Become a Standard Bearer – Part 2

Allahﷻ gave us a purpose of existence which is given to the highest in any society – to guide and show the way. This is the purpose that we inherited by being the followers of Rasoolullahﷺ – to give to the world. To give mankind a standard by which to live. To give it by living it ourselves and demonstrating it as Rasoolullahﷺ did.

A ‘Standard’ is something to aspire to, to aim to reach, to benchmark and measure yourself against. A ‘Standard’ is a flag, high and alone on its staff, establishing its presence, a symbol of great thoughts and ideas, a guide to the lost. A ‘Standard’ is the flag which represents its nation, a symbol of respect. A ‘Standard’ is called a standard because it stands out. A flag drying on a clothesline is laundry. A flag flying high on its staff is saluted. A ‘Standard Bearer’ is the one who carries the flag. In the days of medieval warfare, the Standard Bearer carried the battle standard around which the troops rally. As long as they saw their flag flying their morale remained high. If the flag fell it demoralized the soldiers. The Standard Bearer would not be armed. His only job was to keep the flag flying as the battle wore on. His comrades surrounded him and protected him from the enemy. On the other hand, the Standard Bearer was the focus of attack of the enemy because if they could cut him down it would have a far bigger effect than the death of any other soldier and would be a great victory for the enemy. The Standard Bearer was the rallying point of the army, the symbol of the nation. The Standard Bearer was not an ordinary soldier.

To relate this to our lives today as Muslims, living in a world that seems to be hurtling towards moral and ethical destruction, the term ‘Standard Bearer’ has special relevance. A Standard Bearer of Islam is the embodiment of the Islamic Way. This person is a walking, talking, living model of the beauty of Islam; completely obedient to Allahﷻ and a follower of the Sunnah of Rasoolullahﷺ. A Standard Bearer of Islam is someone who you would point to if someone asked you, ‘Who is a Muslim?’ A Standard Bearer of Islam is confident, not apologetic; stands out from the crowd, does not blend in; is proud of his/her Islam and practices it joyously as a matter of choice. Islam to the Standard Bearer is the primary focus, the criterion for every decision, the basis of their identity. A Standard Bearer differentiates based on Islam and Islam is their ‘Brand’ and their ‘Signature’.

A Standard Bearer of Islam is someone who considers their Islam to be the greatest gift from Allahﷻ and considers it a privilege to be its Standard Bearer which they would not exchange for all the gold in the world. A Standard Bearer of Islam understands that being a Standard Bearer is sometimes a lonely job and is ready for it and is proud of it. After all it is the ideology behind the flag that converts a piece of cloth into a symbol that is saluted.

What does it take to become a Standard Bearer of Islam? Allahﷻ said about the first Standard Bearer of Islam:

لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِّمَن كَانَ يَرْجُو اللَّهَ وَالْيَوْمَ الْآخِرَ وَذَكَرَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا

Al Ahzab 33:21    Indeed in the Messenger of Allâh (Muhammad) you have a good example to follow for the one who hopes in (the Meeting with) Allâh and the Last Day and remembers Allâh a great deal.

Allahﷻ sent Muhammadﷺ to be a living model of His Message, to demonstrate Islam in practice in every aspect of life and therefore Allahﷻ quoted the whole life of Rasoolullahﷺ as an example for us to follow and related it to our meeting with Him on the Day of Judgment. A Standard is meant to be followed and to be handed down from generation to generation. That standard was exemplified by Rasoolullahﷺ, and his Sahaba were Standard Bearers of Islam who lived by standard wherever they went and practiced it in societies where they stood out as ‘Strangers’ because their way was ‘Strange’ to that society. Strange in the way that the one who stands up for justice looks strange in a land where oppression is the way of life. Strange the way the one who is modest and dignified looks strange among a collection of people intoxicated with self-indulgent shamelessness. Strange in the way that honesty and integrity look strange amidst corruption and lies. But it was this very ‘strangeness’ that caused people to stop and look; to compare themselves to the ‘Strangers’; to consider their own lives and the bankruptcy of values, ethics, and morals that they were immersed in and to decide to change. Islam did not spread because the Sahaba became like everyone else. Islam spread because the Sahaba stood out. Islam spread because it was ‘Strange’.  That is why Rasoolullahﷺ promised them Jannah.

Islam spread because of the ‘Strangers’. There are four steps to becoming a Standard Bearer of Islam:

  1. The Niyyah – making the intention
  2. Ta’alluq Ma’ Allah – connection with Allahﷻ 
  3. Tarbiyya – thoughtful upbringing
  4. Ihsan – excellence in everything we do 

The Niyyah – making the intention

Ameer ul -Mu’mineen Umar ibn al-Khattab (R), said: I heard Rasoolullah say, “Actions are but by intentions and every man shall have only that which he intended. Thus he whose migration (Hijra from Makkah to Madina) 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.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Choosing to become a Standard Bearer of Islam starts in a quiet, small, dark room with making a conscious intention because it is a very serious business. It begins by reflecting on our life and how we lived it until now and choosing to change course and live it so that Allahﷻ is pleased with us. It is a lifestyle choice which may seem difficult but is critical if we want to change our Aakhira. We choose to change because we love Allahﷻ. Making a conscious intention to be a Standard Bearer of Islam means transforming our life. It means deciding to change our way of thinking, seeing, living, speaking, acting, and being satisfied. It changes the way we look at life; what we are happy about, what we aspire to, what we stay away from and what we stand up for irrespective of how inconvenient this may prove to be. It means changing our standards, role models, icons, who we like and who we don’t and the reasons for both. Choosing to be a Standard Bearer of Islam means not only changing behavior but going deeper than that to the ethics, morals, values, beliefs, attitudes, and desires that the behavior emanates from. Yet the person who is conscious of the value of being a Standard Bearer of Islam chooses this path not despite its difficulty but because of it. He does it for the same reason that a person chooses to climb Mount Everest – not because of the ease or difficulty of the climb but for the satisfaction of reaching the top – a place where only the best can hope to reach. So, we begin with the intention and ask Allahﷻ for His help.

