Showing posts with label hadith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hadith. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Seeking Solace (part 3)

I was faithful even when I said, “I suffered terribly;”
I said in my panic, “All people are unreliable!”
 (Psalms 116:10-11)
Although the second part of the Psalmist’s statement sounds negative, I can read a more positive meaning; one that is deeper and parallel to my own belief.  He is saying that no “good” would come out of any human if it were not for the grace and mercy of God, and it is this trust in God that brought back his faith in others eventually. Personally, I take comfort in the words “for God is with those who patiently persevere,” which are repeated several times in the Quran. This notion is echoed in many of the sayings of the Prophet [Peace and Blessings be upon him], including “acknowledge God in ease and He will acknowledge you in distress.”  [Imam an-Nawawi’s 40 Hadith, Chapter 1, No. 19]

What do you think about these words of the Psalmist? 

This reflection was written in response to Tziporah's original post in September 2011. You may also want to read Grace's response.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Dear Readers, please join our conversation by commenting on Yasmina's explanation of this verse of Quran, written in honor of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed [Peace and Blessings be upon him]. Tziporah & Grace will be responding in the coming weeks.

We sent thee [O Muhammad] not but as a Mercy to all creatures.” (al-Anbiya 21:107)

Not bound by time, not limited to a group, not restricted to humans; this short verse describes the prophet of Islam [Peace and Blessings be upon him] as a Mercy that is manifested in the Book he was given and in his example, which Muslims seek to emulate.  The occasion of his day of birth more than 1,400 years ago is an opportunity to contemplate the meanings of that mercy.  Misunderstood by many today, his teachings challenged the modes of conduct fourteen centuries ago; but the issues he condemned and the actions he praised are still relevant today. Among these issues are the treatment of women and stewardship of the environment. From the beginning, he stressed to the men of his time that “The best among you is the one who is best to his wife1 and reinforced the need for stewardship of the earth through the teachings of the Quran. When asked, “Messenger of God, will we have a reward on account of animals? He answered: “There is a reward on account of every living thing.”2 Most of all, his emphasis was on the importance of good character, clearly indicating that dealing with people in an honorable manner is a means for acquiring the Mercy of God: “God will not show mercy to a person who does not show mercy to other people.”3

1 Muslim: Hadith 3466
2 Bukhari: Hadith 378
3 Bukhari: Hadith 375

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The New Year

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him. (Psalms 37:7)

Having just celebrated New Year’s Day on the Gregorian calendar, I am mindful of the variety of New Year’s observances in different cultures and religious traditions. Most mark the New Year in a particularly momentous way, whether solemn or festive. Interestingly, this is not the case for Christians who follow the liturgical Church calendar of the West and observe the religious New Year on the first Sunday of Advent, four weeks prior to Christmas. Neither a fast day nor a feast day, the first Sunday of Advent introduces a new cycle of readings from Scripture, ensuring that the complete Old and New Testaments, the Psalms, and the Gospels, will be read in weekly worship over the course of three years. At Advent, church vestments mark the New Year with the color blue; one of four candles on an Advent wreath may be lit during the worship service, and hymns anticipating the coming of Christ, such as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” are sung. No fireworks on this day; not even great ceremony. The New Year comes quietly, as pondering hearts open to prepare Him room.

What special meanings and rituals are associated with the New Year in your faith tradition?

The New Hijri Year[1] also comes quietly with no celebrations or rituals associated with it. As a matter of fact, the concept of the Hijri calendar was introduced years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be upon Him]. However, the end of one year and the beginning of another one remind Muslims that they should treat every day as an opportunity for reviewing their words and actions. It is also an occasion to remember that time is a gift one should treat with wise care, as illustrated by the Hadith: “Take advantage of five matters before the passing of five others; your youth before become old; your health before you become sick; your wealth before you become poor; your free time before you get preoccupied, and your life before your death.”[2] This is an appeal to us to take action and give thanks as long as we still can. For this reason, turning the page on another calendar year is seen not as a cause for celebration, but more as a chance for contemplation followed by righteous action.

Both the verse in Psalms and the Hadith evoke the solemnity of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Like the Hijri calendar, the Jewish calendar we now follow is a later calculation of the early rabbis (1st century BCE-1st century CE), who also instituted many of the rituals of Rosh Hashanah—especially those involving reflection on one’s behavior and repentance of one’s sins during the previous year. Throughout the centuries, complex liturgical poems were added to the public prayers. Many of these poems describe the martyrs of previous generations, while others remind us that our lives hang in the balance as God judges our deeds. One example contains the haunting refrain, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed;” this refers to the fate of all those who will die in the coming year.  The month leading up to Rosh Hashanah through the ten days following it are known as the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, which end with a full day of fasting and repentance on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  At this time of the New Year, we wait in stillness for God’s decree.

[1] The first year of the Hijri calendar is the year the Prophet [Peace and Blessings be upon Him] and his followers migrated from Mecca to Medina. It corresponds to 622 CE in the Gregorian calendar.

