islam

Growing hope: Reflections

These reflections are based on a talk given by Anse (super colloquial Syrian word for teacher) Tamara Gray. The theme was about learning from the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him- ) and ‘growing hope’. Anse Tamara studied in Syria for 20 years before moving back to the US. Her area of specialism is in the seerah and the life of the prophet Muhammad ().

Five of the prophet’s () wives were highlighted in Anse Tamara’s talk, and though she mentioned one brief defining quality or characteristic of each of them, she made it clear that there was more to them as complex and multi-faceted individuals.

Khadija (may God be pleased with her)

Khadija was a divorced 40 year old woman when she married 25 year old Muhammad    (). She had two children from her previous marriage; a boy and girl who both went by the name of Hind. She was already a believer in God and it is understood that she was very much aware that there was a prophet to come in later times. When she married the prophet (), she believed him to be the calibre and quality of a prophet and when he was given the message 15 years later, she was ready and waiting as the first believer.

Khadija teaches us the virtue of trust and patience, and of honouring your beliefs.

Umm Salama (may God be pleased with her)

Umm Salama was married to Abu Salama and they loved each other intensely. She even made a deal with her husband that when one of them dies, the other would not re-marry. Abu Salama tried to persuade her that if he was to die, that she be able to marry someone much better than himself. When Umm Salama found herself a widow, the prophet () proposed to her. She initially refused, stating that because of her intense sense of love, her jealousy would cause her to act in a manner that would be inappropriate towards the prophet’s () status. She added that she was also old and had children. The prophet () won her over; he told her that as for her age, he was in the same position, that as for her children, they would also become his , and that as for her jealousy, he would ask God to cure her of it.

Umm Salama reminds us of the raw intensity of love and the importance of honesty.

Umm Habiba (may God be pleased with her)

Umm Habiba and her husband both migrated to (then) Abyssinia when Muslims first started to be persecuted. She was vulnerable, in a new land and unfamiliar with her surroundings, but she was happy that she at least had her husband. One day she had a terrible dream about Abu Habiba and recounted to him that she had dreamt he had left Islam. He responded that indeed he had left the faith and that he was now, also leaving her. Umm Habiba was broken and lost. Her heart break was made worse due to the vulnerable state she was in, yet she never made betrayal her story. She healed and after married the prophet ().

Umm Habiba teaches us the truth of forbearance, of healing and of hope.

Zaynab (may God be pleased with her)

There was an instance whereby the prophet () was walking with his companions until they reached the mosque and a rope was spotted hanging between two pillars. When the prophet () enquired about the rope, he was told that it belonged to his wife Zaynab, who would pray late at night. When she got tired, she would hold on to the rope to support her while she prayed. The prophet () then requested that the rope be taken down, advising his companions that when one is overcome with sleep while praying, they should sit. This was taken to mean that one either sits in prayer or that one should rest instead.

This story highlights Zaynab’s piety and devotion to her faith.

Aisha (May God be pleased with her)

Aisha’s age always tends to come up whenever she is mentioned, and although there are vast differences in opinion in relation to how old she was, one of the more important defining features of Aisha is that she is the source of some two-thirds of Islamic law and shariah. So much of our understanding of our faith is due to Aisha’s sheer brilliance and intelligence.  After the prophet’s () death, Aisha proceeded to take on and teach a substantial number of female and male students.

Aisha’s commitment to learning, scholarship and teaching is something for us to also aspire towards. Anse Tamara Gray advised that one should aim to learn something new every week for at least an hour, and to then also teach something every week for the same amount of time.

The prophet’s () wives were known as the ‘mothers of the believers’ (umuhat al mumineen) and this title of ‘mother’ denotes a number of rights that are due to them by us. The prophet’s () wives knew him so intimately, that it is crucial we learn more about them, in order to learn more about the prophet ().

After all, ‘revelation began in the cloak of Khadija and ended in the lap of Aisha’*.

