Commencement advice to students – 1

As the academic year starts again and as our children are about to go off to university, I thought it would be good to share some thoughts to help them to be focused and grounded. I hope this will be good advice for all of us wherever we may be. To the students I say, “You are about to go off into the wide world, alone, excited, apprehensive, hopeful, that this will be the beginning of a long road to success. I wish you the same. Remember that integrity is not the only path, but it is the only path on which you will never be lost. Integrity is to keep ten things in mind.

1.      Factor Allah into the equation because He is in it anyway. This is the best way to stay grounded and to know the best way forward. For in the end, we will not be asked, “What happened?” We will be asked, “What did you do?” Remembering Allah at all times and deciding everything based on His Pleasure has two advantages. It keeps us safe from sin and it gives us tremendous confidence, knowing that He is watching and is with us. Believe me, just as doing good matters, so also sin matters, even more. So, stay safe from sin and disobedience of Allah and you can be sure that He will help you. Remember that Islam is the name of a practice. Not a philosophy. The one who practices Islam is a Muslim and the one who doesn’t, isn’t. The one who practices Islam benefits. The one who doesn’t, doesn’t. The practice of Islam begins and ends with Salah (prayer). Prayer is a resource to reboot our drives five times a day, to charge our batteries, to seek Allah’s help, to relax and rejuvenate, and to remind ourselves, that one day we will see Allah and be called to account. Salah reminds us that everything counts.

 كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَآئِقَةُ ٱلْمَوْتِ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ ٱلْقِيَـٰمَةِ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ ٱلنَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ ٱلْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ وَمَا ٱلْحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنْيَآ إِلَّا مَتَـٰعُ ٱلْغُرُورِ

A’al Imraan 3: 185   Everyone shall taste death. And only on the Day of Resurrection shall you be paid your wages in full. And whoever is removed away from the Fire and admitted to Jannah, he indeed is successful. The life of this world is only the enjoyment of deception (a deceiving thing).

Allah gave us the criterion of success. Real success. Lasting success. Always keep this in mind and you will never be depressed or sad and you will always make the right decisions. The key to all this is Salah. Salah is the outward manifestation and evidence of Imaan (Faith). When we declare that there is nobody worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is His last and final Messenger who we follow, by praying, we demonstrate our belief by worshipping Allah in the way shown to us by Rasoolullah. Salah is our connection with Allah. A direct connection, taught to us by Rasoolullah. Allah told us that Salah is a resource to be used at will.

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱسْتَعِينُوا۟ بِٱلصَّبْرِ وَٱلصَّلَوٰةِ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ مَعَ ٱلصَّـٰبِرِينَ

Baqara 2: 153   O you who believe! Seek help in patience and As-Salat (prayer). Truly! Allah is with As-Sabirin (the patient).

And He said:

ٱتْلُ مَآ أُوحِىَ إِلَيْكَ مِنَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ وَأَقِمِ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ إِنَّ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ تَنْهَىٰ عَنِ ٱلْفَحْشَآءِ وَٱلْمُنكَرِ وَلَذِكْرُ ٱللَّهِ أَكْبَرُ وَٱللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا تَصْنَعُونَ

Ankabut 29: 45    Recite (O Muhammad) what has been revealed to you of the Book (Qur’an) and establish As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat). Verily, As-Salat (prayer) prevents from Al-Fahsha’ (great sins of every kind) and Al-Munkar (disbelief, polytheism, and every kind of evil deed) and the remembering (praising, etc.) of (you by) Allah (in front of the angels) is greater indeed [than your remembering (praising) Allah in prayers]. And Allah knows what you do.

Salah is protection. Salah is help. Salah is tranquility and peace of mind. Salah is the highest honor that Allah granted to the human being. Salah differentiates the Muslim from the non-Muslim. Salah is evidence that we are Muslim. The one who prays is Muslim. The one who doesn’t, is not.

