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Studying Islam Overseas: Nadwatul ‘Ulama in India | The Motherland – Prelude

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Prelude | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

This post is a prelude to the “The Motherland” series which will go over the benefits and challenges of studying Islam overseas in India, institutions of learning there in, and Nihal Khan’s journey of studying at Nadwatul ‘Ulama in the 2014-2015 academic calendar year. The subsequent articles in this series will detail his experiences and reflections from his travels and studies in India.

. . .

Between the Traditional Study of Islam and Academianadwa

Though I was initially planning on pursuing law school as a career path, but I can happily say I found my niche in the academic study of religion, more so of Islam. I consciously decided to pursue Islamic studies at a full-fledged level in my last year of undergrad at Montclair State University. Though generally the eastern and western traditions of studying Islam have been at odds with each other ever since the days of British colonization, I found that in today’s day and age there is a dire need to synthesize both of these philosophies to an extent in which they become workable realities.

In summary, the eastern study of Islam is focused on classical textual understanding in which the soul of Islam is understood and envisioned as absolute truth—commonly taught in madrasas and Islamic universities in the Muslim world. The western study of Islam is focused on orientalist analyses of the religion, anthropological, historical, and sociological factors that affected the adherence of Islam in those frames. This form of study is common in western universities that teach religion in a deconstructionalist form while ignoring the matter of absolute truth.

I had already been looking at Nadwatul ‘Ulama prior to pursuing Islamic studies as a research career. I was seeking spiritual gratification through the traditional Islamic sciences. After being accepted into the Hartford Seminary’s Master’s in Islamic Studies program, I decided to make this a full-time endeavor.

But why Nadwatul ‘Ulama?

Nadwatul ‘Ulama: Why Did I Chose to Study Here?

Firstly, being an overseas citizen of India (OCI) and possessing a lifetime visa to the country had made my task of studying 75% easier. The biggest issue students of the sacred Islamic sciences face with studying overseas is constantly getting a visa renewed. Though the Hartford Seminary had accepted me and allowed me to pursue extracurricular research, they were not funding my trip nor had I asked them to do so. With the OCI, I did not need to do specific field research where the contingency of my visa’s validity was dependent upon a university, nor was I really eligible to spend a large chunk of time in any other country due to the visa issue. With the OCI, I can enter and exit India as I please.

Secondly, Nadwatul ‘Ulama seemed like the easiest institution to be admitted into for a foreigner while not having to worry about an unstable political climate and tough admission guidelines. Madinah University, Umm al-Qura, Imam Muhammad, Qaseem, and the other Saudi universities are not bad places to study as a student who has an idea of Islamic thought, but admissions take a year (sometimes even more) and there is no guarantee that I would get in. Madinah also has a strong population of American students, hence that is a huge plus to keep you socially engaged (though Nadwa is lacking in this regard and can significantly negatively affect someone, I came here knowing this). Sadly Yemen, Syria, and Egypt have all fallen into a great amount of political turmoil in recent years which deterred/prevented me from studying over there, so Dar al-Mustafa, Al-Azhar, and Abu Noor were all out of the question.

The Rumi Darwaza: An entry gate into Old Lucknow built by the Mughal dynasty.Rumidarwaza

Due to my Indian ethnicity and the post-2008 politics between India and Pakistan due to the Mumbai bombings, Darul Uloom Karachi, Binoria Town, Ashrafiyyah, the International Islamic University of Islamabad, and all the other Pakistani institutions became very limited choices for me. The only places left were maybe some universities in Jordan or Qasid Institute, the International Islamic University of Malaysia, the European Institute of Islamic Sciences in France, or Darul Ulooms in England or the United States. I did not look at universities in Jordan much, Qasid seemed to be mainly focused on Arabic and did not have a complete Islamic studies program (someone can correct me if I am wrong here), Malaysia was not on my radar since I did not know anyone from there at the time, I got word from people that the EIIS in France was not at its peak that it was known for, and because I am a former student of the madrasa system within America, I wanted to get a different experience of studying Islam outside of that environment (England is included here).

There were also some institutions in the gulf countries such as Qatar and Kuwait, but I was not too interested as the curricula were not my cup of tea for what I needed. Not to mention I wanted a feel of what it was like to live outside of the United States–which I would not have achieved by living in a gulf country that looks, feels, and operates very much like America. But some places like the Qatar Institute of Islamic Sciences seemed to show a very nice advanced curriculum with famed Muslim philosophers as visiting professors such as Dr. Tariq Ramadan and Dr. Jasser Auda.

Thirdly, Nadwatul ‘Ulama has quite a jubilant history within the subcontinent in the areas of unity within the Muslim community, academia, comparative studies, all while rooted in the traditional textual understanding of Islam. In the late 1800s, some forty to fifty years after the great mutiny where thousands of Indians–regardless of religion, were massacred at the hands of British imperialists, Muslims were figuring out what direction they wanted to take their educational institutions. In a nutshell, India’s largest and most influential Muslim thinkers at the time—who would later found the erudite institutions known as Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Darul Uloom Deoband, presented two approaches to preserving Islam which each side disagreed with. The AMU approach was more concerned about teaching the secular sciences within a Muslim shell (I will be writing more about AMU in a future MM article), while Deoband’s (also in an upcoming article) was entrenched in understanding, teaching, and preaching the textual tradition of Islam.

