“Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while he (or she) is a true believer, verily to him we will give a good life, and we shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do.” Quran 16:97

Masjid al-Haram, the Sacred Mosque. The Ka'bah at the center is the ancient house of worship built by Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him)

Masjid al-Haram, the Sacred Mosque. The Ka'bah at the center is the ancient house of worship built by Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him)

Welcome and As-salamu alaykum wa Rahmatullah (peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah).

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Ramadan Tips for New Muslims

Courtesy of islamicity.org

Entering into my 15th Ramadan, I feel an excitement building. I am looking forward to the fast of Ramadan and all the amazing things that come with it: growing spiritually, strengthening community ties, coming nearer to Allah, and much more.

However, it wasn’t always this way. I converted during the month of Ramadan and jumped straight into fasting even before I knew how to pray correctly. I want to be honest here. Those first fasts were hard. Very hard. Coming from a Catholic and American background, I had never experienced real fasting. The most I knew about fasting was eating less to fit in a smaller size and not eating meat on Fridays during Lent.

So my first Ramadan was a shock to my system. And as my second Ramadan approached, I was very nervous about my ability to endure. I feared the pains of hunger, the thirst that left me dehydrated, and the fatigue that comes along with fasting. I felt like this was something no one ever talked about and for good reason. Complaining about hunger, thirst, and fatigue defeats the purpose of fasting.

I realized a couple things during my struggle to acclimate to fasting.

Firstly, that transformation of any kind will never happen if we don’t make drastic –often uncomfortable– changes. And fasting is an amazing way to get to know and perfect who we really are at a base level.
Secondly, I realized that there were very important tips to fasting successfully that few people tell new Muslims, perhaps out of fear of complaining about the test of fasting, or maybe out of having been trained from childhood and not knowing how hard it is for an adult to fast for the first time.
So what follows are the mental and physical practices that make fasting easier for the new Muslims and those new to fasting.

The Mental Approach

Know that you can: Like I said, I want to be honest here. There were some days of fasting in the beginning of my Muslim life that were rough. There were days when I felt like I was clawing my way just to get through one more minute of fasting. I was unsure if I could even make it.

Then I told myself, if Allah has prescribed fasting to humankind, then that means I am capable of doing it. And I continued to tell myself this until it became my Ramadan mantra: If Allah says I can, then I know I can. I was like the little Ramadan engine that could.

Sometimes we do not give ourselves enough credit. We are stronger than we think. Allah knows our true strength and asks us to push ourselves to new heights in Ramadan. Letting go and trusting that Allah has made us strong enough to endure this fasting takes away a lot of the stress of fasting and makes it instantly easier.

This of course does not apply to people who start experiencing serious medical complication while fasting. Some people may be incapable of fasting and should see their doctor if they experience symptoms beyond just hunger, thirst, and fatigue.

Stop thinking about it: During those first few years of fasting, I spent all of my time obsessing about how I felt or what I was going to eat and drink when I broke my fast. Thinking about my stomach, food, or the other physical effects of the fast made fasting a million times harder.

Finally, I decided that If I was going to be successful in this act of worship, I was going to have to just stop thinking about the physical aspects and busy my mind with other things. The Companions of the Prophet gave similar advice on how to train children to adapt to fasting.

The Companions of the Prophet said,

If a child cries of hunger, we gave it a toy to play with until it was time for ending the fast. (Bukhâri)

The toy was given to the children to distract their minds from the feeling of hunger and thirst. Similarly, distracting the mind for new Muslims is a great approach to overcoming the physical struggle. In certain ways, new Muslims need to adapt to the fasting (and other aspects of learning and practicing Islam) just as a child would. Not that new Muslims are deficient in any way, but that training in a Muslim family starts when you are young and new Muslims are young in faith and should take same small steps to adapt.

Once I let go of the thought of food, drink, and how I felt, fasting became so much easier. It was what is was, and I wasn’t going to obsess over my physical state. Instead I focused on my spiritual state. I busied my mind with coming nearer to Allah, learning my religion, and seeking forgiveness. And that is when the amazing effects of fasting started to transform me as a Muslim.

The Physical Approach

Know when you can eat and don’t miss it: Being so new to Islam when I started fasting, all I knew was that I couldn’t eat from “sun up” until “sundown.” I thought this meant I could not eat from the time when the sun is all the way up in the morning until all the light has left the sky in the evening.

I was dead wrong and I was fasting for a lot longer than was needed. Starting out as a new Muslim who is new to fasting, it might not be clear when you need to stop eating before fasting and when you should start eating after the fast. These meals are called suhûr (the meal before fasting) and iftâr (the meal breaking one’s fast).

The beginning of the fasting day starts the moment fajr Prayer comes in. And breaking the fast begins at the moment maghrib Prayer comes in. Don’t sleep in and miss eating suhûr (before fajr time comes) and don’t delay iftâr (once maghrib time comes). Don’t think it is better to fast longer.

The Prophet told us that,

the people will not cease to be about goodness as long as they hasten in breaking the fast. (Bukhâri and Muslim)

Missing meals or prolonging your fast will make Ramadan harder than it has to be; this is completely unnecessary.

