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Fitness – Why be healthy?

By Dr. Abdul-Wahab Khan and Dr. M. Nazir Khan In today’s busy and hectic world, many of us are faced with constant hurdles in our journey towards maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. Many of us are confused on the subject of health and fitness, and have passed the years listening to conflicting advice and opinions. As a result, we are unsure of where to start, how to stay motivated, and why we aren’t reaching our goals. In this short piece, we will cover the benefits of exercise from an Islamic and physiologic perspective, ways to stay motivated, plan towards achieving realistic goals, and plan an exercise program that you can follow. Fitness has become one of the hottest topics in society. Whether you’re seeing a commercial about a new exercise app or gadget, or listening to a friend talk about their new work-out routine, it seems everywhere you turn there is talk about getting into shape. But why be fit? Making lifestyle changes can be hard and require a lot of effort. If we’re going to succeed in making lifestyle changes, we need to make sure we are doing it for the right reasons. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said “Actions depend on one’s intentions. A person will only achieve what they intended” (Sahih Bukhari). Starting out with the right intention is absolutely key to the lifelong journey of health and fitness. Without recognizing the Islamic and physiological benefits of exercise, you are far less likely to value your health and be firm in your commitment. The spiritual importance of physical fitness The human being has been placed... read more

Dhikr – Awakening from Illusion

Society is filled with imagery of that which is not real – whether artificial personalities in media, the latest celebrity gossip, fake images in advertisements, or fictional stories in film and on television. Is life just about filling one’s mind with these illusions? Or can we awaken from all this and direct our consciousness towards the ultimate reality?  Every human being is in search of peace and tranquility. But where is one to find it? It seems every day in our lives we are confronted with more problems and more worries. Studies have shown almost half of all people find their job extremely stressful, many hate their boss or can’t stand their coworkers, and others call in sick to avoid work.1National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, 1999. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/. And after working long hours, many people find only more life stressors awaiting them at home with increased rates of dysfunctional marriages, abusive relationships, and overwhelming financial obligations. Many turn to alcohol to ‘drown out their sorrows’. People desperately begin to pursue frequent vacations to escape life’s stresses and find a serene place of comfort, but they find themselves returning to their usual life even more disgruntled and irritable than when they left. The medical literature indicates that as such stress accumulates it may be associated with a wide variety of negative health outcomes including hypertension, diabetes, coronary artery disease, stroke, and even cancer.2See for instance Byles J et al. Psychological distress and comorbid physical conditions: disease or disability? Depression and Anxiety (2014) 31:524-532. This begins a vicious cycle, as chronic illnesses themselves are one of the leading causes of stress, pushing an individual into psychological dysfunction, clinical depression, anxiety... read more

Scholars (3) – What could go wrong?

This is a continuation of the discussion on the role of scholars. Please read the preceding part 1, and part 2. Do scholars sometimes make mistakes? Despite the advantage afforded by lengthy educational training, human error is inescapable. Imam Malik (d.179H) famously said, “Everyone can have their statement accepted or rejected, except the Prophet Muhammad”. 1Siyar ‘Alam al-Nubala 8/93 Whenever an expert advances a viewpoint that is not substantiated by research and is contradicted by other experts in the field, such a viewpoint is rightly repudiated by those who possess the requisite skills to evaluate the research. It is essential that such a repudiation come from the community of experts so that the lay people are not left in the dark. How should a mistaken view be handled? The best way to help people is for other experts to clarify the correct understanding of the subject. Focusing on the person who made the mistake rather than the topic itself only leads people to get caught in unhelpful partisan debates driven by emotion rather than reason. On the other hand, when people acquire a correct understanding of the topic, they can judge for themselves and understand why a certain view is incorrect. Also, it is important not to disregard everything from a person when they make an error on one matter – they may still have valuable contributions on other matters. Just because an expert holds a mistaken view on one matter does not disqualify them from being an expert, or else there would be none left! When is there a risk of bias in a scholar’s views?  Human beings... read more

