Ramadan Chats with Neryssa #6 : Mercy

“In all our talk about how God always condemns and punishes, we forget that God is also the Most Merciful’

[Ramadan Chats with Neryssa # : Mercy]

This post will be a little different from my usual Ramadan Chats with Neryssa posts. Where my past posts aimed to explain certain terms and concepts in Islam, I am using this project as a platform to talk about certain issues in the context of the Islamic religion and also reach out to my fellow Muslims.

Today I would like to talk about mercy.

I remember back before I started wearing the headscarf and started practicing the religion, and I would be subjected to direct and indirect attempts to shame me into practicing the religion. I remember once my religious studies teacher tried to shame me by calling me up on stage because it was Ramadan and I was wearing a pinafore and not the baju kurung which was the alternative uniform that was much more covering.

Or how ‘religous scholars’ or some of the much more ‘conservative’ Muslims would talk about hellfire and punishment towards those who don’t practice the religion.

And I remember being so turned off by the religion,because hearing them talk about how God was full of hatred and punishment had me thinking ‘well if I’m going to get punished anyway, I might as well be happy and do what I want first’/

Not to mention the internalised misogyny that came with these people ‘preaching’ about religion who mainly targetted women, especially those who didn’t wear the headscarf while guys who didn’t even pray or go for Friday prayers are often let off the hook which is pretty dumb because praying is one of the the five pillars of the religion, not the way you dress, so you would think they would actually focus more on the latter.

But what turned me towards the religion wasn’t their words that aimed to spark fear into submission towards God and religion. It was those who talked about the stories of how God loves His Creations

And how one time there was a man who wasn’t that good of a person but he showed compassion one day towards a dog by giving it water so God granted him paradise.

And how Umar (who was the third caliph) who used to hate the religion and condemn the prophet where he tried to kill him, only to fall in love with the religion through Prophet Muhammad’s kindness towards him despite how he treated him.

And so on…

In all our talk about how God always condemns and punishes, we forget that God is also the Most Merciful.

And it should be obvious to us. Do we not start our prayers with “Bismillahi rahmani rahim” which directly translates to  “In the name of God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful”?

I’m not saying that the rules in Islam are unimportant and that we shouldn’t follow them. However, we also shouldn’t be quick to condemn and assume someone is going to Hell just because they went against those rules.

Who are you to do that? Who are you to play God and make that kind of judgement? By doing so, you’re acting as if you’re God which you know is something that is against the religion. Who are you to assume that that person won’t change for the better?

Who are you to assume that you won’t change for the worse?

It’s good to give people advice but shaming them and using fear won’t make them love the religion. Nor would it make them listen to you. There are tactful ways of educating someone, and calling them out publicly shows that you don’t really want them to learn, you just want to make yourself look good.

Show kindness. Show compassion. Show mercy.  For how do you expect God to be those things towards you when you won’t do so with His creations?

Ramadan Chats with Neryssa #5 : Jihad Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about the true meaning of the word ‘Jihad”. This word is often misunderstood and has negative connotations that were either created or cultivated by mainstream media and Islamophobic stereotypes.

I also talked (albeit briefly) about the two forms of jihad; ‘lesser jihad’ which involves holding onto your faith when facing others, and ‘greater jihad’ which involves holding onto your faith when facing yourself (i.e. your inner demons, pride, etc).

Although it is true that combat is part of the ‘lesser’ form of jihad, the meaning of ‘lesser jihad’ is NOT limited to combat.

Combat is permissible but there are loads and loads of rules and criterias that must be fulfilled. Some of the rules/criterias that must be fulfilled in order for combat to be permissible are:

  1. If there is no other peaceful alternative to solve the issue.
  2. If it is in self defence.It shouldn’t be simply because the other person doesn’t share our beliefs. It should be because the other party is fighting us.
  1. If the person we’re fighting chooses peace, WE MUST stop fighting and choose the peace. Regardless of whether we think they’re sincere or not, in the event where the choice of solving things in peace is available, we must always choose peace.

It is these rules along with the other rules of combat in Islam that prove that the actions of extremists such as ISIS do not reflect Islam and Muslims.

How Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) handled conflict back then is a prime example of how combat should be handled in Islam, in particular during the conquest of Mecca.

Before Islam came about, there was a time of ignorance. Dishonesty and brutal acts were a norm, and women were mistreated to a level where baby girls were buried alive.

Islam then came and changed that.

Interest, gambling, and polytheism, and mistreatment of women is a No-No in the religion which were the things the people of Quraysh (the tribe that controlled Mecca) enjoyed. The Quraysh rejected the religion and for nearly 20 years, the Prophet and the other Muslims suffered. They had to endure the murder of loved ones, torture, and ridicule. The Prophet was even publicly mocked up to a point where he had dung thrown at him. Eventually the Muslims in Mecca were driven out of their homes and it was then did they migrate to Madinah.

