Monday, November 28, 2016

God Has Blessed Us in So Many Ways

On November 14th, 2016, during our meeting in NYC, we discussed Chapter 36 from the book, The Quran and the Life of Excellence.  Our discussion was based on the following ayas:

Sura 16; Ayas 78-81

And God has brought you out from your mothers’ bodies not knowing anything – but He has given you hearing and sight and feelings, so that you may be grateful.
Have they not seen the birds flying in the air?  None but God holds them up.  In this surely there are messages for people who have faith.  
And God has given you houses as places of rest, ad tents from skins of animals – easy  for you to handle when you travel and you camp – and furnishings and goods for temporary use from their skins and their wool and their hair. 
And God  has made for you, in what He created, means of protection:  thus, He has given you places of shade in the hills, and garments to protect you from heat and cold, as well as such garments that protect you from danger.
In this way, He bestows blessings on you, so that you might acknowledge Him. 

 Looking at the ayas above, we can see the emphasis God places on acknowledging Him and His favors as we contemplate the world around us through the senses which have been given to us.  It is clear that we are not responsible for having the bodies we have and for sensing what we sense.  It is all created to serve one God and He is asking us to help ourselves by simply taking heed for a few minutes every day.  To the extent we think about Him regularly, we will come to the conclusions expressed in the Quran. 

 Focusing more specifically on how we can help ourselves, we need to make sure that we acknowledge many gifts we have in our lives.  Even if we are facing great problems, there are some things we can think of which are helping us and for which we can feel grateful, such as: we have a room or a home to rest in, we have clothes to protect us from hot or cold, we have the ability to her and speak, etc.  Changing our focus from what is bothering us to what is helping us, shifts our spiritual energy from negative to positive. 

 We clearly can’t ignore our problems because we have to protect ourselves as that is our inherent need.  It is the mindset with which we approach our thinking and doing anything about our problems that makes the difference.  Talking about our problems continuously prevents our minds and bodies from getting out of the negativity which we have attracted within and without ourselves, but when we look to see how else we can approach the predicament we are in, will, in time, bring some ideas that we can use to resolve our problems.  God is here to help us go through everything we face in life, not to constantly intervene and remove problems from our lives. If we think about it, we will, in time, realize that no strength of spirit or of body can come without significant amount of work.  

 Summary by Alma Subasic

Banish Satan When You Read the Quran

On September 12th, during our regular meeting in the NYC, we discussed chapter 40 from the book by Dr. Abdulhameed. The chapter is based on the following ayas:

Sura 16 Ayas 98-100:

When you read the Quran, seek refuge with God from Satan, the accursed. Behold, he has no power over those who have developed faith and place their trust in their Lord. He has power over those who take him as their master, and who thus ascribe to him a share in God’s divinity.

We are all aware that both good and evil reside in us and that we have a tendency to express compassion and love as much as we have a tendency to express arrogance, envy, and deceit. Our honest efforts to lessen the influence of evil tendencies through genuine asking for help with it and to increase the influence of divine tendencies within us will eventually inform how far we come in our efforts to live a happy and fulfilled life, to the extent we understand that the life in God’s presence is the only truly fulfilled life. 
We have all experienced and continue to experience difficulties and sometimes feel that our good intentions simply fade away no matter how hard we try to eradicate it from ourselves. When we read the Quran, we see that God reminds us regularly that shaytan’s work to obstruct and oppose us is never-ending and that he is a true enemy to us. That reminder should help us understand that we are actively being opposed in our efforts and that we need to continue our good work of purifying ourselves patiently and the help from God will come.

It is, therefore, important that we approach Quran as the book that is here to explain to us what is taking place within and without ourselves so that we understand ourselves and by extension, the world around us, better. We should not approach Quran with impatience expecting to immediately understand everything it is saying given that God had been preparing Prophet Muhammad for years so that he might understand it properly. We must not approach it with arrogance expecting it to support us as we are or expecting it to support our views of superiority over other people, and we must not approach it with a rebellious state of mind because we are angry with what it is saying. If we think about it seriously, we will realize that the consistent and the patient seeking for the truth is the only way to receive true answers. Of course, it is not easy, but as we all know, anything worth our while requires patience and considerable effort on our part. We only must want to do it.

Summary/Commentary by Alma Subasic

Advice on Food

On October 17th, 2016  during our Quran study session in the New York City, we discussed  chapter 41 which is based on the following ayas:
Sura 16, Ayas 114-115:
So eat what God has provided you, lawful and wholesome, and be grateful for the favors of God if it is God that you serve.
God has forbidden to you only what has died of itself, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and anything offered up to other than God. But if anyone is compelled by necessity, without wanting to or being excessive, then God is very forgiving, very merciful.
Eat the wholesome things We provided for you, but not to excess, lest My anger descend on you.  And whoever My anger settles upon has already fallen.

