By: Muhammad Abdul Latif Finch
Though we live in a social-media culture that purportedly enhances our inter-connectedness, the social reality for many in the post-modern era is in fact an anti-social one. The social current of narrow individualism is at the root of many of the problems today, and it troubled even the philosopher Nietzsche, often perceived as a staunch individualist. The solution, however, could be the simplest of gestures, and I propose the act of visiting one another for the sake of God is at the heart of this solution.
Generally speaking, the Qur’an considers the human being in a social context as the individual that creates part of the whole. God states:
O humanity, indeed We have created you from a male and a female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. 1
The human being is created from one soul and then immediately paired placed within a social situation. The objective of this immediate socialization is to acquire knowledge. It is through knowledge of the art that one comes to know the nature of the Artist (God). Such an interpretation may help to explain the wisdom in our inherent collectiveness.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, stated, “Let him who believes in God and the Last Day either speak good or keep silent, let him who believes in God or the Last Day be generous to his neighbor, and let him who believes in God and the Last Day be generous to his guest.”2 In this famous tradition, the Prophet ﷺ expects that we will interact and his statement offers insight into the interaction that reaps the fullest benefits.
Meanwhile, Aristotle, the father of Western reasoning, stated in his Politics, “Man is by nature a political animal.”3 “Political” here means social; in his estimation, humanity best subsists in a polis, the Greek city-state that is especially characterized by a sense of community. For him, humanity survives best in a society where there are policies and customs. Therein, man may live up to his fullest potential—a virtuous life.
From both religious and rational angles, human beings are social creatures. As social creatures, in our relationships, we are merely reflecting the interconnected nature of the cosmos in a microcosmic way. From the dawn of creation, all creatures are the objects of God’s love, and by that love is the bond between creatures themselves. In essence, our inclinations to one another are the result of a continuous chain reaction of affection— God loves His creation, and His creation in turn loves the other, and then the other, each loving relationship a link in our loving relationship to the Divine. Take, then, the example given by the Prophet ﷺ in this narration of Imam Muslim:
“On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) who said that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Allah (mighty and sublime be He) will say on the Day of Resurrection: ‘O son of Adam, I fell ill and you visited Me not.’ He will say:’O Lord, and how should I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds?’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that My servant So-and-so had fallen ill and you visited him not? Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me with him? O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you fed Me not.’ He will say:’O Lord, and how should I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds?’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that My servant So-and-so asked you for food and you fed him not? Did you not know that had you fed him you would surely have found that (the reward for doing so) with Me? O son of Adam, I asked you to give Me to drink and you gave Me not to drink.’ He will say:’O Lord, how should I give You to drink when You are the Lord of the worlds?’ He will say: ‘My servant So-and-so asked you to give him to drink and you gave him not to drink. Had you given him to drink you would have surely found that with Me.”4
Every moment, no matter how seemingly trivial we think it is, is an interaction with the Beloved via the myriad of dependents who are the objects of His initial and continual love. Understanding this gives us insight—and a warning—of the ramifications for us when we voluntarily break the link of affection.
The Arabic word with the root Z.W.R., when expressed as a past perfect verb means, “he met him with his chest” (zarahu), i.e. he inclined to him. Love itself has been defined as, “the inclination of the heart.” Therefore a meeting, wherein two people’s chests, the domain of the heart, face each other in acceptance and inclination, is called a Ziyara.
The English rendition of Ziyara is “visit.” At a basic linguistic level, “to visit” means “to come to (a person) to comfort or benefit,” “to go to see, come to inspect,” from the Latin root visere “to behold, visit” (a person or place) or “to see, notice, observe.” This word was originally referred to observing a deity, and later to observing pastors and doctors.5 Regarding seeing someone, or having a vision, we find its original meaning: “Something seen in the imagination or in the supernatural.6
Therefore, a visitation not only means a physical encounter inspired by love, but also contains the idea of gaining benefit by seeing something, either in the imagination (i.e.. inside oneself) or in the supernatural (i.e.. outside oneself and all things).
Ziyara is a sunnah (prophetic habit) of the Prophet , may Allah shower him with mercy and grant him peace, full of benefits and secrets. That God “took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs” (Qur’an 17:1), in the Mi’raj (Ascension) of the Prophet ﷺ points to its great importance, as this was in essence a ziyara for the Prophet to the celestial realm and Divine Presence.
