Ramadan Preparation Part Too: A Khutbah

From the previous khutbah, we continue the topic of religious responsibility, deeds, and taqwa, all as a part of increasing our religious literacy. To sum things up again, we noted that taqwa can be thought of as a set of reflexes – a self-defense system if you will – for the believer. Again, to quote al-Tabrizi’s from the collection, al-Hamasah:

الإتقاء أن تجعل بينك و بين ما تخافه حاجزا يحفظك

“Taqwa is the idea that you [A] place something [C] between yourself and that which you fear could destroy you [B].”

So with this in mind, we will look at how avoiding disobedience can server as our “barrier” to put in between ourselves and what may lie in wait for us on the Day of Judgment. Let’s triage some of the acts of disobedience.

Avoiding Disobedience

This can prove to be one of the most difficult things a believer can do: put their desires in check so as to avoid the displeasure and disobedience of God. We forget that God has promised us that on the Day We Stand, our limbs themselves will bear testimony of what we did:

يوم تشهد عليهم ألسنتهم وأيديهم وأرجلهم بما كانوا يعملون

“On that day their tongues, hands, and feet will testify against them about what they used to do.” [Qur’an: al-Nur, 24].

So by keeping this in mind, we may be able to encourage ourselves, through hope and fear, of avoiding disobedience, by reminding ourselves that our eyes, our hands, and our tongues will testify against us. But the glass is not all half empty. As we shall see, as Ibn al-Qayyim relates a saying of one of the Salaf, that sins are also opportunities to return to obedience to God. He quotes in his work, al-Wabil al-Sayyib:

إن العبد ليعمل الذنب يدخل به الجنة و يعمل الحسنة يدخل بها النار

“A servant may commit a sin by which he goes to Paradise and he may do a good deed by which he enters the Fire.” [Hilyah al-Awliya’ wa Tabaqat al-Asfiya’, 242.]

Be careful here not to misconstrue Ibn al-Qayyim’s words: it’s not that sins in and of themselves are something “good”, but rather, when one commits a sin, there is the opportunity to feel shame, remorse, and to be regretful in committing the act. We all commit sins so we should never feel secure that because we’re doing other good deeds that we do not need to seek Allah’s forgiveness. On the other hand, if good deeds become something prideful, then we lose the benefit of those actions. In fact, if the servant heads down this path, he or she runs the risk of Allah abandoning them to their pride. But with so many things, God has given us a head start to obedience by not “leaving us to ourselves”. Again, Ibn al-Qayyim says:

العارفون كلهم مجمعون على أن التوفيق أن لا يكلك الله تعالى إلى نفسك والخذلان أن يكلك الله تعالى إلى نفسك

“Those who are Aware are in agreement that tawfiq [Divine Success] is that Allah does not entrust you to yourself and that Allah’s displeasure is that Allah leaves you to your pride, vanity or heedlessness”

God the Exalted has given us God to rely on. It is only when we are heedless, prideful, or both, that we are “left to ourselves” as we read in the Qur’an:

فنذر الذين لا يرجون لقاءنا في طغينهم يعمهون

“And so We left those who have no hope in meeting Us in wandering blindly in transgression.” [Qur’an: Yunus, 11]

From time to time, we allow Shaytan the Accursed to trick us into thinking that [aside from associating partners with God] the sins we have committed are beyond even God’s clemency to forgive and redeem. This quandary further illustrates the importance of understand God by the Attributes that Allah chose: al-Ghafur, al-Rahman, al-Tawwab, etc. These Names and Attributes, in the Divine Reality, are capable of forgiving the sons and daughters of Adam, even if their sins Were to be “like the foam on the ocean.” But despair leads to heedlessness which deceives us in giving up hope in meeting our Creator and being forgiven for our transgressions.

