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Yasir Qadhi | Lofty Intentions: Having Noble Visions and Goals

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Lecture by Yasir Qadhi | Transcribed by Sameera

[The following is the video and transcript of Shaykh Yasir Qadhi’s lecture on having noble visions and goals.  The transcript includes slight modifications for the sake of readability and clarity.]

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The topic given to me is about having lofty intentions and a noble vision or goal in your life.  This is a topic that is very important for every single one of us – to have a vision, a plan and aim for something grandiose in this world and the next.  Our Islamic history is full of people who have impacted the ummah even though they didn’t start off thinking they would have the type of impact they did.  I want to mention some of these stories to soften our hearts.

One of the stories that affected me the most personally was the story of one of my teachers at the University of Madinah.  As you know, I studied for ten years at the University of Madinah, and alhamdulillah Allah blessed me with studying with dozens of scholars.  A few of them really stand out.  The most exotic teacher I had was Shaykh Muhammad al-Azami.  I studied with him in my last year of my undergraduate degree.  It was the year that he retired.  He was then 70 years old, which was the mandatory age of retirement.  I was in the last batch to study with him before he retired.  That year he was the dean of the College of Ḥadīth Sciences.

What was really impressive about the shaykh was that he was born into a Hindu family, and he was raised a practicing, fervent, ardent Hindu.  By the time he was retiring from his career, he is the Dean of the Faculty of Ḥadīth of the most prestigious Islamic university.  (Of course Azhar graduates will say Azhar is the most prestigious – this is an internal rivalry we have.  I think it is the most prestigious, and if it isn’t, then it is in the top three).  Without any embellishment, the College of Ḥadīth is very unique in the Islamic world because it is very rare to have an undergraduate degree in ḥadīthḤadīth is one of the most advanced sciences of Islam.  The majority of universities in the world only have ḥadīth in the Masters and PhD – it is a specialization.  Madinah is one of only universities in the world that had an actual faculty of ḥadīth studies at the bachelor’s level.  He was the Dean of the faculty of ḥadīth and he was raised a practicing Hindu.

Alḥamdulillāh  I became very close to him and his private student and have ijazahs from him.  I visited him frequently in his house, and I wanted to hear his life story directly from him.  One day, I said, “Shaykh, I really want to know how did all of this happen?”  The shaykh in his modesty gave a small summarized story, and I’ll add what I know from other sources as well.

The shaykh was born into a Brahman family, which is the elite of the Hindus.  He was raised a practicing and fervent Hindu.  He had been taught to despise Muslims and he never had a Muslim friend.  Brahmans weren’t supposed to touch someone who was not a Brahman.  He was taught to completely separate and isolate himself except in his Brahman caste.  He was accepted in university in India and lo and behold, he was assigned a Muslim roommate.

He didn’t know what to do between hatred, revulsion, and loathing.  He decided to give him da‘wah and convert him to Hinduism.  He decided that he needed to study this man’s religion.  He began reading the Qur’an and then read about the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).  He was fascinated by the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and asked how he could find out about the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and was told to read the books of ḥadīth.  This was in the 1950s in India.  He asked, “What is ḥadīth?”  They told him ḥadīth is what the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said.  He asked for the books, and they said they are all in Arabic.  He asked where he could study Arabic, and they told him that he needed to go abroad and study in university, and in order to do that, he needed to be a Muslim in order to be accepted to study Arabic.  He decided that Islam made a lot of sense, so he accepted Islam so he could go and study Arabic and these ḥadīth.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was told there was a university that had just opened in Madinah.  He was told that he should apply there so that perhaps they would teach him Arabic and he could study ḥadīth.  He applied as a new Muslim convert and was accepted amongst the first batches.  He was the first Hindu convert to be accepted to Madinah.

He studied there and caught the “galaxy of stars” (Shaykh Bin Baaz, Shaykh al-Shinqiti and other big names).  He graduated top of the class.  He went to Shaykh Bin Baaz and said that he wanted to study more.  Shaykh Bin Baaz told him that they were a new university and only had a bachelor’s program, so he would have to go somewhere else to study.  He asked where he could go, and the shaykh said that the only university at the time was al-Azhar University in Egypt.

He went to al-Azhar in the 60s after getting his bachelor’s in Madinah.  He became one of the first graduates of Madinah to get a Master’s and PhD from al-Azhar.  His PhD is called “In Defense of Abu Hurayrah.”  In the 60s they were trying to attack the character of ḥadīth by attacking Abu Hurayrah.  He was such a well-known personality that he was then hired in Madinah to become a professor.   When the process started that you had to be a Saudi to be a professor, the shaykh wrote a personal letter to the king to give him Saudi citizenship.  Shaykh Muhammad got Saudi citizenship.

In 1973/74 they opened up the faculty of ḥadīth, and his PhD was in ḥadīth.  He started as an assistant professor in the college of ḥadīth.  Over the next twenty years, he raised his ranks and was the senior ranking professor in the college of ḥadīth and became the dean.

It was amazing to me how Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) took this man who grew up bowing his head to idols and giving offerings to pagan gods.  He was around 20-22 years old when he embraced Islam.  Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) blessed him to the point he was the dean and only non-Saudi ethnically.  I spent the whole year studying with him and was just flabbergasted that here is a man Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) chose from billions of people and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) guided him throughout his life to end up at one of the most prestigious positions in the entire Muslim world.

There is no such thing as retirement for a Muslim.  The year that he retired, I said, “Shaykh, what is your project now?”  He said, “For the last decade I have had something in my mind.  Alhamdulillah I have time now to do that now that I am retiring.  I want to compile all of the sahih ḥadīth ever written in one big volume.”  If you know anything about ḥadīth, this is a task that is monumental and more difficult than writing an encyclopedia, and one man wants to do this.  I said, “Shaykh, all ḥadīth?”  He said, “All ḥadīth!”  I kept in touch with him.  The year that I left, he had already done four to five thousand, and he said he would double or triple this amount, as much as Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gives him life.  As far as I know, he is still doing this project of compiling upon the condition of Imam al-Bukhari.  Bukhari’s book was not comprehensive.  Bukhari wanted to be succinct and concise.  He never wanted to write an encyclopedia – it is too difficult.  The shaykh’s goal was that now that we have all the books, let’s write an encyclopedia of all sahih aḥadīth upon the conditions of Bukhari.

SubhanAllah, Allah guided this man from Hinduism to now do one of the most ambitious projects that the ummah has ever seen.  This is what you call having high goals.

SubhanAllah, hen Shaykh Muhammad started off, if someone told him as a 20-year old new convert that one day he would be the dean of the faculty of the college of ḥadīth at Madinah and hundreds of scholars would sit at his feet, he would have laughed.  This is what happens when you have persistence, determination and drive, when you don’t set any barriers and when you let Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) take you as far as your himmah (determination) allows you to go.  Slowly but surely, this is exactly what happened.  He is not the only one, by the way.  This is an example I have experienced and witnessed.  In the history of Islam, there are so many.

When you look at the history of Islam, Imam al-Nawawi is a classic example.  He was born to a father who owned a grocery store.  He memorized Qur’an by 9-10 years old.  It is narrated that the earliest record we have of Imam al-Nawawi was when a scholar was passing through the city and he saw a strange sight that he recorded.  He recorded that he saw a young boy the other boys were pulling to play and he was pulling away saying that he needed to go to the study circle.  He asked who the boy was and it was al-Nawawi.  The man said that later on when Imam al-Nawawi became famous, it clicked that this was the boy he had seen.  As a young man, he asked his father if he could study Islam, and his father said he was their only son and couldn’t.  He obeyed them.  He persisted in helping his parents in the shop and continued to study.  His father saw his dedication.  Even behind the counter he would always have a book.  Seeing his drive when he was 19, his father said, “I see how dedicated you are.  Go to Damascus.”  Imam al-Nawawi was born in the small village of Nawa, which didn’t have scholars.  The scholars were in Damascus.  We need to understand that back then, at 19 everyone had graduated and had a career.  Back then they treated young kids as adults, as they should be treated.

