Nurturing Courage

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

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Shuja’ (loosely translated as ‘courage’, ‘valour’ and bravery) is a distinguished attribute highly prized by early Muslims. A fountain of noble moral qualities and one of the more cherished mannerisms that recognises dauntless mettle, grit and steadfastness in dealing with challenges and perilous dynamics. It reflects a type of resoluteness while being firmly composed; having moral strength and patience in adversity and so much more.

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said when succinctly describing the relationship between a strong believer and his Creator:

المؤمن القوي خيرٌ وأحبُّ إلى الله من المؤمن الضعيف، وفي كلٍّ خير

“A strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than a weak believer, and (yet) there is goodness in all…” [1]

Commenting on this, Imam An-Nawawi said, “what is meant by strong (believer) here is the determination in one’s self and having clarity in matters of the akhirah (Hereafter). The one assuming such a description is also more aggressive against the enemy on the battlefield, and prompt in setting out for this cause. He is more determined in promoting virtue and preventing vice, and maintaining patience when faced with harm in all of this. This also includes toiling for the sake of Allah in performing prayers, fasting and supplications, as well as being active in other acts of worship…” [2]

In standing firm for the truth – inspite of one’s personal feelings – and respecting authoritative leadership, ‘Ubaadah ibn Al-Saamit narrated:

بايعنا رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم على السمع والطاعة، في العسر واليسر، والمنشط والمكره، وعلى أثرة علينا، وعلى أن لا ننازع الأمر أهله، وعلى أن نقول بالحق أينما كنا، لا نخاف في الله لومة لائم

“We gave the oath of allegiance to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ that we would listen to and obey him both at times of ease and at times of hardship, and in what pleased us and did not please us, and that we would not fight against the ruler or disobey him, and would stand firm for the truth or say the truth wherever we might be, and in the Way of Allah we would not be afraid of the blame of the blamers.” [3]

‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab said الشجاعة والجُبن غرائزٌ في الرجال “Courage and cowardice are (risen from) instincts in men”. [4] Such instincts guide a person towards stubbornly clinging to the guidance of the Prophet ﷺ for example, and make it from their fundamental methodology. Such instincts enable a person to inherit praiseworthy qualities, while inviting people to the truth and persevering in that – not being affected by those who shower praise, nor afraid of those who throw blame upon traversing the straight path.

The Bedouin Arab say  إن الشجاعة وقاية، والجُبن مَقتلةٌ “Indeed shuja’ is (one’s armoured) safeguard, and cowardice is (one’s own) slaughter” and anything that is disliked or displeasing can gain honour; achieved only with shuja’, for it lies at the head of every virtue – the first of which is patience, for it carries the likelihood of managing one’s anger and refraining from harming others. After that follows chastity, for it necessitates avoiding all types of vices and villainous deeds.

Shuja’ is also a quality that heightens self-esteem and directs one’s moral compass and justice. It carries premises of moderation and mediation, as some of the wise people said  الشجاعة صبر ساعة “courage is a time (period) of patience”. Al-Manawi said shuja’ was to be “voluntarily audacious upon facing fear and being indifferent to any benefit gained.” [5] Others have said it reflects fortitude of the heart and strength of the soul when faced with difficult things. Ibn Hazm put it in no uncertain terms that shuja’ was:

بذل النفس للموت، عن الدين، والحريم، وعن الجار المضطهد، وعن المستجير المظلوم، وعن الهضيمة ظلمًا في المال، والعرض، وفي سائر سبل الحق، سواء قلَّ من يعارض أو كثر

“Exerting oneself (even) to death for the sake of Deen, for womenfolk, for neighbours who are persecuted, for the oppressed refugees, for the one dealt unjustly regarding his wealth and honour. And in traversing the path of truth…” [6]

However we see this noble trait, amongst others, eroding in many Muslim communities today. And in absence of shuja’, it is evident how our Deen is becoming compromised. People can walk all over us; take liberties with our identity, values and principles that we hold so dear. And this is from the reasons why Ibn Taymiyyah identified Shuja’ as one of four أمهات الفضائل (‘mother of virtues’) from which other qualities are borne. [7] Losing this courage tantamount to accepting theological defeat and all that it entails.

Ibn al-Qayyim spoke at length about the place shuja’ occupies in our Deen. He said, “Good character (and manners) are built upon four pillars. It can’t be achieved except by safeguarding Patience, Chastity, Courage (i.e. Shuja’) and Justice.” [8] They understood that crucial virtues like knowledge, patience, generosity, chastity and justice had to be coupled with shuja’ in order to fully exercise and taste the wholesomeness of the Deen.

Al-Jawhari said: شدَّة القلب عند البأس “(It is the strength and) stability of the heart during trials.” [9] Essentially implying that in states of fear, dread, panic and intense feelings of loathing, one has the strength and composure to sail through it. Similarly Ibn Al-Qayyim said in defining shuja’ هي ثبات القلب عند النوازل وإن كان ضعيف البطش “It is the (firmness and) endurance of the heart when mishaps strike, while being weak in face of aggression.” [10] So the stability and firmness of the heart is what defines your character during that testing period. It may be a period of weakness with lack of assistance, yet the your shuja’ shines through and carries you through.

So how does one attain qualities of Shuja’? Well, courage is a nurtured experiential commodity and not something assumed through classroom training or mere motivational speeches. Learning the qualities of shuja’ means primarily indulgently reading the Noble Qur’an and stories it contains of those whom Allah granted courage, especially the Anbiya’ (Prophets) who were tasked with delivering the divine message to the people. Learning the qualities of shuja’ also means studying the Seerah (biographical analysis) of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and how he faced arduous trials and what it took for him to conquer them. Learning the qualities of shuja’ also means reading about our glorious history and the personalities it produced. From the Shabah (Companions of the Prophet ﷺ) to those who took the mantle of knowledge, leadership and propagation of the Deen. Learning the qualities of shuja’ also means to be with people of courage and mental strength. This will gradually reflect in our own selves and in our decision-making and ethics and wholly integrated into our characteristics.

More importantly, it is essential to ask Allah to safeguard us from what is in opposition to shuja’; cowardice. ‘Amr bin Maymoon Al-Awdi said, “Sa’d used to teach his sons the following words (of du’a) just as a teacher teaches his students the skill of writing. He used to say that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ used to seek refuge with Allah with the following words at the end of every prayer:

اللهم إني أعوذ بك من الجبن، وأعوذ بك أن أرد إلى أرذل العمر، وأعوذ بك من فتنة الدنيا، وأعوذ بك من عذاب القبر

“O Allah! I seek refuge with You from cowardice, and seek refuge with You from being brought back to a bad stage of old life and seek refuge with You from the afflictions of the world, and seek refuge with You from the punishments in the grave.” [11]

So it begins with a sincere invocation and translates into noble words and noble deeds emulating the holistic approach of those who came before us exuding shuja’. May Allah grant us baseerah (insight)and tawfeeq (means and ability)to make shuja’ an inherent trait and essential part of our being. Ameen.

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References:

[1] Saheeh Muslim, 2664
[2] Sharh Saheeh Muslim, 4/2052
[3] Saheeh Muslim, 1840 and others
[4] Al-Daraqutni, 3807
[5] Al-Tawqeef ‘ala Mahmaat al-Ta’reef.
[6] Al-Akhlaq wal-Siyar.
[7] See ‘Minhaaj as-Sunnah’, 6/379
[8] See ‘Madarij al-Salikeen’, 2/294
[9] ‘As-Sihaah’, 3/1235

[10]Al-Furoosiyyah, 500
[11] Saheeh Al-Bukhari, 2822

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