Spiritual retreat last part

“We are small and our wishes big, the Lord of things is big and His desires none. We are weak and He is not yet it is us whose egos shoot up to the skies.”

I wrote the above as my Facebook status a few weeks back and it got quite a few likes. However, its not a new thought. I have been thinking on these lines since Ramazan and many before me have also pondered over this. What are we after all? Insignificant and weak with a thousand desires tailing behind us until we get to our graves. Our egos inflate with each passing day until we forget that our creator is omnipotent.

A simple reading of Surah Al Ikhlas should make us realise our worth and that of our Creator’s. It could not have been said any better how Allah is above all the worldly desires that we have.

Accepting that God is our master may not be a difficult concept for many of us but submitting to Him in a role of a slave sure is against our egos. We turn to Him mostly in times of need little realizing that this being who created us never sleeps, never gets tired, never gives up on us no matter now bad we get, never desires anything while we are His opposite on all of the above. We get tired very fast, sleep a lot, give up on our relations and our hopes, and always go after our worldly desires. On top of that we add the element of being egoistical which is a quality most suited to Allah than us. He should be taking pride in the fact that He made the universe, he thought of creating us and built a flawless world around us. We claim to be the innovators and creators of exceptional genius ideas and inventions little realizing that our source of inspiration goes back to what our Creator initially created.

Hence, it becomes rather difficult to put ourselves into the role of a slave. We need to consciously do a mental exercise and see the beauty of how our Creator made us, gave us strengths and weaknesses; and before we could even ask of Him, He blessed us with many of His bounties like a family, a healthy body, senses, intellect – many of the things from Rizk even before we are born. Sometime during our life, He might even take away some of the things which we start to take for granted. This is where the trouble begins. The time we are shocked and question oh why me? How silly of us to even question why God takes something away from us. There are stories of companions of the Prophet (pbuh) who demonstrated exceptional amount of sabr and patience on worldly losses as big as the loss of a son in war time. They understood the crux of the matter, the reason of us being here, the reality of our existence. They understood that we owe nothing to Allah which is why if He gives us something or takes away some of our priced possessions, we are in no position to complain. They understood the relationship between a master and a slave.

Ustad Nauman Ali Khan in one of his podcast reflected on the concept of master and slave while talking about Surah Al Nas. He gave a detailed talk on the word ‘Rab’ and its several implications. Giving references from various sources he said that the name ‘Rab’ constitutes several meanings. ‘Rabb’ means absolute owner, one who has complete authority, one who takes care of, someone who guides, grants gifts. Surah Fatiha, first in the Quran, also a remedy for many of our illnesses starts with ‘Rabb’ in its first verse. When the first revelation came down to Holy Prophet (pbuh) it has the word ‘Rabb’ in it and there is a list of examples in the Quran to signify the kind of relation we are in with our Creator.

Nauman Ali Khan talked in detailed about the progression of attribution ‘Rabb’ from more to less in Surah Al Nas. In this surah, we call on Allah not once but thrice and use different attributes before we ask from whom we want protection. The surah starts with us coming into the protection of ‘Rabb’ of all mankind from shaitan who makes us forget. Then we call upon Allah using attributes ‘maalik’ and ‘illah’. How beautiful a thought that Allah invites us not once in the Quran but many times to come under his protection from all evil since He is the ‘Rabb’, the final authority, the master of all.Hence the name Rabb implies and refers to someone above us in all respects. Once we understand the depth that word has a lot of our problems could be solved but the effort is required on our part.

Before I close my reflective Aitekaf series, I would like to make a few reading recommendations, books I read and been able to reflect in ways never before.

A Prophet for Our Time by karen Armstrong

The First Muslim by Lesley Hazelton

Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings

Prophet Muhammad pbuh’s biography by Ibne Ishaq

P.S : There has been a long break between the series that I really wanted to post once a week. However, duniya ke jamhelay can be easily blamed for the delays in posts. I cannot say I m totally satisfied with how I have been able to put my reflections from Aitekaf into words, but it has given me the opportunity to keep doing it.

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Spiritual retreat part 5

Rush to do good deeds. Like everything in life is a competition, doing actions for the benefits of others around us should also be considered a competition.

One of the things I realised and would like to see it implemented in my life is my concern for myself in the hereafter. A selfish thought perhaps where I m concerned about my eternal existence. From another perspective, however, I would be selfless in my actions towards others.It is a clearly win win situation, unlike the conundrum that we as Pakistanis find ourselves in these days in regards to our political upheaval. It is peaceful to know that some things in life are still uncomplicated, still as easy as adding 2 and 2 together.

There is a constant reminder from Surah Al Asr in my mind that reveals the harsh truth of our existence that we, humans are indeed in loss. Loss to me is my ignorance or indifference of making a kind gesture, of doing a good deed; primarily so that I could earn something for my hereafter and secondly with the intention of helping others.