Al-Nawawi began at an age when some of his teachers were a two or three years older than him.  His dedication was so much that within 5-6 years, he surpassed all of his teachers.  He died at a young age around 43-44.  Allah blessed his books in a way hardly any books have been blessed.  Some scholars say the most blessed books ever written by man are by al-Nawawi because the acceptance they have amongst the community is unparalleled.  Every Muslim household has the 40 ḥadīth of Nawawi and Riyadh’l-Saaliheen of al-Nawawi.  Over 50 authors wrote 40 ḥadīth, but it was only al-Nawawi’s that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) chose for acceptance.  It goes back to dedication and determination.

Shaykh Ahmed Nuaina is perhaps one of the top scholars of Qur’an and recitation alive today.  He is one of the living legends.  He came to Houston last year and we had time to discuss with him.  His story tells us that when you set your goals and dedicate yourself, Allah will open up doors and you will go places you never thought you would go.

Shaykh Ahmed Nuaina is a pediatrician by training and still a full-time doctor.  He was born in a secular, upper class Egyptian family.  When he was in his late 20s, a himmah came that Allah gave him the desire to memorize the Qur’an.  For many people this is late.  In his local masjid was one of the professors of al-Azhar who teaches Qur’an qira’at and recitation.  He went to the shaykh and told him he wanted to memorize the Qur’an but didn’t have a lot of time because he was a doctor.  The shaykh told him that every day he will have to memorize and perfect two lines of the Qur’an with the condition was that there was no vacation for him.  Every single day he would have to memorize two lines of the Qur’an.  He said, “Only two lines?”  His shaykh was persistent and said, “Not more than two.  You will only do two lines but you will perfect them and do them on a daily basis.”  The shaykh said that he had no choice and began.  He was persistent and punctual.  Every day after maghrib he would sit with the shaykh.  Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) blessed Shaykh Ahmed Nuaina with a voice that is like one of the flutes of David, as the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said when he heard someone reciting.

The shaykh is a full-time pediatrician and this is how he gets his rizq. Slowly but surely doors opened up and people began inviting him.  He perfected Qur’an and memorized all ten qira’at.  He memorized the intonations.  He became a master to the extent that no one knows him as a pediatrician.  The world knows him as one of the top Qur’an scholars.  He didn’t start his life as a Qur’an scholar but had persistence, dedication, and a goal.  I’m sure that if anyone had told the shaykh that one day he would be a world famous scholar, he would have laughed.  He didn’t put any barriers.  He had persistence and let Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) open the doors for him.

SubhanAllah, this is what Islam tells us to do.  Our religion is not a religion that encourages mediocrity.  Allah never wants us to be average.  Allah never tells us to do the minimum and that’s it.  Allah always tells us to strive for perfection and excellence and aim for the very highest.  Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us in the Qur’an in more than four verses:  “race one another to Allah’s maghfirah and Jannah. (Beat everyone else.  Make sure you are the winner.)”.  Allah doesn’t tell us to just cross the finish line.  Allah tells us to be with the best and strive!

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “When you ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for Jannah, don’t just ask for Jannah.  Ask for Jannat’l-Firdaws.  It is the best of Jannah, the highest of Jannah, the middle of Jannah, and under the Throne of Allah.”  [Muslim, narrated by Abu Hurayrah].  Don’t settle for less.  Don’t aim low.  I’ve heard so many Muslims say, “If I just get in, I’ll be happy.”  I agree that if we get in we will be happy, but why are you settling for less?  Why is your aim so law?  If you aim for crawling in, then suppose you fail – where will you be?  If you aim for Firdaws and fail, then where will you be?

The percentage of Muslims who will enter Jannat’l-Firdaws is miniscule.  Allah says in Sūrat’l-Wāqi‘ah:  “Very few people will get there.  Very few of My servants have reached the level of being shakūr.”  The aim and goal of every Muslim should be this even if you don’t get there.  Raise the bar to the highest because if we fail, then inshā’Allāh we are still close.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us in the Qur’an, “Be patient whenever something happens like the elite of the prophets.”  The elite of the prophets are Nuh, Ibrahim, Musa, ‘Isa, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).  Not all of the prophets are of the same level – some are higher than others.  The highest level of prophets are those of strong determination.  Allah tells us, “When you are patient, be patient like the elite of the prophets.”  Is it possible for any of us to be as patient as them?  Allah told Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, leave Hajar and Isma’il in the desert, and circumcise himself at the age of 18.  When Allah tested Ibrahim, Ibrahim did all of them.  Can we reach that level of patience?  Of course not!  But when we aim, we aim for the very highest.  We cannot be as patient as Ibrahim, Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), Musa.  Allah is telling us to aim there and take them as the role model and bar.  Even if we fail, our failure will be a success for 99.99% of the world.  When we set the bar at Firdaws, we may not get there, but even if we don’t, then what is our failure compared to those who set the bar to crawl into Jannah?

We hardly know anything about Rabi’ah b. Ka’b.  He is not one of the elite of the ṣaḥābah. The ṣaḥābah are of levels – the ten promised Jannah, followed by Badr, followed by the Treaty of Hudhaybiyah, followed by the Treaty of ‘Aqabah.  He is a ṣaḥābi but not in any of these elite circles.  One day he said to himself that he should volunteer to be the servant of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

When the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saw him so dedicated, one day the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “O Rabi’ah, ask and I will give you.”  The connotation is very clear that if he wanted a horse, camel, or something else he would get it.  Rabi’ah said, “Ya Rasūlullāh, I want one thing.  I want to be along with you in Jannah.”  The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) has the highest of the high levels in Jannah.  In Firdaws, there is a whole level dedicated to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) called al-wasilah and al-fadilah.  The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Al-wasilah is the highest level of Jannah and dedicated for one person [and in his modesty he said] I hope I am that person.”  Rabi’ah is saying he wants to be with him there.  Obviously he won’t be there because it is dedicated for the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).  He set his goal high.  When you set your goal that high, even if you fail, you will be way higher than anyone else.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was astonished because he was expecting something of the dunya and said, “Anything else?”  He said, “That is all I want, ya Rasūlullāh.”  The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “If that is the case, you need to help me.”  This is a clear indication that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) doesn’t hold the keys of Jannah.  Allah is the One who gives, but he can make shifā’ah.  He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Help me to help you by doing a lot of sajdahs.”  Aim for the very highest and even if you fail, your failure will be a success of millions.

The reality of the ṣaḥābah was that they would race one another for good deeds.  They would monitor each other to see.  We are in the rat race and they were in the Jannah race.  We look at people’s possessions and see what kind of car they drive.  This is what we are monitoring because this is what our race is.  When the ṣaḥābah looked at each other, they noticed how much sunnah they were praying, were they doing dhikr after the ṣalāh, were they fasting.  We have clear examples of this.

In Bukhāri:  the muhājirūn were monitoring what the anṣār were doing and one day came to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) complaining, but this complaint was a praise.  They said, “Ya Rasūlullāh, our brothers of the anṣār are praying as much as we are praying and fasting as much as we are fasting and doing dhikr as much as we are doing dhikr, but they have money and they are able to give to the poor what we cannot give because we don’t have that money.  Will they win?”  This is a complaint lodged in the form of a praise.  They are saying the playing field is not level and the anṣār are getting more reward because they have money.  The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in one ḥadīth told them the hijrah has a great blessing.  In another ḥadīth, he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “smiling in the face of your brother also counts as charity, shaking your brother’s hand is charity…”  He is giving them things they can do to compete with the anṣār that are not monetary.  The point is that they were monitoring each other’s actions of worship.

The Battle of Tabuk was in the 9th year of the hijrah and one of the most difficult and they needed a lot of money.  In the Battle of Tabuk, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was encouraging them to give money.  Everyone was giving charity as much as they could.  Abu Bakr came with his quantity and ‘Umar came with his quantity.  ‘Umar gave first and the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “How much have you left for your family?”  He said, “I have half for Allah and left half for my family.”  Who amongst us can give 50% of his wealth fisabilillāh?  We give 2.5% with great difficulty.  Abu Bakr came and the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “How much did you leave for your family?”  He said, “Ya Rasūlullāh, I left them Allah and His Messenger.”  He gave 100%.  ‘Umar was shocked and said, “Khalās, Abu Bakr, you won and I lost.  I will not compete with you again.”  The point is the mentality they had.  They monitored and saw what people were doing and making sure they were not left behind.  The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is telling us to raise the bar.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Be greedy for that which will benefit you.”  [Muslim]  Be eager to get that which will benefit you.  Have a vision and plan.  Don’t settle for being average.  Aim for the highest and keep on striving.  Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows what is going to happen.  The Qur’an always divides the people of Jannah into more categories than the people of Hell.  In Sūrat’l-Wāqi‘ahi, there are the ṣābiqūn and aṣḥab’l-yamīn entering JannahAṣḥab’lshimāl enter Jahannam.  Allah tells us that Jannah has all these levels even though the number of people entering Jannah will be less than the people entering Jahannam.  He wants to emphasize that there are levels.

