Posts Tagged ‘quran

23
Aug
12

Visual-Spacial Imagination, Memory, & the Qur’an

Assalamualaykum!

A belated Eid mubarak to all!  It seems like it’s been a while, alhamdulillah.  I’ve been trying to get back in the groove of things back home, and as we all know Ramadan is an experience in and of itself.  It’s been almost 2 full months since the Dream 2012 batch graduated. It still hasn’t sunk in that I won’t be going back to Dream in a few weeks.  Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of something from Dream, whether something in class that Ustadh said or some aspect of living in Texas or a person or a joke, anything.  Even this cliched term, “not a day goes by…” is not exaggerated enough to capture how many things remind me of Dream on a daily basis, I would say it happens at least every few hours.

And there it is again–memory–something that I’ve been mulling over for a while.  There are some trains of internal thought-conversations that we have in our minds that insist on tempting us and any and every thing we see around us can make us think of them.  A subject I am currently brooding over is the idea of memory.

Why, you ask?

Coming back from Dream, one of my main goals is to kick up my Qur’an memorizing.  I would say that memorizing has been the creature lurking in the shadows this whole time for the past 3-4 years of my life and I am just starting to notice it.  First, it was stumbling into tajweed classes and working on tajweed and reading for a while.  Then, it was going to Dream, where I became adequately adept at being able to understand the language I would need to be memorizing in.  And my most recent experience, memorizing in Ramadan in which I somehow was able to memorize an unimaginable half a juz in 3-4 weeks with the blessings and favor of Allah.

It was at Dream that I started experimenting with my ability to memorize and what it means to sit down and practice memorizing and to become good at it.  During Dream, Ustadh Nouman would make us memorize so many random, bakwas things and it was really frustrating at times.  One of our first memorizing assignments was to give a 2-3 minute introduction speech from memory, (posted here). Regularly throughout the year, we would have to memorize the conversations and short reading passages from our Cambridge and Bayna Yadayk 2 textbooks.  Especially with Bayna Yadayk 2, Ustadh Nouman would walk around among the study groups and tell us that he’s coming back in 10 minutes to test us on a page-long conversation.  Cue insane cramming!  But somehow, we managed to pretty much stumble through them even if it was just 10 minutes later and it becoming normal to me is something that amazed me, and still amazes me.

So this morning as I was trying to warm up my brain for (guess what?) attempting to memorize my half page for today, I happened to come across this TED talk by Joshua Foer called “Feats of Memory Anyone Can Do” and got horribly, but oh so productively, distracted.  (The distraction continues now as I blog about it, which is an added distraction).

In this talk, he speaks about his experiences as a journalist covering the national memory competition and his subsequent interaction with the idea of memory and memorizing and why it’s so important in our lives.  He does an exercise at the beginning of his talk to demonstrate the memorizing theory of “memory palace,” the theory he later explains in his talk and elucidates his opening demo.  *warning, there is a picture with some nudity that he shows, so when you see a picture of a front door, look away before it’s too late!!

One of the main concepts he speaks about, which is also at the crux of the memory palace method, is what he talks about in a study that shows that when people/memory experts are actively engaging their memories, the part of their brain that lit up vs. the control group was the visual-spacial portion.  The whole idea is to find a way to imagine what you’re memorizing so it will be easier to recall.

This Ramadan, I actually tried imaging the Qur’an in a visual-spacial sort of way, like a movie, but not so much for memorizing.  I did that during tarawih to help keep my khushoo/concentration and also to simply enrich my experience of the Qur’an in hopes of being able to taste it.  It’s really easy to do and a fun exercise, and it’s quite built into the language! When Shaykh Yasir Birjas visited the campus, he said that Arabic words are like a picture in your head, and he encouraged us to always find the picture of the word while we were studying.  Ustadh Nouman is actually a huge proponent of this idea–that the Qur’an is like a movie, especially in some parts over the other.  It’s something he also spoke about in his Sunday Qur’an lectures (which can be found on Bayyinah.tv, subscribe today!! Shameless plug 😀 ) in Surat an Nahl, when the people who have taqwa of Allah are asked what Allah revealed to them they respond by saying خيراً, which Ustadh translated as man, it was so good!; whereas on the previous page, the people who are arrogant and disbelieve are asked the same question to which they responded أساطيرُ الأوّلين, legends of old/tales of the ancients.

