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The Slave Of Ar-Rahman : A Story Of Illness And Faith

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Life is Life.

It is a battle against the sensory and base impulses that are within us all, manifesting at moments of trial, seeking to strip us of the innate serenity of Trust between us and The Almighty.  You hear the call to arms and rebellion in the invocation of our blessed Nabi ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him):

“I beg of You, My Lord, contentment – Ridaa – after fate strikes.”

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On occasion:

“O Allah, My Lord, I ask of You to grant me a tranquil soul that is faithful to the inevitability of meeting You, content with my destiny, and accepting of all that You have provided.”

To know Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is to accept.

To accept that all is from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

To accept that all is for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

To accept that all is to return to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

A life-changing diagnosis

March 2018: I had relocated from NY to California’s Bay Area and was working as the Executive Chef at Google in Silicon Valley. My life had been truly blessed. I was a Muslim woman who had achieved an unparalleled level of success in a male-dominated industry. Worldly success was in the palm of my hand. I thought this was it; this is what life is about. But I was about to learn that I was a misguided soul, and that a meaningful purpose was amiss.

December 3 2018:

My 38th birthday. Another typical day at work, when my phone rang.

It was the doctor. She asked if I ever had ever had an abnormal Pap before. She said: “Ms. Agha, we got the results of your Pap smear, and it shows some atypical cells. I would not worry too much, but we need to do a colposcopy.”

I honestly did not know what she meant by ‘atypical cells’ or a ‘colposcopy.’ I did some research, which gave me numerous possible outcomes; one more scarier than the other. I tried to convince myself not to be a Google doctor and not to worry unless I had to.

January 22, 2019,

I had  the colposcopy. A week following the procedure, the doctor called. She was not too pleased with the result and wanted to schedule me for a more extensive biopsy called a cone biopsy.

February 14, 2019:

I had my my cone biopsy; an outpatient procedure under general anesthesia. All went well, minus some discomfort and pain, which is typical of a procedure like that. The procedure was on a Thursday, which meant I would not have any results until Monday the 18th at the earliest.

I tried not to be very concerned and tried to stay positive. I had read that this happens in many cases, but it turns out to be nothing. Besides, I had just turned 38. You do not expect something terrible may happen to you. I had youth on my side, and I was healthy and fit.

Back at work on a Monday -which is the most demanding and busiest day in my profession- and despite being preoccupied, I was very conscious of my phone. I remember looking at it several times to see if I had missed a call from the doctor. The day went by in complete silence, and that night was restless. The next ninety-six hours were uneasy because fear and anticipation had clouded my head. This urge to know, but all I could do was wait patiently.

February 22, 2019, 9:34 AM:

The phone rings. I was in the kitchen, and immediately I dropped everything and ran to my office to take the call.

Hello?

I could hear the distress in my doctor’s voice.  She said, “Ms. Agha, I am so sorry to tell you, but you have cervical cancer. We do not know what stage it is, but I am going to set you up with an oncologist.”

I got off the phone and slumped into my office chair. I heard what the doctor said clearly, but my brain was unable to process the information. The words were replaying in my head over and over and over again. You could say I was in a state of disbelief or even shock. I did not cry. I did not tell anyone. I took a deep breath, and because I was at work, continued to work.

The forty-eight hours after the call I spent in a daze. I went about my life like a robot, without being able to process anything. I had to work; I was the boss. The doctors had gone into what I like to call “beast mode.” They bombarded me with phone calls, consent forms, appointments for MRIs, CT scans, and insurance issues. Everything sounded like it was in a foreign language. In hindsight, I could have taken time off, but that was something I did not do. I would have to be on my death bed to call time off. I put a brave front and functioned, while the voice in my head kept saying. “I have cancer.” “I have cancer.” “I have cancer.”

By Friday, I had told two very close friends, one of whom is a doctor. Their reaction naturally was one of concern, coupled with a lot of hand-holding, and reassurances that I was courageous and was going to fight it. They understood the magnitude of my diagnosis, but I still did not quite comprehend it. You could say that there was some level of denial there. It felt like an out of body experience.

I had never really been a very emotional person. I had always been tough; the years of being strong had given me this resilience, which was my armor. I could not afford to be weak; I needed to adopt a more practical and logical approach if I was to fight this. Besides, at this point, I had not even told my mother. Who would support her if I was falling apart? Just the thought of her gave me more anxiety than the tumor growing inside me.

I was born and raised in a Muslim family. Unfortunately, like many families, the focus on Islam was limited. I was, however, fortunate that around 2013, I had slowly started to take an interest and was curious to learn about my true faith. At the time of my diagnosis, I was practicing; I prayed five times a day, fasted, had been for Umrah, took part in the necessary obligations that were expected of me—living an honest life striving to do the best. Thus far, this was my understanding of faith. I knew nothing different. What I was about to realize was that this was mere action. I had not been calling out to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sincerely because I felt this distance from Him; there was this gap that needed to be bridged.

The Saturday after my diagnosis I was drinking my morning coffee when out of nowhere, my mind started to run a mile a minute. Thoughts of my diagnosis, realities of life, the purpose of life just started pouring in. I became incredibly aware of myself; conscious of this reality that was not on my radar before this moment.

