Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Call to Congregation

As opposed to other religions, Islam does not advocate complete social isolation as a means to enlightenment. Perhaps it is the most social religion out there. Muslims men are supposed to meet each other at least five times a day for daily salawaat, weekly for Jumma, annually for the Eidain and they gather from all over the world for at least once in a lifetime of every capable practicing Muslim during the Hajj. This does not mean that a Muslim does not have private time for contemplation. A wise Muslim, uses his pre-dawn hours in worshiping alone and reflecting on various aspects of his affairs as he pleads for divine help in all matters.

Despite common misconception, it is important to point out that praying in congregation is not optional for men. A Muslim man should strive his utmost to make sure that all his daily prayers are offered in order of priority in a nearby masjid or muslllah or in any other form of congregation at home, on the road, in the mall, etc. During the Prophet’s (SWAS) lifetime, all Muslims used to pray in the masjid - even the hypocrites. Sickness was not accepted as an excuse to come to the masjid. A sick man was often brought to the masjid held by two men on either sides. Even blindness was no excuse for missing congregational prayers at the masjid. At the same time, Islam is practical and provides flexibility for genuinely natural excuses. It is recommended that a Muslim, eats before praying if he is hungry and food is being served, as not doing so would divert his attention from the congregational prayers. Similarly he must answer the call of nature first and then attend congregational prayers. If the first congregation is missed for any reason, he can pray in subsequent congregations. During travel, four unit of prayers are shortened to two units and he can combine the noon and afternoon prayers as well as the sunset and night prayers if he so desires. There is a special way of praying when one is under attack (salaatul khawf) while ensuring everyone’s protection. If one has already prayed, one is rewarded if one repeats one’s prayer by accompanying another Muslim who has not yet prayed and is seeking a congregation to pray with. One should pray alone in the exceptional circumstance when there is nobody else to pray with.

The Prophet’s (SWAS) masjid was not just a place for offering prayers. It was a community center where meetings were held, strategy was discussed, people were educated, prisoners of war were kept, poor were housed, booty was distributed, delegations were received, from where emissaries were sent, etc. Those calling for the revival of the Ummah must start by re-establishing the proper roles of their neighborhood masajids. Establishing regular salawaat there is just the first step and not an end in itself.

By visiting one’s neighborhood masjid often one gets to come in regular contact with Muslims from all walks of life – young and old, rich and poor, healthy and sick, countrymen and foreigners, scholars and the illiterate, etc. There are immense lessons in interacting with the same group on a regular basis over a prolonged period of time. One gets to understand their issues, problems, their habits, their desires, their goals, their way of thinking, etc. It is said that one learns Islam not by reading books, but by interacting and observing the scholars. Thus associating with those who are more pious that oneself who regularly pray in the masjid, will over time have a very great impact upon one’s understanding and practice of Islam, while gently receiving feedback for any incorrect practice.  For the same reason, masajid are great places to regularly bring one’s children who tend to absorb whatever they experience from a young age.

A Muslim’s primary jamaat is formed of the people who regularly pray at his neighborhood masjid. There are so many Muslims who live in a country, yet have primary allegiance to a jamaat on the other side of the world. They have little knowledge of their host societies and the issues there. Most Islamic groups differ in their methodologies even if they all claim to be following the Quran and the Sunnah. Their ideology and methodology are derived from the interpretation of their founder’s perspective on how the Quran and Sunnah should be implemented in today’s world. Due to human deficiency, the ideology is specific to a particular geographic and historic context. It is dependent on their intellectual maturity and understanding, which will always be less than that of the Prophet (SWAS) and the Sahaba’s (RA). Thus we find one group emphasizing dawah, another spreading knowledge, another struggling to revive the khilafa, another emphasizing adopting the Sunnah, another following the salaf, others calling for jihad and qital, etc. While the common man is entangled in fiqhi issues without understanding of the essence of the faith.

