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Baba, The Quran and Me

Hiba Masood

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“When we were young, every Ramadan, we had to complete one recitation of the Quran because my dad made us. There was no question of not completing it. It’s just what we did.”

Sitting together with my friend and our toddlers in a Mommy & Me art class, the words were barely out of my mouth before regret kicked in. I saw the surprised and disapproving frown forming on my friend’s face. Forcing the Quran on a child? How politically incorrect. How backward. How unenlightened. One simply did not say these things in polite, modern, company. I could practically see her censuring thoughts and I felt dismay at my inability to explain myself. Thankfully, the conversation took a turn elsewhere, both of us wise enough not to go too deep into a potentially tricky topic.

Later that evening, after my kids were asleep and the blessed cover of the night slowly drifted over the city, I lay in the quiet, thinking. Remembering. And laughing over the realization that if I were to ever retell this story, I would probably begin the exact same, inappropriate way:

When we were young, every Ramadan, we had to complete one recitation the Quran because my dad made us. There was no question of not completing it. It’s just what we did.

I think I must’ve been seven or eight when I first gained an understanding of this family tradition. My Baba, during the course of some of the most precious conversations of my life time, would often tell us, my brother, sister and I, stories from his childhood. What his life and his days spent with his eight brothers and sisters used to look like.

The Ramadan stories were particularly powerful to hear because he would speak of things that seemed so foreign, so unfamiliar – like abject poverty, splitting one bowl of food for Iftar amongst a family of eleven – that it was almost dream like.

The story we marveled over most was the amount of Quran that, as kids, he and his siblings read each Ramadan. “We would each try to be the one who finished it the most number of times. I usually reached four and gave up. One of my sisters did it seven times each year. No one could ever beat her.”, he would chuckle as he remembered. “But how did you guys find the time, Baba?!” we would gasp. And he would look equally amazed. “It was Ramadan. Once work is done, what else is there to do except read the Quran every single possible minute?” His genuine shock, that one could possibly, crazily, choose to spend their time in unessential worldly matters and how utterly unfathomable that was to him, seeped into our young, impressionable minds. We would pester him again and again for more nuances to this story and he would oblige. “Do you know every letter you recite during Ramadan has 70 times the regular reward? That means every letter, like saying Alif, gets you seven HUNDRED good deeds? Just do the math for reading the whole Quran! Go on! Now do the math for your aunt who reads it seven times!” Our minds properly boggled, we would be wide eyed trying to figure out the answer to this cosmic equation from the mathematics of the Divine.

And eventually, our amazement and interest in this particular competition led to the formation of our own internal, little family game. The rules were simple: The target was Eid, and, more specifically, Eidee, the cash gift that we received from Baba on Eid morning. Whoever finished one, just one, complete recitation of the Quran before the official declaration of Eid, would have their Eidee doubled.

When we first heard this wager, I think we each of us practically clapped in glee. Oooh, twice the amount of money! A parent-sanctioned chance to openly beat the siblings and earn bragging rights, and that too, not just in some vague, metaphorical way, but in actual, crisp, crackling, Saudi riyal note earnings! Oh Daddy, this game was on!!

And our glee was because, you see, the very first year, we operated from a place of total ignorance. We’d never actually attempted what was being asked and so we figured “Eh, how hard could it be? Those old aunts and uncles of ours, if they could do it up to seven times, what was ONE time? This should be a cakewalk.”

Well it wasn’t. It wasn’t the first year. And it still isn’t 25 years later.

There have been years of starting and staying strong. Of planning from beforehand. Of thinking, okay, roughly 30 days, 30 juz. If I read a little more than one a day, I am on track. And in that same pattern, of sailing easily and comfortably to the finish line. Of standing, grinning on Eid morning, keeping my palm extended as first one 50 riyal note was laid on it and then, nodding proudly, yes I did complete my recitation, getting another 50. Of exulting over my father’s proudly beaming face.

There have been years, in late tweens/early teens of total mismanagement. Of letting life take over a little too much and then realizing, aghast, that only five fasts were left and I still had eighteen juz to go. Of racing, helter skelter, through more than six juz on the very last day, squeaking past the finish line just minutes before what would be the last Maghrib prayer of Ramadan. Of encountering a slightly raised, fatherly eyebrow, “So you really did finish?” and of meekly nodding yes, deliberately neglecting to mention the particular speeds of recitation.

Later, once womanhood kicked in, there were years of getting unexpectedly overly long periods and that throwing my entire calculation off. Of feeling gnawing desperation around Day 21, 22. How will I complete it now? Of not giving up. Of, after ghusl, staying up all night and then continuing to stay awake after Fajr to complete the required reading, but now, with the sense of adulthood inside me, only reading in the most measured, dignified manner possible.

There were years when, long after the double-Eidee wager had faded away with other remnants of childhood, with all the impetuous, rebellion of youth, of spending my days in smoke-filled rooms, strategizing with socialist/activists, and my evenings protesting against the Iraq war on the frozen streets of Toronto. Of not praying at all, of not so much as glancing towards the dusty shelf where my Quran sat the entire year. But then, out of sheer habit, on the first of Ramadan, shamefaced from all the spiritual neglect of the past eleven months, taking it down, cleaning it and then getting to it. Of feeling, verse by verse, page by page, chapter by beautiful chapter, cleansed. Redeemed. Able to start over.

There was the first year of my marriage. When my brand new husband, sat back, astonished at this surprising wife of his. This wife who never even put her shoes in the right place when she got back home from somewhere. Whose phone was always misplaced. Whose closet always a disaster. “I never knew you could be so disciplined.”, he marveled as he witnessed my steady progression over the course of the month, the pages on the right of the bookmark growing and the pages on the left lessening.

