Friday, 23 May 2014

A Rule - don't be lazy

In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

Upon arriving here, I was immediately handed what is known as an 'Inmate Handbook' - basically, fifty pages or so of prison rules. One such rule reads as follows: "Beds will be tightly made, wrinkle-free, and neat with sheets folded approximately 16" from the head (military style). The extra blanket will be neatly folded and placed at the foot of the bed. All beds will be made and inspection-ready by 7:30 am."
When I read this, I was reminded of a particular aspect of the attitude of the Salaf. Laziness is defined as "an aversion or disinclination to work, activity, or exertion," and it is a trait that they utterly detested:
* 'Umar bin al-Khattab said: "I hate to see a man walking around aimlessly, doing nothing useful."
* And Ibn Mas'ud said: "I hate a man who I see idle, not occupied with work for either this life or the next."
Allah's Messenger himself (peace be upon him) would begin each day with a supplication to Allah which included "...and I seek Your protection from laziness..." In fact, laziness is so antithetical to the Sunnah that not once in his life did he even yawn, as Ibn Hajar noted: "And from the Prophet's unique traits is what was collected by Ibn Abi Shaybah and al-Bukhari in his 'Tarikh,' from the mursal of Yazid bin al-Asamm: "The Prophet never once yawned.""
So, although it's a prison rule, it's a good one. Years of living in close quarters with others has confirmed to me that the earlier you wake up and start your day, the less lazy you will appear throughout your day. When 'Umar arrived in Sham and saw that Mu'awiyah had become sluggish and slow, this is why the very first question he asked him was: "What is this, Mu'awiyah? Do you sleep during the duha (late morning)?" Indeed, an analysis of the attitude of the Salaf reveals that they looked down upon the habit of sleeping too much, particularly during the early part of the day:
* Sakhr al-Ghamidi related that Allah's Messenger said: "O Allah, bless my nation in its early-risers," and that when he would send out an expedition or army, he would send it out at the very start of the day. Sakhr himself was a merchant, and he would do business at the very start of the day. As a result, he became abnormally wealthy.
* 'Ali bin Abi Talib said: "Sleeping early in the day is a symptom of ignorance."
* Both al-Bukhari and Muslim record that a group of men came to visit Ibn Mas'ud one morning after the Fajr prayer. They hesitated to enter despite having been granted permission to enter his home. When he asked them why they hesitated to enter, they explained that they were afraid that his wife would be asleep in the home at this time. Ibn Mas'ud responded: "Do you think that my family would be so careless?" (Commenting on this, Ibn Muflih al-Hambali said: "One thing to take from this is that this is a time that shouldn't be neglected, and sleeping at such a time is discouraged.")
* Ibn 'Abbas saw one of his sons asleep during the duha time. He told him: "Get up! Do you sleep during the time that our provisions are apportioned for us?"
* One of the Tabi'un said: "The Earth cries out in anguish when a scholar sleeps after the Fajr prayer."
* The previous Prophets held the same attitude, as Prophet Dawud said to Sulayman: "Beware of too much sleep, as it will leave you poor while others are working."
* And 'Isa bin Maryam said: "There are two traits which I detest: i) sleeping during the day, particularly when one has not been kept up at night, and ii) laughing out loud except when due to amazement."
* And a poet said: "Indeed, sleeping during the late morning afflicts a man with confusion * And sleeping in the late afternoon is insanity."
Ibn Muflih commented on all of this, saying: "So, sleeping during the day is very harmful to your body, because it drains it of its energy and ruins your muscles, which need to be loosened up through physical activity."
I was moved to this prison (Marion CMU) a few months ago (from the CMU in Terre Haute). Prison moves are often sudden, with no forewarning. At 5 am one morning, a guard unlocks my cell door, walks in, and tells me that I'm going to be transferred to another prison, and have less than an hour to pack up my belongings. Realizing that I'd likely never see many of the brothers here again, I walk out into the pitch-black corridors of the CMU to stop at each cell and give my salams. This is a time when most people are asleep. However, at a number of the cells, I see that the lights are on inside. As I slowly approach each of the lit cells, I hear the soft hum of Qur'an being recited, and out of the corner of my eye, I see that each of these brothers is engrossed in Qiyam al-Layl:
* Allah's Messenger said: "Know that a believer's honor is manifested in his Qiyam al-Layl."
* And he said: "The closest that a worshipper is to Allah is in the second portion of the night. So, if you can be of those who remember Him at such an hour, do so."
* And he said: "Each night, when the final third of the night remains, Allah descends to the lowest heaven and says: 'I am the King! Who will call upon Me so that I may respond to him? Who will ask of Me so that I may give him? Who will ask My forgiveness so that I may forgive him?' And He remains like this until the time of fajr."
* And he said: "Stick to Qiyam al-Layl, as it was the habit of the righteous people before you. It brings you closer to Allah, it wipes out your sins, it dissuades you from sins, and it expels sickness from the body." (Commenting on this hadith, Ibn Rajab said: "One of the lessons of this hadith is that Qiyam al-Layl results in a healthy body, and cleanses it of disease.")
