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Posts Tagged ‘Quran’

QUR’AN IN RAMADAAN: The enjoining Light

In God, Quran, science, universe on August 5, 2011 at 4:48 am

2nd Ramadaan, 1432:

Ramadaan Mubarak to all the readers of this blog and to all Muslims in general.

Two years ago I began the Quran in Ramadaan series on my blog and wished to continue it beyond Ramadaan as The Qur’an Cycle. However things don’t always go as intended. Beginning from last year, I have taken a long gap in my blogging, the reason of which I will explain InshaAllah on my post re 14th August. May Allah accept my intentions this year to continue my blogging especially my Qur’an Cycle series, Amen.

 As I began the yearly Quran recitation cycle most of us complete in Ramadaan, I was struck by this ayah as related to a recent advance in my knowledge that had hit me as worth sharing with my readers:

صِبْغَةَ اللَّـهِ ۖ وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ مِنَ اللَّـهِ صِبْغَةً  

THE Color of Allah… And who can be better than Allah in color… (in Al-Baqarah, 138)

I have used the literal dictionary meaning of the Arabic word sibghah over here, as translators generally place the word in a context and replace it’s literal English equivalent with some meaningful concept helpful in tafseer. I have also provided a link to the Beautiful Online Quran at tanzeel.info so that readers can go through the different meaningful renderings of the word themselves.

Color, Light and the Creator of the Universe

We all know that ‘color’ is nothing but a byproduct of how light interacts with objects. Sunlight has all the primary colors in it (different wavelenghts corresponding to different hues). When light falls upon an object, the object absorbs some wavelenghts and reflects back the rest. This ‘reflected’ combination of wavelengths, upon reaching our eyes, literally colors the object with its particular shade. When an object absorbs all the wavelengths, we see it as black. Objects look white when all of light is reflected back, none is abosrbed.  That is why black objects are warmest while white objects are coolest, since we know light is a form of energy and energy prodcues heat.

We also know, that while Allah Ta’ala is incomparable and indescribable, the closest real-world entity with which He associates Himself is Light.  In one of the most beautiful ayahs in the whole Qur’an Allah Ta’ala says:

اللَّـهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ ۖ الْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ ۖ الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ يُوقَدُ مِن شَجَرَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ زَيْتُونَةٍ لَّا شَرْقِيَّةٍ وَلَا غَرْبِيَّةٍ يَكَادُ زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ نَارٌ ۚ نُّورٌ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ

 ALLAH is the Light of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His Light is as a niche wherein is a lamp __the lamp in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star __kindled from a Blessed Tree, an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West whose oil wellnigh would shine, even if no fire touched it; Light upon Light; (in An-Nur, ayah 35)

This ayah is rare in the Qur’an not only because of its sonic and literary beauty or because it uses such a sparkling series of metaphors; but also because this is the only ayah in Qur’an where Allah describes His nature other than by referring to His actions and powers.

He proclaims He is Light, and that same light which the whole universe depends on. It’s as if the whole universe springs from Allah, that His Being spans and pervades the whole universe, and indeed these are the belief-points about Allah that are familiar Muslim household lessons.

Light and the Creatures of the Creator

Those familiar with the Qur’an know that light is also mentioned in connection with the creatures of the universe, in particular us humans.

Surah Hadeed, in particular, describes how Light is one of the Blessings of God that will help the good Muslims on the Day of Judgment:

يَوْمَ تَرَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَسْعَىٰ نُورُهُم بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِم

ON that day you will see the faithful men and the faithful women– their light running before them and on their right hand– (in ayah 12) 

وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِاللَّـهِ وَرُسُلِهِ أُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الصِّدِّيقُونَ ۖ وَالشُّهَدَاءُ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ لَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ وَنُورُهُمْ

THOSE who believe in Allah and His Messengers are the sincere and the martyrs before their Lord, they shall have their reward and their light. (in ayah 19) 

In Surah Tahreem we are taught how to ask for this blessing of light:

رَبَّنَا أَتْمِمْ لَنَا نُورَنَا وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا ۖ إِنَّكَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

‘OUR Lord, complete our light for us and forgive us. Surely, You have power over all things.’ (in ayah 8 )

 At other places in the Qur’an the good people are described as having shining faces on the day of Judgment, whereas the bad ones are described as having black faces. For instance, in Al-i-Imran:

يَوْمَ تَبْيَضُّ وُجُوهٌ وَتَسْوَدُّ وُجُوهٌ ۚ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ اسْوَدَّتْ وُجُوهُهُمْ أَكَفَرْتُم بَعْدَ إِيمَانِكُمْ فَذُوقُوا الْعَذَابَ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَكْفُرُونَ

THE Day when faces will be whitened and faces blackened. To those whose faces have become blackened it will be said: ‘Did you disbelieve after you had believed? Then taste the punishment for that you disbelieved’. (Ayah 106)
And then:
 
AS for those whose faces will be whitened, they shall be in the Mercy of Allah for ever. (Ayah 107)
 
Light and the Human Body
 
It seems Light does have a connection with the human body, tied to the purity of one’s character. But the things of that world will be revealed in that world, not here. However, one wonders, does light have a connection with the human body even in this world?
 
 
 
My attempt to move towards possible answerws must begin with the counterpart of light — matter. Everything in this world, living or non-living is made up of atoms. An atoms itself is a dynamic arrangement of particles: neutrons, protons, and electrons. Nearly every process that takes place in this world is influenced by a constant interaction between light and atom, when looked at the atomic level. Making and breaking of things, heating up and cooling down, etc. Even processes of life (taking place in the body) are influenced. This is because all processes involve either  joining or unjoining of atoms (chemical bonds), or involve movement of electrons from one state to another and both these processes include light particles (photons) as a must.
 
Photons are either released or absorbed when electrons move between states and depending upon the direction of movement a chemical bond may be formed or broken. This is what effects both color (when the photons involved are at the level detectable by the eye) and heat. There are familiar examples in the living world already: All plants rely on photosynthesis, the absorption of light to create food energy. Many living things exhibit glowing in the dark (bioluminescence), a process that involves the release of light. In humans most electron-photon interactions take place at levels that do not translate into visible light, however visible light does effect well-known biological processes, such as:  as metabolism (making and breaking of food for energy and storage), circadian rhythms (roughly 24-hour cycles of various behaviors and bodily life processes), and even reproduction↓1.
 
So far so good; we are on familiar ground.
 
However, what inspired me to write this post was how a bunch of scientists are attempting to find bolder instances of how light interacts with our body, in particular with our DNA and our brain. The light involved in body processes may be termed as biophysical light, to distinguish it from more familiar light of the outside world.
 
Light and the DNA? … and the Brain?
 
That DNA interacts with light was a fact known before (though I had no idea) but which remains unexplained (reference, p. 27).  However, a group of Russian scientists (whose reference I have provided) have used this ability of DNA to influence it’s basic task: development of an organism. For instance, by manipulating this ability, scientists have achieved “superfast growth of potatoes” and a “statistically authentic ‘resuscitation’ of dead seeds [of a plant] taken from the Chernobyl area in 1987”.
 
More importantly, these experiments support the “contention that this newly detected phenomenon of quantized optical activity can be considered as the means by which the organism obtains unlimited optical information on its own metabolism.” Specifically, the patterns of polarization that interaction with light creates is a direct and holistic source of information for the DNA and for every gene located on it. These scientists, hence, propose that DNA and gene have a holographic memory through which they can read the genetic information as a text in context.
 
We all know that DNA is composed of a series of genes, each gene storing a particular bit of information about the organism. Each gene is made up of series of 3 nucleotides (called as codons). Actually, each gene stores the recipe for making of a particular body protien which in turn influences a particular life process. Now, proteins are essentially chains of amino acids. Well, each codon of a gene holds information about a particular amino acid. Each codon itself is a series of three neucleotides . All students of bio-chemistry know that transcripts of any given gene chain-of-codons is ‘run’ like a tape on ribosomes and turn by trun the amino acids coded by the codons are brought on-site and joined up one by one to create the protein chain. However, it seems that “that only the first two elements of the DNA codon triplet … are the significant ones”, giving rise to the question that “how does the reading ribosome know which protein has to be generated, if the third nucleotide in codon’s triplet does not of itself provide the answer with total certainty?” 
 
