Student Blog

A diary of student experiences from the Qalam Seminary

 

Qalam Seminary Blog: Muslim in America

By Syifa Sjah

I spent Wednesday night reunited with my people – high schoolers. On campus at the seminary, I’m always struggling to finish my homework or struggling to keep up in class discussions. At Plano East High School’s MSA event, I lived it up amongst my true peers. Sheikh Abdul Nasir and my classmates Jannah and AbdulRahman spoke about Muslims in America that evening. To be precise, they taught us that being a Muslim means fulfilling the rights Allah has over us and fulfilling the rights of others, and they taught us how to take that from its ideal to its reality. Masha Allah, every single thing they said was so beneficial and rang completely true, and gem after gem I was scrambling to take notes.

The first thing that stuck with me was actually something an MSA brother said: Our faith shouldn’t have to depend on anyone else – it’s just you and Allah. Taking that idea further, I always thought Muslim identity meant being an island. Sheikh Abdul Nasir described it as “The more Muslim you are, the more alone you are.” It never occurred to me that this shouldn’t be the case. It’s true that being a believer is about your relationship with Allah, but it’s also true that the Prophet (S) said you won’t believe until you love one another. He also said, “المسلم من سلم الناس من لسانه و يده”. The Muslim is the one from whom people are safe, people aren’t afraid that the Muslim will hurt them with his hand or with his tongue. Part of being a believer is your relationship with people, being good to them. Making sure to forgive others when they hurt you, and to apologize and make things right when you hurt them. It’s tough to be good to people, it requires being generous with your time and energy, two very limited resources. It’s only possible when no matter what the situation, your relationship with Allah comes first.

Putting Allah first might seem like the lifestyle of someone with superhuman strength, or maybe an occurrence that springs up in the rare moment of a spiritual high. But what about those days where you feel like you don’t care about anyone or anything? Don’t worry, you’re not broken or doomed to Hell. Just like a lamp needs a power source, we need a power source – not an electrical source, but a spiritual one. Reconnecting with Allah is the key, and it’s the mundane little things that are a really big deal in maintaining your connection with Allah throughout the day. Counting your blessings, saying words of gratitude for even the littlest things, acknowledging that it’s Allah who’s taking care of your needs every single second of every single day. The least we can do is thank Allah.

And what takes your relationship with Allah from rare moment to lifestyle habit is dua. Again and again, Jannah and AbdulRahman brought in the power of dua. We all have a long way to go when it comes to fulfilling the rights of Allah over us and fulfilling the rights of people over us, so ask Allah to help you, to make it easy, to make things happen. Jannah shared a beautiful dua, one that the Prophet (S) taught us: اللهم كما حسنت خلقي فحسن خلقي. Allah, make our characters beautiful, just like You made our appearances beautiful. And if you feel like your character is far from beautiful, follow Sheikh’s advice: do whatever little things you can do, like counting your blessings throughout the day, or remembering the one who gave you your food before you bite into it. He says it’s like painting a house. You could worry for weeks about which end of the house to start painting from, but if you start painting a little here and a little there, you’ll eventually get the whole house done. May Allah make us true believers, make us people of the Prophet (S)’s character, and furnish our houses in jannah.

 

