Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sharpening the Saw

Our daily routine defines what we are, what we think and what we will do in the future. Often we grow up with a societal narrative as to what we are supposed to accomplish in our lives. For most of us, it is what our parents, media, friends, community, school, university, workplace and country has ingrained in our thinking. As we progress in life the stereotypical societal expectations are enhanced and reinforced, without us ever taking time out to think why we are doing what we are doing in our lives.

Some consider this a modern phenomenon, but the truth of the matter is that it has been going on throughout history.  Many great men came to a point in their lives where they questioned the prevalent mores, values, beliefs and customs of their societies. The Prophet (SWAS) took time out to meditate in the wilderness before divine revelation descended upon him. Even those who have been trained into the religious sciences and have accomplished great stature, come to a point where they seek to understand basic assumptions in life.

This happened to Imam Al Ghazzali as well. As the Principal of the top center of learning of his time – the Nizamiyya of Baghdad -- he had reached the pinnacle of his professional career. He had mastered, at least externally, what was known of the religious sciences. He was an eloquent orator and an articulate debater of religious doctrine. Nevertheless, he experienced a time when he was dumbfounded at the essential meaning and purpose of his life. He did not understand why he was doing what he was doing. After extended periods of confusion and internal turmoil he took the bold decision to give up all he had – his career, position, wealth, reputation, family, city, etc. He set out to live a life of a wandering ascetic. He spent years in ignominy undergoing deep contemplation, dhikr, spiritual exercises, etc. This experience transformed him. He used the spiritual experiences he underwent to document the inner insights from the meaning of the external Sharia that he was trained in his youth. After years of solitude, he emerged into society to teach the kernels of truths he had discovered -- some of which he documented in his Magnum Opum, Ihyaa Uloom Uddeen (The Revival of the Religious Sciences). His explanation of Islam transformed it from rituals of external fossilized customs to a meaningful transformative internal agent for positive change.

Modern professors take a sabbatical from their daily research and teaching. This has shown to add essential depth and meaning in their vision. Modern day Muslims are eager to excel in their education and career. Have they considered taking a sabbatical from their daily routine to enhance their perspective of Reality? As witnesses onto humanity, Muslims have higher goals than to just earn a living. To play their part out sincerely, they need a deeper understanding of the world and this life than the common people of other faiths.

Ideal periods to achieve this is at key crossroads in life: after graduating from high school or university, after establishing yourself in your career, after marriage, etc. It is important that one tries to broaden one’s understanding at a stage in life which would allow him/her to contribute in life later on. Most people undergo such changes after retirement only to prepare for death.

Freeing oneself of the luxuries of life makes one independent of many needs which chains many people into inaction and a compromised life. Try living without your cell phone, the internet, a soft bed, rich food, television, support from family and friends. Someone who undergoes such experiences does not fear deprivation. Their eyes are always fixed on more meaningful goals and they are able to sustain almost all circumstances in life. The only thing that should not be compromised in the ability to practice the deen, a simple but clean environment and access to quality Islamic education.

As parents, we should expose our children to tough circumstances as well and arrange such spiritual retreats for them from an earlier age; whether they be in the form of Muslim scout camps, long weekend Muslim youth retreats, hiking trips, voluntary fasts, etc. Once they are old enough we should encourage our children to enroll in study abroad programs to third world countries, volunteer programs like Muslim Peace Corps and study Islam formally with traditional scholars in the Muslim world.

We need a generation of insightful Muslims, like Imam Al Ghazzali, who are completely in tune with their religion and also capable of providing insightful solutions to the deficiencies of the Modern World.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Ways to Seek Righteous Companionship

1.       Visit Masajid Daily
For men, the masjid is a place they visit several times a day. They tend to pray with the same people on a daily basis for extended periods. With time, they get to observe the congregation and unconsciously get to know their habits, behaviors, likes and dislikes, strengths and weakness, etc. Thus the local masjid is a fertile ground to seek righteous companionship. The imam is often someone who has studied the deen for many years and as a public figure is living what he preaches. Befriending him is important to one’s development.