Based on the knowledge of DNA’s interaction with light (and related quantum phenomena), combined with their experimental and theoretical research, the quoted group of scientists conclude the above under-lined statement. Simply, that “this ambiguity might be resolved by some kind of context dependent reading similar to that inherent in human speech and language understanding.”  That is Genes and DNA have a ‘holistic’ awareness of the information contained by them, which in turn guides the selection of specific amino acids for specific proteins. This holistic awareness is likened to a holographic memory since it supposedly arises from the wave pattern that interactions with photons produce throughout the DNA in each cell of the body. For more curious readers wishing to clarify themselves what a ‘holographic memory’ is and why are DNA’s capabilities being likened to it, I point you to the crystal-clear post of an interesting fellow blogger Jim Cranford.
 
Another scientist Karl Pribram had similarly proposed that the cereberal cortex (the intelligent part of the brain) also has holographic memory. Read his quote below taken from a fellow blogger (see the source here):
 

“ …brain models need to take into account the type of processing performed
by optical systems. Such optical information processing is called
holography, and holograms display exactly the same sort of
imaging properties observed for brain…”

Source

To understand further we first need to reconsider how a hologram works. By splitting a light beam into two beams after it has passed through a crystal (and is thus amplified) and focusing the two beams on the subject from two different angles, the recording of unlimited bits of information about the subject is made. When light rays strike an object in front of us and the information reaches our brain, the effect is similar; plus the totality of information about the subject (e.g. sounds, taste etc. as the case may be, even feelings and thoughts) is stored in a holistic way. Not only that, as we have seen, actual interactions of electrons and photons are involved in the brain. So the recording of information holistically may be holographic in a way similar to that of the DNA. Our memories, our intelligence, our personalities, all work holistically, nobody needs to tell us that. We don’t think one little piece of thought at a time. A multitude of images, feelings, stimuli, opinions, habit patters impinge upon us at the same time any single moment of our life. Some metaphyhsical authors are even wondering if the ventricles (the liquid-filled chambers deep within the brain) really act as  crystals in an ongoing holographic process resulting in consciousness.

 
So much for science talk, but what are the points of awe and wonder that inspired me to write this post?
 
Light — the spiritual connection between this world and the next?
 
There are a lot of references in Qur’an and Hadith which inform us that this world has been designed as a stage. Qur’an uses words such as lahv (useless thing), la’b (plaything), and ghuroor (deception) to describe the world and its objects. One Hadith likens this world to a drop of sea-water. Contrast with the Ocean, likened to the eternal world, or let us say, the reality before, behind, and after this deceiving useless for-play dunya (world). Naturally, as one hadith informs us, God’s Eye doesn’t weigh this world even as much as a wing of a mosquito. This world was created as a test for the will of humans (and jinns), and will be destroyed after all the generations destined to be born have completed their alloted life-spans. Not just this world, the whole universe will be destroyed and then made in a new shape when the Day of Judgment arrives. Our bodies will have been lost long before that day; new ones will be made for us and our souls (recalled from the World of the Barzakh) will be reunited with them. All of this is salient in the open-to-all sources of Quran and Sahih Hadith.
 
Light is the one familiar thing from this world, however, which has been given special status. Looking deeply, each and every object of this world is made up of atoms. And all that happens at the physical level and chemical level (e.g. movement, breaking, joining or combining of things, etc) takes place at that level and often involves the interaction of atom’s particles with the particles of light, photons. Not only light interacts significantly with the human body, there are pointers in still developing fields of science that light circulates inside and guides the two basic structures of the human body which ‘run’ it in the most literal sense. 
 
God has said that:
 

 AND of every thing We have created pairs: That ye may receive instruction. (Al-Zariyat, ayah 49)

Is it that light forms a pair with matter (atom), the former being the fluid, immaterial yet more lasting (indeed, ever-lasting), intrusive, all-pervasive, partner of the pair; while the latter remains the more limited, temporary and destructible partner? Indeed, scientists have already procurred evidence that atom and photon can share the same information. Just as Atom is the essense of this world, may be light is the essence of the other one? It must be, if the very Al-mighty Lord likens Himself to it. May be that is why the properties of the two correspond perfectly with the two worlds they are associated with, this stage-like world and the Real Eternal world behind it all..

Indeed mind-boggling research on light-related quantum phenomena have already lead authors such as Michael Talbot to propose that this whole universe is nothing but a phantasm, a giant hologram!

Source

 

Notes

1. Scholarly reference here.

 

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LITERATURE|RELIGION: Hidden Meanings in the Universe

In Literature|Religion, nature, perception on July 24, 2011 at 4:48 am

God reflects His Self through the Universe.

To reach Him we must reflect upon the Universe.

Or we may use the writings of those who have reflected before we did.

Windows of Reflection in the Verses of a Poet:

Her shai pukarti he pas-e-parda-e-sukuut

lekin kise sunaun koi ham-nawa bhi ho

Fursat mein sun shaguftgi-e-ghuncha ki sada

ye wo sukhan nahi jo kisi ne keha bhi ho

__

Everything speaks behind these cloaks of silence.

Alas, there is no audience. Ears here are struck.

When free, listen to the sound of the roses’ glee.

This is not speech that has been uttered.

–Nasir Kazmi (Deewan, Ghazal no. 1, p.11)↓1

What is Nasir saying in the first line?

Every object around is a being in its own right with a place in the universe. At the highest and spiritual level of meaning, every object as a creation of God signifies some property of that Creator: beauty, completeness, power, or profoundness. Here, Nasir laments of the indifference of general society to this “World in a Grain of Sand” [from William Blake]. ↓2

The second of the two quoted verses serves as a specific and illustrative example of the general idea in the first. Its first line is very pleasing and fresh (read slowly in Urdu to appreciate). It creates a beautiful image in our mind that is not just a static visual (a pleasant half-open flower bud), but is additionally decked with sound! – a striking combination. One instantly indulges imagining how, say, a rose-bud must sound if we could hear it…

Of course, this is not a literal reference to a synesthetic experience, ↓3 as the word ‘shaguftagi’ helps us realize. Word ‘shaguftagi’ is masdar in Urdu grammar, equivalent to an abstract noun in English. The poet thus is attempting to call our attention to the delightful quality of the rose. It bespeaks some meaning that is part of the mystery of the universe. (The mysterious atmosphere of the Urdu verse reinforces this conclusion).

Moreover, the Persian word ‘sukhan‘ in the fourth line is used not just for ‘speaking’, but also for the best form speech can take: literature. Thus the glee of roses not only speaks, it does so at the highest possible level, aesthetically and meaningfully.

 

The Highest Level of Meaning…?

All communication is made up of small signals or alphabets which combine in a way to form something bigger and meaningful (a symbol).↓4 Symbols (such as words, equations, or lines of html) in turn combine to produce something even larger and fuller. Fuller because the meaning of the combined product goes beyond a mere sum of its parts (such as a rousing poem, a theorem that helps explain some mystery of the universe, or an interactive computer program that seems a far cry from the lines upon lines of dry code it springs from.).

Thus ‘meaning’ is the overall pattern created by hierarchical combinations of symbols and signals. As such meaning is also latent (hidden); it doesn’t reveal itself as long as you stay focused on the underlying symbols or signals. One can’t even see the whole painting on a wall, let alone interpret it, if one is standing too close looking at a portion of the whole. ↓5

The Essence of a Reflection:

In combination, the four lines lend to four major realizations, in deciphering of which, the last line is of paramount significance:

First: The ‘speech’ Nasir refers to is the ‘meaning’ contained in the layers of inscription this world is made up of: the sands, rains, leaves, seasons…. No creator of things ever makes anything without some meaning (or purpose).

وَما خَلَقنَا السَّماءَ وَالأَرضَ وَما بَينَهُما لٰعِبينَ
AND [know that] We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in mere idle play. [Al-Anbya, 16]

Nasir, in his beautifully conversational way invites us to try sense these messages in nature. her shei pukarti hei..econd: These messages are as real as our speech but seem far beyond the bubble of our existence, since we have never really looked beyond that bubble; or if we did, we just focused on the symbol, appreciating at most, say, the beauty of a flower.  fursat mein sun..

