Yet – From Understanding Islam

The following is an audio file from my weekly class, Understanding Islam. We asked the question,

“How many of us feel that when we sin, it’s as if we’re at the Day of Judgment?”


[Direct download]

Being a perfectionist may seem like it can help us reach our full potential, but it can also prevent us from proper growth and experience in other areas. Perfectionism is a mindset (and perhaps, illusion) based on the fear of failure but in Islam, fear is meant to divert one from the path of Ultimate Failure to the path of Ultimate Success.

This fear of failure is what Stanford Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck calls a “fixed mindset.” She refers to “the power of ‘yet’ in her Ted Talk:

When we are perfectionistic, there is only success and failure, nothing in between. Therefore, there is no room to learn and grow because doing so brings the possibility of failure. Consequently, we function purely within our comfort zone and develop no new skills. On the other hand, if we are not driven by fear of failure, we do not limit ourselves to what we know we can do well, and are more likely to take risks that promote learning and growth.

This problem of perfectionism may actually limit us in our Islam in that we may become discouraged when we “fail”. To this topic, the Prophet ﷺ addressed one of his Companions, Hudhayfah:

لاَ يَنْبَغِي لِلْمُؤْمِنِ أَنْ يُذِلَّ نَفْسَهُ
‏ قَالُوا وَكَيْفَ يُذِلُّ نَفْسَهُ ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏ يَتَعَرَّضُ مِنَ الْبَلاَءِ لِمَا لاَ يُطِيقُ

“It is not for the believer to humiliate himself.” They said, “How does he humiliate himself?” He said, “By taking on a trial which he can not bear.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhi, 2254]

Love of God and Fear of God – A Khutbah

Three main types of fear discussed in the Qur’an

Khawf: fear related to bodily harm and emotional trauma, because, as in the verse below, it relates to The Fire:

قُلنَا اهبِطوا مِنها جَميعًا ۖ فَإِمّا يَأتِيَنَّكُم مِنّي هُدًى فَمَن تَبِعَ هُدايَ فَلا خَوفٌ عَلَيهِم وَلا هُم يَحزَنونَ

“We said, ‘Go down from it, every one of you! Then when guidance comes to you from Me, those who follow My guidance will have no fear and will know no sorrow’.” Qur’an, 2: 38

Khashyah: fear related to shame, disappointing, and even devotion:

لَو أَنزَلنا هٰذَا القُرآنَ عَلىٰ جَبَلٍ لَرَأَيتَهُ خاشِعًا مُتَصَدِّعًا مِن خَشيَةِ اللَّهِ ۚ وَتِلكَ الأَمثالُ نَضرِبُها لِلنّاسِ لَعَلَّهُم يَتَفَكَّرونَ

“If We had sent down this Qur’an onto a mountain, you would have seen it humbled, crushed to pieces out of fear of God. We make such examples for people so that hopefully they will reflect.” Qur’an, 59: 21

Taqwah: to use all of one’s senses/knowledge, to avoid harm:

وَاتَّقوا يَومًا لا تَجزي نَفسٌ عَن نَفسٍ شَيئًا وَلا يُقبَلُ مِنها شَفاعَةٌ وَلا يُؤخَذُ مِنها عَدلٌ وَلا هُم يُنصَرونَ

“Have taqwa (fear) of a Day when no self will be able to compensate for another in any way. No intercession will be taken from it, no ransom taken from it, and none will be helped. Qur’an, 2: 48

Love (and fear!) are more than what Hollywood portrays it to be. ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud reported that the Messenger of God said:

إنَّ اللَّهَ قسمَ بينَكم أخلاقَكم كما قسَّمَ بينَكم أرزاقَكم وإنَّ اللَّهَ تعالى يعطي المالَ من أحبَّ ومن لا يحبُّ ولا يعطي الإيمانَ إلَّا من يحبُّ. فمن ضنَّ بالمالِ أن ينفقَهُ وخافَ العدوَّ أن يجاهدَهُ وهاب اللَّيلَ أن يُكابدَهُ فليُكثر من قولِ لا إلَهَ إلَّا اللَّهُ وسبحانَ اللَّهُ والحمدُ للَّهِ واللَّهُ أَكبرُ

“God Almighty portioned out your character between you as He divided your provision between you. The Almighty bestows wealth on those He loves and those He does not love. However, He only gives faith to those He loves. Whoever is stingy about spending his wealth and fears to fight the enemy and is in terror of enduring the night should repeat frequently: ‘There is no god but Allah. Glory be to Allah. Praise be to Allah, and Allah is greater’.” al-Adab al-Mufrad

More on Time: A Khutbah

In my previous khutbah, I discussed the importance of time and time management, as well as time as an object, so that we might think about the “times” we live in. All the above falls under an even larger umbrella, and that is the umbrella of religious literacy. To know and understand time and its importance to the Muslim is to increase one’s awareness of God and increase one’s understanding of Islam and its objective with mankind, God willing.

