Yes, your physical heart beats. Yes, it is keeping you alive, physically. Yes, it is pumping blood without you ever having to remind it to do so—but is that all? What about spiritually? Is your heart spiritually beating? Is your heart keeping your connection with God alive? Is it pumping the spiritual motivation that you need to get through your daily life without falling to pieces–without breaking every moral fiber within your being? It is important to ask these questions, because if not, then life will have no meaning—no fruit—and not a moment of peace.
Maybe you remember a time when it was fully alive and thriving. You could feel it pumping the essential life juices from your spiritual heart through your veins and straight to your limbs, making the good deeds easy and making desires easily avoidable.
But maybe not. Maybe you do not ever remember it being alive. But you have craved it. You wish that you could feel it, that it would start pumping, beating, so that the emptiness inside you could finally fade away. You wish that it would start working, like you know it should, so that these useless desires that you know you should not be chasing will not seem so, enticing. You just want it to keep you alive.
Either way, it is possible. Either way, it is essential. And the fact that you even want it to is a sign, in and of itself, that God wants you to be awakened. He wants you to come back to Him. And how amazing is it to feel that the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth wants you, specifically. Think about it for a moment, let it sink in. The purpose of the heart, is to love, so the most essential step in bringing it back to life, is to allow it love. Someone once asked me if we can teach our heart to love. The truth is, no we can not. But as Rumi, a poet, once said: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Whether we realize it or not, we have all built barriers around the walls of our heart. They may be walls that have accidentally been placed there, over time without our realizing. But sometimes these are intentional walls, which we have built up to protect ourselves from what we conceive to be potential harm. Whatever it may be, we must find out what walls stand between us and embracing the beautiful Love of God that our heart craves and needs. You may be thinking, “Well tell me, what are the walls that surround my heart that are preventing me from this love?” And I wish I could answer you clearly and precisely. But the thing is, it is your heart. No one knows your heart like you do—well no one except God. You must realize that it is essential to get to know yourself. If you know your heart you will know yourself—and if you know yourself you will begin to know God.
I will not leave you completely clueless. There are numerous barriers that may be there in your heart, but I will name a few to get you started while thinking about yourself. These are not comprehensive, rather simply a spark to ignite the fires of your thought.
- Arrogance: Only the humble can know God, as they realize that He is everything and they are nothing without Him. When the heart has arrogance, even just a little, this begins to serve as a barrier between His Love and His Light. Humble yourself for God, and He will raise you.
- Anger: Anger, for other than the sake of God, hardens the heart. It consumes the heart and rids it of the opportunity to feel happiness and love. It prevents the Light of God from flowing in. If you are an angry person—angry at people, or at the world in general, get to know that anger. Figure out where it comes from and why it is there, and find a way to rid yourself from it.
- Ignorance of God: This is a bg one. If you do not know God, how do you expect to love Him? And I do not mean being able to recite 99 of His magnificent names in a song. I mean, know what these names refer to in Him and how that affects us. Specifically, how they affect YOU. If you love a human being, be it an actress/actor, a romantic partner, or any other person—you spend time getting to know them. And most of the time, the more you know them, the more you love them. It can sometimes even become an obsession. What then of God? Shouldn’t we get to know Him so that the walls of our ignorance that surround our heart begin to crumble and His love is allowed to flow through?
Strive to awaken the heart of your spirit and in turn awaken meaning to life. When the heart begins to thrive, doing good deeds become easy, and desires become unattractive and even disgusting. Do not give up on yourself, because God has not. And know that even in this state, you are beloved to God and He wants you close. Imam Al-Shaadhili once said:
“If you were to open the heart of the disobedient believer, its light would blind the universe. What then of the obedient believer?”
A brother reminded me recently of an important da`wah (outreach) principle, namely that when you work, you work for the long term, and you do not always see the consequences of your work. The investment is based on principle and that is what matters. We do what needs to be done according to the guidance of Islam, and we leave results to Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He).
This was shown through the divestment efforts at UC San Diego. The brother was saying that the first time they tried was during the Gaza bombardment in 2009, and it was flatly rejected. Then each year after that it was flatly rejected until this year—momentum had started building and now it passed at UCSD with a majority. Had they given up in the beginning they would not have succeeded, but they did what they felt they needed to do and left the rest to Allah (swt). Changing culture and changing people takes time. Patience is necessary.
What makes this lesson so important yet so difficult is that we often times do not see the fruits of our labors. This is true on a large scale and a small scale. However, the “little” things we do actually do impact our surroundings. This is why it is so important to be a person of God-consciousness in all of our affairs. It makes it so that all of our actions are driven by His pleasure and bring goodness into the world. Many times there will be people who interact with us or surround us who are impacted by our actions but we will never know. Sometimes they will come to us much later and tell us and sometimes they will not. Sometimes the positive things that we do will not even bear fruit in our lifetime. That is why we act on principle and not on temporal benefit.
This is all summarized most beautifully by the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) in which he said, “If the Day of Judgment was to come and you had a sapling in your hand to plant, then plant it.” This is acting on principle and that is what is necessary in order to work for the long term.
There are some people who are always able to see the positives in a situation. Even when they get knocked down, they manage to get right back up again. They are able to do things with a wonderful spirit. The American inventor, Thomas Edison, once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
What makes some people more able to be positive, determined, and in a general state of contentment and happiness than others? There are, of course, many reasons. One major reason is often the way we view the world. According to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness, this perception of reality is the precursor to happiness (or lack thereof).
Successful, happy people are able to view a reality in which happiness is possible—a positive reality. It is not because they are delusional optimists, rather, they see the whole picture, with multiple paths and options, and they choose the path that is most positive but is also true.
This immediately made me think of two things: firstly, that Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), tells us we are what we think of Him. This is a really revolutionary way of thinking about the world. You make it good or bad. You choose to see the endless clouds or the silver lining(s). You choose to see Allah (swt) as an angry god waiting to punish His servants, or a merciful and just God, guiding His servants to be righteous custodians of this earth. And then you live in accordance with that view.
So if your view is that Allah (swt) wants good for you, and He helps those who want to do good, you will always find ways to live and be better. Something does not work out? No problem. What can you learn? Is there another way to the same goal? Have the variables changed that your goal should change too?
This is why the Prophet ﷺ teaches us that if someone possesses these two characteristics, there is nothing higher than them:
- Thinking well of Allah (swt)
- Thinking well of the servants of Allah (swt)
And then there are the two worst characteristics:
- Thinking negatively of Allah (swt)
- Thinking negatively of the servants of Allah (swt)
The second related point is the life of the Prophet ﷺ. How many times was he knocked down? And how many times did he get back up, his faith in God not shaken? His life really exemplifies what Achor talks about in his book, Before Happiness. In order to perceive happiness, you need to see the bigger picture. You need to have meaning. You use meaning as markers in your life, and that enables you to turn situations that could be boring or bad into things that are meaningful. Moreover, you are not rigid and stuck in one perspective. You are able to see things and are also open to being shown things from different angles, and thus you have a wider set of options to choose from.
The Prophet ﷺ started off in Makkah, with the protection of his uncle Abu Talib. When his uncle passed away, he lost that protection. For someone else, this could have been the end. But the Prophet ﷺ decided to seek protection at Ta’if. Over there, he was humiliated and rejected. But see how he is a person who sees the whole picture, and does not simply focus on the negative situation of the present: Ta’if didn’t work out, but there were scores of other tribes in the Arabian Peninsula. More powerful tribes were preferable, but any decent tribe that was willing to protect them would be good— because the aim at that point was leaving Makkah with the protection of a tribe. Although he was surely affected by what happened, he made a heartfelt supplication to God: “As long as You are not angry with me, then I do not care, except that Your favor is a more expansive relief for me.” He did not stop.
The Prophet ﷺ focused on all his options. He was not irrationally optimistic, which would be wishing that something would come out of thin air and maybe even acting recklessly. Rather, he looked at his options and picked the ones that were positive and true/possible. He exercised patience while having complete trust in Allah (swt).
The Prophet ﷺ first spoke to the tribe of Bani Shayban, during the Hajj (pilgrimage) season when all the Arab tribes would visit the Ka’ba. They were a powerful tribe, from an area that bordered modern day Iraq and Iran. They had treaties with the Persians to protect their borders, and for that they were given special privileges. While the tribe leaders liked what the Prophet ﷺ had to say, they said that they would not protect them from the Persians if it came down to that. They could only protect them from the Arabs.
Now if you were in this position, what would you do? Accept the limited protection of one of the most powerful tribes in Arabia at a time when you had none, or continue your search?
The Prophet ﷺ had a vision. His aim was not simply protection for the sake of it. It was protection in order to spread the message and principles of Islam, which would in turn ensure protection for the weakest members of society. He knew that if he could get that protection, and he had the freedom to tell people about the religion, Islam could flourish. So he graciously declined.
He finally met some youth from Madina who accepted his message. He had the patience and perseverance to tell them to return to their home, speak to their people, and come back the following year during Hajj to see if protection would be granted. And it was.
A pessimist would scoff. A pessimist would focus on the problems. Maybe even despair. Madina? What was Madina in relation to the powerful tribes of Makkah and other areas? They were doomed! An irrational optimist would see that they have been saved. A positive genius? He would see the whole picture. And then he would focus on what he could do in the circumstances. The Prophet ﷺ was a positive genius. And we know how the story ended.
How was he able to do all of this? His perception of God, firstly. That when you are doing something for His sake, you do not fixate on the little things. You know everything is in His Hands, and He knows what is best. It is not about your pride or your ego. You have trust. We know in the story of the Prophet Musa, alayhi as-salaam (peace upon him), and al-Khidr (as), al-Khidr damages the boat of some poor people who had helped them. That damage saved them from something greater, because there was a king at the time who was seizing every boat that was in good condition for himself. This story teaches us that what we perceive as bad can actually be good. Not being given protection at Ta’if, or from Bani Shayban, was not bad at all because Madina was the best place for them.
Stay tuned for the next part on the skills of a positive genius!