You see, I walked this earth under the illusion that I have control of life, destiny. Until this moment, I had plans laid out, plans for promotions, a house, a car, and travel—an upward trajectory. Then I received that phone call, and in a blink of an eye, I had lost complete control of everything. The power of my youth, health, wealth, was all gone. I was insignificant, just so minuscule when it came to His decree. I came to realize that every moment we are alive, we are gasping for breath on life support machines. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) can pull that plug any second. I became conscious of the reality that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was The One providing for me every moment. I did not earn any of this on my own, and none of this was something that I deserved. Humbled -the first crack in my armor-, I cried, ashamed, and remorseful to my Lord for my delusion. I cried, begging Him and praying to Him as I have never prayed before, feeling closer to Him like I have never felt before, pleading with Him to carry me through this battle and the unknown I was about to face.

Cancer was the catalyst, that was the beginning of an arduous journey, one filled with a whirlwind of complications and diagnosis one after the other. Every moment from this point was going be a lesson in life. Every moment was going to be humbling. Every moment was going to be one of gratitude. Every moment was going to enable me to earn the greatest treasure I could even earn, and that is humility and a closeness to my Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

Relinquishing Control

March 3, 2019:

The first appointment with the oncologist. I was anxious, eager to know what stage of cancer I had, desperate to know of a treatment plan. I felt like a blind person stumbling in the dark, looking for an answer, but it was not Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Will that I find one that day. Unfortunately, my CT scan was inconclusive, and the sample of my cone biopsy was “too mushy” for the doctor to give me a staging. He said to come back, as he needed to speak to the tech. There was nothing I could do. I had to relinquish control and submit to Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Will.

March 22, 2019:

I had my second appointment with the oncologist. By this point, my mother had been told and had flown into California. Having her there, seeing the fear on her face, the pain I felt in my heart to see her was more wearisome than cancer. I will never be blessed enough to know what a mother feels. That was not part of Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) plan for me. I would be wrong in saying that I can understand her pain. I can, however, say this: if I could have taken her pain away, I would have done anything to do that. We went to the doctor hoping for some answers, but again Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) had different plans. The doctor wanted to schedule me for another cone biopsy; the previous sample was inconclusive. To add to that, I could not have the second cone biopsy for another three weeks because I was still healing from the previous one.

It had been thirty days since my diagnosis, and I had to wait an additional three weeks for further testing. I did not know what stage it was, nor what my treatment plan was. All I knew was that I had cancer. These chain of events and the lack of control was a new reality. It was challenging, but Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was also teaching me a valuable lesson. He was teaching me tawakkul by putting me in a position where I had no choice. The circumstances were forcing me into submission. I was facing my mortality, not knowing if I am going to live or die, having to give up my complete autonomy. You see,  Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) only wanted what is best for me. My cancer was a mercy to me. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) willed that through this; that I return to Him. That I seek the path that leads to His door. That I understand, and accept the divine decree, and focus my reliance on Him and only Him. All Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wanted me to do was knock on His door and trust Him.

March 25, 2019:

I had an appointment with a surgeon in NY. My doctor in NY became privy of my diagnosis, and she urged me to get a second opinion. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is one of the top cancer institutes on the east coast. NY was my home as I had just recently moved to California. I put my trust in the All-Merciful. He is the only one I could call upon for support, and I gathered all my reports and flew into NY on that Sunday. The next morning was my appointment, and I was catching the evening flight back to California. Twenty-four hours was what I had. I met the doctor, and finally, alhamdulillah, there was light at the end of the tunnel. The doctor examined me, diagnosed me, gave me the staging of 1B2, and presented me with a treatment plan, all in a matter of a few hours.

Surgery and complications

My cancer required a three-pronged treatment plan, surgery, followed by some chemotherapy and radiation as a preventive measure. The doctor in NY had emphasized a sense of urgency.

Here I was back in California, packing up a house again, that I had just finished unpacking, not knowing if I will ever return. My belongings in storage, I was forced to go back to NY to fight this battle. No home of my own, no job, and worried about my finances, it was all overwhelming and lonely. It was terrifying how much of all of this was outside of my control. We do not pay attention to just how one little event can drastically and wholly change our entire life.

April 29, 2019:

Pre- Surgical testing

April 30, 2019:

PET Scan and MRI

May 6, 2019:

Follow up visit with the surgeon, followed by a lab visit, and ECG

Hospital visits were my new life; a life full of uncertainty, and moments where it felt like everything was falling apart. I did not recognize this life. To add to this, I wanted to keep a brave face because I was terrified for my mother. I was living in her home. I could not even cry or grieve. If I cracked who would console her?

May 7, 2019: I was scheduled for a radical hysterectomy (removal of the cervix and uterus). The goal was to try and save my ovaries and tubes because I was still young. It was a 4-hour procedure; another step into the unknown, presented with paperwork, DNR’s, and health care proxies. I was 38, but I needed a health care proxy! I picked my younger brother. My heart broke for him. He put on a brave face, but I could see the sadness in his big brown eyes. They took me in, and there I lay on that cold table, bright lights shining down on me, my lips moist with the Ayatul Kursi. Count back from ten, and I was asleep. As I came too, I remember looking up at the clock. I knew something was wrong. Even in my semi-conscious state, I knew that I had only been in surgery for two hours. The doctor came into the recovery room. He said that they had discovered that I had severe endometriosis, which had caused my organs to fuse into each other. There were no clean margins. If he had tried to cut it out, cancer could have spread to my entire body.

