The Imams of ‘Ihsan’ – introducing Sh. Rabia (God’s mercy upon her)

rabia

Dear Readers, peace be with you,

Hope this beautiful spring day finds you well and your families in good health. It has long been on my mind to introduce you to the immense wealth of female scholarship and role models, the Islamic tradition abounds in.

The fact that many, including many Muslims themselves, are unaware of this rich heritage is a sad testament to the dearth of sound knowledge and/or access to the same, in the modern world.

In an older post, I introduce the three foundational aspects that make up the religion of Islam; Islam (practice), Iman (belief) and Ihsan (excellence/beauty). Each of these branches has its own ‘Imams’ or great leaders, so great is their contribution to each of the domains, that all Muslims recognize them and know them to be the foremost in their sphere.

For example, every Sunni Muslim knows the four Imams of fiqh (=jurisprudence, or law), which deals with the external practices, or ‘Islam’, in this way of life. They are Ibn Hanbal, Abu Hanifa, Shafi’i and Malik, (raheemahullah alaihum, God’s mercy upon them all). I will explain more about this later God willing, but in short, they each founded a ‘school of thought’ that laid principles of law that govern the practices of Islam.

What is less well known among Sunni Muslims of today is that each of the other two branches also has ‘Imams’. For Iman (or creed/theology), they are; Imam Maturidi, and Ash’ari (God’s mercy upon both). And for Ihsan, considered the pinnacle and adornment of this religion, they include Abu Talib Al Makki, Junaid of Baghdad, and Raabia of Basra, about whom this post will be.

Raabia is a great saint of Islam. Islam too recognizes saints, but they are not the same as commonly thought of when one brings to mind saints of the Christian tradition, so more about this later God willing.

Raabia, a woman, reached such an exalted state in her ‘knowing’ of God, that she became a teacher and mentor for some of those who went on to become among the foremost scholars of our tradition, especially in the domain of Ihsan. It is from their accounts that we know what we know of her. She is unique in that she left no known written works, but her ‘name’ is recognized by almost all Muslims, a testament to the impression she made. She lived ~1200 years ago.

Rabia (Allah’s mercy upon her) lived in Basra, in present day Iraq, she would have been born in the first hundred years or so after the death of the blessed beloved (peace be upon him). An account of her life is given by Farid ud-Din Attar in ‘Thadhkirat al-Awliyaa (=Memorial of the Friends of God), the author of the famous ‘Conference of the Birds’. She was a devoted worshipper and great lover of God, so much so that stories of her piety, and ascetism, have become a part of ‘common Muslim lore’.

She was a contemporary of a number of prominent scholars of Ihsan such as; Hasan Al Basri, Sufyan ibn Sa’id ath-Thawri, Shu’ba ibn al-Hajjaj to name a few. These great scholars are reported to have sought her advice on legal matters as well as on spiritual matters. Some accounts of these encounters are collected by the 11th century famous Sufi scholar ‘as-Sulami’ in his ‘Dhikr an-Niswa al-Muta’ Abbidat as Sufiyyat’ (translated recently as ‘Early Sufi Women’ by Rkia Cornell, Fons Vitae publishers), some of which I reproduce here;

“Sufyan ath-Thawri said about Rabia’, “take me to the mentor. For when I am apart from her, I can find no solace”, when he entered her abode, Sufyan raised his hand and said, “O God, grant me safety!” At this, Rabi’a wept. “What makes you weep?” he asked. “You caused me to weep,” she replied. “How?” he asked. She answered, “Have you not learned that true safety from the world is to abandon all that is in it? So how can you ask such a thing while you are still soiled with the world?”. In another account it was reported by Shayban al-Ubulli who said ‘I heard Rabi’a say: “For everything there is a fruit, and the fruit of the knowledge of God is in orienting oneself toward God at all times”. Also on his authority it is related Rabi’a said “I ask God’s forgiveness for my lack of truthfulness in saying, ‘I ask God’s forgiveness.’” In another narration, it is recorded that a scholar said in her presence “He who persists in knocking at the door will have it opened for him”. “the door is already open,” she replied. “But the question is: who wishes to enter it?””

She attained the highest state a practitioner of Islam aspires to, to become an ‘a’rif’ or ‘one who knows God’, a gnostic. Though strict with herself and a great renouncer of the world (thus embodying a basic Islamic ethos, that one is firm on oneself, but compassionate and magnanimous with others…a concept many Muslims seem to like to apply in the opposite direction these days – that is, being firm in judging others but lax with themselves!), her greatest contributions to Islam, is her teaching of the concept of ‘Divine love’.

This was a time when Muslims were overcome with extreme awe of God, it is said, to the extent, some of the early Sufis were scared to lift a finger lest God disproves, she showed that God’s love is to be sought for the sake of God himself, rather than to worship Him out of fear of punishment or desire for reward.

