Customs and Rituals

Teenage Years: Keeping Faith in a Faithless World

Teenage Years and Faith poster

Nooresahar Ahmad, Hartlepool

In many ways, being a teenager is much harder than being an adult. We’re in the years when we have to make decisions that will impact the rest of our lives, even though most of us don’t really know what we want from our lives. Pressure is piled on what with exam results and parental expectations; having to balance our faith with our studies, our studies with our hobbies, and our hobbies with our rest. At a time when we need more sleep than ever, late nights are more often spent frantically completing homework than actually sleeping!

And then- on top of all that- there’s the peer pressure. Pressure from classmates and friends is something that weighs heavy on all teenagers. But when you’re a Muslim girl, and you stick out just a little bit (okay, a lot) more than everyone else, and the list of things you refuse to partake in (like wearing revealing clothing, socialising with boys or drinking alcohol) is much longer than others’, the pressure can be even harder to deal with. It is this very distinction that can make some people feel as though their religion and beliefs are becoming cumbersome; especially when their peers have no faith of their own, no religion that they are connected to, and cannot relate to their situation at all.

Some Ahmadi girls may well find it uncomfortable to enter discussions regarding their religion, drawing extra attention to themselves in an environment where they already feel (like all teenagers) self conscious. When they are asked questions about their faith they may want to shrink away from responding. However, as Ahmadi Muslim girls, we know this isn’t what we should do.

Looking towards the examples of the very accomplished, inspiring women in our Community, it is vital we calmly and kindly answer the questions of our classmates regarding our religion, stand our ground even if we are pressured to do otherwise, and learn that our unique identities as Ahmadi Muslim girls are not something to be ashamed of. Rather, we should take pride in who we are and what we believe. Doing so can often gain us more respect than changing ourselves to fit in.

To do this, however, it is vital that we have knowledge of our own religion. Otherwise, if we do not understand the reasoning behind the teachings, we can become confused and, when faced with a difficult question regarding our religion, may find we don’t know the exact answer. We do not have to blindly follow what our parents are telling us; instead, we should constantly ask questions and read religious books, articles and blogs so that we develop a faith in God, and an understanding of Islam, that is personal.

In short, no matter how busy we become, or how awkward we may feel, our faith isn’t something that we can afford to ignore or neglect. Because before long school will finish- and we will never see the classmates who once pressured us or made us feel uncomfortable ever again. The way we decide to act now will determine whether we can look back at our conduct with pride, or with regret. Even as teenagers, it is our responsibility as Ahmadi Muslims to put our faith first and prioritise our religion before anything else.

And once we have done that, we find that we are free to enjoy our adolescent days as much as-if not more- than the next person.

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Customs and Rituals · Islam · New Year

The New Year—an Opportunity to Mould a New and Reformed Self

New Year Picture (1)

Basira Ajmal, Bournemouth

Once again, a New Year is just around the corner—a time when words like resolution, goals, change, plan etc. echo the planet Earth. A new year marks the time when our beloved home planet has travelled one whole orbit around the Sun. But what’s so special and ‘NEW’ in it for us—the ones inhabiting the Earth? Does something new per se happens in our life? Not really, but what we do get is a chance, a plausibility and above all, a motivation to try and achieve a new, better and reformed version of ourselves. It gives us a break in the continuous routine of life running on autopilot.

Surprisingly, it’s a time when a huge section of the society consciously engages in pondering over their lives in a fashion that they usually don’t. They set themselves resolutions. They take vows to ameliorate themselves, to make positive amendments and improvements. Everyone makes a different and distinctive set of goals, however, while reading through many peoples’ resolutions posted on social media every New Year, I notice that the one thing common among all these plans and resolutions is their key objective and target which is to achieve more happiness, more meaningfulness and more satisfaction in life whether it is through an improved physique, a better job, better grades, voluntary work etc.

Science tells us satisfaction and gratification is closely connected to religion and spirituality. Scientists have repeatedly demonstrated through their research and investigation that those with a spiritual practice or who follow religious beliefs tend to be happier than those who don’t. Study after study has found that religious people tend to be less depressed and less anxious than non-believers. A 2015 survey found that participating in a religious organization was the only social activity associated with sustained happiness—even more than volunteering for a charity. It’s as if a sense of spirituality and an active, social religious practice were an effective vaccine against the virus of unhappiness.[i] Thus religious people have higher level of life satisfaction but more interestingly a study also says that simply having a religious identity without any spirituality will not make one feel more meaningful or satisfied.[ii]

