Half of the Testimony

Ashadu an la ilaha illallah wa ashhadu anna muhammadar rasulullah
I testify that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.

Perhaps the greatest honor and the greatest illustration of the rank of the Messenger of God is that to enter Islam you have to say the testimony of faith and half of that is testifying that the Prophet Muhammad salallahu alayhi wasalam is the messenger of God. Profound because faith can’t even begin until you accept and testify to that reality. You can believe in God, but the Prophet Muhammad salallahu alayhi wasalam is how to believe and how to worship God. He is the perfect slave.  Its like the first part is admitting you are a slave and the second part is the how. The how to be a slave is following the Prophet Muhammad salallahu alayhi wasalam.

I wonder how is it then that we miss the message of Islam. The revelation begins with “Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim, in the name of God the most merciful the most gracious” (1:1) and in its heart Allah tells us that “And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds”. (21:107). When Allah describes the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam further He says “Truly, you are of tremendous character.” (68:4) The Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasalam) himself emphasized that, “I was only sent to perfect noble character,” (Narrated by Ahmad) and said, “The believers most perfect in faith are those best in character.” (Narrated by Tirmidhi).

What went wrong? Why is it that some people seem void of mercy and good character? Then I remembered the story of the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam and the woman who would put trash and thorns in his path to bother him. One day they were missing and he noticed and went to check on her to see if she had fallen sick. Notice he didn’t sigh due to relief because his dua was answered, because he would never make that dua. He was concerned for a person who we would consider his enemy. He went to visit her and because of the mercy he, salallahu alayhi wasalam had towards her she became Muslim. The example of the Prophet Muhammad is more merciful to his enemies than most of us are to our families, friends, love ones and communities. Meaning He, sallallahu alayhi wasalam is more merciful to people we normally hate (enemies) than we are to the people we love.

We are like that person who marches into Mecca when it was conquered by the Muslims wanting to annihilate its people, but the Messenger of God, salallahu alayhi wasalam announces that the people of Mecca who fought him, humiliated him and killed his family and companions were pardoned.  The people of Mecca were fearful that they’d all be killed for what they had done for the last 20 years of hostility, but the Prophet of God responded to their fear with love and mercy. I remember relearning about this moment as I was getting back in touch with Islam and that hard-hearted person I used to be broke down crying because I knew this was the truth. I cried due to immense gratitude to Allah for making me a person honored to be part of the community of that man, the perfect slave of Allah, sallallahu alayhi wasalam. My heart knew the truth, it knew “Truly, you are of tremendous character.” and it tasted what Allah meant by “And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds” I wasn’t even a good Muslim then. I wasn’t even a decent person. I had a hard heart and bad character, but at least I knew and realized then, that the Prophet Muhammad salallahu alayhi wasalam is the man I want to follow and emulate for the rest of my life. His example is the medicine to my diseases and the ease in my heart in times of hardship.

The Quran is a guidebook and Allah sent us with it a guide. We are blessed to know how to implement each verse in our lives because the world has seen it implemented through the Chosen One, salallahu alayhi wasalam and all the righteous people who have followed him throughout history. I mess up a lot. I make plenty of mistakes. I have many shortcomings, but I just want to stand before Allah and be able to say I tried and hopefully I’ll be able to say I tried my best.

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim.

Putting Out the Sky

One of the reasons atheism is probably becoming more common is because we can’t see the stars anymore. Its bad enough that most of us are so removed from nature with concrete walls and paved asphalt, but the artificial lights have put out the majestic order and heavens up above. There is something inherently moving about the heavens and I think it’s rooted in our desire to have that beautiful order within our hearts.

As we stare into that starry space and we wonder at its profound stillness and order we seek that same profound stillness in our hearts. Surah Ad Dhuha begins with “By the Morning Light and the And [by] the (still) night when it covers with darkness”. One of the explanations of these verses is that the morning light is the light of the face of the Prophet Sallallahu alayhi wasalam and the stillness is the stillness of the heart of the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam. We seek that stillness. Peace and Tranquility or Salaam and Sakinah. We glue on plastic glow in the dark stars on ceilings and buy nightlights in the shape of stars to calm our babies because there is an intrinsic calmness looking at stars.

