TMV Team Editor-in-Chief Hikmat Jamal VP Communications Farwa Mumtaz Head Content Editor Maarya Zafar Associate Editor Shafiq Qaadri
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Writers Iman Ghazi Mirha Syed Shahd Fulath Khan Soundous Lourdiane Usama Ansar Editors Aaliyah Mulla Shafiq Qaadri Talha Anwar
Graphic Design Farwa Mumtaz Maarya Zafar Salwa Iqbal Sarah Dadabhoy Cover Design Maarya Zafar
Table of Contents 4
The Model Minority Myth
The Women of Makkah
Imams, Investors, and Influencers
Lessons from al-Kindi’s Approach to Sorrow
Interview with Master Abdullah Sabree
To Him we Shall Return: Reflections on Death and Loss
DISCLAIMER: The ideas and opinions expressed in this issue do not necessarily reflect those of the TMV staff or those of the Muslim Students’ Association at the University of Toronto
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Noun A pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather. “In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans” - Kahlil Gibran
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Editor’s Address بسم اهلل الرحمن الرحيم As I write this, it is early April and the seasonal rains are in full swing. Maybe it is corny, maybe it is cliche, but the meaning of “April showers, May flowers” has really become clear to me in the last few months. The turmoil of the recent months both on a personal level and with regards to challenges we have collectively faced as a result of the pandemic have reminded me of a scent I grew up with—that distinct earthy smell of the ground after it had rained. The scientific name for this is called Petrichor. Petrichor describes the smell of the soil after it has rained. As the water droplets hit the dry soil, air from the pores in the soil rises into the atmosphere, containing certain oils that give it the distinct smell. Apparently, the human nose is geared towards identifying this smell even in tiny proportions. Perhaps we are naturally optimistic people who like to think of the growth following rain and lightning (the scientific reason is that our ancestors developed an uncanny ability to smell rain due to its importance for crops, but scientific reasons are not fun). With the challenges we all face on a daily basis, big and small, it is nice to be able to take comfort in the fact that after every rainfall there is a promise of growth and life. Whether it be the final exam that I am woefully unprepared for, or late night musings on housing affordability in Toronto, the stresses of everyday life are par for the course. It is our ability to “roll with the punches” that are pivotal in how we shape the world around us. This issue of TMV Magazine is all about this earthy. It is also about the sometimes unpleasant rain we have to deal with. The articles therein concern an array of issues, from Islamic philosophers and their musings on grief and sorrow to an interview with Master Abdullah Sabree on the challenges faced by the Muslim community in the GTA. With my time as Editor in Chief coming to an end, I would also like to thank the amazing team I have had the privilege of learning from. The graphic designers who make the magazine visually stunning every single time, editors that work with articles to refine them, and the writers who take time out from their busy schedules to write something they truly care about are all pivotal to TMV and our vision. I know the saying is “April showers, May flowers” and that this issue is being published in April, but let’s just pretend it was published in May and the magazine you are reading is one of those flowers. Be well, Hikmat Jamal
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The model minority refers to racialized members of society who defy all odds to become wealthy and successful. These people capture the American dream and are praised for being the “good kind” of minority — the ones you wouldn’t mind living in your neighborhood
“The “The truth truth is, is, this this narrative narrative does does not not guarantee guarantee permanent permanent acceptance acceptance from from society, society, but but instead instead is is aa fleeting fleeting fragment fragment of of past past racial racial politics.” politics.”
If the model minority narrative cannot save us from hate crimes, what is it good for?
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Good M VS Bad Mu
“I am not your model minority”
photo by Pierre Bamin , on Unsplash
The model minority namely uplifts Asian Americans for their upward mobility and integration into our society, as opposed to minorities who couldn’t. Not only does this myth perpetuate the narrative that Asians are naturally more intelligent, more successful, and more submissive than others, it pits racialized groups against one another. While many of our parents taught us that passivity and academic excellence grants full assimilation into society, the reality is that a majority of Asians and immigrants still feel like the “Other.” The truth is, this narrative does not guarantee permanent acceptance from society, but instead is a fleeting fragment of past racial politics.
r u o y
“I a m n
iving in North America as a Muslim has been challenging due to the region’s increasingly polarized climate. In recent years, we’ve witnessed injustices brought out by the Trump administration’s ‘Muslim Ban,’ as well as recent spike in hate crimes hitting an alltime high since 2001. Those enduring this experience largely consist of an immigrant population — namely Asian immigrants — and learned their values, traditions, and way of life from their elders. For the older generations of Muslims living abroad, these values are deeply rooted in the model minority narrative. However, in order to combat racism in the pursuit of justice, our activism must transcend past performative actions, including rejecting the narrative that most of us relate to.
