Monday, November 23, 2015

The age of Ego and misrepresentation: Friday Khutbah in aftermath of Paris attacks

[ Note: the following is the Friday sermon delivered 11/20/2015, in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris. Note that we have in our formatting we have omitted the opening Hamd.]

Islam is the Deen which was preached by Abraham, Moses and Jesus. This process was completed with the coming of Muhammad the Prophet and the scripture sent to him, namely, the Qur'an.

All of these teachers, upon whom be peace, taught about God. Indeed, the Jewish tradition has what is called the Shema, which reads "Hear this, O Israel, the Lord Your God is One God." This is precisely the same message as Laa elaaha ill Allah, i.e. None deserves worship except Allah.

Thus, everything a  Muslim does is supposed to be part and parcel of that acknowledgement, that none but God deserves our worship. The life of a Muslim is supposed to be a series of steps that brings that person closer to God. The Qur'an mentions that Deen is supposed to be especially or exclusively for Allah [Alaaa Lillaahid deenul Khaalis]. However, we live in a time when Islam is "represented" by those who don't even follow it's basic rules and principles.

We live in a time when "ego" is put out there as the spokesperson for this Deen, whose true representatives were the messengers of Allah.

Today, Islam is "represented" by murderous "leaders". If that's not bad enough, they also, according to the reports, neither pray nor fast, and even involve themselves in selling drugs and alcohol. These people speak about a Khilaafat [Caliphate]. They want to revive the Caliphate. How can people whose entire existence runs contrary to the Divine principles do anything on behalf of Allah's Deen? Frankly, it makes no sense!

Comquering the Ego

We have a hadeeth associated with the battle of Badr, that after the battle the Prophet [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] said "We have returned from the smallest Jihad to the greatest Jihad."  It was asked "and what is the greatest Jihad?" The Prophet responds "It is the Jihad of the self [Jihaadun Nafs], the smallest Jihad was physical combat. [Wal As-gharu huwal Qitaal]".

In the Islamic discourse today, this hadeeth is declared Da'eef [weak]. Some even call this Mawdoo', a false narration wrongly attributed to Allah's Messenger by the Sufis. We could get into the technical details, but "weak" narrations do not equate false narrations. Even if this narration is "weak", it is strengthened by the Qur'an itself.

"Those who make Jihad [struggle] about God, God will guide them in our [i.e. Allah's ] paths [in life], and Allah is surely with those who [strive for] excellence." [Q 29:69]

Meaning, to attain nearness and pleasure of Allah, the calls of the ego, be it internal or influenced from the outside, those calls must be conquered. This goes hand in hand with the hadeeth cited earlier. There are atleast six other verses of the Qur'an we could cite, but hopefully this is enough.

I have to say directly that there are powerful forces out there, hidden behind the scenes. orchestrating plots to suit their own long and short term political goals, but even with that acknowledgement, those who are worshipping their own lusts, frustrations, and desires should not be seen as representing Islam, nor should they be listened to by either Muslims or Non Muslims!

It is important to remember that by and large, it is we Muslims who are the victims of these people. While Paris has received all the attention, just the day before the same organization took credit for a bombing in Beirut. The same types are currently creating havoc in Mali. So for us, their names are unimportant. They are still worshipping Nafs and serving the interests of Satan. May Allah give us the ability to see truth and to follow that, and the ability to see falsehood and give us the ability to avoid it.

These times are quite troubling for all humanity, so we have to be intelligent. We have to be observant, to develop the tools of analysis and to look beyond surface. Most importantly, we have to maintain faith. After all, Allah is still the God of all, and it is Allah's plans which ultimately prevails. Keep your mind and heart closely connected to the Qur'an, because it is the best source by which we can understand the world today. Never get diverted from that reality!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How to connect to the Qur'an

[ Note: This speech was delivered at the spirituality session at Toledo Masjid on November 9th, 2015. This is an edited version.]

We live in a digital age, spending much time in front of computer screens, communicating through text messages, viewing websites on our phones and the like. We have even reached the point in history where traditional print media- such as Newspapers and magazines, are at risk of becoming extinct. In addition to this reality, we all live very busy lives. Work and family occupy our every waking moment, making it difficult to offer the five daily prayers on time, let alone having time to read.

Books, for many of this generation, can no longer capture our attention. This difficulty is magnified with regards to the Qur'an, a scripture with 114 chapters, written in a language most of us don't understand. Thus, being connected to the Qur'an is a daunting challenge.

