Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending!


وَعِبَادُ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الَّذِينَ يَمْشُونَ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ هَوْنًا وَإِذَا خَاطَبَهُمُ الْجَاهِلُونَ قَالُوا سَلَامًا

Allah (swt), at the end of Surah Al Furqan, Surah number 25-twenty five, has a passage describing those who are the slaves of Ar-Rahman. Allah (swt) has many names; He can call people slaves of Allah (swt); slaves of the Creator, slaves of the Wise, but when He calls them slaves of Ar-Rahman, it is as though He is suggesting that these people have a relationship with Him based on His endless, and unimaginable love, mercy and care. So, the slaves of the One who cares a lot; the slaves of the One who loves a lot; the slaves of the One who shows mercy unimaginably. That means these people are special people. The people Allah (swt) is describing at the end of this passage are very, very special people. All believers are special, but these are extra super-duper awesome special.

Hawnan- Fly high, but lower your wings!

Now, the first quality that is described of these people that earns them the title of Ibad-ur-Rahman (slaves of the most Merciful) الَّذِينَ يَمْشُونَ عَلَى الْأَرْ‌ضِ هَوْنًا is- that these people walk on the earth with humility. Hawnan- softly, acknowledging their weakness. You know, when we accomplish things, we feel a sense of strength and power and empowerment; and those are the moments in life where we are supposed to acknowledge our weakness. This is number one.

Hawnan also suggests that you don’t demonstrate your strength in front of others. Allah (swt) talks about this on many occasions in the Quran. For example- lower your wings before your parents. What does that mean? This means you’re an adult, you have a career, you have money, you have your own house, and you have a car; whereas, your parents are retired, they’re old, so obviously you’re in a position of strength and they’re in a position of weakness. But you don’t need to flap your wings too much; instead chill out and act humbly in front of them. Inculcate the act of humility.

A great man is always willing to be little

I travelled and there was a brother who picked us up from the airport, drove us around everywhere and just took care of everything. This guy was literally like a servant, driving us around all over the place, for food, for lectures, for this, for that. “Anything else I can do? Can I get you some water? Can I do this, can I do that?” Super humble brother. At the end of the trip we found out the guy’s worth 700 million dollars. I couldn’t fathom, like, how does it work? Where do you get such kind of humility from? I know people who make a hundred thousand dollars and think they own the world. They go a little bit over six figures and this guy’s humility just shattered me, like how in the world could it be? And I was reminded وَعِبَادُالرَّ‌حْمَـٰنِ الَّذِينَ يَمْشُونَ عَلَى الْأَرْ‌ضِ هَوْنًا

They learn to walk on the earth with humility.

With humility comes wisdom- Keep it with you!

Humility is also not just a demonstration of financial strength; it’s also an undue demonstration of physical strength and intimidation. It can also be a demonstration of your ability to out-talk someone. Maybe you’re a very aggressive, outgoing person; you can really put somebody in their place, especially in a public setting. You need to chill out and hold back from that because that’s an expression of arrogance. You are overpowering someone with your tongue. You can overpower someone and put someone in their place with your mouth. You know something about a field, an area and you want to stub somebody with your knowledge.  Don’t do that! It’s good for you that you know, but you don’t have to prove yourself a genius at every juncture.

For example, a teacher’s job is not to prove to his students that he knows. A teacher’s job is to try to teach. And, you don’t have to tell everybody your credentials all the time. You don’t have to do that. Just be yourself, and be humble before people. As a matter of fact, try to hide your capability if it’s going to be a source of intimidation for others. This is Hawnan.

But then, there’s the other part of it, I love this part. وَإِذَا خَاطَبَهُمُ الْجَاهِلُونَ قَالُوا سَلَامًا . Every word deserves a little bit of attention here, so I’ll give each word its due, Insha’Allah. Idha is “when”, not “if”. It means the situation that is about to be described is inevitable. It will happen. You will run into this situation. What is this situation? خَاطَبَهُمُ الْجَاهِلُونَ. People who don’t control their emotions; people who are obnoxious; people who are outrageous in the things they say or the way they act; when such people address you. And, it will happen. You will have to deal with difficult people in life; it is one bitter reality of life. There’s no way around it.

Now the other point to ponder is- you won’t go seeking difficult people or talking to them; they will come and address you. So they’re the subject of the verb, suggesting that you’re not even looking for trouble, the trouble came looking for you. And it will.

Peacefully- say or sway!

So, just because you’re not looking for it, doesn’t mean it won’t come. وَإِذَا خَاطَبَهُمُ الْجَاهِلُونَ When the ignorant, the uncontrolled, the uncivilized address them, they say— now there are two translations possible here. It could be understood as they say, “peace out, maybe this is not a good time, maybe we should talk another time.” They walk themselves out of the conversation. They don’t hear something stupid and say, “You know how stupid you are? Let me put you in your place.” No. Peace. They don’t engage in any argument. When they hear something ridiculous, they don’t get involved- they just say, “Peace.” Nowadays, it’s not just about you talking to somebody in a conversation, but this could even be a WhatsApp group. This could be a Facebook post. This could be a YouTube video made about you, or some trolling comments underneath. Just leave it alone. Salaaman.