 

*I noted this final quote from the internet but am now unable to find the source of the quote. 

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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.

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

A slice of humble pie

A short while ago,  I ‘uber pooled’ a taxi with a stranger. I have done this a few times when I couldn’t justify getting a taxi home, beyond feeling just a bit lazy. This time a lady jumped in to the back with me and promptly greeted me with the muslim salutation ‘peace be  upon you’.

Strangely, despite being a very private person, there are times when I am happy to share elements of my life freely with others. On the most part however, I keep my deepest hopes and dreams to myself.  This lady, upon us setting off in the car to our respective destinations, began to tell me about her life. How she was mixed race, how she only discovered faith in her later years, how she is trying to maintain a good relationship with her Trump loving mother, how she was married multiple times and finally how she is currently in court, fighting for the right of her son to attend a faith school, despite her ex-husband’s objections. She turned to me and told me her son’s name and asked me to pray and make dua that the court case goes well. I promised her I would.

I don’t know how the court case went and I probably wouldn’t recognise the woman if I was to pass her by in the street again. But this lady’s attitude taught me something: humility.

Some people may think that this lady telling her life story might be lonely or too talkative or to relate to the social media craze we live in now was ”oversharing’. I saw something else. I saw someone who was humble enough to confide to an absolute stranger her biggest concerns in life at the time and ask for help in the form of a prayer, and at the same time strong in her self to know that her sharing didn’t make her weaker in the eyes of the other person. There is a prophetic saying (hadith) that ‘the dua of a muslim for his brother in his absence is responded to’. 

This struck a cord with me, particularly because I wondered how often I ask loved ones to pray for me or to help me. I wondered if this was because I felt I never needed to do so because in the Islamic tradition, there is no need for an intermediary to communicate your feelings and prayers to God. I realised, that perhaps a part of it too was because I don’t like to admit when I am in need. To open myself in this way would feel too overwhelming and would indicate that I am not as self-sufficient (bar God) as I aspire to be.

It is one thing to only rely on God and to call on only Him for relief, and quite another to not seek dua or help from others due to a lack of humility.

And so, any prayer and good vibes you can send my way would be humbly and graciously received <3.

I ask for God’s abundant mercy and blessings to be showered in your life and that you may see both joys and hardships as only beautiful things.

Ameen.

 

 

 

 

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.’

**

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.

The only way is ethics

When I was younger, I used to pretend I was a pescetarian so that my mum wouldn’t force me to eat the meat she had cooked. I wasn’t really, but I had an unhealthy obsession with fish fingers and all things junk and as a child I just didn’t fancy eating good, wholesome food much to my family’s frustration.   This frustration would reach high levels when we would travel to a Muslim country where all meat is ‘halal’ and I would quite happily pig out on a big mac just because I knew I could.

Fast forward a couple of years and despite still occasionally pigging out at fast food chains, I am increasingly conscious of the food that I eat and where it comes from. As a matter of preference (and I guess habit from my childhood), I just don’t get excited over meat.

With this preference in mind, I have realised it would be quite easy for me to make a big change to my lifestyle and become a ‘conscientious meat eater’, and I have often wondered about our big meat eating culture in society.

There is a strange concept in the Muslim community, whereby if an animal is slaughtered with a sharp instrument, with the name of God being pronounced, then it automatically becomes halal and permissible to eat.

While meat that is slaughtered in this way is most definitely a condition to the permissibility of the meat and should not be dismissed at all, the Quran tells us ‘People, eat what is good and lawful from the earth, and do not follow Satan’s footsteps, for he is your sworn enemy’ (2:168). The word for good here is tayyib and this has strong connotations of food that is wholesome, pure and ethical. It is a great shame that for the most part, as Muslims we are often concerned that our 3 for £5 chickens are halal with little consideration of how these chickens were bred and treated even though this is mentioned in the Quran also.

