Forgive.

by Sarah Ahmed

The Prophet (s) once asked his companions, “Do you want to see a man of Paradise?” He then pointed at a man who was passing by as a man of Paradise. One of the companions who was talking to the Prophet (s) wanted to know how that man had earned Paradise, so he decided to spend time with him and figure this out. He noticed that this man didn’t pray tahajjud or do anything outside the usual worship, so he decided to ask him if he did anything special. The man replied, “The only thing that I can think of, other than what everybody else does, is that I make sure that I never sleep with any rancor in my heart towards another.” That is what got him into Paradise, the act of never going to sleep holding anything against someone.

Think of the last time someone hurt you in any way. It could be big or small. Perhaps you told your friend a secret and he ended up telling several other people. Maybe your parents made an important promise and didn’t follow through with it. Or a classmate is spreading awful rumors about you. Whatever it is, what did you do after? Sometimes when we’re hurt, it’s easier to let go and at other times, it seems impossible to do so.

Now think about the times you’ve held onto the hurt, the times you didn’t forgive, the times you held something against someone. How did that feel? That feeling is often a negative energy, something that’s very burdensome and exhausting. Is that really something you feel like hanging onto? Martin Luther King, Jr. said “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” According to the Mayo Clinic, getting rid of that burden by forgiving allows you to be emotionally and physically healthier. You’ll have less anxiety, a stronger immune system, a healthier heart, lower blood pressure, and overall healthier relationships.

So how do you forgive someone?  In the video below, Shaykh Saad Tasleem mentions three ways:

  1. We all need the mercy and forgiveness of Allah if we want to enter Paradise. One of the ways we attain that is forgiving others.
  2. What if this person died tomorrow?
  3. Can you guarantee that one day you will not be in that position? What if we need the forgiveness of someone else?

What are some other ways you’ve forgiven others before? Let us know in the comments!

The Tongue: A double-edged sword

by Faraz Baig

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…

Or at least that’s what they say.  Even though it’s a cute little rhyme, I gotta say:  this statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

Words are probably one of the most powerful tools known to mankind.  Words can literally transform lives.  They can rally an entire nation.  They can drive ever-lasting changes in very short periods of time.

Words also happen to be the ultimate double-edged sword.  On the one hand, they can heal more effectively than the strongest medicines known to man.  And on the other hand, they can cause more destruction than the most potent of weapons.

To illustrate how powerful words are, consider a hadith from the Prophet (SAW): A man utters a word pleasing to Allah without considering it of any significance, and Allah exalts his ranks (in Jannah) for it.  Another one speaks a word displeasing to Allah without considering it of any importance, and for this reason, he will sink down into Hell. (Bukhari)

It’s very scary to think that saying some words can cause one to face such severe punishment.  And what’s even scarier is that the tongue has a couple unique qualities that make it a recipe for disaster:

1. The tongue is a muscle that virtually never gets tired.  If you walk a lot, your legs get tired.  If you lift a lot of heavy things, your arms get tired.  But if you speak a lot…nothing happens.  Maybe your jaw or your throat will get a little tired, but the tongue itself can just go on and on and on.  Sometimes, it even feels like your tongue gains momentum as you get going!

2. Very few people can control their tongues.  Any time an opportunity presents itself to leave a snarky/sarcastic/inappropriate comment, we just have to take the bait for whatever reason.  And unfortunately, you can’t really physically restrain the tongue the way you can with the limbs.  It’s pretty much just your mind that has to do all the work with stopping the tongue.

The good news is that even though the tongue is a big challenge, the reward for controlling it is immense.  As a matter of fact, the Prophet (SAW) said: Whosoever gives me a guarantee to safeguard his tongue and his private parts, I shall guarantee him Paradise. (Bukhari)

Pretty sweet deal, right?  All your problems are solved, you’re given everything your heart desires, and you never have to worry about anything ever again…the only price is you have to protect those 2 things.

Still…it sounds great on paper, but it’s not that easy sometimes.  But it is definitely do-able.  The following are some of the most common ways the tongue can get us into trouble.  Being mindful of these is a great first step to safeguarding one’s tongue!

1. Backbiting/Slandering

This is any time where you speak about someone in a negative way behind their back.  If you’re saying true statements about the person, you’re backbiting.  If you’re saying false statements about the person, you’re slandering.  But either way, you’re losing because you’re wronging someone.

True story: one of the great scholars of the early Muslim generations was a man named Sufyan ath-Thawri.  Someone once told him that a group of people had been backbiting about him.  So Sufyan ath-Thawri, being a pretty well-known scholar and all, could have easily just bashed these guys in a speech and exposed them to the community.  But instead, he sent them a bowl of dates with a note attached to it reading, “It has come to my attention that you have assigned me some of your good deeds.  I couldn’t think of another way to thank you besides this bowl of dates, so please accept it.”

