Sunday, September 8, 2013

Nouman Ali Khan: The Final Miracle

I have listened to Nouman Ali Khan's lectures on youtube so many times, I never thought I will be so gobsmacked listening to his live lecture. But I was. I think I am beyond gobsmacked. By the end of his final lecture, I just feel like crying. I am so grateful we made it to all his lectures. The diva in me was cursing the mad crowd in PWTC (no thanks to the MATTA fair). But it suddenly felt so petty and the lecture made it sooooo worth the trouble.

Here is my notes from the lecture; The Final Miracle. The final miracle for mankind is the Quran. You may be wondering, if we are already a Muslim, why should we appreciate the miracle of the Quran? Will it make a difference? The answer is YES. By doing so, your heart will be at peace. And you will be able to taste the greatness of Allah.

Ustaz NAK shared his journey with the Quran. He started studying Arabic language primarily because he was curious to understand the message of the Quran. Then he started listening to a series of lecture from one Arabic guy whom I didn't catch his name. At that time, his Arabic was very basic. But he started taking notes. And as he went on, and discovered more and more about the Quran, he get very overwhelmed with the whole thing. It was too mind boggling that some days, he would be sitting at the corner crying. Or he would try to distract himself doing other stuffs because thinking about his new discovery was just too mind boggling.

There's no Arabic word for miracle. The better word to describe the miracle of Quran is i'jaazul Quran. I'jaazul originates from the word ajaz. Which means to be on your knees. Unable to get up. So you might be wondering, what is it about the Quran that can make you so overwhelmed and down to your knees? Ustaz NAK went on to give some examples on the miracle of Quran from the language perspective.

The intricate word choice.

Example 1; Two different expressions for seven ears of grain.

Sunbulah is the singular form of the word and it means the ear of grain i.e the part of the corn that contains the grain. The plural for sunbulah is sunbulaat. Interestingly, in Arabic, there's also super plural. A stronger plural. And the super plural for sunbulah is sanabil.
In surah Al-Baqarah; describe seven ears of grain (of corn), the word sanabil was used. Sab'a sanabil....
Pic is taken from here.

In Surah Yusuf, to describe seven ears of grain (of corn), the word sunbulaat was used. Wasab'a sunbulaatin khudrin...
And [subsequently] the king said, "Indeed, I have seen [in a dream] seven 
fat cows being eaten by seven [that were] lean, and seven green spikes [of 
grain] and others [that were] dry. (12: 43)

In English, both words will have an identical translation. But in Arabic, the context of the two word is different. In Al-Baqarah: 216, the context is more powerful as Allah is talking about the increase of good deeds. In Yusuf: 43, Allah is talking about the king's dream. In that context, a weaker plural was used as it's a weaker context in comparison to Al-Baqarah: 216.

Example 2; Two different plurals for ni'mah  (blessings)

The word ni'mah (singular) has 2 plurals. An'um (plural) and ni'am (super plural). Interestingly, these 2 words were only used once in the whole Quran.

16:121 (an'um)

Shaakiral lian'Umih* ijtabaahu wa hadaahu ilaa SiraaTim mustaqiym
Grateful for His blessings; Allah chose him and guided him to the Straight Path.

31:20 (ni'amahu)

Alam taraw an-nal-laaha sakh-khara lakum maa fiys samaawaati wa maa fiyl arDi wa asbaga 'Alaykum ni'Amahuu Zaahirataw wa baaTinah* wa minan naasi may yujaadilu fil-laahi bi gayri 'Ilmiw wa laa hudaw wa laa kitaabim muniyr

Do ye not see that Allah has subjected to your (use) all things in the heavens and on earth, and has made his bounties flow to you in exceeding measure, (both) seen and unseen? Yet there are among men those who dispute about Allah, without knowledge and without guidance, and without a Book to enlighten them!

Both words are roughly translated as blessings (or bounties) in English. However, in Arabic, they are used in a different context. In 16: 121, the verse was talking about Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) being grateful of the blessings of Allah. In  31:20, the verse was talking about Allah unleashing His blessings/bounties to us. The latter is definitely much more superior than the former. Hence the stronger plural was used in describing Allah's blessings.

Think of the precision of how a single word is expressed differently in different context. What do you think??

Example 3: The different word chosen by Moses (pbuh) and Jesus (pbuh) to address Bani Israil in surah As-Saff.

