Certitude In Islam – A Khutbah

Certainty doesn’t relate to just an isolated, distant notion of asserting the existence of God. This would be akin to agnosticism. Rather, it means to have that realization impact your actions – to have a genuine purpose. Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of the Prophet [not nephew!], says:

قال علي, كرم الله وجهه: لو كشف الغطاء ما ازددت يقينا

“If the veil were to be lifted I would not increase in certitude.”

We should look for inspiration in our daily lives. One easy example to look at are pigeons. Many of us have stood at the corners of 15th and Broad and have seek flocks of pigeons – how many times have we really examined them in detail. I say this as it is similar to Allah’s question in the Qur’ān:

أفلا ينظرون إلى الإبل كيف خلقت

“Do they not look at the camel and how it was created?” [Q: 88:17]

The camel was something so common to the Arabs of the Prophet’s time – they were almost what cars are for us today. They also took sustenance from them. So they were at once familiar with them but somewhat mundane as well. Just like pigeons for us, or anything else in our environments, we should examine them with thought and attention. Through this, we can come to the extraordinary in the ordinary and mundane.

Additionally, some of the greatest signs are within ourselves. The human being is an amazing creation. Let us look to the Heavens and the earth for inspiration and what Allah has to say about them:

سنريهم ءايتِنا في الأفاق و في أنفسهم حتى يتبين لهم أنه الحق
أوَ لم يكفِ بربك أنه على كل شيء شهيد

“And We will show them our signs on the horizon and in themselves until it is clear to them that it is the truth. Is it not sufficient that your Lord is a Witness to everything?” [Q: 41:53]

Certitude helps us to be more connected with the nature of Reality. We all must return to Allah, where we will have a full account of our deeds [the hisāb].

إنهم في مرية من لقاء ربهم – ألا إنه بكل شيء محيط

“Eh? Are they in doubt as to the meeting with their Lord? Does He not encompass all things?” [Q: 41:54]

Certitude is developed not by talk but by action, reflection and experience/tasting [ذوق]. We have to move away from conceiving of an Islam which neither needs maintenance or Allah!

Certitude requires constant upkeep. Many modern Muslims seem to think that in order for Islam to be legitimate, it must be expressed in or through the apparatus of an Islamic state. This could not be more secular! Secular ideologies, at their heart, always seek [implicitly or explicitly] to achieve perfection in this life because there is no chance in the next. For the mu’min, who is secure in his belief [meaning of a/m/n], s/he will have complete certitude w/w/o the state apparatus [going back to Ali’s statement]:

لو كشف الغطاء ما ازددت يقينا

Certitude can never be reached by relying upon one’s deeds however, and in fact can lead to doubt. Ibn ‘Ata Allah, may Allah have mercy on him, counsels us on the detriment of relying solely upon deeds and the pitfalls associated with such a psychology:

من علامة الإعتماد على العمل نقصان الرجاء عند وجود الزلل

“A sign of relying upon one’s handiwork is the absence of hope in the presence of a misstep/mistake.”

This is very common in the modern world where people lose hope because they rely upon their abilities, which are always flawed, and then coupled with a sense of entitlement, abandon hope all together because they did not get what they wanted.

One of the real dangers of not having certitude is the distancing ourselves from the very Real Truth of Lā ilāha illa Allah. If we continue to make God so distant, our character, our behavior will reflect this. Like a child whose parents are never present, they will never fear any chastisment nor have any reservation when commiting harmful actions. Instead, they become bold as brass and arrogant – malicious. Similarly, in the absence of parenting, they will never grow up to become loving people, capable of showing the very same mercy they receive from Allah. Stunted, their development is stunted – emotionally they are either incompetent or dysfunctional.

So we as that Allah make us the people of Certitude.

Certitude is developed in stages and steps. One step is to leave that which does not encourage you to be certain! The Prophet [s] advices us:

من حسن إسلام المرء تركه ما لا يعنيه

“Part of bettering one’s Islam is leaving that which does not concern you.”

