#MiddleGroundPodcast: Process vs. Results

Discussing an important difference in how we approach our worship, our life, and our Islam.

Process vs. Results

One of the most common and detrimental mistakes I see people make when it comes to religion is having a results-based versus process-based approach to worshiping and living as a believer.

The fallout of having a results-based religious practice and lifestyle, particularly when the expected results are a certain set of emotions (happy, elated, euphoric, etc.) is that (1) if we happen to be granted such a state then our tendency is to fetishize whatever we used to get to that “state”: dhikr beads, a particular wird or litany, a certain place of worship, or quite often a particular teacher, living or dead.

Of course the more obvious negative complications can result in a downturn in faith, being frustrated, and even the loss of faith when I particular fetish fails to deliver “its promise”.

As I mentioned, results based-practices inevitably will require some kind of fetish. By fetish I do not mean the popular notion of a curious or even deviant obsession (quite often sexual in the modern context) with a particular thing or object. Instead, I am referring to an older and more original notion of an item having magical or mysterious properties. In many cultures, especially shamanistic cultures, a priest might believe a particular object may even hold a deity. It was also understood in the Middle Ages to imply the use of sorcery (for instance, the Portuguese term, “feiticeria”, meaning “sorcery” or “witchcraft”).

In the end, results based-religious practices are always guaranteed to fail, letting us down because they are ill-suited to the needs of actual human beings who, throughout their lifetime, will experience a wide spectrum of emotions, all the way from joy to grieve and many others in between. Results-based practices often give off the glow of spirituality but lack the depth and substance to deliver on their promises.

Process based practices, however, require no fetishes and no artifacts. Then really require the heart, mind, and soul of a believer. Consider even the statement of the Prophet when he said, “the entirety of the Earth has been made a place of worship”.

أُعْطِيتُ خَمْسًا لَمْ يُعْطَهُنَّ أَحَدٌ قَبْلِي نُصِرْتُ بِالرُّعْبِ مَسِيرَةَ شَهْرٍ، وَجُعِلَتْ لِيَ الأَرْضُ مَسْجِدًا وَطَهُورًا، فَأَيُّمَا رَجُلٍ مِنْ أُمَّتِي أَدْرَكَتْهُ الصَّلاَةُ فَلْيُصَلِّ، وَأُحِلَّتْ لِيَ الْمَغَانِمُ وَلَمْ تَحِلَّ لأَحَدٍ قَبْلِي، وَأُعْطِيتُ الشَّفَاعَةَ، وَكَانَ النَّبِيُّ يُبْعَثُ إِلَى قَوْمِهِ خَاصَّةً، وَبُعِثْتُ إِلَى النَّاسِ عَامَّةً

“I have been given five things which were not given to any one else before me. (1) Allah made me victorious by awe, for a distance of one month’s journey. (2) The earth has been made for me a place for praying and a thing to perform dry ablution (wudu), therefore anyone of my followers can pray wherever the time of a prayer is due. (3) The booty has been made lawful for me yet it was not lawful for anyone else before me. (4) I have been given the right of intercession on the Day of Resurrection. (5) Every Prophet used to be sent to his nation only but I have been sent to all mankind.” al-Bukhari, #335

They also allow for the believer to worship and live — as a believer — regardless (or even in spite of one’s emotional state!). This process-based mode of living and worshipping is complete and holistic. We can see the way the Qur’an pushes man to this completed and sincere form of worship when we read passages such as,

وَأَقيموا وُجوهَكُم عِندَ كُلِّ مَسجِدٍ وَادعوهُ مُخلِصينَ لَهُ الدّينَ ۚ كَما بَدَأَكُم تَعودونَ

“Stand and face Him in every place of worship and call on Him, making your worship and religion sincerely for His sake alone.” Qur’an 7: 29

So what does this really mean? Are we to worship a live as believers even when “our hearts just aren’t in it?” Yes. Absolutely! In fact, living and worshipping as a believer when we’re sad and grief-stricken, and not just when we’re happy, is the beginning of wisdom and the first of many important steps towards being sincere and obedient with God. Wisdom is more than the application of knowledge; it is the ability to make correct judgments independent of emotional hegemony. It is likewise an important step toward taking full responsibility for ourselves; our Islam. In doing so we not only wind up praying and fasting and tithing when we’re tired, hungry, and broke, but we can finally reach a true state of belief, one where, as the Qur’an says,

قُل إِنَّ صَلاتي وَنُسُكي وَمَحيايَ وَمَماتي لِلَّهِ رَبِّ العالَمينَ

“Say: ‘My prayer, and my rites of worship, my living and my dying, are for God alone, the Lord of all the worlds’.” Qur’an 6: 162

#MiddleGroundPodcast – Isra & Mi’raj: A New Hope


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a’ra’ja/ya’ruju and a’ri/ja/ya’raju: one means to ascend, the other to limp or hobble along.

