Thursday, August 18, 2011

Night of Power: You Snooze, You Lose

I had to bite my tongue recently while listening to a friend discuss her love life, or more accurately, lack thereof.

After lamenting at length about being single at her age, she concluded by putting the blame squarely on God:

"It will happen when God wants it to happen."

Unfortunately, we often shirk responsibility for our own actions--in my friend's case, rejecting many decent proposals in her youth--because of a misunderstanding of the concepts of fate and destiny (qada and qadir in Arabic).

While God's will rules supreme and He has predetermined some aspects of our lives, He has also given us freedom to make our own choices and, as such, choose our own adventures. This free will applies to seven parts of our bodies used to fulfill divine duties and earn rewards: eyes, ears, tongue, two hands, two feet, private parts and stomach, according to scholar Abbas Ayleya.

"We have shown man the path of truth and the path of falsehood; he may choose either the path of guidance and offer thanks, or choose the path of ingratitude." (Quran 76:3)

Ali, husband of Fatima (one of the four perfect women of all times), was resting in the shade of a broken wall when he suddenly rose and moved to another one.

"Are you fleeing what God has destined?" he was asked.

"Yes," he said. "I flee from one destiny to another."

Every year on the Night of Power (Laylatul Qadr in Arabic, which occurs in this month of Ramadan), God closes the books on our actions of the previous year while determining the upper and lower bounds of those in the next one, according to some traditions.

In His Generosity and Hospitality, He invites us (by making this one night better than a thousand months) to spend it with Him, seeking forgiveness for the past and asking for the best (such as goodness, righteousness, blessings and opportunities) in the year to come.

"[God is saying] I am inviting you inside the room so you can be part of what is being decided for you," says scholar Muhammad Baig. "How can someone sleep when their life is being decided?"

Ali said: "Fatima never allowed anybody to sleep on that night." She served little food and prepared to stay up. "Indeed, deprived is someone who is deprived from the goodness of this night," she said.

Some of the recommended acts of Laylatul Qadr include:

1) Taking a religious bath (ghusl in Arabic) before Maghrib prayers
2) Performing 100 cycles (rakat) of prayers (making up for missed ones)
3) Reciting chapters of the Quran, such as The Romans, Smoke and Spider
4) Devoting an hour to gaining religious knowledge
5) Making heartfelt supplications

Imam Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, urged women to not only actively pave their own destinies but also those of their nations.

"We want women to attain the high rank of true humanity," he said. "Women must have a say in the fundamental destiny of the[eir] country."

Indeed, activist and poet Allama Iqbal challenges us to take the world of future possibilities to another level (translated from Urdu below):

Khudi ko kar baland itna ke har taqdeer se pehle
Khuda bande se ye pooche bata teri raza kia hai

Exalt yourself so high that before issuing each decree of fate
God Himself will ask you, His Servant, 'Tell me, What is your wish?'
Dear Readers,
I will be taking a three-month 'sabbatical' from my blog to devote time to upcoming obligations. Thank you for your attention and see you when I get back, God willing!
Salina Khan

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Popping the Questions

I knew it was time to find another mosque one Ramadan season when I got chewed out for asking a few questions.

For weeks the mosque's resident scholar-in-training had been reiterating the importance of sighting the moon to mark the beginning of the month, even suggesting we take our kids hiking to search for it. As that time approached, however, mosque officials announced the first day of the holy month before we even got a chance to look for the new crescent.

When I emailed the lecturer for an explanation, he not only failed to give me a satisfactory reply but also instructed me not to query him again!

God, on the other hand, encourages us to be inquisitive and ask questions of religious scholars (ulema in Arabic) to gain a deeper understanding of our religion in our journey to nearness to Him. Ulema must listen to our questions respectfully and answer them logically and rationally (and with composure, forbearance and openness) to prove the truthfulness of Islam, as scholars say themselves. Indeed, God's religion is one of logic, based on argument and proof.

"Then ask those who know about that which you do not know." (Quran 16:43)

And Prophet Muhammad (S) said: "Knowledge is a locked closet whose key is the question."