Reflections on the Time War, Doctor Who at 50, and Why the Doctor Will Survive
In the crucible of the Time War, when the Gallifreyan city of Arcadia fell to the Daleks, the Time Lord known as the Doctor lands his TARDIS in a firestorm to announce his intention of ending the centuries-long conflagration. The TARDIS materializes in its iconic police box shape, startling a Gallifreyan soldier retreating from the Daleks. The Doctor (John Hurt) steps from the TARDIS, his shadow projected onto a wall by the flames ravaging Arcadia. In his gravelly baritone, the Doctor says, “Soldier, I’m going to need your gun.” As the Daleks massacre Gallifreyan civilians en masse, the Doctor blasts a message into the concrete wall: “No more.” Their sensors detecting the Doctor, the Daleks halt and shift course, to convene on the Doctor’s location. The Daleks advance and chant—“The Doctor is detected! Seek! Locate! Destroy!”—moments before the TARDIS hurtles through a wall and twirls, rips, through the advancing Daleks.
This scene from Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special, which aired on 23 November 2013, finally dramatizes a mysterious plotline from Russell T Davies’s 2005 re-launch of the series: the Time War. In the Doctor Who mythos, the Doctor shoulders the devastating burden of ending this war (which threatened to shred the universe itself to tatters) by expunging the combatants (the Daleks and the Time Lords) alike from the fabric of reality. The lingering trauma of this choice has haunted each of the Doctor’s regenerations in the revived Doctor Who: Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor—a regeneration forged in the Time War’s flames—smoldered as he attempted to bury the coals of war in his memory, while David Tennant’s and Matt Smith’s Doctors temper their regret with (for Tennant’s 10th) a fawning fascination with humanity and (for Smith’s 11th) a penchant for zanily gesturing whilst speaking at a breakneck rate. The 50th anniversary pits Tennant’s and Smith’s Doctors against Hurt’s War Doctor, the regeneration held responsible for the genocidal acts that finished the Time War.
In the Whoniverse, as Doctor Who fandom has termed the show’s in-story history, the events of the Time War were allegedly “time locked,” meaning that the war’s history remains forever sealed; as such, even the Doctor and his TARDIS could not re-enter the war’s timeline. But the series has broached the Time War before, most notably during Tennant’s tenure as the Doctor. The 2008 episode “The Stolen Earth” features a Dalek who penetrated the time-locked events and subsequently went insane, while Tennant’s two-episode swansong (2009-2010’s “The End of Time”) featured the Time Lords breaching the time lock to re-integrate war-torn Gallifrey in the universe, at the significant cost of hauling the Daleks back with them.
So, it was inevitable that show-runner and head writer Steven Moffat would risk encountering those twin specters of every franchise—melodramatic solemnity and nostalgic kitsch—by introducing viewers to the Time War in a global simulcast. After all, John Hurt’s War Doctor is a brusque and wry tragic hero, a warrior struggling to save his wit, his soul, and his sensibility in the face of an impossible decision. Likewise, the special featured numerous salutes to the show’s fifty-year run, hazarding a saccharine display of nostalgia. Here are several of the episode’s Easter eggs: the episode’s title sequence is the rippling vortex from the first 1963 series with William Hartnell as the Doctor, immediately followed by the first episode’s opening frames in black and white; the episode’s three Doctors occasionally utter their predecessors’ catchphrases, such as 3rd Doctor Jon Pertwee’s famous “Reverse the polarity”; Tom Baker, the 4th Doctor, has a cameo opposite Smith’s Doctor; and the special concludes with a tableau featuring all the Doctors, including the War Doctor.
But it’s the somberness of Hurt’s Doctor, opposite the spunky demeanors of Tennant and Smith’s Doctors, that balance this celebration on the ledge that Doctor Who has always trod: that perilous ridge between bleak drama and garish camp. This is where the Daily Mail’s Jim Shelley gets it wrong, in a spasmodic and bitter review that misreads Doctor Who as if the programme sought the intensity of, say, period drama Downton Abbey or crime thrillers like Luther and Broadchurch. Shelley pans the special as “neither scary nor funny enough,” “far too zany,” and “delusional”—while praising only the wisdom that Hurt brought to the role.
Shelley’s review smacks of high seriousness, a snobbish concept lifted from eminent Victorian Matthew Arnold’s The Study of Poetry and anachronistically plopped into the twenty-first century. This high seriousness blinds Shelley to what has made Doctor Who thrive for five decades: the belief that seriousness and fun need one another. Part of Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the one-off movie An Adventure in Time and Space dramatizes this melding of somberness and soul in the programme’s dawn. In rehearsing the pilot episode, William Hartnell (David Bradley) grills Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine) about when the TARDIS set will arrive. Hartnell says,
“I need time to plot out the buttons, you see. […] I need to know what they all do. What if I press something to open the doors, and then the next week I use it to blow us all up? […] The children will spot it, you see, if we try and fudge it.”
Hartnell set a trend that the show would follow: Doctor Who is fun, but a fun bound by its own conventions. And this is what makes the show thrive—serious production values that embrace the Whoniverse’s lead, whether a regeneration should lead to the dour demeanor of a Hartnell or a Hurt, or the campiness of Tom Baker’s 15-foot-long scarf or Colin Baker’s Technicolor plaid blazer or Smith’s penchant for donning any fez he encounters.
It was never Daleks nor Time Lords nor Time Wars alone that launched Doctor Who on its fifty-year voyage, but the show’s embrace of its protagonist’s morality, its narrative conventions, and—most importantly—fun for the audience. If the Doctor remains a man who can oscillate between manic energy, the otherworldly reality of the Whoniverse, and his serious promise to be “never cowardly or cruel,” Doctor Who will carry us through time and space for decades more.Image from: http://www.bbcamerica.com/doctor-who/guide/50th-specials/
Originally published in November 2010
Can I celebrate Thanksgiving with my parents? I converted a few years back and it is very important to them. Things haven’t been great since my reversion. What are your thoughts?
There is a legitimate scholarly difference surrounding this issue. Those who hold such celebrations as forbidden do so contending that such celebrations are “religious in nature” and amount to imitating the religious rites of others. One of my teachers, Shaykh `Abdul Jalil al-Mezgouria told me, “There is nothing religious about this celebration.” In fact, I remember him giving a khutbah about it a number of years back.
Those who contented that such celebrations are permissible, do so contending the opposite: such celebrations are not religious in nature and that the origin of things is permissible unless explicitly forbidden. Sheikh al-Qaradawi stated, concerning Mother’s Day, there is no way he considered it forbidden. He based his contention on the legal axiom: “Nothing is made forbidden except with a clear text.”
It is well known that al-Rajabiyah was a holiday observed by the Arabs before for the time of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) up until the third century A.H. and the jurist differed on its ruling. The Hanabalis considered it permissible, while the Malikis held it to be disliked.
Those who hold it permissible also note that the statement of the Prophet ﷺ, “Our holidays are two” is not a prohibition to celebrate other holidays outside of the religious sphere.
The Indigenous Imperative
As a convert to Islam and based on my humble legal training, I agree with the second opinion. Many of us, those of us who have converted to Islam, can use these moments to share the beauty of our faith with our families and loved ones in an non-hostile environment. Perhaps, by giving gifts to our parents we can heal wounds, build relationships, and move forward. At the same time, such celebrations are based on the foundations of our faith: honoring one’s parents. Therefore, we should engage such holidays with the intention of fostering noble relations and spreading the beauty of our faith with others.
Allah knows best.
One of the things that happens in work in general is that we have a tendency to sideline those who disagree with us. It just makes the whole decision-making process easier and things can move quicker, or so it seems. However, this is a major mistake and shura (decision-making) is not shura unless it includes those who disagree as well. Sometimes this takes extra time and seems to slow things down, but it makes for a richer decision-making process and also guards against group-think.
The Prophet ﷺ made shura in Badr and Uhud, as well as many other places in the seerah (biography of the Prophet). This was to establish the principle that taking shura is essential. One striking example of this is that when they went out before Badr, they were expecting to raid a caravan, not go to war. So when it became clear that war was upon them the Prophet ﷺ asked his companions if they agreed. Three of the Emigrants (Muhajirin) stood up and affirmed but the Prophet asked again. He wanted to include the Helpers (Ansar). When a representative from the Helpers affirmed the decision, he went with it and they prepared for war. Heﷺ made sure to include all parties in the decision-making process.
The companions also understood that in issues not related to revelation they could differ with him. This is why we see what happened when the Muslims were positioning themselves before the Battle of Badr. They stopped at a certain point near the wells of Badr, and a companion named Hubab ibn al-Mundhir asked the Prophetﷺ if the decision was based on revelation or strategy. When heﷺ replied that it was strategy, he said that he thought it would be better if they positioned themselves differently, and the Prophet accepted his advice. This companion is not well known or commonly talked about but even he knew that in such matters his opinion was important.
Another example of this that I heard about recently was in relation to one national Muslim organization. Several years back there were some major disagreements nationally in regards to vision in the organization. There were two major camps, and in the end one won the public opinion battle. What the President did after that was the amazing part. When they put together the new board, there is always one seat that is not elected but chosen by the leadership. He insisted that that seat be filled by someone from the opposing camp. He did this so their voice would not be marginalized and would still be heard at the decision making table.
Another modern example was with one of the major Islamic groups internationally. They used to have a shura that was not binding and the amir (leader) would have the final say. When they switched to a binding shura (meaning the majority decision is binding on the board and not only in the hands of the amir) the then president of the organization did not state his opinion in meetings for seven years! He did this to make sure that the organizational culture would shift.
So in organizing it is always important to make sure that there are various view points at the table and that as long as everyone is agreeing on the major objectives then that difference should be welcomed and enriches the decision-making process.
A new guide on external speakers at higher education institutions may prove a productive publication for religious institutions to draw from
The Universities UK (UUK) has recently published guidance on external speakers in higher education institutions with the aim of providing practical guidance for universities on the issue. This follows from their previous guidance on Freedom of speech on campus in 2011. The National Union of Students (NUS) has its own guidelines on this issue, entitled Managing the risks associated with external speakers.
The NUS and UUK documents are complementary; they apply to a range of activities involving external speakers on campus and events such as debates, speeches and conferences organised by staff, students and external bodies. The UUK guidance suggests: “Universities have to balance their obligation to secure free speech with their duties to ensure that the law is observed, which includes promoting good campus relations and maintaining the safety and security of staff, students and visitors.”
The guidance starts with the legal context mentioning “whilst the law promotes and protects freedoms of speech and debate, the law also places limits on those freedoms, both in a university setting and elsewhere. The freedoms which the law protects and promotes are freedoms within the law.”
