The Gift that keeps on giving

Written by Sofia Ali

I’m leaving soon, take care of your Imaan.

-Ramadan

Each year when I see this quote, it brings me the same sense of emptiness, sadness and longing.

Much like life, the speed at which Ramadan days pass never ceases to shock me. After coming so slowly, it ends so quickly. It shows that everything I go through, from the highest of highs to lowest of lows, will one day all come together to feel like I lived but a few days here. There’s comfort to be found in that thought, because it reminds you how the very essence of this dunya and all it contains is lack of permanence.

Ramadan is a very special gift. The joy it brings is as pure as that a child feels when slowly discovering how the smallest things in life work, or a surprise package in the post that puts the biggest smile on the face of a long distance friend, or the sight of catching a beautiful sunset from my bedroom window. In that moment, knowing that Ramadan is around the corner, there’s a sense of pure relief. Because if you’re still breathing, Allah (swt) has granted you with one of the greatest gifts of all.

Before Shaytan was locked away, his whispers tried to instil in me that anything I do isn’t and never will be enough, so why bother at all?

When I feel my mind beginning to spiral into that pit of despair, I try to pause and simply say Alhamdulillah. Alhamdulillah that I’m still here. Alhamdulillah for imaan, even at those times where it feels low. Alhamdulillah that Allah (swt) hasn’t given up on me just yet.

I spent a lot of time this Ramadan thinking about the power of this one phrase, Alhamdulillah, all praise be to Allah (swt). This phrase which opens the Quran, the biggest miracle we’ve been blessed with. This phrase that we recite in every single prayer, over and over again throughout each day. This phrase that we’ve been taught to say whenever something good happens, but how easily can we say it in times of struggle? How easily do we face our struggles through a lens of gratitude?

Our beloved Prophet (saw), the best of creation, did not grow up having much in terms of this dunya. Even after the Revelation and through years of constant struggle, he continued to live simply, never consuming excessively and always caring for others greatly.

When his wife asked why he would still go through so much hardship to stand in prayer and ask for repentance if Allah (swt) had already forgiven him of all sin, he would say;

‘Should I not be a thankful servant?’ (Bukhari)

This instance amidst many others throughout his life shows that our Prophet (saw) wasn’t grateful to gain something, but rather he was grateful because he couldn’t imagine responding to the all encompassing mercy of Allah (swt) in any other way. He was the epitome of perfect gratitude, something we can only strive towards.

Having the opportunity to experience Ramadan this year didn’t feel like one of certainty to me, as in the past. Growing up it’s always felt like another event that I will get to witness, not one I could be blessed with the opportunity to witness. I never really internalised the true sense of seeing Ramadan as a gift, until this year. A year where I left a job that made me unhappy, not knowing where life will take me next, where I’ve experienced loss, in ways I would least expect, where I’ve been given news I didn’t want to hear, and of course a global pandemic that’s brought its own unique trials to so many. It’s been a year full of uncertainty for me.

But with His certainty, He’s chosen me to live to see this month – another chance to clean my heart of built up dirt, and my mind of clouded thoughts. When I truly internalise that, I think differently. Instead of thinking I have to fight myself to wake up for suhoor, or grappling the idea of reaching for the neglected Quran on my bookshelf, it becomes an honour to try.

One of the biggest ways that’s helped me change my perspective during times of struggle has been to focus on what I have, not what I feel as if I’m missing. The Quran tells us that ‘verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest’ (13:28), and sometimes trials make it difficult to see that. This month what’s helped me is taking some time out each day for dhikr, and with every bead of my tasbeeh, thinking of a different blessing and saying ‘Alhamdulillah alaa kulli haal’. All praise be to Allah, in every circumstance.

When there’s so much constantly going on around you, focus within you. Start with the simple blessing of your ability to breathe. Then that of having sight. Hearing. Touch. Thought. Then of health. Love. Safety. Security. Soon you realise the list doesn’t end, that there’s so much more to be grateful for than to worry over.

Whilst Shaytan will continuously try to embed hopelessness within us, Islam instils gratitude. The beauty of this faith is that any effort is better than no effort, and He knows what’s in every heart. Just the fact that Allah (swt) has even enabled us to do any act of good this month is a huge blessing in itself – it’s a form of rizq (provision) that we should be thankful for.

But it’s okay to have moments where you fall apart or question yourself, in fact, they’re the moments in which you grow most.

There’s so much more I wanted to do this month. But even when we feel like we’re not doing enough, just having the thought of wanting to do more, to help more, to be more, is something to be grateful for, because Allah (swt) has given us those good thoughts so we’re inclined to act on them. As long as we’re blessed with Allah (swt) telling our hearts ‘Kun faya kun’, Be and it is, commanding them to beat, there’s still hope here. There’s still hope to turn it all around. It’s not about doing it all – reciting all day, praying all night – it’s about making the most of all it is that you do, especially in these last few moments. When telling us about Ramadan, the Quran says ‘Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.’ (2:185)

And He even promises us, “if you are grateful, I will surely increase you” (14:7) – that’s the infinite mercy of our Rabb.

There’s no doubt that this Ramadan has been different.

But as I think back to that quote, longing for Ramadan to stay, I pause, remembering that nothing can truly stay in this dunya.

Instead I think this. Alhamdulillah for its coming, alhamdulillah for its passing.

May the goodness of Ramadan cling to us as it bids us farewell, and may the gifts it brought our souls continue to give – ameen.

Featured photography by Nadeem Ghafur @nadeemghafur

Thank you Sofia, for not only sharing such a beautifully written representation of a merciful mindset, but for also being such a beautiful member of the Ramadan Movement Community.

Something of resilience

Written by our founder Zinab Keshk

A woman’s relationship with the Creator is something of resilience
A profound and powerful spiritual experience
A tale of heart and mind centred with compatible brilliance
Pitying men who favour misogyny and their words of insignificance

A woman’s relationship with the Almighty is something that is unmatched
While biology calls us from prayer, our hearts and souls remain attached
As bodies reset for a week or so, and time from us is snatched
Our love for the Ever-Living is sustained, despite the life that did not hatch

A woman’s relationship with the Most Merciful is something of a miracle For when we are deprived from embracing His Words, our voices breach the surface that is spherical
And the promise of the Lord’s response requires no theory, for it is empirical
Ask Ascia about her Home with Him, her lasting duas were beyond the lyrical

A woman’s relationship with the Most Benevolent is something of true love
When she is forced away from her prayer mat, her return fits just like a glove
And while the dunya likes to oppress, discussing rights she is devoid of
He celebrates her with honours, qualifications awarded only from above

A woman’s relationship with the All-Seeing is something that is unseen
For when her pain is crippling beneath she remains striving for her Deen
With hands that are clasped tight, she awaits for her meeting with her Rabb
Until her heart is eased with a cooling tear that she sets free upon her rug

A woman’s relationship with Allah is truly something that is ambitious
For if men were pushed so far perhaps their faith would be suspicious
Whilst a woman returns to His embrace in a moment that is auspicious
And so, the cycle begins again and her days are numbered as expeditious

So while we may depart from Ramadan before its prescribed time to leave
We must recall all of the moments our hearts stood firm on His belief
And although this is a month of prayer and qur’an – please sister, do not grieve
For we have spent our entire existence seeking other forms of spiritual relief

And it is in Ramadan that we can truly exercise this profound strength
Whereby ritualistic favours are outweighed by sabr at an extensive length
So sis take comfort knowing that this is all part of your powerful spiritual experience
For you are proof: a woman’s relationship with the Creator is something of resilience

Women don’t talk about it enough, but we go through more than one cycle during Ramadan; aside from the biological, we experience emotional, mental and physical cycles that can be rather exhausting and overwhelming, and we simply just don’t make enough room for the conversation. However, these cycles of exertion, are also cycles of dimension- they add to and strengthen our bond to Allah swt. Like a boomerang, we come back to the Lord like we never left. And that’s the thing, we actually never leave, we just can’t physically engage in the acts of a conventional worshipper. And these days of physical restriction in worship are a testament to the dedication we have to our Lord, for we do not need to be reminded by constant physical acts to stay steadfast to our Rabb, we are entrusted with days without because we are capable of reaching out to Him regardless. Like riding a bike, we have our training wheels removed, we can soar in His embrace.