By leaving that which is none of our concern, we can avoid things that may lead us into disarray. And with so many things the Prophet [s] left us, the meanings have many subtle layers to reflect upon. I would like to accentuate three aspects of this hadith for our reflection:

  1. The basic idea is as was mentioned: Leave that which does not concern you. But there is also a deeper meaning:
  2. “Leave that which is disquieting to you/making you anxious”. The verb ‘a/n/y [عنى] means to be anxious or unsettled.
  3. “Leave that which does not make you humble”. Ibn Mandhur in his opus, Lisān al-Arab, says: العاني الخاضع. Ibn Mundhir states that ‘ani is akin to humility. He further points to the Qur’ān to bolster his claim:

وعنت الوجوه للحي القيوم – فقد خاب من حمل ظلما

“Faces will be made humble to the Ever-Living, the Ever-Sustaining. Surely the looser is he who is weighed down with wrongdoing.” [Q: 20:111]

Allah continues with:

و من يعمل من الصاحت و هو مؤمن فلا يخاف ظلماً و لا هضما

“And as for the one that works righteous deeds, he is secure [a mu’min], therefore no fear shall he have of being wronged or belittled.” [Q: 20:112]

Ibn Mundhir points to the use of the of the very same word, ‘ana [عنى], where Allah is saying that the faces of those people will be made humble, reenforcing the idea that the word implies multiple meanings: to avoid that which does not concern, does not make anxious, and does not make humble. This is further supported by the Prophet’s statement:

دع ما يريبك إلى ما لا يريتك

“Leave that which leaves you in doubt for that which does not leave you in doubt.”

Yaqin, if it is to be developed, must be carefully germinated, like a seed, so that it may flourish and grow, bear fruit and provide shade. But one does not plant a seed without examining where one is placing it, if its location is conducive to supporting health and growth – it is done with careful planning and avoiding that which will damage or destroy the plant. Similarly, we should follow the advice of the Prophet [s] where he says:

من اتقى الشبهات فقد استبرأ لدينه و عرضه

“The one who protects himself against doubtful matters has ensured his religion and his honor.”

How perfect a system! And again, we see the use of the word taqwa again – where it’s used as that very same self-defense system against Allah punishment.

And the Prophet gives us the other side of not obeying his advice:

و من وقع في الشبهات وقع في الحرام

“And for the one who falls into dubious actions then he falls into the Harām.”

I leave myself and all of us with some final words of advice: As Muslims we must assert the closeness of Allah, reestablish the Sacredness of Allah in our daily lives. Constant and frequent reflection on the Truth of Allah, and ask to have that reflected in our character. The consequence of not doing so is evident: like a child whose parents are never present, they never chastisement – their character becomes arrogant and bold and has no humility. Another aspect is thus: they will never fully develop and grow and live as loving people, capable of showing the very same mercy they are constantly receiving. They are emotionally stunted and spiritually malnourished. They Islam becomes dysfunctional.

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.

Exercise in Islamization – Should(n’t) Islam Equal Good Design (?)

The following is an exercise in “Islamization”. Islamization may feel too large or charged a term but it is precisely the word I plan to use with a group of MSA students this weekend at our retreat. The idea behind Islamization is that one looks to one’s environment and is able to see, infuse or somehow impose or appropriate purpose upon that thing in such away it reminds oneself of God, of the Messenger صلى لله عليه وسلم or some other “Islamic” principle by which we can enrich our lives as Muslims.

All too often I see Muslims (particularly young Muslims) laboring underneath a cloud of inferiority, insecurity and just plain doubt as to what they can (or most likely) can’t do as Muslims. Part of this ailment hails from a lack of intellectual authority over their lives as Muslims. Simply put, they are not literate as Muslims, despite the fact that many are highly educated. So when I came across a documentary this weekend on Netflix entitled Objectified,  I was struck by Japanese designer, Naoto Fukasawa, when he expressed what he felt “good design” was:

“Design dissolving in behavior. Design needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.” – Naoto Fukasawa, industrial designer, former head of IDEO.

Immediately, my mind went to not design, but to Islam. For was not Islam something that should be and come natural to the human being? So I played a little experiment that I shall continue this weekend, but substituting the keyword of “design” with a variety of “Islamic” vocabulary in order to appropriate an idea/ideal, whose origin was not “Islamic” per se, but nonetheless, resonated well, exceptionally well in my opinion, in that it showcased the ghaayah or goal that Islam has with the human being and thus provided some clues as to how one must just go about “dissolving [it] in [one’s] behavior”:

Islam dissolving in behavior. Islam needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Qur’an dissolving in behavior. Qur’an needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Sunnah dissolving in behavior. Sunnah needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Taqwa dissolving in behavior. Taqwa needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Ihsan dissolving in behavior. Ihsan needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Adab dissolving in behavior. Adab needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Akhlaq dissolving in behavior. Akhlaq needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.
Shari’ah dissolving in behavior. Shari’ah needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.

