The Words We Speak Shape Our Lives

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I have been attending a discussion series put on by Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed. We met several years ago in New York City. Originally, I began following the series out of my general interest regarding aspects of Islam, but it ended up serving as something considerably more gratifying.

As many of my close friends and family are aware, I suffered a stroke during mid 2009. This was followed by a case of severe depression. It was a time in my life when I yielded to pessimistic thinking. It was truly unfortunate. One negative occurrence seemed to be followed by others. It caused me to doubt what I was capable of and almost cost me my life. Today, I can look back on those events as being “mere footnotes” in the broader scheme of things. I am sure there is a master plan, Allah-u-Alim (God knows best)!

This discussion series, where we would review various chapters of Abdulhameed’s book, The Quran and The Life of Excellence, has in many ways, been extremely therapeutic regarding my stroke after-effects as well as providing anti-depression remedies.

For example, while the results of my stroke left very little apparent physical damage, I noticed that I had developed difficulties trying to read aloud as my eyes raced across a page. Sultan remarked one day that he thought “I read at an easy to follow pace!” This later encouraged me to gain better control of my “mind-eye coordination.” Now a chore I once dreaded, no longer seems like a burden. I am actually beginning to enjoy it.

A chapter I recently read was entitled, The Words We Speak Shape Our Lives. I have never really given this much thought before. If we think of ourselves as having a “divine spirit” within each of us, the challenge we face is to channel that essence to make our lives better.

When I stop to think about my development from “cradle to present,” the impact of words is obvious. At first, as an infant, I could only utter sounds. As I grew, I learned words from parents, relatives and other sources. In time these words helped form my personality. Please think about this whenever you encounter an adult interacting with a child…

It can be said that these words compose the dictionary of our lives. “Everything that you believe is possible, or not possible, is contained in the words you have heard.”

I have had interactions with “downers” or “negative speaking” people in the past. These are people who habitually find only bad things to say. In some cases, I actually think it is a symptom of an illness. They tend to stress unhappy events, disease and the envy of others. The world appears to be a disappointing place to them. Those relationships were detrimental to my well-being. It has taken me years to recover and the process continues.

Today, I try to associate with people who are supportive of my efforts. They usually project positivity in their language and their actions. Their conversation conveys optimism, encouragement, confidence, happiness and gratitude. They give the impression that life is good and becoming better.

“God does not change a person’s condition until they make changes in themselves.”

When I think about all I have been through, I still feel the best is yet to come. The positive, reinforcing statements I heard as a child still resonate within me!

My family continues to grow. I am a grandfather. My circle of close friends continues to expand. There is so much to be grateful for.

“God is truly nurturing and most compassionate!”

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My experiences observing Layla-tul Qadr on August 3, 2013

prayerMy preparation to attend Layla-tul Qadr started out like any other day.  A cousin called to discuss her plans for starting an online business. I am used to people calling me for my advice on a myriad of subjects. I guess some of it comes from having reached a certain age (60s) and being able to communicate with people on just about any subject matter.

On my trip into the city that afternoon, I encountered a very tall drag queen, about 7 ft. tall in 6 in. heels weighing all of about 150 lbs. On the train, a dark-skinned woman about 7 months pregnant was asking for help. I looked into her eyes and felt compelled to give.

I was able to better grasp the significance of this most holy time on the Islamic calendar by reading part of Sura (44:3-4):

“that We revealed this Qur’an in a blessed night (Layla-tul Qadr); for We wanted to forewarn mankind.
In that night every matter is decided wisely”

This was to commemorate the night when the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad (PBUH), some 1,400 years ago. This “night of power” is also referred to as the “night of destiny.” It is a night when God’s power is all-present and we can choose our destiny. It is believed that a Muslim’s past sins are forgiven if the person prays throughout this night.

I was recently reading of attempts to correlate this holiest of periods with terrorist uprisings. It was reported on one news site that, such links between Islamic holy days and militancy allow al Qaeda to continue to define what Islam is. For them, Islam is not a religion with spirituality, but is a political movement, where the holiest of days are simply calendar markers to run campaigns…”

I repeat, this is the night when Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received his first revelation.

Misguided may try to align their actions with this most holy event and misinformed may try to legitimize that notion but the moment is bigger than any can conceive…

But, I digress and this is about my experiences and my destiny. I tried to keep a fairly light schedule on this day: Attend Kendo class. Share in Iftar with some Egyptian friends and finally make my way to downtown Manhattan for Layla-tul Qadr with members of the NYU community. I attended the first Layla-tul Qadr by the ICNYU last year (http://wp.me/p2hekR-4K) and I was eager to participate in this years’ event.

