Global tawbah

Dear Readers, Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

Today is a happy day. Alhamdulillah (=praise and thanks to God) I am officially moved into a new place to stay. I pray it will be an abode of peace, joy, learning and teaching. A step closer to that long lasting and eternal home, at least in the way it may manifest in this life-form where we are bound by the time-space continuum (Muslims believe in an after-life where the human soul will enter another reality not bound by the four dimensions this life is bound in, and that that reality will be eternal. Not limited in that reality as we are here, we will have a greater or more real experience/understanding of the Creator there than we can here).

Therefore finally I am settled enough to be able to say something about the very disturbing global events that have been unfolding, specifically in the Muslim world. I do not want to make this blog a venue for political discussion, hence why I’ve refrained from commenting on many events over the past few months…though I have not been silent in other venues. This talk though, has to be shared. The popular media will not broadcast the views of the Muslim scholarly leaders enough, so let me do my part.

The talk is by Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, an American Muslim leader and authentically trained scholar. He is perhaps one the most influential Muslims in the English speaking world today. Consistently ranking among the foremost in the annual top global Muslim 500 lists. He converted to Islam as a teenager, then travelled to the Muslim world and studied at the feet of authentic scholars for 10 years, obtaining ‘ijaza’ (=license) to teach several classical works from top scholars, many who can trace their ‘sanad’ (=chain of transmission) via famous scholars all the way up to beloved prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) or to the authors of the classical scholarly works. He then returned to America and obtained a nursing degree and worked as a nurse. Thus fulfilling another scholarly etiquette in that he obtained secular training and also had his livelihood from a secular job and not from religious discourse (mark of a good scholar).

He is now founder-faculty at Zaytuna college in Berkeley University. The USA’s first Muslim liberal arts college. And he is my teacher. This talk is delivered in Malaysia, perhaps a few weeks ago. It is relevant for he addresses current global events. The Q&A period in the second half will especially hit home. And more so will it if you are a Muslim young person struggling to navigate your faith through current events.

He is addressing a Muslim audience, so there are a number of Arabic terms he uses. I will try to update this post with a translation later on. I don’t want to wait to do that so posting now. It is long, but well worth the listen.

Finally to join my voice on this public forum to that of all the scholars and millions of Muslims condemning the actions of ISIS and their ilk. They are monsters. What they have done to Muslims is heinous and condemnable, and what they do to non-Muslims is more heinous and condemnable. They are a scourge upon the good name of our beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him) and a scourge upon his way. They have nothing to do with me and I have nothing to do with them. I repeat that, they have nothing to do with me and I have nothing to do with them.

To end ‘tawbah’ in the title means ‘return’. This is a call to Muslims to return to God, to return to our teachings and return to the way of our beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him). We have left it too long and our nation is being humiliated. We have much to do and no time to waste. Allah give us the strength to work and live noble lives.


Chess and Divine Decree

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

My dear readers, I am not sure I’ve talked about it before, but those who know me know I am an avid chess player. I’ve loved the game since a dear uncle taught it to me before he passed away (Allah irhamu ‘may God bless and cherish his soul’. I was eight at the time I think…I still have the chess board he taught me on). It  is very relaxing believe it or not, as it focuses the mind and gives clarity to the thought. I used to play tournament level in high school and then at a rather mediocre college level but sadly have not had much opportunity to play since, except now online with a global chess community (you have to love the internet!).

So imagine then my absolute delight at finding this article on ‘chess and divine decree’. I always knew there was some deeper truth the game lead one to or hinted at…there must be, if it has the ability to draw people in so. It is a beautiful game, very profound. Quite surprising a game can be so.

But enough from me, please enjoy the article. One last parting thought on reading it, happy sighs to know our ‘Ummah’ (community or nation, a word Muslims use to talk about the followers of Muhammed, peace be upon them. The real and true followers, not charlatans and abusers of his pure and blessed name) had scholars of this caliber at one time, who could think and write so. May we once more have this level of scholarship in our community and in the world. I do believe peace comes with sound knowledge.

God bless you all!


Generating real scholars and Zaytuna

Assalamu alaikum, peace to all. It’s been a while since I logged on here. Many life events came in the way…mashaAllah very happy ones :).

