Are You Coachable – A Khutbah

al-Hamdulillah, today was the first khutbah (sermon) delivered at Middle Ground Muslim Center. The summary was, “are you coachable”? Can you learn from a master? Can you submit yourself to a process? When we explore piety, devotion, and self improvement, often we’re handed various litanies (dhikrs, du’as, etc.) that for many of us after a time (especially if we’re not improving) feels a bit like Harry Potter. In this khutbah I tried to draw parallels to learning from a coach, in how we might learn from the Qur’an and from the Prophet.

“It was at that point that it was a decision: am I either going to trust my coach, who has put out umteen number of great players besides myself, or am I going to rely on my own ego.”

Full notes and audio here.

The Best Is Yet To Come

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The Dunyā [الدنيا]: this word would have to list very high on words that are both emotionally charged and misunderstood by Muslims. This is partially due to its ambiguity, its meaning depending on the context: to be or draw close to something; to be vile or base; and of course, its common understanding [which is valid] to be that of this world or mundane, temporal life. Without a doubt, Dunyā is a location, a place, and yet the nuanced perspective that the Qur’ān has on This Life seldom gets articulated.

While coming across an online article today, I was reminded of how the Qur’ān speaks to mankind’s deep-seated desires: we love beautiful homes and many of us fantasize about “dream homes”. I have been privy to such conversations where people have been reproached for their apparent materialism, and yet, something about that desire speaks to a core characteristic of Banī Adam. The Qur’ānic passage came to mind my immediately:

وجوه يومئذ ناعمة لسعيها راضية في جنة عالية لا تسمع فيها لغية فيها عين جارية فيها سرر مرفوعة وأكواب موضوعة ونمارق مصفوفة وزرابي مبثوثة

“Faces on That Day will be radiant, happy with their efforts, in a elevated garden, within they will hear no harsh speech.  Inside is a gushing spring, raised couches, set goblets, lined cushions, and spread out carpets.” [Qur’ān, 88: 8-16]

How funny it is that God would speak to the human being about rugs, couches, and goblets? As to whether the designers were trying to accomplish this, I cannot say, but it did remind [ذكر] me about The Next Life [الآخرة], where our deep-rooted human desires can be fulfilled. It also reminds me that the Dunya is filled with opportunity. Opportunity for us to strive towards seeking God’s pleasure, God’s reward, and endeavoring to extrapolate what reminders of The Life To Come as we can from This Existence.

Our conversations about this life must embrace the nuance and richness of the Qur’ānic narrative:

فمن الناس من يقول ربنا ءاتنا في الدنيا وما له في الآخرة من خلق

“And from amongst men are those who say, ‘O’ our Lord, give us good in this life’. They will have no share in the Next Life.” [Qur’ān, 2: 200]

If the above āyah were read in and of its self, we would be short changing ourselves of the big picture:

ومنهم من يقول ربنا ءاتنا في الدنيا حسنة وفي الآخرة حسنة وقنا عذاب النار ألئك لهم نصيب مما كسبوا والله سريع الحساب

“And from them are those who say, ‘O our Lord, give us good in This Life and The Next, and save us from the torment of the Fire’. For them is a just share fromwhat they have hearned. God is Swift in Reckoning.” [Qur’ān, 2: 201-202]

The Dunyā is where we can seek God’s bounty, God’s mercy, God’s favor.  It is where we build the foundation for our proverbial castles in the sky.  It is where we put our mettle to the test.  It is where we enjoin the good, forbid the evil, make our pilgrimages, our friendships.  It is where we acquire the correct knowledge, master the correct deeds. It is our layover, our way-station towards, God willing, a better, a purer, a more real existence.  So for now, I will look and dream at “dream houses”.  Not as a materialist, coveting the illusory nature of this world, but in wonder and amazement: if this is what man can do, I stand in awe and inticipation of what the Creator of the seven heavens has in store for me.