Each group is like a blind man examining an elephant. One feels its trunk and says that an elephant is like a pipe. Another feels its tail and says that an elephant is like a rope. Another feel its feet and says that an elephant is like columns. Another feels its ears and says that an elephant is like a cloth. Another feels its teeth and says that an elephant is like a spear. Yet another feels its sides and declares that an elephant is like a hairy wall. In this analogy, the blind men are the intellectual founders of all present jamaats and the elephant is Islam. Their ideology pales in comparison of the holistic vision of Muhammad (SWAS) who was able to see the whole elephant for what it is. It is our duty to follow the Prophet (SWAS) as faithfully as possible by espousing his vision of Islam. By joining a modern group one automatically put limits on that vision. One gives up the essential personal duty for deep contemplation to the ameers of the jamaat we choose to follow. Joining a jamaat makes one give up holistic study from the sources of Islam and limit it to the jamaat’s literature. One tends to study the specific curriculum designed by its education department. One repeatedly emphasizes the verses and hadiths cited by their literature to justify their methodology, etc. The alternative is to re-establish the jammats of our respective local masajid.

Islam emphasizes social interaction and makes it incumbent to constantly interact with the righteous Muslims while establishing prayer in the neighborhood masjid. There are many benefits of interacting with such people including personal and children’s tarbiyya. We should have primary allegiance to our neighborhood jamaats rather than following the various modern groups from other parts of the globe. By doing so we can continue to benefit from group interaction while continuously striving to develop our personal visions.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Secrets of Spending

Among the responsibilities of a conscientious Muslim is the responsibility of wealth. He is held accountable for how he earned it and how he spent it. There is to be a balance in a Muslim’s spending. Neither is an ideal Muslim a spendthrift nor is he a miser.

And do not make your hand [as] chained to your neck or extend it completely and [thereby] become blamed and insolvent. (Israa 17:29)
To develop the wisdom in order to spend on the right things, on the right occasions needs an understanding of the objectives of an Islamic lifestyle and our role in it. Thus knowledge of Islam is a pre-requisite of developing wise spending habits. If we are committed to changing our lives according to the mission of Islam, we will strive to learn and implement the fiqh of financial matters as it relates to us.
To start off with we must ensure that our earnings are halal viz. we work in a business that does not deal in products and services which violate the principles of Islam and that we work honestly. This is essential in order for us to live a blessed life. There are many Muslims out there who would not consider eating any meat which is not zabiha. Yet they have no qualms in accumulating interest in their savings accounts!

Likewise care is needed that money is not spent on haram products and services like interest-based mortgages, loans, lottery and other such vices. Instead spending money on halal alternatives is rewarded, like spending on monthly house rent. There are many people who say that taking a mortgage helps save money. They should realize that Allah (SWT) has said that He destroys the blessings in any transaction of riba. Whereas spending on one’s family in a halal manner by paying monthly rent is rewarded and blessed. It is an investment for the Hereafter with manifold rewards. Thus it is not a waste of money.
Many people feel compelled to take out interest-bearing loans to fulfill their needs. I feel this can be avoided by living strategically in today’s world. Loans should be avoided if at all possible. If one is forced to, one can take non-interest loans with the genuine intention to pay it back as quickly as possible. The Prophet (SWAS) did not pray janaza prayers on those who died with outstanding loans. Thus salvation is dependent on fulfilling the responsibility one has not only to the Creator but also His Creation. A loan-taker is also deprived of the blessings that come by giving regular zakat and sadaqaat.

The purpose of spending should be primarily to seek Allah’s (SWT) pleasure, not primarily to follow the trend/fashion, showing off, social competition, pleasing one’s nafs or other people. Thus one should get a house in a peaceful, strategic location of the city that is comfortable, because in its secure environment one can carry out constructive activities for Allah’s (SWT) sake. Similarly, a vehicle should be purchased for its reliability and economic value to take one to those places where one needs to go to carry out one’s responsibilities efficiently. Clothes should be worn to cover the aurah, protect the body from the elements and to look pleasing to one’s spouse and the community for Allah’s (SWT) sake. If we just learn to check our intentions before we shop, we can avoid much waste.

