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Speak the best (DW#603)

And say to My servants (that) they speak that which is best[17:53]

This verse from Sura Bani Israel lays out the general and foundational principle for speech in Islam: Speak that which is Ahsan(beautiful, excellent, kind)

That which is the best encapsulates all rules and principles of good communication. The famous saying (which has been attributed to many different sages and masters over the years) comes to mind:

Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:

At the first gate, ask yourself "Is is true?"
At the second gate ask, "Is it necessary?"
At the third gate ask, "Is it kind?"

This saying, although clichéd, has the wisdom to help us pause and become conscious of our words. Because talking is so natural we are often unaware of the power of our spoken words, our speech can sometimes run away from our mouths before we have had a chance to engage our brains.

So let us explore these three gates:

Is It True?

Few of us would ever admit to lying intentionally. But...

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The root of good words (DW#602)

Yesterday we discussed verses 24 & 25 of Sura Ibrahim where the Quran compares good words to a good tree:

Have you not considered how Allah sets forth a parable of a good word (being) like a good tree, whose root is firm and whose branches are in heaven,Yielding its fruit in every season by the permission of its Lord? And Allah sets forth parables for men that they may be mindful.[Quran 14:24-25]

Today let’s deepen our understanding of this parable by exploring a narration from Imam Ali (as), where he says:

Speech is implanted in the heart and deposited in the thought, strengthened by the intellect conveyed through the tongue; its body is the letters, its soul is the meaning, its adornment is punctuation and its order is reason.

This profound saying has so many layers of meaning that it is not possible to do it justice here. For today, let us simply reflect on the process of communication.

What comes out of our mouths is not the beginning of communication. The thought and...

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Recognize the power of words (DW#601)

Have you not considered how Allah sets forth a parable of a good word (being) like a good tree, whose root is firm and whose branches are in heaven,Yielding its fruit in every season by the permission of its Lord? And Allah sets forth parables for men that they may be mindful.[Quran 14:24-25]

The verses for today’s reflection are from Sura Ibrahim and they compare the impact of words to that of a tree.

So what is a Kalimat Tayyabba, a "good word"?

In the first instance, it is a word that calls to righteousness, to the Truth. But it is much more than that.

The Quran compares a good word to a good tree (and later an evil word to an evil tree). It is interesting that we consider trees to have solid psychical mass while we rarely consider our words in the same way. We think that they are spoken into air and disappear in the next moment. (And sometimes we wish that they did!)

On the other hand, we have all experienced the power of words to connect and heal people and also perhaps...

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Be kind to your parents even if they don’t share your faith (DW#600)

Today’s verse makes a distinction between respect and obedience towards parents.

And if they (both) contend with you that you should associate with Me what you have no knowledge of, do not obey them, and keep company with them in (this) world kindly [Quran 31:15]

So while the general injunction is to obey parents, this verse lays out an important exception to the general rule.

If your parents are forcing you towards disbelief or encouraging you towards polytheism, you may not obey them. Parents have more rights over you than anyone else. But this right does not include the right to come between you and your relationship with God.

However, this exception does not absolve children from the duties of showing excellent conduct and compassion towards their parents.

According to scholars, this verse was revealed when some new converts to Islam were emotionally blackmailed by their parents to give up the faith. These new converts were in a very challenging situation since the faith...

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Be grateful to God and to your parents (DW#599)

Be grateful towards Me and towards thy parents [Quran 31:14]

Today’s verse continues our discussion from yesterday about showing ehsaan (excellent courtesy) and rahma (loving-kindness and compassion) towards parents.

An essential part of the courtesy towards parents is to show them gratitude. The gratitude towards parents in this verse is linked to gratitude towards God Himself. It is through the medium of our parents that He gives us existence and it is through them that He nurtures us and raises us from weakness to strength. Parents then, are a means of transmission of Allah’s bounties towards us.

This verse is particularly applicable today where the world seems to have shifted to a child-centered place. Parents struggle to set boundaries and children feel more entitled to material and nonmaterial possessions and accommodations than ever before. Putting this verse into action would perhaps begin to redress the balance of entitlement and gratitude.

