Archive for March, 2008

life is beautiful

“If this is all there is, Dave, then hold on to each moment of it with every ounce of your being.”

I loved life when I was younger. The world was so alive then, and I with it. But with each success, with each reaffirmation of my serendipitous good fortune, and with each painful challenge overcome, I began to want more.

For whatever reason, religion seemed to be the path to that “more.” And so I plunged into its depths, ever the window shopper. “Yes, I want more,” I told myself, “but not if it is not true.” I can feel the intoxicating warmth of a body next to mine, I can run through the dimly-lit streets at night with my friends, I can see somebody strum a guitar and feel my heart move accordingly. As a friend of yesteryear would one day write, “Say a prayer, but let the good times roll, in case God doesn’t show.” (may God grant him the most abundant blessings of this life and next, ameen)

“If this is all there is, Dave, then hold on to each moment of it with every ounce of your being.”

I was able to dismiss much of religion as a human construction, but there were things which, in their turn, challenged me. When that happened, my grip on what I knew, what I loved, would tighten. One of my greatest fears became the idea that I would trade the bounties of life for a lie. Only on my deathbed would I feel the pain of what I had missed, and by then it would be too late. Nothingness would come.

But after years of psychological, sociological, and philosophical due diligence, I came to believe that Islam was the truest way of understanding existence. I reached a point where I could not not be Muslim.

As the years went by as a Muslim, I struggled. It was much harder than I thought it would be, and my life before Islam became so shiningly idyllic, like the ever longed for Rosebud. Without even realizing it, I built up layers of resentment at my chosen faith. I felt like I had to just toil, and that was it. If it was God or the world, then how could I not choose God, even if it felt like it was making my life miserable? To do otherwise would just be to act in bad faith.

At a certain point, I found myself making prayers like, “Dear God, if You are pleased with me, and I can be with You, then please take my life now.” I made my choice then, and let go of everything I had been trying so hard to hold on to. When it didn’t happen, I thought, “Well, what now?” Ultimately, only God can decide those matters, so I just tried to do something worthwhile with my time here. I continued forward as best I knew how.

“If this is all there is, Dave, then hold on to each moment of it with every ounce of your being.”

But the thing about the world is that it is attractive and we get wrapped up in it. At first, we can show some restraint. But with each passing attachment, with each seductive opportunity passed by, we start to give in to her charms. I prayed for God to fill me up with something that would help me to deal with these trials.

He did, and God deserves all praise. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. The choice is not between this world and God. The choice is between what we think this world is, and what it actually is. The snow encased branches of New Hampshire trees, the strains of melody that reach inside us, the comfort of the ones we love – all are more beautiful than we could ever have imagined, because they all reflect the Beauty of the One whose Beauty surpasses all. My heart has grown so much wider, as it expands to contain the love I feel for where God has placed me. How wrong I was. How blind I was. I am lost in the embrace of the Most Merciful, and I hope He never lets me go.

My dearest love, let me never again put anything above You. Let me live in a way that will please You. Let me never abandon You when things get tough. Take my hands, feet, eyes, and ears and turn them towards that which You want for us, and away from that which You do not want for us. Protect me from ever causing mischief on this earth, and allow me to celebrate Your praise and proclaim Your holiness, in this world and the next! And please forgive me when I make mistakes or am selfish, which will happen, but let me always return to You, with the hope that You will take me back. When we show up at Your door with tears in our eyes, you never let us stay outside in the rain, but rather bring us into the warmth and comfort of Your love.

If being in this world is better for me, then cause me to remain, and if being in the next is better, than cause me to leave. I am your slave.

“Hold on to this, Dave, with all your being, because there is so much more. So much more than you ever imagined.”

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I remember sitting in Amman, pouring my heart out to a person patient enough to listen. I would ramble on and on about my “struggles,” and he would always respond in such a compassionate way. The truth is, I never wanted those moments to end. He elevated my state, reminded me of Allah, and helped me figure out where I had been and where I should go. But the goodbyes always came, as they always do.

Imam Zaid Shakir and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf remark in their recent book, Agenda to Change Our Condition: “The path of God is indeed arduous, and it would appear to one looking at it that treading it is too difficult for most of us. Let us set out first and then see how long we can last. A Divine wind will blow on your back, your feet will become light, and wondrous fellow wayfarers will show up with sustenance just when you thought you had none.”

How true.

We are all on a journey, and sometimes our paths cross in unexpected ways. We find relief, insight, comfort, guidance, support and so many other benefits through the amazing people God brings into our life. Yet while God allows us to get what we need from each other, our meeting is always too brief.

