Islam is

Islam is: beginning right from where you are. It is finding Peace, finally, amid all of tumultuous Dunya’s numerous tribulations.

It is Ultimate, life-giving, life-restoring,

hope-fuelled

Surrender.

And — Islam is not solely for the man for whom the Arabic language is his native tongue. It is also for… the Bengali woman. Malaysian, Nigerian, French, Argentinian. And for kings and nobles, and for their sons, and for seamstresses and chai-walas, and for their daughters.

Islam is for the ones who grew up going to — some call it Fora, others call it Maktab; some call it Dugsee — every weekend. And it is also for the ones for whom the words of the Qur’an are, at present, wholly indecipherable.

For the ones who grew up in Roman Catholic households. Or Hindu ones, or otherwise.

The truth is, we do not know, and we are truly not aware of

which of us truly are the Best of us.

How can one look at another and be convinced that we know what their intentions are? How can we look at another and be sure of where they stand, at present, before God?

Islam is also for the heroin user whose family chose to disown him, for his one fatal error. It is for the chronically sick, and it is for the young, and well, and wealthy, too. It is for the ones who know the most, and it is also for the ones who simply cannot wait to learn.

When I say that Islam is Universal, I mean: everything that exists — everything, of which we are a part:

We come from One. Are loved, and nurtured, primarily and ultimately, by One. Are being Tested by One. And it is to One, that we return.

When Allah explains to us that we are human, He means, necessarily, that we can choose between Good and Evil, based on the knowledge that we, individually, subjectively, possess, and have access to.

And that we are, all of us, fundamentally flawed — and that many people are stitched up with Good intentions, while others destroy themselves, through arrogance. But for the most part, these things remain invisible to the fallible human eye.

Fundamentally, goodness is something that must be shared. Trying to meet people where they are; trying to love them, as they are: these things are Sunnah. There is no room for violent tribalisms, where there is true Islam.

Islam is for anybody who, even in the slightest, cares — enough to seek forgiveness; to ask for Help; to try. In your own time; in your own beautiful ways.

Islam is for the human being who is uncertain, in himself, or as herself. We are not Necessary Beings; we forget and we make blunders.

We struggle, and we fall; we can come, crawling, or walking. If we are able, we can come running.

Islam is for the one who has “always felt a little bit Muslim at heart”. Who, eventually, started carrying a prayer scarf around, in her bag. Used the prayer room at Westfield, once, and amassed the courage to say Salaam to an auntie, a different time, outside the mosque.

For the man who is consciously trying to “lower [his] gaze” when it comes to women, contrary to the pullings of his Nafs (loosely translatable as ‘inner-self’). For the one who feels broken, breaking, alone. Trying to speak to his Creator, under the soul-baring covers of good night.

Islam is Meaning, and it is Purpose. It is Love, and it is Comfort. Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, concerning the Mind, the Heart; our Bodies and our Souls. Beginning: fusing together. And Ending: coming apart (for a while). The centre of the Universe, and the very fabric of our being.

Ever-a-continuation: a personal story, journey. And, always, a beginning-again, too. Right from where we are.

[Allah knows, while we do not.]

And every good thing that we (endeavour to) do, here, in submission to Al-Rahman

is growing into something Unspeakably Beautiful (we hope,) over There.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Dunya and Gratitude and Barakah

In the Islamic tradition, there is this idea that one is to be considered a ‘youth’ – a young person – until one reaches the age of forty.

Forty may therefore be seen as the ‘noontime’ of one’s life, so to speak. Before then, we are ‘young’: we are coming into being, into brightness. And after then, generally, (if we are permitted to live that long, that is) we come into ‘wisdom’. Our hair becomes grey; our faces marked with lines of experience: story-lines.

I am, at present, twenty years old. In temporal terms, I have an entire ‘nother lifetime to live, before I arrive at my ‘age of wisdom’. Until then, I must really think about how to spend this time, and the other resources, I have.

Recently I have been thinking much about the art of ‘making do’. The ‘Blitz Spirit’. Opening the cupboards; seeing what is there. And then, after a process of reasoning and of engaging one’s creative capacities: making the best of it. Make it beautiful, somehow.

This is a game my cousins and I used to play, when we were younger: the ‘Masterchef’ Game. Collecting a handful of ingredients that are already there, in the kitchen. Preferably, ingredients that are likely to otherwise go unused, to waste. Make it a little competition, to see who can produce the most tasty plate of food, and the one that is presented in the best, most aesthetic, way – under timed conditions.

An important Islamic principle to consider, in life, is the following: that, as humans, we are wanting creatures. But Allah promises to ‘increase in favour’ those of us who are grateful. Who love what they have; whatever is there. And I think this is the essence of ‘Barakah’. If you are from a Muslim country, have you ever come across a particular person, or a family of people, who live in such a way that may seem to be responded to with pity from those of us who live here in the West, but who actually, upon looking a little closer, seem to lead such Barakah-infused lives?

I know of a particular family who are like this, in Bangladesh. Here in London, very few people, I think, would aspire to live that kind of lifestyle. Tending to cows [sigh. I actually quite miss even the pungent stench of the cows!]; fishing in the village’s pond. Making soup over an open clay oven; going to work, during the day, ‘in town’; playing boardgames at night; dancing in delight under monsoon rains. What, to us, does it seem like they may be lacking?

In truth, they have Allah. And they have family, and fruits, and books, and rain. This is how they are living their temporary, directly-determining-of-how-they-will-spend-their-forthcoming-eternities, Dunya-based lives. They may not have all of those ‘shininesses’ that may immediately catch our eyes, here in this part of the world – and nor would they appear to care much for those things, anyway. But they sure do have that Barakah; that soul.

When my grandfather first arrived in this country, he lived in the same area that we still (Alhamdulillah) live in, today. I went to [secondary] school right near where he used to work. I currently work right near where he used to live, and near the mosque he used to attend. Recently, I believe the Imām of that masjid passed away. My uncle shared the following bit of writing, with me, which he had included as a caption under a post about the mosque, some five years ago:

“Prayed salat at my father’s masjid (mosque) after so long. Much has changed but the unconditional attachment of a small group of men to the masjid has not. Theirs is a silent and sincere yearning for the beauty of worship and the comfort of Allah’s home. Masjid, Salat, Qur’an, Du’ah. […] At one time I thought this meant so much else was missing, but only later did I realise this simplicity is what paves their short, unobstructed route to Allah. Their world extends little beyond the walls that call to worship. What space is there in that small world for anything other than what pleases Allah?”

— M.A.

I think: to be a Muslim means to care. Deeply, tirelessly, truly. About trying. About speaking to, and calling upon, one’s Creator, for help, and for guidance. Giving charity, and helping others. Fasting. Qur’an. Family. Thanking Allah for rain. And for soup. And for our eyes, and our siblings, and our friends. Being Muslim means being given responsibilities: motherhood or fatherhood, a family member with a learning disability, a brother or a sister, marriage, a masjid, a student, a school. And honouring them with our lives.

Life, sin duda, is a test. Allah tells us in the Qur’an, in Surah Kahf:

“Verily, We have made that which is on Earth as an adornment (decoration, beautification) for it, in order that We may test them (mankind) as to which of them are best in deeds (works, actions)” [Qur’an, (18:7)]

In each of our metaphorical ‘cupboards’, we find there are different ingredients. Circumstances, blessings, difficulties. Daily struggles, daily blessings. And it is our job to use these lifetimes of ours to make something of them. Something beautiful, hopefully. But, necessarily, what we make of them will look and be different from what those around us make of them. We begin from different places and things; make different resulting choices; end up with different products, in the end.

What matters, at the end of these limited stretches of day, is… what we have done, with these lives of ours. And the intentions underlying our actions.

The majority of people may be living life in a particular way. They may perceive that the purpose, the point, of life, is this or that. What do you perceive the purpose of this life of yours, to be? And does the mentality you are currently, primarily operating under, align well with this life-view? Are certain things particularly difficult, for you, while others might feel like deep, quietly-flowing blessings?

Recently I shared, on this blog of mine, an article authored by my most favourite scholar ever: ‘Suffering as Surrender’, by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. While reading it, I felt like I was shrouded with this unique sense of peace, Alhamdulillah. Sabr and Shukr: these are integral elements in the anatomy of the Muslim. The Muslim struggles; is tested, through his or her health, wealth, through other people, etc.

The Muslim is blessed. Lungs, limbs, water, chai, pillows, plants, and more. Still, though: the very point is to not get too comfortable here. What is it that we take, when we go?

Right now, it may feel like there is this great amount of social pressure on us. Here, in our twenties. To ‘be’ this, and this, and this, and that. To have this, and also that; to focus so much on collecting wealth, and to become super ‘educated’ and ‘cultured’ in a particular set of ways, physically brilliant, and more. Fair: as Muslims, we are not meant to extricate ourselves entirely from what is termed, in Al-Quran, as ‘The Life of Dunya’. However, at the same time, that is certainly not ‘all there is’. Nor is all that stuff the very point of life.

