Author Archives: faheemm

Overcoming Hardship: Lessons from the Prophets of Islam

The world has undergone a period of struggle with Covid restrictions. Emotional difficulties, physical health concerns and loss of loved ones, economic hardship and relationship challenges have all featured, and everyone has been affected in some way or the other. Some more than others, and some in multiple ways.

We are taught in Islam that the Prophets of Allah faced the most difficulties that persons would face, followed by others in different grades. Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas reported: I said, “O Messenger of Allah, which people are tested most severely?” The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “They are the prophets, then the next best, then the next best. A man is put to trial according to his religion. If he is firm in his religion, his trials will be more severe. If he is weak in his religion, he is put to trial according to his strength in religion. The servant will continue to be put to trial until he is left walking upon the earth without any sin.” [al-Tirmidhī 2398]

From this, we recognize there is much that can be learned about facing and overcoming hardships by examining the lives of the Prophets of Islam. To this end, MAI Institute is pleased to invite persons to access its free course – Overcoming Hardships – Lessons from the Prophets of Islam.

This 12-week online course is scheduled to commence on Monday June 6th, from 7.10 pm – 8.30 pm, and will be done via Zoom.

MAI Students can simply notify Admin to get registered. Any others wishing to register can do so via the following link: https://maiinstitute.com/register-here/ (Note – classes have limited spaces so please register early).

Learn of the various challenges of key different Prophets in Islam, and how that can help you today and in the future.

We hope to see you there.

The Triumph of Evil? Moral Identity and Involvement in the Muslim Community

By Faheem Mohammed

History will no doubt look back at this period of human development with a sense of awe and bewilderment. There is a lot going on. Soo much transition and turmoil abound, in fact, that not only is it hard to keep track of changes, but harder still to synthesize these into a coherent response.

We are witnessing the global transformation of societies through the diffusion of technology and its disruption of life as we know it – in our interaction, commerce, entertainment, exposure to the sheer volume of information of varying pedigree, and of course the impacts of all of these on our values, beliefs and behaviors.

We have seen the sudden and severe worldwide effects of the Covid pandemic that seemed to be the culmination of a steady progression of epidemics that rapidly appeared, evolved and diffused globally in the past decades. SARS, Ebola, Swine Flu, Avian, MERS, Zika have all taken their toll in wreaking havoc on populations, transport, travel and mobility, economic and physical welfare, only to be outdone multiple times over by Covid and its responses globally. Many of the social and economic effects we are only beginning to understand, and would take a long time to unravel.

Economically, we are faced with the dual reality of mass unemployment across sections of society alongside the significant concentration of wealth into the hands of a select few – technology entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors and investors leading the pack. Talk of a global minimum wage abound, as do efforts and advocacy against both the jobless growth that technology drives and the socio-economic systems that perpetuate such inequalities.

Political focus and military shifts away from the Muslim world towards Russia and former Soviet states are a welcome respite, even if temporary, and would give time for the dust to settle. At least we hope so. We see, in the attempts by MBS to transition Arabia into a modern (secular) society, he introduce events of morally questionable nature in the Najd region, even as his actions affect Islam – only recently we have seen some extremist groups being ostracized from its borders, and the dominant theological influences shift from hardline extremism to a more moderate interpretation of Islam. We have also seen a change in the way Hajj is being conducted – with a much more open system being rolled out to accommodate higher volumes of pilgrims.

In our sphere, the society seems to demonstrate trends that are most concerning when we consider the future of society and the wellbeing of our children. The ever-increasing materialistic propensity and hedonistic self-gratification paradigm have given us some truly bizarre manifestations under the banner of freedom and rights, be it for GLB, transgender, cancel culture or just blind liberalism. What you identify as (be creative here), what are your preferred pronouns (in English, please), and what brand of lab-grown foods you prefer (authentic inorganic, of course), are not normal existentialist dilemmas to have in the context of the annals of history, and many would argue neither should they be. Of course, distractions abound courtesy the perceived product obsolescence a la brand loyalty, the calming effects of outdoor environmentalist activism (and a stellar yoga sequence, to top it off), alongside the next TikTok fad.

Even in the Muslim community globally, we see the rise of the British-influenced and derivative fringe sects, who have meticulously studied the means of dividing the community (based on minor differences), all to build a following and access more and more resources. Yet in the face of all of these aforementioned, the mainstream, moderate Sunni Muslim community has endured, and even progressed in some spheres of society.

What does the future hold for our children? Would they be victims to this strange, incoherent, materialistic-albeit-resource-deficient world? Is there another path that can help our children grow into functional human beings, and not mindless -detergent-consuming sheep?

The answer would have to come from a source that is not infected by the strains and influences of what brought us to this point. The move towards enlightenment is questioning the future relevance of capitalism and socialism, even as there emerges varying strains of non-material cultures. With these come an array of attempts to reconfigure the rights and responsibilities of individuals and society, along with the balance of access to and allocation of resources for the betterment of society.

For us Muslims, this is an easy solution to identify. In Islam, we have a revealed code that not only guides us in these matters, but which has been proven time and again to work in ways that benefit all sections of society. Islam gives us a system that has not only endured the evolution of society throughout the passage of time, but has contributed to the foundation of those advances we enjoy in modern society – from optics to healthcare to algorithms. The Islamic Golden Age was a sterling example of science and religion working towards the development of human life and the attainment of harmony across physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.

