A South African Muslimah's Blog

Constructing Identity: Loud Whispers, Lasting Echoes

Ihsan – Excellence July 7, 2015

Ihsan – to ‘be’ all that is good and beautiful inside – in the mind, heart and soul, through our thoughts, intentions, emotions and understandings of Allah

Ihsan – to ‘do’ and spread goodness and beauty outside – through words, action, ettiquette, conduct and interaction.

The ayaat on Ihsan reflect its sublime nature – spiritual excellence and acting through certain, intimate knowledge of the Divine Gaze (how could one act but in the most beautiful way with such insight?)

Allah instructs Ihsan amongst human beings in our relationships; those in which it should be obvious but which we can easily taken for granted – with parents (2:83), those in which good conduct and noble intentions can seem impossible – between divorced spouses (2:229) and those to whom the help and assistance of people with financial means is due (4:36).

“Is the reward for Ihsan anything but Ihsan?” (55:60)

Ihsan is spiritual excellence, it is an ethic with imbibes the very fibre of our being, of our thoughts and actions, because it is as the Prophet (as) said “to worship Allah as if you can see Him, and if not that – to know that He sees you”. The results of that excellence, meticulousness and high moral conscience, can truly only bear results and rewards, which are correspondingly excellent.

Our endeavours for justice are connected to our Ihsan, many of the ayaat on Ihsan invoke against corruption, indecency & injustice, towards reformation, perserverance & activism.

“Indeed, Allah enjoins Al-Adl (justice) and Al-Ihsan (excellence) …” (16:90)

“Say, “O My servants who have believed, have Taqwa of your Lord. For those who do good in this world is good, and the earth of Allah is spacious. Indeed, the patient will be given their reward without account.” (39:10)

“If you do good, you do good for yourselves; and if you do evil, you do it to yourselves.” (17:7)

Allah has Ihsan with us –

“But seek, through that which Allah has given you, the home of the Hereafter; and yet do not forget your share of the world. And do good as Allah has done good to you. And desire not corruption in the land. Indeed, Allah does not love corrupters.” (28:77)

Allah loves those who embody Ihsan – the Muhsineen,

“Do not throw yourselves with your own hands into destruction. And do good; indeed, Allah loves the Muhsineen. (2:195)

His Mercy is near to them,

“And cause not corruption upon the earth after its reformation. And call on Him in fear and longing. Indeed, the mercy of Allah is near to the Muhsineen” (7:56)

Most of all … Allah is with them,

“Indeed, Allah is with those who have Taqwa and those who are Muhsinun.” (16:128)

May the blessed month of Ramadan cultivate the seeds of Ihsan – excellence and beauty – within each of us so that we may live in the Love, Mercy and With-ness of Allahu Ta’ala.

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Peaceful Submission – Islam

“Indeed the way with Allah is submission” (3:9)

Thinking about what it means to be peaceful and to live in its counterpart – submission.

In my readings – Submission before God is to surrender yourself to His Mercy by following what is expected of a believer – this was exlempified by Nabi Ebrahim (as) and his son Isma’eel (as) when they were tested with the sacrifice,

“And when they had both submitted and he put him down upon his forehead
We called to him, “Oh Ebrahim you have fulfilled the vision’. Indeed, We thus reward those who do good.” (37:103-105)

Nabi Ebrahim (as), through his perfect submission was able to face the fires of this world unaffected – even in the midst of trials, he was given peace,

“We said: ‘Oh fire, be coolness and peace for Ebrahim’.” (21:69)

Submission is also to admit to our own weaknesses, to yield without hesitation to truth when it reveals itself – as Bilqees (as) did, when the reality of Allah became apparent to her and she joined forces with Nabi Sulayman (as)

“She said: “Oh my Lord! I have indeed wronged my soul: I do submit with Sulayman to the Lord of the Worlds.” (27:44)

Peace is intrinsically linked to submission,

“And whoever submits his face to Allah while practicing excellence, then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold. And to Allah will be the outcome of matters.” (31:22)

To me, this orientating of ‘the face’ to Islam is connected to identity – we navigate mutliple identities : ethnic, gendered, religious, national, political, professional etc. I believe this verse articulates a spiritual identity for Muslims – we must be inwardly at peace with the Divine Will so we can live and spread peace in the world.

