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Marry one Muslim woman.

Try to make her happy.

Have kids.

Try to be a good father.

Serve your parents and your wife’s parents if they are still alive. Also honor all the aunts/uncles/cousins on your side and your wife’s side, so that you are a source of benefit to both extended families.

Do what is obligatory (farḍ/wājib).

Avoid what is forbidden (ḥarām).

If you have any energy and time left over after doing all this consistently, maybe do some extra fasting (ṣawm), or memorize some more Qurʾān, or pray the recommended night prayer (ṣalāt al-layl), or if you have extra wealth give recommended charity (ṣadaqa) to the best organizations you can find.

It’s not that complicated.

But it isn’t easy.

This is your struggle (jihād).

الله

“The best of you is the one who is best to their family, and I am the best of all to my family.”

Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ

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“The prayer (al-ṣalāt) is the ascension (miʿrāj) of the believer.”

There was a night unlike any other night in the last 2000 thousands years. The night that the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace upon him and his family, journeyed through the heavens and earth. It is known as “The Night Journey and the Ascension (al-isrā wa’l-miʿrāj).”

In the month of Ramadan, when we are focused on our prayers (al-ṣalāt), we are constantly putting ourselves in touch with this special night. This was the night the 5 daily prayers of the Muslims was made obligatory. But it was more than that. It was the moment when the veil was lifted for one of us so that they could see everything we cannot.

Our daily lives in this world sometimes lead us to feel that this Earth is all there really is for us, and that the best we can hope for in the future is Elon Musk’s rhetoric about Mars. But someone has already gone far further. Ayatollah Ja’far Subhani has captured this eloquently in his book on the prophetic biography (sīrah) and I recreate it here (with various edits) for our reflection.

*)

The darkness of night had spread in the horizon and silence reigned over the face of nature. The time had arrived when the living creatures take rest and sleep so that they might recuperate for their activities on the following day. The Prophet was also not an exception to this law of nature and he wished to take rest after offering his prayers. However, he suddenly heard a voice. It was the voice of the Archangel Jibreel who said to him: “This night you have to perform a very unique journey and I have been ordered to remain with you. You will have to traverse different parts of the world mounted on an animal named ‘Buraq’.”

The Prophet commenced his grand journey from the house of Umm Hani (sister of the Commander of the Faithful) and mounted on Buraq proceeded to Baytul Maqdis, situated in Jerusalem, which is also called Masjidul Aqsa. After a very short time he dismounted there and visited different parts of the mosque as well as Bethlehem which is the birth place of ‘Isa and also saw various other places associated with different Prophets. At some of these places he also performed two rak’ats of prayers.

Thereafter he commenced the second part of his journey and proceeded from that place to the skies. He then observed the stars and the system of the world and conversed with the souls of the previous Prophets and also with the angels of the heavens. He saw the centers of blessing and torture (Paradise and Hell) and also saw the places of the dwellers of Hell and Paradise from close quarters, and consequently became fully aware of the secrets of creation, the extent of the Universe and the signs of the Omnipotent.

Then he continued his journey and reached ‘Sidratul-Muntaha’ (the Lote Tree of the Utmost Boundary) and found it fully covered with splendour, magnificence and grandeur. At this time his journey came to an end he returned through the way he had gone. During his return journey also he first came to Baytul Maqdis and then proceeded to Makkah. On the way he met a trading caravan of Quraysh who had lost a camel and were making a search for it. He drank some water from a container of theirs and threw the remainder on the ground and according to another narrative placed a cover on it.

It was before daybreak when he dismounted in the house of Umme Hani from the animal which had taken him to the heavens. She was the first person to whom he related this matter and on the day following that night he made it known to the assemblies of Quraysh as well. The story of his ‘ascension’ and grand journey which was considered by Quraysh to be something impossible spread from mouth to mouth in all centres and made the chiefs of Quraysh all the more perplexed.

According to their old habit Quraysh decided to refute him and said: “Even now there are some persons in Makkah who have seen Baytul Maqdis. If what you say is correct then give an account of its structure”. The Prophet not only described the structure of Baytul Maqdis but also mentioned the incidents which had occurred between Makkah and Baytul Maqdis and said: “On my way I met the caravan of such and such tribe who had lost a camel. They had a container full of water which was a part of their equipment. I drank some water from it and then covered it. At another place I met a group of persons whose camel had run away and had broken its leg”. Quraysh said: “Tell us about the caravan of Quraysh”. The Prophet replied: “I saw them at Tan’im (a place from where the ‘Haram’ commences). A brown camel was going ahead of them and they had placed a litter on it and are now entering Makkah”. Quraysh became very much excited on account of these definite news and said: “We shall now come to know about your truth or falsehood”. However, it was not long before Abu Sufyan, the leader of the caravan, appeared and people made known to him in detail what the Prophet had said.

