Feeds:
Posts
Comments

What follows as an abridged and edited presentation of ʿAllāmah Ṭabāṭabāʾī’s exegesis of the opening section of Sūrah al-Muʾminūn, the 23rd chapter of the Qur’an. For those interested in the 18 page original, it can be found here.

Sūrah al-Muʾminūn (The Believers) was revealed in Mecca and consists of 118 verses. This chapter calls to believing in God and in the Last Day. It distinguishes the believers from the disbelievers by presenting the beautiful manifestations of servitude in the former, against the moral vices and evil deeds of the latter. The chapter then gives glad tidings to the believers, and warnings to the disbelievers.

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ الْمُؤْمِنُون

Successful (aflaḥa, from falḥ) indeed are the believers (al-muʾminūn, from īmān).

Falāḥ means “victory, success, achieving one’s goal.” There are two types of falāḥ: worldly and otherworldly. Worldly falāḥ is gaining what helps, facilitates and enhances one’s life in this world, such as health, wealth and honor. Otherworldly falāḥ consists of four things: life without death, wealth without need, honor without humiliation, and knowledge without ignorance. That is why it has been said, “There is no [real] pleasure except that of the hereafter.” Success is called falāḥ (lit. “splitting”) because it splits the barriers and cracks open one’s intended objective. Īmān (belief, faith) is “to admit and confirm a statement and abide by its implications.” In Qur’anic terminology, īmān means: to accept God’s Oneness, His messengers and their teachings, and the reality of the Last Day, accompanied by obedience [to God and His religion] in general. That is why we see that whenever the Qur’an praises a positive quality of the believers, or describes one of their loſty rewards in the hereafter, it couples belief with righteous deeds. For example: Whoever does good, whether male or female, and he is a believer, will most certainly make him live a good life (16:97), and [As for] those who believe and do good, a good final state shall be theirs and a goodly return (13:29), and numerous other verses. Merely acknowledging something is not considered having īmān in it, until the acknowledgement is accompanied by observing its requirements and implications in practice. This is because there are two elements in īmān: (1) knowing about something; and (2) having conviction and confidence toward it. Having conviction toward something necessitates abidance by its implications, unlike having knowledge of something, which can be devoid of conviction and observance. For example, many individuals are addicted to evil deeds or harmful habits, and whereas they admit the evil or harm in their actions, they do not quit, using the excuse of addiction. Similarly, God says [about the Pharaoh and his people’s denial of God’s clear signs]: And they denied them unjustly and proudly while their soul had been convinced of them (27:14). Having said that, it is possible for īmān to be accompanied by disobedience toward some of its requirements due to personal impediments and/or pleasant attractions. However, īmān cannot be completely devoid of obedience and its implication.

الَّذِينَ هُمْ فِي صَلَاتِهِمْ خَاشِعُون

Who are humble (khāshiʿūn, from khushūʿ) in their prayer.

Khushūʿ is a specific emotional state of a person who is dominated and defeated by a mighty being, such that it disconnects the person from everything else and directs his attention only to that mighty being. Khushūʿ is apparently a state of the heart, but based on some viewpoints, it is also ascribed to other organs and members. This extension of the meaning of khushūʿ is seen in the Prophetic narration about a person who was playing with his beard in prayer: “Had his heart been humble (khashaʿa), his limbs would have also been humble.” Another example is the verse: And the voices shall be low (khashaʿat) before the Beneficent God (20:108). The above is a comprehensive definition of humility which incorporates all other suggested meanings of the term by other exegetes, such as:(1) a feeling of awe accompanied by serenity of limbs; (2) lowering one’s gaze and being humble in behavior; (3) bowing one’s head [in humility];(4) being focused and not turning right or left; (5) glorifying God’s position and focusing one’s attention on Him; (6) demonstrating one’s subservience.