Sūrat’l-Raḥmān:  There are two levels of Jannah that are being described.  The first of the levels is higher than the second.  Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) finishes that series by saying, “That is the higher level.  Lesser than this are two other Jannahs.”  When Allah describes the people of the fire of Hell, He groups them together.  The people of Jannah are given more detail because the emphasis is to get the highest.

Allah says, “You want to have a race?  Have a race in this.  If you really want to win, you should win in this.”   Everything else is a waste of time.  The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) tells us to be proactive and always have a vision and motivation and a plan.  In Musnad of Imam Ahmad, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “If one of you has a sapling that he is putting in the ground and you hear the trumpet of the Day of Judgment, and if you are able to plant the sapling before the horn is blown, then plant it.”  This ḥadīth is profound.  There will be no Muslims who hear the trumpet being blown.  The ḥadīth is not meant for actual implementation.  The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “The trumpet will be blown amongst the worst of mankind.”  Allah will send a beautiful scented wind and everyone who has an ounce of īmān will die a peaceful death and only those with no īmān will remain and the Qur’an will be lifted up.  Allah will be forgotten on earth.  Fāhishah will take place in public.  This is a theoretical ḥadīth – no Muslim will have a seedling at that time.  The point is that if you are able to do something of benefit and value, then go ahead and do it and don’t delay and don’t procrastinate even if you won’t see the fruits of it.  This is a motivational ḥadīth.  Have a vision and plan and be proactive.  Always do something.

The bottom line is:  every one of us has to have some type of vision.  Let it be grandiose!  How many of us know people who have memorized the Qur’an at the age of 50 or 60?  How many of us know people who change their careers later?  Where there is a will, there is a way.  Our religion tells us to aim for the very highest.

For those who are young, alhamdulillah now is the time to have long visions and think about the future. Do you want to settle for mediocrity and be average?  Look at the ummah and the names known in the ummah.  The bulk of the ummah’s names are not known.  The legacies of Bukhāri, Ibn Hajar, and others have lived on forever.

We need to think about what legacy we will be leaving and what we will be accomplishing with the life Allah has given us.

I want to conclude by mentioning five practical points on how we can have a plan and motivation:

 Five Practical Points

1. Understand the blessings of leaving a positive legacy and being productive and proactive.

This is the blessing of knowledge.   You need to know your religion and the blessings of knowing and practicing your religion.

People want to be doctors to live a comfortable life.  The person has it in his mind that he wants to live a good life and he has the knowledge of what he wants to do with the knowledge and it drives him.

Have knowledge of the blessings of Islamic knowledge.  What is the benefit of being a practicing Muslim?  This will automatically motivate us.  The reason we are motivated by secular studies is seeing the cars and fancy houses.  We are constantly bombarded with materialism and fed a constant stream of motivation.  There are television shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.  The people on magazine covers are the role models society is giving you.  Society is forcing you to look up to people with no akhlāq and no manners and nothing of good in this world and the next.

Take as your role models Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Nawawi, Ibn Hazm.  Ibn Hazm started studying Islam at the age of 30.  Allah took him to heights.

Change your paradigm and start studying Islamic knowledge.

2. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) told us, “Always look at those above you for the deen and those below you for the dunya.” [Bukhari]

Look at those above you when it comes to religion.  This will put you in your place.  Honestly ask yourself:  most of us have it the exact opposite.  When someone does something wrong (not waking up for fajr, etc.), then Shaytan tells you “at least you aren’t drinking.”  This is childish.  Look at those better than you and try to be like them.

When it comes to this world, look at those who don’t have three meals to eat and those who don’t have pure water to drink.  Look at those less than you when it comes to the dunya.

Change your whole paradigm and you will automatically be motivated.

3.  The proper companions. 

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “A man follows the religion of his friends.”  If your friends only talk about Bollywood and Hollywood and sports, then how far will you go in life?  Examine who your friends are and who you like socializing with.  If people are pulling you back, then go find another group of friends.

A classical example of this is Ibn Abbas, the cousin of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).  Ibn Abbas is known as the erudite scholar of the ummah.  When the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) died, he was barely a teenager.  He was not a big name in the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).  Ibn Abbas said, “When I was a young man when the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) died, I said to my playmate, ‘Come, let us go seek knowledge from the great ṣaḥābah  while they are still alive.’  My friend scoffed at me and said, ‘Who do you think you are?  A 13-year old kid?  Do you think anyone will come to you for knowledge when we have great scholars?’  I left him.”

The naysayers are too many.  Wallāhi, brothers and sisters, the easier job in the world is an armchair critic.  Look at what people do in basketball matches:  they sit back and say, “I could have done that better than you!”

When people are pulling you back, cut them off and move on.  Ibn Abbas would sit outside the doors of the great ṣaḥābah until they came out.  Because he showed honor to knowledge and the people of knowledge, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave him honor amongst the people.  He sat outside the door of Zayd b. Thābit, and when he came out he said, “O cousin of the Prophet, what are you doing?  Come inside!”  The older generation died and Ibn Abbas became one of the most legendary of scholars of the ṣaḥābah.  Had he listened to his friend, where would we be?

4. Always think of your legacy and your ultimate death. 

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded us, “Think frequently of that which destroys all pleasures (death).”  It is sunnah and not morbid curiosity.  It is a motivation.  Think about death means “SubḥānAllāh, one day I won’t be here so I better make sure I do something.”  The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is telling us to frequently think about death.

Think about:  What will I be doing?  What have I accomplished so far?  Only Allah knows how much time is left.  What have I done in this time?  Think about the legacy you will leave behind.  For some it will be a public legacy and for others it will be private (children, a small endowment, building a masjid).   It doesn’t have to be grandiose in the eyes of the public.  It should be grandiose in the eyes of Allah.  The more you think about the ākhirah, automatically your ambitions and goals will be higher.

A famous scholar of the past said, “I am amazed at mankind (or a group of people).  Every day they live, they want to decorate their houses even more even though every day they live they have one day less to live in those houses.  Every day they live, they have no concern how their house in Jannah looks and every day they live they are coming closer to that house.”

One of my shaykh’s said there is no such thing as a vacation because time is limited.  Someone at that level cannot understand just doing nothing because time is limited. This is a level to get to.  It is ḥalāl to go on a vacation – don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.

5. Du‘ā’ and sincerity to Allah.

Always ask Allah to bless you in this world and the next, to bless you in your progeny and children.  The prophets made du‘ā’:  “Make me mubārak (blessed).”  Mubārak means that you will be beneficial wherever you go.  Wherever you go, good will be felt.  You want to be mubārak wherever you go.  We should have this in mind.  Make du‘ā’ for Jannah and Jannat’l-Firdaws and a legacy in this world and the next.

If you want to see who you are, then think about what du‘ā’s you are making to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).  Your du‘ā’s will betray you to yourself.  Allah tells us in the Qur’an, “There are many who only ask for this dunya.”  If the only time you ask Allah is to pass an exam or to cure a sick relative and fix a problem in this world and you never ask for hidāyah and you never ask for being guided to the straight path, then it betrays your lack of vision.  Our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) outside of ṣalāh would ask Allah to guide him to the straight path.  Make du‘ā’ for Jannah.  These are du‘ā’s that reflect our mentality.

Conclusion

I want to end with a reminder one of our shaykhs gave.  Ḥadīth in Sunan Abu Dawud:  The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “After every 100 years, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will send a mujaddid who will revive this religion.”  Many people misunderstand.  Yujaddid means to polish and clean and make it shiny as it used to be.  Yujaddid doesn’t meant to change.  It means to go back to the original.  He is going to revive the ummah.

