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Shaykh Asim Yusuf on Living a God-Conscious Life

Nurulain Wolhuter writes an insightful overview of Shaykh Asim Yusuf’s Canada lecture, where he discussed the concept of tawheed, or Divine unity, and how to connect our needs to living a God-conscious life.

Shaykh Asim Yusuf commenced this insightful and moving lecture on the importance of a life conscious of the divine by exhorting the servants of Allah to become people of mercy. His lecture explained process of actualising such a way of living consciously and authentically. This starts when one understands the interplay between the concepts of unity and multiplicity. He stressed mercy being at the core of the call to the student of knowledge. Those who are merciful to others will receive the mercy of Allah, the All-Compassionate.

While mercy is the foundation of the call to Allah, the servants of Allah must strive to become people of God-consciousness and piety (taqwa). The servant must have a pious heart, in order to reflect goodness and light to those around her or him.

The righteous servant must be imbued with God-consciousness. Shaykh Asim says that living a God-conscious life has three aspects, namely taqwa, active remembrance of Allah (dhikr), and worship (ibadah).  Different people achieve this in different ways.

Understanding Taqwa

Understanding God-consciousness requires understanding the human condition, its wider relationship to the universe, and, most importantly, its relationship to the Creator. Humans are distinguished from animals by the capacity for abstraction. They are able to perceive the past through memory and the future through imagination. They can also conceive of abstract concepts out of time, like good or bad, joy or sorrow.

However, a more insightful way of understanding the nature of humanity is to be found by understanding the Arabic word for human, or insan. Insan is derived two meanings, namely uns and nisyan. While uns refers to the need to be loved, nisyan refers to forgetfulness. Shaykh Asim says humanity is driven by the desire to be loved but has forgotten where to find it. So the human journey is one from forgetfulness to love.

God-consciousness is the ability to recognise the this need, and to seek its fulfilment. Allah made this known primordially when He asked the souls: أَلَسْتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ “Am I not your Lord?”  and they answered: قَالُوا بَلَىٰ ۛ شَهِدْنَا “Yes, indeed, we witness.” (Sura Al-Araf, 7:172) While most people have forgotten this, a glimmer of it remains in the primordial memory, generating an existential fear, and a yearning for the presence of Allah.

Consciousness begins from the time the soul is placed into the fetus. The womb, or rahm, is a place of mercy (rahmah) and all the needs of the fetus are met. However, once it is born, it experiences the trauma of separation from its mother and its first need, namely the need for oxygen. When this is met by the taking of the first breath, it experiences the first fulfilment of a need. After that, it experiences many needs that are met from a multiplicity of sources, such as its mother. The baby, at this time, ascribes the fulfilment of need to its mother. It does not yet have the understanding to ascribe it to Allah. 

Allah’s Divine Unity

Shaykh Asim said that Allah is unity, but His acts are manifested in multiplicity, namely in His 99 names or attributes. The universe can also be described as multiplicity arising out of unity. The relationship between man and Allah works against the backdrop of this concept of unity in multiplicity. This relationship can be described as the connection between the unity of Allah and the multiplicity of His acts. These lead to a multiplicity of effects, which are perceived as a multiplicity of experiences by man. It relates back to the self as a unity, because man experiences himself as a unity although, in reality, he is a multiplicity. This relationship is encapsulated in Allah’s exhortation: يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اعْبُدُوا رَبَّكُمُ “O mankind, worship your Lord.” (Sura Baqarah 2:21)

Shaykh Asim’s description of God-consciousness as the expression and growth of the soul’s yearning for the forgotten need to be loved by Allah is an insightful tool that facilitates the reflection and introspection that is necessary for the servant’s journey to His Lord. However, students may benefit from engaging with his concept of unity in multiplicity to ensure that it is kept clearly distinct from the vehicle for the infusion of non-Islamic concepts such as the Trinity, or polytheistic notions of multiple deities.


The Wisdom of Suffering – Why We Suffer

“Why We Suffer” is a series that explores why there is suffering in the world, and how we should respond to evil according to Allah’s teachings. In this segment, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani speaks about why we experience difficulty.

Shaykh Faraz opens the session by exploring the reasons behind tests and trials, and how we can benefit from difficulty, tests and trails.

Trials tend to bring out the hidden virtues, or vices, in people. These trials serve as an examination, allowing us to realise our potential and limits as human beings. But most importantly, trials and difficulties are a means of  getting to know our Creator.