In 61: 5, Moses (pbuh) said to his people (Bani Israil): Ya qaumi....which means "O my people!

And remember, Moses said to his people: "O my people! why do ye vex and insult me, though ye know that I am the messenger of Allah (sent) to you?" Then when they went wrong, Allah let their hearts go wrong. For Allah guides not those who are rebellious transgressors.
And in 61: 6, Jesus said Ya Bani Israil...which means "O Children of Israel!

And remember, Jesus, the son of Mary, said: "O Children of Israel! I am the messenger of Allah (sent) to you, confirming the Law (which came) before me, and giving Glad Tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad." But when he came to them with Clear Signs, they said, "this is evident sorcery!"

By lineage, our identity follow our father's side. To be from a nation, your father has to be from that nation. Moses can called Bani Israil his people because his father was from Bani Israil. But Jesus has no father. Hence, instead of calling them O my people...Ya qaumi, the word O children of Israel was chosen instead. It's Allah's way of honouring the virgin birth of Jesus and honouring the virginity of Maryam (pbuh).

Isn't that wicked??? This is precision beyond human ability. Same surah, different verse. One after another. Different word was chosen to address the same people. In 2 different context. By this time, it's getting too mind boggling for me already. I was like..whoaaa!! Are you kidding me??

Obviously he didn't. And he went on with more examples of the miracles of the language of the Quran.

The contextualized sequence.

Example 1: Suratul Jumuah; 1-2
Compare the sequence mentioned in verse 1 & 2.
62:1 yusab-biHu lil-laahi maa fiys samaawaati wa maa fiyl arDil malikil qud-duusil ‘Aziyzil Hakiym

Whatever is in the heavens and on earth, doth declare the Praises and Glory of Allah,- the Sovereign, the Holy One, the Exalted in Might, the Wise.

In this verse, Allah mentions 4 of His attributes - Al-Malik (king-sovereign) - Al-Quddus (Holy, Pure) - Al-Aziz (Mighty, authority) - Al-Hakim (Wise)

62:2 huwal-ladhiy ba’Atha fiyl um-miy-yiyna rasuulam minhum yatluu ‘Alayhim aayaatihii wa yuzak-kiyhim wa yu’Al-limuhumul kitaaba wal Hikmata wa in kaanuu min qablu lafiy Dalaalim mubiyn

It is He Who has sent among the unlettered people a Noble Messenger from themselves, who recites His verses to them and purifies them, and bestows them the knowledge of the Book and wisdom; and indeed before this, they were in open error.

The next verse, Allah explained the 4 things Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did; (Note how the 4 activities in the 2nd verse correlates with the 4 attributes of Allah mentioned in the 1st verse??)
  • recites His verses to them (Al-Malik - Allah is the king - a king is known by his sign - and one of Allah's sign is the Quran)
  • and purifies them (Al-Quddus - pure)
  • and bestows them the knowledge of the Book and (Al-Aziz - authority - the Book i,e the Quran as the sign of authority and the book of law)
  • wisdom (Al-Hakim)
Do you think this is coincidence??

Read on.

Relationship between beginning and ending.

Let's look at Ayatul Kursi. 
Ayatul Kursi, or The Throne Verse is the 255th verse of the second chapter, surah Al Baqarah. It is the most famous verse of the Quran and is widely memorized by Muslims due to its emphatic description of God's power over the entire universe. Everybody is familiar with this verse right? Do you notice any pattern in this verse?

Let's look at the verse part by part. There are 9 parts altogether in the verse. Ustaz NAK explained the correlation between the beginning and the end in this verse. Note the similarities between part 1& 9, 2&8, 3&7, 4&6, and finally part 5 on its own.

1. Allahu la ilaha illa Huwal Haiyul-Qaiyum = Allah - there is no God but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting and All-Sustaining.
9. Wa Huwal 'Aliyul-Adheem = and He is the Most High. The Supreme (in glory).
Both parts have 2 names of Allah.

2. La ta'khudhuhu sinatun wa la nawm = Slumber seizes Him not, nor sleep --> Here Allah talks about sina-drowsy - and naum-sleep - it's human's limitation - the need to sleep - but Allah does not have that limitaton
8. wa la ya'uduhu hifdhuhuma = and the care of them burdens Him not; --> Here Allah talks about similar attribute - guarding the earth and the sky does not exhaust Him.

