Islam as Religion

In one of the best known and most authentic ahadith (=narrations of the blessed beloved, peace be upon him), known as the ‘hadith Jibra’eel’ (=Gabriel narration), the archangel Jibraeel (peace be upon him) visits the blessed beloved and questions him about three facets of the religion of Islam.

“While we were one day sitting with the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), there appeared before us a man dressed in extremely white clothes and with very black hair. No traces of journeying were visible on him, and none of us knew him. He sat down close by the Prophet (peace be upon him), rested his knee against his thighs, and said, “O Muhammad! Inform me about Islam.”

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Islam is that you should testify that there is no deity except Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger, that you should perform salah, pay the Zakah, fast during Ramadan, and perform Hajj to the House, if you are able to do so.”

The man said, “You have spoken truly.” We were astonished at his questioning him (the Messenger) and telling him that he was right, but he went on to say, “Inform me about iman.”

He (the Messenger of Allah) answered, “It is that you believe in Allah and His angels and His Books and His Messengers and in the Last Day, and in qadar (fate), both in its good and in its evil aspects.” He said, “You have spoken truly.”

Then he (the man) said, “Inform me about Ihsan.” He (the Messenger of Allah) answered, “It is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet (know that) He sees you.”

He said, “Inform me about the Hour.” He (the Messenger of Allah) said, “About that, the one questioned knows no more than the questioner.” So he said, “Well, inform me about the signs thereof.” He said, They are that the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress, that you will see the barefooted, naked, destitute, the herdsmen of the sheep (competing with each other) in raising lofty buildings. Thereupon the man went of. I waited a while, and then he (the Messenger of Allah) said, “O Umar, do you know who that questioner was?” I replied, “Allah and His Messenger know better.” He said, “That was Jibril (the Angel Gabriel). He came to teach you your religion.”

It was narrated on the authority of Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), and recorded in Muslim.

These three facets; Islam, Iman and Ihsan, together make up the whole of the practice of the religion. We say about these three words, that used separately each can be used in place of the other – i.e., Islam (=practice), Iman (=faith), ihsan (=excellence or beauty of practice/faith) can singly denote the meaning of all three, the statement ‘a person has iman’ also means that person has islam and ihsan by default – but used together, each word has a specific meaning.  E.g., saying “you’re iman is strong” can be taken to also mean ‘you are a strong muslim’ or ‘your practice of the deen has ihsan’, but if you say “you’re iman is strong and you have ihsan” that means the person has a strong faith and excellence in character and personality.

Therefore the statement, ‘a person has islam, iman and ihsan’ here denotes a distinct meaning for each word; islam means the ritual practices and jurisprudence determining the lifestyle of a practioner of the religion, iman means the faith or beliefs of that person, and ihsan denotes a higher state of perfection where the practioner is able to marry perfect faith to perfect practice. I.e., he or she feels with the heart, what occurs on the limbs.

Under this schema, Islam is usually the domain of study of  ‘fiqh’ = jurisprudence… or law, Iman the domain of study of ‘aqeeda’ = creed, and Ihsan the domain of study of ‘tazkeeya’ or ‘tasawwuf’ = purification of the soul, or mysticism.

God willing as this blog evolves more and more will be covered on the above three aspects, especially the last, which is has been considered the pinnacle and adornment of the religion – Ihsan or Islamic Mysticism.

But suffice to say now, that sadly in today’s Muslim world we see a polarization between those who lean too much toward the external practices devoid of any internal meaning, epitomized by the puritanical ‘wahhabi’ school of thought – those of strict fiqh. And on the opposite pole are those who lean so deeply toward the internal, that they forget to practices islam, the people who have unfortunately been called ‘sufis’ (a great insult to the term, as true sufis are the most conscientious about practicing Islam in all its dimensions), who focus so much on belief in God, they may disregard it’s pillars such as prayer etc.

It is marrying the two, that Ihsan is achieved… excellence is in marrying the faith to practice. By doing this the Muslim is able to be as the prophet, peace be upon him was, truly of the world, but truly other-wordly, at all times.

This is the great beauty and challenge of Islam, which does not promote a priestly class, does not encourage ascetism, but calls upon on its practitioners to be completely with God at all times, while being totally in the world serving humanity and all of creation, at all times.

On this note I will end with the prayer that God enable us all to be like this. Completely able to give and receive and fulfill all the immense potential of the creation we are, by, for, from and through God.