The Islamic way of life stands as a self-regulating, knowledge-driven, justice-based moral approach to life and livelihood that proves even more relevant to today’s operating context than ever before. Anchoring ourselves and our families to the principles, practices and culture of Islam gives us an avenue to stay focused on what really matters in life, and keep it real (even if that reality is virtual). And isn’t that what we want for ourselves and the future generations?

What is required to keep the evils at bay is – as Edmund Burke reminds us – good men to do something. There is a critical need for those who are competent to get involved in building the community in its welfare, its knowledge, and its unification, so that we become one body, and that body becomes one force, and that force is directed to upholding good and avoiding evil.

In this season of Ramadan and its afterglow, as we struggle to direct our Nafs and build our willpower, even as we strengthen our relationship with our Lord, it may be useful for us to reflect on what we see the needs of the community are, how these needs align with our potential contributions, and the best way to channel our strengths, our time, resources and efforts towards addressing those needs.

This is, after all, an obligation binding on every one of us individually, and an obligation for which we will have to account on the Day of Judgement.

May Almighty Allah be pleased with our accounts, and may He reward us richly for them (Ameen Ya Rabb).

Islam, Science and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Two decades into the 21st century, and throughout most of the world the influence of technology is on the rise. AI, Cryptocurrency and the Metaverse seem to be the future of our interactions, our commerce, our employment and our entertainment… the list is not exhaustive. Of course, through these, we hope to be able to salvage if not remedy our climate and environment, our integrity in governance, trade and justice, and opportunities for the economic well-being for all in our societies.

What is clear at the moment is that the developments in science leave little room for religious doctrine. The certainty of the material world gives us hard data that can inform root causes, symptoms and solutions, which itself can be critiqued and disproved as we research and understand more. This is a far cry from the blind belief – without evidence – in metaphysical constructs that everyday religion purports. The evidence points to aliens, after all, and if there really was a God, how could He allow all this strife and discrimination in society?

What is not well-known is that not only is the foundation of many of today’s scientific developments and technologies were established by Muslim scholars centuries ago, but its development was driven to support religious compliance. In fact, the Quran instructs us, “Only a party from each group should march forth, leaving the rest to gain religious knowledge then enlighten their people when they return…” (Quran 9:122). In compliance with the Quran injunctions, a group stayed in the lands through which they travelled, and established schools through which to learn local language and culture. This led to several important contributions to science. On one part, there emerged dedicated researchers. On another, as Muslims travelled to other civilizations throughout the world, their learnings were all translated into Arabic, copies of which were sent back to centers of learning in Madinah, Baghdad or Egypt. This resulted in a compilation of world knowledge at the time – which fed further progress.

As Islam expanded beyond the borders of the Arabian peninsula in every direction – east towards Asia, north into Europe, west and south into Africa, they faced a problem. A Muslim is required to pray 5 times per day, facing the Kaaba in Makkah, regardless of where in the world he/she is. As the Muslims moved into foreign territory, they needed to geo-locate the Kaaba so that they can fulfill their prayer obligations. Hence the need to develop on existing and available knowledge of astronomy. That had embedded its own problem. We can’t track what we cannot see. Enter ibn Haytham with his developments – first in the scientific method, then in optics, and further in astronomy, to propel increased and ongoing accuracy in ensuring proper worship is established.

In similar ways, many of the discoveries bore its own problems, and required its own supporting body of knowledge. A frequently studied example is that of Muhammad Al-Khawarizmi (of the Darul Hikma in Baghdad in 820 AD), the man who developed not only the concept of algorithms, but relatedly in his work is credited with the invention of Algebra (hisab al-jabr wal muqtabala or calculations of completion and reduction). Or Jabir Ibn Hayyan Al-Azdi in his pioneering works in chemistry and modern pharmacy. Or Ibn Khaldun in the formalization of Sociology and History… the Islamic Golden Era was characterized by revolutionary scientific developments that positively impacted human quality of life.

That era yielded to the emergence of the industrialized west, and in that transition was lost a unifying religious ethic that steered the direction of development. Quality of life for the population was reduced over time to quality of life for the owners of capital, the manipulation of natural resources for profit, and the rise of the materialist, then secular paradigms. Today, we see development for its own sake, and the absence of a central guiding ethic. In fact, very unlike Islamic paradigm, it seems as if religion is seen as the preceding stage to a progressive scientific society. Beliefs in myths and legends, superstitions are all explained by physiological labels that we don’t understand well but are aggressively researching. To not accept this is to be holding back progress. But religion and science are not zero-sum, and both can co-exist and even synergize to unlock human progress far beyond what we might think possible.

Which brings us to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an age where different new technologies are “fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.” We don’t exactly know the extent of change in our everyday lives that technology will usher. We know much of the transformation would be gradual (although occurring in faster cycles) across different areas, amplifying the need for continuous learning of developments that matter to us, and result in lifestyles that are driven by commitment to causes, alongside loyalty to our favorite brands.