The tomb of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan, a former ruler of Awadh. A not-so-common tourist attraction with a beautiful view in Lucknow.

oldlucknow

In the midst of these two schools, a conference of scholars representing each approach (and from outside these two groups) formed a think tank of sorts called the Nadwatul ‘Ulama (the conference of scholars). They had a conference which eventually blossomed into the institution which we have today in Lucknow. The premise was to be open and inviting to Muslims of all backgrounds, schools of thought, associations–be it Deobandi, Ahle Hadith (Salafi), Sufi, Hanafi, Shafi, Hanbali, political activists (which would lead to the later formation of the Jamaat-e-Islami), and others–as well as recognize the academic needs of the time and provide solutions for them. This sense of unity and functionality within the subcontinent really struck me in a positive light, as this institution preserved the Muslim community at a time of great strife and turmoil while not limiting their intellectual abilities of growth. I have studied in various traditions throughout my short life and learned to be critical of whatever religiously-political reactionary establishment of Islam that I had taken from. Hence, Nadwa just seemed like the right fit for me. I felt these similar values are what American Muslims are in need of, hence after visiting in 2014, I applied and got into Nadwatul ‘Ulama.

Academics

There are various streams at Nadwa to study from according to the student’s liking. All of these streams fall under the traditional Dars al-Nizami curriculum with some tweaks from the institution. Though foreign students are usually not turned away, officially you need to have a valid visa to stay in India to be given admission, A student should be able to converse either in Urdu or Arabic (you can learn either during your stay) so that you are not placed in the first year of the program. (Though my personal recommendation, it is better to get a good grounding in your basics back home before coming to large institutions where you are not given individual attention due to the large volume of students). Though a “section” is the English rendering, the following are all technically traditional ‘alimiyyah programs with respect to the curriculum. Here is the break down:

The ‘Aaliyah Section (BA Equivalent)

This section is four years long and is Nadwa’s main stream. Many students that study here usually come from another madrasa branch of Nadwa in India, have studied before the beginning of the first year of this program, and are given the most attention from the BA equivalent streams. The strong points of this section and the khusoosi are Arabic, Fiqh, and Hadith. This section is taught fully in Urdu

The Khusoosi Section (BA Equivalent)

Though similar to the ‘aaliyah section, the khusoosi is mainly for students that are coming from a high school (10+2) or BA program. Basically, the students here have not studied in a madrasa for a majority of their lives (do not forget that India has very clean-cut delineations for students studying specific majors. What you study is what you will be working in for the rest of your life). I have a lot of respect for many students in this section as they went from studying commerce, finance, or engineering to Islamic studies. This section also has a large amount of students who may be in between certain milestones in their life, so many may not stick around for next year. Some are studying in this program because they failed other majors in college and are trying to establish themselves in a completely different field. Students spend three years here and then automatically transfer into the ‘aaliyah section in the last two years. This section is also taught fully in Urdu.

The Arabic Section (BA Equivalent)

This section mainly caters to foreigners who do not have a stronghold in Urdu. All subjects mirror the khusoosi section, except that all classes are taught in Arabic, Shafi’i fiqh is learned by the students instead of Hanafi fiqh, and there is much more emphasis on Hadith over Fiqh. I initially took admission here but transferred into the Urdu section later as I felt the studies were stronger in terms of academic rigor in the latter. At the same time the students in the Urdu section were much more inclined towards in-depth study as their environments and teachers sought to do that much better.

A view of the Nadwa Masjid from the Athar hostel. hostel

Do not think you will not learn Arabic in the other sections, rather I have seen better Arabic speakers come from the Urdu section compared to the Arabic section. As mentioned before, the only plus advantage is that all classes are taught in the Arabic language.

For those wondering, there is no dedicated one year for dawrah al-hadith (a complete reading of all six books of hadith) at Nadwatul ‘Ulama in the BA Equivalent (‘alimiyyah) sections. Though you begin studying the six books of hadith, Nadwa wants you to finish the Fadeelah program if you would like to finish Bukhari and Muslim, the two main canonical works of Prophetic traditions in Sunni Islam.

The Fadeelah Section (MA Equivalent/Takhassus/Specialization)

This is probably the crux of Nadwa’s academic offerings. After completing one of the above sections and having a grasp in Urdu and Arabic, students are given the choice of specializing in a science —Prophetic traditions (hadith), Quranic exegesis (tafsir), Islamic law (fiqh), Islamic evangelism (da’wah), completing the remaining portions of the collections of Bukhari and Muslim, and learning to research texts, write articles, and the like. This is a two year program and comes highly recommended by many people such as Shaykh Akram Nadwi of the United Kingdom.

