Al-Barr / The Ever Doer of good.
1: The linguistic meaning of the name Al-Barr
The three-letter origin of this word is bā-rā-rā, from which other forms are derived (al-birr, abrār, etc.) and includes the following meanings:
Far-reaching good treatment
Al-Zamakhsharī said that al-birr is:
الاتِّساع في الإحسان والزيادة في فعل الخير
“Wide spanning kindness and the ample doing of good.”
Thus, a person is described as being barr and bārr:
إذا كان ذا خيرٍ ونفع، ورجلٌ بَرٌّ بأبويه وهو ضِدُّ العاق
“If he is a person of ample goodness and benefit. A person who is barr towards his parents is the opposite of al-‘Āq (the undutiful).”
Two key concepts can be derived from the above:
A: The concept of ampleness/expanse
B: The concept of kindness/dutifulness/consistent good treatment.
Thus in Arabic, open land is called al–barr or al-barriyya, which is the opposite of al-baḥr (the sea).
وسميت البرية كذلك لاتساعها
“It was given this name because of its extensiveness.”
Furthermore, one of the world’s most important crops is wheat, which is used to make bread, the most widely consumed food in the world. It has been benefiting humanity for thousands of years across continents. With such far reaching benefits, it becomes clear why the Arabic name for it is burr, because of its implications of extensiveness.
Al-birr also carries the meanings of ṣidq (truthfulness) and ṭā’a (obedience). Hence, a person who acts faithfully to his oath is described as having barra: doing what his oath necessitated without fail.
Given the above meanings, we can now ask: Who, then, is Allah, Al-Barr?
(البَرُّ) ومَعْنَاهُ: الرَّفِيقُ بِعِبَادِهِ، يُرِيدُ بهم اليُسْرَ، ولا يُرِيدُ بهم العُسْرَ، ويَعْفُو عَنْ كَثِيرٍ مِنْ سَيِّئَاتِهم، ولا يُؤَاخِذُهم بجَمِيعِ جِنَايَاتِهم، ويَجْزِيهم بالحَسَنَةِ عَشْرَ أَمْثَالِها، ولا يَجْزِيهم بالسَّيِّئَةِ إلَّا مِثْلَها، ويَكْتُبُ لَهُم الهَمَّ بالحَسَنَةِ، ولا يَكْتُبُ عليهمُ الهَمَّ بالسَّيِّئَةِ
“Al-Barr means: The One who is gentle towards His Servants, wanting ease for them and not wanting their hardship. He is the one who erases many of their sins and does not hold them accountable for all of their crimes. He rewards them ten folds for each good deed whilst not multiplying their sins and writes for them the reward of intending to do good, whilst not writing for them the sin of intending to do evil.”
Al-Barr, therefore, is He whose kindness is endless, whose generosity is overwhelming, whose giving encompasses all that exists, and whose promises are fulfilled every time without fail.
2: Manifestations of His birr (kindness) in the world
From His birr is that His kindness is endlessly supplied
Interestingly, the term which the Qur’ān uses to describe one’s relationship with parents is “birr”, which we translate as dutifulness. One-off displays of kindness are not sufficient in order for it to qualify as birr. Rather, it must be consistently exercised till death parts them.
Similarly, birr is what defines Allah’s relationship with us, and this birr is consistent, engulfing our lives around the clock, as the Hand of Al-Barr simply never stops giving. The profoundness of this reality would at times wake up the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) at night. His wife, Umm Salama, said:
اسْتَيْقَظَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لَيْلَةً فَزِعًا، يَقُولُ: سُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ، مَاذَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ مِنَ الخَزَائِنِ
“The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) once woke up alarmed, saying: ‘SubhānAllāh, how many treasures have been sent down! [..]”
The statement “you can ask of me as much as you wish, and both my giving to you and love of you will only increase” cannot be truthfully asserted by anyone but Allah, Al-Barr. Man is, by his nature, consumed by fear of poverty. Hence, once the initial wave of generosity has been weathered, man will, sooner or later, start harbouring ill-thoughts towards the nagging beneficiary. As for Al-Barr, the matter is altogether different. Think about the following as an example:
When you are not a practicing Muslim, you are taught to say:
“Ihdinā al-ṣirāṭal mustaqīm”, “Guide us to the straight path”
If your request is answered and guidance comes your way, you are still taught to say:
“Ihdinā al-ṣirāṭal mustaqīm”, “Guide us to the straight path”
Assuming that you ascend great heights in piety, worship and guidance, you still say:
“Ihdinā al-ṣirātal mustaqīm”, “Guide us to the straight path”
In fact, even those who became prophets and communicated with angels were taught to continually say:
“Ihdinā al-ṣirātal mustaqīm”, “Guide us to the straight path”
Until the day we die, we are instructed to beg Allah for more and more. There can be no quenching from Allah’s giving and no shyness in perpetual requests. This is because Al-Barr does not fear poverty, His Hands never stop giving, and He will never accuse the beseechers of greed. Rather, His love for the beseechers only increases as they beseech.
