Archive for August, 2012

A Strong Believer

I am one of the many people who, on multiple occasions, bemoaned the current status of Muslims around the world for things ranging from anti-shari`ah laws in the U.S. to headscarf bans in Europe to anti-freedom in parts of the “Muslim” world. I used to cry over how we were once a strong, vibrant, intellectual community. How we were once beacons of light in the dark ages and how we led the world in sciences, arts and philosophy. For years, I felt frustrated, helpless and angry at our current status. After all, aren’t we “the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind” (Qur’an 3:110)? Out of my frustration, I started distancing myself from my community, the community whose status disappointed me. I barely maintained my prayers, I fasted during Ramadan begrudgingly, and I tried to identify myself with many things other than Islam. I was in this free fall until I came across a hadeeth (record of the words of the Prophet ﷺ, peace be upon him) that I have read many times before:

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم المؤمن القوي خير عند الله من المؤمن الضعيف وفي كل خير

Imam Muslim reported that Abu Hurayrah has narrated that the Prophet ﷺ has said: “A strong believer is better and dearer/more loved by Allah than a weak believer and both are good.”

I never paid much attention to this hadeeth but this time it made me stop and think. Why is it that, even among the believers, the stronger one is more beloved to Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He)? Islam, in all of its forms of worship, engrains in us a sense of community. As we all know, it is better to pray in congregation, more blessed to break our fast with others, and our money is purified by sharing it with those in need. So why then does this hadeeth seem to encourage us to compete as individuals? So I started reading and learning more and I came across this other hadeeth:

عن أبي موسى الأشعري رضي الله عنه قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : “المؤمن للمؤمن كالبنيان يَشُدُّ بعضُه بعضاً – وشبك بين أصابعه” متفق عليه.

Abu Musa Al-Ashaari narrates that the Prophet ﷺ has said, “Believers are like a structure, parts of which support one another.”

That’s it! A strong believer is more beloved to Allah (swt) because every believer is a building block in the structure we call the ummah (community). It is this sense of individual responsibility within the collective community that made me change my course. Instead of lamenting over the past, and not paying any attention to the present, I started to strengthen myself both spiritually and physically. I started maintaining my prayers on time, longing for siyam (fasting), and reading more of and about the Qur’an. I even started paying more attention to my health regarding what I eat and how often I exercise. After all, to continue performing my Islamic duties I must be physically fit as well.

I soon found myself more at peace yet wanting more. So I started praying at the masjid hoping to gain more reward for the congregational prayer. But I found something unexpected. I found others, like me, working on strengthening themselves. Together we created an atmosphere of positive reinforcement and support. If one failed to make it to the masjid a few days in a row, someone would call to make sure all is well. We began to recognize each individual’s strength and encouraged each other to share it with the group. Some knew how to recite the Qur’an well; others knew tafseer (explanation of the Qur’an), hadeeth or seerah (life of the Prophet ﷺ), and still others were passionate about community outreach. Even though we were a few, we drew upon each other’s strengths and created halaqahs (study circles). These halaqahs grew in numbers. Eventually the community became stronger, more aware of itself and its role within society.

Now instead of crying over the status of the ummah I see how seemingly small changes can have a profound, positive effect. I recognize that I as an individual have a responsibility not only towards myself but towards the greater community. I now fully understand what Allah (swt) says,

إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنْفُسِهِمْ

“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”

Courtesy of A. Elasmar and www.suhaibwebb.com

The Fault of the Son

There is a secret whispering alone in the dark,
Mother, you haven’t spoken since the day at the park.
Mother, don’t do this, I know you’re disappointed
When you found in the evening your son wasn’t sainted
It isn’t just blood that binds us both together
Mother, this world can’t hold the meaning of forever

Mother, remember when we used to agree on the weather
When it would rain, we would be wrong in the wrong together
Mother, I saw it, the sun on the other side of the city
Mother, I beat them, the drugs sold on the street for some pity
It’s here now, the storm that had never been settled
It may be the season for the heart to be battered

Mother, I’m sorry, I didn’t know where to go
Mother, forgive me, I should’ve waited to know
But I’m back here, the home that I thought was prison
You painted the cell but the secrets you’ve still kept hidden
But Mother, you’ve taught me it’s always the fault of the son
I would’ve spat you an argument, but there are none

Mother, convince me, that the Lord is the greatest of potters
Like you told me the bitter syrup was always for the better
Mother, don’t worry, I prayed to the Lord for forgiveness
Mother, don’t worry, God cures the greatest of illness
Mother, you’ve held me for all of the passing years
Mother, let go now, I’ve learned how to hold on and bear
It’s my turn now, to cradle all of your fears
Now I know how, to wipe away all of your tears

Mother, I’m sorry, I still haven’t believed your words
Mother, forget it, we know life is slightly absurd
Mother, you’re worried for the coming future and then,
Mother, plans are better left to the Lord and His Pen
Mother, you’re wondering why I keep looking down in defeat
Mother, I’ll find it, the paradise hidden beneath your feet.

Courtesy of www.suhaibwebb.com

The Effects of Our Deeds

Knowingly or unknowingly, we all sin and make mistakes. This is something from our nature as human beings that we will never be able to completely overcome. We all fall into that second look or say a white lie or miss a salah (prayer). While we may repent from the sin after, an aspect that is generally forgotten are the very real effects sins have in our lives.

It is from the sunnah (tradition) of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) that He establishes balance and justice. When we sin, we’re transgressing against ourselves, and transgression by definition is an imbalance. This is why in the famous ayah (verse) in Surah Zumar where Allah (swt) tells us not to despair of His Mercy, He doesn’t say, ‘O My slaves who have committed many sins,’ but rather He says, ‘O My servants who have transgressed against themselves‘ (Qur’an 39:53)—highlighting that sin is a transgression and it is against one’s own self.

In order to rectify the imbalance caused by sins, harm may affect a person as a consequence. This is alluded to many times in the Qur’an; for example, Allah (swt) says, “And whatever strikes you of disaster – it is for what your hands have earned; but He pardons much,” (Qur’an 42:30). And He says, “…but what comes to you of evil, [O man], is from yourself [...]” (Qur’an 4:79). The Messenger ﷺ (peace be upon him) also indicated the cause and effect relationship between sinning and harm in the following narration, “A man is deprived of provision because of the sins that he commits,” (Ibn Maajah, Hasan).

It is important to realize this relationship between sins and the problems in our lives because a lot of times as humans we tend to deflect the cause of something harmful to someone or something other than ourselves. True, it may be that the harm originated from a source other than us, but it may be that the reason it originated in the first place was the sin we committed. We forget that whatever is happening to us may in fact be a result of a sin that we regarded as insignificant. It is rare that we attribute something evil befalling us as a consequence of our own disobedience to Allah (swt). The Companions and the early Muslims had this understanding of the effects of sin and would actively engage in seeking tawbah (repentence) in order to wipe them out. They understood the reality of actions and the way they affected one’s life.

This is highlighted in their statements and actions. For example, in the famous poem of Imam Shafi’i where he complains to his teacher about bad memory in seeking knowledge, he is advised to cease sin. And Imam Abu Hanifa, when he would be confronted by a fiqh (jurisprudence) issue that he was unable to conclude, would attribute his inability to decipher it to a sin that he had committed and would consequently get up and pray two units of prayer in repentance. In fact, the understanding of this reality was so deep with the early Muslims that they would say that if they disobeyed Allah (swt), they would see the result of their disobedience in the attitudes of their spouses. This understanding of the effects of sin is elaborated further by Abdullah ibn Abbas radi Allahu `anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) who said,

“Good deeds make the face light, give light to the heart and bring about ample provision, physical strength, and love in people’s hearts. Evil deeds make the face dark, give darkness to the heart, and bring about physical weakness, lack of provision and hatred in people’s hearts.”

