Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Jouney of a Lifetime...

Every Muslim dreams about making Hajj, the spiritual journey of a lifetime. Alhumdulillah, this year I have made intention to embark upon this journey. However, amidst all the planning, visa chasing, and arguments over the 'nitty gritty' of Hajj, I cant help but wonder if the true essence of Hajj is being lost.

The first step which the Muslim makes is perhaps the easiest part, the niyyah. We all intend to go for Hajj at some point or another. However, what is slightly more difficult is making a 'serious' niyyah, that we intend on going sooner (ie this year or next) as opposed to some distant point in the future. It is important to bear in mind that once you have the physical, financial and mental capacity to perform Hajj, it becomes Fard upon you from that point on. In fact, the Muslim should hasten to perform the Pilgrimage, for there is no guarantee on life. If the Muslim passes away and had the means to perform Hajj, but he did not fulfil the pillar of Hajj or at least make a serious intention to do so, then he would have died omitting one of the fundamental pillars of Islam.

So, you have now made your intention, alhumdulillah. You've got enough money saved up, and your running marathons every week. Now comes the really difficult bit, choosing your Hajj group!

Now pause for one moment and picture the following scenario in your mind. You have made intention for doing Hajj this year, and you meet your best friend for a coffee. You tell him about your intention for Hajj this year....

You: I've made intention for Hajj this year bro! I've taken time off work, just gotta sort out the logistics

Friend: Alhumdulillah bro, that great news! Which group you thinking of?

You: Well its a choice between Green Emerald and Minaret Tours at the moment?

Friend: So which hotels are they putting you up in? And what airline? Are the gonna provide food? do you get buffet breakfast? Are you gonna stay in VIP Tents? Whats your weight allowance on the flight? Cos you need space for all that shopping!!

You:.......(getting even more confused than you are)

Choosing the right Hajj group for you is very important. There are packages catering for all budgets and tastes. Hajj is very expensive, and it is important to know what you are getting for your money.

But having gone through this scenario many times myself, I cant help but wonder whether our obsession which Hajj Packages and hotels has made us loose the true meaning of Hajj?

Why do we go for Hajj in the first place?

Is it because it is a pillar if Islam? Is it because its something everyone else seems to be doing? Or is because we want to keep up with the Jones' next door?

For me, there are two reasons. First of all, I am doing it to seek the pleasure of Allah, and secondly because there is no reward for an accepted Hajj except Paradise.

Think about that for one second.....if your Hajj is accepted, your reward is Paradise.......and that is truly priceless. For all the people making Hajj, or indeed those who have performed Hajj, we should be making dua to Allah until the day we die that He accept our Hajj.

Most people take for granted that Allah will accept their Hajj. At this point it is important to realise the difference between performing an act of worship and having that act accepted. Take prayer for example. You may have performed your 5 daily prayers today, so you wont be accountable for not praying inshAllah. But if you didn't perform those prayers with full concentration (Khushoo'), will Allah really accept those prayers?

The same applies for Hajj. Performing Hajj alleviates the obligation we have upon us, but whether it is accepted or not is another issue altogether:

As Ibn `Umar, radhiallahu `anhu, said to Mujahid, after he heard him say, "How numerous the Hujjaj are!", in reply he said, "In reality, How few! Rather you should say, how numerous the riders are!" (paraphrased)

There are certain signs of a Hajj Mabroor:

That the Hajj is done with Sincerity - ie Solely for the sake of Allah. Purify that intention!

That the Hajj is performed in accordance to the Sunnah - So rather than asking about hotels and flights with regards to the Hajj groups, the first question we should really ask is which religious scholar is accompanying the group.

The funds for Hajj are from Halal means - This is so important, and highlights the magnitude of Muslims having halal sources of income. It is sad to see Muslims selling alcohol, and earning money from dealings with interest.

That your state is better than it was before - In other words, you come back a changed person.

I pray to Allah that he gives us all the ability to perform Hajj in our lifetimes, and that we can achieve the invaluable status of a Hajj Mabroor. Ameen

Friday, 2 October 2009

Setting Our Goals

I recently received a telephone call from a brother in despair. He found himself at a set of crossroads in his life, and was confused as to which path he should continue his journey of life upon. After spending some time advising the brother, I pray that Allah guides him to that which is best for his deen and duniya...Ameen.