The above account is a gist of what has been stated in the books of exegeses and traditions.

The event of the miʿrāj of the Prophet in the heavens has been mentioned clearly in two surahs of the Qur’an and has also been alluded to in other surahs. We give here briefly the verses which clearly make a mention of the miʿrāj. In Surah al-lsra’ it has been said: “Glory be to Him Who made His servant go by night from Masjidul Haram to Masjidul Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, that We might show him some of Our signs. He alone hears all and observes all.”

سُبْحَنَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أَسْرَىٰ بِعَبْدِهِۦ لَيْلًۭا مِّنَ ٱلْمَسْجِدِ ٱلْحَرَامِ إِلَى ٱلْمَسْجِدِ ٱلْأَقْصَا ٱلَّذِى بَرَكْنَا حَوْلَهُۥ لِنُرِيَهُۥ مِنْ ءَايَتِنَآ ۚ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلسَّمِيعُ ٱلْبَصِيرُ

This verse apparently mentions the following points:

1. In order to tell us that the Prophet travelled through these worlds in a short time, not with human strength but through Divine strength, the Almighty commences His statement with “Glory be to Him!” which points to the fact that Allah is free from all defects and needs. He has also not contented Himself with this and has introduced Himself as the Agent of the journey by saying ‘Asra’ (Allah made him perform the journey). This favour was bestowed upon him so that the people might not think that the journey was performed according to natural laws and with usual means, and might, therefore deny its possibility. It has therefore, been clarified that it was undertaken through Divine Will and special favour of the Allmighty.

2. This journey was undertaken at night.

3. Notwithstanding the fact that this journey commenced from the house of Umme Hani, daughter of Abu Talib, the Allmighty has mentioned its starting place to be Masjidul Haram. This is perhaps due to the fact that the Arabs consider all of Makkah to be the House of Allah and as such all its places are treated to be ‘Masjid’ and ‘Haram.’ Hence, Allah’s saying that: “He made him journey from Masjidul Haram” is perfectly in order. According to some narratives, however, the journey started from Masjidul Haram itself.

4. The Prophet performed the journey with his body and soul together and not with his soul only. The words ‘to His servant’ bear testimony to this, because the word ‘servant’ applies to ‘body with soul’. In case the miʿrāj had been only spiritual the proper words to be used would have been ‘to His servant’s soul.’

5. The object of this grand journey was to make known to the Prophet the various aspects of the existence of the great Universe. We shall elaborate this point later.

The other surah which clearly mentions the event of is ‘Surah al-Najm’ and the verses which you will read below were revealed in this connection. When the Prophet told the Quraysh that he had physically seen the Archangel Jibreel, when he brought the first revelation, they disputed with him. The Holy Qur’an replies thus to their objection: “Why do you contend with the Prophet about his having seen Jibreel? He beheld him once again near Sidratul Muntaha which is in the proximity of Paradise, which is the abode of good ones. It was when Sidratul Muntaha was covered with grandeur. His eyes did not wander, nor did they turn aside, for he saw some of his Lord’s greatest signs”.

The exegetes and the traditionalists have quoted many things about the miʿrāj and the things observed by the Prophet but all of them are not final and indisputable. The great Shi’ah commentator and expert Qur’anic exegete, the late Allamah Tabrasi, has divided these narratives into four groups:

1. One group of the narratives is final and indisputable, for example, the fact of the miʿrāj and some of its particulars.

2. The reports which have been quoted in a correct manner but have not reached the stage of finality, although they conform to the principles and verdict of wisdom, for example, survey of Paradise and Hell, journey in the skies and conversation with the souls of the Prophets.

3. The reports which are not apparently acceptable but are capable of interpretation, for example, the Prophet’s conversation during the night with the dwellers of Paradise and Hell which can be explained away by saying that he observed their phantoms, figures and qualities.

4. Exaggerated reports coined and circulated by the liars. For example, it is said at times that the Prophet sat that night with the Almighty or that he heard the sound of His pen.

