Reflecting on Sacred Space: Where’s My Place?

 

We celebrated Labor Day weekend in D.C. while attending the 50th Annual ISNA convention. I was honored to be a part of a panel discussion focusing on the future of our masajid.

Here’s a piece I wrote for AltMuslim.

Just pray. This was a text sent to me by my dear sister, Sameera, an hour before my talk with Imam William Webb of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC), Dr. Muzammil Siddiqui a pioneer in Islamic scholarship and activism in the United States, and Usama Canon founder of Ta’leef Collective.

I was charged with the duty of speaking on a panel about “Sacred Space: Where’s My Place?” at the 50th Annual ISNA convention on Labor Day weekend. The talk centered on the rapid growth of the American Muslim community and whether or not our religious institutions are adapting to the current needs of indigenous and immigrant communities. It’s clear that our sacred spaces are currently transforming with the emergence of “Third Spaces” outside of the mosque, the re-crafting of mosques as “community and spiritual” centers and the development of online communities.

In further contextualizing our situation, more and more Americans are declaring “no religion” as their faith-based affiliation, which directly affects how Muslims internalize the deen. After all, we are not living in a vacuum. Whatever happens outwardly can and will affect us internally. In lieu of these circumstances, can our mosques adapt to current trends and focus on cultural relevancy while adhering to the form and function of a traditional masjid?

Judging from the audience in attendance (a packed main hall) this topic has garnered much intrigue and attention. During the talk, I sensed that we are experiencing a pivotal moment in history where we can choose which path the American-Muslim community takes. While exciting and hopeful, the feeling is tempered with the knowledge that we face many obstacles that need traversing. This candid discussion, however, was a good first step in gaining a collective vision of what we want our sacred spaces to both look and feel like.

What are the Functions of Masajid?

As a Muslim chaplain, I have seen firsthand how difficult it is for young Muslims to remain Islamically disciplined in the face of subtle and obvious pressures. As a woman and mother, I can pinpoint areas that need improvement within many masajid. And, as someone who has been intimately involved in the production of a working documentary called UnMosqued, I have been blessed to meet people across the nation who are doing impressive work both within and outside the masjid setting.

Atif Mahmud was one of the first people to coin the term “UnMosqued” with hisRadTalk in which he compared the masjid to a little brother that needs some advice. In collaboration with Atif, my husband, the filmmaker, set out to discover what may be awry with our current mosques by collecting stories and asking activists their thoughts on the current model.

When we first released the UnMosqued teaser in January, we were floored at the response it received. Muslims from all over the country as well as Europe and South Africa, could relate to many of the issues that were highlighted, including the lack of inclusionary space, language barriers, generational disconnects and the lack of proper financial stewardship.

Working on this film for the past nine months, it seemed appropriate to be a part of this important panel discussion. I couldn’t help but feel a bit intimidated, however, because of the level of influence and knowledge each man on that stage commanded and espoused. I started to loosen up however after our moderator, Mustafa Davis, began the session by asking us what the function of the masjid is.

Dr. Siddiqui replied by affirming the meanings of “masjid” and “jaama’” – a place for prostration, and a place to strengthen community bonds. After his beautiful response, I countered by asking if masajid are living up to those ideals. Are we serving our local communities and actively searching for what our communities need or are we suffering from a cut and paste syndrome? A syndrome that is transcending time and space?

We continue to offer the same programming to our constituents often without taking into consideration the needs of the people. I relayed the story of Imam Khalis Rashaad, who heads Masjid Ibrahim in downtown Houston. Along with being the imam of the masjid, he has received his MBA and offers business classes to ex-offenders that have difficulty finding work because of their tainted record. Of course, this same programming would not be beneficial to an affluent area housing a suburban masjid. Masajid are contextual and need to know the needs of their people.

Imam Will reflected on the need for a “listening imam.” He leaves it up to his community to decide the khutba topic once a month. In partnership with the executive director of ISBCC, an annual community meeting is held to find out what programming the congregants would like to see stem from the masjid.

We need more of this in our masajid.

Family-Friendly Masajid

We also need to find creative solutions to create family-friendly masajid. What I find most striking and most disappointing is the fact that women are often the ones putting other women down. I had an older woman approach me after the talk and tell me in essence that she paid her dues by staying at home with her young children and now she wants to enjoy the masjid without hearing other young children cry.