The word Qur'an [      القرآن        ] comes from the root Qa-ra-a [     قرأ     ] which means "He read". Al-Qur'aan is something that is to be read or recited repeatedly.

Despite this reality, the sad truth is that in our age, there is a disconnect  from the Book of Allah.

This "disconnect" was predicted by the Prophet Muhammad himself. He, upon whom be peace and blessings, said that in the last age "Nothing of the Qur'an will remain except its symbols" [Bayhaqi, Shu'b al Imaan]. Moreover, the Qur'an tells us that the on Judgement day, the Prophet will complain

"And the Messenger will say 'O My Lord. indeed, my people have taken this Qur'an as a thing to be abandoned." [Q 25:30]. 

So the Qur'an being abandoned in terms of being a relevant force is one of the signs of the end.

If this is the case, is hope useless?

"Say: O My Servant who have brought harm to their own souls. Do not despair of the Mercy of God." [Q 39:53]

So, even in our mistakes and sins, we should never lose hope. God is Merciful and Compassionate. Mercy is in itself a pillar by which the Universe is operated [Q 40:6].

The Qur'an itself is a Mercy to Mankind, so we should never despair or give up hope in God.

Some practical ways to approach and stay connected to the Qur'an

[1] Prayer: Salaat and Qur'an are closely connected. Reciting Al-Faatihah is an obligation, and in keeping with the Prophetic tradition, we recite other verses/Soorahs in the Salaat. Compile a list of verses or Soorahs to use in your Salaat, and use them in your Salaat. Consider switching Soorahs, or choosing particular Soorahs for particular Salawaat [Plural of Salaat]. All of us may work, so on work days we usually recite Short Soorahs in our prayers, being conscious of time constraints. However, on our days off, consider reciting longer texts, particularly in Maghrib or Fajr prayers.

[2] Technology: access to recordings of Soorahs, recited in a correct way, are now available at little or no cost, via SmartPhones, DVDs, CDs, etc. Ideally a live physical teacher would be better, but if none is available, learning the text is still accessible.

[3] Read ten verses daily at bed time. If unable to do this, ten verses weekly.

[4] Keep a notebook handy. For studious people, for memorization and study purposes, this is a very good method for retaining information. Note down verses that are interesting or that generate questions. This also allows one to note questions and perhaps research into outside sources [The Seerah, Fiqh, history, language etc..]

[5] The position of Arabic cannot be emphasized enough. The vocabulary of the Qur'an is deeply nuanced, and such nuances cannot be captured in translation. So it is vital to learn Arabic, especially if one wishes to engage in a scholarly study of the Quranic text.

Purification of the Heart

These practical steps also help in terms of keeping the heart pure and clean. A correct mentality is vital for our spiritual health.  Thus, there is wisdom in the practice of making Wudoo' before reading it. It's true that there is no Quranic verse or hadeeth that commands it, but nonetheless it is agreed among the schools of jurisprudence of Ahlus sunnah wal Jamaa'ah.

The making of Wudoo' brings a mental preparation for an important act, just as it does when we make Wudoo' before offering our prayers.

In addition, Allah says repeatedly "So when reciting Qur'an, seek refuge with Allah from Satan, the rejected." [Q 16:98]

We are to want what Allah wants us to have, rather than simply a validation of our whims.It's also helpful to read without background noise.


Our interest in the Qur'an is beyond academic. the Book of Allah is guidance for those with Taqwaaa, and cannot benefit those hearts are absent of it. This is spiritual and mental.

All of us are products of our environments, experiences, secular education and upbringing. We are all influenced by influences both good and bad. Nonetheless, Allah has made the Qur'an the ultimate filter, distinguishing between what is harmful and what is beneficial [Q 25:1].

So while we want paradise and God's favors, the guidance is to affect us in the here and now. It is to make our hearts healthier. The Prophet is reported to have said "Consult your heart".

The healthy heart is the one which can make healthy decisions, but that requires keeping the heart healthy with spiritual exercise, staying in shape and avoiding the "junk food" in terms of "Junk influences". Keep the heart healthy by remembering Allah, by reciting his names and his scripture.

Problematic texts?

The disconnect in this age between the Qur'an and the consciousness of mankind [Muslims included] has led to misapplying and explaining wrongly certain texts. Thus, people talk about "war verses". They talk about expressions such as "Allah is the best of plotters". All of these concerns can be easily addressed with just a little bit of study, but we also must remember that all of the Quranic contents are there to protect and enhance Taqwaaa, to bring overall relief and benefit to humanity.

