Saturday, February 6, 2016

Accessing our lost spiritual wealth

The following is an edited version of the address given at the spirituality session at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam January 11th, 2016.]

We have to begin this subject by referring to the Qur'an. It says that the essence of every human being acknowledges their Lord. Alastu  Berabbikum? Qaaloo Balaa Shahidnaa. "Am I not your Lord", God asks. "Yes, we testify", is the response. It goes on to say that on judgement day, the excuse of "simply" adhering to family/social conventions will not be acceptable in the Divine Court.[ Q 7:172-173]

We also have the hadeeth in which the Prophet reportedly says " Every child is born upon the Fitrah." . This part of the hadeeth can be seen as Tafseer on the verses mentioned earlier. The hadeeth continues "His parents make him a Jew, a Christian, or a Zoroastrian." [Bukhari and Muslim]. So what do we learn?

[1] All humans possess, to use the language of tonight's program- that treasure, or at least they possess the potential to access that treasure.

[2] That treasure is bright, it is shiny and attractive, and is at its brightest in children, especially the very young. This fact is universally know, across religions and cultures. The Bible has it that Jesus says "You shall not enter heaven until you become like these little children." [Matt. 18:3]

Across human cultures, the statements and smiles of children are seen as reflecting an essential goodness and purity. Indeed, adults are often judged by other adults based upon their children's impressions. That is just a fact! In Islamic terminology, this is called Fitrah, the term highlighted in the hadeeth cited earlier.

Moreover, across human societies, crimes against children are seen as among the most horrible of crimes.

[3] Children are raised, influenced by their societies, to become adults with the thinking of that society or their surroundings. Thus, the import of the second part of the hadeeth "the parents make him a Jew, Christian or Zoroastrian".  This part of the hadeeth highlights  for us that treasure becoming lost or, to use another term, buried.

When the treasure gets buried, the consequences are profound. Faith in fellow man as well as faith in God weakens, if not totally dies! Ties between peoples become little more than business transactions. Trust is destroyed. A Vacuum is created, a hole is made. Some attempt to fill it by using drugs. Some turn to alcohol. Some will turn to other items. Others may seek to fill that hole by harming themselves, or others, even going to the route of committing suicide. Others still will turn to materialism as their god, or fill that hole in their own soul by seeking to dominate other human being, seeking after power and authority. They will often proclaim belief in empty, meaningless expressions. They make their lives' mission the acquisition of the biggest phones, the biggest cars. They risk becoming a people dedicated to nothing but indulgence.

Why tell us about the original acknowledgement?

After God says all of Adam's children recognize, in their own core, Allah, we are told

"Thus, do we [Allah] explain clearly the signs so that perhaps they will return " { Q 7:174]

وَكَذَلِكَ نُفَصِّلُ الآيَاتِ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
This means that Allah has told us this in order that we may return to it. He has told us a treasure exists and has even given us a map.

Continuing with this analogy. By stages, we are taught how to read the map. Messengers of God come to give us tips, to instruct us as to its symbols. There is even a discipline that must be adhered to if we are going to read the map correctly.

The  role of ritual

All religions have the rituals of worship, fasting and prayer, in some sense or another. These concepts have survived the corruptions that have taken place over the countless generations. However, in Islam we have Al Kitaab Al Mubeen, The Clear Scripture and we also have the Straight Path. "All paths lead to God", the popular saying goes. However, the Islam of the Qur'an and Prophet Muhammad constitutes the straight path. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That is Islam. Islam is the path that gets you there quick.

We have prayer and fasting, but we also have a discipline. This is shown in what the religion says about pork. Yes, Allah created pigs, yet he also says we are not to consume them. God created grapes, yet he says we are not to consume wine. These are NOT petty injunctions. These are examples of the discipline needed to study that map and bring out the treasure which has been hidden for so long!

So all of the authentic teachings and rules of Islam are present for our benefit and welfare.

Can antiquity be our guide?

When we talk about guidance, we tend to look at the past. For Muslims of all shades and madhaahib, we will look to the time of the Prophet. For Christians, they will focus upon the person of Christ. In this practice, we are indirectly acknowledging that there are deficiencies in today's way of thinking.

There is truth in this, however we can also view this in another way. Our Recent past, as recently as our parents and grandparents, can likewise provide us with keys to unlocking that treasure. Our recent past includes people we admire in our family line or in our society. I am not talking about actors and politicians. I am talking about figures who were truly about what is right, especially those we saw personally and was able to access personally.

Think about what you admire and love within them. Perhaps they were hard working, courageous. People dedicated to prayer, overcoming serious problems. These positive things are also a source of guidance. After all, Allah does not make mistakes. He placed you in your family and in your unique set of circumstances as a foundation.

Contemporary mindset very evil

The prevalent mindset in today's world is directed by evil forces. In politics, social order, even in the imagery of religion. The prevalent mindset promotes violence, xenophobia, racism, enmity between communities, selfishness, distrust, greed and paranoia. It promotes individualism in an unhealthy way, making us easier prey. Moreover, the prevalent mindset is against education.