Peaceful submission must transcend our greetings – it is an attitude, a lifestyle, a constant striving to reconcile …

“Oh you who have believed, enter into submission completely … ” (2:208)

“And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them, they say words of peace” (25:63)

Peace is Divine, it is an attribute of Allah (59:23), a state of Paradise – Dar as-Salaam (6:127) – and it is from the very sacred Words of Allah

“Peace! – a word from a Lord Most Merciful!” (36:58)

Ramadan is a time when seek Peace, more-so in the last ten nights when we search for Laylat al-Qadr, a night of immense Peace in which we pray for our destiny and seek nearness to Allah, not co-incidental then, that it is the night described as,

“Peace, it is until the emergence of dawn” (97:5)

 

Trusting Faith – Iman

On reflecting on this third theme of Iman, I am clearly reminded how all of our spiritual ideals and practices intersect and intertwine into a beautiful wreath of being – it is impossible to understand the Qur’anic expressions of Iman without looking towards those epitomes that Allah stresses along with it – foremost amongst them, Righteous Action (Amal Salih), Reliance on Divine Will (Tawakkal) and Higher Consciousness (Taqwa), which I hope to write about in the coming days insha’Allah.

Allah addresses those who have adopted Iman in the Qur’an with the epithet “Ya Ayyuhal Ladhina Amanu”, an intimate discourse – which upon further deliberation – directs such believers to the lofty ideals and lifestyles which should constitute a life of faith.

First is the matter of belief – what should those of Iman inscribe as truth onto their consciousness?

“Oh you who have Iman, believe in Allah and His Messenger and the Book that He sent down upon His Messenger and the Scripture which He sent down before. And whoever deny’s Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day has certainly gone far astray.”

These beliefs connect us to a legacy of a momentous past when Allah reached out to humanity through His angels, messengers and books and these beliefs also offer us hope of an eternal future. Linguistically, Iman has roots in trust, and so we must be sincere and secure in these beliefs.

Then are the various ritual and moral subjects addressed to those who have chosen to live a life of Iman – amongst them purity and prayer (5:6), fasting (2:183), generosity in charity (2:254) and the regulations of pilgrimage (5:2). For those of Iman, there are imperatives to fulfil oaths (5:1), shun intoxicants, gambling and fortune telling (5:90); instructions in adab (courtesy) (24:27) avoiding rumours and back-biting (49:12).

Some of our most deep-rooted and uplifting spiritual observances are addressed to us as bearers of Iman –

“Oh you who have Iman, remember Allah with much remembrance” (33:41)

“Allah and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet: Oh you who have Iman, Send blessings on him, and send worthy salutations of peace on him” (33:56)

“Oh you who have Iman, have Taqwa of Allah. And let every soul look to what it has put forth for tomorrow – and have taqwa of Allah. Indeed, Allah is well acquainted with what you do.” (59:18)

“Oh you who have Iman, repent to Allah with sincere repentance. (66:8)

“Oh you who have Iman, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient. (2:153)

Our ummah is built on the fellowship of Iman (49:10), and it is through being men and women of Iman that we become able to accept our roles of wilayah – as allies, trustees, guides and partners – of each other.

“The believing men and believing women are awliya (guardians, protectors, helpers) of one another. They enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, they establish salat and give zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” (9:71).

Iman is also one of the devices by which Allah declares, that He becomes the Wali (intimate friend) of human beings (3:68) and by which we gain entry into His eternal Mercy, insha’Allah

“Then as for those who have Iman in Allah and hold fast to Him, He will cause them to enter into His mercy and grace and guide them to Himself on a straight path.” (4:175)

 

Signs & Symbols – Ayaat June 21, 2015

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How is it that the human soul can truly live Tawhid and embody this expression?

