Thursday, May 23, 2019

The danger of seeing oneself as being self-sufficient

By S N Smith -- May 23, 2019

Allah says in the Quran: 

كَلَّآ إِنَّ ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنَ لَيَطۡغَىٰٓ  أَن رَّءَاهُ ٱسۡتَغۡنَىٰٓ  إِنَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ ٱلرُّجۡعَىٰٓ

"No! (But) indeed, man transgresses, because he sees himself as being self-sufficient. Indeed, to your Lord is the return." [Quran 96:6-8].

Here Allah informs us why man transgresses against his Creator --  he sees himself as being self-sufficient. The Arabic word is  اسْتَغْنَىٰ -- is'taghnā -- or free from need. 

Commentators say these verses were revealed in reference to Abū Jahl, the leader of the Quraysh, who rejected the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh) and tried to hinder people from embracing and practising Islam. But what was said of Abū Jahl can be said about all those who willfully reject the truth. They see themselves as self-sufficient and in no need of Allah. In their minds, they can say and do as they please without any consequences. And even if there are consequences, they don't need Allah to help them out for they can draw on their own resources. 

But such people fail to realize just how dependent on Allah they are for every little thing. They cannot even breathe their next breath without the permission of Allah, and they will not live one second longer than what Allah has decreed. 

For someone to say they are is'taghnā in reference to Allah is to demonstrate a total ignorance of the reality of their existence. 

All of us, believer and non-believer, will return to Allah. This return is among the most central themes of the Quran. And Allah says elsewhere in the Quranإِنَّا لِلَّهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ -- "Truly we belong to Allah, and unto Him we return." (2:156)

Where are the Abū Jahl's of this world? Those who thought that they were self-sufficient and thus in no need of Allah.

They have returned to Allah or will soon do so. And then they will know just how deluded their thinking really was. 

Islamic ethics as a means to save the planet

Islam prescribes certain specific obligations: Bearing witness that there is none worthy of worship but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, Praying, Alms giving, Fasting and Performing Pilgrimage are the best known. Fardh has been viewed by some scholars as involving general as well as specific obligations, that is, obligations from Allah that may not be specific enough to be enforceable by the community: being charitable, just, and merciful, remembering Allah, putting ones family, community, and planet ahead of oneself, and so on could be viewed as obligations in the general sense. In the more common, specifically legal sense of fardh, there are obligations incumbent on everyone (fardh al-'ayn) and others that can be fulfilled for the whole community by some of its members (fardh al-kifaayah). 

Because these obligations are from Allah, they demand to be taken seriously. Thus the Islamic world-view emphasizes the notion of obligation, in contrast to the Western preoccupation with individualism and rights at the expense of obligations and responsibilities. The notion of obligation is obviously essential to any serious attempt to save our environment. If we are governed by the principle of individual "rights" we will not want to infringe on anyone's "right" to consume more and more material goods—and to cut down forests, dig mines, exterminate animals, spew pollutants, and ravage ecosystems in pursuit of those goods. 

An ethic built on obligations before rights, like the Islamic ethic, seems better suited to a world in which is more than six billion people pursuing their "right" to unlimited material consumption will spell doom for the planet as a whole. In particular, the obligation of the fortunate to care for the less fortunate must be universally acknowledged if we are to limit planetary consumption in a humane, rational manner. 

