Community Reflection: A letter about Ashura and Imam Hussein

Few religions are without their denominations, and Islam is no exception to this phenomenon. Followers of the Sunni and Shia Islamic traditions, despite seeing eye to eye on the majority of points regarding the faith, respectfully disagree on certain matters. One such matter is the significance of Ashura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram. Whereas many Sunni Muslims see in Ashura an opportunity to remember God’s favor to Moses and the Israelites, many Shia Muslims find the day to be a reminder of the grievances inflicted on Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. In the following letter, Eman Dabaja, MSA’s Vice President of Public Affairs, shares educational resources concerning Ashura and the legacy of Hussein.

Salaam All,

I wanted to send my condolences to you all for the death of the grandson of Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him and his family), Imam Hussein (AS), and his beloved family and companions. During these first ten nights of Muharram and especially on the 10th night, Ashura, many in the Muslim Umma commemorate the massacre and tragedy on the land of Karbala. This is a time of mourning for many Muslims worldwide, as it marks the days in which the Imam’s family and companions were left thirsty on the desert land of Karbala and were subsequently massacred and tortured. Imam Hussein (AS) is regarded by Shia Muslims as the third Imam, or divinely appointed successor after the Prophet (PBUH), and the massacre of Karbala occurred after Imam Hussein refused to pledge his allegiance to the corrupt ruler Yazid Ibn Muawiyah.

Imam Hussein (AS) explains the mission of his sacrifice in his own words: “I have taken this stand not out of arrogance or pride, neither out of mischief or injustice. I have risen to seek reform in the community of my grandfather. I would like to bid good, forbid evil, and follow the tradition of my grandfather [Mohammed (PBUH)] and my father ‘Ali bin Abi Talib.”

This battle is far from an outdated event; it is universally known as one of the most inspirational revolutions of all time. Especially when bloodshed and genocide persist all over the world, most recently flaring in Gaza, it is important that we look to our Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and his Sunnah as held by his beloved family, Ahlul Bayt, and his companions.

The diversity of the Muslim community at UM is ever expanding and growing. I ask that we all take a moment to learn more about Ashura and the plight of Imam Hussein (AS) and his family. Around this time of year, much of our conversations revolve around the fast some take part in, but I wanted us all to be aware of the larger scope of significance of this day. I urge you all to look into the fast personally and practice as you see fit. I realize this is a point of contention among the schools of thought, but it is one that should not overshadow the significance and importance of Ashura: fighting against injustice and oppression even in the face of great personal costs. Though the Battle of Karbala took place more than 1300 years ago in 680 AD, Imam Hussein’s (AS) plight remains poignant and transcends all Islamic traditions.

I urge you all to use the below resources to learn about Ashura in order to help raise our consciousness about this tragedy and period of mourning. Below are a few links with an overview of Ashura and its significance today. For a more comprehensive understanding, I invite you all to watch this multi-part documentary or attend a nightly service at a local mosque that I have posted information for below. Everyone is welcome to take part in this commemoration.

Literature about Ashura & Imam Hussein (AS):

http://www.ashura.com/

http://islam.about.com/od/otherdays/a/ashura.htm

“The Story of Hussain” documentary:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxCYJMwoQuQ (part 1/10)

Mosques offering Ashura services (include lectures and mourning services with livestreams of evening programs this week) – all over Michigan:

http://www.zainabia.org/v1/muharram.aspx – offers livestream

http://www.icofa.com/  – offers livestream

http://islamichouseofwisdom.com/

http://ashura.tv/live-video/theawaitedone-dearborn-usa/ – offers livestream

https://secure.imam-us.org/news/ashura-lectures-live-broadcast-0 – offers livestream

I hope that you all may find this information helpful. If you would like to open a discussion concerning Ashura, please contact me at this page.  I am always happy to help organize a space for all of us to discuss this on campus inshallah.

Once again, I wanted to send my condolences and Salaams to Imam Hussein (AS) and his beloved family (Peace and blessings be upon them). May Allah (SWT) keep the Muslim Umma united and allow us to continue to stand up against oppression similar to the way Imam Hussein (AS) did on the land of Karbala.

Salaam,

Eman Dabaja

MSA Vice President of Public Affairs 2012-2013

The Inner Dimensions of Fasting

From The Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship, by Imam Al-Ghazali (Translated by Muhtar Holland). The entire ebook is available here.

Chapter 3
Fasting
(Sawm)

Three Grades
It should be known that there are three grades of Fasting: ordinary, special and extra-special.

Ordinary Fasting means abstaining from food, drink and sexual satisfaction.

Special Fasting means keeping one’s ears, eyes, tongue, hands and feet — and all other organs — free from sin.

Extra-special Fasting means fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts, in total disregard of everything but God, Great and Glorious is He. This kind of Fast is broken by thinking of worldly matters, except for those conducive to religious ends, since these constitute provision for the Hereafter and are not of this lower world. Those versed in the spiritual life of the heart have even said that a sin is recorded against one who concerns himself all day with arrangements for breaking his Fast. Such anxiety stems from lack of trust in the bounty of God, Great and Glorious is He, and from lack of certain faith in His promised sustenance.

