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Archive for the ‘The Struggle’ Category

I remember the days after the lunar month of Ramadan in the solar year 2013. My eyes were glued to my computer as I watched the massacre of civilians in Cairo. It was the moment I began to realize that something was horribly wrong with the Muslim community.

We do not choose the moments when God lifts the veils from our eyes. One could justly critique me for not realizing this sooner. I pray that God does not judge me for years spent in hopeful ignorance.

From that moment on, the best way to describe my spiritual state was repeated experiences of the tajalliyat (manifestations) of Justice. God is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy, but God is also al-‘Adl (Justice). God has created this entire world for everyone to enjoy, and God loves to shower blessings on the creation in this life and even more so in the next, but God has also created Hellfire for those who oppress others and oppress their own selves.

Many Muslims are vexed by the tide of social injustices in our time. They witness the repeated murders of black people in the United States without any real accountability for the murderers, the millions of Syrian refugees struggling to survive, the starvation of Yemen, the lynching of Muslims in India, the denial of the right to worship by Uyghurs in China, and so much more. It is hard for any Muslim to not have the veil ripped off from their eyes today.

But I believe that one situation in particular is the greatest sign of the current moral failing of the Ummah of Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him and his family. Keep in mind there are no incontrovertible proofs for this claim – at the end of the day, it is simply my reasoned opinion (ijtihad) in regards to complex matters of social justice. And in no way does it detract from the importance of everything else that is going on. But we need to have priorities, and above all we need to care about what is happening to the Rohingya people.

I have written about this issue here and here if you need more context.

Know this: were you to give everything you have to help the Rohingya, it would not be enough. You could be the most selfless and giving person in the world, and it would still be a drop in the ocean of righting the wrongs that the Rohingya have faced. There is nothing you can really do to solve this problem. It will only be solved in its fullness on the Day of Judgement.

But this is also true: God will ask you about what you did once you knew. Once you knew about all the gang rapes, all the slit throats, all the bullets holes in the forehead, all the burned villages, all the refugee camps, all the denial of aid, all the IDP prisons, all the sorrow, all the tears, all the pain, all the utter devastation. Once you saw evil manifest before your very eyes, did you doubt God’s Promise or did you doubt your own humanity?

One Rohingya told me, “They took everything from us, and then they tried to take Allah from us, and we would not let them.” Don’t worry about the faith of the Rohingya – what would crush your faith the Rohingya have endured 100 times over. Worry about your own standing before Allah and being asked about all the blessings you take for granted everyday.

What has happened to the Rohingya has only happened because we have let it happen. We have allowed and continue to allow so many to endure so much. So much. Truly unspeakable things.

And so, as a mean to motivate you and myself, I am pledging to donate up to $10,000 in matching funds for Khalid Latif’s fundraising campaign for the Rohingya. If all you can give is $5, then do so, and it will become $10. If you can give $100, then give $100 and it will become $200. Post a comment on this blog with your donation information, or send me a private message at rdavidcoolidge@gmail.com, and I will match the total up to $10,000 insha’Allah.

Why? Because let’s be real. You are not going to go the refugee camps in Bangladesh in person to help out. You are not going to go to Chicago to volunteer with the Rohingya Culture Center. You are not going to devote yourself to lobbying Congress or convincing multinational corporations to punish the Myanmar military for their crimes. There are people who do these things, but you are not them. The best you can do is give some money (when so much more than you could ever give is needed) and post this to Facebook.

And that is something real, and perhaps something that can save you from being judged justly. For if it is truly the case that there is so much you can’t do, than Allah will bless you in what you can do. You can make du’a. You can give a small amount of money. You can spread the word. Allah does not judge you for what is out of your control. You cannot liberate the Rohingya people from their oppressors. You cannot grant them citizenship with the wave of a hand. You cannot build them all sturdy dwellings to make it through the upcoming monsoons.

But you can do something, so do it.

If it is not this, then do something that you think is better.

May God save you and I from the Fire.

Bismillah.

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when, like me, you face the reality of your shortcomings in the middle of the month of Ramadan, then perhaps you will feel what i felt when i read this prayer a friend sent me:

 

My God, if You do not forgive in this honored month anyone except the one who sincerely purified himself for You, in his fasting and his prayers, then who will be there for the negligent sinner, when he drowns in the sea of his sins

My God, if You do not have mercy on any except the obedient, then who will be there for the disobedient

And if You do not accept from anyone except the performers of good actions, then who will be there for those who fall short

My God, those who fast have profited, those who stay up in the prayer have won, and those who are sincere have succeeded

but we are Your sinful servants

so be kind to us through Your Mercy

and save us from the Fire through Your Forgiveness

O Gracious, O Most Merciful of those who show mercy

 

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An important Islamic belief is believing in the Barzakh, the realm where everyone who has ever died is currently existing.

It is mentioned in the Qur’an:

When death comes to one of them, he says, ‘My Lord! Take me back, that I may act righteously in what I have left behind.’ ‘By no means! These are mere words that he says.’ And ahead of them is a barrier (barzakh) until the day they will be resurrected.

