Muslim Development Course: Update

The Muslim Development Course has been rescheduled! It is due to start up again on April 4th.

The Muslim Development Course is the class I will be teaching that is part of the Quba Adult Learning Program entitled, al-Qāfilah: ‘The Knowledge Caravan’. The objective of this course is to encourage the development of Muslim thought, action, and behavior, both individual and social, in such a way that it reflects a deeper and more personal understanding, ownership, and embodiment of the divine principles found in the Qur’ān and the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him.

This course will examine the current conditions of Muslims – most immediately of those living in the Philadelphia area (though the principles may be applied to any) – with the aim of looking critically at our current condition and how we might apply the Qur’ān and Sunnah in our lives by actively engaging in its historical realities and processes. Such topics will include, but are not limited to: the life of the Prophet [s] – a.k.a., the sīrah up to the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah; the early Qur’ānic Revelation (Makkan period): the cultural context as well as its audience; pre-Islamic life in the Hijāz (the jāhiliyyah): what was pre-Islam Arabia like? How did pre-Islamic Arabs think?; the language of the Qur’ān: its history, its audience, its changes – how do we as an English speaking audience conceive of its meaning?; the socio-political order of Makkah and Madinah: what lessons are there for us today, both personal and collectively? Through engaging in a dialog with the collective of Muslim Revelation, history, thought, and language, we can better understand ourselves and, God willing, have a deeper commitment to the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad.

The class starts April 4th. Running time is from 10:00am until 12:30pm. The class will run for four Sundays: April 4th, 11th, 18th, and 25th. This session, the second session, will be held at Masjid Mujahideen, in West Philadelphia:


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The first cycle of this class was started on March 7th, and will is currently running until March 28th [taught by Imam Anas of the [Qubā’ Institute]. If you would like to sign up for this course, please contact the Qubā’ Institute as follows:

Phone: 215-473-8589. E-mail: adultprogram@qubainc.org. The course fee is $50 [this is less than $15 a day!]

On the Benefits of the Remembrance of Death

First Khutbah – Main Points

Opening from the Qur’ān:

كل نفس ذآئقة الموت – و إنما توفَون أجورَكم يومَ القيامة – فمن زُحزِحَ عن النار و أُدخل الجنةَ فقد فاز – و ما الحيوة الدنيآ إلا متاع الغرور

“Every soul shall taste death.  You will be recompensed your due on the Day of Rising.  As for the one that is distanced from the fire and is admitted to the Garden – he has triumphed.  And as for this life: it is just the enjoyment of delusion.” [Q: 3: 185]

I wish to open the khutbah today but discussing death.  Modern life balks at an earnest discussion about death.  It is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.  Popular culture propagates the illusion of eternal life with a hyper fixation on youth.  The consequences are drastic.  Not only are people unable to come to terms with the reality of death, it also has societal repercussions, namely the neglect of the elderly and the sick.  Death is treated as an embarrassment – never to be looked in the eye.  If Muslims are to not only adhere to lifestyles that are pleasing to God, but to engage in thought patterns that engender the type of reflection that leads to a God-pleasing lifestyle, then we must try and steer the discourse to include contemplation on our own deaths.

It may seem a peculiar subject to talk about in that many of us here are young and can feel the strength and power of that youth.  The subject itself is difficult for many of us, let alone modern society and yet, God reveals His Wisdom on this subject through the following verse:

وعسى أن تكرهوا شيئا وهو خير لكم – و عسى أن تحبوا شيئا وهو شر لكم والله يعلم وأنتم لا تعلمون

“It may happen that you detest something despite it being good for you and you may love something while it is evil for you.  And God knows, while you do not.” [Q: 2: 216]

And yet, we know that death can seize us at any moment:

اينما تكونوا يدرككم الموتُ و لو كنتم في بروج مشيدة

“No matter where you are, death will seize you even if you happen to be in a barricaded fortress.” [Q: 4: 78]

The practice of the current age is to look upon leaving this world with sadness and regret.  As Muslims, we must always strike the balance between “tying our camel” and overzealous fatalism.  In fact, we are prohibited to long for death, instead having a state of awareness about its immanent reality, and preparing ourselves for The Meeting.  The scholastic tradition has provided a rubric for us to contemplate this contemplation with.  They say there are three types of people:

  1. The one who is engrossed in this world, meaning not only are all his hopes and passions for it, but he loathes to leave it to such an extent, he belittles the reality of death taking him.  This person may even become delusional regarding death.
  2. The penitent believer: while struggling with the trappings of this life, the penitent believer often mentions death as a reminder – in that s/he will be raised up on day by God and will have to have their Account.  S/he may have fear of death but it is an excusable fear for it is that they fear they may not complete their tawbah/repentance before the Return.
  3. The third person is someone who sees the world as false – they are solely concentrated on After-worldly affairs.
    While we strive to achieve number three [as the Prophet always was conscious of this], we, God willing, fall somewhere around number two.  We must be mindful to not slip into such a state of heedlessness that we slide down to the level of number one!

Second Khutbah – Main Points

One of the ways we as Muslims are encouraged to contemplate about the reality of death is through frequent remembrance of those who have passed on before us.  I often think of my friend Ron – who we nicknamed cImrān.  He was a vibrant, gracious and kind young brother who converted to Islam [may God accept his worship].  Ron was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver one evening while riding his bike to work.  We simply never know what lies ahead of us.  This idea of remembering the dead is in accordance with a narration from one of the Companions, Abu Dardā’, may God be pleased with him:

إذا ذكرت الموتى فعد نفسك كأحدهم

“When you remember the dead, count yourself as one of them.”

This is not a suicidal thought, but rather keeping in mind we will all join those who have gone into the ground one day.

The Prophet [s] even recommended starting off one’s day by acknowledging the fact that one is not guaranteed to make it through the day:

إذا أصبحت فلا تحدث نفسك بالمساء و إذا أمسيت فلا تحدث نفسك بالصباح و خذ من حياتك لموتك و من صحتك لسقمك فإذا يا عبد الله لا تدري ما اسمك غدا

“When you wake in the morning, do not speak to yourself about the evening and when you make it to the evening, do not speak to yourself about the morning.  Therefore, take something of your life for your death, and something from your health, for when you are sick.  O’ Abdullah!  You do not know what your name shall be tomorrow!” [collected in Bukhārī]

The idea here, God willing, is that instead of being presumptuous about what we may be or do in the future, would should also be mindful of our impending Meeting – not to cast of fate to the wind negligently, but to keep a balance and awareness that we must stand before the Lord of the Worlds and that we should be conducting ourselves, our actions, while we’re in this life/world that will lead to a pleasing encounter.

The tendency to hold dearly to this life is a strong one – no less strong than our sexual drives.  In fact, love of the world is co-equal to wealth, per the Prophetic narration:

يهرَم ابن آدم و يبقى معه اثنتان: الحرص والأمل و في رواية: الحرص على المال و الحرص على العمر

“The son of Adam may grow old but two things remain with him even so: greed and hope for this world” – and in a similar narration: “Greed for wealth and greed for longevity.” [reported by Anas in Muslim and Ibn Abī ad-Dunyā]

As Muslims, following the example of our Noble Prophet [s], we can battle the temptation to be heedless about our impending Meeting of God.  And by his example [s], we can prepare for it as we would a weather forecast.  We do not prepare for the weather itself but for what we need to do in it or after it.  This is not dissimilar to death: we must prepare for what we need to do in this life despite its distractions as well as preparing for what comes after death.

We ask Allah to make us the people remember God often and reflect, remember and prepare for the Meeting with the Lord of the Words. Amin.

Man in the Age of Heedlessness

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

اقترب للناس حسابهم و هم في ذلك غفلة معرضون

“The Reckoning is ever drawing closer to Mankind, yet they are woefully heedless of it, turning away.” [Q: 21: 1]

The times we live in are full of doubt, confusion and heedlessness.  Many people, having capitulated to the false demands of science, have decided to bury their heads in the sand.  Many varieties of philosophies abound about the nature of reality but none of them possess even the merest ability to launch out on this endeavor.  Science is not wholly equipped to look for God, though some of God’s Signs [آيات] are detectable by science.  One of the signs of this heedlessness is over the argument about the Hour, which for some has become either a joke or an unquantifiable determinacy.

