When dependence is good

All my life I’ve tried to be independent – independent in the sense of relying on myself as much as possible to get things done.  As an American, I have been acculturated to value independence as a positive aspect of a strong character.  In addition, my early experiences through the filter of childhood and adolescence taught me to depend on no one, thereby avoiding the crushing realization that in a moment of need I would not find someone I could trust, someone dependable.

As a Muslim, however, I am taught to depend on God.  There are many verses in the Quran that urge the reader to trust and depend on God, such as, “To God belongs the unseen of the heavens and the earth  and every matter shall be returned to Him.  So worship Him and rely on Him.  Your Lord is not unaware of what you do” (11:123).  “If God helps you, no one can defeat you.  If He forsakes you, who can help you besides Him?  So upon God should the believers rely” (3:160).  “Say, ‘Sufficient for me is God.  There is no god but Him.  I have put my trust in Him.  He is the Lord of the Magnificent Throne” (9:129).   “And (He will) provide for him from where he has never conceived. Whoever relies on God – He will suffice him…. (65:3).

I have read the verses many times and, on an intellectual level, I understand them, agree with them, and try to apply them.  I have tried to trust God and depend on Him.  I thought I did.  But every now and then I find myself in a corner, or in grave need, and the verses come to mind.  I hear a gentle message:  “Trust Me.”  And I realize then that I haven’t really been trusting God at all, nor have I been depending on Him.  At least not enough.

Can we trust someone spontaneously?  Or is it something that develops over time?  How do we develop trust in someone?  How long should it take?

In my experience, it takes a long time to trust someone and depend on them – it may take years.  It seems to me that there are different variables in the formula of trust, and the variables should be tested under different conditions to determine their strength or value.  One of the variables is knowledge, and a second one is wisdom.  For example, I wonder if the doctor I confide in with my health concerns has enough knowledge to diagnose the problem and enough wisdom to prescribe the right treatment for me.  Another variable is ability – does the person I am attempting to depend on have the resources, whether tangible or intangible, to support me in my time of need?   The fourth and most important variable is compassion.  I must be convinced that the person I want to trust really cares about me and is intent on thoughtfully providing the exact kind and amount of support I need.  Considering these variables, it seems that depending on someone else can be risky.

However, depending on God should be different.  Although I realize that God is perfect and should not be rated against any manmade criteria, I have had to remind myself of how He deserves my immediate and absolute trust in and dependence on Him.  For one, His knowledge is incomparable.  He knows EVERYTHING!!  –about every cell in my body, about every thought that crosses my mind, about every force in the universe that impacts my life.  I don’t need to describe or explain anything to Him.  Secondly, His ability is absolute.  “He is, over all things, Able” (2:20).  “When He decrees a matter, He says, ‘Be’ and it is!” (3:47).  So I never need to worry that He can’t do something or that it would be hard for Him.  With this knowledge I shouldn’t be impatient or dissatisfied, because not only is God completely in charge of every situation, He is also perfectly wise.  I can rest assured that He knows what He’s doing and that He never makes mistakes.  In fact, being God makes him automatically very deliberate and precise with His acts. With this analysis, it gets easier and easier to trust God and depend on Him for every big and little thing.  And it should be enough.  But there’s more.  He cares about me.  He cares about us.  He describes Himself as “Lord of the Universe, the entirely Merciful, the especially Merciful.”  The word Lord (or rabb in Arabic) has the connotation of one who shelters, nourishes, protects, provides, educates, and shapes us.  God says that He is “closer to [each] one than his jugular vein” (50:16) and that His mercy encompasses all things (7:156).  Particularly for believers who do good, but not exclusively, He is Gentle, Loving, Forbearing, three of many qualities that He uses to describe Himself.  And especially for the believers He promises His help:  “For helping the believers is ever incumbent upon Us” (30:47).

So the variables in the trust formula are optimal for trusting God wholeheartedly and depending on Him utterly.  What stops us?  What stopped me?

For one, I was under the impression that I was knowledgeable and capable enough to be fairly independent and self-reliant.  (That’s not a bad thing if we express gratitude to God for the knowledge and ability whose wellspring is in Him.)  But suddenly I faced a situation that was absolutely out of my control, that I was unable to understand, and that exposed my extreme vulnerability.  I faced myself and all my limitations.  Emotionally, I was brought to my knees.  It is times like these, when we are desperate and frightened, that we call on God.   This time, I thought, I’m going to really trust God, really depend on Him.  And I did.  Whenever worries nagged me, I said, Trust.  When my strength waned, I said, Depend on Him.  As the situation got more complicated, I did not let worries take over.  Trust!!

He didn’t let me down.  For the first time in my life, I felt an amazing, loving, supportive Presence by my side.  Several small occurrences, although appearing ordinary and coincidental to an outsider, proved to me that He meant what He said: “And (He will) provide for him from where he has never conceived. Whoever relies on God – He will suffice him ….” (65:3).  I know He’s been there all the while, but I never leaned enough to feel His strong support.  Now I know that I won’t fall down when I lean toward Him.

Having experienced God’s promise of support – which has evoked a prolonged feeling that cannot be described in words – I have changed.  Never have dependence and neediness felt so good.  By relying on God, I have no doubt that my prayer will be heard, no fear that my need will go unmet, and no crushing feeling that the responsibility is mine and mine alone.   What took me so long to trust my Creator’s knowledge, ability and care, and to rely on Him absolutely?   Having turned a corner, my advice to you is to follow me.  You won’t regret it – trust me 🙂

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Do you remember a song performed by Aretha Franklin entitled “Respect”?  It begins with “What you want… baby, I got.  What you need, you know I’ve got it.  All I’m askin’ is for a little respect…R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  Find out what it means to me!”  The song is generally interpreted as a being about respect between genders and especially for women, but considering that it was written in the United States in 1965, composed by black artist Otis Redding, and sung by a black performer, the piece could be about race relations as well.  Whatever the case, the powerful song that asks for a little respect has become a classic.

Respect as a concept is highly valued in today’s world.  It is comprised of both an attitude of appreciation toward another as well as specific conduct that honors the other.  Respect is politically correct, and anyone would agree that upright citizens respect each other.  Because some people need reminders and a little help, there is a group to advocate respect for just about every sector of society there is.  We are told to respect the opposite sex, the unborn child, the homosexual, the handicapped, the mentally ill.  We are reminded that everyone has rights, including children, the dying, people of every race and creed, and even animals.  We are expected to respect the environment, the dead, and the right of others to eat and shop in a smoke-free environment.  Respect is so important, that we have learned to respect the mere concept of respect.

We would be exemplary citizens if we respected all the things we are expected to respect.  And we would know what to do because we know the universal adage “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  But how would we express the ultimate respect – respect for God? Unfortunately, applying the “do unto others” rule doesn’t apply to our relationship with God because He is unlike us – He is God.

It is my guess that many people who practice respect for all others have overlooked God, perhaps because He doesn’t publicize others’ poor treatment of Him in the media or file lawsuits.   If there was a group that promoted and protected the rights of God for our respect, what would they teach us?   First, they would have to expose the reality of how we treat God in order to bring attention to the severity of the problem.  They would show us that we overlook, trivialize, marginalize, ignore and even deny the very existence of God.  They would probably bring to light some of God’s positive qualities so that we can appreciate Him more:  His omniscience, omnipotence, generosity, forbearance and forgiveness.  They would show proof of His goodness, such as the presence of so much beauty on earth, how He provides water and grows food for seven billion people and countless animals, and how He protects the inhabitants of this fragile planet in innumerable ways. And they would expose the fact that in spite of all that, many people mistrust Him, bad-mouth Him, and offend Him regularly, showing gross disrespect.

Perhaps after being educated by this group, we would be more inclined to respect God.  But if we really want to respect God we should try to know how He wants to be respected – which attitudes and conduct does he expect from us?  We can find many clues in the Quran.

Those who respect God show gratitude:   “God brought you out of your mothers’ wombs knowing nothing at all, and gave you hearing, sight and hearts so that perhaps you would show thanks.” (16:78)  “We have established you firmly on the earth and granted you your livelihood in it.  What little thanks you give!” (7:10) “Eat of the good things We have provided for you and give thanks to God…” (2:172)   “God shows favor to mankind but most of them are not thankful.” (10:60)  “Why should God punish you if you are thankful and believe?…” (4:147)

Those who respect God remember Him:  “Mankind!  Remember God’s blessing to you.  Is there any creator other than God providing for you from heaven and earth?…” (35:3).  “Remember your Lord in yourself humbly and fearfully… Do not be one of the unaware” (7:205). “(Believers are those) who remember God, standing, sitting and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth…” (3:191).  “Remember the Name of your Lord, and devote yourself to Him completely” (73:8). “O you who believe!  Remember God much!” (33:41).

Those who respect God pray to Him:  “Perform prayer and give alms and bow with those who bow.” (2:43)  “Seek help in steadfastness and prayer.  But that is a very hard thing, except for the humble.” (2:45)  “The prayer is prescribed for the believers at specific times.” (4:103)  “Believers are those who safeguard their prayers.” (23:9)

Those who respect God worship none but Him:  “Worship God and do not associate anything with Him…” (4:36).  “We sent no messenger before you without revealing to him: ‘There is no god but Me, so worship Me.’” (21:25)  “The Jews say, ‘Ezra is the son of God’ and the Christians say, ‘Jesus is the son of God’… they have taken their rabbis and priests as lords besides God, and also the Messiah, son of Mary.  Yet they were commanded to worship only one God. There is no god but Him! Glory be to Him above anything they associate with Him!” (9:30-31)

Why is it so easy for some people to respect every person, regardless of his worthiness of respect, yet it is so hard to respect their Creator who asks for so little in return for so much?.  Respect isn’t something we offer to God, but rather something that belongs to Him already.  So will we give Him what is rightfully His?  Or will we overlook, trivialize, marginalize, ignore and deny Him? What is the respect we owe God?  He told us: “I am Allah.  There is no god but Me, so worship Me and perform prayer to remember Me.” (20:14)

So sing along with me:  What you want… baby, He’s got.  What you need… you know He’s got it.  All He’s askin’ is for a little respect … R-E-S-P-E-C-T… Find out what it means to Him!