But we’ve lost the sky and make jokes about how we can’t see any stars, but we don’t laugh at the disorder and agitation in our hearts. We blocked out the visibility of the order up there and we unknowingly cut off the order in us. We have modern technology, more connectivity than ever before and can even send satellites and people into space, but we lost the essence of being human. The ancients understood that this was all connected and it wasn’t all created in vain. This reality is what made Abraham, peace be upon him, to ponder and realize the reality that God exists.

So as the night sky has less and less stars, its our jobs to make sure we don’t put out the stars in our hearts and we take trips to remember what the night sky was supposed to look like.

Love Story

“What has he found who has lost God?
And what has he lost who has found God?” 
― Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah Al-Iskandari

On this beautiful Friday of the 14th of February, don’t forget that the reality of this life is that it is your love story with God. One of His most beautiful names is Al Wadud, The Most Loving. God tells us in the Quran:  “Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds – the Most Merciful will appoint for them wud.” 19:96 Wud meaning love. Unlike Hub and Ishq which two other types of love in arabic, Wud is a love that is manifest and apparent.

We are taught to fear Allah, but perhaps not the right type of fear. Its supposed to be the type of fear out of love. The fear that we could disappoint Allah subhana wata alaa. The fear that we could draw further from Him through our mistakes and sins. One of my favorite names after Al Waddud is At Tawab, the acceptor of repentance. T-w-b coming from the root to return. Allah is waiting for us to return to Him. Life is just a love story between you and Allah. Life is a story about how you discover He loves you and you discovering your love for Him.

For the believer it is falling in Love with Al Waddud, and in turn loving everything that He loves. Its loving the most beloved of God, The Prophet Muhammad salallahu alayhi wasalam and following his way. Following Habib Allah, the Beloved of God because we want to become more beloved by God. Imitation of our Prophet is in reality trying to imitate the love he had for God and hoping we are given a love resembling it.

“The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, but in both are good.”  (Sahih Muslim) I am a weak believer trying my best to be a strong believer, because who doesn’t want to be more beloved by God. I am the struggler and the one that constantly forget.  I don’t despair because I am Insan, a human being, where the root is related to nisyan, forgetfulness. Its through our nature of forgetfulness that we are to remember, which is the best act a servant can do: dhikr is the remembrance of Allah. This is why I bought up two of my favorite names because I seek His love and seek to be loved by Him, but I know how short I come in my endeavor, but I remember that Allah is also At Tawab, the acceptor of return.

Like a home where the door is always unlocked. Like a home where the door is always open. But no, as long as I am alive, there is no door, only a doorway to return to. Allah is At Tawab, awaiting my return, always ready to accept me. When the world rejects me, when I sin against myself, it’s okay. I don’t have to beat myself up, Allah is is At Tawab. The Prophets, peace be upon them, sometimes made mistakes, were caused to forget, but they always returned. Wasn’t our father Adam, peace be upon him, created for that purpose?

Allah created the world. The whole universe and what is beyond those limits. The seven heavens. He created the rivers that flow and the clouds that cover the sky nourishing the Earth before I was ever born. Gave me two loving parents to care for me when I was helpless and then raised me to learn of His names so when I would grow up and feel helpless again, I would know I always will have help. Help from the Creator of the Worlds. Who placed me in a world for my use. “We put full trust in Allah” Love is the means and the ends. It is my goal, attaining His love and pleasure, be a beautiful worship slave inspired and manifested by Love. Manifest love. It is the means by which I set across this path, empowered and support by his mercy and love.

His Love and Mercy  is my beginning and I pray that it is my end. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon. To God we belong and to Him we return. No love in our lives should compare to the love we have for the Creator of All Loves and Lovers. This is not the story of  Majnun and Layla, or Romeo and Juliet, but a story of a forgetful and lowly slave and His beneficent and ever merciful Lord. Oh Allah you created me, I am your servant, all praise and all thanks belongs to You, it is only by your mercy that I am able to worship you and there is no greater gift than your guidance and making You known to me. The very utterance of your name is greater than receiving the whole world and I am thankful and praise You for being able to thank and praise You.

Alhamdillahi rabbil alimeen. All praise and thanks is due to Allah, the Lord of the World.