Good nutrition and hydration are crucial: During the day, your body starts to crave the worst foods in the world. Your stomach will start inventing new ways to inject more bad fats and sugar into already bad foods. This was the state I found myself in at meals during the holy month. I craved doughnut stuffed fried chicken covered in chocolate and deep fried again. Once it was time to eat, I would fill my stomach up with the unhealthiest and unsubstantial foods my body craved during the fast.

However, filling my stomach with junk food made me hungrier sooner, constantly mentally clouded, and weaker longer. A few days of this will teach anyone a good lesson about nutrition. Eating healthful food made a world of difference during the days of fasting: oatmeal made me feel full all day, low fat meat made me feel stronger, nuts made me feel focused. It was like a miracle.

Eat foods with lots of fiber, protein, and healthy fats. These things will help you feel fuller for longer and more like yourself. Donuts will have you crashing at the worst times. Fried chicken will give you mental fog that can ruin your life. Most junk foods don’t have the same sustained and filling effect that healthful foods do.

What I drank affected my fast as well. My first few Ramadans, I noticed my eyes became sunken and the purple hue around them made me look as if I had joined some sort of Ramadan fight club. I attributed this to a lack of sleep from praying at night, until my lips started to crack and bleed.

It turned out that my addiction to soda and coffee and continuing to drink these dehydrating drinks at suhûr and iftâr were damaging my health. I was never a water loving person until I became a fasting person because I found that drinking plenty of water outside of fasting hours facilitated my fasting.

Drinking water is so important when you introduce fasting into your diet. Often we get thirsty long before we ever feel hungry. And keeping our level of hydration up is very important to making fasting easier on the body. So, put down the soda, coffee, and even juices at iftâr and suhûr. Water is best and will be the most helpful to your system long after your fast has begun.

The prophet used to break his fast with a date and if he had no dates, then he would simply go with water.

Allah’s messenger used to break his fast with fresh dates before going to Prayer. When fresh dates were unavailable, he would break his fast with dried dates. When dried dates were unavailable, he would simply take a few sips of water. (Dâwûd)

There’s a lot of wisdom in following this example. Water sustains our hydration and dates provide fiber that staves off hunger.

Fasting is so much more than a physical act. But if new Muslims have a difficult time getting past the physical, it will be nearly impossible for them to get to the spiritual aspects of Ramadan and fasting, which is where the sweetness of faith and of this holy month lies. So it is my hope that helping new Muslims deal with the physical will ultimately allow them to grow in the spiritual

Recent bombings in Manchester and Egypt

Innah Lillahi wa Innah Illahi Raji’oon. To God we belong and to Him we shall return.

The bombings in Manchester and Egypt are an example of the devastation of reason and a lack of humanity. There is no justification of these horrific acts. On behalf of the Islamic Service Center of America, we condemn these bombings and pray that tolerance for all people is respected and that no religion will ever justify the killing of innocent souls. May Allah grant the families of the victims ease in these terrible times.

7 Ways to Prepare for Ramadan

Courtesy of irusa.org

How are you preparing for Ramadan? The Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) used to prepare for Ramadan six months in advance. So, if we really want to make the best of this Ramadan, then we need to prepare for it now! As we know, fasting is more than just abstaining from food but from indecent speech and lustful desires as well. Fasting pushes us to be cognizant of our actions, to be patient and to be moral individuals, thereby increasing our taqwa (God-consciousness). Here are some ways we can improve on different aspects of our life so we can fully benefit from Ramadan, a time when deeds are multiplied.

1. Fast Voluntarily:
This month—Shabaan—is the prime time to start fasting those extra fasts or making up your missed fasts from last Ramadan.
Usamah ibn Zayd (may Allah be pleased with him) said: I said, ‘Oh Messenger of Allah, I do not see you fasting in any other month like you fast in Shabaan.’ He said, ‘That is a month to which people do not pay attention, between Rajab and Ramadan, and it is a month in which deeds are lifted up to the Lord of the Worlds. I like for my deeds to be lifted up when I am fasting.’” (Narrated by al-Nasaai)
The best way to prepare fasting for a whole month is to start fasting often, in order to gain control over your actions, stomach and desires.
Fast Mondays and Thursdays:
Abu Hurairah reported that the most the Prophet (pbuh) would fast would be Monday and Thursday. He was asked about that and he said: “The deeds of people are presented to Allah on every Monday and Thursday. Allah forgives every Muslim except for those who are deserting each other.” (Hasan)
Fast the White Days—13th, 14th and 15th of each Islamic month:
Abu Tharr Al-Ghefari said: “The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, ‘Oh Abu Dharr! If you fast three days of every month, then fast the 13th, 14th and 15th (these are called Al-Ayaam Al-Beedh, the White Days).’” (Sahih)
The Prophet said, “(Allah said), ‘Every good deed of Adam’s son is for him except fasting; it is for Me, and I shall reward (the fasting person) for it.’ Verily, the smell of the mouth of a fasting person is better to Allah than the smell of musk.” (Bukhari)