Education should give us knowledge as well as cultivation, to make us better people. But today there are moves that seek to go against making us better people, In short, the prevalent mindset seeks to lock us out of the treasure.

Be courageous

Don't be afraid to be "weird". The Muslim should particularly be "weird" in the sense that our thinking and mindset be directed by this religion more so than any other consideration.

"And whosoever obeys Allah and his Messengerr have already acheived a mighty acheivement.{ Q 33:71}
وَمَن يُطِعْ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَقَدْ فَازَ فَوْزًا عَظِيمًا
Every child is born upon the Fitrah

Children don't know fiqh or religious labels. They don't even care about that. They do, however, love. They share. They trust. They bring out things in adults. They worship without any urging from their parents.

Watch your toddlers put down a rug and make Sajdah. They do so with joy, and brings joy to the hearts of nearby adults.

The Prophet's grandchildren [Hasan and Husseein] used to climb on his blessed back when he was in Sajdah, and it has happened to us all. Even within the animal kingdom, at the Haram [Makkah, site of the Ka'bah], birds are always circling the Ka'bah [i.e. Tawaf] and never make any droppings on the pilgrims.

Children and animals both exists in a state which recognizes God. For children, the older they get the easier it gets to be taken into another direction, which is mentioned in the hadeeth.

Job of Parents

Parents have to strive to bring up their children right, and the children also push their parents in the right direction, having the correct attitude. The children can give us keys to the treasure, and even tips on how to read the map. When that map is read with the distractions of ego, anger, insecurity, past hurts and the like, you will go in the wrong direction.

So it's more than having a map or even the treasure. It has to be read correctly and the treasure has to be utilized correctly.


"So when you read the Qur'an, seek refuge with Allah from Satan, the rejected enemy." [ Q 16:98]

فَإِذَا قَرَأْتَ الْقُرْآنَ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللّهِ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ
We don;t just say 'Bismillah"! People can [and do] be horrible in the name of God. We have to say A 'oodhoo Bellaahee Minash shaytaanir Rajeem.

In a similar way, money cannot solve our problems unless we know how to use it!

As life goes on, the more knowledge and experience we get under our belt, the easier it should be to use that map and utilize the treasure. If we don't have the knowledge/experience, we have to follow those who do.

"So ask the people opf reminder, i.e. knowledge, if you don't know" { Qur'an 16:43, 21:7]
فَاسْأَلُواْ أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ
The guides can take us there, or at least show us where to look and what to zoom in upon.

Addressing our unique needs

All of us have some common needs, but there are needs that are unique. A person needing evidence that God exists is not the same as one needing to learn the details of the salaat. The first person is skeptical, while the other simply needs technical support.

Moreover, an astray person, in need of guidance, yet attempts to always argue with the guide or put on a show for the guide, that person needs hidaayah the most, and if the guide cannot deal with them, it is to the loss of that astray person.

In the Seerah literature, we have a report which states that a man came to the Prophet [peace and blessings of Allah be upon him]  complaining that he [the Prophet] was  not giving out wealth correctly. The man said to the Prophet "Fear Allah, O Muhammad" [as the exact wording says Faqaala "AttaqqiLLaah, Yaa Muhammad"].

The man didn't even call him "Prophet or Messenger" . He says "Muhammad". The Prophet responded "who is more in obedience to God that me, who is more trustworthy than me?" [Bukhari and Muslim].

The hadeeth says the man walked away. That man, tradition says, is the progenitor of the Khawaarij [Kharijites], the first terrorists group in the Muslim communitty. This emerged in Iraq, where ISIS has likewise, also emerged.

So when the guides are marginalized or ignored due to ego, the consequences can be devastating, both physically and spiritually.

The same hadeeth goes on to talk about a people who recite the Qur'an, but it doesn't go beyond their throats. They leave the religion the way an arrow leaves the bow when shot out [thus, the name Khawaarij, from the root kharaja 'he left']

While we see this hadeeth as predicting a political rebellion, this can also be seen in a spiritual sense. God knows what he's doing. He sent prophets and guides as well. He sent guidance. He sent a map. So don't underestimate the guide. Let him help you, and you help him,

Let us use the map, let us access the treasure for our benefit, and whatever level we are at now. May Alllah be our protector and guide.

The struggles to find balance in religious history: Friday Khutbah

[ Note: The following is the Friday Khutbah from 2/5/16, at Toledo Masjid. It has been formatted into one article, and the opening Hamd has been omitted here.]

Among the things we see when we study religion, and by 'religion' I mean the doctrines and history of religions worldwide, we find that all of them attempt to create balance between competing needs. This can be stated in another fashion, i.e. these religions would seek to address pressing issues at the time these religions emerged. The solutions that these religions would give became outdated, meaning that the solutions no longer applied because the circumstances had since changed. A good example is that of divorce. In the Jewish Fiqh, [ Deut.24:1] when a man finds his wife displeasing, he gives her a certificate of divorce and sends her away. This was obviously abused. We can easily see how this can be abused, leading to destroyed families and homeless divorcees.