The irony is that the surgeon ended up doing a bi-lateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries and tubes), deciding it was the best option to try and contain cancer from spreading. That night I lay in that hospital bed, nothing but the lights of the monitors connected to me. The voice in my head said: “They could not take it out. Not even a tiny bit of it. It is still inside me.” I began to think about my mother again and what this news meant to her. A sense of hopelessness overwhelmed me. It felt as though everything was spiraling out of control, and I was free-falling with no one to catch me. However, my inner voice called out to The One who put me in this difficulty, and I realized this difficulty as exhausting as it is, was to remind me fundamentally of who I am and who He is and what this world is. A reminder that I need to carry myself in an absolute state of trust and that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)  will see me through. That these events are in my best interest as the purpose is for me to gain a further closeness to Him.

Two types of radiation

May 16, 2019:

I was introduced to my radiation oncologist. The new plan involved eight weeks of chemotherapy and two types of radiation. Forty sessions of external, in which I was to lie on a table, and a machine would direct X-ray beams at the affected part of my body. Two sessions of high-dose-rate (HDR) brachytherapy, internal, in which radioactive materials would be inserted into my body. I was overcome with emotion, not wanting to cause my mother any more grief and cry in front of her; I excused myself and walked away, to try and gather myself. The description of the treatment just broke me. I stood in that hallway outside the room, helpless. I thought Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was sending me hardship after hardship, and that nothing has gone right. I feared this was punishment for my transgressions. I turned back to Him penitent, drawing closer to Him than I had ever been, having moments of vulnerability, alone just Him and me, experiencing some of the sweetest moments of my entire life.

May 19, 2019:

The wound of my surgery had developed some drainage. The drainage started as a trickle in the morning. I put a paper towel there to collect the fluid. As the day progressed, the liquid increased. Paper towels were changed more frequently. I was trying to be secretive about it, and I did not want to stress out my mother. She was not dealing well with all of this. The liquid continued to increase, and eventually, I ended up calling the emergency at Memorial Sloan Kettering. It was a Sunday, which meant the clinics were closed. I had an appointment the next morning with my surgeon, so the doctor on call gave me the option to either come in or wait till the next morning. I opted to wait. The night was uncomfortable, and I could not lie for more than 15 – 20 minutes before I would have to change the paper towels out because they would get wet. I lay there at night contemplating; I was walking on this path of turmoil, surrounded by hardship, uncertainty, enduring difficulties, forced to be patient. I had plenty of people and support around me, but I was alone. No one understood me anymore. How could they? My cancer was my experience, not theirs.

May 20, 2019:

I had two appointments. The first one was with my surgeon, followed by a new doctor, my chemotherapist. By this point, I had an excessive amount of fluid draining from the site of my incision.  My surgeon examined it; he did not say much, but I could tell by his face that he was bothered. Right there, not even a moment to think, his nurses brought in sterile packaged instruments. The gave me some local anesthetic, and with a scalpel, while I was awake, he reopened my entire incision. It is burnt in my memory like it was yesterday, one of my nurses was holding my hand. I could not see what they were doing; I was not in pain, but I was completely conscious. It was a state of sheer terror, not because they were untrained or unprofessional, but the idea of what was happening to me was unnerving. I could feel my heart rate increase; my body, hands, and feet were perspiring profusely. The nurse was trying to converse with me to keep my preoccupied, but the only words on my lips and tongue were the remembrance of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

حَسْبُنَا اللَّهُ وَنِعْمَ الْوَكِيلُ

Hasbunallah wani’mal wakeel

A fair amount of fluid drained, and the diagnosis: I had a seroma (an accumulation of fluid that can occur after surgery). There is no treatment for a seroma other than patience. Here I was two weeks after surgery. I was supposed to get my stitches removed today, go home and take a nice shower today, but again that was not in Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) plan. It is astonishing how we take these little blessings for granted. There was an open incision across my stomach 8 inches wide and 4 inches deep. I had to have the wound cleaned with saline and packed with gauze at least twice a day. This wound was debilitating. No more stitches; we were going let nature takes its course to ensure the wound heals from the inside out. I was already helpless, I did not think I could be any more disabled, and now I faced this complication.

I had a level of comfort with my doctors and nurses at the hospital, but now I faced a new challenge. I had to have a home nurse come in twice a day to dress my wound. I tried it for the first week, and it was terrible. I did not want to be at the mercy of a stranger, sitting saturated with fluid through the night, waiting for the nurse to arrive in the morning before I could get any relief. I was having a different nurse come in each time. It might seem trivial, but when you are that broken, tired, and so sick, and your body is falling apart, these little things matter. You do not want some stranger touching you, dressing a wound that causes immense pain. Some of them just want to be in and out, lacking compassion for the patient. However, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) already knew that this is something that I would have difficulty with, so He made a way out for me—blessed me with the help of a true friend. The following week my doctors and nurses trained her in the process. No longer was I at the mercy of a stranger coming over twice a day to change my dressing. Here was ease, relief, mercy in my time of need sent in the form of someone I was comfortable with, someone I trust to care for me, to clean me, to dress my wounds, diligently day in and day out, with love, patience, and compassion. A force by my side day and night through every chemo, every radiation, every hospital visit and stay. Urging me on and dragging me to my appointments when I was just too tired to fight.

There was a two-week delay in starting radiation therapy. Once radiation and chemo begin, it slows down the body’s healing process. The doctors wanted my wound to start to heal before any of the treatments.

June 3, 2019:

The external radiation started; they would last ten minutes each. I requested they schedule me first thing in the morning. I was in and out in fifteen minutes every day. Monday through Friday, this was my routine. The process was physically painless, but emotionally it took a toll on me. I would lie there every day on my chest, this hard table, naked, with a big open wound. Nobody in there but me and Him, my eyes closed in constant remembrance.