Most of the food practice in the Muslim culture has been around prohibitions.  It is, however, equally  important to focus on the other information in these ayas and understand the deeper message behind God’s words.  We now understand a lot about food compared to generations before us and we can easily understand that the above prohibitions were articulated to us to keep us healthy. 
In addition, God specifically indicates that when we eat, we must be careful about how much we eat.  This is something that we now understand is important for our health given all the problems that come from over-eating. 
We will also notice that every aya concerning food specifies that we eat what is wholesome.  That is clearly because by eating wholesome food, we keep our bodies healthy.  When we are healthy, we can do whatever we set our mind upon, while illness, especially prolonged illness, causes pain and we depend on others and are unable to do much. 
Therefore, it seems very clear after we break these ayas down that living healthily and making that our priority – that being the absolute basis of our being able to do anything else in life – should be a matter of common sense.
The exercise accompanying this chapter states as follows:
  1. Think of a habit you have that you know is bad for your health.  Write a paragraph in your journal on how your future life will be damaged if you continue this habit.  Make a plan to get rid of this habit as soon as possible.
  2. Think of a healthy habit you would like to add to your lifestyle. Write a paragraph in your journal on how your future life will be improved if you succeed in adopting this new habit.  Make a plan to change your daily routine to include this habit.   

Summary by Alma Subasic

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Make a Lasting Contribution

On July 25th, 2016 during our Quran study meeting in New York City, we discussed Chapter 38 from The Quran and the Life of Excellence,  by Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed. The chapter is based on the following aya:

Sura 16, Aya 96

What is with you passes away, whereas that which is with God is enduring.  And We shall give to those who patiently persevere their reward according to the best they did.

A human being is good by nature, but it is up to each one of us to uncover those characteristics within us that will help us live a life of lasting significance as opposed to satisfying the most immediate needs and wants and living in the moment. 

We make that choice for ourselves.  We either make a choice to strive in God’s cause to make a lasting contribution while on Earth, or we follow blindly what others around us do.  While enjoyment, rest, and relaxation are needed for our well-being, this aya reminds us indirectly that persevering in our effort to uncover our true goodness is a path to making a lasting contribution in this world and at the same time, a path to uncovering one’s purpose in life.

 This process of uncovering divine values within ourselves in an effort to make a lasting contribution is a hard one, which is why it is mentioned in the Quran.  It requires consistent prayer and self-evaluation and above all, perseverance during the long periods of apparent stagnation.  Here is where the divine characteristic of patience becomes extremely important, which is the reason why patience is mentioned on almost every page of the Quran.
We won’t be able to successfully go through the tests of life, the burden apportioned to us, and achieve lasting peace as well as a life worthy of God’s agent here on Earth unless we learn the lesson of patience.  So, while we look to uncover the divine characteristics within us as we work to make a positive influence on people around us, we are uncovering our own purpose and finding that we are slowly but surely becoming who we have always wanted to become – God’s friend and an example of how we should be living our lives. 

Summary by Alma Subasic

Monday, July 11, 2016

Be Fair and Generous

Be Fair and Generous

During our meeting in New York City on June 27th, 2016, we discussed Chapter 37 of The Quran and the Life of Excellence book by Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed.  The chapter is based on the following aya:
Sura 16, Aya 90
Behold, God enjoins justice and the doing of good, and generosity towards people and He forbids all that is shameful and that runs counter to reason, as well as envy; and He exhorts you repeatedly so that you might bear all this in mind
These ayas indicate a series of characteristics that should manifest within believers as well as a series of characteristics that believers should work on eliminating within themselves.  We are constantly being asked by God to exert ourselves in the cause of justice by being just ourselves first of all, and then by demanding justice of and for others.  We are constantly being asked by God to do good deeds and if we read the Quran carefully, we will notice that every time God lists characteristics of those who can hope for His kindness and forgiveness, He lists belief in the first place, and then He lists the characteristic of doing of good deeds before He continues to list any other characteristics. Doing good is therefore extremely important.
Then we are told of the negative traits that we should work on discarding because they stand in the way of spiritual growth and attainment of a purer state of ourselves, which is every believers aim.  We should avoid acting shamefully, which means that whatever our conscience considers to be shameful, we should avoid because sooner or later it will degrade us and cause us mental suffering.  We are also asked not to do things that are counter to reason, one of the most important exhortations in the religion of Islam.  It should be viewed as an exhortation to free our minds from oppressive thoughts and ideas as they are most likely oppressive because we haven’t consciously examined their source and reasoned our way through them.  This is also one of the most important exhortations precisely because using our reason means applying our thinking process.
 Our process of thinking leads us to examine ourselves and our beliefs and through it, we discard superstitions and cultural influences and stand firmly in our faith before God who is now showing us the faith that He contemplated for us and is making us His agent here on Earth.  We will also notice that God mentions envy often and that He would like us to resolve that issue within ourselves because there will always be people who will have more than us and people who are better than us.  Envy, like any other negative human characteristic, spreads “toxins” throughout our bodies and we “emit” the same energy around us. By its nature, it stands in the way of our continuous work of self-improvement. 
While we all know that it is easier to say things than to do them precisely because we all come with our own deep-rooted set of beliefs and ideas as well as our subconscious which has been absorbing much of what we have been experiencing throughout our lives, God is here to remind us and encourage us to keep working on ourselves to discard as much of what is bad for us as possible, knowing that it is one of the hardest things to do.  Some of the hardest things we will ever do in our lives is continually monitoring our thoughts and keep asking for forgiveness and guidance in removing what’s shameful and envious but as we all know, nothing that will benefit us in the long run and is worth  our while is ever easy to do.  Only those who actually go through the process achieve permanent success and change for the better.  We need to genuinely want to do this. 

