The honored guest has arrived! and my attempts to sight hilal ur-Ramadan

Assalamu alaikum, peace be with you!

My dear readers, Ramadan Mubarak! (= congratulations on Ramadan/wishing you a blessed Ramadan/Happy Ramadan…any of these will work, again its a phrase hard to translate). Thanks and praise to Allah for the felicity to meet another Ramadan. I pray you are all well and in good health to meet her, in happiness and ease.

Of the many things I am in love with in this way of life – deen ul-Islam (the religion or way of Islam) is the way our lives are tied to the natural phenomena. I love it that the five prescribed ritual worship cycles or salat (some call it prayer but prayer is what we do at anytime) are tied to the position of the sun in the sky. These are obligatory ritual acts of worship. The word ‘salat’ comes from a root that means to ‘do good’, ‘to align rightly’, ‘to recalibrate’. It has all these meanings. It is the daily 5-time reminder of who we are, where we came from, where we are going to, and who we belong to. It’s that one-on-one meeting of the slave with his or her Maker that is the most precious thing in the world.

And I love it that the way we count the months is tied to the phases of the moon. There is something very magical about the moon. And something more magical about how this moon and sun tie into each other. About the passage of day and night. About the light and dark. The Quran talks of these often in many many places. Again, I love these passages too much not to share, so here is one instance below. Where Allah SWT swears by these immense creations…and scholars of Quranic interpretation say, that whenever Allah SWT swears by something that is a mark of the greatness of that thing, and also a mark of the import of the message that is sworn upon – in this case, to have a pure upright character or soul or self.

These are the first 11 ayat (=signs) from surah Shams (=sun). Unfortunately the English does not capture the cadence, rhyme or rhythm of the Arabic. Also there is no ‘neuter’ gender in Arabic. Everything is either male or female.

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

In the name of Allah the most Loving, the One showing Love

91:1
By the Sun and his (glorious) splendour;
91:2
By the Moon as she follows him;
91:3
By the Day as it shows up (the Sun’s) glory;
91:4
 By the Night as it conceals it;
91:5
 By the Firmament and its (wonderful) structure;
91:6
 By the Earth and its (wide) expanse:
91:7
 By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it;
91:8
And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right;-
91:9
 Truly he succeeds that purifies her (meaning one’s soul)
91:10
And he fails that corrupts her (meaning one’s soul)!

Now the fact that it is the moon that determines the count of the months is significant also for religious reasons. Since the third main pillar of the deen is the obligatory fast during the month of Ramadan. So much has been said about this that I won’t repeat anything here, except to say briefly that during this month Muslims are obligated to fast from dawn to dusk. The fast entails keeping away from all usual pleasures – definitely of lawful eating, drinking and marital relations and also (though less strictly observed) of too much of the sensual pleasures such as movies, music, TV etc. even if lawful. It is a time one removes the ‘creature-pleasures’ to free the soul to experience divine realities. The spiritual masters say that a too satiated body is heavy on the soul and so cannot be tuned into the call of the Creator. So then, removing those creature comforts paves the way for those heart-valves to open. In addition to this there is exoteric cleansing of course and much charity and feeling for the poor is an outcome.

One of the results of this tying between the deen ul islam and the natural phenomena was the necessitated great feats in astronomy and mathematics that were part of the Islamic golden age. Precise calculation of time became increasingly more important as the Muslim world expanded. There is divine wisdom in action.

So I went out to see if I could sight the hilal ur Ramadan (=crescent of Ramadan). It is a magical experience. Something very special about seeing that new moon during the few minutes it appears before it sets close upon the heels of the sun. I was not blessed with that sight this month though, as it was too cloudy. But I caught a mesmerizingly beautiful sunset instead.

While some Muslims rely on astronomical tables to determine the month, other opinions favour the need to sight the moon with naked eye. Some scholars hold a local sighting is necessary and others say a global sighting suffices. Two witnesses are required. I was tracking crescentwatch.org that tells when there is a chance to see the moon (as in astronomical possibility) and tracks user sightings. I felt greatly elated to hear that the moon was sighted in Sydney that morning and so waited to see if I too would catch a glimpse of her that night. Being in Western Canada we were among the last to see her, except for Hawaii which would be much later. Also for my non-Muslim readers to know – for us, the ‘day’ begins with the night. So when the hilal ur Ramadan is sighted thus marks the first ‘day’ of Ramadan. Great joy then! as mosques began the special night prayers and people gather to celebrate this most special of special times.

