Life Cycle of a Refugee

Refugee Camp İn Somalia - Stock Image

Suspended from the strings of bureaucracy, a refugee’s life dangles much like a marionette. They wait to return, to move on or to find some kind of resolution in their lives. It is just one more struggle in a long journey for those who have witnessed and survived war and conflict. These victims more often than not are our Muslim brothers and sisters. The average time one remains a refugee is twenty years.

The life cycle of a refugee, explained Nadia El Shaarawi, Assistant Professor of Global Studies at Colby College, begins with the forced or voluntary migration from the affected country of origin. Once leaving the country of origin, a refugee will seek a safe haven in the first country of asylum. From this point, there are three alternatives – returning to the person’s country of origin, local integration(naturalisation in the host country), or resettlement into a third country like the U.S. or Canada.

 

The worst refugee crisis in history had been the displacement of Palestinian refugees in 1949. Iraqi displacement added to that number in 2003, followed by the Arab uprisings in 2011 of which Syrians have out done them all, surpassing the Palestinians, to become the worst point in refugee history. Since 2011, more than half of the four million plus fleeing Syria fled with their lives more than once to get to their first country of asylum. After that terrifying experience, refugees are greeted with food rations twice a month, walking a mile for water, overcrowded makeshift classrooms of 40/50/60 students to a single teacher while higher education is nearly non-existent. There is no preventative health care, privacy or security, and jobs are scarce.

For those who are absorbed into the society of their host country, they are often ineligible to attend schools or to work. Our current crisis in Syria has the average person spending seven years negotiating the vetting process, often suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS), all the while living in suspension, unable to plan for their future or that of their children.

Let’s look at the statistics. In 2015, there were 65.3 million internally displaced people throughout the world. 21.3 million became refugees. Of these, 960,000 needed resettling, but only 107,000 were actually granted asylum. That means that less than 2% of refugees were granted asylum. From this 2%, according to Dr. Shaarawi, 66,500 were resettled in the United States. Of others seeking asylum, 19% found a home in Canada, 9% in Australia, 2% in Norway and the other 8% among various other countries. (1)

A refugee family, after running for their lives, will face 13 to 16 layers of screening. There are security checks, fingerprints and interviews among other investigations. If you pass those, you move on to medical screenings, then they see if there is any sponsorship available. Finally, the refugee will be scrutinised to be sure they are able to “fit into the culture of the society” at the relocation point. At any layer in the process, which may take an average of seven years, the refugee may be disqualified and prohibited from relocating.

Moreover, to become eligible to relocate to a third country you need to prove you are vulnerable. Angelina Jolie, while working with the UN, de fined those who are vulnerable as those who had been raped, experienced violence, torture or threats to protection. Ironically, being vulnerable is key to being resettled, but at the same time if you are too needy or too desperate in seeking asylum, a person could be disqualified, explained Dr. Sharaawi.

Resettling refugees isn’t easy in the current political climate. In Cleveland, Danielle Drake is the Community Relations Manager for US Together, a Jewish run agency founded in 2003 by refugees and run by refugees. Mrs. Drake said she “…is a Christian, working for Jews to save Muslims.”She has had four death threats in the past year. US Together has been taking in about 600 families a year. This number is expected to drop to 30 or 33 with Trump’s Presidency. She did not seem discouraged, however, and she vows to continue on.

So, what awaits the fortunate 2%? A lot according to Drake. Refugees have to repay their airline tickets within six months of arriving in the U.S. The goal is to have some member of the household working. They need to find a job and be self-sufficient as
quickly as possible, so they will be signed up for English as a Second Language classes (ESL), receive housing and some basic necessities as quickly as possible. (2) Transportation can be a real issue for refugees who may be given bus passes, which don’t make it easy to get to classes on time or buy groceries. This is where fellow countrymen really play a positive support role. Established Syrians will help their fellow countrymen, Iraqi’s help theirs, etc. If one has a car, they all have access to that car. This network has proven to be very valuable.

I spoke to a representative of the Islamic Center of Cleveland (ICC) to find out what assistance the refugees, brought over mostly by Catholic Charities in Cleveland, receive from them. The refugee families are supposed to get some food stamps for anywhere from two months to a year from the government, but they often run out of food in any given month. Also, food stamps may not start right away, in which case a new family may go an entire week without any food. This is where Cleveland’s food pantry comes in handy. ICC distributes the Food Pantry’s produce on the first Saturday of every month. If food stamps haven’t kicked in and the food pantry isn’t adequate, the masjid gives them food vouchers for any of the halal stores located in Cleveland. The ability to hand out these vouchers depends on charitable donations.

In order to help refugees in other ways, ICC has a Sadaqah Committee which consists of board members, a case manager and a licensed social worker who visits the families’ homes. They assist with minimal expenses like utility bills, airline tickets to see a dying family member back home, etc. One of the greatest challenges has been those refugees who come with PTSS. Understandably, they become angry easily. For example, when trying to get personal information to check eligibility, some refugees are offended and shout. “Those who refuse to give information won’t be able to receive supplies, which is stressful for everyone,” remarked Amina Abdel Fattah a board member from ICC.