Nadwa definitely has the environment needed for a student of Islamic sciences to progress in whatever they are studying.  These are the base programs. Students are expected to read books outside of class, engage in short research projects, as that is the actual point of coming to Nadwa in the view of all the teachers. Though it takes time to break in to the culture, food, and people, once you get into the swing of things you will be able to drink from the wells of knowledge therein. My own personal out-of-class educational endeavors took me to Mazahir al-Uloom in Saharanpur where I sat with Shaykh Yunus Jaunpuri (India’s most senior scholar of hadith) for two days, Darul Uloom Deoband, and various madrasas in Gujarat. Just to show how big of a deal Shaykh Yunus is, Shaykh Akram Nadwi is also currently in the midst of authoring a book on him and his accomplishments in the sciences of hadith.

This series will be continued every week and will cover the various experiences and lessons I learned throughout this endevour to study Islam in India. I hope to convey to readers how life is in India for an American through speaking about my interactions with health care, law enforcement, locals, Islamic institutions, what students of knowledge should consider before thinking about studying overseas, and lastly reflections and recommendations on the institutions and places I have and will continue to visit within India.

. . .

Check out Part I of this series: Experiences of Islam, Politics and Culture in India.

Nihal Ahmad Khan is currently a student of Islamic Law and Theology at Nadwatul 'Ulama in Lucknow, India. He was born and raised in New Jersey and holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a minor in Business from Montclair State University and a diploma in Arabic from Bayyinah Institute's Dream Program. He began memorizing the Qur’an at Darul Uloom New York and finished at the age of seventeen at the Saut al-Furqan Academy in Teaneck, New Jersey. He went on to lead taraweeh every year since then. Along with his education, Nihal has worked in various capacities in the Muslim community as an assistant Imam, youth director, and a Muslim Chaplain at correctional facilities and social service organizations. Nihal is also an MA candidate in Islamic Studies from the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Avatar

    hafsa

    August 26, 2015 at 8:39 AM

    Salam alaykum brother. Great article! For women who have less opportunities to study in a traditional Islamic Institution like this one, I found Islamic Online University to be a very good forum though you miss out on the tarbiyya and training you receive as a part of studying on campus.

  2. Avatar

    Zara

    August 26, 2015 at 2:28 PM

    Jazakallah khair for this, it’s a fascinating read.

    Do you have suggestions for women who wish to study Islam formally to such an extent but aren’t able to do so at traditional institutions?

    • Avatar

      Faisal

      August 26, 2015 at 8:26 PM

      Yes you can consider Cambridge Islamic College [www.cambridgeislamiccollege.org]

    • Avatar

      Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:26 PM

      Ws Zara,

      Though I’m currently in the middle of publishing the rest of my experience through a series of posts on MM, it’s important to remember a few points which I personally recommend:

      1. Consider heading overseas ONLY after you’ve exhausted the study of basic subjects. Larger institutions are not able to individually cater to each student as much as a personal teacher or smaller classrooms are able to do. Before even considering it, one ought to have studied Nahw, sarf, basic tafsir, usool al din, basic fiqh, usool, etc before. And if you think opportunity is limited in America for women to study Islam, then overseas will only be worse. You need to pinpoint local resources and juice them to the best of your ability in helping you study.

      2. There are institutions where women can study overseas in many places–it just won’t be like a western college classroom with comfy tables, chairs, air conditioning, etc. It will require struggle. Many times western students think that the first class educations experience we get back home are what we should expect when we go overseas. It would prepare a student–be it male or female–for them to be ready to sacrifice the comforts which they are extremely accustomed to in the pursuit of knowledge. Don’t put yourself through hardship on purpose, instead–be ready to endure it when you are tested with it.

  3. Avatar

    Faisal

    August 26, 2015 at 8:07 PM

    Please check out the video titled from Nadwatul Ulama to Cambridge Islamic College by Dr Mohammad Akram Nadwi. Cambridge Islamic College is for both men and women.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swNAWtAtUE8

  4. Avatar

    Bakhtawar

    August 26, 2015 at 11:01 PM

    Jazakallah khair for such an article. Maybe this will motivate others to share their experiences studying Islam abroad. I’m looking into studying islamic studies at International Islamic University Islamabad myself, but haven’t been able to find anyone who has graduated from that program.

    • Avatar

      Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:29 PM

      Ws Bakhtawar,

      Thank you for your kind words! I know a few graduates from the university in Islamabad. If you’re serious about heading there, then feel free to e-mail me at nihalk1 at gmail.

  5. Avatar

    Zuhaib

    August 26, 2015 at 11:14 PM

    In the US.
    Darul Qasim in Chicago IL offers a comprehensive curriculum.
    DarulQasim.org

    • Avatar

      Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:30 PM

      Salam Zuhaib,

      Yes! Darul Qasim is a great place to consider within the United States. It’s a privilege to sit and benefit from Shaykh Amin Kholwadia.

