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Concerning Abstract Forms of Worship

KR’s note: Call this a posting binge if you like but figured this was of relevance at this particular time. I received multiple requests to write more about the naẓam of Quranic verses, so perhaps this will be useful to discuss the inter-connectedness not just of the Qur’an itself, but also among the pillars of Islam as well.

There is an unmistakably consistency between the various pillars of Islam. Not only are they acts of worship, but they are connected to one another on multiple levels: as preludes, as symbiotes and as complements, to name a few of these connections. A relevant connection for our purposes here is that the lessons from one pillar are often important and incorporated into the performance of another.

It is interesting that the verses of fasting (Surah al-Baqarah, verses 183-187) are followed by a discussion about Hajj (verses 193-202). [1] The intelligent reader should ask why are the verses of Hajj intertwined with the verses of fasting?

A starting answer is that both are abstract forms of worship. The pillars of ritual prayer and charity are regimented forms of worship, as there are many rules and regulations associated with these specific actions. Moreover, there is a prescription of how these must be performed even during the action itself: for example, every step of the prayer is described and the believer is told what to recite in each of the cardinal positions. Similarly, zakat has a well-defined system of calculation and distribution that makes its performance much more reproducible among the general population. But when one looks at fasting and the pilgrimage, other than a few rules, there aren’t any prescribed supplications, actions or rituals that must do, minute by minute, during any of these performances. The books of Sacred Law are filled with rulings concerning what a Muslim must NOT do during these two acts of worship, but there is no insistence that a certain du’a or a certain dhikr or something specific has to be done. It’s left unrestricted for a reason.

When the pilgrims go to Mina on the 8th of Dhu’l-Hijjah (may we be among them in our lives!), it signifies the start of Islam’s greatest communal act of worship. Yet, the interesting reality is that there is absolutely nothing that is required for the pilgrim to do once he gets there. Certainly, one is encouraged to busy one’s self in individual worship, but this is not a legal requirement. If one wishes, one can simply eat and sleep the whole time; you get credit for simply showing up. This obviously doesn’t work in prayer: one has to recite certain tasbīḥs for the prayer to be valid, one can’t just show up and do whatever one wishes. The same holds true for `Arafat and Muzdalifah: these are totally empty valleys with no script given to the pilgrim for what he must do once he arrives there. He is told to simply show up at a certain time and place before going to another. He gets rewarded for sitting around or even for sleeping. Obviously, the merits of supplication and individual worship at these places is well-known but the pilgrim has fulfilled his legal obligation by simply showing up.

The same holds true for fasting: the believer is given a general set of principles that are in place from sunrise to sunset and he is then left to his own devices. He is told not to do certain things, but other than performing the ritual prayer, the believer has no obligation to do anything else during the fast itself. He too gets rewarded even for sleeping.  And he too has fulfilled his legal obligation by simply showing up.

In this light, one marvels at the wisdom of this naẓam between the fourth and fifth pillars of Islam, as well as the locations of the verses concerning each, not just in the Qur’an, but within Surah al-Baqarah itself. This is no mere coincidence and should be reflected upon: that Allah can string together not just verses and pillars, but also the overarching themes within each. We should marvel at this theme of abstractness that permeates ṣawm and ḥajj.

As Muslims in the modern world, this abstractness is a difficult concept for us to grasp and appreciate. In our busy lives, we wish to have planning, structure, and of course, distraction and entertainment. We are creatures of habit and we love being told what to do, we being the generation of turn-by-turn navigation and subliminal advertising. We cling to structure and regimentedness, and there is nothing wrong with this when it comes to organizing many aspects of our lives such as work, school, family, etc. And clearly, structure is part of certain forms of worship such as prayer and alms-giving. But the fourth and fifth pillars are examples of times and events (Ramadan and Hajj) when God wishes to break us of our cycles, embrace the abstract and become totally dependent upon Him. Whereas the modern mind needs to be occupied with something (usually 140 characters or less since we have lost the ability to read with focus for long periods of time…), the Muslim mind will not become uncomfortable with the abstract. Even when there is nothing to do or nothing to think about, the Muslim mind is at rest, content that abstractness allows for introspection, silence, reflection and individual worship. The beautiful irony of `Arafat and Ramadan is that both are the grandest displays of communal acts of worship, but ultimately at their core, both encourage the believer to disconnect from everyone and everything around him in order to connect with Him: we are told to come together so that we can go off and be alone with Him.

In this light, it makes sense why many of the prohibitions (such as no marital relations) are similar between these two acts; it makes sense why communal worship during both is really meant to stimulate more individual worship; and, fittingly enough, why those who are not fortunate to be on the Pilgrimage in a given year are encouraged to “be one” with the pilgrims with a simple formula: to fast on the 8th and 9th so that both groups are engaged in abstract worship. We should appreciate that abstract worship (compared to regimented worship) is something that pleases God the most and harms the Devil the most. [2] For Iblis, he who is the master of distraction,  this is a day that he is the most afflicted with pain, simply by the unstructured-yet-structured standing of a sea of humanity in the desolate plains of `Arafat.

