Having Versus Wanting

Bismillah.

The consumption of fiction, and the significant effects it has, upon our psyches, and on all these ideas surrounding what we want to be, and what we want to have, and what we expect of life. That school is, or ‘should’ be, like a Disney series; travelling is a vlog on YouTube; summer is a poem. Fiction: filtering out the ‘mundane’, the ‘undesirable’, the ennui, the unevennesses, frictions. Taking singular moments, which ‘real life’ may exhale, at certain given moments, unpredictable, un-plan-able. Marketing people, relationships, institutions, experiences… as being fundamentally ‘shiny’. ‘More than’ reality, and thus quite ‘liberating’.

Allah created Dunya in a certain way, and this, we all, after a certain age, truly come to know. And it might feel like consuming fiction, or imagining life in light of it [I am tres guilty of doing this. And hence this blog article.] is relief. But I want to take a (metaphorical) axe, and rid myself of these: my ‘super-Dunya’ expectations. They come about spontaneously, sure, but they can often be… entertained, in this mind of mine.

Yesterday I came across a podcast about ‘bringing blessings (Barakah) to one’s life’. The central matter being discussed was gratitude. A cosmic law, emphasised in the Qur’an: if we are grateful – thankful, using what we have towards goodness and making the most of it – Allah increases us in favour(s).

And I have noticed: when I have abstract expectations, or when I find myself wanting… I feel restless, and dissatisfied, and lost. But when I look down at my feet (m e t a p h o r i c a l l y) and really ‘deep’ what I have, and just live, and do what ought to be done, sans against-fiction expectations… Good things happen!

When I do not want, I know I receive [note: the word ‘want’ has two separate-but-connected meanings. To desire something (that you do not, at present, have) and to be deficient, lacking, in something]. Good, quietly – but deeply – lovely, things, from sources unexpected, but which Allah has given to me. [Ref: a colleague whom I sometimes speak with – I, struggling, in Bengali, embarrassing myself – randomly got me a box of sushi for lunch <3. And then, not to show off, because this was entirely a one-sided thing: my baby brother got me a book, from school (World Book Day). My heart melted, and I asked him how come (I had lowkey been fishing for him to say something extremely sweet) and he just said, unemotionally, in classic Saif fashion: “I had two book tokens and I already got myself the one I wanted so I just got you one too.” Eh. Good enough.]

I know I am a bit of a … romanticiser, at the best of times. I like looking up at the stars; I like it when words sound and feel beautiful; I like to feel the golden glow of things, when I am with people whom I love. But this is not necessarily idealism: the stars do exist, and so does the beauty of words; so, too, does the Divine gift that is family (even with its ups and downs, and little knife-wound betrayals… like when I no longer seem to be Dawud’s favourite cousin anymore. Sigh.) I think I can be quite prone to romanticising things… and I think this is okay, so long as it is all rooted in reality, and not in things that are not real, or real at present, or which I do not know, fully and deeply and fundamentally.

My muddied boots are mine: my reality. The craggy, the uneventful and the mundane. The errands, and the times when things get a little tough — and these gorgeous skies overhead are mine, also, and everybody’s. I need to manage my expectations, and focus on doing what is fruitful. These are the realities with which we are presented, and all fictions are inspired by reality’s best parts.

Reality is a fuller experience, though. Unscripted, and not engineered for the eyes of those of us who, at times, seek escape.

And the opposite of ‘escape’ is… being here, and facing it all. No (or, re-managed) expectations; no comparing my reality with others’. Futile. [To have their blessings, I would have to have their lives’ difficulties/tests. To lose my difficulties/tests, I would have to lose my blessings, also…]

These are the stuff of our lives. And now, what to do with them, or about them… The good, and the bad, and the… greys, the neutrals, also.

I need to focus, truly, on what is there, and not on actually-nonexistent things, like what ‘could’ or… ‘should’ (according to the fictions that we have digested, and/or concocted) be there. Loving what one has, and focusing on here-and-now considerations, and on giving/engaging in acts of acts of service as opposed to receiving, leads to Barakah: to an unmatchable, though quiet, goldenness, which is present even in times of acute difficulty. And Allah Azawwajal takes care of the rest: the outcomes, the Future, and all the rest of it.

