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Soul Searching in the Hour of Chaos, by Shaykh Jihad Brown

In the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the surprise victory of Donald Trump, Shaykh Jihad Brown asks some tough questions and paves a way forward for American Muslims.

Its 3:00 a.m.; there is a hollow feeling in the chest, but I have family, I have students. We all knew this could very well be a possibility—never inevitable but certainly possible. While there is a silver lining up there somewhere, make no mistake, it is a rain cloud. Inclement weather does not deter the “deadliest catch”. It is what we signed up for, no? Did the believers think they had yet tasted the surat ankabut that we so relish citing from the manabir for years now? Let’s find our hearts in the resolve that has led even some Alaskan and North Pacific fisherman to embrace the Deen of Islam. The job must get done and the Prophet (Allah bless him) never promised you a rose garden.
Make no mistake; this has been a victory driven by a fear for loss of white privilege. A comforting imperceptible entitlement that seems to be slipping away with a nostalgic ‘Norman Rockwell’ America that ceased to exist long before the canaries keeled over. For some Americans it certainly never existed; and Rockwell himself—as he painted—seemed to realise that in his later years. But our question must be this, will the ‘Muslim establishment’ take this moment to realise this and reconsider their taking ‘white upper middle-class suburbia’ as their ideal? Will they address the disconcerting racism and classism so prevalent in our mosques? It is a victory made possible by a regime of dumbing down the electorate. Will Muslims reconsider their more recent insistence on dumbing down all and every aspect of Islamic discourse? An electorate devoid of critical acumen will buy anything offered as panacea; as will a Muslim community believing themselves nourished by slogans and spectacles.
Yes, the ‘elites’ of Spiro Agnew and the Editor of the Harvard Law Review have been defeated. But don’t think that this is a cattle call that the ‘herd’ shall inherit the earth. Now more than ever, intelligence is important. But it will be a grounded intelligence coupled with empathy that only Islam can bring. Wisdom, hikma and a kind word, is never data, never rhetoric. An ‘information age’ is dangerous at worst, empty at best, without the third dimension. Let us desist from our cheeky courtship of post-modern nominalism—that reality and truth lies only within the words we utter. Let us consider the compelling merit of the realism offered by a human rational soul—that principles have meaning and there is a reality independent of our thoughts and language. That Allah and truth is, regardless of whether there is a human mind to conceive it.
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What our Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him) wanted for new shores

We are on the cusp of a period of intense soul-searching for this country. Muslims now have an opportunity forced upon them to begin a process of soul-searching as well. Will they be able to find the authenticity of perspective, direction, and contribution this society needs so deeply from them? The programme moving forward will be to ask ourselves what our Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him) wanted for new shores; and what healing the Deen of our Creator would bring to a new society that is thirsty and suffering from its own particular forms of pain. Can we also be physicians of hearts and minds. As well as honest custodians of truth and fidelity for our own children and families?
The modern Muslim community has been one of extremes to this point. Now more than ever before we need engaged participation without assimilation; care, concern, and empathy, without sentimentality and emotionalism; authenticity and leadership without triumphalism. Here is a mā’idah disguised as a disappointment; a pasture of opportunity disguised as a tragedy. A call to what will give you life—for those who would respond. Every path to the mountain top can only begin with, “physician heal thyself.” Let’s invite one another to discover Islam as it is and not as entertaining or self-congratulating ideal; bismillah People.

Silver linings

The expectation is that matters should—in general—be safer than assumed for minorities, in that the Right Wing got what it wanted. There would have been more danger on the streets in the case of a Hillary win. Will xenophobes be emboldened—it is possible. Will there be new unfair policy initiatives, maybe. These things are uncertain still. But there will be no barrel-bombs. Rather than looking for the sky to fall just yet, let us focus instead on strengthening our hearts. Muslims will have to explore the merits of real, tangible, and true fraternity, solidarity, and community, not just as cozy buzz words and idealistic slogans—the furniture of our own form of jingoism. If you haven’t understood this then know that the 1980s called and said it wants its 1950s dinosaur figures back.
We all know privately, that there is a more privileged segment within the American Muslim community that has always leaned Republican; conflating economic conservatism with moral conservatism. Conflating prophetic istiqama with evangelical ‘moralising’. This ‘kool-aid’ of uncritical Muslim-establishment faith in the mythology of a Protestant Work Ethic will be a major obstacle to authenticity; if decision making weight on matters of theology, social well-being, and community direction continue to remain in such hands.

