Ramadan may be months away, but Winter is right here!

It’s a common tendency of many Muslims to wait until Ramadan to bring spiritual changes in their life, or to start a new practice in order to please Allah. And Ramadan in fact is an incredible opportunity to take our spirituality to another level. But is it the only opportunity? Of course not. It sure is a good time to start anything good, but the best time, is right now – whichever month and whichever season may it be. And the right now for us, is winter. Yes, the time of the year when making wudu almost turns to a jihad, and waking up for Fajr and getting out of the blanket gets really hard. But the positive sides of the season, for a believer, beat those by a long way. It was reported by al-Haythami in ‘Majma’ az-Zawa’id’ (3/203) with a hasan chain that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Winter is the best season for the believer. Its nights are long for him to pray in, and its days are short for him to fast in.” For those of us who consider Qiyam al-Layl and performing Tahajjud prayers a distant dream, this winter could be the best opportunity to at least try. Image May Allah make us of His blessed slaves who pray regular Tahajjud prayers. It is related that ‘Ubayd bin ‘Umair used to say when winter came, “O people of the Qur’an! The nights are long for you to recite so recite! The days are short for your fast so fast!” The longer night times and evenings are also great for more recital and memorization of the Quran. Imam Tirmidhi relates that the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, said, “Fasting in the winter is the cold spoils.”  The meaning of it being the “cold spoils” is that it is like the spoils of battle taken without conflict, fatigue, or difficulty. Not only are the days really short, but we also feel very less hunger and thirst during these days. What could be a better time to please Allah through some Nafl fasts? ( See more at: http://www.newislamicdirections.com/nid/notes/the_virtues_of_winter#sthash.GMDVCR3g.dpuf ) Moreover, let’s not overlook this great chance of giving charity – through money and clothes – as this is the time when the poor are most in need. Just an old sweater of ours could mean the world to someone shivering out in the open. And the rewards that come are beyond any amount of money. So we have the following things that winter offers with exclusive ease:

  • Praying at night (Qiyam al-Layl and Tahajjud)
  • More time for Quran
  • Fasting with minimal difficulty/extreme ease
  • Making more charity by means of money and/or warm clothes

As for the difficulty in doing wudu due to the cold, the following Hadith should be enough as a source of comfort: It is related in Sahih Muslim, among the narrations of Abu Hurayra, may Allah be pleased with him, on the authority of the Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, that he said: “Shall I not direct you to something with which Allah will efface your sins and raise your ranks?” They responded, “Certainly O Messenger of Allah!” He said, “Performing an expansive ablution during difficult times; taking many steps to reach the mosque; and remaining in the mosque for the next prayer –doing so a form of guard duty.”  Image

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Of Sleeping Heroes And Strange Marvels

A few years ago, one Friday, someone (probably my sister) told me that it was a highly reward-eous act to recite Surah Kahf, the 18th Surah of the Quran, on Fridays. Around the same time I saw a picture posted on Facebook saying something like “Have you read Sura Kahf today?” I’ll be honest and say that it was actually the latter that made me pay some heed to the matter. (One can’t deny the power of those nicely photoshopped images on Facebook. Those are way more powerful than your sister telling you something, even if it be the exact same quote coming out of her mouth). Driven by the notion of getting some rewards (or Sawaab as we call it), I went and opened a copy of the Quran and turned over to Surah no. 18, where the title read: Kahf -The Cave.

It should be said here that reading the Quran wasn’t a regular part of my daily activity then, it was more of an only-in-Ramadan thing for me. Anyhow, I started reading the Surah and by the time I finished the first story narrated therein, I was – to put it as simply as possible – awestruck. A story about some young guys falling asleep in a cave and waking up hundreds of years later? The Quran has these types of things? Isn’t it supposed to be a what-to-do-what-not-to-do Book? Yeah I’ve read stories of some prophets here and there, but such a cool story in the Quran, that too told in such an awesome manner? Wow.

Gradually I came to read all four of the stories put together in this Surah (and each of them are epic I tell you, although it took me years to realize their beauty) and the first one still remains my favorite. Every Friday I would read this part of the Quran and feel the wonders that it did to my heart. I’d listen to lectures on these stories (there are loads of them on Youtube) and even check out the Tafseer once in a while. In fact, Surah Kahf has become one of the reasons I look forward to Fridays (not that I can’t read it any other day of the week, but I love to feel the anticipation).

