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Friday, May 10, 2019

Exploring how our religious and cultural biases influence our leadership decisions

( Note: The following is an edited version of my presentation for the BYU Management Society's Las Vegas chapter luncheon yesterday. In attendance were a number of political and business figures. )


In the name of God, The Most Compassionate, The Most Merciful




Theological introduction

Islam is an Arabic word meaning "Submission to God". It is our understanding that God has sent forth prophets to different audiences, with variations in priorities, but all conveying the same basic point- surrender to the Divine will. The Qur'an phrases it thusly: " To every people, a guide has been sent." ( Q 13:7)  Those who do the act of submission are called in Arabic "Muslims".

The Qur'anic teaching is that the process of the conveying of those Divine principles found its perfection in the coming of Muhammad as universal model, and in particular the Quranic scripture given through him. 

The Muslim world encompasses a great deal of cultural diversity and understandings, and already we have a clue that diversity existed with God's prophets. Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them both)  were both sent by God, however their practical functions differed. Moses was a lawgiver, while Jesus was a moralist. These are important things to understand when trying to understand the Muslims in their approaches.


Scripture read according to one's needs

The Qur'an, accessible to Muslims everywhere, is read differently by different people because it speaks to us in different conditions. A rather mundane example is that of diet. The Qur'an both disallows and allows the consumption of pork (Q 2:173 and other places). Pork is forbidden in normal circumstances, but allowed in periods of starvation. Syrian scholars have allowed eating cats and dogs, due to the lack of access to food because of the civil war.

Spiritual foundation needed for proper decision making

The Qur'an says "Verily, prayer restrains from immorality and repugnant actions" ( Q 28:45). This shows us that prayer is supposed to influence our decision making process, regardless of what position we are in. 

Muslims pray a minimum of five times daily, at times spread out through the day. Prayer reminds us of God, His presence and it provides us with an injection of consciousness and sense of responsibility. The more you pray, the stronger your fortification will be against immorality, repugnant actions and thoughts.

The Qur'an gives the same basic moral code as found within other religious traditions ( i.e. worship God, prohibitions against killing, theft etc), but what happens when a particular situation arises where we can't figure out the answer to it?

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave three important statements which answer this question.

Leave off that which gives you doubt for that which gives you certainty. 

Righteousness is good character, and sin is that which wavers in your soul.

Another statement attributed to the Prophet goes even further. A man comes to the Prophet to inquire as to his ( i.e. the Prophet's) definition of righteousness. The Prophet responds "Consult your own heart. Righteousness is that which the soul feels tranquil about, and sin is that which causes unrest in the soul, even though people keep giving opinions in its favor" (An-Nawawi's Forty Hadeeth)

The underlined sentence in Arabic reads Wa in Af-taakan Naasu, wa Aftook.  In other words, Fatwas, a word which has been made famous in recent years by the media. 

These sayings of the Prophet show us that personal judgement is a valid source of guidance, however that judgement can only be applicable, sound and practical when the soul is healthy, nourished properly by sound spirituality. Thinking right would translate into acting right.

The main goal of Islam is the preservation and nourishment of the soul. It is for this reason that Islam forbids alcohol, drugs, gambling and promiscuity. It also encourages modesty in dress, care in speech, clarity in relationships, and cleanliness of body and soul.

Muslims are currently in the month of Ramadan, abstaining from dawn to sunset from food, drink and physical relations. It is a spiritual cleansing. Similarly the religion obligates us to give in charity, which is also traditionally done in Ramadan. 

These acts cultivate the soul, strengthening one's ties with God and should thus provide a firm foundation for making decisions. 


Leadership

Prophet Muhammad made a statement which would be very shocking for today's political culture. The tradition (hadeeth) asserts that a man came to him, seeking to be appointed a governor. The Prophet replied "By God, we do not appoint someone to this job who seeks after it, or to someone very covetous of it."  

Another hadeeth says "Do not ask for position of power. If you are granted the position without asking for it, you will be helped (i.e. by God) in discharging its responsibilities, however if you attain  it as a result of your seeking, you will be alone as its captive." (Bukhari/Muslim)

I believe these statements indicate the danger of power being held by covetous, narcissistic personality types, persons who have been seeking personal glory. 

I believe the Prophet is saying that those who are already doing community work should be given the roles in an official capacity, in order to make the results of their work more effective.