mode lm o in rity”
Muslim S uslim
In the struggle for assimilation during the past century, racialized minorities fought to be accepted into the mainstream Ellen Wu describes how assimilation necessitates respect from the majority population; immigrants have long fought for this acceptance by promoting themselves as neighborly, hardworking citizens who won’t cause a fuss. After the internment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s, and anti-Chinese immigration laws in the 50s, East Asians fought for acceptance by tapping into the idea of the perfect family — one that ‘doesn’t cause trouble.’ During the Civil Rights movement, African Americans attempted the same appeal by wearing their Sunday best while marching, and doing so peacefully. But because antiBlack racism is systemically rooted in our institutions, their efforts were ultimately rejected. Conversely, the Asian diaspora was not only accepted by the mainstream but began experiencing upward mobility by the 1960s, as immigration laws based on skill sets were introduced. The contrast between these groups demonstrates how the model minority only further divides racialized groups
Why it is harmful It can be said that the model minority narrative saved the livelihood of Asian immigrants. With Asian populations growing rapidly by the turn of the century, including the influx of South Asian and Arab migrants, the narrative of our communities’ success began to form. Today, it’s why we’re seen in the mainstream as hardworking doctors and engineers – anything STEM-oriented that guarantees wealth. It’s a narrative that has stuck with our parents and grandparents The belief that we’ve attained upward mobility solely through education is untrue and inherently racist. The glamorization of our apparent success is often utilized to erase white guilt concerning the oppression and inequalities
“I am not your model minority”
photo by Valentina Conde, on Unsplash
“The “The belief belief that that we’ve we’ve attained attained upward upward mobility mobility solely solely through through education education is is untrue untrue and and inherently inherently racist.” racist.”
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of Black populations. Denying the reparations marginalized populations are deserving of and comparing their systemic failures with the “self-made” success of Asians implies, “if they became successful all on their own, why can’t you?” Furthermore, education is not enough to end racial and economic inequality; that all Asians are more successful or wealthy due to our levels of education is false. In fact, for Southeast Asians such as the Vietnamese, poverty and unemployment rates are much higher than the US average. Further, many communities within the diaspora migrate as asylum seekers, including many refugees coming from Muslim countries. Therefore, this narrative must be dismantled because it continues to rely on anti-Black agendas, and also undermines part of the Asian diaspora that does not benefit from the narrative at all
How do we dismantlethis? Dismantling the model minority myth begins with us. Considering the myth through a racial and religious lens is important because much of our understanding of societal acceptance derives from both of these identities. As a South Asian Muslim, I can relate to measuring my acceptance and sense of security in the mainstream through academic success. Especially in a post 9/11 world, and more recently during the Trump era, it is evident that the guarantee of security and prosperity instilled by this myth is false. It is becoming more and more clear that our “acceptance” in society is not guaranteed, and therefore submitting to this narrative is harmful to all racial minorities. Additionally, as being a “model citizen” requires passiveness and invisibility, it restricts our efforts in political participation and activism. Dismantling the myth thus requires efforts in actively protesting injustices such as xenophobia and anti-Black racism.
We can look to the story of Yuri Kochiyama, an activist during the Civil Rights movement, for inspiration in doing so. Kochiyama and Malcolm X crossed paths and formed an unlikely friendship, as both were leaders in their communities fighting for similar social causes The depiction of the passive, quiet citizen does not have to be the standard. Looking at the story of a Japanese-American woman and a Black Muslim revert rallying for the same cause of racial justice 50 years ago, it is evident that building solidarity between communities is essential. Instead of letting the model minority myth pit groups against each other, we should strive for unity and justice. While the model minority myth implies a general acceptance of Asians in society, the recent spike in hate crimes demonstrates how its promise of security is a temporary fix. As seen in the 2015 Chapel Hill shooting and the Quebec City mosque shooting, Islamophobic attacks have also risen in recent years. The expectations and stereotypes inflicted upon these groups cannot be evaluated through the model minority myth any longer. Dismantling this narrative will allow us to deconstruct harmful racial norms and further our understanding of systemic racism. Neutrality often lies on the side of the oppressor. Part of our Islamic duty is to actively pursue justice, whether it relates to our own freedoms or that of another’s. It is not enough to show support on the sidelines or to only speak out when it’s easy. When the fight for justice is most difficult, that is when it is most important. Submitting to the myth of the model minority is selfish and it renders useless against the systemic barriers of racism and classism that are ingrained in our society. Islam commands us to reject all injustice, including the covert violence of the model minority narrative. We are taught this lesson over and over: “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both.” [4:135] m
“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both.” [4:135] 8 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | SPRING 2021
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The Women of Makkah By Shahd Fulath Khan
he first person to ever inhabit the holy city of Makkah was a woman. We know her as Hajar, may Allah be pleased with her. Since then, women have been central to shaping the Islamic city across the years. Unfortunately, the history of women is often disregarded due to the patriarchal system that puts women on the margins. While women have made countless incredible contributions to the development of the Islamic city of Makkah, few are remembered today. In addition to this forgotten history, women have also disproportionately been the subjects of oppression and violence, especially during pre-Islamic periods. Newborn girls would be buried alive out of shame and fear, a sin so grave that it was denounced several times in the Holy Book. But the story has a bright side. Women have transformed the course of Makkah’s growth by opening Quran schools, investing in Islamic education, and serving the visitors of Allah from all corners of the world. More recently, new efforts are being made by Makkah’s municipality to include more women in leadership positions in the Islamic city.
