The Science of the Heart – Safina Society Podcast

The Safina Society team is joined by Mufti Niaz Hannan and Yusuf Hussain to discuss Tasawwuf, what it is, why it is needed, and how to recognize it.

With these two final episodes, the Safina Society team close out their season on a wonderful, warm, engaging, and lively discussion of Tasawwuf.

What it is. What it isn’t. Its sources, roots, methods, proofs, and fruits. Why we need this knowledge. How to understand this “science of the heart.”

They also give concrete and heart-awakening examples of common people in our communities who, knowingly or not, “truly [are] what we would call, the people of Tasawwuf.”

 

With gratitude to Safina Society.


The Etiquette of Travelling: A Comprehensive SeekersHub Reader

The etiquette of travelling forms the 17th chapter of Imam Al-Ghazali’s seminal work, the Ihya, which is widely regarded as the greatest work on Islamic spirituality in the world.

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Beautiful Calls To Prayer From Around The World, by Aiysha Malik

Our friends at the delightful parenting blog, Mamanushka, have produced a playlist of adhan (call to prayer) recordings from around the world, which we are pleased to share here:

Writer Aiysha Malik writes, “I live in a city filled with choirs and churchbells. Harmonies fill the air while we walk through the town and bells ring melodiously from towers on holy days and Sundays – hopeful reminders that sacred connections can still be found and are, indeed, cherished and nurtured. And even more wondrous, whenever my ears catch these tones, my heart is reminded of another sacred sound…”

Read on at Mamanushka.

Resources for seekers on the adhan (call to prayer)

Travelling To Awaken Your “Anesthetized” Heart, by Dr Yousuf Patel

We are living in times whereby our very beings are inundated with innumerable challenges and ambiguities. How then to restore our hearts to a state where it’s receptive to the most important reality of all: God? Dr Yousuf Patel shares his story.

Our tumultuous lifestyles and worldly aspirations accentuated by the fast pace flux of materialistic predilections constantly destabilise our religious absolutes and ethical standards. Just like a pendulum, we capriciously swing from one extreme to the other without any consideration or awareness of the deleterious complications such chaotic fluctuations may have on our physical, intellectual and spiritual dimensions. The end result is that of an “anesthetised” spiritual heart.

All of us are afflicted by these precarious trials of modernity and hence it behoves each and every one of us to initiate the necessary steps to ameliorate our afflicted hearts. It is of my humble opinion that one such way is to embark on travel with the intention and purpose of meeting the great friends of Allah, as Allah the exalted says in Surah al – Hajj, verse 46:

أَفَلَمْ يَسِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَتَكُونَ لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ يَعْقِلُونَ بِهَا أَوْ آذَانٌ يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا فَإِنَّهَا لَا تَعْمَى الْأَبْصَارُ وَلَكِن تَعْمَى الْقُلُوبُ الَّتِي فِي الصُّدُورِ

Do they not travel through the land so that their hearts may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind but their hearts which are in their breasts.

And so it was with this imperative that I along with three friends (Nabeel Mohammed, Dr Muneeb Cader and Habib Zaynulabideen) set out in travel to the scholarly and blessed lands of Mauritania, hoping that our travels and interactions with the local scholars, their families and students would provide us with clarity and perspicacity about our personalities and religious endeavours.   

The village of Murabit al-Hajj

Arriving in Twimaraat, the village of Murabit al-Hajj, is no easy task. The Savana like landscape, the mountainous lava rocks and the pockets of sand dunes all need to be traversed in order to reach the village. It is as if the purity and luminosity of the Shaykh and his village is purposefully hidden away from the possible threats and controversies of the modern world. The surreal yet simple nature of the land transports you back in time, giving you a glimpse perhaps of what it was like to live in the time of the Prophet SAW and his blessed companions. However, even though the environment sets the tone of one’s experience, it is indubitably the people that impacts you in the most profound ways.                         

Words do no justice

One is immediately engulfed by the grace of Shaykh Khatri, the intensity and philanthropic concern of Sharif Muhammad Zain, the majestic smile of Shaykh Salek, the purity of Shaykh Fahl and the ethereal radiance manifesting from Murabit al-Hajj. Any attempt to further describe the ineffable would be a grave injustice to the scholars, so I suffice you with saying that being in their honourable presence is sufficient for any heart to find repose. As Nabeel succinctly stated to me one evening during our stay, 

“In Mauritania you take from the state of the teacher before anything else.”

