With The First Step Into Jannah

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In Different Shoes

Have you ever walked through a street while imagining yourself to be someone else? Looking at everything, the posters and the billboards and the cars and the people, from someone else’s eyes – a random foreigner, or maybe a superstar that you like? I do it sometimes. I pretend I’m this guy from a complete different country who doesn’t know the language and is trying to make sense out of all the strangeness going on in the streets of this new weird city. And trust me, a lot of strangeness goes on in the streets of my city.

Sometimes I’m a sports person, sometimes I’m a famous sheikh, sometimes I’m Mark Zuckerberg and sometimes I’m Bill gates. And sometimes, I jump straight back in time and land in the shoes of some famous philosopher, warrior or – more often than not – a Sahabi (companion of our Prophet (SAW)). And that’s when it gets really weird. Weird as in impossible to take in. And I have to instantly switch back to my 21st century self.

I’m pretty sure that if any of the super-awesome people we remember to this day as Sahabis, may Allah be pleased with them all, had the chance to live for a while in this time and moment, they would have been, to the n-th degree and mostly in a negative sense, mind blown. And not just because of climate change.

There are so many things that they would disapprove of that trying to make a list out of those is sheer stupidity. Let’s assume they would ignore the streets or the outwardly conditions of our life and have a glance at us as persons. What would they think of the way we live? From the way we talk to our parents to the things we look at, our lives are hardly worthy of the approval of the Prophets (AS) or the Salaf. Would our beloved Prophet (SAW) approve of the way we talk to each other, or most of the things we watch on tv, the videos we watch on Youtube, the facebook statuses and photos we ‘like’, even the ones we consider “not so bad”? It’s not really a matter of Halal and Haram, it’s more of just an average sense of conscience. We are so used to taking indecency for granted that we hardly stop and consider if it might cost us our afterlife.

I heard someone say just the other day that if a person living at the time of the Prophet (SAW) were to enter the house of a well-to-do person in today’s world, they might easily mistake it for Jannah. A wide range of food on the table. Several flavors of juices and soft drinks in the fridge. Paid people serving those foods and drinks (in many countries and cultures). High, comfortable sofas. Carpets. Cushions. Does that sound familiar?

And then if they turned and looked at the conditions of our hearts – our spirituality I mean – let’s just say that it would be a huge shame for us. I won’t talk about how ungrateful attitudes most of us have despite living in such “heavenly” conditions. But the stone-like conditions our hearts have turned to is a tragedy. Stone-hearted people on feather-soft sofas, sipping at cold drinks and wasting hours and hours of their lives watching utter useless stuff on tv and listening to pointless music. How can we be so stupid that we deliberately try to escape the things that take us closer to Allah but don’t give a second thought when doing something that has no benefit in this life or the next? Maybe the reason our hearts have turned so hard is that we give more attention on increasing the reading on our “I’m Cooler” meter than to increase the score on the actual scoreboard that matters. Or maybe it’s the other way round. It is more of a cycle I guess: hardened heart – less effort to please Allah – even harder heart and so on. Allah says in the Quran:

Has the time not come for those who have believed that their hearts should become humbly submissive at the remembrance of Allah and what has come down of the truth? And let them not be like those who were given the Scripture before, and a long period passed over them, so their hearts hardened; and many of them are defiantly disobedient.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         __ Surah Hadid, Ayah 16

This gives us the entire reason, which also happens to be the remedy, of the problem: our connection to Allah’s book. Maybe if we took more time to read and appreciate the Quran, we would realize how futile most of our activities are and pay more attention to doing more meaningful stuff. Maybe we’d jump out of our comfort zone and try to make our lives worthful by working more for our Akhirah. But wait, isn’t that exactly what we try to avoid? What? Get serious about life? No, thank you. I’ve got more important stuff to do.

Trust me I used to be like that (in fact still am to some extent). But once I connected myself a little to the Quran and tried cutting off my hours on tv, music and other random stuff, I actually felt better. I realized that it wasn’t a myth after all. The Quran does more than just to add to your scales. It actually, seriously makes you feel better. And believe it or not, cutting off/reducing time spent on entertainment also does something. It makes you feel a different kind of good, ironical as it is.

