Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Child's Prayer

I had to peel my five-year-old off the floor last week when she was a-screamin' and a-hollerin' because she was "mad at God."

Apparently, she had gone into our bedroom, rolled out the prayer mat and asked God for a swimming pool in our backyard.

Then when she peeked outside and there was no pool (or signs of its imminent arrival), she threw a huge fit of disappointment.

It was clearly time to school her in the dynamics of dua (Arabic term for supplication to God).

"And your Lord says, 'Call upon me, I will answer your prayer.'" (Quran 40:6) 
God urges us to constantly go to Him for all our needs, wants and fixes to problems. He loves for us to be humble, realize our neediness and willfully depend on Him as the Ultimate Source for everything, whether material or spiritual.

He draws our attention to Asiya, the wife of Pharoah and one of the four pefect women of all times. Despite all the wealth, power and status in the world, she remains humble throughout her life, supplicating to God for "nearness to Thee" until her last breath.

Indeed, God always responds to our legitimate requests though we may not realize it. He either answers our prayers in this world, applies them to avert impending problems or saves the rewards for the Hereafter.

Some ettiquettes of supplication:

  • Expect miracles. "It's true that you can't unscramble eggs," says scholar Usama Abdul-Ghani. "But God can take scrambled eggs and make a great omelette."
  • Aim for the stars. Prophet Muhammad (S) encouraged us to think big in the way of a female follower of Prophet Moses (foster son of Asiya). When Moses approached this woman for some information, she demanded he first ask God to give her the same station as him in heaven. He did and her wish was granted.
  • Include all, big and small. God said: "O Moses! Ask me for everything, even the mending of your shoelace."
Of course, supplications to God must be accompanied by obedience to Him and full-force efforts to "create the grounds for the prayers to be answered," says Abdul-Ghani.

Invocations for peace and justice in this world, for example, must be matched by struggle against oppression. Activist and poet Allama Iqbal expresses this tenet beautifully in "A Child's Prayer." Here's an excerpt (translated from Urdu):

"My longing comes to my lips as a supplication of mine,
O God, may like the candle be the life of mine,

May the world's darkness disappear through the life of mine,
May every place light up with the sparkling life of mine."

At the end of the day, says Abdul-Ghani, we must trust in God's decree and timing while still expecting our request to be "at the door."

I held off on sharing that last bit with my daughter, though. If she decided to literally check the door, we'd be back to square one.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's All Relative

On top of the trunk loads of gifts we receive after visiting family, we often get another windfall: our wishes come true.

About a year ago, for example, I desperately wanted my daughter to learn our Holy Book but could neither find a local tutor nor make the time to teach her myself.

A few days after returning from seeing relatives--where my guilt trip got guiltier after a cousin asked about my kids' Quran progress--came the solution. Intending to call a neighbor, I accidently dialed an acquaintance with the same name who went on to tell me about her brother's new online Quran tutoring service!

Mere serendipity?

I think not. I'm convinced that referral was a godsend for our weekend efforts at silat-ar-rahm, an Arabic term for loving, sympathizing with and doing good to relatives (other than dependents).

Silat-ar-rahm is a serious obligation and can be expressed in many ways, such as supporting, helping or visiting our blood relatives (near and far) and in-laws.*

"Man is not given the reward of any good work sooner than that of silat-ar-rahm," according to Ali, husband of Fatima (one of the four perfect women).

Rewards in this world for silat-ar-rahm include a longer life, increased sustenance, a prosperous home and family and the easement of death pangs.

Fatima's great-grandson Jafar Sadiq demonstrated the utmost importance of silat-ar-rahm on his deathbed. While coming in and out of consciousness he told his slave girl Salimah to give his relative Hasan 70 dinar.

Salimah said: "You are bequeathing to a man [Hasan] who had attacked you with a knife and wanted to kill you?"

Jafar Sadiq said: "Do you not want me to be among those whom God has praised for 'joining the relationship'? (Quran 13:21)

O Salimah, verily God created Paradise and made its scent pleasant and its scent reaches up to the distance of two thousand years. But the person who disobeys his parents or severs relationships will not smell its scent."