The genuine happiness and sincere concern that one is shown by the scholars and the people of the village compels one to reflect on one’s own internal condition. It is in places like these that you are able to devolve back to your natural state of Fitra. All the extraneous appendages of the modern world become obsolete, and for the first time in a long time one is able to gage how far one has digressed from Allah and his commands due to the prevailing distractions that have besieged our lives.

A blessed people

Whoever you speak to or engage with is totally focused on you and your words, continuously present to whatever you say or express. It should not come as a surprise then that these blessed people are able to recall and recollect names and details of people they met more than 10 years ago.  These are the type of experiences and interactions that cause you to go through an intense spiritual catharsis. Personal blameworthy characteristics become evident in the face of such angelic virtues. Islam, Iman and Ihsan are personified in their states. The sublime beauty in their religious expression is because whatever they do, they do it with great ease, conviction and sincerity.

Do this for yourself

Much more can be said of the blessed scholars and people of Twimaraat, however my intention with this piece was never to write a protracted account of our travels, but rather to inspire the reader to embark on a similar journey in order to spend time in the company of the righteous, and to greet the great sage of our time, Murabit al-Hajj. This journey was incredibly special for all of us as it allowed us to comprehend and realise the critical importance of sincerity in knowledge and action. As a student of the sacred sciences I was deeply affected by mastery that the Mauritanian scholars possess of the religious sciences, however what affected me even more was the humility they exude with such depths of knowledge. This in itself is a great lesson to us all, students and scholars alike. Humility coupled with righteous action informed by beneficial knowledge is a formula that we should all imbibe.                                                    

I pray that Allah facilitates a path and means for all who wish to visit Mauritania and its luminous scholars. Spending time in the village of Murabit al-Hajj is incontrovertibly a blessing from Allah. May you all be granted this blessing, Inshallah.    

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Resources for seekers

Muslim Convert: Encounters with Islam While With The US Military

Being in the US military gave Keith the chance to travel the world, and it was in Turkey that his attraction to Islam began. But, as an Evangelical Christian, Keith worried that converting to Islam would be too hard. Watch on to see how God guided him and helped him overcome his concerns.

If you have concerns or confusions that are keeping you back from converting to Islam, email Overcome TV or send a YouTube message.

Resources for Seekers

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Caribbean Calling: Nourishing Communities of Faith, by Nazim Baksh

sh_saadAt the beginning of the blessed month of Rabi’al Awwal 1438, Shaykh Ahmad Saad Al-Azhari will visit the twin-island Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago. He will give a series of talks on the Sira of Allah’s Messenger , peace and blessings be upon him, at local mosques and will teach from Al-Nubdhah Al-Sughra at the prestigious San Fernando Jama Masjid.


Shaykh Ahmad’s host is Maulana Siddiq Nasir and his Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah Institute (ASWJI), the same organization that recently hosted Shaykh Faid Muhammad Said and Shaykh Muhammad Al-Ninowy. Maulana Siddiq is one of the early graduates of the Aleemiyah Institute in Pakistan. Seeker’s Hub has endorsed this initiative. Sidi Nazim Baksh will be accompanying Shaykh Ahmad on this tour and in this article he explains why it is important for Muslim scholars to continue visiting Muslims in the Caribbean.
 

Shaykh Ninowy in Guyana, March 2016

Shaykh Ninowy in Guyana, March 2016

What Exactly Constitutes an Authentic Expression of Islam?

For the last three decades Muslims who live in Guyana, Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands, have been grappling with the thorny issue of what exactly constitutes an authentic expression of Islam. It wasn’t always like this, but it has made the Caribbean a highly desired destination for a variety of foreign scholars and organizations looking to make their mark.  
In Guyana and Trinidad, countries with the largest communities, the majority of Muslims are direct descendants of indentured labourers who were brought from India to cultivate rice and sugar plantations during the British colonial period. There is also now a growing number of converts to Islam mostly from the African West-Indian communities across the English-speaking Caribbean.   
While indentureship ended in the early 20th century, the East-Indian Muslims stayed on, raising families, establishing businesses, forging communities and building mosques – 140 alone in Guyana.
Although religious texts were imported and disseminated locally, it played only a limited role in keeping people connected to the religion. The rhythm of Islamic spirituality for the mostly agrarian communities were the intermittent visits of a number of respected scholars who were grounded in tassawuf.  