While I understand her sentiment, I wonder why we are stuck with only binary options. We can either go to the masjid with our young children and suffer the wrath of the congregation or stay at home while we miss the spiritual edification that is needed to cope with the work of motherhood.

In a noteworthy blog post titled Give Me Back My Shoe, Rabia Chaudry writes:

“Who hasn’t heard the story of how the Prophet (s.a.w.) delayed his sujood because his two grandsons were playing on his back as he prayed?  Or how, upon hearing the cries of an infant in the congregation, he was apt to shorten the prayers. So we have examples of him modifying his personal prayer as well as modifying congregational prayers to respond to the needs of children. Was there anything more dear to the Prophet (s.a.w.) than the worship of his Creator? No. There is no dispute about this. But the mercy and compassion of the Prophet (s.a.w.) towards children was so great that he made concessions in his personal ‘ibaadah and the ‘ibaadah of the entire community for the ease of children.”

I know this may sound lofty and idealistic, but I would love to see a masjid that espoused the idea of collective tarbiya. If we are able to break through some of the sensitivities we have about other adults “scolding” our children and if non-parents didn’t worry so much about offending us, we may find an effective way of having our children internalize the proper adab of the masjid.

Will it always be comfortable? No. But instead of us having to repeat the cycle of staying at home until our children have grown, we can repeat the cycle of disciplining children within the masjid just as the aunties did with our own kids (and probably did to us!).

Bring Down the Partitions

The partitions need to come down. At ISNA, the largest national convention for Muslims, there is no segregation when it comes to the seating, and yet everyone was able to behave with proper etiquette and modesty. Why then, when we return to our local spaces, the same community members feel the need to have a divider? I hope the irony does not evade us.

Eighty percent of South Asian mosques and 70 percent of Arab mosques have a divider. Only 16 percent of women from those mosques attend Jumuah. On the other hand, 30 percent of African American mosques have a divider and 23 percent of women attend the Jumuah prayer regularly. There seems to be a correlation with the idea that if I’m not listening to a disembodied voice, then I’m more likely to attend, feel connected, and contribute to my local masjid.

Unfortunately it’s not just the physical divider that acts as a barrier, but also the psychological barrier that has been ingrained into the psyche of many Muslim men and women — that it is best for a woman to pray at home. You may have the urge now to cite ahadith that prove this point to be true. I would caution you to understand the context of these ahadith, just as we need to understand what a day in the life of many Muslim women living in America looks like.

Usama Canon alongside the many volunteers at Ta’leef understand this profound sentiment. He relayed a beautiful example towards the end of the discussion about a man and his mother: A man entered Ta’leef, approached Sidi Usama and told him of his desire to become Muslim. He also stated that he wanted to wait for his mother before he took his shahadah. A while had passed, and Br. Canon came up to the brother and suggested that he take his shahadah after Maghrib prayer, as it was quickly approaching. The brother responded by saying, “I really want to wait for my mother. She waited for me for nine months, the least I can do is wait for her for a couple of hours.”

When his mother did arrive, she held her son’s hand and thanked everyone for welcoming her and her son into the community. Br. Canon then posed a question out loud: Why when he (and Br. Davis) took their shahada, did their mothers not come? Partly because their shahada was part of an internal rebellion, yes. But more so because their mothers would not have been welcomed in the masjid back then. But this brother’s mother, when he was taking his shahada at  Ta’leef was welcomed with open arms.

This is the embodiment of mercy that I hope we can all aspire to, whether it be inside our homes, inside our masajid or hanging out with family, friends, acquaintances and strangers.

Financial Stewardship and Transparency

Financially, we need to find models that keep us afloat beyond fundraising. We have so much talent in our communities, and there are many times throughout the week that our masajid are empty. Why can’t we offer foodies a way to taste our culinary prowess by offering cooking classes in the main purpose room (read: not musalla) and charging an entry fee? We need to tap into the beauty of our diversity and make some money from it.

Language centers ranging from Spanish to Farsi can easily be established as well. A friend even suggested that we rent the space to Muslims who work from home but get easily distracted while at home. Endowments are another option that we should also seriously consider. I’m sure if we brainstorm for even one day we can come up with a long list of ways to keep our masajid financially stable.