May her stay with us this year bring much peace and tranquility to all people, especially in those Muslim lands torn apart by bloodshed and hatred. God have mercy upon us all.

Here is a screen capture from crescentwatch tracking the crescent’s march across the globe.

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And here is a image of the crescent announcement

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And finally the beautifully peaceful sunset I encountered, though I did not see the hilal ur-Ramadan

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A chat among scholars

Dear Readers,

I came across this ‘chat’ on youtube. It is an obviously an old recording. But it was delightful to me and I thought to share it. Why? because it is a chat between two of the greatest scholars of Islam, in the English language, today. Both these men (Allah ihfidhuma = Allah preserve them both) have had a great impact on my life. They are extremely well schooled in the classical or traditional Muslim scholarly tradition and both individuals who converted to Islam in the 70s (independent of each other).

A few words on the Muslim scholarly tradition. There is a well known hadith from the beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him). He is reported to have said

“Scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.” [Related byTirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ibn Maja, Ahmad, Ibn Hibban, and others] Ibn al-Mulaqqin, Zayla`i, Ibn Hajar, and others seemed it sound (hasan) or rigorously authentic (sahih)]

Please see here for a nice commentary on this hadith by another one of my beloved teachers, Sheikh Faraz Rabbani. Gems from there are

A sure sign of having this knowledge & inheritance is that one upholds excellence of character, as the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The weightiest thing on the Scales on the Day of Judgment is good character.” [Abu Dawud] And he said, “The believers most perfect in faith are those best in character, and the best of you are those best to their spouses.” [Tirmidhi]

The best of good character is restraint and forbearance (hilm), for the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Forbearance (hilm) is the best of character.” The most beautiful of character and conduct was the character and conduct of the Beloved Messenger of Allah (peace & blessings be upon him & his folk).

True inheritors of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) reflect some of this excellence and beauty in their character and conduct. This character emanates from making Allah one’s true concern; being conscious of Allah; and true love for Allah.

What Islam uniquely brought (as per my limited knowledge) in the field of religious scholarly tradition is the ‘sanad’ system. Loosely translated as ‘chain’, the sanad is the living link between generations. In this system, knowledge is transmitted teacher to student, teacher to student and so on and on all the way up to the first teacher, the prophet of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him). For the westerner, the easiest way to understand it is the apprentice system. In the apprentice system, traditions are handed down generation to generation, without change and the knowledge is most authentic because the training of the student is not only in theory but in practice. In the context of an apprenticeship in ‘religious knowledge’, the student often lives with the teacher (or sheikh) and imbibes characteristics, mannerisms, ways of life that no book can hold. Students do not ‘graduate’ after a few years of study, nay, rather they are moulded over decades until they finally take their place as a full-fledged scholar. Usually this place is cemented upon the consensus of the populace. Being a trainee in scientific academia, I see so many parallels between that system and my own training. For example, how many a PhD student comes out of the long doctoral ‘apprenticeship’ imbibing their advisor’s method of thinking, writing, or  methodology of deducing arguments! Anyone who has been through this track will know what I mean.

So then an authentic scholar does have a sanad all the way to the prophet, peace be upon him. And so they really are inheritors of the prophets. The greatest catastrophe (as I’ve said often before, sorry for the repetition) upon the Muslim nation nowadays is the widespread dearth of such scholars. Worse, even the Muslim population is no longer able to distinguish a real scholar from a weak one or a poorly trained one, even from an imposter (and oh don’t we have plenty of those!). Once the population is unable to hold the scholarship to a high standard, then that results in poorer scholarship which leads to a more dummed-down population. It is a spiral downward.

