“Allah shall not burden a soul beyond its capacity,” (Quran 2:287). For a long time, I thought this ayah spoke about external pressures like loss, financial issues, and any tangible problems that manifested its way into the mind. It wasn’t until I endured an emotional low that I realized this ayah extends beyond the tangible world. It applies to conflicts of the mind and the heart as well. I realize that mental health is often deemed as “worthless” and is heavily stigmatized in the ethnic world. Phrases such as “return to Allah” and “just pray” can feel debilitating at times when they are used to belittle your struggles, but enduring periods of depression and anxiety are tests—just like loss, financial ruin, and health complications. They are real issues that can manifest in physical ways such as shaking, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. Sometimes your legs feel like jelly and your heart pains you. These symptoms aren’t a testament that Allah (SWT) is upset with you, but rather He is building you to make you stronger. Allah’s strongest soldiers are those who can deal with that which disrupts their inner peace, and yet strengthen their mind and heart, and grow in resilience. It is easier said than done to believe in this concept. Sometimes the mind dissociates and we’re left with this feeling of disconnect and sadness. I’ve recently begun watching Khalil Jaffer’s series titled, “The End of Negative Suffering.” In this series, he describes how to become more present in time, as dwelling on the past and worrying about the future can increase depression and anxiety. Within his lectures, he illustrates the human instinct to become comfortable in conflict, and how inner peace becomes disrupted by the voice in our head. Jaffer’s series is accompanying me on my own journey toward self-enlightenment. It is important to deconstruct this narrative that poor mental health is a result of poor emaan (faith). Allah (SWT) tests His believers in a multitude of ways, and it takes a special kind of resilience to dissect the innermost struggles of our being, and then create greater faith in Allah through the pain. Healing is not linear. Some days will be better than others, and some days it will feel like the world is completely out of your control. Know that this is not the end, because Allah (SWT) is within you. He is closer to you than your jugular vein, as mentioned in verse 16 of Surah Qaf. And so, I ask you to join me on this journey towards inner peace. We will get through the hard times because Allah has guaranteed that our capacity exceeds further than our struggles.
Side Note*lectures mentioned include some Shia history but it is towards the end and the last five minutes of each video. For the most part the series focuses on Psychology and Islam.*
You escape the moonlit night of Basra to enter a dark pathway. As you walk deeper into your path, melodious chants or hushed discussions replace the silence. Soon you are welcomed by a group of onlookers sparsely illuminated by the candle lights. You are greeted as you take a seat. A man, who could easily declare himself an Imam, speaks up, “In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Welcome! We are the brethren of purity, loyal friends, people worthy of praise, and sons of Glory.” Towards the end of the tenth century, the Abbasid caliphate was beginning to witness the onset of an orthodox influence. The change in atmosphere birthed the rise of a secret group. A group that can be compared to the Pythagoreans of old or the freemasons of recent. The group, whose identities are a mystery to this day, would meet every twelfth night to study, discuss, and write philosophy and science. They believed Islam was drowning under the rigidity of literal-minded scholars who rejected rationality. To counter this push, they wrote a 52-part book on mathematics, music, law, pleasure, cosmology, and the Soul, amongst other things. The collection was later read by the likes of Ibn Sina, Al Beiruni, Suhrawardi, and Ibn Taymiyyah. The group called this book the ‘Rasail Ikhwan As-Safa’ or the ‘Epistles of the Brethren of Purity.’ They called themselves the ‘Brethren of Purity, Loyal Friends, People worthy of praise, and Sons of Glory.’ We will just call them the brotherhood or the Ikhwan for obvious reasons. It is said that the group adopted the name ‘Brethren of Purity’ from a story in the ‘Kelileh va demneh,’ a collection of animal fables adapted from an ancient Indian collection, ‘Panchantra.’ The story involved different animals putting themselves in harm’s way for the betterment of each other. Like the rag-tag group of animals, the Ikhwan were loyal friends who were there for each other in their quest for salvation. That their name comes from an ancient Indian (likely Hindu) text, gives us an idea of their openness to all knowledge and philosophies. One can identify, within the epistles, the influences of Greek, Indian, and Persian philosophy. Their open approach reflects further in the importance they gave to every sacred scripture. They valued the gospels, the psalms, and the Tawrah just as they valued the Quran. According to them, “the truth exists in every religion.” In addition to the sacred sources and philosophy, the Ikhwan as-Safa also drew inspiration from mathematics, science, and the natural world. As was a common trend amongst the Muslim philosophers of the time, the brethren subscribed, with certain twists, to the neo-platonic philosophy. Neoplatonism divides reality into four levels. The most fundamental level is the One, beyond spacetime, belief, and understanding. From this One, and within this One, emanates the next level, known as the Intellect. This level, also beyond spacetime, contains perfect, unified knowledge of everything. From the Intellect emanates the Soul, the third level. This is responsible for utilizing the knowledge of the Intellect to create the final level – the universe as we know it. A central tenet of the brotherhood was the preference of ‘batin – the hidden’ over ‘zahir – the evident.’ Zahir is a literal approach to reading the Quran, in which you grasp the apparent, esoteric meaning. However, according to many Sufi schools, Islamic philosophers and the Ikhwan, an exoteric meaning can be found underneath the zahir, known as the batin. A testament to their creative and allegorical study of the Quran is their nuanced ideas about significant aspects of Islam. Hence, unsurprisingly, they were often termed heretics by orthodox scholars. A surprising idea of the Ikhwan that would’ve brought much criticism was their approach to the hereafter. The Quran refers to a temporary state between our two lives as ‘Barzakh’. The Ikhwan considered it to be a cyclical journey of rebirth that unpurified souls had to complete to achieve perfection. It was only after this perfection that they could unify with the One. Furthermore, according to the brotherhood, the fire of hell and the bliss of heaven did not exist. At least not in a literal sense. For them, heaven and hell were spiritual states rather than tangible locations. A lot has been discussed about the true identity of the Ikhwan as-Safa. Some guess them to be of a Sufi-Sunni background. Most believe they were Ismaili scholars or, at the very least, belonged to the Shia tradition. It is important to satiate our curiosity and identify the origins of the Ikhwan. Yet, you must’ve noticed the absence of any such discussion in this article so far. This was intentional. This article was meant to introduce you to a new understanding and a new approach. That of open-mindedness, of creativity, and of courage. The Ikhwan worked hard to conceal their identity. They aimed to “shun no science, scorn any book, or to cling fanatically to no single creed.” It was of no importance to them what religion one came from. So, it is of no importance to this article.
November 18th marked International Day of Islamic art, and while not a commonly celebrated day, it does offer an opportunity to reflect on the rich tradition of Islamic art in the West. Canada proudly hosts an abundance of Islamic art and tradition, being home to the Aga Khan Museum, the largest Islamic art museum in North America and boasting a rich collection across many museums and galleries. However, Islamic art is not just confined to these spaces alone. Its influences can be felt in contemporary art and architecture - sometimes where we least expect them. Toronto Pearson Airport is certainly not the first place that comes to mind when it comes to Islamic art. Yet within its labyrinthine terminals exists an evocative art piece, side by side the bustling crowds: “The Holding Pattern” is a set of ornately designed airport chairs at Terminal 1 constructed by Tazeen Qayyum. An accomplished miniature painter, Tazeen Qayyum’s artwork reflects her own experiences moving between Pakistan and Canada. The title refers to the circumambulation of planes when they are unable to land,which she connected to the political climate regarding the struggles of immigration that persist to this day. The pattern itself is an intricately woven biomorphic pattern atop a vibrant red backdrop. The backdrop bears a repeating motif. What seems to be an assortment of florals at a cursory glance however, are actually figures of cockroaches. A surprising choice to be sure, but certainly an inspired one. Taking the traditional techniques of Islamic art, Qayyum weaves them with unique imagery to bring them into a modern context. A creature typically evoking fear is meant to reflect the fear of other cultures within the western world. As she described in an interview: “The main idea for the cockroach has always been the idea of fear…. The cockroach itself is not the most dangerous insect around us - yet it is universally considered gross.” And here they are, given an artistic flourish that renders these creatures so beautiful that they could be mistaken for blooming flora. A common piece of furniture thus reflects the struggles of those who inhabit it. A testament to the strife that comes with immigration limbo and fears of religious intolerance in the land they hope to come to. This idea then makes the placement of this piece in the airport go from an odd choice to highly apropos in its setting which sees the continuous flow of people from across the world and how they are perceived by those who do not know their culture.
