Ramadan Mubarak!

Assalamu alaikum dear readers, peace be with you,

I haven’t been able to blog at all since this beautiful and precious month began. And now we are in day 18 already! Trying very hard to hang on to this amazing time…but it goes so quickly. We say about Ramadan, ‘The days are glorious and the nights are magnificent’!

So for my Muslim readers – let’s make the most of the last ten days which we will soon enter. The honored guest now with us, needs to be treated with the most reverence and love we can show her before she departs our company, inshaAllah (God willing) to return to us next year. I blogged this last year about the special significance of the last ten days, sharing the link again. It’s called ‘looking for laylathul Qadr’

And two more old posts on laylatul Qadr…they bring back nice memories. On this one, yes this year too, my same jasmine plants that gave me nary a bud the whole year burst into bloom with the arrival of Ramadan. And then this magnificent du’a for these special nights (for my non-Muslim readers, du’a is usually what people understand to mean by ‘prayer’…it is a sincerely spoken supplication to God)

I saw this nice clip on CTV news and since it is so rare that the media reports any nice thing about Muslims (I am seriously considering a page just to capture news items that don’t paint Muslims as terrorists or what not – For example, I am not sure how much people know that a mosque group raised 5000$ in one day to help a Catholic church that had been vandalized, or that Nigerian Muslims last christmas linked hands and stood in front of church on christmas eve to prevent any ‘Boko haram’ types attacking the congregation insde, or about the crazy person who was arrested a few weeks ago in a US airport for carrying a machete in his bag – only after he killed a security guard (God rest the soul of this security guard and help his family) – he was not Muslim, imagine the news coverage if he was!!, and I can go on. But I will stop now, it is Ramadan), here it is.

To end as they say in Indonesia –
” it is as if one’s life is a series of Ramadans, with only a moment passing between them”

How strange it is, that with no food and no water, I feel more alive than when I am satiated. As our spiritual masters teach us, it is because now the stomach is shrunken and the heart has room to breathe! The heart is alive and so you feel more alive than at other times. Thanks and praise to God for giving us Ramadan.

Here is the clip. Unfortunately I can’t embed it. Please click here

The month of Sha’ban and Qasida Burdah

Assalamu alaikum, peace be upon you my dear readers,

With the new moon reported last week, we have entered the month of Sha’ban, the 8th month in the Islamic calendar and the month preceeding the month of months- Ramadan, whose arrival all Muslims around the world are counting the days to eagerly. We make the du’a (=supplication, a prayer) “O Allah grant us to meet Ramadan” (meaning ‘prolong our life so we can meet Ramadan’) since roughly about the 3rd month of the year, i.e., during the six months before Ramadan. The rest of the year, i.e., the six months following Ramadan, we make the du’a “O Allah accept all our worship during Ramadan (our fasting and special salat=prayers, charity and hosting family and friends and so on). This was the habit of the prophet Muhammed (peace and blessing of God be upon him) and of his companions (God be pleased with them all) and so we follow his example in this as we try to in every other aspect of our lives. So you can imagine now that Ramadan is almost around the corner, the frequency with which Muslims make this prayer increases exponentially :)

The month of Sha’ban is sandwiched between Ramadan and Rajab, which is the month we just exited. Rajab is considered one of the four sacred months. These four months were a  time when warring was forbidden in the Arabian peninsula since before the time of the prophet (peace and blessing of God be upon him) and Islam upheld that tradition. The other three months are the 11th, 12th and 1st months of the year, traditionally the time when the pilgrims for the Hajj pilgrimage would be traveling to Mecca, perform the pilgrimage (which happens in the 12th month) and return. You can imagine, had tribal war been allowed during that time, the pilgrimage would not happen – hence the importance of them being ‘sacred’. Rajab stands alone and therefore is given a great deal of importance.

Ramadan is actually not one of the four ‘sacred’ months. It is however one of the holiest of the year, and unlike the other four, whose sacredness predates the time of the beloved messenger (peace be upon him), its status as the month of fasting was instituted by the messenger (peace be upon him). It is the month in which the Quran was first revealed. More on Ramadan in the coming weeks inshaAllah (God willing). There is so much information available online on Ramadan, I am not sure I need to write a post. Here is a good link gathering a lot of information in one place (I haven’t read all the information there, but the site is generally reliable).

It is said that Rajab is the month of God, Sha’ban the month of the messenger of God (peace be upon him) and Ramadan the month of his community! Rajab is generally a time Muslims spend a lot of time in reflection and ‘returning’ to God, then in the month of Sha’ban there is an emphasis on sending prayers upon Muhammed. We call this salawat and I gathered some types of salawat in this post. Of course ‘salawat’ can be done without any music, and done alone as many of us do.

In that post, I introduced some forms of salawat. Here I want to introduce a ‘salawat’ so famous in the Muslim world, I doubt there are many Muslims who have not heard it. They may not know what they heard (such is the sad state of Muslims divorce from their tradition and heritage – due to a large part to a catastrophic period of colonial subjugation – but I am digressing), but they would have heard it! It has been rendered into every musical form contained in the vastly diverse Muslim world, sung in so many different languages in so many corners of the world. It is the famous ‘Qasida Burdah’

Qasida (=elegiac/laudatory poem) Burdah, or ‘The poem of the cloak’ was written by a great scholar – Imam Buseeri (raheemahullah alai = God have mercy upon him), who lived in Egypt in the 13th century CE which would be 6th century AH (=After Hijri). The real name of the publication is “Al-Kawakib Al-Durriyya Fi Madh Khayr Al-Bariyya” (=The Brilliant Stars in Praising the Best of Mankind), but the poem has come to be most known as simply ‘Al-Burdah’ (=the cloak) or the ‘Qasida Burdah’. I could go on a long time about both Imam Busiri and Qasida Burdah, but I will limit myself to telling you about why the poem’s popular name is what it is. It is said Imam Busiri suffered a grave illness and was paralyzed for a long time. No doctors could cure him. He wrote this poem as way of praying to God, by praising the beloved of God, His final messenger, Muhammed (upon whom be God’s peace and blessing). One night he saw the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) appear to him in a dream and convey his pleasure with the poem – the blessed prophet took his cloak and put it on Imam Busiri. The next day Imam Busiri (rah) was miraculously cured and his paralysis lifted. Hence the naming of the poem by the populace, and the name that stuck. Beautiful detail about Qasid Burdah can be found here and audio of the recitation of it in entirety with translation.  I will quote a few sentences from there below;

It reached unsurpassed fame, where it was taught, copied, distributed, recited, transcribed on mosque walls, memorized, commented on, studied, and considered required reading by countless scholars. The Burda was engraved on the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, where it adorned the walls for centuries before being erased by people who could not comprehend it. There is still one line left that has not been removed: “He is the beloved, whose intercession is hoped for….to overrun every terrible horror” (on the day of resurrection)

The poem is usually given as ~300 lines arranged in 10 sections, and each verse ends with the letter ‘meem’. In Arabic poetic forms this is called a ‘meemiya’. I want to collect several renderings of Qasida Burdah to introduce the variety in the Muslim world, but this post is too long already. And I have just found a wonderful interview online with the author of the best English translation of Qasida Burdah currently available, and a person I am honored to say I have studied briefly with.

So below is an interview with and a recent ‘recital’ of the Burdah by the western world’s well known scholar Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad, also known as Dr. Tim Winter, professor of Islamic studies at Cambridge University (and one of my favouritest scholars – such a purely scholarly soul in every sense of the word. If you ever have the time youtube one of his talks, I promise you, you won’t be bored!). He sings in an ‘olde English’ style I grew up with and love. I don’t know the technical term for it though.

In this interview, he beautifully explains the traditional Muslim civilization’s celebration of poetry and the qasida tradition as well as the metaphysical realities to do with Quranic recitation.

And his rendition of it in ‘olde English’, which I love

Stay tuned for future posts with other renditions of the Qasida Burdah ‘bi ithnillahi ta’ala’ (= with the permission of God, the most high).

God’s blessing be with you.

‘Salawat’ – a musical tradition in Islam

Assalamu alaikum dear readers, peace be with you,

There is a great musical tradition in Islam, one that the West knows little of. One that spans a multitude of styles, genres and ages. From the deep rhythm of African drums to the mournful haunting melodies of Central Asia to the lyrically joyful sounds of the Indonesian percussion to the complex soothing majesty of the middle eastern Oud, Santoor and Violin, there has been a wealth of musicality in the Muslim world. Most of these classical traditions revolve around ‘salawat’ (=sending prayers upon the prophet, peace be upon him), and many are the lengthy poems and odes sung in every part of the world in praise of Muhammed, the beloved messenger (peace be upon him, his family and his followers). I will hope to collect a few of these genres together soon to give you a glimpse into this rich tradition.

