Connecting with the Quran

Vol 6 - Issue 4 Connecting with the QuranBy J. Samia Mair

I have read several different English translations of the Quran. Although I get immense pleasure and spiritual growth reading a translation, I always feel that I am missing so much, because I cannot read Arabic. The Quran cannot be translated properly because of the depth of the Arabic language. In addition, there are spiritual benefits associated with reciting the Quran, even without understanding.

Despite knowing that reciting and memorizing the Quran has many virtues, for a long time the thought of learning Tajweed was extremely intimidating to me. I would pick up a copy of the Quran, see a page full of unrecognizable symbols, and view the task as impossible. I did not have much trouble memorizing the shorter Surahs for prayers, but I feared that I would never move much beyond that point. I was wrong.

The Quran is accessible even for non-Arabic speakers. I have turned to the Quran in many different ways over the years. Now, I have a study programme that seems to be working. A few suggestions are below:

  1. Make reading the Quran a priority. We all have busy lives, family responsibilities and a million other things to do. However, put Quranic study at the top of the list.
  2. Focus first on learning to read and recite the Quran and then understanding. Having spent about $200 on Arabic books,I realized that I need to rethink my goals. My goal was to learn to read and recite the Quran, even if I did not understand it. Learning the Arabic language was slowing me down.
  3. Set realistic short-term goals. You know yourself better than anyone else. Set short-term goals that are realistic for you. For example, if you do not know the Arabic alphabet, give yourself enough time to learn it well. Meanwhile, continue to memorize shorter Surahs, even if it is just one Ayah a week.
  4. Have good intentions. According to many scholars, several Ahadeeth suggest that if you intend to do something good – e.g., memorize the Quran – and die before completing it, that intention will be completed in the grave. Thus, when you stand in front of Allah (swt), you will have memorized the Quran.
  5. Develop a study plan and be consistent. “The best deed (act of worship) in the sight of Allah (swt) is that, which is done regularly.” (Bukhari) I try to read the Quran, memorize a little and read the translation and accompanying commentary every day.
  6. Choose study materials carefully. The following are the best materials that I have found for beginners. The CD set Ahlul Quran Gear (by Haroon Baqai) is wonderful for learning the last half of the 30th Juz. Shaykh Baqai recites the Surahs slowly, verse by verse, leaving time for the listener to repeat after him. In addition, I use a textbook Juz Amma: 30 (by Abidullah Ghazi). Each Surah has a Latin transliteration and is broken down into its Arabic vocabulary.
  7. Find a Tajweed teacher. It is essential to have someone check your pronunciation and teach you how to read the Quran properly. If I could afford it, I would constantly be enrolled in a Tajweed class.
  8. Make Dua for success. Nothing is accomplished without Allah’s (swt) Will. Have sincere intentions and ask Allah (swt) to help you in this most noble endeavour.

Although I have a long way to go, before I can read the Quran fluently, I am no longer intimated by the task. Now, I enjoy the process and look forward to that special time during the day, when I feel even closer to Allah (swt).

Interview with Absar Kazmi – An Illustrator by Profession

Vol 6 - Issue 4 Interview with Absar KazmiTell us something about your educational background.

I completed my BSC in electrical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA, in 1998. Since then, I have been working in various IT firms, both locally and abroad.

What inspired you to become an illustrator?

My family travelled a lot while I was growing up. When I was 5, we moved to Kenya. We often used to go out on safaris in Kenya’s world renowned game parks, and I remember that, while out on these trips, I would pay very close attention to the animals – how they looked and how they moved. As soon as I would get back home, the first thing I would do, even before changing or washing up, was to take out my sketch pad and draw all the beautiful animals I had seen – I think this is where the passion was born. I remember when people would ask me, what I wanted to do when I grow up, I would tell them I wanted to be a cartoonist. As I grew up, the passion grew. I would have dozens of sketch pads lying all over my study table full of all sorts of drawings of animals, superheroes, wrestlers, etc. I think I probably spent hours alone in my room, drawing everything that came to mind. Since I was very interested in drawing superheroes, I was always very keen to observe the structure of the human body and how people moved; whenever I saw something unique, I could hardly wait to get home and try to draw it.

