Purify Within To Succeed Without

 “Verily, the believers have succeeded.”

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Beyond merely “living” (as in, existing), man ultimately wants to succeed in life – however the term ‘success’ is defined. The tricky part is, although we all have a good sense of what success looks like on the outside, we often find ourselves spending our entire lives reaching out for it; and sometimes, sadly, we do not feel we ever reach it.

I am not  referring to worldly success such as fame and riches. I’m talking contentment, joy, satisfaction, and meaning… success that lasts in the long term.

But there is a way to reach it all. God does not only tell us we can in the Quran, he says we already have – emphasizing the certainty that, if particular measures are taken with sincerity, He will not deny us this sweetest victory over ourselves.

The truth is, there is no way to achieve real outwardly success- the permanent, lasting one – without gaining inner success. 

You’ll have to purify within to succeed without. There’s no shortcut around it, no matter what all those false-promising ‘10 quick things you can do to be a happy and successful person‘ articles claim. Genuine success is not about quick fixes – it’s about real, honest work.

Let’s explore.

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  • Once upon a time in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammed (صلى الله عليه و سلم) informed his people,

“Ten ayat have just been revealed upon me; whoever establishes them will enter Paradise.” Then he recited the first ten verses of Surat Al-Mu’minoon.

  • A small while later, people came to the Prophet’s wife, Aisha, رضي الله عنها , and inquired as to the character of the Prophet.

She responded that his manners were those of the Quran. Then she recited the first ten verses of Surat Al-Mu’minoon.

Time and time again, when I ask a knowledgeable person for which verses of the Quran to immediately focus on, memorize, or “start off” firmly establishing in my life, I am referred to the first ten verses of surat al-Mu’minoon. I figure writing a blog post about it will instill it in my heart, so here I am writing this and there you are reading it!

This chapter begins and ends with the promise of success:

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Some things to quickly note:

-When the word “قد ” appears before a verb, it implies something that has occurred and is continuing to occur. (For example, قد قامت الصلاة) So, think of it like this… you, a believer, will succeed because God has seen you already do so. Hooray!

But it’s not quite as simple as that. It’s not just saying the shahada… it’s more along the lines of living it. 

Another interesting Arabic linguistic observation: the word  for ‘succeeded’ that is used is ” أفلح ” – which derives from the root word ”  فلاح ” (farmer). Allow me to go into some more depth in this for a moment, and although it’ll appear to be tangent to this topic, it actually is extremely relevant:

Unlike our regular 9-hour daily paid jobs, in which we get paid every month or so, farmers don’t see the fruits of their efforts for almost an entire year. Day after day after day they work hard, whatever their moods may be; and they know if they slack off for just one week, there may be consequences for the entire year’s resulting crop.

Painting by Rae Chichilnitsky

Painting by Rae Chichilnitsky

To bring it back to the topic of success, which can be likened to the farmer’s crop – success is not a quick to-do action off a checklist. In this world where everything has become fast-paced and relentless, we’ve become impatient and want to speed even meaningfulness up. You cannot do that. Further, you cannot slack off and expect success to come your way anyways… (you must refuse to be what I call a Type C person!)

The following verses give us sort of a checklist of qualities, all connected to one another, of a mature believer – where do you stand? Judge yourself honestly, you will not get anywhere if you continue deceiving yourself.

In a nutshell, these are the main qualities a believer should strive to have – take out your checklists! 🙂

Khushoo‘ (خشوع) in prayer.

Are you humble in prayer and feel an awe and fear of God so deep it almost feels like it’s physically in your bones? Are you submissive with concentration & devotion without distracting yourself with petty thoughts? That’s khushoo’. It’s a lot tougher to work on internal issues than the external appearance of praying correctly. You must purify within to succeed without.

It’s comforting for so many of us (myself never excluded) to know we pray 5 times a day. We’re making time for our Lord and standing before Him. But are we really whole-heartedly, mind and soulfully, there? I do believe that’s a question that needs a lifetime of devotion to properly answer.

We spoke a little about farmers and the intense amount of work they must have. They cannot get all this work done efficiently if they don’t have a strict schedule to abide by. Why,

“Did you ever consider how ridiculous it would be to try to cram on a farm – to forget to plant in the spring, play all summer and then cram in the fall to bring in the harvest? The farm is a natural system. The price must be paid and the process followed. You always reap what you sow; there is not shortcut.” [1]

Farmers have strict schedules to follow – and our ‘strict’ schedule (though it is a pleasant sort of strictness) is the five daily prayers, minimum.

There is much more than can be said about prayer, but I’m not the one that should keep talking about it. I need to be doing it with more soul & heart before preaching to the choir… so let’s move on and look at the next characteristics of the successful believer:

hunh

Turn away from ill speech (لغو).

” لغو ” has many possible interpretations, but many scholars agree it is idleness; whether this is in the form of actually lying, backbiting, cursing and insulting, falsehoods, vanity… basically, useless conversation that consumes one’s time.

