God

Eid thoughts

Eid Mubarak wonderful souls, whether you are celebrating today or tomorrow! Surely such a blessed day calls for ice cream and lots of it?!

Ramadan was a difficult one this year; global, national and local incidents left me feeling overwhelmed, distracted and powerless. The tragedy of Grenfell Tower was especially painful; affecting a community close to my heart and sadly illustrating the consequences of our societal ills; greed, lack of ethics and disregard by the powerful for lives that don’t seem to matter.

A few days ago however, I and another were conversing with an old man whose situation was such that he lived in poverty. As the old man left, he parted with a loving prayer where he hoped to meet us all again, only this time, in Heaven.
And it suddenly hit me. This is a life full of joy and love and hope, yes, but also a world full of sorrow and injustice and oppression and pain. But there is another life to come; a life where true and perfect justice will be delivered by the Most Just for all those oppressed and wronged. And where true and final peace will descend upon all by the Source of Peace.

I realised that my sense of powerlessness came from my inability to attach enough meaning to the afterlife.

This tragedy and all forms of hurt in the world should inspire us to be gentle with each other, to comfort, support and stand up for one another. And when we then start to feel overcome, then let us also remember that there is an afterlife where all wrongs will be put right. An old poor man in a little city in Morocco reminded me of this.

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Small mercies: istighfaar

A good friend recently told me about the benefits of istighfar and how life changing it has been for her. She shared a simple anecdote about how she was running late for her inter city train, increased in istighfar and by the grace of God the train was delayed by a short period- enough time for her to reach the station and jump on.

Today I experienced something similar. While running late for a meeting and each taxi that passed by wouldn’t stop, my friend’s story came to mind and inspired us to do some istighfar. Within seconds, a taxi with one passenger drove past and picked us up. When we were in the taxi, unbeknown to them about the context, the driver and passenger shared how they were on the way to another part of town, and somehow ended up on our road. The driver spoke of his amazement at having planned one particular direction and then another plan took hold. The passenger then asked the driver to stop us off first despite him being in the car first – he didn’t know that we were running horrendously late!

When we open our hearts to these possibilities, His mercies, big and small truly manifest. Alhamdulilah

The ant

In my about me page, I set out why I named this blog ‘the ant and carpet’:

I came across a profound parable recounted by Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad (Timothy Winters) and attributed to the one and only Jalaluddin Rumi. The parable tells of an ant that crawls across a carpet and complains to God about the numerous bumps, patterns and strange colours that serve little more than a meaningless obstacle course. What is not known to the ant of course, is that the landscape it traverses is a carpet, and the carpet in its entirety is complete, and that the carpet maker has carefully created this carpet with all of its colours and patterns purposefully.  Sheikh Abdul Hakim reflects that even if we can’t always see the wisdom behind life’s experiences, we should remember that manifestations of God’s will is always beautiful and perfect. He adds that ‘We are at ground level, we can’t see what it all means.’

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This story inspires a sense of humility and hope. I feel humbled that there is an entire journey that has been specifically paved for me across my life span, and that while I may not understand the wisdom behind some of the apparent ‘bumps’ and diverging ‘patterns’, life’s course that is open to me, the people I meet, the actions I undertake, the world I experience is by no coincidence. With life’s struggles and joys, I should reflect often, that like the ant on a beautiful carpet, I too am traversing across a path that is beyond my comprehension, perhaps unsure of the wisdom, but always hopeful of the outcome.

On death

I have not written for a while.  I have been uninspired, but I think that can also probably translate to laziness. A recent event however has given me a strong reminder to ponder on and I hope to begin reflecting a little more seriously, especially offline.  I share below.

A month ago my maternal grandmother passed away in Morocco, may God shade her under His eternal mercy and forgiveness (I have written about her struggle previously here).  She had been unwell for a number of years and was aging painfully, and yet her death still came as a shock to the family. The anchor had gone.

