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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Patience in impatience

Many of us are born with an impatient temperament. We feel the urge to eat quickly, act quickly, react quickly. It is very hard to curb that impatience. Often, the very idea of patience leads to feelings of greater impatience, simply because we might view patience as an all or nothing reaction. In reality, everything has grades and so has patience. Goodness and evil are not black and white “And surely there are degrees with your Lord”, reminds Allah Taala in the Quran. This means that even for someone who considers themselves to be impatient, there must be times or situations in which they are patient or it is easier and more natural for them to demonstrate patience.

I think this is important because once we give ourselves the label of 'impatient', patience seems like an impossible goal, a too steep hill to climb. If we see ourselves as possessing some patience, and simply needing to build on it, it may seem like something we can work towards.

When we observe ourselves without passing judgement, we can notice the occasions and situations in which we show patience and thank Allah for those times. We can also notice and evaluate the situations in which our patience is tested and we are inclined to loose our patience. We would then need to think of ways to make the situation more bearable for ourselves. 

It is a worthwhile effort to try to understand our own tendencies and reactions, for with this knowledge, we can gently guide ourselves into better ways and habits. Patience cannot be forced. It must be gradually cultivated and nourished like a fragile plant or timid rabbit. In other words, we must be patient with patience. And a little bit goes a long way. Often we have more patience than we think.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A prayer to make our day easier

The dua of Hazrat Moosa (on him be peace) is one that is very dear to me. At first I simply thought it was a prayer for help with public speaking, but as I wrote it out for the kids to memorize, I realized that it was meant for much more than preparing for a speech. The amazing thing about prophets and saints is that nothing they did was simply for this world. In their lives the spiritual and physical were fused together so as to become inseparable.

Hazrat Moosa faced many trials in his life. When he was chosen for prophethood, he did not think himself equal to the task and asked Allah to help him with the tremendous work ahead of him. He prayed with all his heart:

Oh Allah, open up my heart for me and make my work easy.
Loosen the knot from my tongue to that my words can be understood

He was meant to convey a message to his nation and could not do that if his heart was constricted with fear and doubt, his burdens felt too heavy, and his speech was not clear. From the Quran we learn that Allah accepted his prayers, as He indeed accepts the prayers of the righteous, and granted Hazrat Moosa great strength to face the mighty and evil Pharoah, and to lead his nation out of slavery.

I felt that this prayer could enrich our daily lives in many ways.
O Allah open my heart for me
An open heart is that first thing we need as we go about our daily business. We must be open to receive knowledge, and to be open and flexible to the opportunities that arise before us. O

And make my work easy ...
Sometimes our daily burdens can seem to crush us with their weight. A connection with Allah allows us to shift our attitude towards gratitude, to sing as we work and skip as we walk, even though the work may be uphill.

Loosen the knot from my tongue to that my words can be understood.

Often problems in communication create the most bother and anguish. As a mother I often throw up my hands in frustration, feeling as if no one can understand the simple instructions I give for a task to be done. Whether we are working at home or working at work, being clear in our speech and motives can help our day go smoothly, allowing ourselves and those around us to feel calm and peaceful.

What a great blessing Allah has given us by preserving the prayers of the prophets for us so we can remember their exact words and repeat them, deriving wisdom and guidance from the prayers of those esteemed persons, who wholly dedicated their lives to Allah. May we follow in their footsteps. Ameen.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Open our eyes and see

Yesterday as I dropped off my son and his friend at soccer practice, I could not find a parking spot. I circled the parking area twice looking for a car that was leaving, but it seemed as if cars just kept coming and no one left. Finally I parked in the Fire Lane and got outside my car to look around for a parking spot. It was then that I saw something so marvelous that it took my breath away. The sunset!

A thin layer of scattered clouds was covering the sky and the setting sun had illuminated them to an amazing splendor and brilliance. I felt as if I were getting a glimpse of the gates of heave! The sight was truly faith and awe-inspiring. As I stood there marveling at it, I wondered at the beauty of the Lord, the Creator of this sunset, and so many others, and how we could ever behold His Beauty. I also noticed that no one else seemed to be looking at the sunset. People were driving here and there, looking for parking spots, or rushing their kids to the soccer field. They were doing what I had been doing a while ago. It was as if they could not see the heavens in a blaze of magnificence. I felt like stopping the people who were walking by and saying, "Look, look up, look at the sky, have you ever seen anything so beautiful?"