To this third degree belong the Prophets, the true awliya and the intimates of God. It does not lend itself to detailed examination in words, as its true nature is better revealed in action. It consists in utmost dedication to God, Great and Glorious is He, to the neglect of everything other than God, Exalted is He. It is bound up with the significance of His words: ‘Say: “Allah (sent it down)”: then leave them to play in their vain discussions.’ [al-An’am,6:91]

Inward Requirements

As for Special Fasting, this is the kind practiced by the righteous. It means keeping all one’s organs free from sin and six things are required for its accomplishment:

1. SEE NOT WHAT DISPLEASES GOD
A chaste regard, restrained from viewing anything that is blameworthy or reprehensible, or that distracts the heart and diverts it from the remembrance of God, Great and Glorious is He. Said the Prophet, on him be peace: ‘The furtive glance is one of the poisoned arrows of Satan, on him be God’s curse. Whoever forsakes it for fear of God will receive from Him, Great and Glorious is He, a faith the sweetness of which he will find within his heart.’

Jabir relates from Anas that God’s Messenger, on him be peace, said: ‘Five things break a man’s Fast: lying, backbiting, gossiping, perjury and a lustful gaze.’

2. SPEAK NOT…
Guarding one’s tongue from idle chatter, lying, gossiping, obscenity, rudeness, arguing and controversy; making it observe silence and occupying it with remembrance of God, Great and Glorious is He, and with recitation of Quran. This is the fasting of the tongue. Said Sufyan: ‘Backbiting annuls the Fast.’ Layth quotes Mujahid as saying: ‘Two habits annul Fasting: backbiting and telling lies.’

The Prophet, on him be peace, said: ‘Fasting is a shield; so when one of you is Fasting he should not use foul or foolish talk. If someone attacks him or insults him, let him say: “I am Fasting, I am Fasting!”‘

According to Tradition: ‘Two women were Fasting during the time of God’s Messenger, on him be peace. They were so fatigued towards the end of the day, from hunger and thirst, that they were on the verge of collapsing. They therefore sent a message to God’s Messenger, on him be peace, requesting permission to break their Fast. In response, the Prophet, on him be peace, sent them a bowl and said: “Tell them to vomit into it what they have eaten.” One of them vomited and half filled the bowl with fresh blood and tender meat, while the other brought up the same so that they filled it between them. The onlookers were astonished. Then the Prophet, on him be peace, said: “These two women have been Fasting from what God made lawful to them, and have broken their Fast on what God, Exalted is He, made unlawful to them. They sat together and indulged in backbiting, and here is the flesh of the people they maligned!”‘

3. HEAR NOT…
Closing one’s ears to everything reprehensible; for everything unlawful to utter is likewise unlawful to listen to. That is why God, Great and Glorious is He, equated the eavesdropper with the profiteer, in His words, Exalted is He: Listeners to falsehood, consumers of illicit gain.’ [al-Ma’idah, 5:42] God, Great and Glorious is He, also said: ‘Why do their rabbis and priests not forbid them to utter sin and consume unlawful profit?’ [al- Ma’idah, 5:63]

Silence in the face of backbiting is therefore unlawful. God, Exalted is He, said: ‘You are then just like them.’ [al-Nisa, 4:140] That is why the Prophet, on him be peace, said: ‘The backbiter and his listener are copartners in sin.’

4. DO NOT…
Keeping all other limbs and organs away from sin: the hands and feet from reprehensible deeds, and the stomach from questionable food at the time for breaking Fast. It is meaningless to Fast — to abstain from lawful food – only to break one’s Fast on what is unlawful. A man who Fast like this may be compared to one who builds a castle but demolishes a city. Lawful food injurious in quantity not in quality, so Fasting is to reduce the former. A person might well give up excessive use of medicine, from fear of ill effects, but he would be a fool to switch to taking poison. The unlawful is a poison deadly to religion, while the lawful is a medicine, beneficial in small doses but harmful in excess. The object of Fasting is to induce moderation. Said the Prophet, on him be peace: ‘How many of those who Fast get nothing from it but hunger and thirst!’ This has been taken to mean those who break their Fast on unlawful food. Some say it refers to those who abstain from lawful food, but break their Fast on human flesh through backbiting, which is unlawful. Others consider it an allusion to those who do not guard their organs from sin.

5. AVOID OVEREATING
Not to over-indulge in lawful food at the time of breaking Fast, to the point of stuffing one’s belly. There is no receptacle more odious to God, Great and Glorious is He, than a belly stuffed full with lawful food. Of what use is the Fast as a means of conquering God’s enemy and abating appetite, if at the time of breaking it one not only makes up for all one has missed during the daytime, but perhaps also indulges in a variety of extra foods? It has even become the custom to stock up for Ramadan with all kinds of foodstuffs, so that more is consumed during that time than in the course of several other months put together. It is well known that the object of Fasting is to

experience hunger and to check desire, in order to reinforce the soul in piety. If the stomach is starved from early morning till evening, so that its appetite is aroused and its craving intensified, and it is then offered delicacies and allowed to eat its fill, its taste for pleasure is increased and its force exaggerated; passions are activated which would have lain dormant under normal conditions.