Consider the persistent duʿā’ of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) in and around any one ṣalāh:
He would supplicate immediately after completing his wuḍū’ and then he would supplicate after the call to the prayer was made. Then, he would supplicate upon beginning the prayer, all throughout his prayer, before ending his prayer, and then he would supplicate immediately after the prayer. This is expected from the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam); considering that he is the most knowledgeable regarding Al-Barr, why would he limit his requests?
From His birr is the manner in which He has furnished the world for our comfort and wellbeing
The moon in its glow, the sun in its radiance, the land in its evenness, the stars in their beauty, the plants in their diversity, the seasons in their variation, the fixed universal laws – the list is endless – have not been designed, determined and put in their place except for the appreciation, use and comfort of mankind. Surely, the provider of such impeccable blessings is worthiest of the name Al-Barr.
اللَّهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَأَنْزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَخْرَجَ بِهِ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ رِزْقًا لَكُمْ وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمُ الْفُلْكَ لِتَجْرِيَ فِي الْبَحْرِ بِأَمْرِهِ وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمُ الْأَنْهَارَ (32) وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمُ الشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ دَائِبَيْنِ وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمُ اللَّيْلَ وَالنَّهَارَ (33) وَآتَاكُمْ مِنْ كُلِّ مَا سَأَلْتُمُوهُ وَإِنْ تَعُدُّوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ لَا تُحْصُوهَا إِنَّ الْإِنْسَانَ لَظَلُومٌ كَفَّارٌ(43)
“Allah is He Who has created the heavens and the earth and sends down rain from the sky, and brought from it fruits as provision for you; and He has made the ships to be of service to you, that they may sail through the sea by His Command; and He has made rivers to be of service to you. And He has made the sun and the moon, both constantly pursuing their courses, to be of service to you; and He has made the night and the day to be of service to you. And He gave you all that you asked for, and if you count the blessings of Allah, never will you be able to count them. Indeed, mankind is most unjust and ungrateful.”
From His birr is the way in which good deeds and sins are documented
Good deeds are automatically multiplied, the degree of which varies according to the doer’s sincerity and humility before Allah, amidst other factors. As for sins, the default is that they are not multiplied but documented for what they are. In fact, if one intends on performing a sin but refrains, Allah documents it as a good deed.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
إنَّ اللهَ كَتَبَ الحَسَنَاتِ والسَّيِّئَاتِ ثُمَّ بَيَّنَ ذلِكَ، فَمَنْ هَمَّ بحَسَنَةٍ فَلَمْ يَعْمَلْهَا كَتَبَها اللهُ تَبَارَكَ وتَعَالى عِنْدَهُ حَسَنَةً كامِلَةً، وَإنْ هَمَّ بهَا فَعَمِلَهَا كَتَبَهَا اللهُ عَشْرَ حَسَناتٍ إِلى سَبْعمئةِ ضِعْفٍ إِلى أَضعَافٍ كَثيرةٍ، وإنْ هَمَّ بِسَيِّئَةٍ فَلَمْ يَعْمَلْهَا كَتَبَهَا اللهُ تَعَالَى عِنْدَهُ حَسَنَةً كَامِلةً، وَإنْ هَمَّ بِهَا فَعَمِلَهَا كَتَبَهَا اللهُ سَيِّئَةً وَاحِدَةً
“Allah has written down the good deeds and the evil deeds, and then explained it: ‘Whoever intended to perform a good deed but did not do it, Allah writes it down with Himself as a complete good deed. If he intended to perform it and did so, then Allah writes it down with Himself as ten good deeds up to seven hundred times, up to many more folds. If, however, he intended to perform an evil deed, but did not do it, then Allah writes it down with Himself as a complete good deed. And if he intended an evil deed and then performed it, then Allah writes it down as just one evil deed.’”
Hence, He who multiplies good deeds, rewards those who merely intend on performing them, writes sins without multiplication, and rewards those who refrain from sinning after intending to do so, is truly One who wants the best for His creation and the worthiest of the name Al-Barr.