Two very important companions on my journey have already reached the destination. They both gave me so much, and I hope I gave them something valuable in return. Oftentimes, when I finish reading from the mushaf, I ask God to send the rewards from my recitation to them (a practice known as isal al-thawab). I hope that when I leave this world, somebody whose path I crossed for a while does the same for me. But mostly, I hope that one day we will all be together, and we won’t have to say goodbye anymore.

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Human Diamonds

My parents have often said to me, “Are you contemplating the eternal verities again?” It is a sweet reminder to not get too lost in contemplation, in books, or in oneself, and thus let other blessings of life pass by unnoticed. Sometimes I think I have wasted valuable time in thought, but at other times, the fruit of reflection has been priceless, a gift from the Giver.

There are many truths to be learned, and many ways to say them, but at this moment I want to focus on one.

In the Disney movie “Aladdin” (which my mom bought for me many years ago for my birthday), the main character Aladdin is called the “diamond in the rough.” The central moment when we learn about why he is called this is as follows. Aladdin, a poor youth, is homeless and hungry, and so he steals a loaf of bread from the marketplace. The police chase after him, but he evades them after great exertion. Finally, he is alone with his bread, when all of a sudden, two meek homeless children appear, clearly in great need of food. Aladdin struggles with himself for a moment, and yet quickly decides that he should give them the bread. The faces of the two kids light up with joy.

In my own life, I have seen diamonds. I have many fond memories of camping throughout the Northeast and Canada (thanks to Keewaydin camp in Vermont). Our motto was “Help the Other Fellow.” We were taught to overlook our own needs, and think of others before ourselves. I remember being on long camping trips when there was never enough food to go around, and if there was enough for seconds, everybody wanted it. Other times, there were dirty and painful chores to be done, which everyone avoided. In those moments, the diamonds began to shine. Certain people would carry the extra weight. They would forgo extra food, so that someone else could enjoy it. It was beautiful and awe-inspiring.

But this path leads us ever deeper. There are many questions we can ask of ourselves. How often do we argue a point just for the sake of hearing ourselves come out on top? How often do we choose sleep instead of the morning prayer? How often do we just plain admit we were wrong before something negative happened to us as a consequence of something we did, said, or choose? Not very often, unfortunately.

When we look inside, we realize that our own souls are one of our greatest enemies in this life. They lead us into divorce, into bankruptcy, into jail, and many other places we don’t want to be. Oftentimes, we look for external causes, but almost always, if we get real with ourselves, we realize we have none but ourselves to blame.

Once, one of the early Muslims was making fervent supplication near the Ka’ba. Someone overhead him repeating over and over again, “Dear God, save me from the greed of my own soul (Allahumma qini shuhha nafsi)!” Later, the one who overheard him asked him why he made that prayer, to which he responded, “If God saves me from the greed of my own soul, I will be able to accomplish everything. I will worship God in the best of manners, and I will give all of creation its due rights.”

Dear God, please save us all from the greed of our own souls. Amen.

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A Mercy Case

I used to write. Then I stopped. Now I feel the urge once again. I seek to write things for which God will reward me, and I seek to write things that will be of benefit to others. I seek to remind and to be reminded. My success in this depends on God, in Him do I trust, and to Him do I turn.

Know, at the beginning, that I am just as in need as anyone else. I have many faults, some manifest, others hidden to all except the Knower of that which is in the heart. Please make a prayer to the Forgiving that He forgive me for every way in which I fall short. Thank you.

One of the reasons we love the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) is based on the belief that he did not speak out of selfishness, nor out of ignorance. When he spoke, he had our best interests at heart. I hope to be able to do the same, and I seek the protection of God from doing otherwise. Muslim scholars often say that the words of the learned and righteous are a commentary on the Qur’an and the Sunnah. I hope my words can reach such a lofty rank. I fear my words will come across as the ramblings of an ignorant and sinful man.

Guidance can sometimes come from the most unexpected of places. The inspiration to write came from a chance encounter a week ago, and the title of this endeavor came from a phrase used by a friend of mine who is not a Muslim. Wherever we turn, God is there, no matter how often we forget.

Ultimately, people are in need, and God is the Provider. He has given me so much, through the amazing gifts of the people in my life. My family, my friends, and my teachers are deserving of abundant thanks. If I can contribute anything from here on out, it is surely due to all of their good influences. I hope that I can give you, the reader, something worthwhile. I wish for all of you the same things I wish for myself, the foremost of which is the mercy of our Lord.

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