A Gorgeous Description of the Qur’an

This passage really inspired me to truly dive deeper into the Qur’an. I pray that in this month of Ramadan, the month in which the Qur’an was revealed – that you can find more meaning and depth in your readings than ever before.Light-in-Quran-karkariya.co-sufi-path-english


At once dazzling and disturbing, beautiful and surprising, the Quran challenges our human expectations of what a Book should look like and forces us to abandon our notions and question our frames of thinking. Titus Burckhardt once wrote: “The Quran does not satisfy, it gives and at the same time takes away; it expands the soul by lending it wings, then lays it low and leaves it naked; for the believer, it is both comforting and purifying, like a rainstorm.” Yet, until we are able to let go of our hubris and embrace the “way” of the Quran, we will never truly understand the Book and, by extension, Islam. What follows is one of the best descriptions of the Quran I’ve come across. 

The Quran: literally, “that which is often recited.” A web of rhythm and meaning, the words of which throb through Muslim worship and which, at every point in the believer’s life, break surface, sanctifying existence with the scent of eternity. A paradoxical flash of the divine light, penetrating the veil of solid existence into our world. Redolent with symbol, half-hidden meaning and rapier-sharp insight, it transforms the reader by suggestion rather than by formal structures of argument and proof. It demands to be accepted on its own terms: only when the reader is prepared to discard all that he believes a book should be, will he begin to discern its symmetries and its heart-rending power.

Goethe sensed this. In his West-Oestlicher Divan he declares how, after inspiring initial astonishment and fear, the Quran “soon attracts, astounds, and, in the end, enforces our reverence. Its style, in accordance with its contents and aim, is stern, grand, terrible—ever and anon truly sublime. Thus, this book will go on exercising, through the ages, a most potent influence.”

And so it does. More so for the Muslim than for the most committed Protestant, holy writ is studied, memorized, and quoted. More than four million men and women in the world today have memorized the entire Quran: over six thousand verses. A far greater number have memorized shorter sections for use in their five daily Prayers. Throughout the Muslim world, from Senegal to Indonesia, to ride any bus or train is to see one’s fellow passengers quietly reading from a miniature copy of God’s Book or reciting it to themselves, enjoying a breath of the transcendent to relieve the tedium of their journey. The same Book, in intricate calligraphy, adorns the rear window of passing cars. Short, aphoristic verses are painted on the walls and doors of houses. The conversation of city businessman and rustic peasant alike is peppered with allusions and direct quotations from the Book. Everywhere human life is anchored to the hidden world by the Quran.

For the Muslim, God’s Book is much more than a source of liturgical and social rules; indeed, such topics occupy less than one tenth of the Quranic text; and it is more even than a revelatory declaration of man’s origin and his fate, an exposition of the truths of man’s spiritual nature and of judgement. The Quran is oft-recited, at the most profound possible level, because it is of God. Its text reveals God’s will for His creation, but is also a revelation of HImself. It is uncreated, timeless, a dimension of God’s pre-existent attribute of speech, communication: it is the Logos, which is the interface between the Absolute and the contingent realms. It is the pre-existent light which becomes manifest in history as prophethood. […]

One of the most surprising features of the Quran to the Western reader coming to it for the first time is the way in which subjects of many kinds may be found together in a single chapter, or even in the course of a few verses. This is an essential aspect of the Book’s message. It is human nature to endeavor to categorize and label our experience of the world, and we feel disconcerted when our familiar expectations of such an ordering are not fulfilled. The Quran, both in its literary style and in its internal arrangement, conforms to no human norms. It is a message which has broken through the veil of the unseen and causes us to look upwards, bringing us suddenly into a new dimension, a new mode of perception. The Quran is from the One, and it belongs to a higher order of creation than our own, where unity and differentiation begin to coalesce, and where our perception of a world dispersed into multiple states and forms loses its validity. But despite this unique feature, the formal message, the outward meaning of the Book, is in no way compromised; indeed, it gains in cogency, for each of its teachings and guiding principles is meaningful only in the context of the transcendent unity of God.

The question of the sequence of topics found in the Quran blends into another issue: the miraculous quality of the Book’s semantics and diction. For Muslims, it is an article of faith that the prose style with which its meaning patterns are articulated is inimitable in its beauty, precision, and moving grandeur, and that this constitutes the greatest of the miracles with which God confirmed the message of His last Prophet. This quality, known in Arabic as the I’jaz, comes over only very imperfectly even in the best translations; nevertheless it is still possible for the European or American reader to sense something of the breathless, insistent rhythms of the original. To the Arab, whether Muslim or Christian, the Quran has always remained the summit of eloquence which every stylist should aspire to emulate. Perhaps the greatest of all the arts evolved by Islamic civilization is that of the formal, virtuoso recitation of the Book before an audience, which is frequently moved to tears by the majestic cadences of a favourite passage, faithfully rendered by some master craftsman of the human voice.