Indeed, strengthening family ties for the pleasure of God provides support for the individual and a network for fulfilling social obligations.

"Struggle is a multi-generational task," says lecturer Sheikh Nooruddin.

Fatima's son Hussain provided the ultimate example of how one family's collective commitment to truth and justice can revolutionize society. When Hussain undertook his mission to Kerbala to protest an oppressive regime, his kinfolk-- the old and the young, the men and the women--joined him.

That, in fact, was the secret to his success.

"If Hussain had fought to quench his worldly desires...then I do not understand why his sister, wife and children accompanied him," said nineteenth century writer Charles Dickens. "It stands to reason, therefore, that he sacrificed for Islam."
*As a side, silat-ar-rahm does not sanctify participating in activities in which God's laws are violated, even if they are hosted by family members. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Me? Obey him?!

A recent family reunion nearly turned into a brouhaha when the conversation turned toward a sensitive marital topic.

A newlywed couple in our midst had a tiff about their summer travel plans. Making it all in the family, the rest of us jumped in with advice on how to resolve such conflicts. When somebody suggested letting the man of the house have the final say, just about everybody was up in arms in protest, including the husband!

God, who created us and designed our bonds with fellow humans, has given us clear instructions on how to build strong and lasting spousal relationships.

Marriage is considered a means for both individuals to draw closer to God. It is to be based on love, mercy and mutual respect with certain duties and rights to be fulfilled on both ends to ensure peace, harmony and success.

God encourages couples to make decisions through mutual consultation while keeping in mind the ultimate goal of pleasing Him. However, as the one entrusted with the leadership and guardianship of the family, the husband's opinion holds sway should a disagreement erupt.*

"The good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as God has guarded." (4:34)

"It doesn't mean he's a caveman dragging his wife around by her hair," says scholar Usama Abdul-Ghani, who adds men are encouraged to lead by example. "At the same time it does mean his word is the final word."

Fatima (one of the four perfect women) was the best partner in life to her husband Ali, who once said, "We lived like two pigeons in a cocoon."

Here is an excerpt from their final exchange before her death:

Fatima: "You have not known me to be a liar or a traitor, and have I ever disobeyed you since we were together?"

Ali: "God forbid! You are more knowing of God, more devoted, more pious, more honorable and more fearing of God than (to give me a reason) to reprimand you for disobeying me. Surely it is very painful for me to be separated from you and to lose you, but it is an inevitable destination."

Like any other institution, a family is the basic unit of society and can only progress materially and spiritually under well-respected leadership. If husbands and wives are forever duking it out over this, that or the other in the living room, they won't be able to fight the horrific oppression out on the streets.

No doubt, giving in isn't always easy (especially when we think we're right!), but it's supposed to be worth it at the end.

"Men normally want to please their wives," Abdul-Ghani says. "If she will allow him to lead and run affairs in this soft way, she will bring out the best in him."

Hmmm, I wonder how long it takes for that effect to kick in....


*For sure, a husband must also fulfill his duties towards his wife, including providing adequately for her, demonstrating good manners and affection towards her and not inviting her to violate any of God's laws. Prophet Muhammad (S) said: "The best among you is the one who observes the rights of his wife in the best possible way, and I am the best among you to observe the rights of my wives."

Monday, May 16, 2011

Material Girl

When avalanches of schtuff kept spilling out from under my five-year-old's bed, I resorted to an adult reality show to straighten her out.

I kept her up late one night and plopped her down in front of the telly when Hoarders: Buried Alive came on.

She watched wide-eyed as camera crews struggled to enter the junk-crammed house of an elderly lady.

"That," I told her sternly, "is going to be you one day unless you stop sticking everything but the kitchen sink under your bed." [Loose translation from Urdu]

In today's consumer-driven economy, the wholesale accumulation of possessions that God strictly warns us against has become the norm thanks to a culture that promotes materialism over spirituality. The average child, for example, gets bombarded with 3,000 commercial advertisements a day.

