Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Flight of the Navigator

The ideas I've been having for posts have just been piling up--I started keeping track of them using the Notes feature on my iPhone. And yet where is the time to develop blog posts out of all these great ideas? Mostly spent in school-related endeavors, I suppose, or trying to keep up with my Google Reader.

Anyway, I had one idea today that I guess is kind of mediocre, which I guess gives me a chance to catch up with my readers. Let you know I'm still here, just kinda busy. Thanks for all the happy wishes and nice comments. Just on Saturday my fiance left to go visit his family back in Pakistan, and when he gets back inshaaAllaah then more information about upcoming nuptials might be in order.

But this post isn't really about that. You see, I read just today some weird article from the BBC about the difference in brains of men and women while looking at art. (On a partially related note, did you know that scantily clad women force men to see them as objects?)

The question I thought to consider is whether men or women are better drivers. It's an interesting question, I thought, since I figure that men definitely think they're better drivers--or at least, they drive more often, and tend to be more car-savvy, right? And it's customary for a man to drive his lady and family around, is it not? Are men safer drivers? Better able to concentrate? Didn't it use to be the case that women would actually get lower insurance rates than men because they were safer? Women might tend to be less reckless maybe? Who knows?

In this article, however, I read that apparently "women tend to be more aware than men of objects around them, including those that seem irrelevant to the current task, whereas men out-perform women in navigation tasks." I sort of understood that to mean that women would make better (or at least safer) drivers by being more aware of other vehicles and hazards that might occur on the roadway. But that men are definitely better at navigating.

I used to think I was pretty good at navigating, until I went on a trip with my family to Boston. There's something totally insane about the roads in that city... it takes thinking in 3-D, while the maps are only in 2-D. Not a task for the faint of heart. Nor for the driver, who needs to look out for drivers traveling at insane speeds.

So maybe women make better drivers than men? So men should ride shotgun, right? Not that I'm looking for an excuse, really. I don't mind sitting passenger-side, as it affords a better view. But my fiance seems to have the same opinion and would rather I drive... great minds think alike?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dhikr Station

For last Eid al-Fitr, someone gifted me a CD set of an "in-depth study" of Al-Fatihah, by Jamaaluddin Zarabozo. I've recently started listening to it--but I haven't yet gotten past the first CD. Actually, it was a while before I even got past the first track--the introduction!

Because after introducing what the CD set is and the publisher, etc., there is a recitation of the surah that is just so clear and beautiful, I didn't want it to stop. I listened to it over and over and over and over and over...

Isn't that strange? I mean, we read al-Fatihah so many times in a day--and in Ramadan so many more times. And yet in the last couple days I haven't been able to get enough of just hearing the recitation of Al-Fatihah. As soon as it starts, I can just feel myself calming down, and my mind clearing and focusing on the recitation with all of my attention.

After all these years of listening to Al-Fatihah, every day, I felt like all of a sudden I had never heard it before. And this is not after listening to some 25+ hours of lecture on the surah, but rather before listening; rather, just acknowledging that Al-Fatihah is important enough for me to begin a CD set of such magnitude on such a short surah.

It was really an amazing feeling, to have some recitation of Qur'an strike my heart that way--like I had never heard it before even though I thought I knew it like the back of my hand.

I had listened to it so many times that without even being entirely aware of it, I was sort of reciting it under my breath while at the gas station last night. So consumed was I with the beauty and flow of the words that I didn't realize the woman at the pump beside me. So I was a little bit shocked when she said "As-salaamu Alaykum!"

Having learned in class just hours before that we should always return a greeting with what is equal to it, or better than it, so I replied with a smile, "Wa alaykum as-salaam!" And I asked her if she was a Muslim--since I have been greeted as such by non-Muslims before, but she informed me that she was a Muslim though reluctantly admitted that she did not practice like she should.

So we talked for a minute about how beautiful Islam is as a middle path--comprising both outward manifestations through the law, and inward aspects of spirituality, and that it accommodates people of all nations and races and even with physical disabilities.

It was just a reminder to me to be grateful not just that Allah has guided me to Islam but that He has made Islam a part of my life, every day. So even while I was whispering al-Fatihah under my breath, I was blessed to remember that Allah did guide me. And that only makes me cling desperately to that guidance, and to beg for more.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Does the end justify the means?

From the Islamic point of view, that is, rather than the Machiavellian one.

It's a worthwhile question--can you do something that is haraam in order to achieve an admirable goal? I just recently heard a rather strange hadith (which has not been authenticated, so I won't relate it) that caused at least one person to draw the conclusion that it is okay to adopt a reprehensible method of obtaining a noble objective. Hearing it for myself, I didn't see at all how the person came to that conclusion.

