Friday, April 30, 2010

Islam and my view on wealth and poverty

There are some people of my acquaintance who sincerely oppose any kind of social welfare projects--along with (perhaps because of) some right-wing pundits. These folks believe that poor people don't work hard; at least, not as hard as the rich or middle-class. They believe that their own efforts (pretty much exclusively) contribute to their own success.

Islam prevents me from siding with that opinion. If I believe in Allah, Lord and Sustainer, and believe that He is responsible for providing sustenance for me and for everyone, I can't take credit for it. I can't take credit for my wealth, or blame someone else for their poverty. Just like I can't credit someone with their health, or blame someone for their illness--it's all from Allaah. Wealth is a test as surely as poverty, health as well as illness. And if I, for instance, am being tested with wealth, then it's my responsibility to distribute it as charity to those who are tested with poverty.

With this view of the world, how can people despise social welfare and social justice? How can they despise the poor?

Many people work hard and are blessed with wealth. Some don't work hard at all and still they're wealthy. And many people work hard and still live in poverty.

Unless we truly acknowledge the blessings that we have in life, and the source of those blessings, it's all too easy to blame people for their own troubles and refuse help. But if we understand that everything is from Allah, and understand that we're going to be accountable for how we handle our wealth (if we have it), then isn't it impossible to withhold from charity?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Calling on Allah

I figured I would start the Compass class by talking about du'a. With agreement that Salah is the most important thing to teach new Muslims, I decided to first explain the concept of du'a, of calling on Allah. Essentially salah is both du'a and istighfar, a means of cultivating one's relationship with Allah. Our relationship with Allah is that of slaves and master--we worship Allah. And the very essence of worship is du'a.

We should understand that our salah is a way of calling on Allah, and that we can call on Him anytime we want--and really, the more the better. Just making requests of Allah implies and fosters our belief and reliance on Him alone. Asking Him means we recognize His Hearing, His Knowledge and Power, while also acknowledging our powerlessness. So it seems that du'a is a fitting place to start.

We can call on Allah whenever we want, and know that He hears us.
And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me - indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.
Moreover, we have the benefit of Allah's response to our supplications. Firstly we might get the thing we are asking for. But if not, if Allah withholds it from us, then instead He may protect us from some other hardship we might have to face, or else it will become a reward for us on the Day of Judgment. So there's no reason not to make du'a--it's a win-win-win scenario.

But in case a person's du'a is not accepted, there may be a sin from which the person has not repented. In which case, the solution is to repent. Repentance is a topic on its own, but briefly this means the person should acknowledge the incorrect or sinful behavior in which he is or was engaged in, and correct it, ask forgiveness from Allah for it, and abstain from it in the future.

There is also an amazing story from the time of Moses and the Children of Israel. While they were wandering in the desert and suffering from a drought, Moses prayed to Allah for rain. But instead of rain it only got hotter and dryer. And then Allah revealed to Moses that one man among the Children of Israel had been sinning against Allah for some 40 years, so Moses was instructed to have that man leave the group before Allah would bring the rain.

So Moses went to the people and explained--he didn't know who the man was, but asked that the man, whoever he was, would leave. But imagine if you were that man? You knew your sins but nobody else around you knew. How hard would it be then to expose yourself? But yet if you didn't, then you and everyone else might die of thirst. And he recognized that all this time Allah had covered his sins. So he prayed, sincerely, to Allah for forgiveness and for Allah to continue to cover his sins. And then it started to rain.

But Moses asked Allah why the rain was coming even though the sinful man had not left. And Allah revealed that the same man had repented of his sins so Allah had allowed the rain for all of the people. Then Moses wanted to know who the man was, because of whom all of the Children of Israel had been first deprived of and then blessed with rain. But Allah refused, telling Moses that He had hid the man's sins for 40 years, so would He now expose them after repentance?

It's such a beautiful story and filled with loads of reminders for us today. That no matter how long we have sinned, Allah still accepts repentance. That our sins might not just be affecting us, and that if we find our prayers not being answered, perhaps we should try to correct ourselves and ask for forgiveness. And remember that we may call on Allah at any time for any need, and we should. It confirms and strengthens our belief in Allah and as an act of worship it can nurture our relationship with Him. And once we understand that, we can discuss salah with an appreciation of it as an act of submission and worship and so much more than a simple ritual.