Could the scholar have been any more of a boss in that situation?  The truth is, when someone wrongs others, he risks having his good deeds given away to the people he wronged on the Day of Judgment.  So firstly, don’t wrong others, and secondly, don’t freak out if you see people wronging others and seemingly getting away with it.  Allah will certainly take care of things.

Last point on backbiting: the opposite of backbiting someone would be to cover up their faults.  And the Prophet (SAW) said: Allah will cover up on the Day of Resurrection the faults of the one who covers up the faults of the others in this world. (Muslim)  So the next time you have a chance to cover for someone, remember that you are also covering for yourself!

2. Lying

A 2002 study from the University of Massachusetts concluded that 60% of adults told at least 1 lie during a 10 minute conversation (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-06/uoma-urf061002.php).  Yikes!  The sad thing is that these conversations were recorded, and many of the participants weren’t even aware at just how often they bent the truth.

Here’s the thing with lying:  besides being prohibited in Islam, most of the time, it’s completely unnecessary anyways.  Very rarely do you have a life-threatening situation that requires you to lie (and if you did, you’re allowed to lie if it means the difference between life and death).  Many of our lies are just little exaggerations and fibs that are just used to spice up conversations.  Totally not worth it.  If you can avoid lying, rest assured that you’ve won a major victory.

3. Curse words and immodest/vulgar language

See the embedded YouTube video for a nice discussion on using foul language.

Video: Making the angels write down curse words

4. Idle talk/useless talk

It’s not haram to talk about sports, games, clothes, food, etc.  That said, one useful piece of advice I’ve heard is to watch it and not let the conversation go overboard.  A 10-minute discussion can easily become 3 hours.  Again, maybe it’s not haram to talk about some of these things, but that sure is a lot of time to flush down the toilet.

Also, many of these discussions wind up leading to areas that should be of no concern to people.  There are some things that it’s better to just not know about.  The Prophet (SAW) said: Part of a person’s being a good Muslim is leaving alone that which does not concern him (at-Tirmidhi).

5. Statements which constitute shirk or kufr

This might be the most destructive one on the list.  Even Muslims can fall into this trap, although sometimes it’s very subtle.  The good news is that this one can be avoided pretty effectively when you arm yourself with knowledge of the basic creed (i.e. ‘aqeedah) of Islam.

One final comment: please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that saying bad things via electronic messaging (such as texts, e-mails, social media chats, and YouTube comments) is ok.  Electronic messages are really the same thing as talking.  You are still communicating ideas and thoughts to others; you’re just using a different medium than sound waves.  At the end of the day, electronic messages accomplish the exact same thing as speech.  Actually, the electronic format can just amplify the impact of your words: since the messages can be saved and archived, they continue to spread to others without any effort from you.

At the end of the day, like all of our other gifts, the tongue can be a means for us to reach salvation, but it’s also something that needs to be monitored for our own sake.  We ask Allah to help us all do what is pleasing to Him.

And Allah is the source of strength, and Allah knows best.  We ask Allah to send His peace and blessings upon His final Prophet (SAW).

Valentine’s Day

by Amina Ashraf

Valentine’s Day is coming up this weekend! Isn’t that exciting? Or is it? As Muslims are we allowed to celebrate Valentine’s Day? What’s wrong with showing people that you love them? Let’s first look at the history of Valentine’s Day and where it actually comes from.

One legend says that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is said that he wrote her a letter, which he signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.

While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial — which probably occurred around 270 A.D — others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “christianize” celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival. In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Houses were ritually cleansed by sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and a type of wheat. Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.

The boys then sliced the goat’s hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goat hide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day around 498 A.D.

In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced valentines in America. According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.)

Approximately 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women. In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.

(http://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day)

Anas (Peace be upon him) reported that upon arriving in al-Madinah, the Prophet saws found its people celebrating two days whose significance was held over from the Jaahiliyyah. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: When I came upon you, you had two days that you continued to celebrate from the Jaahiliyyah; indeed Allah has substituted them for you with what is better: the day of Sacrifice and the day of Fitr (breaking the fast). (Abu Dawood)

Whether or not you celebrate, we should spend every day showing the people we love how much we care about them. Our parents, siblings, and friends deserve more than one day from us.

After finding out about the history of this holiday, what are your thoughts? Leave them in the comments below :).