Though it was appropriate that this grand event should have been properly recorded in all respects, yet, for some reasons, differences have risen about it and one of them is about the date of its occurrence. Two great historians of Islam (Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham) say that this event occurred in the tenth year of the Prophet’s prophethood. The renowned historian Bayhaqi believes that it took place in the twelfth year of his prophethood. Some say that it occurred in the early days of his prophetic mission, whereas others say that the time of its occurrence was the middle period of the prophethood. And at times, in order to add up all these statements, it has been said that the miʿrāj of the Prophet took place more than once. However, we are of the view that the miʿrāj in which daily prayers were made compulsory took place after the death of Abu Talib which occurred in the tenth year of the prophethood of the Prophet.

We conclude this, because it is one of the established facts of history and tradition that during the night of miʿrāj the Allmighty ordered that the Prophet’s followers should offer prayers five times a day and it is also learnt from history that prayers had not been made obligatory till the death of Abu Talib, because when he was on his deathbed the chiefs of Quraysh approached him to settle the dispute between them and his nephew and to prevent him from his activities and to take whatever he wanted as a recompense for it. The Prophet who was present there addressed the chiefs thus: “I don’t want anything from you except that you should confirm that there is no god but Allah and give up worshipping the idols”. He uttered these words and did not at all mention ‘salat’ (prayers) or other articles of faith. This in itself shows that prayers had not been made obligatory till then, for, otherwise, mere declaration of faith devoid of a compulsory action like prayers would have been useless. And as regards the fact that he did not mention his own prophethood, it was because witnessing of monotheism implicitly means confirming of his prophethood...

Those who think that the miʿrāj took place earlier than the tenth year of the prophethood of the Prophet are very much mistaken, because from the eighth up to the tenth year he was economically boycotted and sought refuge in the ‘Valley of Abu Talib’ and the pitiable condition of the Muslims did not make it expedient that they should have been subjected to an additional responsibility like ‘prayers‘…

The quality of the miʿrāj of the Prophet has been a subject of discussion for long and much has been said about its being physical or spiritual, although the Qur’an and the traditions clearly state that it was physical. However, some scientific notions have prevented a group of persons from accepting this reality. Consequently they have resorted to their own interpretations and considered the miʿrāj of the Prophet to be purely spiritual and have said that only his spirit travelled through all the worlds and then returned to his sacred body. Some have gone a step further and say that all these events were a vision and the Prophet saw different places and travelled through them in a dream. The statement of the last group is so distant from logic and reality that it should not at all be considered as a part of the traditions and opinions relating to the miʿrāj. The reason for this is that when Quraysh heard that Muhammad had claimed that he had travelled through all these places during a night they became very uneasy and got up seriously to give him the lie, so much so that this event became the subject of discussion in all the assemblies of Quraysh. In the case that his traveling through these worlds had been only a vision there was no point in Quraysh rising up to refute him and to create all the tumult. This is so because if a person says that one night, while asleep, he has dreamt this and that it cannot become an object of dispute and strife, for a dream is after all a dream and many impossible things can be seen in it…

Spiritual miʿrāj means meditation about the things created by the Almighty and observation of His Grandeur and Beauty and absorption in thoughts about Him and glorifying His name and eventual freedom from material ties and worldly interests and crossing through all possibilities and entering into internal and non-material stages. And after going through all this process a special proximity to Allah is acquired, and it is not possible to define it. If spiritual miʿrāj means meditation about the Grandeur of the Almighty and the extent of the creation, such a miʿrāj is undoubtedly not peculiar to the Prophet of Islam as many Prophets and other enlightened and pure-hearted persons have also enjoyed this position, whereas the Qurtan mentions his miʿrāj as something peculiar to him and an extraordinary distinction for him. Furthermore, the Prophet had been in the aforesaid condition during many nights whereas the miʿrāj has been proved to be related to a particular night...

If the scholars of the past have said something on account of their belief in ancient astronomy, they can be excused and are not much to blame, but it is not proper for us, during the present times, to ignore the Qur’anic realities on account of a hypothesis which has been refuted by contemporary science. Some of those interested in natural sciences, who are anxious to fix a natural cause for every event and a physical agent, for every phenomenon, have chosen to deny the very basis of the miʿrāj and think that modern natural and scientific laws do not confirm to the miʿrāj of the Prophet…

But the Prophet of Islam went on the miʿrāj with the blessing of Allah to Whom the entire creation belongs and Who is the Creator of this wonderful system. It is He who has given gravity to the earth and cosmic rays to the sun, and has created different layers in the atmosphere. And He can take these things back and control them whenever He likes. In the event that the historical journey of the Prophet was accomplished under the command of Allah all these laws decidedly surrender before His absolute Will and are in the grip of His power every moment. In these circumstances, what difficulty should there be if the Lord who has given gravity to the earth and cosmic rays to the heavenly bodies should take His chosen servant out of the centre of gravity with His unlimited power and without any apparent means? Allah who has created oxygen can certainly create air for His chosen Prophet in the areas where air does not exist.