So the question arises how do we enhance or get a deeper sense of spirituality? What are the spiritual standards that we need to strive for and against which we need to evaluate ourselves? Fortunately, having accepted Imam of the age, the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) and as followers of true Islam the answer for us Ahmadi Muslims is quite easy to find. Shedding light to this matter and guiding us on how to enhance our spirituality, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, says that we Ahmadis are very fortunate that Allah has given us the instruction of the following of the Promised Messiah (peace be on Him) who presented to us the summary of the teachings of Allah and His Prophet (peace be Upon Him) and also showed us the high standards to evaluate our deeds and spiritualty. If this standard is kept in assessment then we can surely achieve the standards of true believers. These are the conditions to rightly judge your standards of good deeds. Every Ahmadi undertook the Bai’at and thus through this the Promised Messiah (peace be on Him) gave us the instructions to follow and thus also expected from every Ahmadi to self-evaluate themselves every day, every week, every month and every year. Thus, if we spend the last night of the previous year and the new day of the New Year pondering over our spiritual conditions and by spending time supplicating towards Allah then we will be the ones who will be working towards a good life hereafter. And if we also indulge in worldly wishes and affairs, then we will lose a lot and gain nothing. If the weaknesses still prevail and the self-evaluation does not give us peace then we should pray to Allah that the coming year may not be the one that would show us a reduction in spiritual enhancement. [iii]

Therefore being Ahmadi Muslims, our standard of spirituality is fully clarified in the ten conditions of Bai’at. In order to gain true happiness and contentment in this life and the hereafter, we need to act in accordance to these conditions which we have pledged to obey. If we look into these conditions, they tell us nothing but to restrain ourselves from all kind of evils; idolatry, falsehood, fornication, adultery, cruelty, dishonesty, mischief etc., and practice virtue; humbleness, cheerfulness, forbearance, benefiting mankind, patience, tolerance etc. They tell us to fulfil rights of God Almighty and His Creation, to supplicate towards Allah alone and be always grateful and faithful to Him. Thus, we need to assess and analyze our past year against these standards and as Muslims, our resolution and goal for the New Year should be to elevate our levels of spirituality to the ones told to us by the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) so that we can have a life full of true satisfaction and gratification.

 

 

[i] http://time.com/4856978/spirituality-religion-happiness/

[ii] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/american-spirituality-survey-life-satisfaction_us_59fcd75be4b0baea2631c34e

[iii] https://www.alislam.org/friday-sermon/2016-12-30.html

 

Customs and Rituals · Islam

Celebrating the Messiah

sameen blog pic

Sameen R Chaudhary, London

The month of December, cold and dark as it is, for many is a celebration of light over darkness. For them it is a time to be with family and friends, worship, giving, joy and singing, embracing and focusing on the good. For Christians in many parts of the world, December brings with it the celebration of the birth of the Messiah, even though it has been established that the actual birth of Jesus did not take place in December at all. Indeed it was a birth that was miraculous, and a death even more puzzling as different theories emerged over time. For a man who has faced much controversy in his birth and death, Jesus is a worldwide figure, and not exclusive to any one group.

This time of year is wonderful for some, stressful for others, and too commercial for many. It is a time of year when streets are decorated, people are in a festive happy mood, and the shops are filled with all things sparkly. 2017 has been a little different as I have never had to think about, justify or explain my position on Christmas the way I have this year. Perhaps it is a sign of the times we live in when Muslims are being scrutinised and discussed all the time. No doubt the whole debate around the Tesco Christmas advert got many people thinking about who was entitled to celebrate Christmas and how. Social media, radio debates and the like were ablaze with commentators on all sides of the argument. From this emerged some reoccurring patterns one of which was that it is OK for people who do not wish to abide by the basic tenets of the Christian faith, (or the basic tenets of all the major world faiths including Islam, as they are all the same at their core, because they are all from the One God), to celebrate Christmas. But it is not ok for a Muslim, who actually not only believes in Jesus (on whom be peace) but has much respect and love for him as a Prophet of God, a noble and pious man born to a woman who was the epitome of piety as mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. A man who Muslims believe was the Messiah. We may not agree on the way he died, but at least we agree how he was born and that he was sent from God for the benefit of people.

On the other hand there was the recognition that many people celebrate Christmas without believing in Jesus, and therefore it has become part and parcel of British culture, which all who live here should be part of anyway. Many people go back to pre-Christian England where festivities around the winter solstice celebrated the shortening of nights and lengthening of days, and where many practices have found their way into a ‘traditional Christmas’. On this side, there is also the expectation to join in. Those who do not are seen as on the periphery of society, not assimilated or integrated. Here too there is a flaw, as it takes away the meaning of Christmas for those who do celebrate it as a religious festival.

