The Plague Within: Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on the Roots of Violent Extremism

Vigilante acts of violence have killed hundreds around the world in the last few days. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf writes plainly on the dark and destructive ideology which underpins groups like ISIS and their sympathisers.

According to a good hadith related by Ahmad and al-Tabarani, the Messenger of God, may God’s peace and blessings be upon him, said, “You will never believe until you show mercy to one another.”
“All of us are merciful, O Messenger of God!” his companions responded.
The Prophet, God’s peace and blessings upon him, explained, “I’m not talking about one of you showing mercy to his friend; I’m talking about universal mercy—mercy towards everyone.”
For those Muslims and people of other faiths who lost loved ones in the recent tragedies in Baghdad two days ago, in Bangladesh last Friday, in Istanbul the day before that, in Lebanon earlier last week, and in Yemen and Orlando last month, I am deeply saddened and can only offer my prayers, even as I am painfully aware of my state of utter helplessness at what has befallen our global community. As I write this, I learned about yet another bombing outside our beloved Prophet’s mosque in Medina, as believers were about to break their fast yesterday, unjustly killing four innocent security guards. Fortunately, due to the blessings of the place, the sound of the explosion was thought to be the boom of the cannon used to announce the time has come to break the fast, so the people in the mosque were not frightened nor panicked. The Prophet, God’s peace and blessings upon him, said, “Whoever frightens the people of Medina has the damnation of God, the angels, and all of humanity.” Needless to say, the horror of these atrocities is compounded because they are being carried out—intentionally—in the blessed month of Ramadan.

A faith-eating plague

A plague is upon us, and it has its vectors. Like the brain-eating amoebas that have struck the warm waters of the Southern states in America, a faith-eating plague has been spreading across the global Muslim community. This insidious disease has a source, and that source must be identified, so we can begin to inoculate our communities against it.
New versions of our ancient faith have sprung up and have infected the hearts and minds of countless young people across the globe. Imam Adel Al-Kalbani, who led prayers in the Haram of Mecca for several years, has publicly stated that these youth are the bitter harvest of teachings that have emanated from pulpits throughout the Arabian Peninsula, teachings that have permeated all corners of the world, teachings that focus on hatred, exclusivity, provincialism, and xenophobia. These teachings anathematize any Muslim who does not share their simple-minded, literalist, anti-metaphysical, primitive, and impoverished form of Islam, and they reject the immense body of Islamic scholarship from the luminaries of our tradition.

The spread of this ideology

Due to a sophisticated network of funding, these teachings have flooded bookstores throughout the Muslim world and even in America, Europe, and Australia. For a case study of what they have spawned, we might look to Kosovo. Our “Islamic” schools are now filled with books published by this sect that lure the impressionable minds of our youth at an age when they are most susceptible to indoctrination. This sect of Islam, however, is not the sole source of our current crisis, and it would be wrong to place all blame on it alone; many of its adherents are peace-loving quietists, who want only to be left alone to practice their faith as they see fit. Their exclusivism is a necessary but not sufficient cause for the xenophobic hatred that leads to such violence. The terroristic Islamists are a hybrid of an exclusivist takfiri version of the above and the political Islamist ideology that has permeated much of the Arab and South Asian world for the last several decades. It is this marriage made in hell that must be understood in order to fully grasp the calamitous situation we find our community in. While the role that Western interventions and misadventures in the region have played in creating this quagmire should not be set aside, diminished, or denied, we should, however, keep in mind that Muslims have been invaded many times in the past yet never reacted like these fanatics. Historically, belligerent enemies often admired the nobility Muslims displayed in their strict adherence to history’s first humane rules of engagement that were laid down by the Prophet himself to insure that mercy was never completely divorced from the callousness of conflict.
We need to clearly see the pernicious and pervasive nature of this ideological plague and how it is responsible for the chaos and terror spreading even to the city of our Prophet, God’s peace and blessings upon him, in all its inviolability. Its most vulnerable victims are our disaffected youth who often live in desolate circumstances with little hope for their futures. Promises of paradise and easy-out strategies from the weariness of this world have enticed these suicidal youth to express their pathologies in the demonically deceptive causes of “Islamic” radicalism. The pictures they leave behind—showing the supercilious smiles on their faces, even as they hold in their hapless hands their Western-made assault rifles—are testament to the effective brainwashing taking place.

Normative voices drowned out

The damage being wrought is not only within Islam but also to Islam’s good name in the eyes of the world. These now daily occurrences of destructive, hate-filled violence are beginning to drown out the voices of normative Islam, thereby cultivating a real hatred in the hearts of those outside our communities. In the minds of many around the world, Islam, once considered a great world religion, is being reduced to an odious political ideology that threatens global security; that, in turn, is proving disastrous for minority Muslim communities, who now abide in increasingly hostile environments in secular societies.

Counter-voices of scholars and activists

What we need to counter this plague are the voices of scholars, as well as grassroots activists, who can begin to identify the real culprits behind this fanatical ideology. What we do not need are more voices that veil the problem with empty, hollow, and vacuous arguments that this militancy has little to do with religion; it has everything to do with religion: misguided, fanatical, ideological, and politicized religion. It is the religion of resentment, envy, powerlessness, and nihilism. It does, however, have nothing to do with the merciful teachings of our Prophet, God’s peace and blessings upon him. Unchecked, we will see this plague foment more such violence, until one day, God forbid, these hateful and vile adherents obtain a nuclear device, the use of which has already been sanctioned by their “scholars,” including one currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. If such a scenario unfolds, it is highly probable that the full wrath of Western powers will be unleashed upon a helpless Muslim world that would make even the horrendous Mongol invasions of the 13th century look like a stroll in the park.

“To flee from calamities is the Sunnah of Prophets”

Invariably, some will remark that a fear of Western retaliation is a sign of cowardice. For those zealots, I would recommend turning back to the Qur’an, specifically to reflect on the undeniably brave Messenger Moses, peace be upon him, who unintentionally killed an Egyptian after striking him with his powerful blow, only because he was considered an enemy, and then asked God’s forgiveness and “fled vigilantly out of fear” (28:21). This is a cautionary tale, and it behooves all of us to reflect upon it as a lesson of what not to do when oppressed, especially when we are without political authority or the means to redress our grievances. Imam al-Sahrwardi stated, “To flee from calamities is the Sunnah of Prophets.” It is best not to let our baser self, our lust for revenge, get the better of us.
We would do well to acknowledge that much of what is happening in the Muslim world and to Muslim communities in the West is from what our own hands have wrought. Muslims have been in the West for a long time and have done little to educate people here about our faith; too many of us have been occupied in our wordly affairs, while some of our mosques and schools have been breeding grounds for an ideological Islamism rather than Islam. The Qur’an clearly instructs us that when faced with calamities, we ought to look first at what we may have done to bring them upon us. Introspection is a Qur’anic injunction. Until we come to terms with this Qur’anic truth, we will remain mired in the mirage of denial, always pointing fingers in every direction but at ourselves. “Verily, God does not change the conditions of a people until they change themselves” (Qur’an, 13:11).
As Ramadan comes to a close, let us pray for the oppressed and the guidance of the oppressors, for those who have been killed, and for those who lost their loved ones, and most of all, let us heed our Prophet’s call and want mercy for everyone.

