Thursday, November 30, 2017

When Hearts Find One Another


One of the most true and beautiful teachings of our faith is that hearts that were close to one another on the day when we were asked "who is your Lord?", are close in this world. It may be that those hearts marry one another or are discovered in our children, they may be best friends or wayfarers on the Path, they can be people separated by time and space as we often feel so connected to someone we have never met or who died physically years before we first stepped foot on this earth. Sometimes, we find those hearts in what are otherwise brief encounters with strangers and sometimes those encounters are so intense they leave an impression on the heart forever.

I remember sixteen years ago when making umrah with my parents, as I came down the escalator in Madina to make wudu, a woman sitting at the bottom there watching me got up as I got off the escalator, embraced me in a long hug, kissed me and said a few words before letting me go. I don't know what she said, but I can still feel that loving hug. May Allah make her affairs blessed and easy.

A couple of months ago in Dubai, we prayed at the masjid of Habib Husayn for Jummah and its barakah was so intense we didn't want to leave and felt compelled to return for the maghrib prayer. As I sat in tashahhud, I felt a strong presence to my right come in. When I completed my prayer and supplications, I looked toward my right and a few spaces over was an elderly, presumably Emirati lady. I went over thinking to shake her hand before leaving and as I did that, she quickly stood up and we embraced in a long hug and traditional exchange of kisses. She smiled with a twinkle in her eye and starting making long duas for me and literally using her hands as if to shower me with them. It was an unexplainable moment that just left me feeling so spiritually full and so loved by someone I didn't know and don't know. I don't know her name or ethnicity and she didn't ask me any questions about who I was or where I came from. Our hearts felt one another, recognized one another, loved one another. And that brief moment was perhaps all we were meant to have in this world. May Allah bless her. Ameen to all her duas.

Recently, we were blessed to make umrah. As I sat with my children at marwa having completed our umrah, exhausted, I found myself next to a group of older Algerian ladies. They seemed intrigued about where I was from and what languages I spoke. Unfortunately, the one closest to me and I had it seems no common language and weren't able to communicate much. When I saw Salik return I finally got up and woke the children who had fallen asleep. As I was leaving, the one who had been furthest from me stopped me, pulled me down to herself, asked me where I came from then gave me a big hug, kisses and duas with eyes overflowing with love. I can still feel that love. May Allah envelope her with His Love.

As we were headed to Makkah, a friend of mine had told me to meet a good friend of hers who lives in Makkah and is of very noble lineage. I was told she has a majlis of dhikr in her home once a week early in the morning and I had been given directions so that we could attend, and we were looking very much forward to it. Having made umrah with the children the day before and losing an entire night of sleep however, had left us all so exhausted that when we woke up we realized we had missed the gathering. It saddened us, and we made our way to the haram for the dhuhr prayer. As we entered the sun was blazing hot so we decided to try and find a shaded area for the children amidst the maze of construction taking place. When we did find shade, we were unable to see the kaba so we headed back out and found spots behind maqam Ibrahim. As the prayer ended I saw my husband heading toward our meeting spot only to turn around and go back because of the call for a janazah prayer. When that was done I went with our girls to find Salik and Salik Jr. at the meeting spot and noticed they were having a jovial conversation with a young man in ihram.  As I approached them, Salik said to me this brother is a descendent of so-and-so. I smiled, stunned as this meant he was from that same noble lineage as the girl I was supposed to have met that morning. As I was having that thought he told us they had a gathering in their home earlier that morning. I quickly took out my phone and showed him the directions to the home we had been invited to and he smiled and said "yes, that's my home!". How on earth can it be that in a blazing hot haram, where one had to squint their eyes and could barely see anyone, a "stranger" sees a "stranger", approaches them amidst his own umrah to ask where they had come from and if they knew such and such a family... How? Because hearts are connected and they find each other even in a sea of hearts. And so, of course, he invited to us to visit their home that evening and meet his uncle who is a great wali Allah.  We went and were enveloped by love as soon as we walked through the doors. On the women's side, not one spoke any English (except one who could string together a few words), but they surrounded me and the girls and with my broken Arabic, their broken English and hearts full of love I had one of the best hangouts of my life. Each of those girls forever etched in my heart and that night, that love, will always be with me. May Allah bless each of them, give them ease in all their affairs, and unite us all in this world again and in Jannatul firdaws forever in the company of our Habib (endless peace and blessings be upon our beautiful Master).