While on holiday in a Muslim country this year, I had passed by a local market. As we waited to purchase some meat from one of the stalls, my attention turned to the stall behind me where a large number of chickens were sat in a cage within the tiny compact stall. The stall holder then proceeded to pick up a chicken he had just slaughtered within the space and de-feathered it using this electric machine in front of the other chickens.  Now I am not an expert on animals, but the noise that some of the chickens made upon witnessing their friend being slaughtered and violently de-feathered was something I hope I will never forget.  I left the market wondering how permissible is the food I always pride myself on eating actually is?

About a month ago, I visited Willowbrook Organic Farm in Oxfordshire, a family run farm that sells halal AND tayyib meat and was inspired to hear about their journey to embark upon a wholesome and ethical lifestyle.

Alongside owning chickens, geese, ducks, goats, sheep and a pet horse that run freely around the farm and are fed wholesome food, the family were also building their own cob house- that is a house made of clay, sand, straw, water and earth in a bid to live sustainably and not leave a negative impact environmentally.

It was really heartening to hear of their efforts and I left thinking about what role I must play as a citizen of the earth, a trust that has been placed on all human beings to look after the world and its inhabitants.

Who better to take as inspiration then our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This is a man who lived ethically to the highest standards on all aspects.

For instance, the Prophet didn’t actually eat much meat. It is said that the wealthy living in that society ate meat once a week, while the poor would eat it on the two Eids.  There is great wisdom in this. Animals are creatures from God and the Quran states that “There is not an animal that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but they form communities like you (6:38). By restricting our meat eating to only special occasions or at specified days during the week/ month/ year, we begin to really reflect on the animal that has been sacrificed so that we may be fulfilled through it, and in turn hopefully feel greater gratitude for the plate that we have in front of us.

Further to this, there are no hadiths to suggest that the Prophet ever ate beef. There is a hadith where the Prophet says that while the milk of a cow contains healing properties (shifaa), its meat is a cause for sickness[1].

The Prophet was also never excessive in use. He would use little water for wudu and bathing and in a beautiful hadith, it has been narrated that ‘Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) happened to pass by a Companion, Sa’d, as he was performing ablution (wudhu) next to a river. At this, the Prophet said, “Sa’d what is this squandering?” Sa’d replied: “Can there be an idea of squandering in ablution?” The Prophet said: “Yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river.” ‘(Ibn Majah).  There is a lot that we can do in terms of restricting the amount of water we use, knowing full well that there are people across the world who do not have the benefits of a running tap.

There is much to be said, not only in excessive consumption of food and water, but also of material goods and clothing. The Prophet (peace be upon him) would repair his own shoes and sew his own clothes. This wonderful story is a humbling reminder not only that both men and women should contribute to the household, but also that we should fully utilise what we have already.  In addition, he would bestow upon each of his personal items its own name, such was the gratitude he had with what little he owned and the conscious awareness that comes with having fewer items.

With countless accounts of exploited workers across the world labouring to produce garments and goods that we consume cheaply and excessively from the high street, we must question our role in the ill treatment and deaths of workers.  There is a hadith whereby the Prophet (peace be upon him) says that he will be against three type of  people on the day of judgement, one type is ‘one who employs a labourer and gets the full work done by him but does not pay him his wages’ (Bukhaari).  Can we fully deny any responsibility of ill-treated and under paid labourers who risk their lives to produce the dress I wear once or twice in my lifetime before banishing it to the back of my wardrobe? If I continue to demand knowing full well that workers are not being paid enough and working in disgusting conditions, then unethical supply will still continue to meet that demand.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) told us to always look after the environment and its inhabitants, stating that if one is to plant a tree or sow seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is considered a form of charity (Bukhaari).

The Prophet (peace be upon him) truly lived a sustainable and wholesome lifestyle. While I most definitely cannot say I live in the most ethical way, I hope that we  will at least begin to consider our negative impacts, and be able to at least make small changes that will benefit nature and the environment.

