Why I do the Ramadan Quran Program

For years I’ve encouraged laymen to read this most enchanting book. Some had simply fallen into acceptable heedlessness and always prioritised other things not getting around to it. They claimed to believe in the Quran but had no idea what it is that they believe because they hadn’t read it.

Many would tell me that they’d read it but not fully understood it. Others who’d been on numerous Quran courses would detail how pedantically they’d broken down the etymology of a word, or the numerous meanings for a phrase, but when I’d ask what the point of the actual verse or passage was I’d get a blank stare. Most would confess that whilst the content of those courses was interesting, they didn’t get much in terms of the bigger picture or that which was deeply action guiding or heart settling.

I asked myself: why do so many sincere people struggle to read it or to get what they’ve read? Then, what I had been taking for granted dawned on me.

These lovely people don’t have any context for the divine message - where it sits in human history and it’s civilisations. They don’t know the events God’s referring to nor their significance. They don’t get why God’s talking to Jews and Christians in a ‘Muslim’ book. They don’t get what God means by the various terms He employs. They don’t get the logic of His ‘signs’. They struggle to keep up with the message’s ebbs and flows. The true religion of God that He speaks of in the Quran is alien because they’re already socialised into thinking about islam in a certain way. And it all holds them back. They’re taught a pre-conceived understanding of what God wants and says, which (mis)shapes their reading, makes it seem disjointed, and lacking coherence. Some understandably give up early on, others struggle their way through - only to end up severely unfulfilled or baffled.

For the majority of Muslims, the Quran quite frankly isn’t compelling or transformative. Most have no idea what God actually says - they believe in the idea of the Quran (as ‘something’ from God) more than taking it as truly functional guidance.It’s not hard to read, it’s actually quite easy. And when you get what God’s actually saying it’s downright addictive - a book you don’t want to put down. You’re in conversation with God. It’s law isn’t restrictive, it’s liberating. It’s ideals aren’t pie-in-the-sky, they’re practical. It’s references aren’t opaque, they’re illuminating. It provokes the deepest and hardest soul searching you’ve ever done. It’s personal discovery. It’s serious therapy. An emotional rollercoaster: you’ll cry, you’ll laugh. Your crushed ego will feel deeply offended. Your chest will feel lightened with the baggage you shed. Your intellect will expand and your logic will strengthen. You’ll feel silly for things you believed or assumed. You’ll know God is alive and close by. You’ll feel mocked (by virtue of your own silliness) and scorned (for nefarious proclivities), but also feel special, loved and protected. You’ll make sense of your life. You WILL be transformed. Most importantly, you’ll learn that it’s not calling you to the religion you’ve taken for granted. It goes far beyond ‘religion’ - it calls you to wholesomeness and something else entirely.

These aren’t big claims, these are literally the testimonials (which I’ll share over the next month) of past attendees. Having personally taken them on this journey has been an absolute honour.

Join The Ramadan Quran Program 2022 going through the transformative process above and living a true Ramadan experience. Make this the year EVERYTHING changed and got to know what it all means.

  • Live online (Zoom) 30-45 mins after Maghrib (London UK time)
  • 5-6 days a week, 2 hour sessions throughout Ramadan
  • All sessions are recorded for on-demand viewing
  • Recordings available for 2 months post-Ramadan

Sign up HERE

Building back up

For decades (if not a couple of centuries) many Muslim writers, scholars and thinkers have sought to analyse the decline of believers and how to rectify it. Suggestions range from knowledge and ‘religiosity’, to lack of agility or colonialism. I feel that a lot of these are either symptoms or describe the process by which believers got to this situation. But they don’t address the underlying cause. For example, a lack of knowledge might be why people do or think silly things, but knowledge is widely available, in fact, far more available than it has ever been at any time in human history. From one perspective, being a mujhtahid (if we’re talking about Islamic Law), a doctor or an economist today should be a walk in the park in comparison to the past. So saying it’s a lack of knowledge is pointing out the obvious symptom - a constructive analysis would tell us why people would rather remain uninformed, and of course, the ‘why’ is subject to context, place, and culture under scrutiny.