  6. Avatar

    dr ikram

    August 27, 2015 at 4:22 AM

    Jazakallah khair for such a good article.did you have any prior islamic education which helped you in gaining admission in nadwa.im a doctor by profession and i dont know arabic or urdu.though i can read simple urdu i cannot write it.how to go about gaining admission in places like nadwa.i have a keen desire to learn islam from a place like nadwa.currently im pursuing a diploma from iou.

  7. Avatar

    Abu Milk Sheikh

    August 27, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    Are there any foreign family-men in the program? I.e. Men who have brought their families and are attending Nadwa. If so, how do they manage?

    • Avatar

      Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:36 PM

      Nope, none that I know of.

  8. Avatar

    Ed

    September 14, 2015 at 9:38 AM

    Studying abroad has its advantages in that you can be among Muslims that live with Sharia law. You don’t have people giving you a degrading look because you wear a Burka or Headscarf. You study among Muslims. On the other hand you are subjected to a lower class status as a human being because women are not see as equals to men. Sharia law rules to whatever the Ayatollah says.

    The advantage of studying in the west is that you have exposure to better schools and a respected education. You are treated as an equal to everyone and don’t have to wear any restrictive clothing. You can be like a man, drive a car like a man and participate in just about any activity you are capable of performing, just like a man. Such freedom allows for the full expression of yourself as a human being. There is no fear of men or their backward social (sharia) views. Women are encouraged to be equals in western society and frowned upon when they choose a lesser role for themselves. That is why there is no Taylor Swift, celebrity in Muslim society. Its your life, you came into this world alone and you will leave it alone. You choose for yourself.

  9. Pingback: » The Motherland: Experiences of Islam, Politics, and Culture In India

  10. Avatar

    Faraz

    September 15, 2015 at 10:47 PM

    Good read, my only comment is that it seems like you “settled” for Nadwatul-Ulama when all your preferred choices in KSA, Pakistan, Middle East, etc… were not possible. In practice though, Nadwatul-Ulama is a tremendous institution that should be regarded as among the leading places to study Islam throughout the world, it shouldn’t be considered as the option you consider only when you exhaust all your other options. I’ve only visited the campus on a few occasions, but subhanAllah it was enlightening and peaceful just being there. I find that the graduates I’ve met from there have had a broader world-view than ‘ulema from other institutes, and have particularly adept at translating their studies to a Western context. The graduates do a great job carrying the legacy of Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi.

    • Avatar

      Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:46 PM

      Salam Faraz,

      The main reason I considered the other schools is due to the larger number of American students present at those institutions. You have a support system to rely on in case things go south. I didn’t chose Nadwa because “well, getting in everywhere else is too hard”.

      When choosing where to study overseas, I highly recommend students research whether 1) One can easily attain and hold onto a visa wherever they are going to study, 2) See if there are other foreign students of your background with who you can connect with. If not friends, then family.

      These are the MOST important things to consider when headed overseas. Honestly, when it comes to studies while you’re a foreigner in another institution, the only really important factor is whether there is a general culture of studying. If so, then you’re fine. After speaking to dozens of students studying overseas at various Islamic institutions, we all concluded that your academic rigor and capabilities are somewhere around 50% dependent on your own ability to study, 25% on the teacher, and 25% on the class lecture. Basically, whether you go to Madinah, Azhar, Nadwa, etc–it doesn’t make too much of a difference at the end of the day if you have good study habits.

      But for myself, the visa was the main aspect–not to mention I studied briefly with a Nadwi before coming to India. After analyzing the best place for me in the circumstances I am in, I concluded Nadwa was the best common denominator. That’s how I came here :).

  11. Pingback: » Self-Revelations: Discovering Your Limits in India | The Motherland: Part II

  12. Pingback: » Health Care in India: Scooters, Breaking Bones, and Surgery | The Motherland – Part III

  13. Avatar

    Rahat

    October 22, 2015 at 9:49 PM

    Really helpful.

  14. Avatar

    sam

    November 6, 2015 at 7:42 AM

    Salam

    If one is able to read traditional texts in Arabic (and has completed the Hidayatun Nahw or Ajrumiyyah)

    And has studied basic fiqh aqeedah and usool hadith and tafseer all basic,

    What programme could one be admitted into in Islamabad in order to further one’s studies?

    Preferably Drs e Nizami

  15. Avatar

    Sued Adnan Murtaza

    December 15, 2015 at 2:34 PM

    MA SHA ALLAH..Beneficial Article,
    It will be helpful for those who wish to study in traiditional institute like this one..
    and should be translated in to Arabic language and others one.

  16. Avatar

    Amir Ahmad khan

    July 6, 2016 at 7:49 PM

    jazakalla kumula hu ahsan al jaza for a great turning and motivating leccture… it is an humble request to all of my brothers and sisters that help your brother… ‘How i can sdmission in the one of the growing and advancing darul uloom nadwa…
    asalamh alukum wa rwhmutulahi wa barakata ho

  17. Avatar

    amer

    August 23, 2016 at 3:17 AM

    I call many time ,nadwatul ulama and deobond univercity,but no answer until now,pease answer me..