The early Islamic period saw that governors lived humbly, in apartments next to the main mosque. They would also lead the five daily prayers in the mosque. Their God-awareness made them more aware of their social responsibilities. A beautiful example is in 'Umar b.'Abdul-'Aziz (died 720 C.E.), a ruler who would not even use a government lamp when conducting his own personal business.

Returning to the above-mentioned  Prophetic narrations, how do they work in a world of electoral politics, a world of campaigning for votes and financial support? 

Every society has its own unique political culture, and the truth of the matter is that Islam does not give a systematic or detailed blueprint for governing. Regarding the above-mentioned Prophetic narrations, I believe they provide guidance for attempting to identity the thinking and motivations of the candidates. Has their history been one of of sincere public service, or that of personal aggrandizement?  Those who have been of service, they will be known by their fruits.


Shared interest between religious communities

It seems fair to say that the same overall interests are shared by the various religious communities. Our source materials are different, but the goals are the same, to live in a world where we can make positive contributions, where our children can be safe, where we have the sanctity of life and morals.

The Qur'an says (Q 49:13) that God intentionally made people to be different, and it also says "Be competitive in doing positive actions" ( Q 2:148).

Positive competition creates blessings that are universally felt, in music, literature, sciences, and any other field. The Quranic worldview, if properly understood, eventually puts an end to xenophobia, racism, and any other negative thinking patterns.


Dr. Muqtedar Khan writes in his new book Islam and Good Governance " I understand witnessing the divine as advancing a moral-political vision that is designed to support a polity and politics that pursues the good of others as a divine mandate." 

He also writes " When you struggle for others, you witness their pain, their marginalization, and their needs, and when you act for them, you are acting as a deliverer of divine grace. To serve others without an axe to grind is to worship God as if you see him."



Monday, March 11, 2019

Allah: the source of education and growth (Videos)

Note: Below you will find our recent Friday Khutbah (sermon). It is divided into three parts


Allah: The source of education and growth part one

Summary: Being truly connected to God will result in being open minded and less dogmatic.Practical examples of differences in prayer among Sunni Muslims are briefly explained, and argued that such differences should not lead to actual division.

God actually created us to embody differences, and that's okay.

part two

Summary: Humility before God a necessary characteristic. Some discussions on particular supplications at the Hajj pilgrimage.

part three

Summary: Briefly looks at the Prophetic supplication "O Allah, show us truth as truth, and give us the ability to follow it, and falsehood as falsehood, and give us the ability to abstain therefrom. Concluding remarks.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Making Faith Make Sense: Presentation

( Note: The video below is a presentation in which we explore the questions regarding the place of faith in the modern world, in an age when faith can be viewed as irrational and unscientific. )


MAKING FAITH MAKE SENSE

Saturday, January 19, 2019

GRACE IN THE DESERT EPISCOPAL CHURCH PRESENTATION

Below you will find recordings of our recent presentation in Las Vegas community on different aspects of Islam. Descriptions are at bottom of videos.


Grace in the Desert presentation part 1


Summary: An introduction to the five pillars of religion, fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam, the role of the Qur'an. At minute 11:12 sound quality improves due to use of microphone. Some of the laws of Islam are also explained, such as dress code, dietary guidelines, Jihad, terrorism.


Grace in the Desert presentation part 2

Summary: Q and A session, which explores Islam in different cultural contexts, reasons for the spread of the faith ( minute 1:25), charity (3:35), recommended English translations of the Qur'an ( 4:28), prayer method during situations such as flying ( 5:50), Non Muslims being prohibited from being in Makkah and Madinah ( 7:47), is it necessary to learn Arabic? ( 9:32), Sunni-Shiite differences (10:42), gender segregation in worship ( 12:55), religious freedom in the Muslim world and as expressed in the religion itself ( 16:10), the initial revelations to the Prophet ( 19:20), , addressing the idea that Islam borrowed from Judaism ( 21:33), Qur'an being a difficult, repetitive book ( 24:40), addressing war and relationships with Non Muslims (26:56), Explanation and demonstration of the Adhaan or prayer call ( 28:49)

Saturday, January 5, 2019

THE PATH OF THE PROPHETS: TIMELESS GUIDANCE

( Note: The following is an edited version of our Salaat al Jumu'ah Khutbah delivered 1/4/19 at Masjid Ibrahim, Las Vegas, Nevada. The opening Hamd, as well as the expressions of peace for the Messengers of God, have been omitted here.)



