Ramadan Mubarak!

Assalamu alaikum dear readers, peace be with you,

I haven’t been able to blog at all since this beautiful and precious month began. And now we are in day 18 already! Trying very hard to hang on to this amazing time…but it goes so quickly. We say about Ramadan, ‘The days are glorious and the nights are magnificent’!

So for my Muslim readers – let’s make the most of the last ten days which we will soon enter. The honored guest now with us, needs to be treated with the most reverence and love we can show her before she departs our company, inshaAllah (God willing) to return to us next year. I blogged this last year about the special significance of the last ten days, sharing the link again. It’s called ‘looking for laylathul Qadr’

And two more old posts on laylatul Qadr…they bring back nice memories. On this one, yes this year too, my same jasmine plants that gave me nary a bud the whole year burst into bloom with the arrival of Ramadan. And then this magnificent du’a for these special nights (for my non-Muslim readers, du’a is usually what people understand to mean by ‘prayer’…it is a sincerely spoken supplication to God)

I saw this nice clip on CTV news and since it is so rare that the media reports any nice thing about Muslims (I am seriously considering a page just to capture news items that don’t paint Muslims as terrorists or what not – For example, I am not sure how much people know that a mosque group raised 5000$ in one day to help a Catholic church that had been vandalized, or that Nigerian Muslims last christmas linked hands and stood in front of church on christmas eve to prevent any ‘Boko haram’ types attacking the congregation insde, or about the crazy person who was arrested a few weeks ago in a US airport for carrying a machete in his bag – only after he killed a security guard (God rest the soul of this security guard and help his family) – he was not Muslim, imagine the news coverage if he was!!, and I can go on. But I will stop now, it is Ramadan), here it is.

To end as they say in Indonesia –
” it is as if one’s life is a series of Ramadans, with only a moment passing between them”

How strange it is, that with no food and no water, I feel more alive than when I am satiated. As our spiritual masters teach us, it is because now the stomach is shrunken and the heart has room to breathe! The heart is alive and so you feel more alive than at other times. Thanks and praise to God for giving us Ramadan.

Here is the clip. Unfortunately I can’t embed it. Please click here

Many flavours of Qasida Burdah

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you) dear readers,

We are almost at the end of Sha’ban and Ramadan almost any day now! (O Allah give us life to meet Ramadan!!) -surely the excitement, anticipation and preparation grows every hour. But still a few days left where the focus is also on sending salawat upon the prophet (peace be upon him), so as promised here is continuing the clips of the many flavours of the Burdah, as a way to introduce the diversity of the musical tradition in Islam. Please see last post for introduction to the Burdah

 

A recent version of a classical/traditional style of singing it using only voice. The burdah starts at about sec 24 mark…it’s only a small part of it of course. I love the collage of images in the video, and a translation of the lyrics is given in English.

 

This given in a Yemeni style, it opens with a famous verse in the Quran, where God commands the believers to send prayers upon His chosen messenger (peace be upon him). Quran 33:56-

33:56

Transliteration

Inna Allaha wamalaikatahu yusalloonaAAala annabiyyi ya ayyuha allatheenaamanoo salloo AAalayhi wasallimoo tasleema

English interpretation by Shakir – Surely Allah and His angels bless the Prophet; O you who believe! call for (Divine) blessings on him and salute him with a (becoming) salutation.

This a traditional way it is sung in India and Pakistan. Part of it is sung in Urdu, being the translation of the Arabic into Urdu

 

This by the famous ‘Fez singers’ – a traditional group of singers in Morocco, who have been singing in this style for centuries…the style is handed down father to son and so on. This is the version I listen to the most 🙂

 

Something more colourful, a recent version by Pakistani artist, Maya Khan…very soothing to hear it from a female voice. She intersperses prayers in Urdu as well.

 

This is a version in Arabic, English and Turkish sung by a Turkish choir – it is actually a rendition by the well known nasheed artist Mahar Zain

 

And a very popular video in the Muslim world, by Turkish artist Mesut Kurtis. He too is singing a part of the Burdah. The video depicts a scene from the past – seafaring traders… a scene that must have been quite common in the Muslim world a few centuries ago.