  18. Avatar

    Muhammad Ayaz

    September 21, 2016 at 12:52 AM

    As-salamu alaykum,

    I am an engineering drop out from Mumbai and currently seeking a course in Islamic studies. Reading about the Khusoosi course has got me intrigued. Only issue is that I’m 26 years old and might have to at least find a part-time job, would that be feasible?

  19. Avatar

    Mohammad Sarwar

    September 16, 2017 at 5:11 AM

    As-salaamu ‘Alaykum Wa Rahmatullaahi Wa Barakaatuh!

    Brother,

    I pray this message finds you good health and Imaan.

    Quick question, how did you enroll to Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama?

    I live in the UK and I would like to apply. I have checked their website but some of their pages are appearing as 404.

  20. Avatar

    Bilal

    October 5, 2018 at 9:35 AM

    Masha allah brother nice article i am from makkah studied in madrash al sawlatiyah and planning to move nadwa tul ulama but i am very weak in studies please help me

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#Life

Raising A Child Between Ages 2-7 | Dr Hatem Al Haj

Dr. Hatem El Haj M.D Ph.D

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children drawing crayons

This is called a pre-operational period by Jean Piaget who was focused on cognitive development.

Children this age have difficulty reconciling between different dimensions or seemingly contradictory concepts. One dimension will dominate and the other will be ignored. This applies in the physical and abstract realms. For example, the water in the longer cup must be more than that in the shorter one, no matter how wide each cup is. Length dominates over width in his/her mind.

Throughout most of this stage, a child’s thinking is self-centered (egocentric). This is why preschool children have a problem with sharing.

In this stage, language develops very quickly, and by two years of age, kids should be combining words, and by three years, they should be speaking in sentences.

Erik Erikson, who looked at development from a social perspective, felt that the child finishes the period of autonomy vs. shame by 3 years of age and moves on to the period of initiative vs. guilt which will dominate the psycho-social development until age 6. In this period, children assert themselves as leaders and initiative takers. They plan and initiate activities with others. If encouraged, they will become leaders and initiative takers.

Based on the above, here are some recommendations:

In this stage, faith would be more caught than taught and felt than understood. The serene, compassionate home environment and the warm and welcoming masjid environment are vital.

Recognition through association: The best way of raising your kid’s love of Allah and His Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is by association. If you buy him ice cream, take the opportunity to tell them it is Allah who provided for you; the same applies to seeing a beautiful rose that s/he likes, tell them it is Allah who made it. Tell them stories about Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Statements like: “Prophet Muhammad was kinder to kids than all of us”; “Prophet Muhammad was kind to animals”; ” Prophet Muhammad loved sweets”; ” Prophet Muhammad helped the weak and old,” etc. will increase your child’s love for our most beloved ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

Faith through affiliation: The child will think, “This is what WE do, and how WE pray, and where WE go for worship.” In other words, it is a time of connecting with a religious fraternity, which is why the more positive the child’s interactions with that fraternity are, the more attached to it and its faith he/she will become.

Teach these 2-7 kids in simple terms. You may be able to firmly insert in them non-controversial concepts of right and wrong (categorical imperatives) in simple one-dimensional language. Smoking is ḥarâm. No opinions. NO NUANCES. No “even though.” They ate not ready yet for “in them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people.”

Promote their language development by speaking to them a lot and reading them books, particularly such books that provoke curiosity and open discussions to enhance their expressive language. Encourage them to be bilingual as learning two languages at once does not harm a child’s cognitive abilities, rather it enhances them.

This is despite an initial stage of confusion and mixing that will resolve by 24 to 30 months of age. By 36 months of age, they will be fluent bilingual speakers. Introduce Islamic vocabulary, such as Allah, Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), masjid, Muslim, brothers, salaat, in-sha’a-Allah, al-Hamdulillah, subhana-Allah, etc. (Don’t underestimate the effect of language; it does a lot more than simply denoting and identifying things.)

In this pre-operational period, their ability of understanding problem solving and analysis is limited. They can memorize though. However, the focus on memorization should still be moderate. The better age for finishing the memorization of the Quran is 10-15.

Use illustrated books and field trips.

Encourage creativity and initiative-taking but set reasonable limits for their safety. They should also realize that their freedom is not without limits.

Between 3-6 years, kids have a focus on their private parts, according to Freud. Don’t get frustrated; tell them gently it is not appropriate to touch them in public.

Don’t get frustrated with their selfishness; help them gently to overcome this tendency, which is part of this stage.

Parenting: Raising a Child from Age 0 to 2 | Dr. Hatem Al Haj

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Reflection On The Legacy of Mufti Umer Esmail | Imam Azhar Subedar

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“An ocean of knowledge which once resided on the seabed of humbleness has now submerged below it, forever.”