"Alas, for every slanderer and back-biter who amasses wealth and hoards it! Does he think that his wealth will make him immortal? Certainly not. He will surely be thrown into the Consuming Furnace." (Quran 104:1-4)

God condemns an attachment to worldy things that often manifests itself in hoarding wealth and showing off material belongings (houses, cars, clothes, purses, electronic gadgets, etc.) even while others go without. 

Instead, God says He gives us wealth and material things as blessings to fulfill our duties to Him, improve the general condition of people and guide them to His way. 

He wants us to remember that this world is transitory while the Hereafter our permanent abode as did Khadija, the wife of the Prophet (S) and one of the four perfect women. An enormously wealthy woman, she emptied her coffers to help reestablish God's system on earth. Indeed, this "Princess of Arabia" was forced during the most trying times to suck leather dipped in water for nourishment.

Few people are able to stay focused on God like she did once they're rolling in riches.

Prophet Muhammad (S) warned: "By Allah, I am not afraid that you will become poor. I am afraid that worldly wealth will be given to you in abundance as it was given to those (nations) before you, and you will start competing with each other for it as the previous nations competed for it. Then it will divert you (from good) as it diverted them."

"We have people who have this wealth and power behaving exactly as God's Prophet (S) predicted they would," says Muhammad al-Asi, author of The Ascendant Quran, the first explanation (tafsir) of the Holy Book written directly in English. "When wealth and money came their way, they forgot God and turned away from Him. They are a shame and a sore on the condition of the Muslims in this world."

But their days are surely numbered. 

As people awaken to the injustices being committed against them, notorious hoarders like former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (whose family stashed away an estimated $70 billion) are finally getting the boot. 

While my daughter is steadily lightening the load underneath her bed (I no longer find bags within bags of goodies nested like Russian babushka dolls.), her reputation will be more difficult to shed.

My husband couldn't find his alarm clock last week. After looking under the bed, behind the bed and all around, he gave up. 

"It must be under [our daughter's] bed," he concluded.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On Everyone's Tongue

In light of my successive failures in learning how to speak Arabic, I sometimes feel guilty being a language nazi around our house.

With me censoring English at home (Say it again but in Urdu!), fixing Quranic mispronunciations (Utter it from the throat!) and staving off Southern drawl (It's "bye," not "baaa"!), my kids often can't get a word in edgewise before I'm there to correct them.

I wish I had shown half this diligence during the slew of Arabic classes my parents enrolled me in while growing up. Unfortunately, learning the language wasn't a priority for me like it should have been.

God revealed his final book to humankind in Arabic and to properly understand the message we need to know the language, which is known for its eloquence and rich vocabulary, grammar and syntax. Indeed, God specifically describes his book as being in the Arabic language eleven times in the Quran. Among them:

"The tongue of the man they [polytheists and pagans] refer to is foreign, while this [the Quran] is a clear Arabic tongue." (Quran 16:103)

And, "Verily we have sent it down as an Arabic Quran in order that you may understand." (12:2)

"All articulation is from God," says Nouman Ali Khan of the Bayyinah Institute, which offers Arabic intensive courses. "God just took one language and honored it above others by giving it an extraordinary amount of clarity. This is important because the worst thing that can happen to a religion is misinterpretation."

Througout time scholars have emphasized the need to learn proper Arabic, even if it is one's native language.

Hussain, the son of Fatima (one of the four perfect women), said: "Learn the Arabic language for it is the language of God in which He will address the people on the Day of Judgment."

Fatima's daughter Zainab held mastery over it. She taught women with such clarity of thought and eloquence of speech that she became known as Fasihah (skillfully fluent) and Balighah (intensely eloquent).

With Arabic-learning resources abundant these days, there's no excuse not to teach the language--the fifth most widely-spoken in the world--to our kids and give it another go ourselves. (Mastering Arabic by Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar is considered an excellent book for adults.)