I guess, there is this more private-facing life we must tend to. Taking care of our relationships with our Creator; taking care of ourselves; taking care of our families. Yes, there are our more ‘public-facing’ considerations, too. There might be some pressure; some fear. But remember: many of these things are momentary. Tips of the iceberg, that some may see fleeting glimpses of. Your reality, and what comes after it, are what are truly True. What can either fulfil, or leave hungry, spiritually starving. What endures.

For some people, billionaires and tech moguls and such serve, in their minds, as their ultimate human role models. For others, individuals like Muhammad (SAW), Ibrahim (AS), Yusuf (AS), more so, are. Muhammad (SAW) lived in a very modest way. I cannot seem to find the exact Hadith right now, but, when asked why he lived in such a manner – sleeping, for instance, on mere palm leaves on the floor, sometimes – while Byzantine rulers, for example, enjoyed their palaces and worldly riches, Muhammad (SAW)’s response had been something along the lines of: their riches and such are theirs now, here in this world. Ours may not be here now, but wait for us, in the life after this one.

This is not to say that Muslims are barred, in Islam, from acquiring expensive possessions and such. A nice house, if you are able; a nice car. The point is: as Muslims, we are Muslim no matter what. If owning a Lamborghini and two hundred Gucci belts leads to your sinking so deeply into the temporary comforts of Dunya that you come to forget the life of your eternity: what have you really won?

Yusuf (AS), for example. Once thrown into a well, sold as a slave, in Egypt. Later, appointed as Egypt’s Minister of Finance. Consistent throughout, though: his recognition and remembrance of Truth.

These prophets had been human. They had families; specific difficulties – health issues, interpersonal conflicts and problems, and more. Examples for us to remember, and be comforted through the remembrance of. Examples for us to, in our own ways and in line with who we are and what our own present circumstances may be, follow. They had not, for example, been utterly ‘fearless’ individuals. The point is: at times, they had been deeply afraid, uncertain, upset by the maliciousness of certain people in their lives. They had felt the dark immensities of grief, heartbreak, worry in terms of how they would provide for their families, or about what ‘people’ had been saying about them.

Fear, grief. Deep, and human. You are not alone. Triumph, peace, friendship, and Īmān.

We’ll get there, Bi’ithnillah Ta’aala [with the permission of Allah, the Almighty].

The point is that our blessings lead us to thank our Lord, while our suffering makes us surrender to Him, more. We are always dependent on Him, and a truth we must never forget – until we die and meet the truth, unobstructed, for ourselves:

To our Lord we belong, [and He has Power and Control over all matters,] and to Him we shall return.

“Know that the life of Dunya is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children.”

Qur’an, (57:20)


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Hope and Snow

This morning, here in London (UK), we had woken up to heavy snowfall. Pellets of white, darting down from the sky. So graceful; so redolent of that fine word: hope.

Today, it is Sunday. A snow-day on a Sunday. On Friday, my brother and I went on a walk through our local area. The conversations he and I have together really do tend to be… something else. I am not sure if he sounds mature for his age, by consequence of living with three adults, or if I sound like an eight-year-old boy, by consequence of spending so much time with him… Probably a mixture of both.

I told him that I was a little sad that it did not snow this winter.

His response was quick and endearing, and said with conviction: “What do you mean? It could still snow this year!”

In my mind, I sort of dismissed this statement as a product of his ‘child-like optimism’. ‘Not rooted in reality’. It seemed to me as though the peak of wintertime had already come to an end: now was going to be that time when Winter begins to transition into Spring. Cold, golden, sunny days. Not snow.

I so love that young children tend to be so deliberately hopeful. I think it is something of a tragedy, that many of us lose this sense of hope along the way. Scepticism’s tenacious fingers tend to, over time, establish this terrible stronghold within our hearts.

While on last Friday’s walk, my brother wanted to stop somewhere and sit down for a moment. He went and sat on a boulder. We had been talking about the significance of making Du’a, and he decided to sit down on a street-side boulder, in order to make Du’a, there and then, for… a horse. Strange child [but then again… he is my brother.]

Du’as do come true. I know this for certain. My brother himself: I see him as a product of Du’a. When I was younger, I prayed and prayed for a little brother. Someone to do cool things like karate with, and art and baking, and to take out to Nando’s after Parents’ Evenings, and to sort of spoil just a little. Some family members, back then, sort of dismissed my Du’as as childish, foolish optimism.

Since then, I have been well-acquainted with good reasons so as not to internalise others’ scepticism, but to… rely on my Lord, and to have hope and faith and trust in Him; in His supreme wisdom and ability. Even if you doubt and doubt: sometimes extremely ‘unlikely’ things happen, just like that.

It is so okay if other people doubt. So long as you have faith. Those things that you are praying for: know that if you are humble and sincere in your prayers… everything you are praying for is yours. It may take a little time: these things will come about in Allah’s faultless timing, not in ‘your own’. We must be consistent, hopeful, and know

That Allah (SWT) does not reject the Du’as of the sincere. You either get those things that you want, a little later (and there is Khayr in the delays). Or, you get them almost immediately. Or… you get something that is better [for you].

Hope-like snow. And eyes filled, at least at times, with wonder and fascination. It is not exclusively ‘childish’, but good and… human-ish. We need a little bit of sunshine, and a little bit of snow.

A little bit of rain, too… [This is how good things grow.]

We really must not lose hope, nor despair in the Rahma of our Lord. Faith and reason. Hope and rationality. Optimism and scepticism. Questioning things deeply, and having trust. Dichotomies, but actually, each one is ever-in need of its other.  

[And I really hope that, one day, I will get to see my little brother sitting on his own horse. I hope that I will be able to remind him of that fine Friday, in lockdown, 2021, when he sat down on a random boulder solely in order to make Du’a for it.]

.إِنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

“Indeed, Allah is with those who have Sabr*.” [Qur’an, (2:153)]

*Meaning: a mixture of patience, discipline, steadfastness, self-restraint, perseverance, endurance


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Concise Compositions: Work

Work, work, work, work, work [ad infinitum]. Today I am thinking about ‘work’. This week I have been ‘blessed’ with the task of having to mark one hundred and eighty-odd books. Spelling, grammar, PEE paragraphs, and all. And this, amid preparing for and delivering lessons. And all of those additional[ly numerous] pastoral considerations.

Alhamdulillah, though. ‘Work’ is truly a blessing. To be able to be concerned not with things like whether or not I will be able to eat tonight or have access to fresh water (etc.), but about things like whether or not I have printed out the Year Eights’ worksheets for tomorrow. To be financially secure, and to have this structure to my days, reminiscent precisely of all of my own former school days. [Teaching is definitely a befitting career path for stationery addicts and school-lovers!]

I have so much to do… I really like it, though sometimes it feels like the stress is enough to give me a stomach ulcer or something. There are always ‘pay-offs’ at play when it comes to work (and, indeed, when it comes to all things in life!) I can either make that History lesson as wonderful as it could possibly be: carry out some more research for it, tick all the boxes, every single one of the statutory ‘criteria for success’. Or I can focus more on those English lessons, instead. I cannot ‘do it all’, and I cannot do things ‘perfectly’. I can only assess the circumstances with which I am presented, and do my (realistic) best, given them.

I must always adapt. And try my best. عمل and تَوَكُّل‎. Work, and Trust.

Put the work in, and then put my Trust in my Ultimate Provider, Governor of all outcomes.

Gosh, today I am tired. My work day had begun approximately twelve hours ago. It is nice there: I like the environment. A group of lovely Muslim women, a nucleic, rather comfortable, staffroom. We are a rather ‘homogenous’ group, maybe, to outside eyes. But how different these personalities are, how various and multifaceted, when one is able to look a little closer.

That is a very important thing, in matters of work: the people, ‘work family’. Community, environment. Places – edifices and such – and the people that inhabit them, shape them, make them. I so enjoy working in a Muslim environment; I feel like my Deen is being nurtured well here, Alhamdulillah.

Also, the nature of the work you undertake is important. Sometimes, it will just be you and your work, alone. And that state of ‘flow’ that ensues, at the best of times [although marking feels like painful hackwork, at the worst of times]. You, feeling fulfilled and challenged. Like you are ‘good’ for the work, and like it, too, is good for you.

Khayr. We seek the Khayr in things. And know that we do not ‘work’ merely for the sake of work. We must take a balanced approach. Ultimately, the supreme consideration in our lives ought to be our submission to Allah.

That is another nice thing about working in a Muslim environment: when it is prayer time, you can simply pray. There are Wudhu facilities, and prayer mats.

My official time is up now, but I feel I must carry on. I want to write about ‘work’ some more, in a future article, perhaps. How important a thing it is, to talk about.

It is the thing most people in the ‘modern world’ find themselves centring the majorities of their days on – devoting their existences to, in both ‘direct’ ways, and indeed in ‘less direct’ ways (e.g. planning for family holidays around work demands). Our identities – who we are – are largely defined by what we do.

“Who are you?”

“I am [a firefighter / an accountant / the CEO of a salsa dip company].”

People are known to define themselves, almost instinctively, through their professional (or academic) titles. People are known to attach purpose and meaning, intrinsically, to these very things, too; ‘work’ finds its way to the very core of their existences.

