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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...

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...

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...

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...

Stasis or Spiritual journey?

Does every day in life start to feel like a replay? If ten years from now I’m still the exact same person doing the exact same things, what have I gotten out of life? Should our lives have a direction that we are progressing towards?  What is religion? For many people, having a religion means membership to a particular religious group. A person’s religion is one of a long list of labels by which one self-identifies, along with ethnicity, nationality, culture, language, occupation, gender, age and so on. In other words, it is static. It doesn’t inform one’s daily behaviour, goals, aspirations or pursuits. Islam defines itself very differently. The very opening chapter of the Qur’an comprises a prayer for guidance “along the straight path” (Qur’an 1:6-7). This entails that Islam is not about a mere label that one applies to oneself, but about a journey towards God along the straight path. All of the experiences of life are part of a process of coming closer to God. The very first chapter of the Qur’an revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), was Surah al-‘Alaq (the 96th chapter), which concludes with the Divine instruction, “Fall prostrate and draw near to Allah!“ The language of direction differs significantly from the language of stasis. Routine and repetition govern much of our lives, until every day feels like a replay. Wake up, shower, get dressed, go to work, etc. We continue to have the same conversations every day, and eventually our minds start to have the same thoughts every day, becoming incapable of imagining new aspirations and ideas. This repetition can be...

Akhlaq – The Value of Values

What is the relationship between faith and values? Does God care what label we call ourselves or how we behave with others? Is it better to be a good person or a religious person? Shouldn’t society just do away with religious doctrine? Many people would assume that religion is about affirming a set of theoretical doctrines or subscribing to a particular dogma. Such purely theoretical conversations are consequently seen as bearing no impact on how we interact with others or live our lives. Religion has thus been regarded as secondary to the interests of mankind and to the progress of civilization. While the modern world has sought to depart from debates over abstract doctrine and instead unify society on key principles, challenges have arisen in finding alternative sources of meaning, morality, purpose and sacred values in a perceived purposeless existence. But perhaps that original assumption – that faith is a set of theoretical propositions – was mistaken to begin with. Morality is theology While every major religion in the world teaches people “to be good” and has a standard set of moral principles, the defining property of faith is generally presumed to be doctrines and beliefs. However, one may be surprised to know that the Islamic paradigm views faith quite differently. Faith is not about carrying a particular label or membership to a theological club, but about surrendering one’s will to God and engaging in excellent moral conduct (Qur’an 2:111-112). The Prophet Muhammmad (peace be upon him said), “The most perfect in their faith are those with the best moral character” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi). How could moral values be the...