The Overlooked Struggle

qalbIt’s happened to many of us.  We come across a friend or relative—someone we would consider fairly religious—engaging in behavior that seems shocking or out of character.  You meet them on the street one day and see them dressed in a way you never would have imagined, when they were once proud to be physically identifiable as a Muslim.  They share pictures with you showing them in places they never should have been, or open signs of relationships that are far beyond the bounds of what is acceptable in our faith.  Once regular at the mosque, they seem to have broken away from the community entirely and want no part in it.  In your latest conversations, their opinions seemed so off point from their usual perspective, so distant from what Islam teaches, that it leaves you troubled and worried.

“What’s happened?” you may wonder. “They were so different just a short while ago.”  “They were so religious,” you may think, or, “They come from such a good upbringing.” “They know a lot about Islam, and have such good friends and teachers… How could they have gone down this road?”

In our dealings with other people, the ‘shocking’ or ‘out of character’ behavior we notice may actually be the final step in a journey that had been going on for some time.  For some, they may be signs of a connection with the Divine that has been neglected, a spirituality that has been starved, or a mind that has been overwhelmed with doubts and questions that has not found the illumination it so gravely needed.  At one time in the past, such a person may have been deeply motivated, inspired and felt strong in their faith and moved to practice it; but without proper nourishment, such feelings diminished, while others—those harmful and negative—dug strong roots.

This struggle—of remaining on the path of religious practice, and being constant and steady on it—is one that is often overlooked, and that has its own unique challenges and obstacles.

When someone is new to Islam, or newly practicing, we often recognize that they are spiritually and psychologically vulnerable.  At the start of this new journey, we acknowledge that they need support, inspiration and encouragement.  However, once they have taken the initial few steps towards practicing Islam, we often begin to neglect these needs.  There is an assumption that once someone is ‘on’ the path, that he or she has no need for support and spiritual nourishment as they once did before.

We see the same with those who are already practicing—those who come from religious families, who grew up praying at the mosque, spent some time studying and practicing Islam seriously, or who should, by other means, ostensibly ‘know better’.  On an individual as well as a community level, their spiritual and intellectual vulnerability is often ignored.

One of the most beautiful and oft-repeated prayers of the Prophet ﷺ (peace and blessings of God be upon him) was,

يَا مُقلّب القٌلوب ثبِّتْ قُلُوبَنا عَلَى دِينِك

O Turner of hearts, make our hearts firm on Your faith.

Even after the initial acceptance and opening of one’s heart to Islam, one’s heart remains very vulnerable and susceptible to influence, suggestion and doubts, and to being moved and swayed in so many different directions.  Hence the Prophet ﷺ would often pray for our hearts to remain firm, constant and steadfast on the religion of Islam.

In our recitation of Surat al-Fatiha, which we are asked to say repeatedly throughout the day in our prayers, we see a similar emphasis on steadfastness. We beseech Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), every time we recite this blessed chapter from the Qur’an, to guide us to the straight path (Qur’an 1:6-7).   Though we are already Muslim, this is a supplication to remain on the right path, and for Allah’s continual and constant guidance.

In a prophetic tradition narrated in Imam Nawawi’s Forty Hadith, the Prophet ﷺ advised one of his companions, “Say ‘I believe in Allah’ and then remain steadfast.  Many scholars have described this tradition as succinct, yet comprehensive, and have further stated that it is the second part that is truly the hardest part: remaining upright, steadfast and constant in one’s faith and good deeds (having istiqama) continuously throughout one’s life.

From these and many other texts and teachings of our faith, we see that the heart and mind of a believer is in constant need of illumination and inspiration, love and support, and edification and nourishment to remain on the path of goodness.  We must acknowledge this need in our own selves as well as in those around us.

Suggestions for a Practical Application 

For Oneself

□ Supplicate constantly that Allah (swt) make you firm and constant on faith and make the same prayer for others.  Do not think that because you pray regularly or have committed yourself to Islam in other ways that you do not need “soul food”, that will keep your heart and mind in a state of spiritual health and away from weaknesses and temptations.  An oft-repeated prayer of the Prophet ﷺ was to seek thabaat (steadiness) of heart, and to seek refuge in Allah from being tested in faith.