Some people say we shouldn’t understand this to be only one person but a group of people.  Other people say in the whole world it is one person.  The difference is trivial in that it is one person in a community or nation versus one person in an ummah.  It is very few people, and if not one person, then five or ten people.  Allah will preserve this religion by sending forth a mujaddid.

The shaykh paused and looked at us and said, “What is the one question everyone thinks about when they read this ḥadīth?”  They said, “Who is the mujaddid of our times?”  The shaykh said, “That is your problem!  That is your mistake!  Why did you automatically assume that somebody else would be the mujaddid and why didn’t you ask Allah to make you the mujaddid?  You have already sold yourself short and lowered the bar.”  I’ll never forget this – nobody amongst us was thinking along those lines.  Maybe you won’t be the mujaddid but suppose you make du‘ā’ to Allah and strove to be the person, if you fail, you may have changed the course of Islamic history by reviving an entire nation.  You might not be the mujaddid, but you may be one level beneath him.  That failure is the best success for your entire legacy. 

Do you see my point here?  You shortchanged yourself.  Why didn’t you automatically say, “O Allah, make me that mujaddid”?  Someone is going to be the mujaddid, so why can’t you aim for that?  Why can’t we aim for the highest and strive for it as much as we can?   When you set your goals extra high, a failure in that goal could be a success in this world and the next.

Our religion tells us to aim for the best and aim for excellence and set your vision at the highest possible and leave the rest to Allah.  For those who don’t make it, be in the race.  If you sit on the sidelines, you are not going to be in the race.  If you are in the race, at least you will pass the finish line and be with the people in the race.  If you are on the sidelines, then you have lost it.

Get in with the crowd and go and do what you can.  Who knows!  Look at all of these people mentioned – Shaykh al-Azami and Shaykh Nuaina – Allah opened doors for people and Allah blessed them for the whole ummah.

Brothers and sisters, I conclude by saying don’t trivialize your role.  Don’t aim for mediocrity.  Don’t want to be like the rest.  The rest are nothing.  Look at how many billions have come and gone.  Don’t become another statistic.  Think about what you can do for Allah and for this dunya as well.  Aim high and have a legacy and be motivated and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will open up the doors.  Put your trust in Allah.

We ask that Allah blesses us in all that we do, that He overlooks our shortcomings and allows us to reach the heights of every single endeavor, that He forgives us our sins and mistakes.  We ask Allah to raise us as Muslims and cause us to live as Muslims and die as Muslims and to be resurrected amongst the ranks of the nabiyyīn, ṣiddiqīn, shuhadā’ and ṣāliḥīn.

Sh. Dr. Yasir Qadhi is someone that believes that one's life should be judged by more than just academic degrees and scholastic accomplishments. Friends and foe alike acknowledge that one of his main weaknesses is ice-cream, which he seems to enjoy with a rather sinister passion. The highlight of his day is twirling his little girl (a.k.a. "my little princess") round and round in the air and watching her squeal with joy. A few tid-bits from his mundane life: Sh. Yasir has a Bachelors in Hadith and a Masters in Theology from Islamic University of Madinah, and a PhD in Islamic Studies from Yale University. He is an instructor and Dean of Academic Affairs at AlMaghrib, and the Resident Scholar of the Memphis Islamic Center.

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Avatar

    H Ansari

    July 6, 2012 at 7:15 AM

    Jazakallahu khair Shaykh Yasir for this lesson. I have a question about your teacher Shaykh al-Azami – is this the same person as the author of the book on the history of the Qur’anic text and its compilation? And the refutation of Schacht’s critiques on hadith?

    • Avatar

      Mehdi Hasan Sheikh

      July 6, 2012 at 4:29 PM

      Yes. He is one and the same. I wish there was a much more detailed biography of this Muhaddith. I knew he was indian but that he used to be a Hindu! Wow!

      Here is an interview of him in Arabic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1e9TwCTZieA

      • Avatar

        SQ

        July 6, 2012 at 5:28 PM

        Salaam Br. Mehdi

        It seems be at odd with the Shaykh’s official bio:

        Muhammad Mustafa Al-Azami, one of the world’s premier scholars of Hadith, was born in Mau, India in the early 1930s and received his education successively at Dar al-Ulum Deoband, India (1952), al-Azhar University, Cairo (M.A., 1955), and University of Cambridge (Ph.D., 1966). He is Professor Emeritus at King Sa’ud University (Riyadh) where he also chaired the department of Islamic Studies; he holds a Saudi citizenship. Al-Azami served as curator of the National Public Library, Qatar; Associate Professor at Umm al-Qura University (Makkah); Visiting Scholar at University of Michigan (Ann Arbor); Visiting Fellow at St. Cross College (University of Oxford); King Faisal Visiting Professor for Islamic Studies at Princeton; and Visiting Scholar at University of Colorado (Boulder). He is also an Honorary Professor at University of Wales (Lampeter). His publications include Studies in Early Hadith Literature, Hadith Methodology and Literature, On Schacht’s Origins of Muahmmadan Jurisprudence, Dirasat fi al-Hadith an-Nabawi, Kuttab an-Nabi, Manhaj an-Naqd ‘ind al-Muhaddithin, and al-Muhaddithun min al-Yamamah. Among his credited works are al-Ilal of Ibn al-Madini, Kitab at-Tamyiz of Imam Muslim, Maghazi Rasulullah of Urwah ibn Zubayr, Muwatta Imam Malik, Sahih ibn Khuzaimah, and Sunan ibn Majah. Many of al-Azami’s works have been translated internationally, and his forthcoming works include The Qur’anic Challenge: A Promise Fulfilled, and The Isnad System: Its Origins and Authenticity. In 1980 he was the recipient of the prestigious King Faisal International Award for Islamic Studies.

        • Avatar

          The Mad Monk

          July 7, 2012 at 8:52 PM

          “Official” according to who? I think I’d trust our Br. Yasir who met him face to face before I take from Wikipedia. I wouldn’t be surprised if the wikipedia article was edited by someone with strong Deobandi leanings.

          • Avatar

            Hassan

            July 8, 2012 at 11:17 AM

            Why would they do that? He may have gone their for short time before going to Madinah. Why Madinah university is missing from wikipedia is surprising

          • Avatar

            Adil

            July 9, 2012 at 9:48 AM

            Two different scholars

          • Avatar

            Mw_m

            July 8, 2012 at 9:39 PM

            Wow bro, calm down. I do think this is another person though, Sh. Yasir mentions him in his series on usul al-hadith and then mentions his Sh. Azami and says “not the same one”

          • Avatar

            Hassan

            July 9, 2012 at 6:35 PM

            The similarities are striking then, same name, converts, went to same universities except one went to Madinah and one to Deoband

          • Avatar

            ashrafh

            June 16, 2013 at 4:02 PM

            This guy madmonk is so blinded by his anti-deobandi negativity that he fails to realize that most of the greatest hadith scholars of this past century such as Allamahs Anwar Shah Kashmiri, Yusuf Banuri, Shabbir Ahmad Uthmani, etc. have been from Deoband. And Shaykh Mustafa al-A’zami is clearly Deobandi as well, and even we Arabs recognize his greatness as well as the other muhaddithin I mentioned above. Just read what Shaykh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah wrote about them.

      • Avatar

        MZH

        September 28, 2015 at 5:09 PM

        Clearly, we have two scholars with the same last name … see the biography at http://kfip.org/professor-mohamad-mustafa-al-aazami/

    • Avatar

      Aqil Mohammad Mustafa Al-Azami

      July 18, 2012 at 2:09 PM

      Salam Alaikum,
      No, they are two different persons. The one who wrote “History of the Qur’anic Text”, “On Schacht’s Origins of Mohammadan Jurisprudence”, “Studies in Early Hadith Literature” … etc is Mohammad Mustafa Al-Azami, who happen to be my father. You can see his biography in “History of the Qur’anic Text”. The other person which Br Yasir mentioned, Sheikh M. Al-Azami was a former student of my father when he was teaching in Mekkah in College of Sharia, later Umm Al-Qura Univ. (during late 60s and early 70s). If there are any questions pls feel free to contact me at aazmi@yahoo.com

      • Avatar

        Taha

        January 1, 2014 at 11:12 PM

        Salam Alaykum. When is your father’s book on the Qur’anic challenge coming out bro?