As law may have its soft and hard ends, depending on how it is framed by law-enforcing agencies, this is an area where some groups or communities may feel disadvantaged. There are also areas where laws may not be broken, but reputational damage could be huge for an institution. Reputation is not tangible and may not be related with the quality of an institution. A vocal group of opposition, for whatever reasons, may attempt to damage an institution through media or political lobbying. For a charity this could perturb the Charity Commission for genuine reasons, political and regulatory.
One high profile case that came into prominence was when a former University College London (UCL) student, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (often referred to as the “Underwear Bomber”) was arrested for attempting to detonate plastic explosives on board a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. The UCL was heavily criticised for its ‘relaxed attitude’ to radical preachers. Abdulmutallab finished his degree in June 2008, 18 months before the incident. During his tenure at the UCL he was president of its Islamic Society once, and organised political discussions and activities such as martial arts training and paintballing. One commentator even suggested “UCL has not just failed to prevent students being radicalised, they have been complicit.” The college initiated an independent inquiry, chaired by Professor Dame Fiona Caldicott, which concluded unequivocally that “there was no evidence to suggest that he had been radicalised during his time as a student.” But the criticism did not end even then.
While not same, universities and religious institutions share some similarities in terms of accommodating a wide range of external speakers, events and organisations. Universities, with better public relations infrastructure, can hold out against criticisms when something goes wrong; but religious institutions, particularly of the Islamic faith, may not have the capacity to endure a barrage of criticism from the far right media and blogosphere in a similar situation. In recent times, some major Muslim institutions have been unfairly smeared over their third party bookings of mainly socially conservative speakers (who are often termed as ‘extremists’ and ‘hate-preachers’). The attacks are coming from what are, in my view, discredited groups such as Student Rights, Stand for Peace and Harry’s Place, with poor research and incendiary statements. The aim appears to damage the reputation of these Muslim institutions and to frighten off others.
Starting from a lower level on the playing field, some Muslim groups are in a steep learning curve when it comes to external speakers and bookings, and the vetting processes required. They are also seeking to adapt to geopolitical, socioeconomic and legislative changes in recent years.
Unfortunately, the post-7/7 Muslim community has often been stigmatised for apparent ‘fifth column’ instincts: for desiring to ‘take over’, to ‘impose Sharia law’, for oppressing women, rampant homophobia, harbouring terrorist sympathies, and apparently being unwilling or unable to adapt to ‘Western’ ways. This has nothing to do with the reality for the overwhelming number of the community.
Sadly, one government policy that has badly damaged the image of the Muslim community and Muslim students is the ‘Prevent’ agenda, promoted by the Blair government in the aftermath of 7/7. The current Coalition government’s ‘Conveyor Belt’ theory (that treats Muslim groups as insufficiently moderate) have put a heavy burden on Muslims in the community and in universities. This has given far-right groups a stick to beat Muslims with. ‘Securitisation’ of government policy has put Muslim students at the sharp end of unfair scrutiny. There is a risk of alienating a generation of young Muslims who, like others, are simply trying to secure better futures for themselves and their families. Baroness Warsi, the Tory politician, rightly claimed about three years ago that Islamophobia was now socially acceptable in Britain.
The consolation is that student groups and universities themselves consider the Prevent strategy ‘discriminatory’ against Muslims. The NUS, in fact, warned ministers that “wild sensationalism” over claims about radicalisation on campuses would “only serve to unfairly demonise Muslim students“.
Britain has come a long way with its unique and successful model of social inclusion and pluralism, far better than any European country. The Muslim community and its large number of students in the universities today are different from what they were before. The UUK guidance is a useful attempt to help universities address some contemporary issues in the campus. Properly and consistently implemented for all in the campus, this will hopefully streamline the process of using external speakers without maligning any community and allow creative debate on issues that affect us all, including Muslims.
Religious institutions can hopefully make use of the guidance and tailor-make it to best serve their communities.Image from: www.thirdyearabroad.com
I should be the last person to write this because I am the type of person who usually stays up UNTIL fajr (the morning prayer), but alhamdulilLah (praise be to God), I have been able to bring some changes in my sleeping pattern with the help of a few tips:
- Make the intention
- Go to sleep early and do not sleep during the day
- Set an alarm clock
- Tell a friend/parent to wake you up
- Maintain a regular sleeping pattern
If you have already applied the above tips, but it’s still not working, I’d like to dig a little deeper into the implementation of these points both physically and psychologically, and that will make a big difference, insha’Allah (God willing).
1. Make the intention – Make it a part of your life that as the night approaches, you become consciously aware that you have to wake up for fajr. Make fajr a part of your schedule just like other things, and give it priority. If you do not have the intention, then no matter what you do, it will not really help. For example, even if you set the alarm, if you do not intend on waking up, you will just turn it off and go back to sleep.
2. Go to sleep early and do not sleep during the day – Have your dinner early and force yourself to bed, even if your mind tells you that you have no sleep. Get rid of distractions, be it Facebook, your cellphone, etc, you know yourself best. Distractions will set your mind working again, and that only makes things more difficult. Instead, do something so boring that you automatically feel sleepy. For example, I make recordings of my professor’s class lecture and listen to it again when I can’t fall asleep. You can also read a book which helps some people fall asleep.
If you manage to wake up on time for fajr the first morning after, resisting sleep becomes the most difficult thing in life! You forget all the promises you made the previous night with only one thing in mind—how to get back to bed! This is the hard part—stay up no matter what. Bear the pain the first morning, take a small nap around 20 – 30 minutes in the daytime if needed (it’s sunnah!), and Insha’Allah, that night you can go to bed early.
3. Set an alarm clock – For those with cell phones, set the alarm at its loudest and keep the phone some distance away from you so that you have to get up and walk to turn it off. If you have a bathroom nearby it’s best to keep it there with the door open, that way the echos will hit your ears hard. For those who have an Android phone, I highly recommend using the app “Alarm Clock Xtreme.” It’s free and unlike normal alarm apps which automatically snooze after a few minutes, this alarm will not be silenced until either your phone runs out of juice, or you turn it off yourself. And that is not easy either! You can set it to give you math calculations to solve in order to turn it off, or entering a “captcha”—all things that are bound to get your mind working, and hence effectively breaking your sleep: http://bit.ly/HB5PfQ.
A piece of excellent advice I heard from Yasmin Mogahed—set your alarm tone as Qur’an recitation. The sound of Qur’an will reach out to your heart, and it will be more difficult to ignore.
But if you see that your sleep is so deep that nothing gets to your ears, you can make your bed less comfortable, for example, by sleeping on a plain surface instead of the soft comfortable mattress. That way your sleep is less deep, and more likely to break on hearing the alarm!
4. Tell a friend/parent to wake you up – The best way to do this in my opinion would be to make it more interactive. Don’t just let your friend wake you up—you should also take the responsibility of waking up someone else, be it another friend or a sibling. Once responsibility falls on your shoulders too, you will automatically feel more inclined to wake up on time.
5. Maintain a regular sleeping pattern – This is a tip that helped me a lot. A great way to maintain this is to make a game out of it, an expensive one rather. For example, you can arrange a game with your friend where if you don’t wake up for fajr, then you will have to pay him/her a certain amount of money, which goes to charity (an amount which isn’t so little that it’s insignificant to you, or so great that it puts you in financial crisis!). Say $100. So if you do not wake up for fajr, you pay $100 to charity that day, and if they do not wake up, they pay $100. Maybe you will end up paying 2 or 3 days, but believe me the next day and onwards, you are gonna be up before anyone else! And important thing to note, this money should be for charity only, not for personal gain!
Well that seems to be the end of the list right? But why continue further? Because that list lacks the number one tip of all. This is the ultimate advice, the one which if you are able to follow, all the other tips above are unnecessary. Before I get to it though, let me explain indirectly. If you had a final exam that starts at 8am and you go to sleep at 5am, will you be able to wake up for it? Oh you bet! If your work starts at 6am and being late means you will lose your job, will you be late? Never!
The reason why is because when something has value and importance to us, no matter what our condition is, no matter what the situation is, we will find a way to do it. So perhaps the real reason why we are unable to wake up for fajr is because we do not give enough importance to the fajr prayer. We do not realize or ponder over the benefits of praying or the consequence of neglecting this prayer. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said that the first matter which we will be brought to account for on the Day of Judgment is the prayer. If it is sound, the rest of our deeds will be sound. And if it is bad, the rest of our deeds will be bad. Praying fajr keeps us safe under the protection of Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exhalted is He), as Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said (Sahih Muslim). Prayer is one of the main foundations on which Islam is built.
In short, Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “So woe to those who pray, [But] who are heedless of their prayer,” (107:4-5).
Given all these things, is it really worth sleeping instead of praying fajr? The answer is told to us twice every morning in the adhan (call to prayer):
AsSalatu khairum minan-naum.
Prayer is better than sleep, Prayer is better than sleep.
If we are able to internalize the importance of fajr salaat and the consequences of missing it, we will automatically find a means of waking up for prayer, just like we would have woken up if it had been the time of our final exam or our jobs. But how can we value something if we do not even know anything about it? We can start by seeking knowledge about its importance.
But at the same time, knowledge is fruitless without huda (guidance), so let us sincerely ask Allah (swt) to help us, guide us and increase our imaan (faith) and love for this beautiful deen (religion).
Before ending, I would just like to say that I myself struggle lots with fajr salaat and still sometimes slip, so this is first and foremost a reminder to myself. I am in need of it as much as anyone else.
If King Jan III Sobieski of Poland had not arrived in Vienna on 12th September 1683, the dynamics of global power would have been entirely different
As A J P Taylor used to tell his students, “History is what those with power want you to believe has happened, not necessarily what actually happened”.
This is certainly true when the development of Europe and its relations with its eastern neighbours is viewed from the vantage point of the 21st century. Much of what we think we know is actually a blend of propaganda, selective remembrance and downright lies. The true record is a distortion, but we are unaware of this fact and its implications for us all today. Put simply, the attitude of most Europeans to Islam is influenced by a ‘folk-memory’ that has lain in our unconscious like an incubus for at least five centuries. The myth of the bearded and turbaned warrior wielding his scimitar and kidnapping virgin maids for his harem, has now been replaced by the fiction that beyond the shores of Europe the world is entirely peopled by bearded and turbaned warriors armed with explosives and AK47s, who wish us nothing but pain and suffering.
