Dew Point

This blog is dedicated to sharing my every-day discoveries of how the light and beauty of Islamic spirituality can be part of a modern, well-rounded way of life.


Faith in Nature

Walking amid wildflowers

This past week, I’ve been absorbing the beauty of nature around me in British Columbia. Sometimes spending time away from home helps you appreciate the beauty of your surroundings. I’ve been away for two years.

During my walks and while cycling, I have been astounded by the number of varieities of wild flowers that bloom in parks, along the river banks and in the grassy fields. Below is a photo gallery of some of these flowers, which I will build on in the coming weeks.


Finding spirit in a school field

Just steps away from the front door of our house in Richmond, British Columbia there is a giant grass field surrounded by trees that have grown tall and dense over the decades. The field is situated between an elementary and high school and is used extensively by students playing soccer or the American variety of football.

When it is not raining outside, residents of the neighbourhood walk their dogs along the pathway encircling the field, which on one side extends toward the Fraser River.

The other day I decided to go for a brisk walk around the field to get a bit of exercise.
It had been raining all morning, but by late afternoon the rain had stopped and while clusters of clouds continued to dominate the sky, patches of blue sky and sunshine began to appear. The air was as crisp and cool as I imagine it should be on a perfect spring day, although it is July. A rainy day is never far away in Vancouver. Only a day earlier the sun was beaming hot and not a cloud could be seen in the sky.

It was perfect weather to be outdoors, especially so for me. I spend most of the year in a desert climate in the United Arab Emirates, so it is always a treat to soak in the fresh breeze, rich colours and lushness of nature when I am visiting my hometown.

As I began my quiet walk along the paved pathway, I quickly increased momentum, tightening my leg muscles and swinging my arms back and forth in sequence. I paced my breath, inhaling and exhaling evenly as my attention focused on the leaves of the trees swaying slightly in the breeze.

While my body moved rhythmically, I expected my mind to wander in a dozen different directions, as often happens when I go for a walk alone. Thoughts of work, responsibilities, family issues, relationships and other troubles flood my mind in no particular order and often simultaneously. Generally when I exercise I enjoy listening to music in order to stay focused, but on this occasion I did not have my Ipod with me.

But for some reason my mind did not wander. Instead, as I watched the clouds peaking through the leaves and absorbed the colours and sounds of nature around me, I found myself starting to pray.

I hadn’t planned on praying, it just happened suddenly and naturally. Under my breath, I began reciting some verses of the Holy Quran that I have memorised, some shorter, some longer. Reading from the Quran in Arabic is melodic; each verse has a perfect, poetic rhythm to it that is sometimes lost in translation. As I circled around the field, my body and thoughts moved to steady beat, leaving me feeling light and at ease.

In the Quran, God makes numerous references to how nature is in perfect balance and all the world’s vegetation and animal life – apart from humans – are constantly obedient to Him. Nature operates exactly as the Almighty ordains, the birds glide through the sky and make their homes in trees, which sway in the wind in perfect rhythm. The clouds move apart and together, the rain falls and stops, the sun rises and sets according to a divine order.

Humans, on the other hand, often lose their connection with Allah, the Arabic word for God, and fail to grasp His presence in every corner of every neighbourhood in the world. One who is spiritually Muslim, who has surrendered her/his self to God, experiences glimpses of the Divine in everything.
“Do you not realise that everything in the heavens and earth prostrates to Allah (God): the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, and the animals? So do many human beings.”

(Quran, The Pilgrimage, 22:18)

I suppose in some small way as I walked, prayed and paid attention to the trees, grass, sky, clouds, birds, bunny rabbits, raccoons, bugs and occasional dragon fly and butterfly, my motions became part of the rhythm of nature that would have been drowned out if I had a song blasting in my ear. I felt peace of mind and had a dumb smile on my face that must have puzzled the occasional person jogging past me or walking a dog.

About 30 minutes into my walk, I recalled the last time I had felt that same sense of focus of mind and unexpected closeness with God. It was two months ago, when I was on the other side of the world – literally – visiting the Enlightened City, Madinah, in Saudi Arabia. Madinah is the site of the mosque and burial spot of the Last Prophet, Muhammad .

I had written then about my visit to Madinah. Praying in the Prophet’s Mosque is akin to meditating for me because I was able to clear my thoughts of everything and concentrate my energies on worshipping God. One feels the love of God all around in Madinah, where millions of Muslims visit each year to pray in this blessed city.

On the surface, Madinah and the school field outside my house in Richmond have nothing in common. Madinah is in the middle of the desert; everywhere you turn is a shade of beige or brown. But Madinah literally means the Radiant or Enlightened City in Arabic because of its crucial role in the enabling God to share His guidelines to human beings through Prophet Muhammad , the last in a long line of prophets. The Divine presence in Madinah is, not surprisingly, intense.