To step back a moment for before addressing the topic of time head on, I would like to bring our attention to the role that scholarship and learning plays in developing a sense of time. We often hear new buzz words such as “tradition”, both upper and lower cases being used. It is not my desire to contest the existence of an “Islamic tradition” [though I prefer Muslim as it is not quite so atemporal/ahistoric as Islamic], rather quite the opposite. But in order for that tradition to be operational, we must examine our relationship with it. I thought it would best to examine the meaning of tradition, as it relates to Muslims, by looking at it through the prism of another scenario. Below is a quote from the 19th/20th century philosopher, John Dewey:

When an art product once attains classic status, it somehow becomes isolated from the human condition under which it was brought into being and from the human consequences it engenders in actual life-experience.

— From John Dewey’s, Art As Experience. This speaks volumes to me on modern Muslims understanding of pre-modern law [Shari’ah].

If we were to substitute Dewey’s “art” for our “tradition”, we can begin to imagine some of the problems and challenges we are faced with, many of which are by our own hands. Indeed, “Traditional Islam” has attained the status of “classic”, from which it has become quite stagnant and “isolated” from our very own lives. No longer a means of tools by which we interpret and navigate our present reality, “Traditional Islam” has become an operational substitute, relieving us of the burden of having to act, think, and behave as responsible, God-conscious Muslims. This neologism is complete with an aesthetic appearance: one’s burden to think and act with traditional morals and values is even further removed by simply allowing us to dress “traditionally”, even when most of us have no historical relationship with such modes of dress.

Dewey’s words are even more relevant in this passage:

When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement.

— John Dewey, from Art As Experience. Again, the analogy that can be drawn between Islamic law/studies and what Dewey calls “art” here is intriguing.

I find Dewey’s “artistic objects” a fine substitute for our “traditional Islam” as a means of diagnosing a crippling condition I see prevalent amongst Muslims today: the operational ability for Muslims to think proactively and creatively has been “separated” from our “conditions” and “experiences”; a proverbial wall has been erected around “tradition” that has the opposite intended effect: It renders the significance of that tradition “opaque” to use. We can neither see through it, into it, nor around it. Instead of a tool to a broader means, it has been supplanted as the end. Once “remitted” to this separate realm, our primary means of acting in accordance with our reality that will both please God and make our lives easier, is “cut off” with the “materials and aims” of each and every human [read Muslim] effort, undergoing and achievement. It will be necessary to see the pitfall in this so that our aims and efforts at making responsible and intelligent uses of time are not for naught.

Key Words

  • لهو/to amuse, dally, waste time, engage in excessive pleasure.
  • غفلة/heedlessness
  • زين – تزيين/to embellish, adorn, make-believe, sham, pretense, shave/put on makeup/زينت نفسها
  • عمل و أعمال و فعل و أفعال/Actions [af’al] can have the ability to take on acts of worship but they can also but non-acts of worship whereas Deeds [a’mal] have a distinct inclination towards acts of worship as they are tied to the “intention” to do so:
  • إن بطش ربك لشديد – انه هو يبدئ ويعد و هو الغفور الودود – ذو العرش المجيد – فعال لما يريد
  • قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم إنما الأعمال بالنيات و إنما لكل امرئ ما نوى
  • و هم على ما يفعلون بالمومنين شهود و ما نقموا منهم إلا أن يومنوا بالله العزيز الحميد الذي له الملك السماوات والأرض و الله على كل شيء شهيد

Time marches on, marches towards us, but how attuned are we to this fact?

اقترب للناس حسابهم و هم في غفلة معرضون (۱) ما ياتيكم من ذكر من ربهم محدث إلا اِسْتَمَعوه و هم يلعبون (۲) لاهية قلوبهم و أسّروا النجوى الذين ظلموا هل هذآ إلا بشر مثلكم أفتاتون السحر و أنتم تنصرون (٣) قال ربى يعلم القول في السماء و الأرض و هو السميع العليم (٤)

Mankind’s Reckoning has drawn very close to them, yet they heedlessly turn away (1). No fresh reminder comes to them from their Lord without their listening to it as if it was a game (2). Their hearts are distracted. Those who do wrong confer together secretly, saying, ‘Is this man anything but a human being like yourselves? Do you succumb to magic with your eyes wide open?’ (3). Say: ‘My Lord knows what is said in heaven and earth. He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.’ (4). [Qur’an: 21: 1-5

ألهاكم التكاثر حتى زرتم المقابر كلا سوف سيعلمون ثم كلا سيعلمون

You are distracted in excessive accumulation until you visit the graves!