وَقِيلَ لِلَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْا مَاذَا أَنزَلَ رَبُّكُمْ ۚ قَالُوا خَيْرًا ۗ لِّلَّذِينَ أَحْسَنُوا فِي هَٰذِهِ الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةٌ ۚ وَلَدَارُ الْآخِرَةِ خَيْرٌ ۚ وَلَنِعْمَ دَارُ الْمُتَّقِينَ

And it will be said to those who feared Allah , “What did your Lord send down?” They will say, “[That which is] good.” For those who do good in this world is good; and the home of the Hereafter is better. And how excellent is the home of the righteous – [16:30]

This ayah is actually really interesting.  It is grammatically weird for the people to respond خيراً (in the nasb state) rather than خيرٌ (in the rafa state.)  Not only is this the default for any sentence and in Arabic in general, ayah 24 of the same surah gives a template for the response, by the arrogant saying إساطيرُ الإوّلين instead of أساطيرَ الأوّلين (this time it is in rafa like it normally would be).  Even if you have no idea what a nasb or a rafa status is (or mansoob or marfoo’), any person who reads Arabic can tell that there is a difference in tashkeel–a fathah versus a damma.

So, why is “khayr” written with a fathah/in nasb state?  It’s as if the people have experienced and tasted the Qur’an, that’s why they’re saying, man, it was so good! They weren’t just saying (cue pompous religious accent) “Allah revealed good–He revealed something good to us”.  They are saying, “What did Allah reveal?!  It’s amazing, haven’t you tasted it?!  Dude, you’ve got to check it out! Seriously!!

From this ayah, I guess we can say that even Allah speaks about people experiencing the Qur’an–not only confined to their visual-spacial imaginations, but also in their lives, by living the Qur’an.

And what does it mean to live the Qur’an?  And why is this so important for me, or anyone else, who is even just thinking about wanting to memorize the whole Qur’an?

One of my goals coming back was to memorize, and this got me grappling with the important question, is it even possible for me to physically memorize?  I think I proved to myself that it is this past year at Dream and also during this Ramadan, but memorizing the Qur’an isn’t like memorizing a list of names in a phone book or the order of a stack of cards, it’s memorizing the words of Allah and memorizing them FOR LIFE.  Even the term “hafidth” / حافظ doesn’t translate as “memorizer,” it translates as a guarder or protector. This means that anyone who has memorized the whole Qur’an is given the title of someone who protects the Qur’an–what an honorable title to hold!  So what does it mean for someone who wants that title?

Memorizing the Qur’an is not only being physically capable to handle it, but also spiritually ready.  The term “memorize by heart” is truly appropriate here.  (It also reminds me of the amazing documentary “Koran By Heart” which is something you should watch if you haven’t yet. You can probably YouTube it.)  Someone whose heart is not ready to hold the weight of the Qur’an will not be ready to memorize it.  We know that it took some of the sahabi years to memorize the Qur’an because they were waiting to let it sink into their hearts and apply it in their lives before moving on to the next verse.  Sins, internal darknesses, matters of character, rectifying our behavior–these are all essential aspects of memorizing the Qur’an which perhaps are things that we overlook.

As much as Dream was the means of me being able to understand Arabic (which has made it way easier for me to memorize long term) and also good memorizing practice since memorizing random things was regularly expected of us, it also stands as the experience which has pushed me spiritually and in terms of my character/adab/akhlaq more than anything I have ever done before.  Maybe Dream turned out to be the thing that would not only get me physically and intellectually ready to memorize, but also spiritually ready.

May Allah prepare our minds and our hearts to hold the Qur’an.

I also pray that there is a TED talk about memorizing the Qur’an soon!!!!

Please keep me in your prayers as I continue to think about starting a serious memorizing regiment.  This is a reminder to myself first and foremost.

Sunrise or a sunset? A time-old question in my life.
Sunrise in Fullerton, CA.