Monday, November 06, 2017

Finding Female Scholars...Off Stage...


Let me start by saying that most of my teachers in faith have been men. I have an abundance of spiritual love for them. They have each shown me an immense amount of respect and dignified love because of their embodiment the Prophetic way. Today, I want to speak about female scholars.

Salik and I have had an opportunity the past few months to relocate to the middle east for a few months with our children. Before leaving, we had a beautiful ladies gathering at the zawiyah in Toronto with Anse Tamara and the Hakim Sisters. It was a blessed evening to say the least. Masha'Allah, Anse Tamara is a captivating and engaging speaker who is able to bring herself to the audience as a woman first and foremost and then inspire us to rise up spiritually. The Hakim sisters brought the gathering to life with their voices, getting everyone to join in -- as I looked around, the room was smiling, everyone was uplifted. She comes from a line of female scholars who nurture women. Ustadha Shehnaz Karim from Ottawa is from the same line and carries herself with the same loving humanity as Anse Tamara. She was the first person to speak to me about nurturing circles of sisterly love and learning many years ago. As a concept it was appealing, but as always, there is nothing like experiential knowledge.

As we came to the middle east, I was blessed to be immersed into circles of spiritual women who operate largely without men. Yes, there are sometimes gatherings of dhikr where there are men, but most often we meet without any men present at all. These women are scholars who were literally raised in the laps of scholars and taught from infancy the sciences of our faith. They are spiritually realized. They emanate the Prophetic Light and are almost angelic -- more beautiful, more illuminated each time I see them. They fill the room with a love that seems to hug you as soon as you walk in. Others are advanced students, translators who publish under their kunya because they are that sincere, and others yet are young students or wayfarers. These women are genuinely concerned for one another, care for one another and for anyone that enters their gathering. The very first time I entered a gathering, I felt their love for me. No "cattiness", no judgment, no isolating behaviours. I have found that Islam permeates their veins such that it is so graceful, so natural. They are truly happy.

Women are social beings. Much more so than men. As my teacher Hakim once said, it is in Allah's wisdom that the Friday communal prayer is obligatory for men, but not women because men need to be forced to gather in a way that women don't because they naturally incline towards getting together.

For years now I have heard many complain about the lack of female speakers at large scale conferences and seen organizers inviting various women to speak in order to not get a #allmalepanel. To be honest, I find most female speakers at these large scale conferences to not be as compelling as many of the male speakers. I know that's not a popular thing to say, but I have to be honest with myself and that is how I have always felt and when you look around the room during those sessions, that isn't when the room is full. That is not to say it is an issue of inability on the part of female scholars, but many, arguably most who have real training simply would never speak at a mixed gathering because that is not a part of the traditional culture in which they were raised. So what often ends up happening is we are grasping at straws to have women speakers just for the sake of having women speaking, but they are 'speakers' and not scholars most of the time. So you have male scholars who are also gifted orators, juxtaposed with women activists and community leaders, but not very many women scholars because the vast majority of women scholars prefer smaller gatherings or gatherings for women only.

These past few months have led it to dawn on me that when as a community we start demanding "more female speakers" at conferences, we are falling into a mode of thinking that exalts men above us. We somehow believe that having more female speakers will mean we have achieved some form of "equality". As if what men are leading in or excelling in is what is superior and to be admired and achieved. And even most men will tell you that large scale conferences aren't the highest places of learning -- they are gatherings to boost people's himmah and encourage them to go learn stage! Yes, some women are gifted speakers and they naturally are put into those roles, but often, it seems forced and that is what I'm speaking about here. The reality is that Prophets were not women. The One who created us, Knows our differences.