2.       Do Good Deeds Collectively
People cooperate with each other to carry out amaal as saleh in society. Good works come in a whole spectrum of initiatives whether it be building a masjid, donating an organ, drilling a well, financing an ambulance, setting up a soup kitchen or standing up to injustice. People who share a vision and are motivated to spend resources to improve society are certainly one’s you should associate with often. Perhaps the best work is doing dawah and there are ample opportunities to learn and teach your dawah companions. Similarly, I have observed that the people one does Umrah and Hajj with become lifelong friends. How often it happens that one meets such an individual in one’s city’s masjid and reminisce about the spiritual journey they undertook together.

3.       Seek Religious Knowledge in Groups
The status of a scholar is much higher than that of a worshiper. Those who teach and learn religious knowledge together develop deep bonds of brotherhood. Their interest in knowledge for Allah’s sake attests to their piety. They are struggling to develop good characters and manners. Who would not like to be in such company?

4.       Get Married for the Deen
One spends most of one’s life with one’s immediate family, so it is vital to ensure that they are righteous. Marrying a righteous spouse and having good in-laws is critical to enjoy beneficial lifelong companionship. When one has children one focuses on their proper tarbiyya. Establishing a daily family study circle brings blessings in a home. It makes it a visiting place for angels and a nurturing ground for righteousness. Such a home can be a virtual masjid. By inviting good people to it, one strengthens bonds with righteous family friends.

5.       Socialize Through Your Parents & Progeny

After one reaches a certain age, one’s parents become like friends. They genuinely wish the best for their progeny and know them inside out so they can be a good source of council and companionship. Similarly righteous friends of one’s parents who had beneficial impact on your upbringing can be a source of wisdom and advice. Just as one should befriend one’s parents, one should be one’s kids’ best friends as well and in turn seek good company for them. Their Islamic school friends can be ours as well. Other parents who enroll their children in Islamic schools have similar goals and concerns as ourselves. They can be excellent companions. Lastly one’s children’s teachers have the best interest in mind for our families. Their companionship is equally valuable.

The Reality of Halloween

Halloween is a Christianized version of the pagan Celtic festival called Samhain – named after their god of the dead. It celebrated the Day of the Dead which happened to be the last day of their calendar and the end of summer – October 31. On this night spirits of the dead were supposed to visit the earth and their priests (Druids) would try to appease Samhain by sacrificing crop and animals in bonfires. The Druids were believed to talk to the dead spirits who helped them foretell the future. This helped give hope to people during the long, dark and cold winters.

In the AD 800s, Pope Bonifice IV changed this pagan festival and made November 1 All Saint’s Day or All Hallow’s (Holy) Day – a day in which they remembered all the Christians who died for their faith. The night before was called All Hallow’s Eve which became Halloween.

Origin of Halloween Traditions
The Halloween costume is worn because in the past it was meant so that the spirits of the dead who were roaming the earth would not recognize people who would disguise themselves as one of them.

The Druids would go from house to house demanding specific food to offer to the spirits in order to calm them. If their demands were met the household would be prosperous. If not they would suffer misfortune. This is the origin of “trick or treat”.

A Celtic legend described a man called Jack who enjoyed tricking the Devil. After his death, his spirit had to wander the earth carrying a lantern to show him the way. Pumpkins with candles represented his lantern – Jack o’ lantern. They were also supposed to scare spirits away hence odd looking faces were carved on them.

Halloween Today
Every year people spend billions on candy and costume. A survey in 2005 found about $3.29 billion was spent on Halloween ten years ago. Contrast this with the United Nations World Food Program stats:
      More than 800 million people go to bed without food everyday
-          One child dies every 5 seconds in the world from hunger

Today, many Satan worshippers and occult groups ritualistically recognize Halloween as the Devil’s Day.
Over 60% of costumes are sold to adults who become outrageous exhibitionists.

The Islamic Perspective on Halloween
Islam is against following pagan, superstition and idolatrous practices of old.

“We have sent them the truth, but they indeed practice falsehood” (Quran 23:90)

The Quran says that magic harms and brings no benefit (Quran 2:102).

As Muslims, we must cling to the Sunnah of the Prophet (SWAS) as our way of life and deny all invented matters.

