7 tips to avoid bloating and heaviness after breaking your Ramadan fast


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“..Eat and drink, but be not excessive..” Qur’an 7:31

Many people find it very difficult to remain hungry for long and the moment the Adhan is given for Maghrib they resort to binging at Iftar time. This scene is commonplace in communal Iftar dinners where there is an abundance of food.

The result of this no holds barred approach can be devastating on the human body. There is indigestion and heartburn, bloating and heaviness. After binging at maghrib people do not feel like getting up for their prayers. Not only do they binge at Iftar, after they have done maghrib prayers they have another session, this time with heavy dinner variety meals.

Due to such binges people feel bloated, heavy and sick. They feel sleepy when its time for Isha and either miss Isha prayers or perform them half asleep. People often complain that instead of losing weight they have actually put on weight despite a month of fasting. Little do they realize that the items that are standard on a Ramadan menu like Samosas, Pakoras, Jalebis, etc are all high carbohydrate and high calorie foods, whose carefree helpings add to our weight.

Thus there is a need to not only plan the type and quality of our meals at Ramadan but also their quantity and timing. The following tips should remedy the situation by tackling the aforementioned imbalances.

#1. Do Iftar with only dates and water. Break your fast just by a few dates and a drink of water and nothing else. The Quran informs us that when Mary was in pain and hardship Allah ordered her to consume dates and drink spring water. So consuming dates and drinking water after a period of hardship does carry Quranic wisdom. Eat the dates and drink the water during the time of azan. Once the Adhan is over, then get up from the food table, go and perform your Maghrib prayers.

#2. Only snack between Maghrib and Isha
After Maghrib prayers do not help yourself to your dinner yet but instead take a light snack meal. For example a Samosa or two with a cup of tea. If you eat your main dinner now, you will feel heavy and will not be able to concentrate on your prayers. So after Maghrib eat only a light snack and not a meal with full stomach. With a half empty stomach go for performing Isha prayers.

#3- Have a light dinner after Isha Once you have performed your Isha prayers, now you should have your dinner or main meal of the day. Eat your dinner but in a balanced manner paying attention to portion sizes. You will not feel the urge to binge because your hunger pangs due to fasting would have subsided due to the dates and snacks.

#4. Take Yogurt at Suhoor Before Fajr eat a light meal like fruits and yogurt at Suhoor time. Don’t forget the Yogurt as it will help control the thirst all day long during the fast.

#5. Eat Quranic foods. Avoid deep fried items like Jalebis, Pakoras, Biryani, Qorma. Also avoid refined carbohydrates like Naan bread, Pasta, White Rice, Sugar etc. Allah has specifically mentioned the following foods in the Quran, so if you are able to you should incorporate these in your Ramadan diet in raw and pure form.

  1. Olive oil
  2. Olives
  3. Figs
  4. Milk
  5. Honey

Ensure that the above Quranic foods are on your kitchen table throughout Ramadan.

#6. Count Calories. Ensure that all the four meals you consume do not cross your daily calorie limit. Eg if you are supposed to consume 2000 calories a day then plan your meals accordingly.

#7. Consume foods that are planned. Avoid eating eating haphazardly and without a meal plan. If you stick to a preplanned meals you will be able to have control over your body.

In-Sha-Allah if you observe these tips you will have a balanced fasting period with controllable thirst and hunger and remain healthy and strong during Ramadan.

Believers: Genuine vs Fake


Inept border control procedures and a lenient attitude of rulers towards rogue traders means that our marketplaces are flooded with counterfeit goods. It has become very common to find bags, watches, eyewear, clothing, and all sorts of products having marks and labels of famous brands but which are in fact complete fakes. The popularity of a brand implies that a fake using its name can also be slipped in undetected. Just like rogue traders are having a heyday cashing in on corporate fame and the simplicity of consumers, the situation is not much different when it comes to matters of faith. Alongside genuine teachers there are also pretenders who exploit the faithful. But a failure to distinguish the genuineness and authenticity of the religious teaching one is led towards can have far more drastic consequences than perhaps the discomfort of using counterfeit fashion accessories.

For the total devotion demanded by faith implies that loss of family, friends, health, and wealth can result. Even one’s very life is at stake if one has not got the criterion to ascertain religious authenticity. The possession of such a criterion, one that filters truth from falsehood, right from wrong, the canonical from the apocryphal, is therefore the key to one’s well being.

This beacon which safeguards us from hazards posed by charlatans is none other but the Quran. An attribute of the Quran is “al-Furqan” or “The Criterion between right and wrong”. Where it narrates goodness, it also cautions about badness in all its forms. The archetypes it presents are ahistorical and can be related to any time or era. For that is why it is a guidance.

Numerous type of personalities are mentioned in the Quran that incur God’s displeasure. Some are outright rejecters, some believe in God while associating partners with him. There is one particular category of the disapproved kind which is not easily detectable to the untrained eye because it styles itself as staunch believers in God and claim that its deeds are in the very name of God. The Quran cautions:

وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ ءَامَنَّا بِٱللَّهِ وَبِٱلْيَوْمِ ٱلْءَاخِرِ وَمَا هُم بِمُؤْمِنِينَ

“And of the people are some who say, “We believe in Allah and the Last Day,” but they are not believers.” 2:7

Notice that they proclaim to be believers but Allah says they are not believers! This is so because:

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ لَا تُفْسِدُوا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ قَالُوٓا۟ إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُصْلِحُونَ

“And when it is said to them, “Do not cause corruption (Arabic: Fasaad) on the earth,” they say, “We are but reformers.” 2:11

One’s claim to “Imaan” (belief in Allah) is immediately dismissed if he resorts to “fasaad” (disorder in the land, damage to life and property) as a pretext of “Islah” (Reform, correction). These verses bring to light that the identity of a believer is not the label he carries but his character. Also clear is the fact that violence was never ordained by God as a method of societal reform.