Ultimately, the post-modern society that unfolds bears the potential to bring quality of life more closely aligned with Islamic values and belief systems. A knowledge-driven society powered by critical-thinking, self-regulating actors, focused on the naturally occurring renewable or bio-friendly resources even as we strive as a society to balance what is more equitable with equity and rewards – echoes hauntingly of the Islamic Golden Era and the civilization of that time. A focus on justice as the happy medium between equity and equality would find significant calibration already defined in an Islamic way of life.

But there is a difference. Past iterations had a unifying, central ethic that was ultimately the responsibility of the Caliph – himself accountable for his every action to an All-Knowing, and thankfully All-Merciful God on a Day of Judgement. Today’s fragmentation of ethical perspectives, however, and the perpetuation of relativist morality can steer developments into very different directions – maybe beyond just this planet.

The future is poised to look very different from the present, and maybe unrecognizable from the past. Whatever the resulting lifestyles and ethical codes that emerge to regulate our action and our interaction, as Muslims we are reminded in the Quran of a reward for “Those who believe, and do good, and establish regular prayer, and regular charity…” (Quran 2:277). And this conduct would transcend any industrial revolution.

ISTIGHFAR – SEEKING FORGIVENESS IN RAMADAN

Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

I wish to take this opportunity to wish everyone Ramadan Mubarak and remind us it is a special occasion for us to focus on self-reflection and improving our relationship with Almighty Allah. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) said, ‘’When the month of Ramadan begins, the Gates of Heaven are opened and the Gates of Hell are closed, and the devils are chained.’’ Which of us is void of sins and errors? We are all prone as we are human, but this is a special opportunity for us Muslims in Ramadan to do some powerful supplication and strengthen one’s relationship with Almighty Allah through abundant prayer, reciting Quran, fasting, and seeking Allah’s forgiveness.

A simple dua we must make a habit of saying is ‘Astagfirullah’, which means ‘I seek forgiveness in Allah.’ Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) used to say this dua at least 100 times a day, and we should strive to do the same as it is a Sunnah or practice of our Prophet (peace be on him). By doing so, especially in Ramadan, Almighty Allah answers our duas, He relieves us from stress and anxiety, we gain a closer bond with Our Lord and we are given an opportunity for Almighty Allah to erase our sins, once we are sincere in repenting from our hearts. It is said that acts of worship and kindness in Ramadan are multiplied up to 700 times in rewards from Almighty Allah!

So my dear friends, do not waste this opportunity to seek forgiveness, whatever sins we have committed.  If we make it a habit of saying ‘Astaghfirullah’ on a daily basis, it will help us to refrain from further committing sins and guide us to make better decisions, knowing that Almighty Allah is everywhere, He knows everything, so we will be more mindful of our actions and strive to do good deeds to earn His rewards.

In a Hadith narrated by Abu Dawd, Ibn Abbas said: The Prophet (peace be on him) said, ‘’If anyone constantly seeks pardon (from Allah), Allah will appoint for him a way out from every distress and a relief from every anxiety, and will provide sustenance for him where he expect not.’’

Another reminder is that we must forgive ourselves as part of the process of healing, because we all make mistakes, but Almighty Allah loves us so much He is ready to forgive us and accept our repentance once we turn to Him with sincerity. Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) said ‘’ Whosoever Glorifies Allah and Praises Him 100 times a day by saying ‘Subhan Allahi wa bihamdihi’, his sins will be obliterated even if they were equal to the foam of the sea.’’

So perform the Tasbih of Astaghfaar now! In one minute, you can say ‘Astaghfirullah’ 100 times! The doors of Repentance are open my friends so do not delay! Tomorrow is uncertain so act today!

Maulana Dr. Waffie Eid Message

Praises are for Allah, the Originator of the skies and the earth. Peace and salutations on His beloved servant – the Final Messenger that was sent to mankind. We thank the Lord for blessing us to witness another month of Ramadan. We pray to Allah to bless our fasting, prayers and sacrifices we make during the Holy Month.

Today, we join with our brothers and sisters from all over the world by celebrating Eid.

As every single human is a representative of the Lord here on earth, everyone is required to develop certain moral and spiritual discipline. Everyone is required to show restraint. Because it is sometimes difficult to restrain ourselves, Allah, out of love and mercy for us, gave us an institution designed to help us resist material distractions through fasting. He tells us in the Holy Qur’an, “Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before, in order that you will be able to establish restraint.”

Every individual is required to culture and cultivate some of the qualities contained in the Divine Attributes. Each person must always keep in mind the important fact that he or she is living on earth just for a span of time and before we can imagine we can die and leave all the material things behind. Ramadan teaches us to become conscious of

  1. Our use of our material blessings to help us become better representatives of the Lord here on earth
  2. Control of our desires and passions
  3. Be conscious of the fact that we are living amongst other human beings, and we are required to interact with them in a special way

All human beings are required to keep in mind the important fact that Allah says, “If He were to take mankind to task for all the wrong they do, there will not be a single one left.”

Our mission on earth is to behave like the Lord as best we can. And knowing that we can have a lot of short comings, we benefit ourselves by fasting in Ramadan, observing extra acts of worship and giving charity.

Ramadan teaches us to humble ourselves before our Lord and develop righteousness as much as possible. Because Fasting in Ramadan is for one month, we will be able to cultivate some of the righteous deeds through restraints. Therefore, we feel happy when Eid comes, as we are able to restrain ourselves.

