Muslims ‘must change perception about West’

Updated 01 February 2013
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Muslims ‘must change perception about West’

Muhammad Robert Heft, a Canadian convert to Islam who became well known through his “Stop Terrorism” online campaign, has called upon Muslims not to treat people in the West as their enemies. “There are many Abu Talebs among them, they stand by us and do not support some of their governments’ foreign policies,” he said.In an exclusive interview with Arab News, he also urged Muslims living in Western countries to make substantial contributions to their societies. “I have never heard of a Muslim group building a hospital in Canada,” he pointed out. 
Heft, who is involved in bridge-building between government agencies and Muslim groups in Canada, said Muslims should live the message of their religion in order to change the stereotypes against them and impress other communities.
“We should be living the message. Not just giving the message. We should also think about how others look at us, and change ourselves to become good citizens and role models,” said Heft, who is president of P4E Paradise Forever support group.
“Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had an uncle named Abu Taleb,” Heft said. “He was not a Muslim but was a staunch supporter of the Prophet. There are lots of people in the West who are just like Abu Taleb. We should not consider them as enemies and should not disappoint them through our wrongdoings.”
Asked about growing Islamophobia in the West, Heft said it could be contained by establishing strong contacts with governments, media organizations and people.
“Muslims should be involved in constructive activities, like building hospitals and protecting environment, in order to mobilize public support.”
Heft, who is engaged in deprogramming of extremists, was all praise about the Prince Muhammad bin Naif Counseling Center that was instrumental in changing the mindset of hundreds of Saudi militants, and said he was looking forward to meet with its officials to exchange ideas and expertise.
Many Muslims have moved to America and Canada just to benefit financially and do not contribute to society, Heft said.
“When we come to a society we should be like a beautiful flower spreading fragrance in its surroundings.”
Heft called upon Muslim leaders and NGOs to engage non-Muslim politicians, intellectuals and media persons, explaining to them their cultural values and removing their misconceptions.
“When they know who we are, they will surely stand up for us,” he said.
Heft emphasized the need for Muslims to establish good relations with non-Muslim communities. “First, they are human beings and belong to the same creator. Second, there is a possibility that they may one day embrace Islam like me.”
A Protestant Christian of Irish origin, Heft embraced Islam in 1998 after which he studied the religion with qualified scholars for over seven years.
Since 2003, he has been taking part in a variety of government and community initiatives. He established P4E in 2005. A non-profit organization, P4E provides support to new Muslims, educates people on true Islam and challenges anti-Islam media campaigns. In 2008 he started “Stop Terrorism,” a global online cause with over 20,000 members.
Heft said it was the belief in the oneness of God that attracted him to Islam.
“I had a feeling that the concept of Jesus being God does not make any sense,” he said. “I could not perceive God in the form of a human being, eating and drinking like us. God should be great and beyond all human features and weaknesses.”
It was a Palestinian named Hosam Taha who ignited Heft’s mind to think about Islam. After watching a cross on his neck, Taha told him that Jesus (peace be upon him) would not be his savior. “I went back and
spent three days of thinking to convert him to Christianity. This led me to study more about Islam,” he explained.
Heft added: “Ours is the only religion that does not put God inside something. We don’t need God in a statue. Believe in God’s existence is the most important thing and it is quite reasonable. We don’t need to see God to believe in Him. God is beyond our comprehension and imagination. It was the glory of God that attracted me to Islam.”
Every product will have an owner’s manual and the Qur’an is the manual for man. When I was wrong trying to justify my desires, the Qur’an came to reassure me and guided me in the right path. Qur’an taught us the need to keep away from alcohol, by pointing to the fact that its demerits are more than its merits.
He said the number of Muslim families in Milton has increased from six to 1,000 during the past 10 years. “We are now in the process of building a mosque in the city.”
