Saturday, 28 November 2015

Everything is a blessing

For the past four years, every time I open the door to leave my apartment, I've almost consistently recited three poignant yet simple Islamic phrases in a subtle whisper that's only audible to me.

"Bismillah" (In the name of God), I say in a quick breath as I rotate the lock to the right and grasp the door nob. I continue with
"Tawakkul ‘ala Allah" (I place my complete trust and reliance in God), as I step into the hallway and gently close the door. And "Laa Hawla Wa Laa Quwwata Il-la Bil-laah" (There is neither might nor power except with Allah) glides along my tongue as I turn the key fasten the lock until, by God's will, I return.

It takes the whole of about seven seconds to recite these lines before dashing to the elevator to rush to work, run an errand, attend a social gathering or take a trip to a grocery store. The words are so simple for the richness and tremendous power they encompass when reflected upon.

They embody the essence of surrendering to God, which is what Islam is all about. When we say them, we are acknowledging that from the moment of utterance, we're leaving it to the Gracious One to guide, protect and guard us. And by doing so, whatever happens during the course of the day becomes a reflection of that state of surrender, whether it is good or bad, easy or challenging, unpleasant or comforting, agonizing or healing.

Everything becomes a blessing. While it is hard to imagine and accept the heartbreak, illness, loneliness, professional struggles and relationship setbacks that dot our paths as anything more than torment and nuisances, these trials enclose gifts.

There's a stunning and thought-provoking Hadith, or saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, where he describes how "wonderful" a sincere believer's affairs are because, ultimately, that person accepts with the certainty and the trust of all of her being that the good and bad occurrences of her life are two sides of the same coin. I will paraphrase and elaborate on this Hadith here.

For this person, this true believer, when something good happens to her, she bubbles over with thankfulness. She doesn't lose sight of God's role in granting her this gift. Rather, she acknowledges genuinely that He is the Source of it. Perhaps the relief that she finds at her fingertips follows a period of immense disappointment, the kind that drains your vitality and challenges your hope and faith. Or maybe the joy comes to her during a period of relative peace and harmony in her life, the very time when it becomes easy to dismiss remembrance of God. In either scenario, the believer's response is to appreciate the gift with humble gratitude to Her Creator. This is a blessing.

For the same person, when something burdensome befalls her, as will inevitably happen, she bears it on her shoulders and perseveres. She carries the heartbreak, loss, loneliness, illness, anguish with delight, embodying the patience of "beautiful contentment" that the Quran refers to. That patience isn't reluctant, but willing. It is full of pleasure because she understands and exemplifies another message that radiates throughout the Holy Book: that God will place no burden on a soul greater than it can bear. The more daunting the burden He lays on her, the stronger He regards her soul. So, rather than get filled with resentment, this believer is glad. She smells the rose while grasping its thorny stem. She knows with certainty in her heart that while the clouds may be blocking the sun from view, its brilliant unmatched Light is there all the same. Her state of patient being and acceptance is a blessing.
"Therefore do hold patience, a patience of beautiful contentment," Quran, Surah 70-5, The Ways of Ascent

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Light Upon Light

In the moments before I first learned of the darkness unfolding in Paris on Friday, I was sitting in a circle of light.

Some fellow seekers and I were seated as we often are on Friday evening, pondering on the path of those yearning for closeness and presence with God.

On this particular occasion, we were discussing a passage of Islamic poet Rumi's Masnavi called Veils of Light.

Each rich line reminded me of what drew me to this path of Islam in the first place: a crystal clear moment of understanding in 2010 when I first encountered that Light. When the first veil was lifted, revealing a love that transformed how I would perceive everything from that moment.

We seekers will often squint, blocking the light from coming through, as we endure the trials and tribulations that life hands to all of us. But there it is, shining in once we gain the strength to open our eyes again.

This Light doesn't blind us despite its brightness, it transforms our vision and allows us to see the next step on the path more clearly. This Light does not bring darkness. It brings mercy, compassion and justice. 

This Light does not harm another soul, for harming one would be as damaging as harming all, as the Quran teaches. It forces us, rather, to look within and battle our own demon, the ego that prevents us from seeing the Light.

A wise, humble and loving Shaikh speaking on Islamic extremism to an audience gathered at a London church in September described political Islam as "collective egoism: nafs (ego) magnified on a social scale."

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Sitting in Tuileries

My late father never visited Paris. Yet for me he is always here. Back in July 2010 during my first visit to this magnificent city, I called my father while sitting in Tuileries, the beautifully manicured gardens situated beside the Louvre.

What I didn't know then was that we were having our last proper conversation before my dad passed away, suddenly, four weeks later. That bright and warm summer afternoon would be the final time he was alive for me.

God has, miraculously, blessed me with the ability to visit Paris numerous times since then. I have walked through Tuileries, pictured here yesterday, in every season. Whether summer, winter, spring or autumn, I sense my father's presence as I stroll across this elegant garden. Each time I have paused for a moment of reflection and remembrance. Al Fatihah, the opening verse of the Holy Quran, I have read for my father's soul.

While the details of our conversation are now a faint memory, the nearness that I sense to my father in this garden on which he never tread remains timelessly poignant.