Countercultural Decisions

The thing about divine guidance is that most advice seems countercultural.

Riba is decrease, and sadaqah is increase.

Do not abort fearing imsaaq.

Shed your possessions and embrace less.

Trust and follow the guy even when you think he is wrong.

It sometimes asks for leaps of faith and stepping out of our comfort zones.

If at that moment, you can decide that “But no, by your Lord, they will not [truly] believe until they make you, [O Muhammad], judge concerning that over which they dispute among themselves and then find within themselves no discomfort from what you have judged and submit in [full, willing] submission”

Allah SWT will fill your heart with the rightness of your decision. This is indescribable.
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virtue

“The defect of these virtues can never be made up by all the other acquirements of body and mind. Make these then your first object. Give up money, give up fame, give up science, give the earth itself and all it contains, rather than do an immoral act. And never suppose, that in any possible situation, or under any circumstances, it is best for you to do a dishonorable thing, however slightly so it may appear to you. Whenever you are to do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act wereall the world looking at you, and act accordingly. Encourage all your virtuous dispositions, and exercise them whenever an opportunity arises; being assured that they will gain strength by exercise, as a limb of the body does, and that exercise will make them habitual. From the practice of the purest virtue, you may be assured you will derive the most sublime comforts in every moment of life, and in the moment of death.

— Thomas Jefferson, 1785

How Islam Makes Me A Global Citizen

10489743_10153024214323007_3569445037621775565_nThey say that Islam is a revolutionary religion. I was beginning to realize that it is not because it goes around bringing revolutions here and there in Egypt or the Arab world. The biggest revolution is the one that begins inside the heart.

It was making me revaluate everything. Everything. The consumption of electricity. The production of garbage. Credit card dependency, and debt-ridden destruction of the known world. The addiction to media. The dependency on fossil fuels. The problem of ethical food – what could be more basic and necessary than food? And the food was making me sick. I was literally choking on it. I felt the pain of a far-off farmer in India and his economic deprivation. My clothes were making me sick. I could feel the suffering in every seam.

I gave up eating most seafood. Then someone told me about how shrimp farming kills 80% of other catch, and shrimp was off the list. Chocolate, with unsustainable farming methods, forest burning and child slave labor was off. Drinking Coke was the first to go, along with bottled water. I felt the pain of hunger in the Northern Provinces. I felt the food insecurity, the social injustices. I felt myself rising above racism and shade-ism.

Everything became an ethical issue when Islam developed my conscience. And my conscience was tearing me apart. I could not – cannot – see a way to exist without placing myself in solidarity with every human who was suffering on account of me. On account of our freeloader lifestyle.

And it was tearing me apart because I couldn’t do enough. I couldn’t give up enough. I could not find a way to exist easily in a world that is sick, a system designed to maintain an unmaintainable status quo, favors an unsustainable lifestyle, and speeding towards the brink.

And I was frustrated with Muslims. Muslim countries and Muslim Heads of States and religious authorities and rigid “Islamic”  schools. The answers were right here. Charity and tithing is built into the system. Stewardship of the earth is a religious mandate. Human Rights and social equity are divinely legislated, and revealed 14 centuries before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was conceived. Gratitude is a way of life. Mindfulness is a daily discipline. How could the world be so wrong when there are 1.4 billion of the ummah, and we are all doing our bit?

Compassion, generosity, hospitality, tolerance, love, warmth, empathy, a respect for the environment, a commitment to truth and justice are a minimum expectation of this religion. The person of the Prophet SAWS is the ultimate Global Citizen, a Mercy to mankind. And we are his ummah, a whole ummah of us, compassionate and caring global citizens.

It does not take a PhD in Philosophy to figure out that the world can be a better place. All it takes is for us to rise up to our legacy as the ummah of Muhammed sallallahu alahi wa sallam, and follow his sunnah. Inequity and indifference can only be addressed by mercy and compassion, within ourselves, and towards everything that we touch. We can spend the next thousand years trying to figure it out, or we can do what we can to follow his compassionate example.

The Eid Gifts That Matter

Alhamdulillah, for you. My children are privileged to have someone like you as part of their life, and that you care enough to consider giving them a gift for Eid.

My kids do not need more Stuff. Toys. Candy. Loom bands. Craft supplies. Coloring books. Disposables.

My kids need you. Their aunts, uncles, cousins, relatives, friends. The most valuable thing you could give them is your time.

Please play a game with them. Walk with them to the park. Take them out for an ice cream. Read a story to them. Play a board game with them. Make memories together that are going to be a part of their life and will be a strength for them when they are having their challenges. These are the gifts that are indispensable.

And if you still feel like “giving” an Eid gift, please donate $1.00 on their behalf to a cause you believe in.

