Posts Tagged Religion

How to Eat in Islam

Read “How to Eat in Islam” by Stylish Muslimah, http://stylishmuslimah.blogspot.com/2011/06/how-to-eat-in-islam.html. (The original author is Pixie of the “I Love Hishma” blog.) There are three points that I would emphasize. First, wash your hands before a meal. This is crucial to prevent disease and to promote good health. Second, if you are unsure of what a food is, you should ask. It does not hurt to ask. Why jeopardize your good deeds and your health? You need to know if the food you are eating is halal. Third, after you finish eating, rinse out your mouth. This is especially beneficial for the health of your teeth. Food particles left behind in your mouth can lead to the growth of bacteria and plaque. Read the whole article, http://stylishmuslimah.blogspot.com/2011/06/how-to-eat-in-islam.html, and put into practice. You’ll be glad that you did.

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What is God?

Different ways of defining God exist. One can define God as “one who does not die.” One can define God as “the Creator.”

But a rock does not die, so does that make a rock into God? A bird can create a nest, does that make it God?

The best way of defining God is as “a being worthy of being worshiped.” This does not mean that anything that is worshiped is God. It is possible that a person could worship something that is not worthy of worship. A person might worship a statue of the Greek deity Hades. But Hades is not worthy of worship. Even those who believed in Hades saw him as the weak, misanthropic brother of Zeus and Poseidon.

Whatever we worship ought to be all-powerful or omnipotent. It does not make sense to worship something if there exists in the universe something more powerful. If something exists that is more powerful than the one we worship, then it could thwart the will of the one we worship.

Whatever we worship ought to be all-knowing or omniscient. If the one we worship is not all-knowing then there might exist someone who knows more than the one we worship. That means it could thwart the one we worship by trickery. Also if the one we worship is not all-knowing then how can we be sure it is even aware of our worship? If the one we worship is limited in knowledge, it is not worthy of our worship.

Finally, the one we worship ought to be morally flawless. It would not be right to worship a being, even a very powerful, very smart being, unless it was also good. How can we worship a sinner?

Allah is The All=Powerful (Al-Qadeer), The All-Knowing (Al-‘Aleem), and As-Salaam (The Perfect). There is nothing worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger.

[Special thanks to Professor James Hall]

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Depth in Philosophy

“The similitude of the life of the world is only as water which We send down from the sky, then the earth’s growth of that which men and cattle eat mingleth with it till, when the earth hath taken on her ornaments and is embellished, and her people deem that they are masters of her, Our commandment cometh by night or by day and We make it as reaped corn as if it had not flourished yesterday. Thus do we expound the revelations for people who reflect. ” Quran (10:24)

I think we often forget that plants are alive just we are. It pains me, particularly because I have been a science teacher. Consequently, we are constantly oblivious to the lessons that plants have to teach us.  We see plants grow, bud, flower, wither, die, and then grow again, but we seldom realize that we will do the same.

I recently heard for the first time that at the end of the time of the Dunya (Earth), Allah will send a special kind of rain from the sky. When this rain falls upon the buried masses of humanity, the dead will return to life. Subhanallah (Glory to Allah) !

There are many who believe that this is a lie. That death is final. That there is no resurrection and no soul. If there is no soul, answer me this simple question – what is consciousness? You may know everything about an animal, say the fruit bat. You may know its wingspan,  the articulation of bones in its skeleton, the way it reproduces, even the precise architecture of its nervous system. But what is bat-ness? What does it feel like to be a fruit bat? We don’t know the answer because we don’t understand the consciousness of a fruit bat. And we don’t understand our own consciousness. Even the most complete maps of the human brain have one gaping hole – the seat of consciousness. What part of the brain is present in all conscious people but absent in all who are unconscious? What is happening when we are conscious that stops when we are unconscious?

Perhaps the reason why these questions have no answers is because we are looking in the wrong place. What about the human soul? Remember, that concept you discarded when it became unfashionable. What if it is the soul that makes us conscious, that gives us us-ness, that makes humans human?

A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”
Author: Francis Bacon

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The Soul According to the Quran

The Quran describes the origin of the soul in the creation of humans. “So when I have made him complete and breathed into him of My spirit (ruh), fall down making obeisance to him” (15:29). Allah describes the “ruh” as coming from His Own Spirit. He commands creation to do obeisance, i.e. show great respect, to humanity.

Allah explains that He controls every soul’s existence. “And no soul can die but with Allah’s permission” (4:144). We pray to Allah to preserve our lives because He has the power to prevent any death.