Commenting on the Barzakh in his book entitled Sabīl al-Iddikār, a widely respected Sunni scholar Shaykh Abdullah al-Haddad رحمة الله عليه remarks:

The Intermediate Realm is the abode which lies between the world and the life-to-come. It has more affinity with the latter, and is in fact a part of it. It is a place where spirits and spiritual things are predominant, which physical bodies are secondary but share with the spirits in their experiences, whether felicity and joy, or torment and grief.

In another book entitled Manāzil al-Ākhirah, the widely respected Shī‘ī scholar Shaykh Abbas al-Qummi رحمة الله عليه states:

A question may arise in the minds of people as to where does such a vast event of Barzakh take place. A human’s intellect is beyond its understanding. In narrations this universe is compared to the mother’s womb, and the state of Barzakh to the expansive world outside it. If a child in the mother’s womb is informed about a vast and expansive world outside, it will be difficult for it to grasp it. In the same manner human intellect cannot understand the state of the expansive Barzakh.

As we grow spiritually, we find our minds and hearts returning to the Barzakh. Why? Because it is the place where our deeds become manifest. Fasting in the month of Ramadan, praying obligatory prayers, avoiding what has been forbidden by God – these actions are not only meant for the Day of Judgement. They are also ways of seeking mercy in the Barzakh.

It is often said in the Islamic tradition:

الدنيا دار العمل والآخرة دار الجزاء

This world is the realm of action, and the next world is the realm of recompense.

When we finally reach the Barzakh – something that we all will face – there will be nothing that we can do to save ourselves then. All that we can hope in, after the mercy of God, are the deeds that we did for God’s sake while we were still alive.

Billions upon billions of individuals exist in the Barzakh. Anyone specific that you know who lived and died on Earth – Einstein, Paul of Tarsus, Joan of Arc, al-Ghazali, Mulla Sadra, and so on an so forth – is there now. Every Muslim on earth says in their prayers

السلام عليك أيها النبي و رحمة الله و بركاته

Peace be upon you, O Prophet, and the mercy of God and His blessings

Where does that greeting go? Our belief is that it goes to the Barzakh, to be heard by the Messenger of God, blessings upon him and his family. Practically speaking, one scholar has put it this way: “You don’t have to be in Madinah for the Prophet to hear you!”

There are innumerable stories about the barzakh in our Muslim literary heritage. In the aforementioned Manāzil al-Ākhirah it states

During my days in Najaf, there broke a severe famine. I left my house leaving behind my children who were crying with hunger and thirst so as to search some sustenance for them. I passed through Wadi-us Salaam [a famous graveyard in Najaf] and entered there in with the intention of reciting Fatiha for the departed souls, as this act would pacify me and make me forget my sorrow. I saw some people in the graveyard with a bier, and they requested me to join them in the funeral. Being an act of great reward I accompanied them. They carried the bier and suddenly we entered into a vast garden. They took the bier in a huge and beautiful place therein, which had all the amenities of luxury. I entered through the door and saw a handsome youth wearing splendid attires seated on a golden throne. As soon as he saw me, he addressed me by my name and saluted me. He signaled me to go near him and I replied in the negative. He said “I am the same person whose funeral you are attending. I am a native of so and so town and the people you saw in my funeral were the blessed Angels, who brought me from my town to this Paradise for the intermediate (Barzakh) period.” When I heard these words from the lips of the person, I forgot my sorrow and started adoring the beauties of the garden. When I came out of the garden, I saw some other places, and when I observed carefully I saw my departed parents and relatives standing at the doors. When they saw me, they invited me to enter in. I entered therein and they invited me for food, which was very delicious. While eating I suddenly remembered my wife and children who were dying of hunger and thirst and my face turned pale. My (father) understood and said, “O my son Mahdi! What is the reason for your sorrow”? I replied, “O father! While eating, I suddenly remembered that my wife and children are dying of hunger at home, and that made me sad.” He pointed towards a stock of rice and told me to take as much as I desired. I spread out my cloak and filled it to the full. And as soon as I got up, I found myself standing in the same place in Wadi-us-Salaam. With my cloak filled with rice, I hurried towards my house and we ate to our full. Quite some time passed, but the stock never got over. One day my wife asked me as to where I had got it from. She forced me to tell her, and I had to narrate the whole incident to her. She got up in excitement to take some rice from it so as to eat it, but it had disappeared.

These stories give comfort to our souls. They help us imagine a place that is literally beyond our dreams. It is important for all of us to cultivate a connection with the Barzakh. One can do so by visiting graves, giving charity on behalf of those in the Barzakh, and many other means.

It is reported that when the Messenger of God, blessings upon him and his family, would visit the graveyard he would say to the people in the Barzakh, “You have gone on ahead of us and we will follow you.”

How undeniably true.

We are all on our way there right now.

 

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This is the third and last video on spirituality. In it I discuss the concepts of Beauty (جمال) and Majesty (جلال) and our hope and fear in God. I pray that you find benefit in it, and that God accepts it from me, ameen.

