Exploring Allah’s 99 Names: Ar-Rahman

Most Muslims say this name multiple times throughout our daily lives: before we eat, when we pray, when we’re scared or worried, and countless other times. There’s even a whole surah in the Qur’an dedicated to this name. So, how much do we really understand the meaning of one of Allah’s most well-known names? How much do we really know about, Ar-Rahman? Or has it been so normalized, so watered down from our daily habits that its divine meaning has gotten a bit blurred? What truly matters is that we actively seek out knowledge and forgiveness any time we catch ourselves slipping and becoming forgetful or stagnant in practicing our deen. When we do our best to comprehend Allah’s divine attributes, we truly do begin to feel closer to Him in unexplainable ways.

Many of us have come to know that Ar-Rahman is a name associated with Allah’s great, unmatched and intense mercy. What does this mean to us and why is this significant to our lives on Earth? If you think about it, mercy is a characteristic that enables all other qualities. It embraces all other attributes. For example, you can’t love without having mercy, nor can you help someone if you don’t have mercy. However it’s important to remember how all encompassing, ultimate and superior Allah’s mercy is over any other. We can see Allah’s mercy everywhere, starting from our own lives, our very own existence, and then pondering the planet in which He created sustenance for us to live on.

The Qur’an mentions Ar-Rahman 57 times and there is an entire chapter named after it. In Surah Ar-Rahman (55), Allah speaks to us about all of His creations. From the sun and the moon, to mankind and jinn – Allah has placed mercy in these creations in diverse ways, and has undying mercy for it all. What this surah is most known for is its repetition and the intensity it builds through this literary element. Allah repeats the ayah:

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Fabi ayyi aalaaa’i Rabbikumaa tukazzibaan / So which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?

This repeating ayah heightens the power and message of not only the surah, but also the meaning behind Ar-Rahman. It’s even interesting to reflect upon the structure of the entire surah from beginning to end. This surah is intense, there’s no doubt about that, but if we look closely, it’s noteworthy to see how the surah evolves and softens up as Allah begins to describe to us what Jannah is like and the people of Jannah, whom also embody a different level of mercy in order to have earned a place there. This surah is so beautiful in its reminder to us all. Allah (SWT) has placed His bountiful mercy all around us and He is always with us, showing us mercy in ways that we don’t even think of most of the time or can even comprehend. From being able to feel refreshed from drinking water, to being able to express our emotions through language, to witnessing the sunrise and sunsets and to even being able to have the capability to read and comprehend this very post. All of this is from Allah and His mercy. All of these activities didn’t have to be enjoyable for us, but everyone, both believers and nonbelievers, are able to enjoy even the tiniest things in life, due to Allah’s mercy.

I recently had a conversation with someone and they wholeheartedly believed that “all religions have one thing in common: if you sin, you will be punished, point blank.” How could this be a concrete truth if Allah is Ar-Rahman? The thing is – Islam has more depth than the aforementioned opinion. Islam is different and teaches us about who Allah really is. Islam does not teach us that if we make a mistake, Allah hates us and punishes us and that’s that. As humans, we are highly critical creatures, and often times very unforgiving of ourselves and of each other. However, it’s extremely important to know that Allah does not embody human characteristics. Allah’s mercy surpasses our intellect and our own capacity to forgive. Allah is waiting for us to ask for help, and waiting for us to seek forgiveness and comfort within Him. Just knowing that is a mercy within of its self.

All of these mercies from Him are so wonderful, so blessed, but far too often overlooked and forgotten. As mentioned earlier, we are only human and it is within our nature to be forgetful as we try to maintain the balance between dunya (worldly life) and deen (religion/faith). This will always be one of our greatest tests. In these times of forgetfulness or hopelessness, it’s key to remember that no matter how many times we sin or walk away from our faith, when we come back searching for answers, He will always be waiting for us and rushing towards us – vast mercy and all. When we are seeking forgiveness, call out for Ar-Rahman, the Most Merciful.

As always, it’s easier said than done, but if you think about it, there is beauty and peace in knowing that you are not as invincible as you might think or hope to be. There is a much greater power that is responsible for it all – your health, your knowledge, your trials, and your blessings. Knowing that it all lies within the care of Ar-Rahman, is a mercy on its own, an ease on our minds when we believe wholeheartedly.

