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The Connection: How we are instruments of God’s will

The divine connection

I came across this beautifully profound yet simple story by Zinsight author George Ziniewicz. It resonated so deeply with me that I just had to make a Sufi Comic of it.

The concept of a terminal works well as we are merely the instruments of God’s will. Only if we would wake up and recognise it. If only we surrender our vanity and give ourselves up to God, we will receive the instructions, bandwidth and resources needed to create our best life ever; in the gentlest, easiest way possible.

[Interview] Daniel Dyer on his new project ’99 Names of Allah’ that aims to awaken children’s innate empathy & creativity

 

Chickpea Press aims to publish engaging, contemporary and imaginative books.
Chickpea Press aims to publish engaging, contemporary and imaginative books.
Daniel Dyer is co-founder of Chickpea Press.
Daniel Dyer is co-founder of Chickpea Press.

Passionate to share the love and wisdom that is at the heart of Islam and other spiritual traditions, Saimma and Daniel Dyer of Chickpea Press are working hard on a new book.

The 99 Names of Allah’ creatively introduces younger readers to names that describe God, complemented with sacred traditions, activities, and reflections.

I ask Daniel Dyer, the illustrator behind this colourful guide about what makes this book unique, how they have explored Islamic spirituality, and how we can help bring this book to life.

What inspired this book?

The beauty and power of the Names drew me. Something also told me that children need to explore them – not just adults. It began as a simple poem to orientate children to the Names, and then evolved into something much broader and, insha’Allah (God willing), much deeper.

What is unique about ‘The 99 Names of Allah’ book?

I don’t know of any children’s book in English that explores the 99 Names of Allah in way that I would wish for my children. For me, an exploration of the Names needs to be centred on the heart, on awakening children’s innate empathy, creativity and insight. It needs to help children to understand Allah’s attributes and to appreciate the places where these attributes are best reflected: in themselves and the natural world.

As well as helping to foster a spiritual and ecological awareness, it needs to help them appreciate the diversity of modern societies.  It should help them identify with all humanity, not just Muslims, and perhaps help them to appreciate that there is more than one path to God. It also needs to be imaginative, colourful and richly illustrated in order to really engage.

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7 Spiritual Steps From the Qur’an for True Happiness

Generosity and Quran

Someone wise once said, ‘Happiness is the goals of all goals!

If you ask people why they do what they do, you’ll find “being happy” is behind every single human goal, mission, objective and wish to achieve that “something”.

Happiness not only leaves us with a positive feeling in the center of our being, people who tend to stay ‘happy’ also:

  • Enjoy their work a lot more
  • Suffer from less anxiety and tension
  • Can make creative contributions to their projects and the society
  • Spread goodwill and cheer
  • Accomplish a lot
  • Lead more fulfilled lives without heeding the rat race around them
  • Make the world a much better place with their sunny temperaments and easy smiles

Compare these desirable states with the mind-set of an individual mired in negativity. You’ll find that they:

  • Complain very often – leaving everyone around them dissatisfied
  • Rarely get anything done.
  • Creative drive is sub-zero.
  • Have poor health and get stressed easily

So how does one become happy?

Some of the latest psychological findings suggest, happiness is the effect of behaviours we choose to make a part of our lives.  By adopting these behaviours, happiness becomes a natural state we live in.

It is truly reassuring to see how the Holy Qur’an advocates these principles. Here are 7 principles from the Qur’an that will help you lead a life of lasting Happiness. Read more

[Interview] Founder of RainDrop on what inspired him to transform Al-Ghazali’s works into animated videos

 

RainDrop transforms Al- Ghazali’s key works to engaging animated videos.
RainDrop transforms Al- Ghazali’s key works to engaging animated videos.

Most if not all of us strive to attain meaning and contentment in our lives.

Yet in the fast paced society we live in, we can find ourselves faced with many distractions in our pursuit of spiritual fulfilment. Do you ever find yourself wanting to acquire some knowledge or inspiration, but the books and texts you dig into are too complex or confusing to understand? If like me, you are an avid seeker of knowledge, but have had this dilemma, let me tell you about RainDrop.

