I teach a class entitled The Sherman Jackson Reader at Middle Ground. It’s a class where we use Dr. Jackson’s articles, books, and scholarship, to spark meaningful dialogues, conversations, and ask pertinent questions. The following are two short excepts followed by the full length clip. Enjoy, and perhaps join us some Saturday after Fajr!
Imam al-Ghazzali, one of the great thinkers in Islam, said about salah (prayer), that it has four admiral qualities:
فإن الصلاة عماد الدين, وعصام اليقين, ورأس القربات, وغرة الطاعات.
The support center of the Din;
The means of holding tight to certainty;
The foremost means of drawing close to God;
The act amongst the acts of obedience to God;
An ‘imad is like a tent-pole. The pole which makes the rest of the tent a place of habitation. Without it, the tent collapses. Being that the word din is related to dayn, debt, the means of supporting your debt to God is through salah.
‘Isam, its literal meaning being “a strap”, is a means of tying something down. The way to achieving certainty (yaqin) is not achieved through intellectual endeavors alone. It is achieve through habitual action. The salah is a means of doing that habitual action which “ties us to God”.
Remember, that ra’s is not only the head of something, but also a beginning. The beginning of drawing close to God begins with salah. You will not achieve it through any singular intellectual endeavor, no matter how smart.
The word gurrah refers to a beauty mark that the Arabs would say a horse would have on its face. A white mark. Ghurrah, a mark of superiority, of quality, is what’s being emphasized here. In these two verses, we’re reminded the beautification that salah gives us on the Day of Judgment:
وُجوهٌ يَومَئِذٍ ناضِرَةٌ
إِلىٰ رَبِّها ناظِرَةٌ
“Faces that Day will be radiant, gazing at their Lord.” Qur’an, 75: 22-23
“If My slaves ask you about Me, I am near. I answer the call of the caller when he calls on Me. They should therefore respond to Me and believe in Me so that hopefully they will be rightly guided.” [Qur’an, 2: 186]
We are living in times of ever decreasing nuance. Perhaps this is why brands prevail, for without them, we could muster little thought on our own. I am reminded of a question I had as my time as chaplain about Muslim/non-Muslim relations, when I came across this passage in Sherman Jackson’s On The Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam:
Kufr, according to al-Ghazali, is purely a matter of rejecting the truthfulness of the Prophet Muhammad. Beyond this, it reveals, in and of itself, virtually nothing about a person’s moral or religious constitution. (7)
I say this not only to remind ourselves of the capacity to work with people of “good conscious” — by the secular definition — regardless of faith tradition, but also to remind ourselves of the pragmatic transformative power of religion. Often Muslims look upon their fellow Muslims’ actions with dismay when they do not quite add up to what they (we) think is correct (even when we are right!). The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم stated similarly,
“Those who were the best amongst you in the Pre-lslamic period (jahiliyyah) are the best amongst you in Islam if they comprehend it.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
I mention this, not to propose a laissez-faire attitude towards moral rectitude and religious commitment, but to draw attention to the important fact that if we, as a faith community, are going to help actualize a person’s potential: religiously, spiritually, psychological or otherwise, then we must take into account their (and our!) past, if we are to attempt having any success. This will require a paradigm shift in our communal mindset from investing in structures to investing in infrastructure, i.e., people of capacity.