It is important to recount the time early in our history when men and women learned and taught one another – Hasan Al-Basri famously stated ‘I once spent a whole day and a night in Rabi’a’s company and never once did it cross my mind that she was a woman and I was a man’ – and it is related Rabi’a said – ‘once Hasan Al Basri visited me and so enraptured were we in talking about God that I forgot what I was cooking and it burned to a crisp’ – may these times come back to us.

Indeed, it is vital we reacquaint ourselves with such immense gnostics and teachers in our faith, especially those who are women, who taught us the all important practice of Ihsan, without which Islam can become an empty shell.

Giants such as Rabia’, so long left in the margin of scholarly enterprise, but so important for us to know today. And may God grant us a strong love for them so we follow in their footsteps, thus bridging our ‘islam’ and ‘iman’ to come to ‘ihsan’, and thereby taste the fullness and joy of what it means to be a Muslim.

Farid ud-Din Attar’s praise for her:

“No, she wasn’t a single woman, But a hundred men over: Robed in the quintessence of pain, From foot to face, immersed in the Truth, Effaced in the radiance of God, And liberated from all superfluous excess.”

  • In the ‘Conference of the Birds’

“That noble recluse who dwelled behind the cloisters of God’s elect, a matron of sanctity beneath sincerity’s veil, on fire with love, totally consumed with yearning, arduously enraptured by God’s proximity, that apostle of Mary’s purity, acknowledged by all men was Rabia al-Adawiya, God’s mercy rest upon her.”

  • In the ‘Memoirs of the Saints’

Two poems from Rabia (Allah’s mercy upon her)

In love, nothing exists between heart and heart.
Speech is born out of longing,
True description from the real taste.
The one who tastes, knows;
the one who explains, lies.
How can you describe the true form of Something
In whose presence you are blotted out?
And in whose being you still exist?
And who lives as a sign for your journey?

~~

I have two ways of loving You:
A selfish one
And another way that is worthy of You.
In my selfish love, I remember You and You alone.
In that other love, You lift the veil
And let me feast my eyes on Your Living Face.
~~

May God ennoble her face, shower His light upon her grave and grant her the highest station in paradise, and may we be blessed to drink from her light and learn from her wisdom.

She is reported to have lived her last days in Jerusalem, and while the exact site is disputed, there is some evidence she was buried on the Mount of Olives. The site is just adjacent to where the chapel of the ascension is, isn’t that a beautiful sign.

I had the great honour to visit her resting site and pay my respects. It has been in the trust of a Palestinian family for centuries, whose door one knocks on to request the key to visit the tomb. A young member of the family accompanied me and indeed what a gladness to see a modern day teenager carrying on the family duty. Captions on the photos below will explain more God willing.

Peace be with you all

Maryam Al-Siddiqah (=Mary, the truthful/sincere)

Dear Readers, Assalaamu alaikum (=peace be with you all),

I hope you are all very well. In today’s world, it is something indeed to be thankful for if you are in relative peace and prosperity, able to sit in a secure place and read this. So trusting, that your reading this is proof of the same, we give thanks and continue.

Maryam (=Mary), along with Fathima, is one of the most common names for girls in the Muslim world, a testimony to the depth of love professed for her. She is given the title Al-Siddiqah (pronounced ‘as-SiddiqaH’, and meaning ‘the truthful one, or the sincere one’. It means someone who is pure, sincere, trustworthy and never lies). It is a high honorific given to only a few, and the titling of Maryam appears first in the Quran, therefore, the title upon her is bestowed directly from God, and is a mighty word.

مَّا الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ إِلَّا رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ وَأُمُّهُ صِدِّيقَةٌ ۖ كَانَا يَأْكُلَانِ الطَّعَامَ ۗ انظُرْ كَيْفَ نُبَيِّنُ لَهُمُ الْآيَاتِ ثُمَّ انظُرْ أَنَّىٰ يُؤْفَكُونَ – Surah 5: verse 75

Transliteration –

Ma almaseehu ibnu maryama illarasoolun qad khalat min qablihi arrusulu waommuhu siddeeqatunkana ya/kulani attaAAamaonthur kayfa nubayyinu lahumu al-ayatithumma onthur anna yu/fakoon

English Interpretation by Shakir –

The Messiah, son of Marium is but a messenger; messengers before him have indeed passed away; and his mother was a truthful woman; they both used to eat food. See how We make the communications clear to them, then behold, how they are turned away.

