Written By NAIYERAH KOLKAILAH
Courtesy of www.suhaibwebb.com
Say, ‘In God’s grace and mercy let them rejoice.’ That is better than all they accumulate. (Qur’an, 10:58)
Today is one of the happiest days for millions of Muslims all over the world. While we’re sad to see the blessed month of Ramadan go, we’re so grateful for having completed a month of intense fasting and detoxification; a month meant to cleanse our hearts, minds and bodies so we can be closer to God with our souls and spirits. We experienced a special sweetness of faith during this past month, and now we celebrate with family and friends, fun festivities, delicious food and sweets of all kinds.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/elycefeliz/5814171545/As we rejoice and celebrate, we can also remember that we have another happy camper celebrating too. He was locked up during Ramadan, and he just gained his freedom. For the last month, he’s been watching millions of Muslims fill up the masajid, pray intensely during the night, supplicate fervently to Allah, give abundantly in charity, and feel more motivated to do good than ever before. He saw Muslims who would drink often now stopped drinking; people who didn’t feel like praying before want to pray regularly; believers who never opened the Qur’an throughout the year choose to read it and contemplate its meanings. He saw Muslims who envied and hated one another stand side by side in prayer and become the closest of brethren. Before, they were held back by his whispers and their sins, distractions, temptations. Now that weight is lifted, so they picked up speed and worship became easier and more enjoyable. So, he was chained and they were freed. He was restrained so we could be liberated.
Have you seen people who live for a cause? They eat, sleep, breathe and die for their work. Imagine if these people were prevented from living their passion; and not only that, but imagine that they watched all their life’s efforts being destroyed right before their eyes. They have no control and can’t change what happened. It would probably make them sad, frustrated and angry. If they were given the power and freedom again, they could at least rebuild what was destroyed and fix what was broken.
Of all non-human creation, Satan is probably the most passionately committed to his cause. Yet, his mission in life is not to build, but to destroy. His sole purpose is to mislead and deviate and burn, as is his nature. Speaking to God, he said, “I swear by Your might! I will tempt all of them, except Your sincere servants,” (Qur’an, 38:82-3). So now that he’s liberated, he’s not just walking towards us casually; he’s coming back with a vengeance.
Fasting is designed by God to increase our taqwa. While taqwa is often translated as God-consciousness, its linguistic root connotes protection from harm. Fasting is a shield that protects us from harming ourselves and others, that protects us from the harmful effects of our sins. It’s a shield that protects us from getting burned by Satan’s tricks, and ultimately, from getting burned by the Fire. One of Satan’s tactics is to make us indulge in our physical pleasures, cravings, and desires in the most unbridled way. He wants to ignite the animalistic tendencies within us and make us pursue these pleasures as ends in and of themselves, not as means for livelihood and lawful well-being.
Out of God’s mercy, He restricts our access to these two pleasures during fasting so that they don’t consume us and define our being. Through fasting, our relationship with these desires becomes less obsessive and animalistic, and more tamed and disciplined. So, when the month-long training is over and we’re back on the battlefield with Satan, his avenues to our hearts and minds are tightened and restricted. If we choose to broaden those pathways and re-indulge in our desires again, we invite him back into the very veins that run through our bodies; but if we feed these instinctual appetites in moderation and through the proper channels, we loosen Satan’s grip and become freed to nurture a deeper spiritual relationship with God throughout the year.
God says in the Qur’an, “O Believers, do not follow in Satan’s footsteps—if you do so, he will urge you to indecency and evil; and if it were not for God’s grace and mercy towards you, not one of you would ever have attained purity. God purifies whoever He wills; and God is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.” (24:21)
During the blessed month of Ramadan, we may have gained more spiritual awareness, clarity and focus, and even felt a deep desire to become better Muslims, believers, and worshipers. Let’s not allow those feelings to dissipate and disappear just because Ramadan has passed. While the shade of Ramadan has left, the shade of God’s Mercy is everlasting. If God purifies whomever He wills, let’s also do our part in pursuing and recommitting to the path of purification. As Khurram Murad says, “The initial desire and ensuing effort to do and become good, is part of the continuing process of self development, a process that may begin at any point in life that you choose and continue till your last breath.”1
So, before we get caught up in our busy lives and demands of family, work, or school again, now is the time to inculcate the good practices and habits we gained from Ramadan—no matter how small. Perhaps you didn’t used to pray sunan and voluntary prayers, and now you do. Maybe you would pray late often, and you found yourself praying more on time. Perhaps you would flirt a little much with the ladies, and during Ramadan you had some self-control. Maybe you were used to hearing or seeing shameful things, and you found it improper to do so during Ramadan. Perhaps you tried performing night prayers for the first time, and you absolutely loved it. Or maybe you didn’t feel the need to make du`a’ (supplication) before, but you poured your heart out to Him one night and felt an amazing, healing effect. Or maybe, like many people, you would think about food most of the day and fasting made you focus on more important matters like nourishing your soul.