Harmony with Humanity – Islam and Non-Muslims

How do human beings live together on a planet with so many different moral systems, ideologies and religions? What does Islam say about dealing with non-Muslims? Doesn’t religion always create artificial barriers between people?​ In order for people to live peacefully together on this planet, they must be willing to deal respectfully with those who belong to other communities. ​A common feature of all fanatical ideologies is xenophobia – the extreme hatred for those who are different and do not belong to one’s group.​ It is essential then, for any system of guidance (religious or otherwise) that purports to be a complete way of life, that it must accommodate outsiders with tolerance and respect. ​ The emergence of fanatical ideologies in war-torn and politically repressive Muslim-majority countries​ has lead many to question how Islam defines its relationship with the outsider. It is of critical importance therefore, that a close examination of the foundational and authoritative sources be undertaken to answer this question. ​ What does Islam say about relationship with non-Muslims?​ Islam teaches that a believer’s faith in God must manifest itself in compassion towards all creation. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Show mercy towards all on this Earth, the one who is above the Heavens will bestow mercy on you” (Sahih Bukhari).​ Indeed, the Qur’an describes Prophet Muhammad as “a source of mercy to all creation” (21:108), and as the famous Qur’anic exgete Ibn Jareer al-Tabari (d.310H) relates, “This includes both Muslims and Non-Muslims.” The Prophet Muhammad said, “You are not a believer until you love for your brother what you love for yourself” (Sahih... read more

Tawheed – A Life Worth Living

What is it that makes my life worth living? Some people have the luxury of approaching this question as a mere philosophical exercise; for others, this question continues to haunt them, driving them to the depths of depression. Is life really just the pursuit of transient pleasures and accumulating material wealth? What happens then when life becomes filled with challenges and hardships?  Why bother continuing with such a life? In this article we explore a unique perspective that logically connects our spiritual journey with the reality of existence.   What constitutes a meaningful and prosperous life? Undoubtedly, this is a question that has plagued the minds of philosophers, scholars, and laymen alike throughout the course of human history. Some have questioned whether there should be any purpose at all. After all, if the universe is nothing more than shifting gooey soup of particles, the existence of worlds, organisms, and you, is purely incidental and ultimately, meaningless (read more in this article). Your existence really does not matter at all, and you just have to live with that, as the nihilists preached. The Islamic message however, presents something very different. The Qur’an is very direct in confronting the question of meaning: “Do you really think that We created you without purpose, and you would not return to Us?” (Qur’an 23:115) So what is the purpose of life in Islam?  The Qur’an articulates a vision of humanity’s purpose that merges moral, spiritual and intellectual dimensions. Human beings were created to develop their relationship with the One true God (Qur’an 51:56), but this spiritual journey is also tied to the moral duty to enjoin... read more

Rahmah – Compassion is Crucial

Why do human beings do good towards others? At the end of the day, is it always for some selfish motivation? Where does compassion come from and why is it important? How can compassion be revived in the world today? In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful – that is the verse that begins the Qur’an and is repeated 114 times. It is hard to ignore the theme of mercy and compassion (Ar. Rahmah) throughout Islam. The Divine Mercy of God “encompasses everything in existence” (Qur’an 40:7), and God states that the Qur’an is intended as a source of mercy and compassion (Qur’an 16:89), and that the Prophet Muhammad was only sent as “a source of mercy and compassion to all creation” (Qur’an 21:107) . The very first tradition of the Prophet Muhammad that a person learns when studying Islam is the saying, “The Most Merciful bestows His Mercy upon those who continually act with mercy. Be merciful to all those on earth, and you will be granted mercy by the One above Heaven” (Sahih Bukhari). While it is most frequently translated as simply ‘mercy’, the arabic word rahmah actually conveys something deeper. It comes from the same root as the arabic word rahm, which mean’s a mother’s womb. It is the compassionate love that we see in a mother’s love for her child. It is the simple act of selfless caring. It is genuine concern for the well-being of another and a profound desire to alleviate their suffering and misery. The Prophet Muhammad likewise used the same example of motherhood, to explain to his companions that God’s rahmah towards His... read more

The Environment – Why be green?