The efficacy of a miracle is basically different from that of the natural causes and the strength of man. We should not consider the strength of Allah limited like our own. If we cannot perform a job without means we should not say that the Omnipotent cannot also perform it. From the point of view of difficulty and its solution the bringing to life of the dead, the transformation of a rod into a snake, and keeping Prophet Yunus alive in the belly of a fish in the depth of the sea, the events which have been confirmed by the Heavenly Books and have been narrated for us, are not unlike the miʿrāj of the Prophet of Islam. In short all the natural causes and external impediments are controlled and conquered by the Will of Allah. His Will does not concern only that which is an impossibility, but besides that He can do whatever He likes, whether or not man possesses strength for it or not…

A person asked the fourth Imam: “Is there a particular place for Allah?” He replied: “No”. The man said: “Then why did He make His Prophet journey through the skies?” The Holy Imam replied: “He made him ascend so that he might become aware of the expanse of the Universe and see and hear wonderful things, the like of which had not been seen and heard by the eyes and ears before.”

It is no doubt necessary that the last Prophet should enjoy such a position that he should rely on this vast information and should be able to send a message to the people of the 21st century, who are still thinking of traveling to Mars, that he did this journey without any means and his Creator was kind to him and made him fully aware of the system of creation.

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all i have are words

words that rage against the darkness

spit my self onto the page

to remind me that i am still real

i’d rather get on a plane

and carve my presence into some other place

but i know i would just be running

from the angel

watching and waiting

behind the curtain

where my friends are

where my children’s grandparents are

if i could just hear you say salam

if i could just see your face again

if the Prophet Muhammad

blessings and peace upon him and his family

would just come and tell me everything will be okay

i wouldn’t take refuge in words

and i used to write songs

but songs don’t have the purity of the pain

the hopefulness of faith

the hopelessness of suffering

the hope for this

the love for this

the yearning for this

the breaking through to a world beyond death

where Imam Husayn stands

upon him peace

where there are no scars left on his neck

because I am not a Doubting Thomas

you are my bloodied Imam

the undying Abrahamic sacrifice

and so even though Muharram is gone

you remain in my heart

bridging the gap between

the silence of my dead friends

and my dead in-laws

and the promise of God

the promise that makes everything whole

the promise that makes life out of death

turns sadness into bliss

but doesn’t shy

from the blood

and emaciated bodies

racked by disease

and the injustice and cruelty

that goes on every day

that I don’t have the power to destroy

but I try to destroy it in my self

until I feel dead inside

because I would rather die

then let loose pain on the world

and yet 72 bodies pile up in Kunduz

fathers and brothers and lovers and kids

and there is nothing I can do

but send my Hail Muhammad

the Lord bless thee

and the fruit of Khadija’s womb

as protests into the unseen

believing but not yet knowing

with the eye’s certainty

how the Divine Algorithm works

that takes prayers from this earthly mess

and rewraps it

into gifts for the world between

California and Resurrection

but

i am still here

and i have the time to write

on this day

in this place

why

i don’t know

i always thought i would die young

i planned my journey as triage

but here i am

old and weak

a would be poet with the youthful heart of a wanna be warrior

in a world that keeps moving

while I hold the dead close

and type words on a screen

for al-Muḥyī al-Mumīt

because it is not my choice

when i live

or when i die

so let me make the most of this day

and the day after that

until my last day in this world

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Imam al-Naqī عليه السلام once went to visit one of his companions who had fallen sick. The fear of death had robbed him of all tranquillity and calm, so the Imam addressed him as follows:

“O servant of God, you fear death because you do not understand it correctly. Tell me, if your body were soiled with dirt so that you were pained and discomforted and afflicted with running sores, and you knew that washing in the bathhouse would rid you of all that filth and pain, would you not wish to avail yourself of the bath house to cleanse yourself of the dirt? Or would you be reluctant to do so and prefer to remain in your polluted state?”

The sick man replied:

“O descendant of the Messenger of God! I would definitely prefer to wash myself and become clean.”

To this the Imam responded:

“Know, then, that death is exactly like the bathhouse. It represents your last chance to rid yourself of your sins and to purify yourself of evil. If death embraces you now, there can be no doubt that you will be freed of all sorrow and pain and attain everlasting happiness and joy.”