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The Dangers of Judging People Based on Their Status Updates, by Ustadh Salman Younas

Do you find yourself painting a mental picture of someone based on their social media profile? Ustadh Salman Younas has valuable advice on how to keep a good opinion, especially if you disagree with them.

 

My personal rule is not to formulate judgments about people based purely on online interaction/information. This applies especially to those who I do not see eye-to-eye with on particular issues. There are exceptions to this rule but my personal experience demonstrates that perceptions formulated based on web-interactions are often highly deceptive and skewed. I’ll mention two examples here:

A Learned Scholar With Impeccable Character

My first experience was with Shaykh Muhammad ibn Yahya al-Ninowy: Prior to meeting him, I would read and hear a lot of things concerning him and his views. His connection to X group of scholars, his views on such and such theological matter, or this and that prophetic tradition, and so forth. When I first had a chance to meet and spend a few days with him nearly a decade ago, the person I saw was a learned scholar with impeccable character, attentive and caring to those around him, generous with his time, always smiling, and very positive.

I remember holding the door open for him one day and he kept telling me to enter first. Later, I asked him about the issue of disobeying the commands of elders and scholars when it was done out of adab as Ali (God be well-pleased with him) had done with the Prophet (blessings be upon him). He laughed, held my hand, and simply said, “I am not the Prophet, Salman, and I pray to God that you will be like Ali.”

Graves, Music, and Miracle Stories?

My other experience was with Shaykh Nuh Haa Meem Keller. I always thought Haa Meem was a rather odd middle name. Being a Sufi did not aid my initial perception of Shaykh Nuh either, nor did the hadra, and nor the fact that Sufis were associated with graves, music, miracle stories, and a host of other practices and beliefs that seemed extremely odd at the time. I eventually matured and settled in Amman where I lived for nearly half a decade. To this day, I have never seen anyone more actualized in his spiritual state than Shaykh Nuh, nor anyone more attached to the sunna of the Prophet (blessings be upon him). There was no grave “worship”, no music, no giving your money to the shaykh, no constant miracle stories. All I heard was one message: realize tawhid, worship Him, trust in Him, be people of good and benefit, etc. He is the one who demonstrated to me that the notion of al-insan al-kamil (‘the perfect man’) was in fact a reality and continues to be a reality realized by some.

These are two examples from among many where the portrayal of someone on social media and websites turned out to be utterly deceptive and false. We have a tendency to be quick in formulating judgments about others based on some website setup against that person, or some limited exposure to certain views, or the polemics of certain people and groups.

Small Screen Projects Resentment

Among our own fellow brothers and sisters whom we may discuss and disagree with publicly on the internet, we fall into the error of reading anger, resentment, hatred, and animosity into their comments and stances. This projection on our part is amplified manifold by the small screen that stands between us. I have found that meeting people humanizes them; it brings about a more respectful, civilized, and beneficial relationship. Some of my closest colleagues today are people who are in some ways my polar opposites and who disagree with me on fundamental issues. I was fortunate enough to have actually had the chance to sit with them and discuss things like real people are meant to.

Don’t let the internet damage your relationships with others. Don’t let it allow you to fall into the sin of ill-will towards people, arrogance, hatred for your fellow brothers/sisters, animosity, backbiting, and the like. Recognize the potential of this medium to distort your perception and take the means to make sure that does not happen. When discussing with another, refer to him/her respectfully, thank that person for sharing their thoughts, make a supplication, and do not say things you would not say to someone in person.

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Muslim Scholars: Are They Irrelevant? by Shaykh Salim Moeladawilah

In the increasing accessibility of the digital age, we can connect with many more of our fellow believers from all over the globe. We are exposed to a greater variety of cultures, practices, traditions, and opinions. This begs the question; is it really necessary to take our knowledge from Muslim scholars, if we can access the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet ﷺ ourselves? Shaykh Salim Moeladawilah looks into it.

Imam Abu Dawud included in his celebrated collection of Hadith, a narration of a group of Companions of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ who were journeying together. In the course of their trip, one of the party was severely wounded on the head by a rock, exposing part of his cranium. The injured Companion later slept only to awake in a state of major ritual impurity (janāba). Upon consulting his colleagues about his ablution options and whether or not it would be permissible for him to perform dry ablution (tayammum), they replied that no, they didn’t believe that he would be permitted to perform dry ablution as he was physically able to wash with water. The injured Companion bathed and subsequently passed away when water entered into his brain cavity.

The Prophet ﷺ, upon this news reaching him, expressed anger at the Companions who gave their misguided advice saying, “They killed him, may God kill them.” (Shaykh Muhammad Shams-ul-Haq Azimabadi and other Hadith commentators have noted that this was not a prayer by the Prophetﷺ against the Companions, instead it was a very strongly worded warning).

Heﷺ went on to say, “If they didn’t know, why did they not ask? Verily the cure for ignorance is the question.”

 

Islam as Accredited Learning?

The concept of accredited learning and religious opinion is one founded in the very early years of Islam, as this Hadith demonstrates. The Prophetﷺ attributed the death of the Companion directly to those who gave him their invalid religious opinion, stating quite clearly, “They killed him.”

This Hadith has been heavily commented upon and quoted by scholars throughout the generations, and serves as a poignant example for us all about the importance of referring all matters, particularly matters of the religion, to those who possess knowledge in that area. It is a concept also spoken about in the Quran where God says, “So ask the people of the message if you do not know” [21: 7], meaning, as some Quran commentators have stated, to refer religious matters to people who possess knowledge of the religion.

Islam has always had a deep respect for scholarly credentials. This respect does not rely merely on individual intellectual merit, but it is built upon critiquing where and who one took their knowledge from; the authoritative chain of knowledge transmission (Sanad/Isnad). Imam Muslim in his compilation of rigorously authenticated Hadith quotes the Imam Muhammad ibn Sirin as saying, “Isnad was not asked about, but when the tribulations came, they said name for us your (Sanad).”

The imam is again quoted by Imam Muslim imparting the penetrating advice, “Verily this knowledge is the religion, so look at whom you take your religion from.” The imam and follower of the Companions Abdullah ibn Mubarak is also quoted in the introduction to Imam Muslim’s work, counselling, “Isnad is a [necessary] part of the religion, and were it not for Isnad, anyone would say as they please.”