 

There are more, but that will give you a taste to its popularity. To end, a long version with a video showing clips from an old movie of the life of the blessed beloved, peace be upon him. I am not sure which film it is, but it may be ‘The Message’ (?). As per Muslim rules, the prophet (peace be upon him) and his close family members are not shown on screen in person. Where he is, is always inferred by the scene.

 

“Maula ya salli wasallim da’iman a’badan, ala habeebika khairi khalki kulli himi” (=O God send your blessings and peace forever and ceaselessly, upon your beloved the best of creation that ever was)

The month of Sha’ban and Qasida Burdah

Assalamu alaikum, peace be upon you my dear readers,

With the new moon reported last week, we have entered the month of Sha’ban, the 8th month in the Islamic calendar and the month preceeding the month of months- Ramadan, whose arrival all Muslims around the world are counting the days to eagerly. We make the du’a (=supplication, a prayer) “O Allah grant us to meet Ramadan” (meaning ‘prolong our life so we can meet Ramadan’) since roughly about the 3rd month of the year, i.e., during the six months before Ramadan. The rest of the year, i.e., the six months following Ramadan, we make the du’a “O Allah accept all our worship during Ramadan (our fasting and special salat=prayers, charity and hosting family and friends and so on). This was the habit of the prophet Muhammed (peace and blessing of God be upon him) and of his companions (God be pleased with them all) and so we follow his example in this as we try to in every other aspect of our lives. So you can imagine now that Ramadan is almost around the corner, the frequency with which Muslims make this prayer increases exponentially 🙂

The month of Sha’ban is sandwiched between Ramadan and Rajab, which is the month we just exited. Rajab is considered one of the four sacred months. These four months were a  time when warring was forbidden in the Arabian peninsula since before the time of the prophet (peace and blessing of God be upon him) and Islam upheld that tradition. The other three months are the 11th, 12th and 1st months of the year, traditionally the time when the pilgrims for the Hajj pilgrimage would be traveling to Mecca, perform the pilgrimage (which happens in the 12th month) and return. You can imagine, had tribal war been allowed during that time, the pilgrimage would not happen – hence the importance of them being ‘sacred’. Rajab stands alone and therefore is given a great deal of importance.

Ramadan is actually not one of the four ‘sacred’ months. It is however one of the holiest of the year, and unlike the other four, whose sacredness predates the time of the beloved messenger (peace be upon him), its status as the month of fasting was instituted by the messenger (peace be upon him). It is the month in which the Quran was first revealed. More on Ramadan in the coming weeks inshaAllah (God willing). There is so much information available online on Ramadan, I am not sure I need to write a post. Here is a good link gathering a lot of information in one place (I haven’t read all the information there, but the site is generally reliable).

It is said that Rajab is the month of God, Sha’ban the month of the messenger of God (peace be upon him) and Ramadan the month of his community! Rajab is generally a time Muslims spend a lot of time in reflection and ‘returning’ to God, then in the month of Sha’ban there is an emphasis on sending prayers upon Muhammed. We call this salawat and I gathered some types of salawat in this post. Of course ‘salawat’ can be done without any music, and done alone as many of us do.

In that post, I introduced some forms of salawat. Here I want to introduce a ‘salawat’ so famous in the Muslim world, I doubt there are many Muslims who have not heard it. They may not know what they heard (such is the sad state of Muslims divorce from their tradition and heritage – due to a large part to a catastrophic period of colonial subjugation – but I am digressing), but they would have heard it! It has been rendered into every musical form contained in the vastly diverse Muslim world, sung in so many different languages in so many corners of the world. It is the famous ‘Qasida Burdah’