As Muslim practice is to try and bury the dead as soon as possible, I only managed to make the final night of the post-funeral events where visitors gather for Quran recitation and dhikr. I also had a chance to visit her grave.

The cemetery was so peacefully quiet. As I walked across to my grandmother’s freshly built grave and then to my grandfather and aunts’, it hit me. There was now no differentiation; each person- man or woman, rich or poor were all under the same earth and wrapped in the same white cloth. One particular grave caught my eye. I cannot recall to who it belonged but at the base of the grave was a small plaque written in Arabic; ‘oh you at my grave, please ask for Allah’s forgiveness and mercy for me’. It struck me how I may have been the luckiest soul at that cemetery, for I am alive and still have time to change, to become better if I act upon it, while the souls under the ground are only able to clutch at any further opportunity of hope- for their relatives and loved ones to carry on their good works, to donate to charity on their behalf and in this case for a stranger to respond to their request of asking God for mercy. Otherwise their work has been sealed, their family and possessions now lost as they enter another realm.

It is strange that we sometimes expect death to arrive at a time when one is old or is unwell, and when anyone who falls out of that category passes on, they are an exception. How many times have we intended to better ourselves, with no guarantee that we will rise in the morning or stay on till the evening, only to decide that we will act on it a while later?  The beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) told us that ‘even if the end of time is upon you and you have a seedling in your hand,  you should take advantage of even one second and plant it’, recognising the urgency and importance of good work as all will be accounted for on the last day .

The few days I was with my family, I was told stories of my grandmother in her last month; greatly in pain but not for one moment forgetting God, despite her heavily set Alzheimer’s. My relatives spoke of her love of tasbih (remembrance and glorifying of God) which I have always known as I recall my grandmother with white or brown tasbih beads held firmly in her hand. In the last few weeks before her death, my grandmother’s sense of self greatly deteriorated and my mother sat with her as she was recalling the names of God using her fingers. After a while she turned to my mother and asked her to take the ‘imaginery’ tasbih beads off her as her hand was tired. On a few occasions my family would be sat next to my grandmother in the evenings as she rested and would spot her doing tasbih, using the blanket to mark where she was in her dhikr by moving the thick material across her fingers. The stories shared were spine- tingling and revealed some internal questions- what is my current state of iman and remembrance of God and most importantly what will it be at the time of death?

Islamic teaching tells us that a believer should consistently remember death and the hereafter as the constant reflection should inspire us to change our habits for the better and offer perspective as to the worldly events we agonise and struggle over. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said ‘The gift to a believer is death’. For years before she become ill, whenever the conversation steered towards death, my grandmother would say ‘death is a bride’. May God grant her the highest rank in paradise, shower His mercy on her, expand her grave and fill it with light. Ameen.

May we all pass in a state of pure iman, with God pleased with us as is in Surah Al Fajr (27-30) ‘O self at rest and at peace, return to your Lord, well-pleasing and well-pleased! Enter among My servants! Enter My Paradise’.

”to Allah we belong and to Allah shall we return”

(Qur’an 2:156)

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Gratitude by a train station

God sends lessons in the subtlest of ways.

As a disclaimer, in Islamic tradition, it is advised that you don’t share any deeds you do in the aim to remain sincere that your efforts are purely for God and not to enhance one’s dignity and status in the eyes of the people. However I share this story in the hope it benefits, more over than any action on my part.

After walking to the station from work one evening, I passed a young homeless man who asked each passer-by for change. As I walked past, I heard his same request and ignored it to which he wished me a ‘good evening anyway’. After a minute or so, I hesitated entering the station, and decided to return back. I could see that there were two men who were surrounding the young man but had left by the time I approached him. As I knelt and contributed to his collection, a short conversation ensued that I hope to always recall. He spoke softly as he told me this:

‘Those two men were taking the mickey out of me, and I thought could this night get any worse… And then you came’.

I wished him well and hoped that things will get better and I departed with tears in my eyes, and tears in his.