And especially in private settings, when you’re interpersonally exchanging conversation with someone and they get out of line- you should just back off. Sometimes, this might happen in the Masjid; you are going to the Masjid and an elderly fellow might get a little aggressive with you. “You don’t know how to pray! Why are you standing like that?Astaghfirullah, you’re wearing a t-shirt!” They’ll just go at you like that and you’re like, “Watch it, old man! I don’t need this!” And you walk away. No. Say peace, make Dua for the uncle, let him keep yelling and go somewhere else and pray. Go into another corner and pray- that’s it! Leave it alone. Don’t let it get to you.

It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it!

The other meaning of قَالُوا سَلَامًا is they speak peacefully. So, Salaaman could be considered a Haal, or what you call in English, an adverb. The way you would think of that is they’re talking to you aggressively, angrily, in a very arrogant tone, in a very offensive tone, almost in a way that they’re trying to probe and get a reaction out of you. But you are speaking peacefully. You don’t let them get under your skin. You learn how to control your emotions in this conversation. And it’s not even that- you have to go out of your way like “Urghhh holding back, it’s so hard to hold back.” No. You develop the kind of tolerance where you just let it roll off the top of your skin, don’t let it get underneath, don’t let it get to you, and you just deal with it in a very reasonable, rational way. This is actually Dawah in itself. And, Allah (swt) says that He loves these people.

Allah (swt) will describe later on the other qualities of believers. Like, they pray all night, Qiyam-ul-Lail, Tahajjud prayer. And, He gives other descriptions of them, but the first description of them is that they are humble. They don’t put others down and when others are putting them down, they deal with it in a peaceful fashion. But if, they don’t know how to deal with it, they say, “Peace” and walk away. May Allah (swt) give us the strength of character; and really, the common sense and the wisdom to act on this verse when the situation arises. These verses, the recitation of them is easy, talking about them in a video is easy, listening to it is easy, but when the situation happens in your family, when the situation happens among your friends, when the situation happens at the Masjid or at the college, then living on this verse becomes a different story altogether. May Allah (swt) give us the wisdom and the sensibility to act on this verse as required. Ameen.

Transcribed for Hiba by Amal Abdullah

Taking Back Our Narrative

peopletalkingThe winter of 2013 was an eventful one for me. As a second year medical student from Pakistan, I had the opportunity to visit the United States for a research elective at a university there. There were many lessons learnt and memories made, but there is one that has especially resonated with me.

As I was hurrying back from lunch to the office one day, I had trouble with the key.  A lady kindly offered to help. I had bumped into her before and exchanged a few greetings. However, that day after the door finally managed to get unlocked, she turned to me and said, “So listen, I have been meaning to ask you….why do you cover your head?”

I was, in all honestly, taken aback. But I also noticed something else. The tone she had used was neither condescending nor pitying. In fact it was one of curiosity.

And, it made a difference.

My answer was simple. I told her it was a part of my religion (Islam), which in turn, was part of my identity. I also mentioned that it had been my choice and wasn’t something I did simply because of tradition. I couldn’t explain much or launch into a detailed explanation out there in the hallway, but she seemed satisfied with the little details I did give; and she gave me no less than a positive response saying she thought it was a beautiful concept.

While the Hijab appears to be a central theme in the above anecdote, I want to highlight an aspect that has nothing to do with covering my head: harmony amongst people and within a society.

She chose to listen to my narrative, simple as it was, over whatever pre-conceived notions she may have had or any assumptions that people usually make regarding the Hijab.

The lady chose to ask me why I did something that she had seen few people do in her homeland, when she saw that it clearly highlighted that I was a foreigner and a Muslim; she did what few people think of doing, albeit unconsciously: she gave me a voice. She chose to listen to my narrative, simple as it was, over whatever pre-conceived notions she may have had or any assumptions that people usually make regarding the Hijab. She chose to get to know me rather than the version of me that society most commonly constructs (i.e. just another oppressed Muslim being weighed down by her religion).

Being extremely busy, I barely had a chance to see her again, but she taught me one of the most important lessons I could have learnt as a human being: sometimes in order to get to know people and give them a voice, all you have to do is throw aside whatever you think you know, whatever assumptions you have and just listen. Listen to why some people cover their heads. Listen to why some don’t. Listen to why people are in tune with their religion. Listen to why others are not. Listen to why some seem to be enjoying their lives to the fullest. Listen to why others are not.  Listen and understand these differences instead of treating them like the elephant in the room.

I would not like it for myself that others make an opinion about me without ever meeting me, based on what they may have heard from other people. And, the least I can do is offer others the same courtesy and treat them the way I would like to be treated.