My long term goal should be to do as many good deeds as possible before I will be questioned for my time spent in this world. My short term goal should be to help those around me either directly through financial help or indirectly by manners that are inspiring, gestures that are kind, attitude that is unpretentious; constantly reminding myself that whatever good I m putting in this world is solely because I have gratitude towards my Creator.

But am I really grateful to Allah ?

Spiritual retreat project part 4

There is a little story from my childhood related to today’s post; not too significant but usually comes back to me. I was around 4 or 5 living in the Middle East. Those were the mobile free days. Steve Jobs was perhaps still in the making. Other geniuses like him and the companies like Sony, Nokia and LG and Samsung were keeping us occupied with other electronics. In short talking to a person especially in an office required one to first talk to the secretary. Likewise if someone from the office wanted to contact their employee/boss they used a ‘pager’ or land line number instead of bothering them directly via email or mobile phones.

On days that my father came home for lunch break or got off early from work, his secretary would sometimes give him a work related call. As a child I was always eager to answer the phone and do something ‘adult’ and ‘important’. Children haven’t changed. My niece sprints when the phone rings. One day my father was offering his salat and I answered the office call for him. When the person on the other end asked for my father, I went ‘eer..uuhh’ trying to use my limited English vocabulary acquired over the 5 years of my existence to explain what exactly my father was doing, unable to attend the call.

Later my father told me that I could have said ‘he is offering his prayer’. So whenever there was a call from the office, I would repeat the line whether it fit the situation or not because I had to flaunt the new English words I had learnt. I was a funny kid.

You must have guessed I plan to talk about prayer/salat but very briefly as there is already plenty of good information available on the internet.

Offering prayer/ salat is one of the pillars of Islam and all (Muslims) are well acquainted with this. Right from the beginning we learn the importance of it in classes and homes, especially that prayer is the key to heaven. Despite early education on praying, we still fall short on giving our best. We either don’t pray at all. Some of us pray but end up skipping a few prayers like fajr and isha or when we are out shopping or entertaining guests (as if the the guests are not Muslims). While those of us who claim to be proper ‘namazi’ with beards or hijabs flowing, elements of laziness or delay in prayers confront us. We are on the internet, talking to a friend, watching television, we hear a call for prayer and what do we do? Most of the time we think, I will catch up on it. Or I will do my wudu /ablution during the commercial break and pray during the second commercial break. Then there is also the element of showing off while praying which is very explicitly mentioned in Quran especially in Surah Ma’un where Allah addresses prayer performers who are either heedless or make a show of their prayers. Happens with most of us, even if we have no intention of showing off about our prayers; the minute someone enters the room, our yawn stops midway, we prolong our rakat or slow down a little between our prostrations. There is something so engraved in us that we become cautious of others around while we pray. Following are the Ayaats from Surah Ma’un:

4.Then woe to those prayer performers.

5.Who are heedless of their prayers.

6.Those who make a Show of it.

I don’t mean to generalise or form judgments for Allah knows best what is in our hearts. This is mere observation and also because I see myself in the above examples too.

Fortunately or unfortunately when Ramadan starts, the Muslims rush to the masajid/mosques. It seems like everyone has left their homes on the call to prayer. It is beautiful. However, sadly right after Eid, the number of namazis start to disappear from the masajids. Like I talked in my previous post, as we move away from Ramadan, we also move away from prayers. There are five obligatory prayers in Islam, famously known to have been reduced in number from 50 to 5 times a day; when Hazrat Musa/Moses kept sending Holy Prophet (pbuh) back to Allah. The interesting part is that we still get the reward for praying 50 times. Beautiful isn’t it?

No matter how beautiful our religion is, it will lose its meaning for us when we stop praying. Offering this ritual holds the key to Paradise. One of the questions asked after our death will be about our prayers that we take so lightly.

Another problem that arises from one of our most important practices is that we are required to pray in Arabic. And if you happen to be a Muslim but not an Arab, whatever we say in our prayers leaves little impact on us. As a result we stand, bow, prostrate and blindly finish our prayers everyday little pondering over the meaning of the words we repeat day in and day out. Again, little benefit for us. At the end of day we are only wasting our time, making a halfhearted effort and justifying it with numerous reasons.

There are many Ahadith* on the importance of prayer/salat that I personally think we should keep reflecting upon in order to understand why is it so important in Islam that we are expected to pray whether ill or in a state of war. One Hadith states that prayers is the extinguisher of hell fire. According to another Hadith, praying is better than performing Hajj 20 times. One Hadith sheds light on not missing the Fajr amd Asr prayers. One of the Ahadith that I came across during Aitekaf is quoted below. It highlights the importance of prayers for the companions of Holy Prophet (pbuh) who were told to rush for prayers even if they were engaged in conversation with the Messenger.