The spirit and secret nature of Fasting is to weaken the forces which are Satan’s means of leading us back to evil. It is therefore essential to cut down one’s intake to what one would consume on a normal night, when not Fasting. No benefit is derived from the Fast if one consumes as much as one would usually take during the day and night combined. Moreover, one of the properties consists in taking little sleep during the daytime, so that one feels the hunger and thirst and becomes conscious of the weakening of one’s powers, with the consequent purification of the heart.

One should let a certain degree of weakness carry over into the night, making it easier to perform the night Prayers (tahajjud) and to recite the praises (awrad). It may then be that Satan will not hover around one’s heart, and that one will behold the Kingdom of Heaven. The Night of Destiny represents the night on which something of this Kingdom is revealed. This is what is meant by the words of God, Exalted is He:

‘We surely revealed it on the Night of Power.’ [al-Qadr, 97:1]

Anyone who puts a bag of food between his heart and his breast becomes blind to this revelation. Nor is keeping the stomach empty sufficient to remove the veil, unless one also empties the mind of everything but God, Great and Glorious is He. That is the entire matter, and the starting point of it all is cutting down on food.

6. LOOK TO GOD WITH FEAR AND HOPE
After the Fast has been broken, the heart should swing like a pendulum between fear and hope. For one does not know if one’s Fast will be accepted, so that one will find favor with God, or whether it will be rejected, leaving one among those He abhors. This is how one should be at the end of any act of worship one performs.

It is related of al-Hasan ibn Abil Hasan al-Basri that he once passed by a group of people who were laughing merrily. He said: ‘God, Great and Glorious is He, has made the month of Ramadan a racecourse, on which His creatures compete in His worship. Some have come in first and won, while others have lagged behind and lost. It is absolutely amazing to find anybody laughing and playing about on the day when success attends the victors, and failure the wasters. By God, if the veil were lifted off, the doer of good would surely be preoccupied with his good works and the evildoer with his evil deeds.’ In too full of joy to indulge in idle sport, while for one who has suffered rejection laughter will be precluded by remorse.

Of al-Ahnaf ibn Qays it is reported that he was once told: ‘You are an aged elder; Fasting would enfeeble you.’ But he replied: ‘By this I am making ready for a long journey, Obedience to God, Glorified is He, is easier to endure than His punishment.’

Such are the inwardly significant meanings of Fasting.

Ramadan Mubarak, Campus Iftars & More!

As-Salamu Alaykum,

Baihaqi reported on the authority of Salman Al-Farsi that the Prophet (PBUH) delivered a sermon on the last day of the month of Sha’ban. In it he said,

“O People! The month of Allah (Ramadan) has come with its mercies, blessings and forgiveness. Allah has decreed this month the best of all months. The days of this month are the best among the days and the nights are the best among the nights and the hours during Ramadan are the best among the hours. This is a month in which you have been invited by Allah (to fast and pray). Allah has honored you in it. In every breath you take is a reward of Allah, your sleep is worship, your good deeds are accepted and your invocations are answered.”

Beloved Michigan Muslims, Ramadan Mubarak!

We pray that this special month brings you continuous blessings and benefits. We pray that God makes this special month smooth for you and accepts all your worship. We pray that it is a productive, joyous and tranquil month for you and your families. We pray that this Ramadan is your best one yet, and that you are able to experience and nourish yourself through many more Ramadans to come insha’Allah. Jazakum Allah Kheir for being an integral part of this community that, for many, provides a sense of family.

Speaking of family, they say that the family that prays together, stays together- and eats together! The MSA will be hosting a campus iftar every week during Ramadan, insha’Allah. Please save these dates and be on the lookout for emails with location details. We would love to see you and break our fasts with you!

Thursday, July 26 (East Hall – co-sponsored with the Michigan Muslim Alumni Foundation- a reunion!)
Thursday, August 2 (East Hall)
Thursday, August 9 (Rackham)
Wednesday, August 15 (Rackham)

On these nights, will also hold taraweeh prayers on campus. For all other days of the month, we are organizing carpools to the local Muslim Center of Ann Arbor (MCA). If you need a ride or can offer others a ride (even if just once a week), please e-mail Omar Hadied (mhadied@umich.edu) or Nour Soubani (nsouba@umich.edu).

To use public transportation, TheRide #2 city bus can get you to the MCA in about 15 minutes. Riding the bus is free with your M-Card!

MCA website: http://mca-aa.org/
Bus #2 route schedule: http://aata.org/rideguide.asp?route=2
From downtown (to MCA): http://aata.org/rideguide/2out.pdf
To downtown (back to campus): http://aata.org/rideguide/2in.pdf

Also, stay tuned for blog posts from MSA’s soon-to-launch Green Muslims project for tips on how you can make this month a Green Ramadan!

Peace and blessings,
Your MSA Board