By committing to adopt the Sunnah lifestyle, we can learn to spend where it is important and curtail unnecessary expenses. By living a simple, practical, down-to-earth, goal-centered, efficient, natural and satisfying lifestyle, one does not need to worry about the superficial things that people spend so much on these days. The biggest fraction of the Prophet’s (SWAS) expenses was on charities. By taking care of the weaker segments of society, we not only follow Allah’s (SWT) injunctions, but also benefit ourselves immediately through a feeling of satisfaction, thinking outside our own domain of phobias, good will and satisfaction in in our communities, etc. The Prophet (SWAS) also frequently shared meals with relatives and the community creating healthy social bonds among them and creating opportunities for dawah and tarbiyya.

Another aspect of the Prophetic lifestyle is that it is at higher intellectual and spiritual levels than the rest of humanity. Thus we should also strive to raise our levels of understanding and implementing the deen. This cannot take place by just having free Skype lessons from unqualified teachers. A considerable amount of money and time needs to be allocated for one’s and one’s family’s education – secular as well as religious. Personally, I have found that I am more dedicated to a class if I make sure that I pay a high amount for it. I tend to take it more seriously. Not only does it benefit me more, it enables the education provider to support scholars, improve their services and serve many more people. Almost all time of year, my family and I are engaged in learning and teaching. Thus I do not consider spending on courses and books a waste of money, especially if they are Islamic. Over the years, I have bought and studied many expensive books, some of them from overseas. This is the only hobby I have for collection things. At home we have a library and a big fraction of it is religious books, DVD and cassettes. We regularly attend the annual book fairs in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah spending AED 1500-3000 on each occasion. We buy multiple copies of many good books to give as gifts.

Similarly, money must be invested in dawah work. It is more beneficial if one engages in the dawah projects in person rather than donating money to dawah organizations. Money should be spent liberally on those things that are needed for dawah like carrying out good quality car maintenance for a vehicle that is being used for that purpose or upgrading a computer for internet dawah. Monthly donations should be given to extended family members and one should stay in touch with them asking after their well-being and giving any advice or help. This is especially true for one’s parents. It is important to highlight that helping others is not limited to just spending money on them. There are a whole range of possible ways one can benefit them.
By adopting the above methodology, I have found that I can save money on frequently upgrading homes, furniture, crockery, cars, mobile phones, clothes, accessories, etc. I do not go for the latest deals no matter how attractive they are if they do not fit with my general goals. I go to the shops and malls only when it is essential, with a list and I make sure I leave quickly. Another big area of curtailing expenses has been entertainment. By living our lives naturally, we do not feel the need to constantly keep ourselves amused. Children can be kept healthy by enjoying an outdoor weekly trip to the park or the beach. For many years our annual vacations have been spent in Makkah and Madinah rather than worldwide resorts.

Money must not be wasted on frivolous things that do not help one’s mission. Rather one should be spent one’s halal earnings with the Prophetic intention, vision and example on one’s family, relatives, community, for seeking knowledge, for charity and dawah projects. By doing this, one can fulfill one’s needs but avoid situations in which loans are necessary, making one a solvent and contributing member in one’s society.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Time Management for Muslims

There has been a lot said and written on the subject of time management mostly from non-Muslim Western sources. Unfortunately most material available only addresses the problem of wasting time in fragments. There has not been a holistic treatment of this subject from an Islamic perspective. We Muslims repeatedly find ourselves at a loss at organizing our affairs and achieving our multi-faceted goals due to mismanagement of time. In addressing this subject, I will attempt to share a holistic methodology which over the years I have found effective. It should be helpful for most practicing Muslims, insha Allah.

First of all, one should realize the importance of life and time which are gifts from Allah (SWT). Life is a one-time opportunity whose proper use will ultimately decide one’s destiny in this world and the next. Since Allah (SWT) is the Creator and Regulator of all affairs, it is only appropriate that we use the blessing of time in accordance with His wishes alone. Thus we must first make a clear intention to dedicate one’s life and all our actions based on an overall mission to serve Allah (SWT) and His deen and thus qualify for Paradise. This mission should not just be given lip service. It should be sincerely implemented in all aspects of our lives.