 

We Are Accountable for Our Misinformation

These narrations and the quoted Quranic verse show us glimpses of the remarkable scholarly evaluation and critique that is present in the Muslim academic tradition. Knowledge, as such, is not merely what one arrives at through the use of their intellect, but the intellect is kept in check by our textual sources, being the Quran and Hadith. These sources are preserved, in form and in meaning, by scholars who spend a lifetime learning and living the message the Prophet Muhammadﷺ brought us in the 23 years of his prophethood, each generation adding to the vast ocean of scholarly work present before it. It is a remarkable testimony to the authenticity of Islam that we can trace a judicial opinion, understanding, or contention back through the generations to find its origin, often fourteen centuries ago in the time of the honoured Companions. 

In front of such an incredible academic tradition, carelessness in where we take our religious knowledge from would be foolish and irresponsible. The Prophetﷺ held the Companions in the Hadith narrated by Abu Dawud accountable for the misinformation they gave their colleague, leading to his death. This in extreme example of the worldly consequences of acting upon questionable knowledge, or no knowledge at all.

Today we find countless Muslims carrying on with their lives seemingly throwing caution to the wind with many matters of the religion. Doing so they are putting themselves and others in dangerous and precarious positions in both their worldly and religious affairs, either out of a lack of knowledge or due to misunderstanding something they do know. There are examples of people combining prayers to get an early nights sleep and others incorrectly calculating and distributing their zakat. Others still enter unlawful financial transactions due to not learning about the rules of trade in Islam, and there are even some who in Ramadan continue to eat until the end of the Fajr (dawn prayer) call to prayer, when the time for fasting enters at the beginning of the time for Fajr, ostensibly having developed their own judicial ruling in the matter. The theme throughout these cases is the ignorance and carelessness we see therein, an ignorance which could easily be remedied by simply posing a question to the right person. As the Prophetﷺ said in the aforementioned Hadith, “Verily the cure for ignorance is the question,” and in another Hadith he states, “Seeking knowledge is obligatory for every male and female Muslim.”

Guidance is Getting Easier and Easier to Find…

For the Muslim who sincerely wants to know, guidance and answers are getting easier and easier to find. The excuses for ignorance in a time where verifiable scholarship can be accessed are few indeed, and when we prioritize seeking worldly knowledge with our resources over seeking religious knowledge, we are putting ourselves in a compromising situation at best in matters of our religion and consequently our eternal abode. It would be quite telling of our priorities if, when it came to matters of our bodily health, we wouldn’t settle for anything but qualified medical practitioners graduated from recognized, reputable institutes and functioning under scrutinizing federal bodies, but when it came to matters of our religion we lent an ear to and accepted the words of those who may have no credentials to their name at all. It would be even more telling and showing of our disconnect with and disrespect for authentic scholarship if we ourselves were prone to dispense these answers when we weren’t fully knowing of them.

The discerning Muslim should value matters of their religion over their worldly matters. Death may be the worst one may expect with the ruin of their bodily health, however ruin in matters of the faith can lead to everlasting ruin in the hereafter. It is pertinent that we maintain a God-fearing attitude when we take religious opinions or listen to counsel. God says in chapter al-Fatir in the Quran, It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear God [35:28], being that true knowledge imparts God-fearing and where such fear is absent, so is knowledge. This then is our metre by which we can judge both which opinions to take and what answers to give, and god-fearing would entail that should we not know, we not speak. As Imam Abu Hanifa stated, Who speaks about knowledge and thinks God won’t ask him, ‘How did you give religious opinion in God’s religion?’ has verily been lax with his self and his religion,” and as Imam Shafi’i is quoted, “Those have spoken about [religious] knowledge that, would they have kept their silence about some of which they spoke, silence would have been better and safer for them.”

Neither wanton opining nor unfounded criticism fit into Islam’s understanding of knowledge, nor does careless following. It is an understanding which lead to the famous line of poetry by Shaykh Abu Hasan al-Hussar, “Not every difference of opinion counts, only differences which are worthy of consideration.” In a Hadith the Prophet Muhammad  ﷺ states, “The believer is intelligent, discerning, and careful.”

Is it not then upon us, as followers of our Prophet, to embody these traits and exercise the utmost caution with matters of the religion? The noble Companion and second caliph in Islam, Sayyiduna Umar ibn al-Khatab is famously quoted describing himself, “I am not one who cheats, nor do I let myself be cheated.”

Caution in matters of the religion is of this wariness mentioned by Umar. Caution and wisdom dictate we refer matters to those who know better than us. To take advice directly from the Quran, “So ask the people of the message if you do not know.”

Tired of being confused by the unqualified and misinformed? SeekersHub Answers Service provides qualified and relevant answers on a wide variety of topics.

 

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Photos by Dennis Jarvis.

Serve Your Parents Now Before It’s Too Late, by Ustadh Salman Younas

Doing well by one’s parents is considered paramount in our beliefs. Ustadh Salman Younas explains why we should take the opportunity to serve our parents now, before it’s too late.

My grandfather passed away aged 93. His son, my father, passed away an hour after him aged 58. My father was given the blessing and tawfiq from God to serve his father well into his old age in a way that most people found amazingly incomprehensible. He would often tell us when we asked him to visit us, “I cannot go anywhere while your grandfather is alive.” His service to him demanded his complete time and energy.

The Risk Of Losing Out

I was not given the blessing and tawfiq from God to be in the service of my father, as he had been in the service of his father. For many of us, service to parents starts after they retire or well beyond that when they become so old as to be in absolute need of their children. This is when we begin to think of taking care of them. But there is no guarantee that they will reach such an age. There is the risk of losing out on the immense reward of being in service to one’s parents during their lifetime, an act that the Qur’an regularly mentions alongside the most fundamental aspect of our faith: belief itself.

My service to my father after his passing can only be through good works on his behalf and striving to be a source of continual charity (sadaqa jariya) for him. I will not be able to feed him, stand up in respect for him, make him happy through an embrace, help him up the stairs when he is old, financially support him, give him the free time to enjoy his grandchildren, look after his health etc. I can only hope that what I do now will be sufficient in God’s eyes.

The basic lesson here is don’t wait to be in service of your parents. Whatever little you can do, do it now regardless of whether your parents are young or elderly because there are no guarantees. Do not miss out on the reward of this immense act based on the false perception that you will have time in the future.

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Looking Down On The Worship of Others, by Ustadh Salman Younas

Every Ramadan there is a debate – sometimes prolonged and other times less so – regarding how many cycles of Tarawih one should pray. Is the sunna to pray 8? Or is it 20? Or is it something else? Ustadh Salman Younas critiques the culture of using these differences to look down on others.

These discussions may be important in certain settings but they have assisted in creating a culture where individuals look down on the worship of others, where one pats oneself on the back for praying the “full amount”, where those who pray less are joked about through memes and statuses. The self (nafs) is fed and aggrandized in this context through the worst of ways: in the guise of following and defending the sunna.

