#MiddleGroundPodcast: Self Criticism – A Khutbah

I delivered the following khutbah at the Claremont Colleges on Friday, February 8th, 2019.

“Be self-critical, not in anticipation of a particular result, but self-critical of what you are doing now in relation to the goal you wish to accomplish.”

وَمِنَ النّاسِ مَن يُعجِبُكَ قَولُهُ فِي الحَياةِ الدُّنيا وَيُشهِدُ اللَّهَ عَلىٰ ما في قَلبِهِ وَهُوَ أَلَدُّ الخِصامِ

وَإِذا تَوَلّىٰ سَعىٰ فِي الأَرضِ لِيُفسِدَ فيها وَيُهلِكَ الحَرثَ وَالنَّسلَ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لا يُحِبُّ الفَسادَ

وَإِذا قيلَ لَهُ اتَّقِ اللَّهَ أَخَذَتهُ العِزَّةُ بِالإِثمِ ۚ فَحَسبُهُ جَهَنَّمُ ۚ وَلَبِئسَ المِهادُ

وَمِنَ النّاسِ مَن يَشري نَفسَهُ ابتِغاءَ مَرضاتِ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ رَءوفٌ بِالعِبادِ

يا أَيُّهَا الَّذينَ آمَنُوا ادخُلوا فِي السِّلمِ كافَّةً وَلا تَتَّبِعوا خُطُواتِ الشَّيطانِ ۚ إِنَّهُ لَكُم عَدُوٌّ مُبينٌ

“Among the people there is someone whose words about the life of this world excite your admiration, and he calls Allah to witness what is in his heart, while he is in fact the most hostile of adversaries. When he leaves you, he goes about the earth corrupting it, destroying crops and animals. Allah does not love corruption. When he is told to have regard for and fear of Allah, he is seized by pride which drives him to wrongdoing. Hell will be enough for him! What an evil resting-place! And among the people there are some who give up everything, desiring the good pleasure of Allah. Allah is Ever-Gentle with His slaves. You who believe!, enter Islam totally. Do not follow in the footsteps of Satan. He is an outright enemy to you.” Qur’an 2: 204-208

Spiritual Remedies with the Drexel MSA Week 2

A note on texts and “tradition”:

“When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement.” — John Dewey, from Art As Experience.

A reminder on what this course is about:

إنما يعرف فضل الشيء بثمرته

“The excellence of a thing is known by its fruit.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

What are desires/Hawa?:

الهوى ميل الطبع إلى ما يلائمه ولا يذّم هذا المقدار إذا كان المطلوب مباحا

“Passions are the inclination of one’s natural character or disposition to whatever pleases it, and should not be vilified in as much as what is being sought is permissible.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

وإنما يذم الإفراط فيه, فمن أطلق الهوى فلأن الغالب فيه ما لا يحل أو يتأول المباح بإفراطه

“However, that being said, passions should be disparaged when one is excessive in following desires. Things being what they are, when passions are criticized, it is either because the object or action is impermissible, or because people often interpret lawful means to excessive (unlawful) ends.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

Virtues and Components of the Mind:

واعلم أن النفس منها جزاء عقلي فضيلته الحكمة

“Know that part of your soul possesses the virtue for wisdom.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

ورذيلته الجهل

“And likewise possesses the capacity for ignorance.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

Are you ever amazed at yourself, both in your capacity of good and bad, for intelligence and stupidity, for morality and depravity? Ibn al-Jawzi points to what God has said in Surah al-Shams:

ونفس وما سوها فألهمها فجورها وتقوها قد أفلح من زكها وخاب من دسها

“And (swearing) by the soul, which He made balanced: He inspired its depravity and its morality. The one who succeeds is the one who purifies it and the one who fails is the one who covers it up.” – Qur’an, 91: 7-10.

Interestingly enough, the verb dassa/دسّ can mean to cover up but it can also mean to poison something (دسّ السمّ لفلان).

وجزء غضبي فضيلته الحدة

“Another aspect is anger, of whose virtue is keenness.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

For “al-hiddah”, we see the meanings of keenness, sharpness, but also of fury and irascibility.

ورذيلته الجُبن

“And its depraved attribute is cowardice.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

وجزء شهواني فضيلته العفة

“And to that part which is lustful, its virtue is chastity.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

ورذيلته إطلاق الهوى

“And its depraved attribute is unbridled passion.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

فالصبر عن الرذائل فضيلة للنفس, بها يحتمل الإنسان الخير والشر

“And its depraved attribute is unbridled passion.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

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.

وَلَمَّا بَرَزُوا لِجَالُوتَ وَجُنُودِهِ قَالُوا رَبَّنَا أَفْرِغْ عَلَيْنَا صَبْرًا وَثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَنَا وَانْصُرْنَا عَلَى الْقَوْمِ الْكَافِرِينَ

“When they came out against Saul and his troops, they said, ‘Our Lord, pour down steadfastness upon us, and make our feet firm, and help us against this kafir people’.” – Qur’an, 2: 250.