Both Fatima (one of the four perfect women) and her husband Ali demonstrated the importance of Q&A and set the example for ulema of all times. Ali used to say: "Ask me before you lose me!"

A woman who asked Fatima ten questions one after another about prayers stopped and apologized for inconveniencing the daughter of the Prophet (S).

Fatima's response: "Ask me what you do not know...I have been hired by God to get wages which if the space between the earth and the sky is filled with pearls [the wages] would still be more than that for each question I may answer you."

Scholars who provide illumination and true guidance--unadulterated by materialism, desires, tradition or public pressure--are invaluable and considered "the inheritors of the prophets."

"The virtue of a scholar to a worshipper is similar to the virtue of a moon when it is full to the rest of the stars," according to Muhammad (S).

True ulema exhibit three attributes: 1) sufficient knowledge, 2) piety (act on their knowledge) and 3) insight (correct understanding of the concepts of religion), according to scholar Abbas Ayleya.

"I don't believe in being naive when it comes to ulema," says scholar Usama Abdul-Ghani. " I don't believe in following  just anybody."

Not only do the pious scholars provide guidance regarding individual obligations but they also actively lead people to fulfill social and political duties to God, most notably fighting injustice. They never support oppressors nor remain silent regarding their atrocities.

"The religious scholars of Egypt should fulfill their historic role in the uprising of the people of Egypt," Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, advised the ulema, particularly those at Al-Azhar University, earlier this year.

While I cherish my right to ask questions (I'm a journalist after all!), I can also be a crank when the tables get turned. I'm almost afraid to ask: Does the must-answer-all-questions rule also apply to mothers with little ones that have inquiring minds that want to know and know...?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Best Deed in Ramadan

One of my daughters recently developed a satellite-ish delay between my requests and her responses that flirts dangerously close to my boiling point.

Example: "Please take your feet off the table."







Her lingering over such slight orders thoroughly perplexed me until I started thinking about God and my own on-and-off obedience to Him in all matters of life. How many times do we procrastinate, if not outright ignore, our religious obligations (both big and small) to the Lord of the Universe?

We do this eventhough God demands obedience for our own good, so we can purify ourselves to reach nearness to Him. Only by exchanging our own desires, wants and opinions for those of God Almighty can we achieve the humility and eagerness needed to constantly rush to His submission.

God reminds us to obey Him (as well as his Last Messenger Muhammad (S) and those vested with authority) repeatedly in the Quran. While addressing Maryam (one of the four perfect women), God says: "O Maryam! Keep to obedience to your Lord and humble yourself." (3: 43)

"The true slave of God Almighty is he for whom the obedience and love of God becomes sweet," according to Prophet Muhammad (S).

In this holy month of Ramadan, believers world over dedicate themselves to worshipping their Lord day and night through fasting, prayers, Quran recitations, etc. While such prayers and devotional practices are highly recommended, ibadat (Arabic word for worship) also includes wholehearted obedience.

After the Prophet completed his sermon on the virtues of Ramadan, Ali, the husband of Fatima (another one of the four perfect women), says he stood up and asked:

"O Prophet of God! What is the best deed of this month?"

The Prophet (S) replied: "O Abul Hasan! The best deed of this month is abstinence from that which is forbidden by God, the Mighty, the Glorious."

Upon seeing the new crescent of Ramadan, Zain ul Abideen (whose epithet means Best of the Worshippers), grandson of Fatima and Ali, would address the moon as the "obedient creature" who is "prompt toward His will."

This Ramadan protestors in Muslim countries are expected to pour into the streets again to demand peace and justice as part of their social obligations to God. They will do so despite ongoing repression, torture and the edicts of pseudo-scholars commanding obedience to tyrants by misquoting the Quran.

"With obedience there's love and with love there's sacrifice," says lecturer Hanif Mohammed. "And if you don't have these things you can never have success."

Activist and poet Allama Iqbal sums up the superiority of obedience to God in the following Urdu couplet (with English translation):

"Wo aik sajda jesay tu garan samajhta hai
Hazar sajdu se deta hai aadmi ku najat"

"The bowing (before God) that you despise
Is such that it will free from bowing down before thousands."