Tawaf and Sa’ii – the Umrah of Hajj Qiraan – Hajj chronicles 2

Dear readers, Assalamu alaikum warahmatullah (peace be with you and the blessing of God),

To continue from the previous post, we reached Makkah after a day’s travel from Madinah. In the time of the prophet (peace be upon him), traveling on foot, this journey would have taken about a week. And what a journey it must have been, to be all together in ‘ihram’ (=sanctified pilgrim state, see previous post for detail) along with the blessed beloved messenger of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him) and making that long walk (it was encouraged, and still is, to walk as much as possible during the Hajj) chanting the talbiya together.

When we arrived in Makkah, we performed the ‘umrah’ (=visitation, the lesser pilgrimage). Performing Umrah can be done at any time of year, but it too like Hajj, requires that one be in ihram. There are three methods to perform Hajj, which I won’t go into now. Suffice to say, one of them is Hajj Qiraan. This is the Hajj the blessed prophet (peace be upon him) performed and the one we chose to do (the other two methods may be considered easier). It is where you perform an umrah as soon as you enter Makkah and then remain in your ihram waiting till the 8th of Dhul Hijjah to begin the rights of the Hajj.

It was the night of the 4th of Dhul Hijja when we entered Makkah. Umrah can be completed in a few hours and so we performed this before the 8th of dhul Hijja with ease. An umrah entails two main rituals and some minor ones. The main ones are that you ‘circumambulate’ (- a terrible English word translators have been fond of using for the right called ‘tawaf’ in Arabic. It means ‘circling’ (!), so I will just say to circle or stick to tawaf) the ‘ka’ba’, the cube shaped structure that is the holiest place for all Muslims. It is a structure built by the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) and venerated for centuries from way before the time of Muhammed (peace be upon him), as a place for pilgrimage, as a ‘house of God’.

Indeed many of the rights of the Hajj are closely linked to the establishment of Makkah as a place of habitation. In the Quran, and in the Bible, the valley of what is present day Makkah, where the ‘ka’ba’ (=literally meaning cube, it is cube shaped…we say the mathematical ratios of the sides have significance in how we understand the Divine. Also, the four corners of the ‘ka’ba’ point to the four directions; north, south, east and west) is, is referred to by the more ancient name ‘Bakkah’

إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنّاسِ لَلَّذي بِبَكَّةَ مُبارَكًا وَهُدًى لِلعالَمينَ
ʾinna ʾawwala baytin wuḍiʿa li-n-nāsi la-lladhī bi-bakkata mubārakan wa-hudan li-l-ʿālamīna
Indeed the first house to be set up for mankind is the one at Bakkah, blessed and a guidance for all nations.
Quran 3:96

The Biblical reference is Psalms 84. , though there is difference of opinion among Biblical scholars as to whether this is present day Makkah or not.

Makkah or Bakkah was a nondescript location in the stark and barren Arabian dessert. Abraham (peace be upon him) was commanded to leave his wife Hagar (=’Hajara’ in Arabic. Arabic, along with Hebrew, are still existent languages that are closely related to the ancient Sumerian or Syriac languages that it is likely Abraham peace be upon him, spoke. Certainly Arabic is closely connected to Aramaic, the language the blessed Isa (Jesus), peace be upon him, may have spoken). I find it interesting that her name is so linguisticaly similar to the word ‘Hajj’. The meaning of ‘Hajara’ is ‘to be independent/not in need of anyone/to avoid others’ (root word used in Quran 73:10), and indeed what an apt description of the strength and courage of our mother Hajara (and indeed of the pilgrim state itself). She is, in my opinon, one of the bravest women of all time, with a faith as giant as that of her husband.