Why do both evil and good people have to suffer? We can understand immoral people being faced with challenges, but why virtuous people? One answer could be that blessings provide opportunities for the evil to reconsider themselves. If a wrongdoer was only met with chastisement, perhaps that would further harden their heart. Whereas if they were occasionally shone on by the sun, they might start to appreciate its light and get out of the cave they were putting themselves in. Okay, but why do the good have to undergo trials on this Earth? Well, consider this: If evil actions were always met with some suffering in this life and good actions were always met with rewards, then would we truly have good people on this Earth? If everything was as binary as this, everyone would choose to be good, wouldn’t they? If evil actions were so obviously unsuccessful, everyone would pick the good actions. But, as a result, we would cease to have people who chose good for good’s sake. Maybe we would have a few, but the majority would likely be choosing the good acts for their own sake. If one day, the evil actions proved more profitable, they’d switch. Because their allegiance was never with what was virtuous or right, but with their success. This is why both good and evil have to undergo trials on this Earth - to test the good people. Real goodness is difficult, which is why it’s so valuable. This leads to another point. Do good people sometimes take the easy path? Do good people always stand up for what’s right and admonish any evil they see? Or do they sometimes just let it slide by? Why might good people have this fear to speak against wrongdoings? It’s not that they aren’t good people - it could be the case that they’re giving undue importance to their own sake and fear getting reprimanded or hurt. Remember what we said about truly good people. They do it for good’s sake, not for their own sake. So when a good person asks why good people have to suffer, we could respond, “Are good people truly fighting the evil around them, or are they only keeping goodness in their hearts?” If not, then how could we say that good people are blameless? Consider the following hadith in Sahih Muslim from Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him): “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” Trials are a given when living on this Earth. But not everything that undergoes a trial has the same outcome. Someone can be going to university and go through all its trials, and come out the other end in an awesome fashion, or a “not-so-awesome” fashion. Someone can come out of a trial more disheartened and start to lose hope and faith in Allah(swt). Their hearts could be made more blackened as a result of the grit and roughness of the test. They might even feel antagonized toward Allah(swt). Or someone can come out of a difficult trial invigorated, with their faith made even stronger. Their hearts could be cleansed, by them using that same grit and roughness to scrape off any of the dirt from their hearts, instead of allowing it to latch on. The same trial. Two different responses and outcomes.
Finding Direction in the Midst of Uncertainty By: Soundous Louardiane
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” This seems to be the go-to question that all adults love to ask children. As a child, I always had an answer: princess, ballerina, teacher, fashion designer… But now, when it arguably matters the most, my mind is blank. I have no idea what I want to pursue professionally, and I’m sure that most of us also feel the same way. We are lost, drifting in a sea of possibilities, and uncertain about our future. Nowadays, as young adults, we are presented with endless career options. A quick Google search brings up a list of over twelve thousand possible professions1. This is a blessing, of course, but it can also be a curse. Making decisions that determine the course of one’s life is already incredibly daunting, and the seemingly infinite number of vocational pathways only worsens that feeling. This can also give rise to the problem of choice overload, which is a “cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options”2. Not only does this add to the already difficult task of making the right choices for our future, but it also leaves us feeling more confused, hesitant, and stressed than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has exponentially increased the uncertainty we feel regarding the future. Most, if not all, professional fields have had to make great changes to how they operate, including, of course, the transition to an online work environment. However, some professions, due to their nature, could not undergo this online transition, making many jobs disappear and leaving many people unemployed. Moreover, these drastic changes to the professional world have introduced new factors for us to consider when making career decisions. This high level of uncertainty can be a source of great anxiety for many of us, as no one but Allah (SWT) knows what the future holds. However, the situation is not as hopeless as it seems. It is possible to find some sense of direction and serenity in the face of uncertainty, notably by developing an Islamic mentality. This would involve fully internalizing the concepts of Tawakkul (reliance on God) and al-Qadar (God’s plan). Tawakkul involves putting one’s full trust in Allah (SWT). As stated in the Holy Qur’an, “whoever relies upon Allah - then He is sufficient for him” (Q65:3). By building a relationship of deep trust with Allah (SWT), we will worry less about whatever occurs, especially that which is out of our control, and take uncertainty in stride. This goes hand in hand with the notion of al-Qadar, that God has a plan for everybody. Whatever is meant for us will undeniably reach us and whatever is meant