God doesn’t just tell us to avoid “laghw”, but He instructs us to walk past it in a dignified fashion should we encounter it. Don’t allow the peer pressure of others to make you feel like you have to suck it up with them and waste your time listening to useless talk. Your time is worth more than that.

Which brings us back to the importance of respecting time… respecting schedules… ultimately respecting prayer.

Those who do zakaat.

This is a Meccan surah. When this verse was revealed, it was before financial zakat became an obligation. Further, if the verse was referring explicitly to monetary charity, it might have instructed us to give zakat, as opposed to do it. So what is zakat?

First, let’s give a metaphor. Imagine your dishes at home. You wash them every day. Try eating the usual amount of food for one day, just one day – and ignore the dishes. What horribleness will you awaken to! And how much harder is it to get rid of the filth! Well, your heart needs a polish not just now and then; the Ramadan once a year is not sufficient. Boy, girl, you’ve got a LOT of stains on that heart, and until you realize your own flaws, no one else can get rid of them!

Zakaah means purification. To be a successful believer, you must constantly, and consistently, purify yourself. Check your ego, ask forgiveness of sins you know and don’t know of, beg God to let you see through your own delusions… for we ARE delusional in terms of who we think ourselves to be, particularly in front of Allah.

For example, I think there’s something seriously wrong with feeling satisfied after a prayer – rather than feeling anxious if it had been accepted. We delude ourselves that we’re already all righteous and of course God is going to accept it. But where is our feeling of khushoo’?

Purify yourself. It sounds so simple and it requires no outside sources… except, of course, your willingness to admit you badly need it.

Guarding one’s chastity.

Shamelessness between men and women is an already very obvious problem within many societies. I am not going to go to great depths on this issue, but needless to say, I quite agree with Nouman Ali Khan when he said (and I paraphrase):

It goes to show just how much harder we have to work to make our marriages beautiful, and romantic…

that’s part of our duty as believers! Make your marriages beautiful!

Guarding trusts and promises.

Do you make promises you intend to fulfill? Me, too. Do you make promises you guard with all your might to see fulfilled?

Hmm. What’s up with the typical “yes inshaAllah, I’ll try be there” that somehow is now sadly assumed between Muslims as “oh, she’s not coming”?

I believe promises should be guarded in the most excellent manner possible… which goes to say that even a promise on something so trivial, such as attending an event on Facebook, should be guarded! If one is not sure whether he/she will make it or not, it’s OK; put yourself as maybe attending; but by putting an “Attending”, you are making a false promise to the organizers of the event.

Am I making a big fuss of this? Maybe. But I honestly believe that if the smallest details of our lives are taken care of, the humongous boulders will take care of themselves.

Abdullah ibn ‘Amr (RA) says that Rasulullah (SAW) said: “Four traits whoever possesses them is a hypocrite and whoever possesses some of them has an element of hypocrisy until he leaves it: the one who when he speaks he lies, when he promises he breaks his promise, when he disputes he transgresses and when he makes an agreement he violates it.” (Muslim and Bukhari)

Based on those criteria… while I won’t say our Ummah is full of hypocrites, but I boldly say that there is a lot of hypocrisy that goes on.

And it’ll always come back to prayer. If we can’t bring it in ourselves to fulfill promises to other folks, how can we honor our promise to their Creator? Salaat is a promise between you and God; guard such a promise and everything else will fall into place.

And now… we are almost at the end of these 10 verses…

8 to 10

Did I just say it all ends in prayer? The beginning and ending of the first 10 ayat of surat al-Mu’minoon concerns prayer.

May we all be of those who succeed in this world & the next… 

May we all be of those who purify ourselves & enlighten the way for others to do the same…

And may we all be of those who are the inheritors of Jannatul-Firdaous.

Ameen!

Ameen!

And Allah knows Best.

 

A.S.

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Sources:

Imam Zia’s tafseer of first 10 verses of surat Al-Mu’minoon

Nouman Ali Khan: Characteristics of the Believers Khutba

[1] 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, p.22 (Stephen Covey)

Halaqa Quran Reflections: session #1

Context: Once upon a time in university, with a dear group of friends, we used to assign ourselves certain pages of the Quran and then have a meeting to discuss some verses that particularly striked out at us for one reason or another. The results were beautiful in terms of depth, becoming more engaged with the Quran and bringing us closer to each other’s hearts. Alhamdulileh we’ve begun to do this at the Friday halaqa that I’ve been attending for at least a decade now. These precious sessions will inshaAllah take place every 2 weeks or so.

Needless to say, I will not do justice to all the points brought up; this is simply a summary of what was discussed.

