Reliance on God (Tawakkul)

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It is a fact that there is joy in this world, and there is pain. There is happiness in this world, and there is sadness. There are gains in this world, and there are losses. But there are misconceptions that correlate the ‘good’ results with ‘good’ people, and misfortune with ‘bad’ people.

It is not without effort to reach tawakkul, but to succeed in the effort, it is essential to put our minds and hearts to rest.

As human beings, we only think two-dimensionally and sometimes may forget we cannot see the full big picture, 3D and all. The basis of the lack of reliance on Allah is uncertainty in the outcome. By striving to know God more and trusting in Him more firmly, the outcome of a decision or result will no longer be a source of agitation and worry. Knowing that all one is truly responsible for is trying one’s best, and leaving the rest to God, should bring a steady peace and contentment in one’s heart. Maybe the outcome will be what you want, maybe it won’t be… but you know it’s what God decided, and you accept it as you accept that He is All-Knowing, All-Wise, and All-Merciful. That’s tawakkul.

To rely is an action, a verb; but relying on God in all situations, at all times, the good, bad and ugly, is a progress, a journey – it is a state. One should strive not only to remember to rely on Him in uncertain moments, but to rely on Him at all times [mutawakkil]. Tawakkul is not necessarily seeing the big picture, because our view is obviously limited; but rather, trusting in the big picture. Trusting that all matters have been, are still, and always will be in God’s hands. When seen through this lens, one can’t help but feel content and accepting of the state of things. Tawakkul is all about letting go of that which is beyond our control.

Relying on God is not limited to trusting in His judgment, but it includes that one first use whatever means he/she has to reach their goal or intended purpose. A well-known hadith mentions the Prophet telling someone to “tie the camel, and have tawakkul”. Tawakkul is being proactive physically and submissive mentally to the will of God, knowing that no one like He has your best interests at heart. It is essential to have a good opinion of God always; a hadith Qudsi says: “I am as my slave thinks I am.”

As human beings striving to fulfill our unique purposes in life, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we have a responsibility to work with excellence in everything we do. However, the outcomes are only what God wants them to be, so do not let the opportunity of doing good through your career/family ties/ activism be yet another source of worry and anxiety for you. Take care of yourself to better take care of those around you.

And Allah knows Best.

A.S.

(This was written in May 2014, and I stumbled upon it today.)
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Useful resources on tawakkul:

VIDEO:

READINGS:

  • Purification of the Heart, chapter “Relying on Other Than God”

(PDF version available, free, online)

AUDIO: {In Arabic}

 

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Before You Say “I Love You”

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I’ve been meaning to write about this for almost a year. Dedicated to my fabulous cheerleader of a sister, Rwan, who patiently allows me to spill all my thoughts beforehand to her so that I can actually write something coherent.

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“Being sappy isn’t love.  Telling someone you love them doesn’t mean that you do.” [1]

Let’s talk about love.

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  • I am Palestinian; thus almost by default, I love dabka. The adrenaline, the synchronized choreography, the artistically-expressed resistance, all contribute to my love (as opposed to simple appreciation) of dabka.

I feel love to the ancestor who invented dabka. There is nothing I can do about this love, no way to express it, except through dance and poetry. My name is Aya, and I love dabka.

 

  • I am a woman of God under construction, and I love sunrises. The hope that the dawn brought, His Glory to behold, punctuating the time of the morning prayer, all contribute to my love (rather than neutral observation) of sunrises.

I feel a closeness and silent gratitude in my chest to the Creator of the sunrise. There is nothing I can do about this love, no way to express it, but to internalize its wonder and evaluate the level of sincerity in my deeds. My name is Aya, and I love sunrises.

 

Above are only a couple of examples of things I love. In both cases, this love forces me to act out to best express these joyful feelings. I can’t love dabka the way I do without participating in it, and I can’t love sunrises the way I do without contemplation on how this dazzling phenomenon could bring me closer to my Lord.

 

It therefore goes without saying that I can’t love a human being without actually loving.

 

(Say what?) No, you read it correctly; there were no typos. Literally,

I can’t love a human being without actually loving.

Photography by Aya Salah.

 

Here, pay attention to this:

 

I cry.

   I laugh.

      I smile.

         I breathe.

                 I jump.

                      I love.

 

What do all those statements have in common? They all begin with “I” and end with a verb.

 

A VERB. Did you know LOVE is a VERB?

A verb is an action, something you do… not just something you feel.