Mercy Over Wrath

In the modern discourse surrounding Islam, there is far little mentioned concerning the mercy and love that God has towards the Creation. This is especially absent in how Islam is presented towards non-Muslims, which has taken on a dry, textual, and ritualistically-empty practice. And yet, as we see in this hadith Qudsi [Divine Narration], God set a fundamental approach as to how the Creation would be treated:

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم لما قضى الله الخلق كتب في كتابه على نفسه فهو موضوع عنده إن رحمتي تغلب على غضبي

“The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, stated: When God decreed the Creation, God wrote in [His] Book in regards to His Self-which is laid down with God-that ‘My mercy precedes My wrath.'” [Abu Hurairah reports this in Muslim]

So as we prepare to greet the month of Ramadan, seek the Creators mercy and clemency. Strive to avoid disobedience through the limbs and the heart and keep this du’ah in mind:

يا حي يا قيوم برحمتك نستغيث لا تكلنا إلى أنفسنا ولا إلى أحد من خلقك طرفة عين وأصلح لنا شؤوننا كلها

“O Ever-Living, O Self-Subsistent, by Your mercy we beseech Your help. Leave us not to ourselves nor to any of Your creation for even the blink of an eye. Set right for us all our affairs.”
Listen to and download the khutbah below:

Additional Resources

For the reference to a “fiqh of the cubicle” [from the audio], see Imam Suhaib Webb’s khutbah.

Da’wah & Fraternity in Islam

Among some of the most daunting challenges facing Muslims today is the challenge of religious literacy. While Muslims in America by and large excel at secular literacy, as a community, we are still laboring under the weight of a holistic understanding of Islam. Some of these malfeasance can be seen in the protest spirit Muslims exhibit [in America and globally]. The first half of the Shahadah [Testimony of Faith] has been truncated from “there is no god but God”/لا إله إلا الله to something dangerously close to “there is no god”/لا إله. What I mean here is not to suggest that Muslims are practicing atheism, but rather that we have let our protest spirit runway wild on us. For the most part, our protest [from American culture to foreign policy, etc.] is seldom passed on principal, but instead, based on something more mundane, such as politics, ideology, and aesthetics. So the topic at hand is da’wah, or the calling to God. The question at hand here is how can Muslims be successful at calling to God if there is no love, no fraternity between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors? This is further complicated by the fact that many indigenous American Muslims are either encouraged to feel a cultural disconnect in the guise of religiosity. Not only is this not in Muslim’s [nor Islam’s] best interest in America, it in fact contradicts the very nuanced  argument that God puts forth in the Qur’ān regarding this very same dilemma. Let us examine a few Qur’ānic verses that speak to brotherhood in the context of believers and non-believers:

وَاعْتَصِمُوا۟ بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًۭا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا۟ ۚ وَاذْكُرُوا۟ نِعْمَتَ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَآءًۭ فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِۦٓ إِخْوَٰنًۭا وَكُنتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍۢ مِّنَ ٱلنَّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِّنْهَا ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمْ ءَايَٰتِهِۦ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ

“Hold fast to the rope of God all together, and do not separate. Remember God’s blessing to you when you were enemies and God joined your hearts together so that you became brothers by God’s blessing. You were on the very brink of a pit of the Fire and God rescued you from it. In this way God makes God’s Signs clear to you, so that hopefully you will be guided.” [Qur’ān Āl-‘Imrān (3):103]

لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا نُوحًا إِلَىٰ قَوْمِهِۦ فَقَالَ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَٰهٍ غَيْرُهُۥٓ إِنِّىٓ أَخَافُ عَلَيْكُمْ عَذَابَ يَوْمٍ عَظِيمٍۢ

“We sent Noah to his people and he said, ‘My people, worship God! You have no other deity than Him. I fear for you the punishment of a dreadful Day’.” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):59]

أَوَعَجِبْتُمْ أَن جَآءَكُمْ ذِكْرٌۭ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ عَلَىٰ رَجُلٍۢ مِّنكُمْ لِيُنذِرَكُمْ وَلِتَتَّقُوا۟ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ

“Or are you astonished that a reminder should come to you from your Lord by way of a man among you, to warn you and make you have taqwā so that hopefully you will gain mercy?’” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):63]

وَإِلَىٰ عَادٍ أَخَاهُمْ هُودًۭا ۗ قَالَ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَٰهٍ غَيْرُهُۥٓ ۚ أَفَلَا تَتَّقُونَ

“And to ‘Ād We sent their brother Hūd, who said, ‘My people, worship God! You have no other deity than Him. So will you not have taqwā?’” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):65]

وَإِلَىٰ ثَمُودَ أَخَاهُمْ صَٰلِحًۭا

“And to Thamūd We sent their brother Sāliḥ” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):73]