As I headed back to the station, I recalled a quote I had read that Nouman Ali Khan had once said in a lecture ‘When you find yourself in a position to help someone, be happy because Allah is answering that person’s prayer through you.’

The conversation was touching, not because of what I had said or done, but because God had put me in a position through His Mercy and Grace to help another human being and likewise inspired that young homeless man to stir much needed humility and gratitude in me. Because at that moment, God had helped us both.

May we never forget that is the poor and needy that the beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) wishes to be resurrected with on the Day of Judgement. The Prophet said (Al Tirmidhi): “O God, grant me life as a poor man, cause me to die as a poor man and resurrect me in the company of the poor.” His wife asked him why he said that, and he replied: “Because the poor will enter Paradise before the rich. Do not turn away a poor man even if all you can give is half a date. If you love the poor and bring them near you God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.”.

Othman bin Affan (ra) is thought to have said “‘Your charity is not accepted until you believe ‘I need the reward more than the beggar needs the money'”.

Sometimes this reward is granted in this life as well as hopefully in the hereafter. It can sometimes come in the form of a humble reminder from a grateful young man asking for change by a train station.

Living the good life

I was reminded recently of the brevity of life. A 23 year old girl from my school had passed away in her sleep. Though we were not friends, I think back to my few interactions with her and I remember her warm manner. May God envelope her in His mercy and grant her family patience.

People die all the time; in situations as tragic as war, as painful as illness and as peaceful as a 90 year old sleeping soundly in their bed. And always, always because God had chosen that particular time for that particular person to leave this world.

Again, I think back to my few interactions with the young girl. While she was just as pleasant to talk to- I understand that I too one day will depart this world and I wonder if my interactions with people were and are just as pleasant; whether with travelling commuters, university peers, work colleagues, relatives or best friends.

What does it mean to live a good life? From a personal perspective (entirely sourced from my understanding of Islam), it is to abide by Islamic principles and  ensure your dealing with others is kind, compassionate and loving.

Simply put, Muslims abide by five pillars of Islam: that is to believe that there is no deity but God and that the Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him) is God’s Messenger; to pray five times a day; to give Zakat (a compulsory payment given annually to charity); to fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan and to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah if one is financially and physically able to.

These pillars form the basis of Islam, but noting that this world requires living and interacting with others, it is important that every action one does towards another is in harmony with the same state one has when praying or fasting   – In Surat Baqarah (v.215), God says They ask you [Prophet] what they should give. Say, ‘whatever good things you give should be for your parents, close relatives, orphans, the needy and travellers. God is well aware of whatever good you do’.

Further highlighting the duty that one has towards easing the burden of another, there is a Hadith in which the Prophet Muhammed says ‘”Verily, God will say to his slave when He will be taking account of him on the Day of Judgement, ‘O’ son of Adam, I was hungry and you did not feed me.’ He will answer: ‘How could I feed you? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my slave so and so who is the son of so and so felt hunger, and you did not feed him. Alas, had you fed him you would have found that (reward) with Me.’ ‘O’ son of Adam, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink.’ He will reply: ‘How could I give You drink? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my slave so and so, the son of so and so felt thirsty and you did not give him drink. Alas, if you had given him, you would have found that (reward) with me.’ ‘O’ son of Adam, I became sick and you did not visit Me.’ He will answer: ‘How can I visit You? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my slave so and so, the son of so and so became sick and you did not visit him. Alas, had you visited him, you would have found Me with him.”‘

In addition to this Hadith is a beautiful commentary by Shaykh Aaidh ibn Abdullah Al-Qarni in his book ‘Don’t be sad’: Here is an interesting point, in the last third of the hadith are the words: ,…’you would have found Me with him.’ This is unlike the first two parts of the hadith wherein: ‘You would have found that (i.e. the reward for feeding and giving drink) with Me.’ The reason for this is that Allah is with those whose hearts are troubled, as is the case with the person who is sick’.