Clearly the Islamic ethic of obligation is well suited to saving the world by correcting the unbalanced Western, and especially American, ethic of "rights" whose bottom line is the right of the wealthy and powerful to unlimited consumption of the planet's resources.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A few missives before heading off to tarwaweeh prayers (May 22, 2019)

By S N Smith -- May 22, 2019

Prophet Ibrahim was ordered by Allah to leave his wife Hajar and young son Ismael at an uninhabited place that we now call Mecca. While he was leaving he walked for some time and then stood upon a small hill, raised his hands in supplication, and said, as Allah informs us saying: 

رَّبَّنَآ إِنِّىٓ أَسۡكَنتُ مِن ذُرِّيَّتِى بِوَادٍ غَيۡرِ ذِى زَرۡعٍ عِندَ بَيۡتِكَ ٱلۡمُحَرَّمِ رَبَّنَا لِيُقِيمُواْ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ فَٱجۡعَلۡ أَفۡـِٔدَةً۬ مِّنَ ٱلنَّاسِ تَہۡوِىٓ إِلَيۡہِمۡ وَٱرۡزُقۡهُم مِّنَ ٱلثَّمَرَٲتِ لَعَلَّهُمۡ يَشۡكُرُونَ 

“Our Lord! I have settled some of my descendants in an uncultivated valley near Your sacred House, our Lord, that they may establish prayer. So make hearts among the people incline toward them and provide for them from the fruits that they might be grateful.” [Quran 14:37]

Does anyone know if that supplication was answered by Allah?

Muslims should be at the forefront of environmental activism

By S N Smith -- May 22, 2019

As Muslims, we should be at the forefront of environmental activism. Concern for the well-being of the environment in which we live and breathe should be at the top of our social and personal agenda. I don't need to remind you that this place we call home -- planet earth -- is in a state of environmental crisis and things are getting worse every day. 

The world in which we live is a sacred trust and we should treat it with the respect that it deserves. We should not be taken up by the materialist and atheistic ethos in which we live which cares for little more than instant gratification no matter what the cost. As servants of the Creator of all that exists, we should look upon this world as something Allah has entrusted us with and strive to make it a better place to live for future generations long after we are gone. To do otherwise is the height of irresponsibility, ingratitude and selfishness. These are qualities which should not be in the life of any believer in Allah and the Day of Judgement. 

First and foremost, we owe a duty to Allah to worship and serve Him exclusively and acknowledge Him as our Creator and Sustainer.  

After doing this, we must accept what He has revealed to us and embrace it to the best our ability.  

Islam has given us clear guidelines regarding how to live in an environmentally sustainable fashion, but we have utterly ignored these guidelines.

As a beginning, we must learn to live a life which reduces waste. 

Allah says in the Quran: "Do not be extravagant, for Allah does not love the wasteful" [Quran, 6:141]. 

And again Allah says: "But waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters" [Quran, 7:31]. 

And in yet another verse Allah says: "Squander not in the manner of a spendthrift. For wasters are the brothers of the Satan, and the Satan is to his Lord ungrateful" [Quran, 17:26-27]. 

Wastefulness and ingratitude are closely linked, for those who are ungrateful insist on living a life of an ever-increasing cycle of consumption and waste.

But we believers know better and must avoid that.

We must also learn how to conserve food and water, both of which are necessary for human life. 

When the prophet (pbuh) ate, he never wasted a crumb of food, even licking his fingers after his meal to ensure everything was consumed on his plate. 

Even when making his ablutions (wudu) the prophet (pbuh) urged his (pbuh) companions to reduce the amount of water used to a minimum. 

Sadly, I see many Muslims using literally gallons of water when making wudu. 

Take a look at our lives which are marked by unbelievable amounts of waste and extravagance. We eat more than is necessary and purchase things we don't even need. Many of us live in homes that are too big and drive gas guzzling cars. In addition, we toss a lot of perfectly good stuff, including food, in the garbage on a regular basis.  And yet there are people right in our midst who are in dire need. 

If we claim to be Muslims we have to live like Muslims. That means changing our ways. It is with certainty that a huge economic and environmental meltdown is on the horizon for this planet. With this reality in mind, we must strive to conserve, educate, and build alternative institutions to mitigate the coming disaster. 

We must offer ourselves in service in the struggle to help humanity exercise responsible stewardship of this planet. 

The first thing we can do is to avoid waste and, in our private lives, live in a more sustainable way.