Jesus ['Isa , 'alayhis salaam] comes along, according to the New Testament [  Matthew 19:8] forbids divorce totally, the only exception being when adultery has been committed. The New Testament has materials that almost discourages marriage itself totally. Paul says :It is better for a man not to have relations with a woman" [ 1 Cor 7:1]. He also says "It is better to be like me" [1 Cor. 7:8], meaning to be unmarried, as he was.

The prohibition of divorce is only enforced in today's Christian world among the Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox churches, and some smaller sects such as the Jehovah's Witnesses. The wider Christian world has faced new circumstances which has forced them to abandon this edict!

The Qur'an now comes, six centuries after Christ.  It comes to a universal Prophet [ Muhammad, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam]. It comes as a scripture not only for the Jews, but for all humanity. In addition, it is the final scripture, sent to the final Prophet [Q 33:40]. Therefore all of its teachings has a place for all times to come!

As a student of religion, I can tell you in all fairness that this Deen, particularly the Qur'an, is for all places and all times. It's rules, edicts, are still relevant.

Returning to the example of marriage, Islam encourages marriage and discourages divorce, although it is allowed. Indeed, some people simply cannot get along, that's simply a reality. The sayings of the Prophet [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] and the scholars of Islam all point to marriage as being something that is very helpful in terms of the growth of the spiritual life. He says "Marriage is half of the deen" [ Bayhaqi]. Similarly, the family life, working for an income, are deemed in Islam helpful to the betterment of one's spiritual condition.

It is not our intention to go into the details of this subject, but rather to make a point. The Islam as found in the Qur'an is an Islam that, if understood and applied correctly, can remove most of the problems we face. It has the capacity to give us peace, balance, understanding and virtues in this life.

"We [Allah] have not sent the Qur'an to you to make you have stress, rather, only as a notice to those with the fear of God, a revelation from the One who has created the Earth and the Highest heavens." [Q 20:2-4]

It is true that Muslims can be unbalanced and have problems. This is mostly due to our ignorance and our lack of obeying Allah and his Prophet. We are told "And whosoever obeys Allah and his Messenger, have already achieved a mighty achievement." [Q 33:71]

The solutions are all here, if only we take some time to look at them, to internalize its teachings, to exemplify the light. May Allah be merciful to us with this Qur'an, make it for us a leader, a source of light and guidance.

How can a religion of 1400 years age give any solutions today?

A skeptic can raise the question that Islam is fourteen centuries old, how can it give any solutions today? This is a honest and fair question. We answer that by saying that what Islam gives is TIMELESS PRINCIPLES. Concepts or teachings that work in any context. The Qur'an tells us that Pork is forbidden, but it also tells us that it becomes lawful [Halaal] during a period of starvation. [Q 2:173 and 6:119]. This is not reasoning, this is an example of the principles in the text itself.

It is these principles that allow us to identify what is truly wrong in our lives or in our society today, and likewise to allow us to identify what is good and to build upon that good, so we won't be in confusion, drifting through life.

Rich or Poor, Black or White, we become a people of confidence, purpose, progress, deserving of Paradise.

"Deserving" of paradise is a strong claim, but look at the time  of Prophet Muhammad. One hadeeth [Bukhari and Muslim] tells us that a man had done some sin, probably a sin that would require punishment in Islamic law. He came to the Prophet wanting to confess. The Prophet ['alayhis salaatu was salaam] kept ignoring the man. Finally, the time of prayer came, and they all offered the prayer. Afterwards, the man came again, trying to confess his sin. The Prophet asked "did you pray with us?". The man replies in the affirmative. The Prophet says to him "Then indeed, God has forgiven your sin or your action that would require punishment." 

This is a beautiful hadeeth. This Islam created in the man the consciousness to strive to be one of the best, not to dodge responsibility. Such a person deserves paradise.

The Qur'an says "Indeed, prayer restrains [a person] from immorality and repugnant acts, the recollecting of Allah is the greatest [source of power and inspiration], and Allah knows what you manufacture." [Q 29: 46]

So the act of daily salaat is an act that generates the conscious, it pricks at our hearts to strive to be about what is right.

May Alkah keep us firm upon this Deen!

The ways of Allah: Reflecting on Divine Anger

[ Note: This is an edited version of a recent Friday Khutbah [sermon] at the Toledo Masjid. We have omitted the opening Hamd and formatted the entire khutbah,with both parts, into one article.]

For the last couple of weeks, we have been discussing Soorat Al-Faatihah, looking at some interesting details. Today, we want to examine a question that arises from the opening chapter. In Al-Faatihah, we pray for guidance, on a path that is straight, a path that produces blessing, grace [Ni'mah], not that which produces Ghadab [Divine anger] [Ghayril Maghdoobee 'alayhim]

In terms of Ghadab, I came across nineteen entries in the Qur'an in which this term or a related term is mentioned. We shorten that list even further when we reduce our query to those verses which directly tell us about that which invites Allah's wrath.

