2021 June 27 – CM – male age 48 – Class Notes
My time in class was shorter this day due to another commitment I had later in the afternoon. But it started the same as always, with 2 cycles of salat (which served to make up my Fajr prayer that I had missed) followed by a brief dhikr. I stuck with la-ilaha-ilallah but honestly I was not able to immerse myself in it as I had hoped. I usually find this difficult at the beginning of class simply because I’m very easily distracted by people coming in and getting instructions or giving their greetings. I was thinking about coming with headphones next time, but in a subsequent conversation I had with teacherji, he anticipated this situation, for me and potentially others in the class, and suggested that next time we go straight to the upstairs prayer area of the mosque to pray and meditate more successfully upon arrival, coming to the classroom only once this is done. Sounds like an excellent idea to me.
There was another new student in the class who described his own path to learning about God and why he was in the class. A welcome addition given his background and experience, inshAllah he comes back. He triggered a couple of interesting discussions for us.
As we began the part of class dedicated to improving our salat and our surah memorization from the Quran, we started talking about the importance of language, whether speaking, reading and writing Arabic gives one an advantage over those who do not when trying to understand and absorb the message of the Quran. Since I can only relate to one of those groups (i.e. the ones who don’t) I don’t think I’m qualified to pass confident judgement on the matter. However, I would follow the opinion of teacherji and say that it is NOT necessary. God sent the Quran as a message for ALL mankind, not just the ones who happen to speak and understand Arabic. The fact that He used Arabic for His message was certainly not an accident, as the richness of the Arabic language seems to be ideally suited to convey layers upon layers of meaning within single words. But these layers are still accessible to those who can read them through clear and honest translations.
Having said that, I’m quite certain that it would help me tremendously in memorizing Quranic verses. As we moved into testing out and improving our prayers and verses, I successfully passed my ayat-al-kursi test but my surah al ma’un was incomplete. Without question, knowing the language would help me with memorizing words and phrases instead of sounds. Clearly, I can memorize the words and phrases of the English translation without a problem. And I noticed that verses containing words that I *do* understand are retained more easily than those that do not. Which then begs the question: why is it so important to memorize the actual Arabic if we’re agreeing that an accurate translation of the Quran’s meaning is enough to understand its guidance?
This came up somewhat during the next discussion, re: memorization of verses to be used/recited as mantras. Teacherji gave the example of Sufis and saints from the Indian subcontinent who taught specific verses to their students. Both they and their students reaped the benefits of reciting these verses without knowing any Arabic, based on the faith and belief in the inherent power of the verses themselves. I understand the concept, but I have a difficult time accepting the idea that parroting anything without understanding is the correct way of accomplishing much. Given how often the Quran exhorts us to think, understand and reflect, it would be natural to question this premise. But on the other hand, the Quran also tells us to trust God. And the very definition of faith implies acceptance without full understanding. So where do we draw the line? Perhaps this where the ego is getting in the way. Accepting and submitting will certainly help to dimmish the ego, but should I accept and submit to eating feces (as the example provided during class described)? There has to be a criteria to know when and how to submit. Is this the “furq’an” referenced in the Quran?
In between trying to get the few remaining brain cells left to me to memorize the last half of surah al ma’un, our discussion proceeded. As we talked about how we try to implement our religion in our lives, our new student and I both agreed that service to our loved ones and our community is hugely important. The Quran clearly calls upon us to do this. But worship in the form of prayer and dhikr are also a huge part of the what the Quran asks of us. I also want to improve myself in this area, to so it “better”, so to speak. And then our new student asked a fundamental question that I don’t think enough people ask: what for? In other words, what are we doing all this service and prayer for?
My answer: to be closer to God. Since finding Islam, I have noticed how I feel when I am closer to God and when I am further from God. It is as clearly evident to me as walking close to a campfire and feeling the heat of the flames and then walking away and feeling that heat less and less. It’s probably so clear to me that I could measure it, if I only had the correct units to describe it with. In fact, a few weeks ago, I came up with a silly term to describe it. I call it my taqwameter, indicating how conscious I am of God and His nearness. When I do something where I give of my time or other resources with no expectation of reward (like when doing service work), I feel the mercury level in my taqwameter rising, which then makes me more focused and present in my next salat, such that I can FEEL the words I’m reciting inside of me. Which increases my taqwameter more, i.e. makes me feel closer to God.