Hazrat Aishah (RA) narrates: “We would be engaged in conversation with the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his progeny), but with the arrival of the time of prayers it would appear as if he neither knew us nor we knew him.”

While it was easy to pray on time during Ramadan, the real test is to rush past all the hurdles and respond to the call of prayer.

prayer/salat is a vast topic that I cannot cover in one post firstly and secondly, my knowledge is limited.The above is only my personal reflection, thoughts.

Ahadith are the teachings and sayings of of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) to his companions when questions were asked from Him (pbuh) on different occasions and later compiled as Hadith literature.

Spiritual retreat project part 3

Days upon days go by and as a practicing Muslim, I hardly ever get time to open the Holy Book left by our Prophet (pbuh). It stays there in one of the sacred shelves, safe and sound, away from the reach of my mostly idle hands and mind. There is no sense of remorse, no sense of loss of time, no feeling that something is missing. And then comes Ramadan and I get punctual and concerned about my prayers. Not only that I also act like a marathon runner and make it a point to complete the entire Quran’s recitation, sometimes more than once. To attend Quran classes becomes the highlight of all my Ramadan rituals.

Being a seasonal Muslim suits me the best. For the next thirty days I am a devout follower of my religion. However, once Eid festivities begin I start to shed my layers. One after the other, the layers melt into one another and the hidden scars of the worldly temptations start to show. The Quran finds its secure place in the sacred shelf once again. My prayers are replaced by more important priorities. I do pray, after all I m a practicing Muslim but the devotion seems to fade a little. Quran classes become too difficult a routine to maintain, many other social commitments consume all of my attention. My politeness with others around me disappears into oblivion. You will not get to see the humble and God fearing me until the next Ramadan. And so the cycle continues until the next year.

This is sad. But we are all victims to the above, if not all of it, at least some of it. Our grip on our religion weakens, our hands slip on the rope that Allah has asked us to hold onto firmly. We let ourselves bow to the glittering worldly desires and caring little for the faith that we cared for so much during Ramadan. Its ironic that we nourish and nurture our faith back to life and then strangle it with our own hands.

This year I hope to keep the faith, keep the humility, hold onto the Quran instead of tucking it away, achieve perfection in prayers, or at least consider them a priority. So that when Ramadan visits next year, it will find me an evergreen Muslim not seasonal.

On one of the wakeful nights in aitekaf I felt an amazing sense of calm and peace rest upon me. Many a times during my solitude I felt as if the world had come to a tranquil halt. There was no rush, no competition, no expectations to be met, no worldly goals to be achieved; I was in control.

Spiritual retreat project part 2

After an unexpectedly long gap I m back with my project. I thought I might not be able to continue this. But I have to get to the end of this series for myself most importantly so that I don’t lose the essence of what I was able to gather in those beautiful ten days.

It was probably day two of my Aitekaf and some traces of doubt were clouding my confidence as to how I would be able to commit myself to this spiritual journey with my Creator. I would sit in the quiet of my room and take in the silence which is almost non existent in our daily routine with the phone ringing, kids running and screaming around, someone at the door and our gadgets buzzing to divert our concentration. I really loved the peace and quiet, long stretches of silence actually. But in those moments of calmness I would find myself questioning the commitment to this, what I was expected to do; it was either satan or my lack of strong iman / faith that distracted me.

Basically I wanted to be really clear as it wasn’t a practice I was doing for a day, for my family, for praises, for any other purpose but entirely for the sake of Allah. It felt as if everything else had gone blur as in a bokeh shot during photography. It was like everything else had stopped existing except for me and the one who is the Master. Such is perhaps the effect when you separate yourself from all the unnecessary ‘necessities’ of life.

Clarity of thought is most important as that determines our niyah or intention. One of the most common hadith that we are all familiar with is that our actions are judged by our intentions. Whatever we must do in life, it should be based on a clear intention/ a clear thought process. More so specifically whatever we intend to do, it should be done solely for the sake of Allah swt.

A lot of times in life, we do things that hurts others. Our actions, words, deeds are nothing but a cause of pain or have little positivity for others. If it’s not affecting the ones around us then most of the time the things that we do lack a thought process. In my case if I wasn’t clear in my intention before sitting for Aitekaf or wasn’t able to clarify what I was doing, there was little point of me sitting in isolation.

The idea is that whatever you intend to do, pause for a minute, stand back and see why are you doing this in the first place. Are my actions for my own gratification? Will my actions bear negative consequences for others? If you are going to pray, recall why do you do that every day? If you are going to peek into a neighbour’s gate while walking past it; ask yourself why do you want to see into their house. If you’re being nice to others is it for your own future benefits or you want to be nice to others because they are God’s creation? Ask yourself whether what you are doing is out of love for your Creator or just because society expects you to do it or because you have an urge to satisfy your ego.