وَلُوطًا إِذْ قَالَ لِقَوْمِهِۦٓ أَتَأْتُونَ ٱلْفَٰحِشَةَ مَا سَبَقَكُم بِهَا مِنْ أَحَدٍۢ مِّنَ ٱلْعَٰلَمِينَ

“And Lot, when he said to his people, ‘Do you commit an obscenity not perpetrated before you by anyone in all the worlds?.” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):80]

وَإِلَىٰ مَدْيَنَ أَخَاهُمْ شُعَيْبًۭا ۗ قَالَ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَٰهٍ غَيْرُهُۥ ۖ قَدْ جَآءَتْكُم بَيِّنَةٌۭ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ ۖ فَأَوْفُوا۟ ٱلْكَيْلَ وَٱلْمِيزَانَ وَلَا تَبْخَسُوا۟ ٱلنَّاسَ أَشْيَآءَهُمْ وَلَا تُفْسِدُوا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ بَعْدَ إِصْلَٰحِهَا ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌۭ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ

“And to Madyān We sent their brother Shu‘ayb who said, ‘My people, worship God! You have no other deity than Him. A Clear Sign has come to you from your Lord. Give full measure and full weight. Do not diminish people’s goods. Do not cause corruption in the land after it has been put right. That is better for you if you are Mu’minūn.” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):85]

وَءَاتِ ذَا ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ حَقَّهُۥ وَٱلْمِسْكِينَ وَٱبْنَ ٱلسَّبِيلِ وَلَا تُبَذِّرْ تَبْذِيرًا ﴿٦٢﴾ إِنَّ ٱلْمُبَذِّرِينَ كَانُوٓا۟ إِخْوَٰنَ ٱلشَّيَٰطِينِ ۖ وَكَانَ ٱلشَّيْطَٰنُ لِرَبِّهِۦ كَفُورًۭا

Clearly, there is a theme running between these verses that God is calling our attention to. One, is the method and function of Prophecy itself: All of the above Prophets are referred to as “brother”/أخ. Either God refers to them as their brother, in the case in Sūrah al-A’rāf (7):85:“And to Madyān We sent their brother Shu‘ayb…”, or God refers to them as one of their people: “We sent Noah to his people…”, in Sūrah al-A’rāf (7):59. The point here is that Prophecy/Prophethood, and by extension, Islam!, always operated in a context where it was familiar and known. Noah, Lot, Shu’ayb and all of the other Prophets [peace and blessings on all of them] were known and knew their peoples. This means that believer/مؤمن and non-believer/كافر operated in a mutual context where the Prophets had an emotional [and likely, cultural] attachment to their people. Without this connection, the message of Islam, the Oneness of God, would have been alienated and marginalized. What is worth mentioning here is that despite the apparent familiarity that these Prophet’s had with their respective peoples, the message was still rejected by some. Believe, faith, and non-belief is far more complicated than we often wish to admit and recognize. But if we are to make ourselves understood and deliver the message of Islam clearly and effectively, then we must address the rift many of us feel [and feel we have to feel] towards our current cultural context. To be sure, this is not some new-fangled ideology, but in fact, keeping with God’s sunnan, God’s intended way, for religion to be preached and carried out.

So why is it, if the message of Islam that was preached by the Prophets and Messengers of God to various peoples was always done through the medium of the familiar, that we as Muslism today, act in contradiction to this? In my nearly twenty years of observation, I feel it has something to do with ideas. A small quote here from Chris Nolan’s Inception, points to the power of persuasion that ideas have:

“What is the most resistant parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient; highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold in the brain, it is almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood, that sticks.” [Dom Cobb – Inception]

Moreover, we can see that brotherhood is a God-given cure to the stinginess and miserliness we see prevalent in our culture today:

“Give your relatives their due, and the very poor and travellers but do not squander what you have. Squanderers are brothers to the shaytans, and Shaytan was ungrateful to his Lord.” [Qur’ān al-Isrā (17):27]

Brotherhood is not some secular means of feeling good, it is also an extension of worship/عبادة and is a  means of showing gratitude to God.

So let us remember God, remember God’s beloved Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلمand all of God’s Prophets and Messengers, peace be upon all of them, and have it serve as a reminder of how we treat each other, how we treat our neighbors, and how we treat our Islam, that we approach it with humility, dignity, and a sense of awe regarding the mantle we have had bestowed on us from God’s mercy. Amin.

