Saturday, February 20, 2016

Finding self identity

This is a clip [audio] from Friday Khutbah, on the struggles to create personal identity.

Finding self identity, guidance from the Quran and sunnah

Towards a world of equals: Islam and the African Experience

[Note: The following is an edited version of our speech at the University of Toledo 2/17/16 "Towards a world of Equals: Islam and the African Experience".]

What is Islam?

When we think of 'Islam', we think of Prophet Muhammad, the Qur'an, Makkah, a specific set of peoples and traditions. However, the Qur'anic perspective[Q 2:136] is that all of the great spiritual teachers were teaching Islam, the word itself being a summary of those teachings, as it means "submission to God". These teachers had limited focuses and audiences.

The only exception to this is Muhammad. His message is universal. He is a universal messenger and the final Prophet [Q 33:40], so the teachings that emanate from him [i.e. Qur'an and the Prophetic Sunnah] must address universal themes.

Race issues in Islam 

Issues of race are addressed more clearly in the Qur'an and Sunnah than in the texts of any other religion. Moreover, the early history of Prophet Muhammad [ peace and blessings of God be upon him] and his followers demonstrate the practical application of what God gave them in the Qur'an. We will examine this in a moment, but we must say something about the title we have chosen for this presentation. Towards a World of Equals, in essence means a level playing field where artificial [and often physical], unjust constructs are removed.

The mental constructs are often the most dangerous. Harriet Tubman, the brave soul who guided many out of slave territory, is reported to have said " I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed a thousand more-if only they knew they were slaves."

Thus, before changing the physical reality, awareness is necessary.  The next part of the title is Islam and the African experience. "Islam" is something very vast, because it is connected to the Lord of all. "Africa" is something that is also vast. It is a continent that not only gave birth to many civilizations, the first humans themselves emerged from Africa. The mainstream theory says the first humans emerged from Ethiopia region, while others point to South Africa. Yet, both are within the African continent. "The African experience" -as a part of the title, allows us a basis to see the bigger picture, rather than limiting ourselves to talking about slavery in the Americas.

Arabia at the time of the Prophet

Tribalism was common in those days. A war once occurred, lasting for forty years, over a camel straying into the tribal land of others. Female infanticide was practiced, and even food stuffs were deified.

Muhammad the man received a revelation. He was not expecting anything like this, although he was disturbed by his society. This revelation tells him to "Read". He, like most others in his society, was unable to read. The revelation continues "Read in the name of your Lord who has created" [Q 96:1]. This is a profound sentence. It is a call to look, ponder the world around you [O Muhammad and his people], see God's artistry in all, develop a thinking that goes beyond the petty, small-minded jealousies that had stunted Arabian growth.

This is something not only for the Arabs of that time, rather it is for all humanity.  Thus, even though there was opposition, war and the like, the transformation started. Yet all Prophets faced opposition, so this was nothing new.

Practical examples of transformation

The attitude of people striving to follow the Prophet illustrates this. In the Hadeeth literature [Saheeh Al-Bukhari] we have two Muslims arguing. One was Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari [from Kinaanah tribe] and one was Bilal [Ibn Rabah, al Habashi]. Bilal was Ethiopian [Al Habashi]. During the argument, Abu Dharr calls Bilal "You son of a black woman". This was the equivalent of the "N" word.

The hadeeth goes on to say that the Prophet became red with anger and told Abu Dharr "You still have ignorance within you.".

How does Abu Dharr react? He takes the correction like a man, he doesn't make excuses like our politicians do today in places like Flint, Michigan. He places his head in the sand and does not move it until Bilal steps over it.

I find this to be a powerful example of transformation. Abu Dharr was among those who heard the order of God and obeyed it, there and them [Q 2:285].

God says in the Qur'an that the variations in skin color and language exist to both show God's artistry and to strengthen the people of knowledge [Q 30:22].

Deep lesson in Bilal 

Bilal was a close companion of the Prophet. He had been a slave at one time. The Prophet appointed him as the Muadhdhin, who makes the call to prayer. It is said that he would mispronounce the Arabic letter "Sheen" as "Seen" [in the sentence "I testify that none deserves worship except Allah"] and the people complained about this. They would perhaps make fun of Bilal, in the same way that people make fun of imperfect spoken English or heavy accents today. In response to this, the Prophet says "Allah hears it as 'sheen' " meaning, God hears it correctly.

There is a deep lesson in this. Simply put, we are all equally imperfect. If we are equally imperfect, there is no room for judging figures as superior or inferior based on things like race, language, income or education. "The most honorable of you-in God's sight, as those with the most regards for God/Godly affairs in your midst"[Q 49:13]

This is also demonstrated in our prayer ritual. When we pray communally, behind an Imam, and he makes a mistake, we are to say loudly "Subhaan Allah". Here it means "Don't worry, it's not a big deal, only God is free from errors."