Let us thank our Lord for His blessings and let us continue to try to uphold the permissible and avoid the prohibited.

Swimming Against the Tide (MAI Eid Message)

The occasion of Eid is a good opportunity to take stock.

We have undergone a spiritual and physiological ‘disruption’ for the past month, and mentally we have been careful to guard our conduct, our words and thoughts to make sure we don’t ‘spoil the fast’. On a day like today, we can reflect on the past month – the highs and lows – and see how we can respond differently in the future. That is to say, we can use our experiences of the past month to guide us through the next Ramadan.

It is also a good time to take stock in looking at the community as a whole. That we are coming out of pandemic restrictions, we have a rare opportunity to reflect on the past few years, and redefine what we would like the future to look like, as we rebuild, restart and redirect our efforts and those in our charge. Going back to how things were might be comfortable, but it certainly won’t be ideal.

As we position for the years to come, at an individual and community level, it is our hope that we can become a stronger force, more united and more directed towards lifting each other up. This cannot only be lip-service, however. Efforts to tear down barriers and old habits must be undertaken. For some, it may be a new way of thinking. For others, it may be sharing resources or the spotlight. Or climbing off a pedestal and getting back in touch with the troops on the ground.

Whatever the resulting decisions and required actions may be, now is the perfect time to take charge of the future and redefine what direction our efforts would take, to what intended outcomes. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to the future and upcoming generations, who themselves have very little to look forward to.

This Eid, let us resolve that the renewed habits and new thinking can steer us towards a brighter future, as a more united body. Let us commit to be the representative of Almighty Allah, and be a brighter light in a growing flood of darkness; a beacon that calls others towards safer ground. And hopefully, when we take stock at the next year’s Eid, we can look back with satisfaction, and look forward with greater hope.

At the MAI, we are happy that we were able to do our small part towards demonstrating a commitment to development for everyone – at the individual and community levels. We look forward to even more in the coming year, working alongside you, so that we all can ‘Live the best life. For both worlds.’

May this day of Eid give you peace, solace, comfort, opportunity and drive to define and realise a brighter tomorrow.

Eid Mubarak

MAI Institute

10 Days of Upheaval: Entering the Homestretch of the Month of Ramadan

The following was submitted to the Guardian newspapers by Director and Faculty, Faheem Mohammed, for Ramadan 2022.

We are into the last ten days of Ramadan, and we have entered into the home stretch towards Eid ul Fitr. This last third of the month is a significant one, where extra worship tends to intensify. In one hadith we are told that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) used to exert himself in extra devotion during the last 10 nights – to a greater extent than any other time.

In this last 10-day period is the Laylatul Qadr – the Night of Power – a special night in the Islamic calendar, and one which holds significance for a number of events. In particular, it is the night in which Almighty Allah showers worshippers with an abundance of blessings and mercy, sins are forgiven and du’as (supplications) are accepted. The Holy Qur’an tells us the blessings of this night are worth more than 1000 months – that’s 83 years’ worth of blessings in 1 night.  What night is it? While most agree and observe it on the 27th night, we are told in one hadith to seek it on the odd nights in the last ten nights. That’s a lot of blessings.

The night of Laylatul Qadr for blessings is akin to being told there is one day of one month wherein, should you try to withdraw cash from the ATM, you would have unlimited sums to withdraw from. There’s no one I can think of who would miss such an event. And the withdrawals done on that night can set one up nicely for the rest of the year, until that day rolls around in 1 years’ time.

When considered as one such night each year, the result is that over an average lifetime the blessings would be exponentially accrued. Needless to say this is a profound institution for the Muslim mind. An All-Knowing, All-Seeing, Most-Merciful, Most-Forgiving God who promises a lifetime of blessings and benefits in one night – individually – based on that person’s intentions and efforts, can prove quite the motivation. It means that despite your mistakes and your shortfalls, despite you yourself not being merciful or patient consistently – there is a chance to wipe the slate clean, seek forgiveness from the Almighty, and establish a better basis for the year to come.

In this last 10-day period there is also the practice of Itikaf or spiritual retreat. This involves isolation in a mosque or home for the purpose of dedicated worship of Almighty Allah for the last 10 days of Ramadan. Typically done in the mosques throughout the world, persons would enter the mosque on the 10th night, and stay for the remainder of the month engaged in worship, when not attending to their daily needs. There are some rules to follow, and some acts that nullify the efforts, so it is something those pursuing take seriously and are careful about.

Here we find yet another institution that is designed to bring a person closer to Almighty Allah. Concerns for people and matters of the world are sidelined in favor of worship and self-reflection, and perhaps this is why it is reported in one hadith that the person who observes itikaf will obtain the reward of two Hajj (Pilgrimage to Makkah) and two Umrah (circumambulation around the Kaaba) (Bayhaqi). In addition, we find recurring themes of detachment from the world, training or re-training oneself to proper conduct and mannerisms in accordance with Islamic instructions, and a stronger relationship with, and trust in Almighty Allah to look after our affairs. While the outcomes of this retreat tend to be very individual and personal (different people would come out of the exercise with different takeways and impressions) it is hoped that all enjoy purification of their intentions and a renewed vigor in the practice of their faith.

