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.

A chat among scholars

Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace be with you all

 

 

‘Rida’ = ‘contentment’

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

I wanted to share this talk with you all, my dear readers. It is a deep and wise teaching from the core of Islamic theology…which seems sadly lost among much of our nation today (as the speaker observes at the outset). By God’s grace I have listened to it over the years a few time and each time it like a soothing balm from an enlightened soul. And indeed this feeling is one of the meanings of the famous hadith (sayings of Muhammed);

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever travels a path in search of knowledge, Allah makes easy for him a path to Paradise.”

Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 2646

For indeed true knowledge is a waft of the fragrance of paradise.

Allah bless you all. I hope you get to listen.

Faith equals no despair and eternal hope

Assalamu alaikum warahmatullah (peace be unto you and the mercy and cherishing protection of God)

All thanks and praise be to God for the beautiful spring days that have unfolded these past days and for the blessing of life in health and security through them. Praise and thanks to God for the knowledge gained and the gift of the Messengers, peace be upon them all. For the beauty in Creation and resonance in this soul of mine that can recognize beauty. Truly, there is profound depth in this integral Muslim belief; ‘God is beautiful and God loves beauty’. They say we find faces that are symetrical more beautiful, and symetry is a manifestation of equation, the balanced formula, a highlight of mathematics. Mathematics, that language of truth, able to explain what the mind cannot concieve…the vehicle to know God. Truly, God is beautiful and God loves beauty. I am therefore a grateful slave, a wellspring of joy welling up inside me, recognizing this timeless beauty in all that is around. The mathematics of form and shape and dimension that abounds in the flowering trees, the growing grass, the towering mountains, the flowing water, the bright moon and star light that just now journeyed to my eye..and it began it’s travel eons ago. Subhhana wa ta’ala (Glory be to God the most High!!)
But I began this post wanting to share a beautiful talk by Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad, or as he is also known, Tim Winter. A great luminary among modern day scholars of Islam and a lecturer at Cambridge. You can listen to a BBC inteview with him here (it is part one of a two part series, the second part is here). He must have given this talk some time ago…however it is still very topical, dealing with the condition of Muslims today, it puts things in to perspective and helps alleviate the despair and sadness that many Muslims can easily feel overwhelmed by, contemplating the state of the Muslim ‘ummah’ (a word commonly used among Muslims, meaning ‘Nation’ as the Native Americans use the word ‘Nation’, rather than the more modern Western rendering of that beautiful term). So here is sharing it and I hope you benefit by it inshaAllah. I also wanted to share it with those not too familiar with the Muslim faith or nation, as embedded in the talk, are some very insightful aspects of the Muslim faith and worldview that I hope are educational.

God bless all who stumble across here or visit. Please keep me in your prayers and may Allah bless all our deeds with good and protect us from that which is harmful to us and that which we may cause others harm by.

Peace be upon you all!