Wednesday, June 17, 2009


"Many prayers are declined because of the rank odor of a corrupt heart rising through the beautiful words. Let the words be wrong, but the meaning right. That flawed utterance is dearer to God."

- Rumi

Absolutely beautiful.

It reminded me of how a lot of non-Arabic speaking Muslims seem worried about mispronouncing prayers/Arabic words. I don't think anyone should worry too much about that; the fact that you are praying and doing it for God is what matters, not whether you get the pronunciation right. Similarly, someone could pronounce all the words perfectly, but if they're a bad person I'm sure the prayer won't count for much.

This quote reminded me of how amazingly simple God has made Islam. It's so beautiful in its simplicity. That's why it really, REALLY bothers me when people try to complicate it/make it difficult/take everything to an extreme. Of course Islam has its challenges: praying 5 times a day, fasting, Hajj - these things are not easy. But they're simple! The meaning behind them is simple, the message of the Qur'an is simple, and I really think God wants us to be happy in this life, and so has given us a religion that is beautiful and that compliments our common sense and conscience. I realized everything that is seen as "Islamic" and doesn't make sense to me comes from the Hadith, not the Qur'an, which is why I don't really trust the Hadith that much.

When I think of the spiritual message of the Qur'an I get very emotional. Peace, justice, compassion, forgiveness, happiness, love - we Muslims could be the happiest and most peaceful people on earth if we listened to what the Qur'an is telling us. Mashallah for this amazing book! It really is a miracle. Think of the way God describes Himself. Think of the Prophet. Where are these qualities in Muslims today?


Sarah the Seeker said...

The quote and your whole post really made me feel happy. It's common sense isn't it? and yet common sense seems to be not that common. :)

I have a pretty hard time with the nit-picking side of religion. My insecure side gets caught up in worrying over it, even though reason tells me most of it is relatively unimportant. This puts me off religion somewhat. But then I read things like this post of yours and I want to be a part of what you're describing.

I've started reading Muhammad Asad's translation by the way. It will take me a while, it has loads of extensive footnotes! I don't know if you've got it but it seems very good. Do you understand much from reading the Qur'an in Arabic? I assume you probably speak Arabic, living in Egypt, but I know Qur'anic Arabic must be quite different from modern dialects.

Faith in Writing said...

Such a lovely post. And I completely agree re Islam being made too difficult sometimes. I think sometimes Muslims become so judgemental and that can totally ruin the point of being Muslim. It really is a simple message that we are to follow -I think that's how I became turned away for a while. It all seemed so strict and complicated. But then I saw the conversion of a girl and I was like "That's how simple it was for me in the beginning" --> now I'm trying to take my faith back to that. Happy, simple faith. said...

Salaam alaykom, sis. One thing I don't know about Rumi is whether he got that quote from the Sunnah of the prophet or not. The only things that need proper recitation is Al Fatihah and Tahiyyatul Ihram at the end of your prayers. If we can't do it properly yet then that's fine, as long as you're trying your best to work on it. If you aren't willing to be able to beautify your prayers with doing just that then how can one say that he/she wants to impress Allah in prayers? This is supposed to be part of the fundamental practices of Islam and we have to remember what the conditions of prayers are, inshaAllah.

sabrina said...

Beautiful quote. I like what you said but I'm surprised you said you question the Hadith. I mean, after all, the teachings of the Prophet (saw), which we can only learn through the hadith, are like half our religion. I get that you could be weary about where the hadith are being narrated from, but if you stick to texts like Muslim, Bukhari, Riyad-us-Saliheen, I think you'll be pretty safe:)
P.S., I'm pretty sure I spelled all of those wrong -- well, except Muslim since I am one;)

Candice said...

Thank you for this post! You're so right! I feel exactly the way you do... The message of the Qur'an is beautiful and that spirit should be in everything we do. We should focus on these basic things and with time get to the details like perfect pronunciation. When I pray, I still do parts of it in English. I found some more important than others to learn in Arabic and focused on those. With time I will add to it.

I also feel the same way about hadiths... I don't trust them that much. I think they were not meant to be preserved like the Qur'an was so error entered it like anything man would try to preserve. We did our best but there is error and corrupption in hadiths. That's the way I feel about them. So I will not change a belief based on a hadith. I will just take what I know in my heart is good from it. And I will take the good of it to learn about Muhammad. But the best way to obey the messenger is to obey the message he delivered (he wouldn't be a messenger without it)!

Hning said...

So why do Muslims pray only in Arabic? Why can't they pray in their mother-tongues?

Umm Omar said...

Beautiful and touching reflections here. You said it all, really.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah: haha, I agree, common sense doesn't seem to be very common these days. I personally don't get the nitpicking side of any religion, and usually people who do this are insecure about their own belief in God. We all have days where we are insecure in whether we are good Muslims/Christians etc or not, and that's when we start worrying about the small things.