June 6, 2019: Right after the radiation was my first chemotherapy, and it would be administered every Thursday following. The nurses had trouble finding a suitable vein. I was not surprised; I have had small veins since I was a young child. Finally, they managed to get an IV in, and I got my infusion, but my chemotherapist set me with an appointment for a PICC line to help with future treatments. It had been a long day. My body was exhausted, but my mind was awake because of the steroids they gave me before chemo. It felt like torture. All I wanted to do was sleep, but the steroids had me so stimulated I could not bring myself to sleep.

June 8, 2019:

As the anti-nausea began to wear off, the effects of the chemotherapy started to kick in. I felt ill, dry heaving and vomiting, loss of appetite, exhaustion, mouth sores, slowly my body was disintegrating. I experienced the same side effects every week, becoming more and more aggressive and tiresome as the weeks progressed. It was like clockwork.

One of the many side effects of this chemotherapy is a loss of hearing. I had to have a regular hearing test; my ears would ring at odd hours. As the weeks progressed, my health started to decline. I could no longer sit in salat, let alone stand in salat. I would start retching in between, hoping I could just push through two rakat without having to start again. Sometimes I could not even make it to the bathroom. I used hospital vomit bags in bed. The radiation was starting to do its damage as well, and it was affecting my bowels, a constant upset stomach. I was unable to eat anything; my mouth would bleed from the sores. I was always fatigued, lost control of my bladder. My body was slowly disintegrating from all the poisonous chemicals. I was ailing, had no strength, queasy all the time,—a large open wound across my stomach, a PICC line in my right arm. I just wanted to close my eyes and sleep, but I could not lie comfortably. Very slowly withering away. All that was left were my tears, my supplication, and repentance, acknowledging Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) magnificence as I remembered Him.

June 26, 2019, and July 3, 2019:

Two of the most debilitating days of my treatment were the days I had the brachytherapy. The procedure done under general anesthesia involved the radiation oncologist placing a cervical stent attached to an applicator (two metal rods), used to deliver internal radiation. Following the procedure, they took me to my room. Here I had to lie still on my back; I could not move my legs; I could not sit or stand. I was only allowed to raise my head of the bed a little bit, about 20 degrees. I had to patiently endure this until they removed the applicator the following day. For the treatments, my bed was moved from my room to the Brachytherapy Suite, Radiation Oncology department. Here the applicator was connected to a machine. This machine then delivered tiny radioactive pellets into my body. We did this twice. I do not think I could have done it a third time. I did not even want to go the second time.

These two sessions were physically exhausting, but the effect that it had on my self-esteem, my sense of security. Each time was dehumanizing, heart-wrenching, and painful. There is no dignity in illness. Health is the greatest blessing from our Creator, and we take it for granted.

I was exhausted physically and mentally—my body ravaged by illness and chemotherapy. I did not have a home of my own; I had no job. There are no words that can do justice to how broken I was. I was not afraid to die anymore; I was afraid that I would die without earning complete forgiveness, which made me supplicate more. I held on to the dua of Ayub 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him):

 أَنِّي مَسَّنِيَ الضُّرُّ وَأَنتَ أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ

Annee massaniya alddurru waanta arhamu alrrahimeen

October 10, 2019:

My Pet scan showed I was cancer-free.

January 2019:

My wound from my surgery had finally closed.

February 6, 2020:

My MRI showed I was cancer-free.

This battle has not left me weak, defeated, or helpless. I learned to trust Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), never to concede or be defeated. I learned how to call upon Him, knowing that He loves me and loves to hear from me. I learned to put the highest level of trust in my relationship with Him while engaging in patience. I learned to be strong in my faith, in my body, my spirit, resilience to all that is around me. I learned piety, to be God-conscious, to walk a new path where I abandon all that is displeasing to Him, striving to earn His love.

I pray Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) enables me to never compromise my love for Him.

To make me beloved to Him in my repentance and allow me to reach better states of His love.

To make my weakness a reason for strength, being strong in every way possible, and to use this strength and this second chance at life he has given me, justly in the cause and the benefit of others.

Ameen

This article was checked and guided by Sh Yahya Ibrahim

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Sunayna Agha is an Executive Chef, restauranteur, recipe developer, and humanitarian. Born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, she grew up surrounded by large family feasts, influenced by her Grandmother's traditional cooking. She went on to spend her formative years studying in Singapore. It was this travel and worldly exposure that allowed her to gain an appreciation for the various customs and cultures. Her attention soon turned to the local cuisines and the different cooking techniques used in various places. While still in college studying Architecture, she established a small catering business at the age of 18. This experience finally inspired her to pursue food and culinary arts as a career. It was not long before she set her sights on the well-known food capital of the world, New York City. It was here, she went on to train under renowned Michelin star chefs. She has worked with some of the most prestigious chefs and has had the honor to serve celebrities, dignitaries, and statesmen. She has received glowing reviews from the press and those in the culinary world.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Spirituality

    August 13, 2020 at 8:49 AM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    What an amazing, intimate, brave narrative! Thank you greatly for sharing. They say the light comes through our wounds – your story deeply illustrates that. It gives those of us who are suffering through our own illness a path forward to Allah and hope.

    May Allah give you shifa (complete cure) and continued success in this world and jannat al firdous in the next.

    Small suggestion – perhaps alter you bio a little bit to add a bit of your tremendous, life altering journey? Ie, mention you are a cancer survivor, by the grace of God? (or something of the sort?)

  2. Avatar

    Umm Al-Ameen

    September 2, 2020 at 5:46 PM

    “There is no dignity in illness. Health is the greatest blessing from our Creator, and we take it for granted.”