وَإِن مِن شَيءٍ إِلّا يُسَبِّحُ بِحَمدِهِ وَلٰكِن لا تَفقَهونَ تَسبيحَهُم

and there is not a thing but celebrates His praise; And yet you understand not how they declare His glory [Al-Asra (also Sura Bani Israil), 44]

Third: Moreover, these messages correspond with the finest possible form this mode of communication can take. The whole of Al-Qur’an proves that the form in which the timeless realities of the Universe are revealed must have been the epitome of all literature.↓6
We do not even need a reference ayah for this point. Attend closely to any good and authentic recitation of the Qur’an or learn it by translation.↓7  ye wo sukhan nahin..

Fourth: Nasir’s comparison of these hidden communications to human literature is solely for the purpose of explication. It is no comparison in fact. Since even though many magnificent examples of literature exist, no person has ever said anything approximating the timeless meaning of all the signs in God’s universe.  Qur’an’s own challenge (unanswered to date!) to humans to produce anything like a single surah (Al-baqarah ayah 23) of it is sufficient for reference. jo kisi ne keha bhi ho..

Meta-reflection:

Note that there is an incomplete loop in the flow from human perception to metaphysical inferences. I mean, even though we may begin to glimpse and apprehend to a very meagre extent the mysteries contained in these symbols, they will certainly remain beyond our full encompassment. None of us can ever claim that we have comprehended the universal significance of all objects truly and completely because of their latent quality.
Interestingly, The above conclusion is a highly logical deduction from Nasir’s own words: as soon as the meaning of the universe becomes totally comprehensible by humans, it will be translated into the human form of communication. It will mean that someone has spoken those meanings in words. But that is not possible. That has never happened in this world, and by implication will never happen in the future either.
وَلا يُحيطونَ بِشَيءٍ مِن عِلمِهِ إِلّا بِما شاءَ
and they cannot comprehend anything of His knowledge except what He pleases [Ayat-ul-Kursi, Al-Baqarah, 255]
Certainly, that is why Nasir refrains from hinting at any particular meaning he might be discerning through his mysterious teachers. Since the bounds between the human and the divine sounds are essentially unsurpassable, any subjectively derived meaning could be just that: subjective. The humility and the unbiasness of the highly real Nasir must prevent him from sharing his intuitions. Poetically, his reticence helps retain the mysterious and obscure quality of the world of meaning and of the corresponding ‘air’ of this verse.
 

 I am amazed what depths of phenomena may be explored in the span of a ghazal’s verse by an honest and artful poet.

Indeed…

God’s own Word can be the only link enclosing the gap between the limitations of human perception and the real meaning and significance of all the elements of the universe out there.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Notes:

1. Translated by the humble author of the blog.

2. Nasir had a particularly incisive eye for the sights of this world. In the second line of this verse, he laments of his difference in this respect with typical ‘others’ in society.

3. Ever heard of synesthesia? On first reading, ‘the glee of a rose-bud’ reminds of that welding of two or more senses when sights are experienced as sounds (or some such other combination of sensations). For a first hand description of a synesthestic experience, read my older post on ‘outrageous sensations‘.

4. The concept that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ is old (generally known as holism) and has been popularized in psychology by the gestalt school who explain it very well.

5. Read Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid for more on the nature of meaning. My absurd attempt to organize and summarize the concepts developed in the book reads here.

6. On the human level, being able to sense the glee of roses also corresponds with the highest possible form psychological experience can take. Abraham Maslow devoted his life to studying just such ‘peak experiences‘ which have an indescribably transcendental quality, when a person’s senses and emotions seem to go beyond the limits of daily life and to perceive something ‘pure’ and otherwordly.

7. For an interesting article on the literary aspects of Al-Quran, click here.

THE BIOGRAPH: Flashback (و نفخت فيه من روحي )

In God, poetry, The Biograph on April 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Wa Nafakhtu fihi min Roohi

وَنَفَختُ فيهِ مِن روحى

(And I breathed into him of My spirit; in Al-Hijr, 29)

They lured me

With their glimpses of promised beauty.

They entranced me

With a dose of flamboyant romance.

They enticed me

With fulfilling fruits believed in.

They trapped me

With warming visions that I blindly bought.

They shocked me

With sharpnels of suddenness.

They froze me

With cold-hearted disclosures.

They bled me

With ripped-open illusions.

They teased me

With that smug leer of fate.

But beyond these stage curtains

World…

Circumstance…

I see

laughing softly

the playing Sage

Whose Hands wrote

the tender pages of my life.

And He waits

with the patient love of a mother

and with a father’s grace

for my comeback.

He knows I will stand

through the shocks

through the shakes

through this loosening earth

and through all I put at stake..

That I will rise above these curtains

break away

from this a-grounding burden

of a broken-heartedness

That I will tread into the lane

He points with His Hidden Hand

That He had all the way prepared.

I can see

that down this Road

I will be as sagacious

as His Breath

that He secreted into me

at the advent of my humanity

will inspire me to be.

(InshaAllah)

____________________________________________________________

29 December, 2007

QURAN IN RAMADAAN: Healthful Dispositions of Personality

In psychology, Quran, Ramadaan on September 17, 2009 at 4:19 am

19 Ramadaan, 1430:

الَّذينَ يُنفِقونَ فِى السَّرّاءِ وَالضَّرّاءِ وَالكٰظِمينَ الغَيظَ وَالعافينَ عَنِ النّاسِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يُحِبُّ المُحسِنينَ ﴿١٣٤﴾

(134) Those who spend in prosperity and in adversity, for those who curb their anger and those who forgive people. And Allah loves the charitable

This is one of the oft-quoted verses of the Quran in Sura Al-i-Imran. In this ayah and the next, Allah Subhanahu Ta’ala describes the characteristics of those individuals for whom Paradise has been created; and there are two descriptors of this highlighted group used here and elsewhere: Muttaqeen (ayah 133) and Mohsineen (referred above). 

Three prominent characteristics have been selected here which share the common threads of mature self-control and a basic love and trust for people. Both psychological theory and individual and social psychological researches include these among the most healthful behaviors associated with the highest forms of mental functioning and optimal physical health. My wish here is to explore the psychological aspects of these traits.

Prosocial behavior, forgiveness, and anger control

Prosocial behavior may be defined as “caring about the welfare and rights of others, feeling concern and empathy for them, and acting in a way that benefits others” [wikipedia]. In Islam prosocial behavior is valid only if it is fueled by pure unselfish interest in others, here represented by one of it’s noblest forms: helping others monetarily.

Forgiveness occurs when we cease to be indignated or angry with someone perceived as having offended in some way. Legally, this involves taking back the criminal charges or forgiving punishment or restitution. Psychosocially, the forgiveness should be internal – from the heart – with restoration of normal relations if it were an acquaintance. It is often accompanied by ‘forgetting’ the past offensiveness of the transgressor.

Anger is that “predominant feeling behaviorally, cognitively, and physiologically when a person makes the conscious choice to take action to immediately stop the threatening behavior of another outside force” (DiGiueseppe & Tafrate, 2006). This definition may be modified to count situations when we decide that the other has behaved unjustly towards us or some other object we love, although we may not necessarily plan to take action.

The three traits are inter-related. Forgiveness involves eliminating anger and the more we nurture anger in us the less prosocial we will be.

Self-actualizers and Fully-functioning individuals

 

Self-actualization is a concept that was popularized by Abraham Maslow‘s theory of hierarchy of needs. Self-actualizers represent the epitome of psychological functioning and mental health and reach this high stage after having come to terms with all their lower level needs (such as basic needs for physical and emotional survival). Defining self-actualizing as “the desire for self-fulfillment”, “the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming” he identified several characteristics of self-actualizing individuals. Here is a list:

  • An accurate perception of reality. Healthy persons see the world as it is, rather than as distorted by their needs and beliefs. Maslow writes, “The neurotic is not emotionally sick; he is cognitively wrong.” Unhealthy persons fit the world to fit the shapes of their fear, needs, and values.