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A Short History of Religion

Following is a sequence of events that seem to logically explain the diversity in religions today and the differences in religious scriptures.    With this model, we can see that the diversity and differences are to be expected, and we can more easily guess which of the religions and scriptures are erroneous.  Most importantly, this logical sequence of events points us in the right direction if we are interested to follow God’s true religion.

1. First, God, who created us, must have introduced Himself to us. Otherwise we wouldn’t know that He created us, and we wouldn’t know about Him.  Feeling the existence of God could occur through natural inclination, but a more explicit introduction is likely to clear all doubts.  God would most likely tell us about Himself, and we should assume that He is perfect in every way (by definition of a god).

2. After introducing Himself to us, God probably shared His purpose in creating us, since naturally he did not create us without purpose (otherwise he would not be perfect).  This purpose should be related in a clear and decisive message.  If God sent a message like, “I created you for a specific purpose…” then it is logical that we are expected to fulfill the will of God by doing what he expects of us.

3.  The message would be most reliable if it came in the words of God.  We would appreciate to hear it directly from Him, not paraphrased from a secondary source.  These words should be preserved so they can be shared. It makes sense that they would be recorded in a way so that people can access it, i.e. in writing or sound recording.  A book is most likely.

4.  The one who heard or received the words of God must have been selected by God because of his reliability to relay the message accurately.  He would probably also be charged with interpreting the message for those who may not understand, and demonstrating it practically if needed.  Ideally, he should be named by God as His messenger in His words.

5.  The message should be for all people.  It is not only universal but also practicable for people of different abilities, education, and environments.  It should not contradict scientifically advanced people/societies nor be too complicated for primitive people/societies.

6.  The message should be meaningful and useful both on the personal and communal levels.  It should guide the individual and society in life, in order to fulfill the stated purpose.  The guidance would most likely be in the form of directives, prohibitions and laws, and together they would describe an interrelated, harmonious system of life that meets the needs of all sectors of society.

7.  The message should explain the consequences of implementing or neglecting it (otherwise, what is the point in sending a message?).  It should present clear and meaningful warnings and promises, and explain the mechanism for judging one’s success or failure. The rewards should naturally be attractive incentives and the warnings strong deterrents, otherwise there would be no reason to fulfill the purpose of life (doing God’s will) and follow the guidance offered, which would belittle God and His wisdom, authority and power.

8.  With the part of God and the messenger complete, it is up to the people to apply the message.  Over time, the message would likely have been misunderstood, neglected, lost or even intentionally altered to suit certain individuals.  And so it is conceivable that God communicated with many messengers throughout time out of necessity to remind us of His message to us.  However, all true messages from God would necessarily be compatible in describing God and stating the purpose of our creation, even though the context or cultural and environmental interpretation could vary.

9.  This leads us to the conclusion that the most ancient messages are likely to have been the most corrupted through time.   Therefore, it is logical that the most recent message is also the closest to the truth, as it would have been sent to replace the previously corrupted messages.  The most recent message may even have descriptions of the previous, now corrupted, messages, and would both correct misinformation and alert the reader not to be misled by them.

This, to me, is really simple and logical.  It answers so  many questions and points the direction for discovering the truth.   If you want a head start in your search, consider these verses from the Quran.  “You receive the Quran directly from the One (God) who is All-Wise, All-Knowing” (27:6); “And We (God) have not sent down the Book to you (Muhammad) except that you may explain clearly to them those things about which they differ, and a guidance and mercy to people who believe” (16:64);  and “We have given all kinds of examples to people in this Quran so that hopefully they will pay heed” (39:27).

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Would You Have Followed Jesus?

We all know the Bible stories about Jesus, his birth, his miracles, and how he was persecuted.  Did you ever close your eyes and imagine you were there?  Let’s imagine together.  We are Jews who follow the Book of Moses – the Torah – which is centuries old.  Not many people are familiar with the contents of the Torah, and the rabbis of the day study it and preach it, but do not really practice it or judge by it. They change God’s laws to suit their whims, they exploit the people by appealing to their spirituality in order to collect tithes (which they themselves consume) and they have little positive influence in the general population.  That part is easy to imagine because it is familiar.

Now imagine you heard a friend or neighbor talking about someone who claims to be sent by God.  His name is Jesus.  He claims that he came to uphold the law of Moses, the foremost of which is “There is no god but God.  Love Him with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.”  (This is the first commandment).  But while he says he upholds Moses’ law, he also introduces some new legislation which, he says, eases some restrictions of Mosaic law.  He appeals to the common man because he talks about brotherhood, love, kindness and mercy, yet he annoys the rabbis and officials because he also talks about justice and equality before God and man, which threatens their status and the benefits of power.

So you are an average Jew, and you hear the talk and the many rumors about this so-called prophet.  You see that the community is very unsettled about his claims and while some people support him (usually the poor and weak), many people despise him.  The most powerful people in your society start a smear campaign to degrade him and diminish his influence.  Many people are vehement in their hatred, even though they never actually met him, heard his sermons or read the scripture he brought.  You noticed that those who support and follow him are cautious, not wishing to draw attention to themselves in case they, too, would be persecuted as Jesus was.

Now comes the question you must think about – would you have followed Jesus?  You probably are thinking Yes! Of course!  Perhaps because you are a Christian.  But if you really want to know what your reaction would have been if you were an average Jew who heard about a new so-called prophet who was supported by some and hated by others, then just consider your reaction to Muhammad.   Like Jesus, he claimed he was sent by God with a message.  Like Jesus, he said he upholds the previous scripture, but was sent to clarify and demonstrate God’s law.  Like Jesus, he was followed by the poor and weak and, like Jesus, he was feared and hated by the powerful in his community.

What position would you have taken in Jesus’ day?  It’s probably the same position you have taken in response to Muhammad’s message.  And that’s the answer to the question.

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Hajj: A Spiritual Journey to Mecca

Hajj is an annual event that falls in the last month of the Islamic (lunar) calendar with the Ka’bah in Mecca as the central gathering place.  Roughly a 15 meter cube, it is not a temple, church, or shrine, but the physical axis of the Muslim world, a focal point said to be the first building ever consecrated to the worship of God.  Upon seeing the Ka’bah for the first time, Muhammad Asad, an Austrian Muslim,  said,  “There it stood, almost a perfect cube … entirely covered with black brocade, a quiet island in the middle of the vast quadrangle of the mosque: much quieter than any other work of architecture anywhere in the world. It would almost appear that he who first built the Ka’bah—for since the time of Abraham the original structure has been rebuilt several times in the same shape—wanted to create a parable of man’s humility before God. The builder knew that no beauty of architectural rhythm and no perfection of line, however great, could ever do justice to the idea of God: and so he confined himself to the simplest three-dimensional form imaginable—a cube of stone.”   Although Muslims pray toward the Ka’bah five times a day, the worship of God is the Muslim’s central focus.  There are indications in the prophetic traditions that the Ka’bah was first built by Adam and that Abraham restored the house on its original foundations.  The Quran says,  “And remember when Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the house…” (2:127).   It has been rebuilt several times in the same place and shape since Abraham’s time.

Abraham is the founding father of the hajj.  God ordered him to “proclaim the pilgrimage among men: they will come to you on foot and mounted on every kind of camel, lean on account of journey through deep and distant mountain highways.” (22:27) The Quran describes Abraham as a monotheist:   “As for me, I have set myself, firmly and truly, towards Him Who created the heavens and the earth, and never shall I give partners to the [one true] God.” (6:97)  It also describes him as a Muslim, or one who submits to the will of the One God: “When his Lord said to him, ‘Submit!’ he promptly responded, “I have submitted to the Lord of the Universe.” (2:131)

The Quran also records Abraham’s prayer:  “ ‘Our Lord! Raise up in their midst a messenger from among them who shall recite to them your revelations… you are All Powerful and All Wise.’” (2:129)  Centuries later, Muhammad was born from the descendants of Abraham and proclaimed Islam, or submission to God, the same religion that Abraham practiced.  With Allah’s command, Muhammad revived the hajj by restoring its pure foundations and eliminating the pagan idols and customs that gradually defiled it.

Major Rites of the Hajj

There are several rites of the hajj, including circumambulation of the Ka’bah, which commemorates the way Abraham and Ishmael carried out the God’s order to do so as a token of their gratitude that they were asked to construct such a significant and sacred house of worship.  Jogging between the hills of As-Safaa and Al-Marwa commemorates Hagar’s  desperate search for water for her thirsty child as she courageously accepted God’s command that she and her son settle alone in the barren valley of Bacca (later called Mecca).  Drinking from the well of Zamzam, which was first provided for Hagar and her son, acknowledges God’s generous blessing for life-giving water.  A day of prayer on the plain of Arafah is the most significant rite of Hajj, as Prophet Muhammad said.  He gave his last sermon from this location, which was attended by almost 100,000 Muslims. He reconfirmed the importance of equality, justice, tolerance and peace with all mankind, and confirmed the sanctity of honor, property and life.  This location is also said to be the place of Abraham’s intended sacrifice.

To commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son, an animal is slaughtered by each pilgrim and the meat is distributed to the poor. The Quran relates the origin of this rite:  “[Abraham] said, ‘O my son!  I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice you.  So what do you think?’  He [Ishmael] said, ‘O my father,  do that which you are commanded.  If God so wills, you shall find me of the patient.’   So when they had both submitted their wills [to God], and he laid him prostrate on his forehead [for sacrifice], We called out to him, ‘O  Abraham!  You have indeed fulfilled your vision!”  Thus do we reward the righteous.’  And we ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice. And We left [this reminder] for him among generations in later times.”  (37:102-107).

Finally, the pilgrim confronts evil for three consecutive days by stoning three pillars erected to symbolize Satan, whom the Quran warns against: “…Satan is to man an avowed enemy!” (12:5)  He said, “…I will lie in wait for them on Your Straight Path.  Then I will assault them from before them and behind them, from their right and their left…” (7:17)  Stoning the symbolic pillars is physical act of rejecting, fighting and disabling evil forces that undermine faith.  It commemorates Abraham’s resistance of Satan’s attempts at three different places to dissuade him from carrying out God’s command; Abraham pelted Satan with stones to ward off temptation.  It also reminds us that fighting evil is an ongoing process, not an event.

Spiritual Growth

The Hajj enables one to put worldly interests aside – work, family, friends, entertainment – for  a spiritual retreat.  It provides a chance to refocus on the higher purpose of life:  devotion to God in all things.  A Muslim connects with other Muslims in the current Muslim “ummah;”  it is the largest annual international peace conference, with representatives from every country of the world.  It has been described as a physical world wide web.   A Muslim also connects through time with Abraham, Hagar, Ishmael, whose acts are the bases for the pilgrimage rites, and with Muhammad, who restored pure monotheistic worship from Mecca.  More than 2 million people of all races, classes and nations gather together in the valley of Mecca, where distinctions among people vanish, giving one a sense of equality with all others.  Patience, tolerance and brotherhood develop  as each pilgrim experiences the exertion and sentiments of the other.   Temporary loss of residence, everyday comforts, familiar company and personal items make one grateful for these provisions in daily life.  Having the opportunity to participate in the pilgrimage makes one feel complete in his duty to God, since the Quran says, “Due to God from the people is pilgrimage to the House” (3:96-97).  Finally, the great gathering, the dress of white shrouds, and the masses’ pleas for forgiveness draws one’s   attention to his own death, resurrection  and standing before God on Judgment Day.

Some people’s perception of life is forever changed after the hajj.  Personally, I thought about the meaning of life and the scene of thousands of people circumambulating the Ka’bah reminded of the atomic level of the electrons circling around the nucleus, as well as the astronomic level of the planets revolving around the sun.  In both, there is a center reference point.   And it struck me that THIS is the meaning of life: to keep God as my reference point, to keep my actions and thoughts revolving around Him and, like Abraham, to devote myself to the one Lord of the universe.

The Hajj re-establishes God as the focus of life.

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Ramadan

Ramadan is like spring cleaning to me: an annual ritual that results in the cleansing of the body, the airing out of the mind, and the beautification of the soul. It provides the opportunity for reorganization and fine tuning of the soul that is needed periodically to remind us of our roles and responsibilities and to commit to a fresh start in our faith. Even though it’s been more than 30 years since my first Ramadan, I still gain new insights and lessons each year.

In a purely physical sense, fasting provides an opportunity to quit or at least interrupt unhealthy habits. Caffeine, sugar and nicotine cannot be consumed throughout the day as is the habit of many people. When fasting ends at sunset, the body craves plenty of liquids and a nutritious and balanced meal. By the end of Ramadan I usually have accomplished a healthy weight loss and improved eating habits. However, compared to the spiritual benefits of Ramadan, this is insignificant.

My first fasts of Ramadan were more an exercise in obedience than anything else. Being a new experience and in the summer months as well, fasting was a hardship that I endured because it was required by my new faith. The Quran, which was first revealed in the month of Ramadan, instructs, “O you who believe! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you that you might attain piety.” (2:183) As required for every adult Muslim, I abstained from all physical satisfaction during the hours of fasting: food, drink, smoking and sexual intimacy from the break of dawn until sunset every day of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.

My first Ramadan at age 19 was difficult as I did not have the benefit of early training as my own children now do. It was a new experience to me and I was not used to denying myself anything, especially food and water, nor was I raised with fasting being a social norm or expectation. However, I firmly believed in the authenticity of the Quran as God’s word and the role of Muhammad as God’s messenger. I reasoned that if I believed in this, then I must also accept everything prescribed and prohibited for the Muslim by these two sources. I didn’t necessarily understand the reason for everything, but like a child obeying his wise and loving parents, I did not question God’s authority. So fasting to me was an act of obedience, making it also an act of worship, since I acknowledged an order or will more important than my own. If accepting that God’s will is more important than my own is the first step towards piety, then I achieved that much.

For my obedience, I am promised forgiveness and rewards in the Hereafter. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever fasts in the month of Ramadan with full consciousness of his faith and a sense of accountability will have all his previous sins forgiven.” It is also said that God rewards every good act from ten to 700 times but He is especially generous regarding the fast. God says, “The reward of the fast is different; it is observed for Me alone, therefore I shall Myself give its reward, for the faster restrains himself from food and other desires only for My sake.” To me this is real faith: adopting a lifestyle that most certainly entails some sort of sacrifice because of a belief in something for which there is no physical proof or agreed certainty. Faith is believing in something more than the here and now, even though it has never been recorded as a physical reality.

Although forgiveness and rewards were certainly enough incentive for me, as I became an experienced faster I began to understand some of the more immediate benefits that a month of physical restraint can bring. When one abstains from satisfying the most basic needs and powerful urges of life all day, each day for an entire month, both in public and in private, one develops a level of patience and self-discipline that cannot be achieved easily in any other way. Many, many times, I have told myself, “If I can fast an entire month in summer, I can do this too.” Indeed, many of our challenges in life are easy compared with the hardship of fasting in summertime, so they, too, can be met with resolve, patience and faith.

I later learned that fasting requires abstinence not only from physical pleasures but also from non-constructive or harmful actions, words and thoughts. The latter is harder to achieve than the former, but without it, the fast is absolutely useless. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) warned that “God has no need for the hunger and thirst of the person who does not restrain from vain talk and evil conduct while fasting,” and “Some gain nothing from the fast but hunger and thirst, and nothing from the night prayers except wakefulness.”

Physically, the faster suffers mainly from hunger and thirst in the first part of the month. Once the body is accustomed to the change, only thirst remains a problem, especially on the hot summer days. Ramadan is unique in that it provides an opportunity for every Muslim, regardless of his economic status, to have a first-hand experience of how it feels to be hungry and thirsty for hours on end. One can only become more empathetic and compassionate towards the poor and disadvantaged, and more thankful for the blessings we enjoy every day. No matter how simple the breakfast meal is at the end of a long day, I feel so fortunate to have to something to eat. As I begin my meal, I pray, “O Lord, for You I have fasted and with your provision I break my fast.”

Some common side effects of fasting are headaches, lethargy and insomnia, although some people report increased levels of clarity and energy during fasting. After years of practice, I experience little discomfort. Actually, fasting in the physical sense is quite easy if you are certain that you will have a meal at the end of the day. There are other challenges for the one who fasts correctly, and they are the mental and emotional restraint from anything sinful. While we can easily ignore hunger, it is more difficult to refrain from meaningless talk and activity, and to ignore anger and frustration when our patience runs thin or when offended by someone. In Ramadan, the Muslim redoubles his efforts to avoid raising his voice or indulging in gossip or idleness, and repents when he slips into error.

It is said that by knowing yourself you can know your Lord. Ramadan is an opportunity to learn more about both. When I try my best to avoid every kind of sinfulness, I become painfully aware of my seemingly incorrigible weaknesses. Even with total concentration and the best of intentions, it is impossible to have perfect conduct and pure thoughts. Acknowledgement of that fact reminds me of a necessary humility and increases my reverence for God who is not only perfect but also compassionate, appreciative and forgiving.

In addition to developing patience and emotional restraint, fasting improves self-discipline and sincerity. When fasting, one has several opportunities throughout the day to satisfy his needs while at the same time maintaining an appearance of adherence o the faith. But when I resist the temptation throughout the day to break my fast, my God-consciousness increases. The fast heightens my awareness of God’s presence and my own need for guidance as I constantly try to discipline my careless nature. I must prove my sincerity with no other authority to check my behavior. I must find the will to obey and the discipline to carry through with my convictions. In this sense, fasting for a month is training for year-long sincerity and discipline.

Once my physical and emotional self was brought under control and well-disciplined for the annual fast I began to experience the real benefits of Ramadan. This is the airing of the mind. When the Muslim is less bothered by the distraction of eating, drinking and casual socializing in his daily schedule, there is more time for worship and fruitful work. I feel Ramadan is a time for spiritual renewal, study and meditation, prayer and increased charity, and not an excuse for over-indulgence in the delicacies of evening feasts and the distractions of excessive social visits. The aim of fasting is not to encourage some sort of asceticism or to develop in the Muslim the habit of swinging between the two extremes of self-denial and over-indulgence. Rather, fasting ideally promotes physical moderation and discipline on the one hand, and spiritual focus and growth on the other. In Ramadan and year round, we should be able to focus on spiritual growth while partaking of both physical and social pleasures.