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18
Mar
12

Introversion in Faith & in Dealing with the Qur’an

It has been quite a while since I last posted, but it’s all good, khayr insha’Allah.  I am currently writing to you from the comfort of my home in Southern California 🙂 I will return from SoCal and Spring Break to Dallas and Dream tonight iA .  What have I been up to?  Mad bumming, and I think I am about to seriously pay the price for it when I go back.  But this shall also serve as motivation to buckle down and get work done for the next and last 3 months of the program iA.

I watched a TED Talk this weekend titled “The Power of Introverts” by lawyer and author Susan Cain.  It is about the creativity, productivity, and leadership of introverts that is crucial to the functioning and advancement of schools & businesses, communities, and the world.  It’s only 20 minutes long and you can watch it here:

I truly enjoyed the talk and found much benefit in it, but it also lead me to question how introversion is related to faith and spirituality for all types of people, especially within the context of Islam and in today’s world.  A few weekends ago, the Dream students took a “field trip” to Houston to attend the last Divine Speech seminar that Bayyinah Institute offered in the United States.  One of the ayaat that Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan spoke about is one that is guiding my reflection about this issue, http://quran.com/2/74.

Divine Speech, in Houston, Texas

ثُمَّ قَسَتْ قُلُوبُكُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ ذَلِكَ فَهِيَ كَالْحِجَارَةِ أَوْ أَشَدُّ قَسْوَةً وَإِنَّ مِنَ الْحِجَارَةِ لَمَا يَتَفَجَّرُ مِنْهُ الأنْهَارُ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَشَّقَّقُ فَيَخْرُجُ مِنْهُ الْمَاءُ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَهْبِطُ مِنْ خَشْيَةِ اللَّهِ وَمَا اللَّهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ (٧٤)

Then your hearts became hardened after that, they are like rocks or even harder. And surely, there are

 rocks from which rivers burst forth, and there are some of them that split open an comes out and there are some of them that fall down for fear of Allah . And Allah is not unaware of what you do.

[Qur’an, 2:74]

When Ustadh Nouman explained this ayah, he was talking about how different people come to Islam and how their iman

 is expressed.  There are some hearts that are just exploding and gushing with iman/faith.  There are some which take some time and some pressure to crack open, but alas!  There was water there all along.  Then there are some that are dry, but still engaged in the most minimal level.

The first type of heart, a rock with a waterfall exploding out, we would be able to see in a person like the companion of

 the Prophet Muhammad (S), Abu Bakr (RA).  He was described as a quiet, reserved man, someone who spent a lot of time thinking and reflecting.  He was one of the first people to accept Islam.  Why did it take him so short of a time to do so?  Ustadh suggests that it might be to his contemplative nature.  That when the Qur’an was being revealed and Islam was being spread and becoming established, he was already engaged in the deep thought and the dialogue that the Qur’an

 presents, with all of the questions it poses and the different ideas it presents.  For someone who’s already thinking hard, someone who’s out and about admiring nature and asking questions about life and wanting social reform, Islam clicked immediately for him.

For the second type of heart, a rock that is cracked open and then water flows from it, we could use another companion

 Umar (RA) as an example.  He accepted Islam much later than Abu Bakr did.   Why?  Ustadh suggests that it in part has to do with Umar’s lifestyle, that he was in the fast lane and too busy getting into fights to slow down and spend some time engaged in deep thought.  But how does this kind of a heart wake up to the calls of Islam and faith?  Only when it is cracked open, by some sort of outside force.  How hard would it be to crack a rock?  Incredibly difficult.  So what kind of force can we imagine would open someone’s heart to the message of Islam and the callings of the Prophet (S)?  Only a

 truly traumatic, shaking, powerful experience.  And how long would it take to split a rock open, one blow? Or more than one?  Quite possibly multiple attempts.   So, what were the 2 events that lead Umar to at least just opening up his mind and taking a breather to think for a second?

The first is when he went out to murder the Prophet (S), who was praying by the Kabah.  He hid inside the covering of the Kabah and was inching his way around to the area where the Prophet (S) was making salah.  He was reciting from Surat al Haqqah, and Umar (RA) began to be struck by the words, but whose words were these? 