* And he said: "Ihsan (perfection) is to worship Allah as if you can see Him. Since you cannot see Him, know that He sees you."
With Qiyam al-Layl, there's no way to make a name for yourself before other people. There's nobody to show off to, locked inside a cell by yourself in the depths of the night in a prison in the middle of nowhere. There's no material gain whatsoever. Qiyam al-Layl is not even obligatory, and as al-Hasan al-Basri said, it's "the most difficult and intense" form of worship. What, then, would drive a man to voluntarily and happily crawl off of his concrete bunk in the middle of one of the coldest nights of one of the coldest winters, wash up with ice-cold tap water, and pray to One he cannot even see?
* Abu Sulayman ad-Darani said: "The people who make Qiyam at night enjoy their nights more than those who are busy with entertainment enjoy theirs. Were it not for the night, I wouldn't want to remain in this world."
* al-Fudayl bin 'Iyad said: "If you're unable to get up for Qiyam or fast during the day, know that you're deprived and shackled by your sins."
* One of the Salaf said: "For forty years, nothing made me sad except the rising of the Sun (i.e. the end of the time to perform Qiyam)."
They acknowledged Qiyam al-Layl to be extremely difficult, but their Iman turned it into a privilege. This way of thinking is completely alien to Western societies, which are rife with insincerity, selfishness, and materialism. But returning to the point of this article, ponder over this hadith:
* "When any of you goes to sleep, Shaytan ties three knots at the back of his neck, sealing each knot by saying: 'You have a long night ahead of you, so sleep.' If he wakes up and mention Allah, one knot is loosened. If he then performs wudu', another knot is loosened. If he then prays, all of the knots are loosened, and in the morning, he will be energetic and in a good mood. Otherwise, he will spend the morning grumpy and lazy."
Commenting on this hadith, Ibn Hajar said: "What is clear is that Qiyam al-Layl contains a hidden secret in its effect of improving your mood." This pattern becomes evident when looking at the examples recorded in the books. They're too many to list, but consider:
* 'A'ishah once described that at night, "Allah's Messenger would never miss Qiyam al-Layl. If he was sick or exhausted, he would pray it while sitting." Not only did this not tire him during the day, but as already mentioned, the effect it had was such that he never once yawned, and even had the energy to go out for battle in the earliest possible part of the day.
* Ibrahim bin Shammas said: "I knew Ahmad bin Hambal as a young boy, and he would stay up all night praying." And it was exactly this stage in his life regarding which al-Imam Ahmad himself described how early he'd start his day: "I would want to go out early to hear Hadith. So, my mother would grab my clothes and say: "At least wait for the Fajr prayer to be called and the people to wake up!""
[Point: It's part of the Sunnah to take a short mid-day nap (qaylulah) between the Dhuhr and 'Asr prayers. This is one way al-Imam Ahmad was able to get up for Qiyam, as his son 'Abdullah described: "My father would take a short mid-day nap, whether it was winter or summer. He wouldn't miss it, and would encourage me to do the same, citing the statement of 'Umar bin al-Khattab: "Take a qaylulah, because the devils do not."" There are narrations of Anas, Ibn 'Abbas, and others which also encourage this. Another habit which facilitates getting up for Qiyam is avoid sleeping before the 'Isha' prayer or staying up talking after it, due to the hadith stating that "the Prophet used to hate sleeping before 'Isha' and staying up to talk after it."
It's also worth mentioning that Qiyam al-Layl doesn't necessarily mean that one must stay up the entire night, or for any specified time. Rather, something as simple as waking up a half hour before dawn to pray two rak'at would qualify as night prayer.]
And from all the brothers I've lived with, it's the few who were constant in their Qiyam al-Layl who I observed to be focused, making the best use of their time, rarely (if ever) yawning, choosing their words carefully, having few material possessions (even by prison standards), and whose minds were occupied only with the loftiest of matters.
It was simple traits like these which allowed the Mujahidun of the past to alter the course of history. In 'al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah,' Ibn Kathir ends his section on the Battle of Yarmuk by describing the moment that the humiliated remnants of the Roman army arrived back at Antioch to report to their emperor, Heraclius, the details of how they'd been shattered by the army of Khalid bin al-Walid. Heraclius said: "Woe to you! Tell me about these people who fight you. Aren't they human beings like you?"
They replied: "Yes."
Heraclius asked: "Are you greater in number, or they?"
They replied: "Rather, we outnumber them many times over in every battle."
Heraclius then asked: "Why, then, do they defeat you?"
So, one of their elite stepped forth and explained: "Because they get up at night to pray, fast during the day, fulfill their promises, enjoin what is good, discourage what is bad, and are fair to each other, while we drink alcohol, fornicate, indulge in what is forbidden, break our agreements, violate and oppress others, encourage what angers God, discourage what pleases Him, and spread corruption on Earth."
Heraclius said: "You have spoken the truth."
Written by: Tariq Mehanna
Friday, the 3rd of Rajab 1435 (2nd of May 2014 - may Allah have mercy on you, Shaykh...)
Marion CMU