The Companions understood the logic of letting go of your logic. The vast majority of times it is easy for one to understand, but there are times when you don’t understand, and that is OK– but there are also times when you are supposed to not understand. Removing this self-imposed responsibility to understand is the last wound a believer has to inflict on the demon that is his ego and sense of self-importance. Fasting and the Pilgrimage are the epitome of not trying to understand everything about the situation: their abstractedness implies there is a lack of logic present, and when the believer shows up, embraces this and makes the most of these events, this is what pleases God and harms His enemy the most.

Ultimately, the purpose of abstractness is to foster within the believer a sense of total dependency on Allah. The fasting person realizes how much he is in debt to Allah for his food, drink and other comforts that he often takes for granted. The pilgrim realizes how totally dependent he is on Allah before and during the pilgrimage.[3] Both the pilgrim and the one who fasts realize that his sense of control is but an illusion, and instead of despairing about this, he embraces it, enjoys it and ultimately comes out of it a better person. Hence both of these actions have an unimaginable reward. The fast is rewarded according to whatever Allah wishes [4], whereas the pilgrim returns like the day his mother gave birth to him.[5] The popular explanation is that he returns sinless like a newborn child, and this is certainly true, but the scholars of the inward sciences offer a supplementary interpretation as well: just as the newborn is dependent on his parents (he is not concerned about when he will eat, who will change him, who will comfort him), the pilgrim returns realizing that he is completely dependent on Allah. And just as the baby sleeps comfortably, he too will sleep comfortably — he did so in the midst of abstractness in `Arafat and can do so now back in his life of structure.

The system matches macroscopically and microscopically. These are abstract forms of worship, so don’t strain yourself trying to make sense of it all. Any extra good deeds are wonderful, but we should be consoled that Ramadan and Hajj both offer the ultimate participation prize. All we have to do is show up.


It is also fascinating that the interluding verses that mention the Companions’ asking about the crescent-moons come AFTER the verses concerning fasting, as if to say that if this whole moon business was so important so as to be scientific, why don’t these verses come BEFORE the verses of fasting? There is more on this for another time, but should serve as reflection fodder for the introspective.

ما رؤيالشيطان في يوم أصغر ولا أدحر ولا أحقر ولا أغيظ منه يوم عرفة
“Satan has never been seen as to be more mean, or humiliated, or miserable or vexed that on the day of ‘Arafat.” (a Mursal Hadith, cited by Imam al-Ghazali in the Ihya, Kitab Asrar ‘l-Hajj)

I think this is why everyone has the (affectionately) “crazy Hajj stories”, wherein sheer acts of randomness happen to make the journey more challenging, yet ultimately more interesting: people/luggage getting lost, getting kicked out of your tents, losing passports/documents, etc. I mean, doesn’t everyone have these personally or know of someone with similar stories? I remember one family that was scheduled to leave for Hajj and as they are sitting in the plane, on the runway, and the plane gets hit by lightning. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but there was irreparable damage to the plane’s machinery and they had to have everyone get off the flight — and this was the last flight that was to be allowed in for the Hajj season that year. Simply incredible. It makes no sense — but then again, I think that’s the point. God doesn’t want us to make sense of it when it comes to visiting His House.

كل حسنة بعشر أمثالها إلى سبعمائة ضعف إلا الصيام ، فإنه لي وأنا أجزي به
“Every righteous action will be rewarded ten to seven hundred fold except fasting, for it is (endured) for My Sake and which I will reward (however I wish)”

من حج البيت فلم يرفث ولم يفسق خرج من ذنوبه كيوم ولدته أمه
“Whoever performs Pilgrimage to the House without foul talk or iniquity is free from sin [literally: departs from his sins] as [he was] on the day his mother bore him.”


The Power of Nothingness

kr’s note: I know, you must be thinking, two posts in two weeks? Yes, I’m scared as well… but felt this is perhaps useful at this time given the pending Hajj as well as the current discussions on (political) power.


It is well known that the blessed days of Dhu’l Hijjah serve as a reminder for many magnificent things. In the preceding days and in those that are to come, one will undoubtedly be reminded of the history and lessons associated with these days. Foremost among these discussions is the connectedness with our forefather, Prophet Ibrahim (`alayhi ‘l- salām), but this is not the story for this particular post. Instead, perhaps what is even more fascinating is the story of our mother Hajar, for this is an undeniable chapter in a wondrous tale: a mother running between two nondescript mountains for the sake of her crying infant in an act that became a cornerstone for Islam’s greatest ritual act of worship.

The naẓam (interconnectedness) of the Qur’an is a wonderfully but woefully under-appreciated topic in our popular discussions. It is important to understand that the Qur’an is holistically sound because each verse is not only connected to every other verse, but the location of a given verse in relation to the verses around it is also of significance. The verb naẓama literally means “to string together pearls on a necklace”, suggesting that while there is beauty in a single pearl, there is a greater beauty when a pearl is joined with other pearls on a necklace, and that its beauty is enhanced not only by the entire necklace, but also by the pearls around it. The verses of the Qur’an are the same.