[Some Biblical quotes, I find extremely beautiful. So, to quote the Bible:]

“I shall not want.” [Psalms, (23:1)]

Instead, I shall try to say: “Alhamdulillahi Rabbil ‘Aalameen” [Qur’an, (1:2)].

All praise/gratitude is for Allah, Lord of the Worlds: Lord of every single thing that exists, including [existential moment, here] me…


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

‘Asr

Surah ‘Asr. There are, in total, 114 chapters in Al-Qur’an-il-Kareem: the Noble Qur’an. Each of these Surahs are of varying lengths, and explore different topics.

Surah ‘Asr is one of the shorter Surahs. Composed of three Ayahs (meaning verses, and otherwise translatable as ‘signs’) in contrast with Surah Baqarah’s 286, Surah ‘Asr is succinct, yet strong. Small and mighty, hard-hitting and enlightening.

As with many words in the Arabic language, so it would seem: the word ‘Asr has a number of contemporaneous meanings. ‘Asr (عصر) means Time. A period of time, whether this be a century, a season, a day, or a night. Another meaning this triliteral root word has is one that is related to the action of pressing. Squeezing, wringing, things out. Extracting the juice from a fruit. Indeed, one cognate form of the word ‘Asr is ‘Aseer (عصير) which means ‘juice‘.

We Muslims also refer to one of our five daily prayers as the ‘Asr prayer. It occurs right before the end of the day: when the sun begins to wane. The day loses its vitality, its عصير.

Classical (Qur’anic) Arabic is so fascinating, Subhan Allah. I love, love, love it.

Surah ‘Asr, then [an English translation]:

By [the passage of] Time. (1) Indeed, mankind is [certainly] in loss. (2) Except those who believe/have trust (have Īmān) and carry out righteous deeds/actions/work, enjoin [with one another] in Truth, and enjoin [with one another] in Patience (3)

Time. Like when you go to juice a fruit. You begin with a complete fruit: full and ‘youthful’. The juice gets squeezed out, until there is but a carcass form of the fruit left. Human beings. What do we have? Our wealth, our main concern, is Time. It is being wrung, juiced, out. Every second that elapses is another second

Lost. Another drip of juice, extracted from the fruit.

When it comes to Time – this wealth that each of us has been bestowed with… Are we spending it fruitfully?

[I much prefer the word ‘fruitful’ over the word ‘productive’ when it comes to reflecting upon whether or not we are using our time well. ‘Productivity’ as a value implies that time is spent well – or, best – when something is being produced. But that is not all we are: we are not merely, solely ‘producers’. I mean, I could spend all my time constructing… a toothpaste factory model. That, for instance, would be time spent ‘productively’, but not necessarily…

Fruitfully. The imagery of a fruit being juiced. Gradually, perhaps, but truly and undeniably, still. Drip, drip, drip.]

You know life: it is hard. It is ups and downs and squiggles and jagged lines. It is loss and gain; pleasure and pain. It is necessarily challenging. And, as Muslims, we know:

We begin with Īmān. Faith, recognition of our Creator. Next:

Righteous deeds and works. These may include, according to Qur’an and Hadith [I am just going to list some that I know of, off the top of my head…]

  • Offering our five daily Salah, with due attention and respect
  • Doing Dhikr (active remembrance of God)
  • Smiling [It counts as Sadaqah!]
  • Making Du’a
  • Helping someone in need
  • Saying “Assalamu ‘alaikum” to people
  • Seeking forgiveness from Allah
  • Reciting Qur’an
  • Expressing gratitude to Allah
  • Seeking beneficial knowledge
  • Passing on beneficial knowledge
  • Being good to one’s neighbour
  • Reconnecting with family members with whom the ties of kinship had been cut
  • Walking on the Earth in a humble manner
  • Responding to ignorance with words of peace
  • Maintaining good personal and spatial hygiene
  • Restraining anger
  • Being good to animals [e.g. an example from a Hadith: giving water to a thirsty dog]
  • Fasting
  • Visiting people who are unwell
  • Accepting invitations to others’ houses; inviting them to your house, too, and being a good host [post-Corona, Insha Allah]
  • Planting a tree [even if it does not end up growing]
  • Serving our parents
  • Can you think of any more examples of good works ( الأعمال الصالحة)? Please do drop them in the comments section, below!