There is a difference of opinion among Muslims as to the permissibility of Muslic in Islam. Islam is more commonly understood as a way of life among its adherents rather than a religion (see this post where I detail this better) and therefore everything in life has a law attached to it. The default state of everything is that it is permissible and only exceptions are forbidden. This is the classical scholarly understanding. The burden of proof always falls on rendering something invalid rather than the other way around. However I am sure all my Muslim readers would have come across the so called ‘haram police’ at least once in their life. These are the self-righteous self-appointed ‘scholars’ who would have you think that everything was forbidden and the burden of proof was on rendering validity (yet another symptom of the disease of lack of sound knowledge of Islam among Muslims nowadays). These people suck the joy out of life, and that is rather strange that they claim it is Islamic, when we know that the prophet (peace be upon him) was one of the most positive cheerful kind gentle accommodating of people, always smiling and always benevolent.

For myself, I have never found in my practice of Islam, anything except for joy, and that ever present sense of deep peace, which especially is strengthening during those difficult times that this life is bound to be peppered with.

So as to the permissibility of Music – the strictest opinion is that only using the human voice is allowed, the next lenient one is that the voice and percussion (some specify exactly which type of drum) is allowed, the next lenient one is that any instrument is allowed. However for all of the above, there is a consensus that the lyrics/message of the music must be ‘sound/wholesome/good/halal’. In other words ludity, lyrics that encourage impermissible actions, disturb the heart (e.g., violence, ugliness) etc. are to be absent in order for it to be allowable to partaken in.

About this difference in opinion – what is important to note is that scholarly difference of opinion is always respected and one may choose the opinion that suits one. One may disagree with another Muslim’s stance but one is not allowed to impose one’s way on the other. The latter point should be underlined, such is the sad state of lack of Islamic knowledge among Muslims these days that many do not know this principle, and a lot of unnecessary argumentation and much worse ensues. There are a vast number of issues upon which opinions differ in the Muslim’s life, and this is not a problem or should not be.

Music affects different people in different ways.  I have always found it healing and spiritually very uplifting. Someone once told me that ‘music is mathematics in motion’. This makes perfect sense to me. I have always adored mathematics…it is as they say ‘the language to understand the divine’ – of course mathematics will only lead us to a glimpse of divine truths, as a complete understanding of the divine is not possible in this lifetime given the limitations of our brain, and only God knows if it will ever be possible!

After all, while we all know that there is a concept called ‘infinite’ do we really *know* what that means? So can we really ever comprehend an infinite being? In mathematics it is proven that any number divided by infinity equals zero, and thus we say that anything or anyone compared to God, who is infinite, equals nothing! Hence the deeply spiritual person’s moving to a state of being devoid of  ‘ego’ (a good way to recognize a true teacher from a false one). This is why we also emphasize the oneness of God.. Mathematically, one (as in the absolute ‘one’..here I am talking about the concept of singularity) is the only number that cannot be divided…were it to be divided, it would not be one, and were it capable of being divided, then it would by definition have a limit, and what is limited is not infinite and hence cannot be God. These are some brief points to note on why mathematics has always been a cherished science in the Muslim world, and why Muslim scholars of old have recognized the power of music, being that ‘mathematics in motion’.

In the Islamic Golden age (when Algebra was invented) Muslim art always used geometrical patterns for that same reason – using pattern work to symbolize eternity and using the mathematical ratios of sides to symbolize the oneness of God. So that one who looks upon this pattern work is transported ‘out of the body, freeing the mind so as to catch a glimpse’…thereby making art a means to ‘know’ God, so to Islamic music has sought to transcend or elevate the limits of human consciousness.

That long preamble done, I wanted to share with you a piece from the ‘Firdous ensemble’. A very unique group of musicians who are blending different musical genres to produce what to me is a marvelous rendition of classical Islamic musical works. They are based in modern day Spain and strive to bring back to life the spirit of old Andalusia. A spirit some have argued this fractured world of the so called ‘clash of civilizations’ is much in need of rekindling. A place and time when people of different faiths, cultures and ideas lived and worked side by side, in what some historians have called was ‘the closest thing to paradise created on earth’.

So here is the Firdous ensemble. They are singing in praise of the prophet (peace be upon him)

They combine traditional and modern elements, even incorporating some celtic fiddle work in certain pieces! It’s best enjoyed with headphones. You can youtube more of their work, here are two clips I particularly like-

1. Salawat Dimashqiyya –

salawat = sending prayers upon the prophet (peace be upon him) and Dimashqiyya = from Damascus. It must be an ancient piece, or perhaps it is their name for it. I will translate what I can for your enjoyment and better appreciation below;

Begins with recitation from Quran, Surah 49, ayat 13 and Surah 33, ayat 56

49:13
(Quran 49:13) Sahih International Interpretation

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and 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.

33:56
(Quran 33:56) Sahih International Interpretation

Indeed, Allah confers blessing upon the Prophet, and His angels [ask Him to do so]. O you who have believed, ask [ Allah to confer] blessing upon him and ask [ Allah to grant him] peace.

@min 2:24 various salawat in Arabic…

refrain – “la ilaaha illallaah” = there is no God but God

@min 5.56 – singing in turkish (?)

@min 6.14 chorus –

“hasbi rabbi jallalah, maafi qalbi ghairullah = sufficient is my Lord, the majestic, for me, there is none in my heart except God/

“nur Muhammed sallallah, la ilaaha illallah” = The light of Muhamed (peace and blessing be upon him), there is no God but God.

refrain – “la ilaaha illallaah” = there is no God but God

end – “Muhammed rasullullah” = Muhammed is the messenger of God.

A recitation of the opening chapter of the Quran, Al-Fatiha = ‘the opening’ is given at the end as is often customary.

2. Madha Morisco – Morisco was the name give to Muslims who lived in Spain after the Reconqista. The video has subtitles and and an explanation. This one I find rather poignant, as there is some reason to believe I may have partially descended from the Moriscoes. Perhaps this geneticist should sequence her genome to find out! Enjoy :)

Al-Jabbar (the Compeller) and a NCCM op-ed

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you) dear readers,

NCCM (the National Council of Canadian Muslims), published an Op-Ed in the Toronto Star. It addresses the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the rise in Islamophobia since (I was surprised to find the police visit our local small mosque in the middle of Vancouver on Friday after prayers – they came to check if all was okay, and I was glad they did). It is a well written piece, and in my opinion, balanced. It is also vital to share. Here is a link. I will append the text below as well. And here is a related article that came in The Star titled ‘Using free speech as a cloak for anti-Muslim bigotry‘ well worth a read.

My views on what happened I gave in the previous post and they are clear and unequivocal. I will never accept any killing of the innocent in the name of Islam. This is completely condemned by the example of our prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) and will always be by myself, a proud follower of the way of life he taught. I owe every good thing in my life to Islam and to his sunnah (=way of life/example/teaching) and God is my witness to the truth of that statement. May his good name be cleansed of all the dirt thrown upon it! by those who call themselves Muslims especially, and otherwise.

And that dirt thrown is nothing new. I was contemplating to share some stories of the many abuses he faced during his lifetime in a post. But I was lacking the energy to begin, the news makes one have to fight dejection you see… when by God’s grace, I came upon this, an old post on joymanifest that really was a re-posting of an article from SuhaibWebb.com, now virtualmosque.com (great site to bookmark by the way).

The post talks about one of the ‘names’ of God, al Jabbar. And it gives one of the most memorable stories from the life of the blessed beloved (peace be upon him) of when he was vilified, persecuted and tested the most. From that post

The root of al-Jabbar is ja-ba-ra and has a wide variety of meanings indicating Allah’s strength and majesty, which Sr. Amatullah explained to us in this excellent article. One of the basic meanings of this name is the One who compels and restores, and demonstrates Allah’s Majesty and Strength over His servants. This is a Name for the tyrants and oppressors to be aware of, because their misdeeds will not go unpunished.

Yet this Name has another dimension: al-Jabbar is the One who is able to restore and mend what is broken. Some of the great scholars would supplicate “Ya Jaabir kul kaseer” when they were faced with overwhelming difficulty, meaning “Oh You who mends everything that is broken.” The Arabic word for a splint that is used to help an arm heal when it is broken is “jibeera” from the same root ja-ba-ra. Thus, when we feel broken, we need to go to the only One who can mend our state–al-Jabbar.

