VIDEOS: Worship, Coffee and the Meaning of Life

The April Focus on Seminar, held at SeekersHub Toronto, carried a very special and unique theme, connecting the simple substance of coffee to the ultimate meaning of life. Watch the whole seminar below!

The Purpose of Life in a Cup of Coffee. Shaykh Yahya Rhodus sheds light on how the meaning of life from an Islamic perspective links to all one’s moments in life. He then explains how coffee could perceived through living a life of meaning.

The History of Islam and Coffee. Sidi Abdul-Rehman Malik delves deep into the history and emergence of coffee in the Islamic world. He tells a story of how coffee weaved into the Islamic tradition and then spread to the world and partook in the religious, social, economic and political historical events.

Coffee is a Means to Meanings. Shaykh Faraz Rabbani looks at how coffee relates to meanings in life. He explains that it is only through purpose that coffee could be a means to meanings of life like sincerity, love and gratitude.

Intentions: Coffee and Beyond. Shaykh Yahya focuses on the importance of having intentions for all actions so that even the mundane becomes great. He gives advice on how to make and build our intentions for all actions.

Worship, Coffee and the Meaning of Life Q&A. Shaykh Yahya Rhodus and Shaykh Faraz Rabbani answer some questions that relate to coffee and finding meaning in life.

Cover photo by Yasmeen

Resources for Seekers on Worship, Coffee and the Meaning of Life

Coffee, Worship and the Meaning of Life

If I ever shied away from coffee for worldly reasons, I embraced it for spiritual reasons, never realizing that it would point me to the meaning of life.

“The first time that you drink coffee because of caffeine, it’s slightly euphoric.”said Shaykh Yahya Rhodus.  I distinctly remembered the first time I drank coffee. I’d never liked the taste before, and, for some reason, was always proud that I was a tea-drinker rather than a coffee drinker.

I distinctly remember the pre-dawn atmosphere during last year’s SeekersRetreat. We stumbled to the hall alongside immense pine trees that blended with the darkness of the lake, lapping away in the cool blue darkness. The hall was emulating both physical and spiritual light to the whole campsite. It was a feeling I could never describe properly, with so many other Muslims reciting the Wird al-Latif with Ustadh Amjad Tarsin, chaplain at the University of Toronto.  It was like getting light beamed straight to my heart.

Light or not, I was still exhausted. Having a history of succumbing to physical upheaval at instances of disturbed sleep patterns, changed day scheduled, and diet changes, I wasn’t feeling my best physically, was feeling exhausted and sick physically and was afraid that I’d have to sit out on a session or two for fear of falling asleep during class, displaying atrocious adab and thereby slamming more than a few metaphysical doors against myself.

My only solution was coffee. Hesitantly, I approached the percolator, poured myself a cup, drowned it in sugar and cream, and braced myself for the impact.

meaning of life

To my surprise, it wasn’t bad. Not only that, it was like my body was getting poured with energy. My drowsiness and the accompanying dull headache began to slowly fade away. Not only that, but another rigorous day of classes seemed actually possible.

Back then, I didn’t know what markahah was, but this was my first taste of it.

Worship, Coffee, and the Meaning of Life

“The smallest of things have great meaning.” Shaykh Faraz Rabbani introduced the seminar, held at the new location of SeekersHub Toronto.

That explained a lot, as I was wondering about the connection between coffee and the meaning of life. After the retreat ended and my first semester of college had begun, I’d grown used to the many uses of coffee in an academic setting: as a wake-me-up before early classes, an appetite suppressant during the later ones, as a treat after exams.

But then I began my internship and went from purchasing my coffee from the campus’s Tim Hortons, to getting it from a non-profit affordable café in one of the sketchier, downtown parts of a Canadian city close to my new office.

I still didn’t really know good coffee from bad, but all of a sudden, removed from the company of generally well-to-do, educated people on campus, and instead forced to stand in a line with the poverty-stricken, the homeless, the fragments of broken families, not to mention a fair few drug dealers and gang members, made me think.

Was it really about coffee? What about the world around me, and the pain that flowed through it? Was there any way to connect them?

And most importantly, what was I supposed to do about it?

Coffee: A Spiritual Ritual

Shaykh Yahya Rhodus began the seminar speaking first a little bit about the origins of coffee in Yemen, and how it spread through the regions to become a part of spiritual tradition. For example, there would be duaas composed, to be recited while preparing coffee. These duaas would include prayers for not just the ones who had grown the coffee, the ones who would drink the coffee, and the ones living in Yemen, but extended to include all the Muslims throughout time. This way, a mundane and everyday task-making coffee-became a spiritual connection to Allah, His Messenger, and all of humanity.