“Why didn’t you tell me!! You call me your younger brother, but you couldn’t even tell me you were ailing?!”

I could’ve called you or visited you so I could apologize for all the pain I caused you; thank you for all the good you did for me throughout my life despite all that pain. if nothing else, just so I could say goodbye to you.”

(My selfish mind continued to cry out as I stood in front of his grave— praying.)

As I sat down to compile my thoughts, upon returning home, I put my feelings of loss aside and tried to analyze your decision of not informing me about your illness from a different perspective.

Possibly, your own.

Why would you tell me?

This was just like you. You never wanted to hurt a soul; forget about making them worry about you, augmenting their own worries. For you were the sponge for our worries, the shock absorber of our concerns, and the solid wall that shouldered the pain of those around him.

You weren’t just a big brother, my big brother, you were a true human. A lesson on humanity.

You were always there for me.

“I GOT A QUESTION” sent at 2 AM.

“Sure” was your response.

We spoke for over 40 min.

That night.

Your strength reflected my weakness- always urging me to do better, be more like you.

I was told you were in hospital by a close family member early Friday morning before Jummah prayers. I was supposed to call you. That was my responsibility. However, the preparation of the Friday Sermon was my excuse not to do so.

As I exited from delivering the Friday services, I received a message from you, the one who was spending the last days of his life in a hospital, never to be seen outside of the confines of those walls ever again.

That message you wrote- you knew me so well.

“As-salaam alaikum, I thought you were already American?”

(You were catching up with me as I had become an American citizen the day before. You wanted to congratulate me, without complaining to me.)

“I heard you are in the hospital?! How are you? What’s going on?” I asked immediately.

“Getting some treatment done. Mubarak on your American citizenship” was your response.

Diversion. A stubborn man with a heart of gold. You wanted to celebrate people even at the cost of your own life.

Your last words to me were digital, even though your connection with me spans a lifetime. As much as I wish I had heard your voice one last time, I try to find the beauty in that communication too as I can save and cherish those last words.

We grew up together in Canada in the ’80s- Mufti Umer and I. Our fathers were tight- childhood buddies. He ended up becoming the inspiration for my family to trek towards a path devoted to Islam, beginning with my brother and then myself.

He was my support from the time when I came to England to study at the Dar Al Uloom and wanted to call it quits and go home, to when he hosted me when I visited him in Austin in 2002, all the way till 2019, after I was married and settled with kids he loved like his own.

He visited us here in Dallas and had met them in his unique way of showering them with love. And why wouldn’t he? My wife and I are here under one roof all because of his earnest desire to help people.

He introduced us to each other.

“I want you to marry my younger brother.” A message he sent to my wife over 17 years ago.

She was his student. He was her mentor, support beam, confidante, and best friend. (Well, we all feel like he was our best friend, only because he truly was.)

I am sharing my life story not only because he was an integral part of it, but throughout (he was also a major part of my wife’s life when she really needed him) but because that final text message wrapped it all up- the gift that he was to me and my family. It showed how much he was invested in us as individuals, as a couple, and as a family.

That message wrote:

“I thought you’ve been a citizen since marriage.”

(FRIDAY, AUGUST 30TH @ 3: 07 PM)

This is just my story featuring Mufti Umer Ismail.

I am confident that there are thousands more out there without exaggeration.

I’ll conclude with a word he corrected for me as I misspelled it on my Facebook page a few months ago when Molana Haaris Mirza, a dear colleague, passed away in New York. He didn’t do it publicly, he did it through that same Facebook text messenger that kept us in touch- with love and sincere care for me in his heart.

“As-salaam alaikum the word is Godspeed. Sorry for being [a] grammar freak.”

(MARCH 28TH, 2019 @6: 04 PM)

Godspeed, my dear brother. Godspeed.

Azhar Subedar

imamAzhar.com

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#Life

Advice To Students Starting A New School Year

Ammar Al Shukry

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students

I remember driving to college orientation over the summer with my father, may Allah have mercy on him. I was going to be going to school out of state, and at the age of eighteen, this was the first time that I would be living away from home. 

We talked about a lot of things, and nothing in particular but one of the stories he shared stayed with me. There was an Imam who had a close circle of students and one of them became absent for an extended period. Upon that student’s return, the Imam asked him where he had been, to which the student replied, 

“Egypt!” The imam said to him, “well how was Egypt!” 

The student replied, “Egypt is where knowledge resides.” 

The Imam responded, “You’ve spoken the truth.” 

Sometime later, the imam had another student who also was absent and upon his return, the Imam asked him where he had gone to which the student replied, “Egypt!” The imam said to him, “Well, how was Egypt?”

The student said, “Egypt is nothing but amusement and play!” 

The Imam responded, ‘You’ve spoken the truth!” 

There were students who had witnessed both conversations and asked the Imam later why he had borne witness to the truth of two antithetical statements to which the imam replied,

“They both found what they were looking for.” 