The interconnectedness of these verses is significant because Hajar’s seminal act is mentioned by name only once in the Qur’an (Surah al-Baqarah, verse 158), but comes immediately after a larger discussion regarding fear, safety, patience and a sense of establishing power (verses 153-157), which ends with a theme of willingness to sacrifice. This, of course, implies that one has something to give in the first place; we often assume that sacrifice involves giving up something tangible and real. The law of the cosmos dictates that everyone is tested and tried, regardless of religion, gender, status, etc., and different levels of sacrifice are required for different situations. If one doesn’t appreciate this, then one hasn’t understood the way the world works. For the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) of the early Madinian days, this was a lesson to acknowledge this reality as it was the only way to become less anxious in an uncertain climate. And as for sacrifice, the example given to them–they who had already given much–is that of a seemingly unlikely type, but it was an example that was accepted and beloved to Allah above all else. This is the wisdom of why verse 158 comes at the end of this discussion on sacrifice, as if to say that if you don’t understand sacrifice, God will now relate an example of sacrifice of nothingness.

It is the nothingness of Hajar that makes this story even more amazing. It is this nothingness that should also be appreciated: a new mother finding herself in the middle of the desert with her newborn child left with nothing other than the promise that God will take care of them. When her meager provisions ran out, she did not look to the heavens with a sense of entitlement asking for the so-called promise of Divine Help. She did not lament her husband leaving her in this desolate valley. She did not despair that no one was there to help her in this abject state of absolute weakness. The brilliance of Hajar was not only that she didn’t panic, but she realized that when Divine Help was needed, human effort was necessary, a human struggle was required.

Marvel at the situation: this is not a Prophet or king asked to give something that he possessed. Instead, here is a woman, a mother who has just given birth, with her newborn child in the middle of a place so-named because it broke all those who entered. At this time and space, she is arguably the weakest of all human beings in the harshest of places. So when her supplies ran out and when she realizes that some effort is required, marvel further at her actions: she didn’t stand up in prayer or make dhikr or have a mawlid or even apply an intellectual logic to the situation. She realized that at the bare minimum, a show of effort and struggle was required to give the Divine an excuse to make good on His Promise.  And marvel further that this effort was completely illogical to the so-called educated mind: why not light a fire or shout from a mountain? Or if one must run, why not run in a circle to cover a greater distance? Why run back and forth between two points when the likelihood of finding water over ground one has already traversed is unlikely? And her running from one mountain to the other seven times implies that she ended up right where she started (read: in mathematical terms, her net distance traveled was actually zero), so what good did it do?

But the Divine appreciates the effort of even the most fragile being, and if done properly, it will be blessed with perpetual acceptance. Herein lay the epitome of struggling when one is powerless and has absolutely nothing: that in reality, when one has nothing but faith in the Divine Promise and puts forth whatever struggle one is capable of at the time, that even if one has nothing, one will get everything. Allah wants His servants to go through the motions, even if they seem illogical, He will take care of the details of what happens next. And what happened next? The result of that seemingly illogical struggle that was infused with a willingness to give everything when one has nothing was that He made good on His Promise:

He created an entire civilization nourished by a well that sprung forth from the heel of an infant whose mother demonstrated the power of nothingness.

And herein lies the lesson for the modern Muslim: we’ve built ourselves on secular models rather than understanding our grandmother’s model: with Divine Grace, even when one has physically nothing, one will receive everything if one is willing to give up everything including one’s sense of nothingness. The two distortions of Islam today demonstrated by the extremists and secularists are devoid of any understanding, appreciation or implementation of this model. Hence, true Islam is only represented by those that understand the lessons of verses 153-158: gratitude, patience and sacrifice. These three qualities were epitomized by that weak woman who demonstrated a strength that we still admire today.

For the Companions, this verse explained to them the significance of these two mountains: Divine Providence is indiscriminate because the act of a powerless woman became a cornerstone for Hajj and `Umrah–while ṭawāf can be done at any time, the sa`y can only be done within the confines of these two acts of worship–so do not feel low, guilty or powerless because of this. It is appropriate her struggle of running between the two hills of  Ṣafā’ and Marwah became known as the Sa`y, which literally means “struggle”. Whereas the sacrifice of Ibrahim (peace be upon him!) is celebrated because of his willingness to sacrifice all that he held dear; the sacrifice of his wife struggling in the face of seeming powerlessness became an act of worship and a Symbol of Allah Himself. “Indeed (the mountains) of Ṣafā’ and Marwāh are from the Symbols of Allah…”. The sacrifice of a Prophet and a woman both became Symbols of God.

We should appreciate that the roots of Muslim civilization lie in making effort, especially when one is seemingly powerless and has nothing to give. This is crucial because we find ourselves in a place in time where we are often physically and politically powerless to a degree never before seen in our 1400 year history. This has manifested itself with many faces: apathy, pessimism, desire for radical change, confusion, lamentation, anger, and in the worst of all cases, violent extremism. Those that appreciate the story of Hajar must shun each of these equally and understand her legacy of sacrifice. Sacrifice is about giving up everything and anything that we hold dear, but it is also to give up one’s sense of nothingness, which is often the last remaining possession of one who has nothing. To put it another way, it means to sacrifice your sense of being a victim and giving up even your feeling sorry for yourself. Sometimes, giving this up is more difficult that giving up everything in the world.

