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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.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Making faith make sense

[ The following is an edited version of our recent speech delivered at Toledo Masjid's open house. We have omitted Arabic quotations here.]



In the name of God, whose mercy is felt by all in this world, and whose mercy is extended beyond measure in the next world.

I have struggled to figure out how begin addressing this topic. The reason for the struggle is that there are many areas we can look at, everything from the impact of science on religious dogma, the Protestant reformation, Greek Philosophy, and even the Mu'tazilite trend, which emerged among Muslims in roughly the middle of the 8th century C.E. However, all of these are historical and encompasses limitations.

So we would like to start with a verse of the Qur'an which speaks directly to the topic. It is a verse that has to be examined slowly.

"Those who think about God [i.e. Godly affairs] standing, sitting down, laying on their sides" Q 3:191

People who are trying to "make faith make sense" are constantly in thought, especially in moments of relaxation.

"These people contemplate about the contents of the heavens and the Earth" [Q 3:191]

Their thinking on Godly issues or God concept etc leads them to look at the universe. To look at not only the planets, stars and other heavenly bodies, but to look at even what they have immediate access to.

What happens when people begin to think about God and to ponder deeply their surroundings? Well, think of our immediate surroundings. Trees are useful not only in terms of paper, but are involved in the production of oxygen. A natural recycling system exists. Waste, be it from dogs, cats or humans, acts as fertilizer for the soul. Indeed, we have fossil fuels, which, basically, is the fuel that has been produced via the bones of dinosaurs and the like. In our daily speech we recognize God when we speak of an Eco-system or the immune system. "System" refers to systematic!

In another Quranic verse it says that God will show people his evidences in regions far away as well as within their own selves [Q 41:53].


So when a thoughtful person contemplates the outside world and their own inner workings, they have to reach a conclusion


Our Lord! You have not created [all] this without purpose, to you deserves glory [Q 3:191]

It all has purpose. Trees have purpose, the systems within the body have purpose. All of them function in accordance with certain parameters. They produce certain results. So our conclusion would have to be that God is the Ultimate Engineer!

So this is a solid foundation for faith in God. It is not blind faith, rather, it is actually reasonable.


Faith as presented in today's world

Faith or Imaan is often seen in today's world as irrational. One of the reasons for this is that modern culture portrays God as a being who does magic tricks. Miracles and acting like a Magician as found in the circus. This attitude is encouraged by many preachers, who will encourage their followers to expect more miracles and unusual happenings when they spend their money. Televangelists do this and can get away with it, they say "The more money you spend, the more likely you will encounter miracles."

God can do what he wants, but he normally does things according to a specific pattern. He rarely goes outside that pattern!

So the God who has created all of this to serve purpose has also sent scriptures and messengers, human beings to communicate and to revitalize the human condition.

For Muslims, we say the scripture that can benefit all mankind is the Qur'an, and that humans coming with scripture, that comes to a conclusion with Muhammad the final one [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam]


Nature of the Qur'an

The Qur'an is both a "religious" text and a non religious text. Similarly, while Jesus and Muhammad [peace be on them both] were Messengers of God, they were also social reformers who spoke to the realities of human society. Thus, the Qur'an speaks on God, angels, prophets and judgement day, as well as a just economy, racism, universal justice and proper thinking patterns!

The Greatest Miracle

Rather than looking for the miraculous to strengthen faith, or even looking for complex explanations on God-concept, look for the answers to those pressing issues facing our world, such as those mentioned earlier. The greatest miracles are not the opening of the Red Sea for Moses and his followers, or the virgin birth of Christ, the greatest miracle is that of normal human beings, inspired by Imaan, to overcome adversity, by the use of their own minds and their own hands!

Your life has purpose

Let us return to the Quranic verse cited at the beginning of this presentation [Q 3:191]. If God can create "things" for purpose, or to serve a variety of complex functions, can't he do the same for you and me?

We are computers of flesh and bone! We have minds and bodies, functioning through a complicated and organized format. Our minds and bodies are not to be wasted away with Smartphones, video games and apathy! Our hands, feet and bodies were created to move around, to be active and productive!