From His birr is His willingness to accept the most deficient of deeds
It is always a heart-warming sight when one sees a child handing over a simple, childish gift to their parent and they receive it with smiles, humbleness, and graceful acceptance. The parent is not in need of the simple gift, and certainly deserves far better, but the display of appreciation is something we all admire.
To Allah belongs the greatest example; despite being The King of Kings, The Compeller, The Eternal, The Almighty and Owner of Majesty and Glory, He accepts whatever we, the petty mortals, are able to offer Him. Who is able to offer Allah a gift that is befitting of His Majesty? It is, however, because He is Al-Barr that He accepts it, loves it, expresses gratitude for it, and gives far more in return.
What is interesting is that at times we, as human beings, do not accept gifts from fellow humans or we express uneasiness when we feel that they do not reflect our status. I remember once being stopped by a passerby who requested food. He was clearly in a bad state. I popped into a local shop and purchased a few items. Upon seeing them he was infuriated. “Chicken wings is what I want!” he demanded, pointing to a nearby takeaway instead. Here I was, thinking that I had honored him while in his eyes I had failed to meet his expectations.
With Al-Barr, such circumstances can never unfold. He accepts from us even that which us feeble human beings reject from one another. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
مَرَّ رَجُلٌ بِغُصْنِ شَجَرَةٍ عَلَى ظَهرِ طَرِيقٍ، فَقَالَ: وَاللهِ لأُنْحِيَنَّ هَذَا عَنِ المُسْلِمينَ لا يُؤذِيهِمْ، فَأُدخِلَ الجَنَّةَ
“A man once walked passed a branch from a tree that was in the middle of the street. He said, ‘By Allah, I will move this to one side so that it does not harm the Muslims.’ So, he was made to enter Paradise.’”
What is the removal of a branch in the grand scheme of things? Not much in our eyes, but in the Eyes of Al-Barr, it is a good deed that elicits the greatest of all gifts: the pleasure of Allah and Paradise.
From His birr is His acceptance of apologies
Apologies are something which us human beings are, at times, unable to accept when we feel that the crime perpetrated against us was too great, or when our rights were violated to an unforgivable degree. These, in reality, are only crimes committed against fellow humans. What about a crime which a mortal commits against The Immortal One? When the weakest one wages war with The Mighty One, or when the dependent one disobeys Al-Ṣamad (The One whom all are dependent upon)? Nevertheless, in His infinite forbearance, Allah is willing to accept any sincere apology.
يَا ابْنَ آدَمَ ، إنَّكَ ما دَعَوْتَنِي وَرَجَوْتَنِي غَفَرْتُ لَكَ عَلَى مَا كَانَ مِنْكَ وَلاَ أُبَالِي . يَا ابْنَ آدَمَ ، لَوْ بَلَغت ذُنُوبُك عَنَانَ
السماءِ ، ثُمَّ اسْتَغْفَرْتَنِي غَفَرْتُ لَكَ وَلاَ أُبَالِي . يَا ابْنَ آدَمَ ، إِنَّكَ لَوْ أتَيْتَنِي بِقُرَابِ الأَرْضِ خَطَايا ، ثُمَّ لَقَيْتَنِي لاَ تُشْرِكُ بِي شَيْئاً ، لأَتَيْتُكَ بقُرَابِها مَغْفِرَةً
“O son of Adam, as long as you call upon Me and have hope in Me, I shall continue to forgive you for what you have done, and I will not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you and I would not mind. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth but having not ascribed partners to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it”
People’s crimes against us pale in comparison to ours against Allah. Since He is Al-Barr, however, He is willing to do what we refuse to do: to accept repentance, to keep the door of amends open, and even reassure the criminal that his apology will not be turned down. A Lord who is capable of doing this is worthiest of the name Al-Barr.
From His birr is how He chose you from the midst of humanity
Whilst it is true that the kindness of Al-Barr encompasses the whole of creation, there are certain dimensions of His birr (kindness) that are reserved for a select group. He has favoured them over all others, for reasons known to Him, and you are one of them.
There are many theories out there to happiness, contentment, and salvation, ranging from the worship of human beings, angels, devils, animals, stones, trees, and even genitals, to all out atheism. In fact, statistics show there are no less than 4200 religions worldwide, and according to the Qur’ān, the majority of humanity are upon the wrong course.
From the midst of all of this, you were chosen to know Him, accept His religion and understand the details of the pathway to happiness in this world and salvation in the next. But why you? The answer to this is multi-layered, requiring the mention of several of Allah’s names to grasp it, but one of the most important of them is due to His being Al-Barr.