I disembarked from the train a couple of stops before my destination and began a slow walk through areas of Greenwich Village I used to frequent over four decades earlier. The area really hadn’t changed much at its core, still students, deviants, shops to buy things and places to eat. One place on the corner of West 8th Street and 6th Avenue caught my attention, offering 2 slices of pizza and a drink for $2.75!

As I edged closer to my destination and was about to cross the street, I received a text message from a friend in Indonesia, 10,000 miles away, requesting I pray for her father. This was a strange request, considering I hadn’t heard from her in weeks, and just as I was around to cross the street. She had no knowledge of my intentions or where I would be at that moment. Occurrences such as this only re-enforce my beliefs.

Finally I arrived at the church where the event was to be held. There was a crowd forming outside. I could hear some brothers debating what Islam meant to them. My response has always been, “it is where I have found comfort…” My view of the world is such that we can all exist in peace and harmony and in the comfort of our own belief systems as long as they don’t infringe upon others.

Sura 98:5 sums up my position:

“But they were enjoined nothing more than to worship God, be sincere in religion and be regular in prayer and give charity, for this is the essence of religion.”

There were at least several hundred people at this event. One has to be mindful of all the Muslim communities in New York City and around the rest of the world that were holding similar events during this time period.

We finished Taraweeh or the extra prayers before tending to the prayers for Layla-tul Qadr, which are performed throughout the night.

You could begin to feel the power of God in the room as brothers standing shoulder to shoulder and sisters standing shoulder to shoulder all began repeating a unison, over and over again, Subhan’Allah (Glory to God), Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), La ilaha ill-Allah (There is no God but God), Allah u Akbar (God is great)!

At one point I could feel the floor vibrating. I have a keen sense of such things. Maybe it was due to the resonance of trains in the nearby subway. Maybe it was just due to my vivid imagination. Perhaps God was making His presence known. I checked later, no one else seemed to feel it.

All I know is that night, I prayed for God’s forgiveness for all my transgressions, I prayed for the father in Jakarta, Indonesia, I prayed for my family and I prayed for a better life. This is the kind of person I was becoming.

Observing Layt al-Qadr at New York University on the night of August 14, 2012

A couple of nights ago I had the opportunity to attend Layt al-Qadr (the Night of Power) with members of the NYU community. This event happens during the last part of Ramadhan. Layt al-Qadr is considered the most appropriate time of the entire year to pray for salvation and blessings. It is believed that a Muslim’s past sins are forgiven if the person prays throughout this night.

It is the Holiest night in the Holiest month on the Islamic calendar. I with many others spent the entire night in prayer at NYU seeking forgiveness for our sins and help from God (SWT) to accomplish our objectives in life.

It was a most enlightening experience. Normally I tend to do things in solitude but for some reasons lately I have wanted to be with other like-minded people. I found the group of university people most invigorating. Even at 60, I was able to keep up with them in prayer throughout the night.

About this night, it is said:

BEHOLD, from on high have We bestowed this [divine writ] on Night of Destiny. And what could make thee conceive what it is, that Night of Destiny? The Night of Destiny is better than a thousand months: in hosts descend in it the angels, bearing divine inspiration by their Sustainer’s leave; from all [evil] that may happen does it make secure, until the rise of dawn. [Qur’an, Chapter 97, Asad translation]

For a better description of the meaning of Layt al-Qadr than I could ever provide, I refer you to a post by Imam Khalid Latif, University Chaplain for NYU, Executive Director of the Islamic Center at NYU and Chaplain for the NYPD. He refers to it in his August 14th, 2012 blog for the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/imam-khalid-latif/ramadan-reflection-day-26-laylatul-qadr_b_1776336.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003).

It started with us breaking fast (Iftar) at the Islamic Center at New York University, performing the Magrib prayer and subsequent Isha prayer and later moving to a residence hall where people were to pray throughout the night.

I left the first part of the event and proceeded at a slow leisurely pace to the residence hall where the second part was held. I seemed to be trying to kill time before attending the main event. I stopped at Madison Square Park and sat for a while. I observed people strolling, other people sitting and still others just trying to enjoy this balmy evening. I took to walking along the side streets. I noticed a few hobos sleeping outside a pristine building. I wondered why this condition had to exist. They seemed so content sleeping under the stars.

Finally moving on, I made it to the residence hall. I could see that it was starting to get crowded. Perhaps more people were going to be there than originally was expected.