This statement is interesting because he draws a parallel between the effects of sins and the effects of good deeds. Good deeds result in good whereas evil deeds beget evil. This is a Qur’anic principle as Allah (swt) says, “Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life [...]” (Qur’an 16:97) and He says “And whoever turns away from My remembrance – indeed, he will have a depressed life [...] ” (Qur’an 20:124).

If we engage in deep self-reflection and self-audit and analyze the problems in our lives, we will definitely find that most of them are a result of our sins. It is important that we try and instill this understanding of the effects of sins within ourselves so that we can actively try to cease from them. It can be asked though, why allow harm to result from sin in this life? Allah (swt) informs us of the wisdom behind this,

“Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness].” (Qur’an 30:41)

The profound truth is that the reason we are harmed by sins in our lives is that it is in fact a Mercy from Allah (swt). Why? To get us to return back to Him in repentance. Would it be better that He allowed us to continue sinning inconsequently and then took us to account altogether on the Day of Judgment? Or is it better that He (swt) gives us some problems as a result of our sins so that we can reflect and return to Him by making tawbah? Going back to the earlier point about balance, it is important to understand as well that the harms that come to us as a result of our sins are the very expiation of our sins. Aisha (ra) narrated that the Messenger ﷺ said,

“No trouble comes to a believer even if it is the pricking of a thorn that it becomes (the means) whereby his sins are effaced or his sins are obliterated.” [Muslim]

Taking all this into account, we can understand that our sins (and our good deeds) have a spiritual consequence that translates into our daily lives even if it is not apparent. The benefit of this is that it will allow us to i) put in more effort to stop sinning; ii) to accurately analyze the problems and harms that befall us so that we can see if it is because of our sins and react accordingly; iii) to actively engage in tawbah and istighfaar (seeking forgiveness) to return to Allah (swt); and iv) to increase in good deeds. Instilling this into ourselves will help us think twice before committing a sin and remove hesitation in doing good deeds. This will, insha’Allah (God willing), allow us to have a closer relationship with Allah (swt) as well as make us more aware and conscious of our actions.

COURTESY OF MANSOOR AHMED AND www.suhaibwebb.com

Cattle, Iron, and the Human Heart.

Any time the creation deviates from the natural state God designed for it, it is bound for corruption. Any time we take on qualities reserved for other creations, we degenerate and descend in spiritual status. Like cattle, or iron even.

Even though they glorify God, the cattle’s aims in life are to eat, drink, sleep and procreate. They do nothing more, and nothing more is expected of them. As Dr. Mokhtar Maghraoui explains, “Any human whose average life is centered around those things—to eat, drink, sleep, copulate—and works to make more money to eat, drink, sleep, copulate, and to have vacation to get more special types of eating, drinking, sleeping, and copulating, lives the life of cattle.”

That is why God says, “Have you seen the one who takes his own whim as a god: are you to be his guardian? Do you think that most of them hear or reason? They are just like cattle—no, they are even farther astray from the Path,” (Qur’an 25:43-44). The Arabic word for whims or personal drives in this ayah (verse) is “hawa,” which literally means to fall freely. So, the one who follows her desires is in a free-fall that leads ultimately to spiritual death and repercussions in the Hereafter.

Why are these people even more astray than cattle? Because humans have way more potential in this life than cattle do. Humans were created for a loftier purpose of knowing God, filling their hearts with Divine Light, and elevating His word in every sphere of life. They were created to establish, for themselves and for humanity, a God-centered life that promotes spiritual devotion in worship and uprightness and morality in dealings. It is a trust from God that even the heavens, the earth, and the mountains turned down because of its gravity and weighty responsibility (Qur’an 33:72). Yet, if our hearts do not feel and embrace this duty, how will they guide our minds and limbs to fulfilling God’s trust? If our hearts are too busy entertaining our desires and indulging our physical pleasures, how can they beat with passion for this greater mission? They can’t of course, if they’ve become too tough and harsh—like iron.

God says, “[…] We also sent down iron, with its mighty strength and many uses for mankind, so that God could mark out those who would support Him and His messengers, (though) unseen. Truly, God is Powerful, Almighty,” (Qur’an 57:25). Iron’s utilization in making tools, machines, or weaponry is made possible because of its inherent strength and solidity. God designed it this way, and that’s how it provides benefit. At the heart of the same chapter (The Iron), though, God shows us that if the human heart possesses similar qualities to iron, it degenerates into malfunction. He says, “Isn’t it time for the believers to humble their hearts to the remembrance of God and the Truth that has been revealed? And let them not be like those who received the Scripture before them, whose time was extended but whose hearts hardened and many of them were defiantly disobedient,”(Qur’an 57:16).

This is a gentle reproach and warning from our Most-Loving Rabb (Lord). He wants us to regain sensitivity in our hearts so we can feel and live again. He shows us what would happen to our hearts if they continue to be heedless of Him. And right after, He gives us hope: “Know that God revives the earth after it dies; We have made Our revelation clear to you so that you may use your reason (i.e. restrain yourselves),” (Qur’an 57:17). If He can bring life back to the earth, He can certainly infuse our hearts with life again. What was lost can be regained, and the feelings toward God that withered in the heart can be revived. But it doesn’t come easy; it takes incredible struggle and very patient perseverance!

From one of the Prophet’s ﷺ descriptions of the believer’s heart, we can understand where we want our hearts to be. He said that a believer’s heart is “ajrad,” and it contains a glowing source of light. This heart is completely free and liberated. It is absolutely empty of anything of the created world in it. It is free of arrogance, envy, delusion, hate, doubt, restlessness, agitation, and attachments to all that is low and base. This heart is filled with love, awe and reverence for the Divine. It sees Divine Beauty and Majesty, and thus it radiates with Divine Light. It is illuminated by the light of knowledge and imaan (faith) that pierces through perceptions and falsehoods. This is a heart that sees things as they truly are!

God says, “Is a dead person brought back to life by Us, and given light with which to walk among people, comparable to someone trapped in deep darkness who cannot escape? In this way, the evil deeds are made to seem alluring to them,” (Qur’an 6:122). For the believer, when Satan adorns a sin, he sees through the deception and illusions. He knows that the act is inherently ugly because the imaan in the heart allows him to feel it. When the dunya (worldly life) tempts a believer with wealth, possessions, and fame, her heart sees that all of it is fleeting, and she longs instead for eternal bliss near the Divine.

The more imaan and knowledge of God there is in the heart, the more illuminated the heart is; and with more light comes deeper vision and more certitude in the realities it sees. Can you imagine how a person’s actions, manners, and speech would look like if his heart radiated with such light? So angelic, subhanAllah (Glorified is God)! Toward the end of Surat al-Hadeed (Chapter of the Iron), God says, “Believers, be mindful of God and have faith in His messenger: He will give you a double share of His mercy; He will provide a light for you to walk with; and He will forgive you—God is Most-Forgiving, Most Merciful,” (Qur’an 57:28). The Prophet ﷺ would ask for this radiant light as he walked to the masjid: “O Allah, place within my heart light, and upon my tongue light, and within my ears light, and within my eyes light, and place behind me light and in front of me light and above me light and beneath me light. O Allah, bestow upon me light.”

Interestingly, the spiritual reality in the heart also becomes a physical reality in the Hereafter; the light that glows in your heart will be manifested on your face, limbs, surroundings and the path you walk to Paradise! God says, “On the Day when you see the believers, both men and women, with their light streaming out ahead of them and to their right, [they will be told], ‘The good news for you today is that there are Gardens graced with flowing streams where you will stay: that is truly the supreme triumph!’” (Qur’an 57:12). Can you see the glowing beauty emanating from these believers?! O God, please make us one of them!

