The following is a lecture I delivered to the University of the Sciences Philadelphia MSA chapter on October 14th, 2010.
Islam: An Informed Decision [audio:http://www.marcmanley.com/media/mp3s/khutbahs/Islam%20-%20An%20Informed%20Decision%20A%20Lecture%20at%20USP.mp3|titles=Islam – An Informed Decision|artists=Marc Manley]
طه ما أنزلنا عليك القرآن لتشقى
إلا تذكرة لمن يخشى
تنزيلا ممن خلق الأرض والسموت العلى
الرحمن على العرش استوى
له ما في السموت وما في الأرض وما بينهما وما تحت الثرى
و إن تجهر بالقول فإنه يعلم السر وأخفى
“Ta Ha – We did not send down the Qur’an upon you so that you would be miserable, but such that it would be a reminder for whomever has fear and awe; a revelation from the One who created the Earth and the Heavens on high; the Most Merciful, upon the Throne, firmly established.
To Him belongs the Heavens and the Earth and all that is between them and what lay underneath. Though you speak out loud, He knows what is secret and even more concealed.” [Q: 20:1-8]
Many Muslims are feeling miserable these days because of all the hype and attention Islam is getting in the news and in the public discourse.
Qutādah relates in Ibn Abi Hātim’s tafsir:
لا ولله ما جعله الله شقيا ولكن جعله الله رحمة ونورا و دليلا إلى الجنة
“No!, by God I swear that God did not make him miserable, but instead God made him a mercy, a light, and a proof for Paradise!” [Tafsir Ibn Abi Hatim]
The Importance of Choice in the Qur’an: Why and How We Make Choices
The choice of what we decide to do; the choices God wants us to make [Shari’ah/Iradah Kuwniyyah/Shar’iyyah]:
God had the ability to transcend his preferences
- Humans define power as both having it and having to act upon it.
How we see the importance of making choices through the language of the Qur’an:
Positive choices elicits God’s favor:
ثم كان من الذين ءامنوا وتواصوا بالصبر و تواصوا بالمرحمة ألئك أصحاب الميمنة
“Then he will be amongst those who have faith and command/determine by will with perseverance and and mercy – they are the companions of the Right-Hand Way.” [Q: 90:17-18]
Negative choice elicits God’s displeasure:
قل كفى بالله بيني وبينكم شهيدا – يعلم ما في السموت والأرض – والذين ءامنوا بالباطل و كفروا بالله ألئك هم الخاسرون
“Say: ‘Sufficient is God for me as a witness between us. He knows what is in the Heavens and the Earth. As for those who believe in falsehood and show ingratitude towards God, they are at a severe loss’.” [Q: 29:52]
الذي خلق الموت والحياة لنبلوكم أحسن عملا
The Language of Choice
ويل يومئذ للمكذبين و إذا قيل لهم اركعول لا يركعون فبأي حديث بعده يومنون
“And when it is said to them, ‘bow’, they do not bow. On that day, Woe to the deniers! In what discourse after this will they achieve faith?” [Q: 77: 48-50]
To demonstrate the difference between these two applications of literalism, take a series of commands, open the window, fetch a fan, turn off the lights, and pour a glass of water. One can separate these commands, interpret them literally, and stop at that. Or one can combine them and interpret them literally, in which case they might generate a cumulative meaning to the effect that, “It’s hot!” On this understanding, it would be proper to do anything that could effectively counter the heat (for example, buy an air-conditioner) and to do nothing that might increase the heat(for example, turn on the oven). In neither case, however, does the status of these ancillary actions depend on any explicit command or prohibition … It, in other words, possibilities [are] opened up by figurative interpretation, that allows (or perhaps even compels) us to go beyond these commands.
Muslims have become defensive and reactive.
Islamic history; the “High Ground”; military strategy; defensive mind set; can’t get to what we need to get at.
God asks us to make the ascent!
فلا اقتحم العقبة
“By he [man] has not made the ascent!’” [Q: 90:11]
وما أدراك ما العقبة
أو اطعام في يوم ذي مسغبة
يتيما ذا مقربة
أو مسكينا ذا متربة
“But he [man] has not made the ascent!’” [Q: 90:13-16]
Let’s not get too caught up in the dominant hype and forget about those who have come out in support of us and do the responsible thing, make choices and act responsibly based on the hidayah [guidance] that God has given us through his Holy Prophet [s].