Once this realization and intention is established, one automatically begins to filter all one’s activities to remove those that hinder its achievement. One becomes driven by clear goals and tends to carry out routine activities in the most efficient manner. One feels is no craving for addictions like TV viewing, computer games, movies, shopping sprees, collecting stuff, etc. Weekly grocery shopping can be achieved in 30 minutes flat with proper planning and timing. Children can be taken to parks and beaches on an early weekend morning when the people sleep so that there is plenty of parking, no crowds, no traffic and no indecency.

By resolving to implement a Sunnah lifestyle, one organizes one’s daily activities to become focused in achieving the supreme mission. The Sunnah teaches us to live simply and efficiently, focusing on those aspects which are really important for us and doing away with time wasters. Not only that, it is the pattern of divinely inspired, human lifestyle that helps achieve the supreme mission in the most optimum way. The Sunnah is a most natural lifestyle, in which one consciously aligns oneself to the natural rhythms and forces of Creation. One synergizes with the natural world and achieving goals becomes a natural outcome. This is what is meant by having tawfeeq (divine alignment of opportunity and preparedness) in realizing one’s ambitions. The levels of stress, anxiety and effort are the least compared to any other possible means. This makes it possible to achieve multiple synergistic goals simultaneously.

For a practicing Muslim, the five salwaat are the milestones in one’s daily routine which he uses to organize his activities around in well-defined chunks. It is found that doing work in well-defined stages is more beneficial than during prolonged uninterrupted sessions. Prayer must be established at its earliest time and with the first congregation at the masjid, whenever possible. The prayers fulfill the essential purpose of connection to Allah (SWT), reinforcing the mission, self-reflection and resolving/planning to work on pending tasks through divine inspiration which comes after supplications. The masjid and the congregation are means to help one meet one’s goals and mission. By frequently visiting the masjid, one becomes involved with others who share one’s mission, thus synergizing with them. One should involve oneself and one’s family in the local masjid activities. Time should be invested in socializing with people of positive outlook who support and share one’s mission.

The choice of residence should be in that neighborhood of the city which is closest to a masjid, work, relatives, shops and other places where you do your chores. By avoiding frequent out-of-town travel, one gets more time to focus on one’s goals. Traveling and traffic jams not only waste time and resources but they also make one tired, hindering one to work on goals. One should try to find and use local resources as much as possible, rather than going to distant places to reach them. The internet makes it possible to engage in dawah, order things and study subjects online.

Proper planning is essential for success. Thus waking 30 minutes regularly before fajr for tahajjud makes one better organized as you ask Allah (SWT) for help in the day’s activities. Waking early and planning the day is much better than spending the late night tossing and turning in the bed, anxious for what tomorrow will bring. The latter is very counter-productive. Contrary to general assumption, waking for tahajjud makes one more alert throughout the day. One regularly falls easily to sleep right after ishaa as the Prophet (SWAS) recommended.

It is important to try and always plan your work, projects and activities. At work, avoid sitting after office hours. Do not make unreasonable commitments on project deadlines. Always give yourself a reasonable time margin. Let your colleagues know you have many commitments other than work. At the same time make sure you are known for working honestly, efficiently and produce good results. Do not sacrifice the essential balance in life to ever get ahead at work, no matter how many people are doing this around you. Whatever achievements you make will not be lasting and will return to haunt you in later stages of your life.

The choice of a life partner influences how organized you end up being in life. Marry someone for their deen, so that the whole family is organized around the supreme mission. Their support is essential for your success. Empower people under you by delegating and learning to trust them. Write a family mission statement and constitution with your spouse when you get married and try to live up to it. Try to pass on good time management habits to your children.

Lastly, it is vital for all family members to take the time to raise their emaan frequently. It will give everyone the energy to achieve their other goals. Worshipping, reading, learning, researching, teaching, writing, doing good works, dawah, avoiding sins, contemplating and spending time with the Quran are some activities that are useful. Make these activities the means for you and your family’s genuine contentment rather than wasting time in some other forms of senseless entertainment. Always look out for ways to make you and your family more efficient.

