Health: Our Most Precious Possession

To follow up with the post I wrote a few weeks back regarding the hadith that details the conversation Prophet Muhammad (saws) had with his companion Abu Dharr,  I just wanted to include the second piece of advice given.  The last post dealt with taking advantage of youth before old age, whereas the second admonishment was to take advantage of one’s physical health before illness.

Certainly health is something we all take for granted except when we lose it.  The older we become, the more conscious we are of how our bodies simply aren’t responding the way they used to.  I’m sure many of the middle aged, older, and elderly may look back with regret at the careless way they lived their lives and the flippant attitude toward taking care of their health.  Some may even look at today’s youth and shudder at the careless, unconcerned approach they hold regarding their health, knowing full well that despite popular belief, no one will escape the reality of aging and the inescapable downward spiral of our health.

I know each time I’m sick, I am constantly thinking to myself that when I’m well again I’ll always be thankful for each second of my wellness, and will be conscious of every healthy moment.  Yet inevitably, after some time has passed since I begin to feel better, the memory of my resolution begins to fade and I struggle to make a conscious effort to remind myself of the phenomenal blessing God has given me of such good health and the full use of all my limbs.

SubhanAllah, on the days when I feel most down and depressed, I try to always remind myself of all the numerous blessings I’ve been given (physical as well as mental) – I’m sure there are countless others who would love to trade places with me in a heartbeat, despite all my overwhelming and obvious shortcomings and failures.   As Imam Ali (as) mentioned, whenever we start feeling badly, we should look at those less fortunate than us to remind ourselves of all the blessings God has given us, and to help us put our vision of ourselves back into perspective.

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Fleeting Moments

Salam alaykum, may God’s peace and blessings be upon you all.  My sincere apologies; it has been quite some time since I’ve last posted!  Unfortunately, my job has not gotten any less stressful; I’m still as busy and overworked as ever, and I have not had a single chance to deal with my blog.  But, alhamdilulah, nevertheless I’m very thankful to have a job and, to finally have a few minutes to sit down and post something.

I listened to a very good Islamic lecture recently, given by Sheikh Ahmed Haneef, that discussed the issue of procrastination.  He describes procrastination as having two types: worldly procrastination and spiritual procrastination.  To kick off his lecture, he mentioned a very long hadith in which Prophet Muhammad (saws) gives in-depth advice to one of the companions, Abu Dharr.  Prophet Muhammad admonishes Abu Dharr to avoid procrastination in 5 specific areas.  Each of these areas is quite profound, so I’ll just mention the first:  we should take advantage of our youth before old age sets in.

Taking advantage of my youth is something I have thought about a great deal in the past few years.  I was startled to realize that upon reaching my long-held ideal age of 25, time doesn’t stop there – the days, months, and years only continue to come, seemingly at an ever-increasing speed.  Now in my late 20s, I’m looking back on my life and wishing I had done many things differently and that I had taken advantage of my youth and the numerous opportunities it afforded.  Of course I recognize that I am still young, and I see each day now as being very valuable and precious.  On the Day of Judgment, we will be asked to account for all of the time given to us in this life, so we shouldn’t spend it carelessly and thoughtlessly.  There are countless things that those of us still in our youth are capable of doing that we may not have the opportunity to do later.   Now, when I’m faced with a little bit of free time, I always try to fill it with important, meaningful, and necessary tasks as opposed to mindless and valueless activities.

Time is something constantly on my mind, as these days I never have enough of it.  I have to always monitor my activities by constantly pushing myself to move faster in order to get through everything each day.  The pressure of the clock as I go about each day is a constant reminder of the pressure of the rapid passing of the remaining days I have in this life.  With this perspective, each moment holds much more gravity and value than it ever did before.

As Imam Ali ibne Abu Talib (as) wisely states, “to miss an opportunity brings about grief,”  and that “opportunities pass by like clouds.”  Opportunities to make valuable use of our time present themselves only once, and only for a fleeting moment, just like the passing clouds.  Once the opportunity is gone, we are left with only the regret of not having acted differently, and the inescapable burden of knowing that we’ll never be able to go back and change it.  It’s gone forever.

