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Archive for August, 2011

An Eid like no other

Posted by Yacoob on August 30, 2011

For many around the world, Eid has already come. But here in South Africa, we’re waiting until tomorrow – Wednesday 31st August. I’d like to take this opportunity to with everyone and their families a blessed Eid mubarak.

May your day be filled with joy and happiness, and (halaal) celebration. For males and females, please dress appropriately (because modesty can look good, you know); and interact in the proper manner with the opposite sex. There will probably be plenty to show off, and plenty to gawk at – but lower your gaze, and don’t be a temptation for others either. You’ve just come through a month of intensive piety and good deeds. Don’t ruin it all in one day. Don’t please shaytaan. Please Allah – by doing things the right way.

For myself and all of you, I hope that this will be an Eid with a difference: one where we really and truly try to remember Allah’s presence. That ‘taqwa’ we were supposed to acquire through fasting – let us take that with us through to this Eid day. And, very importantly, let’s take it through to the rest of the year as well.

Last Ramadan, I wrote a 3 post series (concluding with this one) about taking the goodness of Ramadan forward to the rest of the year. The key points were to take realistic spiritual goals forward to the rest of the year – to be consistent, even if those actions were small.

This year, I’d like to re-iterate those points. Each individual knows their own spiritual state, and their own life’s circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all specific advice about what to aim for and what to expect.

Look into your own self, speak to your Lord, and ask Him to help you, bless you, guide you, and protect you in the days, weeks, and months that follow. For if we just make the sincere effort, and bear patience throughout our individual journeys, then surely Allah will grant us success in both worldly and spiritual matters.

So let’s make this an Eid with a difference. The best Eid we’ve ever had. Not because the food was particularly good, or the company was awesome – but because we made a commitment to Allah, and a commitment to ourselves, that we were going to strive to be better in the coming year.

Posted in Milestones, Ramadaan | 1 Comment »

Future memories

Posted by Yacoob on August 19, 2011

It’s Saturday night, and the people have gathered. The lights go out. A hush descends as the crowd becomes quiet. The screen begins displaying its image.

A man appears.

He speaks. He tells of a group of people who will have lived their lives for a period, enjoying life – doing as they pleased. These people received certain information and requests – warnings that their life choices were dangerous.

But they rejected these warnings – thinking they knew better. Thinking they were entitled to continue engaging in the lifestyles that they were enjoying, and that no consequences would harm them if they continued.

But then their lives will come to an end. Death approaches them, and they see a different reality.

The curtain is lifted from their eyes. The truth smacks them like a sledgehammer. They finally realize the truth: the messages that came to them were true. The messengers that warned them were not liars, or gullible fools hanging onto a fantasy – a make-believe idea that had no bearing in the real world.

The world they existed in – where freedom and unlimited fun reigned – was an illusion. And the world they’re now facing is real. Real; troubling; and never-ending.

They beg for more time. They ask to be sent back. Now that they know the truth, if they have another chance, they’d do it all differently. They’d accept the messages. They’d believe the messengers. They’d live in the way they were asked to.

Or so they believe.

But if they were sent back, they would do the same thing again. Nothing would be different.

And they will be forced to remain in this state of regret until the Day of Resurrection – when they will be called to account for that which they used to do, and will have to deal with the consequences thereof.

 

You’re probably wondering what this scene describes. What movie was this? And when did this happen?

This was no cinema. And this was no movie.

This was the scene in a mosque – in Zeenatul Islam, District Six, Cape Town – last Saturday night. It was in the basement level, after the taraweeh prayers were concluded for that night of Ramadan.

The speaker – the man who described this series of events – was the esteemed Islamic scholar Mufti Ismail Menk, who is visiting from Zimbabwe. The events he described was a snippet from the Quran – and the intro to his lecture for the night. Down in the basement level, they put up TV screens so that the people downstairs can see the speaker on the main level, as he delivers his talk.

This particular narrative – about the regretful people who will want to go back – is based on Surah Mu’minoon (The Believers: Quran – surah 23 – verses 99 and 100). It describes those who, in worship, join partners with Almighty Allah (i.e. the idolaters / pagans). And when their (worldly) lives are about to end, they finally see the truth and wish they could have another chance. (Full tafseer here.) It could also describe those who have been negligent as regards the commands of Allah (Tafseer Ibn Kathir). In either case, we would do well to safeguard ourselves against the company of such people, lest we become of them – since the people we surround ourselves with can play a huge role in our beliefs and choice of lifestyle. And – even without friends like these – we would do well to guard our own selves so that we never slip into those categories; because we’re not immune – we never know where our wrong choices in life could lead us.

 

I began with this story because it came on a night that was very memorable. Memorable not because it was extra-ordinary in its events, but because of the epiphany that struck me during the evening.