‘Give’ is a charitable organisation which helps Muslims and non-Muslims by their themed monthly projects. They work with ICC on the first Sunday of every month when the food is being distributed. “One month’s project may be dedicated to personal hygiene, or winter coats, another to household items such as cleaning supplies or bedding,” says Sondus Mohammad who works at Give. They started with refugees, but the poor and homeless have caught on and are coming to collect the theme bags as well as slightly used clothing. They were helping around 100 families and this has risen to 250.

Surviving war is only a start. Being displaced or made a refugee is a traumatic experience, which is often compounded by what comes after it. It is good to know that there is a team of support waiting for at least some refugees along the way of recovery. May Allah ﷻ guide the helpers and reward the Muslims who give their time working to form a safety net for those who have travelled the long road of refugee hardship.

1. Stats given at her talk, Solving Displacement Iraqi Refugees, Mental Health, and the Double Bind of Vulnerability, February 2017 at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU)

2. At a panel discussion entitled U.N. Word Social Justice Day: “The Refugee Crisis in Syria.” February 2017 CWRU

 

If you would like to read the original article as it appears in Sisters Magazine: Refugees

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A Surprise Repatriation

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A Surprise Repatriation From the Middle East to The United States

It rained more in a week than it did the thirty years I was gone, but it’s when the train whistle blew that my memory was jogged back to my past. It was unique, familiar, and at the same time strangely comforting as I walked down the sidewalk in the rain, listening to the locomotive in the distance rumbling down the tracks. I was home, or at least in a place I had once called home.

For a couple of weeks every fall, while I was away, I had longed for the idealistic past: the smell of leaves turning, the sight of the harvest moon through the thinning canopy of the woods and the chill that had filled my nostrils during that change of season. I would dream about apple cider and cinnamon-sticks and hay rides through the countryside, then I would snap back to the reality that I was in a hot desert and life would go on as it had for the rest of the year – and I was fine with it. I had grown to love and call the Middle East my home, and the thought of ever moving back faded more with each passing year.

However, Allah ﷻ plans and we plan, and He is the Best of Planners. After thirty years abroad, it was time to go back home, this time to Ohio where my two oldest sons had found jobs after University. The Middle East is in disarray, my husband, nearing retirement, wants nothing to do with his home country of Egypt, and Saudi Arabia rarely welcomes outsiders permanently. We knew we had to find a place, at least for the next few years until the last three of our children completed University.  It seemed Allah ﷻ had chosen Cleveland as the gathering point for five of my seven children, with one struggling through the paperwork to bring her family too.

Although I had stopped time in my mind, time hadn’t been affected by my heedlessness. Time moves to its own beat purposefully without regard to perception or desire and although nature hadn’t changed much, I was in for a surprise as to how people, paperwork and politics had. My first discovery was that I, Ann Lambert Stock, had dropped off the radar. My license had long expired, I didn’t have a bank account, hadn’t owned property, hadn’t purchased anything or taken even an interest-free loan in the U.S. for all those years away. I couldn’t prove my existence let alone my residence. I had to pay higher tuition fees for my eighteen-year old daughter starting her first year of University, because I couldn’t prove that I was actually living in Ohio. Eating, sleeping and taking up space is hard to quantify. I came up with a plan of action.

 

First things first, I needed a U.S. driver’s license. I began from the beginning with a written test at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). Next, I had to give proof that I lived at my address. For that, I went to the bank and opened an interest-free checking account and waited for my first statement to appear in my mailbox. An envelope addressed to me with an account listing the same address should do the trick. I returned, papers in hand, ready for any eventuality, and soon realized it was these BMV employees who inspired the casting of sloths doing the same job in Disney’s, “Zootopia.” Foiled again, my Social Security card didn’t reflect my current name and so I needed to bring my marriage certificate and update my Social Security card. Where had I seen this endless paperwork routine before? Of course, my marriage certificate in my hand was too old, so back I went to get an updated one. Three or four weeks later, I walked out with my license complete with a photo which looked more like my grandmother than me.

My sons had already made connections at several of the local masjids. I tried to attend lectures and make friends, and I have, but it takes time to figure things out and find your spot. It was nine months before I found a Qur’an teacher and got my children would be enrolled in Islamic Studies classes.

My daughter was accepted for the fall at a local university, so checking that box, I started making arrangement for my twins to complete High School. The idea of my teenagers going to High School in the U.S. was nightmarish. After doing my research, I found Electronic Classrooms of Tomorrow (ECOT) would best suit my daughter studying from home, but in the case of my son, enrollment in a local school to get some extra help with his language skills (dyslexia) from professionals was what I chose. I am not sure given the chance I would go down that road again.