In the UK (and as I suspect other places as well), I feel that Muslims suffer a few pathologies that debilitate them. Here, I argue it is a matter of individual psychology, social psychology and culture - all of which need to develop before we speak of anything else. You cannot address state formation or institution building (whether that’s schools, hospitals, madrassas, mosques, or even the ministry of finance!) until you have a sound political culture and a solid social group. Until you know how to communally deliberate. Until you know how to agree, disagree, and reach somewhat of a consensus. Until you’re all on the same page. This is how civilisations become civilisations. This is one of the fundamental differences between the east and west at the moment. Of course, in the past it was the east that enjoyed a stout political culture and the west suffered its dark ages.

...the more Muslims complain about something the more the DON’T get it, the further from it they seem to be, and the more everyone else either dislikes them or holds them in contempt. The more their opponents win! So then they complain even more, and people dislike them even more - its just spirals downwards until they’re a million miles from what they want and lose embarrassingly.

But coming back to the British Muslim present, amongst a few pathologies I feel that are the most problematic are a) self entitlement and b) a superiority complex - both of which severely hold Muslims back. And both are very much misplaced. How so? Well: a) the natural order is that everything is earned, you’re not automatically entitled to anything, especially as a social group, and b) Muslims aren’t superior in anything at the moment.

This, as we often see, result in merely complaining, assuming that complaining is enough to get something. But no it really isn’t, it’s actually just irritating and puts people off. You see it with the youth vs older people in mosques, you see it with Muslim communities engaging in the public domain.

And that’s why, and quite humorously so, the more Muslims complain about something the more the DON’T get it, the further from it they seem to be, and the more everyone else either dislikes them or holds them in contempt. The more their opponents win! So then they complain even more, and people dislike them even more - its just spirals downwards until they’re a million miles from what they want and lose embarrassingly. And of course, with no actual strategy and focus, they just move on the the next arbitrary issue their rabble rousers bring to their attention and the cycle starts again! In reality, the whole ‘speak your truth’ and ‘raise awareness’ malarkey doesn’t work for Muslims although it might for others, simply because they have no clout, whereas others do however nominal. Seemingly not having realised this, Muslims actually think what they do across the board is meaningful, but it’s generally and embarrassingly a fail, which for some reason everyone except them can see.

BUT can this change? Yes of course. It requires the development of a sound public/political culture, which itself requires civility and intelligence to rise to the surface. The perpetual question remains, is there widespread appetite for this now, where significant numbers of people want to be different? I honestly don’t know.

However, I feel we can start in small social groups. In every major city people can come together and have the relevant conversations and engage in the processes of socialisation that brings together God’s will and social formation. They can communally form a unifying political and public culture which then grows. And the virtual world can help for sustained engagement in-between. It can be one where intelligent and civilised folk gather, informed by the informed, the non-reactionary that are not led by the baggage of past-battles, and legitimately shaped by local culture.

I’ve been ready for quite a while, and so have a few others. And we’re REALLY happy doing our thing and we hold the aspiration to excel in whatever we engage. I’d happily sit here and list names and what they excel in - I thank God for these people. In the least, we have a space where all are welcome to come, where scripture, reason, the shari’ah and considerations of lived realities reign supreme. But it’s no free-for-all, there are expectations around conduct, values, principles, and engagement - all which the sunnah teaches us.

We do not hold baseless or uninformed opinions to be opinions, and we recognise that these things today can be hard to identify because people seldom socialise with others who can highlight them. We aspire to a space that brings the best out of people, where people can comfortably make mistakes - and enjoy making them! - in the process of unlearning and learning.

Different Gens

There’s an observation I’d like to impart and somewhat tongue in cheek(!), that an anecdotal analysis of various generations has led me to conclude that the oldest group of millennials (34-39) are the soundest cohort. Now I know what you’re going to say: “mmm…convenient they you’re from amongst them” but hear me out on this one:

From one perspective we’re old skool, but incorporate important stuff of the new skool. From another we’re new skool, but incorporate some of the old skool. Because we’re in the middle we take the best of other generations. As a result:

Read more

Maturity and dialogue through debate

In the past, I’ve spent many years debating various issues with a range of people. The petulance of youth meant that I would passionately argue believing I was correct, and over-investing myself in ‘correcting’ my interlocutor. Back and forth for hours with confrontational retorts and a highly opinionated view of one’s own deductions often leads to such behaviour, as I came to realise. 