The purpose of these tests can be found in the following verse of the Qur’an:

  [He] who created death and life to test you, which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving. (67:2)

Both the times of ease and times of difficulty teach us more about Allah and His different attributes, and help us build our connection to Him. Furthermore, they teach us that only Allah is in charge. When we experience suffering or some sort of difficulty, we are humbled to this reality.

Therefore, we are tested not just how we respond to the obvious tests of difficulty, but also how we respond to times of ease and success and happiness.

About the Series

Shaykh Hamza Karamali (Dean of Academics at SeekersHub Global) and our founder Shaykh Faraz Rabbani explain the Islamic understanding of why there are tests, trials, evil and suffering in this life. They address questions such as: What is the wisdom and purpose behind evil and suffering in this life? How should we respond to evil, suffering, tests, and trials? What are the spiritual teachings of Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) to respond with trials?


Resources for Seekers

The Great Event: Sura al Waqi’a Explained – Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani gives a thematic study of this Sura, its explanation (tafsir), key lessons, and how to grow one’s relationship with Allah through deepening one’s understanding and relationship with this great Sura.

Sura al Waqi’ah is one of the most beloved and most recited Suras of the Qur’an. This is because of the sense of urgency and opportunity it conveys.

This Sura has three main themes:

The Resurrection

The first theme, found in verses 1-56, described the amazing awe-inspiring power of the Resurrection, as well as the various stations which all people will be in.

The resurrection is a reality. It has been said, “If the light of faith were in your heart, the hereafter would be so real that you wouldn’t feel the need to travel to it.” There are two types of disbelief in the Hereafter; the explicit denial, and lesser denial. The latter involves a lifestyle that does not act as if the Hereafter exists. We should nurture a sense of reality of the hereafter, to give us the sense of urgency that we need to ensure that we take this life seriously.

Proofs of the Resurrection

The second theme, found in verses 57-80, speak about the rational proofs of the Resurrection.

Modern science usually argues that there is no Creator, However, we believe that things cannot create themselves, and we have many proofs in the Qur’an and in other places. The human being is like a plant, nurtured by reflection and watered by remembrance. If bereft of these, the faith could shrivel and die. Therefore, we have a duty to learn more about our beliefs. If a society isn’t firmly rooted in their faith, the faith can leave when in testing times.

During and After Death

The third theme, from verses 81-96, speaks about the state of a person during and after death.

After death, there are many types of people. The ones brought near, will have joy and ease in Paradise. There will also be those of the right hand, who will be greeted with good. As for the one who denied, they will be in Hellfire.

All  blessings are from Allah, even life itself. We must respond to these blessings while we still have time. However, Allah asks us why we only look at these blessings when we are close to dying, or when we see someone else die, even though Allah is closer to us than anyone else.  Closeness to Allah is not an issue of distance, but in the sense that He sustains everything, at all times.


Resources for Seekers

The Realities of Death and Dying – SeekersHub Toronto’s Seminar with Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Shaykh Ramzey Ajem, and Habib Hussein al Saqqaf

Death. Dying. Bereavement. Afterlife. Not subjects we particularly want to think about. But sometimes, it’s the things we are most avoiding, that are, in reality, the closest to us.

As the first snowflakes of the year fell to the street outside the Hub, burying out the autumn leaves that had fallen just days earlier, I was struck by how death always seems to be a morose subject of discussion despite being manifested all around us. Why, then, I wondered, are we still not ready to acknowledge it?

But in the final of the Living Religion seminar series at SeekersHub Toronto, aptly titled Death and Dying, we literally looked death in the face.

Spiritual Dimensions of Death and The AfterLife – Shaykh Ramzy Ajem

“Who here, by a show of hands, is ready for death?” asked Shaykh Ramzy Ajem, the first speaker of the seminar. No one moved.

“No one? Death isn’t a morbid subject; it shouldn’t be like that for a Muslim.” He said. “Death isn’t an end, it’s a beginning. You have a merciful Lord.”

He encouraged us to look at death in a positive light, and look forward to receiving that mercy. In regards to the afterlife, no one will enter Paradise based on his good actions; Paradise is from the mercy of our Lord. He told us that this life could never be a time for us to “collect” good deeds in a basket to be presented to Allah on the Day of Judgement; it is in our neediness of Him, that we attain a knowledge of Him.

He ended by urging us to examine our lives in perspective. “Our lives aren’t just cooking and cleaning, career, spouse. Love what you like, but you’re going to lose it. If your attachments are unbalanced, dying is going to be painful.”

However, if we see things in perspective, and realize that our purpose in life is to know Allah, and nothing more, death will be a pleasure.

 

The Importance of Remembering Death – Habib Hussein al Saqqaf

The next lecture was a video broadcast from the UAE, where Habib Hussein al-Saqqaf resides and teaches.