Qasida (=elegiac/laudatory poem) Burdah, or ‘The poem of the cloak’ was written by a great scholar – Imam Buseeri (raheemahullah alai = God have mercy upon him), who lived in Egypt in the 13th century CE which would be 6th century AH (=After Hijri). The real name of the publication is “Al-Kawakib Al-Durriyya Fi Madh Khayr Al-Bariyya” (=The Brilliant Stars in Praising the Best of Mankind), but the poem has come to be most known as simply ‘Al-Burdah’ (=the cloak) or the ‘Qasida Burdah’. I could go on a long time about both Imam Busiri and Qasida Burdah, but I will limit myself to telling you about why the poem’s popular name is what it is. It is said Imam Busiri suffered a grave illness and was paralyzed for a long time. No doctors could cure him. He wrote this poem as way of praying to God, by praising the beloved of God, His final messenger, Muhammed (upon whom be God’s peace and blessing). One night he saw the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) appear to him in a dream and convey his pleasure with the poem – the blessed prophet took his cloak and put it on Imam Busiri. The next day Imam Busiri (rah) was miraculously cured and his paralysis lifted. Hence the naming of the poem by the populace, and the name that stuck. Beautiful detail about Qasid Burdah can be found here and audio of the recitation of it in entirety with translation.  I will quote a few sentences from there below;

It reached unsurpassed fame, where it was taught, copied, distributed, recited, transcribed on mosque walls, memorized, commented on, studied, and considered required reading by countless scholars. The Burda was engraved on the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, where it adorned the walls for centuries before being erased by people who could not comprehend it. There is still one line left that has not been removed: “He is the beloved, whose intercession is hoped for….to overrun every terrible horror” (on the day of resurrection)

The poem is usually given as ~300 lines arranged in 10 sections, and each verse ends with the letter ‘meem’. In Arabic poetic forms this is called a ‘meemiya’. I want to collect several renderings of Qasida Burdah to introduce the variety in the Muslim world, but this post is too long already. And I have just found a wonderful interview online with the author of the best English translation of Qasida Burdah currently available, and a person I am honored to say I have studied briefly with.

So below is an interview with and a recent ‘recital’ of the Burdah by the western world’s well known scholar Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad, also known as Dr. Tim Winter, professor of Islamic studies at Cambridge University (and one of my favouritest scholars – such a purely scholarly soul in every sense of the word. If you ever have the time youtube one of his talks, I promise you, you won’t be bored!). He sings in an ‘olde English’ style I grew up with and love. I don’t know the technical term for it though.

In this interview, he beautifully explains the traditional Muslim civilization’s celebration of poetry and the qasida tradition as well as the metaphysical realities to do with Quranic recitation.

And his rendition of it in ‘olde English’, which I love

Stay tuned for future posts with other renditions of the Qasida Burdah ‘bi ithnillahi ta’ala’ (= with the permission of God, the most high).

God’s blessing be with you.

Spring in Vancouver

There are those who are said to *know* God, who we call ‘a’rifeen-billah’ (=those who *know* God). Of course it is not possible to ever *know* God according to Muslim theology, at least not in this realm (what will happen in the next realm Muslim theologians prefer not to talk about as it delves into the area of speculative knowledge. It is preferable to stay within the bounds of logical and revealed knowledge). Because to say one knows means one has encompassed a complete meaning and if something can be encompassed that would logically imply that something has been bounded or a limited. Now if something were bound or limited it would not be completely able, for its ability would be limited. And that whose ability is limited cannot be Divine. Because the definition of Divine naturally implies no limitation. The Divine is not limited or bound in anyway, the power of the Divine is not limited or encompassed by anything. Completely able, the unsustained sustainer of all…the uncaused cause, the Divine is not like the creation, for, in whatever way you like to ponder upon whatever part of the creation, you will come across a limit in it. So we say, the Creator is not like the creation. Things are often ‘known’ by their opposites… so pondering upon the creation gives us a *glimpse* in to the Creator. So when I say *know* I say it with these caveats in place.