But perhaps this is why this sacrifice is required: to bring in the power of the Divine, the power of nothingness must be given up in return. Hajar understood this. So must we.

In Defense of the Immigrant Uncle

kr’s note: It’s been nearly five months since I’ve done this. I’ve been meaning to write about several things during this timespan, but have never managed to sit down and get all my thoughts together. I finally decided I had to sit down and write on this topic before something else came up. It feels good to write again, especially being able to write and not having to whittle one’s thoughts into a clever statement 140 characters or less. Also, my recent hashtag character of #OverzealousUncleGuy is to use humor as a vehicle to point out certain idiosyncrasies demonstrated by a small minority of immigrant uncles; it certainly is not meant to classify all immigrant uncles into this stereotyped character.

We live in an interesting period of American Muslim history. It is a time when a critical number of first generation, young indigenous and convert Muslims comprise a significant portion of the American Muslim community. Undoubtedly, this is a good thing. With a background of uniquely American life experiences, levels and types of education and commonalities, this younger generation is able to speak across cultural and social borders as well–this is not to say we have reached a Muslim utopian community. But at least the conversation is civilized (generally speaking) and has started.  Add to this a growing discussion and awareness in conversations, both scholarly and lay, regarding a variety of never-before-discussed social and religious topics.  Sprinkle in a pinch of institutionalized revival in learning the sacred sciences and a dash of social-media, bake for 20 years and voila, you have a new generation with its own ideas and desire for change.

These conversations, by and large, are well-intentioned and stem from a desire to improve the American Muslim community. Many of these conversations, such as a critical examination of race issues and developing an understanding of healthy sexuality, are long overdue. But among these topics, an unfettered wave of criticism directed towards a certain group within the American Muslim community has reared its ugly head. Recently, it has become popular and commonplace to cast the immigrant uncles (and by extension, immigrant aunties, but for the sake of this essay, I will refer to this demographic with a male pronoun and abbreviate this using IU) as a major problem with our communities. Social media feeds, speeches and common conversations are filled with an invective directed against the IU as a backward, over-the-hill figure that doesn’t understand the needs of today. And while the IUs are not without blame, I believe we must understand the story of the IUs, how they brought us here and how to interact with them during this transition phase wherein the banner of American Islam, for better or worse, will be passed to our generation. Before we take this baton, we must understand where they have run first.

To recount how we got here would involve a re-telling of recent American Muslim history, with a particular attention devoted to the inevitable effects of 9/11, but that is not the scope of this essay(side note: perhaps this is a topic for a future essay). Instead, I wish to highlight a few key components of this story to address an issue that has been gaining steam for quite some time now.

We should first understand that the vast majority of the IUs did not come here to spread Islam or escape persecution in their homelands. This was certainly no hijrah. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 opened the doors for immigration from the Middle East and South Asia, heralding a wave of  immigrants who came to the United States with the quintessential of American niyyahs: to have a better life for themselves and their families. Many of them came to pursue higher education while others came to find better careers. As is well known by now, the IUs gravitated towards engineering and medicine. This did not happen by mere coincidence: a shortage of skilled professionals in these fields served as an impetus for these fields being filled by the IUs. In general, these early IUs were incredibly intelligent, ambitious, resourceful and possessed an ability to leave behind family, delay marriage and immerse themselves in studies to  an admirable degree of dedication. The stereotype wealthy-doctor-uncle worked his tail off in the early 1970s to get to where he is today. And we must not be foolish to think there were no temptations at this time–while there may have been no FaceBook and social media,  America as a nation was discovering free love, drugs and rock & roll and healing from the scars of the psychological scars of Vietnam with a revolt against the relative conservatism that had dominated its social history. Trust me, there were plenty of temptations for that generation.

For many of the IUs, coming to America was not unlike Prince Akeem’s character in the movie by the same name. While they didn’t come to find a queen to take back home per se, the vast majority of them had no real long term plans of staying. They wanted to go back home, and initially, they never thought America could ever be home. I find it historically fascinating and inspiring that in this backdrop of transience and temptation,  these IUs soon realized they had to establish something to hold onto their identity.  In this context, in Champaign, IL, the first Muslim Students’ Association was formed, eventually spreading to other campuses and serving as the father that sired ISNA and other American Muslim organizations. And lest we forget, it wasn’t a glamorous, convention-holding, rally-organizing, fastathon-sponsoring Muslim Singles/Shadi Association (relax, kidding on that last one…) that we know and love today. For many of the IUs, it was their only connection to their Muslim identity. And for many of the IUs, it was a rediscovery of a religion that they had not fully appreciated in their native lands. Indeed, many IUs learned, came back and committed to the deen as a result of their experiences in the MSAs, and as a result became better educated and practicing Muslims than they were in their native lands.