Ramadan Preparation: A Khutbah

Islam is a religion of responsibility, both towards ourselves and to others. This is part of our deeds as well as our religious literacy.

Recap on the meaning of taqwā. We can think of it as a set of reflexes – a self-defense system as per al-Tabrizi’s definition:

الإتقاء أن تجعل بينك و بين ما تخافه حاجزا يحفظك

“Taqwa is the idea that you [A] place something [C] between yourself and that which you fear could destroy you [B].”

و اتقوا يوما لا تجزي نفس عن نفس شيئا و لا يقبل منها شفاعة و لا يوخذ منها عدل و لا هم ينصرون

“Defend yourself against a day that will come where no soul shall be of assistance to another whatsoever – nor shall it put forth an intercessor in its place – no compensation will be taken from it – nor shall there be anyone to come to its aid.” [Qur’an: 2:47]

Responsibility: we must take ownership over our Islam as it pertains to our personal piety, development and how Islam is seen in the public eye. We can see this in the narration of the Prophet, صلى الله عليه وسلم:

عن ابن شيبان عن أبيه, قال قال رسول الله, صلى الله عليه و سلم من بات على ظهر بيت ليس له حجار فقد برئت منه الذمة

“Whoever spends the night on the roof of a house that has no stone balustrade, then by all means, Allah’s responsibility towards him has been absolved!”

عن مالك أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم قال بعثت لأتمم حسن الأخلاق

One of the primary areas we can all work on and take responsibility over is our character. We can see clearly that character was of paramount importance to the Messenger and to Islam as a whole. Related to us from Imam Mālik’s Muwatta’: Mālik heard the Messenger of Allah [s] state:

“I was sent for the perfection of character.”

عن علي بن حسين بن علي بن أبي طالب من حسن إسلام المرء تركه ما لا يعنيه

Related to us from ‘Ali b. Abi Talib in Imam Mālik’s Muwatta’:

“From the excellent qualities of a person’s Islam is that s/he leaves off that which does not concern him/her.”

Avoiding Disobedience

المعصية بالجوارح يوم تشهد عليهم ألسنتهم وأيديهم وأرجلهم بما كانوا يعملون

“On that day their tongues, hands, and feet will testify against them about what they used to do.” [al-Nur, 24].

The limbs are the instrucments by which we committ acts of disobedience. Here are three to watch: the eyes, ears, and tongue. Each will testify either for or against us on the Day of Judgment, where they will speak of what we did:

قال عز و جل ما تقرب إلي المتقربون بمثل أداء ما افترضته عليهم و لا يزال العبد يتقرب إلي بالنوافل حتى أحبه فإذا أحببته كنت سمعه الذي يسمع به وبصره الذي يبصر به ولسانه الذي ينطق به ويده التي يبطش بها ورجله التي يمشي بها

Closing du’ah

يا حي يا قيوم برحمتك نسبغيث لا تكلنا إلى أنفسنا ولا إلى أحد من خلقك طرفة عين وأصلح لنا شؤوننا كلها

“O Ever-Living, O Self-Subsistent, by Your mercy we beseech Your help. Leave us not to ourselves nor to any of Your creation for even the blink of an eye. Set right for us all our affairs.”

Ramadan Preparation: A Khutbah by marcmanley

Da’wah & Fraternity in Islam

Among some of the most daunting challenges facing Muslims today is the challenge of religious literacy. While Muslims in America by and large excel at secular literacy, as a community, we are still laboring under the weight of a holistic understanding of Islam. Some of these malfeasance can be seen in the protest spirit Muslims exhibit [in America and globally]. The first half of the Shahadah [Testimony of Faith] has been truncated from “there is no god but God”/لا إله إلا الله to something dangerously close to “there is no god”/لا إله. What I mean here is not to suggest that Muslims are practicing atheism, but rather that we have let our protest spirit runway wild on us. For the most part, our protest [from American culture to foreign policy, etc.] is seldom passed on principal, but instead, based on something more mundane, such as politics, ideology, and aesthetics. So the topic at hand is da’wah, or the calling to God. The question at hand here is how can Muslims be successful at calling to God if there is no love, no fraternity between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors? This is further complicated by the fact that many indigenous American Muslims are either encouraged to feel a cultural disconnect in the guise of religiosity. Not only is this not in Muslim’s [nor Islam’s] best interest in America, it in fact contradicts the very nuanced  argument that God puts forth in the Qur’ān regarding this very same dilemma. Let us examine a few Qur’ānic verses that speak to brotherhood in the context of believers and non-believers:

وَاعْتَصِمُوا۟ بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًۭا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا۟ ۚ وَاذْكُرُوا۟ نِعْمَتَ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَآءًۭ فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِۦٓ إِخْوَٰنًۭا وَكُنتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍۢ مِّنَ ٱلنَّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِّنْهَا ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمْ ءَايَٰتِهِۦ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ

“Hold fast to the rope of God all together, and do not separate. Remember God’s blessing to you when you were enemies and God joined your hearts together so that you became brothers by God’s blessing. You were on the very brink of a pit of the Fire and God rescued you from it. In this way God makes God’s Signs clear to you, so that hopefully you will be guided.” [Qur’ān Āl-‘Imrān (3):103]

لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا نُوحًا إِلَىٰ قَوْمِهِۦ فَقَالَ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَٰهٍ غَيْرُهُۥٓ إِنِّىٓ أَخَافُ عَلَيْكُمْ عَذَابَ يَوْمٍ عَظِيمٍۢ

“We sent Noah to his people and he said, ‘My people, worship God! You have no other deity than Him. I fear for you the punishment of a dreadful Day’.” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):59]

أَوَعَجِبْتُمْ أَن جَآءَكُمْ ذِكْرٌۭ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ عَلَىٰ رَجُلٍۢ مِّنكُمْ لِيُنذِرَكُمْ وَلِتَتَّقُوا۟ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ

“Or are you astonished that a reminder should come to you from your Lord by way of a man among you, to warn you and make you have taqwā so that hopefully you will gain mercy?’” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):63]

وَإِلَىٰ عَادٍ أَخَاهُمْ هُودًۭا ۗ قَالَ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَٰهٍ غَيْرُهُۥٓ ۚ أَفَلَا تَتَّقُونَ

“And to ‘Ād We sent their brother Hūd, who said, ‘My people, worship God! You have no other deity than Him. So will you not have taqwā?’” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):65]

وَإِلَىٰ ثَمُودَ أَخَاهُمْ صَٰلِحًۭا

“And to Thamūd We sent their brother Sāliḥ” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):73]

وَلُوطًا إِذْ قَالَ لِقَوْمِهِۦٓ أَتَأْتُونَ ٱلْفَٰحِشَةَ مَا سَبَقَكُم بِهَا مِنْ أَحَدٍۢ مِّنَ ٱلْعَٰلَمِينَ

“And Lot, when he said to his people, ‘Do you commit an obscenity not perpetrated before you by anyone in all the worlds?.” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):80]

وَإِلَىٰ مَدْيَنَ أَخَاهُمْ شُعَيْبًۭا ۗ قَالَ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَٰهٍ غَيْرُهُۥ ۖ قَدْ جَآءَتْكُم بَيِّنَةٌۭ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ ۖ فَأَوْفُوا۟ ٱلْكَيْلَ وَٱلْمِيزَانَ وَلَا تَبْخَسُوا۟ ٱلنَّاسَ أَشْيَآءَهُمْ وَلَا تُفْسِدُوا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ بَعْدَ إِصْلَٰحِهَا ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌۭ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ

“And to Madyān We sent their brother Shu‘ayb who said, ‘My people, worship God! You have no other deity than Him. A Clear Sign has come to you from your Lord. Give full measure and full weight. Do not diminish people’s goods. Do not cause corruption in the land after it has been put right. That is better for you if you are Mu’minūn.” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):85]

وَءَاتِ ذَا ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ حَقَّهُۥ وَٱلْمِسْكِينَ وَٱبْنَ ٱلسَّبِيلِ وَلَا تُبَذِّرْ تَبْذِيرًا ﴿٦٢﴾ إِنَّ ٱلْمُبَذِّرِينَ كَانُوٓا۟ إِخْوَٰنَ ٱلشَّيَٰطِينِ ۖ وَكَانَ ٱلشَّيْطَٰنُ لِرَبِّهِۦ كَفُورًۭا

