Social Media: Use it, Don’t Abuse it!


How Islamic marketers can harness the potential of social media without causing offence?

Paper presented at 8th Global Islamic Marketing Conference, Alanya Turkey May 2, 2017

THE SOCIAL REVOLUTION

It would be no exaggeration to say that nowadays many of us spend a significant amount of time every day staring at a small-lit screen on our smartphones. Apart from revealing our anxieties to us, this also tells us that we are in the middle of a social media revolution. The addictive nature of this medium implies that people are really stuck to it, and this poses great opportunities that marketers are ever ready to exploit.

Social media networking is a more recent phenomenon. Just go back a few years and marketing was a different ball game altogether. In those days, say for example, if a small cause related outfit aspired to promote their cause in front of an audience of millions, it would have to do a lot of hard work and require substantial amounts of money.

Imagine that you have a cause close to your heart that you wish to share with others and you are looking for an audience in a city that you intend to visit. To get your message across to the residents of that city you would require physical travel, booking of venue, spending money on print or electronic advertising, payments for billboards, and hoardings for announcing your presence. You would labor hard to woo the local press and do much more. All this would requires mega amount of funds, and energy which individuals, inspired by a charitable cause, often do not have at their disposal.

But that was then, and this is now. Gone are the days when billions would be needed to reach out to people, even across international borders. Now connection with millions of people is merely a few clicks away.

THE FEATURES OF SOCIAL MEDIA

With the social media revolution, a level playing field has been created, and in-roads are being made by smaller organizations that are in-tune with its power. With meaningful messages and a very small investment of time, Islamic marketers can make themselves heard and be responded to by millions across the globe. Social media allows those striving for Muslim causes to not only engage with, but also considerably influence a relevant audience, all with a small handheld device! Harnessed properly, it has the potential to capture hearts and minds. A global phenomenon, with billions of people on it, the absence of any cause-related organization or individual from social media networking will result in oblivion from the public eye. Some prominent features of social media networking include:

  1. Interactivity

Interactivity is at the center of social networking sites. It enables ongoing dialogue rather than monologue and facilitates interaction between users by actively involving them.

  1. Community-led

Social media networking is communal. It allows a number of individuals to be connected virtually, radically diminishing the constraints of time and space and allowing the formation of a community centered on common interests. Thus families, friends, work colleagues, fans, customers all form their own communities engaging in conversations that flow around their connections.

  1. Relatively low cost

In comparison to other traditional forms of marketing, social media provides a relatively low-cost solution to engage with customers in different parts of the world. For organizations that do not boast large budgets, social media is an ideal choice for customer outreach and interaction.

  1. Free speech

Social media is a relatively democratic medium, which facilitates freedom of expression. Initially there was little or no censorship, however legislation is increasingly tightening its grip on social networks regarding what gets posted online. But as it is a network of individuals communicating in real time, who say whatever it is they wish to say, freedom of expression is not that easily curtailed using this medium.

  1. Influential

In recent times social media networking sites facilitated a number of political movements. Through this medium, leaders are able to influence and goad people to action. The Arab spring, the Turkish Military coup and the US elections are prime examples in which social networking sites played a key role in moving people to take action.

  1. Global

According to recent reports, nearly one third of the world’s population or about 2.34 billion people regularly use social media. As of the fourth quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.86 billion monthly active users. Getting on social media truly means going global and marketing across borders.

  1. Addictive

Social networks are habit forming and massively addictive. People spend a lot of time online often to the detriment of other day-to-day tasks. Social media has the propensity to disrupt lives of users. Sites create content that is meant to draw users and advertisers in turn profit from people’s vulnerabilities. Its appeal to emotion and functionality to share information at a deeply personal level draws people to social networking and makes it addictive.

  1. Immediacy

Why wait long on the phone for customer service representative to shuffle you back and forth to another colleague or pay for the ordeal when you can simply tweet your query and get a quick response. Immediacy is one of social media’s greatest features as it allows things to get done quickly.

 TACKLING SOCIAL MEDIA ABUSE

While social media has given an opportunity to smaller organizations and individuals to reach out to massive audiences, it has also attracted unscrupulous elements that exploit its potential for their vested interests. There are many forms of abusive behavior that one encounters online. Prominent of them are:

  1. Online Deceit

It is commonplace to discover fake news, fake social networking accounts and fake followers. There is also identity theft and fraud. Increasingly social networking sites are being used to defraud and lie to people. In contrast to such behavior Muslims marketers are to be honest and truthful in their presentation for such is exhorted to, tremendously in Islam’s holy text, the Qur’an.

“…and speak words of appropriate justice.” (33:70)

“..and avoid false statement.” (22:30)

“So he (the devil) made them fall, through deception…” (7:22)

Acting on these commandments, it is unlawful for a Muslim marketer to engage in any form of deceptive practices using social media networking sites or otherwise.

  1. Plagiarism

Increasingly texts and images are plagiarized from websites and blogs and styled as one’s own creation without giving due credit to the original creator. The online world is rife with copyright violations and plagiarism, especially when committed by individuals who are in jurisdictions where laws do not exist to tackle this theft. Creators spend much time and energy to create intellectual property only to discover later on that someone has stolen their ideas and is now styling it as his own! In contrast the Qur’an counters the problem of stealing other people’s creation when it receives a pledge from believers about not stealing:

“O Prophet, when the believing women come to you pledging to you that they will not associate anything with Allah , nor will they steal..” (60:12)

  1. Hate Speech

One frequently encounters online harassment in the form of cyber bullying and abusive commentary when perusing the likes of micro blogging platforms like Twitter. Also common are incidents of racist, misogynous, defamatory and hateful commentaries online. The Qur’an forbids such when it instructs Muslims against using offensive names:

“..nor insult one another by nicknames. Bad is the name of lewdness after faith” (49:11)

Defamation and slander are clearly forbidden in the divine text:

“Woe to every (kind of) scandal-monger and-backbiter.” (104:1)

“..neither defame one another..” (49:11)

Hate speech is curtailed by instructing that people should speak good words to each other and not words that sow seeds of dissent:

“And tell My servants to say that which is best. Indeed, Satan induces [dissension] among them. Indeed Satan is ever, to mankind, a clear enemy.” (17:53)

  1. Bombardment with unsolicited messages

Many marketers shoot themselves in the foot when they resort to spamming i.e. by repeatedly sending unsolicited messages to users of social networking sites. In contrast, the Qur’an commands Muslims to respect peoples right to privacy and not to enter their space without permission.

“And if you do not find anyone therein, do not enter them until permission has been given you. And if it is said to you, “Go back,” then go back; it is purer for you. And Allah is Knowing of what you do.” (24:28)

Legislation is now increasingly being implemented to counter the misuse of social media, but for Muslims, divine guidance is the check on behavior, which is far more important than worldly legislation. To be embraced willingly rather than being enforced by an external authority, there is plethora of guidance in Islam’s holy text, the Qur’an on acceptable behaviors. Such Qur’anic guidelines relate with social media marketing behaviors and inform Muslim marketers about the parameters within which they are to operate.