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humanity’s story

from beginning to end

is written in pages

no human can amend

 

from where did we come

and to where shall we go

there are so many details

that only One can know

 

but I do not need

to know the whole plot

for my heart is lost

on the same spot

 

in the sands of Iraq

under the blazing sun

I find deep conviction

in the promise of One

 

at the feet of my Imam

in love with Husayn

the pathway to pleasure

is riddled with pain

 

so I’ll saddle my horse

once again I must ride

in the comfort of friends

I can no longer hide

 

to distant shores I must travel

miles to go before sleep

to offer what I have

for my life is not cheap

 

I will only spend it

on a life without fear

in the abiding trust

he is always near

 

my Husayn come with me

please stand by my side

so that my studies and labors

will fill you with pride

 

the tears I have cried

inspire my work

fighting against whispers

that always lurk

 

Muslim scholars once studied

more than just their own faith

so embracing diversity

should not feel unsafe

 

a false choice to choose

between mosque and the world

when in history’s pages

Husayn’s flag was unfurled

 

for the whole world’s a stage

and we can never forget

the scene of 680

when two armies met

 

one was for truth

filled with family and friends

and the other for falsehood

seeking the basest of ends

 

and even though death

fell hard upon the first

it left this seeker

with an undying thirst

 

as if Husayn’s absence

is a void in human life

that can only be filled

in that land without strife

 

so what can you give me

o people of Earth

instead of showing me Husayn

you offer far less in worth

 

I was created for Heaven

and my Lord set the price

my life for His Gifts

I don’t have to think twice

 

no matter how much I travel

or read or love

nothing will slake me

except my Master above

 

at the end of my days

with nothing left to give

I hope I’ll look back

at the life I choose to live

 

and see how Husayn

gave me both earth and sky

and promised me victory

through every tear I cry

 

even though the end seems far

soon it will come

and I pray for acceptance

at the work I will have done

 

my dreams can be found

near gardens and rivers that flow

but I will only get there

by being fearless here below

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In this second video, I discuss the concepts of taklīf and taqwā and their foundational role in our spiritual life. The upcoming fast of the month of Ramadan is highlighted as a practical example of the reality we are trying to understand and embody.

 

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steps

‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

***

I don’t remember precisely what year in high school the momentous event took place. But I do remember it quite well.

I had a music stand in my bedroom that I used for a variety of purposes. On it I put a picture of Jesus and a picture of Krishna. I turned the lights down low. Perhaps I lit a candle (although I am not sure).

And I prayed. Perhaps for the first time in my life I really prayed with sincerity, because I actually wanted an answer.

Dear Jesus and Krishna.

People tell me that you are God.

I don’t know what to think.

The pictures of both of you are beautiful

and the stories are moving.

But I am confused.

If one of you is really God

then please show me.

And nothing happened.

My mind could not accept that either were the Creator of everything I had ever known. Even though hundreds of millions believed in them, and some people dedicated their whole lives to serving them, I could not even take the first step. Was it arrogance on my part for not seeing the truth? Was I hesitant because I was addicted to worldly desires? Or was I actually a sincerely searching soul that wanted clarity regarding the mutually contradictory claims of competing religious traditions? I figured praying for an answer made sense.

And then came Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him and his family. He did not say he was God, but that he was the Messenger of God. And the words he uttered made sense to my mind as well as challenged it.

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Does man not consider that We created him from a [mere] sperm-drop – then at once he is a clear adversary? 

And he presents for Us an example and forgets his [own] creation. He says, “Who will give life to bones while they are disintegrated?”

Say, “He will give them life who produced them the first time; and He is, of all creation, Knowing.”

To this day, as much as I believe in it, it is hard to imagine being resurrected. But the Qur’an is so clear on this point: I was already dead once. I have already experienced it.

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How can you disbelieve in Allah when you were lifeless and He brought you to life; then He will cause you to die, then He will bring you [back] to life, and then to Him you will be returned.

And so I became a Muslim. I found out that I was willing to take the first step – not a leap, but a step.

But with each step came another step. Pray, even when I prefer to do other things. Fast, even when I am starving and tired. Avoid the forbidden, even when I crave it. Again, the Qur’an let me know what was coming.

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Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?

But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars.

And that is how it has been every day since. When I want to give up, the Qur’an is there to set me straight.

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Those who remained behind rejoiced in their staying [at home] after [the departure of] the Messenger of Allah and disliked to strive with their wealth and their lives in the cause of Allah and said, ‘Do not go forth in the heat.” Say, “The fire of Hell is more intensive in heat” – if they would but understand.

I could have remained the secular agnostic I was when I made that prayer, or I could have chosen Christianity or Hinduism due to some sort of metaphysical intervention in my skeptical questioning. Or I could have given up striving a long time ago and just been content to be who I was. But it was the Qur’an that guided my steps.

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We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. But is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, a Witness?

My Lord witnessed me that night, and I eventually found the answer to my prayer. I began taking steps down a certain path, and as I look back on the last 25 years, that made all the difference. As I look ahead 25 years, there is so much left to do. And so now is not the time to stop, for I have a promise to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

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Among the believers are men true to what they promised Allah. Among them is he who has fulfilled his vow [to the death], and among them is he who awaits [his chance]. And they did not alter [the terms of their commitment] by any alteration

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