The ‘knowledge’ the a’rifeen-billah have is yet only a minutae of knowledge, that too a gift from the Divine, and an atom in comparison to infinity…

So it is said by the a’rifeen-billah that were the human heart to be unveiled to the true nature of Divine beauty, it would burst out of sheer ecstasy! These beautiful spring days in Vancouver, it is easy to understand why it is so said…for surely the beauty we are blessed to witness all around us takes our breath away. If so much can be unveiled in such a short time that is so breathtaking, then who can even imagine the Divine, who is ‘Al-Jamal’!

Al-Jamal means ‘The Beautiful’, it is one of the *names* or attributes of God, and the attributes of Allah (=God, Allah is preferred by Muslims to use as a term as it is devoid of gender-connotations, exalted be God from such) are of the same nature as Allah’s essence – meaning they are unlimited and unsustained but sustain all. So then imagine that Beauty! The Beautiful! Subhahanallah (=Glory be to God)

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Peace be with you my dear readers, and may you also be blessed to witness great beauty in your lives

Synopsis – the heart in Islam

Dear readers, Assalamu aliakum (peace be with you)

I have not been able to blog for a long while. Travel and sickness prevented me from doing so. I wanted to fulfill a promise, and post here the text of a speech I delivered by God’s grace, at a local event celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr, the festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Here is the text of the speech. I hope you will find it beneficial. May God’s peace and blessing be with you.

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Subhahanallahi wa alhamdulillaahi wa la ilaha illallahu wa allahu akber

Allahumma salli ala sayyidina wa habeebina wa shafee’ina Muhammed wa ala a’ali Muhammed

 I begin in the name of God, the most loving-gracious and the love giving

We praise Him, thank Him, exalt Him and we ask Him to shower His blessing upon His beloved, the messenger of God, Muhammed and upon the family of Muhammed for all time

Overview of Islam as a faith tradition – its purpose and method

The Arabic word, Islam, which literally means, ‘submission’ is closely related in lexicology to the Arabic word, ‘salam’, which means peace. Thus, Muslims (=‘those who are in a condition of being in Islam’) are people who have found peace by submitting their wills to the will of their Creator, God. The One and Only.

The Quran, is a text that has been miraculously preserved for 1400+ years since it was first revealed to the chosen one, Muhammed, the messenger of God, upon whom be peace. It is the foundational scripture for Muslims along with the hadith collections; which are meticulously researched and recorded sayings and reports of the behavior of the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him. In the Quran, God, the exalted and high, says

 وَمَا خَلَقۡتُ ٱلۡجِنَّ وَٱلۡإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعۡبُدُونِ

Wama khalaqtu aljinna wal-insailla liyaAAbudoon

“And I did not create the spirit-beings and the human-kind except that they worship me”

Quran 51:56

Therefore our purpose is to worship God. Worship entails that one make one’s desires completely in accordance to pleasing the one being worshipped. The Arabic word here translated as ‘worship’ comes from the root word ‘a’bada’ which literally means to adore, serve, venerate. To be in a state of what Muslims often term ‘slavehood’ as that denotes the complete surrender of one’s free-will, or to put in a term consonant with the times and Western tradition, to be a ‘devotee’.

As an example of how this philosophy is a foundation of Muslim thought, tradition and lifestyle- a  Muslim name common for men is ‘Abdullah’, which means to be the ‘slave or devotee of God’. It is considered one of the best names to give one’s child. It was also the name of the father of Muhammed, the blessed messenger of God (peace be upon him). Therefore the concept of worshiping  the one God predates the advent of the Quran as revelation (in the Quran, the first time the word ‘Muslim’ is used, is to refer to the prophet Abraham peace be upon him, who is called ‘Muslim’, i.e., one is complete obedience to God).