One thing my beloved friend once told me that I’ll never forget- a woman’s relationship with Allah swt is resilient and powerful, she is forced away from ritualistic acts of worship for a time and is trusted to return with full strength. Whereas men may not have been entrusted with such a favour as they do not have the same yearning and bond with the Almighty, that is unique to the female.
This poem is dedicated to all the sisters who feel deprived of the spiritual experience, you are sitting on gold. This is dedicated to the sisters who reached out in hopelessness, you are a trove of jewels, tap into your worth and realise the gift that has been entrusted uniquely to our species. Alhamdolilah for the Wisdom of such a Merciful Lord.

Featured photography by Nadeem Ghafur @nadeemghafur

7: Al-A’raf: The Heights

Bismillahi, Wal Ahamdulillahi, Was-salatu was-salamu ‘ala Rasulillah, sal-lal-lahu ‘alyhi wa sallam

In the name of Allah, and exaltations be to Allah, and blessings and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah, (peace and blessings be upon him).

Structure:

  • Verses 1-9 : Duty towards the Quran
  • Verse 10-37 : Story of the Beginning
    • 10-25 Adam and Satan
    • 26-37 Four calls to the children of Adam
  • Verse 38-53 : Story of the End
    • 38-41 Dwellers of Hellfire
    • 42-45 Dwellers of Paradise
    • 46-53 Men on raised platforms
  • Verse 54-58 : Allah’s Might
  • Verse 59-137 : Prophets’ stories and united call to the Oneness of Allah
    • 59-64 Story of Prophet Nuh
    • 65-72 Story of Prophet Hud
    • 73-79 Story of Prophet Salih
    • 80-84 Story of Prophet Lut
    • 85-93 Story of Prophet Shu’ayb
    • 94-102 Commentary
    • 103-137 Story of Prophet Musa
  • Verse 138-171 : Children of Israel
    • 138-141 A request and a reminder
    • 142-147 The divine appointment with Musa and the relation of Torah
    • 143-156 The story of the calf and Musa’s position on it
    • 157-162 Allah’s instruction to the children of Israel
    • 163-171 The matter of the Sabbath and Allah’s signs
  • Verse 172-206 : Covenant and heedlessness
    •  172-174 Covenant that Allah took from the Children of Adam
    • 175-178 A parable for people who are given the signs of Allah but disbelieve in them
    • 179-188 Heedlessness and its remedy
    • 189-198 Nature of polytheists and invalidity of polytheism
    • 199-206 Guidelines to the Prophet and the believers

Revelation:

  • About the same as Al-An’am i.e., the last year of the Prophet’s stay in Makkah.
  • 206 verses
  • Title is derived from verse 46 – Referring to the Heights or a raise platform on which the righteous will gather before entering paradise

Key Themes and Messages:

  • An invitation is given to the People of the Book to become Muslims
  • A warning is given to the unbelievers about the consequences of their denial through citing the example of punishments which were inflicted upon former people for their wrong attitude towards their prophets
  • The Jews are warned about the consequences of their hypocritical conduct towards the prophets
  • Commandment to communicate the message of Islam with wisdom
  • The prophets as well as the people to who they are sent will be questioned on the Day of Judgement
  • Commandment to the believers that they should wear decent and proper dress and eat pure and good food
  • Dialogue between the residents of Paradise, the inmates of hell and the people of A’raf (A place between Paradise and Hell)
  • Affluence and adversity are reminders from Allah
  • Muhammad (s) is the Messenger for all of mankind
  • The advent of Muhammad (s) was described in the Torah and the Bible
  • Mankind’s testimony about Allah at the time of Adam’s creation
  • Allah created all of mankind from a single soul
  • Commandment to show forgiveness, stand-up for justice and avoid the ignorant
  • Instruction about listening to the Quran with complete silence

Selected Verses:

7:26 Finest clothing is the robe of piety

يَا بَنِي آدَمَ قَدْ أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ لِبَاسًا يُوَارِي سَوْآتِكُمْ وَرِيشًا وَلِبَاسُ التَّقْوَىٰ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَذَّكَّرُونَ

O children of Adam, We have bestowed upon you clothing to conceal your private parts and as adornment. But the clothing of righteousness – that is best. That is from the signs of Allah that perhaps they will remember.

7:31 Against excess and waste

وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا وَلَا تُسْرِفُوا إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُسْرِفِينَ …

O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.

7:32 Good of this world

قُلْ مَنْ حَرَّمَ زِينَةَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي أَخْرَجَ لِعِبَادِهِ وَالطَّيِّبَاتِ مِنَ الرِّزْقِ قُلْ هِيَ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا خَالِصَةً يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ كَذَٰلِكَ نُفَصِّلُ الْآيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ

Say, “Who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He has produced for His servants and the good [lawful] things of provision?” Say, “They are for those who believe during the worldly life [but] exclusively for them on the Day of Resurrection.” Thus do We detail the verses for a people who know.

7:53 Sinners would give anything to return to the world

هَلْ يَنظُرُونَ إِلَّا تَأْوِيلَهُ يَوْمَ يَأْتِي تَأْوِيلُهُ يَقُولُ الَّذِينَ نَسُوهُ مِن قَبْلُ قَدْ جَاءَتْ رُسُلُ رَبِّنَا بِالْحَقِّ فَهَل لَّنَا مِن شُفَعَاءَ فَيَشْفَعُوا لَنَا أَوْ نُرَدُّ فَنَعْمَلَ غَيْرَ الَّذِي كُنَّا نَعْمَلُ قَدْ خَسِرُوا أَنفُسَهُمْ وَضَلَّ عَنْهُم مَّا كَانُوا يَفْتَرُونَ

Do they await except its result? The Day its result comes those who had ignored it before will say, “The messengers of our Lord had come with the truth, so are there [now] any intercessors to intercede for us or could we be sent back to do other than we used to do?” They will have lost themselves, and lost from them is what they used to invent.

7:157 Muhammad (s) foretold in earlier scriptures

… الَّذِينَ يَتَّبِعُونَ الرَّسُولَ النَّبِيَّ الْأُمِّيَّ الَّذِي يَجِدُونَهُ مَكْتُوبًا عِندَهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَالْإِنجِيلِ

Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel

7:158 Universality of the Prophet’s Message

… قُلْ يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ إِلَيْكُمْ جَمِيعًا

Say, [O Muhammad], “O mankind, indeed I am the Messenger of Allah to you all…..

7:168 Hardship cleanses the believer of sin

وَقَطَّعْنَاهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ أُمَمًا مِّنْهُمُ الصَّالِحُونَ وَمِنْهُمْ دُونَ ذَٰلِكَ وَبَلَوْنَاهُم بِالْحَسَنَاتِ وَالسَّيِّئَاتِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

And We divided them throughout the earth into nations. Of them some were righteous, and of them some were otherwise. And We tested them with good [times] and bad that perhaps they would return [to obedience].

7:180 Calling Allah by His Beautiful Names

وَلِلَّهِ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَىٰ فَادْعُوهُ بِهَا وَذَرُوا الَّذِينَ يُلْحِدُونَ فِي أَسْمَائِهِ سَيُجْزَوْنَ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ

And to Allah belong the best names, so invoke Him by them. And leave [the company of] those who practice deviation concerning His names. They will be recompensed for what they have been doing.

