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Knowing God Is Not Just For Celebrity Saints Of Past, by Yusuf AbdulRahman

Yusuf AbdulRahman reminds us that knowing God is not a distant state attained only by the celebrity saints of past, but rather the starting point of each and every one of us.

Your life is tailor-made by the All Merciful Creator entirely in your interests. Everything that has happened in your life, both the beautiful moments and the bitter, have been created to reveal to you something about yourself or your relationship with The One. Nothing has ever gone wrong. Every moment contains a secret, an embedded message from Him, which, if heeded, moves one forward towards awakening.

Awakening should not be considered a distant state attained only by the celebrity saints of the past. Rather, it is your primordial condition, your starting point. You were born a saint. You were born with clear vision. You saw Him in all things. You knew He was your ally, and that there was nothing to be fearful of. Existence was amazing. You were bedazzled by the rain, a toy train, the tablecloth. The universe is His Creation, and He is The Gently Loving and Kind. Hence, what can this world possibly do to you that is beyond His Mercy?

“But what about the pain?” you ask. “It hurts so much.”

Allah bless you and soothe your heart. The pain is the product of inaccurate perception, of misunderstanding the nature of the universe and your purpose within it. Imagine sitting in a dark room, and making out a black snake in the passing moonlight. The night would be spent in fear, anxiety, and vigilant stillness, lest the snake pounce from its place and sink its fangs into you. After the most frantic of nights, the sun rises, and the snake you feared is revealed to be a shoe lace. The pain, the angst, and the nausea were all caused by your misinterpretation of the situation. There was no need to be afraid. But you were.

The disbeliever considers the universe to be arbitrarily organised. He believes that the events of his life are random, and through his own ingenuity and labour, he can organise matters as he would wish them to be. However, things rarely turn out as he would choose, which gives rise to a permanent state of discontentment, and the resulting overwhelming stress. Life has no meaning to him. There are no lessons to be learnt, just painful failures. Success can only be found in the achievement of outcomes. Anything less is a waste of energy. He celebrates when things go his way, and is desperately distraught when the universe refuses to fall into line. The universe rarely falls into line, so his existence is defined by distrust and resentment.

Alternatively, the believer knows that every moment of her life is perfectly designed by He who knows all. She sees challenges as an opportunity to hone her perspective, and to draw her priorities into focus. The difficult moments remind her of her inherent human inability. When it begins to rain, she thanks Allah for her umbrella. She does not judge the moment she faces, but rather is inquisitive, saying ‘subhanAllah’ when things do not go to plan, rather than screaming in disgust. Sometimes, she laughs when others would cry, because the believer has a stoic sense of humour: “O Allah! What are you doing with me this time?” She focuses on her contribution to the universe, knowing that that is her only responsibility. She rarely gets angry, as she has learnt that anger at the universe is in reality anger at its Creator. She is deeply grateful, and sees the golden thread of meaning that weaves its way through her life, guiding her towards her end goal. Her target is Allah, not a large house. She is generous. “He has given before, He will give again.”

Gratitude seeps out of every one of her pores, as she cannot account for the myriad blessings that permeate her life. When she is given something, she gives thanks. When she loses something, she willingly hands it back to her Lord, knowing it was never hers in the first place. She is in a state of perpetual peace, as she knows that whatever she encounters in life is designed in her interests by The One, and that if she engages with that moment appropriately, she will take another step towards seeing Truth as Truth. She is rarely shaken, because her faith is her reality.

Islam is the vehicle by which one moves from disbelief to belief. It is now normative to consider our faith a cultural identity rather than a technology of transformation. Often, our spiritual practices are performed out of a sense of duty or fear. This neuters their transformative power, and limits them to empty shells rather than potent, rich, and profound tools for reawakening our primordial worldview. Islam, which is the culmination of the Divine Conversation with humanity, is the most perfect and holistic system of human awakening. By reducing it to a cultural identity, it becomes a club like any other. The extent to which one sees the world through the prism of disorder and randomness is the extent to which one experiences pain in it.

Despite billions having declared the faith upon the tongue and having intellectually accepted the tenets of our religion, rare is the man who lives in the state of Islam. The objective of Islam is to see things as they truly are. As one moves towards gratitude and trust, and begins to witness the shadow of the Divine Hand cast over all experiences, the pain begins to cease, one’s vision becomes more accurate, and the heart begins to heal. This movement is shif’a, the return to Reality.