One who practices Islam, attempts to be in a constant state of service or slave-hood to his or her Maker. This is considered to be the only state that brings about complete peace in the heart, as the human being was created with the sole intention of worship and fulfilling the purpose of one’s creation brings a state of incredible serenity in the heart. Like a car functions best when it is used to get from A to B, as opposed to trying to sleep in it or some such, or a software will only run as it should when used for the purpose it was coded for, the human being also functions at a state of true well-being when he or she acts in accordance with the purpose of his or her creation. Being in this state of worship or slave-hood to God, means that one’s heart is at complete peace, rest and tranquility no matter what one’s external situation is, whether that of trial and hardship or that of plenty and ease. This is the state of the heart that Islam, when practiced as it should be, engenders in the practitioner.

Therefore many see Islam as a way of life rather than a religion. And the leader of this way, who exemplified it was the messenger of God, Muhammed peace be upon him. Muslims try to follow his example in every aspect of their lives as he was sent to teach how to ‘live’ the Quran. He was a father, a grandfather, a husband, a merchant, a shepherd, a leader, a statesman, a general…his life is extraordinary in that it included so many roles, and in all of this, he was always in complete submission to God. There is not an intimate detail of his life not recorded. All is available for Muslims to learn and try to implement. Thus, Muslims try to emulate in him in every respect, and may God’s best blessing be upon him and his family for all time.

In the Muslim way of life, everything is ruled by a code of whether it is permissible – halal in Arabic or impermissible – haram in Arabic. The halal is further categorized as ‘fard’ = obligatory, ‘mustahab’= recommended, ‘mubah’= neutral, and ‘makruh’ = disliked. In general the scholars say all matters are halal except for what is haram. I.e., everything is permissible, except for what is forbidden. Fasting in the month of Ramadan is a fard, it is an obligation upon one who practices Islam, and it is one of the main five pillars of the faith.

A careful and detailed study of all that is halal and haram in Islam (which I do not have time to go into here) will show that each of these injunctions are engineered to carry the slave closer to her or his maker, by acting to purify the self/heart of vices and adorning it with virtue. Thereby also building safe and wholesome communities where the beauty of humanity is cultivated and expressed. A well-known hadith of the beloved (peace be upon him) is “God is beautiful and He loves beauty”. So then how is a heart not beautiful/pure to know God, this is why the constant emphasis on purifying the heart via the Islamic code of life. On the civilizational level, the Arabic word for civilization, ‘Al-Hadara’ comes from an Arabic root word which means ‘to be present’. A sound strong lasting civilization is built upon the collective presence of the people with their Creator.

Ibn Khaldun, a famous Muslim historian of 14th century, in his analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, spoke of the cyclical nature of Muslim civilization. When Muslims put God at the forefront and live the way of life with sincerity, the outcome is great, peaceful long-lasting civilizations. However this stage often equates with great wealth, which brings about laxity in spiritual and religious practice, resulting in the people forgetting God and going into a state of hedonism which then brings about the collapse of the civilization. Repentant, the people turn back to God, and God, the Most Merciful, always raises them up again. The Muslim world, it may be said, is at a very low-point on this cycle and we pray the Muslims will return to God and security and peace will re-enter Muslim lands.

Men and women in Islam

Let me now speak briefly about men and women in Islam, as this is a deeply misunderstood topic in the west. In the Islamic world view I have so far briefly outlined, if you have noticed nowhere has there been any mention of a difference in how men and women are viewed by the faith. The default state is equality of the sexes. The Quran speaks of Adam and Eve, who are ‘Aa-dam’ and ‘Hawwa’ in the Arabic rendering of the names as the first human beings. All Muslims consider them to be our parents and we consider Adam to be first prophet (peace be upon him).

God the most high, relates the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in the Quran and speaks of the eating of the ‘forbidden fruit’. In the Quranic narrative;