This Ramadan, Cape Town has been blessed once more to have the visit of the always-inspiring Mufti Ismail Menk (see details in last week’s post). And my habit this month has been – on Saturday nights – to go to the taraweeh prayers he’s leading. So on this particular night, I took a break during the salaah and looked around, and just took in the atmosphere.

All these people standing, so dedicated, in long night prayer – with the Quran being recited so beautifully by one of the world’s greatest (for me, at least) Islamic personalities – and all this in the blessed month of the ummah.

I had one of those flash-forward moments: where you just appreciate the present. Something about it just strikes you deeply. You imagine that – in the future – you’re going to look back on this moment, on this period of your life, with fondness.

And for those few moments that I pondered this – those moments that this atmosphere hit me – it was just awesome. How special a time this is. How blessed. How amazing.

This experience – taraweehs with Mufti Menk – stand out for me in this month. I’ve been in that downstairs level both times so far, and when the talk starts, it’s like this huge sleepover. They put the lights off, the TV screens come on, and everyone gathers together to watch.

It’s like a cinema – and it’s a Saturday night, which makes it even more similar to that experience. But in this case, it’s actually virtuous to be in this gathering. This isn’t some Hollywood movie – designed for our entertainment.

How amazing that all these people are gathered here – on a Saturday night – to watch something ‘religious’. Everyone so eager to take in the lessons and wisdom about to be imparted, by Allah’s mercy and permission, from this tremendously-loved speaker – a caller to goodness.

The theme for this series of talks this month is the stories of the Prophets (peace be upon them all). And what amazing stories they are – so full of wisdom and lessons for all of humanity – whether we call ourselves Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, or even atheist. Humans naturally incline towards stories – and these are the stories of the best people to ever walk the Earth: the messengers and prophets – chosen by God – to convey a simple message to humanity. The same message throughout the ages: your Creator is ONE, and you should worship Him alone. And because this series draws directly from the Quran – which we believe is the pure, un-altered word of God – as Muslims we know these stories are 100% true; free of the fabrications that were introduced in other scriptures that have been corrupted.

Another event that night was while I waited outside to go home. A Somalian brother stopped by to speak to me – saying how tired he was in taraweeh – almost falling asleep, but pushing himself to go on. He’d slept only 2 hours the night before. And he said how inspirational he found Mufti Menk to be – how balanced a speaker he is: not too liberal, not too conservative; but balanced.

And, clearly inspired, he spoke of how the change of the world starts with us: if we live right, and teach our children right, they’ll be better than us; and in two or three generations, they can change this world. Bring it back to its senses.

It was such a random encounter – he spoke to me as if he knew me well; but I didn’t know him at all. It was a bond – brotherhood in Islam. That’s what made it so easy – so comfortable a conversation. And before long, he was gone. A seemingly-random experience – but one, I suspect, that was meant to teach me something.

Anyway, Ramadan is usually a special month – but this one is standing out even more for me. I know it and feel it. Like Ramadan 2007 – when I was on the verge of fulfilling my most dearly-held dream of marriage. That was such a special month – and one I look back on fondly.

And this one – this month –feels like it’s going to be the same in terms of nostalgia. I may be restricted in terms of the spiritual depth I would otherwise want to pursue (mentioned not long ago in this post), but even despite that, this month has an air to it that is definitely exceptional.

In future years, insha-Allah, I’ll look back and remember how beautiful this was. These are future memories in the making, and I’m extremely grateful to be living through these experiences.

 

But to make this post interactive, I ask you – the reader:

How’s your month been so far?

And have you had any of these “future memory” moments? (Either this month or at another time.)

 

 

Posted in Meanderings, Ramadaan | 1 Comment »

Appreciating Ramadan

Posted by Yacoob on August 11, 2011

Many of us take this month for granted – the fact that we can fast (as we’ve been commanded to do), perform taraweeh, and do all the other, communal things that come packaged with this ‘month of the ummah’.

But while we have it easy – while we have this freedom – our brothers and sisters in some places are being subjected to tremendous oppression – in that they are actively discouraged, or even banned, from fulfilling these great Ramadan activities.

 

Tajikstan
For example, take the Muslim majority country of Tajikstan – whose secular government has banned Muslim youth from the masajid. This legacy of the country’s former Soviet rulers – who banned and punished the practicing of religion – also includes the government imposing sermons on imams to deliver at mosques – publishing a collection of 52 sermons that must be preached during the weekly Friday prayers. Additionally, a government campaign includs the arrest of men with beards, and ordering them to shave. All this in the name of countering “religious extremism”. For more info on the Tajikstan situation, see this article.