Although difficult to imagine, our lives do not stretch on and on indefinitely.  On the contrary, our lives are short and our days are easily countable.  Each moment that passes us by brings us that much closer to our end, and to the day we stand before God to account for how we spent our time here on earth.  We should not look to this world only, but beyond what is directly in front of us to what lies after this world.

This world is merely a test in which we alone determine our hereafter.  So, for those still in their youth, don’t think of the future as some far-off, abstract notion that will happen “someday.”  No, the future is right around the corner, and your actions now will have a serious and lasting impact on your future circumstances.  Do not occupy yourself with inconsequential, meaningless things, but instead, strive to prepare yourself for your impending future and the hereafter.

Sheikh Ahmed Haneef’s lecture:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tohCv5VbUKI

The Coming of Ramadhan

I have been thinking about Ramadhan for the past two months, reflecting on it, remembering it as I eat or drink throughout the day, and recalling its importance and the lessons learned through it. Now, as the final weekend before its arrival is upon us, it is of utmost importance that we begin to prepare ourselves mentally for this holy and trying month, and ask God for the strength to rely solely on Him and to remove our dependence on worldly things.

Imam Zain al-Abideen (Ali bin Hussain bin Ali bin Abi Talib) provided us with a wonderful supplication (prayer) for the coming of Ramadhan. It is a bit lengthy, but it is well worth reading – and using in prayer yourself.

Supplication for the Coming of the Month of Ramadan

Praise belongs to God who guided us to His praise
and placed us among the people of praise,
that we might be among the thankful for His beneficence
and that He might recompense us for that
with the recompense of the good-doers!

And praise belongs to God who
showed favour to us through His religion,
singled us out for His creed,
and directed us onto the roads of His beneficence,
in order that through His kindness we might travel upon them
to His good pleasure,
a praise which He will accept from us
and through which He will be pleased with us!

And praise belongs to God who appointed among those roads His month,
the month of Ramadan,
the month of fasting,
the month of submission,
the month of purity,
the month of putting to test,
the month of standing in prayer,
in which the Qur’an was sent down as guidance to the people,
and as clear signs of the Guidance and the Separator!175

He clarified its excellence over other months
by the many sacred things and well-known excellencies
which He placed therein,
for He made unlawful in it what He declared lawful in others
to magnify it,
He prohibited foods and drinks in it
to honour it,
and He appointed for it a clear time which He
(majestic and mighty is He)
allows not to be set forward
and accepts not to be placed behind.

Then He made one of its nights surpass the nights
of a thousand months
and named it the Night of Decree;
in it the angels and the Spirit descend
by the leave of their Lord upon every command,
a peace constant in blessings
until the rising of the dawn
upon whomsoever He will of His servants
according to the decision He has made firm.

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
inspire us
with knowledge of its excellence,
veneration of its inviolability,
and caution against what Thou hast forbidden within it,
and help us to fast in it
by our restraining our limbs
from acts of disobedience toward Thee
and our employing them
in that which pleases Thee,
so that we lend not our ears to idle talk
and hurry not with our eyes to diversion,

we stretch not our hands toward the forbidden
and stride not with our feet toward the prohibited,
our bellies hold only what Thou hast made lawful
and our tongues speak only what Thou
hast exemplified,
we undertake nothing but what brings close to
Thy reward
and pursue nothing but what protects from
Thy punishment!
Then rid all of that from the false show of the false showers
and the fame seeking of the fame seekers,
lest we associate therein anything with Thee
or seek therein any object of desire but Thee!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
in it make us attend
to the appointed moments of the five prayers within
the bounds Thou hast set,
the obligations Thou hast decreed,
the duties Thou hast assigned,
and the times Thou hast specified;

and in the prayers make us alight in the station of
the keepers of their stations,
the guardians of their pillars,
their performers in their times,
as Thy servant and Thy messenger set down in his Sunna
(Thy blessings be upon him and his Household)
in their bowings, their prostrations, and all their
excellent acts,
with the most complete and ample ritual purity
and the most evident and intense humility!

