Sunday, July 7, 2013

The transformative power of Ramadan

Friday prayer at Toledo Masjid. Examines both the technical details of the fast as well as the method by which the fast can be used to make us better people.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Towards a healthy spiritual life: contemplating Islamic principles

Life is a journey. We are always on the journey, even if we are physically confined to a certain place or space. The longer one lives, the more we learn and develop. This is true for all human beings, or perhaps a better description, should be true for all human beings.

Religion comes forth in order to deliver guidance as to how to live with yourself, with other humans, with those who agree with you and those who disagree with you. It is true that there are what we could call theological truisms, but it is the living and functioning in this world that is the main goal and function of religion. The theological truisms, such as believe in the One God, who is invisible to the human eye, accepting as true the commissioning of Prophets and messengers, the sending forth of scripture, the final one being the Qur'an [as per Islamic teachings], are all connected with, in some way or another, to the way humans are suppose to live here!

Important information on this topic is given in the Qur'an, the scripture sent forth to the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings. There are also some sayings of the Prophet that we could reference, but for our purposes only one seems prudent: " I have been sent to perfect morals" [ Musnad Ahmad].

Introducing Soorah Al Hujuraat

The Tafseer books are in general agreement as to the circumstances [Sibaab an Nuzool] surrounding the revelation of Soorah # 49. The Prophet was in his home, and some tribesmen from Banu Tameem came looking for him, yelling "O Muhammad, come out!" [some reports say that they used the term "Ahmad" rather than Muhammad] . It was certainly an example of bad manners. In any case, the Soorah was sent forth, dealing with this and other issues. I highly recommend a study of the text for yourself.

We will not seek to look at the whole of the Soorah in this brief post, but rather we will take a quick glace at some of its Blessed contents.

O Believers! Do not place yourselves before Allah and his messenger, rather, have Taqwaa of Allah, Surely, Allah is Hearer, knower.[ Q 49:1]
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَرْفَعُوا أَصْوَاتَكُمْ فَوْقَ صَوْتِ النَّبِيِّ وَلَا تَجْهَرُوا لَهُ بِالْقَوْلِ كَجَهْرِ بَعْضِكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ أَن تَحْبَطَ أَعْمَالُكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَشْعُرُونَ

O believers! Do not elevate your voices above the voice of the Prophet, do not be loud with him in speech, nor treat his speech as the speech of others, lest your deeds become nullified while you are not perceptive.[Q 49:2]

these two verses introduce the Soorah. The guidance of the Qur'an and the messenger are the most important sources. They are not to be treated in the same way one treats the works of lawyers, scholars, philosophers and lay people. This textual and spiritual hierarchy is necessary in order as to not have any confusion. Islam, as found in the Qur'an and Prophetic guidance, is perfected. When perfection and its opposite are mixed, there will arise natural confusion. Notice here, as throughout the Qur'an, the formula "God and his messenger". God is represented by the Qur'an, so the Qur'an will have to serve as primary foundational pillar.

So, what does God say? What does Allah tell us that is relevant for a healthy spiritual life? A life that is, in a sense, protected. Here are some examples of the Divine speech:

  يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِن جَاءكُمْ فَاسِقٌ بِنَبَأٍ فَتَبَيَّنُوا أَن تُصِيبُوا قَوْمًا بِجَهَالَةٍ فَتُصْبِحُوا عَلَى مَا فَعَلْتُمْ نَادِمِينَ
" O believers! When a "Faasiq" [an immoral person who breaks the normal rules of behavior] comes with any information, investigate it, lest you bring harm to a people unknowingly and become regretful afterwards." [Al-Qur'an 49:6]

This references not only war situations, or exercising caution with media or internet reports, but even within our own small circles.  Notice the verse says "investigate" rather than outright rejection of the report. In our own lives, we may have those who love to see discord. "Misery loves company" as the saying goes. This should not be the source of our downfall,what other people say or do. Indeed, this is even connected to the teaching known as Husnudh dhann, or positive conjecture. The first and foremost rule in Islamic ethics, as well as even within the Fiqh, is to assume the best BEFORE  assuming the worst. That certainly does not imply blind following, but rather in having a generally positive outlook on life and on human beings. That positive thinking is the best step in getting or in having a healthy spiritual life.

