The following khutbah was delivered at Middle Ground Muslim Center on January 1st, 2016.
“The ‘aqidah (theology) of modernity has changed to make the ‘abd (the slave/worshipper) the Rabb (Lord) and the Rabb the ‘abd.”
The following is an account from one of the many counseling sessions I do in my role as imam. In this session we discussed some questions regarding qadr (often translated/understood as “predestination” but whose root is much closer to “measuring”) and God’s omnipotence, particularly in the face of human tragedy. The results from the session were found to be useful for this particular person and per their suggestion and permission, I’m reposting here.
Omnipotence as we often imagine it, as fragile and limited beings, is akin to a driver who has a stifling set of hands on the wheel and as thus, doesn’t let anyone else drive or participate.
Let us imagine another type of omnipotence: your child (4-years old) invites friends over to your house to play. In the process of playing they make a mess, spill pop (soda for Midwesterners), drop food on the floor, maybe even break a plate. Oh, and they also get into a fight. But is any of this out of your jurisdiction or control as a parent? No. Why? Because you have the power to clean it up and resolve their disputes. Likewise, even in the face of terrible tragedy, God has the capacity to take account (qadr) and to set affairs straight: reward or punishment as well as mete out justice and give recompense.
It is strange sometimes that we are unwilling to apply the same findings about the natural laws of the universe to other problem sets. Perhaps this is the failed results of attempting to divide life into sacred and profane realms. For instance we find all objects have mass, density, and gravitational pull. The larger, more dense an object is, the greater its gravitational pull. Likewise, the gravity of a group of 4-year olds playing, making a mess, breaking a plate and bickering over toys is trivial. But in the minds of those children, it is grave indeed. Thus, a parent is the suitable judge to arbitrate and adjudicate this scenario. Scaled up, one may understand who God is, what life is all about, how to process and compartmentalize life’s joys and sorrows, and ultimately know that nothing is outside of God’s capacity to arbitrate and adjudicate. As God says in the Qur’an, chapter 57, verses 1-2:
سَبَّحَ لِلَّهِ ما فِي السَّماواتِ وَالأَرضِ ۖ وَهُوَ العَزيزُ الحَكيمُ
لَهُ مُلكُ السَّماواتِ وَالأَرضِ ۖ يُحيي وَيُميتُ ۖ وَهُوَ عَلىٰ كُلِّ شَيءٍ قَديرٌ
“Whatever is within the heavens and the earth reflects the glory of God, and He is the Powerful and the Wise.  To Him belongs the control of the heavens and the earth. He alone grants life, He alone grants death, for He has power [qadr/qadir] over all things. ”
On August 13th, Reza Aslan, scholar of religions and professor of creative writing at the UC Riverside, posted a tweet stating that all hadith were, “created to justify orthodox behavior”.
To this I posted a rebuttal of his comment,
This is why Reza Aslan is a source of misguidance for Muslims. He utters statements of kufr. Sorry if this hurts.
Since the nature of social media is in itself somewhat difficult to speak clearly I decided to clarify my intentions and points with a short video. Enjoy,
I want to keep it “one hunned”, as the young folks say today. Young Muslims — and here I mean The Next Wave (second generation immigrant, Blackamerican Muslims, converts), whine and moan and groan about the State of the Ummah, yet have not sacrificed even a modicum in comparison to their folk’s generation (or their grandparents in some cases). All the while, especially inner city Muslim communities, wallow in urban blight and decay. As a Blackamerican Muslim, I have been frustrated by my treatment in the broader (immigrant) Muslim community but that is only half the story. In truth I have also experienced incredible kindness and generosity often outstripping what I have experienced at the hands of my own Blackamerican Muslim counterparts. All too often now, we Blackamerican Muslims scoff at our immigrant brothers and sisters (I say “we” because I myself have been a part of this) about how they came here for “Dunya” (worldly means). In my opinion, this has been a very short-sited explanation of how Allah, the Majestic!, moves people around as well as some measure of hasad (envy) on our parts to be sure. As the Book says, “they have a plan, and I have a plan”. Indeed, some immigrant Muslims did come here for worldly gain (which is not in and of itself blameworthy) but they also helped to establish Muslim communities. Communities many of us have benefited from day one. I cringe to think of where we would even pray (in the streets?) if it were not for the establishment of many of these communities. Were they perfect? No. Should they have done things differently? Certainly. However, if we look at their histories, and had we lived those same histories, we might, (ironically) have done the same things they did!