Using this Scripture to create a picture of Tyranny, Egotism, and arrogance is to do a disservice to the text but also to mankind. It's even a disservice to the doer himself!

Allah mentions that there are those with sealed hearts, with barriers that prevent them from understanding the Qur'an. Those barriers exist because of- essentially- corrupted hearts. So we should not heed such people when they talk about Islam.

Final advice

Don't consume too quickly. Take your time in this religion. Learn how to swim before jumping at the deep end of the water.

Allah says "So read [we can understand this as also meaning 'implement'] what is easy for you of this Qur'an" [Q 73:20]

So be patient with this Deen, with the Sunnah and with this Qur'an. Be patient with it, just as God has been patient with you. Patience is something which will bring the fruits this scripture has to offer.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dealing with change: Friday Khutbah

[ This is an edited version of a recent Friday Khutbah]

The Prophet     صلى الله عليه وسلم          taught us that we are supposed to say "Praise belongs to Allah in every circumstance" [Alhamdulillaahi 'alaa Kulli haal]. Another version  adds  "Or during blessing too" [Aw Ni'mat]. This statement has many levels, the least of which is that whatever situation we are in, it could always be worse. Even if we are unaware of the hadeeth from which this teaching derives, all of us, by necessity, know the statement Alhamdulilllaahi Rabbil 'aal ameen- praise belongs to Allah, the Caretaker of the Universe. After all, we recite this daily in our Salaah. This is an integral line in Soorat Al Faatihah.

When we combine the two expressions of Hamd,[from the Qur'an and the Hadeeth here]  we are presented with a wonderful result. Allahسُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَىٰ ‎ is the source of all things, what we perceive as "good" as well as "bad". Allah runs all things, and he does so, not in some vicious or random way. Nor does He do so in a way that would imply playing with our lives as a game. Allah runs things in a deliberate, organized, elaborate fashion. Thus, recognizing that he is Rabbul 'Aal ameen [Caretaker of the Universe], when we encounter that which we are unfamiliar or uncomfortable, we are to still give him praise!

We also proclaim Hamd because we are acknowledging that a change is coming [or is already here]! Change is hard, we have to admit. After all, humans naturally crave stability, but that in itself can create it's own problems, such as stagnation, boredom, etc. Consider what Allah says. He says that he created death and life. In this particular verse, he mentions Death before he mentions Life! Both death and life are created by God. In a similar way, heath and sickness, wealth and poverty, all are created by Allah and are under the direction of Allah.  These are examples of unavoidable changes, and when they do come, often we cannot see the wisdom behind them. Change can also be a frightening experience,yet, as believers we are to seek to ultimately connect ourselves to the thread of thinking that seeks to consciously submit to the Divine Will!

Jews and Christians are sometimes criticized in the Qur'an, even though they share with the Muslims similar beliefs regarding God, Prophets, scriptures, etc..So why are they criticized? Because they were unable [at least the Western Christians, as the overwhelming majority of Christians in Arabia and surrounding lands did eventually accept ] to accept the Qur'an and the Prophet. The Qur'an itself says "Those given the scripture recognize him [Muhammad] just as they did their own sons." الَّذِينَ آتَيْنَاهُمُ الْكِتَابَ يَعْرِفُونَهُ كَمَا يَعْرِفُونَ أَبْنَاءهُمُ

 Their educated people of religion could see that the Qur'an and Prophetصلى الله عليه وسلم were the genuine article, but recognition was not enough. Thus, the verse ends "They bring loss to their own souls, in that they don't have Imaan." [Q 6:20]

الَّذِينَ خَسِرُواْ أَنفُسَهُمْ فَهُمْ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ
The Prophet, because he was an Arab, a people whose ancestor [Ishmael] is dismissed in the Bible as a "wild donkey of a man", was rejected by them because of bloodline alone. So the change, the change of Prophethood [to now go to an Arab figure], the change of Qiblah [Jerusalem to Makkah], these were changes they found unacceptable. Yet, change is a part of existence. Change is necessary. So, our situation[s] change, yet we still say Alhamdulillaah and keep on going.