After years of staying in Madinah, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH Peace Be Upon Him) received instructions to try and return to Mecca because that’s where Muslims could actually carry out their pilgrimage.

Of course things didn’t go that smoothly. They couldn’t simply return to Mecca. A treaty was formed and although most of the terms in the treaty favoured the Quraysh in Mecca, the Prophet agreed anyway.

However after 2 years, the treaty was broken by the people of Quraysh when they attacked a tribe that was in alliance with the Prophet and massacred them even in the sanctuary of Mecca. It was then did the Prophet determined to finally put a stop to the reign of injustice and oppression which had lasted for so long. He immediately gathered ten thousand men to march against the Quraysh and set out to Mecca on the 1st of January 630.

This is probably the part where you’d expect bloodshed.

Well you’re wrong.

Despite the fact that they conquered Mekkah with an army, no blood was shed.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) specifically instructed that-

  1. No harm is to be brought to animals, homes, and plants.
  2. No harm is to be brought to women, children, and those with disabilities.
  3. Do not attack anyone in their homes.
  4. If the enemy repents or would like to talk it out or to resolve matters peacefully, you MUST and ALWAYS SHOULD choose peace. Regardless of whether you think that person is sincere or would betray you or not, it is NOT up to you to decide that. Always. Choose. Peace.

And that was how the Prophet and his army managed to conquer Mecca with peace and no bloodshed.

The people of Quraysh not only drove him and the Muslims out of their homes, but also killed their loves ones, ridiculed the prophet up to a point where they threw dung at him, and tortured Muslims for almost 20 years. The prophet had the right to seek revenge but he didn’t.

Instead he forgave every one of them. He granted them general amnesty.

And that really says a lot about him and what the religion is all about. Forgiveness and peace is one of the main teachings of Islam, and Prophet Muhammad is a perfect example of what a muslim should be like.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, there are Muslims who misrepresent the religion by acting against the teachings of the Quran and the prophet. Their actions along with the negative connotations related to Islam that mainstream media cultivates has led to Islamophobic stereotypes.

 

I do acknowledge that the existence of Islamophobic stereotypes may not be entirely baseless due to the actions of extremists and I would like to apologise for that. However, I would like you to understand that the actions of those extremists do not reflect the religion. That their actions also damage the lives of Muslims. 

There are people who attempt to be ‘pious’ (and this isn’t only restricted to Muslims, but to other religions as well) who go out of their way to maintain a good relationship with God. But they forget that one of the ways to maintain a good relationship with God is to maintain a relationship with His creations as well.

After all, isn’t it hypocritical to expect God to be kind and forgiving towards you, when you’re not willing to do so with His creations?

Ramadan Chats with Neryssa #4 : Jihad Part 1

The word ‘jihad’ tends to stir negative emotions among non-Muslims as it is often associated with terrorism.

A lot of people assume that the meaning of the word jihad involves war and Muslims attacking people, and this assumption is often cultivated by most mainstream media and some religious extremists (who really if compared to the more than 1 billion muslims in the world, make up less than 1 percent of the whole Muslim population).

That’s not what jihad means. Jihad does not involve terrorism, military acts, or violence.

The word ‘jihad’ is the Arabic word for ‘struggle’, and in an Islamic context, it is defined as the struggle as a Muslim.

In Islam, there are two forms of jihad, a ‘lesser Jihad’ and a ‘greater Jihad’.

‘Lesser Jihad’ involves the external struggle of holding onto your faith as a Muslim when you’re facing oppression or injustice; especially if said oppression or injustice happens simply because you’re a Muslim.

For example, when I was 18, I applied for a job at a few retail stores in Malaysia and ended up being told that if I wanted the job, I had to compromise with my religious beliefs and take off my headscarf. The fact that I didn’t choose to compromise and still held on to what I believed in is a form of jihad.

‘Greater Jihad’ involves the internal struggle within oneself, in particular the spiritual struggle one has with oneself when it comes to being a good Muslim. Where ‘lesser jihad’ involves you holding onto your faith when facing others, ‘greater jihad’ involves holding onto your faith when facing yourself.

Any form of struggle that you have especially the ones that involve you struggling against your inner demons and flaws is a form of ‘greater jihad’.

A man who is an alcoholic who wants to stop drinking and does whatever he can to stop even though it’s a huge struggle; that’s ‘jihad’.

Someone who chooses to start praying consistently even though waking up for morning prayers is such a difficult task for them; that’s ‘jihad’.

My mother choosing to cover herself and wear a scarf around her head even though it led to her being disconnected from some of the people in her life; that’s ‘jihad’.