woman was Zayd Ibn Thabit’s mother, Al-Nawar Bint Malik. She was pregnant with Zayd (may Allah be pleased with them both) when she worked on the covering of the Ka’ba using threads from Arabian fabrics brought from what we now know as Yemen. Second was the mother of Omar Ibn Al-Hakam, who worked on a cloth large enough to cover the entire Ka’ba. The third woman was Nateela Bint Janib, who was the mother of Abbas bin Abdul-Muttalib from the Quraysh family. She was the first to include silk in the fabric covering the Ka’ba. When her son Abbas was of a young age, he went missing. She promised that if she found him, she would take the responsibility of clothing the Ka’ba. When she eventually found him, she kept her word and completed the financing of the cloth. Covering the Ka’ba was expensive, as it involved importing goods from the far lands of Yemen to Makkah. Since there was a great honor in this responsibility, the family of Quraysh kept this task within their family for many generations.
Within the Holy Mosque, women have held various positions from cleaners to pilgrim leaders. The role of guiding pilgrims is an entrusted role and a responsibility that is often There is no shortage of feminine presence to Makkah’s landscape. Umm Al-Qura, the mother of cities, is one of the commonly used nicknames of Makkah. Mount Al-Rahmah, Mount Al-Safa, and Mount Al-Marwa are all landmarks in the city that mark important events in Islamic history. In Arabic, the names of these mountains are considered feminine words. The choice in naming the city as a ‘mother’ of cities is significant as it symbolizes the city’s powerful position using a strong female figure: mothers. Even at the linguistic level, the city holds much respect for women and celebrates their roles in shaping the city. 1
Makkah’s iconic and holiest place is undeniably Masjid Al-Haram, housing the Ka’ba. The Ka’ba was built by Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismail peace be upon them, and has been frequently cared for by local residents every year for pilgrimage. Across history, there were 3 women that undertook the expensive task of clothing the Ka’ba. The first 10 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | SPRING 2021
passed on from generation to generation in the same family. The recent pandemic has left many of those guides longing for the many pilgrims who travel to Makkah annually from all around the world. The guides often speak multiple languages in addition to Arabic, are well-versed in matters of faith, and are able to support pilgrims across the various stages of the journey. One guide is Shadia Ghazali Janbi, who has been serving pilgrims for over 60 years. Shadia’s nickname is “Daughter of Two Jewels” as both her parents worked as guides in Masjid Al-Haram during the pilgrimage seasons. Shadia has been guiding pilgrims in the Mosque since she was seven years old, where she traveled with her family to various countries in East Asia to help pilgrims in their journey to Makkah. Because of the diverse nature of the work, she speaks six languages in order to communicate with the diversity of pilgrims who visit Makkah. During the past Hajj season, she was selected to be among the few guides for pilgrims due to the social-distancing measures of the pandemic. Shadia continues to serve the Holy Mosque, both in aiding pilgrims and training future female guides to work in this profession.
women known for her charity is Fatimah Al-Kattan. The library of Makkah, steps away from Masjid Al-Haram, is thought to be the likely birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed peace be upon him. Fatimah redesigned the birthplace into a library for visitors and scholars to benefit from for years to come. She also redesigned Dar Al-Arqam (the residence where new Muslims would gather in secret before Islam became public in Makkah) into a Hadith school and the home of Khadjia (may Allah be pleased with her) into a Quran school for students.
These snippets of history are mere reminders of women’s efforts in shaping the Islamic city of Makkah. There are countless examples of incredible achievements in fields such as business, innovation, law, and governance. The past and present contributions of women give hope to a future where women are more involved and celebrated in the Islamic city, as in the past. In a world where gender-based inequality still exists, increasing awareness and documenting the important contributions of women can help us reconnect with the true Islamic tradition of equity and respect between both men and women. Of course, honoring the legacy of women is only the beginning, and hopefully the future holds more changes towards inclusion and equity.