Muslims believe there is only one God, but He has many ‘names’ or attributes. He is, in His attributes the same as in His essence, He is one and nothing is like Him, He is eternal without beginning and forever without end, utterly limitless, ever-sustaining but not-sustained. So His attributes are like His essence – they are not sustained, not limited, and none equals Him in them. For example, His love is not like human love, it does not tire, does not need, does not flag nor wane, does not grow impatient. He is utterly exalted above any defect, for defect implies limit and God is limitless. So the same in Allah’s quality of ‘jabara’, hard to translate but commonly translated as ‘compeller’. When we let go of our ego’s drive to control and let God take over, then we truly see this quality manifested. I have encountered (in my own life and that of others) so many examples of this, it is too numerous to mention. But we must let go completely for this to happen and we must trust completely too.

And the story,

The example of the Prophet ﷺ is a beautiful one. Imagine being 50 years old, having just lost both your wife of twenty-five years and your uncle who took care of you as a child. Imagine walking into a town in order to ask people for their protection, and instead have them throw stones at you until your feet bleed. How would you have felt? How exhausted, both spiritually and physically, would you have been? And yet, the Prophet ﷺ calls out to Allah in one of the most beautiful and heartfelt du`a’ (supplication):

“O Allah! To you alone I complain my weakness, my scarcity of resources, and the humiliation I have been subjected to by people. O Most Merciful of those who have mercy! You are the Lord of the weak, and You are My Lord too.

To whom have you entrusted me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy to whom you have granted authority over my affair?

But as long as You are not angry with me, I do no care, except that Your favor is a more expansive relief to me. I seek refuge in the light of Your Face by which all darkness is dispelled and every affair of this world and the next is set right, lest Your anger or Your displeasure descend upon me.

Yours is the right to reproach until You are pleased. There is no power and no might except by You.”

Read those words carefully. The du`a’ of the Prophet ﷺ was not “O Allah, please give me x and y.” It was literally the call of someone broken– complaining to Allah of his situation and expressing to Allah how he felt. What did Allah give him? A young boy by the name of Addaas saw the Prophet ﷺ, came to him with some grapes and kissed his bleeding feet. That is al-Jabbar. Imagine how the Prophet ﷺ must have felt after that, the relief he must have felt after the cruelty he was subjected to. And al-Jabbar healed the broken heart of the Prophet ﷺ in another way – He bestowed upon him the miraculous journey of al-Israa wal Mi’raaj (when the Prophet ﷺ traveled from Makkah to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem to the Heavens in one night).

Arabic is considered a divine language, able to capture meaning unlike many others. A language created as all things are, by the Creator (nothing comes from nothing after all, and the One Sustainer is never sustained but all else is sustained, as there is nothing like the One) in order to communicate truths in amazing layers of meaning. I am a novice student of it but I am completely overwhelmed by its depth and grandeur. In Arabic, the word for patience, ‘sabr’ can be traced to a ‘mother quality’ that implies courage. It is not the passive letting-go of the English ‘patience’. But rather the hard ‘I will keep it in’, the ‘stoicism’ of the English. We Muslims need to be more patient. We need to make more du’a, clean up our hearts more, help our youth, teach our children, mend our homes. Let us also pray the rest of the world lets us get on with our work in peace.

Here is the article from NCCM below, I want to second them on this line especially, and note my gratitude to CBC for their principled approach – “Much of Canadian media should be lauded for their principled stand in declining to print the magazine’s incendiary cartoons. We can take a cue from their decision. As democratic societies we need to demand mutual respect and understanding, and reject the purveyors of intolerance.”

God’s peace and blessing be upon you all.

Charlie Hebdo just meeting demand for Islamophobia

By: Abbas Kassam Published on Sun Jan 18 2015
Charlie Hebdo has long operated on the fringes and is now only popular for doing what seems to be in vogue — being Islamophobic. Many of the magazine’s cartoons were plainly bigoted and unnecessarily inflammatory. They depicted Muslims as brown-skinned and turban-wearing violent misogynists. The cartoons reinforced harmful stereotypes about Muslims and were designed to shock.
But let’s be clear: nothing is more offensive and denigrating to the conscience and to Islam than murdering people for their views. Canadian Muslims have categorically condemned the attack on Charlie Hebdo. The killers despicably claimed they were avenging the Prophet Muhammad — but they betrayed the Prophet’s message of mercy and peaceful coexistence.
Freedom of speech protects Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish all of its cartoons, even if highly offensive. The magazine should be critiqued in the same forum, the media, using the same weapon, the pen.
But the debate should not be focused around freedom of speech. Free expression is a near-absolute in our western democracies. It is a protected right and for good reason. It is premised on a free market of ideas. Speech is allowed to enter the market, where it can be analyzed, debated and then accepted or rejected.
Yet, the magazine and its supporters are just meeting the market demand for Islamophobia. It is now popular in our discourse to pitch western values against radical Islamists (no matter how empty these terms are). Charlie Hebdo met this demand in the worst possible way.
It is questionable whether the cartoons were even satirical. Satire is a classical tool of those without power to shed light on the weaknesses of the powerful. Satire is not about perpetuating negative stereotypes about a disenfranchised minority. Ultimately, Charlie Hebdo was promoting the very stereotypes it was supposedly trying to satirize. This might work as a business model, but it is detrimental for society.
French Muslims, by all indicators, are a stigmatized community. Close to half of the prison population in France is Muslim, even though Muslims make up only about 8-10 per cent of the French population. A large portion of French Muslims are immigrants who have trouble integrating into society due to systemic barriers such as employment discrimination.
Publishing incendiary cartoons that perpetuate the “otherization” of a minority in France leads to social divisions and is disgraceful to the genre of satire.
The Muslim community in France does not have a strong voice in the marketplace of speech. Contrast this with criticism and caricatures considered to be anti-Semitic that were published in 2008 by then Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Maurice Sinet. Sinet was asked to issue an apology, which he refused to do, and he was subsequently fired by the magazine.
There is similar precedent in Canada. In March 2014, federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay asked a local Nova Scotia paper to apologize for printing a cartoon of a flag with a Nazi swastika flying over the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. MacKay called the cartoon “deeply offensive, outrageous, insulting and completely inappropriate.”
It is essential that we also collectively reject the demand for Islamophobic material because it harms our valued social cohesion. As Canadians, we are living in a society that promotes tolerance and cohesion, not discrimination. However, Islamophobia stigmatizes Muslim communities, disenfranchises and isolates them from the mainstream. This creates conditions ripe for extremist radicalization, which has proven to be a danger to all of us, including Muslims themselves. And violence then creates demand for a response. This reaction can sometimes lead to the erosion of civil liberties and decreased freedoms for everyone.
Much of Canadian media should be lauded for their principled stand in declining to print the magazine’s incendiary cartoons. We can take a cue from their decision. As democratic societies we need to demand mutual respect and understanding, and reject the purveyors of intolerance. This may not sound as interesting or exciting as the clash of civilizations framework, but it is a long-term investment in our shared future.s
Abbas Kassam is on the Human Rights Committee at the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

A ‘rahma’ to the worlds

Assalamu alaikum dear readers, peace be with you,

I have been on the fence about posting re what went on in Paris. Without doubt nor hesitation I say those people who perpetrated that bloodbath have nothing to do with me and I have nothing to do with them. It seems hardly necessary for me to state that, but such are the confusing and confused times we live in, where truth is twisted into falsehood and falsehood masquerades as truth, that I must state this over and over again.

Now having said that, I will fall silent except to say two things – that below is the text of a speech a dear sister of mine sent me recently and with her permission I post it here. She speaks to this and speaks from the heart, so I am honored that she lets me share her words. She would like to be known by ‘Umm Zakir’ (=the mother of Zakir, it is a Muslim custom that adults will take on a ‘kunya’ or nickname that goes as ‘mother of’ or ‘father of’ and it is usually their first born child’s name used in this form though that is not essential. It is considered a mark of honor and modesty to be addressed as such. I personally love it) and she is a fellow Canadian Muslimah (=female of Muslim is muslimah)

The second to say is that this is a month of great joy as it is the birth month of the blessed prophet (peace be upon him). He was born in the 3rd month of the Muslim calendar which in the year of his birth, 610 CE, would have been in spring time. Pre-islamic Arabs followed a lunar calendar but would add days so that the lunar calendar followed the solar (i.e, the months in the lunar calendar did not change through the years). Islam abolished that and since its advent the lunar calendar does not shadow the solar, hence Rabiul Awwal (the name of the 3rd month in the lunar calendar) moves across the year now, and it falls this year in the winter. So it is a month of great joy typically…and this year we have the greatest sorrow – that so called Muslims would carry out in the name of our beloved (peace and blessing of God upon him) what he would forbid and abhor, and that his good name continues to be besmirched and disparaged beyond the limits of what is civilized.

