Reflections

Asking more of our religious leaders? Or should we ask less?

August 5, 2016

Photo by Nicole Najmah Abraham

Photo by Nicole Najmah Abraham

What is the job of an Imam? In the most basic sense it is simply to lead the prayers including the Friday Jummuah. But what does it usually mean in our communities? Often the Imam becomes our prayer leader, our counselor, our adviser, our teacher, Masjid maintenance, our match maker, etc. It’s not to say that’s wrong but when the average salary of an Imam is $30,000 it may be too much to ask. The job of our Imam becomes a full time never ending task list and worst yet none of this is really in the job description.

When someone becomes an Imam they’re usual called to do so because they are the most knowledgeable in Islamic matters in their community. Fundraising for a leaky roof, answering 2am calls from a single mother kicked out of her home and helping congregants get married isn’t explained as part of the job. Worse of all is this, when an Imam allegedly falls short of his duties he is blamed as being unworthy of a position whose expectations were never clearly laid out. How many other positions work that way? How can we accuse any religious leader of being incompetent if we keep the job position so vague?

More recently I’ve heard talk from many that religious leaders need to be trained counselors, trained in leadership, trained in social media, etc.  Well two issues I find with this is one questioning the merit of increasing the role of the imam instead of inviting more people in to take on the leadership work in the Muslim community, secondly if we are going to officially increase the responsibility of the Imam and increase his necessary qualifications, are we willing to officially increase their pay? Are we willing to pay for this increased training? In my opinion the idea of the Imam being the end all be all in any community is a bad one. We have Muslim psychologists, building maintenance workers, fundraising professionals, etc. in our communities, instead of asking the Imam to do more why not ask less? While others help with community leadership by contributing their skills? Why would we want one man to to be our end all only to then criticize him when he falls short? More of us Muslim professionals -especially in high paying professions, need to volunteer our time to help in our communities. I see the job of the Imam as being closer to a ‘scholar in residence’, the Imam has usually spent years of his life studying Islam, let him teach the people, answer their fiqh questions, lead the salah, etc. and free him of periphery responsibilities that can be better filled by people trained in those areas. But whatever any community decides an Imam should be, let the job description be clear before hire.

Women, the Tariq and marriage

August 1, 2016

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I once reflected on why it might be that in the past Sufi Tariqas, including my own, have not been filled with many female students. Of course, modern day women would say it’s because of plain ‘sexism’ but I wonder if it was not the wisdom of the women of the past not to be involved in a Tariqa. When you’re a religious woman, as you probably are if you’re in or considering joining a Tariqa, the sheikh becomes the only man outside of your family that you are emotionally and spiritually connected to. When you get married your husband would then become the second man you’re close to outside of your family. That’s where the issue begins. Men don’t like competition even if the competition is an old man and spiritual saint. There’s a difference between chatting with him about how amazing and clever your dad is as opposed to how amazing and clever your sheikh is. Our Sufi sheikhs take up a major place in our heart -for both men and women, but for women that space may lead her husband to be jealous or plain annoyed and I’ve been told by some female mureeds.

Our Sufi sheikhs are also our guides in life. If the sheikh says not to do something, you don’t do it (Or begin your journey of struggling against it until you stop). But what if your sheikhs’ advice is opposed to what your husband wants? If your sheikh tells women to wear a looser version of hijab indoors but your husband enjoys seeing your hair how do you think he’ll feel if you decline his interest to follow your sheikhs guidance? Our sheikhs can also guide us in the details of our lives. We ask them intimate questions about what we should do in this or that scenario, we cry in front of them, we come to them at our lowest points, we completely trust them, but what if our husband doesn’t feel the same? What if you’re going to you sheikh for advice feels more like a violation of his trust than a solution? What if he believes the vulnerability you have before your sheikh is closer to emotional cheating that it is a means of help?