Coffee was used as a substance to help with worship, when people’s aspirations were low. Coffee was considered a blessing, he continued, because it was served to the people who would wake up a couple hours before Fajr to pray Tahajjud, causing Imam al-Haddad to say that Shaitaan would run away when the coffee cups started to jingle in the morning, because it meant that the people would be energized by it and not as easy to tempt.

It was the quality that these people had, that made something as simple as coffee, into a spiritual experience. By taking something seemingly mundane casual, and linking it to prayers and worship, it made the action all the more meaningful, on a wordly and spiritual level.

For me, things were slowly beginning to make sense.

Coffee and Politics

The next session was given by Sidi Abdul Rahman Malik, currently a journalist with the BBC and Global Programs Director for SeekersHub.

“A lot of us are searching for markahah, the euphoric, sprightliness that we get from coffee.”

While tea was a strong part of his home life growing up, it was coffee that was considered something to have when outside of the house, during an outing or get-together. This made drinking coffee an occasion rather than a casual thing, something attributed to gathering and spending time with others.

This was part of the reason, he said, that coffee was banned in the 15th century in the Arabian Peninsula, and again in Cairo during the Mamluk dynasty, because it encouraged people to engage with each other, share ideas, and converse actively, thereby creating a potential for political rebellion.

meaning of life

So coffee had come from a simple drink to fuel for revolution.

Coffee, Consumerism, and a Believer’s Ethical Concern

But how did coffee connect to the meaning of life?

The seminar turned serious as Shaykh Faraz gave us a reality check.

“Who is selling us the coffee? What conditions do they harvest it? How much are the workers paid? Who cares? A believer cares!”

He went on to remind us that much of the modern consumer culture was creating a massive effect of horror and pain around the world.

Many of us choose to turn a blind eye at the companies using our desire for a constant stream of new clothing, exotic foods, and the latest technology gadgets, profiting off the blood, sweat, and tears of the grossly underpaid workers procured to service them. Not only that, but multinational companies often destroy poorer countries’ industries that are run at the local level. He gave the example of Nestle, which destroyed Pakistan’s milk industry. Using their multi-billion dollar funds, they were able to invest in advertising, as well as offer their products at a much lower cost than the locals did. When they had monopolized the industry and ousted the local farmers and shopkeepers, they raised their prices much higher—and left a country dependent on outsourcing its dairy from Nestle.

This is only one of countless parts of their lives that a believer needs to be careful about. From sweatshop clothing producers to smartphone-and-tablet factories, we need to look beyond these seemingly everyday choices, and make an effort to seek Allah in them.

“Our ethical concern isn’t just because we’re a bunch of hippies. Buy things that you know are pleasing to Allah.”

Even if it made things a little more complicated and expensive, that could be solved by simply training the self to desire less.

“Make those choices meaningful, you’ll find meaning in it.”

In essence, meaning is what we all are searching for. Consumerism is just us getting sidetracked.

From the Mundane to the Experiential

Shaykh Yahya’s second session tied everything together perfectly.

“Make the mundane spiritual, you will have a constant experience with the Divine.”

He referenced Imam Ghazali’s book The Beginning of Guidance, which outlines how to live one’s life as productively as possible, fulfilling all one’s obligations to the Creator and creation. The book contains a vast amount of duaas, for things as seemingly mundane as putting on clothes in the morning. When these duaas are repeated on a constant basis, he explained, they begin to have an immense effect of the heart in terms of connecting with the Divine. This runs counter-intuitively to our desires, as many of our egos dislike regulation and routine, and want to jump to the next interesting thing.

Again, it’s in connecting with the mundane, that you can begin to connect with the Creator.

Coffee, Clothing, Custom…and God

Whereas I can now say that I do have a better understanding of what coffee is (and also now cannot remember the last time I got it from Tim Hortons’), I now know that that’s not the point.

In everything, there is an opportunity to connect with Allah. While people look for some sort of a “spiritual buzz,” as the only sign of a strong connection, that can be misleading. The meaning is much, much deeper.