Qalam Seminary Blog – Hadith Week

By Ayesha Baig

Sometimes we’re so caught up in what we are doing, we forget why. Why am I doing this? Day in and day out our routine continues but we forget to remind ourselves why.
Last week Sheikh taught us a collection of 40 hadith فَيضُ المُعين about the virtues of the Quran by Mulla Ali Al-Qari. The class was taught at the Bayyinah campus attended by both Qalam and Bayyinah students. Studying the hadith of the virtues of Quran was very inspiring and motivating. It was a great reminder as to why we are doing what we are. It was not only about the virtues of the Quran but also about the benefits of being among Ashaabul Quran, people of the Quran.
The first hadith we learned was خَيْرُكُمْ مَنْ تَعَلَّمَ الْقُرْآنَ وَعَلَّمَهُ
The best among you is one who learns the Qur’an and teaches it.
(Narrated by Imam Ahmed)
We learned that the word مَنْ in the hadith gives a very general meaning; this could refer to male or female, a young child or an adult. Anyone who is either learning or teaching the Quran in any capacity would fit in this category. The first qualifier is to learn the Quran, the first step is to seek knowledge and first thing to seek knowledge from is the Qur’an. Also the word تَعَلَّمَ (to learn) comes before the word عَلَّمَ (to teach) this shows that it’s not enough to just know something before we teach it, but we have to learn it properly first. We should be a student first before we can become a teacher. Being a student puts us through tarbiyya or training and teaches us restraint and self-discipline.
We have examples of the sahaba who memorized Quran only 10 ayaat at a time in order to practice what they learned. Abdullah ibn Umar for example was one of greatest narrators of hadith, who had practically memorized the Prophet (S)’s sunnah. It took him 8 years to memorize Surah Al-Baqarah. Why? Not because he didn’t have a good memory, but because his goal was to practice and live those ten ayaat before moving on. The sahaba approached learning Quran with quality over quantity.
Aside from learning how to be a good student, we also learned the etiquettes of teaching. Teaching should be done with the same type of care and concern, love and respect for your students as you would want for yourself. Sheikh also touched upon the importance of sincerity while teaching. Our sincerity shows through our preparation. We may think we already know the material, yet preparing so we can teach with excellence shows sincerity.
The last Hadith we studied was narrated by Anas ibn Mailik from the Prophet (S):
أَهْلُ الْقُرْآنِ عُرَفَاءُ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ
The people of the Qur’an are the most well-informed within the people of Paradise.
They will be visible prominent figures, the most well-known people in paradise, people of distinction and honor. Although learning and teaching is very fulfilling, it comes with its challenges. The question does cross our minds, “Why should we put ourselves through all this?” Studying the collection of ahaadith was a great reminder, it put things into perspective. By the end of the week when we finished the 40 hadith, trying to become among the Ashaabul Quran was the thought that overwhelmed our minds.May Allah increase us in terms of knowledge and make us Ashaab ul Quran. Ameen.

 

Qalam Seminary Blog: Visit by Sh. Abu Bakr al-Shatiri

By Amina Darwish

I remember listening to different reciters as to help me memorize Quran. I remember loving how they made the Quran come alive. I remember how I wanted to learn tajweed just to be like them. One of my top two favorite reciters was Sheikh Abu Bakr Al-Shatiri. We would play the Quran in the car when we traveled long distances as a family and he was one of the favorites. We were told that he was coming to Qalam campus to visit us. I felt like a young child meeting an exciting celebrity, except it was the Quran that gave him his status. We wondered what he would be like. I imagined an old man with a big beard, maybe wearing a thawb. I wondered if he would speak to the women in the class. Until the day he finally came to class.

He was not what I had expected at all. He was very normal. He was down to earth. He smiled. He wore regular clothes. He sat at the front of the class. He laughed with us and made us all feel comfortable in his presence. His humility was shining through. He politely asked our teacher what was expected of him. He was asked to just give us some advice and share some of his thoughts with us. So he looked down for a second and gathered his thoughts. He smiled. He nodded. Then he started tell us how to be a successful at serving the community. It was clear that it was his passion.

He told us about 5 things every community activist should have. The first was sincerity. He smiled gently, shook his head, and said if it is not for Allah, what is it worth? The second was patience: patience with people, and patience to get the work done, which brought him to his next point. Don’t be overly sensitive. To be able to serve, you have to let things. You cannot get upset with others. It wasn’t about them anyway. But it was still important for people to see your good character. And to be able to use this influence to guide others. He reminded us that the Prophet peace be upon him was known as the honest and trustworthy, and that people respected him even before he became the Prophet of Allah. He said we similarly should be deserving of people’s respect. Then finally he told us not to rush the results. They are not up to us, but the work was. Then he tied the last point back to the first. He asked why would anyone rush the results rather than ask Allah for help. Did we forget who it was for? He told us that the secret to success in all of this is simply to ask Allah for His support. And what better support can we get? Then he asked and wondered why anyone would ever do anything without asking Allah for help and support.