Ramadan is not a time to judge. It is a time to strive, struggle, and do our best. For someone who never prayed, praying even the obligatory prayers is a great accomplishment; for someone who only prayed the obligatory prayers, praying the associated sunan is a great step forward; for someone who never prayed the night prayer (qiyam al-layl), performing a few cycles of it is from divine tawfiq; for someone who regularly prayed the night prayer, praying it in even more copious amounts is an increased blessing from God.

Quality, not quantity

Your 20 cycles mean nothing if you conclude them by judging those who prayed less than you. Your recitation of the Quran means nothing if you look down on those who were not able to read as much as you think they should have. A single cycle of prayer and a single session of Quranic recitation done out of sincerity and hope in God’s reward is a million times better than mountains of worship accompanied with subtle arrogance and a sense of superiority.
Don’t let your self delude you and squander your works this month (or any other for that matter). If you find yourself feeling this way, recognize your flaw and use this month to overcome it. Do not discount anyone’s worship regardless of whether it is up to your standards or not. Only someone who does not know the value of worship says things like, “He only prayed 6 cycles of Tarawih!” Instead, say, “MashaAllah, may God accept it and increase us all in good.”

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Life Knocking The Wind Out of You This Ramadan? Don’t Despair

Do you work long hours and find yourself too exhausted to do much by way of extra worship in Ramadan? Don’t despair. You’re not alone. Ustadh Salman Younas has some advice on what to do.

This is a situation that many people find themselves in, and it is understandable to feel disheartened about spending most of your Ramadan in other than worship.
The advice I would give is to recognize what worship and obedience are in our tradition. The self (nafs) and the devil often delude us into looking towards the “big acts” – reading lots of Qur’an, performing all the Tarawih prayers at the mosque, etc. When we miss or fall short on these, we think we have missed out on everything and don’t recognize the many smaller and simpler acts we could be engaging in.
In a situation where much of one’s day is in the work place, these are some simple acts that one can engage in to benefit during Ramadan:

1. Remembrance of God (dhikr)

All this requires is your tongue to be free. You could be behind a computer typing away and still recite ‘subhanallah’, or walking in the hall uttering ‘alhamdulilah’, or commuting to the office stating ‘la ilaha illa allah’. Keep a tasbih or a counter in your hand as it will act as a reminder and facilitate your dhikr. While you may not be able to engage in dhikr the entire work-day, if you put your heart to it you can keep your tongue pretty moist with His name.

2. Supplication

Like dhikr, this can also be done at any time and virtually any where. Not only that, but the Prophet (God bless him) defined supplication as the “essence of worship”. Try to take out just a few minutes every hour or so to make a sincere supplication to God. If you can’t find a few minutes, then take out a minute or thirty seconds.

3. Prayer & “Lunch” Breaks

You might not be having lunch but you may still have a lunch break. If it is an hour, take some time out (let’s say ten or fifteen minutes) to recite some Qur’an or engage in the previous points mentioned. If you have a Dhuhr prayer break, add a few additional supererogatory (nawafil) prayers following it. An additional six, four, or even two cycles of prayer will hardly take ten minutes. It may also make you feel better about not being able to perform all the Tarawih prayers but don’t make this an excuse to not try. The same could be done for other prayers you perform, such as Asr and Maghrib.

4. Listening/Reading Qur’an

As mentioned above, if you have a break during work, you can dedicate some of it towards recitation of the Qur’an. But don’t forget that listening to the Qur’an is also an act of worship, and according to some scholars more rewarding than actual recital. If you have a commute, pop in a CD of your favorite reciter and listen away.

5. Charity

The Prophet was extremely charitable during Ramadan according to numerous traditions. Anyone of us can donate to various causes with the click of a finger. Don’t worry about the amount. Even a dollar will count for a lot. Even some loose change will gain you reward. Do not think of anything as being “small”. Rather, try to give a little every day or every other day or whenever you see the opportunity. As the Prophet (God bless him) said, “save yourself from the fire even if by half a date.” Simply make your intention next-worldly and these small acts will be weighty in the next-life.

6. Intend Good & Make Everything Rewarding

There is a famous statement in our tradition that, “the permissible becomes obedience when coupled with a lofty intention.” Remember this and transform all of your mundane actions into something rewarding and next-worldly this Ramadan. When you play with your kids, make an intention for God. When you buy groceries, make the intention to feed your family iftar (the Prophet recommended feeding people Iftar). When you call your parents, intend the maintaining of familial relations during the noble month. When you interact with colleagues, smile with the intention it is sunna and that it will give people a good image of your religion. When you work, seek God’s pleasure through the intention of supporting your family. You might not be able to do this for everything but try to choose a few things you do during the day, pause before you do them, and make a lofty intention.

7. Don’t Waste Your Weekends

You won’t be working so if you are really feeling down about not being able to pray Tarawih at the mosque, this is your opportunity to do so. Use your weekends to do the things you aren’t able to do on a work day and utilize every moment of it in a beneficial way.
These are just a few suggestions that I have. The key is to recognize that our Lord is merciful and in His infinite mercy He has laid out innumerable ways for us to earn His pleasure and draw closer to Him. Just because you are not doing what others might be doing in terms of worship, or you are not doing what people expect others to do this month, does not mean you can’t do anything or are failing. Do not think lowly of any good action. Do not demean any good act that you do. Rather, try your best, find opportunities, be as consistent as you can with what you can do, acknowledge your weakness, have a good opinion of your Lord, and leave the rest to Him.
I hope this was of some help. May God reward you and us during this month and grant us tawfiq in worshipping Him during it. May any reward God decrees for me for giving this answer in benefit of His servants go to my grandfather, father, and all deceased Muslims. Amin.

Photo by Andy Wilkes.

Is Islam More About Peace Or Mercy? Ustadh Ibrahim J. Long

If you had to summarize Islam with one word, what word would that be, asks Ustadh Ibrahim J. Long. What word can express for you the beauty of Islam and the comfort it brings to your heart?

For many, perhaps, that word is peace (salam). This is due, in part, to the peace in our heart that we are seeking as Muslims, but also to the fact that both islam and salam share the same Arabic tri-literal root (S-L-M).
For those who don’t know, most classical Arabic words are composed of three root letters from which we derive the primary meaning of the word. Because the words Islam and Salam are composed of a seen (S), lam (L) and meem (M), many draw a linguistic connection and say: “Islam is peace,” or “Islam means peace.” For this reason, peace (salam) may have been your chosen word. But, despite these reasons, peace is not the quality I find most striking about our faith.
When I read the ayat of the Glorious Qur’an something else stands out to me. It is something I also see when I read about the life of our Beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions. It is something I also think about when I hear stories about the righteous women and men of Islam and when I interact with pious men and women within our community. This quality is mercy (rahma).
Consider when a student of hadith first sits with his or her teacher. It is customary that the first hadith they hear from the lips of their teacher, the first hadith that connects him or her through their teacher to an unbroken chain of narrators going back to the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) is:

The Messenger of God (peace be upon him) said:
“The merciful are shown mercy by the Most Merciful (al-Rahman). Be merciful on the earth, and you will be shown mercy from He that is above the heavens.”
[al-Tirmidhi]

My brother or sister, our Lord is the Most Merciful (al-Rahman) and His Messenger is the Messenger of Mercy (al-Rasul al-Rahma) and he has not been sent except as a mercy to all of the worlds.