It is a miracle that Allah brought about a change of hearts and intentions in this generation of (mostly) young men whose initial intentions were not to propagate Islam or establish institutions, but rather to make a quick buck and return home. But Allah brings about change when, how and where He wills. And so the IUs, the most unsuspecting of characters, were cast as the lead actors in the play of their lives. They were not given any script, there were no directors and they didn’t even know they were being filmed by the lens of history.

An interlude is necessary here. The above narrative thus far should not not diminish the existence of Islam already present in the indigenous American population (especially amongst the African American community; for more on this, Dr Sherman Jackson’s Islam and the Blackamerican and Richard Brent Turner’s Islam in the African-American Experience are essential reads), but this is not the focus of this essay.

So while Islam remained a presence in the inner cities of America, the suburbanization of American Islam was a uniquely IU-led phenomenon. An influx of wealth into the IUs made it possible to bring Islam into a completely new arena of the suburbs, that part of America where it had never gone before. (Side note #1: one could argue that the concept of suburban Islam is a uniquely American one since Islam in the old world was either urban or countryside as the concept of suburbs really didn’t exist until very recently. Side note #2: I wish someone, much smarter than me, would write a PhD thesis on this subject). These same IUs had the inspiration and foresight to start building masjids, stores and restaurants. Whether they knew it or not, their works led to the formal arrival of Islam into this part of America. And by Allah’s Grace, it flourished in this new landscape all across the country.

Were mistakes made? Undoubtedly so. Were there mistakes made in planning masjids? Was there overt racism directed towards Americans, especially African-Americans (including, embarrassingly enough, African-American Muslims)? Were many political and cultural differences unfortunately the reason for splintering of groups into different organizations?  Did ego play a role (and continues to play a role) in mismanagement of affairs within mosques and organizations? Did they not figure out a way to effectively engaged the youth, minorities, converts and women? Did they not establish better transfer of leadership within institutions and masjids, including developing leadership training programs? Do our institutions suffer from a lack of professionalism and trained professionals to deal with social, psychological and cultural issues that plague the Muslim community? Yes, yes and yes to all of the above.

But we also cannot deny the obvious good that came from this generation. The Qur’an tells us: “Say: The evil and the good are not alike even though the plenty of the evil attract thee. So be mindful of your duty to Allah, O men of understanding, that ye may succeed(Sūrah al-Mā’idah, Verse 100).” This suggests that any beneficial goodness, no matter how small, still outweighs the harm of a thing, no matter how plenty and should be appreciated. Of course, its application to matters of Sacred Law is different (for example, one cannot say that alcohol is now permissible because good is present and it outweighs the harm). Furthermore, a ḥadīth states: “What is small and sufficient is better than that which is numerous and diverting ( أَلهَى) driving this point home.  In this case, the contributions of the IUs to the American Muslim community are beyond just “good”: they are sufficient and good because they have brought us to where we are today.

Again, let me be clear: this is not to condone them for the mistakes, but this is an unpayable debt that we owe to the IUs. We are privileged to pray in masjids now while many of them actually did pray jumu’ah in basements and closets. We are blessed to have Muslim schools and stores while these were only a fantasy when they were our age. And even some of our advanced discussions, such as machine-slaughtered meat vs. hand-slaughtered meat and moon sighting methods–we are fortunate enough that we are in a position to even have these discussions now (never mind the rulings or the positions on such matters), because in their days, it was not even possible to fantasize about these matters. There were no zabihah meat stores. There wasn’t awareness regarding moon sighting methods. (Some may argue these were simpler, better times, and I can’t disagree). Efficacious Islam, not necessarily a “more authentic” Islam, dominated the discourse. More real, tangible things had to be done so that today we can have the luxury of sending our kids to Islamic schools, buying zabihah meat, praying in luxurious masjids and even having these discussions. Like the coffee drinker who sips his morning caffeine unaware of how it got there, we sometimes forget all that happened that even makes it possible for us to enjoy our position. We see further because we stand on the shoulders of recent giants — unwilling at first, and perhaps not the tallest — but we stand on them nonetheless. And I would dare argue that if my generation was in their place, it would not have been able to do what they were able to accomplish. God knows best.

And so while we criticize the IUs as doctors and engineers as wealthy suburbanite fobs whose times have passed, let us not forget who funded the masjids, schools and projects in the first place. While we criticize them for “hanging on too long”, let us not forget who worked tireless hours at masjids, taking them from humble beginnings to the mega-masjids we see today, not taking a salary for their work. And while we find fault with them for a hundred other things, let us not think that we would have done a better job had we had to do it all over again.

