If only I did READ

Image credit: Ummanaal

Originally written for: http://www.igotitcovered.org/2012/03/07/if-only-i-did-read/

I was flipping through my blue Physics text book, which had exactly 796 pages. “Oh God,” I whispered to myself. Will I really be asked to read 796 pages worth of Physics? And then will I be expected to understand the information, and later apply it? I most certainly did do all that and more in my school years, as I incessantly solved past papers and did random exercises to pass my exam.

I remember finding my Economics book in my bag too – another 900 paged monstrosity – oh and did I mention we had an entirely new one (almost equally healthy) to discuss the Macro part of it? Surely, I did not forget my favourite English Literature did I? Only three plays by William Shakespeare and a delightful novel by Tennyson, and a couple of others. Then there was Psychology, with that teacher who was such a hard task-master as we meandered through Freud and Jung and Erikson. As I look back at my academic years, I feel grateful for all the knowledge I acquired and can implement. One book however, got slightly overlooked.

The Qur’an.

Totally overlooked, in fact. Where I learnt the principles of e=mc squared and all those rules of trigonometry or calculus, I think someone forgot to teach me the rules of Islam beyond the customary Salah and fasting.

That one book that Allah sent down, and made incumbent on every Muslim to read and apply in their lives. It’s not like I didn’t read the Qur’an at all, of course. A Qur’an teacher came home every evening to teach me how to read the Arabic alphabet. He corrected my ‘Qaaf’ and ‘Haa’ and I happily repeated after him. I’m afraid I never wondered what the words that those letters consisted of meant. Qur’an was to be repeated and portions of it, like the Ayat-ul-Kursi, were to be learnt by heart and read at night, but that was it. In Ramadan, many in the family would read the entire book in only one month but there was hardly ever any talk of knowing what Allah was trying to tell us!

So my childhood passed and I grew up into a confused Muslim who didn’t really know what Allah wanted from her. I certainly knew what Sigmund Freud said, but I didn’t know what the most perfect human being, our beloved Nabi, Muhammed (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam) said. Where I read thousands of pages of curriculum books, and thousands more of novels that I liked to read, I couldn’t (or wasn’t made to read) that ONE book which consists of Allah’s Words themselves, and sent through His chosen Prophet Muhammed (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) – which by the way, was far thinner than my ugly Economics heavyweight.

I remember pondering over the words in books of psychology and trying to understand and apply them, although with the Qur’an, it was just repeat, repeat, repeat, and it wasn’t until I grew much older that I began to realize what a major faux pas had been committed! Why are our children made to read everything – everything except the Qur’an? We teach them swimming, ballet, French and Tae Kwando yet we care little if they learn about what Allah wants to convey?

Why do we flounder like blabbering nitwits when people ask us about Jihad and Hijab and Salat in the Qur’an and not know exactly what is said, and promise to check with ‘Imam Google’? I am certainly not saying knowledge of the world must not be acquired. Indeed it is essential. But why do we so easily forgo the wealth of knowledge concealed inside the pages of the Qur’an, which in fact, should be the priority of all knowledge? Shouldn’t that be a part of our lives as well?

Yes some of us had Islam as a subject but all we did was skim over the subject superficially and I distinctly remember that it wasn’t considered an important subject because it would not help with your university applications. In all those years of schooling, why didn’t we, those that are Muslims in a Muslim country, understand the Qur’an even once?

Why isn’t Qur’an integrated into our lives?  Why is it so deliberately overlooked? Please don’t give me the explanation that the Quran is complicated and difficult to understand! Surely, so is Psychology and Chemistry and Sociology? It is no wonder that the Muslim youth being brought up in these so called ‘good’ schools have lost their identity in terms of religion, its values and lifestyle! A lot of young girls don’t cover simply because they don’t KNOW Allah wants them to!

Most of the misconceptions, amongst Muslims and non-Muslims rise because of ignorance created through not having read our primary sources of Islamic law. It is an entire system of education that I have been deprived of while growing up. As I inch towards understanding and applying the vast treasure of knowledge in the best book in the world and of course the perusal of the explanatory notes and practical examples from the hadith, I hope and pray that my children and the future generations will not live in this darkness of ignorance and will be fortunate enough to READ. IQRA.

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Evita’s Story

An interview with my friend Evita, a revert to Islam, written originally for http://www.igotitcovered.org/2011/11/03/evita%E2%80%99s-story/

The first thing I noticed about Evita was her shining face, with a pretty purple hijab firmly in place. As she pored over her book, trying to understand the glorious words of the Qur’an during our Tafseer class, I made a mental note to catch up with her after class. Evita had a very interesting story to tell, and in this email interview with me, she talks about her inspirational journey to taking the shahadah.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, where you hail from, your parents and family.  