But, how merciful are you and I?

If someone were to ask a friend about you, would they describe you as a merciful, understanding, or compassionate person?
What if someone were to ask your parents, your spouse, your children, your family, your neighbors, your class-mates, or your co-workers? Would they each describe you as a merciful person?
One of the miracles of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that we do not speak enough about is his constant state of mercy even when he experienced difficulty. Whereas many among us may attribute our poor behavior, lack of patience, or lack of mercy with each other to our “having a bad day,” the Prophet (peace be upon him) was always merciful even under the most dire of circumstances.

Even when mocked and stoned

After having been kicked out of Ta’if, the incident he later described as having been the most difficult experience he ever faced, and after having been mocked and had stones thrown at him so much that he bled, he was given permission by God to ask His angels to destroy the city. But, this was not the way of our Messenger (peace be upon him); he always had hope and mercy in his heart for others. Instead of being vengeful, he maintained hope that a generation of believers would arise from the very city that rejected him. And, his hope was not in vain; there has been a generation after generation of believers since.
Consider, as well, that during the Battle of Uhud a group of archers disobeyed the direct orders of the Prophet (peace be upon him); a mistake that contributed to the death of several Companions and the physical injury of the Prophet himself.

What would you have done?

How you would you feel in this situation if you had been in the Prophet’s place? How would you feel if you were risking your life along with your closest companions and family members and, just when it appears that you are victorious and that the battle is nearly over, the tables are quickly turned due to the actions of a few who disobeyed your instructions? How would you feel?  What would you do?
Consider my brother or sister that Allah choose to reveal to our Beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) at this difficult time the following ayah:
“Out of mercy from God, you were gentle in your dealings with them—had you been harsh, or hard-hearted, they would have dispersed and left you—so pardon them and ask forgiveness for them. Consult them about matters, then, when you have decided on a course of action, put your trust in God: God loves those who put their trust in Him.” (Q3:159)
Our Prophet (peace be upon him) was gentle with them and was commanded by the Most Merciful to pardon them and even ask forgiveness for them. And, on top on this, Allah commanded the Prophet to even consult them regarding their advice on matters. This is an amazing request that only a true Messenger of the Most Merciful could have fulfilled. Not only did he forgive them, but he still requested and took into consideration their opinion and expertise in matters despite their past mistakes!

A greater degree of mercy

Now, let us be honest with ourselves. Forgiving others can be very difficult; especially if we have experienced personal, emotional, or physical injury. Though, I am sure there are those of us who have a greater potential to forgive, or to at least try. But, to even go beyond that and to seek advice from someone who might have caused us pain; that takes an even greater degree of mercy.
The Beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) always kept in mind the bigger picture: that he was guiding a people who had not been guided before. They were going to make mistakes, but through mercy they could be guided to that which is best for them and the Ummah.

Mercy toward our young and old

My brother or sister, these are not the actions of a normal man. His merciful character is a miracle and example for us to strive to follow. But how are you and I in our dealings with others? And, in particular, how merciful are we with our youth who are also in need of guidance and who are also going to make mistakes? If our Beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) was gentle with his Companions “who would have dispersed and left” Islam if the Prophet had been “harsh, or hard-hearted” (Q3:159), how can we expect anything more from our youth?
My brother or sister, you and I are undoubtedly familiar with the hadith of our Messenger (peace be upon him) stating that, “He is not one of us who does not show respect to our elders” [Ahmad; al-Tirmidhi]. And, of course, our elders are deserving of our respect. But I would like to draw attention to a lesser quoted statement of our Beloved Messenger (peace be upon him), “He is not one of us who does not have mercy upon our young” [Ahmad; al-Tirmidhi].
As our elders have a right to our respect, especially given their age, wisdom and life-experiences, our youth also have a right to our mercy given their young age, still developing understanding of the world, and their limited life-experiences.

“Speak to people in a way they will understand”

With this in mind, we need to also consider the advice of ‘Ali (May God be well-pleased with him) who said, “Speak to people in a way they will understand.” To which we may further add: Speak to people in a way that brings about that which is good for them. My brother or sister, take into consideration your words, the way you say it, and even your body language when you are seeking to guide our youth. Are you expressing mercy and concern?
If we truly want to help our youth we need to show wisdom and mercy. And, this means that when we ask them to listen to us, we, too, need to listen to better understand them. For, how can we speak in a way they understand if we do not first understand where they are coming from?
My brother or sister, what if no one is there to listen to our youth? What if our young men and women never felt like they could confide in their parents the trouble and pressures that they were facing in life? Who is it that could help them?

The wrong tools, for the wrong time

Some of you may be thinking that perhaps the only way to care for our youth and our children is to be tough on them. I don’t deny that sometimes our youth need clearer guidance and boundaries. But, we cannot be like poor carpenters who only carry a hammer; using it to fix all the problems we see.
Every problem is not a nail and every solution is not a hammer. Sometimes it is, but the default in our religion is mercy and so even when the hammer is wielded, it is used in a way that brings stability to a structure, not in a way that causes it to weaken and crumble.
Take a moment, my brother or sister, and reflect upon the mercy you have been the recipients of in your own life. Perhaps you have been forgiven by someone you love who you hurt. Or, perhaps you have received assistance from others when you really needed it. Or, perhaps you have had someone in your life who you could always call on. Haven’t these events made you want to be a better person like those who have helped you? Doesn’t the mercy of others push you and I to want to be better people?

He was not sent to curse and neither were we

One day one of the Prophet’s companions was going through an immense difficulty and asked our Beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) to curse those who were making things difficult for him. In response the beloved Messenger of God said, “I have not been sent to curse people; I have been sent as mercy to mankind’” [Muslim; al-Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad].
As followers of the Beloved (peace be upon him), how can we be a mercy to the world? As followers of the Messenger of Mercy (peace be upon him), how can we show mercy to our youth?
Ibrahim J. Long is a Muslim chaplain and educator. You can follow his blog at ibrahimlong.org

Photos by Michał Huniewicz and Dynamosquito

A Thing For Wine and Men, by Novid Shaid

“What is she looking at?”