The first step is to show appreciation and give credit where it’s due for what they have done. The second step is for us to study this recent history, taking notes of the successes and shortcomings and keeping these as references as we begin our own community services. We should also embark on this transfer of leadership giving the utmost attention to maintaining their dignity and propriety, recognizing them for their services and allow them to graciously exit into the sunset as heroes, instead of unceremoniously tossing them aside like milk past its expiration date. Yes, this transfer may often happen with a great deal of tension, as some of them may stubbornly hold on even when its time to leave… but we should ask ourselves if we would not do the same if we were in that same position? We would do the same exact thing. Only a foolishly self-righteous person would think he would behave otherwise. When you have been doing something so long, it’s hard to let go. This is a human flaw and we are all flawed beings in a flawed world. So gentleness and understanding must dictate our speech and actions rather than anarchy and an indignation of demanding what we think is rightfully ours at the American Muslim table.

Whereas the IUs faced the challenge of establishing a Muslim identity and building institutions, our generation’s trial will be to honor their legacy by building upon their foundations, fixing the cracks in the wall and making beautiful the overall construction. Eventually, we will be in these positions of leadership and we should appreciate a simple fact and embrace a subsequent responsibility:

By the overwhelming Grace of God, they succeeded. History will bear witness whether our efforts are similarly blessed.

The Eclipse Prayer

kr’s note: We are told there will be a solar eclipse today that will be visible in many parts of the world. This is a wonderful opportunity to pray salat al-kusuf (the eclipse prayer), and fulfill one of the great practices of the Prophet. I hope the following will be useful for those who are interested. The translation and any resulting errors are mine.

Note: the time for the eclipse, at least in the Chicago area where it may be barely visible, is during the Asr to Maghrib window. It should be remembered that per the Hanafi school it is strongly undesirable to pray any superogatory prayer after Asr. Hence, one may delay Asr until the eclipse starts, pray the eclipse prayer and then pray Asr with enough time left before Maghrib. However, if the time is insufficient such that delaying Asr is not possible, then one should pray Asr (as that is fard) and leave aside the eclipse prayer and instead make du’a/dhikr during this time. One should not miss Asr for the sake of a superogatory prayer, no matter how virtuous it may be. Finally, if it is the makruh time before Asr, one should forego the eclipse prayer and instead make du’a/dhikr instead.

(The following is the Hanafi method for salat al-kusuf (the eclipse prayer) taken from al-Hidayah by Imam al-Marghinani. The original text of Quduri is underlined, my comments are in brackets)


When the sun is eclipsed, the imam should lead the people in two rak’ahs of superogatory prayers with one prostration in each rak’ah. Imam al-Shafi`i (may God have mercy on him) said that there are to be two prostrations, relying on the narration of Aishah (may God be pleased with her) [this hadith is found in all the six major collections]. We (the Hanafis) rely upon the narration of Samurah b. `Umar (may God be pleased with him). The outward state of the Prophet (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him) was more evident to the men (ie, those Companions present with him at the time of the prayer) who were close to him. Therefore, the narration of Samurah is preferred.

The recitation in both rak’ahs is to be prolonged and silent according to Imam Abu Hanifah (may God have mercy on him). The two Companions (Sahibayn) said that it should be recited aloud. There is also an opinion from Imam Muhammad that is like that of Abu Hanifah. What is meant be prolonged recitation is that it is a description of that which is better, and it is not a required criteria. The imam may shorten the prayer if he wishes because the practice is that the entire time of the eclipse should be spent in prayer and supplication. It he makes one of them shorter (ie, either the prayer or the supplication), then he should lengthen the other. As for silent and loud recitation, the two Companions (Sahibayn) use the narration of Aishah that the Prophet recited aloud [this is found in the collections of Imam Bukhari and Muslim]. Abu Hanifah uses the reports of Abdullah b. `Abbas and Samurah b. Jundub (may God be pleased with them both) [this is found in the collection of Imam Ahmad and the four Sunan]. The reason for silent recitation has been mentioned earlier. In addition, how could he have recited aloud when it was a daytime prayer, which are usually silent?

He should make the spplucation after the prayer till the sun becomes bright again. This is due to the hadith of the Prophet, إذا رأيتم من هذه الأفزاع شيئا فارغبوا إلى الله بالدعاء “When you something from these fright-inducing things, then turn towards Allah with supplication” [this is narrated by Abu Musa al-Ash`ari in the collections of Bukhari and Muslim].

The sunnah for supplications is that they are after the prayer. The imam that leads this prayer should be the same imam that usually leads them in the Friday prayer. If he is not present, the people should pray individually so as to prevent confusion/disorder [ie, so that there is no argument over who is the rightful leader of prayer in a given community. The Hanafis were very particular in avoiding disputation over leading the prayer. For example, this is why the dominant opinion amongst the Hanafis is that if one misses the congregational prayer in a masjid with an established imam, one is not allowed to make a secondary congregation, lest people think that one purposely did not pray behind the imam or that the second imam is demanding the place of the proper imam. There is more on this topic for another time].

There is no congregational prayer for a lunar eclipse due to the hardship in assembling a prayer in congregation at night or to the fear this may cause hardship. Each person should pray individually as per the hadith of the Prophet,إذا رايتم شيئا من هذه الأهوال فافزعوا إلى الصلاة “When you see something from these happenings, then seek comfort in prayer.” [a version of this appears in the collections of both Bukhari and Muslim].

