A South African Muslimah's Blog

Constructing Identity: Loud Whispers, Lasting Echoes

Sabr July 7, 2015

“Sabr” – I love the way it rolls off the tongue, the gentle and soft “ص” at first followed by the stronger, more pronounced “ب” and “ر” – all the syllables coalescing into each other – hinting at its very meaning … to be composed yet resilient.

I find my reflection difficult because this beautiful spiritual teaching has been far too frequently disfigured, especially when it is relayed as advice to women who are abused (whether physically, emotionally or spiritually) … women whose stories find their way to me, sadly, too often. We need to unlearn that sabr is to tolerate humiliation and degradation of our dignity as the creation of Allahu Ta’ala, because we are each blessed with the sacred Ruh … to banish from our thoughts that women specifically must “make sabr” with vulgar, harsh or abusive men or that we must display unwavering acceptance in the face of injustice around the world without lifting a finger or speaking out … that is Nihilism.

Allah does not expect us to resign ourselves to the horrors that human beings have managed to contrive on this earth. What then would be the purpose of du’a, of charity and compassion, of love, peace and even of (legitimate) war, reward and punishment – all of these concepts and experiences grounded in the Qur’an (42:30-42). Are they not meant to transform us, heal us and bring about reconciliation, to stop strife and injustice? We must turn to the Qu’ran to instead learn afresh, what sabr is and is not, and furthermore look to those Prophetic personalities who personified sabr.

Linguistically, sabr means to “restrict” or “curb” – if we were to fuse together the English words ‘patience’, ‘perseverance’, ‘steadfastness’, ‘constancy’, ‘endurance’, ‘to be present’ and ‘self-discipline’ – we would arrive at sabr. We are to master our actions and reactions, to be in control, especially of the ego/lower self. The most profound statement I have ever heard on this was during a Tafsir of Surah al-Asr by a very dear teacher – in this surah, the first word is ‘time’ and the last is ‘sabr’ … He imparted to us that sabr means to ‘stop time’… to suspend the illusion of time which constantly leaves us at a loss and instead to enter fully into the here and now – the present.

In daily life, controlling our tempers, appetites and desires are forms of patience. Forgiving when revenge is so easy and tempting is patience. Think about our sacred rituals – the best prayer is conducted unhurriedly, harmoniously and with dignified composure; pilgrimage with all its planning, preparation, journeying, crowds and challenges requires tolerance and forbearance. The expression “time heals” should really be “patience heals”, for it is not the actual passing of days, months and years that dull heartache – but persevering through them when faced with loss, pain and suffering – yielding to the will of Allah and moving on – that is why resilience is such a celebrated human characteristic.

“Such as practice sabr in seeking their Lord’s Face and are regular in prayer and spend of that which We send upon them secretly and openly, and overcome evil with good. Theirs is the final attainment of the eternal home.” (13:22)

“And imbibe sabr by being with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His Face. And let not your eyes pass beyond them, desiring adornments of the worldly life, and do not obey one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance and who follows his desire and whose affair is ever in neglect.” (25:31)

“Lord of the heavens and of the earth, and of all that is between them, so worship Him, and practice sabr in His worship: do you know of any who is worthy of the same Name as He?”(19:65)

“And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humble” (2:45)

I am most motivated by these Divine disclosures, for seeking to live in beauty, to be with Allah, to attain His infinite and perpetual giving and ultimately – His Love.

“Sabr is the most beautiful” (12:83)

“Allah is with the Sabireen” (2:249)

“Indeed, the sabirun will be given their reward without account.”

“Allah loves the sabireen”. (3 146)

We are in ‘Shahr as-Sabr’ – the month of Patience – fasting is perhaps the greatest expression of Sabr as the scholars and saints have written. The Beloved (saw) said, “Sabr is Brightness” and we ask Allah with His words,

“Our Lord! Shower on us sabr, and take our souls unto you as Muslims” (7:126)”

 

Shukr – Gratitude

The full moon reminds us, we are halfway through … last night was for shukr (gratitude), which is not just a feeling, or uttering some words – but a way of being … living and acting in loving thankfulness.

Gratitude is good for the soul, as per the teachings of Nabi Sulayman and Luqman (as)

“And whoever is grateful – his gratitude is only for his own soul. And whoever is ungrateful – then indeed, my Lord is Free of need and Generous.” (27:40)

Giving thanks allows us to grow in myriad ways, gratitude fosters generosity of means and spirit,

“If you are grateful, I will surely increase you” (14:7)

Gratitude is difficult and takes concerted effort – the dua of Nabi Sulayman (as) invokes Allah for the inspiration to express true gratitude,

“My Lord! Inspire upon me the ability that I may be grateful for Your Favours which You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds that will please You, and admit me by Your Mercy among Your righteous slaves.” (27:19)

Allah repeatedly reveals how many of us are ungrateful (2:243) and how little thanks we give (32:9) …He reminds that our endeavours to live in gratitude are not only for the physical, but the spiritual as well,

“It is He who brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers when you knew nothing; and He gave you hearing and sight and hearts: that you may give thanks.” (16:78)

Gratitude is a way of Dhikr (remembering & contemplation of Allah). Shukr is affirmation of Allah as opposed to its opposite : kufr – denial,

“So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny” (2:152)

May we live this reminder more-so in the second half of Ramadan’s nights and days,

“And it is He who made the Night and the Day to follow each other: for such as have the will to celebrate His praises or to show their gratitude.” (25:62)

 

Taqwa – Higher Consciouness

One of the immense blessings of a thematic reflection of Quran is being able to once again truly witness and fully appreciate the ways in which all of its beautiful teachings and deep wisdoms are intricately and inextricably interwoven into the radiant tapestry of our Islamic spirituality … this reveals itself once again and more-so in my reading last night for Taqwa, which is connected with all of the Quranic motif’s I hope to, insha’Allah ruminate on this Ramadan … all of the ways of being and believing which the Quran illuminates for us reinforce Tawhid – the Unity of all things – they all come together in a circle of no-beginning, no-ending.

