American Muslim Prerogatives: Between Divine Inspiration and Religious Pragmatism

It is becoming increasingly clear that the path the American Muslim community is headed down is not conducive to long-term health, spiritual or otherwise. Confusion abounds and all the while much of Muslim leadership in America remains mired in dissension and derision or woefully out of touch with the realities Muslims are facing. As one brother recently told me, he felt that there was a proverbial “civil war” brewing between, what I will term, the “Next Generation” (converts as well as second- and third-generation Muslims, immigrant or otherwise), and the Old Guard.  It is indeed eerily similar to the divisions that beset that First Great Community of Believers, some 1,400 years ago. Is history, in fact, doomed to repeat itself?

Recently, while doing my weekly ritual of reading surah al-Kahf (“The Cave”, the eighteenth chapter) I had some thoughts come to mind that I will try and put down here. My purpose in sharing these reflections is not to fan the flames of factionalism but instead provide food for thought. First, to lend emotional support to my fellow Muslims who are going through trying times. We live in an age of confusion. My hat goes off to anyone simply trying to believe in la ilaha illa’Allah, Muhammadan rasul’Allah in this challenging time. Secondly, it is to provide a window of insight for the Old Guard to perhaps better understand where they are, what is happening around them, and to try and explain in some minor detail the underpinnings of the psychology that drives the Next Generation to do what they do. And lastly, to provide hope and a suggestion of how a way forward might go and what it might look like.

To begin, the section of surah al-Kahf  that I am dealing with is the story of Musa (Moses) and al-Khidr, the enigmatic figure who is as baffling as he is witty. What drew my attention is how much this story relates to our present scenario. I will explain as follows. God says,

وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِفَتَاهُ لَا أَبْرَحُ حَتَّىٰ أَبْلُغَ مَجْمَعَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ أَوْ أَمْضِيَ حُقُبًا

“Remember when Moses said to his servant, ‘I will not give up until I reach the meeting-place of the two seas, even if I must press on for many years’.” (Qur’an, 18: 60)

Reading this verse imparted to me a new-found sense of respect and understanding of what my fellow immigrant brothers and sisters must have gone through in order to migrate to America. I say this because, in the context of this observation, I see immigrant Muslims as Moses here: having left their land, their comfort zone, with their children, only to head off into the unknown. However, also like Moses, I feel immigrant Muslims have perceived themselves as ultimate authority figures, having lost the distinction between what is common cultural practice for them and what is religious law. Like Moses, who represents authority and tradition, who could be more knowledgeable than them? That in fact is the impetus which sets off Moses’ adventure:

سَمِعْتُ أُبَىَّ بْنَ كَعْبٍ يَقُولُ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏”‏ قَامَ مُوسَى خَطِيبًا فِي بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ فَسُئِلَ أَىُّ النَّاسِ أَعْلَمُ فَقَالَ أَنَا أَعْلَمُ ‏.‏ فَعَتَبَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ إِذْ لَمْ يَرُدَّ الْعِلْمَ إِلَيْهِ فَأَوْحَى اللَّهُ إِلَيْهِ أَنَّ عَبْدًا مِنْ عِبَادِي بِمَجْمَعِ الْبَحْرَيْنِ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ مِنْكَ

“I (Ibn ‘Abbas) heard Ubayy bin Ka’b saying: “I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say ‘Musa stood to deliver a khutbah (sermon) to the Children of Israel. He was asked: ‘Who is the most knowledgeable among the people?’ He said, ‘I am the most knowledgeable.’ So God admonished him as he did not refer the knowledge back to God. God then revealed to Moses: ‘A slave among My slaves, at the junction of the two seas, is more knowledgeable than you’.” (Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, hadith 3149)

The next section in this story is when Moses meets al-Khidr and God gives him an apt description:

فَوَجَدَا عَبْدًا مِنْ عِبَادِنَا آتَيْنَاهُ رَحْمَةً مِنْ عِنْدِنَا وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ مِنْ لَدُنَّا عِلْمًا

“They found a slave of Ours whom We had granted mercy from Us and whom We had also given knowledge direct from Us.” (Qur’an, 18: 65)