A STRATEGIC APPROACH TO SOCIAL MEDIA

As with other marketing media, Muslim marketers should not have a reactionary approach with social media but a planned one. A strategy that identifies organizational capabilities and matches them with market opportunities should be developed, which should then be operationalized.

  1. Research the customer

Muslim marketers should investigate who their target audience is, what are their needs and demographics, the devices they use and the networking sites they subscribe and tailor their content around all of these factors.

  1. Your content should add value

Social media content should not be posted for its own sake but it should add value for the users. It should give some sort of a solution to a problem such that the social media account is seen as a useful tool and resource by the user that helps him or her in daily life.

  1. Use visuals

Images tell more of a story than just text. Communicate visually with your customers by adding good-looking images, and visuals. Images process quickly and people are drawn to them. This way your social media content becomes more responsive than simply posting dry text.

  1. Embrace Diversity

Social media transcends countries and cultures. Islamic marketers should incorporate cultural diversity in their content so that it relates to everyone who is connected with them.

  1. Tell stories

It is vital to avoid technical jargon, complex numbers, facts, figures and statistics that strain the mind. Instead simple yet captivating stories around products and services should be narrated. People have a short attention span on social media and aren’t always geared for straining the minds with complexities but relate more to stories and narratives than numbers and formulae.

  1. Facilitate Sales

Muslim marketers should not have a social media presence to showcase their products and services but it should also facilitate the actual purchase process. They should not hesitate to ask for the sale and give calls to action to the users and the guidance required for making a transaction.

  1. Use video and Audio

Previously videos were the sole domain of video-blogging sites like YouTube, but now almost all social media networks have video featured on them. A more recent phenomenon is the live video feature. Along with text and images, video and audio leave a more lasting impression on customers.

 

  1. Improve Continuously

Social media is a dynamic medium that evolves continuously. Social networking sites keep adding new features. This requires Islamic marketers to keep abreast with the changes and continuously strive to improve their social media presence for their users.

 

CONCLUSION

Social media offers an amazing opportunity to Islamic marketers to connect directly with their customers, engage in real-time conversations, and vitally to hear the perspective of the customer about their organization and its environment. It is vital that Muslims embrace social media marketing with a strong customer focus and a sound marketing strategy. However, while social media brings tremendous and exciting opportunities for Islamic promoters, there are also challenges that the improper or uninformed use of this media poses to their cause. It is expedient that their marketing methodology be informed by God’s guidance and they must ensure that while developing and implementing a social media presence, no divine injunction is violated. Only with such an approach will they qualify as Islamic marketers.

 

REFERENCES

Al-Qur’an: Electronic Mos’haf Project http://quran.ksu.edu.sa

“Nearly One-Third of the World Will Use Social Networks” (E-Marketer, June 30 2016) https://www.emarketer.com/Article/Nearly-One-Third-of-World-Will-Use-Social-Networks-Regularly-This-Year/1014157

Statista: “Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 4th quarter 2016 https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/

“Tackling Nasty Trolls isnt Censorship its Common Sense” (Telegraph, June 25 2016) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/25/tackling-nasty-trolls-isnt-censorship-its-common-sense/

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kashif Shahzada MBA, MCIM, DipM, Chartered Marketer is a consultant with a specialism in working with faith communities. He is the chief executive of Natmark, a consulting firm based in Karachi, Pakistan. He blogs at KashifShahzada.com Twitter @KashifShahzada

A New Life


They come from far and wide. On every means of transport available. By land, air or sea. Some do not even mind going all the way on foot. Young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, black or white, from all categorisations of humanity possible, we find them there. It is a journey for which life’s savings are devoted, for which aspirations are dedicated, and for which supplications are made from one’s heart and soul. But what kind of an event is this for which no advertising budgets are apportioned, yet millions are drawn to it every year? No one is goaded yet the airplanes and the hotels are all full? No material gain is obtained by it, yet people save all their life to spend on the journey? There is no scenery, no entertainment, and no amusement, yet the crowds keep coming. It is a journey involving physical, material and emotional hardship, yet the numbers keep on increasing year by year. What charm is there in dressing up in two sheets of white, in exposing oneself to the hardships of travel, and in facing the dangers of illness, disease, stampedes and even death? The talbiyyah says it all. “Labaik Allahuma Labaik” (I am here O Allah, I am here.) “Labaik Laa Shareeka laka Labaik.” (I am here, no partner do thou have.) “Inna al hamda Wal Naimata laka wal mulk” (Indeed all praise and all bounty and sovereignty belong to thee.) “Laa shareeka lak” (No partner dost thou have.)

This mantra which is on the lips of every pilgrim gives us the essence of the Hajj. That servitude is due to Allah and Him alone and that we hearken His call. That in His worship, we associate no one else. That for Him, we need to make serious efforts in life. That entire praise and sovereignty belong to Him and no one else. The Hajj is a living commentary of the Quranic verse: Say: “Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds.” (Al Anaam 6:162)

Thus it is this strong belief, which is the powerful driving force for the Hajj. Belief in Allah and His Messenger, an aspiration to have a connection with the Creator and to realise the true purpose of life. It is a journey for which even the preparation is itself an act of Ibadah, yet this is an aspect taken lightly and neglected by many. The intending pilgrims also depend on the assurances of tour operators many of whom have a reputation to disappear in the heat of the action leaving pilgrims stranded with no choice but to tend to themselves. Millions congregating at a unique point and their successive movement is no ordinary feat but one that poses great environmental challenges. The Hajj is a true Jihad, for it takes us out of our comfort zones for the sake of Allah, and teaches us to take on hardships and sufferings entirely for Him. Many can pay lip service, but few take practical action, and it is actions that speak louder than words. The Hajj is an action, it is not a comfortable sermon, but a practical hardship that resonates with the seriousness we have for our faith. The Hajj is a test, for at each and every juncture, we are tested for the development of our patience, our tolerance, our religious knowledge and its application. The Hajj is an antidote to the inflated ego. You leave behind your best dress, your hairstyle will need to go after shaving the head, the riches and comforts that you are used to will not be there for you. You will need to sleep with nothing but the earth below you and above you only skies. You will need to mingle and cooperate with people all all hues and not your preferred one’s only – all this will humble you and annihilate your ego tremendously. Thus the Hajj is about submissiveness to Allah and abandoning haughtiness. The Hajj is an admonishment. The pains and sufferings are also at times a wake up call to the erring that something is not right and reformative action needs to be taken.

There are strong parallels between Hajj and death. The Qur’an repeatedly calls death as a meeting with God, while the Kabah is the House of God. The Hajj therefore is a death and meeting with God and the return from the journey as a Hajji, a spiritual rebirth.

Just like life is a constant struggle and its end has paradise for the righteous, the hardships of Hajj are a trial for us, and its culmination takes us to a new pleasant phase in our life. After the Hajj the believer is no longer anxious and worried about the pettiness of life, but becomes calm and serene having surrendered himself fully to Allah.