I once heard a scholar say “(some) women will get their boss a cup of coffee before ever getting it for their spouse. The related point is that we as women don’t seem to value marriage as much as it seems out foremothers once did. The idea that our independence could jeopardise our relationship and that we should care enough to reconsider that independence is a foreign idea to us. I understand, I believe, why there might not have been many women in the Tariqas of the past, they understood there was a conflict of interest. They were also wise enough to realise that marrying a man of Tassawuf would also lead them to benefit from the Tariqa without harming their marriage.

God knows best.

Take your time

June 19, 2016

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Painting by Ludwig Deutsch

After travelling and overall exhaustion from the heat I fell asleep and ended missing two prayers. Usually, when I miss a prayer I try to rush to make it up. But I have the unfortunate habit of rushing the salah itself. Somehow in my mind, I mix up having to rush to pray with rushing the prayer itself. With this being my typical habit -to the point where I don’t notice I do it, I was about to do the same thing until something came over me and gently said: “take your time”. Take my time, take it easy, relax. Release the anxiety of making up a prayer, release the anxiety of whatever you think you have to do after prayer, release the idea of “getting it over with”.

I sometimes suffer from performance anxiety with my salah causing me to rush when there’s no need. I’m afraid my salah won’t be good enough -which of course it won’t be, it won’t be reflective enough, I won’t pay enough attention, I’ll forget a verse or what rakah I’m up to, it won’t be deep enough or profound enough. So maybe I rush through it to avoid the pain of not being good enough.

Or maybe it will be too profound. Maybe the verses will penetrate too deeply. Maybe the hell fire will become too clear. Maybe my shortcomings will become too heavy to bear. Maybe I’ll see the reality of “God is greater” and “Glory to God”. Maybe I’ll fall apart and be unable to continue through life knowing the reality of the prayer, the reality of life.

Whether fear of underperforming, being overwhelmed or a false sense of urgency. Something helped me to just forget it all and simply take my time. It’s not to say I had a grand spiritual opening but I felt at ease. A small step but a big one in improving our worship to God.

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REFLECTIVE RAMADAN | WISE WORDS FROM AL GHAZALI

June 11, 2016


Reflective Ramadan Post Series, #2 Wise words from Al Ghazali

I think the below passage perfectly describes what we hope to attain from Ramadan, exerted form Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad’s translation of Al Ghazali On Disciplining the Soul and Breaking the two Desires:

“Fight your soul with the swords of self- discipline. These four: eating little, sleeping briefly, speaking only when necessary, and tolerating all the wrongs done to you by men. For eating little slays desire , sleeping briefly purifies your aspirations, speaking little saves you from afflictions, and tolerating wrongs will bring you to the goal -for the hardest thing for a man is to be mild when snubbed and to tolerate the wrongs done to him. And when you wish to indulge your desires and sin stirs your soul, and the delight of superfluous discourse is aroused, you should draw the sword of eating little from the scabbard of the midnight prayer and sleeping briefly , and smite them with the fists of obscurity and silence until they cease to oppress you and avenge themselves upon you, and you become safe from their visscitudes to the end of your days, having cleansed them of the darkness of the soul’s desires so that you escape from their hazardous affliction. At this you will become a subtle spiritual body, and a radiance without weight, and shall roam in the field of goodness, traveling the paths of obedience to God like a swift horse in the field and a king taking recreation in a garden.”

Instructions of care

June 10, 2016


I always thought that if I had a dog I wouldn’t be one of those people who feels too lazy to walk their dog, clean up its poo, rub its belly or refill its food tray. After all, we all know what is entailed in having a dog if you choose to have one it’s incredibly immoral to not take care of it. But what about the rules entailed in dealing with other people or even with ourselves?

I was reading an article earlier about a reality show stars’ husband telling her he wasn’t attracted to her with a bonnet and that this was at least partly the reason for their lack of intimacy. We all know reality shows often have little to do with reality nevertheless the topic raised some interesting questions for spouses or anyone in hopes of being a spouse one day. In the comment section of the article and the tone of the article’s author it was abundantly clear that the women felt the husband belittled his wife and that the wife was not in the wrong. Some said the bonnet shouldn’t matter others felt it was only an excuse for something else and others felt she should be able to wear whatever she wanted.