So the dilemma of celebrating this time of year, how much or how little to celebrate continues in fear of offending anyone. But celebrating someone does not only have to be about their birth. It can also be a celebration of their purpose and message and to honour these. And there are many ways. If I was to celebrate the coming of Jesus (on whom be peace), rather than his birth, it would be first and foremost to recognise the God who sent him. It would be to believe in the Prophets who came before him, and those who came after. It would be in showing respect to his teachings, his people, and those who believe in him. Perhaps it would even be learning more about him and his message. It would be understanding the miracle of his birth and the truth of his death. As a woman, it would be to follow the role model of his mother especially, to perhaps adorn myself with a veil the way she is depicted, or to dedicate my child the way she was dedicated to the service of God. If I was to celebrate the coming of Jesus (on whom be peace), or other Prophets of God for that matter, it would most definitely be to accept him as the Messiah of his time. But also to accept the Second Coming, the Messiah for the latter days. That would be the real celebration. So if I was to celebrate, it would be every day and not at any specific time; marked by learning, remembering, understanding, and the struggle to follow teachings today and every day.

As an Ahmadi Muslim and follower of the Messiah who was promised to humankind in the latter days, and who came in the person of the Promised Messiah Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (on whom be peace) I believe in his teachings of the Loving God and service to humankind. Members of the Ahmadiyya Community, his followers, are spending these holidays visiting the sick, distributing gifts, giving company to the lonely, helping the elderly, and much else. These are also ways of celebrating the Messiah. And they are in keeping with the teachings of Prophet Jesus (on whom be peace) ‘Do unto others as you would have done to you’ and the Promised Messiah’s principles ‘that we have kindness at heart for the whole of mankind’.

So to everyone today celebrating in their own ways, (or not); I wish a peaceful day, today and all days.

 

Customs and Rituals

A Muslim’s Thoughts on Christmas

Iffat's blog

Iffat Mirza, London

In the western world, Christmas is simply one of those things that just cannot be escaped. When you step out into the cold air from October onward, the smell of fir trees greets you, tinsel sparkles and the shops are constantly advertising the best presents that your grandchildren will eternally love you for. Schools begin performing their nativities, Christmas cards are made and Christmas parties celebrated. Not to mention the long awaited visit from Santa Claus. How does a Muslim navigate this? How do we explain to our little ones that Santa will not be visiting them and sit them down to separate the myth from the reality? The truth is, this is something that all parents should be doing.

Yes, Christmas is a momentous occasion in the western world but that is when the Islamic views and principles must be remembered. Quite frankly, the root of the celebration of Christmas is almost null and void; it has become nothing more than one big commercialised narrative, built on the idea that Jesus was born on December 25th. Here’s the thing; that’s not true. Both Islamic and Christian scripture suggest that Jesus was born in the summer time; after all, aren’t lambs featured in the nativity story? It is fundamentally true that lambs are born in the spring and summer time.

It has been noted by Christian Scholars themselves that “It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25th December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries, the Christians also took part. Accordingly, when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.”[1]

In short, the true reason for Christmas to be celebrated in December was to convince the Christians that the Pagans’ own traditions weren’t being celebrated, rather it was the birth of Jesus (on whom be peace).

The celebration of a birthday particularly that of a Prophet of God, has never been prescribed in any Abrahamic religion. The decision to celebrate the birth of Jesus came from the Roman and Greek traditions to celebrate the birthdays of their gods. As the Roman Empire fell and Christianity quickly covered Europe, the tradition of celebrating the gods’ birthdays was replaced by celebrating Jesus’ birthday.

As a religious event, it must be respected as we would expect any other religion to respect Eid and the traditions that follow our religious celebrations. However, the issue arises that it is quite true Christmas has lost its religious significance. Muslims accept Jesus as a true Prophet of Allah, as exemplified by this verse of the Qur’an “…Verily, the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was only a Messenger of Allah…” Qur’an 4:172, yet we cannot allow this to be a reason for us to be involved in traditions of dubious origins.  Atheists, Hindus, and even Muslims are all celebrating Christmas; why would those who don’t even believe in the existence of Jesus, celebrate his birth?

In the western World it is seen as a necessary event that is integral to the growth of families and the bonding of relationships. It is a time where friends and family gather, exchange presents and over a big feast celebrate absolutely nothing. Where it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus (on whom be peace), whilst debateable for Muslims, it is understandable and must be respected on the precept that we want our celebrations to be respected also.