Give us success in this month to
tighten our bonds of kin with devotion and gifts,
attend to our neighbours with bestowal and giving,
rid our possessions from claims,
purify them through paying the alms,
go back to him who has gone far from us,
treat justly him who has wronged us,
make peace with him who shows enmity toward us
(except him who is regarded as an enemy
in Thee and for Thee,
for he is the enemy whom we will not befriend,
the party whom we will not hold dear),

and seek nearness to Thee through blameless works
which will purify us from sins
and preserve us from renewing faults,
so that none of Thy angels will bring for Thee
the kinds of obedience and sorts of
nearness-seeking
unless they be less than what we bring!177

O God,
I ask Thee by the right of this month
and by the right of him who worships Thee within it
from its beginning to the time of its passing,
whether angel Thou hast brought nigh to Thee,
prophet Thou hast sent,
or righteous servant Thou hast singled out,
that Thou bless Muhammad and his Household,
make us worthy of the generosity Thou hast promised
Thy friends,
make incumbent for us
what Thou hast made incumbent
for those who go to great lengths in obeying Thee,
and place us in the ranks of those
who deserve through Thy mercy the highest elevation!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
turn us aside from
deviation in professing Thy Unity,
falling short in magnifying Thee,
in Thy religion,
blindness toward Thy path,
heedlessness of Thy inviolability,
and being deceived by Thy enemy, the accursed Satan!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
and when in every night of this month’s nights
Thou hast necks
which Thy pardon will release
and Thy forgiveness disregard,
place our necks among those necks
and place us among the best folk and companions
of this our month!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
efface our sins
along with the effacing of its crescent moon,
and make us pass forth from the ill effects of our acts
with the passing of its days,
until it leaves us behind,
while within it Thou hast purified us of offenses
and rid us of evil deeds!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
and should we go off to one side in this month,
set us aright;
should we swerve,
point us straight;
and should Thy enemy Satan enwrap us,
rescue us from him!

O God,
fill this month with our worship of Thee,
adorn its times with our obedience toward Thee,
help us during its daytime with its fast,
and in its night with prayer and pleading toward Thee,
humility toward Thee,
and lowliness before Thee,
so that its daytime may not bear witness
against our heedlessness,
nor its night against our neglect!

O God,
make us like this in the other months and days
as long as Thou givest us life,
and place us among Thy righteous servants,
those who shall inherit Paradise,
therein dwelling forever,178
those who give what they give,
while their hearts quake,
that they are returning to their Lord,179
those who vie in good works,
outracing to them!180

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household
in every time, in all moments, and in every state,
to the number that Thou hast blessed whomsoever
Thou hast blessed
and to multiples of all that, through multiples
which none can count but Thee!
Surely Thou art Accomplisher of what Thou desirest.

May God give us the strength to pass through this time of trial, test, and purification.  May God help us to focus on Him and to cut the chains of bondage of the world that we have allowed to grip us.  May God help us to exert extra effort to be cheerful, kind, patient, and charitable toward others during this time, may God use our hunger to remind us of those less fortunate than us, and to reach out to them, and may God help us to refrain from not only the haram, but also the makrooh, and to engage in more wajib and mustahab acts.

The supplication, along with an audio clip of it, can be found here: http://www.duas.org/sajjadiya/s44.htm

Other supplications of Imam Zain al-Abideen can be found here: http://www.duas.org/sajjadiya/sajjadiya.htm

The Importance of Good Manners in Debate

When discussing issues that are emotional and close to one’s heart, it is often difficult to accept what other people are saying without becoming overly emotional, upset, or angry.  Because of this, Americans often avoid discussing potentially heated issues such as politics and religion.  In fact, it is a well-known cardinal rule that those two subjects are entirely off-limits at parties and social events (particularly when people are drinking because physical fights inevitably ensue!).

Yet, who knows the nature of humankind best but our Creator Himself?  God knows very well how easily upset we can become when discussing beliefs, which is why He instructed on how to do exactly that:

“Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and have disputations with them in the best manner; surely your Lord best knows those who go astray from His path, and He knows best those who follow the right way. (Quran chapter 16 verse 125). 