Aynur told me about Asad's translation and I'm definitely going to order it. Also try Tarif Khalidi's translation, it's brilliant. I know Egyptian Arabic but like you said it's very different from classical Arabic, so I don't understand a lot from the Qur'an. I'm planning on beginning to learn classical Arabic this fall, inshallah.

Thanks for posting!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Faith in Writing: thanks! I can understand why you got turned away by Islam being made to seem strict and complicated when in fact it isn't necessarily so. I went through the same thing. These judgmental Muslims really turn a lot of people of Islam!

Thanks for posting :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hi Sabrina. I don't distrust all hadith, but I don't automatically trust every one I read either, even those by Bukhari and Muslim. People treat their hadith collections as sacred, like the Qur'an, but they aren't. There are a few hadith in Bukhari that Aisha actually said weren't true. In these accounts she went on to recite the hadith the way the Prophet had actually said it. However, Bukhari doesn't include Aisha's corrections. Why not, since 1/6 of hadith come from her?
Islam has been twisted and ruined by patriarchal men since the prophet died. Why should we think the hadith haven't been affected? They (the imams) count on us not knowing how to study hadith or how to know if one is real or not, and so can easily manipulate us. I've seen hadith that contradict the Qur'an. I've seen hadith that take rights away from women, and I seriously can't imagine the Prophet saying something like that. After all he was a feminist :).

Thanks for commenting!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

SirAdib: I have no idea whether this quote is from the Sunnah or not. Like you said, if we can't do it properly it's fine as long as we're trying. I doubt any Muslim won't try to recite the Qur'an/prayer better. The point is that it's okay for it not to be perfect, because what matters more is the meaning and the pureness of the person saying the words.

Thanks for posting :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Candice: you said it perfectly: the spirit of the Qur'an should be in everything we do. And anyone that interacts with the Qur'an can feel the spirit right away, I'm sure.
I totally agree about the hadith: I don't think they were meant to be preserved and revered this way, to the extent that actual laws are made based solely on hadith. They have been recounted by humans, who have been known to make mistakes!
Like you said, the best way to obey the messenger is to obey his message!

Thanks for posting :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hning: that's a good question. I'll try to find out why we have to pray in Arabic, and where this came from.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Umm Omar: thanks sister =) said...

The best way to obey the messenger is to obey his message. Quite right I must say. But remember that his message did not only come from the Qur'an, but also his sayings and actions gives a better understanding of how we should interpret the Qur'an without using the verses to support our whims and desires.

By the star when it descends,
Your companion [Muhammad] has not strayed, nor has he erred,
Nor does he speak from [his own] inclination.
It is not but a revelation revealed,

Taught to him by one intense in strength
(An Najm verse 1-5)

The narrations of sound hadeeths do not contradict each other, nor do they contradict the verses of the Qur'an which was why the hypocrites were unable to break through this strong barrier. If there were contradictions the scholars would have known. I recommend everyone to read about the science of hadeeths here.

Anonymous said...

Hning - here are a few verses from the Qur'an about salaat:
[29:45] "You shall recite what is revealed to you of the Scripture (the Quran), and observe the Salat."
[73:20] Your Lord knows that you meditate during two-thirds of the night, or half of it, or one-third of it, and so do some of those who believed with you. GOD has designed the night and the day, and He knows that you cannot always do this. He has pardoned you. Instead, you shall read what you can of the Quran. He knows that some of you may be ill, others may be traveling in pursuit of GOD's provisions, and others may be striving in the cause of GOD. You shall read what you can of it, and observe the contact prayers (Salat), give the obligatory Charity (Zakat), and lend GOD a loan of righteousness. Whatever good you send ahead on behalf of your souls, you will find it at GOD far better and generously rewarded. And implore GOD for forgiveness. Allah is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
I believe that since the exact meaning wouldn't translate perfectly, that's why we pray in Arabic. We shouldn't be just reciting it mindlessly though, without understanding what we're saying, as that would defeat the purpose of praying. said...

Sorry, meant to post this link.

Anonymous said...

cairo - I agree. Even in Bukhari there are hadith that go against the spirit of the Qur'an or totally override the Qur'an. (i.e. killing apostates, stoning adulterers, etc etc).
*sigh* I don't know what to think, other than I HAVE A LOT OF READING TO DO! :))

Sarah the Seeker said...