As Muslims, we are told to partake in society; ours is not a tradition of any sort of sustained monasticism. Study, work, mingle with others. But ‘work’ in and of itself need not define us, nor give us ‘meaning’, nor be the ‘be all’ or the ‘end all’ of it all.

Because, first and foremost, we are Muslimeen. We are privileged enough to be acquainted with Haqq. The foremost consideration in our lives ought to be Deen: serving Allah. Everything else – including ‘serving’ our superiors at work – is subsidiary, and we must link everything else to our ultimate purposes. And the ‘workaholic’ ways of the ‘modern world’ around us had come about as a direct consequence of some of our fellow People of the Book having come to favour Dunya and materialism over Deen and spirituality. Trying (futilely) to satisfy the yearnings of the soul with… ‘work’, and with material ‘success’, which they had looked upon as being indicative of God’s grace and favour upon them.

“Hard work, self-denial, plus the threat of eternal damnation for the lazy” [The Guardian], and running after profits and material indicators of ‘success’, so as to (attempt to) fill gaps in meaning, and towards objectives of personal status and existential ‘legitimacy’. Do these phenomena sound familiar to you? Of course they do! Just take a look at the ways of the world around us!

As Muslims, though, we must learn to be Muslims. Our purpose, meaning, honour, and success come from Allah, as a direct consequence of bowing before Him, and not before the abstract idols of any of these capitalistic ‘workaholic’ models.

Within our considerations of work, I think we must ask ourselves: is this occupation Khayr for me? Is it Deen-friendly? Is it something I truly enjoy? Am I working in moderation; am I balancing it well with my other responsibilities and such, e.g. with giving time to my loved ones (who are constantly, with time, growing older/old), and with nurturing a good home?

It is true that working forty hours a week (and this is just a nominal number. Because I do often have to take work home with me, too) is not for everybody. And this is okay. I do not know if it will always be for me. Maybe, in the future, I will work ‘part-time’, at least at certain points in my life.

The key lies in seeking and pursuing whatever is most Khayr (good) at the time. For example, if work becomes a little too stressful one week, it is okay to take some time off and away from it all. This adage is something I have, for a while, known, but two weeks (I believe?) ago I was reminded of it, when I came home from work, more tired than is normal for me, on Mondays, and I left everything I had ‘to do’ downstairs, and simply went upstairs and relaxed, away from it all. For, what is the point of ‘work’ if it is not Khayr for me? If it eats away at goodness; if it, as a different example, begins to negatively affect my relationships with my loved ones?

And, ultimately, these well-needed rests result in better long-term relationships with our work. [The next day, I had been able to complete my tasks more happily and efficiently.]

I do not want to be a person who is ever simply ‘busy’ for the sake of being busy. And, for my work to have true ‘meaning’, I must always consider it against the backdrop of life at large. I already know what the purpose of my life is. In my work, there shall be Khayr, if I turn towards Allah throughout it all, far more so than to any considerations of salary [that age-old remark about how teachers do not get paid enough, here!] or of societal praise and recognition.

Remember Allah, and remember your Divinely-ordained rights and responsibilities (including those you have with regard to your family). Remember that ‘work’ ought not to be the beating heart of your life, and that Deen, family, health, are far more important. Let work be ancillary to them.

And explore; [come to] know yourself. What is good for you; what is not so good for you.

An example of a rather interesting academic/professional journey, I think, is YouTuber Subhi Taha’s one:

The ‘work’ part of life is not, in actuality, experienced as a series of tick-box accomplishments and such. From your (the experiencer’s) point of view, ‘work’ will not be a trail of LinkedIn updates. And ‘career stages’ are not merely transitory experiences, whose sole significance is to get you from A to B. This is life, and these are, at present, true parts of it!

You will wake up in the morning, do what you do, have breakfast (hopefully with a loved one or two), travel to work (whether by car, by train, by bike, or – if you work in Greenwich, for example, or in certain parts of Bangladesh – by boat). You will sit, surrounded by your colleagues. Talk about the news, or about your home life, or about the work you all have in common. Follow your work timetable: a meeting here, a lesson there, your lunch hour. But timetables certainly do not account for everything: they are only outlines, inherently liable to change. You do not know what each day will bring.

You do your job; try to impart Khayr onto others, and upon yourself. Our relationships with Allah, and with others (our work ‘superiors’; the people whom we serve – students, or patients, etc.; our colleagues) and with our own selves (being challenged, learning, developing, enjoying). This is what work ought to be more deeply considered in the context of. Oh, and nature! No place is a good place without some incorporation of the natural world. An orchid plant, or a bonsai tree. Or a tree to sit beneath, during your lunch hour, sometimes. Or maybe, just maybe, if you are fortunate enough, you have access to an actual cave. Sigh. A girl can dream.

This life is a test and the life of Muhammad (SAW) is our ‘exemplar paper’ to follow. He had been a statesman, a prophet. Muslim, father, husband, friend. Human being: he would tend to his own household duties, such as mending his own sandals and garments. He would climb that mountain, sit within that cave, and he would reflect.

Also, there may come some points in your life when you need to, or decide to, take some time off working. Maybe, to spend some more time with your children. Or maybe, you get a bit sick. You take a ‘year out’ to travel. Who knows? Life is, at once, so vast and so small.

What is the core of your life? Why is your work Khayr and important? And are you beginning things with ‘Bismillah’?

“Like sands passing through the hourglass, look around you: these are the days of our lives.”

The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself ten minutes – timed – to write about whatever comes to mind, based on the topic. You cannot go over the time; you cannot stop typing beforehand, either. And you cannot go back to edit [save for grammatical errors, etc.]. I challenge all fellow bloggers to give this a try [or, if you do not have a blog, try it on paper – maybe in a journal]! Include ‘ConciseCompositions’ as a tag for your pieces, and include this block of writing at the end of them. Have fun writing! 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Notes on the Qur’an: Introduction

The year is 2020. Quarantine year. It has already been over a month since we bid farewell to Ramadan. This year, Alhamdulillah, I essentially re-embraced Islam. It took a lot to get here – to this state of Yaqeen (conviction). Much exploration, many helpful conversations and realisations.

This blog series of mine will document my attempts at developing a far stronger bond with the Qur’an, first and foremost. I mean, I am trying to learn Arabic [fun fact: you know how vast and complex the English language and its vocabulary are? Well, Arabic is more complex and contains at least 20 times the number of words that English does! Over 12 million words, in comparison to English’s approx. 600,000…] and I do believe – well, it is known – that fluency in this beautiful language allows for a better connection with our Holy Book. I do hope to become fluent in it one day, Insha Allah (God-willing) and to then acquire a good grasp on classical (Fus’ha) Arabic – the language of the Qur’an.

Perhaps I will write and publish a ‘revised edition’ of this article sometime in the future, once I have (again, Insha Allah) actually mastered the Qur’anic language. For now, however, this series will comprise some of my notes on the Pickthall explanatory translation of the Qur’an. I will include some random facts and some of my thoughts. And I would greatly appreciate it if you shared your own thoughts, questions, and other additions, too [you can leave a comment below, or you can email me at: sadia.6@outlook.com].

The Qur’an is a fascinating book. Of course it is. Even many secular scholars – linguists and the like – find themselves utterly enthralled by it. Its words are undeniably symphonic and rich with meaning. It is a book of guidance for humanity, and so, naturally, it contains information on things like social rights and responsibilities; matters of Law and of Philosophy; economic and political guidance, and more.  Linguistically, terms and idioms from other languages – like Ethiopian, Syrian, Assyrian, and Persian – are also employed in the Qur’an.

For more about the Qur’an – about the questions it presents, historical information, structural methods, contextual points, and more – do check out this wonderful (highly recommended) book, made available for free by the iERA [the Islamic Education and Research Academy]: https://iera.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/iERA-The-Eternal-Challenge-Shop-EBook.pdf

The articles in this ‘Notes on the Qur’an’ series will mostly be in bullet-pointed form. I will include, for the articles on individual Surahs (and there are 114 of them!) a link to some live recitation, as well as an English translation [and do bear in mind that English translations are markedly ‘less than’ the essence that can only be conveyed through Arabic – the language it has originally been authored in], followed by some of my own notes, thoughts and findings.

Bueno. Let us begin, then.

Muhammad (SAW)’s Early Life / More Background Info 

  • Muhammad (SAW), son of Abdullah, son of Abdul Muttalib, had been born to the tribe of Quraysh, in Makkah. His father had died before he was born; he was looked after first by his foster mother, Halima tus-Sadia, and, after the death of his mother Āminah (when he was six years old) he had been looked after first by his grandfather Abdul Muttalib, and then (after his grandfather’s death) by his uncle, Abu Tālib.

 

  • The Makkans claimed descent from Abraham through Ishmael (indeed, Arabs today are known as ‘Ishmaelites’, while Jews are known as being ‘Israelites’). The Ka’bah had been built by Abraham for the direction of worship towards One God – a God unimaginable and not wholly intelligible to we mortal and fallible beings, what with our limited frames of reference and capacities for understanding.