One of the most inspiring stories is about the longest operating school to date in Makkah. There was an Islamic school on the verge of closure due to limited space and funding available for the growing number of students. In fact, the school was downsized and returned to operating in the Holy Mosque, becoming inaccessible for many students. That same year, a woman by the name of Sawlat Al-Nisaa travelled from India to perform pilgrimage in Makkah. She heard of the school that closed, which robbed many students of the opportunity to study and learn the Book of Allah. She gave a large portion of her wealth in order to help purchase a space for students and fund their learning journey. The community was so grateful for her donation that they named the school after her: Al-Madrasah Al-Sawlatiyyah. Today, this school is open for both male and female students, Arab and non-Arab, to learn and memorize the Quran as it came down to the Prophet peace be upon him. Women have also played an important role in preserving historical sites through their generous endowments. One of the SPRING 2021 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 11
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Do not give purity value to a spiritual experience whose fruit you do not yet know. The benefit from rain clouds is not the rain but the fruits which grow thereafter. Hikam of Ibn Ata’Allah
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Investors and Influencers: A Dissection of Muslim Spaces on social media Usama Ansar 2020 Toronto
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ow do we understand social media? Like most things in life, the answer is...it depends. Also like most things in life, I wish that were not the case. A linguist might look at social media and be interested in understanding the evolution of language. An economist may want to understand how it has changed the entrepreneurial landscape. A data scientist may want to understand what sorts of data are generated from it and where they can be used. I, unfortunately, am neither a linguist, nor an economist, nor a psychologist. I am not even a student of the social sciences. I am, however, a consumer of social media; a digital citizen who interacts with its content everyday and is interested in how it is helping Muslims create new spaces for themselves. My journey to understand this landscape took me to four North American Muslims who are all using social media in different ways. My first interviewee began his social media journey on Facebook in the spring of 2012 when a fellow of his at the New Brunswick Islamic Center in New Jersey created a public page for him. Today, Dr Shadee Elmasry, a classically trained Maliki scholar who has studied various teachers has over a hundred thousand Facebook followers and over ten thousand Instagram followers. I questioned Dr. Elmasry about his experience with social media, how it began and how it has changed over time. “Social media,” he told me, “reflects a person’s spiritual and emotional state.” In the beginning, he continued, he posted a lot of refutations to rebut what he called “liberal thinking creeping into Muslims” because he was concerned about the reluctance of elders to address it from an ideological level. Eventually, he moved away from refutations because he felt they were creating divisions and stoking negative emotions between people who should have been on the same side. It is social media’s ability to traverse geographic constraints that allow such interactions. Live Instagram sessions, for example, are increasingly being used as extensions to traditional study circles by scholars and students alike to
dispense and consume knowledge. With Muslim communities dispersed into small pocket in and around large cities in North America, this extension is giving audiences opportunities to learn more about their faith. The utility does not end there. Increasingly, individuals within the community are also using these platforms to go beyond what is taught and learnt in traditional study circles or seminaries to discuss topics which are overlooked in everyday discourse. One such individual is my next interviewee, Zainab Bint Younus. I had only been following @ bintyounus for a few weeks when, after being impressed by the audacity of her content, I decided to reach out to her for this article. Zainab is a writer based in Victoria, British Columbia and has been active on the internet since she was a teenager. Her online content has ranged from book reviews and memes to issues of women empowerment, polygamy, sex, and gender. She focuses on dissecting how the confluence of culture, faith, and modernity often blurs our conception of these sensitive, yet important topics. Zainab, who used to go by “The Salafi Feminist,” started her online journey on the blogosphere when online discussion forums were the order of the day. Growing up in a household immersed in da’wah (proselytization) had played an important role in shaping her work and her views. At age 16, she moved on to cofound “Muslim Matters,” a blog about all things Muslim, to which she still contributes. Then, with the advent of Facebook and Instagram, she shifted her focus to social media Zainab’s father, Younus Kathrada, is a classically trained scholar who studied at the University of Medina. He also runs an Islamic school in Victoria, BC. “Having a scholar at arm’s length helps keep me grounded in faith”, said Zainab, who herself has completed various diplomas in the Islamic studies. “Sometimes, I have sisters asking me for rulings and it helps that I have someone close who can provide them,” she noted, reflecting on how the internet enables her to be the bridge helping provide reliable Islamic opinions to her followers when they come to her with questions. SPRING 2021 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 15
“Zainab's willingness to speak openly about difficult issues comes with its consequences. She recalled how in the beginning when she wrote about general topics like da'wah her work was acclaimed, but once she started to delve into more sensitive topics, the reactions began to polarize along gendered lines. “
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Zainab’s willingness to speak openly about difficult issues comes with its consequences. She recalled how in the beginning when she wrote about general topics like da’wah her work was acclaimed, but once she started to delve into more sensitive topics, the reactions began to polarize along gendered lines. Men have gone to the extent of harassing her, at times even reaching out to her husband and father in an attempt to “silence her.” In contrast, women generally appreciate her for voicing their shared concerns from a position grounded firmly in the Islamic tradition. “You grow thick skin,” she said, “when you have been voicing unpopular opinions for a long time.”