Lucy’s friends glanced at her and then at the figure on the other side of the street, who stood watching them, while they sat around the chic table outside a prestigious city wine bar.
“She’s been staring at us, or rather at me, for a long time,” remarked Lucy, flicking back her gorgeous, auburn hair, taking a long drag of her sleek cigarette nonchalantly like Greta Garbo.
“I don’t think she’s looking at you my dear,” remarked Lucy’s confidante, Roxanne, “she’s probably senile.”
“A bit creepy though,” chimed in their friend Saba. “That’s not right the way she’s just looking at us.”
“Don’t stare back!” insisted Lucy. “She might come up to us!”
Roxanne interrupted: “Just ignore her. Pretend she’s not even there.”
Lucy shuddered slightly; all she could see was a dark dress, a flowing scarf, thick dark hair and intense eyes across the street. But she took heed of her friend’s advice and turned back to their conversation.
Roxanne proffered the bottle and then poured the pristine red wine into each of her friends’ glasses. Lucy raised a toast.
“Here’s to wine and… Men!” She grinned and her friends smiled back knowingly.
The three women, elegant, stunning, in their prime, successful in their jobs, well-paid and well-bred, supped on the wine and sighed sweetly as the taste infused them.
“So,” began Lucy, “who are we meeting here tomorrow?”
Roxanne drew closer. “These three guys are cuter than cute! I met them last week at the conference…”
The sun shone, warm and hearty like mulled wine. The central London traffic of taxis, businessmen and politicians ebbed and flowed. The three women stared into each other’s vibrant eyes, exulting in the taste of wine, enjoying the thrill of the moment, of being stunning young women who had the world at their feet and all men at their disposal. Their eyes sparkled like stars and all those around them could not help but admire these women from a distance.
***

“It’s her again,” whispered Lucy.

It was the heart of the next evening. The three sirens were sitting in the same spot with three charming men, groomed, toned and dashing like film stars. The three companions sat side by side facing their dates, who were chatting away amongst themselves.
“What are you talking about?” enquired Saba.
“It’s that woman again.”
Roxanne frowned slightly and peered across the street. The woman from the previous day stood there, looking at them.
“I told you; just ignore her. The more attention you give her, the more she will do it.”
“But it’s really annoying,” complained Lucy.
The guys noticed the hushed tones and also looked across the street.
“What’s wrong ladies?” began one of them.
“Oh, it’s nothing… So tell us about your latest project.” Roxanne nudged Lucy who was still looking across the road, which impelled her to notice her wine glass, ripe for the taking and the three princes sitting opposite her.
“Yes, sorry, it’s nothing,” Lucy said, gazing playfully at the three men. “Do tell us about your latest exploits.”
***

“Why do you keep watching me?”

It was the midday now, the following day. Lucy was alone, having a glass of wine with lunch in the glorious sunshine before returning to the office. That irritating woman was once again across the street, seemingly watching her and Lucy, against her better judgement, left her lunch and wine glass and marched across the street.
She stood there glaring at this singular woman, who Lucy surmised was probably called Babushka, hailed from Romania and was going to ask her for money for her growing brood.
“Well,” demanded Lucy, “What’s your problem? Do you even speak English?” The woman seemed to be ignoring her and still looked across the road, but turned and Lucy was taken aback.
There they were: those clear, dark eyes, thick, healthy locks underneath a loosely-draped headscarf. She was strange and beautiful like a flower in a rainforest, like a newly discovered sea creature, but what business did this woman have with her?
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” replied the woman. Her accent had a trace of eastern places, but she spoke perfect estuary English. Her voice was soft like silk and high like a flute. There was a hint of melancholy about her; something tragic. Perhaps she was a refugee, thought Lucy.
“But as I have walked by here, I have seen you, and I couldn’t help noticing something.”
Half-interested in the impending response, Lucy asked: “And what was that?”
The woman drew closer and whispered:
“I think you have a thing for wine and men.”
Suddenly, Lucy erupted in laughter, which also infected the stranger, and for a moment, the two giggled away like a pair of long-lost friends. Then Lucy returned to her senses, wiping her eyes.
“What on earth are you talking about? Do I know you?” After the initial hilarity of this stranger’s outlandish comment, now Lucy was becoming deeply irritated because it seemed that this woman had not only been eavesdropping on her conversations, but was also making some sort of moral judgement.
“I was just making an observation, that’s all.” remarked the woman, smiling.
A scowl was beginning to form on Lucy’s face.
“Well, thank you, but please keep your observations to yourself. Please stop staring at us across the road. It’s rude and I will call the police and have you done for harassment if you do it again.”
The strange woman seemed not to register Lucy’s offence and threat and carried on unperturbed.
“Well, I also love wine, a very special sort of wine. And I know someone… Just the mention of his name makes me swoon and every time I see him, it’s like the whole universe and all it contains vanishes and there is only his beauty and his love.”
Lucy was dumbstruck momentarily.
“Pardon me?” she asked in bemusement.
“I said, I know him. He is more beautiful than any man your eyes have ever looked upon and the wine he gives you tastes so sweet it will make your heart melt. I can take you to him. See him for yourself, take the cup and taste his wine. Don’t you love wine and men?”
The woman gazed at Lucy firmly, meaningfully. Lucy, still in a stupor, thought for a moment and then could not help herself. Fits of laughter shivered through her as she registered what the woman had said and what she had expected her to say. It felt like she had just entered the twilight zone! What Lucy had expected was this woman to lead her onto a story about a daughter who was suffering from a life-threatening illness and she needed money for an operation. What she got instead was something like a genie’s promise in Arabian Nights!
“So?” asked the woman, brightly. “Would you like to join me for some of this fine wine?”
Sensible thought returned to Lucy like the kick you get from a stiff coffee on a morning after a night out.
“No, I think I’ll leave it this time.” Either she is a rather unhinged individual or she could take me around the corner where a van full of traffickers lay in wait, thought Lucy.
The woman’s transparent eyes gazed into Lucy’s. She smiled widely.
“You have nothing to fear. The place where you can taste this wine and see my friend is just a few minutes walk from here and you know this is a very busy road with plenty of people. There is even CCTV all over this street. I am no criminal. I just believe we share common interests and I thought I would share something with you because you might appreciate it. But if you are unconvinced, never mind. I will not bother you again.”
There was something convincing, reasonable and even harmless in her words and ways. It could not do any harm to follow this woman up the road. And if it meant she would finally leave her and her friends alone, perhaps it was a good move, thought Lucy.
“Okay then, lead the way!”
So they started walking up the bustling street, full of various people disappearing and reappearing out of the plethora of cafes and wine bars that populated this fashionable area of the city. The woman walked ahead of Lucy and intermittently peered back, smiling graciously.
She wore a fine, olive-coloured, long dress like a tunic, which flowed around her body beautifully. The scarf hung gracefully around her head, with lustrous wavy locks hanging out, which she would flick back behind the scarf. Her face was wide and full like the sky and her eyes were so clear it seemed as if they had been purified like the unblemished water of mountain streams.
After a few minutes, they were on the opposite end of the road, which was the high street for a variety of ethnicities. Restaurant, kebab shops and grocers filled this section of the street. Now the woman came to a halt outside a building and pointed.
“This is the place.”
Lucy read the sign above the door. Embassy mosque. There were two doors, one which said “Brothers’ entrance” and the other which said “Sisters’ entrance”.
“I don’t understand.” Lucy began.
“This is the place. Where you can see him; where he gives you his wine.”
“In a mosque?” asked Lucy incredulously.
The woman beamed at her in response.
Sighing deeply, Lucy fumed: “Well, you have truly wasted my time. No offence, but I think we’ll end the conversation here. I will leave you to your wine and your man. And you can leave me and my friends alone from now on.”
The woman gazed back at Lucy, sympathetically.
“Okay, it is your choice, but let me leave you with this…” She began to recite verses that Lucy had never heard before, heart-felt, deep as the ocean, as passionate as Dionysian lovers. Then she disappeared into the sisters’ door of the Embassy mosque. Lucy walked back to the wine bar, sat at her table quietly and sipped on her wine then returned to work.
***