Mawlana Siddiq
Nazim Baksh with Maulana Siddiq Ahmed Nasir

Historical Scholarly Visits to the Caribbean

In the 1930’s Maulana Sayed Shams-ud-Din visited Guyana traveling by boat from Trinidad where he was a scholar in residence for two years. Maulana Abdul Aleem Siddique’s visit to the region in 1950 makes him the most prominent scholar in this period to have visited and spend time in both Trinidad and Guyana before he died in 1954 in Al-Madinah and was buried in Al-Baqi.
Maulana Fazlur Rahman Ansari was a young man when he accompanied Maulana Siddique and he returned to the Caribbean in the 1960’s to conduct seminars and encourage local Muslims to establish educational institutions. He would later create the Aleemiyah Institute in Pakistan where three young Guyanese and one Trinidadian were offered scholarships to study sacred knowledge. Maulana Siddiq, our host, was one of the them.

Maulana Noorani
Maulana Noorani in Guyana in the 1960s

Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani also visited the Caribbean in the late 60’s and early 70’s and he single-handedly revived a love and devotion to Allah’s Beloved Messenger with his inimitable style of reciting Qasidas and making the standing during the salutation on the Prophet known locally as ta’zim, a standard feature at all types of major religious gatherings.
He was so well-liked that the Muslim leaders of Trinidad made an LP of his recitation of the Quran along with his renditions of a few qasidas. Today, there are still men among the older generation of Muslims who imitate his style of reciting the Quran.

The Infusion of Alien Religious Ideas

As the 14th hijri century came to an end the Islamic waters of the Caribbean got murky with the infusion of alien religious ideas. Not surprisingly, the first practice that would be attacked was the central role of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, in Muslim religious life. Opposition to the Mawlid was fierce and the singing of qasidas in praise of the Prophet was seen as a throwback to bygone days and an imitation of Hinduism. Some even labeled it as shirk.     
Political organizations based in the United States began to focus their gaze on the communities in the Caribbean. The Nation of Islam was one of the first, but soon Dar al-Islam and The Islamic Party of North America led by Yusuf Muzaffaruddin Hamid, began setting up branches in the Caribbean. Both organizations were militant but also heavily influenced by the ideology of Hasan Al-Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood and Syed Abul Ala Al-Mawdudi’s Jamaat-i-Islami.  
The first murder to take place in the name of Islam in the Caribbean happened in 1985 in Trinidad when a group of men gunned down an Ahmadiyya Missionary in front of his teenaged son. The men were followers of Jamaat Al-Fuqra, a U.S. based organization headed by a Pakistani mystic that was an offshoot of Dar al-Islam.
Long before Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi dreamed of establishing a Caliphate, Imam Yasin Abu Bakr staged a failed coup in Trinidad in 1990. His goal was to establish a Caliphate according to an important report on the failed coup. Six people were killed and Abu Bakr’s Jamaat Al-Muslimoon caused millions of dollars in damage.  

Largest Number of Da’esh Recruits Per Capita in the World

Today the government of Trinidad estimates that 130 adult men along with their wives and children – some 400 in all – have left the country in the last three years to join Da’esh in Iraq and Syria. This makes Trinidad the country with the largest number of Da’esh recruits per capita in the world. Some of them have taken to social media to declare Yasin Abu Bakr an apostate of Islam because he no longer pursues the path of Jihad and Hijra.
The convenient course of action is to ignore the Caribbean because afterall it is on the extreme periphery of Muslim majority countries. To do so is to ignore the vast majority of Muslims who desire to live respectfully and peacefully in a faith-diverse community as their ancestors have for well over a century with their Christians and Hindu neighbours. We have a moral obligation to assist the silent majority by opening for them the doors of sound Islamic knowledge lest some of them fall prey to a vigorous campaign by violent extremists.  

Resources for Seekers

caribbean islamCover Photo by Samuel David

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What is Spirituality, and Who Are Sufis? by Yusuf Latif

The concept of spirituality is rather vague and is used to describe any number of views and practices among peoples. Whether it has always been this way is a question that is difficult to answer, especially as it is posed, argues Yusuf Lateef Zanella.

When the question is general in nature, as if spirituality were one concrete thing among other things, like chairs, dresses, automobiles, and so on. It is not at easy to answer as, say, a question like: Has the use of ankle-length skirts among women of a certain background become more or less widespread?