I got the message. University could be a place of incredible learning, engagement with ideas, and can push you and challenge you in the best of ways. It can also be a non-stop party. A blur of heedlessness and hedonism that will bring about remorse and regret for that individual in the Dunya and Akhira. 

I think back to that car ride fondly, and I appreciate the predicament of parting advice. A person who will be bidding farewell to someone so dear to them and wanting to give them something powerful that they can hold onto or wisdom that will guide them. Many students in the past weeks have been receiving similar parting advice from their families, and so in this article I wanted to share one of the advice of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that he gave to a companion that he loved so much. 

عَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ جُنْدَبِ بْنِ جُنَادَةَ، وَأَبِي عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ مُعَاذِ بْنِ جَبَلٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمَا، عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه و سلم قَالَ: “اتَّقِ اللَّهَ حَيْثُمَا كُنْت، وَأَتْبِعْ السَّيِّئَةَ الْحَسَنَةَ تَمْحُهَا، وَخَالِقْ النَّاسَ بِخُلُقٍ حَسَنٍ”

رَوَاهُ التِّرْمِذِيُّ [رقم:1987] وَقَالَ: حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ، وَفِي بَعْضِ النُّسَخِ: حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ. 

On the authority of Abu Dharr Jundub ibn Junadah, and Abu Abdur-Rahman Muadh bin Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him), that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said

“Have Taqwa of Allah wherever you are, and follow a bad deed with a good deed it will erase it, and treat people with good character.” (Tirmidhi)

The advice is comprised of three components

  1. Fear Allah wherever you are 
  2. Follow a bad deed with a good deed it will erase it 
  3. Treat people with good character 

Have Taqwa of Allah wherever you are 

Taqwa is the crown of the believer. And it is the best thing that a person can carry with them on the journey of this life, and the journey to meet their Lord. Allah says, 

“And take provision, and the best provision is Taqwa.” 

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، قَالَ سُئِلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم عَنْ أَكْثَرِ مَا يُدْخِلُ النَّاسَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ تَقْوَى اللَّهِ وَحُسْنُ الْخُلُقِ ‏”‏ ‏

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was asked as to what admits people into Paradise the most and he said, “Taqwa and good character.” (Tirmidhi) 

And so what is Taqwa?

Talq ibn Habeeb gave a beautiful definition and description of Taqwa when he said, 

“Taqwa is to act in obedience to Allah, upon a light from Allah, seeking the reward of Allah. And it is to avoid the disobedience of Allah, upon a light from Allah, fearing the punishment of Allah.” 

And so he describes taqwa as having three components; the action, the source for that action, and the motivation for that action.”

To act in the obedience of Allah..

To do the things that Allah commands you to do and to stay away from what Allah prohibits you from doing 

Upon a light from Allah..

The source for the action or inaction must come from revelation, a light from Allah. And this should stir us to seek knowledge so that our actions are onem guided by a light from Allah. You’ve made it to University, you are bright, gifted, intelligent and committed to education.  Do not let be the one thing that you remain uneducated about be your religion. 

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says, 

يَعْلَمُونَ ظَاهِراً مِّنَ ٱلْحَيَاةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ عَنِ ٱلآخِرَةِ هُمْ غَافِلُونَ

They know what is apparent of the worldly life, but they, of the Hereafter, are unaware. (Al-Room v. 7)  

The prophet (S) said, “Allah hates every expert in the Dunya who is ignorant of the hereafter.” (Saheeh Al-Jaami’)

Make sure that you carve out time to attend halaqas on campus, seek out teachers and mentors who will guide you in learning about your religion even as you are pursuing your secular studies..

Seeking the reward of Allah..

The third component of Taqwa is the motivation:  that these actions that are being performed and that are sourced authentically in revelation must be performed for the sake of Allah, seeking His reward, and not for any other audience. That they not be done for shares, or likes or retweets. That a person does what they do of worship, that they abstain from what they abstain from of sin, seeking the reward of Allah and fearing His punishment. 

Fear Allah wherever you are..

Meaning in public and in private, online or offline, and when in the company of the righteous as well as when in the company of the wicked, in all circumstances a person must be mindful of the presence of Allah..

 عَنْ ثَوْبَانَ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنَّهُ قَالَ : ( لأَعْلَمَنَّ أَقْوَامًا مِنْ أُمَّتِي يَأْتُونَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ بِحَسَنَاتٍ أَمْثَالِ جِبَالِ تِهَامَةَ بِيضًا فَيَجْعَلُهَا اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ هَبَاءً مَنْثُورًا ) قَالَ ثَوْبَانُ : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صِفْهُمْ لَنَا ، جَلِّهِمْ لَنَا أَنْ لاَ نَكُونَ مِنْهُمْ وَنَحْنُ لاَ نَعْلَمُ ، قَالَ : ( أَمَا إِنَّهُمْ إِخْوَانُكُمْ وَمِنْ جِلْدَتِكُمْ وَيَأْخُذُونَ مِنَ اللَّيْلِ كَمَا تَأْخُذُونَ وَلَكِنَّهُمْ أَقْوَامٌ إِذَا خَلَوْا بِمَحَارِمِ اللَّهِ انْتَهَكُوهَا

It was narrated from Thawban that the Prophet ﷺ said:

“I certainly know people of my nation who will come on the Day of Resurrection with good deeds like the mountains of Tihaamah, but Allah will make them like scattered dust.” Thawban said: “O Messenger of Allah, describe them to us and tell us more, so that we will not become of them unknowingly.” He said: “They are your brothers and from your race, worshipping at night as you do, but they are people who, when they are alone with what Allah has prohibited, they violate it.” 