Finally: Truth and Patience. Being bonded with others, in Truth (and encouraging one another toward it, and toward remembering Him). And, encouraging one another toward, engaging in, Patience: Sabr – which is otherwise translatable as: discipline, self-restraint, steadfastness, perseverance. Because life is a thing of struggle.

So, the four things that render our ‘spending’ of Time fruitful, and not, ultimately, a grave loss:

Belief. Good actions. Enjoining in Truth. Enjoining in Patience.

A good video about Surah ‘Asr, by Nouman Ali Khan. I would certainly recommend viewing his lectures on YouTube, if you are looking to (more deeply) explore the Qur’an and its contents.

May we all have a fruitful week, dear reader. And may we all have a fruitful Dunya-based life. Āmeen.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Qadr

Dear friend,

This has all been a time of mighty upheaval for us, has it not? We grieved; we really felt the weight of our losses, of our fundamental uncertainties. Things half-made sense. Things half-did not make quite much sense at all. And, yet, here we are.

Allah (SWT) gives us, in every new moment, a chance. To begin, right from where we are. To continue, (and yet, to do just this) anew.

Upheaval. Demolition. Those castles we had been trying to build. The Earth is strong enough to swallow such ambitions whole. In a matter of milliseconds. You see,

It does not matter. If, at age fifty-three, even: you wake up and decide to start anew. Build. Today, you say, is my Day One. Even if it be your hundredth, or thousandth, Day One. Allah is Al-Ghafoor; He is, above all things, Mighty and Competent.

Will this matter in ninety years; in a century’s time? It will. Is all this without meaning? It is not.

Say, “O Allah, Owner of Sovereignty, You give sovereignty to whom You will and You take sovereignty away from whom You will. You honour whom You will and You humble whom You will. In Your hand is [all] good. Indeed, You are over all things [Mighty and] Competent.” [Qur’an, (3:26)]

Right where and when you are, now: it is not without Reason. To quote that student-of-mine’s gorgeous poem: “Don’t let faith go, this season”. Some leaves fall, and then, spring arrives. New leaves emerge; make themselves known. Roses unwrap themselves; unfurl, right before our very eyes.

Some scholars maintain that Yusuf (AS) had been imprisoned for twelve years. Thrown into a well; sold into slavery. Then, in due time, he had been given authority in Egypt. Consistent throughout, however, had been his utmost Trust in God.

And, what about Ayyub (AS)’s (estimated-seven-year-long) illness? There are more stories like this one.

Du’as (made sincerely) get answered: I promise you, they do. Indeed, your Lord is Near to you, and Responsive. [Qur’an, (11:61)]

For the most part, you know, I do not know a thing. But Allah does. And I know that some things were not meant for me; I am not meant for some things.

I know that my Lord knows me Best. I know that His Promise is True. That some will necessarily find the concept of Īmān ridiculous. I should not mind. I renounce that feeling of responsibility — of having to dwell within ‘Defensives’. It is tiring; it is depleting, without good reason. It has made me feel… hollow, more so than whole. Whole, as I should feel.

Do I live merely to impress others? Who are they? What makes them worthy, in such ways?

I should know whom I am trying to aspire to be more like, by now. I should know to make peace with those things that do not concern me; so, too, with those very things that do.

Dear friend,

I do not know the ins nor the outs of your story. Neither past, nor present, and certainly not future. But may this time in these lives of ours be a time of high Īmān, and of good health. Good understanding: wisdom, and so, so much love. May we get whatever is Good – Better, Best – for us.

Āmeen.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2020

Notes on the Qur’an: Surah Baqarah Pt. 1

P.S. [but in the wrong place] If you have anything at all to add or correct, please do get in touch!

I sort of do want to redo – or add to – all of this if/when I acquire more knowledge on the Qur’an. 

 

Surah Baqarah: the second – and longest – Surah in the Qur’an. The word ‘Baqarah’ means ‘Cow’ in Arabic: this Surah is named after a particular event that took place during the time of Moses (Musa AS).

