Monday, November 18, 2019

Methods And Goals Of Contemplative Practices In My Faith (Panel Discussion )

(The following is an edited version of my presentation for the 2019 Interfaith Forums, organized by the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada, held November 10th, 2019 at Masjid Ibrahim.)

Introduction



The Qur'an tells us "Indeed, prayer restrains from immorality and repugnant actions" ( Q 29:45). The word translated as "prayer" is "Salaah". In our faith, it is observed at least five times daily, during specific times of the day. The Salaah ritual has therein recitation of Quranic texts, bowing and prostration. God does NOT need that we do this, or any other act of worship, rather, it is we who need it.

The Salaah ritual is regulated, offered in a particular fashion, and is deemed a religious obligation. The spiritual and physical benefits of Salaah have been widely recognized. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) identified it as the main exercise which distinguished between faith and lack of faith.

The Qur'an reminds us that there will be a time in which we are held accountable before God, and the salaah essentially reminds us of that, therefore it becomes important to do as much positive works as we can. Thus, the Qur'an connects the ritual of salaah to the giving of a portion of one's wealth to the benefit of worthy causes, such as uplifting the poor. Similarly, the Qur'an expresses criticism of those who do ritual worship, yet are neglectful of needy human beings.


Dhikr- The remembrance of God



Another ritual act done is known as dhikr! Traditionally, this includes the recitation of  God's names, formulas of praise and glorification. As a ritual, it is not deemed in an obligatory sense- the important exercise is the mental one here. The Qur'an says "The remembrance of God is the greatest (source of inspiration and power)" .

Dhikr as a ritual often takes place after the Salaah, and can be offered at any time without any preconditions. If we engage in this act (be it in a ritual or non ritual fashion)- it helps us to internalize the very hopes we seek from God. In other words, if we invoke and recall God as The Ever-Forgiving (Al-Ghaffar), forgiveness should become a part of our character as well.


Miracles

The actions of Salaah and dhikr produce a sort of barrier against mental and spiritual attacks, and is the main ways by which we connect ourselves to the Almighty.

With that said, what is perhaps most curious on this point is that miracles and mystical experiences are NOT the goals of these actions! THIS does not negate that miracles can take place, and that people can experience mystical moments, yet the fact of the matter is is that such things are subjective and ultimately do not provide any evidence beyond an individual level.

This is illustrated in the experiences of the 12th century figure, Shaikh Abdul-Qaadir Al-Jilani.  Once while he was praying, a voice comes to him, saying "I am your Lord".  The Shaikh replies "Are you God?" After repeated questioning, this voice says "I am making  lawful for you what I made unlawful for others". The Shaikh replied "You are Satan, because I know God would not make lawful for me what He has made unlawful for others".

Miracles are not what we need, because they can themselves be misleading. What we need is the inspiration derived from worship to be able to recognize truth and produce in this world, that is the formula for success in this life, with springs to enjoy in the life to come.



Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Quranic Insights: Roadmap for a Better Life

( Below you will find parts one and two of a presentation on the utility of the Quranic revelation. It covers issues ranging from the sciences, hermeneutics, literalism and allegory in religious discourse.)


PART ONE


PART TWO

( Q and A session)



Saturday, August 24, 2019

Towards creating a balanced personality: brief reflections on the role of Prophet Muhammad)

( Note: the following is an article that is based on reflections shared in our Friday Khutbah 8/23/19. Both that khutbah and this article  should be viewed as a follow up on our Khutbah entitled " The Islamic Formula for Happiness: A Quranic perspective", which can be found part 1 as well as Part 2 . We recommend, in the interest of viewing the whole context, that  the above referenced Khutbah be viewed.)



Why Prophet Muhammad?

لَقَدۡ کَانَ لَکُمۡ فِیۡ رَسُوۡلِ اللّٰہِ اُسۡوَۃٌ حَسَنَۃٌ لِّمَنۡ کَانَ یَرۡجُوا اللّٰہَ وَ الۡیَوۡمَ الۡاٰخِرَ وَ ذَکَرَ اللّٰہَ کَثِیۡرًا

" Indeed, you have in the Messenger of Allah, a goodly model, for any who has hope in Allah, the final day, and who recall Allah abundantly." ( Q 33:21)

While the above quotation is often viewed superficially(ft.1), this Quranic verse tells us to look at the Prophet as an example of real success. He functions as an example for those who have hope in the future, hope in God's designs and plan.

While the Qur'an does tell us ( Q 9:129) that the core characteristics of the Prophet was that of kindness and compassion, there is another side that is present.

Another characteristic of the Prophet

"Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and those with him display strength(ashidda) with those who reject, yet display mercy with each other. You see them, in rukoo' (bowing), in sajdah (prostration), seeking bounty from Allah and His pleasure, in their faces ( i.e. the core of their being) are the traces of that submission ( min atharis sujood)" ( Q 48:29).
 
