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Archive for the ‘Ahl al-Bayt’ Category

Written for the 2nd Annual ICNYU Grand Mawlid

***

بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم

اللهم صل على محمد وآل محمد

السلام عليك يا رسول الله

my dear beloved Prophet

ّI was asked to write something for your birthday

how can a man like me speak about a man like you

the day you were born the heavens rejoiced

‘here is the greatest of creation

the culmination of all prophetic realities

after whom there will be no other’

whereas the day our mothers bore us

was just a day amidst other days

 

it is my honor to speak to you

to address you as our Prophet

may blessings and peace be upon you and your family

even though we have never seen you

for the last time we gathered here

one of your servants spoke of love

a love that comes spontaneously

because of the perfection of the beloved

and for a moment

he asked us to imagine that you walked into the room

 

my Lord!

 

all my life would not be equal

to the first moment my eyes were graced with beholding you

 

yā Rasūl Allāh

yā Ḥabīb Allāh

yā Muḥammad al-Muṣṭafā

 

I pray that blessings be showered upon you and your family

to the number of all things that Allah has created

from the first moment that time began throughout all contingent eternity

in every moment that you are denigrated by those who do not believe in you

and every moment you are disrespected by those who are not humble before you

and every moment you are forgotten by those who obey you

and in every moment of reverence filling the hearts of those who love you

 

our Prophet

pray for our forgiveness!

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن رَّسُولٍ إِلَّا لِيُطَاعَ بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ إِذ ظَّلَمُوا أَنفُسَهُمْ جَاءُوكَ فَاسْتَغْفَرُوا اللَّهَ وَاسْتَغْفَرَ لَهُمُ الرَّسُولُ لَوَجَدُوا اللَّهَ تَوَّابًا رَّحِيمًا

We did not send any apostle but to be obeyed by Allah’s leave. Had they, when they wronged themselves, come to you and pleaded to Allah for forgiveness, and the Apostle had pleaded for forgiveness for them, they would have surely found Allah all-clement, all-merciful.

we are all in need of forgiveness

every single one of us!

and sin is nothing other than falling short of your perfection

as a worshipper of God

and a servant to God’s creation

and so who better to lift us up towards a higher state

than you

 

from sin to obedience

from obedience to cautiousness

from cautiousness to detachment

from detachment to never forgetting our Lord

 

steps and stairs and stations

pathways of ascent

to drops from oceans

gathered in you

 

your perfection is not increased by our obedience

it was there before we were born

and will remain after we are buried in the ground

so come to us

in our graves

if the darkness of our hearts should make us fear there

then by the light of your presence give us hope

for every prayer we make in New York City

every fast we undertake during 2017

every American dollar we give as zakat, khums, and sadaqa

every turning away from something haram

every attempt to understand and act upon ethical ideals

every whispered prayer of longing hope to our Creator

is nothing but us collectively expressing

that we want to be like you

 

and so we gather to remember you

to talk to you

to speak about you

and to imagine what it would be like

if you walked in the door

and the tears began to pour

and our hearts burst inside our chests

as we became lost in a love

greater than what we feel for our parents

our spouses

our children

and even our own selves

اللهم صل على محمد وآل محمد

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The following du’a from al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiya has become one of the defining texts of my faith over the last year. It expresses better than anything else I know a fundamental spiritual truth that helps us to understand the world and the God Who created it. Essentially, it is about the limits of thankfulness (shukr). On a day when Americans are supposed to be in a state of thanksgiving, I thought it would be beneficial to share it.

 

The English translation by Dr. William Chittick is as follows:

O God, 
no one reaches a limit in thanking Thee 
without acquiring that of Thy beneficence 
which enjoins upon him thanksgiving, 

nor does anyone reach a degree in obeying Thee, 
even if he strives, 
without falling short of what Thou deservest 
because of Thy bounty. 

The most thankful of Thy servants 
has not the capacity to thank Thee, 
and the most worshipful of them 
falls short of obeying Thee. 