“Wheresoever you turn, then there is the Face of Allah” (2:115)

In my engagement with the Quranic concepts I have chosen to reflect and write about this Ramadan – all of them are related to deciphering the signs and symbols of Allah, by which we come to know intimately and trust completely in our Creator.

The universe is a book, our own innermost selves are a universe … these infinite ayaat are signposts – they point to something beyond the surface – which is why to exist at the level of “face-value” is meaningless, those facades veil us from “seeing the Face of Allah wherever we turn” … so we need to look, listen, taste and feel deeper, to turn inward as much as we navigate outwardly.

“Soon will We show them our Signs in the furthest regions of the earth, and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth.” (41:53)

Allah details many ayaat in the Qur’an : the very verses themselves – each a symbol, the creation of the universe, nature’s pulse, history, specific people whether blessed or wretched, diversity, ancient ruins, sacred spaces and the secrets of the human soul …. even silence is a sign. All of these can only be read, as Allah says, if we have imbibed Iman (6:99), taqwa (10:6), dhikr (16:13) sabr & shukr (14:5). If we make use of reason (15:73) and deep reflection (38:29) if we make time to ponder, to think and study (31:27) then the signs are meant to evoke and provoke responses from us (19:58, 32:15) … mental and spiritual shifts, however subtle or startling, we are to be ever-moving, never-static in our faith (7:173, 8:2)

Each of Allah’s infinite symbols are cosmic arrow-shaped insignia on which are inscribed the word “entrance” … were we to then merely stand transfixed at the arrow, reciting and repeating it over and over again, not caring to even glance to where it is pointing, mistaking the entry sign for the entrance itself, we would not be-able take that first step by which the doorways of Divine Forgiveness, Mercy, Light and Love are moved forward for us.

“Among His Signs are the Night and the Day, and the Sun and the Moon. Do not prostrate to the sun and the moon, but prostrate to Allah, Who created them, if it is Him you wish to worship.” (41:37)

As sublime as many of the earthly ayaat are, we are reminded that the most magnificent representations of Allah’s Absolute perfection are still to come in the next life …Muhammad (as) was shown some of them on his heavenly ascension (53:18) … yet we are reminded that we must truly witness these earthly signs if we want to percieve those eternal heavenly realities.

“Those who were blind in this world, will be blind in the hereafter, and most astray from the Path.” (17:72)

And yet, even with our urgency to realize, we must be patient with the signs so they may fully unfold and unfurl in our consciousness,

“Soon I will show you My signs, so do not impatiently urge Me” (21:34)

Please share with me your reflections on signs and symbols.

 

Oneness – Tawhid

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Your God is One God, there is no God but the All-Merciful, All Compassionate” (2:163)

Oneness pervades the universe, infuses the created order with its mysteries, its simplicity and its complexities, its Mercy to all and Compassion to each.

Oneness is the foundation of existence, its essence and its aim,

“It is He Who has brought you into being from a single soul: here is a place of sojourn and a place of departure: We detail Our signs for people who understand.” (6:98)

Oneness saves us from otherness –

Oneness is to look at the world through the lens of al-Wahid – the One …. so the millions upon millions of fragments we have shattered it into can be whole again – so we can be at one, at peace – with history and both its beauty and its horror, with the earth and its rythms, with humanity and its differences, with life and its course, if we look through and for One then,

“Wheresoever you turn, there will be the Face of Allah” (2:115)

Please share with me your reflections on Oneness!

 

Engaging the Qu’ran in Ramadan

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As Salam Alaykum

The beauty of Ramadan is the time, openings and depths of clarity it allows in our understandings of Qur’an, the worlds we find ourselves in and our own inner states.

