For the final episode in our four-part series, I reflect on a month of fasting, ritual, and community, and the road that lies ahead.
The chapter The Heights (#7)/al-A’raf, was revealed in the Late Meccan Period, during the very last days of the Prophet’s stay in Makkah. This passage, amongst many things, addresses new concerns like interfaith relations.
The Makkan leaders questioned the Jews pertaining to Muhammad and what their religion might have to say about him
Thus, this chapter addresses all social participants: Muslims, Jews and Pagans.
كِتابٌ أُنزِلَ إِلَيكَ فَلا يَكُن في صَدرِكَ حَرَجٌ مِنهُ لِتُنذِرَ بِهِ وَذِكرىٰ لِلمُؤمِنينَ
“This is a book that’s being revealed to you from God, so don’t let your heart be troubled any more over how people may respond to it, for with this Book you can give warnings and reminders to the believers.” — Qur’an 7: 2
The Need To Understood vs. The Want To Be Loved and Accepted
Like our time, the Muslims were not always well understood in the broader social context and the powers-that-be went to sources other than the Muslims to find out who they were.
عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم
يَأْتِي عَلَى النَّاسِ زَمَانٌ الصَّابِرُ فِيهِمْ عَلَى دِينِهِ كَالْقَابِضِ عَلَى الْجَمْرِ
Anas bin Malik related that the Prophet ﷺ said, “A time will come upon mankind where the perseverant amongst them regarding his or her religion will be like one who grasps a burning coal.” – al-Tirmidhi, #2260
In addition to illustrating the pressure the Prophet felt to be understood or even accepted, Allah reminds the Prophet of his mission: “[to] give good news and warnings”. Not to be accepted because acceptance would undoubtedly involve having to accept the Quraysh’s idolatry and morality. Neither of these is acceptable to God.
Push Yourself – Don’t Settle For Yesterday
وَالَّذينَ آمَنوا وَعَمِلُوا الصّالِحاتِ لا نُكَلِّفُ نَفسًا إِلّا وُسعَها أُولٰئِكَ أَصحابُ الجَنَّةِ ۖ هُم فيها خالِدونَ
“Those who believe and do what’s morally right – We don’t place upon any soul a burden greater than it can bear! – they’ll be the companions of the Garden, and in it they shall remain!” — Qur’an, 7: 42
So Who Are The Muslims? – We prioritize God
Nowadays we (the Muslims) want to be known as social justice warriors, helpers of the needy, etc., but we never give the why. Why do we care about others? Because of this Mighty Book:
القرآنُ شافعٌ مشفَّعٌ وماحلٌ مُصدَّقٌ من جعله أمامَه قادَه إلى الجنَّةِ ومن جعله خلفَ ظهرِه ساقَه إلى النَّارِ
Jābir relates that the Prophet said, “The Qur’an is an intercessor whose intercession is accepted whose testimony is trustworthy. Whoever places the Qur’an before him, it will lead him to Paradise. Whoever puts it behind his back, it will lead him to the Fire.” — al-Mundhi, al-Targhib wa al-Tarhib
Alienation? Detachment? Loneliness? Sound familiar? This, and more, is what I so often hear from Muslims when I run into them (everywhere else but the center). But why are so many of us feeling like we’ve lost our sense of community? Part of the problem, in my opinion, is the way in which we often diagnose the issue to begin with.
This afternoon I happened to run into a sister at a local coffee shop with whom I’m fairly well acqainted. Upon seeing me, she lamented about feeling detached from Islam, from Allah, from community. We spoke on the importance of having a community as it relates to the well-being of one’s Deen or religious/spiritual practice. She related that so many of the masajid that she attends either (a) are unwelcoming, (b) speak in a language (this case, the khutbah being all in Arabic) she doesn’t understand or (c) in a vernacular she finds irrelevant. While I sympathized at how all of those could be frustrating I also comically pointed out that (a) I was that Imam who quit his job over some of these very issues (racism, irrelevancy, etc.) but had also, along with a group of like-minded and forward-thinking Muslims, built a place that seeks to provide the very things she claimed to long for: a welcoming environment that offered religious tutelage in an environment that (we hope!) is welcoming and relevant. My point being, we’re never going to overcome these challenges if we don’t even show up. And what’s amazing is that if we just begin with showing up, many of those maladies (loneliness, alienation, etc.) seem to slowly go away; maybe not overnight, but they do abate. Fundamentally, we must switch from an entitlement world-view (or community-view) in which we feel everything ought to be all set up and ready to go before we walk in the door. We have to show up first, and work cooperatively to make things how we (and others) would like them to be. So when I asked her why she didn’t show up she just smiled and said, “I’ll have to change that.” It all begins by just showing up.
That’s what we’re working to bring to you at Middle Ground. May Allah give us Islam, guidance, and mercy. Amin.
The following khutbah was delivered Friday, February 5th, 2016, at Middle Ground Muslim Center.
مَا مِنْ ثَلاَثَةٍ فِي قَرْيَةٍ وَلاَ بَدْوٍ لاَ تُقَامُ فِيهِمُ الصَّلاَةُ إِلاَّ قَدِ اسْتَحْوَذَ عَلَيْهِمُ الشَّيْطَانُ فَعَلَيْكَ بِالْجَمَاعَةِ فَإِنَّمَا يَأْكُلُ الذِّئْبُ الْقَاصِيَةَ
“I [Abu al-Darda’] heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ say, ‘If there are three men in a village or in the desert among whom prayer is not offered in congregation, Shaytan [Satan] has mastery over them. So observe prayer in congregation, for the wolf eats only the straggling animal’.” Sunan Abu Dawud, 547.
On a recent trip to Nashville where I was asked to speak on Muslims and social justice at Vanderbilt University, I had the opportunity to interact with some of the local Muslims in Nashville. The following is an informal conversation between myself and “brother Todd” on a variety of topics. This is part two of a two-part conversation.
“I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply. We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.