[2] Narrated by Ibn Abbas in Musnad Imam Ahmad

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Increase the Light

“When a person lights one candle from another, neither flame is diminished.” 
(Bemidbar Rabbah 13)
My favorite night of Hanukkah is the last night, when each of us lights our favorite menorah. That’s 45 candles: 8, plus 1 server to light the others, times 5 family members, burning for at least 30 minutes.  My spouse usually remarks that our dining room resembles the nave of a cathedral, which conjures memories of my childhood visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.  In the text that I quoted, the early rabbis use the physical properties of a candle’s flame to focus on light as a metaphor for wisdom. This is one message of Hanukkah, the celebration of which involves adding candles each night to increase the light.  Many religions prescribe candle lighting and singing to dispel the darkness of the winter solstice. When we light a flame in our own homes and houses of worship, and we keep one another in our prayers, I have no doubt that we will increase the light in the world and the warmth in our hearts.  

Tziporah, your delightful family tradition on the last night of Hanukkah makes me smile as I imagine all that flame! It also brings to mind these words from a familiar song: “If everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world this would be!” That same song makes the connection you make between the light of a candle and a prayer that brings light into dark places. How much we need to heed that call to prayer in our world today: Darkness and evil can never be eliminated, I think, but I also believe with people of every faith tradition that darkness cannot prevail where the light of God shines. A favorite verse of mine from Christian scripture affirms, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (The Gospel of John 1:5) In another account, Jesus speaks words that I see as applying to people of good will everywhere: “You are the light of the world.” (The Gospel of Matthew 5:14, emphasis mine) What an awesome calling to be light for one another!

Although the Islamic tradition does not call for physical lighting of candles, the notion of sharing and increasing the light brings to my mind many positive associations. I recall immediately the beginning of a Hadith that I have memorized. It is a Hadith about charity; the type of charity that is not limited to financial giving, but encompasses any form of voluntarily sharing one’s knowledge, time, advice and emotional support: “Charity does not in any way decrease the wealth.”* Many verses of the Quran and other Hadiths emphasize the superiority of light over darkness and the many forms in which each is manifested. Light is wisdom and blessings, and all that is of benefit to us. Light is also equated with prayer, guidance, knowledge, piety and righteousness; these noble qualities will all take the form of physical light on the Day of Judgment. There is one last, unique depiction of light that is visible to the angels and attracts them to visit its source: it is the light that emanates from houses where the remembrance of God is fundamental.

* Charity does not in any way decrease the wealth; and the servant who forgives, God adds to his respect; and the one who shows humility, God elevates him in the estimation of the people.” (Sahih Muslim, Book 32, Hadith 6264)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

God, Not Greed

"To God the dearest places are the mosques, and the most unpleasant places are markets." (Reporter: Hadthrat Abu Hurairah in Sahih Muslim, Riyadus lSaeheen, #1841)

There are plenty of references in the Qur’an and the Hadith which teach Muslims how to conduct business in an honest, respectable way. Even a cursory examination of Islam shows that it is not anti-business, and Muslims throughout history have been prosperous businessmen and women. But this hadith does make an important point about what our priorities should be. The markets aren’t just described in this hadith as unpleasant—they are actually contrasted with the ‘dearest places’ to God, our houses of worship. That’s because there is nothing that works against our spirituality like the pursuit of worldly wealth. For most of us, our work tends to take up more time than our worship, our family time, and our creative pursuits combined. This hadith is a call for us to re-examine that inequality of spirituality in our lives and to keep the pursuit of earthly success in perspective.

Keeping our focus on worship rather than on the pursuit of wealth is also a central tenet of Christianity. All four of the Gospels include the story of Jesus clearing the Temple of money changers, who were selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging foreign coins at exorbitant rates. In addition to taking advantage of poor pilgrims who had no choice but to accept their terms, the money changers turned the Temple into a marketplace rather than a place where people could meet and worship God. It is this perversion of sacred space – and subversion of sacred intent – that so incensed Jesus. This hadith and the Gospels seem to suggest that we cannot simultaneously be concerned with worldly commerce and religious reflection. As Amanda states, business isn’t bad. But our primary focus in a holy place must be the glory of God. How does our perspective change if we consider our lives a sacred space like the Temple, best suited for worshiping God instead of pursuing monetary gain?