Insha’Allah I hope to, briefly, share some of my own reflections on these concepts which I have been contemplating on from Qur’an –

Oneness – Tawhid
Signs & Symbols -Ayaat
Faith – Iman
Peaceful Submission- Islam
Excellence – Ihsan
Higher Consciousness – Taqwa
Trust – Tawakkal
Gratefulness – Shukr
Patience – Sabr
Seeking Forgiveness & Returning to Allah – Istighfar & Tawbah
Purification – Tazkiya
Worship – Ibada
Remembrance – Dhikr
Righteous Action – Amal Salih
The Soul – Ruh
The Self – Nafs
The Heart – Qalb
Purification – Tazkiya
Knowledge & Intellect – ilm & Aql
Accountability – Hisab
Prophets – Anbiya
Creation – Khalq
Relationships & Fellowship – Ukhuwa
Justice – Adl
This Life & The Afterlife – Dunya & Aakhira
Light – Nur
Mercy – Rahmah
Love – Hub

 

When God Strikes the Blow September 14, 2014

download (1)I read this excellent book by Ayesha Chaudry last night, from cover to cover. I had to re-read many parts, just to let the information sink in. I spent what was left of the night reflecting on the deep questions about gender and ontology which foreground the book. I will be reviewing the work later in the year for Muslim Views as part of our Study of Islam at UJ column … my thoughts here are more to do with my emotional and spiritual response. This book left me feeling spiritually – very low – could some of those very scholars whom we look to for spiritual guidance and understanding of the core rituals of our faith, those whose brilliance in the legal tradition we laud, also be the same people who wrote with such calculated coldness about how to beat ones wife (in more severe ways than the symbolic but patronizing miswak/feather/handkerchief). I had to keep reminding myself, to read their work according to their cosmology, not mine; to judge their opinions, not them.

After the spiritual low – came the euphoria of hope … one of those beautiful contradictions of having faith. Even though I am acquainted with most of the information in the book, having come across a lot of what the classical exegete’s and jurists wrote, through my own research on women’s embodiment, verse 4:34 and other gender issues in the Islamic tradition … having all of their opinions contained in one book, in conversation and corroboration with each other, in a dedicated study like this, proved mentally and emotionally exhausting. The hope came with the last few chapters, which dealt with modern readings of 4:34 and the realization that each of us constructs a particular reality based on our understanding of Allah and the world, in the particular historical moment we find ourselves in, through His will, not ours; and that, there are different levels to how we choose to understand and to grapple with faith. If we choose the level of Love, then it is clear to me what the Way is, as our reading of the Qur’an must go hand in hand with the Sunnah :

Say, “If you truly love Allah, follow me, Allah will love you and forgive you your faults. And Allah is ever-Forgiving, all-Merciful.” (Qur’an 3:31)

I know, Love alone cannot deal with the textual and interpretive challenges, as well as the various notions of gender hierarchy embedded in the religious imagination through 1000 years of literature. The last thing I would tell a woman who has been abused is that her abuser did not Love God enough or follow the Prophet (I also have my own view on why domestic violence does not really have much to do with 4:34 these days), but for me, it is a start – before I even enter into hermeneutics and attempting a reformation of understanding.

I share with you prose (of sorts) written many many moons ago, on 4:34. I guess I would say a few things differently now – but I will leave it intact.

 

 

It were as if,
God Himself had struck,
With a diminishing slap
Across my soul’s face
As I read, for the very first time
4:34
The strike of God,
more devastating, dehumanizing
than any man’s hand could ever be,
for I would not tolerate it, not even for a second
But what to do, when God Himself deals the blow?
The answer comes now –
After much soul-searching
Through the Mercy of God
All encompassing,
His healing – complete
When we dig deeper
Than the translators pen,
Than the literalist mindset
Than the interpreters subjectivities
Than the legalist dispensations
Than a God whom we limit
When we diminish Him,
To a petty God, who would have a husband beat his wife
as the jurists said,
for not smiling at you one day, when she does every other
Do they know,
the translators, interpreters, jurists and the rest
that every word they write
legitimizing and condoning
husbands hitting their wives
strips away at humanity,
one letter at a time
Is there another way?
Did He mean something else?
Can we ever reconcile
a Prophet who walked the earth,
With gentleness and humility,
With his God, our Creator
Who ‘wanted something else’?
Does it even make sense,
to beat your wife,
if you want to reconcile?
They say you should hit her,
But let it be
Ghair Mubarrih
Non-extreme.
Please,
let us First rid ourselves
Of all our own extremes
Before we claim
What God means.