As I grew older and more aware of the Deen, I realized that drawing humans and animals was not permitted; thus, a lot of my drawings, rather most, were unacceptable in Islam. With a heavy heart, I gave up my passion and began focusing elsewhere. I think for at least ten to twelve years I didn’t even touch a sketch pad. Then, over the past few years, I began reading various Fatawas from scholars all over the world and concluded that illustrations can be done, while keeping certain guidelines in mind, e.g., not trying to imitate creation. Thus, drawing incomplete images by removing such things as eyes or ears is still permitted. Also, drawing caricatures or cartoon type images is considered permissible, because such pictures are not meant to look like real animals or humans. In fact, some scholars, e.g. Ibn Uthaymeen, actually encouraged this work, so as to offer a morally wholesome alternative for Muslim children to what they are usually exposed to on television and other media.

Once I got married, my wife noticed the skill that Allah (swt) had blessed me with. She encouraged me to begin drawing again. Initially, I wasn’t very responsive, but then she practically forced me by getting for me a few projects from “Reflections” school. Thus, slowly I began relearning my forgotten skill… and as I did, I realized the sense of fulfillment that I received with each illustration I completed. I had been suppressing all this time the gift I was born with, not allowing it to develop. In conclusion, I suppose my main inspiration would be my wife, who convinced me (forcefully) to pursue my childhood dream.

What are some of challenges that you faced, when you embarked on your career? How did you overcome them?

There were a number of challenges that I faced, when I began seriously considering a career in illustration. First and foremost, I wasn’t sure I was talented enough. So many years had passed, since I had really sat down and tried to draw anything that I thought maybe I might have lost this skill altogether.

Secondly, there are so many talented artists out there, who have actually studied art in college and are experts in illustrating using all sorts of media, e.g. water colours, acrylics, pastels, digital art, etc. I really wasn’t sure I could compete with them, considering I had only taken a few art classes in high school.

The third challenge was keeping within the boundaries of Shariah with this work. This is an area, which I feel still requires some scholarly research, as to what is Halal and what is not. I think many Muslims (including some Islamic publishing companies) have allowed themselves to venture outside the limits, due to the pressure of competition. In fact, some well known Islamic publication companies outright refused to work with me, unless I was willing to draw humans and animals with complete features. Last but not least, was the financial challenge. As a father of three little girls, although I love this work, I just wasn’t sure it was financial viable.

My way of dealing with these challenges has been not to jump right in but to start small. I have been getting some small projects here and there and at the same time have kept trying to hone and improve my skills. This allows one to develop a reputation in the market and also one’s portfolio, without taking a major risk. Also, what is very important, I have constantly tried to seek advice from other experienced artists, who are also Islamically conscious.

Describe some challenges which you are facing even now.

I think all of the above challenges still remain to varying degrees. Insha’Allah, I think there is a large demand for Muslim illustrators, considering the amount of Islamic books/ novels being published every year. Thus, I remain hopeful for a bright future.

How well has the field of illustration been explored in the Muslim world?

I may be wrong, but I think that this is an area that has been largely ignored by Muslims as a whole. Due to our cultural background, I think most of us in our youth were made to feel that the only respectable careers were in medicine, engineering, law or finance. I think careers in art, such as painting and calligraphy, and writing were not really encouraged (if not outright looked down upon). Thus, today as Ummah we find ourselves way behind many of the Western nations in such fields as media and literature. Have you ever tried searching for a good library in Karachi? Therefore, I think there is a huge world out there in the field of illustrations, just waiting to be explored by Muslims.

Is it financially viable for a youngster to pursue illustration as his/ her career?

I think if one has the talent, it is very much financially viable. Especially these days, when so much work is being outsourced from Western nations to the subcontinent, many people in the West are really searching to get good illustration work done at a reasonable cost. Thus one does not even have to limit oneself to one’s own country for this type of work.

Who is leading the way in the world of illustrations for Muslims, which can serve as role models?

You know, I have tried to search the Internet for major Muslim names in the field of illustrations but unsuccessfully. I would love to get in touch with some of them, in order to seek their advice. Muslims just don’t seem to want to venture down this road. Due to this harsh reality, you will find that many Islamic childrens’ books (I wouldn’t say most) are actually illustrated by non-Muslims. I think this is a field, which is really looking for a few good Muslim men (and women… ahem!).