 

  • During Abraham and Muhammad (SAW)’s times, respectively and alike, many people had been given to worshipping idols. Indeed, Abraham had used his capacities for reasoning to arrive at the conclusion that his father and those around him had been wrong to direct their worship towards inanimate beings. He left his father’s house, and decided to abandon the culture that he had been born into.

Aristotle had been correct in saying that the thing that separates humankind from other animals is our ability to reason. Our capacities to use logic, to arrive at various conclusions and decisions. Abraham had used his personal reasoning faculties – those abstract processes that we collectively refer to as the ‘mind’ – to arrive at the conclusion of monotheism, even in spite of the fact that everyone around him had been given to other practices. 

Once, when there was nobody inside the community’s temple, Abraham crept inside, and used an axe to destroy the idols there. He demolished all but one of them – the biggest one. He left his axe hanging around this remaining statue’s neck.

When the people had returned to the temple, they expressed shock and anger, demanding to know who had done this to their ‘Gods’. Abraham wittily told them to ask their ‘God’ over there – the one with the axe around his neck. They responded to this by arguing that doing so would be absurd: the idol cannot speak, cannot hear, cannot defend itself. So Abraham questioned them: why do you worship it, then? 

Abraham’s claims made sense to them. There is One God, [and it is not in the (current) nature of the finite to comprehend He who is Infinite] and He is the Source and the Cause, and the only one who is worthy of worship. Even though this message of Oneness (Tawhid – Pure Monotheism) had appealed to the God-given hearts and minds of these people, they had refused to embrace the message, as a result of pride, and because idol-worship had been the practice of their forefathers. So they became the rejectors – Kuffar [linguistically, ‘Kāfir’ comes from the linguistic root meaning, ‘to cover up’. To know the truth in one’s heart, but yet rejecting it, not rushing to embrace it, refusing to activate it, as a result of things like pride and pride in antithetical traditions].

The opposite of a ‘Kāfir’ is a ‘Munāfiq’ – a hypocrite. One who, by flipped contrast, does not accept Islam in his own mind and heart, yet outwardly claims to be a Muslim.

  • Modern idol worship: We are told to worship none but Allah (SWT) – the giver and the sustainer of life. To worship something or someone is to devote one’s life to it; to think about it often, to make decisions in light of it, and to commit physical acts of servitude towards it. In modern times, it is not very common to worship idols in the sense of their being shiny or clay statues with anthropomorphic features. Rather, the idol worship of today tends to take a more abstract form: people worship (the interrelated) notions of capitalism, materialism, individualism, and more. Terrifying, and terrifyingly normalised.

You know what? Nowadays, much like how Abraham had been ostracised for his beliefs, we tend to see those who actually, devotedly, adhere to Pure Monotheism (Islam) as being ‘strange’, or ‘uncool’, or ‘no fun’. But look around: everyone is worshipping something. Some worship materialistic delusions; some worship their own reputations; some worship women; some worship capitalist structures; all these abstract ideas, these ghostly idols. These things that, rather like the idols that Abraham himself could destroy with an axe, cannot really love you back in the same way. They either have no power to, or it is not in their interest to.

Would you not rather devote yourself to the Creator of the Universe?

It is not irrational to do so – (even if the rest of the entire world manages to convince you that it is): it is quite the opposite, actually.

  • Muhammad (SAW) had received revelations over a period of twenty-three years. It is important to note that, for the first thirteen of these years, the Muslims had found themselves under much persecution and humiliation, and facing ostensible failure, coupled with unfulfilled prophecies. These had been the ‘Makkan’ years. The following ten years had been remarkably different to the pre-Hijrah period. These years had been marked by a number of consecutive (and miraculous-seeming) successes. Ultimately, this one man – a shepherd, who had been offered riches and even royalty on the condition that he ceased from his preaching – managed to alter the very fabric of pre-Islamic Arabia:

In the latter ten years, Muhammad (SAW) had turned Arabia from being a society centred on idol-worship, misogyny (where baby daughters had been buried alive, and where women had the social and legal statuses of mere chattels), drunkenness, ignorance, rampant vanity, senseless violence and other immoralities, into one where men loved God, sincerity, honesty, and knowledge.

Rather interestingly, the Surahs that had been revealed in Makkah are the ones that focus on the human soul. On the command to prostrate to God, and to God alone. Pre-Hijrah, Muhammad (SAW) had been a preacher only. By a series of fortunate twists, however, he ended up becoming the ruler of a state, which then later grew to become the empire of Arabia.

The Surahs that had been revealed in Madinah contain a different nature of guidance, for the most part: they give guidance not only to the individual human soul, but to a growing social and political community, and to the Prophet as lawgiver, reformer, and an example for mankind to follow.

I really do believe that it is important to focus on the individual soul, one’s personal relationship with God, before concerning ourselves too much with the community aspect of things, though both are certainly important.

  • (Human) Reason, and Revelation are the two lights of guidance that we have been granted. We must use them wisely.

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Chances

Another thing that I have learnt during these first two decades of my life is about giving people (and, indeed, oneself) chances. We change and we grow; it is not (not ever) a solid, reified, definable ‘you’ or ‘I’ that follows us through time. Our ships are always being developed, rebuilt. We find that some things work; we may wish to keep them, and hone them. Some things, we come to discard. We look within ourselves, think about who we are; some things, we change. Some things, we allow to be kept the same. And Time does not stop for anybody.

Besides, all human life is stories, and what are stories without character development? 

Of other people, we may only see glimpses. And then, we might hear of them from the mouths of others. Words are ascribed to them. And words – definitions – by nature, limit. They facilitate the fastening of certain characteristics and ideas to certain people. We might come to hear of one or two things a particular individual has done, way back when. What we may not hear about are all the extra contextual considerations. We may forget that they are only human, just like us; they will necessarily slip up sometimes. We might not listen to and accept additional information, about how these people have changed, for example. We really ought to give people a chance to do so – to be messy, sometimes, and to grow and to change; no human being’s character is a necessarily reified and consistent-through-time thing. Nobody is perfect; people do not suddenly become the picture of evil as soon as they do something wrong.

So is it not foolish to portray individuals in such ways, in our own minds – as if they in their entirety are only the one, or two, or five, or sixty, individual picture frames you have seen of them – or, worse still – heard of them? As if they are either wholly ‘good’ or wholly ‘bad’?

I have certainly fallen into similar traps before. Hearing about various things about a certain person. Blindly believing it. How can we meaningfully come to determine which side of a story is the most valid, the closest to Truth? 

People do change; it is in our nature to. So now, I guess, when I hear about the doings of certain people from five years ago, or even from five weeks ago, I try to stop myself from forming any sort of judgement that may feign, in my own mind, being solidity or holism. Doing so would be quite unfair.

I have known – and really liked, actually – certain people whom others have loathed. Stupidly, at times I allowed myself to become swayed by popular narratives.

She’s so annoying. My blood boils whenever she speaks. She must be evil too.” And they proceeded to make fun of her and to eat all the brownies she had made for them, and to speak ill of her as soon as her back had been turned. They, and their daily Starbucks drinks, and their chronic inability to be funny, their astute ability to convince everybody that they were just so nice. But hey, then again, that is just my opinion of them, based on what I have seen.

The most popular opinion is not necessarily the truest one; likewise, I suppose, the most ‘popular’ people are not necessarily the ones whose characters are most beautiful. I thought she – the one who made them brownies and biscuits and cookies all the time – was quite lovely, actually, but for some reason, in light of what they had said, I found myself questioning my own thoughts about her.

And is it a sign of loyalty, to dislike the people your loved ones may dislike? Hmm. I guess we just need to accept that a human being, in his or her entirety, is not a singular and consistent being. We are holistic and social creatures; we are fluctuation, development, and a range of different social personas.

So why not give people a chance to be human. At the end of the day, you will look at them through your own eyes, through your own perspective. They are who they are, to you, witnessed through your personal relationship with them.

It is completely natural to make judgements about people, internally. We gauge their actions, make decisions on who to trust or not to trust, decide on whom we are willing to grant the most ‘chances’ to. I think it is reasonable to choose to look at people’s behaviour – how they are towards you – and to focus on this, in lieu of ever taking others’ comments as gospel. And yes, ultimately, we only have access (through fallible eyes, fallible minds) to people’s speech and behaviour. Allah (SWT) has access to people’s hearts; He knows each of us best.

“The merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.”

– Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

Note to self: forgive people, and try to have mercy on them, even when you are alone and inside your own mind. You are not the Judge; you are fallible, and you do not know anybody in their entirety.

A person who is despised by hundreds upon thousands of people may just be completely beloved by God. So, I guess, we really must be careful about trusting our own judgements of others, and about relying on what others say of them, or of past versions of them. To quote the theme song of ‘Wizards of Waverly Place’,

Everything is not what it seems. 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Reasons to Believe: a brief exploration of matters of faith and religion. 

