A Time of Polar Opposites

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It is a time of things old,

A time of things new;

It is a time of grey skies,

And a time of skies blue.

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It is a time of gradual beginnings,

A time of abrupt endings;

It is a time of knowing to be bold

And a time of self-surrendering.

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It is a time of dreams come true,

A time of hopes and lives destroyed;

It is a time of scientific admiration,

And a time of environment annoyed.

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It is a time of spontaneous bursts of love,

A time of inexplicable impulsive hate;

It is a time of refusing to submit to reality,

And a time of embracing what brings fate.

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It is a time of promising failures,

A time of unfortunate successes;

It is a time of lack of resources,

And a time of cruel excesses.

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It is a time of needless luxuries,

A time of great need;

It is a time of loving charity,

And a time of ruthless greed.

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It is a time of deep fulfillment,

A time of endless longing;

It is a time of painful alienation,

And a time of finally belonging.

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It is a time of times light,

A time of times dark;

It is a time of deadened hearts,

And a time of souls sparked.

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It is, alas,

A time of polar opposites;

And we must strive to grow, love and flourish,

Somehow, inside of it.

And God knows Best.

-A.S.

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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)

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The Critic and the Doer

The Critic and the Doer

“It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly;
who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at the worst, if he fails,
at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls
who neither know victory nor defeat.”

(Theodore Roosevelt)

3 Types of People

*I know this blog post might make very little sense on a general level. On a personal level, though, it is everything.

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Of the many kinds of people one can meet, I have most often encountered three types of people in my life:

a) Those with a backbone (self-made)

b) Those with a semi-backbone (tentative)

c) Those without a backbone at all (moldable)

 

TYPE A

These people have made great men and women of themselves against all odds. Now I am not talking about famous people that have made it into history books– I’m talking about individuals I know, be they family or friends or even merely someone I’ve heard of. These people who either lacked (some very simple examples) money, parental support, access to proper education resources, got bullied in school, or disadvantaged in any other way— and yet they defied every social assumption of being miserable and rose above what they were. If they were ignorant, they acknowledged it and sought out the knowledge; if they were financially limited, they were proactive and did not expect the money to grow on trees; if they lacked parental support, they did not lose all sense of morality and lose themselves in the vain pleasures of this world, but rather self-disciplined themselves and raised themselves better than any parent could.

There are so many more examples besides the ones I have just presented, but I think you get my point. These self-made individuals, in all cases, sought God’s help and had both hope in His mercy and fear (taqwa) of Him. These people are my role models and everyone I look up to, every single person, has in some way overcome difficult obstacles in their lives and risen above what they might have ever deemed possible.

 The fascinating thing about these people is that they are not always successful– they fail quite often. But they learn from their failures and refuse to let it define them. They live life– not let life outlive them.

These people, in short, have a backbone.

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TYPE B

These people want to be great. In fact, these people look up to people of Type A, so they have their sense of priority figured out! However, Type B people want what they don’t work for– or rather, they just can’t bring themselves to work it. Procrastinators on a general than rare-exceptional level. These people may put the intention to work very hard for a specific goal, and may indeed aim pretty high– but then at the very tip of the finish line, at the very bare minimum, they give up and settle for the mediocre. They succeed, but only on a passing level– and yet if they put in their all, they can truly become something great.

The problem with these people are, they don’t have full trust in God– at least not always. When they remember Him they strive and strive, but in moments of forgetfulness, they give up, and sometimes lose hope in whatever endeavor they were working towards and hence never continue in its path. Instead they’ll seek something easier, something less tiresome but less worth it, and settle for the least.

There is still hope for people of Type B people to become self-made… but only if they develop an intense desire to achieve excellence and do things with ihsan. Otherwise, they will be stuck in this hole that most of society is content to be in, because it doesn’t realize it’s in it.

 The fascinating thing about these people are, they can easily be re-directed in the right direction. They just need a little (friendly) push, a word of encouragement, and purifying of intentions. All is not lost if you are a Type B person.

Your backbone is not born yet… Just be patient and you’ll grow a backbone!

But now… 

Type C

I don’t often run into these people, and when I do, I run the other way as soon as I can. These people are the very opposite of Type A except in one regard of the ‘final prize’. You see, just as Type A aims for the best, so does Type C. The difference?

Type A actually seeks God’s help while taking full means to achieve whatever reward is in store for them.

Type C, on the other hand, may or may not seek God’s help; but whether they do or not– they will not lift a finger to make their dreams come true.

Type C people are usually lazy, boring, lack personality and are easily mold-able depending on what they think society expects of them. Somehow they think the best of both worlds is owed to them. Type C folk believe that they are naturally special people who don’t have to do any self-development– yet still, miraculously. expect the best of everything to come their way. They either passively wait for destiny to sweep them off their feet while steadily becoming a potato in front of the TV, or they ask someone to do the work for them.

But time passes and Type C soon wonders, how come I’m not getting as much as Type B or Type A? What’s wrong with me? They’ll fail to realize it’s their lack of taking initiative, their passivity, their reactiveness instead of proactiveness, that is leading to their doom. Maybe when they hit their third or fourth decade of life, they might start seriously questioning their lives. But then this would lead to self-blame, and it’s easier to point the finger of blame at someone else instead.

The fascinating thing about Type C people is that they have extremely high expectations of everything and everyone around them– but none of themselves. They expect the world to be at the service of their feet, but they can’t even serve themselves, let alone serve others in return.

 These people, in short, do not have a backbone. They rely on others that do to give them their prizes so they can feel they do.

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However, it’s never too late to be a Type B or Type A– but it will be just much harder and take a lot of sincere effort.

I know many Type B people and a few Type A– but alhamdulileh, praise be to God, many Type B people I know have realized their traps and are actively working their way to Type A. But sadly, and frustratingly, I’m increasingly meeting Type C people these days… I try to avoid them like the plague, because everything about their presence de-motivates and un-inspires.

I pray I, and you, and she, and he, and we can all be members of Type A: people who will make a difference, beginning with ourselves. Only with that can there be any hope be of, inevitably, changing the world.

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And Allah knows best. ~

— A.S.