Support Your Local Revert

I recently sat down with my good friend from middle school who reverted to Islam when we were just kids. I wanted to share her story and her struggles as a way to learn and better ourselves when it comes to helping reverts. Reverting to a religion that a majority of your family isn’t a part of can be hard and at times lonely. So if you know a revert in your community, reach out and offer them support.

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Q: How did you find Islam? What led you to finally convert?

A: So, what led me to Islam were my older cousins and my uncle, just being around them and spending a lot of time at the Masjid. It was always so much fun for me and to me it felt like that the people were very genuine. Like even though I had gone to catholic school… you know Christians can be like in your face with like getting you to convert. You know you got the Jehovah Witnesses knocking on your door every weekend. You know, they’re in your face. For me it was not like a… I was just that because that’s what my grandmother was and she was raising me at the time you know? It was not anything I believed in. But going to the Masjid and learning the Quran and everything made sense to me and it made sense to me that, that would be the last religion God has send down. So I accepted it at 12 years old and I decided this is what I want to practice and this is what I believe in. Because I experienced another religion and I was able to compare and contrast the two at such a young age.

Q:  How did reverting change your life? What struggles did it come with? And what was the positive aspect?

A: So there were struggles and also positive aspects of it. Most of my family is Christian and my aunt was really into Christmas like full out into Christmas but my family was respectful like for example if I don’t want to eat pork they would make everything without pork. That type of stuff was fine but it was just wanting to spend time with my family without celebrating holidays that I don’t necessarily celebrate or believe in. That’s where the struggle was; how do I spend time with my family without embracing the traditions and giving them false hope that I believe in this too.

The positive aspect is that I did have other family members who are Muslim and they supported me and it made me feel really comfortable. My family is pretty open, they aren’t judgmental people so the transition was smooth and no one made me feel uncomfortable for changing my religion.

Q: Would you say you were religious before? When you went to Catholic school?

A: No, it was more like a habit. Like you just do what you’ve always done. When you go to Catholic school, it’s like a ritual like the things they teach you and you do it mindlessly.

Q: So after your Shahada, was it easy to go to the Masjid and feel welcomed?

A: So because I was a child and went there with my cousin they embraced me as a child, but as I’ve gotten older I feel like going to the Masjid isn’t the same. You know, when I try to go to a Masjid, not having many Muslim friends, it just doesn’t feel that welcoming. There is no structure for new Muslims who are just starting to come to the Masjid. There wasn’t really an effort to try and include reverts. I wish they had some kind of program where they partner you with a sister who can help you learn and guide you through the transition.

Q: How do you think your experience is different from someone who was born into Islam?

A: When you’re born into something you know a lot of the fundamentals because you’ve grown up with it and there are people all around you actively teaching you and helping you with your knowledge of Islam, the Quran, and hadiths. But with reverts you don’t really have that direct source of knowledge. Most of the time you’re studying things on your own and online and you don’t even know if these things are accurate.

Q: When you tell Muslims that you’re a revert, what’s the reaction you typically get?

A: It depends. Being a revert and a black revert on top of that some people will make you feel like you’re not a real Muslim because they’re an Arab Muslim. But then there are other people who are welcoming and they’re usually other black Muslims. People who aren’t even Muslim will say things like “Oh you don’t look like other Muslims I know, how can you really be Muslim?” when I tell them I’m a revert.  And all I can say is that “I am a Muslim but I’m still learning.” You know, people ask me all the time “Well how are you Muslim? What country are you from?” and I wish people would understand that you can be Muslim no matter who you are. Yes, a black girl from America can be a Muslim. It’s for everybody.

Q: What’s one thing that you want the Muslim community to learn about reverts?

A: That we genuinely want to be part of the Muslim community. We’re not Muslim because our parents are Muslim and they made us be Muslim. We want to learn and be included. We want advice but not in a judgmental way.  

Q: How do you think Islam has affected you personally?

A: I believe that it has made me a calmer person and it has changed my judgment a lot. I think about things before I say and do it. That’s the best part of Islam to me, it has changed my character for the better. It has also made me a self-aware person and I try to strive to live by the Quran and hadiths.  

Q: What were the struggles you faced when you started to learn to pray and read the Quran in Arabic?