Perhaps this is not the correct cognitive frame. Perhaps we are looking for superificial "equality" at the cost of true spiritual fulfillment. What these past few months have shown me is that we need more communities of sisters. Intimate gatherings where we can learn, sing, share, and love one another. So that as women we feel supported and cared for by one another because that sisterly love is something that cannot be given to us by any other and these are needs that cannot be met at large scale conferences. We must be there for one another, teach one another, know one another, and love one another.

Let us strive for substance and long lasting relationships because as women we are truly the fabric that keeps families and communities together, and only we can understand that role.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Sir Bani Yas Island and the Hidden Manifestation


Perhaps his fatigue overcame him or perhaps he saw in me a longing to contemplate the Divine as we sat on our hotel terrace overlooking the Arabian Gulf while our children slept inside the room, so Salik went inside to allow me to retreat.

As the mother of young children, most often our contemplation of the Divine is through gratitude for the miracle that is life and in fervent prayers for health and longevity -- for our parents, spouses, children, loved ones and ourselves. Most often at the day's end we find ourselves utterly exhausted and drained.

As I sat on the terrace and looked out over the resort into the darkness of the Arabian Gulf behind it, I could hear the strength of its powerful waves crashing onto shore. Its force was frightening the first night I heard it -- how great is Allah's Power and Might. And yet, hidden behind this Jalal is the Beauty of the Sea: its colours, its creatures, its calm. Behind the Jalal is the Jamal and conversely when we see its beauty we often neglect to recall its power, but behind that Jamal is the Jalal: the strength of the predators within and the unforgiving power of the water -- we see it stop at shore, but it only does so by Allah's command and when that is lifted we have seen the devastating results.

Allah's opposites are hidden within one another and depending on the given moment, most of us see either one or the other.

I recalled my daughters' amazement at the star over the Island this evening -- I too have always felt an unquenchable desire to stare at a star studded sky like so many others. I looked up and suddenly my soul was overwhelmed by its limited existence. We see only what is before us at the moment or in the recesses of our memories what remains of what we once saw. He Most High see its all, all the time. Every corner of the Earth, every grain of sand, every leaf, every drop..and in Space...and in the Unseen...and in the Heavens...limitlessly. Glory be to Him.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Protect Your Blessings


When I look back at my youth, I realize how much of a bubble I lived in thanks to selfless parents who gave themselves to us without ever recounting their sacrifices to us -- the stability and peace they provided us.

I still remember the immense pain of the day when that bubble first burst through a heavy trial sent upon us. Since then as I have grown older, I have seen so many devastating events in the lives of people dear to me -- from illnesses, to torture, to friends becoming young widows and widowers, to the deaths of not only people's parents and grandparents, but of young thriving professionals. When one starts to see all of these things, ideally one's perspective of what this life is, should change.

When one witnesses the fragility of life and how in one blink of the eye, everything can change and nothing can stop it -- not wealth, not status, not "power" nor influence, one should stop to reflect.

"And He gives you something of all that you ask of Him, and were you to count the blessings of God, you could not number them. Truly mankind is wrongdoing, ungrateful."

- The Study Quran 14:34

Be grateful. Protect all of those blessings in your life through gratitude to your Lord.

Yet often, we see that it is when we are living comfortably with a stable job, stable marriage, healthy children… that we start to create problems -- may Allah protect us. Our ego satisfied of its basic needs, starts to crave more. It starts to get "offended". We start to demand this that or the other thing from our relatives and friends. We start to meddle. We start to take their peace and happiness away.

Seek refuge in Allah.

