Opinion: Departing imam cherishes time spent in Kingston (Kingston Whig-Standard)

By: Sikander Hashmi

KINGSTON – For nearly four years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve as the imam of the city’s Muslim community. This role has given me the pleasure of having numerous positive interactions with many of my fellow Kingstonians during events, in various waiting rooms and while running everyday errands.

Today is my last day as imam of the Islamic Society of Kingston. I am moving to Ottawa to pursue new opportunities for myself and my family.

The last four years have been fabulous. I came here in the August of 2010 as a rookie imam who had never imagined of being one. Kingston’s Muslim community welcomed me and my family with open arms.

As a visible minority, I have always wondered about acceptance when moving into a new city and neighbourhood. Clearly, there aren’t too many men in the city, if at all, that carry an appearance similar to mine — long robe, skullcap, bushy beard plus brown skin. I didn’t choose my skin colour, but the other aspects of my appearance are a personal choice.

I am grateful to be living in a country and a city where I’m not persecuted because to my faith or appearance. This freedom, among others that we enjoy, ought to be cherished and protected.

Although I may have been on the receiving end of a honk and some four-letter words, my overall experience in Kingston has been very positive. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone, including some members of my community. Yet, the majority of Kingstonians have proven to be kind and welcoming.

In my experience, the initial feeling caused by seeing someone who appears to be very different, especially for the first time, can vary from person to person. Some may experience fear, anger, or suspicion, while others may feel happy, depending on what thesight of the “other” leads one to think about. The assumptions that lead to such feelings could be right or wrong.

Overcoming the initial negative feelings and treating the “other” with kindness and respect, without being judgmental, requires theability to control ones emotions in favour of rational thought. This is easier said than done.

Some years ago, I was sitting on a university shuttle bus in Montreal when a young man with piercings and spiky green hair came on board. I have to admit that I felt uncomfortable for a few moments. When I noticed that he appeared to be friendly and that he was just talking about ordinary things with his acquaintance, I relaxed. Since then, I have really tried to “never judge a book by its cover.”

I don’t know what crosses most people’s minds when they see me, but for those who wrestled with negative emotions and gave me a chance, thank you. For those who may still be feeling negativity, I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to reach out to you and prove you wrong.

Living in an increasingly diverse society, I firmly believe that we must promote positive interactions between the different faith and cultural communities that make up our society. The more we get to know each other, the better we will understand each other. Eventually, these positive interactions will strengthen our societies and help us all in living peacefully together.

I cherish the opportunities I had to interact with my fellow citizens outside of the Muslim community. I wish I had done more, but I’m confident that the positive connections that have been established between the Muslim community here and other faith, cultural and social groups, law enforcement, the military, the media and all our neighbours will continue. The seeds were planted long before my arrival and the branches will continue to strengthen after my departure.

As is the tradition in my faith, if I have hurt you in any way, I am sorry and I seek your forgiveness. Thank you.

 

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Choosing the best route towards our destination (The Bond)

Originally published in the May 2014 issue of the Islamic Society of Kingston’s newsletter, The Bond.

Whenever there is a new address I’m driving to, I like to familiarize myself with the area I’m going to by using online maps, even before I use my GPS device. Usually, Google Maps provides me with multiple routes to get to the same destination.

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Some may be longer in terms of actual kilometres but quicker, due to higher speed limits and the absence of traffic lights. Others routes may be shorter in terms of distance, but may take longer to travel. Some may be scenic and others not so much.

Regardless of which one I choose, I know they will all take me to my destination. I know that each of the routes consist of public roads (so I won’t need to trespass on private property) that will most likely meet certain standards of safety.

Our life is a journey and we are all headed towards Allah. No matter which route we choose, they will all end up taking us to face Him. He will ask us about our journey and the path we chose. Did we choose the safer, more efficient routes to get to our destination in the best possible shape, while following all laws and guidelines, or did we head off of the established routes, trespassing illegally, causing damage and destruction, and finally ending up in a dirty, bruised state?

In Surah al-Fatihah, Allah instructs us to ask Him to guide us to a particular type of path:

(O Allah) Guide us to the straight path. The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray.” [Qur’an – 1:6-7)

Allah sent His messengers as guides to show the best route towards Allah. Our beloved prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) has done the same in the most relevant way for our nation.