It can’t be her

The next day, Lucy met Roxanne and Saba for lunch at the wine bar. They were nattering away about work and the fact that Roxanne was seeing one of the guys they met the other night, when suddenly there was shrieking and commotion across the street.
“Oh dear Lucy, looks like your friend is in trouble!” laughed Roxanne. The three watched as a ragged old woman across the street was fighting off two female police officers who were trying to lead her away.
Lucy was confused: “What do you mean by ‘your friend’?”
“You know, your friend. That woman who’s been watching us every time we sit here.”
Lucy looked again at the screaming old woman, who was now grappling the officers: “That’s not her.”
“Yes it is. That’s the one we saw before, when the guys were with us and that other time as well.”
“Roxanne, that is definitely not her,” stated Lucy.
“Lucy dear. I am quite sure that is the strange old woman that you complained about before. I saw her too,” confirmed Saba.
Lucy looked back at the bedraggled drunken woman with her haggard looks who was now being dragged along by the police into the police car. That was not the woman she had spoken to and walked with. But Lucy did not want to betray her thoughts to her friends.
“Oh, perhaps it was her then. I could have sworn she looked different before though.”
“These poor alcoholics are like Jekyll and Hyde. I guess she had it coming. Somebody must have complained to the police.”
Lucy felt deeply disquieted as she reflected on what had just occurred. Roxanne and Saba had seen an alcoholic old woman. She had seen this mysterious eastern woman who had led her to the mosque down the road. Had she hallucinated it all? Was she ill? Or perhaps the woman she had spoken to was somebody else? But she couldn’t have been someone else because she had referred to what had transpired before. What on earth was going on?
So later, after work, Lucy approached the Embassy mosque rather gingerly. The identity of this stranger had been bugging her all day. She had to find out who this woman was to confirm her own sanity. She opened the door of the sisters’ entrance and found herself in a hallway, which at the end had a door that was signed: prayer hall. Doors to the side had signs also that said: Ablutions and Toilets.
There was a Muslim woman standing in the corridor, with a headscarf and long dress, reading a notice board. Lucy shuddered. What on earth was she going to say? How could she bring up the subject? Do you know any strange women talking about wine and men in this mosque? That would certainly be taken the wrong way. Nevertheless, she walked up to the noticeboard and stood alongside the woman who was reading the notice on children’s classes. Lucy scanned her side of the noticeboard.
It was here that her heart skipped a beat and butterflies wreaked havoc below.
There, on the noticeboard, was a photo of the woman she had spoken to. The clear eyes, the rich hair, the melancholic smile. Underneath was written:

From Allah did we come and to Him we will return.

Quran reading for Layla Habeeb this Saturday. All sisters are invited.

Lucy stared closely at the photograph. It was unmistakably the same woman who had spoken of wine and men. Layla Habeeb was her name. And the women were reading Quran for her. What did this mean?
“Excuse me but can you tell me who that is?” asked Lucy politely to the woman beside her.
“Oh, that’s Layla. She was one of our sisters…”
“Was?” interrupted Lucy, her heart beginning to palpitate.
“Yes, she passed away last week. She was like a spiritual woman. People used to come to her for prayers and help. She was beautiful.”
“Oh, I see, thank you.”
“Why do you ask? Did you know her?”
“Er, no, not really. I only spoke to her once…” Bewilderment was beginning to flood Lucy’s mind. This Layla had died last week, but she had spoken to her and walked with her yesterday.
“Where did you meet her?”
“Oh, I met her once on the street outside. It’s sad she passed away.”
“Yes, very sad,” replied the woman.
“Where was she buried?” asked Lucy, her voice quivering from her inner turmoil.
“She was buried in the cemetery up the road. You know, the local one. You can pay your respects there if you want to. She’s in the Muslim section at the back.”
“Okay, thank you, I may go there soon.”
“Nice to meet you. What’s your name?”
“I’m Lucy.”
“I’m Aisha. And by the way, if you want somewhere to sit and reflect, you are welcome to come here.”
“That’s very kind of you to offer, thank you,” replied Lucy and she was just about to go when the question that had been throbbing in her head tumbled out.
“When I spoke to her, she talked of wine and men. Was she okay? I didn’t think Muslims were into that sort of thing.”
The woman laughed: “Oh no! She didn’t mean that sort of wine or those sort of men…Yes, she did speak like that. As I said, she was spiritual and sometimes she did utter some mystifying things. Go to her grave and see it. You’ll like it.”
Lucy veered out of the mosque and found herself involuntarily striding up the street towards the local cemetery. Her mind and soul were wrestling furiously. Had she really spoken to Layla? Was she going crazy? How could she talk to someone who died the week before? What was happening to her?
It was only when she reached the graveyard and stood before Layla Habeeb’s grave that her spirit floored her rationality and a mixture of horror, confusion and strange ecstasy shivered through her body. For on Layla’s tombstone were inscribed the very same verses that Layla had recited to her the day before. Lucy read them as the tears poured down her face:

When my lonely heart befriended the wine-giver

Wine fired my heart and my veins filled up

But when His image all my eyes possessed

A voice descended

“Well done, O sovereign Wine and Peerless Cup!” 

 
Notes:
The final verses were taken from: “The Wine of Love” by Jalalul Din Rumi, from Rumi Poet and Mystic, translated by Reynold A Nicholson.    

Three Things Social Work Taught Me – Aisha Hollyer

The first reaction Aisha Hollyer gets when she says she is in the field of social work, “MashaAllah! It must be so good to work with the less fortunate; you must feel so fulfilled, and it must be such a good reminder!” It is, she writes, so much more complicated.

 

“Anze! Anze!” (Miss, Miss!)

He couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven years old, and unhealthily slender. Although his bright green eyes were dimmed by dark circles, they transmitted their emotions to me, loud and clear.

