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.

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