#MiddleGroundPodcast: Sha’ban – The Month of Branching Out and Connecting


[Direct download]

One of the linguistic meanings of Sha’ban is “to branch out” and “connect” because it’s the month which literally connects with Ramadan.

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ قَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ إِذَا تَقَرَّبَ عَبْدِي مِنِّي شِبْرًا تَقَرَّبْتُ مِنْهُ ذِرَاعًا وَإِذَا تَقَرَّبَ مِنِّي ذِرَاعًا تَقَرَّبْتُ مِنْهُ بَاعًا – أَوْ بُوعًا – وَإِذَا أَتَانِي يَمْشِي أَتَيْتُهُ هَرْوَلَةً

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger ﷺ as saying that Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, stated,

“When My servant draws close to Me by the span of a palm, I draw close to him by the cubit and when he draws close to Me by the cubit, I draw close to him by the space of two arm spans, and when he comes to Me walking, I go in a hurry towards him.”Sahih Muslim, #2675

Likewise, Allah has made us into shu’uban and qaba’il.

يا أَيُّهَا النّاسُ إِنّا خَلَقناكُم مِن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثىٰ وَجَعَلناكُم شُعوبًا وَقَبائِلَ لِتَعارَفوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكرَمَكُم عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتقاكُم ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَليمٌ خَبيرٌ

“All you people! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into different races and tribes so you can come to know one another. The noblest among you in the sight of God is the one who is the most mindful of his duty to Him. Truly, God knows and is aware.”Qur’an, 49: 13

الشعوب: جمع شعب بفتح الشين، وهو أعظم من القبيلة، وتحته القبيلة ثم البطن ثم الفخذ ثم الفصيلة

Ibn Juzayy says,

Shu’ub is the plural of sha’b, which is greater than a qabilah, which is after the qabilah is a batan, then a fikhdh, then a fasilah. — al-Tas’hil l’Ulum al-Tanzil

What makes a shu’b is that the people are connected. Our connection is not simply to one another because we share the same ancestor but because we share the same core belief: Allah and His Messenger. This is why unity is so difficult in the Muslim community because we’re not connected or connecting on that thing which can truly branch across divides.

قالَتِ الأَعرابُ آمَنّا ۖ قُل لَم تُؤمِنوا وَلٰكِن قولوا أَسلَمنا وَلَمّا يَدخُلِ الإيمانُ في قُلوبِكُم ۖ وَإِن تُطيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسولَهُ لا يَلِتكُم مِن أَعمالِكُم شَيئًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفورٌ رَحيمٌ

Joining Islam is not doing God a Favor

Background: During a year of famine, members of the bedouin tribe of Banu Asad arrived in Medina and professed to be Muslims in order to receive donations to help their tribe. They said they had never fought the Muslims and that they had always donated to the Muslims and helped them in the past, which was only partially true. Their behavior in the city was culturally reprehensible, and they also conducted themselves in obvious ignorance of Islamic manners and values. Finally, they made it seem as if they were doing the Muslims a favor by joining them. While their profession of faith may or may not have been real, they had not let the full effect of faith seep into their hearts in a genuine fashion. This passage was revealed in response. — Asbab al-Nuzul

“The bedouin Arabs are quick to say, “We believe!” Yet, say to them (Muhammad), “You have no faith, for you’re only saying, ‘We’re surrendered to God,’ but sincere faith hasn’t yet entered your hearts. If you obey God and His Messenger, He won’t decrease the value of any of your (good) deeds, for God is forgiving and merciful.”Qur’an, 49: 14

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

Ibn Juzayy’s Fifteen Merits of Piety (Taqwa)

The following audio is from the Friday khutbah at Middle Ground Muslim Center as well as the regular monthly program, The Text In Context. This Friday we discussed Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi’s Fifteen Merits of Piety (Taqwa) from his work, al-Tas’hil l’Ulum al-Tanzil (Making Easy The Knowledge of Revelation). See the khutbah for more extensive notes.


