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

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

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.

Celebrating The Arrival of Puberty With Your Daughter

Writer, women’s aid worker and mother of three, Jazmin Begum Kennedy has little patience for the sense of shame often attached to a girl experiencing puberty and menstruation. 
Puberty – yes, the dreaded P word – is such a daunting phase for parents, but it really shouldn’t be. Physical changes in the body, hair growth, body odour, and of course, the imminent first period, should be something to be celebrated, not an embarrassment. For girls, developing breasts and having their first period are major turning points in their lives; this is their transition from girl to womanhood, so why should there be shame attached to it?

Culture of Shame

In many cultures, society deems puberty for women as embarrassing, unclean and something no one should speak openly about. The physical changes in pubescent bodies can be traumatic and confusing for any girl, without having to face this stigma. Allowing our young girls to believe they should feel shame only adds to the stress and anxiety, possibly even leading them to despise their own bodies.
As grown women, we all know that menstruation isn’t exactly a walk in the park and so young, impressionable girls grow up dreading this life-changing event. It’s a crucial time and parents need to be actively involved in offering assistance and empathy.
balancing family

A Long List of Don’ts

In the South Asian culture I come from, we’re taught not to leave sanitary products in the family bathroom for fear of discovery by the menfolk – menstruation is a closely guarded secret of which the men must remain completely oblivious. A recent discussion on the Muslim Mamas page I help administer, revealed that many women were woken by their mothers for the pre-dawn meal during Ramadan (suhoor) while menstruating, even though they were religiously excused from fasting. If they didn’t join in, their father and brothers would know they had their period and this was an unthinkable option. Many lied about fasting and even pretended to offer the five daily prayers just to keep up the pretense.
It sounds ridiculous but it’s common in many cultures, not just mine. Menstruation is a fact of life. Every woman on this planet experiences it from puberty onwards so why all the secrecy?

The Example of The Prophet ﷺ

I read this remarkable story recently about Umayyah bint Qays (may Allah be pleased with her) a pre-pubescent girl who joined the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and his army on their way to Khaybar.

“Then we set out with him. I was a young girl. He made me sit on his she-camel behind the luggage. I saw the bag had got traces of blood from me. It was the first time I had a period. Then I sat forward on the camel [to hide it] and I was embarrassed. When the Messenger of God saw what happened to me and the traces of blood, he said, “Perhaps you have had menstrual bleeding?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Attend to yourself. Then, take a container of water, then put salt in it, then wash the affected part of the bag, then come back.” I did so. When God conquered Khaybar for us, the Prophet took this necklace that you see on my neck and gave it to me and put it on my neck with his own hand. By God it will never be parted from me.” She wore the necklace her entire life and stipulated that she should be buried with it.

SubhanAllah, this young girl started her first period, on a camel, away from her womenfolk, surrounded by men including the greatest man that ever walked the earth. When the Prophet ﷺ saw the blood, he didn’t embarrass her nor shout, “Astaghfirullah! Haraam! You should be at home, with your mother!” Instead of ordering her to leave, as she was now mature, he taught her about purification at that moment in time. He didn’t scold her or accuse her of being a fitnah, nor tell her to cover up more; instead, he made this embarrassed young girl feel honoured and special by giving her a gift. How many men – or even women, do we know, who would react that way?
In contrast, we are mortified if the tiniest drop of blood leaks onto our clothing. We are often mocked, our self-esteem takes a hit and we become painfully self-conscious. In some cultures, menstruating women are even told they should keep out of sight.

Mass Re-Education is Required

I firmly believe that we need to educate people on the blessings of menstruation. During Ramadan, menstruating women are not handicapped in their attainment of rewards. The angels continuously write down their good deeds so long as the women are performing these in order to please Allah. It is the one time Allah has exempted us from obligatory prayers – this “break” is an ideal time to reflect and recuperate.
We can’t remove the stigma associated with menstruation overnight as it is the result of deeply ingrained attitudes in both men and women, but as parents, particularly mothers, change can begin in our own homes. Mothers are the first friends and teachers. It’s our role to guide our children – don’t leave this important task with the teachers at school.
We need to mentally prepare our girls, reassuring them that the changes are natural, and support them every step of the way. Instead of an awkward, uncomfortable time, we should make it a happy transition to womanhood. Yes, menstruation can be difficult for some but none of it is unsurmountable.