While waiting for the proper mindset and prayers to begin, I couldn’t help overhearing a couple of brothers talking about baseball. I thought, when was the last time you heard “suspected terrorists” talking about baseball. But then again, they weren’t suspected terrorists to me. They were my brothers in faith. They were as “American as apple pie,” with many of the same basic values as anyone else and yet I am sure they are probably highly scrutinized every time they tried to board a plane.

The Imam spoke briefly about getting in the right frame of mind for prayer and the seriousness of the event. My thoughts became more focused. I began to think about what I sought forgiveness for and what I myself needed Allah (SWT)’s assistance to do.  I also thought about the hobos, and the impoverished throughout the world. I have always been an idealist.

Finally we all lined up and began to pray in unison. I will just say that everything about the ritual was very systematic and well coordinated. My left knee began to ache halfway though, a couple of hours later, but it didn’t seem to matter to me. “God does not burden beyond one’s capacity.” It was a truly defining moment. Imagine if you can, standing before the Creator and being able to ask forgiveness for your transgressions and for hope of a better tomorrow…

Toward the end of the event, I heard the sound of thunder outside and felt as if someone was trying to get my attention. I was listening…!

In the end I prayed that Allah (SWT) listened to my prayer and supplications and acknowledged them.

Sharing Iftar with some of my Sufi Brothers and Sisters: Celebrating Adam Day

Let us, as children of Adam and Eve, make a vow that we will rise above the prejudices

of color, language, dress, and race to enlighten our minds with the radiance of

wisdom. Let there be peaceful ambition. – Khawaja Shamsudding Azeemi

Here it was 4:00pm this Friday afternoon and I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do for Iftar1 . I came across an ad for the Meetup Group – MURAQBA- The Art and Science of Sufi Meditation. They happened to be celebrating Adam Day, this particular day. This is an idea inspired by Khawaja Shamsuddin Azeemi, a renowned Sufi scholar, healer and author of many books on meditation and self-awareness.

Under his guidance Azeemi Meditation Center in Manchester UK started celebrating Adam Day in 2003, and has been cherished by the members of community and city officials alike. Adam Day has been recognized as a platform of unity and received letters of appreciation from politicians and the office of former Prime Minister, Tony Blair. The message of love and unity is spreading and Adam Day is now celebrated in UK, Canada and USA.

This particular venue started at 6:00 pm. There was an introductory speech by the President of the Azeemia Foundation discussing its aims and objectives. A taped telecast of Mr. Khawaja Shamsuddin Azeemi, direct from Great Britain. There were also speeches given by representatives of different Inter-faiths on the topic of Adam.

All in all, it was a nice friendly gathering of people from different faiths celebrating what they all had in common! Regardless of culture, nationality or religion, we all share the same common ancestor, Adam.

In the Holy Qur’an it is written: “O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female,and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.” Surah al-Hujurat (49:13)

It was nice to get “reacquainted” with some of my brothers and sisters and enjoy a tasty meal as well.

 

1Iftar, refers to the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan. Iftar is one of the religious observances of Ramadan and is often done as a community, with people gathering to break their fast together. Iftar is done right after Maghrib (sunset) time. Wikipedia

Islam, Karma and the Seven Flies

I was making myself breakfast today just as any other day when I noticed that there were seven flies in the kitchen. Normally, the kitchen is bug free but there they were flying around the ceiling about to make a nuisance of themselves. I saw that one of the windows was slightly cracked open and postured that this was the way they entered the kitchen.

I wanted to eat my meal without having to experience the annoyance of these insects. Warily, I consumed my meal and watched them with the precision of a Hawk! It seemed as if they wanted to leave the kitchen but had lost their way. They flew close to the window’s opening but I wondered if perhaps if they perceived it too narrow to exit? I proceeded to open the window slightly more. Eventually all seven flies flew out the window.

I thought about this with great introspection as I finished my meal. It tasted wonderful! Allah (SWT) is Creator of all things, great and tiny. He tests and challenges us all the time. There are lessons everywhere! I believe there are Signs all around us. We must clear our minds and open our hearts to see them. I also believe that one should never give up hope. “As one window closes, a thousand more may open.” We must continue to persevere.

There are times when we may relinquish just when victory or salvation may be just around the corner! The flies were so close to the opening of the window but it seemed as if they choose not to venture out. My gesture of opening the window a little wider enabled them to escape unharmed on this particular day.

My actions cost me nothing but created harmony around me in that brief moment. Perhaps, that is a lesson as well…