We deal with the world in terms of our understanding of it, but is this view in any sense inevitable? There is a convincing case to be made that the world would have been a completely different place, if just one or two events had taken a different turn. So, come with me back to the 17th century and indulge in a ‘mind game’ – an exercise in counterfactual history.
In 1683 all of the Balkans, together with large parts of Hungary and the Ukraine, formed the western edge of the Ottoman Empire, ruled from Constantinople by Sultan Mehmet IV. These remote regions of eastern Europe were Muslim lands with a mosque in most communities and a legal system based upon Islamic Law. Contrary to common belief, the Ottomans allowed many religious freedoms; Jews, Christians and Copts were allowed to appoint their own priests, build their own places of worship and conduct themselves as they wished, so long as they did not challenge the caliphate. Indeed the Ottoman authorities went to great lengths to protect the Christian and Jewish ‘holy places’ in Jerusalem and Palestine, and regularly arbitrated in disputes.
For tactical and economic reasons, the Ottomans had long wanted to take Vienna and the Austrian lands from the Habsburg Monarchy. In the 1560s, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent had referred to the city as the ‘Red Apple’ of Europe and, in 1682, Sultan Mehmet IV declared war on the House of Habsburg. His Grand Vizier, Kara Mustafa Pasha, marched north through the Balkans from Constantinople with an army of 300,000 and on 14th July 1683 the Ottomans surrounded Vienna and laid siege to what was then the third largest city in Europe. There was a military stalemate until 12th September 1683 when King Jan III Sobieski of Poland arrived with a relief army of 84,000 and engaged Kara Mustafa Pasha in a decisive battle. The siege was lifted, the Ottomans withdrew, and Europe was ‘saved’ for Christendom.
But what might have happened if the Poles had failed to arrive in time? Let us imagine the historical counter-factual.
It is 13th September 1683 and the Ottomans have beaten off a half-hearted attempt by the advance guard of a small Polish army to raise the siege. Vienna has fallen and Kara Mustafa Pasha’s forces have occupied the city. Despatch-riders have set off for Constantinople to announce the victory and to call upon the Sultan to send reinforcements to garrison his new prize. By 1686 Vienna would have started to look like other European cities under Ottoman rule such as Belgrade, with minarets starting to appear and traders from Anatolia and the east establishing new businesses and trading enterprises. Vienna’s strategic position on the Danube would have meant that any aspirations that Hungary might have had to control the main river artery of Europe would have disappeared. By 1700, all of Hungary, most of Austria, the Ukraine and much of Poland and Saxony would have been part of the Ottoman Empire or client states owing allegiance to the Sultan. The reason for this explosion of influence is easy to see. At a time when travel by road was virtually impossible and sea travel dangerous and uncertain, by controlling the Danube as far as Germany, the most important commercial route to the east would have been in Ottoman hands. From that would have flowed great riches and even greater influence. The whole of eastern Europe, from Muscovy to the Rhine would have been in the Sultan’s sphere of control.
Thus by mid-18th century, on either side of a line that might have been drawn between Denmark and Italy, Europe would have been divided between a newly-empowered and immensely-rich Muslim Ottoman Empire to the east and a much diminished western Europe. Driven from Austria, the Habsburg monarchy would have clung on to their outpost in Spain, but there would have been no Austria-Hungary. No threat from the Austrian Habsburgs would have freed the Bourbons from the threat and expense of war, thereby avoiding a revolution in France in 1789. No French Revolution would have meant no Napoleon, who would have remained a junior officer in the artillery, bored and distracted on his native Corsica. No Napoleon would have meant that England could have remained at peace from the 1780s to 1815 and almost certainly able to retain the American colonies. The United States of America would not have developed along the lines that we know it now.
Without the pressure of rivalry with Austria and France, Prussia would never have forced through the unification of Germany in 1871, which would have remained a collection of insignificant hereditary kingdoms. The Tsar of Russia, confronted by a strong and prosperous Ottoman Empire on the western and southern borders would have had to meet the needs of the vast population and deal with social inequality. There would have been no Russian revolution; no great-power rivalry, so no First World War and no Treaty of Versailles. Hitler would have remained a failed architecture student in his home town of Linz, deep in Ottoman Austria, so there would have been no Second World War. There would have been no Holocaust, no State of Israel, and Palestine would have remained little more than a dusty sanjaq in an out of the way part of the Sultan’s vast empire.
It is November 2013. Islam is the religion of more than half of Europe, not by compulsion or force of arms, but simple acceptance. There is a caliphate that stretches from Basra to Berlin with imposing centuries-old mosques in Vienna, Linz, Budapest and Warsaw. Alongside them are soaring Catholic cathedrals and synagogues of surpassing beauty. Religion is part of the life blood of this different Europe, but as something that sustains not divides.Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman_miniature
One of the common mistakes that is seen in those who are working for Islam is that they lose balance of all the things they are responsible for. We know that the Prophet ﷺ said:
“Every one of you is a shepherd and every shepherd is responsible for his/her flock.”
Our “flocks” can be different things at different times but we should always keep some priorities in mind as well as a guiding principle.
In relation to priorities there are several overlapping circles of development and responsibility:
- The individual
- The family
- One’s local community
- The greater society
- The rest of the world
These are in order of importance, however, they are not mutually exclusive. If one is working at the individual level on some of their issues, it does not mean that they cannot give anything to their family or community. The priorities do give us guidelines for change though. We are fooling ourselves if we think that we are going to change any of the latter things in a substantial way while failing with the beginning priorities. It is possible that one can have varying levels of engagement with a number of these at once, but certain parts will shift and take precedence depending on time and circumstance.
In our context it is usually the first two that get neglected. People work very hard for programs in the community and for others but when it comes to their own development and their responsibilities to their families, they come up short. Often times this is not a problem of time, but rather how we use our time, but that is a different lesson.
Some of our individual responsibilities that need to be watched out for:
- The quality of our prayers
- Our daily remembrance of God, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He)
- Our manners and character development
- Our education
- Our professional development
- Our physical and mental health
Family is its own responsibility whether a child, parent, or spouse. All of us have roles and responsibilities towards our loved ones and they should not be neglected.
So we should keep these priorities in mind and balance between them with fluidity and integrity as things come up.
Don’t allow undisciplined fear to make you jump on a bandwagon or act rashly on impulse against perceived injustices.
Surah Al Qasas 1-46 is the story of Prophet Musa (Moses), `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), growing up in the house of Fir`awn (Pharoah) and then entering his life of prophet-hood. I have spent some days with it, and I realized this story might have some significance for Muslims in the world right now. But of course I am not a scholar of tafsir (Qur’anic interpretation), so please understand that these are just my personal thoughts and responses.
Prophet Musa and Fear
It is fascinating to note that many times when Prophet Musa (as) is mentioned in the Qur’an, the word ‘fear’ is mentioned, and Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), shows him in some way how to overcome his fears and have courage, steadfastness and confidence. I know myself to be a fearful person about so many things in life, hence my recognition of it in Prophet Musa’s story (as).
When Prophet Musa (as) was young, after growing up in the house of Fir`awn, the Qur’an says that God (swt) gave him the strength of perfected manhood, as well as wisdom and deep religious knowledge, yet still he struggled with fear for much of his early life (28:14).
When he (as) accidentally killed a man, he feared reprisals from Fir`awn’s people and ended up having to flee to save his life. When he met his future father-in-law in Madyan and told him of fleeing Egypt, the father told him to fear not, and be glad of his escape from unjust people. When he approached the fire on the hillside and God (swt) instructed him to throw his rod and it became a snake, he ran away in fright. God told him to return and not be fearful because he was in fact in a situation of security and safety. When Allah (swt) told him to put his hand in his bosom and bring it out, and it was glowing white, He then told him to keep it close to his side, to guard against feelings of terror. When he was ordered to return to counsel Fir`awn, he spoke of his fear of being caught and killed for the accidental manslaughter he had committed. He asked for his brother Haroon to be allowed to accompany him and help, because he feared the people would accuse him of falsehood. God (swt) said that He would strengthen him with his brother’s help and reassured him that the people would not be able to touch them with harm (Qur’an, 28:18-35).
When Allah (swt) called out to him from the side of Mount Tur, he must have got a huge fright and been struck with unimaginable awe (Qur’an, 28:46). And when he, out of his great longing for God (swt), asked to see Him and was granted the experience of seeing Allah’s manifestation on the mountain and it disintegrated—he fainted! (Qur’an, 7:143). One might imagine that that was the most frightening experience of his life! At that same time, Allah (swt) gave him the Tablets (Ten Commandments) and instructed him to take them and hold onto them with firmness (Qur’an, 7:145).
Musa’s Bravery in the Face of Fear
But then, after all the spiritual lessons and experiences that Allah (swt) put him through, finally when he went to confront Fir`awn, he was fearless, steadfast and confident in trusting in God. When he was leading his people away from Egypt and the army was following them, it must have been like the manifestation of his earlier fears when he first left Egypt, but this time he did not waver. When his people cried out in fear:
“We’ll surely be caught!” Musa said,“By no means! My Lord is with me! He will soon guide me” (Qur’an, 26:62).
When they came across the barrier of the sea, he didn’t cower or hesitate or even turn back or run sideways. He instantly knew that his Lord would help him, and he was then inspired to strike the sea with his stick, leaving the result in God’s hands—and the sea miraculously divided (Qur’an, 26:63). It must have been frightening to run through the two mountainous sides of the divided sea. It would have been a severe test of faith to trust that God (swt) would not let the sea fall back on them while they were at its mercy, travelling through it. But by then, Prophet Musa (as) had already dealt with all his fears and Allah (swt) had helped him master them through putting his entire trust in Him.
So what do we fearful people learn from all this?
When we suffer from fear, we waver, and we are not firm in our intended action because we think ahead about the possible consequences. Sometimes our fears are irrational, but often they are realistic. Prophet Musa’s fears after accidentally killing a man were founded in reality, and his acting on them by running away saved his life. But also, fear can make us hesitate when we are required to act. Sometimes fear is so great that it is paralyzing and we come to a complete standstill. Perhaps many of us today dwelling in unfamiliar environments far from our homelands are living through this kind of paralyzing fear that stops us in our religious development.