Be Prepared

Here are my suggestions as to how, as mothers, we can make the transition as smooth as possible.
1. Communicate: Talk to your daughter. You went through this yourself so you shouldn’t be embarrassed to openly discuss bodily changes. In this confusing and emotional time, she needs your experience, wisdom and gentle support. Her hormones will cause havoc with her emotions and it can all be overwhelming, so be there for her and explain it all in an easy-to-follow manner.
2. Pubic Hair: Show your daughter how to remove pubic hair and teach her how often, Islamically, she is required to remove it. Try several methods of hair removal to find the one that ismost comfortable for her. Discuss personal hygiene. Turn the issue of sweat and body odour associated with puberty into fun mother and daughter time as she tries out different products with you.
3. First Bra: Take your daughter for her first bra fitting. On the Muslim Mamas page, many mums said they found shopping for such personal items embarrassing. Many recalled their own experience of puberty as just being given vests and bras to wear with no explanation and so, they planned to do the same with their own daughters. Let’s break the pattern. Remember, Imam Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) said, ‘Do not raise your children the way your parents raised you; they were born for a different time’.

4. Menstruation: Discuss all the dos and don’ts of menstruation. The average age for puberty used to be 11 or 12 but girls are experiencing it as early as 8 or 9 these days. Ensure you prepare her well in advance so it’s not unexpected and frightening for her. Puberty at this age is more difficult as children rarely think about personal hygiene, let alone the added responsibility of changing sanitary towels, keeping themselves clean and properly disposing of the pads. Lighten the load by instructing them carefully. Buy a separate bin for them and create a space for all their cleaning products.
5. Inform The Men. You don’t need to announce it to the world; we must still practice haya but fathers and brothers need to be aware of the changes in their daughter or sister. If she isn’t praying or fasting due to menstruation, then tell them rather than hide it. It’s much easier to inform them in advance than to have them ask about it. If you explain menstruation to a brother, then he’s far more likely to show his sister and other girls respect and not ask insensitive questions. It’s imperative that boys learn never to mock as doing so causes anxiety and self-consciousness.
6. Learn: Enroll into a Fiqh of Menstruation course. If your daughter is old enough, have her join you. Use this opportunity to bond with her and be sure to end it with dessert. Your daughter will always remember the sweetness of the day. Buy a comprehensive book on this subject. I would recommend Ustadha Hedaya Hartford’s Coming of Age, a book aimed at teenage girls. There’s also Imam Birgivi’s Manual Interpreted: Complete Fiqh of Menstruation & Related Issues. This book is the explanative translation of a major Islamic legal work on menstruation, lochia, and related issues. It provides accurate information and practical arrangement of charts and texts making it an important reference for every Muslim family.
7. Be Prepared: After having the ‘talk’ with your daughter, prepare a beautiful hamper containing things she will need for the coming of age phase. Here’s the First Blush of Womanhood hamper I created for my daughter.

It contains,

  • A Muslim Girl’s Guide to Life’s Big Changes
  • Dua book
  • First bra, crop vests, and tight, full briefs for when she’s menstruating
  • Girly nighties and pretty pyjamas
  • Pretty nightgown and slippers
  • Sanitary towels, both disposable and reusable pads. With the disposable pads, I recommend the cheaper brands as they don’t contain harsh chemicals.
  • Heart shaped hot water bottle to ease cramps
  • Chocolate for comfort
  • Himalayan salt and organic deodorants, body sprays, body wash set, intimate wash, and lots of organic facial cleaning products. Buy as many natural products as possible to avoid the harsh chemicals. I use Sunnah Skincare as their products are organic and reasonably priced.
  • Pretty flannel to match bath towels
  • Bath gloves
  • Pretty nail clipper set
  • Scented drawer liners
  • Sensitive hair removal cream, first shaving kit or hair trimmer

Make this hamper an exciting gift, and use it as an opportunity to show your willingness as a parent to involve yourself actively in this special phase of her life.

Jazmin Begum Kennedy (JBK) is a ‘Qualified Housewife.’ By day she is a mother, wife and teacher; by night she wages war against oppressors and writes books. She is an experienced teacher of primary and secondary education, an acclaimed professional artist (JBK Arts) and published author of Mercy Like the Raindrops, Blessed Bees, No School Today and the upcoming novel, Fifteen. Jazmin is an online counsellor specialising in domestic abuse, rape and child abuse. She also physically helps victims of domestic violence flee their abusive marriages. She is the co-founder of the Nisa Foundation, working as a women’s aid worker for victims of domestic violence. JBK currently homeschools her three children, whilst managing a network for Home Educators in the Greater Manchester area of the United Kingdom.

Mother and daughter by the lake, by Chris Wood.

 

Resources on puberty, parenting and related issues

A Sufi & A Salafi – Love, Warmth and Friendship is Possible

Ustadh Abdul Aziz Suraqa (right) reflects on how small acts of kindness some 20 years ago has had a profound effect on his life.

After nearly twenty years, Allah blessed me to visit and spend time with my former neighbor and dear brother, Shaykh Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes, at the Toronto airport as he and his family were making their way back to the U.S.