A: That’s one thing that I wish there was more support for. I remember the first Surah I learned was Al-Fatihah and that was one that I can remember no matter what but everything else has been hard. It takes a lot of practice and I wish there was someone I could just call up and say “Hey am I saying this right?!” It’s a completely new way of life and I wish there was more support and someone who will go through it with you and share their experiences and relate to mine. The other thing I find hard is that my old friends are great and I love them they’re great people but there are things that are haram for me but not for them. So when they go out clubbing on a Friday night it’s not haram for them but it is for me. And I still want to go and enjoy myself but within the halal realm. 

Q: Was it hard to go through middle and high school without the Islam support at home?

A: Yes, as a kid you want to do what everyone else is doing and it’s hard when you’re Muslim. Sometimes it felt like I was living two lives; on the weekend I would go to the Masjid and then during the week I was just another girl at school because at the time I wasn’t wearing hijab or really praying. And that’s something that I’m still working on and striving for.

Do Muslims Celebrate Christmas?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – allegedly. In western countries, Christmas is more than just a passing holiday; it’s an entire season and a lifestyle within itself. For some Muslims living in the west, this time of year can often feel like a drag, almost as if you’re third-wheeling on some weird date, but for others, it’s become just as joyous as it is for those who actively celebrate it.

They’ve made it difficult for people not to be attracted to Christmas. By “they,” I mean the capitalist regime that profit off of the masses being so utterly consumed by this holiday. With all of the pretty lights, stories, and overall coziness attributed to Christmas, in this day and age, if you deny liking it even a little bit, you’re kind of deemed a weirdo, or a “Grinch.” While there are still a fair amount of people who preach, “Keep the Christ in Christmas!” many stand by the modern notion that Christmas is no longer truly a religious holiday, but more cultural, if anything. This is a very slippery slope, especially for Muslims living in the west. Christmas, even today, can easily be seen and linked back to pagan beliefs and practices. The very essence of Christmas directly conflicts with the truth of Islam. Even if you find yourself having the intentions to solely celebrate it in the most “non-religious” way possible, we cannot sit here and pretend that there is no reason why we don’t celebrate this holiday in Islam. We cannot sit here and senselessly “celebrate” a holiday built around not only a highly capitalist agenda, but also idolization of entities other than Allah (SWT). Spoiler alert, but just because a majority of people are enjoining in a certain practice, doesn’t mean it’s right or that you should mindlessly participate and embrace it with them.

I truly am sympathetic to the Muslim diaspora and how painfully difficult it is to balance two worlds that always seem to be in conflict with one another, but it is not impossible. I feel that every year I witness more Muslims falling into the “Christmas trap.” Excuses such as, “But I’m not partaking in anything religious, it’s just for fun!” and “But Isa is a prophet that we recognize too, so technically…” and “It’s more cultural than anything else,” run rampant and cause much divide within our community. Every year, I am saddened by the fact that my Muslim brothers and sisters are sinking so deeply into a celebration of something that, at its core, is completely un-Islamic.

I get it, I really do. I was born and raised in America, and I have witnessed how “special” this time of year is made out to be. With all of the jolly Christmas music blaring in every single store, glistening décor, and the overall cheerful mood everyone seems to be in, one could easily ask, “How could anyone hate Christmas?” I’ve also seen many Muslims pull out the excuse that “It’s all about giving” during the Christmas season, so it’s okay to participate. In my humble opinion, I don’t think we should reserve being charitable and kind to just a few weeks at the end of the year. We should be carrying these actions and habits constantly throughout the year and all throughout our lives. I feel that many people fail to delve into deeper thought about the subject. I’m talking way passed the surface level of candy canes and reindeer. It has to do more with the fact that regardless of what angle you look at it from, it still is a holiday based on shirk, one that attacks the most important and fundamental aspect of Islam. It’s the first thing we are taught as Muslims, our existence revolves around this very truth: “La illaha illallah.” There is no God, but Allah. He is the One and only. When you’re actively choosing to participate in Christmas, whether your intention is to just, “have fun” and “be in the spirit” and doesn’t have to directly do with the “religious aspect,” it still is a pagan holiday nonetheless that derives from celebrating Jesus’ “birthday.” I understand that it is seen and celebrated in a more cultural way now, but if it’s so cultural now, why is it even called, “Christmas?” If it’s so cultural now, why are all these statues of Santa Claus and Maryam (RA), so heavily prominent across all decorations and stories about Christmas? Why is a tree involved? Why do people even exchange gifts with one another? If it’s so cultural now, why do most people still go to Church during this time? What is the significance behind it all? I’ve seen Muslims display all types of Christmas themed décor around their house, including a tree. Where is the limit? We may recognize prophet Isa for all of his miraculous characteristics and noble attributes, he is a beloved prophet to us and a very important figure in Islam, but we can never agree that he is “the son of God” nor is he God in any way. This is directly contradicting not only to the aforementioned first pillar of Islam, but it also counters what the Qur’an teaches us. One of the first surah’s we learn is Surah Al-Ikhlas (Sincerity), which reads:

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Qul huwal laahu ahad / Say: He is Allah [who is the One]

Allah hus-samad / Allah the Eternal Refuge

Lam yalid wa lam yoolad / He neither begets nor is born.

Wa lam yakul-lahu kufuwan ahad / Nor is there to Him any equivalent.

These are the basics of Islam, and to celebrate anything that even comes remotely close to disputing this is a disgrace and disrespect to Allah (SWT), even if it is masked underneath pretty colorful lights and music.

We cannot sit here and senselessly “celebrate” a holiday built around not only a highly capitalist agenda, but also idolization of entities other than Allah (SWT).

The prophet Muhammad (SAW) is the perfect example for us to follow in terms of lifestyle and character. He did not engage in any frivolous holidays and taught us not do so especially because they cause us to become distracted from worshipping Allah (SWT) and derive from a place and time of true ignorance. I think the thing is that as Muslims, we kind of fail to truly educate each other and ourselves in a proper way about Christmas and holidays in general, especially living in the west. We end up portraying ourselves to be a part of this strict, extreme religion that doesn’t allow any fun or enjoyment whatsoever. I’m no scholar, but I feel like that type of atmosphere and mentality almost pushes some (especially the youth) away from the true Islam. Who would want to learn more about a religion when all they’ve been told about it are the restrictions and “punishments?” Additionally, I have come across many people who claim that we need to “innovate” Islam to “progress” and be more assimilated with modern society. This is yet another ridiculous excuse to partake in irrelevant practices and beliefs such as Christmas. Why would Islam need any innovation at all when the All-Knowing, the Most Wise, created it in all of its perfection? Islam and the Qur’an have proven to remain relevant and timeless throughout history – it does not need to be molded or influenced by the creation to fit society’s weak standards or trends. We need to understand that humans literally cannot know and understand everything; we have not been created with that type of mental capacity, we are not the wisest beings to exist. Only Allah (SWT) withholds the reasoning behind every single thing. Understanding that truly puts everything into perspective.

We should be putting more of an emphasis on the blessed Islamic holidays that we have been given. We should engage our families and friends in celebrating Ramadan and Eid (both of them!) in a way that is even more beautiful than Christmas. We have Ramadan, such a blessed time that is quite honestly a month-long holiday in itself, and we also have not one, but two Eid’s in one year! Beautify these holidays and decorate your homes when Ramadan and Eid come around. Make special foods, wear your best clothes, visit your family, friends, neighbors, and of course, your masjid. When we begin to practice and understand the beauty that is in what Allah (SWT) has ordained for us, then we truly will not feel the need to want to participate in other holidays such as Christmas. Sure, maybe the whole entire world won’t be celebrating along with us with decorations and exclusive blowout sales, but that makes it even more special. It’s something just for us and it’s not completely stripped of its significance because it’s not being as commoditized as Christmas is. Just because our blessed holidays have not been integrated with the capitalist agenda, does not make them any less special, in fact it actually makes them that much more great.

Christmas is aesthetically pleasing, I won’t deny that, but it’s not worth celebrating if it means I’m defying Allah (SWT) in any way, intentional or unintentional. We can live without Christmas. It all really leads back to proper education on a variety of subjects, but most importantly the fundamentals of our faith. My intentions are not to sound like a grumpy, salty, extremist, but to underline the reality of what we are choosing to celebrate. It all just comesback to our devotion to Allah (SWT).