“It’s time that we changed the conversation about love.  It’s time that we redefine it.” [1]

Now, love can be used as an emotion, of course, yes (who am I to say otherwise). Love can be something felt within your heart, an instinctive compassionate knowledge you have about something or someone else.

  • Sure, you feel love for your mother. But is feeling it enough? Can you honestly say you love your mother if your inner love is never translated to exterior, physical acts of love? Do you constantly kiss your mother’s cheek, do the dishes without being asked, share intimate stories with her, surprise her with spontaneous calls while you’re on break at work – in other words, while no one doubts you feel love for your mother… are you acting on this love? Are you being loving? Have you turned the emotion into a verb?

Until you do, you should never say “I love you.” Actions speak louder than words.

The love you have inside is of no value until it’s expressed outside. The best time to express it is when one’s actions have already declared it and the receiver of that sweet phrase is delighted, and not necessarily stunned into perplexed shock, to hear it.

 

Now on behalf of the many girls I know who are sick and tired of being emotionally manipulated because they hold that phrase in such high esteem… to the gentlemen on the metros or university hallways, that want to tell a girl “I love you” –

DON’T.

 

You fool yourself before you lie to her. Because you don’t love her.

  • Now perhaps you are interested to know her better; “I am interested to get to know you” –
  • Maybe you are curious about her hopes and dreams, with all genuine intentions; “I would love to talk about this over some coffee” –
  • You may even find her so beautiful that it’s killing you to find out if that beauty resonates in her heart and intellect as well…

That is normal, that is wonderful, and that is heartwarming. It is not blameworthy to feel as though you are starting to “fall in love”. But that is only the emotional aspect of it; you have not lived the verb of loving, and therefore, by default, you do not ‘love’ her.

So don’t say “I love you” when you don’t even know her. You can love strangers for the sake of God, but do you want to live with them all under the same roof for the rest of your life? Please don’t be rash.

We live in a world where “I love you” completes its meaning at the emotion. As a result, we have a bunch of adults in dysfunctional relationships because the magical feeling has worn off and has been unable to be renewed because no one is acting the love out. Love is a feeling that, once gone, cannot be recaptured. Oh, is it really?

Proactive people make love a verb. Love is something you do, the sacrifices you make, the giving of self… Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions. Proactive people subordinate feelings to values. Love, the feeling, can be recaptured.” [2]

 

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I cannot tell who will be reading this, and thus cannot anticipate whether you are currently nodding your head in agreement, or feeling like you are repeatedly getting slapped in the face. If you are the latter, don’t worry; you’re not the only one who’s been living a lie.

Now you’re probably wondering: when do you say “I love you”? I mean, it is kind of a big deal in our modern world. Every girl and every boy, every man and every woman, wants someone to say it to them; it’s only human nature. The problem is, people are freely throwing that phrase around left and right, and we’re losing the ability to actually understand what love even means.

 

  • I am a Muslim, and I love the Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him). His courage, unshakeable belief and heartmelting mercy to God’s creation, all contribute to my love (love as a feeling) for him. But I begin to doubt this love if I don’t find ways to express it (love as a verb).

 

Am I being a cold-hearted unemotional robot about all this? On the contrary; my heart is often quite a complicated mess and tends to fight to overpower the rational part of me. Which is why, more and more, I am learning to use my emotions to think, and not let the emotions do the thinking for me. 

So when DO you say “I love you”?

 

You don’t… yet.

Simply, it’s all about timing. Until your actions express it as a foreshadowing of the words, one should not be obliged to hear it. And even when you say the words, they won’t mean a thing if you don’t keep expressing it.

 

Actions speak louder than words. We need to learn to define love as a verb and show love to our friends, family, neighbors, and fellow brothers and sisters in humanity. You want love and peace for all, do you? Then be loving and peaceful! Turn the values you believe in into a part of who you are.

 

“Learning to love takes practice and time, especially in an era that focuses so intensely on romantic love.” [3]

Practice makes perfect. Loving is a process, not a destination.

It is only then that “I love you” will have meaning again.

Photograph by Aya Salah.

And al-Wadud (the All-Loving) knows best.

-A.S.

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REFERENCES:

[1] –  Article: I Didn’t Love My Wife When We Got Married (Pop Chassid)

[2] – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, p.80

[3] –  Initiating & Upholding an Islamic Marriage (Hedaya Hartford), p.29

Rainy Days & Sunshine

Photography by Aya Salah.

Photograph by Aya Salah.

 

I live in Montreal, and like most days, I woke up to rain today.

I woke up healthy but grumpy today.

And because of my grumpiness:

I missed my bus stop today.

I arrived to work late today.