Hearing these words of the Imam, the sick man changed completely and a remarkable tranquillity appeared on his face. Then in dignified fashion, he surrendered himself to death, in the shroud he had drawn around himself, full of hope in God’s mercy. He closed his eyes which had now seen the truth and hastened to his eternal abode.

[related by Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari in the book “Resurrection, Judgement and the Hereafter”]

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بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم

اللهم صل على محمد و آل محمد

Part 1: All-Seeing

When you look out at the world, know that what you see is also seen by the All-Seeing. Anything you have ever seen, or any human being has seen in the history of planet Earth, is also seen by the All-Seeing. In reality, you and I can only see because the All-Seeing has given us access to a tiny drop from the shoreless ocean of the All-Seeing. The All-Seeing sees each subatomic particle, and so the CERN particle accelerator is simply the All-Seeing providing glimpses to particle physicists of what is already seen by the All-Seeing. The oldest and most distant galaxies are seen by the All-Seeing, and so the Hubble Space Telescope is simply the All-Seeing providing snippets to astrophysicists of what is already seen by the All-Seeing. Every single moment in every single place of this universe observed by you and I is already seen by the All-Seeing, so the All-Seeing is continuously sharing some of this experience with us. There are realms beyond our imagination that are also being seen, and one day some of that will be shared with us as well, just as “Allah brought you out of the wombs of your mothers while you knew nothing, and gave you hearing, sight, and intellect so perhaps you would be thankful.” (16.78, Khattab trans.) But you and I will never be able to see like the All-Seeing. Forever and ever, only the All-Seeing will know what it is like to be All-Seeing. We are simply capable of growing in our perception of what we see, as well as our recollection of what we have seen, by the generosity of the All-Seeing.

لا إله إلا الله

Part 2: All-Knowing

When you read these words, there is no sound that is audible to an outsider. Rather, you “hear” them inside you, in the realm of thought. A neuroscientist can see the neurons firing inside your head using brain imaging technology, but thought itself is not observable. Only you know it. But the All-Knowing also knows it. At this moment, the All-Knowing knows the thoughts of all 7,900,000,000 or so human beings on the planet simultaneously. The All-Knowing also knows all thoughts we have ever had or ever will have, including every thought of every human being who has passed before us. The All-Knowing knew the equation for Newton’s Law of Gravitation while Sir Isaac Newton was still in his mother’s arms. The All-Knowing knew everything about Homo Neanderthalensis before Charles Darwin was even born. Nothing has happened, is happening, or will happen that the All-Knowing does not already know. “The keys of the Unseen are in His possession. No one knows them but Him. He knows everything in the land and sea. No leaf falls without His knowing it…” (6.59, Bewley trans.) The All-Knowing knew that I was going to write this, and that you were going to read it, and whether or not you would like it, comment on it, or share it. The All-Knowing knows all of our greatest hopes and most terrible fears. So while we continuously grow in knowledge and experience as we age, we are simply uncovering a tiny bit of an endless expanse of knowledge that is only fully grasped by the All-Knowing. An eternity of learning and experience will never make us All-Knowing, for there is only one All-Knowing.

لا إله إلا الله

Part 3: All-Powerful

When we look at our bodies, we know that we did not bring them into being. I can see my hands type on the keyboard, I can look at my eyes in the mirror’s reflection, and I can know with absolute certainty that who I am was not my choice. We do not get to choose if we were born with male or female sex chromosomes. We did not get to choose who are parents are. We did not get to choose which country we were born in, and where we first went to school. The very foundation of our embodied being is an airtight proof of our origins in powerlessness. But the All-Powerful does get to choose. The All-Powerful chose our bodies, and where to place them in history. I could have been a Tamil woman born in the 18th century, but instead I am an American male born in the 20th century. And there is nothing I can do to change that fact. We obsess about our choices once we become independent, but those choices will come to an end when the All-Powerful brings about our end. “He it is Who gives life and causes to die. And when He decreed an affair, He only says to it: Be! Then, it is!” (40.68, Bakhtiar trans.) There is nothing we can do to stop the inevitable end. So we were born without power and will die without power, and have a brief taste of power in-between for a few decades. It is only because the All-Powerful shares an infinitesimally small manifestation of power with us that we have this experience. But once we do, we want it to remain and increase. But the only one who can grant us our hope is the All-Powerful. Just as we have gone from powerlessness to a taste of power, and will be returned to powerlessness, we can once again return to a state where our tiny powers bring us ever changing and increasingly beautiful possibilities, due to the generosity of the All-Powerful. We will never be all powerful, nor ever be able to fathom what it is like to be All-Powerful, but we are all children of the All-Powerful in whose power we live and die and are raised again.