My conversation with him provided the spark for my next post. How should we as Muslims make decisions in our life?

I remember attending a study skills course before sitting my GCSE examinations. This was one of the most beneficial things I did as a student. Nearly all of us have studied in one capacity or another, but learning how to study is key before embarking upon study.

Whilst studying, it can be very easy to loose morale and for the mind to start meandering, which makes the studying process quite inefficient. One of the main take-home messages from the course was to write down one's goals on some paper prior to commencing study of a particular subject. This piece of paper should then be stuck in a visible place so that it remains a constant reminder. It acts as a focus for the mind, and provides one's study with a sense of direction.

Taking this one level further, we should apply this approach to 'study' for the ultimate examination we are going to face.

Who has created death and life, that He may test you which of you is best in deed. And He is the All-Mighty, the Oft-Forgiving; (Surah Mulk, Verse 2)

The Muslim is well aware that this life is an examination that we are constantly 'studying' for in order to improve our performance, with our 'results day' being the Day of Judgement. Just imagine the panic we felt when approaching the notice board for our final exams. The panic we will face on the Day of Judgement is truly something unimaginable.

Many of us feel at times that, like our studies, our life has no sense of direction. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that we haven't taken the time to establish our goals. What do we want to achieve from this life? What are we doing to achieve those goals?

Whilst we may have many small goals that we wish to achieve, the ultimate goal of the Muslim should be to seek the pleasure of our Creator, the Oft-Forgiving, the Most Merciful.

Continually seeking the pleasure of Allah will certainly give our lives the ultimate sense of direction, and will prevent the problems of meandering and procrastination that we all suffer from. In addition, it will help us to make our major life decisions with Allah's command in mind.

Many times in life we reach a juncture and there are two paths to choose, as in the case of the brother whom I mentioned earlier. One of them is the right path whilst the other is the wrong path. The wrong path will constantly call out to you, and going down it is full of ease, however at the end of the path there is misery. The right path may not be as enticing, and going down it is riddled with obstruction, but at the end of it there is satisfaction. By keeping the pleasure of Allah in our minds at all times, the right path is made more apparent to us and the obstructions are made easier to overcome, thus allowing us to achieve the ultimate satisfaction.

We should apply this to every act our lives. When we eat, when we sleep, when we think about watching that movie, when we think about going out, when we are with the opposite sex either willingly or unwillingly; are we thinking about whether Allah will be pleased with what we are about to do? Are we doing this act in accordance with how Allah wants?
By Allah, if we did this each and every time before we did something, then rarely would we err towards the wrong path.

Let's take just a few minutes from our busy lives and ponder on the following question:

'If Allah were to call upon me today, would He be pleased with me?'

If, like me, your response to this question is 'No', then we should ask ourselves this: 'What can we do to change this answer?'

What steps are we going to take as of today to seek Allah's pleasure? For me, I'm going to try and check every action I do inshAllah, by asking whether Allah with me pleased with what I'm about to do. For those decisions where I'm not so sure what will please Allah, I will pray to Allah to guide me towards what is best.

Allah guides those who are sincere. If we sincerely make a pledge today that our ultimate goal in life is to seek Allah's pleasure, and we make dua for that, then Allah will surely guide us.

I pray Allah makes us from those with whom He is pleased.

I ask forgiveness from Allah for any mistakes I may have made

Wa Allahu Alim.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Why are we Muslim?

I've always thought 'bloggers' were sad freaks who had nothing better to do with their time. Well, I guess I am a sad freak after all! I suppose the reason I've started this blog is the same reason why many others do; it gives an outlet to express one's innermost thoughts. I hope you find my blog interesting and thought provoking. Feel free to comment on what I have to say.

Alhumdulillah, Allah has given us the opportunity to witness yet another Ramadan. A week has passed since Eid celebrations, and the Biryani has well and truly been digested.