The Quran also cautions about that kind of a preacher who frequently uses the name of Allah in his speeches:

وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن يُعْجِبُكَ قَوْلُهُۥ فِى ٱلْحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَيُشْهِدُ ٱللَّهَ عَلَىٰ مَا فِى قَلْبِهِۦ وَهُوَ أَلَدُّ ٱلْخِصَامِ

“And of the people is he whose speech pleases you in worldly life, and he calls Allah to witness as to what is in his heart, yet he is the fiercest of opponents.” 2:204

One may ask what is wrong in citing Allah’s name in speech? The next verse gives the answer:

وَإِذَا تَوَلَّىٰ سَعَىٰ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ لِيُفْسِدَ فِيهَا وَيُهْلِكَ ٱلْحَرْثَ وَٱلنَّسْلَ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلْفَسَادَ

“And when he goes away, he strives throughout the land to cause corruption (Arabic: Fasaad) therein and destroy crops and animals. And Allah does not like corruption.” 2:205

So merely using the name of Allah to endorse a speech or merely labelling one’s self as Islamic or merely doing things in the name of Islam does not establish one’s bonafide. It is by virtue of behaviour and not labels that one is to be distinguished. When those who call for reforming society resort to violent means then they are not genuine believers in God but fakes.

If one possesses the peaceful behaviour of a believer as narrated by God in His Book, then and only then does he fit the label. But sadly we see that today the words Islam and Muslim are used carelessly as an appendage to individuals committing even the vilest of deeds. The Quran makes it amply clear that every claim in the name of God is not from God. Every deed meted out in the name of righteousness is not righteous.

We owe it to our well being that we do not take each and everything that is hurled towards us in the name of God to be actually coming from God but to take guidance from the Quran by ourselves and see the type of behaviour it has endorsed and the type that it has resented.

First published in Daily DAWN, dated 12 February, 2016

Cults


Gold is precious. Because it is precious, people seek it. They will pay a price for it and are eager to have it as a possession. Because it is precious, sought after and always has a clientele, fraudsters are also drawn to it. They know full well that if they can deceptively sell worthless things disguised as gold, then they can make a lot of money.

Like gold, religion too has popular charm and appeal. Its popularity enables a global following. People seek solace in it, and approach it to find answers to life’s most pressing matters. Entire life’s savings are dedicated for its pilgrimages. Its symbols adorn people’s homes, who go to great lengths to experience the sacred. It is because of this charm that religion also draws the attention of vested interests.

While there are genuine religious guides who offer a transparent exposition of faith and are regarded accordingly in the mainstream, there are also individuals outside the mainstream that take an unfair advantage of the popular appeal of faith and operate mind controlling cults. The phenomenon of cults exists largely in most religions and has been the subject of much academic research in the West.

However in our society, though cults exist profusely given the conducive environment for their formation, little is documented about their salient features.

When time and again we hear stories of how a self styled faith healer exploited the vulnerable or when we hear about youth lured into groups involved in acts of terrorism, what we are witnessing then, is cult phenomenon.

In a society like ours, where laws exists but law enforcement is non existent, the environment is ripe for such wolves in sheep’s clothing to not only mushroom but to thrive and prosper. Cults come in a wide variety and have varying objectives. Some are militant organisations but there are also non violent groups. Some religious but others overtly secular. Irrespective of their varying types, all cults have a common strand that distinguishes them.

Cults operate with hidden agendas. They approach potential recruits in the name of righteousness, but deliberately conceal their inner core on their initial interaction.

A harmless ‘Dars’ at the home of an acquaintance could in fact be an exercise in cult recruitment. Those who do not possess religious literacy – as is the case with most – may attend the lecture and think that the preaching encountered is from God’s Book and emanates from God. But the Qur’an itself fore warns us that everything preached in God’s name is not necessarily coming from God: “There is among them a section who distort the Book with their tongues: you would think it is a part of the Book, but it is no part of the Book; and they say, “That is from Allah,” but it is not from Allah: It is they who tell a lie against Allah, and (well) they know it!” (3:78)

Cult leaders come not only in a pious garb but also with a dramatic stage persona. They enthral audiences, and deliver a performance, which once over, obliges them to return to their real selves albeit back stage. Unknown to many, they have their hawks in the audience who keep a watchful eye on all, and who will alert the leader to stage an exit when things are not in his favour.

The public persona of a cult leader is very different from his real person, which is visible only to those who observe him in private. The ideal prey are the wealthy or the well connected who are ignorant of religious knowledge. Playboys and spoiled brats are a perfect clientele as are middle aged begum sahibs with problems at home and some cash to spare.
Youngsters from dysfunctional families and those who have suffered a personal bereavement are particularly vulnerable to cult recruitment because cult doctrine is designed to temporarily soothe their pain.

To grow, cults need not only money but also the talent and connections of members. That is why cults actively recruit for new members. Recruitment begins with misleading advertisements and false claims often spread through word of mouth. However nowadays shares and likes on social media also lend a helping hand.

Endorsements from celebrities is a well known marketing tactic of cults. While some celebrities formally join cults and actively work for them, a public figure who may not know the true colours of the group can also be targeted by the group to elicit words of praise, which are then advertised as a mark of legitimacy. Followers from high ranking officials are prized possessions in cults, because when the time is right their influence will be put to use.

The cult always has two sets of teachings – one for the public, one for the private. Newcomers are not told about the ‘special’ knowledge immediately. It is only when they are initiated and tried over a period of time that the ‘special beliefs’ of the group’s leader will be disclosed.

Outsiders thus have no idea at all about what the preacher and his group are all about. Beliefs are deliberately kept vague and often undocumented. What has been documented will undergo revision when lacunae are known, with earlier versions silently withdrawn from circulation. The group leader is reluctant to speak in front of the camera other than his own camera crew with the footage being released after careful editing. Camera shyness is a deliberate ploy to stay clear from public scrutiny and any form of accountability.

A cult environment is one where debate is stifled and critical thinking is discouraged. The group isn’t out in the public limelight but may operate out of a private residence with no signage or distinguishing marks. Cults aren’t registered bodies that have audited accounts or legal structures.