□ Maintain a daily diet of time in which you feel a connection with Allah (swt), even if for a short time.  This can include any act that is faith increasing, such as worship, remembrance, or seeking knowledge.  A beautiful book of supplications that has been translated into English is The Accepted Whispers, translated by Khalid Baig.

□ Be humble and lower yourself.  If you see someone you consider religious slip into a sin, this is a heavy moment for introspection and self-accounting.  Realize that others who have studied more, worshipped more intensely, or were more active than you have fallen into missteps and mistakes—and these things (knowledge and action) do not necessarily guarantee anything for you or your rank, nor make you immune from wrongdoing.

When You See Others Slip…

□ Realize that their action may have deep roots, and may be the manifestation of things that have taken time to develop in their mind and heart.

□ Deal with the person from a general position of love and concern, and not a position of judgment.  Be a doctor, seeking to help them overcome their illness and become well again, and not a judge seeking to punish.

□ Avoid passive-aggressive da`wah (outreach).  Address the person directly, in the right manner, setting, tone, etc., instead of ambiguous posts or public comments that can be misconstrued or cause resentment and hard feelings.  If you are not the right person to speak to them about the issue, then find the person who is, and then keep quiet.

□ Compassion should be extended towards the person who is struggling, but should not be confused with condoning actions that are impermissible.  Such matters need to be handled sensitively and with wisdom, but we should not turn the other way simply because we fear a person’s anger towards us.

□ Step far away from any gossip or discussion of such a person or their behavior, even if coated with ‘concern’.  The more attention and focus is given to the behavior, the more damage it will cause. Real, concerted efforts to help a person change are not done in large groups with a gossipy tone.

□ Realize that it may take a long time to give up the sin (just as it took time to get there).  Don’t be hasty and don’t expect change overnight.  Be hopeful and patient, and pray for them sincerely.

In Our Communities…

□ As an activist and organizer, help cultivate a supportive, encouraging, and spiritually nourishing environment in your MSA and community for people at different levels, including those who have already taken steps towards religious practice.  We should be working towards creating an environment in which people can grow and blossom into their full potential as people of faith, no matter where they are on this path.

□ Do not neglect the regular attendees.  If your Mosque Open House is warm and welcoming, and your MSA Welcome Dinner is cheerful and comfortable, so too should it be for those who attend regularly.  It should not be assumed that since such people have already shown a level of commitment to Islam, that they no longer need support, or to be inspired or encouraged.  It is all too often this group of people whose needs are neglected and who then fall into mistakes.

□ Include heart-softening and soul-inspiring elements in your community’s activities.  Temper your political and intellectual focus with focus on the heart and spiritual purification.

□ Take knowledge to the next level. Instead of repeating the same basic-level information year after year, find ways of providing a more substantial and well-rounded education for those desiring it, or facilitating a progression in knowledge and understanding.

□ Deal with intellectual issues:  Shaytan often plies off a small doubt that is fed by misinformation or lack of understanding.

□ Remember that if one’s faith is not increasing, it is decreasing. Major events and conferences are good, but do not forget the importance of having something consistently and regularly, to help keep everyone steadily growing and developing in their connection with Allah (swt).

May Allah bless us with steadfastness and constancy on faith, and make us people who keep moving forward in this path towards Him.  Ameen.


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Why Can’t I Just Do What I Want?


We have probably all been there at some point: a big celebration where everyone is hugging, and you feel slightly left out because you cannot hug the opposite gender. Or maybe you are awkwardly praying in a corner, and someone walks in on you, asks you what you are doing, and you cannot even answer because you are praying!

Why does it have to be so complicated?

For some of us, the feelings described above may be fleeting because we understand the bigger picture and the meaning behind our actions. But for others, these feelings grow into resentment. Why all these rules?

One of Allah’s beautiful Names is al-Khabīr. The root of this word is kh-b-r (خ-ب-ر), which means ‘to know’, or ‘to be aware of the real inner nature of something’, or ‘to be an expert in something because you know both the inner and the outer’. In Arabic if I say someone is khabīr, I mean that he is an expert; he knows all there is to know about his field.

