#MiddleGroundPodcast – Sharing – Its Important and Therapeutic Aspects


[Direct download]

As parents, many of us go to great effort to teach our children when they’re little to share.

We do so not only because it’s nice but because we have more meaningful lives when we do things with each other.

We benefit when we give up something and give it freely to another.

We experience joy in others experiencing joy when we give up something and give to others.

But then something curious happens when we get older. We grow attached to the world. We grow attached to things. No longer do we think about sharing what we have with others but instead covet things and retreat into selfishness.

This same person will either look baffled at the world, unable to understand and recognize his or her contribution — no matter how small — in making it the way it is (what does it even mean when we say “the world*”? He or she retreats into cynicism saying,

“the world* has always been like this,”

attempting to free his or herself of any culpability as to why it is the way it is.

*Surely not the birds and the bees.

What does it mean “to be Muslim”? Is it purely and solely an individual pronouncement of la ilaha illa’Allah? What role does culture play.

وَاتلُ عَلَيهِم نَبَأَ إِبراهيمَ

إِذ قالَ لِأَبيهِ وَقَومِهِ ما تَعبُدونَ

قالوا نَعبُدُ أَصنامًا فَنَظَلُّ لَها عاكِفينَ

قالَ هَل يَسمَعونَكُم إِذ تَدعونَ

أَو يَنفَعونَكُم أَو يَضُرّونَ

قالوا بَل وَجَدنا آباءَنا كَذٰلِكَ يَفعَلونَ

قالَ أَفَرَأَيتُم ما كُنتُم تَعبُدونَ

“Recite to them the story of Ibrahim when he said to his father and his people, ‘What do you worship?’ They said, ‘We worship idols and will continue to cling to them.’ He said, ‘Do they hear you when you call? or do they help you or do you harm?’ They said, ‘No, but this is what we found our fathers doing.’ He said, ‘Have you really thought about what you worship,”

In fact, culture can be thought of all those good things we want to pass along to the next generation, not just wealth:

“Culture is the total sum of what humans want to pass from one generation to another.”1Sandor Ellix Katz

This is why we can say, while Islam is not culture pursue, Muslims certainly do and indeed want to have a culture.

One way to change this is by sharing.

أَنَّ أَصْحَابَ النَّبِيِّ، صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالُوا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّا نَأْكُلُ وَلاَ نَشْبَعُ قَالَ فَلَعَلَّكُمْ

تَفْتَرِقُونَ

قَالُوا نَعَمْ قَالَ فَاجْتَمِعُوا عَلَى طَعَامِكُمْ وَاذْكُرُوا اسْمَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ يُبَارَكْ لَكُمْ فِيهِ

The Companions of the Prophet ﷺ said, “Messenger of Allah ﷺ we eat but we don’t feel satiated”. He said, “perhaps that’s because you eat separately?” They replied, “Yes”. He advised, “Well, then gather together for your food and mention Allah’s name over it, you will be blessed in it.”Sunan Abu Dawud, #3764

For other khutbahs and podcasts, see the Middle Ground Podcast.

Notes

1. Katz, Sandor Ellix. The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes From Around the World. White River Junction, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012.

The Power of Normalcy – Conversion to Islam

The following statement really caught my attention from a Japanese convert, “Mustafa”, in which he stated:

“When I converted, and as a Japanese citizen, Islam was a bit intimidating to me. I bought the Qur’an but I thought about giving up. But one day I went to the mosque, and I saw people with suits and ties, I felt reassured.”

There are numerous examples in the Prophetic period of the enormous role that culture had to play in making Islam “normalized”, a component often overlooked in conversion today where often conversion is rooted in protest, not against idolatry, but against authority.

Why Islam Is Not A Culture

During my talk in Rancho Cucamonga last week, one of the main points that I spoke on was that Islam is, ultimately, not a culture. I thought I’d take a comment to speaker further on my statement and explain it in a bit more detail.

One of the problems of seeing Islam as a culture is that, if it is a culture, then it must lose its ability to inform, for all of its arguments become circular. This is one of the reasons I feel many Muslims object to the notion of Islam not being a culture is because they want Islam to inform their lives. In many ways this conundrum is really a matter of semantics. After all, it is Islam, its book — the Qur’an — and the life of the Prophet Muhammud (صلى الله عليه وسلم) that gives meaning and direction to the lives of Muslims, and rightly so. However, I feel the only way to retain the perfection of Islam, and its ability to reform and guide the human being, is if it is ultimately elevated beyond the construct of human endeavors, time, and history. In defense of this approach, one of the central tenets to the Islamic faith is that the Qur’an is not manufactured by man and that Muhammad did not speak of his own accord.

Let us examine this semantic conundrum further. One of the main challenges facing Muslims in the modern age is the inability to no longer see the distinctive line between where revelation ends, on the one hand, and where their cultures begin. From this troubled point of view, Muslims can often end up condemning other Muslims, not for having infringed upon divine Scripture or prophetic tradition, but rather simply for being different from them. Let me be clear here: this is not a challenge solely for immigrant (I prefer legacy Muslims) Muslims, who fail to see the dividing line between Islam and their own cultural interpretations on it. It is also a major challenge, for the sake of this article, for American Muslims (particularly converts) who also express difficulty in discerning where Revelation ends and culture begins. In fact, American Muslim converts can be the greatest enforcers of this (false) regime. In the end, however, the intentions driving this mindset, no matter how well-intended, often lead to divisiveness inside the broader (global) Muslim community.

It is precisely this above-mentioned mindset that drives most of the criticism against those in the American-Muslim community who seek to establish a bona fide American-Muslim culture. And yet, at its heart, the discussion around the creation of a authentic and valid American-Muslim culture is in essence, an attempt to do precisely what the Muslim Ummah has done throughout history: negotiate their customs and norms with the revelation of Islam.

In summary, by insisting upon Islam’s supra-worldly status and origin, we can then set about to the enterprise of “commanding to the good and forbidding the evil”, as the bulk of both categories are wholly unknowable without relying upon pre-existing, man-made cultures. And perhaps most important of all, we’ll be reminded of where our best efforts end and God begins. The detriment of not doing so explains to great lengths why the Muslim world has lost its ability to change and adapt to modernity: not because Islam is incapable of doing so but precisely because these Muslims no longer see a distinction between their cultures and divine Revelation. Therefore, once this distinction is removed, there is no other recourse for these cultures to change (if they are inseparable manifestations of Revelation then logic dictates there can be no change! – for Revelation does not change!) for only a man-made culture can indeed be advised and informed by that which is from Beyond.

وَفِي ذَٰلِكَ فَلْيَتَنَافَسِ الْمُتَنَافِسُونَ

“Let people with aspiration aspire to that!” Qur’an, 83: 26.