to be, will be. Our sole responsibility is to work to the best of our ability and be sincere in our efforts; the rest will work out according to Allah’s (SWT) decree. This is a very comforting thought, especially knowing that Allah (SWT) is the Best of Planners and the Most Merciful. Of course, changing our mentality by internalizing these concepts and living by them is easier said than done, but it can be achieved. We must only be willing to put in the work, and InshaAllah, with Allah’s (SWT) help, it will soon become easier and easier. Circling back to the practical matter of career choices, there are many ways to narrow them down. We can begin by reflecting on different elements that are relevant to our professional lives. Notably, we should think about the things we love doing and see whether they can be part of our professions. Equally important, then, would be to think about what we dislike and would rather avoid. It would also be useful to reflect on the boundaries that Allah (SWT) has set, in terms of Islamically lawful and (potentially) unlawful professional pursuits. All this could help eliminate many professional pathways and simplify the decision-making process. We should also consider exploring career options that both cater to our strengths and put our abilities to good use. Doing thorough research on different professions and fields can give us a better idea of what they entail and require, allowing us to better assess whether they match our personalities and priorities. Other important aspects to consider would be the type of salaries we want and are willing to work for. Continuously trying new and different activities, as well as reflecting on all our past experiences, can give us a deeper and clearer understanding of ourselves, which in turn helps us make important decisions about the future. Moreover, discussing this topic with friends and family can provide us with different perspectives that can help us see things more clearly. From an Islamic perspective, a good way to figure out what is best for our future is to perform Salat al-Istikhara (the prayer for seeking guidance). Allah’s (SWT) help and guidance will no doubt facilitate the best course of action. It is important to continue performing this prayer even if no clear sign or direction seems to present itself, because Allah (SWT) always answers our duas, sometimes in ways that we do not expect. Overall, it can be challenging for us to navigate through life. We often feel adrift and confused, especially when it comes to making important decisions about our future. However, strengthening our trust in Allah (SWT) and cultivating our self-awareness can provide us with a sense of direction that will help us in various aspects throughout our lives.
As the chill of autumn sets in and makes itself comfortable for the long haul - the flora and fauna that inhabit the university campus alongside us have begun their shift to prepare for the cold season ahead. Leaves begin their metamorphosis, as the uniform green hue along St. George Street rapidly shifts into an array of fierce reds, muted yellows, and vibrant oranges; a final burst of color before they bow down to the winter, leaving behind only barren branches. The sights and sounds of autumn are praised for their beauty, time and time again, across countless prose and poetry. For students, however, this ethereal transfiguration of nature arrives at a time when the demands of the Dunya are at their peak. As the workload continues to rise, it takes all of our physical and mental strength just to make it through the day, with night only bringing the dread of the multitudinous tasks to follow the next morning. On one hand, it does feel quite inconvenient that this splendor arrives at a time when we are least able to appreciate it. However, we know that the world and our lives do not operate on coincidence. Perhaps then, autumn arrives as a reminder when students need it the most. When our tunnel vision is so intense as we struggle to attain temporary accolades, a grand physical spectacle is needed to cure our myopia. Witnessing the physical manifestation of the passage of time naturally brings one to think of their internal clock. The ephemeral nature of the leaves and foliage mirror our own temporary nature. Our bodies morph on a slower time scale than the autumnal transformation of these faunas but the clock ticks for us just as much as them. Next autumn, we may be buried in the ground alongside these leaves, and it is well worth thinking of what transformations we will undergo before the final hour.
I am an undergraduate student in Toronto and I will never forget the moment I got an email from the university declaring that classes are going to be delivered remotely starting next week. That same morning at 9 am, I was on campus attending a tutorial for one of my classes. I didn’t want to go because of the looming news about how quickly COVID19 was spreading the past few days, but I also thought that it can’t be a huge issue as the classroom is not always full, so I should be fine. Besides, tutorials are mandatory and I needed the mark.
I sat at the back, away from the other students, completed my quiz, and was picked up to go home. Later that day, I had a biology exam that I had spent the last week studying for. I was going home to do some more studying before returning to campus. Then, 2 hours before the exam was to start, right as I was leaving my house to go to campus, I see the email; “Exam has been postponed”. To say that I was upset is an understatement. I went on a furious rant with my friends about how hard I studied for this exam and how prepared I was - how was I going to remember the anatomy of a crocodilian heart or blood circulation of fetal mammalian hearts by the time they figure out the next appropriate exam date?