I had a bad day at school today.

My silky hijab got soaked today.

My new expensive awesome sneakers got soaked today.

Today… was… dreadful. Of course I’d never been hopeful

Because when it rains, I know my luck

When it rains, I know my day is gonna suck,

And MAN… such a tough life I live

To live in pure eternal sunshine, what I’d give…

 

First world problems.

How we love to hate on things just simply to complain

Yet when it comes to bringing the sunshine in someone’s actual rainy life

Way too many of us abstain.

 

Won’t give a buck or two to someone on the street

Cuz it’s probably not gonna be the thing that gets them on their feet

So use up this money and buy a cheap coffee instead

Take a sip… yeugh… declare all quality is dead.

 

MAN… such a tough life!

Pretty soon I’ll think I’m from the thug life.

 

But all jokes and exaggeration aside,

Speaking first to my greedy self inside:

 

We think we have it bad,

Until we see who has it worse

It’s then we realize just how much

We have our priorities in reverse.

 

You should make a difference

Because that’s exactly what you’re here for

Yet most of us are great slacktivists –

Beyond Facebook and Twitter, we do nothing more.

 

Now, social media is important

Raising awareness just the same

But if hashtags is the most us privileged folks can do,

Then we are drowning ourselves in shame.

 

Whether it’s here in our local communities,

Or whether it’s far away somewhere there

Words need to be followed by concrete actions

And our emotions can’t be reserved only for certain people to spare.

 

Many of us can’t spare the change

And we can’t spare the time

Because we don’t think our small deed

Will impact the world in a manner sublime.

 

But if one’s motive is solely to sway the world,

Then it’s no longer about the cause, why –

It’s about you.

 

The problem with those who stubbornly stall

Waiting to act ONLY in guaranteeing big change

Is that often, sadly, they end up making none at all.

 

Makes you wonder

Where they got the notion

That they’re destined to be leaders of change

Without first going through the petty motions.

 

Don’t let it be about your ego

In an attempt to tell the world you could be a hero

Don’t let it be about you acting out of pity

But let it be about integrity, love and mercy.

 

If it’s for God, know that every deed you do

Be it the seed of an atom, is being accounted for you

And don’t think it too little, unless you can do more

And don’t think it too much, until you can give it no more.

 

Know that with every dime you spare,

With every smile that shows you care

With every hour spent protesting in the streets for others

With every good thoughts for your sisters and brothers

With every secret prayer that you make

And with every intention done for God’ sake…

 

You are making a difference.

 

And yes it’s hard to bear, and it nearly never feel enough

Few people have it easy, the majority have it rough

Yet did you really think for a moment that you and you alone

Could overthrow oppression and put justice on the throne?

 

Yes, it needs your commitment

And yes, it needs your wealth

But never forget God in the equation

For all our physical and mental health.

 

Is not the same God Who watches you here

The same God Who watches them there?

Is it not the same God Who has given you security,

The same God Who shall provide it over there, with certainty?

 

Let’s go back for a moment to the old you who complained of rain

And pretend your wish was granted such that the sun shone all day

Some of the land has become a desert, other areas not

It is so humid and hot, but despair not –

Verily with hardship comes ease

Maybe you’ll be chosen by God to provide some of the cool breeze.

 

The Messenger of God, peace be upon him, once said,

That the best actions are continuous ones even if small

We’re here together today, with good intentions, I daresay

Yet may we continue for the rest of the year to give it our all.

 

Verily God does not change the condition of a people

Until they change what is in themselves.

 

And Allah knows best.

-A.S.

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.

A Sort of Heaven on Earth

heart page fold

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.

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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.

isolation

And Allah knows best.

~

-A.S.

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

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.

contemplation-ghetto-techyt-wall

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]

الحفيظ: The Preserver

elegant allahu akbar

Allah (God) has many names, only 99 of which are revealed to us. Although none of us will truly ever know Him as much as we wish to (or think we do), it is through His mercy, love and grace that we are able to appreciate, in whatever small capacity, His attributes.

But appreciation cannot come about without some deliberate contemplation. For example, you will not be grateful to someone who has done you kindness if you don’t pause for a moment and acknowledge that this person went out of his way to be kind to you– that it was not your ‘right’ to receive such acts in the first place. This is one of many reasons that endless problems happen in relationships of all sorts– there are way too many expectations of what is ‘rightfully’ due, but very little reciprocity or even minimum appreciation for the other.

