A Sort of Heaven on Earth

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The heart can be a sly, sneaky and tricky thing.

WELL, actually, that would be a bit of an understatement. I’m not one to beat around the bushes so I’ll get straight to it.

The heart is a vulnerable fool.

Anyone and everyone will tell you that experiencing a whirlwind of emotions is inevitable, and sometimes drastically unpredictable; like a roller coaster that spins you in all the directions you last expect it will take you and leaves you light-headed and confused at the end. While these emotions can be good for the soul and sources of strength, sometimes they are not and merely steer your thinking from clear rivers into murky ponds of uncertainty.

murky water

When the heart is in one specific state, one may easily think it is a permanent or long-term one. If a distressful event happens, one may think they will never swim out of the ocean of sadness it creates- there is so much depth to it, surely the sadness is but a drowning flood that will never end!

Yet how often does God bring ease out of hardship, and the sadness passes? Like a storm that blackened the sky only seconds before a rainbow paints itself.

rainbow

On the other hand, in a state of elevation or pure delight, we might believe we are forever going to be in this state of gratitude towards God. His blessings on us are accounted for, and we strongly believe nothing can make us forget it… in fact, it’s all we can think about at the moment!

Yet how often does man face calamity and forget all the good he has been given in the blink of an eye?

Such is the heart: it is that which simply flips into a different direction. ‘Heart’ in Arabic is qalb, and qalb means that which turns.

Simply: القَلْبُ: تَحْويلُ الشيءِ عن وجهه

I think the thinking we often have of others – she/he who is heartless, or she/he who has a good heart – are actually highly inaccurate modes of categorizing peoples because the thing is, hearts can change. Hearts DO change. I would hope change for the better of course, but you should never be too confident your currently ‘good’ state is infallible.

This is why in the Quran, the believers are not supposed to settle at the first sign of being guided, but rather, they must seek His help to remain on the path of purification…

… And keep seeking His help, and keep seeking his help, and never ever stop, because to leave yourself to your own devices is the worst thing you could ever do for your heart.

While life spins our minds into mazes and tricks our eyes through illusions, I pray that however the heart fluctuates, that it consistently finds its way back to equilibrium: a state in which the slave of God is always “loving Allah, knowing Him, remembering Him, seeking peace in Him, singling Him out for complete love, fear, hope and dependence– these are qualities that, when combined in a person, constitute a sort of heaven on earth.” [1]

May He bestow on all of us that steady state for the heart, sakina… a sort of heaven on earth that lives within us, and blossoms out.

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And Allah knows best.

~

-A.S.

[1] – Don’t Be Sad, Dr. ‘A’id al-Qarni, pg.345

Reducing Futile Speech

open mouth

“The struggle to reduce conversation is more difficult than the struggle to reduce food and sleep. Moreover, there is a limit to food consumption. Indigestion due to excessive eating will by itself compel one to reduce eating. Similarly, there is a limit to sleeping.

On the other hand, conversation requires no effort, and no difficulty is experienced in keeping the tongue in operation. Man resorts to pleasures so as to experience delight and joy. Conversation aside, enjoyment of all pleasures (huzuz) diminishes with increased indulgence. Eating with a full stomach does not bring about any enjoyment of food. Excessive sleep, too, is not enjoyable. But the enjoyment derived from speaking is limitless. In fact, pleasure increases the more one speaks. Hence, reducing conversation is the most difficult… Reducing speech has therefore been stipulated as a fundamental of spiritual struggle.”

(The Path To Perfection, p.41)

Reflections from Surat Al-Baqarah {Part 2}

This is the final reflection series from the second chapter of the Holy Quran. My next Quran reflection series will likely be accompanied with a less obvious but more creative title. 

Bismilleh.

wisp of fairy

Verse 2:170

Just Because

It’s often easy for us Muslims, particularly those of us born into Muslim families, to forget we are at risk of the same things the Quran warns the disbelievers or hypocrites of. Sometimes we use the label “Islam” as an antidote to all evil by even our own fathers- you know, inserting the word “Islam” before something to halal-ify it [i.e. such as speaking of an Islamic economy without first challenging the notion of capitalism.]

But isn’t doing what everyone else is doing, regardless if it’s good or bad, still almost the same thing? Isn’t neglecting to use your faculty of thinking, not pondering, not understanding, not being sincere, the same evil whether the act is good or bad?

If you’re just doing things “just because”, then you need to contemplate if maybe all you’re doing is taqlid… and maybe, who knows!- if you were in a different context, perhaps you may not have been a Muslim by name either.

