How She Found God

stepping-stonesBeing a Muslim, I am very much interested in listening to the stories of reverts. It really fascinates me, how people of different religions come into Islam by their own will. And all of them have beautiful stories of how they are guided by Allah (swt) to the true religion and to the one and only God.

On Wednesday night, 10th December, 2014, a Columbian lady came to my house with her husband and two little daughters: Shazia and Hanan. Actually, she was my father’s old friend’s wife. She was clad in a black Abaya with a scarf neatly tucked onto her face. Her mother tongue was Spanish, and so her daughters could only speak Spanish. They all were sitting in our drawing room, when the two cuties saw the whiteboard in our basement, and they wanted to write on it. So we all went into the basement and they just started playing. A huge smile came on their faces and they got busy. It was then that the Columbian lady told me that she reverted to Islam in 2001, and before that she was a Catholic.

I always had this feeling of emptiness in my heart. I felt something was missing from my life. I wanted to pray to God directly.

I was excited to know that she was a revert. I wanted to know everything about her journey to Islam. So we went upstairs at the dining table to talk. She asked me where and what was I studying. And then told me that she herself was a costume designer. She went to USA to get her degree in costume designing, as she was very passionate about it. I then asked her; “So how did you find your way to Islam and Allah (swt)?” She said; “Okay, so let me tell you my story. But I want all of you to listen; your mother, brother and sisters.” So I called my siblings and mom. We all sat at the dining table, eager to hear from her. As she recently learned English from USA, so her English accent was a mixture of Spanish and American English, which sounded really sweet.

She started off with her story. “I always had this feeling of emptiness in my heart. I felt something was missing from my life. I wanted to pray to God directly. I used to go to the church and ask the nuns: ‘Why can’t I pray to God directly? Why do I have to pray to the priests and saints as intermediaries?’ She said that’s how it was. But her answer did not satisfy me. I told her again: ‘Tell me a way, through which I’ll be able to pray to God directly.’ She told me: ‘For that, you will have to become a nun.’ Obviously I never wanted to become a nun, as I wanted to get married and have kids. This caused so much chaos in my mind that I just told myself that I wasn’t a part of any religion. However, it was somewhere in my mind that there is a God… the One Who created me.” She told.

“There were some thoughts that kept coming to my mind. I knew deep inside that there was a Creator – the One, Who created me. And I really wanted to pray to Him. My mother was a very practicing Catholic, whereas my father wasn’t that practicing.”  “He’s an artist.” She added, looking at a painting on our staircase wall.

“I went to USA to do my career in costume designing, as I loved clothes. During my stay in USA, I used to live alone in an apartment with my younger brother. Since a very young age, my parents had taught me to be sincere and truthful. I used to tell myself: ‘Keep it clean.’ My brother had gotten into bad company, and his conduct was worsening day by day. I was getting very depressed for him, because back at home in Columbia, my parents were thinking that my brother was doing well, as he was living with his elder sister, i.e., me. But sadly, little did they know that the reality was very different. When I could not bear my brother’s ill behaviour any more, I told him to leave my apartment and live where ever he wanted. From then on, I was living alone. I was very disturbed. I started thinking about life, my purpose, God… I was in a state of utter confusion.

As I had to earn for my living, I started a part time job as an office cleaner. The job of cleaning is very beloved to me as God guided me to Himself through this simple job. So one day, I was alone in the office, and it was very late. I was exhausted. I went clumsily to get the cleaning equipment. Then, with a lot of effort, I cleaned the office. As I was tying the garbage bag, all of a sudden it fell on the carpet and all the tiny pieces of paper were scattered on the carpet that I just cleaned. Although I was drained out, I had to clean everything again – otherwise, my boss would get angry. So instead of bringing all the equipment again from the store, I sat on my knees and started picking up the mess with my hands. As I was on my knees, a very strange thought came to my mind; I am on my knees. I am humbling myself in front of whom? In front of this garbage just to please my boss? Why can’t I humble myself to God? Why?”

“You know, I used to write these thoughts in a diary. I still have that diary. Because I knew these thoughts were not mine. And I was scared I would forget these thoughts, so I secured them in the form of writing. I was lost in these thoughts. At times I felt like I was getting crazy. I never felt like partying anymore. My friends and I used to party a lot every weekend. But later, whenever they called me I used to refuse. I wanted solitude. I told them, “Leave me alone please.” I started thinking about life. I started thinking: whom am I worshipping? What are my desires? My career – costume designing? Is that it? Is this what I will be doing all life?

I felt empty and purposeless. I missed my brother, too. I prayed to God in my own way; I prayed that my brother comes back home. And after a few days, he did come back. This strengthened my belief that we can communicate to God directly without any intermediaries. And God listens to our prayers.

