Approaching Troubles With A Peaceful Heart

Approaching Troubles With A Peaceful Heart

By approaching life’s challenges with a peaceful heart, we nurture the value of patience and thereby approach the ideal of the joyful soul.

By Nabi Raza Abidi

Not a day goes by where we don’t face some significant spiritual challenge. When our spouses, siblings or children make remarks that anger us, these are the times we need to watch our hearts. When we see people gossiping, it is the time for us to either leave the room or put a stop to it. Drivers honk at us, cut us off, or someone pushes us in line to get ahead; in all these moments we need to control our anger and nurture our spirituality.

When we approach our trials and temptations with itminān al-qalb (peaceful heart) we heal our minds and souls and become stronger as a result. Reacting with anger only destroys the soul and making us more susceptible to the demons. Controlling our reactions to negative external events helps strengthen us for the next round of trials, temptations and bouts of suffering. By practicing this step by step, we get closer to the Islamic ideal of the joyful soul and ward off the influence of the demons.

Waʿlaikum as-Salam,
Yours Faithfully
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California

How Our Environment Is Making Us Less Religious

How Our Environment Is Making Us Less Religious

The loss of religious belief is not because people are more intelligent, it is the result of an environment that is devoid of God and saturated with meaninglessness.

As religious belief is abandoned, the moral fabric of society also begins to collapse. The link that ties religious belief to the transcendent is the only possible way to objectively ground morality. Without religious belief, morality becomes mundane and subjective thus requiring the modern state to become more intrusive in nature to uphold the cohesiveness of society. The current society we live in may seem well-mannered and law-abiding, but I’m not so sure how long this behavior would last if the state would one day stop policing people.

I meet countless young people who have no religious beliefs, some of who used to be part of our own community. An increasing number of people around the world are declaring themselves as atheists or at the very least agnostics. What is ironic is that their understanding of God is unremarkable and more similar to a mythological god rather than the more theologically complex and sophisticated understanding of the divine as revealed to us by the Prophet Muhammad (s) and his Ahl al-Bayt (as).

How society is evolving is no accident. We are the by-products of our environment. What we hear and see shapes much of who we are. If we want to become sensitive, loving, caring and God-fearing people, we must be mindful of the movies we watch, the songs we listen to and the company we keep.

Even though the world today is not an ideal place for our children to grow up in, we must still do what we can to stymie and inhibit its corrosive effects. Violent videogames, shows, or meaningless Youtube videos must be censored in our homes.

The prophets taught us to be concerned with what went into our hearts and the hearts of our youth. The heart is the vessel in which the All-Merciful sits in. If the heart is broken and cannot take in the Light of God, it will remain dark and open to the Satanic influence of the world. We all strive to give our children the best possible education; but remember that the greatest gift we can give them is not an ivy league education or expensive material goods. The greatest and only sustainable gift we can give them is īmān (faith) only because it is this faith that will sustain them in the world and the one to come, not the ephemeral objects of this world.

Waʿlaikum as-Salam,
Yours Faithfully
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California

Artificial Islam By Nabi Raza Abidi

Artificial Islam By Nabi Raza Abidi

Pretentious religious lives devoted to pleasing others rather than God leads to the death of the human heart. It is only through diligent self-awareness of one’s own consciousness and sins that one can truly serve God. This is artificial Islam.

It is quite easy to live life in hypocrisy if the dangers or pitfalls of spiritual life are not heeded. Simply putting on the mask of Islam and following a life that is rehearsed as if one is in a theater is not living Islam. Remember that Islam in Arabic is a verb and literally means to submit one’s heart to and serve God. To live the proper Islamic life, one must practice muḥāsabah. Muḥāsabah (lit. retrospection or self-assessment) refers to the mindful practice of self-awareness in terms of examining one’s own sins and failures in one’s servitude to God. As such, it is a daily examination of our conscience as well as taking the advice of our spiritual elders, especially those who are more advanced and experienced in the path of serving God.