  • A general aceptance of nature, others, and oneself.
  • Acceptance of both one’s shortcomings and strengths, but without a lot of worry about them.
  • Spontaneity, simplicity, and naturalness. Not pretentious, display their emotions honestly. But are also thoughtful and considerate of others. Can play the required social games when necessary to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, but don’t do so otherwise.
  • A focus on problems outside themselves. Commitment to their work. Dedication to work, absorption in it, satisfaction from it.
  • A need for privacy and independence. Neurotics, by contrast, are usually highly emotionally dependent on others.
  • Autonomous functioning. Able to be relatively independent of their social and physical environments.
  • “Freshness of appreciation.” Ability to appreciate experiences as if they wwere new. They tend to continue to be greatful for what they possess and can experience.
  • Some self-actualizers have many peak experiences.
  • Social interest (Alfred Adler‘s term.) Deep feelings of empathy and affection for all human being. Feeling of kinship with all people, even with other living beings.
  • Ability to maintain strong, rich relationships.
  • A democratic character structure. Self-actualizers are not authoritarian, do not want “power over” others or to be subjegated by others. Acceptance of all people regardless of class, education, ethnic differences, etc.. They don’t act superior toward anyone, but are ready wo learn from anyone. Distinguish clearly between means and ends, and also beween right and wrong. They have a clear sense of ethics, rather than being governed by expediency.
  • Have an unhostile sense of humor.
  • Creativeness. Original, inventive, and innovative in whatever their realm of life may be. Creativeness is more an attitude, an expression of psychological health, and is concerned with how we perceive and react to the world
  • Self-sufficiency and autonomy. Resistant to social pressures about how to think or act. Maintain an inner detachment, guided by themselves. But not rebellious for the sake of rebellion.
  • Apart from the secure self-reliant individuality, another prominent overarching trait evident here is a base of strong positive emotions for others in general. And it is this dimension of self-actualization, which operationally does encompass the specific emotional competencies we are discussing. 

     Carl Rogers gave a related concept of full-functioning individuals. He believes that “the core of man’s nature is essentially positive” (1961). Fully-functioning individuals represent mental health and maturity because they are open to new experiences, accept their weaknesses, trust themselves and others and are able to live authentically – that is, close to their truest basically good and creative natures. Rogers strongly believed that such kind of maturity can be achieved only in a psychologically healthy atmosphere of trust and dignity.

    In today’s culture of self-promotion, blind individualism, and exploitation, it is the noble traits of loving and forgiving others and going out of one’s way to bring a positive difference to others’ lives which can nurture such full-functioning responsible and mature citizens of the world.

    The above conclusions are indeed supported by decades of research in individual and social psychologies. I quote below some of the more recent research findings linking these traits with both psychosocial and physical health benefits.

    Prosocial behavior research

    Prosocial behavior leads to higher positive effect (Piliavin et al., 1981) and can relieve bad moods (Cialdini and Kenrick, 1976). People learn to associate such behavior to social rewards (Kenrick et al., 1979). Overtime, they are linking helping others to positive outcomes whether or not rewards were actually provided. It seems prosocial behavior can become internally rewarding. Prosocial behavior can convey a sense of personal control (Willigen, 1998) and is positively related to self-esteem (Yogev and Ronen, 1982), personal efficacy and confidence (Yates and Youniss, 1996).  Those who provide active support to their acquaintances have demonstrably higher longevity, even after taking into account other determiners of mortality rates such as demographic, personal and health characteristics (Brown et al., 2003). Brown et al. suggested that giving support enhances recovery of the cardiovascular system in negative emotions, thus affecting mortality. More socially isolated people benefit most from these effects of prosocial activity, suggesting that the effect is channelized through their increased social integration and interaction. Youth volunteers show lesser risk of drug intake, poor academic performance, or legal entanglements in later life (in Barling and Cooper, 2008  SAGE handbook of OB).

    Forgiveness research

    Lawler et al. (2004) found that both current and general levels of forgiveness were related to various health indicators including physical symptoms, medication usage, sleep quality, fatique and somatic complaints. These health benefits could be explained through spirituality, social skills, and reductions in negative affect and stress. Authors concluded that both current and general levels of forgiveness influenced health most strongly by lowering the degree of negative affects experienced.

    Positive effects of forgiveness can be explained through elimination of the hazards of unforgiveness. When we don’t forgive others we experience a horde of negative emotions such as resentment, bitterness, hatred, hostility, residual anger, and fear (Worthington et al., 2001). These emotions have strong potential to disturb both mental and physical health. Forgiveness replaces such negative affect with positive love-based emotions. Ultimately, the health effects are channelled through physiological changes.

    Forgiveness can modulate our mental health indirectly as well, through its effect on social support, interpersonal functioning, and health behaviors (Temoshok & Chandra, 2000; Worthington et al., 2001).

    Anger Control Research

    Anger is the root cause of many social problems such as crime, abuse, divorce, as well as myriad of physical and emotional health conditions. The physical and social health of the affected is itself disturbed (Graham-Bermann & Seng, 2005). A survey of around 6,ooo British families (Flouri, E., 2005) found that angry yound adults had more health problems and remained angry and dissatisfied with their life in their adulthood as well. Friedman (1991) had reported that hostile college age students had overweight, high blood pressure and high cholesterol problems, had smoked cigarettes and drank coffee and alcohol compared with the comparison group.

    On the other hand, controlling our angry feelings helps us in remaining healthy by engendering in us a sense of being in control. It encourages the positive love-based emotions of trust, acceptance, with a direct reduction in the negative and stress-causing appraisals that others are mean, selfish and exploitative (Tucker-Ladd, 2005). Instead of letting loose in anger, we learn healthier, assertive ways of expressing our negative emotions, increasing our satisfaction with self, life and the world.

    May Allah enable us to meaninfully benefit from his guidelines in the remaining Ramadaan and afterwards. Ameen

    Note: Primary Sources

    Barling, J. & Cooper, C. L. 2008. The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Behavior: Volume 1: Micro Approaches. Sage Publications. Google Books.

    Tucker-Ladd, C. E. 2006. Psychological Self-Help. The Self-Help Foundation. http://www.psychologicalselfhelp.org/

    Worthington, E. L. 2005. Handbook of Forgiveness. Brunner-Routledge. Google Books.

    Other references have been cross-taken from these primary sources.

    QURAN IN RAMADAAN: Convention or Essence?

    In Quran, Ramadaan on August 26, 2009 at 4:58 am

    1430, 04 Ramadaan:

    َلَيسَ البِرَّ أَن تُوَلّوا وُجوهَكُم قِبَلَ المَشرِقِ وَالمَغرِبِ وَلٰكِنَّ البِرَّ مَن ءامَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَاليَومِ الءاخِرِ وَالمَلٰئِكَةِ وَالكِتٰبِ وَالنَّبِيّۦنَ وَءاتَى المالَ عَلىٰ حُبِّهِ ذَوِى القُربىٰ وَاليَتٰمىٰ وَالمَسٰكينَ وَابنَ السَّبيلِ وَالسّائِلينَ وَفِى الرِّقابِ وَأَقامَ الصَّلوٰةَ وَءاتَى الزَّكوٰةَ وَالموفونَ بِعَهدِهِم إِذا عٰهَدوا ۖ وَالصّٰبِرينَ فِى البَأساءِ وَالضَّرّاءِ وَحينَ البَأسِ ۗ أُولٰئِكَ الَّذينَ صَدَقوا ۖ وَأُولٰئِكَ هُمُ المُتَّقونَ

      It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah-fearing.

    The above verse is no. 177 from Al-Baqarah and falls in the second juz of Qur’an. The verse is the most complete and comprehensive definition of the Arabic word ‘birr’ (good deed) and is hence called as the ayat-ul-birr. I believe this is also the perfect verse for Ramazaan as it makes the key distinction between engaging in ‘conventional’ forms of religious observations and those behaviors which reflect the essence of moral behavior.

    This verse was sent to the Holy Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wasallam) at the time when the qibla had been recently changed from the Mosque Al-Aqsa to the Ka’aba. The jews of Madina were raising arguments at this change and the verse is one of several that answer to them.

    The verse highlights the fact that compared with the ‘form’ of a deed, the character that is being developed through those deeds is of higher importance. It doesn’t mean that the ‘form’ can be changed at will; for even in that lies the test of our willingness to submit ourselves to Allah’s injunctions.

    However, it does refocus our attention away from futile arguments over details of form on the essence of religiousity which is intimately tied to morality in Islam. So how can this verse serve us in Ramadaan?

    It provides us with a list of behaviors through which we can compare our behavior and judge for ourselves how much of the true spirit of the fast is there in our efforts.