This hadeeth is a warning for the person who is quick, eager and ready to violate the limits of Allah as soon as the door is locked, or the curtains or drawn, or as soon as they have arrived in a new place where no one knows them. We will sin, but let our sins be sins of weakness or lapses of taqwa and not sins of predetermination and design. There is a big difference between someone who sins in a moment’s temptation and the one who is planning to sin for hours, days or weeks! 

And follow a good deed with a bad deed it will erase it..

When we fall, as we must inevitably due to our being human, the prophet (S) instructed us to follow a sin with a good deed to erase it. 

Commit a sin, give charity. 

Commit a sin, perform wudhu as beautifully as you can and pray two rak’ahs. 

Commit a sin, seek Allah’s forgiveness and repent…

Our sins should not suffocate us from doing good deeds, they should fuel us to doing good deeds. 

Allah says,

وَأَقِمِ ٱلصَّلاَةَ طَرَفَيِ ٱلنَّهَارِ وَزُلَفاً مِّنَ ٱلَّيْلِ إِنَّ ٱلْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ ٱلسَّـيِّئَاتِ ذٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ

And establish prayer at the two ends of the day and at the approach of the night. Indeed, good deeds do away with misdeeds. That is a reminder for those who remember. (Surat Hood v. 114) 

A man from the Ansar was alone with a woman and he did everything with her short of fornication. In remorse, he went to the prophet (S) and confessed to him. Umar said to the man, “Allah had concealed your sins, why didn’t you conceal it yourself!” The prophet (S) however was silent.

The man eventually left and the prophet (S) had a messenger go to him to recite the aforementioned verse.  A man said, “Oh Messenger of Allah is it for him alone?”

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “No for all people.” 

And so for all people, sin plus good deed equals the sin is erased. That is a formula to be inscribed in our hearts for the rest of our lives.

Al-Hassan Al-Basri, the master preacher of the Tabi’een was asked,

“Should one of us not be ashamed of our Lord, we seek forgiveness from our Lord and then return to sin, and then seek forgiveness and then return!” 

He said,

“Shaytan would love to conquer you with that (notion), do not grow tired of seeking forgiveness”

But know that these sins that are erased by good deeds are the minor sins, as for the major sins they require repentance for the many verses in which Allah threatens punishment for those who commit major sins if they do not repent, and so repentance is a condition for the erasing of the effect of major sins. 

And treat people with good character 

And if Taqwa is the crown of the believer, then good character is the crown of Taqwa, for many people think that taqwa is to fulfill the rights of Allah without fulfilling the rights of His creation! The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in many hadith highlights the lofty stations that a believer attains with good character, for example: 

عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، رَحِمَهَا اللَّهُ قَالَتْ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ إِنَّ الْمُؤْمِنَ لَيُدْرِكُ بِحُسْنِ خُلُقِهِ دَرَجَةَ الصَّائِمِ الْقَائِمِ

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: By his good character a believer will attain the degree of one who prays during the night and fasts during the day. (Tirmidhi)

عَنْ أَبِي الدَّرْدَاءِ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ مَا مِنْ شَيْءٍ يُوضَعُ فِي الْمِيزَانِ أَثْقَلُ مِنْ حُسْنِ الْخُلُقِ وَإِنَّ صَاحِبَ حُسْنِ الْخُلُقِ لَيَبْلُغُ بِهِ دَرَجَةَ صَاحِبِ الصَّوْمِ وَالصَّلاَةِ 

Abu Ad-Darda narrated that the Messenger of Allah  ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)said:

“Nothing is placed on the Scale that is heavier than good character. Indeed the person with good character will have attained the rank of the person of fasting and prayer.” (Tirmidhi)

Let no one beat you to the taqwa of Allah and let no one beat you to beautiful character. 

You’ve come of age at a time in which the majority of our interactions are online, and in that world harshness and cruelty are low hanging fruit seemingly devoid of consequences. 

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Whoever lives in the deserts becomes harsh.” (Abu Dawood) 

And social media is a desert, it is an experience where we are all alone, together. 

So choose gentleness over harshness, choose forgiveness over vindictiveness, choose truth over falsehood and protect people from your harm. 

For the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “I am a guarantor of a house in the highest part of Jannah for whoever makes their character good.” 

May Allah make us from them. 

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