First Published in DAWN on 9-9-2016

12 reasons why Mary was not a Hermaphrodite


The Qur’an leaves no stone unturned regarding the gender of Mary and makes it absolutely clear that she was not a hermaphrodite

Introduction

Jesus Christ is a Messenger of God whose personality is surrounded in controversy. Three world religions hold varying opinions about his person and his birth. On one extreme are some Jews who allege that Mary had produced a child outside of wedlock, while on another  are those among Christians who claim that since Jesus did not have a father, his father is God. The Qur’an sets the record straight regarding such claims, and while defending the chastity of Mary, it identifies that Jesus was created and not procreated by God. Hence the mainstream Islamic view based on the narratives of the Qur’an is that Jesus was born miraculously by the will and power of God and that he is neither the son of God, nor the son of man. Along with defending Mary from human and divine fatherhood for Jesus, the Qur’an also refutes those individuals who in recent times have forwarded some theories negating the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus. One popular view forwarded by such individuals is that Mary was a Hermaphrodite who gave birth to Jesus through some process of self impregnation. This wild and bizarre notion is contrary to the clear cut statements of the Qur’an, as is the view that Jesus had a biological father. Here we demonstrate the origin of this heretical belief and how it goes against some very plain facts of the Qur’an.

The hermaphrodite theory is an Ahmadiyya belief

Writing under the title “Immaculate Conception”, in the April 2004 issue of “Review of Religions”, an Ahmadiyya publication, the author, Moosa Qureshi LLB, while attributing the theory of Hermaphroditism to Maryam, states:

“Nevertheless, the Qur’an does intimate the explanation to the miracle of Jesus (as)’s conception in another enigmatic verse, hitherto perplexing to Muslim scholars: Remember when a woman of Imran said, ‘My Lord, I have vowed to Thee what is in my womb to be dedicated to Thy service. So do Thou accept it of me. Verily, Thou alone art All-Hearing, All-Knowing’. But when she was delivered of it, she said, ‘My Lord, I am delivered of a female,’ – and Allah knew best what she delivered and the male was not like the female – ‘and I have named her Mary, and I commit her and her off-spring to Thy protection from Satan the rejected’. (Ch.3:Vs.36-37). Puzzlingly, Allah does not confirm that the woman of Imran did indeed give birth to a female when she was delivered of Mary(ra). How should we interpret the enigmatic words – and the male was not like the female?”

By alluding to a mere word or two from Quran 3:36-37, the author attempts to build a mountain out of a molehill by concluding that Mary gave birth to Jesus without a father because she was a Hermaphrodite:

“..more convincingly, the mechanism of true hermaphroditism may explain the virgin birth of Jesus(as). This is a congenital condition where external genitalia and internal sex organs have both male and female characteristics. Both ovarian and testicular reproductive tissue is found in a true hermaphrodite, a quality that is still poorly understood. In 1990, a true hermaphrodite rabbit was found to conceive when kept in isolation in laboratory conditions (7). The tenability of autoreproduction in human hermaphrodites has also been affirmed: ‘If it is indeed true that in some (human) hermaphrodites auto-reproduction could be possible with medical intervention, another question may be asked: “Is it possible that such auto-reproduction could, with the greatest rarity, occur without such an intervention?” Indications exist in the mythology of various cultures which mention hermaphroditic reproduction, and there are references to virgin birth in the historical documents of several different societies.’(8) The Qur’an may indeed refer to such a biological condition of a true hermaphrodite when we read, ‘Allah knew best of what she was delivered and the male was not like the female’ (Ch.3:V.37). It is characteristic of the propriety and tactful beauty of the Qur’anic diction, that Allah should thus describe the hypothesised hermaphrodite quality in Mary (ra)…”

Thus according to the aforementioned Ahmadi interpretation, the mechanism of true hermaphroditism explains the virgin birth of Jesus. The view that Allah does not confirm that the woman of Imran did indeed give birth to a female when she was delivered of Mary is also grossly in error, once we explore all the narratives in the Qur’an concerning the subject. When we study the Qur’an it is crystal clear that Mary was not a hermaphodite.

1) The Qur’an does not use any word meaning “Hermaphrodite” within its Arabic text

Very simply, Allah does not term Mary as a Hermaphrodite or a creature of that sort within the Arabic text of the Qur’an. This is a plain fact. In Arabic the word “Mukhanas” is usually used for Hermaphrodites, and it is a fact that this term or any term close to it does not occur anywhere in the Qur’an. Thus the statement “Mary is a Hermaphrodite” is not a Qur’anic statement.

2) Wherever Mary is addressed in the Qur’an, feminine pronouns are used for her and never masculine

It is a grossly misleading to suggest that Allah does not confirm the gender of Maryam. The clear cut evidence of the Qur’an is that she is not dual sex but of the female sex. Throughout the Qur’an, wherever Mary is addressed, feminine pronouns are used which identify her as a female through and through.

يَا مَرْيَمُ اقْنُتِي لِرَبِّكِ وَاسْجُدِي وَارْكَعِي مَعَ الرَّاكِعِينَ

O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow with those who bow [in prayer].” 3:43

According to Arabic grammar, in the above verse “oqnutee” (be devoutly obedient) is a 2nd person feminine singular imperative verb, “lirabbiki” (to your Lord) is 2nd person feminine singular possessive pronoun, “wasjudee” (and prostrate) and “warkaAAee” (and bow) are both 2nd person feminine singular imperative verbs with feminine subject pronouns. Thus it is clear that this language identifies Mary as a female. It is evident that wherever Mary is mentioned and addressed in the Qur’an, she is always identified grammatically as a female and never as “dual sex”, thus refuting the view that Allah does not confirm her gender. It should also be noted that in the Qur’an Mary has been called “Bint” (Daughter), “Ukht” (Sister) and “Umm” (Mother) leaving no room for doubt as to her gender.

3) Mary was chosen above “WOMEN” of all worlds, not hermaphrodites / dual sex persons of all worlds.

وَإِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ اصْطَفَاكِ وَطَهَّرَكِ وَاصْطَفَاكِ عَلَىٰ نِسَاءِ الْعَالَمِينَ

And [mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds.” 3:42

In the above verse we can clearly see the words “..purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds.” which establish that Mary was of the female gender and not dual sex / hermaphrodite. She was chosen above “Nisaa al Alameen” (Women of all worlds) not above the world’s hermaphrodites!

4) Mary questions how can she have a son when no man has touched her. If she could self impregnate then she wouldn’t be asking this question.

قَالَتْ رَبِّ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي وَلَدٌ وَلَمْ يَمْسَسْنِي بَشَرٌ ۖ قَالَ كَذَٰلِكِ اللَّهُ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِذَا قَضَىٰ أَمْرًا فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ

She said, “My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” [The angel] said, “Such is Allah ; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is. 3:47

A hermaphrodite who is capable of self impregnation would never ask the question “..how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” because from someone who possess male and female reproductive organs and is capable of self impregnation such a question is invalid! Very clearly we see evidence in this verse of Mary being someone requiring a person other than herself for her conception, thus proving that she is not a hermaphrodite.

5) The word “Nabataa” (growth) for Mary does not imply plant like asexual features because in the Qur’an the same word is also used for regular humans.

Proponents of the hermaphrodite theory allude to the word “Nabataa” in 3:38 and draw parallels between Mary and asexual plant organisms who also “grow” to their state.