    What an article! What a story! First of all, Jazakillah khayr sister for being brave enough to share your story with the world, few would be able to. And it was so moving, so compelling! May Almighty Allah grant you a complete and enduring shifaa. Allhamdulillah rabeel al-ameen in all circumstances. Your will, your determination to hold on to the rope of Allah was very, very inspiring. I pray Almighty Allah use this ordeal to elevate your status in this world and in the next. You are so right, so many things that we as humans take for granted until a calamity hits. And through it all, you held onto your Lord. Allahu Akbar. May Almighty Allah bless you with many more decades of all that is good and pleasing to Him. Aameen.

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Podcast: Prayer is a Work in Progress | Shaykh Abdullah Ayaaz Mullanee

Zeba Khan

Published

Many of us have been Muslim for our entire lives, and despite praying regularly for years, can still never feel like we’re never doing it right. Why is it so hard to focus in salah? And what should someone do if they feel like they are AWFUL at it?

Join Zeba Khan as she asks Shaykh Abdullah Ayaz Mullanee, who not only struggles with his prayers too, but is also the dean of Mishkah Institute, and author of the books “A Ramadan With the Prophet ” and “The Poetic Words of Sayyiduna Ali رضي الله عنه.” To take a free short course on the meaning of Salah, visit this link.

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

 

 

 

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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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#Islam

Undisputed And Undefeated: 13 Ways Khabib Nurmagomedov Inspired Us To Win With Faith

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Many fans anxiously watched UFC 254 with bated breath as Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov went head-to-head with Justin “The human highlight reel” Gaethje. The latter had just come off a spectacular TKO win against a formidable and feared fighter in the form of Tony Ferguson, beating him over 5 nerve-wracking rounds by outstriking him with a combination damaging head shots and crippling low kicks.

We all knew what both would do – Khabib would go for the takedown, and Gaethje would try to keep the fight on the feet and opt for stand-up striking – which fighter’s strategy would prevail? Alhamdulillah, it was Khabib, in a mere 2 rounds.  We weren’t in the fight, but we are all nervous and supplicating, making du’a to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to give him another victory.

And so it was that after the win, he collapsed in the middle of the ring to cry, as this was his first fight after the loss of his father due to complications with Covid-19. He cried, and many a man cried with him, feeling his pain. Gaethje revived from his triangle choked slumber and consoled his former foe, telling Khabib his father was proud of him.

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We were all sure when “The Eagle” got on the mic, he would say he wanted to fight GSP, George St Pierre, and then retire 30-0, as he had said in previous press conferences leading up to the fight.  Instead, he surprised us all by announcing his retirement at 29-0, and I couldn’t help but marvel that not only was he turning away from a lucrative final fight, but the way in which he announced his retirement reminded us of our faith, our deen, our religion, Islam.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur’an

“And remind, for indeed, the reminder benefits the believers.”

Throughout his MMA career, Khabib has proudly worn his faith on his sleeve. As he has risen to become the current pound-for-pound #1 fighter in the world and arguably the GOAT, the greatest of all time, his unwavering example as a practicing Muslim transformed him into a global phenomenon and role model for many of us by reminding us to be better worshippers, to be closer to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

Let’s look at a few of the ways he did this:

1. Beginning with Alhamdulillah

The announcer at UFC 254 began by congratulating Khabib on a job well-done yet again by praising him, stating, “The world is in awe of your greatness once again…your thoughts on an epic championship performance, congratulations.” Khabib didn’t immediately begin talking about himself. Instead, he said:

“Alhamdulillah, SubhanAllah, God give me everything…”

After stating this, he went on to announce his retirement, his reasons for retiring, and thanked everyone who supported his professional MMA journey.

The Reminder

Alhamdulillah is literally translated into “All Praise Belongs to God”. Khabib begins by thanking Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), pointing out that his talents and abilities are a gift, a blessing from the Most High. When we have any blessing from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), we must remember that whatever our own effort, our abilities, our support, and our achieved outcomes ultimately tie back to support from our Rabb, our Lord, who controls all.

Khabib pointing to Allah

It’s not from me, it’s from Him

If you’ve ever seen Khabib point at himself, shake his finger back and forth as if to say, “No” and then point up to the sky, this is a nonverbal way of him saying, don’t think all these great things you see are from me – they’re from Allah above.

2. The Prostration of Thankfulness – Sajdat al-Shukr

You may have noticed at the end of Khabib’s victory, when the announcer states that he’s the winner of the bout, he falls into a prostration known as Sajdat al-Shukr – the Prostration of Thankfulness (to Allah).

Khabib and his sons prostrating

The Reminder

Performing this is recommended when someone receives something beneficial (eg good news, wealth, etc) or if they avoided something potentially harmful (e.g. job loss, healing from a disease, etc). The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) would do this when he received good news. The believer should remember to be thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) as much as they can.

See also:

3. Establishing the 5 Daily Prayers

Khabib and me, don’t be jelly

Years ago (early 2018), Khabib visited my local masjid in Santa Clara, California (not far from where he was training in San Jose at the AKA gym). Many at the masjid didn’t know who he was, but we heard he was the #1 contender for the UFC Lightweight championship belt, at that time held by Tony Ferguson.

He did a Q & A with the community, and someone asked him a general question about what he would recommend for the youth.  He said, and I’m paraphrasing:

Take care of your prayers, if you come to Day of Judgment not take care of your prayers, on that day you will be smashed.