There is much more that can be said about du'a--be patient for the result instead of hastily anticipating it, or declaring that Allah didn't answer; the best times to make du'a are after performing a good deed, like after salah or before breaking one's fast. The last third part of the night is also a great time to make du'a, as is while one is in salah during the prostration. Moreover, there are some etiquettes about making du'a in the first place which I think I will not include in this part of the class. Mostly, I don't have very much time, and I also don't want students to feel bogged down in "rules" when it comes to du'a. Is there something I'm omitting but I should include? Please let me know!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Do the Healthy Dance

Today I was watching a health and fitness video, one component of a fitness program I'm participating in, about three phases or stages a person will experience during weight loss. The first stage they called the "honeymoon" stage, followed by the "frustration" stage, and lastly the "acceptance" phase.

I thought it was kind of interesting, since I've spent some time thinking lately about how a person can maintain weight loss and changes in lifestyle habits over a long period of time. Most people who are successful in losing weight actually fall back on hold habits and regain the weight, regardless of the program or "diet" they were on to lose the weight in the first place. So it's worth considering.

The "honeymoon" stage is when a person is just starting on a program and is seeing plenty of results. The person is losing weight rapidly and usually with relative ease, is enthusiastic about going to the gym and meeting with trainers and dietitians, carefully tracks their nutrition daily and works out regularly. I'm probably still in this phase, actually; I even enjoy talking (and blogging, tweeting, etc.) about the program.

But after a while, the person will become frustrated, either with the work involved or maybe less drastic results, and might start slipping in their meal tracking and workouts. That's the "frustration" stage. Of course, that can turn the weight loss around or at the very least make it stall, which causes a person to become even more frustrated and start looking towards their previous bad habits, from when life was "easy."

The key to success, however (apparently, at least, according to this video) is reaching another stage, called "acceptance," when the person understands the body's needs and is able to make a real lifestyle commitment to health. Eating healthy becomes a way of life, and so does exercise, until it doesn't seem like drudgery (to quote the video) to have to work out and watch food intake.

Obviously succeeding at maintaining weight loss is complicated, with many factors involved. But thinking of it this way makes it seem that if you can just get through the "frustration" stage without turning back to food for comfort, or slacking when it comes to nutrition or exercise, then it can become permanent.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Married Life

As soon as I got married, people started asking me all the time "How's married life?" as if I might have some cute quip about it. I never did have a good answer, but now I've had some time to think about it, at least. In the CD set 'Fiqh of Love,' Sh. Yaser Birjas mentioned how silly of a question this is to ask someone newly married. But as I said--I've had a little bit of time to think.

My married life--maybe not anyone else's, but mine--is fun.

It's been fun getting to learn more about Pakistani culture, as well. And I have nothing but praise for the women I've met here among the wives of my husband's friends. They've been very welcoming, considering that I don't speak their first language, know very little about their culture, and come from a completely different country. So I've had the opportunity to attend many weekly dinner parties--a new experience for me--and even a cook-out.

I never really had any experience going to dinner parties growing up, and even after Islam they were mostly with just single women, so the segregation in dinner parties was new. I'm sure that for Muslims who have grown up seeing adults segregation naturally it's not weird at all. For me it was just a little bit of adjustment, though I'm not sure it bothered me as much as it might some people (example).

The segregation makes things a little bit more complicated--you need an extra set of serving dishes, and there's never enough chairs, not to mention communication (we need more rice) barriers and who's going to ferry the food back and forth. For us it also meant hanging curtains in hallways so men couldn't see the women as they came in.

But I'll say that even though American apartments don't necessarily make it easy, I think desis have this concept right about segregation at dinner parties, keeping the men and women in completely different rooms. I don't think it's necessarily right for all gatherings (especially classes in the masjid, committee meetings, khutbahs and the like) but for a purely social engagement, what need is there that men and women be sitting and talking with each other?

I'll admit that at first it was awkward to be in social situations with complete strangers--since my husband wasn't around--but I got along, met new people, and now I am comfortable with them and they're not strangers any more. And, if I'm going to a dinner party to socialize, why would I want to socialize with my husband (who I see at home?) And there's no way I really want to socialize with the other men.

So I'm coming around to view it as the best, even though the first few times I was pretty chicken, not having my husband there to hold my hand. But now, thankfully, I'm over that stage (most of the time) and have a pleasant time visiting with some new friends--very kind, welcoming, hospitable people.