Al-Ghazali states that when knowledge (`ilm) is related to hidden secrets, it is called awareness (khibra). Thus Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted it He) is al-Khabīr, whose knowledge encompasses both the inner and outer nature of things. He not only knows our actions, but He knows the state of our heart. He knows the outward actions that He has ordained and their hidden benefits, which only those who are aware will truly appreciate.

This Name has been mentioned 45 times in the Qur’an, sometimes alone and sometimes with another Name:

“Vision perceives Him not, but He perceives [all] vision; and He is the Subtle (Al-Latīf), the Acquainted (al-Khabīr).” (6:103)

Allah (swt) also says:

“But does he not know that when the contents of the graves are scattered, And that within the breasts is obtained, Indeed, their Lord with them, that Day, is [fully] Acquainted (khabīr).” (100:9-11)

So what does this mean for us?

When it comes to Allah’s (swt) rules, He is the expert because He knows us and the nature of this world.

Allah (swt) created us. We mentioned elsewhere in this series that He is close to us, and He hears us whether we speak or not. And Allah’s Name al-Khabīr lets us know something else: what Allah (swt) has ordained for us benefits us, and what He has prohibited is harmful.

When we use terms like ‘arām’ (forbidden) and ‘far’ (obligatory), divorced from any context and, more importantly, divorced from the One who has decreed, we only see the actions in a superficial way: ‘This is prohibited; this is forced upon me.’ When something happens that we cannot understand – ‘Why did Allah (swt) not respond to my du`ā’ (supplication)?’ – we cannot see from where we are standing that while something may have looked good to us, He knew its internal reality, which would not have been good for us. Allah is al-Khabīr.

Moreover, what we fail to see is that what is prohibited is necessarily bad, and what has been made obligatory is necessarily good – even if we do not understand the reasoning at that particular point in time. We treat Allah (swt) like He is an old-fashioned parent who needs to ‘get with the times’, but in truth, we do not realize that when we took the time out of a hectic schedule to pray, we were enveloped by the angels. We do not comprehend that those supplications and tears in the night averted harm from befalling us, and opened a door to a greater good. We are oblivious to the fact that those restrictions we complain about, which mean we cannot go to certain places or do certain things, have actually protected us. Allah tells us that “…man supplicates for evil as he supplicates for good, and man is ever hasty,” (Qur’an, 17:11). And it is our haste that sometimes prevents us from seeing the realities.

Allah (swt) is aware and is the expert of the hidden things.

We can put up a front to people. Even your best friend may not know your intention behind an action, whether good or bad. She may assume you hurt her because of some malicious intent, or she may assume a gift was out of kindness – but only Allah (swt) truly knows. People may see that our prayer is perfect in its form, but the reality could be that our mind was elsewhere.

When the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) informed the Companions radi Allahu `anhum (may God be pleased with them) that they were going to see a man from the people of Paradise, they all wanted to know what he did to earn him such a station. One companion even slept over in his house to find out, but he did not see anything that was out of the ordinary. He later found out that it was because that man did not sleep at night except that he let go of any grudge he held against people and forgave them for any wrongs. Similarly, we are told that Abu Bakr (ra) was elevated not due to a formidable number of extra prayers and fasts, but because of something that settled in his heart. Allah (swt) sees your heart and He wants to see it beautiful. Whether you beautify it is your choice.

A note here is that those Companions did not ignore what was obligatory upon them with the excuse that their heart was sound; that statement is actually a sign of an ill heart. Those Companions prayed, sacrificed their worldly possessions and always strived to be better, but the state of their heart gave life and true meaning to their external actions.

Connecting to al-Khabīr

1- Know yourself and work on your heart

Al-Ghazali says: “Man’s share in this name lies in his being aware of what goes on in his world. His world is his heart, his body, and the hidden things by which his heart is characterized: deception and treachery, preoccupation with earthly things, harboring evil intent while putting on a good front, or adopting a decorous show of sincerity while being devoid of it. Only one who is extremely experienced knows these characteristics.”