 

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Remember your mother’s labours (DW#598)

Continuing our theme of loving-respect towards parents, today’s verse is from Chapter 31, Sura Luqman where Allah says:

We have enjoined upon man goodness towards his parents: his mother bore him by bearing strain upon strain, and his utter dependence on her lasted two years: [Quran 31:14]

This verse also emphasises the children’s duty of loving-kindness, compassion and excellent courtesy (ehsaan) towards parents. The verse then shifts to the particular contribution of the mother in bringing up children. Islamic narrations are clear on the principle that the mother’s status for the child is higher than that of the father. This verse explains why.

Since the mother bears the child, nurses him and does the hard physical and emotional labour related to child-rearing, her contribution is recognized and acknowledged. The verse alludes to the hardships of pregnancy, labour and breast-feeding. This is the time when she is the one who is greatly impacted by the child. It is...

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Lower your wings (DW#597)

Today’s verse is also from Sura Israa [The Night Journey] where Allah says:

Lower unto them the wing of humility out of compassion and say, "My Lord! Have mercy upon them, as they cherished me when I was little." [Quran 17:24]

As we said yesterday, Islam lays great emphasis on the courtesies towards parents, especially as they age. This verse also expresses the abundance of mercy, affection, and humility with which adult children should aspire to treat their parents.

Here, a beautiful image is evoked of a bird that lovingly spreads its wings over its offspring to shelter and protect them in the nest.

Scholars explain that this metaphor of a high-flying bird which lowers her wing out of tenderness to her offspring is apt because when the parent was strong and the child was helpless, parental affection was showered on the child and so when the child grows up and is strong, and the parent becomes increasingly helpless, the child must do the same for the parent. However, the child...

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Deal with Ehsaan towards your parents (DW#596)

This week we will explore some Quranic injunctions for dealing with our parents, a relationship which the Quran holds as the most sacred of human relationships with the highest expectations of virtuous behaviour from children towards their parents.

Today’s verse:
And your Lord has commanded . . . ehsaan (virtue, goodness, kindness, excellent courtesy) to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, say not to them (so much as) "Uff" nor chide them, and speak to them a generous word.[Quran 17:23]

In the above verse from Sura Israa (the Night Journey) Allah pairs the command to worship only Him with the command to show ehsaan towards our parents.

The Arabic word ehsaan is a word with profound meanings including goodness, beauty, perfection, excellence, generosity.

This verse specifically counsels virtuous behaviour towards parents as they age. This time of life is where the roles of parent-child relationship are turned around. The parent, who has been the...

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Worship at night (DW#595)

And during a part of the night, say the night prayer beyond what is incumbent on you; perhaps your Lord will raise you to a praiseworthy position. Quran 17:79

Reflection: These verses from Sura Israa (The Night Journey) are addressed in the first instance to the Holy Prophet (saw) advising him that the best means of closeness to his Beloved Lord is to stay up and worship in the night when the rest of mankind is sleeping comfortably,

It is said that the fastest means of transportation towards Allah is to worship at night. During the day so many things occupy our time and mind. We are distracted and it is challenging to find silence, solitude and peace to communicate with the Divine. It is easier to connect spiritually with Allah during the stillness of night when the demands of work and family are on hold for the moment. It is also easier to be free of the ego-drives of looking good that can sometimes creep into our worship, especially when they draw praise from others.

There is much...

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Acquire wisdom (DW#594)

And whosoever is granted wisdom has been granted much good. Quran 2:269

Reflection: This verse from Sura Baqara (the Cow) tells us that the attainment of wisdom is worthy in the eyes of Allah.

Hikma, or wisdom is quite different from the simple accumulation of knowledge. Today, we have a lot of information at our finger tips. Google can answer many questions for us and give us many facts in a split second. While it is worthwhile to acquire knowledge and learn facts (and a highly recommended act of worship in Islam), this by itself will not lead to a happy, useful or worthwhile existence. Or to salvation.

The facts and knowledge that we learn must be reflected upon, tried tested and practiced – in other words reflected upon, engaged with, and applied to gain insight beyond the apparent and the mundane. Only upon such engagement with acquired knowledge can our lives be transformed for good and we can be said to "be wise".

How: There is, of course, no simple formula for acquiring...

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