Back to appreciating God’s attributes: they need to be reflected upon for one to even come close to ‘appreciating’ them, or we will simply take everything for granted until it is gone. (I put that word in quotes because I am pretty sure our impressions of so-called appreciation for His Greatness are seriously lacking in a whole lot of respects– time moves on and you always realize there is more and more to appreciate. One day inshaAllah… but until then, may He forgive us all for our short-sightedness.)

The whole purpose of my existence should be:

I want to know You, God; I want to know You to deepen my love for You and to take sweeter pleasure in worshiping You for no other reason than the fact you are You. But the big question is… who are You? Knowledge of You is an infinite ocean and I have absorbed but a fallen raindrop of it. I know You are my Lord, the All-Merciful, the All-Powerful, the Most-Generous… etc etc etc… But what does this all mean? Why have You revealed some of Your names, what benefit is there for us out of it?

I strongly believe that through contemplating and studying His attributes, one can better recognize deficiencies in one’s self and strive to be a better individual by implementing virtues he/she may not have realized the significance of. For example… one of His names is الحليم (The Forbearing). How would one implement this beautiful characteristic in his/her own life? The answer is not immediately apparent, it needs some thinking.

Al-Haleem is a whole other topic on its own, but right now, I will share some things I learned (so so little of it, but shareable none the less!) about the name Al-Hafeeth – The Preserver. The sources for what follows next is a mix of some Quranic verses that contain words from the root word حفظ, and an audio lecture by Sheikh Rateb el-Nabulsy from a website with his recordings on Allah’s other names (definitely worth checking out). The notes may be a bit chopped off and all, and it’ll randomly fluctuate from English to Arabic to English again because I was getting too sleepy to translate everything– just bear with me, please. 🙂

frosted trees

 

Al-Hafeeth

 

What does this name basically mean? The Arabic language is a rich treasure I have yet to really dig deep into, but scratching a bit on the surface from a mo3jam, I thought this was a good start to understanding:



Al-Hafeeth (The Preserver) here is often linked with Al-Raqeeb (The Watchful One).

According to dictionary.com, ‘preserve’ means to



Doesn’t the above descriptions alone already give you a sense of relief inside? Knowing you have the One Being that is keeping you alive and lasting, making sure you are safe, to protect you and spare you the wretchedness of evils… He must indeed be a Watchful One, who never sleeps or forgets to keep your heart beating relentlessly, even when you forget your own existence in your sleep…

إذا حفظك الله، سخر لك كل شيء. فالله خيرٌ حافظاً

The glorious ayat-al kursi (Qur’an 2:225) makes this attribute even more explicit:


Such a powerful verse, I don’t think the full impact of it has really hit me yet… ~

sad but beautiful

So what else does God preserve besides the heavens and the earth (as if anything more needs to be said or questioned!) You know… {brief rant coming up} It continues to boggle my mind that there are those who refuse in the existence of a Greater Being. Yet they will not deny that the heavens and the earth exist, but they will (basically, it comes down to) deny that there is some One who is preserving them to exist in the first place. {rant over} Glory be to God … سبحان الله

 

… الله هو الذي يحفظلك مالك، و أولادك

…الله يحفظ خلقه

… هو الذي يحفظ كرامتك، عقلك ، سمعتك، دينك

 … هو الذي حافظ القرأن في لوحٍ محفوظ

This list is not exhaustive at all. It is amazing that this characteristic, this one word, has been popping up time and time again both in writing and speech, yet I never really pondered on it. Now that I am, it seems to be everywhere! The times I use the word حفظ has usually been in relation to memorizing something… like a hafeeth of the Quran, for example.

Speaking of memorization– a strong memory is one of the most greatest of blessings (الذاكرة القوية هي من أعظم النعمة). There is a difference between a strong memory and a clever mind (ذكاء والذاكرة شيءٌ مختلفاً). But it intrigues me how very often it’s treated as the same thing… if one has both a clever mind and a strong memory, he will indeed have the best of both worlds. Imam al-Ghazali, for example, a wise and clever man, reportedly wrote his entire book الأحياء out of pure memory. (MashaAllah)

Additionally, we know that the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) would memorize each ayah as soon as it was revealed to him.

In general, people tend to memorize that which is personally meaningful to them. You may find someone whose last concern is seeking knowledge, remembering family birthdays, cannot focus on academics no matter what– yet he is completely up to date with hot gossip, celebrity scandals and knows the lyrics to every popular (however horribly sung) song.

