Disciplining the Soul to "Return Pleased and Well Pleasing"

First Khutbah – Main Points

كل نفس ذائقة الموت ونبلوكم بالشر والخير فتنة

“Every soul shall taste death. And We shall test you by evil and good means as a trial.” [al-Anbiya’ 21: 35]

On the grand scale of things, Islam is about the worship of God. But when we look at Allah’s Book, the Holy Qur’an, Allah presents an over-awing framework by which through our brains and our hearts, we might come to know Him and submit willingly [أسلم]. We only need listen to His Call:

والله يدعوا إلى دار السلام ويهدى من يشاء إلى صراط مستقيم

“And it is God that calls to the Abode of Peace, guiding as God wills, to a straight path.” [Yunis 10: 25]

Whether we attempt to thwart God’s proclivity [الشريعة] in This Life, we shall be held accountable for what we have said and done and ultimately, even if only by our very createdness, we shall submit.

يسبح لله ما في السموت وما في الأرض له الملك وله الحمد وهو على كل شيء قدير

“Everything in the heavens and the earth negates the possibility of any god other than Allah. The dominion belongs to Him as well as all praise. And He has power over all things.” [al-Tagabun 64: 1]

Submission is an ongoing process. In order to facilitate this, God has provided for us His Signs, which unfurl like a ship’s sail before a steady wind:

خلق الإنسان من عجل سأوريكم ءايتي فلا تستعجلون

“Mankind was created hasty. I shall show you My Signs so do hasten.” [al-Anbiya’ 21: 37]

So when Bani adam steps back to look at the Big Picture, ease [سعادة] and certainty [يقين] can enter into the heart and life’s apparent randomness takes on a shape and form of meaning and purpose:

ونبلوكم بالشر والخير فتنة

“And We shall test you by evil and good means as a trial.” [al-Anbiya’ 21: 35]

Second Khutbah – Main Points

So how do we attain this happiness, this certainty, this insight?

It involves struggling against one’s own soul. Ibn ‘Abbas [rah] reports, that the Prophet [s] said:

أعدى عدوك نفسك التي جنبينك

“The most ardent enemy is your own soul [nafs], which is between your two sides.” [al-Bayhaqi]

This is similar to what Allah tells us in the chapter Yusuf, when Prophet Yusuf/Joseph [عليه السلام] said concerning the governor’s wife when she tried to seduce him:

وما أبرئ نفسى إن النفس لأمارة بالسوء إلا ما رحم ربي إن ربي غفور رحيم

“I do not say my soul [nafs] was free from blame. The self indeed commands to evil acts – except for those my Lord has mercy on. My Lord, He is Forgiving, Merciful.” [Yusuf 12: 53]

To be sure, it is exceedingly difficult to achieve this state of tranquility, happiness, and certainty. The modern cultures are hostile to the development of these qualities, as This Life constantly seeks to distract us. For this reason, we must strive to devote ourselves to God, remembering Him always:

يأيها الذين ءامنوا ادخلوا في السلم كافة ولا تتبعوا في خطوت الشيطان إنه لكم عدو مبين

“O’ you of faith!, enter into Islam completely and do not follow in the footsteps of Shaytan. He is an open enemy to you.” [al-Baqarah 2: 208]

In this way, Allah further reveals our own devious nature in that we often attempt to evade our responsibilities towards Allah, such as showing gratitude, etc.