To none of them is due 
Thy forgiveness through what he himself describes 
or Thy good pleasure for his own merit. 

When Thou forgivest someone,
it is through Thy graciousness, 
and when Thou art pleased with someone, 
it is through Thy bounty. 

Thou showest gratitude 
for the paltry for which Thou showest gratitude 
and Thou rewardest 
the small act in which Thou art obeyed, 
so that it looks as if Thy servants’ thanksgiving 
for which Thou hast made their pledge their reward 
and made great their repayment 
is an affair from which they could have held back without Thee, 
and since Thou wilt recompense them, 
and who cause is not in Thy hand, 
and then Thou wilt repay them.

Nay, my God, Thou hadst power over their affair 
before they had power to worship Thee, 
and Thou hadst prepared their reward 
before they began to obey Thee; 
and that because Thy wont is bestowal of bounty, 
Thy custom beneficence, 
Thy way pardon. 

So all creatures confess 
that Thou wrong not him whom Thou punishest 
and bear witness 
that Thou bestowest bounty upon him whom Thou pardonest. 
Each admits that he has fallen short of what Thou meritest. 

Had Satan not misled them from Thy obedience, 
no disobeyer would have disobeyed Thee,
and had he not shown falsehood to them in the likeness of truth 
no strayer would have gone astray from Thy path. 

So glory be to Thee! 
How manifest is Thy generosity 
in dealing with him who obeys or disobeys Thee! 
Thou showest gratitude to the obedient 
for that which Thou undertakest for him, 
and Thou grantest a reply to the disobedient 
in that within which Thou art able to hurry him. 

Thou givest to each of them 
that which is not his due, 
and Thou bestowest bounty upon each 
in that wherein his works fall short. 

Wert Thou to counterbalance for the obedient servant
that which Thou Thyself hadst undertaken, 
he would be on the point of losing Thy reward 
and seeing the end of Thy favor, 
but through Thy generosity Thou hast repaid him 
for a short, perishing term 
with a long, everlasting term, 
and for a near, vanishing limit 
with an extended, abiding limit. 

Then Thou dost not visit him with a settling of accounts 
for Thy provision through which he gained strength to obey Thee, 
nor dost Thou force him to make reckonings 
for the organs he employed 
to find the means to Thy forgiveness. 
Wert Thou to do that to him,
it would take away 
everything for which he had worked 
and all where he had exerted himself 
as repayment for the smallest of Thy benefits 
and kindnesses, 
and he would remain a bride before Thee 
for Thy other favors. 
So how can he deserve something of Thy reward? 
Indeed, how? 

This, my God, is the state of him who obeys Thee 
and the path of him who worships Thee. 
But as for him who disobeys Thy command 
and goes against Thy prohibition, 
Thou dost not hurry him to Thy vengeance, 
so that he may seek to replace 
his state in disobeying Thee
with the state of turning back to obey Thee, 
although he deserved from the time he set out to disobey Thee 
every punishment which Thou hast prepared 
for all Thy creatures. 

Through each chastisement 
which Thou hast kept back from him 
and each penalty of Thy vengeance and Thy punishment 
which Thou hast delayed from him, 
Thou hast avoided from Thy right 
and shown good pleasure 
in place of what Thou hast made obligatory. 

So who is more generous, my God, than Thou? 
And who is more wretched than he who perishes 
in spite of Thee? 
Indeed, who?
Thou art too blessed to be described 
by any but beneficence 
and too generous for any but justice 
to be feared from Thee! 
There is no dread that Thou wilt be unjust 
toward him who disobeys Thee, 
nor any fear of Thy neglecting to reward 
him who satisfies Thee. 

So bless Muhammad and his household , 
give me my hope, 
and increase me in that of Thy guidance 
through which I may be successful in my works! 
Surely Thou art All-kind, Generous.

اللهم صل على محمد و آل محمد

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I am afraid to write these words. Words mean very little. Realities are what matter. I know I can write the words, but can I live the reality?