There has often been the tendency to describe the conversion process to Islam in America as someone giving someone else shahadah. While this may hold true on a descriptive level I have often felt this denies the greater reality that Islam, that is to say, Divine guidance, is from none other than God Almight. That as “converts”, we are from amongst the ‘ibad, or slaves, that God granted mercy and knowledge to. This is of course in the proverbial sense and in no way do I intend to infer that we have been grant infallible knowledge from God, as is the case of al-Khidr. Nonetheless, I feel the distinction is an important one as we talk about competing psychologies, between the Next Generation and the Old Guard. Again, my purpose here is not to undermine the contributions that immigrant Muslims have made to the lives of the Next Generation, but to emphasize an inarticulated point that ultimately, according to orthodox Muslim theology, knowledge and guidance are only imparted to those whom God wills:

اللَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ ۚ لَا تَأْخُذُهُ سِنَةٌ وَلَا نَوْمٌ ۚ لَهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ ۗ مَنْ ذَا الَّذِي يَشْفَعُ عِنْدَهُ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِهِ ۚ يَعْلَمُ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ ۖ وَلَا يُحِيطُونَ بِشَيْءٍ مِنْ عِلْمِهِ إِلَّا بِمَا شَاءَ ۚ وَسِعَ كُرْسِيُّهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ ۖ وَلَا يَئُودُهُ حِفْظُهُمَا ۚ وَهُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْعَظِيمُ

“Allah!, there is no god but Him, the Living, the Self-Sustaining. He is not subject to drowsiness or sleep. Everything in the heavens and the earth belongs to Him. Who can intercede with Him except by His permission? He knows what is before them and what is behind them but they cannot grasp any of His knowledge save what He wills. His Footstool encompasses the heavens and the earth and their preservation does not tire Him. He is the Most High, the Magnificent.” (Qur’an, 2: 255)

To be straight forward, I see the burgeoning Muslim community in America as al-Khidr: special, not because of any doing of our own, but because God, in His Wisdom, chose to grant us mercy and knowledge. What proceeds from here is not only an amusing tale of frustration for Moses but an engaging insight into why the Old Guard is so frustrated at the Next Generation and why they continue to have an inability to “let go” of the communal power they wield.

al-Khidr bluntly rebuffs Moses, stating:

قَالَ إِنَّكَ لَنْ تَسْتَطِيعَ مَعِيَ صَبْرًا

“(al-Khidr) said, ‘You will not be able to bear with me (*sabr).” (Qur’an, 18: 67)

He continues with,

وَكَيْفَ تَصْبِرُ عَلَىٰ مَا لَمْ تُحِطْ بِهِ خُبْرًا

“And how could you bear with something you have no experience with?” (Qur’an, 18: 68)

In the three scenarios that Moses encounters with al-Khidr: scuttling a boat; killing an “innocent”; reparations for work performed, all of them frustrate Moses’ sense of normalcy. This is no different than the sense of normalcy the Old Guard wants to maintain. Simply put, it is not in the Old Guard’s cannon of knowledge or experience: a cannon that has thus far been unwilling or unable to concede that neither converts nor even their own progeny posses the capacity to steer the community’s course in the right direction. This has led to the infantilization of the Old Guard’s children, the disclusion of African-Americans from positions of authority in the Muslim community as well as the “tokenizing” of white converts, by which whiteness is celebrated only so far as it aggrandizes their own (battered!) self-esteem, reducing them to little more than mascots at best.