Think for a moment how much weight these things would hold on the scales of joy for you, if in an instant Allah sent you a real trial. Would this trivial matter still mean so much to you, if (God forbid) one of your parents died, if illness struck you, or your child got hurt? This person that has so offended you -- if they were being lowered into their grave would you still be yelling at them and loathing them so intensely?

Seek refuge in Allah.

Accept that you cannot control other people. You cannot force relationships to be the way that you wish they were or that they in fact ought to be. You can only do good to others. You cannot demand them to do good to you. Yes it may hurt sometimes, but you cannot force change with a heavy hand or loud voice. Forgive them, and pray for them…don't dwell in your hurt and allow it to cause you to demand things and in the process make things worse.

“The Muslim does not make a request which contains nothing of sin or the severance of family ties except that God will grant it to him in one of three ways: either his request will be granted to him [in this world], or God will store it away for him for the Afterlife, or He will divert from him an evil equivalent to the request.”
- Musnad of Imam Ahmad and Bayhaqi's Shu'ab al-Iman
(Source: The Study Quran)

Seek refuge in Allah. Pray for protection of your blessings, your peace, your happiness. Request the path of gratitude before you are forced onto the path of patience.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

7 Hours Without My Phone...


Salik and I are both very critical of technology. Yes, it has its necessary uses in our lives -- but we are very aware of its presence in our lives and more so, our children who are growing up in an age where they will have no reference to life without smart phones, tablets, computers and tv.

We have one smartphone for our family. Since I run a business and have clients that are inextricably tied to my having access to my phone, the phone is usually in my possession.

One day last week, the circumstances were such that I needed to be on site with a client and Salik needed to have the phone. For seven hours I had no access to phone, texts, emails.


I read, wrote in my journal, made dhikr, dua…and outside of the moments one has before bed, it was the first prolonged period of time during daylight hours, in a very long time, that I had to be alone with my thoughts. Unencumbered by anyone's phone call, texts, emails. No random google search of a question that might  pop into my mind. No picking up that device I often loathe, but am forced to have in my life.

Smartphones have changed our existence. Yes so many things have been made easier. But is the lack of calm in our minds and in our souls worth that convenience?

I encourage you all to put your phone away. To go to it a few times a day at most to check it. And if your work isn't connected to it, then even less. And if you have kids, please save them -- by avoiding devices in their presence and teaching them that one can exist without being plugged in. 

That devices are not oxygen. We can live without them. Be with your thoughts -- how can we seek to better ourselves when we can't hear ourselves think? When we can't hear the inner chatter of the soul?


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Pain of Childbirth


On the second birthday of my little girl I was reflecting on childbirth. I have often said that I find a great joy hidden in the immense pain of childbirth. The reason for this seemingly absurd pleasure is that the pain is so intense, so consuming that in that moment one is forced to realize the powerlessness of everyone around them. During the pangs of childbirth a mother realizes that none other than Allah can assist her, bring an end to the pain, and have all things go well.

It dawned on me that this is the Mercy of Allah. He puts us in such immense pain that we can be pulled instantly into the Divine Presence. Why? Because it is from that Divine Presence that we are to soon be gifted a new life. So we are pulled there, purified by the difficulty of labour, and gifted a pure child in turn.

Allahu Akbar.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

When Did Islam Lose its Culture?


I'm a first generation Canadian -- born and bred in the True North Strong and Free. As I grew up and alongside that learned about Islam in a North American context, Islam had no culture of its own. It was comprised of the various races and nationalities that formed the congregation of my local masjid. We were often taught to dichotomize "religion" and "culture" with the latter being derided as jahl.

