The Muslim Shepherd Newsletter
The Muslim Shepherd Newsletter is like a friend who’s visiting you after traveling for a month.
This friend has stories to tell, and hopefully, some gifts for you as well.
Once a month, I’ll send you my freshly-written articles, insights that crossed my way, thoughts, and announcements if I have any.
The newsletter is based on the serendipity effect — you never know where great ideas can come from.
If you love not knowing what to expect, then this newsletter is for you.
Below you’ll find my top twelve picks from 2021 newsletters.
My Top Picks from 2021 Newsletters
“So, surely with hardship comes ease”
Enantiodromia is a principle introduced by the psychiatrist Carl Jung. It’s the idea that an excess of something gives birth to its opposite.
The time of Covid plants the seed of good times.
People behave differently depending on the circumstances.
In the time of Covid, people are more alert than in normal times. They are in a solving-problems state.
In the end, the problem gives rise to the solution. Times of hardship gives birth to times of ease.
The opposite is also true.
“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction” states Newton’s third law.
People are more careless when everything goes well.
Success plants the seed for failure. Times of peace plants the seed of war.
It’s the cycle of life.
When Relying on God
There’s a fable of a man stuck in a flood. Convinced that God is going to save him, he says no to a passing canoe, boat, and helicopter that offer to help. He dies, and in heaven asks God why He didn’t save him. God says, “I sent you a canoe, a boat, and a helicopter!”
We develop blindness when we expect a certain way to receive divine help.
Our part is to ask God for help and be ready to receive it in whatever form it comes.
Slow Growth vs Fast Growth
The Hidden Life of Trees was recommended by Morgan Housel in his newsletter. He gave this example from the book:
Trees that grow up in their mothers’ shade grow slowly, because their moms block most of the sun. Slow growth leads to dense wood, which leads to a strong tree. Trees that instead grow in the open sun, without their mom’s shade, grow very fast, gorging on all the light they can absorb. But fast growth leads to soft wood, which is susceptible to rot and fungus.
It’s a great lesson to reflect on in a time we glamorize the fast pace.
The Guest House by Jalaluddin Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
On Seeing Allah
When Dha’lab al-Yamami asked Imam Ali Ibn Abu Talib whether he had seen Allah, he replied:
Do I worship One Whom I have not seen?
The man then inquired, “How have you seen Him?
Imam Ali replied:
“Eyes do not see Him face-to-face, but hearts perceive Him through the realities of belief. He is near to things but not (physically) contiguous. He is far from them but not (physically) separate. He speaks but not with reflection. He intends, but not with preparation. He molds, but not with (the assistance of) limbs. He is subtle but cannot be said as being concealed. He is great but cannot be said to be haughty. He sees but the faculty of vision cannot be attributed to Him. He is Merciful, but this cannot be attributed to a weakness of heart. Faces bow down before His greatness and hearts tremble out of fear of Him.”
Excerpt from The Path of Eloquence
Answered Dua or the Unnoticed Miracle
There are two dimensions to this world: the world of creation and the world of command.
The world of creation takes time. It’s ruled by natural laws.
A seed grows into a tree; a baby develops into an adult. We can’t bypass the process of development.
On the other hand, we have the world of command.
It is not ruled by time. Allah says to something Be and it manifests itself.
The miracles given to the Prophets are from the world of commands. That’s why they are hard to understand using rationality alone. They require faith.
Having our dua (supplication) answered is from the world of command. It’s a miracle that defies all natural laws.
It might not be as spectacular as the miracles given to the Prophets, but still, it needs to be given the right value.
May Allah keep us grateful.
Noam Chomsky on Education
The purpose of education is to learn how to seek what’s significant:
“If you don’t have some sort of a framework for what matters — always, of course, with the proviso that you’re willing to question it if it seems to be going in the wrong direction — if you don’t have that, exploring the Internet is just picking out the random factoids that don’t mean anything… You have to know how to evaluate, interpret, and understand… The person who wins the Nobel Prize is not the person who read the most journal articles and took the most notes on them. It’s the person who knew what to look for. And cultivating that capacity to seek what’s significant, always willing to question whether you’re on the right track — that’s what education is going to be about, whether it’s using computers and the Internet, or pencil and paper, or books.”