“You must keep my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the Rightly Guided Caliphs; cling to it firmly. Beware of newly invented matters, for every new matter is innovation and every innovation is misleading” (Bukhari)

The Prophet (SWAS) warned his Ummah, not to follow the practices of other nations.

“The final hour will not come until my followers copy the deeds of the previous nations and follow them very closely, span by span and cubit by cubit” (Bukhari)

“Whoever imitates a nation is one of them” (Abu Dawud)

What Should We Do on Halloween?
·         Educate ourselves and others about the reality of Halloween
·         Refrain from belief in any superstition of Halloween
·         Avoid supporting Halloween customs by not buying costumes, decorations and candies
·         Refrain from participating in any Halloween ritual including trick or treat, Halloween parties, etc.
o   Not handing out treats to other children; instead, keep the porch lights off and do not open the door
o   One could instead put a box holder with pamphlets describing the reality of Halloween.

Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick’s Advice to Muslims on Halloween
·         Avoid it. It’s a night of evil. Satan is our open enemy and we do not play with evil.
·         Trick or treating is really kids begging for candy. Prophet Muhammad (SWAS) disliked and discouraged begging.
·         Remember, some Satanic movements have engaged in dangerous acts, like rape and kidnapping on Halloween.

·         Despite our position regarding this holiday, we must respect the right of those who believe it is a part of their religion or consider it to be just a little fun.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ways to Win Work

1.      Know Yourself
Job seekers often overlook the importance of self-realization in strategizing their career. It is vital that you know your personality type and know what you want in life. (Research Myers-Briggs personality test online). A clear vision as to what really matters to you is a pre-requisite for a successful job search. A Muslim should have no doubts as to what his Creator wants from him and how he should deliver. He is well aware of his special strengths and weaknesses. He exerts extra effort to embed his career in the larger Islamic program that he strives for. With this self-knowledge, he knows which industry he should target.
2.      Know Your Market
Armed with a personal vision, the career aspirant needs to learn about that industry. The wealth of resources available on the internet make research easy. Social media like LinkedIn and Twitter are excellent research and networking tools. The role of face-to-face research should never be discounted. By short-listing prominent organizations and requesting 15-30 minutes information interviews from them, you not only learn much about the industry but also leave a good impression on its professionals. This research further refines the particular market niche which you can thrive in.
3.      Help and be Helped
Armed with this knowledge, what you need is an experienced mentor working in that particular niche. There are many people out there you will give you contradicting advice, but the advice you should seek is of this mentor. Networking is perhaps the greatest tool for a successful job search. You should join your professional organization. Conferences, industry socials and seminars provide ample networking opportunities. For a Muslim, praying in the masjid regularly can be an excellent source of networking. It is important that you never blatantly ask others for work. Not only is this a big put off but is not befitting for a Muslim. Rather your focus should be on providing services by writing articles for your companies of interest in professional publications, volunteering, organizing projects in your professional organization, helping others seeking work, as well as giving relatives and friends good and sincere advice.

4.      Stay Positive, Patient & Persistent
Searching for work is a full-time work and should be planned and executed professionally. Positivity is a contagious attitude. It helps you synergize with positive people and positive natural forces around you. Understand that you will only get your dream job when Allah wants you to have it. So it is vital to be patient and maintain a positive attitude. A Muslim is proactive, persistent, organized and focused and develops complete tawakkul on Allah in the pursuit of His rizq.

5.      Increase in Islamic Knowledge & Practice
A Muslim is constantly learning and practicing his deen, especially in this sensitive phase of his life. Not only does he establish prayer in the masjid, but he daily prays Qiyaamul Lail beseeching Allah privately in a time when supplications are accepted. By attending a weekly Islamic class, he keeps polishing his vision of reality. He gives regular charity even if it is a small amount. Islamic knowledge anchors him in constantly striving both for the dunya AND the aakhriah such that he does not forget his greater Islamic mission once he eventually finds suitable work.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Social Impact of Borrowed Living

The one-world materialistic consumer culture that is deliberately being promoted throughout the globe is affecting us. We are falling in to the trap of living a lifestyle based on loans. House loans, car loans, education loans, investment loans, credit cards, digital money, money borrowed from friends and family; all this is affecting us, our families and our society is a negative manner. Let us study the impact of borrowed living and look at some ways to counter it.