As I grow older, fasting has taught me about flexibility and resilience. Just when I start thinking that I need a particular diet, schedule and routine to be most productive, Ramadan comes along to challenge me, and I find that I can change my entire day, losing all my routines, and still be productive if not more productive. Although there are obviously exemptions for those for whom fasting is unadvisable for medical reasons, occasionally, I get sick in Ramadan and have, until now, been able to continue to fast. I am always amazed at my resilience. The strength of the human body and spirit is extraordinary when we have faith, sincerity and determination.

Another benefit of Ramadan is the sense of belonging that one achieves. Ramadan is a phenomenon of a worldwide spirit of unity and brotherhood that no other religious or secular concept has achieved. The whole Muslim society, numbering about 2 billion around the world today, joins together in the same duty in the same manner for the same period of time for the same motives to the same end. Ramadan has a spirit that transcends boundaries and national identity. It is an observance of physical restraint for the sake of spiritual growth. Fasting was also prescribed for the followers of prophets before Muhammad as is stated in the Quran (2:183): “O you who believe! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, that you might attain piety.” My sense of belonging and purpose increases when I contemplate the course of fasting among the faithful throughout the history of the world.

While the most obvious feature of Ramadan is the fast, there are several extraordinary forms of worship and charity that are recommended as well. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to recite the whole Quran during the month of Ramadan, and many Muslims try to achieve the same. At 600 pages, the Quran can be completed if one commits himself to read 20 pages a day. Many people offer additional prayers every evening at home or in the mosque, especially during the last ten nights of Ramadan, when Muslims anticipate the “night of glory” which is the anniversary of the first Quranic revelation, said to be worth a thousand months in merit (Quran 97:1-5). Some people seclude themselves in the mosque for part or all of the last ten days and nights of Ramadan to devote themselves completely to prayer, study and meditation. Others perform pilgrimage to Mecca, the site of the first revelation and the first house of worship on earth — the Kaaba.

Muslims are also extra-charitable during the month in many ways, especially by offering food to relatives, friends and the needy. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that “whoever feeds a fasting person has the same reward as him, yet without the reward of the fasting person being diminished.” Many Muslims sponsor daily meals for the poor in their communities or beyond their borders, which promotes positive relations and helps close the gap between the rich and poor.

Charity is required from every Muslim in Ramadan, the minimum being to give the worth of a day’s food to the poor near the end of Ramadan; this is called “alms for the feast” and ensures that everyone has the means to celebrate Eid, or the three-day feast that marks the end of Ramadan. It is a special time of congratulations, socialization and charity. In all the celebration, however, I have often sensed an underlying sadness. But in light of the physical, emotional, social and spiritual benefits of Ramadan that I have experienced over the years, I understand why people look forward to a month of fasting and why they are so sad to see it end. The real celebration is not when the fast is complete; it begins on the first day and lasts throughout the month.

Ramadan is a month to celebrate God’s guidance and generous provision. It is a month rich with kindness, compassion, tolerance and brotherhood. it is a month that, by depriving the body, enriches the soul.

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The Muslim’s Journey through Life

Our journey in life is never alone.  Each of us has a mother, and each is born into a family.  In Islam, the journey through life is intrinsically woven into family life.  It is within the family structure that the journey of life takes shape.  And it is in the Quran and prophetic traditions that the Muslim finds guidance for family life.  The Quran, which outlines moral and legal rights and responsibilities among family members, presents a methodology for safeguarding the family group and, within it, each family member.

The Muslim’s journey begins before he is born.  As a fetus, he is protected from the dangers of  intoxicants and harmful food substances (as prohibited for all Muslims in the Quran).  In addition, his mother is entitled by her husband for full maintenance and financial support, which protects her from the exhaustion of working long hours outside of the home unnecessarily.   Even the child’s right to exist is made clear in the Quran:  “Do not kill your children because of poverty” (6:151) or “in dread of poverty” (17:31).

The new arrival is born pure and sinless, in a natural state that is “hardwired to believe.”   Upon birth, his father or someone else attending his birth whispers his faith in his ear:  “There is no god except One God, and Muhammad is His messenger.” His birth is festive occasion marked with charity from his family and a communal meal sponsored by his father.  Prophet Muhammad advised against giving a child a name with a negative connotation, preferring pleasant names with good meanings.  The Quran acknowledges the child’s right to know his father and lineage, even if he is in the care of foster parents: “Call them by their fathers’ names…” (33:5)

Care of the infant continues through the care of the mother, who is guaranteed full maintenance throughout her marriage, and especially in the period of breastfeeding, which extends up to two years.  During this stage, parents should agree on major decisions regarding their children, such as weaning and day care options.

The first seven years of a Muslim’s life are characterized by affection and education through play.  Muhammad (p) said that “He does not belong to us who does not show mercy to our children…” (Tirmidi 1279).  During the first seven years, his interaction with parents and elders also gives him training in social relations, which are characterized by respect.   In the event of divorce, custody is usually given to the mother; however, the child remains the financial responsibility of the father.  If the child is orphaned, the paternal relatives are responsible for his upbringing.

The second seven years of a Muslim’s life are characterized by formal education, which continues throughout his life.   Prophet Muhammad said that seeking knowledge is an obligation of every Muslim (Tirmidi 74).  Therefore, in addition to general education, the child’s spirit is trained through prayer, which he gradually learns and performs until it is a well-ingrained habit.   His body is trained through a gradual implementation of the fast of Ramadan, which develops self-discipline, will-power over temptation, and physical fortitude.  His mind is trained through memorizing the Quran, which not only gives him the foundations of faith and language, but also primes his mind for knowledge recall and retention.  By the age of ten years, the child is prepared for adulthood – he is instructed to perform the five daily prayers regularly, he is separated from siblings to sleep and he is expected to respect the privacy of family members by asking permission before entering a closed room.

At puberty, the Muslim is considered an adult and bears moral responsibility for his deeds.  At this time, he is responsible for maintaining the prayer, fasting in Ramadan, being modest in his or her clothing, and increasing personal hygiene.   He is also a candidate for marriage.  The Quran encourages marriage:  “[They should] marry…God will enrich them of his bounty.  Those who can’t find the means to marry should be abstinent until God enriches them…” (24:33)  Marriage is neither a sacrament nor a simple civil contract, but with aspects of both.  There are regulations that increase the likelihood of a successful relationship (such as parental approval for a previously unmarried bride, and a material gift from the groom which indicates his ability to support her financially).  The husband is responsible to provide for and guide the family, and the wife is responsible to protect the husband’s property and his exclusive rights to her sexuality.  Both are responsible for the upbringing of children and maintenance of the home.  In the case of irreconcilable differences, divorce is permitted.

Parenthood brings both responsibility and rights.  The Quran says,  “Worship God and be good to your parents.” (17:23)  Therefore, they are to be treated with respect and deference.  Generally, they should be obeyed unless they ask for something illegal or immoral.

The Quran mentions the age of 40 as an age of maturity: “… when he attains full maturity and reaches forty years of age…” (46:15)  By this time, he would have experienced many challenges of life, which help to develop his character.  The Quran says, “You will surely be tested in your possessions and yourselves.” (3:186)  The Muslim strives to follow the Quran’s guidance and Prophet Muhammad’s example, knowing that  “Whoever does good work, whether male or female, while he is a believer, We will surely cause him to live a good life…” (16:97)  “And whoever turns away from My remembrance – indeed, he will have a difficult life…” (20:124).

Although not family, neighbors are to be treated as good as family.  Prophet Muhammad asked, “Do you know what the rights of a neighbor are?  “Do you know what the rights of a neighbor are?  If a neighbor seeks your help, extend it to him. If a neighbor asks you for a loan, lend him.  If your neighbor becomes poor, then help him financially and attend to his poverty if you can. If your neighbor becomes ill, then visit him. If your neighbor is happy on certain gain, then congratulate him. If your neighbor is suffering a calamity, then offer him condolences. If your neighbor dies, then attend his funeral. Do not raise your building over his building, so that he would have no sun exposure or wind passage.  Do not bother your neighbor with the smell of your cooking, unless you intend to offer him some.” (Tabrani 101).

When a person reaches old age, he has a special status in the community.   The Prophet (peace nbe upon him) said, “He does not belong to us who does not show mercy to our children and respect to our elderly” (Tirmidi 1279).  The Quran is particular about the care of parents:  “We have  enjoined everyone to look after his parents…” (31:14)  “We have instructed man to be kind to his parents…” (46:15)  “… when they attain old age…never say to them ‘uff’ nor scold either of them.  Speak to them gently.  Serve them with tenderness and humility…” (17:23-25)

Old age is the harbinger of death.  While on his deathbed, the Muslim’s family members help him to repeat his testimony of faith: “There is no god except One God, and Muhammad is His messenger.”  Burial is usually the same day after washing the body, wrapping it in cloth and saying the funeral prayer.  After debts are settled, wealth is automatically divided among surviving family members according to Quranic law.   Up to one third of one’s wealth can be bequeathed to those not automatically covered in the inheritance laws.

The Muslim continues to live on in his legacy.  Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that the believer’s deeds stop at death except in three cases:  ongoing charity, a legacy of knowledge and a righteous child who prays for him.