Let us not forget that it was the spider and dove that protected the Prophet and Abu Bakr by the will of God in the cave when they were migrating to Madinah.  Abdul Hakim Murad comments on this that ‘nature only spares those who spare it’ and indeed looking after the earth given to us by God, we will surely be accounted for it.

The Best of Planners

I know someone, who in her twenties got engaged. Things didn’t work out and both went their separate paths (quite literally, as both moved from the small city they grew up in). He married and had three children while she divorced twice and adopted a little baby girl. Although both had no contact with the other, their paths crossed when they were both in their fifties. The man had recently divorced and she had moved back to the small city she grew up in. This time for no other reason than the fact that God had willed it so, their marriage worked.

Why do I recall this anecdote?

To emphasise how as humans, we have no capacity to predict our life and what will happen to it. All we can do is accept everything that happens and try our best to deal with it.

This story highlights how God will always look after us and bring people and experiences into our lives when we need to be reminded of His bounty, His protection and His power most. Late one night, a farmer heard the cries of a baby outside his house and sure enough, he found a little new-born wrapped up in a blanket on the floor. The little baby was taken to a centre where both the woman in the story and a French couple wanted her. Through God’s will, again, the baby was given to the woman. She was brought into this world to be brought up in Morocco and not France, to be Muslim and not Christian and to bring joy to the woman and not to the couple. Like God comforts Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in Surah Ad-duha (93:6-7); ‘Did He not find you an orphan and give [you] refuge? And He found you lost and guided [you]’, this verse can be applied to all of us in all areas of our life. 

Another lesson to ponder on here is acceptance (ridha) of God’s will. Divorce though disliked doesexist in the Muslim community, and until we stop stigmatising people who have experienced a failed marriage, we will keep judging others and making assumptions about them all in the name of it being a hated act. Until we are able to accept that we have no right to say that a marriage ending because of domestic violence is more justified than divorce resulting from a different situation, we begin to judge a person’s intention, and assume that they should have been more patient and that had they been more ‘pious’ they would have acted differently .We will never know people’s struggles and this reflection can be applied across all situations regarding assumptions.

A final lesson from this story is that we only ever tread the path that has been willed for us. Umar Bin Khattab (may God be pleased with him) once said No amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of worrying can change the future. Go easy on yourself, for the outcome of all affairs is determined by Allah’s decree. If something is meant to go elsewhere, it will never come your way, but if it is yours by destiny, from it you cannot flee’.

Another short anecdote features this same woman, as though I find her experiences unusual, they can be applied to other situations and contexts. This woman has a good job in a national council. Getting the job involved her randomly walking past an office one day while running some errands and seeing an advert on the door inviting candidates to come in and take the entrance exam. With nothing to lose, she walked in unprepared; a pen in one hand and shopping bags in the other leaving with a job that would take her across the country where she would spend her next twenty years or so working. We can predict nothing.

While this seems far-fetched and does not happen to the average person, unplanned experiences happen to us all the time. They happen when we fall unexpectedly ill which teaches us how much we depend on good health. It happens when we miss a bus, or a train, or a plane. It happens when someone dear to us dies or when we receive news that confuses or surprises us. Why? Because none of these moments are and can be planned by us. Because every moment has something to teach us, to inspire us and to offer us.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to say the supplication ‘Oh Turner of hearts, make my heart firm upon your religion’. He said this supplication (and he was the best of mankind) because he truly understood that though life is not constant, God always remains and is constant. If we know that our faith can peak  and dip at certain points in our life and that we are so prone to influence by external factors, than we should seek refuge with the One who can always turn us back towards Him and back towards contentment and ridha. People change, circumstances change, we change and life changes.   Until we can truly remember this, can we be content with all that he has planned, because truly we plan and plan, but God is the best of planners (Surah Al Anfal, 8: 30).