The Path as described by the Qur'an

لَہٗ مَقَالِیۡدُ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضِ ۚ یَبۡسُطُ الرِّزۡقَ لِمَنۡ یَّشَآءُ وَ یَقۡدِرُ ؕ اِنَّہٗ بِکُلِّ شَیۡءٍ عَلِیۡمٌ
 شَرَعَ لَکُمۡ مِّنَ الدِّیۡنِ مَا وَصّٰی بِہٖ نُوۡحًا وَّ الَّذِیۡۤ اَوۡحَیۡنَاۤ اِلَیۡکَ وَ مَا وَصَّیۡنَا بِہٖۤ اِبۡرٰہِیۡمَ وَ مُوۡسٰی وَ عِیۡسٰۤی اَنۡ اَقِیۡمُوا الدِّیۡنَ وَ لَا تَتَفَرَّقُوۡا فِیۡہِ ؕ


In the Tafseer field, there is a principal known as Tasfeer ul Qur'an bil Qur'an, meaning that the Qur'an is best explained or understood by referencing other places within the Qur'an. Often, this practically means studying the context in which a particular verse or assertion is placed, rather than developing a stand-alone understanding based on a single text. Here, we have a beautiful example of this principal.

" To Him ( i.e. Allah) belongs the keys of the heavens and the Earth. He widens provision to whom He wills, and limits ( as well). Indeed, He is the One knowing all things." ( Q 42:12)
In other words, God is the "owner" of the universe, and as the one who possesses the keys, to open and close doors, Allah does that for whom He wills, in accordance to His plan and wisdom, according to his own schedule. Other texts to recall in these regards include Ayatul Kursiyy (ft.1) and Ayah An-Noor(ft.2).

Next, we are told " He ( Allah) has made you ( O followers of Muhammad) traverse on the same path, in terms of deen (Shara'a lakum min ad deen) which We (Allah) enjoined on Noah, which has been sent to you (O Muhammad), and what has been enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus-establish deen, and do not place division therein.." ( Q 42:13).

These verses are to be read together, as they clearly indicate that Allah opened the doors of spiritual provision to the followers of Prophet Muhammad, the same doors He (soobhaanahu wa ta'alaa) opened for four other prophets.

These four prophets are all associated with safety on some level. Noah and his ark, Abraham's teachings, which-when followed, "save" a person from idolatry, Moses, who led his followers away from the tyranny of Pharaoh, and Jesus, who was leading people away from the traps of anger and self-deception.

To be on that path, the path of maximum benefit and safety, is truly a blessing This is why we should be consistent in  proclaiming praise to Allah for the blessing of Islam (Alhamdulillaahi 'ala Ni'matil Islaam).


The operative word is "path". On this path, there are people ahead of us and people behind us. In this ayah, Allah says to "establish deen, and don't create division therein" (Aqeemud-deen, wa Laa Tatafarraqoo feeh.). 

"Establish" means to build, and building takes patience, intelligence and planning.  It takes team work as well, to establish firmly deen, be it in personal or communal application.

In whatever stage of the journey we are on, we should help each other and remember that it takes patience, commitment, and planning. So have the Niyyah to build up your deen, not only in practice but in particular in thinking right.

Addressing sectarian divisions

The verse (42:13) also asserts that there should be no breaking apart or divisions with regards to deen. This assertion can be taken in a number of ways. We can take it as a command (amr) for unity, meaning not to break up into sectarian denominations, or it can be taken as instructing us to recognize that the prophets and messengers all taught the same deen, and thus, we should not view them as teaching different things, also implying that we should make no distinctions between God's messengers ( Q 2:285).

A reply to the above can be made, pointing out that there are divisions among the Muslim community. This is true, among the Ahlus Sunnah we have different Madhaahib (ft.3), and of course the main sectarian difference being with the Shiites. However, in general these divisions are on secondary points (furoo') and not on fundamental principles(usool) . Thus, all Muslims, of all theological colors, have the same Qur'an, the same pillars of faith, same prayers, and same ethical and behavioral principles.

This is a reflection of Allah's blessing for the deen, a deen which has been completed and protected ( Q 5:3). Thus, in the big scheme of things, the sectarian divisions among Muslims should not be exaggerated.