Her story is one all us Muslim women constantly draw strength from. The task assigned to her – a virgin birth – was tremendous, extremely difficult and one in which she would have no human being to help her. There is no Joseph in the Muslim narration, no one who is by her side as she delivers, except her Creator. There is no man around who will help or honor her as she faces pregnancy at a very young age. Having being orphaned at a young age, she is looked after by her guardian the prophet Zachariah (peace be upon him), however when she is informed that she is to bear a blessed virgin birth, she herself makes the difficult choice to move away from him, in order to save his good name, recognizing that there is no thing he can do to save her or himself from slander once news of her pregnancy is known. This is an example of her deep wisdom, and her extreme strength of character, peace be upon her. These are some of the qualities we Muslim women absorb from her station and presence.Her story resembles the narrative of that of our brothers and sisters, the Christians, in many ways, and there are also certain notable differences. In a commendation of a academic book ‘Mary, the blessed virgin of Islam’ by Professor Aliah Schleifer (which I link here), praise is given to the work by Christian clergy, who say, it contributes useful information to the Christian narrative and therefore useful to all to read.

Among the commonalities, the most important is the virgin birth. Among the differences that are most striking is the manner in which she gave birth, which I mentioned above. A second point, Muslims commentators on the Quran will draw attention to is the story of the birth of Maryam herself. The lady Hannah (=Anne in English), her mother a devout woman, dedicated her child-to-be-born, to the service of God in the Jewish temple. This is given in the 3rd Surah in the Quran, called A’li Imran (=the tribe or people of Joachim…who is Maryam’s father). The important point is that she delivered a female child! and this was strange as only boys served in the temple.

So from the beginning we see that there is a male bias in society,  and God counters this by honoring and elevating a girl.

إِذْ قَالَتِ امْرَأَتُ عِمْرَانَ رَبِّ إِنِّي نَذَرْتُ لَكَ مَا فِي بَطْنِي مُحَرَّرًا فَتَقَبَّلْ مِنِّي ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ – 3:35

فَلَمَّا وَضَعَتْهَا قَالَتْ رَبِّ إِنِّي وَضَعْتُهَا أُنثَىٰ وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا وَضَعَتْ وَلَيْسَ الذَّكَرُ كَالْأُنثَىٰ ۖ وَإِنِّي سَمَّيْتُهَا مَرْيَمَ وَإِنِّي أُعِيذُهَا بِكَ وَذُرِّيَّتَهَا مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ – 3:36

فَتَقَبَّلَهَا رَبُّهَا بِقَبُولٍ حَسَنٍ وَأَنبَتَهَا نَبَاتًا حَسَنًا وَكَفَّلَهَا زَكَرِيَّا ۖ كُلَّمَا دَخَلَ عَلَيْهَا زَكَرِيَّا الْمِحْرَابَ وَجَدَ عِندَهَا رِزْقًا ۖ قَالَ يَا مَرْيَمُ أَنَّىٰ لَكِ هَٰذَا ۖ قَالَتْ هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَاءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ – 3:37

Quran Surah 3: verses 35-37

English interpretation by Shakir –

When a woman of Imran said: My Lord! surely I vow to Thee what is in my womb, to be devoted (to Thy service); accept therefore from me, surely Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing.

So when she brought forth, she said: My Lord! Surely I have brought it forth a female– and Allah knew best what she brought forth– and the male is not like the female, and I have named it Marium, and I commend her and her offspring into Thy protection from the accursed Shaitan.

So her Lord accepted her with a good acceptance and made her grow up a good growing, and gave her into the charge of Zakariya; whenever Zakariya entered the sanctuary to (see) her, he found with her food. He said: O Marium! whence comes this to you? She said: It is from Allah. Surely Allah gives to whom He pleases without measure.

The above verses also show how lovingly God protected and nurtured the upbringing of this ‘chosen daughter’.

The second difference is the delivery itself. The Quran gives the delivery scene is terms strikingly revealing for ancient times. They are intimately related. It is mentioned how the labor pains were so great, that this great lady, Maryam (peace be upon her), chosen and purified and strengthened, was still driven crazy by it, and cried out wishing to be dead rather than bear this.

I especially find this narration very touching. It is nothing like what a man would write of a labour scene – one can imagine a man would gloss it over, be too shy to even mention it, or if very magnanimous, may cloak the mother in a saintly halo during the birth. There is none of this, there is very raw, very personal, very great – PAIN. I guess any woman who has gone through a natural delivery will say, ‘yep, that’s what it is’. Nothing reduces from the greatness of motherhood, of course, but biology is the way it is.

I am not sure if it is different or not, but it is her baby, the blessed beloved Isa (=Jesus), peace be upon him, who defends her honor, speaking miraculously as a baby. Indeed, even during the birth itself according to one way of reading  the Quranic text.