From His birr is that He grants Paradise as a reward
Allah relates to us a conversation that is yet to take place: one of the people of Paradise. Allah said:
وَأَقْبَلَ بَعْضُهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ يَتَسَاءَلُونَ
“And some of them draw near to others, questioning.”
As they roam exuberantly in the gardens of Jannah, the residents will converse with one another, remembering the life of today and recalling their deeds which, by Allah’s mercy, caused them to enter Paradise.
قَالُوا إِنَّا كُنَّا قَبْلُ فِي أَهْلِنَا مُشْفِقِينَ (26) فَمَنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَيْنَا وَوَقَانَا عَذَابَ السَّمُومِ (27) إِنَّا كُنَّا مِنْ قَبْلُ نَدْعُوهُ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْبَرُّ الرَّحِيمُ (28)
“They say, ‘We used to be afraid of the punishment of Allah in the midst of our families. So, Allah has been gracious to us and has saved us from the torment of the Fire. Indeed, we used to call upon Him before. Indeed, it is He who is Al-Barr, the Merciful.’”
It is almost as if they are saying that their entry to Paradise was not due to them deserving it, but purely because of Allah being Al-Mannān (The Gracious), al-Barr, and al-Raḥeem (The Merciful).
3: The effects of believing in this name
To call upon Him using His name Al-Barr
In the only passage where the name Al-Barr appears in the Qur’ān, it is within the context of duʿā’. As alluded to in the verses above, the people of Paradise will remember their days in this life and will say:
إِنَّا كُنَّا مِنْ قَبْلُ نَدْعُوهُ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْبَرُّ الرَّحِيمُ
“Indeed, we used to call upon Him before. Indeed, it is He who is Al-Barr, the Merciful.’”
These verses had a profound effect on our mother ʿĀ’ishah. Al-Qāsim, her nephew, said: “Whenever I would leave my house in the morning, I would start with the house of ʿĀ’ishah to give her salām. On one morning, I visited her and found that she was standing in prayer reciting the ayah:
فَمَنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَيْنَا وَوَقَانَا عَذَابَ السَّمُومِ
‘So, Allah has been gracious to us, and has saved us from the torment of the Fire’
She was repeating it, weeping and making duʿā’. I waited for her to finish until I grew bored. I went to the market place to attend to my needs and then returned. I found her standing in the same place praying and weeping.”
As she recited these verses in prayer, she would make the following duʿā’, the wording of which was clearly inspired by the verses which she was reciting:
اللهم من علينا وقنا عذاب السموم إنك أنت البر الرحيم
“O Allah, be gracious towards us and save us from the torment of the Fire. Indeed, it is He who is Al-Barr, the Merciful.”
The love of Allah, Al-Barr
At times, you find no way to justify your attachment to a person other than to say “He has done so much for me. The kindness has simply been overwhelming.” What is more overwhelming is when one remembers that every favour which he has ever received, whether through a parent, sibling, spouse, friend or others, can be traced back directly to Allah who facilitated that favour via the many different players in life. With this understanding and appreciation, what type of love should one then harbor towards Al-Barr?
أَلَمْ تَرَوْا أَنَّ اللَّهَ سَخَّرَ لَكُمْ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَأَسْبَغَ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعَمَهُ ظَاهِرَةً وَبَاطِنَةً
“Do you not see that Allah has made what is in the heavens and what is in the earth subservient to you, and has lavished His favours upon you, both seen and unseen?”
Consider how He has inspired certainty within you towards every element of His religion, whilst others are suffocated with doubts. Consider how He inspires your heart to immediately repent following your every sin, whilst others remain unable to acknowledge the evil of their ways and constantly procrastinate repentance. Consider how Allah has enthused within you the love of His houses, the Mosques, placing your comfort there, whilst others drive past them on a daily basis without giving them a second glance. Consider how easy He has made for you the acts of worship, be it observing the full hijāb, the five daily prayers or paying zakāh, when so many simply cannot get their hearts in gear. They admire you for your seamless work-ethic whilst questioning their own utter helplessness. Who facilitated all of this for you?
This line of thinking will eventually and necessarily enslave one’s heart in intense love for Al-Barr, having realised that His favours are not only beyond imagination in size and outdoing perfection in quality, but also beyond number in quantity.