2. Recite and Reflect Upon the Qur’an:
Start now to reflect on portions of the Qur’an to get closer to Allah and understand your responsibilities. Every single time you read the Qur’an, you will uncover more depths of meaning and benefit in this world and the hereafter.
Aishah (ra) related that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Indeed the one who recites the Qur’an beautifully, smoothly and precisely, will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. As for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have twice that reward.” (Muslim)

3. Follow the Sunnah and Pray Extra Prayers:
Learn more about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and follow him by emulating his actions.
“Say, [Oh Muhammad], If you should love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (Qur’an 3:31)

4. Repent and Make Dua’a:
We all make mistakes, but alhamdulilah we can always repent.
The Prophet (pbuh) said: “All the children of Adam constantly err, but the best of those who constantly err are those who constantly repent.” (Tirmidhi)

5. Give Charity:
This world can only be a better place if we help each other. In return, Allah rewards us in both worlds.
The Messenger (pbuh) said, “Allah is in the aid of His servant as long as His aide is in the assistances of others.” (Muslim)
“Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He will multiply it for him and he will have a noble reward?” (Qur’an 57:11)
The Prophet also said: “Give charity without delay, for it stands in the way of calamity.” (Al-Tirmidhi)

6. Improve Your Character:
Everyone can be a little bit more kind and work on different aspects of their character.
The Prophet (pbuh) used to say: “The best amongst you are those who have the best manners and character.” (al-Bukhari)

7. Eat Healthy and Moderately:
With less time to eat in Ramadan, we really need to pay attention to what we eat. Now is the best time to research the nutritious value of the food we eat. While we fast, the food we eat before we start our fast or to break our fast needs to provide the optimal energy so we can accomplish our daily tasks and increase our worship.
Overeating too is hazardous.
Ash-Shafi’i said: “”I have not filled myself in 16 years because filling oneself makes the body heavy, removes clean understanding, induces sleep and makes one weak for worship.”
In order to take full advantage of this holy month, we need to prepare ourselves spiritually, mentally and physically. Insha’Allah if we constantly try to improve ourselves, then when we reach Ramadan, we will be able to easily move to the next level spiritually.

Fresno Shooting

Innah Lillahi wa Innah Illahi Raji3oon

It is with heavy hearts that we hear about the Fresno shootings by a man who claimed to be doing the killings in the name of Allah. The Islamic Service Center wholeheartedly offers condolences and prayers to the families of the victims. This was a senseless crime, one we condemn strongly. This is not true Islam and we are shocked and saddened that this horrific incident occurred in the name of Allah.

Please join us in making duaa for the families of the victims. May Allah ease their hearts in this terrible tragedy.

Coptic Church Bombings in Egypt

To God we belong and to Him we shall return.

It is with great sadness that we hear news of the Coptic church bombings in Egypt on April 9th, 2017. We offer the families of the victims of these bombings sincere condolences and prayers. May God grant them ease in these tragic times.

On behalf of the Islamic Service Center of America, we condemn these bombings and pray that religious tolerance to all minorities are respected. Coexistence on this earth is a fundamental part of being human. We hope that the perpetrators of such heinous crimes are caught as soon as possible.

Please join us in remembering the victims and their families in our prayers and make duaa for a more civilized and humanistic society, that holds the value of life to the highest of standards.

Moment of Clarity

Courtesy of whyislam.org

When endeavouring to explain to someone how I uncovered my spirituality, I usually say it happened quite suddenly, in a moment of clarity.

Throughout my childhood and young adult years, God remained in the background of my consciousness. I believed in Him, and performed some rituals of worship to express this belief. Yet He rarely crossed my mind during day-to-day life, and I felt it was more important to focus my attention on intellectual advancement through academic and professional avenues.

I held myself to an elevated standard in work and study, always getting high grades on exams and maintaining a diligent work ethic that opened many opportunities for advancement. I sought happiness through ties of family and friendship, and on a couple of occasions, came close to forging a sincere commitment in marriage. (Read more: Marriage in Islam)

Barriers to understanding God’s message
However, as it turned out, life was full of all kinds of mishaps and disappointments. My professional success was overshadowed by office politics or ill-intentioned colleagues who managed to drain my enthusiasm. Love relationships that seemed to be headed for marriage would unravel due to dishonesty and lack of integrity. And family ties would be put to the test by financial and health difficulties. The belief in God lurking in the background of my life wasn’t sufficient to help me deal with what was flooding in its foreground.

With my lack of attentiveness to the practice of faith, I was unable to understand why God constantly placed hurdles in my path and left me to wallow in despair. It was as I was passing through one of these hurdles – frustrated, anxious and impatient to discover an answer – that I came to that moment of crisp, unhindered, spiritual and intellectual clarity.
In the Quran, which I hadn’t read up to that point, there is a description of a veil over the eyes of those who aren’t receptive to God’s message, a barrier that makes it inconceivable for them to understand faith in the true sense. Only by seeking answers with an open mind can one overcome this barrier. God refers to a divine light that, when it shines on the heart, lifts the veil and illuminates a holistic understanding of belief in God and the purpose of life.