What we need now is not another documentary about the State of the Ummah, but a way forward that benefits the maximum amount of people. This will mean starting small, verses attempting to build mega-mosques. In fact, some of the most successful organizations we see in front us today, from AlMaghrib Institute, to Zaytuna, to Ta’leef, for example, all started as small organizations often held together by nothing other than the close bonds of Muslims who, in addition to believing in God, believed in one another. This is why I want to present the following rubric as a way, a suggestion, for small groups of disenfranchised believers to channel that frustration into action.
I have laid out in the above image a rubric which demonstrates the amount of capital that can be raised by groups of various sizes and capacities to contribute to a central fund. As you can see, even a group as small as ten people — at four to five dollars a day — could rent a location allowing them create their own spaces (see Dr. Jackson’s definition of third spaces) for their own uses. The numbers obviously grow as does the number of participants. The reason I find this rubric informative is that it illustrates that great numbers of people are not needed to effect change, or at the very least, start. Instead, it is a matter of determination and trust that allows small but efficient groups to grow and be successful.
At first blush this may seem divisive: a call to split the community and fracture its unity. I would counter that there a number of Muslims who equally pollinate between AlMaghrib, Zaytuna, and Ta’leef, just to mention a few. But what is great about these institutions is that they all serve different demographics; no single one serves the entire community. Smaller local homegrown organizations are much more adaptable and scalable to meet the needs of local communities.
In summary, and to return to my initial critique, this generation of Muslims will need to rise up, not only to face the challenges that are in front of them, but rise up and give thanks for what came before them. In this I equally indict myself. We’ve all been the benefactors of communities and mosques built by those who came before us all the while contributing very little of nothing at all. And in particular, to my fellow Blackamerican Muslims, we truly have no excuse as to why we are not community builders. It is for no other reason than we have conflated cynicism and our protest spirit with pietistic indifference. Most of us have no qualms with giving Mr. Comcast and Mrs. Verizon $100 — $200 dollars a month, Mr. Dunkin Donuts $30 — $50 a month, all the while crying and complaining about materialistic immigrant Muslims and their racist communities, simultaneously refusing to donate to causes that have a black face on them. Our success (and Allah!) will demand a much higher level of engagement that we have thus far been willing to give.
The time is upon us to build. I continue to be astounded at the inability for Muslims in America and American Muslims (there’s a difference) to see providence in our being here. Nowhere else in Muslim history have we seen the meeting of two auspicious histories converging on the same spot: the emigration of large numbers of Muslims from the historic Muslim world to America at the same time the single largest mass-conversion to Islam in the western hemisphere (may God have mercy on Imam Warith Deen Mohammed!). Both of these events unfolding as America’s traditional religious and moral values begin to waver and crumble. For what else is it that the Qur’an says about our Book (and vise-a-vie, ourselves):
وَإِذْ قَالَ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ إِنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ إِلَيْكُمْ مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيَّ مِنَ التَّوْرَاةِ وَمُبَشِّرًا بِرَسُولٍ يَأْتِي مِنْ بَعْدِي اسْمُهُ أَحْمَدُ
“And when ‘Isa son of Maryam said, ‘Tribe of Israel, I am the Messenger of God to you, confirming the Torah which came before me and giving you the good news of a Messenger after me whose name is Ahmad’.” — Qur’an 61: 6.