You exist. Yes, you. How very wonderful it is that there is a ‘you’ that exists, and that this ‘you’ has eyes with which to read, and faculties of intellect so as to comprehend, and capacities of memory through which to remember. And you – yes, you – your body, your brain, your being – are absolutely, stunningly, jaw-droppingly complex and awe-inspiring. From the microscopic facts of your conception to the mind-boggling complexity of your nervous system; the life cycle you have followed until now, and which you will continue to follow – and everything in between, humankind is extraordinary. But from whence did all this come? From something, or from nothing? And are we just here with no objective meaning? Are these unwinding miracles of our lives simply as a result of a series of blind evolutionary processes, during which our respective ‘selfish genes’ start off by acting in accordance with their own blind whims, only to betray the rest of our persons, causing us to die, while their material goes on, replicating itself in variation, over and over again?
Why are we here? Heck, why are we even able to ask after why we are here? [I bet apes aren’t susceptible to plummeting into existential crises, like we Homo Sapiens are…]
We know that the universe is physical. And physical things are, a) finite, and b) composed of parts. Since we know that the universe is finite, we also know that it must have had a beginning.

And, though some atheists claim that it is possible for a universe to be born in and of itself (like a mother giving birth to herself) surely it must logically follow that the universe had a cause? Now, deists here posit a safe ‘middle-way’ argument. They believe that the Universe was caused by a Higher Power (God) but that this God, after creating the universe, subsequently became wholly indifferent to it: they maintain that He is not involved in it, and does not intervene in it.

But the Muslim argument is that we were not created in vain. The positive, noble sentiments that we are able to feel – like those of Love and Mercy – are diluted subsets of pure Divine qualities (absolute Love and Mercy, among others). We believe that God is the Cause, but that He is also the Provider, the Sustainer, and more, of our universe.
Do make sure you check out the ‘Further Reading’ section at the end of this article, after reading it!
What is the reality of this life? Well, truth be told, it is evident that, for so many of us, much of it is centred upon things like materialism, competition, continued restless dissatisfaction, and escapism.

“Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children, similar to plants after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the cultivator; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw. […] The life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment.”
– Qur’an, (57:20)

The Qur’anic verse above reminds us about the truth of this world. It is a “deceiving enjoyment”, and it is fundamentally fleeting in nature . See, after new life takes its very first breath in this world, only one other reality, as we know, must follow, and this is that the life will, someday, come to an end. The (metaphorical) greenery that we invest so much of our time and energies into will eventually shrivel up, “turning yellow”, and then “[becoming] straw”.
So what do we do with this information? What do we do with our natural inclinations towards questioning things? Do we simply bury them all somewhere deep in a less-attended-to part of our psyches, declaring “business as usual” with everything else?
I tell you now: if you are a rational, decently intelligent person who goes on to choose to attempt to live in ‘blissful ignorance’ by entombing these urgent questions of existence somewhere in the back of your mind, they will undoubtedly catch up with you someday, as ferocious and pressing as ever. This may occur at a time of severe illness, or during a period of deep grief, or while the creeping fragility of old age beckons you to your grave. Morbid, I know. But thus is inescapable reality.

 

And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but
give good tidings to the patient – Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.”
– Qur’an, (2:156-7)

 

Now, I write this article primarily to serve as a summary of why I am Muslim – why I choose to believe in Allah (SWT) and in the paradigmatic example that had been given us through the final prophet (SAW), and which had been encouraged by his predecessors, such as Jesus, Moses, David, and Noah. But this article is also partially in response to a particular episode of a podcast I listen to, which is hosted by a friend of mine. The podcast is entitled Blackings [do go and check it out!] and the second episode is about … you guessed it… matters of faith and religion.
Some words of warning in advance: mainly due to the dual intended objectives of this particular article, it will almost certainly be quite a lengthy one.
I have spoken about this in previous articles – and indeed, ‘in real life’ with my friends, and certain family members and such – many a time. Questions of existence, and of God, and of religion have always been of huge importance to me. I have been a devout Muslim, by nature of my upbringing. I have been moderately agnostic [I started writing ‘questions to God’ in my journal at the age of twelve]. This was followed by a period of deep agnosticism, which then witnessed me sinking into an ideology that was intensely, angrily, atheistic, and which had been coupled with a very unhealthy bout of nihilism.
I think it is crucial to put such questions, in addition to the answers that different groups of people propose, under a microscope of deep thought. To me, personally, the concept of utter ‘blind faith’ is of very little value. If there is truth, I want to come to know it as much as I possibly can. To this end, I have found myself deeply exploring atheism, Islam [e.g. via lectures, conversations with learned individuals, and more], Christianity [e.g. via conversations with my former neighbour, who is a priest, and by reading the theological literature he had lent – (Christian pun intended?) – to me], Judaism, Zoroastrianism and more.
Yes, I was born a Muslim. It could be argued that I am therefore, by ‘nurture’, predisposed towards favouring Islam as being ‘the most likely to be the Truth’. But anybody who was at least relatively well-acquainted with me during my ‘atheistic-nihilistic’ period would be able to tell you just how much I (in retrospect, out of ignorance, and as a result of mistakenly confusing unfavourable cultural views and norms with those peddled by the Islamic tradition) had come to despise things like Prophetic teachings, as well as the hijab I had been conditioned to wear. I had fallen entirely out of love with the Qur’an. I had no faith left whatsoever; it had been a year or so since the last time I had placed my forehead on a prayer mat, asking for God’s mercy and favour, if He was there.

In Islam, the concept of blind faith is not necessarily promoted. Rather, we believe in endeavouring to reach a state of ‘Yaqeen’ (conviction) as a direct result of seeking knowledge – and this, preferably through valid sources and actual scholars, as opposed to via ‘Sheikh’ Google… Truth be told, I am fed up of people – Muslim, Christian, or otherwise, alike – engaging in theological discourse, but being unable to really justify why they may believe in what they do. “I believe Jesus is God [Astaghfirullah!] because he just is. Oh, and he also happens to be God Himself too.” [Once again, following on from the earlier example of the notion of a universe having given birth to itself, here we find yet another example of a parent begetting… themselves].
How can one claim to be a true Muslim, or a true Christian, or a true atheist, without a sense of Yaqeen in whatever one chooses to believe in? In Islam, for instance, faith devoid of knowledge, Yaqeen and associated deep spirituality just declined into becoming an ongoing affair of ritual actions and empty words.
I think it is truly lazy and unproductive to almost entirely base one’s religious beliefs atop things like “I love my father and he is a Christian, therefore, I, too am Christian”, or “I love going to the mosque every Friday therefore I think Islam is the truth”.
And another thing: it irritates me when people are unable to detach things like ideas and arguments from the people who may agree with, or ‘represent’, them. So when I attempt to understand, say, Christianity, by cognitively dissecting it and by truly challenging its central beliefs, I am not (I hope) disrespecting all Christians. Likewise, I want for people to actively challenge what I believe in. How else am I going to reach a state of utter Yaqeen, except as a result of deeply questioning, exploring, and by finding satisfactory responses to those who criticise, the foundations of my faith? One can be polite in debate. One can ask questions, and one can attempt to meaningfully answer them, without becoming hot-headed, defensive, and consequently avoidant. In healthy discussions about such things, both defendant and respondent can focus more on the abstract matters at hand – like whether Muhammad (SAW) could have truly been a prophet, or about the logical implications of the ‘Trinity’ – without making things personal per se.

Faith and Truth
What, really, is faith? And what might its opposite be? Is the opposite of faith doubt, or is it certainty? This brings into question things like the nature of truth and knowledge. [These things fascinate me, so very much. Tangential point: I can’t wait to read Philosophy at uni, Insha-Allah!].

Essentially, we know that, as human beings, we are very able in many ways, but we are also quite limited. For example, we can see, but only through the (though awesome,) limited numbers and types of photoreceptors within our eyes. [What do things look like objectively, outside of human eyes, and outside of how we may perceive things?]. And, in the episode of Blackings that I made reference to earlier in this article, Joseph (one of the three presenters) brings up the issue of Pascal’s Wager – that well-known philosophical argument that posits that human beings bet with their lives that God [and, therefore, Heaven and Hell and other aspects of theological belief] either exists or does not.

This is true. We do, at least to some extent, bet with our lives on all this. If we imagine a spectrum, with absolute uncertainty and ignorance on one end, and absolute Truth on the other, we know that we are limited in our perceptive abilities and such. We can only come to know what we are able to (possibly, humanly) come to know. So the Truth end of the spectrum can only really be reached after death – when the Truth [whether or not there is one] is revealed to us. But we also know that this does exist as a spectrum. We can argue, debate, conduct experiments, decode religious scripture, and attempt to get as close to the Objective Truth end as we can.

After all, all human ‘truths’ are reached as a direct result of experiential knowledge followed intersubjectivity – validation by others. [Brace yourself, people: it’s Waffle time]. For example, how is a scientific truth obtained? The scientific method is carried out. Scientist A conducts an experiment rather meticulously, and this is later corroborated by Scientist B. But even within these processes, we know that both scientists are human, and that the scientific method itself may have limitations, and that these individuals are using their limited eyes to observe what is happening, and to then draw conclusions. Although we do not have access to pure, undiluted, not-prone-to-human-error Truth, we seek to come as close to it as possible, anyway.