Forty five percent of the continent is populated by Muslims. Islam spread there early, particularly in North and East Africa. The first migration [Hijrah] was in fact to Ethiopia. There are many diverse cultures and circumstances there, and it's important to understand this because many people think of the continent as a monolithic place. Thus, while Islam arrived early in North and East Africa, it didn't reach West Africa until roughly the 14th-15th century.

That region produced the likes of Mansa Musa, a wealthy ruler who transformed his domain [the Songhai ] to a world class empire.

He made his Hajj [pilgrimage to Makkah], and the journey there he gave away so much wealth that the Egyptian gold value declined and still had not recovered 12 years afterwards.

Africans in the Americas

It is estimated that atleast a third of the slaves were Muslims, and it has also been argued that Mansa Musa's empire had already discovered the Americas and had trade relations with the native populations long before Christoper Columbus. Be that as it may, we know that Muslims brought there religion with them here. There is recorded many examples of Muslim slaves, even scholarly ones.

Slavery has-without doubt, produced a devastating legacy that is felt even today. It was a unique form of slavery due to it's utter barbarity. The recent attempts to repackage it as Atlantic triangular trade is utterly disgusting.

This type of slavery was nothing short of cultural and physical genocide.

Islam in the struggle

The struggle for dignity for Africans in the Americas took social, intellectual and economic forms. Many figures emerged such as Frederick Douglass, W.E. B. Du-bios, Marcus Garvey. Islam as a reference point was never absent in this historical struggle.

Of all these attempts to address the damage to the psyche of African Americans, the most famous- at least in terms of being associated with Islam, was the Lost found nation of Islam [or simply Nation of Islam, NOI]. The particular religious teachings of Elijah Muhammad were clearly at odds with the Qur'anic picture [the NOI beliefs included that whites were the literal devils, 'God in man", denial of hereafter etc..] , yet it is without doubt that  this movement produced drastic and lasting changes, for themselves and African Americans in general. The NOI produced the likes of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.  These were men of principle and conscious. Muhammad Ali refused to acknowledge the draft and Malcolm X started to see the bigger picture in society, both of these men caused Americans to reexamine their beliefs and politics.

The Greatest function of African Americans in relation to Islam

American Islam itself continues to evolve, and African Americans are certainly part of that equation. I think that one of the most consistent and important function of African American Muslims, and this includes heterodox understandings, is that they have consistently given a critical analysis of the wider society.

Today's NOI is led by Minister Louis Farrakhan. Look at their Newspaper, The Final Call, and the books his organization publish. Most of them deal with attempting to understand and deal with, usually by exposing, the hypocrisy of the mainstream social order, the political system. They still retain the odd religious doctrines, but their efforts in the other areas should not be denied. Imam W.Deen Mohammed and his community have functioned in the same way. He was the son of NOI figure Elijah Muhammad, he became the leader upon the death of his father [1975] and almost immediately changed the theology of the organization to be in lines with the Qur'an and Sunnah.

It was Min.Farrakhan who broke away from Imam Mohammed, dissatisfied with the latter's direction.

Imam WD Mohammed [d.2008] continued the tradition of analysis and teaching, but his style was more of conciliation rather than the language of conflict. His followers have in recent years attempted to collect all of his statements on religion in an attempt to form a coherent or systematic style unique to themselves, and it remains to be seen how successful such a project will be, nonetheless I think that the bigger issues of society have already been addressed and that a wealth of observations are already present to continue the analysis of society.

In short, these are branches from the same tree that should inspire us to think outside the box. To study, research, discover those hidden truths and-if needed, to act in a way different than mainstream society expects us. The Prophet is reported to have said "Contemplation for a single hour is more useful than a year's amount of worship."

We should be inspired by this history to be a people who are not idealists, but rather, a people who put good ideas into real practice. To have morals and be deserving of respect. To grow, not simply in wealth, but in personal development. This is not only Islam's mission to Africa- It is Islam's mission to mankind. A world of equal opportunities, that removes the shackles of ignorance, prejudice and classism.

Recommended books

[Note that I don't agree with all of the conclusions of the authors, but nonetheless these are titles worth exploring, works that cause us to think and rethink.]

[1] Islam, Black Nationalism and Slavery by Adib Rashad. A thoroughly researched summary of the history of Islam and it's relation to the Black struggle in the Americas.

[2] Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race by Edward Blyden. First published in 1888, the author was an African American Christian missionary attempting to spread Christianity in Africa. He details a wealth of personal experiences and studies and focuses mainly on the impact of the religions in Africa. He directly shows his views that Islam has had a more positive impact.]

[3] Muslim identity and social change in Sub-Saharan Africa , edited by Louis Brenner. An academic work, a collection of essays on various topics relating to the development of Islam in Africa.]

