Be People of Excellence (Walking the Way of the Prophet with the SeekersHub)

Every teacher has something unique that you learn from being in their presence. And every time I am in a class with Shaykh Yahya, I learn a bit more about what it means to be a dignified human being and to exemplify the qualities of excellence. Regardless of what the actual subject matter of the class, by his conduct and state Shaykh Yahya teaches his students that it is important to value your time, to polish your intellect, to contribute to your community, to speak with purpose and to keep good company. Shaykh Yahya’s classes are strong inspiration to take life and being a full human being seriously.

Three years ago I was in Toronto for Ramadan, and Shaykh Yahya spoke at a U of T iftar about how we should strive for excellence in everything we do. If we are studying, we shouldn’t just try and be good students, we should strive to be the best students possible (same applies if working or whatever else we are doing) and radiate excellence in all aspects of our lives. From our clothing to the beauty of our surroundings, from small and big aspects of our lives, everything should reflect excellence.

At this year’s Knowledge Retreat, Shaykh Yahya mentioned that “Each one of us has our own potential, and all we are required to do is maximize our own human potential. The sahabas maximized the potential of whatever Allah gave them. You’re falling short if you’re not maximizing your own potential and abilities, but you’re not going to be taken to account for what you were unable to attain if it was not within your capacities.” 

And this past weekend Shaykh Yahya was visiting the SeekersHub, and due to a fieldtrip and other school conflicts, I was only able to catch a bit of Friday night’s (God bless live streaming!) leadership class. A major theme of the session was that it is key to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Shaykh Faraz’s words reminded me of a creativity and drama workshop we participated in at work recently where our instructor mentioned that

In acting you won’t get too nervous if you know what your character wants. It’s like life. If you know what you want and why you are where you are, it’s much easier to be motivated and get what you need to do done. If you don’t know why you are where you are, and the reason you’re doing what you’re doing, you’ll feel self conscious. Words that come through heart and are connected to feelings and actions will be successful. All words can be powerful when connected to the heart.

There are questions to ask yourself: where am I? what do I want? if I get what I want, what will it fulfill? Why do I want what I want? It’s important to know your values and what you find most important so that your activities resonate through those particular values. When you know where you are and where you want to be, you find lots of opportunities to build character. Often people will decrease their power so that they become smaller and don’t have to be vulnerable. But don’t apologise for yourself. Until you’re courageous and recognise who you are, aren’t fully alive. The greater your spirit is about the work that you do, the greater your work will be. It’s also helpful to have rituals. In drama, we have specific rituals, from voice to nutrition and meditation, and you need to find relevant rituals in your own life to be engaged.

Shaykh Faraz and Shaykh Yahya’s leadership class brought up similar ideas, but connected it to the most beautiful of meanings, how we can connect what we do to the highest of purposes, and make our actions pleasing to Allah. Here are some snippets of my notes.

Shaykh Yahya:

  1. Shariah is going to take you somewhere. That is embedded in the definition. Shariah is not just simply laws, shariah is about journeying to Allah. Our understanding of guidance is that laws are a portion of guidance, virtue is a portion of guidance, it’s all guidance.
  2. Name of the Qur’an al-Furqan, the Criterion. Because we believe in Truth. And we believe that the Quran delimits for us what is truly true and what is truly false.
  3. Quran is a reminder: a reminder of the primordial convenant, reminder of where we are going, where we came from, who we truly are as homo sapiens, as living human beings, as rational animals.
  4. The ultimate purpose of Qur’an is to call people to Allah. To call creation to all-Mighty. If you open your heart to its meanings, you will have light come to you and you will experience incredible things. The book “Vision of Islam” talks about how the Qur’an has an incredible ability to transform people who come to it on its own terms, and by reading Qur’an, then you as you will express its meanings.

Recommendation: If you spent 3 days a week for the next six months learning root words of oft repeated words in the Qur’an, 2 hours a night, would open up doors. Take Arabic seriously.

Shaykh Faraz:

1) If you were someone who loves Layla but she is French, you’re going to try and learn French. Love has its rules and part of its rules is that you try and communicate with the beloved. Amazing to claim to love Prophet and not understand his words. Big mistake that people make is that they innovate. They are trodden paths. There are sunnahs of learning the meanings of the Qur’an. There are established ways. There are people who spend a whole year or two learning Quran morning and evening but they don’t know how to pray properly. Some people learn the Qur’an word by word but don’t implement what it says. There is a way to learn Arabic. Not as if people need to come up with ways now. There are trodden ways.  Save yourself a lot of effort and learn ways of those who came beforehand.

2) One of the things we want to install at hub is service based activism. Want to encourage people to take religion seriously. Religion meant to transform you and make you an agent of transformation in society.  You’re not doing it for people, doing it for Allah. Don’t just make make learning something you do. That you’re deening, you don’t go to the theatre, so you go to lectures instead.

3) We serve out of mercy. Benefit to others is of greater religious consequence than benefit simply to yourself. Always need to ask ourselves the question: why do we do good? There are people who do tremendous good in general state of blah (GSB) and they miss out because they did the good without proper purpose. The purpose should always be to do that which is pleasing to Allah. If you’re helping someone because they are poor, dig deeper. Because it’s the good..so what? Higher purpose should be understood. Activist burnout is real, and some people aren’t just burnt out,  they’re roasted. They have harakah without barakah. (Movement without blessing). T.S Eliot said that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation”. So we need to ask ourselves, why do we volunteer, why do we serve? The meaning is not just a checkbox, it’s harder than that, need to bring heart to the equation. Need to work on making intention true. Intention is not what you claim, it is what drives you to do something.  It should be because you’re seeking pleasure of Allah.

GWMLB: Prophetic Model of what your motives should be.  The Prophet told us that the strong believer better than weak believer though there is good in both, and the strong believer is avid for all that benefits. GWNLB stands for Greatest Widest Most Lasting Benefit, and this is what should guide us.

So if you want to study, ask yourself what do you want to study? Why do you want to study? Where do you want to achieve? if don’t know answers to these questions, then don’t go. People who do something with clear benefit, go far. Whatever you do, seek greatest widest most lasting benefit. If seeking intellectual edutainment, that is what you will get.

4. Can’t do everything but need to have concern that is manifested in your conduct. Stop watching news,  is a form of entertainment. Instead of watching news, be someone who contributes to what is happening. Doesn’t take much to keep track of what is going on, but  it’s a valuable exercise to go to CNN and count number of stories that you can do something about.

Always need to be asking yourself, What is Allah seeking from you in this situation? What you can do on your own is very limited. If want to do good, have to work with others who are doing the good. Need insight and wisdom as to how to promote the good.

5) Two keys to bringing the good in own lives and radiate good around us is knowledge and remembrance. These are two ways to gain benefit and radiate benefit.  The good that you do without these keys are like plants without water, they may grow a bit but will soon wither and die. If see own life, likely any time had increase in own life when connected to remembrance and knowledge.

6) A way to wisdom is to serve people and having a sense of service in everything. In terms of gaining insight and wisdom don’t look at immediate. Look at long term and see what will be of greatest, widest, long term benefit.

7) One way to have consistency is to have good routines that allow you to connect with with knowledge and remembrance. Act of gathering with other people in remembrance and learning.

Shaykh Yahya:

What  we describe positively as activism was in the lives of the Sahabas. They implemented immediately. They were very cognizant of societal conditions.  Every time you walk outside, that is an opportunity to impact people.

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