فَتَقَبَّلَهَا رَبُّهَا بِقَبُولٍ حَسَنٍ وَأَنبَتَهَا نَبَاتًا حَسَنًا وَكَفَّلَهَا زَكَرِيَّا ۖ كُلَّمَا دَخَلَ عَلَيْهَا زَكَرِيَّا الْمِحْرَابَ وَجَدَ عِندَهَا رِزْقًا ۖ قَالَ يَا مَرْيَمُ أَنَّىٰ لَكِ هَٰذَا ۖ قَالَتْ هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَاءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ

So her Lord accepted her with good acceptance and caused her to grow [ARABIC: ANBATAA] in a good manner and put her in the care of Zechariah. Every time Zechariah entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found with her provision. He said, “O Mary, from where is this [coming] to you?” She said, “It is from Allah . Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without account.” 3:37

This allusion is once again devoid of substance because the word “Nabataa” is not restricted for Maryam but also used for entire humanity:

وَاللَّهُ أَنبَتَكُم مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ نَبَاتًا

And Allah has caused you to grow [ARABIC: ANBATAKUM] from the earth a [progressive] growth [ARABIC NABATAA]. 71:17

In the above verse, the same word “Nabataa” is used for entire humanity. Does it mean entire human race consists of hermaphrodites?! This certainly is not the case. Mary is no asexual plant because of the word “Nabataa”, because the same word has been used in the Qur’an for all humanity as well.

6) If Mary was a Hermaphrodite, capable of self impregnation, then why would Allah send his angel as an external agent to grant her a child?

In Surat Aal-e-Imraan we can see that the angels gave the good news of the birth of a child, while in Surat Maryam, we see that an angel was sent in the form of a human messenger to grant her the child which she conceived:

قَالَ إِنَّمَا أَنَا رَسُولُ رَبِّكِ لِأَهَبَ لَكِ غُلَامًا زَكِيًّا

He said, “I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you a pure boy.” 19:19

If indeed Mary was a hermaphrodite, then she would have been capable of self impregnation and two events mentioned in the Qur’an would not be necessary requiring the information of conception of Jesus and the second being the gift of conception. These two events delivered through the agency of angels make it clear that Mary was not a hermaphrodite capable of internal self impregnation but a woman who was to conceive externally. She did conceive Jesus externally, and that was by the will of Allah and through the agency of angels.

7) Jesus addresses Mary as “Mother”, never as “Father”.

If indeed Mary was dual sex, possessing both ovarian and testicular reproductive organs, as is erroneously alleged, then such a feature would make her not only the mother, but also the father of Jesus – however we see in the Qur’an that Jesus addresses Mary only as his mother, and never as his father.

وَبَرًّا بِوَالِدَتِي وَلَمْ يَجْعَلْنِي جَبَّارًا شَقِيًّا

“(He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable;” 19:32

وَإِذْ قَالَ اللَّهُ يَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ أَأَنتَ قُلْتَ لِلنَّاسِ اتَّخِذُونِي وَأُمِّيَ إِلَٰهَيْنِ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ

“And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah’?” 5:116

Thus as Jesus addresses Mary as ‘Ummy’ i.e. “My mother”, and never as ‘Abi’ or “my father” and she is mentioned as his “Walida”, the biological mother who gave birth to him, and never as his “walid” or father, therefore the view that she was a dual sex, hermaphrodite possessing motherly and fatherly features is not consistent with the Qur’an.

8) Allah says “He creates what He wills”, shows Jesus was Allah’s creation by his will and command and born without masculine/male intervention

How will Jesus be born? The Qur’an does not say through a hermaphrodite birth but by the will of Allah:

قَالَ كَذَٰلِكِ اللَّهُ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِذَا قَضَىٰ أَمْرًا فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ

..[The angel] said, “Such is Allah ; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.” 3:47

The answer is very clear. It is Allah who will create Jesus as per His will. When Allah decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is. This is how Jesus was conceived. Note how clear the verse is. Allah does not say that Mary will conceive Jesus as a hermaphrodite. No such suggestion is given. The simple and clear cut statement is that Jesus was conceived by the will and order of Allah. This Quranic statement should be the imaan of every Muslim.

9) The masculine pronoun “fihi” or in him’ in sura 66 refers to the unborn Jesus conceived by Mary. Quran explains itself that Jesus was assisted by Ruh al Qudus (the holy spirit).

وَمَرْيَمَ ابْنَتَ عِمْرَانَ الَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتْ بِكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّهَا وَكُتُبِهِ وَكَانَتْ مِنَ الْقَانِتِينَ

And Maryam (Mary) daughter of Imran, who kept safe her private parts, (i.e., safeguarded) so We breathed in it of Our Spirit, and she sincerely (believed) in the Words of her Lord, and His Books; and she was one of the devout. 66:12 (Dr Ghali)

Like the above Egyptian translator Muhammad Mahmoud Ghali’s translation, many other translators render the masculine pronoun “fihi” literally “in him” to refer to the preceding word “FarjahAA” i.e “her private parts”, while Muhammad Asad, renders it as “We breathed of Our Spirit to that [which was in her womb]..” both these renderings, indicate that in this passage the masculine pronoun refers to the unborn child conceived by Mary.

And We have propounded yet another parable for God-consciousness] in the story of Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed of Our spirit into that [which was in her womb], and who accepted the truth of her Sustainer’s words – and [thus] of His revelations – and was one of the truly devout.” 66:12, Muhammad Asad

Asad comments further on the expression whereupon We breathed of Our spirit into that [which was in her womb], “into the as yet unborn child (Razi, thus explaining the pronoun fihi)..”

Thus the spirit which was breathed into Mary in 21:91: “whereupon We breathed into her of Our spirit..” was ultimately for her unborn male child, “..whereupon We breathed of Our spirit into that [which was in her womb]..” in 66:12.

Numerous other verses of the Qur’an also corroborate the understanding that when God breathed of His spirit into Mary, then it was also received by [the masculine] Jesus who was conceived within the [feminine] Mary:

وَآتَيْنَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ الْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَيَّدْنَاهُ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ ۗ

“..We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit…” 2:87

ۚ وَآتَيْنَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ الْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَيَّدْنَاهُ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ ۗ

“..to Jesus the son of Mary We gave clear (Signs), and strengthened him with the holy spirit…” 2:253

ۚ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَىٰ مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِّنْهُ ۖ

“..Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him..” 4:171

The above verses clarify that Jesus was strengthened by the holy spirit, and it proceeded from him, thus the expression “fanafakhna feehi min roohina” (so we breathed into him of our spirit) in 66:12 refers to the breathing of spirit into the male Jesus.

Moreover that “feehi” does not refer to Mary is also obvious by the fact that in the verse the words that refer to Mary are all feminine. E.g. “allatee” (she) “ahsanatfarjaha” (she guarded her private parts), “saddaqat” (she proved true), ”rabbiha” (her Lord), ”kanat” (she was). Throughout the Qur’an Mary is identified as a female.

10) Birth of Jesus is like birth of Adam who was not born of a hermaphrodite but by the will of Allah.