We want to exist in the mold that God wants for us. THAT is the essential definition of the word "Muslim", one who actively does what God has ordained.


Lessons from Soorat Al Kahf

The last observation I wish to share is that we must be careful not to elevate our opinions to godhood! Something [in religion] may not "make sense" simply due to our weaknesses in knowledge. The story of Moses and Khidr illustrate this.

Before sharing the story, let me inform you that Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said that this chapter of the Qur'an  [Soorah Al Kahf, chapter 18] contains that which will protect a person from the misguidance of Maseeh id Dajjaal, the great deceiver who pretends to have the solutions for man in this world.  [ft #1]

Khidr, a teacher of Moses, his name comes from the word akhdar. It means Green. Khidr's knowledge is fresh, healthy. Moses and this great teacher were together, and he sees the teacher damage a boat. Moses objected,, he found this to be an act of unjustified vandalism. Similarly, he sees the teacher repair a wall on the verge of collapse, even though the locals had been rude to them. Moses does not understand these actions.

Khidr informs Moses ['alayhis salaam] of the reasons behind these things. A king was confiscating boats, and Khidr knew this ruler would be uninterested in damaged boats. So he actually does a favor to the boat owners. The wall on the verge of collapse, had it fallen, a treasure left behind for orphaned children would have been discovered and stolen.[Ft.2]


If it doesn't "make sense", that does not mean it is automatically incorrect. Let us not become so self-assured that we become immune to God's guidance.

The guidance of Allah is the best guidance, because it is from the one who sees what we are unable to see and knows what we are incapable of knowing.As God says "Say" Will you teach God your Deen, when God knows what is in the heavens and what is in the Earth.." [Q 49:16:]


Let us also keep in mind, in conclusion, the prayer [Du'aa] of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. Prophet Muhammad should be studied by  Muslims and Non Muslims alike, not for the sake of converting per se , but because great lessons can be take from him, especially so in his supplications to God which he taught his followers.

"O Allah, show us truth as truth, and give us the ability to follow it."

It's not enough to see truth, one has to act on it. Everyone knows that cigarettes are very unhealthy, yet smoking is still a widely-practiced habit. We are told by Our Prophet to supplicate to Allah to recognize Haqq as indeed Haqq, but to also be given the strength to obey, to follow through.


"and show us Baatil as Baatil, and give us the ability to stay away from it."

Baatil is a deep word. Remember the Quranic verse earlier, Rabbana Maa Khalaqta Haadhaa Baatilan. Baatil can mean that which is false, but it can also mean that which serves no purpose or that which is ridiculous.

The same word here in the Prophet's prayer. We want to not only to identify that which lacks substance, but we want to be able to have the courage to abstain from it.


Footnotes

[1] This hadeeth has been narrated in various ways, both in wordings and general import, throughout the literature of tradition. Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad's Musnad, etc.. There are narrations that highlight the first ten verses of Soorat al Kahf, some that highlight the last, as well as the narration encouraging Muslims to read this Soorah every Friday!

[2] The story of Moses and Khidr is found in 18:60-82


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.


Taqwaaa

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. https://search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=charee+stanly+on+the+view&ei=UTF-8&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-002].





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 http://abcnews.go.com/Business/texas-sisters-erased-182k-debt-18-months/story?id=33485609]

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.


Footnotes

[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 http://news.yahoo.com/rise-latino-population-blurs-us-racial-lines-114944593.html;_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.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Eid ul Fitr Video

Toledo, Ohio had its first United 'Eid prayer service. Below is a video of the program.

[1] Minute 1:00- 3:00 Adam Smidi opening remarks.


[2] Minute 3- 5:45, Imam Farooq welcome.


[3] 5:45-12:00 Eid prayer led by Shaikh Ahmad Abou Alsayf. Notice his beautiful recitation of the Qur'an, from Soorah Al-Faatihah, Al A'laa, and Al Ghaashiyah.