He was so down to earth. I had almost forgotten that he is the same man whose voice filled the car with a beautiful recitation of the Quran whenever we traveled as a family. But then, one of the students asked how to memorize the Quran with excellence. Then I was quickly reminded of why Allah had blessed him and gave him the Quran as a gift. He said you must memorize the Quran very well the first time. He said even if it took 10 years, don’t take short cuts. Memorize the Quran and do it well. He said he would recite each verse 21 times. Then he would recite the one after 21 times. And he would continue until he reached the middle the page. Then he would recite all the verses together 21 times. He talked about how by the time you were done, you should be able to write the ayah from memory. I was so floored. I had never heard of anyone having that much dedication to the book of Allah. It is true what the companion Ibn Abbas may Allah be pleased with him said, that people get from the Quran what they intend to get. May Allah bless Sheikh Shatri and make he make us all from the people of the Quran.

 

Qalam Seminary Blog: What’s in a Name?

By Faten Abdelfattah

I am very excited! After many months of reading and close reviewing with Shaykh AbdulNasir, we finally get to graduate to independent research. Having the ability to navigate classical and contemporary texts from prominent scholars and hunting for the gems they offer feels like we’re growing up. I couldn’t have imagined doing this a mere four or five months ago.

This past week we started a new project that requires each student to independently research resources and present his or her findings to the class. Now doesn’t sound that exciting? Well, it actually is when the topic happens to be exploring the Names of Allah (SWT)! Each student has been assigned at least three or more names to present periodically over the next few weeks. This coincides perfectly with a new class we recently started: Aqeedah (Creed) Studies. We can easily get lost in the technicalities of what our creed is or is not, which scholar said what, or which school of thought declared the other to be a “deviant”. However, this project is a refreshing way to be able to take a step back, draw closer to Him (SWT) through His Names, and remember what “Iman” truly is.

While hacking away at the texts, page by page, jotting down points, hadiths, and scholars’ comments, I was taken back to my undergraduate days of research papers. I remember sitting for hours, reading page after page, and gathering evidence to support my view. Then I was struck by one important difference: I’m not writing about some novel a dead guy wrote a century ago or theorizing about the impact of current events, I’m reading about who my Creator is. What He (SWT) has told us firsthand about Himself in the Book we read every day. What His Messenger (PBUH) imparted upon us in an effort to get us closer to Him (SWT). My purpose should not be to put some words together, present a view, and hand in yet another assignment. The words I’m reading should be changing my life. I should be reflecting over what the scholars have said, what gems I can draw from a hadith, and how a particular Name of Allah (SWT) impacts me personally. It’s a blessing to know that we’re not just working on a mundane assignment, but rather one that has the potential to make us better people, better believers, and better slaves of Allah (SWT).

 

Qalam Seminary Blog: The Major League Mindset

By Aatifa Shareef

We started upping our game this week. We started both Uloom ul Qur’an and Aqeedah, two advanced subjects that are actually really basic: they are the sciences behind the Qur’an and our beliefs. We also started our student-led MSA events, events beyond the regular weekly halaqas and khutbahs. This is taking place right after the Stand & Deliver Khateeb and Public Speaking Workshop, so our speaking skills are expected to be top-notch. And a few of the students just participated in the Rad Talks event, a Muslim version of TED talks, a conference for sharing bright ideas and collaboration with other activist-minded Muslims. We’re no longer just sitting and being spoon-fed information, but we’re working hard to research, learn, and then present information to the rest of our classmates and others. Our world is expanding, and it’s both frightening and exhilarating to know that we are able to tackle it head on.

