by Dallas Schumann
Emulate the blacks for amongst them are three people of paradise: Luqman, the Negus, and Bilal.” ~ Hadith of the beloved Prophet Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him.
Muslim scholars agree that our Master (Sayyidina) Luqman was a Black man of African descent. Regrettably, this fact made it difficult for many Muslim scholars to consider him as a prophet or a messenger. For centuries, the prevalence of enslaved African people in the Arab world profoundly shaped scholars’ views of Black people. In order to make sense of a figure as dynamic and compelling as Luqman, they reduced his status to fit the commonly held views of their time. Some described this beloved man of God as being a slave, unkempt and unpleasant to look at, with dark skin, large lips and a huge nose. The opinions of these medieval scholars have trickled down to our time and as a result many contemporary ‘ulama hold that Luqman was a slave — a simple ordinary man — who happened to be given some wisdom.
However, Luqman was no ordinary man. He was one of three exemplary Black figures identified by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, as being among the people of paradise. It is Luqman alone whom God mentions by name in His Book and it is he alone who is honored with a chapter in the Qu’ran named after him. Besides Surah Luqman, there are only seven Qur’anic surahs named after individuals. Luqman joins the blessed company of Jonah (Yunus), Hud, Joseph (Yusuf), Abraham (Ibrahim), Mary (Mariam), Noah, and the Prophet Muhammad himself, peace be upon them all.
What did Luqman do to earn God’s favor and achieve such a high station with his Lord? Our Master Luqman displayed wisdom in his mastery of the Children of Adam’s path to their Lord and Creator. Luqman offered timeless lessons to his son about how to live a life seeking God’s pleasure. These lessons are for all Luqman’s spiritual children, in every generation, who embark on the journey to felicity in this world and the next.
Luqman divides the spiritual path into five progressions, beginning with the recognition of God’s oneness (tawhid), which is followed by gratitude towards God and creation. This in turn inspires reverence for God (taqwa), which manifests itself in obedience to Him and ultimately shapes the soul into a humble being that lives in harmony with its Creator and His creation.
Our Sage and Guide begins his instruction: “O my son, do not associate [anything] with Allah. Indeed, association [with him] is great injustice.” Tawhid is the first step and foundation of faith from which all good things spring forth. The first of these fruits is gratitude—gratitude to God first and foremost and then to those whom God has placed in our lives. As the Prophet Muhammad said, peace be upon him, “He who does not thank people, does not thank God.” So, Luqman instructs us to honor our parents: “And We have enjoined upon man [care] for his parents. His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years. Be grateful to Me and to your parents; to Me is the [final] destination.”
Faith and gratitude inspire the spirit to revere God, to have taqwa. Our Master ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be well pleased with him, compares taqwa to walking a narrow path lined with thorns. To safely travel such a path, the wise will carefully wrap their limbs in cloth for protection and take each step with caution. Likewise, to be truly reverent is to don the cloak of taqwa and be cautious of the limbs’ every movement, lest they fall into doubtful activities. Those who revere God know what Luqman says is true, “…indeed if wrong should be the weight of a mustard seed and should be within a rock or [anywhere] in the heavens or in the earth, Allah will bring it forth. Indeed, Allah is Subtle and Acquainted.”
It is this intimate knowledge of God that inspires the soul to obey its Creator, the All Hearing, the All Seeing, the All Knowing, for obedience is the manifestation of taqwa. As our tradition’s sages have described, to be an obedient servant of God is to live so that your Lord never finds you absent where He commanded you to be and He does not find you present where He has forbidden you to be. Luqman conveys this message, the fourth progression on the path, by stating, “O my son, establish prayer, enjoin what is right, forbid what is wrong, and be patient over what befalls you. Indeed, [all] that is of the matters [requiring] determination.”
It is then that the soul, having gained knowledge of faith, gratitude, taqwa, and obedience, must be reminded of the importance of humility. Knowledge, by its very nature, elevates, and without proper guidance and training, the illuminated heart can turn arrogant and ostentatious. With this in mind, Luqman instructs his spiritual children to be modest: “And do not turn your cheek [in contempt] toward people and do not walk through the earth exultantly. Indeed, Allah does not like everyone self-deluded and boastful. And be moderate in your pace and lower your voice; indeed, the most disagreeable of sounds is the voice of donkeys.”
It is through these steps that the soul comes to live at peace within the bounds set by its Lord, in harmony with the Creator and His creation. May God make us among those harmonious souls! May He allow us to follow in the footsteps of Our Master Luqman whom He favored as an exemplar of wisdom and the manifestation of knowledge.
Luqman is worthy of being a spiritual guide for all people seeking closeness with the Divine. Yet this wise and Godly man has been dismissed and belittled by some scholars in ways that are all too familiar to many African American Muslims. I chose to first present Luqman as a Black African man so that we may find solace in God’s choice to designate him as an exemplar of knowledge and wisdom. The Almighty’s bestowal of such an honor on one of our forefathers should assure us that whatever derision we may experience from our community is unfounded.
We should be proud to be Luqman’s Black sisters and brothers, but we should not reproduce the same ethnic chauvinism that victimizes us. We must never forget that ultimately, to God, color does not matter. Luqman is not defined solely by his Blackness and nor should we be. He transcends time, space and race and continues to instruct and guide all Muslims by revealing the true state of our hearts. His chapter in the Quran demands us to ask ourselves, what do we see in this man of God? Do we see in him a beautiful soul enlightened and ennobled by faith? Do we see a man of little consequence, a slave to be overlooked? Do we see him as the proof of the superiority of one people over another?
Our answer to this question reveals our inner state. As the time old adage says, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If we take this to be true, then the same must be said of ugliness. Sadly, there is an ugliness in the hearts of many believers that prevents them from seeing the beauty that is Luqman and others of his background. Clearly, our hearts need much work, and it is our hearts alone which God judges. So, let’s take Our Master the Sage as a guide and teacher on the long road of spiritual purification so that when we meet our Lord Most High we come forth with sound, humble and illuminated hearts.
Dallas Schumann is a graduate of Howard University with a B.A. in Art History. Her undergraduate studies focused on Islamic Art and aesthetics which introduced her to the Arabic language, which she subsequently studied intensively in Jordan, Qatar, and Morocco. The beauty, depth, and eloquence of Arabic, inspired her to enter Islam. After spending the past three years studying the traditional Islamic sciences in a madrasa in Trenton, New Jersey, Dallas is now dedicated to full-time Qur’anic memorization and tafsir studies with teachers in Vancouver, BC.