[4] The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

[5] Symbolism, Holidays, Myths and Signs by Alauddin Shabazz. Although an old book, the author provides analysis of many subjects that are related to religions as well as mainstream culture, music, Television programs etc..

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Psychology of Family and Spirituality in Islam

[Note: This is an edited version of the address given at the February 2016  Tazkiyatun Nafs program at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam.]

Let us begin by asking how 'family' is defined? Or even the term 'spirituality' for that matter. In this age, we think of the Nuclear Family unit when it comes to family. The Nuclear Family unit is a married couple, with three children maximum. Admittedly this does still get extended to include grandparents, cousins etc.

Traditional cultures tend to expand these family groupings to include clan, tribe or a feeling of loyalty to locality.

Families have shared bloodlines and history. They also develop over long periods shared experiences, pains and laughter. This is a bond that is usually unbreakable.

"And have Taqwaa of Allah, through whom you ask each other [O humans] [of your rights], and the family [as well], Indeed, Allah is Ever-Watchful over you." [Q 4:1]
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُواْ رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالاً كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاء وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءلُونَ بِهِ وَالأَرْحَامَ إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا
The family bond is natural, and Taqwaa is expressed by respecting that bond.

The soul and the family in New Testament tradition

Some religions have a shaky view when it comes to the ties between the family and the soul. Paul [1 Cor. 7:8]  says it is better to not marry. The New Testament has Jesus ['Isa, 'alayhis salaam] say that he has come to divide family members [Matt.10:35]. So we have these two New Testament assertions that place family as something that can destroy the soul, and that the family must be sacrificed  for the welfare of the soul!

Issues that need to be addressed from the Islamic perspective

[1] God placed you with your blood family. The blood ties, shared experiences, all creates bonds which are not to be broken. Indeed, Allah says that even if our disbelieving parents try to induce us towards false worship, we are not to do that. however we are to keep strong ties with them in life. [ Q 31:15]

[2] The blood family is the first school wherein we learn about God, worship, 'aqeedah etc.

The Prophet said "Marriage is half of the deen" {Bayhaqi}. Why does he, 'alayhis salaatu was salaam, say this? Because from that, a Jamaa'ah has the potential to be born, born to worship Allah. Even the relationship between two people, with it's ups and downs, can bring them closer to Allah in giving thanks as well as calling on him during times of difficulty. When one has a family, the believer spends much time praying [Du'aa] for them. According to the Messenger of Allah [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam], this counts as worship.

"Du'aa  is the core of worship," [ Tirmidhee].  "Du'aa is worship" [ Abu Dawud and Tirmidhee].

[3] The concept of 'family' is very much expanded in Islam. Allah says the believers are nothing more than a brotherhood. "Brotherhood" [Ikhwah] is nothing more than a fancy term for family. [ Q 49:10]

Healthy people care about their family, they are careful with regards to the feelings and health of their family, they look for the interests of their family. Muslims are  supposed to be concerned about each other. This is even reflected in the small act of watching the news whenever we come across a news item involving other Muslims. Even without knowing the Ahadeeth or Quranic verses on this subject, Muslims do this, they do this because caring for other Muslims is something which is built-in into the daily practice of this Deen!

In the sitting posture of Salaah, we pray "O Allah, make the needs of Muhammad and his people be met." We also pray "O Allah, send blessings on Muhammad and his people." We are praying for the cause of Muhammad, the person of Muhammad, but also for his followers, that they have not only their needs, but blessings as well. That they have not only their immediate needs, but to have extra things, happiness in their existence.

Moreover, we 'officially' end the Salaah by turning to the right and the left, reciting the Tasleem [As salaamu 'alaykum wa rahmatullah, may the peace and mercy of Allah be on you].

Even praying alone, we still do this, and it's not restricted to communal prayers. It is said that we do this in order to greet the angels. Another way of looking at this, however, is that this serves as a training. In the midst of our worship of Allah, we are conditioned to care about other people.

In addition, in the family the family prays together in Jamaa'ah. They pray for each other and with each other. So we have here family connected by blood, but also connected [i.e. formed] by their shared belief in Almighty Allah.

This should bring us to a better understanding of the Prophet's statement [peace and blessings be on him] "None of you have Imaan until [Hattaaa] you love for your brother what you love for yourself." [Muslim].

Faith in God is deficient unless it is accompanied by- at minimum-  concern for one's brother. This is a value Islam seeks to develop within its followers.

What to do when family members are detrimental for our spiritual development

This scenario is one faced very often, by Muslims with Non Muslim family members, as well as Muslims dealing with [Muslim] family with different ideas of what it means to practice the religion.

The Qur'an gives us a powerful set of guidelines to answer this query.