Allahﷻ does not accept anything that is impure, so the purity of the intention must always be examined – what is the intention for? Is it to please Allahﷻ alone or is it for worldly gain, name, fame, or popularity? During this reflection and consciously making the Niyyah we must not forget to examine our Niyyah for Ikhlaas – sincerity and the desire to please Allahﷻ alone. If this is missing, then the whole exercise is futile. So, one must constantly monitor the Niyyah. It is important to remember that making the Niyyah is not a one-time thing. The Niyyah must be consciously made and constantly renewed, examined for sincerity, and re-examined again and again. It is like going into a crowded fair with a lot of money in our pocket. If we want the money to be safe, we will continuously check to keep it safe from pickpockets. The biggest pickpocket of Niyyah is Shaytaan and so one must always be aware of this and guard against him and not allow the slightest Riya (ostentation, showing off) to creep into our Niyyah (intention).

Ta’alluq Ma’ Allah – Connection with Allah 

It is not within the scope of this Khutba to go into the details of all that needs to be done to gain closeness to Allahﷻ. In order of priority the steps are:

  1. Tazkiyatun Nafs – Purifying the Self
  2. Glorifying and thanking Allahﷻ – Shukr
  3. Kasratus Sujood wa Tilawatil Qur’an wa Dhikrullah
  4. Tarbiyatul Akhlaaq – Beautifying our manners

What do you do when you have the best seed in the world and want to plant it? You first prepare the soil. Without preparing the soil the best seed in the world will not germinate or grow satisfactorily. So also, with becoming a Standard Bearer of Islam; we must prepare the soil – the Self first. The Self must be prepared to receive the message of Islam. This preparation is the essence of Tazkiyyatun Nafs – purification of the self. Tazkiyya begins with Tawba – repentance from all sin and disobedience and returning to Allahﷻ from whom Shaytaan had separated us. It begins with being genuinely contrite and repentant, making amends and not repeating those actions ever again. All change begins with accepting the need to change. Istighfaar wa Tawa is that acceptance and the first step and is critical to success.

Tazkiyya also consists of – Tahara – purifying one’s body, clothes, home, friends list, and one’s life from all forms of impurity and disobedience. We must make a detailed Muhasiba – accounting – of our entire life to identify the impurities that it contains. Some may be physical and others mental and spiritual. Arrogance, race or caste pride, argumentativeness, rebelliousness, rigidity on own opinion, self-importance, self-righteousness, seeking pleasure, avoiding the pain of learning, unwillingness to accept our own mistakes, tendency to point out other’s mistakes, looking down on others, high opinion about our own knowledge or ability and a lack of respect for others are all illnesses of the self which must be cured. Each must be addressed individually and worked on to eliminate. Still others may be with respect to people – unsuitable friends whose ideas, beliefs and attitudes don’t match with our intention to become Standard Bearers of Islam. Such people are an impediment to our own growth and will inhibit our connection with Allahﷻ. It is essential to clean all impurities from our lives; what we eat, earn, spend, wear, see, read, listen, speak, and live with to connect with Allahﷻ. Allahﷻ is pure and likes only what is pure.

Glorifying and thanking Allahﷻ – Shukr: It is essential to develop the habit to constantly thank Allahﷻ and glorify Him as it is His right. Allahﷻ promised to increase His bounty if we thank Him for what He has given us and so thanking Allahﷻ is critical for anyone who wants to be close to Him. Learning to see the glory of Allahﷻ in His creation increases our Imaan and Yaqeen and enables us to love Allahﷻ. In today’s world, given our scientific development and tools it becomes ever easier to see the glory of Allahﷻ’s creation and to praise His greatness – provided of course that we learn to recognize Allahﷻ. This love makes it easy to obey Him because we want to please the One we love who is the only one worth pleasing. We only have to look around us and within ourselves and all that Allahﷻ has created and blessed us with, to simply spend the rest of our days in Sujood.

وَإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ وَلَئِن كَفَرْتُمْ إِنَّ عَذَابِي لَشَدِيدٌ

Ibrahim 14: 7. And (remember) when your Rabb proclaimed: “If you give thanks, I will give you more (of My Blessings), but if you are thankless (disbelievers), verily! My Punishment is indeed severe

The problem is that we have become conditioned to taking His blessings for granted and ignoring them until they are taken away and only then do we become aware of what we lost. How many of us thank Allahﷻ for painless joints which enable us to perform Salah in the right manner without pain? How many of us thank Allahﷻ for good eyesight which enables us to read without glasses? I could go on endlessly, but I believe the point is made. We need to live thoughtfully and consciously and count the blessings of Allahﷻ and thank Him for them and glorify His Majesty and Magnificence. Let us start a new habit and thank Allahﷻ for one blessing in Tahajjud every day. I ask Allahﷻ to ease our path to Him and to accept our efforts in His Way.