 

I met with the Financial Officer at my daughter’s university and realised, given my long absence, establishing residency meant finding a job and filing taxes. How else would they know for sure I was here and not flying in and out? Health care is also cost prohibitive in the U.S., so job-sponsored insurance was the most affordable way to give three teenagers and my aging body access to health care.

I had worked as a younger woman even after reverting to Islam in the U.S., in Egypt and Saudi, but I had been a stay-at-home mom for the twenty years since. I am thankful my pen was kept busy with freelance writing at SISTERS and elsewhere. It filled a twenty-year gap in my work history. I polished up my resume and applied online. Universities are diverse, open-minded and accepting for the most part, so a University environment would be the best place for me to start looking, I thought. I applied at a few in and around Cleveland. I relied on my typing and computer skills and a very old but traditional work history augmented by writing adventures. My Director, a single woman, and I hit it off during the first interview.  Allah ﷻ  made arrangements for me, and soon I was working away in a quiet IT department.

 

One thing which has changed the most moving back after all of these years is how much the moral code has changed. The kinds of words that are spoken in casual conversation wouldn’t have been acceptable thirty years ago, but no one seems to see that, making me feel prudish, which I take pride in. The work ethic has changed, and the ways in which you are constantly bombarded with ways to spend a dollar is really overwhelming, but I am adjusting. Life is full of surprises, twists and turns. We never know what Allahﷻ has in store for us even for next year. May Allah ﷻ grant us all the ability to roll with the punches. It’s how it all ends that counts.

 

The original article that appeared in Issue 75 SISTERS 62, Repatriation

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The Human Race and Lessons Learned

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…I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be…

It seems paradoxical that I grew up in a “melting pot” that for the most part reflected the endless rows of corn that surrounded my home in Indiana; a mono-culture of white Christianity. My only connection to minorities was by pixels on a television screen and through news stories whose results were analyzed before cause was ever examined.  Although I never viewed myself as a racist, you can’t escape the effects of your upbringing especially when it is all you ever knew. At that time, it seemed to me “their problems” were “their problems” and had nothing to do with me.

It was under this circumstance that I had not met a person of color, or hardly one of a different faith until I went to University where I was intrigued by different cultures and religions. After meeting my Egyptian husband and studying Islam, I became a Muslim and the world changed for me. I feel positive that many people living outside of American cities today have not personally met a person of color or different religion unless they traveled abroad or went to university.  Even within cities, segregation is rife. Cleveland is no exception.

Since the day I moved to Cleveland, I have been asked if I lived on the East or West side of the River which divides not only the city of Cleveland but black and white.  With the two Migrations to the city in 1910s and 1920s followed by another one during WWII, the city’s black population which is 16% more than the white remains largely on the East-side due to a history of discriminatory practices by landlords, real estate brokers and banks which initially kept the black population confined to Cedar-Central while the white population remained on the West side in white havens they felt preserved property values and where the “we” vs “you people” dichotomy would continue unabated swirling but never mixing and therein lies the problem. How can we begin to know the lives of people we have never met, the journey made in shoes we have never worn?

It was the wise words of Dr. King on March 23 at the Sheraton in Cleveland which best describes the reason why apathy should not continue: “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly for some strange reason. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be…” It would be years until I fully understood the true meaning of his words and how wrong my apathy was.

Dr. Martin Luther King struggled for the rights of the working person and the end to the discrimination in the work place experienced by the black American community.  It is easy to see why Cleveland was one city on his tour.  He knew the struggle in Cleveland and across the country would not be a simple one, but the struggle had to be born and the burden carried.  There was no man more capable of doing that than Dr. King as he said the day before a single bullet ripped apart the hope he embodied:

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

Destiny chose this man to represent a cause that affects all people.  It was and is a sought-after deliverance from the uneven footing of injustice to a world whose mountains and valleys would be spread flat for all. The Promised Land for him was a place where people of every color would be on the same playing field and have the same opportunities.  A playing field where the color of one’s skin, the faith one chose to follow, the beliefs one held, or the raiment one chose to wear would not play a part in the contribution they were allowed to give. But has justice eluded us or is it around the corner?  Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  

That long-awaited justice may not be realized in our lifetimes or truly ever.  How can we begin to straighten the tangled crimes of decades and centuries? Justice may not be in our hands but the ability to make an honest commitment to change is.  It’s time for those of us who were born in the front row of privilege to help those who were forced to sit in the back of the class of opportunity.  As for those who have shouldered the burden of oppression and have found a way to forgive and move-on towards a solution, they have found a higher plane that takes my breath away. I only hope I am able to do the same.

Although the problems are clear implementation of working solutions are less so but what I feel in my heart is that empathy on the part of the privileged needs to play a part.  It wasn’t until I put on the shoes of the minority, by becoming a Muslim, that I have experienced a fraction of what minority populations have experienced.  It made me realize that we truly cannot know what we do not know or come to understand what we have never experienced on our own accord. I had no idea, being from the privileged white majority, what it felt like to walk in a room and be given the eye.  An eye of disapproval, mistrust and occasionally disgust.  Where you are given the feeling that you don’t belong, that you don’t deserve to be trusted and where you are suspected of being up to something, anything but good.