    • Avatar

      Aqil Al-Azami

      July 18, 2012 at 3:52 PM

      A follow up note to my last posting. The full name of Sheikh M. Al-Azami (who is in Medinah) is: Mohammad Dia-ur-Rahman Al-Azami.

  2. Avatar

    badmash

    July 6, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    Jazakallahu khair Shaykh..

  3. Avatar

    fezz

    July 8, 2012 at 7:12 AM

    Did Sheikh Albani not collect a similar mega-Sahih collection?

  4. Avatar

    Rayan

    July 8, 2012 at 8:24 PM

    Salaam,
    I really like this article, it’s filled with a lot of great examples that anyone can benefit from. As a woman though, I would have really loved to hear some examples of both past and modern day women who have taken the lead in the race to the reward in the akhira. I would love to hear more about women in standard topics, not just the topics that are titled “women’s issues.” Overall, it was a very moving article MashaAllah.

  5. Avatar

    Rayan

    July 8, 2012 at 8:25 PM

    Salaam, I really like this article, it’s filled with a lot of great examples that anyone can benefit from. As a woman though, I would have really loved to hear some examples of both past and modern day women who have taken the lead in the race to the reward in the akhira. I would love to hear more about women in standard topics, not just the topics that are titled “women’s issues.” Overall, it was a very moving article MashaAllah.

    • Avatar

      jadea

      July 26, 2012 at 12:17 PM

      loved this article as well, and I have to agree with you. As a mother and wife, reading this I was thinking to myself how can a mother and wife complete these goals. I would’ve like to see some realistic examples for women.

  6. Avatar

    Rubaiyat Yameen

    July 11, 2012 at 3:14 AM

    Assalaamualaykum,

    @facebook-594171812:disqus: Jazakumullah khair for the Arabic Interview. I have been trying to find information about the Shaykh for some time now.

    They are quite clearly two different people. Shaykh Dr. Muhammad Mustafa al-A’zami (hafizahullah) was born to Muslim parents. His father was an Alim himself. Here’s an English interview of the Shaykh: http://www.lastprophet.info/the-intellectual-journey-of-a-hadith-scholar-mustafa-al-a-zami

    You don’t have to trust Wikipedia. Here is a picture of the bio page of his own book, The History of the Quranic Text (second edition):

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/g8qiw6afde56a14/2012-07-11%2002.37.37.jpg

    Shaykh Yasir Qadhi is clearly speaking of a different Shaykh.

    May Allah jalle jalaluhu preserve all our scholars and give them and us greater closeness and love for Him and His blessed Prophet sallallahu alaihe wa sallam. Ameen.

    Request for duas.

    • Avatar

      Mehdi Hasan Sheikh

      July 11, 2012 at 11:36 AM

      Maybe Br. Yasir can clear it up. The coincidences in the two people seem too great.

    • Avatar

      H Ansari

      July 11, 2012 at 11:50 PM

      Wa’alaikum ussalam warahmatullah

      This is what I was looking for – jazakallahu khair!

  7. Avatar

    birkah.wordpress.com

    July 13, 2012 at 6:15 AM

    JKhair for the lecture. Mash’Allah very motivational.

    Another way of organizing the tips:
    1. A sincere WANT (here the blessings of positive legacy… importance of intention…)
    2. Duaa.
    3. Action (make the effort, be in the right company…)
    4. Tawakul
    5. Misc (always think of your legacy, look to those above you)…

    JKhair.

  8. Avatar

    Umm Sulaim

    July 24, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    A marvellous article.

    JazakumuLlah khayra to Sameerah for transcribing the lecture
    and to Yasir.

    I recall a discussion in which I stated that every Muslim
    should strive for the qualities of leadership instead of waiting on someone
    else. My words did not go well. The effect is that much of the Ummah is without
    a meaningful direction.

    Umm Sulaim

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#Islam

The Spirituality Of Gratitude

Shaykh Tarik Ata

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Gratitude

The Quran tells the reader of the importance of gratitude in two ways. First, worship, which is the essence of the relationship between man and the Creator, is conditional to gratitude “and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship” (2:172). The verse suggests that in order for an individual to truly worship Allah then they must express gratitude to Allah and that an ungrateful individual cannot be a worshiper of Allah. The second verse states the following “And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me” (2:152). The Arabic word used, translated here as ‘deny,’ is kufr which linguistically means to cover up. The word was adopted by the Quran to refer to someone who rejects Allah after learning of Him. Both the linguistic and Quranic definitions are possibly meant in this verse and both arrive at the same conclusion. That is, the absence of gratitude is an indicator of one’s rejection of Allah; the question is how and why?

What Does Shukr Mean?

Understanding a Quranic concept begins with understanding the word chosen by the Quran. The word shukr is used throughout the Quran and is commonly translated as gratitude. From a purely linguistic definition, shukr is “the effect food has on the body of an animal” (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 200). What is meant here is that when an animal eats food it becomes heavier which has a clear and visible effect on the animal. Therefore, shukr is the manifestation of a blessing or blessings on the entirety of a person. From here, spiritualists understood the goal of shukr and added an extra element to the definition and that is the acknowledgment that those blessings are from Allah. Thus, the definition of shukr as an Islamic spiritual concept is “the manifestation of Allah’s blessings verbally through praise and acknowledgment; emotionally on the heart through witnessing the blessings and loving Allah; and physically through submission and servitude” (Ibid).

Based on this definition, the goal of shukr can be broken into five categories. First, gratitude that brings about the submission of the individual to his benefactor. In order for an act to be worthy of gratitude, the beneficiary must conclude that the benefactor’s action was done for the sake of the beneficiary – thus making the benefactor benevolent. In other words, the benefactor is not benefiting in the least (Emmons et al 2004 p. 62). When the individual recognizes his benefactor, Allah, as being completely independent of the individual and perfect in of himself, one concludes that the actions of the benefactor are purely in the best interest of the beneficiary resulting in the building of trust in Allah. The Quran utilizes this point multiple times explicitly stating that Allah has nothing to gain from the creations servitude nor does he lose anything from because of their disobedience (Q 2:255, 4:133, 35:15, 47:38). Through shukr, a person’s spirituality increases by recognizing Allah’s perfection and their own imperfection thus building the feeling of need for Allah and trust in him (Emmons et al 2002 p. 463).

Gratitude in Knowing That Allah Loves Us

The second category is love for the benefactor. Similar to the previous category, by identifying the motive of the benefactor one can better appreciate their favors. “Gratitude is fundamentally a moral affect with empathy at its foundation: In order to acknowledge the cost of the gift, the recipient must identity with the psychological state of the one who has provided it” (Emmons 2002 p. 461).[1] That is, by recognizing Allah’s perfection one concludes that his blessings are entirely in the best interest of the beneficiary despite not bringing any return to Him. Thus, the Quran utilizes this concept repeatedly and to list a few, the Quran reminds the human reader that he created the human species directly with his two hands (38:75), he created them in the best physical and mental form (95:4), gave him nobility (17:70), commanded the angels to prostrate to him out of reverence (38:72-3), made him unique by giving him knowledge and language (2:31), exiled Satan who refused to revere him (7:13), allowed him into Paradise (7:19), forgave his mistake (2:37), designated angels to protect each individual (13:11) and supplicate Allah to forgive the believers (40:7-9), created an entire world that caters to his needs (2:29), among plenty of other blessings which express Allah’s love, care, and compassion of the human.

The remaining three categories revolve around the individual acting upon their gratitude by acknowledging them, praising Allah for them and using them in a manner acceptable to Allah. In order for gratitude to play a role in spirituality the blessings one enjoys must be utilized in a manner that connects them with Allah. Initially, one must acknowledge that all blessings are from him thus establishing a connection between the self and Allah. This is then elevated to where the individual views these blessings as more than inanimate objects but entities that serve a purpose. By doing this one begins to see and appreciate the wisdoms behind these created entities enlightening the individual to the Creators abilities and qualities. Finally, after recognizing the general and specific wisdoms behind each creation, one feels a greater sense of purpose, responsibility, and loyalty. That is, engaging the previous five categories establishes love for the benefactor (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 203). Observing the care and compassion of the benefactor for his creation establishes the feeling of loyalty towards the one who has cared for us as well as responsibility since He created everything with purpose.

