Wednesday, 23 November 2016

"Falling Into The Trap of Judging Others"

[I initially wrote this paper for a university magazine and decided to also share it here. It may sound a little bit more formal than my usual posts, which tend to be very personal, but as with anything I hope it benefits one of you]

We've all had those moments, browsing from one YouTube video after the other as the ten minute break becomes an hour or so. I must have been doing the same when I somehow stumbled upon a video with a cleric addressing a Q&A.

One questionnaire stepped forward and asked:

'Dear shaykh, may Allah reward you for your speech, I had just one question. I have become friends with a Muslim co-worker who is a very good person but unfortunately he does not observe his prayers. What should someone like myself do in this position?'

The response was quick: 'Advise him to pray. But if he doesn't oblige then stay away from him altogether and cut off any relationship you have with him too'.

Just like that.

I found it a little difficult to absorb at first especially since we, as Muslims, cannot force others to do something. But then again the five daily prayers are one of the most important pillars of our faith.
“Take care to do your prayers–praying in the best ways–and stand before God in devotion” [Surah al Baqarah (2):238]

I tried to brush it off and clicked onto another video to watch (convincing myself there was still time left in that "ten minute" break).

It’s now been a couple of years since I stumbled on that video and now I find myself asking how can we, as Muslims, balance this approach?

Is it reasonable to cut off all ties of communication with someone who isn’t fulfilling a religious duty or still stay close to them which could potentially negatively impact our own faith?

So let’s look at both.

One of the most obvious setbacks to cutting off ties with someone is that it automatically breaks off a source of guidance for that person. Suppose Maryam does not pray her prayers whilst her friend Aisha does; if Aisha decides to cut off all ties with Maryam, since she doesn’t pray, then there may be no one left for Maryam to reach out to. There will be no one left that will remind her in times of uncertainty to perform a good deed and no one she can turn to during times of distress who will remind her to remember her Creator. By cutting off all ties with Maryam, Aisha will have left her no source of guidance to reach out to.

Another drawback from this approach is that it can have a way of sprouting itself into something worse. Suppose Ahmed does not like how his family observes their religious duty or lack thereof. Ahmed could apply the same approach here by not speaking to his own family because, in his eyes, they are not observant as much he thinks they should be. It does not just stop with Salah or a co-worker, it can extend even further.

There is one guarantee from this approach and that is a sort of partition. It creates more and more division not just amongst people but even friends & family–all of which is very counterproductive since we, as human beings, are naturally social creatures.

Just recently, whilst browsing online nonetheless, I came across a quote from imam al Ghazali who was asked, "What is the ruling for the one who has left prayer?" He replied, "The ruling is for you to take them along with you to the mosque".

That is wisdom!

Not only did he correctly point out we should advise others towards acts of good deeds but he also mentioned we should take them–not leave them–to the mosque with us. Hence, he not only encouraged us spreading good deeds but he also preached unity.

“And hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah, and be not divided among yourselves…” [Al Imran (3):185]

As sr Asmaa Hussein, author of the book ‘A Temporary Gift’, and someone who lost her husband due partly to the hate speech and division being spread in Egypt, said it best herself: "Were so involved in putting people down and counting…[the] sins [of others] that we don't stop and think - how can I be a source of good and inspiration in this person's life?"

I asked her why that same quote of Imam Ghazali meant so much to her? She felt it was due to being a new mother. Since she was so cautious of taking care of the influences around her young daughter, she felt afraid of any external negative influences.

Recently Asmaa felt that instead of teaching her daughter to stay away from people or things she did not agree with, she wanted to teach her compassion.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once said,
“May Allah have mercy upon the man who is easygoing when he sells, easygoing when he buys, and easygoing when he asks for payment” [Reported by al-Bukhaari (2076)]

Asmaa hopes that every time her daughter thinks about passing judgement on someone, she first stops and reflects on how that person’s actions will inform her of her own. So instead of insulting, she learns to be encouraging and instead of abandoning, she learns to become a shoulder to lean on.

Coming from someone who, at one time, wasn't consistent with his own prayers, we should always aim be a friend not a judge. We also need to understand this world isn't a place of judgment, that's reserved for the Hereafter. And nor are we judges–that duty only belongs to Allah. We are merely people. People who perform acts of good deeds and people who fall into mistakes–some more than others.

The Prophet (pbuh) once said,
"All of the children of Adam are sinners, and the best of those are the ones who repent" [Sunan ibn Majah (4251)]

As sr Asmaa said it best herself: "we have an obligation to help others but we also have an obligation to maintain ourselves and our faith."

