2021 June 27 – HL – male age 15 – “Week #4”
My homework for this week was to memorize Ayat Al-Qursi in English, word for word, with no mistakes. I also had to test out Ayat Al-Qursi, in Arabic as well, but I have known it in Arabic for quite some time now so I focused on practicing the English for this week. My other assignment was to write a thousand word essay on what I learned last class. I finished both my homework assignments adequately.
Before this class, two of the students said in the WhatsApp group that they wouldn’t be able to make it to class because they were sick, so I was expecting our class to be more boring than usual since our already small group would be even smaller. I was pleasantly surprised after our session though as we did end up having an entertaining, yet informative class.
I showed up to class around 9:00 AM and two of the students had already arrived. We walked up to the room where Green Stairs classes are usually held and we immediately started our meditation routine. To be honest, I wasn’t really in my zone that day and I think the instructor took note of it as well, as he called me out on my constant fidgeting repeatedly. It’s strange, some days, I have the mental concentration to meditate, and other days, I simply can’t. With more practice however, I know that one day (godwiling) the day will come when I am able to concentrate on my meditation and dhikr without failure.
After our meditation, we did the pledge of allegiance and sat down in a circle. There were four students in class, including myself. One of the students was new, and he introduced himself. Although I shouldn’t go too deep into his personal matters, he told us a captivating story about how he grew up in a war-torn area in the Middle East and his journey of becoming closer with Islam.
After that we started testing out and the instructor gave me the assignment to work with the new student to see what they knew. In addition to this, I was to show him the English portion of our final exam; which is to say the entire Islamic Salat in Arabic and English, word for word, line-by-line. In addition, I tested my Ayat Al-Qursi with the instructor in Arabic and English and passed. My assignment for this week is to memorize the end of Surah Baqarah.
At this point in the class we started the lecture. Our first topic was Imran Khan’s speech from the previous week. If you do not know, Imran Khan is the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The topic of his speech was Sexual Assault. Imran Khan said that if a woman doesn’t want to get assaulted, she should cover up more. Many people were outraged at his statement. One of the points that one of the students in class that day made was the fact that in countries where women wear full burkas (loose, draped robe type garments that cover the entire body) rape and sexual assault still occurs. We didn’t go too deep into this topic as we got distracted with the various other topics we discussed throughout class, but our conclusion was essentially the same as what the student had mentioned.
While explaining the usual routine of the class to the new student, the instructor explained to him why we don’t pray in class. He explained that if we prayed upon his request, we would be praying for him, not for God. The point of Salat altogether is to praise God, not to save face. I agree with the instructor’s point very much and think this is a very wise action to take, especially in today’s very hectic religious climate.
During our discussion, the topic of dhikr was brought up. For those who are unaware, dhikr is the act of repetitively praising God and/or his attributes in a rhythmic manner. One of the students said that dhikr doesn’t really work for him while meditating as he can’t focus that way. He added that his preferred manner of meditation is to reflect, presumably on his actions. The instructor explained to us that although yes, reflection is definitely a valid form of meditation, we should all try the dhikr-based method as well. He told us about one lady who had to say Shahada 1500 or so times before it worked and she lost herself and felt herself in the presence of God. He went on to explain that the words in and ofitself do nothing, it’s the belief behind the meaning that holds power. He referenced a jug of Zamzam (Islamic holy water) in the classroom: “at the end of the day, that jug just contains water, but when you believe in the power that God put in it, that’s when it’s spiritual properties come forth.”
He told us about the time that he invited a Hindu man to the class who was having trouble finding peace in his personal life. He showed him the Islamic form of dhikr, and it worked for the man, despite the fact that he wasn’t muslim. He had recently met a Christian man at a mechanic shop, and told him that he didn’t have to convert just to try ‘our’ form of meditation and enlightenment. He explained that yeah, it might help him [the instructor] a bit more since he was Muslim, but it’s very much possible that it would help a non-muslim too.
Our next topic was a question that I had for a long time, but was too scared to ask anyone else, which was why do women pray behind men? Initially, the instructor explained it briefly but then went on to elaborate. He said that it all comes down to the fact that if men were to pray alongside/behind women, unfortunately some would develop lustful thoughts (highly likely considering all the bending and movement we have in our prayers) which is definitely not something that we want to happen in a religious setting. I have also read a hadith in which the Prophet Muhamamd (PBUH) stated that women have the same desires as men, they are just better at shielding their desires from those whom she is not permitted to display them in front of. I think this is very true in most cases and to be very frank, I think most girls my age would perform better in this regard than I would myself (mama baba if you are reading this I always keep it halal:).