According to Muslim scholarly tradition when Abraham (peace be upon him) left Hajara and her little baby in the dessert and turned to go, Hajara ran after him questioning him as to what he was doing. She is supposed to have asked him several times ‘Ya Ibraheem (=O Abraham), what are you doing, are you leaving us in this barren place…’ (I put this in my own words). Abraham (peace be upon him) did not reply, but walked on. We know that the prophets (peace be upon them) are the best of humanity, chosen to be messengers, due to their strength of character, their moral uprightness and their vast compassion and wisdom

[the Quranic narrative and Muslim scholarly tradition does not allow any blemish of character attributed to a prophet – male or female – many Muslims hold Mariam, the blessed virgin Mary, as a prophet. How can we look up to them, take them as role models or follow them otherwise? In general Muslim tradition holds that prophethood is too heavy a weight to be placed upon female shoulders by a loving God, so they are predominantly male. However the great female leaders in our tradition, are highly revered, and are our role models in every sense of the term. They are our mothers, peace be upon them all. The prophets (peace be upon them all) were the most tested of mankind, all of them without exception were driven out by their people and faced untold persecution. In Muslim tradition all of their endings though are good and every story has a ‘happy ending’. This is what Muslims believe also in respect of the blessed Isa (=Jesus), peace be upon him, and Muslims look forward to his return and then a happy ending. Something most non-Muslims are surprised by]

..So it is impossible Abraham (peace be upon him) would do something so cruel- a complete antithesis to what a loving husband would do, and certainly to the actions expected of a prophet of God. So Hajara (peace be upon her) followed him, asking him this and he did not reply. She finally asked him ‘Ya Ibraheem, is it your Lord that commands you do this?’, at this, Ibraheem (peace be upon him), still did not turn around…but stopped, and nodded his head. (I often think, that had he turned his head and looked at his wife and baby, his resolve would have failed him. Surrounded by the harshness and barrenness of the dessert of Makkah, this feeling was deeply re-enforced).
..When Hajara (peace be upon her) realized this, then she said ‘Go, Abraham, our Lord will not forsake us’. Her strength and faith still takes my breath away!
..He left. In sometime, her baby, also destined to be a prophet, Ismael (=Ishma’el) began to cry. She must have run out of milk by this time. A desperate mother…she ran seven times between two hillocks called Safa and Marwa located about 400m apart, scanning the horizon for anyone and shouting for help. Her struggle is forever honored by God, as a central right of the Hajj. It is also a central right of the Umrah. On the seventh trip, she comes back to where she had placed her dying baby and finds by him water was spouting from the ground. She shouted ‘zam zam’ (=’stop,stop/hold it, hold it’, basically not wanting the water to run off into the dessert sand) and quickly fashioned earth around the spout to collect the water. The water saves her baby and herself. Soon after a passing trade caravan stops by. And now, where there is water in the dessert, people settle, and soon the town/city of Makkah is born.

That water is still there, it is called ‘zamzam water‘, it tastes very different as it has a unique mineral composition. It is a small well that has been supplying water to all of Makkah for centuries. Muslims believe this is a miracle. The water is found everywhere in Makkah, not just in the grand mosque, it is supplied to all the hotels for pilgrims to drink and also trucked to the Masjid Nabawi in Madinah. Muslims know the healing properties of ‘zamzam water’ well, and it is a prized drink among us. There is a Zamzam studies and research center, part of the Saudi Geological Society, worth checking out. It is interesting that the Bible contains a story that has several similarities with the Muslim tradition (Genesis 16:3), though there are several differences as well.

Here is a picture of the old well, that is now in a Musuem. Nowadays, the entrance is not open to the public – due to fears of overcrowding perhaps.


According to Muslim traditin, Abraham returned often to visit this branch of his family, now settled and living in Makkah. On one of those visits, he (peace be upon him), along with Ishma’el (peace be upon him), built the ka’aba. And during another visit he (peace be upon him) was ordered to sacrifice his son. Muslim scholars differ as to whether the son was Ishma’el or Is-haaq (=Isaac), peace upon them both. The stronger opinion is that it is Is-haaq actually, though most Muslims don’t know this. More about this story later – it is a central part of the Hajj, but not the Umrah.

To get back to the chronicles, the Umrah consists of two main rights – the tawaf(=circling) and the Sa’i’ (=struggle). These are done consecutively and one symbolizes one has completed them by cutting a lock of one’s hair after which one can ‘exit the ihram‘. As we were doing the Umrah as part of Hajj Qiraan, we remained in Ihram after the Umrah.