Maturity and experience changes all such foolish ways. But how so?

There are many hadith where the Prophet speaks of the traits of the young, who out of inexperience and haste, make errors and behave in ignorant ways. Patience is no virtue here, and experience has yet to mature their thinking and demonstrate how time itself is a resource - over time realisations take place and views alter. Time allows for variables to reveal themselves leading to more informed conclusions. Furthermore, it is due to immaturity that some have a high opinion of their viewpoints; those who have spent a considerable time in the realm of thinking have been privy to the experience of their staunchest views and assumptions being strongly challenged which is why maturity tends to temper self-certainty.

Upon studying with actual scholars who combine knowledge with upright conduct, I found civilised engagement to be highly beneficial. A polite debate would leave me with more rather than less, and ultimately it would open up various avenues of thinking and completely decimate any sense of parochialism. Now my intent wasn’t to prove my teachers wrong but to gain deeper insight into issues, to fill in the blanks, and cognitively evaluate systems of reasoning, highlighting what I found to be inconsistent but only to identify what I might be missing. I would then go away and think deeply about the entire affair without the need to draw hasty conclusions - thoughts left to simmer for a while resulted in far deeper insights and stronger ideas than those reached hastily. I would still be left with a heavy head, but the type that helps muscles grow and not the one that you leaves you merely fatigued with little to show.

The type of learning I have expectedly benefited from most as a Muslim isn’t the puzzle-solving cerebral type, but where I would witness the cogency and wisdom of an ayah or Hadith through experience. One such was the Prophetic caution against contentiously debating scholars, arguing with the foolish, and seeking knowledge for social capital. (Ibn Majah, al-Tirmidhi)

I also found that if shar’i knowledge didn’t make you a better person in all spheres, then either you were learning the wrong thing, or you weren’t learning much at all. 

“But when the righteous are asked, ‘What has your Lord sent down?’ they will say, ‘All that is good.’” 
Qur'an 16:30

The Prophet (in a mursal Hadith from al-Hasan) spoke of the virtue of a person who offers the obligatory prayers and then sits to teach people goodness over the one who fasts all day and prays all night. It is here also that social media can be a challenging phenomenon - we must accept that people can easily be understood, or fail to articulate themselves accurately, and such cognisance should logically lead to a charitable reading and interpreting things in the best possible light. But what can’t be misinterpreted is acting like a miscreant - demonstrating delinquency on social media cannot be excused by misunderstandings.

Over time I also noticed a pattern in conduct: scholars very rarely engaged idiocy (unless strongly rebuking the type directly leads to public harm) and would literally meet it with a blank expression, often simply walking off. At first I couldn’t make sense of it, it seemed rude; but they were simply safeguarding their own sanity and reputation, as well as denying the foolish any significance. Abu al-Ah’was stated that it used to be said: “If you argue with an idiot then you shall become like him, and if you remain silent then you are saved from him.”

So soon I came to substantially engage with the civilised type, and the benchmark should not be as low as to merely interpret civility here as someone who can communicate without explicit insults, but those who can disagree in a mature fashion without name-calling (which tends to be the method of those who don’t actually have a point), who want to learn something from the engagement open to the idea that there might be opinion-altering variables that they, or I, haven’t yet considered. It’s the Socratic method, ‘a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions.’ A cooperative exercise in the spirit of rational enquiry is where one tends to learn the most

Muhammad b. Sirin said: “they viewed it that good/meaningful questions increase the intellect of a man.”

Now it’s also about engaging with a sense of disinvestment - there is rarely anything as important or game-changing so as to incite zealous fervour. And this realisation is why older people tend to be, and sometimes amusingly, extremely chilled out and nonchalant! There are certain types, especially in the context of scholarly enquiry and problem-solving, that you learn not to spend time engaging or answering at all. The first is the questioner who already feels they have a decisive answer, so what’s the actual point? The second are those who desire a quick fix or binary reasoning - if someone isn’t committed to a holistic or meaningful understanding then I'd rather not participate in dialogue nor is binary reasoning of any value. And thirdly, those who have already decided what you mean: there really is no point in explaining yourself to those who are committed to misinterpreting or misunderstanding everything you have to say - usually due to extremely superficial or absurd reasons.