The foundation which muḥāsabah lies on – without which it becomes worthless – the practice of tawbah or sincere repentance to God. Without tawbah, our spirituality is false. Our servitude, or Islam, becomes pretentious thereby causing the death of the spiritual heart. It a sincere and honest examination of one’s own intentions and consciousness that our relationship with God grows and becomes meaningful.

With correct muḥāsabah, one can avoid making religiosity an act for others in public. Simply acting or putting on a show for others leads to the death of one’s relationship with God. In the Islamic tradition, this is called al-shirk al-khafī (lit. the hidden idolatry) which is a pretentious form of worship that is dedicated to impressing people rather than pleasing God. Put differently, pleasing others through false religiosity is fundamentally different from pleasing God. In the former, one becomes fully extroverted where attention is only given to self-promotion and the desire to please others rather than honestly investigating one’s own consciousness, being and examining one’s sins.

True freedom is thus born from the diligent examination and organization of the mind in accordance to what pleases God; and its condition is none other than muḥāsabah.

Waʿlaikum as-Salam,
Yours Faithfully
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California

On Achieving Certainty About God’s Existence

On Achieving Certainty About God’s Existence

Rational arguments are tools to help us think about God, certainty (yaqīn) about God’s existence comes through the experience of the heart.

By Nabi Raza Abidi

Whether you browse the internet or peruse through books at a bookstore, you’ll be amazed at the amount of literature that exists on the existence of God, both for and against. The plethora of arguments and counter-arguments may be confusing for some even though atheistic arguments don’t stand a chance in the front of a sophisticated theologian.

Yet despite the vast number of good philosophical and scientific arguments for the existence of God, many people are still left with a lack of certainty (yaqīn) about His existence or presence. There is a simple explanation to this: philosophical or scientific arguments are there as aids to help us think rationally and correctly about God. They do not necessarily and in themselves give us certainty about the being of God for the reality of His existence is not just an epistemological matter, but an ontological one. Simply put, the issue of yaqīn is a matter of the heart.

Imam Khumayni (ra) provided us with a very good example outlining this dilemma. Imagine that you were put in a room with a dead corpse. From a strictly rational sense, you know that the dead corpse would not get up in the middle of the night and attack you. Yet if you were asked to sleep through the night with that corpse in the room, chances are that you would be too scared to do so! Why? The reason, as Imam Khumayni explains, is because although your knowledge tells you that the corpse will not get up, your heart on the other hand has not been convinced yet.

The same applies to our relationship with God. Although we may be intellectually convinced of God’s existence, our heart may say something else. In order to achieve true certainty of God, the heart (qalb) must experience God. It is not that God’s essence is experienced, but it is His Uncreated or Living Light as the Eastern Orthodox tradition teaches. The Catholics call this the Beatific Vision of God and the Muslims call this shuhūd (lit. witnessing).

Many books have been written on how to attain this state of shuhūd. Briefly put, it requires a symbiosis of practices. On the one hand there is prayer (praying on time!), fasting and following the rules of God’s law. On the other hand, there is the practice of cultivating inner virtue (akhlāq). The virtuous spiritual life is not just an outward display of good character towards others and God (that may just be pretentiousness), but it is an internal reality in which the self is emptied of spiritual diseases such as anger, hatred, jealously, pride, envy and so on and so forth. These disease act like veils that block God’s light. Interestingly enough, this means that God’s Light is always shining on the hearts, but our inner veils keep them it from reaching our hearts.

There are many steps that one must undertake in order to acquire God’s grace (raḥmah) and purify the inner self and thus acquire God’s Living Light; a good and necessary place to start in is the practice of unceasing remembrance of God (dhikr). This is not just simply the recitation of God’s name throughout the day, but it is also actively remembering God in places and all times. Although dhikr may not have its apparent affects in day, month or even a year, but over a number of years it will slowly but surely transform the state of the heart.

Think of it the following way: a drop of water on a rock will do no damage. A 100 drops in a day will not do anything either. But over a number of years it will eventually crack the rock. The practice of dhikr is similar. The hardened heart will take a long time to crack open with the droplets of dhikr. So it is a good idea to start while one is still young!