This beautiful part of the story is given in Surah 19 of the Quran. The chapter or Surah, is titled ‘Maryam’, and in Quranic recitation, the language of the Surah is known to be among the highest in musicality and is very beautiful to be listened to – its recitation.

The link is below. There is a great deal of rhyme and rhythm and most verses end with the sound ‘aiyyah’. It’s too much to copy the Quranic text refering to the scene here, but it comes between verses 20 to 29 in chapter 19. The part mentioned above, is from about min 4 to 6 in the video.

Recently there is a beautiful movie released on youtube made based on the Quranic narration on the story of Maryam, peace be upon her. I hope you can watch it. It is beautifully done and will provide much lost insight into this gentle, pious, sincere and completely honest lady, who the entire Muslim world honors, and deeply reveres. I do not think the scene of her delivery is done justice too and its a bit different from the Quranic interpretation I am used to, but then again, it is hard to do justice to, and likely the director (God bless him) is male :).

It is the last movie I watched with my beloved mother, who I call ‘Mumsy’. She had many qualities that remind me of Maryam – her gentleness and absolute honesty among them. As the anniversary of her death approaches (may God elevate her soul and make her grave among the gardens of the gardens of paradise, and join us to her swiftly in his highest heaven), I think of Maryam and so wanted to share the movie.

It is long, but well worth the watching. It does nicely capture the patriarchical attitudes in society then (which we still fight today), and which the Quranic narrative draws attention to. We watched the original Farsi version with English subtitles, but I am linking one dubbed in English (its strange watching Middle Easterners speak in English, but maybe easier for you my dear readers). I suggest you make yourself a nice cup of tea and sit down to this, this beautiful long weekend in Canada, and wherever else you may be.

 

Peace be upon you all.

 

The ‘maqamaat’

Assalamu alaikum dear readers, peace be with you

Continuing from the last post, where I talk about the tajweed method of recitation, here is more about the ‘maqamaat’ (=the stations). The maqamaat refer to the classical Arabic system of Music; similar to the Raga system in eastern music, a ‘maqam’ (=station, plural is maqamaat), refers to a “a set of notes with traditions that define relationships between them, habitual patterns, and their melodic development” as best defined by www.maqamworld.com.

In my last post, I mentioned that once the rules of tajweed are correctly implemented, the melody by which one recites Quran is completely improvised and up to the individual. Usually this just flows naturally and is not thought of. However, students of Quranic tajweed are advised to listen to ‘quraa’ (=reciters, plural of ‘qaari’=one who is specialized in Quranic recitation), who recite with as less melody as possible. Shaikh Khalil Husary of Egypt, God have mercy of him, is one of the best known in this genre and the ‘go-to’ sheikh for any student to listen to. A sample of Shaikh Husary reciting is below, mashaAllah impeccable tajweed!

Great qurra, have and do employ maqamat to beautify their recitation. There is a difference of opinion among the scholars about this practice; some consider it not permitted, others allow it but dislike it, others consider it part of the general Islamic teaching to recite the Quran beautifully. As in all things the principle is the hadith ‘verily, actions are by intentions’, and the important thing is to maintain sincerity about connecting with God, when reciting or listening to Quranic recitation. This is an excellent post about how maqamat play into beautiful recitation

Shaikh Mustafa Ismail (rahimahullah = God have mercy on his soul), is considered one of the greatest of the Qurra. He is known for his unique style, employing many maqamaat as he chose. He never formally trained in Arabic classical music. Many it is said, have tried to follow him, but none have come close. He was the official reciter for Egyptian radio, and requested his program slot be many hours long, as he would take hours to complete – often the entire night.

One of his ‘listeners’ (those who regularly attend recitations and listen, are known to greatly improve a reciter, as they become the best critiques and offer the most judicious advice, a bit like the peer review system for the academics out there :)) is Ahmed Mustafa Kamal. Sh. Mustafa Kamal, subsequently taught many a younger generation in the style of Sh. Mustafa Ismail, in the video below, he is reciting along with a young student of his, the qariyah Sumayya Edeb, while touring Turkey. It is beautiful to watch how he gently mentors her style. And to those who understand what is being recited, the beautification incorporated by sensitive recitation greatly impacts the heart. 🙂

A biography of some very famous names of qurra in the Muslim world is here…Abdul-Basit Abdul Samad, Minshawi, Husary…these names are as familiar to Muslims as the names ‘Bach’, ‘Mozart’ and ‘Bethoven’ are familiar to the English speaking world. The most famous qurra are from Egypt, no surprise as in the classical Muslim world a famous adage goes; ‘The Quran was revealed in Mecca, it is written in Turkey (old posts about this here) and recited in Egypt‘, meaning the art of calligraphy reached its pinnacle in Turkey, and the art of its recitation its pinnacle in Egypt.