The Reminder

The second pillar of Islam that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has commanded us to follow is to pray to Him 5 times daily. Khabib was no doubt referencing the following statement of the Prophet (saw):

“The first action for which a servant of Allah will be held accountable on the Day of Resurrection will be his prayers. If they are in order, he will have prospered and succeeded. If they are lacking, he will have failed and lost…”

 

 

Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda notes that when the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) first began his mission of da’wah and faced devastating rejection from family and community, Allah told the Prophet to stand and pray. The reason for this is because when we are weak and suffering, the place to turn to for strength is back to Allah in prayer. There is no doubt Khabib’s strength came from his connection to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) which in turn came from his 5 daily prayers.

Praying multiple times daily, consistently, can be challenging; when it was legislated by Allah to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) kept telling him to go back and ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for a reduction, saying, “Your people will not be able to handle it.”

Khabib is a great reminder that no matter how high you climb in life and career, no matter how busy you think you are, worshipping Allah is the most important deed one can do, and this discipline is the most important habit to build.

4. Strong Wrestling Game

Some say Khabib is already 30-0 for wrestling a bear

In a sport that sees far more striking and kicking than it does wrestling, Khabib came to dominate the lightweight division of the UFC with a strong grappling style that is a combination of sambo (a Soviet martial art), judo, and wrestling. Famously, he outwrestled a bear when he was much younger.

During his fights, he doesn’t close out his bouts by pummeling his opponents and causing them damage as most strikers would. Most of his hits open up his opponents to being forced to tap out via submission. Even his last opponent, Justin Gaethje, noted that he was much happier to be choked out in a submission, as all he would get is a pleasant nap, as opposed to striking, which could have long-term health consequences.

The Reminder

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was not only able to wrestle, he took down the strongest wrestler in Makkah. Rukanah, the famed Makkan wrestler, challenged RasulAllah because of his hatred for the da’wah. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) accepted his challenge and took him down multiple times, body slamming him again and again. It was said that after the conquest of Makkah, Rukanah accepted Islam.

5. Fighting / Training through Sickness and Injury

During the post-fight press conference with UFC President Dana White, it was revealed that Khabib had broken one of his toes 3 weeks before the fight. Prior to that, he had taken two weeks off upon arriving at Fight Island having contracted mumps, according to AKA trainer and coach Javier Mendez. Khabib is quoted as having told Mendez, “My toe may be broken, but my mind is not.” In addition to this, his father had just passed away months earlier, and this would be his first fight without his father present.

Mumps, broken toes, and the emotional turmoil of family tragedy

The Reminder

In addition, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) has told us, “A strong believer is better and is more beloved to Allah than a weak believer, and there is good in everyone…” This strength includes strength of body, mind, and spirit; not just when conditions are perfect, but when trials surround you from every conceivable direction.

6. Relationship With His Father

After defeating Justin Gaethje, Khabib went to the center of the ring and cried, and everyone cried with him. We all knew his father’s death weighed heavily on his mind and his heart, and this was his first fight without him. His father was his mentor and trainer, whom everyone could obviously see he both loved and greatly respected.

In the post-fight question and answer with Dustin Poirier, Khabib was asked, “What’s your message for your young fans out there who look up to you so much?” he responded:

“Respect your parents, be close with your parents, this is very important. Parents everything, you know, your mother, your father, and that’s it, and everything in your life is going to be good, if you’re going to listen to your parents, mother, father, be very close with them, and other things come because your parents gonna teach what to do.”

The Reminder

There isn’t enough space in this article to go over how much emphasis our faith places on respecting our parents. Allah says in the Qur’an:

Your Lord has commanded that you should worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, say no word that shows impatience with them, and do not be harsh with them, but speak to them respectfully. [17:23]

7. Relationship With His Mother

Our parents ultimately want us to succeed, but also want us to maintain our well-being. Without his father’s presence, it was clear that Khabib’s mother didn’t want him continuing in the Octagon (the UFC ring). After 3 days of discussion, Khabib gave his word to her that this would be his final fight. After beating Justin Gaethje in UFC 254, Nurmagomedov announced he was retiring because he promised his mother that he would retire and that he’s a man of his word.

The Reminder

This hearkens back to a statement of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) about how much respect mothers deserve. A man asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, “Who is most deserving of my good company?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man asked, “Then who?” He (saw) said “Your mother.” The man asked again, “Then who?” The Prophet again said, “Your mother.” The man asked again, “Then who?” The Prophet finally said, “Your father.”

Khabib easily had millions more to make on a journey to hit 30-0 in his professional fighting career and decided to hang it all up to make his mother happy. This is true respect and obedience, and for that matter, the love of a mother for her son and his well-being over monetary gains.

8. Respect for Muhammad Ali

When asked about the comparisons between himself and Muhammad Ali, Khabib stated that it was an inappropriate comparison. He noted that Muhammad Ali didn’t just face challenges in the ring, but challenges outside of it due to racism, and that he was an agent of change with respect to bringing about greater civil rights for African Americans.

The Reminder

In his final sermon, Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, and no superiority of a white person over a black person or of a black person over a white person, except on the basis of personal piety and righteousness.”

From the 7th century until today, our faith recognizes that people are not judged by their race, but by their actions and the intentions behind those actions. In the video above, Khabib recognized both the wrongness of racism, and the challenge it posed along the way of Muhammad Ali’s own journey, and that his contributions to social justice transcended his involvement in sport.