However there have also been a bunch of posts in my head that have piled up over the days I want to put down…hoping to get started today. The first of May, a beautiful spring day that has only gotten ‘springier’ since the first gorgeous day on Friday. And blessed am I to be living in one of the most beautiful places on earth! Shukr wa Hamd Allah (thanks and praise to God). On that note, one long planned blog is to share that spring beauty with posting some pictures up here I was fortunate to take. You see, after years of having only a poor camera (the cheapest I could find) that I bought simply to be able to take pictures of slides from talks at conferences (my cheat-sheet on remembering large volumes of data that gets presented at scientific meetings ;)….this was before they banned the use of cameras at talks saying it was distracting..hrmp!), the past boxing day I found a dandy one going for 50% off and still within budget (100$). So this spring I did find odd moments off to walk about and test it out. Rather hoping to do so more and so expect a few photo-journal entries inshaAllah. Hope you will like them and my camera and eye won’t let me down 🙂

That long preamble done. Here is what I wanted to write of today. The need for good scholars in our community. Its well known (or may not be known at all) that the Muslim ummah has lost or had greatly reduced its history of good religious scholarship the past two to three hundred years, mainly due to the effects of Colonialism. However its roughly been about half a century since the fall of the last Colonial empire (I mean the British…and lets not go in to the USA driven neo-imperialism the world is witnessing now), and mashaAllahu ta’ala we now are witnessing more and more the resurgence of Muslim thought and scholarship.

There are now great luminaries in the Muslim world who are transforming their communities and energizing the Muslim ummah with thought and action. Also important, these are not self-trained, but those who have patiently studied with the best scholars left in the Muslim world that has been somehow preserved in-tact through the ages. Scholars like Sheikh Murabit al Haj who has lived his entire life learning and teaching the Quran in the Sahara desert and did not see a single ‘white’ person until Hamza Yusuf Hanson took his long camel ride to meet him (see this blog post for a precious insight in to Sh. Murabit al Haj’s life). That meeting as the now Sheikh Hamza recounted once, inspired by a dream that he and his teacher had both shared. Subhahanallah (glory be to God), God’s work is being done and will be done despite ever cynic and skeptic that ever lived. Sheikh Hamza is one of the best scholars in the world today. A true polymath he excels with ease on any topic. Mashaallah I’ve spent many a day listening to him speak as I cook/clean and truly learned volumes. Sh. Abdul Hakim Murad, or Professor Tim Winter of Cambridge University, Imam Zaid Shakir who has developed so many community service initiatives, a former USA army man, are other amazing scholars I can think of off the top of my head. If you haven’t heard them, do youtube them… they will offer a glimpse in to true Islam and open your mind and heart to heights and truths that are as deeply peaceful as they are uplifting. And if you have, please do share these gems with me! I will greatly appreciate it!

To resume, Sh. Hamza and Imam Zaid have begun Zaytuna College. The first Muslim ‘seminary’ in North America based at Berkeley University in California. Please do check out their website. I am very excited about the new generation of leaders that are being taught here. The first batch of students are a beautiful mixture of experience and background ….and… of the 15 students, 9 are female!!! (sorry, couldn’t hide my excitement :D..oh how great it will be to see the resurgence of the Muslimah scholar).

If you can do consider becoming a zaytuna companion. An ‘ansar’ to a worthy cause. Sh. Hamza modeled a reward program for the ansar based on the life of the prophet (peace be upon him), where instead of the calling a donor a ‘gold’, ‘platinum’, ‘silver’ etc depending on the amount of funds you give, he said the most precious in their eyes are the first ones to help, regardless of how much they helped with. The first to answer that call. Now isn’t that very touching… it makes me wonder of the great power of our beloved prophet (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) to move hearts… Zaytuna companions are treated as intimate friends of the college and given recourse to all the guest lectures that the students there get to attend. I cannot insert a post of Zaytuna programming in here, but this link will take you to their youtube channel inshaAllah

Also I wanted to share this talk given by Sh. Hamza on the lives of men. It’s a 2.5 hour lecture and is available in parts on youtube (I’ll share the first part and you can find the rest) or as a whole, but that is poorly edited (I’ll share that too). I think he gave it at the ‘workshop on Islam for high school teachers’ conducted in Abiqueu in New Mexico based solely on what the architecture of the room looks like (!). This is a truly amazing series conducted free by DaralIslam an organization that sounds very impressive but that I do not know much more about.

The idea of the workshop seems to be to educate high school teachers, predominantly non-Muslim, on what Islam is all about. Super!

Here are the youtube videos on the talk ‘the lives of man’ .. first the 10 min video, 1 of 16 parts

and full length here

Riz Khan show on Radicalization in the USA

Assalamu alaikum, peace be with all!