One of the flaws that science has is that while it is capable of looking out, it cannot look in.  Even when applied in microscopic terms [which may seem like looking inward but in reality it is not], it is still looking out; a “horizontal” activity.  For Islam, the phenomenon of Revelation is a top-down one.  One may even say that Allah’s relationship with the creation is “vertical”, a top-down relationship.  Thus, for man, if he is to know his Lord, he must reflect, ponder, and use his heart and brain in tandem.  While this process does involve looking out to the cosmos or up at the heavens or at the wonders in creation, ultimately the human being must turn inward if s/he is to understand their role in relation to God.

For the Muslim, the primary means of coming to know about Allah is through His Book and the life of His Prophet [s] and one of the primary avenues of attaining these two is through a sound heart, for we all know the famous hadith in which the Prophet [s] relates to us:

إن في الجسد مضغة إذا صلحت صلح بها سائر الجسد – و إذا فسدت فسد بها سائر الجسد ألا و هي القلب

“There is a morsel of flesh in the body; when it is sound then the body moves to soundness by it – and when it is corrupt, then the body moves to corruption by it – it is nothing other than the heart”.

This statement is not a medical examination – not a cardiovascular assessment of the heart.  For in Islam, the heart does not simply pump blood but it is a sensory organ.  And when it is sound then the actions that the limbs commit will be sound – likewise, if the heart is corrupt, so shall the deeds committed be vile.  It all depends on the state of the heart.

I have spoken before on the connection between responsibility and Reality – on the responsibility each soul will have on the Day of Judgment and the need to get in touch with The Reality [for one of God’s 99 Beautiful Names is al-Haqq, the root of which is a derivative for ‘reality’].  We can see the Wisdom of Allah’s early Revelation in which, through poetic metaphor, He alludes to another reality, His Reality, where the old misconceptions of the world have to be broken up and dispelled.  The world as mankind came to know it was not based on Truth or Reality.  We live in similar times today.

إذا السماء انشقت و أذنت لربها و حقت
إذا السماء انفطرت و إذا الكوكب انتثرت
إذا الشمس كورت و إذا النجوم انكدرت

“When the sky has split itself open, for it has heard its Lord and must make it so!…”
“When the sky is cleft asunder and the stars are scattered…”
“When the sun folds in on itself, and when the stars fall…”

These verses seek to show man that the world he thinks he knows is not the whole story – that there is another greater reality, one in which the life of this world will end, for Allah has ordained it.

Instead, mankind focuses on that which has little benefit for him in this life and none in the next.  Muslims are guilty of this as well, squabbling over matters that are of small importance will ignoring the bounty and opportunities that Allah has given us.  In the words of Ibn ‘Ata Allah [ra]:

اجتهادك فيما ضمن لك و تقصير فيما طلب منك دليل على انطماس البصيرة منك

“Striving for what has been provided [also read ‘not concerning you’] for you while falling short in that which is demanded of you, is proof of the incomprehensibleness of your ability to perceive.”

We spend so much of our time dedicated to things that are of little benefit to our character – that put little weight on our scales.  This is a type of ghaflah [غفلة], or heedlessness that the Qur’ān warns us about. Let us turn to some of the Qur’ān’s commentary on ghaflah:

و لقد ذرأنا لجهنم كثيرا من الجن و الانس – لهم قلوب لا يفقهون بها – و لهم أعين لا يبصرون بها – و لهم ءاذان لا يسمعون بها – ألئك كالأنعم بل هم أضل – ألئك هم الغفلون

“Leave no doubt we created many from amongst the Jinn and Mankind for the Hell-fire.  They have hearts but they use them not to comprehend with – and they have eyes but they use them not to see with – and they have ears but they use them not to listen with.  They are like cattle, no! They are even further astray than that.  They are completely heedless.” [Q: 7:179]

Dear brothers and sisters, the Paradise is real – the Fire is real – the Hour is coming, let there be no doubt about it.  And Allah will surely raise whoever is in the grave.

Let us now turn to Allah, ask His forgiveness, His protection from misguidance and from heedlessness, for He is Oft-Forgiving, the Loving.