Many of us are assured that since our fathers, alhamdulileh, didn’t worship idols, we are safe from ever being misguided. But the verse above does not only imply to the past: if you extract the morals from it, it can equally apply to the present. If you are not praying to a million fictional gods but you worship your lower nafs’ desires in any case, then know that you are still doing what humans have been doing forever, and you have not risen above that.

Again, if one was blessed with a wonderful upbringing by intellectual parents, yet does not use the act of thinking for themselves, then their good deeds will be labelled under the umbrella of taqlid and imitation. What good has that done?

God wants us to be people of understanding.  أفلا تعقلون؟

stormy days ahead

Verse 2:219

Benefit Even With Sin

How often do you hear someone ask a question with a certain answer already stapled in mind, but they merely want just one person to validate it for them?

If you think about it, you can justify up to a certain extent just about anything your nafs desires. Even wine and gambling has some benefit! But as God warns us, the sin is much greater than the benefit in these circumstances, as it is with many other cases.

Although it may seem hard to believe living in the societies we live in today, in which the sinful has been mainstreamed while the beneficial has roughly been sidetracked- in general, the halal (permissible) is in so much more abundance than what God has made haram. If you just think about the food we’re allowed to eat, for example, the range of what is permissible is so much greater than what is forbidden. And there is always wisdom behind everything.

So why do some people simply insist on sinful things on account of their ‘benefit’ or by downplaying their harm?

If I had to reply to that, the first thought that pops to mind is the classic Arabic expression:

كل ممنوع مرغوب

The equivalent English expression to that, I believe, is getting the forbidden fruit.

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Verse 2:231

You Hurt Yourself Before You Hurt Others

Ah, this verse. I am sure almost every Muslim has read this; I am equally sure not every Muslim has internalized this. I am going to focus on a certain aspect of it:

“…and do not keep them, intending harm, to transgress against them. And whoever does that has certainly wronged himself.”

There are sadly many people who can only feel good about themselves if they are certain those around them are feeling crappy. The misconception that it is a sign of confidence (as opposed to arrogance) to believe one is better than others because they have more, be it in wealth, power or social control.

For example: there are women who only feel they look glamorous if the girls around them are supposedly less beautiful (at least, according to ever evolving social norm standards). There are men who only feel like real men if they have control on everything- especially on other people, primarily women.

Simply, there are those who only feel whole if others are lacking. This is a great irony because it is out of the perfected faith of a Muslim that he should wish for others what he wishes for himself. Anything less than that is incompletion on his part, and what else could be worse than an unsound character in the long run? If not so in the short term, too.

God in His wisdom reminds us that oppressing others is first and foremost an oppression of the self. May God give us all the best of characters for the sake of humanity, starting with the sake of our own souls!

red old school feld

Verse 2:255

The All-Knowing

What does a human being need most in this world? I am not talking physical needs like water and food, I am speaking emotional ones: isn’t love the strongest need anyone can have?

But love of anything stems from knowledge of the loved. You cannot love a person without knowing anything about him/her. You cannot love a country having no knowledge of its history, culture or peoples. Simply, you cannot love what you do not understand.

Every time I am feeling down, especially in those inexplicable moments where the reason for being down is not a tangible reason, nothing comforts me more than knowing that He knows me better than I know myself.

This wonderful verse is called ayat al-kursi (The Throne Verse):

If that is not raw pure love at its ultimate, I do not know what is.

May God allow the Quran itself to be at the center of the throne of our hearts!

worship

I will conclude with an interesting quote from a Salaf a friend recently shared with me:

“If I am afflicted with a calamity, I praise Allaah for it four times: I praise Him because it wasn’t worse than it was, I praise Him when He gives me the patience to bear it, I praise Him for enabling me to say al-istirjâ’ in hope of a great reward, and I praise Him for not making it a calamity in my religion.”

-Shurayh Al-Qadi

Allah knows best.

Salamu alaikum/ peace be upon you,

A.S.

[Translation: http://quran.com/2]

Reflections from Surat Al-Baqara {Part 1}

Surat al-Baqara is a beautiful chapter of the Quran. I don’t read this often enough! The long length of it discouraged me in the past, I suppose. Well, careful reading and contemplation of the verses the starting days of Ramadan has me thinking that it’s worth reading again and again and again… I was hoping to condense all my thoughts on this surah in one blog post, but that’s laughably ridiculous because I might as well publish a book (OK, huge exaggeration). I shall inshaAllah share some of my insights in separate parts. I am in no means a scholar, yet I am writing these thoughts to remind myself to keep on reflecting, not simply skim and read.

Bismilleh. 

slim quran

Verse 2:74 

Hearts & Rocks

A rock is deemed to be the hardest thing, and the strongest things are made from rock, such as mountains and the Earth’s crust. But when a rock is used as a simile for a person’s organ, such as “he has a rock for a brain” or “a rock for a heart”, this is most certainly not commendable; it means this person’s mind is in the wrong place, and it means one’s heart may be acting as a bystander to cruelty because his actions seem to indicate he is a heartless man.

