Adaptive vs. Transformative – A Khutbah


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The scientists and the atheists get it wrong. They fixate only on the capacity for organisms to adapt, and in doing so they reduce all organisms to the same playing field. But clearly the human being has not only been able to adapt but it has been able to transform.

Our ability to achieve greatness is not determined by our biology: it is determined by our spirit (something animals lack). This is due to unique nature of human beings having the Spirit of God blown into him.

إِذ قالَ رَبُّكَ لِلمَلائِكَةِ إِنّي خالِقٌ بَشَرًا مِن طينٍ
فَإِذا سَوَّيتُهُ وَنَفَختُ فيهِ مِن روحي فَقَعوا لَهُ ساجِدينَ

“Your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am going to create a human being out of clay. When I have formed him and breathed My Ruh into him, fall down in prostration to him’!” Qur’an, 38: 71-72

وَالَّتي أَحصَنَت فَرجَها فَنَفَخنا فيها مِن روحِنا وَجَعَلناها وَابنَها آيَةً لِلعالَمينَ

“And she who protected her private parts. We breathed into her some of Our Ruh and made her and her son a Sign for all the worlds.” Qur’an, 21: 91

ثُمَّ سَوّاهُ وَنَفَخَ فيهِ مِن روحِهِ ۖ وَجَعَلَ لَكُمُ السَّمعَ وَالأَبصارَ وَالأَفئِدَةَ ۚ قَليلًا ما تَشكُرونَ

“…then [God] formed him [Adam] and breathed His Ruh [Spirit] into him and gave you hearing, sight and hearts. What little thanks you show!” Qur’an, 32: 9

Animals don’t worry if they’re too fat or skinny. They can experience hunger but they do not think of transforming themselves.

Therefore Muslims are here not just simply to adapt or assimilate but to transform and to realize.

Transforming from a quiet piety, where one is merely observant of God, (adaptation to the modern American environment where religion is a quiet and conformist religious experience), to one based on knowledge, particularly where knowledge leads to action.

One is not merely satisfied to complete one’s prayers and other duties in the quiet privacy of one’s home, but one’s knowledge of God and His Messenger compels one to act:

  • Homelessness,
  • corruption,
  • aggression and oppression of the weak.

There are a great many who would love for things to remain the same: a weak, impotent and intimidated Muslim collective who will not challenge society. A weed has no greater friend than an absentee gardener.

أَنَّ رَجُلاً، سَأَلَ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَىُّ الإِسْلاَمِ خَيْرٌ قَالَ – تُطْعِمُ الطَّعَامَ وَتَقْرَأُ السَّلاَمَ عَلَى مَنْ عَرَفْتَ وَمَنْ لَمْ تَعْرِفْ

“A man asked the Prophet ﷺ “Which Islam is good/best?” The Prophet ﷺ replied, “To feed the poor and greet those whom you know and those whom you do not know.” Sahih al-Bukhari #12

A Compatibility of Convenience? Science and Islam

There is a lot of talk about science and religion, in the particular, Islam and science’s so-called ability to “co-exist.” As to whether this is ultimately true is not my main concern here but rather I wish to highlight some important differences between the way Islam “processes reality” and that of science (in particular the scientific method).

In Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research (published in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, ed. Imre Lakatos, Alan Musgrave), Thomas Kuhn wrote on what he called the “revolutionary process by which an older [scientific] theory is rejected and replaced by an incompatible new one.” He continues by adding, “both [he and Sir Karl Popper’s theories] deeply underscore the role played in this process by the older theory’s occasional failure to meet challenges posed by logic, experiment, or observation.” The key word here I feel is “incompatible.” In this way, science, as it progresses (or perhaps better said here as “processes”), scrubs away past findings, abrogating all that proceeds current observations.

This manner of proceeding differs widely from Islam in that Islam (or perhaps better articulated as interpretive efforts of Muslims), while certainly being capable of producing judgments and attitudes that may differ from those produced before it, is capable of producing new possibilities (fatawa) without needing to entirely wipe the proverbial tablet clean. To be certain, scientific methodology and Islamic thought have had to mutually alter their courses as they have encountered various challenges in modernity, the main philosophical difference is that judgments of previous generations of Muslims are not rendered false, incompatible or irrelevant to current efforts or realities of Muslims living today. In fact, Muslims seem to constantly draw significance and guidance from their intellectual heritage, differing not in spirit even if new judgments part ways in substance.