Visiting those who remind one of God is in imitation of the Prophet ﷺ visiting Allah Himself during the Mir’aj. A contemporary man of Allah, who served as an embodiment of the tradition itself, Shaikh Hassan Cisse, may God ennoble his grave with Muhammadan lights, said “Ziyara is Ziyada” meaning “visitation is an increase.” This wisdom can be verified from my personal experience. Never does God supply one with the opportunity to visit another Muslim, except that there is an increase in one’s gracious allotment from God. The greatest gift is the love of God Himself. Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet ﷺ said:
“A man visited a brother of his in a village, so Allah put an angel to wait for him on the road. He asked, ‘Where are you going?’ He replied, ‘To a brother of mine in this village.’ He said, ‘Is he responsible for some blessing you have?’ He said, ‘No, I love him for Allah.’ He said, ‘I am a messenger of Allah to you. Allah loves you as you love him.”7
Salih Ould Etḥfagha offers a beautiful example of the nature of visitation when he mentioned what Shaykh Ibrahīm Niass, may Allah be well-pleased with him, said in one of his speeches in Nigeria: “a ziyara fi-Allah (visitation for God’s sake) is always beneficial even if one of the two (the visitor or the visited) is bad.”
He mentioned a story of a person who had a very ill son. The doctors couldn’t do anything for his son and he was dying. The father decided to invite the righteous people [salihīn] of his city so he could ask them to make dua for his son. He asked his wife to prepare food for this large gathering. A group of thieves in the city heard of this invitation and decided to go there to steal the guests’ shoes. They arrived before the guests, and when the father saw the thieves he warmly welcomed them, thinking that they were a group of salihīn, and called his wife to bring the food for them.
After the thieves finished eating, the father brought them a bowl and water to wash their hands. Then, he took the bowl with the dirty water in it to his son and he washed his son with it. His son was cured. Immediately, the father rushed to the group of thieves and said to them, “Jazakum Allah khayran! My son was very sick, and he was cured by the blessing [baraka] of the water you washed your hands with.” He continued to describe them with all good qualities. When the thieves left, they felt bad and decided to repent and stop doing bad deeds. They went back to the father, told him the truth and asked him to forgive them.”8
As this anecdote shows, the secret of Ziyara is a good opinion because a good opinion is based in love for the sake of Allah. The import of love cannot be overemphasized. Let us consider the following traditions:
“Abu Dharr said, “I asked, ‘Messenger of Allah, what if a man loves a people but cannot join them?’ He replied, ‘Abu Dharr, you are with the one you love.’ I said, ‘I love Allah and His Messenger.’ He said, ‘Abu Dharr, you are with the one you love.”9
“Allah is One and loves unity.”10
It is as if God is saying, “I love Myself, and I am essentially one. Therefore, I love oneness. Oneness is unity and it is both the cause and the effect of affection. We can say, therefore, that unity is the effect of love. Love is the result of knowing. Knowing is through interaction. Interaction is the object of visitation. Therefore unity is from visitation.
As Muslims we at times miss the forest for the trees in the sense that the most obvious of cures are often deemed too simple to tackle our major diseases. But breaking the complex cycle of individuality and selfishness that fosters our current crisis can in fact be fostered by simply making time for visiting one another, for the sake of God. In doing that, we restore the links between us, and ultimately reconnect to the Divine.
1. Qur’an 49:13
2. Forty Hadith An-Nawawi, Hadith 15
3. Politics, Book 1, section 1253a
5. Early 13th century “come to (a person) to comfort or benefit,” from O.Fr. visiter, from L. visitare “to go to see, come to inspect,” frequentative of visere “behold, visit” (a person or place), from pp. stem of videre “to see, notice, observe”. Originally of the deity, later of pastors and doctors (c.1300), general sense of “pay a call” is from 1620s. “Visit”,“Online Etymology Dictionary”, n.d. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=visit&allowed_in_frame=0
6. Late 13th century., “something seen in the imagination or in the supernatural,” from Anglo-Fr. visioun, O.Fr. vision, from L. visionem (nom. visio) “act of seeing, sight, thing seen,” from pp. stem of videre “to see,” from PIE root *weid- “to know, to see”. “Vision”, “Online Etymology Dictionary”, n.d. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=vision&allowed_in_frame=0
7. “Al-Adab al-Mufrad al-Bukhari – Visiting and Guests #350- SunniPath Library – Hadith”, n.d. http://www.sunnipath.com/library/Hadith/H0003P0017.aspx .;
8. “ Floodplains®”, n.d. http://floodplains.tumblr.com/page/13
9. Adab al Mufrad