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Archive for June, 2017

Signs

I had to fill in this afternoon for a friend’s pre-iftar halaqa. I chose as my topic Surah al-Taghabun. In commenting on the second ayah – “[Allah] created you and from you are disbelievers and from you are believers” – I remarked that all of us living today have to look for signs that we may be true believers (mu’minun). It is not the case that we have access to an infallible leader who tells us exactly what to do, like how the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him and his family) told the archers at Uhud not to abandon their posts. Those of previous generations had to struggle to live up to the demands of following an infallible (ma’sum) directly. Part of our unique struggle is holding onto faith in the face of so many fallible leaders who cannot answer our questions, let alone deliver trustworthy commands. But we are not off the hook, because we still know without a doubt that we must, for example, fast during the month of Ramadan. So when we gather together to reflect on Allah’s Book right before breaking our fast, we can take it as a good sign.

Later on, while reflecting on a portion of the third ayah – “and [Allah] formed you and perfected your forms” – I spent some time reflecting on the physicality of the Garden (al-Jannah). Contrary to other religious traditions, both Sunni and Shi’i theology affirms that our bodies will be recreated in a more exalted form than our current body. Pleasure will be more pleasurable. We will be more beautiful. Our capacities to experience the blessings of God will be far beyond what we are currently capable of. And in reflecting on that, I mentioned that the joy we get when we break our fast is a reminder of the joy we will experience, by God’s Grace (rahma), when we break our fast from this world. For it is normal and natural to want to experience things with our bodies. Food, drink, spending time with friends and family, romantic encounters filled with desire – these are all part of how Allah created us as embodied entities. Our faith teaches us that God’s Bounty (fadl) has no limit, and that what we must avoid in this world is not to make us depressed, but rather to prepare us for eternal enjoyments that our minds literally cannot fathom.

And so when we closed with a du’a, right before breaking our fast, we asked God to grant us all those things. Things that will make us know so deeply and eternally that with God there is no real loss. For the believer there is only gain upon gain.

And so my heart trembled when I opened the Qur’an on this blessed night and read the following words:

Those who were mindful of God are in Gardens and in bliss, rejoicing in their Lord’s gifts: He has saved them from the torment of the Blaze, ‘Eat and drink with healthy enjoyment as a reward for what you have done.’ They are comfortably seated on couches arranged in rows; We pair them with beautiful-eyed maidens; We unite the believers with their offspring who followed them in faith––We do not deny them any of the rewards for their deeds: each person is in pledge for his own deeds––We provide them with any fruit or meat they desire. They pass around a cup which does not lead to any idle talk or sin. Devoted youths like hidden pearls wait on them. They turn to one another and say, ‘When we were still with our families [on earth] we used to live in fear–– God has been gracious to us and saved us from the torment of intense heat- We used to pray to Him: He is the Good, the Merciful One.’ (al-Tur, 17-28)

We look for signs, and when we receive them, we are grateful for the God who reminds us that our prayers are heard. I am not sure I can think of a more vivid and concise portion of the Qur’an that expresses what I was speaking about earlier tonight. For I had even mentioned that fear – the feeling that how can things truly work out when in human history so many righteous people suffer and so many tyrants prosper. And so I reflected for a bit on the example of Imam Husayn, upon him peace. He reminds us that even if you have to watch most of your family die at the hands of other Muslims shouting out “Allahu akbar” – a tragically common occurrence these days – there is nothing that can keep us from the promise of Allah. If someone is prevented by their oppressors even from the simple joy of drinking water, know that the Divine banquet on the other side of the veil has neither limit nor end. If a cruel and callous world cannot find the money to keep millions from starving to death while the overlords of Makkah and Madinah spend billions on weapons, then surely the God of Justice will provide whatever food and drink people longed for that they were denied in this world by the injustice of humanity.

These signs are essential, but they are no guarantee. The road ahead may be long, so we must continue to strive as best we can. But we hope and pray on this blessed 27th night of Ramadan that we can join Imam Husayn by Allah’s Mercy. That even though there are times when we don’t feel strong enough to be like Hurr, a wind of Divine mercy will blow at our backs and carry us, despite our weakness, to the joyful triumph. For then fear and sadness will be no more, and we can be those who look back and say: “We used to pray to Him: He is the Good, the Merciful One.”

ala-ina-awliya-Allah

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النظر إلى علي عبادة

“Looking at ‘Ali is worship.” (al-Mustadrak)

 

It is the night of the 19th of the month of Ramadan, a blessed night.

The shaykh had us collectively ask God for forgiveness, and my heart burned as I thought of how little I follow the example of Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, upon him peace. Afterward, I read my poem “The Eyes of Ali” to all those gathered. We heard stories of the generosity of the Commander of the Faithful. How he served a widow in need and showed compassion to her orphans. How he has been called “The Voice of Human Justice” even by those who are not Muslim. And how he walked the streets of Kufa in the hot sun looking for people to feed.

I was struck by that story, for it was said that he looked to the heavens and proclaimed, “God, bear witness that I did everything I could to make sure the people were fed.” He went out of his way to address the needs of others and make sure people received their rights. No wonder those who make light of injustice fear the constant mention of Abu al-Hasan.

I was reminded of this hadith of his great great grandson Imam al-Sadiq, upon him peace:

Allah, the Most Powerful and High, certainly made in the wealth of the rich an adequate share for the poor, and if it was not so He would certainly make their share greater. If they are needy, it is because some of the rich refuse to give them their share.