The earth and its natural resources are being ravaged by mankind. But why should people care? ​ Are there any practical ways to make a difference? And will people actually bother to change their current lifestyle to protect the environment before it is too late? Every human being must at some point ask himself or herself, “why does my existence matter?” And the answer to our own purpose in life will directly determine how we see our role with respect to the planet we inhabit. When we see life as a journey to worship the Creator, we are in harmony with the rest of creation engaged in that worship. The Qur’an notes that there is nothing in nature “except that it is engaged in the glorification and praise of God, though you do not understand how it praises Him” (Qur’an 17:44), and that “every star and every tree is in prostration to God” (Qur’an 55:6).  Recognizing the earth as a fellow worshipper of God imbues it with inherent sanctity. And even more sanctity is conferred upon it by the Prophet Muhammad’s statement, “The earth has been made a place of worship and source of purification” (Sahih al-Bukhari). In other words, the whole planet is considered one giant terrestrial mosque, to be respected and sanctified. The Qur’anic account of creation also demonstrate the value of caring for the earth. Human beings are part and parcel of the earth, having been created from its soil (Qur’an 20:55). And during its own creation, the earth was filled with blessings by God (Qur’an 41:10), and therefore one who desecrates the earth commits a violation against God.  The... read more

True Freedom (2) – Liberating the soul

Can Spiritual Freedom provide the answer? It may be clear at this point that a human being can easily lose their freedom as they become psychologically enslaved to the various idols of this worldly life. And evidently, this can lead to disastrous psychological, social, moral and spiritual consequences. But is there another perspective of freedom that allows for human beings to attain that elusive freedom of the soul? Interestingly, a close examination of the Islamic teachings presents a moral paradigm of freedom that is worthy of our consideration. From the Islamic perspective, our lives are not meaningless, nor devoid of any ultimate purpose. “Do you think that We created you aimlessly and that you would not ultimately return back to Us?” [Qur’an 23:115]. So what then is the purpose of our lives? Our lives are a spiritual journey towards God, to deepen our relationship with Him. “O Human, indeed you are laboring painfully towards your Lord, but you shall surely meet Him.” [Qur’an 84:6]. All the hard and painful experiences in life actually present opportunities for us to build ourselves as better human beings by building our relationship with God. If we transform these experiences into spiritual growth and development, we find true liberation and serenity. “The one who purifies his soul is successful” [Qur’an 87:14]. A human being is successful when he or she achieves the freedom of the soul, by strengthening its connection with the Divine and empowering it with moral virtue. When the soul becomes awakened to the reality of life, it is not distracted by obsession with materialistic pleasures, but instead it is galvanized to spread mercy and... read more

True Freedom (1) – Escaping Psychological Slavery

Freedom. It is argued to be one of the most cherished values for those who have it, and one of the most envied values for those who don’t. Nations rise and fall as people pursue freedom from oppression, and each individual strives to maintain freedom in their own lives. Many thinkers have gone so far as to suggest that freedom is the fundamental achievement that characterizes a modern society. But what is freedom, really? And have we actually achieved it? Freedom as a Value Freedom is often described as the source of our happiness, the most important of our values, the hallmark of our civilization, and a host of other superlative epithets. We pride ourselves on freedom and make it a rallying cry for our campaigns. We despise being subjugated and enslaved, and we commemorate the hardships endured by earlier generations to defend the freedoms we enjoy today. The quest for achieving full freedom continues onwards, removing any of the obstacles that prevent human beings from being truly liberated. If we are going to discuss the question of how to achieve freedom, we need to be clear on what we are discussing. In this article, we will not be entering the philosophical discussion of “free will” – the question of whether our decisions are truly voluntary and contracausal or whether they are determined by antecedent events. That is the topic of discussion in another article. In the present article however, we intend to discuss freedom as a value which human beings seek to actualize in their lives. Every individual is generally believed to be born free, and people that... read more

