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may God send blessings and peace upon the Prophet Muhammad and his family

It is hard to explain the beauty of Azadari (recalling the injustices inflicted upon the family of the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him). It is something that needs to be tasted to be understood. Unfortunately, there seem to be so many cultural and theological barriers to tasting the truths conveyed through the various mediums through which Azadari culture is expressed. I hope that this brief reflection can help break through those barriers, and convey to the reader some of what is felt in the heart.

A year ago, a young Pakistani-American poet named Aqeela Naqvi wrote an Azadari poem in memory of al-Qāsim b. al-Ḥasan, one of the great-grandsons of the Prophet Muhammad killed at Karbala. She entitled it “sweeter than honey,” a reference to God sending comfort in the midst of tragedy for those who die “in the way of God (fī sabīl Allāh).” A few years before that, Iranian artist Hassan Roholamin posted a painting he did of the same story and described it using the same words: “sweeter than honey.”

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Between text and image, a moment in historical and sacred time is shared with the world. One artist living in the United States, speaking in English. Another artist living in Iran, speaking through images. Both Azadari. Both exquisite.

These artistic renditions capture both the personal and communal tragedy of ‘Ashura. The love of an uncle for his nephew. The bitter pain of betrayal when Muslim soldiers kill a young Muslim man who is nothing less than the great-grandson of the man they claim to follow. And yet, the hope in God that shines through the darkness.

This art speaks directly to our times of confusion, when people ask how can Islam be beautiful when Muslims have done so much evil. But that question was asked long before “the West” started asking it, and the answer lies with people like al-Qāsim b. al-Ḥasan. Azadari is a light that was started by the family of the Prophet, and history has shown that nothing can extinguish it. And for hearts who have tasted that light, it is sweeter than honey.

 

sweeter than honey

by Aqeela Naqvi

the meeting of swords, the clashing of souls
brought by dawn after silence of night
thousands who fight for darkness to prevail—
less than one hundred warriors of the light

the tenth of Muharram on Karbala’s sands
a battle this morning has bloodily raged
a few hours the length of centuries seems
a grief by which young children are aged

from the first arrow released by the enemy
Imam Hussain’s companions for him have bled
while there is strength remaining in their bones
not a drop of the Prophet’s blood will be shed

men continue to leave, bodies continue to return
as a bloody scene in a weeping desert unfurls
until finally none of these brave souls remains
each companion valiantly departs from this world

yet still, Yazeed’s army continues to advance
Imam Hussain’s family now must enter the fray
brothers and nephews and sons never to return
on burning sands their bodies now lay

of Karbala’s youth there is a brave soul
who has come now to ask his Uncle a question
to take up his sword and to enter the battle
he has come to seek his Imam’s permission

how can Hussain look upon this young face
and let him go knowing the enemy’s plans
that they will not rest until piercing his skin
until his blood flows like rivers in the sands

he refuses but his nephew Qasim is insistent
he kisses his uncle’s hands with this request
to allow him to defend the message of Islam
until then the blood in his veins will not rest

his requests are delivered with such earnest
that Imam Hussain can deny him no longer
he kisses his face and allows him to leave
his face so much like the face of his brother

in youth, wealth or beauty or power or fame
anything we dream of our horizon may hold
our bones are now strong and our blood is fresh
thoughts of death come when we’re frail and old

when it comes to religion, we still have time
when we’re older we’ll learn more of Islam
when we’re older will come the light of our faith
when we’re older will we understand our Qur’an

right now all that matters is being young
all is enjoyment from each dusk to dawn
is that how it is? is this age and youth?
or have we understood living all wrong?

when we see Karbala, we see there are youth
many who are not quite much older than us
there is Qasim and there is Muhammad and Aun
who at such an age put in Allah their trust

youth who come to the aid of their Imam
with no thought to the length of their years
ready to stand for the purity of their beliefs
even if it means facing the enemy’s spears

Hazrat Qasim enters the battle with such valor
the cub no less than his father, the lion, Hassan
a young boy striking fear into soldier’s hearts
showing them how the battle of the soul is won

eager to defend Islam and his Imam Hussain
he does not hesitate in setting off on the plains
the enemy hopes to strike fear in his heart—
forgetting which bloodline runs through his veins

this is the son of Hamza and Haydar!
the son of Abu Talib and Hassan al-Mujtaba!
his is a lineage more radiant than the stars
this is the grandson of Muhammad al-Mustafa!

yet the cruelty of the charge, the cutting of his bones
the army surrounds him – imagine the scene
men racing forward on horses, and his spilling blood
amidst snarling wolves, a young child’s screams…

a soldier coming forward and striking his head
and Hazrat Qasim falling down on the plains
with wounds kissing his skin, this final farewell
“O dear Uncle, come to my aid!”

like a wild falcon, Hussain enters the battle
the enemy from his force scatters and flees
he cradles this young child’s head to his chest
as Qasim’s soul from this world slowly leaves

“By Allah! It is difficult for your Uncle
that he could not come to your aid…”
as he holds him in his arms, these tender words
the master of Martyrs to a young boy says…

in death, Hazrat Qasim’s face holds a smile
and in it the night’s memory comes to mind
an image of a young face in a tent full of men
who knew with dawn, all present would die

of the boy who realized his youth may be at stake
who tomorrow, may life for death have to barter
yet with passion in his voice he had asked his Imam
“Uncle, am I, too, included in the list of martyrs?”