لا إله إلا الله

Part 4: Life Itself

If you are reading this, you are alive. You are surrounded on all sides by life. You live and breath and move through life. This is only possible because Life Itself shares life with us. The whole universe is alive, constantly moving, changing, becoming. Once we were not here, but now we are. And because of that first move from nothingness to life, we know with certainty that it is possible a second time. “How can you disbelieve in God when you were dead [lifeless] and He gave you life? He will let you die once more, then bring you back to life again, whereupon you will be returned to Him.” (2.28, Wahiduddin Khan trans.) Life is not fragile – because it comes from Life Itself, it is rooted in eternity. It may take different forms in different realms, but only Life Itself can take it away. We are part of that process. Every single one of us was chosen to exist by Life Itself, each unlike anything else that ever was or will be. Every thing we have ever loved or desired or admired is part of life too. The seemingly infinite variety of forms of life can never be counted, because Life Itself is an endlessly overflowing source that always was and always will be.

لا إله إلا الله

Part 5: No beginning, no end

When we think of our lives, we think of our birth, which has already happened. We might think of our death, which has yet to come. Similarly, when we think of the planet Earth, we might try to conceptualize its beginnings in space 4 billion years ago, or its destruction in the future. We might ponder the universe itself, and the Big Bang 14 billion years ago, and its future collapse. But we cannot truly think of that which has no beginning and no end. Beyond the confines of time and space is the foundation of reality which is not limited by time and space. There is no “where” because it created all wheres. There is no “when” because it created all whens. It always was, always is, and always will be. Nothing that is within time and space can be without that which creates and sustains it from outside time and space. In all moments, in all realms, it is there. There is nothing similar to it, and nothing like it, and yet it is All-Seeing, All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and Life Itself.

لا إله إلا الله

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Dear God

i guess You created me in a time where writing on a computer would be the way that I speak to You so often

it would be so much more romantic if i had a quill and inkwell, sitting by candlelight, as i wrote my munājāt in beautiful calligraphy

would You like me more if i sat cross legged on the floor as i do this?

would it be more authentic?

or is it okay that i am sitting on the couch?

i have to believe that You are more interested in the substance than the form

all i have to give You is my faqr

that raw, sheer need for You

that aching desperation that only You know

and i am nothing

i hate being responsible for myself

i hate having to be the one who has to decide

i just want You to lay it out for me

“write your dissertation about this topic!”

ok, if You say so

“follow this historical intellectual tradition!”

sure, good to know that is the one You prefer

“raise your children this way!”

allright, let’s do it

but instead it is me, with my books, and my blog posts, and my searching out critical discourse

listening to other fuqarāʾ like me

hoping for an insight

seeking the way

but how can i actually complain to You

how can i not feel like You have answered my prayers

that seems like the height of ingratitude

but am i never not in desperate need of You

no

there will never come a time

no matter how learned my mind becomes

no matter how pious my body can be

no matter how sincere my heart is

where i am still not a beggar after Your Mercy

You are my mother

no

You are so much my refuge

that i seek refuge in You for the wellbeing of my own mother

the one who nursed me

the one who has shown me love my whole life

only You i beseech to give her eternal happiness

and only You can grant it

there is no god but You, transcendent You are, surely i am from the oppressors

there is no where to turn, except You are there

and so i turn once again

seeking everything i have always sought

willing to change for You

over and over again

i know i can change for You

i have left that which i have loved

i have left those whom i have loved

i have come to Your doorstep because

how can i do otherwise

the one who has caught a glimpse of You

tasted one drop of the nectar of Your ḥamd

reached the mental point of ḥayra

and understood a bit of You as al-Ghanī al-Mughnī

how can there be any going back

but there is one thing i do ask of You

i ask what your Prophet reportedly asked

do not leave me to myself

for i know i am not the authority

You are

and i cannot find my way

if You do not guide me to You

yā Ḥayyu yā Qayyūm

bi raḥmatika astaghīth

wa min ʿadhābika astajīr

aṣliḥnī shaʾnī kullah

wa lā takilnī ilā nafsī wa lā ilā aḥadin min khalqika

tarfata ʿayn

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there is a Love that never ends

there is a Beauty that never fades

there is a Peace that can never be broken

الله

yet to enter it you must travel through zaynab’s tears

and weather al-sajjad’s trials

الله

for this earth is too small

and this life too short

to contain all the dreams dreamt

in the heart of a single boy

الله

somewhere beyond

grasping with hope

trusting in You

i will follow You to the end

my King

الله

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This post originally appeared in 2015 in The Muslim Observer. It has been slightly modified herein.