Going to work in my hometown of Frankfort Indiana after putting on hijab was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.  The silence in the cafeteria that day was so loud only my heartbeat could drown it out and that was before 9/11.  After 9/11, it’s the squinty eyed glares and for my son at high school being teased about blowing things up.   It was through various experience not only in the U.S. but around the world that my eyes were opened to the lives lived by people who face discrimination every moment of every day no matter how hard they strive.

However, Dr. King had the unique ability to lift heads in despair. While speaking in Cleveland he declared.  “We are somebody. Don’t let anybody make you feel you are nobody.”  Here he captured the people’s heartfelt feelings and inspired the onward march in spite of them.  This ability made him a true leader and upstanding symbol of this badly needed social movement.

Although it may seem that we have taken a step back during this time when upright leadership is often lacking or missing all together, I refuse to give up the hope of achieving the solidarity that Dr. King lived and died for.  The solution is attainable.  Awareness, acknowledgment, education, self-analysis and co-operation by finding the middle ground are where the hope for solidarity lies. Here is where we can take a breath of fresh air from nature.  We have found that mono-culture, the planting of one variety in endless rows and fields, increases disease and our dependence on pesticide. Perma-culture or poly-culture where crops of different varieties are planted randomly together, reduces disease and helps neighboring plants strengthen their roots.  It also attracts more biodiversity which helps to control pests.  Each plant adds its unique contribution in beauty and substance to the garden as a whole.  It is diversity, tolerance and equality which will make America great again.

I will end with a quote from Jane Elliott, a white woman who has tirelessly tried to educate the white population on racism and its cure:

“We hate because we are taught to hate. We hate because we are ignorant. We are the product of ignorant people who have been taught an ignorant thing which is that there are 4 or 5 different races. There are not 4 or 5 races, there is only one race on the face of the earth, and we are all members of this race, the human race. But we have separated people into races so that some of us can see ourselves as superior to the others. Maybe we thought it would work, but it hasn’t… it has been bad for everyone. There is no gene for racism, there is no gene for bigotry. You are not born a bigot you have to learn to be a bigot. Anything you learn, you can unlearn,”

 This Essay has received honorable mention:

On behalf of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Reflection Competition Committee and judges, it is my pleasure to inform you that your essay has been selected to receive an Honorable Mention, Faculty/Staff category. Honorable Mention recipients receive a certificate and invitation to read their work at a celebration and reception to be held Friday, February 24th from 4-6pm in Kelvin Smith Library on the Case Western Reserve University campus  We will recognize the winners and present awards at the reception.

‘Uthman رصي الله عنه: and the Blessed Qur’an

Uthman - Caliph series

 

‘Uthman sat in front of the Prophet ﷺ and began reciting the first chapter of the Qur’an, surah Al-Fatihah, and then surah Al-Baqarah. Whenever the Prophet ﷺ heard anything irregular, he corrected him. Day after day the Prophet ﷺ would listen, review and correct until finally ‘Uthman reached surah An-Nas; it was complete. ‘Uthman had recited the entire Qur’an from memory and the Prophet ﷺ had listened to every word. He had recited the Qur’an exactly as the Prophet ﷺ had received it from Jibreel. He would also take time for long periods of reflection concerning the meanings contained in the verses.

This is a Book (the Qur’an) which We have sent down to you, full of blessings, that they may ponder over its Verses, and that men of understanding may remember. (Sad:29)

By reading the entire Qur’an to the Prophet ﷺ and verifying his recitation, ‘Uthman had what we refer to today as an ijaza. An ijaza is given to any brother or sister who has recited the entire Qur’an from memory with complete accuracy, including correct tajweed, to a teacher who has already received an ijaza. Once a Muslim has memorised the entire Qur’an, it may take a year or several to review and perfect the recitation in order to obtain this recognition.

As a student at Dar El Huda in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, I have had the pleasure and honour of attending the completion of an ijaza on three different occasions. It is quite an emotional affair, with the student sitting next to her teacher in front of other students studying tajweed and memorisation. Usually close family members are also present, including a tearful mother, sisters and aunties.

One of my favourite parts is listening to the long chain of memorisers who have passed on the ijaza. They start with the student, who took it from her teacher and where, who took it from his/her teacher and where. The list continues so forth and so on until of course they begin to reach the taby tabiyeen, the tabiyeen, the sahabah, then the Prophet ﷺ who of course took it from Jibreel who received it from Allah ﷻ.

It gives a person chills to see the care with which the memorisation of Qur’an has been lovingly passed from one person to the other over all of these generations – each person and their location completely verifiable. What an honour it must be to be a part of this amazing chain of people who have sacrificed their time and energy to preserve our cherished book.