This catastrophe is a result of the colonial period it is true, but still no point looking back and blaming others, it is time for us to revive authentic knowledge in our nation. Only so that we Muslims are aware of what happened, we should know, that there were scholars assassinated en masse in places like Turkey during the colonial era (targeted assasinations also took place in Iraq as recently as the American occupation of that country, not just of religious scholars but also of the secular academia – but this leads to another topic). There was also a systematic denigration of religious education in the minds of the common man by the colonial powers in the countries they ruled. I once listened to a well-researched talk on this from a visiting doctoral student from the USA. And indeed, I then could put two and two together and understand the poor estimation my own grandfather (Allah rest his soul) used to view the Ulema (=Muslim scholars) with. At the same time, their caliber was so poor that they were known for many lapses in good character and no honest person could admire them.  An example of that downward spiral.  That period was truly a colonization of the mind, for the remains of it still exist and many Muslims of today from those countries still reject religious scholarship. May God grant our hearts and minds are opened from this imperial domination and grant us sound scholars, as well as protect us from the sin of imposing such injustice upon another, no matter even if in our own home!

So here are two luminaries, both ‘signs’ of Allah :). An American convert from California and an English convert, who both independently journeyed, sought and found, and lived with authentic Muslim scholars and learned copiously as well as obtained license (=ijaza) to transmit Muslim scholarly works and who are now back in their respective homelands doing a great deal of good in spreading sound knowledge. My Muslim readers will know them well, for my non-Muslim readers – they are Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson (who has founded the first Islamic seminary in the USA – at UC Berkeley) and Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad or Tim Winter who is a professor of Islamic Studies at Cambridge University and is building a truly unique mosque/community center there. Apart from their very high caliber of Islamic scholarship, they are both masters of the English language, and as such are rare gems indeed.

Albeit their amazing stories, there conversation is more enjoyable. I felt this was a treat, so I hope you enjoy it too. I do believe one of the greatest lawful pleasures of life in this world is the gaining of sound beneficial knowledge (no matter the field) and being among the erudite. May God grant the latter pleasure in the hereafter as well!

BTW the Arabic word for discovery ‘kashf’ has a root that is shared by the word ‘ecstasy’! Indeed a true discovery is true ecstasy. I leave you then, to hopefully, experience some of that here.

May Allah preserve and increase them both and to you all the same!

Peace be with you all

 

 

With thanks an award

Assalamu alaikum, peace be with you all

Alhamdulillah (=praise and thanks to God) I am returned home after a deeply amazing time in the mountains of Albany, NY at sheikh Mokhtar’s Tazkiyathun Nafs retreat. Indeed it is reviving an ancient Islamic scholarly practice of khalwa (=retreat) to be able to be quiet, meditate, engage much in dhikr (=remembrance of God) and learn from authentic texts and high-calibre teachers, who teach not only during lesson time but more so out of it, and then to enjoy time immersed in the amazingly bounteous creation of God most high. I was very blessed to be selected to go.

It was doubly nice to return to the happy news that my dear sister Keidi (http://anchorwithkeidi.wordpress.com) has kindly nominated me for a Muslim blogger award. Graciously do I accept and here is what I must do to do so. I must display the award and follow a number of steps. So here goes;

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Here are the rules for accepting this award:
Display the Award anywhere on your Blog.
Announce your win anywhere within a blog post and link back to the Blogger who awarded you, to thank them.
Optional: Include an English translation of one of your favorite surahs or verses from the Quran, with Book & Verse notation.
Optional: Present at least 7 deserving Bloggers with this Award, if you are able. If you are not able, the award is still yours – Congratulations!
If you are able to generate another round of this award, please Link your Awardees in the post and let them know of their being awarded with a comment (or a pingback).

 

Both the optional conditions are difficult – it is very hard to pick just one favourite ayat/surah from the Quran, and also hard to nominate bloggers who have not already been nominated 🙂 But I will try

A favourite ayah (=’sign’, loosely translated as verse) of the Quran is the ayatun Nur (=verse of light) that comes in the Surah of the same Nur (=light). It is ayah number 35 of surah 24. It is too beautiful for my poor efforts at commentary to do anything but dishonor, so I will just give the ayah with translation. I wish my readers could hear it recited too, it is beautiful. So much do I wish it, that I’ve sourced a youtube of the recitation of this ayah. The video has the recitation of a few more verses after as well.

24:35

 

Sahih International Interpretation

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things.