There were subsequent years in which he figured if I could do it, he could too. Of motivating each other. Of gently teasing whoever was behind. Of eventually acknowledging, that his long office hours and unrelenting corporate job would get the best of him. Of consoling ,“Don’t worry. I read it for both of us. Niyyah is what counts. You got it.”, and of vowing, “I’m going to do it next time for sure!”.

There was the year of expecting my firstborn – a boy who would later go on to have developmental delays and additional needs – when Ramadan was in the month just before his birth. Of, that year, with all the nervous excitement and joyful anticipation of a first time mother-to-be, completing the Quran three times. Of growing bigger and more uncomfortable, curling up on the couch and slowly working my way through the Book again and again, and one more time, to give myself a sense of purpose and calm. A steadying feeling that I was being a responsible mother and giving my very first baby his very first gift as a Muslim child.

And there have many, many more years. Of anxiety. Of scary financial strain. Of a turbulent marriage. A difficult son. Of sickness. Of fear. And of deep, deep grief.

In all of those years, those months and weeks of uncertainty, Ramadan and the accompanying habit of completing the Quran has stood like an immovable beacon.

In the early years, the prospect of either receiving doubled earnings on Eid or facing the disappointed expression on my father’s face was the motivation. In the middling years, it was force of habit, a yearly ritual that I neither questioned nor pondered very much over. Completing the Quran was just another part of Ramadan for me, similar to fasting. I had to fast and so I had to finish the Quran. And in recent years, with the onset of maturity, the wisdom that has come in my thirties, the settling into the very bones of my life and my self, this yearly practice has become an identity and a gift. An eagerly anticipated reconnection. To Allah. To the Quran. To my childhood. To my father. To my self.

Ramadan1

The motivations behind this practice have shape shifted and blurred over the years. They have entered questionable realms and they have exited. They have wavered repeatedly, stretched unbelievably and sometimes disappeared completely. But, now, today and inshaAllah forever after, they are strong, solid and singular in focus. And so perhaps, a better way to start this story would have been:

Every year, in Ramadan, I have to complete the recitation of the Quran because this is who I am. There is no question of not completing it. It’s just what I do.

I know, in writing this, that there will be dissenters. There will be those who strongly disagree with this idea – those who will be disgusted by the linking of monetary motivation to the Holy Quran. Those who will insist everyone should give weightage to spending more time understanding the Quran rather than rote reciting it. Those who will find my descriptions of “racing” through the Quran in my earlier years the exact raison d’etre for not setting unrealistic targets.

Perhaps, they are each right in their own way. But they, their reasons, their motivations, their goals are not right for me.

I cannot explain to them how I feel about my father and how the prospect of attaining his pleasure can compel me to move mountains. I cannot explain how this practice he has instilled in me has been my spiritual lifeline. I cannot explain to them the deep, intrinsic pleasure of reading that Book from cover to cover in a fixed time frame and that too, during the most blessed days of the year. I cannot explain because I am always far too busy trying to make sense of my own story.

See, I feel, to thrive in this Life, we each have to do what we can to try and make sense of the lot we’ve given. To try and comprehend our messy, marvelous stories and see them for the treasure they are.

When I look at my life, when I take the long view, I see two, exactly opposite, completely diametrical truths. I see that I have had, through the Will of Allah, so much turbulence. Such storms. Such darkness. And I also see that my father in the form of this and other traditions, gave me such stability, so many anchors. So many lifebuoys. In all the years of my life, when I was flailing and thrashing about in the uncertain seas of physically painful, fibromyalgia-filled school days, a rebellious university life, a tumultuous early marriage, a special needs child, difficult subsequent pregnancies, financial strain and unemployment, sickness, grief, this tradition was an always present marker on my horizon. A rope to grab on to every single year no matter how stormy and darkened the rest of the eleven months were. A steady, brightly shining lighthouse that by virtue of always being there, always brought me back to my center.

As another Ramadan approaches, I think of the ghosts of Ramadan past. The years flitter in my mind like a fast paced slide show and I see my recitation efforts stacked up on each other. Year after year after year of trying. Of working towards a challenging but clearly identified goal. Of honing my discipline and time management skills. Of experiencing the fear of failure and the dedication required in overcoming that fear. Of experiencing the high of personal achievement and the two-folded spiritual satisfaction of reconnecting to this glorious book of Allah and, in the process, beating down my inner demons of laziness and indiscipline, those lesser parts of me who, every year would rather give up but don’t.

Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly lost as I look at my son, this boy who refuses to comply, whose anxiety levels are always so high, who doesn’t speak like other kids his age, I clutch to my heart the memory of those hours and hours my pregnant self spent with the Quran, those three complete recitations he heard while he moved inside me.

Sometimes, when things seem excruciatingly lonely, I think of my ancestors and my aunts and uncles and my cousins. All those children of all those siblings of my father. I think of the dozens and dozens of my family members, all of whom carry on this tradition proudly today. Each and every one of the kids and adults in my dad’s side of the family (and there are many!) completes the Quran every Ramadan. Because that is who they are. That is who we are. If they can do it, I can do it. I am reminded that I not alone. I am held aloft by a strong family, good values and faith-full traditions.

Sometimes, when life seems particularly overwhelming, too much work, not enough time, I think of all those years in which I took stock of the situation, ”Okay ten days left, 16 juz to go. How can I manage this?” and then slowly and diligently accomplished what initially felt to be an insurmountable task. I hold daily to my soul the knowledge that I am resilient. That I can overcome. That I have. That I will.