Different maqams are said to evoke different moods/emotions (more here), and in the Muslim world, the call to prayer or ‘adhan’ can also be found rendered using different maqamat…more about that in another post inshaallah (=God willing). Common maqamat are; rast, nahawand, hijazi, bayati…

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into a very important aspect of Muslim culture. Below some select videos.

Peace be with you all

Shaikh Mustafa Ismail reciting verses from Chapter ‘Joseph’, which tells the story of the prophet Joseph (Yusuf in Arabic), peace be upon him

 

Shaikh Khalil al-Husary, reciting from chapter 4, Surah Nisa (The Women): verses 105-109

 

Shaikh Ahmed Mustafa Kamal with his protege, Sumaiya Edeb, reciting the opening chapter of the Quran, Surah Fatiha, I think on a Turkish TV program. At the end of the recitation, the call is made ‘al-fatiha’, signalling for all listening to recite the chapter to themselves, which you will see the audience do.

 

 

 

 

Islamic ‘music’ – tajweed of recitation

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

What a long time it has been since I last posted, my apologies. The past few months have been a period of transition as I prepare to move from one country to another. The state of my beloved mother, who suffers from a rare type of cancer, has also worsened, please keep her in your du’a (=prayer) my dear sisters and brothers. May whatever she is undergoing be a source of healing, purification and elevation of her state in this world and the hereafter! ameen.

وعنه أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم الله عليه وسلم صلى الله عليه وسلم ، دخل علي أعرأبي يعوده وكان إذا دخل علي من يعوده قال‏:‏ ‏ “‏لا بأس، طهور إن شاء الله‏”‏ ‏(‏‏(‏رواه البخاري‏)‏‏)‏‏.‏

Ibn ‘Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: The Prophet (ﷺ) visited a bedouin who was sick. Whenever he visited an ailing person, he would say, “La ba’sa, tahurun in sha’ Allah [No harm, (it will be a) purification, Allah willing].” [Al-Bukhari, book 7, hadith 907]

 In the meantime, many an idea to share has come and hopefully, won’t be gone! Here is beginning with the first one; I want to introduce you to the ‘tajweed’ (=’elocution’ the rules governing the correct pronounciation of Quranic sounds/Arabic) and to the ‘maqamaath’ (=’stations’) of recitation.
The Quran, as you may know, means ‘recitation’ roughly. It comes from a root word ‘qira’a’ which means to ‘recite’ or ‘read’, composed of the three letters, ‘qaf’, ‘ra’, ‘alif’. I have spoken about the Arabic root word/letter system before. It is a fascinating mathematical model, that coagulates meanings based upon sound and the structures in which they are organized; incredibly mathematical. You can read more here, and from that source, meanings of the term ‘Quran’ below;

ق ر ا  = Qaf-Ra-Alif = to recite/read, compilation, collection, reading, recitation, explanation, study, investigation.

Therefore, in the preservation of the Quran, not only the original language (i.e., classical Arabic or ‘fus-ha’), but also the specific way by which the beloved messenger of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him), used to recite/pronounce the sounds, has been meticulously preserved.

The method of authentic pronounciation is called ‘tajweed’. There are ten authentic ‘qira’a’, or recitations that can be traced back to the beloved (peace be upon him). They differ in small details, that apply to a very small percentage of text. For example, the word ‘malik’ in the first chapter, in verse three, can be authentically read as ‘malik’ or ‘maalik’, when reciting. Reading it as ‘maleek’ is not allowed, as it is not a method the beloved (peace be upon him) ever used.

This is a lengthy topic, that those who are specialized in the arts of recitation among the Islamic sciences, will know volumes about. So I will stop,  hopefully by giving you an idea of a topic likely very unfamiliar to western understanding. Nevertheless, to end by saying the rules of tajweed are extremely exacting and the tajweed teachers known to be among the most strict! (cute video here of a little boy mimicking his tajweed teacher, that went viral in Muslim circles 😀 – reminds me of all the hours I’ve spent trying to get the back of my tongue to raise to elocute ‘ra’…can’t be a flat tongue!)

However, once the correct pronounciation is established, the melody by which a reciter delivers is entirely individualized. It is often very personal, and improvised. You can watch the fascinating documentary ‘Quran by heart’ made by a Western musicologist who lives in Cairo and studies the art of Quranic recitation on youtube, and thus presented in way familiar to a Western audience. There are many information sources about this in Arabic, but they would be very unfamiliar.

The documentary is woven around the annual ‘Quranic recitation’ competitions, that are global affairs, and where competitors from all around the world gather. The Quran (meaning the Quran in Arabic, in any other language, Muslims don’t consider it the Quran, but only a human interpretation of its meanings) is the only text known to be preserved without any change since the time it was first revealed. It’s preservation, is not in books or recordings, but in the hearts of people. Muslims do consider the Quran a living miracle, and the greatest of the miracles given to the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him).