Long story short: الشي الذي تهتم فيه، تحفظه

I must admit, this correlation, if it is indeed a fact (and I have reason to believe it is)… makes me feel terrible. There is a lot of stuff I should be memorizing, or at least keep memorized, if I consider it so important… Allah, I seek Your help in using whatever cleverness I may possess to selectively memorize, and retain that memory, of that which pleases You… إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين

A nice cute tip Sh. Rateb el Nabulsy gave, that I will be taking to heart no matter what gathering I am sitting in: always have a small notebook and pen with you. Always. اكتب أجمل ما قرأت، واحفظ أجمل ما كتبت

Now you might know God is The Preserver and you might believe it in your mind– but until it has settled deeply into your heart, the knowledge will not benefit you when you most need it. Prophet Yaqoub, for example, definitely understood the significance of Allah being الحفيظ. When his sons asked to bring his other son to the market on (unknown then) Prophet Yusuf’s order, he replied with “Should I entrust you with him except [under coercion] as I entrusted you with his brother before? But Allah is the best Guardian, and He is the most Merciful of the merciful.” (Qur’an 12:64)

الله خيرٌ حافظاً وهو أرحم الراحمين

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With such high trust in Allah’s power, does this mean that one can become lazy and await the pleasures of this world and the next to easily come to his feet? Most definitely NOT; this would be doing the exact opposite of the inspiration for this blog post– reflecting on His attributes. In neglecting to reflect, one ceases to appreciate, and hence becomes arrogant with the haughty assumption that good things are rightfully owed to him, as opposed to him taking the means in good cheer and with God’s pleasure as his purpose.

جميل أن تأخذ بالأسباب، ولكن أجمل من ذلك أن تأخذ بالأسباب و تعتمد على الله الواحد القهار

I have a slight tendency to go off topic when I get excited, and I hope that’s not the case here. In case it is, though, maybe I should wrap up (this blog post is longer than I anticipated, woops) and pose one final question:

How can one implement the characteristic of  حفظ in one’s daily life?

Going back to your own heartbeat while you are alive; let us unnecessarily point out that at this moment, as you read this, your heart is beating. It is taking absolutely no effort on your part. God is preserving that.

Additionally, He is consistent in preserving your sanity, your health, your mind– all these things you have no control over.

God is consistent in protecting you, with no pauses or breaks or forgetfulness. We should do the same in good deeds: better a page of Quran everyday than 200 pages the night of (the assumed) laylat al-Qadr. Better smile in the face of your parents several times a day and tell them how much they mean to you, every day, than show them your pearly whites and express your love on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

As the hadith goes, God loves the deed which is done regularly, even if small:

أحب الأعمال إلى الله أدومها وإن قل

The day after I listened to the Al-Hafeeth lecture, I went on the bus, pulled out my Qur’an, and flipped to a random page. I ended up on surat al-Mu’minoon (chapter 23), and the first 10 verses gave me chills as God was describing the attributes of the successful believers. All these attributes had a certain connection to preserving something, and I will briefly list them in order here:

  1. They who are in their prayers humbly submissive (preserve khushoo’)

  2. They who turn away from ill speech (preserve their speech and listening for good only)

  3. They who are observant of zakah (preserve their money for good use and purification)

  4. They who guard their chastity (preserve themselves except for spouses)

  5. They who fulfill promises and trusts (preserve their words)

  6. They who carefully maintain prayers (preserve them)

All of the above points can each be elaborated on extensively. However, what caught my eye immediately was the way this section describing the successful believer begins and ends with… prayer.

Perhaps for many of us, we can let out a relieved sigh and say, Well, I got 2/6 from that list! But do you really? (Question directed to myself first and foremost)

I mean, you might be praying five prayers everyday, but are you just rushing through them or are you carefully (#6) in the moment of every letter you utter? Do you pray in a half-state of mind or are you fully submissive and humble to your Lord (#1)? These questions’ importance can never be emphasized enough. Without prayer, and praying it right– I believe the characteristic of hifth will be lacking in our lives.

Mankind can be in either of two states in any day: either he will be in a state of abandonment from His Lord if he chooses to abandon Him, or he will be enjoying the protection of His Lord (and it is so sweet when one is actually aware of it).

أما تكون في حالة تولي، أو في حالة تخلي

 

May Allah make it easy for us to appreciate His attributes and instill in us the desire, will and capacity to recognize them in our lives and let that change us for the better… the better of ourselves, for the better of humanity, and for our very own salvation…

… اللهم دائماً نكون في حالة التولي

Ameen.

wa huwa ma3akum

–A.S.

9 Years – الحمد لله

I think I’m the only person who celebrates something called a “hijab anniversary.” So be it: Happy 9th Hijab Anniversary me! 😀 Incidentally, I woke up with this song in my head this morning, quite fittingly. 