إِنَّهُ لَقَوْلُ رَسُولٍ كَرِيمٍ (٤٠)

40. that This is Verily the word of an honoured apostle;

Was this when he accepted Islam?  No.  He brushed it off by thinking, he’s a poet.  After which the Prophet (S) recited,

وَمَا هُوَ بِقَوْلِ شَاعِرٍ قَلِيلا مَا تُؤْمِنُونَ (٤١)

41. it is not the word of a poet: Little it is ye believe!

So then he thought, he must be a magician.  After which the Prophet (S) recited,

وَلا بِقَوْلِ كَاهِنٍ قَلِيلا مَا تَذَكَّرُونَ (٤٢)

42. nor is it the word of a soothsayer: Little admonition it is ye receive.

Now with his 2 hypothesis disproven, Umar (RA) is left wondering, well then who’s words could these possibly be?  After which the Prophet (S) finally recited,

تَنْزِيلٌ مِنْ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ (٤٣)

43. (this is) a Message sent down from the Lord of the worlds.

Now is when Umar (RA) freaks out.  He runs away from the Prophet (S) and the Kabah.  He’s shaken up.  So how does he cope with this experience?  He goes and gets drunk, completely hammered, so that he can forget what just happened.  Was this enough to crack his heart?  Not yet, but it was enough to leave a mark and leave some tender area for round two.  Years later it is reported that Umar (RA) heard these ayaat recited again after he accepted Islam and the memory of that incident vaguely came back to him, something that he admittedly had tried to forget.

The second instance that we know of is the one infamously known when he finds out that his sister had accepted Islam and he goes to find her and begins beating her in her home.  As soon as he makes her bleed—that was the moment when the rock split open.  He was horrified by what he had just done with his own two hands and then decided to take a look at the Qur’an for himself, which is when we know he accepted Islam.

For type 1 Abu Bakr, maybe a leaf falling from a tree or a cloud drifting across the sky could’ve been enough, but for the type 2 Umar, it was something as severe as beating his sister to the point where she was bleeding.  To me, these kinds of people can almost be categorized as type 1: introvert and type 2: extrovert.

But what is the definition of an introvert or an extrovert?

From the TED Talk, it was a matter of preference of stimulation.  An extrovert has a higher stimulation level than an introvert.  An introvert is more low-key, and extrovert would be thought of as more intense.  And both introverts and extroverts and any type of person in between those classifications maximizes themselves in the environment of the stimulation that is most suited to that individual.

So, what can we take from this TED Talk, the ayah, and the 2 examples within the ayah?

All people in whatever ranges they are on the introvert-extrovert scale need some amount of inversion to develop spiritually and as a person.

In this society, there is an allergy and repulsion to the idea of introversion, socially, at school, in the work place, and even at the community level.  There is a pressure to constantly be extroverted and out-going, where the “man of action” is more highly valued than the “man of contemplation.”  We not only marginalize the importance of deep reflection and thought, but it’s also as if we’re afraid of letting ourselves “unplug” from the technology and world around us and “get inside our own heads.”  Whenever there’s a second of free time or a moment of idleness, just whip out your smart phone, text a friend, open up Facebook, watch something online.  We are constantly distracting ourselves by filling up our time with a construct of social interaction.  There is no silence, there is not a dull or a quiet moment.  As soon as one presents itself, we proceed to swiftly kill it by engaging in some sort of mindless, pedestrian activity.

When do we ever make time for ourselves, and therefore, time with God?  It is important to set aside time for ourselves, time for reflection and contemplation, and time for a dialogue with God.  That’s what we are supposed to get in our 5 daily prayers, but when are we truly engaged in our prayers and concentrating with our full attention?  Many times we find that severely lacking, and we are in need of some sort of solution before we suffer another spiritual low or coma.

How is our progress in terms of growing as individuals?  Do we make that time to sit down and think about how we are doing in terms of worship, school/work, family relations, manners, health, routine, etc.?  An important thing that we must do is keep track of ourselves as individuals, because if we don’t know where we are, how can we ever move forward?

