Overcoming Historical Romanticism

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First Khutbah – Main Points

Opening from the Qur’ān:

يأيها الذين ءامنوا ادخلوا في السلم كافة ولا تتبعوا خطوات الشيطان
إنه لكم عدو مبين

“O’ you of faith!, enter into Islam completely and do not follow in the footsteps of Shaytan. He is a clear enemy of yours.” [Q: 2: 208]

I wish to continue our conversation about the enterprise of Islam in America, specifically focusing on the first part of the verse/āyah.  Many have understood the following āyah to refer to the rituals of Islam such as wudu’/ablution, prayer, fasting, and so forth.  And indeed it does.  Yet, with all cases in the Qur’ān, there is a deeper sentiment that Allah is coaching the Muslims to: one of responsible action.  To enter into Islam completely means to not only follow the outward aspects of what the Prophet did, such as trimming one’s nails or putting one’s right shoes on first, but also following the basīrah or vision of the Prophet.  To use a technical term: kulliyāt, its rough translation meaning “the big picture”. Never did the Prophet allow labels to do all of his talking, and more importantly, thinking, for him.  He mitigated the transition from pagan idolatry to tawhīd/monotheism but adhering to what was absolutely essential while also allowing room for dignity, humility and the evolutionary process that was present in all who took their shahādah/testimony of faith in his presence.

Presently, Muslims in many parts of the world are wrestling with a similar challenge – what’s quintessential and what’s incidental.  And in the process of determining what must stay and what might need to be altered is the call for creative minds to chart a course that will be conducive to a healthy Muslim experience [speaking primarily about Islam here in America].  But what is arresting the development of this process?  I will focus on just one issue that I have observed: history, and to be more specific a type of myopic, historical romanticism in which a few select people from certain geographic locations played imaginative roles in world history, played so well that the only hope we can have is to somehow go back to this bygone era and not simply emulate their performances but reenact them like a Civil War theme park.  We can dress up and talk like these noble, bygone people, but we never actually look to how they thought and behaved, and whether our collective energies and imaginations should be best spent on costume or on our futures.

But we are commanded to enter into it completely.

This can also be seen as a call and commandment of Allah, to the Muslims, to make Islam relevant to wherever you are.  I spoke of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah last time and again, I can think of no other event in the history of the Prophet’s mission that so eloquently outlines this as well as demonstrates how it gets done.

So how is Islam relevant? Continue reading “Overcoming Historical Romanticism”