It was the end of March, the day of an ice storm, and my work had sent me from the settlement office to the hotel where the Syrian refugees were placed until permanent housing could be found for them. Since the storm had closed the schools, my coworkers and I were taking over the job of taking care of the hundred or so children living there.

“Pleease, Anze! Pleeease!”

I felt like crying as I reached out and touched his cheek. The tiny toy car he was clutching wouldn’t have been something a Canadian boy would have looked twice at, but boy was begging me to let him take it, he didn’t have any other toys.

Haltingly, I explained to him that this roomful of toys was a temporary program in the hotel, for the children to play in until they moved out, but that he could come back every day and play with it here.

That day, my heart broke.

 

Muslim Social Work – It Comes With A Price

Although I did choose to enter the field because I wanted more than monetary compensation out of my career, it wasn’t long before I realized that any sort of fulfillment—or indeed, even any sense of feeling closer to Allah and your purpose in life—did come with a price. My journey through the field of social work, although just begun, was quite an eye-opener, and there were some extremely important lessons I learned from them. Here are just a few:

Lesson 1: Intentions are Still Important

Even an environment of social service can quickly look very superficial and corporate. If you’re not careful, it can become just another cycle of working for a salary, trying hard to impress your coworkers or manager, gossiping about clients, or revelling in the feeling of power you will likely have. In fact, being in power positions, or privy to sensitive information, can even reveal some of the darker sides of your ego (nafs) that you didn’t notice before.

What I learned: Being in the act of helping others, whether directly or indirectly, does not automatically make one a better Muslim; in fact, one of the shaytan’s traps is to disguise something evil as something good. Renewing your intention daily or even several times a day, along with heartfelt prayers for sincerity and acceptance, should become routine in order not to fall into those traps.

Lesson Two: Ransack Your Relationships

Put simply, being in the field of social work propels you to a different plane of reality. All of a sudden, you’re witnessing poverty, hunger, homelessness, and trafficking—not only on a global level, but right in your own backyard. You lose the ability to care for the things you used to, while discovering several areas of concern and abilities that you never knew you had.

Now all of a sudden, going to Starbucks with friends represents the equivalent of a full day’s food supply for someone you know. Talking about clothes and shoes is not just pointless, but absurd, because you know people who don’t have that luxury. And the shows and vlogs that your friends follow are now little slices of the carefree life that you’ll never be able to have, embedded as they are in emotions and values you only distantly remember understanding.

What I learned: If Allah has chosen that type of life for a person, then it is nothing but a blessing. If He had meant for someone to help people, then of course He would give them the tools and knowledge necessary to do that. The opinions of other shouldn’t matter.

It was important to appreciate the situation Allah had put me in. Alhamdulillah, it wasn’t long before I was able to be content, and realize the blessings of being on constant “dose of reality” mode. It made me much more grateful for the blessings in my life. It gave me an appreciation for the struggles of others. Most importantly, it got me to focus on more important things, rather than just the superficial things some of my peers were involved with.

Lesson Three: Deal With the Disconnect

Even after overcoming that last hurdle, there is another factor to be considered for a Muslim, or anyone who considers social work a vital part of their spiritual practice; the fact that they may not find anyone to give them the help they need.

On one hand, I had friends who were Muslim and whom I could relate with in terms of my religious beliefs and spiritual practices. When I was down or upset, they knew how to remind me and bring me back up. However, after I got into social work, they couldn’t really go in too deep, because the types of things I’d need to talk about would either depress them,  or they were weren’t used to hearing about some of the issues prevalent in our society.

On the other hand, I had friends, mostly classmates, who were completely nonreligous, swore profusely, and had certain other unfortunate habits. However, they were extremely concerned for the wellbeing of other people, and went to great lengths to be involved in the good, such as working against poverty or discrimination. In fact, I heard more “ISIS does not represent true Islam” arguments from them than I had heard from the Muslim community! Although heartening at times, it was easy to experience feelings of disconnect from everybody; never truly having a person to turn to.

What I learned: Put simply, you can never depend on people. Whether it be a best friend, a family member, or even a spouse, it’s not healthy to rely on them for your emotional, mental, or spiritual wellbeing. If you do, you will be sorely disappointed, because people aren’t perfect and so any relationship with them cannot be perfection.

For me, moments of isolation have a way of bringing certain things to realization—things I would never have discovered otherwise. They are blessings in disguise, forging a connection through pain that could never have been borne from blissful ignorance.

Also, no matter how dark it seems, you will never be left without hope if you keep in mind that, “Verily, after hardship comes ease.”

Two months later…

“Anze! Anze!”

The boy walking towards me looked vaguely familiar. He couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven years old, with a slender yet healthy frame and bright, eager green eyes.

“Hi, Anze!”

I felt like crying as I swept him off the sidewalk into a giant hug, holding on for a long time. I could hardly believe that this was the same boy I’d dealt with, a short time ago.

I finally put him back down to meet the smiling eyes of his mother and a few siblings. She hugged me, and again I could barely contain the emotion inside me, from seeing them so well and happy after all they’d been through.

After exchanging pleasantries, like where they were living and how they liked it, she invited me to drop in to visit them anytime, repeating the address several times till I got it.

That day, my heart healed.

That moment was truly a gift from God. It helped me realize that Allah is truly the Most Merciful, that desperation is never valid, and that He will, inshaAllah, make things better.

Resources for Seekers

 

Cover photo by Ezry Abdul Rahman, woman photo by Adi Suwijo, mother and child photo by Hamed Masoumi.

Learn To Live: A 30 Day Program in God’s Mercy, Forgiveness and Salvation

God’s Mercy, Forgiveness and Salvation

God’s Mercy, Forgiveness and Salvation: SeekersHub Toronto is offering a 30-day intensive course – also available live online – which will reconnect you with the Qur’an and make you fall in love with Allah Most High’s miraculous revelation again.

Shaykh-Walead-Mosaad

Shaykh Walead Mosaad

This year, the Ramadan program is being organized around the theme of “Learn to Live”, which will see us explore Mercy during the first 10 days, Forgiveness during the second 10 days, and Salvation in the last 10 days.
During each third of the month we will focus on what the Qur’an teaches us on each of these matters with a focus on concepts, stories and practical spiritual action.

Teaching the course will be  Shaykh Walead Mosaad, Shaykh Muhammad Mendes, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Ustadha Shireen Ahmed, Ustadh Amjad Tarsin, and others.
Daily programs will include tarawih prayers at the beautiful new SeekersHub Toronto, with master of Qur’anic recitation Qari Hafidh Abdullah Francis from Cape Town, South Africa.

Shaykh-Muhammad-Mendes-Ustadh-Abdul-Aziz-Suraqah

Shaykh Muhammad Mendes (left)

You are also welcome to join us for a communal iftar or even sponsor a meal for a 100+ people. Just email [email protected] for details.
Stay tuned for more information in the upcoming weeks, and make SeekersHub Toronto #YourRamadanHub.