A person may ask further, "doesn't this make God seem reactionary?" After all, in human experience, the feeling of anger when someone else hits your vehicle is a feeling stimulated by the other driver, so can we say that God is like this?

If God is like this, how can that be reconciled with the teaching that Allah is the All-Knowing, Aware of future events?

To answer these queries, we must remember that Allah runs the universe according to laws or patterns.

"And You will never find any change in Allah's Sunnah"
وَلَن تَجِدَ لِسُنَّةِ اللَّهِ تَبْدِيلًا
[Q 48:23]

We can call it the laws of nature, or even Karma, the term used is not important. Certain things trigger certain other things, all of which are in accordance with the laws of God.  So when we read about "God's anger" or "God's wrath" we should see it as the laws of natural consequence.

Examples of Divine anger in the Qur'an

Two times we can find in the Qur'an the story of Musa's people [Moses, peace be upon him]. They were unhappy with what God gave them. God sent them prophets, scripture, Prophets, and goodly things to consume. This even allowed them to develop the notion of a "chosen people" among themselves.

"Abasement and humiliation were stamped upon the, and they incurred 'anger' from Allah, because they rejected the signs of Allah, killing Prophets unjustly. This was so because they were disobedient and went beyond the limits."

 وَضُرِبَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ الذِّلَّةُ وَالْمَسْكَنَةُ وَبَآؤُوْاْ بِغَضَبٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ كَانُواْ يَكْفُرُونَ بِآيَاتِ اللَّهِ وَيَقْتُلُونَ النَّبِيِّينَ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ ذَلِكَ بِمَا عَصَواْ وَّكَانُواْ يَعْتَدُونَ
 [Q 2:61]

This ayah, which is also given in a slightly different from in Soorat Al 'Imraan, mentions a few things.

[1] "Rejecting the signs of God"- the signs sent for their guidance. We can compare this traffic laws. A person goes through the red light, not caring about the regulations. He does so all the time, thinking there will be no consequences. He may even drive the wrong way on a one-way road. Eventually, an accident happens. The driver is hurt, his vehicle is destroyed, or he may even be killed.

[2] "Killing of Prophets"- Prophets are sent to supplement the laws of guidance. To kill is a grave sin, but to kill special people, people of responsibility, invites social disorder. In the animal kingdom, the wiping out of certain species leads to imbalance within the environment. In our times, killing of a police officer is a crime that generates a sterner punishment that killing of a civilian.

[3] "Disobedient, went beyond limits"- This creates Fitnah in the physical and spiritual world. The rebellious mindset is a thinking pattern that places Allah at the bottom, rather than the top, of priorities. It makes everything confusing, To surrender to God is to surrender to that which is natural, goodly and beneficial.

With just this one ayah, we should see that Allah's anger is not petty nor whimsical. It is serious, and comes about as a result of serious transgressions, in body, soul and society.

So when we pray Ihdeenas seeraatal Moostaqeem, seeraatal ladheena an'amta 'alayhim, Ghayril Maghdoobee 'alayhim wa lad daalleeen, we are praying to have that which Allah wants for us in our life! In whatever place, situation we find ourselves, we concentrate, make efforts, to be serious about God's Ni'mah [blessings, grace].

Methodology of Prophet Muhammad

As Muslims, we have a text as well as a Prophet to help us understand and apply the text. The methodology of the Prophet [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] is very important in terms of getting Divine blessing as opposed to Divine anger. The society to which he belonged had senseless violence, irrational thinking, lack of discipline, and even the worship of dates, which would then become food!

The Prophet's methodology included patience, strategy, reform of social norms, and the inculcation of BETTER VALUES.

This message is a message that changed the most hardened of hearts, such as 'Umar ibn al Khattab and Khalid ibn Al-Waleed. This message, as exemplified in the Prophet's reformation of his society, is something for the real world. We often discuss racism, tribalism, addictions to such things as alcohol, but his message also influenced the urge to be educated!

The first word revealed to the Prophet was "Read" [Iqraa]. The society was uneducated, yet the Quranic revelation tells them to read. That is revolutionary!

The Prophet [upon whom be peace and blessings] even had prisoners after Badr freed if they would teach ten Muslims how to read.

So these important aspects of the Prophet's strategies, methodologies and priorities, have to be followed if we are be on and stay on the straight path in this world, a path that all can benefit from.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Higher Purpose: reflections on Soorat al Balad, Friday Khutbah

[ Note: The following is an edited version the Friday Sermon or Khutbah at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam January 1, 2016.]

The Qur'an tells us that human life exists in toil and struggle. Rich or Poor, believer or atheist, all will have to face Kabad, and is something that all adults can understand. We have in the Qur'an a short chapter which gives us a concise and precise understanding of the main causes of Kabad. In order to find this and appreciate this, we have to examine very slowly the Quranic text.