Our fear often stops us from thinking clearly and doing what is just and right, because those who are powerful around us might harm us if we speak or act outside the limitations they have placed on us. But then also, we should not act impulsively and put ourselves and others in undue danger before such action is properly backed up by a strength-giving force. We should not allow undisciplined, so-called ‘brave’ action, in reaction to our fears and sense of injustice, to take the place of wise and far-seeing behavior. We need to do preparatory beneficial actions and build ourselves up to a point where we can cope with the required bigger action when the time comes.
Acting Out Impulsively from Fear
This also requires wisdom and clear thought processes—otherwise we will end up inadvertently becoming tyrannous ourselves. When Prophet Musa (as) rushed to the aid of one of his countrymen, he assumed that the one who asked for his help was on the side of right, but he found out later that the man was nothing more than an opportunist. When the man was in trouble a second time and asked for Musa’s help yet again, and Musa was about to jump again to his aid, the enemy to whom he raised his hand said, “O Musa! Is it your intention to kill me as you killed a man yesterday? You merely desire to become a tyrant in this land, and not a person who sets things right!” (Qur’an, 28:19).
This shows that lashing out without proper thought, even when in the face of apparent injustice, is unwise. It was true that Musa’s people were oppressed at that time, but jumping to violent action when they were weak in the land wasn’t the right thing to do and would have brought more tyranny and oppression in the long run. And the same happens today, when people rise up against tyrannous leaders, without having either the inner spiritual strength to act correctly or the military strength to fight a just war. No good can come of it in my opinion, because the people are not themselves in a good enough state to cope well with the consequences.
Prophet Musa (as) was not strong enough to cope with the troubles of his people until he had gone through whatever spiritual lessons Allah (swt) decided he should go through. These lessons included increasing his tawwakul `ala Allah (putting one’s full trust in God) and overcoming his impulses to act on his fear and terror and to act on quick judgements. He had to go through years of discipline (working for his father in law) and some very strong spiritual experiences (on the Mount and with al Khidr) before he was able to stand up to the might of Fir`awn in the correct way. Even then, the correct action turned out to be one of flight, rather than fight, according to what God (swt) decided was best.
Applying the Lessons of Musa Today
What were the consequences of the action that finally took place? The reality of it was that there was a hard slog of dealing with his people who followed their whims and acted in undisciplined and destructive ways. He had to have enormous strength and patience to take them through their forty years of purification in the wilderness. And so it will be if the uprisings we see ever come to some kind of positive leadership; they will have to take their people through many ups and downs and curb their dangerous untrained impulses.
People think that the Arab Spring is a marvelous chance to gain some kind of utopian freedom. It is not. It is a hard slog road that probably should not have been taken in the first place. At least not until people have learnt to deal with their many fears and inadequacies in positive ways and until they can distinguish real courage from sheer foolishness built on an impulsive sense of righting injustices.
I believe that right now, people in many places are severely insecure and filled with fear of what will happen next in a world with a myriad of different problems, all of which are very serious. Many of us are paralysed by our fear and despondency. Some of us think that lashing out and joining in a protest march is doing something positive. But we have not looked far enough to see where such ‘brave’ actions will lead. The more sensible action right now is probably to put our heads down and look inward in order to better ourselves in ways that will allow us to be strong and fearless when the right time comes. For those of us who believe in God (swt), we should be nurturing that faith until our trust in Him has built up to magnificent proportions. We need His Name constantly on our lips to be able to do that. Prophet Musa (as) had his hand that glowed pressed close to his side as a constant reminder that God (swt) was always with him. We have to do a similar thing with whatever remembrance of God we have at our disposal. Increase your dhikr (remembrance). We all need it.
وهو الذي جعل الليل والنهار خلفة لمن اراد ان يذكر او اراد شكورا
“He is the One who made the night and day to follow each other for those who would reminisce or give thanks,” (Qur’an 25:62).
Our scholars teach us that this verse reminds us to keep up with our lives, taking account of our shortcomings, working hard toward progress and showing gratitude for all that we have and are able to do. Self-Accountability in the face of perfection is what Islam is all about. In Surah al-Hashr, God commands us to piety and God-Consciousness:
يا ايها الذين امنوا اتقوا الله ولتنظر نفس ما قدمت لغد واتقوا الله ان الله خبير بما تعملون
“Dear believers, be mindful of your duty to God and let every soul pay attention as to what it puts forward for the Day of Reckoning. So be mindful of God because surely He is fully aware of all that you do,” (Qur’an 59:18).
For us, every moment of each day is a time for change. God is the only constant in all of existence. He is The Absolute Perfection. We are all flawed and in need of evolving and progressing in hopes of being closer to Him. That is why He has revealed His guidance to us; in order that we may strive to become Godly.
To assume oneself is in no need of change is pure and simple arrogance which is the root of all evil. There are two extremes in morality. The first is where one sees their practice and understanding of religiosity as the pinnacle and the only true way. These people can’t see their flaws nor can they tolerate others. The second extreme is in those who would tolerate everyone without any solid foundation of creed and worship for themselves or others. These are willing to compromise the faith to please people. Without a doubt, the truth is between the two.
وكذلك جعلناكم امة وسطا لتكونوا شهداء على الناس ويكون الرسول عليكم شهيدا
“With this revelation, We have made you a moderate nation so that you may be proper witnesses upon mankind and thus the messenger will be a witness for you on the Day of Judgment…”(Qur’an 2:143).
We should be conservative, or should I say uncompromising, in the underlying objectives and agreed upon constants of our religion. At the same time, we should be open-minded towards interpretations of our religion and the effect they have on our lives and the lives of those around us. As Imam al-Shatibi explained, we must be guided by the objectives of benefit vs. harm outlined in the sacred law. We should be liberal in tolerating others and embrace humanity with a respectful merciful attitude. This middle ground is hard to come by as most gravitate toward the two extremes one way or another because it empowers the self. The divine balance empowers none but God while humbling man to realize we are all just a small, yet significant part of something much greater than ourselves.
I’m sure you all have been keeping up with the recent news of our Saudi sisters making Jihad for their God-given right to drive. I was reading a recent article where the President of the committee for Promoting Good and Rebuking Evil, Sh. Abdul-Latif Aala al-Shaikh, as well as many other notable Saudi scholars stating publically that there is no legal basis for the prohibition. It’s simply a patriarchal cultural interpretation of the religion. It’s interesting to note that those “conservative/literalist” scholars who back this ban get very figurative and principled in order to “interpret” it from our scripture.
The response to those who were pulled over this time was different than before. The old response was either to sign an affidavit saying that you will not do this again or be detained. However, this time the affidavit required them to not drive until obtaining a license. Some Saudi political analysts speculate that this is a step toward letting them obtain a license.
I also was recently reading an important declaration from the law department at al-Azhar that we have to correct some of the terminologies in our international relations terminology i.e. Land of Islam vs. The Land of disbelief/war (dar al-Islam vs. dar al-Kufr/harb). They noted that the circumstances in which our jurists coined these terms, as well as their intended meaning, is greatly misunderstood by the casual untrained reader. The world used to be in a perpetual state of war and the nature of those empires was in most cases ruled by the religion of the emperor thus hostile to other empires/religions. The department thus cited the difference in the world situation between those ancient imperial realities to the modern day concept of sovereign nation states, in addition to the widespread modern concept of freedom and human rights. Their decree is that the whole world should generally be called land of treaty (dar al-Ahd) until one nation illegally invades another or until the government of a nation overtly violently oppresses its people.
These two examples represent a migration in ideology correcting the previous ways in favor of another more comfortable way in order for Islam to thrive. The Arabic word hijrah means “to leave”. Now we find ourselves a week into the Islamic New Year. When we look at the migration of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him), we see that it was difficult, required sacrifice and yet led to a better life.
The calendar was marked because of what it represents. It is well documented that when Umar radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) would send letters to his governors throughout the Caliphate, they started to ask about an official date. He gathered the companions of the Prophet ﷺ in consultation. Some suggested they mark the Islamic calendar year by the birth of the Prophet ﷺ, while others suggested the year he first received revelation, or the year the Muslims migrated from Makkah to Yathrib (Medina). Umar (ra) was convinced that the year of the migration was the best marker of the start of the Islamic calendar. He said that this is when God distinguished between truth and falsehood. He was talking about how the physical migration was a process that represented a much bigger migration of deeper meaning: leaving one lifestyle for another because of its potential for virtue in the service of God.
It is of the utmost importance that those who migrate with their bodies also put their mind and heart into maximizing their potential to build future generations of Muslims particularly here in the West. It is equally important for the native Muslim community to not only avoid, but to bring plausible solutions to, sin and evil. This is what the Prophet ﷺ and his companions did when they migrated to Yathrib. They completely embraced the physical and abstract meaning of migration and thus fully fulfilled their potential.
The Prophet ﷺ taught us about true faith:
ألا أُخْبِرُكُمْ بالمؤمنينَ ؟ مَنْ أَمِنَهُ الناسُ على أَمْوَالِهمْ و أنْفُسِهمْ ، و المسلمُ مَنْ سَلِمَ الناسُ من لسانِهِ و يَدِه ، و المُجَاهِدُ مَنْ جَاهَدَ نفسَهُ في طَاعَةِ اللهِ ، و المُهاجِرُ مَنْ هجرَ الخَطَايا و الذَّنُوبَ
“Shall I inform you of the true believers? They are those whom others feel safe from in their property and livelihood. The true Muslims are those whom the people are safe from their tongue and their hands. The true warrior is the one who fights against his or her desires in the obedience of God. The Migrant is the one who leaves sin and evil,” (Ahmad).
We must all individually reflect on these meanings of Islamic Migration so that we may maximize our potential for living, representing and conveying the divine message we were sent with.
Captivating Italian cinema is certainly not a thing of the past, as features from the 2013 BFI London Film Festival – several set in Palermo – have demonstrated
Film festivals are a good opportunity to showcase foreign-language films that would otherwise be lost on the commercial market. Without the international star-power and state support it once had, nor the big-money advertising and blanket distribution by Hollywood, the once-glorious Italian film industry has suffered a particular fall in prominence in recent decades.