This last verse shows that sabr is something real and not simply an abstract notion, as God is asked to “pour” steadfastsness on to them.

A note on “habituation”:

  • Habit – the habits we have and the habits we’d like to form.
  • What affects the formation of our habits, in both positive and negative ways? What about the impact of technology?
  • “We become habituated to what we have and eventually not so interested, and soon dissatisfied, once again.” Bruno Cayoun, Mindfulness-Integrated CBT.
  • Piety can be habituated. Sin can be habituated as well.

Other Readings

  • The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal.
  • The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.
  • Mindfulness-Integrated CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) by Bruno Cayoun.

Inclining Towards What Is Good – A Khutbah

A note on texts and “tradition”:

“When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement.” — John Dewey, from Art As Experience.

A note on “spirituality”:

وما تقرب إليّ عبدي بشيء أحبّ إليّ مما افترضْت عليه

“My slave does not draw closer to me with anything more beloved than by what I have made obligatory upon him.” – al-Bukhari.

The have passion is to incline to the good as well as the bad:

رَبَّنَا إِنِّي أَسْكَنْتُ مِنْ ذُرِّيَّتِي بِوَادٍ غَيْرِ ذِي زَرْعٍ عِنْدَ بَيْتِكَ الْمُحَرَّمِ رَبَّنَا لِيُقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ فَاجْعَلْ أَفْئِدَةً مِنَ النَّاسِ تَهْوِي إِلَيْهِمْ وَارْزُقْهُمْ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَشْكُرُونَ

“Our Lord! I have settled some of my offspring by Your Sacred House in an uncultivated valley. Our Lord! Let them establish salah! Make the hearts of mankind incline towards them and provide them with fruits, so that hopefully they will be thankful.”Qur’an, 14: 37.

Continuing:

حُنَفَاءَ لِلَّهِ غَيْرَ مُشْرِكِينَ بِهِ ۚ وَمَنْ يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّهِ فَكَأَنَّمَا خَرَّ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فَتَخْطَفُهُ الطَّيْرُ أَوْ تَهْوِي بِهِ الرِّيحُ فِي مَكَانٍ سَحِيقٍ

“Be people of pure natural belief in God, not associating anything else with Him. As for anyone who associates others with God, it is as though he had fallen from the sky and the birds had seized him and carried him away or the wind had dropped him in a distant place.”Qur’an, 22, 31.

Similarly:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَىٰ أَنْفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ إِنْ يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقِيرًا فَاللَّهُ أَوْلَىٰ بِهِمَا فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَىٰ أَنْ تَعْدِلُوا وَإِنْ تَلْوُوا أَوْ تُعْرِضُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا

“You who profess faith!, be upholders of justice, bearing witness for God alone, even against yourselves or your parents and relatives. Whether they are rich or poor, God is well able to look after them. Do not follow your own desires and deviate from the truth. If you twist or turn away, Allah is aware of what you do.”Qur’an, 4, 135.

A reminder on self-diagnosis:

إنما يعرف فضل الشيء بثمرته

“The excellence of thing is known by its fruit.” – Ibn al-Jawzi..

Continuing:

فإذا زادت شهوة المطعم صارت شرها فآذت

“However, if one’s appetite for food should increase unchecked it becomes gluttony, and thus harmful.” – Ibn al-Jawzi..

 Similarly, Ibn al-Jawzi adds:

وإذا زاد الغضب أخرج إلى الفساد

“And if anger is increase it will manifest a perversion.” – Ibn al-Jawzi..

One of the goals of tazkiyyah is to train your “nafs” to “feel the right action” instead of either being overwhelmed by troubling scenarios or reacting to every difficult encounter with a set of Sahih al-Bukhari.

The role of the ‘Aql:

(يعني العقل) يترك العاجل للآلج, وبه فضل الآدمي على جميع الحيوان الذي فقده

“(The mind) taught enabled man to relinquish this hasty life for The Next (to where you will tarry). For this reason, man has superseded all of the animals, who have been deprived of having it.” – Ibn al-Jawzi..

What are desires/Hawa?:

الهوى ميل الطبع إلى ما يلائمه ولا يذّم هذا المقدار إذا كان المطلوب مباحا, وإنما يذم الإفراط فيه, فمن أطلق الهوى فلأن الغالب فيه ما لا يحل أو يتأول المباح بإفراطه

Hawa is the inclination of one’s natural character or disposition to whatever pleases it and should not be condemned in as much as what is sought is permissible. However, it should be disparaged when one is excessive in following desires. That being said, when passions are criticized altogether, it is because either the object or action is impermissible, or because people often interpret lawful means to excessive ends.” – Ibn al-Jawzi..