For earlier today, I was talking with a friend about her various health care needs. We talked about how hard it is when one loses physical and mental capacity while not having the financial resources to receive quality care. In the process I quoted the following hadith qudsi of the Prophet, upon him and his family blessings and peace:

Allah said, “If I deprive my slave of his two beloved things (i.e., his eyes) and he remains patient, I will let him enter Paradise in compensation for them.”

I said that I fear losing my eyesight, as I love my eyes very deeply. I know viscerally that there is nothing I can do to show true gratitude for the blessing of my eyes that I have enjoyed all my life. And yet, if Allah were to take my sight away from me, I know it would not be an injustice done to me, as much as it would be greater than any tribulation I have faced so far in my life.

Then, later in the night after the gathering for Imam ‘Ali was concluded, I saw another friend who is studying optometry. I recounted the story of my conversation during the day. She replied by saying something that shook me to the core. She said, “it is so heartbreaking to see the injustice though, of poor people who know they are going to go blind from glaucoma because they cannot afford the eye drops they need.” While she works in one of the richest cities on Earth, there are people that have to face preventable blindness. She said they give them as many free samples as possible, but after that do not know what to do.

When I left to walk to home, all of this rattled around in my head and heart, and I found myself hearing the voice of God within.

What are you going to do about it, David?

For there are so many times when we face a problem, and we don’t know what to do. We know we don’t have the time, or the money, or the skills. But in this instance, as hard as it may be, I know that it is not impossible. It is not impossible to ensure that nobody in the United States of America goes blind from glaucoma simply because they cannot afford eye drops. If the Commander of the Faithful can walk in the hot sun to make sure no one goes hungry, then the least I can do is try in some small way to follow in his footsteps. Insha’Allah.

Sometimes, the signs are just too many to ignore. I wrote this out to remind myself that a hujja (moral proof) has been established in my heart and I cannot turn away.

Please pray for me, that Allah accepts this intention, and grants me the facilitation (tawfiq) to achieve this goal, and grants ease and recovery to all those suffering from conditions that could be treated if we were people who truly gave their share.

imam_ali_2_by_islamic_shia_artists

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Muhammad is only a messenger before whom many messengers have been and gone. If he died or was killed, would you revert to your old ways? If anyone did so, he would not harm God in the least. God will reward the grateful. (3.144)

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Dear Messenger of God

May the peace and blessings of God be upon you and your family

I am longing for you

In this night my heart sinks at the memory of how far away I am from you

It is not that I want to revert to my old ways

As there is so much for which to be grateful

But is it okay to simply say that I wish I could see you

I wish I could hear you

I wish I could walk beside you

For when my friend spoke of you

He spoke of the love that is both a means and an end

And every day I take the means that you called us to take

Like fasting

Like prayer

Like avoiding the forbidden

But there is a place in my heart whose end is simply your face

The face of the man who has changed my life more than any other

The face that God chose for you

And I yearn to see that face

for no other reason than my love for you

My Messenger

My Prophet

My Master

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The Qur’an is about change. It is a testimony of the myriad changes that the prophetic community went through from 610-632. I have been thinking a lot recently about one line:

وَمَا كَانَ اللَّهُ لِيُضِيعَ إِيمَانَكُمْ

This is translated by Taqi Usmani as “Allah will not allow your faith go to waste.” This comes in the context of the change of qibla (direction of prayer) from Jerusalem to Makkah. God is letting the faithful know that their old ritual prayers facing north (from Madinah) are not invalidated, even though now they have to face south towards the Ka’ba for their prayers to count.

For we don’t only change from one religion to another, as I did. We also change within a single religion. Individuals who once promoted the exoteric delve into the esoteric. Communities that once adhered to one school of thought switch to another. Orthodoxies become heterodoxies and vice versa. In short, maybe you pray north for awhile, but then you realize you have to pray south from now on.

I myself have gone through numerous changes in the almost 18 years I have been a Muslim. Some have been very personal and intimate, others have been related to my sense of connection to the global Ummah. Some have been doctrinal and others have been practical. But along the way I have been guided by a feeling at the heart of my faith:

God is fair and understands I’m trying

If what I am doing now is different from what I was doing 10 years ago, that is okay because God was watching me then and God is still watching me today. I am not the same, nor is the world the same. If I change what I think, it is (hopefully) because I am trying to get closer to the Truth. In that regard, each day is a new adventure.

Many years ago I had a choice to make and didn’t know which one was the right one. But I knew that it wasn’t the choice that mattered; rather, it was the change I was hoping to bring forth in my life that was foremost in my mind. I looked for something to help me find clarity, and stumbled serendipitously across the following page:

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It said everything I wanted to say, and I have been saying it ever since.

This prayer is all about change. But why do we usually change? For material success? For a lover? For fun? As far as I can tell, the greatest changes of our lives are the ones we make on the road back home to God, and this prayer points the way. Change in our religious life is most central, but so is having a sound material life through which we can live religiously. Death ultimately is the greatest change, and each change we make while we are still alive is movement towards embracing that final end.

I highlight this prayer because we don’t just face life’s challenges by ourselves and for ourselves. We are not alone, so we do it with God in our corner. It is a shared process where we recognize the human condition and the necessity of choosing, but we simultaneously ask God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Only God can “make my life a source of increase in all good, and make my death a refuge from every evil.”

Ultimately, there is no guarantee we get it right most of the time, and we still live between hope and fear. But at the end of the day, the God to whom we are praying for help is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy (arham al-rahimin).

I don’t know anything else in this universe that I can rely upon more than that.

 

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