Return to the Maskan: Rediscovering the Treasure of Home
Published: April 8, 2020 • Edited: November 11, 2020
Author: Dr. Zara Khan
This reflection series was launched in April 2020 by the Yaqeen Institute in an effort to provide timely, thoughtful, and Islamically grounded perspectives by its Research Fellows surrounding the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Contributors to both the research papers and the reflection series in the Coronavirus Collection are committed to answering the tough spiritual questions raised by this pandemic, as well as providing practical solutions and resources in the hopes of bringing clarity and certainty in Allah in an otherwise uncertain time.
Award-winning Jewish American children’s author Uri Shulevitz tells in The Treasure the tale of a poor man named Isaac who often goes to bed hungry. (Spoiler alert!) Isaac dreams of a voice instructing him to travel to the capital city and look for a treasure under the bridge by the royal palace but he dismisses it. When the voice comes to him for the third time, Isaac sets off on his journey. Through forests and across mountains he travels until he reaches the capital city and the bridge by the royal palace. A guard questions him for lurking around day after day so Isaac tells him of his dream. Laughing, the guard reveals that he, too, once had a dream instructing him to go to Isaac’s city and seek a treasure under the stove of a man named Isaac. Isaac returns to his home, digs under his stove and finds a priceless treasure. As Shulevitz says:
In thanksgiving, he built a house of prayer, and in one of its corners he put an inscription: Sometimes one must travel far to discover what is near.1
Many families right now are currently finding themselves in unfamiliar terrain. We have become accustomed, due to mass education and the demands of a modern wage-labor economy, to spending more of our waking hours in schools and workplaces than at home with our families. Numerous resources are emerging on social media to help families adjust to spending most of their time together, often for the first time. Educators and consultants are graciously providing routine guides, home schedules, advice for working remotely and other templates to help families transition to our changed circumstances in light of the current pandemic. But one unique opportunity we ought to consider is how this new situation can allow us to discover what is near and priceless, after our far travels into the complexity of modern workplaces and schooling.
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The Prophet Muhammad, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, spent his early childhood amidst a desert education in which the natural wonders all around him (the seemingly endless desert, rock formations, clear skies, the night with its brilliant firmament of stars, etc.) imprinted Allah’s majesty upon his heart and soul. During his subsequent upbringing in Mecca’s city life, he learned moral lessons and higher truths by observing the best of teachers, his role models in his grandfather ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib and uncle Abū Ṭālib. So did Allah guide him to become the most respected and trustworthy man, al-Amīn, in his society, as well as ḥanīf (monotheist) in his nature.
Shaykh Muhammad Zāhid Abū Ghuddah’s translation of his father Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattāḥ Abū Ghuddah’s work Al-Rasūl al-Muʿallim (Prophet Muhammad: The Teacher) provides a brilliant array of examples from the Prophet’s life, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, in which he helped reshape people’s lives and hearts through a multitude of teaching methods. These include repetition, allowing time for instruction to be grasped, memorization, rhetorical questions, detailed commentary, imagery, humor, seriousness, coaching participation from those he was instructing, addressing the whole community, addressing small focus groups, formal, informal, covering every subject area of human life from family life to battle; etc. As the Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, taught the believers, we ought also to employ a wide array of methods to compassionately and intelligently teach our family members and neighbors what is good and necessary for attaining Allah’s pleasure.
As we find ourselves forced into forms of disconnect from school and work, let us recall that it is our home dwelling, where family life resides, that Allah refers to as maskan2 (from sakana which refers to peace and tranquility). Both our earthly homes (past and present, human and animal) and the joyous dwellings of paradise are referred to as maskan. The home and family life should comprise the seat of tranquility in a human being’s earthly journey. By contrast, most of us nowadays have come to regard work or school as our home away from home, often to the point where we feel more at home outside than we do with our own families! In that sense, and as is the habit of Allah that there is good even in what is calamitous, the present challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic is like an arduous journey of an impoverished man, through forests and across mountains, to arrive at the key to understanding the treasure that has always awaited his uncovering in the hearth of his own home.
As we take precautions, improve our practice to face the present challenge and implement some of the helpful strategies that are circulating on social media, let us take time to unplug and wonder at the natural beauty that surrounds each of us wherever we may live. Let us worry less about teaching common core standards to our children and spend more time teaching them appropriate occasions for laughter and grief and modeling beautiful interactions among siblings, parents, etc. As we aim to preserve life, let us not shy away from teaching them what death is. Let’s begin or increase our daily Qur’an regimens as families, study the Prophet’s teaching methods (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him), read (print) books, take walks, cook together, check on neighbors, care for the wildlife in our neighborhoods, weed the small or large patches of grass (as the case may be) in our vicinity, plant trees, and study the stars. The Prophet himself, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, appreciated the maskan by serving his family, leaving everything to stand for salah at the appointed time, and playing and joking with children.3
Those who are working from home ought to gift groceries to those whose jobs are not providing continued compensation for remote work (masājid can help coordinate efforts). For those whose occupations are manual, now is a great time for edification through reading. For those whose jobs are discursive and desk-bound, now is the time to break open the stagnant channels of energy by exerting the body. One thing is certain for all: if you are finding yourself forced to spend more time with your family, it’s an excellent opportunity to beautify and strengthen those primordial bonds. Of course, not every family is in the same situation in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Countless people in the underclass, working-class and health professionals of our economy are among the vulnerable groups outside providing essential services to others. May Allah preserve them. Let us also keep in our duʿāʾs those brothers and sisters whose homes, far from being places of tranquility, are places of trauma or abuse. May Allah fortify them to ask their rights of one another in his name, as is told to us in the opening verse of Surat Al-Nisāʾ.4 Many other families don’t usually have enough time to connect with one another, share their problems and seek one another’s counsel. What better way to spend newfound time together than sharing our experiences across generational divides and working through relationship issues to arrive at caring, reciprocity, and sakīnah (tranquility). As the great scholar of the Qur’an Imam Fode Drame, may Allah preserve him, states, the purpose of education is to preserve the fiṭrah (primordial God-consciousness). May this crisis be for us, after all, a teachable moment.
1 Uri Shulevitz, The Treasure (New York: Square Fish, 1978).
2 For example, Qur’an 20:128, 27:18, 34:15, and 61:12. The form I verb sakana is also used several times to mean dwell, as in 2:35 and 7:161. The noun sakan also appears, indicating rest and reassurance, in 6:96 and 9:103.
3 For example, Aswad bin Yazīd narrated: “I said: ‘O 'Aishah! What would the Prophet ﷺ do when he entered his house?’ She said: ‘He would busy himself with serving his family, then when (the time for) salāt was due he would stand (to go) for it.’ ” Jami at-Tirmidhī, vol. 4, bk. 11, hadith 2489. And also narrated by Mahmūd bin Rabi`a: “When I was a boy of five, I remember, the Prophet ﷺ took water from a bucket (used for getting water out of a well) with his mouth and threw it on my face.” Saḥīh al-Bukhārī, bk. 3, hadith 77.
4 Allah says in verse 1 of Sūrat An-Nisāʾ: “O mankind! Be conscious of your Sustainer, who has created you out of one living entity, and out of it created its mate, and out of the two spread abroad a multitude of men and women. And remain conscious of God, in whose name you demand [your rights] from one another, and of these ties of kinship. Verily, God is ever watchful over you!”
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