[4]12:00-27:00 Eid Khutbah by Imam S.Waheed

[5] 27:00-35:00, Closing remarks and supplication by Shaikh Ibrahim.

[6] 35:00-39:00, Greetings from Toledo Mayor Paula Hudson and Mayoral candidate Sandy Collins.









Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pictures from Eid ul Fitr

Below are a couple of pictures from  Toledo's Eid prayers and celebration. Four Mosques and a community center pooled their resources to have a united service celebrating the end of the month of Ramadan, itself a time for prayer, fasting and introspection.



[ Preparing for Khutbah, with Sheikh Ibrahim Djunoua, Imam Farouq Abouelzahab and Imam Ahmad Abousayf [in white]}


We will post video of the Khutbah when it is made available, insha Allah.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Spiritual illnesses: diagnosis and treatment

All of us [with no exceptions] have been or may even be currently affected by spiritual maladies. Even if we are not currently, almost certainly we will be hit with them in the future. Indeed, we all have been  physically sick in our lives, in both major and minor ways, and it will happen again during the dying process.

Spiritual afflictions are transmitted through a multitude of avenues, such as our family members, friends outside the home, by the television programs [note the word "Program"] we watch, the music we listen to, even by the food we consume [FT.#1]. It is to be noted that the younger one is, the healthier one is spiritually[Ft.2].

Just as with physical ailments, spiritual illnesses can be a passing experience. On the other hand, it can also last many years, requiring exhaustive treatment and  long-term care. Having been cured of the illness does not negate the possibility of experiencing it again, especially if the medical instructions and subsequent advice was not followed through in a consistent fashion.


The Qur'an describes itself as a healing for those who believe in God [ Q 10:57]. So it, along with the Prophet [peace be upon him], act as the prescription for our ailments. We hope to have a glance at how Islam broadly diagnoses illnesses and treatment.

Build your immune system

The religion of Islam attempts to instill a sort of healthy foundation beginning with birth and lasting till death. Indeed, from the Prophet's Sunnah [Sunan Tirmidhee, Kitaab al adhiyaa 1514] we have that the Adhaan, or call to prayer, is made in the ear of the new born. Prayer is enjoined on children at an early age, and throughout the life of a Muslim, God's name is pronounced regularly as a part of daily life. These are some of the healthy injections. The five pillars of Islam, attending the Friday Prayers, reading and listening to the Qur'an, adhering to the basic ethical standards of the faith[ FT.3]. Consider the above as exercise, part of healthy living, All humans get sick at some point of their lives and all humans eventually experience physical death, however the [spiritually] healthy life will be more rewarding in the long term.


What are some of the main displays of a spiritual illness?

[1] Stubbornness: When sticking to the same position, practice or opinion, even though it's plainly dangerous. One example is smoking cigarettes[FT# 4]. It's harm is well-known, yet many smokers will dispute this by providing anecdotal accounts regarding others who lived till 100 yet still smoked. In spiritual health, one should always be seeking a better way to be connected with Allah.

There is a lesson found in the following supplication attributed to the Messenger of Allah, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam. O Allah, show me truth as truth, and provide me with the ability to follow it, and falsehood as falsehood, and the ability to abstain from it. اللهُمَّ أَرِنَا الحَقَّ حَقّاً وَارْزُقْنَا التِبَاعَةَ وَأَرِنَا البَاطِلَ بَاطِلاً وَارْزُقْنَا اجْتِنَابَهُ،
So we should be seeking truth in order to benefit from it. This is particularly important to the leaders and lecturers. You are teaching people, and to teach, one must be a willing and consistent student. When truth is identified and it is clear, we should- for our own sake- embrace it.

Imam Ash Shafi'ee [ d. 820 CE] is reported to have said, upon debating other scholars "I debate believing I am right and my opponent wrong, but I am also conscious that I may be wrong, and my opponent right."  That  statement is a sign of a truly healthy soul.

[2] Lack of empathy: A particular problem of our age. We see so much violence in our entertainment and our news that we no longer are surprised. We lose our empathy. To feel for others when they are in a bad situation is a sign of a healthy heart. To be emotionally touched by loved ones, children or even animals, is a sign of a healthy heart, even if that goodness is buried deep down- making it hard for others to see.