In reflecting on it myself I simply conclude that the bonnet or anything else within reason that upsets one’s spouse and puts a strain on one’s marriage should be removed without a second thought. Marriage in our times fails, in my opinion, largely because we no longer know how to be in relationships that involve give and take on the most personal level. But that is what marriage involves, and one who enters a marriage unwillingly to do that is cheating themselves and their partners.

As I attempt to be healthier, the ongoing struggle that it is, I think about the fact that most of us -including myself, know exactly what to do to be healthy. On an even larger scale, I believe we (almost) always know the right thing to do in every part of our life but are simply unwilling to do it. We know how much studying we’ll need to do to pass the class, we know how much effort it will take to get the promotion, we know if when our relationships are failing, we know what foods make us feel sick and which give us energy, we know. But we have to pay attention and we have to act on what we know. And when we don’t we also know the consequences.

Reflective Ramadan | A time to recharge

June 6, 2016

Reflective Ramadan Post Series, #1 A time to recharge

Whether your practice has been lacking lately or you’ve been doing your best Ramadan serve as a perfect time to recharge. When Ramadan arrives we are reminded that God has blessed us to live another year -another year of our lives, another year as Muslims, another year to partake in this holy month. Whatever we’ve been doing we being to reevaluate -are my prayers intentional? Do I prayer each prayer on time? Are my clothes modest enough? Is my speech kind enough?

Our early suhoor schedule allows us never miss fair. Tarawih reminds us of Tahhajud. Iftar invokes us to serve others. The presence of Ramadan challenges us to be our best selves. It’s important to remind ourselves that Ramadan is about more than skipping lunch but it would be a mistake to downplay the important of the fast itself, especially in our times. Going hours without eating has become abnormal in modern (Western) society and so to do so for God is a sacrifice worth noticing.

Because fasting is not routine for most of us throughout the year it gives us a chance to be intentional in our worship. We are not eating from sunrise to sunset solely because of God. In the summer months the difficulty of doing this increasing but we keep going on for His sake.

But truly it’s for our own. god doesn’t need us to fast for him, we do it by His command but for our own sake. One of the most beautiful reminders I ever received about Ramadan was from Sheikh Uthman of masjid Taqwa. I remember him saying that when we fast we are like the angels. The angels don’t eat, drink or have intercourse -ever, so when we do the same we are like them.

InshaAllah, may this month be a month of a bit more exertion of our spiritual efforts.

Things we inherit from our fathers

May 27, 2016

0c5354e6eb3af2e1c5f499e980c781dcMy nephew asked me a few days ago if his friends were going to heaven -his Christian friends, “I don’t know” was my answer. Then we got in to some of the Aqidah and fiqh surrounding this issue. There is a disagreement between scholars about the issue but the two major opinions I’ve been taught is that if no messenger has come to a person/ people they are not responsible for their actions and will not be judged by the moral code of Islam. And some go further to say they are not responsible to even believe in God if a messenger has not come to them. Some scholars have said that no one is responsible for accepting the message of Islam if they only hear a corrupted message -for instance if someone hears the message of Islam solely through the depictions of terrorists in the media.

What if they know about Islam but only know of random factoids like ‘Muslims don’t eat pork’ or ‘Muslims cover their hair’, are they responsible for accepting Islam? Well, I know a woman who became Muslim through her initial interest in Islamic fashion but nevertheless it can’t expected of most to accept Islam on largely superficial premises. But what does it mean to accept Islam? What is Islam? Islam at it core is a continuation of the message of monotheism, a finality of that message. Each prophet, peace upon them all, came with one simple message, “Believe in God and follow me”.

Despite our love for prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings to him, Islam is not about Prophet Muhammad, it’s not about Hajj, it’s not about hijab, beards, or not eating pork, it is at its core about our belief in God. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings to him, was merely a continuation of that message. Had we lived in the time of Jesus, Abraham of Noah, we would be obliged to follow them. But why do we follow these men? Because they are the means by which we follow God.