Where I am walking now is about as far as you can get in distance and time zones from Madinah. There patches of lush green grass and areas where the sun has caused it to yellow or brown. The grass is full of dandelions, weeds and clovers, most with three leaves. On the trees, the leaves vary from dark green to light green to reddish-purple. The sky is a deep light blue and the clouds are as white as milk. There are no holy sites nearby me here in the Lower Mainland, no calls to prayer can be heard nor mosques found within walking distance.

But walking in the field near my house, close to the school where I once studied, I also felt His immense power and proximity in the exquisite nature around me.

That for me is the beauty of submission to God (Islam). We have the intellectual capacity as humans to feel and react to God’s presence and see and interpret His miracles anywhere. If we are willing to pay attention to the language of our surroundings we can become more receptive to His quiet answers wherever we are.

Is He not best who made the earth a stable ground and placed within it rivers and made for it firmly set mountains and placed between the two seas (sweet and salty) a barrier? Can there be another god besides God?
No, but most of them do not know.
(Quran, The Ant, 27:61)

Crossing paths with a Hoopoe bird

Hoopoe (Arabic, Hudhud) bird, in United Arab Emirates

I encountered an extraordinary bird on the way to work this morning which brought me a great deal of joy as well as new, unexpected layers of knowledge.

As May turns the page to welcome June, Dubai’s scorching heat is becoming more and more intolerable. With each passing day I try to dash a bit more quickly from the large gravel parking lot where I park my car to the office tower across the street where I work.

But today, as I was hurrying into the small grass field in between the parking lot and the road, I was stopped in my tracks abruptly by a pretty bird strutting in front of me on the ground. It was busying itself looking for worms and insects and I was taken aback by its beauty, especially the prominent crest of orange and black feathers on its head. I had not come across this graceful, majestic bird before.
It was all alone, as was I, so I pulled out my phone and started photographing the bird as it pranced through the grass and around the date palms, from which are starting to fall dates that have not yet ripened. The bird had beautiful black-and-white striped wings and a peachy coloured breast. She did not seem bothered at all by my presence and carried on with her business for about a minute. She was very beautiful.
The Hoopoe bird is a central character in one Quranic chapter
I decided to share a photo of this exotic bird on Twitter later that morning, and very shortly afterward a friend of mine told me it was called the Hoopoe (or Hudhud in Arabic). She said seeing the photo evoked memories of her childhood in Egypt. Then, a couple of people I hadn’t met or spoken to before (which something I love about Twitter) began sharing details about the Hoopoe’s history and legacy with me that I had not been aware of.

The Hoopoe is mentioned in the Holy Quran in reference to how it brought an important message to Prophet Suleiman in the Chapter (Surah) known as Al Naml (The Ants). I had read that surah and was aware of Prophet Suleiman’s ability to communicate with animals and insects, but I had not paid particular attention before to the type of bird. King Suleiman’s army consisted of men birds and jinn (spirits).

In this Surah, the Hoopoe has a central role in the story of King Suleiman and the Queen of Sheba, an area believed to be in modern-day Yemen. Noticing the absence of the Hoopoe in his army one day, Prophet Suleiman inquired where the bird was.

The Hoopoe returned shortly after and, upon being instructed to give a clear reason for its absence, the bird relays important news from Sheba.  “Indeed, I found [there] a woman ruling them, and she has been given of all things, and she has a great throne,” reads the Quran (27:23). “I found her and her people prostrating to the sun instead of Allah (God), and Satan has made their deeds pleasing to them and averted them from [His] way, so they are not guided,” the bird continues in the pages of the Holy Book. (27:24)

Prophet Suleiman asks the Hoopoe to deliver a letter to the Queen, enjoining her and her followers to submit to God in Islam. Later, the Queen visits Jerusalem to see Prophet Suleiman. She arrives at the palace and mistakes the luminous glass flooring for a body of water. Lifting her dress to cross, she discovers it is glass, not water. Taken aback, the Queen repents to God shortly after, declaring herself a Muslim (i.e. one who has submitted herself to God).

In light of this event, the Hoopoe is known for its powers of observation and intelligence; it was able to decipher the lack of faith among the people of Sheba and relay this message to a prophet. In an epic poem known as “The Conference of the Birds” written by a Persian Sufi mystic in the 12th century, meanwhile, the Hoopoe guides a group of 30 birds on a journey much as would a Sufi master lead disciples to enlightenment.

Learning these rich facts from peers on Twitter reminded me about the importance of pausing at times to observe the beauty and miracles of nature; you never know what you may miss if you rush past too quickly. I certainly was not expecting to cross paths with such a splendid bird. Sharing these moments with others, meanwhile, adds to their beauty and etches them more meticulously in our memories.
“Do they not look at the birds, held poised in the midst of the sky? Nothing holds them up but the power of God. Verily in this are signs for those who believe.”  (Quran, 16:79)

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