I came across this episode of the Riz Khan show recently. By the way if you don’t watch the Riz Khan show, I do recommend it highly. Riz who used to be a CNN newscastor and now has his own show on AlJazeera English, has a very affable personality. He is always pleasant to watch and the range of issues he covers quite varied not to mention interesting. I particularly like the questions he asks and the guests he chooses to address a particular topic. Case in point; Sheikh Hamza Yusuf to answer to the recent hearings about radicalization of Muslims in the USA. [Re the actual hearings, I like I suspect many Muslims, was left scratching my head going ‘what?!’ when I heard of them. But I’ll admit it, I’m worried too…sometimes it feels like no matter how much or how often we say we condemn terrorrism and hate it all the more that it is done by these vicous mindless maniac-perpertrators who butcher the name of Islam in such a discpicable way…it feels like no one is listening. I guess some people just don’t want to hear.]

Here it is, it’s very good listening. Thank God we have scholars like sheikh Hamza out there and may he and others like him be given the due media they deserve. May all of us 1.4999999/1.5 billion peaceful Muslims be given the media we deserve. How nice it would be if there were proportionate and responsible media coverage. What a change it would be from the fear-mongering so rampant from today’s media giants.

A muslim’s take on the disaster in Japan

I wanted to say a few things, not to air my views but because it needs to be said. And I say it first to myself.

Recently I’ve read an article saying things to the nature that…the people of Japan deserved what happened to them, that it is a godless country, etc and etc. These things made me angry. For who is anyone to say anything of the sort. What we have witnessed has raised in every one of us who saw it a great awe. Some may not know at what they feel awe, but they feel it. We who believe in a God, especially those of us calling ourselves Muslims, have this awe of God. But then how is it that we still dare to point fingers at others. Not just any others, but at others who are suffering. Do we not fear Allah to do such a thing? Auzubilllah, Allah protect me from this type of attitude and protect us all from it. We should be among the first to rush to help… sitting in a mosque smirking should not even be a thought in our psyche.

So I dismissed that article, scarcely able to read it to the end. MashaAllah as always Allah sheds light in to a heart with a door open [Oh Allah help me keep that door open all the time] for this beautiful post by Dr. Hasaballah beautifully puts everything in perspective and eloquent as always, he calls us to be better Muslims. Quoting this all important hadith. Never lets forget it, for it is a cornerstone of our imaan (faith).
“None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”

No sane person can love for himself the suffering, misery, fear and anxiety the people of Japan are going through now. So let us fear to sit by and watch it for others without helping.

On that note, here is a beautiful talk by Sh. Hamza, delivered at a conference in 2009. Please do listen to it. As always my beloved Sh. calls us to the better way. The way of our master Muhammed, who was afraid to have excess food in his house in case there was someone in the city who needed it more.

Allah help us all be better.

I am inserting the talks, in parts below. And it must also be known by the world that there are many many wonderful Muslims out there, joined with our non-Muslims brothers and sisters, doing their darndest utmost to provide relief and help whenever and wherever they can, regardless of religion, race, ethincity and even affluence. For when a person is in need, it is just a person in need. That is all.

Some of these organizations you can donate to are
MuslimsHands, Islamic Relief , Islamicity, mercyMalaysia.

Mashaallah I can personally vouch for Islamic relief, Muslim Hands (to the best of my memory) and Mercy Malaysia, who stayed long after all the big INGOs had gone and provided far more bang for the buck than the big INGOs could (as for example they didn’t need high tech offices, used tractors and wheelbarrows as opposed to 4wheel drive jeeps) in tsunami relief operations in Sri Lanka.

Here is the talk by Sh. Hamza, on the urgency of helping and telling us we have the potential to help.

Peace be with all and may God be merciful upon us.

Struggling for patience

A little gem of a talk after a hard day, nay, many hard days (:) ) struggling for patience as I hope in the promise of my Lord. I want to keep that hope strong so I do not despair. Despair leads to depression and then an easy entry for the whispering devil. The believer is strong in belief and therefore never despairs. What a glorious state to be in!

Patience is so hard to achieve isn’t it? It’s so easy to be excited about something and go rushing in and then so hard to keep at it and persevere. Is that why ‘patience and perseverance’ often come in the Quran together. Our merciful glorious Creator who knows human kind well, Subhahanata’ala!