RainDrop creates short, simple, animated videos of Imam Al Ghazali’s key works. The founder of RainDrop aims to inspire others to seek useful knowledge and increase their closeness to God. He says that is what Al Ghazali calls the path to spiritual happiness emphasized by the title of his book “The Alchemy of Happiness”.

He aims to do this through easy-to-understand media that appeals to people of all faiths and walks of life. What’s more, Al Ghazali’s work personally transformed his view on religion, spiritual happiness, and knowing God, and this inspired him to start RainDrop.

I talk with its founder on the importance of a project like this, why Ghazali’s works are relevant today, and how he overcomes the challenge of turning complex texts into simple animated videos.

Why did you choose to turn Imam Al Ghazali’s works into animated videos? What is it about him you find important or inspirational?

I have been a seeker of knowledge every since my late teenage years when I started learning about God. I only discovered Ghazali’s work many years after starting down the path and I was struck by the powerful simplicity in his writings.

However, when I learned of his masterpiece, the Revival of Religious Sciences, I was intimidated by its over 1,000 pages. Ghazali’s works are very relevant in today’s environment where sectarianism is on the rise. I wanted to find a way to share his message of spiritual happiness with the world and knowing how short the average attention span is lead to the idea of short, animated videos.

What is the process of creating an animated video?

The process is quite simple: read the book, summarize the book, turn the summary into a script, build a storyboard from the script, share the script/storyboard with people who have no knowledge of the topic, incorporate their feedback, send to the animator and voiceover artist, and voila.

“As a disciple myself, I had to first understand the work anew, then explain it to people who are unfamiliar with it.”

Tell us about your educational/professional background. How has this helped you in starting Raindrop Academy?

I believe my weakness and deficiency in traditional Islamic education was turned into a strength through RainDrop. In reality, the purpose of RainDrop is to introduce such powerful and inspirational works to the layperson – those without formal training. As a disciple myself, I had to first understand the work anew, then explain it to people who are unfamiliar with it.

In reflection, I believe my educational background in engineering helped me create structure and my MBA and professional experience gave me the visualization and verbal skills needed to create the short, simple videos.

'Marvels of the Heart' video
‘Marvels of the Heart’ video

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Discovering the Pleasure of Prayer

Midnight.

I had been in bed since 10pm.

But I was still tossing and turning.

I hadn’t eaten since 2pm, and my stomach was screaming for food.

So I got out of bed, and made my way towards the kitchen.

I opened the fridge, and out tumbled a glass jar.

SMASH!

It crashed on the ground and broke into pieces.

“Oh great! Just what I needed Now what do I do?” I thought to myself.

It was dark & I didn’t have any footwear on. One wrong move and I would have sharp glass pieces in my foot. So I began to tread with careful steps towards the switch.

My senses were heightened. My mind was on full alert. And I was completely in the present moment.

I had no thoughts other than the single purpose of getting to the light switch unharmed.

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[Interview] Umaar Ejaz on how the humanitarian crisis inspired him to create his new charity project I.Calligraphy

Meet Umaar Ejaz: the founder and artist of I.Calligraphy. Having completed a degree in Engineering at Brunel University (London) and a Masters in Education and Philosophy, Umaar pursued work for various blue chip companies before deciding to embark upon his passions of education, faith and social justice in his current work and projects.

He is now a full time teacher, runs an engineering business, and has recently launched his calligraphy project, creating bespoke artwork on wood and donating the pieces and funds to various charitable causes.

Umaar was inspired to start I.Calligraphy six months ago due to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Palestine and other countries, and feeling a sense hopelessness initially. “I wanted to do more to help, no matter how insignificant it may be. I must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. From this pretext, I have seen I.Calligraphy flourish from strength to strength because of this intention.”

