Chivalry (Futuwwa)


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Being a Real Man in Islam
by Yahya Birt

Imam al-Qushayri [22] (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) summaries what the nature of positive masculinity is. In Arabic this is called muru’a or manliness. Conceptually, manliness is closely related to futuwwa or chivalry. Imam al-Qushayri says in his famous Risala, “The root of chivalry is that the servant strive constantly for the sake of others. Chivalry is that you do not see yourself as superior to others. The one who has chivalry is the one who has no enemies. Chivalry is that you be an enemy of your own soul for the sake of your Lord. Chivalry is that you act justly without demanding justice for yourself. Chivalry is [having]… beautiful character.” [23]

The Noble Islamic Youth

In Arabic, fata literally means a handsome and brave youth. In the Chapter of the Prophets (60:21), the term fata is used to describe Abraham (‘alayhi s-salam), who had, with characteristic fearlessness, destroyed the idols of his people, and who was about to be thrown into the fire by them. In his commentary on this verse, Imam al-Qushayri (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) says that the noble youth is one who breaks the idol and moreover that the idol of each man is his blameworthy soul that commands to evil (nafs al-amara bi al-su’). [24] Truly Allah Most High only bestows the title fata to those whom He loves. Youth, in this sense, is not a mere social category but a rank of piety.

Following the use of the word in the Holy Book, fata came to mean the ideal, noble and perfect man whose generosity did not end until he had nothing left for himself. A man who would give all that he had, including his life, for the sake of his friends. Futuwwa has a distinct sense for it means the way of fata or noble manliness, and the remainder of the essay concentrates on outlining these noble precepts.

The way to attain these qualities, to become a true man, is to kill the blameworthy soul, which can also be called our selfish impulses, or ego. The first thing is to learn is not to love the blameworthy soul, but instead to love others more than oneself and to love our Exalted Creator most of all. It is only after struggling to kill the ego that the trials of spiritual struggle, like those of our father Abraham (‘alayhi s-salam) in the fire, become ‘refreshment and peace’ (bardan wa salam). (21:69)

The Chivalry of the Companions

We find many examples of noble manliness among the Companions: the loyalty of Abu Bakr, the justice of ‘Umar, the reserve and modesty of ‘Uthman, and the bravery of ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhum). Yet for all their greatness, those men still only partially reflected that supreme example of true manliness, the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). It was their life’s work to emulate him, like it is ours today. As the first young man to embrace Islam, it was ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu), the last of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, the cousin and son-in-law of our noble Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and the Lion of Allah, who came to represent the supreme example of youthful manly perfection. Known for his selflessness, courage, generosity, loyalty, wisdom and honour, he was the invincible warrior of his day. His nobility on the battlefield shines forth like a bright lamp of guidance for us today.

In one battle, ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) had overpowered an enemy warrior and had his dagger at the man’s throat when the man spat in his face. Immediately Imam ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) got up, sheathed his dagger, and told the man, “Taking your life is unlawful to me. Go away.” The man was amazed, “O ‘Ali,” he asked, “I was helpless, you were about to kill me, I insulted you and you released me. Why?” “When you spat in my face,” our master ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) answered, “it aroused the anger of my ego. Had I killed you then it would not have been for the sake of Allah, but for the sake of my ego. I would have been a murderer. You are free to go.” The enemy warrior was profoundly moved by this show of great nobility and so he embraced Islam on the spot.

In another of his battles against the unfaithful, our master ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) encountered a handsome young warrior who moved to attack him. His heart was full of pity and compassion for the misguided youth. He cried out, “O young man, do you not know who I am? I am ‘Ali the invincible. No one can escape from my sword. Go, and save yourself!” The young man continued toward him, sword in hand. “Why do you wish to attack me? Why do you wish to die?” ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) asked. The man answered, “I love a girl who vowed she would be mine if I killed you.” “But what if you die?” ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) asked again. “What is better than dying for the one I love?” he countered. “At worst, would I not be relieved of the agonies of love?” Hearing this response, ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) dropped his sword, took off his helmet, and stretched out his neck like a sacrificial lamb. Confronted by such nobility, the love in the young man’s heart was transformed into love for the great ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) and for the One Most Exalted Whom ‘Ali loved.




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