy and steadfastness. The people who practice these obligations should be extra careful not to give Shaytaan opportunity to beat them by inciting the ‘holier than thou’ attitude in them. They have also been selected especially because Luqman and his son were leaders of their community. These qualities take special significance for those who are in position of authority. When passing over the leadership, Luqman wanted to ensure that his son does not fall into this satanic trap.