Quran 2: 35-36

وَقُلۡنَا يَـٰٓـَٔادَمُ ٱسۡكُنۡ أَنتَ وَزَوۡجُكَ ٱلۡجَنَّةَ وَكُلَا مِنۡهَا رَغَدًا حَيۡثُ شِئۡتُمَا وَلَا تَقۡرَبَا هَـٰذِهِ ٱلشَّجَرَةَ فَتَكُونَا مِنَ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ (٣٥) فَأَزَلَّهُمَا ٱلشَّيۡطَـٰنُ عَنۡہَا فَأَخۡرَجَهُمَا مِمَّا كَانَا فِيهِ‌ۖ وَقُلۡنَا ٱهۡبِطُواْ بَعۡضُكُمۡ لِبَعۡضٍ عَدُوٌّ۬‌ۖ وَلَكُمۡ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ مُسۡتَقَرٌّ۬ وَمَتَـٰعٌ إِلَىٰ حِينٍ۬ (٣٦)

Yusuf Ali interpretation-

We said: “O Adam! dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden; and eat of the bountiful things therein as (where and when) ye will; but approach not this tree, or ye run into harm and transgression.

“Then did Satan make them slip from the (garden), and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been. We said: “Get ye down, all (ye people), with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling-place and your means of livelihood – for a time.”

Thus the blame is shared by both equally. However it is to be noted that interestingly, the instruction to not eat from the tree is specifically addressed only to Adam (peace be upon him).

In several other places, God establishes the equality of the sexes by His revealed word. For example, the Quran states that

Quran 4:32

وَلَا تَتَمَنَّوۡاْ مَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بِهِۦ بَعۡضَكُمۡ عَلَىٰ بَعۡضٍ۬‌ۚ لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ۬ مِّمَّا ٱڪۡتَسَبُواْ‌ۖ وَلِلنِّسَآءِ نَصِيبٌ۬ مِّمَّا ٱكۡتَسَبۡنَ‌ۚ وَسۡـَٔلُواْ ٱللَّهَ مِن فَضۡلِهِۦۤ‌ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ ڪَانَ بِكُلِّ شَىۡءٍ عَلِيمً۬ا

Yusuf Ali Interpretation-

And in no wise covet those things in which Allah Hath bestowed His gifts More freely on some of you than on others: To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn: But ask Allah of His bounty. For Allah hath full knowledge of all things.

This verse teaches that women and men bear individual responsibility over their actions, their incomes, their abilities and how they use them. Women have always had the facility to work in the Muslim world, in fact the first wife of the prophet (peace be upon him), who was also the first person to embrace Islam, was a successful businesswoman prior to her marriage with the prophet (peace be upon him). She is Khadija, and in the Muslim world the title ‘al-kubra’ is appended to her name, meaning ‘the great’, so we call her Khadija al-kubra (God be pleased with her). She employed him and struck by his honesty and truthfulness, proposed marriage to him. The first person martyred for the faith was also a woman, a freed African slave woman, Sumaiiya (God be pleased with her) who was tortured and killed by her former master due to her practice of Islam.

Therefore two of the greatest honors possible in any faith tradition belong to women in Islam, in addition to countless others that this essay would run into several dozen pages were I to research and list them.

Having said that, I will briefly mention a few notable points below;

To begin, the verse quoted above appears in a chapter called ‘An-Nisa’, ‘the women’. When a chapter in the Quran is named after something, it elevates and honors that which it is named after. Thus womankind is uniquely honored by God in the Quran. In the Muslim society Muhammed (peace be upon him) established, women were granted the right to inherit property (centuries before many other societies) completely overturning pre-Islamic Arab norms that saw women as rather ‘goods to be inherited’. Women spoke freely in the mosques and took part in the running of the state. Women even fought in wars, one noted companion of the beloved (peace be upon him), Nusaybah (may God be pleased with her), is celebrated for her defense of the prophet (peace be upon him) when he was under attack in the battle of Uhud. She was a famed archer and skilled with the sword. When Umar (God be pleased with him), the second caliph of Islam was governing a rapidly expanding Muslim state, he chose two women to be the first ‘controllers of the market place’ in both Mekkah and Medina. Nowadays that would be equal to running the IMF or being appointed Minister of Finance. In the present day Muslim world, women are involved in all spheres of governance and society. They are free to be what they want, and are under no pressure to work if they do not want to. Unfortunately the media has given a very distorted view of this matter. I do not gloss over the Muslim societies where there is blatant oppression of women, however that is due to the absence of Islam in its correctly interpreted form rather than due to its presence.