"O believers, Indeed, some of your wives and your children are enemies to you." [Q 64:14]

We have to stop for a moment. Enemies is an extreme term to use. It means that they [the family members] have the potential to bring you harm when they are not on the same page spiritually. The verse continues to give us instructions.

ا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّ مِنْ أَزْوَاجِكُمْ وَأَوْلَادِكُمْ عَدُوًّا لَّكُمْ فَاحْذَرُوهُمْ وَإِن تَعْفُوا وَتَصْفَحُوا وَتَغْفِرُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
[1] Beware of them[Fah-dharhum].

Knowing that they can bring harm, one takes precautions. If they go in a direction that seeks to take you to Haraam, or to that which brings harm, even though they may not realize the harm they are bringing, be on the lookout!

In modern times we talk about toxic people or narcissistic  personalities. Included in this are folks who are emotionally manipulative or even guilty of emotional blackmail. We are told to limit our interactions with these types. Extend this to, for example, those who constantly backbite or gossip. In Islam, the listener is also deemed as guilty as the speaker. So if we know these types, when they start, change the subject or leave the conversation. Similarly, if they offer you drugs, alcohol and the like, simply decline and avoid that environment.

[2] "If you pardon" [wa in Ta'foo]

Try to be understanding of their situation or condition. Try to excuse them, even though you are taking precautions to limit their harm to you.

[3] "Overlook" [wa tas-fahoo]

To be forbearing, to put up with it all to a point. To be patient. One need not turn everything into an argument.

In the age of internet and mass communication, we often hear about the Haraam Police. This is a nickname give to Muslims who are always so preoccupied with the issues of other people. They will police your clothes and your Facebook posts. They will critique your beard, women's Hijaab and the like. They have stations everywhere, and will even spend time critiquing Imams. They will analyze speeches of Imams and scholars, especially the famous ones, for theological mistakes, for mispronunciation of Qur'anic sentences. They will even publish books of 'refutations' regarding these personalities "deviance" and YouTube videos will follow suit.

We can understand the command to overlook in that sense as well. Don't let it bother you. You don't need to become the Haraam police yourselves, Take precautions, yet be understanding and overlook their issues. Strive to be better yourself, and avoid becoming judgmental. You may end up becoming a positive influence on them. This is precisely the way of the Prophet.

The great Egyptian scholar, Shaikh Muhammad Al-Ghazzali [1917-1996] was once asked "What is the ruling about one who has abandoned prayers? The questioner was probably expecting that the Shaikh would declare such a person a disbeliever and the like. However, the Shaikh gave a beautiful response. He says "His ruling is that YOU take him WITH YOU to the mosque."

To take someone with you is a sign of caring, and that care may indeed change that person's condition and you can become the best of friends. Remember Khalid ibn al-Waleed, who fought the Muslims at Uhud, or Umar ibn al-Khattab, Radee Allahu 'anhumaa. These were foes to Islam and the Prophet himself, yet became the greatest champions of the deen.

[3] "And forgive" [wa taghfiruu]

Forgiveness is the last response in this series of steps. The Prophet practiced this many times, the most important being when he issued an amnesty for all those who had led a two decade bloody campaign against him.

Forgiveness is difficult but doable. It is also one of the main pillars of a high spiritual position, to be yourself forgiving, and not just asking Allah for his forgiveness.

The verse ends "So Indeed, Allah is the Forgiver, Compassionate"

Your 'foes' and yourself receive forgiveness from God. God is intensely forgiving. He does so often. He is the Constantly Merciful.

Understanding Mercy and Forgiveness

Enmity which is causing you stress, coming from whatever quarter, bringing into your life negative energy, striving to take you away from God and what is healthy, Allah can still deal with them. He can bring people to guidance. Allah can heal such people, here in this life.

That is an equation that we best remember.

By the same token, Allah says the Qur'an itself is a healer. He also says to "Make Jihaad against them [the rejectors] with it [i.e. Qur'an], and a mighty Jihaad it is." [Q 25:52]

Allah's healing can come to others by your own hands. To those with bad habits, share with them what the Qur'an says on that habit. To those who oppose Islam based on misinformation, share with them what the Qur'an says on that subject. If necessary, given them a Qur'an to read for themselves.

A Realistic Religion

This deen addresses all angles and all sides. If the majority of human beings could be influenced by only a third of what it teaches, the world would surely be better off. The Muslims have forgotten much of these teachings, that is the only logical explanation behind the many wars being fought in Muslim lands.

May Allah make us stronger as a body of believers, and increase in our our understanding of others, and understanding of our own needs.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Accessing our lost spiritual wealth

The following is an edited version of the address given at the spirituality session at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam January 11th, 2016.]