The tawaf is performed as seven circles, and during each one the pilgrim goes around the ka’ba anti-clockwise. This motion (you’ll see it on TV if you’ve watched anything to do with the Haram – the grand mosque in Makkah), we say mirrors the motion of the planets around the sun (planets orbit anti-clockwise). And there are other meanings and intentions. More about this in other posts inshaallah (=God willing).

After the tawaf, the next major rite of the umrah is the ‘Sa’ii’ (=literally ‘hardship’ or struggle). The Sa’ii is our going in the footsteps of our mother Hajara, when she made that desperate search for water. We walk in her footsteps, between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa. Each time, when we ascend a hillock we too pause and pray for help. Safa and Marwa used to be outside the mosque in the time of the prophet (peace be upon him), now the grand mosque is so large it has absorbed what used to be the city of Makkah in the time of the prophet (peace be upon him), and therefor both Safa and Marwa are now within the mosque complex.

As in the Tawaf, several prayers are made during this walk, and there are spiritual meanings and intentions too much to go into here. But the Sa’i is a very special rite for one reason – it symbolizes the desperate search of a mother for help for her dying child. It is the epitome of the love, faith and courage of a woman and celebration of motherhood.

There is a section of the Sa’ii, where it is required that men run. This is required of men, but not of women pilgrims. This is the way the blessed beloved, Muhammed (peace be upon him) taught us. When we were beginning the Sa’ii our group leader told us that our mother Hajara had run for all of womankind so women were excused, but now the men must run! I loved that, and truly it was very emotional to witness men from all countries of the world, all walks of life, all ages…yes even the very old.. running in the footsteps of our beloved mother Hajara.

The Sa’ii is not too easy to do, even now, with all the air-conditioning and the smooth marble. What then, when it was done in the open, under the dessert sun. Up until about 60 years ago, it was still like that – one performed in the open and could climb the hillock of Safa and Marwa. Now, one can climb Marwa but Safa is enclosed behind glass. It is nevertheless powerful to be there, knowing Hajara was here, and so many who have honored her search, by running in her footsteps, over the centuries. Indeed, including the blessed beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him).

Safa and Marwa have been honored by mention by name in the Quran, where Allah subhahana ta’aala (=exalted and high), calls them from among the ‘signs’ of Allah. That is a great honor indeed, and should not be taken lightly. We recite these verses whenever we are on the hillocks, while doing the Sa’ii.

إِنَّ الصَّفَا وَالْمَرْوَةَ مِن شَعَآئِرِ اللّهِ فَمَنْ حَجَّ الْبَيْتَ أَوِ اعْتَمَرَ فَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِ أَن يَطَّوَّفَ بِهِمَا وَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَإِنَّ اللّهَ شَاكِرٌ عَلِيمٌ (2:158)

Transliteration – Inna alssafa waalmarwata min shaAAairi Allahi faman hajja albayta awi iAAtamara fala junaha AAalayhi an yattawwafa bihimawaman tatawwaAAa khayran fainna Allaha shakirun AAaleemun

Translation – [Hence,] behold, As-Safa and Al-Marwah are among the symbols/monuments set up by God; and thus, no wrong does he who, having come to the Temple on pilgrimage  (i.e., Hajj) or on a pious visit (i.e., Umrah), strides to and fro between these two: for, if one does more good than he is bound to do-behold, God is responsive to gratitude, all-knowing.

Quran 2:158

Below are pictures, and also a documentary of the Hajj of a beloved scholar of Islam in the Western tradition – Dr. Martin Lings (Allah irhamhu, God have mercy on his soul). An Englishman who wrote a masterful biography of the blessed beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him), an authority on Shakespeare, and a Muslim spiritual luminary. If you watch this, you will see the purity of his soul shine through in the way he speaks. He made the Hajj in 1948 and again in the seventies. It is very impressive to hear his experiences.

In 1948 the hillocks of Safa and Marwa were as they had been for centuries, and he is one of the very few native English speakers who must have made the Hajj when the Sa’ii could still be done that way. He says of the transformation ‘I find it very hard to forgive the Saudi’s ‘… for how they have covered up half the hillocks and marbled/built over the sand track between them. How I wish it had not been done so. But as Dr. Lings says at the end of this documentary, “the baraka is unchanged”.