The Prophet Muhammad- upon whom be peace and the choicest of blessings, observed that the strong man is not the one who can wrestle another down, but one who can restrain himself while angry [Bazzaar].

This Hadeeth is particularly relevant, as in our age strength is determined by the amount of weapons and money at the disposal of one's nation or person.

[3] Sinful behavior:  The mainstreaming of irreligious ethos has made acceptable many things which was considered shameful in the past. When we discuss sinful behavior here, we mean that things which are clearly Haraam according to the religious texts has been made lawful, in the name of religion.  This weekend saw a failed attack on a "draw Muhammad" event in Texas. How can murder be made lawful as a Muslim? To add salt to the wound, it was said to have been staged to defend the Messenger of Allah. Yet, the Messenger of Allah, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, was told repeatedly by God to simply withdraw from the company of those insulting the signs of Allah [ Q 4:140, 6:69, also see 6:108, which says Muslims aren't even supposed to ridicule the idols of the Mushrikeen].

Another example of mainstreaming sinful behavior is something widely promoted in the media, homosexual activity allegedly justified by Islam. An openly homosexual "Imam" by the name of Daa'iyee Abdullah, is constantly on the interview circuit, complete with a beard [in keeping with Sunnah] and a cap. It's one thing to have a weakness, but to lie about it, to justify it by misrepresenting the faith, and to even form an institution to promote it, is indeed a sign of a serious spiritual illness. It's better to just say "I have a weakness, and hope for God's forgiveness" than to search out loopholes on something that is beyond reasonable doubt.[Ft.#5]


Conclusion

This post is by no means meant to be exhaustive, but rather it's simply food, nay, a snack for thought. Are our beliefs, actions and attitudes in accordance with the Divine truths? Do we try to be better than we are today?

If we are questioning ourselves, then there is still hope. There is hope that we won't spiritually die in this life. So let us be a people who are constantly at work, striving to be healthy in all areas of our existence.


Footnotes

[1] Most religions have dietary codes as well as supplications to be recited during meals. From the Prophet's Sunnah, we are told to say Bismillah [In the name of God] before eating, praising God afterwards [Alhamdulillaah]. The Qur'an tells us to not eat meat slaughtered in the name of other than God as well [ 6:118, 6:121. 5:4].

[2] The Christian Gospel reports that Jesus [upon whom be peace] told his followers to become like little Children, if they want to enter into the Paradise. Matthew 18:3. The Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] observed that "Every child is born on the pattern [Al-Fitrah]". That Hadeeth [we have only quoted a portion] is understood to mean that all are born in a state of purity, of submission to God's will, and [as the remaining portions of the narration state] that society will change that child into something different. 

[3] Qur'an 25: 63-76 has the basic ethical code in Islam.


[4] Most scholars of Islam don't view Cigarettes or Tobacco products as forbidden, but only as Makrooh [disliked]. Even with that said, the harm is well-known and even printed on the packages.

[5] Homosexuals from Muslim ranks have basically picked up the same sort of arguments from their Christian counterparts to justify their activities.Lot ['Alayhis salaam] was, according to them, sent to condemn rape and highway robbery. This argument holds no water whatsoever when we see that the text has it that Lot says directly "are you approaching males, and not females?" [Q 7:80]

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Finding Guidance in a world of Confusion



[Note: This is an edited version of our presentation at the monthly spirituality session at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam. Initially this was to be shared on video, but the recording failed half way into the presentation.]

When looking at life today, we find that almost everything is in a state of chaos, instability is the new normal. Attitudes, morals, public policies, all of them are up for grabs. "Facts" or values upheld as recently as fifty years ago are not under review worldwide.  In the religious world, this is also a problem, and confusion abounds. It can be argued that this is a greater problem for Christians than for any other religious community. Thus, under the slogans of Love, Forgiveness and Acceptance, support for everything under the sun is given, and religion ends up becoming nothing more than a label, a uniform  put on during the holidays, making religion a thing that has lost all value. Thus, we have here the basic foundation of confusion, translating into becoming lost, misguided and easily manipulated.