 

Xinjiang
Another example is the plight of the Uighur Muslims in the Chinese region of Xinjiang. Chinese Muslims already face severe restrictions, but Muslim members of the government throughout Xinjiang must sign “letters of responsibility” promising to avoid fasting, taraweeh, and other religious activities. The Communist government says “Party members are not allowed to fast for Ramadan, and neither are civil servants.” Other individuals are allowed – as it’s a “traditional ethnic custom” – according to the government – but they aren’t allowed to hold any religious activities during Ramadan.

With regard to Muslims working for private companies, while there isn’t an outright ban, there are still consequences. Uighur Muslim employees are offered lunches during fasting hours; and anyone who refuses to eat could lose their annual bonus, or even their job – according to one account.

And schoolkids and the youth are also not free. Officials target Muslim schoolchildren, providing them with free lunches during the fasting period. Another report, from an Uighur resident ofBeijing, said that students under 18 are forbidden from fasting during Ramadan.

For more info on the Uighur situation, see this article.

 

These are just two examples of political oppression – but there may be others. And in addition, there are Muslims in other places that are being deprived of a ‘normal’ (in our sense) Ramadan by other issues – poverty, famine, war, and more.

So while we enjoy our Ramadan and attempt to draw closer to Allah through fasting, taraweeh, and everything good that the month brings, let’s stop to feel the pain, try to help, and at least make dua for our suffering brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

And let’s appreciate the religious freedom we have, while we have it. Because if we don’t, we may lose it, and then we’ll look back to these times of freedom with fondness and longing – but without the ability to practice and enjoy our religion the way we are able to right now.

Posted in Information, Ramadaan, What's going on | 6 Comments »

Ramadan 2011 with Mufti Ismail Menk

Posted by Yacoob on August 8, 2011

I hope everyone’s having an awesome Ramadan so far. Ramadan in South Africa usually means that our esteemed guest, Mufti Ismail Menk (from Zimbabwe) performs taraweeh in one of our cities – each night following the salaah with a talk based on some aspect of the Quran.

This year, he’s in Cape Town – at Zeenatul Islam (Muir Street – District Six), and the talks are about the stories of the Prophets (peace be upon them all).

Cape Town radio station Voice of the Cape is broadcasting the taraweeh and lectures this week; and I think Channel Islam International also broadcasts it every night (not sure though). For those who can’t pick up those stations, click on the links and they both have audio streaming via the Internet.

You can find the videos of these inspirational talks – updated regularly – on YouTube. And for those interested in downloading the talks, you can find days 1 to 5 at:

http://www.salaahtimes.co.za/download/

This site is updating it regularly, so they’ll hopefully keep adding more until the month is done. I’m aware that at least some of the audios on that site have a problem – with sound in one channel only. For an alternative, which might be better, try this link.

Note that Mufti Menk does allow his talks to be downloaded for free from the Internet – just as long as you don’t alter them. (And also don’t try to make a profit from them!)
For those who prefer / want rough transcripts of the talk, Du’aa a Day on Facebook is publishing daily / regular transcripts. And for those without Facebook (perhaps better to keep off it this month for some of us ;)Muslimah (Life)Style is posting the transcripts on their site.

For older lectures by him, visit www.muftimenk.co.za- which has the complete sets of most of his South African Ramadan talks for the last few years.

Feel free to pass this message on to anyone that’s interested. Many, many, South Africans benefit from these lessons each year – and even though we can listen to / see / read it at any time of the year; Ramadan is a time when our hearts are much more open and accepting of these beautiful advices – so take advantage of them now, while you’re in these blessed moments.

Posted in Advice, Information, Ramadaan | Leave a Comment »

The Gathering

Posted by Yacoob on August 3, 2011

Over the past decade, Ramadan has been a very special time for me.  You see, prior to that, things were different. I was different. And then, one day in that Ramadan ten years ago, everything changed.

That experience, that miracle, marked a turning point in my life – one that I’m eternally grateful for, and one that I’ll forever treasure because of its sheer significance – even if the emotions and memories of that month fade away with the passing of time.

It was Allah’s mercy that enveloped me that month; and subsequent Ramadans have marked a period of more intense striving in matters spiritual and practical.

Solitude was always my best friend when it came to taking benefit out of Ramadan. Though I’ve never sat for i’tikaaf (seclusion in the mosque), I understand the enormous benefits of being alone – being secluded from the world – with no one as your companion except Allah.

And when I got married, that solitude disappeared for a long time; and that first Ramadan – as a husband – was different. But it was still amazing, because it kind of brought me back to myself – after a year in which I felt internally lost – without a goal to pursue (since it had been achieved via marriage). That month, I think, kind of revitalised me.