Many people want to know what type of religious leadership we should look for when hiring people in masjid roles. While we are attracted to charismatic level 5 leaders, what our masajid desperately need are not-for-profit managers (A level 5 manager would be ideal). Oftentimes masjid boards are filled with selfless, well intentioned professional men that want to give back to their communities. However, they shoulder responsibilities that are outside their range of expertise, and this often translates into further headache for the board as well as the community.

There is a strong need for us to focus on specialization. Even though the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was the most capable of all humans, he ordered Bilal (ra) to be the mu’adhin, and commanded Khalid ibn Walid (ra) to lead the army. Collectively, we bring much more to the table and are a stronger community when responsibilities are dispersed as opposed to them being concentrated in the hands of a few.

Quietism

My experience at ISNA reaffirmed my belief in the kindness of Muslims. Throughout the conference, brothers and sisters were helping me with my two little kids. They were holding doors open, asking if I needed assistance stuffing the seven-month-old into his baby carrier and even taking my daughter to get cups of water.

There is a collective love that exists, but I also fear that this may lead to quietism in the community. By quietism, I mean that when we feel an injustice has been committed against us, we rarely speak up. We take one for the team. We suffer quietly so as not to inconvenience anyone. While well intentioned, this attitude will eventually have severe ramifications.

We need to demand transparency from our masjid boards. Is our money properly allocated? What is it funding? Does the imam have any counseling credentials, or should we look somewhere else for help? How do I become a masjid member, and when can I vote for the board? Who is actually running for the board? Can we raise funds to hire a marriage and family therapist?  How do we make our masajid more welcoming for those who are differently-abled?

ISNA provided us with a great platform to explore these issues nationally. Now, as we’ve returned to our local communities, let it be with a recharged spirit and a little bit more bravery as we engage in the hard work that lies ahead. I guarantee you — you are not the only person who wants to see change happen within your community even if it may feel like that at times.

I pray that the session left people with a sense of urgency and empowered to establish safe spaces while improving upon those that already exist.

Interval Training for the Soul

Salaam everyone! Here’s a piece that’s been published by the Huffington Post. Insha’Allah it’s of benefit.

We welcomed a new addition into our family three months ago-a beautiful baby boy. His older sister is almost three so I had grown accustomed to getting a full night’s rest prior to his delivery. Needless to say, I was dreading the onslaught of sleepless nights, the incessant crying, and the round-the-clock diaper changes and feedings. It’s an intense time that throws one into the deep end, never fully reclaiming one’s old self but coming out a better, more resilient human being. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, these moments of intense child-rearing are very short. Our elders remind us of their fleeting nature although it certainly doesn’t feel fleeting as we trudge through them. No matter how much our nafs rails against it, there is something about this intensity that gives meaning to our lives; that wakes us up from a mundane, ordinary existence and connects us with the Divine. I am often reminded of the first few verses ofSurat al-Anbiya (The Prophets) that force me to reassess my life through this lens of intensity:

“[The time of] their account has approached for the people, while they are in heedlessness turning away. No mention comes to them anew from their Lord except that they listen to it while they are at play. With their hearts distracted…” (Qur’an 21:1-3).

I see myself in these verses, that God is speaking directly to me beseeching me to wake up. It has become difficult to concentrate on tasks for long periods of time without my hand unconsciously reaching for the smartphone. I suffer from broad informational overload and not delving deeply into any one subject. My need to feel connected online has disconnected me from a metaphysical presence that is far superior. My heart is distracted. It is often at play. I believe that many people also feel this way. In fact, Paul Miller from the Verge chronicles a year-long adventure unplugged. He reflects on his initial surge in creativity, focus, and all around healthier attitude towards life, but quickly laments that his liberation from the throes of the internet cannot be sustained. He writes, “I abandoned my positive offline habits, and discovered new offline vices. Instead of taking boredom and lack of stimulation and turning them into learning and creativity, I turned toward passive consumption and social retreat.”

So what does the initial intensity of motherhood have to do with unplugging from the internet? The common denominator that may be worthy of exploration here is this conscious attempt to shock our system from the mundane and mechanical. As Muslims, we pray five times a day, everyday. It is easy for us to lose the meaning behind the movements if we do not approach every prayer consciously. We fast the month of Ramadan, but also experience the mid-Ramadan “dip,” which roughly translates into less energy and enthusiasm towards our spiritual goals. We recite the same few surahs and if asked which ones were recited, we can hardly recall. Plainly stated, we plateau in our religious endeavors. It’s easy to do. After all, when we pray to Allah to guide us on the straight path, it’s a vertical path which is met with much resistance. So, how can we revive our soul, our spirit that is oftentimes in heedlessness but always yearning towards Allah? What are some ways that we can orient our soul toward Allah, nourishing it and providing a healthful dose of organic ibaadah?