*Dedicated to Rana who wore it the same day I did– Happy 9th Hijab Anniversary, Rana!

It’s so interesting to hear people’s hijab stories. Unfortunately, mine is not particularly exciting, but time and time again, I am asked to tell it anyways- and what better timing to relieve those memories than today? So here it is.

  9 years.

yellow black hijab

One Monday morning, April 5, 2004, I had a truly inspiring dream. It was simple really- I was merely wrapping a hijab around my head, and it felt as natural and normal as putting on a pair of socks- like, there wasn’t anything strikingly bizarre in that dream– but when I woke up, the sudden surge of inexplicable confidence and determination to do something I wasn’t thinking of doing until a decade later was overwhelming.

I went to the kitchen, found my mother, and casually told her I wanted to wear hijab.

“That’s great to hear! When?” she asked.

“Today,” I replied.

She was completely taken aback– she hadn’t seen that coming. I didn’t either.

“Um,” she said hesitantly. “Don’t you think you’re a bit young?” (I looked younger, too.) “This isn’t something you rush, Aya. It’s a serious decision and not something you do on impulse. You don’t want to regret it. Think it through, you have plenty of time. Maybe wait until you hit CEGEP at least?”

Hmm. Maybe I should wait… *slightly relieved*

In an odd secret way, I felt a small guilty pleasure that I didn’t have to wear it after all right then and there. Although I meticulously plan out the details of my life, I also have a fondness for spontaneity– but I decided that maybe, just maybe, today wasn’t the day for it.

Was I even ready to face the world as I knew it through completely new eyes? I wasn’t sure about that. I wasn’t sure if I ever could be.

You see, I KNOW it’s just a piece of material. I KNOW it’s not a suit of armor, nor is it a bed of nails I’m about to tread upon. I KNOW it’s not the ultimate sacrifice and I KNOW it’s not the defining factor of a Muslim woman’s identity.

But I also knew that to the outside world, it’s not just a piece of material. It’s not just a fashionable scarf creatively wrapped around a head. Instead, it comes with a whole bunch of symbolism and uncharacteristic character traits that are somehow supposed to automatically label any Muslim woman. Thus, a new hijabi not only has to modify her lifestyle in terms of clothing and what not, but she also has to deal with people treating her like a different species under a microscope, with trying to find a balance between disproving the negative connotations of oppression and pitying conclusions associated with her actually freely-worn attire, between trying to demonstrate just what it really does stand for, and simply being herself and being accepted for it.

So on Monday, April 5 (coincidentally my dad’s birthday), nothing particularly special happened. I put on one of my typical humongous earrings, fixed my hair, added the eyeliner and had a normal day of classes.

But I couldn’t really focus. The compliments that came my way for the earrings didn’t bring me the tinge of satisfaction they usually did.

It’s just not right, I thought. I knew that I was mentally ready to wear the hijab. Some women do it earlier, some later, some not at all, and each has her own personal reasons for doing so; none has a reason to judge the other. No hijabi can judge a non-hijabi, and no non-hijabi can judge a hijabi. Besides God’s ultimate judgment, each woman can only judge herself.

Looking into myself, I realized my reasons for postponing again and again really came down to one thing:

I was choosing to conform to society’s values over God’s command in the Qur’an; even though in a different context, in a different country or with different people, I wouldn’t have hesitated in a heartbeat. My current feelings of powerlessness to determine something as simple as choosing to move the scarf from the neck to the hair made me realize that indeed, I was a slave to the wrong idol. I felt a sudden loathing to my weakness, and I couldn’t bring myself to respect myself.

I knew I needed purification and improvement on myself in a whole bunch of areas, but they were all internal things, soul-deep things, between me and God– and I figured that

if I couldn’t conquer the external tangible VISIBLE distractions that were preventing me from worshipping Him to the fullest,

there was no way, in a million years, I could conquer the invisible beast within me called the ego, or conquer the evil my nafs whispers.

I recently heard this outstanding quote from Tariq Ramadan, and I completely fell in love with it because it completely applies to this situation:

۞ 

“I don’t want to be accepted. I would rather respect myself.” 

۞ 

My 14-year old self didn’t know how to eloquently and briefly think it like that, though– she instead thought,

Oh, what the heck. Screw what people might think, do or say. I’ve had enough of caring about other people who are never satisfied with you anyways. You will never please everybody– in fact, you will never please even one person entirely. The only Being you can please is God, because even when you’re short of fulfilling your obligations, He at least knows your efforts and takes every little detail into account, from the invisible in your heart and mind to the visible of your limbs– He knows all. And that suffices for me.