What else? What other positive changes did you experience? Keep reflecting on your special moments and changes during Ramadan and hold on to those. Keep nurturing these feelings, habits and practices. Continue to fast, pray, read Qur’an, and forgive. Continue to shine with love, patience, and empathy. Give a little more than before, and don’t give up on yourself or on God’s mercy. Remember that Satan wants to take you away from God’s remembrance and bury you under layers of darkness and fleeting pleasures, but God is calling you to purity and peace, and to what gives you life.
So make this Eid a memorable one. Be happy and rejoice in God’s bounties and blessings, and start pursuing the endless opportunities for rising to greater spiritual heights.
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YUSRA OWAIS (AMATULLAH)
We thank Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) who has blessed us with witnessing yet another Ramadan! The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said that actions are judged by their ending [Bukhari]. So while many of us have started preparing for Eid, we should also make sure that we end this blessed month in a great way.
We end this month by returning to Allah (swt) in a state of humility and repentance. We seek forgiveness of Allah (swt) and repent to Him because we acknowledge that our deeds are deficient, and we acknowledge that we have wronged ourselves and others.
Repenting to Allah (swt) is a reminder that Allah is the One who guided us to righteous deeds, and we do not know if He will accept them from us. Allah (swt) teaches us in the Qur’an that when we end a deed, we end it with seeking forgiveness. We seek forgiveness after finishing our prayers and after we end a gathering just as Allah (swt) told the Prophet ﷺ to seek forgiveness and to repent after the Opening of Makkah.
We are taught to repeat the du`a’ of the last 10 nights: “O Allah, You Alone are the One who Pardons, and You Alone love to Pardon, so pardon me.” This du`a’ embodies one of the goals of Ramadan, to be forgiven and to start anew. Pardoning, or ‘afw, means to wipe the slate clean. We end this month by turning back to Allah (swt) and asking Him to wipe our slates clean.
We end this month in a state of gratitude to Allah (swt). Allah (swt) says:
“[…] to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which he has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful,” (Qur’an 2:185).
We thank Allah (swt) for all that He has given us during this month. He blessed us to be among those who worshiped Him and He gave us the health and ability to fast, to pray, and to increase in our good deeds. We thank Him for giving us the opportunity to grow and come closer to Him. We thank Him for the innumerable gifts – the ones we often forget because we are accustomed to their presence in our lives.
Gratitude is a trait of the believers that is highlighted throughout the Qur’an and the tradition of the Prophet ﷺ. We even see that when the believers enter Paradise, they say:
“[…] ‘Praise to Allah, who has guided us to this; and we would never have been guided if Allah had not guided us.’ […]” (Qur’an 7:43).
Being grateful to Allah (swt) and thanking Him reminds us to be humble, because we would not have received anything good or have had the opportunity to do any good without the Help of Allah (swt). Gratitude is a means to faith. It reminds us of our need and reliance upon Allah (swt).
Takbeer: Proclaiming the Greatness of Allah
We end this month by declaring the Greatness of Allah (swt) for what He has guided us to. Allah (swt) says:
“[…] to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which he has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful,” (Qur’an 2:185).
Takbeer is to declare the Greatness of Allah (swt), to exalt Him, and magnify Him. Saying “Allahu Akbar” is the highest and best way to exalt Allah (swt). It literally means “Allah is Greater”, and it is understood: Greater than everything and anything else.
We repeat this throughout the night and day, reminding ourselves that Allah (swt) is Greater than everything else, that He is Perfect, Flawless and deserving of all Praise for having guided us to finish Ramadan.
Shaykh ibn Uthaymeen (rahimahu allah, may Allah have mercy on him) says: “What is more beautiful than seeing the people declare the greatness of Allah (swt) and His Magnificence in every area and place, filling the horizon with Allahu Akbar (Allah is Greater than everything), Alhamdulillah (Praise and thanks is for Allah Alone) and La ilaaha il Allah (There is no deity worthy of worship except for Allah), between hope and awe of Him!”
Intention to Change
We end this month with the intention to continue fasting, praying and doing good. Ramadan is a month of change that is meant to give us a spiritual cleansing that will last us the whole year. The virtues of fasting and praying do not end after we celebrate Eid; rather, Eid should be the beginning of a new chapter for us to continue doing the habits we started in Ramadan. We can continue reading the Qur’an, fasting Mondays and Thursdays, or the White Days (the 13th-15th of each lunar month), and we can pray the night prayers every night (or once a week).
We’ve tasted the sweetness of standing during the night; we’ve tasted the sweetness of raising our hands to Allah (swt) in supplication; we’ve tasted the sweetness of breaking our fast after a long day; we’ve tasted the sweetness of giving charity.