This Hadith can be applied to not only those who are hungry, thirsty or unwell but to those near to us and not so, who are upset, hurt, resentful, or need a word of kindness to remind them of the very miracle of their own being.

Ultimately it is God’s pleasure we should seek, but I truly believe that how we treat His creation is one path to seeking just that.

So I think back to my interactions with others, to the brevity of this life. If we have hurt others, we should seek their forgiveness, and If we are angered by the acts of another, we should inform them in order to reconcile, or forgive and move on. If we can help another, then we should and If we can think well of others, then we should. Maybe then, others may do the same.

You who believe, be mindful of God, as is His due, and make sure you devote yourselves to Him, to your dying moments (3:102)

 

The pursuit of humble knees

Multitasking has its perils. While trying to text and walk down a flight of stairs, I fell over.  To be honest, it wasn’t dramatic. I only missed one step, I didn’t have the embarrassment of pitiful onlookers and the only real damage, was that to my purse, as I was holding coins and I heard them tumble slowly but surely down the sharp metal rails to a point of no return. My knee does hurt though, the last time I remember my knee hurting as much was when I fell into a thorn bush at age nine.  Cycling also has its perils. I still have this vivid memory because a thorn was unknowingly lodged into my knee for about two weeks until one boring day, I daringly squeezed said knee and lo and behold, a thorn literally jumped out…any way I digress.

The reason I momentarily relived my knee to floor impact was because prayer motions are currently not as second nature as before. Bowing and prostration are a bit uncomfortable, but I persist knowing that I will be back in full form in a day or so.

But this got me thinking about how grateful I should be at being able to physically submit to God in prayer.  This post is not about establishing prayer itself, though of course it is related, but rather about the often under appreciated value of the prayer positions themselves (when performed with sincerity) and what they signify.

How many people are unable to pray physically, or need the aid of a chair? While circumstance such as age or illness renders prayer that does not include all the physical positions still acceptable and fulfilling, how many people wish they could go back in time and perform prayer as they once did, healthy or young?

I had recently finished reading Malcolm X’s autobiography and thought about the section where he speaks about initially finding it impossible to bend his knees in submission to God.  He says in Chapter 4 ‘the hardest test I ever faced in my life was praying… bending my knees to pray-that act- well, that took me a week…. I had to force myself to bend my knees. And waves of shame and embarrassment would force me back up’.  

I don’t think I had necessarily considered just how significant the prostration position is, but the story about the creation of mankind clarifies this importance whereby God instructed the angels and Iblis to prostrate to Adam, as a form of honouring man and in turn an act of worship through obedience to God’s command.  Iblis refused to prostrate, claiming himself superior to man, leading to his ultimate demise.  This was an act of not only disobedience on the part of Iblis, but also arrogance.

(Allah) said: “O Iblis! What prevents you from prostrating yourself to one whom I have created with Both My Hands. Are you too proud or are you one of the high exalted” . Iblis said: “I am better than he. You created me from fire, and You created him from clay.” Surah Saad 75-76.

When Muslims prostrate in prayer, they willingly submit to God, putting their best part of their selves on the ground, the lowest point possible. This act is not just in heart or mindless action but is a sincere demonstration of their humility before God. Prostration not only signifies humility but also gratitude. There are 15 verses in the Quran where an additional prostration is required. One verse that indicates this importance of gratitude and humility is in Surah Al Sajdah: 15: ‘Only they believe in Our messages who, when they are reminded of them, fall down prostrate and celebrate the praise of their Lord, and they are not proud’.

The importance of these positions is also such that the Prophet said, “The worst thief is he who steals from his prayer.” His companions asked, “O Messenger of Allah, how does he steal from his prayer?” He said, “He does not perfect its ruku and sujud” and he recommended that each movement must last at least the time that it takes for the bones to settle (Ibn Khuzaymah).

So while my knee may have survived thorn bushes and stair wells, I pray it will also aid me in seeking humility and gratitude.