The International Association of New Muslims, an affiliate of the Makkah-based Muslim World League, is supporting the project. Heft was instrumental in connecting Canadian government agencies and Muslim groups. In December he arranged a meeting between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with Muslim groups, which was attended by more than 25,000 people. It helped Muslims to express their concerns on issues such as arrests of youths, Islamophobia and tapping of information from phones and e-mails.
Heft advised Muslim groups in other countries to establish similar contacts with government agencies to exchange views and concerns, saying it would have a great impact on security and community welfare.
He said he had received an invitation from the US to advise its agencies on community outreach programs.
Heft called upon Muslims to get rid of their preconceived notions about Western people.
“We should not look at others with a preconceived notion, whether they are in Canada, US or Israel. There are good people everywhere. The vast majority of people in the world are in the middle ground.”
The Canadian Muslim leader opposed wars and conflicts and called upon Muslims to work for global peace. “War will not take us anywhere. War is a loser for both sides.” Heft, however, would not consider American attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq as crusades. “America aims to protect its national interests. Some people say America has no friends, only interests.”
He said a number of proxy wars are going on around the world. “Look at Syria it’s like a war between Russia and US. In this proxy war more than 60,000, mostly civilians, have died in Russia’s attempt to protect its last stronghold in the Middle East. It appears Muslim blood is cheap.”
Heft opposed prayers against non-Muslims at mosques. “By doing that we are condemning human beings, who are either potential Muslims or Abu Talebs. We should know that Omar bin Khattab, who had buried his own daughter, embraced Islam and became the second Caliph. So, there is possibility that people may change. We think that we have a special relationship with Allah but we should understand that we are far from God and His teachings. If we were close to Him we would have spent more time on how to improve ourselves,” he pointed out.
Heft added: “We have to change ourselves and work together as a community. We should think about the Prophet’s saying, “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. These are great words and a lesson for Muslims in the Middle East. We talk about implementing Shariah, at the same time we do not treat our women properly and do not pay wages to our workers. Just being born in the religion will not serve the purpose and will not take us to the Paradise. We should practice our religion.” He also criticized some Muslim clerics for wrongly interpreting the Qur’an and Hadith to suit their extreme views.”
He urged Muslims to improve themselves before criticizing other communities. “When we criticize the Western society, we should know whether we have a 100 percent best Islamic society to show them. We are more than a billion Muslims and they ask where is our example? We don’t have anything to show them. That is how they are judging and it’s fair enough and they are right. So before we tell them all the wrongs they are doing, we should change ourselves from our children, home, neighborhood and society.
Heft stressed the importance of explaining to Western people some of the Islamic values and teachings to avoid embarrassment and misunderstandings.
“Many Muslims do not shake hands with other women. It will be embarrassing for a Western woman if she does not know Islamic teachings, so we should explain to her why you did not shake hands with her. We should tell her that we honor her as a woman and that Islam has a principle that we should not touch other women. If we tell her this in a nice way it will have a big impact and she will understand our culture.”
Heft also spoke about his efforts to deprogram extremists. “Many Muslim youths feel emotional about what is happening to their brethren around the world including Syria and Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya. They are also very passionate about many things like education and we have to engage them and channel their energy to something productive. We should not look at world on a micro level and take the world as whole and try to accommodate others and listen to their views. Our interfaith dialogue forums have been instrumental in bringing people of different faiths closer and remove their misunderstandings.”