Continuing these habits after Ramadan may be difficult, but now you know that you can do it. The sacrifices we’ve made during this month to take full advantage of it have shown us that developing good habits and a strong spiritual relationship with Allah (swt) is not out of our reach. We’ve done it, so now can we continue it? One of the great past scholars, ibn Rajab (ra) says: “Be cautious of returning to enslavement after having been freed.”
So we ask Allah (swt), the One who guided us to worship Him in Ramadan, to help us continue in our worship and good deeds. Remember that Ramadan has left us but the One who created this month will never leave. He is Living and His reward is Everlasting.
By Tarek Younis
When the caliph Abu Bakr, radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him), became sick and sensed his end was near, it was clear to him the subsequent choice of caliph would determine the community’s future. As such Abu Bakr (ra), whose wisdom was unmatched save for the Prophet ﷺ himself, decided it would be less controversial if the Muslim community agreed upon the next caliph while he was still among them; the ummah (all Muslims) most assuredly would not argue upon a choice seen favorably by the greatest of the Prophet’s ﷺ companions. However the sahabah (companions), unwilling to take the position for themselves and unable to find a qualified individual in their stead, delegated the task back to Abu Bakr (ra). Accepting the task, undoubtedly having a candidate already in mind, the caliph requested some time to do his research, and invited the most prominent Muslims in the community for counsel—Uthman ibn Affan, Abdur-Rahman ibn ‘Awf, Usayd ibn Hudayr among others from the Ansar and the Muhajirun (ra).
“What is your opinion of Omar ibn al-Khattab?”
The companions of the Prophet ﷺ, astounded that such a question need even be asked, all responded harmoniously: “He is better than you think he is. There is no one else like him among us. I know that he is the best after you.”
Thus, the decision was clear, the voices unanimous—save only for the concern of one companion, Talhah ibn Ubaydullah (ra). The concern he raised to Abu Bakr (ra) was simple, and indeed comprehensible in light of what is widely known of Omar ibn Khattab’s (ra) character, even to this day:
“What will you say to your Lord when He asks you about appointing Omar over us when you have seen how harsh he is?”
The wisdom contained within Abu Bakr’s (ra) reply to this remains outstanding; wisdom delivered only to the real men and women of understanding, with Abu Bakr as their role model:
“Are you trying to make me fear Allah? [Any ruler] who does you wrong is doomed. I will say ‘O Allah, I appointed over them the best of your people.’ [Omar is so harsh and strict] because he thinks I am too soft and gentle; when he is in charge, he will change a great deal.”
Abu Bakr’s (ra) wisdom entailed the appreciation of man’s capacity for change. And true to his firasa (profound insight), Omar (ra) did. Indeed, if anything, one can relate Omar’s entire life—from attempting to kill the Prophet ﷺ in his time of jahiliya (when he was naive) to his caliphate following the death of Abu Bakr (ra)—as a testament to change which, implicitly or explicitly, made him admirable to so many. People are naturally inclined to hold such stories of change with high regard, because they not only remind us of the transience of our current situations, but upon reflection, they erect large signs above our futures which say:
‘You can become much more, if you so will.’
A Contemporary Model of Profound Change
Another great example of the human capacity for change is el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, commonly known as Malcom X. Although people often reflect upon the achievements he afforded the oppressed African-American community or his ultimate acceptance of ‘real’ Islam in Mecca, let us set all labels and incidents aside and appreciate the man as a whole. Here, again, we see someone whose life testifies to change; he was an intelligent young student, turned atheist hustler and thief, turned bookish and scholarly, turned separatist leader, turned outcast then finally Muslim human rights advocate. Although one may disagree on the labels, his own words emphasize mine:
“Despite my firm convictions, I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.”
This was a virtue which made him so impressionable among the young Black youth around America; as a man who came from the streets, he symbolized the human ideal of developing one’s potential beyond environmental constraints. None of this is to say that all change is necessarily good. Indeed, our capacity for change encompasses both extremes of vice and virtue, and it only takes one reading of Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning or Hannah Arendt’s The Banality of Evil to reflect upon a modern-day account of how regular people (i.e. you and I) are fully capable of committing terrible injustices and atrocities. Instead, the point of this article is to reflect on our capacity to change; only then, can we will a change for the better.