So may we grow in patience and grow in the personality, taking on the ‘colours’ of the beloved messenger of God who is given the title ‘habibullah’ (=the beloved of God), our master Muhammed (peace be upon him). While other of the noble prophets (peace be upon them all), and we consider them all the best of humankind, were given titles of honor in the Quran, such as ruhullah (=word/spirit of God) for our beloved Isa (=Jesus, peace be upon him), and kaleemullah (=the one to whom God spoke) for our beloved Musa (=Moses, peace be upon him) and khalilullah (=the intimate friend of God) for our beloved Ibraheem (=Abraham, peace be upon him), none was given the title of ‘beloved of God’ except Muhammed, who is called in the Quran, a ‘rahma’ to the worlds.

Rahma is often translated as ‘mercy’ in English. But it means much more, I have blogged on this before, it means everything from cherishing protection to love to nurturing care…and since he is the seal of prophethood, the last of the messengers of God, guidance sent through him is for all people and all time till this world comes to an end.

Here is the text of the speech of Umm Zakir, Allah bless and increase my beloved sister! (I have added a footnote for abbreviations used, and extremely moderately edited the text toward the end)

***

Introduction:
I am honored to be speaking during this special time to all of you special people. Know that was is true and beneficial comes from Allah SWT alone and what is incorrect is from me.

IRONY/IGNORANCE
-It is a great irony that in the month of Rabbi awwal, the month that our beloved Prophet Muhammad SAW was sent as MERCY to the worlds, violent  and dark-hearted people took REVENGE on his (SAW) name and killed innocent people without due process.

To layer irony upon irony, these people who were supposedly representing Muslims, defending and protecting the honor of Muhammad (SAW) also known as Ahmed (the praiseworthy one), in the end shot a police officer by that very name, Ahmad (May Allah have mercy upon his soul and give patience to his family). So the defenders of Ahmad, in their very act of defending him, in fact murdered Ahmed. SubhanAllah! (=glory to God, we often say this when we are stupefied/amazed/stunned) This is not a mere coincidence but a wake up call…

All of this along with other recent events:
-Boko Haram slaughtering 2,000 Nigerians,
-The Taliban massacring close to a 150 people, most being children in Peshawar.
All of this should cause us to pause and reflect…what is happening to our great legacy?

 

Even though such people say that they are avenging the “supposed” insult that was inflicted on our Prophet (SAW), if they knew anything of the Prophet’s life they would have known that this was not true to the way he (SAW) lived nor what he (SAW) taught. Such a terrible act contradicted his very essence.

And that is the problem, the crisis of our time—: ignorance and the darkness that it spreads. And as long as we remain ignorant of our religion, we too will remain in the dark. It is no longer good enough to know that all of these acts are wrong instinctually, in our gut, but we all must know why they are wrong.

LOVE/RAHMA
All of this violence, this hatred, this hard heartedness comes from a place that lacks love/Rahma and it is love that many scholars including Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah have argued is THE signature of Islam—it is the defining character of our deen, our very way of life.

Islam is the religion of Love. And fittingly, the Quran teaches that Prophet Muhammad is “the prophet of Love.” God shows love to the loving and withholds it from those who hold it back from others.

Therefore, The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said:
“People who show rahma to others will be shown rahma by the All-Merciful. Be merciful/have love to those on earth, and He who is in heaven will be merciful/be loving to you.”1 (TirmidhÏ, Sahih)

In his article, “Mercy: the stamp of creation,” Dr. Abd-Allah explains, “this teaching is so important, it was considered the bedrock of our dealings with ourselves and others, that it was called the “Tradition of Primacy.” In other words, it was the very first tenant taught by Classical Muslim scholars and it was the first tenant that students had to memorize with it’s isnad, it’s chain of narration/transmission going back to The Prophet (SAW).

ALLAH’s MERCY
Islamic scriptures emphasize that Rahma—above other divine attributes—is God’s hallmark in creation and make up His interaction of the world from it’s beginning through eternity.

It is no coincidence that one of the most oft mentioned attributes of Allah SWT in the Quran is Ar-Rahman. In Islam, the All-Merci- ful/Loving (ar-Rahman) and the Love/Mercy-Giving (ar-Rahim) may be said to be the greatest names of God after Allah.

As Dr. Abd-Allah explains, “Of all His names, they are most descriptive of his relation to the world and emphasize His will in the salvation of history throughout eternity to benefit creation and ultimately bring about the triumph of supreme good over evil.”

THE PROPHET OF MERCY
The Prophet SAW is introduced in the Qur’an in these words:
[And We have not sent you forth but as a mercy to humankind. ] 
(Al-Anbiyaa’: 107)
And also The Qur’an says of him: “We did not send you but as a special mercy to all the worlds.”7 (Qur’An 21:71)

The Prophet, himself stated:
 “In certainty, I was not sent to bring down curses; I was only sent as a special mercy.” (Recorded in Muslim)

Describing Prophet Muhammad’s beautiful and gentle demeanor, Dr. Abd-Allah writes:
Muhammad (SAW) played with children, showed a kind humor toward adults, and even gave his followers friendly nicknames. He visited the sick, asked about the welfare of neighbors, friends, followers, and even those who disbelieved in him. He was always willing to forgive, rarely chastising those who disobeyed him. AND He did not restrict his mercy to his followers. In today’s time, this understanding is especially important.

The Hadith of the JEW
One day in Medina, he was sitting with his Companions, who later related: “A funeral procession passed us by, and the Prophet, may God
bless and keep him, stood up so we all stood up because he had. Then we said: ‘O Messenger of God, it is only the funeral procession of a Jew.’ He replied: ‘Was he not a human being?’” (narrated in Bukhari and Muslim)

His (SAW) mercy did not only encompass all of humankind but also all of creation, including animals. So we here this beautiful story:

The Hadith of the DOG
When the Prophet (SAW) “conquered” Mecca peacefully. As he approached the city with the largest army ever assembled on the Arabian Peninsula till that time, he noticed a wild dog on the roadside nursing her litter and told one of his Companions, Ju’ayl ad-Damari (rA), to stand guard near her so that the entire army could pass without disturbing her or the pups.

In some sense, he was one of the first animal activists.
His Rahma was so special that it even extended to the natural world of trees.
So in some ways, he (SAW) may have been the first environmentalist understanding nature and giving each of Allah’s creation its due respect and care.

Story of the TREE:
In medina, during the period when the Muslims were a nascent community, it is narrated that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) used to lean against a date palm tree-trunk when he delivered his Friday sermons/qutbas. Upon seeing this a woman offered to have pulpit/minbar built for him (SAW). Prophet Muhammad graciously accepted. But the next week when he stood on the minbar to deliver his qutba (=sermon), everyone begins to hear a moaning, wailing, sound full of anguish and pain. The sound only subsided when Prophet Muhammad (SAW) stepped down from the pulpit and embraced the date palm tree-trunk he used to lean on. That date-palm trunck missed his leaning so much it was groaning and moaning! And the blessed beloved considered the feelings of a tree so much, he stopped his sermon to go and hug it. What is miraculous about the narration is that everyone present there heard the sound and witnessed the event. It is a mutawaatir Hadith (=a hadith whose authenticity cannot be doubted. This is the highest classification of authenticity given a hadith in the vast science of classification of ahadith, or narrations from the life of the beloved, peace be upon him). So many have reported it through so many chains of narration its authenticity has always been considered unshakable even by the scholars most averse to acknowledging the supernatural. It reveals as to the deep spiritual connection that the best of creation had with the rest of Allah’s creation.

The correct definition of MERCY:
How do we define Mercy?
English,
-forgiving,
-setting things right
 -after the fact
But in Arabic it is far more encompassing:
-it includes being forward thinking,
-quality that makes a break with the past
-fosters new beginnings
-and constantly thinks of actions that give the best benefit of the future.

[-that is why though the word ‘rahma’ is often translated as mercy it is better defined as love. Arabic has many words for love, far more than English. Rahma is a special form of that love – a word used in Arabic to denote the love of a mother to a child.]

