Tahajjud: An Introduction and How-To

It is well-known, as Muslims, how much the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم extolled the night prayer (Tahajjud) and its many benefits to the Scale and the soul. However, in my years of teaching Islam, it has become increasingly apparent that what many Muslims today lack is not simply knowledge but approaches to practice. We all know Tahajjud is a good thing to do but we may struggle on how to approach it as a regular practice.

What I like about the following video, by brother Alexander Carberry, is how he gives some practical and even “scientific” gleans into how Tahajjud might find its way into our practice as a Muslims. I appreciate the melding of health, medicine and science into a new “behavior”, a means of how to make this beautiful sunnah of the Prophet a lived practice in our lives.

Over the last several years I have come to realize for myself the need to more intimately connect my health and well-being with my practice as a Muslim. That they are indeed intimately related and that perfecting (or trying to!) them brings about a better practice as a Muslim. Sleep, no doubt, is a key factor in that endeavor and is something many Americans (Muslim or otherwise) in today’s stimulant-driven, constant on-the-go culture struggle with. I hope you will enjoy this video and attempt to put into practice some of brother Carberry’s insights into how to live better, pray better and worship better, as a Muslim. May God reward him abundantly for helping us in this task.

Additional Reads

Modernity and Technology-What Does Islam Have To Say?

The follow are some notes from a Chaplain Chat I delivered at the University of Pennsylvania on April 3rd, 2012, on the subject of technology and religion, specifically asking what does Islam have to say about it.

“It is an extraordinary era in which we live. It is altogether new. The world has seen nothing like it before. I will not pretend, no one can pretend, to discern the end; but every body knows that the age is remarkable for scientific research into the heavens, the earth, and what is beneath the earth; and perhaps more remarkable still for the application of this scientific research to the pursuits of life. The ancients saw nothing like it. The moderns have seen nothing like it till the present generation…. We see the ocean navigated and the solid land traversed by steam power, and intelligence communicated by electricity. Truly this is almost a miraculous era. What is before us no one can say, what is upon us no one can hardly realize. The progress of the age has almost outstripped human belief; the future is known only to Omniscience.” – Daniel Webster

Modern life presents a significant challenge to people, Muslims being no different. One of these challenges is the proliferation of technology. Technology is often pitched as a panacea that will cure all of our sicknesses and leave us with an abundance of leisure time and yet, studies increasingly show us to be more unhealthy than before (especially if one includes mental health issues) and more and more people are succumbing to stress as they have less and less free time. Not only has technology not delivered on its promises of increased free time, but has actually played a part in it: people increasingly spend their free time engaged with technological devices and interfaces instead of “detaching” (present post excluded of course). As is discussed in the chat above, I make the claim that Islam has something positive to offer in the definition, application and production of technology in our culture. Yet despite this claim, we find the vast number of Muslims who are involved in this production of technology woefully silent? Why? Do they feel that their Islam has nothing to offer or is it that they do not know how to engage the dialog?

Another fly in the ointment of technology’s promises is to whom it is promised? When, particularly in the West, technology is extolled, it is often done so in abstract rhetoric that seldom if ever includes an honest critique in how technology has failed to make everyone’s lives better, such as the poor, the economically disenfranchised, the socially marginalized and so forth. I am reminded of this in Gil Scott Heron’s spoke word piece, Whitey On the Moon:

A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey’s on the moon)
I can’t pay no doctor bills.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still.
(while Whitey’s on the moon)
You know, the man jus’ upped my rent las’ night.
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
I wonder why he’s uppi’ me?
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon?)
I wuz already payin’ ‘im fifty a week.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Taxes takin’ my whole damn check,
Junkies makin’ me a nervous wreck,
The price of food is goin’ up,
An’ as if all that shit wuzn’t enough:
A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face an’ arm began to swell.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Was all that money I made las’ year
(for Whitey on the moon?)
How come there ain’t no money here?
(Hmm! Whitey’s on the moon)
Y’know I jus’ ’bout had my fill
(of Whitey on the moon)
I think I’ll sen’ these doctor bills,
Airmail special
(to Whitey on the moon)

For me, Heron’s poem brings to light the false assumptions about technology’s neutrality. And that while great leaps for mankind are often the justification points for technology’s application, seldom does the trickle down effect seem to affect that whom, in my opinion, would be best positioned to benefit from it.

Extra Reading

Technology as Knowledge by Dennis R. Herschbach.

Techno-Euphoria and the Discourse of the American Sublime by Rob Wilson.