As Maryam (ʿalayhā al-Salām) underwent the ordeal of childbirth alone, she was called out from beneath her:
فَنَادَاهَا مِنْ تَحْتِهَا أَلَّا تَحْزَنِي قَدْ جَعَلَ رَبُّكِ تَحْتَكِ سَرِيًّا (24) وَهُزِّي إِلَيْكِ بِجِذْعِ النَّخْلَةِ تُسَاقِطْ عَلَيْكِ رُطَبًا جَنِيًّا (25) فَكُلِي وَاشْرَبِي وَقَرِّي عَيْنًا
“Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream. And shake towards you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates. So, eat and drink and be consoled…”
Why would Allah treat Maryam – a fatigued, lonely, and emotionally drained woman – in such a kind manner, at a time when not a single member of her society was around to help? Because He is Al-Barr, one who is deserving of unending love.
Similarly, after being separated from his mother as a baby, Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) was returned to his mother’s arms against all odds. When Mūsā eventually became a prophet, Allah reminded him of this event which he was too young to remember:
فَرَجَعْنَاكَ إِلَى أُمِّكَ كَيْ تَقَرَّ عَيْنُهَا وَلَا تَحْزَنَ
“So we returned you to your mother so that her eyes are refreshed and so that she does not grieve …” 
A frail baby within a frail basket within the relentless streams of the Nile arrived at the doorstep of the tyrant who wanted this very baby dead. Yet, Allah subverted the laws of the universe, facilitated the events, and divinely guarded this basket all for one purpose: in order to bring happiness to the heart of one woman, Mūsā’s mother, so that “her eyes are refreshed and that she does not grieve”.
A Lord who compels the circumstances of life for the purpose of bringing happiness to one human being is certainly worthy of the name Al-Barr and deserving of unconditional love.
Likewise, our Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) experienced the blessings of being under the care of Al-Barr. In one of the most troubling times in the life of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), Allah reminded him:
وَلَسَوْفَ يُعْطِيكَ رَبُّكَ فَتَرْضَى (5) أَلَمْ يَجِدْكَ يَتِيمًا فَآوَى (6) وَوَجَدَكَ ضَالًّا فَهَدَى (7) وَوَجَدَكَ عَائِلًا فَأَغْنَى (8)
“And your Lord is going to give you, and you will be satisfied. Did He not find you an orphan and give you shelter? And He found you lost and guided you. And He found you poor and enriched you.”
How long could a one-year-old survive following parental abandonment? What would happen to those requiring immediate surgery if hospitals kept their doors shut? How badly would a country’s infrastructure, healthcare, employment, transport, public safety and the likes be affected if its government decided to withhold all its spending on its people? If this is what happens when man withholds his birr, what then would happen if Al-Barr was to withhold His birr from creation?
Loving Allah, Al-Barr, is the crux of all acts of worship, the foundation of the entire religion, the greatest of obligations, the most superior of deeds and the life of one’s heart. In fact, the calming of anxieties, the soothing of sorrows, and the lifting of hopes is found in this precisely: the love of Al-Barr. It is this love which will embolden the believers to request Allah to show His Divine Self to them in Paradise, as they yearn for their eyes to witness, once and for all, The One who had submerged their lives and afterlives in blessings.
To understand He is true to His Promises
Being Al-Barr means that He will never fail in any of His promises. In fact, we had mentioned above, when discussing the linguistic origins of the name Al-Barr, that a person who acts faithfully to his oath is described as having barra, doing what his oath necessitated without fail.
We all know certain people who have built a reputation of honesty such that they would prefer death over breaking a promise they have made. If such is the status of a promise in the eyes of some humans, what then is the status of a promise in the Eyes of Allah, who has given Himself the names Al-Ḥaqq (The Truth), Al-Kareem (The Most Generous), and Al-Barr (The Ever-doer of good)?
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُخْلِفُ الْمِيعَادَ
“Allah does not fail in His promise”
And Allah said:
إِنَّمَا تُوعَدُونَ لَصَادِقٌ
“What you are promised is true”
And Allah said:
إِنَّمَا تُوعَدُونَ لَوَاقِعٌ
“Surely, what you are promised must come to pass.”
And Allah said:
وَمَنْ أَوْفَى بِعَهْدِهِ مِنَ اللَّهِ
“And who is truer to his covenant than Allah?”
With that said, let us take a look at some of the promises of Al-Barr, all of which will come to pass if the prerequisites are met.
1) Al-Barr has promised those who practice Islam inwardly and outwardly a pleasant life
In no era in history have the means of comfort and welfare been as easily accessible as they are today. Never has the knowledge of the world’s complex mysteries and the ability to subdue nature’s unfriendly elements ever been attained to this degree. Despite these remarkable achievements and despite possessing all the means for a better livelihood, the sense of yearning for a pleasant life and inner peace has never drifted further away than it has today.
