As we, Muslims, enter our third Friday without a congregational prayer at the mosque, I find my self reflecting on two Quranic verses that play a major role in my life.
Muslims, when hit by a calamity or going through a tough time are often reminded of the verse
قُل لَّن یُصِیبَنَاۤ إِلَّا مَا كَتَبَ ٱللَّهُ لَنَا
Say, "Never will we be struck except by what Allah has decreed for us”
At-Tawbah, Ayah 51
It’s offered up as means of comfort and peace in a tumultuous time. For some, the mere reminder is sufficient. It gives them serenity and solidifies their trust in a Wise and All Knowing God. But to others, the ayah leaves many unanswered questions. Why was this written for me? Why am I going through this while others are not? I’m a good person but these terrible things keep happening to me, so why me?
As I contemplate these questions and many others like them, I find myself gravitating towards an answer that is perhaps simplistic, but to me does the trick.
The answer is: I don’t know!
It’s not a defeated “I don’t know” but rather a realization of my own limitations.
On the intellectual level, it fuels my desire to know. To continue to seek to understand the wisdom of, and to find purpose in, whatever I am going through, good or bad.
On the faith level, it humbles me as I compare my knowledge, wisdom and intellect to an Omnipotent, Wise and All Knowing God.
I anchor that realization and that faith with another verse of the Quran
لَا یُكَلِّفُ ٱللَّهُ نَفۡسًا إِلَّا وُسۡعَهَاۚ
Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.
Al-Baqarah, Ayah 286
This is not to minimize what one is going through or to label one weak if they are struggling. Rather, I understand this as a promise. That I have within me the ability to handle whatever situation I’m in, because God has promised that He will not burden me with more than what I can handle. I dig deeper and find motivation in this while seeking knowledge and understanding.
I know my reflection may not do the multitude of feelings, struggles and tribulations a lot of justice. I just hope that, as we go through this life of learning and discovery, sharing what living between these two verses has done for me can help.
Have a blessed Friday
“Oh Allah, I ask that you relieve me of such and such burdens/resolve this issue for me/grant me this much needed personal thing. Amen”
We’ve often supplicated some variation of the above prayer. We utter heartfelt words with sincere intentions and wait for divine intervention. But what if what we’re asking for never happens or doesn’t happen soon enough? What then?
We are often advised by well meaning members and leaders of our religious community to pray for alleviation of our worries, to lean on God and trust Him to handle our affairs. So we muster up the most sincere devotion we can and supplicate, pouring our hearts out. We cry, we beg, we plead and then, feeling relieved by such cathartic exercise, we sit back and wait, with hope filled hearts, for a resolution. But what happens if God doesn’t respond in the way we want Him to? Or in the time we need Him to? We may infer that God is ignoring us and we get frustrated, disheartened and a crack in our faith structure materializes.
Is He ignoring us? we ask ourselves.
Do we deserve what’s happening to us? we wonder.
And the more this happens, the weaker our faith becomes and we get to a point where we ask ourselves, what’s the point?
There are inherent dangers in such lines of thought.
The first danger is in the assumption that our complex, intertwined and multifarious relationship with God can be reduced to a transactional one. “I prayed therefor my prayer must be answered” is not just overly simplistic, it is flawed. It risks a negative association between faith and undesired outcome. It discounts the remainder of our relationship with God and blinds us even further to why we may be going through what we’re going through. It keeps us in our shortsighted state, unable to see the wisdom behind our current situation.
The second danger is in the assumption that our complex human life with all of its varied emotions, relationships with the divine and with each other can be navigated and addressed by supplication and prayer alone. When someone is stressed out or depressed and all we tell them is that they just need to pray then we discount all other forms of help around them. We potentially exacerbate their issue as they may conflate it with a lack of faith. “I prayed, God didn’t answer my prayer then I must not be faithful enough.” Their stress or depression spirals down even more and they become more isolated and helpless.
This is not to say that praying and supplication are useless or ineffective. This is to say that we should reevaluate how we use them and how we (the laymen, general public) tend to advise each other on how to use them.
Dusting off old duas (supplications) on as needed basis while not maintaining, or attempting to maintain, a relationship with God otherwise may not be the most effective. A weak faith will most likely become weaker by one off attempts that don’t produce favorable/desired results. Relying solely on dua and neglecting signs and symptoms of deeper underlying issues may not be wisest.
When our minds are stuck in a rut and we feel tired, stressed and helpless by whatever negative may surround us and we take a few minutes to remember God, to utter a prayer, we are essentially putting a pause on such thoughts. A pause that gives us comfort in remembering that no matter how big an issue is there is the One who is bigger, to whose magnanimity such issues pale in comparison and from whom we seek help. No matter how weak we may feel, there is the One who is stronger, who is capable and in whom we put our trust. We take the time to introspect, reflect and replenish our patience through faith.