Some of the thoughts expressed by those present during this class state that we decide that we will start behaving differently but there is inner resistance which is where the difficulty lies – breaking through that wall of resistance through genuine desire to change is the key; Spiritual growth means that we were in a certain way, living under the influence of inferior choices but we consciously decided to change ourselves and live under the influence of better choices.
  Spiritual growth occurs when we learn what is taking place inside of us and we decide to change; The Prophet spent a large part of his day in contemplation; We need to spend some portion of the day sitting quietly in order to notice what patterns run through our minds and then we become aware of what we think;  Once we are aware of what we are thinking we should decide to change those thoughts that we want to change; We need to be aware of our rules of living and choose what we want/don’t want;  This is a central struggle in a lot of people’s lives;  People want to be certain way but they are not able to do it easily because of their inner patterns;  In a state of low self-awareness, people look outside of themselves and blame others for what happened to them.  We learn the best and the most lasting lessons from the most difficult people.
Summary by Alma Subasic  

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Self-Evaluation in Ramadan

Self-Evaluation in Ramadan

June 13, 2016, New York City

During this meeting, we discussed Self-Evaluation in Ramadan.  We were contemplating a hadith by Prophet Muhammad which states, “Anyone who fasts and engages in self-evaluation in Ramadan will find heaven.”

The practice of fasting is widely followed in the Muslim community, but the practice of self-evaluation has been forgotten.  Self-evaluation is the spiritual component of Ramadan and it is something in which the Prophet engaged on a daily basis.  Regular self-evaluation helps us realize at the intellectual level that God and everything He said to us are things that really touch our lives and aren’t ideas that stay outside of us because we are busy and need to go to work and this is not the same time as when Prophet Muhammad lived.  If we think about it, we will realize that we can live our lives without once contemplating why we are doing what we are doing and that we are doing it because our family has been doing it for decades.

Self-evaluation helps us identify aspects of our lives that we would like to make better and then ask God to help us make them better. There are four aspects of our lives that are important to most people:  Spiritual growth, personal relationships, health, financial freedom, and professional success.  We want to see ourselves change for the better every day and when we feel that we are stagnating, it causes frustration.  Making sure that our prayer (salat) is personally meaningful to us by first making sure we understand the words we are saying and then by contemplating ideas behind those words we are saying regularly in the prayer should help us make our prayer more meaningful and in time, we should see the change in ourselves.  We need to make sure that when we fast we attempt to realize that it is a method of self-discipline and among many of its facet, one important one includes proving to ourselves that we are not subject to our bodies cravings but that we can and will do what is required of us in order to help God guide us where we want to go.  Our satisfaction in life also depends on the health of our personal relationships. Criticizing or blaming the other person for an unhappy relationship will not make it better, but finding out positive ways by which important relationships will become better is what will, in time, make them better.  It goes without saying that we can’t do much of anything unless we are healthy.   A good number of us lives in the world today where we can find healthy food and facilities for exercising.  Deciding on a healthy habit and keeping it is the way to achieve our goal of remaining healthy and avoiding diseases of our ancestors.  Poor financial situation is one of the main reasons for unhappiness for a good number of people.  Making plans for saving a portion of our income and giving away a portion of our income to worthy causes are the ways of increasing our wealth.   Finally, many people are unhappy with their jobs so finding ways to change our profession or make certain adjustments if a total change is not needed, can only come through thinking about, that is, evaluating what we can do to make this change or adjustment take place.  Setting up a plan with a career counselor as to the steps to follow to change our profession or make whatever adjustments may be necessary is one concrete way to see a positive change in this respect.

Overall, none of the above is possible without our first taking the time to think through what is making us unhappy and then attempt to see what we can actually do about it.  This is one of the purposes of fasting:  Self-evaluation to understand where we have been and where we are going so that, in time, when we ask ourselves (before we are asked by God), we can say to ourselves that we didn’t waste a life given to us for a particular purpose.  That purpose is what we are getting at when we engage in the practice of self-evaluation. 

