Why this topic?
“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”
These words were said by the famous Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero. By extension to it, one can add: a community ignorant of its roots can have no future. Those who are averse to the religion of Islam have put great efforts into obscuring its history (both recent and ancient) from its adherents. In doing so, they aim to ensure that Muslims do not revisit their past successes lest they use it as a means of revival for their future.
The oddity is that this concealment comes at a time when other nations are proudly revisiting their own heritages and legacies. Yet if any nation deserves to celebrate and recall its past glory, it is the Muslim nation, because none other than the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth said:
كُنْتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ
“You are the best nation ever put forward as an example for mankind.” 
If one were to ask, “What are the ways of preserving one’s īmān from downfall and keeping us firm upon the religion?” the typical answers will include recitation and study of the Qur’ān, good companionship, the night prayer, visiting the Masjid, visiting the graveyards, and du’ā. Whilst each and every one of these techniques is indispensable, should this itinerary even come close to completion, another item must be added: visiting the biographies of the giants that lived before us.
The effectiveness of this is manifold.
1. Strengthening one’s inner resolve to continue being a practicing Muslim
After relating the detailed encounters of seven Prophets, Allāh then says to the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam):
وَكُلًّا نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ مِنْ أَنْبَاءِ الرُّسُلِ مَا نُثَبِّتُ بِهِ فُؤَادَكَ
“And each story We relate to you (O Muḥammad) of the news of the Messengers, so that We make your heart firm.” 
الحكايات جند من جنود الله يقوي بها إيمان المريدين
“Stories are one of Allāh’s soldiers that He uses to give strength to the hearts of the believers.” 
Careful analysis of the lives of our predecessors is an incredibly enabling experience, providing us the framework to reflect on our own lives and the many gaps within them. It is a highly soul-reviving and ambition-igniting experience.
2. Cleansing the heart
Imam Ibn al-Jawzi said:
رأيت الاشتغال بالفقه وسماع الحديث لا يكاد يكفي في صلاح القلب؛ إلا أن يمزج بالرقائق، والنظر في سير السلف الصالحين
“I have learned that engrossing one’s self in the study of Fiqh and the listening of Hadīth are barely sufficient on their own to rectify the heart. Rather, they must be mixed with heart-softeners and a study of the lives of those before us.”3
3. An effective remedy to today’s prevailing air of self-importance
Imam Ibn al-Jawzi said:
ومن نظر في سير السلف من العلماء العاملين استحقر نفسه, فلم يتكبر
“Whoever looks into the biographies of the dynamic scholars of the past will belittle himself and never feel haughty again.” 
The less that one is conscious of his predecessor’s work ethic and achievements, the greater one will consider himself. The opposite is just as true.
Much (if not most) of the infighting that happens within the Da’wah scene today can be traced back to the sheer amount of gaping at oneself that is done. Reflecting on achievements, followers, branding, and reach causes people to grow in their own eyes, whilst at the same time become averse to team work, sharing credit, acknowledging virtue, working away from the limelight, and so on. The knock-on effects of these are imaginably disastrous.
One remedy to such deplorable outcomes is the constant referral to the biographies of our predecessors. We can instead observe ourselves through that mirror reflection, creating a realisation of how little our contributions are in the grand scheme of history. The outcome of such an exercise is the birth of a refined and humble Muslim who is unwilling to receive praise, and is instead fearful of fame, willing to collaborate, and constantly eager to keep eyes set on Allāh as opposed to on himself.
4. Nurturing deep love for our predecessors
In one of the most inspiring narrations, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:
المرء مع من أحب
“One will be with those whom one loves.”5
Compare how you feel about any one of these greats before and after you have studied their biographies – it will be worlds apart, particularly those whom you may have not been familiar with.
If we are unable to imitate their work ethic and achievements, then the least we can do is celebrate and love them. Our hope in doing so is that Allāh will allow us to stand beside them on the Day of Reckoning and admit us into the same levels of Paradise that we hope He will give them, in shā Allāh, even if our deeds fall short of theirs. Indeed, hope springs eternal.
Why these particular giants?
In this series, a diverse range of prolific writers have come together with the unified vision of producing a series of articles on select figures from our past. These articles will focus primarily on those who lived in recent times, and a few from the distant past. The chosen giants are:
- Mansa Musa
- Dr ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Sumayt
- ‘Izz al-Dīn al-Qassām
- Tāriq b. Ziyād
- Abu al-A’lā al-Mawdūdi
- Ertuğrul Gazi
- Maryam Jameelah
- Fatima al-Fihri
- Imam Shamil
- Badi’uzaman Sa’id Noorsi
- Sulaymān al-Qānūni
- Imam al-Tāhir Ibn ‘Āshūr
- ‘Abd al-Hamīd Ibn Bādīs
- Omar al-Mukhtār
- Alija Izetbegović
- Sayyid Qutb
- Hasan al-Banna
- Abdul Sattar Edhi
- Zaynab al-Ghazāli
- Ahmed Deedat
This list of giants has several features:
It includes names of revivalists who are not commonly discussed, let alone celebrated
Part of our appreciation of the sacrifices of these giants is to remember them. We will bring to light biographies that have sadly become obscured by many of the empty personalities that are rising to fame today. This, in turn, may skew the perceptions of the current generation of Muslims, who may assume that much of what they see today is the epitome of success and the definition of legacy. This perception will be quickly dismantled and reconstructed in light of the biographies that will be discussed.
It includes reformers from a variety of different backgrounds
The chosen list of giants is intentionally diverse in ethnicity, gender, interests, strengths, and even Islamic persuasions. The nature of our Ummah has always been, and will continue to be, diverse. This is a reality that Muslims must learn to not only live with, but embrace.
The common denominator
The commonality of a lesson that this list of giants offers is clear: the pathways of Islamic service are many, and it is up to each individual to define their skillsets then channel them for the cause of Islam. Indeed, our Ummah has produced individuals who have left their successors in sheer awe of their legacies and accomplishments. This alone marks them out as having led lives worthy of closer inspection.
 Al-Qur’ān, 3:110
 Al-Qur’ān, 11:120
 Salāh al-Ummah fee ‘Uluww al-Himma
 Saydul Khātir
 Talbees Iblees
 Al-Bukhari and Muslim, on the authority of Ibn Mas’ood
Shaykh Ali Ihsan Hammuda is Islam21c’s Tarbiya Editor. A UK national of Palestinian origin, he gained bachelors and masters’ degrees in Architecture & Planning from the University of the West of England, before achieving a BA in Shari’ah from al-Azhar University in Egypt. He is currently based in Wales and is a visiting Imām at Al-Manar Centre in Cardiff, and also a senior researcher and lecturer for the Muslim Research & Development Foundation in London. Shaykh Ali is the author of several books including ‘The Daily Revivals’, ‘The Ten Lanterns’ and ‘The Friday Reminder’. He delivers sermons, lectures and regular classes across the country.