 مُحَمَّدٌ رَّسُوۡلُ اللّٰہِ ؕ وَ الَّذِیۡنَ مَعَہٗۤ اَشِدَّآءُ عَلَی الۡکُفَّارِ رُحَمَآءُ بَیۡنَہُمۡ تَرٰٮہُمۡ رُکَّعًا سُجَّدًا یَّبۡتَغُوۡنَ فَضۡلًا مِّنَ اللّٰہِ وَ رِضۡوَانًا ۫ سِیۡمَاہُمۡ فِیۡ وُجُوۡہِہِمۡ مِّنۡ اَثَرِ السُّجُوۡدِ ؕ
The above verse highlights the characteristics of strength and resolve. That requires working hard to accomplish necessary goals. The Prophet was not so "merciful" as to be passive!

The idea of passivity, of surrendering to tyranny (of whatever form) in the name of "surrender to God's will" exists within every religious community in some form or another, but what we learn from the Prophet Muhammad is that he had to face those who sought to destroy him, his followers and his community, and he faced those challenges by being proactive.

Both texts (33:21 and 48:29) have connecting to God in common. In Soorah 9:128-129 we see not only that the Prophet was kindly and compassionate, we  read therein a formula that he was to recite, to seek out God's presence and protection.

Some people believe that a passive, weak personality, is necessary for a healthy spirituality and even assert that such have moral superiority over Prophet Muhammad. Christian apologists cite Jesus's supposed passivity in the face of opposition as an example of his moral superiority over Muhammad.(ft.2).

When a personality is both spiritual and displaying strength, it can breed jealousy, opposition as well as slander. Worldly motivations are projected unto the Prophet, as well as the creation of stories of atrocities.

This happens to Prophets as well as Non Prophets. Good people, who want to see good within themselves and their societies, become targets by those opponents with jealousy within their hearts, or by those who themselves derive some power or benefit from an evil status quo.  It can be disheartening to those trying to do good.

When feeling like this, the Qur'an says to look to the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace.  The Qur'an says, in essence, to the modern reader, "Look at what the Prophet was able to accomplish."

Arabian society had so much serious baggage in those days, well known social and religious ills, and the Prophet was largely successful in removing those bad elements, turning rough people into brave, yet contemplative, personalities, such as 'Umar b.Al-Khattab. His followers became people who looked inward, who worked hard on themselves. They did so by following the Prophet's example, by prayers, contemplation upon Allah (ft.3), discipline, and cultivation of the self.

Thus, the Prophet Muhammad is a model of success, not simply in the religious realm, but in the worldly life as well. The teaching that he conveyed-from Allah-has within it things which we could all use to create happiness and security in life. It is true that not all that he conveyed ("allowed" is perhaps a better term) is always to our pleasing, being as we all come with our own personal and cultural baggage, nonetheless those options are there.

More importantly, the personality of the Prophet is that of a balanced human being. He can be strong when fighting is necessary, but he can likewise be calm, kind and compassionate at those other times when strive is not present.

There are exaggerations and outright slanders against him. These things are brought up as attempts to indicate that the Prophet was a vicious and petty criminal. If such accusations were valid, Islam would have never went anywhere! It would have died out or become of marginal affect.

Yet, the contrast is the reality. Islam is here to stay. It is here to benefit all humanity. It is not here to be imposed by force, but it functions as a blessing.


 Image result for quran 33:56

Footnotes

(1)  It is to our dismay that Muslims tend to quote this verse as evidence of a superficial following of the Prophet, taking only things such as dress and eating style from him. Muslim scholarship has wisely stated that there are things we follow of the Prophet when it has religious impact, but that there are things of the Prophet that exist only due to his place and time, such as the dressing style and other things common to all Arabs.  A superficial reading of the Quranic verse does a disservice to the Prophet.

(2) Other assertions made by Christian critics assert that the Prophet's married life was governed by sensual concerns, whereas Jesus was a higher moral code due to being celibate. These type of accusations have been addressed elsewhere by this writer See Here .

(3) The Hadeeth literature is full of examples of individuals coming to the Prophet, seeking out advice on making themselves better. There are even accounts of a self-accusatory nature, wherein people would even embarrass themselves in public by sharing their shortcomings, yet the Prophet would generally find ways to make them feel better about themselves. One example is found in both Al-Bukhari and Muslim, summarized thusly: A man wanted to confess to an indiscretion, the Prophet kept pretending not to hear him. After prayers, the man repeated the confession, the Prophet asked him if he had just prayed with him, the man replies in the affirmative. The Prophet replies that God had already forgiven him (i.e. the questioner).


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Quranic Study Notes ( 10: 101-109) Understanding the results of faith

( Note: The following is a summary of my notes from which we have addressed blocks of verses in the Qur'an's tenth chapter. This article should be read as a continuation of our other Study notes (Comparing Faith and its opposite) at [url] https://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2019/07/quranic-study-notes-comparing-faith-and.html[/url] . As in previous Study NOTES, the translation has not been provided, unless otherwise stated. This allows the reader to focus on the text itself. If the reader is unable to read Arabic, they can consult the translation of their choice. In these STUDY NOTES we have avoided referencing translations because we recognize that the terms selected by the translator(s) may create limiting or even incorrect understandings.)