‘Baraka’ is another Arabic word hard to translate – roughly it means ‘blessing’. Indeed the immense spiritual gifts that come of being there, of walking in those footsteps and being a pilgrim, that has not changed. Indeed, the closeness to the Divine and to the giant spiritual role models, fathers and mothers of humankind, that has not changed.



The rock behind the glass is the hillock, ‘Safa’ at which end we begin the ‘Sa’ii’. It is very jagged rock. A prayer is made here. If you can see behind all the construction scaffolding, there is the ka’aba..the top of the black cube with the gold writing is seen.


A better image showing Safa. The caligraphy on the ceiling includes the ayat from the Quran (2:158) given in the blog


Making the ‘Sa’ii’. A still picture doesn’t capture the feel of the place, the energy, the motion and the many groups making ‘dhikr’ out aloud. It is a beautiful experience


This is also taken close to Safa, you can see the ‘ka’ba’ more clearly in the background here… in the old days, it must have been clearly visible when doing the Sa’ii. The black lines on the floor, are the lines for prayer -that orient us to the ka’aba. Makkah is a place where the direction to prayer changes every 10 yards! – the only place on earth like this. Muslims face the ka’aba during prayer, wherever we are on the earth.



Standing on Marwa and praying..or contemplating. It is a place when one sits down, it is hard to stand up…hard to leave. Time stands still.

And the documentary, I hope you can watch it…beautiful footage of the Sa’ii in 1948, and going by boat to do Hajj.

Ihram – Hajj chronicles 1

Dear readers, Assalamu alaikum warahmatullah (peace be with you and God’s blessing)

Alhamdulillah (=thanks and praise to God), I am safely returned to Vancouver after successfully having performed all the rituals of Hajj. I pray my Hajj is accepted and that of all the hujjaj (=pilgrims). I pray also that all who lost their lives in the tragic accidents and events of this Hajj are elevated by it to ‘shuhada’ (=literally those who witness, often translated as martyrs, meaning those who are elevated to a very close state in/with the Divine presence, certainly their place in heaven assured), and I pray for strength, forbearance and fortitude for their families and friends.

Though none in our group was affected, we had a tent-mate from a different group who lost a relative that day…so the tragedy was brought close. Also close due to proximity and the near misses we ourselves had. But I will leave talking about this for later…the Hajj is such a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with so much it teaches, so much you learn about yourself and about people, about humanity and human nature, about the Divine presence and about life, that it is hard to find any words to synthesize one’s thoughts and emotions accurately. Therefore I thought to try to write a series of shorter articles, that each focus on a ritual or aspect of the Hajj and this way try to communicate some of what this journey is about, to my dear readers.

I will begin with the ‘Ihram’ (=pilgrim state, meaning both the dress and the demeanour a pilgrim must enter into in order to perform the Hajj. the word comes from the root word – ‘harama’, which carries the meaning of sanctuary. The grand mosque in Makkah is called the ‘haram’ meaning sanctuary, and in the way of life that is Islam, all things forbidden to a practitioner are called ‘haraam’ which though often translated to mean ‘forbidden’ actually means something more akin to ‘protection’). Ihram for men is that they wear two white untailored pieces of cloth and nothing else. Ihram for women is that they wear clothes that cover their ‘awrah’ (all except the face and hands, interestingly in the Hajj, women who wear a face-veil are required to remove it), and that it be un-figure revealing and in sombre shades, preferably white. Ihram for both includes, that hair and nails cannot be cut in that state, no perfume or any sort can be used, and that any act of intimacy is disallowed. Finally once in the Ihram state, one is not allowed to harm anything – one cannot pluck a leaf from a tree, nor step on an insect, and therefore of course, one is not allowed to harm another human being in any way or form – no pushing, shoving, no yelling, loosing one’s temper etc. One is also encouraged not to talk about worldly things…so the pilgrim focuses their thoughts and speech on being in dhikr (=remembrance, remembering God, being conscious of the Divine presence at all times), reciting Quran, contemplation, sending blessings upon the blessed beloved messenger of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him) while in Ihram.