Back to where I started, I think it actually is a cool thing to pretend to be in the shoes of a Sahabi. I really should try it more often. And instead of running away, I should try to stay in those shoes until it turns me to a better person. After all, if any of them really had to be in our place, would they think of transporting to a different time because the world was too messed up? Or would they be their own awesome selves despite the surroundings and rather try to transport everyone around them to a better condition?

Since I was talking about hard hearts, here’s a talk I really enjoyed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2ScGh-__No

 

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.

On Death And Other Nagging Thoughts


“It does not matter how slow you move, as long as you do not stop,” said some great thinker once. I feel bound to disagree with him. Because firstly, timing counts. And secondly, the acts of moving slow and stopping are often cause and effect of each other. Moving too slow quite often results in stopping too soon. You could get hit by a car while “moving too slow”, causing you to “stop” (figuratively speaking, although literally it makes more sense).

The introduction being done, let me warn you, this is about religion (and no I don’t mind if you stop right here and go back to doing whatever you were). Procrastination, in other words, “moving too slow”, has become a part of our Iman or faith nowadays. And here I basically mean long term procrastination, as reflected in thoughts like “I’ll start praying from next month” or “I’ll become religious from next Ramadan.” Having no nail polish remover at home or having your A Levels in a few months is seen as more than a valid reason to not pray. And then there’s always the thought of an undoubted “later”, threatening to exterminate the good part of you as soon as it tries to convince you that pleasing Allah is more important than pleasing your judgmental friends. The more “practical” part of you tells you that becoming an actual Muslim can wait a little longer. Because after all, it doesn’t matter how slow you move, as long as you do not stop. But you never see the car coming.

Some days I get a little irritated seeing my sister, like a lot of other people, taking her religion too seriously (it hurts to admit though); acting like she might die the next day. The very following nights, I realize, she MIGHT actually die the next day. So might I. Recently, a few episodes of a certain TV series suddenly made me start feeling very insecure. Insecure about health; insecure about life. (It ashames me that I had to wait for a TV series to instigate me while there are so many copies of the Quran lying around in my house). Thoughts of having some unnoticed cancer or inoperable tumors or being hit by a vehicle keep sucking away my usual joys and ignorance. But the fear of dying brings with it another, bigger fear which I thought was always there but now I know that I had subconsciously suppressed it under impractical optimism. The fear of dying AND ending up in Hell. And as I heard someone say: even an atheist, who does not believe in heaven and hell, fears hell. And I know quite well that I haven’t been good and religious enough, for even one day of my grown-up-enough life, to deserve heaven. And from what I’ve seen, it’s the same case for a lot of the muslims of my age.

We hardly pass a day when we give Allah and our Deen more importance than worldly things. We listen to music all day and never even consider opening the Quran. Because reciting the Quran is “too muslim”. To us, waking up for Fajr prayer is “too muslim”; reading about what the greatest man that ever lived (PBUH) said and did is “too muslim”; everything that is supposed to MAKE us muslim, is “too muslim”.

I’m not instigating you to stop doing everything or walk around wearing robes and all. I’m just suggesting that you stop putting off doing what really would matter in the end, that you stop waiting for a “later” that might not exist. Maybe it’s time you thought about putting up some scores on the only scoreboard that counts. Maybe it’s time to move faster. To pray. To follow. To refrain. Not for me; not for anyone else. But for your own benefit. Because you never see the car coming.

Every soul shall have a taste of death: and only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense. Only he who is saved far from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have attained the object (of life): for the life of this world is but goods and chattels of deception.

– Surah Al-Imran, Verse 185

“Trays of gold and cups will be passed round them, (there will be) therein all that the one’s inner-selves could desire, all that the eyes could delight in, and you will abide therein forever. This is the Paradise which you have been made to inherit because of your deeds which you used to do (in the life of the world).”

 – Surah Zukhruf, Ayah 71-72

Now you don’t want to miss out on that, do you?

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