Peace be upon you all. Assalamu alaikum.

I love Canada and I love Canadians

It’s been a difficult week. Who knew that the day after my previous post on one deranged incident, another, more shocking attack would occur.

Who knew the attacker would have been a visitor at my local mosque a few years ago, and that the mosque would have to cancel an event on Muslims. Astronomy and Science to celebrate Islamic History Month this weekend would need to be cancelled

Instead the mosque held a press-briefing and I am glad they did so. Glad they also talked about this man’s visits to the mosque and his objections to non-Muslims being welcomed at the mosque, and the mosque authority’s condemnation of that attitude – saying the mosque has always been a place of welcome for all people (of any faith or not) and it will continue to be that way. And I am doubly glad this man was not allowed in the mosque thereafter.

I am sad that this attacker, like the one before, was mentally unstable and suffering from substance abuse. We need more support and help for people with mental illness. They need to be protected from the scores of organizations waiting to pray on ‘these broken young men’

I am sad the mosque received death threats and other mosques have been vandalized. It is not unexpected. But it is sad. Muslims have been fighting those who call themselves Muslim and use the religion for their own power-struggle far longer than the west has. I wish the media that so often talks about the Kurdish forces, or Pashmergas or Iraqis or Pakistani military that are the real front-line defenders against ISIS and their ilk, would mention that all these forces are composed of primarily Muslims. They seem to never refer to the fact that they are Muslim, but so easily link the term ‘Islam’ with extremists. Muslims are the ones that have suffered the most at the hands of extremists but we will continue to fight them. What does not help is the media’s often immature reporting of the matter.

So then a breath of fresh air in this morning’s CBC report. Not only because of the incident, another example of the type of happening I have witnessed so often in this land…that has stuns me over and over again as to how blessed I am to live here. But also because CBC reported it. How many a media organization has passed by so many countless other incidents like this that I am sure have happened all over the world.

Please enjoy. There is a lot of disease and misguidance amongst humanity that must be treated or eradicated. All of humanity are brothers and sisters and we have to help each other.  The sound human heart is kind and it is strong, and there is no fear.

The prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said you must help a person in doing good or in doing evil. His (p.b.u.h) companions were baffled and asked “O Messenger of God, we understand how we help a person doing good, but how do we help a person doing evil?” He (p.b.u.h) replied, “by stopping him from committing the evil”

http://www.cbc.ca/video/swf/UberPlayer.swf?state=sharevideo&clipId=2571129245&width=480&height=322

A conversation with women in Saudi Arabia

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you) dear readers,

The post I planned to write today is going to be superseded by sharing a clip that I think is vital to share. Especially given the rather troublesome news I received today. I am signed on to the NCCM, National Council of Canadian Muslims (if you are a Canadian Muslim and not part of this organization, I highly suggest you join them or support them in some capacity) mailing list, and came home to find in my inbox a condemnation issued by NCCM of the senseless attack on Canadian officers today in Quebec, by a self-proclaimed recent convert to Islam. Linked here.

This was alarming, the last thing one wants to see is a trend of radicalization in this peaceful country. There also seems to be a trend of new ‘converts’ to Islam joining a radical understanding of the faith. Easy to understand, given they have little knowledge or understanding of Islam. But how this brain-washing takes place, I am at a loss to understand. It is as if these so called converts are using Islam as a means to take out whatever social deconstruct they are suffering. Others have spoken with more data and eloquence on this trend, so I won’t go into it more.

My topic is related though. For if it is that these converts are ripe for the plucking by elements who want to abuse their sincerity, then the rest of us need to do more to stop this. Even more urgency for women to step up. The mosques are alarmingly empty of women in day-to-day activities. Women have always brought a nuanced and merciful understanding to any sphere of knowledge. Take the women away and the men are hard pressed to cope with the needs of the modern Muslim community.

I moved closer to a mosque recently and try to pray in it whenever I can. Often I am the only woman there. We women have to retake our place in our community-shaping and nation-building. I’ve run a halaqa (knowledge circle) for Muslim women for a few years. The amount of misconception among Muslim women as to their place in this tradition is astounding. Even from educated (I’m talking PhD educated), thinking females.

Therefore this candid interview, obviously filmed many years ago but only recently released to youtube, is a breath of fresh air. It’s a group of women, reverts and born-Mulsims living in Saudi Arabia, talking to Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, a well trained classical Muslim scholar. I am glad the issues in the community were called out openly and more glad to hear honest answers from a scholar.