Like Jesus the son of Mary (peace and blessings upon them both), who was sent as a reformer to the Tribe of Israel, so too is Islam: that which confirms which is true that came before it. America, by the mid-60’s, had forgotten what was morally true from its own tradition: sexual immorality, usury, crime and violence, etc. We must come to see our being here greater than some materialistic drive, but rather, as one’s ‘aqidah should confirm, part of God’s Divine Plan to remind and revive, not destroy and ridicule. Our mission here, indeed our very lives, should not about grabbing and acquiring political power (though we should have a political voice, a conversation for another time) but rather about reminding America about what is ultimately good (God, first and foremost) and what is right. I see this whole scenario unfolding before our eyes as perfect timing, only as God could do it!, that the one community that is supposed to be witnesses over humanity (just as our Messenger is a witness over us!) would be brought, through fantastic historic forces, to America just at the moment when things look dark.
So take a moment and reflect on these words. Find, God willing, if you can, ten like-minded people in your community, and plant the seeds for something good and wholesome to grow. Gone is the time for being unmosqued. Now is the time for re-mosqued, for asserting oneself, with all proper etiquette, and with a willingness to get one’s hands dirty, all fi sabil’Allah (in the way of God).
Over the years [16 of them for me now] I have seen a disparagingly absence of manners amongst the Muslims. We have no couth in how we talk, critique and debate one another. In a recent post I came across, I felt compelled to write a little piece. My apologies if it seems to border on the polemical but I felt it needed saying anyway.
So here we have it. Muslim vs. Muslim in a virtual cage match. I have observed many of these volleys and have tried to put it to pen and pixel. It’s not an easy task. But, here ‘goes.
I think one aspect that some of the critics of Eteraz miss or don’t even look at is why does Eteraz say that things that he does. Why do “liberal Muslims” say the things they do. To be sure, there are some who may have fallen into the trap of post-Enlightenment religious thinking and that is to make religion subservient to personal desires – in other words, jettison whatever is inconvenient or doesn’t reinforce our ill-perceived independence of God.
But Muslims today are under tremendous pressures from the dominant society to author and practice a version of Islam that caters to their fears, prejudices and proclivities and not towards what Muslims think is pleasing to God. As Muslims, we should be very much cognizant of this and take this into account when we have truck with our fellow brothers and sisters.
Before I continue, I should point out that I have not agreed with everything that Ali Eteraz has written. In truth, I have not read many of his posts in a while as I feel out of touch with what it was he was writing – but to say that he’s not entitled to write it, well, I think we have to tolerate and debate in a way that would uphold the ethics and standards of our Beloved Example. Simply trashing Ali Eteraz and making comparisons between him and Shaytan is in my opinion, ridiculous, unwarranted and uncouth.
But the critique doesn’t stop there. Above all, and I have seen this everywhere, there is absolutely NO LOVE BETWEEN THE MUSLIMS! The last two times I saw Dr. Sherman Jackson, he spoke about the woeful absence of love in the Muslim community. I couldn’t agree more. I have read here and in other places the critiques on Ali [and I believe many of them are warranted at least in the spirit of debate] but I have not seen one person offer to help him [if he is so satanically misguided], take the time out to correct his conduct or – aqueedah or what ever it is that many of his critics feel is awry. This type of mean-spirited, name bashing is NOT THE SUNNAH and is NOT OF THE CHARACTER OF THE PROPHET! I would love to have the opportunity to sit down with Ali Eteraz and discuss some of his points and maybe exchange a few words and see where he’s coming from. But I will not trash the man’s name publicly like so and NEITHER SHOULD ANY OF YOU! This goes not simply for Ali Eteraz, but for the correspondences I see all over the blogosphere.
Am I saying that none of us have the right to have a disagreement with Ali Eteraz? No. But it should be done in the best way.
We need the love. We need to get it back. And we need to get it back NOW.
And God knows best…