Well, in an effort to lose the postpartum weight, a few friends had suggested that I look into interval training. Interval training is defined as, “a type of discontinuous physical training that involves a series of low- to high-intensity exercise workouts interspersed with rest or relief periods.” The interval system I use has a 3:2:1 ratio of strength, cardio, and core which lasts for 24 minutes. It doesn’t require much time, but the time utilized is intensely productive. My body is not as quick to plateau due to the variation of exercises. I slowly came to the realization that mastering discomfort and deliberately changing my daily routine did not need to be exclusively relegated to my physical well-being. What about interval training for my soul, for our collective souls?

This idea is not new. The concept is actually deeply rooted within our Islamic tradition. The formidable task of delivering a message that would dismantle the power of the elite, usurp alliances, and completely change a people’s worldview required strength, resilience, integrity, and determination. It still does. We find Allah’s prescription to the Prophet and his companions in Surat al-Muzzammil (The Enshrouded One):

“Oh you who wraps himself [in clothing], Arise [to pray] the night, except for a little. Half of it- or subtract from it a little, or add to it, and recite the Qur’an with measured recitation. Soon, We shall send down to you a heavy Word,” (Qur’an 73:1-5).

Praying lengthily during the night became an obligation for the early Muslims in Mecca and remained so until the duty to perform the five daily prayers was established. It was strength training for the soul. These men and women trained deeply, intensely, unsparingly. The night prayers instilled a profound love and trust towards Allah that may not have developed had the prayers been interspersed throughout the day, intermingled with distraction and occupation.

Even though the obligation to pray well into the night was eventually lifted, the intense interval of time the companions spent communicating with their Lord left them hooked. Many of the companions continued to pray lengthy night prayers throughout their lives because of the intense beauty of the experience.

In order to realize spiritual epiphanies, sometimes we need to immerse ourselves in self-inflicted hardship. Think late night feedings (usually not self-inflicted), 30 Day Shred, marathon training, fasting 16 plus hours during the summer, unplugging, etc. After the initial shock wears off, we realize that the incremental and slow gains will eventually outweigh the seemingly large and immediate sacrifices. Soon, inward changes will spill over outwardly. There’s an extra bounce in one’s step; one has a bit more swag. An exercise in intense spiritual training is exactly the jolt needed to realign us with our purpose.

Ramadan is fast approaching and we can easily meet it ill prepared. In order to maximize the potential of this upcoming month, let’s implement some interval training for our souls beforehand. Here are a few ideas that may help:

1) Wake up for Tahajjud 4 times a week for a month

2) Determine to memorize 2-3 surahs in a month

3) Fast every Monday and Thursday. If you already do that, fast every other day.

4) Force yourself to pray Fajr and Isha in the masjid for two weeks straight

5) Get out of your cocoon and meet ten new neighbors in two weeks.

6) Resolve to unplug one day a week for the entire day.

Keep the same goal(s) and gradually increase the intensity every week. Ideally, there should be an overarching goal that you’re working towards (maybe it’s memorizing the entire Qur’an or consistently waking up for Tahajjud prayers, or becoming a minimalist). Grab a group of friends and set up an accountability system for collective success. Once you find yourself plateauing, it’s time to shake things up again. Choose another spiritual mountain to traverse. Establish an end date and do not give yourself any time for deliberation. It will be hard. It will be uncomfortable. Insha’Allah it will be intense. As our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, stated, “Hasten to do good acts before you are overtaken by temptation, which will be [gloomy] like parts of a dark night,” and “Deliberation should be in everything except in one’s work for the Hereafter.”

If you can establish a disciplined regimen following P90X or Insanity, interval-training for the soul is definitely manageable. At the very least, you probably won’t throw up.

