Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Why We Need to Reconstruct the Way We Do "Dawah" in Universities

      What pops in your head when you hear the word "dawah"?

      You might picture a bearded man or a lady donning the higab with qurans and brochures in their hands, standing somewhere on a university campus or in a busy street, engaging in heavy debates with random non-Muslims. You might have even heard yourself of a few "success" stories that pushed that Robert or this Jane to convert to Islam. It's all fairy dust and rainbows in the world of "dawah."

      Before I get into why I think we need to reinvent and reshape the way we perceive dawah, let me clarify some things. When I refer to "dawah" I am referring specifically to the full discourse and images of the da'ees that comes with what an average non-Muslim and Muslim not working closely with Muslim organizations sees. And as much as we would like to assume that dawah is just for education and awareness, the convert stories are the only measure of success and the only true reinforcement for someone who's been hard at work doing dawah for a long time. It's much easier to say that guidance comes from Allah then to practice it. And by practicing it, I mean letting people reach their own conclusions and not letting our implicit motivations to "guide" them to conversion be the end goal. I do not mean to belittle the hard work of those who stand for hours on end to preach a good word. But I've got to be honest, it just looks bad on us Muslims and frankly doesn't represent my notion of what Islamic dawah should be.

    I will explain myself.


      "And do not trust except those who follow your religion." Say, "Indeed, the [true] guidance is the guidance of Allah . [Do you fear] lest someone be given [knowledge] like you were given or that they would [thereby] argue with you before your Lord?" Say, "Indeed, [all] bounty is in the hand of Allah - He grants it to whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Wise."[Al-Imran: 73]

      We are living in a new era of jahilliyah (ignorance) where the concept of God and religion is not the mainstream and it is certainly not the accepted or the norm. Nowadays, atheists who consider themselves intellectual have taken to new deities as the Arabs before Islam before did, but instead of idols they have taken science as their religion. This new scientific religion will not tolerate anyone who chooses to make any claim without referencing it appropriately (and not with Quranic verses either). This religion does not accommodate for other beliefs. So when a Muslim who looks visibly so, approaches a random stranger with this belief, what you've got is endless arguments and despite the few success stories we hear, is ultimately a waste of valuable and precious time. And it is not me who gave time it's value. Our religion teaches us so:


"Indeed, mankind is in loss" [Surat Al-Asr:2]

     When a non-Muslim sees a Muslim and a stranger arguing passionately about religion, those with the atheist mindset will affirm their beliefs that religion is the cause of all of the problems and lack of peace in the world. I believe a Muslim should remain dignified and not put themselves out for display in public settings where it is not the right time and place to enforce ideas upon people. Add to that, if you've ever campaigned for anything, regardless if it was controversial, you've probably seen and felt first hand what it's like to be turned down by rude strangers. Why should a Muslim subject themselves willingly to this kind of treatment? Especially when a more dignified one is available.

     During the early days of Islam, the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was forced to make his religion secret because of the small number of Muslims that existed and the risk that it imposed on them. Surely today, we don't have as much of a risk imposed on us but as minority members living in a mostly non-Muslim society, we must also show care and be intelligent in which spaces and at what time we decide to go public with matters that may harm us. Sometimes, its unavoidable. But when it is, it's safe to say that a Muslim should keep their own standing in mind and the society at large as well. I may be challenged on this one and I welcome differences of opinion.


      "So if they argue with you, say, "I have submitted myself to Allah [in Islam], and [so have] those who follow me." And say to those who were given the Scripture and [to] the unlearned, "Have you submitted yourselves?" And if they submit [in Islam], they are rightly guided; but if they turn away - then upon you is only the [duty of] notification. And Allah is Seeing of [His] servants." [Al-Imran:20]

     So in the spirit of saving our time, energy and for becoming stronger Muslims, we should consider other options that raise awareness and answer the questions that people might have of Islam, but in a more efficient way.  And for that, I suggest integration.

     Not assimilation. Not blind acculturation of mainstream society, but integration. 

      University clubs for Muslims should make their dawah committees meet every week to do visible acts that define our Islam within their larger context. For example, a trip to the food bank or the local school. We need initiatives that make the Muslim woman or man a represented member in student unions at large and on the round table of any major meeting that may concern them. We should not allow others to dictate who we are and decide what works and what does not for Muslims. We must choose to break stereotypes and teach people about Islam by being Muslims with Islam on our sleeves. I don't mean integrating while denying our Muslim identities, but integrating with full acceptance of ourselves and pride in our Islam. Such that, it becomes itself one of the main topics of discussion. We need proud Muslims to be at the important dignified places and to speak for themselves. We need Muslims working alongside non-Muslims for things they have in common besides religion. And there should would be no worry about whether religion might be brought up, cause if you're a visible enough of a Muslim that's established a level of comfort with a non-Muslim, they'll ask you themselves. And sometimes they won't ask, they might see your outwardly behavior and retract the questions and beliefs they had in mind earlier. To me, that is the best dawah that could be done.