"Nay! I swear by this Land, in which you are free, and by [the fact of] parent-child tie."[Q 90:1-3لَا أُقْسِمُ بِهَـٰذَا الْبَلَدِ ﴿١ وَأَنتَ حِلٌّ بِهَـٰذَا الْبَلَدِ ﴿٢ وَوَالِدٍ وَمَا وَلَدَ

Here, we have an oath, a declaration that this is the truth, being made by citing things very important. The text highlights [1] "Land" {Balad}, the land you own, your nation, city etc. [2] Your ability to move around freely. [3] Parent-Child relationship. These three can said to be the source of both happiness and stress.

Allah calls to us, suing these three main issues, to remind us " Indeed WE [Allah] have created humanity to experience travails." [ Q 90:4] لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي كَبَدٍ
Meaning, the previous verses show us the main avenues by which these travails are experienced. With regards to the first example, it is true that modern notions have created nation-state, making us citizens of one nation or another, or even having dual-citizenship and the like. Yet, all of us can be said to be citizens of the Planet Earth itself. In terms of the other examples, certainly we feel at ease when able to move about, to travel and stressed out when unable, such as when not having access to a vehicle. We can feel very happy for our children and our ties to our parents, or it can be the source of depression because of the weakness or tensions in that relationship.

The Soorah continues " Does that person reckon none can exercise any limits on him. [the one who] he who says 'I have destroyed vast wealth. Does [that person] reckon none see that?" [Q 90:5-7]

أَيَحْسَبُ أَن لَّن يَقْدِرَ عَلَيْهِ أَحَدٌ
يَقُولُ أَهْلَكْتُ مَالًا لُّبَدًا
أَيَحْسَبُ أَن لَّمْ يَرَهُ أَحَدٌ

"I destroy" [Ahlaktu], to squander or waste the resources given to them by God. Speaking to the materialists, the people of consumption, to the wasteful.  God is not the only one who sees that, other people see this as well!

Our lives are to be more than about fun and games. It is also to be more than about attachment to property, land, title or family.

Islam is a call that gives meaning and purpose to life, a call that can be answered equally by the Imam or by the Janitor. All are called equally to operate from the perspective of a higher purpose.

That Higher Calling is to exist beyond our selfish interests and amusements.

Examples of that higher calling

This Soorah gives us four examples of that higher calling. [1] "Liberating one in bondage" {Q 90:13}.  We think of slavery when we read this passage and similar passages, however, slavery is an institution that has been eliminated by universal agreement. So how can we understand this passage today? Fak-ku Raqabatin, to liberate the one held down, to teach others, to use your own resources to provide education or debt relief, to remove innocents from the dangers of combat zones, etc... [2] "The feeding of people during a day of starvation" . {Q 90:14}. This is arguably the most concrete example,to share one's food during tough circumstances. Alhamdulillaah, in Toledo and other places we have community gardens, which allow anyone to pick up what they need. [3] "[the feeding of ] the lonely one who is close." {Q 90:15}.Yateeman dhaa Maqrabah. Two words need to be explained, 'Yateem' and 'Maqrabah'. We think of Yateem as simply an orphan. This is also the general meaning in Urdu and Malay languages [the word for orphanage in Urdu is 'Yateem Khana"]. An orphan is a child without parents. However, we have to extend the meaning of this term to the broader usage in the Qur'an. Essentially 'Yateem" refers to the one who is alone, without any support, financial, moral, emotional, physical. The Yateem is left fending for themselves. They can also belong to religious, ethnic or social minorities, outside the mainstream social order. We see this in our world today! 

Children who enter puberty, then 'adulthood' in the eyes of the law and of society, who are still in bondage. They don't have freedom of movement because they have never been taught how to function. They haven't been taught to cook or to balance a checkbook! Their mentalities still are driven by an immature mindset. They may be thrust out into society, with no guidance, and become easy prey to the predators. This can happen in many forms, and is especially a risk for young girls.

Maqrabah, the one close, either by blood, location, culture and the like. Those who are closest have priority. That's the way God made it. The Higher Purpose is shown by giving education, guidance, shelter, to those in trouble from amongst those who are close to you in any of these ways.

Marriage is an example of solving certain problems. Marriage would definitely rescue many widows and children from the wars we see in Syria and Yemen. That example is admittedly a longer issue to be discussed at another time, but think about it.

[4] Aw Miskeenan Dhaa Matrabah [giving that liberation] to those who are poor, stuck in the mud. The handicapped. who are unable for whatever reason to take care of themselves, are deserving of that liberation.

People of the Right Hand

The Soorah here describes the people who answer the Higher Calling as people of the right hand [As-haabul Maymanah]. We see this title throughout the Qur'an. In addition, those who are not even contemplating a Higher Calling are called "People of the Left Hand", people who reject God's guidance and are, as a consequence, locked up, surrounded by Fire.[Q 90:20].