“The best of you are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it,” said the Prophet ﷺ. ‘Uthman never forgot the Prophet’s words. He set about teaching the Qur’an to others, seeking to be those the Prophet ﷺ had said are “the best.” Several of the sahabah are also known to have memorised and recited the Qu’ran back to the Prophet ﷺ. They are Abdullah Bin Masoud Al Huthli, Abi bin Ka’b Al Ansari, Zayed bin Thabit Al Ansari, ‘Uthman bin A’ an Al Quraishi, AlI bin Abi Talib Al Hashemi. These names are mentioned as part of the ijaza chain.

During the ceremony itself, the student completes her ijaza by starting from any place in juz ‘Amma, perhaps Al-Kawthar, or Al-Ikhlas, continuing until she has completed the last surah. But she doesn’t stop there. The Qur’an is truly never something conquerable or ending. The reciter will continue on again with Al- Fatihah and then Al-Baqarah, pausing after the first page, once they have reached ayah number five. This is a tradition of the scholars. Ending by starting at the beginning of Qu’ran symbolises the reciter’s commitment to continuing the recitation and preservation of the Qur’an in a never-ending cycle.

At the end of the recitation, her teacher begins to award her with her ijaza and reads out the chain. The reciter then makes du’a as she has completed Qur’an. We also make du’a for ourselves as well. Whenever a group gather for Qur’an, the angels also gather, making this truly a great and noble and glorious moment. We all have this special feeling as the tissue box gets passed around the room. We then crowd around to give the reciter our congratulations and wish her well.

In trailing the footsteps of the Rightly Guided Caliph’s, it is impossible not to see the love they had for the Qur’an. ‘Uthman devoted himself to the reading of Qur’an, preserving it and teaching it to others. What he lived by, he died by as he was reciting the following ayah from his Qur’an at the time of his murder:

So if they believe in the like of that which you believe, then they are rightly guided, but if they turn away, then they are only in opposition. So Allah will su ce you against them. And He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower. (Al-Baqarah:37)

 

A copy of ‘Uthman’s Qur’an is preserved and on display to this day for all to see in a museum in Tashkent.

Jazak Allahul Khairan to Abla Rabeeya Gohar of Dar El Huda for helping me with this article.

To see the original article as it appeared in Issue 73 of Sistersmagazine.com click below Caliphs Uthman and Quran

 

Umar رضي الله عنه: For the Love of Poetry

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Trailing the Steps of the Rightly Guided Caliphs

 

‘Umar looked like he was sitting on a horse when he was merely standing. He dared anyone to take him on in a fight. Few would accept his invitation and even fewer stood in his way, but his rough demeanour didn’t keep him from appreciating the finer things in life.  Among these cultured pleasures, he enjoyed the rhythmic sounds and deep meanings of his ancestors’ poetry. It was this love that had led him to memorise so many of their poems.

He had heard a rumour that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was now a poet so when ‘Umar  entered the Kaba and found the Prophet ﷺ about to begin his prayer, he crept up and hid himself behind the cloth covering of the Ka‘bah and decided to listen for a while. He peeked out from behind the edge of the cloth and watched as the Prophet ﷺ recited Al-Fatihah. When he heard the Prophet ﷺ recite surah Al- Haqqah, he thought to himself, “Indeed the Quraish are right! This is poetry.” At that same moment, the Prophet ﷺ recited:

 

“This is verily the word of an honoured Messenger. It is not the word of a poet, little is that you believe.”

(Al-Haqqah:40-41)

‘Umar was shocked. Had the Prophet ﷺ read his mind? He twisted his moustache in his fingers. “Ah yes,” he thought nodding his head as he stared at the Prophet ﷺ squinting to get a better look. A big grin covered his face. “He is a soothsayer just as they said,” ‘Umar whispered under his breath. Then the Prophet ﷺ recited:

“Nor is it the word of a soothsayer, little is that you remember! This is the Revelation sent down from the Lord of the Alamin.”

(Al-Haqqah:42-43)

‘Umar thrust his back against the Ka‘bah, quickly pulling the cloth over himself as he gasped. “He’s answering my every thought,” he said to himself as he twisted his moustache between his fingers faster and tighter. He shook his head as he tried to come to his senses. He opened his eyes wide as the reality of the message he had heard sunk into his chest. He must resist these feelings, he thought. The traditions of his forefathers could not be left behind. He decided he had to overcome the doubts that things were not as he had once thought.

Although ‘Umar kept his feelings to himself, the Qur’an entered his heart that day as he later admitted. However it was after this incident that he actually volunteered during a tribal meeting to kill the Prophet ﷺ. His attempt was foiled as the Qur’an he read at his sister’s house made its impact. After he purified himself, his sister gave him a copy of surah Taha that they had been reading. He began to read until he reached:

“Verily! I am Allah! La ilaha illa Ana (none has the right to be worshipped but I), so worship Me, and perform As-Salat (Iqamat- as-Salat) for My Remembrance.

(Taha:14)

The Qur’an had burst the bubble of disbelief covering his heart. His kufr vanished by the permission of Allah ﷻ, never to reappear again. The Prophet’s du’as had been answered on the very day ‘Umar had planned to kill him. ‘Umar had reached the lowest depths before he rose to embrace Islam with a strength and passion unparalleled by anyone other than Abu Bakr رضي الله عنه.