I attend a mosque of mostly Arabic speakers and often regret my unproficiency for practical reasons: language can be a huge barrier in communication and community building. 

Indeed, those who belong to the global community of God (Ummah in Arabic) and are serious about their responsibility to lead humanity towards peace and justice must have a way to network. Arabic is the lingua operandi.

The other day while approaching the kitchen table for lunch one of my daughters said something to the other in Arabic. (Both attend an Arabic preschool.)

"What did you say?" I asked excitedly.

"I said, 'I'm not sitting with you,'" was the reply.

You win some, you lose some, I guess.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother May I?

My oldest daughter recently got a taste (long-lasting, I hope!) of the blessings that come from respecting her mother's decisions.

For months she begged for gymnastics classes, which I flatly refused. After getting her nth mother-knows-best schpeel, she finally acceded to my authority one day and threw in the towel.

Shortly thereafter, an ace gymnast transferred to her third grade class and started giving lessons for fun to all wanna-be tumblers during recess. Before she knew it, my daughter was doing splits and handstands!

The importance of showing obedience, love and respect to one's parents is a lesson that ought to be learned at an early age. That's because disobedience to parents is ranked amongst the greatest sins, right up there with the unforgiveable evil of associating partners with God (shirk in Arabic). Obedience to parents is only exempt if it contradicts God's laws or will cause undue hardship or harm.

God says: "And your Lord has commanded that you shall not serve (any) but Him, and goodness to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, say not to them (so much as) "uff" nor chide them, and speak to them a generous word. And make yourself submissively gentle to them with compassion, and say: 'O my Lord! Have compassion on them, as they brought me up (when I was) little.'" (Quran 17:23-24)

"So God is demanding from us nothing short of our best when it comes to our parents," says lecturer Nouman Ali Khan. "What that means is you have the potential to be good, to be patient, to be merciful, to have kind words, to be charitable or to have courtesy. The best of your courtesy, the best of your words, the best of your patience should go to whom? Your parents."

Some of the ways of showing parents respect include not addressing them by their names, not walking in front of them or sitting before them, not sitting with one's back towards them, not raising one's voice in front of them and not beginning one's meal before them.

Most of us have heard traditions of Prophet Muhammad (S) such as "Heaven lies under the mother's feet" that indicate immense rewards in the Hereafter. But many don't realize that the consequences of our attitude, words, gestures and behavior with our parents begin immediately in this world.

Prophet (S) said: "There are three kinds of sins which are punished in this world rather than being given respite until the Day of Judgment. The first is disobedience to parents, the second, injustice upon men, and the third, thanklessness for favors."

Indeed, many of us could have avoided some of the twists and turns in our lives had we better understood and fulfilled our duties to our parents. While we can't undo the past, we can ask for forgiveness and vow to do better, God willing.

We can learn how through the suppliction of Zain-ul-Abideen (grandson of Fatima, one of the four perfect women) for his parents:

"O God,
fill me with awe of my parents,
so that I may prefer their inclination to my inclination,
set their satisfaciton before my satisfaction,
make much of their devotion to me though it be little,
and make little of my devotion to them though it be great."

Those of us now blessed with motherhood ourselves must pay homage to our status by training the next generation properly. As Imam Khomeini said:

"You ladies have the honor of being mothers, which puts you ahead of the men. You have the responsibility of training children in your laps. While in her lap, the child will begin to imitate his mother, so that if he sees she is good-natured, her words and actions kind and good, he too will behave likewise....It is possible that a child whom you have trained well will save a nation. Take care to hand over good children to society, and let your teaching be accompanied by training."

That training includes teaching obedience to parents. That's what I call a win-win situation!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Glamour Girl in the House!

I knew I had to pay closer attention to my appearance when my daughter, who decided to be a mom for career day this week, layed out her costume like this:

"I can wear my pajamas and a robe and wear my hijab like this (motioning dishevelment with both hands). I'll put a baby here (one hip) and another here (the other hip)," she continued as my eyes grew buggier. Was she talking about me? 

"I know! I can take [my younger sisters] with me to school!"