Jazakallah khair.

The Okra That Choked Me

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This okra is not just a thing I bought. It is a series of relationships.

And there came a day when I couldn’t eat.

It’s not that I wasn’t hungry — I was. Around midday, I would weakly wind up to the fridge and eat. And eat, and eat, not tasting it. Leftovers from who knows when. Rice, till I burst. Raw rice, even. Then, nothing, till the end of the day. It was inhuman, even a little bestial.

I pegged it down to vitamin deficiencies, health problems, something physiological. It wasn’t until I started choking on a piece of okra that I was willing to consider why I couldn’t. That my  reactions were those of a vegan when confronted by meat. I was faced with injustice and human suffering, and I literally couldn’t stomach it.

Food in Canada subsists on slavery. When did I actually start realizing this? This is not just the large scale farming of beef or sugar or poultry, with its exploitative labor and inhumane practices.  Every single food choice commonly available to us is a moral dilemma. Embedded in my food is the life and labor of each person who produced it. This okra is not a thing I bought; it is a series of relationships. It is a chain of impacts that increase pollutants, decimate biodiversity, deteriorate the climate — forces that are driving not just the farmer, but entire communities towards an unsustainable brink.

It is overwhelming. It is terrifying to own up and acknowledge my culpability in my food choices, and ultimately to be answerable for it to Allah SWT.

My okra probably came from a tiny fragmented 1-acre farm. The cultivator relied on his own labor and family (yes, including children) because automation and mechanization are not practical on a small scale. Farming being a low esteem job, my farmer is exploited everywhere and forced to sell his meager output to middlemen. Outdated laws and corrupt officials forces millions of farmers to sell their produce in regulated markets where middlemen take a hefty cut. The total margin of middlemen in the entire chain adds up to 75%. When I paid $2.50 per pound of wilted okra in my local halal grocery store, did I  consider that my farmer didn’t get a living subsistence, let alone a fair wage?

From the hired truck that took the okra to the middleman, to the loading and unloading that happened, at every stage, the food being wasted till it reached the docks or the air freight. From the land and water pollution that took place with fertilizers and pesticides, to the fuel it took to get to my grocery shelf, this food has cost me enormously more than I could afford. That any person with a conscience could afford. No wonder it turned my stomach.

And what does Islam have to say about that to any person with a conscience?

36_12Indeed, it is We who bring the dead to life and record what they have put forth and what they left behind, and all things We have enumerated in a clear register.

Surah Yasin, 12

Aathaar literally means vestige, or impact. Allah SWT informs us that our aathaar are recorded.  There is a file with my name on it, and the number beside it is an exact measure of my carbon footprint. It is a scale that not only measures in kilotons of CO2, but in human suffering. And this is a very chilling realization.

I was beginning to get a sense of what a halal and tayyib lifestyle meant, and it was much, much greater than the zabiha meat I was buying in a corner “halal” shop in Toronto.

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About doing it all

Interesting people go away to a monastery or some life-changing hilltop and descend with enlightenment and wisdom, completely altered, and with a nimbus of light around their head. I didn’t go there, but life has turned around nonetheless.

With my evolving consciousness of imaan and Islam, I feel compelled to do a lot of things. Like give away all my clothes and possessions, move into the woods, live off the land, take up organic farming and homesteading, fast all day and pray all night and memorize the Quran… the feelings inside seem to call for grand commitments, grand gestures. Yet even the smallest discipline seems a struggle. The discipline of praying on  time, consistently, for instance. Or trying to grow 1 tomato plant.

This is a chronicle of my failures — the failure between grand intentions and small actions. It is a little bit of trying to fill a huge ravine armed only with a tiny little spoon.

And trying to stay sincere through it all.

Starting Somewhere

The first instinct of this bookworm is to go  and read about 80 volumes on any subject before even starting out. Booklarnin’ — it rots the brain.

I managed to kill everything for 2 years in a row. The more I read, the more impossible it seemed to grow a proper tomato in any corner of my weed choked clay bog backyard.

Even the idea of a lawn was beyond my reach. The books all said

Buy a kit to test your soil.

Buy recommended amendments to soil.

Yank out the grass by  the square foot.

Rake all the stones and weeds out.

Pay 500 bucks to haul all the dirt and stones away.

Buy a truck full of topsoil

Buy a barrel full of grass seed and buy a spreader to sow it.

Water religiously till it sprouts and catches, and keep off it.

Total cost about $7000 and 12 husky landscapers for a lawn our size. Give or take.

Far from growing a few veggies in the back, I’d have to take 2 jobs to support this dream of a halal and tayyib lifestyle.

This was 2012.