Rasoolullah emphasized the importance of Salah and said:

Nawfal bin Muawiya (R) quoted Rasoolullah as saying, “A person who does not pray on time is like someone whose family and property were lost.” Ibn Hibban

Jabir Ibn Abdullah (R) said, Rasoolullah said, “Between faith and unbelief is abandoning the prayer.” (Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Musnad)

Abdullah (R) asked Rasoolullah , “Which deed is the dearest to Allah?” He replied, “To offer the prayers at their early stated fixed times.” (Sahih al-Bukhari).

Ibn Umar (R) narrated that Rasoolullah  said, “The beginning of the time for Salah is pleasing to Allah and the end of its time is pardoned by Allah.” (Tirmidhi)

2.   Always be thankful. It is true that we succeed by our own efforts, but it is good to remember that some of them were made standing on someone else’s shoulders.  They helped us when they didn’t need us and without expecting any reward. Don’t forget them because without them you would still be crawling. The biggest fallacy is the so-called ‘self-made man or woman.’ There’s no such thing. We are all the products of the Grace of God, of our time, environment, nation, family, friends – of all those who stopped by to lend a hand. To every one of them we owe a debt which must be repaid. So always be thankful and express thanks. To express thanks is about you. Not about them. It tells the world what kind of person you are. It is your face and identity. People are not mind readers and even mind readers like to hear it from you. So, tell them. Thankfulness increases blessings, opens new doors, inspires people to do things for you and increases your circle of influence. Thankfulness also fills your own heart with joy. Try it and see.

Allah ordered us to be thankful and said:

وَإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ وَلَئِن كَفَرْتُمْ إِنَّ عَذَابِى لَشَدِيدٌ

Ibrahim 14: 7   And (remember) when your Rabb proclaimed: If you give thanks, I will give you more (of My Blessings), but if you are thankless, verily! My Punishment is indeed severe.

Being thankful makes us more conscious of the blessing which enhances its enjoyment. That is a blessing in itself. Likewise, taking Allah’s blessings for granted and being thankless, takes away the joy from what we have, and such a person is always hankering after what he doesn’t have. He doesn’t enjoy what he has and what he hankers after, he may never have.

Rasoolullah ordered us to thank people as a way to thank Allah.

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ‏ لاَ يَشْكُرُ اللَّهَ مَنْ لاَ يَشْكُرُ النَّاسَ

Abu Huraira (R) reported that Rasoolullah said, “Whoever does not thank people has not thanked Allah.” [Abu Dawud]

3.   Forgive others. Forgiveness heals. You, more than the other person. Don’t forget but forgive. If you forget, you will lose the lesson from the experience and will fall into the same hole again. Imagine you are riding your Harley on a lovely bright morning when a bad smelling piece of wet trash flies off the garbage truck ahead of you and sticks to your shirt. What do you do? You will wash it off and remind yourself never to drive behind a garbage truck again. That is what I mean by forgive but don’t forget. But if you don’t forgive, it is like keeping the trash on your shirt and smelling it from time to time and cursing yourself, your fate, the truck driver, whoever. That is not something that any intelligent person should do. Forgive and clean the rancor, resentment, hurt, and grief from your heart. But remember the lesson. It is very expensive to forget the lesson.

Allah ordered us to forgive and promised His forgiveness for those who forgive others. He said:

وَلَا يَأْتَلِ أُو۟لُوا۟ ٱلْفَضْلِ مِنكُمْ وَٱلسَّعَةِ أَن يُؤْتُوٓا۟ أُو۟لِى ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ وَٱلْمَسَـٰكِينَ وَٱلْمُهَـٰجِرِينَ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَلْيَعْفُوا۟ وَلْيَصْفَحُوٓا۟ أَلَا تُحِبُّونَ أَن يَغْفِرَ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمْ وَٱللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

Nour 24: 22    And let not those among you who are blessed with graces and wealth swear not to give (any sort of help) to their kinsmen, Al-Masakin (the poor), and those who left their homes for Allah’s Cause. Let them pardon and forgive. Do you not love that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Rasoolullah told us to forgive so that we may be forgiven by Allah.