Therefore equality of the sexes has never been an issue in the Muslim tradition. Islam has recognized that women and men have unique strengths and weaknesses. Both genders need nurturing in an atmosphere of love and compassion. In the Muslim conceptualization of God, we consider God to be, in His essence, exalted above any likeness whether to an image, a form, or even a concept. As God teaches us;

Quran 42:11, part of the ayah

لَيۡسَ كَمِثۡلِهِۦ شَىۡءٌ۬‌ۖ

‘ There is nothing whatsoever like Him’

Since we can’t conceptualize God, we instead learn about God via His attributes, which we often call ‘his names’. These too, do not come to us from our own minds, but rather from revelation. They are attributive titles God has revealed about Himself in the Quran. For example, He refers to Himself as ‘The most Loving’ – Al Wadud, ‘The most mercifully compassionate’ – Ar Raheem, ‘The most kind’ – Ar Rauf, ‘The most wise’ – Al Hakeem, ‘the giver of life’ – Al Muhyiy, ‘the taker of life’ – Al Mumit, and so forth. In Islamic theology, God’s attributes are the same as His essence in nature. That is, there is nothing like unto Him in His being ‘Ar -Rauf’ for example. To elaborate, the kindness of God is not like human kindness, it is not bound by space and time as we are, it is limitless, needing no sustanence, having no beginning and no end, as God himself is limitless, needing no substance, having no beginning nor end.

While His attributes are limitless, via revelation we know of roughly 100 of them. Approximately half of them are considered ‘names of majesty’ or ‘ism jalal’ and the other half are ‘names of beauty’ or ‘ism jamal’. The scholars say that the ism jamal and ism jalal depict the essential feminine and the essential masculine qualities. Both need to be balanced in the world.

To end then, Islam as a way of life, aims to bring the practitioner, female and male, as individuals and as societies to that heart level of purity required to be fully cognizant of the beauty and majesty of God. It aims to free us of false attachments and remove idols in the heart, instead suffusing the heart with a complete attachment, in loving adoring surrender to the Creator. To become as our scholars say ‘A’damic’ human beings, like Adam (peace be upon him), true vicegerents of God on earth. The type of human being, the angels were commanded to bow down to.

The imperative to purify the heart

In surah As-Shams (the Sun) God says

Quran 91:1-10,

Arabic is followed by transliteration and translation

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

In the name of God, the most loving-gracious and the love giving

وَٱلشَّمۡسِ وَضُحَٮٰهَا

Washshamsi waduhaha

By the Sun and his (glorious) splendour;

 وَٱلۡقَمَرِ إِذَا تَلَٮٰهَا

Walqamari itha talaha

By the Moon as she follows him;

وَٱلنَّہَارِ إِذَا جَلَّٮٰهَا 

Wannahari itha jallaha

By the Day as it shows up (the Sun’s) glory;

وَٱلَّيۡلِ إِذَا يَغۡشَٮٰهَا

Wallayli itha yaghshaha

By the Night as it conceals it;

وَٱلسَّمَآءِ وَمَا بَنَٮٰهَا 

Wassama-i wama banaha

By the Firmament and its (wonderful) structure;

وَٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَمَا طَحَٮٰهَا

Wal-ardi wama tahaha

By the Earth and its (wide) expanse:

 وَنَفۡسٍ۬ وَمَا سَوَّٮٰهَا

Wanafsin wama sawwaha

By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it

فَأَلۡهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا وَتَقۡوَٮٰهَا 

Faalhamaha fujooraha wataqwaha

And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right;-

قَدۡ أَفۡلَحَ مَن زَكَّٮٰهَا 

Qad aflaha man zakkaha

Truly he succeeds that purifies it,

 وَقَدۡ خَابَ مَن دَسَّٮٰهَا

Waqad khaba man dassaha

And he fails that corrupts it!

