Man in the Age of Heedlessness

Dear respected brothers and sisters in Islam, I greet you today with the greeting of Paradise, “as-Salaamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuhu”.

First Khutbah – Main Points

اقترب للناس حسابهم و هم في ذلك غفلة معرضون

“The Reckoning is ever drawing closer to Mankind, yet they are woefully heedless of it, turning away.” [Q: 21: 1]

The times we live in are full of doubt, confusion and heedlessness.  Many people, having capitulated to the false demands of science, have decided to bury their heads in the sand.  Many varieties of philosophies abound about the nature of reality but none of them possess even the merest ability to launch out on this endeavor.  Science is not wholly equipped to look for God, though some of God’s Signs [آيات] are detectable by science.  One of the signs of this heedlessness is over the argument about the Hour, which for some has become either a joke or an unquantifiable determinacy.

One of the flaws that science has is that while it is capable of looking out, it cannot look in.  Even when applied in microscopic terms [which may seem like looking inward but in reality it is not], it is still looking out; a “horizontal” activity.  For Islam, the phenomenon of Revelation is a top-down one.  One may even say that Allah’s relationship with the creation is “vertical”, a top-down relationship.  Thus, for man, if he is to know his Lord, he must reflect, ponder, and use his heart and brain in tandem.  While this process does involve looking out to the cosmos or up at the heavens or at the wonders in creation, ultimately the human being must turn inward if s/he is to understand their role in relation to God.

For the Muslim, the primary means of coming to know about Allah is through His Book and the life of His Prophet [s] and one of the primary avenues of attaining these two is through a sound heart, for we all know the famous hadith in which the Prophet [s] relates to us:

إن في الجسد مضغة إذا صلحت صلح بها سائر الجسد – و إذا فسدت فسد بها سائر الجسد ألا و هي القلب

“There is a morsel of flesh in the body; when it is sound then the body moves to soundness by it – and when it is corrupt, then the body moves to corruption by it – it is nothing other than the heart”.

This statement is not a medical examination – not a cardiovascular assessment of the heart.  For in Islam, the heart does not simply pump blood but it is a sensory organ.  And when it is sound then the actions that the limbs commit will be sound – likewise, if the heart is corrupt, so shall the deeds committed be vile.  It all depends on the state of the heart.

I have spoken before on the connection between responsibility and Reality – on the responsibility each soul will have on the Day of Judgment and the need to get in touch with The Reality [for one of God’s 99 Beautiful Names is al-Haqq, the root of which is a derivative for ‘reality’].  We can see the Wisdom of Allah’s early Revelation in which, through poetic metaphor, He alludes to another reality, His Reality, where the old misconceptions of the world have to be broken up and dispelled.  The world as mankind came to know it was not based on Truth or Reality.  We live in similar times today.

إذا السماء انشقت و أذنت لربها و حقت
إذا السماء انفطرت و إذا الكوكب انتثرت
إذا الشمس كورت و إذا النجوم انكدرت

“When the sky has split itself open, for it has heard its Lord and must make it so!…”
“When the sky is cleft asunder and the stars are scattered…”
“When the sun folds in on itself, and when the stars fall…”

These verses seek to show man that the world he thinks he knows is not the whole story – that there is another greater reality, one in which the life of this world will end, for Allah has ordained it.

Instead, mankind focuses on that which has little benefit for him in this life and none in the next.  Muslims are guilty of this as well, squabbling over matters that are of small importance will ignoring the bounty and opportunities that Allah has given us.  In the words of Ibn ‘Ata Allah [ra]:

اجتهادك فيما ضمن لك و تقصير فيما طلب منك دليل على انطماس البصيرة منك

“Striving for what has been provided [also read ‘not concerning you’] for you while falling short in that which is demanded of you, is proof of the incomprehensibleness of your ability to perceive.”

We spend so much of our time dedicated to things that are of little benefit to our character – that put little weight on our scales.  This is a type of ghaflah [غفلة], or heedlessness that the Qur’ān warns us about. Let us turn to some of the Qur’ān’s commentary on ghaflah:

و لقد ذرأنا لجهنم كثيرا من الجن و الانس – لهم قلوب لا يفقهون بها – و لهم أعين لا يبصرون بها – و لهم ءاذان لا يسمعون بها – ألئك كالأنعم بل هم أضل – ألئك هم الغفلون

“Leave no doubt we created many from amongst the Jinn and Mankind for the Hell-fire.  They have hearts but they use them not to comprehend with – and they have eyes but they use them not to see with – and they have ears but they use them not to listen with.  They are like cattle, no! They are even further astray than that.  They are completely heedless.” [Q: 7:179]

Dear brothers and sisters, the Paradise is real – the Fire is real – the Hour is coming, let there be no doubt about it.  And Allah will surely raise whoever is in the grave.

Let us now turn to Allah, ask His forgiveness, His protection from misguidance and from heedlessness, for He is Oft-Forgiving, the Loving.