I say all of this not to thwart those who seek to make connections of significance between Islam and what can be roughly dubbed as science but rather to complicate and challenge the convenience of those connections and to ask the question, can they be considered so easily compatible or perhaps the bonds that hold these presumptions together may not be as strong as previously thought.

The Evolution of Muslims in America

With yet another PBS documentary under its belt, American Islam would seem to be on the up and up. There are a number of hip-hop artists affiliated with Islam to lesser and greater degrees, thus, many see this as the “coming of age” of Islam in America. Seen as giving the American Muslim youth something to identify with, many seem to be reluctant to call out and name hip-hop for what it is. Two isles have formed where individuals either decry hip-hop as a spiritually bankrupt and corrupting enterprise while others say it has positive messages at its root. I will clearly state that I find hip-hop as it is expressed to be incompatible with a healthy Muslim practice but I am not using this opportunity to roast but rather make this one addendum: while we may denounce hip-hop as not being conducive to a healthy Muslim experience we must allow for the evolutionary process of people as they try and make moves towards understanding and living their Islam.

This idea of evolution may seem an awkward expression, especially given the word’s [ma sha’Allah] unfortunate or highly charged history in the English speaking world. I am not speaking of that flawed theory presented by Charles Darwin but rather the aspect that while people may start at point [A], and hope to arrive at point [C], there is a wide swath of [B], the evolutionary path that all of us tread on in one form or another. If we can come to understand and appreciate this we have a greater chance of actually allowing more people to make it to point [C] without being waylaid or ambushed along the path.

Part of what may help to make this idea better known to Muslims is that, one, it is a type of pedagogical technique practiced by the Prophet [s], where he allowed people to grow into their Islam, all the while not sacrificing one iota of the transcendent values of the religion he sought to teach. It is not wholly necessary here to delve into excessive examples but we are all familiar with the many examples where the Prophet [s] withheld punishment or judgment on persons who had character flaws or issues because he saw it as a progress [another highly charged and misused word] of their Islam, that they would eventually get to point [C] if given an opportunity to develop.

One of the ways in which we as Muslims [and especially as those in leadership positions] can help to bring this to fruition is to walk that solid line between understanding and condoning. Extend a hand but a firm one – one that is not afraid to give sincere nasihah [keeping it real in the modern vernacular] to those who are still in that early stage. Along with this comes the need to give people the education and tools to realize the true nature of Reality – for when people unveil [kashf] the inner nuances of what it is we object to, they will have, God willing, the toolset to come to similar conclusions. What is happening currently, is that people who do not have that spiritual training and maturity, are often demonized to such an extent that they are banish from any thought of coming to terms with what they do [their mu’amalat] and how they can come to realize its detriment to their health as Muslims [mukashafah]. If we, as both leaders and as a community claim to be inheritors of the Prophet [s], then we must examine our kulliyat and question if we’re letting the kullu shay [every little thing] get in the way of the big picture.

Two small pieces caught my eye regarding this topic. One, was rapper Lupe Fiasco reciting al-Fatihah at a concert.  For many Muslims this causes two reactions: [a]: total dismay, as the Qur’an is something Holy and should not be used for such purposes – that Its Message would be lost amongst the din a crowd enthralled at the performance of a star. [b]: total enchantment, for this is what some see as finally an opportunity to blend their personal or secular likes with the transcendent. The other piece was Suhaib Webb’s response to the proposition of hip-hop, where he stated,

“I was brought into Islam through the Hip-Hop world. That being said, once I became Muslim and started studying, I realized that in order for me to develop and grow as a Muslim I would have to amputate my relations with Hip-Hop and its community. I realized that the Qur’an and Hip Hop simply don’t mix.”

Webb articulates the difficulty that he has had in trying to sign off on hip-hop, but, as a sign of his own maturation as a Muslim and future leader, is that he had to make a tough decision and label hip-hop for what it is. But for me, the more important lesson here is that while Suhaib Webb was able to call hip-hop out for what it is he never gave the impression that those that do still engage in it [particularly here I assume he means listeners but perhaps performers as well] would be “amputated” from the community. In other words, stand firm on recognizing hip-hop, the “thing” and not the people, is corrupt at its core, whereas people can always be reformed, God willing.

To summarize, we have to do a better job of lending a helping hand while not compromising our core principles. We have to start to offer real, sincere, and alternate solutions, solutions with efficacy, not simply sloganized dogma. I think more Muslims who have a genuine love of their religion, if given the proper tools, God willing, will come to unveil hip-hop for what it is, and work to salvage their souls. Something all of us, hip-hop connoisseurs or not, strive to do.