The need for real humanity

If ‘new Americans’ want to participate in basic mainstream American conversations—as ‘basic’ Americans—by all means, welcome. But Muslim please, don’t do so on the dime of ‘Islamic daawa’. Americans have historically been hopeful in the healing and uplifting promise in the Deen of Muhammad (Allah bless him). Take it outside if you don’t mind—get a room if you must—but  please don’t deny us that. Americans ask—explicitly or with the tongue of their condition—for that enrichment and sophisticated depth and warmth of real humanity and godly, rabbani, insight that only you can offer; not for the cold technology or mechanical management techniques that they already have. We do not tend to expect that working class Americans are going to be saved by this enterprise they have sunk their votes into. Do you have the respect, compassion, integrity, and resolve your neighbours hope for? I still find that I am unable to relinquish my hope that you do; even though its been hard. Just really, really hard.
Know that the world turns for people who put impressing Allah and His messenger first. Everything else is window dressing. Don’t get side-tracked. The ‘labeeb’ understands that when we say we dig your taste in drapes, that we’re just making small-talk to keep it down to earth.
For those who have been optimistically looking toward ‘hope’ and ‘change’, then know that it comes in phases—and recognise phase II for what it is. Take a moment, take a deep breath, and then put on your rain poncho, grab your galoshes, and be a part of building phase III. Inclement weather doesn’t prevent the fisherman from going out on deck when the job must still get done. Look up. Downpours are an inevitable part of the open seas and the waves will get rough, and the tumult of the ocean intimates uncertainty. But look up, the constellations continue to shine with their reassuring serenity and constancy; and the heavenly bodies continue to swim in their orbits—and by the stars they are guided.

No peace, no justice – Shaykh Hamdi Ben Aissa

Muslims have sadly become a people who are focused on the idea of justice, and justice above all, writes Shaykh Hamdi Ben Aissa. Our actions and concerns are governed by the mentality: no justice, no peace. Thus, we have become known to the world as fighters for our rights, demanding justice from all those who would oppress us or challenge our way of life.

Is this how we should be known to this beleaguered and hurting world of ours? Is this the sum total of what Muslims have to offer humanity? And on top of that, not even justice for all, but only that which extends to our own kind?
We have reached this place of valuing justice above all else because we nurture this concern in ourselves and our children above the concern for moral integrity and spiritual refinement (ihsaan) and kindness, magnanimity, and empathy (rahma) in our personal behaviour and interactions with others. An international survey evaluating levels of empathy in children of various religions found Muslim children to have one of the lowest levels of empathy (which is another word for rahma) and the highest sense of justice, ie. swiftness in declaring the actions of another as “unfair” and demanding punishment of the other for perceived wrongdoing.
I visited an Islamic elementary school a short while ago, and when I asked the children what they wanted to do with their lives, those who had some sense of mission were in the minority. Amongst them, those whose mission had something to do with Islam were an even smaller minority. And amongst the latter, their sense of mission revolved around the need to defend Islam and its image.
This is what we have bequeathed to our children – this sense of concern for their rights, and a sense that the rights of all Muslims are under attack. Thus those who feel some sense of awareness among them can think only of how Islam is under constant attack and needs to be defended.

Self-fulfilling

The truly oppressed is he who allows himself to believe that he is oppressed. He believes that other human beings have the ultimate control over his circumstances, have power over him and are able to give him the justice he seeks or withhold it. Such a person will be reacting to the action of injustice like a ping pong ball thrown at the wall, not having any other option but to rebound eternally, getting weaker and weaker each time until it gets crushed.
Re-action is simply the continuation of action. Thus he who reacts is never free because his actions are in reality but a perpetuation of the original action of his oppressor.

Consumed by our victimhood

What made the Muslims of Makkah liberated, even when they were in the midst of severe oppression and persecution, was that they did not believe their human oppressors had any actual power. What made Bilal a freeman even when he was a “slave” is that he only ever acknowledged the One (Ahadun Ahad) as having any power, control or role in his life.
Our obsession with the wrongs others are committing against us as a community gets us nowhere. And takes all our energy. Just today a sister wrote to me to say that seeing all the horrible things happening in the world is disabling. This is exactly right. We allow ourselves to be disabled when we fixate on these things – they get the better of us. And then, we have no time or attention left to seek God and to make an honest evaluation of our own ihsaan (where are we in terms of moral integrity? are we more refined spiritually today than we were yesterday, or less so?). When we become fixated on what is happening in the world, we are no longer able to take on the most important battle that stands before us : that of begging our Lord to guide us toward moral integrity and spiritual refinement, living everyday in search of the opportunities He sends us for this. This is the true and inevitable battlefield – even for those who are out on a battlefield!
One who turns to face the battle for the heart, before attending to the battle for justice, will hold himself to four principles, which will produce in him four qualities.

The four principles before battling for justice:

1. cultivation of compassion and empathy (raḥma) before cultivation of anger (ghaḍab), such that the former controls the latter, establishing correct limits for it
2. cultivation of love for God’s sake (al-ḥubb fi Allah) before cultivation of aversion for God’s sake (al-bughḍ fi Allah), such that the former controls the latter, establishing correct limits for it
3. cultivation of permeability to beauty and goodness and those who uphold the like (athillatan ‘alal mu’mineen), before cultivation of impermeability towards wrongdoing and injustice (a’izzatan ‘alal kaafireen), such that the former controls the latter, establishing correct limits for it
4. cultivation of loyalty to what is pleasing to the Lord (al-walāʿ) before cultivation of the disavowal of what is displeasing to Him (al-barāʿ), such that the former controls the latter, establishing correct limits for it.