“The traveller,” Habib Hussein reminded us, “will not settle until he reaches his destination.” He emphasized that this worldly life is only one of the many stages that a human soul will pass through; that the stage of life is connected to the body, the stage of the barzakh is connected to the soul, and the stage of the afterlife is a perfect connection of both. He referred to death as a liqaa, a meeting.

That liqaa could be a happy one for you, if you loved Allah, His Messenger, and the noble ones. However, if you were attached to evil in your life, your liqaa would be an evil one.

A theme that is echoed throughout Islamic teaching is the idea of the husn al-khatima, the good ending. Habib Hussein encouraged us to seek that good ending proactively and with direction.

“No one is protected from sin,” he said, “but follow a sin with a good deed without delay.” He especially urged us not to wait; a good deed could be as simple as a smile, a kind word, or the act of giving food to another.

Habib Hussein left us with a practical plan to fortify our hearts, saying, “Whatever is in the hearts of men will spill out at the time of death,” and that constant repetition of the shahada, the testification of faith, la ilaha illa-Allah (there is no deity except Allah) cause it to be contained within our hearts, such that those could be our last words at the time of death.

 Practical Guidance for Preparing for Death – Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Faraz, as is his habit, focused on the practical aspects of preparing for death. “At a spiritual level, you’re dying every moment, because you have no inherent existence. You winked into existence, you would wink out if He didn’t sustain you.”

He shared ten ways:

1. Know your realities—Who is your Creator? Who are you? What is life and its purpose?
“One of the most amazing things about our religion,” he said, “is that we don’t just talk about God in the abstract; we know His attributes.”

2. Reflect on death—“Only a fool would believe that something changing is eternal,” he said.

3. Know the rights of Allah over you—your obligations to Him.

4. Know the rights of creation over you—“You have no right to harm God’s creation,” he warned. That could come in the form of physical harm, or something as simple such as gossiping.

22809255903_67e3137f79_b 5. Sense of urgency—that death could come at you any moment.

6. Use the “Death Test”—by asking yourself before any given action, “Is this what I want to die doing?” and during the action, “Is this the best use of my time?”

7. Having a living will—keeping track of your material and spiritual rights over God and others.

8. Keep a clean slate—through regular repentance.

9. Die beloved—with love and thankfulness, faith and trust, and certitude, pleased to meet your Lord.
And lastly, very practically:

10. Ask for a good ending.

Personal Reflection

Granted, death is a heavy subject, and will be so until the time comes when death is no more. However, the seminar had left me feeling hopeful rather than hopeless.

But the words of the ignorant and inexperienced cannot explain clarity. The only way to explain my feelings are contained in the final chapter of the miraculous poem Al-Burda:

“My Lord! Let not my hope on You be overthrown, nor let my credit with You be void of worth. Deal kindly with Your slave in both worlds, for when terrors call to him, his patience is weak.” (trans. Abdul Hakim Murad)

What little is contained in this world, cannot explain everything. What transpired in this world, cannot be the end of the matter. Therefore, death is a passage, not obliviation.

It took me a seminar to realize that.

 

Activism & Social Change: Q&A and Closing Dua

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Ustadh Amjad Tarsin, and Ustadha Shireen Ahmed answer critical questions about activism, social change, and the true spirit of service in Islam.

This podcast is from a recent seminar at SeekersHub Toronto, on Activism & Social Change.

About the Activism & Social Change seminar:

Want to save the world? Given the troubling nature of events around the globe, many of us are turning to activism in order to bring on positive social change. Learn how to root your activism in Prophetic tradition, make a positive impact on society and uphold excellence in your concern for others.

In this timely and important seminar Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Ustadha Shireen Ahmed and Ustadh Amjad Tarsin explore what activism and service mean and share practical guidelines and keys of how to express one’s concerns and serve with excellence.

All SeekersHub classes and programming are free. Your financial support is crucial to our #SpreadLight campaign, which seeks to provide truly excellent Islamic learning to at least 1,000,000 seekers of knowledge in the coming year! This will serve as an ongoing charity (sadaqa jariyah) so please donate today.

Why Do We Serve? What is Prophetic Concern? by Ustadh Amjad Tarsin

Who was the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), and what was his concern for his community? In this powerful talk, Ustadh Amjad Tarsin describes the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his deep concern for the well-being of all of Allah’s creation.

Using anecdotal examples, Ustadh Amjad Tarsin paints a beautiful picture of what it means to be a concerned Muslim who reflects Prophetic concern in the modern context.

This podcast is from a recent seminar at SeekersHub Toronto, on Activism & Social Change.