And sometimes, when my now sick and aging father is asleep, his gray hair glistening softly in the shadows, I lean down and press my cheek to his. I put my lips to his ear. And I whisper things. I whisper how the kids made me laugh today and cry simultaneously. I whisper that Ramadan is coming and he better get my double-Eidee ready. I whisper my love and my prayers and my hopes. I whisper how afraid I am of the future. How much I already miss him. But most of all, I whisper my gratitude. Gratitude for gifting me so freely all the things, all the lessons, all the beliefs, all the forces of habit and inspiring stories and abiding, enriching traditions that have blessed my life. For giving me an identity and an anchor. For always being my lighthouse when he was able, and whenever the time came that he wasn’t, to make sure to leave my life with enough Light to see me through.

Rabbir humhuma kama rabbayaani sagheera
Rabbir humhuma kama rabbayaani sagheera
Rabbir humhuma kama rabbayaani sagheera

 – – –

Hiba Masood is a writer, storyteller and speaker. You can find more of her and her work daily on the Facebook page www.facebook.com/etdramamama

Hiba Masood is a writer living in Karachi, Pakistan. She is the author of Drummer Girl, the founder of Ramadan Moon and is known online as Drama Mama. To read more of her work daily, follow her on Instagram @hibamasood.

37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. Avatar

    fatima

    June 17, 2016 at 7:14 AM

    hey hiba, beautiful beautiful beautiful piece of work. Seems like i was going through all the stages you wrote and my relation with Quran, throughout my life flashed as i continue to read your words.
    just out of curiosity, when you mention completing a quran, are you refering to the translations or the arabic text?
    lots of love.

    • Avatar

      Murah

      July 12, 2016 at 2:41 PM

      duh! seriously…translation? wow! when i think i heard them all…..what planet are you living in?

      • Avatar

        Anonymous

        July 22, 2016 at 8:44 PM

        The Arabic text suffices as a reply. Fatima’s point is coming from a peaceful place, let us be merciful with one another insha Allah.

  2. Avatar

    Anonymous

    June 17, 2016 at 7:51 AM

    i can only imagine what a task this must have been for you to put this all in writing. Job well done. It was a pleasure to read, and so relatable that it made me go down my own little memory lane! Thank you for writing this!

  3. Avatar

    Aisha

    June 17, 2016 at 8:29 AM

    Yeah, it’s a tradition in my family too. My mum instilled it in us, though we never got any monetary benefit or so. But somehow she inspired us and till today one goes through that guilty feeling if we r not reaching our target. I m glad she forced it on us eventhough i dnt feel that dhe actually forced it. N i hope i am able to inspire my kids in the same way ins Sha Allah.

  4. Avatar

    Qurratulain

    June 17, 2016 at 8:39 AM

    What a moving piece of work! Made me teary. I often follow everything you write on your page and it’s true the words that seep out of suffering are undeniably beautiful. Sending lots of love. Continue writing. You inspire many unknowingly.

  5. Avatar

    Fatima

    June 17, 2016 at 9:27 AM

    I’m crying reading this.
    My father never forced us, but everyday it was a daily question of ‘how many did you read? Which para (juz) are you on?’
    He told us stories of his older sister reading 5 every year and we were always so impressed.

    Thank you for this reminder of my own childhood.

  6. Avatar

    saaliha

    June 17, 2016 at 9:44 AM

    Wow this is beautiful mashaAllah! May Allah accept you and your family and may he grant you all shade under his throne on the day of judgment, ameen

  7. Avatar

    umme ammar

    June 17, 2016 at 2:50 PM

    Excellent piece of writing..?. got me crying! And alhumdolillah this tradition of completing one quran in ramadan is still alive in many families includin mine… if only we can successfully transfer it to our children
    the best part
    rabbir hum huma kama rabbayni sagheera?

  8. Avatar

    umm e hanzalah

    June 17, 2016 at 3:30 PM

    SubhanAllah…tears r felling from.my eyes…with few changes could easily relate to the values we got from our parents..beautiful piece of writing..pulled me back to my childhood days…May Allah s.w.t help us all to transfer these values in our children..ameen..n yes off course rabbir hamhuma kama rabbiyani sagheera..Ameen..

  9. Avatar

    Hira Danish

    June 17, 2016 at 6:24 PM

    I have been following you since a couple of years now Hiba, and find you as a person quite parallel to my own self. I admire your courage and determination to keep pouring your heart out on paper. Sending lots of Duas for you and your generations that may you all uphold this amazing tradition of yours and be beacons of light forever.

  10. Avatar

    Tabassum

    June 18, 2016 at 1:39 AM

    Beautiful writing. This all sound so familiar. I have been questioned for encouraging my kids (11 and 8) to fast and recite Quran, do other activities with eid gifts and other such things but my own experience made me felt , this will work. Now reading your article make me felt more assured. Thanks for such a hear touching piece

  11. Avatar

    Um talhah

    June 18, 2016 at 2:26 AM

    jazakumAllahu khairan.
    The account of your teenage years both surprised and encouraged me. I didn’t expect a rebellious teen who’s not praying to recite the quran. May Allah reward your father abundantly.

  12. Avatar

    Spirituality

    June 18, 2016 at 12:23 PM

    Jazaki Allahu Khayran for the beautiful piece!

    Recitation of the Quran has tremendous benefits, so we should never be ashamed :)! The past few Ramadans have been difficult, as I have been unable to fast and attend taraweeh due to health reasons. So, one of my goals is to recite the entire Quran during Ramadan.

    Thanks so much for sharing your life story with us through your writings, with its ups and downs. One day, could you write about your struggles with fibromyalgia and how you overcame this disease? I and others suffering from similar health problems could really benefit.