Here I’m only going to write away some of my thoughts on the first story, the one the Surah is named after. So here I go, let’s start talking about the *drumrolls* Miraculous Story Of The Youths Who Took Refuge In The Cave (I know, that’s a long title and yes, all this was just the introduction).

Although the idea of some young boys remaining asleep for more than 300 years, undiscovered by anyone, sounds like the most wondrous of miracles to us, Allah SWT began their story by asking us,

أَمْ حَسِبْتَ أَنَّ أَصْحَابَ الْكَهْفِ وَالرَّقِيمِ كَانُوا مِنْ آيَاتِنَا عَجَبًا

Or do you deem that the People of the Cave and the Inscription are a wonder among Our signs?   [18:9]

Thus the first lesson I grasped from this story lies in the very introduction. Allah reminds us that keeping a few people asleep for more than is usual is nothing in comparison to all the amazing things Allah has done, and will do, to the earth and the surrounding universe throughout the history of time (as mentioned in the previous verses). It just happens so that we are so used to all the constant signs and miracles, that we hardly consider them significant anymore.

Now let us delve into the story. There is this nation where everyone is, what we call in colloquial terms, messed up. Everyone is far off track from, and unflinchingly against, Allah’s Deen. So much so that they’re ready to persecute anyone who even tries to worship Allah. And yet from this very nation, Allah brings forth a group of young boys who not only want to follow Allah’s religion, but are risking their lives for it, abandoning everything for it, renouncing all comfort for it. Such people from the same nation where worshipping Allah falls under the category of national offence. This in itself is an Ayah – a miraculous sign – that should humble us before Allah.   Let us reflect on what kind of boys they were.

نَحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ نَبَأَهُم بِالْحَقِّ إِنَّهُمْ فِتْيَةٌ آمَنُوا بِرَبِّهِمْ وَزِدْنَاهُمْ هُدًى

We narrate to you their story with truth. Verily they were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.                                                                                                                                                                                                      [18:13]

The word فَتًى, which is the singular of فِتْيَةُ, is defined as: “a youth or young man in the prime of life“. So they were the same age in which people are generally inclined to “enjoy life”. But amusingly, it also happens to be the age when the heart is most open to truth and ready to pursue it despite the circumstances. And by the grace of Allah, that was their case.

إِذْ أَوَى الْفِتْيَةُ إِلَى الْكَهْفِ فَقَالُوا رَبَّنَا آتِنَا مِن لَّدُنكَ رَحْمَةً وَهَيِّئْ لَنَا مِنْ أَمْرِنَا رَشَدًا

When the young people turned to the cave they said, “Our Lord! Grant us especially from yourself a mercy and provide for us from our decision a straight way.”  [18:10]

This is the first of their speech quoted in the Quran, which strongly reflects their dauntless trust, dependence and faith in Allah, and gives us a strong lesson to muse upon.  Allah’s response to this desperate prayer of the youths is mentioned in the following ayah.

فَضَرَبْنَا عَلَى آذَانِهِمْ فِي الْكَهْفِ سِنِينَ عَدَدًا

Then We sealed up [their hearing] in the Cave for a number of years. [18:11]

Here starts the miracle. They are made to fall asleep inside the cave, with their hearings sealed. Each morning the sun rises to their right and each evening it sets to their left. Dawn after dawn. Dusk after dusk. Years pass and generations change, oblivious to these boys. A tiny, petite miracle among all the immense miracles of the Almighty. As if all of this wasn’t a sign big enough, Allah furthermore ensures that anyone who goes near them would be forced to flee, as the sleeping ones and their dog appear to be moving, thus terrifying anyone sighting them. It is yet another example of the endlessness of Allah’s Grace, as stated in Surah Nur:

لِيَجْزِيَهُمُ اللَّهُ أَحْسَنَ مَا عَمِلُوا وَيَزِيدَهُم مِّن فَضْلِهِ وَاللَّهُ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَاء بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ

God will reward such people according to the best of their actions, and He will increase for them His bounty: God provides limitlessly for anyone He will.  [24:38]

After the time decreed by Allah has passed and the young men (well they are three hundred and something now, I probably should not call them young anymore) are brought to light, the dominating faith around them is Allah’s Deen, which is Christianity in this case. They are no more considered national traitors for believing in Allah. In fact, people essentially decide to build a mosque over them. I wonder how they felt to be waking up to such a different world, At this point of the narration, Allah points to us the ultimate admonition of the whole occurrence:

وَكَذٰلِكَ أَعثَرنا عَلَيهِم لِيَعلَموا أَنَّ وَعدَ اللَّهِ حَقٌّ وَأَنَّ السّاعَةَ لا رَيبَ فيها

And that is how We disclosed them (to the people of the city) that they might know that the promise of Allah is true, and that, as for the Hour, there is no doubt concerning it. [18:21]

Through this story, Allah SWT admonishes not only the generation which these believers woke up into, but all generations to come – about one of the most vital truths that reverberate again and again throughout the Quran: that the promise of Allah is most definitely true, and the last hour, beyond any doubt whatsoever, will transpire, whether you like thinking about it or not; whether you are preparing for it or not.   In the last of the recorded words of these intrepid young men, we uncover a very subtle yet strong lesson. We find through their words a reverse definition of success, that is, a characterization of true failure. While sending one from amongst themselves to buy food, after they had woken up (oblivious to the fact that 300 years have passed), they advice him to stay very cautious and say:

إِنَّهُم إِن يَظهَروا عَلَيكُم يَرجُموكُم أَو يُعيدوكُم فى مِلَّتِهِم وَلَن تُفلِحوا إِذًا أَبَدًا

 “For they, if they should come to know of you, will stone you to death or assimilate you back to their religion; then you will never succeed in that case.” [18:20]

This connotes their belief that whichever way their lives go and whatever they may have to face, they would still have some form of accomplishment; if not in this life, at least they would be victors in the Akhirah. Even if they are stoned to death, they will have pleased Allah and achieved Jannah. But there is one particular probability, which would, without doubt, lead them to utter failure; a case wherein they would “never succeed”. And what is this possibility, which they deem even worse than being stoned? It is the prospect of being convinced back into their old ways, being converted back to their old religion of Shirk and Kufr. And in reality, the likelihood of that happening was not low (considering that times had not changed). Just a little glimpse of that old life, a little reminder of how supposedly awesome life would be if they stopped caring about the frightening notion of an afterlife and just followed their ‘hawa’: their lusts and wishes, are all it would take. And as simple as the process is, it is also the biggest failure – or rather defeat – a believer can ever encounter. This is explained awesomely in this lecture:

This verse also demonstrates that a believer’s primary worry is always his faith. These youths held their faith dearer even to their own lives, just how every believer should do.

The most basic lesson in the story of the young boys, to me, is the value of being steadfast upon one’s faith even in the face of the strongest of oppressions and the cruelest of tyranny, which, perhaps, is most possible at a young age. And the strongest message that this instance of bravery of the boys sends us – a message exceedingly important to the people of our generation – is that one should never, ever compromise the practice of the Deen in fear of what people might think or anticipating social ridicule. In a world full of belligerently secular governments, culture-based societies, immensely assertive media and judgmental friends, a message like that is something every Muslim should hold very dear. Because when the line between faith and disbelief is as thin as it could ever get, it’s easy to get “assimilated” into their thoughts, ideals, beliefs and even practices (their being everyone and everything not Muslim), without even noticing it. And that is exactly what is happening to us – the Muslims – especially the youth. It is happening when we watch their TV shows and try to become like that; when we listen to their music and take pride in that; when we celebrate Halloween at the end of Octobers; when we replace our headscarves with exotic fashion statements, our beards with intentional attractiveness.

And the worst part? We don’t even want to admit that we are moving away from our religion, rather, we try to assimilate whatever is acceptable in the culture or social media to the religion itself. Only if we cared to take admonition and say the same words these youths uttered, from our heart, Allah would surely answer us:

Our Lord! Give us mercy from Your presence and shape for us right conduct in our plight.” [18:10]

After all, He is Al-Wahhab, Al-Hadi – the ultimate Bestower, the ultimate Guide.

It’s Now Or Never

Two more years. Two more years of devouring painful loads of mostly-useless knowledge, of draining my precious time following a deeply-flawed system and trying to please teachers for grades that would never really matter. Two more years of high school.

Two years may not sound like much to many people, but from where I stand, it is like a long – freakishly long – tunnel that seems almost endless. But whatever is on the other side seems too damn attractive right now. The other side has things I’ve been yearning for too long, things I crave like a diabetic craving for sugar despite knowing about its cons. The other side, has life.