Allah [God, the most high] says in the Qur'an


If you obey most of those in the land, they will mislead you from the path of Allah. They [themselves] follow conjecture [Dhann], and are themselves nothing but a presumptuous lot." [Q 6:116]
6:116

We have two important phrases in this ayah. Dhann [conjecture] and yakhrusoon [root being kharasa], the latter carries, among its meanings, to have or to follow opinions without proof. It can also mean lying. So, giving obedience to lies.

Therefore, to be prepared to receive guidance, there has to be a willingness to pursue what is right. That means thinking deeply. Pondering, study, research. Guidance is NOT dictated by emotions, nor by the whims of the majority. Sociologists have long warned us of a mob mentality. The mob mentality manifests itself in obvious terms when a group of people assault or even kill a single person, but having or following the mob mentality is something preached to us on a daily basis through Television, Music, Movies, Politicians and even Social Media.  We have to be willing to accept that guidance may not always be seen or recognized by a majority.

Indeed, the Qur'an often tells us that those rejecting the Prophets of God would do so under the banner of following family or societal traditions [ among some examples, see Q 5:104 and 2:170].

Returning to conjecture, Dhann in Arabic, we also read in the Qur'an
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ
O Believers. avoid much conjecture, verily, sometimes conjecture is sinful. [Q 49:12].So we learn from this statement that conjecture, be it about religion or even other human beings, can be harmful. Islamophobes have fears based on conjecture. Thus, to many, a women wearing a head scarf is automatically oppressed, even if she's college educated. 

So strive hard to find truth, rather than having assumptions, because that is the gateway to receiving correct information.


Some other practical steps


Don't be lazy Muslims. Be connected to the Qur'an, consult it often. Use its verses in your prayers, have a stronger tie to it than you have to your favorite Television shows, Football teams and the like.


Be connected to people of knowledge, and to the Muslim community.


Don't let egos, jealousy, get in the way of your spiritual progression. A good practice is the regular recitation of the last two Quranic chapters [Al Falaq and An-Naas] because it can serve as a sort of spiritual protection, from other's bad intentions but also from developing those bad characteristics in one's own self.


In Islam, when we pray in congregation [Jamaa'ah] we do so standing closely to one another. The Imam is reciting texts [from  the Qur'an] that are universally accessible. The praying with others can create bonds that will overcome those bad characteristics, and it creates humility. 


In prayer, we say with every movement Allahu Akbar, God is the greatest, meaning God is bigger or more important than anything else. We proclaim his might and power in the bowing and prostrations. The Black and the White, the rich or poor, all are taught to proclaim the Divine power and thus, the fact we cannot be compared to him. We belong to God, to him is our return, and even our religion is to be for him! 



What about the actions of others?


If we are capable, we should always share whatever the truth is, especially on religious matters, but we can't force it on people. 


وَمَا جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَيْهِمْ حَفِيظًا وَمَا أَنتَ عَلَيْهِم بِوَكِيلٍ

"And We have not made you [O Muhammad] a keeper over them, nor have you been made in charge of their affairs. [6:107]

So if we have tools for others to use in their search for guidance, we do share them freely. The doctor can write the prescription, but in the end, it is the patient's responsibility to take the medicine as prescribed.

Guidance does not require force.

Personal guidance vs communal enlightenment

For me, I am a Muslim who is firmly convinced that Islam is the perfected manifestation of the Divine Truth. I am willing to share its teachings on God-concept, spirituality, prophetic history and narrative.

But there's more to this. As a species, humans need guidance too, and that guidance is present within Islam.Guidance that all humans can benefit from, even disbelievers. Islamic teachings on economy, on race, on nationalism, ethical code, family, all of these [ and more] are required for life in today's world. These teachings need to be studied and applied in a comprehensive way. That application will be the best type of propagating, and will provide a worldly salvation for mankind.