      Think, what would the Prophet (pbuh) do?

What do you think is the best way to do dawah? Do you agree or disagree?

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Celebrity Crushes: Political Figures, Artists, and Advocates

        I find it hard to believe that there could be anyone out there that has never had a celebrity crush. Whether it was or is a television character, political leader or artist, we can all relate to having those fantasies of catching the attention of our crush for even just a few seconds. I wonder what makes the presence of these individuals so coveted? And as Muslims, how should we perceive and treat people of this status?

      We are all too familiar with what happens to people when they meet a celebrity in person. Suddenly, everyone is desperate to snap a photo and explain why they are their biggest fan. Then a quick upload on their favorite social network to brag to friends with a caption that glorifies the individual as though meeting them was the highlight of their life. If we are one of the "lucky" ones to have spent a few minutes more than the usual passerby, we desperately seek their approval and/or attention. If it's an artist, women flaunt and attempt to dress to impress. If it's a political figure, suddenly the brother wants to discuss all his aspirations. And the saddest of cases is the reality of social justice advocates and religious leaders whose popularity for everything besides their message is abused by young women and men alike. If it's a man whose catching the eye of the public for his advocacy and hard work, suddenly all that women are concerned about is his relationship status. And God forbid if he's married, then his wife better be ready for some serious aunty-like scrutiny and judgement. And if it's a woman, you can be sure that there was very few men contemplating about what came out of her mouth.

     People who are privileged to reach fame are also privileged to receive thousands, if not, millions of fans who support them wholeheartedly and would give up whatever it took for a chance to meet and greet them. They are also privileged to enjoy the support of these strangers in an almost blind fashion. These fans come to associate with these figures very strongly. So strongly that they cannot fathom seeing them commit a mistake in the public eye and some would even discredit and purposefully neglect evidence of their real humanity if they were presented with it.

      At this point, these individuals are no longer human. They have reached the status of idols and deities.

     Wait a second, that's extreme thinking, isn't it? I mean we don't obsess that much, right?

      Think about this; how much of your day do you usually spend praying? Let's say five minutes times five for each prayer, and then a few minutes here and there for some reflection or possibly some dua. The ritual of  a die-hard fan that continuously seeks to catch the attention of his idol and receives updates of his/her life through whatever medium it may be is unbelievably time consuming. So much so that it can be in itself exhibited as religious behavior all on it's own that is embedded in strong beliefs and rituals. Watching a video of an interview, tweeting them, reading an article here and there, browsing their pics, and listening to their music is bound to be more than the time spent on prayer and worship. 

     But why does this happen? What maintains and motivates this behavior?

    Popular figures work hard to reach mass audiences. One of the ways they are successful in doing so is when they provide the world with an illusion of their connection to their viewers.  Celebrities in particular are demanded by their agents to do and say multiple things that lure the public into believing that they are just like them. They do this through signings, VIP passes, interviews and other means.To look up to someone for their good work is one thing, but to let the obsession with that individual on a personal level cloud the real nature of the message they are trying to send is something else entirely.

     A Muslim must be wary of the value of their time. He or she should ask themselves an important question when they are about to engage in matters that do not benefit nor harm them; and that is, "what is the purpose of this?" If I go to his/her concert for example, what am I doing besides listening to music I could be listening to at home? Is the money put on this trip really put to use in a way Allah might be pleased with? Is all this information I'm gathering on who dated whom and who wore what beneficial to my existence in this life and the thereafter in any way?

     A Muslim must also be wary of what he or she stores in their thinking space. What we let get processed in or minds becomes who we are. Instead of filling that space with creative ideas and positive messages, it becomes encrypted with unrealistic fantasies that only distract from the reality at hand. With time, the fantasies take over and become life itself. Then the person is left unfulfilled and wondering what their real purpose in life was in the first place.

     But another question begs itself. What differentiates these individuals from people working hard to deliver the same messages but who are not under the radar?

   Purpose-wise, nothing. It's just fame and status that is coveted here. You might even know yourself of someone who started out small and didn't receive any attention and now is gaining popularity and suddenly you're letting the world know how close you were. 

     How do we then eliminating the idolization of these figures? What if they happen to be an advocate of some sort? Do I stop associating with them as a whole?

    No. All one needs to do is begin adopting a new philosophy and outlook on people as a whole. Everyone is human and should be treated equally regardless of the status they have within society. If they are advocates you are fond of, make sincere dua for them and for yourself to reach a similar positive impact on people. When you meet them, put your camera phones aside and fight the temptation to engage with them unnecessarily and for the mere selfish desire to gain attention and bragging rights. Also, think of their own struggles as people watched by many who are constantly under scrutiny and who are recipients of harsh criticism. Some cannot be seen in public without swarms of people invading their privacy and writing columns about them. Others have families that have also been dragged into the public eye. There's a lot more to being famous than it seems. And if they're a Muslim, they are then under a bigger responsibility and higher expectations to represent Islam well and speak truth regardless of their perceived level of religiosity.