There is no sermon in eclipses as none have been transmitted. [According to the other schools, however, there is a mention of a sermon]

A New Spring

Three years ago, I wrote a post and went into a blogging hiatus, thinking that I had given up this hobby forever. During that time, returning to writing certainly crossed my mind — dozens of posts on various issues swirled through my head — but putting pen to paper (or more appropriately, fingertips to computer keys) remained an imaginary idea at best. And so three years ago, my last post dealt with how a given time-space can affect a situation. Perhaps now, this is the time for me to use this space properly.

I guess a lot has changed in three years, alhamdulillah: I’m nearing the end of my residency; I got married to an amazing woman who I certainly don’t deserve; I’ve met fascinating people doing remarkable things to improve the world around them; and I’ve tried to learn as much as I possibly can along the way. I’m older now, yet certainly not wiser.

This time around, things will be slightly different: I want to focus on certain topics that aren’t found on other blogs: religious issues in the context of our times; religion in the context of science, particularly medicine; and social commentary on the amazing and the idiosyncratic of our community. In other words, satire posts, while once my favorite medium to convey themes and messages I strongly believe in, will probably not come along for this ride. Hopefully, I intend to provide refreshingly different material about once a week that I hope you will find entertaining and informative.

So here we go, perhaps fittingly enough in the time of Rabi` al-Awwal (The First Spring), a new spring for this hobby of mine that went quiet for a while, but never really went away.

Have I lost a step? Probably.

Do I still got it? We’ll find out.

Why? Why not.


The Hanafi Space-Time Continuum

kr’s note:  The following is the result of class and discussion with Shaykh Amin yesterday, so most of the insights–well, all of them, who am I kidding–are to his credit. We were reading from kitab al-hajj in Hidayah, a section detailing the step-by-step rites of Hajj, when the following discussion took place.

The Hanafis were given the title “ahl ‘l-ra’i”, the people of opinion and conjecture,  and this title was often used with a sense of sarcasm by some of the other schools for they often sought to bring in logic and reason in determining the Law. Abu Hanifah (may Allah have mercy on him) was called “al-Qayyas” (an ism mubalaghah form), meaning “one who constantly and exceedingly uses analogical reasoning.” What these same people overlooked, of course, is that Abu Hanifah and his students were concerned primarily with the nass (text) as foundational evidence, and logic as a secondary and supplemental source at best. The authority of the nass was always paramount, and when rulings deviated from the nass, another nass had to exist along with clear and logical reasoning to allow for such movement away from the hukm (mandated Law).

The above is necessary background in order to understand the Hanafi position–and the subsequent revelation–when it comes to the Day of Arafat, specifically looking at the order and manner in which the prayers are to be performed. It is well known that the pilgrims are to combine the Zuhr and Asr prayers at the time of Zuhr, but the Hanafis say that combining prayers is not allowed (unless of course one makes jama` suwari, which is a discussion for another day, but basically means delaying Zuhr until the end of its time and then praying Asr right as its time comes in).  But, on the Day of Arafat, the Hanafis allow for combining these prayers, yet the nass would indicate that this should not be allowed, specifically due to two verses: 4:103 which explicitly states that prayer has prescribed times, and 2:238 which further says to especially guard the middle prayer (which the dominant opinion says refers to the Asr prayer).  Obviously, one can explain why these prayers are combined because the Prophet (salallahu `alayhi wa sallam) did so when he performed Hajj, and he only did Hajj once in his lifetime, so there is a nass allows for this exception. But reason is necessary to  stipulate how and why the nass can be over-ridden, so the Hanafis say that certain conditions have to be met (such as one being in Ihram, one being in Arafat, etc) in order to move away from the nass.

This is where it gets interesting… because the idea here is that once these conditions are met, the principle of preserving “time” is also maintained because these conditions essentially bring the time of Asr “forward”, relatively, to those who are in Arafat, so they maintain the first nass as well. In other words, their Asr prayer, which the `aql (intellect) may say is before its time and thus not “prescribed” yet (as per the nass), is actually prescribed because the time is brought forward.

Then it gets even juicier… because when sunset happens, one is not allowed to pray Maghrib in Arafat, one has to wait until he reaches Muzdalifah, then he prays Maghrib and Isha together… yet this Maghrib is not considered to be qadah, even if the time for Maghrib has elapsed (even going by the liberal Hanafi 90 minute Maghrib rule) by the time he reaches Muzdalifah. So this presents a conundrum, because in the previous example, we brought the time forward, yet now we are essentially pushing the “time” back, saying that the time for one’s Maghrib–despite one’s `aql observing the sun set–hasn’t started.  To understand this, one looks at the hadith (which is in both Bukhari and Muslim by the way, even Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (may Allah have mercy on him), a card carrying member of Shafi’i madhab, agrees in his Dirayah commentary), wherein the Prophet (salallahu `alayhi wa sallam) says to Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him), when the latter was about to pray Maghrib in the road while en route from Arafat to Muzdalifah, “As-salātu amāmak, ” (The prayer is in front of you), which is interpreted that as-salatu actually stands for “waqtu ‘l-salāti amāmak” (the time of the prayer is in front of you). In other words, the Prophet said that the time for Maghrib, even though outwardly it may have seemed it was dark, would not start for them until they physically reached Muzadalifah.  Even more amazing is that this “start” time is relative for each pilgrim, only occuring when he/she physically enters Muzdalifah.