[Friday Khutbah — Direct download]


[The Text In Context — Direct download]

Ibn Juzayy’s fifteen merits of piety (taqwa):

  1. Guidance.
  2. Assistance.
  3. Guardianship.
  4. Love.
  5. Pardoning.
  6. Relief from anxiety (lit. “an exit from grief”).
  7. Provision supplied from where one does not expect it.
  8. Easing of affairs.
  9. Forgiveness of sins.
  10. Magnification of reward.
  11. Acceptance of good deeds.
  12. Prosperity.
  13. Good news.
  14. Entering Paradise.
  15. Salvation from The Fire.

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Are You Coachable – A Khutbah

al-Hamdulillah, today was the first khutbah (sermon) delivered at Middle Ground Muslim Center. The summary was, “are you coachable”? Can you learn from a master? Can you submit yourself to a process? When we explore piety, devotion, and self improvement, often we’re handed various litanies (dhikrs, du’as, etc.) that for many of us after a time (especially if we’re not improving) feels a bit like Harry Potter. In this khutbah I tried to draw parallels to learning from a coach, in how we might learn from the Qur’an and from the Prophet.

“It was at that point that it was a decision: am I either going to trust my coach, who has put out umteen number of great players besides myself, or am I going to rely on my own ego.”

Full notes and audio here.

Status Quo – A Khutbah

Islam is more than a religion. According to Cicero, religion comes from “relegere” or “to go through again/read again.” From “re” + “legere”.

But Islam is a way of life, a way of living your life, of seeing, of acting, all tied together. It can even be classified as civilizational, though this can sometimes be problematic when certain groups or races of people are seen to be indistinguishable with that civilization.

This way of life touches on every aspect of human existence: the personal, the public, the private; even the political. But in today’s world, where so much emphasis is placed on the political, Muslims have often lost sight of where in the grand scheme of things does politics fit. What about our principles? What happened to that simple piety of “doing the right thing”? We cannot wait-list our morals and principles until we achieve certain (perceived) political goals. What if we do not have the capacity to do so? Being Muslim isn’t always about what you’d like to be able to do but about what you ought to do with what you’re given.

إنكم في زمان من ترك منكم عشر ما أمر به هلك ثم يأتي زمان من عمل منهم بعشر ما أمر به نجا

“You live in a time that one will be destroyed if he does not fulfill a 10th of what he has been commanded to do. Then there will come a time when fulfilling a 10th of what you have been commanded will be salvation.” al-Tirmidhi, hasan.

Getting our community back to basics: morality, compassion, God-fearing and God-consciousness (warning people):

فَإِنْ أَعْرَضُوا فَقُلْ أَنْذَرْتُكُمْ صَاعِقَةً مِثْلَ صَاعِقَةِ عَادٍ وَثَمُود

Qur’an, Fussilat, 41: 13.

Even out theology connects belief in God to feeding poor people. This is not contingent upon any political aspirations:

إِنَّهُ كَانَ لَا يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ الْعَظِيمِ – وَلَا يَحُضُّ عَلَىٰ طَعَامِ الْمِسْكِينِ

Qur’an, al-Haqqah, 69: 32-33.

Current state of heedlessness: we are only jolted awake and into action when there’s a crisis. We live from crisis to crisis:

مَثَلُهُمْ كَمَثَلِ الَّذِي اسْتَوْقَدَ نَارًا فَلَمَّا أَضَاءَتْ مَا حَوْلَهُ ذَهَبَ اللَّهُ بِنُورِهِمْ وَتَرَكَهُمْ فِي ظُلُمَاتٍ لَا يُبْصِرُونَ – صُمٌّ بُكْمٌ عُمْيٌ فَهُمْ لَا يَرْجِعُونَ – أَوْ كَصَيِّبٍ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فِيهِ ظُلُمَاتٌ وَرَعْدٌ وَبَرْقٌ يَجْعَلُونَ أَصَابِعَهُمْ فِي آذَانِهِمْ مِنَ الصَّوَاعِقِ حَذَرَ الْمَوْتِ ۚ وَاللَّهُ مُحِيطٌ بِالْكَافِرِينَ – يَكَادُ الْبَرْقُ يَخْطَفُ أَبْصَارَهُمْ ۖ كُلَّمَا أَضَاءَ لَهُمْ مَشَوْا فِيهِ وَإِذَا أَظْلَمَ عَلَيْهِمْ قَامُوا ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ لَذَهَبَ بِسَمْعِهِمْ وَأَبْصَارِهِمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

Qur’an, al-Baqarah, 2: 17-18.