“Are those who have knowledge and those who have no knowledge alike? Only those of understanding are mindful.”

– Qur’an, (39:9)

The Qur’an and Hadith recurrently instruct us to seek knowledge, and to reflect on God’s signs in the universe, on Earth, and in ourselves, and these very verses are what had spurred the Islamic Golden Age between the 8th and 14th centuries. This is how we can reach a state of Yaqeen – and how we thus come to be as close to Objective Truth as we possibly can, in these limited wordly states of ours. 

“My Lord! Enrich me with knowledge…”

– Qur’an, (20:114)

 


Humankind
There are some physical parts of us that resemble those of chimpanzees. Opposable thumbs, for one thing. Chimpanzees, like us, laugh. They wage wars; they cultivate friendships. And yet we are so very different from our primate ‘cousins’.

We, for one, can keep them in cages. They defecate outside; we prefer the civilised privacy of bathrooms. We clothe ourselves; we find shame in public nakedness. The whites of our eyes are just that – white, while their sclerae are rather dark. They swing from trees; we browse through social media on our iPhones.

It is clear that, even in comparison to our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, we are ennobled beings. There are some parts of us that are animalistic – our base instincts. There are some parts of us, too, that are noble, civilised, (and, as a Muslim, I would argue) diluted subsets of Divine qualities.
We are able to think deeply about our own thinking [this is known as meta-cognition]. We are able to create things. We are able to love in such ways that transcend mere considerations of who would appear to be a suitable mother or father for our future offspring. We look not only for food and sex; we look up at the stars and ask profound, albeit at times troubling, questions about our existence.
But what was it that ennobled us in such ways, in the first place? Was it a series of blind evolutionary processes, or the guidance of a supreme and supremely self-aware, all-powerful Being? What caused us; what facilitated our getting to be as awesome as we are?
The Qur’an, in Surah At-Tur, asks those of us who refuse to believe in God:

“Or were they created by nothing, or were they the creators [of themselves]?”

It thereby addresses the only other two possibilities. We were either created a) by God, b) by nothing, or c) by ourselves. Those who believe – have faith in – both evolutionism and atheism subscribe to both b) and c). Nothing caused us, really. And then, the components that make us – like atoms, and our genes – caused us. This is logically unsound.

The nature of God, and the Fitrah
As aforesaid, we are creative, self-aware, relatively ennobled creatures. We care about things like justice, mercy, purity. We learn and we teach. Essentially, our better qualities can be seen as limited forms of divine attributes – of which there are ninety-nine that we know of. God is the Most Merciful, the Owner of Dominion, the All-Wise, the Praiseworthy, the Giver of Life, the Originator of everything, the Self-sufficient, the First, the Last, the Sustainer, the All-aware…
We need others; He does not. We have a beginning and (on a material level) an end. He does not. We exist within the dimensional constraints of time and space; we have no frames of reference that allow us to imagine what existing outside of these boundaries must be like. God does not exist under any such restraints. We are limited – in many, many ways. He is not.

According to modernist and postmodernist theorists, the concept of God is a manmade one – a mere manifestation of the ‘superego’. Why, then, do psychologists – even secular ones – maintain that we are naturally predisposed towards believing in a Creator [although some argue that this is, yet again, as a result of the culmination of a bunch of blind evolutionary happenings].
What these psychologists (and psychological anthropologists) argue is actually in direct agreement with Muhammad (SAW)’s descriptions of the human ‘Fitrah’ – the ‘original disposition’ of the human being, the ‘natural constitution’, our ‘innate nature’.
Dr. Justin Barrett, an experimental psychologist, and senior researcher at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind, says:

“[Children] have an amazing conceptual receptivity to [believing in only one God], as if it’s just waiting for the right cultural input to sort, of, be locked in there.”

And a Hadith – a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), from over 1400 years ago – validates this idea:

“No child is born but that he is upon natural instinct [the human Fitrah]. His parents make him a Jew, or a Christian, or Magian.”

Thus, we can imagine the Fitrah to be something comparable to a puzzle-piece shaped gap of sorts, awaiting (what Dr. Barrett refers to as) “the right cultural input” to substantiate it.

Realistically, logically, the idea of a universe that gave birth to itself and was, from then on, wholly indifferent and not conscious does not appeal to the innate human intuition. Nor does any concept of a pantheon – a number of humanlike ‘gods’ who are many and who are like us, but bigger and better. I do not think the notion of Trinity is something that the Fitrah happily accepts, either. I am yet to hear any convincing argument that gives true weight to it.
Now, back to the nature of God Himself: some people struggle with accepting the existence of a self-aware First Cause, an omnipotent being, the Unmoved Mover. Indubitably, a conceptual barrier that prevents people from being able to accept that this is likely to be the truth is this: humanly-invented (i.e. artistic) conceptualisations of Him. Him as an old white guy in the sky, for instance, as a grander version of His ‘human form’ [Astaghfirullah once again] in the form of Jesus. But Islam clearly states that God, among other things, is wholly unlike His creation, and has no partners in association. The First, The Last. We human beings, in all our limitations, in our inability to conceive of things beyond the frames of reference we are, and have been, exposed to, cannot imagine what God’s nature truly is. We can only know what we can know.

“Say, “He is Allah [who is] One,
Allah, the Eternal Refuge,
He neither begets nor is born,
Nor to Him is there any equivalent”
– Qur’an, (112)

There is a spoken word poem online that I am particularly fond of, and it makes reference to some of the above verses from Surah Ikhlas, as well as a few other topics that are explored in the Qur’an. The poem is entitled ‘The Meaning of Life’:

And here is its transcript [although I would really recommend watching the video!]:

What are we doing here, and where are we gonna go? 
It's like we just woke up one morning, and then it's 'welcome to the show'.
Don't ask any questions - just 'go with the flow',
Make as much money as you can, and -
Try your best not to get broke.

Copy what you see on the TV, from the hairstyles to the clothes, 
And don't think too often - just do exactly as you're told.
And if you ever get confused, then just turn toward the alcohol -
You still hear your thoughts? then just turn up the radio, 
As you learn to live a lifestyle of drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll,

But in all honesty, I just need to know: 
Is there more to the cycle than just growing and getting old?
Living and dying just to leave behind a happy home and 
a whole lot of property that somebody else is going to own?

I just really need to know
before the casket's closed
'cause I'm not ready to gamble with my soul
nor am I willing to take any chances

These are just simple life questions, 
and I'm just searching for some answers.

Like what are we doing here? What is our purpose?
How did we get here and who made us so perfect?
Or what happens once we go, for is this world really worth it?
Questions we don't answer, because apparently we don't really have to
There's no purpose to this life and our existence – it’s merely natural

Then in that case, please let me ask you:
Did you create yourself? Or was it somebody else who had fashioned you?
‘Cause you're a being that's impeccable, faultless, unparalleled
You're a product of supreme intelligence, and I’m merely being rational
For there isn't a camera on this earth that comes close to the human eye
nor a computer that can compete alongside the human mind
And if the whole world were to come together, we wouldn't be able to create a single fly -
So many signs, and yet we still deny

As science tries to justify that all this could come from none
When it's a simple sum: zero plus zero plus zero cannot possibly ever give you one
So from where did all this order come?
For everything has its origins, a maker, a creator of its own -
I mean, the only reason you're watching this video because somebody had to press upload
So we can believe in the big bang but I would rather believe in He who caused it to explode


Allah! The creator of everything along with every single soul
The ever-living, the master, the only one who is in control,
Unlike His creation, beyond our imagination
And no! He's not a man nor does he has any partners in association: He's on His own -
and no, He did not ever leave us alone.
Just like every manufacturer, He left us with an instruction manual
The Qur'an and Islam and I’m sorry to jump to conclusion but it’s the only one possible

The only definition of God is the One and Only, supreme being. It's logical!
A book with zero contradictions, with miracles that are both scientific and historical - 
all revealed over 1400 years ago…
Like the detailed description of the human embryo


"The descriptions of the human embryo in the Qur’an cannot be based on scientific knowledge in the 7th Century" - (a scientist in the video)


To the mountains as pegs holding firm the earth below
And the two seas that don't mix in a complete separate flow
To the planets in orbit, alternating night and day as they stay in flow
The expansion of the universe and the creation of everything from H2O to the stories of the past and the preservation of pharaoh
To identifying the lowest point in land where the Persia defeated Rome,
The gushing fluid that created man in the glands between ribs and the backbone

And not a word has changed: it’s still the same. So please explain how all this was known -
Over 1400 years ago, to a man who couldn't read or write, as he would recite whatever the angels spoke
And if you still don't believe, please try to come up with something that's even close
but you can't. So we took god as a mockery and his messenger as a joke,
Dismissed these scriptures as legends and as tales of the ancient folk –

As we live life according to our whims, desires and hopes
Saying this life is the only home we would ever know. We will live and die and simply turn to bones
YOLO. Correction: after the grass dies, the rain arrives and it re-grows
And Allah promises to do this same thing to your very soul
And bring you back from your very fingertips to your toes


As the all-seeing supreme being watches us so close, and we are surely being tested
In our wealth, our health, in our self and everything that we've been blessed with.
So believe for we will surely be resurrected,

And be brought back to our Lord
and account for every single deed as he hands us our books (of our deeds in this world) and orders us to read!