The soul is not alone but is attached to two entities. “And every soul comes, with it a driver and a witness” (50:21). This may be connected to the idea that there are two angels recording the deeds of each person. Islam also teaches that each person has a shaytan, or devil, that inspires him or her to do evil.

Allah teaches us that He will hold us accountable for our souls. “And whether you manifest what is in your souls or hide it, Allah will call you to account according to it.”
We may try to hide our sins, and this is a good thing, but we cannot hide them from Allah.

The soul often urges people to do wicked things. “Surely (man’s) self is wont to command evil, except those on whom my Lord has mercy” (12:53). If we do good, it is the product of Allah’s mercy upon us and not something we have earned ourselves.

“He has succeeded who purifies [his soul.] And he has failed who has corrupted it.” (91:9-10).

The highest stage of development of the soul brings it lasting peace. “O soul that art at rest, return to thy Lord, well- pleased, well-pleasing, So enter among My servants, And enter My Garden!” (89:27-30).

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The Hero

His entrance on to the world stage seemed more appropriate for a superhero than for a modern president. A passenger jet crashed en route to Damascus from Baghdad. He saved 144 passengers from the fiery wreckage. Because of him, there were no casualties. The funny thing is that no one recalled him being on the plane. CNN, Fox News, Al Jazeera, and the BBC all hailed him as a hero.

Curious journalists tried to dig into his past, but they came away with more questions than answers. Where did he come from? Who were his parents? He quickly became a media darling and deftly answered many queries, but became oddly reticent when asked about his past.

He had a handsome face with sharp features, strong cheekbones and an angular nose. He had a scar across his forehead that looked like a lightning bolt or a slash mark. His eyes are pistachio green with streaks of gold. He lost an eye due to a traumatic childhood injury. Doctors genetically engineered an eye for him that perfectly matches the other eye. He has curly auburn hair that goes down to his shoulders, giving him a bit of rock-star style.

His political career represented a rapid ascent to power. He ran for mayor of Damascus soon after the plane crash. Soon he was in the Syrian parliament. Within a few years, he was President of Syria. Journalists and pundits were quick to applaud him one of the most dynamic leaders in the modern history of the Middle East.

When a student at Al-Azhar University asked Sheikh Musa bin Zaytuni about him, this is what the eminent Sheikh had to say:
“How can you be so blind? Don’t you see the signs? He came on the way between Iraq and Syria. One of his eyes is artificial, so he is one-eyed. The scar on his forehead described as a slash is really an Arabic triliteral – K F R. His hair is twisted. He is a charismatic leader. He seems to perform miracles.
In Hebrew, he is called Armilus, in Arabic, Dajjal, and in English – ANTI-CHRIST. He is a plague on humanity and only the Son of Mary can defeat him.”

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Song Analysis – “Roadsinger” Yusuf

Roadsinger came to town, long cape and hat,

People stood and stared then closed their doors, as he passed,

He strolled the empty street, kids banged on tin cans,

Then the panting dogs began to bark, as the Roadsinger sang.

[The Roadsinger character is a traveling musician.  He struggles to find an audience as the people he encounters turn away from him.  It seems that only the dogs are willing to listen.]

Where do you go, where do you go,

When hearts are closed,

When a friend becomes a stranger,

Nobody wants to know.

[I wonder if this song is autobiographical. Perhaps Yusuf is recounting his life and musical career. He talks about people closing their hearts and a friend becoming a stranger. Yusuf lost a lot of fans when he went from Cat Stevens to Yusuf Islam. ]

Where do you go, where do you go,

When the world turns dark,

And the light of truth is blown out,

And the roads are blocked.

[He talks about darkness spreading over the world, with the light of truth fading.  There have been many times throughout history when the world has plunged into darkness such as the Fall of the Roman Empire, the end of the reign of the Righteous Caliphs, the Spanish Inquisition, the Cuban Missile Crisis, 9-11, and many others.]

He stopped by a stall, between the barrels and sacks,

A child’s face peeped out and gave a smile, and ran back,

Behind a misty glass, on a windowpane,

A little finger drew a perfect heart, and a name.

[Here is a beautiful vignette of a child showing his/her delight in the music. It reminds me of a little experiment I once heard about. A classically-trained, award-winning, professional musician decided to disguise himself as a street musician. He was dressed in rags. He played exactly as he would normally play – the only difference was he was on a street corner rather than in a concert hall. Very few people stopped to listen and even fewer donated any money. The only one who paid him any attention were children, who stopped to hear him, intrigued by what they heard. The act of drawing a heart is a simple yet poignant way of expressing love.]