I leave you with these verses on Taqwa – higher consciousness of Allah – which are my meditations for today. Taqwa is to nurture and protect our soul selves so they may easily enter into awareness of Allah. Being conscious of Allah also encompasses awareness of the sacred Ruh within each and every human being, and furthermore, being mindful of all of creation.

We are in the month of striving for Taqwa –

“Oh you who believe, prescribed upon you is fasting as it was prescribed upon those before you so that you may attain Taqwa.” (2:183)

Spiritual unveiling –

“Oh children of Adam, We have bestowed upon you clothing to conceal your private parts and as adornment. But the garments of Taqwa – that is best. That is from the signs of Allah that perhaps they will remember.” (7:26)

Spiritual sustenance –

“And take provisions, but indeed, the best provision is Taqwa of Allah. Be conscious of Me, Oh you of understanding.” (2:197)

Nobility of spirit –

“Oh humankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the one of most Taqwa amongst you. Indeed, Allah is all-Knowing and well-Acquainted.” (49:13)

Ease –

“And whoever has Taqwa of Allah – He will make for him of his matters ease”. (65:4)

Social ethic –

“And cooperate in righteousness and Taqwa” (5:2)

Living Justice –

“Be just; that is nearer to Taqwa. And have Taqwa of Allah ; indeed, Allah is well Acquainted with what you do.” (5:8)

Becoming beloved –

“yes, whoever fulfills his commitment and has Taqwa of Allah – then indeed, Allah loves the Muttaqeen” (3:76)

 

Ihsan – Excellence

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.

 

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)

 

Qiyam Contemplations : Part 2 August 31, 2014

These reflections were written over the 29 nights of Ramadan 1435/2014, and many were presented by myself at Masjid ul-Islam in Johannesburg, South Africa to the congregation before the taraweeh prayers. I have posted them in three parts, and they cover, generally, the 30 Juz division of the Qur’an. Read Part 1.

 

Qiyam Contemplation 11

 

Tonight many recited and reflected on “Ahsanal Qasas” (12:3) … the most beautiful of stories of the most beautiful of men – in Surah Yusuf.

This surah keeps on giving and inspiring. Today, as I recited and reflected, the different types of masculinities which the characters display really struck me.

The wise and humble Ya’cub (as), who teaches us about “sabrun jameel” –beautiful patience (12:18), that the most befitting and honourable way to grieve in the face of obvious deceit, is to display dignity with patience and to seek help from Allah.

The brothers of Yusuf (as), treacherous and jealous, but able to reform after many years, through the prayers of their brother and their witnessing his miracles; al-Aziz in whose home Yusuf (as) was raised, a man of great intuition who recognized the special nature of the boy he brought into his home; one of the men imprisoned with Yusuf (as), who also saw signs of his purity, but like many of us, became forgetful of the help of others in his time of need.

Then Yusuf (as) himself … a man of exceptional magnificence in appearance

“no mortal is this, this is none other than a noble angel” (12:31)

of high moral standing

“he was one of Our servants, sincere and purified” (12:24)

human in his capacity to desire what Allah has made attractive for men and women

“She desired him with passion and he desired her with passion but that he saw the evidence of his Lord” (12:24)

saintly in his capacity to acknowledge those desires and remove himself from the situation.

“He said, ‘My Lord, prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me. And if You do not avert from me their plan, I might incline toward them and be of the ignorant.’ ” (12:33)

He who in prison, lost no opportunity to remind his companions of Tawhid

“O my two companions of the prison! Are many lords differing among themselves better, or Allah, the One, the Prevailing” (12:39)

 

I reflected a few days ago on the “garments of Taqwa” , and here we see throughout the story, the shirt of Yusuf (as), who through his taqwa, whether soaked in blood, torn or of the finest quality befitting a minister in his position, was always a witness for him, not against him … that same shirt which brought back eyesight to his beloved father, Ya’cub (as) … Yusuf (as) was truly swathed in Taqwa.

And so … there are so many ways to be men (and human really) … from the lowest of the low, like those who simply snatched Yusuf (as) and sold him for a penance without seeking to find out who he is or how he ended up in the well, simply out to make a profit … to Yusuf (as) himself, ever aware of his Creator at every step of his life … whether stranded in a well, sold as a slave, the object of temptation, imprisoned or appointed as a minister.

Most people live in between these two models, with the capacity to be both virtuous and wicked – and it is the wife of al-Aziz, who was so enchanted by the beauty of Yusuf (as) and sought to seduce him, in the end, who teaches us one of the most important lessons about our nafs … she brings to our attention the Nafs al-Ammarah bi’l su’ … the commanding self which encourages/incites to evil – that base part of the ego which calls on us to act on impulses and desires unrestrained … she reminds us that we cannot fight against this lower nafs without seeking forgiveness and mercy from Allah – and that this is the first step in moving from the lower self to higher consciousness – recognizing that only the forgiveness of Allah can save us … and then turning to Him in repentance.

“And I absolve not myself (from blame). Verily, the nafs commands to evil, except when my Lord bestows His Mercy. Indeed, my Lord is –always Forgiving, ever Merciful.” (12:53)

And it is this Nafs al-Ammarah that we attempt to master and move beyond during Ramadan, with the discipline of fasting, of abstaining from even those things usually permissible, of training ourselves in humility, in total surrender to and complete reliance on Allah.

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