In my moment of clarity, it was as though I was moved from the former state to the latter state, from the “depths of darkness into light.”

“He will provide for you a Light to help you walk; He will forgive you your past: for God is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Quran 57:28)

Blessings in disguise

It happened one morning before dawn more than two years ago. Unable to sleep I sat in my living room trying to decipher how to cope with the latest predicament; trying to understand why I deserved it. In a moment of inspiration, I knew the answer. What I perceived as a disappointment was actually a blessing, for it prompted me to question my state of existence, preparing me to be more receptive to God’s message and mercy.

I felt suddenly flooded with love, as though a burden was lifted from my heart. I realised I had to stop searching outside of myself for fulfilment, because the transience of relationships to things, people and places can never offer enduring satisfaction. That would be a difficult habit to break and yet I knew in that moment that all of the love, energy, loyalty and sincerity in my heart, that was often mishandled and mistreated by others, I needed to direct to God.
After that moment, I began to stop questioning why things didn’t work out and started allowing myself to give circumstances a chance to fall into place as they are meant to, with patience and a tranquil spirit. All I had learned in life through university, media, books and in my extensive professional career became comparatively trivial to the knowledge that the moment of clarity afforded me. I knew that the insight of that moment surpassed everything else that I had encountered, and felt with certainty that the knowledge I would seek and attain next would alter the course of my life. (Click here to learn more about understanding God’s will.)

In the two and a half years since, I have uncovered more and more layers of my faith in God, and found the path to peace of mind, the straight path of Islam – a state of mind where a believer lives in submission to God – laid out before me. I do, at times, encounter people who strive to label those of us who are on a spiritual journey as intellectually inferior, but these distractions are unimportant as we advance in the pursuit of knowledge.

Having experienced a truly dramatic shift in my faith and state of mind, I say with confidence that the path of uncovering and understanding God is, as 11th century Islamic theologian Al-Ghazali has pointed out, the route to the greatest knowledge a human being can attain.

“When God becomes the ruler of the heart, He floods it with mercy and sheds His light upon it, and the breast is opened and there is revealed to it the secret of the world of spirits,” writes Al-Ghazali in his book, The Marvels of the Heart. “By a gift of mercy there is cleared away from the surface of the heart the veil of whiteness that blinds its eye, and there shines in it the real nature of divine things.”

Concept of God in Islam

Courtesy of whyislam.org

Monotheism, belief in one God, is the most important and foundational concept in Islam. Muslims believe in one God who created the universe and has power over everything within it. He is unique and exalted above everything He creates, and His greatness cannot be compared to His creation. Furthermore, He is the only one deserving of any worship and the ultimate purpose of all creation is to submit to Him. The Islamic understanding of God is distinct from all other religions and beliefs in various respects since it is based on a pure and clear understanding of monotheism. This essentially captures the concept of God in Islam, which will be further elaborated in this pamphlet.

Muslims often refer to God as Allah. This is a universal name for God and does not refer to an exclusively ‘Islamic’ God. Interestingly, this name is related to the Aramaic and Hebrew names for God, Allaha and Elohim. Therefore, Allah is simply the Arabic name for God which affirms that He is One singular God with no partners or equals. The name Allah cannot be pluralized or limited to a specific gender, which establishes that God is One and that He is unique from everything He creates. Muslims continue to use this original Arabic name for God (Allah) since it perfectly expresses His unique qualities.

God is the Creator and the Sustainer of the universe who created everything for a reason. Muslims believe that He created humankind with a simple purpose – to worship Him. He sent messengers to guide people in fulfilling this purpose. Some of these messengers include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, peace be upon all of them. They all taught a consistent message about God by affirming His greatness as the Creator and guiding people to worship Him alone. This basic concept has always resonated with people’s natural understanding of God. (Click here to learn more about prophets in Islam.)

When the final prophet, Muhammad, peace be upon him (pbuh), was asked about God, the answer came directly from God in the holy book of Muslims, the Quran (also spelled ‘Koran’): “Say, ‘He is God the One, God the eternal. He begot no one nor was He begotten. No one is comparable to Him.’” [112:1-4] This is a clear statement by God describing Himself to humanity without any room for confusion. God is One and is exalted above everything He creates and He is capable over all things.

Fully accepting the oneness of God is to accept that He is distinct from everything else. It would not suit God’s majesty and glory to associate the limited attributes of His creation to Him because He is not restricted in any way, while His creation is. He is the First with no beginning and the Last with no end. Everything in the universe was created by His will. He is not confined by space or time and He is the only One who is in control and provides for His creation.
“He is God: there is no god other than Him. It is He who knows what is hidden as well as what is in the open, He is the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy. He is God: there is no god other than Him, the Controller, the Holy One, Source of Peace, Granter of Security, Guardian over all, the Almighty, the Compeller, the Truly Great; God is far above anything they consider to be His partner. He is God: the Creator, the Originator, the Shaper. The best names belong to Him. Everything in the heavens and earth glorifies Him: He is the Almighty, the Wise.” [Quran, 59:22-24]

Pure Monotheism

“God: there is no god but Him, the Ever Living, the Ever Watchful. Neither slumber nor sleep overtakes Him. All that is in the heavens and in the earth belongs to Him. Who is there that can intercede with Him except by His leave? He knows what is before them and what is behind them, but they do not comprehend any of His knowledge except what He wills. His throne extends over the heavens and the earth; it does not weary Him to preserve them both. He is the Most High, the Tremendous.” [Quran, 2:255]

The primary pillar of Islamic belief clearly states that there is nothing worthy of worship except God. Associating partners with God or attributing qualities of lesser beings to Him is considered to be the greatest sin in Islam.