Even though his earthly life has ended, a new life is just beginning.  The Quran says that “On (Judgment) Day, all people shall come from their graves in diverse multitudes to be shown their deeds.  So whoever has done an atom’s weight of good shall see it, and whoever has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it” (99:6-8).   His destiny, at this point, is in God’s hands.

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My Story

Most stories begin when we are born.  And surely there is significance in the circumstances, people and events of our birth and childhood, but there are specific major events in our lives that fundamentally change us.  For me, the most significant event in my life was deciding to be a Muslim, and so my story begins with the events leading up to that decision.

First, having just started college in a town away from home, I felt a sense of independence and new beginnings.  Being what I considered a devout Christian, I also had to find a new church in the area, so I decided to explore the options, even those outside of my denomination.  I realized that I was free to choose the practice that suited me best.   This gave me a sense of empowerment and responsibility for myself.

Second, I took a course in logic, thinking it would be an easy A.  The subject matter fascinated me.  For those who are unfamiliar with logic as an academic subject, it is concerned with the principles of correct reasoning or the principles governing the validity of arguments.  We explored the concepts of premises, assumptions, propositions, contradictions, proofs, deduction, induction, and so forth.  During this time I was exposed to a lot of examples of faulty logic and realized that it is quite common.  The course made me more aware of how I and others think and helped me to recognize both truth and falsehood of common arguments.  (I got an A, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought!)

Third, being a member of the International Student Association on campus, I had the opportunity to meet students from all over the world.  I became close friends with several foreign students, and we would often compare our languages, cultures, and religions.  This helped me realize that the way I was raised – with its traditions, customs and thought processes – was not necessarily the standard or the model. There were many other ways, and they were just as viable as my own, at least to someone.

Fourth, one of the students in the association started attending church with me and seemed particularly interested in Christianity.  He asked dozens of questions and I found myself having to explain my beliefs and practices to someone who didn’t seem to have a clue about them.  It’s not as easy as it seems.  Because I was raised a Christian among other Christians, I never had to explain or defend my faith, since everyone just took it for granted.  I found it difficult to explain the beliefs that I realized I had accepted without much question.  I often heard myself saying things that appeared illogical according my new knowledge in the principles of logic.  I was extremely frustrated one day after trying to explain something that my friend just couldn’t grasp, and becoming increasingly embarrassed by the logical complexity of my faith.  So I asked my friend, “What do you believe?”

These four experiences were like roads that converged at a crossroads.  At that crossroads, I first heard about Islam.  Islam was simple:  there is one God who created everything; He expects us to recognize Him and worship Him exclusively; He provided guidelines for our lives which, if followed, will lead to success. Islam was logical:  there is only one god, so no one else is God; every action has a consequence, and every consequence belongs to he who did the action; we are accountable for our deeds – therefore we will be recompensed for them.  Islam also supported my feelings of empowerment and responsibility:  “No soul will bear the burden of another” (39:7) and “Every soul will be held in pledge for its deeds” (74:38).   So I looked at Islam independent from other religions and cultures to assess its intrinsic worth and validity.  I found its principles sound, its prescriptions wholesome, its prohibitions warranted, its flexibility suitable for varying situations, and its promises enticing.

I stood at the crossroads and considered the choices I had.  I could deny it, reject it and try to forget it, knowing that it would demand a change in lifestyle from me.  Or I could acknowledge, accept and affirm it, even though admitting its simple truth would necessitate rejecting some of my Christian beliefs, a few of which I had come to view as unjust or illogical.  Would God expect me to believe something against justice and logic?

The choice was mine alone; as the Quran says, “Whoever wills – let him believe! And whoever wills – let him disbelieve!” (18:29).   The statement that every soul will bear responsibility for its own deeds, meaning that no one will bear them for me, nagged at me.  What if it’s true? I thought.  If God is just, it is certainly true.  And what do I have to lose?  Islam doesn’t ask me for anything but sincere worship, honesty, kindness, fairness, and good work.  Even if there was no final reward for living as a Muslim, I had absolutely nothing to lose by worshiping my Creator exclusively and being the best person I could be.  If the Quran’s promises were true, I had everything to gain both in this life and the next.  So what was stopping me from becoming a Muslim?  Nothing, I decided.  From the crossroads, I moved forward and the journey ever since has been utterly amazing.

To most people, I seem average enough – raising a family, holding a job, passing through the ordinary stages of life.  But my life as a Muslim is indescribably rich.  It is one of clarity, serenity, assuredness and closeness to the wellspring of goodness.  God promised that “Whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, and is a believer, We shall, most surely, cause him to live a good life.  Moreover, We shall, most surely, recompense all of them with a reward in proportion to the best of what they did” (16:97).  God’s promise for this life has held true, making me absolutely sure that I took the right decision when the roads of my life converged at the crossroads of Islam.

Where are the roads of your life leading you?

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Criminal Law in Islam

Criminal law refers to the rules in a community that define conduct that is not allowed because it is held to threaten, harm or endanger the safety and welfare of others, and that specify the punishment to be imposed on people who do not obey the rules. Criminal laws exist in every community, small and large, civil and religious, and are usually written by appointed officials.  Criminal law has five main purposes:  to define immoral or illegal conduct, to serve as deterrents to bad conduct, to protect the vulnerable, to give recourse to victims and to reform offenders.

Although humans are endowed with instinctive knowledge of right and wrong, they often ignore their conscience, making “law” important as a criterion for civility.  Therefore, laws serve as “codified conscience.”  However, not only can manmade laws can be arbitrary, inconsistent, or unfair to certain groups, but penalties can also be ineffective.  It stands to reason that God, who is most knowledgeable of the characteristics and needs of His creation, is most qualified to outline criminal law for human communities.  The Muslim believes that laws written by God, who is Wise and Just, hold the greatest benefit for both the individual and community.

The Muslim’s life is shaped by belief in One God, who sent the Quran to show individuals and communities the path to their maximum potential in physical, spiritual, social and material spheres.   Islam is a holistic approach to life that does not separate the material and the spiritual – both are intertwined and both are important for our well-being.  Therefore, in Islam, “illegal” and “immoral” are synonymous. The Quran outlines Islamic law and Prophet Muhammad provided a practical example of its teachings in spiritual, social, executive, legislative and judicial applications of life.  The Muslim believes that following Islamic law ensures personal happiness and social harmony.

How Much Freedom? 

If there was total freedom, there would be no law.  The challenge of jurisprudence is to allow freedom while enforcing order.  The purpose of laws should not be to curtail freedom but rather to protect freedom.   Criminal law, therefore, should be related to peoples’ rights, which, in Islam are the right to life (existence and safety), wealth (ownership and security), lineage (knowledge of relatives), honor (protection of reputation), and intellect (the faculties of reason and judgment).  Islamic law exists in order to protect these rights, with both individual liberties and social welfare being important; but when they conflict, then social welfare has precedence even if it limits some individual liberties.

People who live in any society are free to have their own personal beliefs and worship, but it is expected that they will exhibit lawful conduct in the community.  Residents of Islamic societies are subject to the laws of that land, just as foreign residents in a Western country are subject to the laws of the land.  Subjecting oneself to Islamic law when living among Muslims does not mean that one is being forced to become Muslim or leave his own religion.  It only means that he is complying to the laws of acceptable conduct in the society.  However, whether one is a Muslim or non-Muslim, citizen or resident, a complainant or victim, a man or a woman, rich or poor, the principle of justice applies equally in Islam.  The Quran says, “Judge with justice” (4:58) and  Muhammad said, “Justice is the basis of government.”  In addition, a criminal is not exempt from the law because he acted with a noble intention – the law in Islam applies to actions, no matter how lofty the intention or purpose is.

There are different types of misconduct and penalties in Islamic law.  Some misconduct has no penalty but requires repentance and self-reformation, examples of which are neglecting proscribed acts of worship (praying, fasting, etc.), maltreatment of parents, eating prohibited foods (such as carrion, predatory animals and pork), charging interest on loans, and dressing indecently.   For some misconduct, there is a self-imposed penalty.  For example, if one swears by God to do something and then breaks his promise, he should feed or clothe ten poor people or free a slave; if he is unable to do that, he should fast for three days (during daylight hours).  Another example is backbiting, which is strongly criticized in the Quran and prophetic traditions.  If one wishes to correct this misdeed, he should apologize to the person (if this would not further harm relations) and mention his good qualities to those who heard his backbiting.  Although these misdeeds are prohibited in the Quran, they are less severe than the major crimes, which present potential harm to the community at large.   Each of the major crimes is related to one or more of the major rights of citizens in Islam.  The major crimes are murder, violent crimes such as rape, armed robbery and terrorist acts, theft, adultery, fornication, slander and intoxication.  But the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty beyond any doubt, and is guaranteed a fair trial.

Following is a brief description of the major crimes and their penalties, which are to be applied only by the state when every condition of the crime is met.  There is no place for vigilantes (taking the law into your own hands) in Islam. It must be stressed, however, that each case is unique, and the judge must carefully assess the circumstances of each crime, the evidence and the penalties to be applied.  Only experts in Islamic law are qualified to pass judgments and enforce penalties.