Friday, 29 July 2016

"Legacy of the father I barely knew" (By M. Zafar)

You can't have much of a memory from someone you know for a very short time. Frankly I feel like I've known my grade 9 high school teacher better than I knew my dad. I first met him when I was six or seven years old. Before that he had come to Canada hoping to sponsor us and left when I was six months.

I remember I would record my voice in one of the old 1990s tape recorders and my mom would send the tapes to Canada for my dad to listen. Back then it was so expensive to call, my mom figured it would be better to use this approach especially since my dad could listen to the tapes recurrently if he chose. My dad never told us this, having to live up to his macho sense of being a male, but my mother later told me he would listen to those tapes at night before going to sleep and often cry since he missed us so much.

The truth is I never got close to him. I was 6 months when he left to Canada. I did reunite with him at age six but he left for good before my 12th birthday. So we spent roughly six years together most of which feels blurred to me now.

So what legacy did a man I barely had a chance to get to know leave with me? We probably had a couple of father-son moments which were unfortunately overshadowed by negative ones. My dad simply didn't grasp the idea that when you are not there with your son for the first six or seven years of his life, he will be a bit reluctant listening to each one of your “commands”. But hey, he was old school. Can’t really blame him for that.

Our most notable father-son moment came before he was returning to Pakistan for a short visit. He spoke to me about how I had to be the “man” of the house while he was gone. At 11 I didn’t quite grasp what it meant.

He wasn’t sick for long and perhaps that is why he could never leave with me words I would remember or lean back on. Last time I saw him alive he wasn’t able to speak and hugged me whilst in immense pain. I’m sure he would have loved to leave me with an impression or a legacy about how I’d remember him. And ironically he did. In the best way possible. I remember his interest in listening to Quran.

He never taught me to recite Quran, or memorize it, and to be honest I don't even remember him telling me to ever go read.

But he had one habit: anytime he drove he would always put on Quran recited by Qari Waheed Zafar (No relation by the way) with the Urdu translation. I began to enjoy it too as a kid and was ecstatic to find it online many years later–it not only provided me with a chance of listening to the Quran but also brought nostalgic memories with it.

So that’s what I remember about the guy who was diagnosed unexpectedly with cancer and didn’t last longer than 2-3 months after that.

My dad probably never thought playing Quran in the car would be the strongest link I would have to him when he died; he probably gave it no thought when he used to always play it in the car. But when I listen to that same Quran recitation now, I will always know who introduced me to it.

May Allah unite us all with our loved ones in Jannah.
--------------------------------------------------- [Quran by Qari Waheed Zafar]

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Ramadan - Truly the best time of the year.

The best time of year is finally upon us. This is my favorite month of the year. I cannot say I speak for most people but it is truly the only time of the year I fully feel alive – as if my heart isn’t constrained or obstructed by anything.

Battling depression, acute anxiety, and roller coasters of overwhelming stress for much of my life, I have found this month to be a true escape for me. Honestly nothing comes close to it. It is the single best form of counseling and therapy for me.

"Just a dose of Ramadan doctor, that'll do."

The one time of the year I feel less of a traveler and more like someone arriving home. The closest this world has ever felt to paradise for me is this month. The shackles, the barriers, the partition between myself and my Creator doesn't exist as much this month as it does in others.

The month when an angry me naturally stays calmer, the month when my struggles with prayers turn into prayers with Khushoo, the month when loneliness fades away and I feel more fulfilled than ever and the month when the mountains of stress and depression feel as if a fly is on my shoulders.

It wasn't always like this though.

The worst Ramadan I probably ever had was in high school. I tried to count down the months so I could regularly start listening to music without feeling the guilt. I started making plans for Eid early on just so I could feel this month would finish sooner – so many people were praying and I just couldn’t emulate them. With Taraweeh, which I never attended until I turned 19 or so, I never felt like I was missing anything. Even the walk to Jumuah prayer was one I forced myself to go. You know what? I was miserable. It sucked.

I felt I could never match up to the better Muslims so what was the point in trying? And I felt I was going to go back to sinning after Ramadan so what was the point of all this “acting”?

But there is no such thing as Ramadan Muslims. There are only Muslims. Muslims who struggle a lot and Muslims who struggle less. And Ramadan is a time we all maximize our potential.

Don't let anyone make you feel like you're not a good enough Muslim, you let Allah worry about that. Be sincere to Him, open your heart to Him and make this a month of change for yourself.