I did not do that. Instead I spotted a place to park and moved the car away from the Fire lane before someone towed it. Then I walked to the soccer fields while enjoying the last of the sunset. Before my very eyes the clouds that had been on fire, turned back into ordinary grey clouds, as the sun set. I found myself wondering what else had I missed while rushing here and there. Beauty is all around us in everyday life, in things big and small. Spring has come once more, bringing buds and flowers to adorn the world for us, blossoms that are breathtakingly beautiful. Yet do we take time to stop and look at them, to wonder, to marvel, to let our hearts swell and burst with the love of the One who made all of this. For us.

I was also thinking about the transformation of the clouds from grey to crimson and gold, to colors that I have no name for, a glory that I have no words to even describe. I thought that similar is the human being. It can remain ordinary or it can let the Divine Light shine through it and become something truly resplendent.

I am grateful that parking was tight yesterday. How great would have been my loss to miss such a sigh,t while I plodded onward in my routine, rushing here and there for my small purposes, sight firmly fixed to the ground. Heaven is above us, within us, within our reach, but only if we seek it, strive to see it, let worldly concerns go for a while and cast the gaze above.

Let us open our eyes and see.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Life is like a science fair

I was one of the judges for a science fair today. I was paired with another lady and we had the chance to listen to presentations by ten third-graders about projects of their choosing. A couple of the projects were really fabulous. The kids appeared confident while presenting, though they must have been nervous inside. They had worked so hard and only the winners would go on to the regional science fair. Some of the kids seemed to be only mildly interested in their projects. They had done the bare minimum and were not even sure about many things on their own trifold poster. They sheepishly admitted that parents or older siblings had helped them with their projects, maybe even done the harder parts for them.There were who had done an excellent job presenting, but the experiment they chose did not really seem to have much worth, e.g., do candles burn faster if they are frozen, or at room temperature? Try as we could, we could not think of any real-life application or lasting benefit to such research.

The winner had prepared an excellent presentation about how to obtain fresh drinking water from salty sea water, by a simple process of evaporation and condensation. We were impressed to see how this child was moved by the plight of people in Africa who lacked fresh drinking water. She was knowledgeable about all aspects of her experiment, since she had done most of the work herself, under the supervision of her parents. We had no problem giving her the first prize.

Seeing all those adorable kids wait for their turn, forget what they were going to say and make silly mistakes reminded me of my own examinations in life and how they were dreaded by me, and how that dread prompted me to prepare for them. They also reminded me of another examination we all have to inevitably face. The standing before our Creator, to account for this life that He gave us. We have been given so many ways to prepare: information and reminders, wisdom and encouragement, the constant supervision and support of the examiner Himself. Are we well prepared?

We are sure to tremble when it is our time, but will it be out of awe, or because we are ashamed of how we wasted time while we had it?
Will we have areas in our life that we cannot account for, that we remained ignorant about, choosing not to learn?
Will we regret just doing enough to get by, not putting in a full effort?
Will we be of those who worked hard, but at all the wrong things, and so it didn't count for much in the end?

Or will we be among those whose hard work and faith is rewarded because we put the best of our abilities to use in a sincere effort?

Life is like a science fair. What will go on our presentation? Can we confidently answer questions about it? Will we work hard on it, or expect our parents and relatives to do the work for us? Most of all, will our exertions be worthwhile, for it is human nature to strive for something, to give meaning to our existence?

May our choices we wise for we never know when we may be next.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Changes that are so hard to make

Some changes can seem as hard to make as keeping a kitchen floor clean. We try to get a hold of them, focus on them, but they seem determined to get away from us. We make resolutions, promises, plans, all to come crashing down with us wondering what happened.

I was recently in a class by a wonderful lady named Atiya, and she gave some good advice in this regard. She said, often when we are stuck on something, e.g.,  trying to get rid of a bad habit, or striving for something good that keeps escaping us, we need to step back and examine our life. We might be doing something that displeases Allah, that we are not even aware of, but we need to stop doing it. It could be holding us back.

Another method that works, is to focus even more attention on the good deeds we are able to do. We can increase them, as a way of seeking the pleasure and nearness of Allah. Often we will find that the matter that eluded us, comes within our reach.

And last but not least, we need to pray for the matter that remains unresolved. Once we sincerely and regularly ask Allah for His help to guide us toward a good affair, or keep us away from a bad one, our prayers do not go unanswered. Sooner or later, we are able to advance spiritually and find what we were looking for.

