Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Night of the Fifteenth of Sha’baan (Nisf Sha’baan) By Mona Elzankaly

In the Sunan of Ibn Majah, it is narrated with a weak chain, on the authority of ‘Ali that the Prophet, may blessings and peace of God be upon him, said the following:

If it is the night of the middle of Sha’baan, then enliven its night and fast its day, for in it, God descends to the heaven once the sun sets and says, “Is there anyone seeking forgiveness so that I can forgive him? Is there anyone seeking provision so that I can give him? Is there anyone tribulated that I can relieve his tribulation? Is there? Is there?” until the entrance of dawn.
There are many hadith on the benefits of the night of the fifteenth of Sha’baan, but scholars have differed upon their authenticity. Though many claimed that these hadith are weakly authenticated, Ibn Majah authenticated some and actually placed them in his rigorously authenticated hadith collection.

It is narrated that the tabi’in (the generation that directly followed the time of the Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon him) of Shaam used to glorify this night. Amongst them are Khalid b. Ma’dan, Makhul, Luqmaan b. ‘Aamir, and others. They used to exert themselves in worship during this night. It was from them that people learned the benefit and the glorification of this night. On the other hand, the scholars of Hijaaz differed with them and refused to acknowledge acts of glorification and worship that were performed specifically in observation of mid-Sha’baan. From among them are ‘Ata’ and Ibn Abi Mulayah. Abdu al-Rahman b. Zaid b. Aslam narrated the same from the jurists of the people of Medina, and it is also the opinion of the companions of Imam Malik and others. They all said glorifying this night was an innovation.

While the scholars of Shaam acknowledged enlivening mid-Sha’baan, they differed on the method of doing so. One opinion is that it is preferred to enliven it in the masjid in a congregation. Khalid b. Ma’dan, Luqmaan b. ‘Aamir, and others used to put on their best clothes, perfume themselves with incense, put on kuhl, and spend the night in the masjid. Ishaaq b. Rahwayh concurred with them and said “Establishing it in the masjid in congregation is not an innovation.” This was narrated by Harb al-Karmaani in his Masaai’l. According to another opinion, however, it is disliked to congregate on that night in the masjid to pray, tell stories, and to supplicate, while it is not disliked for one to enliven that night with prayers by himself. This is the opinion of al-Awza’i, the imam of the people of Shaam, their jurist and scholar.

Based on the fact that there are valid differences of opinion between the scholars, no one should condemn another for enlivening this night or for not doing so. Those who choose to seek the benefit of mid-Sha’baan by enlivening its night and fasting its day are following the opinion of Imam al-Awzaa’i and others. As for those who choose not to do so, they are abiding by the opinion of Imam Malik and others. Hence, there is no blame on choosing to follow either opinion.

Actions recommended by some scholars to perform during this night

As mentioned previously, it is recommended to bring this night to life with prayers, seeking forgiveness, supplication, and remembrance of God, and to fast the day of the fifteenth of Sha’baan. Many scholars have said it is good to read the Qur’anic chapter Yasin three times during this night (which begins after sunset). The first reading should be done with the intention of asking for a long life; the second with the intention of protection from tribulation; and the third with the intention of being in need only of God and leaving reliance on people. After each time this chapter is read, it is recommended to read the following supplication:

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. O God, O Bestower upon Whom none can bestow, O Possessor of Sublimity and Honor, O Possessor of Might and Favor, there is no deity but You, Who subdues disputers, Who grants protection to those seeking it, Who is the Safe Harbor for the fearful. O God, if You have inscribed me in Your Source Book as someone destined to be miserable and deprived of blessing or straitened in provision, then I beseech You to erase such from the Book, and rather to establish me with Yourself as one destined to be fortunate and to have adequate sustenance and access to wealth; for You have said, and Your word is the Truth, in Your own Book, revealed to Your Messenger and Prophet, “God erases whatever He wishes, or establishes it, and with Him is the Source Book” (Qur’an 13:39). My God! By Your most Sublime Manifestation on this most honored night of mid-Sha’baan, in which every important matter is differentiated and then bound together, remove from my destiny any tribulation, whether I be conscious of it or not, and forgive me that which You are most cognizant of. O God, make me one of Your servants with the greatest good fortune and portion of that which You distribute on this night, of guiding light, or apportioned mercy, or sustenance, or bounty given Your believers. O God! O God! There is no deity but You! O God, give me a devout, pure heart that is free of associating partners with You, neither ungrateful nor miserable—a sound heart that is humble and beseeching. O God, fill my heart with Your Light and the Lights of Your Manifestations, Your Beauty, Perfection and Love, Your Infallibility, Power, and Knowledge. O Most Merciful of the Merciful! And may God, the Exalted, bless our Master Muhammad and his family and companions and grant them peace.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Faith Divide: A Dishonest Review About Islam

by Eboo Patel at the Washington Post/Newsweek blog

Whoever selects and assigns the books on Islam for the Sunday New York Times Book Review needs to widen his reading and add some new names to his rolodex.