American life is defined by the intersection of three institutional sectors: public, private, and non-profit. Public denotes governmental institutions, like the IRS through which we pay for federal institutions like the National Park Service. The private sector is dominated by for-profit corporations, such as Apple, which manufactured the laptop through which I am writing this post. Non-profits, the smallest sector of the three, consist of a whole range of entities, such as hospitals, universities, and religious organizations.

It is within this context that the Qur’anic teachings regarding charitable giving are implemented for Muslims in the United States. The root n-f-q, indicating spending, is used dozens of times in the Qur’an. For example, verse 254 of Surah al-Baqara states: “You who believe, give from what We have provided for you, before the Day comes when there is no bargaining, no friendship, and no intercession. It is the disbelievers who are wrong.”

The same verb is also found in the hadith literature, such as this hadith related in Muslim’s Sahih: “Of the dinar you spend as a contribution in Allah’s path, or to set free a slave, or as a sadaqa given to a needy, or to support your family, the one yielding the greatest reward is that which you spent on your family.” This hadith gives us a broad understanding of charitable giving in Islam. Buying a laptop from Apple for your child who is going off to college can be an act of worship, even though it has nothing to do with the non-profit sector. But for many Muslims in America, there is also the desire to effect social change through charitable giving. In fact, it is the socio-economic lifeblood of the American Muslim community, and the causes for which we give are myriad. There are approximately 6 broad categories of giving:

  • Islamic centers
  • Islamic schools
  • Development organizations (e.g. Islamic Relief USA)
  • Da’wah
  • Islamic Education for adults
  • Community advocacy organizations (e.g. CAIR)

We find ourselves donating to these organizations in a variety of settings. Sometimes it is at fundraising dinner. At other times, we might have some zakat or khums to pay, and write a check to the appropriate organization(s). On occasion, we may be moved by media coverage to donate to help those suffering in our country or around the world. In all situations, the socio-political reality is the same. We write a check/use our credit card/pull cash out of our wallet, and it goes into the bank account of a registered non-profit, and they send us a receipt and use the funds for whatever purpose they were designated.

But behind that material facade is something deeper, and ultimately more important. It is the internal spiritual attitude of the person giving the money, and their ascent towards sincerity (ikhlas). It is the metaphysics of charitable giving.

We can see this process in the Qur’an, which lays out at least three different attitudes towards charitable giving. In the case of the three sections that will be quoted, the immediate context is feeding the hungry. In the context of Islam in the United States, it is most likely that such an act would be accomplished by making a donation to organization that feeds the hungry in either the USA or another country,

At the lowest level is the attitude of those who mock faith openly. Verse 47 of Surah Ya Sin states: “and when they are told, ‘Give to others out of what God has provided for you,’ the disbelievers say to the believers, ‘Why should we feed those that God could feed if He wanted? You must be deeply misguided.’” Not only does a person at this level not give, they blame God for the misery that inspires people of faith to give. They twist the concept of an All-Powerful Deity to become an excuse for their own selfishness. The average Muslim is not so bold as to speak this way, but it is possible that this may be what they think in their hearts. In a very subtle way, they may whisper to themselves, “Why do I have to give up this money I have been saving for something I want?! If God is so powerful, why doesn’t He just feed them?!” In light of the massive scale of need amongst Syrians, Yemenis, and the Rohingya – in addition to many other worthy causes worldwide and at home – the possibility of slipping into this type of thinking is very real, even for someone who outwardly identifies as a Muslim and donates to Muslim community institutions. Right now, our world needs billions and billions of dollars to help people facing real difficulties. What that means for any individual is that even if we gave all the surplus we have, there will still be a need. In such a reality, it is very possible to slip into this type of thinking, and may God protect us from it, ameen.

At a better level are those described in Surah al-Ma’un: “[Prophet], have you considered the person who denies the Judgement? It is he who pushes aside the orphan and does not urge others to feed the needy. So woe to those who pray but are heedless of their prayer; those who are all show and forbid common kindnesses.” At this level, a person is a part of the Muslim community, most notably through attendance at communal worship. But their religiosity does not deeply effect them at the level of concern for humanity. There is a disconnect between their performance of religion, and the way they treat other human beings. At this level, one is not necessarily actively opposed to charitable giving, as in the case of the first level. Rather, one is veiled from such concerns by an obsession with the outward trappings of religiosity. One has left the utter contempt for religion characterized by the first level, which is undoubtedly a good thing. But while doing so, one has strayed by failing to see that Islam has two essential elements: worship of the Creator and service to the creation.