The only way we’ll be able to be effective though is to actually understand people. The majority of the people we interact with willingly attend whatever events we attend, so it’s important to know where they are coming from. Up until now, we’ve been attending the halaqas and MSA events, meeting and talking to the people around us. At Stand & Deliver, each of us was given a group to work with. We introduced ourselves to each other to know what other kinds of activities people are participating in to do their part in serving Islam. Some people were newly religious Muslims taking the workshop to talk to their friends more effectively about Islam. Others were doctors who wanted to feel comfortable talking to their patients about Islam. And others were students trying to build the confidence to stand up to their classmates and teachers and present the correct image of Islam. Seeing so many people all working to bring people closer to Allah makes my efforts seem not so isolated and frightening anymore. But I realize that each of us is just a player on the same team, passing the ball amongst ourselves, all working towards one goal. May Allah reward all of our efforts in this world and the next.

 

Qalam Seminary Blog: Rebirth

By Wasif Khan

We had just completed the “chapter of I’tikaaf” in our study of Fiqh. Next up was Kitabul Hajj, and the Shaykh gave us a beautiful introduction to the book. I enjoyed the introduction, as I was able to relive some of the moments I had just experienced from Hajj, Alhamdulillah. Until the point where Shaykh mentioned, “So inshaa Allah, we will have Wasif give us an overview of the rituals of Hajj tomorrow!”

The preparations began; Mina, Arafaat, Muzadalifah, Jamaraat, Tawaaf, etc. It was great to relive the experience all over again. The following day, I was able to present the timeline of Hajj and also shared some of my own personal experiences with the class. Below, I’d like to share one of those reflections with you.

It was the 7th Day of Dhul Hijjah, the day before Hajj officially begins. We were stationed in Azizia, just a couple of miles from the Ka’bah itself. Where our group leader, Shaykh Omar had shared with us the following similarities between “Birth & Hajj”. He termed it the “Rebirth”. This reflection was based upon the Hadith of the Prophet Sal Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam.

حَدَّثَنَا آدَمُ، حَدَّثَنَا شُعْبَةُ، حَدَّثَنَا سَيَّارٌ أَبُو الْحَكَمِ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبَا حَازِمٍ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبَا هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ
‏ “‏ مَنْ حَجَّ لِلَّهِ فَلَمْ يَرْفُثْ وَلَمْ يَفْسُقْ رَجَعَ كَيَوْمِ وَلَدَتْهُ أُمُّهُ ‏”‏‏

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (p.b.u.h) said, “Whoever performs Hajj for Allah’s pleasure and does not have sexual relations with his wife, and does not do evil or sins then he will return (after Hajj free from all sins) as if he were born anew.”
Sahih al-Bukhari 1521 | Book 25, Hadith 9 | Vol. 2, Book 26, Hadith 596

The Shaykh eloquently depicted the similarities between the birth of a newborn and Hajj, and how this time around it was a better “rebirth”. Of how it wasn’t the first time we were at Arafaat. Before we were born, and before we were sent to this world we had already been on the plains of Arafaat where Allah SWT took the covenant from each and every soul as it is recorded in Surah Al-A’raaf – “Am I not your Master?” And we all replied, Of course you are, and we testified”. However, this time around during Hajj as we stood on the plains of Arafaat and begged for forgiveness it was much more meaningful. This time around, it was only by special invitation. And those who made the trip, answered the call of Ibraheem A that was made centuries ago.

After Arafaat we all headed over to Muzdalifah, where all the Hujjaaj are obliged to spend the night under the sky. This resembled when all the souls gathered in the skies after taking the covenant. The next step in Hajj was to return to Mina and head over to the Jamaraat to stone the pillars that symbolize Shaytaan. This step in Hajj resembles the time of birth, where Shaytaan pokes the newborn to show his enmity. At that time, we were vulnerable to Shaytaan. However, as we walk towards Jamaraat to stone the Shaytaan as we say Allahu Akbar “Allah is greater”, Shaytan is now the vulnerable one!

After a baby is born, the parents shave the head of the newborn. Likewise, the Hujjaj make their way to the Barber shop to have their heads shaved/trimmed. Lastly, we offer the Udhiyah/Sacrifice for the newborn and this is also resembled during Hajj as one of the last rituals.

SubhanAllah, what a beautiful rebirth! Now, the wise words of our beloved Prophet Muhammad S, are so much more meaningful…”Whoever performs Hajj for Allah’s pleasure and does not have sexual relations with his wife, and does not do evil or sins then he will return (after Hajj free from all sins) as if he were born anew.”