ربنا اغفر لنا ولإخوننا الذين سبقونا بالإيمان و لا تجعل في قلوبنا غلا للذين ءامنوا ربنا إنك رؤوف رحيم

“‘Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in imān and do not put any rancor in our hearts towards those who have imān. Our Lord, You are All-Gentle, Most Merciful’.” [Qur’ān al-Ḥashr (59):10]

Additional Sources

Islam In Fact Does Do Race

اسمعوا و أطيعوا و إن استعمل عليكم عبد حبشي كأن رأسه زبيبة

الراوي أنس بن مالك والمحدث البخاري

من باب السمع و الطاعة للإمام ما لم تكن معصية

“Listen and obey, even if an Ethiopian slave is appointed as your leader and his head be like a raisin.” — related by Anas Bin Mālik, collected by Imām al-Bukhārī.

Last week I gave a talk at the University of Pennsylvania, in conjunction with CAMP-Philadelphia and the Muslim Student Association at Penn entitled, African American Contributions to Islam: Bridging the Gap. When the event was posted on Facebook, one brother responded, critiquing Islam’s involvement in anything “racial”:

“salamon ulaikum…i am attending…but I think this event is a bit racist and historically incorrect. Why are we focusing on ‘African American’ contributions to Islam. Correct me if I am wrong, but there were no ‘African Americans’ during the time of the Prophet. They were all Arabs. Not American, Not African. Only one African, Bilal, and his contribution was minimal compared to Abu Bakr (r) and Umar (r) and Osman (r) and Ali (r)” — Abdul Basheer.

The person’s comments enraged and offended many if not most who read his reaction. While being equally offended by the ignorance of the gentleman’s statement, I feel that his words reflect a broader audience, black, white, Arab, or in the case here, Pakistani, who continue to labor under the delusion that “Islam,” simply “does not do race” (Sherman Jackson). However, there are a number of Qur’anic, or as the case above, Prophetic narrations, that support that “Islam,” as Dr. Jackson said “does do reality”. I concur that Islam does not do racism, but it does do race, and in fact, Islam recognizes the ills of racially-hierarchical thinking and its pitfalls. In fact, if we continue our conversation with Abdul Basheer, we must ask ourselves, who was the immediate audience of the Prophet when the above hadith was uttered? If Mr. Basheer’s thinking has any credence to it—specifically the majority-Arab theory, then it becomes even more interesting that the Prophet would clearly demarcate this social space for non-Arabs. But without a doubt, this message was directed at the Arab majority that made up his beloved Companions, may God be please with all of them.

In the end it is clear that Islam does do race and that having discussions about race in no way jeopardizes one’s commitment to Islam. I believe this to be an integral part of the development and maturation of Muslims in their religious worldview. This is especially important if Muslims have hopes of engaging America in meaningful dialog. Any such interaction must engage America on her level, which will involve coming to understand what race is in America on America’s terms and not simply dismissing race in the name of some misplaced sense of religiosity.

“The absence of race [from society] enables the powers that be to hide their intentions.” — Dr. Sherman Jackson

Nationalism

  1. national spirit or aspirations.
  2. devotion and loyalty to one’s own nation; patriotism.
  3. excessive patriotism; chauvinism.
  4. the desire for national advancement or independence.
  5. the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation, viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations.
  6. an idiom or trait peculiar to a nation.
  7. a movement, as in the arts, based upon the folk idioms, history, aspirations, etc., of a nation.

African American Contributions to Islam

CAMP Philadelphia is organizing a panel on the topic of African Americans and their contribution to  Islam. The event will feature yours truly as the keynote speaker as well as spoken word artist, Seff Al Afriqi, author of a new volume of poetry entitled, A Gathering of Myself. The talk will also feature a panel discussion, “Bridging the Gap”, with members diverse cultural backgrounds, in which Muslims and non-Muslims can exchange thoughts on the topic of Islam in America, Islamophobia. The talk will be held this Sunday, Feb 27th, from 3-5:30pm in Griski room, Houston Hall, on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus. Sign up on Facebook as well for any changes/updates to the event.