Mi’raj was an uplifting (lit.) event at a time when the Prophet would experience great emotional loss and hardship:

  1. the death of his uncle Abu Talib (who shielded his nephew from the Makkans who sought to harm him) and
  2. his wife of nearly a quarter century, Khadijah, may Allah be pleased with her.

Think about all of the things that the Prophet saw on Mi’raj: Jibril, the Prophets, etc. All these miraculous things before his very eyes and yet what is it that Allah orders His prophet to do upon returning from Mi’raj? Leave Makkah. Leave his home. But not just leave his ancestral home for nothing: build a new home. Build the City of the Prophet: Madinah al-Nabi.

The Prophet, after having seen things, experienced things which leave no doubt in the mind and the heart, set out to make a new home with others. Mi’raj imbued the Prophet with an even stronger conviction in the belief in Allah. That conviction and belief mandated he bring others together: conviction in God brought about unity, not division.

يا أَيُّهَا الَّذينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ تُقاتِهِ وَلا تَموتُنَّ إِلّا وَأَنتُم مُسلِمونَ

وَاعتَصِموا بِحَبلِ اللَّهِ جَميعًا وَلا تَفَرَّقوا ۚ وَاذكُروا نِعمَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيكُم إِذ كُنتُم أَعداءً فَأَلَّفَ بَينَ قُلوبِكُم فَأَصبَحتُم بِنِعمَتِهِ إِخوانًا وَكُنتُم عَلىٰ شَفا حُفرَةٍ مِنَ النّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِنها ۗ كَذٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُم آياتِهِ لَعَلَّكُم تَهتَدونَ

وَلتَكُن مِنكُم أُمَّةٌ يَدعونَ إِلَى الخَيرِ وَيَأمُرونَ بِالمَعروفِ وَيَنهَونَ عَنِ المُنكَرِ ۚ وَأُولٰئِكَ هُمُ المُفلِحونَ

Hope

Just when things seemed bleak, Allah made a way out for the Prophet. But it wasn’t all milk and honey. He lost his wife, his uncle. But because he was hopeful, he gave so many others hope and brought so much good to the world.

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

Your Relationship with Allah Cannot Be Separated From Your Worship of Him – A Middle Ground Khutbah


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Your relationship with Allah cannot be separated from your worship of Him. For you have had a relationship with your Creator, your Lord, for a very, very long time.

Am I not your Lord?

وَإِذ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِن بَني آدَمَ مِن ظُهورِهِم ذُرِّيَّتَهُم وَأَشهَدَهُم عَلىٰ أَنفُسِهِم أَلَستُ بِرَبِّكُم ۖ قالوا بَلىٰ ۛ شَهِدنا ۛ أَن تَقولوا يَومَ القِيامَةِ إِنّا كُنّا عَن هٰذا غافِلينَ

“When your Lord took out all their descendants from the loins of the children of Adam and made them testify against themselves ‘Am I not your Lord?’ they said, ‘We testify that indeed You are!’ Lest you say on the Day of Rising, ‘We knew nothing of this’.” Qur’an, 7: 172

This is the issue of putting too much stock in identity and not enough in substance. When your relationship with Allah is based solely on your experience as a physical body in the here-and-now (hayāt al-dunia) and not balanced with not just the concerns of the Life To Come, but its reality, then one will consistently be riddled with disappointments and doubts.

Islam, as a way of being and living, certainly includes using one’s mind, it should not be confused for being a religion of intellectualism. When one feels overwhelmed, go back to a point of simplicity and sincerity.

ذكر عبد الله بن بسر أن رجلا قال إن شرائع الإيمان قد كثرت علي فأخبرني بشيء أتشبث به قال لا يزال لسانك رطبا من ذكر الله تعالى

‘Abdullah bin Busr mentioned that a man said to the Prophet ﷺ ‘O Messenger of God, the rules and regulations regarding faith are too numerous for me so inform me of something I can hold on to’. The Prophet replied ﷺ ‘Never allow your tongue to cease being moist in the remembrance of God the Exalted’.” — Related by al-Tirmidhi in al-Targhib wa al-Tarhib

“In the original American populistic dream, the omnicompetence of the common man was fundamental and indispensable. It was believed that he could, without much special preparation, pursue the professions and run the government. Today he knows that he cannot even make his breakfast without using devices, more or less mysterious to him, which expertise has put at his disposal; and when he sits down to breakfast and looks at his morning newspaper, he reads about a whole range of vital and intricate issues and acknowledges, if he is candid with himself, that he has not acquired competence to judge most of them.”Tom Nichols, How America Lost Faith in Expertise.

Khatm Reflections #2: Juz’ 24

The following are reflections from my Qur’an reading circle, a khatm, where each of us reads a juz’/30th of the Qur’an every month. These reflections, I hope, are intended to be somewhere between anecdotal and aphoristic. They are not intended to be scholarly. I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I (will) enjoy writing them, God willing.