An interesting thing that the speaker mentions in her TED Talk is the shift from being a “person of character” in the early days of America to being a “person of personality” upon the industrialization and growth of cities in America.  Back in the day, we used to collectively value the “inner-self and moral rectitude,” but now it’s all about “magnetism and charisma, trying to prove yourself in a crowd of strangers.”  And I believe that this is a reason why today we lack focus on tarbiyah/development and akhlaq/character and manners.  This is quite dangerous as well, because being a “person of personality” is all about the outside, the glitz and the bells and whistles of the way you come off to others, regardless of whether or not there is any substance to you at all.  We probably can think of someone ourselves, maybe the popular girl in High School, someone who’s loud and funny and pretty and sociable, but perhaps as intelligent as a fly and as kind to others as Cinderella’s step mother.  This idea of being “a person with personality” also feeds our need for attentions as individuals, which can also easily lead to arrogance and showing off.  We can become so thirsty sometimes for others’ attention and praise and for constantly showing other people up because we find ourselves giving ourselves our self-worth from how others think of us and how much attention and fame we are feeling; as before we would value ourselves and determine our self-worth upon our morals and manners and character.

There are some ways  that I feel we can help ourselves on making room for our introverted tendencies, and the way that I feel works the best for me is something that I’m still pretty new at: memorizing the Qur’an.

Ever since I started memorizing (part of our curriculum is to memorize Surat al Baqarah and Surat Ali Emran), there have been things clicking for me more than I’ve experienced before.  Many of us listen to certain shuyookh or lecturers and fall in awe of their mind-blowing conclusions and insights on certain ayaat, or how they find examples in their own lives or meaning in their personal experiences, and we find that so inspirational crave that for ourselves, too.  And as Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda said to us earlier this year when were starting Dream, “I know you guys came here to learn rocket-science tafsir, but it’s not like that.”  We haven’t been making break-throughs in Qur’anic interpretation here at Dream, we’ve been learning the basics of Arabic and developing our skills in the language, which will iA lead up to the point where some of us might just be able to do our own rocket-science tafsir, with the permission of Allah.

But the one thing that has helped me like none other is memorization.  You have to sit there in some good alone time, in silence and in full concentration.  Then with the constant reviewing and repetition, certain parts of ayaat or whole chunks will just float in and out of your mind the whole day.  Maybe it’ll take the 70th time repeating the ayah for you to finally get what it means or find some personal meaning to it.  And it’s at any random time that an ayah might pop into your head and  that you’re doing something or sitting somewhere, and at the moment 2 worlds collide and the world of revelation and words crosses with the physical world, and then you find yourself simply a spectator caught in the middle and there to enjoy the show.

Ustadh Nouman has actually spoken about these 2 worlds, they are the 2 types of “ayaat” or “miraculous signs” of Allah:  Revelation and Creation.  There is a connection between the 2, and everything is a cycle between the signs in revelation and the signs in creation.  The signs of revelation remind us of the signs of creation, and the signs of creation remind us of the signs of revelation.  He even suggested for us to take up this little experiment and see how we do, as it proved beneficial in his own life.  Try to connect everything you see and do to something from the Qur’an.  If you’re seeing an airplane fly over you, http://quran.com/67/19; if you are driving past cows on the side of the highway that barely flinch as you pass less than a foot from them, http://quran.com/7/179, and etc.

And sure, we have the access to the world of Creation as much as we want, but what about the world of Revelation?  We must delve into the world of Revelation, by increasing our study and in my experience, mostly importantly our memorization of the Qur’an in order to have enough of the world of Revelation in our repositories to facilitate finding a connection between the 2.

So what has been my latest “aha!” moment?  That the next page I am memorizing happens to be page 11, and “The Power of Inverts” just happened to be posted by a friend on Facebook, and ergo this blog post.

And as the speaker said,

Go into the wilderness and have your own revelation.

See ya in Dallas iA 🙂

The Turtle of Masjid Maryam in Houston

"Sulhafaat," the masjid turtle!

See ya in Dallas iA

Masjid Maryam bringing new meaning to the phrase "Jannatin tajri min tahtihal anhar," gardens beneath which rivers flow.




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