Lean In, Lean Back, Reach Up, Fall Over

I washed my face for the third time that morning. “I can do this,” I thought to myself as I slowly clamored out of the bathroom, willing myself to drive to work. Even though it was still relatively early, I was going to explain my circumstances to my supervisor. As I made my way to his office, I found myself speaking to Allah in hushed tones;

Please Allah don’t let me throw up in his office.
Oh Allah, tell me what is the best thing to do…I am at a complete loss.
Please guide me and give me strength. Make me content with what’s to come.

“Marwa so very nice to see you, have a seat.”

My supervisor has a nice, bright smile. His face is rosy, while mine felt green.

“I’m pregnant,” I blurted out before we even exchanged pleasantries.

“Well, mabrouk! Mazel Tov!” and then after awhile, “Can you make a decision by January if you plan to return to work?”

By January, I would have been five and a half months pregnant. It was October.

That was a little more than three years ago. And yet, most things have not changed for women in the workplace. After reading Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s much talked about book, Lean In, I was able to identify with many of the circumstances she describes. I felt in many ways that she was speaking to me. And yet, there was still something missing.

What’s been bothering me is not the book itself, but rather our current society. We value individual goals and successes to such a great degree that a paradigm shift has been created. We no longer think of pushing families forward, but rather, bolstering individuals who are talented, driven, energetic, and great at multi-tasking. On top of that, Muslim women are bombarded with the idea that the decision to work outside the home will be detrimental to their akhira. Just last week, a Muslim mom blogger posted this quote from a well known Muslim scholar:

“It is not permissible to put Muslim children in nurseries unless in cases of extreme or dire necessity. Paid caregivers can never replace mothers and fathers. It is the right of the Muslim child, and all children, to be cared for and loved, and to become properly bonded with his or her parents, especially in those critical early years. If we deny them in early childhood, they will deny us when we get old, as is happening on a huge scale in the West,” Dr. Bilal Philips.

There are quite a few Muslim women who are working mothers and are not doing it out of dire necessity, but because they feel strongly about what they can contribute to society. As a matter of fact, most stay at home moms will seek out the female Muslim ob-gyn, pediatrician, midwife, and counselor. On a broader scale, we will not be able to change our condition without Muslim women in the media, academia, business, politics, social services etc.

In essence, it comes down to a personal decision that every Muslim woman has a right to make. It may be the case that her deal with Allah is to work for the greater Muslim community and He will ensure the children’s upright upbringing. Or, it may very well be the case that a woman decides to stay at home and Allah is preparing for her a great role in society once her kids have grown.

What’s detrimental to our general well being however is that we’ve taken wishy-washy positions and few are content with the decisions they have made. We’re flooded with opinions and information telling us to lean in, lean back, co-sleep, ferberize, pursue degrees, etc. etc.

The hadith that, “Allah loves to see one’s job done at the level of itqaan (of high quality),” could not be more applicable as we navigate our roles as Muslim mothers. Having itqaan requires that we have a deep conviction in what we are doing. That if I’m going to parent full-time, I will try my very best to do my job well. And I will try my best to not regret my decision, because inevitably, that same regret will seep into all my efforts and actions at home.

As we navigate this discourse, we need to be able to articulate our stances Islamically. Allah clearly mentions in in Chapter 4 of the Quran, “Men are the maintainers of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth.” While not every household has a sole male provider, I have to come to think of this verse as quite liberating. Married women have the opportunity to pursue passions without the heavy responsibility of whether or not it’s going to put food on the table. Of course this is not true of all working women, but those who find themselves with this blessing can work towards improving the social fabric of their communities, and their nuclear and extended families. Now more than ever, people are craving physical gatherings due to our lounging around in the virtual ones. People are feeling more and more isolated. Mothers have a wonderful and important role to play. No matter how small one’s perception may be of it, a warm invitation to share tea and children horror stories can be what gets another mother through her week.

Whatever role we decide to lean into, whether it be work, school, child-rearing, activism, or social support, let’s offer our support when we can and lean in to the support of others when it’s offered.

Allah’s Reassurance

A couple of weeks ago as I was skimming through the Huffington Post, I came across an article titled, “Pregnancy Cost: Is Having Kids Becoming Unaffordable for Middle Class Women?” Middle class here is not meant to mean Mitt Romney’s definition of middle class with salaries ranging from 200-250 thousand dollars a year. No, the middle class in this article reflects a more realistic number, with one couple interviewed grossing over $100,000 dollars annually while living in a posh D.C. neighborhood. Yet, because of their student loans and high cost of living, they are delaying having children. Another couple was quoted as saying, “I wanted to have three children. In this economy, where we could lose our jobs, get a pay cut, and utility, gas, grocery and medical costs increase almost daily, it would just be too much of a risk for us to have that third child,” Jeffery said.”You need to make sacrifices to get by,” she [his wife] said. “Our sacrifice is baby number three.”