In the past, this often took the form of idol worship or praying to multiple lesser gods. Although this is less common now, the current era has replaced many of the physical ‘idols’ of the past with other contemporary ‘gods.’ Many people today allow passions like entertainment, drugs, relationships or material objects to become the center of their lives. They become so consumed with these things that they submit to whatever will allow them to fulfill their desires. For example, if a drug addict allows their addiction to control their actions, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors, causing them to risk their personal safety and the safety of others, that drug has essentially become their god. Likewise, if another person puts a loved one before God by obeying that person even if that causes them to transgress against God’s commands, their loved one has taken precedence over God.

Islam teaches that people should completely submit only to God as He is the only One worthy of their worship. He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and everything in it belongs to Him. The Quran points out the faulty thinking of those who worship other than God:

“‘How can you worship things you carve with your own hands, when it is God who has created you and all your handiwork?’” [37:95-96]
The Believer’s Surrender
In order to be a true believer, one must believe in the absolute oneness of God, as the only Creator, Preserver and Nourisher of everything. However, this belief in the true characteristics of God is not the sole condition of true faith; one must also acknowledge that God is the only one who deserves to be worshipped. His commands and guidelines for how to live one’s life should always take precedence over the commands of anything He created. Indeed, He guides humanity to what is best for them in this life and the hereafter and He is All-Knowing and All-Wise.

Having embraced this understanding of God, one should constantly have faith in Him, and should remain steadfast on the truth. When true faith enters a person’s heart, it positively impacts their outlook and behavior. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “Faith is that which resides firmly in the heart and which is proved by actions.”

One of the striking effects of faith is a feeling of gratitude towards God. Believers love God and are grateful to Him for the blessings He gives them. They are aware of the fact that their good deeds will never be equal to His divine favors upon them so they are always striving to please Him. Furthermore, sincere believers in God accept that any hardships they face are part of the greater ‘test of life.’ They are patient through times of difficulty and turn to God for assistance. A beautiful characteristic of the believers is that they accept everything God wills and continuously remember Him in all aspects of life. (Read more: Attitude of Gratitude)

Anyone who denies the basic truth of the existence of God is considered ungrateful and a disbeliever. On many occasions in the Quran, God reminds humanity of the disbelievers’ clear misguidance and His complete power over everything:

“Behold! Verily to Allah belong all creatures, in the heavens and on earth. What do they follow who worship as His “partners” other than Allah? They follow nothing but fancy, and they do nothing but lie.” [10:66]

“It is God who has given you the night in which to rest and the day in which to see. God is truly bountiful to people, but most people do not give thanks. Such is God your Lord, the Creator of all things: there is no god but Him. How can you be so deluded? [40:61-62]

In the end, we must understand that our belief or disbelief in God does not affect Him in any way. Believing in Him, worshipping Him, and following His commands will only benefit us because we are in need of His blessings, favors and mercy. On the other hand, He does not need us because He is the Self-Sufficient Creator. However, it is never too late for a person to turn back to God, seeking His guidance and forgiveness by submitting to Him.
“Say: “O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. Turn ye to our Lord (in repentance) and bow to His (Will), before the Penalty comes on you: after that ye shall not be helped. And follow the best of (the courses) revealed to you from your Lord, before the Penalty comes on you – of a sudden while ye perceive not!” [Quran, 39:53-55]

Why Islam?
If you agree with the basic concepts in this pamphlet, you may still ask why Islam stands out from other religions. The reason is simply that Islam is the final and complete way of life that God revealed to guide humanity. Previous divine messages (such as the ones taught by Abraham, Moses and Jesus) have been lost or altered throughout time. God chose to send Muhammad (pbuh) to deliver His final message, which maintains the core teachings of all the previous revelations. The book sent to Muhammad (pbuh) was the Quran, which was revealed as guidance for all of humanity. Just like the Torah sent to Moses and the Gospel sent to Jesus, the Quran is a guidebook teaching us how to worship God in the purest manner and thereby achieve our purpose in life. The Quran is unique because it has remained preserved in its exact and original form for more than 1,400 years. (Learn more: Preservation of the Quran)

Islam is not a new way of life; rather, it is the final message, which upholds the same essential beliefs that God sent to humanity through all of His messengers. Through this message, God calls on each individual to lead a conscientious life by drawing close to Him and to remain cognizant of their final accountability in front of the one and only God.