2- Trust in His Knowledge of the hidden things

One of the authors on self-development whose work I love reading is Shawn Achor. He has spent years researching happiness, and focuses on small, actionable things we can do that will improve our overall happiness, which in turn has a positive effect on the other aspects of our lives. He backs up his assertions with many studies. I have read enough of his work that, if I were to hear a two-minute podcast in which he gives five tips for increasing productivity without citing studies, I would take what he says at face value and assume that his suggestions are beneficial. We may all have people like that, in whose expertise we trust.

Allah (swt) is far above any analogy, but He is the expert and the only One who has knowledge of the things that are not apparent to us. Hajar, the wife of the Prophet Ibrahim `alayhi as-salaam(peace be upon him), knew she could trust in Allah (swt) because He knows the hidden realities. When Ibrahim left her, she asked him whether this was from Allah. When he responded in the affirmative, she knew that Allah would only decree something for a benefit. Although being left in a desert with your infant child is possibly one of the worst things a person can be faced with, she did not despair – and Allah (swt) showed her how trusting in His knowledge benefited her in the long run.

3- Understand the inner meanings of outer actions

One of the reasons why we do not comprehend the inner realities is that we focus on the form to the exclusion of the spirit. Prayer is tiring to us because we do not turn fully nor do we connect to Allah (swt). Fasting is burdensome because it becomes restricted to fasting from food and drink. Zakat is annoying because we are losing materially. But what happens when we emphasize both equally? Let us use the prayer as an example: When we say, “Allahu akbar” (God is greater) in prayer, our heart is at rest because we remember that He is greater than all our worries and other priorities; when we are in prostration and we remember that we are at the closest we can be to Him; and when we realize that we have been given a living link to the Prophet ﷺ in the salaam(greeting of peace). So make it your aim to understand the internal dimensions of the actions of worship. Imam al-Ghazali has a very beneficial book that explains these internal dimensions.


by Jinan Yousef
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Reflecting Upon the Hijrah

Should you not reflect on why the Prophet ﷺ made the Hijrah? Why he bore those hardships? Why he was forced to migrate? He looked at the city of Makkah upon leaving it and said: “Allah knows that you are the most beloved of cities to me. Had not your people driven me out, I would not have left.” How can you live as a believer in him without realising what drove him to bear these hardships?

The most noble of creation in the sight of the Creator is our Master Muhammad. Allah was capable of making the life of the Master of His creation a life of ease and tranquillity. If Allah wished, the Prophet would not have suffered, he would not have had a camel’s entrails thrown on his back, he would not have been pelted with stones, he would not have been driven out of his own city, he would not have tied a stone to his stomach out of hunger and he would not have fought in battle. But Allah chose all of these things for our Prophet.

Tell me, where are you going in this life and what are your thoughts focused upon? What is the level of your understanding of Allah’s religion? Have you understood the wisdom behind your creation? If the purpose of man’s creation was to relax and experience comfort, then the most worthy of creation of experiencing that was the Prophet, the possessor of the highest rank in Allah’s sight. If you realise this, how can you then find comfort in base things? How can you be distracted by things with which the enemies of Allah distract you such that you possess no concern for the Ummah and no desire to benefit it, no desire to make sacrifices and no reliance upon Allah, no trust in Him and no certainty? Is this the life of someone who believes in and follows the Chosen One? Was he the only one who made these sacrifices, or did all those who believed in him from that first generation do the same? Allah Himself commends them in the Qur’an. They were people of steadfastness and sacrifice, strong in their reliance upon the All-Powerful, people of complete trust in His promises. They had complete faith in that which had been revealed to the Prophet. Do we find these attributes in ourselves? Do not leave this Jumu`ah without resolving to expend your efforts to emulate the foremost, the first of the Emigrants and the Helpers. You will then be one of those who follows them with excellence and you will receive what Allah has promised: As for the foremost, the first of the Emigrants and the Helpers, and those who follow them with excellence this includes anyone who follows them in excellence up to this day and up until the Day of Judgement Allah is pleased with them and they, too, are pleased with Him. He has prepared for them gardens under which rivers flow, in which they will abide forever. That is the supreme triumph.1