A person with depression or anxiety or any form of illness that involves battling their inner demons even though it’s not an easy thing to do; that’s ‘jihad’.

Pride and arrogance is frowned upon in Islam. We are always encouraged to be humble for it is with humility that we will be able to accept our flaws and work towards improving them.

It is so so easy to point out the wrongdoings of others, but it’s not as easy to point out our own. Too often do we let our pride get in the way of seeing our own flaws and mistakes (because let’s face it, no one likes to admit, let alone think that they did something wrong).

But if we want to improve as a person and make things right, we must first acknowledge what is wrong with ourselves in the first place. And of course finding out and acknowledging what is wrong with ourselves is easier said than done which is why even the simple act of attempting to recognise and improve our own weaknesses is a form of jihad.

Ramadan Chats with Neryssa #3 : Fasting in Ramadan

Muslims fast during the month of ‘Ramadan’, which is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The act of fasting starts from sunrise to sunset, and during that period we are not permitted to eat or drink. Fasting is compulsory once a person reaches puberty but you are exempted if you are old and sick. Children are encouraged to learn how to fast and this is done by easing them into it slowly such as having them fast for a few days during the fasting month, or by having them fast for half a day*

But the act of fasting isn’t really about abstaining yourself from eating or drinking during the day. It’s about self-control and is more about abstaining yourself from committing sin such as backbiting, being unkind to others, letting out anger get the best of us etcetera. If one can control themselves to not impulsively eat or drink which is a core basic need, then they will be able to control themselves from acting in a negative manner.

The fasting month is a month where we ‘cleanse’ ourselves (and when I say ‘cleanse’, I don’t mean the detox kind). It’s a month where we focus on leaving behind our bad habits and form good habits for us to practice the rest of the year because during the month of Ramadan, we are encouraged to do more good deeds and improve ourselves not just between ourselves and God, but with His creations as well.

Of course the aim of fasting in this context isn’t be a perfect Muslim or human being (because no one is perfect and human beings are prone to making errors). The aim here is to be a better version of yourself.

Fasting sounds like a big deal and if I had a penny for every time someone looks at me disbelief because ‘You can’t even drink?’, I would be richer than Bill Gates. But really, if you think about it, fasting is something practiced by other religions other than Islam. Christians fast during ‘Lent’. Buddhists and Hindus fast as well.

Fasting for less than a day isn’t actually a horrible thing because it lets you take a step back and focus on yourself and your values, and helps you be grateful for being able to at least eat in the end. There are so many people, especially children, who are in poverty who go on for much longer than that without eating or drinking.

You are not going to die for not eating for less than a day. Instead of focusing on the hours you spend not eating or drinking, you learn to focus on fasting from another angle and that is the fact that at the end of the day, you will still be able to eat and drink which is a privilege that not many have.

 

 

*My parents did this with me. I was a mischievous child though and sometimes I ‘forgot’ that I was fasting and only remembered after taking a sip of water. After that I would assume that my fast wasn’t valid anymore and continued to eat and drink.

Ramadan Chats with Neryssa #2 : Allahu Akbar

Some of you may know that Muslims call God “Allah”. Nouman Ali Khan, a Muslim speaker who studied the Quran along with Modern Standard, Classical, and Quranic Arabic, explains the linguistic origins of the word Allah in this video here. There are two major scholarly opinions. Either Allah is a compound of al (the) and ilah (god) or it is a unique word not derived from any other word.

Allah has a lot of names such as “The Most Merciful”, “The Most Gracious”, “The All-Knowing” etc. Despite the many names we may call our Creator, we essentially believe that there is only One.

So what does Allahu Akbar mean?

There are certain phrases that Muslims use to praise God,

 

  1. Alhamdulillah (Pronounced: Al-hamd-doo-lee-lah)

“Praise be to Allah.”

  1. SubhanAllah (Pronounced: Su-ba-han Al-lah)

“Glory to God”

  1. Allahu Akbar (Pronounced: Al-lah hoo-ak-bar)

“God is [the] greatest”

These three praises are usually uttered whenever Muslims are in awe. Whenever we are reminded of Allah’s greatness (for example, when we see a beautiful or magnificent view and marvel at the fact that Allah created the beauty before us. Or when we come across a scientific fact and are reminded of how powerful and great Allah is for creating science and a wide range of knowledge that keeps on expanding), we recite at least one of the above praises.

The praises are innocent and are supposed to be used in a peaceful, innocent, and humbling context. However and unfortunately , Muslim extremists and the way some mainstream media demonises Muslims has led to praises such as “Allahu Akbar” to have negative connotations.