The Companions of the Prophet were reverts just like many of us. Our stories of reversion are as varied as we are, and the stories of how the Companions came to Islam are no different. Allah ﷻ guided the hearts for some like ‘Umar through the means of His amazing verses. ‘Umar was able to receive this message because he had a deep understanding of the Arabic language, which made his experience of the Qur’an all the more intense. The Companions lived their lives applying the verses and teachings of the Prophet ﷺ as Allah ﷻhad planned:

“We revealed the Qur’an to you so that you may explain to the people what has been sent down to them.”

(An-Nahl:44)

In considering why the Ummah of today lacks the dedication of the Companions, it is important to factor in the effects of the Arabic language and the deep understanding of the Qur’an which comes when the language of its revelation is known. Couple the knowledge of Qur’an with access to the Prophet ﷺ for clarification of any ayat which may have been confusing to them, and you have a powerful force for change.

Once the Prophet ﷺ had passed away, the study of tafsir as an essential branch of knowledge was established. The tafsir is even more needed today to spread clarification of the meaning through various angles. Tafsir is explained either using the Qur’an to explain the Qur’an, or using the ahadith of the Prophet ﷺ and the sayings of his Companions, or using the Arabic grammar. This essential knowledge of the Qur’an is a means for us to increase our iman and to purify our souls. Simply, it is still that force for change we are all looking for:

“Allah surely bestowed a great favour on the Muslims when he sent a Messenger to them from among them to recite his verses before them, purify them, and to teach them the Book and the wisdom.”

(Al ‘Imran:164)

The Book is the Qur’an and the wisdom is the Sunnah which the Prophet ﷺ lived and left us to follow to this day. Many times over, my Qur’an teachers have told me, “If you want to understand the Qur’an deeply, you must learn Arabic so that you can read the tafsir in their original Arabic language.” Translations are limited by the language they are being translated into, as well as space, time, experiences and prejudices of the translators. The translators, may Allah ﷻ bless them for their efforts, try their best to put into English or any other language, what they feel is the most important meaning, but the depth, beauty and eloquence of the original Arabic is certainly going to be lost.

To be a scholar or an effective imam or a more informed Muslim, learning Arabic is essential. The more Arabic we learn, the better the position we will be in to increase our faith and to make strong our grip of the rope of Allah ﷻ. ‘Umar’s reversion to Islam is another reminder of the great favour and miracle which lies between our hands. The power of the message contained in our Book is strong enough to melt the thickest layers of ice surrounding any heart, if Allah ﷻ so wills it to be. Let’s begin our journey trailing the footsteps of our great predecessors by learning the language which affected them so much.

To see theoriginal article as it appeared in Issue 72 of Sistersmagazine.com click below Caliphs Umar love of poetry copy

Issue 72 SISTERS 14

Issue 72 SISTERS 15

Abu Bakr: The Dangers of Sincere Prayer

Abu Bakr.png

Allah ﷻ had given permission for the persecuted Muslims to migrate to Abyssinia. Weary from all of the dangers, Abu Bakr (RA) decided leaving Makkah was the best plan of action. He arranged his things and packed his animal for the journey. After saying goodbye to his family and the Prophet ﷺ, he headed south.

For five days, he trekked through the desert in the early mornings and late afternoons, resting during the heat of the day. As he stopped for his midday nap, Abu Bakr saw a man approaching him from a distance. He recognised him straight away as the chief of the Al Qaarah tribe, Ibn Ad Dughnah. “Where are you going, Abu Bakr?”, he asked.

“My people have forced me to leave, so I will now travel about, freely worshipping my Lord,” Abu Bakr replied.

“Someone of your social standing and character shouldn’t voluntarily leave or be forced to leave; you provide for the needy, you join family ties, support the weak, honour your guests and help others who are in trouble. I will provide you with protection. Return home and worship there,” said Ibn Ad Dughnah.

The pair returned to Makkah together, and Ibn Ad Dughnah immediately met with the leaders of Quraysh. It was agreed that Abu Bakr would be allowed to worship Allah ﷻ at home, out of sight of the people of Makkah. The Quraish believed that the sight of Abu Bakr in prayer was negatively influencing the women and children. If he complied with the agreement, the leaders gave their word Abu Bakr would be left alone. For a few days, Abu Bakr went along with their plan, but it did not take him long until he decided to do things his own way. He built a place of prayer in his yard and began to pray there.

In preparation for prayer, Abu Bakr made wudhu and then stood in his new prayer place. “Allahu Akbar,” he said as he put his hands beside his ears and then crossed them over his chest. He paused for a moment, and then began: “Bismillahir-Rahmanir- Raheem. Alhamdu lillahi rabbil ‘alameen…,” All praise is due to Allah. “ArRahmanir Raheem…,” Allah ﷻ is truly The Most Merciful, he thought. He continued his prayer, never leaning to the right or left but with perfect attention as if he was speaking to Allah ﷻ directly.

