Detroit Trip 2017

It’s been two years since I’ve been back home. I’ve had lots to reflect on this time.

There’s so much that can be said about this picture. This was the house I was born in – in Detroit. Its tragedy is apparent in its front door that has been kicked in; windows smashed; the roof burned. Amazing that it still stands. God alone knows how many decades it’s been open, exposed to the elements. And even more tragically is this is now an all too common image of Detroit homes: total devastation. And yet it reminds me of so many paths I did not take; so many I was protected from. And while I have attained neither fame nor fortune, God has clearly been the Writer of my destiny. Like when He said to His Prophet, “Did He not find you orphaned and shelter you? Did He not find you wandering and guide you? Did He not find you impoverished and enrich you?” (أَلَم يَجِدكَ يَتيمًا فَآوىٰ وَوَجَدَكَ ضالًّا فَهَدىٰ وَوَجَدَكَ عائِلًا فَأَغنىٰ). I had always harbored a secret hope of one day being able to purchase the house we were forced to abandon. But like so many things in life, you simply have to let go:

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It’s like that line from The Princess Bride when Inigo Montoya “goes back to the beginning”:

From This Quiet Place…

So many years ago this journey began, and all along the way breadcrumbs were left for me, like so much foreshadowing. How deeply overcome I was tonight, sitting quietly in a dark room, whereupon I chanced on an old album by the gospel sextet, Take 6, and like Proust’s madeleine, I was transported back to when I was just a young man, more a boy in reality, and how this album, amongst all my others, would comfort me so and bring me only what I could now articulate as yaqin and sakinah: certainty and tranquility. How moved I am by my Lord’s plan: how His mercy has always been present; how He has always had a plan. I have no words to properly convey the emotional feeling I just had but I felt compared to share it, for my cheek is still wet (I sobbed like a newborn!). And this lyric still fresh in my mind, more than twenty five years ago:

Whether a garden small,

Or on a mountain tall.

I am reminded here of Allah’s words in the 45th chapter, al-Jathiyah:

فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ فَيُدْخِلُهُمْ رَبُّهُمْ فِي رَحْمَتِهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ هُوَ الْفَوْزُ الْمُبِينُ

“As for those who were secure in faith and did right actions, their Lord will admit them into His mercy. That is the Clear Victory.” (Qur’an, 45: 30)

This journey, this thing called Islam, is simply amazing. My only lament is not being able to articulate it with justice. Despite that shortcoming, I invite any and all seekers to truth to join me on this sojourn.

Tafsir Ziyan – Reflections on Mistakes in Life

There is a great temptation in life to view one’s past actions as mistakes. After all, upon reviewing them, it’s second nature to saying things such as, “If I could go back…,” or, “If I had it to do all over again.” I must confess, that yours truly is no different. That is, until reflecting on my life after the birth of my child, what I like to call Tafsir Ziyan.

It can be something of a balancing act to have remorse [nadm] about one’s past misgivings and yet still view them in the Light of Allah, the Qur’an, the Sunnah of our Beloved Prophet and our Tradition. I was never very good at juggling but my daughter has forced me to add another ball to the set and in doing so, I have discovered qualities not only of myself and my wife, but of Allah Almighty. As God says in Surah al-Taghabun [64], “There is no hardship or calamity except that it is from God,” verse 11.

Simply put, despite all of my glaring mistakes, missteps, gross errors, transgressions and more, God’s primary quality that He prescribed upon Himself is Mercy, and I have not seen that manifested for myself in any better form than in the birth of my daughter, for God says in the Qur’an [2], “Allah does as He pleases,” verse 253. I was only able to have this understanding when I had an event in my life so large that I had no choice but to submit to it. In the midst of that submission I am beginning to see the bigger picture, and not get lost in self pity [something Shaytan loves] about past grievances while still hoping that God Almighty will pardon me for my sins.

Drawing closer to God in the midst of calamity is supremely difficult, especially at the moment of that calamity. But when one steps back and views the tapestry of one’s life, the mosaic of calamity met with clemency, over and over again, the All-Merciful attribute that is God’s stands clear, humbling oneself in complete abasement. I am left thinking about Surah 3, verse 154:

Then He sent down to you, after the distress, security, restful sleep overtaking a group of you, whereas another group became prey to anxious thoughts, thinking other than the truth about Allah – thoughts belonging to the Time of Ignorance – saying, ‘Do we have any say in the affair at all?’ Say, ‘The affair belongs entirely to Allah.’ They are concealing within themselves things which they do not disclose to you, saying, ‘If we had only had a say in the affair, none of us would have been killed here in this place.’ Say, ‘Even if you had been inside your homes, those people for whom being killed was decreed would have gone out to their place of death.’ So that Allah might test what is in your breasts and purge what is in your hearts. Allah knows all that your hearts contain.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Tafsir Ziyan.