Shaykh Ibrahim was born and raised in Liverpool, England. Initially studying for three years in Syria and Mauritania he then had the opportunity to spend over six years in the city of Tarim, Hadramaut where he studied under the hands of many high calibre teachers of our time.
He was one of the founders of several Islamic initiatives including the Ibn Abbas Institute, Starlatch Press, Badr Language Institute and the Greensville Trust. He currently resides in Liverpool, England with his wife and two children.
The Revival Editor, Sajid Iqbal, met up with the Shaykh Ibrahim in Nelson where he was preparing for a talk. After trying to poorly imitate the Shaykhs scouse accent, he had a lengthy chat covering issues from Tupac to drugs and alcohol abuse, marriage to culture, purification of the soul to Mosques and many more. Here are some of the questions put to the Shaykh:
Ed: I think that also a lot of youngsters feel that Islam is kinda boring, it’s strict and it only deals with the rituals. We always say that Islam is a complete way of life. But why is it that a lot of youngsters don't feel that it is and they try to stay away from it and only go to the mosque every Friday and that’s it?
Shaykh: I mean that comes down to teachings. When the children or the youth no longer see Islam being conveyed in a holistic sense, then lo and behold they have some type of dis familiarity with the actual tenants of the faith and the broadness of the faith itself.
Ed: So what actually needs to be done to attract the youth to Islam?
Shaykh: We need to become people who represent the religion; we need to take on the tenants and live the actual tenants of the faith.
Ed: So if you’ve got youngsters who are into drugs or into alcohol abuse and into boyfriends and girlfriends and there’s no Islam that’s a part of their life... how can these youngsters be attracted to the mosques and invited into becoming practising Muslims?
Shaykh: There’s not a simple answer to that, because the youngsters who are into drugs, youngsters who are into illicit relationships... the youngsters who are into nightclubs or whatever it may be... they’re into that due to the environment they’ve been placed in. So the heart of the problem is how we change environments in order to facilitate a more... smoother transition into that which Allah (swt) and his messengers hold dear.
Ed: Youngsters nowadays, their role models are the likes of TuPac, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney etc. We always say that the Prophet (pbuh) should be our role model but the reality is for a lot of elders and youngsters, the Prophet (pbuh) is not our role model. So how can we transform the way the youngsters see the Prophet (pbuh)?
Shaykh: The most powerful role models are those who are accessible. So therefore in an environment where the David Beckham’s of the world and TuPac who’s long dead, but he’s still sort of accessible, by virtue of the power of the media. When they are the accessible sort of figures for our youth then lo and behold they become role models, because every human being needs a role model.
Allah (swt) crafted in us that innate potency to follow others, to seek others as those who guide us unto whether we believe it to be or good or whatever. So human beings always follow and so the bottom line is that these are the ones that are accessible figures in the lives of many of our youth.
If we were to ask any of our youth to describe how the Prophet (pbuh) looked, the vast majority wouldn’t have a clue. Never mind the youth, likewise the adults. If they saw a picture of the Prophet (pbuh) in his various manifestations throughout his lifetime, they would be shocked.
As an example, we had an issue of the youth in the USA, in California, who liked to braid their hair and they were told, as Muslims, you can’t braid your hair; that’s the way of the disbelievers. And lo and behold the Prophet (pbuh) himself used to braid his hair. One of the greatest moments in Islamic history, when he entered Makkah, the conquest of Makkah, his hair is braided; it’s plated into four plaits. So it’s a sign that even us as adults are somewhat unaware of how the Prophet (pbuh) was, and how he looked.
With TuPac, I think the youth could describe TuPac pretty accurately. David Beckham- they could describe him pretty accurately and some of them could describe some of the private moments in David Beckham’s life. That’s a problem.
Ed: What a lot of people need to understand is why do they NEED the Prophet (pbuh)? What does the Prophet (pbuh) offer us if we chose him as a role model?
Shaykh: The Prophet (pbuh) brings good, not just for youngsters and not just for the elderly, not just for the White or the Black, or for the Arab or for the Non Arab, not even just for the human being, but the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) brings good for the entire creation. That’s why Allah (swt) says that: 'I have not sent you except as a mercy to the world.'
Everybody likes to be victorious so the Prophet (pbuh) is the one who told us, 'Through me victory is granted.' So Insha’Allah it’s victory not just in this life which, people who are short sighted, that’s all they see, but it’s victory beyond this life.