And it’s not over yet. Incredible events follow! The hypocrites see all the light the believers have, and they want to take some! “On the same Day, the hypocrites, both men and women, will say to the believers, ‘Wait for us! Let us have some of your light!’ They will be told, ‘Go back and look for a light.’ A wall with a door will be erected between them: inside it lies mercy, outside lies torment,” (Qur’an 57:13). The hypocrites can still talk to the believers, so they call out and ask, “‘Were we not with you?’ They will reply, ‘Yes. But you allowed yourselves to be tempted, you were hesitant, doubtful, deceived by false hopes until God’s command came—the deluded one (Satan) deluded you about God,’” (Qur’an 57:14).

It is so scary because these are some of the traits that can taint our own faith and make it incomplete. These are characteristics that can strip our hearts of its Divine Light. We are not immune to having hypocritical traits, and any time the Qur’an or the Sunnah (narrations of the Prophet ﷺ) describe them, we have to assess if our hearts contain similar elements. The same goes for descriptions of disbelief. In this state, for example, the heart is so enveloped with sin that Divine Light cannot even penetrate. The sins suffocate the heart so much that they extinguish that inner light. These are not just sins of the senses, but also of the heart, like arrogance, pride, envy, greed, stinginess, and selfishness. Our hearts as believers may not be completely encrusted, praise be to God, but there might be a layer forming around our hearts that prevents all the rays from entering. We want a clear and uninterrupted flow of light from the Divine sources—and that takes constant polishing and cleansing of our hearts.

That is why frequent istighfar (seeking God’s forgiveness) is so crucial to the spiritual health of our hearts. While sins coat our hearts in darkness, asking God for forgiveness masks the negative effect of our sins on our relationship with God, and on our mental and psychological state. Sins cause pain, suffering, restlessness and agitation—even though we might be so intoxicated with sin that we can’t feel it. Seeking forgiveness quells these feelings; it lifts the weight of the sins off the heart, and uplifts your mind, mood and spirit. Remember that when we sin, we are turning our backs on God and running farther away from Him. Making tawba (repentance) reorients our hearts back to God so that we draw nearer to Him. Both istighfar and tawba purify the heart to make it worthy of an intimate relationship with the Most-Majestic One.

Du`a’ (supplicating) to God is also necessary in healing and cleansing the heart. Not making du`a’ is a sign of arrogance, and the more we do not ask of our Lord, the more arrogant we become. We ask God to protect our hearts from such a state! The Qur’an says, “And Your Lord says, ‘Call on Me and I will answer you:’ those who are too proud to serve Me will enter Hell humiliated.” (Qur’an 40:60). So, let us ask of God in times of hardship and stress, and in ease. Ask Him, the Most-Generous and Most-Merciful, even when you think you got it covered. If you humble yourself in prayer, He will increase you, and bless you and shower you with unexpected gifts.

May God help us taste the sweetness of imaan, and illuminate our hearts and entire being with His Light!

COURTESY OF Naiyerah Kolkailah AND www.suhaibwebb.com

Is Hijab an Obligation?

Question:

Why do we have to wear Hijab in America? Don’t religious laws change according to time and place? Isn’t there room for this to change?

Answer:

Asalamu `alaykum dearest Sister,

I pray that this message reaches you well and full of faith.

I would like to thank you for taking the time to write this email. Such questions are a sign of one’s faith and concern for Islam. I ask Allah to reward you greatly for this concern and pray that He will bless us all. Indeed, as you noted in your question, there are certain rulings in Islam that can change according to place, time and situation. The general principle is that the rulings themselves don’t change, but the articulation of such rulings can. This means the ruling – whether permissible, forbidden or disliked – is still met; however, it is done so in a manner that facilitates its practice for Allah’s servants, while meeting the requirements set by the faith. Examples of this would be how buying and selling has changed (with the introduction of checks and credit cards), what type of prayer rug one uses, the instrument one might use to hunt, or the means by which one travels to Hajj. However, there are times where one is excused from doing religious acts due to abnormal circumstances. Such situations would need to be addressed by a qualified mufti.

On the other hand we have rulings which are fixed and unchangeable. The only way a change would be possible is under dire circumstances like the threat of death, harm, sickness and other things.

Examples

Fasting. This is an obligation; however, in the face of sickness, one is allowed to break his fast.
Prayer. It is an obligation for one to pray while standing; if one cannot do so for health reasons, she can do so sitting.
Hajj. Although an obligation, its obligatory status is based on one’s ability.
Even faith itself. If one is threatened with death, he is allowed to deny his faith.

The above rulings, and their exceptions, are prescribed in our holy texts. Scholars say that if one of the following five things are threatened, that is enough for a ruling, even when dealing with a fixed ruling, to change:

Faith
Intellect
Life
Lineage
Property

With some adding honor.

Ruling on Hijab

The hijab is identified by all the scholars [except for a few non-Orthodox scholars over the last 20 years] as a fixed obligation which cannot change unless a qualified legal scholar deems that a sister’s situation demands it. Examples of this would be the Inquisition in Spain and the recent wars in Bosnia and Rwanda. However, it should be noted that such a change is, at least most of the time, considered temporal at best as it would fall under what are known as nawazil – temporary trials whose outcomes, for the most part, are not permanent.

In the West

Scholars state that there is nothing that meets this requirement in the West that would allow our sisters, in the general sense, to remove their hijabs. Thus, I hold the opinion of all major scholars, males and females, that sisters must observe the Hijab.

A Look at the Hadith of Asma’ and Other Sound Texts that Support Hijab/Niqab

I certainly understand people’s contentions about the hadith of Asma’ narrated by Abu Dawood where the Prophet ﷺ scolded her saying that the only thing a pubescent woman should show is “these two,” pointing to his face and hands.

Proofs for Hijab and Niqab

In a sound hadith, we have the Prophet ﷺ telling his wife Sawda, “Cover yourself in front of him.” The word he used is ihjabi which means “Cover yourself.” It is an order, and in Islamic law an order means an obligation.

A proof for Hijab (and not Niqab) is found in al-Bukhari’s collection where one of the companions could not remember a woman’s name. He said, “I cannot recall her name, but I remember the mole on her face.”

Niqab was the practice of the Prophet’s ﷺ wives, including Sawda, so if a woman wanted she can choose wear it.

The hadith of Asma’ bin Abi Bakr, mentioned above, is found in the Sunnan of Abu Dawood; it is strengthened by the narrations above, as well as the Hadith of Fadil ‘Abbas found in Bukhari’s collection that clearly mentions him seeing the face of a woman. Thus, taking these two sound narrations, the narration of Asmah found in Abu Dawood’s collection is at least Hassan li Gharihi or as our scholars noted, “sound.”

One of the Proofs for Niqab

In another narration, found in al-Bukhari’s collection as well as Malik’s Muwatta, we find the hadith of Habibba bin Sahl. She needed to speak to the Prophet ﷺ so she waited for him after the morning prayer. When the Prophet ﷺ approached her, he could not recognize her because she was completely covered [in Niqab] as noted by al-Baji. The Prophet ﷺ asked her, “Who are you?” This is one of the many proofs that, as the Hanbali school holds, a woman should cover her entire body save her eyes.

What We Don’t Have: a Third Option

We do not have an opinion that says hijab is not fardh, that one can show the neck, etc. There are no authentic reports of the Companions taking off their Hijab at all.

I advise you to wear the Hjiab instead of the Niqab. I base this on the fact that it is a contentious issue and we have a legal axiom that allows us, in the face of contentious issues, to take the more appropriate course for our time and place.

Secondly, adapt the method you wear the Hijab. There is nothing wrong with wearing Western clothes as long as they meet Islamic requirements. I hold this opinion is at is articulated by the Maliki school. Abu Barkat in al-Sharh al-Saghir [one of the most reliable books for Fatwa in the school] states that a woman’s `awrah is in general, “Everything save her face and hands.”

