Posts from June 2015

When do you decide to stay?

June 22, 2015

photo-9At what point in a relationship do you decide leaving is not an option? At what point do you decide leaving is plausible? At what point do you decide the end is immanent? It’s been fascinating me lately if you’re past your twenties, thirties or beyond chances are you’ve ended a romantic relationship or friendship in your lifetime. I’ve never had a lifelong friendship –someone I’ve known since childhood and still remain friends with. I can remember one friend in junior high school who I remained friends with, at least loosely, through college -at some point after that we lost contact. I recall always admiring that despite the years since we were close friends hanging out daily in JHS, she would find the time to reach out to me every couple of months, see how I was doing, catch up on life. In a reunion of sorts she hosted in her home, I realized she stayed in contact with several of our old friends from JHS, whereas I left them in the past, I wonder why?

In romantic relationships it intrigues me even more. What is the defining factor in letting someone go? When I look back on my failed attempts at marriage I always think why did it end? An incident? A character flaw? Lack of logistics? A sudden lack of interest? Sometimes even I don’t quite remember, can’t exactly pinpoint what it was that broke the camels’ back. But what intrigues me more than why it ended is why that thing in particular lead to its ending. I don’t imagine my parents marriage has been happy go lucky every second of the way but they’ve been married for almost 40 years and I’d imagine during those 40 years there were hardships and I’d also imagine that some of those hardships, had they involved some other couple, would have led to separation or divorce. Why does domestic violence lead to divorce for some but not others? Why does infidelity lead to divorce for some and not others? Why do some people put up with a lost of interest and others call it quits? Why do some make it through financial strains and others say enough is enough?

I really don’t know the answer but it fascinates me, what is a good reason to stick to the person you’re with? What is a good reason to let them go? There are no clear answers, there is no absolute, no incident or character flaw so universally detested that no matter what they would break any couple apart. Family, culture and wider society also play a role –who will you hurt if you decide to leave or stay? What kind of pressure do you put on yourself or other put on you to keep going or to leave in search of something unknown? My mom came from a family of divorce, my dads parents stuck together until their death, was one couple happier than the other? What was the defining factor that allowed them to choose different paths?

We can’t go back in time and change things and we can’t honestly believe that either separation on staying together is always the better option; they both have their place. But at some point whether passively or actively and probably at several points we have to ask ourselves if we want to keep going or if the end is a better road, we can only hope the other party will feel the same.

No one cares that you’re a student of knowledge

June 13, 2015

23879_4329129140415_1306313034_nWell, some people do care, some people don’t. One of the most disappointing things you’ll realize when you become a student of knowledge and have grasped enough knowledge to start passing on to others, many see your knowledge as just another opinion in a myriad of opinions and just as valuable as their own. Though you’ve studied sacred text with scholars who have connections back to the prophet, peace to him, your interlocutor will argue with you even if they have little knowledge, even if they’ve never taken the time to study Islam formally they will readily debate you pulling from a myriad of sources they’ve “read” and “heard”. You will inform them that the shafi’i (or another madhab) ruling on such and such an issue is this, they will retort that they’ve heard a hadith that says differently. You will inform them that the opinion of scholars is more valuable than a laymen’s opinion to which they will retort that scholars aren’t infallible. In short, they simply won’t care about what you’ve learned or who you learned from or for how long, they are quite comfortable with their own opinion and there isn’t much you can teach a person who thinks they already know. Don’t let it get you down, some people do care. More importantly don’t let it change you, if you know something to be true based on your knowledge don’t do differently simply to make the uninformed around you more comfortable. Can these people who don’t care be reached? Maybe and it may even be worth the effort over time but you have to approach them with patience and speak in a way that makes sense to their understanding of the religion.

I mention all of this not as a put down to those that don’t care but a warning to students of knowledge (people who study traditional Islam) because it is one of the pitfalls I’ve experienced myself. I started studying because I wanted a more formulaic and accurate way of practicing my faith but I also thought once I received this knowledge I could be useful to others. It’s quite disappointing that despite your effort some see your knowledge as no more valuable than their own opinion but that’s just life, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Affable Sufi