Ed: But can you give us an example. Say you’ve got a youngster whose role model is TuPac and we say to him, you know what TuPac is not the one who should be your role model; it’s the Prophet (pbuh)...
Shaykh: What does he like about TuPac?
Ed: His music, his lifestyle, he’s a bad boy, he’s a big gangster... they wanna be a part of that. So we say to them, leave that, and take the Prophet (pbuh) as your role model. What do they get?
Shaykh: I think it’s not necessarily they like TuPac because he’s a bad boy and they wanna be bad boys. But something about TuPac maybe, the way he holds himself and I mean the definition of cool, as some would say, and every human being, especially the youth, wants to be cool. So we bring a new definition of cool, and the Prophet (pbuh) IS that definition.
The youth of today are no different from the youth of Makkah and Madina, and when we look at the actual life and times of the Prophet (pbuh), his movement was a youth movement. The YOUTH followed him, and just as we have an issue with elders today, there were the issues with elders THEN, and the Prophet (Pbuh) said that: 'when I came, the elders denied me and the youth gave me victory; they were the ones that supported me.'
So there’s something in the Prophet (pbuh) that forced or compelled the youth to take HIS way as the way to lead their lives, a definition of cool. If we look at the sahabah, the early youth that were sat around the Prophet (pbuh), they had families; there was a dominant culture, a dominant way of life, but they PREFFERED something different that was more appealing to lead into the actual reality of who they were at that point in time.
That does not change regardless of place, regardless of gender, regardless of time, but something that holds true to our day and that’s why Ali (ra) who was a youth, gives us a really compelling description of the Prophet (pbuh).
He said that those who met him suddenly feared him but the ones who intermingled with him without knowledge fell in love with him.
So here, what we’d try to summon the youth onto is to know the Prophet (pbuh) and as a rule that holds no exception that they will fall in love with the Prophet (pbuh) and the definition of cool becomes apparent.
Ed: Jazakallah. I think one of the reasons why people are away from the Deen, going into drugs and so on is that they want that peace of mind, they want that buzz...
Shaykh: It doesn’t give it. I mean, I grew up in that drug culture. I grew up in a city that is one of the highest drug cultures today, which is the city of Liverpool - that is a drug culture. Many of the friends that I grew up with and people inside my own family are people who took to it in every possible way imaginable. And one thing that is clear from them is that Subhana’Allah, it DOESN’T.
You see, it’s a false hope It doesn’t deliver what it promises. So what they want, they’re not going to find in the drug culture. I don’t think what they want, they’re going to find in illicit relationships with women. They’re not gonna find it. I don’t think that what they want, they’re gonna find in that type of lifestyle.
They’ll see in television or MTV or the magazines that promote the ideal lifestyle; it’s a false promise. And they will find that out sooner rather than later. The problem is once they’re in the midst of it, it’s difficult to get out, in not that it’s failed to deliver but that which they thought it would deliver.
Ed: An issue that some people bring up is that alcohol in Islam is crystal clear that it is haraam however the Quran and sunnah is kind of silent about weed and coke and drugs... so because its silent it should be allowed... could you clarify?
Shaykh: Quran and Sunnah aren’t silent about it, nothings been abandoned in the book and nothings been abandoned in the Sunnah which is an interpretation of the book. So therefore we see that the great Imams of the religion can clarify the rulings regards to all of those matters. Islam promotes and nurtures the Intellect. Religion was sent for that.
So anything that compromises on that great universal, the law will always consider it to be haraam… consider it to be unlawful. So cocaine is something which clouds the intellect. Ganja which is something which clouds the intellect. Weed is something that clouds the mind.
Ed: I was actually speaking to someone who smokes weed and their argument was it doesn’t cloud my mind. I can think clearly, it doesn’t tamper the way I think, its not an intoxication; alcohol intoxicates but weed doesn’t so its al right innit?
Shaykh: I would say to them behave… behave... be true to yourself that’s what I would say.
Ed: Is there no clear cut text which can be quoted that the Quran and sunnah has openly said intoxicants including drugs are haraam?
Shaykh: When Allah (swt) says in the Quran He(sw) refers to intoxications they don’t refer to alcohol per say and not to drugs per say. So they relate to anything that intoxicates so that’s clear enough for any intelligent person... they don’t need details. I mean I lived in a generation where there was no crack cocaine and then there was so therefore we saw a new drug entered into a field.