"Also try Tarif Khalidi's translation, it's brilliant."
I ordered that following your earlier recommendation of it, and it arrived today, so I look forward to reading it. The Muhammad Asad one is massive, it contains Arabic and transliteration as well as translation and extensive notes, and beautiful artwork in the pages. The only criticism I have so far is he uses some old-fashioned English words, "thou" "thee" and so on, but it's not as bad as reading Shakespeare. :)

"I'm planning on beginning to learn classical Arabic this fall, inshallah."
That would be amazing! Maybe one day you'll be writing your own scholarly works. I wouldn't be surprised. ;)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

SirAdib: the point I'm trying to make is not that we shouldn't use ANY's that we should be very careful about which we choose. For example a lot of hadith call for the oppression of women in various ways, and I can't imagine God or the Prophet wanting this. The Qur'an is supposedly complete - so we should use it as a base, and hadith as something extra. Today however most Muslims see the hadith as on equal footing with the Qur'an, which I disagree with.

Thanks for the link!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Aynur: those are great examples of hadith that contradict the spirit of the Qur'an! I feel I have so much reading to do too! Be careful what you read though!!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah: I hate old English! It gets annoying. I'm so glad you got the Khalidi one, tell me what you think when you get to it!

About the scholar thing, INSHALLAH! Hehehehe.

sabrina said...

Really? You feel like there are imams who don't want you to know things? Like, you mean an imam at a masjid? I've never heard of hadith in Bukhari being wrong -- something I'll look into. My sheikh is all about teaching us everything he knows, and I've never felt like he wanted me to be in the dark.
Where do you live?

sabrina said...

Oh, and I had another thought -- there's got to be a difference between the narration not being exact, and the meaning changing, right? As in, if you were like, "Sabrina, you're blue sweater is really nice," but then when I tell someone what you said, I'm like, "Yeah, she said, 'I like your blue sweater.'" That's not exactly what you said, but the meaning hasn't changed. Where do you go to school? I have a cousin at Al-Azhar. I'm wondering if you guys know each other.
I know, that's like saying, "Hey, I have a friend in America! Do you know her?"
Not trying to pigeon hole you, just thought I'd ask because I just looked at your profile and saw that you were in Cairo.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sabrina: my opinion is that everything in Islam is interpretation. Once a human interacts with the Qur'an, the result is NOT sacred. This is the case for sheikhs, imams, scholars, and us. The minute we read something, we are interpreting. Obviously our backgrounds and preconceptions affect the way we interpret. Since Islam has overwhelmingly been interpreted by men living in strictly patriarchal societies, what are we expecting?
Take a look at a few fatwas that have been released here in Cairo and it becomes clear that culture and sexism have seeped into "Islamic learning".

Of course there's a difference between the narration not being exact and the meaning changing. But sometimes a word can change the whole meaning. I've heard of a debate about the whole 72 virgins thing in the Qur'an - some say the word means virgin, some say dates. BIG difference! (I don't have an opinion on this, I haven't researched it properly).

There is a famous hadith that goes something like "if you entrust your property to a woman you will never be successful." I read about it a while ago and I'm pretty sure it's in Bukhari. A lot of Muslim women scholars have now begun questioning this hadith. For example, why give women an inheritance at all if this is the case?
Another hadith says something like "if a donkey, dog, or woman walks in front of you while praying, your prayer doesn't count" (this isn't it exactly, but it's similar). When Aisha heard this, she supposedly replied: "So now we are the same as donkeys? The Prophet used to pray while I sat on a bed in front of him." I'm not sure if this is in Bukhari/Muslim but it could be as I've heard it several times.

I've been a practicing Muslim for less than 2 years. I also live in a country where culture and religion are intermixed and hard to tell apart. So I don't feel I'm ready to tackle hadith yet :) I'm not saying they are all wrong. I'm just saying as Muslims we shouldn't treat Bukhari's collection as SACRED or as on equal footing with the Qur'an.

No, I don't think I know anyone that studies at Al-Azhar. I graduated from the American University in Cairo last year.

Anonymous said...

Cairo - Okay I found the donkey one:

Narrated 'Aisha: The things which annual prayer were mentioned before me (and those were): a dog, a donkey and a woman. I said, "You have compared us (women) to donkeys and dogs. By Allah! I saw the Prophet praying while I used to lie in (my) bed between him and the Qibla. Whenever I was in need of something, I disliked to sit and trouble the Prophet. So, I would slip away by the side of his feet."
Sahih Bukhari 1:9:493
And a few other Bukhari ones:

The Prophet said, ‘But for the Israelis, meat would not decay, and if it were not for Eve, wives would never betray their husbands.
Sahih Bukhari 4:55:547

Narrated Usama bin Zaid: The Prophet said, "After me I have not left any affliction more harmful to men than women."
Sahih Bukhari 7:62:33
Narrated Abu Bakra: During the battle of Al-Jamal, Allah benefited me with a Word (I heard from the Prophet). When the Prophet heard the news that the people of the Persia had made the daughter of Khosrau their Queen (ruler), he said, "Never will succeed such a nation as makes a woman their ruler."
Sahih Bukhari 9:88:219

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Aynur: thanks! That's the one I was referring to. The other ones are great examples of hadith that do not make sense when we consider the fact that the Prophet (pbuh) valued women and wanted to improve their situation. Especially this one:

Narrated Usama bin Zaid: The Prophet said, "After me I have not left any affliction more harmful to men than women."
Sahih Bukhari 7:62:33

Maybe what this hadith meant was that women can distract men from religion, but it could also mean that women are dangerous, impure, etc. When compared to the spirit of the Qur'an and the personality of the Prophet (pbuh), some of these hadith just don't make sense to me. That's my own personal opinion. There are hundreds of hadith that are beautiful, such as the one that says heaven is at the feet of mothers. THAT is something I can imagine the Prophet (pbuh) saying.