( Q 10: 101)
قُلِ انۡظُرُوۡا مَاذَا فِی السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضِ ؕ وَ مَا تُغۡنِی الۡاٰیٰتُ وَ النُّذُرُ عَنۡ قَوۡمٍ لَّا یُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ

Mental sobriety is needed to attain authentic spiritual reward/guidance. As previously discussed in verse 100, those who don't use their minds to the potential available are placed in a loathsome position, even if those under that position have deluded themselves otherwise.

The Qur'an repeatedly tells us to investigate, observe, contemplate the creation. Creation itself is an evidence of the Creator. In this regards, it is also good to understand that if we see God's artistry in the world, that should make us become open minded, willing to benefit from the diversity of the world. This would destroy the attitudes of racism, xenophobia, and arrogance that we are currently seeing on the rise, even in "Muslim" circles.

It is interesting that Allah (Soobhaanahu wa ta'alaaa) says here that those without Imaan (faith) benefits neither from ayaat (signs, evidences) nor Nudhur (warnings).

This seems to indicate that Imaan itself, an awareness of God's existence, is in itself generally a  prerequisite for guidance. This is speculation on the part of this writer, that this is a normative rule. This is "speculation" because we know personally about people who were self-declared atheists and agnostics who-through no effort on their own, and without believing in God initially, were guided to faith.

In the Qur'an (3:190) it says that the universal existence, the presence of night and day, serve as "signs for people of understanding " (uulil-al-baab).

It seems that we actually have a sequence of how things are normally suppose to go when it comes to these issues. The formula being IMAAN + OBSERVING=GUIDANCE.

It can also be written as OBSERVING+ IMAAN=GUIDANCE.

Thus, some can enter into faith due to encounters with "miracles", while others are inspired by intellectual arguments.

It is also interesting that in connection to "warnings", all of us are in need of that sometimes, including God's own servants who are already striving to be conscious ( Q 16:2).


(Q 10:102)
فَہَلۡ یَنۡتَظِرُوۡنَ اِلَّا مِثۡلَ اَیَّامِ الَّذِیۡنَ خَلَوۡا مِنۡ قَبۡلِہِمۡ ؕ قُلۡ فَانۡتَظِرُوۡۤا اِنِّیۡ مَعَکُمۡ مِّنَ الۡمُنۡتَظِرِیۡنَ

An address to those who reject faith and arguably for Muslims as well. Their time is coming to a conclusion, they need only wait.

I should point out here that the word for "look" (Undhur) and "wait"
  (Untadhir) are from the same root, and makes logical sense, you sit around ("wait"), looking around. What will you see?


(10:103)
ثُمَّ نُنَجِّیۡ رُسُلَنَا وَ الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا کَذٰلِکَ ۚ حَقًّا عَلَیۡنَا نُنۡجِ الۡمُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ

You will see Allah "saving" the prophets and believers. This also carries, more importantly, the meaning that the message, the cause of Imaan will be vindicated and that the cause of rejection will perish naturally.

This interpretation is admittedly unusual but it is made keeping in mind that believers, even Prophets, are sometimes killed or die in battle. So when we see "save" , we should not read it in some SUPERMAN sense!


(10:104-105)
قُلۡ یٰۤاَیُّہَا النَّاسُ اِنۡ کُنۡتُمۡ فِیۡ شَکٍّ مِّنۡ دِیۡنِیۡ فَلَاۤ اَعۡبُدُ الَّذِیۡنَ تَعۡبُدُوۡنَ مِنۡ دُوۡنِ اللّٰہِ وَ لٰکِنۡ اَعۡبُدُ اللّٰہَ الَّذِیۡ یَتَوَفّٰٮکُمۡ ۚۖ وَ اُمِرۡتُ اَنۡ اَکُوۡنَ مِنَ الۡمُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ
وَ اَنۡ اَقِمۡ وَجۡہَکَ لِلدِّیۡنِ حَنِیۡفًا ۚ وَ لَا تَکُوۡنَنَّ مِنَ الۡمُشۡرِکِیۡنَ
Ultimately we are to worship Allah alone.  That was the cause of Prophet Muhammad and indeed of all of the Prophets (peace be upon them).


(10:106-107)
وَ لَا تَدۡعُ مِنۡ دُوۡنِ اللّٰہِ مَا لَا یَنۡفَعُکَ وَ لَا یَضُرُّکَ ۚ فَاِنۡ فَعَلۡتَ فَاِنَّکَ اِذًا مِّنَ الظّٰلِمِیۡنَ

وَ اِنۡ یَّمۡسَسۡکَ اللّٰہُ بِضُرٍّ فَلَا کَاشِفَ لَہٗۤ اِلَّا ہُوَ ۚ وَ اِنۡ یُّرِدۡکَ بِخَیۡرٍ فَلَا رَآدَّ لِفَضۡلِہٖ ؕ یُصِیۡبُ بِہٖ مَنۡ یَّشَآءُ مِنۡ عِبَادِہٖ ؕ وَ ہُوَ الۡغَفُوۡرُ الرَّحِیۡمُ
Idols bring no benefit, whereas Allah, the source behind creation, is the All-Powerful.