delivering halal investing advice in in a market that does not cater to them at present. Another individual who is successfully exploiting a gap in the market is Manal Aman, a UofT graduate who sells do-it-yourself (DIY) crafts for children aged 10 and below. Manal, who runs the account @helloholydays on Instagram, sells crafts aimed at helping children make their holidays more fun. Her page features, among other things, Valentine’s Day cards, DIY rings, easy to make snacks, and balloons in the shape of the Holy Ka’bah. Unlike Zainab’s organic rise, Manal had always intended to build a brand and she has done so successfully. “Actions speak louder than words” she told Zainab’s experience seems to be shared by many me as we spoke about what she thinks of the community’s other Muslim women who choose to question the reaction to her work. Her success, she tells me, can be norm and challenge established narratives, even when gauged by the fact that some of the biggest names in they do so from strictly within the the DIY market, such as Martha paradigm of Islamic scholarship. Stewart, have collaborated with her. "My hope is that our Manal calls herself a “visionary” who conversations around Addressing another taboo has led the way for other aspiring social media fall like topic, albeit one that is less sensitive, entrepreneurs to come forward and droplets of rain on the that of shariah compliant finance, market their products online in order is Ahmed Jawa. Jawa is an IBM dry, barren soil giving rise to cater to this niche market. Manal’s consultant who uses his Instagram to the fragrance of hope experience is also shared by a host page, @thinkhalal_and_growrich, to for it in the end, it is hope of individuals and local businesses. deliver stock recommendations and we are condemned to financial advice aimed at Muslims. Just like Manal, other local Petrichor.” He likes to tie his work to the broader businesses are increasingly context of what he feels is lacking leveraging the reach and scope of in the Muslim community today; we do not seem to social media to promote their products. Having an have a voice because of a weak economic position. A Instagram account, in addition to a Facebook page Pakistani himself, he lamented how “Pakistan isn’t able and a hip website, has increasingly become the norm to stand up to China for its persecution of the Uyghyrs,” for businesses. With targeted ads and paid promotions, he goes, “because China has economic leverage over businesses are able to target audiences at a fraction of the Pakistan.” The same, he theorizes, is true for other places cost compared to what they would have paid had they in the world where Muslims are being persecuted. gone about doing it via television, radio, or billboards. Manal’s journey from UofT to the world of business is He also laments how Muslims often overgeneralize one that resonates with many aspiring businesspeople. the Qur’an’s injunctions on gambling and interest as a denunciation of wealth itself when Islam does not Having read some of Dr. Shoshana Zuboff ’s work discourage earning by lawful means. “If you look at on how social media enables the surveillance state, I the Prophet PBUH and the companions,” he told me debated at multiple points whether it was even ethical during our conversation, they “encouraged business, to speak appreciatively about social media. Should and business is not only opening a pop-shop.” Instagram, which sells our data for advertisement, I then asked him about his plans for the future of his page. be romanticized as a democratizing force? I have no “It is a work in progress,” he told me, mentioning that good answer to this question. Perhaps by talking about he has started small but as he grows in his career and his social media as opposed to on it, we will find a path investments, he wants to diversify the scope of his advice that leads us there. Perhaps I am being optimistic. to newer things such as cryptocurrencies and real estate. My hope is that our conversations around social Ahmed represents an emerging category of media fall like droplets of rain on the dry, barren “Muslim financial advice gurus” delivering soil giving rise to the fragrance of new growth. halal investing advice financial advice gurus” For in the end, it is hope we are condemned to. m
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LESSONS FROM AL-KINDI’S APPROACH TO SORROW Soundous Louardiane
orrow. It rolls in like a dark cloud, encompassing everything in its path, and leaving every soul that it touches with paralyzing feelings of helplessness and misery. Sorrow does not discriminate; everyone has been or will be, afflicted by it to some degree. It has been particularly ubiquitous in the past year, with all the isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty that Covid-19 has brought upon the world. People are always trying to find ways to cope with this incredibly unpleasant, yet inevitable feeling. al-Kindi (801–873 AD), one of the most renowned Muslim philosophers of the Islamic Golden Age, tackled this matter in his treatise “On the Means of Dispelling Sorrow.” He offered his perspective on the source of sorrow and presented philosophical arguments on how its negative effects could be diminished, or even avoided.