Friday, 9 May 2014

U.S. to Support ICC War Crimes Prosecution in Syria


"It is the function of the CIA to keep the world unstable, and to propagandize and teach the American people to hate, so we will let the Establishment spend any amount of money on arms."-- John Stockwell, former CIA official and author 

 "Many Americans hunger for a different kind of society -- one based on principles of caring, ethical and spiritual sensitivity, and communal solidarity. Their need for meaning is just as intense as their need for economic security."-- Michael Lerner, journalist

Friday Poem

Bull Song

For me there was no audience
no brass music either,
only wet dust, the cheers
buzzing at me like flies,
like flies roaring.

I stood dizzied
with sun and anger,
neck muscle cut,
blood falling from the gouged shoulder.

Who brought me here
to fight against walls and blankets
and the gods with sinews of red and silver
who flutter and evade?

I turn, and my horns
gore blackness.
A mistake, to have shut myself
in this cask skin,
four legs thrust out like posts.
I should have remained grass.

The flies rise and settle.
I exist, dragged, a bale
of lump flesh.
The gods are awarded
the useless parts of my body.

For them this finish,
this death of mine is a game:
not the fact or act
but the grace with which they disguise it
justifies them.

by Margaret Atwood
 - See more at: 

Time to settle the synthetic controversy

Volker ter Meulen in Nature:
Syn_bio_logoThe creation of an artificial yeast chromosome shows that synthetic biology is getting closer to what most scientists want: to be able to deliver benefits to society. The field has already found cheaper ways to produce medicines, and is making progress in applications from water purification to materials design. The topic is, however, controversial, and that is jeopardizing its promise. Environmental groups argue that it poses risks to health and the environment and have called for a global moratorium. We have been here before: exaggerated fears and uncritical acceptance of claims of the risks of genetic modification led to excessively cautious regulation and a block on innovation that not only slowed the development of new products, but also deterred basic science. The debate over synthetic biology is now entering a critical phase.
...In the case of synthetic biology, the world needs to commit to addressing several priorities. First, the scope of synthetic biology needs be determined. We describe it as the construction of customized biological systems to perform new and improved functions, through the application of principles from engineering and chemical synthesis.
- See more at: Time to settle the synthetic controversy

Understand Pain

Different kinds of pain summon different terms of art: hurt, suffering, ache, trauma, angst, wounds, damage. Pain is general and holds the others under its wings; hurt connotes something mild and often emotional; angst is the most diffuse and the most conducive to dismissal as something nebulous, sourceless, self-​indulgent, and affected. Suffering is epic and serious; trauma implies a specific devastating event and often links to damage, its residue. While wounds open to the surface, damage happens to the infrastructure—​often invisibly, irreversibly—​and damage also carries the implication of lowered value.
I want to write something, but - what? Well, I'm not a professional writer. So, I can't write all day and night. People say writers are creative people but I say they are just opposite, aren't?