Clearly, there is a theme running between these verses that God is calling our attention to. One, is the method and function of Prophecy itself: All of the above Prophets are referred to as “brother”/أخ. Either God refers to them as their brother, in the case in Sūrah al-A’rāf (7):85:“And to Madyān We sent their brother Shu‘ayb…”, or God refers to them as one of their people: “We sent Noah to his people…”, in Sūrah al-A’rāf (7):59. The point here is that Prophecy/Prophethood, and by extension, Islam!, always operated in a context where it was familiar and known. Noah, Lot, Shu’ayb and all of the other Prophets [peace and blessings on all of them] were known and knew their peoples. This means that believer/مؤمن and non-believer/كافر operated in a mutual context where the Prophets had an emotional [and likely, cultural] attachment to their people. Without this connection, the message of Islam, the Oneness of God, would have been alienated and marginalized. What is worth mentioning here is that despite the apparent familiarity that these Prophet’s had with their respective peoples, the message was still rejected by some. Believe, faith, and non-belief is far more complicated than we often wish to admit and recognize. But if we are to make ourselves understood and deliver the message of Islam clearly and effectively, then we must address the rift many of us feel [and feel we have to feel] towards our current cultural context. To be sure, this is not some new-fangled ideology, but in fact, keeping with God’s sunnan, God’s intended way, for religion to be preached and carried out.

So why is it, if the message of Islam that was preached by the Prophets and Messengers of God to various peoples was always done through the medium of the familiar, that we as Muslism today, act in contradiction to this? In my nearly twenty years of observation, I feel it has something to do with ideas. A small quote here from Chris Nolan’s Inception, points to the power of persuasion that ideas have:

“What is the most resistant parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient; highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold in the brain, it is almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood, that sticks.” [Dom Cobb – Inception]

Moreover, we can see that brotherhood is a God-given cure to the stinginess and miserliness we see prevalent in our culture today:

“Give your relatives their due, and the very poor and travellers but do not squander what you have. Squanderers are brothers to the shaytans, and Shaytan was ungrateful to his Lord.” [Qur’ān al-Isrā (17):27]

Brotherhood is not some secular means of feeling good, it is also an extension of worship/عبادة and is a  means of showing gratitude to God.

So let us remember God, remember God’s beloved Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلمand all of God’s Prophets and Messengers, peace be upon all of them, and have it serve as a reminder of how we treat each other, how we treat our neighbors, and how we treat our Islam, that we approach it with humility, dignity, and a sense of awe regarding the mantle we have had bestowed on us from God’s mercy. Amin.

ربنا اغفر لنا ولإخوننا الذين سبقونا بالإيمان و لا تجعل في قلوبنا غلا للذين ءامنوا ربنا إنك رؤوف رحيم

“‘Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in imān and do not put any rancor in our hearts towards those who have imān. Our Lord, You are All-Gentle, Most Merciful’.” [Qur’ān al-Ḥashr (59):10]

Additional Sources

Muslim Development Course – Round One: Class Notes

Course Objective: to encourage the development of Muslim thought, action, and behavior, both individual and social, in such a way that our practice of Islam reflects a deeper and more personal understanding, ownership, and embodiment of the divine principles on our part, found in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him.

Here’s a short list of the things we’ll look at in this course: Who are we? Before we can understand Islam we must know ourselves. Prologue – Life in the Hijaz: to what extent does jahili life play in our understanding of Islam? Revelation – big “R” versus little “r”: Allah as the God of nature and human history. Topography: Getting a lay of the land: the Prophet’s heritage and the build up to the Revelation. Introduction to Qur’anic Language: re-textualization: how did Allah make use of preexisting terms and ascribe new meanings to them? How is this important for us to understand? Introduction of Muslim Morals and Ethics: themes from the early Revelation.

  • Day One
  • Day Two & Three
  • Day Four

Day One

Here are some quick notes of the topics we talked about today

Taqwa: What’s In A Word?

We took a quick look at the word taqwa, from a few lines of Jāhiliyyah poetry, and examined what it meant. In the Mu’allaqah, Zuhayr said:

و قال سأقضي حاجتي ثم أتقي * عدوي بألف من روائى ملجم

“I will satisfy my vengeance [on my brother’s killer by taking his life!], then I will defend myself from their reprisal with a thousand horses, all bridled in support of my cause!”

Wa qāla sa-aqdī hājatī thumma a’ttaqī ‘aduwwī bi alfin min rawā’ī muljami.

The important thing to note here is the use of taqwa– it’s the word that Zuhayr uses to “defend himself”.  To help define this, let’s look at what al-Tabrizi says, concerning taqwa:

الإتقاء أن تجعل بينك و بين ما تخافه حاجزا يحفظك

“Taqwā is the idea that you [A] place something — a barrier — [C] between yourself and that which you fear could destroy you [B].”