[cwa id=’cta’]

Seeking Out A Culturally-Sensitive Counsellor, by Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil

Working for the SeekersHub Question and Answer service constantly reminds Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil about the importance of looking after our emotional and mental health.

So many Muslims around the world are struggling with different forms of psychological imbalance. To name a few: anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and so on. These inward fractures mirror the outward fractures we see in our troubled world today.
We live in stressful times, and many of our trials begin in our family homes. Many families lack the knowledge and training necessary to deal with these issues, hence, difficulties often escalate.
I feel like in almost every question I respond to, I encourage the distressed questioner and his/her loved ones to see a culturally-sensitive counsellor.
What does that actually look like? Does he/she have to be Muslim? Not necessarily. That would be ideal, but it’s not always possible.
Some aspects of a culturally-sensitive counsellor are:

Understanding

A counsellor who understands Muslims and what is important to us would be much more in tune with your needs. It’s exhausting to need to justify and explain your stance to an ignorant counsellor. Most people who are at counselling are already tired and stretched thin.

Open-minded

An open-minded counsellor is able to support you even if his/her values are different to yours. This applies to both Muslim and non-Muslim counsellors.

Empowering

Many people enter therapy believing that his/her counsellor will magically solve their problems. This does not solve the long-term issue of whatever caused the issue to begin with e.g. victim mentality, difficulty handling strong emotions etc.
The best kind of counsellor doesn’t tell you what to do. Rather, he/she will help you tap into your own values, and help you come to your own decision.

Good rapport

Trust your gut. If speaking to your counsellor makes you feel worse, then reflect on that. Is it because he/she is encouraging you to step out of your comfort zone? Or is it because she is being condescending? Not liking what a counsellor has to say can be a signal for growth, or it could be a sign of a mismatch. Be honest with yourself.

Empathy

The right counsellor feels for your pain, but does not do so from a place of sympathy and condescension. The right counsellor helps to hold you accountable for what you do, and believes in your ability to overcome hardship.

Finding the right counsellor

So now that we’ve covered some important qualities in a culturally-sensitive counsellor, how do we go about finding one? I wish I had an easy answer for that. The reality is that it’s a hit and miss process. Some counsellors will click with you, and others will not. Some people are able to find the right counsellor straight away, while others need to look for months, or even longer.
As with anything, start with asking Allah. Perform the Prayer of Need. When you do come across a potential counsellor, then perform the Prayer of Guidance. InshaAllah, Allah will make it clear to you.
To help you find the right counsellor for you, speak to Muslims who are working or volunteering in the mental health field. Ask your doctor. Do your research. Above all, place your trust in Allah, and in His promise that after every hardship, comes ease.
[cwa id=’cta’]

Resources for seekers

Istikhara: The Prayer of Seeking Guidance

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: How is salat ul-Istikhara prayed?  Is it meant to be prayed several days in a row until a decision is made, or only once? Is it meant to be prayed after one has pretty much made up their mind, or when someone hasn’t really figured out what to do? Are their various valid opinions?

Answer
: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Walaikum assalam,

The istikhara prayer is a very simple prayer of seeking guidance.

  • One prays two rakats at any time that is not disliked, after which one recites the supplication of istikhara.
  • It is best to recite it before sleeping, though in no way necessary.
  • Like other duas, it is recommended that one face the qibla.
  • It is recommended to open the dua of istikhara, with praise of Allah and sending blessings on the Prophet ﷺ and to close it in this manner, too.
  • It is disliked to ‘hasten’ in seeking the answer to one’s istikhara, like other duas, because the Prophet ﷺ said, “Your prayers are answered, unless you hasten, saying, ‘I prayed, but no answer came.’”

The Prayer in Arabic

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْتَخِيرُكَ بِعِلْمِكَ وَأَسْتَقْدِرُكَ بِقُدْرَتِكَ وَأَسْأَلُكَ مِنْ فَضْلِكَ الْعَظِيمِ فَإِنَّكَ تَقْدِرُ وَلَا أَقْدِرُ وَتَعْلَمُ وَلَا أَعْلَمُ وَأَنْتَ عَلَّامُ الْغُيُوبِ اللَّهُمَّ إِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ خَيْرٌ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي فَاقْدُرْهُ لِي وَيَسِّرْهُ لِي ثُمَّ بَارِكْ لِي فِيهِ وَإِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ شَرٌّ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي فَاصْرِفْهُ عَنِّي وَاصْرِفْنِي عَنْهُ وَاقْدُرْ لِي الْخَيْرَ حَيْثُ كَانَ ثُمَّ أَرْضِنِي

