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Archive for the ‘The Struggle’ Category

For the past year, I have been reading and watching everything I can find about the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Nothing prepared me for how massive they are. They seem to go on forever.

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The first camp I entered was the Ukhiya camp. It is not even the biggest one. As we walked around, I felt disoriented, as the sheer weight of human suffering and trauma was everywhere. There is nothing but hills and valleys of shacks hastily built to cope with the massive needs of over 700,000 individuals. I clutched my tasbih, seeking shelter in the remembrance of God as a coping mechanism.

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Everyone who shared their story with us had a horrific story to tell. Khalid has already written about one of them. But there were others. Down at the bottom of this hill, across the sewage and garbage-filled rice paddies, were shelters filled with similar stories. Brutal murder, villages completely erased from the Earth, systematic rape. Personal tales that correspond exactly to what every reputable news outlet and NGO on the planet has extensively documented.

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In those moments, there is no recourse other than du’a. To pray that after a life filled with suffering and brutality, loved ones can finally be reunited and experience peace and beauty that never ends. To believe in the Divine Promise that God will say:

يَا عِبَادِ لَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْكُمُ الْيَوْمَ وَلَا أَنتُمْ تَحْزَنُونَ

My servants, there is no fear for you today, nor shall you grieve

In those moments, when I turn to my Lord, I ask for the resolution of that which seems impossible to resolve. I cannot bring her husband back from the dead. I cannot recreate his village which was burned to the ground. I cannot unrape thousands of girls. Only the Creator of all has that Power, as is reported from His Messenger صلى الله عليه و آله و سلم

then one of the people of Jannah who had experienced extreme misery in the life of this world will be dipped in Jannah. He will be asked: ‘O son of Adam! Did you ever experience any hardship?’ He will say: “By Allah, no, I never experienced any hardship.”

But when I turn to my rebellious self, and to our community that calls ourselves Muslims, I ask if we are doing enough for our Rohingya brothers and sisters. And my unequivocal answer is no, no, no. Absolutely not. Not even close.

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For my idealism is rooted in an understanding of reality. I understand the politics and economics that lead to people living in shacks made of bamboo on eroding mud cliffs, with 9 people living in a space that could barely fit my kitchen table. If you feel you must understand that larger context as well, you can read this book and/or this book, both of which I have reviewed on Amazon. But if you, like most people, neither have the desire nor the time to do the research, then just trust me. There is one fundamental spiritual response to this situation after making du’a and believing in the Last Day – giving of our wealth and time to assist the Rohingya.

At the time of writing this, the UN needs over $600,000,000 just to fund their response to this situation through the end of 2018. Unfortunately, we cannot change that, as we are people without much wealth, power and connections. But we must begin with our selves, our families, and the communities of which we are a part. I have already sent private appeals to both my wife’s extended family and my own, and now I am asking for my friends, colleagues, and the wider Muslim community to do more. I do not care what kind of Muslim you are, I care that you want to help. I do not decide whether or not my charity or your charity is accepted in the Divine Realm – that is between each one of us and our All-Knowing Lord. What is in my realm of responsibility is raising actual funds that can be used to assist the Rohingya.

Masha’Allah Khalid has already raised, at the time of this writing, about $114,000 in new funding for Islamic Relief USA projects meant to assist the Rohingya. As wonderful as this is, after seeing the camps myself, I know that what the Rohingya need from the Ummah is billions of dollars. It is simply that massive. Because the needs are so extensive, people like you and I will never be able to give enough.

The great great grandson of our Noble Messenger صلى الله عليه و آله و سلم, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, is reported to have said:

The most regretful of people on the Day of Judgment are those who prescribe justice, yet do the opposite.

And so I begin with myself. I respect what Khalid is doing, and that is why I went with him to Bangladesh. I hope his fundraising project can break $200,000. So if we can break $150,000 in total donations, I will give $50,000 to bring the total to $200,000 insha’Allah. No need to inform me that you donated like last time, as it would be too difficult to keep track of. The crowdfunding platform makes it easy for me to know when we break $150,000.

Post this on social media, tell your parents about it, do what you can. If you need more inspiration to spend 5 minutes advocating for the Rohingya, then reflect on this story. Inside this bare-bones medical clinic, funded by Islamic Relief USA donations from a previous round of fundraising, is a young Bangladeshi doctor. Every morning, six days a week, she rises early to begin a two and a half hour journey to work here. All day long, in intense heat and humidity, she does what she can to help people, primarily women and children. I asked her why she does this, when she could be somewhere else making more money. She said that as long as it was economically possible for her to continue serving the Rohingya community, she would.