My parents had given me all the key ingredients of our culture: languages, attire, cuisine, etiquette, morals and ethics -- essentially, worldview. But because they weren't very social people, we were not surrounded by Pakistanis. As I entered my late twenties/early thirties, the mother of little children in a smaller city where I didn't have my family or desi friends to joke around with in Urdu/Punjabi, I began to long for my language in a way that exposed to me how important it really was to who I am as a person. I would go to an Indian doctor or to the Indian Grocery Store just so I could converse for those few minutes in my mother tongue. A few years into this, a good friend of mine was staying with me and sat down next to me turning on a Pakistani "drama" she was watching. Hearing my language, seeing the attire, the culture, the "homeland" -- I wanted to leap into the screen. It was also very good, as halal-as-it-gets entertainment. I was hooked in the sense that I haven't gone back to non-Pakistani television since. The usual responses of fellow first generation Canadians of Pakistani descent is a laughing "you're such a FOB!". Really? Why because I prefer non-English entertainment? The people have their clothes on, they don't curse, there aren't scenes of intimacy or nudity. One can generally see some character or another praying, doing tasbih or visiting a maqam. And there is generally some moral lesson (the end of those who have envy, greed, etc.). Because I have all the core ingredients of my culture, I have naturally felt very at home with it as I come into greater contact with it through media (television/music).

Music?! Well, yes. Why is that we have no qualms with English "nasheeds" -- I have a lot of love for the likes of Yusuf Islam, Sami Yusuf, and Dawud Wharnsby -- but other than that much of what is being pumped out is just an empty form of music (with some Arabic words or Islamic notions thrown in) that seeks to identify with pop culture which is itself rooted in a secular worldview and presents all the lower possibilities of the ego and the world to a person as the only way of thinking and living, and to the total detriment of higher things, including the quality and taste of the sacred that is quickly suffocated by this form of "egotistical invocation".  My five year old who hears Quran, qawwalis, naats, dhikr and never hears us saying anything about other forms of music has said on more than one occasion when sitting in a restaurant where secular music is being played, "I don't like this music -- it's so bad -- can they turn it off?" -- I never realized that at such a young age he would be able to discern beauty from grotesque, but this is what it is to be rooted in the Sacred. Yet when we talk about Qawwalis however, we think "no, no -- too many instruments" and ignore completely how deeply enriched it is with sufism, love of Allah and the Rasul (alayhi salam) and rooted in a sacred Islamic world. And quite frankly, there is major ikhtilaf on the use of instruments and there always has been. Do we really believe the Spaniards, North Africans, Yemenis, Turks, Persians, Indo-Paks, and so many other cultures were just ignoring a basic prohibition of the religion? If this were the case, instruments would have been avoided the way pork and alcohol have been. So long as the soul isn't taken to ghafla or anything haram because of the lyrics, many many ulema have said there is no harm in it -- but rather there is even benefit.

What actually got me thinking about all of this is the fact that for centuries Subcontinent and Central Asian Muslims named their children Persian (as well as Arabic) names, but my generation seems to feel that Muslim names are synonymous with Arabic names.  Where did we get that idea? Recently a very sweet Lebanese mom at my kids' school asked my name and when I told her, she replied "Oh you don't have a Muslim name?". My name is Persian -- everyone I know with that name is a Muslim -- it is a name that has been used for centuries in Iran, Afghanistan, and the subcontinent.

I read a piece recently (which I can't locate so if someone knows of it please post in the comments or email me), that also highlighted the fact that many beautiful Persian words and phrases are being erased from Pakistani culture and replaced with Arabic words/phrases. Again, when it comes to secular phrases we seem to have no issues saying things like "to each his own" which is relativism in a nutshell.

That led me to think about the fact that even at Muslim events, masjids, majalis we all wear Arab clothes…yes, sometimes the shalwar kameez fashion of the moment isn't the most conducive to those gatherings but those of us who adhere to the shariah parameters on modest garb do have lots of halal shalwar kameez. And it's beautiful! Islamic stores too, carry Arab clothing, but not modest options from other cultures -- why?