You have human beings with emptiness in their soul and are always trying to craft new ways to filling that void through things called drugs and there will always be new drugs and alcohol. The beauty of the Quran is that it can take care of all that with a few words- anything that intoxicates, anything that clouds the intellect is considered unlawful.
Ed: OK. But when I speak to a lot of youngsters that are into drugs or into alcohol, they all seem cool and chilled out and happy. So what I’m saying is if we want them to leave that lifestyle, how will Islam give them that peace of mind?
Shaykh: We offer that to them through 1400 years of the transformation of what the idea of ‘peace of mind’ really is, that comes with the Prophet (pbuh). And peace of mind, which is really peace of heart. That can only come through adherence of the way of the one who crafted the heart, and the one who knows how peace, or tranquillity, or serenity ultimately develops in that heart.
That’s why they say 'Verily, my Lord is on a straight path.' The methodology for the true tranquillity and true serenity can only come, again, regardless of age, regardless of colour, regardless of deviant creed when somebody attaches to the way of Islam and the way of the Prophets.
Ed: A lot of the time when we speak to scholars, they say you need to purify your heart and purify your soul. What does that mean and how do you achieve it?
Shaykh: The purification of the heart or the purification of the soul means liberating the soul, which is the essence of the human being. We are mind, body and soul. But ultimately we are soul. We’ve existed as creatures who are spiritual without form, before we were caste into form 120 days inside of our mother’s womb. So it’s the spiritual essence that we are and it’s through liberating that spiritual essence that is an essence that has an affinity with Allah, an affinity with God.
So our humanity is in our spiritual liberation, our spiritual realisation. How is that realised? Through morals, through virtues, through cleansing the self of blameworthy qualities and adorning the self with the higher qualities.
Ed: So if I’m struggling to connect to Allah (swt), I’m performing my prayers but getting distracted by the Dunya... what are the steps that I can take to get closer to Allah?
Shaykh: The first thing to understand is that the struggle is where the reward lies. That’s why Allah says: ‘...Those who struggle for our sake, We will guide them to Our paths’. So sometimes the struggle sends the wrong message. We interpret the struggle in the wrong manner.
So first and foremost, struggle is good and the nation of youth LOVE struggle. Why would you get up at seven o’ clock in the morning of the coldest day of the year and you wear shorts up to the mid parts of your thighs just to try and get a ball and kick it between two wooden posts? The youth love struggle! Why do youths get into fights? Why get into a fight when you know you can be hurt? They love struggle! And the Prophet (pbuh) says in the hadith ‘reward is the portion of the struggle, the portion of the difficulty’. So the struggle is good. So we should engage with the struggle or embrace it thereafter.
As for HOW do I get closer to Allah? Company. That’s the most important thing for the youth to understand. The human being is environmental in nature- we are as good as our environment. In more beautiful terms, the Prophet (pbuh) said ‘A human being is upon the religion of his friend’. So therefore, we struggle because our friends are struggling, our environment is struggling. And lo and behold when we change our friends, we start to see that suddenly you see a different type of struggle.
Ed: So the first step is to get rid of your friends which are an obstacle in becoming a good Muslim? Because I can remember when I was young (a looooong time ago!) everyone was messing about so I started messing about. Once you’ve found the right company, then what?
Shaykh: Well there are two types of people: there are people who, in bad company, can negate the badness. Either they are influences or they are influenced. And there are many youths who are influences that are not influenced. I remember my youth: I sat in the company of people who did bad things, really bad things, and I mean NAUGHTY things! And I never did anything naughty and that was my company. When I looked at myself, regardless of the company that I was with, I was not going to be influenced by them. I was going to make my own decisions and be in control of how my life was going to turn out.
There are those that are like that, i.e. there are youth that are leaders and when you go to any group of people, there are leaders, and there are amongst the youth that are setting the standard. THEY’RE the most important people and that’s why the Prophet (pbuh) would seek them out. So the appeal is that if you are one of those, then it’s you, first and foremost, who has to change, because on the basis of YOU changing, you change a lot of people who are situated around you. The Prophet (pbuh) would seek them out and even designate financial rewards for such people, because once they change then everybody else changes.
