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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


1 comments:

Unknown said...

I enjoyed this article. It reminds you that you must trust what you don't know to always be for your betterment.