My Shaykh is Arab -- I love him more than anything.  Our majlis of dhikr is in Arabic without any instruments and is incredibly powerful -- Sh Alawi's poetry can move any heart that is even remotely alive. If I could choose where to die outside of Makkah and Madinah, it would be in that majlis. But not all souls are Arab and Sidi Shaykh understands that and has allowed me to really understand that. That's the the beauty of Allah's creation and the manifestation of His various Blessed Names. We must not let Salafis and Salafi-minded Sufis (for lack of a better term) which arose from the middle east to negate and seek to eradicate our centuries old, deep, rich, beautiful and inherently Muslim culture. Islam is not a monolith. Traditionally, Muslims did not see it this way. Our ancestors took the dictates of the religion and expressed their faith in a way that was true to who they were as inhabitants of the subcontinent and lovers of Allah and the Rasul (alayhi salam). Connecting with that part of my history is so heart-warming.

Embrace that. Love it. Allow your soul to be itself so that it can love Allah in its totality.

Salik recently said to me that seeing me listen to qawwalis is like watching me come back to myself again.

Have a listen:

Tajdar-e-haram by Atif Aslam

Ya Rahem, Maula Maula by Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

Khuda Hafiz 

Monday, January 09, 2017

Ten Signs of Good Character: Shaykh Yahya Rhodus

Ten Signs of Good Character
Khutbah by Shaykh Yahya Rhodus
Al-Maqasid Khutbah Series

Bismillah. I was just listening to this on Youtube and felt compelled to share this with everyone. We all need to seek to attain this in all aspects of our lives -- social media culture seems by and large exemplifies the death of good character.

1. Rarely engages in arguments.
          Even regarding religion.

2. Treating people fairly and not discriminating.

3. Not seeking out the faults of others/their mistakes. Covering them up if they are revealed.

4. Cover up sins of others. Think the best of them, give them the benefit of the doubt.

5. Seeking people's forgiveness. 
    Forgiving people when they seek your forgiveness (without discerning their sincerity).

6. Bearing harm from others.
          Meaning don't lash back.

7. Reproaching oneself for shortcomings more than anyone else could possibly do to you.    

8.  Focusing on one's own faults.

9. Having a Cheerful Presence. Not just smiling, but being a source of up-liftment for others.

10. Speaking well. Avoid bad language, but also speak to people in a way that does not dishonour them. Using euphemisms, etc.

Listen to the full khutbah here.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Islam & Being a Real Man - Habib Ali al-Jifri


What does it mean to "be a real man"?

We hear so much machismo around this question. I am blessed alhamdulillah, in that the men in my immediate sphere are the some of the best men out there. They are men who have and who continue to honour me with loving respect and dignity. They are chivalrous men. Men with muruwwa. Men who truly seek to follow the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace).

We often see however, that when a man helps his wife, cares for her, or tends to the children, the comments come in droves: he is whipped, he not a real man, he's scared of his wife. And correspondingly, the woman's worth is diminished: she is controlling, she is not a good wife, she's not a good mom or that somehow this takes away from her worth as a wife/mom.

Some years ago I was in Ottawa at a sisters gathering with a dear teacher of mine. Near the end women (who I largely did not know) began discussing the many difficulties they faced as women. Some of the concerns were rather grave, as pornography destroys an increasing number of marriages or makes those relationships unbearable with the sorts of demands it inspires. As we drove home I remember saying to my teacher that I couldn't believe women would tolerate so much and that they would cater to such undignified treatment as wives.  She being much wiser than I, said to me, "we are incredibly blessed that we have husbands who have come some distance on the path, who have a true sense of justice, whose love for us is respectful and honours us". She went on to make a point that I feel is poignant: if men really believed the hadith that "the best of men is the one who is best to his wife", they would all start competing at being the best to their wives. Instead, what we find when men do seek to follow the Prophetic model is that people belittle them, mock their "manliness", and chide their wives.

In this six minute video Habib Ali al-Jifri talks about what it is to be a real man.

Here's to real men!