We learn from the Seerah, how all aspects of the Prophet’s (SWAS) life were aligned to his mission. There was wisdom and lessons in every mundane thing he did in his life. In order to use time wisely, we must make our intentions and mission the same. What better way to do this than to adopt the Sunnah in our lives? Worship as in the salawaatul khamisa, qiyaam and reciting Quran, planning, socializing, work, choice of residence and spouse, learning, entertainment, dawah, etc. can all be a means to our ultimate success if we have the right intentions and use them properly towards the right end. By doing so we would use our time efficiently.

I ask Allah (SWT) to give me and all the Muslims more blessings in use of our time. Ameen

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Zaraa Deen Pay Chal Kay To Daykh!

Aye zindigi kay maenay doonDhnay walay …
Zaraa deen pay chal kay to daykh!

Aye mall kay chakar laganay walay …
Zaraa masjid aa kay to daykh!

Aye yoga may sukoon talash karnay walay …
Zaraa sajday may giRgiRa kay to daykh!

Aye cigarette say cigarette sulganay walay …
Zaraa namaz qaim kar kay to daykh!

Aye masghool ayaam guzarnay walay …
Zaraa tahajjud may uTh kay to daykh!

Aye dunya dunya ghoomnay walay …
Zaraa Kaabay ki ziarat kar kay to daykh!

Aye aasaishoN ki zanjeeroN main jakaR kay rahnay walay …
Zaraa jihaad pay nikal kay to daykh!

Aye uloom uloom ka mutalaa karnay walay …
Zaraa Quran ko samaj kay to daykh!

Aye huzn may dubkiyaaN khanay walay …
Zaraa dhikr maiN zubaaN tar kar kay to daykh!

Aye soodh pay karzay laynay walay …
Zaraa haath uThaa kay to daykh!

Aye dunya ki masroofiat maiN khonay walay …

Zaraa maaN ko muskura kay to daykh!

Aye Facebook pay ghair friends bananay walay …
Zaraa rishtay jooR kay to daykh!

Aye ghazal kay misray gungunanay walay …
Zaraa shaadi may bandh kay to daykh!

Aye office politics kheylnay walay …

Zaraa kaam may dil laga kay to daykh!

Aye falaaN falaaN say jaghaRnay walay …
Zaraa khud ko badal kay to daykh!

Aye dunya ki shikayat karnay walay …
Zaraa achi nasiyhat kar kay to daykh!

Aye azyat pay azyat uThanay walay …
Zaraa darguzar kar kay to daykh!

Aye zeest maiN har fashion karnay walay …

Zaraa Sunnat pay chal kay to daykh!

Aye filmoN o diraamoN kay diwanay …
Zaraa Seerat paRh kay to daykh!

Aye mausiqi say luft uThanay walay …
Zaraa tilawat lagaa kay to daykh!

Aye Valentine Day bananay walay …
Zaraa Eid pay galay mil kay to daykh!

Aye degree pay degree jamaa karnay walay …
Zaraa pehlay khud ko samaj kay to daykh!

Aye khwaishoN ki parawi karnay walay ...
Zaraa nafs say laR kay to daykh!

Aye achi aarzoayN karnay walay...
Zaraa aagay baRh kay to daykh!

Aye parayshaN haal honay walay ...
Zaraa gunaahoN say bach kay to daykh!

Aye dar ba dar bhaTaknay walay ...
Zaraa simt badal kay to daykh!

Aye apnay liay jeenay walay ...
Zaraa Uskay liay miTT mar kay to daykh!

Aye hadd say tajawuz karnay walay …
Zaraa aaj sachi tawba kar kay to daykh!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Purposeful Pursuit of Persistent Pleasures

IMAX movies, cable TV, 24-hours news channels, music, amusement parks, spectator sports, computer games, shopping sprees, vacation trips, dating, all night parties, recreational drugs, etc. The list of entertainment options these days are endless. The non-working, waking hours of many are consumed by such activities. “Work hard and play hard!” is their motto in life. It seems that humanity is craving for an elusive inner pleasure which these activities provide only temporarily. The repeated cravings for them become deeper and deeper until they often results in additions, compulsive disorders, living beyond one's means and crime. No wonder the rich among us are busy amusing themselves to death while the poor are envious of their glittery lifestyles and resort to any means to follow them.