They operate mostly in secrecy and through deception. In present times, the internet and the world wide web is their territory. Once inside, members are gradually introduced to esoteric interpretations and an elitist mindset which paints everything in black and white. The cult has its own worldview which is the standard for its members. Those who accept the group’s leader and official cult doctrine are the only ones to have salvation, while the rest are destined for hellfire.

A distinguishing feature is a vocabulary coined specifically for use within the group. Peer review and academic critique is the hallmark of scholarship. In contrast cult leaders portray themselves to be beyond criticism to their followers. Critical voices are deliberately suppressed and those expressing them are gradually shown the door. Former members are shunned and existing members are discouraged from keeping any contact citing the contagious ‘impurity’ of the former.

Phobia indoctrination is another method to keep followers within the fold. When one is persuaded that something terrible will befall him should he criticise the group leader or leave the group, then this fear is sufficient to make him stay.

Solicitations for funds also do not come immediately but only after one has been fully programmed – within the group’s beliefs. For once the mind is under control, the rest comes easily.

Cult leaders are charismatic personalities albeit with a disturbed upbringing. By probing deep one is likely to discover a criminal past and even a history of mental health problems.

Religious lectures are a common tool for recruitment of new followers. It is impossible to tell if a commentary in a foreign language was in full accord with the original Arabic words of the Holy Book if one is not well versed in Arabic. When one is not in a habit of doing their own study, then he is prone to indoctrination.

The Qur’an cautions us about those who will present falsehood intermixed with truth by exhorting: “And do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know [it].” (2:42). The Quran is replete with the phrase ‘Yasalunaka’ lit. ‘They question thee’ which shows that the Prophet (PBUH) never discouraged questions. It informs believers: “.. if you ask questions about things while the Qur’an is being revealed, they will be made plain to you” (5:101). It identifies that reason is never to be suspended for comprehending the Signs of God is conditional upon the use of one’s ‘Aql’: “We have certainly made clear to you the signs, if you will use reason.” (3:118)

We are not to blindly follow leaders for on the day of judgement: “[And they should consider that] when those who have been followed disassociate themselves from those who followed [them], and they [all] see the punishment, and cut off from them are the ties..” (2:166).

No human is above accountability for not only those to whom the Message of God was delivered but also the Messengers will be called to account: “Then We will surely question those to whom [a message] was sent, and We will surely question the messengers.” (7:6).

Coercion by force or through psychological manipulation is ruled out as: “There is no compulsion in religion.” (2:256) There are to be no secret teachings. All is to be preached out in the open and to all mankind as: “..those who hide our revelations and guidance after We have made them clear for people in the Book, they are those on whom is the curse of Allah..” (2:159).

The Qur’an immediately disqualifies those who are persistent for monthly ‘Chanda’ by stating: “Follow those who do not ask of you [any] payment, and they are [rightly] guided.” (36:21)
We owe it our well being that before we swallow everything hook line and sinker, that we do not shy away from asking some very basic questions about the group we are being asked to join. If before offering even the most menial of jobs to people we interview them and rigorously do background checks, then why must we not do the same or conduct an investigation even more thorough when we give religious guides the responsibility to come into our lives?

No God-fearing person evades accountability for it is the very trait of the genuinely Godly to be ever prepared to give their account. One who has not wronged anyone is not afraid to answer questions because he has nothing to hide, possesses a clear conscience and has lived an open and transparent life. But the moment you realise that questions are deliberately being avoided, that the group does not want to be filmed or come on record then that is the moment for you to realise that there is more to your dear Shaikh sahab than meets the eye.

Makkah: The Microcosm of the World


MAKKAH: THE MICROCOSM OF THE WORLD

To the unknowing as well as the unconcerned, Makkah may be a city in the desert with some historical importance, but what does come to light once we actually visit the city, is the fact that it is the microcosm of the entire world. To the faithful, humankind’s centrepoint, appointed by God since time immemorial is none else but the city of Makkah. Such an honour mandates that no matter what one’s racial or ethnic background, the journey to Umm al-Quraaa or the ‘Mother of all cities’, as it has been called in the Qur’an – is a yearning of the heart. This longing is pandered to all year around through the Umrah or the lesser pilgramage, but its true fulfilment is found in the Hajj. Every year the city of Makkah is host to millions of people from all walks of life and all hues and colours during the Hajj, an international event of superb magnitude which is obligatory on all Muslims, male or female, who possess the means as well as the ability to perform the journey.

THE ROAD TO MAKKAH

The period of Hajj sees all roads leading to Makkah. Pilgrims make their way through land, sea and air using all available means of transportation. Special Hajj flights are organised for the event by major world Airlines and special Hajj liners sail from distant lands carrying pilgrims by the sea. Such is the ardent desire to be at the city that some even travel on foot. It is not at all uncommon to hear tales of perilous journeys culminating in Makkah by pedestrians from far away lands. This descent into Makkah from all parts of the world is not a new phenomenon, but one which was foretold by God to Prophet Abraham:

And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass.” Qur’an 22:27

Makkah during the Hajj is a global village in its true sense. Pilgrims, whose numbers during the event surpass the population size of many countries, are drawn to the city from every continent on the planet.

HUMANITY AT ITS FULL SPLENDOR

Black or white, young or old, male or female, able bodied or disabled, rich or poor, thus humanity in its full splendour can be witnessed during the Hajj. Even the diversity around fashion which distinguishes one community from the other is quite apparent and was marvelled at by former MTV star presenter Kristiane Backer in her autobiography:

They came from all over the world and I never tired of the variety of faces, colours and outfits. There were women from Mali looking regal and elegant in gorgeous lilac orange, and green robes wearing matching turbans with a strip of fabric hanging down the side. Indonesian women all had white headscarves and white gloves and white headscarves that hung to their breast and were embroidered with lace. The persian women usually wore long black or blue robes with grey chadors that came down below their hips while Morroccans could be recognised by the hoods on their jalabias. Another group of women sported bright yellow veils with blue labels sewn onto them, which indicated that they came from Kerala in India. I also heard German, French, English and American voices.On my wanderings, I came across men from Tajikistan wearing black quilted satin and velvet coats and matching black gold-framed caps. There were other men with palestinian scarves wrapped around their heads, shiny silver black turbans, traditional Arab head dress or small white caps. Many Pakistanis had long henna-dyed beards.” (From MTV to Mecca, pp 314)

Makkah of today is a modern city with all amenities and comforts for travelers from all over the globe. But what remains unchanged is the sublime spirit of the Hajj, which no words can describe and which can only be felt by the heart of the pilgrim.