Ramadan: the Greatest Catalyst for Change
Ramadan is an especially prominent time to meditate on our capacity to change. In fact, if you think about it, the sacred month already sets the stage to reflect upon a state of being devoid of essential pleasures, such as food and water. This, in and of itself, is already a fundamental change, even psychologically. Indeed, many people, especially non-Muslims prior to conversion, almost see it as an impossibility to go an entire day without food, let alone water. But, in time, they do—they change, not only their habits, but the very way they see themselves. It is this opportunity afforded to all of us which is, in its essence, self-revelatory: “Wow, if I can stop myself from these essential things, what else can I change in myself?” But this should only be the beginning—a taste—of your undiscovered potential, and to emphasize this, the Prophet ﷺ warned that whoever completes Ramadan with the sole intention of fasting, will only leave it hungry. And naturally, the Prophet’s ﷺ wisdom is unequaled; he understood, better than anyone, the sheer potential for change contained in Ramadan – the type of change that can mark the difference between Paradise and Hellfire in an instant. In light of all this however, the change I am focusing on here is not only limited to spirituality in the strictest sense of the term, although clearly there is no better change than to increase in taqwa (God-consciousness) and attain ihsan (the most elevated state of faith)—indeed, there are few (if any) changes that do not affect them. Rather, the change I am proposing refers to your very nature, as an individual. Let me provide an example from my own life to avoid unnecessary theorizing.
I used to play a lot video games—a lot—which began at a very early age. Many years ago, in Ramadan, I began to question my obsession with video games; was it really all for fun, or was there something else involved? I decided to use the month as an opportunity to cut back entirely from it, and so as the days passed by, lo and behold, I began to feel more and more anxious. Then suddenly it dawned on me, an extreme stroke of self-revelation which, to this day, surprises me how hidden it was in plain sight (although understandably, as we rarely reflect on habits and characteristics that are so close to us): beyond leisure, I played video games as a form of escapism. Escape from what? Many things, but among others: feelings of anxiety or humiliation; when life was not looking too good; when I was not feeling heard or respected; when I experienced some powerful emotions I did not understand. Please note however that this was my escape, and it should not be generalized to others. There are many other forms of escapism of course (a client in therapy told me about his with Facebook; a constant need to be around others; an obsession with the news or sports), and I am sure, looking back, I would ascribe music, movies and TV shows to myself as well. Now, by withholding these pleasures—these ingrained habits—from my system, things became all too clear, and I was able to reflect on the mental states which previously sparked a need to escape. For example, perhaps I give too much weight to how others see me, and so, by virtue of the impossibility to please everyone and the ensuing feelings of anxiety, I need to rethink my priorities (note: of course, rethinking is an overly simplistic description of what needs to be done; actions intended towards others rather than Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, (exalted is He) are more difficult to spot than an ant on a dark rock at night). Now, although far from perfect, I’m able to enjoy video games, movies, books, the company of others etc, at a much different level than before, appreciating them for what they truly are and singling out what I really like about them. It may seem like a small change, but in my opinion, no grand changes to the likes of Omar ibn al-Khattab (ra) or Malcolm X come in one fell swoop; they take years upon and years of self-development, and are only truly appreciated in retrospect. But you have to start somewhere.
Time to Make a Change
Having just provided an example, now it is your turn. What are your most dysfunctional or distressing characteristics? These are obviously the most significant characteristics demanding your immediate attention. Also, take a moment to reflect on the things in your life you rarely ever reflect on, because Ramadan is the perfect time to do so; indeed, we rarely ever think about the sustenance of water in our lives but sure enough, come Ramadan, we do so every day. As such, ask yourself questions such as “If I were to abstain from habit X in Ramadan, let’s say hitting the gym, how does that make me feel.” At that moment, you may realize just how much muscle mass really means to you, and you have an opportunity to reflect on why this is the case. Furthermore, entertain the following reflection: if you could change anything in your life, what would it be? Here, again, I am not referring to an exclusively Islamic framework of change; indeed, a small concern I have with this is that we often limit our perspective towards things that are halal (permissible) and haram (impermissible) (i.e. I need to stop smoking), or even the things that are encouraged and frowned upon, while neglecting one’s very self. Naturally, no one should ever tell you that Facebook or going to the gym or watching the news is haram or frowned upon, nor can they. Rather, I am referring to you as an individual, embodied with a potential to become an Omar ibn al-Khattab (ra) or a Malcolm X. You need to ask yourself, “What kind of personal insight must I attain to change myself to such a degree?” Read up on the great men and women who have experienced major changes in their characters. Finally, take a moment to also reflect on your positive characteristics, and ask yourself how you can improve upon them. If by each passing Ramadan we are left with just a little more self-understanding, we are well on our way to becoming much more than we are today.
If, on the other hand, we only take Ramadan at face value—a month of abstinence—we may have just forfeited the greatest opportunity for self-development available to us. When else, I ask myself, will we find another opportunity to fulfil our capacity for change?
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By Dr. Wajid Akhter
I don’t count myself as an overly emotional person. Indeed, as a doctor, you get used to observing intense suffering on a daily basis. You get accustomed to seeing an old lady struggling for breath as her heart fails or a young man being wheeled in with multiple fractures following a high-speed car crash. But even to a jaded person like me, there have been occasions when my heart was broken by Muslims in such a complete way that their pain is with me still… This is the story of just some of them.