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{All verses from Surah Al-Nahl}

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Muna:

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  • If we look at the Arabic text, ” أتى ” is actually in the past tense. The verse is revealed as if the command of Allah is not only coming, but has, in fact, already come.
  • In making it in the past tense, it is confirming, beyond a doubt to those who are skeptical or try to rush it, that indeed it will come to pass; because in Allah’s knowledge, He who does not need time, but can simply say “Be”, and it is – to Allah, the event is as guaranteed to happen as if it already has.
  • God has eternal knowledge, the complete map of all events of all time.

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  • Different things, such as the night and day, do not necessarily imply one’s superior over another. Each has its own unique function to perform.
  • They are not opposites, they are complimentary to one another.

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  • There are three uses of the ocean, and note the interesting observation of difficulty level in getting each:
  1. Tender meat – this refers to the fish and other edible things we can eat from the sea. Allah has not made it very difficult to get them, for eating is crucial to survival.
  2. Pearls – these are the ornaments likely referred to in the verse. Pearls are more difficult to obtain than fish, and definitely more expensive – but then again, as Allah tells us, they are merely for decoration. They are not necessary to survival, yet in His Kindness and Love to us, He showers us with luxuries we can afford to live without.
  3. Ships – God has made the waters accessible to us by giving man the intellect and ability to construct ships that can sail upon it; to seek of His bounty, explore the world, and above all – to be grateful.

(Shukran, Muna!)

Aseel:

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  • This verse makes you see the world through a new lens. When you come across an animal, instead of vaguely observing it as such, you notice it instead of a creation of Allah – and what’s more, as a prostrating and humble creation of Allah – isn’t that simply beautiful? Pretty soon, every creature and every tree is reminding you to remember your Lord.
  • Keep in mind that prostration is not merely a physical act – it is an act of utmost humility and submission to Allah Most-High.

(Shukran, Aseel!)

Rana:

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  • Although at the time this verse was sent down, people were worshiping physical idols, the meaning of this ayah is still timeless. These days, in the “modernized” world, we may not be praying to statues, but we certainly hold ideas and concepts as deities – regarding their importance as high as God’s, if not higher. There are plenty of forms of shirk going on.
  • Obsession with brands, fashion, sports (it’s OK to watch them, just don’t kill yourself over it), technology… there’s plenty to distract us from the One! But we need to be aware of their dangers and not assume that just because statues aren’t around, that shirk is an impossibility in this day and age.

(Thank ye, Rana!)

Sara:

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  • It is without a doubt that Allah is All-Just and each person will get his due reward.
  • Often people will find it greatly unfair that God will send down a punishment on a people, even while there are innocents among them; the truth is, the term ‘punishment’ is not applicable to everyone. For example, it will be considered as punishment for oppressors and wrong-doers; yet for those who have not been oppressive, they will be resurrected in a clean state of innocence.
  • Allah does not burden anyone more than they can bear.

(Shukran ya Sara!)

And Allah knows Best. 🙂 Until next time inshaAllah!

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-A.S.

Dabka Is Resistance

painting by  Ahlam Al Faqih 3

Painting by Ahlam Al Faqih

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It’s not just a dance

(Though, admittedly, dancing it is)

It’s not just a great workout

(Though, let me tell you… the cardio…!)

It’s not just a form of entertainment

(Though entertaining to watch, it definitely is…)

It is, above all, cultural resistance.

When I, a Palestinian, do the dabka

in a relaxed setting,

What I am essentially saying with my body is:

I’m not forgetting

The past

Not forgiving the present situation

Not giving in to an illegal occupation –

I resist.

They may have the land – for now

But occupy our reasoning – just how

Can they expect us to foolishly give in

Our falafels as theirs and keffiyehs as fashion

What’s next – will Arabic

be their “own” language as well

While expecting us to meekly submit

behind the apartheid walls we dwell?

I resist.

Divide a community with a wall

And spill all the blood they want,

Yet there is One taking their every deed in account

Whether they remember it or not

Be you from the East or West, it doesn’t matter where

As long as in the name of justice we resist

To be divided in spirit.

From Gaza to Ramallah to Jerusalem,

Join hands in a circle and do the dabka

From Hebron to Nablus to Jenin,

Join hands in a circle and do the dabka

From every corner of Palestine,

And all the way to Canada,

I’ll join hands – no, hearts in a circle and do the dabka,

I’ll join hearts in a circle and do the dabka.

 flowery palestine

Dabka is resistance

To becoming bitter from anger and abuse

Dabka is resistance

To being blinded from the truth

Dabka is resistance

To becoming passive and neglectful

Dabka is resistance

To ever stop being proactive and hopeful

In His mercy and His will

To fix things still, oh –

Dabka is resistance.

Dabka is

Strong spirits, strong minds,

Strength of kindness one of a kind

Strong characters, strong perseverance

Strength of ongoing patient endurance.

And it shows with every bold step that we take

With every synchronized step that we make

And every graceful wave that is waved –

Dabka is resistance.

dabka ladies

-A.S.