Our Prophet- upon whom be peace and blessings, is the embodiment of change, but that change was never capricious. The changes were not a part of some "Divine Comedy" [to borrow an expression from Dante'] . Allahسُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَىٰ ‎ says that our Prophet was nothing more than a Mercy to all nations.
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا رَحْمَةً لِّلْعَالَمِينَ

So, our Prophet- an example of change- was a Mercy to all- sent forth by Allah. That means that God cares. God has compassion. His Messenger [peace be upon him] was the same way. He lived from many life changing experiences such as marriages, place of residence, dealing with foes, yet the caring, merciful aspects of his character never left him! He issued amnesty for his foes when we overcame them in Makkah. He said "None of you have Imaan until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." He also said "A person who sleeps full while his neighbor is hungry is not a believer."  So this quality of mercy was a constant.

Mercy, although a natural quality, is enhanced or sustained by thinking, by conscious behavior. Of course that means that there has to be a bit of struggle, to maintain that awareness. A struggle is needed, to maintain the attitude of mercy over that of wrath. In today's world, we have much wrath, violence, jealousy, and egotism, but little mercy!  

A welcome change in today's world would be the change of this trend- from wrath to mercy, and that would also demonstrate our attempt to follow the Prophet, the best model.

So wherever you are, wherever you find yourself, still praise Allah and seek him, because he is real! Have confidence in what Allah has given you, in that any "bad situation" you find yourself in now- it may turn out to be simply a doorway to a better thing.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Struggling to submit: thoughts on what it means to be a Muslim

Daily we encounter examples that illustrate the hardships faced by those who are conscientious of their faith. It's true that Muslims are not the only ones with these struggles, as recently demonstrated by Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses for homosexuals, however Muslims, especially in a Western context, have much more to deal with, especially considering that Islam is widely seen as a foreign religion  that is incompatible with Modern values, and often Muslims in the West are ethnic and racial minorities who automatically generate scrutiny.

At least for the "born Muslims", there exists more social support. "Born Muslims" have a backround in some Islamic culture somewhere. All of their family members are Muslims and are, even if not practicing, comfortable at home and in their professions. But what about the person who spent time investigating religion, perhaps going through a crisis of faith, and discovers Islam for themselves? Surely, such persons will have a different struggle. In many ways their struggle will be even more rough than the born Muslim in the West. The person who accepts Islam on their own has to deal with family dynamic, that will be reflected in problems both big and small.

Recently the media highlighted the case of Charee Stanley, an airline flight attendant. As a "new" Muslim, she has been learning about her faith and applying it, and upon learning about the religion's prohibitions on alcohol [which includes serving it], she stopped serving it on flights. What she would do was to have co-workers serve it. Eventually, a detractor raised an issue, and she was subsequently suspended from her job at ExpressJet.[ See Stanley's interview on The View.].

How this particular case will play out in the airline world and perhaps the courts remains to be seen, but what was interesting to this writer is the diversity of views, even surprising ones from unexpected sources, such as Sheikh Yasir Qadhi [head of the Al-Maghrib institute], who found her position "clearly unreasonable" , creating future hurdles in accommodating "reasonable issues" such as Hijaab and beard.

So, what about the worker in a business that sells alcohol? In some places in USA, most of such businesses are owned and operated by Muslims. Similarly, Muslims work in the stock market, in the banking system, restaurants, hotels and the like.
On issues relating to alcohol and drugs, this writer feels very strongly that these are categorically Haraam and that Muslims are to not enter into such activities for their livelihood. Yet, the truth is that people-including Muslims- need to earn an income. Even attaining a degree usually requires acquiring loans, in which interest will always be a component.

So what do we do? On a personal level, there may or may not be easy solutions. Some may be able to get along very well without attaining a college degree, to buy their vehicles without resorting to loans, while for others this may very well be impossible. The same can be said of those in other businesses or sources of income that are questionable or clearly Haraam.

While we have concentrated on income, the struggle can capture many other areas of life. Persons in relationships that are not marriages. Marriage with Non Muslims, family dynamics, struggling with the social life, and many other areas.

Institutional building is needed

If we are going to live in the West, we have to recognize that these situations will not simply go away. These types of problems will continuously pop up, and-in fact- will endure. On an individual level, Muslims may be able to control their diet, the moments they pray, the clothes they wear. This person may even be blessed with a magical solution to all of their issues,yet, we must say, that American Muslims of all sects, nationalities and orientations, must work together to create united efforts to minimize [if not totally eliminate] the need to find our bread and butter in questionable occupations. That means Muslims must form their own banks/credit unions, they must create funds and open up housing for New Muslims, they must cooperate, live in their own neighborhoods, form strong bonds that will have an impact both socially and politically.

Personal level- do what you can

To use an analogy, all of us look at the ingredients when shopping at a grocery store. Mainly, we search to make sure our food is not Haraam, but some mistakes may end up being committed along the way, out of ignorance or necessity. But we have to keep making effort to make sure our food is actually lawful.