 

Qalam Seminary Blog: Perfection in Imperfection

By Afia Baig

This past week at the Qalam Seminary we started the tafseer of Surah Noor by Imam Al Qurtubi. This is our third tafseer out of the five we plan on covering throughout the year. As we discussed the consequences of zina [adultery/fornication] and what Allah (SWT) decreed for those who commit zina, we also discussed the time this was revealed and who it was revealed for. It was obviously at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (S), but it’s important to remember that his immediate audience was our beloved sahaba, the people who in our eyes did everything right. But they were human too, so they did make mistakes. It was their recovery after these mistakes and their tawba, their turning back to Allah after having turned away from Him, that made them remarkable. Even in times of great adversity, as we learned in the context of this surah, they still showed restraint and they forgave without compromising justice for the greater good.

The Qur’an is a timeless book. It is just as relevant to us today and as it was relevant to the sahaba at the time of the Prophet (s). The most amazing part is that the rules in the Quran are less than 10% of the Quran. The remaining 90% is building character, community, and emphasizing the importance of reaching our potential as human beings. It is important when reading about the rules in the Quran to not take them out of context without appreciating it as a whole in terms of human development. This is what we learn from the sahaba. They internalized the Quran as a whole and used it to better themselves as they applied the rulings. They weren’t perfect beings, but that’s exactly what makes them perfect examples for us. They were perfect in seeking forgiveness for their mistakes when they did make them, a great reminder for us to never forget that Allah (SWT) is The Most Forgiving and The Most Merciful.

 

Qalam Seminary Blog: The Educated Activist

By Muaz Inam

Many responsibilities rest on the shoulders of American Muslims. We struggle with balancing the needs of upholding a tradition of scholarship while remaining relevant in the face of modernity. Often the lines are blurred and our attentions are misappropriated. We are faced with two distinct classes—a class fixated on upholding a very scholarly tradition, but devoid of relevance and incapable of addressing the social challenges of a modern American Muslim community; and a more prevalent class of American born Muslim activists with an unparalleled passion towards social reform, however because they are not grounded in the traditional normative religious sciences, they are ill-equipped to meeting those challenges in an Islamic light.

Qalam Institute’s full-time program seeks to fill the gaping hole and bridge this gap. The program is designed to attract students who are activists in their communities, and equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary to address the challenges of the American Muslim community. By no means will our students be proclaimed scholars of the religion, rather activists and leaders in their communities who are well-versed in the normative tradition and well-equipped to address the social needs of their communities in an Islamic light.

This is achieved through the triumvirate of normative Islamic scholarship, community service, and leadership workshops, all of which are indispensable for the development of the American Muslim activist. Under the tutelage of Sheikh Abdul-Nasir Jangda, every class increases and broadens our understanding of the normative religious sciences (Qur’anic exegesis, jurisprudence, the prophetic biography, etc.). We are also familiarizing ourselves with the community through weekly sermons and talks to local community centers and college campuses, as well as engagement with local service initiatives like the Ma’ruf Refugee Center. Qalam Institute’s students are often visited by Muslim activists from countries and cities all over the world who share with us their initiatives and projects. We learn of their challenges, benefit from their insight, and grow inspired by their success.

Qalam Institute also hosts weekly workshops for the students which are themed around community leadership. Workshops will cover topics ranging from Managing Debt and Public Speaking to Event Planning and Conflict Resolution. These workshops shed light on the Prophetic tradition of service. It provides for us a holistic understanding, and brings relevancy to the traditional sciences of Qur’anic exegesis, jurisprudence, prophetic biography, etc.

The first few months of the program have been overwhelming, but they were incredibly insightful. I pray that through the completion of this program I and my fellow students will be a means of great benefit to our communities. We pray that this initiative will be a means of bridging the gap and creating a new class of well-grounded activists who are well-equipped to address the pressing social and spiritual needs of Muslim communities across America.