What al-Tabrizi is us is that taqwa is a type of self-defense or self-preservation system or technique to ward off destruction by placing something between yourself and that impending doom. For the Muslim, this is nothing other than protecting oneself against the Punishment of Allah on the Day of Judgment through the practice and accumulation of good deeds. Our example of this from the Qur’an was from suwrah al-Baqarah:

و اتقوا يوما لا تجزي نفس عن نفس شيئا و لا يقبل منها شفاعة و لا يوخذ منها عدل و لا هم ينصرون

“Defend yourself against a day that will come where no soul shall be of assistance to another whatsoever – nor shall it put forth an intercessor in its place – no compensation will be taken from it – nor shall there be anyone to come to its aid.” [Q: 2:47]

Here, Allah is commanding man to defend himself against His punishment on a day in which there will be no help, intercession, or aid from another person. In other words, protect yourself before it’s too late. For other similar uses of taqwa, see these verses: 2: 24, 2: 103, 2: 189, 2: 281, and 3: 131 for further examples.

Day Two & Three

The History of Modern American Thought — Deism and the Legacy of Enlightenment Thought in Europe and America

The European Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that sought to put the faculty of human reason at the forefront of interpreting and understanding reality.  Through this process, reason and reliance on rationalism came to put Christianity and its religious thinking at something of a “disadvantage”.  The disadvantage stemmed from Christendom’s inability to respond to the claims of Enlightenment thinkers.

For our purposes, Deism, from the Latin “deus“, meaning “god”, can be thought of thus: a belief system in which one recognizes the existence of a supreme being or creator without the need for any formal or “organized” religion.  Deists [those who practice Deism] claim that belief in God can be achieve through the sensoria or the human senses [again, with an almost total reliance upon the faculty of observation] alone without out any external influence.  Deism also rejects the notion of the supernatural: Revelation, revealed books, prophets, miracles, and the like.  They draw no discerning line between the supernatural and the superstitious.  For the Deists, to believe the Qur’an is the word of God would be just as superstitious as believing in “lucky stars or numbers”.

While the Enlightenment’s heyday was during the 1700’s, some scholars put its time line as from the middle 1600’s to the early 1800’s.  It died out by the early 19th century but its descendants continued on to what came to be known as Deism.  In fact, Deism, with its similar reliance on rational thought, had a tremendous influence on the Founding Fathers of the United States.  Some, such as Benjamin Franklin, were essentially card carrying members, while others, such as Thomas Jefferson—more an admirer of Deism—actually belonged to one of its descendants: Unitarianism.  It is Jefferson’s and his compatriots’ adherence to Unitarian thought—whose values are rooted in Deism—that played a role in how they defined the separation of Church and State.  For in Unitarian/Deistic thinking, there is no revelation; no Divine Law.  Thus, there could be no good reason to include religion in the decision making process of government.  This, along with a desire for religious freedom [amongst other reasons], explains how they chose to exclude religion from government.

Summary

  • rejects revelation, miracles, prophets, etc.
  • puts complete reliance on human reason to be able to know the cosmos and God
  • the Enlightenment lasted from the middle 1600’s to the early 1800’s
  • while the Enlightenment declined in popularity, it was succeeded by Deism
  • Deism went on to have tremendous influence: the Founding Fathers; 19th-century-thinker Charles Darwin [1809—1882], who was an English Naturalist [another descendant of Enlightenment/Deistic thought] who is responsible for the theory of evolution, eventually became an atheist. Darwin’s theory on evolution removed any potentiality for God remaining active in the cosmos [a remote or absent god]
  • was a driving force behind the separation of Church and State

So why do we need to know all of this?  The answer is that if we are to both understand ourselves better—to know the history of our own thought processes—as well as to give more effective da’wah, then we must know the method and history of how people think. In this case, American people.

Along with this greater understanding of America’s intellectual history is a need for understanding Islam [the Qur’an and the life/Sunnah of the Prophet] that also encompasses its themes and history. In today’s class we looked at the two major themes of Qur’anic revelation: the Makkan period, and the Madīnan period.