The Role of Technology in Society and the Need for Historical Perspective by A. Hunter Dupree.

Influence of the Past: An Interpretation of Recent Development in the Context of 200 Yearsof History by A. Hunter Dupree.

Information and the Muslim World: A Strategy for the Twenty-First Century (Islamic Futures and Policy Studies) by Ziauddin Sardar.

A BBC article on magnetic bacteria that will produce the machines of the future. My response to it.

Preventing & Reversing Diabetes Naturally – a documentary.

"Eat from that which is Good" – Chocolate Cupcakes Cross Examined

chocolate cupcakes

On May 21st, I gave a khutbah at the University of Pennsylvania in which I talked about food as it relates to Muslims but examining the Qur’ānic imperative:

كلوا من الطيبات واعملوا صالحا

“Eat from that which is good and perform righteous acts.” Qur’an, 7: 100.

This statement crossed my mind again that day as I stopped in at a 7-Eleven to get a sports drink. Across the cooler, laying inconspicuously, was an attractive looking package [for a junk food addict that is], which read on the front: “Chocolate Cupcakes: rich, chocolaty goodness — mouthwatering chocolate cake covered with chocolate frosting”.

At the same time, a recent converstaion I had with a close friend of mine, in which we discussed the modern woes of food production as well as the absence of any critical Muslim dialog and involvement in it, entered my head.  In the conversation, the brother asked me to watch a video entitled, “Food Inc.“.  The video, which can be seen on Youtube, lays out and illustrates a reality about food production that should of interest to Muslims, especially given the above imperative. During our conversation, I became aware of my own lack of congnisance regarding the subject and have thus endeavored to make myself more aware of its importance.  But in doing so, my desire was to take the conversation about “healthy food” away from the fringe, where it is perceived to be the property and proclivity of vegans, vegetarians and other minority groups who are conscious, and steer it towards the mainstream of the typical Muslim.  In essence, it is my hope that we can have a communal conversation and perhaps even change of action, regarding food, that goes beyond the halāl/non-halāl dichotomy. I also saw it as a missed opportunity that Muslims could have in terms of da’wah and dialog with the broader American public.

But back to our story … So there I was, in a spot we’ve all been at, at some time or another.  Tempted by some sweet delicacy.  And as my hand reached for its cellophane wrapper, brother Muhammad’s voice and conversation entered my head, and I recalled the verse I had recited from the minbar again: “Eat from that which is good and perform righteous deeds“.  And as I did, I glanced down at the ingredients and I must say, it was startling.  Not only for its sheer incomprehensibility and daunting chemical vocabulary, but also at some of the ingredients themselves—my concsiousness made aware from Food Inc.—a few of them stood out, for which I have highlighted.  This is a far cry from the chocolate cupcakes my mother made me as a child!

Sugar,water, corn syrup, enriched unbleached flour and bleached flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, palm oil, eggs, cocoa (natural and processed with alkali), contains 2% or less of the following: modified food starch, dextrose, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), cornstarch, calcium carbonate, wheat gluten, mono- and diglycerides, chocolate liquor [say what?!], salt, calcium sulfate, methylcellulose, agar, soy lecithin, datem, sodium stearoyl lactylate, cellulose gum, polysorbate 60 [what happened to the other 59?], guar gum, titanium dioxide (color – titanium for color? C’m on!), artificial flavors, lactic acid, sorbitan monostearate, sodium hexametaphosphate, annatto (color), citric acid, xanthan gum, caramel color, preserved with potassium sorbate, sodium propionate, and sodium benzoate.

In light of the above verse and this laundry list of chemical agents, it is high time for Muslims to have a voice in the public discourse on health.  We have our own long tradition of health-related eating practices [both Qur’anic, Prophetic and from the Tradition].  One can walk into any hospital and find a large number of Muslim doctors but how many Muslim public health officials do we have?  I am reminded of Dr. Jackson’s talk on the “quietism” on behalf of Muslims when it comes to race.  I would indeed agree, though I would push it further and contest that Muslims are “quite” on the vast majority of topics that are of interest to the society that they live in as a whole.  How can we remain quiet in the face of not only racial injustice, but of practices on the part of the food industry that have the potential to affect us all?

Food for thought.

Extra Links

  • Halal Scanner: www.halalscanner.com/
  • Halal and kosher food safer?: Scientist Live [is it really? And does halal necesarrily equate “tayyib”/”good”?]
  • American Halal Association: americanhalalassociation.com/