From the bad to the good and everything in between
You yourself are sufficient for your own accountability
So don't be mad at me: you were the one who thought who wouldn't come back to me
I gave you a whole life long to search after me, but you were busy in all that which was temporary

So read! And glad tidings to all those who believe. And if you disbelieve, then read!
And don't let that day (when you die) be the first day you find out what your life really means. Read!

Morality
What is ‘good’? And who decides what is to be considered ‘good’ and what is to be considered ‘evil’? Is it all, yet again, a grand game of ‘inter-subjectivity’ – whereby popularity of opinion determines truth? We humans ask ourselves such questions all the time. This in-built propensity towards asking questions of morality, and these moral reasoning faculties that humans in general have… are they yet another mere (objectively quite meaningless) evolutionary by-product?

There is so much to explore when it comes to questions of theology, and these in relation to ideas of morality. But something I would like to touch upon in this article [which is, by no means, a holistic set of ‘reasons to believe’. It is, more so, a primer of sorts] is how some – many, actually – centre their contentions of religion on how its teachings can be ‘immoral’, or how some of proponents act immorally. But what is rather ironic about this is that often, militant atheists (who essentially do not – can not – believe in objective morality) use notions of morality introduced into Western discourse (and legal structures etc.) from the Christian tradition. Ideas of equality, for example: when left to our own devices, and without an external set of moral structures, certain groups of human beings try to assert superiority over other groups. But Moses, Jesus, Muhammad (SAW) and all the prophets who preceded them told, reminded, their people that, in terms of intrinsic worth, we are all equal in the eyes of God. 

Furthermore, and since this point fits under the subtitle of ‘morality’, morals and ethics are yet more things that are quite fickle and intersubjectively decided, when the God factor is taken out of it all. Without external, absolute morality, what is there? There are whims and desires, and there are consequent shifting moral paradigms.

I guess an example that really sticks out to me is this one, and primarily because many Christians have attempted, in debate, to shut down reasonable Islamic arguments by saying, “but Muhammad was a pedophile“. I know that my opinions on this particular issue may prove to be controversial, but do hear me out. In Islam, I would like to begin by stressing, forced marriage is expressly forbidden. Both the man and the woman involved must give clear and independent consent for a marriage to be Halal and valid. Child marriage – when the girl involved has not passed the age of puberty (and is unable to give pressure-free consent) – is Haram (explicitly forbidden), even though it is practised in a number of third-world countries worldwide. But with regard to ‘Aisha (RA) and Muhammad (SAW)’s marriage, and all those who, today, express their personal qualms with it: it must be known that ‘Aisha had passed the age of puberty at the time of the validation of the marriage. In Islam, we believe in objective morality, and that the best indication of having reached adulthood is the biological one: that is, the passing of the age of puberty. The age of eighteen is widely used here in the west because, on average, white European girls (both now and throughout history) tend to reach womanhood far later than the average Arab or Asian girl, and because we collectively later decided that eighteen is when children become far better at making lifestyle decisions and such. In reality, nurture elements give way to delayed ‘maturity’ outside of biological indicators being a truth. History is littered with individuals accomplishing remarkable ‘adult’ things, all below the age most countries would consider to be the age of the onset of adulthood, today. Nowadays, our education systems, ways of thinking and more are centred around the age of eighteen being ‘the age of majority’, so we act accordingly.

Maturity levels vary greatly from person to person. I do not propose that we part with the whole ‘eighteen’ thing – it is too entrenched now, into our culture and the way we do things, to part with now – however I will say that it has its limitations as a blanket indicator. Some girls hit puberty at the age of nineteen, for example. So, though legally able to consent to sex at eighteen, biologically, they are still pre-pubescent [Quite a few of the fellow Asian women I know hit the age of puberty at eleven, while many of my white female acquaintances reached this age far later]. ‘Aisha (RA) also reached puberty fairly early, and she was married to a prophet, and she was known to have been very smart  indeed – arguably the greatest scholar of Islam of all time.

A bit more on Science

Some people act as though ‘science’ and ‘religion’ must be dichotomous – inherent opposites. I say this is fundamentally untrue. Science – and the scientific method – are undoubtedly really, really useful, when it comes to finding out the connections between certain things, and about our world, and about how we function. But we cannot, using the scientific method, answer any ultimate questions of Why. 

What’s more, many atheists argue that science is far more ‘logical’ than religion because, according to them, religion relies on an aspect of faith while science relies on proof. False. Both religion – in this case I refer to Islam – and science (and they are not, by nature, antithetical, although some do appear to take science itself as their religion) rely on proof and faith to achieve a sense of conviction. Islam, for instance, constantly encourages the pursuit of knowledge and the posing of questions, and the diligent study of the messages of the Qur’an, and more. But it relies on some faith too, since we have not yet seen God. And science depends on systems of proof, but at a certain point, it, too, relies on faith. We can say X occurs because of Y. But why? Because… Why? Because… Why? We can keep posing these questions and answering them, until we ask something about the start like, why did the Big Bang occur? Without the ability to transport ourselves back in time to see what happened and why, we rely on proofs, and we have faith when it comes to piecing them together. This is true in matters of Deen – of religion – also.

Christianity

Of course, when it comes to Jesus (May God’s Peace and Blessings be upon him) Muslims do not wholly dismiss his importance. Those who choose to fully dismiss him and his demonstrations of divine support as false are essentially saying that he was somehow able to delude (en masse) all the people around him who believed in him, and who respectively claimed to have seen the miracles he had been able to carry out. We do not see Jesus as having been a fraud, some grand illusionist. We actually see him as being a very important figure – as an ennobled ambassador of God. But he was a human being. He was not God. He told us to pray to God; He was not God Himself.

[The first attempts at defences of the ‘Trinity’ came about in the 3rd Century – almost two hundred years after the birth of Jesus. He never instructed his people to worship him. And there were some things that he had explained to his people that only God knew, like the time of the final Hour.]

There are some verses in the Qur’an that directly address Jesus and those who took him to have been God:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVXwq1YKkXU&t=1s

If there is a Christian person reading this, who would be able to explain the Trinitarian Doctrine to me, and to support these ideas with proof, as well as other Christian ideas that I find great difficulty with the comprehension of (like intra-Biblical contradictions), please do get in contact with me!

A few (more direct) responses to the questions raised in the mentioned podcast episode 

In the episode of Blackings I spoke about earlier, one of the presenters makes a number of really valid points, and which I felt were quickly dismissed and disregarded by the other two presenters. I think the issue lay in the fact that the other two presenters (one of whom is a beloved friend of mine. Hi Yinka!) are ardent Christians. Christianity, like Islam, can often be practised primarily a religion ‘of the heart’. They took these (rather reasonable, clever) questions to heart.

One of the questions raised was about Heaven and Hell. One is a physical manifestation of the choice to turn away from God, and to arrogantly stray from His guidelines, His path. One of God’s attributes is wrath (yet another sentiment that we humans possess a diluted, different version of. But whereas our anger tends to be a sympathetic nervous response, we cannot conceive of the true nature of Divine anger). According to the Islamic tradition, God has informed us that His ‘mercy overcomes [His] wrath’ [Hadith]. The other place is a physical manifestation of all the difficult choices and decisions it takes to curb our base desires, and to lead lives in accordance with God’s way.

One exists as a form of deterrence and punishment; the other, as a form of motivation and reward. A life of eternal pain, compared with a life of eternal bliss.

I know that these are difficult concepts to grasp. And I am not quite done with finding answers to all the questions in my head, with regard to matters of the Akhirah – of the eternal life that follows this one. However, I do know that these topics are intrinsically linked to philosophical questions of morality, and of blameworthiness and sin being linked to the knowledge of ‘right and wrong’ one possesses, and more. And I also know that the presence of questions in one’s mind does not mean that the subject of these questions should simply be dismissed altogether. Rather, it should be looked into even further. So perhaps you can look forward to reading an article on these issues during or after the completion of my degree in Philosophy, Insha-Allah!

Furthermore, in further response to the contents of this podcast episode, it is true that people have a tendency to ‘believe’ in what they are most able to ‘connect with’, which tends to be what they are most accustomed to. But we also have faculties for rational and critical thinking. And, from my Muslamic perspective, I know that Islam has pretty much reached every corner of the globe. Information, for many of us, is very easy to gain access to. We can read; we can explore; we can debate. We make choices as a result of our God-given free will. We decide if we want to stick to what is comfortable simply because it is comfortable and not because we find it satisfactory in terms of philosophy, or if we are more committed to the pursuit of truth, even if this is accompanied by much unlearning, to make space for new learning. According to the Qur’an and Islam, each (capable, understanding) soul is directly responsible for him- or her- self – for the knowledge he or she individually seeks or finds, and what they then go on to choose to do with this knowledge.

