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.


[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