As I sulked in my room, Allah’s words popped into my head, “…But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.” (Quran 2:216)
My anger subsided and I reviewed my notes daily to keep things fresh. I grew accustomed to my new life in quarantine with my family and made witty remarks about how my introverted self can live her best life now that I can stay home all day long.
But two weeks later, I grew tired and bored of staying home. Netflix wasn’t as fun as it used to be and TikTok was just a mindless void I fell into whenever I was bored (which was quite often). I felt trapped and it was as if my country had grounded me for a month in my room. I felt like I had no freedom because I was being forced to stay home.
But suddenly, subhanallah, I focused my attention on how much freedom I did have. I realized how selfish I was being. I have access to warm, running water. I can eat or order whatever food I want. I have a roof over my head. I can trust my government and trust that I am safe in my own home. I have access to the internet so I can connect with my friends and family whenever I feel lonely. The reality is, I am so privileged and I never realized it until now.
The plight of the Kashmiris has been on my mind constantly. They live in fear of prosecution because of their religious beliefs. They have limited freedom of movement, of internet, of speech. It’s not just about the lack of entertainment, but of whole livelihoods being put on pause. According to NY Times, pharmacists couldn’t restock supplies and social media use was banned. Countries that are at war such as Syria fear for their lives, for their children, every single day. Going to school is as big of a risk as it can get and food insecurities are highest in war-torn parts of the country. But here I am on my comfy bed in Canada whining about the lack of freedom I have.
No one is perfect, we all fall into dark pits sometimes. We shouldn’t blame ourselves for having negative thoughts and for questioning ourselves once in a while. I personally take these moments and turn them into self-reflections, coming up with ways to better myself as a Muslim and citizen. We shouldn’t be scared to share our feelings with friends we trust because doing so allows us to dig deep within ourselves and uncover hidden thoughts that we keep even from ourselves. I learned to empathize with people who are in much worse situations than me and educated myself on their plight. I donated to causes which are fighting COVID19 and donated to rehabilitation efforts in war torn countries. It seems there always is light at the end of every tunnel.
I reflected on the ni’mah I do have from Allah and learned to stop taking what I have for granted. Now that we are in the midst of the Holy month of Ramadan, I urge us to give to those who have less and to take a few minutes out of our day to reflect on little blessings we enjoy every day – the ability to walk to the fridge and eat fresh fruit, the ability to learn from free courses online, the ability to say salaam to our family every day.
I completed an online course taught by Professor Steve Joordens of the University of Toronto and he remarked that during this time, we should be physical distancing, but becoming socially closer. In essence, this is part of our duty as Muslims, to check up on our neighbours, our friends, our family. And now more than ever, it is essential we practice social closeness. Quarantine, as bad as it seems, not only made me a better Muslim, but it made me an empathetic human being. This just goes to show that Allah truly is the best of planners. https://www.coursera.org/learn/manage-health-covid-19/home/welcome https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/14/technology/india-kashmir-internet.html https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/india-restores-internet-kashmir-7-months-blackout-200305053858356.html
Somewhere the hearts are sick Somewhere the sins are innumerable, Somewhere the tongues are tired of hypocrisy Somewhere men are reeking of immorality, But The ones who never prayed are praying now Busy seeking the forgiveness of their lord, Ones who rarely ever opened the Quran Busy seeking solace in the words of Allah,
The one’s that had turned disobedient to their parents are now mending the ties, The one’s that always had a list of complaints are now offering gratitude for all that they have been blessed with, The one’s that until yesterday were swearing today, they have the word of Allah on their tongues, The one’s that had never gone to the mosque are today offering tarawih, The one’s that had held grudges against their loved ones are embracing one another with love today, Gradually it is like everybody is forgiving themselves Ramadhan is making the amends on the soul that had gotten rustic under hypocrisy and the lust for the duniya Ramadhan is here to clean our hearts, rejuvenate our souls and remind us that in the end this world is temporary. Ramadhan isn’t the month for the perfect. It isn’t a month only for the strong. It is a gift of Allah for the broken. An opportunity for the grateful. A healing for the wounded. A mercy for the weak. A second chance for the fallen. A chance to get back up. And try again. I pray that you all have a blessed and healing Ramadhan. Ameen.