3. lahu ma fis-samawati wa ma fil-'ard = To Him belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth.
7. Wasi'a kursiyuhus-samawati wal ard = His knowledge extends over the heavens and the earth;
Boths parts are talking about Allah being the owner of heavens and earth

4. Man dhal-ladhi yashfa'u 'indahu illa bi-idhnih = Who is he that will intercede with Him except by His permission?
6. wa la yuhituna bi shai'im-min 'ilmihi illa bima sha'a = and they encompass nothing of His knowledge except what He pleases.
Both parts are talking about Allah's authority - He gives what  he pleases - either during intercession or any other matters.

5. Ya'lamu ma baina aidihim wa ma khalfahum = He knows what is before them and what is behind them;
Befittingly, this middle part says it all. Before and after.

By this time, I am too gobsmacked already. I mean, all these verses were revealed years apart. Not one verse after another. Not all at one go. The fact that they are connected to each other in such manner is beyond human's capability. It can never happen by chance. Also bear in mind Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was an illiterate. He could never made this up by himself. And the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as a spoken word. NOT written. All of us know that there are higher chances of error when the message is passed on spoken instead of written. Instead, the Quran is so perfect. All these just prove one thing. The Quran is not the work of men. It's a gift from above. 

After listening to Ustaz NAK talking about the intricacities of the Arabic language in the Quran, I finally get it. It finally dawns on me why it's so important for us to learn Arabic. To really discover the Quran and get connected to it. I finally understand why it's not the same when you read the English translation. Each word choice, each verse, each passage - there are so much depth. And you will never discover this through a translation.

So I have made the first step. We have subscribed to Bayyinah TV :-) 
Err..well...keying in my credit card details was not that hard :-P I guess the harder part is to really be consistent and make learning Quran & Arabic our family mission. I pray Allah makes it easier for us. And I sincerely pray Allah will bless Ustaz Nouman Ali Khan and his Bayyinah team for the awesome work they are doing for the ummah. Amin.

Nouman Ali Khan; IIUM Friday khutbah

There were a series of lectures planned on the 5th & 6th September. I was not so sure whether we can make it to the Friday khutbah in IIUM on the 6th. But my car's battery died. And I need to go Selayang to teach the Waldorf kids. So suddenly, the stars were aligned...ha3. Mr O had no choice but to send me to Selayang, and since we were going out, and we plan to go to PWTC later for his night lecture, it made more sense for kids to tag along so we can go straight to PWTC. So we suddenly ended up with the whole family, and a bit of time to kill after my class in Selayang. That's how we ended up in IIUM for the Friday khutbah......teeheee :-D
During the khutbah, Ustaz Nouman Ali Khan (NAK) went through some verses from Surah Yusuf and here are some recap. He spoke about how different it's for him living as a Muslim in the USA. e.g You don't hear azan for prayer time. You have to check the time. Mosque is not always full on Friday. Things are not always accessible. We take lots of things for granted. We are oblivious of the blessings of having the Islamic support around us.

He spoke about the minimal expectation of being a Muslim; i.e staying away from the haram things and fulfilling the obligation. There is nothing wrong with just doing the bare minimum. BUT, he thinks, we, the Malaysian Muslims, are very blessed to be born as a Muslim in a Muslim country. So his question is, if we are blessed so much, doesn't it make sense that Allah expects more from us? More than the bare minimum?? With so much blessings, we have more responsibilities to do more to serve the people. He spoke about the increasing number of people losing their religion all around the world. People in the USA lost their Islam after 2-3 generations. Some are Muslim by name, but they are not practising anymore. And this is not happening only in US. It's happening here too. He believes da'wah should not be restricted to the non Muslims. It should include the Muslim community too.

He spoke about purpose. What is your purpose in life? Ace your exams? Straight A's?? Get into Harvard? Get a degree? Get a good job? Big house? Loads of cash? Happy family?? There are nothing wrong in achieving all those things. It only become wrong when it become your goals. Those things are means to an end. But they are definitely not the end.

Our goal is to serve Allah. In whatever things that we do. Always ask ourselves, what can I do in my capacity to serve Allah and serve the deen? He reminded the students who are studying Islamic studies. Islam is not just about acquiring knowledge. It's about helping others and making a difference. That's the essence of serving God.