9. His Conduct with Other Fighters

With the exception of the fight with Conor McGregor, Khabib always dealt with his opponents with respect. He hugs them, shakes their hand, and says good things about their accomplishments and strengths both before and after fights. In a sport known for heavy trash talking and showboating to build hype, Khabib kept his cool and his manners.

Champion vs Champion, the respect is mutual

The Reminder

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“The only reason I have been sent is to perfect good manners.”

Maintaining good character and conduct during press-conferences was Khabib’s calling card; even when trash talkers like Tony Ferguson tried to go after him, he would still recount Ferguson’s formidable stature as a fighter.

When reporters tried throwing him a softball opening to insult Ferguson’s mental health, Khabib responded that he didn’t want to talk about Tony Ferguson’s problems if he they were real; if Ferguson truly has a problem, then we should help him, as we all have problems.

10. Fighting Those Who Dishonor Faith and Family

As mentioned above, Khabib is known for being very respectful of his opponents during press conferences. He speaks well of their strengths, shakes their hands, hugs them; he even runs up to his opponent after a fight and hugs them, consoling them and wishing them well. After his win against Poirier, he traded shirts with him and donated $100k to Poirier’s charity.

Khabib vs Dana’s boy, the chicken

The exception was the infamous UFC 229 which Muslim fans watched holding years, maybe decades of pent up anger at the type of crass secular arrogance represented by Conor. We desperately wanted Khabib to maul the mouthy McGregor. The latter had gone after his family, his faith, his nationality, anything and everything to hype up the fight and try to get under the champ’s skin. Some people lose their calm, and others, well, they eat you alive.

Khabib made it clear he wasn’t having any of that. He took the fight to Conor and choked him out with a neck crank. We then learned why he was called “The Eagle” as he hopped the cage and jumped into the audience to go after other members of Conor’s team who had spoken ill of him, giving birth to “Air Khabib”.

The Reminder

When our faith and family is spoken of in an ill fashion, it’s not appropriate that we sit there and take it. Khabib never cared when it was criticism against him, but once it went to others around him, he took flight. We as Muslims should never give anybody who tries to attack and dehumanize us a chance to rest on their laurels. We should strive ourselves to take the fight back to them by whatever legal means necessary, as Khabib did, whether it is cartoons of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) or political pundits and satirists who monetize hatred against Muslims.

11. Shaking Hands and Training with Women

In numerous public instances, Khabib reminded us that our faith demands we don’t shake with the opposite gender. As one of my teachers taught us, the Qur’an instructs us to “lower our gaze” when dealing with women. If we shouldn’t even look at them out of respect for Allah’s command, how can we take it to the next level and touch them?

Extended to this is even more serious physical contact like training at the gym. Cynthia Calvillo, one of Khabib’s teammates at AKA gym, said the following about Khabib and his unit:

“It’s a little bit weird because of their religion and stuff…They don’t talk to women you know. I mean we say ‘hi’ to each other but we can’t train with them. They won’t train with women…I don’t think any other woman does.

The Reminder

Our faith places stricter physical and social interaction boundaries between men and women. Keeping matters professional and respectful with the opposite gender need not include physical contact. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was said to have never touched non-mahram women. It was narrated that he said,

“It is better for you to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle than to touch the hand of a woman who is impermissible to you.”

For this reason, the majority of scholars prohibited physical contact between men and women with some exceptions (e.g. old age). Watching Khabib maintain this practice, even in public where it could potentially embarrass him and cause undue negative attention, gives us all inspiration to deal with this issue in the workplace better. He encourages us to strive for better tolerance and awareness of our faith rather than forcing us to conform.

12. Not Making a Display of The “Trophy” Wife

If you follow Khabib’s Instagram, you won’t find lewd pics of him and a significant other. In fact, you won’t find any pictures at all of him and his wife. Who she is is a mystery to all. In an age and a sport where many post photos with their romantic partners, Khabib again is a standout with his gheerah, his honorable protectiveness for his significant other.

Khabib and his wife

The Reminder

We are again reminded that a part of manhood is to have protective ghayrah, jealousy over one’s spouse. Ibn al-Qayyim also said, bringing in the concept of chivalry,

“The dayyuth / cuckold is the vilest of Allah’s creation, and Paradise is forbidden for him [because of his lack of ghayrah]. A man should be ‘jealous’ with regards to his wife’s honor and standing. He should defend her whenever she is slandered or spoken ill of behind her back. Actually, this is a right of every Muslim in general, but a right of the spouse specifically. He should also be jealous in not allowing other men to look at his wife or speak with her in a manner which is not appropriate.”

13. Owning His Mistakes, Looking to Be Forgiven

Finally, it should be noted there is no real scholarly disagreement on prohibiting striking the face. Recognizing this, Khabib stated when asked if “he thinks the AlMighty will be satisfied with him for taking part in haram fights for money,” he replied, “I don’t think so.”

In an interview with the LA Times, he said:

“You go to mosque because nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes mistakes, and we have to ask Allah to forgive us. This is very important mentally, to be clear with Allah. This is not about the UFC. There is nothing else more important to me than being clear with Allah. And being clear with Allah is the No. 1 most hard thing in life.”

The Reminder

We as human beings aren’t perfect – perfection is only for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). We all make mistakes, sometimes small, sometimes large, but in the end, He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is ready to forgive us if we’re willing to recognize our failings and ask to be forgiven.  Allah says in the Qur’an in 2:222:

“Allah loves those who always turn to Him in repentance and those who purify themselves.”

There are no sins so great that redemption is beyond any of us. Whatever Khabib’s flaws, his value as a positive change maker and faith-based role model globally outweighs his negatives.