TRANSFORMATION TO PEACE

The diversity at Hajj is not a mere social phenomenon, but one of immense importance for the wider welfare of humankind. Pilgrims ranging from every possible ethnic background return to their homelands with an increased level of tolerance for their fellow-men who may be different from them. The interaction with people of different race and ethnicity leave no room at all for racism. The pilgrims are in a state of cooperation and display the best of their behavior during the days as they are commanded by Allah:

Hajj is [during] well-known months, so whoever has made Hajj obligatory upon himself therein [by entering the state of ihram], there is [to be for him] no sexual relations and no disobedience and no disputing during Hajj. And whatever good you do – Allah knows it. And take provisions, but indeed, the best provision is fear of Allah. And fear Me, O you of understanding.” Qur’an 2:197

Exposure to a diversity of groups makes the visitors to Makkah more tolerant, not only towards those who are present during the pilgrimage, but also those who are absent. American civil rights activist Malcolm X drastically altered his views on race after performing the Hajj. In a letter from the Hajj, he wrote:

”We were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white … what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held.’‘ (The Autobiography of Malcolm X)

While the world rages with ethnic and national conflicts, each year Makkah demonstrates to us that people can very well intermix despite differences on national, sectarian, and gender lines and peacefully coexist with each other. Words are not sufficient to describe the splendor offered by Makkah. To experience it you will have to visit the city and be there in person.

Muslims & FE


Speech delivered at “Change & Growth”, Chaplaincy in Further Education Annual Conference held in York, UK, July 2006.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before I begin my speech, I would like to extend the universal greeting of peace to all of you.

Assalamu-alaikum Wa Rahmatullahe Wa Barakatahu”

No! Don’t be upset, I didn’t cast a spell on any one of you, nor did I attempt to mesmerise or hypnotise anybody. The words I just uttered were in Arabic, and they simply mean May the peace and the mercy and blessing of God be on you. As most of the people present here are from a Christian background, they may know, that we read in the Gospels, when Jesus used to meet his disciples, he used to address them: “Shalom Alaikum”, which is the same as “Salaam Alaikum” in Arabic. Salaam and Shalom mean the same thing, “peace”. So you can relax now!

Coming to the topic, my presentation will cover two aspects. First I would like to demonstrate the meaning of certain terms from a Muslim perspective. Second, I would like to highlight some practical faith and related needs of Muslim learners in Colleges of Further Education.

The Language Barrier

As the title of the presentation is not of my own choice, but was suggested to me by the conference organisers, and looking at the vocabulary concerned, I deemed it important that the subject be addressed in precise and specific terms. This is so, because words mean different things to different people. Language, if kept vague, undefined and unqualified, can result in misunderstanding and miscommunication. One of the reasons of the prevailing misunderstandings between Muslims and other communities is language.

Terms that have a specific meaning and understanding are seldom defined in discourse, and instead inaccurate connotations are attached to them with an implied meaning, which is then popularized, resulting in creating misconceptions.

Take for example, the Arabic word Jihad, which will commonly evoke the meaning of “Holy War”, because it is this meaning which is (very wrongly) attached to this term in contemporary discourse, ignoring the fact that the word simply carries the basic linguistic  meaning of striving or making an effort for anything. e.g. striving or making an effort to pass your exams at college is your Jihad to pass exams.

On the other hand for War, the original word in Arabic is Harab, and Holy in Arabic is Muqaddas.  The accurate rendering of “The Holy War”, (a concept non existent in the Qur’an) is Al Harab al Muqadas, and not Jihad, as is erroneously mentioned in certain circles.

When we look at the terms Spirit and Spiritual, their notions may mean differently to different people, depending on their respective cultures, beliefs, faith, or linguistic patterns. To some it may mean simply being a good and moral person, to others Spirituality implies following a mystical tradition instead of organised religion. Maybe some may think that spiritual development has a connection with Spiritualists and has something to do with attending séances and recalling the spirit of the dead!

So in order to avoid confusion, it is vital, that first of all, we define what we mean by a term before building a structure upon it.

The difference between Nafs (Soul) and Rooh (Spirit)

In contemporary usage, Spirit is understood as the ethereal part of the human being, i.e. the ghost dwelling within the body, the human soul. However in the Qur’an, Spirit or its Arabic equivalent Rooh is not used in this meaning. Rooh is distinct from Nafs (the human soul), and it is not something that we already possess like the soul and the body, but is given to human beings as inspiration from God:

“And thus have We inspired in thee a Spirit (Rooh) of Our command. Thou knewest not what the Scripture was, nor what the Faith. But We have made it a light whereby We guide whom We will of Our bondmen. And lo! thou verily dost guide unto a right path.” 42:51

We can see in the above verse that Rooh is concerned with imparting divine guidance to the human being and is the vehicle of revelation. Prior to its reception Scripture and faith remained unknown, and it is the light by which these are understood. By exploring all those verses where the term Rooh has occurred, one discovers that according to Qur’anic usage Spirit is not the human soul, but is distinct from it as the Spirit of revelation, and is the essence of God’s guidance to mankind.

The Qur’an teaches that the human being is not just a material entity consisting of the physical body, but is a combination of body and soul. It is the Nafs i.e. the soul which is the real driver of the body. On top of that we also possess Aql (Intelligence) and Hawa (emotions).

If the soul does not drive the body in the light of the guidance of the Spirit, then it can be overpowered by emotions and then utilises intelligence in their service.

Nourishment Of The Body, But Destruction Of The Soul

The physical body develops and attains nourishment by observing physical laws, while the Nafs develops by observing moral laws. For example consider the case that when someone consumes food that is legally purchased from a shop, and the same amount is stolen and then consumed, the material energy and taste to the body will be the same in both situations. Food, whether it is legally obtained or stolen gives the same amount of material benefit to the body. However the soul will be harmed if the consumed food is stolen, as it is acquired by virtue of breaking a moral law.