بِسْمِ الله الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

“When harm touches man he calls on Us. Then when We grant him a blessing from Us he says, ‘I have only been given this because of my knowledge.’ In fact it is a trial but most of them do not know it.” Qur’an 39: 49.

فَإِذَا مَسَّ ٱلْإِنسَٰنَ ضُرٌّۭ دَعَانَا ثُمَّ إِذَا خَوَّلْنَٰهُ نِعْمَةًۭ مِّنَّا قَالَ إِنَّمَآ أُوتِيتُهُۥ عَلَىٰ عِلْمٍۭ ۚ بَلْ هِىَ فِتْنَةٌۭ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

Technology. It’s supposed to save us; make our lives better. And while I do not deny that technology aids us, it also creates a number of problems, many of which we never saw coming. Sometimes when I read the above verse I am led to think of the environmental crisis we’re facing. A number of experts point to human-related uses that created this crisis. No doubt that we have played a major part but when we face disasters how often do we attribute our safe passage through it to this or that thing? How often to we give direct thanks to God for bringing us through. And in those instances where we are subject to devastation, we seldom see it through the lens of fitnah, or being “tried” by God. These passage, and others like it in the Qur’an, point to an inclination of man’s to be ungrateful after great hardships have been inflicted.

“Say: ‘My slaves, you who have transgressed against yourselves, do not despair of the mercy of God. Truly God forgives all wrong actions. He is the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Merciful.’” Qur’an 39: 53.

قُلْ يَٰعِبَادِىَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا۟ عَلَىٰٓ أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا۟ مِن رَّحْمَةِ ٱللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ ٱلذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلْغَفُورُ ٱلرَّحِيمُ

Despair. It is amongst the most powerful human emotions. It can compel us to give up entirely on ourselves, our loved ones and our lives. I see not only anger and depression when I look at the world (Muslims included), I see it in myself. Shaytan goads us into giving up on God’s clemency as this is a sure path to the Hell-fire. This is why God describes Shaytan as a clear enemy/عدو مبين. I struggle with wanting to see the results of my own desires and my own hands and when those do not materialize in ways that I can validate (or validate myself), I become susceptible to despair. The most obvious consequence of despair is rejecting God’s message (i.e., becoming kafir) or tumbling down a long hole of sin and transgression. This is why optimism is so important as a believer, not as a slogan, but as a mode of operation. For anyone’s Islam to be successful they must operationalize what God said in a hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah:

“When God made creation, while established on The Throne, decreed: ‘My mercy proceeds My wrath’.”

إن الله لما قضى الخلق ، كتب عنده فوق عرشه : إن رحمتي سبقت غضبي

It takes courage to tackle one’s inner demons, so to speak. Often that courage comes in the form of choosing to obey God versus acquiescing to what popular opinion may think of us. As Jamaal Diwan put it in a recent tweet:

“If you do something good or right even when your faith is low it is NOT hypocrisy, it’s actually a sign of piety.”

So as advice to myself and to whomever may read this: do for self. Believe, for your own sake. Do good, for your own sake. Turn your back on the despair that Shaytan wants you to wallow in. And know that your Lord forgives all sins:

“Say: ‘My slaves, you who have transgressed against yourselves, do not despair of the mercy of God. Truly God forgives all wrong actions. He is the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Merciful.’” Qur’an 39: 53.

قُلْ يَٰعِبَادِىَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا۟ عَلَىٰٓ أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا۟ مِن رَّحْمَةِ ٱللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ ٱلذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلْغَفُورُ ٱلرَّحِيمُ

And God knows best.

Getting What God Wants Us To Get From Islam: Creating Safe Spaces

First Khutbah – Main Points

What do we want from Islam? We seldom ask this question. What does Allah want us to get from Islam? And in the negotiation of these two questions, how do we go about making this a reality?

Piety, to a large extent, has been replaced by such plastic words as “tradition”. This word has garnered so much attention in recent years that Muslims are beginning to identify themselves as “traditional Muslims”. But my question is: what is “traditional Islam”? Often what is deemed to be traditional is expressed in modes of dress, pious affectation, perhaps even cuisine. Allah has a different definition of piety:

ليس البر أن تولوا وجوهكم قبل المشرق والمغرب

ولكن البر من ءامن بالله واليوم الآخر والملائكة والكتاب والنبئين…

“Piety is not the turning of your face to the East or the West. No, piety is the one who is secure in his belief of God and the Last Day, the Angles, the Book and the Prophets…”

[Q: 2:177]

الذين ءامنوا ولم يلبسوا إيمانهم بظلم اولئك لهم الأمن وهم مهتدون

“Those who profess faith and do not wear their faith on their sleeve, security is their reward. They are the rightly guided.”

[Q: 6:82]

The downside to all of this is that we often create psychological spaces were people do not feel safe to grow as Muslims. This plays on people’s religious sensibilities and in fact, when they do not stand up to this comparison, they may be afflicted with doubt and uncertainty. Continue reading “Getting What God Wants Us To Get From Islam: Creating Safe Spaces”