I have included some verbatim quotes from the (Pickthall translation of the) Qur’an, in blueRe-note the fact that all translations of the Qur’an happen to be, by nature, interpretations, too… 

Now, most likely, this Surah had been revealed in its entirety within the four years after Hijrah – after the early Muslims’ migration from Makkah to Yathrib (Madinah). Some of the verses it contains are addressed to the Jews of the time: the followers of Moses, and of Abraham. At this time, in Yathrib, the Jewish tribes had (although reduced in power, over time, by two pagan Arab tribes) had preserved “a sort of intellectual ascendancy owing to their possession of the Scripture and their fame for occult science, the pagan Arabs consulting their rabbis on occasions and paying heed to what they said” [Pickthall].

And the Rabbis of these tribes knew, and often told their fellow people, that a Prophet was about to come. So plainly were they able to describe the coming prophet – from their scriptures, for example – that pilgrims from Yathrib were able to distinctively recognise the Prophet, when he addressed them in Makkah.

This is why Allah (SWT) says: “believe in that which I reveal, confirming that which ye possess already (of the Scripture), and be not the first to disbelieve (conceal the truth) therein”.

However, their [i.e. the Jews of the time and place] idea of a Prophet was “one who would give them dominion, not one who would make them brethren of every pagan Arab who chose to accept Al-Islam”.

  • This Surah reinstates the notion of Pure Monotheism: the religion of Abraham. Bowing to one God, and not to, for example, our personal desires, like those for power and supremacy over others.

 

  • “All through the Surah runs the note of warning, which sounds indeed throughout the whole Qur’an, that it is not the mere profession of a creed, but righteous conduct, which is true religion” [Pickthall]
    • This is a crucial thing for us to remember. We must try to be sincere in our actions, doing things for the sake of Allah, and not allowing pride (arrogance) of tradition to creep into our practising of religion. For example, there are some who perceive themselves as being better Muslims than others simply because they happen to be Arab. But factors such as these are unimportant. And, in reality, religion concerns your own bond with God, and your efforts and actions, beginning from whom and where you are.
    • The Abrahamic tradition of Pure Monotheism should be accessible to all in equal measure. Some are not more likely to obtain God’s favour than others purely as a result of their lineage.

 

  • “True religion […] consists in the surrender of man’s will and purpose to the Will and Purpose of the Lord of Creation.
  • “Of sincerity in that religion the one test is conduct

 

  • This Surah outlines some of the key beliefs that a Muslim (one who submits to Allah, and to Allah alone) ought to have: in Al-Ghayb (the Unseen), certainty in the Hereafter…
  • It also speaks about how best to (physically, in terms of actions) manifest and cultivate these beliefs, containing rules for fasting, the pilgrimage, almsgiving, prayer, as well as social and economic rules concerning contracts and divorce, the prohibition of usury, intoxication, and gambling.
  • To be a Muslim is, first and foremost, to believe: to take the Shahadah, bearing witness that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad (SAW) was his Servant and Messenger.
  • And then, to be a Muslim is also to observe all of these rules that have been laid out for us. Beginning with those ‘four pillars’ of prayer, almsgiving, pilgrimage, and fasting. And then, extending outwards into the social realms. We must observe these social obligations and regulations with much caution and care; we have rights over, as well as responsibilities towards, the people we know, and interact with. A good Muslim is conscientious when it comes to observing these.

 

  • “These depend on guidance from their Lord. These are the successful.”
    • So, first and foremost, we should depend on the guidance that has come to us, from Allah. The Qur’an, and what it says. And Hadith. And, where things are a little less clear, we must rely on the underlying principles that Revelation comprises. 
    • The “successful” are the ones who depend on this guidance. This is true wisdom! It would be foolish to rely, on a primary basis, on notions of success and wisdom that may come from elsewhere. Our Deen ought to be the basis of our lives.
    • Elsewhere in our tradition, we are told through the Adhan to “hasten to prayer, hasten to success
    • Indeed, success relies on the pursuit of meaningful activities, towards consequences that are better than alternatives, and towards things that will last. This is what we Muslims seek, on our ventures towards Jannah. And it is okay if maybe we must give up a few worldly pleasures in order to get there, no?