Some of the ideas that came to mind to those who were present during this class include a notion that with self-evaluation comes planning – what is it that we want to see happen?  The aspect of thanking God is extremely important.  All Prophet’s duas (supplications) start with giving thanks to God.  Prophet also said that saying thanks to God is the best prayer.  Person who lives in a state of gratitude is in a stream of benevolence.  God clearly said that if we are thankful, He will give us more. A person becomes what he or she thinks about most of the time.  If our thoughts constantly revolve around what is going on at present, we become trapped in it. The present is constantly becoming a thing of the past so we should focus on what we want to see a week from now.  Dua means that we are unhappy about certain aspect of our life and that we are thinking about our lives, so we formulate an idea in our minds about what we want.  What is very important is that we need to realize what we are thinking of.  If we think about what is bothering us all day long and spend 2 minutes on dua, that isn’t going to help us.  We may pray for certain things but it is good to think through what we are asking in order to try to understand why we feel certain way.  In thinking about future, it is much better to utilize writing because it forces our minds to concentrate and think with specificity.  Being healthy was a huge part of Prophet’s religious practice.  “Fast, so you shall be healthy,” is also what he said. 
Summary by Alma Subasic

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Chapter 35, Make Yourself Strong and Resourceful

On May 16th, we discussed chapter 35, "Make Yourself Strong and Resourceful," which is based on the following Ayas:
Sura 16; Ayas 75-76:
God gives an example - someone enslaved, owned by another, has no power over anything, and someone else whom We have given good resources from ourselves and who spends from it at will, both privately and publicly. Are these two equal? Praise and thanks be to God:  but most of them do not understand it.
And God gives the example of two men - one of them dumb, powerless, and a burden on his master:  to whichever task is he directed he brings no good.
Can such a one be considered the equal of someone who commands justice and is on a firm path?

The ideas expressed in these ayas convey an important evolution in religious thought:  seclusion and constant praying without doing much else, thought of as a mark of true religiosity/piousness throughout history, isn’t what God meant.  Those who understand where their resourcefulness comes from, work to use it to improve the future of humanity, and command justice are the ones who are on the right path and are truly pious.  This is where it becomes very important how we understand and interpret religion or what God is looking to say to us.  If we interpret it in a way where we are bogged down by following others’ (“authoritative”) interpretations involving endless rules and regulations as to how we are to behave, that interpretation leads to constriction and lack of productivity.  If we focus on the spirit of what God is looking to explain to us and dig deep within ourselves, then we start to focus on our own resourcefulness and  to see how we can join the forces of our fellow human beings who have made and continue to make this world a better place for all.  There are, of course, plenty of negative examples stemming from narrow-minded interpretations, but that is precisely why we are asked to first work to understand what the ayas say, then be generous in all our dealings, professional or private, and command justice.  On the face of it, it seems that these ayas also suggest that God gives someone less than others, but if we focus on His repeatedly telling us that He does not deal unjustly with a single human being, then we must see that the majority of people in this world are given the resources and that the majority’s job is to improve the conditions of the minority.  The truly enlightened understand the spirit of His message and are constantly finding ways to use their resources, everyone according to his or her capacity. 

Some of the thoughts that came to mind to those present during this class include the notion that we can be enslaved by our own mind patterns.  A good number of people want to feel accepted by their society (through cultural conditioning) and therefore feel that permission has to be granted for them to do anything.  Respect and  love are important but value of our life is also important.  We need to do things to make life better for us and others and we must learn to strengthen ourselves so that we don’t run away from life’s challenges.  A successful person is one who demands justice and is on a firm path.  People are not using their tremendous potential to change things.  It is not enough to pray - we must pray and act. What is happening in our lives is the direct result of what we are thinking.  Everybody should spend at least a year trying and really looking to understand the words of prayer.  It seems as though Islamic societies tend to discuss social rules that restrict people.  There seems to be a general narrowness of focus among Islamic societies and a focus on the wrong things.  We rarely hear an imam say to a woman that learning is mandated to all  by Islam, but we hear them all too often say that a woman should cover herself.   An interpretation of Islam that doesn’t inspire us to uplift people in whatever capacity we can must be the wrong one because it contradicts pages and pages of Quran that focus on doing good.  

The exercise developed by Dr. Abdulhameed for this chapter states:
Look up the names of Prophet Muhammad.  These are the attributes of strength for which he was known.
a) Identify three of these attributes you already possess.  What can you do to manifest these traits consistently so that people will know you through them? Write down your answer to this question in your journal.  
b) Identify three other of these attributes that you would like to develop.  In what ways can you change your behavior to manifest these attributes?  Write down the answer to this question in your journal.  
Summary by Alma Subasic

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Chapter 34 – Uplift Those Below You

Chapter 34, Part 1 – Uplift Those Below You

During this lesson we discussed what the following aya says to us:

Sura 16; Aya 71:

God has bestowed more resources on some of you than on others: yet they who are more abundantly favored are often unwilling to share their gifts with those who are under their authority so that they might be equal in this respect. What! Will they, then deny that these favors are from God?

While there are many opportunities in life, all of us cannot take advantage of them equally. That is because some people are born in better circumstances, some people are more intelligent than others, some people are more resilient than others and so on. What this aya tells us is that while this “unequal state of things” among us is and will continue to be a fact of our lives and that the world is that way for a particular reason, it means that it is expected of those who are better situated in life to share with others, that is, to teach those who need coaching so that they can be equipped with tools to succeed, to provide financial help to those who are in need, or both. Those who do this understand the purpose behind what God is continually saying to us in this and many other ayas where he exhorts us to help one another. By helping others in whatever capacity we can, we understand that we are interconnected and depend, first of all on God, and then on others whose help we used to get to where we are in life: in order to survive, we need millions of people who produce food to bring that food to us; to get a job we have, we depend on schools where we are given knowledge that’s been condensed in books we read and which books contain compilations of knowledge accumulated through centuries.