Unfortunately, the popularity and cultural significance of Christmas has brought about the side effect of selfishness, not only in the very idea of a child writing a list of gifts that they want from an imaginary man, but also within governmental powers. It pains me to say that even in Muslim countries, commercial celebrations are given preference over practicing the true teachings of Islam. His Holiness Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V mentioned in his Friday Sermon of 1st January 2016 that despite the burning of a 63-storey building in Dubai the planned firework display would go ahead.

“Most Muslim countries are in a bad way these days but it is the way the wealthy show their materialism. Even if there had been no fire, it was the need of the time for wealthy Muslim countries to state that rather than spend on wasteful matters they would help the affected Muslims. But such is the state of affairs that a few days ago it was in the news that the most exclusive hotel in Dubai had the most expensive Christmas tree in the world at a cost of $11 million. These are now the preferences of wealthy Muslims.”’[2]

There is nothing religious about the desire to spend $11 million on a Christmas tree, rather it is merely for show, and it greatly pains our beloved Khalifah that there are Muslims in the world that would dedicate more time and money in ensuring that their materialistic pleasures are fulfilled and shown off, rather than participate in the good and charitable deeds that our beloved Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) taught us.

However, when it is merely a celebration for the sake of celebration. A mere business tactic to boost profits, it loses not only its religious meaning it turns our society into a consumerist and materially hungry community; one where children are actively encouraged to write lists of everything they want to a man who lives thousands of miles away. Christmas, in its true essence is sadly dying and it has become like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day,  a ploy to increase sales.

[1] (cited in Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth CenturiesRamsay MacMullen. Yale:1997, p. 155)

[2] https://www.alislam.org/friday-sermon/2016-01-01.html

Customs and Rituals · Facts · Islam

Halloween: Trick more than Treat

Halloween

By Ayza Mahmood, age 14, Roehampton, London

It is the month of October and Halloween, the festival widely celebrated around the globe is a few days away. Halloween is based on ancient traditions that on the day the boundary between the living and the dead is removed and the dead come back to ‘haunt the living’. Halloween is a celebration of dressing up in frightening masks and costumes and going around knocking on doors and asking for sweets.

The concept behind giving sweets to children at the door is a way of protecting your household from the evil and the dead according to Halloween participants. In Islam this would be called ‘shirk’, which means association of anything with God. For example, the worship of idols would be classed as shirk because the idea behind it is that the idol is the worshipper’s god. So, to think that giving sweets on Halloween day is protecting one’s household from the dead is merely shirk because God is Omnipotent (All- Powerful) which means it is only He Who can protect a household or anything for that matter.

The Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings of Allah be on him) said that ‘avoid shirk, it is more subtle than footprints [on soft soil]. The Imam of the age, the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) said that even a ‘hint of shirk is unacceptable to God’.

Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (may Allah be his Helper) gave us the background of Halloween and explained how wrong the practice was in his Friday sermon of 29 October 2010. Huzoor said Halloween is generally regarded as fun. Huzoor said it should always be remembered that any ‘fun’ that is based on shirk or any harmful way is to be avoided. Huzoor said it was a ‘wrong and displeasing practice’ which was ‘a hidden evil’.

It is undignified for a child to dress up in an absurd manner and go knocking from door to door begging for sweets. And allowing a child to roam the streets at night is prone to harm and danger and a major cause for concern. Is it not a basic moral principle to give instead of take? And allowing one’s child to throw eggs on houses simply because they were not given sweets makes one wonder as to why this practice is even allowed.

As an Ahmadi Muslim girl living in the 21st century I have become used to the common question asked of me as to why I do not take part in Halloween. I stay firm in my faith and say there is no need to go around begging for sweets. Halloween mocks the dead including all our ancestors. And anyway God has given us all beautiful faces and why should we spoil them by painting them to make us look like the dead. Life is a blessing that God has bestowed upon us all so why would we ever want to dress up to look like we are not living but rather dead?

Fortunately most people in today’s society are accepting and when I say to people that I do not take part in something they might take part in, the response is usually always reassuring. For example, my neighbour once knocked on my door on Halloween day. She asked my mum if I could go trick or treating with her. My mum gave her sweets and told her politely that we do not celebrate Halloween. She understood and never knocked on our door for Halloween again.

To finish I would like to say that we should try and make positive changes to our society but I find Halloween is a way of dehumanizing everyone. We should be taking steps to better our society instead of disguising as macabre creatures. Life is far too precious to be taken for granted and for us to dress up looking like the dead.