But the more the discussion progressed, and it seemed that this was precisely the case (i.e., haram means for a good end), I remembered how my shaykh had recently mentioned more than once in recent classes that the end does not justify the means.

We were talking specifically about the seerah--the biography of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). For years the Muslims were being persecuted in Mecca, and the Prophet (pbuh) was offered by his enemies leadership in the city, but he refused. It seems like a very strange decision, doesn't it? As it was, only the poor and weak were accepting his message, but maybe if he were in a position of authority more people would be guided to Islam. Right?

But he didn't accept it. I guess you could say that Allah had a plan, and it wasn't for the Muslims to become dominant by a deal with the mushrikeen. The Muslims were able to establish a state (i.e., in Medina) only through da'wah, because of people accepting Islam and accepting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as their ruler.

Nowadays we don't have the Islamic state, so our position is analogous to that of the Muslims in Mecca, before the migration to Medina. And yet, we (at least, most of us do, right? or some of us?) want an Islamic state, a khalifah, a way to implement Islam fully at all levels of society. That is the "end." And the "means" obviously are the different routes by which some people might attempt to establish such an Islamic state: democracy, perhaps, or a military coup, perhaps invasion, or some might even say jihad.

But when we look at the life of Muhammad, do we see any of those routes to establishing the Islamic state? Nope. What do we see? Da'wah--only da'wah. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not use any sort of military or violent jihad to establish an Islamic state--so how is it anyone can argue that we should do it today? We shouldn't, it's pretty simple.

The end does not justify the means.

And I've yet to see any evidence suggesting otherwise in any other part of life, in any other aspect of Islam. So I imagine the prudent path here is to ask Allah for forgiveness for our sins and mistakes in the past, and to make it easy for us to remain firm on the Straight Path.

Stronger than I thought...

One nice thing about working out is finding out how strong I am, and how far I am able to push myself physically.

A few weeks ago, my trainer had me do an exercise called the "plank." Basically the point is to hold yourself in what is close to push-up position, only your weight will rest on your forearms rather than your hands. Holding yourself up like that is supposed to strengthen your "core" muscles--i.e., your abs an lower back. The first time I did it--I won't lie--it hurt tremendously. Not just on my back but my whole body seemed to ache at the moment I began. But I kept myself up, exceeding the time my trainer had suggested I try, impressing not just her but also myself. A couple weeks later when I tried again, I had more than doubled my time. It impressed me because just the very first time I did it I thought I wouldn't be able to hold out for more than 4-5 seconds.

More recently, my trainer had set me on a machine for doing a kind of chest press. After completing my first set, she laughed--apparently I was the only one of her clients who was able to use this machine at all on the first try (the others were unable to do so, even on the lightest setting!)

And I had thought I was someone who was not particularly strong at all, at least not physically. But sometimes it's nice to surprise myself, finding that I'm stronger than I thought I was. It motivates me to keep working, and to try and get stronger. I feel like I can always push myself just a little bit further.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Seerah vs. the Superbowl

It is with a strange sort of pride that I admit to not discovering until 8:30pm Sunday night who was actually playing in the Superbowl. It didn't much matter to me, since I had no intention of engaging in any sort of Superbowl festivities. You see, I had intended to spend the day at the masjid.

First I had my 9th grade Sunday school class, just after noon, followed by dhuhr salaat, which was then followed by a class aptly named Essentials of Islam. It's a class designed to help Muslims who feel their basic knowledge of Islam is insufficient--new Muslims, or those who wish to start taking their deen more seriously, those who never had the benefit of Sunday school, or else forgot what they learned. So I sat in on that class today to offer help as needed, and then after 'asr salaat and a break to eat I went back to the masjid for maghrib and another class on the seerah (biography of Muhammad) which was of course followed by isha salaat.

So I got to pray four out of five prayers today in the masjid. (That's a nice feeling!)

But here is something interesting. After praying maghrib I went up to the classroom, where the girl students started to gather. We'd nearly filled up our space when the shaykh arrived. Then we started to wonder if any brothers were coming! Because up to that point, none had showed up. Then only one walked in with the shaykh. Today was the first session of this class, and we sisters sitting there began to wonder if the boys had ditched in order to watch the superbowl.

Did they? Did they choose to watch a game of football instead of taking this opportunity to learn about the life of Muhammad (saaws) with our beloved shaykh?


After just a few more moments, they all filed in collectively, filling up their space as well, and getting out even more chairs. May Allah forgive us for our mistakes and for our sins, protect us from the Shaytaan, and increase us all in knowledge.