The old man had barely enough rags to cover his body. The full force of the midday sun beat down on his uncovered head turning his white beard even whiter. He looked intensely frail and his ribs clearly showed through his skin. Yet, instead of resting somewhere being looked after by his family, beads of sweat poured from his face as he pedalled a cycle-rickshaw loaded with passengers. I was aghast. Why was he working? Where was his family? Then I heard his story. His only son had died leaving behind young children with no one to look after them. Living in a desperately poor society, the old man had no choice but to work and put food in the mouth of his orphaned grandchildren. As he pedalled away in the blazing heat, his bones visibly shuddering with each movement, I was shaken to the core.
It was a beautiful clear day when I went into the mosque to pray. The Jamma masjid (mosque) is one of the grandest buildings in a city full of grand buildings, towering over the ancient city of Delhi. After admiring the architecture and the historical artefacts, I walked out to a sight that stopped me in my tracks. The entire extended path to the steps of the mosque was covered with burqa-clad women sitting on the floor, each with children in their laps and hands outstretched. Again, I was aghast. Where were their families? Why were they here? My father explained, “These are young widows hoping that someone, anyone, will have mercy and give their children enough to eat so that they can live to beg another day.” There were dozens, their children too weak with hunger to stand and play. I could not see their faces, but the pain in their voice was palpable. The pain within me was more so.
The unmistakable sound of whimpering came to me as I read a notice near the grave of Muhammad Fatih, the conqueror of Constantinople. I walked until I saw a middle-aged man sitting with his back resting against a pillar. In his arms was an unwell child. You didn’t need to be a doctor to realise straight away that the child was extremely unwell. Pale, clammy and with a feeding tube still inserted into a nostril, the child was clearly dying. I asked the man what was the matter and why the child was not in hospital via a bilingual bystander. “I could not afford the payments to take care of him so I needed time to gather the money. Now I have taken him to the hospital but they said that there is nothing they can do. I have brought him here as I have no hope left other than from Allah… and I do not want his mother and sisters to see him dying at home.” As I left, the father tenderly stroked his son’s head with tears dripping down his face like a river that had no end.
These are just some of the Muslims that I passed by, but broke my heart. What could I do? Should I give them a little money? That would merely alleviate their situation temporarily. Should I sponsor one of them? That would mean ignoring the other millions who were suffering in equally dire situations. Should I take time out and work in a third world clinic? That would be useful until I needed to go back to my life and leave their suffering behind. How could I help as many people, for as long as possible and in the most comprehensive way?
We have enough wealth in the ummah (Muslim community) so that no child should go to sleep hungry, yet the artificial divisions that keep us apart mean that whilst Muslims were eating gold-leaf covered desserts at a 7-star hotel in Dubai, more than a thousand children were dying of starvation daily just over a thousand miles away in Somalia. How can we possibly rectify this situation? The only solution to this and all our other problems is to follow the advice of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (exalted is He) to us: He will not change the situation of a people until they change themselves. We need to be united once more upon Islam. If we are united as one nation then instead of handing out medicine or a free meal, we can build a health service or a self-sustaining agricultural sector. If we are united then we needn’t sponsor an orphan, we can provide security and protection to prevent the child being orphaned in the first instance.
From this simple idea was born Charity Week—one week each year in which Muslim youth united upon Islam work together to raise funds for orphans and needy children (both Muslim and non-Muslim) across the world. In the past 9 years, Charity Week has set up projects in dozens of countries, involved hundreds of institutions, motivated thousands of students, acted as dawah (call to Islam) to thousands of non-Muslims and raised over $3 Million. However, far more important than all that is that Charity Week has planted the importance of THE VISION—unity upon Islam—in the minds of Muslim youth. It is that vision that gives hope to the poor—far more than any amount of money can. It is clinging on to the hope of that vision that lets me sleep at night.
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We had just finished dinner. A group of us American girls who were studying in Egypt had decided we would eat at a local restaurant and when we finished, we had twenty Egyptian pounds leftover from the pool of cash we had put together. Figuring out what to do with the money, one of the sisters suggested, “There’s that boy who sleeps outside that one grocery store! You know, he’s got that puppy! And whenever he’s with that puppy, he’s like the happiest kid in the world.”
I realized whom she was talking about. There was a teenage boy who slept on the grass across the street from the grocery store. There was no trace of family, money, or anything—just a boy and a stray puppy who kept him company. “Let’s give the money to him!” the sister exclaimed. With purpose, our group began to head over.
From the restaurant, it took us about twenty minutes to get to the location of the boy. But he was nowhere to be seen. His puppy, however, was there…and he was thirsty. The puppy had in his paws a closed water bottle that he unsuccessfully attempted to open. Imagine the torment of feeling intensely thirsty, staring at water in paw’s length, and not being able to access it despite immense struggles and efforts. Realizing his dilemma, we quickly opened the bottle of water we had and began to pour it out for the puppy. The puppy came immediately, drinking the water in huge gulps, and not stopping for some time. Finally, relieved, the puppy eventually ran off to play.