The 21st century has taught us how to fly in the air like birds and how to swim in the oceans like fish, but people are still unaware of how to walk on the Earth as happy and content individuals. When they sit down to work out where the problem lies, they are unable to pinpoint it.
وَالَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَآَمَنُوا بِمَا نُزِّلَ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وَهُوَ الْحَقُّ مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ كَفَّرَ عَنْهُمْ سَيِّئَاتِهِمْ وَأَصْلَحَ بَالَهُمْ
“And those who believe and do righteous, good deeds and believe in that which is sent down to Muhammad–for it is the truth from their Lord–He will erase from them their sins, and He will improve their state.”
And Allah says:
مَنْ عَمِلَ صَالِحًا مِنْ ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنْثَى وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَلَنُحْيِيَنَّهُ حَيَاةً طَيِّبَةً وَلَنَجْزِيَنَّهُمْ أَجْرَهُمْ بِأَحْسَنِ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
“Whoever does good, whether male or female, and is a believer, We will most certainly make him live a happy life…”
This promise from Al-Barr was experienced first-hand by the likes of Imām Ibn Taymiyyah. He sent a letter to his students from within the confines of prison in Alexandria, saying:
فإني -والله العظيم الذي لا إله إلا هو- في نعم من الله ما رأيت مثلها قط في عمري كله، وقد فتح الله سبحانه وتعالى من أبواب فضله ونعمته وخزائن جوده ورحمته ما لم يكن بالبال ولا يدور في الخيال.
“I am–by Allah, The Mighty, besides whom none has the right to be worshipped–indulging in blessings from Allah, the likes of which I have never seen before in my entire life. Allah has opened for me–from the doors of his bounty–favours and stores of His generosity and mercy which my mind and imagination could never have expected.”
So you can read all the theories you want, you can take every medicine on the shelf, you can try knocking on every door and visit every avenue in search for this gem called happiness and peace of mind, but you will not find it anywhere except where Allah taught us to find it: the doorstep of worship. This is a promise from Al-Barr that must come to pass.
2) Al-Barr has promised to bring about love for those who live a life of Islam
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ سَيَجْعَلُ لَهُمُ الرَّحْمَنُ وُدًّا
“Surely, those who believe and do good deeds, for them will The Most Merciful bring about love.”
What does this “love” refer to? Ibn ‘Abbās said:
حبه في المسلمين في الدنيا
“It means he will be loved by the Muslims in the life of this world.”
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
مَا مِنْ عَبْدٍ إِلا لَهُ صِيتٌ فِي السَّمَاءِ، فَإِذَا كَانَ صِيتُهُ فِي السَّمَاءِ حَسَنًا وُضِعَ لَهُ فِي الأَرْضِ حَسَنًا، وَ إِذَا كَانَ صِيتُهُ فِي السَّمَاءِ سَيِّئًا وُضِعَ لَهُ فِي الأَرْضِ سَيِّئًا
“There is not any person except that he has a reputation in the heavens. Thus, if his reputation there is good, it will be placed on Earth as well, and if his reputation in the heavens is evil, it, too, will be placed on Earth.”
The fact that you are, for the most part, loved by the Muslims is not accidental, but an exciting sign as per where you stand in Allah’s Eyes; and the opposite is just as true. ‘Uthmān said:
ما من الناس عبد يعمل خيرًا ولا يعمل شرًّا، إلا كساه الله رداء عمله
“Any person who does good or evil, Allah will clothe him with the garment of his deeds.”
This is a promise from Al-Barr that must come to pass.
3) Al-Barr has promised those who courageously reject a sinful practice with that which is better
This promise provides much needed strength, particularly to the young Muslim who may be struggling with specific attachments that he knows will distance him from Allah and the Home of the Hereafter.
Abū Qatādah and Abū Duhmā’ said:
أتينا على رجلٌ من أهلِ الباديةِ فقلنا هل سمعتَ من رسولِ اللهِ صلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّم شيئًا قال نعم سمعته يقولُ إنك لن تدعَ شيئًا للهِ عزَّ وجلَّ إلا أبدلك اللهُ به ما هو خيرٌ لك منه
“We approached a Bedouin man and asked him, ‘Have you heard any knowledge from the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam)?’ He said, ‘Yes, I heard him say, ‘There is not anything which you leave for the sake of Allah except that he will replace it for you with something better.’”