Some women and children passing by began to investigate his strange movements. As they got closer they became curious, “What is he saying?” They whispered to each other. The crowd grew and gathered around the yard. Unaware, Abu Bakr continued his prayer. They stared at him as they listened to the rhythm of the ayat and pondered their meanings. The peace he experienced seemed to encompass everyone who watched. Tears rolled down Abu Bakr’s face. Moved by his recitation and the awe of the moment, they too had tears in their eyes. When he had completed his prayers, they slowly departed in silence feeling somehow changed.

As soon as they found out that people were watching Abu Bakr pray, the Quraysh leaders called for Ibn Ad Dughnah to lodge their complaint. Ibn Ad Dughnah walked out of his meeting in a huff and went straight to Abu Bakr’s house.

“You know what we agreed upon, so either you follow the terms of our agreement, or you return to me my guarantee of protection. I do not want other Arabs to find out that my guarantee of safety for a man was ignored and violated,” said Ibn Ad Dughnah.

“Then I return to you your guarantee of safety, and I am satisfied and pleased with the protection of Allah, the Possessor of Might and Majesty,” replied Abu Bakr.

Abu Bakr was known to be emotional in his prayer. He was so emotional that when the Prophet ﷺ was dying and he asked his wives to tell Abu Bakr to lead the prayer, they tried to discourage the Prophet ﷺ by saying that Abu Bakr cries too much to be able to lead the prayer.

The beauty of Abu Bakr’s prayer – its sincerity, its emotion – was a threat to the disbelievers of Makkah, and we shouldn’t be surprised by this. We are often told that the best da’wah is to be a good Muslim, to always be on our best behaviour, to always do the right thing. Who isn’t influenced by acts of goodness? The remarkable examples of goodness that can be found among the companions is awe-inspiring. So what is a better act of goodness than prayer, the reason for our creation?

 

And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.

(Adh-Dhariat: 56)

Prayer in Islam was given to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in the heavens from Allah ﷻ directly, during the ascension of Isra and Miraj – that is how special this ‘ibadah is. Whenever I see pictures of Makkah at prayer time and the rings of worshippers performing prayer in unison, I can’t help but get this overwhelming feeling of pride that I am a member of this awesome group, and I wonder how anyone can look at our prayer and not believe.

When we are in non-Muslim countries, we may hesitate to pray when we can’t find a masjid. We may feel self-conscious, but we should keep in mind that Abu Bakr lived in a hostile environment and didn’t hesitate to pray in front of non-Muslims. We should be proud of our beautiful prayer. We should pray with confidence, seeking the pleasure of Allah and keeping in mind that someone may be watching us quietly with curiosity. A curiosity that may lead them to find out more about Islam.

Even if some people are put off by our prayer, we should be strong just like Abu Bakr who after Ibn Ad Dughnah left and took back his guarantee, raced to the Ka’bah for prayer. Along the way, a man saw him walking with vigour up the road. He scooped up some dirt, darted behind the wall and readied himself. As Abu Bakr was passing, the man dumped the dirt all over his head and ran.

Abu Bakr shook the dust from his head and clothes. His patience and tolerance were being tested. He remarked “My Lord, how forbearing and clement (merciful) you are.”

He continued on down the road to the Ka‘bah, not allowing a little dirt to get in the way. Instead, he reflected upon Allah ﷻ and His perfect abilities, turning the situation around completely and staying strong in the face of adversity. May Allah ﷻ give us the strength to follow in the steps of these great companions, ameen.

To see the original article as it appeared in issue 71 of Sistersmagazine.come click here Abu Bakr sincere prayer – Caliphs

 

Further reading:

The Biography of Abu Bakr t As-Siddeeq by Dr. ‘Ali Muhammad

Ali and This Trifling World


Ali

Wealth and children are but an adornment in this worldly life. But the enduring good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for one’s hope. (Al-Kahf 45-46)

 

Fatimah (RAA) scooped up some date seeds and placed them in the centre hole of her hand mill. She grabbed the handle and rotated the heavy circular stone, slowly crushing the date seeds into flour. She stopped to look at her hands; her once soft youthful hands were now a patchwork of callouses and blisters. She wiped the sweat from her brow and placed her hand on her stomach to calm the rumbling, but she didn’t complain. Grabbing the wooden handle again, she continued to rotate the heavy stone over the seeds until she had enough our to make the bread she and her husband, ‘Ali, would eat to break their fast. Their life was simple and at times harsh, but they were a happy couple.

Abu Bakr (RA) and Umar (RA) had both wanted to marry Fatimah, but it seemed the Prophet ﷺ was waiting for someone else, so he declined their offers. Both companions urged ‘Ali, now in his twenties, to ask for her hand. It took a great deal of encouragement but some time after the battle of Badr, despite having little to offer in the way of mahr (dower), ‘Ali plucked up the courage and approached the Prophet ﷺ.