June 7, 2015

tumblr_mrhlzzAMUR1scz75yo1_500When I read about sufism, before taking the tariq, I imagined it as a very loner’s journey. There are certainly stories that tell that tale. I will never forget the extreme stories like the sufi who refused marriage because of their love for God or the one who was enraged when people even spoke their name. There’s the sayings about the status of the people who no one notices when they’re present and no one notices when they’re gone. The sufi who lives out in the world somewhere, not eating much and not speaking to many people. Though this path exists this is isn’t exactly the shadhili way, as far as I’ve seen. Sheikh Nuh often talks about being affable with people, having an easy going manner and showing interest in people’s lives when you converse with them. The occasions I’ve been able to speak with him one-on-one I’ve been surprised by his easy going mannerism. Of course he warns us about talking at night when we should be praying, gossiping, wasting time and any of the other things engagement with people can bring but overall in our engagements we’re told to be affable. In light of my article becoming quite popular, I must remember this and put it in to practice. The more popular the article gets, the more people it reaches who disagree with me and people who will make me the subject of their hateful speech. I must remember to be affable, to get along with people even when they treat me poorly. The only really worthwhile anger is anger for the sake of God, not the ego… just a few thoughts this sunday morning…

WE NEED OUR SHUYUKH

June 5, 2015

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“There has been nothing greater in my life after the shahada than following the tariq”
-Sheikh Nuh

There are real sheikhs out there who abuse their students. I think most of the abuse is spiritual and sometimes marital –if a student becomes a wife, and despite some reactionaries I think it is rarely sexual. A simple reason is that men and women have such strict boundaries that physically inappropriate behavior is very unlikely. A man and woman being in a closed room together would ring off alarm bells in the Muslim community. And both parties involved know that sex outside of marriage is blatantly impermissible. This is something we take very seriously in the Muslim community. But men do take advantage of their students through emotional and spiritual manipulation. How often does this occur? I don’t know. Many criticized Ustadha Zaynab for not naming names but I think it is as wise of her not to do so. To name names would be to give the false illusion that if we just get rid of a few bad apples the problem will dissolve itself. But the problem isn’t (just) the particular men engaged in spiritual abuses but the behavior that all men in that position and the women in their lives should be very aware of and make the ultimate effort to carry themselves with adab and avoid the pitfalls of “shaykhy crushes”.

As someone in a tariqa I believe in the value of having a personal guide. I think it’s unfortunate for Ustadha Zaynab’s article to be used as an excuse to “cast suspicion over our teachers” or to no longer venerate them. There are few things greater than taking baya (oath) with a sheikh and dedicating one’s self to a spiritual path. It is not for everyone, but for some like myself would be incomplete without it. People will say bad things about any sheikh, especially if he is popular, as a mureed I would advise anyone considering a tariqa to watch their potential sheikh closely for themselves. When I wanted to become a mureed I went to my sheikh’s wife and she advised me to wait; read the sheikh’s book, listen to his lectures and make istikara before making the decision. Our trust is in Allah and following a sheikh –someone more knowledgeable than you who has been on the path longer than you, is a means to do so.

“Whoever thinks the path is closed should wonder if he has not therefore closed it on himself”
-Sheikh Nuh

Some are under the mistaken belief that there simply are no true sheikhs left. That’s not how God works, the doors of mercy are always open and saints are always among us. There are a lot of rotten people who want mureeds to follow them for their own desires but there are still sheikhs who are teachers only for the sake of Allah. I remember before becoming a mureed listening to a lecture with Sheikh Nuh where he said “Ask Allah to guide you, that is one dua that is always answered”. The solution to the problem of spiritual abuse is not to simply “turn away from our sheikhs” as I’ve seen some readers comment on Ustadha Zayab’s article; it is to turn back to Allah. The Sheikh is a means, not an end. Before I left for home (from Jordan) I went to the Zawiya for the Latifiyyah lecture. As I walked up the steps I became almost frightened, “Where is Sheikh Nuh?!?” I thought. The prominent voice broadcasted throughout the Zawiya wasn’t his. I turn back and started to make my way home until I came across a friend who said to me “You’re coming back, right?” In that moment I said to myself “What are you doing? The tariq is not about Sheikh Nuh it’s about Allah” And I went up and made my dhikr.

“The shariah is higher than the sheikh”
-Sheikh Nuh

One of the signs of a true sheikh is his knowing that the law is above him. And you should know the law is above him. We all have, now more than ever, practical means to learn fiqh. If someone claims to be a sheikh (of any kind) and does not sacrilege shariah, leave them. The very least anyone of us can do is avoid the haram and do the obligatory; a sheikh should be an example and avoid the makruh as well. God’s law is higher than any sheikh and if you want to protect yourself from spiritual abuse you must know the law by which to judge the sheikh’s behavior.

Our community is in desperate need of a religious revival. Anyone who takes Ustadha Zaynab’s article as a means to turn away from shuykuh has come to a dangerous conclusion. The solution to poor human interaction is to improve it, not to end it, especially when what’s at stake is the acquisition of Islamic knowledge, and knowledge is the right of every believer, wherever he finds it, he takes it.

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