Tomorrow, next week, and next year, I hope that everything will have a deeper meaning. Not just coffee, but my entire life.

meaning of life

Now when I cradle a cup of coffee in my hands, I will remember to pray for the ones who grew it, the ones who harvested it, and the ones who prepared it. When I seek refuge in its warmth, I will remember the ones on the street with no shelter, and pray for them too. When unintelligible shouting meets my ears, when homeless teens look at me sideways from hollowed eyes, when refugee newcomers ask me if I can speak their language, when another drug deal or robbery happens a few feet away from me…

…maybe I will be able to dig deeper, and go from witnessing the mundane to witnessing the One.

Cover photo by Maria Keays. Fire photo by Mark K. Street photo by Daniel Lobo.

Resources for Seekers

VIDEO: 5 Ways to Get Closer To Your Purpose on Earth

What is your purpose in life?

Are you still searching for answers for your purpose on Earth? Shaykh Yahya Rhodus gives this remarkably inspiring khutbah during his brief visit to Toronto, Canada, offering 5 ways to get close to Allah and His Plan for you.

Resources for seekers:

Cover photo by Dario Cogliati.

When Will Muslims Take Back Jerusalem? Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

When will Muslims take back Jerusalem? This question has been asked over and over again during the last few decades…but the answer has always evaded us. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, however, has the answer.

Throughout his life, he has seen Muslims reacting to their situations with radicalism, anarchy, horror, and bloodshed. He doesn’t see them emulating the glory of Islam.

When he looks at them, he doesn’t see the character of the Prophet Muhammad, Salah al-Din, and other heroes of Islam, who treated others so well that they were praised by even their prisoners.

The problem, he says, is that Muslims are reacting too much like the ones that hurt them. We react to evil in kind, forgetting that those people who hurt us are not our teachers. He gives the examples of Imam Ghazali, who was ostracized for his teachings, and Imam Ahmad Zarrouq, who fought for the rights of the Jews, but whose teachings carried far into the future.

Now, left to represent Islam are beautiful stones like the Taj Mahal and the Blue Mosque, but the hearts that built them, are long gone.

Cover photo by Asim Bharwani.

Resources for Seekers

How do I find purpose in Life? 11-part class with Shaykh Walead Mosaad

This class was conducted by Shaykh Walead Mosaad as part of Sakina Collective’s Spring 2015 Semester roster of classes. The class caters to an American Muslim audience who seek to apply the Prophetic teachings in their daily lives. The topics and discussions were organic and were set as per the feedback received from the attendees. The topics discussed reflect the wide range of issues American Muslims contend with on a daily basis from spirituality to child-rearing to doubts about religion to finance.

The 11 parts are entitled

  1. Cultivating the inner life
  2. Addressing doubts about Islam
  3. Overcoming Obstacles to more consistent worship
  4. How do we deal with suffering
  5. He She is neither family or spouse – how de we deal with each other?
  6. How can I be friends with my neighbours and coworkers without compromising my deen?
  7. How do I tackle the responsibility of my children’s upbringing?
  8. Islam and finance
  9. How do I find purpose in Life?
  10. Anger Management
  11. Etiquette of discourse and disagreement

Listen to them all here

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Charity in the Qurʾān: Preservation of the Inherent Dignity of Recipients

When he was at a stoplight behind a long row of cars a couple of weeks ago, Shaykh Shuaib Ally noticed a man by the side of the road, going from car to car, asking for change.

When he saw the car in front of me, his attitude noticeably brightened, and he walked up to it happily in a confident manner, far removed from the way he had been going about his business before.
The woman in the car had already rolled down her window, and they started exchanging pleasantries, even before he had reached her car or she had given him anything. It seemed to me from the exchange that they already knew each other. He probably regularly saw her when she drove that route, and she had likely made it a habit of giving him some money every time she saw him.
This encounter stayed with me. I thought about it again when I was reading the exegesis of verses describing the righteous: ‘In their wealth, there is a right; for the one who asks, and the one prevented from work’ [51:26]; as well as: ‘Those whom, from their wealth, is a known right, for the one who asks, and the one prevented from work’ [70:29].

With dignity intact

The Qurʾān describes the giving of the righteous right or a due, meaning that they recognize that they aren’t doing anybody else a favour by giving them something they otherwise had no right to. Rather, they consider it a due being returned to the recipient, and a right being fulfilled. They realize that God has placed this wealth in their hands as a trust, and part of fulfilling that trust is to disburse it to those in need.

Ibn ʿĀshūr, the Mālikī exegete, has a related take on the use of ‘right’ in these verses. He says that from the perspective of the giver: “it is as if they have considered the recipient as actual co-owners of their wealth. They do this because of their inherent desire to take into account the feelings of the recipient.”