 

Qalam Seminary Blog: Snow Day

“We’ll have class online inshaAllah” was what Shaykh Abdul Nasir told us in an email early Friday morning. It had snowed at night, and driving conditions were bad. Ice all over the roads, cars covered in ice/snow, and literally freezing cold temperatures. It was so bad, local scholars were reminding people that Jumu’ah is not obligatory on someone if driving is too dangerous. This weekend would be an interesting one.

As Texas is not prepared for snow, roads still had ice on them two days later. Thus, we were, for the most part, stuck inside. It is amazing how much value something as simple as leaving the house has when one can’t do so. For that matter, it seems that when we lose something, we see the true value of what we had. Consequently, we see the Prophet, sallalLahu ‘alaihi wa-sallam (peace and blessings be upon him), warning us not to fall into this trap, and reminding us to value things we have before we lose them.

The most well-known example of this is the advice of the Prophet, sallalLahu ‘alaihi wa-sallam, “Take benefit of five before five: Your youth before your old age, your health before your sickness, your wealth before your poverty, your free time before you are preoccupied, and your life before your death.”

Let us try to take these moments as reminders to take advantage of what we have and use our abilities, time, and possessions in the correct manner, before it is too late. We have many blessing we often overlook. They could be something we have had our whole life, or something we just got recently.

Regardless, it would be smart for us to save ourselves from the sorrow of realizing that we had wasted what was given to us once it is taken away.

 

Qalam Seminary Blog: Shaykh Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

By Jannah Sultan

It was a Tuesday night as I blankly stared at the laptop, searching for words, what to type. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Why was it so hard for me to write down my thoughts for the halaqa even though this was not my first time? I had been researching and reading up so much on such a great woman who had changed peoples’ lives for over 1400 years, and now here I am, trying to relay how she changed mine. The question in my head was, “how?”

How was I suppose to allow these sisters to feel what I felt? To be so inspired that they also want to be like our mother Umm Habibah (RA). How? Our teacher Shaykh Abdul Nasir had given us resources to research and understand these great women of eman, yet I still felt pressure due to the amana (trust) of making sure I am relaying the truth and not misunderstanding anything. I again sat quietly, pondering on how to go about this task. Why is this so hard for me? Of course the other issue was that Shaykh Abdul Nasir was going to listen to it and give feedback; the pressure never ceases at Qalam.

I decided it would be best to just write freely, letting my thoughts flow through my fingers without restraint. When I felt like I was done, I then started to fix and adjust my wording. It wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be, but I knew Shaykh Abdul Nasir would help me.

Thursday, the day before the halaqa, I’m finally able to meet with Shaykh for help in what I think are a few tweaks here and there. I’m already nervous going in because I feel my content is not as strong as it should be. The meeting begins with me asking questions, making sure everything I wrote about her is true. But now Shaykh is asking me what are my main points, what do I want to communicate? “Uhhhhh..” as I stumble for words, in my head I’m thinking, “Oh no! Why is he asking me questions? Please don’t, I thought only I was going to ask the questions…” Words come out although I don’t know if any of it makes sense.

Shaykh looks at me trying not to make me feel bad, continuing to ask me questions to broaden my spectrum of thought. By the end of the meeting, my entire perspective of the topic did a 180. There was only one issue: my halaqa was the next day. I rushed home worried about how was I going to make my “whatever” speech amazing in such little time. Shaykh made it very clear to me that he wants excellence, he wants quality! How was I going to prove to him that I can give him that?

For the rest of the day all I did was perfect my thoughts. It was a process: I kept editing over and over, unable to stop. The more I read it, the more I kept changing until I delivered it to my friend who said, “Stop, it’s perfect.” I sighed of relief, at last I can live normally again.

I finally got some rest and am now on my way to the halaqa. How will it be? How many sisters will there be? Who will be my audience? I walk in to find very few sisters, most of whom I know. “Alhamdulillah,” I thought, “I can do this!” I begin a tad nervously, but then I ease into a point of no stress, no worries, just me being me.

Alhamdulillah, I said what I wanted to say hoping Allah accepts it from me. Now I’m just wondering how Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda will respond to the recording of my halaqa. Until then, I am left in curiosity.

 
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