If a person is in a questionable  business, he or she should strive to find a better -Halaal-job. Make some effort. Allah says that he provides from sources a person cannot even imagine, if that person has Taqwaaa. [Q 65:2-3]. If he or she has a relationship that's not marriage, the solution, if love and compatibility are there, to get married. In terms of income issues and education, housing etc, a family can work together- share all the expenses, and end up avoiding Ribaa, paying off loans, paying for an education. But all of this requires patience, discipline, foresight, and intelligence. It also requires thinking as family, thinking as community, thinking and acting based upon the interests of the big picture.

Consider the story of the Barrientos sisters. These four Texas sisters were able to eliminate $180,000 in debt in just eighteen months by sharing the load[ see]

Islam sees the spiritual and the material as connected to each other. Even our food can affect our souls. Our financial situation can color our relationship with God. That's a simple fact, regardless of whether we like it or not. So we have to have faith, use the minds given to us by Allah, take some actions and go from there.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

On the wings of Angels: Reflections on the Hadeeth of Jibreel

[Note: The following is an edited version of the lecture given in the Spirituality session at the Toledo Masjid.]

We are looking at one of the most important narrations in the Islamic tradition. Most of us know this Hadeeth already, and even if  we don't, the contents are so well known out of necessity anyways. As an obvious example, if we ask any Muslim "What are the five pillars?" he will automatically begin reciting them, without knowing this hadeeth!

This hadeeth has two versions. There are minor and major differences, but the substance is the same. [Ft.#1]. In our discussion, we will make use of both versions. This is also an important exercise because we often remember one version of a text, and think a mistake has been made when we hear another version with slightly different wordings being quoted by a speaker.[ft.#2]

A man comes to the Prophet and asks about four things. The man was a stranger, unknown to the locals, yet, the normal signs of travel were absent! We begin where the man began. [1] "What is Islam?"  [2] "What is Imaan?". So we find a difference between Islam and Imaan

The Qur'an is very clear on this. We are told:

 قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا
The Bedouins  say "We have Imaan."

They would tell the Prophet [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] this. So Allah Almighty tells his Prophet to respond.

قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا
Say: Don't proclaim Imaan, rather, say "We have submitted" [i.e. we are Muslims]

Submission, in our hadeeth here, is defined as the five pillars, all of which involve action. Even the first one, it's a verbal action, to proclaim one's acceptance of being One God worthy of worship and that Muhammad was God's messenger [Ft.#3]

The Bedouins are highlighted because they lived away from town, further away from personal interactions with the Prophet, so the development of real Imaan would be limited. In addition, they were seen as a people who were rough and dangerous. The Qur'an itself mentions, about the same people, the following:

لأَعْرَابُ أَشَدُّ كُفْرًا وَنِفَاقًا وَأَجْدَرُ أَلاَّ يَعْلَمُواْ حُدُودَ مَا أَنزَلَ اللّهُ عَلَى رَسُولِهِ وَاللّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ (9:97)

The Bedouins are the most virulent in Kufr and Hypocricy, most likely to be unaware of the limits that Allah has sent upon his Messenger.

Islam is the first step, defining Imaan

Being a 'Muslim' [one who does 'Islam'] is only the first step. Many texts within both the Qur'an and Hadeeth literature show this.

"Islam" leads to Imaan.  Imaan is that which one is confident or secure about. The Prophet here mentions that it is having Imaan in God, His angels, meeting with him, his messengers, and having Imaan in the resurrection.

Once that confidence is planted in the core of the heart, that transforms the Muslim to a Mu'min!

Your Islam brings you to Imaan. That cultivation brings Allah to mind. So Islam is the first step, Imaan is the second step. Notice that the Qur'an says

إِنَّ الصَّلاَةَ كَانَتْ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ كِتَابًا مَّوْقُوتًا
Verily, Prayer is mandated on those with Imaan at prescribed moments in time.[Q 4:103]

It doesn't say "for the Muslims". It says "for those with Imaan." So the Mu'min goes to pray when it is time. The Mu'min sees the universe as a testimony to the Divine authority. It may be worth reading the Soorah Al-Mu'minoon [Chapter 23] for a detailed description of those with Imaan as well as their responsibilities.

In addition, let us recall the Prophet's statement "None of you have Imaan until [Hattaaa] you love for your brother what you love for yourself."

[3] "What is Ihsaan?"