So what degree of extreme transgression can we make when God Himself tells us that there are hearts that can be even harder than rocks?

verse 74

The imagery brought on by this ayah is both heartwrenchingly beautiful yet frightening at the same time. The beauty comes from the description of stones gushing out water: truly, when stones get fissures and eventually erode, tree roots and water alike can infiltrate through them. What would be the metaphor for water gushing out a human heart… love, compassion, mercy, hope, trust, faith…?

This remains to be one of my favorite verses. May God open our hearts to be flooded with crashing waves of understanding and wisdom.

rocks and water

Verse 2:83

Harmonious Society

verse 83

Notice the order of the covenant:

  1. Worship God (only your soul benefits)
  2. To parents and relatives (family) do good
  3. Then to orphans and needy (society) do good
  4. Then to people.

A harmonious society is built from the inside out; from the individual to the crowd, from the intention to the action, from one’s soul to external things, from the single household to the society.

Sadly what we often see these days are people sucking up to other people, overly praising them for personal gain, while neglecting to give these kind words to their own family members. It is like purchasing a newly built house, convinced by the artistically painted and decorated outer appearance- yet its very foundation is faulty and shaky, and it collapses before it has a chance to be lived in.

Inside out. If you’re not taking care of your soul by visiting He who can heal it and mend it for you daily through prayer, all other good deeds you do will not benefit you in any way.

windy puzzle pieces

Verses 2:115, 142, 177

East and West

The concept of worshiping Allah regardless if you are east or west repeats several times in this surah. There is not a particular place on earth that has the truth.

east and west

How often have we been doing something out of cultural habit and confused it with being a part of the religion? For most of us, we were facing east without questioning whether Islam and some of those cultural practices were contradictory to begin with.

Similarly, how many of us in the west have deliberately rejected to do something those of the ‘east’ do, assuming it is culture when its basis is actually in Islam?

As God Himself tells us in the Quran, truth is clear and falsehood is clear. East or West, God’s pleasure can be equally sought inshaAllah.

verse 115 verse 142 verse 177

Comes as quite a shock, for everyone actually, to simply acknowledge that God is neither here or there, but that God is everywhere…

allah wicked screensaver

Allah knows best.

I shall conclude this post with a new favorite quote by Mustafa Hosny:

If you make God’s pleasure your ultimate concern, God will take care of your concerns. 

إذا جعلت رضا الله همك، تكفل الله بما أهمك

~

Peace/Salam!

A.S.

[Translations from: http://quran.com/2]

Goin’ With The Flow

I met someone the other day. The encounter made me a little sad; she was everything I’d expected but fervently hoped not to be. How can anyone live a life without meaning or purpose… just going with the flow… like a captain on a ship who has neither compass on hand nor is willing to try steering the ship, but merely vainly hoping the flow will take the ship somewhere totally worth it in the end. Just goin’ with the flow. May God enlighten all of our paths with the light of true meaning and hope.

Goin’ With The Flow

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Do what I’m told cuz my soul has been sold

To the greedy sleazy manipulative persons

Whose words are all lies, deceit, bribes and cursin’

But no need to stress because no fuss, yes–

I’m just goin’ with the flow cuz it’s all I know.

Drink til I’m brain dead cuz I should, they said

Forget who I am cuz I don’t have a plan

Avoid thinking real for fear that I might kneel

To a power higher than my physical desires–

So I’ll just go with the flow cuz it’s all I know.

For a moment I see a light, and there might be more to life

I stare mesmerized at it, but I don’t think I can fit

I’m not used to making rules, I’m usually just a tool

To advance someone’s agenda, swallow in the propaganda…

So I’ll just go with the flow cuz it’s all I know.

Please understand, your opinion determines if I fall or stand

I’m just afraid of being judged, afraid they’ll hold a grudge

They who hold the power to my self-esteem in low esteem

But still I worship the ground they walk because for me at least they talk…

For I’ve no words to say, even if I did I couldn’t say’em anyway-

It’s tough; this materialistic life is rough

So it’s easier to put on a show and pretend that I know

When all I really know is… you know–

How to go with the flow cuz it’s all I know.

So I’m back to square one before I even left it

I’d rather be invisible in a crowd than a visible misfit

Rather be a nameless face, from memory easily erased

Than to make a momentary effort of thinking graced-

There isn’t much that I know

Except how to keep silent and go with the flow.