But for me, the real lesson that struck me here was thus: imagine if al-Khidr, despite having the correct knowledge and perspective on what needs to be done in each situation, relented and allowed Moses to stop him? Take the first scenario, in which God says:

فَانْطَلَقَا حَتَّىٰ إِذَا رَكِبَا فِي السَّفِينَةِ خَرَقَهَا ۖ قَالَ أَخَرَقْتَهَا لِتُغْرِقَ أَهْلَهَا لَقَدْ جِئْتَ شَيْئًا إِمْرًا

قَالَ أَلَمْ أَقُلْ إِنَّكَ لَنْ تَسْتَطِيعَ مَعِيَ صَبْرًا

“They continued until they boarded a boat by which (al-Khidr) scuttled it. Moses retorted, ‘Did you scuttle it so that its owners would be drowned? This is truly a dreadful thing that you have done!’ He (al-Khidr) said, ‘Did I not say that you could never bear with me?’ ” (Qur’an: 71-72)

By Moses applying these three tools (religious knowledge as he understood it to be; common sense; personal experience) to the scenario above, he could not grasp the meanings or intentions of al-Khidr’s actions. They appeared for all intensive purposes, insane and misguided. However, if al-Khidr had not carried through with which he knew to be the right thing to do, all of them (Moses, al-Khidr and Joshua as well as the passengers on the ship) would have come to a horrible end:

أَمَّا السَّفِينَةُ فَكَانَتْ لِمَسَاكِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ فِي الْبَحْرِ فَأَرَدْتُ أَنْ أَعِيبَهَا وَكَانَ وَرَاءَهُمْ مَلِكٌ يَأْخُذُ كُلَّ سَفِينَةٍ غَصْبًا

“As for the ship, it belonged to some poor people who worked on the sea. I wanted to knock it out of commission because a king was coming behind them who commandeered every boat by force.” (Qur’an, 18: 79)

For me, this parable is clear. If we, the Next Generation of Muslims in America, continues to allow ourselves to be persuaded from pursuing a course we know to be right, then we will have no one to blame but ourselves when we’re faced with harsh consequences. We cannot allow ourselves to be turned aside — no matter how well intended the Old Guard is; no matter how intimidating their arguments are; no matter how much they lay claim to authority. History is a powerful force: it molds and shapes our sensibilities. History can also render itself nearly invisible by which our prerogatives and proclivities can come to seem so second nature that change can be hard to come by particularly when we cannot envision a reality without them. Certainly the case we see before us is none other than this very same conundrum. And we should take comfort in the knowledge that God is the Shaper of human history. The very same history that has disarmed our uncles, and aunties, our mothers and our fathers, has bestowed upon us a set of experiences and knowledge that will allow us to do what will be pleasing to God, even if it appears to be just the opposite to our onlookers.

A note on “sabr”:

Sabr is commonly translated as “patience.” And while it certainly includes that component, the verb sa-ba-ra encompasses much more than that. Like many verbs, its meaning is reflective of its circumstance: To tie, to fetter, to shackle; to put up with. It also conveys the meaning to withstand something which you have no power to remove. In the Muslim context, it also means to show and express praise (hamd) and gratitude (shukr) in trials and adversity.

وَإِذْ قُلْتُمْ يَا مُوسَىٰ لَنْ نَصْبِرَ عَلَىٰ طَعَامٍ وَاحِدٍ فَادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُخْرِجْ لَنَا مِمَّا تُنْبِتُ الْأَرْضُ مِنْ بَقْلِهَا

“And when you said, ‘Moses, we will not be tied down to just one kind of food so ask your Lord to supply to us some of what the earth produces – its green vegetables’…” (Qur’an, 2: 61)

أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ اشْتَرَوُا الضَّلَالَةَ بِالْهُدَىٰ وَالْعَذَابَ بِالْمَغْفِرَةِ ۚ فَمَا أَصْبَرَهُمْ عَلَى النَّارِ

“Those are the ones who have sold guidance for misguidance and forgiveness for punishment. How steadfastly they will endure (or shackled to) the Fire!” (Qur’an, 2: 175)

American Imamate – Beyond the Mosque

I have been giving a lot of thought to the role of the imam in the lives of American Muslims. I think about how so many portions of our community are under served and the reasons being are plenty with enough blame to be cast on both sides of the minbar. But I thought I would share a hadith from Ibn ‘Abbas, the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم cousin and close companions, may God be pleased with him, in which he made the following statement:

عَنْ عِكْرِمَةَ، عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، قَالَ حَدِّثِ النَّاسَ، كُلَّ جُمُعَةٍ مَرَّةً، فَإِنْ أَبَيْتَ فَمَرَّتَيْنِ، فَإِنَّ أَكْثَرْتَ فَثَلاَثَ مِرَارٍ وَلاَ تُمِلَّ النَّاسَ هَذَا الْقُرْآنَ، وَلاَ أُلْفِيَنَّكَ تَأْتِي الْقَوْمَ وَهُمْ فِي حَدِيثٍ مِنْ حَدِيثِهِمْ فَتَقُصُّ عَلَيْهِمْ، فَتَقْطَعُ عَلَيْهِمْ حَدِيثَهُمْ فَتُمِلُّهُمْ، وَلَكِنْ أَنْصِتْ، فَإِذَا أَمَرُوكَ فَحَدِّثْهُمْ وَهُمْ يَشْتَهُونَهُ، فَانْظُرِ السَّجْعَ مِنَ الدُّعَاءِ فَاجْتَنِبْهُ، فَإِنِّي عَهِدْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَأَصْحَابَهُ لاَ يَفْعَلُونَ إِلاَّ ذَلِكَ‏.‏ يَعْنِي لاَ يَفْعَلُونَ إِلاَّ ذَلِكَ الاِجْتِنَابَ‏

On the authority of ‘Ikrimah: Ibn `Abbas said, “Preach to the people once a week, and if you dislike to then preach to them twice, but if you want to preach more, then let it suffice to be three times a week. Do not make people weary of this Qur’an. If you come to some people who are engaged in talk, don’t interrupt their talk by preaching, otherwise you will bore them. Rather, you should keep quiet, and if they ask you, then you may preach to them at the time when they have a desire to hear what you say. And avoid the use of rhymed prose in invocation for I noticed that God’s Messenger and his companions always avoided it.”

What really grabs me the most about the Salaf, the companions, etc., is their earnestness and their directness. Food for thought.

Salah al-Tasbih

عن ابن عباس رضي الله عنهما أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال له : يا غلام ألا أحبوك ؟ ألا أنحلك ؟ ألا أجيزك ؟ ألا أعطيك ؟ قال : قلت : بلى ، بأبي أنت وأمي يا رسول الله . قال:

Ibn ‘Abbas said that the Prophet [s] said to him, “O’ young man, do I not love you? Do I not cherish you? Am I not obedient to you? He said [s] that he [Ibn ‘Abbas] said: “Of course, by my father and my mother, o’ Messenger of God!”

فظننت أنه سيقطع لي قطعة من مال . فقال : أربع ركعات تصليهن في كل يوم وليلة ، فإن لم تستطع ففي كل جمعة ، فإن لم تستطع ففي كل شهر ، فإن لم تستطع ففي كل سنة مرة فإن لم تستطع ففي دهرك مرة : ثم تقول : سبحان الله . ثم قال : فإذا فرغت قلت بعد التشهد وقبل التسليم

I thought that he dispense to me some money, upon which he [s] said: “[There are] four raka’at/units to this prayer, which you should pray every day and night.  If you are not able to do so, then every Friday, and if not that, then once a month, and if not that, then once a year, and if not that, then once in a lifetime. Then he [s] said: “Subhan’Allah”, then he [s] said, “If you so desire, say the following between ‘al-Tashahhud and the end of prayer [‘taslim‘]:

اللهم إني أسألك توفيق أهل الهدى ، وأعمال أهل اليقين ، وعزم أهل الصبر ، وجد أهل الخشية ، ومناصحة أهل التقوى ، وطلب أهل الرغبة ، وتعبد أهل الورع ، وعرفان أهل العلم ، حتى أخافك مخافة تحجزني عن معاصيك ، وحتى أعمل بطاعتك عملا أستحق به رضاك ، وحتى أناصحك في التوبة خوفا منك ، وحتى أخلص لك النصيحة حبا لك ، وحتى أتوكل عليك في الأمور ، حسن ظني بك ، سبحان خالق النور

” O’ God!, I ask you for the success of the people of guidance, for the deeds and works of the people of certainty, for the resolve of the people of steadfastness, for the disposition of the people of awe, for the advice of the people of taqwa, for the comportment of the people of desire, for the religious devotion of the people of piety, for the consciousness of the people of knowledge, until I have fear of you, a fear that provides a barrier between me and disobedience of You, until I work deeds in fealty to you, deeds worthy of Your Pleasure, until I am sound in my repentance, in Fear of You [Your punishment], until I am sincere  towards You, advice in loving You, until I rely on You in all affairs, holding in Your good opinion, subhana, Creator of Light.”