They are stuck in a life of Baatil, false and ridiculous notions, fire both here and in the next life. So let us be inspired to be "People of the Right Hand".

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Jesus and Muhammad: Using the holidays to derive certain lessons [Friday Khutbah]

[ Note: The following is an edited version of the Khutbah delivered December 25, 2015. The opening Hamd and most of the Arabic quotations have been omitted here.]

Birth of Jesus and Muhammad

This is an interesting moment in time. Today is Christmas, which is observed by Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and yesterday was Mawlud an Nabi, which celebrates the birth of Prophet Muhammad, 'Alayhimas salaam [peace be upon both of them].

It is also the time of heightened rhetoric against Islam and Muslims, worldwide troubles, and of course an election year in this country. All of these things have come together at the same time.

While it is true that the birthday celebrations of both Prophets are innovations, in the sense that they did not instruct their followers to do it, nonetheless it does serve as a time when we can derive lessons from them.

For Muslims, we believe in both Jesus and Muhammad, whereas the Christian believes in Jesus. The Qur'an speaks on Jesus and rejects what are now considered mainstream doctrine in Christendom, such as Jesus' supposed divinity, that he was the literal son of God, and that he dies for mankind's sins. Certainly we know this already, so is there anything else we learn from the Islamic sources besides doctrinal or polemical arguments?

Humanity of Jesus and Muhammad

Allah tells Our Prophet to proclaim, simply "Say: I am a man similar to yourselves." Another Quranic verse has God tell him to make the proclamation even more strong "Say: I am nothing more than [Innama] a man like yourselves."

The life of Muhammad, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, is a demonstration of the same life of Jesus. He, upon whom be peace, says, according to the Qur'an: "Peace was upon me the day I was born, the day I shall die, and the day I shall be brought back to life." [Q 19:33]

Birth, death, and the emergence to face a public accounting before Allah is a reality for us all, Jesus and Muhammad are no different!

Allah told the Prophet, as recorded in the Qur'an, the prayer of insightful believers. They pray "Our Lord, you are the gather of mankind, on a day in which there is no doubt." [Rabbana Innaka Jaami'un Naasi Liyaumin laa rayba feeh.]

So both Jesus and Muhammad were cognizant of facing God and taught this reality to their followers. Indeed, Muslims daily are to recognize this when we recite "Ruler of the day of Judgement" [Maalikee Yaumid deen] in Salaah.

Truly gaining from the sources

Muslims have the Qur'an and Sunnah. However, we also have a rich history, a spiritual culture that has produced scholars of great insight, men and women who have studied many sources, gathering materials that would benefit their students. We have in this age been guilty of overlooking these materials.

One such reference is the great scholar Imam Abu Haamid Al-Ghazzali, or simply Imam Al-Ghazzali, whose most important work is Ihyaa 'Uloom id-Deen. The name of this work itself is important, it means The Revival of Religious Sciences.

This work has been widely criticized in our history, particularly his usage of Ahadeeth declared weak or even Mawdoo' [narrations falsely attributed to the Prophet], nonetheless we should appreciate this work and works like it, and examine what this great scholar saw as useful to his readers.

Traditions from Jesus from Islamic sources

In the Ihyaa, a tradition is recorded in which Jesus 'alayhis salaam was asked "Who taught you the rules of conduct?" Perhaps the questioner had the oppurtunity to interact with him and saw his character as exemplary, and wanted to simply know where he acquired this breeding.

Jesus responds " No one! I simply keep away from that which I don't like in others!" 

So if we see hastiness, arrogance, ignorance in others, that should alert us to avoid adopting those characteristics in ourselves.

Another tradition recorded in the Ihyaa has Jesus say "Do not take the world [Dunya] as a Lord, so that the world does not take you as its slaves." 

The servants of Allah, followers of Prophets, are not to be swayed by the trends and vices of this world. Nor are they to be swayed by internal calls to that which is lowly. These are all issues of the Nafs. May Allah show us truth as truth, and give us the ability to follow it.

Comparing Jesus and Muhammad

When comparing the two, Jesus is the one that gets called "The Prince of Peace". In today's world, we find people calling Our Prophet ['alayhis salaatu was salaam] a "warlord"!

As Muslims, we are, in fact, connected to both Prophets. So it's an incorrect expression to call Muhammad "Our Prophet"! Jesus and Muhammad both belong to us. To follow Muhammad is to also follow the essence of what Jesus and the other prophets brought. To break them apart or see them separate is- according to the Qur'an, manifest Kufr.

"The Messenger [Muhammad, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] believes in all that has been sent to him from his Lord, as do the Mu'minoon. All of them believe in God, His angels, his scriptures and his messengers. There is no distinctions between any of his messengers.." [Q 2:285]

Attributes of Prophet Muhammad's followers

The Qur'an tells us the qualities of those who follow Muhammad. We are told

"That which is with Allah is beneficial and most lasting [Khayrun wa Ab-qaaaa] for people of Imaan, who trust their Lord. They avoid the great sins, indecencies, and when angered, are [nonetheless] forgiving." [Q 42:36-37]

Sometimes the opponents of Islam will say "Jesus said forgive your enemies, to forgive those who trespass against you." and they will add "Your Mohammud was all about conflict." They will disrespect the Prophet's name intentionally!