7:188 Benefit and harm is from Allah

قُل لَّا أَمْلِكُ لِنَفْسِي نَفْعًا وَلَا ضَرًّا إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ وَلَوْ كُنتُ أَعْلَمُ الْغَيْبَ لَاسْتَكْثَرْتُ مِنَ الْخَيْرِ وَمَا مَسَّنِيَ السُّوءُ إِنْ أَنَا إِلَّا نَذِيرٌ وَبَشِيرٌ لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ

Say, “I hold not for myself [the power of] benefit or harm, except what Allah has willed. And if I knew the unseen, I could have acquired much wealth, and no harm would have touched me. I am not except a warner and a bringer of good tidings to a people who believe.”

7:199 Show forgiveness and avoid the ignorant

خُذِ الْعَفْوَ وَأْمُرْ بِالْعُرْفِ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْجَاهِلِينَ

Take what is given freely, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant.

Virtues:

Zayd Ibn Thabit is reported to have said that the Messenger of Allah (s) used to recite Surah Al-A’raf in Maghrib prayer within the two first units of prayer.

[Hakim 1/323]

Supplications:

7:23

رَبَّنَا ظَلَمْنَا أَنفُسَنَا وَإِن لَّمْ تَغْفِرْ لَنَا وَتَرْحَمْنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ

“Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers.”

7:89

رَبَّنَا افْتَحْ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَ قَوْمِنَا بِالْحَقِّ وَأَنتَ خَيْرُ الْفَاتِحِينَ

Our Lord, decide between us and our people in truth, and You are the best of those who give decision

7:126

رَبَّنَا أَفْرِغْ عَلَيْنَا صَبْرًا وَتَوَفَّنَا مُسْلِمِينَ

Our Lord, pour upon us patience and let us die as Muslims [in submission to You].

7:155

أَنتَ وَلِيُّنَا فَاغْفِرْ لَنَا وَارْحَمْنَا وَأَنتَ خَيْرُ الْغَافِرِينَ

You are our Protector, so forgive us and have mercy upon us; and You are the best of forgivers.

Sources:

Online:

Altafsir.com (Tafsir)

Alim.org (Tafsir)

Sunnah.com (For Hadith references)

islamawakened.com (For Quranic text, transliteration, and translation)

Books:

Tafsir Al Jalalayn Jalalu’d-Din as-Suyuti (Author), Jalalu’d-Din Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Mahalli

Journey through the Qur’an – Sharif Hasan al-Banna

5: Al-Ma’idah: The Table

Bismillahi, Wal Ahamdulillahi, Was-salatu was-salamu ‘ala Rasulillah, sal-lal-lahu ‘alyhi wa sallam

In the name of Allah, and exaltations be to Allah, and blessings and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah, (peace and blessings be upon him).

Structure:

  • Verses 1-6 : Legislations
    • 1 Contracts
    • 2 Offerings to Allah, pilgrims, and inviolable months
    • 3-5 Food
    • 6 Ritual bath, ablution, and dry ablution
  • Verse 7-32 : The Covenant
    • 7-11 Allah’s covenant, favours, and command of doing justice
    • 12-19 Some conditions of the People of the Scriptures
    • 20-26 One aspect of Musa’s experience with the Jews
    • 27-31 Adam’s two sons
    • 32 Inviolability of the human soul
  • Verse 33-40 : Ordained Punishments
    • 33-34 Punishment of highway robbery
    • 35-37 Fearing Allah and drawing close to Him versus disbelieving in Him
    • 38 Punishment of theft
    • 39-40 Repentance
  • Verse 41-50 : The obligation to judge by what Allah has revealed
    • 41-45 Jews and the Torah
    • 46-47 Jesus and the Gospel
    • 48-50 Muhammad and the Quran
  • Verse 51-86 : Allies
    • 51-58 Muslims’ Allies are Allah, His Messenger, and true believers
    • 59-76 Practice and beliefs of the People of the Scriptures
    • 77-81 Exceeding limits in religion and following whims
    • 82-86 A positive and negative example
  • Verse 87-108 : Laws
    • 87-88 Good things which Allah has made lawful
    • 89 Rulings on oaths
    • 90-93 Wine, gambling, and some other prohibited practises
    • 94-100 Hunting
    • 101-105 Directions to the believers
    • 106-108 Testimony at the time of bequest
  • Verse 109-120 : Checking contracts on the Day of Resurrection
    • 109 Questioning Messengers on the Day of Resurrection about their people response
    • 110-115 A reminder of miracles of Jesus and the story of the table
    • 116-118 A dialogue between Jesus and His Lord on the Day of Resurrection
    • 191-120 Good consequence of the truthful

Revelation:

  • Madani Surah
  • 120 verses
  • Appears to have been revealed after the treaty of Hubaidiyah at the end of 6 AH or beginning of 7 AH.
  • Deals with problems that arose from this treaty
  • Continuity of the subject indicates that most probably the whole surah was revealed as a single discourse at one and the same time
  • It takes its title from the request made by the disciples of Prophet Isa that he should pray to his Lord to send down a table spread with food from heaven (5:112)

Key Themes and Messages:

  • Lawful (Halal) and unlawful (haram) in matters of food outlined
  • Permission to eat the food of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians)
  • Permission to marry women of the People of the Book
  • Regulations about bath, wudhu, and tayammum (dry ablution)
  • Salah and Zakah were also obligatory for Jews and Christians
  • Invitation to Jews and Christians to become Muslims
  • Warning to guard against corruption of power
  • Punishment for rebellion, disturbing the peace and theft
  • Absolute prohibition of drinking and gambling
  • Additional rules for the laws of evidence
  • Miracles of Jesus and the fact that he did not claim divinity
  • Testimony of Jesus which he shall give on the Day of Judgement

Selected Verses:

5:2 Co-operation in good acts

وَتَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْبِرِّ وَالتَّقْوَىٰ وَلَا تَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ

And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.

5:3 Islam is complete and perfect

… الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا …

This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favour upon you and have approved for you Islam as your religion

5:5 Marrying women of the People of the book

… الْيَوْمَ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتُ وَطَعَامُ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ حِلٌّ لَّكُمْ وَطَعَامُكُمْ حِلٌّ لَّهُمْ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ

This day [all] good foods have been made lawful, and the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them. And [lawful in marriage are] chaste women from among the believers and chaste women from among those who were given the Scripture before you

5:6 Obligatory rituals of ablution and the path of ease

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلَاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَيْنِ وَإِن كُنتُمْ جُنُبًا فَاطَّهَّرُوا وَإِن كُنتُم مَّرْضَىٰ أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ أَوْ جَاءَ أَحَدٌ مِّنكُم مِّنَ الْغَائِطِ أَوْ لَامَسْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَلَمْ تَجِدُوا مَاءً فَتَيَمَّمُوا صَعِيدًا طَيِّبًا فَامْسَحُوا بِوُجُوهِكُمْ وَأَيْدِيكُم مِّنْهُ مَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيَجْعَلَ عَلَيْكُم مِّنْ حَرَجٍ وَلَٰكِن يُرِيدُ لِيُطَهِّرَكُمْ وَلِيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ

O you who have believed, when you rise to [perform] prayer, wash your faces and your forearms to the elbows and wipe over your heads and wash your feet to the ankles. And if you are in a state of janabah, then purify yourselves. But if you are ill or on a journey or one of you comes from the place of relieving himself or you have contacted women and do not find water, then seek clean earth and wipe over your faces and hands with it. Allah does not intend to make difficulty for you, but He intends to purify you and complete His favor upon you that you may be grateful.