MashaAllah another reason to admire and learn from the recent happenings in Egypt; 18 days is a very long time to maintain a struggle, and that too against such seemingly insurmountable odds! Allah is Great. Victory truly is with the patient. I will try harder. Keep me in your du’a please, in constant need of it. My du’a for you all too. Allah help us be patient

By the way, the scholars classify the root virtue of patience as being courage. Isn’t that very wise. It takes great courage to be patient. In fact all the lives of the prophets (peace and blessings be upon them all) is a testimony to patience. All of them toiled hard against many obstacles and all of them mashaallah ta’alah saw their reward toward the end (and we believe this will also be for Jesus, upon whom be peace and our beloved, who will return to live a good life and see great success)

On the hajj..from Sheikh Hamza.. ‘turtles perform the pilgrimage too’

Beautifully written and offers much to ponder… couldn’t resist but sharing 🙂

Happy 2011 to all and may it be peaceful. Seeing an end to needless war and suffering

Pilgrims with a Purpose: Turtles Make Hajj Too – Hamza Yusuf

There is no animal on earth, nor yet a bird on the wing, but forms communities like you. We have not neglected anything in the Book; and they will ultimately be gathered to their Lord. Those who repudiate Our signs are deaf and dumb, in the dark. God confuses whomever God wills, and places whomever God wills on a straight path.

Qur’an, Sura 6, Cattle, (38-39)

Pilgrimage is one of the profound manifestations of humanity, a materialization of our spiritual nature. The word pilgrim is from a Latin term, peregrinatio, which means “to journey about.” An early English word peregrine meant “a falcon.” Like our feathered friends, human beings also tend to flock, driven by an inner force towards a specific destination. Historically, people have always flocked to places of devotion for spiritual rebirth.

The word Hajj means “to intend a journey,” which connotes both the outward act of a journey and the inward act of intentions. In his Mufradat, Raghib says that Hajj became associated in the sacred text with visiting the House of God. From the same root, we get the derivative hujjah, which means “a proof,” and also a mahajjah, which is “a clear path that is straight.” Related to this word through the greater derivation is the word hajab, which means “to be prevented from arriving at one’s destination.” This is important in relation to those who are spiritually veiled (mahjub) by a material hijab from arriving at their true destination.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and represents the return to God. Each of us is a pilgrim in this world, wayfarers all. Some of us know the way and are focused on our ultimate destination, while others get easily distracted and flounder. Death is our material destination, and the body returns to the soil from whence it came. But what of the soul that is not of soil?

The spirit that animates us is set free upon death and must journey on to the next stage. Hajj represents a congregation of souls preparing for a meeting with their Lord. Arafah, which is related to ma’rifah (knowledge of God), is the culmination of Hajj. The pilgrim is stripped of all outward decorum, unkempt and disheveled, and abased before his Lord, pleading for acceptance. The inner sense of purpose that took him or her to Mecca is among the mysteries of faith.

But what can we learn from the Qur’anic verse above regarding all of God’s creations and their collective journeys to God’s House?

All over this planet, there are epic migrations of wildlife taking place each year. The animals have their own Hajj, and we must learn from their journeys, as God has told us to reflect on the signs in the self and on the horizon until the truth is embedded in our soul.

Even as you read these words, multitudes of birds are in flight for their annual peregrinations. In traversing their journey, they overcome immense odds and perform navigational feats that neither evolutionary theories nor modern science can yet explain. This is true of ocean life as well. For instance, scientists don’t know why loggerhead sea turtles travel nine thousand miles to return to the small beach where they were born only to lay their own eggs for the cycle to continue. Moreover, they possess navigation skills that rival the most advanced radar systems.

The mysteries of the natural order surround us. We don’t know why monarch butterflies migrate south in the winter to one particular location to gather together in a symphony of color, in what can only be termed displays of vertiginous spiritual ecstasy by a human observer. Even the large buffalo make a pilgrimage across the plains of the Northern states; rattlesnakes set out from varied points of departure but are inner directed en masse to a single spot where they mate. There is, of course, scientific research taking place in an attempt to unlock the myriad mysteries of these migratory creatures with their navigational secrets. But there is another phenomenon that is now coming to light: the absolute singularity of purpose with which these creatures go about their journeys.

An article in this month’s National Geographic magazine quotes a scientist referring to the “undistractibility” of these animals on their journeys. “An arctic tern on its way from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska, for instance, will ignore a nice smelly herring offered from a bird-watcher’s boat in Monterey Bay. Local gulls will dive voraciously for such handouts, while the tern flies on. Why?” The article’s author, David Quammen, attempts an answer, saying “the arctic tern resists distraction because it is driven at that moment by an instinctive sense of something we humans find admirable: larger purpose.”

In the same article, biologist Hugh Dingle notes that these migratory patterns reveal five shared characteristics: the journeys take the animals outside their natural habitat; they follow a straight path and do not zigzag; they involve advance preparation, such as overfeeding; they require careful allocations of energy; and finally, “migrating animals maintain a fervid attentiveness to the greater mission, which keeps them undistracted by temptations and undeterred by challenges that would turn other animals aside.” In other words, they are pilgrims with a purpose.