Footnotes

(1) The "Throne verse" ( Q 2:255), for which see here

(2) ''The verse of God's light" ( Q 24:35) , which describes the reach of Allah's guidance. See here

(3) The schools of jurisprudence only differ in terms of applications of legal methodology, and not really on theological points. There are theological differences between the Sunnis and the Shiites, some of them important, however in terms of fundamentals, both groups share that in common.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Muhammad: Man and Prophet

{ Note: The following is our address on the occasion of the birth of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, given in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mawlid un Nabi , Rabi Al Awwal 12, 1420, November 20, 2018)


Muhammad: Man and Prophet

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Al-Faatihah: a re-examination (Halaqah notes)

Note:  The following is an edited version of presentation we gave on the opening chapter of the Qur'an. While it does have much the same content as our previous lectures [ for which, see Al-Faatihah: It's relevance for modern life ], more information is conveyed in this halaqah. In particular, the concepts of Tadabburdu'aa and 'ibaadah are examined and highlighted.] Please note that unless otherwise indicated, the translation has not been given.This will allow the reader to consult the translation of choice.

Introduction

"A Scripture, which We (Allah) have sent forth to you ( O Muhammad), a book of blessings, in order that you may do tadabbur regarding its signs (verses), and that people of understanding will take to heart" ( Q 38:29)

 کِتٰبٌ اَنۡزَلۡنٰہُ اِلَیۡکَ مُبٰرَکٌ لِّیَدَّبَّرُوۡۤا اٰیٰتِہٖ وَ لِیَتَذَکَّرَ اُولُوا الۡاَلۡبَابِ

This verse, sent forth to an uneducated Prophet (An Nabi Al Ummi), is given in order to provoke or inspire thinking, contemplation on a deeper level. This is a process which is called tadabbur (Yadabbaruu in the original text). The Qur'an is not simply a collection of words. The Quranic language has meanings that we are supposed to not only think about, but to consider the bigger picture.

Elsewhere, the Qur'an speaks on believers who, in whatever position they are in, upon contemplating the universal order of things, assert "Our Lord, You have not created all of this without purpose" ( Q 3:191).

This is a scripture which is actually for the acquisition and use of scientific knowledge, and just as science and medicine are fields that require deep study and effort, the Book of Allah likewise deserves that attention.

Among the ways one can study and gain from the Qur'an: [1] Read it slowly. [2] Take notes [3] When you come across texts you find appealing and useful, use those texts in your salaah. After a few days, you would have memorized it as well as the translation. [4] Read daily, even if only 10 verses a day. (Footnote 1)

Soorah Al-Faatihah





Soorah Al Faatihah is not only a prayer text, but it serves as the perfect introduction to the remaining of the Qur'anic text. Modern books have an introduction or preface, in which the author outlines his basic thesis, and the Qur'an operates here on the same format.

This Soorah is also known by titles such as The Opening of the Scripture (Faatihatul Kitaab), Sooratul Hamd (The chapter of praise), The Chapter of Prayer (Soorah As Salaat) and the Chapter of Supplication (Soorat Ad-du'aa).



[1] Bismillaahir Rahmaanir Raheem.

It begins in God's name, not that of Muhammad, Jesus, Trinity or any other controversial name or concept. Anyone who believes in God can accept this formula as an axiomatic truth. Ar-Rahman is usually translated as "The Merciful" and "Ar-Raheem" as "The Compassionate".

Both words come from Rahema ("He was merciful") or simply Rahmah ("Mercy). The term Ar-Rahman, being upon the Fi'laan pattern in Arabic, denotes an intensive act. In other words, God is extreme in His Mercy. Ar-Raheem, upon the pattern of Fa'eel, denotes repetitiveness. In other words,Mercy is a part of God's pattern of doing things, it is among the Divine qualities, visible here as well as the world to come.

This statement, known as the Basmala, is so important because the Prophet ('alayhis salaatu was salaam) is reported to have said that anything of importance should be initiated with it, otherwise, a chance exists that it will -in fact- be deprived of Allah's mercy. 


[2] Alhamdulillaahi Rabbil 'aal ameen

'Rabb" is not simply "Lord". It is "Caretaker". That which provides for a thing till it's completion. This title shows that Allah is caring, his care is universal.  "...His throne encompasses the heavens and the earth.." ( Q 2:255) "..Our Lord, you do encompass all things in Mercy and Knowledge" ( Q 40:6)

[3] Ar Rahmanir Raheem [4] Maalike Yawmid deen.

