It has been many months since I have posted anything on my site besides an occasional khutbah. The reason mainly being that so much of what I am inclined to speak about would have a negative bent (this years khutbah at the Eid al-‘Adha prayer is an example; I may still address it). Having been pushed somewhat reluctantly into a leadership position, I feel it’s important to stay positive even when so much of what you see wants to make you sigh and weep. So to combat that I have decided to offer up some reflections from my Qur’an reading circle, a khatm, where each of us reads a juz’/30th of the Qur’an every month. These reflections, I hope, are intended to be somewhere between anecdotal and aphoristic. They are not intended to be scholarly. I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I (will) enjoy writing them, God willing.
بِسْمِ الله الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
“Who could do greater wrong than those who lie about God and deny the truth when it comes to them? Do the Rejectors not have a dwelling place in Hell?”
فَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّن كَذَبَ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ وَكَذَّبَ بِٱلصِّدْقِ إِذْ جَآءَهُۥٓ ۚ أَلَيْسَ فِى جَهَنَّمَ مَثْوًۭى لِّلْكَٰفِرِينَ
“He who brings the truth and those who confirm it – those are the people who have taqwa.”
وَٱلَّذِى جَآءَ بِٱلصِّدْقِ وَصَدَّقَ بِهِۦٓ ۙ أُو۟لَٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْمُتَّقُونَ
Qur’an, 39: 32-33.
This reminds me here of the modern use of the word “kafir” by Muslims (and non-Muslims as well). It seems to have lost its lexical and contextual meaning (i.e., that of “rejecting” or “covering”, in this case revelation sent by God, and contextually it was sent to the same basic population: Arabs). Instead of referring to those who reject God’s Truth, kafir has now come to be a proxy word for western, white, Christian, non-Muslim. I wrote a piece on this last year entitled Mu’min and Kafir – Negotiating Shared Space, in which I quote Dr. Sherman Jackson saying:
“[The] dehumanized Post-Colonial Muslim, on the other hand, tends to objectify his target and view him as a thing to be conquered, dismantled, and controlled. In contradistinction to his premodern predecessors, he transforms the category “kafir” [i.e., “non-Muslim] into a reference to an almost subhuman species who is inherently and utterly different from Muslims, not only religiously but culturally, ethnically, and civilizationally as well” [Islam and the Blackamerican 94—see footnote #72 below]
I say all this because while kafir is misused, it has also created an opposite reaction: there aren’t any kafirs at all; no rejectors of God’s message. I have seen this expressed in a number of young and liberal—minded Muslims who, not faulting them necessarily, feel uncomfortable with the divisive use of the word: it’s too all-encompassing—have flocked to the other extreme to nullify any possible existence of a kafir existing at all (this reminds me of Günter Grass when he spoke of how many Germans feel uncomfortable speaking about their families’ involvement in Nazi-era Germany and hence the extermination of the Jews: everybody’s parents or grandparents were in the resistance). Clearly, from God’s own words, there are indeed people who do reject Revelation and that some of them will reside in hell. Like Sgt. Joe Friday says: “just the facts, ma’am.”
What I want to highlight here, or at least what stood out for me was the message in the second verse: “He who brings the truth and those who confirm it – those are the people who have taqwa (for a more in-depth definition of taqwa see the Glossary as well as this khutbah). (39: 33)”. I ask myself: “Self: did you bring the truth with you today when you went to work?” “Self: did you confirm the truth at home with your wife and daughter?” Facetiousness aside, my take away here is not so much what others reject, but what I confirm. I see this quandary manifested in the Muslim community (yes, particularly here in Philadelphia) where Muslims stand at-the-ready to protest society but they themselves do not bring the truth nor can it be seen to be confirmed in their families and communities (by the way, I include myself in “they”). It is typical for Muslims to squabble over theology (‘aqidah) while doing very little to actually bring about divine wisdom. Amjad Tarsin, the new chaplain at Toronto University (may God make him successful in his charge) said it best recently:
For a Muslim, basic understanding and belief in God’s Oneness (tawhid) should be a given, not a topic of endless discussion and contention.
In the end, it seems to be more about affirming ones own values, morals, ideals than having to have the materialize in the public and political domains.
“They will have anything they wish for with their Lord. That is the recompense of the good-doers. So that God may refuse to accept (incidentally, this is the same root as “kafir“) from them the worst of what they did and pay them their wages for the best of what they did. Is God not enough for His slave? Yet they try to scare you with others apart from Him. If God misguides someone, he has no guide, and if God guides someone, he cannot be misguided. Is God not Almighty, Exactor of Revenge?” Qur’an, 39: 34-37.
لَهُم مَّا يَشَآءُونَ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ جَزَآءُ ٱلْمُحْسِنِينَ
لِيُكَفِّرَ ٱللَّهُ عَنْهُمْ أَسْوَأَ ٱلَّذِى عَمِلُوا۟ وَيَجْزِيَهُمْ أَجْرَهُم بِأَحْسَنِ ٱلَّذِى كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ
أَلَيْسَ ٱللَّهُ بِكَافٍ عَبْدَهُۥ ۖ وَيُخَوِّفُونَكَ بِٱلَّذِينَ مِن دُونِهِۦ ۚ وَمَن يُضْلِلِ ٱللَّهُ فَمَا لَهُۥ مِنْ هَادٍۢ
وَمَن يَهْدِ ٱللَّهُ فَمَا لَهُۥ مِن مُّضِلٍّ ۗ أَلَيْسَ ٱللَّهُ بِعَزِيزٍۢ ذِى ٱنتِقَامٍۢ
I am left to wonder just how much of it is genuine desire for God and The Messenger, and how much of it is cowardice that we bicker so much amongst ourselves and why we seem to offer such little to public discourses on major and important topics. Perhaps “they have scared us with others apart from Him.” But in case anyone feels this is some liberal, suit-and-tie wearing philosophy, God commands us directly in the Qur’an to focus on production instead of protest:
“Say: ‘My people, do as you think best; that is what I am doing. You will soon know.” Qur’an 39: 39.
قُلْ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْمَلُوا۟ عَلَىٰ مَكَانَتِكُمْ إِنِّى عَٰمِلٌۭ ۖ فَسَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ
And God knows best.