According to the world population clock, there are currently over 7.5 billion human souls in bodies on Earth. That number increases every day. The world population is divided up amongst the 193 member nations of the UN. Almost 1.4 billions souls in the People’s Republic of China. A little over 323 million in my own country, the United States of America.

And yet, there are approximately 10,000,000 who are not given a home within this system.

I would not have faced this reality without the current media coverage about the genocide of the Rohingya. Where are hundreds of thousands of people going to go after being gang raped, watching their family members shot before their eyes, and losing everything as the Burmese military burns entire villages to the ground? The People’s Republic of Bangladesh, The Kingdom of Thailand, and The Federation of Malaysia – three nearby nations with significant Rohingya refugee populations – have not offered to make them citizens. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have not offered them asylum, even as they vie to be “leaders” of the Muslim world.

Alhamdulillah, for all of my country’s flaws, over 5000 have been welcomed here. They have even established a small community organization in Chicago, my hometown, where they are mobilizing on behalf of those abroad. Insha’Allah, more of them will come in the years ahead. It is my duty to be of service to them in whatever way I can. Those who have made it here are best poised to help their friends and relatives, whom they will never forget for the rest of their lives, long after the world forgets them. I cannot change the world, but I can intend to change my self for the sake of Allah by committing to assist them.

It is reported in Sunni hadith collections that the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him and his family, said:

ازْهَدْ فِي الدُّنْيَا يُحِبَّك اللهُ، وَازْهَدْ فِيمَا عِنْدَ النَّاسِ يُحِبَّك النَّاسُ

Be unattached to the world and Allah will love you. Be unattached to what other people have, and people will love you.

And it is reported in Shi’i sources something similar:

إِرْغَبْ فِيمَا عِنْدَ اللٌّهِ يُحِبُّكَ اللٌّهُ، وَ ازْهَدْ مَا فِي أَيْدِي النَّاسِ يُحِبُّكَ النَّاسُ

Actively seek that which is in the presence of Allah so that Allah will love you; keep away from that which is in the hands of the people so that the people will have love for you.

The word that is translated as “being unattached” or “keeping away from” is zuhd (زهد). Now is the time when zuhd must become central to our lives. To give up our need for this world and what other people have, because there are so many who literally have nothing but memories of their loved ones’ brutal deaths. This world is already a dystopia, and the only way we make it livable is to be people of zuhd. The vast majority of Rohingya have nowhere to go simply because no one is willing to take them in and share with them what they have. The Qur’an speaks directly of this spiritual challenge in Surah al-Balad:

فَلَا اقْتَحَمَ الْعَقَبَةَ

وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا الْعَقَبَةُ

فَكُّ رَقَبَةٍ

أَوْ إِطْعَامٌ فِي يَوْمٍ ذِي مَسْغَبَةٍ

يَتِيمًا ذَا مَقْرَبَةٍ

أَوْ مِسْكِينًا ذَا مَتْرَبَةٍ

Yet he has not embarked upon the uphill task. And what will show you what is the uphill task? [It is] the freeing of a slave, or feeding [the needy] on a day of starvation, or an orphan among relatives, or a needy man in desolation,

If it is a “day of starvation,” most likely you are hungry too. It is not easy to share what you have in such a situation. But that is what we must do. It is not a false ideal – it is a Qur’anic description of the righteous.

I have met no scholar nor activist nor mystic yet who is more worthy of the decent life they are already living than the Rohingya that are mentioned in the news stories. This includes myself – God may ask me at any moment about the luxury that I drown in every day. The only way forward is to do something – to recognize that whoever you are, God may ask you about the Rohingya and what you did once you knew. As Imam Khalid Latif said the other night at NYU after returning from Bangladesh, “The world is killing these people. We are killing these people.” I know Khalid personally, and I know that he traveled halfway across the world to raise money for relief aid because it deeply pains him that this tragedy can happen. Ali Yusufali from the Orlando area has been there multiple times, and his organization Comfort Aid International is taking responsibility for 100 orphans for the next two years in addition to providing emergency aid. I learned that an old friend, Dr. Imran Akbar, has already been working with the Rohingya in Chicago, and even traveled to Bangladesh to set up a medical clinic and connect with some of the relatives there of those who have made it to Chicago.