The films on show at this year’s London Film Festival may not have been quite be enough to change this situation but they did show that there is still enough talent and drama to animate Italy’s screens. The first film presented was Salvo, a mafia film set in the Sicilian capital Palermo. Italian mafia films differ from their international counterparts, tending to use the mafia to launch an investigation into social conditions, corruption and poverty – think Gomorrah rather than Godfather. Salvo opens on a shoot-out in a downtown Palermo alleyway, recognised more for its confusing, messy grubbiness than any glamourised violence. Reaching the house of the man who ordered the killings, Salvo, the name of the taciturn, quietly enraged criminal, discovers that only his blind sister is at home. Unable to kill her, he locks her in a disused warehouse. The film is less sentimental than this summary may sound, not least because so much of it occurs from the point of view of the blind woman herself, alone in her makeshift prison, contemplating its stone walls and her own dirty fingernails. With almost no dialogue, the relationship between the two turns from dread to a certain form of affection, as Salvo withdraws from the world around him and slowly loses his will to fight. A debut co-direction by Fabio Grassadnoia and Antonio Piazza, it features the support of the actor/director Luigi Lo Cascio, who appears in a minor role, and the expert cinematography of Daniele Ciprì, who elegantly renders the unforgiving brutality of the film.
Once again in the Sicilian capital is A Street in Palermo, which deals with that other great vice of modern Italian society, namely, its roads. A couple, Rosa and Clara, argue on their way to a wedding. They get stuck on a narrow street when they meet a car carrying three generations of a noisy local family, and each car refuses to move, for minutes, and then for hours. The theatrical background of first-time director Emma Dante, who also plays Rosa, is evident as the narrow side-street quickly becomes the stage for a series of interlocking conflicts. This impressive comedy moves from satire into appearing like it has something to say about the human condition (although what, it is hard to say) as it ultimately becomes a strange face-off between the obstinate Rosa and the oddly determined, mute and apparently insane grandmother at the wheel of the other car.
Another directorial debut, that of actress Valeria Golino, Honey takes place in a very different setting, the middle-class homes of urban Rome. Honey is the pseudonym of the eponymous heroine who makes her living assisting those near death to end their suffering. Although illegal, she performs her job for humane reasons, and so when she finds out that her latest client is in fact not terminally ill, but simply depressed, she is thrown into crisis. Jasmine Trinca plays Honey as a woman both highly sensitive and yet sadly separate from the lives that surround her, as she ends up somehow dependent on the approval of the despairing man.
Aside from these debuts comes the documentary Bertolucci on Bertolucci. A film for aficionados, this documentary offers no context but is instead two-hours’ worth of footage from interviews with Bernardo Bertolucci, the radical director of films including The Conformist and The Dreamers. From his first public appearance over 50 years ago as the winner of a national poetry prize, to his recent, wheelchair-bound interviews to promote last year’s Io e te, he is engaging, enigmatic, and always a performer while being very candid about his own feelings about his art. Moreover, he is very funny, a surprising trait considering how little comedy there is in his films, however stylish they are. A highlight comes when he visits the estate of fellow Parma-born Giuseppe Verdi, whose music makes a recurrent presence in Bertolucci’s films, only to be told over the intercom by an outraged descendant that he is a Communist pornographer only interested in butter. Those who have seen Last Tango in Paris may understand the reference.
Italians like to say how their golden years are all in the past and that their film industry is subject to a terminal crisis. Luckily, that’s not quite true, as these films ably demonstrate.Image from: http://variety.com/2013/film/reviews/a-street-in-palermo-review-venice-1200591845/
How can faith communities do more to inject a sense of fairness in the financial system?
The saying goes ‘don’t mention religion or politics’. We can add money to that quotation, with the British being notoriously reticent to tell each other what they earn. So it was something of a surprise, as well as a liberating experience, when I recently found myself sharing details of my annual income with a bunch of male friends as part of a conversation about status and how we valued ourselves.
But if we Brits avoid some topics, what about religious people talking about money? Should finance be left to bankers and economists or are people of faith allowed a word too? In my opinion, everyone should be involved in the national conversations about finance – whether talking about the economy, our levels of debt, housing shortages or new forms of raising capital (such as Islamic finance).
My organisation, the Christian Muslim Forum, recently hosted an event entitled ‘Faith in Finance’, which was held on November 5, a few days after the close of the World Islamic Economic Forum (hosted for the first time in a non-Muslim country and heralding record levels of Muslim investment in the UK economy). The discussion session gave the speakers an opportunity to respond to the practical concerns of a large audience of people working in the City of London and a range of ethical finance campaigners.
Our event opened up the question of how finance can serve ‘us’, rather than the market, and what wisdom we can find on this issue in our ancient traditions. Like it or not, the way we use our money tells us things about ourselves and each other: “money talks” and it can have some difficult things to say.
Bishop Peter Selby, interim co-director of the St Paul’s Institute (our partners and hosts at St Paul’s Cathedral) opened the conversation by telling us that the Christian faith is full of wisdom about money. I was particularly struck by his challenging of debt culture (see his book ‘Grace and Mortgage’), offering instead one based on giving – ‘we are being moved by God into a world of exchange of gifts’.
Debt is a form of slavery and the Biblical message is one of release from slavery, of freeing of captives. It cannot be a mark of a civilised society that it is based on enslavement through debt. Peter Selby reminded us passionately that debt, interest and the slavery of the poor is condemned by God and the prophets in both Christian and Muslim religious traditions.
Tarek El Diwany (author of ‘The Problem with Interest’ and one of the team behind the documentary ‘Why are We All in Debt?’) was even more challenging, labelling greed as idolatry and capitalism itself as a religion. This ‘idolatry’ has taken away the space that should be occupied by faith so that there is no room to talk about justice and economic fairness.
The next speaker was Patricia Alexander, Managing Director of Shared Interest, the UK’s only 100% fair trade lender. She described her organisation as operating on the ‘simple but profound proposition of Christian love and justice’ embodied in making fair trade loans to people in developing countries.
We closed with Shaykh Faizal Manjoo (head of Islamic Finance at The Markfield Institute of Higher Education), who reminded us of the limitations of financial regulation. In Islam, usury (charging interest – but with the sense of making money from money – which is inherently exploitative, even at low rates) is the main cause of economic injustice, enabling some to profit while others lose out. He told us that ‘statistics and academic research from the International Monetary Fund revealed that Islamic banks were least affected by the recent global financial crisis’.
He also highlighted that law does not ‘do’ ethics (because it cannot) and that ethics are left to the individual, with well-known consequences. Lack of the right kind of financial ethics is a gap in the market. He offered this remedy: ’As a global force, religion has to take the reins so that there is some level of morality in economics’.
Among his suggestions, he raised ideas about:
- Poverty alleviation – a priority in the financial world, for example tax on corporations which could be directed towards poverty relief
- Establishment of endowments (Waqf and trusts) – for research in finance with religious and ethical objectives
- Dialogue with regulators – with religion being a fundamental concern of many in the world’s population, regulators need to consider the impact of financial systems on the values and wellbeing of people.
Tarek also said that we should be leveraging the huge resources of faith communities to secure ethical ways of getting people out of debt. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s has recently spoken of the importance of credit unions whilst the Prime Minister has promised to make shari’ah-compliant student financing available to Muslim students.
The panel also urged the creation of an attitude of ‘giving’, reminding us that debt only takes away. The ethical investment offered by Shared Interest is one way of giving to the poor. Returning to those ancient texts, Peter Selby reminded us of the ancient ethical finance and transaction rules laid down in the ‘holiness code’ of the little-read Biblical book of Leviticus (especially treatment of the poor and employees, and the concept of Jubilee in Chapter 19 and debt amnesty and restoration of assets in Chapter 25). Patricia Alexander brought this to the present by emphasising that European trade rules have resulted in worsening of the economic situation for developing and poor countries (some of which are heavily indebted through international loans).
So what can we do? The consensus during our meeting was that we need to keep talking about the topic, so that people can hear the problem being addressed and so that we work to reclaim important financial words that are missing from the market – justice and fairness, and especially the lie that is debt. If economic ‘growth’ is driven by spending on credit, borrowing and more debt, then it is not growth at all.
There was also a strong message that people and communities should be using their money to support each other. Hence, we need very different financial systems and priorities. This was well-captured in a tweet by our friends at the Faith Based Regeneration Network: ’Act locally; join with others in your community. Start conversations and make things happen which change how finance works.’ This was a key concern for Chris Sheldon, Director of Kingdom Bank, an independent Christian bank, who was one of the respondents. The final comment, from Peter Selby, reminded us that ‘our accountability is to those whom we cannot see’ – those on the margins of society, the enslaved and the poor.Image from: http://voiceforprotest.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/faith-finance-and-freedom.html
Russell Brand has crashed into the political stage in a way that only he can, but his political astuteness has not been embraced by everyone just yet
British politics has just heard from its most recent newly-emerged biggest fan: Russell Brand. After having caused quite a stir standing as guest editor of the New Statesman, being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight about his views on voting and chatting with Huffington Post’s Mehdi Hasan about spirituality, politics and Philip Green, what do we all think of the Essex born comedian the makers of TOWIE wished they could have had?
No one is quite sure where Russell’s sudden realisation of the world of politics came from; maybe Hollywood got too hot or maybe the bedroom tax just really grinds his gears. Either way, in true Brand-esque style, whatever he is saying, he is saying it nice and loud.
This all started with Russell’s extended (very extended) essay in the New Statesman detailing the current state of our political system that is designed to benefit corporate elites and to create and placate an underclass, how cohesiveness between human beings and the planet have been lost and how we, living in the relative luxury and security of the west, are detached and disengaged from the genuine suffering and degradation of those hidden from us.
Shortly after publication, fellow comedian Robert Webb attacked him for “wilfully talking through [his] arse about something very important” and claimed it made him want to rejoin the Labour party. This was directed mainly at Russell’s call for us to stop voting for a corrupt system.
Now, I’m not claiming to have vast political knowledge or even remotely qualified in any form of social science but, luckily for me, I have a laptop and an internet connection and so I can at least write here about my own opinions and, in the spirit of true freedom of speech, I’m giving you the choice to read on or not (but you should read on).