Judaism is also rich in teachings and practices that guide us to conduct business in honest, respectable ways. Ideally, everything we do—including our monetary, worldly pursuits—is done with perfect kavanah (intention) and a spirit of holiness. But Judaism recognizes, too, that we humans are limited creatures, and it is all too easy for us to forget and go astray. Accordingly, many Jewish teachings and practices make a clear distinction between the holy and the ordinary—none more important, perhaps, than the practice of keeping Shabbat. On the ordinary days of the week—Sunday through Friday—we work and engage in worldly commerce; but on the Sabbath, we do not. On Shabbat, we are prohibited even from carrying money, in case having it handy would tempt us to spend it. The observance of Shabbat helps us more easily connect with God and the wonders of creation. This dedicated, holy time is designed to help us keep the pursuit of earthly success in perspective, even during the other, ordinary days of the week.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


On the authority of Abu Hurayra, who said that the Messenger of God, [Peace and Blessings be upon Him] said: God [Glorified and Exalted be He] said: “I am so self-sufficient that I am in no need of having an associate. Thus he who does an action for someone else’s sake as well as Mine, will have that action renounced by Me to him whom he associated with Me.”
(Muslim, from: Forty Hadith Qudsi)
This Hadith reminds me that the foundation for actions in Islam lies in pure and sincere intentions to please God. It applies to everything a Muslim says, does, hides or reveals.  When actions are performed for the sake of pleasing God they become acts of worship.  Daily chores such as cooking and cleaning, which are sometimes perceived as burdens, are now turned into honorable acts, because they are done with a higher goal in mind. Of course, performing an action without reaching the highest level of sincerity is still considered beneficial and good.  On the other hand, when Muslims give charity and volunteer their time for the sake of impressing others with their generosity and gaining higher status, these actions—which appear on the surface to be honorable—may not be accepted by God. This Hadith illustrates the praiseworthiness of renouncing worldly reward and gratification while maintaining pure intentions and acting with the utmost sincerity.

Yasmina, I know I will want to continue this conversation beyond the scope of our online post! I believe our faiths reach a similar conclusion through different ways of seeing. Christian faith teaches that Almighty God does not need an associate, but that through God’s great love for all humanity, God has chosen not to set himself apart but to come among us, to claim each of us as beloved children, and to show us The Way.  Thus, we are taught to glorify God by remaining in intimate association with God; we seek to recognize, affirm, and humbly serve “God incarnate” in all persons.  Like the Hadith you cite, Christian scriptures emphasize the need to do and give generously, not for the world’s approval, but with sincere intent to serve God, in humble gratitude to God for the gift of God’s very self to us.

I am intrigued by your choice of this Hadith, Yasmina, and struck by the way this teaching balances philosophy and practice.  Jews similarly believe that God is completely self-sufficient and needs no associate. Many regard this to be the founding principle of Judaism, and refer to the essence of the Jewish religion as “ethical monotheism.”  However, since the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., the rabbis emphasized action over faith and established the mitzvot (commandments) as the primary vehicle for religious observance.  Recognizing that only behavior or actions can be legislated, they refined the system of Halakhah (Jewish law) to make the practice of Judaism accessible, and seldom focused on belief as the reason underlying one’s actions. The rabbis went so far as to suggest that it was better to do a mitzvah for the “wrong” reason than to forgo its observance, because they believed that through the performance of the deed itself the proper intention or belief would eventually follow.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

God is Love

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God...for God is love.” 
(I John 4:7-8)

A familiar children’s song in Christian Sunday School repeats “God is Love; God is Love,” echoing a verse from the first of three Johannine letters in the Christian Bible. In this text, an elder addresses both youth and adults of the community with the affectionate greeting “my little children.” Yet the writer uses a Greek word for love that goes far beyond affection: not eros (sensate love), nor even filios (love of friend or kin), but agape, sacrificial love grounded in action rather than feeling. Agape extends compassion, forgiveness, and mercy even towards an enemy. It is the divine love that Christians see manifest in Jesus, and that, in my mind, enables human beings to see God in one another.

In Islam, loving God is incomplete if it is not coupled with doing what pleases Him. All the prophets displayed examples of how to put this love into action. The prophet Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be upon him], whose life was recorded in extensive detail, once said: “The most beloved of you to God are the ones who are best to His creatures.” Honorable qualities such as compassion, forgiveness, generosity, caring and mercy are to be applied towards all God’s creatures as clear signs of our love for Him. Individuals who possess these qualities can lead others to remember, praise and glorify God. The prophet Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be upon him], offered the following supplication,[1] which was attributed to David [Peace and Blessings be upon Him]: “O Lord, grant me the love of Thee; grant me the love of those that love Thee; grant that I may do the deed that wins Thy love; make Thy love dearer to me than self, family and cold water.”

Reading Grace’s words and Yasmina’s response, I am immediately struck by the extent to which all three of us feel connected to God’s love.  It is this shared belief that serves as a foundation for our friendship, as well as for our faith.  Jews teach that God’s love for all of creation is at the core of God’s compassion for all creatures.  This love is best expressed in the Jewish liturgy in a prayer known as “Ashrei,” which is often led by school children and is also attributed to King David: “God is good to all; God’s compassion extends over all creatures.”[2] When I hear the psalmist’s words sung aloud, I am filled with a yearning to embody such pure generosity of spirit.  I am inspired to imitate God’s love—to find a way to be good by behaving toward others with compassion and kindness.

[1] From the Hadith, in the book Sunan at-Tirmidhi.
[2] Psalms 145:9