(10:108-109)


قُلۡ یٰۤاَیُّہَا النَّاسُ قَدۡ جَآءَکُمُ الۡحَقُّ مِنۡ رَّبِّکُمۡ ۚ فَمَنِ اہۡتَدٰی فَاِنَّمَا یَہۡتَدِیۡ لِنَفۡسِہٖ ۚ وَ مَنۡ ضَلَّ فَاِنَّمَا یَضِلُّ عَلَیۡہَا ۚ وَ مَاۤ اَنَا عَلَیۡکُمۡ بِوَکِیۡلٍ
The "guidance" is the Qur'an itself. It functions as an eternal warning. It is for our best interests to follow that guidance, and to be patient with regards to the Divine decrees.

It is important here to remember that the Quranic word usually translated as "patience" (Sabr) has within it the meaning of perseverance. In other words, keep going, keep striving, don't surrender one's faith, morals and relationship to the Divine.

Quranic Study Notes: Comparing faith and its opposite ( 10: 95-100)

Note: The following is a summary of my notes which form the core of regular presentations on the Quranic scripture. Unless otherwise stated, the translation has NOT been included. This allows the reader to focus on the explanations given, and to consult the translation of their choice when the need arises.


( 10:94-95)

 فَاِنۡ کُنۡتَ فِیۡ شَکٍّ مِّمَّاۤ اَنۡزَلۡنَاۤ اِلَیۡکَ فَسۡـَٔلِ الَّذِیۡنَ یَقۡرَءُوۡنَ الۡکِتٰبَ مِنۡ قَبۡلِکَ ۚ لَقَدۡ جَآءَکَ الۡحَقُّ مِنۡ رَّبِّکَ فَلَا تَکُوۡنَنَّ مِنَ الۡمُمۡتَرِیۡنَ

 وَ لَا تَکُوۡنَنَّ مِنَ الَّذِیۡنَ کَذَّبُوۡا بِاٰیٰتِ اللّٰہِ فَتَکُوۡنَ مِنَ الۡخٰسِرِیۡنَ





The immediate audience of the Prophet-Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam-  were-despite the regularity of it now coming to him,  still found Revelation to be an unusual experience. His audience is reminded that this is actually something which has been experienced by other communities as well, and are, in essence, told to ask the members of other communities about those experiences.

This comes to the point that revelation of scripture comes with the purpose of empowering those who have faith. THIS is phased in other places as "guidance" ( Q 2:2), "light" ( 5:15), etc.. . All of these terms show that there is benefit to all of this, and ignoring it only works to do us harm.


(10:96-97)
 اِنَّ الَّذِیۡنَ حَقَّتۡ عَلَیۡہِمۡ کَلِمَتُ رَبِّکَ لَا یُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ

 وَ لَوۡ جَآءَتۡہُمۡ کُلُّ اٰیَۃٍ حَتّٰی یَرَوُا الۡعَذَابَ الۡاَلِیۡمَ

The narcissists, those who are "in too deep" will not accept truth, regardless of the powerful evidence presented.

It is difficult for the sincere adviser when his words are not heeded. He cares for his audience, especially when they are his family or loved ones. Those loved ones are so immersed in their destructive lives, behavior and thinking that they are simply blinded to truth. The Prophet Muhammad is told in another place " Do not let their words cause you to grieve" ( Q 10:65).

If certain audience members are blind and oblivious to the warnings, to the truth, the Prophet, and those who follow him, are to simply move on.


( 10:98)
 فَلَوۡ لَا کَانَتۡ قَرۡیَۃٌ اٰمَنَتۡ فَنَفَعَہَاۤ اِیۡمَانُہَاۤ اِلَّا قَوۡمَ یُوۡنُسَ ؕ لَمَّاۤ اٰمَنُوۡا کَشَفۡنَا عَنۡہُمۡ عَذَابَ الۡخِزۡیِ فِی الۡحَیٰوۃِ الدُّنۡیَا وَ مَتَّعۡنٰہُمۡ اِلٰی حِیۡنٍ

It is not always a lost cause, as this verse points us to. As the expression goes "Lose the battle, win the war!". Jonah, or Yunus in the Quranic language, is an example of the war being won!

Jonah-' alayhis salaam-  is commissioned for Nineveh,  a civilization which had its center in Southern Iraq. He was a Prophet sent forth to them, and they- as a social unit, heeded the warnings, rectified their attitude and behavior,  and as a result, their civilization was revived!


Islam - as found in the Qur'an and as lived by the Prophet Muhammad, comes with a similar mission. This has been found to be true historically as well as within the lives of great individuals. This writer often cites as wonderful examples persons as diverse as Umar Ibn Al-Khattab and Malcolm X.

In any case, if we are to have any civilization model, let it not be Pharaoh's  Egypt, but rather that of Jonah's Nineveh.


( 10:99-100)
 وَ لَوۡ شَآءَ رَبُّکَ لَاٰمَنَ مَنۡ فِی الۡاَرۡضِ کُلُّہُمۡ جَمِیۡعًا ؕ اَفَاَنۡتَ تُکۡرِہُ النَّاسَ حَتّٰی یَکُوۡنُوۡا مُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ

 وَ مَا کَانَ لِنَفۡسٍ اَنۡ تُؤۡمِنَ اِلَّا بِاِذۡنِ اللّٰہِ ؕ وَ یَجۡعَلُ الرِّجۡسَ عَلَی الَّذِیۡنَ لَا یَعۡقِلُوۡنَ

Imaan (faith) is life-saving, and a new injection of life is delivered to a society which accepts that Imaan. However, it cannot be done at gunpoint. It has to be voluntary, done with full awareness and sincere acceptance.