Conclusion:
Mercy is Hope. And in today’s time, we need to be agents of Mercy, we need to be inspired by hope all working for a tomorrow that will be better. There is not a better time to start than now, the month of Rabbi awwal, where the special gift of Mercy was bestowed upon all of humankind. So let’s not allow blood and hatred, darkness and ignorance to stain this month, let’s be people of life and love, light and knowledge as we not only celebrate his (SAW) legacy but we also continue his legacy. And let’s give Him (SAW) the gift that he deserves—that when people look at us, and deal with us, you and I, they say, we want to know more about this man, Muhammad, and this religion of Islam. IA.

For a more in-depth examination of the theme of Mercy as a stamp of creation, please see Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah’s brilliant article.
***
SWT (= Subhahana wa ta’ala, glory be to Him and He is the exalted – a phrase used when speaking of God)
SAW (= sallalaahu alaihi wasallam, may the blessing and peace of God be upon him, a blessing we send upon Muhammed, whenever we mention his name)

 

Synopsis – the heart in Islam

Dear readers, Assalamu aliakum (peace be with you)

I have not been able to blog for a long while. Travel and sickness prevented me from doing so. I wanted to fulfill a promise, and post here the text of a speech I delivered by God’s grace, at a local event celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr, the festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Here is the text of the speech. I hope you will find it beneficial. May God’s peace and blessing be with you.

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Subhahanallahi wa alhamdulillaahi wa la ilaha illallahu wa allahu akber

Allahumma salli ala sayyidina wa habeebina wa shafee’ina Muhammed wa ala a’ali Muhammed

 I begin in the name of God, the most loving-gracious and the love giving

We praise Him, thank Him, exalt Him and we ask Him to shower His blessing upon His beloved, the messenger of God, Muhammed and upon the family of Muhammed for all time

Overview of Islam as a faith tradition – its purpose and method

The Arabic word, Islam, which literally means, ‘submission’ is closely related in lexicology to the Arabic word, ‘salam’, which means peace. Thus, Muslims (=‘those who are in a condition of being in Islam’) are people who have found peace by submitting their wills to the will of their Creator, God. The One and Only.

The Quran, is a text that has been miraculously preserved for 1400+ years since it was first revealed to the chosen one, Muhammed, the messenger of God, upon whom be peace. It is the foundational scripture for Muslims along with the hadith collections; which are meticulously researched and recorded sayings and reports of the behavior of the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him. In the Quran, God, the exalted and high, says

 وَمَا خَلَقۡتُ ٱلۡجِنَّ وَٱلۡإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعۡبُدُونِ

Wama khalaqtu aljinna wal-insailla liyaAAbudoon

“And I did not create the spirit-beings and the human-kind except that they worship me”

Quran 51:56

Therefore our purpose is to worship God. Worship entails that one make one’s desires completely in accordance to pleasing the one being worshipped. The Arabic word here translated as ‘worship’ comes from the root word ‘a’bada’ which literally means to adore, serve, venerate. To be in a state of what Muslims often term ‘slavehood’ as that denotes the complete surrender of one’s free-will, or to put in a term consonant with the times and Western tradition, to be a ‘devotee’.

As an example of how this philosophy is a foundation of Muslim thought, tradition and lifestyle- a  Muslim name common for men is ‘Abdullah’, which means to be the ‘slave or devotee of God’. It is considered one of the best names to give one’s child. It was also the name of the father of Muhammed, the blessed messenger of God (peace be upon him). Therefore the concept of worshiping  the one God predates the advent of the Quran as revelation (in the Quran, the first time the word ‘Muslim’ is used, is to refer to the prophet Abraham peace be upon him, who is called ‘Muslim’, i.e., one is complete obedience to God).

One who practices Islam, attempts to be in a constant state of service or slave-hood to his or her Maker. This is considered to be the only state that brings about complete peace in the heart, as the human being was created with the sole intention of worship and fulfilling the purpose of one’s creation brings a state of incredible serenity in the heart. Like a car functions best when it is used to get from A to B, as opposed to trying to sleep in it or some such, or a software will only run as it should when used for the purpose it was coded for, the human being also functions at a state of true well-being when he or she acts in accordance with the purpose of his or her creation. Being in this state of worship or slave-hood to God, means that one’s heart is at complete peace, rest and tranquility no matter what one’s external situation is, whether that of trial and hardship or that of plenty and ease. This is the state of the heart that Islam, when practiced as it should be, engenders in the practitioner.

Therefore many see Islam as a way of life rather than a religion. And the leader of this way, who exemplified it was the messenger of God, Muhammed peace be upon him. Muslims try to follow his example in every aspect of their lives as he was sent to teach how to ‘live’ the Quran. He was a father, a grandfather, a husband, a merchant, a shepherd, a leader, a statesman, a general…his life is extraordinary in that it included so many roles, and in all of this, he was always in complete submission to God. There is not an intimate detail of his life not recorded. All is available for Muslims to learn and try to implement. Thus, Muslims try to emulate in him in every respect, and may God’s best blessing be upon him and his family for all time.

In the Muslim way of life, everything is ruled by a code of whether it is permissible – halal in Arabic or impermissible – haram in Arabic. The halal is further categorized as ‘fard’ = obligatory, ‘mustahab’= recommended, ‘mubah’= neutral, and ‘makruh’ = disliked. In general the scholars say all matters are halal except for what is haram. I.e., everything is permissible, except for what is forbidden. Fasting in the month of Ramadan is a fard, it is an obligation upon one who practices Islam, and it is one of the main five pillars of the faith.

A careful and detailed study of all that is halal and haram in Islam (which I do not have time to go into here) will show that each of these injunctions are engineered to carry the slave closer to her or his maker, by acting to purify the self/heart of vices and adorning it with virtue. Thereby also building safe and wholesome communities where the beauty of humanity is cultivated and expressed. A well-known hadith of the beloved (peace be upon him) is “God is beautiful and He loves beauty”. So then how is a heart not beautiful/pure to know God, this is why the constant emphasis on purifying the heart via the Islamic code of life. On the civilizational level, the Arabic word for civilization, ‘Al-Hadara’ comes from an Arabic root word which means ‘to be present’. A sound strong lasting civilization is built upon the collective presence of the people with their Creator.

Ibn Khaldun, a famous Muslim historian of 14th century, in his analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, spoke of the cyclical nature of Muslim civilization. When Muslims put God at the forefront and live the way of life with sincerity, the outcome is great, peaceful long-lasting civilizations. However this stage often equates with great wealth, which brings about laxity in spiritual and religious practice, resulting in the people forgetting God and going into a state of hedonism which then brings about the collapse of the civilization. Repentant, the people turn back to God, and God, the Most Merciful, always raises them up again. The Muslim world, it may be said, is at a very low-point on this cycle and we pray the Muslims will return to God and security and peace will re-enter Muslim lands.

Men and women in Islam

Let me now speak briefly about men and women in Islam, as this is a deeply misunderstood topic in the west. In the Islamic world view I have so far briefly outlined, if you have noticed nowhere has there been any mention of a difference in how men and women are viewed by the faith. The default state is equality of the sexes. The Quran speaks of Adam and Eve, who are ‘Aa-dam’ and ‘Hawwa’ in the Arabic rendering of the names as the first human beings. All Muslims consider them to be our parents and we consider Adam to be first prophet (peace be upon him).

God the most high, relates the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in the Quran and speaks of the eating of the ‘forbidden fruit’. In the Quranic narrative;

Quran 2: 35-36

وَقُلۡنَا يَـٰٓـَٔادَمُ ٱسۡكُنۡ أَنتَ وَزَوۡجُكَ ٱلۡجَنَّةَ وَكُلَا مِنۡهَا رَغَدًا حَيۡثُ شِئۡتُمَا وَلَا تَقۡرَبَا هَـٰذِهِ ٱلشَّجَرَةَ فَتَكُونَا مِنَ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ (٣٥) فَأَزَلَّهُمَا ٱلشَّيۡطَـٰنُ عَنۡہَا فَأَخۡرَجَهُمَا مِمَّا كَانَا فِيهِ‌ۖ وَقُلۡنَا ٱهۡبِطُواْ بَعۡضُكُمۡ لِبَعۡضٍ عَدُوٌّ۬‌ۖ وَلَكُمۡ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ مُسۡتَقَرٌّ۬ وَمَتَـٰعٌ إِلَىٰ حِينٍ۬ (٣٦)

Yusuf Ali interpretation-

We said: “O Adam! dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden; and eat of the bountiful things therein as (where and when) ye will; but approach not this tree, or ye run into harm and transgression.