This reflection can’t provide a holistic solution to the deterioration of healthy families in our culture.  However, I did find these couples’ views in stark contrast with the way many Muslims decide to grow their families.  Several years ago, while attending a seminar on the linguistic miracles of the Qur’an, the instructor, Nouman Ali Khan, lowered his voice and tauntingly asked, “Would you all like to know the secret to avoiding poverty?” The students nodded their heads as he responded, “Have children.” He went on to quote two verses in the Qur’an:

 

“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, we provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa’:31).

 

Say, “Come, I will recite what your Lord has prohibited to you. [He commands] that you not associate anything with Him, and to parents, good treatment, and do not kill your children out of poverty; We will provide for you and them. And do not approach immoralities – what is apparent of them and what is concealed. And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden [to be killed] except by [legal] right. This has He instructed you that you may use reason.”

Ibn Kathir mentions in his tafsir that in Surat Al-Israa’, Allah mentions the children’s provision first because of the concern for them. In other words, do not fear becoming poor because of having to provide for them. Allah will take care of that. But in the second verse, poverty is already a factor, so Allah says, “We provide sustenance for you and for them.” because that is more important in that case.

There are many reasons why couples delay having children- they may first want to finish school, establish their careers, have health issues, etc. etc. However, it is comforting that the Quran reassures us that our children will be financially taken care of. Anecdotally speaking, I have witnessed Allah’s provision raining down on our family every time I have been pregnant, subhanAllah. This seems to be pretty consistent with all my friends as well. Whether it’s a change in career paths, new job opportunities, or simply a raise at work, time and time again Allah reassures us with His plan.  We shouldn’t forget that the rizq of the child comes in many different forms as well. It may come in having more tranquility descend upon a busy household, more flexible working hours for the parents to ‘co-parent,’ or a supportive network of helping hands.

There’s no doubt that our entire system needs work. Young adults are not finding jobs while drowning in student debt. We need to find creative ways to alleviate these pressures. But life will always be a constant struggle filled with sacrifices, and there will always be an endless list of worry especially for parents and parents-to-be. Allah’s reassurance is something that we can use to allay our fears as we swim, and sometimes wade, through the tough decisions.

On Discipline

As we are in the midst of Ramadan reflecting on what to break our fasts with and attaining spiritual elevation, we cannot help but think about the tremendous discipline that is bestowed upon us during this entire month. So many out there were questioning their body’s fortitude, if they can actually survive the 16 plus hours in the heat without food or drink. And yet, somehow, Muslims are coping and also flourishing. There is no doubt that there is a special blessing in Ramadan that facilitates the fast and closeness to Allah. And yet, do we use the specialness of this month as a barrier, or rather, an excuse that prevents us from attaining great things outside of Ramadan?

I ponder this question out of a conversation we were having at my parents’ house during iftar. My superhero mom had made a spread that would make most of the world salivate. In fact, neighbors  have routinely approached my mom asking her what the beautiful aromas are that emanate from her home in Long Island (very atypical for Long Islanders). As we were trying to find a space on the table to fit our plates amid the pastas, steak, rice in the tagine, bamya, molokheya, etc. the topic of weight-loss came up.  My husband started relaying a story of a friend who has run several iron-mans, and ultra marathons (and by ultra, I mean 155 miles through the Sahara Desert ultra). My cousin looked around at the spread of food and asked whether or not my husband’s friend would be able to eat any of this. He responded by saying, “He mostly stays away from this type of food. To him, discipline is more rewarding.” My cousin wondered if it was worth it- to give up the pleasures that are so ingrained in us that they have become a part of our identity, our culture.  I mean, we do bleed the simple syrup of qataayif and kunafa during this month too (at least, at mom’s).