“Has the time not come for those who have believed that their hearts should become humbly submissive at the remembrance of Allah and what has come down of the truth?” [Quran, 57:16]

The tragic deaths in Nice, France.

As the year continues, more and more terror attacks plague the world in a series of tragic deaths. The latest victims in Nice, France had their lives cut short by people without an affiliation towards any religion or true word of God. Here, we are heartbroken for the families of those who died and are making prayers that the world’s conscience rights itself and we may all live in peace again.

“To God we belong and to Him we shall return.”

How to Benefit From the Quran

Courtesy of Abu Rumaysah Refi Shafi

If you truly want to benefit from the Qur’an, your heart must be attentive and alert when reciting it or listening to it. Listen to it carefully with presence of mind, paying attention to it as if Allah Himself was speaking to you directly. Understand that this Qur’an is an address directed to you from Allah, Most High, upon the tongue of His Messenger (SAW).

Allah, Most High, says, “Truly there is a reminder in this for anyone who has a heart, or who listens attentively with presence of mind.” [1]

A deep and lasting impression is dependant upon something that will stimulate a person, a location that can be influenced, his being in the right condition, and removing any barrier that would impede this from happening. This verse mentions of all of these in the most succinct and lucid of ways; clearly articulating the intended meaning.

“Truly there is a reminder in this” refers to the previous verses of this chapter. This, the Qur’an, is the stimulus.

“for anyone who has a heart” refers to the location that can be influenced. The heart referred to here is the living heart: the heart that is aware of Allah. He, Most High, says, “it is simply a reminder and a clear Qur’an so that you may warn those who are truly alive,” [2] i.e. those whose hearts are alive.

“or who listens attentively,” i.e. directs his faculty of hearing towards it and pays it the utmost attention. This is the condition that must exist for a person to be roused by the words.

“with presence of mind,” i.e. with an alert and present heart, not one that is unmindful and absent. Ibn Qutaybah said, “i.e. a person who listens attentively to Allah’s Book with presence of heart and mind, not someone who is unmindful with an absent air.” [3] This then alludes to the barrier: an unmindful and inattentive heart which does not understand what is being said and, as such, is unable to reflect upon it or direct any conscious thought towards it.

Therefore, if all these things come together, the end-result is obtained: benefiting from the Qur’an and taking heed.

If someone were to ask: if the end-result, the lasting impression, is only attained by the combination of these matters, why then did Allah say “or” in the verse, “or who listens attentively” which implies a choice between one or another option? Surely “and” should have been mentioned in its place?

It is said in reply: this is a good question; “or” has been mentioned by taking into consideration the state of the addressee.

Some people have hearts which are alive, hearts that will readily accept the truth and whose innate nature (fitrah) is intact; if such a person was to reflect in his very heart and turn his mind to it, he would conclude that the Qur’an is authentic and true. His heart would witness what the Qur’an informs it of and the subsequent impression upon it would be light layered on top of the light of its innate nature. This is the description of those about whom it is said, “those who have been given knowledge see that what has been sent down to you from your Lord is the truth.” [4]

Concerning them, Allah says, “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The metaphor of His light is that of a niche in which there is a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, the glass like a brilliant start, lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor the west, its oil all but giving off light even if no fire touches it. Light upon light! Allah guides to His Light whoever He wills, Allah propounds metaphors for mankind and Allah has knowledge of all things.” [5]

This verse refers to the light of the innate nature covered by the light of revelation; this is the condition of the person who has a living, receiving heart. We have explained this verse, its subtleties and lessons in detail in our book, Ijtima` al-Juyush al-Islamiyyah `ala Ghazw al-Mu`attila wa’l-Jahmiyyah. [6]

Therefore, the person who has this type of attentive heart receives the meanings of the Qur’an and readily accepts them so much so that it seems as if the words have been inscribed in his heart and he is able to recite them fluidly from memory.

Other people have hearts which fall below the level of those mentioned above; their hearts are not as ready to receive the truth, they are not completely alive, and their innate nature is not as refined. Therefore, they stand in need of a witness who would differentiate the truth from falsehood for them. In order to be guided, such a person must pay the utmost attention to the Qur’an’s words, he must devote his heart to it, ponder it and comprehend its meanings, and only after this will he come to realise that it is true.

The first type of person sees the truth of what he is invited to and informed of with his own eyes. The second type of person has learned that it is the truth, has certainty in it and is satisfied. The first has attained the ranking of beneficence, ihsan and the second has attained the ranking of faith, iman. The first has attained `ilm al-yaqin from which his heart has ascended to the degree of `ayn al-yaqin. The second has acquired that level of unwavering belief which takes him out of the fold of disbelief and into the fold of Islam. [7]

`Ayn al-Yaqin is of two categories: what is acquired in this world and what is acquired in the Hereafter. In this world it is to the heart what the beheld is to the eye. All the matters of the unseen that the Messengers informed us of will be seen by the eye in the Hereafter and the inner sight in this world; in both cases, this is `ayn al-yaqin

Taqwa: The Cornerstone of Islamic Faith

Courtesy of www.iqrasense.com

More than a billion people today say “La Ilaha Illallah”, yet many of us would agree that the Muslim ummah as a whole will be quite possibly missing out on additional mercy and blessings of Allah unless we start living by those words in our lives. Many among us either don’t know how to live up to those words or simply don’t find it necessary to do so. To them, recognizing a deity called “Allah” is all that is needed to be categorized as a “believer”. As we shall see later, Quran tells us that it may be nothing short of a sign of hypocrisy.