However, what Muhammad the Messenger instilled in his followers, as seen from this Qur'an, without doubt, is that even in the midst of temporary anger, the quality of forgiveness is still in their personalities!

When the Prophet entered Makkah, the enemy capital, he issued a general amnesty which included those who actually planned and even took part in the events leading to battle, death of his followers, assassination attempts etc.

Think about the companions, such as 'Ali. In battle, he was about to strike an enemy down when the latter spat upon him. 'Ali backed off, because previously it was a battle for what is right, and did not want to act with anger, making it a personal issue.

The Prophet is himself reported to have said that the strong man is not the one who can wrestle another down, but the one who restrains himself when angry.

That is the teaching of our Prophet, the manifestation of the ethics this Deen is to create.

So while Jesus and Muhammad may be different in what was emphasized, their overall roles are the same. Character development, patience, clean hearts, God-fearing, and able to see the big picture.

Let us create within ourselves what Jesus had, what Muhammad had.

Sayyidah 'A'ishaa describes the Prophet as one whose character was the Qur'an. So we should want to be the same.

The Qur'an tells us that Jesus sumarized his teachings and what he was about in one short sentence.

"Verily, God is My Lord and Your Lord , so worship him, this is a straight path." [Q 3:51]

So we want a personality that serves God and God alone, not in the service of trends or ego.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Rejection, Hypocrisy and spiritual illnesses: Friday Khutbah in light of the San Bernandino attack

[ Note: The following is the Friday Khutbah or sermon given December 4th,  2015, in the aftermath of the attack in San Bernardino, California, in which fourteen people were killed. As always with our blog postings of Friday sermons, we have omitted much of the Arabic language quotations, and have formatted both sections of the Khutbah into one post.]

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ آمَنَّا بِاللّهِ وَبِالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ وَمَا هُم بِمُؤْمِنِينَ

يُخَادِعُونَ اللّهَ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَمَا يَخْدَعُونَ إِلاَّ أَنفُسَهُم وَمَا يَشْعُرُونَ
 فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ فَزَادَهُمُ اللّهُ مَرَضاً وَلَهُم عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْذِبُونَ
 وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ لاَ تُفْسِدُواْ فِي الأَرْضِ قَالُواْ إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُصْلِحُونَ

 أَلا إِنَّهُمْ هُمُ الْمُفْسِدُونَ وَلَـكِن لاَّ يَشْعُرُونَ

 وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ آمِنُواْ كَمَا آمَنَ النَّاسُ قَالُواْ أَنُؤْمِنُ كَمَا آمَنَ السُّفَهَاء أَلا إِنَّهُمْ هُمُ السُّفَهَاء وَلَـكِن لاَّ يَعْلَمُونَ
 وَإِذَا لَقُواْ الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ قَالُواْ آمَنَّا وَإِذَا خَلَوْاْ إِلَى شَيَاطِينِهِمْ قَالُواْ إِنَّا مَعَكْمْ إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُسْتَهْزِؤُونَ

Interesting facts about the Qur'an

One of the interesting facts about the Qur'an is how it defines or explains, and further expounds upon concepts. In these verses,[Q 2:8-14] we find that Nifaaq [Hypocrisy] is connected to Kufr, spiritual illnesses and Fasaad,[ Nihilist behavior on a big scale].

Essentially, Allah uses these terms  as synonymous to each other. Thus, it can be said that diseased hearts are manifested in things which include Kufr disguised as Imaan [Belief] as well as Fasaad!

"Of people are those who proclaim Imaan in God and the final day, yet they don't have Imaan. They seek to deceive Allah as well as those who do [in fact] have Imaan, they only deceive themselves, and perceive not. In their hearts is an illness, so consequently God increases their illness, for them is a great punishment in that they have been lying."

So, they talk Imaan but don't mean it! They have something evil inside! How is that evil let loose?

"When it is said to them [these people] 'Don't make Fasaad in the land, they respond 'We are only those who set things aright.' Yet, it is they-THEY- who make Fasaad, but they don't perceive it [in that way]" 

Their Fake Imaan, their diseased minds, leads them to do acts of Fasaad in the name of  correcting or fixing what's wrong!

"When they meet those who have Imaan they say "we also have Imaan". But when alone with THEIR DEVILS, they say "we are with you, we were only joking [before.]" [Q 2:14]

Perhaps we should see the diseased hearts in connection to "devils" or "Their devils" [Shayaateenihim]. Notice the ayah says "when alone with their devils". These devils are making the illness worse! It is so much easier to be influenced in a bad way these days. The entertainment culture, the music, the internet, all of these things can be tools of Shaytaan [Satan] to bring great damage to the psyche of human beings, which in turn brings great destruction [Fasaad]. These things are accessed in general when "alone".