And when praying and supplicating does not yield much comfort, we should realize that perhaps we need action to go along with this faith. Depression, anxiety and mental health disorders are all disease that we should seek treatment for. We pray for cure and better health but we utilize what God has made available and accessible for us in the form of mental health providers, communities and relationships.
May we all be granted the patience needed to see through the periods of fog in our life’s experiences
Ramadanic reflection- masjid (mosque) leadership
To the leadership of all US based masjids, may Allah accept your efforts, dedication and good intentions. It’s no easy task to establish a masjid and keep it open; a task that is especially challenging during the month of Ramadan. Know that Allah will reward pure intentions with His utmost generosity.
But know too that as you assume such leadership, you also assume it’s consequences.
For every woman who cut her ties with the masjid and moved farther from God because you don’t provide her a welcoming space, you are responsible.
For every child who now hates the masjid because you yelled at him/her or greeted every noise they made with a scowl, you are responsible.
For every man who cut his ties with the masjid because his wife and/or his children were made to feel unwelcome by your policies, you are responsible
For every convert who sought to learn about his/her faith in your space but was met with a tone of indifference, you are responsible
Leadership is not a title nor is it for the faint of heart. It is a heavy responsibility that unfortunately many of us take lightly.
As we attempt to draw nearer to Allah during the month of Ramadan and as we reflect on our behaviors to best ourselves one Ramadan to the next, let’s not forget to take account of the responsibilities we assume as mosque leaders and better our spaces.
May Allah forgive all of our shortcomings and may He guide us to the right path
Five years ago I was getting ready for Hajj (pilgrimage)to Mecca. People who had gone in the past were trying to prepare me for this trip of a lifetime. Almost everyone was talking about how emotional the journey will be, how the sight of the Kaaba and being surrounded by a couple of million people doing the same thing at the same time will transcend me to the next level of my spiritual journey. I remember many suggesting that, as I enter the premises, I should look down at my feet and walk slowly towards the Kaaba until it’s in plain view in front of me and then lift my head up and soak it all in. They used to say that the second my eyes fall upon the holy sight I will be overcome by its magnanimity, history and significance and fall down to my knees and cry my heart out.
I followed exactly what I was told and I walked slowly, intentionally and with my eyes to the ground until I knew the Kaaba was in front of me. I looked up, soaked it all in and I thought to myself “huh, it’s smaller than I thought” and I felt.......NOTHING.
Maybe something is wrong with me? Maybe I’m not as faithful as I thought I am or I should be? It was disappointing and very anticlimactic.
I thought about this, and continue to think about this, for a long time. I’ve also had many conversations since with many people who tell me “I pray but I don’t feel anything” or “I don’t feel a connection with God”
There is, I believe, a danger in relegating one’s relationship with God to a purely and solely mystical or emotional kind. When we think that God’s presence must be felt, or only felt, in those few moments that we spend praying/meditating we shift our focus from feeling, knowing, connecting with God throughout our life to motions that can carry meaning but at times don’t. God is present in everything, from the mundane to the exciting. It’s learning how to identify and feel the connection that strengthens one’s faith.
I choose to worship God as a Muslim, to learn, understand and abide by the teachings of the religion and to follow its path. I fulfill its obligations to the best of my abilities, but I do not render my relationship to God to just the set of prescribed practices and rituals. They are essential parts of the faith structure I choose to live in but they’re not the only way in which I connect with God nor is it the only way the faith teaches to connect Him.
I didn’t get the spiritual high while at Hajj. I did not ascend to the next level of spirituality. I found my connection to God through serving His creation. I found it by helping others. The journey of Hajj, the time I spent there, the things I found myself gravitating towards doing without any prompts solidified that concept for me. I pray, I fast, I read Quran; I get a high from that at times and at times I don’t but I always feel fulfilled when I find myself at the service of God’s creation.
Don’t think of God as just an emotional concept. Look and reflect on your life to find your connection and use it to augment and strengthen your faith.
In a time when Pharoah proclaimed:
﴾ مَا عَلِمْتُ لَكُمْ مِنْ إِلَهٍ غَيْرِي ﴿
I have not known you to have a god other than me (28:38)
and when Pharaoh was...well....being a Pharaoh
إِنَّ فِرۡعَوۡنَ عَلَا فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَجَعَلَ أَهۡلَهَا شِيَعً۬ا يَسۡتَضۡعِفُ طَآٮِٕفَةً۬ مِّنۡہُمۡ يُذَبِّحُ أَبۡنَآءَهُمۡ وَيَسۡتَحۡىِۦ نِسَآءَهُمۡۚ إِنَّهُ ۥ كَانَ مِنَ ٱلۡمُفۡسِدِين
"Indeed Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people into factions, oppressing a sector among them, slaughtering their [newborn] sons and keeping their females alive. Indeed, he was of the corrupters." (28:4)
God told Moses' mother, after she realized she gave birth to a son, to trust in Him and put Moses in the river....
﴾وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَى أُمِّ مُوسَى أَنْ أَرْضِعِيهِ فَإِذَا خِفْتِ عَلَيْهِ فَأَلْقِيهِ فِي الْيَمِّ وَلَا تَخَافِي وَلَا تَحْزَنِي إِنَّا رَادُّوهُ إِلَيْكِ وَجَاعِلُوهُ مِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ ﴿
And We inspired to the mother of Moses, "Suckle him; but when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear and do not grieve. Indeed, We will return him to you and will make him [one] of the messengers." (28:7)
This doesn't make sense? To rescue your son from certain death by putting him in a river were death seems inevitable? She relied on God however and did what she was told.
Back to the story..
The river currents took Moses to the doorsteps of Pharaoh's palace. Yup, right to his doorsteps but Pharaoh's wife saw the baby, fell in love with him and spared his life
﴾لَا تَقْتُلُوهُ عَسَى أَنْ يَنْفَعَنَا أَوْ نَتَّخِذَهُ وَلَدًا﴿
"Do not kill him; perhaps he may benefit us, or we may adopt him as a son." (28:9)
And Moses now is in the hands of the same person seeking to kill him yet no harm can get to him!
Moses grew up in Pharaoh's home, right in front of Pharaoh's eyes and under Pharaoh's protection. And the rest, as they say, is history. (Think parting of the sea and all)
What's the moral of this story?
To me, there are many. But what stands out most is the frailty and fragility of those who think themselves, or we at times consider, invincible.
Pharaoh thought himself a God; a powerful, seemingly untouchable and magnanimous God. His arrogance led him to think himself invincible yet his demise came on the hands of the very person he sought to destroy. He couldn't stop the inevitable even when it was in his grasp.
So what do we think ourselves all high and mighty for?
Think of a word you really hate. One that gives you that physical feeling of disgust, discomfort and pain. Perhaps it’s a name you were called as a child or something mean said to you at a moment of vulnerability that you’ll never forget. Live with that for a minute, taste it, experience it.
Now think of a word you really love. One that gives you that physical feeling of joy, comfort and happiness. Perhaps it’s a name you were called as a child or something beautiful said to you at a moment of vulnerability that you’ll never forget.
Live with that for a minute, taste it, experience it.
That’s the power of words. That’s why my beloved prophet Mohammad peace and blessings be upon him says
عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه ، عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال : من كان يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر ، فليقل خيرا أو ليصمت ، ومن كان يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر ، فليكرم جاره ، ومن كان يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر ، فليكرم ضيفه رواه البخاري ومسلم
Abu Huraiyrah, May Allah be pleased with him, narrate that the prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, says: whomever believes in Allah and the Day of Judgment must speak that which is good or not speak at all and whomever believes in Allah and the Day of Judgment must honor their neighbor and whomever believes in Allah and the Day of Judgment must honor their guest
Ramadan offers us the opportunity to reflect on our behavior and not just abstain from food and water. We train ourselves during this month to come out of it better than when we started.
What you say matters so mind what you say.
Live life with the understanding that...
يَا أَيُّهَا الْإِنْسَانُ إِنَّكَ كَادِحٌ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ كَدْحًا فَمُلَاقِيهِ
O thou man! Verily thou art ever toiling on towards thy Lord- painfully toiling,- but thou shalt meet Him- Holy Quran 84:6
But don't forget that....
لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا
God does not impose on any soul a responsibility beyond its ability- Holy Quran 2:286
Because even though
الْمَالُ وَالْبَنُونَ زِينَةُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ
Children and property are the ornaments of the worldly life,
......Don't forget that
وَالْبَاقِيَاتُ الصَّالِحَاتُ خَيْرٌ عِنْدَ رَبِّكَ ثَوَابًا وَخَيْرٌ أَمَلًا
but for deeds which continually produce virtue one can obtain better rewards from God and have greater hope in Him- Holy Quran 18:46
كُلُّ نَفْسٍ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ رَهِينَةٌ
Every soul, for what it has earned, will be retained- Holy Quran 74:38
So for today's Khutbah (sermon), I translated one given by an Imam in Egypt titled "Racism and its impact on society". I concluded it with my own thoughts which I share with you below:
Dear brothers and sisters in islam, we hear and read these stories and we reminisce on the salaf (righteous predecessors) and say they were great people masha Allah but what impact does that have on our lives?