The latter statement in v.100 is quite powerful in the original Arabic. A rather rough sounding translation is as follows "And He( Allah)  makes 'Rijs' for those who don't use their minds".

Rijs means that which is abhorrent, disgusting, loathsome. In other words, when the mind is not used, particularly in areas of faith, God will put on them signs of being abhorrent.

While contextually this is faith-related, I believe we can see this outside of that as well. Rejection (Kufr), a topic which has been addressed here comes as a result of blindness, arrogance, tyranny and the like. In other words, they have been unable to use their minds, not only in a limited "religious" sense, but in the social and political as well. The rather frightening populism gripping not only the USA but UK to a limited sense has daily, often filmed, examples of irrational xenophobia. Spanish speakers are most often singled out, harassed and even physically attacked when heard conversing in their native language.

In the Qur'an (5:90) the same term Rijs is used in connection to intoxicants, gambling and the like. These things have destructive capacities which are well known. Mainly, these items are not only addictive, they affect the minds of its captives ( a carefully chosen word) in a negative way.

So faith should be- at its core- intellectual- having arrived at it via careful study and research. IT should translate into a broad mind, it should be transforming, certainly to the extent that a person should be able to be more open minded and not easily becoming mentally captivated as we are unfortunately are witnessing today. Racism, xenophobia, and the like seem to be clear cut characteristics of Kufr.

In these regards, there is a Prophetic Supplication which reads, in part:  "O Allah, I seek refuge with you from Kufr". If we understand Kufr in its broad definition as outlined in the Qur'an, as being the core of various social and personal diseases ( in thinking), we can see the import of that supplication, as well as what Imaan itself should manifest.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Cultivation Of The Garden: An Islamic View

Note: The following is a video of our Friday Khutbah (sermon) which mainly deals with the implications of three Quranic supplications, as well as gives an explanation of the concepts of Paradise and Hell as being both initially created and experienced in this life by our own hands.

Comments are welcome.


CULTIVATION OF THE GARDEN: AN ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE

Friday, June 21, 2019

Imaan: The Bigger Picture In Troubled Times {Friday Khutbah}

Note: Below is an edited version of our Friday Khutbah 6/21/19 at Masjid Ibrahim, Las Vegas, Nevada. The opening Hamd ( expressions of praise for Allah) as well as expressions of peace for the Prophets have been omitted here for space reasons.


Amana Ar Rasool- more than a statement of creed

The Qur'an contains a summary of that which the Prophet teaches. It reads "The Messenger ( Muhammad) believes in what has been sent forth to him from his Lord, as does those who have faith. All of them believe in Allah, HIS angels, HIS Scriptures, HIS messengers.." ( Q 2:286)

اٰمَنَ الرَّسُوۡلُ بِمَاۤ اُنۡزِلَ اِلَیۡہِ مِنۡ رَّبِّہٖ وَ الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ ؕ کُلٌّ اٰمَنَ بِاللّٰہِ وَ مَلٰٓئِکَتِہٖ وَ کُتُبِہٖ وَ رُسُلِہٖ

While we do view this as a summary of belief, this verse also contains an acknowledgement that Allah is involved in the affairs of humanity. Beginning with belief in God, it then says "HIS angels".

"Angels" (Malaa-ikah) are given power by Allah to act in the affairs of man. Indeed, the meaning of "being given power" is present in both Arabic and Hebrew. They act according to the Divine Order ( Q 66:6).

Allah Almighty sent forth scriptures- HIS scriptures- texts that help man to function with Taqwaa and morals. Allah backs this up process further by sending forth of messengers- HIS messengers (Rusulihi).

These items ( angels, scriptures, messengers) point to the fact that Allah is present, involved. His hand reaches, pushes and points to that which He wills.

"His Throne ( i.e. dominion/knowledge) encompasses the Heavens and the Earth.." ( Q 2:256)

 وَسِعَ کُرۡسِیُّہُ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضَ ۚ

How does this relate to current events?

It is a reasonable question to ask the purpose behind this seemingly theoretical  talk in light of the things which are haunting the Muslim Ummah and the wider world in general, such as concerns over President Trump, Iran, Syria, Egypt, China, Mali, and other such places.

In fact, we are not talking about these places and events, but we are also talking about YOUR OWN personal struggles, your own quest for happiness, success and security. We
are likewise talking about your own moments of joy and pain.

The global issues are very important examples of why Imaan (faith) is vital. We keep in mind that the Qur'an repeatedly instructs to exercise Taqwaa to the best of our capacity ( Q 64:16 among other places), which means that while we work according to wise planning, intelligence and ability to address those things, as we do address our own issues in our own lives, we keep in mind that Allah's hand is still present.