Evita: I was born and brought up in Australia, and my parents are from India.  I have one younger brother, and we grew up in a typical Hindu household.  My parents were moderately religious, and we celebrated all the Hindu festivities throughout the year.

What drew you to Islam?

I have always believed in my heart that there was one God.  I was a practising Hindu (the most religious in my family!) and used to pray every day, without any knowledge of what I was doing and why I was doing it.  It wasn’t until I was about 20 years old, I began to question my blind faith, and started searching for the truth.  After about six months of researching all the world’s religions, I found that Islam was the most simplest religion, which made the most sense… so then, I converted!

How did you cope with family pressure?  

It was really difficult for me.  My parents took me out of university for one semester and shipped me off to India.  When I came back and still believed in Islam, they thought that I was brainwashed, and took away my car, mobile and ceased contact with any friends that were Muslims. We had a lot of arguments, but alhamdullillah, my Iman just got stronger and stronger!

Did the family eventually come around?

Unfortunately, I lost my father during the process, but about one month before he passed away, he did accept it (My Mum told me!), but it took slightly longer to convince my Mum.  Eventually, once I got married (about five years after I converted) my entire family accepted me as a Muslim wholeheartedly, and over time, when they got to know my husband and saw that I was happy, then they were all happy for me, alhamdullillah.  They are very receptive to da’wah, and constantly question my way of living and praying.  I’m always giving them as much insight as I can to this beautiful path to Allah.

If you had to choose just one thing that finally convinced you to embrace Islam, what would it be?  

The Aqeedah – The oneness of Allah.  The fact, that you can worship Allah the way it is supposed to be, without any intermediaries. It just feels so right.

Did you ever feel Islam was the natural thing to believe in, since it agreed with every natural feeling?

Yes, I believe that it is totally instinctual to follow and practice Islam the way our beloved Prophet (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) has showed us how to.  It is so simple, and beautiful. I love the fact that you have a direct connection with Allah, and you don’t have to go through some person, idol or ritual.  Also I was attracted to the lifestyle of Muslims – that you didn’t have to give up having a family or work to follow Allah.Most religions require a great sacrifice in your lifestyle in order to be worthy in the eyes of God.  Islam, allows you to get married, have kids and live out your life within the boundaries of Shariah.  When you implement this in your life, everything just ‘feels’ right.

How was it after you took the step of Iman? Tell me about the challenges you went through. And more importantly, how did you feel? Liberated? Curtailed? Frustrated?  

The very day I converted to Islam, I felt on top of the world.  I felt such a light feeling in my heart, and it was like I was flying.  I’ve never felt so happy in my life.  The most difficult hurdles that I had to face, was with my family.  They just didn’t understand where I was coming from.  All they could think about was, “what will people think, what will they say?” But alhamdullillah, it was those very hurdles,  that made my faith stronger and confirmed by belief even more.

And finally the HIJAB!  

I was always on and off with the hijab, and I finally took the big step and put it on about 4 years ago.  It was a great feeling, to be identified as part of the Muslim family, ‘officially’, and to start looking like one.

What did you think of hijab?  

The hijab is a true statement of ‘modesty’.  When you wear the hijab, it is the ultimate tool to freedom.  You’re no longer a slave to your mind and desires, and what people think.  You are no longer judged by your looks, but judged through your mind, and people see the ‘real’ you.

Did it ever make sense to you?

I took slow steps towards modesty gradually as my understanding of Islam increased.  Hijab is not just covering your head, but a whole way of protecting and honouring women.  The hijab doesn’t degrade woman, but elevates them with so much respect.

What made you take it up?

I put it on because I wanted to look like a Muslim, and be identified as one.  I was sick of looking like everyone else, and following the fashion, and most of all, being a slave to my desires.  It wasn’t until I put it on, that I realised, how much more people respect you.

And now that you have ‘got it covered’, how do you feel?  

I feel great. My husband respects me even more, and so does society.  I feel that the hijab protects me, and allows me to be myself.  I’m no longer treated as an object, but a strong woman who practices what she believes.

Jazak Allahu Khayr for your answers and here’s wishing you all the best from everyone at I Got It Covered!

Skeletons in my closet

First published at IGotitCovered.org

http://www.igotitcovered.org/2011/05/31/skeletons-in-my-closet/

 

 

My (somewhat colourful) past is gnawing away at me like a particularly troublesome termite that nibbles stealthily inside a piece of furniture. I stand dangerously like the infested chair, threatening to fall at any moment as I brood pensively, my mind entangled in a host of memories best left forgotten.