Fallacy of the Self-Made Man

In light of the hero culture we are bred in here in America, I fould Ibn Aṭa’ Allah’s words [may God have mercy on him] to be most inciteful on the fallacy of this myth:

من علامة الاعتماد على العمل نقصان الرجاء عند وجود الزلل

“One of the signs of relying on one’s own agency [vs. relying on God] is the loss of hope in the presence of a tribulation.”

You can read/download an Arabic/English copy of al-Hikam here.

The Benefits of Sending Prayers and Salutations on the Prophet

وقال صلى الله عليه وسلم من صلى علي من أمتي كتبت له عشر حسنات ومحيت عنه عشر سيئات

The Prophet said [s]: “The one who sends prayers upon me, from amongst my Ummah, shall have ten good deeds written for them and shall have ten sins expiated.”

Reported in an-Nisā’ī.

من صلى علي مرة صلى الله عليه بها عشرًا

The Prophet [s] stated: “The one that sends a single prayer upon me, Allah shall respond in kind to that person tenfold for doing so.”

Reported in Miftāḥ al-Afkār by ‘Abdul ‘Azīz Bin Muḥammad as-Salmān.

Nafs Ammarah

As a Muslim living in a non-Muslim country, I am always on the lookout for things in popular culture from which I might derive a reminder [dhikr ذكر] of Islam, of Reality, and perhaps of the Life To Come. I have found this to be an increasingly important exercise, both for me personally, as well as for the students of classes I teach on Islamic studies. What I mean here is not attempting to ascribe any certain thing with a level of “Islamicity” or Muslim’ness that is not there, but rather, looking at stories and narratives that remind me of that which Allah has written in His Book. One such instance happened yesterday.

The words nafs ammarah, or the commanding self, are found in the Qur’an, in surah Yusuf [Joseph], in which Allah says:

وما أبرئ نفسي إن النفس لأمارة بالسوء إلا ما رحم ربي إن ربي غفور رحيم

“And nor was I [Joseph] completely free of blame. The self commands to evil acts, save that which my Lord has mercy upon me. Surely, my Lord is Forgiving, Merciful.” [Q 12: 53]

This passage in the Qur’ān on the nafs ammārah relates to us part of the story of Prophet Yusuf [Joseph], and his test when the king’s wife attempted to seduce him.  Yusuf relates that the temptation was there, that his soul wished to entice him to evils deeds.  It was only through God’s mercy and grace that he was able to resist.

The above passage came to me as I recently chanced upon a film I watched as a kid entitled, They Live!, by John Carpenter. In summary, the film is about a man, a drifter, who by happenstance, stumbles upon the stunning reality that the human race has been subdued by a group of space aliens that have enslaved humans through advanced subliminal techniques. When the main character dons a pair of special sunglasses, he is able to see the Unseen: billboards are really devices that command humans to consume, have sex, or to obey, as well as being able to see the aliens for who they really are [ghoulish, lizard like beings]. Even money, when viewed through the sunglasses, have the words “this is your god” written on them. To be sure, the movie is quite comical and the dialog stiff. Nonetheless, I found it to be an intriguing visual example of how the nafs ammārah works. And while the nafs is an internal phenomenon, it still commands us to act upon things in the external world, making the film a worthwhile glance at a Qur’ānic principle on human psychology.

They Live! is based on the short story, Eight O’clock In The Morning, by renowned science-fiction author, Ray Nelson. I have posted the short story here as well as a link to the film They Live! for your B-movie enjoyment.

Note: if you have the opportunity to see Dr. Sherman Jackson speak, ask him to relate to you how Terminator 2 moved him to tears, as it reminded him of how the Prophet [s] had to deliver a message, one in which many people refused to believe him because they could not see what he saw, similar in the way no one believe Sarah Connor. A worthwhile treat!

Note 2: The last part of the movie features some nudity and may be avoided. You’ll get the gist of it by then and can skip the final scene.

Note 3: See this piece on Salon.com about Jonathen Lethem’s film analysis of Carpenter’s film, They Live, A Novel Approach to Cinema. Hat tip to Stephen for the link.

Note 4: A khutbah that pertains to similar aspects of the soul.