By thinking deeply about what God is saying in this aya, we should eventually come to the very logical conclusion that we must help because we wouldn’t be here unless we were helped every step of our way. Our faith deepens and we reach higher levels of understanding once we do this because by doing the act of helping, it means we understood the true meaning behind God’s words. He promises us that it will only bring us closer to attaining a happy state.

Some of the thoughts that came to mind to those present during this lesson include: We are freed from the ego and experience a great expansion when we realize who we are (i.e., that we have been greatly blessed by God in many areas of life and have His divine spirit within us).The principle underlying giving is a spiritual one that states that we will receive abundance the more we give. If we worry about whether the other person will reciprocate, we are trapped in a small experience, away from God's stream of abundance. In order for spiritual growth to happen, we must “uncondition” ourselves, unlearn what we have learned, what we believe from our previous lives. All limiting beliefs can be unlearned. Quran always says: Give out of what We have given you. Everything that happens is from God and everything that we have is from God. You become one with the spirit if you give, you become part of the stream. The basic premise of the Quran is that God is Most Compassionate and Merciful. We are born in this stream and can be uplifted by it. The stream/God uplifts those who uplift others. Then you become an agent of God, but if you withhold it, you are outside this stream. We will never feel isolated or alone if we think of being part of this stream. Everything is from the Mercy of God. It is part of this stream. For example, if we read a good book and learn something from it, it is from the Mercy of God. Spend time to think about specific ways in which you are blessed. Do it regularly, for a long time. You will internalize this idea and will always feel blessed. By doing this, we eliminate the rust in our hearts (there is no shine because there is rust in the hearts). Then, we will always be happy, no matter what is happening outside. A good teacher will want you to be as good as he is. You want to make others equal to you, give them what you have. There is no limit to how far to mentor or encourage someone. You are a leader only if you are a servant. We benefit if we implement what we know within our own circle of influence. Unless we make something a habit, we don't do it: Make gratitude a habit. Opposite of gratitude is complaining. If you learn to be grateful, you won't need to ask for something because you will get a flood of abundance.
Summary by Alma Subasic

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Chapter 33; What Do You Believe?, Part 2

Chapter 33; What Do You Believe?, Part 2

On April 18th, we again discussed Chapter 33 from Dr. Abdulhameed's book, "The Quran and the Life of Excellence" and those present were reacting to the below quoted Surah that inspired Chapter 33 by Dr. Abdulhameed. The summary of that chapter was provided in Part 1 on April 11th.
Those who ascribe divinity to other than God say: “Had God so willed we would not have served anything other than Him – neither we nor our forefathers; nor would we have forbidden anything without His sanction.”
Thus also said those who went before them. Yet what is the mission of messengers except to communicate clearly.
During our second discourse on this Surah and the chapter, we said that if we wanted to grow spiritually, we had to think. The trouble is, as we all know, that if we repeat things over and over and never ask questions, there can be no change in our spiritual development. What we attract is what we receive. If we sit down and quiet ourselves and think deeply about ways in which we have been helped, we will keep finding how we have been helped. Over the years, that becomes a deeply held belief in us -- that we truly have been and by consequence, will continue to be helped. That will lead us to fully realize that God is truly compassionate and merciful.
This is a call to reform and improve one's view of God. The society influences our belief and it is extremely hard to break away from that environment but we are responsible for actions that we take and where we end up. Other people are not responsible for our lives. There is a strong social pressure on young Muslims to subscribe to what their ancestors did and said and no deviation is allowed. That promotes conformity and stifles creativity and individual progress. All spiritual and social progress that is taking place in Muslim countries now is actually a result of Western cultural influences which Muslims decry.
We are looking for conformity no matter where we are so that we feel that we fit in. Conformity happens because we want to avoid criticism. If we want to grow as a person, we need to do what is difficult. People here in the United States always tell us not to live in our comfort zone.
A very high priority in our lives is to be in a group of people who are helping us grow. We need to seek company of people who love us for who we are and who help us grow. One Islamic teaching not shared in Muslim countries very often is that Imam Ali said that when children are under the age of 7, parents should play with them. When children are under the age of 14, parents should teach them and when children are over the age of 14, parents should be friends to them. Another fact that is also not shared in Muslim countries very often is that Prophet Muhammad used to spend a portion of his day every day by himself in introspection and in self-evaluation. Islam of today, for the most part, as judged by the behavior of many Muslims, is reduced to mindless repetition. We cannot then expect much progress no matter how much we want it. Each of us will have to go through a considerable process of serious self-evaluation in order to change what is inside of ourselves before God changes our condition. We will all agree that this is exactly what God Himself told us.