Blessings Even in Hardship

One may interject by referring to the many individuals and societies that are plagued with hardships and do not have blessings to appreciate. No doubt this is a reality and the Quran address this indirectly. Upon analysis, one finds that the blessings which the Quran references and encourages the reader to appreciate are not wealth or health; rather, it is the sun, the moon, trees, and the natural world in general. Perhaps the reason for this is what shukr seeks to drive us towards. There are two things all these objects have in common (1) they are gifts given by Allah to all humans and all individuals enjoy them and (2) humans are dependent upon them. Everyone has access to the sun, no one can take it away, and we are critically dependent upon it. When the Quran draws our attention to these blessings, the reader should begin to appreciate the natural world at a different level and Surah an Nahl does precisely that. This chapter was likely revealed during the time of hijrah (immigration); a time when the companions lost everything – their homes, wealth, and tribes. The chapter works to counsel them by teaching them that the true blessings a person enjoys is all around them and no matter how much was taken from them, no one can take away the greater blessings of Allah.

In sum, these verses bring light to the crucial role shukr plays in faith. It serves as a means to better know Allah which can be achieved through a series of phases. First, the individual must search for the blessings which then leads to a shift in perspective from focusing on the wants to focusing on what is available. This leads to greater appreciation and recognition of the positives in one’s life allowing the person more optimism. Second, the person must link those blessings to the benefactor – Allah – which reveals many elements of who He is and His concern for His creation. Once this is internalized in the person’s hearts, its benefits begin to manifest itself on the person’s heart, mind, and body; it manifests itself in the form of love for Allah and submission to him. Shukr ultimately reveals the extent of Allah’s love and concern for the individual which therein strengthens the trust and love of the individual for Allah and ultimately their submission to Him.

Allah knows best.

Emmons, Robert A., and Charles M. Shelton. “Gratitude and the science of positive psychology.” Handbook of positive psychology 18 (2002): 459-471.

Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough, eds. The psychology of gratitude. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. madārij al-sālikīn bayn manāzil iyyāka naʿbud wa iyyāka nastaʿīn مدارج السالكين بين منازل إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين [The Levels of Spirituality between the Dynamics of “It is You Alone we Worship and it is You Alone we Seek Help From]. Cario: Hadith Publications, 2005.

[1] Islamically speaking, it is not befitting to claim that Allah has a psyche or that he can be analyzed psychologically.

Download a longer version of this article here: The Sprituality of Gratitude

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When Faith Hurts: Do Good Deeds = Good Life?

Loving Allah and trusting the Wisdom and Purpose in everything He throws your way- even if it hurts. It is a time to learn.

Zeba Khan

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hurts, hardship. Allah, test, why Allah is testing me

The Messenger of Allahṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said that the faith in our hearts wears out the way our clothes wear out. Deterioration, maintenance, and renewal are part of the cycle.  That’s life with all that hurts. That’s normal.

But what happens when that’s life, but life is not your normal? What happens when it feels like life isn’t normal, hasn’t been normal, and won’t be normal for a foreseeably long time?  For some of us, refreshing faith becomes secondary to just keeping it.

It’s easier to say Alhamdulillah when you are happy. It’s harder when you’re not. That’s human nature though. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with what we teach about faith that can leave us unprepared for when Allah tests it. I believe that our discussions about faith tend to be overly simplistic. They revolve around a few basic concepts, and are more or less summed up with:

Faith = Happiness

Righteousness = Ease

Prayer = Problem Solved

Good Deeds Equals Good Life?

Basically, the TLDR is Good Deeds = The Good Life. None of these statements are technically untrue. The sweetness of faith is a joy that is beyond any other gratitude, for any other thing in this world. Righteousness in the sight of Allah will put you on the path to the good life in the afterlife. Making dua can be the solution to your problems. But when we say these things to people who have true faith but not happiness, or righteous behavior yet distressing hardship, we’re kind of implying that that either Islam is broken (because their prayers seem unanswered), or they are broken (because their prayers are undeserving of answers.) And neither of those is true either.

Allow me to elaborate. I think it’s safe to say that there is not a single parent who has not begged Allah to make their sick or disabled child well again. Yet, our Ummah still has sick and disabled children. Through history, people have begged Allah for a loved one’s life, and then buried them – so is prayer not equal to problem solved?

Many righteous people stand up, and are then ostracized for their faith. Many people speak truth in the face of a tyrant only to be punished for it. Many of us live with complete conviction, with unshakeable belief in the existence and wisdom and mercy of Allah, and still find ourselves unhappy and afraid of what He has willed for us.

Are We Broken?

No, but our spiritual education is. In order to fix it, we have to be upfront with each other. We have to admit that we can be happy with Allah and still find ourselves devastated by the tests He puts before us, because faith is not a protection from struggle.

Has anyone ever said this to you? Have you ever said this to anyone else?

No one ever told me. It was hard for me to learn that lesson on my own, when I pleaded with Allah to make my son’s autism go away, and it didn’t. Everyone told me –Make dua! The prayer of a mother for her child is special! Allah will never turn you down!

It was hard trying to make sense of what seemed like conflicting messages- that Allah knows best, but a mother’s prayer is always answered. It was even harder facing people who tried to reassure me of that, even when it obviously wasn’t working.

“Just make dua! Allah will respond!”

I’m sure people mean well. But it’s hard not to be offended. Either they assume I have never bothered to pray for my son, or they imply that there must be good reason why Allah’s not granting to my prayers. What they don’t consider is that allowing my test to persist – even if I don’t want it to- is also a valid response from Allah.

I have been told to think back in my life, and try to determine what sin caused my child’s disability, as if the only reason why Allah wouldn’t give me what I asked for was because I was so bad I didn’t deserve it. As if good deeds equaled the good life, and if my life wasn’t good, it’s because I hadn’t been good either.

Bad Things Happen to Good People

You can assume whatever you like about my character, but bad things do happen to good people, even when they pray. You can try your hardest and still fall short. You can pray your whole life for something that will never come to you. And strength of faith in that circumstance doesn’t mean living in a state of unfulfilled hope, it means accepting the wisdom in the test that Allah has decreed for you.

That’s a bit uncomfortable, isn’t it.  When we talk about prayer and hope, we prefer to talk about Zakariyyah 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) – who begged Allah for a child and was gifted with one long after anyone thought it even possible. But we also need to talk about Abu Talib.

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was raised by his uncle Abu Talib, and in his mission to preach Islam he was protected by Abu Talib.  But Abu Talib died without accepting Islam, was there something wrong with the Prophet, that Allah did not give him what he asked for? Was he not good enough? Did he not pray hard enough? Astaghfirullah, no. So if Prophets of God can ask for things and still not get them, why are we assuming otherwise for ourselves?

Making a Bargain with Allah

If we can understand that faith is not a contract for which we trade prayers for services, then maybe we can cope better when fate cannot be bargained with. Maybe it won’t have to hurt so bad – on spiritual level – when Allah withholds what we ask for, even when we asked for the “right” things in the right way and at all the right times.

Life is not simple. Faith is not simple. The will of Allah is not simple, no matter how much we want it to be, and when oversimplify it, we create a Muslim version of Prosperity Gospel without meaning to.

If you’ve never heard of it, prosperity gospel is a religious belief among some Christians that health and wealth and success are the will of God, and therefore faith, good deeds and charity increase one’s wellbeing. Have faith, and God will reward you in this life and the next. That’s nice. But it’s too simple. Because the belief that Good Deeds = The Good Life doesn’t explain how Ibraheem 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)’s father tried to have him burnt alive.

Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)’s brothers left him for dead in the bottom of a well. He grew up a slave and spent years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Aasiya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) – the wife of the Pharoah – one of the four best women in the history of womankind – died from her husband’s torture.

Good people are not guaranteed good lives. Islam is what we need, not a system of practices that we use to fulfill our needs.

When we limit our understanding of faith to a simplistic, almost contractual relationship with Allah, then we can’t even explain the things that Allah Tested His own prophets with.