الحمد لله, و الصلوات و السلام رسول الله و بعد

Second Khutbah – Main Points

We have to be the teachers of one another and of mankind.  We have to show that there is not simply another reality, but there is only one Reality and it is through conformity to this realization we can bring about a change that will benefit this life and the next.  Make no mistake about the next life where Allah says in suwrah Qāf:

و جاءت سكرة الموت بالحق – ذلك ما كنت منه تحيد
و نفخ في الصور – ذلك يوم الوحيد
و جاءت كل نفس معها سائق و شهيد
لقد كنت في غفلة من هذا فكشفنا عنك غطائك فبصرك اليوم حديد

“And the agony of death will descend upon you in truth – for it is that which you seek to evade!
And the Trumpet has been sounded – that is the Promised Day!
And every soul will attend – with it shall be a driver and a witness,
For surely you have been unmindful in this – therefore we have removed your blindfold – your vision today will be most keen!” [Q: 50:19-22]

Modern man strives to cheat or defeat death but there is not hope for this.  Therefore, instead, let us inform ourselves and the rest of mankind of the life to come, to use the time in this life to prepare ourselves to the journey we all must take.  For when we look at the above example, we can see there will be no excuse on the Promised Day – and all feigned excuses will fall aside, and our sight will bear true that which we wish might be concealed.

Let us play the role we were sent to do – deliver the Message and live lives in accordance with the responsibility and cognizance of “No god but God”, in accordance of “Muhammad is the Messenger of God”, in accordance with the adab and akhlaq of the Prophet [s], seeking Allah’s protection from Shaytan and from heedlessness.

We close now with a du’ah from the Prophet Muhammad [s] regarding the condition of the world we live in, asking Allah to protect us from its fitnah, so our souls may have salvation on the Day of Judgment:

اللهم إني أعوذ بك من قلب لا يخشع
و دعاء لا يسمع
و من نفس لا يشبع
و من علم لا ينفع
اللهم  إني أعوذ بك من هؤلاء الأربع

“O’ Allah! I seek protection in you from a heart that has no humility,
And from a supplication that is not heard,
And from a soul that cannot be satiated,
And from knowledge that has no benefit.
O’ Allah!, I seek refuge in you from all four of these!

Amin.

Where To Turn To When Returning To Spirituality

 

There has been a great increase in interest in spirituality from the Muslim community over the last several years. Published manuscripts of this or that teacher, new translations of Ibn ‘Arabi’scosmology as well as lesser known, more esoteric authors have hit the shelves of book stores in waves. The Muslim readership in the English-speaking world are hungry for spiritual sustenance. But is this hunger being fed? That is the question I would like to ask.

This new call for methods and practices on Muslim spirituality have not been solely limited to print. Many neo-Traditional institutions have found themselves in demand, holding numerous seminars across the United States and Britain, calling for returns to a spiritual practice of Islam. And while I laud these efforts, I will illustrate how some of these mediums may not actually be accomplishing their goals: to help engender a spirit of God conscious amongst the rank and file believers. And finally, to go beyond just critique, I will try and offer a few meager suggestions myself.

It goes without saying that Islam is a religion that has a strong historicaland spiritual practice, what some may call Sufism, Tasawwuf, or mysticism, found in all corners of the earth, where ever Muslims have traveled to. It is linked with many of the great intellectual and philosophical figures in Muslim history (the aforementioned Ibn ‘Arabi, Mulla Sadra and of course, the famous Abu Hamid al-Ghazali). Many if not most of these spiritual traditions have survived up to the present day, from Africa to Asia, the Balkans to the Middle-East, in various turuq (plural of tariqah, or a Sufi brotherhood). And now that Islam has arrived on America’s shores, what will its spiritual tradition look like? Is there one at all? Proto-Islamic groups, such as the Nation of Islam, had their roots in a “holy protest” against white supremacist values and socialinjustices; spirituality was not a primary or even secondary focus of their experiences as Muslims (note: I am obviously aware of the doctrinal differences between orthodox Islam and the problematic theology of the NOI, but for the purposes of this article, I will refer to them nonetheless as Muslim here) in America. Following the popular demise of the NOI in the face of Muslims hailing from the historical Islamic world, again, we see most Muslims in America primarily concerned with existential matters: education, employment, assimilation. And while these are all necessary matters, they cannot sustain a community over the long haul alone. So why the recent interest in spirituality? And more importantly, how will it shape itself in this unique context, addressing the many various needs of the American Muslim community? These are some of the questions that beg many answers.