Now, when I look back, I realize that God was guiding me step by step. So one day, I was in my university library working on an assignment on the computer. I needed some assistance in setting up a program on the computer, so I went up to the librarian. She was a young lady, who wore Hijab. And she was writing an essay on Islam. I don’t know what happened to me, but I asked her if I could read her essay. She was astonished. She asked me, if I was interested in Islam. I told her: “I don’t mind reading your essay. I’m very open minded.” So she took my email address and gave her number to me. She said she’d mail me her essay. Her name was Zahida.

After she accepted Islam, she went back to Columbia. Since then, eighty people reverted to Islam… just by observing her mannerism.

So, I went home, read the essay. I was not intrigued by it. My depression phase continued… After some time, I had opted for another job of a house cleaner. Due to my parents’ upbringing, there were some values that were ingrained in my mind: to do every work with perfection and not to steal or lie in any case. Hence, I was a perfectionist even at cleaning. I used to clean every corner of the house. One day, I was cleaning this house, working too hard to clean it well. Suddenly, a thought struck my mind that why am I being so cautious while working? I am not stealing even though there’s nobody looking at me. Why? Because of recompense from my boss. I immediately got my answer to “What is life?” and “What is our purpose in life?”  I thought just like I’m working sincerely because of recompense from my boss; similarly, in life, whatever we do, there will be a recompense from God for all our deeds. I immediately went into prostration and I was crying like a baby, although I knew nothing about prostration. It was just automatic, by default. I thought this was a last push from God for me to come to the true path.

I went back home and wrote about all this in my diary. Then I called Zahida (that Muslim librarian) and told her: “I don’t know why I feel like crying and I feel like talking to you only Zahida.” I told her about my recent thoughts. She told me: “God does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear.” I found these words so beautiful and soothing. I cried when I heard them. I asked her, if these were her own words. She told me these are from the Quran. I told her I wanted Quran. She told me she would send it to me with translation in my language i.e. Spanish. In the meanwhile, she gave me Hadeeth-e-Qudsi (Hadeeth Qudsi are the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) as revealed to him by the Almighty Allah (swt). Hadeeth Qudsi (or Sacred Hadeeth) are so named because, unlike the majority of Hadeeth which are Prophetic Hadeeth, their authority (Sanad) is traced back, not to the Prophet but to the Almighty) to read. The Hadeeth-e-Qudsi touched my heart deeply. I knew this was the true religion that I was searching for. And Alhumdulillah, I took my Shahada.”

After she accepted Islam, she went back to Columbia. Since then, eighty people reverted to Islam… just by observing her mannerism. Subhan’Allah! She told me: “My parents named me Monica. But after accepting Islam, I named myself Sakina.” Sakina means: tranquility, devout, God-inspired peace of mind.

When leaving our house, Sakina hugged me warmly. And her daughters just clung on to me. They didn’t want to leave. I asked Sakina how to say “Come back soon!” in Spanish. “Regrato pronto!” she told me cheerfully. I asked her the same for “I love you”. “Te quiero mucho!” she said. I kissed her lovely daughters saying “Te quiero mucho.”

This beautiful sister left such a deep impact on my soul. How she yearned to pray to Allah (swt), how she cried, while prostrating. And then I thought of how strong her faith was, Masha’Allah. Most of us are born in Muslim families, but we hardly strive to find Allah (swt) and build a connection with Him. The signs are everywhere… if only we strive to seek for Him.

Pearls of Peace: An Extract from Juzz 16 & 17

Surah Maryam

Surah Maryam talks about the birth of Prophet Isa (as). But there is another story that is equally meaningful. It is the incident of a few young strong men; who distanced themselves from the community, because of their deviant beliefs and self-invented forms of worship. In the exegesis, we read they were involved in idolatry and grave worshipping.

Prophet Ibrahim (as) and the idolatry

In Surah Maryam, we learn about Prophet Ibrahim’s (as) people who were engaged in idolatry, including his father. Prophet Ibrahim (as) was not pleased by what he saw in his community. Unconvinced by their need to bow before clay idols, carved by themselves; Ibrahim (as) asked his father, “When he said to his father: O my father! Why do you worship that which hears not, sees not and cannot avail you in anything?” (Maryam 19:42) He invited his father to follow a path that is straight, “O my father! Verily! There has come to me of knowledge that which came not unto you. So follow me. I will guide you to a Straight Path.” (Maryam 19:43)

Kind speech – the best way to preach!

It might come to some as a surprise that a son was correcting his father. Sometimes people younger than us are more knowledgeable or have a better understanding of a subject. We should be open to listening to the words of goodness; irrespective of speaker’s age, skin colour or worldly status. We also learn a Dawah tip from this story. Kind speech has been a repetitive reminder in the Quran. We should be mindful of our tone and words when we call people to Allah’s (swt) Deen. We need to soften their hearts, so that they may actually listen; and not repel them with our harshness or disrespect. Moreover, we should be prepared to expect a repulsive or rude behaviour from the other person. When that happens, we should not lose our temper. Recall the times Prophet (sa) endured abuse and hostility for Allah’s (swt) sake. If we are truly concerned about someone’s guidance, we should let go of their uncouth behaviour.