As we return back to normality, many students of Islamic knowledge continue to remind us of the important lessons from Ramadan. The ultimate lesson from Ramadan stems from the very reason why we fast in the first place. Allah makes it very clear in the Quran why fasting is prescribes upon us:

"O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqun (the pious)." [Soorah al-Baqarah (2):183]

So the reason why we fast is to increase in our piety. Let us now examine ourselves right now, and compare ourselves to how we were about a couple of months ago. Do we feel closer to Allah now than we did then? Are we more aware of Allah now? Or has nothing changed? The only way in which we can come closer to Allah is to worship him in the ways in which he has prescribed upon us in the Quran. Are we worshipping Allah more than we were before?

First and foremost, I pray to Allah that he accepts all the good deeds that we performed during Ramadan, and makes us of the 'Al-Muttaqun'. I also pray that Allah has mercy upon us, and gives us the opportunity to witness this blessed month next year, Ameen.

However, I wish to look at our post-Ramadan soul searching from an alternative angle. Ask yourself the question, and give an honest answer:

''Why am I a Muslim?''

Are you a Muslim because you were born into a Muslim family, or have you come to the conclusion that Islam is the truth after examining the various proofs and evidences? Perhaps you are not sure why you are a Muslim in the first place? Is being Muslim more a cultural thing for you?

I think for many of us, the main reason we are Muslim is due to the fact that our parents are Muslim. We were taught how to pray, how to read Quran, when to fast and how to celebrate Eid. Whilst this gives some sort of foundation to build faith upon, in my opinion it isn't wholly satisfactory. Acts of worship merely become rituals without any meaning.

Just imagine, if we start loosing the true meaning of our acts of worship, what will our children learn? And their children? What if in five or six generations time, people start bowing their heads down to thin air, without actually knowing who they are bowing down to? Whilst some of you may mock this, there are many religions in the world where people do religious acts without knowing why they do them in the first place. I have asked many non-Muslim friends in the past ''Why do you do such and such'', only to be told in reply ''cos my grandma does it innit!'' With this the following verse from the Quran comes to mind:

When it is said to them: "Follow what Allâh has sent down." They say: "Nay! We shall follow what we found our fathers following." (Would they do that!) even though their fathers did not understand anything nor were they guided? (Baqarah 170)

It is for this reason I think it is important to ask why you are a Muslim in the first place, for this question is the building block for faith. I guess the advantage our convert brothers and sisters have over 'Born-Muslims' is that they have made a conscious decision that Islam is the truth, and thus have a greater understanding about what it really means to be a Muslim.

The Word 'Muslim' means the one who submits to God. So whilst we may have our own personal reasons for being Muslim, the ultimate reason should be that we firmly believe in one Allah, and therefore we fully submit to him.

So what should one do if they discover that the main reason for following Islam is due to them having Muslim parents?

I think the first thing should be to say 'Alhumdulillah'! Allah has had mercy upon us by giving us a family that understands tawheed. I can only appreciate this blessing when I hear of the trials some of my convert brothers go through.

The second thing should then be to work towards strengthening our belief in Allah such that we obey every one of his commands upon us, so that we may acquire His pleasure. We need to know Allah, for only then can we worship Him in the way in which He should be worshipped.

This is a life-long process, but I think a good starting point is to read the Quran in a language we understand. How many of us have actually done this? Whilst our ultimate aim should be to have a grasp of Arabic such that we can read the Quran in its original state, for many of us this isn't immediately possible. ''Why didn't those Quran teachers teach us the Arabic language alongside learning how to read the Quran!!'' I hear you cry!

I remember once being asked my a Non-Muslim ''How can you have such a strong belief in a book that you have never completed in a language you understand?'' I was well and truly bamboozled by this question, and had a similar look on my face to Mike Gatting after he had been bowled by ''That Ball'' from Shane Warne! He had a point. We tell all our friends that the Quran is the word of God, the manual for life, the solution for mankind. However, we ourselves have never read it with understanding. Allah continually tells us to reflect, but we have never read the Quran and reflected on what Allah is saying to us.

So in conclusion, I think the time has come for us to put all the other books we may be reading aside for a couple of weeks, and focus on reading the Quran in our first language. What is Allah telling us? What does He really want us to do? What is it about the Quran that makes so many people accept Islam?

I pray that Allah gives us the ability to read the Quran with understanding, and act upon it. Ameen.

May Allah forgive me for any mistakes which I may have made.

Wa Allahu Alim.