When we talk of spirituality in relation to Islam, in order to make sense of it, we need to be more specific as to what we mean by the word. Here the word is meant to cover what is traditionally known as Tassawwuf. Now many will not find that distinction to be very helpful, for what is Tassawwuf? The answer that Tassawwuf is merely Islamic spirituality, more commonly known as Sufism, leaves us treading the same water while trying to get a grip on the rope of understanding. It does not answer the question. Because, as we said, there are many views and opinions on what Tassawwuf is. Its use, though not as common, is almost as diverse and wide-ranging as that of the word spirituality. So, whose view should be taken into serious consideration when seeking an answer to that question?

In his concise yet profound article “The Place of Tasswwuf among the Islamic Sciences” (1995) Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller makes it clear that, in order to answer the question: What is Tassawwuf? one must ask those who know, namely, traditional Muslim scholars who are knowledgeable in the science itself and practice it. Justification for this is found in the Qur’anic verse: “Ask those who know if you know not” (16:43). But is this also not, as Shaykh Nuh himself alludes to in recounting his own search for knowledge, what one would do in any matter of great importance?

One Who Knows the Object and the Science

To draw a material analogy, one could say that if one wanted to know what a combustion engine is one would ask a person who not only knows how to repair certain builds or types of engine, but also the principles of combustion and the science behind engine construction. Not only that, the person must have an understanding of the point of combustions engines, their purpose, and the roles these play in human life. For no one (for the sake of argument) wants a combustion engine in and of itself, rather it is a means toward some goal, toward something one wants to attain.

The Heart’s Desire

Anyone who professes Islam will, upon reflection, know that the ultimate goal in the life of a Muslim is Allah Most High. He, alone, is the true heart’s desire. For what, really, could be more rewarding, more awesome in the truest sense of the word, than to stand in His presence. Can one truly imagine being more alert, more awake, more present and aware other than in the presence of one’s Lord and Maker? Common synonyms of the word awesome as can be found in any reputable dictionary are words such as wonder, reverence, and dread. It is for the purpose of awakening this sense of awe that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in the Hadith of Muslim stated that “the perfection of faith” (ihsan) is “to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you see Him not, He nevertheless sees you.” The presence of mind in worship entailed here lies in realising that one is always in the Presence of one’s Lord. For instance, when one stands in prayer, but not only then, for worship is not limited to prayer.

In a related Hadith of Muslim, which precedes the one mentioned above in Imam Nawawi’s Arba‘in, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) says that “Actions are according to intention. And every man shall have what he intended. So whoever’s emigration (hijra) is for the sake of Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace), his emigration is for the sake of Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace). And whoever’s emigration is for worldly gains or for a woman to marry, his emigration is for the sake of that for which he emigrated.” It is clear that the question of intentions and acts spoken of here can be generalised to include all acts and states in the life of any one Muslim—that any one of our acts with the proper intention is an act of worship.

This state of presence in all acts is also alluded to in the Qur’an, where Allah Most High says: “Truly, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the variation of night and day there are signs for the people of understanding” (3:190). The people of understanding Allah Most High goes on to define as “Those who mind Allah while standing, sitting and lying down” (3:191). The word “mind” here is a translation of yadhkurun, from the verb dhakara (to remember) in the sense of keeping something or someone in mind. They strive to be or are constantly in and aware of His presence. For they know that although they do not see Him, He nevertheless sees them.

To Strive Is No Easy Thing…

This state of presence before Allah Most High is something one can experience or come to an awareness of at any moment. From my own experience I can definitely say that there is a difference, in taste almost, between a prayer prayed alone or behind someone when  in Allah’s presence, that is when mindful of Him, and a prayer in which this is not the case. This is not meant as a slight to anyone or to myself, but rather to say that to strive towards this state is no easy thing. That, however, does not mean it is something one should not strive towards. A sure way of attaining this state, as Shaykh Nuh emphasises, is by keeping the company of the people of understanding mentioned by Allah. That is, the people of the spiritual path.

This Desert Life: Not Even Shoes

In Islam (in Arabic) the word for the Sacred Law is al-Shari‘a and is related to the noun shari‘a (without the definite article) which commonly means water hole or drinking place or the approach to it. Like many things in Islam it is derived from the context of life in the desert. This image of life in a desert, dependence upon water, and the trope of nomadic existence in this world permeates our religion through and through. The first line of the Hadith of Bukhari that rounds off Imam Nawawi’s Arba‘in reads: “Be in this world as if you were a stranger [foreigner] or a traveller on the way.”