Good company attaches you to the Prophet (pbuh). Good company renders you wanting to be just like the Prophet (pbuh). If he had long, cool hair, then you want long, cool hair. If the Prophet (pbuh) used to walk with force, walk with determination, you wanna walk JUST like him.
The Prophet (pbuh) had a different type of swagger- it was a divine swagger; a definition of cool. When you become privy of that, you wanna walk like the Messenger, you wanna talk like the Messenger, you wanna pray like the Messenger. If the Prophet (pbuh) said ‘the coolness in my eyes is through prayer’ then you want the same.
When the prophet (pbuh) fasted, you wanna fast just like him. The sahabah would say we want to fast just like, the Prophet (pbuh) would respond with DON’T; they said, but YOU do it, we WANT to! That’s a sign of love. That’s a sign of a desire to imitate. The Prophet (pbuh) said, the only thing that can convince the sahabah NOT to do it is to tell them, ‘I’m not like you, I sleep with my Lord; he feeds me and he’s the one that nourishes me with drink.'
If you have that, then continue fasting in that manner. Otherwise, stick to Ramadan, stick to Mondays, stick to Thursdays, stick to White Nights, stick to Black Nights, do those things that are in the capacity of each and every one who loves me.
So how do we become religious? Religious beings have religious etiquettes, will have religious morals, will have religious virtues, will have religious practises and when you’re amongst them, lo and behold it becomes infectious. Believe me, religion is a sweet thing. When a human being tastes something sweet, by nature he falls in love.
Ed: One really big issue that a lot of people find is that they don’t wanna date, they don’t wanna go back 'home'.... they don’t wanna marry their cousins, how do they go about finding a practising compatible life partner? I
Shaykh: There are a few things and I think the issue is a bit more complex and what I mean by its more complex is part of it, as quickly as were marrying, were divorcing. So a lot of times if its left to the actual choice of the youth; they haven’t lived long, not experienced long enough to know what makes a successful marriage.
Usually what drives the youth is issues which relate to the lower gut, the lower self : sexual desires, desires based on lust, desires maybe based on the outward appearance of the female/male so they aren’t the necessary ingredients that make a long marriage.
Ed: What are those ingredients?
Shaykh:The point I’m tryna make is that its a combination of reasons, the one I just mentioned cannot be ignored. I mean the prophet (pbuh) said that a woman is married for four reasons: the first thing he said was ‘for her beauty’ ; that’s the first thing so there are issues of attraction that are very important.
But the issue of attraction... the youth have that but there are other reasons which the youth don’t necessarily have.
The second is 'her family'; the youth don’t necessarily know the nature of her family, her parents, her grandparents, where they came from? What etiquette they were raised upon? They don’t know that parents may have a greater eye on that regard. Issue of wealth, occupation... what occupation she has, the youth aren’t clear on that. Maybe its a combination of different sources.
Likewise her religion the prophet (pbuh) said ‘take the one with religion or your hands will be worn will perish’. The ulema say you shouldn’t take religion exclusively, the other three are also reasons in how you choose a successful wife (partner) to have a successful and blossoming marriage. They all play a part but religion must govern all of those. It should be the primary reason why you marry a woman or a man.
So there's the point I’m trying to make... the project for us is how do the parents as well as the youth come together on this project in a successful way. Its not like the parents should be the one to decide nor is the youth to decide on their own way, that’s disastrous but its how do we come together as a community in order to create successful marriages.
Ed: Just a quick point on that... if its my life! I’m getting married not you, its not my mum and dad who have to live with my wife, so why do I have to ask my dad 'is it okay if I get married to her?' It’s my choice, it’s my right, my obligation... it doesn’t concern anyone else who I get married to as long as I’m happy, she’s happy... jobs a good un yeah?
Shaykh: So did you give birth to yourself yeah?
Ed: No... what I’m actually saying is.... if I find some attractive, someone who is compatible to myself.... I’m happy, she’s happy then the parents should say: 'if your happy, were happy!'
Shaykh: If you gave birth to yourself its okay, so long as somebody else gave birth that somebody else also has a role to play in that important decision, a very important role.
We have to understand that the bad part of our attitude is an attitude just like we take drugs, just like we take alcohol, just like we're in an illicit relationship. We adopted things which are probably more dangerous than that...that attitude, the understanding of the world. How do we understand our relationship with our parents, how do we understand our relationship with our neighbours, our environment etc.