This hadith is fascinating because it establishes a link between time and space. Einstein became famous for saying that time was so powerful that it could physically curve and alter the very fabric of space. Here, we are saying that the blessed plain of `Arafat is so powerful that it is not only unaltered by time, but instead, this space physically curves and bends time… and it is so powerful that it pushes time in both directions, bringing the time for one prayer forward, and delaying the time for the other. Thus, the famous hadith of “Al-hajju `arafah” (The Hajj is Arafat), no longer remains majazi (allegorical), but takes on a higher degree of haqiqah (outwardly literal) meaning, because of the power contained in this blessed plain. 

For the pilgrim, the paradox is to use his `aql to understand and appreciate this reasoning, and then to simultaneously understand the weakness of his `aql that tells him it is time or not time to pray–to embrace the power of the `aql on one hand, while understanding its shortcomings on the other.  This is the true test of the pilgrim, to appreciate that his Divinely-given `aql is useful for certain things, but completely useless for others, and instead he has to have faith in Divine Providence in such matters. This complete submission is the spirit of Hajj that is started with the chants of labbayk that declares, “Here I am O Lord at Thy service”, wherein the pilgrim realizes that he is nothing, and God is everything.

It is for this reason that the same Hanafis differ with their Maliki brethren; the latter say that the talbiyah (chanting of labbayk) is to be stopped after the day of Arafat, but the Hanafis (and even the Shafi’is here) say that one is to continue this chant until the stoning of the devils.  In the context of the above, wherein one has to abandon one’s notion of time and accept Divine Time, it serves as a perfect reason to continue this chant, because the only way one can appreciate this travel through this space-time continuum that happens on this day is to be in complete submission to the One who is above time itself.

Einstein ain’t got nothin’ on Abu Hanifah.

A Rambling Diatribe of Inauguration Ruminations

kr’s note: as the title suggests, this isn’t a structured or perhaps even grammatically correct post that you may be normally accustomed to reading from yours truly… but rather, it’s a stream-of-consciousness amalgamation of thoughts that I needed to jot down before I lost them.

Na`am nahnu nastati`u”

Whenever I listen to Obama’s speeches (or to be precise, the 27 year old dude who writes them at Starbucks… how’s that for symbollism) and the power contained therein, and it always brings to mind the famous Prophetic hadith: Inna min’al-bayaani la-sihrah (Indeed in eloquent speech there is magic)… it sounds great on paper, but I’m not sold until I see something positive happen (OK, so Bush flying away in the helicopter was pretty positive). Yesterday was a uniquely historic day, but it was not the day of fath-e-Makkah repeated either, as some Muslims were making it out to be (it was much warmer on the day of fath-e-Makkah).  I’m not expecting drastic changes in areas like foreign policy (the zionist lobby is too powerful, so anyone expecting things to “change” in the Middle East is at best naive), but I do expect changes in economy, healthcare (esp as a doctor with malpractice), environment, etc. may happen in the next several year.  As I mentioned in a previous post, politics is the epitome of all that is secular, and it surprises me that Muslims always have to view politics with the religiously rose-colored glasses to analyze everything… that to me is the peak of irony, because politics never claimed itself to anything but secular, and yet we conflate our religious goals and values into it, and cry foul when politics and religion don’t rhyme (kinda like that poem yesterday), which they were never really meant to do anyway. I was amazed at how many Muslims were all rah rah rah about the inauguration (wow, 2 million people yesterday, was that the American hajj with black wool topcoats being the new ihram?), acting like either Obama (aka Hussain Bhai) was the Mahdi or the Dajjal, depending on who you spoke to… instead of just appreciating the history quietly (and also the boo-birds ripping mercilessly into Bush), and not allowing ourselves to be suckered into buying the hype like we did with the infamous 2000 Muslim block vote for Bush (for which we should continue to make tawbah for, I believe, myself included), which ironically was on the platform that he would solve the same Palestine crisis that served as the perfect cresecendo ending to his failed symphony of a presidency (as Don King said: “Only in America!”). I voted for Obama too, don’t get me wrong, but I mainly did so because the alternative was far worse (I didn’t like “that one”). Maybe I’m a cynic, but our Hadith prophecies tell us that things will get worse as time goes on–it has to, or else the real Mahdi will never come–so to believe that ‘yes we can’ make all these wonderful changes happen, I think, in some way, is incompatible with believing in these same prophecies about the end of time. At the end of the day, our formula remains the same: our lives are to focus on making sure we maintain our elligibility for salvation (everything else, especially all types of activism is simply garnish at best) and wait… because in the end, when it’s all said and done, despite the efforts against us, we win. At this point in time, that’s the only thing that comforts me.