It is also wise to remember that Allah, who made our natures, tells us in the Quran that often we like something and it is not good for us, and often we hate something but it is better for us. It helps to be very flexible when it comes to the acceptance of our prayers. Are we willing to accept what Allah gives us?

Saturday, December 31, 2011

A new year, a new beginning

New year's are happy things, like new school books; blank and ready to be filled with our writing and numbers. They hold great promise. I used to make a long string of resolutions, which if carried out correctly would make me practically perfect in every way. Needless to say, those resolutions would hold for a week or so and then would fade away, even before I got used to writing the new date instead of the old. This year I got a different idea, which is not new or original at all, but older than when people had diaries and wrote resolutions in them, older than the start of this way of calculating years.

As I was listening to the Juma khutba yesterday, the Imam reminded us that the first thing we will be asked about on the Day of Judgement will be our five daily prayers. He went on to say that if the condition of our prayers would be good, the rest of our questioning shall be easy. This means that if we try our best to observe the five daily prayers, the rest of our lives will naturally reap the blessings of that devotion and mindfulness. All our affairs will be blessed as we will be aimed for the straight path. If we don't pray, or pray without being mindful, then the very first thing we account for and that we are responsible for, will be a big flop and the rest will come crashing down after it. May Allah protect us from that.

Our prayer is really a little resolution and accountability session in itself, if we choose to think about it that way. When we stand before Allah at various times during the day, we are in different states. In the morning, fajr is like the start of a new year, a new day, a fresh page. We have a chance to ask for guidance for the entire day, and to resolve to do what is right. After the entire morning, usually devoted to work or school, we stand for Zuhr. We have a chance to think about the direction in which our day is going. If we are not doing what we aimed for, we can change the direction with Allah's help, asking for His guidance. The same is true for Asr and Maghrib. Isha is like the final station for our train before it rests for the night. We are tired and sleepy by now, the day is almost done. We have a chance to ask forgiveness for the mistakes we made, to check in and make sure our souls are still on track. What a beautiful way to be accountable for our lives, to live a life of great purpose!

So I don't think I shall sit down with a diary for this years resolutions. I have just one. One thing I can attend to, put my focus and energy on and it will help regulate and improve the rest of my life. It feels much simpler than before. Surely I can honor this one resolution? Well, if I forget, I shall have five chances every day to get it right!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What kind of interpretation?

Muslims come in all shapes and sizes. I have met many with a 'liberal' outlook, many with extremely strict views, and many in between. It was while sitting yesterday in the mosque, that I began to wonder, which category do I belong to. Do I need to belong to a category? It got me thinking ...

Often, when I listen to a view point different than my own, I am tempted to dismiss it outright, to shrug it off by labeling it as 'too liberal' or 'too strict', but I fear that this attitude may be unwise, if it is not based on sound knowledge. The Quran admonishes those who do not think for themselves, who follow their elders or the ways of society without reflecting upon them, and who do not accept guidance from Allah when it comes to them. To me, that means that if I learn or hear something that does not match with my ideas, that bothers me, as possibly being to one extreme or the other, I need to gain adequate knowledge before I pass judgement on it. My feelings alone should not guide the way. I might be rejecting a concept simply because it is new to me, or because I personally find something difficult or unattractive.

The Quran guides us on this and every matter. Allah tells us to look beyond our likes and dislikes and search for wisdom and goodness. Allah knows well our human nature, that we might like something while it is harmful for us and we might dislike something that is good for us. So what to do?

Learn. Find knowledge from its source: The Quran and Hadith, bearing in mind that the Quran is far superior to the hadith. Since the hadith contain knowledge and guidance of our blessed Prophet Muhammad, we revere them, yet hadith are not infallible. If we cannot reconcile a hadith with the Quran, we must lay it aside and give preference to the Quran. While understanding the Quran, we must remember that one part of the Quran does not contradict another part. One portion of the Quran explains another and so forth. If we keep these basic rules in mind and humbly submit and pray to Allah, we are likely to find true guidance in every affair. We need not limit ourselves to a certain approach in all matters. It is best to keep our minds open, listen willingly to any logical argument and certainly be not the first to reject a matter simply based on our feelings.

Humble submission and prayer. May Allah the most Mighty and Wise, guide us on the paths that lead to Him. May we never turn away from guidance in any form. Ameen.