We have to begin this subject by referring to the Qur'an. It says that the essence of every human being acknowledges their Lord. Alastu  Berabbikum? Qaaloo Balaa Shahidnaa. "Am I not your Lord", God asks. "Yes, we testify", is the response. It goes on to say that on judgement day, the excuse of "simply" adhering to family/social conventions will not be acceptable in the Divine Court.[ Q 7:172-173]

We also have the hadeeth in which the Prophet reportedly says " Every child is born upon the Fitrah." . This part of the hadeeth can be seen as Tafseer on the verses mentioned earlier. The hadeeth continues "His parents make him a Jew, a Christian, or a Zoroastrian." [Bukhari and Muslim]. So what do we learn?

[1] All humans possess, to use the language of tonight's program- that treasure, or at least they possess the potential to access that treasure.

[2] That treasure is bright, it is shiny and attractive, and is at its brightest in children, especially the very young. This fact is universally know, across religions and cultures. The Bible has it that Jesus says "You shall not enter heaven until you become like these little children." [Matt. 18:3]

Across human cultures, the statements and smiles of children are seen as reflecting an essential goodness and purity. Indeed, adults are often judged by other adults based upon their children's impressions. That is just a fact! In Islamic terminology, this is called Fitrah, the term highlighted in the hadeeth cited earlier.

Moreover, across human societies, crimes against children are seen as among the most horrible of crimes.

[3] Children are raised, influenced by their societies, to become adults with the thinking of that society or their surroundings. Thus, the import of the second part of the hadeeth "the parents make him a Jew, Christian or Zoroastrian".  This part of the hadeeth highlights  for us that treasure becoming lost or, to use another term, buried.

When the treasure gets buried, the consequences are profound. Faith in fellow man as well as faith in God weakens, if not totally dies! Ties between peoples become little more than business transactions. Trust is destroyed. A Vacuum is created, a hole is made. Some attempt to fill it by using drugs. Some turn to alcohol. Some will turn to other items. Others may seek to fill that hole by harming themselves, or others, even going to the route of committing suicide. Others still will turn to materialism as their god, or fill that hole in their own soul by seeking to dominate other human being, seeking after power and authority. They will often proclaim belief in empty, meaningless expressions. They make their lives' mission the acquisition of the biggest phones, the biggest cars. They risk becoming a people dedicated to nothing but indulgence.

Why tell us about the original acknowledgement?

After God says all of Adam's children recognize, in their own core, we are told

"Thus, do we [Allah] explain clearly the signs so that perhaps they will return " { Q 7:174]

وَكَذَلِكَ نُفَصِّلُ الآيَاتِ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
This means that Allah has told us this in order that we may return to it. He has told us a treasure exists and has even given us a map.

Continuing with this analogy. By stages, we are taught how to read the map. Messengers of God come to give us tips, to instruct us as to its symbols. There is even a discipline that must be adhered to if we are going to read the map correctly.

The  role of ritual

All religions have the rituals of worship, fasting and prayer, in some sense or another. These concepts have survived the corruptions that have taken place over the countless generations. However, in Islam we have Al Kitaab Al Mubeen, The Clear Scripture and we also have the Straight Path. "All paths lead to God", the popular saying goes. However, the Islam of the Qur'an and Prophet Muhammad constitutes the straight path. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That is Islam. Islam is the path that gets you there quick.

We have prayer and fasting, but we also have a discipline. This is shown in what the religion says about pork. Yes, Allah created pigs, yet he also says we are not to consume them. God created grapes, yet he says we are not to consume wine. These are NOT petty injunctions. These are examples of the discipline needed to study that map and bring out the treasure which has been hidden for so long!

So all of the authentic teachings and rules of Islam are present for our benefit and welfare.

Can antiquity be our guide?

When we talk about guidance, we tend to look at the past. For Muslims of all shades and madhaahib, we will look to the time of the Prophet. For Christians, they will focus upon the person of Christ. In this practice, we are indirectly acknowledging that there are deficiencies in today's way of thinking.

There is truth in this, however we can also view this in another way. Our Recent past, as recently as our parents and grandparents, can likewise provide us with keys to unlocking that treasure. Our recent past includes people we admire in our family line or in our society. I am not talking about actors and politicians. I am talking about figures who were truly about what is right, especially those we saw personally and was able to access personally.

Think about what you admire and love within them. Perhaps they were hard working, courageous. People dedicated to prayer, overcoming serious problems. These positive things are also a source of guidance. After all, Allah does not make mistakes. He placed you in your family and in your unique set of circumstances as a foundation.

Contemporary mindset very evil

The prevalent mindset in today's world is directed by evil forces. In politics, social order, even in the imagery of religion. The prevalent mindset promotes violence, xenophobia, racism, enmity between communities, selfishness, distrust, greed and paranoia. It promotes individualism in an unhealthy way, making us easier prey. Moreover, the prevalent mindset is against education.