The four beneficial qualities that will arise within us

As a result of the believer holding himself to the above four principles, four qualities will arise within him, and these are the missiles of the heart, the fuel of a true Islamic Revival:
1. forgiveness for the one who wrongs him
2. generosity and a giving attitude to the one who denies him
3. a continuous reaching out and connecting to the one who disconnects from him
4. moral integrity and magnanimity towards the one who mistreats him.
With these qualities, a person treads the Earth as a shining guide (dāʿī) and not as an arrogant judge (qāḍī).
He puts aside his own expectations for people’s spiritual improvement according to what he would like for them, in order to submit to God’s Wisdom and Will with respect to the guidance of His Creation. As a result of this surrender to God’s Will, God uses this person as an instrument by which He guides whomsoever He Alone has chosen to receive His Guidance. (Thus this person is truly living and acting for God and by God.)

The four principles that reflect warped priorities

In contrast, one who chooses to face the battle for justice before the battle for the heart, operates by four principles that are the exact opposite of those mentioned above. These four principles are:
1. cultivation of anger (ghaḍab) before cultivation of compassion (raḥma), such that the former blocks and shuts out the latter
2. Cultivation of aversion for God’s sake (al-bughḍ fi Allah) before cultivation of love for God’s sake (al-ḥubb fi Allah), such that the former blocks and shuts out the latter
3. Cultivation of impermeability towards wrongdoing and injustice (a’izzatan ‘alal kaafireen) before cultivation of permeability to beauty and goodness and those who uphold the like (athillatan ‘alal mu’mineen), such that the former blocks and shuts out the latter
4. Cultivation of the disavowal of what is displeasing to the Lord (al-barāʿ) before cultivation of loyalty to what is pleasing to Him (al-walāʿ), such that the former blocks and shuts out the latter.

The four blameworthy qualities that will arise within us

As a result of a person structuring his inner being according to the above four principles, four qualities arise within him, which are the destroyers of the Islamic revival:
1. judgement of others’ faults (tafsīq)
2. pointing out of innovations in the religion (tabdīʿ)
3. excommunication of fellow Muslims (takfīr)
4. exploding with violence and destruction (tafjīr)
Thus, he walks amongst people as an arrogant judge (qādī) and not as a shining guide (dāʿī). Satan misguides through him more people than he himself – out of his apparent concern for the Ummah’s wellbeing – sets out to guide, correct, and reform. He holds fast to his own vision of how people should improve religiously, and seeks to impose this vision on them even if it destroys them.
Because he does not submit to the Will of God, he is not used by God as an instrument of good.

Amjad Sabri’s death: Yearning for God till his Last Breath

The world is mourning the passing of one of Pakistan’s most beloved devotional (qawwali) singers. Amjad Sabri was gunned down in Karachi, allegedly by extremists who accused him of blasphemy. Shortly after his death, the video of his last televised performance went viral (watch above).

Dr Bano Murtaja has kindly translated the lyrics:

O one of the green dome, accept my request
When my time is upon me, grant me (your) vision
O Noor e Khuda, embed yourself in my eyes
Or call me to your doorstep, or come into my dreams
O veiled one, remain in the veil of my heart
When my time is upon me, grant me (your) vision
O one of the green dome, accept my request
When my time is upon me, grant me (your) vision
When in the darkness of my grave, I fear
Come to my aid, my master
illuminate my grave O Noor e Khuda
When my time is upon me, grant me (your) vision
O one of the green dome, accept my request

When my time is upon me, grant me (your) vision
I’m a criminal of every kind, on the day, keep my honour
Disillusioned with the world, envelope me in your succour
accept my words my Lord
When my time is upon me, grant me (your) vision
O one of the green dome, accept my request
When my time is upon me, grant me (your) vision
From his face the moon and stars took their splendour
From his doorstep, the afflicted and sad took healing
Only he knows how to heal every affliction every sadness
When my time is upon me, grant me (your) vision
O one of the green dome, accept my request
When my time is upon me, grant me (your) vision
I have not seen more beautiful than the beloved of God
It is his station that even his shadow its not seen
God chose not to detach even his shadow
When my time is upon me, grant me (your) vision.
Amjad Sabri
Bestow your favor upon me, O Beloved of God, for God’s sake
O Prophet, let the bud of my hopes blossom now
I am a pauper at your door, here to seek alms
Fill my bag, O Muhammad
I will not go back empty-handed
“Bhar Do Jholi”

Resources on who Amjad Sabri was and what he represented

Thoughts on the Orlando Shooting Tragedy, from Shaykh Walead Mosaad

Our apologies for the quality of this recording.  

Shaykh Waleed will teach at SeekersHub for part of Ramadan 2016. Details can be found here. Our thanks to Sakina Collective for this recording, where Shaykh Walead Mosaad is scholar in residence. Visit their Facebook page and Soundcloud.

Photo from Beck Diefenbach (Reuters)

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

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