Since this dunya is a test, obviously we’ve all been heartbroken at some stage or the other. Sometimes because of men, or friends, or sibling,s or colleagues, or bosses – or even parents; I believe we have all had fall-outs which have caused us immense pain and anguish. As time passes, we move on, and it ceases to matter whose fault it was. Sadly though, these incidents leave an indelible mark on our hearts, our minds and our personalities.

Sometimes we’re lucky – we get to talk the matter out and everything gets resolved with both parties at peace. At other times, problems are shoved under the carpet and not spoken about, as though they don’t exist. People with a sound understanding of life and its ways make light of the matter and are able to forget about it; but emotional people like me tend to commit a cardinal sin: that of keeping the animosity inside the heart.

Sometimes you have to face the same people day after day and when you are together, the air is so thick with tension you could cut it with a knife. Yet no one brings up the matter that is eating you up inside, and the silence is full of a certain heaviness that you can’t take. What do you do then?

(As for me, I’d begin with sobbing like a baby, but really my example is generally one which should be avoided at all costs). Gladly there are better ways to control this unfortunate situation. When we’ve been wronged we walk around like a wounded animal, and carry lots of emotional baggage. We nurse our hurt, overflowing with self-pity as though we were a martyr.

To carry so many unresolved stories in your heart is emotionally very draining, and wipes the smile off your face, and you can’t find happiness anywhere. You become like a zombie, with pain and hurt causing rampage under the crust of your skin. Handling this situation requires drastic measures. And what better way to find guidance than to seek for answers within the pages of the glorious Qur’an:

 

“They should rather pardon and overlook. Would you not love Allah to forgive you? Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Qur’an, 24:22)

When it comes to comprehending words of this stature, I can be just a little slow. Since they come from a divine source, I should not question them at all, but still, some queries creep into my brain. Do you have any idea how unfair they were to me? And anyway, it’s not like they’re begging for my forgiveness right?

For instance, when I first started donning the hijab, I was the only one in my entire family and friend circle who wore it. I still remember the first scarf I wore – a gorgeous rust and orange chiffon scarf which I fell in love with. But people of course, were not at all in love with it – nor the idea, nor the hijab. It wasn’t ‘cool’ to cover. I was so – backward. But I had found the guiding light of Allah after adopting many a wrong path and the comments about my ‘saintliness’ sometimes hurt. In the initial burst of enthusiasm that comes when a Muslim ‘returns’ to Islam I had learnt that Allah likes us to lower our gaze from the opposite sex, and by Allah’s grace, I began to do that.

And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest.” (An-Nur: 30-31)

Constantly lowering my gaze sparked remarks which embarrassed and humiliated me as people jeered at me without inhibitions. “Hey, are you talking to me – I thought you and the table were having a conversation! Woman, you have issues!” or another favourite, “Are you cross-eyed?” followed by raucous laughter to which everyone present would gladly chime in. It was hayaa, modesty, a very significant part of hijab that made me avert my gaze yet I can almost feel my ears turning red as I recall the number of times people have mocked me because I don’t (or at least try not to) look the opposite gender smack in the eye. If only I’d known how much better I would have felt had I just forgiven those poor souls. But again, that’s only the tip of the ice-berg. Life is full of people who bring you down in a myriad of and sadly much more upsetting ways.

Now comes the really, really important part – to grant them forgiveness for the sake of Allah and in the process rid yourself of the pain. You’re doing this for you. So you can move on with these people and smile at them with a clean heart. This is so that you can bury the skeletons in yourcloset. Apart from making your heart a whole lot lighter, and taking care of the unsightly zombie that’s been taking your place, you can now eat and sleep well and get lots of ajr (reward) with Allah.

Let’s talk about how easily Prophet Muhammed (sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) would forgive his persecutors. Who can forget how he (sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was treated at Ta’if, and still prayed for the people who stoned him till he had bled? And how when he (sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) returned to Makkah, the people who had tormented and troubled him for years (much more than anyone could have ever bothered us) were excused in one gesture of true greatness? Now that’s some example to follow and learn from.

As we all know, Islam is a perfect religion which modern science has agreed with time and again. Even in this instance, scientific experiments prove the importance of being able to forgive. A researcher, Dr. Fred Luskin studied the topic of forgiveness for years at Stanford University. He says:

“If you learn how to forgive, it will be good for you, physically and emotionally.” [1]

There are many other scientific researches that verify the importance of being able to forgive and forget, but there is one practical experiment which is the best of them all. Try it out upon yourself. If you do harbour any resentment, hurt, or grudges for anyone at all, just forgive them. In one sublime moment, your heart will just get so much lighter and mind so much clearer. Tell Allah that you forgive every single person that caused you pain (including yourself), with the hope that Allah Al ‘Afuwwun Kareem will forgive your sins.