This is the inspiration we all need – to know that serving other people that you never knew before on the other side of the world is not only possible, but something we must do. To use one’s privileges in the service of others, as opposed to the service of one’s self. To give up our worries about what my job will be, who my spouse will be, who my friends are, where will live, and every other manifestation of the ego that keeps us from reaching states and stations more like our spiritual exemplars, upon them peace. Could we imagine Musa, upon him peace, going on with his life while this is happening? Could we imagine ‘Isa, upon him peace, saying that it was acceptable to just give a few dollars and then go back to thinking that the world is okay?

Sure, we all want things. I want so much, I could live “a thousand lives” on this Earth before getting bored. I even dream about lives in space. But maybe in a world where a storefront community center is trying to stop the genocide of hundreds of thousands, we need to stop thinking about what we want and instead reorient our lives to think about what we can give. That is how we might attain something of zuhd, as an attempt at an adequate response to a world that abandons so many.

The Generous has granted us so much. The Earth is full of land and resources. But our short-sighted selfishness has turned it into a nightmare for millions.

ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

Corruption has flourished on land and sea as a result of people’s actions and He will make them taste the consequences of some of their own actions so that they may turn back

Knowing what is happening is a catalyst for repentance. If it hurts you to look at the pictures and hear the stories of the Rohingya, then imagine how much harder it is to endure what is actually happening. Consider Rajuma. The journalist who interviewed her stated, “So I started thinking: If we don’t cover this, that’s even worse. That would be a further injustice, a further insult to the Rohingya’s humanity. It would be like telling Rajuma that the world couldn’t be bothered about what she suffered.” And this was how he described his encounter with her:

But as she reached the end of her horrible testimony, Rajuma broke down.

“I can’t explain how hard it hurts,” she said, tears rolling off her cheeks, “to no longer hear my son call me ma.”

She hunched over on a plastic stool in another family’s hut, covered her mouth with a red veil and started sobbing so hard she could barely breathe.

Every thing I have ever learned in my life about empathy, both personally and professionally as a chaplain, is being put to the test. Every word I have written on this blog is coming to the fore.  The sincerity of my search to be on the side of the Just and Merciful is on the line, and my standing before the Judge is right before my eyes. But the whole point is that it is not about me. It is about Rajuma. It is about Nasir. It is about the tens of thousands of Rohingya living in Karachi without official recognition. It is about all the unique souls with a name and story, most of which I will never know.

But I want to know. And I want to help. I am taking steps, and maybe these words are just a small step that will lead to something greater. Maybe I will be able to live these realities as opposed to just talking about them. So that maybe, just maybe, the Divine Justice that is in wait for allowing this corruption to flourish will spare me because I “turned back.” And perhaps, the Guide will connect me with those about whom these verses were revealed:

وَيُطْعِمُونَ الطَّعَامَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ مِسْكِينًا وَيَتِيمًا وَأَسِيرًا

إِنَّمَا نُطْعِمُكُمْ لِوَجْهِ اللَّهِ لَا نُرِيدُ مِنكُمْ جَزَاءً وَلَا شُكُورًا

إِنَّا نَخَافُ مِن رَّبِّنَا يَوْمًا عَبُوسًا قَمْطَرِيرًا

فَوَقَاهُمُ اللَّهُ شَرَّ ذَ‌ٰلِكَ الْيَوْمِ وَلَقَّاهُمْ نَضْرَةً وَسُرُورًا

They give food, for the love of Him, to the needy, the orphan and the prisoner saying, ‘We feed you only for the sake of Allah. We do not want any reward from you nor any thanks. Indeed we fear from our Lord a day, frowning and fateful.’ So Allah saved them from the ills of that day, and granted them freshness and joy.