Responsible borrowing may sometimes be inevitable. The Prophet (SWAS) borrowed from a Jew. The problem is in living out the lifestyle of borrowed living which is being promoted nowadays. Most such transactions are based on riba and are a never ending vicious cycle which is intended to trap the borrower, affecting him, his family and the whole society.

The primary impact of borrowing is on the borrower. It affects his character. He becomes prone to lying, deceiving, making false promises, cheating and easily falls to corruption in trying to pay back his monthly installments to his creditors; his relations with whom become bad. They say if you want to destroy your friendship, borrow from a friend. Such a person becomes hated in society. People curse him for not paying back in time. He becomes lonely and in extreme situations become extremely depressed and suicidal.

Such people are prone to be led away from truth and reality. They live in the artificial world of advertisements, movies, music and perpetual entertainment which help them find comfort in avoiding focusing on their problems. They develop a mentality of constantly acquiring things rather than taking care of the weak. They look down on others who apparently have less than them and as they do not give zakaat (due to their loans); the poor become envious of them. Having easy access to loans means that often the borrower is not forced to develop good work ethics, enterprise, planning, accountability, responsibility, innovation, reform, service, learning and vision in his work. All this promotes a hollow ostentatious lifestyle deprived of any meaning, spirituality or wisdom. 

A person living such a lifestyle is deprived of all blessings as his transactions are based on riba which Allah (SWT) has promised to make devoid of any blessings. He is living a wasteful life and Allah (SWT) calls such spendthrifts as "brothers of Shaytan". The borrower's relationship with Allah (SWT) becomes weak as he begins to fear people and the future instead of Him (SWT). He always feels guilty and unsatisfied with life leading to addictions trying to find an escape from his predicament. This weak relationship with Allah (SWT) causes bad relations with those around him. He starts perceiving his family, colleagues, neighbors, friends, relatives, etc. as new potential creditors to prolong the pressures of his financial problems.

As ameer of the family a man is supposed to provide halal income, protection and good tarbiyya for those under his authority. All these become difficult for a borrower. His family becomes addicted to the easy life and their demands increase day by day. Consequently this leads to family problems and misunderstandings. The children learn the destructive character traits that come with borrowed living from a young age from their parents.

A society in which the majority of people are trapped into such a malady develops serious social problems. They destroy its very fabric, leading to deceit, thefts, violence, crime, killings, addictions, increase in materialism, loss of spirituality, etc. People become only concerned with competing with each other to acquire things and live out enviable fashions and trends. They lose all meaning in life and live out hollow lifestyles of the celebrities they watch on mainstream media. At a macro level even governments sell their independence through financial enslavement which affects millions of citizens.

The solution to these maladies is to not get trapped in the first place. Try not to take any loan ever if you can help it. Instead of a credit card, use cash or at least a debit card. If credit cards are unavoidable you can ask your bank to automatically pay the monthly balance from your account. The best cure is to change your lifestyle and live within your means. Instead of living a materialistic lifestyle, adopt a spiritual one. Engage in learning and teaching rather than shopping and partying. Adopt the Sunnah in your daily routine.

Realize that the Prophet (SWAS) called the market the worst place and the masjid the best. When you enter the market recite the dua for it. When you do go out for shopping always make a list before leaving the house. Only buy the items on the list. Do it like a chore on fixed times on a weekly basis, not like an outing or entertainment which the mall culture these days promote. Spend the least amount of time possible shopping. Do it without the wife and kids and after a meal. If you can help it, do not visit the market in between your weekly trips.

Make priorities for spending, e.g. you may decide to spend on charity, learning and health while cutting spending in other areas. Engage in free entertainment like going to parks and beaches instead of going to movies and malls. Eat at home by asking your wife to learn to home cook your children's favorite fast foods like donuts, cookies, cakes and pizzas. Buy off season clothing. Do your Eid shopping months in advance before the prices rise. Go on vacations locally instead of going to faraway places.