The instructor then went on to specify that it’s not that women are praying behind the men, it’s more so that Islam commands men and women to pray separately. This is important to note as from an outsiders perspective, it may appear that Islam sees women as inferior, however, this is far from the case. One of the most common arguments that the west has against Islam is that Muslim men oppress their women. Many hadiths and verses from the Qur’an are taken out of context to ‘defend’ such points as well. Although yes, it is true that Muslim men are to be responsible for taking the burden of earning for the family, in my experience it’s really the Muslim women who run most households, the men just put food on the table. I think all presumptions that Islam requires women to stay home to cook and clean are based off of eastern cultural norms, however, as I grew up in a home where both parents worked, so I never saw Islam as a patriarchal faith in any way.
Our next topic was Bidah, which essentially refers to the forbidden practice of innovating on religious practices. Now although the word innovation does draw connotations towards positive changes, in this context, the word innovation is used to refer to altering the faith in any way. In Islam, we believe that God made the faith perfect from the start, so any change to it would cease it’s flawless nature. I must add that any valid criticisms that anyone may have of ‘Islam,’ can always be attributed to cultural practices that are defended under the guise of religion.
For a brief period, the topic of homosexuality (which was one of the main topics from the previous session) came up and the instructor reiterated the fact that we shouldn’t judge others actions, as only God has the permission to judge. Now, this doesn’t mean we should commit bidah and claim that homosexuality is no longer a sin, (which is waht some other faiths have done with certain issues) but whatever someone does in the privacy of their bedroom is their business and we shouldn’t judge, or even try to give unsolicited advice as it is not always appreciated by others as much as we may think it will be.
The instructor then went on to say that in the grand scheme of thighs, Islam is still in it’s teenage days of existence and although we may not want to admit it, certain sins will begin to become normalized. The same thing happened with Christianity, and the same thing will happen to us. As much as we may hate to admit it, it’s the natural cycle of religion. I have begun to see this in my life as well. I know kids at my school who will smoke weed all day every day, but also go to mosque every week and pray regularly. These are also the same kids who will never touch pork, even if you put a gyn to their heads. Even though it’s a sad thing to see people sin freely, it’s sort of funny (in an ironic sort of way) to see the different halal-to-haram ratios that everyone has.
Our next topic was the separation of the soul and the body. In short, after we die, there is no use to our bodies. The only thing that will live on is our souls. We then started discussing cryogenics, and although I’m still not quite sure what it is, from my understanding it is basically when bodies are frozen after death. I’m not sure how exactly it was brought up, but the topic of cremation also came up during this portion of the class. I asked the instructor about the Islamic ruling on cremation, and whether or not it is haram. His answer was that during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) cremation wasn’t a practice that occurred back then so there is not a clear answer, but most scholars will say that it is haram. I am very curious about this still, and will do some research on this as well.
At this point in class, we started going over fundamental Green Stairs concepts. The first one we went over was CCA, which stands for common sense, context, and accountability. This is the formula we should use when we are told a piece of Islamic knowledge (whether it is [allegedly] from the Qur’an, Hadith, etc.). We should first use common sense, and if common sense rejects the idea, then more than likely it’s just something someone made up to fit their narrative. Our next step is to put it in context of whichever situation it was meant for. If it checks out in that respective, then it is safe to practice whatever it is you put under the CCA formula. The final step is to remember that on the day of judgement, you will be accountable for your actions, you can’t tell God “so and so told me it’s fine, so I did it anyways.”
Our next concept was QHA, which stands for Quran, Hadith, accountability. This shows the steps by which the pieces of Islamic text have power over another. Our primary source of knowledge is the Quran, then the Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH), then whatever is said by the scholars.
It is important to note that in the previous two points, the final step to the concept was accountability. This is relevant because Islam is the only one of the major religions which actually holds it’s followers accountable. For example, in Judaism it is believed that the Jews are ‘the chosen people’ so whatever they do is justified. In christianity, it is believed that Jesus died for their sins, so all sins are thus nullified. Islam is the only religions where it is believed that you will be held accountable for all actions, regardless of whether you are apart of the faith or not.
At this point in class, the instructor had the new student give his thoughts on his first session as a member of Green Stairs, and the topic of paying it forward and charity came up. The instructor looked directly at me and told me (referring to me by name) in the future when you start doing such charities for the world, make sure that you’re not making it about me me me all the time, charity should not be an ego exercise. This really resonated with me as I constantly see people on my social media feeds, ‘flexing’ their good deeds and I feel like it cheapens the deed, and nullifies it to a degree when it is shared online.
During his speech, the new student mentioned that he liked the fact that the instructor was more liberal in his manner of teaching. In a polite way obviously, I added that from my perspective, Green Stairs isn’t really a liberal or conservative class, the instructor simply teaches Islam as it is. I think the reason that we tend to see programs such as Green Stairs to be ‘liberal’ is because 99% of the sheikhs and programs out there are too strict on those who are learning Islam, which often draws them away from the faith altogether.