In the case of the artic tern, whose journey is 28,000 miles, “it senses it can eat later.” It can rest later. It can mate later. Its implacable focus is the journey; its singular intent is arrival. Elephants, snakes, sea snakes, sea turtles, myriad species of birds, butterflies, whales, dolphins, bison, bees, insects, antelopes, wildebeests, eels, great white sharks, tree frogs, dragon flies, crabs, Pacific blue tuna, bats, and even microorganisms – all of them have distinct migratory patterns, and all of them congregate in a special place, even if, as individuals, they have never been there before.

In all of this, there are signs for us to reflect upon. Their single-minded sense of mission is one. The care they take in preparing for their journey is another; as the Qur’an says about Hajj, “Take provision, and the best provision is piety” (2:197). In other words, fatten up your souls with spiritual calories for this sacred journey back to your Lord.

The Qur’an reminds us, “Have they not seen the birds above them, as they draw in their wings, having spread them – the Merciful alone holds them up, observing everything” (67:19). Almost immediately after that, we are told, “Then is the one who walks bent on his own design better guided, or the one who walks for a common cause on a straight path?” (67:22). These animals have a common cause, as they move on their linear journeys of rebirth.

The Hajj is our sacred journey, and it allows us to gather in spiritual community, in common cause, so we may plead for our wellbeing and spiritual survival. In those same verses we are told nothing is neglected in the Qur’an, according to God, and we are reminded that God will gather us, by analogy, as these animals, like us, are gathered for rebirth. Those who repudiate these signs are spiritually blind, deaf, and dumb – in other words, veiled, and unlike these divinely guided animals, are unable to find their way back home. For their repudiation, they are led astray, but God places whom God wills on a straight path – a path of linearity, undistracted by the temptations of the world, well provided with spiritual energy for their journeys back to their Lord. It is a journey we must all take.

The poet W.S. Merwin, upon reflecting on the miraculous migration of the birds, wrote that they are “tracing a memory they did not have until they set out to remember it.” God tells us in the Qur’an, “And if you forget, remember.” The journey of Hajj is remembering what we have forgotten. Allahu akbar!

What happened to Poetry…

It’s been a few days since I last wrote. The post Ramadan blues have hit and taken a few days to re-adjust to not having the disciplined ways that brought such closeness to the God-head. I see now the other realm of blessing in having the 6 days of fasting in Shawwal such a strong advice. Indeed, fasting again in Shawwal would remind what Ramadan was all about. And would help cement the (hopefully) newly found better habits of Ramadan.

But Alhamdulillah, today, while baking some goodies to take to work tomorrow (sharing Eid spirit..yay!) I came across this gem of a short talk by Hamza Yusuf. Talking about the place of poetry. It reminded me of the love of literature born in those long gone days of schooling when a teenager. Sitting in those classroom open to the breeze from the Indian ocean and listening to teachers from an old school, spinster teachers who dedicated their life to being ‘our second mothers’…beautiful generous souls whose piety transcended religion, who loved God, and loved humanity and served endlessly. How blessed I was to be taught by them. To have known them. I guess growing up in an island forgotten by the world (yes, even despite desperately needing assistance to end a brutal civil war) had its advantages. I may be old fashioned, but I sure do thank God for my old fashioned education! My English literature teacher, in her seventies at the time, still wearing frocks as they wore in the 40s… who used to walk about the school premises and feed the cats milk in saucers.. My English literature teacher, who taught me to be compassionate to prostitutes through a Beatle’s song, who taught me to see the love of a civilization in the music of a guitar, who taught me to love truth and be courageous in fighting falsehood.. how blessed I was to have her. Stumbling across this talk reminded me of those days, reading Shakespeare, reading the Quran slowly everyday, pondering deeply. How much poetry there is in the Quran. How much truth. Indeed it is all truth. And real poetry speaks universal truths.

The written word is magical. And so God swears by the pen, by language, by reading.. in the first revealed words. ‘Iqra’! Read!

I had many wise things to say, but rather than bore you with pithy cliches, let me just link here the fabulous talk and hope you all get to watch it. Please do.

And I’ll copy one of my favourite poems of all time too 🙂

‘I had no time to hate, because
the grave would hinder me,
And life was not so ample I,
could finish enmity.

Nor had I time to love, but since
some industry must be
The little toil of love, I thought,
Was large enough for me’
– Emily Dickinson