#MiddleGroundPodcast: Sha’ban – The Month of Branching Out and Connecting


[Direct download]

One of the linguistic meanings of Sha’ban is “to branch out” and “connect” because it’s the month which literally connects with Ramadan.

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ قَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ إِذَا تَقَرَّبَ عَبْدِي مِنِّي شِبْرًا تَقَرَّبْتُ مِنْهُ ذِرَاعًا وَإِذَا تَقَرَّبَ مِنِّي ذِرَاعًا تَقَرَّبْتُ مِنْهُ بَاعًا – أَوْ بُوعًا – وَإِذَا أَتَانِي يَمْشِي أَتَيْتُهُ هَرْوَلَةً

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger ﷺ as saying that Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, stated,

“When My servant draws close to Me by the span of a palm, I draw close to him by the cubit and when he draws close to Me by the cubit, I draw close to him by the space of two arm spans, and when he comes to Me walking, I go in a hurry towards him.”Sahih Muslim, #2675

Likewise, Allah has made us into shu’uban and qaba’il.

يا أَيُّهَا النّاسُ إِنّا خَلَقناكُم مِن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثىٰ وَجَعَلناكُم شُعوبًا وَقَبائِلَ لِتَعارَفوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكرَمَكُم عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتقاكُم ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَليمٌ خَبيرٌ

“All you people! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into different races and tribes so you can come to know one another. The noblest among you in the sight of God is the one who is the most mindful of his duty to Him. Truly, God knows and is aware.”Qur’an, 49: 13

الشعوب: جمع شعب بفتح الشين، وهو أعظم من القبيلة، وتحته القبيلة ثم البطن ثم الفخذ ثم الفصيلة

Ibn Juzayy says,

Shu’ub is the plural of sha’b, which is greater than a qabilah, which is after the qabilah is a batan, then a fikhdh, then a fasilah. — al-Tas’hil l’Ulum al-Tanzil

What makes a shu’b is that the people are connected. Our connection is not simply to one another because we share the same ancestor but because we share the same core belief: Allah and His Messenger. This is why unity is so difficult in the Muslim community because we’re not connected or connecting on that thing which can truly branch across divides.

قالَتِ الأَعرابُ آمَنّا ۖ قُل لَم تُؤمِنوا وَلٰكِن قولوا أَسلَمنا وَلَمّا يَدخُلِ الإيمانُ في قُلوبِكُم ۖ وَإِن تُطيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسولَهُ لا يَلِتكُم مِن أَعمالِكُم شَيئًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفورٌ رَحيمٌ

Joining Islam is not doing God a Favor

Background: During a year of famine, members of the bedouin tribe of Banu Asad arrived in Medina and professed to be Muslims in order to receive donations to help their tribe. They said they had never fought the Muslims and that they had always donated to the Muslims and helped them in the past, which was only partially true. Their behavior in the city was culturally reprehensible, and they also conducted themselves in obvious ignorance of Islamic manners and values. Finally, they made it seem as if they were doing the Muslims a favor by joining them. While their profession of faith may or may not have been real, they had not let the full effect of faith seep into their hearts in a genuine fashion. This passage was revealed in response. — Asbab al-Nuzul

“The bedouin Arabs are quick to say, “We believe!” Yet, say to them (Muhammad), “You have no faith, for you’re only saying, ‘We’re surrendered to God,’ but sincere faith hasn’t yet entered your hearts. If you obey God and His Messenger, He won’t decrease the value of any of your (good) deeds, for God is forgiving and merciful.”Qur’an, 49: 14

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

Between Hope and Hell: Ramadan Advice

My inbox has been peppered with a number of requests for advice for those seeking to turn a new corner this Ramadan. In some of those letters, folks spoke of frustration, even a hopelessness, in their ability to overcome their souls’ desires and return to a God-pleasing lifestyle.

The first step is to know, as I wrote on Twitter, is to think of it like this:

It is very difficult to treat malaria in a swamp. The sincerity of tawbah (repentance) is similar.

The success of one’s tawbah will be greatly affected by one’s environment, thus, one should take every possible step to remove oneself from environments that are not conducive to achieving this goal. But beyond the condemnation of impermissible acts lies an important theological point in our religious tradition that is not accentuated enough. Namely, that is God’s mercy. While I do not wish to impart false hope for those engaged in grievous actions, nor do I wish to perpetuate a psychology of defeat. So these words of advice are an attempt to fall between these two.

The main point is to know that God has no need of us to go to hell. To be explicit, this is not the same as God not putting one in the Fire if one has earned it. That being said, the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم said eloquently:

كُلُّ بَنِي آدَمَ خَطَّاءٌ وَخَيْرُ الْخَطَّائِينَ التَّوَّابُونَ

“Every son of Adam sins and the best of those who commit sins are those who repent.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, hadith# 4251)

You (and Shaytan!) may say to yourself “why bother repenting?” You may feel that you are caught in a cycle: sin and repent. Over and over again. All the while, Shaytan will try and trick you into breaking this cycle. For it is better to be stuck in this cycle than to be mired in ceaseless disobedience. If you die while running from disobedience to repentance, then you have won. And if you die while running from repentance, do not lose hope: the emphasis should be placed on where you just came from, and not on what you’re running to. And your Lord is infinitely merciful.

مَنْ عَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَنْ أَسَاءَ فَعَلَيْهَا ۖ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكُمْ تُرْجَعُونَ

“Whoever acts rightly, it is to their own good and whoever does evil, it is to their own detriment. Either way, you will be returned to your Lord.” (Qur’an, 45: 15)

And with God is all success. Ramadan mubarak.

Reclaiming the Discourse on Spirituality in Islam For Ramadan and Beyond

It was my pleasure to have been invited by Qurtuba Institute of ADAMS Center, in Virginia, to give a talk entitled “The Inner Dimensions of ‘Ibadah (Worship)“. In the following talk, I try to point out some of roadblocks and pitfalls associated with discourse on spirituality for Muslims today, particularly in the English-speaking world. I used a piece from John Dewey as a point of departure to help us truly achieve a more real and beneficial spiritual practice:

“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.

Beyond Halal – A New Perspective on Ramadan

We sit, with awe and reverence in sha’Allah, to partake in the worship and blessings of another Ramadân. Some of us look upon this month eagerly, others with a sense of obligation and conviction. Doubtless, this year’s Ramadân will be long days of fasting for my of us across the globe. But in light of the recent dialog that has sprung up around the beyond halal subject, I thought I might share some thoughts, insights, and personal goals this Ramadân, from a food perspective.

To begin, Ramadân is more than just abstaining from food. It’s greater than the sums of abstention. Ramadân is an experience of both days and nights. I for one, as a diabetic, have struggled with the Tarâwîh prayers the last several years since being diagnosed as a diabetic. And therefore, just as we learn during the daylight hours how fasting awakens one’s senses while taming desires, one of my personal goals is to gain more of the night-time experiences that Ramadân has to offer. For me, this will require how I re-think food during this holy month. Continue reading “Beyond Halal – A New Perspective on Ramadan”