    1. Have we set our beliefs straight? that is, based on this excellent and the most authentic sources at our disposal? This first point in the verse covers all the essentials of belief and raises an important question: What is the validity of a fast that is held for the sake of convention (because everybody else is fasting and expects us to keep, because of parental pressure, etc) because it merely satisfies the outward observers; but can it be acceptable to Allah who knows that in the person in his/her hearts of hearts does not believe? This refers us again to that Islam vs Eman issue we have been lately considering.

    2. We fast, we offer more than the obligatory prayers; we try to complete one cycle of Quran’s recitation; but here is the test of tests: do we spend from that most closest-to-the-heart of our possessions — money? Note zakat is not intended here for it is covered in the next point of the ayah. It is the other-than-zakat expenditure called sadqah in Arabic. And there are so many ways of offering it as outlined in the ayah. I have read this in ahadith that this is one of those deeds which can protect us from falling into the hell-pit when we are crossing that bridge over it to the heaven’s side and which will also protect us from the intense heat of the day of the big gathering while we are waiting for the Judgment process to begin. We spend so much in Ramadaan on ifraar and sehri but do we bring ourselves to remember those who are not as lucky as us? Indeed there may be families whose state of faith might be weakening because of the very urgent need of food and hygiene. Your charity can save them from completing falling away from the path of faith, because faith on God does have an association with faith on people. Your help can be a message of hope for someone, can be a reminder that God creates ways out of trouble, and can motivate the needy ones to benefit as much from this prized month as you yourself are gaining.

    3. Many people count salat and zakat among the more formal aspects of Islam. But their mention in this verse reminds us that these two are the key character-building exercises that are designed to produce the qualities that this verse summarizes. Just think. All these qualities require a firm self-control and both these conventions teach us that. Whatever activity your are engaged in, no matter how important, or no matter how engrossing the fun you are having, you must break away from it to offer your prayer on time. Self-control! Then again, no matter how large an amount your 2.5% translates into (depending upon the extent of your resrouces), you must deliver it as promptly as it is due. Another important point is that since Ramadaan quickly transforms into a cultural observation and a lot social pressure is accumulated, there are people who do “fast” while retaining their lack of concern about offering salat and while having no intention whatsoever of clearing their zakat dues. So can such a fast be acceptable?

     4. The final portion of the ayah covers all those behaviors — keeping promises; patience in pain, adversity and panic; and truthfulness — that are not only the traditional good deeds but also very practical guidelines in going through the affairs of the world with i) straight relations with people intact, ii) duties performed efficiently and effectively, iii) and good health (both physical and mental) maintained througout the ups and downs of life. Being judged as a good subject of our Creator is, of course, an incomparable bonus. Once again, all of these are also the many qualities of a sincere and authentic (and truly acceptable) fast that we keep reading in various ahadith.

    So, think about it.

     

    QURAN IN RAMADAAN: Soft or Stony Hearts?

    In Quran on August 23, 2009 at 1:38 am

    1430, 01 Ramadaan:

    Bismillah

    ثُمَّ قَسَت قُلوبُكُم مِن بَعدِ ذٰلِكَ فَهِىَ كَالحِجارَةِ أَو أَشَدُّ قَسوَةً ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنَ الحِجارَةِ لَما يَتَفَجَّرُ مِنهُ الأَنهٰرُ ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنها لَما يَشَّقَّقُ فَيَخرُجُ مِنهُ الماءُ ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنها لَما يَهبِطُ مِن خَشيَةِ اللَّهِ ۗ وَمَا اللَّهُ بِغٰفِلٍ عَمّا تَعمَلونَ

    And yet, after all this, your hearts hardened and became like rocks, or even harder: for, behold, there are rocks from which streams gush forth; and, behold, there are some from which, when they are cleft, water issues; and, behold, there are some that fall down for awe of God. And God is not unmindful of what you do!

    This is my favorite verse from the first juz, of the Quran, Sura Al-Baqarah. It is a beautiful verse to recite in tajweed; it is one of the most pictorial verses of the Qur’an; and one with many shades of meaning. It informs of the true meaning of soft-heartedness and is meant to ashame us out of our own ‘conventional’ hard-heartedness.

    Actually the verse is in the context of Judaic history but, as is the case with most Quranic injunctions, it is applicable and can serve as an impetus to all of us.

    I have wondered in the last post of mine how ready we are to receive Ramadaan in its true spirit. We have accumulated so many plaques of filth upon our hearts through our indulgence in pleasure throughout the year, through laughing for transient immaterial pleasures, by listening to music, and by staying away from the Quran, the true spring-source of our faith.

    Can we really claim our hearts are soft?

    Stones are softer! This verse exemplifies. There are rocks from which streams spring forth! There are rocks underground containing tons of water! And stones with the slightest trepidation fall humbly from lofty heights and are prostrated the very next second flat on earth.

    What is the spiritual meaning of falling stones and soft water-carrying rocks? It is receiving influence and being moved. Even a stone takes influences and is moved when reminded of the Powerful Source of this universe. But we? we have an army of accompaniments, TV, music, mobiles, chat, mags, shopping, thrillers, dollars, etc, to preserve our hearts in the hardened states….

    Think about it.

    Fallen Rock

    Source

    THE FAITH: The Three Stages of being a Muslim – Part II

    In Islam on August 9, 2009 at 6:46 am

    In the previous post, we have seen how reciting the kalimah is merely a stepping stone to becoming a full Muslim. Once you proclaim the kalimah, you are legally a Muslim and it certainly suffices for all earthly . Still, as the ayah, Al-An’aam 158 testifies, it is not the sole stamp needed on our passport to a happy hereafter.

    The four minimum obligatory good deeds, identified in the hadith previously referenced, are well-known. The purpose in this post, however, is to review the inherent demands of these obligations; especially those that highlight the common neglects people today show in the performance of these deeds.

    The Muslim scale: Salat

    إِنَّ الصَّلوٰةَ كانَت عَلَى المُؤمِنينَ كِتٰبًا مَوقوتًا

    The prayers are enjoined on believers at stated times. [An-Nisa, 103]

    Five prayers in a day are one of the many gifts that our beloved prophet Mohammad (sallah Allahu alaihi wa sallam) brought back from his night of ascension (lailat-ul-mi’raj) [Bukhari, 1.8.345]. And not only that, they are supposed to be all offered on their appropriate times (as the above ayah testifies); the ones Angel Jibrail himself taught to the Prophet [As stated in a Tirmizi hadith. Reference here].

    So an important question for us is:

    • Do we say our prayers five times a day?

    This question actually boils down to a series of component questions. So here goes..

    • How frequently can you bring yourself up for faj’r?
    • Out working or studying, care to find time for zuh’r?
    • What about as’r, right in the middle of the afternoon nap?
    • Are you really able to catch your maghrib amidst all that evening fun?
    • And how late is your isha and with how much struggle with sleep?
    • Finally, when you miss one, do you bother to offer it’s qaza before the next prayer due?

    Another important issue is the quality of your salat, most effectively summarized in the following verse from Sura Ankaboot:

    إِنَّ الصَّلوٰةَ تَنهىٰ عَنِ الفَحشاءِ وَالمُنكَرِ ۗ وَلَذِكرُ اللَّهِ أَكبَرُ

    Translation: Prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of Allah is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. [Sura Al-Ankaboot, 45]

    So:

    • Is your salat really bringing any change in your life? (If not, your heart is really not into it.)
    • and, Do you understand, approach and experience your salat as an act of relating to God? (If not, you are missing on a quality time you may have never experienced in your life.)

    The Muslim scale: Saum

    شَهرُ رَمَضانَ الَّذى أُنزِلَ فيهِ القُرءانُ هُدًى لِلنّاسِ وَبَيِّنٰتٍ مِنَ الهُدىٰ وَالفُرقانِ ۚ فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ الشَّهرَ فَليَصُمهُ ۖ وَمَن كانَ مَريضًا أَو عَلىٰ سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِن أَيّامٍ أُخَرَ ۗ يُريدُ اللَّهُ بِكُمُ اليُسرَ وَلا يُريدُ بِكُمُ العُسرَ وَلِتُكمِلُوا العِدَّةَ وَلِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّهَ عَلىٰ ما هَدىٰكُم وَلَعَلَّكُم تَشكُرونَ ﴿١٨٥

    Translation: The month of Ramazan is that in which the Quran was revealed, a guidance to men and clear proofs of the guidance and the distinction; therefore whoever of you is present in the month, he shall fast therein, and whoever is sick or upon a journey, then (he shall fast) a (like) number of other days; Allah desires ease for you, and He does not desire for you difficulty, and (He desires) that you should complete the number and that you should exalt the greatness of Allah for His having guided you and that you may give thanks. [AL-Baqarah, 185]

    Al- Muslim, Book 006, Number 2566, Hadith-e-Qudsi, narrated by Hazrat Abu Huraira:

    Fasting is a shield. When any one of you is fasting on a day, he should neither indulge in obscene language, nor raise the voice; or if anyone reviles him or tries to quarrel with him he should say: I am a person fasting. By Him, in Whose Hand is the life of Muhammad, the breath of the observer of fast is sweeter to Allah on the Day of judgment than the fragrance of musk. The one who fasts has two (occasions) of joy, one when he breaks the fast he is glad with the breaking of (the fast) and one when he meets his Lord he is glad with his fast.