Where do you go, where do you go.

In a world filled with fright,

Only a song to warm you, through the night

Where do you go, where do you go,

After lies are told,

And the light of truth is blown out,

And the night is cold.

[Fear and lies make this a colder, more depressing world.  Music is a source of warmth, not physical, but emotional and spiritual. I don’t think the light of truth is ever truly blown out, but it can flicker and fade.]

Roadsinger rode on, to another land,

Though the people spoke a different tongue, [he did] understand,

They showed him how to share, and took him by the hand,

Showed him the path to Heaven, through the desert sand.

[This stanza is almost certainly about Yusuf’s embracing of Islam. Islam teaches people to live simply with less. Although not all Muslims speak Arabic, the classical texts of Islam like the Quran and Hadith were originally in Arabic.  Islam was revealed in what is now Saudi Arabia, a desert land. And Islam is the expression of the most perfect path to Heaven.]

Where do you go, where do you go,

To find happiness,

In a world filled with hatred,

Where do you go, where do you go,

If no one cares,

And everybody’s lost, looking for theirs.

[He talks about a “world filled with hatred.”  Unfortunately, we do live in a world filled with hatred. So many people harbor deep prejudices against others. The song ends on a sad note, talking about no one caring and everybody being lost. I wonder if this is really the way Yusuf sees the world or if it is his character speaking here. Personally, I have a more hopeful outlook. Many people are lost and selfish, but there are also people who are rightly guided and generous.]

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Commentary on Surah Al Tin

Commentary on Surah Al Tin (Chapter 95, The Fig)

This blog serves many purposes. It encourages me to write. It allows me to comment on the news of the day. It lets me delve into the meanings of songs. But one of the most important things that I have attempted to do with this blog is to explain the beliefs and practices of Muslims in hopes that people who frequent my site will better understand the religion of over one billion citizens of the world. Also, this is my 99th post, so prepare yourself for the epic century post coming soon, Inshallah (God willing).

Surah Al Tin (pronounced “theen”) is considered to be one of the first of the Meccan surahs.

  1. By the Fig and the Olive,

Here Allah (Subhana wa ta’ala) swears by two symbolic items – the Fig and the Olive. The strongest opinion is that this refers to Jesus or Prophet Isa (alaihis salaam, peace be upon him) as he is known by Muslims. In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 24, one finds a reference to Isa (A), the Mount of Olives (a site in Jerusalem), and the fig all in the same chapter. “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? . . . Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.” (Matthew 24:3-32, Online NIV)

There is another passage in Matthew in which Jesus (A) curses a fig tree that bears no fruit (Matthew 21:18).

Another explanation for the mention of the fig is that it is an allusion to Buddha. The tree under which Buddha supposedly received enlightenment was a fig tree. I find this explanation strange because to my knowledge there is no other place in the Quran where Allah makes any mention of Buddha or Buddhism. Also, the first generation of believers would have had no familiarity with Buddha.

A third explanation for the reference to the fig and olive is that these are both cultivated fruits. If we follow this line of thought then the cultivation of a fruit tree can be seen as parallel to the cultivation of the soul. When one cultivates a tree, one often props up the plant to make sure it grows straight, similarly, one must guard one’s soul to keep it on the straight path.

2. And the Mount of Sinai,

    The reference here is much clearer than in the last ayah. There is universal agreement that this is an allusion to Moses or Prophet Musa (A). It was on Mount Sinai that Prophet Musa (A) received the Taurat (Torah) from Allah. The five books of the Torah served as the basis for the first five books of what Jews and Christians call The Old Testament. According to Muslim belief, the original content of these scriptures was distorted and changed by the religious scholars of Judaism and Christianity. One of the most notable aspects of the Taurat is the Decalogue or Ten Commandments. The Decalogue tells people to worship one God and to avoid major sins like adultery and murder. These principles are the common heritage of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

    3. And this City of Security

      Since this surah was revealed in Mecca, the City that Allah is referring to is Mecca. Prophet Muhammad (salla allahu alaihi wa salaam) called Mecca home and it was also the city where Prophet Ibrahim (A) and Ismail (A) settled their families and built the Kaaba. Mecca was the site of the annual Hajj, before and after the time of Muhammad (S). Throughout Islamic history, Muslims from many different lands congregated in Mecca for the Hajj. With a few exceptions in a long history, Mecca has always been a safe and secure place for Muslims to convene.