    Realize that you may never meet these people. Realize that they may never be more than a stranger to you and that is okay. A Muslim does not wait on anything from the creations of Allah.

      So, be realistic, have taqwa and remember the One who helped these people reach where they are now. Remember that no matter how awesome these people seem  and how down to earth and accessible they may be, that Allah is even more accessible and that pleasing Him will be a reward for you in this life and the hereafter. He's the real celebrity you should be striving to get the attention of.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

I Like Your Energy

You are mesmerizing.
Something in the air 
of your presence
calls attention from me
I've given no other.

I await patiently and on edge
like an eager explorer
hiking to the top of a mountain
on a chilly night
to catch the breathtaking moment
of the wake of dawn
when your face appears.

And when you smile,
the sun peeks
and he who ached for your comfort
forgets the burn of the journey.

The rest of your encounter
propagates soul and spirit.
Leaves me warm 
enough to feel as though
life in all its wonder
has come to a blissful end.

What I feel is not
only what lovers do.
But friends
and strangers
feel the same way about you too.

So, I just wanted to say that
I like your energy.

I hope that just like the blazing sun
you continue to beam 
the most mesmerizing of rays 
regardless of the life 

I wish for your beautiful existence
to keep rippling onto others 
with its love
like the one 
that is infinite
in silent water.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Layers of the Heart; the Struggle of Dusting Off the Impurities

     We talk about iman. We talk about taqwa. But do we feel it?

     I just want to share something I've noticed within myself that makes me wonder if it could be a collective experience that I share with all of humanity.

     Work with me for a second, and put your science and reason aside; focus on feeling.

     Have you ever had days or moments where you've felt your inner being to be lightweight, transcendent and luminous? Did you feel content, gratified and at ease? Did that moment arise from a personal epiphany, prayer or sincere dua? Did you exhibit a calm behavior and found yourself thinking before you spoke or acted? Did you find that the feeling remained until you got distracted and accumulated sins?

     In the time you seek to recover back to that state, you are less sensitive to the world around you. Other people's suffering seems distant. Your own concerns and goals about yourself are prioritized. And you are less inclined to do acts of charity or sacrifice. And this is the time Shaitan does his best work. He will do whatever it takes to convince you that you have strayed forever and that Allah can never forgive and give you back that feeling. And that you've lost touch with Him. But we all know well that Shaitan never asks us to do what is good for us, he only wants our demise. By telling us that we are far from our past, he is making his job easier and guaranteeing that he won't need to put in much effort next time at guiding you away. 


Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil. And for them is a great punishment.[Albaqara:7]

     When we are engulfed in our own self, we are essentially lying to ourselves about our existence and pretending as though we are not in need of Allah. It is not only a recipe for our own failure in the dunya and akhira, but it is also arrogance in the face of our Creator:


In their hearts is disease, so Allah has increased their disease; and for them is a painful punishment because they [habitually] used to lie.[albaqara:10]

     Allah states that when a heart is hard, it is similar to a rock, or even harder. One of the most beautiful ayas in my opinion is the one which reminds us of the arrogance of the human existence as compared to Allah's other beings and creation:


Then your hearts became hardened after that, being like stones or even harder. For indeed, there are stones from which rivers burst forth, and there are some of them that split open and water comes out, and there are some of them that fall down for fear of Allah . And Allah is not unaware of what you do.[albaqara:74]

     Those of us with hard hearts are insensitive to the minor signs of Allah's existence in the universe. This patriarchy might lead some to demand that Allah proves himself through science or other direct ways. But Allah states that the signs are easily detected by those who are certain of their faith and who have trust in Allah. He also states that those who have hard hearts also share them with others of the same nature, and they only bring each other down:


Those who do not know say, "Why does Allah not speak to us or there come to us a sign?" Thus spoke those before them like their words. Their 
hearts resemble each other. We have shown clearly the signs to a people who are certain [in faith].

     But like I said, feeling an iman-low is no reason to give up on yourself and your deen. So what can we do to regain these feelings of connection with Allah (subhanahu wa ta'laa)? Well, if you thought deeply about this question, then you would surely come to the conclusion that any physical act of worship without true sincerity and spirituality is unlikely to get you feeling taqwa again. My humble suggestion would be to focus on direct communication through dua that is transparent and honest. It might also be of help to check your heart every few minutes and do an evaluation of your energy or your noor. One way to regain noor into your life is through wudu and salat, but also through, what in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful duas that the prophet used to say before fajr. It is a dua that gives the one who recites it a full 360 degree engulfment of noor, from one's heart to their surroundings:

"Oh Allah, make there be light in my heart, and light in my grave, and light in my hearing, and light in my sight, and light in my hair, and light in my skin, and light in the flesh of my body, and light in my blood, and light in my bones, and light from between my palms, and light from behind, and light from my right and left, and light from above and below me. Oh Allah, increase me in noor, give me noor, and make me noor."