Making Excuses

by Omar Jamil

According to Wikipedia, Fundamental Attribution Error is “people’s tendency to place an undue emphasis on internal characteristics to explain someone else’s behavior in a given situation, rather than considering external factors.” But what exactly does that mean? Let’s look at an example:

I am running late for a meeting in which I am giving a presentation. Why am I running late for the meeting? I am suffering from a bad cold, so it took me a while to get out of bed because I had a bad headache. After showering I had to let my hair dry before I went outside, I don’t want to make my cold worse! I am scrambling to get everything together, working through a haze of sickness. I check my phone at 9:07am and see that someone from the meeting has texted me, with no time to see what he said I grab my things and run out the door. Overall, my morning routine was pushed back 20 minutes. When I arrive I hope everyone will realize that I am sick and that my illness caused my tardiness. After all, its not like I can control whether I am sick or not! After the 20 minute delay, the meeting finally begins.

Let’s flip the script now.

I am sitting in a meeting at 9:02am, the meeting was supposed to start 2 minutes ago. The person who was supposed to present today is still not here. Ugh, they are so irresponsible, how could they be late to the meeting they are presenting in!? Another 5 minutes go by, 9:07am. You know, he’s pretty lazy, I bet this 9am meeting was a real push for him anyway, I doubt he is even awake. I shoot him a quick, slightly passive aggressive text, but no response. He’s probably ignoring my text, what a jerk. At 9:20am the presenter finally comes rumbling into the room, blowing his nose as he puts his things down, obviously sick. He has such terrible sleeping habits, I bet his immune system really suffers from him not taking care of himself. After the 20- minute delay, the meeting finally begins.

The short story helps us understand Fundamental Attribution Error. When we make a mistake, we tend to focus on the circumstances that resulted in the mistake. We realize that external factors contribute to many of our shortcomings and we also hope that others will recognize these. Ironically, while we hope others will give us the benefit of the doubt, we rarely give them the benefit of the doubt. When others make mistakes we usually attribute those errors to ingrained problems in the person’s behavior.

This Fundamental Attribution Error has a negative impact on our hearts in 2 ways:

  1. We constantly make excuses for our own shortcomings, refusing to acknowledge how internal problems contribute to them
  2. We point out the flaws of others (often wrongfully so), becoming complacent in our own development and developing other sins of the heart (hatred, jealousy, mistrust etc.)

The Prophet SAW said, “Overlook the slips of respected people” [Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad], meaning that we should give people the benefit of the doubt and overlook their flaws. Note, that the Prophet SAW said a respected person. This does not mean that you should give a stranger your wallet and give them the benefit of the doubt. It does mean that if you see a Muslim brother walking with a girl, you should assume they are talking about something important, or simply overlook what you saw and move on (if something becomes a pattern, sometimes you should advise them in the appropriate way, but this is a different discussion). To this point Hamdun al-Qassar, one of the great early Muslims, said, “If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for them. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves.” [Imam Bayhaqi, Shu`ab al-Iman, 7.522]. This does not mean that you should literally make a list of 70 excuses when you see someone make a mistake, but rather, that you should try your absolute best to assume the best of others.

Not only will this skill help you in your relationship with others, but as Hamdun al-Qassar indicates, people that constantly see the flaws of others are actually flawed themselves! The Prophet SAW said that, “A believer is a mirror of the believer.” [Abu Dawud] meaning that what we see in others is a reflection of what we have inside. So we should make excuses for people, overlook their faults, focus on the good in others and hope that as a result of that, we develop goodness in ourselves.

In his commencement speech to Stanford in 2012, Corey Booker tells a beautiful story which hits on many of these lessons, and emphasizes how we should not only have a positive outlook of the people around us, but of the world around us.

(Starting at 16:40 in the video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZ39FswOyFk

“Newark had so many strong neighborhoods but I sought out one that was in struggle and found it on Martin Luther King Boulevard. It looked spectacularly troublesome to me. My eyes saw abandoned homes being used for drugs. My eyes saw violence. My eyes saw graffiti. But the first person I met, the tenant leader in high-rise projects that I would eventually move into, Miss Jones, she said to me, “Tell me again what you see. Describe what you see around you.” And I described what I saw.

And she looked at me and she said, “Boy, if that’s all you see, you can never help me.” And I go, “What do you mean?” And she goes, “You need to understand something, that the world you see outside of you is a reflection of what you have inside of you. And, if you see only problems and darkness and despair, that’s all there’s ever gonna be. But, if you’re one of those stubborn people who every time you open your eyes, you see hope, opportunity, possibility, love – even the face of God – then you can help me make a change.” And I remember, after she said that, looking at her, scratching my head, and thinking to myself – OK, grasshopper, thus endeth the lesson.”