We did not find the boy that night. As we walked back to our apartments I began contemplating the situation. We had walked about twenty minutes in search of a specific boy. We could not find him, and instead we found a puppy in extreme thirst, making great efforts to access water. Allah, The All Wise, had written for us to have extra money, helped us remember the boy in that moment, given us the strength, ability and time to take the twenty minute walk to find the boy, and instead, guided us to a puppy who needed our help to drink water. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) had written for us, a group of foreigners from across the world, to have been in that place, in that moment of time, simply to help a puppy quench its thirst.
What about you, dear worshiper of God, who is struggling to please Him, stumbling upon blocks of heedlessness and difficulties? What about you who are trying to keep it together, find a job, get married, do well in school, deal with domestic issues at home or societal pressures all around? Dear believer who struggles to make your prayers, complete your fasts, lower your gaze and preserve your chastity—if that is the mercy that Allah, The Ever Merciful, has written for a small puppy, that He would subjugate human beings to simply help quench the thirst of a creature amongst His Creation…then what about the Mercy of Allah `azza wa jall on you, His struggling worshipper?
Courtesy of Maryam Amirbrehimi and www.suhaibwebb.com
1. A lot of things are running through our heads right now.
“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient” (Qur’an, 2:155).
New converts to Islam have just made the biggest decision of their lives, and changed their religion to one that they are unfamiliar with in many ways. There are a lot of stimuli around us that we are not used to, being in the mosque, hanging out with Muslims, hearing foreign languages other than Spanish, etc. Often, new Muslims might look uncomfortable because they are not used to their surroundings. A big change has just occurred in the convert’s life, and each person will respond differently to these situations.
While we are learning the basics of Islam, either before or after our shahada (testimony of faith), we are constantly coming across new things that we’ve never heard of before. It takes a long time to be able to have a consistent foundation that’s strong enough to feel any amount of comfort in the religion. This process is similar to moving to a foreign country, not knowing the language, customs, or environment that surrounds us. We often have no idea about the origin of certain customs and whether they are from Islam or a person’s culture, and it takes time to be able to discern between the two.
2. Our family life is uncertain.
A man asked the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him): ‘What is the right of parents on their offspring?’ The Prophet ﷺ replied: “They are your Paradise and your Hell.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)
People who are born into Islam have the benefit of having a foundation with their parents and family. The Qur’an is on their bookshelf, Arabic words are mixed into conversation without needing definition, and there is an environment of tradition that provides a reference point for looking at the world. A convert is experiencing the total opposite. He or she doesn’t have any sort of religious connection with their family anymore, and there is sometimes backlash from parents and extended family about the decision to become a Muslim.
Even if there’s no significant backlash, there are no blood relatives to talk to about Islam, no one to clarify things, and no family support to be offered in the entire process. All of these things can cause an immense amount of stress and disillusionment. It’s common for converts to have moments of breakdown where they feel like nobody is on their side. For those who are lucky enough to have a close friend or mentor to help them in situations like this, it’s still not the same as having family help. Converts need an exceptionally good amount of emotional support from individuals in their community to feel empowered as Muslims. This doesn’t require a full-time therapist, but just people to make them feel at home.
3. Our friends are leaving us.
“A man follows the religion of his close friend, so each of you should be very careful about whom he takes as a close friend.” —The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi)
Friends are known for being brutally honest. When a convert tells his friends that he or she just became Muslim, they are going to receive a wide range of reactions. Even if their friends are supportive, they will still be really puzzled and they will ask a million questions that most born Muslims would have trouble answering. And while most converts don’t get a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies before becoming Muslim, they’re going to sometimes feel pushed into a corner when tested by their friends.
Their friends might stick around for a while, but chances are their habits are not always what a new Muslim wants to be around. After you deny a few invitations to go to parties, they might stop calling all together. Friends who seem to have abandoned you can cause a lot of depression and loneliness, and it will always take a while to replace a decent group of friends with a good group of Muslim friends.
4. We don’t know how to spend our free time.
“Whenever a Muslim is afflicted with a hardship, sickness, sadness, worry, harm, or depression –even a thorn’s prick, Allah expiates his sins because of it.” —The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Bukhari, Muslim)
After the distance is created with friends and family, it’s hard to fill free time or stay busy enough to not start feeling down sometimes. Converts will notice a gap in their schedules that was previously filled with something else like hanging out with friends, going to concerts, or partying. This is especially hard to cope with in a smaller city where there isn’t much else to do and not enough Muslims to spend time with.
