The Power of Prayer

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Every morning at the crack of dawn, I look forward to the time in which I pray. It is a time when I contemplate my life, review what I have done and seek guidance on how I should proceed further.

Prayer, salat, supplication or whatever you might call it is your personal conversation with God. There are many characterizations of this gesture. Some may dress a certain way. Others may stress that it be performed in a language not understood by all, simply a repetition of verses. It may argued that its structure is tantamount to its conveyance. I would humbly submit regarding the issue of form over substance, the latter of the two takes priority.

It is, I repeat, your conversation with God! I only hope that your sentiments are from the heart, most sincere and occur on a fairly regular basis.

The contents of a good prayer should include gratitude and a request. It should express gratitude acknowledging the excellence and favors of the One to Whom we address our prayer. We may not realize just how much we have to be thankful for, from the air we breathe to life itself…

Life is better when one shows gratitude. It sets you in the right attitude and may protect you from temptations. It has been said that “God turns to man when man turns to God.”

The other crucial element is the request. The vicissitudes of life can be overwhelming. We must acknowledge that we do not control all things and that a little help may be warranted. Only through the remembrance of God and His role in all our lives can matters truly be placed in their proper perspective. One’s request may be to seek guidance on how to make someone’s life better.

On a personal note, as I get older, I feel the need to express gratitude for all that has happened to me, both good and bad. I have come to believe that all experiences are just trials and challenges instituted by God to help me better myself, to make me stronger. He is the Guardian, Sustainer, Provider and Nurturer of all things!

There have been times in my life when I have achieved much success. There were other times when my will to see future days waned. I was happy for God’s intervention when it was most needed. Now I view each setback as an opportunity to regroup and continue to press forward. Now I begin to understand the importance of having faith. I accept all challenges and take them all in stride…

Today, after I pray for me, my family and my friends, I find myself praying for a better world. I pray for world peace and harmony (http://wp.me/p2hekR-v). I believe we each have the sense of a divine presence within us. If we concentrate collectively, if we each make an extra effort, anything is possible!

Won’t you join me in this prayer? It costs you nothing and the potential for rewards are immeasurable…

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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.

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…

Gifts from a friend…

I recently received some gifts from a friend who had recently returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia. She brought me back a “Thawb,” a garment worn in many Arab countries, a “kufi,” the brimless, short, and rounded cap worn by many populations in West Africa of all religions and throughout the African Diaspora, as well as throughout the Islamic world, a compass to direct me toward Mecca, prayer rug and some prayer beads.

Normally, one would not give much serious thought to these items but they are of special significance to me.

Islam has always been and will always be between us. More than 40 years ago, it separated us as we pursued different paths. She became a Sunni Muslim and I joined the Nation of Islam. We lost contact with each other. She married. I later left the Nation, but the “rope of Islam” kept us connected.

I would go on and through much independent reading on my own, eventually embrace a purer form of Islam than I originally started with. The beauty in this story is that which initially caused us to separate became a force that was quite apparent when we reestablished our friendship 40 years later.

She is still married and the Mother of five children. I am divorced but the also the Father of five children. The two of us remain better friends today than when we parted. She will always remain in my heart and in my prayers…

I wanted to share this story because most of what I see about Islam is always in the geo-political arena. We are all just trying to find a path to God. I believe there are many paths. This is a human-interest story and nothing more. I hope you enjoyed it.

I Yearn to be Complete…

Do you know the meaning of completion? It is something I have sought all my life. The thought intrigues me. I recently came across some revelations that enhanced my understanding of the subject. I hope you enjoy what I have cited and that it encourages you to seek further:

Everything that comes into life has two sides, a masculine and feminine quality, even love. The masculine side of love is “I love you.” Longing is the feminine side of love: “I am waiting for you. I am longing for you.” Longing is the cup waiting to be filled.

The soul is feminine before God, waiting in a state of surrender for the Beloved to come… The lover waits for her Beloved. And when He comes to us, in those moments of meeting and merging that are so intimate that one can hardly speak of them, the lover is feminine, pierced, penetrated by the tremendous bliss of His love.

– Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

It may be deduced that the basis is man’s yearning for his Lord, who is his origin, and that is why God made him love woman – for as God, the Most High, loves him who is in His image, He makes lovable to man the woman whom He extracted for him from him and who appeared in his image. When man loves woman, he desires to conjoin and unite with her, and when the act is consummated pleasure overtakes all parts of the body, and it is as if he were annihilated in her. Thus, as God is jealous for his servant, He orders him to perform a full ablution in order that he be cleansed of “other”, and return to observing Him in the one in whom he has been annihilated, i.e. in woman. God has cleansed man by complete ablution because he has to witness God in woman, and that is the grandest and the most complete contemplation, because it is a witnessing of God as actor and acted-upon simultaneously.

– Ibn Arabi on Women

The right of your mother is that you know that she carried you where none carries anyone, she gave to you that fruit of her heart that which no one gives to anyone, and she protected you with all her organs.  She did not care if she went hungry as long as you ate, if she was thirsty as long as you drank, if she was naked as long as you were clothed, if she was in the sun as long as you were in the shade.  She gave up sleep for your sake; she protected you from the heat and cold, in order that you might belong to her.  You will not be able to show her gratitude, unless through God’s help and giving success.

– ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn

She is waiting to be recognized.

Do you mean she wants to be recognized as a woman?

I mean that she is waiting to be recognized as all women … Don’t you yet realize that all women are in the same position? Until the woman is recognized by man she can never be completely free. Man has forgotten too much. Yet if he recognized the woman, he would free himself. He would become complete. The woman, the earth, has been waiting so patiently…

– The Last Barrier by Reshad Feild

Mothers and Paradise

Graceful Paradise Rose/Orchid Corsage
from RealRoseGifts.com

“And revere the wombs that bore you, for God is ever watchful over you.” (4:1)

On this day, I feel a certain sadness for all the mothers who have passed, but gave thanks to the children they have left behind.

It has been said that, “Paradise lies at the feet of mothers.” I truly believe this. Pregnancy is no easy task, but they endure it to bring us into this world. In the beginning they protect us from our fears, both unknown and apparent. They nurture our hurts. They help us to develop into the fine young men and women we are capable of becoming. On this day, I acknowledge you but love all of you, always! We would not be here if not for you.

Happy Mother’s Day!