“Then did Satan make them slip from the (garden), and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been. We said: “Get ye down, all (ye people), with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling-place and your means of livelihood – for a time.”

Thus the blame is shared by both equally. However it is to be noted that interestingly, the instruction to not eat from the tree is specifically addressed only to Adam (peace be upon him).

In several other places, God establishes the equality of the sexes by His revealed word. For example, the Quran states that

Quran 4:32

وَلَا تَتَمَنَّوۡاْ مَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بِهِۦ بَعۡضَكُمۡ عَلَىٰ بَعۡضٍ۬‌ۚ لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ۬ مِّمَّا ٱڪۡتَسَبُواْ‌ۖ وَلِلنِّسَآءِ نَصِيبٌ۬ مِّمَّا ٱكۡتَسَبۡنَ‌ۚ وَسۡـَٔلُواْ ٱللَّهَ مِن فَضۡلِهِۦۤ‌ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ ڪَانَ بِكُلِّ شَىۡءٍ عَلِيمً۬ا

Yusuf Ali Interpretation-

And in no wise covet those things in which Allah Hath bestowed His gifts More freely on some of you than on others: To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn: But ask Allah of His bounty. For Allah hath full knowledge of all things.

This verse teaches that women and men bear individual responsibility over their actions, their incomes, their abilities and how they use them. Women have always had the facility to work in the Muslim world, in fact the first wife of the prophet (peace be upon him), who was also the first person to embrace Islam, was a successful businesswoman prior to her marriage with the prophet (peace be upon him). She is Khadija, and in the Muslim world the title ‘al-kubra’ is appended to her name, meaning ‘the great’, so we call her Khadija al-kubra (God be pleased with her). She employed him and struck by his honesty and truthfulness, proposed marriage to him. The first person martyred for the faith was also a woman, a freed African slave woman, Sumaiiya (God be pleased with her) who was tortured and killed by her former master due to her practice of Islam.

Therefore two of the greatest honors possible in any faith tradition belong to women in Islam, in addition to countless others that this essay would run into several dozen pages were I to research and list them.

Having said that, I will briefly mention a few notable points below;

To begin, the verse quoted above appears in a chapter called ‘An-Nisa’, ‘the women’. When a chapter in the Quran is named after something, it elevates and honors that which it is named after. Thus womankind is uniquely honored by God in the Quran. In the Muslim society Muhammed (peace be upon him) established, women were granted the right to inherit property (centuries before many other societies) completely overturning pre-Islamic Arab norms that saw women as rather ‘goods to be inherited’. Women spoke freely in the mosques and took part in the running of the state. Women even fought in wars, one noted companion of the beloved (peace be upon him), Nusaybah (may God be pleased with her), is celebrated for her defense of the prophet (peace be upon him) when he was under attack in the battle of Uhud. She was a famed archer and skilled with the sword. When Umar (God be pleased with him), the second caliph of Islam was governing a rapidly expanding Muslim state, he chose two women to be the first ‘controllers of the market place’ in both Mekkah and Medina. Nowadays that would be equal to running the IMF or being appointed Minister of Finance. In the present day Muslim world, women are involved in all spheres of governance and society. They are free to be what they want, and are under no pressure to work if they do not want to. Unfortunately the media has given a very distorted view of this matter. I do not gloss over the Muslim societies where there is blatant oppression of women, however that is due to the absence of Islam in its correctly interpreted form rather than due to its presence.

Therefore equality of the sexes has never been an issue in the Muslim tradition. Islam has recognized that women and men have unique strengths and weaknesses. Both genders need nurturing in an atmosphere of love and compassion. In the Muslim conceptualization of God, we consider God to be, in His essence, exalted above any likeness whether to an image, a form, or even a concept. As God teaches us;

Quran 42:11, part of the ayah

لَيۡسَ كَمِثۡلِهِۦ شَىۡءٌ۬‌ۖ

‘ There is nothing whatsoever like Him’

Since we can’t conceptualize God, we instead learn about God via His attributes, which we often call ‘his names’. These too, do not come to us from our own minds, but rather from revelation. They are attributive titles God has revealed about Himself in the Quran. For example, He refers to Himself as ‘The most Loving’ – Al Wadud, ‘The most mercifully compassionate’ – Ar Raheem, ‘The most kind’ – Ar Rauf, ‘The most wise’ – Al Hakeem, ‘the giver of life’ – Al Muhyiy, ‘the taker of life’ – Al Mumit, and so forth. In Islamic theology, God’s attributes are the same as His essence in nature. That is, there is nothing like unto Him in His being ‘Ar -Rauf’ for example. To elaborate, the kindness of God is not like human kindness, it is not bound by space and time as we are, it is limitless, needing no sustanence, having no beginning and no end, as God himself is limitless, needing no substance, having no beginning nor end.

While His attributes are limitless, via revelation we know of roughly 100 of them. Approximately half of them are considered ‘names of majesty’ or ‘ism jalal’ and the other half are ‘names of beauty’ or ‘ism jamal’. The scholars say that the ism jamal and ism jalal depict the essential feminine and the essential masculine qualities. Both need to be balanced in the world.

To end then, Islam as a way of life, aims to bring the practitioner, female and male, as individuals and as societies to that heart level of purity required to be fully cognizant of the beauty and majesty of God. It aims to free us of false attachments and remove idols in the heart, instead suffusing the heart with a complete attachment, in loving adoring surrender to the Creator. To become as our scholars say ‘A’damic’ human beings, like Adam (peace be upon him), true vicegerents of God on earth. The type of human being, the angels were commanded to bow down to.

The imperative to purify the heart

In surah As-Shams (the Sun) God says

Quran 91:1-10,

Arabic is followed by transliteration and translation

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

In the name of God, the most loving-gracious and the love giving

وَٱلشَّمۡسِ وَضُحَٮٰهَا

Washshamsi waduhaha

By the Sun and his (glorious) splendour;

 وَٱلۡقَمَرِ إِذَا تَلَٮٰهَا

Walqamari itha talaha

By the Moon as she follows him;

وَٱلنَّہَارِ إِذَا جَلَّٮٰهَا 

Wannahari itha jallaha

By the Day as it shows up (the Sun’s) glory;

وَٱلَّيۡلِ إِذَا يَغۡشَٮٰهَا

Wallayli itha yaghshaha

By the Night as it conceals it;

وَٱلسَّمَآءِ وَمَا بَنَٮٰهَا 

Wassama-i wama banaha

By the Firmament and its (wonderful) structure;

وَٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَمَا طَحَٮٰهَا

Wal-ardi wama tahaha

By the Earth and its (wide) expanse:

 وَنَفۡسٍ۬ وَمَا سَوَّٮٰهَا

Wanafsin wama sawwaha

By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it

فَأَلۡهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا وَتَقۡوَٮٰهَا 

Faalhamaha fujooraha wataqwaha

And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right;-

قَدۡ أَفۡلَحَ مَن زَكَّٮٰهَا 

Qad aflaha man zakkaha

Truly he succeeds that purifies it,

 وَقَدۡ خَابَ مَن دَسَّٮٰهَا

Waqad khaba man dassaha

And he fails that corrupts it!

In our tradition, whenever God, the most High, the Exalted, swears by something it is a testament to the importance of the instruction to come. Here God, the Most High, the Loving, swears by 10 tremendous creations; the sun, the moon, the day, the night, the heavens, the earth, the soul, the order and proportion given to it, the enlightenment of the soul and the entities of right and of wrong, that the person who has corrupted his soul has indeed failed, while the person who has purified it has indeed succeeded. This suffices to impart the tremendous call to purify one’s heart, even though this concept is emphasized over and over again in the practices of the Islamic way of life.

The month of Ramadan is considered an honored guest and a great annual blessing. It is a time when the ‘gates of heaven are open and the devils are chained’. It is a time when Muslims are obligated to fast from dawn to dusk, not just restraining their physical appetites for food, drink and spousal relations but also learning to control and check the ailments of the heart such as tendencies to think bad thoughts about people, to gossip, backbite, slander etc. (all considered major sins in Islam) and to be hopeless or to despair (for how can one, who knows she or he has the protection of God, ever despair? Hopelessness according to our scholars, is a symptom of an ailment in the heart- namely, a faith that is too shallow )This enforced month of training is a much needed spiritual practice that exposes every Muslim, regardless of level of piety or religious knowledge, to a taste of the fruits of this self-discipline and training in purification. Other practices in Islam have the same goal.  I will not elaborate on them due to a shortness of time but here mentioned some words specifically on Ramadan due to occasion.