فإذا فعلت ذلك يا ابن عباس غفر الله لك ذنوبك : صغيرها وكبيرها ، وقديمها وحديثها ، وسرها وعلانيتها ، وعمدها وخطأها

“If you do thus, o’ Ibn ‘Abbas, God will forgive you your sins, major and minor, old and new, those committed in secret and in public, those which were intended and unintended.”

الراوي: مجاهد المحدث: ابن حجر العسقلاني – المصدر: صلاة التسبيح – الصفحة أو الرقم: ¼ خلاصة حكم المحدث: [فيه] عبد القدوس شديد الضعف وكذبه بعض الأئمة

Ramadan Lecture: The Importance of Adab

Delivered at United Muslim Masjid, Philadelphia

الله سبحانه و تعالى المسؤول المرجوُّ الإجابة أن يتولاكم في الدنيا و الآخرة و أن يسبغ عليكم نعمه ظاهرة و باطنة (ألم تروا أن الله سخر لكم ما في السماوات وما في الأرض وأسبغ عليكم نعمه ظاهرة و باطنة – سورة لقمان 20) و أن يجعلكم ممن إذا أنعم الله عليه شكر و إذا ابتُلِيَ صبر و إذا أذنب استغفر فإن هذه الأمور الثلاثة هي عنوان سعادة العبد وعلامة فلاحه في دنياه و أخراه ولا يَنفَكُّ عبدٌ عنها أبدا فإن العبد دائما يتقلب بين هذه الأطباق الثلاث

“Perfect is God the Exalted, the one we implore—and whose answer we await—to watch over you in this world and the next, to shower you with God’s grace, outwardly and inwardly, and to make you among those who, when blessed, give thanks; when tried, persevere and endure; and when sinful, seek forgiveness. For these three conditions are the supports of the servant’s happiness, and the signs of his success in this world and the next. No servant is without them, but is always shifting from one to the other.” [Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah – al-Wābil as-Ṣayyib].

نُعِمَ من الله تعالى تترادف عليه فقيدها الشكر و هو مبني على ثلاثة أركان الاعتراف بها باطنا والتحدث بها ظاهرا وتصريفها في مرضاة وليها و مسديها و معطيها فإذا فعل ذلك فقد شكرها مع تقصيره في شكرها (ومن كان يرجوا لقاء ربه فليعمل عملا صالحا سورة الكهف 110)

“The first condition is the blessings which come to the servant from God the Exalted, one after another. What secures them is gratitude, based on three supports: inward recognition of the blessing; outward mention and thanks for it; and its use in a way that pleases the One to whom it truly belongs and who truly bestows it. Acting in accordance with this, the servant shows his gratitude for the blessing—however small it may be.” [Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah – al-Wābil as-Ṣayyib]

عن عمر رضي الله عنه أن النبي صلى الله عليه و سلم قال حاسبوا أنفسكم قبل أن تحاسبوا وزنوا أعمالكم قبل أن توزن عليكم

“’Abd Allah Ibn ‘Abbas reports that the Prophet said: take stock of your selves before you are judged; weigh your deeds before they are weighed for you.” [Arba’īn al-Wad’āniyyah].

من ظن أنه بدون الجهد يصل فهو متمن ومن ظن أنه ببذل الجهد يصل فهو مستغن

“He who thinks he will attain his goal without effort is a fool and he who thinks he will achieve his goal purely by effort is presumptuous and arrogant.” [‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib].