"Do you not know that to Allah belongs the dominion of the Heavens and the Earth, and that other than Him you have none to give you protection, nor any to give you victory." ( Q 2:107)

 اَلَمۡ تَعۡلَمۡ اَنَّ اللّٰہَ لَہٗ مُلۡکُ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضِ ؕ وَ مَا لَکُمۡ مِّنۡ دُوۡنِ اللّٰہِ مِنۡ وَّلِیٍّ وَّ لَا نَصِیۡرٍ

"And Allah encompasses (even ) those who reject faith." ( Q 2:19)
 وَ اللّٰہُ مُحِیۡطٌۢ بِالۡکٰفِرِیۡنَ

"They (the opposition) plot, and Allah (likewise) plots, and Allah is the best of those who plot." ( Q 8:30)

وَ یَمۡکُرُوۡنَ وَ یَمۡکُرُ اللّٰہُ ؕ وَ اللّٰہُ خَیۡرُ الۡمٰکِرِیۡنَ


Prophet Muhammad: The Exemplar of faith

The religion of Islam has not only a Scripture, it also has a Prophet who exemplifies that scripture. The Qur'an says "Indeed, in the Messenger of God you have a goodly model, for any who has hope in Allah, the final day, and who contemplate upon Allah in abundance" ( Q 33:21)

لَقَدۡ کَانَ لَکُمۡ فِیۡ رَسُوۡلِ اللّٰہِ اُسۡوَۃٌ حَسَنَۃٌ لِّمَنۡ کَانَ یَرۡجُوا اللّٰہَ وَ الۡیَوۡمَ الۡاٰخِرَ وَ ذَکَرَ اللّٰہَ کَثِیۡرًا

All the Prophets certainly have the above-mentioned characteristics, however Muhammad is emphasized because he not only faced opposition and persecution (which obviously Prophets in general would face, peace be upon them all) but he likewise faced the same normal struggles of life that are experienced by other human beings, such as domestic life, financial worries and such. This is why Allah commands his Prophet "Say: ( O Muhammad!) I am a human similar to yourselves." (Q 18:110). Thus he functions as a practical and relatable example.

Keep faith in the overall plan of God. for it is HE who created you and created all. Be grateful for what Allah has given you, observe HIS blessings in your own life and in the lives of those around you.

Make plans, both political and personal, have good intentions, be intelligent and act according to the overall Maslaha (public health), but still keep faith in the One who is above all.









Friday, May 10, 2019

Exploring how our religious and cultural biases influence our leadership decisions

( Note: The following is an edited version of my presentation for the BYU Management Society's Las Vegas chapter luncheon yesterday. In attendance were a number of political and business figures. )


In the name of God, The Most Compassionate, The Most Merciful




Theological introduction

Islam is an Arabic word meaning "Submission to God". It is our understanding that God has sent forth prophets to different audiences, with variations in priorities, but all conveying the same basic point- surrender to the Divine will. The Qur'an phrases it thusly: " To every people, a guide has been sent." ( Q 13:7)  Those who do the act of submission are called in Arabic "Muslims".

The Qur'anic teaching is that the process of the conveying of those Divine principles found its perfection in the coming of Muhammad as universal model, and in particular the Quranic scripture given through him. 

The Muslim world encompasses a great deal of cultural diversity and understandings, and already we have a clue that diversity existed with God's prophets. Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them both)  were both sent by God, however their practical functions differed. Moses was a lawgiver, while Jesus was a moralist. These are important things to understand when trying to understand the Muslims in their approaches.


Scripture read according to one's needs

The Qur'an, accessible to Muslims everywhere, is read differently by different people because it speaks to us in different conditions. A rather mundane example is that of diet. The Qur'an both disallows and allows the consumption of pork (Q 2:173 and other places). Pork is forbidden in normal circumstances, but allowed in periods of starvation. Syrian scholars have allowed eating cats and dogs, due to the lack of access to food because of the civil war.

Spiritual foundation needed for proper decision making

The Qur'an says "Verily, prayer restrains from immorality and repugnant actions" ( Q 28:45). This shows us that prayer is supposed to influence our decision making process, regardless of what position we are in. 

Muslims pray a minimum of five times daily, at times spread out through the day. Prayer reminds us of God, His presence and it provides us with an injection of consciousness and sense of responsibility. The more you pray, the stronger your fortification will be against immorality, repugnant actions and thoughts.

The Qur'an gives the same basic moral code as found within other religious traditions ( i.e. worship God, prohibitions against killing, theft etc), but what happens when a particular situation arises where we can't figure out the answer to it?

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave three important statements which answer this question.

Leave off that which gives you doubt for that which gives you certainty. 

Righteousness is good character, and sin is that which wavers in your soul.

Another statement attributed to the Prophet goes even further. A man comes to the Prophet to inquire as to his ( i.e. the Prophet's) definition of righteousness. The Prophet responds "Consult your own heart. Righteousness is that which the soul feels tranquil about, and sin is that which causes unrest in the soul, even though people keep giving opinions in its favor" (An-Nawawi's Forty Hadeeth)

The underlined sentence in Arabic reads Wa in Af-taakan Naasu, wa Aftook.  In other words, Fatwas, a word which has been made famous in recent years by the media. 

These sayings of the Prophet show us that personal judgement is a valid source of guidance, however that judgement can only be applicable, sound and practical when the soul is healthy, nourished properly by sound spirituality. Thinking right would translate into acting right.