“Just two more years, and then you’ll be able to do all that you dream of doing,” says the delusional optimist in me, hoping that the end of school will bring with it opportunities to use my time the way I want to; opportunities to do something for Allah’s Deen, to learn all I want from the depths of Islam and share that with others, to become the dynamic Muslim that I long to become. It gives me distant hopes saying, “All this pressure of studies will be over one day and then you can learn Arabic, you can memorize as many Juz of the Quran as you want to. You can even teach people, but all that’s for later. Come on now, you have a test next week!” It is funny that I think that way, because the rationalist in me knows quite well that two years later, it might only get worse. There will be college. Then work. Then additional people in my life. Then maybe even more people – until my moments become too clogged up to keep track of; until I find myself saying, “I wish I was back in high school.”

What if it is just a trick by Shaitan – making me be in the delusion that life hasn’t really started yet – to stop me from turning all my aspirations to reality? Because, from what I see around me, I can tell that when I’ve reached the supposed end of the tunnel, I’ll probably be squished from all sides by an overdose of the ‘life’ that I wasted these precious years waiting for. Yes, that does sound like Shaitan in action. And how can I let him win?

So what about turning the picture around – broadening my scope of optimism and putting it this way: These two long years might be the biggest opportunity I’ll ever get. The hundreds of hours of free time I’ll have during this time might actually be more than all the free time I’ll ever have later in my life combined. And if I AM going to do something (something for Islam is what I mean), isn’t now the best time to start?

So what I’m just a teenager? In the view of Islam, you’re an adult the moment you hit puberty. Having considered that, I’ve already wasted too much of my adulthood. And then of course, I could die any day. I could die even before school is over. Just because my country has an average life expectancy of 67.8 years, that does not guarantee ME six decades of life. In fact, no one can guarantee me even twenty years of life! Dying a plain ol’ Muslim who didn’t even try to do something for the Deen, despite having the knowledge and ability, is the worst thing that can happen to a believer. On Judgment day, I can’t put up excuses like “Umm yeah I had the resources, the knowledge, the health and the energy to do something for Islam, but I was only in High school!”

I was in high school! I was the same age when many Sahabah had fought through battles – like real, actual battles! If I even start researching about the Sahabah who braced Islam at an early age and all the awesome things they accomplished even before they had grown up, I would feel like the most useless piece of flesh on earth.

Maybe I won’t be able to build Masjids or found Islamic institutions now. Maybe I won’t be able to arrange big Halaqats or create Arabic learning platforms all by myself now. But there sure are things I can do – and the first thing that comes to mind is learning more. Learning the Quran; its language, its intricacies, all the miracles it bears, all the magic it hides. Learning about the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم, his awe-striking life, actions and ahadeeth. Learning about the Sahabah. And so much more. And of course there are other things to do, all I have to do is to start looking out.

Two years. Two long, unrestrained years. How can I just waste this huge blessing of Allah? The fact is, I can’t. Do I know what exactly to do? Nope. Do I have close friends who share these same aspirations? I wish. But problems are there to be dealt with. So I’ll keep praying to Allah that He makes me of the Saliheen – the righteous – and gives me the ability to use my youth. Because, your youth wasted is your life wasted.

Five-before-Five

A much needed reminder. Priceless.
Subhanallah.

I remember writing this in my diary once on having passed a few months without watching any TV series or listening to any music. It was magical. Probably what alcoholics feel after weeks of being sober.

Every time I open my mouth, I mess up. Every time.

Every time I open my mouth, I mess up. Every time.

My Journey To The Jilbab

It was just another gloomy day of autumn as I headed out of home wearing a jilbab for the first time in my life, being as quick as I could so my parents would not see me. But I wasn’t quick enough, because my mother saw me and I had to stop so that she could stare at me for a while. After the staring was done, she had the queerest expression on her face. It was more than apparent, without her even saying anything, that she didn’t quite like the idea of me going out looking like “those Muslims”, the ones who don’t obey public expectations even in the way they dress. I could almost hear her thinking, like I assumed most of my friends and acquaintances to be thinking too, “You were doing just fine in hijab. Hijab is normal. But a burqa? Isn’t that being a little too much?” or maybe “You’re just seventeen! You don’t have to look all extremist, that’s for older people!” However, my mother did not say any such thing out loud, and I did not worry about her at all; I knew that sooner or later she would be following the lead In sha Allah; guidance is hard to resist for some people. What I did worry about though, was how my friends would react; what they would say and how they would look at me.