 

  • Two groups of people are heavily reprimanded in the Qur’an: the Kuffar (the ones who cover[ed] – the ones who knew about the coming of the Prophet, and who had every reason to [purely] believe, but refused) and the Munafiqun (the hypocrites: outwardly Muslim, but only in a superficial way).
  • Religion concerns the ‘inside’ as well as the ‘outside’: the heart, and one’s actions and behaviour in light of belief. While those who exhibit Kufr believed in Islam deep within, they did not allow this to manifest outwardly, out of pride. On the flip side, those who exhibit Nifaq may call themselves Muslims, but they are not sincere in this; they do not treat the title of ‘Muslim’ with due attention and honour. May Allah save us from being among either of these groups of people. We must focus on our own intentions, the states of our hearts, as well as our efforts and activities.

 

  • “Make not mischief on the Earth”
    • We should favour peace; try not to ‘stir’ things between people, try not to make things hard for others. Salaam! 

 

  • “And when it is said unto them: Believe as the people [i.e. the majority of people in Yathrib, at this time] believe, they say: ‘Shall we believe as the foolish believe?’ Verily, they are indeed the foolish, but they perceive it not”
    • As aforementioned, the people of these Jewish tribes thought themselves superior as a result of their more ‘developed’ theological knowledge. They did not want to be equal in brotherhood to whom they had deemed to be ‘the foolish’.
    • Islam – submission to the Almighty – first requires a good deal of humility, and this includes humility in matters of intellectualism.
    • There are certainly some parallels to be drawn between modern (New) Atheism, and how many atheists perceive theists as being foolish. Sometimes they assume airs of arrogance, too. But it is they who are the ones who do not know — though, at present, they perceive it not.

 

  • The theme of hypocrisy is addressed once again: the notion of people acting like (good) Muslims before other people, but being different when in private. Being a true Muslim necessitates deeply caring about one’s actions and intentions both before the people, and when they are not there.
  • They (the hypocrites) “purchase error at the price of guidance, so their commerce doth not prosper”
    • There will not be Barakah (blessing) in their business 
    • Note the metaphor of ‘purchasing’. This is significant, for we acquire things through our wealth: wealth in the forms of Time, health, intelligence, and our material possessions and money. We can purchase things from the way of guidance (which will bring us Barakah) or we can purchase from that of error.

 

  • “O mankind! Worship your Lord, Who has created you and those before you”
    • Some of the blessings of our Lord unto us are mentioned: the Earth, the sky, the rain, fruits. How wonderful these things are; how much we have been given. But we are often heedless of it all. 
    • “It is He who created for you everything that is on the Earth”

 

  • “And do not set up rivals to Allah when you know (better)”
    • We worship none but God. No ideology, no person, nothing but Allah is worthy of worship. We thank and praise Him, we ask Him for help, we remember Him, we devote our good actions to Him… 

 

  • “And if ye are in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto our servant [Muhammad], then produce a Surah of the like thereof…”
    • In Islam, we believe that since the dawn of humanity, up until the time of Muhammad (SAW), prophets and messengers have been sent to different communities, to spread the message of God. 
    • It is interesting to note that Isa (AS) [Jesus], for example, had been given unique powers of healing. He had been born into a society that had been deeply concerned with medicinal healing. They had discovered and pioneered a range of cures for diseases, however they still could not cure certain diseases – like those of blindness, leprosy and… death. But Allah (SWT) had granted Isa (AS) these particular abilities to heal people, as a sign for those open to faith.
    • Likewise, during Musa (AS)’s time, Sihr (magic, through contact with the worlds Unseen) had been widely practised. But the abilities of Musa (AS), by Allah (SWT)’s Will, went above and beyond what the people of his time had been capable of. For example, when he threw down his stick, and it turned into a snake, and when he stood at the Red Sea, and it parted in two for him.
    • Now, the society that Muhammad (SAW) had been born into (pre-Islamic Arabia) had very much been one of poetry. The poets of the time had been highly trained since early ages [in fact, the ability to simply write, let alone compose beautiful poetry, had been very rare indeed, which is why scribes tended to be paid very highly]; they (the poets) were revered, and people would gather around them to hear them speak. But nobody could compete with the linguistic brilliance of the Qur’an; it could not have come from this ‘unlettered’ man (Muhammad SAW). This led to many of the most skilful and admired poets of the time embracing Islam.