The dress, the state one enters, the sacred places one is in, and unchanged rituals practiced since the time the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) instituted the Hajj, and the fact that one is doing this in unison with millions of other human beings from all around the world and all walks of life, combine to make it a powerful state where one is helped abundantly to go ‘into ihram’. Others who have made the Hajj told me you forget everything else but where you are, what you are doing, and who you are going to, i.e., the final return to the Divine. I didn’t understand it, until I was in it. And it is true, no matter what is going on around one, you do forget everything else. Family, home, the work you left behind, all fade away and you feel a strong connection to humanity – a connection running through thousands of years, all the way to father Abraham (peace be upon him). You feel his greatness, his purity of worship of the One God, and the tremendousness of his faith. You are both crushed by it and elevated by it. You feel the strongest sense of gratitude to Abraham (in Arabic, ‘Ibraheem’, peace be upon him) and an immense sense of strength and guidance coming from him, through our beloved Muhammed (his heir and the final messenger, peace and blessing of God be upon him), and you feel that all of life has fallen into place. You feel the strongest connection to God, you feel the fragile nature of your own life, and the immensity of the Divine presence, and yet at the same time, you catch a glimpse of the greatness it is to be human and you are grateful and humbled by that.

Once in the ihram state, the pilgrims also constantly chant aloud ‘the talbiya’ – it too a chant that has not changed even by a syllable since the time of Muhammed (peace be upon him) who taught it to us. I don’t know if it was sung before then. It goes like this;

“labbayk, Allahumma labbayk

labbayka, la sharikalaka labbayk

inna al-hamda, wa al-ni’amtha,

laka wa al-Mulk. lasharikalak”

= ‘Here I am O God, here I am (answering your call)

Here I am, No partner do you have, Here I am

Verily, all praise belongs to You, verily, all good comes from You

And Your’s is the Dominion/Creation/Sovereignity/Ownership of all. No partner do You have’

We chant this non-stop through all the days and nights we are in Ihram, wherever we are. It is a very moving experience, when the chant begins, first in the plane, as all pilgrims chant it aloud once we pass over the ‘miqaat’ (=literally rondezvous point, it is the place where once you cross it, now you are in the pilgrim state), and then in the bus as we travel from one point to the other, then as we are walking, sometimes all of us seated in our tent, or you hear refrains from people sitting in solitary contemplation or walking alone. So I heard this call, and made it, from the bottom of my heart all those days I was in Ihram (about 8 or 9 totally) and I miss that state very much.

There are five ‘miqaat’ that Muhammed (peace be upon him) set out for us. kaartje miqaat

They mark the points where pilgrims from all around the world are allowed to enter ‘Ihram. And they are positioned around the holy sights where the Hajj take place. When we first flew into the port city of Jeddah, (from where we took a bus to Makkah), our plane flew over the miqaat of ‘Yalamlam’ to the South of Makkah. The pilot makes an announcement that we are so many minutes away from the miqat, and once over it, we all make the intention out aloud that ‘O God, here I am to do the Hajj for You’ and then we have entered the state of ihram. We begin the talbiya then. It is awesome when the whole plane erupts into chanting talbiya! So we have done all the physical acts of Ihram (wearing the special clothes etc) before we board the plane, and we then ‘enter the state of ihram’ when we make this intention. Now, until we complete all the rights of Hajj, we are not allowed to remove the ihram.

In the way we did the Hajj, we entered into Ihram twice, first to perform the lesser pilgrimage, called ‘umrah’ and then on the 4th of dhul Hijja (Islamic 12th month of the year, Hajj takes place from 8th to 13th of dhul Hijja) to perform the Hajj. We entered into Ihram on the 4th of dhul Hijja from the miqaat north of Makkah, called Dhul Hulaifa. It is very close to the city of Madinah, where Muhammed (peace be upon him) spent the latter portion of his life. It is from this miqat that Muhammed (peace be upon him) entered his ihram when he performed his Hajj. So we were blessed to follow in his footsteps.

Dhul Hulaifa is about 450 km north of Makkah, and so the blessed prophet and his companions (God be pleased with them all) would have been in ihram a long time, as they went on foot from Madinah to Makkah. We traced the route, but traveling by bus. Nevertheless it was a beautiful feeling, to go along that same road. I was blessed to take the recommended shower before wearing the ihram, and then offer two units of voluntary ‘salat’ in the mosque of the prophet (peace be upon him), where he is now buried, in the city of Madinah, and then to go from their to Dhul Hulaifa where I ‘entered the state’ of Ihram. From this point onwards my Hajj had begun.