  • The penalty for premeditated murder is execution.  However, monetary compensation is accepted if and only if the closest relatives of the victim allow the death penalty to be waived.
  • For manslaughter (malicious or accidental), monetary compensation is to be paid unless the family of the victim waives the payment, granting forgiveness.  The defendant should also fast for two consecutive months (during daylight hours).
  • The penalty for violent crimes such as rape, armed robbery or terrorist acts is execution, or amputation of one hand and the opposite foot, or exile, depending on the physical and emotional severity of the crime.   However, the following conditions must apply:  confession from the criminal or two eye-witnesses, and the criminal must be mature and sane.
  • The penalty for theft is amputation of one hand from the wrist, with the condition of a confession from the thief or two eye-witnesses.  Also, the thief must be mature and sane, and the goods must have been stolen from a secure place.  Exemptions for the penalty are allowed under one of the following conditions:  the thief is an immediate family member of the owner, the thief is a partner in ownership, the thief is a victim of poverty, or the stolen goods are unlawful (such as drugs or pornography).  Under these exemptions, lighter penalties apply.
  • The penalty for adultery is stoning to death.  However, the following conditions must apply:  the adulterers must be mature, sane and married, and adultery was consensual.  The punishment can be enforced if they confess or if four eye-witnesses who witnessed the same act of sexual intercourse (penetration), without doubt, agree on the details of the incident, and if the witnesses did not gather evidence through spying or invading people’s privacy.  Exemptions are allowed if the accused gives a  sworn statement declaring his or her innocence.
  • The penalty for fornication is public flogging (100 lashes with a leather strap, not on the face or stomach, that are not so severe as to break the skin).  This is applicable if the fornicator is mature, sane and unmarried, if fornication was committed voluntarily and after confession or the testimony of four eye-witnesses who witnessed the same act of sexual intercourse (penetration), without doubt and without spying.  An exemption is allowed if the accused swears that s/he is innocent.
  • Another major crime in Islam is slander, which is considered a false accusation of sexual misconduct. One is a slanderer if he accuses someone without bringing four eye-witnesses that agree on details of the same act of sexual intercourse.  The penalty 80 lashes with a leather strap, and the rejection of his legal testimony for the rest of his life.
  • The penalty for intoxication is a public flogging (80 lashes with a leather strap, away from the face and stomach, that do not break the skin).  The drunkard must be mature and sane, must have confessed or have been reported by two eye-witnesses (who did not spy to obtain the evidence), and consumed the intoxicants voluntarily.   The punishment is to be administered when the guilty is conscious, sober and healthy.

The punishments for the major crimes are to be administered publicly, which serves several purposes, such as notifying others of the criminal’s tendencies, upholding the importance of lawful conduct and the application of justice, presenting a deterrent to others and, most importantly, reforming the criminal, which is the ultimate goal.  However, Prophet Muhammad advised avoiding the application of penalties:  “Avert the infliction of the prescribed penalties as much as you can, and if there is any doubt, let a man go, for it is better for a judge to make a mistake in forgiving than to make a mistake in punishing.” (Tirmidhi 1011)  For other minor crimes, penalties such as imprisonment, flogging, deportation and fines can be imposed by the state.  However, fines are not a recommended penalty because they impose no burden on the wealthy.

The judge must also consider the extent to which the infrastructure of the Islamic society is in place, which would ensure that those who may be tempted to commit crimes have the means to address their needs in legal ways.  For example, adultery is avoidable because divorce is allowed and can be obtained by either spouse.  Stealing is also avoidable because there should be welfare systems in place to care for the needy.  Therefore, in a true Islamic society, penalties are for those who are a clear danger to society, who commit crimes for greed or sport, or who are flagrantly indecent in public places.

The purpose of laws is to protect the rights of life, security, lineage, wealth, honor and intellect for all citizens.  In communities where penalties are not enforced, murder, rape, drug addiction, violent crimes, theft, adultery and abortion are rampant. In the long run, Islamic criminal law benefits the community.  As the Quran (2:179) says , “In the laws of punishment there is life for you [all], O you who understand.”

 

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Patience

Patience is mentioned in the Quran as one of the qualities of someone who will go to Paradise.  For example,  “I have rewarded them this Day [with Paradise] for what they have endured patiently; they are indeed the ones that are truly triumphant!” (23:111)

Doesn’t everyone have patience?  We have to be patient to meet the requirements of our survival, to get along with people, to continue in our daily routines of work, chores and responsibilities, to carry out our duties to family and community, to restrain from indulging in things that we know will eventually harm us, and to face illness, aging and certain death, as well as occasional injury, loss, and calamity.  Aren’t we all compelled to be patient, whether we intend to or not?  Is all patience the same?  And what kind of patience merits Paradise?

First of all, we are not all compelled to be patient.  We are free to choose patience or not.  If we choose patience, then we are accepting to be governed by the requirements of success,  tolerance, cooperation, moderation, balance and common sense.  To be governed by these principles means we must learn the rules of life and how to succeed in its different aspects.  It takes a lot of hard work, but the eventual outcome usually includes a degree of physical comfort and enjoyment, fulfilling relationships, health, order and beauty in our surroundings, optimism and mental health.  Patience in life leads to good results.

If we don’t adopt the kind of patience described above, we will endure (patiently or not) a life that is full of unpleasant  consequences.  If we are too lazy to work for a comfortable standard of living, our patience will be in the form of suffering a miserable existence.  If we can’t tolerate people who are different from us, we will have to be patient through contempt from others and isolation.  If we indulge in unhealthy lifestyles, we should expect to suffer with disease.  If we can’t face our physical vulnerability and mortality, we trade patience for anxiety and depression.  If we can’t accept tragedy patiently, our losses will be replaced with panic, anger and grief.  Instead of our life being filled with the fruits of proactive patience, it will be one of deprivation and despair.

These are the basic, common-sense facts about patience.  It shows that all patience is not the same.  One kind involves working for a goal, the other is suffering through the consequences of irresponsibility.  And because we are not perfect, we have experienced both types.  But is it enough?  What kind of patience do the inhabitants of Paradise have?

As success in earthly life requires certain kinds of patience, so does Paradise.  In fact, Paradise requires two kinds of patience: one is proactive and the other reactive.   The proactive type is striving to adopt a way of life sanctioned by God.  It means making the effort to learn what God wants from us and then applying it in our lives.  The Quran, which is God’s final message to mankind, tells us exactly what God expects from us, and Prophet Muhammad demonstrated practically its teachings, making it easier to understand.  As it is a lifelong process of study coupled with conformance to God’s teachings and to the example of Muhammad, it will take determination and patience.  But the reward is worth the effort, according to the Quran:   “The ones who fulfill the covenant with God and do not break its solemn pledge to Him, who keep joined all the relations and obligations that God has commanded to be joined and stand in awe of their Lord, and fear an evil reckoning, who endure with patience seeking the countenance of their Lord, who establish the prayer and spend charitably from what We have provided them, secretly and openly, and who avert what is evil with what is good… the angels will say, ‘Peace unto you for that you persevered in patience!  Now how excellent is the final Home!’” (13:20-24)  Those who repent, believe, do not bear false witness, pass by vile talk with honor, and heed the verses of God…  “those are the ones who will be rewarded with the highest place in heaven, because of their patient constancy.”  (25:75)    “Those who believe in the unseen, establish prayer and spend out of what We have provided for them, and who believe in what has been revealed to you [Muhammad] and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain – those are upon guidance from their Lord and it is those who are the successful” (2:2-5).   The patience required for Paradise needs a level of commitment and effort beyond the everyday patience of the common man.

The second kind of patience required for Paradise is reactive, and it is demonstrated by our reaction to things outside of our control, such as illness, injury, loss, calamity and all circumstances related to our physical vulnerability and mortality.  The Quran guarantees us that “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and crops, but give good tidings to the patient who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed, we belong to God, and indeed to Him we are returning’” (2:155-156).  Our reaction in adverse circumstances beyond our control should be to turn our thoughts to God, who describes Himself as wise, merciful and caring.  We should not disagree or be dissatisfied with what He does.  As the Quran reminds us, He cannot be questioned as to what He does, while they will be questioned” (21:23).  Instead, we should believe that God allowed such circumstances for our ultimate benefit.   The Quran reminds us that “perhaps you dislike something and it is good for you and perhaps you like something and it is bad for you. And God knows, while you know not” (2:216).  We must trust in God and His knowledge of the “big picture.”

Both kinds of patience – making the effort to follow to the way of life God envisions for us, and then truly submitting to God and His management of our lives – should have the characteristic of beauty.  The Quran describes real patience as beautiful.  “Therefore, be patient with beautiful patience” (70:5).  Beautiful patience is one of contentment and absolute conviction of God’s goodness and care.

The requirements of patience for success in the mundane world are hard work and common sense, and the requirements of patience deserving of Paradise are striving for and submitting to God.  However, even with this knowledge, some people will choose not to adopt patience.  They will not wonder what God wants from them, nor will they care.  They have no patience for things that disrupt their enjoyment of life and take a stance with God that is ungrateful and resentful.  They risk facing God’s censure, punishment and exclusion from His mercy.  The Quran exclaims about those who exchange guidance for error and forgiveness for punishment, “How patient they are for the fire!” (2:175)

The encouragement we need is in the Quran itself:  “Indeed, mankind is in loss, except those who believe and do righteous deeds, and exhort one another to uphold truth and exhort one another to persevere with patience.”  (103:2-3) “Those who show patience and work righteousness – for them is forgiveness and a great reward” (11:11).  “So persevere in patience, for the Promise of God is true.” (40:77)

 

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English translation of the Quran

Only the Quran in Arabic, the original language, can be called the Quran.  There are several translations which approximate the meaning but can never fully express the rhythm, rhyme, depth of connotation and subtlety of denotation of the Arabic words.  Some translations are better than others.  The best I have read is by the renowned scholar Ahmad Zaki Hammad, entitled “The Gracious Quran: A Modern-Phrased Interpretation in English.”   A widely available, concise translation is that by Saheeh International, entitled “The Quran: Arabic Text with Corresponding English Meanings.”