— Abdul Wadod Shalabi and Abdal Hakim Murad, Islam: Religion of Life

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Fasting: A Mercy

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Abandoned Orange

Too often people acknowledge that man is weak & forget to point out that there are many reasons for that. One of these reasons, I believe, is so simple & obvious that I’m hesitant to even put it out there. But I shall do so:

(Wo)Man is created weak, so that he can seek the Creator, the source of all strength, and become stronger.

Note I used the term stronger & not strong, and that is deliberate… because man cannot ever be ‘strong’ in the sense that he is completely self-sufficient, completely empty of needs, and in sum, completely independent. No, man cannot be that strong on his own. Yet man may, and should, be getting stronger physically, emotionally, intellectually & spiritually all the time. It is a journey, a progress – not a final worldly destination.

Speaking of strength & weakness, C.S. Lewis has an eloquent saying in relation:

“We are far too easily pleased. God wants better things for us.

He finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.”

The truth of this quote especially strikes me at the beginning, and indeed throughout, Ramadan. As I eagerly looked forward to fasting in the blessed month of the Qur’an, the month in which the devil is chained & the gates of forgiveness are wide open – still many around me were expecting me to be in opposite spirits: dreading the 17 hours-a-day fasts. Yet I wasn’t. Why should I be?

Ramadan aside, let’s consider fasting on its own. Fasting in and of itself is not, and never was, solely limited to starving oneself. If all one gets out of a day’s fast is an empty stomach and an irritable attitude, then they haven’t really figured out what it’s all about. It would be absurd to believe that fasting is obligated on a believer simply to make him or her “suffer” for their belief.

Fasting, believe me,  is a whole other glorious level than that.

This Ramadan, I confirmed what most people would agree to be true enough –  that fasting as an activity itself, is not easy. But fasting has been a source of ease for me. And I cannot have been the only one…

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In the Qur’an, fasting and intends for you ease appear in the same verse. Allah (God) does not want to make things difficult for us, merely for us to be grateful…

I pondered on how has fasting been a source of ease for me, and surprisingly the list is very long. Here are only a few examples:

  • Easier for me to confront my flaws, with the assurance that He wants & believes that I can overcome them.
  • Easier for me to properly prioritize my responsibilities & duties to my loved ones and communities.
  • Easier for me to let go of empty attachments that has been previously eating away at my attention, which could have been much better served elsewhere.
  • Easier for me to focus on the task at hand, and give it my 100% presence.
  • Easier for me to remember that every moment not spent remembering Him is a wasted opportunity. (Oh, those prayer beads traveled every bus & metro ride with me!)
  • Easier for me to remember that I am a teacher, and whatever knowledge I have, I should definitely pass it down to the younger members of my precious family.
  • Easier for me to spend out of my pocket for others than myself.
  • Easier for me to smile, be unnaturally upbeat & optimistic. How can I not be, when my mind is containing an unusual surge of energy in my sleep-deprived & caffeine-lacking body? This can only mean He wants me awake seeking His pleasure. (How pleasant!)
  • Easier for me to implement goals and ideas I’d been putting off for way too long. Because honestly, if not now in this golden opportunity of a month, then when?

Truly, fasting is not easy…. but it is a source of ease and a means to challenge ourselves to flex our creativity & faith muscles in areas we didn’t have the guts or “time” to do all year long.

Fasting is a mercy.

To those who celebrated Ramadan: may you & I be several steps closer to God as a result. May we live to witness the next Ramadan in 2016. But until then…

Eid Mubarak!

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And God knows best.
-A.S.

A Beautiful Quote on Fasting

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From a female Islamic scholar named Fariha Fatima:

“There are as many forms of fasting as there are organs of perception and sensation, and each of these has many different levels. So we ask to fast from all that Allah does not love for us, and to feast on what the Beloved loves for us.

Let us certainly fast from the limited mind, and all that it conjures up.

Let us fast from fear, apart from fear and awe of Allah’s majesty.

Let us fast from thinking that we know, when Allah alone is the Knower.

Let us fast from thinking negatively of anyone.

Let us fast from our manipulations and strategies.

Let us fast from all complaint about the life experiences that Allah gives us.

Let us fast from our bad habits and our reactions.

Let us fast from desiring what we do not have.

Let us fast from obsession.

Let us fast from despair.

Let us fast from not loving our self, and from denying our heart.

Let us fast from selfishness and self-centered behavior.

Let us fast from thinking that only what serves us is important.

Let us fast from seeing reality only from our own point of view.

Let us fast from seeing any reality other than Allah, and from relying on anything other than Allah.

Let us fast from desiring anything other than Allah and Allah’s Prophets and friends, and our own true self.

Essentially, let us fast from thinking that we have any existence separate from Allah.”

!أمين

 

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.

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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؟

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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!

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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!

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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. 

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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]

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.