Part 2 is especially important. So I will post it first. BTW, some of the comments on the videos are a telling reminder of how much still needs work in our community. So my sisters, today’s events are a fresh reminder of how we have little time to waste.

I especially want to highlight Sh. Hamza’s comments at about minute 8 of part 2. He speaks of his displeasure of reading books on ‘womens’ role in Islam’, as how they often say the ‘primary purpose of women is child-bearing’ he goes on to say, and I quote, “I mean, where is that in the Quran…I’ve never seen that, I’ve never seen a the hadith that says that. The primarily role of a woman is to know her Lord, like the primary role of a man is to know his Lord”  and he goes to elaborate. Indeed music to my ears! Indeed, reading those books as a teenager, even then I instinctively knew there was something not right there. I was studying my faith then, and I came to it very much by research and conviction (my journey to Islam will one day be a post inshaallah), and never in the 20 odd years I’ve studied this religion have I found anything in it that is not inherently leading to truth.

I hope you watch this. They are both very short. And please share widely.

Allah bless and help us all

 

part 2

 

part 1

 

 

Eid Mubarak!

Eid-ul-Adha Mubarak ! (=May it be a blessed festival of sacrifice)

Dear readers, Assalamu alaikum (=peace be with you)

The rights of the Hajj pilgrimage are over and it is time to celebrate. The hujjaj (=pilgrims) will be shaving their head or cutting locks of their hair off to symbolize their completion of the pilgrimage and soon the ‘udhhiya’ will be carried out. Udhhiya is the term given for the religious sacrifice of an animal, where each pilgrim must sacrifice a goat, sheep, cow or camel and distribute it’s meat to the poor. There are rules governing the distribution, with at least 1 third being obligated to be distributed to the poor.

This year, there would have been over 2 mill pilgrims amounting to about 500,000 sacrificial animals at least. It’s commendable that the Saudi government has put in place a system whereby the meat from this massive sacrifice is processed in modern facilities and then distributed to the poor of over 30 different countries. And though some of you may find this hard to believe there are plenty of people in many parts of the world where this is the only meat they see the whole year. I personally have heard of many such cases.

The sacrifice is an enactment of the willingness of the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him, the name is rendered ‘Ibraheem’ in Arabic) to sacrifice his son Ishma’el (peace be upon him, the name rendered ‘Isma’eel’ in Arabic) upon the command of God and Ishama’el’s willingness to comply. At the last minute, God sends down a ram to take the place of Ishma’el. There are many other events from the life of Abraham and his family (peace upon them all) that the hajj symbolizes, which I won’t go into here. And there are many places in the Quran where God, Exalted and High, speaks of these events. Here are one set of ayaath (=verses, literally ‘signs’). Interpretation in English from Sahih international, surah Saffat (=those arranged in ranks, or who set the ranks), verses 100-106

Bismillahi ar-rahman ar-raheem

In the name of God, the Most Loving, the Most Nurturing

37:100
My Lord, grant me [a child] from among the righteous.”
37:101
So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy.
37:102

And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, “O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.” He said, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.”

37:103

And when they had both submitted and he put him down upon his forehead,

37:104

We called to him, “O Abraham,

37:105

You have fulfilled the vision.” Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good.

37:106
Indeed, this was the clear trial.

 

The lesson from the Hajj is about trust I think. Certainly the sacrifice is all about trust. Both Abraham and his son (peace upon them both) completely trusting of the will of God and that it is good for them. The pilgrimage is arduous and one is forced into circumstances and situations where one’s usual ‘props’ are all taken away. Everyone dressed alike and stripped of all the illusion we surround our souls with in terms of material possessions, we are confronted with our humanity. Confronted with our utter need and dependency. No wonder all who go have something to say about this life-changing experience.

I was searching for a video to share for Eid, and I found this 8 min clip of thoughts shared by returning pilgrims. The last speaker said what I found to be especially enlightening.

 

Eid Mubarak once more! I leave you with a clip of the hujjaj performing their final circumbulation of the ka’aba, symbolizing many things, among which, the muslims willingness to rotate their life around the axis of God, and aligning oneself with the movements of the planets and constellation and galaxies that we also believe are rotating around the axis of the One Creator. They chant as they go the ‘eid takbeer’, which we also chant in our homes during the times of Eid as we celebrate with them.