In many cultures and languages the words “way” and “law” are often used interchangeably, in the sense of how one properly goes about things, or right conduct. What is sometimes lost sight of in our mode of life is the peril of not acting according to the law. In the context of life in a desert this becomes more apparent, for e.g. the way to water or sustenance is of vital importance for survival, and not acting in accordance with it can have grave consequences. Every word, indeed every action, is a matter of life and death. When viewed from this perspective what one says and does, the meanings of one’s words and actions, are not mere abstractions. The attention and care accorded to them must be commensurate with the situation at hand. To fall short here is not only to risk one’s own life but more importantly the lives of those is one’s care and protection. A true child of the desert will learn how to survive and thrive, where to find sustenance and safety, where to go and when, and to stay put and when, from those who know, through instruction and through imitation. Knowledge in this context is not book learning, but knowing what to day at any time of the day, in any place or situation. Books and diplomas and other things are useful, but as Imam Ghazali said: That which is of greatest value is what you will not lose in a shipwreck.

The point is that, being a traveller in this desert life is so much more that buying a train, boat, or plane ticket and having oneself transported from one point to another. It often means not even having the shoes on which to get through the day, much less the comfort of hot tea on the back of a camel. It also means that one’s goal is ever present to one’s mind, and that is Allah, Most High and Transcendent. We are only passing through this world that is not our “country of origin”. Finally it means that in order to get through this world safely, to make the best of this desert life, it is incumbent upon us to ask those who came before us and who have spent countless hours of their lives learning at the feet of those who came before them the best ways and means of crossing this empty quarter of creation and to make it back home to Allah Most High. To ask those who live this desert life.

They are the people of understanding. The Masters of the Way. The one’s who know the Shari‘a like they know their own hearts. They are those about whom one can say: They have already departed. Their exemplar is of course none other than he “whose character was the Qur’an” (Muslim), who said of himself “I have been sent to perfect righteous character” (Musnad Ahmad), the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). They are the heirs not only of his knowledge (Allah bless him and give him peace) but also of his states. They are the Sufis.

About the Author

Yusuf Latif became Muslim in 1998 at the hands of Shaykh Abd al-Baqi al-Husayni al-Naqshband. The Shaykh sent him to Jordan to learn from Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller in 2001, from whom he took the Shadhili tariqa in 2003. He spent four years in Amman where he studied tasawwuf, fiqh and aqida, and worked for Islamica Magazine. Now, besides working for Seekers Hub, he writes childrens’ books that he one day hopes to see published. 

Resources for Seekers

What Happens When You Die? Shaykh Ahmed Abdo

The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, encourages us to make a journey to the graveyards for verily when you visit this place it reminds you of the next life; and truly reminders benefit the believers. In this beautiful commentary of the Prophetic narration Shaykh Ahmed Abdo takes us on a journey of reflection on death, reality and the ultimate reunion.

What is death? Is it the end of life or the beginning of new one? Your soul lives in this earthly address and your home is your body; but the time will come when you will change addresses and move into a new home.

Are you ready for this move?

The extraction of the soul starts at the feet, moves up to your ankles, then your knees and along your lower body towards your upper body. During this process, the soul can turn to its Creator in repentance. When the soul reaches the throat, repentance is no longer accepted. Why? It’s because at this moment every disbeliever becomes a believer for the veil is removed from the eyes and Reality is perceived.

A life in the Grave

There is a life in the grave, and every person shall have their provisions availed to them and the best of provisions is the Quran which illuminates the abode. As a believing soul, you will be reciting Quran and there will be a window to the Garden of Bliss. Within this life, the souls are mobile, visiting one another, and they are received by their loved ones who departed before them. That is why the righteous predecessors would seek to be buried with their loved ones so that they may be reunited in the next life. Ultimately though, the greatest of companionship is with Allah.

Those who long to meet Allah; Allah longs to meet with them.

Death is a means of reuniting with your beloved. Death for the believing soul is a union and it was cemented by love and loyalty to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and to Allah, our Creator.

Sheer Gratitude

Allah, Mighty and Majestic, grants us gifts each day, and when we perceive this we no longer sees the gifts, we see the Giver. Allah gave us without asking in this life and in death and the greatest gift is His beloved and messenger, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. In life, we receive guidance through him and in death we receive his greatest concern, intercession and salvation. What is the response to such generosity? What can one truly do or say for these gifts?

Resources for the seeker:

We are grateful to Shaykh Ahmed Abdo for the video. Cover photo by Captain Nikon.