The last 10 days represent the essence of the month of Ramadan. The submission to God’s command through individual self-sacrifice of fasting continues. The need to guard one’s conduct and behavior while undertaking the fast stays top-of-mind. The recognition of the struggles routinely endured by those who are less fortunate keeps one grounded, and is accompanied by increase in the dispensation of charity – itself an ability that persons tend to be more thankful for. The seeking of the night of Laylatul Qadr, and the efforts of even extra worship on this night and in itikaf hold the promise of rewards to be enjoyed either in this life, or the next, if not both. And accompanying all of these, a reminder to not be too attached to the life of this world, or not be a slave to our indulgences and cravings, helps us to temper our materialistic outlook and reinforce the accountability that we believe will occur on the day of Judgement – a day when we will be taken to task for our behaviors and stewardship of our resources in this life, based on our intentions. To state it differently, what people think about you on social media matters very little when you are hungry or ‘dying of thirst’.

Through this annual exercise and adherence to the will and command of Almighty Allah, we are able to not only refine our behaviors but also reestablish our priorities, so that we can continue to strive for the increased welfare of ourselves, our families and our communities, and realise benefit in this world, and the world that is to come.

We pray that Almighty Allah allows us to participate in, and benefit fully from, the last 10 days of Ramadan, and guide us through this period to emerge as stronger and better individuals and communities, for the benefit of our society.

Ramadan: Making Diamonds out of Deen

We are well into the month of Ramadan at the point of writing, and we may well be beginning to feel the physiological effects of the fast. In such instances, it is useful for us to remember the reason why we adhere to a process that is essentially unnatural. After all, to deprive the body of sustenance – albeit voluntarily – is not without effects. Dehydration, loss of concentration, tempers may be a bit short, acid reflux and gas pains, perhaps. Exhaustion may begin to seem chronic. And these even as we marvel at the speed of the passing days. So why do we do this to ourselves? What’s the point?

An interesting parallel can be drawn from the very element that makes us who we are, and which can help illuminate the experience and the outcomes of fasting for the month of Ramadan.


Carbon – The Foundation of Diverse Lifeforms

A naturally occurring substance is carbon, an element which is described as the chemical basis for life.

It is as essential as it is versatile. It is essential in that it moves through the food chain, from plants (through photosynthesis) to animals (in the form of carbohydrates and proteins) and back to plants (as carbon dioxide and from decay). It is versatile in that it forms various compounds. One example of carbon is the diamond while another example is that of charcoal. And what a world of difference exists between the two.

Diamonds are formed slowly, deep in the earth, under tremendous pressure and heat. Buried deep in the earth, constantly facing heat and pressure acting on it, a conscious carbon element in diamond must think its life as one of misery and hardship. But it rallies on (not that it has much choice), and all the imposing pressures make it bigger and stronger with the passing of time. And persons, hearing of its existence, expend significant effort to try to find it. Scouring the planet for veins, digging deep, searching carefully, and upon finding it, erupting in joy – here is something of value and worth that would change our fortunes.

The bigger the diamond, the greater its significance. Carefully secured and handled, it is cut and polished, mounted and sold for significant sums. And the recipient? They would be sure to secure it, and use it to adorn themselves in select company.

In this context the diamond is looked upon adoringly, and maybe even with envy. And it is often with pride and joy that one generation passes it on to the other, so that they too may savor its worth and the results of its ownership. And of course, with the passing of time its value increases.

Its sale by auction is announced well ahead of time, so persons can prepare for bidding and hopefully its ownership. They want this for themselves, and would compete with others to try to get it. Such is its value and worth – a far cry from its years buried deep in the earth and undergoing all the stress. This new life would be a paradise compared to that time. And well deserved – it went through all the hardships to get here.

Compared to diamonds, charcoal, on the other hand, has a very different experience. It lives close to the surface, and undergoes minimal heat and pressure. A conscious carbon element in charcoal must think it is living it up. Close to or at the surface, enjoying the sights and sounds. A little stress here or there, not lasting very long… life is good. This charcoal is readily found in large quantities in most places on earth. Or it can be made – since it takes little effort to produce – not much heat, pressure or depth is required.

It is a soft material – easily fragmented, and deliberately broken into small pieces in process where it is not handled with much care. It is bagged in bulk, moved through handlers to the daily markets, and offered for sale where its price is haggled over – the cheaper the charcoal the better. It has little value in itself – we use it as fuel for other products that we crave – perhaps a savory barbeque or tandoori with nan.

Little thought and attention is given to the charcoal in the course of its use. And persons would handle it begrudgingly – you touch it and become stained. You may in fact want to pour it directly into the firepit, so as not to be stained by its touch. And after it is used, any remaining fragments are swept up and discarded, while more charcoal is sought as a replacement.

The conscious carbon element by this time might well be feeling dejected. An easy start to life, but on its discovery it is treated as… well… charcoal, and given no importance beyond its base utility as fuel. We don’t want to pay too much for it, and hasten to discard it quickly after use.


The Basis of Human Life

This reality in itself is a metaphor for our lives. Not only are we made from the same base element of carbon, but the manifestation of our lives are akin to the diamond or the charcoal.