When it comes to faith we must really only ask our selves one thing, do I believe in the core of this message? Do I believe in one God and Muhammad as his last messenger? If the answer is yes then what follows is a lifelong struggle to live one’s life in accordance to that belief.

Home is where…

May 17, 2016

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Home. It’s pretty simple when you’re a kid. At a certain point, you memorize your address. You know the food in the fridge. The signs on the door. Your neighbors. It’s not too complicated to know where home is. It’s a place your parents chose for you. But the older you get, the older I get, I can’t help but wonder where exactly home is. Of course, I still consider my parents home, home. But should I?

I lived in Jordan for almost two years, it was my temporary home. Now I’m visiting family then I’ll go back home. But I can’t help that nagging feeling that I should be starting my own home. Even if I don’t get married soon or ever (God forbid) I don’t know that I could live the rest of my life not being able to decorate my own room -my own house, or buy my own food, or choose where exactly I want to live.

I was somewhat on my own in Jordan, despite being completely financially dependent on my parents, it wasn’t easy. The joys were buying my own food and cooking my own meals -though even that wasn’t always fun. But I hated paying bills, I hate even talking about bills. And I never got the joy of designing my own place since I was just renting a room.

As we get older, home becomes a choice, it is a decision. So, where will it be?

Imperfectly perfect

May 12, 2016

JordanThe most perfect place I’ve ever been is in the neighborhood of Hayy Al Kharabsheh near Sheikh Nuh Ha Meem Keller. Not only do I love Sheikh Nuh but I love being in the company of the saliheen (righteous) and people striving to be righteous. Jordan itself reminded me of New York. Though the people weren’t necessarily diverse -a big difference from New York, the variety of places one could go and see were just as diverse if not more so than my home town. What added to the perfection of the Jordanian environment was its mix of old and new. Neither taking over the other. The Jordanian restaurants, fast food restaurants, book stores, cafes, the niqabis, the university students, the shepherds…

But, there is no perfect place. Even if you lived alone on a mountain -you’d still have to deal with the flies, and the rain, and your ego. An even in the Hayy, the most perfect place in the world, I had to deal with myself, and I missed my parents and I actually missed the difficulties of practicing when everyone else isn’t, the oddity of being a minority. When everyone around me seems perfect, being good doesn’t feel good enough. Anyway, now I’m visiting family in Dubai. There is no perfect place. There is no perfect place, no perfect situation, no perfect life. This is not heaven, life is filled with tribulations.

 

It’s all too ironic

May 1, 2016

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It recently dawned on me the state of indentured servitude many of us are in or will be in for a great deal of our lives. We take out huge loans to pay for school, we work to pay off that debt for years to come. In some ways, this isn’t such a big deal since most of us go to higher ed precisely because we want to work. But what if you want to choose not to work? That option seems to be essentially taken away.

When I left college I had no debt, I went to an affordable state school and my parents paid every year out-of-pocket. Then to my financial misfortune, I was accepted into Columbia University. I hesitated because of the debt I knew I would find myself in after two years of school but with my parent’s encouragement, I went anyway. Was it a mistake? No, it’d be hard to say getting an Ivy League degree was a mistake yet financially I can’t help but ask why I put myself in this situation.

Then I left New York for Jordan to pursue Islamic and Arabic studies, practically I should have gotten a job after finishing school but again I can’t regret the experience of a lifetime. Now that I am returning home my next move is uncertain but this debt will surely hang over my head. We leave school with the knowledge, job skills and thousands of dollars in debt -why do we continue in this system of living? Are we too timid to tell private universities to lower their price or they’ll be out of students? Why do we feel so dis-empowered when even the promise of a good job post grad- school is dwindling?

If I could do it all over again maybe I’d defer my entry into Columbia to work and save so I could afford tuition, maybe I could have applied for more scholarships, or maybe I could have simply said ‘thanks but no thanks’ I can’t afford the offer. Whatever the solution whether making universities free or using our own influence to force universities to lower their tuition we simply can’t keep living as indentured servants in a modern society.

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