The panelists, organizers, speakers and artists are as follows:

Salima Suswell

Salima Suswell is the current President of the CAMP – Philadelphia chapter. Between 2007 and 2009, Salima served as an advisory board member. Salima is a Senior Litigation Specialist with the United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania and over the past ten years worked as a Senior Litigation Paralegal for several prestigious national law firms. In addition to her duties with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Salima is the Founder and CEO of Evolve Litigation Solutions, LLC., which provides litigation services and staffing in the Delaware Valley area.

Adnan Zulfiqar

Adnan Zulfiqar is the Law & Policy Fellow at Annenberg’s Center for Global Communication Studies. Among his activities he sits on the board of Masjid Quba and is also a member of the Zones of Peace Taskforce and the Administrative Committee of the Religious Leaders Council of Philadelphia. Adnan received his B.A. in Religion and Anthropology from Emory University, his M.A.L.S. in International Affairs from Georgetown University and his J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He is currently completing his Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Penn.

Carolyn Baugh

Carolyn Baugh, originally from Indiana, is in her final semester of graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, where her focus is gender issues in early Islamic law. She holds a master’s degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies from Penn (2008) and a degree in Arabic and Arab Literature from Duke University. She currently serves as Interfaith Fellow and Campus Minister to the Muslim Community through the Office of the Chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania.

Margari Hill

Margari Hill-Manley is an educator and writer with an MA in history from Stanford University where she specialized in Islam in Africa and Muslim social networks. She earned her BA at Santa Clara University where she specialized in European Islam and Medieval-Renaissance Studies. She has lectured on a variety of topics relating to Islam, African history, and Black American Muslim communities at universities across the nation and has traveled extensively in the Middle East as a student and researcher. Her blog, “Margari Aziza,” has been featured in international magazines and noted as one of the outstanding female blogs for the 2008 and 2009 Brass Crescent awards. She is currently a high school instructor in Philadelphia where she teaches writing and grammar and literature from around the World.

Seff al-Afriqi

Seff Al-Afriqi spoken word artist Seff Al Afriqi, author of a new volume of poetry entitled, “A Gathering of Myself,”. beyond the mechanics of what makes a great poem. He delves into the most important factors, the rhetoric, the truth, the healing, the content, the conviction, and the person

Health Consciousness and Religion

On November 15, I participated in a locally-held, national event co-sponsored by Jewish and Muslim student groups called Health Consciousness and Religion [https://www.ffeu.org/]. The event, held at Hillel on UPenn’s campus, was a talk about Kosher and Halal, and looking at both systems not just in their similarities, but in how their scope goes beyond the mundane boundaries of governing what a Jew or a Muslin can or cannot eat. Instead, such topics as environmental stewardship and low-impact eating were examined within the constructs of Kosher and Halal. I participated in a short talk with Rabbi Joel Nickerson, the Senior Jewish Educator/Rabbi-in-Residence at Hillel. Here are some of Rabbi Joel’s notes:

Humans will have meat for their food and they will kill to get it.

  • We started off as vegetarians in Genesis: “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earthm and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food.” [1:29]
  • Yet, after the flood, in Chapter 9, humans are permitted to eat all food on earth, including animals, yet already with some restriction.

By viewing the Jewish dietary laws as an ethical system, we come to see that Judaism has worked out a system by which we can maintain our lust for animal flesh, yet not be dehumanized in the process.

This is done through 3 basic rules:

  • Choice of animal food is severely limited – startling how few animals there are to eat, according to Jewish law, with no restrictions on plants and fruits.
  • Animals may not be killed by just anyone – only a qualified few, whose skill and religious recognition of the slaughter process, are allowed to slaughter.
  • Ensures that those who slaughter do not become brutalized through regular killing.
  • Even after belong ritually slaughtered, blood must be drained before they can be consumed.
  • humans have the right to nourishment, but not to the life of others
  • Humans have the right to nourishment, but not to the life of others.

Bible’s method of taming killer instinct in humans is through dietary laws – not about hygiene. Bible goes to great lengths to offer rationale for dietary laws, focusing on the holiness of these commandments.

  • How do you define holiness?
  • Separation (from idolators and other cultures), emulating God

My thanks to Roxana and Penn’s MSA for inviting us out for the talk. We enjoyed and benefited from all of the student input as well as Rabbi Nickson’s words. It allowed us to look at how we eat as people of faith through a larger lens. We look forward to engaging in more efforts such as this.