As diamonds, we too can become, within our societies, highly revered and valued. We may see people travel far and expend great resources and effort to reach us and benefit from us, or just be associated with us. If we travel to meet with others, we may be given VIP status and treated with great care and with opulence. Our contributions, in whatever form, would be cherished and provide value for generations to come. But such reverence is often the result of tremendous effort and experiences – perhaps in scholarship, perhaps in spiritual pursuits, perhaps in action on the ground.

As charcoal, we are considered to the extent that we can be used for other purposes or benefit. We are one among many, readily accessible and with no compelling distinct value. Those we interact with may fear becoming infected or stained by our presence and interaction. In terms of use itself we may be sought for menial tasks; or perhaps entertainment value; or perhaps as a pawn in a bigger game. And once used, we can find ourselves being easily and readily discarded or neglected.



Islam – Making Diamonds out of Deen

Islam, as a complete code of life for all across space and time, establishes clear direction on the expectations of our beliefs, conduct and behaviour. We are told in the Qur’an, “We will surely try you with somewhat of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and fruits, then give glad tidings to the steadfast.” (Qur’an 2:156).

It is not an easy path. Perhaps this is why we are told in a hadith, “The world is a prison for the believer and a paradise for the disbeliever.” (Muslim 2956).

As carbon lifeforms, the difference with us against that of diamonds and charcoal is that we have freedom of choice in how we respond to our environment. When the environment pressures us to a particular direction, we can give in to the pressure, or withstand it and hold our position as articulated in Islam. The Qur’an tells us, for example, “We will surely try you until We make known those from among you who strive in the cause of Allah, and those who are steadfast.” (Qur’an 47:32). Also, in a hadith we are told, “A believer male or female continues to be tried in respect of self, children, and property till he or she faces Allah, the Exalted, in a state in which all his or her sins have been wiped out.” (Tirmidhi).

And we are guided in how we can resist the pressures and temptations of this world during this holy month. To observe the fast physically, we are required to abstain from food and drink, and marital relations, from the break of dawn through sunset, each day of fasting during the month of Ramadan. (Quran 2:187).

In terms of conduct, we are cautioned to not engage in idle or abusive conduct while fasting, nor complain about the fast, and we should be patient with others, especially those who are not fasting. In various ahadith, we are told explicitly, “…When any one of you is fasting on a day, he should neither indulge in obscene language, nor raise the voice; or if anyone reviles him or tries to quarrel with him he should say: I am a person fasting….” (Muslim). And in another instance, “’Whoever does not give up evil and ignorant speech, and acting in accordance with that, Allah has no need of his giving up his food and drink.” (Ibn Majah).

Should we take the easy route and succumb to the pressures… maybe complain about the fasting, maybe become impatient or angry with others…, we opt for the path of the charcoal, and we risk becoming exactly that – fuel for a fire. We are told this in the Qur’an, “But those who disobey Allah and His Messenger and transgress His limits will be admitted to a Fire, to abide therein: And they shall have a humiliating punishment.” (Qur’an 4:14)

Should we stand firm by our Islamic beliefs and practices, we are assured of not only the support and help from Almighty Allah, but reward beyond measure – very much like the diamond after it is discovered. We are told this in the Qur’an, “Verily, the steadfast shall have their reward without measure.” (Qur’an 39:11).

In the Qur’an, these pressures are alluded to summarily in the ayat, “The life of this world has been made appealing to the disbelievers, and they mock the believers. But those who fear Allah shall be above them on the Day of Resurrection. And Allah provides for whoever He wills without limit.” (Qur’an 2:212)

This month of Ramadan is a command imposed on Muslims by Almighty Allah – one that is designed to test our resolve and submission to His command. He tells us in the Qur’an, “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint” (Quran 2:183), and in another instance, “…Allah does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.” (Quran 2:185).

Almighty Allah savors our submission to His command. Perhaps this is why we are told in a hadith often cited, “…the breath of the observer of fast is sweeter to Allah on the Day of judgment than the fragrance of musk.” (Muslim).

The rewards of this sacrifice that we make for the sake of Almighty Allah are assured, and unlimited. In a hadith, Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) is reported to have said, “Allah the Exalted and Majestic said: Every act of the son of Adam is for him, except fasting. It is (exclusively) meant for Me and I (alone) will reward it. Fasting is a shield…”  (Muslim). In another hadith, we are told, “Every (good) deed of the son of Adam would be multiplied, a good deed receiving a tenfold to seven hundredfold reward… With the exception of fasting, for it is done for Me and I will give a reward for it, for one abandons his passion and food for My sake.” (Muslim)

The rewards are also instantaneous throughout the month. We are told in a hadith, “When there comes the month of Ramadan, the gates of mercy are opened, and the gates of Hell are locked, and the devils are chained…” (Muslim).

In Ramadan, with every act and its driving intention, we have an opportunity every day over the month to withstand the pressures and grow our faith and our closeness to Almighty Allah, and become as the hardest known substance and immune to fire; or we can succumb to the pressures and restrict the strength and scope of who we are, becoming easily combustible and relegated to the role of fuel.

Fasting for Ramadan is not easy and not meant to be. Perhaps this is what is alluded to in the hadith, “…There are two occasions of joy for one who fasts, joy when he breaks it, and joy when he meets his Lord.” (Muslim). We experience the joy of breaking the fast every evening at sunset. We will experience the joy when the new moon of Shawwal is sighted. And we pray that we all are able to experience the joy of meeting with our Lord, where our strength and our substance would be displayed like that of the diamond, immune to the fire, to live as elements cherished and valued throughout the rest of our existence.