As for me, the skeletons of the past are finally buried — washed away as though they were stains in one wave of forgiveness, and I’m never letting them live in my closet again.

Beyond the Hijab

First published in I Got it Covered

http://www.igotitcovered.org/2011/04/27/beyond-the-hijab/#disqus_thread

There is a thick layer of grime that encrusts the walls of my heart. I know this isn’t a great way to start an article, but for this piece I couldn’t come up with anything that was more apt. To be sure, I’m a hijabi and I mostly offer salah with punctuality, but my inner self is an unfortunate combination of doubts, sins, ego, self-love and love of dunya.

Take a moment to look inside your heart, and if you find your eman glowing and shining like a hidden pearl, I envy you.  If you find stuff that disappoints you or embarrasses you, I guess you could say you and I are in the same boat. Because when I stand at the fringes of the circumference that is me and my life, and like a detached viewer assess all that’s happening within me, look into my heart, peruse the pages of my mind, and gauge the depth of my soul, I shudder. I want to look away.

Like many Muslims in this age of fitnah and trials, I am a contradiction unto my own self. My eman is like a flame that suddenly sputters to life when I read or come across something inspirational; at other times, it flickers weakly, and at its lowest ebb, it nearly stops giving off any light at all. My heart is weak and vulnerable, and certainly not like one a believer should have. What’s my problem, I ask myself.

The first step to curing this problem inside the heart is identifying it. Well, I do believe this love of dunya could be a major issue. In the age of Facebook, social networking, and blogging, it isn’t very difficult to consider yourself something of a news-maker. We lose sight of what’s important as we obsess about ourselves, our opinions, our ideas, our refreshing approach to life, and whether or not people like us. I know the dangers of Riyaa (showing off), but I can’t help feeling gratified when someone tells me how wonderful it is that I wear the hijab. Small compliments then seem to matter to me – they feed that forever-thirsty phenomenon called the ego. When they come, I’m happy and my self-worth rises like mercury on a hot day. When they don’t come, I deflate like a flat tire.

I’m already feeling slightly lighter – at least I know what’s keeping me from being one of those believers to whom Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala will say:

[To the righteous it will be said], “O reassured soul! Return to your Lord, well-pleased and pleasing [to Him],” [89:28-29]

The next step of course is to rid myself from the love of this fickle friend called dunya. But how? Well, for starters, this ayah really hits home as it defines to us what this dunya is all about:

“Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children… the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment.” [57:20]

So does this mean that when I get all excited when someone tells me I’m looking great, or I have this amazing phone and feel like ‘I’m all that’, or whatever, the happiness I feel is a deception? Hmm… that would explain why the ‘high’ we experience from compliments is exactly like fizz from a soda – short-lived and unhealthy. Purification of the heart and soul is a process, one that must go on until the day we die. After all – remember Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says in Surah al Shams:

He has succeeded who purifies it [soul]. And he has failed who instills it [with corruption]” [91: 10-11]

So success, according to the Qur’an is in purifying your soul. What about – a great job, a thriving bank account, respect from the people of this dunya, an awesome car, a great figure, a house of my own? Isn’t that what success is all about? Well, that’s what we are made to believe, but it’s actually as far away from the truth as you can get. I can’t help it as a voice inside me screams: You mean all my worldly stuff isn’t important at all? Are you serious? Do you know I just bought this awesome, amazing top worth $$$??

Well, yeah, big time! As the following hadith shows to us its true worth:

Jabir (radiAllahu ‘anh) reported that the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) went through the market with people on both sides of him. He passed the dead body of a deformed sheep, took it by its ear and then said, “Which of you would like to have this for a dirham?” They said, “We would not like to have it for anything. What would we do with it?” He said, “Would you like to have it?” They said, “By Allah, even if it was alive, it would be defective since it is deformed, and now it is dead.” He said, “By Allah, this world has less value with Allah than this has with you.” [Muslim]

So there goes this dunya. Worthless like a dead animal in the eyes of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and His beloved Nabi (sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). And it’s true too, isn’t it? Ever notice how all the lovely things of this world – wealth, respect, attention, beauty, and others – we can never quite have enough of them? There is no real satisfaction for anyone in them, regardless of whether you’re a believer or not. Get admitted to an Ivy League school, write for the world’s best publications, and work in the world’s most prestigious companies – and yet after a period of time it fails to make you feel complete, even as you strive for something better.  The same goes for wealth, same with relationships that we form for ourselves – that are all not for the sake of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and for earnign His Pleasure.