The beauty of prayer in Islam

Updated 23 September 2016
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The beauty of prayer in Islam

GOING deeper into our spiritual state during prayers (salah) requires that we have a presence of heart and are mindful of the words being said during the prayers.
Our prayer will feel shorter, yet when we look at how much time we actually spent, we will think, “Did I just spend 10 minutes?” or even 15 and 20 minutes.
A person who began applying this said he wished the prayer would never end.
A feeling that Ibn Al-Qayyim describes as “what the competitors compete for… it is nourishment for the soul and the delight of the eyes,” and he also said, “If this feeling leaves the heart, it is as though it is a body with no soul.”

The love of Allah
Some people’s relationship with Allah is limited to following orders and leaving prohibitions, so that one does not enter hell. Of course, we must follow orders and leave prohibitions, but it needs to be done out of more than fear and hope; it should also be done out of love for Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an: “… Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him.” (Qur’an, 5:54)
We often find that when a lover meets the beloved, hearts are stirred and there is warmth in that meeting. Yet when we meet Allah, there is not even an ounce of this same feeling. Allah says in the Qur’an: “And (yet) among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals (to Him). They love them as they (should) love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah.” (Qur’an, 2:165)
And those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. There should be a feeling of longing, and when we raise our hands to start the prayer, warmth and love should fill our hearts because we are now meeting with Allah. A dua of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “O Allah, I ask You for the longing to meet You” (An-Nisa’i, Al-Hakim)
Ibn Al-Qayyim says in his book Tareeq Al-Hijratain that Allah loves His Messengers and His believing servants, and they love Him and nothing is more beloved to them than Him. The love of one’s parents has a certain type of sweetness, as does the love of one’s children, but the love of Allah far supersedes any of that. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Any person who combines these three qualities will experience the sweetness of faith: 1) that God and His messenger are dearer to him than anything else; 2) that his love of others is purely for God’s sake; and 3) that he hates to relapse into disbelief as much as he hates to be thrown in the fire.” (Bukhari)
Thus, the first thing he mentioned was: “… that God and His messenger are more beloved to him than anything else…”
Ibn Al-Qayyim says: “Since ‘there is nothing like unto Him’ (Qur’an, 42:11), there is nothing like experiencing love for Him.”
If you feel this love for Him, it will be a feeling so intense, so sweet, that you would wish the prayer would never ever end.
Do you truly want to feel this love? Then ask yourself: ‘why do you or should you love Allah?’
Know that you love people for one (or all, in varying degrees) of three reasons: For their beauty, because of their exalted character or/and because they have done good to you. And know that Allah combines all of these three to the utmost degree.

All-embracing beauty
We’ve all been touched by beauty. It is almost fitrah (natural disposition) to love what is beautiful. Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, said about the Prophet, peace be upon him, that it was “as if the sun is shining from his face.” Jabir (may God be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allah was more handsome, beautiful, and radiant than the full moon” (Tirmidhi)
Allah made all His Prophets have a certain beauty so that people would have a natural inclination toward them.
And beauty is more than what is in the face, because beauty is in all of creation and somehow has the ability to take our breath away and give us peace simultaneously. The glimmer of the crescent moon on a calm night, the intensity of a waterfall as the water drops for thousands of feet, the sunset by the sea … certain scenes of natural unspoiled beauty stirs something in us. As Allah is the One Who made it beautiful, so what of Allah’s beauty?
Ibn Al-Qayyim said: “And it is enough to realize Allah’s Beauty when we know that every internal and external beauty in this life and the next are created by Him, so what of the beauty of their Creator?”
This fitrah for loving what is beautiful is because Allah is beautiful. One of His Names is Al-Jameel (the Most Beautiful). Ibn Al-Qayyim states that the beauty of Allah is something that a person cannot imagine and only He knows it. There is nothing of it in creation save for glimpses.
Ibn Al-Qayyim says if all of creation were the most beautiful they could be (so let’s imagine, ever single human being looked as beautiful as Yusuf, peace be upon him, and the whole world was like Paradise), and all of them combined from the beginning of time until the Day of Judgment, they would not even be like a ray in comparison to the sun when compared to Allah. Allah’s beauty is so intense that we will not even be able to take it in this life. In the Qur’an, Allah describes Musa’s (peace be upon him) request: “And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show me (Yourself) that I may look at You.’ (Allah) said: ‘You will not see Me but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.’ But when his Lord appeared to the mountain He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious.” (Qur’an, 7:143)
Even the mountain could not bear the beauty of Allah and crumbled, and when Musa, peace be upon him, saw this (he did not even see Allah), he fell unconscious. This is why on the Day of Judgment it is Allah’s light that will shine on everything. We talk about breathtaking beauty, but we have yet to experience Allah’s beauty. While things in this world can be beautiful or majestic or if they combine both they are finite, true majesty and beauty are for Allah: “And there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor.” (Qur’an, 55:27)
Keeping all of this in mind, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Allah directs His Face toward the face of His servant who is praying, as long as he does not turn away” (Tirmidhi).
Remember this in your prayer, and ask Allah to allow you the joy of seeing Him in Paradise.