Wishing you the best this month,

Friday, 25 March 2016

"Sacrifice Behind Closed Doors" (by Mohammad Zafar)

I recently heard something undeniably true: "To acquire anything of value requires sacrifice". SubhanAllah how true! Many of the times we forget the sacrifices people constantly around us make - especially those behind closed doors. Though these people may not be famous or well known to others, they are perhaps the closest to Allah.

Many of you are probably well familiar with Malcolm X. One of the strongest, most charismatic and influential Muslim personalities in the 20th century. At one time he used to call all white people "devils". But his life drastically changed when he went for Hajj in Mecca seeing whites, blacks and people of all color worshiping and praying together. He accepted Orthodox Islam right away because of the experience.

But did you know he did not have any funds for his trip? In fact, since he departed from the Nation of Islam, he was broke. Well then how did he manage to pay for an overseas trip when he had no money with him? It was actually due to the help of his half-sister Ella.

Out of her own pocket, though she did not have too much money herself, Ella paid for every penny Malcolm X would use for the Hajj trip.

Think about that. Perhaps only a handful of people may know about her today. But if it was not for the trip she financed for her brother, he would not have been able to go for Hajj or even leave behind the legacy he did.

Just because most people will never hear about Ella or about the thousands of others working tirelessly for His pleasure, do you think Allah will forget?

"Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of those who do good".
[Surah Yusuf (12):90]

Ella, who would later accept Orthodox Islam along with Malcolm, was not rich herself. But she worked and gave everything she could to help her younger half-brother.

In his own words, Malcolm said:

"[Hajj] would require money that I didn't have.

I took a plan to Boston. I was turning again to my sister Ella. Though at times I'd made Ella angry at me, beneath it all, since I had first come to her as a teen-aged hick from Michigan, Ella had never once really wavered from my corner.

'Ella,' I said, 'I want to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.'
Ella said, 'How much do you need?'"

A picture of both Ella and Malcolm in 1941

Saturday, 2 January 2016

"I Miss Allah" - by Mohammad Zafar

It happens certain days in certain moments. I can never tell why but spontaneously the feeling comes and I tell myself "I miss Allah". Whether I’m content in life, having a bad day or going through a miserable period, the feeling is there.

I have both missed remembering Him and also just Him. In this previous Ramadan I sat content with everything in my life yet also feeling empty–like everything was still not enough. I had been remembering Allah more in the month than I probably had in the previous six months combined. Why did I still miss Him? Was it due to the sins I worked so hard to attain? Maybe it was because I was not remembering Him the way I should? Or perhaps I was doing everything right but the feeling was natural?

Those days in childhood when it seemed like every child, in extended family dinners or school, teased and bullied me; those days when I came home from a miserable day at school wanting someone to speak to and found no one; those nights I spent awake feeling empty and lonely then finally crying myself to sleep–strangely enough those were the times I missed Allah less. A broken heart of mine found it easier to connect to Him. I wanted to sit beside Him–not even talk to Him but just hear what He was saying and doing. I just wanted His presence. I always felt I was born elsewhere and stripped away from my home–wherever that place was, I left my heart there a long time ago.

While browsing the net one day I came across an article with the title “I miss Allah”. So it's not just me, others feel it too! Amazingly enough it was written by a teacher I had in Islamic school nearly a decade earlier.

I thought how can she miss Allah? I used to look up to her as a good Muslim and even felt guilty when seeing her make Dua after Dhuhr prayers.

As I read what she wrote, I began to see what she really missed was remembering Allah. But she did not say "I miss making remembrance of Allah", she said, as I am saying: “I miss Allah”.

To me the word "miss" has always implied when two beings, with mutual love, were together in each other’s company and then departed away. The period eventually grew too long between them and a yearning became the result.

Remembering Allah only suffices a temporary relief; the everlasting relief still awaits. For a mother whose child moves away, be it even temporary, would hearing her child's voice on the phone fill her void? Would her child, too, be content only with the mother's voice?

It would provide relief, yes…but only enough to carry on. What they both would want is to sit with each other, to embrace one another, to hear each other’s voices up close and personal and never depart from each other again. What they would want is the reunion of their love for nothing else could suffice.

And that is how I have felt my whole life. I felt I was with Allah at one time and then snatched away (like a child away from his mother). Ever since then I have been on my path to find Him again.

O Allah, I really, really miss You. And lately even remembering You has not sufficed. I just miss You! My teacher too. The one reading this misses You.

But I'm we glad we do, because the reunion will be even that much better.