Al-Kindi defines sorrow as being a psychological pain that arises from the loss of loved things or from the failure to obtain desired things. According to him, this pain of the soul needs to be cured because it can be emotionally, and even physically, detrimental to dwell in sorrow. al-Kindi’s solution is to change the focus of what we love and desire. This involves redirecting the value given to ephemeral things, such as physical possessions, towards eternal things which lie in the realm of the intellect. This realm includes elements such as knowledge, faith, and most importantly, the connection to Allah (SWT), who is the most Everlasting. If minimal importance is given to transient things, little anguish will be felt when they are taken away. Furthermore, there is no chance for sorrow if great importance is placed in everlasting things, because, by definition, they can never be taken
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away. Overall, one gains control over their sorrow by according little value to that which cannot be controlled and treasuring that which is eternal. Of course, this is all very abstract, and it is certainly easier said than done. However, al-Kindi roots his treatise in practical methods and argues that it can be achieved by means of habituation. Indeed, al-Kindi argues that it is possible to redirect one’s love for the ephemeral to the eternal by making a habit of being content with what this life offers, while actively pursuing what can be found in the realm of the intellect. Through conditioning, the soul can be molded into a disposition of contentedness that becomes intrinsic. This leads to a shift in what is considered valuable; a calm indifference to the ephemeral elements of life can be established, and great happiness can be derived from elements that are invulnerable to loss. Sorrow can therefore be minimized with this change in perception.
Unfortunately, al-Kindi does not provide instructions as to how to develop a habit of caring for that which is everlasting more than that which is easily lost. This limitation of his treatise offers room for original contributions. I believe that a practical way of shifting the focus of our love towards that which is everlasting is to strengthen our relationship with Allah (SWT), as He is the Eternal One. This can be done in thousands of different ways, but I will only discuss two that I find particularly efficient.
PHOTO // SAMUEL AUSTIN ON UNSPLASH
One of the most important ways of getting closer to Allah (SWT) is to develop the habit of praying well. Most Muslims pray five times a day, but many do not feel the benefits of their prayers because, even though their bodies are performing the act, their hearts and minds are absent, usually preoccupied with the ephemeral things of life. Praying creates a direct connection to Allah (SWT), hence reminding us of His constant presence. It is therefore important to develop our concentration (khushu’) during prayers so as to spiritually benefit from our one-onone time with Him. A way to increase our concentration during prayer is to pay attention to the verses being recited and attempt to understand their meanings. Tied to this is the study of the Qur’an, which would provide the necessary tools for comprehension that can be applied in prayer.
Moreover, being in constant remembrance of Allah (SWT) through dhikr is another means of strengthening our relationship with Him. Therefore, it is beneficial to develop a habit of remembering God. Particular times of the day can be reserved for it (for example, after waking up, after every prayer, or before going to sleep), but it can also be done at any spare moment during the day (for example, during a walk, or while waiting for the bus). The dhikr utterances can also be implemented in everyday speech when appropriate. For example, “Astaghfirullah” (I seek forgiveness in God) can be said in moments of frustration and anger. Also, getting into the habit of saying “Bismillah” (in the name of God) before beginning anything has the effect of reminding us of Allah. Overall, dhikr can be easily embedded into our daily routine, and it serves as a constant reminder of that which is eternal.
Habitually reinforcing our connection to Allah (SWT) through these small acts of worship can therefore change our perception of life. Our focus would be on Him, making life’s ephemeral things appear meaningless. This would give rise to contentedness, thus minimizing sorrow. Of course, this takes time, and it is difficult, but in the long run, it will allow for a happier life. Sorrowful events would be perceived differently and would therefore have a softer blow. Being aware of Allah’s (SWT) eternal presence will always provide comfort in times of sorrow and will help to dispel it.
Al-Kindi offers a way of coping with sorrow that involves an inner struggle to change one’s mindset so as to attach itself to that which is eternal. Building a strong relationship with the Creator by implementing habitual acts of remembrance and worship can bring serenity and contentment into one’s life, as well as hope for healing and new beginnings. After all, a heart filled with love for Allah (SWT) leaves little space for sorrow.