About the Activism & Social Change seminar:

Want to save the world? Given the troubling nature of events around the globe, many of us are turning to activism in order to bring on positive social change. Learn how to root your activism in Prophetic tradition, make a positive impact on society and uphold excellence in your concern for others.

In this timely and important seminar Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Ustadha Shireen Ahmed and Ustadh Amjad Tarsin explore what activism and service mean and share practical guidelines and keys of how to express one’s concerns and serve with excellence.

All SeekersHub classes and programming are free. Your financial support is crucial to our #SpreadLight campaign, which seeks to provide truly excellent Islamic learning to at least 1,000,000 seekers of knowledge in the coming year! This will serve as an ongoing charity (sadaqa jariyah) so please donate today.

Prophetic Principles for Serving With Excellence, by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

What is the purpose of serving humanity? Why has Allah made us responsible for ensuring the preservation of good for other people? Listen to Shaykh Faraz Rabbani as he answers these and other fundamental questions, which shape our view of service and ultimately decide how and why we serve.

This podcast is from a recent seminar at SeekersHub Toronto, on Activism & Social Change.

About the Activism & Social Change seminar:

Want to save the world? Given the troubling nature of events around the globe, many of us are turning to activism in order to bring on positive social change. Learn how to root your activism in Prophetic tradition, make a positive impact on society and uphold excellence in your concern for others.

In this timely and important seminar Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Ustadha Shireen Ahmed and Ustadh Amjad Tarsin explore what activism and service mean and share practical guidelines and keys of how to express one’s concerns and serve with excellence.

All SeekersHub classes and programming are free. Your financial support is crucial to our #SpreadLight campaign, which seeks to provide truly excellent Islamic learning to at least 1,000,000 seekers of knowledge in the coming year! This will serve as an ongoing charity (sadaqa jariyah) so please donate today.

The Roots of Fruitful Service, by Ustadha Shireen Ahmed

Ustadha Shireen Ahmed explains the foundations which lead to fruitful activism and service. Speaking from many years of experience, she offers deep insight into the pitfalls of many young students and activists, and how these can be addressed so that one’s work is more blessed and closer to the Prophetic way.

This podcast is from a recent seminar at SeekersHub Toronto, on Activism & Social Change.

About the Activism & Social Change seminar:

Want to save the world? Given the troubling nature of events around the globe, many of us are turning to activism in order to bring on positive social change. Learn how to root your activism in Prophetic tradition, make a positive impact on society and uphold excellence in your concern for others.

In this timely and important seminar Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Ustadha Shireen Ahmed and Ustadh Amjad Tarsin explore what activism and service mean and share practical guidelines and keys of how to express one’s concerns and serve with excellence.

All SeekersHub classes and programming are free. Your financial support is crucial to our #SpreadLight campaign, which seeks to provide truly excellent Islamic learning to at least 1,000,000 seekers of knowledge in the coming year! This will serve as an ongoing charity (sadaqa jariyah) so please donate today.

Video: Finding a spouse, maintaining strong marriages

It isn’t easy finding the right spouse and maintaining a loving, peaceful, and long-lasting relationship. In this engaging seminar, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani and Ustadha Shireen Ahmed share practical knowledge and real life scenarios on:

Seekers hub Toronto - Marriage Seminar– Choosing a spouse.
– Involving your family appropriately.
– Understanding the marriage contract.
– The overall spiritual nature of marriage.
– The qualities required to maintain a healthy marriage.

SeekersHub Toronto is a unique learning foundation that connects transformative knowledge and spirituality with actionable community service and social engagement. It is open and welcoming to individuals of all ages, religious beliefs, and walks of life–with equally diverse programs and activities offered at no cost.

Consider joining a class with SeekersHub Toronto. All classes are FREE.

Help us continue to provide Knowledge Without Barriers through your ongoing monthly support or a one-time donation.

Full House at Muslim Marriage Seminar

Seekers hub Toronto - Marriage Seminar“Full house with two of our teachers, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani and Ustadha Shireen Fatima Ahmed at SeekersHub Toronto’s Marriage Seminar”, on 14th February 2015. Photo credit: Sadia Qaderi.

Resources for Seekers:
Understanding Marriage – A conversation with Imam Zaid Shakir
Lasting Love: What Makes for Successful Marriage?
When Love is Not Enough
Getting Married Seminar Helped make Marriage A Reality for SeekersGuidance Student
The Intentions of Marriage – Shaykh Ali bin Abu Bakr al-Sakran
Is Marriage Sinful? – Faraz Rabbani
Women, Debts, and Marriage