I’ll keep an open-mind but there’s actually strings behind

I’ll text long distance on my phone but remain in my safe zone

Of not thinking, not reflecting, not ever questioning why

Why I’m doing, how I’m doing, should I be doing this til I die–

All I know is that I go with the flow cuz it’s all I know.

A.S.

Travelling Tomorrow

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I felt a most peculiar sensation this morning.

As I walked outside with the sun’s rays stroking my face, I felt inexplicably as the night before I left for Palestine in July 2009. I was tensely excited, slightly nervous, determined to make the most of it, and anxious to see my relatives that I hadn’t seen for over a decade.

But this is not even close to the case right now – I am not physically going anywhere new, so why do I still feel as if I am about to meet a long-lost sister?

What could it be? Was it a wisp of a memory from the lip balm I just purchased, since it is the exact flavor and brand as the one I’d worn with me when I’d gone to Jerusalem… was it simply the weather, putting me in an especially good mood… or rather, was I actually about to go on a vacation without knowing it… you know… slipped my mind?

I thought about it briefly and confirmed, no, I know I’m not traveling anywhere physically. (God help me if I’d forget that I’m due to visit el-Khaleel the next day!)

But I am about to travel: mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

For if Ramadan is not perceived as the ultimate yearly journey of a lifetime (excluding hajj), I don’t know what could be.

Perhaps the reason this sensation struck me as so unusual is because I have never thought of Ramadan as such. It is a month in which good deeds are multiplied, and so I do my best to accumulate as much of them as possible. I pray and fast and make lots of duaa. It is a month of worship, after all.

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But the realization that it is also a vacation for the heart, for the mind, for the soul, to refresh and rejuvenate your spirit until the next one- اللهم بلغنا رمضان  – well, let’s just say no wonder I feel as excited as a child who stands next to packed luggage and clutches a ticket to Disney World. It just sort of hit me… in a kind, gentle and loving way, of course. 🙂

May Allah allow this month to be a means for us to connect with Him, and may He increase our deeds and faith and sincerity on all levels. May He provide a way of ease for those in times of great difficulty.

اللهم أمين!

-A.S.

Happily Ever After, Coincidentally

~

The most irritating thing in the universe is to be blissfully lost in a story, hundreds of pages down the road- and then, alas! – the last chapter reveals some shocking information that turns the whole thing ultimately cheesy and exasperatedly predictable.

There you are, reading a wonderful story. Among the action and adventure, romance blossoms. This romance is between two people of very different classes or groups categorized by society. You are under the perception nothing can tear them apart. They are so right for each other, you see it even more than the character themselves. It’s obviously going to work out, they made it this far in the novel!

And then?

Before the book ends, they realize it is best to go about their separate ways, for life can truly be unfair and they cannot control their destinies after all. Your heart aches for them.

sesskag_fairytale_wallpaper_by_shoujo85-d38d3q6

(But wait, there’s more!)

  • A few paragraphs before the novel ends, it is suddenly revealed to the prince that the poor orphan girl who has taken his heart is, coincidentally, also a princess! An ancient letter buried in the dirt or a blusterous corrupt uncle of her blurts it out somehow in a most timely manner. (PHEW!)
  • It becomes apparent to the haughty rich young lady that the poor gardener, whom she had been developing feelings for her, coincidentally also has noble blood coursing through his veins. (PHEW!)
  • It becomes apparent to the man of a certain tribe, that the girl he likes from ‘the others’, coincidentally actually has some of their blood in her veins, through her grandfather. PHEW!

Each time, coincidentally, fate reveals an astonishing fact at a most perfect timing to make a happily ever after ending that is so overused and predictable that the cheesiness is simply on overload.

Cheesy is not bad… if the whole story were so. But why put the reader under the serious perception that this story has something new, something special, something original… that it is different than the rest, when in fact, it is not?

And then?

BAM! Everything will be alright, because things will fall always into place according to social customs and norms. Both the protagonists will get what they wish for, while society gives them its blessings.

You see, that is what I find irritating: you think the heroes are going to go against social standards for true principles (I’ve been using love as an example but it can be for anything really, such as justice), but the final pages disappoints you because at the end, nothing really changes: Things work out in favor for the characters, coincidentally so, and nothing is challenged or put under the microscope. If the reader for a moment wonders if social class privileges is a bad thing, that thinking is immediately gone to rest when it all ends happily ever after.

After all, such is life: you want something, you fight half-heartedly for it, you give up because the fight is too great, and then right when you surrender, life gives it to you on a silver platter, without changing the status quo. Purely on a matter of… what’s the right word… coincidence.

(At least, that’s the life that is presented to us all too often in the media. I don’t buy it.)

Please. One can’t bet their entire life’s happiness on a series of coincidences.

OK, rant over. Time to read another book 🙂

 –A.S.