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Hikmat Jamal: What is your history with the Muslim community in Toronto? Master Abdullah Sabree: My story is quite extensive. I was born in Kingston, Jamaica and grew up in London, England. I have been in Toronto since 1970. I was a competitor in martials arts from the 70s up until 5 or 6 years ago. I’ve competed on the Canadian national team and won medals at the world championships. HJ: At what point did you adopt a more teaching role in bringing martial arts to the community? MAS: Martials arts was a tool and has always been a tool. I was with the Nation of Islam in Toronto and the minister in charge of Toronto. I then came over to Islam proper and have used martial arts as a vehicle, a da’wah vehicle, to bring people to the deen. I have had thousands of students over the years and have used martial arts for developing and growing the youth. I’ve even worked with people from ages 5 up to 70 and more! Martial arts, as it is, is just a small aspect of the development of the human being. We need to develop all 3 aspects: the physical, psychological, and spiritual. Martials arts has been a tool to develop the physical and help young people improve in that aspect. We have a lot of Islamic meetings and conferences, but the physical aspect of the human being has not been looked after at all. The development of has to be holistic; the Prophet ﷺdeveloped the human being physically, psychologically, and spiritually. This is the essence of a Muslim in order to grow and be the leaders of society. HJ: What is it about martial arts compared to other sports that is special? MAS: Martial arts is an overall development. It captures elements of the psychological, the mental aspect, as well as the physical in the development of individuals. 20 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | SPRING 2021
HJ: A lot of younger Muslims, including myself, do not appreciate the changes in the Muslim community from the 70s and 80s compared to today. What are some of these changes? MAS: I found the community in a very strange dilemma. In the 70s and 80s, the community was small but quite together. The various masajid, and there weren’t many, worked together and cooperated. But, as we got bigger, we began to get smaller. In terms of our operations and working together as a group, we are a large entity much like sand in a barrel. You pick us up and we fall. This is what I have tried to emphasize—the necessity for us to come together and it is why we have the program in various masajid in the community. The focus is not to grow in size, necessarily, but to grow together as a whole and as one entity. Every one of us has different ideas and structures they can bring to the community. If we can come together as one entity we can become stronger. Right now, we are fragmented and doing very little. HJ: Is this also something you believe is a problem we face as a global Muslim community? MAS: Globally, the Muslim community is what, a quarter of the world’s population? But we represent less than 1% of the world’s population in terms of movement and change because we are not unified. This is what martial arts is all about! It’s about bringing together the different forms of the human being and working together as one person. The community as a whole can become a martial arts within itself if we bring together the different forces and varieties and make a collective effort to be a force for change and growth in Toronto and in the world. HJ: I have noticed that often, we attach a certain ethnicity to mosques. We have the Pakistani mosque, the Somali mosque, the Arab mosque, etc especially in parts of Toronto where specific ethnic groups tend to live together. And I’ve heard both sides of
INTERVIEW WITH MASTER ABDULLAH SABREE the argument - some argue that it is the beauty of Islam that so many cultures can express the religion and be beautified by Islam in different cultural expressions, but also that perhaps it isn’t good that we have this compartmentalization of sorts where it fosters exclusivity. Are we, as a community, long overdue breaking down these barriers and ethnic labels?
to keep us disunited and struggling for an identity we will never achieve! We need to recognize that they are working against us on a step-by-step basis. However, the Muslim community as a whole needs to move towards helping this in order to enhance the growth of the Muslim community as a whole. We need to play a helpful role in helping the entities struggling to get up.
MAS: This is something that we have to work on. If we don’t, we will continue to be split. This is a very important aspect of our growth and we need to work on this and come together. With all of our different strengths, if we put these together as one entity, we will be able to harness the forces around us and grow. The different labels attached to masajid - the Pakistani, Somali, Afghan, etc is working against us. This is actually causing a descension, rather than an ascension. Yes, we need to acknowledge our individual strengths and cultures but we need to use that to work together towards excellence. If we follow the life of Rasulullah ﷺand the Sahaba, they were able to harness the forces of individuals as one group and achieve great things.
HJ: A lot of our readers are young Muslims who are idealists at heart, including myself. We like to see grand actions immediately rewarded. However, the world isn’t so kind and we might not see things pan out like that always. You have changed thousands of lives in the Muslim community, so what is your advice to the idealist readers to not get discouraged and do the role that is best for them?
HJ: Presently, there are many labels attached to us. I, for example, consider myself an Afghan Muslim. Someone might consider themselves as a Canadian Muslim, or a Black Muslim, or a Bosnian Muslim, or a combination of these. With the recent news and debates around anti-Black racism in particular, what can Muslims do to combat anti-Black racism in our own communities? MAS: The community needs to recognize the beauty of each individual. We need to enhance this beauty and ensure we are vocal about any form of racism towards any group. The Black community has faced a lot of derogatory treatment. The Black community has also struggled due to the slavery ideology placed on us over the period of years. Some of us in our community are locked into it and some of our people are struggling against it but in the wrong way. Those who are in power in society would like
MAS: What we need to have is patience. We need that patience to grow and develop, but we need to be consistent. We can’t jump up in the middle and expect results overnight. It’s all about persistence and this is where we are falling down. We lack the collective unification to move in the right direction due to impatience and this becomes a major problem for us. Allah will help us as long as we are helping ourselves. The help will come from corners and areas we can’t even begin to perceive but we need to have that determination to help ourselves. If we strive together and do what is right, then we will get help from everywhere. HJ: Thank you, Shaykh, for giving me your time. I know we had connection issues and thank you for bearing with me. MAS: I am speaking to you from up in the hills in Jamaica so that is probably why! As-salaamu alaykum.
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To Him we Shall Return REFLECTIONS ON DEATH AND LOSS IMAN GHAZI
ho will remember us after we are gone? Who will continue our deeds for us?