It is the Nafs whose development is the focus of Rooh. A Nafs which works without the aid of the guidance imparted by the Spirit will operate under the influence of emotions and focus itself on the body, but with the guidance of the Spirit it realises its true potential and maintains a balance between the needs of the body and demands of the soul.

The references to Rooh in the Qur’an are for God’s Spirit, and not the human spirit. I’d like to clarify again that human beings already posses a Nafs, or the Self, in latent form while the spirit is sent by God to guide the develop it.

No division between the worldly and the religious

It is also worth mentioning that the Qur’an enjoins upon a Muslim to learn and apply both  physical laws, as well as moral laws, as the body is not distinct from the self, but is related to it:

“Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day,- there are indeed Signs for people of understanding.”

“Those who remember God, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and reflect on the creation in the heavens and the earth…”3:190-191

In the above we see that those who remember God, are also engaged in the study of the material universe, hence “Spiritual” is not separate from the “Worldy”, for it is how one functions in the material world that the Spirit gives guidance for.

If the term spiritual development in FE Colleges were to be retained then by it the Muslim would mean the development of the Nafs (soul) through guidance provided by the Rooh (Spirit) found in revelation.

Colleges of Further education may very well equip learners to know ways and means of meeting the needs of the human body, but what provision is there for the development of the souls that are housed within those bodies? Are educational institutions merely ‘factories’ that have an ‘assembly’ line of students to impart them with skills on how to make money and send them out the door? What about the values that those learners are to acquire to implement in their practical life? Such questions definitely deserve our attention.

The Muslim Community & FE Colleges

The British Muslim community is the second largest faith group in the UK with approximately six million adherents. However it would be wrong to suggest that the community has one set of beliefs or dispositions as there is a wide variety of diverse beliefs and practices that are being observed within the community. Apart from religious diversity, the community is also diverse in terms of ethnicity.

From a demographic angle, about a third of the population is under the age of sixteen and a half a million learners in the British education system are Muslims. This poses a challenge to educational institutions that are ill equipped to meet the needs of learners from this group. In an FE context, where learners often come from disadvantaged communities, the Muslim community is a prime target group, as it is often highlighted with poor socio economic conditions, inner city residences, highest rate of ill health, and a high unemployment rate.

Although (as mentioned earlier) there exist a wide variety of diverse views, opinions and practices within the Muslim community, a college is likely to get the following generic requests in order to meet the needs of learners. By addressing these needs the college will facilitate the take up of education from this group.

Diet

Muslim learners will almost certainly require catering facilities in accordance with their beliefs which demand. A diet in which alcohol and pork is restricted, and meat which is from poultry or cattle slaughtered by severing the jugular. Colleges need to make adjustment to their canteen menus to accommodate Muslim Halaal food requirements.

Washing Facilities

Toilets in FE colleges need to be equipped with adequate washing facilities, such as water containers in the WC, as Muslim learners are required to wash after attending the toilet, and do ablution before prayers.

Dress Code & Modesty

Provision for private cubicles for showers in changing rooms need to be made, as Muslim learners may feel uncomfortable from using such changing rooms where there are communal showers, due to total nudity in such settings not being approved in their faith.

Socialization – Alcohol  & Clubs

It should be borne in mind that the Islamic faith does not allow consumption of alcohol for recreational use, and carefree intermixing of opposite sexes (outside the bond of marriage), hence any social or enrichment activities planned by the college where students are required to visit Dance Clubs, or Public houses will be inappropriate for practicing Muslims.

Time table adjustment for the festival of Eid

Muslims celebrate two major festivals in a year. Eid ul Fitr which marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting, and after two months of Eid al FitrEid al Adha, which marks the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Makkah. Muslims celebrate these two festivals with traditional fervour. Both these Eids are occasions as important to them, as Easter and Christmas are to Christians and in Muslim countries, days on which these events fall are official public holidays. Colleges which are having significant populations of Muslim learners may get the request for time off for students to celebrate these festivals, and timetable adjustments may need to be made. occurs

Space for Prayer

There are five daily prayers and one congregational prayer on a Friday that practicing Muslims observe regularly. For the purpose, a prayer room in the college is certainly a necessity. A multi-faith prayer room with neutral décor on the pattern of Airport chaplaincies would be sufficient to meet this need rather than a dedicated room for the faith.

Counselling & Support

For dealing with issues related to counselling and bereavement, it is important that staff members with the proper professional as well as theological training be inducted to give support to students undergoing a crises point in their life. There is also the need for well spoken and culturally aware faith leaders to maintain a link with the college to give advice and support to students when required.

Dialogue & Encounter

For many, an FE experience provides an opportunity for interaction with people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs which may perhaps not exist in their own locality. It is vital that FE colleges encourage a structured approach to interfaith dialogue, so that students can appreciate the diversity within campus, which reflects the diverse communities in wider society.

In Conclusion

It is vital that colleges realize the changing demographic patterns of Britain and appreciate that for many among the Muslim community Faith is part of public identity. Given recent trends of immigration and influx of ESOL students who may be more religiously observant than local learners, and the non availability of faith provision in FE colleges as against schools, colleges need to be better equipped to provide multi faith student support.

It is equally important to realize that faith communities act as hubs of information and exchange, and colleges by maintaining a link with such, have an opportunity to promote their services to an unrealized potential. Faith leaders acting as influencers and gatekeeper in the community can endorse the ‘offerings’ of colleges.

The youth from the Muslim community, and particularly inner city dwellers have a tendency to pursue education at an FE college and it should be born in mind that although no fixed set of beliefs and practices exist, the community may appear to be more visibly observant in practical and day to day matters of faith, hence having an impact on the educational institutions that they go to. FE colleges are ideally placed for the social, economic as well as the moral uplift of the community, and for the purpose adjustments should be made to accommodate the faith needs of this community, which does not see any separation of the religious from the secular. In the end I would like to thank the organisers here for inviting me as a panelist at the conference. I will welcome questions and comments from the audience.