He Saved My Life

Many of you know Shaykh Muhammad Mendes as a dynamic teacher and active member of the Muslim community in North America. What you do not know about Shaykh Muhammad is that he saved my life. Yes, that’s right. He saved my life. That might seem an exaggeration but it is true. He doesn’t know that so let me share a story with you all.
As a young Salafi in 1997, I moved to Columbus, Ohio and took a job as an apprentice electrician. One of the radiant, smiling faces in the masjid down the road from my apartment was none other than Shaykh Muhammad Mendes, who at the time was a University student. It turned out that we were neighbors on the same street. Shaykh Muhammad invited me to his home, fed me, sat with me, and spent time talking with me. Walking into his humble apartment was like walking into a different world–at least to me at the time. Books in Arabic and English filled his apartment–works from Islam’s greatest minds and spiritual masters, works from authors I never heard of un til visiting his home: authors like Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, Shehu ‘Uthman Dan Fodio, Shaykh Ahmad Bamba, Ibn ‘Ata’illah, just to name a few.

The Islam I Had Been Taught

The Islam I had been taught at the time condemned following schools of Islamic law, and here was Shaykh Muhammad Mendes, the first person I met who followed a school of law (Maliki) and had the ability to rationally and textually explain why it is legitimate and necessary , especially if one is study Islam’s vast legal tradition. I should add that when Shaykh Muhammad and I would spend time together in the masjid or in his home, it was not for the purpose of debating each other.
The Islam I had been taught at the time condemned Sufism (tazkiya, ihsan—Islam’s spiritual tradition)
as an aberration, and here was Shaykh Muhammad Mendes who patiently explained what Sufism was and wasn’t and allowed me to borrow many, many of his books. There I was, a Salafi youth secretly reading Imam al-Ghazali, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Shaykh ‘Uthman Dan Fodio, etc., and benefiting from them and enjoying their works.

Dignity, Warmth, Concern & Love

I was a Salafi and Shaykh Muhammad Mendes was not. We had lively discussions and disagreements, but never once did he argue, raise his voice, use harsh language, or make me feel like less than his brother in Islam. Even in our disagreements he exuded dignity and warmth and showed real concern and love. If we disagreed over something he would explain his position and I would explain mine—over tea and a smile.
Some time later I traveled to Yemen to further my study of Islam, and Shaykh Muhammad Men
des traveled to Syria (and elsewhere), and we lost touch with one another. I later learned that we were both in Morocco and Mauritania around the same time but never crossed paths.

So How Did He Save My Life?

In 2003-2004 I experienced something of an existential, Ghazalian spiritual crisis; the Islam I had practiced and studied was, for the most part, dry and unable to quench the thirst of my soul to know Allah and have a deep spiritual connection with Him. Prayer, once a joyous experience, had became a series of outward motions; something to be completed and out of the way.

“My passions kept me chained in place, while the herald of faith cried, ‘Take to the road! Take to the road! Life is brief, the journey is long. Knowledge ad deeds are nothing but mere outward appearance and illusion. If you are not ready at this very moment for the life to come when will you be ready? And if now you do not break your moorings, when will you break away?’ At that moment, I felt impelled to go; my decision to depart and escape would be made….'” —Imam al-Ghazali, Deliverance from Error

The path I was on took me to a dead end. Something had to be done. I took a job teaching English in an extremely remote corner of Europe and kept to myself: lots of time to reflect, take long walks in the forest; lots of time to wrestle with my own struggles and flaws.

Seeds Upon Seeds That Grew Many Years Later

In those difficult days and nights , for some inexplicable reason, my mind and heart kept returning to the memories of the times Shaykh Muhammad Mendes and I had spent together years before . The memories of the warmth and beauty of his character , his optimism, his good opinion of others —these memories inspired me to climb out of the pit I dug for myself . Of course, getting out of that pit required much more than just pleasant memories (that’s a story for another day), but without a doubt it was the time with Shaykh Muhammad Mendes in 1997 that planted seeds upon seeds that grew five or six years later.
I consider Shaykh Muhammad Mendes as such, “and we do not exonerate anyone above Allah ”
(نحسبه كذالك ولا نزكي على الله أحداً). Never underestimate the power of simple, unpretentious warmth of character with those around you. You never know, it might be a seed that Allah causes to grow much later in the person’s life. May Allah preserve Shaykh Muhammad Mendes and give him light upon light and reward him on behalf of those seeds planted in 19 97. Amin.

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Cover photo: USDA

“I Love Being a Woman!”

Away from ‘celebrity scholars’, Mahdia Sarfaraz identifies several women right within our inner circles, who consistently serve their communities like beacons of light.