 

And here are nominations for the award

http://diffrntstrokes.wordpress.com/

http://northcountytutoringcenter.com/

http://asqfish.wordpress.com (I have found via their latest post that I know this beautiful lady, mashaAllah!)

http://islamwich.com

http://urwatulwuthqa.wordpress.com/

http://adventuresofsufigirl.wordpress.com/

http://deensisters.wordpress.com/

http://therevertmiyabhai.wordpress.com/

http://healing-hearts-blog.com

http://fajr-literary.com/

 

 

The honored guest is less than a ‘moon’ away!

I am interrupting my series on Spain because I must express my growing joy that the month of months is so close upon us. The month of Sha’ban began a few days ago with the new moon. The next new moon will be Ramadan! Muslims all around the world wait for this month. For us, ‘she’ is an honored guest. We clean our homes in preparation of her coming, and look forward to Ramadan days of cleansing the body that prepares the way for the nights of cleansing the heart. [For my non-Muslim readers, we keep our body away from food, drink, sexual relations during the day, as well as keep our eyes and ears away from things we should not look at and what we should not hear as well as try to keep our tongues away from speech not pleasing to the Divine. Then in the night there are long communal prayers, these are optional. Usually the whole Quran is recited during them by the end of the month. The standing by night in the quiet with a body enjoying the feeling of food and drink after that long fast is a very peaceful beautiful feeling. Hard to describe, it needs to be experienced]

Only a heart clean is fit to reflect divine light and what a lot of dirt accumulates in a year! So Ramadan is the Muslims great yearly shake-out and rejuvenate time. And indeed, if our hearts cannot reflect that divine light while we walk on the earth, what a poor sojourn it is. May Allah purify all our hearts and strengthen them!

The early generations of the followers of the blessed prophet (God be pleased with them all) would divide the year into two- the six months following the end of Ramadan they would supplicate to God to accept their good deeds during the month and the other six they would ask God for the bounty of meeting another Ramadan. From here

Ma’la Ibn al-Fadhl said about the Salaf (the pious predecessors): “They used to call upon Allah for six months until Ramadan reached them, then they would call on Him the other six months that Allah may accept it from them.” And Yahya Ibn Abee Katheer said, “Their supplication used to be,‘O Allah, keep me safe until Ramadan, and make Ramadan faultless for me, and secure it for me as an accepted (month of virtue).’”

 

So much to say about Ramadan…may Allah give me the blessing of meeting it, and may He give me tawfeeq (=success, felicity) to share more about Ramadan with you my dear readers. For now, I leave you with an episode from a must watch series; “traveler with the Quran”. Sheikh Fahad Al-Kandari (Allah preserve him), whose adab(=etiquette, manners, comportment) is truly a coolness to the eye hosts this series. He is hafidh-ul-Quran (=protector of the Quran literally, meaning one who has memorized it) and he travel the world interviewing huffadh-ul-Quran (pluran of hafidh-ul-Quran). Amazing series – especially the episodes from Tunisia and Algeria etc (people used to be jailed for learning Quran there as recently as 20 years ago- unbelievable!) to China (it was forbidden to learn or teach Quran till as recently as 5 years ago). No wonder the Muslim world is in disarray – if its people have been so divorced from their book. Indeed the colonial period was a catastrophe, that many scholars say equals if not exceeds the catastrophe that was the Mongol invasion that decimated Baghdad in the 12th century. May knowledge return to the Muslim nation. May Allah bring us back closer to our book!

Since Ramadan is the month when we envelope ourselves with Quran, its recitation, its reflection, and since it is the month of its first revelation…I thought it apt to share an episode. It was hard to pick an episode to share, I love so many of them. Here is one from China. I think many of you wouldn’t know about the ethnic Hui Muslim Chinese community (not the Uighers of West China). Islam has been in China since about the 9th or 10th Century CE, and has existed peacefully side-by-side with its non-Muslim neighbours.

Please click on ‘CC’ for English captions.

I am also incredibly impressed by the fluent Arabic spoken by the Chinese teachers.

To end, here is echoing the prayer for meeting Ramadan

“Allahumma balighna Ramadan”

(=O Allah give us the bounty of meeting Ramadan)!

It is a prayer to be made often, may we have the blessing of life to meet the blessed month once more

 

Peace be with you all