5:8 Establishing justice without bias or discrimination

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ

O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah , witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.

5:15-16 Characteristic of the Quran

يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ قَدْ جَاءَكُمْ رَسُولُنَا يُبَيِّنُ لَكُمْ كَثِيرًا مِّمَّا كُنتُمْ تُخْفُونَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَيَعْفُو عَن كَثِيرٍ قَدْ جَاءَكُم مِّنَ اللَّهِ نُورٌ وَكِتَابٌ مُّبِينٌ

يَهْدِي بِهِ اللَّهُ مَنِ اتَّبَعَ رِضْوَانَهُ سُبُلَ السَّلَامِ وَيُخْرِجُهُم مِّنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ بِإِذْنِهِ وَيَهْدِيهِمْ إِلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ

O People of the Scripture, there has come to you Our Messenger making clear to you much of what you used to conceal of the Scripture and overlooking much. There has come to you from Allah a light and a clear Book.

By which Allah guides those who pursue His pleasure to the ways of peace and brings them out from darknesses into the light, by His permission, and guides them to a straight path.

5:32 Sanctity of human life

… مَن قَتَلَ نَفْسًا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا …

… whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely…

5:44 Who should be feared?

فَلَا تَخْشَوُا النَّاسَ وَاخْشَوْنِ

… So do not fear the people but fear Me …

5:74 Repentance

أَفَلَا يَتُوبُونَ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَيَسْتَغْفِرُونَهُ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

So will they not repent to Allah and seek His forgiveness? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

5:90 Prohibition of alcohol

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّمَا الْخَمْرُ وَالْمَيْسِرُ وَالْأَنصَابُ وَالْأَزْلَامُ رِجْسٌ مِّنْ عَمَلِ الشَّيْطَانِ فَاجْتَنِبُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone alters [to other than Allah ], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that you may be successful.

5:110 Miracles of Jesus

إِذْ قَالَ اللَّهُ يَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ اذْكُرْ نِعْمَتِي عَلَيْكَ وَعَلَىٰ وَالِدَتِكَ إِذْ أَيَّدتُّكَ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ تُكَلِّمُ النَّاسَ فِي الْمَهْدِ وَكَهْلًا وَإِذْ عَلَّمْتُكَ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَالتَّوْرَاةَ وَالْإِنجِيلَ وَإِذْ تَخْلُقُ مِنَ الطِّينِ كَهَيْئَةِ الطَّيْرِ بِإِذْنِي فَتَنفُخُ فِيهَا فَتَكُونُ طَيْرًا بِإِذْنِي وَتُبْرِئُ الْأَكْمَهَ وَالْأَبْرَصَ بِإِذْنِي وَإِذْ تُخْرِجُ الْمَوْتَىٰ بِإِذْنِي وَإِذْ كَفَفْتُ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ عَنكَ إِذْ جِئْتَهُم بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ فَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْهُمْ إِنْ هَٰذَا إِلَّا سِحْرٌ مُّبِينٌ

[The Day] when Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, remember My favor upon you and upon your mother when I supported you with the Pure Spirit and you spoke to the people in the cradle and in maturity; and [remember] when I taught you writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and when you designed from clay [what was] like the form of a bird with My permission, then you breathed into it, and it became a bird with My permission; and you healed the blind and the leper with My permission; and when you brought forth the dead with My permission; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from [killing] you when you came to them with clear proofs and those who disbelieved among them said, “This is not but obvious magic.”

Virtues:

Asma bint Yazid said: “As I was holding the rein of Al-‘Adba’- the camel of the Messenger of Allah (s) – all of Surah Al-Ma’idah was revealed to him . Due to its heaviness, the Surah was about to grind the camel’s upper arm.”

[Ahmad 27575]

Sources:

Online:

Altafsir.com (Tafsir)

Alim.org (Tafsir)

Sunnah.com (For Hadith references)

islamawakened.com (For Quranic text, transliteration, and translation)

Books:

Tafsir Al Jalalayn Jalalu’d-Din as-Suyuti (Author), Jalalu’d-Din Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Mahalli

Journey through the Qur’an – Sharif Hasan al-Banna

6: Al-An’am: The Cattle

Bismillahi, Wal Ahamdulillahi, Was-salatu was-salamu ‘ala Rasulillah, sal-lal-lahu ‘alyhi wa sallam

In the name of Allah, and exaltations be to Allah, and blessings and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah, (peace and blessings be upon him).

Structure:

  • Verses 1-47 : Allah’s power and the disbelievers’ stubbornness and recompense
    • 1-21 Signs for Allah’s omnipotence and the disbelievers dismissal
    • 22-32 The deniers’ different positions on the Day of Resurrection
    • 33-39 A solace to the Prophet
    • 40-47 The polytheists’ attitudes in ease and hardship and their recompense
  • Verse 48-94 : The Prophet’s mission and guidance
    • 48-58 The Prophets’ mission and peoples’ different responses to them
    • 59-67 Allah’s might and profound knowledge
    • 68-73 Turning away from the mockers
    • 74-83 Ibrahim’s dialogue with his father and people
    • 84-94 Prophets are good example to be followed
  • Verse 95-117 : Fair discourse with disbelievers
    • 95-107 Proofs from universe and life for the oneness of Allah
    • 108-117 Prohibition of reviling false gods versus rigidity of disbelievers 
  • Verse 118-121 : Lawful and unlawful slaughtered animals
  • Verse 122-144 : Comparison between state of believers and disbelievers
    • 122-127 People living in darkness and others leading lightened lives
    • 128-135 Scenes from the Hereafter
    • 136-144 Fabricated lies of the disbelievers
  • Verse 145-165 : Guidelines
    • 145-147 Prohibited meat for Muslims and Jews
    • 148-150 Dispelling disbelievers’ misconceptions
    • 151-153 Principal virtues and vices in Islam
    • 154-157 Heavenly books
    • 159-160 Death and Day of Resurrection
    • 161-165 Worshipping Allah sincerely and being thankful to him

Revelation:

  • Revealed in on revelation
  • During the last year of the Prophet’s stay in Makkah
  • 165 verses
  • Title is derived from references in verses 136-138 to pre-Islamic practices concerning animals

Key Themes and Messages:

  • Refutation of Shirk (polytheism) and guidance towards Tawhid (Oneness of God)
  • Reality of life after death and the Day of Judgement
  • Clarification of self-imposed prohibitions that were falsely attributed to Allah
  • Answers to objections raised against the person and the mission of the Prophet
  • Comfort and encouragement is provided to the Prophet and his followers who were at that time in a state of anxiety and despondency
  • Admonition, warnings and threats are given to the disbelievers to give up their apathy and haughtiness
  • Prohibition of dividing the religion into sects
  • Allah requires the believers to declare : “My prayers, my devotion, my life and my death are all for Allah.”

Selected Verses:

6:12 Allah has decreed mercy upon Himself

… قُل لِّمَن مَّا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ قُل لِّلَّهِ كَتَبَ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ الرَّحْمَةَ

Say, “To whom belongs whatever is in the heavens and earth?” Say, “To Allah .” He has decreed upon Himself mercy ….

6:32 Dunya and Akihrah

وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا لَعِبٌ وَلَهْوٌ وَلَلدَّارُ الْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ لِّلَّذِينَ يَتَّقُونَ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ

And the worldly life is not but amusement and diversion; but the home of the Hereafter is best for those who fear Allah , so will you not reason?

6:38 Animal kingdom is also divided into nations

… وَمَا مِن دَابَّةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا طَائِرٍ يَطِيرُ بِجَنَاحَيْهِ إِلَّا أُمَمٌ أَمْثَالُكُم

And there is no creature on [or within] the earth or bird that flies with its wings except [that they are] communities like you ….