    Also, I would love to hear anyone’s experiences of how they use Ramadan as a platform to boost not only recitation, but comprehension and deeper understanding of the Quran – for themselves as well as their children. Imagine, we get 700 rewards for reciting just one letter of the Quran. But how much more benefit would we get for really understanding the book (which is after all, a guide for those with taqwa), and trying to live accordingly?

    In addition to daily recitation, I’m trying to study the tafseer of an ayat or two everyday. I watch Nouman Ali Khan’s Quran Cover to Cover Series and take notes. Other ideas, and ideas on how to make such a process fun for families most welcome :)!

    Jazakum Allahu Khayran and I hope everyone is having a blessed Ramadan.

  13. Avatar

    Waheeda Sadik

    June 18, 2016 at 3:14 PM

    An absolute pleasure to read.I get you.jzk for your precious memories.

  14. Avatar

    Uzma

    June 18, 2016 at 10:09 PM

    Beautiful writing…totally relates to it.

  15. Avatar

    Umm Ayesha

    June 19, 2016 at 11:14 AM

    MashaAllah a beautiful piece of writing. I remember the time when we were young,the womwn in our family would challenge each other on how many Qursns they would read in Ramadhan. Five , six, seven was nothing to them. Some would even read ten Qurans. Then came duas, at tshajjud they would do the lenghthiest of duas, an hour or more, would anyone do this these days?

  16. Avatar

    Omer Riaz

    June 21, 2016 at 7:40 AM

    Excellent Article Hiba. .Very Well Written. One of the noblest things to do in Ramadan is to extensively recite The Holy Quran, contemplate on one’s own existence and spend as much time as possible in the remembrance of Allah (SWT). Ramadan is a very special and spiritually rich month. In it Muslims find within them cultivated a deep and sincere love because fasting is done only for the sake of Allah (SWT) and it is no doubt that those people who worship Allah (SWT) sincerely and love Him also love all those around them and are good people.

  17. Avatar

    Badr

    June 22, 2016 at 8:04 AM

    Beautiful and touching story Ukhti….Jazzaki Allah Kheir.
    InshAllah, I can finish reading the Quran this Ramadan. At least once !

  18. Avatar

    shah

    June 28, 2016 at 1:57 AM

    Quran Focus is the best place for online Quran Reading. We have excellent programs that enable kids, older children, grown ups and new Muslims to learn Quran at Home.

    Please join Quran Focus Academy (http://www.quranfocus.com) to learn Quran Reading, Hifz, Translation, Tafseer and Essentials of Islam. One to one lessons via internet, qualified English speaking teachers, one week free trial classes, no advance fee, pay fee via PayPal, low monthly fee & family discount available.

  19. Avatar

    KB

    June 28, 2016 at 8:50 PM

    What a wonderful article. It moved me to tears. I will go read Quran now- the month is almost over

  20. Avatar

    sfk

    June 28, 2016 at 10:00 PM

    You made me cry…this was such a moving and relatable piece. My father too is the person who brought me closer to the Holy Qur’an. For the past couple of years I have been slacking off and I promised myself that wouldn’t happen this year. I still have 16 juz to go and I was getting depressed but your article has motivated me to reach the finish line!

  21. Avatar

    Alia

    July 1, 2016 at 5:33 AM

    Mashallah thanks for sharing with us! Your story reminded me of my friend’s family teaching the kids how to pray. All the things our parents “made” us do which appeared to be chores as we were kids are now good habits which benefit our lives tremendously! This Ramadan hasn’t been the same for me, I’m so behind on reading the Quran. This article just inspired me to try! With a few days left, I’ll still do what I can to make the most of it. You’re amazing!

  22. Avatar

    Zeba

    July 3, 2016 at 6:16 AM

    Oh Hibz, you never fail to amaze and inspire. I miss you friend. <<>>

  23. Avatar

    francis Ayala

    July 3, 2016 at 11:48 AM

    Lovely article. You inadvertently demonstrate how humanity shares much in common. We all are profoundly influenced by parents and relatives, and maintain those attachments. We are lifted through spiritual disciplines –reading the holy scripture of our traditions, prayer, meditation, chanting. We suffer and rejoice throughout our lives. We see events, and form opinion through our own prism of experience. We are all one humanity, but imagine ourselves separate. Thank you for sharing!

  24. Avatar

    Farida

    July 11, 2016 at 5:40 AM

    MashaAllah beautiful Tradition the last paragraph about your father and already missing him touched me to tears. Our Parents did whatever they could in the best way they knew how . I hope we will be able to parent our children with such beautiful memorable Traditions. Thank you, I really enjoyed reading your article.

  25. Avatar

    shadia

    July 16, 2016 at 11:46 PM

    Beautiful Masha’Allah

  26. Avatar

    Narayan Murthy

    August 5, 2016 at 8:45 AM

  27. Avatar

    Narayan Murthy

    August 5, 2016 at 8:46 AM

    WATCH – Mr. Deep Trivedi’s fitting reply to Mr. Zakir Naik on https://youtu.be/VRZI_TGAalc

  28. Avatar

    Madiha Khan

    August 10, 2016 at 1:50 AM

    Masha Allah very good article , yes we all should learn quran atleast one time in a year and Ramadan days are best to finish Quran, but I will also say that we also should learn quran except Ramadan days …

  29. Avatar

    Mohammad

    August 24, 2016 at 2:52 PM

    Subhanallah! Excellent piece of writing! and not just writing but the piece also reminds one of their past and their identity.

  30. Avatar

    Umm Hadi

    October 9, 2016 at 2:13 PM

    Asak Sr Hiba,
    May Allah bless your dad with the best in duniya and Akhira.
    May I ask how is doing?

  31. Pingback: Quran and Children | Wifaqul Ulama (Britain)

  32. Avatar

    Hina Shoeb

    June 10, 2017 at 5:06 AM

    Beautifully written! Lots of love your way

  33. Avatar

    Rizwan

    January 29, 2018 at 1:13 PM

    The ending made me cry. Thank you for a beautiful article.