I think that Russell Brand is being treated unfairly. And, basically, I think he’s right. I’m 23, and so haven’t had too many opportunities to vote but, I’ll confess, when the time does come, I am not sure if I would. Frankly I’ve never seen the point. All I see are a group of old men who don’t really know what it is to live in the real world. Who are they to tell me what is good for me?
Listening to LBC 97.3 last week, participants were discussing the number of MPs who have actually held real jobs outside of politics before starting their political careers. The impression I got was that it was relatively low, which worries me about the leaders of our country. When I was at dental school, we practised injections on each other, our fellow dental students – an important reason for this being that you should feel yourself what it’s like to have an injection before you do it to a patient. Shouldn’t politicians have to work by the same principle?
I am lucky enough to have grown up in a stable home with no financial difficulties, and, being a middle class Brit, I can safely say that I will never be persecuted or hunted down, and I have a good chance of getting home in one piece every day (unless it’s an event day at Wembley Stadium). But in spite of all of the security I can boast, we are still being exploited for the gains of the upper ‘elites’. Coming from an entire family working in the NHS, I can see how my parents have worked harder than anyone I know, after having studied for years, to have their earnings taxed by almost 50 per cent. Which is fine if the taxes didn’t seem to disappear into thin air or get spent on a war that wasn’t really justified, ethical, supported or affordable.
During his interview with Jeremy Paxman, Russell talked about his opinion of the government’s priorities. When he mentioned that the Conservative party are taking the EU to court simply to defend banker’s bonuses, one can’t help but remember that, at the same time, ‘necessary’ cuts are being made to education, healthcare and welfare. His stand, that politicians irrespective of party affiliations, are working for, if not controlled by, the interests of the corporate elites, has some credibility when you consider that Philip Green very openly doesn’t pay income tax, thanks to a not-so-subtle loophole in the system. Compare this against the recent introduction of the bedroom tax, it would seem that being rich has some inherent advantages.
Talking and cracking awkward jokes with Huff Post’s Mehdi Hassan in East London last Monday, Russell – reclining, climbing, lying down…anything but sitting like a normal person on the chair – spoke with raw and brutal honesty. He touched on his past of drink and drugs, his regrets of being part of the ‘charade’ and game being played to placate the masses, and how transcendental meditation has made him a better person. But even though this makes me happy, and gives me the slightest hint of hope that there are some thinking people out there, is he just telling us something we’re craving to hear? That frustrated generation-Y-ers ARE right and that the politicians ARE evil?
The truth is, we love hearing honesty from the mouths of celebrities. It makes us feel like we can identify, that they are human too and that we are all the same. Perhaps it is the over-individualisation of society forcing us to crave some form of equality or connectedness to our fellow humans. Or perhaps it’s just our love of scandal. I don’t know whether Russell has clocked on and decided the public might like a self-confessed “scumbag drug-addict” telling everyone to ditch the ballot boxes and revolt against the corporates, or whether he has a genuine, unselfish cause and is using his notoriety to give it some attention.
Ignoring just for one second all of the miserable pessimists quibbling over practicalities, Russell could have been saying much worse things (for the record, he did clarify that he DIDN’T want death camps, which is always a nice bonus). Essentially, he would like a world where we all respect each other and the planet that we live on, where the poor are helped and the rich are humbled, where there is no wealth and no poverty; only equality. Plato already described something similar in his Republic so what Russell is saying isn’t even anything particularly new – but whether Plato was told to go and “read some [effing] Orwell” is still yet to be ascertained.
Russell Brand isn’t a politician or a leader or an authority, and despite his hunger-games-like stand to boycott the vote, he never actually claimed to be. But he has been there. He’s been a drug addict and part of the pacified “underclass”, but he’s also hosted the MTV awards and seen the other side of Hollywood. When most politicians have barely heard of an oyster card and wonder how light bulbs are changed, a part of me is inclined to give Russell Brand a little bit more attention.
Even if the plethora of rainbows and sunshine in his egalitarian utopia haven’t been completely thought through, at least he’s not twerking.
“I don’t mind giving up some of my baubles and balderdash for a genuinely fair system, so can we create one?” Russell Brand, 2013Image from: http://www.justforlaughschicago.com/justforlaughschicago/stories/story/0,,266020,00.html
Winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Festival this year, Omar is a courageous film which presents a compelling insight into Israeli occupation
Both tender and brutal, Omar is a love story set in the context of cruel Israeli occupation. The effect of one over the other leads the movie through tense, heart-breaking trajectories, showing with every development in Omar’s personal life, the domination of the overall political situation and the choices given to those individuals living under it. The choice is stark – collaboration with the enemy or loyalty to the Palestinian freedom struggle.
Set in the West Bank, the opening scene shows Omar ducking Israeli bullets as he climbs over the wall. Often likened to the Apartheid Wall, it is enormous and intrusive, a weapon of mass separation. Throughout the movie, Omar scales the wall repeatedly to avoid the lengthy checkpoints that otherwise separate him from his friends: Amjad, Tarek, and Tarek’s sister Nadia, Omar’s love. During one such scaling of the wall, he is viciously humiliated and attacked by Israeli soldiers.
Amjad and Omar are in training under the guidance of Tarek who is the more experienced resistance fighter. One evening they shoot an Israeli soldier, and from this moment onwards, the escalating tension continues throughout the film. Omar is arrested and tortured in dark prison dungeons by the Israeli intelligence who want a confession and information about his accomplices.
With the threat of 90 years in prison hanging over Omar’s head, Rami, his Israeli handler, exploits Omar’s love for Nadia to pressure him into collaborating with the soldiers. Rami’s character is well developed; a non-discerning view might mistake him as a good person with a bad job. He is portrayed as being a reasonable man, a father with family relations much like any other human being, and he speaks fluent Arabic. (Remember, even the Godfather was also nice to his grandchildren.)
The suspense of whether or not Omar will betray his friends and the Palestinian cause is overwhelmed by a feeling that there is almost no exit for people like him and the Palestinian population in general. Under Israeli occupation, he remains forever susceptible to constant demands for collaboration. Every move he makes in his personal life has the stamp of occupation hovering over it like a dark cloud.
Shown at the Cannes film festival in France earlier this year, Omar won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize, the third most important prize at the festival after the Palme d’Or and the Grand Prix. The audience gave Omar a standing ovation.
Director Hany Abu-Assad received an academy award nomination for his film Paradise Now in 2005 and some critics see Omar as a sequel to that film. Abu-Assad compares it to the love story within Shakespeare’s Othello - a tragic tale of racism, love and betrayal which leads Othello to kill his wife Desdemona because he is convinced she is being unfaithful. Abu-Assad claims to shun making overtly political statements in his films, but the criminality of the occupation percolates through nonetheless.
The full cast of Omar is Palestinian and the overwhelming majority of the money to produce the film, some say as much as 90 per cent, has come from Palestinian donors. They are proud to make a film that is independent of European support and influence. Palestine has selected it as their entry in the upcoming Hollywood Oscars for best foreign film.Image from: http://dubaifilmfest.com/upload/cinemy/134516/omar__article.png
We have discussed previously the importance of quality over quantity and how we should focus on the development of people. This lesson is related to that one in that it gives us something to measure our success or lack thereof by.
It is true that we should be concerned about our efforts more than the results and that sometimes a person or group will do all that they can and still not see the fruits of their efforts. This was clearly shown through the story of Noah, `alayhi as-salaam (peace and blessings upon him), in the Qur’an where he called to Islam for centuries and still only ended up with a handful of followers. However, at the same time, it is important to look to certain things to figure out if we are having real success with our people or not.
Some of the practical day-to-day indicators for this are the prayers and classes. Efforts like the youth group and other mostly social-based activities are means by which to draw people closer to the community and masjid (mosque) so that they can come closer to God, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). One of the main indicators of this is whether or not they attend the prayers. This is also an indicator for ourselves. If we do not find that we are more encouraged to attend prayers in the masjid then there is a problem in how things are coming together for us. We can also tell this through attendance at classes. Classes take more effort than social activities but they also indicate that people are taking serious steps towards making themselves more grounded in their faith.
These are both things that lead to people who are firmly founded in knowledge and worship and therefore are qualified for leadership. The real question of success is whether or not you leave leaders behind. Charismatic leaders are a fact of life and have their place but the work should never be dependent upon one individual. If things are structured well and efforts are put into developing people then when one leaves, one’s place will be taken by another. The work will not stop. If work is done for years, but there are no people to show for it, then the efforts may have been put in the wrong place.
Ibrahim (as) understood this and that is why when God (swt) tells him that he will make him a leader in the earth he asks,
“And as for my descendants?” God replies by saying, “My covenant does not apply to the wrongdoers,” (Qur’an 2:124).
Ibrahim (as) understood that the message of Islam is about more than one person, and that if righteousness is to continue in the earth, then it must have bearers who can carry the message of truth. God (swt) gives him an indirect answer which basically implies that if they are righteous then His promise will apply to them too but if not, then no. As we work and organize, we should always be planning for the future and trying to plant the seeds of goodness and righteousness in the potential leaders of the coming years.
Names of Allah Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV
Her heart felt like it was being ripped apart. She looked around her and could not find him. She started breathing more heavily. Her eyes scanned her surroundings desperately, where she could see soldiers and captives, until suddenly, she caught a glimpse of his tiny body. She bolted towards and scooped him up as she wept, and then nursed him. Her whole body sighed in relief. Her baby was safe.
The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) describes this scene in a famous hadith (narration) to give us a glimpse into God’s mercy. After witnessing this scene, the Prophet ﷺ asked the Companions, “Do you think that this woman would throw her child in the fire?” And they said, “No, by Allah she would not, if she is able not to.” He ﷺ then said, “Allah the Exalted is more merciful with His slave than this woman with her child.” (Bukhari)
This is a universal example, one that most people can understand- the mercy of a mother towards her child. And not just any mother, but a mother faced with that situation. Allah is more merciful to His creation than that mother.
The first words that begin the journey through the Qur’an are: “In the Name of God, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful (ar-Rahman, ar-Raheem),” (1:1). We begin the journey of knowing God through His Mercy. This is the way in which God introduces Himself to us—not with the names that indicate majesty and strength. So in this journey of understanding Allah’s Names, it is only fitting that we speak of His all-encompassing mercy.
Rahman and Raheem both come from the same root of ra-haa-meem (ر-ح-م), which means “ar-riqqa wal-ta’atuf”—a combination of tenderness and compassion.