Education should give us knowledge as well as cultivation, to make us better people. But today there are moves that seek to go against making us better people, In short, the prevalent mindset seeks to lock us out of the treasure.

Be courageous

Don't be afraid to be "weird". The Muslim should particularly be "weird" in the sense that our thinking and mindset be directed by this religion more so than any other consideration.

"And whosoever obeys Allah and his Messengerr have already acheived a mighty acheivement.{ Q 33:71}
وَمَن يُطِعْ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَقَدْ فَازَ فَوْزًا عَظِيمًا
Every child is born upon the Fitrah

Children don't know fiqh or religious labels. They don't even care about that. They do, however, love. They share. They trust. They bring out things in adults. They worship without any urging from their parents.

Watch your toddlers put down a rug and make Sajdah. They do so with joy, and brings joy to the hearts of nearby adults.

The Prophet's grandchildren [Hasan and Husseein] used to climb on his blessed back when he was in Sajdah, and it has happened to us all. Even within the animal kingdom, at the Haram [Makkah, site of the Ka'bah], birds are always circling the Ka'bah [i.e. Tawaf] and never make any droppings on the pilgrims.

Children and animals both exists in a state which recognizes God. For children, the older they get the easier it gets to be taken into another direction, which is mentioned in the hadeeth.

Job of Parents

Parents have to strive to bring up their children right, and the children also push their parents in the right direction, having the correct attitude. The children can give us keys to the treasure, and even tips on how to read the map. When that map is read with the distractions of ego, anger, insecurity, past hurts and the like, you will go in the wrong direction.

So it's more than having a map or even the treasure. It has to be read correctly and the treasure has to be utilized correctly.


"So when you read the Qur'an, seek refuge with Allah from Satan, the rejected enemy." [ Q 16:98]

فَإِذَا قَرَأْتَ الْقُرْآنَ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللّهِ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ
We don;t just say 'Bismillah"! People can [and do] be horrible in the name of God. We have to say A 'oodhoo Bellaahee Minash shaytaanir Rajeem.

In a similar way, money cannot solve our problems unless we know how to use it!

As life goes on, the more knowledge and experience we get under our belt, the easier it should be to use that map and utilize the treasure. If we don't have the knowledge/experience, we have to follow those who do.

"So ask the people opf reminder, i.e. knowledge, if you don't know" { Qur'an 16:43, 21:7]
فَاسْأَلُواْ أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ
The guides can take us there, or at least show us where to look and what to zoom in upon.

Addressing our unique needs

All of us have some common needs, but there are needs that are unique. A person needing evidence that God exists is not the same as one needing to learn the details of the salaat. The first person is skeptical, while the other simply needs technical support.

Moreover, an astray person, in need of guidance, yet attempts to always argue with the guide or put on a show for the guide, that person needs hidaayah the most, and if the guide cannot deal with them, it is to the loss of that astray person.

In the Seerah literature, we have a report which states that a man came to the Prophet [peace and blessings of Allah be upon him]  complaining that he [the Prophet] was  not giving out wealth correctly. The man said to the Prophet "Fear Allah, O Muhammad" [as the exact wording says Faqaala "AttaqqiLLaah, Yaa Muhammad"].

The man didn't even call him "Prophet or Messenger" . He says "Muhammad". The Prophet responded "who is more in obedience to God that me, who is more trustworthy than me?" [Bukhari and Muslim].

The hadeeth says the man walked away. That man, tradition says, is the progenitor of the Khawaarij [Kharijites], the first terrorists group in the Muslim communitty. This emerged in Iraq, where ISIS has likewise, also emerged.

So when the guides are marginalized or ignored due to ego, the consequences can be devastating, both physically and spiritually.

The same hadeeth goes on to talk about a people who recite the Qur'an, but it doesn't go beyond their throats. They leave the religion the way an arrow leaves the bow when shot out [thus, the name Khawaarij, from the root kharaja 'he left']

While we see this hadeeth as predicting a political rebellion, this can also be seen in a spiritual sense. God knows what he's doing. He sent prophets and guides as well. He sent guidance. He sent a map. So don't underestimate the guide. Let him help you, and you help him,

Let us use the map, let us access the treasure for our benefit, and whatever level we are at now. May Alllah be our protector and guide.

The struggles to find balance in religious history: Friday Khutbah

[ Note: The following is the Friday Khutbah from 2/5/16, at Toledo Masjid. It has been formatted into one article, and the opening Hamd has been omitted here.]

Among the things we see when we study religion, and by 'religion' I mean the doctrines and history of religions worldwide, we find that all of them attempt to create balance between competing needs. This can be stated in another fashion, i.e. these religions would seek to address pressing issues at the time these religions emerged. The solutions that these religions would give became outdated, meaning that the solutions no longer applied because the circumstances had since changed. A good example is that of divorce. In the Jewish Fiqh, [ Deut.24:1] when a man finds his wife displeasing, he gives her a certificate of divorce and sends her away. This was obviously abused. We can easily see how this can be abused, leading to destroyed families and homeless divorcees.