There are cohorts of wonderful people out there, I meet them everyday. We engage, discuss, agree and disagree, see things in a new light, or are left with food for thought. The experience is edifying, uplifting and positively challenging. If we find that not happening with our current circles, then maybe some change of scenery is in order.

Muhammad, the Prophet of God, didn't have ‘slaves’

In this post I’m not interested in what people do or have done, but with normative shar’ī prescriptions. Whilst I’m not surprised by the ignorance or wilful misrepresentation of some (like Douglas Murray), believers ought to know some facts. Controversy is only controversial due to ignorance. I don’t provide a justification for medieval slavery as there’s no need to. This post is simply a very basic clarification for believers. 

  • We believe that there is no ultimate submission except to the one true God, Lord of Abraham and his descendants: Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, all of whom were God’s noble slaves. In the sharī’ah, we only recognise slavery in the context of slavery to God. The Prophet put it, “None of you should use the term ‘My male or female slave’ since all of you are the slaves of God and all your women are the slaves of God. Use the terms ‘my servant (ghulām/jāriyah)’ and ‘my boy/girl (fatā/t)’." (Muslim)
  • The sharī’ah does not legitimise ‘slavery’. The term slavery today refers to a distinct English concept shaped by the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Hence the idea that the messengers of God either practiced or authorised slavery is both erroneous and anachronistic. As I’ve written before, when discussing the sharī’ah we ought to stick to the shar’ī terms God sets out as closely as possible, they are most accurate since it is how God and His messenger described and taught an issue/concept. Often, English words that are used to represent shar’ī concepts are assumed to be the closest resembling words but not the exact thing, rarely are they conceptually the same.
  • What the sharī’ah did permit, albeit seeking to diminish it through a gradualist approach since liberty is the greatest value, was riqq – a form of servitude that provided unfree labour and obliged housing, clothing, food, etc. It was neither racialised nor the product of racial supremacy, many were from the Arabs themselves, as well as from the Roman Empire, Africa and Asia. The Prophet characterised the raqīq, saying, “They are your brothers who God has placed under your charge. Feed them from what you eat and clothe them as you clothe. Do not burden them with what they cannot bear, and where they are overburdened, help them.” (al-Bukhārī and Muslim) The raqīq was considered an extension of the household (for example, a woman’s awrah in front of her raqīq would be like that of her male family members) and as the hadith intimates, expected to be treated this way.
  • Did the Prophet encourage owning a raqīq? Well notably, when his daughter Fatimah requested a khādim (domestic servant) for help with the home he taught her godly mindfulness (adhkār) instead. As for those who did have riqāq (plural of raqīq), he encouraged two things: good treatment whilst under their charge, and emancipation.
  • In the sharī’ah, the way to free a raqīq was to purchase his or her freedom. This means buying them and setting them free. So at this time, everyone who sought to free a raqīq would own them, even momentarily. And after emancipation the raqīq would be considered something like extended family, a term in ancient Arabic known as mawla.
  • Muhammad, the Prophet of God, was neither a slave owner (however benign the misguided make out his so-called ‘slave owning’ to be) nor a slave trader. And neither was he a raqīq trader. He obtained individual riqāq through two ways: either he was given a raqīq as a gift or he bought them, coming to free them all. al-Nawawī stated in a well known position that they were the Prophet’s riqāq individually, and at separate times. What this suggests is that he doesn’t seem to have simply been a raqīq ‘owner’ in the sense that he had scores of riqāq concurrently for the sole purpose of ownership. Successively obtaining an individual raqīq can suggest that the Prophet intended to obtain riqāq for their eventual emancipation. It cannot be said that he did this because he might have looked bad; being the leader of Madinah, he could have had a band of riqāq and nobody would have raised an eyebrow for something quite ordinary and expected at the time.
  • So while the Prophet freed some riqāq immediately, others he did so after a while. But why the delay? There are variant reasons and possibilities: there may have been mutual benefit in their association; that the raqīq didn’t want to be emancipated just yet; the raqīq wasn’t in a financially and socially stable position where freedom would have meant destitution and/or homelessness; the Prophet wasn’t immediately in a financial position to help the raqīq post-emancipation so waited until he was. We know that it wasn’t always in the interest of a raqiq to be legally emancipated as he or she would then be left without support. In a telling hadith related by Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, the Prophet said, “Any man who has a walīdah, educates her well and nurtures her well, then emancipates her and marries her, shall have two rewards.” (al-Bukhārī)