In the meantime, we salute all those who endeavour to observe the fast, and strive to restrain their conduct in compliance with Allah’s command. Rejoice inwardly with every hour of fast completed, that you are leveling up in a way that others may never comprehend.

“The thirst is gone, the veins are moistened, and the reward has been earned, if Allah wills.”


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The Slap Felt Around the World

When Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars, it was a slap that echoed around the world. As many memes as there were commentaries, from very diverse perspectives… and it keeps going on days after. This 1-hit wonder is not a 1-day phenomenon (see what we did there? #punforfun).

But did Rock (i.e. ‘Chris’, not ‘The’) go too far in making fun of Jada? Will certainly thought so. But what does Islam say? Does it even have a sense of humor, or is it all religious doom and gloom?

Firstly, we are told “Mix with the people on the condition that your Deen is not jeopardized, and be jestful with the family.” (Bukhari). Having fun and jests were certainly the tradition of the Prophet (peace be on him) – narrated by Abu Dharr al_Ghifari “…I indeed saw the Messenger of Allah laugh till his front teeth were exposed.” (Muslim)

It should be recognized that “Humor serves as a much needed natural relaxation, and is approved for this purpose by many statements of Prophet Muhammad and the early Muslims.” (ibn al-Jawzi). By another account… “The fact is that within Muslim culture there is a strong tradition of storytelling, joking and laughing. The relationship between Islam and comedy goes to the roots of the religion.” (Yasmeen Khan, 2007)

But there are limits.

The Qur’an tells us, for example:

“O ye who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women laugh at others: It may be that the (latter are better than the (former): Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed: And those who do not desist are (indeed) doing wrong.” (Qur’an 49:11)

We are discouraged about laughing at the trials or tribulations of others. In one hadith, we are told:

“Some young men from the Quraish visited Aisha as she was in Mina and they were laughing. She said: “What makes you laugh?” They said: Such and such person stumbled against the rope of the tent and he was about to break his neck or lose his eyes. She said: ‘Don’t laugh for I heard Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: If a Muslim runs a thorn or (gets into trouble) severe than this, there is assured for him (a higher) rank and his sins are obliterated.’” (Muslim)

We are discouraged from lying to make persons laugh. In a hadith, we are told:

“Woe to the one who speaks and tells lies in order to make the people laugh; woe to him, woe to him.” (Tirmidhi and Abu Dawood)

And the same for frightening others in jest.

Once when travelling, one of the sahabah fell asleep, the others got some rope and tied him up. The man woke up and was frightened so Prophet Muhammad said: “It is not lawful to any Muslim to frighten another Muslim.” (Abu Dawood)

Making fun of others or having a laugh at their expense is also discouraged. In ahadith, we are told:

“(Backbiting is) your mentioning about your brother something that he dislikes.” (Muslim)

“The Muslim does not slander, curse, speak obscenely or speak rudely.” (Tirmidhi)

Chris Rock would have done well to be guided by Islamic guidance on this, and perhaps saved himself some fresh prints (we’re just too good).

But what of being on the receiving end?

Well, as it turns out, there’s guidance for that too. We are guided in the Qur’an how to respond to provocation and mockery.

“And when you see those who engage in [offensive] discourse concerning Our verses, then turn away from them until they enter into another conversation. And if Satan should cause you to forget, then do not remain after the reminder with the wrongdoing people.” (Qur’an 6:68)

“Hold on to forgiveness, command what is right and turn away from the ignorant.” (Qur’an 7:199)

“And whoever is patient and forgives – indeed that is of the matters [requiring] determination.” (Qur’an 42:43)

“And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] Peace” (Qur’an 25:63)

Will, by climbing the stairs of the stage, in fact took the low-road, and thereby exposed himself to even more ridicule. Before acting out on impulse, it may have been better had he been reminded of the reference we started with:

“O ye who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women laugh at others: It may be that the (latter are better than the (former): Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed: And those who do not desist are (indeed) doing wrong.” (Qur’an 49:11)

In these incidents are useful reminders, and we are thankful that we can read about it and reflect, and not be relegated to have this sense slapped into us.

Ramadan: Rekindling the Warrior Spirit

His eyes blurted open. Was someone in the room with him? Idris lay still and frozen on the bed, listening for any sound of movement.

His eyes were wide open now, getting accustomed to the darkness of a 3.30 am morning. He could hear his fan oscillating and beyond that, the ticking of the wall-mounted clock…. Tick. Tick. Tick. The air was cold against his exposed skin, with his bedsheet bunched up under his right shoulder, warm with the body heat.

As he lay awake in bed a flood of memories from his military night exercises came over him. Being woken at 2 am, 3 minutes to gear up, and then out into the yard amidst the yelling of the Drill Instructor while he and the rest of the platoon scrambled into formation.

Idris purged those thoughts from his brain. That experience was a lifetime ago. Oh! Suhoor. Right. Idris got out of bed groggily, and wiped his hand over his eyes and face. Prepare the meal. Eat. Fajr. And then head out to work. He rose and went to attend to his Suhoor. This isn’t like boot camp, he grinned at the thought. This one he did voluntarily.