Jesus ['Isa , 'alayhis salaam] comes along, according to the New Testament [  Matthew 19:8] forbids divorce totally, the only exception being when adultery has been committed. The New Testament has materials that almost discourages marriage itself totally. Paul says :It is better for a man not to have relations with a woman" [ 1 Cor 7:1]. He also says "It is better to be like me" [1 Cor. 7:8], meaning to be unmarried, as he was.

The prohibition of divorce is only enforced in today's Christian world among the Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox churches, and some smaller sects such as the Jehovah's Witnesses. The wider Christian world has faced new circumstances which has forced them to abandon this edict!

The Qur'an now comes, six centuries after Christ.  It comes to a universal Prophet [ Muhammad, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam]. It comes as a scripture not only for the Jews, but for all humanity. In addition, it is the final scripture, sent to the final Prophet [Q 33:40]. Therefore all of its teachings has a place for all times to come!

As a student of religion, I can tell you in all fairness that this Deen, particularly the Qur'an, is for all places and all times. It's rules, edicts, are still relevant.

Returning to the example of marriage, Islam encourages marriage and discourages divorce, although it is allowed. Indeed, some people simply cannot get along, that's simply a reality. The sayings of the Prophet [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] and the scholars of Islam all point to marriage as being something that is very helpful in terms of the growth of the spiritual life. He says "Marriage is half of the deen" [ Bayhaqi]. Similarly, the family life, working for an income, are deemed in Islam helpful to the betterment of one's spiritual condition.

It is not our intention to go into the details of this subject, but rather to make a point. The Islam as found in the Qur'an is an Islam that, if understood and applied correctly, can remove most of the problems we face. It has the capacity to give us peace, balance, understanding and virtues in this life.

"We [Allah] have not sent the Qur'an to you to make you have stress, rather, only as a notice to those with the fear of God, a revelation from the One who has created the Earth and the Highest heavens." [Q 20:2-4]

It is true that Muslims can be unbalanced and have problems. This is mostly due to our ignorance and our lack of obeying Allah and his Prophet. We are told "And whosoever obeys Allah and his Messenger, have already achieved a mighty achievement." [Q 33:71]

The solutions are all here, if only we take some time to look at them, to internalize its teachings, to exemplify the light. May Allah be merciful to us with this Qur'an, make it for us a leader, a source of light and guidance.

How can a religion of 1400 years age give any solutions today?

A skeptic can raise the question that Islam is fourteen centuries old, how can it give any solutions today? This is a honest and fair question. We answer that by saying that what Islam gives is TIMELESS PRINCIPLES. Concepts or teachings that work in any context. The Qur'an tells us that Pork is forbidden, but it also tells us that it becomes lawful [Halaal] during a period of starvation. [Q 2:173 and 6:119]. This is not reasoning, this is an example of the principles in the text itself.

It is these principles that allow us to identify what is truly wrong in our lives or in our society today, and likewise to allow us to identify what is good and to build upon that good, so we won't be in confusion, drifting through life.

Rich or Poor, Black or White, we become a people of confidence, purpose, progress, deserving of Paradise.

"Deserving" of paradise is a strong claim, but look at the time  of Prophet Muhammad. One hadeeth [Bukhari and Muslim] tells us that a man had done some sin, probably a sin that would require punishment in Islamic law. He came to the Prophet wanting to confess. The Prophet ['alayhis salaatu was salaam] kept ignoring the man. Finally, the time of prayer came, and they all offered the prayer. Afterwards, the man came again, trying to confess his sin. The Prophet asked "did you pray with us?". The man replies in the affirmative. The Prophet says to him "Then indeed, God has forgiven your sin or your action that would require punishment." 

This is a beautiful hadeeth. This Islam created in the man the consciousness to strive to be one of the best, not to dodge responsibility. Such a person deserves paradise.

The Qur'an says "Indeed, prayer restrains [a person] from immorality and repugnant acts, the recollecting of Allah is the greatest [source of power and inspiration], and Allah knows what you manufacture." [Q 29: 46]

So the act of daily salaat is an act that generates the conscious, it pricks at our hearts to strive to be about what is right.

May Alkah keep us firm upon this Deen!

The ways of Allah: Reflecting on Divine Anger

[ Note: This is an edited version of a recent Friday Khutbah [sermon] at the Toledo Masjid. We have omitted the opening Hamd and formatted the entire khutbah,with both parts, into one article.]

