#MiddleGroundPodcast – A Return To Meaning

[Direct download]

In this episode, I speak about how ritual and meaning are increasingly seen as things not only trivial or perhaps juvenile, but also something scornful, a reminder of a not-so-distant past many would like to pretend never existed, when life was not able to be safely and comfortably quantified.

The loss of meaning’s appreciation can also be linked to western educational institutions:

“Its emphasis on specialization meant that most professors considered the question of meaning beyond their purview … The question of how to live, after all, requires a discussion of abstract, personal, and moral values. It does not belong, these professors argued, in colleges and universities devoted to the accumulation of objective knowledge … An increasing consensus in the academy is that faculty members should not help students discern a meaningful philosophy of life or develop character, but should instead help them master the content and methodology of a given discipline and learn critical thinking.”1

This can be seen manifesting in the Muslim community in a number of ways, such as how Muslims (especially western Muslims) approach the month long ritual of fasting in the month of Ramadan. Social media will shortly be a flurry with posts recommending this or that suhur (or pre-dawn) smoothie which promises to reduce or even eliminate fatigue and hunger. How odd that the practitioners of a faith would want to minimize the experience of one of its most important rituals: but that is precisely what we see happening with Islam in the West. Increasingly we seem to be saying, “ritual and religious experience, particularly those that ask us to give up something or daresay, even experience something uncomfortable, we don’t want any part of it. Either it changes to accommodate our desires or it gets jettisoned!”.

For me, this is why I think so many are trying to find way to validate what would otherwise been seen – according to post-religious secular norms – as ridiculous, by legitimizing and substantiating fasting for one month as something healthy. According to this new logic, to the extent that Islamic rituals can be confirmed by empirical/scientific observations, they may be tolerated. But to the extent to which they can’t (wearing hijab or growing a beard, for example), then they condemned as backwards and even potentially subhuman (hijab again).
One of the fundamental on the long differences is the pursuit of emotions versus the crafting with meaning. is the pursuit of emotions versus the crafting of meaning. The pursuit of emotion attempts to extract, for example, happiness, either from objects or activities like superfoods or yoga, alcohol or sex. But those who seek to craft meaning transcend objects and experience and see meaning in them; they see God. This should not be mistaken as a form of shamanism, in the Muslim sense, for Muslims do not believe God is inside their superfood smoothie or tantric sex, but rather see any such objects or activities as the result of God. The former tends to be rooted in an idolatrous materialism which places conditional value on things (things here being objects, activities/experiences). To the extent that an object, activity, or experience makes that individual happy it is deemed to be good regardless of what Revelation may have to say about it. Whereas the latter sees beyond this triumvirate and knows the source from which, for example, blueberry smoothies and alcohol, come from, thus allowing them to apply wisdom.

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


1. Smith, Emily Esfahani. The Power of Meaning: Crafting A Life That Matters. Kindle ed., Crown, New York, 2017.

Knowledge and Salvation in Islam

إن الحمد لله نحمده ونستعينه و نستغفروه و فيه نتوآل، و نعوذ به من شرور أنفسنا و سيئات
فمن يهده الله فلا مضل له، و من يضلله فلا هادي له،
و نشهد أن لا إله إلا الله، وحده لا شريك له، رب الأرباب و مسبب الأسباب، فاطر السموات
السبع، خالق آل شيئ،
و نشهد أن محمدا، النبي الأمي، عبده و رسوله، خطم الأنبياء و أشرف المرسلين، صلى الله
عليه و على آله و أزواجه و أصحابه و أنصاره و ذرياته و سلم. إن الله و ملائكته يصلون على
النبي، يا أيها الذين ءامنوا صلوا عليه و سلموا تسليما، و بعد

Verily all praise belongs to God ‐ thus we praise Him, seek His aid, repent our sins to Him and in Him do we place our trust. We seek protection in Him from the evil whisperings of our own souls as well as from
blameworthy actions and deeds.

For the one God has chosen to guide, there is no misguider for him. And as for one whom God has
misguided, there is no guidance. And we bear testimony that there is no god but God, Allah, One is He,
with no partner, Lord of lords, Causer of all causes, the Fashioner of the Seven Heavens, Creator of all
that is. We also bear witness that Muhammad, the Unlettered Prophet, is His slave and messenger, Seal
of the Prophets and most noble of the Messengers. May God send peace and blessings upon him, his
family, his wives, his companions, his helpers, and his progeny. Surely God and His Angels send blessings
upon the Prophet therefore O’ you who believe!, send prayers and blessings upon him abundantly.

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

In today’s world, where the Sacred is hardly ever mentioned in the public space, people have lost any
connection or notion of knowledge either being sacred, or in the case of Muslims, leading to the Sacred,
as one of Allah’s Beautiful Ninety‐nine names is al‐Qudduws [The Holy]. This detachment from knowledge being
sacred has caused the modern world to suffer from a number of maladies, from schizophrenia to
megalomania. With the first, we see its symptoms everywhere: emotionally stunted; social isolation
[we have to resort to online “social networking” web sites to know one another]; disorganized speech,
in which much is connoted [ دلالة – “care”, “standard of living”, “welfare”] yet very little is denoted
[ إشارة] – welfare for who? What does a ‘standard of living’ look like? What type of care and for who?],
and disorganized behavior [one can even say in the absence of man’s recognition of tawhīd, he
becomes both more fractured socially, where all attempts to repair such fractures aim to make tawhīd
by his own hands]. In summary, this state can be described as the simultaneity of contradictory and/or
incompatible elements. Continue reading “Knowledge and Salvation in Islam”