The Prophet's profound reply is the apex of this Hadeeth:

To worship Allah as though you seem him.

That development- to reach the state of Ihsaan, is the apex. The person who reaches Ihsaan is called a Muhsin.

إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

Verily, Allah loves those who have/do Ihsaan. [Q 2:195 and 5:13]

[4] "Inform me about the hour [As-Saa'ah]!"

When this query was posed, the Prophet says "the one questioned about it doesn't know any better than the questioner."

The man replies "Then [at least ] tell me about its signs."

The Prophet is unlike the other messengers in one respect. He is the final Prophet. No other Prophets or scriptures will come, so part of his job was to deliver some indicators  of the Saa-'ah.

"The servant woman [amat] will give birth to her master, when you see barefoot, naked shepherds competing in building tall buildings."
Another version of this statement reads "You will see deaf, dumb, blind, barefoot shepherds competing in building as if they are kings."  [Ft.#4]

These- and similar Ahadeeth- have been variously interpreted throughout the ages, but we can understand the Prophet's statement here to speak on social upheaval.  Every time it occurs, when things are turning upside down, be on the lookout that judgement can be near.

With regards to the "Hour", the scholars have coined some interesting phrases. " Saa'ah al Kubraa" or the "Great hour" refers, in their terminology, to the actual day of judgement, the final day. The moment when all humans will have a public accounting.  saa'ah as Sughraa, or the "Small hour", refers to our own death!

So we can look at this hadeeth in both ways. Even looking at today's world, we can identify these indicators in our midst now, so we should be on the lookout for the GREAT HOUR!

We see the social order completely turned upside down. We live in a time when children can totally break away from their parents and vice versa, even murder each other, and it's seen as a regular occurrence.

Saheeh Al-Bukhari and Muslim both report that the Messenger of Allah [peace be upon him] said, about the final age:

Time will become short, and Fitan [trials] will become prevalent, as well as much slaughter.

This seems to describe our time very accurately!

"Barefoot, naked sheperds competing in building tall buildings" is -likewise- a perfect description of the Persian Gulf societies. Only a generation or so ago, they were goat-herders and the like, now- their societies are flush with cash.

Hadeeth Jibreel has combined four issues, like the four wheels on a car. All four are required to move from place to place, station to station. So while it does discuss theology, it also discusses action and- most importantly- consciousness!

There has been [and continues to be] people of knowledge, but no faith. People of faith, but no practice. People of form and ritual, but no substance. This Hadeeth of the Prophet tells us for the need for faith, understanding, striving to always to do better [the dictionary meaning of Ihsaan] and awareness that the hour, either the great one that will affect all mankind, or the small one that affects us as individuals, can come at any time.

These are heavenly lessons. To get them is to fly on the wings of the angels. Thus, it is apt that Jibreel, the angel of revelation, is the one who teaches this directly to the Muslim community.


[1] Al-Bukhari's text has the narrator as Abu Hurayrah, whereas Muslim has 'Umar ibn Al-Khattab.  Muslim has the sequence as "Islam, Imaan, Ihsaan, and Saa'ah" whereas Al-Bukhari has Imaan coming first. Also, "Meeting with him" is missing from Muslim, which, instead, has, as part of Imaan "to believe in destiny, both good and bad". Muslim's narration has a physical description of the stranger [ "White clothes, no signs of travel, excessively black hair"] identified as Gabriel, whereas Al-Bukhari has no description given.

[2] This writer quoted a hadeeth from Saheeh Muslim which reports the Prophet as saying "The hand of God is over the community" [Yadullaahi 'alal Jamaa-'ah] in a speech and was told this was incorrect, as the questioner only knew the version which says "The hand of God is WITH the community" [Yadullaaahi Maa'al Jamaa-'ah]. Both carry the same import, but it's important to recognize that there are differences in the narrations, due to a number of factors-including human error and such. These have all been recorded within the literature of the traditions.

[3] The five pillars are mentioned in this hadeeth, as well as other narrations. The pillars are recognizing the Oneness of God and the Messengership of Muhammad, Prayer, Charity, fasting in  Ramadan and the pilgrimage to Makkah.

[4] This narration is cited by Al-Hanbali, Ibn Rajab [ b.1335], in Jaami'ul 'Uloom wal Hikam.

What is Imaan? Focusing on Allah and His Angels

[Note: This is an edited version of our recent  Friday Khutbah that focused on the "Hadeeth Jibreel". We have omitted here the opening Hamd, much of the Arabic originally given,  as well as the division of the Khutbah into two sections.]

