Sunday, July 28, 2013

Adventures in Arabic

Arabic is the official language of some 22 countries. It is one of five official languages of the United Nations. It is the language of formal religion of all Muslim countries. It is the language that unites the Arabs and the Muslims. It can be eloquent to the extreme, making it possible to convey an ocean of meanings in a few words! Its vocabulary is very rich and precise as it is formed on mostly three letter root words and various finite word patterns that convey specific meaning. Its grammar is very structured. Learning it is like learning a computer programming language. The Arabs are understandably proud of it even from pre-Islamic days and it has always been their halmark for which they have been known for. Its literature is rich, Arabic being the primere language of global learning in the Middle Ages.

Despite all these favorable attributes of Arabic, it is not the reason why I initially endeavored to study this language right after my graduate studies in Engineering in 1995. That reason was simply because my Creator chose Arabic as a language of my guidance through the Quran. It was self-discovery that led me to explore Arabic. I had been reading the Quran in English and listening it in proper recitation in Arabic. The Arabic was so powerful that I had a yearning to decipher it. Previously, I had spent my first 18 years in an Arab country, but never attempted to learn that language except for a handful of expressions after which at 25 years of age I started my first Arabic lesson.

My first lesson was conducted by a native Arabic teacher from the local masjid in NJ. We used to meet on the weekends in his house as we worked through grade 2 curriculum from Jordan public school, punctuated with generous helping of mint tea and kunafa nablusiah. My housemate was a profilic Quran teacher who I bellieve taught 80% of serious Quran students in Central Jersey in the mid-1990s. Not only was I fortunate to learn tajweed from him, upon request he also made me notice word structure and grammar directly from the Quran. I learnt attached pronouns, past, present, future and imperative forms by directly observing verses from the Quran. Before leaving the US in 1999, I had worked through American Open University's book 2 of "Arabic: A Bridge to Islamic Culture" by Dr. Mamdouh and "Teach Yourself Arabic" by Jack Smart.

In Islamabad, I formally completed book 3 and 4 of Arabiyya An Nashaeen (6 volume Saudi books for non-native speakers) in one semester. I was taught by an Egyptian teacher at the International Islamic University.

My adventures in Arabic continued when I came to the UAE in 2002. I completed all the levels of Modern Standard Arabic offered by the company I was working. Being in UAE meant that I had a chance to practise it too. Luckily, most of my team members were native Arabs, so our morning routine became to start off the day with "hikmat al youm", in which we wrote some Arabic on the whiteboard daily. In 2006, I completed the Modern Standard Arabic program from Arab Academy ( In 2009, I was the first student to complete the curriculum of Mother Tongue Center in Abu Dhabi ( To build up vocabulary quickly at first I used flash cards and then I went through the standard Arabic - English dictionary!

I am still learning Arabic. Currently I am studying word to word translation of the Quran from beginning to end. I have discovered the benefits of learning Arabic to be tremendous and varied -- from standing in night prayers listening to the most eloquent words of the Quran recited by the imam ... to understanding and participating in the discussion at work .. to making friends at the neighborhood masjid .. to teaching my own kids ... to understand Islam without the "cruthes" of a translation .. to not following a religious leader blindly getting a personal understanding of the deen ... to traveling in Arab countries like a local... to understanding the Friday khutbah .. to listening to Arabic radio while driving, etc.

I am so excited about Arabic that I want my children to share the joy this language has given me. So Abdullah currently has Arabic twice a week under my supervision, in addition to his Quran classes. When we ask Abdullah what he wants to be he replies "Professor". I wish that Allah (SWT) gives him taufeeq to become a Professor of Arabic so that he lives the excitement and transfers it to the next generation. Ameen. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Digital Dawah

If you have attended a gathering lately then you would have noticed many people engrossed not in what is happening around them but rather in a different world – a virtual world – by means of their personal digital devices.  The truth is that internet and social media use are growing, especially among the younger generation. They spend a disproportional amount of time on the net. So if you want to grab their attention you need to turn your dawah digital, whether it is through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs or emails. Although I use most of these platforms, in this post I will focus on blogging as a means of digital dawah.

The topic you decide to write about should be something you observed in your life or your social circle that needs to be researched/highlighted/corrected/advised about. Before writing about any topic, it is wise to research it thoroughly. Find out what the Quran and the Sunnah says about it. What is the opinion of scholars? Develop your arguments step by step in a logical manner after deep thought, staying with the implications of the Islamic sources. Quote directly from the sources whenever possible. When you do use your opinion make sure that you clearly state that and mention that it is fallible. Always adopt a polite and professional outlook and language. Never force your audience. Remember, the first person you are doing this work for is yourself. Perhaps the greatest worldly benefit it will provide you is that this exercise will clear up your own thought processes and help you become a discerning individual. It will affect you so that you do not make the mistakes you are preaching against.

More than normal dawah, digital dawah needs good research and writing skills. To be successful one should like to read, reflect and write about a wide variety of issues in one’s life and society. One should be constantly researching and learning. To be effective, one should be also constantly learning his deen in formal courses. By keeping arguments based on the Quran and Sunnah one is not being egotistic about one’s opinion aiming to overcome the opponents in an argument, but rather simply stating the Truth. As the Quran says it is not incumbent on you anything else than to state the clear message. One way to achieve this is to work anonymously. Clearly the issues and ideas are more important than the person who is raising them and this is a means to keep you humble.