Within Islam, we find ourselves facing many different choices and paths. Those traveling on these different paths may sometimes be very confident, perhaps even pushy, that the path they’re on is the best path. Yet, the most sincere and humble believers are those who are constantly looking for ways to improve their journey and are willing to make changes to adopt another path that may closer to the guidance of Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him), and that is ultimately more pleasing to Allah.

Whichever path we choose, we should ensure that it has Allah as the focal point and that it continuously refers to the Qur’an and teachings of his Messenger Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Differences in interpreting and understanding these among the people of knowledge and piety will always exist and are acceptable, but we should be on guard against ideas and practices that have weak or superficial links to the guidance of Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon them), especially if they differ greatly from the understanding of those people of knowledge and piety of the early generations of Muslims (who are widely accepted as such today).

After all, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stated:

The best people are those of my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them.” [Recorded by Bukhari and Muslim]

Thus, the paths that are more closely aligned to the understanding of the early generations of Muslims are more likely to be safer and more acceptable to Allah.

As time goes on, the contrast between the world our early generations used to live in and the world we live in grows starker and starker. Even if we find ourselves facing increasingly challenging circumstances that make traveling upon the paths of the early people of knowledge and piety difficult, we should nonetheless associate a high value to it and look up to it in our hearts and minds, even if we’re not able to practice upon it fully.

This requires an effort on our part to study the primary sources of our faith – the Qur’an and the life and teachings of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) – and how his companions and the early generations of Muslim understood and acted upon these primary sources.

This will give us the knowledge we need to make better choices on the journey to our final destination, insha’Allah. May Allah guide us to choose the path that is most safe and pleasing to Him.

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Announcement

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Kingston, Ontario

Friday, April 18, 2014 / Jumada al-Thani 18, 1435

This is a long weekend and many travelers have joined us here today. There was a time when I too would stop by this masjid, during my teenage years.

Four years and one week ago, this community kindly invited me as a guest khateeb and I gave my first khutbah here, something that I never imagined doing.

Following that, Allah blessed me with the opportunity to settle here in Kingston and I got to know all the wonderful people here, masha’Allah.

Alhamdulillah – all praise is due to Allah – the last four years have been an amazing experience, in many ways but especially as a learning experience.

You (the members of the Kingston community) have been extremely kind. May Allah reward you immensely.

I honestly say that I have zero complaints about anyone or anything, whether it be individuals, the community or the past and current management of the Islamic Society of Kingston. This city has been blessed with a wonderful community masha’Allah. May Allah increase this city in goodness and faith.

So it is with heavy heart I inform you today that, due to family reasons, I will be moving on to Ottawa as of June 1st of this year, insha’Allah.

My family and I did not take this decision lightly and it was very a difficult decision.

There was a lot of pressure from some of our dear brothers and sisters here to reconsider, which we did. However, this appeared to be the best path forward at this time. We try our best to make the right decision, but only Allah knows best.

I pray to Almighty Allah that He grants this community a new imam who is the best for this community and who can work harder and do a better job than what I have been able to do.

I have also offered to visit every other week for the next few months insha’Allah. I will be assisting and offering my full support in the transition and in finding new imam.

A committee has been formed to look for a new imam. One of our students suggested that perhaps we should have imam auditions (Canadian Imam instead of Canadian Idol), so perhaps that is something to consider!

We will continue to be in touch, insha’Allah. I hope I have not caused anyone to be upset or angry. Please forgive me for this and all my shortcomings and mistakes.

The most valuable gift we can give to each other is that of good wishes and prayers. I pray for the best for each of you and for the community, and request that you please do the same for me and my family.

Thank you for your kindness, support and understanding. May Allah bless you all.

-END-

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Gaining a formidable decision-making advantage (The Bond)

Originally published in the April 2014 issue of the Islamic Society of Kingston’s newsletter, The Bond.

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There are a few instances in our lives when we are faced with making major decisions. They usually have to do with studies, marriage, job offers, large purchases (such as cars and houses) and our careers.

Our job is to consider all the options, conduct research, seek advice and make an educated choice, taking into consideration our priorities and the pros and cons associated with each choice.

While we can try to predict the future, none of us truly knows what’s coming. There are and always will be unknowns. This can lead to uncertainty, anxiety and stress.