The recipient too recognizes this. That is why they aren’t made to feel inferior for asking for it, or being in a position in which they must take it. When they take something that is their due and their right, they can do so with their dignity intact. It is not the case that they have been given it as handout, such that they have to feel that their personal honor has been in some way compromised, or that they are beholden to others.
The Qurʾān also calls what is given something set or known. This indicates that the giver already has an idea that they have put aside a set amount to be disbursed to others. This is to say that their mental preparation is to give, not that they need to be convinced to do so.
The recipient also knows this – that the person has money set aside to give. This too preserves their inherent dignity, because they don’t feel like they need to beg them to give them something. Rather, they already know that there is something there for them, irrespective of whether the amount is small or large.
This may be one of the reasons why the trait is so praiseworthy in the Qurʾān, because not only does a person give, but their overall orientation towards giving affects how they give and the manner in which they perceive others. In doing so, they not only benefit others financially, but also positively affect the psychology and behaviour of the recipient as well.

charity in the Quran

Credits: Danny Hahn

Giving privately is best

The situation I described above also reminds me of other instances in the Qurʾān in which a premium is placed on giving due consideration to the dignity and personhood of recipients.
One such indication is found in the special praise reserved for giving in private. The Qur’an says, ‘If you give openly in charity – how excellent that is!  If you conceal the charity, and give it to the poor, it is better for you…’ [2.271].
This concern with privately-given charity is meant to ensure one’s own sincerity in giving by focusing the act of charity rather than the self, and also on the needs of others. At the same time, it is a means of preserving the inherent dignity of the recipient’s personhood, because the public act of giving exposes what is often considered their inferior position to others.

Give what is good

A second indication can be found in the way the Qurʾān demands that what is given to recipients is also what the donors themselves would actually themselves use. It says, “Its expiation is to feed ten poor people, out of what you would normally feed your families” [5:89].
The reason for this is that those involved in charitable efforts might sometimes suffice themselves with the provision of low quality food or itens to those in need, thinking that those in need should be happy with whatever they get.
However, this treats recipients in an undignified manner, as they can see that they are being provided with something that the giver would not themselves consider suitable for normal consumption.
The general Qurʾānic principle, as established in this verse, is to be attuned to the needs of others; to act in a manner that at once assists, while also preserving their human dignity.

Speak kindly

The manner in which the man and the woman that I described above spoke to each other, also reminds me of the important connection the Qurʾān draws between giving and speaking kindly. This is meant to offset any shame or resentment a person who is forced to ask and receive might naturally feel. This is highlighted in a number of verses dealing with this theme.

As the default, the Qurʾān prohibits us from speaking harshly to beggars [93:10]. When a person is forced into a situation in which they have to ask others for assistance, their doing so is generally indicative of an underlying need. If a person does not want to assist them, the least they can do is not exacerbate their situation by speaking unkindly, thereby humiliating them.

Better than this, however, is to want to give to those asking. In a situation in which one has nothing to give and has to turn those asking away, the Qurʾān nevertheless commands us to speak kindly to them [17:28]. This is a means of consoling those asking and rehabilitating their dignity, even though they have not actually benefited materially from you. Because this benefits them psychologically, it is superior to harming or ignoring them.
If a person can give, the Qurʾān praises those who do so without following it up with reminding the recipient about it [2.262]. This is because doing so would then become a constant source of shame for the recipient.

charity in the Quran

Credits: Spyros Papaspyropoulos

One of the reasons people do not like to benefit materially from others is because they feel like they will then be beholden to the other. The Qurʾānic model shows that the outlook of a charitable person is to give without expecting anything in return; it is to benefit others without the idea that they will then hold some type of right over them.
Finally, there are some situations in which a person does not ask, but you know that they internally desire something because of their impoverished situation. The Qur’an describes such a situation: the estate of a deceased is being divided, and there are those present who have no legal share to claim, yet internally desire some of it [4.8]. In such a situation, the Qurʾān commands us to speak kindly to them, even though they have no legal claim to any of this wealth.

Kindness is excellence

The Qurʾān’s insistence on treating others with kindness when asked for charity is thus part of a general Qurʾānic theme of describing the attitude of those who give with excellence.
The Qurʾān is not only concerned with our benefiting others materially and financially. It also demonstrates a concern for us changing our orientation towards giving, in a way that not only benefits financially, but also psychologically. This new Qurʾānic outlook is one that situates giving in a context that takes into account and preserves the dignity of those who are in less desirable economic circumstances.
And God knows best.