Such a replacement may be delivered to you in an obvious fashion; an impermissible relationship may be replaced by a wonderful and permissible one, or an impermissible business dealing may be replaced by a better and purer one, and so on. However, the reward may arrive in a different fashion: health for your children, a cure from an illness, a beautiful and righteous spouse, the ability to pray at night, and so on. This is because Allah knows what is best for you and, thus, the reward for your courageous rejection of the impermissible is tailored to what you need most, even if you do not realise it. This is a promise from Al-Barr that must come to pass.
4) Allah has promised that Islam will remain till the day of judgement
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
إن الله زوى لي الأرض . فرأيت مشارقها ومغاربها . وإن أمتي سيبلغ ملكها ما زوى لي منها . وأعطيت الكنزين الأحمر والأبيض . وإني سألت ربي لأمتي أن لا يهلكها بسنة عامة . وأن لا يسلط عليهم عدوا من سوى أنفسهم . فيستبيح بيضتهم . وإن ربي قال : يا محمد ! إني إذا قضيت قضاء فإنه لا يرد . وإني أعطيتك لأمتك أن لا أهلكهم بسنة عامة . وأن لا أسلط عليهم عدوا من سوى أنفسهم . يستبيح بيضتهم . ولو اجتمع عليهم من بأقطارها حتى يكون بعضهم يهلك بعضا ، ويسبي بعضهم بعضا
“Allah drew the ends of the world together for me and I so have seen its eastern and western ends. And I saw that the kingdom of my ummah will reach those ends which I saw. I have been granted the red and the white treasure, and I begged my Lord for my ummah that (1) it should not be destroyed because of famine, (2) and that it is not to be dominated by an enemy who is not from amongst them who would eradicate them. My Lord said, ‘O Muhammad, whenever I make a decision, it cannot be changed, and so I grant you for your ummah that it would not be destroyed by famine and that it will not be dominated by an enemy who is not amongst them who would eradicate them, even if the entire world joined hands to do so. However, it is them who will kill and imprison each other.”
This is a promise that could not have been remembered at a better time for our bruised ummah.
Therefore, the Muslim who believes these promises will not despair regardless of the magnitude of the hostility that Islam and the Muslims face, for this is a promise from Al-Barr that must come to pass.
5) Al-Barr has promised that the outcome of patience will be Paradise
Allah said, speaking about the Hellfire and then Paradise:
لَهُمْ فِيهَا مَا يَشَاءُونَ خَالِدِينَ كَانَ عَلَى رَبِّكَ وَعْدًا مَسْئُولًا
“In it will be everything that they may wish for–living there eternally–it is a promise binding upon your Lord which must be fulfilled.”
And Allah said:
لَكِنِ الَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْا رَبَّهُمْ لَهُمْ غُرَفٌ مِنْ فَوْقِهَا غُرَفٌ مَبْنِيَّةٌ تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ وَعْدَ اللَّهِ لَا يُخْلِفُ اللَّهُ الْمِيعَادَ
“But as for those who feared their Lord, they shall have high mansions, above them higher mansions–built for them–beneath which rivers flow; this is the promise of Allah; Allah will not fail in His promise.”
وَتَتَلَقَّاهُمُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ هَذَا يَوْمُكُمُ الَّذِي كُنْتُمْ تُوعَدُونَ
“… and the angels will meet them, saying, “This is your Day which you have been promised.”
For Allah, the destruction of the world in its entirety is less significant than failing in any one of His promises. Allah has made the promise, it is upon us to face the conditions with patience.
To live a life of birr
After all, Paradise is for the people of birr. Allah said:
إِنَّ الْأَبْرَارَ لَفِي نَعِيمٍ
“Indeed, the abrār (the people of birr) will be in pleasure”
So what does it mean to be a person of birr? It is useful to revisit some of what was mentioned in the linguistic discussion of the name Al-Barr. We mentioned that the term barr has a reference to land, and one of the traits of land is its stability, as opposed to the sea (“baḥr”). So, a believer who is barr is stable upon imān, firm upon his religion, consistently practicing, and defined by a composed and collected persona. This is in stark contrast to the fājir (the rebellious sinner, the opposite of barr) whose sins cause him instability, anxiety, and a scattering of affairs.
Imām Ibn Ḥajar’s breakdown of the term birr also uncovers another dimension of what it means to be a person of birr. He said:
البِرُّ أَصْلُه التَّوَسُّعُ في فِعْلِ الخَيْرِ، وهو اسْمٌ جَامِعٌ للخَيْرَاتِ كُلِّها، ويُطْلَقُ عَلَى العَمَلِ الخَالِصِ الدَّائِمِ
“The root meaning of birr is being extensive in doing good. It is an encompassing term which includes all good deeds and is in reference to those deeds that are pure and continuous.”