Imam Hussain had responded, “O my dear son!
How do you consider death (in the way of Allah)?”
and Hazrat Qasim had smiled such a sweet smile
and in his answer, this shining lesson history saw

that the human’s true price is greater than this world
that the only thing worth it is eternity

that no oppressor or tyrant can shackle your soul
when God Himself has created you free

that to enter the fray with your honor and die on your feet
is better than living life on your knees

for such death dying for truth
can only be as he said:

for Qasim, such death,
sweeter than honey

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my first book

Alhamdulillah, I have published my first book. It is entitled The Beautiful Surrender: Islam as a Path to be Walked and is available in paperback ($4.99) and on Kindle ($1.99).

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The reason I started writing it was because a friend asked me if I could recommend a book on Islam to her sister’s non-Muslim fiancé, in hopes that he might choose Islam for himself. I could not, and so I felt obliged to write something in response.

In the process of writing, I came to realize that I was also articulating something fundamental about my own faith. We all wonder how it is that some people choose Islam and others do not. We know Allah is the Only Guide (al-Hadi), but we also realize that there are causes (asbab) in the created realm by which Allah guides people. For many in the United States, for example, The Autobiography of Malcolm X is one of those causes. For me, the fundamental cause was the translation of the Qur’an I had bought in the summer of 1997.

I received further clarity as I was writing by means of a lecture from Imam Zaid Shakir in which he made a distinction between “real da’wah” and “false da’wah.” He described the former as the process by which Muslims call those of other worldviews to Islam, whereas the latter is the attempt by Muslims to call other Muslims to their understandings of Islam.

And so my intention became to write a book that is meant to call people to Islam in a way that is true to my experience of being a Muslim. I wrote it in a way that is authentic to how I think and feel, while also trying to make it as accessible as possible (in terms of content, size and price). Lastly, I choose to publish it in this holy month of Ramadan because it was the Qur’an that brought me to Islam, it is the Qur’an that is still the foundation of my faith, and it is the Qur’an that forms the centerpiece of this book.

May God accept.

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Thoughts

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I am sitting after prayer, wanting to reflect in writing. No need for polished prose or an attempt at well-constructed arguments. Just thoughts.

I feel more balanced right now than I have since August. Yesterday I was reminded of something very very deep in my relationship with God, something that I will never be able to fully convey to others. But that is how it should be – the intimacy (uns) of the bed is not meant for the chatter of the street.

And this morning I spent time centering my process of rectification (islah), both in terms of God’s Rights (huquq Allah) and the rights of God’s servants (huquq al-‘ibad). I know what I need to do and am doing it, and insha’Allah it will lead me to what I should do next.

In a conversation once with Michael Dann, he surmised that the following section of a verse in the Qur’an was a good summation of Islamic spirituality:

وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ اللَّهُ

Be aware of God such that it positively impacts your behavior, and God will teach you

I think that was a wise observation, masha’Allah, and pretty much sums up how I approach this process.

So then I had some space to just unwind. I read about the Korean War and Augustine. I looked up information about Vietnam, and wondered what it would be like to travel there. I didn’t realize that Vietnam is the 14th most populous country in the world, and has over 90,000,000 souls. Subhan Allah. May God grant them all good in this world, good in the Hereafter, and save them from the punishment of the Fire, ameen. I don’t know if I’ll ever met any of them, but I would like to insha’Allah.

I am truly grateful to be alive, and ask God for well-being (‘afiya) in my religion (din), my worldly life (dunya), and after death (‘akhira), ameen.

اللهم صل على محمد و آل محمد

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The Goal

On your birthday, you are reminded of your years and why you have done what you have done.

The goal is clear: Paradise.

The means to the goal: striving to know the best inward states and outward actions at any given moment, embodying them, and if best, teaching that to others.

“The best remembrance of Allah is when a person is faced with something forbidden (which he has the ability to perform), however because of the remembrance of Allah, he prevents himself from falling into sin.”

– Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام (as quoted in Weapon of the Believer: A Manual of Daily Prayers & Supplications, trans. by Saleem Bhimji, p. 82)

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zakat of knowledge

I have tried to carve out time in the last 3 years to study, in order to move forward towards God with greater clarity. Simultaneously, I have played a far less active role in the American Muslim community during that time. So in order to fulfill my obligation to give out of what Allah has given to me, I am going to share some of the best things I have read. Of course, every text is open to criticism, with the exception of the Qur’an. But I can only give you what I know – perhaps there are better things to read, but I have not read them yet! One must pay the zakat due on the knowledge one has been given, but those with less on the bookshelf (such as myself) can only pay a little.