Being a man of great sensitivity, the Prophet ﷺ saw that his nephew had something on his mind. “What has brought you?”

“Do you have any need?” asked the Prophet ﷺ. ‘Ali kept quiet.

“Perhaps you have come to seek Fatimah’s hand in marriage?”

“Yes,” ‘Ali nodded. The Prophet ﷺ gave him a broad smile and readily accepted on behalf of his daughter whose agreement was garnered from her red faced silence.

‘Ali was not completely without. He did own a shield which was given to him as part of his war booty. ‘Uthman RA bought his shield for 400 dinar. This amount was given to Fatimah for wedding preparations. ‘Uthman, who would soon be ‘Ali’s brother-in-law, returned his shield as a wedding gift.

Accumulating wealth was not something the Companions spent time doing. Many of the Companions who entered Islam with abundant wealth ended their lives with little means. The worldly pleasures of life were not an end goal. Those who remained wealthy, like ‘Uthman,spent their money in the way of Allah ﷻ to equip the army, or to feed the poor, or help other Muslims with their debts. Fatimah married ‘Ali knowing full well that he was a man of little means, but it didn’t matter. Their eyes were set on something far greater.

‘Ali ibn Abi Talib was the Prophet’s nephew and the first youth to accept Islam after the revelations began. He had lived in the Prophet’s home from the time he was a small boy, so he had grown up with Fatimah and as a family, they had learned the Qur’an, ayah by ayah. They watched as the perfect role model interpreted each word of Allah ﷻ into his character and let each ayah guide his actions.

‘Ali had been exposed as a teenager to ayat like these revealed in Makkah :

And present to them the example of the life of this world, [its being] like rain which We send down from the sky, and the vegetation of the earth mingles with it and [the] it becomes dry remnants, scattered by the winds. And Allah ﷻ is ever over all things, Perfect in Ability.

Wealth and children are [but] adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one’s] hope. (Al Kahf:45- 46)

His faith was strong, and that strength was present in his heroic actions on the battle field as well as in his role as head of his household, an adviser and eventually the Caliph

‘Ali understood that this earthly life is a fleeting temporary moment. He did not strive for it and neither did Fatimah. It was not a sacrifce on their part. They genuinely did not value the Dunya because this earthly life holds no value when compared to the afterlife promised to those who strive in Allah’s cause. He had internalised the ayah above saying:

“O world, beguile someone other than me. Is it to me you are presenting yourself and is it me you are hankering after? How impossible! How impossible! I have turned away from you irreversibly three times. Your lifespan is short and your worth is triffing. I groan from the paucity of provision and the distance of the journey and the desolateness of the path.”

Allah had guided ‘Ali and Fatimah to this kind of understanding because they preferred Allah ﷻ and the Prophet ﷺ to everything else the world had to o er. ‘Ali had an overall understanding of the principles of Allah’s book and his understanding was confirmed by Allah ﷻ during the following incident

A man once said to ‘Ali, “I don’t care if I don’t carry out any action after Al Islam except that I become the imam of the Sacred Masjid.” ‘Ali replied: “Jihad in the path of Allah is better than all of that.” These ayat in At-Tawbah were then revealed, confirming ‘Ali’s opinion: Have you made the providing of water for the pilgrim and the maintenance of al-Masjid al-Haram equal to [the deeds of ] one who believes in Allah ﷻ and the Last Day and strives in the cause of Allah ﷻ? They are not equal in the sight of Allah ﷻ. And Allah ﷻ does not guide the wrongdoing people.

The ones who have believed, emigrated and striven in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives are greater in rank in the sight of Allah. And it is those who are the attainers [of success]. (At-Tawbah:19-20)

The Qur’an was revealed as a guidance and it, with the help of the Prophet’s perfect example, changed the Companions forever. But the Qur’an wasn’t written for the era of the Prophet ﷺ only – it was written for all time. When we internalise the Qur’an and make it a part of our lives, we too will feel that this earthly life means less and less. We will see tests and trials for what they really are: temporary, fleeting and surmountable. Instead of focusing on acquiring and accumulating wealth to impress people, we will insha Allah be able to focus on acquiring enduring good deeds and raising our ranks in the sight of Allah ﷻ.

Through the Companions we have many examples. If we look closely enough, we will see ourselves among the vast array of characters and personalities that surrounded the Prophet ﷺ. Equipped with the knowledge of Qur’an and Sunnah and by searching for clues left by the Companions along the trail of righteousness, we can also be the attainers of success.

To see the original article as it appeared  in issue 70 of Sistersmagazine.com click here Ali – Caliphs

Further Reading

The Biography of ‘Ali Ibn Abi Taalib, by ‘Ali Muhammad As-Sallabi Ann (Umameer) Stock reverted to Islam 27 years ago and lives back

and forth between Cairo and Jeddah with her Egyptian husband. She wants to help the next generation of Muslims understand more about their faith. You can follow her at https://umameerblog.wordpress.com/ Musings of a Muslimah