As the conversation ensued, I wanted to point out the fact that the story of my husband’s friend, who has never met the rest of us, was one of the highlights of our dinner conversation. It’s amazing how his story has spread and it couldn’t have happened without the day in and day out grudge work it took to accomplish something extraordinary. At the same time, when we reflect on all our Prophets and great companions (may Allah be pleased with them), their stories lift us to a magical place because of the discipline each one of them exercised during the hardships they faced. Whether it’s Bilal (ra) proclaiming “Ahadun Ahad” in the hot desert while heavy boiling stones were placed on his chest,  or our Prophet Muhammad (sas) getting tortured at Ta’if, their ability to divorce themselves from this world carries on through today. As parents trying to raise God conscious children, we make sure to relay their great accomplishments. As I think of my own day to day activities, I wonder how I’m living the “discipline is more rewarding” mantra. I pray that this Ramadan Allah bestows upon me some clarity in this old, successful, and yet often neglected way of life- that I may taste the sweetness that comes with breaking my nafs and building something better.

February 4th, 2012: In Remembrance of the Beloved, peace be upon him.

This will be a great program that is open to all. We look forward to a blessed day remembering the final messenger of God, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. We will start promptly at 12:30 with Dhuhr prayer, insha’Allah.

 

‘Alaykum Anfusakum

As the new year rolls in, what are we doing to take charge of our own selves? Surely it is a distracted heart that worries about the actions of others when we ourselves have yet to be rectified.

Suraht al-Ma’idah aya 105
Translation: Oh you who truly believe, you must take charge of your own selves. Those who err cannot injure you, if you are rightly guided. To Allah you must all return; and then He will inform you of what you used to do.
Commentary: This aya begins with, “Oh you who truly believe.” In the Qur’an, Allah calls on many different factions. There are times when Allah is calling all of humanity “Ya ayyuhal nas” and there are other times when Allah is addressing Sayidna Muhammad (sas) exclusively. We, as believers, have a very special miqaam in the Qur’an. There are 89 verses which begin with “ya ayyuhal ladhina amanu,” and when Allah addresses us with this call, we must pay specific attention to what will follow. The aya for today is the 42nd call to the believers.
Allah tells us, “alaykum anfusakum.” This means that we cannot let life just take us away. ‘Alaykum anfusakum means that we have a duty to strive to better ourselves. Our parents, our friends, our neighbors, no one will do it for us. The strong conviction to decide on changing one’s condition is not easy. To take charge of ourselves, we have to be aware of the evil within ourselves and the evil that surrounds us. The determination felt in just these two words is so profound- alaykum anfusakum. It is easy to say, I was tempted into doing something and to blame our actions on peer pressure. This is why it is important to be surrounded by a righteous group who also know that their nafs has a right over them to be controlled. It is reassuring to know that if we correct our own condition, we will not be injured by people that have corrupt behavior. Ibn Abbas says regarding this verse that Allah is saying, ”Provided the servant obeys Me in all that I have enjoined upon him as halal and in all that I have forbidden to him as haram, no harm can come to him from those who have gone astray, as long as he does what I have commanded him to do.”
Reading this aya through a different lens however, we can interpret it to mean that we should just worry about ourselves. This would be a wrong interpretation because in order to fully realize alaykum anfusakam, means that we also have to discipline ourselves to enjoin good and forbid evil. Sayidna Muhammad (sas) said regarding this verse:
You must command one another to observe what is right and fair and forbid one another to do what is wrong and unfair, until the times comes when you see the ultimate degree of stinginess being obeyed, passion followed, worldly interest preferred, and every holder of an opinion infatuated with his own opinion. You must then take charge of yourself exclusively, and leave the common people to their own devices. Lurking behind you, there are days when the patient person is like someone holding live coals, and the worker is entitled to thereward of fifty men, all of them doing the work you are doing.
We must also remember that the believers used to wear themselves out with distress, through longing to see the unbelievers enter Islam, so they were told, “You must take charge of your own selves, by improving them, and walking with them on the path of right guidance. Their straying from your religion cannot harm you, provided you are rightly guided.”
This aya should not be taken to mean to avoid amr bil ma’ruf and nahy ‘an il munkar. Abu Bakr asSadiq said that he heard Sayidna Muhammad (sas) say, “If people see something wrong and unfair, and they do not change it, Allah will include them in His chastisement.”
Hence, as for the duty to enjoin what is right and fair, and to forbid what is wrong and unfair, it can only be neglected on account of sheer incapacity because it is a form of ibadah.
Oh Allah, grant us the ability to enjoin the good and forbid the evil while taking charge of our own selves.