The fact is that those who call themselves “Muslims” need to infuse their hearts with “Taqwa” if they want to be viewed by Allah as true believers. In the English language, “Taqwa” has been translated and interpreted in various ways so that it may mean piety, righteousness, fearful of Allah, being God conscious, and so on. But we know that, similar to other words in the Quran, it is difficult to get a corresponding one word translation. Instead, some Quranic words pack more detailed concepts that must be elaborated on when translated into other languages.

After the first Surah (Al-Fatihah), which is mostly considered as a Dua, the Quran continues with Surah Al-Baqara (verse # 2) as follows:

“This is the Book (the Quran), whereof there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqin (People of Taqwa).” (Sura Al-Baqarah:2)

This verse thus makes Taqwa a prerequisite for seeking guidance from Quran (a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqun, i.e., who have Taqwa). Tafsir ibn Kathir states: “Hidayah – correct guidance – is only granted to those who have Taqwa.” He went on to point out that “the guidance in it (Quran) is only granted to the righteous (people with Taqwa in their hearts), just as Allah said,

(O mankind! There has come to you a good advice from your Lord, and a healing for that which is in your breasts (disease of ignorance, doubt, hypocrisy and differences), a guidance and a mercy for the believers (Surah Younus:57).

What is Taqwa?
Rather than coining our own definitions, let’s look at how various scholars have defined Taqwa (Reference
2). Abu Darda (R) said: “From the completion of Taqwa is that the servant fears from His Lord even with regard to things, the weight of an atom.”

Sheikh Muhammed Tantawi says: “The word ‘Muttaqoon’ is the plural of ‘Muttaqi’. ‘Muttaqi’ is the gerund from the verb ‘Ittaqa’ (acquired protection). ‘Ittaqa’ is from the root verb ‘Waqa’ which means he protected himself from that which harms him.”

One of the more complete definitions and explanations was provided by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah. He states that Taqwa “includes doing everything that Allah has enjoined whether it is waajib (obligatory) or mustahabb (recommended), and avoiding all that He has forbidden, whether it is haraam (forbidden) or makrooh (disliked).” [Reference
1]

A heart infused with Taqwa is, therefore, an attitude that one adopts about following Allahs teachings. It provides us the filter to get a renewed perspective regarding how we live various aspects of our lives because we become aware of Allah’s pleasure and displeasure in all our affairs.

It is Taqwa that gives meaning to our simple worship rituals that otherwise would be nothing without it. Haven’t we pondered what would the physical actions of salat (prayers) such as bowing and prostrating mean without a heart infused with Taqwa? What makes the hunger and thirst (when fasting) of a believer different from the same actions of a non-believer? How would the physical acts of going between the two mountains of Safa and Marwa (in Hajj and Umrah) become valuable in the eyes of Allah? It’s the Taqwa in our hearts that provide these simple physical rituals a special meaning in the eyes of Allah. For example, when mentioning the ritual of sacrificing animals (in Allah’s name) in the Quran, Allah says, “It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but it is Taqwa (piety, etc.) from you that reaches Him. Thus have We made them subject to you so that you may glorify Allah for His guidance to you…” (Surah Al-Hajj: 37).

Let’s ensure, therefore, that our worship is not limited to empty acts but is rather adorned with Taqwa. Again, as the verse states, “…but it is the Taqwa (piety) from you that reaches Him.”

WHERE DO WE FALL RELATED TO OUR TAQWA AND THE GUIDANCE FROM ALLAH?
If we read the first few verses of Surah Al-Baqara (almost the beginning of the Quran), we would note that Allah describes three types of people related to guidance.

The first group: In the first few verses (verses 2 – 5), He clearly explains that the Quran is a guidance for those who have Taqwa in their hearts and this guidance causes them to be successful. The people described in these verses are those who:

(1) Believe in the unseen (e.g. Allah, angels, the holy books that Allah revealed but got changed, prophets, day of resurrection, and Al-Qadr)

(2) Perform salat

(3) Spend for Allah’s causes from what Allah has provided to them

(4) Believe in what Allah revealed to Prophet Muhammad

(5) Believe in what Allah revealed to the prophets before Muhammad, and

(6) Believe in hereafter.

The second group: The second group (described in verses 6 and 7) falls on the other end of the spectrum, and are the disbelievers. In describing them Allah says that it is the seal on their hearts and ears as well as a covering in their eyes that has caused them to disbelieve.

The third group: Finally, the Quran uses more verses (verses 8 through 18) in describing those regarding whom Allah says, “And of mankind, there are some who say: “We believe in Allah and the Last Day” while in fact they believe not” (verse 6). Some of the attributes that Allah points out in those people (in those verses) are the following:

(1) They think they are deceiving Allah and the believers but in fact they are deceiving themselves.