This religion is a journey. We should try to do more today. More than yesterday. We are ambassador of Islam in whatever things that we do. We have to learn to expect more from ourselves. Let's make du'a Allah makes us a people of vision. Amin.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Nouman Ali Khan; Lessons from Surah Ar-Rahman.

I have always been very grateful for people like Ustaz Nouman Ali Khan (NAK). People like him makes teaching Islam to my kids easy & interesting. People like him makes youths excited to go to lectures and learn more about their religion. And trust me, he's a rare breed. It's not easy to get youth to be interested with Islamic lectures. And I don't blame the youth. It's not easy to stay awake during Islamic lectures. It's even harder to comprehend what is the content of the lecture. Most Muslim scholars (at least the Malaysian scholars) give lectures like the whole audience are retirees, grandpas and grandmas. Lectures are very long winded and hardly relevant.

Anyway, Ustaz Nouman Ali Khan was in Malaysia on 5th & 6th September. And we are so blessed to be able to attend all his lectures. Here are some of the points I captured from his first lecture on lessons from Surah Ar-Rahman.
He started the lecture with asking everybody to make the effort to memorize the surah. Make it a family challenge. Surah Ar-Rahman is the 55th surah in the Quran. It has 78 verses. But half of the surah contains the same verse repeated over and over again. So it might not be a mammoth task to memorize the surah. Are you up to it??
Picture is from here.

He started his introduction by explaining the 3 key ingredients of good communication.
  1. Content; say something purposeful, useful and meaningful. Do you realize sometimes people (me included) can talk and talk and talk round the bush and realize after 30 minutes there's hardly any content??
  2. Style; The way you talk to your teens or to your wife or to your student make lots of difference.
  3. Audience
Quran is the perfect speech. It's the best communication in existence. Allah teaches us to speak. Hence, when Allah speaks, He has the best content and style. Every passage in the Quran has an audience. Hence, the style is different when Allah talks to different people - the Jews, the Christians, the righteous people etc etc etc. 

To fully understand the Quran, we have to start with understanding the content, then understand the style of communication and the audience it's meant to be. For example, Surah Ar-Rahman was revealed during the late Makkan period. This was the time when the people of Quraish were getting more stubborn. They were not only indifferent and not interested with Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), they were attacking him. That's why Allah repeat this verse so many times. 
47. Fabi-ayyi ala-i rabbikuma tukaththibani
Then which of the favour of your Lord will ye deny?

When you are talking to a stubborn person, you have to repeat the same thing so many times because they are not listening, right? Maybe out of the 20 times, it will go in once.

Before he moved on to the actual surah, NAK also explained the link between Ar-Rahman and the next surah, Al Waqiah. There are 5 key lessons in Al-Waqiah exactly in this order.

1. Highest ranking of people in jannah. Assabiqun assabiqun.
2. People of the right hand. Ashabul Yamin.
3. People of the left hand. Ashabul Shimal.
4. Allah reminded us the list of His creations - things around us that only Allah can do.
5. Allah talks about the greatness of the Quran

Check the 5 key messages in Ar-Rahman. There were exactly the same 5 key messages in Al-Waqiah. In reverse order. Wicked huh?? Is that a coincidence?? Definitely not. In communication, and in teaching, when we want to get our point across, we repeat and repeat the same messages, right? So this is Allah's way of getting his message across.

The uniqueness of Ar-Rahman is it starts with a verse that we can understand the meaning. Not a mutashabihat. Mutashabihat are verses in the Qur'an that are not entirely clear for many, or some people. Like Alif Lam Mim. Or Yaasiin. Or Alif Lam Ra.

Allah starts the surah with a word that we know to allow us to do some deep thinking of the word. Before we move on to the next word. What  does Ar-Rahman means? If you rely on English translation, the most common translation for Ar-Rahman is mercy. But Arabic is such a beautiful language that mercy does not really explain Ar-Rahman.
Ar-Rahman originates from the word ar-rahm. Which means the mother's womb. A child in the womb is taken care of in every way possible. Despite the fact that the mum and the child don't know each other yet. It's the unconditional love of the mother. She will do everything to protect the unborn child. That's what Ar-Rahman means. Allah loves us and takes care of us regardless of what we do. Mercy is usually associated with punishment. We asked for mercy when we are in the wrong side. But Allah is Ar-Rahman regardless of which side we are. Even when we are in the wrong side, even when we forget about Him, Allah loves us. Allah takes care of us. Allah will never abandon us. That's what Ar-Rahman means.