Islam reconciles the seemingly opposed aspects of the wayward self:

ألنفس الأمارة بالسوء

And the soul at rest:

يأيتها النفس المطمئنة ارجعى إلى ربك راضية مرضية

By coming to see this aspect of our relationship with Allah—The Big Picture—we foster a greater sense of realization [يقين-معرفة] of our purpose in life:

ما خلقت الجن والإنس إلا ليعبدون

“I did not create the Jinn or mankind except that they are to worship Me.” [al-Baqarah 2: 208]

and …

الذين يذكرون الله قياما وقعودا وعلى جنوبهم ويتفكرون في خلق السموت والأرض ربنا ما خلقت هذا باطلا سبحانك فقنا عذاب النار

“Those who remember God standing, sitting and laying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth [utter], ‘O our Lord, You have not created all this in jest, how perfect You are, so protect us from the torment of the Fire.” [al-‘Imran 3: 191]

Endeavor to restrain your souls, and the Ultimate reward will be yours:

وأما من خاف مقام ربه ونهى النفس عن الهوى فإن الجنة هى المأوى

“For the one who fears the Station of his Lord and denies the appetites of the lower self, the Garden will be his refuge.” [al-Nazi’at 79: 40-1]

Finally, in the advice of our Beloved Prophet [s]:

حاسبوا أنفسكم قبل أن تحاسبوا ووزنوا أعمالكم قبل أن توزن عليكم

“Take account of yourselves before you are held to account and weigh your deeds before they are weighed for you.” [al-Tirmidhi’s al-Qiyamah]

Download the khutbah, Discipline the Soul to “Return Pleased and Well Pleasing” here.

Listen online now

[audio:http://www.marcmanley.com/media/mp3s/khutbah_upenn-7-16-2010.mp3|titles=Disciplining the Soul to “Return Pleased and Well Pleasing” by Marc Manley]

Bridging Our Gaps: Thoughts on Piety and Taqwa on the Cusp of Ramadan

First Khutbah – Main Points

Ramadan is a time of joy, happiness, reflection and purification for Muslims all around the world. But if we as Muslims are to truly benefit from this sacred time then we must extrapolate an Islam that is didactic, that is instruction in a complete and harmonious way, not simply a list of harām and halāl.

So I pose the question, what is it we should be reflecting on? The term itself suggests one is peering at or into something. For us, we must peer into our own souls, examining every deed, every strain of thought, every emotion. If we are to diagnose what maligns our souls, we must look at them in the mirror.

Yet, above and beyond the mundane prose lies a spiritual reality and awareness that demands more than just religiosity. Allah says in His Book:

شهر رمضان الذي أنزل قيه القرئان هدى للناس و نينات من الهدى  و الفرقان فمن شهد منكم الشهر فليصمه و من كان مريضا أو سفر فعدة من أيام اخر يريد الله بكم اليسر و لا يريد بكم العسر و لتكملوا العدة و لتكبروا الله على ما هداكم و لعلكم تشكرون

“The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an was sent down, a guidance for mankind as well as a explanation on that guidance and a criterion on which to judge. Let the one who has borne witness to this fast. For the one that is sick or traveling, then count your days therein, as Allah desires to make it easy for you, not difficult. Therefore complete your days when able and proclaim Allah’s Greatness for the guidance He has bestowed upon you all so that you may properly show gratitude.” [Q: 2:185]

Many of us today suffer from a false sense of piety, that piety is either some exceedingly difficult task or lifestyle, or a mode of dress, or something else conjured up from our own sense of piety. This is at the crux of a major spiritual crisis going on in the Muslim world today. Yet, Allah and His Messenger [s] have given us clear signs and examples of what constitutes piety. The Prophet [s] said:

الكيس من دان نفسه و عمل لما بعد الموت
و الأحمق من اتبع هواه و تمنى على الله تعالى الأماني

“The astute man passes judgment on himself and works for what comes after death –
The imbecile is the one who follows his passions yet expects God, the Exalted, to realize his wishes.” Continue reading “Bridging Our Gaps: Thoughts on Piety and Taqwa on the Cusp of Ramadan”