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She is a hero. In a world that does not care, she moved from Chittagong (a big city) to Cox’s Bazar (a town) to spend 5 hours a day traveling to and from a place that is the most tragic place I have ever been in my life. And in her patient answering of our questions I experienced a combination of dignity and humility that I have rarely seen. Without the funding that we can provide, it will not be possible for her to continue her work. We feel the struggle in the moment we choose to give more than we feel comfortable giving, and perhaps feel it occasionally later on when our balance is too low to afford something we want or think we need. But she is there six days a week putting in the hours, working with the Rohingya while many of us have the privilege to forget that they are even there. May God bless us to assist her in her work, and may we walk with her as she walks this path to her clinic, ameen.

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In less than 48 hours will be the Day of ‘Arafah. There are only two experiences in my life that have felt like a preview of the Day of Judgement: ‘Arafah and visiting the Rohingya refugee camps. Both places make you realize your absolute neediness before Allah سبحانه و تعالى, confront your own shortcomings, and resolve to make the most out of the life we have been given. A year from now, will I still be alive? A year from now, will I have more to give the Rohingya or less? A year from now, what will be the situation of the families we visited? I do not know the answer to any of those questions. All I know is that right now, in the blessed first ten days of Dhu’l-Hijja, I can write these words which cannot do justice to what the Rohingya are going through, make a commitment to give some money that is not enough to meet their needs, and turn to my Lord with tears in my eyes asking Him to do everything else I cannot.

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَنتُمُ الْفُقَرَاءُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ هُوَ الْغَنِيُّ الْحَمِيدُ

People, it is you who stand in need of God- God needs nothing and is worthy of all praise

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حسبنا الله و نعم الوكيل

In the fall of 1994, I left my parent’s home in Illinois to go to boarding school at Phillips Academy (often referred to as “Andover”) in Massachusetts. From that point up until I moved to our current apartment in Manhattan, I never lived in the same place for more than a couple years. But from December 2013 until August 2018, my wife and I (and subsequently our son) have had no other home except our place in Greenwich Village.

I write this in an empty apartment. The movers came the other day to take our stuff to Oakland, CA, where we will live at least for the next 2 years insha’Allah. My wife and son have gone to Cape Cod to vacation with her brothers. And I am about to board a plane to Bangladesh, to visit the Rohingya refugee camps outside Cox’s Bazar with my friend Khalid Latif. We will return to NYC for Eid, and then move out West.

I am leaving the first place that has truly felt like home in my adult life. It is impossible for me to describe the two-year process that led to this momentous change. There are clearly definable choices made for me, such as my wife’s rejection of my proposal that we move to Oman for a year so that I could become fluent in Arabic. There are structural issues, such as my realization that my career in higher education had to move outside the secular university (such as my past three employers – Dartmouth, Brown, and NYU). And there are audacious hopes, such as the belief that God is guiding me, and closed certain doors and opened others for reasons known only to God.

A friend’s blog said it better than I can, through quoting Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام:

“I attained realization of God, may He be glorified, by the dissolution of resolutions, and by the solution of complexities.”

My resolve has dissolved in the face of the much larger structural and historical complexities that I am a part of. I have inherited the story of “Muslims in the United States” and “Islam and Hinduism” and “the Rohingya Crisis” merely by the billion choices I have made in my life that led me to this moment in August 2018. All three of those phenomena existed before I was born, and I merely found my way to them as I freely explored this Universe to the extent that I have been able to. This is assuredly a matter of “destiny (qadr).” Yes, I chose my path, but my path has led me to confront my lack of agency in the face of realities beyond my ability to control. I may fly to Dhaka to continue working on behalf of my Rohingya brothers, I may move to California to study with Hindu scholars, my wife and I may buy a house together to continue building our American Muslim family, but what can I really accomplish in the long run? It is all so much bigger than me, and I am just one human being.