Nor can we understand, or even begin to cope with- what He Tests the rest of us with either. We have to be real in our talk about faith, because otherwise we set each other up for unrealistic expectations and lack of preparation for when we face hardship. Faith is not protection from hardship. Faith is part of hardship. And hardship is part of faith.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) asks us in the opening of Surah ‘Ankabut,

Do people think once they say, “We believe,” that they will be left without being put to the test? We certainly tested those before them. And ˹in this way˺ Allah will clearly distinguish between those who are truthful and those who are liars.

Allah says in Surah Baqarah, ayah 155: “And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of the fruits of your labor. But give glad tidings to those who are patient in adversity.

tests, hurts, faith , hardship

Allah Tests Everyone Differently

Allah tests each of us differently, but in every single case – every single time – a test is an invitation to success. Hardship is the process through which we prove ourselves. Experiencing it– and then drawing closer to Allah through it –is how faith is tested as well as strengthened.

If we can change how we perceive hardship, then we can also change how we perceive each other. On our cultural subconscious, we still see worldly failure as being equivalent to spiritual failure. So when we see people who are homeless, we assume fault. When we see people facing depression or divorce, we assume fault. We even look at refugees and victims and special needs children and we look for fault. Because if it’s that bad then it’s has to be someone’s fault, right?

Fault is how we place blame. Blame is how we know whose mistake it is. But the will of Allah is never a mistake, it’s a test.  Instead of faulting each other for what Allah tests us with, we could respect each other for the struggles we all endure. We could see each other with more compassion for our challenges, and less aversion when Allah tests us with dealing each other.

So when you’ve done things the right way, but the right things aren’t happening. Or you’ve been charitable to others, and they’re being evil towards you. Or you’ve earned only halal, but haram- it’s been taken away from you, remember this- your faith is being tested. Allah tests those that He loves. When He raises the difficulty level, Allah is extending a direct invitation for you to climb higher.

So How Do We Succeed When Faced With Failure?

The first thing to do is redefine failure. There is only one true failure in this life, and that is dying on the wrong side of Siraat ul Mustaqeem, because if close your eyes and wake up in Jahannam, no success in this life can compensate for that.

I find that helpful to remember, when I fail to stay fit because I can’t exercise without hurting myself, when I fail to fast in Ramadan because it’s dangerous for me to do so- when I fail to discover a cure for my family’s personal assortment of medical issues through rigorous internet “research,” none of that is my failure either. And I can feel a lot of different ways about these situations, but I do not feel guilty- because it’s not my fault. And I do not feel bitter, because my test is my honor. Even when I do feel scared.

Being scared in not a failure either. Neither is being unemployed. Being unmarried is not a failure. Being childless is not a failure. Being divorced is not a failure. Nothing unpleasant or miserable or unexpected is a failure. It’s all just a test, and seeing it as a test means you have the state of mind to look for the correct answers.

Not even sin is failure, because as long as you are alive, your sin stands as an invitation to forgiveness. The bigger the sin, the greater the blessings of repenting from it.  Everything that goes bad is the opening of the door for good. A major sin can be the first step on a journey that starts with repentance and moves you closer to Allah every day thereafter. Sin only becomes failure when it takes you farther away from Allah, rather than closer to him.

Jahannam is the Only Failure

Addiction is not a failure. Depression is not a failure. Poverty is not a failure. Jahannam is the only failure. Everything else is a gap in expectations.

You assumed you would have something, but it’s not written for you. You assumed you’d ask Allah for something and He’d give it to you, but what is that assumption based on again? That good deeds are the guarantee to the good life, and that prayer equals problem solved?

Allah has all the knowledge, Allah has the wisdom, Allah is the best of Planners – how are you assuming that your wishes supersede His will? Even when you put your wishes in the form of a prayer?

They don’t. It is absolutely true that Allah may choose to rewrite Qadr itself based on your prayers – but that’s still His choice. Allah has always, and will always be in control of this world. And that means your world too. If you still think you’re in control, you will find it really, really hard to cope the first time you realize you’re not.

When we understand that we don’t get to control what happens and what doesn’t, we can then release ourselves from the misplaced guilt of things going wrong.  Lots of special needs parents struggle with guilt. I meet them often – and every single parent has asked the question- directly or indirectly-

What did I do for my child to deserve this?

Can you hear the presumption in there? That the parents were good, so why did something bad happen? They were expecting for good deeds to equal the good life.

There’s a second presumption in there too, that their life choices were a determining factor of what happened to their child. That is a presumption of control. And as long as you try to hold on to that presumption of control, there is the constant feeling of failure when it just doesn’t work the way you think it will.

I am not proposing that we lose hope in Allah and despair of His Mercy. I am in no way insinuating that Allah doesn’t hear every prayer, hasn’t counted every tear, and isn’t intimately aware of your pain and your challenges. Allah hears your prayers, and in His wisdom, sometimes he grants us exactly what we want. In His Wisdom, sometimes he grants us exactly what we need.

Even if we don’t see it.

Even if it scares us.

Even if it hurts us – because Allah has promised that He will never, ever break us.

hurts, hardship, special needs

Allah Tests Us in His Mercy

I am proposing that we put trust in the wisdom of Allah, and understand that when He tests us, that is part of his mercy, not a deviation from it. When He grants something to us, that is part of His mercy, and when he withholds something from us, that too is part of His Mercy, even if we don’t like it. Even when we ask Him to take it away.

The third thing I would like to propose, is that we correct our understanding of – Fa Inna Ma’Al usri yusraa, Inna Ma’al usri yusra.

So verily, definitely, for sure- with hardship there is ease. Again, Inna – for sure, with hardship there is ease.

I’m sure lots of you have said this to people you loved, or to yourself when you’re struggling with something and you’re just trying to get through it. But did you mean that this hardship will end, and then things will be good again? Like as soon as things have been hard for a while, Allah will make them easy again?

Would you believe that’s not really what that means? Ma’a means with, not after. With this hardship, there is ease. And maybe you’re like aww man, but I wanted the ease! I want the hardship to go away and Allah I’m ready for my ease now!

But that hardship, will bring you ease. Allah does not tell us what the ease will be, or when it will be- but He says it’s there, so trust Him. Even if you can’t see it right away, or in this life –it will become apparent.

I can tell you some of the ease I found with mine.

Learning When It Hurts

When my son was diagnosed with autism, my husband and I had to drop everything. We dropped our plans to save, to travel, and to live the charmed life of neurotypical parents whose only fears are that their children may grow up and NOT become Muslim doctors. We spent our earnings and our savings and our time and our nights and our tears and Alhamdulillah, we learned patience. We learned perspective. We learned compassion.

We really learned what we thought we already knew – about unconditional love and acceptance. We learned to be bigger than our fears, and smaller than our own egos. We learned to give and take help. We learn to accept what wisdom our cultures could offer us, and respectfully decline what did not. We learn to set boundaries and make rules that did justice by our children and our family, regardless of whether they were popular. With hardship comes ease.

When we couldn’t afford therapy for my son, my husband and I founded a not for profit organization in the UAE that provided it for my son and dozens of other people’s sons and daughters. Three and a half years ago I left that organization to seek better educational opportunities for my son here in the US, but it’s still running. The seed that our challenges planted has grown into something beyond us. With our hardship came ease for ourselves and others as well.

When I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, my health issues were upgraded from challenging to permanent. I had to rethink how I lived, how I planned, how I dressed, and even – my relationship with Allah. But if I had never been sick, I would never have started writing. When it hurt, I wrote. When I was scared, I wrote. When I was lonely, I wrote. And by and by the grindstone of fear and sickness and frustration sharpened my skills. Where I am today both spiritually and professionally – is actually a direct result of both autism and chronic illness. With hardship comes ease.

I don’t like my hardships, but I don’t have to. You don’t have to either. Being a good Muslim doesn’t always mean being a happy Muslim. It just means being Muslim, no matter the circumstances.

That means loving Allah and trusting the Wisdom and Purpose in everything He throws your way – even if not loving everything He throws your way. You may hate your circumstances, and you may not be able to do anything about them, but as long as you trust Allah and use your hardships to come closer to him, you cannot fail, even if this life, you feel as if you never really succeeded.

hurts, depression, faith , hardship

Faith Wears Out In Our hearts, The Way Our Cothes Wear Out on Our Bodies

The hardship that damages and stains us is Allah’s invitation to repair, renew, and refresh ourselves. Our test are an invitation, an opportunity, an obstacle – but not a punishment or divine cruelty. And when we know that those tests will come, and some may even stay, then we can be better prepared for it.