Part of seeking forgiveness is the process, and the first part of that process is acknowledging the mistake. This means not being in denial about it or not justifying it, just owning it. As Khabib has owned his mistake publicly, there is no need for us to try and justify it either.

We can own that there are problems with MMA and the industry, in participating as well as watching and supporting. At the same time, we can do as Dr Hatem al-Hajj said about Muhammad Ali:

Concluding Thoughts

While UFC pundits will forever debate over the greatest of all time, there is in doubt that Khabib Nurmogomedov, the first Muslim UFC champion, will always be our GOAT.

I ask that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accepts the good from what Khabib has done, rewards him tremendously for the inspiration he’s given us all to better focused on the akhirah, the next life, and continues to make him a powerful sports icon who uses his platform as Muhammad Ali did to teach Islam and exemplify it in the best way for all of us to benefit and follow.

Ameen.

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#Islam

Does A Muslim Have To Wish Well For An Oppressor Who Is Struck With Disease?

Imam Imran Salha

Published

First, we should differentiate between those who want to curse at the oppressor because it’s a fad, and those who do so because they either experienced oppression directly from said oppressor, or they genuinely empathize with those who have been directly oppressed.

To those who are doing it as a fad, I say what my teachers always said to me:

“Islam is not for blowing off steam.”

You cannot use Islam as an outlet for immaturity. Imam Shafi’i said if you are stuck between two options, choose the one that goes against your desires for there is a higher likelihood that the truth lies in that option.

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Second, we also have to be careful not to restrict the Islamic position on something just because it sounds like the moral high road. This may be personal preference for some to hold back from cursing the oppressor, but that doesn’t mean Islam specifically asks this of us.

What is the standard?

The Qur’an – “Tell my servants to say the best word.”

“I was not sent as one who always curses.” -Hadith

“The Muslim is not one who always curses.” -Hadith

Scholars noticed that the Prophet ﷺ used the word اللعّان (la’aan) instead of لاعن (laa’in). The former is صيغة المبالغة which means that one is always cursing, where the latter is a description for one who curses once. If the Prophet ﷺ meant to say that the Muslim NEVER curses he would have said “A Muslim is not one who curses even once.”

Instead, what He ﷺ actually said is it is not part of the character of a Muslim that they frequently curse, which is why he used the word لعّان.

Also, the Prophet ﷺ could not have meant that he never cursed, because he himself cursed at an entire tribe. In an authentic hadith in Saheeh Muslim, Khifaaf ibn Imaa’ al-Ghifaari narrates that the Prophet ﷺ made the following dua during salah:

اللَّهُمَّ العَنْ بَنِي لِحْيَانَ، وَالْعَنْ رِعْلًا، وَذَكْوَانَ، ثُمَّ وَقَعَ سَاجِدًا.

“Oh Allah, send your curse upon Bani Lihyaan, and curse Ri’l, and Thakwaan – and then the Prophet ﷺ fell in prostration.”

There is no way that the Prophet ﷺ would command us never to curse and then in certain instances invoke the curse of Allah on others. This proves that cursing is in fact necessary sometimes.

Abu Bakr [ramhu] told Urwah bin Masood to lick the genitalia of Al-laat, which was an idol that was worshipped at the time. This was after Urwah disrespected the Prophet ﷺ. This is a hadith in Bukhari and the Prophet ﷺ did not scold AbuBakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) for his reaction and all the narrations that say the Prophet ﷺ scolded him are weakened if not fabricated. We know the rulings on the Prophet ﷺ’s silence. His silence is legislation. If there was something wrong with Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him)‘ s words the Prophet ﷺ would have HAD to say something about it. His ﷺ silence means he agreed with what Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) did.

Even if you do not want to curse, why should you wish well on any oppressor when Allah cursed all oppressors in the Qur’an? You can be clever. Look at the following example.

When Jamal Abdel-Nasser died, Imam Mohammed al-Ghazzali (ra) said: “Oh Allah have mercy on him in the same way he had mercy on your Ummah.”

لما مات جمال عبد الناصر قال الشيخ الغزالي: اللهم ارحمه بقدر ما رحم الامة

So I can say, (and again this is in the case of wanting to avoid cursing): Oh Allah! Have mercy on Trump to the same degree that Trump had mercy on the immigrant mothers who had to be separated from their children as a result of his ruthless policies.

For Tarbiyah purposes, it is beneficial to teach your children and students of knowledge never to curse. This was the methodology of Imam AbdelQadir Jilani (ra) who would force his students never to curse even against oppressors. However, this is in the context of Tarbiyah and preparing students for scholarship and leadership, not the context of Fiqh. This is so that the students lean more towards the Prophetic reality and is also more in line with the hadith we mentioned in the beginning! A student of knowledge and future leader should not be in the habit of constantly cursing.

Many spiritual paths force their students into a certain “extreme” to discipline them and make their default setting leaning towards what is more spiritually beneficial, so that only when it is absolutely necessary will they use these “licenses” that allow them to express their anger. When it comes to the general masses though, we should not make it seem like this is absolutely not allowed, or that it is even spiritually superior to wish well on an oppressor.

We should not be in the business of telling people that Islam forces you to wish well on forces of evil.

The Prophet ﷺ passed by a janazah and said: “Relieved and one who others are relieved from.” Upon being asked, the Prophet ﷺ explained: “The Believer is relieved at the moment of their death from the toil of life. As for the wicked, the people, land, trees and animals are relieved from their presence as soon as they die.”

May the eyes of the oppressors never find rest. Ameen.

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