Last week there was a rave review of Bruce Bawer's alarmist book Surrender (the subtitle says it all: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom).

This week, the cover of the Book Review has a picture of a group of fully covered Muslim women set against a crowd of 'normal-looking' mostly-white Europeans with the headline "Strangers in the Land".

The review betrays more about the opinions of the reviewer - the noted and controversial academic Fouad Ajami - than the book under consideration, Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe.

Ajami opens his piece by juxtaposing two disparate pieces of history: the departure of Spain's last Muslim ruler in 1492, and the terrorist attacks on Madrid in 2004. "A circle was closed," Ajami writes, "and Islam was, once again, a matter of Western Europe."

The Muslim presence in medieval Spain is widely regarded as a time of tolerance, good government and support for the arts and education. In fact, Ajami himself wrote a positive review of one of the many books on that era, Maria Rosa Menocal's The Ornament of the World. Placing Al-Andalus, as it was known, in the same breath as a ghastly terrorist attack - as if to say 'Here's what happens when Muslims are around' - is beyond questionable. A dead fish wouldn't want to be wrapped in a newspaper article with that level of intellectual dishonesty.

I am with Ajami when he goes after the "militants, freeloaders and opportunists" discussed in Caldwell's book - the imams who criticize Western culture while living off the European welfare state, the Muslim men who refuse to educate their daughters and practically lock their wives in the kitchen, the Muslim youth who threaten the societies they should be seeking to contribute to. But, having lived there for three years, I know this is far from a full description of Muslims in Europe. In fact, Ajami's obsession with such characters (undoubtedly real, but how representative?) again reveals something about himself.

He refers to Europe's Muslims as "guests" (quotation marks his), and says that they have overstayed their welcome. And then, in a peculiar turn, he tells the story of his own immigration to America. Why is he not a guest who has overstayed his welcome? Ahhh, because as he says, "I, and others like me, accepted the rupture in our lives ... I accepted the 'differentness' of the new country ... I needed no tales of the old country."

Is this America he is talking about? This country that was build on immigrants coming and bringing the best of their heritage - arts, cuisine, work ethic, commitment to education, and yes, religious tradition. I mean, where would we be without Catholic universities or Jewish philanthropy? Does Ajami really think nations are build by immigrants leaving their heritage at home?

Ajami, of all people, should know better. It's not like he became an engineer or a doctor. He is an immigrant from an Arab country who has made his career as an expert on the Middle East. Of course he brought parts of it with him.

As I came to the end of the review, I found myself wondering whether Ajami was simply in a foul mood when he wrote this. An academic of his stature certainly understands that the 21st Century is going to be in large part about how relatively homogenous 'host societies' integrate immigrant communities. As Michael Walzer once wrote: the challenge of the diverse society is to embrace its differences and maintain a common life.

That suggests responsibilities on the part of the indigenous population (who, after all, needs the labor of the newcomers) and the immigrant community. Both need to embrace and maintain. Both the common life and the differences are important. The hope is that the differences contribute to the common life - strengthening and expanding it.

Islam has much to contribute to the West. Some loud and boorish Muslims in Europe claim Islam can only dominate. And, yes, a few of them are dangerous to Europe - including the Muslims of Europe. Some Westerners are responding by viewing Muslims as perpetual guests - migrant, temporary, throwaway labor - not neighbors and citizens. It's a framing that helps neither the old Europeans nor the new ones.

Fouad Ajami should know better. And so should the editors of the New York Times Book Review.

(Barring major news events I feel compelled to comment on, this is my last blog until Labor Day. Enjoy the last month of summer, and for my Muslim readers, may God give you strength during the blessed and challenging first days of Ramadan.)

By Eboo Patel | August 3, 2009; 9:05 AM ET

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New Translation - the Immense Ocean (al-Bahr al-Madid) by Ibn Ajiba

This is the book Dr. Honerkamp mentioned in his talk at the Zaytuna Arabic Summer Intensive recently:

The Immense Ocean (Al-Bahr al-Madid)

A Thirteenth/Eighteenth Century
Quranic Commentary on the Chapters:
'The All-Merciful', 'The Event', and 'Iron'
by Ahmad ibn 'Ajiba

Translated by: Mohamed Fouad Aresmouk and
Michael Abdurrahman Fitzgerald
Introduction: Kenneth Honerkamp
Forweword: Kristin Zahra Sands
204 pages, 9 x 6 / ISBN: 9781891785283
$ 23.95 (CAN $26.95) Fons Vitae Books
Forthcoming Pre-Order at FONS VITAE

“I have been requested by Shaykh, Sidi Muhammad al-Buzidi al-Hasani, as well has his Shaykh, the Qutb, Mulay al-‘Arabi al-Darqawi al-Hasani, to set down in writing a commentary that would combine both exoteric explanation and esoteric allusion, and I have responded to their request…in hopes that this work will benefit many and be a joy to the heart as well as to the ear.”