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The Testimony

La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad rasool Allah.  These words comprise what is known as the shahada, or testimony, among Muslims.  It is a phrase that one should hear immediately after birth and should say as he passes from this life.  No other words are more repeated by the Muslim, nor are there any more dear to him.  Let’s explore the meaning and implications of the two parts of the shahada.

La ilaha illa Allah.  These four Arabic words, which mean, literally, “no god but The God,” carry the greatest and richest meaning to a Muslim.  The meaning of life, the contentment of the soul, and the essence of truth, goodness and justice lie in the understanding of this brief and simple statement.  These four words are uttered numerous times a day by the devout Muslim, but their weight is demonstrated in the conversation between Moses and the Lord in this saying of the Prophet Muhammad:  “When Moses asked God to teach him a prayer to recite whenever he remembered or called upon Him, God answered, ‘Say, Moses, “There is no god but Allah.”‘  Moses said, ‘O Lord, all of your servants say these words.’  God said, ‘O Moses, if the seven heavens  and all they hold, and the seven earths as well – if all these were weighed against this word of “There is no god but Allah,” the latter would outweigh the former.'”  To deny the fact that there is only one God, or to believe in a deity beside or other than God, is the single unforgiveable sin in Islam.  The Quran warns, “Indeed, God does not forgive association with him but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills.  And he who associates others with God has certainly gone far astray” (4:116).  La ilaha illa Allah.

God, or Allah, is the One Who gives life and brings death, Who owns the earth and everything on it, Who protects, Who knows the unseen and the visible, and in Whose hand lies control over everything (Quran 23:78-92).  When someone sincerely believes in one God and His omniscience and omnipotence in the workings of the universe, he achieves clarity in thought, peace in his heart and direction for his entire life.  He also gains three main characteristics: he loves God, he calls on Him and he avoids associating other powers to God.  La ilaha illa Allah.

The believer naturally loves God, but the Quran warns against loving others more:  “And yet, among the people are those who take other than God as equals (to Him).  They love them as they (should) love God.  But hose who believe are stronger in love for God…” (2:165)  Therefore, the love for family, friends, wealth, or any object or activity on earth should not resemble our adoration for God, who is the Giver of such gifts.  La ilaha illa Allah.

The believer also frequently calls on God, and God alone, because he knows that “Whoever relies on God will find Him sufficient” (Quran 65:3).  This does not mean that he should not try his best to avoid affliction and prepare for a secure future, but he does so knowing that God, out of His infinite wisdom and mercy, will facilitate only what is good for him.  The believer is confident that God is always near, hears every prayer and knows every need.  La ilaha illa Allah.

It is incumbent upon us to help one another, but the true believer does not rely on others’ help before first calling on God’s support and doing whatever he can to help himself.  The Quran encourages good planning and positive action: “God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (13:11).  He does not believe in luck or superstitions.  He never has blind faith in such things as medicine, his connections, or his own capabilities, but knows that without God’s support, nothing can be achieved.  He is also careful not to give sole credit to other people and things, but acknowledges God’s overriding authority and will.  La ilaha illa Allah.

Muhammad rasool Allah.  The second part of the shahada recognizes Muhammad as the prophet of God, the last of a succession of prophets and messengers that includes Noah, Abraham, Moses, Zachariah and Jesus, among others.  To believe that Muhammad is the messenger of God is to believe not only that he delivered a message from God (i.e., the Quran), but also that he lived according to God’s guidance in a way that was acceptable to Him.

Like the words “I do” said for marriage, Muhammad rasool Allah has life-long implications.  To believe that Muhammad is the messenger of God is to believe that his commands, prohibitions, characteristics and habits are also God-inspired.  The Quran states, “Accept anything the Messenger may command you, and keep away from anything he forbids you.  Heed God; God is stern in punishment!” (59:7) and “You who believe, obey God and His messenger; do not turn away from him after hearing (his commands)” (8:20).  Muhammad told the believers, “If you love God, follow me; then God will love you and forgive your offenses God is Forgiving, Merciful” (3:31).  Therefore, believers follow Muhammad’s example out of love for God and hoping for God’s love and forgiveness in return.  The Muslim is thankful to have a human example of righteousness, or a “human Quran” as he has been called, and he frequently sends blessings on Muhammad in appreciation of the hardship he endured to bring God’s message to mankind.

The shahada is a short phrase that, when applied fully over a lifetime, raises us to our highest potential.  It assures us that there is a God Who manages the universe purposefully and Who sent a message to us to guide us to both individual and collective success.  It provides an example of an upright person, the prophet Muhammad, who can be followed to gain the Creator’s love and forgiveness.  If we analyze every problem, question or situation in our lives against the shahada, thereafter applying its principles, we will find guidance for every circumstance, peace and contentment on a day to day basis, and success that reaches far beyond our earthly expectations – we will inherit Paradise.

La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad rasool Allah.

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The Basic Principles of Islam

Islam is a way of life based on belief in God as an exclusive deity and acts of worship that enhance spiritual, emotional and social wellbeing.  Adherence to standards of conduct outlined in the Holy Quran enable individuals and communities to achieve success both in this life and the next, eternal one.  The foundations of this way of life – Islam – are outlined below.

Belief:  Islam, or “submission to God”  is based on belief in six major articles of faith.

  1. Belief in God, the Creator, the One and Only Deity.  Although commonly referred to as “He,” God is genderless; there is nothing like Him.
  2. Belief in prophets, whom God sent to guide and remind mankind, including Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and many more.
  3. Belief in all of the scriptures in their original form that were sent with the prophets, with the Quran being the last and final revelation.
  4. Belief in angels, who are created by God to carry out duties assigned to Him.
  5. Belief in Resurrection, Heaven and Hellfire; this is the time and place for judgment, final justice and God’s mercy.  All unresolved issues will be addressed at this time.
  6. Belief that everything is decreed by God who has perfect knowledge, judgment and authority over human destiny. God created man with the propensity for good and evil, and granted him free will. Man exercises his free will unaware of what is destined for him since both his choice and its outcome are subject to God’s approval.  While belief in God’s decree helps one accept things beyond his control, it does not absolve him from responsibility for his choices.

Practice:  Belief in all of the above is essential to be Muslim, but not enough.  Since a Muslim’s conduct is a reflection of his beliefs, the following prescribed acts of worship show his commitment to being Muslim, or “one who submits to God.”

  1. The declaration of faith:  “I testify that there is no god but the (One) God and I testify that Muhammad is His messenger.”  This statement acknowledges God’s exclusive divinity and the guidance sent through Muhammad.  It is a pledge to submit to God and follow that guidance.
  2. Prayer five times a day, which establishes regular connection with God, cultivating a sense of awe, dependence and solace in God.  The habit of prayer not only instills a strong sense of morality and accountability, but also fosters self-discipline and time management.
  3. Fasting the days of Ramadan, the month in which the Quran was revealed, ordained to increase ones awareness of and connection with God.  The mental and physical exertion required for the process fosters a heightened God-consciousness, compassion for the poor and patience in hardship, lessons that are reinforced annually.
  4. Annual alms, which are considered a legal, moral and social duty rather than elective charity.  The obligatory dues are 2.5% of cash savings that have not been used for one year and a portion of other assets such as crops, cattle, and precious metals. Giving such alms to the poor and needy hinders personal greed and promotes social welfare and cooperation.
  5. Pilgrimage to the Kaaba in Mecca, said to be the first house of worship on earth and the direction to which Muslims pray.  While the rites of the pilgrimage commemorate Abraham’s complete submission to God’s commands, the performance of the rites with multitudes of Muslims from around the world promotes unity, equality and brotherhood.

The Quran and Hadith:  The Quran is God’s final message to mankind that was transmitted through the final prophet, Muhammad, and has been preserved exactly as it was revealed until today. It informs the reader of a reality beyond his senses and perceptions of space and time. Through stories and instruction, it describes the beliefs and practices that are essential to ensure ultimate happiness and success both in this life and the next. The hadith are a record of Muhammad’s words and actions that were observed and recorded by his companions.  They are separate from the Quran and serve as an example of the proper interpretation and application of the teachings of the Quran.

The Sharia:   The Quran and Hadith are the two primary sources for the derivation of Islamic law which is called Sharia.  This divinely based legislation ensures social stability and prosperity.  A wholesome code of conduct is established with the objective of enabling not only individual citizens but also society at large to achieve their potential on earth, as well as their success in the next life.  Sharia law covers spiritual, personal, social, political, economic, and legal areas of life.  It comprises:

  • Personal practices that protect faith, health, intellect and integrity.
  • Family conduct that facilitates a just and wholesome lifestyle for each member.
  • Social etiquette that promotes equality, good conduct and morality.
  • Welfare measures that protect and provide for the weak and vulnerable.
  • Civil and executive duties that ensure justice, prevent oppression and meet the needs of the people.
  • Business guidelines that encourage economic development and wealth distribution.
  • International relations and principles of defense to ensure peace and security in a multicultural, religiously diverse world.

Virtue:  God is the source and perfection of all virtue; He is merciful, forgiving, truthful, just, knowledgeable, and so forth. People are encouraged and expected to adopt these qualities throughout their lives as they implement the requirements of their faith. We grow closer to our Creator when we emulate virtues that have their origin in Him.  When correct belief, regular worship, social responsibility and virtuous qualities merge, man is at his best.