Waʿlaikum as-Salam,
Yours Faithfully
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California

Depression: The Cancer Of The Soul By Nabi Raza Abidi

Depression: The Cancer Of The Soul By Nabi Raza Abidi

Depression is the silent disease of the modern days; it wrecks more havoc than bodily cancer because it is the cancer of the soul.

By Nabi Raza Abidi

Depression is the spiritual poison of the modern times and destroys the lives of too many people. The pain and suffering that comes with depression spreads to the surroundings of the sufferer. Just like a rotten apple will spread its rot to other apples, so too does depression to those who surround the sufferer. Psychiatrists seem to be struggling with finding a cure but it seems that it is largely the pharmaceutical companies that are benefiting from the prescriptions. While they look for a cure, friendships and families are torn apart, marriages are destroyed, people quit their jobs (or get fired) and youngsters drop out of school – all because of the havoc of depression.

I am not denying that there are sometimes clinical reasons for depression, such as chemical imbalances in the brain or even problems in the liver, yet it seems that for most people depression is a disease of the soul. Depression is not just the opposite of happiness, but it is the opposite of liveliness. It sucks the energy out of people and fosters a sense of ultimate hopelessness.

In the case of ‘non-clinical’ depression, the cure is found in surrendering one’s soul to God. Our surrendering to God brings about His grace (raḥmah) which results in the acquisition of inner peace (itminān al-qalb). Surrendering to God is not just casting our cares to Him and admitting that He knows what is best for us, but it is also actively pursuing Him, increasing our prayers and fasting so as to please Him and thereby slowly but gradually replacing our depression with bliss.

Spending time in the Mosque, joining congressional prayers, increasing private prayers, eating with your brothers or sisters in faith after Friday prayers or after special programs contribute to the healing of our souls, helps take our minds off our problems and turns our hearts towards God. Reading spiritual books, listening to spiritual lectures and asking God for His forgiveness brings us the healing our souls yearn for.

“And for those who fear Allah, He always prepares a way out, and He provides for him from sources he never could imagine. And if anyone puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is Allah for him. For Allah will surely accomplish His purpose: verily, for all things has Allah appointed a due proportion.” (Quran, 65: 2-3)

Waʿlaikum as-Salam,
Yours Faithfully
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California

Dryness And Struggling In Prayer Is Not Always A Bad Thing – By Nabi Raza Abidi

Dryness And Struggling In Prayer Is Not Always A Bad Thing – By Nabi Raza Abidi

Dryness and struggling in prayer is not always a bad thing. Persisting in prayer despite sluggishness may be a sign of real devotion to God.

By Nabi Raza Abidi

Prayer is a struggle for many people. Dryness and lifelessness are not alien and they can be moods that lead us to the cessation of prayers. When our salāt (prayer) becomes difficult, it is important to remember that God is aware of this struggle. He knows our needs and what we want even when we are not aware of them, or don’t know how to express them.

This is the time for discipline and to pray without worrying about the prayer’s dryness. When we find that our minds are not engaged in prayer, it is ok to let the words of our prayers (e.g., the surahs we recite from the Qur’an) to be our voice without having to despair.

The sweetness of prayer will eventually come, but its initial path is full of toil and struggle. God wants to enter our being but this kind of graces requires our cooperation and our struggle in the face of emotional downs. Our relationship with God, or even our prayers, do not need emotional responses as not all of our relationships require emotional responses.

Being true to Allah is more important than having those nice emotional feelings in prayer. The lack of emotion in prayer is not an indicator of a lack of love, respect or fear of God. An indicator of love, respect and fear of God is when we move towards Him even when there is dryness in our emotions, when treading the path to Him and praying are a struggle. It is in this struggle and dryness that the special grace of God (rahmah) is often found through which the lasting joy and bliss in prayer is created.

Perhaps a good analogy would be our relationship to our children and spouses. We do not always feel emotional highs being with them. Staying with them and fulfilling our responsibilities are not always joyful but our persistent commitment is a sign of love. Maintaining our relationship with God in periods of dryness (especially when struggling in prayer) is perhaps more suggestive than maintaining that relationship during emotional feelings of fullness.

Waʿlaikum as-Salam,
Yours Faithfully
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California