And you could well say that certain religions appear to only truly be suited to certain geographical locations. Hinduism is undoubtedly quite an ‘Indian religion’, whilst Islam seems to be most appropriate for Middle Easterns.

What’s important to note about Islam in juxtaposition to, say, Hinduism or Zoroastrianism, is that Islam does make rational sense. I do not think it is logically sound to say that just because numerous variations on the theme of religion (which can be defined as the worship of and obedience to a Creator) exist, religion itself must wholly be a fairytale. This could be compared to, say, the presence of numerous propositions of solutions to something like, say, heart disease existing. One person might say, “say Abracadabra on it, then push a needle through it!” and another might propose proper surgery, using sterilised equipment and such. Just because numerous answers to the question of the ailment exist (some clearly being more reasonable and probable as solutions than others) does not mean that any single one of these proposed solutions cannot be the correct one.

In fact, from an Islamic historical viewpoint, the presence of many religions can help to boost the narrative that we adhere to: that all ‘religions’ came from the purest one – the Hanif tradition (pure monotheism, which had been preached by Adam, Idris, Noah, Jacob, David, and so on). But certain human beings altered scripture, and were either heedless of, or even contaminated, the message over time. In more recent terms, we went from Judaism to Christianity, and then back to the confirmation of the Hanif message: Islam.

The presence of many religions is also apt evidence for the existence of the human Fitrah. We want to worship, just like how we want to be respected, and to have fun, and to reproduce. But where the Hanif message became eroded over the years, newer religions sought to fill the gap. These days, however, the Islamic tradition is one that is globally widespread and known. We have the knowledge and the means to seek truth; we have a choice.

However, that being said, it is important to note that in Islam, we do not consider those who have had no exposure to the message of Islam as being, in any way, blameworthy for their ignorance. 

It is also true that, like how English is the main language of the Western world, Arabic happens to be the lingua franca of the Muslim one. Our Holy Book is written in the language. It is a truly beautiful, deeply fascinating language. And one could argue that this fact – that Arabs are clearly most able to connect with the core of the religion – renders the way of life itself an ‘Arab Man’s’ one.

In truth, however, we find that the traditions of Islam were re-introduced [and, thus, the Hanif tradition reinvigorated] in (modern-day) Saudi Arabia because this happened to have been the most degenerate society of the time. Economically, morally… Families used to bury newborn daughters; women used to walk around practically naked; men would freely abuse women; idol worship was rampant. Not even the mighty and ever-advancing Romans wanted to claim it!

And these days, there certainly exists a weird widespread sense of Arab supremacy, and a number of Arabs perceive themselves to be racially and religiously superior to, say, African and South Asian Muslims, primarily on account of the facts of the origins of Islam. But they forget about why their lands had been chosen to have been the first incubator of modern-day Islam. And they almost certainly also forget about this Hadith: 

“No Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab.  Nor does a white man have any superiority over a black man, or the black man any superiority over the white man.”

…and about this Qur’anic Ayah:

“Mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God’s sight is the greatest of you in piety. Surely Allah is Knowing, Aware”

(49:13)

Islam is meant to be a palimpsestic religion. Its dress code, for instance, are meant to inspire feelings of equality and purity [read: men and women in draping black or white gowns, in Makkah]. But ‘Abayas are not a distinctively Saudi Arabian thing. Under Muslim women’s ‘Abayas, you will find that Saudi Arabian dresses and traditions are easily distinguishable from Bengali ones, and from Moroccan ones, and from Nigerian ones… The fact of the matter is, although religion is meant to be taken more seriously than ethnic tradition, God did deliberately make us “into [different] nations and tribes”. We were never meant to wholly dispose of our ethnic cultures; we are meant to appreciate and celebrate them. Islam is meant to be practicable for anyone, regardless of geographical location and ethnic identity.

And as a language, the Arabic one was probably used by God also due to its intrinsic richness [classical Qur’anic Arabic is quite different to its modern forms, however]. Classical Arabic is one that allows much linguistic beauty and poetry, but it is also quite concise. It can be (and, as shown in the verses of the Qur’an) simultaneously very stern and very melodious in its encapsulation of messages and meaning.

Interesting tangent: in English, there is only one word to describe a ‘camel’. In Arabic, there are roughly three hundred different individual words to describe a ‘camel’: the Arabic language has a word to describe a male camel, and another one for a female camel, and another one for a pregnant she-camel, and another for a pregnant she-camel in her final trimester of pregnancy, and, well, you get the picture… See how concise and broad Arabic can be, in comparison to – English?

What’s more, according to many professors of linguistics (like my fave, Noam Chomsky) there is evidence to suggest that all human languages came from one. This, yet again, gives weight to the Islamic view – that the first language was the Adamic one. Linguists also say that the Arabic language is likely the closest we have to this original ‘primitive’ language, today! 

A question was also raised about why the ‘most praying’ countries also happen to tend to be some the poorest, the least economically developed.

Firstly, as I am sure you will easily agree, the answer to this question needs to take into account things like colonial history, and the origins of the contemporary ‘Western world’. And many of the so-called ‘Christians’ who carried out the associated acts of invasion and subjugation were unlikely to have truly been acting with their own religious moralities in mind.

But, and once again, I approach this from an Islamic perspective: we were never meant to fall in love with this world the way we often do. We cannot make heaven on earth, but this is what people attempt to do by hoarding wealth, and by making their highest objective ‘economic growth’ and development. We Muslims (should) believe and remember that this world is a means to an end, and a place of tests. Here, we are just meant to do our part. Eat, sleep, work, worship, have families… and all without worrying too much about being extremely ‘wealthy’, or about attempting to enact ‘paradise’ here on Earth.

Rather tellingly, many of the countries where things like depression and personal dissatisfaction levels are highest also happen to be those that boast the highest levels or rates of economic growth. The USA, China, India… And people who (truly, soulfully) practise Islam tend to be the most content – with their lives, with their levels of wealth, with their ‘lot’. Although Western criteria (the ‘American Dream’) promotes the view that indicators of success are to be found in cars, houses and titles, we find that, in truth, one – and countries – can be extremely outwardly ‘wealthy’ and yet very inwardly deprived… 

The mark of a really good Muslim is that his or her main desire, in this world, is to ‘pass the test’, and to demonstrate excellent character, and to achieve a unique closeness to God. Those who do not have such aims are ‘freer’ to pursue more worldly gains…

That being said, however, Islam does not encourage fatalism. We are not just meant to pray everything away. We are meant to ‘tie [our] camels’ (i.e. carry out the necessary actions, in response to problems or desires) first and then have Tawakkul (trust in God). We believe this life is a test; without the necessity of individual actions, this test would prove to be a rather meaningless one indeed.

We have been given these amazing, remarkable abilities to perceive and to think – through our senses, via all these amazing and highly complex neural pathways and such. Human beings have a Fitrah. We also have ‘Aql (intellectual faculties), which we can use in order to question, and to read, and to debate. We pose questions of where we came from, and why we are here. We also get to decide what to believe in: did we come from a) God, b) nothing, or c) from ourselves? Options b) and c) lead to unhappy circular arguments. Option a) is the only option that is satisfactory to the human Fitrah. So do it: decide.

Islam is there for all those who wish to explore it further, and for those who eventually choose to embrace it. [There is so much to discover. The truths of Muhammad (SAW)’s prophecies. The perfect preservation of the Qur’an. And so on. To better understand these and more arguments for Islam, I would really, really, really, recommend this book, available for free online!] All it takes is a willingness to find answers to one’s questions, and a deep sense of humility, combined with sincerity – outstretching one’s hands, or placing one’s forehead on the floor in prostration, and asking for Allah (SWT)’s guidance.

And may He (SWT) grant it to you, dear reader. Ameen. 

 


Further Reading

YouTube

 

  • DARWINIAN DELUSIONS (Suboor Ahmad). Some examples of his (highly informative, interesting) videos – which explore such things as atheism, Darwinian evolution, and morality – include:
    o Is Atheism A Religion – Subboor Ahmad vs Atheist | Speakers Corner
    o God, Myth or Reality by Subboor Ahmad
    o Why Islam
    o Why Islam Why not Islam
    o The Blind, Irrational Faith of Atheism – Subboor Ahmad vs Rob | Speakers corner
    o Atheist SMACKS Muslim with…
    o Suboor Ahmad vs Aron Ra – Speakers Corner Debate

 

 

  • DUS DAWAH (Shamsi). Many of his videos are about arguing for Islam using even Biblical scripture.
    • Christian accepts Islam in Speakers Corner with Shamsi
    • Man changes his mind about the Beginning of Creation
    • American Christian: Islam makes logical sense!
    • Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s Name in the Bible

Books

  • ETERNAL CHALLENGE : A JOURNEY THROUGH THE MIRACULOUS QUR’AN by Abu Zakariya. Available for free PDF download here.
  • THE DIVINE REALITY : GOD, ISLAM AND THE MIRAGE OF ATHEISM by Hamza Tzortis.

Random webpages 

 

Please share with others, if you found this post beneficial / think others might!

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020