    Al-Muslim, Book 006, Number 2567:

    Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Every (good) deed of the son of Adam would be multiplied, a good deed receiving a tenfold to seven hundredfold reward. Allah, the Exalted and Majestic, has said: With the exception of fasting, for it is done for Me and I will give a reward for it, for one abandons his passion and food for My sake.

    Lailat-ul-Qadar:

    Al-Muslim Book 006, Number 2619:

    Salim reported on the authority of his father that a person saw Lailat-ul- Qadr on the 27th (of Ramadan). Thereupon Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: I see that your dreams agree regarding the last ten (nights of Ramadan). So seek it on an odd number (of these ten nights).

    Al-Muslim Book 006, Number 2621:

    Ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with them) reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Seek it (Lailat-ul-Qadr) in the last (ten nights). If one among you shows slackness and weakness (in the earlier part of Ramadan), it should not be allowed to prevail upon him in the last week.

    No need to give the technical definition of a saum; we all know that. But in this modern, fast-paced, hip-hop world, do we really find time (or concern enough) to try to live the spiritual definition of the exercise?

    This saum section deserves a special place both from the writer and reader point of views – not just because Ramadhaan is approaching but because of our growing neglect in observing the spirit of Ramazaan in our individual fasts and in the general society’s attitude during this best of months.

    Many years ago when I (along with my siblings) was a ‘conventional’ Muslim in the truest possible sense of the word, I remember we used to watch a music programme Top of the Pops every week… Ramadhaan or not. The last programme that month fell (and was let fallen) on the 27th night, the most reverred of Ramazaan nights by all conventions. Did this fact made us not watch it? I sadly confess, it didn’t. The tentacles of music do not let go hold of the soul so easily unless you start thinking deliberately about your faith.

    Last year I was shocked to discover that the advertisement for a certain “Ramazaan festival” proudly displayed a semi-naked dancing woman in a larger-than-life sized poster form. The ad was promptly in place by first Ramazaan on the facade of a major shopping centre in my city (one of the busiest thoroughfares, of course) – and I don’t know where else – and remained dutifully up till Eid. Just who were they trying to mock? Allah? Muslims?

    The saddest reflection must be saved for the strength of faith in a society whose passivity allows its business class to knowingly and willingly soil the sanctity of the once in a year month – blatantly in defiance of the warning in Sura Noor:

    إِنَّ الَّذينَ يُحِبّونَ أَن تَشيعَ الفٰحِشَةُ فِى الَّذينَ ءامَنوا لَهُم عَذابٌ أَليمٌ فِى الدُّنيا وَالءاخِرَةِ ۚ وَاللَّهُ يَعلَمُ وَأَنتُم لا تَعلَمونَ ﴿١٩

    Translation: Those who love that indecency should be broadcast about those who believe – theirs is a painful punishment in this world and in the Everlasting Life. Allah knows, and you do not know.

    The authorities in the council where my aunt lives, suddenly decided the last week of Ramadhaan must be made use of with a ‘farewell’ festival. Each night  (including, of course the odd nights and right through till faj’r) the makeshift market in the midst of a residential area was in full blast with music, singing and wild announcements celebrating its own insensitivity and shamelessness.

    These were a few stark examples. As for the routine stuff [TV schedules, shopping sprees, behind-the-back talk gatherings, etc.] I remember it took us the 8th October earthquake (in 2005) to induce that true mood of refrain,  abstinence and virtue that a fast alone induces in a truer Muslim.

    My western readers shouldn’t feel too smug. These are points to ponder for all of us. So this year,

    • Do you vow to keep all the fasts (if you aren’t fasting regularly still…)?
    • Will, this year too, your Fasts be an occasion for Fun (festivals), Food (‘tablefuls’ of iftari and sehri), and Fluid Money (shopping, redecorations, etc)?
    • What mental preparation are you going through right now to keep yourself away from all those nasty habits (dishonesty, occasional lying, backbiting, being jealous, wishing somebody bad, etc. etc.)?
    • Any more fights with parents (or spouse)?
    • If you are unable to keep a fast due to a valid reason, how long will it take you to make it up (that is execute it’s qaza as clearly mentioned in the ayah above)?
    • What about all that count of qaza fasts from the previous years ever since the saum obligation is due on you?
    • Will you be watching DRAMAS and listening to MUSIC, thereby helping promote unbashful and indecent attitudes (as warned against in Sura Nur) knowing full well that the activities involved in both are also haram?
    • And finally what about the last week – will it succeed in bringing out more from us compared with the rest of the Ramadan?

    We all strive to do more in Ramadhan SOME way, so:

    • What about attempting to remove your up-till-now mistakes or neglects in the way of salat and zakat?
    • Are you saving your pocket money and personal savings ONLY for your own myriad expenses OR you care for somebody else’s hunger?
    • Will you be focusing on ‘completing” Quran’s recital as quickly & conveniently (which often means ‘soullessly’) as possible, or will you be including some tajweed or tafseer or hadith?
    • What about taraweeh? Will you wrap it up in ‘7-day’, ‘6-day’, ‘5-day’, ‘4-day’ or ‘3-day’ contrived taraweeh to have it out of your way for the rest of the month?

    Finally, the spiritual duties of Ramadan are not actually over after the last saum, so :

    • Will Eid see the complete reversal of our good strivings through the month (like discarding a garment one has had to adorn for the past long hours…)? Unfortunately, the way we live, Eid does have the worse of temptations to overthrow all the lessons and progress we have made in Ramadan. So if you are serious about things this Ramadan, plan ahead of your Eid.
    • The same can be said for the rest of the year… Ramadan is not meant to be a show – a month-long once-in-a-year spiritual festival. Rather, it should be the beginning of an year-long spiritual odyssey. So don’t spend your Ramadan like a month-long once-in-a-year festival. There must be (at the very least) ONE character weakness that we can identify in ourselves and that we can resolve to correct (and to develop the correction into a practise) in Ramazan  and then to keep this new, better and higher level of attitude alive even after Ramadan…

    May Allah make this Ramadan an occasion for all of us for our physical, spiritual, psychological, religious, economical, societal, and national (I mean both the nation of Muslims and the nation of Pakistan) well-being! Ameen.

    The Muslim scale: Zakat

    فَإِن تابوا وَأَقامُوا الصَّلوٰةَ وَءاتَوُا الزَّكوٰةَ فَإِخوٰنُكُم فِى الدّينِ ۗ وَنُفَصِّلُ الءايٰتِ لِقَومٍ يَعلَمونَ ﴿١١﴾ وَإِن نَكَثوا أَيمٰنَهُم مِن بَعدِ عَهدِهِم وَطَعَنوا فى دينِكُم فَقٰتِلوا أَئِمَّةَ الكُفرِ ۙ إِنَّهُم لا أَيمٰنَ لَهُم لَعَلَّهُم يَنتَهونَ ﴿١٢

    Translation: If they repent and establish the prayer and pay the obligatory charity, they shall become your brothers in the religion. So We make plain Our verses for a nation that knows (11). But if, after coming to terms with you, they break their oaths and revile your belief, fight the leaders of the disbelief – for they have no oaths – in order that they will desist (12). [Sura Tauba]

    Zakat is the 2.5% of our assets that we are required to pass over to the needing ones every year. Since it is farz (i.e. obligatory) utmost care must be excercised in the execution of this duty…

    • How many of you pay out zakat every year with your heart truly in it?
    • Have you bothered to every year to reacquaint yourself with all the delicate issues in the paying out of zakat (some of which are hinted below)?
    • How many execuses your family has created up till now so as to ‘minimize’ the total value of the assets on which you have to calculate the payable dues?
    • Do you carefully bother to count and estimate the current value of the totality of your assets (each and every pair of your gold earrings, for instance) so that you are missing out on nothing?
    • After learning of your errors in the past years, do you intend to correct the mistakes and to carefully reevaluate the amount of zakat unpayed over those past years? Remember all that zakat is still due.
    • Finally, do you just give it away whichever way or do you first investigate whether the subject receiving your zakat is really a legitimate recipient or not? Or, whether the institute you are trusting your zakat with is TRULY forwarding it where it belongs?