[By dedicating one’s life to its memorization and transmission, it has been preserved for us for close to 1.5 millenia. Muslims believe, that once the Quran is erased from the hearts of people, that that would be a major sign of the coming of the end of humanity.]

 

InshaAllah I will continue soon on the maqaamath, this post has become too long so I will stop now, leaving you with a taste for Quran recited in tajweed, this is verse 190-194 of the third chapter in the Quran, called ‘A’li-Imran’ (=’the people/tribe/family of Imran’, to whom belongs the blessed Mary, peace be upon her). Recited by Qariah (=’female reciter’, title given to one specializing in tajweed recitation) Hajjar Boosuq of Morocco.

Qariah Hajjar will repeat many times, phrases or sections of verses. I will give the translation and transliteration of the verses below, so you may try to follow her along as she takes you through the meanings. She begins with the ‘basmallah’, the traditional opening for Quranic recitation; ‘audhu billahi min ash-shaytaan ar-rajeem/ bismillah ar-rahman ar-raheem'(=I seek refuge with God from the accursed satan/ In the name of God, the most loving/kind, the most gracious/merciful/loving…hard to translate the basmallah!), and ends with saying ‘al-fatiha’, which means the audience is asked to recite to themselves, the opening chapter of the Quran called ‘al-fatiha’ (=the opening). The interpretation in English is by Shakir.

It is about 10 mins long, I highly recommend good quality earphones, and to close your eyes when listening. In Islamic spirituality, it is the hearing that is the sense that is most closely connected to the heart (not the sight), hence the Quran is fundamentally an oral transmission, and thus transmitted from ‘heart to heart’ 🙂

Peace be with you all.

 


 إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ لَآيَاتٍ لِأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ 

Inna fee khalqi assamawatiwal-ardi wakhtilafi allayli wannaharilaayatin li-olee al-albab
[3:190] Most surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day there are signs for men who understand.

الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللَّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَٰذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ 

Allatheena yathkuroona Allahaqiyaman waquAAoodan waAAala junoobihimwayatafakkaroona fee khalqi assamawati wal-ardirabbana ma khalaqta hatha batilan subhanakafaqina AAathaba annar.
[3:191] Those who remember God standing and sitting and lying on their sides and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: Our Lord! Thou hast not created this in vain! Glory be to Thee; save us then from the chastisement of the fire:

رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ مَنْ تُدْخِلِ النَّارَ فَقَدْ أَخْزَيْتَهُ ۖ وَمَا لِلظَّالِمِينَ مِنْ أَنْصَارٍ

 Rabbana innaka man tudkhili annarafaqad akhzaytahu wama liththalimeenamin ansar
[ 3:192] Our Lord! surely whomsoever Thou makest enter the fire, him Thou hast indeed brought to disgrace, and there shall be no helpers for the unjust:

رَبَّنَا إِنَّنَا سَمِعْنَا مُنَادِيًا يُنَادِي لِلْإِيمَانِ أَنْ آمِنُوا بِرَبِّكُمْ فَآمَنَّا ۚ رَبَّنَا فَاغْفِرْ لَنَا ذُنُوبَنَا وَكَفِّرْ عَنَّا سَيِّئَاتِنَا وَتَوَفَّنَا مَعَ الْأَبْرَارِ

 Rabbana innana samiAAnamunadiyan yunadee lil-eemani an aminoobirabbikum faamanna rabbana faghfirlana thunoobana wakaffir AAannasayyi-atina watawaffana maAAa al-abrar
[3:193] Our Lord! surely we have heard a preacher calling to the faith, saying: Believe in your Lord, so we did believe; Our Lord! forgive us therefore our faults, and cover our evil deeds and make us die with the righteous.

رَبَّنَا وَآتِنَا مَا وَعَدْتَنَا عَلَىٰ رُسُلِكَ وَلَا تُخْزِنَا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ۗ إِنَّكَ لَا تُخْلِفُ الْمِيعَادَ

Rabbana waatina mawaAAadtana AAala rusulika wala tukhzinayawma alqiyamati innaka la tukhlifu almeeAAad
[ 3:194] Our Lord! and grant us what Thou hast promised us by Thy messengers; and disgrace us not on the day of resurrection; surely Thou dost not fail to perform the promise.

University of Karueein – oldest university in the world

Dear Readers, Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

It was a dream come true to set foot inside the famed Karueein, the oldest continually operating university in the world (Guinness, UNESCO). I will use the English form of the Arabic name, as that is more familiar to me, Al-Qarawiyyin. It was founded in 859 CE, which would be 244 AH (hijri calendar), so 234 years after the death of the blessed beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him).