There are variant opinions on the names of
the Prophet’s mawālī (plural of mawla) as there
were some ṣahābī emancipated by the Prophet but contractually obtained by others.
Some of the notable mawālī of the final messenger of God:

  1. Zaid b. Hārithah was obtained as gift to him by Khadijah, emancipated and then adopted as a son. An Arab, he was well known amongst the Quraish as one of the most loved by the Prophet and was referred to by name in the Qur’an (33:37).
  2. Abu Rāfi, a Copt, was a gift to the Prophet from his uncle Abbas and emancipated. Once, he was about to receive some ṣadaqah, but when he asked permission from the Prophet, the Prophet replied, “The mawla of a people is one of them, and ṣadaqah is not permitted for us.”
  3. Thawbān b. Bujdud, a Yemenite Arab, was taken a captive of war in jāhilīyah (pagan times). The Prophet bought him and freed him, but he served the Prophet until he passed away. The Prophet once told him not to ask anything of anyone, and he complied to the extent that if something fell from his hand he wouldn’t ask anyone to pick it up for him, or even pass him anything.
  4. Abu Dhumayrah was a Himyarite Arab whom the Prophet bought and emancipated. The Prophet had Ubay b. Ka’b write a letter in his name that exhorted believers to be good to Abu Dhumayrah and his family which his descendants kept and famously presented to the Abbasid caliph al-Mahdi who gave them 300 gold coins (dinars).
  5. Abu Muwayhibah: The Prophet brought him and freed him. He narrated the famous hadith on the Prophet seeking forgiveness for those buried at the Baqī’ cemetery.

May God's peace and blessings by upon his noble slave and final Messenger.

Should we build or rectify?

Islam attracts all sorts of people, from those looking for a sense of community, fleeing a dysfunctional life, or looking for a cause, to those who aren't necessarily looking for something but simply come to be convinced of the genuine Abrahamic conception of God and the wider existential narrative preached by his descendant, Muhammad, the final messenger of God.

Yet one thing I've consistently noticed over a decade is how community leaders, activists and Muslim spokespersons are rarely (if at all) from the latter. They tend to either be those who found a (secular) cause in Islam or saw the faith as an extension of their ethnic identity that they were attempting to protect against rising racial prejudice we see across western societies. Very rare has it been to have someone speak on behalf of the faithful who simply believes Islam is a justifiable and convincing position to hold and has little baggage from the past. One would have had to have thought about these things deeply and engaged with the revealed word, which very few seem keen on actually doing.

Read more

CVD19 and the future

There are some important things for us to consider:

1. Coronavirus is here and we have to face it for the considerable future, whether we like it or not. We must take the necessary precautions, but not become obsessed. We need to get on with ‘life’ under the new circumstances. As westerners, we’ve lived very comfortable lives, and most of our anxieties merely reflect losing some of those comfortabilities.

Read more

The hill to die on

There are many things that people choose to make their hill to die on, the significant contribution they made here, but what they often overlook is whether that’s gonna be the thing they want to meet God with. Imagine standing before the Lord of all the worlds, King of kings, Subduer of all realms, and speaking of the greatest contribution you sought to God’s plan for humans on earth:

“I wanted to make sure we sighted the moon properly”
“I tried to get people to believe the Prophet was alive/dead in his grave”
“I tried to convince people that shaikh X was the greatest scholar”
“My mission was decolonialism”
“I was a proud anti-racism campaigner”
“I argued against critics of x mad’hab”
“I wanted to prove Jesus shall return”
“I wanted people to know wiping over their socks in wudhu isn’t allowed”

Now neither is my point to negate the idea that we all naturally have different roles to play for the collective benefit of God’s servants, nor that some of these things aren’t important to the greater plan, but God didn’t put us on earth primarily for any one of the above nor is every one of things legitimately a task for everyone.