Spiritual Tendencies

In a fascinating passage, Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728 AH) answers the question of whether one should focus on strengthening one’s faith (imān) by first starting with abstinence (zuhd), knowledge (‘ilm), or acts of worship (ibādah). He replies:
People differ in this regard. From amongst people, some find knowledge easier than zuhd, some find zuhd easier than ‘ilm, and some find ibādah easier than both of them. What is prescribed (mashroo’) is that everyone acts according to what they are capable of goodness based on the verse “Have taqwa of Allah as much as you are able” (64:16). So when the branches of faith become crowded, a person proceeds with what is most pleasing to God by acting according to what he is most capable.
Ibn Taymiyyah goes on to explain that what becomes the most virtuous action for a person is whatever comes more readily to him and provides the greatest benefit to his faith, even if that action might not be intrinsically better than other actions. For instance, a person who finds voluntary prayers at night onerous might benefit far more from engaging in more recitation and contemplation of the Qur’an, or more dhikr (remembrance), and these actions may be considered more virtuous for this individual. As a corollary, no one can belittle the good deeds of others, since only Allah knows which of them are most valuable and most virtuous for which person. Moreover, Ibn al-Qayyim discussed the concept of spiritual stations (maqamat) in his work Madarij al-Salikeen and notes that while these are frequently presented in a chronological sequence by many authors, one person may pursue the stations of love, contentment, and tranquility at the beginning of one’s spiritual journey while for someone else those stations may only be fully actualized at the end of the spiritual journey.

Every human being is different. We see this all around us in the diverse pursuits individuals find spiritually rewarding. Some are more involved in community activism, some in studying the Qur’an, some in sadaqah, and so on. Many diverse individual paths to God are encompassed by the Straight Path of the Islamic religion. Imam Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 751 AH) writes:
The path to Allah is one path, inclusive of all that which pleases Allah, and what pleases Him is numerous and diversified according to times, places, people, and situations. All of these are Divinely pleasing paths, which God made numerous out of His Mercy and Wisdom for the differences of people in their dispositions (isti‘dadat) and their hearts (qulub). And had God made them all one category despite the differences in people’s minds (adhhān), intellects (uqul), and strengths and weaknesses of their dispositions, none would traverse the path to Him except [a few individuals,] one by one.
Ibn al-Qayyim then describes how this may manifest differently depending on one’s spiritual personality. He says, “there are people whose chief action and path through which they worship Allah is the path of knowledge and learning.” Such people may spend all their time in this pursuit, exhausting all of their resources and time in the thirst for knowledge of God. On the other hand, there are those “whose chief action is dhikr” and “whenever they find themselves lacking in it, they feel cheated and in loss.” Still others may strive towards God with voluntary prayers, others with alleviating the afflictions and calamities that beset people, others with enjoining good and forbidding wrong, others with fasting or reading Qur’an. Others focus on spiritual introspection (murāqabah), examining their internal thoughts (khawāṭir), and preserving their time from being wasted. And some are able to combine multiple categories.

Imam Malik was once asked why he was busy in circles of knowledge and not other aspects of Islam. He replied by explaining the diversity of spiritual personalities, “Certainly, Allah has divided good actions like he has divided His providence (rizq). It may be that prayer has been facilitated for a person, but fasting hasn’t. Another person may have a tendency for charity but not fasting… And I am happy with what Allah has facilitated for me (the pursuit of knowledge). I don’t think what I am focused on is lower than what you are focused on. Rather, I hope that we are both upon goodness and righteousness.”

