Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Higher Purpose: reflections on Soorat al Balad, Friday Khutbah

[ Note: The following is an edited version the Friday Sermon or Khutbah at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam January 1, 2016.]

The Qur'an tells us that human life exists in toil and struggle. Rich or Poor, believer or atheist, all will have to face Kabad, and is something that all adults can understand. We have in the Qur'an a short chapter which gives us a concise and precise understanding of the main causes of Kabad. In order to find this and appreciate this, we have to examine very slowly the Quranic text.

"Nay! I swear by this Land, in which you are free, and by [the fact of] parent-child tie."[Q 90:1-3لَا أُقْسِمُ بِهَـٰذَا الْبَلَدِ ﴿١ وَأَنتَ حِلٌّ بِهَـٰذَا الْبَلَدِ ﴿٢ وَوَالِدٍ وَمَا وَلَدَ

Here, we have an oath, a declaration that this is the truth, being made by citing things very important. The text highlights [1] "Land" {Balad}, the land you own, your nation, city etc. [2] Your ability to move around freely. [3] Parent-Child relationship. These three can said to be the source of both happiness and stress.

Allah calls to us, suing these three main issues, to remind us " Indeed WE [Allah] have created humanity to experience travails." [ Q 90:4] لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي كَبَدٍ
Meaning, the previous verses show us the main avenues by which these travails are experienced. With regards to the first example, it is true that modern notions have created nation-state, making us citizens of one nation or another, or even having dual-citizenship and the like. Yet, all of us can be said to be citizens of the Planet Earth itself. In terms of the other examples, certainly we feel at ease when able to move about, to travel and stressed out when unable, such as when not having access to a vehicle. We can feel very happy for our children and our ties to our parents, or it can be the source of depression because of the weakness or tensions in that relationship.

The Soorah continues " Does that person reckon none can exercise any limits on him. [the one who] he who says 'I have destroyed vast wealth. Does [that person] reckon none see that?" [Q 90:5-7]

أَيَحْسَبُ أَن لَّن يَقْدِرَ عَلَيْهِ أَحَدٌ
يَقُولُ أَهْلَكْتُ مَالًا لُّبَدًا
أَيَحْسَبُ أَن لَّمْ يَرَهُ أَحَدٌ

"I destroy" [Ahlaktu], to squander or waste the resources given to them by God. Speaking to the materialists, the people of consumption, to the wasteful.  God is not the only one who sees that, other people see this as well!

Our lives are to be more than about fun and games. It is also to be more than about attachment to property, land, title or family.

Islam is a call that gives meaning and purpose to life, a call that can be answered equally by the Imam or by the Janitor. All are called equally to operate from the perspective of a higher purpose.

That Higher Calling is to exist beyond our selfish interests and amusements.

Examples of that higher calling

This Soorah gives us four examples of that higher calling. [1] "Liberating one in bondage" {Q 90:13}.  We think of slavery when we read this passage and similar passages, however, slavery is an institution that has been eliminated by universal agreement. So how can we understand this passage today? Fak-ku Raqabatin, to liberate the one held down, to teach others, to use your own resources to provide education or debt relief, to remove innocents from the dangers of combat zones, etc... [2] "The feeding of people during a day of starvation" . {Q 90:14}. This is arguably the most concrete example,to share one's food during tough circumstances. Alhamdulillaah, in Toledo and other places we have community gardens, which allow anyone to pick up what they need. [3] "[the feeding of ] the lonely one who is close." {Q 90:15}.Yateeman dhaa Maqrabah. Two words need to be explained, 'Yateem' and 'Maqrabah'. We think of Yateem as simply an orphan. This is also the general meaning in Urdu and Malay languages [the word for orphanage in Urdu is 'Yateem Khana"]. An orphan is a child without parents. However, we have to extend the meaning of this term to the broader usage in the Qur'an. Essentially 'Yateem" refers to the one who is alone, without any support, financial, moral, emotional, physical. The Yateem is left fending for themselves. They can also belong to religious, ethnic or social minorities, outside the mainstream social order. We see this in our world today! 

Children who enter puberty, then 'adulthood' in the eyes of the law and of society, who are still in bondage. They don't have freedom of movement because they have never been taught how to function. They haven't been taught to cook or to balance a checkbook! Their mentalities still are driven by an immature mindset. They may be thrust out into society, with no guidance, and become easy prey to the predators. This can happen in many forms, and is especially a risk for young girls.

Maqrabah, the one close, either by blood, location, culture and the like. Those who are closest have priority. That's the way God made it. The Higher Purpose is shown by giving education, guidance, shelter, to those in trouble from amongst those who are close to you in any of these ways.

Marriage is an example of solving certain problems. Marriage would definitely rescue many widows and children from the wars we see in Syria and Yemen. That example is admittedly a longer issue to be discussed at another time, but think about it.

[4] Aw Miskeenan Dhaa Matrabah [giving that liberation] to those who are poor, stuck in the mud. The handicapped. who are unable for whatever reason to take care of themselves, are deserving of that liberation.

People of the Right Hand

The Soorah here describes the people who answer the Higher Calling as people of the right hand [As-haabul Maymanah]. We see this title throughout the Qur'an. In addition, those who are not even contemplating a Higher Calling are called "People of the Left Hand", people who reject God's guidance and are, as a consequence, locked up, surrounded by Fire.[Q 90:20].

They are stuck in a life of Baatil, false and ridiculous notions, fire both here and in the next life. So let us be inspired to be "People of the Right Hand".