At the end of the day, we should be wary when dealing with hadith, in a way we don't have to be when dealing with the Qur'an, since that is the sacred word of God.
Anyone remember Chinese whispers? When something gets narrated, it can easily be changed, and meanings can shift drastically with small changes in grammar and words. Also we should think of the people doing the narrating: maybe they added their own preconceptions to what they were saying. I know that Omar and some other companions REFUSED to narrate hadith because they were terrified of getting anything wrong.

Sarah the Seeker said...

I was going to mention Chinese whispers as well. According to Farid Esack in "The Qur'an: A User's Guide", there were variant recitations/readings of the Qur'an even at the time of Muhammad. So I can't see hadith faring too well.

One question I have is, how do you know the personality of the prophet? Do you mean based on those hadiths that don't contradict the spirit of the Qur'an? Or is there some other basis for selection of resources from which you build up this picture of his personality?

Hning said...

So if reading in Arabic makes us more thoughtful, do the Arabs read with less thought since it is their mother tongues?

But I think Cairo,Lusaka,Amsterdam (CLAm) has got it right, in my twisted mind. That offering prayers in its original language can keep the record straight, despite the difference in interpretation.

I think that's what has preserved the "originality" in ancient scriptures. Just as is the case with Shakespearean language, or "Ohm".

Thank you for the lovely conversation.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah: yeah there were different variants of the Qur'an because of different dialects etc, so imagine the hadith.

That's a good question: I guess in my head it's formed from all the historical accounts I've read, not from hadith. Karen Armstrong especially is an amazing source.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hning: that's a good point, keeping it in the original language means the interpretation doesn't change the original text. I think Aynur mentioned that before too.

sabrina said...

I don't know, Cairo:) Touchy, touchy subjects:) My take on it is this: I'm not qualified to interpret, but there are people out there that are. There are people who have studied this deen inside and out for years, earned degrees, and have earned the right to interpret based on Quranic texts and hadith -- and those are the people that I want to be my teachers. If there are hadith regarding women that bother me, then I ask the teachers I trust. After that, if through the science of hadith those narrations are proven to be true, resulting in my questioning my deen or the Prophet (saw), then I seek refuge from Shaytaan, and I pray that Allah (swt) gives me the wisdom to understand and accept -- because I have no doubt that this deen is complete, and perfect, and without bias. It might not be the hadith that is incorrect, but my naffs that won't allow me to humble myself enough to understand. My cousin who's been living in Egypt (she went to AUC also, and Diwan, and now Azhar) wrote a really great paper (which you might actually hate;)) about the feminist movement in Egypt and how it is causing fitnah in Islam. If you want it for kicks, I can ask her for it, and I'll e-mail it to you. Or, maybe you just want it so you can write your own rebuttal:)
Thank you for being so passionate about what you're learning. I might not agree with everything you say, but I appreciate that it's coming from your heart.
So, how 'bout that peppermint foot scrub, huh?:)
P.S. Are you from the states? And if so, are you ever coming back?

Anonymous said...

Hning - what I am saying is one shouldn't just be reciting what you're praying without knowing what you're saying. You can be reciting the Qur'an without understanding what you're saying at all (many people do). I'm not saying reading in Arabic would make you more thoughtful.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hi Sabrina: definitely a touchy subject! You're lucky to have found teachers you trust. Once I find some I think my life will become a lot easier. Did you find them through your local mosque?

I wouldn't mind reading your cousins paper actually, haha. It would be interesting to see how she argued that.

People can't agree on everything, that's normal, as long as we're civil about it. Life wouldn't be fun if we all thought the same exact thing. You're really sweet and I can see from your comments that you too are passionate, which is great!

I'm not from the States. My mum's Dutch and my dad's Egyptian, and I grew up in Zambia, Southern Africa. I've been living in Cairo for 5 years now.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

By the way Sabrina, I read every single time I read your blog :P you have a great sense of humour mashallah!

Lisa said...

I wish I had stopped by earlier to read this sweetie. You are a brilliant writer! I really enjoy reading the Qur'an and I'm with Aynur on this. Love you dearly.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hi Lisa, thanks! Hope you're doing well, xx.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Oops, Sabrina, I meant I laugh every time I read your blog :P