I seriously needed guts. It was no wonder I couldn’t respect myself, and my self-esteem was dependent on what other people thought of me…

So I got home Monday afternoon and told my mother I was going to wear it the next day after all. She was both pleased but still hesitant- she wasn’t sure what our experience would be like. She suggested I speak to my father about it.

(I still smile to this day at his reaction… and my non-Muslim friends find it incredible he didn’t force me to wear it, nor did he even request it. He certainly did not fit the typical father-forcing-his-daughter-or-he-will-murder-her-or-at-least-throw-acid-on-her-face propaganda that had ludicrously been circulating around at that time.)

So I told him I wanted to wear hijab. (And you ain’t gonna stop me, I’d added silently.) He merely looked from me to my older sister Rana (who decided she would wear it when I did, it would be fun exchanging stories), and then shrugged and said, “If they want, they can go ahead. But you do have a lot of time– you’re still quite young. And you realize this is a lifelong decision, right?” he asked us.

“Yes yes,” we both nodded.

He was silent for a moment as he looked at our eager faces, then gave a reassuring grin to my mother, who still looked a bit uncertain. “Let them,” he said simply. “They can handle it.”

And so it began.

bird takeoff

Tuesday morning, April 6, 2004, smack in the middle of the year and smack in the middle of a totally random week, I picked out my favorite hijab at the time, which was sky-blue with white hazy swirls that actually looked like blurry clouds. It was a perfect match to the sunny day it was.

I am amazed how accurate my dream was. Indeed I got looks and stares and some perplexed reactions, but that was all expected and done mostly by strangers whom I never cared about anyways. But my friends! They continued interacting with me like nothing different happened. Instead of the compliments that used to come for my many exotic earrings, I was getting them for the many exotic hijabs instead, so even that aspect didn’t change.

What I found most intriguing was that, for my closest friends, it took them almost five minutes of speaking with me before they realized there was something different about me. We’d be talking casually before she’d give a small jump and say, “Oh my God– you’re wearing the hijab!” or “Oh my, I just noticed– you’re wearing the headscarf! I didn’t notice!”

(Normal and natural – hijab? Oh, you betcha. Dreams aren’t always just dreams.)

I think it’s been from that day on I’ve been seeing the world from a different lens, a different perspective. And in doing so, I’ve been having a different and healthier relationship with my own being. I can’t explain it exactly– I know it’s just a scarf– but for me, that scarf was self-empowering in every way I thought it might disempower me due to society’s standards. It, too, also came with a whole bunch of (positive) symbolism and expectations to me, and with a sweet responsibility that I have yet to properly fulfill.

It hasn’t all been flowery. I can’t say what my intentions were back then, crystal-clear definite, because my intentions have changed and fluctuated over the years. It’s out of His mercy He allows one to fix intentions even after starting the journey of purification.

Did I become the perfect Muslim woman 9 years ago? Definitely not. But I can honestly and truly say that

9 years ago, I decided to stop caring about people that don’t care about you

9 years ago, I learned the difference between want and need

9 years ago, I learned to properly prioritize

9 years ago, I made the first long-term decision of my life

And

I have

Never. Regretted it. Not for a single second.

For 9 years, I’ve been in constant struggle with myself, with trying to be better and better and sometimes acknowledging to myself that I’m really really bad despite it all, but I’m trying my best and God, does He know it! Contrary to what some might perceive it to be, hijab is not the ‘icing’ on the cake; it is not a mark of having perfected faith. It is just the beginning of a long, difficult journey– as all journeys to worthy destinations inevitably are.

الحمد لله

May your journeys be ever so smooth as you get closer and closer to His loving Presence. Amen!

birds hijab disintegrate

Wishing you all sweet dreams that one day become a reality 🙂

Peace  ஐ

A.S.

Madhabs, Ijtihad & Ego

A most brilliant excerpt from Abdal-Hakim Murad

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“Because of the traditional pious fear of distorting the Law of Islam, the overwhelming majority of the great scholars of the past – certainly well over ninety-nine percent of them – have adhered loyally to a madhhab. It is true that in the troubled fourteenth century a handful of dissenters appeared, such as Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim; but even these individuals never recommended that semi-educated Muslims should attempt ijtihad without expert help….