Ahmad ibn ‘Ajiba

The 18th century Moroccan mystic and scholar, Ahmad ibn ‘Ajiba, virtually unknown in the west before the 1967 publication of Jean-Louis Michon’s Le Soufi Marocain Ibn ‘Ajiba et son Mi’raj, spent six year towards the end of his life working intermittently on his single greatest work, The Immense Ocean (al-Bahr al-Madid), a complete commentary on the Holy Quran. The finished work would differ from all other previous Quranic commentaries (tafasir) by the fact that in addition to presenting the exoteric explanation for every verse, it also included esoteric commentary (ishara) which related each verse to the mystic path of Islam, Sufism.

The present translation is of one section--- the fifty-fourth hizb (or part) containing the Chapters of The All-Merciful, The Event, and Iron---from this unique and monumental work. Its intention is to provide the Anglophone reader with access not only to how the generality of educated Muslims have understood the dominant themes of these Chapters since the earliest days of Islam, but also how traditional Sufic sources have viewed these same themes in respect to the microcosm of the soul and the journey towards God. To this latter dimension, Ibn ‘Ajiba adds insights arising from his own spiritual quest, that of a man who, in his early 40s, having lived the life of a scholar from a noble Tetouani family, turned away from all the rank and respect he had previously enjoyed in order to become the disciple of two of the greatest Sufic teachers of his day, Mulay al-‘Arabi al-Darqawi and Muhammad al-Buzidi, and immerse himself in the rigorous spiritual training and practice that characterized their way, al-Tariqa al-Shadhiliyya al-Darqawiyya. This translation, then presents both an example of Islamic scholarship based on traditional formal sources as well as insight into Ibn ‘Ajiba’s own personal journey of discovery.

In the course of this work, the reader will find commentary, both exoteric and esoteric, on verses concerning the interrelation between Divine benevolence and human gratitude; the blessings of Heaven and the place of faithful men and women there; the relationship between practice, grace, and salvation; the role and meaning of the invocation and remembrance of God (dhikr Allah); the ephemeral nature of this world; the essential traits of Christians; the meaning of earthy tribulations; and the benefits of charity.

In addition the reader will discover the depths at which Quranic discourse has been understood by the mystics of Islam over the centuries (and up to the present day), a depth at which formal differences between traditions become less and less distinct and the similarities in the human quest for knowledge of the Divine ever more inspiring.


“As for God’s words Full of spreading branches, these allude to the many types of knowledge, tastes, mysteries, and lights to be found in those two gardens, as well as to the differing spiritual insights which arise from the ocean of mysteries. Therein, for each one, are two springs flowing forth, one with the teachings of the Revealed Law, ethics, and comportment befitting servanthood, and the other with the teachings of the esoteric truth, the Way, and the monotheism of the elect (al-tawhid al-khass). Therein of every fruit of spiritual experience (adhwaq) there is a pair, that is, two kinds: one which is constant and unchanging and the other which is renewed at each instant. We might also say there is a kind which pertains to the world of Divine Wisdom and another which pertains to the world of Divine Power, or one which pertains to the Essence and one which pertains to the Attributes; or one which arises from the sweetness of direct perception and one which arises from correct comportment.”

What makes this book special?

Al-Bahr al-Madid, from which this translation is an excerpt, is the only traditional Quranic commentary in existence which gives both exoteric exegesis and mystical “spiritual allusion” for each verse of the Sacred Book. Only one other work by the prolific 13th/18th century Moroccan mystic and scholar, Ahmad ibn ‘Ajiba, has so far been translated into English.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Sunday, August 2, 2009

For my teachers :)

"Many teachers tend to forget how valuable the wide reading and accumulated experience of a mature man or woman can be, to a pupil who is still groping around helplessly among untried experiments and unread books. If you can send him on into the world with frames of references suggested by you and tricks of craftsmanship which he could get only from you, you will have made him your pupil, as much as he will ever be, and earned a right to his permanent gratitude."

-pg. 45, the Art of Teaching by Gilbert Highet

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New book - iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam

Exploring the increasing impact of the Internet on Muslims around the world, this book sheds new light on the nature of contemporary Islamic discourse, identity, and community.

The Internet has profoundly shaped how both Muslims and non-Muslims perceive Islam and how Islamic societies and networks are evolving and shifting in the twenty-first century, says Gary Bunt. While Islamic society has deep historical patterns of global exchange, the Internet has transformed how many Muslims practice the duties and rituals of Islam. A place of religious instruction may exist solely in the virtual world, for example, or a community may gather only online. Drawing on more than a decade of online research, Bunt shows how social-networking sites, blogs, and other "cyber-Islamic environments" have exposed Muslims to new influences outside the traditional spheres of Islamic knowledge and authority. Furthermore, the Internet has dramatically influenced forms of Islamic activism and radicalization, including jihad-oriented campaigns by networks such as al-Qaeda.

By surveying the broad spectrum of approaches used to present dimensions of Islamic social, spiritual, and political life on the Internet, iMuslims encourages diverse understandings of online Islam and of Islam generally.

iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam (Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks)

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