We don’t read the Qur’an with a sense of fear and awe. We think these “stories” are about “other people”. Why would Allah inform us of what they did wrong if not then to warn us to avoid the same pitfalls?

Are we committed to delivering Allah’s message and to doing good works? Or are we here just to enjoy this life? But then suddenly we find ourselves victims of this heedlessness as well:

أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَنْ يُتْرَكُوا أَنْ يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ

Qur’an, al-Ankabut, 29: 2.

إن قامت الساعة وفي يد أحدكم فسيلة فإن استطاع أن لا تقوم حتى يغرسها فليغرسها

al-Adab al-Mufrad, sahih.

Khatm Reflections #2: Juz’ 24

The following are 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

“When harm touches man he calls on Us. Then when We grant him a blessing from Us he says, ‘I have only been given this because of my knowledge.’ In fact it is a trial but most of them do not know it.” Qur’an 39: 49.

فَإِذَا مَسَّ ٱلْإِنسَٰنَ ضُرٌّۭ دَعَانَا ثُمَّ إِذَا خَوَّلْنَٰهُ نِعْمَةًۭ مِّنَّا قَالَ إِنَّمَآ أُوتِيتُهُۥ عَلَىٰ عِلْمٍۭ ۚ بَلْ هِىَ فِتْنَةٌۭ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

Technology. It’s supposed to save us; make our lives better. And while I do not deny that technology aids us, it also creates a number of problems, many of which we never saw coming. Sometimes when I read the above verse I am led to think of the environmental crisis we’re facing. A number of experts point to human-related uses that created this crisis. No doubt that we have played a major part but when we face disasters how often do we attribute our safe passage through it to this or that thing? How often to we give direct thanks to God for bringing us through. And in those instances where we are subject to devastation, we seldom see it through the lens of fitnah, or being “tried” by God. These passage, and others like it in the Qur’an, point to an inclination of man’s to be ungrateful after great hardships have been inflicted.

“Say: ‘My slaves, you who have transgressed against yourselves, do not despair of the mercy of God. Truly God forgives all wrong actions. He is the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Merciful.’” Qur’an 39: 53.

قُلْ يَٰعِبَادِىَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا۟ عَلَىٰٓ أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا۟ مِن رَّحْمَةِ ٱللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ ٱلذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلْغَفُورُ ٱلرَّحِيمُ

Despair. It is amongst the most powerful human emotions. It can compel us to give up entirely on ourselves, our loved ones and our lives. I see not only anger and depression when I look at the world (Muslims included), I see it in myself. Shaytan goads us into giving up on God’s clemency as this is a sure path to the Hell-fire. This is why God describes Shaytan as a clear enemy/عدو مبين. I struggle with wanting to see the results of my own desires and my own hands and when those do not materialize in ways that I can validate (or validate myself), I become susceptible to despair. The most obvious consequence of despair is rejecting God’s message (i.e., becoming kafir) or tumbling down a long hole of sin and transgression. This is why optimism is so important as a believer, not as a slogan, but as a mode of operation. For anyone’s Islam to be successful they must operationalize what God said in a hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah:

“When God made creation, while established on The Throne, decreed: ‘My mercy proceeds My wrath’.”

إن الله لما قضى الخلق ، كتب عنده فوق عرشه : إن رحمتي سبقت غضبي

It takes courage to tackle one’s inner demons, so to speak. Often that courage comes in the form of choosing to obey God versus acquiescing to what popular opinion may think of us. As Jamaal Diwan put it in a recent tweet:

“If you do something good or right even when your faith is low it is NOT hypocrisy, it’s actually a sign of piety.”

So as advice to myself and to whomever may read this: do for self. Believe, for your own sake. Do good, for your own sake. Turn your back on the despair that Shaytan wants you to wallow in. And know that your Lord forgives all sins:

“Say: ‘My slaves, you who have transgressed against yourselves, do not despair of the mercy of God. Truly God forgives all wrong actions. He is the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Merciful.’” Qur’an 39: 53.

قُلْ يَٰعِبَادِىَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا۟ عَلَىٰٓ أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا۟ مِن رَّحْمَةِ ٱللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ ٱلذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلْغَفُورُ ٱلرَّحِيمُ

And God knows best.