Another important aspect of the meaning of the word of Ar-Rahman is, it means it's happening right now. Like NOW. Allah loves you NOW.  Allah takes care of you NOW.  When we have problems, we pray and think of Allah. We ask his help. But we forget that Allah is Ar-Rahman. We get so overwhelmed with our problem, we forget all the other blessings that we are having right now. So reading the surah should reminds us that whatever situation we are in right now, Allah is there. He is Ar-Rahman. He is right there with us.

We don't appreciate things until it's gone. It's human nature. Remember the recent haze?? Remember how much we take the blue sky and the rain for granted?? In this surah, Allah keeps reminding us, then which of the favour of your Lord will ye deny?
Pic is from here.

Next, Ustaz NAK talked about the last verse of surah Ar-Rahman.
What does tabaraka means? Tabaraka= barakah. Barakah means something that will continue to grow in strength and in stability. It will continue to get better and grow beyond your expectations. Beyond what a human mind can comprehend. He thinks, because of this verse, every Muslim on earth should be an optimist.

Think of barakah from Allah everytime you do a good deed. If our intention of doing anything is for pleasing Allah, we will not expect anything from people. Nobody can discourage us. The true concept of barakah is Allah will bless our effort more than what we think. Even if you think you have messed up miserably. He gave us an example of his Arabic teacher who told him, regardless of whether there are students or not coming to class, he will still come to the class and teach. Because he believes in the concept of barakah. Don't underestimate the value of things that you do. Even the tiniest little thing. Allah will provide you barakah beyond your imagination. 

Moving on, he spoke about the 2nd and 3rd verse in the surah. The 2nd verse talked about guidance. The 3rd talked about creation. Why are the verse in that sequence? Why guidance first then creation? Not the other way round?
islam on Why Sura Ar Rahman starts with the divine attribute of "Ar Rahman"?
Pic is from here.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was the best human being and the best teacher ever existed in this world. He also had the best curriculum to teach the Quraish. The Quran. Allah revealed the Quran in Arabic. The language of the Quraish. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught them for 12 years in Makkah. And the Quraish still insisted they didn't get it. They mocked Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). They called him stupid and crazy. They tortured him. They did all sort of nasty things to him. They questioned his message. They challenged him regarding the day of judgement. They insisted he need to prove it. You kept telling us about the day of judgement (akhirat). But we cannot see it. Prove it to us. 

One only need proof because one don't have trust. Ustaz NAK gave an example. If you are in a building, and there's fire drill announcement. You don't see any smoke. Will you run and save yourself or you wait until you see the proof? Most likely, you will heed the advise and take the safety measures, right?? Why?? Because you trust the announcement come from the reliable source. The source with authority. You don't need proof once you have the trust. Does it make sense?? He said, only animal believe when they see it. Human will believe when they understand. You don't need to see to believe.

Anyway, the Quraish's arrogance and stubornness made Allah angry. But Allah is Ar-RAhman. Even when Allah is angry, Allah still loves us. Allah revealed this surah to answer the skeptics. The revelation of the Quran was an act of love from Allah to the mankind. If you want to find Allah's love, read the Quran. Establish a personal relationship with the Quran. Bit by bit. It take 23 years for Allah to reveal the whole Quran to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). So take your time. But be consistent. Start somewhere. It will change you, your perspective and your lifestyle. 

In the 2nd verse, Allah said; Allamal Quran. He has taught the mankind the Quran. He doesn't specify who. Just mankind. That means Quran is open to everybody.Teach Quran with love. Not hate. Stop using Quran to debate unnecessarily. Allah teaches us Quran because we are forgetful.. And we are continuously looking for love. Allah sends us the highest gift from above. The Quran. And He provides us the best teacher to teach us the Quran. Him, the Ar-Rahman. So are you accepting the gift?? If you do, Allah will make it easier for you. Go on. Start now. Pick up the book.

PS. This is my personal notes. I might misunderstood certain things. And missed out some points. Do correct me if I am wrong. And do add on if there are stuffs I missed. Let's learn together.