Cover photo by Rui Duarte. Others by Danny Hahn and Spyros Papaspyropoulos.

Resources for Seekers

Riding the Tiger of Modernity – Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad

Do the challenges of modernity make you want to run for the hills or jump on the back of the tiger, to see if you can tame it? Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad addresses this conundrum in this clip from this year’s Cambridge Muslim College retreat.

Cover photo by Thomas Hawk.

Resources on modernity for seekers

Modernity

An Unwavering Moral Compass

A woman once had something that was more valuable than all her worldly posessions. Imam Khalid Latif reveals what it is, and shows us how, by looking at the world within the heart, we can change the world around us.


Put it in to practice by taking a free course on Ghazali’s book “The Marvels of the Heart.”

Our thanks to the ICNYU for this recording. Cover photo by Andrea Deeley.

Resources on Having An Unwavering Moral Compass

New Beginning at SeekersHub Toronto

New Beginning at SeekersHub Toronto

On Saturday April 2nd, SeekersHub Toronto welcomed a new beginning with a grand opening event for their stunning new location. With a large open plan space, a mother’s room, a father’s room and multiple instruction areas, the new SeekersHub Toronto is truly breaking barriers to sound Islamic learning. Watch the full recording on the SeekersHub Youtube channel.

Here’s a look into some of the highlights of the night, and what this move means for Muslims around the world.

 

Preserving Prophetic Guidance

Ustadh Amjad Tarsin opened the event by talking about the importance of preserving sound Islamic scholarship.

“We need to strive to preserve the Prophetic teachings in this day and age,” he said. “Alhamdulillah, the steps are being taken to build a fully-functional seminary that really represents the light of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, that transforms people’s lives and benefits them in the Hereafter and in the life of this world.”

He then went on to explain how the impact of courses taught on-ground is amplified globally.

SeekersHub Toronto provides free courses on-ground in Mississauga, Ontario, but the benefit does not stop there. These courses become recorded lesson sets for students in over 130 countries, offered four times a year, free of cost.

Ustadh Amjad summarized the sentiment in the room beautifully: “This is a centre that we can support, that we can stand by, and that we can benefit from.”

Realizing Aspirations

The night continued with lively nasheed performances by Mouaz al Nass, Ibrahim al Nass, and Nader Khan, and addresses from the various teachers in attendance.

Ustadh Nazim Baksh, who is the fountainhead of many blessed projects in the West, spoke about how historic this moment in time is.

Just 45 years ago, the mosques around the Greater Toronto Area would not come near filling up for Eid prayer. Yet, here we find ourselves opening a seminary for full-time students of knowledge to learn and serve their communities locally.

“All my kids are born in Canada. All my grandchildren are born here. So, we’re moving in that direction. We have to figure out how we’re  going to keep the Prophetic tradition alive,” Ustadh Nazim implored.

“My advice to you is to deeply consider the physical space, the beauty, the accommodation, and the wonderful knowledge that is going to be disseminated here. But [think about] “me”, personally: how am I going to be benefitting, affected by what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing?”

A Firm Step In The Right Direction

“Why did we move to this Hub? There’s a need underlying it.”

SFR 2

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, founder and executive director of SeekersHub, explained the urgency in establishing an Islamic seminary.

“The work we do at the Hub here in Toronto is part of a global effort to spread Prophetic guidance. And one of the aspects of that locally, here, in Toronto, is that the mandate that we have is not simply to teach general community classes… Right from the get-go, one of the things that was instilled in us by our teachers… is that the most urgent duty, the most pressing responsibility, is that we train future generations of scholars.”

SeekersHub Toronto is home to six full-time students of knowledge, and is building capacity for more. Now, communities in the West can have teachers and leaders who understand their challenges, and are grounded in traditional Islamic teachings.

Join us

“There was no graduation,” Shaykh Faid Muhammad Said said passionately. “The Sahaba were learning, and they were teaching. And sometimes they had learned something very small!”

The way of the pious predecessors was to take Islamic knowledge and spread its benefit as far and wide as possible.

With classes nearly every day of the week, on a number of different topics, SeekersHub Toronto strives to open the door of learning for everyone.

Why the Lahore Bombings Show that Ignorance is Folly

A proverb reads, “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.” In the wake of the Lahore bombings, Imam Zaid Shakir argues the opposite; that an age of rampart confusion, this ignorance can become the cause of religious extremism. the cause of religious extremism

We are grateful to the Islamic Centre of Irvine for this recording. Cover photo by Shawn Carpenter.

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