Ar-Rahman is the Entirely Merciful whose “All-inclusive mercy gives to both the worthy and unworthy. The mercy of God is perfect and all-inclusive. It is perfect in the sense that He not only wills the satisfaction of the needs of the needy but actually satisfies them. It is all-inclusive in that it includes the worthy and the unworthy, this life and that which is to come and encompasses the essentials, needs and advantages which go beyond them. Thus He is in truth the Compassionate absolutely,” (al-Ghazali).
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) says in the Qur’an, “He who created the heavens and the earth and what is between them in six days and then established Himself above the Throne – the Most Merciful (ar-Rahman), so ask about Him one well informed.” (Qur’an, 25:59)
We are all recipients of Allah’s Mercy every single day. The plants, animals and humans. Men and women. Young and old. Muslim and non-Muslim. These mercies come in the form of all of the blessings in our lives, from the earth itself to our loved ones. Allah tells us, “And out of His mercy He made for you the night and the day that you may rest therein and [by day] seek from His bounty and [that] perhaps you will be grateful,” (Qur’an, 28:73). These are the things that we don’t even realize, but we all benefit from. A cool breeze on a warm day. Rain after drought. The trees that purify the air for us. We are all recipients of this mercy.
Ar-Raheem is a more specific mercy towards the believers. For example, the mercy that descends during Ramadan is one only Muslims who believe in Ramadan can enjoy. And Allah (swt) tells us in the Qur’an, “It is He who confers blessing upon you, and His angels [ask Him to do so] that He may bring you out from darknesses into the light. And ever is He, to the believers, Merciful (Raheema)” (Qur’an, 33:43).
In order to understand this amazing mercy in the grand scheme of things, the Prophet ﷺ informs us that, “Allah has divided mercy into 100 parts, and He retained with Him 99 parts, and sent down to earth one part. Through this one part creatures deal with one another with compassion, so much so that an animal lifts its hoof over its young lest it should hurt it,” (Al-Bukhari).
When your mom shows affection towards you, or when your spouse covers you with a blanket lest you feel cold, remember that this is only a fraction of the one mercy that Allah (swt) sent down to earth. So imagine the mercy He has saved for the Day of Judgment!
Ar-Ra’uf is “the One who has pity (on others), and pity is the intensification of mercy. Therefore it has the same meaning as rahim though in an intensified form, and the discussion of ar-rahim has already been presented,” (al-Ghazali).
So if Ra’uf is simply a more intensified form of mercy, what is the difference between Rahma and Ra’fa? Scholars have said that if a calamity hits you, one who is Merciful—Raheem—has mercy on you after that calamity. But Ra’uf is one who is so merciful, that his mercy extends before the calamity hits, and involves him taking care of you and warning you so that a calamity does not hit. Sheikh Ratib an-Nabulsi gives an example of a father who is protective of his children, and especially during the winter when he dresses them in warm clothes so that they do not suffer from the cold. That is ra’fa. Whereas a father whose heart aches because his child has become sick, and does everything to get the medicine to ease his child’s pain, is merciful—raheem. Imam al-Qushayri states that ra’fa is the highest form of mercy, where Allah protects His servants by warning them of the deeds the necessitate punishment.
It’s almost like Allah does not want us to have an ounce of doubt about His mercy towards us. His mercy is not only all-encompassing, with a special kind reserved for the believers, but He is telling us that His warnings to us, and His withholding from us is from an intense mercy. He does not want us to go through the hurt and pain had He not warned us.
But I face so many difficulties in my life…
The culmination of Allah’s mercy is in the Paradise that He created, which the Prophet ﷺ described as a place “no eye has seen and no ear has heard and neither has the thought occurred in any person’s heart” (Bukhari). It is this place that we strive to be, where we understand that this is what our struggle was for. Yet Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an, “But you prefer the worldly life, While the Hereafter is better and more enduring,” (Qur’an, 87:16-17).
We will face difficulties, and this does not contradict Allah’s mercy. Some difficulties are simply challenges we need to overcome. Others seem to have no explanation.
As to the first kind, these challenges are there to strengthen us. There are some lessons we would not have learned without them. An Olympic champion only reaches that level by being pushed by his trainer. A child might wonder why a mother forces him to go to school everyday. But it is only so we can become the best that we can be. There is light at the end of the tunnel. These challenges bring us closer to Allah (swt) because we then realize that He is the only One who can help us. And at the end of it all, we are not tested with more than we can bear.
As to the second kind, Allah’s ra’fa is in His instructing us on what is the best way to be in this world. When we are faced with things we cannot explain, or suffering that seems too great, it is our responsibility to act. And Allah tells us how to act as His vicegerents on this earth. Every suffering will have its end, as “Allah will bring about, after hardship, ease” (Qur’an, 65:7). We will only be asked about what we did in the face of it.
And in all cases of difficulty, remember that the Prophet ﷺ said, “No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that,” (Bukhari).
Living with this Name
Have Mercy on Others
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Those who show mercy to their fellow beings will be shown mercy by the Merciful Lord. So, show mercy to those on the earth, and He Who is in the heavens will show mercy to you,” (Tirmidhi). Be merciful in your interactions with people, and do not be harsh.
Learn the Things that Bring About Allah’s Mercy
There are some ahadeeth (sayings of the Prophet ﷺ) where the Prophet ﷺ tells us what brings about Allah’s mercy:
“May Allah have mercy on a man who is kind when he buys, when he sells, and when he makes a demand,” (Bukhari) and, “May Allah have mercy on the man who gets up at night to pray and wakes up his wife to pray, and if she refuses, he sprinkles water in her face. And may Allah have mercy on the woman who gets up at night to pray, and wakes her husband up to pray, and if he refuses, she sprinkles water in his face,” (Abu Dawud).
Do Things that Increase the Mercy in Your Heart
Sometimes we can become numb to the suffering around us. We get so caught up in our lives that we lose the connection to other people, and therefore cannot empathize with their struggle. So, volunteer at a soup kitchen. Get involved with an organization that provides housing for the homeless. Give some of your time, energy and money to stand with people.
Follow the One who was Sent as a Mercy to the Worlds ﷺ
The best way to become a manifestation of Allah’s rahma is to study the life of the Prophet ﷺ and follow his example. The battle of Uhud was the most difficult battle for the Muslims. It was the battle in which they thought that they lost the Prophet ﷺ. In their panic and desperation, the companions asked the bleeding Prophet ﷺ to supplicate against their enemy. But he refused and said, “O Allah! Guide my people for they do not know!” These are lessons that we need to learn from.
Look at the Manifestations of Allah’s Mercy in your life, in Times When He has Given, and in Times When He has Withheld
Reflection is considered one of the greatest acts of worship. We are the benefactors of so many mercies, every day of our lives. Moreover, there are many times when something that is perceived as ‘bad’ turns out to be something good for us. So take the time to reflect on Allah’s mercy in your life—the times He protected you, the times He gave to you, and even the times He withheld from you.
I would often find myself worrying about things and draining my energy. Yes, it would lead me to prayers, but also depression. When prayer leads you to depression, it means that you are doing something wrong. Prayer is hope. Prayer is faith. Prayer is uplifting. Prayer is not constant worry.
I learned this after moving to this new city. The first couple of weeks were great, but right after that, my husband would come home upset. We had relocated, thinking that he had found the perfect job. However, in a couple of weeks, we were devastated. He began hating his job. He complained about his boss. He did not like the work. But here we were, and still are, bound by a long-term contract with the company.
He would text me from work to tell me how much he despised his job. He would come home stressed. Our happiness, our dreams, our tranquility in life had disappeared. Being the only person he could open up to, I felt helpless. I would cry for hours on my prayer mat. I did not know how I could help him. The kids were sensing our worries. It was difficult.
I prayed constantly for ease. I prayed and prayed. That is all I did. I would ignore my kids, I would ignore my house, I would ignore my chores, and prayed. This led me to constantly be thinking about the problem:
Prayer was leading me to worry.
One night, it occurred to me, prayer should not lead me to worry. Prayer means putting your trust in God, subhanahu wa ta’ala (exalted is He). Prayer means asking for goodness. Maybe there is goodness in this difficulty that we cannot see. I have to stop worrying about that over which I have no control. I should work on that over which I have control.
So, I changed my approach to prayers. I offered my five prayers, and even some optional ones, but instead of worrying constantly, I began thanking God (swt) for His blessings. I would pray for ease, but with the knowledge that there must be ease in this struggle. God (swt) is great. His wisdom, His sight, His reasons are beyond the human capability to grasp.
With my thankful attitude, I began to cheer the house up. I focused my energy on my kids. I started to learn how to make applications for Android. I started to cook regularly. I would feed my kids before my husband would come home tired, so he could have a quiet dinner to recollect his thoughts. I began to pour my heart out to God (swt) early in the morning, before the sunrise. I found my peace. Thanks to the Almighty (swt).
Peace comes from inside, not outside. Peace comes from working within your circle of influence. My husband is still unhappy at work. He still comes home upset. But I have found the way to charge my energy and be his support. I am embracing the experience, for God (swt) must have a reason that is beyond my wisdom.
اللهُمَّ لا سَهْلَ إلا مَا جَعَلتَهُ سَهْلا وَ أنتَ تَجْعَلُ الحزْنَ إذا شِئْتَ سَهْلا
Allahumma la sahla illa ma ja`altahu sahla wa anta taj`al ul-hazna idha shi’ta sahla.
“O Allah! There is nothing easy except that which You make easy; and You make the difficult, if You wish, easy.”1
May God (swt) continue to strengthen our souls and ease our difficulties. Ameen!
- Ibn Hibban in his Sahih (no. 2427) and Ibn As-Sunni (no. 351). Al-Hafidh (Ibn Hajar) said that this hadith is authentic. It was also declared authentic by Abdul-Qadir Al-Arna’ut in his checking of An-Nawawi’s Kitabul-Athkar p. 106.
The Islamic Center of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) and Ella Collins Institute (ECI) are proud to present a Couples Umrah with Imam Suhaib Webb from January 4th, 2014 – January 13th, 2013. Limited space is available and the registration deadline is November 15th, 2013.
For more information, please visit the Ella Collins website at http://ellacollinsinstitute.org/event/couples-umrah/