      Because of its association with the annual pilgrimage of Islam, Mecca has become synonymous with any large centralized gathering place. In English, if one refers to “a mecca for tourists,” one means a place where many tourists come together. The experience of visiting Mecca is something highly prized and sought after among Muslims.

      4. We have indeed created man in the best of molds.

        The word used at the end of this ayah, taqwim, or mold, has several closely associated meanings. It can mean symmetry, form, nature, or constitution. So one could substitute any one of these words in place of mold, for example, “We have indeed created man in the best of symmetries.” Clearly much of the beauty of the human form lies in its symmetry. If one imagines an axis cutting through a human body running down the forehead, through the nose and bisecting the chest, the body is wonderfully symmetrical.

        Also, some commentators believe this ayah refers to the mother’s womb. The womb is, in a way, the mold we are all born from. And despite advances in medical technology, we still cannot replicate the balance and efficiency of the womb.

        But this ayah goes beyond the physical form of man and extends to his or her soul as well. Islamic theology teaches that Allah creates people with a good nature. Muslims do not believe that humanity is innately evil. Each person has an innate sense of right and wrong that can be perfected or corrupted by his or her parents. The society one is born into can also affect one’s soul for good or for ill.

        5. Then do We abase him to the lowest of the low.

          To be abased means to be brought down or to be humiliated. One can look at this ayah in the context of the worldly life or the Hereafter. One could say that Allah abases wrongdoers in life. Addiction presents a modern example. When someone is addicted to meth, it takes over one’s life. One becomes a slave to the drug. Every waking moment is spent obsessing over how to get the next high.

          One could also look at this ayah in the context of the Hereafter. The lowest low a person can experience is the fire of Hell. When one remembers that Adam (A) was created in Heaven, one can see the tragic fall of man from the heights of Heaven to the depths of Hell.

          6. Except such as believe and do righteous deeds for they shall have a reward unfailing.

            Not everyone will be brought down to the lowest of the low. Those who believe and do righteous deeds or good works will be saved from this punishment. Note that it is not “believe or do righteous deeds,” but “believe and do righteous deeds.” Islam does not create an artificial barrier between faith and action. Faith should inspire action and action should support faith. To believe in Islam means more than agreeing to a set of statements. It means actively showing your belief through actions. A strong Hadith (Prophetic Tradition) says, “”No man is a true believer unless he wants for his brother that which he wants for himself” (Bukhari 1:12). And Allah promises to reward people who believe and do good.

            7. Then what can, after this, contradict thee, as to the Judgment (to come)?

              Abdullah Yusuf Ali gives a marvelous succinct explanation of this ayah that goes as follows:

              “. . .when it is clearly shown to you that Allah created man true and pure, that He guides him, and that those who rebel and break His law will be punished and brought down in the Hereafter, who can doubt this, or contradict the Prophet when he gives warning?”

              When one looks at the creation of man with a sincere heart, one is bound to come to the conclusion that all this was not created by accident. Instead, man is endowed with an eternal soul and will be accountable in the court of Allah for all his or her actions.

              8. Is not Allah the wisest of Judges?

                The English really fails to capture the beauty of the original Arabic here. The Arabic calls Allah “ahkamul hakimeen.” The Arabic words for “wise” and “judge” come from the same root. It is similar to where Allah describes himself as “arhamur rahimeen,” which means the “Most Merciful of the Merciful.” One could translate the ayah as “Does Allah not have the best judgment of all Judges?” Here the word “judgment” has a kind of double meaning, referring to both the verdict given by a judge and the mental process that allows the judge to make that verdict.

                When one thinks about the characteristics that would make someone an ideal judge, i.e, knowledge of the law, understanding of human nature, impartiality, and familiarity with evidence, one can see that Allah is the best of judges. Not only does Allah know the law, He is the author of the law of Sharia. Not only does Allah understand human nature, He created human nature. Allah is perfectly impartial. He is not swayed by wealth, class, race, gender, or any other characteristic of a person other than his or her character. And Allah is Al Shaheed, The Witness. He has witnessed every action since the beginning of time. No one can possibly be as well acquainted with any evidence as Allah is with every piece of evidence.

                Since we know that Allah is the wisest of all Judges, we should look carefully at our character and our deeds. We should strive to follow the commandments of Allah and to perfect our flawed characters.

                (Translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Special thanks go to my Halaqa crew.)

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