The exercise for this chapter states:
1) Is there an experience or an aspect of your life that shows that God is helping you?
2) Consider a prohibition that your parents believed in but you have discarded it. What are the reasons for this change?
The benefit from doing these exercises increases greatly if you not only think about them but also write down your responses. It is very useful to keep a journal for this purpose. Reading what you wrote over a period of time will make you aware of the insights you have gained.
Summary by Alma Subasic

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Chapter 33; What Do You Believe? (Part 1)

What Do You Believe? (Part 1)

On April 4th, during our regular meetings in New York City, we discussed Chapter 33 from Dr. Abdulhameed’s book entitled "The Quran and the Life of Excellence."

The chapter is based on the Sura 16 Aya 35:

Those who ascribe divinity to other than God say: “Had God so willed we would not have served anything other than Him – neither we nor our forefathers; nor would we have forbidden anything without His sanction.”
Thus also said those who went before them.  Yet what is the mission of messengers except to communicate clearly.

This chapter explains that the above quoted ayas address 4 questions that deeply impact everyone’s life:
1)            What do we think about God?
2)            How do we relate to what we have been taught by the previous generation?
3)            How do we decide what we can and can’t do; i.e. what prohibitions are important?
4)            What is the role of a teacher?

1)            It is important that each of us examine what we are thinking about when we think about God.  The reason for that is that depending upon what we think about, those thoughts shape our lives and our lives will develop according to the beliefs that result from our thoughts.  Many people have believed in God for thousands of years, but often in ways that have limited them.  The first aya cited above refers to the argument put forth by those who ascribe divinity to other than God and it states that if God is in charge of everything, why doesn’t He make everyone believe in Him?  This argument is based on the notion that God controls people.  If that is the case, then we don’t have the freedom to choose and we are told by God Himself that we are free to choose what we are going to believe in.

2)            It is of utmost importance to our lives to pay attention to what we are thinking about when we think of God in order to improve our notion of Him.  This needs to be an independent examination as we work through the process of clearing out our previous ingrained notions of God that we heard from others as we were growing up.  Each of us alone builds a relationship with God in an effort to raise his/her life above commonality and traditional views of what we should believe.  Our spiritual power begins to gather when we focus on improving our personal view of God.  We must recall Hadith Qudsi in which God says:  “Whatever My servant assumes of Me, that is how I am to him, and I am with him as he remembers Me.”

3)            The second part of the first aya cited above states: “...nor would we have prescribed prohibitions other than His.”  This is where the limiting aspect of an unexamined belief clearly comes to forefront.  Precisely because our families and people that make up the culture we grew up in believe that, for example, smiling is forbidden, or that music is forbidden, or that a man without a beard cannot lead prayer, or that we should never speak of a good thing that happens to us because it can bring bad luck, we now have a sense of God, and consequently of religion, that is contrary to everything that is natural which in turn causes strain in our minds.  It is clear that this aya is asking us to reflect and examine what it is that our forefathers believed in and question the taboos prevalent in our surroundings.

The next aya cited above states: “Thus also said those who went before them”.  If we allow superstitions and prejudices of those who lived before us dictate how we will live our lives, then we ascribe divinity to other than God.  It cannot be stressed enough that this aya, along with so many others, ask us to reflect on what we believe so that we may reflect on what we are doing.  Without examining and reevaluating ideas and notions that we have been told by previous generations, we are not really living, but stifling our own nature and our own individuality and by the same token, we are closing the door to one more expression of God’s wishes for the humanity that He expresses through the potential of human beings, His vicegerents, on Earth.

4)            The last aya refers to the role of the messengers.  The aya explains that the role of a teacher is to explain to the best of his/her ability and not to control or judge people who do not respond in the way a teacher thinks they should.  Each person understands in accordance with his/her own capacity and responsibility lies on each individual soul.

Some of the thoughts that were expressed during this meeting include the idea that we try our best to be the highest selves and that each day we need to understand that He helps us raise the standard.  One considerably damaging aspect of following practices we were taught by prior generations without our reexamining the same is the fact that it can be quite difficult to discard those ideas because they become ingrained within us.  We don’t realize to what extent we labored under a false notion that those ideas are what God means to us without us coming to any conclusion as to what God means for us.  Beliefs have great power even over thought. Faith is expressed by challenging our beliefs.  
The exercise for this chapter states:
1)            Is there an experience or an aspect of your life that shows that God is helping you? 
2)            Consider a prohibition that your parents believed in but you have discarded it.  What are the reasons for this change?

The benefit from doing these exercises increases greatly if you not only think about them but also write  down your responses.  It is very useful to keep a journal for this purpose.  Reading what you wrote over a period of time will make you aware of the insights you have gained.

We will be discussing the same chapter during our next meeting in NYC on April 18th. Stay tuned!