Islam means to surrender and surrender involves struggle. I encourage you to struggle and continue to ask Allah for His help.

Your brother,

Suhaib Webb

Courtesy of Suhaib Webb at www.suhaibwebb.com

How Does One Soften Their Heart?

As the last ten nights of Ramadan are upon us, many of us are still in shock at the speed with which Ramadan has passed. Our goals may not yet be realized, our habits may not yet have changed, and our hearts may not yet have felt the sweetness of this beloved month. Disheartened, many of us may have already given to despair, feeling that our Ramadans have not been as fruitful as we had wished and planned. To make things more uncomfortable, we sometimes pray in mosque where the Imam or those around us begin to cry, weeping loudly when they hear verses of the Qur’an or when the Imam makes the du`a’ (supplication) during witr. Everyone else seems to be touched by this blessed month; everyone else’s hearts seem to soak in sweetness of this faith, the tears soaking their cheeks as they beg for mercy, provision, and forgiveness.

What about me? What about you? How can we, too, be of those whose hearts are softened?

Make Du`a’

I once heard a khatib (lecturer) say, “If you have approached the end of Ramadan, and you do not yet feel it in your heart, keep knocking on the door of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). Keep knocking, keep knocking, and Allah will answer.”

Ask Allah (swt) in all of the blessed times to make du`a’ to break the hardness of your heart and allow sincerity and gratitude to gush through. Ask Him to soften your heart, to fill it with an awe-inspiring realization of Him, to exchange your bad deeds for good deeds and let your heart tremble in awe of Him as your actions show love for Him.

Sit Alone, Think about Your Sins, and Ask for Forgiveness

Take a few minutes every day to sit and say, “AstaghfirAllah (I seek forgiveness from Allah).” Every time you make this request of Allah (swt), remember something you’ve done that may have displeased Him. Remember that time you yelled at your mom when all she was trying to do was help you? Remember that time you cheated on your exam? Sit and ask Allah (swt) forgiveness for every single thing you’ve done, great, small, intentionally, unintentionally, asking Him to replace the hardness of your heart with softness and replace your sins with forgiveness and good deeds.

Allah (swt) tells us in Surat al-Furqan:

“Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them Allah will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful” (Qur’an, 25:70).

Ibn Kathir, in the tafsir (exegesis) of this ayah (verse), cites a hadith (tradition) in which Abu Dharr (radiAllahu `anhu – May Allah be pleased with him) relates that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ (peace be upon him) said, “I know the last person who will be brought forth from Hell, and the last person who will enter Paradise. A man will be brought and it will be said, ‘Take away his major sins and ask him about his minor sins.’ So it will be said to him: ‘On such and such a day, you did such and such, and on such and such a day, you did such and such.’ He will say, ‘Yes,’ and he will not be able to deny anything. Then it will be said to him: ‘For every evil deed you now have one good merit.’ He will say: ‘O Lord, I did things that I do not see here.’” He (Abu Dharr) said: “And the Messenger of Allah ﷺ smiled so broadly that his molars could be seen.” (Muslim)

Ibn Kathir further explains, “…those evil deeds that have passed are turned into good deeds by way of the true and sincere repentance itself. This is because every time that person remembers what he had done, he regrets it, feels remorse, and seeks Allah (swt)’s forgiveness. In this way, the sin becomes an act of obedience.”

Allah (swt) is always ready for us to turn back to Him and can easily turn our bad deeds into good deeds on our scales! But how many of us are begging Him for this? To soften our hearts, be forgiven, and increase in our good deeds, let us sit and make istighfar, begging for Allah (swt)’s forgiveness and for Him to turn our bad into good.

Sit Alone, Ponder Your Blessings, and Thank Allah (swt)

Watch this and contemplate:

How many of us have been blessed with parents or others who love, mentor and care for us? We have been given trillions of blessings that so many have never tasted. How many people are ungrateful and forgetful of all they have been blessed with?

Sit and think of every blessing He has given you- the Qur’an, eyesight, clean water, literacy- the blessings are uncountable, as Allah (swt) tells us in Surah Ibrahim (14:34). Let us show gratitude, for when we are grateful, Allah (swt) increases us, “And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.’ (Qur’an, 14:7).

Let us sit, contemplate blessing after blessing, and continually move our lips in gratitude to Allah (swt), saying, “AlhamdulilLah (praise be to God),” asking Him to write us amongst those who are grateful to Him, asking Him to soften our hearts and allow us to be moved by gratitude for His Favors.

Contemplate the Qur’an

Allah (swt) poses this powerful question:

“Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’an, or are there locks upon [their] hearts? (Qur’an, 47:24)

How can we be of those whose hearts are not locked? We can make massive du`a’ that Allah (swt) opens our hearts, and we can contemplate the Qur’an. Listen to the Qur’an with a recitation which penetrates your ears and overwhelms your heart. While listening, go through the translation and work to understand the Qur’an.

When you go through the words, sit and really think about the meaning and the ways in which it applies to your life. Think about the meaning of the Qur’an and allow yourself to be captivated, head-over-heels in love with the powerful words of the Creator of the Universe- the One Who created you- the One Who revealed these words for your personal guidance. Allah chose you to be Muslim; He personally planned for you be of those who want to come back to Him and read the Qur’an. So go back to the Qur’an, be grateful for His favor upon you and sincerely seek to understand His Words.

Give Charity

The Prophet ﷺ has told us that, “Sadaqah extinguishes sins like water extinguishes fire” (Tirmithi). The sins we commit continually build up and rust our hearts. Without polishing, this rust will take over, covering the beautiful jewel beneath it. This jewel, when polished, gleams internally and externally, becoming a means of benefit for the person whose body it houses, and spreading light to all those around, bi’ithnillah (with the permission of Allah). With charity, we can help polish our hearts. Let us give in charity, asking Allah (swt) to soften our hearts, to remove the buildup of rust, and to purify our hearts and souls, bringing us back to Him `azza wa jal (the Almighty and Majestic).

Increase our Good Deeds

Allah (swt) tells us, “Indeed the mercy of Allah is near to those who do good” (Qur’an, 7: 56). God has also told us, “Indeed, good deeds remove the evil deeds. That is a reminder for those who remember” (Qur’an, 11:114).

Allah (swt) has made our religion so adaptable that we can worship Him through anything good we do, when done sincerely and correctly. Let us constantly renew our intentions; when we take out the trash, let it be an act of worship to keep our homes tidy and to please those whom we live with. When we smile at a passerby, let it be to spread the joy of the character of the Prophet ﷺ. All the while, let us seek the mercy of Allah (swt), begging of Him to soften our hearts, while we do good for His pleasure.

Live in Paradise, Sprint Away from Hell

When you read Qur’an or standing in prayer, and you come across words indicating Paradise, such as Jannah (Paradise); Imagine it. Imagine being in Paradise, standing by a river which flows beneath you, near waterfalls, near enormous palaces. Imagine yourself in awe, in immense joy, in euphoria- when suddenly, you feel a tap on your shoulder. In that moment when you turn around, imagine who it may be. Your mother? Your father? Your spouse? Your child? Your grandparent? Your best friend? The Beloved, the Chosen, the Teacher, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ? How would you feel in that moment? How would you feel, seeing the person who meant the most to you in your life, seeing the person who may have already passed years before and whom you yearn for constantly, how would you feel coming to the realization that you are going to be here, with the people you love, forever. You will never die and you will never fear all the things which brought so much worry and difficulty to you in the dunya (world). At that moment, you’ll understand what Allah says when He describes the believers in Paradise saying,

“And they will say, ‘Praise to Allah, who has removed from us [all] sorrow. Indeed, our Lord is Forgiving and Appreciative”

“He who has settled us in the home of duration out of His bounty. There touches us not in it any fatigue, and there touches us not in it weariness [of mind].’” (Qur`an, 35:34-35)

And then, when you hear a word describing Hellfire, such as Naar (Hellfire); Imagine it. Imagine the intensity of the Hellfire; imagine the pains of being burned to the point where you have no skin and it is recreated for you, only to continue the agony; where you want to die, but will never die, where you yearn to have just a cold drink of relief, but are given a drink which boils your insides and experiencing boiling water poured upon your head. Is this the end that you want? Is this what you want for those whom you love?