In other words, we are instructed to discuss our beliefs with wisdom and good encouragement (as opposed to sarcasm or criticism), doing so with the utmost of good manners.  It is not our job to convince them or change their minds, as God Himself only knows those who will listen to truth and follow it, or who will reject it and turn away.  Our task is only to speak the truth with good manners.  We should never engage in personal attacks (i.e. “I can’t believe how stupid you are to believe that!”), nor disparage their belief system (“What kind of idiotic, illogical belief is that?!”).  If we stoop to such behavior, the other person will automatically become defensive and immediately stop listening.  Good manners, encouragement, and wisdom are the keys to opening a person’s heart.  Yet, in the end, even if you do everything you can, the other person still may not respond the way you’d like them to.  Thus, we must remember that what is in the other person’s heart and mind is between that person and God alone.  

When I hear this verse, I am reminded of when I first heard the truth of Islam.  I still persisted in arguing against it and pushing my own stated beliefs, but deep inside… I was listening.  When I was alone throughout the day or laying awake at night, I was mentally replaying what I had heard, considering and reflecting on it.  Externally, no one would have guessed that the truth was having an impact on me, because I was stubborn and steadfastly defending my views.  Anyone interacting with me would have easily thought to themselves that there was no hope – I was too brainwashed, too senseless, too close-minded, too stubborn to let go of what I had been raised to believe was right.  Yet God knew what was actually happening inside my heart.  It is only He who guides us to the truth, and no one else. 

When we are faced with someone who seems so close-minded and refuses to listen, just remember that despite all their blustering and fury, inside they just may be listening.  And even if they aren’t listening now, they may remember what you’ve said much later down the road, and begin to reflect on it.  Only God knows the path an individual will take.  I heard a beautiful hadith of Prophet Muhammad (saws) the other day that made tears come to my eyes:

“The number of paths to God is equal to the number of human souls.” 

SubhanAllah (glory to God).  There is no one prescribed, set path that we all must robotically follow.  No, God has designed it so that we each find the truth in the timing that is best for us.  Perhaps one person finds the truth early on – and it is better for them.  Yet someone else may find the truth much later, and it is better for them – because they had many lessons to learn and experiences to pass through before they were ready.  My own path has been incredibly unique, and in retrospect I know that each step was crucial to taking me to where I am today.  Alhamdilulah (praise God).

Healing: Miracles or Medicine?

Found a very interesting hadith today and thought I’d share, especially in light of the fact that some people believe they do not need medicine or doctors as long as their faith is strong enough.  Others who take medicine are sometimes viewed as lacking in faith (particularly those who seek help for mental health issues).  Yet, Islam reminds us that all healing comes from God, whether directly or ‘indirectly’; through both miracles and medical advancements.

Imam al-Sadiq (as) said, ‘A prophet from among the prophets fell sick and said, ‘I will not treat myself [with medicine] until the One who made me sick heals me’. Then Allah revealed to him saying, ‘I will not heal you until you treat yourself [with medicine] for verily the healing is from Me.’

Bihar al-Anwar, v. 62, p. 66, no. 15

This serves to remind us that God has given humankind the intellect and curiosity to explore and research the universe in order to find cures for the diseases that afflict us.  Refusing the results of this blessing is not faith, but is ignorance.

With that being said, it also doesn’t mean to rush out and take medicine for any ailment your doctor or the commercials on TV say you have (the US is far too over-medicated as it is).  It is best to do your own research in order to have a thorough understanding of your condition, along with the various options for treatment, their outcomes, and side effects.  Understanding side effects is very crucial as sometimes the side effects are worse than the original condition!

Prayer for Seeking Refuge from Sins of the Self

Prophet Muhammad (saws) often said that the greatest jihad is the jihad an-nafs, the struggle with the self.  None of us, from the very poorest to the richest and most famous, can escape the trial and torment of struggling with ourselves, trying to stay on the middle, moderate path, attempting to avoid slipping into extremes of too much or too little.

A supplication (prayer) I often read is one by Imam Ali bin Hussain, otherwise known as Imam Zain al-Abideen (‘the best of worshippers’) and Imam as-Sajjad, or the ‘prostrating imam’.  Although this particular supplication is not lengthy, each word is so eloquently put that I could not say it better myself, nor could I come even remotely close to doing so, mashAllah.  Each word is so powerful and meaningful, and each phrase speaks exactly to situations I constantly find myself fighting against.