Reflections: Focusing During Prayer

I feel like one of the most common struggles that many Muslims face in their faith is concentrating when they are performing their five daily prayers. Continue reading “Reflections: Focusing During Prayer”

Her Name Was Nabra Hassanen #JusticeForNabra

Nabra Hassanen. Don’t forget her name. A 17-year old Muslim girl who was brutally assaulted and murdered. All murders are senseless, but Nabra’s life was taken for no reason other than the fact that she was Muslim. Because she was visibly Muslim in her beautifully draped hijab. This was not about a parking dispute or any other junk excuse the media and police are attempting to label it as. This was an Islamophobic motivated hate crime. This was a terrorist attack.

I get it. A lot of people are too privileged to see, let alone care, about how people in power, public figures, and the media constantly demonize marginalized groups.  I’m sick and tired of having to cater to their ignorance. Why is their ignorance costing us the lives of our brothers and sisters? Why do the lives of white Christians and Catholics seem to get way more airtime and global concern while Muslims are being persecuted right beside them and not even getting the least bit of respect? I am never one to compare tragedies, ever, but this is just feeding into the cycle of systemic injustice and oppression. I saw the outrage and heartbreak of my white coworkers when the Manchester attack happened recently. I saw newspapers stacked at the front desk sympathizing and “standing with” the people of London. Do people even realize the immense horror that just occurred in our own country? I don’t care if my coworkers know who Nabra is. I care about why they have a selective sensitivity and humanity towards only a certain group of people. This is a learned action. The media teaches us how we should think and feel, and this gravely skews our stances on justice and injustice. This was not about a traffic or parking dispute. How many times are the media and the police going to use that same excuse when Muslims are violently murdered in America? Whoever actually believes it had nothing to do with the fact that she was a visibly Muslim woman, really needs to wake up. It’s never about a parking dispute.

I am truly heartbroken. I sobbed upon hearing the news concerning my sister Nabra, who lost her life in this blessed month of Ramadan. Although I never knew her, it feels like I did. Nabra was my sister in Islam. A young Muslimah, a believing 17-year old girl in a world that is so against her. Muslim. Black. Woman. Much like many of my fellow Muslim women, her very existence was a political statement, a defiance against what most people in the West are seemingly “comfortable” with. I keep telling myself that I wish I were with her before she was attacked outside of the masjid. As if I could have done something. I wish I could have saved her. My heart goes out deeply to all of the people suffering in the world and my duas are forever with them, but this, this hits home on entirely other level. The fact that this has happened, let alone in the month of Ramadan, is exceptionally upsetting.

She was one of us. She was probably getting ready for these last few days of Ramadan and making plans for Eid. She had her whole life in front of her. To my fellow Muslim sisters, please be careful and be hyper-aware wherever you are. People have sick, evil, selfish intentions and unfortunately we are the ones who suffer the most from it. Especially my sisters who observe the hijab. I can’t even begin to try to think as awfully as the oppressors and attackers do when they act upon their violent thoughts.

Let’s take the very last few days of this blessed month of Ramadan to sincerely make dua for Nabra and her family. May she be granted Jannah al firdous, and may her family and friends find peace, justice, comfort, and sabr through Allah (SWT). May He replace the trauma of those who were with her that night with tranquility. Let’s also take time to reflect on this world that we live in, the state of this ummah, and the state of our own iman (faith). Keep this ummah in your duas every day, and try your best to renew your intentions and your iman each day, as if it was your last. Allah (SWT) Knows best and is the Most-Merciful.

There are many wonderful donations/charities being set up for Nabra and in her name. If you’d like to help support, here are a few:

https://www.piousprojects.org/campaign?id=394

https://www.launchgood.com/project/for_nabra#/

May Allah (SWT) protect all of my sisters in this world. May He grant us courage and steadfastness in our deen and may He bring peace to this hateful world. Ameen.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun. To Him we belong and to Him we return.

10 Tips for the Last 10 Days of Ramadan

We are winding down to the last few days of Ramadan. The last ten nights are said to be the most abundant in blessings, so naturally we should all strive to make the most out of them. Continue reading “10 Tips for the Last 10 Days of Ramadan”

Ramadan Mubarak

Ramadan Mubarak! The month we all wait for every year is finally here. Ramadan is a great time to set goals and learn new things. There are things you should do and of course, there are things you shouldn’t, we hope that this list helps! Continue reading “Ramadan Mubarak”

“Aren’t You Hot In That?”

As we approach the warmer months in the Northern Hemisphere, the rising temperatures seem to not only be making people sweat, but also judgmental of what others are wearing. Continue reading ““Aren’t You Hot In That?””