Read my interview with Umaar as he explains how he learnt the art of calligraphy, what makes his style different to others, and some valuable insights and advice for aspiring artists and entrepreneurs. Also, view some of his personalized calligraphy pieces below, they are stunning!

Who and what inspires you?

If I had a flower for each moment my mother showed me kindness and love, I could forever walk in the garden of eternity. My mother was my first teacher, my first friend, my first mentor, everything that I have accomplished in life both personally, academically and professionally is because of foundation that she lay at home for me to be nurtured and grow as a human being. I cannot emphasise the pivotal importance of a mother; she is the root of a family and the foundation from which any husband, child can truly prosper.

There is no faith without humility. My faith inspires me, thus I strive daily to improve my self. Through this seed being at the core of my roots. To develop my understanding of faith through meaning, this compromises of reading the Quran through tafsir and study of the Prophetic traditions.

I cannot express enough gratitude to every single person, who has shown me kindness and supported me the past six months since the first conception of I.Calligraphy. Working with countless individuals, organisations and charities that Interpal, Amirah Foundation, Penny Appeal, Human Relief Foundation, Muslim Aid, Palestinian International Medical Aid, Human Care Syria, CARE Pakistan, Pearl Education Foundation, and Save the Children. All of whom that have attained and retained the pivotal role of making I.Calligraphy into what it has become today.

What is the story and inspiration behind I.Calligraphy?

Art is a universal language and as medium of expression, it allows us to understand a story without words. If there is a profound narrative that reflects the human condition but still retains a personal meaning. I would like to believe that the core of my work is a means to bring myself closer to God and convey the beauty of my faith. Morally, ethically and spiritually speaking, the story behind each canvas resides in reflecting my own akhlaq (practice of virtue, morality and manners in Islamic theology and philosophy) in meaning.

For example one of the calligraphy canvases ‘One Essence. One Soul’ (below) begins with Arabic calligraphy with words that depict a family, consisting of a mother, baby and father. The words are a poem by Saadi and have been written exactly 14 times, the meaning translates to:

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.

‘One Essence. One Soul’ Arabic calligraphy with poetic words of Saadi which depict a family.
‘One Essence. One Soul’ Arabic calligraphy with poetic words of Saadi which depict a family.

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How to be Free from Bitterness?

It happened one evening.

I’d just moved to London and was busy settling in. Exploring the city, making new friends – the typical stuff international students do when they first arrive.

I was in a cafe when it happened. Someone put their hands in my coat and stole my things.

At first, I felt violated, then angry, and finally, vengeful.

I didn’t know what to do. Eventually I realized there wasn’t much I could do about it.

Even though the robbery didn’t leave me destitute, it still left a scar inside me. Whenever I thought about it, my heart would feel heavy, as if I was carrying a burden inside me.

Part of me wanted to forgive and forget. But I just couldn’t. How could I? It wasn’t fair. I had done nothing to offend the robber. I didn’t deserve to be robbed.

I wanted justice.

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So much inequality. Why doesn’t God do something?

#BAD2014, #Inequality, Blog Action Day
#BAD2014, #Inequality, Blog Action Day

We live in a world of stark contrasts.

A world where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

A wealthy businessman spends £3 billion on a yacht made from solid gold and platinum, while 300 million children around the world go hungry every day.

The richest 300 people in Europe and North America have the same income as 4.7 billion poor people.

Citizens around the world struggle for their basic rights and freedoms, whilst powerful and corrupt leaders still rule.

Inequality surrounds from the top to the bottom. We only have to go outside to witness it.

And it’s depressing. What can one man or woman do? It seems like only divine intervention can get us out of this mess.

But the Qur’an has something different to say. “Allah does not change the condition of people until they change what is in themselves.” (13:11)

It’s so true.

Society doesn’t reform, till the individual takes responsibility for their actions. Think about it. How can society reform if the individual doesn’t care enough to take any action?

Change begins with ourselves. It starts with us. It starts with me.

Today is Blog Action Day 2014! Join the global conversation about Inequality, with people around the world. Tweet #BAD2014.