I will leave you with some pictures, inshaAllah more to follow in the days to come. It is now exactly two weeks since we left the tent city of Mina. Hard to believe, but glad I can finally begin to update this blog. Alhamdulillah!

One of the entrances to the prophet's mosque in Madinah, 'Masjid al-Nabawi'. The second holiest place for Muslims, after Makkah. No photographs are allowed inside. It is the most beautiful, serene, peaceful mosque I have ever been in. The feeling of 'rahma' (=love, mercy, compassion, kindness) there is palpable.

One of the entrances to the prophet’s mosque in Madinah, ‘Masjid al-Nabawi’. The second holiest place for Muslims, after Makkah. No photographs are allowed inside. It is the most beautiful, serene, peaceful mosque I have ever been in. The feeling of ‘rahma’ (=love, mercy, compassion, kindness) there is palpable.

The courtyard of Masjid Al-Nabawi, bustling just after a salat. The awnings unfold and retract as per the weather.. it is very beautiful to be under those large white canvas canopies, like you are in a cool date plantations with the palm trees shading you from the sun

The courtyard of Masjid Al-Nabawi, bustling just after a salat. The awnings unfold and retract as per the weather.. it is very beautiful to be under those large white canvas canopies, like you are in a cool date plantations with the palm trees shading you from the sun


The courtyard of the prophet’s mosque in Madina, ‘masjid al-Nabawi’, before dawn on the day we left on the Hajj

Just after dawn, I have changed into my Ihram and ready to go.

Just after dawn, I have changed into my Ihram and ready to go.

The mosque in Dhul Khulaifa, where we made the intention and entered the pilgrim state

The mosque in Dhul Khulaifa, where we made the intention and entered the pilgrim state

Finally, here is a rendition of the talbiya I love, from an artist who is close to my heart – Dawud Wharnsby, a Canadian folk singer, very gifted. He captures the ‘feel’ of the talbiya in a very beautiful way. The way the talbiya is chanted at the start is how it is done during the Hajj. The group leader will begin, and we follow.


My dearest sisters and brothers,

Alhamdulillah I have some of the best news a Muslim is ever blessed to share – yours truly has been invited to make the Hajj. Alhamdulillah! This great news has kept me very busy, as you can imagine, there are several preparations and arrangements to make. My Muslims sisters and brothers will know what this means. For my dear non-Muslim readers, I wish I had time to write more about it. But I leave in the morning and at least I want to gather a few links here before I leave.

So here are a few choice links for both my Muslim and non-Muslim readers. For the former, a beautiful expounding on the internal and external dimensions of this great obligation the One who made us has placed upon us, by a dear teacher, and a well-known guide of this day and age – Sheikh Mokhtar Maghroui (his physics PhD background often comes out in his talks, and I particularly love that :))

And for my non-Muslim readers, a few selected documentaries made by reputable sources. They are not Muslim sources, so the material, though watered down, is God willing easier to understand. And as a scientist – I prefer to share for my non-Muslim readers, from non-Muslim sources – to eliminate ‘ascertainment bias’ as we say. Forgive me if this often means deeper meanings are not communicated. But this post gathers from all sources, so you are free to chose what to enjoy!

Sh. Mokhtar on inner and outer dimensions of Hajj. As a personal preference, I think the inner takes precedence over the outer (think about the Meccan period coming before the Medinan period in the lifetime of our beloved, sallalaahu alaihi wasallam…), though both are important. I will therefore link the inner dimensions first and then outer dimensions as good ‘adab’ (=etiquette). I am sorry I can’t translate the beautiful and exalted du’a (=supplications/prayers) Sh. Mokhtar starts and ends with. He does often translate the Arabic words he uses in-between.

And a series of lesser-known tastefully made documentaries on the Hajj

Finally my dear readers, I ask that you pray for me for an accepted Hajj (from my Muslim readers) and that you forgive me if there have been any errors on this blog in what I’ve written or communicated. May God accept from me and guide me!

Peace be with you all

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

(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.

(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)


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.

-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.

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).

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 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?
-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.]

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