Just like Adam was created by order of Allah without a male father similarly, Jesus was created by Allah without a male father – clarifies that Mary is not a hermaphrodite.

إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِيسَىٰ عِندَ اللَّهِ كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ ۖ خَلَقَهُ مِن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ

“The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: “Be”. And he was.” 3:59

Adam was created by the command “Be”. And he was.”, similarly about Jesus we read:

قَالَتْ رَبِّ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي وَلَدٌ وَلَمْ يَمْسَسْنِي بَشَرٌ ۖ قَالَ كَذَٰلِكِ اللَّهُ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِذَا قَضَىٰ أَمْرًا فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ

She said: “O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?” He said: “Even so: Allah createth what He willeth: When He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it, ‘Be,’ and it is! 3:47

Thus both Adam and Jesus were both created by the will of Allah and His command “Kun Fayakun” i.e. “Be, and it is!”, and not through a hermaphrodite parent.

11) If Mary was not a hermaphrodite, then how was Jesus conceived? “..your Lord says, ‘it is easy for me…”

When the news of birth of Yahya (John) was given to Zakaria (Zecharias), he posed the question:

قَالَ رَبِّ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي غُلَامٌ وَكَانَتِ امْرَأَتِي عَاقِرًا وَقَدْ بَلَغْتُ مِنَ الْكِبَرِ عِتِيًّا

He said, “My Lord, how will I have a boy when my wife has been barren and I have reached extreme old age?” 19:8

To which the reply was given:

قَالَ كَذَٰلِكَ قَالَ رَبُّكَ هُوَ عَلَيَّ هَيِّنٌ وَقَدْ خَلَقْتُكَ مِن قَبْلُ وَلَمْ تَكُ شَيْئًا

[An angel] said, “Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, for I created you before, while you were nothing.’ 19:9

When Mary was informed of the birth of Jesus, she posed a question on similar lines and the same answer that was given to Zakaria was repeated to her:

قَالَ كَذَٰلِكِ قَالَ رَبُّكِ هُوَ عَلَيَّ هَيِّنٌ ۖ وَلِنَجْعَلَهُ آيَةً لِّلنَّاسِ وَرَحْمَةً مِّنَّا ۚ وَكَانَ أَمْرًا مَّقْضِيًّا

He said, “Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed. 19:21

How did Jesus come into the world? The Qur’an is crystal clear without citing any biological process involved: “..your Lord says, It is easy for Me.” This should be our Imaan. Allah is all powerful. He is capable of doing what He wills. It is easy for Allah to cause a birth without a father. We should have Imaan on this without speculating theories.

12) Wrong to conclude that Mary’s gender was not confirmed by Allah in 3:36, because the verse, when translated accurately confirms Mary as a female child

فَلَمَّا وَضَعَتْهَا قَالَتْ رَبِّ إِنِّي وَضَعْتُهَا أُنثَىٰ وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا وَضَعَتْ وَلَيْسَ الذَّكَرُ كَالْأُنثَىٰ ۖ وَإِنِّي سَمَّيْتُهَا مَرْيَمَ وَإِنِّي أُعِيذُهَا بِكَ وَذُرِّيَّتَهَا مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ

But when she delivered her, she said, “My Lord, I have delivered a female.” And Allah was most knowing of what she delivered, “And the male is not like the female. And I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge for her in You and [for] her descendants from Satan, the expelled [from the mercy of Allah ].” 3:36 Saheeh International

Translations such as the one cited by the author of the article in “Review of Religions” along with Yusuf Ali, Pickthall and Shakir are inaccurate in their English rendering of the expression “Falamma wadaAAat-ha” in verse 3:36, and due to this inaccuracy, the wrong conclusion that Mary’s gender was not confirmed in the verse is reached. E.g.

“But when she was delivered of it, she said..” Cited by Moosa Qureshi

“And when she was delivered she said..” Pickthall

“When she was delivered, she said..” Yusuf Ali

“So when she brought forth, she said..” M. H. Shakir

We can note that it is not apparent in the above translations as to the gender of the child delivered by the wife of Imran. However once the expression “Falamma wadaAAat-ha” is translated correctly it is clear that the child she delivered was a female child, and this is being confirmed by Allah as the narrator of the expression is Allah in the Qur’an. It is in Saheeh International’s English translation by Umm Muhammad, Aminah Assami that the expression is accurately rendered:

“But when she delivered her, she said..” Saheeh International

Muhsin Khan also translated the pronoun “Haa” accurately as “her” in his translation:

“Then when she delivered her [child Maryam (Mary)], she said…”

Thus the assertion that in verse 3:36, Allah did not confirm the gender of Mary is wrong, as it is Allah Himself who has stated that the wife of Imran had given birth to a female child. It was against the wonderment of Mary’s mother for giving birth to a female and not a male child that Allah said: “And Allah was most knowing of what she delivered..”. In the preceding verse 3:35, we read that Mary’s mother had made a vow to dedicate her unborn child to Allah, expecting a male child, as tasks devoted to those in the cause of Allah such as leading prayers, or receiving prophecy and preaching were reserved for males and not females, she expressed how would her vow would be fulfilled now that the child she had given birth to was female and not male. It was at this that she was informed that Allah knew better what she had delivered indicating that even a female can be dedicated to Allah, and not necessarily a male. We read in later verses that her vow was accepted and Mary grew up to be a righteous woman and a mother of a Prophet, thus she was dedicated to Allah as a female in her own right. The narration also gives us a lesson that in the sight of Allah, gender does not matter. Whether male or female, Allah can select either for his work.

CONCLUSION

It can be concluded from the inflection of the Qur’an:

1. The Qur’an does not use any word which carries the meaning of “Hermaphrodite” for Mary. The statement “Mary is a hermaphprodite” is not to be found in the Qur’an in the original Arabic.

2. Wherever she is mentioned in the Qur’an, she is addressed in feminine gender and never as masculine or dual gender.

3. Feminine pronouns are used for her in accordance with Arabic grammar, thereby making it clear that she is a female.

4. The Qur’an narrates that she was chosen above the “women” of all nations, further confirming she was a woman and not a hermaphrodite.

5. Her question about how she can have a son when no man has touched her indicates she was a woman and not possessing male and female reproductive organs.

6. The word “Nabataa” (growth) in 3:37 does not imply asexual features for Mary because the same term is used for other people as well and because of the fact that Qur’an has overwhelming evidence about Mary’s womanhood.

7. Jesus always addresses her as his mother and never as his father, thereby confirming that she did not have a fatherly biological function.

8. Jesus was conceived by Mary by the will of Allah and through the external agency of Malaika and not through auto-reproduction.

9. It is false to suggest that in 3:36 Allah does not confirm the gender of Mary. In the beginning of the very verse, Allah identifies her feminine gender when He says “So when she delivered HER..”. The pronoun “Her” in this statement of Allah confirms that the child was a female.

Indeed, Allah has purified Mary, she has been purified of all sorts of false allegations that people have subjected her to, whether such allegations be of producing an illegitimate child, a child begotten of God, or the suggestion that she was a hermaphrodite Whenever Qur’anic evidence shall be brought to light about Mary, the fact that Allah has chosen and purified her above women of all the worlds will be manifest to all.

