2021 July 18 – JJ – female age 33 – What Makes Someone a Good Muslim?

What makes someone a good Muslim? Is it doing all of one’s prayers? Or is it just being a good person? That was one of the topics of today’s class, along with the following others: the Arabic name for God versus the English name, Fatima, Sunnis and Shias, Ibrahim’s wife Hagar, Zam Zam water, sleep/dreams, nafs and funerals.

For today’s class I brought one of my Muslim friends with me. This was her very first day. It was interesting because she is a friend who knew me before I converted to Islam. What was extra interesting was that she knew one of the other sisters in the class. Small world!

The very first thing we discussed in the class was, “What makes someone a good Muslim?” The immediate answer from the students were things like, “Observing the five pillars,” or “doing all of one’s prayers.” But throughout the course of the discussion, the larger point was made that the number one hallmark of being a good Muslim is being a good person who does good deeds. In my own opinion, I can agree with this because this seems to be the key message of the Quran. Verse 6:165 makes the point that God put us here on Earth to test us by how we treat this Earth and all its inhabitants. There are several verses in the Quran that state a believer is someone who believes AND does good deeds. You can’t have belief without action in Islam. It’s like a PBJ without Jelly.

[Side personal opinion – content not discussed in the class: In my personal opinion, religion is the structure which holds spirituality in place. “Religious practice” is like a cup and “spirituality” is like water. It’s not good to have one without the other. An empty cup is a hard firm thing, a useless weight one carries around with no purpose. But water without a cup doesn’t have anything to hold it up, so just oozes into the ground or evaporates into the ether. My long-winded point is that if one wants to connect to God, good deed and prayers are the super structure that holds that spirituality in place. Then the spirituality itself is the connection and taqwa (God consciousness) we obtain through our practice. So I do think that a good Muslim is someone who observes the five pillars. But I also think the five pillars alone without good deeds or taqwa can become hollow.]

After that, we discussed whether one should say “Allah” or “God” when having an English conversation. One student said that “Allah” is God’s name, so we should call God “Allah.” One student said that “Allah” is the name used in the Quran, which is why we need to use it. Someone else said that everything else in the Quran is Arabic though, and Allah is just Arabic for God, so when speaking in English, why not just use the English for God? Someone else added that using the name “Allah” makes our God sound like some exotic middle eastern moon deity, instead of the God we all worship. It causes Muslims to seem more “other.”

Then we discussed the Prophet Mohammad’s daughter, Fatima. She is considered to be one of the four pious women in Islam, along with the wife of Pharoah, Maryum and Khadijah. Fatima was born in 605 AD and died in either 632 or 633 (the date of her death is disputed by Sunnis and Shias). “Fatima” is Arabic for “the radiant one” and her name is one of the most common Muslim girl names in the world. The Sunnis and Shias have different views on Fatima. While Sunni Muslims have much respect for Fatima for all the service and aid she gave her father, the Shias hold Fatima in especially high regard because she was the wife of Ali. The Shias consider Ali to be their first Imam and the person who was supposed to take Mohammad’s place as a leader of the Ummah. Shias believe that Abu Bakr took away this right when he became the first Caliph instead of Ali. This is a matter of dispute.

Since it was my job that day to teach a lesson on Fatima, I thought it would be interesting to share two Shia hadiths since everyone present was a Sunni, and maybe they hadn’t heard these hadiths before.

One hadith told the story of four things Muhammad PBUH told Fatima to do before she went to sleep:
1) Read the entire Noble Quran from beginning to end.
2) Ask all the great prophets of God to intercede in her favor after death.
3) Make all the faithful believers happy.
4) Go to Makkah and accomplish the hajj (pilgrimage)

Of course, Fatima could not do all these things before going to sleep. So Muhammad PBUH gave her an alternative.

1) Say Surah Ikhlas three times. He told her it would be like reading the Quran from beginning to end.
2) Say salutations and greetings to Muhammad and all the other prophets, and they will intercede in her favor.
3) Pray for the faithful believers. It will make them all happy and content.
4) Say Subhanallah (praise be to God), Alhamdulillah (thanks be to God), la ilaha illallah (there is no God but God), and Allahu Akbar (God is the greatest). Saying these four things will be as if one accomplished the Hajj.

The next hadith I shared was about Fatima’s wedding dress. In this hadith, Fatima had only one old patchy dress that she wore most of the time. For her wedding, she was given a brand-new dress. Yet on the night before her wedding, someone knocked on her door and asked if they could have the old dress. At that moment she remembered the following verse of the Quran. “Never will you attain the good [reward] until you spend [in the way of Allah] from that which you love. And whatever you spend – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it (3.92).” So, she decided to give away her nice dress instead. At that moment, the angel Gabriel descended and gave her a divine dress from heaven. And then in her wedding procession to Ali’s house she was apparently followed by angels.

The Sunni Muslims of my class indeed had never heard this hadith before.

Since our class took place on the Sunday before Eid, we talked a little about Eid al Adha again (like last time). We also talked about Hagar again. As a former Catholic, I thought Hagar was Abraham’s handmaid. However, I did not realize that in the Islamic tradition she started out as his handmaid who became his wife. Someone said that the Bible also states that Hagar became Abraham’s wife, but this is not a fact that gets acknowledged among most Christians (at least the ones I know).

Because we were talking about Hagar, we also talked about Zam Zam water again. When Hagar was in the desert, she needed water for her infant. She walked up and down a mountain looking for water. Gabriel told her to kick the ground. When she did, a well appeared. One person said that according to the BBC, Zam Zam has some poisonous properties. However, the miracle of Zam Zam water can be witnessed by the fact that millions of people all over the world drink it and nothing bad happens to them.

One student gave a very interesting talk about sleep. He said the last third of the night is when people are in the deepest state of sleep. This is also the stage of the night when people do the Tahajjud prayer. This student said that during the deepest state of sleep, the nafs (psyche/ego/soul) leaves the body and goes into another realm. Thus, the last third of the night is the most peaceful time for prayer because one is not going to be distracted by other peoples’ nafs. This student said the body has spirit, nafs, matter, rooh (immortal essential self) and self.

If I understand the difference between the nafs and the rooh or ruh correctly, the nafs contains the intellectual and overthinking part of the person? And the rooh contains the more spiritual and connected to God part of the person? I am not sure if I am getting that correct. This student also said that maut is death and vafaat is unconsciousness. Sleep is vafaat, a state like death, but not entirely. I’ve read in either the Quran or the Hadith that “Sleep is the twin brother of death.”

In this last part of this essay I’ll touch on other things that were talked about very briefly. Laylat al Qadr: the night when God is lowest in the heavens.

Funerals: other people will forgive and pay debts the dead person incurred in this life. The differences between Meccan verses and Medina verses of the Quran: The Meccan verses offer a macro view of life. The Medina verses have a micro view. They are more specific and rule oriented.

Conversion: One’s prayers are apparently the most powerful the day they convert. I did not know this. I would have certainly utilized that power more had I known. But I also heard a person’s prayers can be amplified after the hajj, because their soul becomes purified in and cleansed once more.

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