Nonetheless, social turbulences have in the past century thrown up a number of writers who have advocated the abandonment of authoritative scholarship. The most prominent figures in this campaign were Muhammad Abduh and his pupil Muhammad Rashid Rida. Dazzled by the triumph of the West, and informed in subtle ways by their own well-documented commitment to Freemasonry, these men urged Muslims to throw off the shackles of taqlid, and to reject the authority of the Four Schools. Today in some Arab capitals, especially where the indigenous tradition of orthodox scholarship has been weakened, it is common to see young Arabs filling their homes with every hadith collection they can lay their hands upon, and poring over them in the apparent belief that they are less likely to misinterpret this vast and complex literature than Imam al-Shafi’i, Imam Ahmad, and the other great Imams. This irresponsible approach, although still not widespread, is predictably opening the door to sharply divergent opinions, which have seriously damaged the unity, credibility and effectiveness of the Islamic movement, and provoked sharp arguments over issues settled by the great Imams over a thousand years ago. It is common now to see young activists prowling the mosques, criticising other worshippers for what they believe to be defects in their worship, even when their victims are following the verdicts of some of the great Imams of Islam. The unpleasant, Pharisaic atmosphere generated by this activity has the effect of discouraging many less committed Muslims from attending the mosque at all. No-one now recalls the view of the early ulama, which was that Muslims should tolerate divergent interpretations of the Sunnah as long as these interpretations have been held by reputable scholars. As Sufyan al-Thawri said: ‘If you see a man doing something over which there is a debate among the scholars, and which you yourself believe to be forbidden, you should not forbid him from doing it.’ The alternative to this policy is, of course, a disunity and rancour which will poison and cripple the Muslim community from within.

In a Western-influenced global culture in which people are urged from early childhood to think for themselves and to challenge established authority, it can sometimes be difficult to muster enough humility to recognise ones own limitations. We are all a little like Pharaoh: our egos are by nature resistant to the idea that anyone else might be much more intelligent or learned than ourselves. The belief that ordinary Muslims, even if they know Arabic, are qualified to derive rulings of the Shariah for themselves, is an example of this egotism running wild. To young people proud of their own judgement, and unfamiliar with the complexity of the sources and the brilliance of authentic scholarship, this can be an effective trap, which ends by luring them away from the orthodox path of Islam and into an unintentional agenda of provoking deep divisions among the Muslims. The fact that all the great scholars of the religion, including the hadith experts, themselves belonged to madhhabs, and required their students to belong to madhhabs, seems to have been forgotten. Self-esteem has won a major victory here over common sense and Islamic responsibility.

The Holy Quran commands Muslims to use their minds and reflective capacities; and the issue of following qualified scholarship is an area in which this faculty must be very carefully deployed. The basic point should be appreciated that no categoric difference exists between usul al-fiqh and any other specialised science requiring lengthy training. Shaykh Sa`id Ramadan al-Buti, who has articulated the orthodox response to the anti-Madhhab trend in his book: Non-Madhhabism: The Greatest Bida Threatening the Islamic Shari`a, likes to compare the science of deriving rulings to that of medicine. “If ones child is seriously ill”, he asks, “does one look for oneself in the medical textbooks for the proper diagnosis and cure, or should one go to a trained medical practitioner?” Clearly, sanity dictates the latter option. And so it is in matters of religion, which are in reality even more important and potentially hazardous: we would be both foolish and irresponsible to try to look through the sources ourselves, and become our own muftis. Instead, we should recognise that those who have spent their entire lives studying the Sunnah and the principles of law are far less likely to be mistaken than we are….

The edifice has stood for centuries, withstanding the most bitter blows of its enemies. Only from within can it be weakened. No doubt, Islam has its intelligent foes among whom this fact is well-known. The spectacle of the disunity and fitnas which divided the early Muslims despite their superior piety, and the solidity and cohesiveness of Sunnism after the final codification of the Shariah in the four Schools of the great Imams, must have put ideas into many a malevolent head. This is not to suggest in any way that those who attack the great madhhabs are the conscious tools of Islam’s enemies. But it may go some way to explaining why they will continue to be well-publicised and well-funded, while the orthodox alternative is starved of resources. With every Muslim now a proud mujtahid, and with taqlid dismissed as a sin rather than a humble and necessary virtue, the divergent views which caused such pain in our early history will surely break surface again. Instead of four madhhabs in harmony, we will have a billion madhhabs in bitter and self-righteous conflict. No more brilliant scheme for the destruction of Islam could ever have been devised.”

P.S.: I strongly recommend reading the entire article for its full context and further elaborated content: UNDERSTANDING THE FOUR MADHABS – the problem with anti-madhabism

Peace.