This is how your Lord addresses you. How can you then allow your lower self or the Devil to make you live in heedlessness? How can you allow year after year to pass without having any awareness, any desire to draw closer to the Most High? Do you not want to be among those mentioned in the verse? Even before the Hijrah, some of the first Muslims had been martyred, such as Sumayyah, the first martyr in Islam; some had been tortured, like Bilal; some had migrated to Abyssinia; some had been enclosed in the valley of Abu Talib for three years until they were forced to eat the leaves of trees. All of them suffered and made sacrifices. On the night of the Hijrah, Sayyiduna `Ali bin Abu Talib sacrificed himself by sleeping on the Prophet’s bed. Sayyiduna Abu Bakr was with the Prophet, sacrificing himself and his wealth. He was with him in the Cave of Thawr, not for an hour or two, but for three nights. Every night you sleep in a house on a bed. Can you not imagine how the Beloved of Allah spent his nights in that cave?

Whose body was it that lay on the rocks of the cave patiently seeking Allah’s reward? It was the body of the one who was taken above the seven heavens, beyond the Lote Tree of the Utmost Boundary. When will you understand the wisdom behind your creation? When will you realise what your belief in Muhammad dictates? If you entered a cave with a stone floor with creatures living in it and sat there for an hour or two you would know the degree of the Prophet’s striving and steadfastness. The forces which call us to evil have distracted us so that we do not reflect on these realities. A believer may live his whole life and not reflect once upon these things. He rushes to attain comfort in his life, as if He has not received any directions from Allah.

The Ansar in Madinah expressed their love for those that made the Hijrah and made sacrifices to accommodate them. None of them asked: “Why have they taken our land, our homes and our wealth?” On the contrary: They love those who have sought refuge with them; they entertain no desire in their hearts for what the latter are given, but rather prefer them over themselves, even though poverty became their lot.2 They were worthy of being praised by Allah in His Book. There are people who are deluded by the praise of the media and are prepared to make sacrifices to gain some fame. They are not interested in aiding the cause of Allah and His Messenger ﷺ and they have no realisation of what their mission is in this life. Say to them that a time will come when not a single letter will remain of the words written in those newspapers. The people who wrote those words will no longer remain, nor will those who were written about. However, the words of Allah which contain praise for those people and those who follow them in excellence will remain. Should our ambitions not be higher? Should we not seek to be mentioned in the Book of the Lord of the Mighty Throne? He praises you with those words and that praise remains until the Day of Judgement and beyond that into the Abode of Ennoblement. Our enemies have distracted us such that we have forgotten the wisdom behind our creation, but in reading and reflecting upon the Prophetic Biography in general, and the story of the Hijrah in particular, we come to realise this wisdom. We also come to know that we have a duty to make sacrifices and have complete trust and reliance in Allah.

Some Muslims believe it is impossible to convey the message of Islam to the world in this time and that power is in the hands of the disbelievers. We say to them that the events of the Hijrah are enough proof of the falsehood of this belief. Is not Allah enough for His slave?3 Look at the state of the Chosen One when he was in the cave with Abu Bakr al-Siddiq and the disbelievers were at the mouth of the cave.

Abu Bakr said:

“O Messenger of Allah, were one of them to look down at his feet he would see us.”

The Messenger of Allah replied:

“What do you think of the state of two people and Allah is their third? Do not despair, for truly Allah is with us.”

We say to those in doubt, even if our state resembles the state of the Prophet ﷺ in the cave: “What do you think of the state of a group who still possess the light of faith? Truly Allah is with them.” Allah will cause tranquillity to descend upon them: Then Allah sent down His peace upon His Messenger4 and He will assist them with troops that cannot be seen, neither with the eye, nor with the help of any form of modern technology. Allah will lower the word of the disbelievers while the Word of Allah is transcendent.5 Have no doubt in this.

1 Al-Tawbah, 9:100

2 Al-Hashr, 59:9

3 Al-Ahzab, 39:36

4 Al-Tawbah, 9:40

5 Al-Tawbah, 9:40
From a Friday khutbah given Sayyidi Habib `Umar bin Hafiz (may Allah preserve him and benefit us by him)
Posted in Qur'an and Hadith, The Prophet (saw) and Companions (ra) | Tagged , , | Leave a comment