The mental and physiological discipline takes one out of the domain of civilian comforts and into the territory of warrior conditioning…

Ramadan is upon us, and once again we enter the month of fasting and extra worship. This year it promises to be somewhat normal, relative to the past 2 years. There might even be some aftari to attend. I wonder where would be having, and what menu would dominate the landscape.

Expect to hear, if you haven’t already, proclaimed loudly from the mimbars on Jummah – “Fasting is prescribed on you as it was on those before you,” and “The devil is chained” and so forth. And of course, we cannot forget the same question by our peers – “Yuh fasting owa?” or otherwise, “how you making out?” as we shovel the buss-up-shut or fried rice into our faces relentlessly. Fun times with friends. But this is on one level.

There’s a deeper and much more personal effect of Ramadan on us individually. Almighty Allah tells us in the Qur’an:


“…Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.” (Quran 2:185)


The mental and physiological discipline takes one out of the domain of civilian comforts and into the territory of warrior conditioning. Hazrat Umar ibn Abdul Aziz is reported to have said:


“The best jihad is the struggle against desire” (Al-Adab Ash Shar’iva 131)


Also we are told in the Qur’an:


He has succeeded who purifies the soul, and he has failed who corrupts the soul. (Qur’an 91-9-10)


As it was most likely meant to. Wake up early, have a meal, pray, and go about your day. Relinquish food and drink for the entire day, and yet still function as you need to. Be very mindful of your conduct in every situation lest your fast is in vain. We are told in ahadith:


“When any one of you is fasting on a day, he should neither indulge in obscene language, nor raise the voice; or if anyone reviles him or tries to quarrel with him he should say: I am a person fasting….” (Sahih Muslim Book 35, Number 2566)

‘Whoever does not give up evil and ignorant speech, and acting in accordance with that, Allah has no need of his giving up his food and drink.” (Sunan Ibn Majah Chapter 9, Number 1689)

There are people who fast and get nothing from their fast except hunger, and there are those who pray and get nothing from their prayer but a sleepless night.” (Sunan Ibn Majah Chapter 9, Number 1690).


“I call myself a peaceful warrior, because the battles we fight are on the inside” Socrates

“He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior” Confucius

Hasten to break the fast – but not too early, pray… repeat for 30 days. Meanwhile, as the days go by dehydration begins to kick in, impacting your patience and demeanor – some persons get very irritable and edgy while fasting. That, alongside irregular sleep hours and missed meals, begins to erode your judgment and decision-making capacities.

Missing a meal and disrupting daily habits all serve to invoke exhaustion and headaches, acid reflux, muscle cramps. For some, concentration becomes a challenge and the brain begins to flutter. Fasting takes its toll, even though it is embedded with physical benefits. Perhaps this is why we are told in Islam:


“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint” (Quran 2:183)

The one who strives in the way of Allah the Exalted is he who strives against his soul. (Ahmad 23445)


It echoes eerily of being at a barracks, woken up for a random night exercise, obeying the command of the Drill Sargent, and undergoing some grueling exercise before you get back to base and some semblance of sanity. Or undergoing the rigors of daily training over the weeks you are there.

Going into Ramadan, we undergo our own version of military training. Annually. We condition our Nafs – our ‘civilian’ selves, habits and fancies, if you will, to come under our control. The thing is, doing this in the midst of your everyday routine can make it a cumbersome exercise. Perhaps this is why we are told in the Hadith:


Every act of the son of Adam is for him, except fasting. It is (exclusively) meant for Me and I (alone) will reward it. Fasting is a shieldBy Him, in Whose Hand is the life of Muhammad, the breath of the observer of fast is sweeter to Allah on the Day of judgment than the fragrance of musk. The one who fasts has two (occasions) of joy, one when he breaks the fast he is glad with the breaking of (the fast) and one when he meets his Lord he is glad with his fast.” (Sahih Muslim Book 35, Number 2566).


Doing the exact same in the front-lines battling for survival is a different story, however. You tend to think about the sacrifices and irritants less, and focus more on navigating the terrain and staying alive. This is what you are prepared for in your formative training – metamorphosis from being subjected to your whims and cravings to being in charge of your physical, mental selves.

And while military conditioning is accompanied by a skillset to stay alive in the physical world, and conquer the enemy combatant, as Muslims we undergo moral and spiritual conditioning, with our physical and mental selves. We disrupt our schedules, we abstain, we regulate our conduct, worship more, give more in charity… all to conquer our Nafs and the whisperings of Shaitan.

Our battle is against our own selves, and we are commanded to do this, so that we come out stronger, in greater control of our desires, and better prepared for facing the battles that can erupt around us or within us for the rest of the year. All for the sake of Allah and in submission to His command. It may well be in recognition of this that we were told in Islam,


Every (good) deed of the son of Adam would be multiplied, a good deed receiving a tenfold to seven hundredfold reward. Allah, the Exalted and Majestic, has said: With the exception of fasting, for it is done for Me and I will give a reward for it, for one abandons his passion and food for My sake.” (Sahih Muslim Book 35, Number 2567)

As for him who feared to stand before his Lord and he restrained himself from his desires, then Paradise will be his refuge. (Qur’an 79:40)