It was built by a woman, Fatima al-Fihri. And what a lady she must have been. She was wealthy and endowed her wealth to build this institution. It is said, such was her piety, that she continuously fasted for the duration of the building of the institution. Indeed, as per a classical Islamic understanding of success…her intention and good deed was surely accepted by God, for it has been rewarded by the benchmark of divine acceptance – longevity! She is given the affectionate title, Al-Fihriyya – Allah be well pleased with her!

From the ‘1001 inventions exhibit’ – fatima

 

We entered the mosque of the Qarawiyyin through one of its 14 gates. In the old Muslim world (and indeed to this day, though it remains as only a slight shadow of its glorious past), mosques were a center for learning and community. Education was free in the Muslim world, the Sultan supporting the scholars, or more frequently, their work would be supported by rich endowments, called ‘waqf’ in Arabic. Awqaf (plural of waqf) would be established by wealthy families, so that scholars would be supported and could work independently from state sponsorship – ensuring free thinking. So scholars would stay behind after one of the canonical prayers and stand at a pillar of the mosque (rarely there would be chairs on raised daises – you can still see some in old Turkish mosques) and give a lecture. Anyone who wanted to was free to listen or go. One can imagine serious students keeping a timetable of talks times and scurrying from mosque pillar to mosque pillar! As well as busy merchants, housewives etc. wandering in and out catching a talk here and there as they go about their daily business.

So the mosque is an essential part of the University. The university complex grew around it, and included many amazingly beautiful dormitories (another post inshaAllah) and buildings. The mosque is not used as a lecture hall anymore, though we were treated to a glimpse of the past…when the imam came by, he sat down on the carpet by a pillar, we sat in a circle around him and he gave us a mini lecture on the history of the Qarawiyyin. Beautiful, simple, and easy – devoid of all the trappings of a modern classroom. The teacher is fully exposed and the student has full access to him. What a teacher one has to be to take this place confidently!

Before stepping into those hallowed halls of the Qarawiyyin mosque we stopped to imagine the footsteps that must have gone over the same door-sill we were stepping over; the Qarawiyyin was famed for studies in theology, jurisprudence , philosophy, mathematics , astronomy, geography and languages. It was open to students of all faiths. Maimonides, one of the most famous of the Jewish scholars (well worth looking into the Jewish golden age of scholarship that flourished in Muslim Spain in the past – a strong proof that the present Muslim-Jewish conflict has little precedent historically, as well as negating the orientalists assertion that Islam is an intolerant faith. Please look at this link from jewishhistory.org) was said to have studied there. Indeed there was a rich caravan of scholars going to and fro between the Maghreb (Muslim lands in North West Africa) and Andalucia (Muslim kingdom in Spain) in those days, a bit like scholarship travel between Canada and the USA of today if I may. Here is an excerpt about other famous scholars at the Qarawiyyin, source here

Pioneer scholars include Ibn Maymun (Maimonids, (1135-1204) who was taught at Al-Qarawiyyin by Abdul Arab Ibn Muwashah. The famous Al-Idrissi (d.1166 CE) is said to have settled in Fes for considerable time suggesting that he must have worked or studied at Al-Qarawiyyin. Sources also list a number of peers such as Ibn Al-‘Arabi (1165-1240 CE), Ibn Khaldun (1332-1395 CE), Ibn Al-Khatib, Alpetragius, Al-Bitruji, Ibn Harazim, and Ibn Wazzan are said to have all taught in Al-Qarawiyyin[7].Some historic accounts also spoke of Ibn Zuhr (d.1131 CE) spending a great deal of time travelling between Andalusia, Fes, and Marrakech.

Among Christian witnesses of the contribution of Al-Qarawiyyin is Gerbert of Aurillac (930-1003), famously known as Pope Sylvester II, and who is credited with introducing the use of zero and Arabic numerals to Europe, studied at Al-Qarawiyyin[8] . More recently the Belgian Nichola Louvain settled in Fes in 1540 and studied Arabic at Al-Qarawayyin, to be followed later by the Deutch Mathematician Golius who also studied Arabic there

N.B. – Al-Idrissi is the famous cartographer, whose maps contributed greatly to the Portugese and Spanish naval conquests. The world-map as he drew it, had what is now considered North, at the South. That is, Europe appears below Africa! This was the order of the world-view pre-Renaissance apparently. He was commissioned to do this by the Norman king of Sicily at the time, Roger. His finished product, ‘Al-kitab Al-Rujari’ (=Roger’s book). Source here

Ibn Khaldun, for those not familiar, wrote one of the most comprehensive world-histories…it is a masterful compendium of global events and civilizational analyses. Still studied to this day in the Muslim world.