REFERENCES

1. The Review of Religions, April 2004, Vol. 99, Number 4, London, UK

2. Quranic Arabic Corpus – www.corpus.quran.com

3. English Translation of the Qur’an by Umm Muhammad Aminah Assami, Published by Saheeh International, Abul Qasim Publishing, Saudi Arabia

4. English Translation of the Qur’an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Shaikh Ashraf Publishers, Lahore, Pakistan

5. English Translation of the Qur’an by Mohammad Mahmoud Ghali, Cairo, Egypt

6. Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Dar Al Andalus, Gibraltar

Wasted Salat


First published in DAWN, 06, June, 2014

NEGLECTED PRAYER

THE mosque is full, and not an inch of space is available to set one’s foot inside. The main hall, the courtyard, the lawns, even the entrance and the footpaths are all occupied, making it difficult to squeeze in. This is a common scene a little after noon every Friday.

To the observer it may seem that people are certainly not neglectful of their prayers, but in reality there is more to it than meets the eye. Stop anyone leaving the mosque and ask a few questions about what he just did, and all will be revealed.

Just inquire as to the message of the khutba (sermon) he heard delivered in Arabic, and you will receive an excuse. Ask what instructions were given in the melodic recitation of the Quran by the imam, and you will receive an apology.Probe further and you are likely to hear an honest confession of complete ignorance.

For many people prayer has become a mechanical routine of sorts — one which must be performed irrespective of whether one understands it. In the minds of many, the mere performance of the physical act results in some sort of an increase in spiritual score. But the language employed and the practical change are matters that remain largely unknown.

If our worship is devoid of any intellectual stimulation, why then do we expect a miracle of transformation? Knowledge of the Quranic message is of great importance. For many, religion is not an intellectual choice, but what has been inherited from parents and retained for social conformance.

To follow the crowd, than to be the odd man out, is therefore the tendency. The buck is also passed on to certain ‘experts’, thereby absolving oneself of individual responsibility to acquire knowledge. With the erroneous belief that religion is the purport of the religious and the world of the worldly, duality pervades the conscious through and through. Worship is restricted to the performance of religious rituals, while life is governed elsewhere by one’s own rules. Visits to the mosque thus become a religious duty, but places of work have nothing to do with revealed morality, it is thought.

Such a mindset, though prevalent within many today, is condemned by the Quran. It clearly stipulates that believers should not divide life into two separate religious and non-religious compartments but should “…Enter into Islam completely. …” (2:208). It clarifies that performing one’s prayers is an act of worship, but so is trade and commerce when conducted in line with God’s guidance (4:29). That salat is not the performance of a mindless ritual involving the utterance of mystical mantras but that an act of physical as well as psychological submission to God is manifest in the Quranic order to not approach prayers with a mind befogged (4:43).

Therefore it is vital that believers also make efforts to understand the meaning of Quranic instructions rehearsed during prayers for only then can such instructions be carried out in life. Merely being in the row of those who pray does not grant one any special privilege, for even the munafiqeen (hypocrites) may be standing in the same row (4:142), yet are promised the deepest depths of hell (4:145).

Genuine believers stand in prayer for the purpose of receiving Quranic guidance, and their full presence of mind is needed to understand and feel the instructions. They should be fully conscious of the divine directive to ‘give ear to the Quran and pay heed to obtain mercy’, so that their feelings are also touched by the messages they hear because they fully understand them, and “…whenever the Signs of (Allah) Most Gracious were recited to them, they would fall down in prostration [in] adoration and in tears” (19:58).

On the other hand, during prayer, those who do not take revealed religion seriously are distracted in mind even in the midst of it. The Quran makes it abundantly clear to us that the comprehension of salat is what matters, along with the change it is supposed to bring about in our inner self.

Real neglect of prayers is not restricted to missing their physical performance, but also to remaining ignorant of their meaning and thus to be devoid of the character change. This problem can only be resolved if Muslims make an effort to study the Quran as it ought to be studied, with a view to seek its guidance. For it is the Quran which is recited in the prayer. Sadly, many of us remain ceremoniously associated with the Holy Book to convey blessings to the deceased rather than receive practical instructions for the living, ignoring that it is meant “to warn whoever is alive. …” (36:70).

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

The Leaves Of Autumn


The falling leaves of autumn. You notice them as you walk along the pathways. Blown away by gusty winds, some red, some yellow, some dry, some crisp – all heralding the moment of change and signaling to us that its time to seek a new beginning.  As autumn is the season marking the periodic change in the natural world, it seems that it is also a period of change throughout human history.

From the discovery of Americas by Christopher Columbus to the Russian revolution to the unification of East and West Germany in recent times, many eventful occasions have marked the season throughout history.October seems to be a time of revolution.

It seems as if human actions correlate with the natural world around them. They too, are in the habit of discarding the old and experimenting with the new. It may not come as a surprise, but human history seems like one great long autumn. People create one set of beliefs and its corresponding social structure, discover that it doesn’t work, then throw it away and experiment with another one.Out with the old, and in with the new. Just like leaves in autumn.

First came Autocrats claiming divine sanction, then came Theocracies, Capitalism glorified material gains albeit in the hands of a select few, Communism protested, but it too failed, now the flame of Democracy is dwindling, and God knows what will it be replaced by. How long this trial and error by humanity will continue, you never know.  But the cost has been quite high for the games that people play.

But still – change is the theme of the season. Change is all around, the only constant, and so is it a central theme in Divine guidance, in the Qur’an, the Divine Book of Islam.  Changing your self towards a new you – a new person that has shed his or her old habits and reformed themselves by Divine guiding light. However, the change that is spoken of in relation to human beings, is not one that is brought about coercively, but one that that we bring within us, by our own choice. It is the change within, the change of heart that is initiated by our own volition and personal reflection. This type of change, even God Almighty does not bring about, until or unless you want it:

“That is because God would never change His favour that He conferred on a people until they changed what was within themselves; and that God is All-hearing, All-knowing.” 8:53

He won’t force you to walk His paths, He hasn’t pre-programmed you to follow your nature, but has bestowed you with a free will – it is the free will which you must use to your benefit, and it is the free will that separates you from animals and beasts, all of whom simply follow their preordained nature, and are not held accountable in any court of law for their behavior. You on the other hand are free to exercise your choice, and it is this choice and decision-making ability which lays responsibility on your shoulders and holds you accountable for your actions. So you will have to change your self but by your own self. God does lend a helping hand in the form of signs and signals, guides and guide maps, but the destination is of your own choice. You have to bring this change upon yourself voluntarily.


LOOK INTO THE MIRROR

As we become conscious of our personal responsibility towards change, we are also conscious about those who consider it their divine mission to change the world. You frequently stumble upon such people who unfortunately see it as their divine duty to change the entire world to their own way of thinking. They teach and preach, plan and execute, mobilise and manoeuvre, under the guise of their conceited belief and the arrogant conviction of its superiority. They set out to change the world, at times on a secular campaign while on other occasions embark on a “Godly” mission to impose on others a consensus about beliefs that they see fit by themselves and patterns that are pleasing to their own eyes. Quick to point out mistakes in other people, it is rare that you observe them in self reproach and personal accountability. Making a wanton display of their unholy claims, they make the house of prayer into a den of thieves (Mark 21:13). They come to you in holy garbs claiming to take the speck out of your eye,’ but fail to see the plank in their own eye? (Luke 6:42). Unaware and careless of their personal responsibility, they set out to change the world, but can the blind lead the blind?