‘Ibn Abbas (radiAllahu ‘anh)) reported that the Prophet (sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “If the son of Adam (i.e. the human being) had two valleys of money, he would wish for a third, for nothing can fill the belly of Adam’s son except dust. And Allah forgives him who (repents to Him)- begs for His pardon.” [Al-Bukhari]

The second part of this hadith says Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala  forgives one who repents. So here I am, caked in an unfortunate quagmire of the worst kind, making my repentance for my blatant adoration of the dunya and rejecting the ways of Prophet Muhammed (sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), despite my claims that I love him. I hope the tears will come and wash away the stains for which I have made excuses, and have tried my best to deny. I pray that Allah grants us true success in both the worlds and elevates us, and that our hijab becomes a symbol of real purity that gleams from within.

Beating the blues with shukr


I look at the mirror and sigh deeply. Looking back at me is a twenty-something woman with bags under her eyes, a pimple (ever-so-unbecoming) under her lip, and a bad hair day. I click my tongue in disapproval at the image in front of me and mentally calculate the pounds I would like to lose. Nothing seems to make sense, including that pile of work I should actually have been doing rather than checking myself out in the mirror. Oh dear. It’s going to be one of those days.

Like me, I’m sure many of you must have had these wretched days when nothing seems to go right and every undesirable and unflattering attribute resides within the confines of our minds and bodies. For the lucky and mentally strong people, this becomes a passing phase which is conquered before it gets cumbersome. For the rest of us (self included) this ugly feeling of negativity about ourselves and our lives lingers for too long and before we know it, it creates a strong foothold within our hearts and minds.

Soon we begin comparing ourselves in an unfavourable light to just about anyone. At times unknowingly, at times knowing full well, we begin to put ourselves down. Now I am hardly the one to be telling you what should be done and what shouldn’t (given my deplorable record with self-acceptance) but I’d like to present an idea that helped me deal with a lot of problems: shukr.

Yeah. Thankfulness. You might ask why and how thankfulness has anything to do with all of the above. Well, the answer is simple: our minds, our hearts, and our bodies do not belong to us; they are in fact, a gift from Allah. And when we abuse ourselves, by putting ourselves down, we are actually showing ungratefulness to Allah’s creation! It shows our discontentment and our displeasure with the very blessings Allah has given us. Instead of being grateful and using these blessings in a manner that pleases Him, we reach a very high level of ungratefulness when we tell ourselves we are just not good enough.

Of course there are days when we simply feel inadequate when compared with others. However shukr or thankfulness becomes all the more important here, because Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala reminds us in the Qur’an:

And [remember the time] when your Sustainer made [this promise] known: `If you are grateful [to Me], I shall most certainly give you more and more; [14:7]

Wow. It’s that simple. Take a moment to let the power of these majestic words wash over you, soothe your fears, and give you answers. Now lets put the words into context: Does that mean if I lose 0.5 lbs when I wanted to lose four, don’t complain about it, say, “Alhamdulillah” and am truly grateful, I’ll start losing more?  Does it mean if get a job that doesn’t pay well, yet be content and grateful to Allah– Allah will keep His promise? Yup. That’s exactly what it means. But please don’t take my word for it – try it out for yourself.

But true gratefulness, in essence, requires us to not only be content and patient with what Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has given us, but to truly strive in order to please Him with these very same blessings. For example, the way our beloved Prophet sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was:

‘A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, reported, when Allah’s Messenger sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam occupied himself in the night prayer, he observed it with such an extended qiyam (posture of standing) until his feet were swollen.
‘A’ishah said: “Allah’s Messenger, you do this in spite of the fact that your earlier and latter sins have been forgiven for you?” He sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam replied: “‘A’ishah, should I not prove myself to be a thankful servant of Allah?” [Muslim].

Who knows – a smile of shukr in the face of adversity might be the one thing that Allah forgives all your sins for. And that’s not all. When we complain about things (or ourselves) we are in turn imposing upon ourselves a very negative state of mind. Shukr gives a positive outlook, helps us see the glass half-full rather than half-empty, and thus results in a happier and more productive individual overall.

Note: I’ve already posted this on my blog before,https://mehmudahrehman.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/the-power-of-shukr/but it’s now been published by ‘I Got it Covered’ so I’ve put up a slightly edited version again!