The main goal of Islam is the preservation and nourishment of the soul. It is for this reason that Islam forbids alcohol, drugs, gambling and promiscuity. It also encourages modesty in dress, care in speech, clarity in relationships, and cleanliness of body and soul.

Muslims are currently in the month of Ramadan, abstaining from dawn to sunset from food, drink and physical relations. It is a spiritual cleansing. Similarly the religion obligates us to give in charity, which is also traditionally done in Ramadan. 

These acts cultivate the soul, strengthening one's ties with God and should thus provide a firm foundation for making decisions. 


Leadership

Prophet Muhammad made a statement which would be very shocking for today's political culture. The tradition (hadeeth) asserts that a man came to him, seeking to be appointed a governor. The Prophet replied "By God, we do not appoint someone to this job who seeks after it, or to someone very covetous of it."  

Another hadeeth says "Do not ask for position of power. If you are granted the position without asking for it, you will be helped (i.e. by God) in discharging its responsibilities, however if you attain  it as a result of your seeking, you will be alone as its captive." (Bukhari/Muslim)

I believe these statements indicate the danger of power being held by covetous, narcissistic personality types, persons who have been seeking personal glory. 

I believe the Prophet is saying that those who are already doing community work should be given the roles in an official capacity, in order to make the results of their work more effective.

The early Islamic period saw that governors lived humbly, in apartments next to the main mosque. They would also lead the five daily prayers in the mosque. Their God-awareness made them more aware of their social responsibilities. A beautiful example is in 'Umar b.'Abdul-'Aziz (died 720 C.E.), a ruler who would not even use a government lamp when conducting his own personal business.

Returning to the above-mentioned  Prophetic narrations, how do they work in a world of electoral politics, a world of campaigning for votes and financial support? 

Every society has its own unique political culture, and the truth of the matter is that Islam does not give a systematic or detailed blueprint for governing. Regarding the above-mentioned Prophetic narrations, I believe they provide guidance for attempting to identity the thinking and motivations of the candidates. Has their history been one of of sincere public service, or that of personal aggrandizement?  Those who have been of service, they will be known by their fruits.


Shared interest between religious communities

It seems fair to say that the same overall interests are shared by the various religious communities. Our source materials are different, but the goals are the same, to live in a world where we can make positive contributions, where our children can be safe, where we have the sanctity of life and morals.

The Qur'an says (Q 49:13) that God intentionally made people to be different, and it also says "Be competitive in doing positive actions" ( Q 2:148).

Positive competition creates blessings that are universally felt, in music, literature, sciences, and any other field. The Quranic worldview, if properly understood, eventually puts an end to xenophobia, racism, and any other negative thinking patterns.


Dr. Muqtedar Khan writes in his new book Islam and Good Governance " I understand witnessing the divine as advancing a moral-political vision that is designed to support a polity and politics that pursues the good of others as a divine mandate." 

He also writes " When you struggle for others, you witness their pain, their marginalization, and their needs, and when you act for them, you are acting as a deliverer of divine grace. To serve others without an axe to grind is to worship God as if you see him."



Monday, March 11, 2019

Allah: the source of education and growth (Videos)

Note: Below you will find our recent Friday Khutbah (sermon). It is divided into three parts


Allah: The source of education and growth part one

Summary: Being truly connected to God will result in being open minded and less dogmatic.Practical examples of differences in prayer among Sunni Muslims are briefly explained, and argued that such differences should not lead to actual division.

God actually created us to embody differences, and that's okay.

part two

Summary: Humility before God a necessary characteristic. Some discussions on particular supplications at the Hajj pilgrimage.

part three

Summary: Briefly looks at the Prophetic supplication "O Allah, show us truth as truth, and give us the ability to follow it, and falsehood as falsehood, and give us the ability to abstain therefrom. Concluding remarks.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Making Faith Make Sense: Presentation

( Note: The video below is a presentation in which we explore the questions regarding the place of faith in the modern world, in an age when faith can be viewed as irrational and unscientific. )


MAKING FAITH MAKE SENSE

Saturday, January 19, 2019

GRACE IN THE DESERT EPISCOPAL CHURCH PRESENTATION

Below you will find recordings of our recent presentation in Las Vegas community on different aspects of Islam. Descriptions are at bottom of videos.


Grace in the Desert presentation part 1


Summary: An introduction to the five pillars of religion, fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam, the role of the Qur'an. At minute 11:12 sound quality improves due to use of microphone. Some of the laws of Islam are also explained, such as dress code, dietary guidelines, Jihad, terrorism.


Grace in the Desert presentation part 2

Summary: Q and A session, which explores Islam in different cultural contexts, reasons for the spread of the faith ( minute 1:25), charity (3:35), recommended English translations of the Qur'an ( 4:28), prayer method during situations such as flying ( 5:50), Non Muslims being prohibited from being in Makkah and Madinah ( 7:47), is it necessary to learn Arabic? ( 9:32), Sunni-Shiite differences (10:42), gender segregation in worship ( 12:55), religious freedom in the Muslim world and as expressed in the religion itself ( 16:10), the initial revelations to the Prophet ( 19:20), , addressing the idea that Islam borrowed from Judaism ( 21:33), Qur'an being a difficult, repetitive book ( 24:40), addressing war and relationships with Non Muslims (26:56), Explanation and demonstration of the Adhaan or prayer call ( 28:49)

Saturday, January 5, 2019

THE PATH OF THE PROPHETS: TIMELESS GUIDANCE

( Note: The following is an edited version of our Salaat al Jumu'ah Khutbah delivered 1/4/19 at Masjid Ibrahim, Las Vegas, Nevada. The opening Hamd, as well as the expressions of peace for the Messengers of God, have been omitted here.)