A contemporary reworking of the classic genre of “The Lives of the Prophets (qisas al-anbiya).” Takes into account concerns such as evolution and our lack of knowledge regarding prehistory. Well-written and engaging, with full citations for those interested in checking the sources upon which the narrative is based.

Arastu, Shaykh Rizwan; God’s Emissaries: Adam to Jesus (I.M.A.M.: 2014)

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An academic study of the contours of Christianity before the advent of Islam. Provides insight into the faith worlds of those who tried to follow the teachings of Jesus, upon him peace.

Kelly, Joseph F.; The World of the Early Christians (The Liturgical Press: 1997)

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A translation of the Qur’an that breaks both the Arabic and English into parallel phrases, allowing the reader familiar with Arabic to easily compare the translation with the original text.

Qarai, Ali Quli; The Qur’an: With a Phrase-by-Phrase English Translation, 2nd ed. (ICAS Press: 2005)

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Prayers attributed to the Prophet’s great grandson, blessings and peace be upon him and his family. If the Qur’an teaches one how to listen to God, this text teaches one how to talk to God.

‘Alī ibn al-Ḥusayn, Imam Zayn al-‘Ābidīn; The Psalms of Islam: al-Ṣaḥīfat al-Kāmilat al-Sajjādiyya, trans. by W. C. Chittick (Muhammadi Trust: 1988)

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Historical overview of the events of Karbala and their universal significance in world history. Text is neither overly academic nor overly devotional.

Naqvi, ‘Allamah ‘Ali Naqi; The Martyr for Mankind (Shahid-e-Insaniyyat): An Abridgement, trans. by S. ‘Ali Akthar (Muhammadi Trust: 1986)

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Section of a longer theological treatise that tries to analyze the way God will judge people’s good deeds vis-a-vis the beliefs they hold. Takes into account atheism, other religions, and divisions within Islam. Author’s approach is compassionate yet precise, while acknowledging the inherent pitfalls of any such analysis. The whole book is valuable, but this final section is particularly noteworthy.

Mutahhari, Murtada; Divine Justice, trans. by S.H. ‘Ābidī, M. Alīdīnā, and S.A. Mīrzā (Kitab al-Islamiyyah: n.d.) pp. 260-350

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A contemporary articulation of the shari’ah meant to be practiced on a daily basis, with reflections on the meanings and wisdoms of the outward rules. There are more lengthy books in Arabic that explain the author’s perspectives in greater detail.

al-Modarresī, Grand Āyatullāh Sayyid M. Taqī al-Ḥusaynī; The Laws of Islam (Enlight Press: n.d.)

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A journalistic analysis of how we determine price for various tangible (homes) and intangible (faith) goods. Easy to read, yet based on scholarly academic research documented in the endnotes. Provides numerous insights into human behaviors and why the capitalist economy functions the way it does. Particularly insightful (and scary) chapter on the economics of climate change.

Porter, Eduardo; The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do (Portfolio: 2011)

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ربنا زدنا علما

و نعوذ بك من علم لا ينفع

اللهم لا علم لنا إلا ما علمتنا إنك أنت العليم الحكيم

Our Lord, increase us in knowledge!

And we seek refuge in You from a knowledge the brings no benefit!

O Allah! There is no knowledge except what You have taught us! Truly You are the All-Knowing, All-Wise

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Laylat ‘Ashura

on this night

standing before the tent of Zaynab

was the only place to be

so i beseech You

Creator of New York City

Sweller of the Atlantic Ocean

Lord of Jupiter and Mars

to place me in the service of Your beloveds

in whatever land You wish

in whatever time You desire

there is no god but You

لبيك يا حسين

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End of Summer Reading

I just made a really important decision: the books I plan to bring with me during two weeks of travel insha’Allah.

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If you can’t read the titles in the photo, here they are:

  • The Fourteen Infallibles by Ammar Nakshawani: Contemporary reflections on Shi’i sacred history.
  • The Traveler’s Guide to Space by Neil Comins: Description of how space travel works and what to expect in the coming decades.
  • Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown: Detailed biography of one of Christianity’s most revered saints.
  • The Origins and Early Development of Shi’a Islam by S. H. M. Jafri: Academic-devotional study of early Islamic history.
  • India: A Sacred Geography by Diana Eck:  Study of how the geography of India is an essential aspect of the Hindu tradition.

If you have read or are reading any of these texts, please send me your thoughts! While I am looking forward to a change of pace (traveling to Georgia, Texas, and Martha’s Vineyard back-to-back insha’Allah), I will miss my library. But at least I can make an attempt to find someone to engage with online in regards to my vacation bibliography!

In the meantime, an early Eid Mubarak to all of you!

!كل عام و أنتم بخير

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