From the foregoing discussion, we see that people naturally differ in what their spirituality drives them towards, and what activities in the faith they find themselves most passionate about—some towards the social aspects of faith (e.g., feeding the hungry, sheltering the oppressed, etc.), and others towards the solitary and reflective practices (e.g., recitation, contemplation, etc.).[33] It also influences how they experience spirituality and to which reminders their faith is most responsive. Two people may listen to the same reminder or khutbah and find different aspects of it more compelling—for one person it may have been a new insight about a verse, for the other it may have been a practical story about helping others. Such differences are captured in the conceptualization of spirituality types, traits, or tendencies that coalesce to form one’s unique spiritual personality. For this reason, it is important for Islamic speakers and educators to diversify their messages to cater to different members of their audience. 
This is in line with the style of the Qur’an,
And We have certainly diversified in this Qur’an for mankind from every kind of example. But, mankind has above all else always been argumentative. (Qur’an, 18:54)
And thus we have sent an Arabic Qur’an down and diversified the warnings in it so that they may become conscious (of God) or it would inspire remembrance. (Qur’an, 20:113)
The greatest example of the concept of spiritual personality is seen through the generation of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. The companions were not homogenous in the way they served Islam. There were those who were focused on knowledge, such as Abu Hurairah, Mu’adh bin Jabal, Abdullah ibn Mas’ood, and Abdullah ibn Abbas. Then there were those who were known for their bravery and courage, such as Khalid ibn al-Walid, Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, and Zubayr ibn al-Awwam. There were those known for their intense devotion in praying and fasting, such as Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-Aas, who also combined the virtue of narrating hadith. Hassan ibn Thaabit, on the other hand, was artistic and used his poetry to defend the honor of Islam. Uthman ibn Affan was particularly known for his modesty and shyness and Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq was known for his loyalty to, and companionship (suhba) with, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. All of these companions and many more served Islam based on what was facilitated for them from their spiritual personality.

Just released series on: Muslims Are Not The Enemy

Series Introduction

Part 1: Understanding Hate

Part-II: Islam inspires hatred?

Part III. Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism: Roots and Remedies

On spirtual afflictions

S N Smith - May 22, 2019

When we think of afflictions, various mental and physical ailments come to mind. But rarely in this secular age do we think about spiritual afflictions which are also very serious in nature. 

A dictionary definition of the word affliction is "a state of pain, distress, or grief; misery." It is also, "a cause of mental or bodily pain, as sickness, loss, calamity, or persecution."

Related words are illness, pain, hardship, sickness, scourge, disease, calamity, suffering, misery, woe, torment, disorder, infirmity, crux, misfortune, distress, difficulty, sorrow, ordeal, cross.

None of this, however, acknowledges the spiritual realm. And this is what I wish to discuss here. 

I hold the view that those who refuse to acknowledge Allah as their Lord and the source of their very lives are suffering from a spiritual affliction to the point they are unable to see and think properly regarding the true reality of their existence. 

I was reading an article on Haroot and Maroot who are mentioned in the Quran 2: 102. 

The article notes that Allah punishes "those who shun that which benefits them," He "busies them with things that are of no benefit to them, or makes them indulge in what harms them."

The article then goes on to list some of the things which happens those who willfully shun the truth. It says:
Whoever shuns the worship of the Most Merciful will be afflicted with the worship of idols.

"Whoever shuns Islamic monotheism will be afflicted with association with Allah.

Whoever shuns the Sunnah will be afflicted with religious innovation.

Whoever shuns adhering to the Islamic texts will be afflicted with blind imitation of others who have no evidence to back up their actions.

Whoever shuns hoping in, loving and fearing only Allah will be afflicted with directing all these acts to other than Him. 
Whoever refrains from spending his wealth for the sake of Allah will be afflicted with spending it for the sake of Satan.

Whoever shuns humbling himself to Allah will be afflicted with being humiliated by other people, and whoever shuns the truth will be afflicted with adhering to falsehood.
In other words, there are real spiritual consequences associated with rejecting the truth. This rejection has a deleterious impact on one's spiritual growth and development as the rejecter will grasp unto things which are of no value and are even harmful. They will do things which are displeasing to Allah which leads them further away from the truth, even when on the outside they may appear fine and normal. But on the inside, there is a deep affliction taking place in which the soul of the person, which longs for its Creator, cannot break free from the affliction of unbelief. Other forces have taken over to the point they are rendered incapable of embracing or even seeing the truth. 