 ارْحَمُوا تُرْحَمُوا وَاغْفِرُوا يَغْفِرْ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ  عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرِو بْنِ الْعَاصِ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ

Abdullah ibn Amr (R) reported that Rasoolullah said, “Be merciful to others and you will receive mercy. Forgive others and Allah will forgive you.” [Ahmad]

4.   Seek forgiveness. Ideally don’t put yourself in a position where you need to seek forgiveness. But we all make mistakes. So, if you do something wrong, own up and seek forgiveness. Owning up is excellent for the ego, makes you stronger and more respected, and is a sign of integrity and humanity. It is not only humans who make mistakes but only humans who seek forgiveness. Seek forgiveness with genuineness and humility. Not like you are doing the other person a favor. Owning up is a sign of confidence and sincerity and ensures that you will learn from the mistake. That is all that matters. Did you learn or not? People who don’t learn from their mistakes are condemned to repeat them. Ditto for nations.

Abu Hurairah (R) said: I heard Rasoolullah saying, “I swear by Allah that I seek Allah’s Pardon and turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times a day.” [Bukhari].

Ibn ‘Abbas (R) said: Rasoolullah said, “If anyone constantly seeks pardon (from Allah), Allah will appoint for him a way out of every distress and a relief from every anxiety and will provide sustenance for him from where he does not expect.” [Abu Dawud].

Shaddad bin Aus (R) said: Rasoolullah said, “The best dua for seeking forgiveness (Syed-ul- Istighfar) is to say: ‘Allahumma Anta Rabbi, la ilaha illa Anta, khalaqtani wa ana ‘abduka, wa ana ‘ala ‘ahdika wa wa’dika mastata’tu, a’udhu bika min sharri ma sana’tu, abu’u laka bini’matika ‘alayya, wa abu’u bidhanbi faghfir li, fa innahu la yaghfirudh-dhunuba illa Anta. [O Allah! You are my Rabb. There is no deity except You. You created me, and I am Your slave, and I hold to Your Covenant as far as I can. I seek refuge in You from the evil of what I have done. I acknowledge the favors that You have bestowed upon me, and I confess my sins. Pardon me, for none but You has the power to pardon.]’ He who makes this dua during the day with firm belief in it and dies on the same day (before the evening), he will be one of the dwellers of Jannah; and if anyone makes this dua during the night with firm belief in it and dies before the morning, he will be one of the dwellers of Jannah.” [Bukhari].

Abu Hurairah (R) said that Rasoolullah said, “The gates of Jannah are opened on Mondays and Thursdays, and then every slave (of Allah) is granted forgiveness if he does not associate anything with Allah in worship. But the person in whose heart there is rancor against his (Muslim) brother, they will not be pardoned and regarding them it will be said twice: ‘Hold both of them until they are reconciled with each other.”‘ [Muslim].

Narrated Abu Huraira (R) that Rasoolullah  said, “Whoever has oppressed another person concerning his reputation or anything else, he should beg him to forgive him before the Day of Resurrection when there will be no money (to compensate for wrong deeds), but if he has good deeds, those good deeds will be taken from him according to his oppression which he has done, and if he has no good deeds, the sins of the oppressed person will be loaded on him.” [Bukhari]

We ask Allah to keep us safe from sins and to help us to live a life that pleases Him. I remind you and myself that when Allah is pleased not only does it mean success in the Aakhira but also in the Dunya.

Abu Huraira (R) reported that Rasoolullah  said, “When Allah loves a slave, He calls Jibreel (AS) and he says: Verily, I love this person so you should love him. Then Jibreel (AS) loves him and makes an announcement in the heavens, saying, “Allah loves this person, and you should love him.” Thus, the dwellers of the heavens love him, and he is honored on the earth.” In another narration, Rasoolullah said, “When Allah is angry with a slave, he calls Jibreel (AS) and he says, “I am angry with this person, so you should hate him. Then Jibreel (AS) hates him and makes an announcement in the heavens, saying: Verily, Allah hates this person, so you should hate him. Thus, they hate him and he is hated on the earth.” [Bukhari, Muslim]