Supplication for Seeking Refuge

O God,
I seek refuge in Thee from the agitation of craving,
the violence of wrath,
the domination of envy,
the frailty of patience, the lack of contentment,
surliness of character,
urgency of passion,
the disposition to vehemence,

following caprice,
opposing guidance,
the sleep of heedlessness,
undertaking the toilsome,
preferring falsehood over truth,
persisting in sin,
making little of disobedience,
making much of obedience,

vying with the wealthy,
disparaging the poor,
guarding badly over those in our hands,
failing to thank those who have done good to us,

aiding a wrongdoer,
abandoning someone troubled,
wanting what is not rightfully ours,
and speaking about knowledge without knowing.

We seek refuge in Thee from harboring dishonesty toward anyone, being pleased with our works, and stretching out our expectations.

We seek refuge in Thee from
ill-mindedness,
looking down on the small,
Satan’s gaining mastery over us,
time’s afflicting us,
and the sovereign’s oppressing us.

We seek refuge in Thee from acting with prodigality and not having sufficiency.

We seek refuge in Thee from the gloating of enemies, indigent need for equals, living in hardship, and dying without readiness.

We seek refuge in Thee from
the most dreadful remorse,
the greatest affliction,
the most wretched wretchedness,
the evil end to the journey,
the deprivation of reward,
and the advent of punishment.

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household and through Thy mercy, give to me refuge from all of that, and to all the faithful, both men and women!

O Most Merciful of the merciful!

Other supplications of Imam Ali bin Hussain can be found here:

http://www.duas.org/sajjadiya/sajjadiya.htm

How to Treat Adversaries

SubhanAllah, God has left no stone unturned and no subject untouched within the vast knowledge and wisdom of Islam.

I have often heard about Imam Zain al Abideen’s (as) treatise on rights and have put it on my list of things to look up when I got a chance.  His treatise on rights were written around 700 AD, long before any Western treatise on human rights (for instance, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written in 1948).  Well, I finally got around to looking it up to see what exactly he had to say.  And of course, I was not disappointed.  Although the imam (who was the son of Imam Hussain, who was the son of Imam Ali – as) covers every single thing that has rights (which makes it pretty lengthy), I wanted to share one in particular.

The Right of an Adversary:

“The right of the adversary (khasm) who has a claim against you is that, if what he claims against you is true, you give witness to it against yourself. You do not wrong him and you give him his full due. If what he claims against you is false, you act with kindness toward him and you show nothing in his affair other than kindness; you do not displease your Lord in his affair. And there is no strength save in God.”

So in other words, if someone accuses you of something and it is true, then you have to be honest and admit that it is true.  You do not try to do anything bad to him or attempt to cover the truth, but simply give him what is fairly owed.

In contrast, if someone accuses you of something and it is false, you should nevertheless be kind to him (not angry or spiteful), and don’t allow yourself to commit any sins because of this person.

Now of course, our adversaries are not only those who bring a complaint about us – sometimes we have complaints about others, and how we should treat them is mentioned as well.

The right of the adversary against whom you have a claim is that, if your claim against him is true, you maintain polite moderation in speaking to him and you do not deny his right. If your claim is false, you fear God, repent to Him, and abandon your claim.

In other words, if your accusation is true, then you should be polite (not arrogant or boastful) when dealing with them, and make sure that you are fair.  However, if you are wrong, you should retract your position out of respect and love for God.  Reputation,  face, honor, pride, dignity – none are important in the light of pleasing God and avoiding sin.

Whether we like it or not, the reality of life dictates that we will certainly find ourselves at odds with others.  An adversary isn’t only someone we barely know, as those we find ourselves in conflict with range from a rude clerk at the store, to a co-worker, a boss, a friend, or even a family member (i.e. a parent!).  Knowing how to deal with such individuals appropriately will ensure that you will be able to walk away with the knowledge that you did what was right, and even if the affair was not resolved peacefully (i.e. the other person is still unhappy), you know that you did your best before God.

Imam Zayn al-Abideen’s (as) Treatise on Rights can be found here: http://www.iec-md.org/IECE/religious/treatise_on_rights.html