Imam Numaan Cheema (Yardley, PA)
“Why doesn’t the Muslim community rally behind their celebrities? Finally seeing Muslims in Hollywood is so refreshing. The masses need to embrace this achievement.”
Throughout the history of Islam, the Muslim populous looked up to and idealized individuals who possessed heavenly qualities that were indeed admirable. Piety, nobility, divine character, and the zeal to serve humanity were the cornerstones of what made someone worthy of admiration. Muslims like Ghazali, Raazi, and Rumi were looked at as people of influence and represented the very best of what Islam had to offer. One of the latest post-modernism, liberal phenomena calls the Muslim masses to not merely accept and embrace the flurry of Muslims appearing on the silver screens, but to look up to them and place them on pedestals next to contemporary greats like Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X (May God have mercy on their souls) for achieving these “never-before-seen” statuses. People expect these Muslim actors to be looked at as figures of reformation and ambassadors of Islam on the big screen. This is the achievement that demands us to replace Umar, Ali, and Uthman (May Allah be pleased with them all) with the present-day Muslim celebrities or at the very least, acknowledge their accomplishments as worthy of envy. But what is it that makes someone admirable? Is it being able to represent Muslims at the forefront of a toxic culture like that of Hollywood? Or do the criteria lie elsewhere?
As Muslims, our first and foremost point of reference when it comes to figuring out what the criteria or standard of anything is the teaching of our beloved ﷺ. What did the Prophet ﷺ deem as worthy of admiration? Although there are countless examples where the Prophet of Allah ﷺ, either through his words or his blessed actions, made it clear what is admirable and what isn’t, we’ll suffice here with three.
As for the first, during the establishment of the Muslim state in Medina, the Prophet ﷺ built a masjid as the central hub for all matters religious, political, and societal. The masjid of the Prophet ﷺ served not only as a place of worship, but also as a court, a space to welcome guests, and a multi-purpose structure that tended to the needs of all Muslims. Because this was such an important place, maintaining it was also an honorable job. One person who took upon this task was an East-African Muslimah whose name is rarely mentioned in the books of hadith:
Abu Huraira reports that a black man or a black woman used to sweep the masjid (of the Prophet) and he or she died. The Prophet ﷺ asked about her. He was told that she had died. He said, “Why did you not inform me?! Show me her grave.” So he went to her grave and offered her funeral prayer.
The Prophet ﷺ showed through his inquiry that this person was no ordinary woman, contrary to what the Companions had previously thought. Rather, she was someone so special that the Prophet ﷺ offered prayer over her grave, even though she had been previously prayed over.
The second exemplary pillar of admiration was one of the companions of the Prophet ﷺ who was assigned to be the caller of prayer. The Prophet ﷺ appointed four of his noble companions the task to give the call. They were Bilal ibn Rabah and Abdullah bin Umm Maktum in Madinah, Aws bin al-Mughira in Makkah, and Saad al-Quraz in Quba (May Allah be pleased with them all). Being appointed by the Prophet ﷺ to call the prayer was a gargantuan responsibility and a sign of the Prophet’s ﷺ approval. A hadith illustrates:
“Muawiya reports that he heard the Prophet ﷺ saying: ‘The muaddhins will have the longest necks on the Day of Judgement.’”
This hadith alludes to the honor the callers of prayer will receive by their Lord on the Day of Judgment. Imam al-Nawawi explains the elongation of neck as a reference to the extended mercy descending upon them . In another narration, the Prophet ﷺ prayed for the forgiveness of those that call to prayer. Being amongst those that regularly give the call to prayer is undoubtedly a virtuous deed.
The cherry on top is being appointed by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ as the official muaddhin. Out of all of these appointees, one shines through like the exceptional flame of an oil burning candle in a room full of lanterns. One companion whose footsteps were heard in the heavens ahead of the Prophet ﷺ. One companion who was referred to as “Our Master” by a man whom the Prophet ﷺ gave the title of being the physical embodiment of The Criterion, Umar al-Farooq. One companion about whose sustenance, the Prophet ﷺ referred to it as from Paradise. That is our master, Bilal ibn Rabah, an African freed-slave who received merits and companionship from the Prophet ﷺ unlike anyone else. This man was truly someone who left many, even amongst the companions, to envy his position and status with Allah and His Messenger ﷺ.
Our third lantern of admiration can be none other than the noble friend of the Prophet ﷺ. He was a man who shared most of his life living with and around the Prophet ﷺ. He was a man whose faith, if measured, would outweigh the faith of the rest of the ummah. He was a man who spent virtually all his wealth and health in order to propagate the message of Allah. He was a man whose grandson was the first child born a Muslim after hijra. He was a man who bravely stood alongside his Prophet ﷺ in every battle. He was a man who took the mantle of securing the legacy of his beloved. He was a man whose name is synonymous with being a friend of the Prophet ﷺ. He was a man who has the eternal honor of resting alongside the Prophet ﷺ. He was the first man to become a Muslim, the first man to support Islam, the first caller to the final message of Allah, and the successor to the Prophet ﷺ himself, our leader, Abdullah bin Uthman, familiarly known as Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (May Allah be pleased with him).
When we look for qualities that are admirable, what is it that we should seek? Fame, wealth, and popularity at the expense of moral values? No, rather we should seek characteristics that are more divine than they are earthly. The above three examples are only the tip of the iceberg in the rich living history Islam has. Admiration should be reserved for those who bring us closer to Allah and those who possess qualities that remind us of the grandeur of Allah. People like that ordinary uncle who comes to the masjid everyday no matter how early Fajr is, the aunty who manages to lug her four rowdy kids to after school maktab so they can learn their din, the couple who come at odd hours to maintain the cleanliness of the masjid—these people should be our day to day subjects of admiration. We need to look with our hearts rather than our eyes to see how the actions and character of these people are deserving of true admiration. Our admiration is a valuable honor, so don’t waste it on the likes of those who, although may be Muslim, are no better than those whom Allah has cursed. May Allah raise us with the likes of Bilal ibn Rabah, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, and every other virtuous soul who left this temporary abode better than they found it.