The Real Battle: Meaningful vs Meaningless

When I say a word that you understand, you say it has a meaning. It has the quality of intentionality or being ‘about’ something. If one’s larynx however ejects a random unintelligible noise, you would call it meaningless – it conveys nothings and represents nothing. Meaning has to be assigned by something external – a word cannot decide what it means by itself. But what about the universe and life itself – does it mean anything? Why is it there? Is it about something, or is it altogether pointless, incidental, random, and ultimately inconsequential? Ideas about life are an intellectual battle between the meaningful and the meaningless. On the one hand, there is the meaningful – the notion that life has a purpose, that we are meant to accomplish something in this short time we have on this world (as in Qur’an 57:20); and that our moral journey to help one another and our intellectual journey to discover reality are somehow intrinsically tied to our spiritual journey towards our Creator. These ideas reflect a natural disposition of the human mind (read about the fitrah). There are of course, various competing religious and non-religious philosophies that attempt to create such a meaningful story about life, and they may be evaluated based on how successfully and coherently they tie together the moral, intellectual and spiritual journeys of life and address the deepest realities of our existence (read for instance regarding the problem of suffering). The Muslim theologian Ibn al-Qayyim (d.751H) made precisely this point when he said, “All behaviours of a human being are either representative of a particular philosophy of life (deen), or unrelated to life goals.... read more

Advance Care Planning

Advances in modern medicine with life-support equipment have created new ethical challenges. In which cases would “doing everything possible” help a patient recover, and in which cases would it simply prolong one’s suffering, or possibly worsen it? With a vast range of treatment options available, it has become clear that a patient’s wishes must be considered, which includes respecting a patient’s value system and beliefs. An ‘Advance care plan’ is a plan made beforehand that informs doctors of a patient’s treatment preferences, in case they are too sick to communicate them at the time.1For helpful resources, one may visit http://www.advancecareplanning.ca/  What does Islam say about life and death? Islam teaches that life has a purpose – to come closer to the One God by worshipping Him alone, doing good deeds and taking care of God’s creation.2Qur’an 51:56, 90:12-17  The life of this world is a test and suffering is in reality an opportunity for moral and spiritual growth.3Qur’an 2:155-6  Death is not the end of one’s existence, but rather the inevitable return to the Almighty Creator.4Qur’an 29:57  Remembering one’s death enables reflection on what’s really important in life.5Qur’an 67:2   In the last moments of life, Muslims recite the testimony of faith,6Authentically reported in Sunan Abi Dawud, Hadith 3116 and look forward to meeting God.7Authentically reported in Sahih Muslim, Hadith 2684    What Islamic values guide choices about treatment? Islam encourages medical therapy to cure disease and alleviate suffering. Saving a single life is as blessed as saving all humanity, as the Qur’an states.8Qur’an 5:32  The Prophet Muhammad (P) said, “Seek medical treatment, for verily God has not made any... read more

The Tactics of Bigotry

Bigotry has asserted a strong presence in the public realm as negative characterizations of Islam and Muslims are repeated daily. But how do you convince people to hate one fifth of the world’s population? Does it make sense to tell people that a true Muslim is a violent Muslim? And why has Islam become everyone’s favourite punching-bag? In the era of globalization and digital communication, it is essential to understand and interact with people of different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. As members of one large global neighbourhood, communities must break down barriers of stereotypes and build bridges of dialogue and cooperation. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today, making up the majority population in 49 countries of the world, while one fifth of the world’s Muslim population lives in non-Muslim majority countries.1Pew Research Center. http://www.pewforum.org/2011/01/27/the-future-of-the-global-muslim-population/ Muslims are also of the most ethnically and culturally diverse groups in the world, so it would stand to reason that intelligent and thoughtful discourse about Islam and Muslims would resist tendencies to make reductionistic simplifications or gross generalizations. In the past decade, warfare and political chaos unfolding in the Muslim world have given rise to fanatical movements attempting to invoke religion to grant Divine authority to their claims. Academics have provided their opinions and analyses on the ideological and psychological origins of these fanatical movements, the political conflicts in which they are involved, the aggravating factors in the past decades which have driven the region into a chaotic bloodbath, the historical causes of instability, and so on. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with these viewpoints, such academic attention is valuable on a complex subject. Unfortunately, the... read more

An Axe to Grind – Does Religion Cause Violence?