6:63 Need for Allah

قُلْ مَن يُنَجِّيكُم مِّن ظُلُمَاتِ الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ تَدْعُونَهُ تَضَرُّعًا وَخُفْيَةً لَّئِنْ أَنجَانَا مِنْ هَٰذِهِ لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الشَّاكِرِينَ

Say, “Who rescues you from the darknesses of the land and sea [when] you call upon Him imploring [aloud] and privately, ‘If He should save us from this [crisis], we will surely be among the thankful.’ “

6:97 Why stars were created

وَهُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَ لَكُمُ النُّجُومَ لِتَهْتَدُوا بِهَا فِي ظُلُمَاتِ الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ قَدْ فَصَّلْنَا الْآيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ

And it is He who placed for you the stars that you may be guided by them through the darknesses of the land and sea. We have detailed the signs for a people who know.

6:121 Eating non-slaughtered meat

… لَا تَأْكُلُوا مِمَّا لَمْ يُذْكَرِ اسْمُ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ

And do not eat of that upon which the name of Allah has not been mentioned …

6:125 Who does Allah guide?

فَمَن يُرِدِ اللَّهُ أَن يَهْدِيَهُ يَشْرَحْ صَدْرَهُ لِلْإِسْلَامِ وَمَن يُرِدْ أَن يُضِلَّهُ يَجْعَلْ صَدْرَهُ ضَيِّقًا حَرَجًا كَأَنَّمَا يَصَّعَّدُ فِي السَّمَاءِ كَذَٰلِكَ يَجْعَلُ اللَّهُ الرِّجْسَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ

So whoever Allah wants to guide – He expands his breast to [contain] Islam; and whoever He wants to misguide – He makes his breast tight and constricted as though he were climbing into the sky. Thus does Allah place defilement upon those who do not believe.

6:160 One good deed rewarded at least ten times

مَن جَاءَ بِالْحَسَنَةِ فَلَهُ عَشْرُ أَمْثَالِهَا وَمَن جَاءَ بِالسَّيِّئَةِ فَلَا يُجْزَىٰ إِلَّا مِثْلَهَا وَهُمْ لَا يُظْلَمُونَ

Whoever comes [on the Day of Judgement] with a good deed will have ten times the like thereof [to his credit], and whoever comes with an evil deed will not be recompensed except the like thereof; and they will not be wronged.

6:162 Our living and dying is for Allah

قُلْ إِنَّ صَلَاتِي وَنُسُكِي وَمَحْيَايَ وَمَمَاتِي لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

Say, “Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah , Lord of the worlds.

Virtues:

Jabir said: “When Surah Al-An’am was sent down, the Messenger of Allah pronounced Tasbeeh (saying subhana Allah i.e. ‘Glorified be Allah’); then he said, ‘Angels that blocked the horizon accompanied this surah ‘i.e. to bid farewell to it upon its descent.'”

[Hakim 3226]

Sources:

Online:

Altafsir.com (Tafsir)

Alim.org (Tafsir)

Sunnah.com (For Hadith references)

islamawakened.com (For Quranic text, transliteration, and translation)

Books:

Tafsir Al Jalalayn Jalalu’d-Din as-Suyuti (Author), Jalalu’d-Din Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Mahalli

Journey through the Qur’an – Sharif Hasan al-Banna

Reflections on Ramadan

Written by Anja Saleh

you have truly been a mirror,
one that I needed more than I knew I did.
I have learned that silence
is my favorite language.
there is little misunderstanding and
much peace hidden in this sort of full nothingness.
oh, the discomfort it brought, too!
but nothing ever changed in comfort only.
I accept.

I fasted more than food and water.
I fasted words, interactions,
abstained from anything that
threatened to waste my time and energy,
kept my distance from people,
places, actions I had doubts about.
and learned a lot in doing so.
also, acceptance. –

I think most of us do not struggle with ramadan;
we struggle with our very own selves
and it becomes more than clear to us during ramadan. –

I found myself asking “am I good enough for heaven?am I really bad enough for hell?“ repeatedly.
my conclusion is that it doesn’t matter.
I am living now.
and it is not on me to judge myself
for a time and situation that is way beyond
my imagination and its capacity.
I love God for Gods sake.
so, it doesn’t matter.
because I see and feel God. every day,
sometimes heavier than others,
and that’s all I have.
a knowing of a love so great
that I know that all that counts is me being an extension of such.
being supposed to be.
and learning more about God through it.

there is much hardship in the process,
but immeasurable beauty, too.

We oftentimes lose ourselves in questions
that only Allah can answer and Allah repeats this ever so often,
yet we forget.
and I feel that we forget and overlook the most obvious,
the phrases that Allah makes us repeat constantly
and truly; there is nothing Our Lord gifts us or advices us to do
that isn’t for our own benefit.
We love to forget about how Our Lord is The Most Merciful,
even though Allah chose to place this attribute of Theirs
at the beginning of 113 of 114 Suras
and advices us to repeat it at the beginning of our every move:
Bism’Illah Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem.
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
A gentle, soul-soothing reminder. A hug, when we are falling apart,
a pillar when our world does: In the name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful.
A reminder to keep on going, to trust in the greatness of Allah over all and to never forget that no doubt of ours, no guilt of ours could ever exceed the mercy of Allah swt.
We forget this in our treatment of and perspectives on others – and our very selves.
Our image of God is oftentimes painted by those who project themselves on Allah and not by Allahs mention of Themself.
Ramadan usually offers the space to reflect ourselves on levels we sometimes struggle to reach outside of Ramadan. And maybe this Ramadan that took place in isolation for most of us, also made room for us to view ourselves outside of the context of “community“. It was mostly us and the quality of our soul’s connections to their Creator.
(Allah has no gender, Sheikha (Halima Krausen) approved usage of They)

Photography by Dana Mahmoud @dana.mahh

Thank you Anja, for sharing such honest, and deeply resonating reflections so beautifully and eloquently.

The Power of Habit

Blog post written by Nabila Qureshi

This post is a summary of studies in and reflections upon ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg. For anyone who wants to understand the scientific process of habit formation as well as how this knowledge has been utilized to advance social change, to alter company behaviour, and much more, I would thoroughly recommend. 

When I ask myself to think of some of my habits, I would often start with the bad: waking up too late, not exercising regularly, swearing. And I would be correct – these absolutely are examples of habits: patterns of behaviour that I carry out regularly and find hard to give up. However, I have many more habits than just these, and lots of them are crucial to my life functioning normally. Habits such as putting the toothpaste on my brush before I brush my teeth or unlocking my phone before sending a text. Our habits are much more than just what we have developed ‘outside of the norm’ – they are subtle patterns in our behaviour that our brain generates from our routines to help reduce the mental effort it takes us to get through the day. 

The process by which our brains do this is known as ‘chunking’. It converts a sequence of actions into a routine which becomes stored in our basal ganglia, a primitive area at the centre of the brain. Once we are reliant on our basal ganglia to carry out a particular task, the level of overall activity required to carry out that task decreases. We are able to do it faster, quicker and more efficiently than before – all because we aren’t thinking much when we do it. 

Scientists have established a pattern which explains how most of our routines become a habit. This occurs through a ‘Habit Loop’ which, over time, becomes more automatic as our habits are strengthened. Here is an example of a habit created in a rat:

A rat was placed in a maze behind a door. As the door opened, it heard a ‘click’ – the cue. It ventured through the maze (routine), eventually finding chocolate to nibble on (reward). The first time the rats carried out this exercise, their brain activity levels were high, but this decreased as the more they carried out the task – it became a habit. 