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…

Public Minimum, Private Maximum

There is much debate these days regarding Islam, the West, democracy, human rights, statism and a whole slew of other topics which all collide in a jumble of arm chair reactions and suppositions. Slogans are volleyed at slogans – a cycle of retaliation. As someone who is now more frequently called upon to talk about Islam [or more specifically, to “explain Islam”], this has become an increasingly difficult and sophisticated task. One of the most glaring difficulties is that the dialog is often between two comparatives – meaning that the position that many non-Muslim [and quite frankly, anti-Muslim] opponents is that the West is the criterion in which to judge the rest of the “free world” by. As Olivier Roy illustrates their case, “that there is no salvation (no modernity) outside of the Western political model.” [Roy, Olivier. The Political Failure of Islam. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994. Pg. 8.]. To be fair, there are many Muslims today who have an imagined concept of what the Muslim society or even ummah, should be: a societal body governed by shari’ah, where within both the sovereign and the people are subjects to shari’ah. That there is no law, secular or religious, that works either parallel or perpendicular to the shari’ah. To a great extent, this imagination is evoked from the first early communities of Muslim, the Pious Ancestors and the Rightly Guided Khalifas. To bring us back to our impasse, the Western critic sees Islam locked in an ahistorical, static mode, and mainly due to their [limited, in my opinion] understanding of shari’ah, Muslims can never break out of this mold and therefore Islam and Muslims are doomed to an at best social structure that something out of the Middle Ages. Ironically, many Muslims use the same said argument as their clarion call to both Islam and the establishment of the Islamic state – Islam is timeless, and due to its Divinely Inspired system of lifestyle, is beyond reproach.

In order to move beyond this seemingly immutable approach on both parties, comparativism will have to be dropped. Instead, both parties will have to accept a certain degree of innate legitimacy on the other, even if they will never adopt one another’s system. In the simplest terms, proponents of Islam and the West will have to agree to disagree. But this is only the beginnings of cross-societal understandings. In addition to such modern topics as statism, more enduring subjects such as freedom and justice will also have to be engaged. It is from here that I shall steer the direction of this post.

A short while back, I was asked to explain the stance of Islam on such topics as freedom and more specifically, freedom of speech. This was not too long after the Danish cartoons were released, much to the chagrin of many Muslims. The person inquiring, a white, upper-class woman, asked why Muslims do not support freedom of speech. I replied, that in order to answer her question, I would need further description on what she defined as “freedom of speech”. The look I received from the woman was one of disbelief. “Why”, she explained in a voice meant for a child, “it’s the right to say whatever you want”. While I do not believe that all people, or indeed, that all white, upper-class women hold to this belief, I will nonetheless use it as the platform to attempt to illustrate some points on how Islam might potentially view such things as rights, freedom, and justice in contrast to what is held as the “norm” here in America. The following is a more in-depth summary of what I explained to her.

To begin with, I shall layout my own personal interpretations of how freedom is understood in America, mostly from a pop culture point of view. Most Americans I have encountered view freedom as the ability to act, talk, walk, dress and simply, “be” as you please. The idea that there should be any censure on these items would be the infringement on private rights. In the recent Don Imus scandal, freedom of speech was invoked in support of Mr. Imus, in that it was his right as an American to speak his mind and to voice his opinion, however it may insult or even harm members of the general public. Similarly, a woman has the right to dress as she pleases. This can include everything from tight, revealing clothing to headscarf and veil [though, the same right that is extended to a woman in a bikini is often overturned towards Muslim woman who choose to cover – the implied meaning that they must be coerced, backwards, or insane]. The rights of the general populous or good are taken as a secondary consideration in the right to, “express freedom”.

It is here we see the engagement of disagreeing parties over Islam’s supposed lack of concern for freedom of speech. For non-Muslim/anti-Muslim critics, it is assumed that Islam as a value system is opposed to freedom of speech. In my opinion, these critics are wrong. My indictment of them is one of either ignorance of the subtle intricacy of Islam [and here I am referring to shari’ah or Islamic law] or ideological disagreement that carries with it an active disregard for the above. Instead, Islam has the potential for a different approach to the concept of freedom, which takes us back to the title of this post: public minimum, private maximum.