As you develop your blog over time, the posts you write about will become a library of wise nuggets of thought about commonly repeating social issues which you have unraveled and treated clearly. In the future, whenever someone tries to argue with you regarding any of them, do not engage them, but just send a link to one of your blog posts. Over time, your blog will contain answers to most common misconceptions about Islam and you will able to eloquently and politely convince your opponents without resorting to arguments. Your audience can also participate in digital dawah by sending the links to your blog. Thus your blog becomes a sadaqa jariah for you, as long as your content exists on the servers somewhere in the internet cloud.

 It is important to keep your posts as general as possible, because your blog can potentially be read from people all over the world. It should appeal to them so if you can avoid any context to a specific region or time, it will benefit a global audience. The more people your blog can reach the more the chances are that you will interact with like-minded people, opening doors to collaboration in future projects globally. As you keep working, you will realize that you are not alone. There is a whole community of people who read and comment about your posts. It does not matter too much where you live as your interactions are global. I have found that digital dawah to be an excellent means of up-keeping ties of kinship. Often keeping ties with relatives who you have not seen for some time and live on the other side of the globe is difficult as you do not know what to talk about except the weather. With your blog posts you can talk about real issues and their solutions rather than back-bite others.

As compared to other dawah efforts, digital dawah does not take many resources.  With just an internet connection and a computer, you are ready to go. Everything can be done from your home. A single individual can potentially bring about change in thought in a global audience. The blog allows the blogger to track how the dawah is progressing by continuously monitoring the blog stats on how its content is being consumed worldwide.

The collection of online content from your blog will unconsciously become part of your belief system and that of your followers. Re-reading it from time to time, will remind you about the issues you care about in life. People will comment and provide feedback on the issues you tackle allowing you to look at them from a different angle. Thus you will constantly refine your perspective of the Truth. It is important to be open to criticism and blog content can always be updated on-the-fly, allowing you to evolve your thinking and dawah.

As a blogger you will become conscience of the issues that crop up in your community and become more sensitive to their resolution. You will constantly be able to think about them from the right context and help others to do so as well. As a knowledgeable Muslim, you will be asked about the opportunities you had in life and how you used them. Whether you conveyed the message of Islam to others or not? Digital dawah is one way in which you can answer that you tried.

There are many benefits of dawah, both for this world and next. In particular, digital dawah allows you to reach out to more and more people globally day by day. It provides a means to keep learning individually and collectively. It can open other opportunities for growth through global collaboration. Blogging, in particular, takes few resources and can be accomplished by an individual from his home. More importantly it can be a means of eternal salvation for the self and others.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Al Jaar Qabl Ad Daar

Typically when someone looks for a home one looks at the intrinsic qualities of the property and the amenities that come with it. So if one finds a nice place with parking, swimming pool and gym one often considers this sufficient. To a practicing Muslim, this is not so. There is an Arabic proverb - Al Jaar Qabl Ad Daar - which literally means the neighbor before the home; meaning we should consider the neighbor(hood) before the actual home.

Among the primary considerations is whether the neighborhood is good and peaceful. It should have a masjid which would be walking distance to your home to be. The masjid should be well managed with weekly activities for the whole family. There should be a weekly lecture other than the Friday sermon. The imam should be a person of knowledge and upright character who should have great people skills. Similarly the security guard / watchman of the place should be a good fellow with whom you can have a good rapport. You will need his services for interfacing with the landlord and maintenance issues. You should find out how good the maintenance of the property is.

The location of your dwelling should be such that you can fulfill all your needs at a walking distance or short commute. Thus your workplace, your kids’ school and your relatives' homes should be near as should the access to major highways and the city public bus stop. If the neighborhood grocery store delivers to your home it will be very convenient. Having a hypermarket in the neighborhood means you can do your weekly groceries shopping within 30 minutes. Having your bank nearby means that you can inquire about any financial transaction in person and you do not get charged extra for using out of network ATMs. A nearby outdoor walking track will keep you active. Other services that you may regularly use include tailors, carpenters, shoemakers, opticians, money exchangers, barber, ladies saloons, laundry, bakery, sweet shop, pharmacy, photo studio, etc. Having a diversity of restaurants in the neighborhood means quick delivery of speciality breads and meals. In the Gulf, it is essential to have Khaleeji, Lebanese, Pakistani and Malabari outlets close by. Having speciality shops in your neighborhood means that you will establish social bonds with their owners - something that is not always possible in the mall culture being promoted these days.

You should make sure that the financial transaction that you made to have access to the home is halaal. Before you start living in the place you should play / recite Surah Al Baqarah there. It is also recommended to have an Islamic house warming feast - called wakeerah.

The actual place is important. It should have plenty of sunshine and satisfy various other criteria that you have, but the neighbors and neighborhood should be the foremost in our choice of accommodation. Al Jaar Qabl Ad Daar.