Most habits we have follow the same pattern (to varying degrees of complexity). For example, I wake up late. My alarm goes off (cue), I feel tired and open Instagram (routine) and I am distracted and the blue light makes me feel a bit more awake (reward). The rewards can be varied, anything from food, drugs, to emotional feelings of satisfaction or achievement. 

These habits emerge because our brains stop participating in the decision making process, and so the patterns repeat and unfold automatically every time we encounter the same cue. Our brains can’t tell the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ habits – they are equally likely to reinforce something harmful as they are useful. 

However, habits are not set in stone. Some are stronger than others, but we can learn to rewire them. To do this, we need to do the following: 

  1. Understand what drives our loops
  2. Break down the components of our loops
  3. Create new routines. 

Cravings

I have a serious craving for chocolate. We use the term ‘craving’ as part of our everyday vocabulary, but in the context of habits, it has a very specific meaning – one illustrated beautifully by an experiment carried out by Wolfram Schultz and colleagues in the 1980s.

They placed a macaque (Julio) facing a screen and next to a lever. He was sitting on a chair  connected to a tube which could (when activated) pour blackberry juice onto Julio’s lips (his favourite). A series of images popped up on the screen and, if he pulled the level when a coloured shape was present, he would receive a drop of juice. After his first drop, Julio became intently focused on the screen and learnt exactly what images connected to the drop of juice.

Initially, analysis of his brain activity showed, unsurprisingly, that the activity level increased when he received the drop of juice. However, over time, as his habit loop became stronger, the spike in brain activity was seen when he saw the image, not when he actually received the juice. The cue, not the reward, was motivating Julio. This shift is the creation of a craving and is what drives the habit loop. 

Cravings are able to drive habit loops because they create the sensation of a reward when the reward hasn’t arrived. If the reward doesn’t arrive, an individual becomes irritated, angry, frustrated and confused. This was exactly what happened to Julio and other macaques when the juice was either diluted or removed. Even when offered a distraction, the macaques resolutely stayed in their chairs awaiting their reward. Cravings drive you to complete the habit loop and reach the reward upon seeing the cue alone

This craving is the same reason that Cinnabon place their stores away from other food stores (you smell the food and because your brain remembers the smell as the cue, you become determined to purchase a delicious sugary treat) or you itch to touch your phone when you hear it ping with a notification (your brain is craving the distraction). It is also why we cannot simply remove habit loops – they are driven by primitive forces which are so ingrained that they are nearly impossible to extinguish (no really, I’d love some chocolate).

What we are able to do, however, is change our loops. Use the same cue and the same reward: just change the routine. 

Habit reversal

I’m going to use an example of a habit which I had and wanted to change to help illustrate how ‘changing the routine’ can work. 

The first stage is to identify the components of your loop. For me, the habit I wanted to change was not sitting to make dua (supplication) after my salah (ritual prayer). I would finish with salams, get up and run onto the next thing. If I tried to think my way out of it (‘It doesn’t take that long, just say something, it will feel good) it worked maybe once or twice a week, but not consistently enough to make me feel as though I had been successful. 

Ask yourself the following:

  1. What are my cues? What do I feel right before I carry out the routine? 
  2. What is my routine? (Usually this is the ‘habit’ you want to correct) 
  3. How do I feel after I complete the routine (even if just for a millisecond)? How did I feel when I first started doing it? Why did I start? 

[If you have a habit you repeat constantly throughout the day, e.g. biting your nails, it can be really helpful at this stage to either carry around a card or note down on your phone every time you do it. You won’t catch all of them, and that’s okay, but note down as many as you can. It can help to notice triggers – time periods, emotions, events – and patterns in your behaviour].

My answers:

  1. Feeling the satisfaction of finishing my prayer after I give salaams. Thinking immediately about the 20 other jobs I have to do (particularly if I am at work). 
  2. Rush to put the prayer mat away and move on to my next task.
  3. Satisfaction at having ‘got on with my day’ and completed another task.

Once I wrote this down, it became clear that my problem was that a) I didn’t see dua as part of my prayer and b) I needed to feel like I was ‘getting things done’. The next stage of reversal was to find a replacement routine. 

Knowing that I needed to feel like I was ‘doing something’ I decided to employ the help of a free Habit tracking app I downloaded onto my phone. I added in 5 tasks – ‘Dua after Fajr, Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha’. Then the job was simple: after I prayed, I made dua and checked it off on my phone. 

Turned out to be more of a journey – starting with all 5 prayers was a hard task. So I began with the simplest, where I had the fewest subsequent tasks to do: Isha. Once I checked off Isha every day for a week I slowly added in dua after more prayers and it became such a special part of my prayers. Making dua a ‘task’ turned out to be the secret to employing it as part of my routine – and I wouldn’t have realised that unless I had taken the time to break down my habit loop.

What you do as the replacement will depend completely on what the cue and rewards you identify are, and you won’t always get it right the first time. Understanding these hard-wired processes is a tall order, it takes time and patience and lots of trial and error but when you get there, it is completely worth it. 

Times of stress

The process above is very similar to ones employed by organisations around the world who work with individuals and their habits, including Alcoholics Anonymous. But as many of us know, whilst so many individuals are successful on programmes such as these, many are not. Often people ‘fall off the wagon’ during times of stress, where these new routines aren’t strong enough to cut through our old habits.

Research conducted on those who were successful at battling their habits, even in times of stress, found 3 common factors behind their motivation: 

  1. They had either experienced or had someone close to them experience a personal tragedy which inspired their change
  2. They were embedded in a community which gave them the potential to believe in the change
  3. They had a belief in something greater.

Many of us have had experiences with the first, where something momentous in our lives pivots everything we know and almost necessitates a change in behaviour. However, this was the driving factor for only a minority of those interviewed – the second and third were much more significant in allowing individuals to make their new habit loop into a permanent behaviour. 

The second – community – is a huge reason why I wanted to write this and why I felt it belonged somewhere like RMC. Having a motivated community around us that shares our goals, understands our concerns and helps to drive us to change is crucial in helping us to see that the change we want to see can, and will, become real in our own lives. Tom Hatherton, one of the researchers involved in the study, summarised it beautifully as he said: ‘Change occurs among other people’. You are not in this fight alone. Change is not always about seminal moments that change our lives, it is often communities, working to help support each other a moment at time. 

The final necessary aspect of change is belief. I remember reading this chapter for the first time and breathing a sign of relief and gratitude at the blessing of faith. We are entering into a blessed time where our belief envelops us at all moments of the day. Every Ramadan starts with the first few autopilot walks to the kitchen then – ‘ah, no, fasting!’ – a moment of God-consciousness which we would not be blessed with otherwise. These are the moments we can use to give meaning to the habits we mean to change. Keeping up with dua on the busiest and most tiring days was possible because the stress was overridden by a desire to be close to Allah – by the ease I felt in those moments and the calm in my heart when I rose from my mat. 

The end of Ramadan often brings the creation of a long list of habits to change and patterns to adjust and sustain, but I hope that, with the help of this community, and conviction in why we are changing, we will be able to see and implement the change we desire and that these changes serve only to increase our awareness of God, our closeness to His Messenger (SAW) and our faith in the power of the communities we create. 

References:

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/The-Power-of-Habit-by-Charles-Duhigg-author/9781847946249

App used: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.habitnow&hl=en_GB (5 habits free, annual fee for unlimited) 

Basal Ganglia: 

B. Bendriem et al, ‘Quantitation of the Human Basal Ganglia with Positron Emission Tomography: A Phantom Study of the Effect of Contrast and Axial Positioning’ IEEE Transactions on Medical Imaging 10, no 2 (1991): 216-22. 

Rat in maze with chocolate (and other experiments): 

Ann M. Graybiel, ‘Overview at Habits, Rituals and the Evaluative Brain,’ Annual Review of Neuroscience 31 (2008): 359-87.