Being a person of birr also involves constant mindfulness of Allah.
وَلَكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنِ اتَّقَى
“.. but al–birr is to be mindful of Allah …”
It involves spending from what you love.
لَنْ تَنَالُوا الْبِرَّ حَتَّى تُنْفِقُوا مِمَّا تُحِبُّونَ
“None of you will attain al-birr until you give out of from what you love…”
It involves giving your mother and father the lion share of your kind treatment. Allah said that Prophet ‘Īsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) said:
وَبَرًّا بِوَالِدَتِي وَلَمْ يَجْعَلْنِي جَبَّارًا شَقِيًّا
“and [He has made me] barran (kind) to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant.”
It involves living by the best of manners. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
البِرُّ حسن الخلق
“Al-birr is good manners.”
Lastly, the meaning of truthfulness also appeared in the linguistic discussion of the name Al-Barr. Hence living a life of birr entails being true to Allah such that your heart, thoughts, life concerns and actions are purely for Him. You may not necessarily see the entire benefit of this today, but those true to Allah will realise it on the day of resurrection when it will be announced:
هَذَا يَوْمُ يَنْفَعُ الصَّادِقِينَ صِدْقُهُمْ
“This is the Day when the truthful will benefit from their truthfulness…”
Al-Barr has been true to us in all what He has promised so why should man not aspire to live a life of birr? Even if such people are not noticed by the masses, they occupy a very special place in Allah’s Eyes, nominating some of them for martyrdom.
Mu’ādh b. Jabal used to pray the ‘Ishā’ (night) salāh with the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). Then, he would make his way to his community where he would lead them in prayer. Mu’ādh’s prayer, however, was long. On one evening, he recited Surat al-Baqarah. So, one of the attendees shortened his prayer midway and left. Mu’ādh accused him of being a hypocrite for doing so.
Upon learning of this accusation, the young man approached the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and complained of what Mu’ādh had said about him, saying:
يا رسول الله، إنا قوم نعمل بأيدينا ونسقي بنواضحنا، وإن معاذاً صلّى بنا البارحة فقرأ البقرة، فتجوّزت فزعم أني منافق
“O messenger of Allah, we are people who work manually and irrigate our farms with our animals. Last night, Mu’ādh led us in prayer and recited Surat al-Baqarah. So, I offered my prayer separately, which caused him to accuse me of being a hypocrite.”
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) called Mu’ādh and said to him:
يا معاذ أفتّان أنت؟ – قالها ثلاثاً
“Mu’ādh! Are you putting people’s faith to test?!” He repeated this three times.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) sympathized with the complainant. He appreciated that he and his likes are exhausted by the time the evening arrives due to the nature of their work, rendering them unable to perform long prayers. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) reserved all of his anger for Mu’ādh considering the public prayers should generally be shorter than private ones, and that the behaviour of the young man did not qualify him to be labelled as a hypocrite.
Then, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) looked at the young man and said to him: “My brother, how do you carry out your prayer?” He said:
أقرأ بفاتحة الكتاب ، وأسأل الله الجنة ، وأعوذ به من النار ، وإني لا أدري ما دندنتك ودندنة معاذ
“I recite Al-Fātihah, ask Allah for Paradise and seek protection from the Fire. I do not know how to say those complicated things which you and Mu’ādh say.”
The response of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to the evidently simple man was incredibly kind and motivating, he said:
إني ومعاذ حول هاتين أو نحو ذا
“All that me and Mu’ādh say revolve around what you are saying.”
Then, the young man said:
ولكن سيعلم معاذ إذا قدم القوم
“Anyhow, Mu’ādh shall find out when the people arrive.”
News had been conveyed of an army that was making its way to the Muslims. The young man is saying that Mu’ādh will realise the level of his faith on the battlefield. He did not fail in his words. He was martyred.
Upon learning of his martyrdom, the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) summoned Mu’ādh and said to him: “What do you think of the one who argued a case against you?”
يا رسول الله ، صدق الله ، وكذبت استشهد
“O messenger of Allah, he was true to Allah and I was mistaken. He was martyred.”
Believing in Al-Barr is to desire a life upon birr. Similarly, living a life of birr entails expecting the best from Al-Barr who never leaves those that are truthful to Him empty handed.
Notes: ‘Umdat al-Qārī Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī