A Soul's burden
Trials and tribulations are a part of life. We do not like them; we do not like to go through them; but eventually we accept them. Even if we pray, fast, pay our zakat and do all different forms ofibadat we still get tested. Sadness sometimes fills our hearts. We could be the best of practicing Muslims, yet poor and unable to put food on our table. We could be rich yet lonely, or young yet unhealthy. It is in these instances that shaytan starts toying with our head. We look at what others have, especially the non-Muslims, and our core gets rattled. The shaytan ignites a fire that gets our blood boiling, hopelessness and frustration set in, and we ask “Oh Allah, why me?! Why am I being punished?”
Psychologists tell us that human beings go through five stages of emotion when struck with a calamity. Understanding the different stages of grief minimizes the first four stages (which are denial, anger, bargaining and depression) and gets us to the final stage – which is acceptance. I went through these stages on many different occasions, as I am sure you have.
I am not a psychologist nor am I trying to refute the works of psychology, but I would nonetheless like to offer a different view, a Qur’anic view, on how to deal with life’s trials.
Though we do not have a say in when we are born nor in when we die, life has a clear beginning and a clear end. What is sometimes unclear is the journey between the two points. For Muslims, however, the journey could not be any clearer. Allah says in Surat Adh-Dhariyat:
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ
“And I (Allah) created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me (Alone)” (Qur’an, 51:56).
Now think back to the first paragraph of this article. You might think to yourself, “I pray five times a day, I fast during Ramadan and pay my zakat, yet I have an ill child, or still can’t find a job, or this stressor or that.” You begin to wonder why you are going through this and why you are being “punished.” Before you know it, shaytan takes the helm and you are on a slippery slope of anger and denial.
Before falling down that slope, one must take a deep breath and ponder the following question: is it punishment or is it a manifestation of what Allah has told us in Surat Al-Ankabut:
أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَنْ يُتْرَكُوا أَنْ يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ
“Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: “We believe,” and will not be tested?” (Qur’an, 29:2)
Allah tells us that through this journey we call life we will be tested. In Surat Al-Baqarah, He says:
وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُمْ بِشَيْءٍ مِنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِنَ الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَنْفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ
“And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits…” (Qur’an, 2:155)
Tribulations are a part of life but that doesn’t make them easy. We still grieve — but how could we not? We are, after all, a very emotional creation. So how does one cope with adversity? There are many ayat in the Qur’an that talk about different mechanisms of coping such as patience, faith, prayer and acceptance. But what I find the most profound and the most comforting is what Allah says in Surat Al-Baqarah:
لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا
“Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear…” (Qur’an, 2:286).
If you stand back and take a look at the whole picture, you will realize that what you have when faced by a tragedy is a choice. Will you go through the stages of grief, denying Allah’s destiny and the wisdom of His plan for you? Or will you realize that what you are going through is something you know you can handle? Whatever trial comes your way is something that Allah has planned and which He has guaranteed you can handle. This ayah is comforting because I, as a faithfulmu’min who believes in Allah and His wisdom, know deep in my heart that although the sadness is cumbersome it will not be overwhelming; that although the times might be tough, I am tougher; and that whatever comes my way will go away; and that eventually I will face my Lord whom, I hope, will be pleased with me as I am pleased with Him.
So when you go through a difficult situation, be it the inevitable death of a loved one or the loss of a job or just a flat tire on the side of the highway, take a deep breath and say:
قُلْ لَنْ يُصِيبَنَا إِلَّا مَا كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَنَا
“Say: ‘Nothing shall ever happen to us except what Allâh has ordained for us…’” (9:51).
Originally Published at VirtualMosque.com
Human Psychology and Salah
As I navigate through my journey of self discovery, I have read books about psychology written by those whom society hails as the greatest of minds. My library is full of books from Greek mythology to modern psychology, the majority of which I haven’t read past the first couple of chapters. The material, however, is often too vague or abstract , and almost always unsatisfactory. Recently through the guidance of Allah, I have discovered more about the inner workings of the human mind and spirit in a different book – the verses of the Qur’an.
Rest assured dear brothers and sisters in Islam that Allah will never leave us alone, bewildered and unguided trying to figure out the path that would lead us to His grace and mercy. And that is why He sent the prophets and the messengers with messages of hope and guidance to lead humanity to the straight path. The Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) was sent to us with the final message intact and complete to help us understand ourselves; by reigning in our desires, we can become logical, spiritual people on the path to paradise insha’Allah.
The Qur’an is rich with examples of how Allah gives us a window into our own minds. He describes to us our nature and gives us tools and examples to improve the goodness that lies within it. One prime example is how Allah in Surah Al-Maarij gives us a glimpse into our nature as humans. He says:
إِنَّ الْإِنْسَانَ خُلِقَ هَلُوعًا
“Indeed, mankind was created anxious…” (70:19)
The word هَلُوعًا comes from the noun هَلُع which means excessiveness and being extreme. Allah explains to us further this state of the human psyche in the two ayahs that follow where man’s reaction to either good or bad is extreme on either end:
إِذَا مَسَّهُ الشَّرُّ جَزُوعًا وَإِذَا مَسَّهُ الْخَيْرُ مَنُوعًا
“When evil touches him, impatient, and when good touches him, withholding [of it]…” (70:20-21)
But neither one of those conditions is consistent with how the Prophet (pbuh) describes a mu’minwhen he says:
“عجبا لأمر المؤمن ، إن أمره كله له خير إن أصابته سراء شكر فكان خير له، وإن أصابته ضراء صبر فكان خير له
”“How wonderful is the case of a believer; there is good for him in everything and this applies only to a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently and that is good for him.” (Muslim)
So how are we to be thankful and patient while we, as Allah tells us, have been created reactionary and impatient? Well, as Allah has created us with this nature, He has also given us the tools to control and direct that nature towards that which pleases Him. And Allah answers this question for us in the very following ayah:
ِنَّ الْإِنْسَانَ خُلِقَ هَلُوعًا إِذَا مَسَّهُ الشَّرُّ جَزُوعًا وَإِذَا مَسَّهُ الْخَيْرُ مَنُوعًا إِلَّا
“Indeed, mankind was created anxious: when evil touches him, impatient, and when good touches him, withholding [of it], except…” (70:19-21)
إِلَّا means except, which implies the verses to follow are excluded from what has already been described.
إِلَّا ……الْمُصَلِّينَ الَّذِينَ هُمْ عَلَى صَلَاتِهِمْ دَائِمُونَ“Except the observers of prayer – those who are constant in their prayer.” (70:22)
Except those who are devoted to prayer. Those who do not let anything deter them, stall them, or prevent them from performing their prayers. They are the ones that Allah has described in Surat An-Nur:
رِجَالٌ لَا تُلْهِيهِمْ تِجَارَةٌ وَلَا بَيْعٌ عَنْ ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَإِقَامِ الصَّلَاةِ وَإِيتَاءِ الزَّكَاةِ ۙ يَخَافُونَ يَوْمًا تَتَقَلَّبُ فِيهِ الْقُلُوبُ وَالْأَبْصَارُ
“…men whom neither commerce nor sale distracts from the remembrance of Allah and performance of prayer and giving of zakah (charity). They fear a Day in which the hearts and eyes will [fearfully] turn about…” (24:37)
We turn toward and meet with our Lord five times a day. We say “Allahu Akbar – God is greatest,” declaring that Allah is above all and that there is nothing that is worth more than being in His company. Prayers are a reflection of the fact that no matter what actions one performs in life, the most important is one’s relationship with Allah.
Prayer is balancing and tranquilizing. If performed properly it will have a lasting effect on the person. After finishing the prayer, the heart will be filled with remembrance of Allah. It will be fearful as well as hopeful of Allah and it will not want to move from such a comfortable position to one where it could disobey Allah. Allah describes this aspect of the prayer in Surah Al-Ankbut:
إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ تَنْهَى عَنِ الْفَحْشَاء وَالْمُنكَرِIndeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing. (29:45)
Prayers grant us such power to strive successfully against all kinds of evils and temptations. It allows us to remain steadfast through trial and adversity, and protects us from wavering too far to either end of the middle and moderate path.
Originally Published at VirtualMosque.com
Da`wah Episodes: Small Town, Maine
I got in my car, plugged the address in my GPS and embarked on a one and a half hour trek. I wasn’t paying attention to the drive, because I was organizing my thoughts on what I was going to say and preparing myself for potential questions. A pastor from a small town in Maine had invited me to come speak to a group of youth about Islam. I live in the heart of Maine, in a city where Muslims make up 0.54% of the population, less than two hundred people. Jews make up 2.5%, and the rest of the population is some type of Christian.
A few minutes later, I was driving on a small highway getting farther away from the major city and deeper into rural America. The houses became fewer as the smell of cow manure grew stronger. As the miles slipped past, the thought crossed my mind – what did I sign up for? I am going into a little town (population 4340, of which 97.55% is white) that has probably never seen the likes of me before. I imagined an angry mob of people blaming me for family members and friends dying in wars fought to prevent the “terrorists” from ruining the freedom of Americans. Automatically, defense mode switched on. Another forty-five minutes went by, and I had arrived.
As I walked through the side door of the church, and went up the stairs into the room where the meeting was being held, I repeated the du`a’ of Musa:
رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِنْ لِسَانِي يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي
O my Lord! Open for me my chest, and ease my task for me, and make loose the knot from my tongue that they understand my speech.
The pastor greeted me and the kids started trickling in. All of a sudden, the lady that helped organize the interfaith event looked at the both of us and said, “Oh no, I forgot. Let’s go outside.” All three of us stepped outside the room and she explained that at every meeting they throw a random question out there and ask the kids to answer with whatever comes to mind. She hadn’t prepared a question this time and asked us to help her come up with one. I said, “How about, when you hear the word Muslim, what do you think?” They loved it and we went back in. The kids were instructed to go around introducing themselves and answer the question, “When you hear the word Muslim, what do you think?”
I braced myself as I sat in front of the firing squad. The first kid began, “My name is Zach and when I hear the word Muslim I think…desert!” The other answers followed:
…and so on. The words I was waiting for – terrorist, war, jihad – did not come up. I introduced myself and started to talk about the five pillars of Islam, explaining one concept after another. Their eyes widened as they hung on my every word.
They asked questions about faith, God, Heaven and Hell. They asked – inquisitively not judgmentally – about why Muslim women dress the way they do. A whole two hours of discussion followed, revolving around faith and what it means to me. As a parting thought, I told them “When you hear something on the news and it doesn’t make sense, chances are…it doesn’t make sense.” I urged them to continue this thirst for knowledge and to seek the truth. As I left the room, one of the girls came up to me asking permission to communicate with me via email. She is heading to college to study religion with a focus on Hinduism, but after listening to me she may want to shift her focus to Islam.
On my drive back, I thought subhanAllah (praise be to God), we blame people for getting caught up in the media hype and the “media’s war on Islam” and yet – sometimes we ourselves get so sucked into it that we get stuck in defense mode. We assume that no one is interested in listening to us speak about our faith. We get caught up in what goes on in the media, thinking that Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are the official voice of America. We corner ourselves constantly looking for justifications for the action of a few and forget that a simple conversation with others can go so far.
The next day, I had to give a lecture about Islam and Muslims on the campus of a neighboring University. I started my talk with, “Today I am here to talk to you about what Islam is – not what it is not.”
Be proud of who you are and don’t let others hijack your religion from you.
Originally Published at VirtualMosque.com
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