For the last couple of weeks, we have been discussing Soorat Al-Faatihah, looking at some interesting details. Today, we want to examine a question that arises from the opening chapter. In Al-Faatihah, we pray for guidance, on a path that is straight, a path that produces blessing, grace [Ni'mah], not that which produces Ghadab [Divine anger] [Ghayril Maghdoobee 'alayhim]

In terms of Ghadab, I came across nineteen entries in the Qur'an in which this term or a related term is mentioned. We shorten that list even further when we reduce our query to those verses which directly tell us about that which invites Allah's wrath.

A person may ask further, "doesn't this make God seem reactionary?" After all, in human experience, the feeling of anger when someone else hits your vehicle is a feeling stimulated by the other driver, so can we say that God is like this?

If God is like this, how can that be reconciled with the teaching that Allah is the All-Knowing, Aware of future events?

To answer these queries, we must remember that Allah runs the universe according to laws or patterns.

"And You will never find any change in Allah's Sunnah"
وَلَن تَجِدَ لِسُنَّةِ اللَّهِ تَبْدِيلًا
[Q 48:23]

We can call it the laws of nature, or even Karma, the term used is not important. Certain things trigger certain other things, all of which are in accordance with the laws of God.  So when we read about "God's anger" or "God's wrath" we should see it as the laws of natural consequence.

Examples of Divine anger in the Qur'an

Two times we can find in the Qur'an the story of Musa's people [Moses, peace be upon him]. They were unhappy with what God gave them. God sent them prophets, scripture, Prophets, and goodly things to consume. This even allowed them to develop the notion of a "chosen people" among themselves.

"Abasement and humiliation were stamped upon the, and they incurred 'anger' from Allah, because they rejected the signs of Allah, killing Prophets unjustly. This was so because they were disobedient and went beyond the limits."

 وَضُرِبَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ الذِّلَّةُ وَالْمَسْكَنَةُ وَبَآؤُوْاْ بِغَضَبٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ كَانُواْ يَكْفُرُونَ بِآيَاتِ اللَّهِ وَيَقْتُلُونَ النَّبِيِّينَ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ ذَلِكَ بِمَا عَصَواْ وَّكَانُواْ يَعْتَدُونَ
 [Q 2:61]

This ayah, which is also given in a slightly different from in Soorat Al 'Imraan, mentions a few things.

[1] "Rejecting the signs of God"- the signs sent for their guidance. We can compare this traffic laws. A person goes through the red light, not caring about the regulations. He does so all the time, thinking there will be no consequences. He may even drive the wrong way on a one-way road. Eventually, an accident happens. The driver is hurt, his vehicle is destroyed, or he may even be killed.

[2] "Killing of Prophets"- Prophets are sent to supplement the laws of guidance. To kill is a grave sin, but to kill special people, people of responsibility, invites social disorder. In the animal kingdom, the wiping out of certain species leads to imbalance within the environment. In our times, killing of a police officer is a crime that generates a sterner punishment that killing of a civilian.

[3] "Disobedient, went beyond limits"- This creates Fitnah in the physical and spiritual world. The rebellious mindset is a thinking pattern that places Allah at the bottom, rather than the top, of priorities. It makes everything confusing, To surrender to God is to surrender to that which is natural, goodly and beneficial.

With just this one ayah, we should see that Allah's anger is not petty nor whimsical. It is serious, and comes about as a result of serious transgressions, in body, soul and society.

So when we pray Ihdeenas seeraatal Moostaqeem, seeraatal ladheena an'amta 'alayhim, Ghayril Maghdoobee 'alayhim wa lad daalleeen, we are praying to have that which Allah wants for us in our life! In whatever place, situation we find ourselves, we concentrate, make efforts, to be serious about God's Ni'mah [blessings, grace].

Methodology of Prophet Muhammad

As Muslims, we have a text as well as a Prophet to help us understand and apply the text. The methodology of the Prophet [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] is very important in terms of getting Divine blessing as opposed to Divine anger. The society to which he belonged had senseless violence, irrational thinking, lack of discipline, and even the worship of dates, which would then become food!

The Prophet's methodology included patience, strategy, reform of social norms, and the inculcation of BETTER VALUES.

This message is a message that changed the most hardened of hearts, such as 'Umar ibn al Khattab and Khalid ibn Al-Waleed. This message, as exemplified in the Prophet's reformation of his society, is something for the real world. We often discuss racism, tribalism, addictions to such things as alcohol, but his message also influenced the urge to be educated!

The first word revealed to the Prophet was "Read" [Iqraa]. The society was uneducated, yet the Quranic revelation tells them to read. That is revolutionary!

The Prophet [upon whom be peace and blessings] even had prisoners after Badr freed if they would teach ten Muslims how to read.

So these important aspects of the Prophet's strategies, methodologies and priorities, have to be followed if we are be on and stay on the straight path in this world, a path that all can benefit from.