In our tradition, whenever God, the most High, the Exalted, swears by something it is a testament to the importance of the instruction to come. Here God, the Most High, the Loving, swears by 10 tremendous creations; the sun, the moon, the day, the night, the heavens, the earth, the soul, the order and proportion given to it, the enlightenment of the soul and the entities of right and of wrong, that the person who has corrupted his soul has indeed failed, while the person who has purified it has indeed succeeded. This suffices to impart the tremendous call to purify one’s heart, even though this concept is emphasized over and over again in the practices of the Islamic way of life.

The month of Ramadan is considered an honored guest and a great annual blessing. It is a time when the ‘gates of heaven are open and the devils are chained’. It is a time when Muslims are obligated to fast from dawn to dusk, not just restraining their physical appetites for food, drink and spousal relations but also learning to control and check the ailments of the heart such as tendencies to think bad thoughts about people, to gossip, backbite, slander etc. (all considered major sins in Islam) and to be hopeless or to despair (for how can one, who knows she or he has the protection of God, ever despair? Hopelessness according to our scholars, is a symptom of an ailment in the heart- namely, a faith that is too shallow )This enforced month of training is a much needed spiritual practice that exposes every Muslim, regardless of level of piety or religious knowledge, to a taste of the fruits of this self-discipline and training in purification. Other practices in Islam have the same goal.  I will not elaborate on them due to a shortness of time but here mentioned some words specifically on Ramadan due to occasion.

In Surah Shams we read about the success of the one who purifies his soul and the failure of the one who corrupts it. What is this success and what is this failure? The success and failure is both in this world and in the hereafter.

Muslims do believe in a life after death and we believe in heaven and in hell. Heaven we say, is a place for the pure. And we say the life after death is not like this life. Things are sometimes known by their opposites. This life is fleeting, it will end for us all. In this present life, always one finds happiness mixed with sadness and joy mixed with sorrow. While in the hereafter, life is eternal and joy and sorrow are in pure states. Heaven being a place of pure joy and hell being a place of pure sorrow. The ultimate joy of heaven is the closeness one has to God, and for the Muslim, to finally be able to ‘see’ or ‘know’ or understand God (something beyond our created ability in this world), while the ultimate sorrow of hell is to be veiled or prevented from this state.

Those masters of Islamic spirituality who have married their external practices, such as the 5 times prayer, fasting, giving the mandatory annual charity (zakat) etc. to those internal heart stages these practices are meant to inculcate such as selflessness, generosity and purity, are able to therefore overcome the caprices of the ego and surrender it more deeply to the will, care and protection of God. The one who reaches this state of a heart which then is in true closeness to its maker, tastes paradise on earth. And that is, by the permission and grace of God, a mark of that person being one who will taste of paradise eternally.

This is then, the ultimate purpose of living an Islamic way of life – that one attain a level of purity during one’s lifetime befitting a return to that pure home, where we all came from; God’s great heaven. These sentiments are given in the most beautiful terms in the final verses of the chapter titled ‘Fajr’ or dawn, where God addresses such a righteous content serene human soul on the day of judgement thus ;

Quran 89: 28-30

Arabic is followed by transliteration and translation

أَيَّتُہَا ٱلنَّفۡسُ ٱلۡمُطۡمَٮِٕنَّةُ

Ya ayyatuha annafsualmutma-inna

(To the righteous soul will be said:) “O (thou) soul, in (complete) rest and satisfaction!

ٱرۡجِعِىٓ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً۬ مَّرۡضِيَّةً۬ 

IrjiAAee ila rabbiki radiyatanmardiyya

“Come back thou to thy Lord,- well pleased (thyself), and well-pleasing unto Him!

فَٱدۡخُلِى فِى عِبَـٰدِى

Fadkhulee fee AAibadee

“Enter thou, then, among My devotees!

وَٱدۡخُلِى جَنَّتِى

Wadkhulee jannatee

“Yea, enter thou My Heaven!

 

May we all be of those who are blessed to hear these words on that day!

 

 

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.