Monday, September 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Institutional building is needed

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

Personal level- do what you can

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Islam is the first step, defining Imaan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] "What is Ihsaan?"

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

To worship Allah as though you seem him.

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

إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This seems to describe our time very accurately!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

What is Imaan? Focusing on Allah and His Angels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who was the stranger? A surprising lesson

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

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