My friend and I, two Muslim women, were sitting by the lake where we had created countless child memories, reminiscing about the past and wondering at how much we had changed over the years. Suddenly, my heart filled with such emotion and  excitement. With joy and pride I exclaimed “I love being a woman!”

Silence.

Who just said that? Did that just come out of my mouth? Did I truly love being a woman? 

The answer was yes…and it had taken me 23 years to realize that.

Always putting themselves down

The words caught me off guard. Those words felt so strange but yet felt so right. Never before had I even dreamed of saying those simple but empowering words. So why now? What had changed?

One of the oft-repeated stories in my family was about a cousin of mine who had exclaimed, “Then a girl should just die!” after being being confronted with narrow, shallow women’s roles. We would nod knowingly every time that story was narrated. Why wouldn’t we? We knew exactly what she was talking about.

Muslim women

Growing up, the women in my life seemed to lead unhappy lives. They were putting themselves down, constantly feeling the need to tweak and change themselves physically, and complaining about the responsibilities they were given as a woman.

These were strong women who had fled war, started life in a foreign country and raised their children with honour and dignity. Yet they just didn’t seem to be happy with themselves. Something was missing.

Muslim Women of perfection

Ten years later, I am blessed with the opportunity of meeting Muslim women who carry themselves with such honour, dignity and grace. These women are not only amazing wives but amazing mothers, and not only amazing mothers but amazing leaders, and not only amazing leaders but sincere, devout and pleased slaves of Allah (May Allah be pleased with them). Everything they do, they do with perfection, not because they are perfectionists but because they desire to do everything with Ihsan (excellence) purely for the pleasure of their Lord.

You might ask, “How do you know it is all sincere work?”

The fruits of their work are so clear that they can only indicate that the source was sincerity. May Allah increase them in all the good.

A beacon of light

Muslim womenI have had the blessing of spending some time with Ustadha Umm Umar,  the backbone of Seekershub Academy. Not only is she a beacon of light on her own home, but she is also facilitating the spread of the light of Islam in homes all over the globe.

“All over the globe,” is something extremely significant, influence that others will never even come close to reaching. One of the most impirtant things she taught me, was the importance of making every single action meaningful and intentional as a means of drawing closer to Allah. Even something as small as washing a cup, or giving salams to a fellow sister transformed from“just do it,” to“just do it for Allah.”

Modestly and strength for His sake

I have also had the honour of spending time with Ustadha Saiema Syed Din, who is a beautiful example of how to be a modest and strong woman. I have never seen her neglect one for the other. There is always a beautiful combination of both; modesty and strength solely for the sake of Allah.

Here is the example of a woman who not only fills the role of wife and mother, but also the role of a leader. She brings the light of the Prophetic Character into the hearts of the children she teaches at Lote Tree Foundation, as well as their families. In fact, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani has mentioned countless times that the most well-behaved kids in the community are students from Lote Tree.

Not from her tongue, but from her heart

Being someone who lacks adab, I was embarrassed to be given the task of serving our teacher Ustadha Shehnaz Karim at the Seekershub Toronto Retreat in September 2015. Despite my shame, I was very grateful for the fruits that came forth from that heavy task.

Muslim womanMy heart could sense that her every word flowed not from her tongue, but directly from her heart, where the love of Allah and His Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) resides. During our morning classes on the patio, the sisters would be transfixed, almost forgetting to go for breakfast as the words Ustadha Shehnaz spoke nourished them much more than food ever could. The main lesson she taught me was, “Be with Allah, fall in love with Him and all else will fall into place.”

Life changing? You bet!

Holding up the torches of light

Every moment with our beloved teachers has been fruitful. These teachers are amongst many other women, holding up the torches of light. It is up to us to take our candles to them, to light them up and start spreading that light to our hearts, homes, and communities.

May Allah increase our teachers in goodness (khair) and well-being (a’fiya) and gather us all together with our Beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in the gardens of Paradise. Aameen.

By Mahdia Sarfaraz

"Is it Eid yet? A Fun and Educational Countdown for Kids"

Growing up in a sleepy English countryside village, we had to drive at least an hour to the nearest mosque (a converted semi-detached house). We would visit it twice a year on the occasions of Eid and my parents tried their best to make these days as special as they could for us. With none of our extended family nearby and only a few Muslim friends – Eid was a subdued but certainly happy affair. We would receive eid money and in addition one gift each. It was exciting to make that trip into town where our parents would let my sisters and I pick out anything we wanted from the hallowed pages of the Argos shopping catalogue!
This was the innocent late 90s, and we loved the Eid that we had. I would go back to school with henna-painted hands as the only sign of festivities happening at home. Without the world of Amazon Prime – where a henna cone can be summoned at the click of one’s fingers – I would spend  the night before Eid mixing the henna and applying  it myself using a toothpick to dab out the designs.
Sumaya-Teli-IMG_16023The next day someone would inevitably ask why I had ‘orange marker’ on my hands, (soon Madonna made henna painted hands the next cool thing of the nineties and the same people would then ask me to decorate their hands with it) . I would feel proud to say that we celebrated two Eids in a year, rather than the one Christmas my friends did.
Even so, like many of us who were brought up in the Western world, I have fond memories of the Christmas holidays. Even if our families did not celebrate the actual holidays, it was a time when everybody had time off from work, families and friends gathered together, ate good food and (before the days of Netflix and cable) watched Christmas movies on TV. Our children are born into this culture and are also likely to associate positively with the idea of Christmas.