My friend writes:

Imam Ali (as) is talking about feeling of disorientation, of being pained and agitated – and yet moving. with grace that behind all these events is the face of God – shining beyond what feels like our faltering and collapsing. The trials Imam Ali (as) faced during his own life time were extremely difficult to digest – someone with fervor and love for Truth at heart, and yet a political and community leader that tried his best to preserve and unite the Muslim community, often despite himself. It takes an immensely liberated spirit to take on such roles, and basically – keep it together when so much around you falls apart. From losing your beloved role model, your wife, betrayals, violence and isolation and yet giving a helping hand and honoring unity above all else. Through all this, Imam Ali (as) says that it was through the adversities that he attained realization of God 

Is there any doubt that Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام would tackle these projects if he were here today? Of course he would yearn to liberate the Rohingya from their oppression, to respond to the theological challenges of Hinduism, and call to Islam throughout the United States. In addition, he would confront so many more problems that I cannot work on full-time: Yemen, Iraq, Palestinethe continued theological challenge of Christianity, and so on.

But whether one is Sunni or Shi’i, one accepts that one can never be as great as Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام, let alone the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و آله و سلم. I felt that so vividly after my first ziyara in Najaf. I remember it so clearly, as it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I did my ziyara, prayed two rak’ahs, and just broke down in uncontrollable tears. The entirety of what I knew of Imam ‘Ali’s life came flooding into my heart. All the trials and tribulations and hardships. His loyalty and steadfastness and determination to continue doing what needed to be done, no matter how hard. And I knew then, and I remember now, that if I gave every breath I have in the paths of righteousness, it will be but a drop from the ocean of Abu Turab عليه السلام.

And so I keep moving forward. Where I will die is known only to my Lord. But while I am still blessed with the ability to do so, I set out to work on the challenges I believe Allah wants me to address as best I can.

Just another servant of the servants of the servants of ‘Ali.

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Yemen

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I am not even going to pretend that I know what to do.

Our Lord, You alone have authority over all the Earth. I ask You by Your Names al-Ghani (The Rich), al-Qawi (The Powerful) and al-Khabir (The All-Knowing) to help those suffering in Yemen. For I am poor and weak and ignorant.

لا إله إلا أنت سبحانك إني كنت من الظالمين

اللهم صل على محمد وآل محمد

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If God wants there to be a caliphate, then the Muslim Ummah is in a state of sin because it does not exist.

If God does not want there to be a caliphate, then the early Muslim community innovated something in the religion that was not part of it.

If God alone has the right to appoint the leader of the Muslim community, then that leader is the leader whether or not they are recognized by the Muslim community.

The leader has always been the axis of Muslim unity, the expression of Islam’s universal claims over the Earth, and the focal point of the prophetic legacy. As such, I renew my allegiance to Imam Mahdi. There is no one else who can lead a billion Muslims. There is no one else who can unite over 50 nations. There is no one else who can truly change history.

هُوَ الَّذِي أَرْسَلَ رَسُولَهُ بِالْهُدَىٰ وَدِينِ الْحَقِّ لِيُظْهِرَهُ عَلَى الدِّينِ كُلِّهِ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْمُشْرِكُونَ

It is He who has sent His Apostle with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may make it prevail over all religions, though the polytheists should be averse. (9.33)

This has clearly not come to pass.

So when and how?

The only clear answer in our tradition I have ever found is Imam Mahdi. Left to our own devices, we are miserably failing. How many decent, good Muslims have been killed in violent conflicts over the last 10 years? How many decent, good Muslims are living in exile from their lands? How many decent, good Muslims have no recourse in this world to anything even resembling justice?

Muslim unity is a farce. Muslim power is gone. If a second-rate army, like that of Myanmar, wants to push a million of us out of our homes, then they face no resistance. If they want to gang rape hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslim women, they face no resistance. If they want to burn masjids, they face no resistance.

Spiritually, it should make us sick to our stomachs. It should fill us with righteous anger. It should make us weep for the suffering of our sisters and our brothers, and our own shortcomings in assisting them. And it should drive us closer to Imam Mahdi, for only someone appointed by God can lead this Ummah.

In the meantime, there is more work to do than we have the power to accomplish. There is more injustice than we can ever hope to overcome. There is more struggle to undertake than we can bring our selves to endure.

اَللَّهُمَّ ٱكْشِفْ هٰذِهِ ٱلْغُمَّةَ عَنْ هٰذِهِ ٱلامَّةِ بِحُضُورِهِ

وَعَجِّلْ لَنَا ظُهُورَهُ

«إِنَّهُمْ يَرَوْنَهُ بَعِيداً وَنَرَاهُ قَرِيباً»

بِرَحْمَتِكَ يَا ارْحَمَ ٱلرَّاحِمِينَ

O Allah, relieve this community from grief through presenting him

and expedite his advent for us:

“Surely, they think it to be far off, and We see it nigh.”

In the name of Your mercy; O most merciful of all those who show mercy.

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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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