Spiritual Remedies with the Drexel MSA Week 1

A note on texts and “tradition”:

“When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement.” — John Dewey, from Art As Experience.

A note on “spirituality”:

وما تقرب إليّ عبدي بشيء أحبّ إليّ مما افترضْت عليه

“My slave does not draw closer to me with anything more beloved than by what I have made obligatory upon him.” – al-Bukhari.

Raison d’être:

وهذا الكتاب موضوع لاستعمال قانون الصواب من خلال الباطن وكفّ كفّ الهوى عن المؤذى منها وعلاج ما خرج لموافقة الشهوة عن القانون الصحيح

“The purpose of this book is to put to work the law of good sense through the channels of the heart and mind so as to constrain unbridled passions from causing harm as well as to treat habitual actions of passions which contradict sound law.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

Introduction:

اعلم أن جميع ما وضع في الآدمي إنما وضع لمصلحته إما لاجتلاب نفع كشهوة المطعم أو لدفع ضر كالغضب

“Know that the entirety of what God has allotted mankind is for his benefit; either the acquisition of some benefit, such as the desire for food, or the warding off of harm, such as the capacity for rage.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

 A note on “destroying the nafs:

Desire itself is not the enemy here, and thus “killing your desires,” or “killing your ego,” is not only not the goal of all of this, but most certainly unobtainable. Many of these phrases have come from Greek sources (philosophy, logic) and have crept their way into the Muslim discourse on tazkiyyah, or self-purification, without being asked to “show their papers.”

Continuing:

فإذا زادت شهوة المطعم صارت شرها فآذت

“However, if one’s appetite for food should increase unchecked it becomes gluttony, and thus harmful.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

 Similarly, Ibn al-Jawzi adds:

وإذا زاد الغضب أخرج إلى الفساد

“And if anger is increased it will manifest as perversion.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

A reminder on what this course is about:

إنما يعرف فضل الشيء بثمرته

“The excellence of thing is known by its fruit.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

Part of all this is to train one’s “nafs” like one would train one’s reflexes or impulses so that they become instinctive. So much of sin is wrapped up in our impulses yet we as a faith community seldom talk about, one, the need for impulse control, and two, practical and behavioral methods by which the average Yusuf and Mariam might implement them.

One of the goals of tazkiyyah is to train your “nafs” to “feel the right action” instead of either being overwhelmed by troubling scenarios or reacting to every difficult encounter with a set of Sahih al-Bukhari.

Part One – The ‘Aql:

(يعني العقل) يترك العاجل للآلج, وبه فضل الآدمي على جميع الحيوان الذي فقده

“(The mind) taught enabled man to relinquish this hasty life for The Next (to where you will tarry). For this reason, man has superseded all of the animals, who have been deprived of having it.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

What are desires/Hawa?:

الهوى ميل الطبع إلى ما يلائمه ولا يذّم هذا المقدار إذا كان المطلوب مباحا, وإنما يذم الإفراط فيه, فمن أطلق الهوى فلأن الغالب فيه ما لا يحل أو يتأول المباح بإفراطه

“Passions/Hawa are the inclination of one’s natural character or disposition to whatever pleases it and should not be condemned in as much as what is sought is permissible. However, it should be disparaged when one is excessive in following desires. That being said, when passions are criticized altogether, it is because either the object or action is impermissible, or because people often interpret lawful means to excessive ends.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

Stay tuned for Week Two’s notes.

Play Like Roy Rogers and Slow Down

The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “do not become angry/لا تغضب.” While we’re often given prophetic advice, we’re seldom given practical steps on how we might achieve it. Here’s a small exercise that I have been working on myself: slow breathing.

Slow your breathing down. See if you can attain somewhere between four to six breaths per minute. Start out with a 5-minute exercise and slowly increase the time (10 minutes, 20 minutes). This will be much slower than how you normally breathe. You should, with practice, feel your adrenaline rush curb and start to gain control over your actions and emotions. As Kelly McGonigal says,

“Slowing the breath down activates the prefrontal cortex and increases heart rate variability, which helps shift the brain and body from a state of stress to self-control mode.”

As a matter of fact, you can apply this technique to any number of situations in which you need to master your impulses and urges. As God says in the Qur’an,

وَأَمَّا مَنْ خَافَ مَقَامَ رَبِّهِ وَنَهَى النَّفْسَ عَنِ الْهَوَى

فَإِنَّ الْجَنَّةَ هِيَ الْمَأْوَى

“But as for him who feared the Station of his Lord and forbade the lower self its appetites, the Garden will be his refuge.” Qur’an, 79: 40-41.

Recommended reading: Kelly McGonigal, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It.