These were the questions I had heard my grandmother ask for years before she passed away. While she wasn’t necessarily looking for immediate answers, I always wondered about them myself. There was a point when I thought about it constantly… death, what follows, and how I, as a Muslim, would handle it. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t something I needed to worry about just yet. I was wrong. I grew up being told to live as if each breath were my last. Anything could happen and my soul could be taken at any moment. I knew this, yet I was still unable to truly understand it until I experienced loss for the first time. When I was 11 years old, I lost a friend in a car accident. That was the first time I had ever experienced true grief. Despite being a child, losing someone taught me that death does not wait for you to grow old and live out your life. When I was 13, my grandfather passed away due to cancer. This time, I knew that he was sick, and I knew what was to come. A week before he passed away, his heart failed, but he was miraculously revived. When he passed away the following week and his Janazah was held, it somehow felt too soon. At that moment, I realized that no matter how many times one returns from being a breath away from death, they still must go. Now I am 18. I’ve lost two very important people in just the past year. On the third day of Eid, I woke up to the news that my uncle had passed away. This was when I truly learned that death comes when it is willed by Allah ﷻ. Four months later, my grandmother fell ill. I was very close to her as she had been a major part of my childhood. She was sweet, full of laughter, and had an inspiring and unwavering faith in God. It was so strong that she was sure she would get better in no time. This taught me that death will approach regardless of our spiritual condition. While all of these lessons have become part of my understanding of death, there is one major aspect that I believe is the most comforting of all. I hadn’t realized that the pain I was experiencing could be healed by simply reflecting upon my religion a bit more. With this, I not only better understood death, but I developed a clearer understanding of grief and the afterlife. A concept that I quickly learned to implement in my life was Tawakkul, to have full faith and trust in Allah ﷻ.“It may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know” (Qur’an 2:216). This is an idea that can be difficult to comprehend,
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but one that has the power to provide ease and comfort to even the heaviest of hearts. Verses such as these are often unintentionally neglected. As a matter of fact, it feels as though they become hidden when we are most vulnerable. Our grief can be so impactful on our hearts and minds that it becomes blinding. For Muslims, the blessings and teachings in the Qur’an and corpus of Hadith are unmatched as long as we learn to utilize them and implement them in our lives. In a hadith narrated by Mus’ab bin Sa’d, his father, Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas, had asked the Prophet ﷺwhich people would be tested the most severely. The Prophet Ss.Aa.Ww replied, “If he is steadfast in his religious commitment, he will be tested more severely, and if he is frail in his religious commitment, his test will be according to his commitment.” I was struck by a sudden realization upon reading this hadith. I began to understand that death is inevitable, but when we experience loss, we understand the strength of our Iman and the strength of our love. However, it’s important to remember that as Muslims, such feelings are not exclusive to individuals of the Ummah. Having lost such close loved ones, I began to feel isolated and alone. Once I began to reflect upon the life of the Prophet ﷺ, I remembered the year in which he lost both his uncle and his wife. He faced extremely painful hardships, such that he recognized a period of time known as “The Year of Sorrow.” The Prophet’s ﷺwife and uncle had provided him with support when he needed it most, and now they were gone. We often find it difficult to humanize the Prophet ﷺand assume that he did not experience what we do in our “normal” lives. Knowing that some of my emotions were familiar to his, ﷺ, provided me strength as I continued to cope with the loss of so many loved ones. In addition to understanding the occurrence of loss and adversity as the first step in coming to terms with our emotions, understanding the afterlife gives us comforting knowledge on where our loved ones may be. Through heavy research of well-known scholars, we are given detailed outlines of what happens to souls after death (though ultimately, Allah ﷻknows best). Of the information provided, I found it all to be very comforting and encouraging. For instance, the righteous souls being able to have their graves expanded or the fact that they are able to see heaven as they wait. The most comforting bit of information was knowing that the righteous would be gathered together in the realm of souls known as Barzakh. Many souls will spend their time together with those who were present throughout their lives as well. After losing my loved ones and becoming aware of the existence of this realm, I felt at peace knowing that there is a chance they are together. I may not be with them now, but they aren’t necessarily alone. When our souls visit Barzakh in our sleep and we see our loved ones in a positive manner, we can find comfort in knowing that they are, in fact, doing well. They truly wish to inform us that they are at peace and that Allah ﷻis taking care of them. So, do not fear death, as it is only the beginning. Find comfort in what Islam offers us. The lessons that we learn through the pursuit of knowledge helps us grow as Muslims and members of society. When we lose loved ones, it is our duty to continue their deeds so that they may enjoy the fruits of the afterlife, and so that we may one day be reunited with them, God willing. Islam does not call for us to neglect those who have left us. It calls for us to remember them in ways that transcend our world in order to reach them in the next.
ِإنَّا َِّٰ ِل َو ِإنَّا ِإلَ ْي ِه َر ِاج ُعو َن
Verily we belong to Allah, and to Him we shall return.
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