I have spent a fair amount of time over the last severalyears attending, photographing, and observing many religious functions of Muslims in America. Many of these, whose objectives are a call to spirituality and the return to a more focused spiritual life. The significance of this shift coming post 9/11 cannot be ignored, as it helps us to see who’s interested and why. To be more direct, calls for a return to spirituality have been championed primarily by immigrant-supported groups. By supported I mean groups either led by leaders or more importantly, support financially by immigrant Muslims. Many, though not all of these Muslims tend to come from more affluent backgrounds, having both more formal education than their Blackamericancounterparts as well as the disposable income to support such groups and even the human capitalto volunteer and assist in their implementation. This should not be thought of as a critique versus merely an observation. In fact, it is because of the lack of both economic and human capital that many indigenous [and here I am referring to Blackamerican] institutions have yet to fully take flight. So the question I ask myself is in what way, in what role, will indigenous Muslims have a role in shaping the future of the development of spiritual practices. But before attempting to answer such a question, first we must look at what are the current practices and trends on the ground and what does the triage call for.

Like any thing else in the American Muslim experience, divergent groups will have divergent needs. The spiritualneeds and practical implementation of any such developed practices will have to vary from community to community. The trials and tribulations of immigrant Muslims may indeed be very different from those of BlackamericanMuslims, regardless if they are low-income urban Blacks or educated, upwardly mobile. It is the different histories of the two communities that will drive (or ought to be) and dictate the spiritual needs of the communities. What I believe should be paid more attention to is that bothcommunities have a real need for such a return. And while this has been felt by the immigrant Muslim community, in large, this has either been ignored by the Blackamerican population, especially in urban settings, where there is a palpable mistrust of such practices as deviant, or not fully articulated into a “need”, and thus practice. But there has been a small groundswell of interest in more independent-minded BlackamericanMuslims, many of whom I have been in contact with and have discussed this very same topic. For them, the question is not “if”, in terms of spiritual practice, but “how” and “by whom”, and in what way. Many of us have toured the travel circuit, attended the lectures and workshops but have yet to be left with a feeling of a workable plan. A functional spirituality that gives meaning to their private lives as Muslims. That bring them closer to God.

With two possible tracks articulated, the question now turns to the institutions themselves. How are they, if at all, prepared to deal with the multiplicity of backgrounds, cultural proclivities and the like of the above groups. The traveling workshop has left many with just a taste of what might be possible, but with no solid or tangible means to pursue these practices further. Many have stated they do not feel they can learn or accomplish much in a one-day or two-day talk, often of which the topics seem more like a talk show format than something truly topical. Should we be asking more and/or different formats of dissemination from our Islamic higher institutions of learning? Many would seem to think so. And given that time and money are of limited supply, many of these attendees feel that their money, time, and resources could be put to better use for better results.

To be certain, a great deal of this difficulty is brought about by modern life itself, which at many times can seem and feel antithetical to the betterment of the human being. Time constraints, inflation, taking more to obtain less, all add to the stress and detracted interaction of not only Muslims from one another, but to all peoples caught in this bind. And while the Internet has made the dissemination of information doubly more proficient, it has yet to prove to be truly capable to mimicking the experience of bona-fide human involvement. In short, both short seminars and web casts are poor substitutions for proper teachers and real companionship (suhbah, the word from which the word Sahabah (the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم companions) is derived). And it may be true that the greater aspects of spirituality are those demons we all rankle with on the inside, there is also an outer aspect that involves companionship with our common man. And in our case specifically, with other Muslims. I myself saw the proof of this when interviewing many of the attendees at conferences such as MANA and ISNA or even talks by Zaytuna. They all attested to the fact that the greatest benefit from those conferences wasn’t the talks, wasn’t the shopping at the bazaars, but it was just the honest-to-goodness social interaction with other like-minded Muslims. I believe this to be step one in commencing our journey towards a healthy spiritual practice. We must come to know one another. And there is plenty of evidence that we, as an American Muslim collective, still do not know one another as well as we should.

“O’ mankind! Without a doubt we created you from a single pair of man and woman and made you of various sorts and tribes so that you may get to know one another.” al-Hujaraat, 13.

As for the second step of this journey, we, both the rank and file and the administrators of such institutions, must constantly ask, “is this serving our purpose?” Is this what we need? Along with a new generation of imams, who will need to be trained in more than just Qur’anicrecitation, our next generation of scholars and community educators must need be multifaceted, trained in many areas of expertise, capable of on-spot cultural analysis, assessing that the community needs, what they’re facing, and how best to prepare them for the world in which they not only live in, but for one they want to live in, and of course, for the life to come. Perhaps in there lies a hope for divergent communities to come together, utilize and celebrate the genius of our communities, and not just sending our best and brightest off to study medicine and engineering. I encourage many of my Blackamericanbrethren to take a second look at the intellectual and spiritual history and tradition of Islam and not right it off as just “bid’ah“. With all of the difficulties that Blackamericans face, especially those coming out of urban backgrounds, we need to deliver to them an Islam that is more than simply an conglomerate of rules and regulations. More intelligent ways of saying “halal” and not just “haram”, without giving up or into the demands of the dominant culture and yet not completely disassociating ourselves from it. Without a doubt, we need a return to spirituality, but we can ask for and receive better.

And God knows best.