Trust Allah when He says that He does not burden any soul with more than it can bear. He told us so in Surah Baqarah Ayah 286. Remember that when you are afraid, and Allah will never cause your fear to destroy you. Take your fear to Allah, and He will strengthen you, and reward you for your bravery.

Remember that when you are in pain. Allah will never cause your pain to destroy you. Take your pain to Him, and He will soothe you and reward you for your patience. Take it all to Allah – the loneliness, the anxiety, the confusion. Do not assume that the only emotions a “good Muslim” takes to Allah are gratitude and happiness and awe. Take them all to Allah, uncertainty, disappointment, anger — and He will bless you in all of those states, and guide you to what is better for you in this life, and the next, even if it’s not what you expected.

The struggles in your life are a test, and whether you pass or fail is not determined on whether you conquer them, only on whether you endure them. Expect that they will come, because having faith is not protection from struggle. Faith is protection from being broken by the struggle.

I ask Allah to protect us all from hardship, but protect us in our hardships as well. I ask Allah to grant us peace from His peace, and strength from His strength, to patiently endure and grow through our endurance.

Ameen.

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#Current Affairs

Do You Know These Heroes of Eid?

Ramadan is a time of sacrifice, and the Eid honors and celebrates the fulfillment of that sacrifice. But for many the hardships do not end.

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Rohingya children

Ramadan is a time of sacrifice, and the Eid honors and celebrates the fulfillment of that sacrifice. But for many the hardships do not end.

Between one million and three million Muslims are being detained in concentration camps in China, while masjids are being demolished and imams executed.

The Rohingya Muslims of Burma continue to suffer from terrible persecution. In one Rohingya refugee camp on the Burma / Bangladesh border there are half a million children. These children are banned by the Burmese authorities from attending school and are at risk of early marriage, child labor or being trafficked.

In the Central African Republic, the Muslim minority lives in daily fear of being killed, especially in the south.

The Palestinians continue to suffer after seventy years of occupation, with no end in sight.

Russian and Assad regime attacks on civilians continue in Syria, with the real possibility of an upcoming genocide in Idlib province.

Heroes Abound

In the midst of this all suffering, heroes abound. There’s Serikzhan Bilash of Kazakhstan, who has labored feverishly to document China’s internment of Muslims across the border. He urges those in his organization to continue their work, even as he himself has been arrested.

Those Rohingya children I mentioned in the refugee camp, banned from attending school? One 14-year-old Rohingya girl mentioned in the article has managed to enroll in school in Bangladesh. Her mother sold her food rations and borrowed money to create a fake Bangladeshi birth certificate, then paid a smuggler to take her daughter out of the camp. The girl herself says, “People hate the Rohingya here. I don’t tell people I am one… I have to lie about my identity to survive. Even though it’s a big struggle… I am able to study. There are hundreds of thousands of kids like me inside of the camps who are forced to marry off early…They have no opportunities.”

Also in that camp is 13-year-old Halim, who runs his own tutoring service, where he teaches more than 20 children. He says, “I am teaching them so they can do something for our nation. If they don’t learn anything, they can’t prosper in their life, as well as they can’t fight for the nation.”

Razan al-Najjar

Razan al-Najjar

In Palestine, let us not forget Razan al-Najjar, a 21-year-old volunteer paramedic from Gaza who was shot by an Israeli sniper on June 1, 2018, while tending to a tear gas victim. In her last Facebook post, the day before she was killed, she wrote, “Your conscience will be comforted as much as possible since God always knows your intention. #sleep_well Be good.”

In Syria, we have Dr. Omar Ibrahim, an Egyptian neurosurgeon who could probably be earning a hefty salary anywhere in the world, but instead labors under constant bombardment in the war-torn and half crushed city of Idlib. He’s been in Syria for five years and says, “I have no regrets about doing this work. Because I have passion for my work, and this work inspires me.”

A Religion of Heroes

Dr. Omar Ibrahim

Dr. Omar Ibrahim

Such stories are amazing, but they are not unique. There are countless heroes, and should that surprise us? Islam is a religion of heroes, and has always been so, going all the way back to its inception in Makkah, when the Prophet Muhammad (sws) drew around himself the weak and powerless, the slaves and foreigners. They were tortured, but did not surrender their new faith. Heroes.

Or, several years later, when the disbelievers of Arabia came in great numbers to wipe the Muslims off the face of the earth. The Muslims dug a great trench around Madinah, and held off the attackers under conditions of hunger and terrible cold, until – with Allah’s help – the siege was broken. Heroes.

So if you thought such heroes were a thing of the past, remember Serikzhan Bilash, the Rohingya girl, Halim, Razan al-Najjar, Dr. Omar Ibrahim and the untold, uncounted heroes like them. You may even know a few heroes personally. I do.

There’s my friend Karim, who works for an organization that sponsors Muslim orphans. He’s overworked and underpaid, and struggles to support his family and two children. He’s highly experienced and could earn more somewhere else. But he sticks with it because he believes in Islamic work.

I think also of my daughter’s homeroom teacher, sister Sharmeen. She’s an enthusiastic teacher who pushes the children to read, write and understand the roots of language. She does more than is required and is not appreciated as she should be. But once again, her passion drives her.

Persistence of Dua’

Our local Imam recently gave a khutbah about the importance of dua’. He said that Allah loves the dua’ that is persistent. Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said in al-Daa’ wa’l-Dawa’: “One of the most beneficial of remedies is persisting in dua’.”

So be persistent. Pray for our suffering Ummah, and pray for our heroes. And donate whatever you can spare to the organizations that work on their behalf.

My Ordinary Life

As for me, my life is ordinary. On the morning of Eid, I, my mother and my daughter Salma – who is twelve years old now – wake up early and put on our best clothes, inshaAllah. We get in the car and stop at Krispy Kreme donuts.  I buy a box of a dozen to share with others after Salat al-Eid, and a few extras in a bag for our family, so we don’t have to wait in a long line and elbow people to snatch a cruller.

I pick up my cousin’s son, who does not have a car. We go downtown to the Fresno convention center and sit among a thousand other Muslims. We recite the Takbeerat al-Eid, praising Allah’s greatness. The Eid salat begins, then I strain to hear the khutbah as so many people begin chattering right away. Especially, the sisters. Sorry ladies, but it’s true :-)

I know, it all sounds a bit silly, but I’m excited. It’s a wonderful day. I see brothers that I haven’t seen since last year. Everyone is wearing their best outfits.

But it’s not about the donuts or the nice clothes. It is this feeling of sharing a connection with every Muslim around the world; a feeling of being part of something great.

When we return home, my mother makes cookies, and we put some decorations on the walls. Salma opens her presents, which this year are a new Switch game, a dartboard and a pearl necklace. It’s the first piece of real jewelry I’ve ever bought her. Buying it left me with $18 in my bank account, which means I predict a lot of Uber driving (my side job) in my near future. So I hope she likes it.

On such days, I thank Allah that I am alive to see another sunrise. Another day to strive to be a better Muslim and a better human being.

The Spirit of the Prophets

I also talk to Salma, as I do every year, about our Muslim brothers and sisters who are struggling all over the world, fighting for their freedom and their very survival. They don’t have pizza and donuts on Eid or pearl necklaces. Some are starving. Most have lost someone: a parent, a child, a sibling or a friend. Some have been utterly devastated.

Yet they are resolute. They have a deep strength that, like the well of Zamzam, never runs dry, SubhanAllah. They will not give up their hopes, their dreams or their faith, Allah willing.

These are the real heroes of Eid. I feel small next to them. They are the ones living the spirit of the Prophets and the Sahabah. They have made the greatest sacrifices, and are still striving, undaunted. They are living the words of Allah:

Say: ‘Verily, my ṣalāh, my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are all for Allāh, the Lord of the ‘Alameen’ (6:162).

May Allah ease the hearts of all who are suffering, replace pain with comfort and joy, sickness with health, oppression with liberation, and tyranny with freedom. May Allah give them security, safety, comfort, victory, and Jannah.

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