Archive for the ‘Thought for the Day’ Category

RAMADAN & EID: PATIENCE & GRATITUDE – BBC Thought For The Day, Eid al-Fitr

June 15, 2018

 

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

RAMADAN & EID: PATIENCE & GRATITUDE

Thought For The Day, BBC Radio 4, 15th June 2018 (1st Shawwal 1439, Eid al-Fitr)

Imam Dr Usama Hasan

Eid Mubarak! Over the next few days, beginning today, more than a billion people around the world will be celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival that ends the month-long fasting during Ramadan.

For an entire month very year, hundreds of millions of Muslims abstain from all food and drink, including water, during daylight hours: that’s up to sixteen or eighteen hours without eating or drinking, every day. Ramadan, especially during the summer, is a gruelling physical and spiritual ordeal, and mirrors the tradition of fasting in other religions, such as the original Christian observance of Lent. In fact, we know of Jews and Christians in Britain who fast for some of Ramadan, and Muslims who fast during Lent. Despite many conflicts, the world’s great religions have so much in common!

Fasting can have numerous health benefits, although it is not recommended for pregnant women or those with certain medical conditions. The BBC Horizon programme, Eat, Fast & Live Longer, broadcast in 2012, documented healthy weight loss and increased neuron growth in the brain caused by periods of hunger. The episode looked at the 5:2 diet, involving fasting two days a week, and also at several days of consecutive fasting. Well, Ramadan involves 30 days of consecutive fasting. And outside of Ramadan, the Islamic tradition recommends fasting precisely two days per week, or at least three days per month.

On a spiritual level, fasting represents patience, whilst eating and drinking should involve gratitude: after a long fast, even a glass of water feels like a luxury. The Prophet Muhammad taught that “one who eats gratefully is like one who fasts patiently,” and that the best form of fasting was that of King David, or Prophet Dawud, who would fast on alternate days. This is ideal, partly because it represents the ultimate balance of patience and gratitude.

In the Qur’an, there is much praise of those who are “extremely patient and extremely grateful,” especially in response to the vicissitudes of time. Patience and gratitude are two intertwined halves, two sides of the same coin of faith: we are required to have patience through troubled times, and show gratitude in good times.

For Muslims, showing gratitude to God includes being grateful to people through whom we receive God’s favours. Gratitude also includes using our God-given talents, skills and faculties for good and noble purposes, rather than for engaging in mischief and evil.

Fasting is a metaphor for life: difficulties are followed by ease. Breaking the fast at the end of each day, and at the end of the month, is a foretaste of heavenly bliss. So go on, treat yourself for Eid: you’ve probably deserved it!

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Is Faith A Good Anti-Depressant? Thought For The Day, BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, Friday 23/02/2018

February 24, 2018

Is Faith a Good Anti-Depressant?

[FINAL TEXT AS DELIVERED]

Thought For The Day, BBC Radio 4, broadcast Friday 23 February 2018, 0748-0751

Imam Dr Usama Hasan

[Listen to the 3-minute audio clip here]

Good morning, and good news! Anti-depressants do work: that’s the emphatic conclusion of a major medical study published in The Lancet two days ago. But is faith a good anti-depressant?

Mental health is like physical health, in that it may be good or bad, or fluctuate over time, taking turns for better or worse. And just as we take drugs for physiological ailments, we know enough about brain function to be able to prescribe targeted medicines for mental health problems. It is pleasing that there is now a greater awareness and acceptance of the nature of mental health problems and treatments.

But medication is neither the first resort, nor the only method, in treating depression. Indeed, one of the main authors of the scientific study confirmed that other treatments, including psychological therapies, should always be considered alongside drugs. But psychology and psychotherapy, literally meaning ‘the study and treatment of the soul or self’ respectively, are rooted in faith for many people in cultures around the world.

Religious practice, individually as well as communally, was always supposed to develop spirituality, or the improvement and growth of one’s self. A key passage of the Qur’an speaks of the human soul: to purify and develop the soul is success, but to bury the soul with heavy and harmful burdens is perdition.

Many of us will know people, perhaps including ourselves, who were cured of depression once root causes, such as the effects of trauma or other negative experiences, were neutralised appropriately, perhaps with medication. But often, people living through depression do not know what the root causes are, and why exactly they feel the way they do. For some, replacing negative thoughts and attitudes with positive ones, and taking part in social activities, can be extremely helpful, often with the help of a support network of family and friends.

Yesterday’s news coverage included the fascinating experiences of two people who’d had to cope with long-term depression.  One discovered a hidden talent when he started doodling, and the appreciative response he got for his artwork gave him unprecedented confidence and self-belief.  Another, a comedian, spoke of being able to share his experience with audiences after deep therapy.  He went on to say how lovely it would be if, once people knew his situation, they could offer to help. It was crucial for both of them to be open and expressive about their issues.

The Prophet of Islam taught that we should always “speak goodness only.” Mystics from all religions encourage always seeing the good in situations and in other people.  So, we all have a part to play in supporting each other with positive encouragement, kind words and optimistic attitudes.  For many, this will complement medical interventions, and such supportive relationships can be fundamental for good mental health and wellbeing.

Our Common Humanity Includes Evil – my BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day, 16/02/2018

February 18, 2018

Our Common Humanity Includes Evil
(FINAL TEXT AS DELIVERED)

Thought For The Day, BBC Radio 4, Friday 16 February 2018, broadcast 0749-0752

Imam Dr Usama Hasan

[Listen to the 3-minute audio clip here.]

Good morning. Wednesday’s massacre at a secondary school in the USA has again reminded us of the immense evil of which we humans are capable. Closer to home, we have been agonising nationally over the past week over what to do with the so-called “Beatles” gang of fellow-Britons who became brutal ISIS terrorists, after two of them were arrested in Syria.

We often hear faith leaders and politicians speaking about “our common humanity” as a basis for coming together and being inclusive. But as the above examples illustrate, the concept of our common humanity includes the capacity for diabolical acts of great evil as well as for heroic acts of courage and generosity in the service of others.

It is the most grotesque examples of being bad that we often label as “evil,” whether or not we actually believe in supernatural beings such as angels and demons.

When we speak of our common humanity, we must thus acknowledge that this is a double-edged sword that we all carry within us at some level. This will enable us to have more realistic conversations about how we come together: presumably, on the basis of the “better angels of our nature,” rather than the demons lurking deep within.

In the Qur’an, even your relative’s murderer is described as “your brother,” in the verse allowing you to seek harsh justice against him whilst encouraging forgiveness. Ali bin Abi Talib, the wise early Muslim leader revered by Sunni and Shia Muslims, faced a rebellion by fanatical, violent, extremist and bloodthirsty rebels known as the Khawarij. He won over a large number of them through reasoned debate, but had no choice but to physically fight the others who remained obstinate and stubborn. But throughout the struggle, in contrast to many around him, Ali refused to deny the rebels’ humanity, referring to them as, “our brothers, who’ve transgressed against us.”

Whether we like it or not, we must realise that mass murderers, terrorists, and other criminals are our brothers and sisters in humanity, and sometimes, even in faith. We must punish them within our criminal justice system according to the severity of their crimes.

Yet no-one is born purely evil: on the contrary, children regularly remind adults of the virtues of innocence and good-naturedness. It is a combination of bad experiences, outside influences and terrible moral choices that lead some of us to commit evil acts. But there is always hope for repentance and redemption, and the opportunity to turn our lives around.

Reflecting on that would perhaps allow a more compassionate and forgiving attitude towards others, especially when they have done us relatively-minor wrongs.