“You don’t even have a Christmas tree?”

I must admit, when I was around eight years old, although I knew there was no Santa Claus, the idea of someone whose job it was to leave presents for small kids was quite compelling. So, just to be sure, I decided to set up an experiment. That year on  Christmas Eve, I hung the closest thing I had to stockings (a pair of striped socks!) on our mantlepiece. When they were still there, empty and limp the next morning, I happily put Christmas and all its associated myths behind me. Nevertheless I couldn’t shrug off the feeling of inadequacy when a girl at school looked at me in pity and said, “You don’t even have a Christmas tree?”

Competing for their attention

The reality of the matter is that we are competing for the attention of our children, and our religious festivals are competing with the attention of other more glittery offerings. Many of us start to decorate our homes and plan Ramadan Advent calendars. We borrow from the culture we are in and start to replicate the festivities, but just on Eid and Ramadan, instead of during Christmas. We spend money on gifts and want to make these festivals a real part of our children’s lives. We want to create memories, make that clever homemade eid craft, take that perfect holiday family photo.

Eid was super duper cool – akin to going the moon

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of this. The imam of our local masjid, himself brought up here in the USA, led a halaqa (learning circle) recently on parenting. He reminisced about eid, talked about how exciting his parents made sure eid was for him and his siblings. He described his childhood eid as being  ‘…super duper cool – akin to going to the moon’.
I  love all of this and I am one of those mothers scouring Pinterest for ideas, and wondering if I too can be that cool parent and pull of something spectacular for my children. However, I do worry that we might fall into the trap of the dreaded c-word: commercialization.
Indeed, in our own house, there is our five year old, who has been adding toys and coveted items to his Eid list all year! He loves to draw, so his lists are actually illustrations of the things he would like, being sure to include his two year old sister, he will ‘draw’ eid lists on her behalf too!
“Oh mama HOW MANY days till Eid?” he will ask or “How many more days? Is Eid after tomorrow’s tomorrow?”

 “How many more days?

On one such occasion last year I found myself telling him Eid was only 100 days away…and with that came an idea so exciting that I set to work straight away. We would have a tree – it would be a learning tree, a growing tree and with each leaf that opened we would count one less day till Eid but one more inch closer to Allah. I proposed to my then-four-year-old that we would have a “99 Names of Allah Tree.”
And here dear reader, I invite you to join us! This year on the 29th of March, it will be approximately99 days till eid.

“There are ninety-nine names of Allah; he who commits them to memory would get into Paradise. Verily, Allah is Odd (He is one, and it is an odd number) and He loves odd numbers,” the Prophet said, as narrated by Abu Hurairah (Sahih Muslim 6475).

This could be your small way of off-setting the superficial rigmarole that has started creeping in on us, and focus your whole family back to our Creator. It would be a way to practice reading out the names of Allah on each day of Ramadan – a spiritual link – an opening for discussion of the beautiful attributes of our Lord. A way for our young children to know and start to appreciate the spiritual essence of our deen, to make insight a habit, and a realization that remembrance of Allah is at the crux and heart of not only our worship, but also our celebration.

Our 99-Names Tree

So we started making a tree template, and stuck it up on the wall. Then we planned to add a leaf with one of Allah’s 99 names everyday until Eid. And because I am not the most organised person – we didn’t finish doing it all last year but we did start and we aim to continue this year inshallah. May Allah accept it from us as worship (ibadah).
While I was writing this article, shut away in the spare bedroom with strict instructions to the kids that mama was working, there was a knock on my door. In came my five-year-old.
“Mama what are you writing about?”
“I am writing an article” I replied.
“What is it about?”
I believe in answering all questions truthfully but in the capacity of the child to understand. So I replied, “I am writing about how when I was a little girl I really liked Christmas trees, and how when I grew up I loved making a Ramadan 99 Names of Allah tree with my children.”
A sweet smile of realization spreads across his face…
“That’s you and me!”
“Yes it is…”

How to make your own Ramadan Tree

If you are a methods and materials person then here are the details ;
Materials:

  • a tree template/cut out/ cardboard
  • coloured paper to use for cutting out leaf / blossom / apple shapes
  • (depending on the season you can make leaves or flowers or apples for the tree.)
  • scissors
  • glue/ blue tack

Method:

Step 1: Cut out the tree shape

Step 1: Cut out the tree shape

 

Step 2: Glue on to cardboard

Step 2: Glue on to cardboard

 

Step 3: Paint/colour it in

Step 3: Paint/colour it in

 

Step 4: Make a leaf or fruit-shaped template

Step 4: Make a leaf-shaped template

 

Step 5: Use coloured paper to make your leaves/fruit

Step 5: Use coloured paper to make your leaves

 

Step 6: Write out or print the names

Step 6: Write out or print the names

 

Stick name onto leaf

Step 7: Stick name onto leaf

 

Step 8: Stick leaves onto tree

Step 8: Stick leaves onto tree

 

Our growing tree

Take it further

If this piques your interest, here’s how to expand the tree into something bigger:

  • Practice writing in Arabic,  forming letters and sounding them out
  • Provide a simple translation of the meaning of name and attribute it alludes to
  • Try to instill a sense of awe inspired by the names in your children.

I always find it useful when real examples are given of how to talk with your child (because we all have moments where we are stuck). So, here’s an example of how you might initiate a conversation.
‘AL BASIR’ ‘All Seeing’
“Look around you – at this room,” I start by addressing my son. “Allah has given us two eyes with which we can see everything in this room. Isn’t it amazing? All we have to do with our eyes to make them work is …. What?”
“Erm I don’t know?”
“…open them!”
“Oh yeah!”
“… and we can enjoy all the beautiful things around us.. so what about Allah? Allah is the one who Created us and our eyes that work so perfectly. Allah is the all seeing. Do you know what that means?”
“That he can see everything?”
“Yes but not just everything here right now – but everything everywhere all the time! That means not just in this room but in the whole wide world and universe.”
“And in the galaxies and Milky Way?”
“Yes!”
“Even under the sea?”
“Yes!”
“And all at the same time?”
“And guess what? He can even see inside…your…heart! And inside the heart of every single creature. He is the All Hearing and All Knowing. He never sleeps or feels tired like we do. He can hear your prayer and the prayer of all living things in all the universe – look outside at the trees – see the leaves falling? Can you imagine all the leaves that fall in all the trees and forests of the world – did you know that not even a single leaf falls without first asking Allah for permission?! How many leaves do you think there are in the world?”
“Wow! Infinity! Even more than infinity!”

The tangible beauty of the Quran

And there you are – full circle back to the leaf on which you are about to write down this beautiful name.

“And with Him are the keys of the unseen; none knows them except Him. And He knows what is on the land and in the sea. Not a leaf falls but that He knows it. And no grain is there within the darknesses of the earth and no moist or dry [thing] but that it is [written] in a clear record.” (Chapter 6 Verse 59)

Take out the Quran and show your child this verse. Read it together and show your child the tangible beauty of the Quran.

Other fun activities

Leading on from this, there are an overwhelming amount of crafts and activities for children associated with Ramadan and the two Eids. I have singled out three I find particularly beneficial, because they actually link the child to the Quran and Hadith. This is especially important during the month of Ramadan ‘the month of the quran’ and during the last 10 days of Dul Hijjah.

  1. Gilded Dunya has a lovely informative post about introducing the Quran to a very young child. She talks you through ‘baby steps towards the Quran’ complete with an adorable ‘quran pointer’ craft that you can make with your child.
  2. Sumaya-Teli-22Parenthoodmuslimstyle has some wonderfully versatile flashcards that invite children to ‘(Let’s) find a word in the Quran’  – which they  generously offer as a free download. These can be printed and laminated to be used in numerous ways – from very simple word association for very young children to more complex discussions with older children. They even provide an excellent PDF of some direction in which one can take the discussion for each word inspired by the Quran.  this really is a brilliant resource and I can’t commend the sister duo behind this, enough on their work!
  3. 10 day Hadith compilation encouraging good deeds on the first 10 days of Dhul Hijjah, as a free download.

It is during special times in early childhood that if associations are formed, then they may carry on into the future, inshaAllah.

Sumaya Teli is the founder and co-author of Mamanushka.com
All photographs by Sumaya Teli.

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Never an Empty Shell: The Purpose of Guidance

Islam is a difficult word for many to grapple with these days. Associated with some of the ugliest images we see in the media, both Muslims and non-Muslims today have found themselves confused by what this term means and what set of values it represents. While most Muslims argue that the greatest value it represents is mercy, some – be they extremists or news pundits – make very different claims regarding what Islam is about, seeing it either as a fascist philosophy promoting violence or an empty shell of rules and regulations meant to control society. Frustratingly, these people use and interpret Islam’s own texts to promote such views, leading to much confusion and doubt among Muslims and their non-Muslim peers.