Would you prefer garments of fire (22:19) or garments of silk (22:23)? When you go into sujood (prostration), beg Allah for what you want for yourself and those whom you love. Beg Him from the depths of your heart and allow your tears to pour to Him.

Have an Objective

In every salah (prayer), have an objective. Whether obligatory or extra, make the objective to come out of that prayer purer than you did when you were born. Ask Allah for `afiya – for your sins to be forgiven and wiped away, so that it is as if you never even committed them. Focus like someone who aims to be forgiven, recite Surat al-Fatiha like someone who will be forgiven, make sujood like someone who yearns with their heart and soul for their sins to be wiped away and replaced with righteous deeds. In the next prayer, make your objective Paradise. Concentrate like someone of Paradise; beg of Allah in sujood to be of the people of Paradise. In every rak`ah (unit of prayer), have a unique purpose and beg of Allah to make those desires realities.

There is still time to come back to Allah (swt) and really feel the weight of this blessed month! Allah (swt) loves when we go back to Him with sincerity and humility, carrying the burden of our sins to Him, with hopes of having them obliterated and being completely forgiven.

Let us go back to Him, asking for His forgiveness and pleasure, for Him to open our hearts and soften our limbs to His command, asking Him to replace the burden of our shortcomings with the blessing of His Mercy. Once we’ve done so, let us go back to Him, feeling light, overflowing with hope and pumped with energy to seek His pleasure through working passionately for His sake, feeling immensely optimistic that He will forgive us, reward us and answer us inshaAllah (God Willing).

Keep knocking on the door. Allah (swt), the One Who Answers, will undoubtedly answer.

Courtesy of Maryam Amirbrehimi and www.suhaibwebb.com

It Doesn’t Make Sense

‘Why do some things in life not work out the way you want them to?’ said the boy.

‘How do you know that was what you really wanted?’ asked the girl.

The boy momentarily froze. This had never occurred to him. If he got what he wanted, it made him happy. If he didn’t get what he wanted, it made him sad.

The boy looked at the blue lake in front of him. A gentle evening breeze rippled across the water disturbing its clarity. He turned to look at the girl—his sister. She seemed deep in thought. She looked peaceful and he could see the reflection of the pool of water in her eyes. Here he did not see any ripples in the water. It seemed clear.

‘How would I know that?’ he asked her.

‘How would I know that?’ she repeated, but now it was a different question. She wanted him to find the answer himself. The boy frowned at her so she just smiled, and the boy decided he’d think about it.

Some time passed with the boy deep in thought. It was a warm evening. A dragonfly buzzed past, its wings shimmering with the light of the setting sun. Across the lake a loud family of Myna birds glided home to the comfort of their nests, now being gently warmed by the last rays of the day.

A thought seemed to flash across his mind and he rested his face between his hands. Whatever it was it seemed to weigh down on him.

‘If what I want is not really what I want then how would I ever know whatever it is that I want to be the thing I really want…?’ he thought aloud.

‘Well, you see, that’s the beauty of it,’ she replied.

He shook his head, let out a loud exasperated sigh and ranted, ‘It is confusing, befuddling, perplexing, highly irritating, and my brain cells are on the verge of contemplating riot against me and you thinks it’s beautiful?!’

‘And it’s making my head ache,’ he added for good measure.

‘Okay… let me ask you something, little brother. You might find it a bit strange.”

‘Go on…’

‘What do you find beautiful?’

He looked at her incredulously and decided not to reply. Either he was thinking or had deemed the question as most absurd and ignored it completely. It was getting dark now. The sun was now hidden behind trees across the lake. They could hear the chirping of the insects and an owl hooted somewhere in the distance.

She smiled at him, ‘All right, I’ll choose something and we’ll both agree that it is beautiful for the sake of argument.’

‘It’s a sunny day and both of us return home after going for a walk through the trail in that forest, not far from our house. We go in and sit in the living room and decide not to take our sunglasses off. Madagascar, the movie, is playing on TV. It had been really sunny so we had chosen very dark-tinted sunglasses. Enter Mort. Do you know Mort?’

‘The big-eyed cute thing?’ he said, amused at the choice of character to take stage.

‘Yep, the big-eyed cute thing,’ she laughed. ‘Now we still haven’t taken our sunglasses off and the movie is in 3D. Mort comes on TV but we don’t recognise him to be the cute cuddly thing everyone knows and loves. It all seems blurry. Unclear. And dark.’ She looked at him. He was listening attentively. She continued, ‘Do you see the problem? We cannot appreciate Mort for the cuteness he is because there is a problem in the way we’re looking at him.’

She turned so that she was facing him directly. He was listening intently, patiently waiting for her to carry on.

She smiled at him and continued, ‘Reality is, mostly, not as we perceive it to be. We view it through lenses painted by our current state of mind. There are many shades of interpretation and sometimes we need to change the lenses with which we view the world. We will not understand the wisdom behind every moment in time unless He blesses us with the ability to discern between what is reality and what is, in reality, a figment of our imagination.’

The sun suddenly appeared through a break in the trees. It had almost disappeared behind the horizon but it treated them to a brilliant display of color; the world basked in the golden hue of the summer sun.

He furrowed his brows, ‘So how would we know what we really want?’

‘Well, that’s a bit harder to know, and it takes quite a bit of work and effort,’ she said letting out a long sigh.

Everything seemed quiet. It was as if the whole world was listening. Even the boisterous little Myna birds had stopped stepping on each other’s heads. The Myna mum and dad looked pleased.

After a brief pause she continued, ‘You see, what we understand depends on the state of our heart… So the better I make myself the less cluttered my heart will become, and the more clear my view of the world and the better I would understand things.’

‘You see, no one can ever be sure that their heart is at its best. I remember hearing once that if you think your heart is safe then that’s probably when it’s at its most vulnerable state and sometimes the furthest away from being good—because you are being arrogant.’

He thought about it for a while, ‘So… what I need to do is to try and make sure that I keep my heart at its best and put my trust in Allah to help me to see everything for what it really means. And He will help me to realise what it is that I really need.’

Her face broke into a wide smile, ‘No one loves you more than Allah. No one cares for you more than Allah. No one knows what is best for you except Allah. Even we don’t know what’s best for us most of the time. But He does—always. He knows what is best for you, when it’s best for you, where it’s best for you and in what way it’s best for you. All you need to do is just hand it all to Him and He’ll take care of it all and give you, without doubt, what is best for you.’

He pulled a face at his sister and grinned—something he always did when she made him see things clearly. She smiled at him and beckoned him to look at the lake.

The water was now clear.

Anonymous

How Can I Enjoy Listening to the Qur’an in Taraweeh When I Do Not Understand What is Being Recited?

By Maryam Amirebrahimi

During Ramadan, many of us attend taraweeh (night prayers) at the masjid. Some of us stay until the Imam leads us in witr (a final supplementary prayer). For many of us, this can amount to over two hours of prayer time and for many of us, we understand almost nothing.

Sometimes, during the recitation of the Qur’an we hear the people around us crying profusely and we wish we could understand what could be so powerful that those around us are reduced to such tears. We can sometimes make out a specific word, but within a moment, we are back to indistinguishable meanings and simply wishing we knew what was going on.