الحمد لله, و الصلوات و السلام رسول الله و بعد

Second Khutbah – Main Points

We have to be the teachers of one another and of mankind.  We have to show that there is not simply another reality, but there is only one Reality and it is through conformity to this realization we can bring about a change that will benefit this life and the next.  Make no mistake about the next life where Allah says in suwrah Qāf:

و جاءت سكرة الموت بالحق – ذلك ما كنت منه تحيد
و نفخ في الصور – ذلك يوم الوحيد
و جاءت كل نفس معها سائق و شهيد
لقد كنت في غفلة من هذا فكشفنا عنك غطائك فبصرك اليوم حديد

“And the agony of death will descend upon you in truth – for it is that which you seek to evade!
And the Trumpet has been sounded – that is the Promised Day!
And every soul will attend – with it shall be a driver and a witness,
For surely you have been unmindful in this – therefore we have removed your blindfold – your vision today will be most keen!” [Q: 50:19-22]

Modern man strives to cheat or defeat death but there is not hope for this.  Therefore, instead, let us inform ourselves and the rest of mankind of the life to come, to use the time in this life to prepare ourselves to the journey we all must take.  For when we look at the above example, we can see there will be no excuse on the Promised Day – and all feigned excuses will fall aside, and our sight will bear true that which we wish might be concealed.

Let us play the role we were sent to do – deliver the Message and live lives in accordance with the responsibility and cognizance of “No god but God”, in accordance of “Muhammad is the Messenger of God”, in accordance with the adab and akhlaq of the Prophet [s], seeking Allah’s protection from Shaytan and from heedlessness.

We close now with a du’ah from the Prophet Muhammad [s] regarding the condition of the world we live in, asking Allah to protect us from its fitnah, so our souls may have salvation on the Day of Judgment:

اللهم إني أعوذ بك من قلب لا يخشع
و دعاء لا يسمع
و من نفس لا يشبع
و من علم لا ينفع
اللهم  إني أعوذ بك من هؤلاء الأربع

“O’ Allah! I seek protection in you from a heart that has no humility,
And from a supplication that is not heard,
And from a soul that cannot be satiated,
And from knowledge that has no benefit.
O’ Allah!, I seek refuge in you from all four of these!

Amin.

The Sinister Secret of Secularism

One of the most bemusing, humoring, and concerning tendencies amongst many Muslims, especially in the West, is the tendency towards a form of secret secularism.  To proceed, I will need to define what I mean by “secret” and “secular”.  For the former, I am referring to the biggest secrets we all harbor – those that are even kept from ourselves, due to either pride or ignorance [something the author is not wholly pure of by any means!].  And by secular, I am alluding to those dreamy, Utopian constructs that many Muslims speak in today.  On initial glance, the latter may not seem like either secular or even an issue, but I will attempt to make my point clear here: I am referring to iambic narratives where Muslims attempt to relieve themselves [and us along with them] of any need or obligation for God [in a sense, this is at the heart of all secular attempts]. How so?  In the very fact that they think that any system that they could install would require no upkeep or management.  This is a quandary for a group of people who are religious to be sure, but we must never kid ourselves that whatever system we try to put in place [I’m not saying we shouldn’t be putting systems in place], they will most certainly require updates, upkeep and maintenance as well as management.  The nature of Islam in its early days, during the life of the Prophet [s] proves this to be true.  So while we aim high, let us not think that we are working towards the [and read here, final] expression of Islam, that will be perfect in all times and all places without having to shape and mold it ourselves.

Before delving too much further into how we arrived at such a practice, we should first reexamine the very idea of secularism and what it means for Muslims, with our ability to embrace it or lack thereof.  Let me first state that this is not an attack on secularism per se, but rather to draw attention to the secular methodologies and philosophies and how they have effected modern Muslims, in an attempt to shed light on how some of those practices may be damaging at the heart of their arguments and articulations.