Admittedly, between watching a pot on the stove and tending to someone or another sitting on the pot, glamming it up has not been a priority for me for some time.

But it should be.

To strengthen our marriages, women (of all ages) are supposed to dress up at home when our husbands are around. This means being consistently neat and clean while wearing clothing, jewelry and perfume attractive to them.

"There are some women who [think] 'I don't want my children to see me dressed up so when I'm around the house I'm going to wear house clothes,'" says scholar Usama Abdul-Ghani. "But, unfortunately, the husband always sees you in house clothes."

According to God, the best of clothing is the "raiment of righteousness." (Quran 7:26) For women, righteousness includes beautifying ourselves at home for our husbands while adorning ourselves with modesty, dignity and poise elsewhere. 

Prophet Muhammad (S) said: "Surely, the best of your women is the one who...dresses up for her husband and is chaste around others."

Maryam, the mother of Jesus and one of the four perfect women, was a model of propriety in dress and manners. God says about Maryam, "And (remember) her who guarded her chastity." (21:91)

Indeed, artistic renderings of the Virgin Mary by non-Muslims also show her in modest garb--long, flowy and with a head covering.

Even today, it is women dressed like that--often described by the media as "the sea of black"--who lead in protests against oppression and injustice around the world.

Many have been inspired by the sermons of Imam Khomeini:

"Women must be brave, they must involve themselves in the fundamental destiny of [their] country...[but] women should not be tricked [and] imagine their station in life calls for them to come out into the streets dressed up and made up, with no veil and scantily dressed. This is not the role of women; this is the role of a doll."

Hold on, I think I hear the garage door opening. I have got to goooooooo!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mocking Trial

Hoping to add experience to my nine-year-old's bookish knowledge, I let her play hooky last week to attend a hearing at our State Capitol. But instead of a simple civics lesson, she got a front row seat to her first live Islam-bashing performance.

By misquoting the Quran and misrepresenting Islamic concepts, one of our state representatives tried to degrade Islam and humiliate its followers. He did this while politicking for legislation formerly known as the anti-shariah bill.

The official, who said he had spent ten years studying Islam, must have missed the chapters on dignity (izzat in Arabic). Otherwise, he would have known that neither his rant nor the bill he helped pass could lower the dignity of those who believe in God and obey Him.

That's because "honor belongs to God and His Prophet and the believers." (Quran 63: 8)

"A person who has izzat never gets insulted," says scholar Abbas Ayleya. "When we are grabbing on to the rope of God and we are connected to God's Power no one can insult us because no one can insult God."

Those who believe in, obey and trust God are like the dictionary definition of izzat: unpenetrable earth, Ayleya adds.

Likened to a mountain, they are unmoved by the machinations of their opponents. Nothing can influence their spirituality nor erode their commitment to God and His principles of truth and justice.

Dignified women like Zainab, the daughter of Fatima (one of the four perfect women), set an example. She kept her head up though her hands and feet were shackled when brought to the court of tyrant Yazid.

Excerpt from her speech:

"God says:  'Then the end of those who do evil deeds is that they reject the verses of God and ridicule them.' (30:10)

Oh Yazid! Do you think that by making us have humiliated us in the sight of God and have earned respect for yourself?!

You feel that you have conquered the whole world and your affairs are organised and that our domain is now under you control… Are you forgetting that God says: 'Surely those who have bought unbelief at the price of faith shall do no harm at all to God, and they shall have a painful chastisement'?" (3:177)

Cowardice, apathy and dependence on others, on the other hand, is what truly humiliates a community or nation. It gives oppressors free reign to do as they will.

People who've tolerated oppression for decades are awakening to reclaim their honor through "Dignity Revolutions" all across the Middle East and Africa. One chant commonly heard during protests: "Disgrace is far away from us!"

To avoid similar humiliation, the rest of us must also keep opposing injustice and encourage our family and friends to do the same.

On the drive home from the hearing I asked my daughter if she was game for the next one. "Sure," she said with her nose back in a book. "Anything to skip school."