I used to have no idea what was going on in the prayer. I remember standing for lengthy time periods behind the Imam, trying to make my mind focus but finding it constantly drift off; it’s very, very hard to concentrate when the mind has nothing to contextualize. I eventually would settle on trying to think of anything for which I could possibly be grateful. But taraweeh prayers are long; without understanding, my heart would simply get bored and my limbs would always fidget. Thoughts of my day, my concerns, my hopes and my food cravings after a day of fasting would all filter through my conscious while I shifted around. It’s hard to keep still for that long when one is mentally checked out and physically disengaged.

However, Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) guided me to an action which changed my life and revolutionized my prayer and du`a (supplication) experience ever since. It’s simple, but it takes long-term dedication. The results, for me, were powerful and transformational. The common-sense solution that worked miracles in my life by Allah’s blessings: reading a translation.

Every single day, for a number of years, I would sit and read five pages of the Qur’an in the English translation. I would do this while both reciting and listening to the Arabic recitation, allowing my ears to become accustomed to the Arabic words associated with the English.

After a few months of this practice, the first Ramadan came. In my hometown masjid, the Imam would lead twenty rakahs (units of prayer). So I would pray eight rakahs and then sit in the back and read the translation of the verses for the next twelve. I continued this throughout Ramadan and was extremely consistent with this practice for the next year. Soon, my awareness of Arabic words increased; I realized that the Qur’an uses many of the same words over and over and I was able to recognize them. I was also becoming more familiar with the surahs (chapters); I had an introductory understanding of what themes were being discussed in certain portions of the Qur’an due to keywords and a general awareness of what the surah entailed.

By the second Ramadan, I was praying with purpose. While I still had no idea what every word meant, I had begun to comprehend general meanings of many of the chapters and I was able to grasp the overarching messages of some of the verses. I kept up my practice of praying eight and reading the translation. I even had a few emotional moments. I started looking forward to certain verses that were my favorites. I was finally beginning to understand and I was actually enjoying it; the sweetness of the Qur’an had penetrated my heart and taken hold of my body. Praying taraweeh in Ramadan became a means of nourishment for my soul and tranquility for my limbs.

I also began memorizing the Qur’an and the more I memorized, the more my vocabulary expanded. After four years of reading the translation consistently and memorizing the Qur`an, I was enthralled with the idea of praying for hours behind the Imam. I could not wait for Ramadan; all year I waited for the last ten nights specifically, when the Imam would recite the Qur’an for an even longer period of time. My character, my life’s purpose, my Ramadan experience completely changed because I finally grasped a general understanding of the Qur’an.

Six years after I began reading the translation consistently and memorizing portions of the Qur’an, I moved to Egypt to learn Arabic. When I started, I took a practice test and was placed in an intermediary level. However, when I met my teacher for the first time, barely able to communicate a few sentences, she was shocked. “Your vocabulary is so expansive,” she told me, “but you clearly are a beginner!” Needless to say, I was re-placed as a beginner. Throughout our lessons, my Arabic teacher would express her surprise at my ability to understand certain words in depth simply because they appeared in the Qur’an, while others I struggled with at great lengths. Eventually, she told me that my Qur’anic preparation was what helped me actually grasp the language and is what had originally placed me at a level far higher than I really was.

Focusing on learning Arabic in Egypt, even at a basic level, allowed me to come to appreciate the incredible linguistic miracles of the Qur’an. The grammar, the syntax, the rhetoric, use of specific words—an appreciation for the deeper linguistic mechanisms did not happen simply because I had read the translation for an extended period of time. However, by Allah’s blessings, my self-training had laid the groundwork and with it, I was able to appreciate the Qur`an, prayer, and du`a’ at levels far beyond what I had even imagined before making the commitment to seek understanding.

The lesson in this personal experience is that taking time to learn Arabic as a language, studying the grammar, syntax and rhetoric are very important, but not absolutely necessary for a meaningful relationship with understanding the messages of the Qur’an. Studying Arabic can help create a more cumulative appreciation of the mind-blowing power of the Qur’an, but none of us needs to grasp onto a future hope or past failed attempts of being fluent in Arabic in order to emotionally and intellectually become attached to the Qur’an. Such a relationship can begin simply by dedicating oneself to understanding the general translation of the words of the Qur’an in our native languages, and that can take place at any place and time. It is one that requires commitment and time, but if a person is serious and dedicated, God willing, they will eventually see the benefits of their toil and they will begin to understand and fulfill their purpose with greater perfection and zeal.

Here is a suggested plan of action that should be fit to a person’s individual situation. This is what worked for me, and it will differ from one individual to another. If a person begins this Ramadan, taking advantage of the blessings of this month, with their own plan of action, insha’Allah (God willing) by next Ramadan, they will notice a marked difference in their taraweeh and Qur’anic experience. This is the month to make a commitment to act; this is the month of success.

Read the Qur`an in translation every single day. Choose a chunk to read in translation daily (ie: five pages) and couple it with reading it in Arabic and/or listening to it in Arabic.
During Ramadan specifically, choose to pray a certain number of rakahs for taraweeh, but also make it a point to sit down and follow the recitation with the English translation. What is of more benefit? Praying for hours without understanding and hoping to get rewards (insha’Allah) or sitting, reading and understanding, finding oneself captivated by the incredulous power of the Qur’an and actually feeling oneself coming closer to Allah (swt) and changing one’s life to maintain that relationship with Him? Long term, in this life and the next, insha’Allah there are rewards for both. But for the one who strives, there is much more reward for a person who actually lives the Qur’an instead of standing for a period of time, completely tuned out because of a lack of understanding.
For Ramadan especially, try to read the translation of the surah that will be covered in that night’s prayer. That way, even if one is not able understand what is recited specifically, one will know the general meaning of the verses and one’s mind can focus on those general lessons and messages.
Hone in on key words and use them to focus on salah (prayer). For example, when familiar with the different words which indicate “Paradise,” imagine Paradise. Imagine standing in Paradise, with its breathtaking beauty…and suddenly finding someone covering your vision with their hands! When you turn around, imagine who you would want to see most in that moment. Your mom? Your dad? Your grandparent? Your sibling? Your spouse? Your child? Your best friend? Imagine. You haven’t seen this person in possibly decades, centuries—you’ve gone through life without them or death came to you first and you had been in the grave for some time. Then you made it through the Day of Judgment. You finally have entered Paradise—you passed the test! And suddenly, you are with the person who you loved and missed the most. How would you feel in that moment? Allow your heart to FEEL the verses talking about Paradise as they apply to you. Use keywords to help your mind and heart interact with the Qur’an’s message to you.
Listen to the Qur’an and its translation constantly; while stuck in frustrating traffic, while cooking and cleaning, while walking from one end of campus to another; allow the recitation of the Qur’an to penetrate the soul and the translation of the Qur’an to crack the hardened heart. The more one listens to the Arabic recitation and translation, the more familiar one will become with understanding the Qur’an.
Study the meanings of Qur’anic words specifically over time. Here is a suggested resource to begin: http://abdurrahman.org/qurantafseer/learnquran.pdf
Throughout the year, work on tajweed (correct recitation of the Qur`an in Arabic) and memorization. Over time, this will significantly aid in a special working relationship with the Qur’an, God willing.
Many of us complain about our inability to understand what is being recited of the Qur’an and to maintain focus or enjoyment in prayer due to this reason. I know the feelings of boredom, frustration and helplessness. I know what it means to blame our lack of “experiencing” the “Ramadan feeling” on our lack of understanding of what is being recited.