Kashif Shahzada

The Dilemma Of Faith


When Faith Becomes A Hurdle in Our Search For Truth

The journey to search the truth is not a smooth ride. There are hurdles on the way, strong winds, narrow paths and sharp turns. A rather perilous journey.

The problem you are most likely to face when you go about this journey is the sheer number of spokespersons you meet who attempt to define God for you. You are likely to be overwhelmed by these self proclaimed ‘divine’ emissaries, all of whom are ever ready with a new trick up their sleeve to lure you into conversion. The world is full of them. In every street and town, every nook and corner, seers, ‘holy’ men, preachers, sages, priests, and mystics, some claiming to be born again, some reincarnated, others even ‘eternally existing’ ready with their salesmanship, their eyes preying on you with delight.

These claimants to divine knowledge will, if you lend them an ear, send you in directions very different from each other. To one, the Lord came down to earth as a man, while the other finds such a notion sacrilegious. It is a part and parcel of true religion to devote oneself to an idol and image says one of them, while such would be a blasphemy of the highest order according to the other.

As many people you speak to, as many confusing views you are likely to come across consolidating the idea that all religions do not preach one and the same thing and that if you were to choose one path, you are very unlikely to end up on the same road as the others. Therefore, you as the traveler in search of truth will definitely encounter contradictory views about God and His religion from such self styled specialists, each unique and different in his or her own way.

Despite their uniqueness, there will be one common strand among them all. One commonality that pervades their differing and often opposing views – all of them will ultimately resort to faith, should they face rational questioning.

Faith i.e. belief without proof or evidence is what sustains their religiosity, when cornered by your logical inquiry. No evidence, no logic, no proof to convey any credibility, but just faith – blind faith on their sales pitch.

And faith is what you must ultimately have if you wish to join their cult and taste the spiritual fruits that they find so sweet. Reason and rational thinking, proof and evidence, have no room in their house of faith, for these are for worldly matters. For higher and spiritual ends, one needs an ‘inner sight’, and a very different way of looking, so they proclaim.

Adherents hold on to their beliefs, not because they are convinced to the satisfaction of their intelligence about their efficacy, or have some sort of proof or evidence to substantiate their beliefs but because they ultimately have ‘faith’ in them, and so should you. Their invitation to you is an invitation to faith, i.e. to blind acceptance without any evidence to substantiate their claims.

ENMITY TOWARDS REASON

Since time immemorial advocates of faith have spoken against arriving at truths by way of reason and intellect:

“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”—Martin Luther, Table Talks in 1569.

Champions of faith can be seen holding reason in contempt. To them spiritual matters are related to the ‘inner’ soul of the human being, and have nothing to do with our rational capabilities. There is no room for reason and intellect in religious matters.

They can be very adamant in their own world of inconsistencies and contradictions in creed and dogma, for which they have one answer that solves all the problems – that one word answer is faith.

It is faith that makes you believe that God is All Powerful and at the same time also believe that He:

“ … made heaven and  earth, and on the seventh day HE RESTED, AND WAS REFRESHED.” (Exodus 31:17).

It is faith in action when you acknowledge Divine Omnipotence and at the same time also accept that the Lord:

“..could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had CHARIOTS OF IRON.” (Judges 1:19).

It is on account of faith that you proclaim that God is the source of all goodness and compassion, but also bewilder yourself (and others) by quoting the Lord:

“..I make peace and CREATE EVIL..” Isaiah 45:7.

It is none other but faith that makes you champion the cause of modesty and look down upon impropriety but at the same time make you accept that God’s prophet:

“…hath walked NAKED and barefoot three years..” (Isaiah 20:3-4).

It is due to difficulties such as the above that make the faithful declare:

“Whoever wants to be a Christian must be intent on silencing the voice of reason” —Martin Luther, “Sermons on the Gospel of St. John,” in Works, Vol. 23, p. 99.

To many, when they come across such difficulties, religion becomes a very bitter pill to swallow, and it is only when the architects of religion sweeten the pill with faith that it becomes palatable.

It is inconsistencies like these that contribute to a wholesale rejection of religion. Incomplete and faulty ideas about God and religion breed atheism. Religiosity is kept outwardly merely to please near and dear ones and to stick to social norms and accepted behaviors, but inwardly religious beliefs are held in contempt. The moment, those social pressures are no more and you are allowed to think for yourself, you find no reason to openly reject the belief system based on contradictory attributes.

FAITH AS A TOOL FOR OPPRESSION

While faith is a part and parcel of religious traditions, it is not the domain of the strictly religious only. Those who inwardly realize the weakness of faith, may outwardly use it as a secular ploy to maintain status quos and keep subjects under control and in subjugation. In such cases, vested interests declare that it is a grave sin to debate, to reason and inquire on official doctrines. Authorities imposed on you have a ‘divine’ warrant, so they say, and questioning them implies questioning God Himself.

Faith can very well be a tool for oppression when concocted in God’s name by vested interests merely to engineer their power over the masses. It is extremely useful to stifle dissent and lend credence to an otherwise illegitimate occupation.

AN ALTERNATE VIEW

Blind faith – whether you hold fast to it voluntarily, or one which is imposed on you, can it satisfy your intellectual quest for the ultimate truth? After all, if God is the one who made you, gave you your body and your mind, then will He prevent you from using your reasoning abilities? Why must we not use the mind to know about His matters?

When the intellect is paralysed and there is no room left for logical discussion, it is then that faith comes into play and matures itself. It is also when we close our minds and leave all matters to a blind adherence and trust without evidence or proof that the quest for the truth comes to a halt.

While certain faith leaders speak against reason to know spiritual matters, in contrast we also come across an alternate view. A view which presents religion in rational terms and which advocates the full use of your senses to decipher the truth. In this viewpoint you are not discouraged from using your intellect, but are in fact encouraged to ask questions and probe matters deeply.