يُسَبِّحُ لِلَّهِ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ الْمَلِكِ الْقُدُّوسِ الْعَزِيزِ الْحَكِيمِ

هُوَ الَّذِي بَعَثَ فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ رَسُولًا مِّنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِن كَانُوا مِن قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ

One of the best qualities of the Prophet Muhammad [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] was his ability to see the needs or true questions of people and address them. There are many Ahadeeth which demonstrate this, in that the Prophet would be answer similiar questions in a slightly different fashion. Even within the differences, a common thread can still be found. 

We have a rather long hadeeth, itself having two different versions, which tells us a man came to the Prophet. This man was a stranger, unknown to the locals, yet he did not have the disheveled look of a traveler. 

The man asked four questions, but our focus today is the question "What is Imaan?" [Maa Al Imaan?] . The Prophet responds " Imaan is to have Imaan in God, his angels, meeting with him [Wa Liqaaa-ihi], his messengers, and to have Imaan in resurrection"

Imaan involves a surety within the heart! While it is tempting to think of the Prophet's statement as simply a theological formula, in fact much more is given here. To have confidence, not in governments, websites, politicians or the stock market, but rather, in Allah and Allah's angels! To know that Allah is real, that he sees and knows all, and that he his will is executed in the creation through the agency of his angels. So Imaan begings with Allah and the angels. 

 خَلَقَ اللَّهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ بِالْحَقِّ إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَةً لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ
"Allah created the universe with purpose, surely in that [exists] signs for those with Imaan." [Q 29:44]

Understanding that and basing one's life on that makes you an upholder of Imaan, or a Mu'min

Thus, the Prophet [Peace and blessings of God be upon him] said:

"None of you have Imaan, till he loves for his brother what he loves for himself."

His son in law, 'Ali Ibn Abi Taalib, Radee Allahu 'Anhu, is reported to have instructed a governor to be fair with those under his administration

"Because they are of two kinds, a brother in religion, or similar to you in [God's] creation" {Nahjal Balaaghah letter 54}

So the Mu'min is to remove animosities, jealousies, etc from his heart. If you love happiness and security for yourself and your family, you are to love the same for your brother- both your religious brothers as well as  your brothers in the wider human community.This is Imaan manifested

If Imaan was truly manifested, as given in the Prophet's many statements and the statement of 'Ali, the world's problems would disappear and universal peace and justice would be prevalent.

The teachings of the Prophet are comprehensive. They are to be firmly planted in the heart and shown in public via personal transformation and a character of enlightenment. 

Who was the stranger? A surprising lesson

Both narrations say it was a stranger who asked the Prophet these questions. The Prophet answered the questions, and the man would reply "You have spoken truthfully" [Sadaqta]. The companions found this odd. After all, the Messenger of Allah-Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam- does not need this man's validation. The man departs, and the Prophet informs the audience that this was in fact the Angel Gabriel, "who has come to teach you your religion". There is a lesson here. Angels can still come, and they can do so in human form.

So that is something to be conscious about. Prophets don't come anymore, neither do scriptures [See Q 33:40]. Yet, angels can come, to teach us lessons by the permission of God. So do treat people well, be open minded and-more importantly-have an open heart- a heart ready to be guided by Allah ['Azza wa Jall]. After all, Divine help and guidance can come from unexpected quarters.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Revisiting Race: America's never-ending odyssey

It is easy to think of the USA as a post-racial society, a place where ethnic background, skin color and religious label are not factors that lead to official and non-official marginalization. After all, twice now American voters have elected a man with roots in a Kenyan Muslim family, with the middle name "Hussein" on top of it, to the highest office in the land.

African-Americans are also represented in leading positions in various areas of society, law enforcement, politics and media.

Yet despite all these truthful assertions, African-Americans as a whole feel under siege. This is due to a number of socioeconomic factors, but as of late, highlighted in the continuing incidents leading to death during rather mundane encounters with law enforcement. Samuel Dubose in Cincinnati, Ohio. Or that of Sandra Bland, 28, in Prairie View, Texas, which authorities there have declared a suicide. In addition to these, social media are filled daily with videos of confrontations with Police officials. In addition to dealings with the law, we now have seen Dylan Roof, a young white man who joined a Bible study in a historically black Church, Emmanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina then opened fire, killing nine, including the senior pastor, Clementa Pickney, himself a South Carolina Senator. It's actually amazing that none have declared this an act of terrorism, even when a politician was killed in Church. I guess the Terrorist label is only applicable when the perpetrators are Brown-skinned and Muslim!