Our Beloved Prophet (sa) understood this more than anyone else, and enjoined it by saying in his famous Hadeeth, “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”

Can we ever appreciate the wisdom of this beautiful Hadeeth enough? As Muslims we are taught not only to refrain from negative assumptions, but also to speak good of others; yet, every day, we seem to be doing the opposite.

In Surah Ar-Rahman, Allah (swt) mentions how He, in his infinite Mercy, taught man to speak. Physically speaking, it is pretty amazing how Allah (swt) did this, how He fashioned the vocal cords inside of us. I got the opportunity to view them once, when I got to observe an anesthetist as she intubated a patient. Intubation requires for a tube to be fitted down the throat into the trachea (windpipe) after sedation is achieved. And, as the anesthetist slid the laryngoscope in for visualization, I got to stand right beside her and view the inside of the throat. The tube moved in effortlessly, coming to a stop as they reached the windpipe. From my angle, I could view the vocal cords. And with the light of the laryngoscope, these small white cords appeared almost to glisten.

Here is the reality. Right in the middle of red, wet, tissue that is in our throats these glistening white cords stand out like pearls. They are tiny- you would hardly think they were created for a purpose. But, their Maker knew where to place them exactly so that they could come together to produce sound, the very essence of communication, of how we get to know each other. And these tiny, lovely pearl-like cords are there in the throats of every human being, delivering the purpose according to the way they are used. They are there in the neck of a tyrant as he spews out hate; they are there in the victim as he cries for mercy. They are there for the adult who may espouse some wisdom, for the child as he murmurs and cries, for the oppressor and the oppressed.

And these tiny, lovely pearl-like cords are there in the throats of every human being, delivering the purpose according to the way they are used.

These cords are in harmony with one another. But when we abuse this incredible power we have been given, we lose that harmony. And this loss can result in the ugliest of manifestations….broken homes, broken families, even broken nations. Hence, if we really want change, let’s start from here. Let’s beautify our speech. Let us be more understanding and considerate of others. Let us take back our narrative together, as a human race.

Watch What You Say: Don’t Poke Fun or Be Sarcastic

Colorful speech bubbles“O you who believe! Let not a group scoff at another group, it may be that the latter are better than the former; nor let (some) women scoff at other women, it may be that the latter are better than the former, nor defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. How bad is it, to insult one’s brother after having Faith [i.e. to call your Muslim brother (a faithful believer) as: “O sinner”, or “O wicked”, etc.]. And whosoever does not repent, then such are indeed Zalimun (wrong-doers, etc.).” (Al-Hujurat 49:11)

I wanted to share with you a reminder that we all need, in regards to guarding and respecting the gift Allah (swt) has given to us- our tongues. The ability to speak is an incredible gift from Allah (swt), and it’s an honour from Allah (swt). And, what we learn from the verses is that, the best use of our speech is to remember Allah (swt) by the words He taught us. Our speech, in any matter, should be inspired by the speech that Allah (swt) has honoured us with, i.e., His Quran.

we sometime don’t realize the value of things that we have, specially our tongues.

Now, we’re all humans and we make mistakes. And, we sometime don’t realize the value of things that we have, specially our tongues. We say things, we make comments and social settings among family and friends and things like that. We completely cross the line sometimes that we don’t realize the magnitude of that problem. And because, Allah (swt) takes good time to mention this particular problem in the Quran, it should make us appreciate that this is not a light matter.

In this regard, there is a reminder from Surah Al-Hujurat, verse number eleven. It is addressed to those who believe, and the first thing Allah (swt) says is that, those of you who believe, don’t let any group among you or any nation, collectivity poke fun at any other group. Don’t be sarcastic against each other. Now, making fun of someone and being sarcastic against someone, especially nowadays, is considered as a sign of intelligence… ‘that guy is really funny!’, ‘ that guy makes a lot of funny jokes!’, or ‘he makes lot of sarcastic remarks that are like a rapid fire, they come out of him one after another!’. And, when people around you laugh at your joke, it’s pretty much an ego boost; so you come up with a next disc or a next sarcastic remark or an inappropriate joke, and you feed off the humour, and you get caught up with it.

Allah (swt) is telling us in this Surah that this is something that can take away the very fabric of brotherhood that we enjoy among each other. Allah (swt) says right before this verse that believers are nothing, but brothers among each other; so make reconciliation among your brothers. And, fear Allah (swt) so you are shown mercy. Be conscious, aware and in awe of Allah (swt) so you may be shown mercy.

The previous verse tells us to make reconciliation among each other, and the very next verse reminds us to watch the way we speak to each other.

The previous verse tells us to make reconciliation among each other, and the very next verse reminds us to watch the way we speak to each other. Don’t be sarcastic with each other. Don’t make insulting comments in the name of humour against each other. It is very casual to say or talk about how short someone is, or how ugly they are, or how they dress, or what kind of car they drive, or what school they go to, or what kind of a job they have. It’s very easy to pick on someone’s flaws and make them the point of ridicule.

An excerpt from a lecture transcript published on – edited and posted by Hiba with permission.