Ann M. Graybiel, ‘The Basal Ganglia: Learning New Tricks and Loving It,’ Current Opinion in Neurobiology 15 (2005): 638-44.

Chunking: 

Ann M Graybiel, ‘The Basal Ganglia and Chunking of Action Repertoires’ Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 70 (1998): 119-36. 

Julio:

Summary of Wolfram Schultz’s research can be found in: Behavioural Theories and the Neurophysiology of Reward, Annual Review of Psychology 57 (2006): 87-115

Cravings/cinnabon: 

Brian Wansink, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (New York: Bantam, 2006)

Habit reversal

N.H.Azrin and R.G. Nunn, ‘Habit-Reversal: A Method of eliminating Nervous Habits and Tics’ Behaviour Research and Therapy 11, no. 4 (1973) 

B. A. Dufrene, Steuart Watson, and J.S. Kazmerski, ‘Functional Analysis and Treatment of Nail Biting,’ Behaviour Modification 32 (2008): 913-27.

Alcoholics Anonymous: 

G. J. Conners et al, ‘Measure of Religious Background and Behaviour for Use in Behaviour Change Research’ Psychology of Addictive Behaviours 10, no. 2 (June 1996): 90-96.

Todd F. Heatheron and Patricia A. Nichols, ‘Personal Accounts of Successful Versus Failed Attempts at Life Change,’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 20, no. 6 (1994): 664-75.

Corners

Written by our founder Zinab Keshk

Corners of a Majestic Cube ⁣
Zoom deeply into the Divine⁣

Corners of a Conscious Mind⁣
In search of Home-ward bound signs.⁣

Corners of a Prayer Mat⁣
Placed gracefully on your carpeted floor⁣

Corners of a Holy Book ⁣
A beautiful means to His Righteous Door.⁣

For here is a place for worship,⁣
Here is promise ⁣
Here is content ⁣
And to it your heart flees, free from anything to resent.⁣

Amaanah carried on your shoulders⁣
As prayers to cherish⁣
Prayers to repent⁣
You ensure to say them as such, ensure to savour a dua well spent.⁣

And as you inhale in awe ⁣
And exhale in relief⁣
Revalidated once more ⁣
is your ⁣
unwavering belief.⁣

You value a moment your spirit ⁣
will never leave behind⁣
As shahaada takes renewed meaning in the centre of your mind.⁣

And now the corners align⁣
As your taqwa takes its majestic flight⁣

Spirituality and logic combine
With a will that exceeds expectation’s sight. ⁣

Gone is the appeal for a life ⁣
Of defiance and perversity, ⁣
For the moment has arrived ⁣
And you are invited to sample Eternity.

Photography by Umar Islam @umarislam


The Sweetness of Faith

Written by Sohaib Nawaz

I wanted to write something close and dear to my heart, something I have experienced in life and that I feel people may relate to, or may have tips regarding how to overcome such situations. Growing up, I didn’t find joy or sweetness in faith, in fact it was a chore; something to keep my parents off my back, something to avoid getting into trouble with them. As I grew, I found that many of my peers also shared this experience, while others had a beautiful relationship with Islam from a young age, Alhamdulilah. 

It was only after reaffirming myself in my dean (at a much later stage in life) did I find this beauty that the others spoke of- it’s perfection, the urgent need of its implementation in my life, and most profoundly: its abundance of truth. After experiencing the usual journey of highs and lows in my faith, I discovered ways and methods that would build the practice of my faith,  gaining the  sweetness, or “Iman-high” that everyone experiences.

We find that the core aspects of experiencing sweetness in faith can be explained by the following Hadith:

Anas bin Malik (radi Allahu anhu) reported that the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said, “There are three qualities whoever has them, will taste the sweetness of Iman: To love Allah and His Messenger (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) more than anyone else; to love a slave (of Allah) only for (the sake of) Allah; and to hate returning to infidelity after Allah has saved him from it as he would hate to be thrown into the fire (of Hell).”

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 16, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 43

Breaking this down:

  1. In this Hadith, the love of Allah signifies the sweetness of Iman.
  2. The love of Allah and His Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) is the cornerstone of the Faith: When it is said that this love should exceed one’s love for everything else in the universe, it means that what is enjoined by Allah and His Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) must be given preference to over everything else; whether it is love for the wife, children, worldly interests, desires or whims. When there is a clash between the two, the former should be given preference over the latter.

These two points are deep topics on their own and there is an abundance of information regarding them online. We will look at aspects outside of these that have helped me personally when dealing with low faith and have prevented me from tasting the sweetness of faith.

The following quote (unknown source) explains best what we all experience:

“Every heart has a cloud like the cloud that blocks the moon, The moon is shining and when the cloud covers it, it becomes dark and when it goes away the moon shines again”, and that is our hearts has the light of Iman in it and when a cloud of sins covers it, the person is left in darkness and loneliness, and we increases his Iman the cloud goes away and he/she is back to the light on Iman again.”

There is no doubt that Iman fluctuates in constancy, and it is up to us to renew our faith and carry out other small acts to keep our hearts firm upon our faith. Personally, I have found the following practices valuable and effective in my daily journey to tasting the sweetness of faith. I believe that such exercises are the key to elevating our relationship with the Creator, and I want to share them with you so that we all are able to experience the sweetness of faith:

  1. Cleansing my phone of unnecessary distractions

Install one simple Athan or Quran app that alerts you of notifications, as a constant reminder of prayer and purpose. Log off social media for a day- we see so many social media cleanses but personally I don’t see the benefit of staying off for a week or month then going back to normal. Set a day where you log out the night before, a day like Sunday is a good one to force you to do better things with your time.

  1. Read the Quran with Translation or Tafsir.

Just reading a page or two can really impact sweetness of faith, sit and contemplate what you have read and let it have an effect on how you live your life. Apps like QuranExplorer are great tools for such practices.

  1. Do not place limits on your duas

Place your duas in the hands of Allah azza wa-jalla. As humans and servants to the Most Merciful, this is the only place we can place our deepest desires and wishes in this world without any worries or judgement – use this time to empty your heart of unwanted baggage, to clear those clouds and ask for what you truly desire.There is no room for such sustainable relief in worldly objects or people. Make your duas inclusive and extensive: Remember to pray for yourself, for your friends and family and for the entire ummah.

  1. Feeding the needy:

Volunteering and taking part in charity is truly humbling.  From my own experience, I feel that it has opened my mind, allowing me to be more conscious and aware of the endless blessing and benefits Allah azza wa-jalla bestows upon us in our daily lives.

I cannot recommend this practice more, you can do this once a week, or even a month. Be consistent and you will see the benefit and light you will gain from just volunteering some of your time or effort.

  1. Perform Dhikr

‘And remember the Name of Allah much, so that you may be successful’ [8:45] 

Start by increasing your Dhikr- try contemplating and reflecting upon what you are saying and feeling, embody the words and allow them to humble you.

  1. Visit the sick

As muslims we should be serving our communities; checking in on one another and ensuring the physical and mental wellbeing of those who are less fortunate. Far too many vulnerable people are left in hospitals and care homes alone with no one to visit them. If you are currently in self isolation (which you all should be) take this feeling and remember it because I know a lot of us are struggling to stay indoors and not having face to face communication with others. But now think about those who experience this on a daily basis. Visit the old and the sick, and be thankful to Allah azza wa-jalla for your health and your youth. You feel the sweetness of this and the reward is felt from within you, do it privately or make a small group friends when you can go together and sit with older or sick people, and listen to their stories make them feel heard and seen.

  1. Remember death

Finally, remember our inevitable end. We are not promised the next second let alone the next day, so seek knowledge of the mercies of Allah azza wa-jalla, and the blessing He has bestowed upon us. Sit and contemplate each drop of knowledge you gain, and implement as much as you can in order to gain some sweetness and feeling from your personal relationship with faith.