However, we have the capability to revolutionize this experience, with Allah’s Help. We can become of those who truly understand, whose hearts are captivated and whose limbs are calmly in awe, whose minds are blown away at what we are listening to of the Qur’an. The methods are there and the tools are available. The real question is: Are we willing to make the time and dedicate the effort?

Many of us have tried different methods to wake our hearts up in Ramadan and help them focus on the prayer when we do not understand what is being said. What tips do you have which have worked in your life? Please share them so we all benefit.

(Originally posted on www.suhaibwebb.com)
(Full link:http://www.suhaibwebb.com/personaldvlpt/worship/prayer/how-can-i-enjoy-listening-to-the-quran-in-taraweeh-when-i-dont-understand-what-is-being-recited/)

Proactive Women and the Prophet

A group of women from the tribe of Ghifar approached the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) to seek his permission to tend to the wounded during the battle of Khaybar. The Prophet ﷺ welcomed their request, giving them permission, stating, “By the blessings of God.”

With this group of women was a young girl named Umayyah bint Qays radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with her). She shares with us her own part of the story.

“Then we set out with him. I was a young girl. He made me sit on his she-camel behind the luggage. I saw the bag had got traces of blood from me. It was the first time I had a period. Then I sat forward on the camel [to hide it] and I was embarrassed. When the Messenger of God ﷺ saw what happened to me and the traces of blood, he said, “Perhaps you have had menstrual bleeding?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Attend to yourself. Then, take a container of water, then put salt in it, then wash the affected part of the bag, then come back.” I did so. When God conquered Khaybar for us, the Prophet ﷺ took this necklace that you see on my neck and gave it to me and put it on my neck with his own hand. By God it will never be parted from me.” She wore the necklace her entire life and stipulated that she should be buried with it.1

Let us take a few lessons from this incredible narration. From it, we can take lessons on the perspectives and proactive attitudes of these female companions of the Prophet ﷺ. From it, we can also take incredible lessons in chivalry and beautiful interactions between the Prophet ﷺ and the women in his community.

Let us begin by considering the perspective of the women who came to offer their skills to the Prophet ﷺ. They didn’t say, “What’s up with Islam? Why aren’t women obligated to fight in this battle just like men?!”

These women understood the wisdom of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) in every ruling and situation. They knew they could participate and be rewarded if they did so (like Nusayba bint Kab who personally defended the Prophet ﷺ in the Battle of Uhud), but were not mandated to do so. They realized that there was mercy in the lifted obligation and they were of those who realized the wisdom in the fact that there were differences in obligations.

Nevertheless, simply because they were not mandated to participate in the battle did not stop them from doing their part, in whatever way they felt they could be most effective. They did not sit around complaining or waiting to be asked; they simply did. Perhaps we can take from their examples as Muslim women in our own communities.

How many of us complain about the men’s side of the prayer hall being vastly greater in size or in cleanliness? How many of us feel incredible frustration when we cannot hear the prayer because small children are screaming around us or because the microphone stops working? We have tangible issues to complain about, no doubt. However, what are we doing, as women, with the means that we already have? What are we doing in our current situation?

Are we talking throughout the khutbah (Friday sermon) when we know we are supposed to remain silent and listen attentively? When two of us cannot pray, are we speaking while everyone else is praying and potentially disturbing those struggling to concentrate in their prayers? Are we watching after our own children or helping other sisters watch after theirs? Are we bringing in food for ourselves or our children and leaving crumbs and spilled drinks on the once-clean prayer carpet, despite the specific signs which request that all food remain outside? Are we dumping our shoes in front of the shoe racks instead of on the shoe racks and creating potential blockages for the elderly and hazards in the case of emergencies? (I know of a masjid who had to call 911 because a child’s life was at risk and the firefighter could not access the child immediately because he tripped over a pile of women’s shoes!)

What are we doing with what we have, considering the situations that we are in? Look at these women. They proactively took a leadership position in offering to help in a battle and service the community. How can we also learn to follow their example in our own lives?

Additionally, let’s look at their approach and perspective. They didn’t say, “If we go out and offer to help in this battle, some men may be intimidated because we’re so aggressive.” They did not tie their responsibility to Allah (swt) and their community to the possibility of attracting or not attracting men. I am constantly approached by young women who are told by their parents or those in their communities that they should stop being involved with Islamic work because “men are scared by women who are assertive and passionate about activism.” In my personal role as the Muslim Student Association President, I was told more than once that men were intimidated by me because of my position in leadership. In some of our families and some of our communities, we sometimes focus on tying our sisters’ abilities to attracting or not attracting a potential spouse, instead of developing our sisters’ incredible skills and potentials for the sake of Allah (swt) and the benefit of the community.

On the other end, the women in this example also did not say, “We’re just going to sit around and once Prince Muslim comes along, then we’ll get involved and work on becoming better Muslimahs.” This might seem far-fetched, but how many of us have heard or said statements such as, “I want to get married because then my husband will wake me up for qiyam (late night prayer) and Fajr!” However, oftentimes, those of us who say things like this are not doing those actions on our own.

Getting married isn’t going to solve our inabilities to wake up for Fajr or get up for qiyam. We need to develop our own selves without expecting marriage to somehow magically change our lives. Marriage can be a great tool of self-improvement and can help us change for the best, with Allah’s will. Marriage is amongst the greatest blessings that Allah (swt) can bestow on a person; and the creation of a family, and taking care of that family, is amongst the greatest acts of worship. But if we are not personally working on ourselves now, how can we expect that it will be easier with the additional baggage of another individual who is also imperfect?

What we see in the example of these women is that they took action and sought to benefit the community through their work for the sake of Allah (swt). These women looked at their personal situations, considered their personal skill sets and realized that they could use the skills they had, in the time that they were needed, to benefit their society in a proactive manner. They did not dwell on how they could be perceived or make continuous excuses for why someone else should do it. How, too, can we follow their example?

Let us now look at the interaction of these women with the Prophet ﷺ and his conduct toward them. First, let’s address the incredible manhood of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. As “the walking Qur’an,” the Prophet ﷺ had such an incredible demeanor that the women knew they could easily approach him and offer their services to the community. The relationship he had built with women in his community was one of trust, empowerment, dignity and appreciation. This is evident, most specifically, in the way that he (peace and blessings of God be upon him) turned one of the most embarrassing moments Umayyah, the young girl, could have ever imagined into one of the fondest moments of her life.

When the Prophet ﷺ saw her blood, he did not embarrass her and shout, “Astaghfirillah! (I seek refuge in God!) Sister! Haraam! Now you are a fitna (trial)!” His first advice to her did not consist of ordering her to leave his presence now that she was an accountable young woman. Instead, he taught her purification in that moment. He showed her ease and naturalness in that moment. He gave her a necklace, which he personally placed on her with his blessed hands, and helped her feel honored and special in that moment.

How many young women do we know who are struggling with their self-esteem? What are we doing, as a community, to help build it up instead of tear it down? How many young women have we told, “Cover up,” because they are a temptation to men? Instead of linking hijab (modesty) to loving Allah, (swt), we have often linked it to protecting men from women within the Muslim community. How many men have made comments such as, “Fitna just walked in,” without realizing the painful consequences on a female’s psyche when the only frame of reference her Muslim brother has for her is that she’s temptation?

All of these experiences have happened to me personally within the Muslim community and also to many women that I know. The methodology in which women are made to feel that they are the ultimate fitna psychologically damages women’s understanding of Islam and their self-esteem. It cripples a natural, normative relationship in which men and women work together for the benefit of society and forces men and women to fear being around one another in unnatural ways. This is not from the Prophet ﷺ.

We take from the example of the Prophet ﷺ that he let people live comfortably around him so that even when something which could have turned into the most humiliating experience a woman could have ever imagined, that girl, in that moment, gained knowledge, nearness to Allah (swt), and love of being with the Prophet ﷺ in the Hereafter. In our communities too, we need to re-evaluate the ways through which men and women interact and the rhetoric we use to describe women.