  34. Avatar

    Maryam Ijaz

    April 15, 2019 at 8:23 AM

    Hi Hiba,
    Reading your essay reminds me of the days when my mom used to tell me and my sisters to complete Quran every Ramadan by 27th Roza because my mom used to do Niaz and make special dua for the departed family members. Reading your essay took me back to my childhood and made me realize how much I want my son to adopt the same habit our mom entailed on us which I am ashamed I didn’t carry on. Every year I wait for Ramadan there is something about this month that always excites me beside the fact we get an early off and all the family member sit on the table to break the fast together. This year INSHALLAH I will make sure I completed the Quran and will continue even after Ramadan.

    Thank you for reminding us the wordly affairs no matter how good or bad doesn’t matter because in the end what matters is how much successful are we as a Muslim.

  35. Avatar

    ruqyah syariah

    July 11, 2019 at 3:13 AM

    I had to complete also one recitation of the Quran for every Ramadan because my teacher was made us.

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#Society

Obituary of (Mawlana) Yusuf Sulayman Motala (1366/1946 – 1441/2019)

Monday, September 9, turned out to be a day of profound anguish and sorrow for many around the world. In the early morning hours, news of the death of Mawlana* Yusuf Sulayman Motala, fondly known as “Hazrat” (his eminence) to those who were acquainted with him, spread. He had passed away on Sunday at 8:20 pm EST in Toronto, after suffering a heart attack two weeks earlier.

Dr. Mufti Abdur Rahman ibn Yusuf Mangera

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Dar Al Uloom Bury, Yusuf Sulayman Motala

A master of hadith and Qur’an. A sufi, spiritual guide and teacher to thousands. A pioneer in the establishment of a religious education system. His death reverberated through hearts and across oceans. We are all mourning the loss of a luminary who guided us through increasingly difficult times.

Monday, September 9, turned out to be a day of profound anguish and sorrow for many around the world. In the early morning hours, news of the death of Mawlana* Yusuf Sulayman Motala, fondly known as “Hazrat” (his eminence) to those who were acquainted with him, spread. He had passed away on Sunday at 8:20 pm EST in Toronto, after suffering a heart attack two weeks earlier. (May the Almighty envelope him in His mercy)

His journey in this world had begun more than 70 years ago in the small village of Nani Naroli in Gujarat, India, where he was born on November 25, 1946 (1 Muharram 1366) into a family known for their piety.

His early studies were largely completed at Jami’a Husayniyya, one of the early seminaries of Gujarat, after which he travelled to Mazahir Ulum, the second oldest seminary of the Indian Sub-Continent, in Saharanpur, India, to complete his ‘alimiyya studies. What drew him to this seminary was the presence of one of the most influential and well-known contemporary spiritual guides, Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi (d. 1402/1982), better known as “Hazrat Shaykh.” He had seen Mawlana Zakariyya only briefly at a train stop, but it was enough for him to understand the magnitude of his presence.

Mawlana Yusuf remained in Saharanpur for two years. Despite being younger than many of the other students of Shaykh Zakariya, the shaykh took a great liking to him. Shaykh Zakariya showered him with great attention and even deferred his retirement from teaching Sahih al-Bukhari so that Mawlana Yusuf could study it under his instruction. While in Saharanpur, Mawlana Yusuf also studied under a number of other great scholars, such as Mawlana Muhammad ‘Aqil (author of Al-Durr al-Mandud, an Urdu commentary of Sunan Abi Dawud and current head lecturer of Hadith at the same seminary), Shaykh Yunus Jownpuri (d. 1438/2017) the previous head lecturer of Hadith there), Mawlana As‘adullah Rampuri (d. 1399/1979) and Mufti Muzaffar Husayn (d. 1424/2003).

Upon completion of his studies, Mawlana Yusuf’s marriage was arranged to marry a young woman from the Limbada family that had migrated to the United Kingdom from Gujarat. In 1968, he relocated to the UK and accepted the position of imam at Masjid Zakariya, in Bolton. Although he longed to be in the company of his shaykh, he had explicit instructions to remain in the UK and focus his efforts on establishing a seminary for memorization of Qur’an and teaching of the ‘alimiyya program. The vision being set in motion was to train a generation of Muslims scholars that would educate and guide the growing Muslim community.

Establishing the first Muslim seminary, in the absence of any precedent, was a daunting task. The lack of support from the Muslim community, the lack of integration into the wider British community, and the lack of funds made it seem an impossible endeavour. And yet, Mawlana Yusuf never wavered in his commitment and diligently worked to make the dream of his teacher a reality. In 1973 he purchased the derelict Aitken Sanatorium in the village of Holcombe, near Bury, Lancashire. What had once been a hospice for people suffering from tuberculosis, would become one of the first fully-fledged higher-education Islamic institutes outside of the Indian-Subcontinent teaching the adapted-Nizami syllabus.

The years of struggle by Maulana Yusuf to fulfil this vision paid off handsomely. Today, after four decades, Darul Uloom Al Arabiyya Al Islamiyya, along with its several sister institutes, also founded by Mawlana Yusuf, such as the Jamiatul Imam Muhammad Zakariya seminary in Bradford for girls, have produced well over 2,000 British born (and other international students) male and female ‘alimiyya graduates – many of whom are working as scholars and serving communities across the UK, France, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, the US, Canada, Barbados, Trinidad, Panama, Saudi Arabia, India and New Zealand. Besides these graduates, a countless number of individuals have memorized the Qur’an at these institutes. Moreover, many of the graduates of the Darul Uloom and its sister institutes have set up their own institutes, such as Jamiatul Ilm Wal Huda in Blackburn, Islamic Dawah Academy in Leicester, Jami’ah al-Kawthar in Lancaster, UK, and Darul Uloom Palmela in Portugal, to just mention a few of the larger ones. Within his lifetime, Mawlana Yusuf saw first-hand the fruit of his labours – witnessing his grand students (graduates from his students’ institutes) providing religious instruction and services to communities around the world in their local languages. What started as a relationship of love between a student and teacher, manifested into the transmission of knowledge across continents. In some countries, such as the UK and Portugal, one would be hard-pressed to find a Muslim who had not directly or indirectly benefited from him.