When really in actual fact, they are not only recited to praise Allah and to remember His greatness, but to humble ourselves as well. Too often do we think too highly of ourselves to a point that we become arrogant. Which is why it is important to remind ourselves that no matter how highly we may perceive ourselves or someone, Allah is without a doubt much greater; greatest even.

 

On another note:

There was once an issue in Malaysia in regards to using the word ‘Allah’ in the Malay translation of the Bible, and it sparked a lot of debate. Although I do understand the reason why it was seen as okay since Allah is the word for God and the Christians in Arab countries use the word ‘Allah’/’Ilah’ in their translation of the Bible, I also understand why using it may spark confusion.

Just like there’s Classical English and the modern English language that we use today, the same applies to every other language, Arabic included. There’s Quranic Arabic, Classical Arabic, and the modern Arabic language that is used today. And just like how you would be able to distinguish the level of English language used when you compare Shakespeare with a book like Harry Potter, those who really know and speak Arabic would be able to differentiate the Quran with an Arabic translation of the bible. The same can’t be applied in Malaysia.

The Malay translation of both the Bible and the Quran use modern-day Malay. Therefore if someone were to read either one, they wouldn’t be able to know which text is from which scripture unless they double checked beforehand (which would be such a hassle and is highly unlikely since it’s not like we fact check every single thing we read anyway).

Ramadan Chats with Neryssa #1 : My Hijab Story

In this post I will tell you my story of when I first started wearing the headscarf and becoming a practicing Muslim around 4 years ago. The definition of the word‘Hijab’ (Hee-jahb) will be clarified in one of my future posts.

I used to not be fond of the headscarf. Prior to four years ago, I wore tank tops and shorts and I didn’t really know how to pray. Once in a while my dad would ask me to pray and I did NOT like it at all. I’d see Muslim women covered from head to toe and I would sneer at them and wonder “Isn’t it hot wearing the headscarf?” “Why is she covering her pretty hair” and so on. I found the headscarf oppressive.

Boy was I ignorant.

Flash forward to when I was 15/16. I was pretty narrow-minded, and neither was I the best person in existence (I’m still not but I like to think that I’ve grown to be better than who I was before). I did my best to impress the people I surrounded myself with even if it meant sacrificing someone else’s happiness. I took pride in some of the unkind things I’ve done. I did my best to live up to the expectations of some of my peers that I forget to be myself. The thoughts and opinions of others meant so much to me.

That along with other factors that I shan’t mention kept building up and it only made my mental health worse. In a way, my life then was like a game of Jenga, ready to topple at any moment.

And that moment came.  Something happened and my parents and I found that or at least felt like we were alone. There were people who did abandon us in our time of need. Change happened. And it didn’t seem like a good one.

But the thing about change is, it’s neither bad or good; only needed.

My life had to change.

It had to crumble.

I had to fall in order to rise as a better person than I was before.

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My parents and I turned to religion and I began my journey as a practicing Muslim. And about a year later, I started wearing the headscarf.

My mental health still fluctuates. I still sin here and there. Wearing the headscarf and practicing my religion did not make me a perfect person.

But the headscarf that I once deemed as oppressive actually liberated me. In a world where women are objectified, wearing the headscarf prevented people from judging me for my body and my ‘sex appeal’ and made them focus on my face and thoughts instead. The headscarf wasn’t my barrier to the rest of the world. In fact, it helped me embrace myself as I am to face the world.

Ever since I started my headscarf journey, the most common question that I get asked is “Isn’t it hot wearing that all the time?” And my answer would always be no each time.

Because to me, if a piece of cloth around my head can hinder me from doing something properly, then I’m just not trying hard enough.

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Disclaimer:

  • I am not a scholar so deeper topics such as the ones about sharia law, as well as things you may see that are related to the culture of the ethnic group practicing the religion rather than the actual religion itself may not be answered. The last thing I want is to spread the wrong information )
  • Also the aim of this project is merely to clarify and reduce misunderstandings people may have about the religion and reduce Islamophobia. It’s not a place to start a debate about religion. You don’t have to agree with what I believe in to respect my beliefs, and the same applies vice versa. And like I said, I’m not a scholar and I’m still learning so I’m not the best person to debate about religion with )
  • When I mentioned that I used to not wear the headscarf and wore really revealing clothes, I am not shaming any woman whosoever who don’t cover up. Although in Islam women (and MEN) are obliged to dress modestly, the way you’re dressed doesn’t fully represent who you are as a Muslim (because there are people who cover up BUT act unkind).
  • My aim here isn’t to convert anyone. The role of a Muslim isn’t to convert people because Islam doesn’t approve of forcing people to convert and share your beliefs. My aim here is merely to educate and spread the knowledge (because the role of a Muslim is merely to educate which is something the religion encourages).