2016 Ramadan Reflection 21 June 26, 2016
There is a cartoon that I oftentimes have my students consider entitled “The Ungooglable Man” by Roz Chast. The “Ungooglable Man” has no social media account, “No Myspace, no Facebook, no NOTHING! And yet, HE WALKS AMONGST US.” No Google search yields any results about him. There is absolutely no traceable data on him. He simply cannot be found online, period. This might be a blessing and it might be curse, depending on how you look at it. Most of my students came up with a lot of of unsavory adjectives to describe him, and that’s not surprising given that we live in the age of social media where the “self” has fallen in love with itself, and self-promotion is paramount. A time when digital narcissism is commonplace. Where if you have a social media account and do not post a “Selfie” with Bambi eyes or pouting lips, you’re missing out. The selfie-cutlure is a sign of our times, as is #Selffeet apparently. What is more troubling to me is when I people assume that if one is not flaunting their good deeds /charities /donations /kindness /compassion on online then it is safe to assume that he or she are not involved in any of these commendable acts. There was a joke once on social media about a volunteer distributing food to needy families in my hometown #Aden/Yemen. When he got to the needy families, he decided to postpone food distribution to the following day because he forgot his Smartphone. He wanted to take pictures and document himself as a “volunteer in action” and post it on his social media account. Believe it is or not , there is an audience for this as well. Those who donate, the “audience”, wants to see photo documentation of the journey his/her money has made to the hands of the poor and even testimonials from the poor of his kindness. What a travesty.
But jokes aside, let’s go back to the idea of the “Ungooglable Man” who is digitally non-existent but exists among us. There are many like him, who cannot be found in one of the most powerful search engines of our time, but can in a bigger and better more comprehensive data bank. A data bank possessed by the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Indeed His Infinite Mercy and Knowledge encompasses all things. No doubt that one of the greatest motivators to do good is to be recognized and appreciated by others, but not all people function this way. That does not mean that their contributions are of lesser value, contrary to the fact they can rater higher in ranks according to Allah’s scales. It is as if Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) has chosen them to serve humanity for His sake all of their lives, but no one knows about them but Him (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala). Allah is enough of a witness to their service. Take for instance, how many parents have wringed every drop out of their youth to raise and present to the world masterpieces. All this for no other reason other than it was their duty , and because the Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) said, “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.” These are anonymous heroes whose names will never be immortalized in any history books, yet the angels raise their deeds to Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) and the earth bears witness of them on the Day of Judgment, “That Day, it [the earth] Because your Lord has commanded it.will report its news.” (Qur’an 99:4-5) It is sufficient for them that Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) knows. They are as Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) describes them, “And whoever obeys Allah and the Messenger, these are with those upon whom Allah has bestowed favors from among the prophets and the truthful and the martyrs and the good, and a goodly company are they!” (Qur’an 4:69) They probably don’t know how high of a status they are in the eyes of Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala), because remarkably their goodness is not only concealed from others but also from themselves. We are lucky to only glimpse the trail of kindness, generosity , and service that they leave behind.
Question is, are these people doing extraordinary deeds? In fact, they are probably doing what we consider to be “mundane” deeds but when these deeds are in Allah’s scales they are weighed accurately and given their correct weight. Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) says:
“And We will set up a just balance on the day of resurrection, so no soul shall be dealt with unjustly in the least; and though there be the weight of a grain of mustard seed, (yet) will We bring it, and sufficient are We to take account.” (Qur’an 21:47)
Consider the following Hadith :
A man passed by Allah’s Apostle and Allah’s Apostle asked (his companions) “What do you say about this (man)?” They replied, “If he asks for a lady’s hand, he ought to be given her in marriage; and if he intercedes (for someone) his intercessor should be accepted; and if he speaks, he should be listened to.” Allah’s Apostle kept silent, and then a man from among the poor Muslims passed by, an Allah’s Apostle asked (them) “What do you say
about this man?” They replied, “If he asks for a lady’s hand in marriage he does not deserve to be married, and he intercedes (for someone), his intercession should not be accepted; And if he speaks, he should not be listened to.” Allah’s Messenger said, “This poor man is better than an earthful of the former.”
If you are a person whom Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) has chosen to be known and recognized for your service in the path of Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala), then be grateful and say ” Alhamdullilah that Allah has beautified us among His creation.” It is not of your own doing, and should humble you. Humble yourself immensely, because it’s a situation that can be your undoing, Riya is not too far off . And if Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) has sheltered you from being recognized for all the good you do among people, do not strive to display what Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) has hidden. Allah is aware of all that you do, and that should be sufficient for you.