Beyond sensationalism

So what is Islam really about? In SeekersHub course The Absolute Essentials of Islam (Hanafi), Shaykh Faraz Rabbani offers some insight into this question.

Shaykh Faraz begins to discuss Islam by moving beyond the sensationalism and spectacle of the media, saying that, ultimately, Islam offers what all serious religions and philosophies attempt to provide: an explanation for the miraculous and jarring fact of our existence.

“If you look at human beings in this life, their example is like someone who wakes up on a train that’s moving really fast,” said Shaykh Faraz. “Those of intelligence, if they suddenly woke up and found themselves on a train that is moving, they’d ask themselves certain urgent questions… How did I get here? Where am I going? What’s going to happen? Then, given all that, what am I supposed to be doing while I’m [here]?”

These questions have weighed on some of the greatest human minds, from ancient philosophers to modern quantum physicists, and the discussions emerging from them among Muslim scholars, under the subject of creed (aqidah) are the foundation on which Islam rests. Ignoring them means building a religion on shaky ground, and ultimately makes religion collapse in on itself.

Such topics are completely off the radar of the fanatics and Islamophobes who put forward a shallow and contorted image of this faith. They prefer to focus on the laws of Islam as the ultimate manifestation of religiousity, but even then their focus on the law is imbalanced.

Sharia as the ethic of mercy

The shari’a, or legal system, of Islam is one that has always been founded on the ethic of mercy, said Shaykh Faraz. Any legal rulings that are not founded on mercy cannot be considered true to the tradition of the Prophet (pbuh), who was a fount of mercy.

“Every teaching of Islam is a manifestation of divine mercy, and any understanding of Islam that is lacking in mercy is lacking in understanding,” said Shaykh Faraz, quoting well-known scholar Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad.

The root of extremism

Man reading Quran learning studentThe lack of mercy present in the Islam put forward by extremists often stems from two things. The first is when people not properly trained by qualified teachers begin to take rulings from old books of law without understanding the context those rulings were used in nor the context in which they must be interpreted and applied today. This is contrary to much of Islamic history, when scholars underwent decades of training in vast subjects so they could appropriately understand how the law could fit into the cultures and expectations of their time.

The second reason the brand of Islam expounded by extremists lacks mercy is that it is completely cut off from what has traditionally been the heart of the faith: ihsan, or spiritual excellence. Throughout the centuries, it was well-accepted that as a Muslim one had to constantly strive against one’s ego. Sins like greed, jealousy, lust and a hunger for power – present in many extremist ideologies – had to be continuously purged from the heart. If they were not removed from the heart of the one representing Islam or putting forward Islamic law, then what would come from that person is spiritual poison merely coated with an Islamic veneer. This is far from what the Prophet ﷺ taught.

Never an empty shell

“The teaching of the Prophet ﷺ was not merely to transmit guidance,” said Shaykh Faraz, “but also to explain to us and manifest to us the very purpose of guidance, which is… how to be characterized by excellence in your relating to God and your relating to God’s creation.”

Islam, when understood and practiced correctly, was never an empty shell of rules and regulations that could be twisted to conform to the destructive desires of extremists. It was and remains a path to reflecting God’s love, mercy and beauty as we make good our relationship with Him and serve Him in this world.
Nour Merza

To learn more about what Islam truly represents and how it functions as a practical source of wisdom and mercy in a Muslim’s life, sign up for our Absolute Essentials of Islam (Hanafi) course today! 

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How To Attain Focus, Patience And Stillness In A Chaotic World

“The scholars sacrifice immediate benefit for long-term benefit,” Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Today, the modern world lives in convenience, expecting to be served, rather than to serve. Although some may argue that convenience and technology save time and reduce physical labor, we continue to complain that we do not have time or energy, reducing ourselves to potatoes sitting on the living room’s couch.

Focus: a salient virtue within Islamic mysticism

Traditionally, focus — a salient virtue within Islamic mysticism — was regarded as a core characteristic of the aspirant, especially among the Sufis. As such, the saints were focused individuals who, despite the calamities they faced, were depicted in the Qur’an as, “Those who are neither fearful nor sad.” In simple words, the saints enjoy the present moment, leaving their past to the will of God and their future to His decree. Hence, the seeker of knowledge is, essentially, a seeker of God, striving, with discipline, practice, and patience to maximize his benefit in every moment while taking the most excellent of ways to do so.