Do not stray away for the evil end awaits!  

This is not a small matter that can be pushed aside by arguments and justifications. Allah (swt) says, “Then, there has succeeded them a posterity who have given up As-Salat (the prayers) (i.e. made their Salat (prayers) to be lost, either by not offering them or by not offering them perfectly or by not offering them in their proper fixed times, etc.) and have followed lusts. So they will be thrown in Hell.” (Maryam 19:59)

They have an evil end waiting for them because of their pursuing their desires. A person who is worried about his prayer will be protected from immoral behaviour. A person who is not worried about his prayer, how will he have a link with Allah (swt)? Let’s commit to being regular in our prayers. The outcome will be attaining closeness to Allah (swt), increased provision and peace. It will not happen all at once; but it will happen one day Insha’Allah. Allah (swt) says, “Verily, those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, the Most Beneficent (Allah) will bestow love for them (in the hearts of the believers)” (Maryam 19:96)

We learn through Hadeeth, when Allah (swt) loves a person; he calls out to Jibrael (as) and commands him to love the person as well. Thus, all the inhabitants of the heaven would love him, and then he will be granted the pleasures of the people on the earth (Bukhari, Muslim)

Make Dua to excel in religion

Sometimes we look at people who are better than us in religion and we feel a kind of anger in our heart. The anger is there due to our weak connection with Allah (swt). How can we get rid of it? It is possible by asking Allah (swt) to allow us to excel in religion just like them or even better. Make Dua for the people who inspire and remind you of Allah (swt). May Allah (swt) open up our hearts to goodness. Ameen.

How often has it happened that our best friend calls and we catch up with them, as if we have been separated for twenty years? In reality, it could be that we spoke to them only yesterday or a few hours ago. For how long does this phone call continue? It would be hard to find a person who hangs up in ten minutes. If that happens, then we are certainly not close enough. Now, let’s look at our prayer. For how long do we remain seated at our prayer mat after the prayer is over? Most people jump off the moment they do Tasleem. What does this tell us about our relationship with Allah (swt)? It requires no further explanation.

Moosa (as) honoured by his Lord!

When Moosa (as) was called in the valley of Tuwa by Allah (swt) and informed that he had been chosen as the Prophet of Allah (swt) and there went on a brief interview. Allah (swt) asks Moosa (as) about his staff, in reply Moosa (as) did not give a one word answer. Then he went on describing his staff and stated the different purposes he used it for. He said: “He said: This is my stick, whereon I lean, and wherewith I beat down branches for my sheep, and wherein I find other uses.” (Ta-Ha 20:18)

Did he not know the Lord who is addressing him from up above can see and know more about his staff than himself? But he cherished this meeting so much that he could not contain his excitement. He wanted to extend this meeting, so he went on talking. This Ramadan, let us commit to correct ourselves and give our utmost attention and respect to Allah (swt). Let’s take out time to speak with Him in Sujood, in Dua, at Suhoor and Iftar times; and whenever and wherever we can steal a moment of privacy.

A gentle approach to Dawah

When it comes to correcting people, we often admonish them in such a way that they would not want to see our face again. Allah (swt) picks up His best man to invite the worst man towards the right path.

With what instruction did Allah (swt) send Moosa (as)? He said, “And speak to him mildly, perhaps he may accept admonition or fear Allah.” (Ta-Ha 20:44) This was Pharaoh he was being sent to and the instruction was “speak gently”. Let us reflect on our interpersonal skills and be kind to one another for the sake of Allah (swt). Use encouraging words to bring them closer to Allah (swt). Do not rebuke them; lest we widen the gap. Our job is only to take the message to them. We are not Hakim (ruler) over them, for Allah (swt) says, “But whosoever turns away from My Reminder (i.e. neither believes in this Quran nor acts on its orders etc.) verily, for him is a life of hardship.” (Ta-Ha 20:124)

Is turning away from Allah (swt) the right decision?

People tend to turn away from Allah (swt) because they are distracted by the material things around them. Therefore, Allah (swt) warns us, “And strain not your eyes in longing for the things We have given for enjoyment to various groups of them (polytheists and disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah), the splendour of the life of this world that We may test them thereby. But the provision (good reward in the Hereafter) of your Lord is better and more lasting.” (Ta-Ha 20:131) Material wealth of this world will remain in this world. Let us not make it a source of our ingratitude towards Allah (swt). Let us apply the wise principle that our Prophet (sa) taught us. In terms of material wealth look at those below you; and when it comes to good deeds and religious status, look at those who are way ahead of you. May Allah (swt) allow us to keep our perspective right. Ameen.