Mawlana Yusuf was a man with deep insights into the needs of Western contemporary society, one that was very different from the one he had grown up and trained in. With a view to contributing to mainstream society, Mawlana Yusuf encouraged his graduates to enter into further education both in post-graduate Islamic courses and western academia, and to diversify their fields of learning through courses at mainstream UK universities. As a result, many ‘alimiyya graduates of his institutes are trained in law, mainstream medicine, natural medicine and homeopathy, mental health, child protection, finance, IT, education, chaplaincy, psychology, philosophy, pharmacy, physics, journalism, engineering, architecture, calligraphy, typography, graphic design, optometry, social services, public health, even British Sign Language. His students also include several who have completed PhDs and lecture at universities. His vision was to train British-born (or other) Muslim scholars who would be well versed in contemporary thought and discipline along with their advanced Islamic learning, equipping them to better contribute to society.

Despite his commitment to the establishment of a public good, the shaykh was an immensely private person and avoided seeking accolade or attention. For many decades he refused invitations to attend conferences or talks around the country, choosing to focus on his students and his family, teaching the academic syllabus and infusing the hearts of many aspirants with the love of Allah through regular gatherings of remembrance (dhikr) and spiritual retreats (i’tikaf) in the way of his shaykh’s Chishti Sufi order.

During my entire stay with him at Darul Uloom (1985–1997), I can say with honesty that I did not come across a single student who spoke ill of him. He commanded such awe and respect that people would find it difficult to speak with him casually. And yet, for those who had the opportunity to converse with him, knew that he was the most compassionate, humble, and loving individual.

He was full of affection for his students and colleagues and had immense concern for the Muslim Ummah, especially in the West. He possessed unparalleled forbearance and self-composure. When he taught or gave a talk, he spoke in a subdued and measured tone, as though he was weighing every word, knowing the import it carried. He would sit, barely moving and without shifting his posture. Even after a surgical procedure for piles, he sat gracefully teaching us Sahih al-Bukhari. Despite the obvious pain, he never made an unpleasant expression or winced from the pain.

Anyone who has listened to his talks or read his books can bear testimony to two things: his immense love for the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his love for Shaykh Mawlana Muhammad Zakariya Kandhlawi (may Allah have mercy on him). It is probably hard to find a talk in which he did not speak of the two. His shaykh was no doubt his link to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) in both his hadith and spiritual transmissions.

Over the last decade, he had retired from most of his teaching commitments (except Sahih al-Bukhari) and had reduced meeting with people other than his weekly dhikr gatherings. His time was spent with his family and young children and writing books. His written legacy comprises over 20 titles, mostly in Urdu but also a partial tafsir of the Qur’an in classical Arabic.

After the news of his heart attack on Sunday, August 25, and the subsequent effects to his brain, his well-wishers around the world completed hundreds of recitals of the Qur’an, several readings of the entire Sahih al-Bukhari, thousands of litanies and wirds of the formula of faith (kalima tayyiba), and gave charity in his name. However, Allah Most High willed otherwise and intended for him to depart this lowly abode to begin his journey to the next. He passed away two weeks later and reports state that approximately 4,000 people attended his funeral. Had his funeral been in the UK, the number of attendees would have multiplied several folds. But he had always shied away from large crowds and gatherings and maybe this was Allah Most High’s gift to him after his death. He was 75 (in Hijra years, and 72 in Gregorian) at the time of his death and leaves behind eight children and several grandchildren.

Mawlana Yusuf educated, inspired and nourished the minds and hearts of countless across the UK and beyond. May Allah Almighty bless him with the loftiest of abodes in the Gardens of Firdaws in the company of Allah’s beloved Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) and grant all his family, students, and cherishers around the world beautiful patience.

Dr Mufti Abdur-Rahman Mangera
Whitethread Institute, London
(A fortunate graduate of Darul Uloom Bury, 1996–97)

*a learned Muslim scholar especially in India often used as a form of address

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Shaykh Hamza Yusuf And The Question of Rebellion In The Islamic Tradition

Dr Usaama al-Azami

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Sepoy rebellion, Shaykh Hamza

In recent years, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, a notable Islamic scholar from North America, has gained global prominence by supporting efforts by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to deal with the fallout of the Arab revolutions. The UAE is a Middle Eastern autocracy that has been the chief strategist behind quelling the Arab revolutionary aspiration for accountable government in the region. Shaykh Hamza views himself as helping prevent the region from falling into chaos by supporting one of its influential autocratic states. However, more recently, he has become embroiled in another controversy because of comments he made regarding the Syrian revolution in 2016 that surfaced online earlier this week and for which he has since apologised. I will not discuss these comments directly in this article, but the present piece does have a bearing on the issue of revolution as it addresses the question of how Islamic scholars have traditionally responded to tyranny. Thus, in what follows, I somewhat narrowly focus on another recent recording of Shaykh Hamza that has been published by a third party in the past couple of weeks entitled: “Hamza Yusuf’s response to the criticism for working with Trump administration”. While it was published online at the end of August 2019, the short clip may, in fact, predate the Trump controversy, as it only addresses the more general charge that Shaykh Hamza is supportive of tyrannical governments.