Transliteration

Allâhumma inni astakhiruka bi ilmika wa astaqdiruka biqudratika wa as’aluka min fadlikal-azimi, fa innaka taqdiru walâ aqdiru wa ta’lamu walâ a’lamu wa anta allamul ghuyubi. Allâhumma in kunta ta’lamu anna hâdhal amra khayrun li fi dini wa ma-ashi wa aqibati amri faqdir-hu li wa yassir-hu li thumma barik li fihi wa in kunta ta’lamu anna hâdhal amra sharrun li fi dini wa maâshi wa aqibati amri fasrifhu anni wasrifni anhu waqdir liyal-khayra haythu kâna thumma ardini.

Translation

“O Allah, verily I seek the better [of either choice] from You, by Your knowledge, and I seek ability from You, by Your power, and I ask You from Your immense bounty. For indeed You have power, and I am powerless; You have knowledge and I know not; You are the Knower of the unseen realms. O Allah, if You know that this matter is good for me with regard to my religion, my livelihood and the end of my affair then decree it for me, facilitate it for me, and grant me blessing in it. And if You know that this matter is not good for me with regard to my religion, my livelihood and the end of my affair then turn it away from me and me from it; and decree for me better than it, wherever it may be, and make me content with it.”

Looking for signs

One should suspend one’s own judgement or inclination about the particular matter, and wait for Allah to show one a sign or to make things happen in a way that indicates what to do. When one is not clear about the result of the istikhara, the fuqaha mention that it is recommend to repeat it, up to 7 times if necessary (usually done on separate occasions). [cf: Radd al-Muhtar].

Shaykh Nuh Keller mentions that the more one prays the istikhara prayer, the clearer its answers become to one. He prays it for all matters, even things one would not imagine doing istikhara for.

It is not necessary that you get a dream or even a “feeling.” Rather, the istikhara is a prayer that Allah guide you towards that which is best (khayr) for you. If you do the prayer of guidance (istikhara) with the proper manners, the most important of which is to truly consign the matter to Allah and suspend your own inclinations, then Allah will make events unfold in the direction that is the best for your worldly and next-worldly affairs.

When unable to offer salah

In general, when it is not possible to perform the istikhara prayer itself (such as when one is out on the road, or in one’s menstrual period), it is recommended to simply read the dua itself. [Radd al-Muhtar]

For even the smallest things

The great Hanafi scholar and hadith expert from Aleppo, Shaykh Abdullah Sirajal-Din mentions in his book on the virtues of prayer that it is the way of many Sufis, including Shaykh al-Akbar Muhiyyuddin Ibn al-Arabi (Allah sanctify his secret), to pray the istikhara prayer at the beginning of their day, after sunrise, asking Allah to guide them in general to all good and to keep away all evil from them.

Istikhara gives the best answer, for one’s worldly and religious life (not worldly life alone), when coupled with another essential sunna: istishara (seeking sound counsel) of those worthy of being consulted and taking the sound means of assessing the situation at hand.

Imam al-Nawawi mentioned that before the istikhara prayer, one should seek advice from those whose knowledge, wisdom, and concern one is confident. Ibn Hajar al-Haytami and others mentioned that one of the benefits of this is to further distance oneself from the desires of one’s own egotistic inclinations.

The istikhara prayer may be made for a specific matter or be made for a general seeking of all that is best. Some scholars, including Imam Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha`rani and Ibn `Arafah before him saw this kind of istikhara prayer as being superior. Others, including Shaykh Ibn al-Arabi, recommended performing a general istikhara prayer for all that is good every day, ideally at the time of the Duha prayer (after sunrise).

One should be pleased with what Allah chooses for one, and not seek to follow one’s whims after the answer to one’s supplication becomes clear. We ask Allah to give us beneficial knowledge, and the success to act upon it in the way most beloved to Him, on the footsteps of His beloved Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace).

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Listen to Shaykh Faraz debunk common misconceptions about istikhara in this SeekersGuidance podcast, including

  • Misconception 1: Istikhara is a prayer in matters of marriage
  • Misconception 2: The signs come in the form of dreams
  • Misconception 3: A sinful person must ask a pious person to perform the prayer on his behalf
  • Misconception 4: Istikhara is only for the big decisions, not small matters

Resources on istikhara and other related matters