What kind of work are you involved in presently?

Presently, I am working on some children’s books illustration projects with a local education institute. I am also working on some of my own projects, such as developing an educational game for Muslim children and other learning aids. I have developed a character I call Talib Jan, a young school boy; he is starring in some of my work.

What message would you like to give out to the youth?

It may sound very cliché, but I would honestly advise my young brothers and sisters that if you have a talent, and it is Halal, don’t waste it but pursue it with all your might. When Allah (swt) has given us a gift, then it is not right for us to refuse it. Don’t stray away from your talent, because you feel that other careers are more financially rewarding. Believe me – when people see, how talented you are and what terrific work you produce, Insha’Allah, the financial rewards will automatically follow. If you are doing something you are really good at, then you are more likely to enjoy it and feel rewarded doing it. However, always seek advice from your elders (especially your parents) and those whom you trust.

If you would like to get in touch with Absar Kazmi, you can email him at

The 7 habits of highly effective teenagers! (Part 2)

Jan 11 - 7 habits teenagers

Sean Covey smartly proves how intelligent people of his time, who are also supposedly experts in their fields, have sounded ridiculous with the passage of time and new discoveries. Some statements are given below:

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.”

(Kenneth Olsen, president and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977)

“Man will never reach the Moon, regardless of all future scientific advances.”

(Dr Lee De Forest, inventor of the Audion tube and father of radio, 1967)

“For the majority of the people, the use of tobacco has a beneficial effect.”

(Dr. Ian G. Macdonald, L.A. surgeon, 1969)

Likewise, teenagers make similar statements:

“I know I can’t go to the university. I just don’t have the brains…”

“It’s useless talking to my parents. They just don’t seem to understand me!”

“Me? Lose weight? It’s like thinking of snow in mid June in Karachi!”


Don’t you think that the above two lists have much in common? First, they are the perceptions of the people who have made these statements. Second, time has proven that these statements are either incomplete or inaccurate.

Paradigms, pronounced as ‘pair-a-dimes’, is another word for perceptions. Paradigms mainly refer to the way you look at something, your belief, your point of view or your frame of reference. It is also worthy to note that if our paradigms are incorrect about something they can become our limitations to progress. We focus on them so much that it becomes next to impossible to explore other possibilities.

Consider the teenager, who thinks it isn’t worth trying for higher education, because he/she is not smart enough. Or the one, who believes he/she can never have a healthy communication with his/her parents. What is likely to happen? Their perceptions will always hold them back from trying otherwise, because they have made up their minds to behave only in one manner.

Sean Covey explains: “Paradigms are like glasses. When you have incomplete paradigms about yourself or life in general, it’s like wearing glasses with the wrong prescription. That lens affects how you see everything else. As a result, what you see is what you get.”

If you believe you are ugly, that very belief will make you ugly. If you believe that everybody hates you, you will look for evidence to support your belief and you will remain a victim in your eyes. On the other hand, if you believe you are smart, this belief will cast a rosy hue on everything you do.

You can understand it better by thinking that you took a trip to the beautiful valleys and mountains of North Pakistan. Upon reaching there, you realized that it was hardly worth it, because all you could see was smog and haze. You began to think that all the praises tourists sang about the places were nothing but a pack of lies. When you came home, you discovered that your eyesight needed to be checked. That’s when the doctor told you, how bad your eyesight had become and that you had been seeing through the wrong lenses all along. When you finally got your lenses fixed, you realized how you could see the finest details of everything. And finally it dawned on you that you had missed much of the beauty of life, because you were looking through the wrong lenses!

When we discuss the paradigms of life, think about your own life – what does it centre around and how does it impact you?

So what do you think of yourself?

Paradigms of self

Sean Covey shared the story about the son of King Louis XVI of France. When King Louis had been dethroned and imprisoned, his enemies decided to frame his young son, who was heir to the throne. They took him to a far away community and exposed him for six months to all sorts of moral degradation, dishonour and distrust. But not once did the young lad buckle under pressure. Giving up their intensive temptations, they finally asked him, why did he not fall for the pleasures and lusts offered to him? He replied, because he was destined to be a king!