More practical steps

The same Soorah tells us to not ridicule others, not to give defamatory names, nor insulting [49:11] . No commentary is needed on this, except to perhaps consider what Muhammad the Prophet is reported to have said. "Love for your brother what you love for yourself". Would we like to be made fun of? Or insulted?

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ 
  إِنَّ اللَّهَ تَوَّابٌ رَّحِيمٌ

" O believers, [1] Do not engage in much conjecture, verily, conjecture is sometimes sinful. [2] Do not spy on one another,[3] Do not backbite on one another, would you like to eat the meat of your dead brother? Nay, you would hate this. Have Taqwaa of Allah, verily, Allah is Oft-Returning, Compassionate.[ Q 49:12]

Now we come to the heart of this post. Conjecture [Dhann] can be destructive, and, as the verse says, a sin. The principle of assuming the best before assuming the worst, especially when there is no evidence of wrong play or ill will, is another key element of a healthy spiritual existence. The verse goes on to speak of spying. Why the prohibition for spying? Because everyone has a private life, quarters of their existence, even if not sinful, that is not needed to share with the world. Moreover, to search out for the wrongs or for the shortcomings of others is in itself a sign of a diseased heart. Indeed, there is wisdom in the Prophetic hadeeth which says "blessed is the one who is so busy with their own faults they forget the faults of others" [ narrated by Anas and reported by Al Bazzaar]. Backbiting, in a similar way, is a sign of a sick heart, one that requires treatment in the Divine clinic. We go back to a hadeeth cited before, love for your brother what you love for yourself. That should be sufficient as a comment.

"O Humanity! Verily We [God] have created you from a single male and female, made you into peoples and groupings for the purpose of learning from one another. Verily, in Allah's sight the most honorable are those with the highest amount of Taqwaa in your midst. Verily, Allah is the Knowing, the Aware." [Q 49:13]

This verse tells us the reasons behind the differences we find among the human race. Our cultures, cooking style, languages, etc.. are all placed there by the Divine plan, in order for us to derive mutual benefit. It is not an accident of nature or an oddity. The Qur'an places  emphasis on traveling to lands other than your own, as that is a means for growth. Xenophobia is, thus, an entirely Un Islamic feeling to hold onto. Our own experience is that there are, and will continue to be, people of great potential, even religiously, but who hold to racist views, jealousies and even fear of other languages, other peoples, etc.., thus, holding themselves back. They deny the blessings Allah has given to them by framing everything in racial terms.They have engaged in conjecture [Dhann] solely on the basis of a skin color or national origin. This also implies some sort of racial or ethnic superiority, which is condemned here in the above verse. Throughout Soorah Al-Baqarah, and even mentioned briefly in Soorah Al Jumu'ah, we find that elements among the Children of Israel are condemned for this way of thinking.


All of these elements are connected. If we have unhappy lives, we have to ask ourselves the reason. Do we put our desires or our opinions as first, elevating our whims above the guidance of the Almighty and above the goodly model of the messenger, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam? Do we elevate our voices over that of Islam?  Are we willing to reject good advice or guidance simply because the wrapping is not a color we like? Do we judge and feel suspicious all the time? Do we allow ourselves to be inspired by the Devil? I am reminded of Randy Linn, the arsonist of the Islamic center of Greater Toledo, who, in court for his crime, said that he had been inspired by Fox News. He had been convinced Muslims were here, preparing some anti-American acts, because of the comments he heard on that channel.

This article is not a full commentary on this Soorah. Indeed, I have studied this Soorah so much that I am tempted to write a book on it. This article seeks to look at some of the things that we could do, or avoid, in order to have a healthy spiritual life. Basically, we are to look at both internal and external factors. Both are connected. Throughout the Soorah, we read about Taqwaa, a healthy awareness, respect for God. This translates into our relations with others as well. One need only take a glance at the Qur'an, 4:1.

Comments and discussion are welcome. Wa Lillaahit-Tawfeeq.