And that Ramadan marked the last time I really had the space to extensively experience the month in the ways I used to. Because the following year, my precious little treasure had just been born. She was only about two weeks old when Ramadan started; and that month was – understandably – almost completely filled with the rigours of early parenthood – in the latter half of the month especially.

Last year was even more hectic. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we had to move house in the middle of last Ramadan. So there was obviously packing and other prep work to do before the move; then the actual move; then the settling in afterwards.

Added to that, our daughter was sick for a few weeks in the month – and so was I. But alhamdullilah – I found the beginning third and the final third of the month awesome. (For my wife, though, it was a very different story, unfortunately).

And now this year, which has been the most hectic for us in terms of busy-ness, the month is different. The challenges are different, and the need to take the most out of the month is greater too. While we don’t have an ill-timed move of house, we do have an almost two-year old toddler who is a real handful. A good handful – but still a lot of work, nonetheless. And no matter how her day goes in terms of having her afternoon nap, she almost always sleeps at 9PM – which is far later than we hoped for. Because with work in the day, and the evenings taken up by iftaar and taking care of her, night time is pretty much the only time we have for worship – when there isn’t the pressure of daytime worries.

And if she sleeps at 9, or past that, it leaves very little time for us before we need to sleep (or collapse out of tiredness, if we haven’t gotten enough sleep lately). But alhamdullilah – there is still time; and if you want something bad enough, you find ways to make it work – which has been the case so far.

Anyway, I guess the point of this entire post – which was sent on a detour by my memories of years gone by – is that for those of you who still have the luxury of free time in Ramadan, make good use of your time. Don’t waste it on things that are of no benefit, and things that won’t help you draw closer to Allah.

I don’t mean to say you should spend all your time in formal worship – with no ‘relaxation’. Relaxation is very necessary – because we need it in order to live a balanced life; and it helps refresh us for the exertions of worship and responsibilities.

But limit your pastimes to things that will not displease your Lord. And beware the temptation of over-indulging in too much relaxation – so much that it makes you lazy.

There’s a hadith about taking advantage of five things before five other things happen to you – and free time is one of those: take advantage of your free time before you become occupied with things, things like responsibilities.

A while back, I remember overhearing some schoolkids one afternoon – and reflected on how much free time they probably have. And I remembered how much free time I used to have when I was in their shoes. And how I wasted it.

And then I grew up, and the stresses of adult life took me over – so I learnt to appreciate that free time when I could get it. And then came marriage – which reduced that free time; and then fatherhood, which further cut that free time – to the point that having free time to do what I want is now the exception, rather than the rule.

If you’ve seen the last Shrek movie, you might be able to understand the feeling. And I say that with all seriousness – because I used to feel like he did: burdened by responsibilities – and yearning to have the freedom of days gone by.

But unlike Shrek, I didn’t have any evil mini-man (Rumpelstiltskin) with magic spells to teach me to appreciate what I have (and spells are haraam anyway :)). That appreciation came without the disasters he went through, and I’ve come to accept that this is life – and I need to make the best of it and embrace these roles I have; and these responsibilities I have.

A life of relaxing, having freedom, and doing what I want – that’s all reserved for Paradise (if I get there). So this time now – these days, months, years, and decades – is for living up to the responsibilities Allah has placed on my shoulders (with the right amount of relaxing, of course).

As we get older, hopefully, we come to truly understand this bigger picture. That life isn’t about relaxing all the time and living for the pleasures of this world. The societies we live in – the materialistic, consumer societies – may put forward that lifestyle as the ideal; but it’s nothing more than an illusion. It’s not real, and it’s not possible to live like that if you have any conscience at all about your true purpose in life. And living solely for pleasures will not make you happy – because happiness is a quality of the soul, not the body (as explained in this post).

The awesome thing about Ramadan is that – no matter what spiritual level you’re on, it’s like all of us – every Muslim – knows how important the month is, and makes some kind of extra effort to do things that they wouldn’t normally do in other months.

It’s the month for gathering those spiritual provisions that could carry us through the other 11 months – the reserves that we’ll need to survive if we can’t make the effort for the rest of the year. And if Allah gives us the great blessing of carrying those positive aspects beyond the month, then we really have a lot to be thankful for.

So in this month, I hope and pray that for we all make good use of our time; and strive to draw closer to Allah; and open our eyes and hearts to the lessons and guidance – personal lessons, and personal guidance that Allah reveals to each of us – to you personally, intimately, within yourself – so that you can nurture that most special connection with Him.

Because in reality, that connection is the most tremendous, awesome, fulfilling, and beneficial thing you can ever have in this world. Take good care of it, and insha-Allah it’ll be a means of your success – both in this world and the next.

Posted in Ramadaan | 4 Comments »

 
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