 

  • “And give glad tidings (O Muhammad) unto those who believe and do good works; that theirs are Gardens beneath which rivers flow”
    • This Ayah once again emphasises the importance of belief and what is within ourselves, as well as the importance of manifestations of this, i.e. good works. 
    • Jannah-tul-Firdaus (Heaven) has subterranean rivers. Land with such rivers tends to have luscious and thriving greenery!
    • Here, we will (Insha Allah) have delicious food and fruit, as well as “pure companions”. As humans, we may have numerous wants. We dream idealistically, but often these greater desires cannot be realised here in the Dunya (the current world). But Jannah is where all these desires can be fulfilled.
    • The good that you do, here, you are putting forward for your Ākhirah. If you believe and do good works, Jannah is already yours: these Gardens beneath which rivers flow are yours. 
    • On the flip-side: “whosoever has done evil and his sin surrounds him: such are rightful owners of the Fire; they will abide therein”. 
    • Through our deeds, we are purchasing property: our future abodes. They are either gardens beneath which rivers flow (and the more righteous among us will have the best of these) or the Fire. 
    • “Whatever of good you send before (you) for your souls, you will find it with Allah”

 

  •  “He misleadeth not except the defiantly disobedient” 
    • This brings up the topic of Free Will and Determinism. We have agency and free will, but this is ultimately enveloped by Allah (SWT)’s supreme authority. He decides on the outcomes of our choices. We choose belief or disbelief. And the ones who are defiantly disobedient are very much increased in error by Allah.

 

  •  The losers in this test of life are defined as the ones who “break the covenant of Allah after ratifying it”, and who break the ties of kinship [this brings up the importance of social rights and responsibilities, once again. We have to cherish and maintain our bonds with family members] and who make mischief on the Earth. 

 

  • We are reminded of the fact that we have been lifeless once. Then, we came to life, by Allah (SWT)’s Will and Grace. To Him, we shall return.
  • This life is the “flight of the alone to the Alone” [Plotinus]
  • We “will have to meet [our] Lord, and unto Him [we] are returning”
  • We will be judged for our deeds, on a day when it is just us, alone with what we have done, the decisions that we have made

 

  • “And He is the Knower of all things” 

 

  • We are viceroys/viceregents (‘Khalifahs’) of the Earth. We have been given sovereignty, here. The Earth is for us, and we have a duty towards it, and towards what it contains.

 

  • Allah (SWT) taught Adam (AS) language. Language is a phenomenal thing, if you think about it: it facilitates what separates us from the rest of animal-kind ⁠— our capacities for reason, to internally regulate our thoughts. This is from whence human agency is born.

 

  • Pride – and especially that which prevents us from following Allah (SWT)’s commands – e.g. pride in one’s own cognitive conclusions, thinking that our fallible minds are actually infallible – leads to Kufr (internal belief, devoid of necessary actions). Once again, both the ‘inner’ and the ‘outer’ are necessary, to actually be one who submits to Allah.

 

  • Life in the Dunya is a test. Here, we get “a habitation and provision for a time”.
    • To attain success, we must follow the Guidance, and what it contains, taking care of our ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ states, attempting to acquire the state of righteousness 
    • “Eat and drink of that which Allah hath provided, and do not act corruptly” 
    • Focus on the provisions you have been given, and be grateful for them. An example is given, in this Surah, of the Children of Israel: when they had been provided with manna and quails by Allah. But they had wanted more. 
    • “Would ye exchange that which is higher for that which is lower?”
    • Sometimes, the things we have been given by Allah are actually better for us than whatever we may desire from outside of it. Lifestyles, possessions, and all the rest of it… 

 

  • We should not part with what has been revealed to us – with Islam – for “a trifling price”. 
    • Back to the sustained metaphor of transactions, our Deen is the most valuable thing we have. Why would we give it up for cheap things, like certain antithetical lifestyles?
    • We have a duty towards God. We are His servants.

 

  • We should not lie, and nor should we dilute the Truth with falsehood.