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farewell

when i was young

and the world was new

i was filled with joy

at everything i could do

 

the spring brought rain

and in summer felt sun

i could dance, i could laugh

i could swim, i could run

 

but at times i would feel

a piercing cold wind blow

and wonder in my heart

about those below

 

i approached an adult

with a question in my heart

“what happens when we die?”

and the fear began to start

 

they said they did not know

and about this we do not think

there is so much to enjoy

to eat, to touch, to drink

 

but as the years passed

that fear began to creep

in the darkness of the night

when you cannot sleep

 

the blinding of the I

the ending of the me

the world will go on

and nowhere i shall be

 

but then there came a man

whose name was al-Mustafa

who said in death is life

nothing to fear at all

 

only One should be feared

who gave you life at first

who satisfies your hunger

and takes away your thirst

 

if you walk in His way

you will never be alone

even in your grave

angels will come to bring you home

 

and for years I walked with Him

and He blessed me with a son

hoping to see him safe

until my life is done

 

but then the One he told me

about the son of al-Husayn

and learned that I know nothing

of tragedy and pain

 

in ancient sands, under burning skies

death was all around

body upon bloody body

sinking into the ground

 

if i had looked when i was young

only despair would i have seen

unable to bear history’s oppression

what could this possibly mean

 

but for the sake of Truth and Justice

this precious one did die

lying in his father’s lap

looking into the sky

 

“my grandfather is coming

to quench my bitter thirst

come join us soon, my father

as I take the journey first”

 

to a place beyond sadness

where dreams are reality

manifest by the One who made us

and everything you see

 

the One who crafted imagination

and the heights of the human soul

from nothing came all of this

and everything we know

 

But ‘Ali al-Akbar could see

something that we cannot

a sacred drop from Heaven’s rain

that brings forth tears that do not stop

 

for the love of al-Mustafa

with trust in the All-Mighty One

Husayn let his oldest son die

certain that Heaven he had won

 

for this life will end, there is no doubt

and we will all face the final test

but can we watch our little one die

the one we had held to our chest

 

can we let go of our hopes and dreams

and still know that Allah is there

can we undergo life’s crushing trials

and still believe He cares

 

well I say to the world and all who will hear

Husayn faced more than we know

yet he never backed down and never gave up

for he knew where we all will go

 

it is better to live a moment for God

than to spend a lifetime clinging to Earth

better to know one’s precious soul

the source of the human’s worth

 

better to fear Justice’s wrath

and hope in Mercy’s embrace

to let go of our tight grasp upon this life

and seek out our Master’s face

 

to seek for the beauty of a boy who stood tall

and made his grandfather proud

the reflection of the greatest of Allah’s creation

whose battle cry he shouted out loud

 

“Do you know who I am, by the Ka’ba’s Lord

I am the son of Husayn and ‘Ali

I will strike you down with the sharpest of swords

so come face this young Hashimi!”

 

and with that I lost the fear of my youth

a poison that destroys any heart

for the call of Husayn is that we cannot die

even if our body is torn apart

 

the One who made the man you see

from a single drop of fluid despised

will create me again and make me stand

under dark and foreboding skies

 

the pregnant will forget the child she has

the friend will turn into foe

and the result of our lives will be revealed

the truth of existence we will know

 

we will see it all with our very eyes

the veil will finally be gone

and on the Day we face that test

our tears will help us along

 

these tears we shed are not in vain

they are our soul longing to be free

yearning for our everlasting home

where with our Imam we can be

 

by the Grace and Mercy of the One

Each of us has a choice

and the best advice I can give to you

is listen for ‘Ali al-Akbar’s voice

 

listen to him calling you

repeating, “there is nothing to fear”

for my father and I are waiting for you

and the end of the journey is near

 

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trying to speak to God

Last night, I felt so close to God that I felt like I was not real – a fading shadow, soon gone from the world. For hours, I was trying to put into words what I was feeling, but nothing felt adequate. Then I read the words attributed to Imam al-Sajjad, upon him peace, and they expressed it better than I ever could.