Impatience: Your place is where God has positioned you

Patience is a trait that the seeker should inculcate to facilitate depth in knowledge. In his lexicon on Sufi terminology, Ibn Ajiba defines patience as, “An imprisonment of the heart in submission to God’s command.” Impatience, if understood by the contrary (mafhum al-mukhalafa), would be to release the ego in contradiction to God’s command.
To understand this better, my math teacher, Dr. Yousseif Ismail, once told me that impatience was the desire to cross the current moment that God had willed for you to be in, for a moment that you believed to be better for yourself. In practice, patience is significantly important to the student for a number of reasons.
Firstly, our teachers say, “Your place is where God has positioned you,” suggesting that one should be content with one’s condition, wherever God has decreed him to be. The student of knowledge should recognize that he is a student and must act according to the etiquette of one.

Unstable premises lead to faulty conclusions

As for the second, in order to have depth in knowledge, the student of knowledge should not speak without internalized and externalized foundations that inform his speech, unless a need arises to do so or he is given permission by his teacher(s). The reason given for this is closely related to the he first: a student should not speak in the place of a scholar, fooling the community and inciting his own ego — a celebrity preacher. Unstable premises lead to faulty conclusions; hence, the true aspirant takes the time to ground himself in knowledge, submitting to his current instant, and follows the lead of his teachers throughout.

Prioritise your objectives

To maximize my own time and focus, Shaykh Faraz advised me to have a clear objective of my studies, so I applied the categories of need to my own studies. The scholars divide need into three categories:

  • necessities (dharuriyat)
  • needs (hajiyat)
  • perfections (takmilat)

For example, when considering a new home, you ensure that its foundations are strong, since the house will collapse without solid ground. Then after, you may inspect the ceiling and walls for cracks, because a house is incomplete without these secondary things. After ensuring the house is livable and safe, you might begin to think of ways to beautify your living space with artwork, curtains, rugs, although such adornments are not essential to a house — you can live without them. Similarly, like any profession, one needs to take the proper means to acquire his goals; otherwise, means become ends.
Lastly, in taking steps towards focus, the individual must seek the counsel of God, a metaphysical correspondence to his subjective reality, and the advice of masters, an earthly exchange from experts for an objective assurance (istikhara wa istishara). Thus, remember that you are the present; the future passed a moment ago, but take from those who have passed and know that God is ahead — you are in between the two.
Yousaf Seyal

 Photo by Frida Eyjolfs

Knowledge is the lost property of the believer. Deepen your understanding by taking a short course with SeekersHub.

 

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What To Do When You Hear Slander and Backbiting

tree-tunnel
When a poor opinion of others occurs to mind, recognize that it is a type of whispering the devil has sent your way. You should consider it a fabrication, as he is the most evil of evildoers, and Allah has said, “When an evildoer brings you news, verify it before you harm others in ignorance and are then sorrowful over what you have done.” It is therefore not permissible to lend credence to the devil.

If there happens to be some circumstantial evidence that indicates impropriety, but it is also possible that the charge is not true, it remains impermissible to harbor malignant thoughts towards another.

Tenuous Threads

One of the signs of having such thoughts towards others is that your heart is no longer the same with respect to them; you flee from them and find their company burdensome; you are unable to give them due consideration, to be hospitable towards them or to feel pain at their situation.

That is simply because the devil tries to convince the heart, with even the most tenuous of threads, of the evilness of another. He even throws into the heart the idea that this observation of another’s state is actually due to one’s own perspicacity, intelligence, and sharpness of mind, and that after all a believer can see clearly with the light of the Divine, while he is really speaking through the deception of satan and his darkness!

Even were one trustworthy person to tell you something about another person, do not lend credence to it, but do not at the same time consider it false. This is just so that you don’t end up thinking badly of another.

Do The Opposite

Whenever a malevolent thought towards another Muslim comes to mind, respond by doing even more to treat him well and honor him. That alone angers the devil and drives him away from you, such that he no longer throws those kinds of thoughts your way, for fear that you would respond by busying yourself with prayers for that person.

Whenever you learn of the misstep of another Muslim, through clear proof that does not admit doubt, advise them secretly. Do not allow yourself to be deluded by Satan, who calls you towards speaking about them behind their backs.

When you admonish them, do not do so happy that you’ve managed to come across a deficiency on their part, such that they have to look up at you in your position of strength, while you look down at them as if they are nothing.

Rather, have as your ultimate goal ridding them of this sin, while being in a state of sorrow, the way in which you would be sad over your own character when it is found to be be in some way deficient.

It’s Not About You

And finally, let it be the case that this person’s leaving off this blameworthy trait without you having said anything is more beloved to you than them having done so due to your having admonished them.


May Allah reward Shaykh Shuaib Ally for unearthing this valuable advice from Imam al-Ghazali, as quoted in Nawawi’s Adhkar.

 

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