Summary by Alma Subasic 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Chapter 32; Those Who Do Good Find Good, Part 2

Those Who Do Good Find Good, Part 2
(Chapter 32 in “The Quran and the Life of Excellence” by Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed)
And when it is said to those who are conscious of God, “What is it that your Lord has revealed?” They say, “What is good.” For those who do good, there is good in this world, but the reward in the hereafter is better still; for how excellent is the abode of the God conscious!
During our regular bi-monthly Meetups in New York City which are based on the book by Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed, our practice is to discuss one chapter from Dr. Abdulhameed’s book two times in a row. On March 7th, we discussed Chapter 32 (summary of the chapter and some thoughts of those present were posted previously) and on March 21st, we discussed the same chapter again.
When we thought about this chapter again, we thought that a person of faith is always hopeful and always tries to help self and others. It seems that a majority of Muslims is stuck and so paying attention to what we think about when we think about God, if we at all think about Him - which in and of itself is a problem - and reevaluating our beliefs should be our priority. We must understand that by following rituals blindly, memorizing Quran without reflecting on it and doing what others tell us we should do because that means piety, we tend to not think about what we are doing nor do we think about God. It is possible to go through our lives without once reflecting on what it is that God wants to tell us. Consider an example of an engineer memorizing a book on building a bridge; who among us would say that that bridge would not collapse? Being passive and accepting misery are states that are opposite of what this aya teaches because in order to do good and receive good, one has to actually think about what one wants to achieve and then act, that is, do something.
Reflecting back on the part of the chapter where Dr. Abdulhameed stated that a lot of us feel that we need an expert to tell us what is the right way to think because we are not learned in religion, we feel that trying to live through someone else’s mindset makes our lives complicated and difficult because that other person, that is, an expert, did not have the experiences in life we had. If we try to live our lives through someone else’s eyes, then we tend to compare ourselves to others. What can comparing ourselves to others mean to us and for our own lives? We must lay ourselves bare before our own selves because we are bare before God no matter what. So, why not be honest and brave with ourselves and ask ourselves what is it that we believe and why do we believe that and what is it that we want to achieve in life? We must ask so that we may receive.
What complicates things in many Muslim communities is that when we were taught the basic tenets of our religion, we were not taught to quiet ourselves so that we can hear ourselves and think deeply about God and the things He said to us. Our Prophet used to spend a third of the day and a third of the night by himself. Why? So that he may quiet himself in order to think and reflect. Any deep insight is not gained by cursory reading. If we think about something deeply, then we become resourceful.
Dr. Abdulhameed has also developed an exercise for each chapter to help us internalize the ideas behind the chapter. The exercise for this chapter states:
1) Write a paragraph about an interpretation of religion which results in harm. Describe an alternate interpretation of the same teaching that can be beneficial.
2) Write a paragraph abut a belief you had in the past out of which you have evolved. Describe how this change occurred.
3) What part of your life can be described as doing good to others?
Summary posted by Alma Subasic

Chapter 32; Those Who Do Good Find Good, Part 1

Those Who Do Good Find Good, Part 1(Chapter 32 in “The Quran and the Life of Excellence” by Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed)

And when it is said to those who are conscious of God, “What is it that your Lord has revealed?” They say, “What is good.” For those who do good, there is good in this world, but the reward in the hereafter is better still; for how excellent is the abode of the God conscious!

During our regular bi-monthly meetings in New York City, we discuss one chapter from Dr. Abdulhameed’s book and the following is the summary from our meeting on March 7th, 2016:

The purpose behind the aya that says that those who do good will find good in this world is that it refers to a formula for success and what it takes is that we need to focus on continually doing good. The religion has been used as a source of good, wisdom, and morality and at the same time, it has been and continues to be, used as a way to justify many injustices in the world. In addition, it has been used as a source of authority for those that want to keep the authority and advantages they have over others.

The teaching of this chapter is very simple and it says that we need to train ourselves to overcome our negative tendencies in order to let the true light within us shine, so that we can show with our own lives what is truly meant by this aya: positive thoughts, speech and action, thinking well of ourselves and others, creating a positive intention within our minds when we do something, not looking down on what God gave us in our person or our experience, letting go of anger, jealousy, hopelessness and self-pity, and never wishing to harm anyone. These are not lofty ideals that are unattainable or attainable only by a select few. The idea is to work on internalizing, that is, seriously thinking about and looking to understand what it means to be God-conscious - something that the first part of the aya is asking us to do - by making a concerted effort and being honest with ourselves as to what we are trying to do. If we try to contemplate this idea of God-consciousness a couple of times, an encouragement is surely to follow. Once God consciousness has been achieved, it become easier and natural to want to do good.

We must remember that the Quran and consequently, the religion of Islam, is not what it has come to mean for many people, judging by their behavior – a set of complex rules and obligations that burden. Working on true understanding of ayas is like any other effort that we do because we think it will be worth our while in the long run: we get as much out of it as we put into it. We must remember that if we don’t try, it doesn’t make sense to expect God to try.

Therefore, we must try to work on achieving God-consciousness by interpreting God’s ayas by ourselves and for ourselves without asking anyone whom we consider to be an authority in these matters to do it for us. We, of course, can consult the writings of those who have thought about the subject for a long time, but we must remember that everything we read must make sense to us so that it takes root within us. As we work on achieving the state of God-consciousness, we will begin to see encouragement along our way. Then, it becomes natural to want to do good and with a heart that is in alignment with our wishes, our wishes that now begin to reflect His will.