Why do we see a surge in these events? This writer has spent a great deal of time exploring this and related issues, speaking with people from various races and walks of life, and the theories out there are interesting- albeit frightening. There are those, both black and white, who feel these incidents are deliberate attempts to ignite a race war. Others blame media for fanning the flames, while others have placed blame on everything from the stresses of working in Law enforcement to the killings found in video games such as Grand Theft Auto!

Attitudes of mistrust will take generations to sort out

Tensions between ethnic groups [and more often, between social classes] have always been present within human society. That is simply a fact. Perhaps because we live in a fast-paced world we end up becoming conditioned to think these issues can be just as easily solved as going into a fast-food restaurant for lunch.

In an American context, we must remember that slavery officially lasted for 246 years. This figure does not include the various European adventures into Africa for slaves, which began in the late 1400's. The official period of slavery [ending with the Emancipation proclamation of 1863, but obviously not enforced until the end of the American Civil War in 1865] was followed by official and non official discrimination, violence, Jim Crow Laws, the rise of vigilante racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan [KKK], lynchings, etc..

Yet, this writer asserts that  the next two generations,God-willing, will see racial biases- at least the sort that manifest themselves in the way they have, disappear. This statement may sound naive to some readers, but do consider the following facts.

[1] The increase of the ethnic groups that  are neither black nor white, such as Latinos and Asians. They are increasing in numbers, but also economic and political power. See;_ylt=A0LEVv5VkcJVeHEAyx8nnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTByOHZyb21tBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg--

[2] The rising acceptance of social relations between the races, including interracial marriage.

These two factors alome, along with others unmentioned here, are enough to generate hope that the coming generation will be able to discard the attitudes and actions that have been going on for so long!

Overall illnesses must also be addressed

While the future does appear to be bright, we must nonetheless acknowledge that there are deep social problems, or illnesses, that need to be addressed. Knowing that there are illnesses is obviously the first step to finding the cure. This writer does not claim to know all the answers, nor to even be able to see all the symptons, nonetheless we highlight a few, and hope these observations generate thought, especially for our political, religious and social leaders, for those in media and the entertainment industry.

[1] Narcissistic culture: Under nice-sounding labels such as "independence" and "freedom", this culture of simply the pursuit of whims ends up creating countless social problems, leaving in its wake destroyed families and neighborhoods.

[2] Media Violence: The increasingly violent images we see daily in our movies, music and games leaves us desensitized. So, violence is "fun" and "Manly". In addition, sexual dedregation is also connected to this.

[3] Racial stereotyping: Countless books and articles have been published on this point, and African-Americans are admittedly its greatest victims, although Muslims [particularly Arab or South Asian] are increasingly shown as villians, up to no good, untrustworthy, etc..

[4] Abandonment of moral/spiritual values: This manifests itself in the narcisisstic culture mentioned above, as well as in other ways. More and more, we are being conditioned to discard the values given in religion, that such values are antiquated and useless. Indeed, this is shown even through dress. Women wear short, tight clothes even in Church [and other venues ] and a popular style is for men to wear pants "sagging", showing their underwear.

Reasons to be hopeful

Ta-nehisi Coates, [an atheist] does not see any hope for Race relations in America, despite his personal successes. His new book  Between the world and me [2015, Spiegel &Graw, New York] is simply a collection of thoughts as to why he sees no reasons to hope.

It is precisely the opposite for this writer, because this writer believes in God! God is the one who created, but also cares for- all of his creation. God is the one who is the source of all races and ethnic backrounds. Human differences are not an accident. They are intentional actions on the part of the Divine Hand.

There is hope when one sees children, particularly very young children. They show love and do not consider issues of skin color as reasons to dislike or to hate others. There is hope because there are still on this Earth human beings with healthy hearts. There is hope because God created humans to have the capacity to grow, to think and progress beyond the limits placed on them by outside forces.

Even Malcolm X, known as Al-Hajj Malik Shabazz, a man who had, at one point in his life, dismissed whites as literal devils, grew. In commenting on race in America, he says:

..that discussion with the ambassador gave me a new insight-one which I like: that the white man is not inherently evil, but America's racist society influences him to act evilly. ..

[The autobiography of Malcolm X, 1999 edition, Ballantine Books, New York]

In these words we find hope. Hope to grow out of pettiness, hope to be humans, exhibiting the humanity placed in us by God.