 

  • A lot of it is about gratitude. Worship your Lord, and be grateful to Him. Be grateful of the provisions He has given you, e.g. by paying Zakat (money to the poor).

 

  • “Enjoin ye righteousness upon mankind while ye yourselves forget (to practise it)? …”
    • It is scary to think how severe yet widespread the idea of ‘preaching but not practising’ is. More so than ‘talking the talk’, we really must ‘walk the walk’ of Al-Islam, though spreading the message is also of great importance. 
    • “… and you are readers of scripture!”
      • If we read the Qur’an, we must also be careful to ensure that we are implementing its teachings, with due diligence. 

 

  • Seek help in patience and prayer; and truly, it is hard save for the humble-minded” 
    • This Dunya is a place of numerous trials and tribulations. But we are told to seek help in patience and prayer. Who are we to deny the wisdom in this? 
    • Patience: Sabr. Basically, Islamic Stoicism, a beautiful patience. Enduring negative emotions, sometimes, but still toiling, having hope in things that are yet to come, for us. Allah (SWT) loves those who put their trust in Him, but this is not to say that fatalism and inaction are the answers. Quite the opposite, actually. We must act, while also having Sabr.
    • Interspersed throughout are days are also the five daily Salah. How lovely: we spend our days however we spend them, but there are also these sacred pitstops, meetings with our Lord. And, through them, we can make Du’a ⁠—supplications to Him. And He, as is said elsewhere in the Qur’an, responds to the caller when they call out to Him.
    • Humility is encouraged, once again. We should not have pride before our Creator in ways that counteract the humility we ought to have before Him. The humble-minded know that it is their duty, and a blessing, to pray. And the humble surrender to Allah, and to Allah alone.

 

  • If we seek forgiveness from Allah, we will be forgiven for our sins. And, for good actions, we will have increased rewards.

 

  • Do not change the word of God. [This is an example of adulterating Truth with falsehood, and is a major sin]
    • Revelation says what it says. We should not alter the words of God to befit our own narratives. Even if a certain commandment goes against our own desires, if it is a clear-cut commandment, it is a clear-cut commandment, and we are very limited in knowledge.

 

  • “God does not shy from drawing comparisons even with something as small as a gnat, or something greater: the believers know it is the truth from their Lord, but the disbelievers say, ‘What does God mean by such a comparison?’ Through it He makes many go astray and leads many to the right path. But it is only the rebels He makes go astray”

    • The coronavirus: it is certainly smaller than a gnat. Through it, many are increased in wrongdoing, while others are led back to the right path. Think about Ramadan during this quarantine period: many people really came back to Islam, and found a true sense of peace in worship. Meanwhile, others may simply question Allah (SWT)’s wisdom, and go astray.

 

  • “Those who believe (in that which is revealed unto thee, Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians (Nazarenes – those who had been ‘Christian’ without worshipping Christ), and Sabaeans — whoever believeth in Allah and the Last Day and doeth right — surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them, and neither shall they grieve.”
    • The righteous are those who submit to and worship God. 
    • “And they say: None entereth Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian. These are their own desires. Say: Bring your proof, if you are truthful. // Nay, but whoever surrenders his purpose to Allah while doing good, his reward is with his Lord. And there shall be no fear come upon them, and nor shall they grieve”.  
    • “Hold fast to what We have given you” 

 

  • We are sort of like apes, at least physiologically. But we are much more than them. If we surrender to our lowly desires and instincts, at the expense of the things that ennoble us, and make us distinguishable as human beings, we become “like apes, despised”. 

 

  • We must not allow our hearts to harden. And the state of one’s heart is contributed to by one’s actions: (sincere) acts of worship, for example, purify the heart. Acts of service towards others makes us more empathetic and emotionally intelligent. And the media we consume also has direct effects on our hearts. So we must be careful!

 

  •  “Worship none but Allah, and be good to parents and to kindred and to orphans and the needy, and speak kindly to mankind. And establish worship, and pay the poor-due.”
    • We have duties towards our Lord, as well as duties towards the people. The needy, we must help, and to fellow people – to fellow Children of Adam – we must speak kindly. 

 

  • Do not shed the blood of your people, and do not drive them out from their homes.