Dr. Abdulhameed has also developed an exercise for each chapter to help us internalize the ideas behind the chapter. The exercise for this chapter states:

1) Write a paragraph about an interpretation of religion which results in harm. Describe an alternate interpretation of the same teaching that can be beneficial.
2) Write a paragraph abut a belief you had in the past out of which you have evolved. Describe how this change occurred.
3) What part of your life can be described as doing good to others?
Our practice is to discuss each chapter during two consecutive meetings so Part 2 will be discussed on March 21st. Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Chapter 31; There are Resources Everywhere

Chapter 31; There are Resources Everywhere

During our meeting in New York City on February 22nd, 2016 we discussed what the Sura 16, Ayas 10-18 mean or say to us. 

This Sura reads as follows:
It is He who sends water from the skies; from it you drink and so do the plants which your cattle eat.

With it He causes crops to grow and olives and dates and grapes and all the fruits.  Surely, in this there is a message for people who think.

And He has made the night and the day and the sun and the moon subservient to you; and the stars are subservient by His command.  Surely, in this, there are messages for people who use their reason.

And what He created on the Earth has many shades of colors.  Surely, in this, there is a message for people who reflect.

And He it is who has made the sea subservient, so that you can eat fresh meat from it, and take from it ornaments you wear.

And on the sea you see ships going through the waves, so that you may seek to enrich yourself of His Abundance, and thus may be grateful.

And He has placed firm mountains on earth, lest it sway with you, and rivers and roads, so that you can find your way, as well as many landmarks: and by the stars people find their way.

Is, then, he who creates like one that cannot create? Do you not consider this?

For, should you attempt to count God’s favors, you could never exhaust them.

Dr. Abdulhameed’s commentary on the above Sura states that our lives are shaped by perspectives we adopt.  One view of nature is that it is vast and that it works by its own rules, irrespective of our existence.  Another view of nature is expressed by admiring its beauty.  Another view is that the physical world is a source of danger and hardship for us.  The quoted ayas allow for a perspective that nature is subservient to our needs and that we can use it for our benefit by finding creative ways as to how to make it benefit us.  It is of great importance that we fully realize within ourselves that nature has resources that sustain us, enrich us, and guide us because we can then live with an attitude of appreciation and gratitude.  This helps us in two ways:  it teaches us the benefit of positive thinking and it allows us to live in harmony with the creation, which, in turn, allows for a continuous flow of goodness to come our way.  At any moment we can encounter events and situations that cause fear and frustration but we do have an option of shedding such thinking and asking ourselves what benefit can be derived from such a seemingly harmful event/situation.  If we ask this question and are serious about finding an answer to it, then we are sure to find it. 

Another very important aspect of the ayas quoted above points to inherently human qualities that when employed the way we are asked to employ them, should guide us in the direction of a better understanding of our existence and ultimately to what God is trying to teach us.  Namely, we are being asked to reflect, to think, to use our reason, and to consider.  By reflecting, thinking, and considering we are able to understand how we can make our lives better as these ayas were a source of inspiration for early Muslims who explored nature and became leaders in science and technology.  And at the same time, as with anything else that God said and created, there are multifunctional aspects to each and every word and to each and every made thing, and that is that in addition to using our human faculties of refection, thinking, and reasoning in order to find ways to better our lives, we are reminded to use those faculties to deepen our faith in Him so that we can act decisively, bravely and at the same time conscientiously in the process of our doing anything as we move through the world and attempt to achieve a happy state here as well as in the next life. 

Some of the thoughts that came to mind to us, personal growth seekers, as we worked through this chapter stated that the same exact thing can be seen as bad or as a source of benefit and that it depends on how we look at it.  Idea is for us to realize that as we try to realize the benefit in something seemingly bad, we are thinking deeply, hopefully unlocking our own unique and true spirit of creativity as we do it.  If we passively accept everything, then there will be no benefit to discover for us or for anyone else.  Said in a different way, if we look at things superficially, we are not aware that there are deeper possibilities in what we are looking at. Our world is inexhaustible in its richness; it is about how much creativity we bring to what we see.  Obstacles and resistance is within and without each of us; it depends on how we look at them.  There is a spiritual dimension to it all. The idea is to come to the point where it becomes natural to say that God is great and for us to be truly grateful, reflecting back to the idea of the multi-functionality of every word He said and of every thing He made.  

At the end of each discussion, Dr. Abdulhameed provides an exercise that can be used to help us think more deeply about what has been discussed and reflect back on the quoted ayas.  The exercise for this chapter states: 

1)      Think of an aspect of your life which you perceive as limiting or unpleasant.  It can be in your environment or in your personality.  Think of how it can be made into a source of benefit for you.

2)      Recall an experience in which you acted creatively; you found a solution to a problem, or you had a new idea, or you made a drawing or a painting, or you wrote a piece you liked.  Think of how good it feels to be creative, and ask how you can find time to be more creative in the future.