Taking a fresh look at the Qur'an

By now everyone is talking about what happened in San Bernardino. Many blame it on Islam itself or on ISIS. One commentator I read, trying to make sense of it all, suggested it was a Manchurian candidate situation. The term is from a book and subsequent movies in a fictionalized account of American prisoners held by the North Koreans, brainwashed to do certain actions. That suggestion prompted Me to take a fresh look at these Quranic verses.

Islam is not to blame, but who is?

It is not the fault of Allah's Deen that these things happen! So far, not even ISIS, as far as we know, has claimed responsibility or involvement. However, ISIS and Dylann Roof [the perpetrator of the attack on the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina] are both products of the same Devilish destructive culture! A culture which spreads itself in certain industries, by appealing to our vanities and lowly aspirations. The most horrible thing about it is that they attempt to blame the innocent victims!

Real examples of false blame

Look at the Charleston attack. Dylann Roof went to a church and killed nine people, including the Pastor who was a Senator! Roof said to his victims "I have to do this!". It is interesting that this has not been widely called "terrorism". I guess "terrorism" is a word that is only allowed to be used when Muslims are involved!

Roof blames his victims. He even told them "You [African Americans] rape our women!"

Culture needs to change

Laws can only do so much, and Law enforcement agencies can only do so much. It is the thinking, the mindset, that has to be addressed!

I am not advocating anything other than thinking. If your career has elements therein that encourage or promote things such as violence, profanity, pornography and other such things which corrupt or have the potential to corrupt the soul, consider finding another career. If your listening to music, movies or speeches that do nothing but play to your lower desires, you should distance yourselves from it. Allah says to save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is people and stones [Q 66:6]

Don't let Shaytaan's whispers come in. Surround yourself with goodly company. Be more connected to the Book of Allah more than anything else. Take Prophet Muhammad [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] as your model by constantly remembering Allah, calling upon Allah [Q 33:21]. Work and learn, Learn and work! Avoid being lazy. I even advise at this point examining your style of dress. If your style of dress promotes a bad image, the looks or the implications of crime, cross-dressing, homosexuality and the like, than do re-examine, take a fresh look, at that style, because all of those things could end up taking us down a path to be used and abused by the Shayateen out there. May Allah guide, forgive, be merciful and protective of us all.

Be smart

These are serious times, and there are forces out there trying to stir things up, to bring fear, suspicion and xenophobia to the forefront, trying to manipulate our emotions. This is happening with Non Muslims and Muslims alike!

Don't let them. Be smart, observant, and be connected to Allah and to those who really have Imaan! Don't let Maulana Hollywood be your leader! Don't let ISIS guide your thinking. Rather, depend upon Allah, the God of all, and seek as your model guide none other than Prophet Muhammad, the Mercy to all nations.

Universal Rally For Peace remarks

[ The following were my remarks given at the Universal Rally for Peace, which was held Friday December 4, 2015 at One Government Center in Toledo, Ohio]

                              In the name of God, The Compassionate, The Ever-Merciful

Good Afternoon! We have come here today to demonstrate publically that-quite frankly- to proclaim that WE ARE TIRED of what we are constantly seeing. Constantly, we are inundated with acts of violence in the name of religion or being associated with religion.

Religion teaches us that God is Just, and that likewise he demands justice in his creation. That makes sense, because God cares for all that He has created!

The Qur'an, the scripture given to the Prophet Muhammad, tells us that justice is an attribute of those who truly believe and proclaim their acknowledgement of God. For those who are interested, this statement is in chapter 3:18.

This statement is an evidence! The one who strives to bring injustice, usurping, talking away the lives of innocents, that person DOES NOT represent the Divine will.

We are here to proclaim that enough is enough. We speak not only of San Bernardino, California, but also of Beirut, Mali, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Ferguson, Missouri and Charleston, South Carolina!

There is a universal culture of violence in today's world. The actions and the results are the same, regardless of the identities of the victims or the perpetrators. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said "an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere."

So while we have focused upon what is grabbing the headlines globally, yet there were 355 mass shootings this year alone, as Pastor Heilman as already pointed out. So it's not a Jewish or Muslim or Christian problem, it is a world problem!

We need to be humans, to act as humans and return to the healthy ethos given by God's guidance. God says in the Qur'an, as well as in the Bible, that he who takes a life, it is as if he has killed off all humanity. He also says that life has been made sacred, so it is not to be taken. God also says in the Qur'an that he has given nobility to all human beings.

So reform is needed. The Voice of Peace and Justice must be LOUD. It MUST drown out the voices of chaos, bigotry and ignorance.

So let us work for peace and justice to prevail on Earth. Let us humans, of all faiths and of no faith, return to sanity, to that which our faith ultimately calls us towards.

Thank you.