Let us look at the rhetoric of the Prophet ﷺ when he was asked by the women if they could participate. In his interaction with them, he verbally encouraged them. He didn’t say, “No. The men might be distracted by you and be tempted to leave the battlefield.” Instead, he specifically gave them the blessings of God.

We need to begin truly exemplifying the incredible character of the Prophet ﷺ who didn’t imply that Umayyah (ra) and the women she was with would cause chaos in the battlefield if they were present. He knew his community; he had developed the men and women in his community. And the women in his community followed his example; they felt comfortable and confident approaching him (peace and blessings of God be upon him).

This is the type of respectful brotherhood and sisterhood we need to embody in our Islamic work, in our marriages, and in our lives. Their example teaches that men and women both have something to contribute and we need to be supportive of one another’s contributions when used for societal benefit. Allah (swt) tells us in Surat al-Tawbah, “The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah [charity] and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those—Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” (Qur’an 9:71)

The Prophet ﷺ taught us how to achieve natural, healthy, balanced and beneficial community relationships. He taught us how to teach people about Allah (swt) with mercy, humility and respect. How many more members of our communities are we going to lose before we follow his example?

The above narration is full of lessons for us as a community in the West especially. Transforming challenges into opportunities is the methodology of the Prophet ﷺ. The women in this example were empowered to take action because of the teacher who built them and taught them to do so. This is Islam; the liberating, societally-benefiting and revolutionary way of life which can transform even the most embarrassing experience into the fondest memory, cherished for life.

If this is Islam, if this is our religion, when will we put it into practice? When will we follow the example of these female companions of the Prophet ﷺ in our attitudes and our own lives? And even more urgently, is it not time that the beauty of the Prophet ﷺ began to touch those in our own communities through the virtue of our own actions?

Courtesy of Maryam Amirebrahimi and www.suhaibwebb.com

Ramadan Reflection: Seek and Support.

Two young women and a young man reached out to me respectively this past week, none knowing the others, but all having gone through a similar experience as children. Each had been the victim of sexual abuse at a very young age, and none of them had really spoken about it for quite some time. All three had at some point tried to speak with the one or both of their parents about it (one spoke only to the mother as her father was the abuser) and none had received any support or validation of their concerns—one was even told it’s not a big deal. All three were told not to speak about it with anyone so each ended up holding it inside for quite some time.

Aside from these three, 108 unique individuals in the month of July have reached out to me on issues ranging from depression, anxiety, suicidal tendency, domestic violence, alcohol and drug addiction, sexual orientation, dealing with mental health disorders, marital issues, issues with parents, relationship issues, theological issues, and much more. They have corresponded in the form of emails, phone calls, and in-person meetings. These people are mostly from the NYC area, a good number from different parts of the United States, and the smallest demographic is from outside of the country. They are both male and female, diverse in age, ethnicity and socioeconomic background. All are looking for someone to talk to—most are finding a hard time in doing so.

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with anyone seeing a counselor. I actually think it’s an important thing to have someone to talk to. The difficulty for the Muslim community is two-fold. Primarily, it’s hard for us at times to get the motivation and comfort needed to go seek a counselor and, secondly, in the instances that we do, it’s hard to find someone who actually understands what we are going through.

It’s not very common to find Muslims comfortable with the idea of speaking about what they have or are going through. Some think it somehow displays weakness of faith and is a form of questioning God, others come from cultures that don’t appreciate or encourage seeking out such help. Many think it’s wrong to “reveal sins” whether it be their own or those of others. Most have been in a place where when they have attempted to speak to someone about it, their attempts have immediately been shot down and it takes a long time before they can speak about it again or, unfortunately, they just don’t speak about it ever again.

In the instances where one actually does find someone to speak with, they run into a few different types of people:

An individual who is not trained to provide them the support that they need, but still attempts to do so
An individual who does have training and/or experience to provide the support that is being sought out, but doesn’t understand the diversity of Muslim experience, or anything about Muslim identity
An individual who is not trained to provide them the support that they need, recognizes this and refers them to someone who is
An individual who does have training and/or experience to provide the support that is being sought and, and does understand the diversity of Muslim experience and Muslim identity

Most will find themselves in a place where they meet someone from one of the first two categories and get discouraged with the process. Our goal should be to enable and empower more people who are in categories three and four so that we can ensure proper care and attention to those who need it. Why should we do this? Because there is a lot of unreconciled pain in many hearts out there and it’s not justifiable that we allow for that to continue. The number of tears that I have seen shed in front of me and the amount of frustration and anxiety that has been let out afterwards tells me that the Muslim community is not a happy community, and that’s in large part due to the fact that we are not healthy. It’s unjustifiable that I stand in a comfortable place while I am fully aware that the person sitting next to me is uncomfortable or struggling on the inside.

I don’t think the solution is simply in having more imams that are American-born, because that alone doesn’t mean that they will have the training or experience to counsel someone. A young man came to see me with his female cousin who was walking in the hallway of her high school one day in between classes when a boy grabbed her, pulled her into a stairwell, and raped her. This young woman worked up the courage to tell her parents, who, not knowing where else to go, then took her to their local mosque, where she was told by the imam that she deserved what happened to her because she goes to a mixed-gender school and doesn’t dress properly. Aside from recognizing the stupidity of this statement, why is this person even in a place where he would be dealing with circumstances like this? And what do we think it did to the young woman? She will take what this man has said as being what Islam says, which is not the case, and more importantly then that, she is going to hurt even more on the inside then when she had first come in.

Education is key, and training current religious leaders as well as mental health professionals, whether they are Muslim or not, on issues relevant to the Muslim community is essential. The stereotype that paints the Muslim community as monolithic is most problematic here because it keeps us from being in touch with how diversity plays a role in proper counseling. Not all Muslims are the same and dealing with them means understanding that one will be different from the next, even though they adhere to the same faith.

Despite this, there are many out there who are trained, attuned to the realities that Muslims are facing, and are great resources. If you find yourself in a place where there is something that you need closure on and feel like talking about, whether you are going through it now or went through it a long time ago, don’t let yourself think you have to go through it alone. It is not a weakness of faith to seek support from the people around you. The companions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, sought support from him in this manner all of the time. Young and old, male and female, Arab and non-Arab all spoke to him about things that they had going on inside and he listened. He heard them out, helped them to make critical sense of it and set out on a path to reach their potential best. People who had addictions, bereavement issues, relationship issues, mental health issues, victims of domestic violence, people who had to deal with the realities that race, ethnicity, gender, and privilege all brought, and many others came to speak to him about what was going on in their respective lives, and he listened. He also turned to those around him at times when he needed counsel and advice. If we require religious legitimacy to seek support when we need it, undoubtedly Islam tells us we are allowed to and that we should.

You don’t have to speak to just anyone. Find someone you are comfortable with and will hear you out before simply telling you what you should do. Not every religious scholar will be able to play this role, nor should they be expected to be. It’s not a shortcoming on their part by any means. Professional help in the form a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker is also important and should not be looked at as a bad thing. Just like a doctor is there to help us be be physically well, these individuals are there to help us be emotionally well, which in turn has the potential of aiding in our spiritual growth.

For those of you who are not in a place where you need this kind of help, be mindful that there are those who do. If you are speaking to an audience, understand that audience has many people in it that have lived lives that may not have had the best of experiences. Not everyone has good parents, not everyone has Muslims in their families, not everything is a test from God, forgiveness is not always the easiest thing to do, and it is not a weakness of faith to try to understand why you have gone through what you have gone through.

This has gotten somewhat long but I have more thoughts on it and will probably write on it again before the month is over.

Courtesy of Khalid Latif and www.suhaibwebb.com