islam

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.

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).

Patiently waiting for chips

I am sitting in this beautiful balcony overlooking Souk Waqif in Qatar. The souk is modern with lots of restaurants and cafes but I feel as though I have just stepped into a 19th century market with dimmed lighting and traditional looking buildings.

We order our food in the restaurant and it comes quickly. I have a wonderful dish in front of me but the first thing I exclaim to my friend out of the waiter’s earshot is ‘where are my chips’ in a tone and accent better suited to a cockney bloke selling fish in a London market. The funny thing was that the dish in front of me wasn’t even mine, it was my friend’s. I didn’t even bother to notice that the bread and cheese she ordered was certainly not my main dish of meat lined with pomegranate seeds. I just wanted my chips.
It seemed out of character to my friend for me to be so bold, but not to me- those heavenly fried bits of potato with condiments on the side (I hate chips without a sauce of some sort) would do me well anywhere in the world. Yah sure I’ll try some authentic Qatari food, but it better have some chips on the side. My lack of patience had nothing at all to do with the nice waiter, it was more that I assumed my chips would not materialise. A minute later or so, the chips came out in glorious familiar form and I ate to my heart’s content.

Why have I mentioned this anecdote? Partly to give you a bit of a laugh about my cockney alter ego that emerges at the mention of chips but also because as humans we have the tendency to judge quickly, make assumptions and not wait in earnest for something. The chips story is definitely a minor incident but I think on a miniscule scale it explains this idea of making assumptions perfectly. It also magnifies the fact that even with the most trivial of things we may not be patient.

Assumptions are awful, they are always awful and will always be awful. The fact that we think we can make an assumption about a person or about a situation indicates that we have some capacity to look into someone’s heart and claim to know their intentions and their ways. We most certainly do not have this capacity.

In Islam, one who is suspicious of someone is encouraged to give a person seventy excuses before they can blame them. Realistically by the time you get to the sixty ninth excuse, you either forget what it was you were suspicious of or you begin to worry dearly for that person in case one of the excuses comes to be true, thereby also calming the ill feeling you might have begun to harbour for the person.
This concept of giving excuses, and not making assumptions is further emphasised in the Quran (49:12) which tells us, ‘O you who have believed, avoid much assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other’. 

Tariq Ramadan says ‘We have to be spiritually responsible, active, and intelligent in learning to make the fundamental distinction between judging an action and judging an individual, between condemning a gesture and condemning a heart’. This message is so significant, we should always be trying to encourage good and helping one another but we should never make the mistake of attributing the wrong deed to a person, to their heart, to their soul. When we do this, we may begin to see ourselves better than that person, slowly sowing the seeds of arrogance into our self. However once we realise that every single one of us is partial to bad actions we are suddenly a lot more forgiving, a lot more empathic towards people- assuming little and expecting nothing.
Malcolm X’s quote, I feel really adds to this message Don’t be in such a hurry to condemn a person because he doesn’t do what you do, or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today’. 

And what of patience? Too often in a world where everything can be brought and consumed at every whim or desire, the time we don’t get what we want leads to grave disappointment and often impatience.
Hamza Yusuf says that ‘When the appropriate time for openings come, it will come. He does things in His time, not our time’ and this is something that sometimes we don’t take in enough.
This faith in God needs to include faith in His timing in a manner that will always be appropriate to us.  So while we may be waiting and waiting for something, we need to understand that what will be best will come and that often nothing is a coincidence.

There is a story which Rumi tells of an ant that is on a beautiful carpet and the ant is complaining of a bumpy path, with strange colours and patterns with little knowledge of the overall picture. The carpet maker who has made the carpet with all the patterns and all the colours and sees it from above, views it as a complete design, a finished piece. Timothy Winters tells us of this story that God is like the carpet maker and that We often can’t make sense of the misfortunes because we are too dimensional, we are at ground level, we can’t see what it all means, but the khalifa of God knows even if he can’t always see, that this is a manifestation of God’s will which is always good and always perfect and always beautiful’. 

So let us be like the khalifa of God and never the ant, let us not assume bad of others and be patient, whether waiting for a milestone moment, or waiting for chips.