I will stop myself going on about the scholarship there (this junior scientist finds it very easy to indulge in long digressions on this topic) and post pictures below. They are mostly of the mosque…where we were privileged to join several congregations and then just ‘hang-out’.

 

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Inside where the mihrab (=prayer niche) is. The mihrab is a distinguishing characteristic of a mosque, it faces to Mecca and is where the Imam stands to recite. The hollow niche acts to echo his voice so the congregation can hear him. The niche was a few degrees ‘off’ from the direction of Mecca…but to me that only spoke to how old the mosque is and I was amazed they could calculate the direction to so close to accuracy ~1200 years ago!

 

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sacred space still echoing the purity of lost knowledge…
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One of the functions of the ‘work’ on the ceiling it was found recently was that the angles created prevent the formation of cobwebs… sorry about the poor focus
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Courtyard, that features the fountains to make ‘wudu’ (=lumination, mandatory washing prior to entering the salat or prayer)
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One of two sundials found in the courtyard…this one must have been touched up with the numerals (?). The sundials were used to calculate the times for the canonical prayers -which are based upon the position of the sun in the sky

 

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Second sundial…unfortunately I am not able to read the Arabic around it yet…it is most likely Quranic ayat (=verses, literally ‘signs). In the center portion is ‘Allah’ right on top, below that ‘Muhammed’ and the four circles on either side have the names of the first four ‘rightly guided’ caliphs of Islam, ‘Abu Bakr’, ‘Umar’, ‘Uthman’ and ‘Ali’ (God be pleased with all of them)

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One of the two fountains in the courtyard is under this beautiful and intricately decorated roof. Truly breathtaking to make the ‘wudu’ under…
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Finally, the doors being opened by the beautifully dignified caretaker…what a feeling when those giant ancient wooden doors swing open and we step over the sill. A feeling of awe and being deeply honored to enter.

 

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

 

 

Muslim Women in Science

Assalamu alaikum dear readers,

There have been several issues I have wanted to blog about recently, however I have been prevented from doing so due to  pressing personal issues. So in passing, a quick video I wanted to share. It is ~5 mins and a delightful listen delivered by Professor Emeritus Dr. Salim Al-Hassani, associated with the multi-award winning global exhibition, 1001 inventions:Muslim heritage in our world . He uncovers something I’ve been coming across in my studies in Islamic knowledge too – that Muslim women’s contributions to all facets of knowledge in the Islamic world is largely unearthed. For example, there was recently published a manuscript written by a very prominent male Muslim scholar, As-Sulami about a 1000 years ago, where he chronicles 80 famous Muslim women scholars/saints of his day! This manuscript, ‘Dhikr an-Niswa al-Muta’abbidat as-Sufiyyat’ was ‘lost’ for about 900 years until recently discovered in a library in Saudi Arabia and now has been translated into English. You can buy it from Amazon.

Prof. Al-Hassani mentions that of about 5 million manuscripts surviving from the Muslim Golden Age, only about 50,000 have been edited so far. Many of these manuscripts are rotting away in libraries in Italy, Spain and in old European cities. (where they went during the Renaissance).

He speaks of Fatima Al -Fihri, who founded the world’s longest running (still functioning) University. I did not know that she is reported to have fasted throughout the time of the building of this University. [Aside – her sister built a mosque in the same city at about the same time. Fatima chose instead to build a University. The Arabic word for University is ‘jami’at’ – the female form of the word for gathering!]. Indeed blessing of God upon her, for her work seems to have been accepted by God as evidenced by its longevity. In Muslim spirituality we consider something lasting as a mark of God’s being pleased with that service. While many good deeds if not rendered upon a sincere intention (that is the intention of it being purely for the worship of God, and not to ‘display one’s piety’ or please society or for fame etc.) are often short-lived. I find this a fascinating standard – as truly one will never know in one’s life-time how good one’s actions have been found… but posterity will!

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Finally a word to my sisters before I post the clip – Sisters! we have a lot of work to do. The Muslim nation is in crisis upon crisis and knowledge starts in our laps. We have to participate more in our mosques, societies, communities and surroundings. Whether Muslim  or non-Muslim…we have to retake our place in building humanity. It is the woman who brings wisdom to temper the excesses of the power-hungry male ego. Lets stop ‘trifling with trinkets’ and get to work. Allah SWT speaks of this weakness of mind that ensues when we raise our girl-children with trifles…

43:18
English interpretation by Shakir

What! that which is made in ornaments and which in contention is unable to make plain speech!

Quran (43:18)

It’s time to get serious – as I’ve often said, there are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world…roughly half are not really participating. We have a lot of work to do. Let’s say bismillah and begin!
Peace to all, enjoy the clip