  1. Remember Allah is Ar-Rahman

Allah Jalla jalaluhu is Ar-Rahman, something a lot of us tend to forget and our religion is a religion of ease, “Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship.” (Qur’an, 2:185). Do not burden yourselves with pressures and expectations that Allah Jalla jalaluhu has not commanded you to maintain. Spend time reminding brothers and sisters that you see suffering with this about the mercy of Allah Jalla jalaluhu. Verily the constant remembrance of the mercies Allah Jalla jalaluhu have bestowed upon us will revitalise the sweetness in our faith.

Remember not to be too hard on yourself. There are spiritual aspects of your life that have become so normal to you, that you do not see them as anything remarkable, but these characteristics require strong faith. On a Friday you may sacrifice your lunchtime for Jummah. This activity of going to Jummah requires strong Iman and effort, more than our ordinary Zuhr prayers. If I asked you, do you regret that time you sacrificed? You would say no, the fact that you don’t regret that you spent this time going to Jummah is what can also be referred to as the sweetness of Iman

I definitely don’t do all of the above every week, and asking so much of yourself immediately may seem unsustainable, therefore as a start, pick something that stands out to you and implement it into your daily life- and build up from there. We (the islamic community) focus a lot on how we should treat others: the rights of others, the duties we have to our neighbours and communities, and so on and so forth but we need shed light on how we should treat ourselves: the rights we owe towards ourselves, and putting those rights as a priority is very important. You cannot treat others with ihsaan if you do not know how to treat yourself with ihsaan.And you cannot give to others if you are not giving to yourself – “you cannot pour from an empty cup”. So gage where you are on your own journey and take steps you are comfortable with, and make Dua for the steps you want to take but are not yet ready to. For Allah Jalla jalaluhu is Ar-Razzaq (The Provider), Al Fattaah (The Opener of Closed Doors), and As Samee’ (the all hearing).

If you have anything that you think helps with Tasting the Sweetness of Faith drop a comment below and share with the community. Even if you may think it’s so small and insignificant, it could transform another’s relationship with their faith and potentially change their entire lives-  Allah will bless you with the reward for bringing someone closer to Him.

“The only true love is bringing people close to Allah azza wa-jalla”
– Mohamed Hoblos

Featured photography by Nadeem Ghafur @nadeemghafur

Thank you Sohaib, for sharing such a beneficial post with words of reassurance.
May we all taste the sweetness of faith.

Mental health and faith

Written by Hafsa Moolla

May is mental health month and i know i am not the only person who needs to be reminded that it’s okay that i’m not feeling okay right now. this period we’re in has taught me that there is a lot i have shoved deep down. i thought that i had ‘gotten over’ these battles but i have realised that i was just distracted from them by having a busy schedule. without having places to go to and being sucked into that ever-moving way of life, i have fallen into these scary cycles. these cycles where find myself forgetting to breathe and succumbing to the loud thoughts in my mind.

with Ramadan here, i also know that i am not the only person who feels somewhat guilty for feeling low in ramadan. the toxic stigma we see within our family and homes, our friendships, and circles and even within ourselves, makes us feel even worse when we are dealing with our mental battles. with that being said, we need to normalise that it’s okay to feel low as a Muslim, and that the struggles we face are not a godsent punishment.

recently, i’ve been using my time to learn more about the mercy of Allah, and it’s been helping me deal with these dips in my mental health. i hope they benefit you too:

– when you pray for others, Allah sends down an angel to say: ‘Aameen and for you as well.’ so when you pray for your friends who are also going through mental health battles, with the mercy of Allah, angels will pray for you too. (from Omar Suleiman’s Angel Series on Youtube)

– when loneliness hits, it can come in waves and be hard to deal with. i read in the book, Secrets of Divine Love, that: ‘God sees the black ant on a black stone in the darkest night, so how could He not see the pain of a faithful seeker?’ when i read those words, they struck a chord within me because many times when we are going through our battles, we can feel so alone, unseen and unheard. but Allah, He is All-Seeing and All-Hearinghe knows the pain you are going through, the anxiety you are experiencing, and the trauma you are healing from.

– i also read these heart-warming words in the same book: ‘eighty times a minute, God knocks at the doors of your chest, to remind you that He has never left.’ different words speak to people in different ways,  and that’s the beautiful thing about language and how we use it. when i read this, it spoke to me in two ways:

1. like in the previous point, it reminded me that Allah is always there, that He never leaves, that He is Ever-Living and will not die, and that He is near. 

2. each time your heart beats, it is a gift from God, to remind you that He wants you here- that He wants you alive. to people out there who may be suffering from suicidal thoughts, i hope these words remind you of that, like they did for me.

however, as strong as our faith can be, with our complexities, our wounds, and our fears, we may need to find and experience Allah’s mercy in other ways: 

– have mercy on yourself and give yourself a break. you don’t always have to have it together. 

– seek help from a trusted friend, family member – it’s okay to seek comfort from someone other than God. sometimes, we need more than someone to listen, we need hugs, we need someone to wipe our tears, we need words of reassurance – because we are human.

– seek help and advice from a professional (counsellors, therapists and crisis hotlines). Muslims should feel comfortable with seeking help from professionals when we are struggling. to those who need to hear this: your feelings are valid, you’re not weak and you’re not falling short of faith. here are some services for those that need it:

   – Muslim Youth Helpline 0808 808 2008 (4-10pm)

   – Samaritans 116 123 (24 hours)

   – CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) 0800 585 858 (5pm-midnight)

   – Mind 0300 123 3393 (weekdays 9am-6pm)

   – Inspirited Minds https://inspiritedminds.org.uk/about-us/our-support/

   – Young Minds UK 0808 802 5544

   – Beat 0808 801 0677 (adults) 0808 801 0711 (under-18s)

– with all the added anxiety we are experiencing during these unprecedented times, many of us are finding it hard to cope with anxiety. doing yoga can really help you reconnect with yourself and your breathing. check out Nabila Qureshi’s post: How Breathing Changed My Prayer

– sometimes we need to release that pain, that anxiety, that tension. we need a catharsis. for me, that’s writing, so when i need to, i just spill it all over the page. sometimes, it also helps me reach a sense of closure i know i will never find elsewhere. other people may express themselves in other ways, through painting, music, singing, dancing or a sport. try it out, it can help more than you expect.

lastly, i wanted to share a poem that i’d written during a difficult time. it merges the topics of both mental health and faith. i hope it resonates with you:

‘i heard descriptions of the pearly gates,

behind which eternal happiness awaits,

behind which i find the reason i hold on so tight,

when i feel like i can no longer fight the fight,

when my hands are dripping in blood,

and i’m losing my grip,

when the hope i once grasped is about to slip,

when my mind becomes a place i no longer know,

when all i want to do is just let go,

it is Jannah that reminds me to hold on, to stay strong,

to make a right from every wrong,

because indeed He has said ‘with every hardship there is ease,’

that after all these battles, you will find peace,

so, i ask you ya Rabb, shower me with your love,

shower me in your mercy for all that i’ve done,

ya Rabb, help me hold on tight,

purify me with the tears from battles that i fight,

ya Rabb, bring compassion to my soul,

pour love through my veins so my being may be whole,

ya Rabb, place gratitude in my heart,

for every blessing, every mistake, every fresh start,

ya Rabb, bring me closer to home,

for only through your remembrance will i remember i am not alone,

ya Rabb, guide me towards the pearly gates

behind which eternal happiness awaits.’

Featured photography by Nadeem Ghafur @nadeemghafur

Thank you Hafsa, for sharing such valuable and resonating reflections, and a truly beautiful poem.