The first and second levels highlight the struggle between the inward and the outward. But the third and higher level is when the two become integrated. Verses 8-11 of Surah al-Insan states: “They give food to the poor, the orphan, and the captive, though they love it themselves, saying, ‘We feed you for the sake of God alone: We seek neither recompense nor thanks from you. We fear the Day of our Lord––a woefully grim Day.’ So God will save them from the woes of that Day, [and] give them radiance and gladness.” At this level, the one we should all aspire towards, giving is completely detached from any hope of worldly reward or benefit. It is only for God, whether it be $1 dollar or $1,000,000 dollars. No need to sit on a board of directors. No need to even receive a thank you card. This transforms charitable giving into a transcendental search for the Divine Pleasure (ridwan). It becomes a very tangible way in which a human being expresses their hope and fear in God alone, for Allah does not announce from the Heavens that He has accepted this effort. As we learn from another hadith: “Then a man will be brought forward whom Allah generously provided for, giving him various kinds of wealth, and Allah will recall to him the benefits given, and the man will acknowledge them, to which Allah will say, ‘And what have you done with them?’ The man will answer, ‘I have not left a single kind of expenditure You love to see made, except that I have spent on it for Your sake.’ Allah will say, ‘You lie. You did it so as to be called generous, and it has already been said.’ Then he will be sentenced and dragged away on his face to be flung into the fire.”

Giving is only the first step. Giving with sincerity is the more elusive goal. One never knows whether or not Allah has accepted one’s charitable giving. But we must still strive to purify ourselves of any ulterior motive, recognizing that whatever we have given was first given to us from al-Razzaq, and only One can reward us beyond our imaginations. The metaphysics of charitable giving is to take the most worldly thing possible – money – and turn it into an expression of our realization of the Oneness of God. Only then will be capable of realizing the promise in the Qur’an: “Those who spend their wealth in God’s cause are like grains of corn that produce seven ears, each bearing a hundred grains. God gives multiple increase to whoever He wishes: He is limitless and all knowing.”

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The Greater Islam

I need to let go.

I need to say to myself, “You have taken into consideration the myriad issues at play in the interpretation of the religious history of humanity, and you have done your spiritual due diligence (muḥāsaba) in regards to your own obligations to God and humanity vis-a-vis the Islamic tradition.”

And then just rely on God.

That unmediated, natural sense of dependence on the Creator.

Because I don’t know how to move beyond the spiritual state that I have been in.

I sent an email to a teacher. And then followed up weeks later when I didn’t hear anything. Still nothing.

But I have to remember that the teacher has no power of his own.

God holds all the keys and created all the doors.

لَهُ مَقَالِيدُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ يَبْسُطُ الرِّزْقَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ وَيَقْدِرُ إِنَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيم

“To Him belong the keys of the heavens and the earth: He expands the provision for whomever He wishes, and tightens it for whomever He wishes. Indeed He has knowledge of all things.” (42.12)

If I need a teacher, God will provide me one.

‘Allamah Tabataba’i states:

Islām-i akbar consists of total submission and absolute surrender before God, that is to say, renunciation of all complaints and objections before Him, Almighty and Glorious is He. It also connotes the recognition of the fact that anything that exists, or any event that takes place, is destined by God and, therefore, good; and that which does not occur is not in one’s best interest. In short, Islām-i akbar calls for total abstinence from questioning and complaining in regard to the Almighty Lord.” (Kernel of the Kernel, pp. 45-6)

Is not today exactly as it should be?

Is not God capable of all things?

Has not God shown me favor and answered my entreaties countless times before?

And so I need to let go of any resentment, frustration, and confusion.

And just rely on God.

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We are already sacred.

When we think of the foundational ritual of our religion, it is the ṣalāt.

It is nothing but our bodies, the land and water.

The land upon which we live.

The water that we need to survive.

The bodies through which we have this human experience.

The ritual that our Creator call us to perform every day is rooted in the ever-present sacredness of us and our surroundings.

It requires nothing else but that which is already there as the foundations of human life on Earth.

We are already sacred, and the ṣalāt is a reminder of that reality.

We can forget.

We can temporarily unpurify our bodies, the ground and/or the water.

But daily connection with the sacred is intention–>water–>body–>land.

It is the foundational truth to which we return again and again.

The stark confrontation with the real.

Land. Water. Bodies.

الله الله الله

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