Who is to blame for all the violence in the world? Haven’t there been countless wars waged in the name of religions? Wouldn’t humanity be better off without any religion at all? One of biggest controversies surrounding religion has been the charge that religions have been a pernicious forces in human history. They’ve caused more bad than good, secularists and atheists frequently argue. Many even believe that religions are responsible for most of mankind’s violence and atrocities. And if that’s the case, wouldn’t it be better to do away with religions altogether? The quantity question – who is the baddest of them all? The first issue to tackle is one of sheer numbers. Is it factually correct to claim that the overwhelming majority of human violence has been perpetrated in the name of God and not in the name of land, resources, power, social class, identity, or secular ideologies like nationalism, colonialism, communism, fascism or corporate imperialism? The twentieth century is easily the bloodiest century in human history. World War I resulted in the deaths of approximately 15 million, and World War II approximately 70 million, and these involved ideologies of nationalism and fascism, respectively [1]. Warfare itself is far surpassed by the death tolls from the mass murders perpetrated by governments (democide). After reviewing voluminous evidence, Professor Rudolph J. Rummel notes that 62 million were killed under the Soviet regime and 35 million murdered under Mao’s Communist Party of China [2]. Writes Rummel, “The much greater slaughter of the 20th Century occurred because of two ahistorical socio-political experiments, one fascism (especially in Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe, Japan, and... read more

Evil (2) – Opportunities for growth

By M. Nazir Khan and M. Faisal Abideen   Human suffering is a part of life, but why? What is its value? Is there any way in which it can be positive? How can suffering develop us morally and spiritually and bring us closer to God?   Human suffering and the attributes of God One of the unique aspects of Islamic theology is the very rich and colourful description it provides of the qualities of God. The Qur’anic verses are punctuated with diverse Names describing the nature of God, the different shades and hues of His love, mercy, compassion, justice, omnipotence, omniscience, generosity, forgiveness, power, sovereignty and so on. Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad said, “Verily, God has ninety-nine Names. Whoever encompasses them, will enter Heaven” [Related in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim]. What exactly does it mean to encompass them? Each of the Divine Names not only tells us something about God but also informs us about the moral quality that human beings must strive to embody. As the eminent classical Islamic theologian, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah wrote, “God loves those who embody the effects of His Divine Attributes.” Thus, knowledge of God’s name ar-Rahman (the One whose Mercy encompasses everything in existence) entails that we as human beings become the vessels of Divine mercy, allowing it to reach the weak, destitute and suffering people around the world through our good deeds. It is only when we show such relentless mercy that we truly understand and appreciate the meaning of mercy, allowing us to gain a closer relationship with the One who is the source of all Mercy – God Almighty. And... read more

Evil (1) – Why must we suffer?

By M. Nazir Khan and M. Faisal Abideen Why does evil exist? This is a question that has haunted every human being. Torture, rape, murder, cruelty, disasters, poverty, disease – it all seems too much and too pointless. Personal tragedies are frequently met with the question, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” Could there really be a loving and all-powerful God who would allow such suffering?  The Age-Old Question Discussion about the problem of evil seems ubiquitous in human thought. One can find major thinkers in every field of knowledge and in every culture and epoch who have commented on it from the dawn of ancient civilizations to the modern scientific age. Moreover, it is an extremely powerful question, for it relates not to an obscure philosophical dilemma but to a living reality that confronts each and every human being. In the modern era, it has become increasingly more common for people of diverse intellectual backgrounds to cite the problem of evil as their primary reason for rejecting faith in God. Historian and New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, noted that it was not his views on the textual corruption of holy scripture which caused him to lose his faith, but rather it was his acceptance of the problem of evil. Sir David Attenborough, one of the leading figures in documentaries about nature and wildlife, dismissed the notion that beauty in nature points to God, instead citing the example of a disease-causing parasitic worm as evidence against a merciful deity. Even one of the great voices of modern Christianity, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, surmised that the 2004 Tsunami raised... read more
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