In Islam, freedom [hurriyah حرية, in Arabic] is primarily sought in the private sphere. One’s personal tastes and desires can be sought to their fullest extent in the private sector, be they to the personal empowerment or detriment, and regardless of their potential for being morally suspect. Let me explain this a bit further. Homosexuality is one of the hot button topics we hear today. Religious groups of all affiliations flock to support or to oppose such legislation. But under shari’ah, which has limits on its ability to extend to the private life, a ban on homosexual marriage for example, would be potentially inadmissible. Islam views marriage as a private social or religious contract, and given Islam’s stance on homosexuality [i.e., Islam does not condone homosexuality as a valid lifestyle] it would have no role in bringing any such unions to fruition. In other words, homosexuals would be free to conduct their own marriages because Islam, or more precisely, shari’ah, does not extend to this area. To be sure, there are many who will disagree with me on this, and it should not be mistook as an attempt to legitimize what God has made illegitimate, but instead, this is an example on how Islam/shari’ah have the ability to coexist and even support freedoms that it has serious moral misgivings with.

Another example would be adultery. Again, an immoral action that potentially is a punishable offense and yet, one of the binding stipulations in order to bring admissible evidence against any such culprits is the having of three witnesses. There is a wisdom here, in that while adultery is a terrible sin, it nonetheless happens. And as a measure to protect private interests, even where they be morally wrong, Islam institutes a system which insulates the privacy of the individual from outside forces. Unless one is traveling in roving packs of three’s, staring through someone’s window, the credibility of bringing an adultery case to trial is exceedingly difficult [no – it was never the intention of Islam/shari’ah to create an adultery police or even a moral police brigade]. Instead, personal piety and awe/fear of God and the Day of Reckoning are the tools that God and his Prophet sought to instill in the believer as the means of avoiding either of the above offenses. Nonetheless, the right to engage in either of the above activities would be a private maximum as well as the means of abstaining from them.

Instead, as I explained to the woman, Islam turns its focus more directly on Justice. Justice [‘adl عدل in Arabic] is one of the primary preoccupations of Islam, the shari’ah and the Muslims. The Qur’an speaks of justice and not freedom [again, the shari’ah provides an embedded, tacit modality for engaging in the freedom of private affairs], for justice is always sought in the public domain. Zulm [ظلم], brute aggression or oppression, for which there is no call or right, is the admonition that God speaks about in terms of rulers. In fact, zulm is such a dangerous entity, God warns the believers to fear the fitnah or domination, as in this Qur’anic passage:

وَٱتَّقُوا۟ فِتْنَةًۭ لَّا تُصِيبَنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا۟ مِنكُمْ خَآصَّةًۭ ۖ وَٱعْلَمُوٓا۟ أَنَّ ٱللَّهَ شَدِيدُ ٱلْعِقَابِ

“And fear the trial of systematic domination which targets not solely those among you who commit acts of grave injustice but rather indiscriminately. And know that God is severe in punishment.” Qur’an 8: 25.

God uses the verb, asaaba [أصاب iv], but in the negative [laa tusiybanna]. Asaaba means to strike directly, such as an arrow hitting its target. But when used in the negative, it implies a widespread, indiscriminate targeting, in which anyone or anything could be hit or affected, aside from any intended target. In this sense, the believer is admonished to be God-conscious of the “trial of systematic oppression [fitnah]” in that it does not restrict itself to simply affecting its intended target – it affects the whole population. Because of this, as a short example, justice plays a more paramount role because it ensures the public right to engage in private affairs by investigating the maslahah [مصلحة common good or welfare of the society in shari’ah terms]. This is why totalitarianism is intolerable under the Islamic/shari’ah schema. There is a “social contract”, to borrow from Locke, between the sovereign and the public. And when that sovereign transgresses the bounds, it is then permissible if not incumbent upon the public to throw off that yoke of tyranny.