The Path as described by the Qur'an

لَہٗ مَقَالِیۡدُ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضِ ۚ یَبۡسُطُ الرِّزۡقَ لِمَنۡ یَّشَآءُ وَ یَقۡدِرُ ؕ اِنَّہٗ بِکُلِّ شَیۡءٍ عَلِیۡمٌ
 شَرَعَ لَکُمۡ مِّنَ الدِّیۡنِ مَا وَصّٰی بِہٖ نُوۡحًا وَّ الَّذِیۡۤ اَوۡحَیۡنَاۤ اِلَیۡکَ وَ مَا وَصَّیۡنَا بِہٖۤ اِبۡرٰہِیۡمَ وَ مُوۡسٰی وَ عِیۡسٰۤی اَنۡ اَقِیۡمُوا الدِّیۡنَ وَ لَا تَتَفَرَّقُوۡا فِیۡہِ ؕ


In the Tafseer field, there is a principal known as Tasfeer ul Qur'an bil Qur'an, meaning that the Qur'an is best explained or understood by referencing other places within the Qur'an. Often, this practically means studying the context in which a particular verse or assertion is placed, rather than developing a stand-alone understanding based on a single text. Here, we have a beautiful example of this principal.

" To Him ( i.e. Allah) belongs the keys of the heavens and the Earth. He widens provision to whom He wills, and limits ( as well). Indeed, He is the One knowing all things." ( Q 42:12)
In other words, God is the "owner" of the universe, and as the one who possesses the keys, to open and close doors, Allah does that for whom He wills, in accordance to His plan and wisdom, according to his own schedule. Other texts to recall in these regards include Ayatul Kursiyy (ft.1) and Ayah An-Noor(ft.2).

Next, we are told " He ( Allah) has made you ( O followers of Muhammad) traverse on the same path, in terms of deen (Shara'a lakum min ad deen) which We (Allah) enjoined on Noah, which has been sent to you (O Muhammad), and what has been enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus-establish deen, and do not place division therein.." ( Q 42:13).

These verses are to be read together, as they clearly indicate that Allah opened the doors of spiritual provision to the followers of Prophet Muhammad, the same doors He (soobhaanahu wa ta'alaa) opened for four other prophets.

These four prophets are all associated with safety on some level. Noah and his ark, Abraham's teachings, which-when followed, "save" a person from idolatry, Moses, who led his followers away from the tyranny of Pharaoh, and Jesus, who was leading people away from the traps of anger and self-deception.

To be on that path, the path of maximum benefit and safety, is truly a blessing This is why we should be consistent in  proclaiming praise to Allah for the blessing of Islam (Alhamdulillaahi 'ala Ni'matil Islaam).


The operative word is "path". On this path, there are people ahead of us and people behind us. In this ayah, Allah says to "establish deen, and don't create division therein" (Aqeemud-deen, wa Laa Tatafarraqoo feeh.). 

"Establish" means to build, and building takes patience, intelligence and planning.  It takes team work as well, to establish firmly deen, be it in personal or communal application.

In whatever stage of the journey we are on, we should help each other and remember that it takes patience, commitment, and planning. So have the Niyyah to build up your deen, not only in practice but in particular in thinking right.

Addressing sectarian divisions

The verse (42:13) also asserts that there should be no breaking apart or divisions with regards to deen. This assertion can be taken in a number of ways. We can take it as a command (amr) for unity, meaning not to break up into sectarian denominations, or it can be taken as instructing us to recognize that the prophets and messengers all taught the same deen, and thus, we should not view them as teaching different things, also implying that we should make no distinctions between God's messengers ( Q 2:285).

A reply to the above can be made, pointing out that there are divisions among the Muslim community. This is true, among the Ahlus Sunnah we have different Madhaahib (ft.3), and of course the main sectarian difference being with the Shiites. However, in general these divisions are on secondary points (furoo') and not on fundamental principles(usool) . Thus, all Muslims, of all theological colors, have the same Qur'an, the same pillars of faith, same prayers, and same ethical and behavioral principles.

This is a reflection of Allah's blessing for the deen, a deen which has been completed and protected ( Q 5:3). Thus, in the big scheme of things, the sectarian divisions among Muslims should not be exaggerated.

Footnotes

(1) The "Throne verse" ( Q 2:255), for which see here

(2) ''The verse of God's light" ( Q 24:35) , which describes the reach of Allah's guidance. See here

(3) The schools of jurisprudence only differ in terms of applications of legal methodology, and not really on theological points. There are theological differences between the Sunnis and the Shiites, some of them important, however in terms of fundamentals, both groups share that in common.