This view is to be found nowhere but in the Qur’an. According to it, in attempting to know the truth, ‘Aql’ (reasoning) is to be employed:

“Certainly We have revealed to you a Book in which is your own reminder; what! Will you not then use your reason?” (21:10)

“We have made the revelations clear to you, if you will use your reason.” (3:118)

Truth will be known to you if you employ your Aql (Reason), while those who find thinking tedious are described as the denizens of hell:

“They will (further) say: Had we but listened or used our ‘Aql’ (reason), we should not (now) be among the companions of the blazing fire!” (67:10)

Such is the importance of being rational for religious matters, says the Qur’an. So much so that you can end up in hell fire if you paralyse your reasoning faculties. It is clear, therefore, that the Qur’an is no enemy of reason and does not regard it as a hindrance to your spiritual advancement.

PRODUCE YOUR PROOF!

According to the Qur’an, claims need verification prior to acceptance. Its general principle is that whenever people make a claim, demand proof from them. There is absolutely no room for blind faith in the Qur’an. It offers not only proofs, arguments and falsification tests for its own validity:

“O mankind! verily there hath come to you a convincing proof from your Lord: For We have sent unto you a light (that is) manifest.” 4:174

But demands evidence and proof from its opponents as well:

Or, Who originates creation, then repeats it, and who gives you sustenance from heaven and earth? (Can there be another) god besides God? Say, “Bring forth your proof, if ye are telling the truth!” 27:64

It also declares that those who have deviated from serving the one true God and fallen into false worship do not have any proof for their claims, and this indicates the Qur’anic attitude towards blind faith, namely that it is unacceptable:

“Or have they taken for worship (other) gods besides him? Say, “Bring your convincing proof: this is the Message of those with me and the Message of those before me.” But most of them know not the Truth, and so turn away.” 21:24

There is one religion, which in contrast to others does not resort to emotional or blind faith for itself, but calls for an intellectual inquiry to ascertain its truthfulness, presents proofs for its claims and demands proof from those who doubt its message.

A CALL TO ACTION

Have you ever come across a situation when you were prevented from asking questions? When you were told about the ‘blessings’ and ‘merits’ of such blind faith, and were advised against rational inquiry about conventional dogma?

Did you ever wonder why must you be forewarned not to employ reasoning and rationality for spiritual matters? Will you be uncovering some secret that people do not want you to know? Are they afraid that your questioning and reasoning ability will expose some flaw or weakness in their claims?

Did you realize that blind and emotional acceptance of doctrines can very well make you obstinate and narrow minded and that it is against your very nature not to think and reflect.

You are free to think, to reflect, to ponder and contemplate. You need to labour for the truth and use your entire being for the purpose, the body, the heart as well as the mind, for all are gifts from God.

“Say: ‘This is my way: I invite unto Allah upon conscious insight accessible to reason, I as well as those who follow me, and glory be to Allah, for I am not one of those who associate (others with His laws).” (12:108)

What will it be then, a blind faith that is narrow and restrictive, or a rational belief that is liberating and creative?

The choice is yours.

Reincarnation


Reincarnation is the belief that the human soul, upon the death of the human body, comes back to earth in another body or form. Also referred as ‘transmigration of souls’ this doctrine is a central tenet in many South Asian and East Asian religions such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism as well as ancient Middle Eastern religions. Due to the amalgamation of religious communities, this concept also crept into some Islamic nomenclature, specifically within the Sufi tradition. It is not uncommon to hear from those who subscribe to Sufism about the spirits of pious individuals as well as prophets who have passed away to be reincarnating in the earth and in some cases reappearing in front of the living and communicating with them.

Belief in reincarnation compels many people to claim that they have had ‘visitations’ from spirits. Some religiously believe that their dead still roam the earth and even eat food and thus they leave offerings to their spirits.

However prior to endorsing the belief in reincarnation as an Islamic concept, it is vital that we refer to the Qur’an to see if it has sanctioned the view. This being the case, then what exactly is the Qur’anic position on the spirit or souls of the dead? Do the dead come back to visit their relatives? What of saints, prophets and pious individuals? Are their souls on earth, appearing to us only in special circumstances? When we visit grave yards or tombs, then can their dwellers hear us or respond to us in any way? The Qur’an is not at all silent on this matter, but gives ample guidance.

ALL OF US UNDERGO THE STAGES OF CREATION, BIRTH, LIFE, DEATH AND THEN RESURRECTION 

“It is He Who gave you life, will cause you to die, and will again give you life: Truly man is a most ungrateful creature!” 22:66

In the above three states are mentioned. Life, death and then afterlife. There is no reincarnation mentioned.

“It is God Who has created you: further, He has provided for your sustenance; then He will cause you to die; and again He will give you life. Are there any of your (false) “Partners” who can do any single one of these things? Glory to Him! and high is He above the partners they attribute (to him)!” 30.40

In the above, once again we see three stages. Creation, death and then resurrection. There is no mentioned of the dead returning to earth.

“It is He Who has created you from dust then from a sperm-drop, then from a leech-like clot; then does he get you out (into the light) as a child: then lets you (grow and) reach your age of full strength; then lets you become old, – though of you there are some who die before; – and lets you reach a Term appointed; in order that ye may learn wisdom.” 40:67

The complete life span is mentioned. Stages of creation, life on earth and then death.

“Say: “It is God Who gives you life, then gives you death; then He will gather you together for the Day of Judgment about which there is no doubt”: But most men do not understand.” 45.26

It cannot be more clearer, that after death, people do not return or remain on earth but as the verse says: “God … gives you life, THEN gives you death; THEN He will gather you together for the Day of Judgment..”. Life followed by death, followed by judgment. This is the sequence all of us go through.

“From the (earth) did We create you, and into it shall We return you, and from it shall We bring you out once again.” 20.55

Same sequence is stated in above verse. Creation from earth, death and burial into it, and then the resurrection.

“Man We did create from a quintessence (of clay);” 23.12

“Then We placed him as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed;” 23.13

“Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made a (foetus) lump; then we made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then we developed out of it another creature. So blessed be God, the best to create!” 23:14

“After that, at length ye will die” 23:15

“Then, on the Day of Judgment, will ye be raised up.” 23:16

The words “After that, at length ye will die…Then, on the Day of Judgment, will ye be raised up.” are crystal clear in informing us about the direction we are going. Life is linear, traveling forward, not cyclical. We are not going around in circles, i.e. having birth on earth and then rebirth or reincarnation, but are born, live our life, are given death move forward and then receive our account and dwell in heaven or hell.