2016 Ramadan Reflection 20 June 25, 2016
The last of the post-sin etiquettes to observe is from a piece of advice in a hadith by Prophet Muhammad (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam):
Abû Dharr al-Ghifârî and Mu`âdh b, Jabal relate that the Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) said: “Fear Allah wherever you are. Follow up a bad deed with a good deed and it will blot it out. And deal with people in a good manner.” [ Sunan al-Tirmidhî ]
Why? Because following an apology with an action is proof of one’s sincere intention to change. You can apologize, but your apology can be mere words . So, this is a step further, moving from the realm of words to the realm of action. It’s kind of like following up an apology with a gift. The other option of course, is to follow a sin with another one, and the vicious cycle can continue. Prophet Saleh (Alayhe Assalaam) warned his people of this:
“O my people, why do you seek to hasten odious (deeds) before fair (ones)? Had you asked forgiveness from Allah, possibly you would be (offered) mercy!” (Qur’an 27:46)
What Prophet Salah (Alayhe Assalaam) is advising his people it to pause after every sin instead of chain-sinning, and follow the sin with a good deed so that sinning does not becomes a habit. Practice makes perfect, even when it comes to sinning. The heart can harden and get used to sinning and so it becomes a habit and later on a way of life.
Following a sin is like giving your heart a taste of the deliciousness of a good deed, after it has just tasted the bitterness of committing a sin. It’s like pouring water over a fire and putting it out. Inversely, chain-sinning is like pouring gasoline over an already volatile situation. It is bound to burn you. Remember, each sin is a brick in a wall that separates us more and more from Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala). Let’s break down that wall brick by brick, or better let’s not let those bricks accumulate to separate us from our Beloved, Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala).
So, those are the 3 post-sin etiquettes: owning up to one’s mistake, apologizing, and following it with a good deed. May we In Sha’ Allah be among those who are mentioned in this hadith by the Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam):
“I know the last of inhabitants of Paradise to enter it and the last of the inhabitants of Hell to come out it. He is a man who would be brought on the Day of Resurrection and it will be said: ‘Present his minor sins to him, and withhold from him his serious sins.’ Then the minor sins would be placed before him, and it would be said: ‘On such and such day you did so and so and on such and such day you did so and so.’ He would say: ‘Yes.’ It will not be possible for him to deny, while he would be afraid lest serious sins should be presented before him. It would be said to him: ‘In place of every evil deed you will have good deed. ‘He will (then) say: ‘My Lord! I have done things that I do not see here.’ I indeed saw the Mesenger of Allah laugh till his front teeth were exposed. [Sahih Muslim]
O’ Allah grant us the best post-sin etiquettes at times when we disobey you, and accept us when we turn back to you after a long separation. A separation we alone are at fault for. Ameen.
2016 Ramadan Reflection 19 June 24, 2016
Today we’re going to reflect on the second post-sin etiquette. So, after owning up to one’s mistake comes apologizing to Allah. Yes, apologizing to Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’alaa). The Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) said, “If a slave turns to Allah in repentance by owning up to his mistake, and apologizes for it Allah forgives him.” If we hurt someone we love, we are willing to get down on our knees and apologize profusely. We will try to find the sweetest words and expressions. We will be insistent in apologizing over and over. We will find creative ways . We might write poems (ballads, lamentations etc.) inspired by the urge to apologize. The Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) amazes me in this respect, as do the other Prophets (peace and blessings of Allah be on them all). Their apologies to Allah (subhanahu Wa Ta’al) are noted in the Qur’an and should be learned from. Lets look at some. Take for instance the apology of Adam and Hawa’a (Alayhem Assalaam):
“Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You forgive us not, and bestow not upon us Your mercy, we shall certainly be of the losers.”(Qur’an 7:23 ) .
Or the apology of Prophet Yunus in the belly of the whale:
“… he cried through the depths of darkness (saying): “There is no God but You, Glorified be You! I have been of the wrongdoers” (Qur’a 21:87).