They cannot acknowledge that Allah is One or even acknowledge His existence at all!  They chase after foolish religious beliefs and practices which are of no benefit to them, yet they are enslaved by them. They will, in essence, be addicted to falsehood and will be incapable of breaking free from its constraints. 

Those who claim to be free as a result of rejecting the truth of what Allah has revealed are in fact bound by that which they have embraced in its stead.

Those who shun what Allah has revealed are beholden to systems of falsehood. They are filled with spiritual and moral blindness. They are obsessed with the things of this world at the expense of the Hereafter. 

In brief, they are afflicted. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A few missives before heading off to tarwaweeh prayers (May 21, 2019)

By S N Smith -- May 21, 2019

My brothers and sisters in Islam, we are now over the half-way hump of this blessed month of fasting. 

Allah says in the Quran regarding fasting:

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيۡڪُمُ ٱلصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبۡلِڪُمۡ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تَتَّقُونَ

"O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you that you may attain God-consciousness and self-restraint. [Quran 2:183]

The above verse clearly indicates that fasting is not just refraining from eating and drinking, but it is also refraining from everything else that Allah has forbidden. In other words, fasting is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. 

This is further confirmed by a number of statements from the Prophet (pbuh). 

Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet (pbuh) ) said: “Fasting is not abstaining from eating and drinking only, but also from vain speech and foul language. If one of you is being cursed or annoyed, he should say: “I am fasting, I am fasting.” [Ibn Khuzaymah, Ibn Hibban and Al-Hakim]

One's fast should be reflected in their actions. The Prophet  (pbuh) said: “Allah does not need the fast of one who does not abandon false speech or acting according to his false speech.” [Al-Bukhari]

Further, Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet  (pbuh) said: “Perhaps a fasting person will get nothing from his fast save hunger, and perhaps the one who stands to pray at night will get nothing from his standing except sleeplessness.” [An-Nasa'i, Ibn Majah, and Al-Hakim]

So based on the above, how do you think you have fared this Ramadan? 

Has your fast been instrumental in keeping you away from what Allah has forbidden? 

Have you been able to control your tongue during this month? 

Or have you been one of those people who technically fast but all you get out of the whole exercise is hunger, thirst and sleeplessness? 

What we need in our lives is zuhud, which is a mental and spiritual attitude and is defined as giving up something for something better. It means to refrain from an object of desire in the pursuit of a nobler objective. 

Ibn Taymiyyah stated that: "Zuhd is abandoning what does not bring about benefit in the Hereafter. Whereas Wara is abandoning what you fear will have consequences in the Hereafter." 

This is the mindset that we must inculcate in our Ramadan. 

There is still time to rectify any mistakes we have made during this month. 

Let us all begin today to be more conscious of what the fast calls upon us to strive towards so that our fast will truly be a blessed one.

General reflections on Surah al-Nur Verses 27 to the end

By S N Smith -- May 21, 2019

See also:  Reflections on Surah al-Nur Verse 24:22

A large part of surah al-Nur is its focus on various rules of etiquette, such as those governing the visiting one another’s homes (vv. 27–29, 61) and the proper comportment between men and women who are not related to one another, which includes rules on dress and modesty (vv. 30–31) as well as proper decorum with regard to privacy in one’s home (vv. 58–60).

I don't wish to go into the details here regarding these verses but only refer to them as a foundation for making a general comment on Islamic etiquette, Adab in Arabic, which includes a moral and ethical code involving every aspect of a Muslim's life. 

In fact, Islamic etiquette is a huge topic that one could write volumes about. A more detailed book on this topic can be read here

Islam did not come to merely offer us a set of beliefs about Allah and prescribe associated rituals. Islam is much more than that.