“He is the irresistible, (watching) from above over His worshippers, and He sets guardians over you. At length, when death approaches one of you, Our angels take his soul, and they never fail in their duty.” 6:61

“Then are men returned unto God, their protector, the (only) reality: Is not His the command? and He is the swiftest in taking account.” 6:62

If the angels are appointed by God to take the soul of a person and they never fail in their duty, then can it be said that someone escaped from their clutches and is still roaming around? Very clearly we see that according to the Qur’an, death is inevitable and upon it, we are transported to another realm, and don’t have the power to remain on earth.

NOBODY LIVES FOREVER, EVERYONE HAS TO DIE

“Every soul shall have a taste of death: And only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense.” 3.185

“Every soul shall have a taste of death: and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial. To Us must ye return.” 21:35

“Wherever ye are, death will find you out, even if ye are in towers built up strong and high!” 4:78

PROPHETS OF ALLAH ARE NOT IMMORTAL BUT DIE LIKE OTHER HUMANS

Some Quranic narrations concerning the mortality of Prophets/messengers are as follows: Jacob (p)

“Were ye witnesses when death appeared before Jacob? Behold, he said to his sons: “What will ye worship after me?” They said: “We shall worship Thy God and the God of thy fathers, of Abraham, Isma’il and Isaac, – the one (True) God: To Him we bow (in Islam).” 2:133

Jacob, a Prophet, and descendant of Prophets is mentioned to narrate his final hours. Joseph (p)

“And to you there came Joseph in times gone by, with Clear Signs, but ye ceased not to doubt of the (Mission) for which he had come: At length, when he died, ye said: ‘No apostle will God send after him.’ thus doth God leave to stray such as transgress and live in doubt.” 40.34

The statement in the above verse “…At length, when he died” demonstrate that Joseph, a Prophet of God, received death. Yahya (p)

“So Peace on him the day he was born, the day that he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life (again)!” 19.15

“.. the day he was born, the day that he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life..” mention the same stages for Yahya, a Prophet, that all of us are to undergo. Prophets are born, they die and then they are resurrected. We see the same for Jesus: Jesus (p)

“So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!” 19.33

Birth, death and resurrection of Jesus is mentioned. Muhammed (p)

“We granted not to any man before thee permanent life (here): if then thou shouldst die, would they live permanently?” 21.34

God addresses Muhammed (p) directly,  “..if then thou shouldst die, would they live permanently?” His mortality is again mentioned:

“Muhammad is no more than an apostle: many Were the apostle that passed away before him. If he died or were slain, will ye then Turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to God; but God (on the other hand) will swiftly reward those who (serve Him) with gratitude.” 3.144

“..If he died or were slain..” is proof that Muhammad (p) is also subject to the same law that messengers prior to him were. The above Qur’anic narrations clearly demonstrate that Prophets, also undergo the same law like the rest of human beings. They too are born, live life on earth, receive death, and then will be resurrected on the day of judgment.

THE DEAD DO NOT COME BACK TO EARTH FROM THE REALM OF SOULS

“It is God that takes the souls (of men) at death; and those that die not (He takes) during their sleep: those on whom He has passed the decree of death, He keeps back (from returning to life), but the rest He sends (to their bodies) for a term appointed verily in this are Signs for those who reflect.” 39.42

“..those on whom He has passed the decree of death, He keeps back (from returning to life)..” shows that after death we don’t come back.

“But to no soul will God grant respite when the time appointed (for it) has come; and God is well acquainted with (all) that ye do.” 63:11

“..but to no soul will God grant respite when the time appointed (for it) has come..” indicates that we have only one chance for righteousness. Once we are alive and well on earth, is our opportunity to practice righteousness, as after death we won’t get another opportunity.

“Until when death comes to one of them he says: “O my Lord! send me back (to life) -In order that I may work righteousness in the things I neglected. By no means! It is but a word he says.”- Before them is a Partition till the Day they are raised up.” (23:99-100)

In the above verse, the cry of the evil soul “… my Lord! send me back (to life) -In order that I may work righteousness…” proves that souls of evil persons do not roam the earth, as otherwise they would not be asking to be sent back. The statement “..before them is a Partition till the Day they are raised up..” further proves that between the realm of souls and the realm of human beings, there is a barrier that cannot be crossed.   The life we have is all that there is. We won’t get a second chance!

“And follow the best that has been revealed to you from your Lord before there comes to you the punishment all of a sudden while you do not even perceive; Lest a soul should say: O woe to me! for what I fell short of my duty to Allah, and most surely I was of those who laughed to scorn; Or it should say: Had Allah guided me, I would certainly have been of those who guard (against evil);Or it should say when it sees the punishment: were there only a returning for me, I should be of the doers of good.” (39:55-58)

The acknowledgment of the evil doer in the words “…were there only a returning for me, I should be of the doers of good…” makes it clear that he had only one lifespan, hence beliefs in reincarnation or spirits returning back to earth to haunt its denizens are totally ruled out by the Qur’an!

THE DEAD CANNOT COMMUNICATE WITH THE LIVING

“Neither are the living and the dead alike. Surely Allah makes whom He pleases hear, and you cannot make those to hear who are (buried) in the graves.” (35:22)

The statement that “…you cannot make those to hear who are (buried) in the graves.” cannot be more explicit in refuting those who claim to be in communication with the dead and claim to implore them at their graves and tombs.

By the above inflection of verses, we can conclude that once we die, then we don’t come back. Our souls are diligently taken by God’s angels and we then face judgment for the actions that we did on earth. All human beings undergo the same process. Even Prophets are no exception to this law. They too, are born, they die and on the day of judgment will be resurrected again. Souls of the wicked do not come back to earth, for they are not permitted by God, neither do those dead and buried communicate with the living or hear their cries. All mortals will go through the same process.

REFERENCES

Encyclopedia Britannica