Prophet Musa (Alayhe Assalaam) in a moment of awe with Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) asked to see Him and when he was denied that request he apologized:
“Glory be to You, I turn to You in repentance, and I am the first of the believers.” (Qur’an 7:143)
And Prophet Nuh (Alayhe Assalaam) asked Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) to save his son:
“And Noah called to his Lord and said, “My Lord, indeed my son is of my family; and indeed, Your promise is true; and You are the most just of judges.” (Qur’an 11:45)
To which Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) responded:
“O Noah, indeed he is not of your family; indeed, he is [one whose] work was other than righteous, so ask Me not for that about which you have no knowledge. Indeed, I advise you, lest you be among the ignorant.” (Qur’an 11:46)
To which Prophet Nuh apologized and said,
“My Lord, I seek refuge in You from asking that of which I have no knowledge. And unless You forgive me and have mercy upon me, I will be among the losers.” (Qur’an 11:47)
The Qur’an is full of apologies by the best of people who trod this earth, Allah’s Prophets and Messengers and they are examples for us to follow. Let’s close with one of my favorite apologies from the Seerah of Prophet Muhammad (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) after a failed visit to Al Taif where he (Salah Allah Alayhe wa Salam) was pelted with stones. The Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) apologizes for his shortcoming in doing Da’wah to the people he was sent to, so he eloquently says:
To You, my Lord,
I complain of my weakness, lack of support and the humiliation I am made to receive.
Most Compassionate and Merciful!
You are the Lord of the weak, and you are my Lord.
To whom do You leave me?
To a distant person who receives me with hostility?
Or to an enemy You have given power over me?
As long as you are not displeased with me, I do not care what I face.
I would, however, be much happier with Your mercy.
I seek refuge in the light of Your face by which all darkness is dispelled in both this life and the life to come, and every affair of this world and the next is set right lest Your anger or Your displeasure descends upon me,
To You I submit, until I earn Your pleasure.
Everything is powerless without your support.
Our Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) has some of the best apologies to Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) , even when he didn’t need to apologize. Let’s follow his example In Sha Allah.
2016 Ramadan Reflection 18 June 23, 2016
It is not a question of whether we err or not, for to “Err is human”, but rather the question is what do we do after we err? In this case, after we displease Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) or commit a sin. There is no doubt that sins come between us and Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala). They build a barrier, a wall, a wedge between us and Him (Subhanahu Wa Ta’la). We want to avoid the disconnect. We want to avoid being discouraged from progressing towards our purpose and goal of drawing closer to Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala). So, what is the Islamic etiquette after committing a sin? Let’s look at the Qur’an and derive some post-sin etiquettes. We want to be among those whom Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) says of them:
Except those who repent and believe, and do righteous deeds, for those, Allah will change their sins into good deeds, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Qur’an 25:70)
What a reward ! No better reward ever received will be appreciated in the Hereafter more than seeing our sins being exchanged for good deeds.
So, there are 3 post-sin etiquettes. We’ll talk about one today.
Owning up to our sins. ‘Ulema of Tafseer says that the word “believe” in the 70th ayah of Surat Al Furqaan:”Except those who repent and believe, and do righteous deeds…” means to believe that one has committed a sin. You have to believe in a “sinning” first, and what are sins–the major and minor. How many people live their lives committing sin after sin and not believing that they have committed a sin in the first place. They do believe in misdemeanors, felony charges etc. against society, that are forms of sins, but not sins against Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala). We are more comprehensive in the way we view sins. In Sha’ Allah.
But to continue our point of believing that one has committed, this includes: being aware that a sin has been committed; owning up to it; not denying it; providing excuses for it; justifying it; or trivializing it.
Let me explain a little further how trivializing a sin works. Like for instance one steals $5 and says: “What’s the big deal? I just stole $5. Others steal millions.” Stealing is stealing, whether it is a penny or a million . It’s the violation of other people’s property that counts, not how much of that property has been violated. You know what’s really scary about these kind of sins that we consider to be minor, is that they will be the ones that will come back and haunt us in the Hereafter. Yikes! The Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) warns us of this in his Farewell Sermon,
” O people, indeed Satan despairs of ever being worshipped in this land of yours. He will be pleased, however, if he is obeyed in a thing other than that, in matters you minimize. So beware of him in your religion.”
So, let’s today sit with ourselves and own up to our sins, the minor and the major the known and the unknown, and meet tomorrow so we can take on step two of the post-sin etiquettes.
2016 Ramadan Reflection 17 June 22, 2016
This is my last reflection on the “Tashadud” issue. This is a continuation from Ramadan Reflection 15 and Ramadan Reflection 16 , so if you haven’t checked them out, do so before you start on this one
So, if we have diagnosed ourselves as being among the “Mutashadedeen” (uptight, hard-handed Muslims), how can we get out of this miserable state?