In this situation, there might be a desire to go back to old habits to feel “normal” again, or there will be an urge to stay alone and away from other people. While Islam doesn’t allow monasticism or hedonism, this causes a problem for converts to Islam when it’s a minority religion in the society. Eventually the situation will get easier and there won’t be any problem in staying busy, but initially it can be very hard to stay positive.
5. We don’t know what to learn and who to learn from.
“Make things easier, do not make things more difficult, spread the glad tidings, do not hate.” —The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Bukhari)
Converts usually experience some trouble in the beginning with differences in fiqh (jurisprudence). Their background is usually from a religion with a narrower view of right or wrong. Often converts will think: “So do I raise my hands after bowing or not? Which one is right and which one is wrong?” The fact is there are many correct opinions regarding such issues in Islam. Converts will often find themselves in the dilemma of whether to take the easier opinion or the stronger one.
At the very best, this will cause only a small amount of confusion at first. Remember that converts don’t have a family to help form their opinions about these things, and they are getting information from all sides. A common decision converts will make is choosing between zabiha (ritually slaughtered) and non-zabiha meat. In reality it’s a fact that there is a difference of opinion among scholars regarding the meat of Ahl-al-Kitab (People of the Book, i.e. Jews and Christians), but converts can feel pressured to take one opinion over the other based on someone’s limited knowledge of the issue.
6. We don’t know when we’ll make another mistake.
“And whoever is patient and forgives – indeed that is of the matters [requiring] determination.” —The Holy Qur’an 42:43
Because they feel like they’re in a foreign country while in the mosque, a convert won’t know when someone will point out something they’re doing wrong. Often people come up to converts with a self-righteous attitude and give them harsh advice based on their own limited understanding. The convert is already dealing with differing opinions coming from every angle, and it’s very discouraging to have someone correct you in a harsh way.
The ideal way to correct a convert is the way of the Rasulullah ﷺ, with kindness and understanding. Remember all the sahaba (companions of the Prophet ﷺ) were converts and were constantly receiving guidance directly from the Messenger ﷺ. The sahaba didn’t feel chastised or discouraged when they were corrected, but uplifted. This is something that needs to be taken into deep consideration when advising a convert, who may be more sensitive to these things than a born-Muslim (who often needs just as much advice).
7. We don’t know what you actually think of us.
“Not one of you can believe if you do not want for your brother what you want for yourself.” —The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Bukhari)
A lot of converts will get a lot of praise and helpful words from fellow Muslims, but there is sometimes an animosity towards converts that should be something alien to our ummah (Muslim community)—it resembles a pre-Islamic attitude of racism. As a convert, there is often a feeling of inferiority because “I’m not Arab” or “I’m not desi” that can sometimes lead the convert to acting like they are from a culture they are not, and that has nothing to do with Islam. This is something that needs to be resisted by converts who might have the urge to wear Pakistani clothes to “fit-in” around Muslims because they feel so different.
Let converts retain their culture in ways that don’t contradict Islam. They need to feel empowered and uplifted as Muslims and not reduced to the lowest common denominator. Converts have a lot they can bring to the table, and to take that ability away from them is a crime. Salman al-Farsi, a Persian companion of the Prophet ﷺ, was the one to recommend the battle strategy in the Battle of the Trench against the Quraysh. Salman’s Arab brothers in Islam took his opinion and used it to win the battle. If Salman had had an inferiority complex because of his Persian heritage, he might not have offered his opinion. Remember to make your convert brothers and sisters feel like they are a valued part of our community that links us to the culture around us.
8. We might be second-guessing our decision.
“If someone does not show mercy to people, Allah will not show mercy to him.” —The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Bukhari, Muslim)
In the worst-case scenario, converts might feel so discouraged that they second-guess their decision to convert. With all the different problems that arise after conversion, there is a sense of desperation that can lead to apostasy. While some of it is unavoidable, there is much that our communities can do to help our converts feel welcomed and strong as Muslims. Most of it requires simple attitude changes like getting rid of the “back-home” mentality and having outrageous ideals that don’t reflect reality.
Research by Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunus notes that 75% of American converts leave the religion after a few years. This is a tragedy that reflects the inability of American-Muslim communities to take care of their converts. With these statistics we should be asking ourselves: what can we do as individuals and as communities to help our convert brothers and sisters find comfort in Islam? This is a compassionate call to action for the born-Muslims to do what they can to understand, assist, and advise those who enter into Islam. Instead of alienation, we need to embrace with open arms.
Courtesy of Alex Arrick www.suhaibwebb.com
By Ibn Qayyim (RA)
The year is a tree, the months are its branches, the days are its twigs, the hours (and minutes) are its leaves and every breath man takes is a fruit of the tree. Thus the fruit of the trees of a person who breathes in obedience to Allah will be sweet and the fruit of the tree of a person who breathes in disobedience to Allah will be bitter. However, the fruit of this tree will only be harvested on the Day of Ma’aad (the day when Man will return to Allah) and the sweet fruit will only be differentiated from the bitter fruit when it will be harvested.