The grammar here is a continuation of the first verse (ft.2), in other words, it is the same stream of thinking or idea, not a second sequence. We are reminded four times of Allah's mercy, yet here we are reminded of judgement day.

The Quranic pattern is to connect seemingly disparate subjects or qualities. In this case, it is done with the Divine qualities.

Another example of this is when we are told about Allah as "The forgiver of sins, one who accepts repentance, (yet) the stern in punishment.." {Q 40: 3}.

The Qur'an does this in order for the reader to have a balanced understanding of the Divine reality. You love your children , yet there are times when you have to punish them. Punishments from (good) parents are meant to rectify bad behavior and instill certain morals/lessons. Allah does the same.

[5] Iyyaka Na'budu wa Iyyaka Nas-ta'een.

Worship is only for Allah. In terms of worship, the Prophet said that calling upon Allah, even outside of formal salaah, is worship. Another hadeeth words it as the core of worship (Mukhkhul 'Ibaadah).

With this in mind, we go to the Qur'an "And when My servant asks you about Me, then I am close. I respond to the call (Daa'ee) of those who call to Me, so let them listen to ME, and believe in ME, so that perhaps they will attain maturity." { Q 2:186).

In other words, it is good for our development to call upon Allah. It is a part of character and skill building.

Notice that the Qur'an also says "And seek assistance (Ista'eenuuu) through patience and prayer, verily, Allah is with those who patiently persevere" (Q 2:153).

The same "seeking of assistance" is in both verses. God says to seek assistance through the quality or attribute of patience.

So it is not that God needs our salaat or our du'aa. Rather, we stand in need of it.

"Indeed, prayer restrains from immorality and repugnant actions..." ( Q 29:45).

[6] Ihdenas seeratal Moostaqeem

We tend to say "The straight path" is "Qur'an and Sunnah". However, if we are already "upon Qur'an and Sunnah", why do we pray for it daily?

It is true that Mufassirron have assigned particular names  to the term "straight path" ( such as the path of the companions of the Prophet), however, we propose two other avenues by which to explore this. The first being that since Al-Faatihah is an introduction to the remainder of the Quranic revelation, "The straight path" is found throughout the commands/values/religious truths in the Qur'an. Many commentators have- for example, connected the request "guide us on the straight path' to "This is the Scripture, in which there is no doubt, a Guide for those who have reverence for   Allah" ( Q 2:1).

The second avenue- one which is preferred by this writer- is that this very Soorah- Soorah Al Faatihah -  tells us what constitutes "The straight path".


[7] Seeratal Ladheena an 'amta 'alayhim, Ghayril Maghdoobe 'alayhim wa lad daaaleen"

"The straight path" is that which contains the qualities of Ni'mah (blessing, grace, happiness) and is devoid of that which brings forth Divine anger, chastisement, and punishment.

The straight path is identified with guidance, which prevents one from straying, getting lost, in life and in one's mind.

The discarding of values is an indication of being astray. Being addicted to harmful drugs is an indicator or being astray. The worship of other than Allah ('Azza wa Jall} is an indicator of being astray.

So Soorah Al-Faatihah invites us to examine our lives, our actions, to find if we are on the straight path. We are to examine all those areas of life, such as job, marriage, anything of importance.

In this regards, we should now understand the hadeeth (Abu Dawud)  in which the Prophet is reported to have said that Al-Faatihah is a healing (Shifaa). It is a healing because when pondered upon, it can bring healing to our issues in life.

We can also see why he- upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah- said that any prayer in which Al-Faatihah is excluded is "Incomplete"


Footnotes

[1] This recommendation has been given by this writer many times, based upon personal experience and benefit. The number of verses mentioned (10 verses) is not based on any text, but rather is based upon what we think everyone has the capacity to do,regardless of their unique circumstances.

[2] Here we are talking about Majroor bil Kasrah. The "bi" [arabic for "in" with" or "by"] in the Basmala, is a preposition,  influencing  the rest of the mentioned texts to end in kasra. Many do not take the Basmala formula as an actual verse of the Soorah, but rather as a headline. While we disagree with that, even if we ignore the Basmala, the text which follows it (Alhamdulillaahi Rabbil 'aal ameen) also has a preposition in it ("Li", which means "for" or "to"), thus, the explanation we have advanced would still be valid, i.e. that "Ar Rahmanir Raheem, Maalikee yawmid deen" is  a continuation of the stream or flow which preceded it.