My Mother’s Prison

This morning my mom told me how the life of this world exhausts her. It reminded me of the hadith “The world is a prison for a believer and Paradise for a non-believer.” (Muslim). It really is her prison. When it comes to us, her kids she celebrates our successes, but always reminds us that only our good deeds will come with us to our graves and past this life. She lives in this world, raised us and worked miracles as we grew up, but she simply is not a person seeking this world. Like a palm tree that produces beautiful fruits, but has almost no roots in the soil. She is simply one of the most inspiring people that I know mashaAllah, not just because she is my mother, but because she is also a believer and I forget that this world is her prison. This life has been mostly hardship for her. Allah subhana wata alaa blessed her with people she loves, but who also often make her life difficult, but it never interferes with her love for Allah. On the contrary it is love that stems from her love for Allah. Nothing pleases my mother more than us turning to Islam and taking it on and nothing troubles her more than us turning away from Islam and preferring our way of life over the way she taught us, Islam.

I have heard her speak most proudly and endearingly about her father who at his old age still walks to every prayer at the Masjid even though his legs grow tired and sore from it. She’s excited for her trip this fall inshaAllah where she plans to see her father in Vietnam and the opening of their new masjid at that time, around Eid al Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice. I pray that Allah accepts her life as sacrifice for His sake and her Eid will be the Day of Standing before Him where He will be pleased with her and she will be pleased. Ameen. I realize it was probably her father who taught her devotion to Allah. Its difficult on my heart knowing how difficult life has been for my parents, but my mom constantly reminds me that she is not a person that lives for this life, she is simply working to please God, hoping her record speaks in her favor and not against her. She is the woman that gave birth to me twice, she gave me life in this world and gave me life in Islam. She is my blessed example of a Believing Woman. May Allah preserve her, increase her, ease her, have mercy on her, bestow blessings upon her, grant her a beautiful seal, guide her family and her, love her, forgive her and grant her Jannatul Firdaus with the Beloved Messenger salallahu alayhi wasalam. May He do the same for my whole family, especially my maternal grandfather. Ameen. She is the woman I love most in this life, the woman who taught me to love God, Islam and the Prophet. I could never pay you back for even one contraction of child labor or for even a morsel of food you gave me, but I pray to God, Al Kareem, the Most Generous to give you much more than you could ever imagine. Ameen.

Searching For Proofs

People are searching for proofs of God, but if they were to look with an open heart they would find that no proofs are needed, because His existent is the most evident thing in reality. It is reality itself. It is ingrained in every fiber of creation. His attributes manifest in every aspect of creation: from the spinning of the sun and earth, to the electrons racing and to a baby’s smiling face.

It was by this reality that Abu Dhar (may God be pleased with him) would prostrate to God before he ever heard a word of the Quran. It is by this reality that eyes go moist seeing the crimson horizon of the sunset. It is by this reality the birds wake up in the dawn and sing praises all morning in their melodious song.

I do not know how God created the universe, nor do I need to see it happen. The universe in me; the way it transformed, the way my body grows, that my mind is, that my heart lives, that my tongue speaks and my love grows is sufficient. The man praised the scholar who had 100 proofs that God existed and the old woman heard this and said that he only has a 100 proofs because he had a hundred doubts. I’d rather be that old woman, no doubt. Certainty is much more beloved to me.

We live in a modern age full of modern technology and luxuries and somehow people have become so disillusioned that they question the thing that is built into the fabric of every living and nonliving thing: God exists. By His care and His sustenance the Universe persists. The only Uni I need is tawheed (God is One). I know that beyond these majestic stars and galaxies is much more. I think we misnamed the sky we are living it, we are not in a Universe but in a single verse of many. But maybe by Uni they did not mean whole-verse but meant a single. And the only verse I truly need is the first verse in the Quran: Alhamdulillahir Rabbil alimeen. All praise and thanks is due to God, the Lord of the worlds. Worlds: Plural.

When does the sun need proof it exists in the daylight? Its manifest that it exists. The existence of God is more evident than that. He is the Creator of the sun and everything. The sun just makes light. Have we become so caught up in ourselves to see that the nourishing rain is like Rahma(mercy) falling from the sky, or that torrential rains that floods and overpowers man is like sublime majesty descending from the heavens.

Verily some people have eyes but cannot see and some people do not have working eyes, but can see. The sight of my heart is more precious to me, but the heart needs to be open and clear just like our eyes to perceive anything.  Abdullah ibn Umm Muktum (may God be pleased with him), the blind companion could see reality better than Abu Jahl, the father of ignorance. Abu Jahl a man who used to sneak around in the dark of night to hear the recitation of the Quran, but was too stubborn to testify to its reality. How many of us are like Abu Jahl who had eyes, but could not see the truth and how many of us are like Abdullah ibn Umm Muktum who regardless being born blind, could see with his heart.