ألعلم بلا عمل جنون والعمل بغير علم لا يكون

“Knowledge without action or deeds is madness and action without knowledge is void/useless.” [Imam al-Ghazali]

فاستحي من مولاك حق الحياء واجتهد أن لا يراك حيث نهاك ولا يفقدك حيث أمرك واعبده كأنك تراه فإن لم يكن تراه فإنه يراك

“Have modesty before your Lord as you should; make sure that He never sees you in a situation which He has forbidden you, and never misses you where He has commanded you to be; worship God as if you see God, for even though you can’t see God, know that God sees you.” [Imam al-Haddad]

ينبغي أن توزِّع أوقاتك وترتِّبَ أورادك

“You should structure your time and arrange your regular devotions.” [Imam al-Haddad]

قال لا إله إلا الله وحده لا شريك له له الملك وهو الحمد وهو على كل شيء قدير في يومٍ مائةَ مرة ، كانت له عدلَ عشْرِ رقاب ، وكتب له مائةُ حسنة ، ومحيت عنه مائة سيئة ، وكانت له حرزا من الشيطان يومَه ذلك حتى يُمْسِيَ ، ولم يأت أحد بأفضل مما جاء به إلا رجل عمل أكثر منه

“Whoever says: “La ilaha illal-lah …,” one hundred times will get the same reward as given for freeing ten slaves; and one hundred good deeds will be written in his accounts, and one hundred sins will be deducted from his accounts, and it (his saying) will be a shield for him from Satan on that day till night, and nobody will be able to do a better deed except the one who does more than he.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

أكثر من السجود فإنه ليس من مسلم يسجد لله تعالى سجدة إلا رفعه بها الله درجة في الجنة وحط عنه بها خطيئة

“Prostrate much because there is no Muslim that prostrates to God except that God raises him one degree in Paradise by it and forgives for him a sin.” [Ahmad]

Endeavor to restrain your souls, and the Ultimate reward will be yours:

وأما من خاف مقام ربه ونهى النفس عن الهوى فإن الجنة هى المأوى

For the one who fears the Station of his Lord and denies the appetites of the lower self, the Garden will be his refuge.” [al-Nāzi’at 79: 40-1]

Listen to and download the lecture here.

More Than A Religion of Deeds – The Importance of Thought In Cultivating Islam

First Khutbah – Main Points

Opening from the Qur’an:

والذين يذكرون الله قياما وقعودا وعلى جنوبهم ويتفكرون في خلق السماوات والأرض – ربنا ما خلقت هذا باطلا سبحانك فقنا عذاب النار
“And those who remember God, either standing, sitting, as well as sitting on their sides and is given to frequent contemplation about the creation of the heavens and the earth respond: ‘O our Lord! You have not created this without purpose. You are without peer or similitude so protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” [Q: 3: 191]

I often hear in modern day discourses about Islam where it is regarded as a religion of actions and not words; deeds, not thought.   Doubtless this comes from a reading of Islam from a particular Christian perspective; it too is also mistakenly seen as a religion of belief, not works.  But Islam is a religion that seeks the middle way, encompassing both.  This misconception has to some degree been perpetuated by Muslims themselves for a variety of reasons [minority status, reaction against Colonialism, etc.), but one of the primary reasons I would like to talk about today is the loss of Muslim thought.  I say Muslim thought, versus Islamic thought, because this word [Islamic] has become a hollow word, or as Uwe Poerksen wrote in his book, Plastic Words: The Tyranny of a Modular Language, a plastic word.  It can be taken wholly out of any appropriate context and used in those in which it denotes nothing what so ever, or worse, is used beyond its scope, reducing or even destroying any efficacy it might convey.

This is also problematic when we discuss the word sunnah.  When you ask many Muslims to tell you what the Sunnah is, they usually begin by saying it was what the Prophet [s] did, said, and so forth.  And while none of these are wrong, however, they fail to convey the nature of the Prophet – his Qur’anic nature, as per A’ishah’s notable recount.  And while we won’t have time today to cover all of the details, it’s the process of thinking anew, thinking deeper about ourselves and our relationship with Islam to produce a more meaningful Islam [or Muslim!], that will serve us as a guide in this life, headed for the Next.