The Purpose of Life:  God clearly states in the Quran that He has created us only to worship Him (51:56).  The diverse experiences of life on Earth are “tests” (3:186) that give us the opportunity to refine and enhance our worship of God.  For example, enjoying His many blessings leads us to worship Him with reverence and gratitude. Striving to earn God’s approval by following His teachings is worship through obedience. Making mistakes and realizing our deficiencies leads us to observe yet another form of worship: repentance.  Hardship and adversities often result in worship expressed as greater reliance, submission and trust in God.   Through all of life’s experiences, we learn to worship God with love, fear and hope.  Therefore, we have endless opportunities to fulfill the purpose of our life – to worship God – the quality of which will affect our eternal life in the Hereafter.

Summary:  Islam is not a new religion; all prophets came to teach mankind the same message of acknowledging and submitting to the Creator.  This message is a way of life that is based on belief in one God, the Creator, a single, unique and exclusive deity, which is the foundation of a sound relationship with Him; practice that ensures spiritual, material and social wellbeing; and rules and guidelines that emanate from the wisdom of the Creator and which, if followed, elevate civilization to its greatest potential.

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Signs

 

I was driving home yesterday when I spotted this sign on the road:  “Camera ahead – 80.”  I thought, how nice of the traffic department to warn us that a camera is ahead and remind us that the speed limit is 80 km/hr.  I drove ahead and looked for the camera.  Sure enough, about 100 meters from the sign was the camera, barely visible behind a tree branch.  I realized that many such signs are placed along the road – they warn us of danger, give us directions or information, prohibit certain actions, and even relate good news such as “sale!” or “opening soon.”  To all those who invest in signs to help us on our way – thank you.

Not only on the roads are there signs.  God said He placed them throughout the universe and within our own selves.   But what do they say and where do they lead?  For those who think, ponder, and reflect, the signs tell them a lot about the Creator of our world and relate certain facts of our existence.  but not everyone is paying attention to the natural phenomena around us and analyzing their meanings.  So our Creator did us a great favor by spelling out His signs in a more obvious way.  One by one, over 6000 signs are catalogued in human language in what is known as the Quran.  The “signs” share information, give directions, demarcate boundaries, prohibit dangerous actions, relate good news and give very clear warnings.  Here is a sample of God’s signs from the Quran:

Information:  God (Himself) bears witness that there is no god but Him, as do the angels and those with knowledge –He is the One upholding justice.  There is no god but Him, the Almighty, Most Wise. (3:18)

Directions:  …And establish regular prayer for My remembrance. [20:14]

Prohibitions:  …Indeed, intoxicants and gambling… are but defilement from the works of Satan, so shun them so that you may be successful. (5:90)

Good News:  Verily, the dwellers of Paradise that Day, will be busy in joyful things. They and their spouses will be in pleasant shade, reclining on thrones. They will have therein fruits (of all kinds), and all that they will ask for. ‘Peace’  shall be the word from a Merciful Lord.   [36:55-58]

Investment Opportunities!  Who is he that will lend to God a goodly loan so that He may multiply it for him many times over? (2:235)   Indeed, the charitable men and the charitable women who have loaned God a goodly loan shall have it multiplied for them by their Lord.  So for them, there is a gracious reward awaiting in the Hereafter.  (57: 18)

Advice:  Do not turn your cheek to people in contempt, and do not walk upon the earth proudly exultant.  Indeed, God loves no one who is smug, boastful. (31:18)

Warnings:  Indeed, God will not forgive associating any god with Him.  But He forgives anything less than this for whomever He so wills.  Thus, whoever associates gods with God has truly strayed far astray! (4:116)  Truly Hell is waiting- a destination for the transgressors.  (78: 21-22).

Corrections:  Righteousness in the sight of God is not the mere turning of your faces toward the East or the West.  Rather, true righteousness dwells in one who believes in God and the Last Day, and in the angels, and the Book, and in the prophets; it dwells in one who, despite his love for it, gives of his wealth in charity to close relatives and orphans, and to the indigent and the wayfarer, and to beggars and for the emancipation of slaves; it dwells in one who establishes the Prayer and gives charity, and those who fulfill their covenant when they make a covenant, as well as in those who are patient during periods of affliction and harm and times of conflict.  These are the ones who have been truehearted, and it is such as these who are the God-fearing.  (2:177)

The signs are presented in various ways and repeated often to make sure the reader understands them and the correlations between them.  Some of the signs mention the signs themselves:  “(Here) indeed are signs for a people that are wise.” (2:164).   “Thus does God make clear His signs to you, in order that you may be guided.” (3:103).  “We will show them Our Signs in the universe, and in their own selves, until it becomes manifest to them that this [Qur’an] is the Truth” (41:53).

To our Creator, who gave us these signs to help us on our way – thank you.

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The Muslim’s Prayer

One of the things that fascinates me most about Muslims in their adherence to the daily prayer.   Five times a day you see them stopping whatever they are doing to make a connection with God.  It’s not uncommon to see a truck stopped by the side of the road, its driver prostrating in prayer at the appointed time, or an entire group of people praying together in a mall, amusement park or soccer field.  The prayer is the most significant act of a Muslim and, according to the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, the prayer observed at its appointed time is the deed that God loves best.  Second is kindness to parents.

Prayer in Islam involves much more than in other religions, and it is the act that characterizes one as a Muslim.  In other words, if one doesn’t pray the daily prayers, he is not considered a true Muslim.  To prepare for this supremely important show of faith, the Muslim makes ablutions:  just as one would groom himself before meeting an important friend, the Muslim checks his clothes for impurities, washes his face, hands, forearms and feet, and may brush his teeth in preparation to stand before his Lord.  Ablutions prepare the Muslim both physically and mentally for his encounter with God.

The prayer itself is comprised of verses from the Quran, supplications and various gestures and positions.  As God gave us a body, mind, heart and voice, all are used in the prayer, making it an act of complete physical, mental and spiritual focus.  The Muslim begins his prayer with the words, “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) and repeats them every time he changes his position during the prayer.  If worldly concerns or distractions creep into his mind during prayer, “Allahu Akbar” reminds him that God is greater – and more important – than all of that.  Then he recites the first chapter from the Holy Quran, which constitutes what could be called “the Lords’ prayer” in Islam.  This short chapter taught me the best way to approach God in prayer: first with praise and then with supplication not only for myself but also for my brethren in faith.

Bowing and prostration are an essential part of the Muslim’s ritual prayer, and these postures are reserved for no other being but God.  While bowing humbly he repeats, “Glory to God the Great,” and while prostrating, “Glory to God the Most High.”  These words during prostration have a great effect on the mindful Muslim because as he is in his most humble position he acknowledges God’s incomparable status and His supremacy, power and majesty.  The ritual prayer ends by invoking blessings on God’s righteous servants, especially on the prophets Mohammed and Abraham.

By repeating the ritual prayer five times every day since childhood, the Muslim benefits in many ways.  The habit of remembering God is the foremost benefit and it is also the main purpose of the prayer.  The Quran states, “… and establish prayer for My remembrance” (20:14), since remembering God often fosters a habit of gratitude and prevents one from doing shameful deeds.  The prayer increases one’s self-discipline and time management skills, as well as trains us to look beyond the illusive qualities of life on earth.  When our lives get too hectic, too distracting, or too intense, the prayer is there to calm and refocus us.   And when our lives become routine and monotonous, the prayer invigorates and inspires us.

In times of trouble, prayer is a source of comfort and strength, and provides a refuge and a comfort from the minor and major trials of life.  In this respect, it is interesting to note that there are no exemptions from prayer due to travel, fear, illness or handicap, although there are concessions that make it easier at these times.  The believers are instructed in the Quran to “seek help in patience and prayer.  Truly, God is with the patient” (2:153).  The Muslim’s prayer is his lifeline.

In addition to the ritual prayer, the Muslim is encouraged to engage often in remembrance of God and supplication.  Supplication is informal communications with God, a spontaneous prayer from the heart of a believer at any moment during his life – in times of need, in moments of joy, during reflection or strenuous effort.  The prophet Mohammed set a perfect example by supplicating often from the time he woke up until he slept at night.  He repented often, sought God’s help at every opportunity and constantly glorified He who sustains us, provides for us and guides us throughout our lives.  His supplications were recorded by his companions and touch every aspect of life – from the usually mindless activities such as dressing in the morning to the most serious and somber situations like preparing a body for burial.

The concept of “prayer” in Islam is a combination of ritual prayer and supplication.  This combination is the central purpose of a Muslim’s life.  As God explains in the Quran, “I have created man and jinn to worship Me”  (51:56).  To worship the Possessor of mercy, justice, generosity and forgiveness is the most exalted occupation a human can aspire to and yet it is within anyone’s reach.  It is an occupation that requires only the time needed to pray the five daily prayers and a presence of mind for frequent supplication at other times.  It does not require one to isolate himself from worldly endeavors, but to focus on a higher authority while engaging in them.  It does not require one to abstain from physical pleasures but to express gratitude for the many bounties he enjoys.  It does not require deep study and rigid exercise, but a sincere and tender heart, ever mindful of the Creator.  As the Quran instructs us, “seek help in patience and prayer; it is indeed burdensome except for those of humble spirit – those who are mindful that they shall meet their Lord, and that they shall return to Him” (2:45).

Habitual prayer nourishes the soul, strengthens the will and revitalizes the spirit.   By understanding the importance of the prayer in the Muslims’ life, it is easy to see why you see them leaving their work, play and sleep to stand devoutly before God, oblivious to the world.

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