Monday, November 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comquering the Ego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How to connect to the Qur'an

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If this is the case, is hope useless?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purification of the Heart

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Problematic texts?

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

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

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

Final advice

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dealing with change: Friday Khutbah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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