As the night sky glittered with stars outside, I turned to Surah Mulk in the Quran and read the lines “He, Who has created death and life that He might test you, as to whose work, is excellent among you. And He is the Esteemed one the Forgiving.”

Spiritual Retreat Project

Before I try to embark on this mini project/ blog series here on my mostly abandoned blog, I would like to take a moment and mention that I am partly scared as to how this will come out. Well I’m not an acclaimed writer or blogger and hence do not entertain a lot many readers; only a few stumble here once in a while. So I m not really worried about making an intellectual impression on anyone but on myself. Years or lets says even months from now I want to come back to something substantial, something solid that I would look back on and see this as a valuable addition to my life.

Lets begin without further ado!

It isnt really difficult to understand the term ‘spiritual retreat’ as I have chosen to name this blog series. To begin with spiritual retreat holds an important place in many religions. The general understanding of it is how Sufis in Islam have practiced it. In Ibne Arabi’s book “Journey to the Lord of Power” he discusses different stages that one experiences during khalwa or seclusion from everything worldly. This sufi practice usually lasts 40 days from what the accounts of famous sufis tell us which is based on the forty days that Prohpet Musa spent before he was able to converse with Allah. In this seclusion period one  tries to reestablish a connection with one’s Creator and usually the sufis meditate and spent their days and nights in Dhikr (in remembrance of  Allah) by repeating His names.

However, I happen to be no sufi though Shams and Rumi have been an inspiration for me this year. Now that I think maybe the reason I chose to sit alone for a number of days was that in the back of my mind I was  inspired by the great sufis. The interest in it was further triggered by my mother and I cannot thank her enough for guiding and motivating me.

Spiritual retreat that was practiced by Holy Prophet (pbuh) is called Aitekaaf. According to his sunnah he used to spend the last ten days of Ramadan praying to Allah with minimum contact with his family and friends, only conversing if necessary. In some of the Ahadith it is mentioned that he even sat for twenty days as well. Aitekaf  is a special part of the blessed month of Ramadan when Muslims around the world have to observe the obligatory fasting for 29 to 30 days. Muslims have a choice to isolate themselves from everything worldly in the last ten days of Ramadan following the sunnah of our last Prophet (pbuh). The highlight of the practice is also that one gets to pray without distractions from the daily routine especially in the odd nights when the Muslims are to look for the Night of Decree or as it is called Laylat al Qadr; the night when Quran was sent down from Louhe Mahfooz, the Preserved Tablet ( it has a record of all the knowledge about every object/thing/person in the Universe) down to Baitul Izzah, the House of Might in the first level of heaven. Furthermore the odd nights in the last week of Ramadan hold great value for us especially because in this night matters of our provision, health, year ahead are also decided and recorded in the Louhe Mahfooz.

The ten days I spent in seclusion was a time dedicated to myself and my relation to my Creator, praying to Allah swt without having to worry about daily chores, work deadlines or even to please society at large. It gave me time to breathe, reflect and  stay away from gadgets and social media ( the biggest distraction, yes more than TV I would say). It wouldn’t be wrong if I say that I was able to de-clutter my thoughts but more on this in the later posts.

Before I sign off from this unexpectedly long writing, I would like to add a little thing that happened the very first night of my Aitekaf. Since now the month of fasting falls during intense summers here in Pakistan, I decided to open a few windows for cross ventilation in my room, my abode for the next few days. Nothing strange right? Unfortunately, one of the three windows has always been broken. Once you open it, it dangles and it has to be closed with a long rod or danda (as we call it in Urdu) when someone stands in the lawn and pushes the glass of the window from outside as the room is on the second story of the house. Out of the three windows I had a difficult decision ahead of me, trying hard to remember which window was broken, I suddenly loosened the screw of one and exactly what I feared, it was indeed the broken window. I thought this is a perfectly bad start where I m supposed to avoid unnecessary contact with family or friends. Now I had to communicate with a member of my family in order to get it closed lest it falls or causes further problem. The window finally did get close with me pulling from the inside and my brother pushing it from the outside, down in the lawn. Phew.

It must be totally ridiculous an incident to most of you but for someone starting off something as special as Aitekaf I feared if I ended up doing something that would nullify my spiritual isolation. So moral in it for me was to NEVER do anything when in doubt. Instead of opening the window still in doubt I was supposed to either think clearly or leave it closed. In life in general we are confronted with small or big decisions where we  are either forced by others  or we find ourselves in a situation that requires us to  take a particular path on our own. Doubts, however, cloud our judgement and power of decision making. Hence we end up either opening the wrong window or staying within closed ones.

As the night layered on and the moon hung outside, I sat down to  pray, meditate and reflect; mostly in hopes of pleasing the one who controls the Universe.