Thus, despite its title, the primary focus of the recording is what the Islamic tradition purportedly says about the duty of Muslims to render virtually unconditional obedience to even the most tyrannical of rulers. In what follows, I argue that Shaykh Hamza’s contention that the Islamic tradition has uniformly called for rendering obedience to tyrannical rule—a contention that he has been repeating for many years—is inaccurate. Indeed, it is so demonstrably inaccurate that one wonders how a scholar as learned as Shaykh Hamza can portray it as the mainstream interpretation of the Islamic tradition rather than as representing a particularly selective reading of fourteen hundred years of scholarship. Rather than rest on this claim, I will attempt to demonstrate this in what follows. (Note: this article was sent to Shaykh Hamza for comment at the beginning of this month, but he has not replied in time for publication.)

Opposing all government vs opposing a government

Shaykh Hamza argues that “the Islamic tradition” demands that one render virtually absolute obedience to one’s rulers. He bases this assertion on a number of grounds, each of which I will address in turn. Firstly, he argues that Islam requires government, because the opposite of having a government would be a state of chaos. This is, however, to mischaracterise the arguments of the majority of mainstream scholars in Islamic history down to the present who, following explicit Qur’anic and Prophetic teachings, opposed supporting tyrannical rulers. None of these scholars ever advocated the removal of government altogether. They only opposed tyranny. For some reason that is difficult to account for, Shaykh Hamza does not, in addressing the arguments of his interlocutors, make the straightforward distinction between opposing tyranny, and opposing the existence of any government at all.

A complex tradition

Rather than support these tyrannical governments, the Islamic tradition provides a variety of responses to how one should oppose such governments, ranging from the more quietist—opposing them only in one’s heart—to the more activist—opposing them through armed rebellion. The majority of later scholars, including masters such as al-Ghazzali (d. 505/1111), Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795/1393), and Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d. 852/1449) appear to have fallen somewhere between these two poles, advocating rebellion only in limited circumstances, and mostly advising a vocally critical posture towards tyranny. Of course, some early scholars, such as the sanctified member of the Prophetic Household, Sayyiduna Husayn (d. 61/680) had engaged in armed opposition to the tyranny of the Umayyads resulting in his martyrdom. Similarly, the Companion ‘Abdullah b. Zubayr (d. 73/692), grandson of Abu Bakr (d. 13/634), and son of al-Zubayr b. al-‘Awwam (d. 36/656), two of the Ten Companions Promised Paradise, had established a Caliphate based in Makkah that militarily tried to unseat the Umayyad Caliphal counter-claimant.

However, the model of outright military rebellion adopted by these illustrious scholars was generally relinquished in later centuries in favour of other forms of resisting tyranny. This notwithstanding, I will try to show that the principle of vocally resisting tyranny has always remained at the heart of the Islamic tradition contrary to the contentions of Shaykh Hamza. Indeed, I argue that the suggestion that Shaykh Hamza’s work with the UAE, an especially oppressive regime in the Arab world, is somehow backed by the Islamic tradition can only be read as a mischaracterisation of this tradition. He only explicitly cites two scholars from Islamic history to support his contention, namely Shaykhs Ahmad Zarruq (d. 899/1493) and Abu Bakr al-Turtushi (d. 520/1126), both of whom were notable Maliki scholars from the Islamic West. Two scholars of the same legal school, from roughly the same relatively peripheral geographic region, living roughly four hundred years apart, cannot fairly be used to represent the swathe of Islamic views to be found over fourteen hundred years in lands as far-flung as India to the east, Russia to the north, and southern Africa to the south.

What does the tradition actually say?

Let me briefly illustrate the diversity of opinion on this issue within the Islamic tradition by citing several more prominent and more influential figures from the same tradition alongside their very different stances on the issue of how one ought to respond to tyrannical rulers. Most of the Four Imams are in fact reported to have supported rebellion (khuruj) which is, by definition, armed. A good summary of their positions is found in the excellent study in Arabic by Shaykh ‘Abdullah al-Dumayji, who is himself opposed to rebellion, but who notes that outright rebellion against tyrannical rule was in fact encouraged by Abu Hanifa (d. 150/767) and Malik (d. 179/795), and is narrated as one of the legal positions adopted by al-Shafi‘i (d. 204/820) and Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241/855). As these scholars’ legal ideas developed and matured into schools of thought, many later adherents also maintained similar positions to those attributed to the founders of these schools. To avoid suggesting that armed rebellion against tyrants was the dominant position of the later Islamic tradition, let me preface this section with a note from Holberg Prize-winning Islamic historian, Michael Cook, who notes in his magisterial study of the doctrine of commanding right and forbidding wrong that “in the face of the delinquency of the ruler, there is a clear mainstream position [in the Islamic tradition]: rebuke is endorsed while [armed] rebellion is rejected.”