Ikhlaas and Tauheed are a tree in the heart (of the Believer). The branches of this tree are good actions and its fruits are a pleasant life in the world and never-ending comfort in the Hereafter and just as the fruit of Jannah will never come to an end nor will it be held back, the same can be said regarding the fruits of Ikhlaas and Tauheed in the Dunyaa.
Shirk, lies and Riyaa (doing good actions for show) are also a tree in the heart. The worldly fruits of the tree are fear, worry, sorrow, narrowness of the heart (discontent, cowardice, etc) and darkness of the heart. In the Hereafter the fruits of this tree will be Zaqqoom and everlasting punishment.
These two trees have been mentioned by Allah in the following Aayaat of Surah Ibrahim:
“Did you not see how Allah presented an example? A pleasant word is like a pleasant tree; its roots are firm and its branches are (high) in the sky, it yields its fruit all the time with the command of its Sustainer. And Allah presents examples to the people so that they may take heed. And the example of a bad word is that of a bad tree that has been uprooted from above the earth having no firmness.” (Verse 24 – 26)
Courtesy of Jameah Mahmoodiyah
The meaning of Islam to the cultures that adopted it is revealed through the borrowing of Arabic words.
The following languages have a word for love originating in Arabic: Tigrigna, Amharic, Turkish, Farsi, Urdu, Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, Malay, Somali, Pashto, Azeri, Dari, Uzbek.
If you were born in a Muslim family, is your ancestors’ language listed? Where are all the other languages spoken? This linguistic thread connects diverse cultures and peoples, our brothers and sisters of the Ummah (world-wide community).
Let’s pull the thread of love and see where it goes. It begins with a number of three letter roots in the Arabic language, one of which is Hbb. These letters unravel to form a nest of words with related meaning, for example: hubb, habib, mahbub, mustahabb, muhabba. How many of these words do you understand? It could be quite a few. Other three letter roots include wdd and ‘ashq.
It is not by chance that the words for love have been adopted so widely. Languages borrow new vocabulary from other languages for the same reason that I would want to borrow clothes from my sister: because her clothes are nicer or because I don’t have anything suitable.
So there may have previously been a lack in the language wardrobe. Or maybe the thing did not exist until it was imported along with the words to describe it. The word ‘wudhu’ is a religious example of this from Arabic, and ‘telephone’ is an example of a technological portmanteau formed from Greek and Latin.
Does this mean that there was no love until Arabic speakers came? Of course not. Arabic words for love coexist in these languages alongside native words for love, not replacing them but used as an alternative. Turkish, for example, has its own word ‘sevgi’ alongside ‘ishk’. Hindi has a number of words for love: ‘prem’ and ‘priya’ originating from Sanskrit, and ‘muhabbat’ and ‘ishq’ originating from Arabic.
So why does a language need more than one word for love? The garments in the Arabic linguistic wardrobe are beautiful. They are embroidered with life-changing faith and discourse-altering power. They are woven with spirituality that makes us want to wear them, even though we have our own clothes.
The thread of love is woven into the spread of Islam. The religion was spread by the examples of righteousness set by the Muslims. It brought principles and values that are the same no matter where it was accepted. So Malay, spoken in South East Asia, and Hausa, spoken in West Africa, have very similar patterns of borrowing from Arabic. Words to do with justice, charity and, of course, religion are most commonly borrowed. These words indicate the changes that the adoption of Islam made in these societies.
Traders, educators and conquerors were responsible for taking the new religion around the world. Whilst most of North Africa and the Middle East was ruled by Muslims within just 50 years of the Prophet’s ﷺ (peace be upon him) death, other areas took longer for Islam to filter down to the common man.
Even societies that did not adopt Islam, but who came into contact with Muslim traders, have been influenced greatly by Arabic. Malagasy, spoken in Madagascar, uses Salaama as its greeting. Kiswahili, lingua franca for 60 million people in East Africa, adopted thirty percent of its vocabulary from Arabic. European languages show their own indebtedness to Arabic too. English has hundreds of loan words, many of which relate to science and philosophy, such as ‘algebra’, ‘chemistry’ and ‘alkali’. Others are foodstuffs such as ‘lemon’, ‘candy’ and ‘sugar’. More recent adoptions show the change in the Western perception of Muslims: ‘jihad’ and ‘fatwa’ are two examples.
The thread of love, once unwound, reveals itself to be more than linguistic. Language is fundamental to our sense of self, identity, and also communal understanding. The overarching values that Islam brought unite us in sisterhood deeply. It is a spiritual connection.
COURTESY OF: Rachel Twort and www.suhaibwebb.com
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
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