To fully engage this subject more, it would require more time and would be beyond the scope or intention of this post to do so. More, instead, this is meant as a sort of primer for beginning to see how Islam might see freedom and justice in a different light than that of the West – and how it should not detract from its support for individual freedoms. Hat tip to Dr. Jackson.

And God knows best.

The Sacred

Today’s world is a cynical world. How often do we see the deepest, the most egregious problems dealt with a cynical hand? I heard once from a modern scholar that the only people in today’s society that have the power to critique are the comedians. But they loose their impact because they trivialize the issue by making a jest of it (whether or not that make a jest of it).

I recently gave a talk at Rutgers University, to a group of students who were taking a class on spiritual autobiography. Like many people I’ve talked to this year in regards to Islam, “why did the Muslims react the way in which they did towards the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad” has been been one of the more popular questions. My answer has been long coming to me – but the answer I gave that day and the one I’ll give again today is because of The Sacred. I will outline what I mean by sacred so that one will not conflate my words to mean that I condone actions of violence. I most certainly do not. But in an effort to break away from the certain perspectives (Orientalist, Islamophobes…) that these violent reactions are a result of the Eastern Mind or something inherent in Islam and instead, people’s (misguided, and I’ll get to that as well) frustrations towards The Sacred being violated. For many people who had issue with the cartoons (myself included), we were told that Freedom of Speech trumped our concepts of The Sacred. Being able to say whatever comes to one’s mind supersedes that of moral, ethical and public judgment. With this reckless abandonment of wisdom as a system, then there will always be people who will lash out (hopefully in a proverbial way) against having that which they hold as Sacred, trampled underneath someone else’s belief system. The final part of this short essay is the re-examination of what is and isn’t Sacred for Muslims, or if I may be so bold, what aught to be Sacred and the re-prioritization of The Sacred for Muslims based on what the Prophet and his companions held as Sacred, as a guide for Muslims living in this “Western” part of the world.

Before we can clear the deck for me to leap into this topic I’d like to clarify a few short topics. In a recent interview I was quoted as being a “progressive Muslim”. In today’s world of headlines and sound-bites, one little word, one little phrase can pigeonhole a person. To state it for the record, I never used this word “progressive” to describe myself or any of my ideologies. Islam in the 20th century has a seen a vast array of movements: Reformists. Traditionalists. Jihadists. And yes, Progressives. While it is not the focus of this post to target any of those groups or to even say that they are not legitimate, I will say that I am not a reformist, a traditionalist, a jihadist or a progressive. Now that isn’t to say that I may not share specific sentiments with some of these groups but I do not want my labeling as a Progressive to be conflated as consensual.

The most sacred thing for Muslims is God. That is a simple fact. And it is not just simply that there is a god but that there is no god except God (La ilaha illallah). This simple phrase, known as the Testimony of Faith (al-Shahadah) is the foundation of Muslim theology and belief. At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, one of the key aspects of his mission was to reintroduce Monotheism back to the world. The majority of the Arabs living in the Arabian peninsula during the time of the Prophet had slipped into idol worship, despite many of them being descendants of great prophets of God themselves (Abraham, Jonah, Shu’aib to name a few). The center of interest in Makkah was the Ka’bah, the house that Abraham built as a place of worship. And while the Qur’an was revealed throughout the 23 years of the Prophet’s stay in Arabia, it dealt theologically with Sacred Ideologies, chief amongst them was not ascribing partners or association with God. God admonishes those that say God is three or that Jesus the son of Mary, the Messiah, is God himself [Q 5: 72-75]. I state this here not polemically – that is not the point of my argument. But rather to reinforce what is sacred to Muslims. God is the most sacred – one of God’s names is al-Quddus, or The Holy or The Sacred. So with this understanding, why is it that Muslims aren’t jumping off at every Christian for wearing a cross on their necks or building churches that have Jesus on the cross, worshipped as God or the son of God? Because of another sacred source for Muslims – the Sunnah.