The divine injunctions have never stipulated that it is one’s duty to transform the world. One is accountable to transform no one but his or her own self:

“O believers, look after your own souls. He who is astray cannot hurt you, if you are rightly guided. Unto God shall you return, all together, and He will tell you what you were doing.” 5:105

This is so as on the hereafter he or she will be questioned about nobody’s but his or her own conduct:

“Every one of them shall come to Him upon the Day of Resurrection, all alone.” 19:95

While it is true that Divine injunctions call for sharing of Divine peace and eternal bliss but never enjoin conquest of diverse beliefs that exist in the world as per Divine plan:

“And if thy Lord had willed, whoever is in the earth would have believed, all of them, all together. Wouldst thou then constrain the people, until they are believers?” 10:99

So talking about change – it is our own that we need to worry about and no one else’s salvation. Whenever we point a finger at someone, three fingers point back at us. It is our own neck that we need to worry about. Look your own self in the mirror. It is all about you and nobody else.


PREPARATION FOR TIMES TO COME

The falling leaves of autumn signal a moment of change towards the new, but the chilly winds of the season also indicate the dark and cold winter to come. Autumn marks the transition from summer into winter. It is a signal for tougher times ahead, for which one must be prepared. We see in the natural world that plants and animals prepare for this in advance by storing fuel and preserving fuel through hibernation.

This is all natural for them. After all they are simply following the course they have been programmed to act on. But we on the other hand need to learn and be educated about preparing for the morrow. Reflect on what you do today, and what will be its bearing in times to come, is the rejoinder in the Qur’an:

“O ye who believe! Fear God, and let every soul look to what (provision) He has sent forth for the morrow. Yea, fear God: for God is well-acquainted with (all) that ye do.” 59:18

Your now is important, as the clock of life never waits for anybody, Its batteries do not need recharging and simply keep going. What you do now, will impact your tomorrow. So now is the most important part of your life. We can’t stop the clock of life.

It won’t wait for anybody. Just look at your own life. Your childhood, your youth, your adult life, Doesn’t it all seem just like yesterday. Aren’t we constantly travelling towards our end? Is not each and everyday of our life bringing us closer to that ultimate reality called death?


DEATH IS A FACT OF LIFE

Yes death. A taboo for many. Rarely do you think about it. But it is a fact, just as you are, your existence is. Do you remember attending the funeral of a near or dear one? Remember the wailing and the grief? Do you recall leaning over the face of the dead person? How white it was, how frightening, still and lifeless?

Now imagine yourself in the same situation, because one day this will certainly be you. It is an undeniable reality. A fact. The same will happen to us all. What is born, it must die. The important question is what have we done about it? Are you prepared for death? Should it come tomorrow? Today? Ask yourself. Are you ready to face death? Do you want more time? Time is short. The clock is ticking. What are you doing about it?

If our worldly material life is all that there is, then life as it is can be very boring, don’t you think? What about the wonder and the mystery of afterlife, the hope of carrying on beyond the material body, and joy of meeting those who have left us?

Also, and more importantly, if there is no afterlife, no accountability after death, no heaven for the righteous and no punishment for the wicked, then that would mean that the tyrants and oppressors of the world got away with it scot free! They looted and plundered, maimed and murdered, became beyond the reach of law and justice, mightily took away what belonged to others, and enjoyed the spoils all their life, and now that they are dead, no body will hold them to account?

It is this type of mentality, that denies the accountability of afterlife which poses a danger for humanity and it is against such ideologues that Divine emissaries taught their followers to seek God’s refuge and proclaim:

Moses said: “I have indeed called upon my Lord and your Lord (for protection) from every arrogant one who believes not in the Day of Account!” 40:27

Refuge with God must be sought from them because such people believe that the material life is all that there is and if they can be above the law and acquire power and influence then their personal interest is supreme at the expense of others.  With such an outlook of life, they disdain not in doing horrible things, acting criminally and hurting others. All of this is so because in their hearts there is no belief in accountability of their actions in life after death:

And they say: “What is there but our life in this world? We shall die and we live, and nothing but time can destroy us.” But of that they have no knowledge: they merely conjecture. 40:24

If you are not prepared for death and accountability in after life, then tough times are ahead for you. Just like in autumn one needs to prepare for the long dark winter, one needs to prepare for the day when he or she will be held accountable for his or her actions. We need to shed our old past that was devoid of divine inspiration and change ourselves to make way for the new.

Change is happening all around you this autumn. Go out. Take a walk in the park. The leaves of autumn are falling. They glorify their Lord and offer Him complete submission.

Hearken to their message of change.

Turning Points In Life That Lead To God


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Life is a journey. We are but travelers. But there is a road that is less traveled, a path less trodden. Pointers to that road come in our life but many tend to ignore them.Consciously or subconsciously we follow paths in life, make choices and pursue ends. We keep on moving with the same old routines, the same common milestones until suddenly we are at the cross roads.

Make full use of the cross roads, read the signs properly and you will reach a pleasing destination. On the other hand, close your eyes to the rejoinders, ignore the signs and keep on moving in your self inflicted pride then there is no question about you getting lost. This is not a simple journey, but a journey of far greater importance – one more momentous, one where the slightest wrong turn can have dire consequences.

We all come across turning points in life. These are major events or incidents that act as catalysts leading to the cross roads.

A turning point is an occasion that makes us reflect on life itself, on its meaning and purpose. We question not only ourselves, but the day to day status quos that we often embroil ourselves in. They make us think, reset our priorities, change course or step on the brakes.

LAST RESORT IN TIMES OF DISTRESS

But turning points do not occur randomly. They always follow an eventful occurrence. Trials and tribulations that are a cause of distress. The illness of a near or dear one. A near death experience. The loss of someone very close. Or an escape from some sort of a calamity. Events of this sort, where we feel helpless and powerless to do what we want to do, to attain what we hope to attain.