    Remeber Hazrat Abu Bakar Siddique’s first jihad as a Caliph was to fight those who had refused paying zakat after our Prophet’s (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) death, deciding from the ayah referenced above.

    In the next edition of THE FAITH, I will go over a quick overview of the last point on the Muslim Scale and then move over to the Mo’min and Mohsin stages, InshaAllah.

    Click here to read other posts from the Islam category in this blog.


    THE FAITH: The Three Stages of being a Muslim – Part I

    In Islam, Quran on August 2, 2009 at 8:04 am

    quranWhile I was reading the Qur’an some days ago, with  tafseer by Maulana Taqi Usmani, I came across an ayah in Sura Al-Maida which reminds us of the progressive stages of a Muslim’s faith.

    In view of the coming Ramadaan, it seemed to be an excellent topic of presentation and preparation.

    Here is the ayah.

    Al-Maida, ayah 93

    Translation: On those who believe and do good there is no blame for what they eat, when they are careful (of their duty) and believe and do good deeds, then they are careful (of their duty) and believe, then they are careful (of their duty) and do good (to others; and Allah loves those who do good (to others).

    The context

    This ayah appears in the context of the prohibition of drinking wine in a previous ayah (#90). When the commandment was received and announced by the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam), some Sahaba came and inquired what of those who had drunk and have already died before its prohibition. This ayah explains that since those Muslims had eaten only what was not forbidden according to the Allah’s commandments up till then, and that they had done this in sincerity towards Him while standing in fear of displeasing him, they do not deserve any penance; rather they deserve reward in the hereafter.

    Stages of faith

    However, what inspires me to write about today is the simple gradation of the Muslim faith that is provided in this ayah and against which we can measure ourselves.

    In this and many other verses of the Qur’an, the Believers are called upon to believe. What does it mean? Why the apparent repetition? Why tell those who already believe to believe…?

    Tafaseer confirm what the common sense points to: the belief that is being demanded of the Believers is of a different and higher kind than that more basic and lower rung of the ladder that they have already climbed. At various points in Qur’an and hadith, as here, this second stage of Faith is further distinguished from a third, higher one. The three stages in succession are:

    1. Islam – 2. Iman – 3. Ihsan

    Below follows a hadith that verifies the authenticity of these concepts.

    The hadith

    On the authority of Omar [razi Allahu unh] who said:

    One day while we were sitting with the messenger of Allah there appeared before us a man whose clothes were exceedingly white and whose hair was exceedingly black; no signs of journeying were to be seen on him and none of us knew him. He walked up and sat down by the Prophet [salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam].

    Resting his knees against his and placing the palms of his hands on his thighs, he said:

    “O Muhammed [salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam], tell me about Islam“.

    The messenger of Allah said:

    “Islam is to testify that there is no god but Allah and Muhammed is the messenger of Allah, to perform the prayers, to pay the zakat, to fast in Ramadhan, and to make the pilgrimage to the House if you are able to do so.”

    He said: “You have spoken rightly”, and we were amazed at him asking him and saying that he had spoken rightly. He said:

    “Then tell me about eman.”

    He [Prophet Mohammad salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam] said:

    “It is to believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and to believe in divine destiny, both the good and the evil thereof.”

    He said: “You have spoken rightly”. He said:

    “Then tell me about ehsan.”

    He said: “It is to worship Allah as though you are seeing Him, and while you see Him not yet, truly He sees you”.

    [Reference: Hadith #2 in Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths, taken from Muslim]

    [Note: The narration continues to a discussion of signs of qiyamah and Hazrat Omar asking and finding out that the strange person asking questions and talking freely to Prophet Mohammad was Hazrat Jibrail (Angel Gabriel).]

    Stage 1: Islam

    Many of us assume (with a simple-minded ignorance) that if we have recited the kalima thus claiming our Muslim faith we have indeed attained the first stage.

    Not so fast..

    Look again at the first section of the reference ayah and you will find the phrase wa ‘amilu-ssalihaat (“and they perform the good deeds”) attached as an essential characteristic of the first stage. Even if you are a perfunctory reader of the Qur’an you will testify that this little phrase accompanies the phrase allazina amanu (“those who believe”) nearly all the places in Qur’an, except where they are simply being addressed (i.e., as ya ayyuh-allazina amanu).

    Now look at the first section of the reference hadith wherein our Prophet Mohammad (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) replies to Jibrail the meaning of Islam. Therein we find the full requisites of falling in the “Muslim” category; the most basic definition of ‘good deeds’. And why not? Of course, ‘deed’ means action and ‘testifying’ to the basic components of faith is merely an intellectual act, not a behavioral one.

    So here’s an opportunity for us to compare ourself with the following four-point scale of being a true MUSLIM (forget, for the time being, about being a Mo’min and next a Mohsin; that will come later).

    The Muslim Scale: the starter

    first_kalimah

    Before the actual four deeds that are the minimum requirements for our Muslim faith having any validity in the hereafter, of course their is the prerequisite testimony. The common mistake is to invoke the testimony as Enough! No. Think of this testimony (the kalima) as a prologue. Suppose you go to your favorite bookshop and buy a novel by your favorite author. You don’t look into the book then (being in a hurry), and bring it home. At home a big disappointment awaits you. The novel only has a prologue! Where’s the rest of the story? It’s outrageously blank! [Or more typically, keeping in mind the actual case we are following, filled with irrelevent rubbish..] So what do you do? Placidly- patiently- rather helplessly- accept your position to be content with a mere two-page prologue? Never! Surely your dignity is of higher sensitivity. YOU WANT YOUR MONEY BACK! So you return to the bookstore as soon as you can and return this INVALID case of a novel with disgust. So what are we expecting from our Lord, the Almighty? This ayah (translation here) is a clear eye-opener if any doubts still remain:

    Do they, perchance, wait for the angels to appear unto them, or for thy Sustainer [Himself] to appear, or for some of thy Sustainer’s [final] portents to appear? [But] on the Day when thy Sustainer’s [final] portents do appear, believing will be of no avail to any human being who did not believe before, or who, while believing, did no good works. Say: “Wait, [then, for the Last Day, O unbelievers:] behold, we [believers] are waiting, too!” [Al-An’aam, 158]

    —–

    In the next post InshaAllah, I will go through the other four points of this first stage.

    Note: Read the Part II of this post here.

    SCIENCE|RELIGION: The Holographic Principle and Loh-e-Mehfooz

    In Islam, Quran, universe on April 12, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Scientists are wondering if our world is a three-dimensional projection from a two-dimensional source of information. The basic assertion in what is called the holographic principle was put forth first by Gerard t’ Hooft: All the information contained in some region of space is encoded on the boundary of that region.

    the-life-magazine-hologram-MIT-museumThe name of the principle derives from holography. Holography is a technique which records light rays reflected in all directions from an object. When the image is projected from a holographic film in space, the image appears three-dimensional just as the object looked originally – a 3D figure from a 2D source.

    This principle had its first known application to black holes. However, applied to the universe at large, the principle asserts that “the entire universe can be seen as a two-dimensional information structure “painted” on the cosmological horizon.”

    To those interested in physics….

    A paradox about black holes was puzzling scientists back in the 1970s. If any object entered a black hole, all information in the object was lost. This included information about entropy (in other words, ‘information describing its microscopic parts). This, however, violated the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of an isolated system will increase over time if the system is not in equilibrium.

    black hole

    At the same time, there was another fact known about the black holes: that the surface area of a black hole’s boundary always grew when objects fell into it. t’ Hooft showed that the information ‘lost’ by an object falling into the black hole was actually stored by a corresponding alteration on the boundary of the black hole.