In the tafsir of these verses, it can mean that you either do so all your life until you “visit the grave” or that you take competition/bragging/مفاخرة to such an extent, you have to go and visit the graves of your dead as did Banu Sahm and Banu ‘Abd al-Manaf. We must be careful with what we do with our time. We will be held accountable.

Time is also critical to Muslim development. We have to not only be concerned about “impending doom”, but with how we spend our time preparing for that doom. As I mentioned in the khutbah, fear as it is discussed in the Qur’an, is not like Hollywood fear, where the victim of anxiety or dread is rendered immobile, but instead is meant to propel us into action. Actions that will bring about a favorable outcome on the Qiyamah. And while we must spend time learning and studying in all manner of so-called secular topics so that we can have a trade or a profession, so too we must spend time learning and knowing our religion so that we have a broad-based understanding of life’s function and role, not simply to memorize the rights and wrongs of Islam. This latter part is critical to the development of a healthy Muslim identity, something to which Muslim thinker Syed Muhammad Naqib al-Attas discusses in one of his works:

Knowledge of the truth about the world of empirical things can indeed be achieved and increased through inquiry made by generations of mankind. But true knowledge has an immediate bearing on the individual man as it pertains to his identity and destiny, and he cannot afford to suspend his judgment concerning its truth, as it is not meant to be something that can be discovered eventually by future generations.

Islam, Secularism and the Philosophy of the Future by Syed Muhammad Naqib al-Attas.

Al-Attas’ acknowledgement of the role that sacred [here I am fine with the use of “traditional” so long as it’s understood as an operational imperative, not a laundry list] knowledge plays in the development of the Muslim is crucial. But I think just as important is his observation of the “immediate bearing” such knowledge can and should have on a Muslim. I see this as particularly valuable to the convert, who did not grow up in an “Islamic environment”, and is in need of such knowledge to be immediately beneficial to their growth and development as a Muslim. Convert or otherwise, the lesson here is none of us can, as Shaykh al-Attas says, “afford to suspend [our] judgment concerning its truth, as it is not meant to be something that can be discovered eventually by future generations”. In other words, time is of the essence and we must all efforts to acquire such knowledge a priority in our lives, one way or another.

Time passing and making actions seem good to them.

تالله لقدَ اَرسلنا إلى أُمَمٍ من قبلك فزين لهم الشيطان أعمالهم فهو وليهم اليومَ و لهم عذاب اَليم

By Allah, We sent Messengers to communities before your time, but Shaytan made their actions seem good to them. Therefore today he is their protector. They will have a painful punishment. [Qur’an: 16: 63]

It is a real temptation to make one’s deeds and actions fair seeming. But as I noted above in the key words section, zayyana/زين – تزيين is thematically connected to the embellishment and self-delusion of deeds. Its root has much in common with the following actions: to adorn, make-believe, as well as to put on makeup, all of which are a means of deception, one way or another. We may not like to think of it [and I am not starting a fiqh war – for more on beauty and makeup, please see or listen to Ustadh Abdullah bin Hamid Ali’s lecture, The Fiqh of Beauty] but when we apply makeup or dress ourselves in a certain way, in part [if not in essence] we wish to imply that what’s in front of us may be better than what is really there. Likewise, in the Qur’an, those that seek to delude themselves and/or God are do so by attempting to make their deeds seem to be better than what they truly are. If left unchecked, this state of the heart can lead one to doom, as is the case of the unnamed group in s. Yusuf, verse 12:

و إذا مس الإنسان الضر دعانا لجنبه قاعدا اَو قائما فلما كشفنا عنه ضره مر كأن لم يدعنا إلى ضر مسه كذلك زين للمسرفين كانوا يعملون

And when a calamity touches mankind, he calls out to Us, upon his side, laying down or standing. Yet when we have removed his affliction, he proceeds upon his way as if he had never been accosted. In this manner whatever the indignant one do seems fair pleasing. [Qur’an: 10: 12]

As we can see in the two above examples from the Qur’an, zayyana/زيّن and ‘aml/عمل go hand in hand, at least in how we try to deceive God and ourselves. This is important as ‘aml/a’mal [عمل و أعمال] are almost always associated with religious practice and deeds, whereas fi’l/af’al [فعل و أفعال] can be religious or neutral.

لقد كان لكم في رسول الله إسوة حسنة لّمن كان يرجوا الله و اليوم الآخرَ و ذكر الله كثيرا

Surely in the Messenger of God is an excellent excellent example for the one that hopes to meet God, and has hope of the Final Day and remembers God abundantly. [Qur’an: 33: 21]

May God Almighty grant us success in this. Amin.

Listen to and download the audio here.