 

  •  Do not be greedy for this current life.

 

Stopped at Ayah 113. Until next time, Insha Allah!


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Notes on the Qur’an: Surah Fatihah

 

All Praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. 

The Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. 

Owner of the Day of Judgement.

You (alone) we worship, and You we ask for help. 

Guide us to the straight path, 

The way of those on whom You have bestowed your grace, 

Not the way of those who have earned your anger, nor of those who have gone astray. 

Ameen.

 

Surah Fatihah. ‘The Opening’ Surah. Root letters: Fa, Ta, Ha. Elsewhere in the Qur’an, these root letters are conjugated to indicate decision-making, too. Another word that stems from them is the Arabic word for ‘key’ — Miftaah.

The word ‘Allah’ has been retained throughout the translation, since there is no corresponding word in English. The word ‘Allah’ has neither feminine linguistic form, nor plural. It has never been used to refer to anything but the unimaginable Supreme Being. The word ‘Ilah’, however, means ‘God’ in the general sense of the word. 

This Surah is otherwise known as Umm-a-tul-Qur’an, the Mother of the Qur’an. It aptly summarises the Holy Book’s essence.

All Praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds

Now, we must remember that point about how all translations of the Qur’an happen to be, by nature, reductive. As aforementioned, the Arabic language – and, more so, Fus’ha Arabic – is an unbelievably rich and vast one. The words that have been selected, from English, to represent what the Arabic says are only the best possible options.

The word that has been translated into “Praise”, here, for example – Hamd – is actually quite an encompassing word. It encompasses the meanings of “praise”, “thanks” ⁠— all praise, and all thanks.

Second, ‘Lord’ of the Worlds: the word used is ‘Rabb’. This is another ‘encompassing word’. Lord, Sustainer, Maker, Cherisher, the Most Supreme Being, all wrapped up into one concise word. Rabb. 

Lord of the Worlds, of the ”Aalameen’. Root letters: ‘Ayn, Laam, Meem. These can be conjugated to mean things to do with knowledge, and things to do with different worlds. Essentially, Allah (SWT) is the Lord of all knowledge, all that we can gain via experience, all that can possibly be known; all that exists.

Owner of the Day of Judgement

The word ‘Malik’ is used for ‘owner’. This means owner, as well as one who has power over something. Sovereignty.

The Day of Judgement: ‘Yawm-ul-Qiyamah’. It is interesting to note that the word ‘Yawm’ does not necessarily refer to a ‘day’ as we know it here on Earth, i.e. consisting of twenty-four hours. It refers to a given period of time, a stage. For example, the Universe had not been created in seven days per se, but in seven differing stages.

We need to remember that we will die, and that we will be resurrected. There will come a day on which our deeds – good and bad, and their degrees – will be measured and presented before us. We will exit from temporality, and we will enter into eternity.

You (alone) we worship, and You we ask for help.

As Muslims, we should worship God, and God alone. We should not worship Jesus, as the Christians do. We should not worship our own desires, either. And nor should we worship any of these false Gods that modernity has given birth to, after the rise of Existentialism.

It is Allah – our Rabb – whom we ought to ask for help. He is the ultimate provider, and the sustainer. We always need Him, even if we think we do not.

Guide us to the straight path

Sirat-ul-Mustaqeem: the straight path, variously translated as being the path of middles. [If anybody knows what the root letters of ‘Mustaqeem’ are, please do let me know…]

All life is a thing of acquisitions. We choose things; we acquire good, and/or evil, and thereby choose our paths. There is Sirat-ul-Mustaqeem, on which we are bestowed with Divine grace, if we walk upon it. And there is the path of the astray, the ones who have earned God’s anger. The Christians, for example, went astray after redirecting their worship from God to one of His Prophets. The Jews earned Allah’s anger by altering His words to befit their own desires.

 

So, this is the opening Surah of the Qur’an. One down, 113 to go. This Surah summarises the essence of the Book. It encapsulates themes such as our belief in and reliance on God, and God alone. It tells us about life, and how we choose the path(s) we walk upon. And, ultimately, we shall be judged. There will come a ‘Yawm’ of judgement, of Divine decisions.


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