Makkah: the Revelation begins in Makkah, a small city located in a forgotten part of the world. At this time [7th century c.e.], Arabia and the Arabs were of little to no importance outside of the Hijaz.  But as one of my teachers told me, there was a great wisdom in Allah choosing the Arabs as the people who would first receive His Message. It took a group of nobodies and made them somebodies.  The Arabs of this early period were instilled with a sense of dignity [different than pride!]—a dignity that comes from making God central to one’s life—which is what carried them out of the Arabian peninsula and out to the known world.  This God-centered dignity is quite different from nationalistic types of identity, where one’s sense of worth and pride are not necessarily rooted in a practice that seeks to please Allah.

The early Makkan suwrahs are mainly concerned with trying to awaken the human being to the Ultimate Reality—there is no god but God and Muhammad is His Messenger—and bring his or her understanding of reality into conformity with that reality.  The world has been created by a Creator, a God, and it was not done so without purpose:

والذين يذكرون الله قياما وقعودا وعلى جنوبهم ويتفكرون في خلق السماوات والأرض – ربنا ما خلقت هذا باطلا سبحانك فقنا عذاب النار

“And those who remember God, either standing, sitting, as well as sitting on their sides and is given to frequent contemplation about the creation of the heavens and the earth respond: ‘O our Lord! You have not created this without purpose. You are without peer or similitude so protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” [Q: 3: 191]

This process of “reorientation” by Allah seeks to take the mundane [normal] world of humans and transform it into one where everything is a sign that speaks to us of God’s existence:

تسبح له السماوات السبع والأرض ومن فيهن

“The seven heavens and the earth proclaim none other than lā ilāha illa Allah as well as whoever is in them.” [Q: 17: 44]

In fact, as we noted when looking at Muslim history, when Muslims veered too far off course and began to concentrate more on “conquering” than on empowering, things “fell apart”.  The great empires of al-Andalus [Muslim Spain] and the Ottomans dissolved over internal strife.

Another theme to the early Revelation is to set free and empower the human being from slavehood to this life.  One of Islam’s primary objectives is to open up and set free human beings:

إذا جاء نصر الله والفتح

“When comes the help of God and the Opening.” [Q: 110: 1]

In this verse, many English translators have translated the word “fat’h” as “conquering” or “victory”.  But in fact, its root of f-t-h is more akin to “opening”.  And in particular, the opening here is referring to the Opening of Makkah, upon the Prophet’s [s] final return to Makkah.  This retaking of Makkah was a bloodless transference of power.  The result was literally, the opening of the minds and hearts of the Makkan people to the message of Islam.  When they saw that the Prophet [s] was not interested in subjugating them but rather delivering them into Islam, the numbers of Muslims grew tremendously.

This theme of opening has been repeated before.  In fact, one of the early scholars of Islam, a companion of the Prophet [s], said that the “manifest victory [opening] was not the retaking of Makkah, but was in fact, the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah:

إن فتحنا لك فتحا مبينا

لّيغفرَ لك الله ما تقدم من ذنبك و ما تأخر و يتمَ نعمته عليك و يهديَك صراطا مستقيما

و ينصُرَك الله نصرا عزيزا

“Without a doubt, we have granted you [Muhammad] the clear, manifest victory. In order that Allah might forgive you for what you have done regarding your sin, as well as pardoning any later ones, and complete His favor upon you and guide you to a straight path. And so that Allah may help you with a great assistance.” [Q: 48: 1‐3]

The man who initially arbitrated for the Quraysh [against the Muslims] was Suhail Bin ‘Amr. In his initial meeting with the Prophet [s], he refused to acknowledge him as the Messenger of Allah, instead the Prophet had to settle for putting “in the name of your Lord” and “Muhammad Ibn ‘Abdullah” on the contract.  While this enraged some of his companions, he saw it as achieving a “manifest victory”: giving the Muslim a legitimate seat at the Ka’abah.  For without it, the Muslims would have always been seen as an “other” in Arabia. Now there were no psychological or cultural barriers between being an Arab, a Makkan, and being a Muslim.

In the years that followed the Prophet’s death [s], the Arabian peninsula threatened to revert back to its pre-Islamic ways.  It was through the courageous efforts of some of the companions that kept Islam alive.  One such companion was the aforementioned Suhail Bin ‘Amr.  After seeing how the Prophet dealt with the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah and finally, with the Opening of Makkah and its people, Suhail became Muslim [his son, Abu Jandal, had converted some years before].  So when Suhail fought to keep Islam alive after the Prophet’s demise [s], he was struggling for his own deen, his own religion.  If we want our youth and new shahadahs to strive for Islam, we must impart to them a sense of ownership of Islam.