Mulla Nasrudin and the Wise Men
Nasrudin is a Seljuk who lived in the 13th century and during the Mongol invasion.
He is considered a philosopher, Sufi, and wise man, remembered for his funny stories and anecdotes.
Here’s how he outsmarted the wise men:
“The philosophers, logicians and doctors of law were drawn up at Court to examine Mulla Nasrudin. This was a serious case, because he had admitted going from village to village saying: The so-called wise men are ignorant, irresolute, and confused. He was charged with undermining the security of the State.
You may speak first, said the King.
Have paper and pens brought, said the Mulla. Paper and pens were brought.
Give some to each of the first seven savants. The pens were distributed.
Have them separately write an answer to this question: What is bread?
This was done. The papers were handed to the King who read them out:
The first said: Bread is a food.
The second: It is flour and water.
The third: A gift of God.
The fourth: Baked dough.
The fifth: Changeable, according to how you mean ‘bread.’
The sixth: A nutritious substance.
The seventh: Nobody really knows.
When they decide what bread is, said Nasrudin, it will be possible for them to decide other things.
For example, whether I am right or wrong. Can you entrust matters of assessment and judgment to people like this? Is it not strange that they cannot agree about something which they eat each day, yet are unanimous that I am a heretic?”
The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin by Idries Shah.
When Optimism Kills
Jim Collins couldn’t understand how Admiral Stockdale came out of years in a prison camp stronger than before.
When asked “who are the ones who didn’t make it out?”, the Admiral answered: “the optimists”.
He went on explaining:
“The optimists. Yes. They were the ones who always said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ Christmas would come and it would go. And there would be another Christmas. And they died of a broken heart.
This is what I learned from those years in the prison camp, where all those constraints just were oppressive. You must never ever confuse, on the one hand, the need for absolute, unwavering faith that you can prevail despite those constraints with, on the other hand, the need for the discipline to begin by confronting the brutal facts, whatever they are. We’re not getting out of here by Christmas.”
Optimism without realism kills.
Poem About the Care of Allah Towards Us
When I was researching for my article about dua, I came across this poem:
Oh Allah! I told You I’m in pain
You said: “do not despair of the mercy of Allah.” [Quran 39:53]
I told You nobody knows what is in my heart
You said: “Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.” [Quran 13:28]
I told You many people hurt me
You said: “So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them” [Quran 3:159]
I told You I feel I’m alone
You said: “We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein.” [Quran 50:16]
I told You my sins are so many
You said: “and who forgives sins but Allah?” [Quran 3:135]
I told You do not leave me
You said: “So remember Me; I will remember you.” [Quran 2:152]
I told You I’m facing a lot of difficulties in life
You said: “Allah will find a way out for those who are mindful of Him.” [Quran 65:2]
I told You oh Lord! I need hope
You said: “Indeed, with hardship there is also ease.” [Quran 94:6]
I told You I have many dreams
You said: “Call upon Me; I will respond to you.” [Quran 40:60]
50 lbs: Quantity vs Quality
It’s only by DOING—and being willing to make mistakes—that we learn and get better.
Here’s how David Bayles and Ted Orland put it in their book Art & Fear:
“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on the quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class, he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the ‘quantity’ group: fifty pounds of pots rated an ‘A,’ forty pounds a ‘B,’ and so on. Those being graded on ‘quality,’ however, needed to produce only one pot—albeit a perfect one—to get an ‘A.’ Well, came grading and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the ‘quantity’ group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes—the ‘quality’ group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”
Imam Shafii’s advice to his student, Yunus ibn Abd al A’ala, after an argument
I came across this saying on LinkedIn and printed it out. I find it so beautiful.
Imam Shafi’i said:
“O Yunus! Hundreds of issues unite us, and only one issue divided us? Don’t try to be triumphant in all differences; sometimes, winning hearts is more important than winning situations. Don’t demolish bridges you built and crossed, for you may need them again one day for your return. Always hate what is wrong, but do not hate the one who errs. Hate sin with all your heart, but forgive and have mercy on the sinner. Criticize speech, but respect the speaker. Our job is to wipe out the disease, not the patient.”