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) has told us about a very powerful tool to guide us through the process of making decisions. It is called istikhara.

Jabir ibn Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to teach us to make istikharah in all things, just as he used to teach us surahs from the Qur’an.” [Recorded by Bukhari]

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) described the method of doing istikhara as follows:

“If any one of you is concerned about a decision he has to make, then let him pray two rak’ahs (units) of non-obligatory prayer, then say:

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْتَخِيرُكَ بِعِلْمِكَ وَأَسْتَقْدِرُكَ بِقُدْرَتِكَ وَأَسْأَلُكَ مِنْ فَضْلِكَ الْعَظِيمِ فَإِنَّكَ تَقْدِرُ وَلَا أَقْدِرُ وَتَعْلَمُ وَلَا أَعْلَمُ وَأَنْتَ عَلَّامُ الْغُيُوبِ اللَّهُمَّ إِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ خَيْرٌ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي فَاقْدُرْهُ لِي وَيَسِّرْهُ لِي ثُمَّ بَارِكْ لِي فِيهِ وَإِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ شَرٌّ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي فَاصْرِفْهُ عَنِّي وَاصْرِفْنِي عَنْهُ وَاقْدُرْ لِي الْخَيْرَ حَيْثُ كَانَ ثُمَّ أَرْضِنِي

Transliteration: Allâhumma innee astakhiruka bi `ilmika wa astaqdiruka biqudratika wa as’aluka min fadhlikal-azeem fa innaka taqdiru wa lâ aqdiru wa ta`lamu wa lâ a`lamu wa anta `allamul ghuyoob. Allâhumma in kunta ta`lamu anna hâdhal amra khayrul-lee fee deenee wa ma`aashee wa `aaqibati amree faqdur-hu li wa yassir-hu li thumma barik li fihi wa in kunta ta`lamu anna hâdhal amra sharrun lee fee deenee wa ma`aashee wa `aaqibati amree fasrifhu annee wasrifnee anhu waqdir liyal-khayra haythu kâna thumma ardinee.

The meaning of the supplication is: “O Allah, I seek Your guidance by virtue of Your knowledge, and I seek ability by virtue of Your power, and I ask You of Your great bounty. You have power, I have none. And You know, I know not. You are the Knower of hidden things. O Allah, if in Your knowledge, this matter (mention by name or think about it now) is good for me both in this world and in the Hereafter, then ordain it for me, make it easy for me, and bless it for me. And if in Your knowledge it (mention by name or think about it now) is bad for me and for my religion, my livelihood and my affairs, then turn me away from it, and turn it away from me, and ordain for me the good wherever it may be and make me pleased (with it).”

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) taught his companions to do istikhara in all matters, so that indicates to us that istikhara is not just for major decisions and can also be done for minor decisions.

If it’s not possible to offer the prayer, the supplication can also be made without the prayer.

Istikhara is often misunderstood to be something like a crystal ball that leads to dreams and supernatural occurrences. However, if we pay close attention to the wording of the istikhara supplication, we notice that it is simply seeks Allah’s guidance and assistance. If there is good in the matter we are planning, we ask Allah to make it happen with ease. If there isn’t good in it, we ask Allah to make it evasive and instead grant us whatever is better.

Generally, it is a good idea to pursue a matter while making continuing to make istikhara regarding it. If Allah knows that the matter is positive for us, potential hurdles may be passed easily. On the other hand, if Allah knows that the matter is negative for us, hurdles may appear. By reading these signs, we can get a hint about which direction the matter is headed in. Eventually, if the supplication of istikhara is accepted by Allah, the matter either goes through successfully with ease and is filled with blessings or it fails.

Either way, the believers are confident that the end results are in their best long-term interest, even if it may initially appear to be otherwise.

Allah tells us in the Qur’an:

But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not. [Quran – 2:216]

A successful istikhara requires an emotional disconnect with the matter at hand and an open mind. Otherwise, our emotions and biases can get in the way of properly reading the signs that may appear and accepting Allah’s guidance, thus leading us into a fruitless chase after a matter that will very likely be fraught with difficulties and potentially even be harmful for us.

By seeking Allah’s guidance, we can empower our decision-making process and say goodbye to the stresses and anxieties that often come with uncertainties. May Allah always guide us to make the best decisions, ameen.

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