That's a very individualistic, egotistical attitude. It's an attitude which in Islam is totally anti-ethical too.
So this is about a sort of effort and the most important people in that effort, communal effort, are the parents okay. Because after all they are parents, they are married...they were married long enough to give birth to you and to raise you and to still care enough about you to want to make a decision inside of your life. I think it also can be problematic if you had parents who didn’t care who you married.
You see at one level when a parent is still sort of wants to be involved in who you marry, that is a declaration of love. We may not agree with their choice but we got to understand what is their motivating factor ultimately... these are parents that have a profound love for their children and love for their soon to be grandchildren that’s why they want to be involved inside the process
Ed: In this day and age what advice can you give to young couples on what is the best way to raise kids in an Islamic way... because its quite hard cos of the TV and the environment. When I was young if I spoke to my dad, whatever he said I would just do it but now these youngsters would say Why? Who are you? It’s the attitude of the times were living in. So what's the best way to make sure a youngster is brought up correctly and Islamically?
Shaykh: I mean you have to look at the things that influence human being and the Lord tells us human beings are influenced by three things. He’s influenced by himself and that’s a powerful influence. He’s influenced by his family and his environment. The most powerful of them is the environment, after the environment comes the family and after the family comes the individual.
The objective of Islam is to ensure that the environment as well as the family are congruent with what is dictated by the faith so that the individual is naturally lined with ALLAH (swt).
The Prophet (pbuh) says every newborn is born upon fitra, they are born on the primordial way, an innate attraction and desire to know and worship ALLAH (swt). Its the parents who alter that situation and render him Christian and change the archetype to the messianic way i.e. the deviant way or the Judaic or even Zoroastrian.
So it’s the parents that by extension create a family which is the environment that is going to alter the nature of how our child is. So when we speak about how do we raise Muslim children properly we have to take into account that we have to have Muslim families. Muslim households.
We have to have fathers who pray, mothers who pray, fathers who fast, mothers who fast, fathers who smile and mothers who smile, fathers who have the great lovely attributes of the prophet (pbuh)... come with compassion and mercy etc. and likewise mothers who also do that.
The household has to be a loving and beautiful household, if you look at the youngsters from the sahara... if you look at Abdullah Ibn Aamr, what family did he come from? Look at Ayesha Siddiqa- youngster- what family she was raised amongst? Look at Anas Ibn Malik, what family was he raised amongst? Abdullah ibn Abbass- what family was he raised amongst?
So... all of the great second generation of the sahaba... you will find they were raised in beautiful households where their parents were beautiful people. So those beautiful attributes were thereby imprinted upon the children and lo and behold when they stepped outside their doors, they found the society.
Likewise that also re-enforced those great divine and lofty principles. So this is the challenge... the challenge is really to create smaller private environments and likewise public environments also that are conducive towards the practising faith.
Ed: Lastly one final question is that every one asks about Imams and mosques. What is the real and true role of the mosque in this day and age because I always say it should be like a community centre, with games, pool tables, weights... where kids enjoy going and also learn the Deen but then I get the fatwas... then I shut up....
Shaykh: The nature of the mosque in the name itself means 'a place of sujood' and where people bow and prostate to Allah (swt) and in Islam we have a broad sense of what bowing and prostrating is unto Allah (swt). As we said the sahahba (ra) can sit in the mosque in a social sense and joke and laugh and they can wrestle inside of the Masjid and they are bowing and prostrating.
They can dance with spear and Aisha (ra) can be on the shoulders of the Prophet (pbuh) and they are bowing and prostrating to Allah (swt). And this was the area of the formal Salah and prayer and we should understand worship in its broadest sense.
The mosques have to relive the Prophetic experience in the sense that the mosque of the prophet (pbuh) did. It embraced all different types of people even non-muslims, killers and criminals and even prisoners of wars and its embracing of them was an act of worship to Allah (swt).
So we need a greater definition of that. One of the problems is that when was it that we last have articles or conferences or meeting on what is the true role of the mosque in British contemporary society. You see its like we're gonna complain about the issue, but do nothing to bring about the solution of the issue, and we perpetuate the problem by not solving it.
Ed: Jazakhallah and thank you for your time and answers. It has been an amazing session and I'm sure our readers will benefit from what you have said.
* This is the full interview as the print version only contains an edited version