ربنا زدنا في علمنا وانفعنا به

“O’ Our Lord!, increase us in knowledge and make us benefit from it!

Day Four

In our last class, we discussed the importance of making room for our brothers and sisters, even though they may not appear to be people of significance. We discussed the story of al-Arqam Ibn al-Arqam, the cousin of the Prophet’s [s] cousin, who, out of generosity, donated his house in Makkah, at the foot of Mount Safa, to the service of Islam. This house, named Dar al-Arqam, of “The House of Arqam”, was the first safe heaven for the Muslims to gather, pray, and spread their da’wah.

We also discussed the Treaty of Ḥudaybiyyah. This was a pact what was signed by the Muslims and by the Quraysh to allow the Muslims access to the Ka’abah. Quraysh had elected Suhail Ibn ‘Amr as their representative to barter and negotiate with the Muslims. Famously, this is where the Prophet [s] agreed to sign his name as Muhammad Ibn ‘Abdullah [s] instead of Muhammad, the Messenger of God. There was a number of concessions that the Prophet made that day but in the end, it achieved his goal of successfully delivering the message of Islam to the people of Makkah. In the end, Suhail himself became Muslim after he saw how the Prophet negotiated and how he dealt with the people of Makkah at the Fatḥ al-Makkah.

Some interesting facts about the Treaty of Ḥudaybiyyah:

  • There was to be a truce of 10 years between the Muslims and Quraysh.
  • Those who wished to leave Makkah and go to the Prophet [s] in Madinah but did not obtain permission from someone of authority in Makkah, the Muslims must send them back. If, however, someone from Madinah wishes to leave Muhammad [s] and the Muslims and return to Makkah, s/he may do so freely.
  • Suhail Ibn ‘Amr, while making this treaty, held some animosity towards the Muslims because his own son, Abū Jandal, had become Muslim.

Moving on from above, we next discussed the more subtle nature of tawhid. Most of us are familiar with the notion that tawhid means “oneness”, or as it relates to Islam, the “Oneness of God”. Tawhīd, however, means more than simply stating one recognizes that God is one, but that one’s actions, one’s internal thoughts reflect this truth. For Muslims, tawhid points to Allah, the One God, and therefore, for Muslims, life takes on a special type of focus, where one is always aware of his or her Return to God.

ثم إلينا مرجعك فننبئكم بما كانوا تعملون

“Then you will be returned to Us and We shall inform you all of what you used to do.” [Q 10: 23]

On the other hand, we talked about the term, takthir [تكثير]. While shirk may be the theological opposite of tawhid, takthir is its linguistic opposite and can allow us to think a bit more clearly on the subtle dangers of shirk by talking about it through the lens of takthir.

In many ways, takthir denies any purpose to life by refusing to point back, from the many, to the One.  Instead, it sees that there are many “gods” and from them, many more things abound.  The Qur’an refutes this, by stating life most certainly does have a purpose as well as a Creator:

و يتفكرون في خلق السموت والأرض ربنا ما خلقت هذا باطلا

“And they reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth, saying: ‘O our Lord! You have not created this without purpose!'” [Q3: 191]

Islam should bring the many into focus, into a view that points to The One versus, as Muhammad Iqbal said:

“The various natural sciences are like so many vultures falling on the body of Nature, and each running away with a piece of its flesh.”

Finally, some words from our esteemed imam, Imam al-Ghazzali wrote, concerning this life:

“The should take care of the body, just as the pilgrim on his way to Makkah takes care of his camel; but if the pilgrim spends his whole time in feeding and adorning his camel, the caravan wil leave him behind, and he will perish in the desert.”

In a collected hadith, the Prophet [s] relates to us:

أثقل ما يوضع في الميزان يوم القيامة تقوى الله و حسن الخلق

“The heaviest thing to be weighed on the Scale on the Day of Judgment will be taqwā of God and goodness of character.”

من ظن أنه بدون الجهد يصل فهو متمن – و من ظن أنه ببذل الجهد يصل فهو مستغن

“For the one that thinks that he will achieve his goal without effort is a wishful thinker – and for the one that thinks that he shall, by the expending of effort, be successful, is presumptuous.”

Reading List

Finally, let me say it was my pleasure to teach this course on behalf of the Quba Institute. It was the first time I taught this course, and thus it was something of an “experiment”. Please feel free to leave me your feedback and comments and of course, if you have any questions about what was covered, please contact me.