I praise and thank God for having eyes that can see, and I praise and thank God even more for having a heart that can see! I regret each moment I ever needed proofs, but I praise the One who guides and wills for opening the lens of my heart and clearing its sight. Like the eyes who takes in light, so does the heart.

Alhamdulillahir Rabbil alimeen.
All Praise and thanks is due to God, the Lord of the Worlds.
(1:1)

Default Setting

Some of us get raised to think that the default setting of people is egocentricity. Where the only one that matters is me and I. But the Prophet Muhammad salallahu alayhi wasalam (peace and blessings be upon him), was sent to show us that this doesn’t have to be the case. That we can make our lives service to others instead of service to the self. He would turn his whole being towards someone and he gave them his full attention.

He would weep out of sincere care for his community. We forget that his farewell sermon was addressed to humankind (An Nas). We forget that a pagan woman used to put thorns on his path to bother him until she fell ill. The ego would have been thankful for ridding a nuisance in life, but his default setting was to go see her and make sure she was okay. When he carried the groceries of the old woman, who on the walk used her tongue to attack Muhammad, not knowing it was him helping her, he held his tongue and was completely well mannered because his default setting was to help her, even if she said a bad word towards him. Salallahu alayhi wasalam. Peace and blessings be upon him.

In a world that tells us to do whats best for Anna (I or Me), to fulfill our desires above all else, the Prophet Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wasalam) showed us a different way. A way that entails putting others above ourselves. The default setting is mercy and care for people. This is the example that we follow.

Revelation came through the heavens so that we would aspire towards greater ideals. We are taught to reach for the stars, but revelation teaches us to reach for something beyond that. It tells us to stop being obsessed with ourselves and focus on the Creator of everything. Muslims raise their hands declaring that God is greater! and this statement starts with digesting that God is greater than ourselves, greater than our desire for this world, greater than anything and everything. We raise our hands throwing everything else behind us, throwing our own selves behind us and we aspire towards goals that lie beyond the stars and skies.

Do not focus too much in how entrenched we are in darkness, because the Prostitute, who lived a life of darkness was illuminated into Paradise because of one single act of mercy of providing that dog water. Be in between two acts of mercy and do the first act in excellence and look towards the next act in excellence. God is Ar Rahman and Ar Rahim, the most merciful the most gracious. We begin in the name of God, the most merciful the most gracious, and our example is the mercy to all the worlds. There is no more time to waste, illuminate life with a new setting: mercy. And we will finally find that life was worth living.

The Quran begins in the name of God the most Merciful the most Gracious and it ends with the word Humankind (Nas). Hold onto this message of being a mercy to mankind, the Quran’s beginning and end and the middle will follow.

“And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.”

– The Quran in Surah Al Anbya (The Prophets) 21:107

(This is inspired by the words of Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Feb 2013)

Humble Origins

You are over 100 thousand years in the making. Know that everything in this society wants to point out your imperfections, but will not tell you the perfection of your imperfection. They want you to feel bad for that nose you don’t like, or those eyes that aren’t right, or your hair that’s too flat, but they won’t let you know that within you are the genes that have traveled through every ancestor of yours finally culminating in you. You are the crescendo of the orchestra, the masterpiece of a long history of struggle and life. Perfectly imperfect. Your genes were willed and chosen by God, the Creator of those beautiful stars in the sky. You are like that sunset, gleaming and crimson and you only have a short time on this Earth, don’t waste it thinking of your imperfection.

Because every gene was chosen. In arabic, the word Nutfah is translated as sperm drop. Its used in the Quran in the description of the fertilization process.  The origin of its meanings used by the Bedouins is if you pour a bucket full of water out, Nutfah is the small amount of water that stays in the bucket. This is you, that small amount of water left that chose how you would look, like that single egg and that single sperm among millions. Your body, your face, your smile is exactly how it was meant to be. Alhamdulillah, All praise and thanks is due to God for choosing us how we were meant to be. What are the odds? How many millions of coin flips and DNA duplication and even DNA mutations did it take for you to exist.

And even beyond that story of your body that is over 100 thousand years in the making is the reminder that you are not a body that happens to have a soul, but you are a soul that happens to have a body. A soul that spoke to God.  The only odd,probability or number we need is One. God is One and He made one of you. Precisely the way you are meant to be. Every spiral of DNA confirming that Perfect is our Lord, the most high. He hears all and knows all.