That the Prophet Muhammad is sacred for Muslims goes without saying. His life is a holy example for all Muslims in terms of morals, permissible actions and so forth. Many rulings for Shari’ah or Islamic Law, comes from his life. But if we were to examine the Prophet’s life and look at what he considered sacred, would it coincide with what Muslims hold as sacred?

To take the example from above, referring to Christians and their theological stance that they proclaim Jesus the son of Mary is the Son of God, this would contradict the teachings that the Prophet was preaching. And yet, while going against the grain of God’s theological bounds, the Prophet never proclaimed the life of the Christians forfeit. No churches were burned down on his order. No representatives of Christianity were assassinated. To take it a step further, the pagans were not indiscriminately slaughtered. Their idols were not even allowed to be desecrated. Why? Because the Prophet knew that Jesus was holy, sacred to the Christians even while he believed it wrong! The pagan Arabs (who, on a scale, ranked much lower than Jews or Christians because they were people who had received Divine Revelation) were still treated with respect and treaties were signed with them. If Muslims would but take the time to study their own “traditions”, we might see that that which we hold as sacred and that which the Prophet held as sacred are not one and the same. And further, even when something this is sacred to us is violated, are actions are woefully unacceptable.

Our modern age is one of false universals and failed utopian ideologies. And while the Muslims are not alone in perpetuating such rhetoric, ironically, they are just as guilty as their Western counterparts which they blame of the same crime. Often wrapped in the guise of “tradition”, this one-size fits all mentality has and is causing grave harm to Muslim communities across the globe and I have personally seen its insidious affects in my 14-year career as a Muslim. For those who call for an Islamic state to be raised in America I say that you would have to obtain the rights from Roberta Flack for its national anthem, for surely this is “killing us softly”.

So what are some other things that the Prophet held as sacred? Human life would most certainly rank high on his list. Caring for the poor. Visiting the sick and caring for the old. As Muslims, where do these categories rank on our lists? This is where Muslims fail in my opinion. As a group that believes it should uphold high moral standards, how are we caring for the poor? How many Muslim organizations have we developed that care for old and sick people in our neighborhoods, regardless of race, creed or religion? How many Muslim organizations have we built that care for the poor? Are we involved in urban development? Big brother, big sister organizations? I’m sure I will receive many emails confirming that we do partake in such actions. And while there may be a few why are they absent from the public spot light?

As it stands now, Muslims are not known as a group that participate in the greater society (and yet we want people to sympathize with us when we have problems). At a recent meeting between myself and other fellow bloggers, astonishment would be the word that would best describe the reactions of others when they found out that I was a Muslim and that I desired to participate in society. This is not a PR statement for myself but rather a reflection on the status of Muslims in society. If Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man today he’d have to re-title it Invisible People.

So in the end I believe we as Muslims are in need of a serious revamping of what is and isn’t Sacred to us. We need to seriously reevaluate what is important to us and what isn’t. The military developed a term called triage – we need to stop the bleeding and then reexamine what we’re about. I believe this reexamination starts with the basics – Qur’an and Sunnah. It may surprise you that I would choose such a sloganized answer but none the less, I do believe the answer lies there in. By Qur’an, I mean we should actually spend time reading it. Many of us do not. We rely on regurgitated quotes from people who have little formal training and short intellects. The Sunnah of the Prophet is also do for a serious reexamination. What did he say? What did he do? How was he both simultaneously stern and flexible? How could he proclaim no god but God and yet make concessions with idolators? Muhammad was a complex man – revisiting his life and his prophethood will no doubt turn up many unknown gems for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This is a topic which deserves deeper introspection – an introspection that cannot fully be dealt with in a small post as it is here. Rather, it is my hope that we may ponder this questions, these situations and feel moved to do something about it. And in the words of Umar Ibn al-Khattab, “Allah and His Messenger know best”.