In 1995, I studied a small classic book called Chimia As-Saada (The Alchemy of Happiness). It is a book of Islamic spirituality in which Imam Ghazzali (R) outlines the secret of ultimate happiness. (See'%C4%81dat ). Living a life devoted to Allah (SWT) not only fulfills the obligation we have as Muslims, but doing so gives us the sweetness of faith, which satisfies the inner cravings of the soul of a Believer. He does not have the need of endless entertainment and many such activities may become repulsive to him. A person who experiences this satisfaction is a true ascetic (zahid). His life is blessed and he can feel true happiness without the need for cheap thrills. Al Ghazzali gives the analogy of a riding animal when describing the body. He says that the soul is the rider, riding on the riding animal (his body) heading for a final destination (The Hereafter). According to him, a person should take care of the body, its needs and pleasures, just as much is needed for its purpose of taking the rider to the destination safely.
The Seerah of the Prophet (SWAS) is punctuated with moments when he and his Companions amused themselves. This sort of halal fun is necessary for the physical senses so that they can relax and become capable of taking greater burdens of responsibility during the journey of life. It is also beneficial in keeping cordial relations and attracting people to the Truth. The Prophet (SWAS), his companions and his family watched the performance of Abyssinian entertainers inside the masjid. The Prophet (SWAS) used to make jokes (not based on false statements).  He used to have light moments with his family members, running races with his wife. He used to interact with children, inquiring about their games. Yet despite all this, he did not have the urge to keep himself amused like we do nowadays. Regarding his personal pleasures, he is reported to have said:
“Made beloved to me from your world are women and perfume, and the coolness of my eyes is in prayer.” (Ahmad and An-Nasa ‘i)
Thus a person who understands the meaning of life and has the capability of unraveling spiritual mysteries, will have an inner eye to see dimensions of reality which are not apparently visible. His soul will long for increasing this insight. He will find inner pleasure in pursuing a path of discovery. He will enjoy the process of piecing together a large jigsaw puzzle of the most beautiful landscape. As he nears completion his excitement and anticipation grows. Until he finally puts the last piece. For a Muslim the last pieces will be put together in Jannah when he will have the Ultimate Pleasure from seeing the “Face” of Allah (SWT). It is that pleasure which we must all be striving for and only in its pursuance will we find burst of real joy in our mundane earthly lives.
Don’t you enjoy the feeling when you give charity, read a good book, see your mother smiling at you after you obey her, hear you children recite Quran, understand a difficult concept, see Allah (SWT)’s wisdom in your life, travel, experience and contemplate on Creation, share nostalgic moments with your extended family members, joke with your wife, get appreciated for giving good advice, act justly, fulfill obligations, fall in prostration, etc.? All these actions in our worldly lives are acts of worship and obedience to Allah (SWT) that make us naturally happy and satisfied in themselves. They are a foretaste of the Ultimate Pleasure awaiting us in the Hereafter. As we grow in obedience we develop insights about the reality we are part of, creating a perpetual cycle of obedience and satisfaction.
By doing such acts regularly and systematically as the Prophet (SWAS) did them, we can hope to find the most optimum pattern for happiness which can be achieved. Doing so entails implementing the Sunnah in our lives. A life patterned on such pleasures will have no desire for other forms of entertainment. It will free us from sins, wasting resources, destroying our nafs, selfishness, adopting bad habits, setting bad examples for others, degrading oneself, living a life of borrowed living, addictions, compulsive disorders, etc. It will heal the wounds of material disparity in our societies.
Realize, my friends, that the human soul has been created for its destiny to experience the Ultimate Pleasures of Jannah. It is in our nature to try and fulfill this desire somehow. Most people try to fulfill it by ephemeral means which leave them thirsty with a never quenching thirst for more. These means are harmful for our bodies, souls and societies. The real means of achieving happiness is to prepare for the ultimate happiness of the Hereafter. In living a life devoted to Allah (SWT) in the systematic way we learn from our Prophet (SWAS) we will find deep pleasures which come with understanding reality of our journeys. This understanding and pleasure is elusive to those who fail to submit themselves. A person who is hooked on to these pleasures will be satisfied from the simple blessings of this life and has no perpetual need for abominable amusements.