But to return to the above āyah, the Qur’an is instructing us to remember and to contemplate.  And while these are indeed verbs and commands, they are not simply ‘ibadat – religious rituals such as salah [ritual prayer], wudu’ [ablution] and so forth.  They are synonyms of one another that are often used in conjunction and substitution throughout the Qur’an.  This process of developing Muslim thought has a number of beneficial aspects for a healthy Muslim mindset and religious experience.  And it is something that is developed by continually engaging in it, and as the Qur’an says:

طبقا عن طبق
“…stage by stage.” [Q: 84: 19]

Second Khutbah – Main Points

This practice of contemplation, of correct or good thought, is an enterprise that Allah encourages us to and even promises His tranquility:

الذين ءامنوا وتطمئنّ القلوبهم بذكر الله – ألا بذكر الله تطمئنّ القلوب
“And those who profess faith and their hearts find peace in the remembrance of God – Do not hearts find peace in the remembrance of God?” [Q: 13: 28]

This is like the cure, the shifa’ that Allah talks about in Yunus, stating that:

يأيها الناس قد جائتكم موعظة من ربكم و شفاء لما في الصدور
“Mankind!  Surely an appraisal has come to you from your Lord as well as a cure for what is in your breasts.” [Q: 10: 57]

I wish to turn back to the instruction of contemplating God by contemplating the Creation.  There are a number of benefits in doing so:

  • One of the primary ways that God has set up for man to know his Lord, is through seeing His Oneness through the multiplicity of creation.  God as Creator is most keenly seen by reflecting on the Creation. و يتفكرون في خلق السماوات والأرض
  • We avoid trying to imagine God – hence, the part after this āyah, God says: ربنا ما خلقت هذا باطلا سبحانك this use of subhana is very important – a word that is often difficult to translate but vital in terms of Qur’anic language and thought.  For a quick summary, we can think of subhana as a means of removing an anthropomorphic projections or ideas on to the nature of God.  al-Razi says in his book, Mukhtar as-Sihah, that it is making Allah pure in the mind, and it is bound to root of s-b-h, meaning “void”; a tanzih (تنزيه). In sha’Allah, we can explore this more in future talks.

We even have some advice from the Prophet [s] as narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas [rahm]:

إنّ قوما تفكروا في الله عز و جل فقال النبي صلى الله عليه و سلم: تفكروا في خلق الله و لاتتفكروا في الله فإنكم لن تقدروا قدره
“There were some people speculating about the nature of God the Exalted, so the Prophet [s] said to them: contemplate about the Creation of God but do not speculate directly about God for you will never grasp His power.”

But moreover, this tafakkur will help to develop a Muslim thinking that will see the shahādah of la ilaha illa Allah – there is no god but God – in the heavens and the earth.  A more concise and modern word would be pattern recognition.  This is something human beings are actually quite astute at.  Seeing the pattern of God’s handiwork in His Creation.

Allah gives us a number of things to reflect upon:

  • Nature and His Creation.
  • Love and compassion:
  • و من –اياته~ أن خلق لكم من انفسكم~ أزواجا لتسكنو~ إليها وجعل بينكم مودةً ورحمة – إنّ في ذلك لأياتٍ لقوم يتفكرون. و من-اياته خلق السماوات والأرض واختلاف ألسِنَتِكم وألوانِكم – إنّ في ذلك لأيات للعالمين
  • “And from amongst His signs is that He created spouses for you from yourselves so that you may know tranquility therein.  And He has put affection and compassion between you.  Truly there are signs here for people who reflect.  And from amongst His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, with the variations in your tongues and your hues.  Surely there are signs in this for all the worlds.” [Q: 30: 21-26]

This passage continues, repeating a motif of ideas to ponder and reflect upon.  This made me think of how the modern world is obsessed with romance and sex, but how little it’s seen in light of part of the creation, that it was given to us by God, so that we may come to know Him, as well as experience contentedness and joy.

In summary, we should strive to learn how to think as Muslims, so we may stay in a state of remembrance as well as increase or certainty of Allah as the Creator, as well as molding our behavior to conform to the Best of Creation, the Prophet Muhammad [s].

We ask Allah to make us the people of tafakkur and tadhakkur. Amin.

Watch the video.