- Islam is not an abstraction religion with an abstract god.
- We must be cautious about rendering God an abstract repository into which we pour all of our biases and desires and notion into what we conceive of to be God.
- God’s concept of power differs widely from that of the typical Western concept of power, where one has power only so long as one exercises it, reacts with it, in order to retain one’s [sense] of sovereignty.
- Putting our theology in conversation with our lived realities:
- Question: How can a theological stance [held by many Blacks, for instance] that claims both God’s omnipotence and all-goodliness, go against Black suffering, which is nothing other than a manifestation of God’s will [إن الله على كل شيء قدير]?
- This is the position that William R. Jones took/questioned in his book, Is God A White Racist? Williams described the problem of racism as a “threshold issue” for black theology. “My concern,” he writes, “is not to establish the truth of the charge of divine racism. Rather, my intent is to demonstrate that the normative frameworks of the black theologians are questionable, because they raise the issue of divine racism and, once [it is] raised, cannot effectively refute the charge with their present theological resources.”
- Jones saw this issue as demonstrative of God’s sovereignty over nature, but not over human history. This was the position also held by the Mu’tazilah school [speculative theology].
- Quietism: if one is religious then one cannot go against that which God wills into existence without going against God.
- Occasionalism: the idea that there is no secondary causation; that everything is directly willed by God. Ash’arī school [al-Ghazālī was a proponent].
Sense of Self
- Stop acting like children/like someone with an inferiority complex.
- Over emphasis on nation-state building: Pakistan/Iran; USA.
- In touch with reality but not letting it put us out of touch with ourselves:
- “An artist derives more pleasure from painting than from having completed a picture.” — Attalus.
- Islam is not a tautological religion [“A or not A”].
- Islam constantly ascribes its moral and ethical elements on to pre-existing cultures and contexts.
- What is Islamic culture?
و من يوق شح نفسه فألئك هم المفلحون
“It is the people who are safe-guarded from the avarice of their own selves who are successful.’” [Q: 64:16]
الإتقاء أن تجعل بينك و بين ما تخافه حاجزا يحفظك
“Taqwā is the idea that you [A] place something [C] between yourself and that which you fear could destroy you [B].”
What al-Tabrīzī is demonstrating to us is that taqwā, in a sense, is a type of self-defense or self-preservation system or technique to ward off destruction by placing something between yourself and that impending doom. We will see shortly how this ties into the Qur’ān’s definition and the Sunnah’s definition of taqwā.
و قال سأقضي حاجتي ثم أتقي * عدوي بألف من روائى ملجم
“I will satisfy my vengeance [on my brother’s killer by taking his life!], then I will defend myself from their reprisal with a thousand horses, all bridled in support of my cause!”
فاتقوا الله ما استطعتم واسمعوا وأطيعوا وأنفقوا خيرا لأنفسكم
“So have taqwā of Allah [guard yourself against him by what you commit against yourself!], as much as you are able to, and listen and obey and spend for your own benefit.” [Q: 64:16]
- What did Islam look like when it came to India for the first time?
- Pakistan, Malaysia, even the Hijaz?
- Moorish Science Temple: we are often critical of early proto-Muslim groups like this and condemn them on theology alone. And yes, they are wrong theologically, but we also need to be aware of how Islam develops in stages; no one shows up on the scene a perfect believer.
- Banu Thaqif is an example with their idols: when they entered into Islam, initially they wanted to keep their idols. The Prophet commanded that their idols be destroyed yet he offered two of his companions to do it for them so as not to humiliate them. Years later, after the Prophet’s death [s], several of the tribes apostatized. The Banu Thaqif were one of the ones that remained Muslim because of how they were treated and allowed to grow in and to own their Islam.
- Islam is not an over-night transformations vs. process.
Extra Reading & Materials
- Sherman Jackson’s, Literalism, Empiricism, and Induction: Apprehending and Concretizing Islamic Law’s Maqasid al-Shari’ah in the Modern World [PDF].
- Dr. William Chittick’s Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul.
- Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s Knowledge and the Sacred and The Need For a Sacred Science.
- Sherman Jackson’s talk, Understanding The Role of Blackamerican Muslims for Islam in America [mp3].