In Surah Shams we read about the success of the one who purifies his soul and the failure of the one who corrupts it. What is this success and what is this failure? The success and failure is both in this world and in the hereafter.

Muslims do believe in a life after death and we believe in heaven and in hell. Heaven we say, is a place for the pure. And we say the life after death is not like this life. Things are sometimes known by their opposites. This life is fleeting, it will end for us all. In this present life, always one finds happiness mixed with sadness and joy mixed with sorrow. While in the hereafter, life is eternal and joy and sorrow are in pure states. Heaven being a place of pure joy and hell being a place of pure sorrow. The ultimate joy of heaven is the closeness one has to God, and for the Muslim, to finally be able to ‘see’ or ‘know’ or understand God (something beyond our created ability in this world), while the ultimate sorrow of hell is to be veiled or prevented from this state.

Those masters of Islamic spirituality who have married their external practices, such as the 5 times prayer, fasting, giving the mandatory annual charity (zakat) etc. to those internal heart stages these practices are meant to inculcate such as selflessness, generosity and purity, are able to therefore overcome the caprices of the ego and surrender it more deeply to the will, care and protection of God. The one who reaches this state of a heart which then is in true closeness to its maker, tastes paradise on earth. And that is, by the permission and grace of God, a mark of that person being one who will taste of paradise eternally.

This is then, the ultimate purpose of living an Islamic way of life – that one attain a level of purity during one’s lifetime befitting a return to that pure home, where we all came from; God’s great heaven. These sentiments are given in the most beautiful terms in the final verses of the chapter titled ‘Fajr’ or dawn, where God addresses such a righteous content serene human soul on the day of judgement thus ;

Quran 89: 28-30

Arabic is followed by transliteration and translation

أَيَّتُہَا ٱلنَّفۡسُ ٱلۡمُطۡمَٮِٕنَّةُ

Ya ayyatuha annafsualmutma-inna

(To the righteous soul will be said:) “O (thou) soul, in (complete) rest and satisfaction!

ٱرۡجِعِىٓ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً۬ مَّرۡضِيَّةً۬ 

IrjiAAee ila rabbiki radiyatanmardiyya

“Come back thou to thy Lord,- well pleased (thyself), and well-pleasing unto Him!

فَٱدۡخُلِى فِى عِبَـٰدِى

Fadkhulee fee AAibadee

“Enter thou, then, among My devotees!

وَٱدۡخُلِى جَنَّتِى

Wadkhulee jannatee

“Yea, enter thou My Heaven!

 

May we all be of those who are blessed to hear these words on that day!

 

 

A conversation with women in Saudi Arabia

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you) dear readers,

The post I planned to write today is going to be superseded by sharing a clip that I think is vital to share. Especially given the rather troublesome news I received today. I am signed on to the NCCM, National Council of Canadian Muslims (if you are a Canadian Muslim and not part of this organization, I highly suggest you join them or support them in some capacity) mailing list, and came home to find in my inbox a condemnation issued by NCCM of the senseless attack on Canadian officers today in Quebec, by a self-proclaimed recent convert to Islam. Linked here.

This was alarming, the last thing one wants to see is a trend of radicalization in this peaceful country. There also seems to be a trend of new ‘converts’ to Islam joining a radical understanding of the faith. Easy to understand, given they have little knowledge or understanding of Islam. But how this brain-washing takes place, I am at a loss to understand. It is as if these so called converts are using Islam as a means to take out whatever social deconstruct they are suffering. Others have spoken with more data and eloquence on this trend, so I won’t go into it more.

My topic is related though. For if it is that these converts are ripe for the plucking by elements who want to abuse their sincerity, then the rest of us need to do more to stop this. Even more urgency for women to step up. The mosques are alarmingly empty of women in day-to-day activities. Women have always brought a nuanced and merciful understanding to any sphere of knowledge. Take the women away and the men are hard pressed to cope with the needs of the modern Muslim community.

I moved closer to a mosque recently and try to pray in it whenever I can. Often I am the only woman there. We women have to retake our place in our community-shaping and nation-building. I’ve run a halaqa (knowledge circle) for Muslim women for a few years. The amount of misconception among Muslim women as to their place in this tradition is astounding. Even from educated (I’m talking PhD educated), thinking females.

Therefore this candid interview, obviously filmed many years ago but only recently released to youtube, is a breath of fresh air. It’s a group of women, reverts and born-Mulsims living in Saudi Arabia, talking to Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, a well trained classical Muslim scholar. I am glad the issues in the community were called out openly and more glad to hear honest answers from a scholar.

Part 2 is especially important. So I will post it first. BTW, some of the comments on the videos are a telling reminder of how much still needs work in our community. So my sisters, today’s events are a fresh reminder of how we have little time to waste.

I especially want to highlight Sh. Hamza’s comments at about minute 8 of part 2. He speaks of his displeasure of reading books on ‘womens’ role in Islam’, as how they often say the ‘primary purpose of women is child-bearing’ he goes on to say, and I quote, “I mean, where is that in the Quran…I’ve never seen that, I’ve never seen a the hadith that says that. The primarily role of a woman is to know her Lord, like the primary role of a man is to know his Lord”  and he goes to elaborate. Indeed music to my ears! Indeed, reading those books as a teenager, even then I instinctively knew there was something not right there. I was studying my faith then, and I came to it very much by research and conviction (my journey to Islam will one day be a post inshaallah), and never in the 20 odd years I’ve studied this religion have I found anything in it that is not inherently leading to truth.

I hope you watch this. They are both very short. And please share widely.

Allah bless and help us all

 

part 2

 

part 1

 

 

Eid Mubarak!

Eid-ul-Adha Mubarak ! (=May it be a blessed festival of sacrifice)

Dear readers, Assalamu alaikum (=peace be with you)

The rights of the Hajj pilgrimage are over and it is time to celebrate. The hujjaj (=pilgrims) will be shaving their head or cutting locks of their hair off to symbolize their completion of the pilgrimage and soon the ‘udhhiya’ will be carried out. Udhhiya is the term given for the religious sacrifice of an animal, where each pilgrim must sacrifice a goat, sheep, cow or camel and distribute it’s meat to the poor. There are rules governing the distribution, with at least 1 third being obligated to be distributed to the poor.

This year, there would have been over 2 mill pilgrims amounting to about 500,000 sacrificial animals at least. It’s commendable that the Saudi government has put in place a system whereby the meat from this massive sacrifice is processed in modern facilities and then distributed to the poor of over 30 different countries. And though some of you may find this hard to believe there are plenty of people in many parts of the world where this is the only meat they see the whole year. I personally have heard of many such cases.

The sacrifice is an enactment of the willingness of the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him, the name is rendered ‘Ibraheem’ in Arabic) to sacrifice his son Ishma’el (peace be upon him, the name rendered ‘Isma’eel’ in Arabic) upon the command of God and Ishama’el’s willingness to comply. At the last minute, God sends down a ram to take the place of Ishma’el. There are many other events from the life of Abraham and his family (peace upon them all) that the hajj symbolizes, which I won’t go into here. And there are many places in the Quran where God, Exalted and High, speaks of these events. Here are one set of ayaath (=verses, literally ‘signs’). Interpretation in English from Sahih international, surah Saffat (=those arranged in ranks, or who set the ranks), verses 100-106

Bismillahi ar-rahman ar-raheem

In the name of God, the Most Loving, the Most Nurturing

37:100
My Lord, grant me [a child] from among the righteous.”
37:101
So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy.
37:102

And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, “O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.” He said, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.”

37:103

And when they had both submitted and he put him down upon his forehead,

37:104

We called to him, “O Abraham,

37:105

You have fulfilled the vision.” Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good.

37:106
Indeed, this was the clear trial.

 

The lesson from the Hajj is about trust I think. Certainly the sacrifice is all about trust. Both Abraham and his son (peace upon them both) completely trusting of the will of God and that it is good for them. The pilgrimage is arduous and one is forced into circumstances and situations where one’s usual ‘props’ are all taken away. Everyone dressed alike and stripped of all the illusion we surround our souls with in terms of material possessions, we are confronted with our humanity. Confronted with our utter need and dependency. No wonder all who go have something to say about this life-changing experience.

I was searching for a video to share for Eid, and I found this 8 min clip of thoughts shared by returning pilgrims. The last speaker said what I found to be especially enlightening.