The prophet (pbuh) said of himself (pbuh) that, "I have been sent to perfect the best of manners." 

Islam also came to modify our behaviour in every aspect of our lives as well as how we deal with one another. 

It is confirmed from Salman Al-Farisi  that it was said to him: "Your Prophet teaches you everything, even how to go to the lavatory." Salman replied: "Certainly! He prohibited us from facing the Qiblah (direction of the Ka'bah) while defecating or urinating, from cleaning our genitals with our right hand, from cleaning ourselves with less than three stones and from cleaning ourselves with dung or bone." [Source: Muslim, Abu Dawood & At-Tirmithi] 

First and foremost we should not be filled with pride and arrogance when interacting with others and maintain a humble attitude. Any good we possess in this life or anything we have achieved or status we have reached is all from Allah. 

Allah says in the Quran: "And turn not your face away from men with pride, nor walk in insolence through the earth. Verily, Allah likes not any arrogant boaster." (Surah Luqman:18)

Allah also says in the Quran: "O you who believe! Let not a group scoff at another group, it may be that the latter are better than the former. Nor let (some) women scoff at other women, it may be that the latter are better than the former. "(Surah Hujrat, 11)

In addition, Allah says: "…the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children…." (Al Hadid: 20)

If we look down on anyone for any reason, mock or ridicule them, we are committing a grave sin which should be avoided.

Treating others with respect and humility is the first step towards dealing with people in all sorts of situations. We should always keep people's feelings in mind when speaking and acting so as not to make them feel uncomfortable or embarrassed in any way. 

Allah further says: ". . . Nor defame yourselves, nor insult one another by nicknames. Evil is the name of wickedness after faith. And whosoever does not repent, then such are indeed wrongdoers." (Surah Hujrat: 11) 

And Allah says elsewhere in the Quran: "O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion; indeed some suspicion is a sin. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it. And have Taqwa of Allah. Verily, Allah is the One Who forgives and accepts repentance, Most Merciful." (Hujrat 49:12)

Abu Huraira narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales; and do not look for the others’ faults and do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert (cut your relation with) one another, and do not hate one another; and O Allah’s worshipers! Be brothers (as Allah has ordered you!). (Bukhari)

We should respect people's privacy, always give them the benefit of the doubt and think well of them as much as is humanly possible. 

We should also seek to make reconciliation between one another when conflicts arise. 

Allah says in the Quran: "The believers are but a brotherhood. So make reconciliation between your brothers, and have Taqwa of Allah so that you may receive mercy. (Surah Hujrat:10)

And: "So have Taqwa (reverence) of Allah and settle all matters of difference among you, and obey Allah and His Messenger, if you are believers." (Surah Aanfal:1)

We should always keep in mind that the very purpose of our existence is to prepare ourselves for the hereafter. When we have this long term goal in mind we can cast aside all pettiness and trivialities. 

We also need to learn to control our tongues, something that I know is very difficult. 

Allah says: "And those who abuse believing men and women, when they have not merited it, bear the weight of slander and clear wrongdoing." (Ahzaab 33:58)

Slandering and backbiting other people is a bad practice we must avoid at all costs as it harms ourselves as well as our respective communities. 

Expressing gratitude to others, visiting the sick and being kind, gentle, caring and concerned about the people around us are all part of our deen. 

We live in a social environment in which many of these deeply rich and precious Islamic values and etiquettes are not encouraged. In fact, the opposite is the case. Since we are immersed in this society we become affected by it to the point that we speak and behave in ways that are antithetical to what Islam teaches us. But we are so overtaken by our social environment that we don't realize how far we have strayed from this noble path. Instead, we have gone our own way and have allowed our surroundings and personal feelings to become our moral compass while the guidance given by Allah is of secondary consideration. 

It is not always easy dealing with other people, but Islam provides us with a solid foundation on how to do so. And when this is adhered to, the society in which we live becomes a much better place.