Dear brothers and sisters in Islam, your daughter will not ask you "Baba, what does the Quran say about racism?" she will ask you "why were two black men arrested while waiting for their friend at a starbucks?" and after you repeat to her a couple of the ayat (verses) and ahadeeth (statements of the prophet) and stories that you know she will ask you, and this is a most crucial question, "Baba, What are you doing about it?"
Your son may one day say to you "I know 30 aunties and uncles who are physicians but I only see one clinic called Matthew 25" for those of you who don't know what Matthew 25 is, it's a free clinic downtown whose founders were inspired by the Gospel of Matthew verses of which state "for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me....". Where is our Maidah 32 clinic? "And whoever saves a life it is as if he saved mankind entirely" Maidah verse 32
We live in a county where one third of its residents are considered working poor. They are one small car problem away from poverty or one hospital visit away from bankruptcy.
We can't simply recite verses, tell ahadeeth, glorify the golden days of Islam and not do anything about our surroundings? I say this brothers and sisters not to make you feel bad or to belittle what you do, no. I say this because we have to get back to thinking of our deen as an operator's manual, not a story book. I say this because the point of jumuah (Friday) prayer is for us to think and ponder and grow one Friday to the next. The prophet (peace be upon him) did not teach Islam from behind a lectern. He was out there amongst the people. Sunday school and an Imam (pastor) are important but your children will not learn Islam until they see you implement it, practice it, apply it in your life.
Yes, you read that headline correctly. And yes, you're right, Muslims, myself included, do not celebrate Christmas. I do, however, appreciate what my Christian friends have taught me about this time of year. The way they cherish their family a little extra, give a little more and the way in which broken ties are mended (or at least the effort is there) are sentiments that mirror Muslim holidays. I also share a special bond with Jesus (peace be upon him) as my family hails from a Palestinian town called Yebna, just a little more than 30 miles from Bethlehem.
My wish, as a Muslim, is that we do put Christ back in Christmas – and beyond.
No, this is not an article about the overcommercialization of Christmas, nor is it a rant on Christmas music booming through shops and malls hallways in September (although both deserve an article of their own). Rather, this is a call to study, learn and reflect upon one of the most beloved, most influential figures in history and, most importantly, to put his teachings in practice.
If you are a Christian reading this, please know that I am not here to proselytize your faith to you nor patronize you. I just simply wish to share with you my reflections on a figure who is loved and revered in Islam. A figure whose teachings have influenced the lives of many people I call friends. Teachings that resonate so much and in so many ways with the teachings of the prophet of Islam, Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Muslims know Jesus (peace be upon him) as the fatherless son of the Virgin Mary (to whom is dedicated Chapter 19 of the Quran). He is revered as a great prophet who was endowed with miracles by God that enabled him, among many things, to cure the leper and the blind and create birds from clay.
Much in the same way Muhammad (peace be upon him) was endowed by God to, among many other things, ascend to the heavens and visit with prophets who came before him, Jesus and Moses among them. God (or Allah, as you'd find him referenced in an Arabic bible) has chosen these messengers for us to learn how to get nearer to him, to be in his favor and to have, through their example, a personal compass that would guide us in our life's journey.
Let's put the teachings of Christ back in our lives. Jesus (peace be upon him) was a rebel. A disruptor of callous societal norms. A challenger of an unjust status quo. He taught us the story of the good Samaritan not for it to be recited as a fascinating fable from the olden days but as a directive on what to do when we find someone downtrodden and beat, even if they were a stranger. Much in the same way Muhammad taught, through many revealed verses of the Quran, to care for the poor and needy and lend support to the weakest among us.
When Jesus commanded “love your neighbor as yourself,” he did so without conditions. He didn't say, “Love the neighbor who looks like you, acts like you, worships like you.” Much in the same way, prophet Muhammad tells of the angel Gabriel repeating to him how much he should care for his neighbors that he, peace be upon him, thought angel Gabriel was going to ask him to include them in his will.
And when he says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” we should have no fear of what may come when we stand up for the oppressed, no matter how powerful the oppressor may seem. An empowering statement echoed by the prophet Muhammad 700 years later when he said, “The truest form of struggle is a just word before an unjust ruler.”
My wish for Christmas is that, during these times of faith, family and friends, we reflect on Jesus and appreciate how he has brought you a compass to help you find your way and not a stick with which to beat others – just as Muhammad has done for Muslims.
This article originally appeared in the journal Gazette
Reading from the book "The Muslim Character as shaped by the Quran and Sunnah"
Palestinian, Muslim, American, Husband, Father, Academic, Pharmacist, Coffee Addict, Nutella phene, Pseudo writer, Soccer player, former Canadian, Community servant, Pinch hitter imam, interfaith ninja, Intellectual vigilante, and the undisputed KING of snark