I had been training myself for weeks if not months to not care about what anyone thought or said. I had kept telling myself again and again that people’s approval would not take me to Jannah, nor would their disapproval change anything in this life or the hereafter. But I am a teenager after all, and anyone who has lived through this age knows very well that teenagers absolutely thrive on the approval of others. I personally am (I won’t say was because then I’d be overestimating myself) one of those people for whom “being cool” is a priority in life. Anyway, to my great surprise (and relief), my first day in the jilbab went by with no one treating me differently. (I almost jumped up in delight when my friends at school just continued to speak to me normally after looking at the jilbab for a while). I had not become an alien to them. Phew. I realized, just like it did not matter for me if I wore what they expected me to, it also did not matter to them if I dressed differently than what they expected.

The hard part, however, was convincing my own self and fighting my own nafs. I have had intense battles with the part of myself that said I was doing better than a lot of other people; the part that tried to logicize my not wearing a jilbab by telling me that many girls didn’t even wear the hijab. At times I almost gave in to Shaitan’s waswaas and delved into Google’s archives trying to find a Hadith, or maybe a Fatwa saying that wearing the jilbab is not really necessary, or that a short one was good enough. But by the Grace of Allah, every forum discussion, Fatwa, Hadith explanation and tafseer that I read, only made me feel more guilty about not having started already. It is a wonder, and a great blessing of Allah on me that I did not come upon a single fatwa or even common-person comment online that suggested that the jilbab was anything less than essential (and I’m sure there are lots of them on the internet, considering how many people wish that what they wish were divine rulings). The next time I need a refresher on the meaning of “Ar-Rahman”, this is what I would look back to.

Regardless of all that, in the end it was only one thing that I needed to encourage me truly, the one thing that stared back straight at me until I went to the shop myself and bought a full-length jilbab. It was the 59th ayah of Surah Al-Ahzab:

O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over themselves. That is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful. [Surah Ahzab, 33:59]

One final look at the words and all my doubts disappeared (or maybe it was Shaitan that disappeared). How could I avoid something that was there, bold and clear, in the Quran itself? I told myself, “You want the palaces of Jannah? You want the awesome fruits, the amazing drinks, the silk robes? You want the whole happiness-for-eternity deal, and you are having doubts and complains on wearing just one extra piece of clothing for the few number of years you’re going to live on earth?” I couldn’t be that irrational!

So here I am, going out everyday looking like “those Muslims”, the same ones I used to consider ‘uncool’ just a year or so ago. Now I know though, that they are the coolest beings on earth. They are the ones who have learned to not care about what people around them like or approve and have learned to rather live the way that Allah SWT lovingly bade us Himself. They are the ones who have internalized the fact that the silken robes of Jannah will make one look a thousand times more amazing and glamorous than any dress by any brand in the world ever will, no matter how ‘in fashion’ it is. You see, that is one of the many incredible things Islam does: changing the core of one’s way of thinking. It changes the definitions we always were so sure about. Being a person who found beardies and Niqabis a little weird or “extremist” for a major part of my life, I know this very well. I absolutely love how after getting to know Islam better, my definition of ‘cool’ has drastically changed from knowing the lyrics of famous metal songs to knowing long verses outside of JuzAmma by heart; from learning Spanish or French to learning Arabic; from wearing what my peers consider trendy or ‘chic’ to covering up whatever I’m wearing with a not-so-fashionable piece of clothing.

Although there probably is no better word and no better actions, yet “Alhamdulillah” seems like too little, the five prayers seem like too little, just thirty days of fasting out of three hundred and sixty five days seem too little ̶ to thank Allah SWT for the endless love and mercy He has shown me and all the unexpected ways of guidance He has opened for me. And still I know I will never be good enough at doing just this much. There will always be the times when my mind wanders to something else during Salat; there will always be the days I say or look at something wrong during a fast ̶ there will always be my mistakes ̶ and yet, throughout the same days, Allah’s infinite mercy, His Rahmah will also be there. My creator Himself will be there to forgive the biggest of my sins, to listen to my du’a whenever I call onto Him, closer than my jugular vein. How unbelievable is that? If knowing that does not take us aback and make us leave anything that comes between us and obeying Allah, then what will?

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