When all the people we know, when all the wealth we have isn’t of any use. When we desperately turn to the people around us for help, but are forsaken by all, hear no for an answer from all quarters and our pleading is of no use. When there is no hope, no joy. When all is about to be lost and our hopes and desires about to be shattered. When we finally acknowledge how weak and powerless we are. It is then, that we finally turn, in such a state of humiliation, we turn to a Higher Being for help:

Say: “Who is it that delivereth you from the dark recesses of land and sea, when ye call upon Him in humility and silent terror: ‘If He only delivers us from these (dangers), (we vow) we shall truly show our gratitude’?”6:63

Say “It is God that delivereth you from these and all (other) distresses: and yet ye worship false gods!”6:64

We plead Him, beg Him, fall down on our knees, cry and moan. In humiliation and humbleness imploring for one last chance. A last chance, which if we are granted then we vow to lead a righteous life, to turn over a new leaf solely for His sake, live according to His will and plan.  We pray in solitude:“Oh God! Please, please don’t let this happen! Please change things for me! I promise to turn over a new leaf, it will be a new start for me, if I am granted this prayer… I will do what you will…just save me from this distress!” It is supplications like these that emanate from the depths of our heart and shudder our very being. This is the inner feeling of every human being, says the Qur’an:

“When trouble toucheth man, He crieth unto Us (in all postures)- lying down on his side, or sitting, or standing…” 10:12

When we are in pain and suffering, and there is no hope in sight, when everyone has abandoned our requests, then as a last final resort we turn to God for help. Yes, we very well do. Each and everyone of us, no matter whether we are religious or not, no matter how staunch one may be in his or her disbelief, at that crucial moment, that vital juncture, when they are powerless and helpless to prevent what is about to befall, they too turn to the One who they had ignored and ridiculed, all their life, begging Him for one last chance, promising Him to turn over a new leaf, if only the peril and danger that is in their life is removed:

Say: “Think ye to yourselves, if there come upon you the wrath of God, or the Hour (that ye dread), would ye then call upon other than God? – (reply) if ye are truthful! 6:40

“Nay, – On Him would ye call, and if it be His will, He would remove (the distress) which occasioned your call upon Him, and ye would forget (the false gods) which ye join with Him!”6:41

This is man, any and every man. He implores God as a final resort when all else fails! While pain and distress is an occasion for a new beginning, a signal for change of course, a time to take action, a search for a remedy, sadly, most people forget this episode when the affliction is removed and return to their old usual ways:

“But when he delivereth them, behold! they transgress insolently through the earth in defiance of right! O mankind! your insolence is against your own souls, – an enjoyment of the life of the present: in the end, to Us is your return, and We shall show you the truth of all that ye did.”10:23

They ignore God, they forget that they had prayed and their prayer was answered. God had done His job, but did they do theirs!

Therefore, we need to learn from our distress. Analyse what we are doing, whether it is right or wrong and learn from our mistakes. An event that leads us to a turning point where we focus on God is a blessing in disguise and an opportunity of a lifetime.


THE TURNING POINT – AN OPPORTUNITY

Our afflictions and miseries also prove to be blessings in disguise, for such is the situation when we are granted an opportunity to avail the turning point in life. It occurs when we, in times of trouble, helplessness and despair turn to God for help – as a last resort, praying to Him to remove our afflictions and making a commitment in return to lead a righteous life:

“And indeed We will make them taste of the Penalty of this (life) prior to the supreme Penalty, in order that they may (repent and) return.”32:21

If you ask them, people will say they know God. They may have read about Him, have some sort of a conception about His person, grasped from the environment, or even made up by their imagination – an All powerful, Supreme Being with whom all things are possible, not the helpless humankind they observe daily, but someone quite capable of doing what He wills to do. However, the praise and reverence in a ceremony, or the theology of a seminary do not necessarily bring a person more closer to God, than a deeply personal and distressful call in times of trial and tribulation:

“And ye have no good thing but is from God: and moreover, when ye are touched by distress, unto Him ye cry with groans;” 16:54

It is in these situations, that a being who was for us, merely a concept in books, or a subject of spoken words and conversation, is now a reality, for we are calling on Him to remove our afflictions in a very real and intense way and waiting to see if someone is really ‘up there’ to answer us. Distressful occasions can be an opportunity of a lifetime, for you then focus your attention to God, His power and His majesty. You make a commitment with Him in your heart and wait and watch. When God’s mercy is bestowed, it is then time for you to be true to your word, and follow in His paths:

“Your Lord knows very well what is in your hearts if you are righteous, for He is All-forgiving to those who are penitent.”17:25

This is an opportunity for you, to go on the path that very few have chosen, and about which God has revealed His messages in all times and eras:

“Whenever We sent a prophet to a town, We took up its people in suffering and adversity, in order that they might learn humility.” 7:94

Your past can be forgiven. You can be healed of the excesses you committed, and regain your health, but for that you will have to follow the given advice and make changes in your life:

Say: “O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of God: for God forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. 39:53

LAST MINUTE SUBMISSION OF NO USE

If we have made contact with God, acknowledged His existence and seek his guidance, then the time to re-evaluate our priorities is now. Now is the time to be serious about who we are, where we come from and where are we going, and how God relates to us? What use is going to a doctor at the last stages of the illness? The time to seek remedy is before the disease spreads to a stage in which it cannot be curbed. Will it be of any benefit if one were to surrender to the doctor’s prescription when the end is near? Certainly not. The time for medical help was in the early stages of the disease, not in the final one.

Similarly, God’s guidance is our healing from the ills we incur and the mistakes we have committed in the past – it reforms ourselves from the ill effects of past mistakes, and strengthens us for times to come. The time to surrender to God is now, and not at the last moment of our life. Do we think that we can commit excesses, waste, destroy, loot and plunder, act immorally in all sorts of ways, lie, cheat, deceive and oppress while ignoring God, and then at the last moment of our life, or at the time of death the repentance from our wrong doings will save us from the effects of our past actions?

“Turn ye to our Lord (in repentance) and bow to His (Will), before the Penalty comes on you: after that ye shall not be helped.”39:54

“And follow the best of (the courses) revealed to you from your Lord, before the Penalty comes on you – of a sudden while ye perceive not! 39:55

Turn to God now; follow His guidance, now – and not when the water has risen above your head.We should not allow iniquity to further itself, before it takes up our entire being, and hardens our heart, we need to address it and reform ourselves of its impact.

The Qur’an gets the point across about last minute soul saving techniques. All his life, the Pharaoh was a tyrannical ruler, but when he realised that the end was near and that his power was of no use, it was then that he submitted to God; but that last minute acknowledgement was of no use:

“We took the Children of Israel across the sea: Pharaoh and his hosts followed them in insolence and spite. At length, when overwhelmed with the flood, he said: “I believe that there is no god except Him Whom the Children of Israel believe in: I am of those who submit (to God in Islam).”10:90

(It was said to him): “Ah now! – But a little while before, wast thou in rebellion! – and thou didst mischief (and violence)!” 10:91

“This day shall We save thee in the body, that thou mayest be a sign to those who come after thee! but verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs!”10:92

The Pharaoh’s last minute acknowledgement was not accepted. Will taking a pill save you when you are at your death bed and the cancer has spread terminally?

A CALL TO ACTION

Well then? Have you thought about the afflictions in your life? Did you turn to God for help, implore Him and beseech Him to remove your period of trial? What did you vow in return? He did His bit, have you done yours yet?

“When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way.”2:186

He listens to you, but you also need to listen to Him. He will improve your condition if you do:

“But those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and believe in the (Revelation) sent down to Muhammad – for it is the Truth from their Lord, – He will remove from them their ills and improve their condition.” 47:2

So here we are. Into the second stage of Ramadan. First ten days gone. The month of mercy is still here. Nights of guidance and revelation still on.

But it begs the question in terms of the road less traveled; where are you now, and where do you want to be?

The choice is yours.