Yes, many of these things some of us ought to pay attention to, but it should be in a way that speaks to the overall divine project, not as singular subject matters in and of themselves.

One of the main tasks we have (and an important corollary to appreciating God and purifying ourselves for Him, which is also the essential purpose of ‘enjoining good and forbidding bad’) is to produce and maintain an environment that’s conducive to appreciating God and purifying ourselves for Him. This means that everything we do ought to speak to this objective, and undertaken in a way that directly leads to it. And it’s very evident that most Muslims do not (instead relying on short-term fixes or superficial approaches and arguments appropriated from wider narratives) and as a result much hasn’t positively changed or progressed.

When we don’t, then we are simply unable to to resolve such issues productively, since the atomisation of solutions (which overlooks the interconnected nature of all aspects of human life) result in superficial resolutions and not substantial rectification (islah).

And the more people atomise their approach, the more at risk they are of falling into a silo mentality and parochialism - both a plan of the devil and something God warns believers about through tales of the Children of Israel.

The brief point here is twofold:

  1. Keep your eye on big picture and ultimate purpose
  2. Don’t commit your time to silly or inconsequential issues, have something substantial to meet God with.

At the base looking upwards

2 min read

I love the shari'ah.

I'm obsessed with it. I study it, think about it, brainstorm with it, and absolutely marvel at it. The i'jaz (inimitability) of the sharī’ah is pure artistry. I mean shari'ah in the general sense, as the directives revealed from God. This doesn't merely include ahkam (laws), but also implicit directives in the parables, stories and histories God relates and His Messenger explored.

If the sharī’ah were a museum, I'd spend all day wondering through its galleries, soaking in the beauty of its exhibits, enchanted by its artifacts. As I explore the cosmos of hikam (wisdoms) in even the smallest things God addresses, I appreciate God's directives as pieces in a mosaic that comes together to produce a fascinating whole, that speaks profoundly to every aspect of human existence, no matter how mundane or seemingly insignificant.

The sharī’ah tells us something about God, His order in the universe, and His expectations of humans. It is a cultivating force evident in its achievements: to bring an illiterate people with godly resolve out of the desert to become the world's greatest civilisational influence.

Anyone who has mastered anything knows that the most important aspect of that thing is its basics. And mastery begins with identifying profundity in the simple. This goes for subservience to God as well. As I've put it many a time, if believers were merely to explore the five pillars: what they tell us about God's expectations on earth, what their purpose is, and consequently what proper functionalisation looks like, it'd suffice a person's lifetime! It has occupied me for the past 15 years and I've barely scratched the surface - every year I come to realise I knew nothing the year before! And if this goes for the five pillars on which the edifice of subservience to God (islam) is built, what for the edifice itself?!

But as my mind runs through what is clearly an unending and inspirational journey I realise that the people must start somewhere. So on the #QuestForMeaning, let us turn down the noise; do away with distractions and tangentials that lead to irrelevance. We want to go back to basics and take people through the meaningful substance, radically examining everything from the sharī’ah's first principles. Let us stand, at the base looking upwards, in awe of it together!

May God grant us all to good fortune, happiness and contentment, and guide us to celebrate His Holiness. And I pray for steadfastedness with all of our challenges ahead, and that He make me unflinchingly committed to the cause of righteousness and an unswerving agent of His will.

Protecting ourselves

6 min read

For years, many of us have spoken about the need for British Muslims to prepare themselves in the (martial) combative arts, both as an engaging way to keep fit (for some simple exercise is boring), and to provide a means of defence for ongoing anti-Muslim and racist physical abuse that heightened particularly after the 7/7 atrocity. And yes, it wasn't a matter of mere advocacy, we did it ourselves.

More recently, I've been asked as to why it hasn't taken root in the faithfuls' culture. I'd say:

Read more