 

O God,

if You will

You will pardon us through Your bounty

and if You will,

You will chastise us through Your justice.

So make our ways smooth to Your pardon through Your kindness

and grant us sanctuary from Your chastisement through Your forbearance,

for none of us has the endurance for Your justice

and none of us can reach deliverance without Your pardon!

O Richest of the rich!

Here we are, Your servants, before You.

I am the neediest of the needy toward You,

so redress our neediness through Your plenty

and cut us not off from our hopes through Your withholding,

lest You make wretched him who seeks felicity through You

and deprive him who seeks help from Your bounty!

Then to whom would we return after You?

Where would we go from Your gate?

Glory be to You!

We are the distressed,

the response to whom You have made incumbent,

the people from whom You have promised to remove evil

That thing most resembling Your will

and that affair most worthy for You in Your mightiness

is showing mercy to him who asks You for mercy

and helping him who seeks help from You.

So show mercy upon our pleading with You

and free us from need when we throw ourselves before You!

O God,

Satan will gloat over us if we follow him in disobeying You,

so bless Muhammad and his Household

and let him not gloat over us after we have renounced him for You

and beseeched You against him!

 

[modified translation of du’a #10 from al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiya]

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What were you thinking

my Imam

upon you peace

when you last looked at the House of God

 

Did you think of your forefather Abraham

hands worn from work

looking at the completed structure

praying for the future

 

Did you think of your great grandfather Abu Talib

sweating under the blazing sun

boycotted while the Banu Umayya

relaxed in its shade

 

Did you think of your grandfather

the blessed Messenger of God

blessings and peace upon him and his family

making tawaf in his farewell pilgrimage

and wonder how things had come to this

 

Did you think of your father ‘Ali

born inside its sacred walls

murdered in a mihrab

in faraway Kufa

 

Was the House of God

my Imam

a reminder of your family

of what had passed

and what was yet to come

 

Did you leave that blessed place

– even though you had more right to it than anyone –

because of the God who made it sacred

knowing that those who pursued you

had no shame

 

What was in your mind and heart

my Master

as time’s unfolding

and the plotting of men

drew you away

from a place you loved

and that loved you too

 

And as you began your journey

did you think of your son

who would one day return

and inspire the poet to speak:

This is the son of Husayn and the grandson of Fatima, the daughter of the Apostle, through whom the darkness dispersed

This is he whose ability the valley (of Mecca) recognizes, He is known by the (Sacred) House and the Holy sanctuary, and the lands outside the sanctuary

and know with certainty

that even should your body be desecrated

to protect the purity of this House

God would always preserve what you stood for

echoing the words of your great-great-grandfather across time:

“this House has a Lord Who will defend it”

 

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so many years I have wondered

what it means to be a Muslim

after the burial of the Messenger of God

blessings and peace be upon him and his family

I have listened and listened

to every voice tell me what it might be

and I have found that there is nothing as clear

as sacrificing one’s life

to defend the grandson of the Messenger of God

blessings and peace be upon him and his family

and the fact that so few

made that decision

makes all the difference

 

I listened to the Sunni khateeb

remind us not to be selfish

not to make our Salat nor our Hajj

about me, me, me

but instead turn outwards

and connect our worship of God

to our love for God’s creatures

and I finally realized

that opening my heart

to the tears and the blood and the centuries of burdens

was a way to make my worship

more acceptable to God

for what is more selfish

than forgetting

 

the next time I go to the Ka’ba

if God so wills

I will bring with me for the first time

the memories of al-Sajjad

the confinement of al-Naqi

the loneliness of al-Zahra

and so much more

that I never brought before

when it was just

me, me, me

 

you do not need to travel

to the east nor the west

to find Truth and Justice

you need only turn your attention

to Karbala’s burning sands

and listen to the story

of a few heroes

who lived Islam

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