Well, one we have to realize that if Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’la) the Beautiful, The Most Merciful, The Most Compassionate, The Most Gracious has occupied our hearts then these attributes should be reflected in our actions. A person viewed as “religious” but is always angry, judgmental, and tormenting others reflects the notion that being religious is all about fear, anger, judgment, torment, and punishment. Plain and simple. Our actions should want others to become closer to Allah as well and not drive them away. I always tell the sisters in my Halaqa that if anyone comes into contact with us and is not touched by the compassion, mercy, and beauty that are the basis of Islam then it’s time to look into ourselves and re-evaluate ourselves. The Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) says, “I was sent as a mercy to the Universe.” He is our example. Do we exude mercy and compassion? Do we have a merciful, compassionate, considerate, understanding aura around us that others want to come close to us because they realize that we get it from our closeness to Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’la) and, in turn, they want what we have. That folks is living and breathing Da’wah. This was how our Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) was. Look at this beautiful hadith:
It was narrated from Asma bint Yazid that she heard the Messenger of Allah (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) say: “Shall I not tell you of the best of you?” They said: “Yes, O Messenger of Allah.” He said: “The best of you are those who, when they are seen, Allah is remembered.”
Compare that to a person who whenever he is seen is angry, so much so that people fear being around him. Discomfort in his presence is the norm, because he has appointed himself as their “Raqeeb” —over seer—and forces them to do that which he believes Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’la) wants them to do. Rather than to guide them to love to do what Allah wants them to do with compassion and mercy. I think all of us have been around that person who constantly makes us feel uncomfortable when it comes to our Deen. Makes us feel negligible, inadequate, lacking, just not good enough Muslims.
Second step is to mentally rid ourselves of the idea that Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’la) is stalking us to instill fear in us. That He (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) is threatening us with punishment in everything that we do. That He hangs on every word. Hangs on every action. This is an illusion. Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’la) does not treat us this way, so let’s not make false assumptions about Allah (Subhanhu Wa Ta’la). Look at what Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) tells us about Himself in this beautiful Hadith Qudsi:
On the authority of Anas (Radi Allahu Anhu), who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) say: “Allah the Almighty said: ‘O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it.’”
We shouldn’t have a phobia of making mistakes, because it is natural for us humans to err, and if we do make mistakes we should not despair. Can we strike that balance? This Ayah from the Qur’an should encourage us:
“Say: O My servants who have transgressed against their own souls, despair not of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Qur’an 39:53)
Even at times when we give up on ourselves Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) never gives up on us. Alhamdullilah that Allah is Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’la).
What else can we do? Well, third is to educate ourselves about Islam and realize the vastness of opinions regarding scores of matters. The more we learn, the more we will realize how little we actually know or even don’t know. Knowledge requires humility on our part. “Iqra” (Read) the first revealed word in the Qur’an is an action that requires us to bend our heads down in humility to a book because it knows more than us, foremost the Qur’an. If we approach learning with an arrogant attitude we will only confirm what we already know in which case we learn nothing, or argue against what we don’t know. In either case, we go back empty handed and hollow headed. Imam Al Shafi’i said:
“Knowledge is 3 Ashbar (i.e. kind of like levels), when you pass the first Shebr you become arrogant [i.e. the person feels he has ilm/knowledge], and whoever passes the second Shebr become humble [realizes, the path to ilm is long], and whoever passes the third Shebr is absolutely sure that he knows nothing.”
The fourth, is a piece of advice from the physician of the hearts Prophet Muhammad (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam). If the Prophet came to heal our hardened hearts and resuscitate them with the Shariah of Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) then he needs to be heard. He said, “Yasiru (simplify).” If he (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) was given the choice of one or two matters he would choose the easiest of the two, as long as it was not sinful to do so. But if it was sinful to do so, he would not approach it. There are so many instances to support this. Take for instance this hadith:
The Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) says, “If anyone of you feels drowsy while praying he should go to bed (sleep) till his slumber is over.”
The Prophet (Salaha) told one of his companions who was praying the whole night, “Offer prayers and also sleep at night, as your body has a right on you.”
Folks, if our Da’wah causes people to repel then it is counter-productive. Da’wah means “invitation”, so we can’t invite others and be bad hosts. O’ Allah make our objective in our dealings with others, and in your Da’wah, bring tranquility and comfort to others. Let the beauty of Islam flow through our actions. Make us among those who unite others and not divide them. Ameen.