    During the 1990s, scientists finally applied the same principle to the whole universe. The idea gained credibility among the scientific community because it was in line with the string theory, the wacky explains-all theory which integrates all known ideas about particles, energy and gravity.

    To those interested in religion….

    In Qur’an there is repeated mention of a kitaab – a book – that has everything recorded in it. The literal meaning of the word kitaab in Arabic is ‘anything that is written’. Everything that’s in the universe and everything that has happened or will happen is recorded in this book. This includes Qur’an, with respect to which, this master register of everything has been called as Loh-e-Mehfooz, where loh means a page or a paper and mehfooz means safe. The strict conceptual meaning of loh-e-mehfooz would be ‘a two-dimensional, permanent and secure record of information’.

    Do you not know that Allah knows all that occurs in heaven as well as on earth? All this, behold, is in a record: verily, this is easy for Allah. [Sura Al-Haj, ayah 70]

    He has the keys to the things that are beyond the reach of a created being’s perception: none knows them but He. And He knows all that is on land and in the sea; and not a leaf falls but He knows it; and neither is there a grain in the earth’s deep darkness, nor anything living or dead, but is recorded in [His] clear decree. [Sura Al-An’am, ayah 59]

    Nay, but this [divine writ they reject] is a discourse sublime (ayah 21), Upon an imperishable tablet [inscribed] (ayah 22). [Sura Al-Buruj]

    A few pinches of salt

    1. Discussions on some of the websites (for examples check this out) sound as if the ‘hologram’ analogy is being applied to literally by the readers. But such thinking is incorrect. The holographic principle does not actually imply that the three dimensional observable world is an illusion, just as a holographic image literally is. Raphael Bousso helps clarify: The world doesn’t appear to us like a hologram, but in terms of the information needed to describe it, it is one.

    holographic-principleThe holographic principle, hence, really asserts that information describing everything that is in the world is recorded on it’s 2D boundary. It may be of interest here that Allah has actually described the world as la’ib and lahw:

    And nothing is the life of this world but a play and a passing delight; [in Sura Al-An’am, ayah 32]

    However, it doesn’t necessarily follow from this interpretation of ‘life in this world’ that everything we see is literally an illusion.

    2. The scientific status of the holographic principle, and the larger string theory in which it is grounded, is THEORY. Theoretical physics is (and has always been) way ahead of experimental physics (the one which provides evidence for the theories). Theoretical physics relies on mathematics and the holographic principle is the outcome of a series of elaborate math equations which help explain the known oddities about black holes and fit in with string theory – another (rather a set of  several) series of equations… There’s simply not enough technology available to test any of this. For a long time to come, any ‘evidence’ that supports the principle is likely to be circumstantial. That is, it will be a piece of observation that could be related to the theory – it will still be far from a conclusive piece of evidence.

    3. Even if the holographic principle was true, it does not necessarily mean that this is REALLY WHAT Allah means by umm-ul-kitaab.  Only Allah has the full knowledge and only He possesses the true knowledge of such concepts which can never by ascertained to a 100% gaurantuee by the most advanced of sciences.

    subhanallah**~~**

    Here is more on the relationship between Qur’anic knowledge and scientific knowledge from this blog:

    On Prophetic Revelation and Subjectivity

    POINT|COUNTERPOINT: On Prophetic Revelation and “Subjectivity”

    In Islam, philosophy, psychology on March 26, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    God does not communicate directly with human beings, but He sends His messages to selected persons called prophets who then preach God’s word to the masses. This is the cornerstone of our faith, the point on which the whole institution of religion rests.

    This post has been inspired by a little discussion of intellect vs prophetic revelation on Umer Toor’s blog. Umer’s original post was a little conversation between Umer and Master Agha, wherein Umer asks how the Platonic philosophers had approached the concept of God, to which Master Agha replies that: “revelation is essential to understand such questions” since intellect is imperfect.

    The first comment on this post was made by Awais Aftab.

    Awais Aftab: “Revelation believers always go on about how intellect is ‘imperfect’, but what can be more imperfect than revelation, which is a highly subjective experience of a person [‘Prophet’] passed on by word of mouth and subsequently written and then believed in by a person centuries later who has had no experience even minutely close to that a revelation. And while 2 + 2 = 4 for every man of intellect, every Prophet puts forth his own revelation, dividing the world in different religions. And yet it is logic which is imperfect.”

    A number of misconceptions are apparent in this response. Following is my attempt at counterargument.

    Rhodora Online:

    1. “every Prophet puts forth his own revelation, dividing the world in different religions“. A misconception. There is a systematic difference in the message revealed by Prophets Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad, at the one hand, and the personal wisdom and insights shared by someone like the Bhuddha who didn’t claim he was a prophet but may have been made into one by his devotees later on.

    If one is mistakenly including such man-proclaimed ‘prophets’ with the God-sent ones, then indeed the world has a rich tapestry of religions! Otherwise, the message of all true Prophets was the same: There is no god but ALLAH so its only HIM worthy of worship.

    “Different religions” were created by scholars long after the original revelations in the earlier Books from Allah had been lost. [To read an illuminating article regarding one relevant example, click here.] An illusion of ‘difference’ may also be created because of i) differences in procedural aspects of living for which God indeed changed guidelines in different prophets’ times (refer: Quran) and ii) differences in tertiary matters with  imprecise guidance in Quran or Hadith, where scholars  conclude differently.

    3. “by word of mouth…” As if our prophets were born in the age after the Gutenberg pressEven so, not only the revelations recited by the last Prophet Mohammad (Salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) were instantly inscribed and memorized by his followers, but also his own sayings and doings were meticulously recorded since he was in the best position to interpret the revelations through his exposition and behavior.

    2. “yet it is logic which is imperfect” If one cares to read the Quran with an open mind (by which I mean not rigidly insisting upon inflexible preconceived  notions) and peruses the brilliant scholarly expositions of the basic ideology of Quran, one will find enough logic to satisfy one.

    Just like atheists find logic enough in their perspective of the world.

    A word on logic:

    I am a postgraduate in psychology. When we encounter ‘paranoid’ patients we always observe PERFECT logic in their explanations of why they are so convinced that they are being persecuted – tight, irrefutably perfect logic. You cannot win an argument with a paranoid.

    Logic is a tool that derives conclusions from a set of premises. We are not arguing logic here, we are arguing PREMISES. So there’s logic in MY view of the world  and there’s a logic in YOUR (Darwin and all) view of the world. The ‘this premise’ or ‘that premise’ is ultimately a CHOICE [la ikraha fi-deen]: a SUBJECTIVE choice.

    Why must this choice be subjective? The idea of an objective choice assumes that i) it is possible for us to somehow perceive this world in a totally direct, completely factual fashion [read below on this point], and that ii) all the facts that are needed to make this objective choice must be completely available for consideration.

    You cannot solve your math equation unless the requisite givens are there.

    On the other hand, do you realistically believe that all that there is to be discovered about this world will be discovered to ultimately PROVE without holes which view was the really PERFECTLY logical one and which premise the perfectly valid one? Even if it could, we will be dead much before;  surely we cannot wait…

    4. “a highly subjective experience”: We perceive the sunflower in yellow color. And yet the bees of this world perceive the same sunflower in blue (by which I mean something akin to ultraviolet light). So can you please tell me WHICH is the OBJECTIVE way of perceiving the sunflower? A highly subjective experience for both parties (humans and bees :-), if you ask me!

    Carole Tarvis is a PhD in social psychology; Carol Wade took the same degree in cognitive psychology. In a textbook penned by them they write:

    Because sensation is a subjective experience, our ideas about reality must be affected by our sensory abilities and limitations. That is, things appear to us as they do not only because of their nature but also because of ours. If the entire human race were totally deaf, we might still talk about pressure waves, but we would have no concept of sound. (p. 200, Psychology, 4th ed., Harper Collins).

    If the entire human race was totally deaf, and one person, as a result of a unique blessing from God, had explained to us the concept of sound… Credibility in such cases cannot be decided through the state-of-the-art science because that is always limited by the human limitations of the researchers and the status of the technology they have been able to develop till that point. It is decided by an examination of the proclaimer’s character, his motivation and motives, and the arguments he extends in support of his claims.

    May God accept my humble effort.

    Awais’ response provoked further illuminating arguments from others. Read them all here.

    islamic-calligraphy-allahu-nur-us-samawati