 

Eid Mubarak once more! I leave you with a clip of the hujjaj performing their final circumbulation of the ka’aba, symbolizing many things, among which, the muslims willingness to rotate their life around the axis of God, and aligning oneself with the movements of the planets and constellation and galaxies that we also believe are rotating around the axis of the One Creator. They chant as they go the ‘eid takbeer’, which we also chant in our homes during the times of Eid as we celebrate with them.

 

Looking for Laylathul-Qadr

Assalamu alaikum, peace be with you all

I promised to blog about Laylathul Qadr. Layl means night in Arabic and Qadr is a word hard to translate. It can mean; power, destiny, highly valued, decree,  among other meanings, when used in this context. Laylathul Qadr, can therefore be rendered as ‘the extremely valuable or powerful night of divine determination’ or ‘the night of power’. It comes once in a year, in the month of Ramadan. The Quran was first revealed to the Messenger of God, Muhammed (peace and blessing of God be upon him) during Ramadan, and many believe laylathul Qadr is when it was first revealed.

We don’t know when the exact night is (and hence the title of this post :) ). There are valid scholarly opinions; it could be any of the nights of Ramadan, it could be in the last 10 nights of Ramadan or it could be among the odd numbered nights of the last 10 nights of Ramadan (i.e., 21st, 23rd, 25th night and so on). The majority favour the last two opinions. Scholars who do tafseer (=interpretation of the Quran) say these ayaath (=signs literally, but translated as verses in English) that open Surah Fajr (=chapter called ‘daybreak/dawn’) refer to laylathul Qadr. Again the English does not capture any of the rhyme or rhythm of the Arabic sadly…

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In the name of God, the most loving, the love-giving
 
By the dawn

 

And [by] ten nights

 

And [by] the even [number] and the odd

 

And [by] the night when it passes,

 

Is there [not] in [all] that an oath [sufficient] for one of perception?

[I have to say the scientist in me is fascinated by numbers and the methodology of numeracy. I find ayah number 3 – ‘by the even and odd contrasted’ deeply delightful and extremely intriguing. What is it about numbers and divisibility and what does this tell us about ‘unity’ – that ‘one-ness’ of God our whole deen or way of life, is so completely based on. So much to ponder on! subhahanallah = exalted be God]

 Reflecting on the fact that we don’t know when laylathul qadr is, there is divine wisdom in that ..for it makes us not lazy to seek it. As in, we don’t just flock to the mosque to remember God on that one night, but rather go everyday hoping to meet ‘her’. Also there is divine wisdom in that it is in the last 10 nights (majority view) as often after 20 days of fasting, the body is tired and the spirit sometimes can vain. But knowing lalthul qadr will come in the last 10 days gives us something very precious to look forward to and so we renew our efforts and rather than a tiring body we find new energy and drive.

 There are ‘signs’ that tell us it was laylathul qadr. Many Muslim cultures have their own pieces of hearsay or you could even say ‘folklore’ about the signs :)…I remember as a kid being told that you won’t see a leaf on a tree move nor hear a dog bark (!). Some say the night will be softly cloudy, some say it will be clear…etc. Of course the messenger of God, peace be upon him, was asked about its signs and he did reply. The most authentic scholarly opinion based on his (peace be upon him) reply is that the sun will rise the next day ‘as if with no rays’, i.e., serenely and it won’t be dazzlingly bright. And more importantly during the night itself every believer’s heart will feel an immense peace. I found this nicely worded reply from Sh. Uthaymeen

From amongst the signs of Laylatul-Qadar is that it is a calm night and the believer’s heart is delighted and at peace with it, and he becomes active in doing good actions, and the sun on the following morning rises clearly without any rays.

Much Quran is recited during these precious nights and the mosques are full of worshippers who stand often through the night in long units of prayer. There is something so tranquil about this ‘standing by night’ (literally what the night prayer is called ‘qiyam ul layl’ = standing by night). When one is joined to one’s sisters and brothers standing shoulder-to-shoulder, row upon row. The lights are dimmed and the voice of the qari (=reciter of Quran) sings the verses of the Quran in soft serenity. Sometimes children will be playing outside or they will come and stand with the older ones in prayer, or they will be sleeping, some baby falling asleep in the arms of the mother standing in prayer. It is very beautiful and a time I long for each year. Some people follow the sunnah (=way, of the blessed prophet) who used to go into spiritual seclusion during the last 10 days, and so they will stay in the mosque in that seclusion – fasting by day and reciting Quran or offering salat (=Muslim ritual worship) and making du’a (=supplications or prayers) by day and night. It is a much needed ‘cleanse’. And I love it that this type of annual retreat is part of the religion and accessible to any ordinary Muslim that wants to take it instead of being only something for a priestly class of people, which does not exist in Islam.

 Finally, chapter 97 in the Quran is entirely devoted to this night. It is a short chapter being only 5 ayath. Reading it tells us why we feel so much peace during this one night. It is the night the angels descend and the arch-angel, Gabrial himself (peace be upon them all) visits the earth. To those unfamiliar with the tafseer of the chapter, in verse 4 ‘the spirit’ is considered to be the arch-angel Gabrial who is called Jibra’eel in Arabic.

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In the name of God, the most loving, the love-giving
97:1
Indeed, We sent the Qur’an down during the Night of Decree.
97:2
And what can make you know what is the Night of Decree?
97:3
The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months.
97:4
The angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter.
97:5
Peace it is until the emergence of dawn.

 

I will leave you with a 45 second clip so you can enjoy listening to the recitation of this beautiful chapter. I especially love the last ayah. Anyone who has had the good fortune to witness a laylathul qadr in their lives will know exactly what this means. May we all be granted the felicity to witness or to have witnessed laylathul qadr

Peace be with you all

 

 

 

 

 

‘Fathima Knight in shining armour’!

Assalamu alaikum, peace be with you dear readers,

A few weeks ago, I was greatly delighted to ‘attend’ online, the first commencement ceremony of Zaytuna college. Zaytuna (=Olive/Olive tree) college is North America’s first academic Muslim liberal arts college. I believe it’s degree certification is from UC Berkeley. It was set-up by Sh. Hamza Yusuf Hanson, the scholar interviewed in the series I blogged recently.

I have been following the budding and growth of this institution keenly the past four years and it was  a proud moment to be able to witness its first commencement. The occasion was graced by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, one of the few remaining ‘giant scholars’ in the Muslim world. He is a master of many spheres, speaks fluent French in addition to a very high caliber of Arabic and has a CV I have no words to describe, so I won’t. Suffice to say, that in his demenour and service he has come to embody what a true scholar is, and he is one of the teachers of Sh. Hamza. It is a great compliment to Zaytuna college that Sh. Bin Bayyah made the trip out for the commencement despite his 80+ years and difficulty with travel. He did it due to his heartfelt support of the endeavor. And indeed, it is a desperately needed endeavor. You may catch a glimpse of him in the clip, the elderly gentleman in traditional garb with his scholars turban. Knowledge has always been a prized possession for the Muslim, and God bless Sh. Hamza and his likes, who are fighting hard to bring back the light of learning to the Muslim world.

Faatimah Knight is a shining example of what a young person schooled in such an environment of sound knowledge and real scholarship can produce. Imam Zaid Shakir, is a well known and well beloved figure in the North American Muslim world. He is an African American ex-US marine (if I’m not mistaken) who converted to Islam several decades ago, and then schooled in traditional Islamic scholarship, who is now a teacher at Zaytuna. Imam Zaid mentions that whenever he sees Faatimah walking down the aisle, he calls out to her as ‘Fathima Knight in shining armour’. A compliment this young lady well deserves. This young lady is just that – someone inspiring for her truthfulness, sincerity and determination to follow her true heart.

I was so inspired and ‘taken’ by the depth and wisdom of her commencement address, delivered with such obvious sincerity that I wanted to share it with you. It is a 9.5 min clip. I hope you will be able to listen and be as inspired as I was. I pray for this young lady and may there be many more like her. She is well named by wise parents, after the daughter of the beloved Messenger of God, Fathima az Zahra (=the resplendent one… a title given to her by the people out of love. The world’s second oldest continuously running university, Al-Azhar in Cairo is actually named after her)

May God protect and increase this beautiful young lady. I am happy to note she has been offered a full scholarship to grad school in the illustrious University of Chicago Islamic studies program. I believe she refused a full scholarship for undergraduate study in U of Chicago to go to Zaytuna. She is one of the 14 students of the class of 2014. May God bless them all, their teachers and all who have supported this difficult and challenging endeavor.