2016 Ramadan Reflection 16 June 21, 2016
So, yesterday we reflected on what is known in Arabic as “Tashadud” (strict/hard-handed/harsh/and uptight Muslim) and today I thought we would continue the conversation. . .
I want to reflect on some of the signs and symptoms for us to look out for so we are able to nip them in the bud instead of allowing them to escalate. Again these are just my contemplations, so feel free to add to them or even disagree with me. So, here goes:
If we have a strong aversion to those who differ in opinions with us in religious matters, not because they are wrong but because we can’t deal with the fact that others know more than us. This results in us being sarcastic of them and their worship. Let’s look at example:
Al-Azraq ibn Qais relates: “Abu Barzah Al-Aslami was at al-Ahwas, at the bank of a river, and he prayed while holding the reins of his horse. The horse started going back, and he (i.e.Abu Barzah) followed the horse. A man from the Khawarij said: ‘O Allah, be rough on this man, see how he is doing his prayer.’ When Abu Barzah finished his prayer, he said: ‘I heard your statement.Certainly, I participated in six or seven or eight battles with the Prophet,and I am certainly aware of his leniency. Certainly, I would rather restrain my animal than let him run off loose as that would have caused me a great deal of trouble.’ It was ‘Asr prayer that Abu Barzah offered, and he prayed two rak’at.” This is related by Ahmad, Al-Bukhari, and Al-Baihaqi.
As you can see from this incident, the onlooker was angry because Abu Barzah contradicted what he knew, and so he was quick to conclude that he wasn’t taking his Salaah seriously. He went as far as to make dua against him. So, pay attention to this. Does it bother us to see others follow another opinions or another Madhhab? If so, we’ve got a lot of reckoning to do with ourselves.
2. If we assume that taking the concessions offered by Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala), those “rukhas” and “tayseer” in our deen (such as combining/shortening Salaah during travel, or breaking fast while traveling), means we are not serious about our religion. That we are misguided. There is no problem with this if we want to be hard on ourselves, or reject this gift from Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’la). But when this goes beyond ourselves, and we expect every Muslim to take on the same feat or else they are considered “less Muslim” that is where the problem lies. Consider this instance from the Sunnah:
Once the Prophet was giving a sermon, he saw a person standing out in the sun. He asked who the person was; he was told it was Abu Israel. He asked why he was standing in the sun. They said, “He made a promise to himself that he would stand and not sit, abstain from speaking, not sit in the shade, fast and not eat.” The Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) said, “Tell him to seek shade, sit and speak, and to continue his fast.” Sunan Ahmad
He, Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam, chose for the man the best of all his practices, such as fasting, and disallowed those that are harmful and torturous to the body such as lengthy standing under the sun. Some might say, what’s wrong with him making things hard on himself. Fasting is meant to be hard. To those I say, Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) likes for there to be sense of tranquility and comfort in connecting with Him (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala). This person is taking the medicine for the soul and body, fasting, but he is not following the correct dosage or instructions and so it will affect his health and spirit negatively and make him sick instead of heal and give him comfort. This person is overthinking, looking for misery with a magnifying glass, in hope that it will bring him closer to Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’la). Listen to what the Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) says:
Abû Hurayrah relates that the Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) said “This religion is easy. No one becomes harsh and strict in the religion without it overwhelming him. So fulfill your duties as best you can and rejoice. Rely upon the efforts of the morning and the evening and a little at night and you will reach your goal.” [Sahîh al-Bukharî]
And the Prophet (Salah Allah Alayhe Wa Salam) points out that overburdening one’s self is counter-productive, more often than not: “Those who go to extremes are ruined.” Muslim (By Ibn Masu’d)
Another poignant and related hadith:
Some men asked about the acts of worship of the Prophet, and it was as if they thought them little. They said: “And which of us is like the Prophet of Allah?” Then one of them said: “As for me, I fast every day, and never break it.”And another one said: “As for me, I stand in prayer in the night, and do not sleep. “Then a third one said: “As for me, I do not eat meat.” And a fourth one said: “As for me, I do not marry women.” The Prophet said: “What is with people who say such things? As for me, I fast and I break fast, I stand in prayer and I sleep, I eat meat, and I marry women. Whoever turns away from my way (sunnah) is not of me.”
Those who overburden themselves lose steam. Their gas tanks are empty mid-journey:
“This religion is very profound so approach it in a gentle manner and do not make yourself hate the worship of Allaah because the traveller who does not let his mount rest will not reach his destination and his mount will not be able to keep going.” (Al Bayhaqi)