Surah Al-Anbiya

It is ironical that the place where we do not have to live forever, we are concerned about it as if it is the only life we have. And the Hereafter, which is eternal and lasting, is to our least concern. Allah (swt) reminds us, “Draws near for mankind their reckoning, while they turn away in heedlessness. Comes not unto them an admonition (a chapter of the Quran) from their Lord as a recent revelation but they listen to it while they play.” (Al-Anbiya 21:1-2)

Are we living in oblivion?

Our death and resurrection should keep us worried; especially when engaging in something that we shouldn’t be doing. When the soul urges us to do wrong, we must ask ourselves: what if I die right now? How will I face Allah (swt)? In what condition will I be resurrected?

Strive for an honourable life and death

Some years ago, there was news of college girls dying in a stampede in a concert. I was haunted by the thought that in what condition their souls would be recollected? May Allah (swt) bless us all with an honourable life and death. May we die in the state of prostration. Ameen. To be honoured with such a death, we need to become the kind of people who say, “We heard and we obey,” and not of those who say, “We have heard but we are not going to obey.” Because we will be questioned about our time spent on this earth, as Allah (swt) says, “He cannot be questioned as to what He does, while they will be questioned.” (Al-Anbiya 21:23)

Life here vs. life in the hereafter

Let us prepare for the questioning of the Hereafter as we prepare for our worldly exams. Let us strive to be among the high achievers as we do for worldly positions. Allah (swt) tells us that our deeds will be weighed, and when that happens where would we stand? “And We shall set up balances of justice on the Day of Resurrection, then none will be dealt with unjustly in anything. And if there be the weight of a mustard seed, We will bring it. And Sufficient are We as Reckoners.” (Al-Anbiya 21:47)

There is glad tiding for him whose good deeds outnumber the bad ones. An easy way to raise our scales is to get busy in glorifying and praising Allah (swt) with words such as SubhanAllahi wabihamdihi SubhanAllahil Adheem.

Remember Allah (swt) and He will remember you!

We have learnt in Surah Al-Baqarah that when we remember Allah (swt) with our Dhikr, He too remembers us. Allah (swt) takes care of His righteous servants, no matter what people plot against them. When Prophet Ibrahim (as) spoke against the idols, the community advised his father to burn him. They said, “They said: Burn him and help your gods, if you will be doing.” (Al-Anbiya 21:68)

Little did they know that Allah (swt) is the Creator of fire. Allah (swt) said, We (Allah) said: O fire! Be you coolness and safety for Ibrahim (Abraham)! And they wanted to harm him, but We made them the worst losers.” (Al-Anbiya 21:69-70) When man surrenders to Allah (swt), Allah (swt) helps him miraculously. We see this in the example of other messengers as well. They surrendered before Allah (swt), cried out only before Him, and sought help from Him alone. Allah (swt) helped them all and took them out of distress, at His decided time. Let us not be hasty with our prayers and have strong hope in Allah (swt) alone.

Learn to make an eloquent Dua

Sometimes when we want something, we are unable to articulate our words properly. It is a mercy of Allah (swt) that through His prophets He taught us the words to make Dua to Him. In Surah Al-Anbiya, we learn the Dua of Prophet Yunus (as), “But he cried through the darkness (saying): La ilaha illa Anta (none has the right to be worshipped but You (O Allah)), Glorified (and Exalted) are You (above all that (evil) they associate with You.) Truly, I have been of the wrong-doers.” (Al-Anbiya 21:87)

Look at how he makes the Dua, he first praises Allah (swt) and then acknowledges his mistake. In the narrations it has been said, when the angels heard this Dua, they pleaded his case in the court of Allah (swt) because they would often hear him being engaged in Dhikr. Such is the power of Dhikr. What chances do we have that if a whale swallows us up, we will come out alive? Have we attained that special status with Allah (swt) where He will save us miraculously?

Talking about miracles, Prophet Zakariya (as) was blessed with an offspring despite his old age and his wife’s barrenness. Indeed, for Allah (swt) nothing is impossible.

Prostrate – be the closest to Allah (swt)!

It is said that one can get closest to Allah (swt) when in prostration. The entire creation in the heavens and the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the moving creatures and believers prostrate to Allah (swt), as we learn in Surah Al-Hajj. When we choose to neglect our prayers, it is not that Allah (swt) is in need of our prostration. There are billion other creatures that prostrate to Him and win a special status near Him. At the end it is our loss. Allah (swt) says, “Every time they seek to get away therefrom, from anguish, they will be driven back therein, and (it will be) said to them: Taste the torment of burning!” (Al-Hajj 22:74)

(Adapted from Mufti Ismail Menk’s “Pearls of Peace” series, Cape Town, Ramadan 2013. The lecture can be listened to at this link.)