Prince Louis held on to the paradigm of himself so tightly that nothing could shake him. This is the most pertinent question you should ask yourself: are my paradigms of myself helping or hindering me?

Sometimes our poor self-image stops us from even trying to be a success. I remember having a team member in my organization, who was just not bothered about what others thought of her. When they talked behind her back, she didn’t seem to care. When they made fun of her before her, she simply laughed along. But she never stopped for a second to feel self-pity for herself. As a result, in spite of an average education and inter-personal skills, she achieved much at work – simply because she realized her true worth and focused on her goals.

Similarly, another shy girl, who could not get up to utter one sentence before class without stuttering, was once asked to give a presentation before the entire faculty members gathering. You could very well imagine what her plight must have been coming face to face with her greatest fears and low self-image. She tried to wiggle out of the situation but just couldn’t manage to. At last, she made great efforts to survive the presentation. And she did. She didn’t score spectacular marks or anything, but that day was one of the most memorable days of her life, mainly because she was able to overcome the greatest fears she had about herself. She got up and did it!

If you feel that you need to re-adjust your paradigm about yourself, the first step should be to spend time together with someone who believes in you, someone who can build you up, someone who can clean your glasses for you and tell you: “Of course, you can do it! You should absolutely enter that contest!”

Don’t be afraid to lean on this person for nourishment and advice. Try to see yourself the way he/she sees you. Every successful person has had someone who truly believed in him/her. It could be your parents, or one of them, a teacher, a friend, a sibling, a grandparent, a guardian, an uncle or an aunt. It only takes one person and it doesn’t really matter who it is.

If you feel you don’t have anyone in particular to lean on, pay special attention to part three that will give you tips on building your self-image.

What are habits?

They are completely at your command.

Half the things you do you might just as well turn over to your habits and they will be able to do them quickly and correctly.

So form them wisely!

Dear Haadia


I’m a 21-year-old and have an extremely important question. When I was 15, I was very outgoing and had loads of guy friends, including a boyfriend. As circumstances should have it, things did not work out, and he got married to someone else. Since then, I have tried to be a good Muslimah. I want to have a family of my own now, but I don’t want to betray my future husband by having another guy in my mind the whole time. My parents also want me to get married, but I feel I cannot get married. Everything seems distorted. Please help.

Answer: Firstly, I would like to commend you on being such a brave individual and for having grasped the handhold of Islam. This, indeed, is what will lead you to inner peace and harmony, Insha’Allah! Moreover, to realize one’s mistakes and then to beg Allah (swt) for forgiveness is truly a blessing of our Creator. I can understand the grief and despair you are engulfed in; remember that these are very natural emotions and we see the grief of Hazrat Yaqoob (as) in the following Quranic Ayah: “… And he lost his sight because of the sorrow that he was suppressing.” (Yusuf 12:84)

Now, a question may come to one’s mind – why was a Prophet of Allah (swt) tested? Let’s again refer to the Quran: “And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to As-Sabirin (the patient ones, etc.).” (Al-Baqarah 2:155)

What are these glad tidings? They are our purification – they will elevate our levels in the Hereafter. So what should one do? The Quran gives us the answer in the next Ayah:

“Who, when afflicted with calamity, say: “Truly! To Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return.” (Al-Baqarah 2:156)

“And seek help in patience and As-Salat (the prayer).” (Al-Baqarah 2:45)

So pray to Allah (swt) to give you the strength and the Sabr to forget about this boy, who is now married, and to move on with your life!

When we look around ourselves and contemplate the power of Allah (swt), may it be in a flowering plant, it will give conviction that He is the Almighty, Who can erase any painful memory. Often, our vision is myopic – what we may think to have been good for us might have been on the contrary. So have full belief in Allah (swt) that He will guide you towards a better future!

Now that you have identified what is happening to you, use the above solutions to overcome this situation. You can also join a group of young girls for understanding the Quran. As you are still studying, I would recommend a weekend class by the name of “Towards the Light” at 14 Sehr, Defence Housing Authority, Karachi on Saturday afternoons.

There are times, when we wonder, why Allah (swt) would let us go through such trials and difficulties. But Allah (swt) knows that when He puts these things all in His order, they always work for good! We just have to trust Him, and, eventually, they will all make something wonderful! Loads of Duas for you.