(2) In their hearts there is a disease (of doubt and hypocrisy).

(3) When Allah tells them to believe by modeling themselves according to the prophet and the true believers, they say, “Shall we believe as the fools have believed?” Allah then responds by saying that “Verily, they are the fools but they know not.”

(4) They mock the believers in turn and then Allah says: “Allah mocks at them and gives them increase in their wrongdoings to wander blindly.”

(5) Allah remarks about these people: “These are they who have purchased error for guidance, so their commerce was profitless. And they were not guided.”

The above (based on verses 2 – 18 of Al-Baqara) should be sufficient to move our hearts to the core and should create the urgency to associate ourselves with the first group (the ones with Taqwa). While a majority of us believers will associate ourselves with the first group, our behaviors and attitudes may instead make us appear to belong to the third. Let’s, therefore, ensure that our actions (not just words) disclose that we are people who have Taqwa (as mentioned in verse 2).

On the road to inculcate Taqwa

Once we say “La Ilaha Illallah”, we should take a few steps to lodge Taqwa (piety, righteousness, humbleness, fear, God consciousness, etc.) in our hearts. Some of the steps we can take include the following:

Know as a believer that it’s Allah’s (our creator and sustainer’s) right to be obeyed: Let us never forget that it is Allah’s right to be obeyed. Ibn Qayyim said: “A benefit of understanding Allah’s right over the servant is that it opens the door of humbleness in front of Allah and closes the doors of conceit. It allows one to realize that salvation is only through Allah’s grace and mercy. It is Allah’s right that He should be obeyed and not disobeyed: that He should be remembered and not forgotten and that He should be appreciated and not unappreciated . . . Many people think about their rights over Allah and do not about His rights over them. This is how they are detached from Allah and deprived of the desire to meet Him. This is the epitome of ignorance of their Lord and of themselves” (Ighathatul lahfaan 1/99-101; secondary reference).

Audit yourself: From time to time we should pause and assess the condition of our hearts. If we do that with full introspection, it wouldn’t be difficult to determine whether our hearts are filled with piety and fear of Allah (Taqwa), or have remnants of hardness and a carefree attitude about Allah and His teachings. Allah says in the Quran: “O you who believe! Fear Allah and keep your duty to Him. And let every person look to what he has sent forth for the morrow (tomorrow), and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what you do” (Surah Al-Hashr:18). Ibn kathir says that the phrase ‘let each soul see’ or “let every person look” in the above verse means to take an account of one’s own actions before being audited (by Allah) (Tafseer of Ibn Kathir: 4/346). Omar bin Khattab wrote to one of his employees: “Audit yourself in prosperity before the auditing of adversity. Whoever does this will be pleased and envied. Whoever is distracted from this by his life and fantasies, will face remorse and loss.”

Reflect your Taqwa in your deeds: Once you build the Taqwa in your heart (become cognizant of, and fear Allah in all your affairs), you should start practicing it in your actions. The sahaba and salaf used to exert themselves in ensuring that their actions reflected the Taqwa in their hearts. It’s said that Ibn Omar used to stay awake the whole night if he missed a prayer in congregation (because he knew (through the Taqwa in his heart) Allah’s pleasure associated with one praying in congregation). Imam Ghazali mentioned that we let ourselves (our nafs) off the hook when it (our nafs) is our biggest enemy and is more likely to rebel against our own selves (Ihya’ul ulum al-din, 4/381). About ensuring that we bring Taqwa in our actions, Abu Dhar reported that the Messenger of Allah, said: “Fear Allah wherever you may be; follow up an evil deed with a good one which will wipe (the former) out, and behave good-naturedly towards people” [Al-Tirmidhi].

Condition yourself to inculcate Taqwa: We have to condition ourselves to fear Him by observing and reflecting more about our existence, our vulnerability as humans in this ocean in which we are journeying, and about the end that each one of us will meet soon. We should also become avid learners about what pleases Allah and what displeases Him and take that seriously. This observation and learning will enable us to learn new truths that can help us condition our states and hearts to inculcate the required Taqwa in our hearts.

Parting Words
Let’s ponder over Quran’s last verse that was revealed to the prophet (agreed to by many scholars, including ibn Kathir). It says: “And be afraid of the Day when you shall be brought back to Allah. Then every person shall be paid what he earned, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly (Surah Al-Baqara: 281).”

Remember, we are what we are – with the rewards and punishments from Allah and His mercy on us – based on the level of our faith in Allah and the Taqwa in our hearts. Sometimes we forget the connection between how our lives turn out to be and the One who makes it all happen. Once you remind yourself of that, remember the power bestowed by Allah on you as regards “free will” and how you can use it to influence the quality of your own lives. As long as you respect the limits that He has set for us (through the Taqwa in your heart), you can earn the blessings that He has promised for you, both in this life and in the hereafter.

We should, therefore, not delay to take a strong decision to increase our Taqwa. As Allah says in the Quran: “Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa” [al-Hujrat 49:13].