The Prophet (SWAS) refused to pray janaza for those who had outstanding loans. Even halal loans are not encouraged due to all the reasons cited above. Today’s social architects promote borrowed living. They aim to keep the general public deluded and entrapped so that they keep earning and prospering at their expense. As practicing Muslims, we should see through their schemes and neutralize them. Borrowed living does not only affect the individual, but also the family and society. The wise thing to do is to resolve to live within your means by adopting a simple Sunnah lifestyle with known priority areas for spending. A slave of Allah (SWT) will not rest until he frees himself from all other forms of enslavement, including financial.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Lead O Ameer!

Men are 'qawwam' of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand. (An Nisa 4:24)

Allah (SWT) says that men are qawwam of women. The word qawwam is derived from the Arabic verb qaama/uqeemu which means to stand. Qawwam is an exaggerated/excessive form which indicated constant standing.  Just as a bodygaurd continuously stands gaurding a VIP, the man of the family is supposed to watch over and protect the women of the household. The verse above explains that he is given this function because of the fact that it is he who is required to spend his wealth on them for their maintenance. When one spends on someone continuously, it is natural that he will protect them from all dangers. He will empathize with them and will be inclined to manage their affairs with their best interest in mind.

The applied meaning of qawwam thus encompasses a range of responsibilities of the man which include financially providing for them, protecting them, empathizing with them, understanding them, managing their affairs, making decisions that affect them after proper consultation with them, providing the space and opportunities for the constant learning and growth as well as catering to their every physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, educational and financial need. In short his role is that of an enabler of success of all members of the household. In order for him to successfully carry out all these responsibilities he has been granted the leadership role of an ameer of the family.

Abdullah bin Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of the people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects: a man is the guardian of his family and is responsible for his subjects, a woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and of his children and is responsible for them, and the slave of a man is a guardian of his master’s property and is responsible for it. Surely, everyone of you is a shepherd and responsible for his flock.” (Bukhari & Muslim)

It is apparent from the above hadith that every group of people should have a leader for its proper function. It is not possible for a group to have two leaders or else chaos will ensue. Thus for a family unit, Allah (SWT) in His infinite wisdom has chosen the men to lead. It does not matter how weak the man is or how less he earns with respect to the wife, he is supposed to be ultimately responsible for all family members.

This does not mean that the man of the house is a dictator and does make his decisions based on shoora (consultation) of all his family members. It does not mean that he is to be feared by those under him; nor that he is an enforcer of decadent cultural restrictions that have little to do with Islam. Rather, the husband should study the Prophet's (SWAS) Seerah deeply to help him improve his leadership skills. To help support the husband, wives are required to be obedient to the husband as stated in the above verse. It is worth noting here that their obedience is first to Allah (SWT), then to the Prophet (SWAS) and only then to the husband, so if the husband makes demands against the commands of Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (SWAS) she should decline to be obedient.

Part of the responsibility of the ameer is to engender leadership skills in those under him. The primary manner to do so is to first be good role models themselves. Children may be trained to accept more responsibilities at a young age, e.g. they can be asked to take care of their pets, or be the captain of their school cricket team or lead be the imam at home, leading their siblings and cousins in salaat or baby sitting their siblings while the parents are away. Leadership skills can be formally be learnt in a Boy Scouts / Girl Guides troop. The key element in making the next generation future ameers of their families and societies is to make them feel emphatic to others. This can be done by engaging them in charitable services for those less fortunate than them. Lastly, by providing them comprehensive Islamic knowledge, parents would help them understand the roles required for them to carry out as young adults. The guidance from the examples of the Prophet (SWAS) and his Companions (RA) are invaluable in this respect.

Men are made responsible for a gamut of needs for their family members and hence are given leadership roles by Islam. Like everyone under a leader, wives are required to help the leader by being obedient to him, provided nothing is being demanded against Islamic principles. The man of the family should consult with his family and do everything that is in their best interest. He should use his position responsibly to help all family members develop themselves. He should not misuse the privilege of leadership he is given. He is responsible to pass on good leadership skills to their offsprings so that they become exemplary ameers themselves in the future.