To dive right in, the biggest issue that the Muslim intellectual tradition will have with secularism is its desire to supplant and or replace religion and its role in either private, and most certainly, public life.  Muslims, under pressure to articulate an expression of Islam that they feel the dominant culture may approve of, have not even examined whether or not secularism as it is defined by the dominant culture, is even something Muslims should commit themselves to.  There are certainly aspects of Muslims life, that, if we were to allow non-Muslims to define our stance on secular commitments, would render things such as wearing hijab [headscarf], the objection to selling of alcohol, growing of the beard, and so forth, moot, or at worst, impermissible.   But it is precisely through the pressure to commit to an expression of secularism [that Muslims don’t own], that Muslims commit acts of “secret” secularism.  Its vernacular is often replete with words such as “pure” and “true”, or worse yet, “I pray in my own way”.  Apologetics and Puritans alike harbor many of the same notions of creating a pure “Islamic” expression or culture, either free of history or free of obligation.  And neither one needs any tending to.

The issue here is not simply that there are a few aristocratic, elite Muslims with too much education in their back pockets for their own good, but that these philosophies undermine stability in the community as well as robbing Muslims of the more intricate and subtle natures of their own intellectual heritage [not to mention, turning a blind eye to history, the biography of the Prophet [s], etc.].  Muslims will turn on each other because they perceive others as not holding to their juvenile and shortsighted hypotheses.  I would spend the rest of my thirties recounting the number of conversations I’ve either been privy to or directly accosted of, regarding the need to establish shari’ah [Islamic law, but what is really being called for here is to erect a state-model based on the nation-state model in modernity so we can “keep up with the Joneses”], because their perception is that Muslims are lacking in their Islam.  And while Muslims may indeed be lacking in their Islam, there could not be a more secular response to this issue then trying to erect an idol [for the nation-state in modern times as come very close to looking like an idol] for Muslims to center their religious identity and life around.  At first glance, this seems very close to becoming a bid’ah [see definition], and at second glance – we already have one of those, namely the Ka’abah.  But the fancy is not lost on me that so many Muslims seem to think that once shari’ah is established, Islam will be “ok”, and Muslims will be “ok” until Prophet ‘Issa comes back [as], and then things just wrap up nice and tidy from there.  As usual, things could not be further from the truth or implementation.

Part of the reason for this is that, one, many Muslims are just simply ignorant by circumstance of their own religious history.  They are also unfamiliar with the intricacies of shari’ah, and that a huge component of that is what we can dub “family law” in modern times.  I am not saying that state building and state playing are not involved, but so much more of it is law that rules or governs family life [incidentally, this is that is being called for in the UK and other parts of the world where Muslims live as a minority – this call for shari’ah is a call for family law adjudication – not state law].  While many masajid and Muslims institutions focus on teaching people Qur’anic recitation, basic fiqh [b-a-s-i-c…], and maybe a dash of siyrah [biography of the Prophet Muhammad], there is almost no mention of history.  This has produced two problems for the Muslim community:

One: we don’t know our history, collectively.

Two: this has led non-Muslims, because of our ignorance, to deem themselves our historians, and thus, their revisionist historical accounts wreak havoc on the psyche of many unprepared Muslims, who in return become utopist/myopic or apologetic.

In short and in closing, we must endeavor to recover our intellectual heritage, learn our history, and become masters of our own destinies. And in that mastery, we must be cognizant that the helm can never be unmanned – it always requires human input.  No ship steers itself. We must come to own our Islam, on its own terms, and not solely on the terms of outside forces, that even if benevolent, cannot have our best interests at heart. This does not mean that we do not have joint, cooperative activities with non-Muslims. But it does mean we have to get serious about ourselves and get down to brass tax.

In 1981, TSR Hobbies published a module adventure for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons gaming system titled, “The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh” by Dave J. Browne with Don Turnbull.  Its descriptive line read: “Desolate and abandoned, the evil alchemist’s mansion stands alone on the cliff, looking out towards the sea. Mysterious lights and ghostly hauntings have kept away the people of Saltmarsh, despite rumours of a fabulous forgotten treasure. What is its sinister secret?”.  Simply put, I was inspired by memory of playing this game as a kid, and reflected on that very same tag line and came up with my own answer: Our treasure is our intellectual heritage and history.  Modernity abounds with all sorts of rumors as to what is and isn’t Islam [both from the mouths of Muslims and non-Muslims].  And the mysterious lights and mansion on the cliff? Well, I think you can figure that one out on your own…