But there were also clearly plenty of outliers, or more qualified endorsements of rebellion against tyrants, as well as the frequent disavowal of the obligation to render them any obedience. Thus for the Malikis, one can find Qadi Abu Bakr b. al-‘Arabi (d. 543/1148) who asserts that advocating rebellion against tyrants is the main position of the madhhab; similarly among later Hanafis, one finds Qadi Abu Bakr al-Jassas (d. 370/981); for the Hanbalis, one may cite the positions of the prolific scholars Imam Ibn ‘Aqil (d. 513/1119), Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597/1201), and in a more qualified sense, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali. Among later Shafi‘is, I have found less explicit discussions of rebellion in my limited search, but a prominent Shafi‘i like the influential exegete and theologian al-Fakhr al-Razi (d. 606/1210) makes explicit, contrary to Shaykh Hamza’s claims, that not only is obeying rulers not an obligation, in fact “most of the time it is prohibited, since they command to nothing but tyranny.” This is similar in ways to the stance of other great Shafi‘is such as al-hafiz Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani who notes concerning tyrannical rulers (umara’ al-jawr) that the ulama state that “if it is possible to depose them without fitna and oppression, it is an obligation to do so. Otherwise, it is obligatory to be patient.” It is worth noting that the normative influence of such a statement cited by Ibn Hajar transcends the Shafi‘i school given that it is made in his influential commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari. Once again, contrary to the assertions of Shaykh Hamza, there is nothing to suggest that any of the illustrious scholars who supported rebellion against tyrannical rulers was advocating the anarchist removal of all government. Rather they were explicitly advocating the replacement of a tyrant with a just ruler where this was possible.

Al-Ghazzali on confronting tyrants

A final example may be taken from the writing of Imam al-Ghazzali, an exceptionally influential scholar in the Islamic tradition who Shaykh Hamza particularly admires. On al-Ghazzali, who is generally opposed to rebellion but not other forms of opposition to tyranny, I would like to once again cite the historian Michael Cook. In his previously cited work, after an extensive discussion of al-Ghazzali’s articulation of the doctrine of commanding right and forbidding wrong, Cook concludes (p. 456):

As we have seen, his views on this subject are marked by a certain flirtation with radicalism. In this Ghazzālī may have owed something to his teacher Juwaynī, and he may also have been reacting to the Ḥanafī chauvinism of the Seljūq rulers of his day. The duty, of course, extends to everyone, not just rulers and scholars. More remarkably, he is prepared to allow individual subjects to have recourse to weapons where necessary, and even to sanction the formation of armed bands to implement the duty without the permission of the ruler. And while there is no question of countenancing rebellion, Ghazzālī is no accommodationist: he displays great enthusiasm for men who take their lives in their hands and rebuke unjust rulers in harsh and uncompromising language.

Most of the material Cook bases his discussion upon is taken from al-Ghazzali’s magnum opus, The Revival of the Religious Sciences. Such works once again demonstrate that the Islamic tradition, or great Sufi masters and their masterworks, cannot be the basis for the supportive attitude towards tyrannical rule on the part of a minority of modern scholars.

Modern discontinuities and their high stakes

But modern times give rise to certain changes that also merit our attention. In modern times, new technologies of governance, such as democracy, have gone some way to dealing with challenges such as the management of the transition of power without social breakdown and the loss of life, as well as other forms of accountability that are not possible in absolute autocracies. For their part, absolute autocracies have had their tyrannical dimensions amplified with Orwellian technologies that invade private spaces and facilitate barbaric forms of torture and inhumane degradation on a scale that was likely unimaginable to premodern scholars. The stakes of a scholar’s decision of whether to support autocracy or democracy could not be higher.

Modern scholars like Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b. 1345/1926), someone who Shaykh Hamza’s own mentor, Shaykh Abdullah b. Bayyah (b. 1353f./1935) considered a teacher until fairly recently, has advocated for an Islamic conception of democracy as a possible means to deal with the problem of tyranny that plagues much of the Muslim world. He is hardly the only scholar to do so. And in contrast with some of the scholars of the past who advocated armed rebellion in response to tyranny, most contemporary scholars supporting the Arab revolutions have argued for peaceful political change wherever possible. They have advocated for peaceful protest in opposition to tyranny. Where this devolved into violence in places like Libya, Syria, and Yemen, this was generally because of the disproportionately violent responses of regimes to peaceful protests.

Shaykh Hamza on the nature of government

For Shaykh Hamza, the fault here appears to lie with the peaceful protestors for provoking these governments to crush them. Such a conception of the dynamics of protest appears to assume that the autocratic governmental response to this is a natural law akin to cause and effect. The logic would seem to be: if one peacefully calls for reform and one is murdered in cold blood by a tyrannical government, then one has only oneself to blame. Governments, according to this viewpoint, have no choice but to be murderous and tyrannical. But in an age in which nearly half of the world’s governments are democracies, however flawed at times, why not aspire to greater accountability and less violent forms of governance than outright military dictatorship?

Rather than ask this question, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf appears to be willing to defend autocracy no matter what they do on the grounds that government, in principle, is what is at stake. Indeed, in defending government as necessary and a blessing, he rhetorically challenges his critics to “ask the people of Libya whether government is a blessing; ask the people of Yemen whether government is a blessing; ask the people of Syria whether government is a blessing?” The tragic irony of such statements is that these countries have, in part, been destroyed because of the interventions of a government, one for which Shaykh Hamza serves as an official, namely the UAE. This government has one of the most aggressive foreign policies in the region and has been instrumental in the failure of representative governments and the survival of tyrannical regimes throughout the Middle East.

Where do we go from here?

In summary, Shaykh Hamza’s critics are not concerned that he is “supporting governments,” rather they are concerned that for the last few years, he has found himself supporting bad government and effectively opposing the potential for good government in a region that is desperately in need of it. And while he may view himself as, in fact, supporting stability in the region by supporting the UAE, such a view is difficult if not impossible to reconcile with the evidence. Given his working relationship with the UAE government, perhaps Shaykh Hamza could use his position to remind the UAE of the blessing of government in an effort to stop them from destroying the governments in the region through proxy wars that result in death on an epic scale. If he is unable to do this, then the most honourable thing to do under such circumstances would be to withdraw from such political affiliations and use all of his influence and abilities to call for genuine accountability in the region in the same way that he is currently using his influence and abilities to provide cover, even if unwittingly, for the UAE’s oppression.

And Allah knows best.

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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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