These eight verses [23:2-23:9] describe the qualities of the believers that are necessary outcomes of their belief being alive and active. It is such faith that will bring about what is meant for īmān to bring about salvation. Prayer is when one who has nothing but need and humiliation turns one’s attention toward the Threshold of Magnificence and Greatness, and toward the Source of Might and Glory: God. A person who is conscious of God’s position will necessarily be impressed by it, as he finds himself immersed in a feeling of humiliation and abasement before His Lord. This will sever his heart from any attachment or engagement that is of no significance in what he is facing [that is, his eternal life]. If one’s belief is genuine, then it will concentrate his focus on one thing alone whenever he turns to his Lord. He will not be distracted by anything else, as he is completely absorbed by his Lord. Aſter all, how does a beggar react when he faces a rich person whose wealth cannot be measured? And how does a helpless person behave when he faces the Absolute Might that can never be tainted by humility and humiliation? This idea [of faith having outward effects] is seen in a tradition where the Prophet says to Ḥārithah b. al-Nuʿmān, “Surely there is a sign for every truth, and there is a light for every right.”

As we have pointed out more than once, religion is a social institution that shapes a person’s social life in this world. Social institutions are accompanied by practices that are based on beliefs concerning the reality of the world of existence, a part of which is humankind. The differences between various social institutions are typically because of their different views concerning these matters. For instance: Suppose the people in a society believe that the universe has a Lord by Whom it has been created and to Whom it will return to, and that humankind has an eternal life which is untouched by death or destruction. Then, the daily actions and interactions of these people will incorporate a consideration of eternal life and everlasting otherworldly pleasures. But suppose the people in a society believe that the universe has one or multiple gods that conduct its affairs according to their satisfaction or dissatisfaction, but they do not believe in returning to their lord(s) [in the herefter]. Life in this society will be directed at seeking nearness to these gods and pleasing them, in order to benefit from material wellbeing and gain. Then, suppose the people in a society neither believe in God, nor in the eternal life of humankind, such as the materialists and others with the same mindset. Then the social rules and customs of this society will be based on maximizing material pleasure in the life of this world, which ends by death. As we see, religion is a practical tradition that is founded on a set of principles and worldviews (ʿaqīdah, iʿtiqād), including an understanding of humankind as a part of the world. The principles and worldviews in religion are not purely in the form of theoretical knowledge about the universe and humankind, because theoretical knowledge does not necessitate any practice by itself, even though practice hinges on theory. Rather, a religious worldview is the knowledge and realization that one should follow the practical implications of a certain theory. In other words, it is when one decides to follow and abide by the practical implications of some theoretical knowledge. This is called practical knowledge (al-ʿilm al-ʿamalī). One example of such a decision is to say: It is incumbent upon humankind to worship God, and to observe the practices that ensure human happiness in both this world and the herefter. Now, what does it mean to have īmān (faith, belief) in a religion? Given that religion is a practical tradition based on a certain worldview and cosmology, when a religious call promotes īmān it is promoting commitment to the practical implications of true belief in God, His messengers and their teachings, and the Last Day. Hence, īmān is a form of practical knowledge. Practical knowledge can either be strong or weak in terms of intensity, according to the strength or weakness of its incentives and motivations. We never perform an act unless there is an incentive or disincentive: to gain a benefit or to avoid a loss. It sometimes happens that one incentive pulls us toward a certain act, but then we are diverted from the act due to another incentive that is stronger and more influential than the first. For example, one feels the necessity to eat food in order to satiate his hunger, but sometimes he would not do so—if he realizes that the food is not good for his health. In this case, the second incentive qualifies and constrains the unconditionality of the first incentive. It can be explained more simply as follows: eating to fulfill one’s hunger is not absolutely necessary under all circumstances whatsoever, but it is necessary only when it does not harm one’s health. Similarly, the belief (īmān) in God will have its effects—such as righteous deeds and splendid moral traits like awe, humility and sincerity—only if it is not overcome by wrong incentives and devilish deceptions. In other words, belief will be effective if it is not conditional or circumstantial, as God says: And among men is he who serves Allah (standing) on the edge (22:11). Hence, a believer will only be an absolute and unconditional believer when his actions are in accordance to the implications of his belief. Some of these implications are humility in worship, abstinence from vanity, and so on.

وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ عَنِ اللَّغْوِ مُعْرِضُون

And who keep aloof (muʿriḍūna, from iʿrāḍ) from what is vain (al-laghw).

An action is called vain (laghw) if there is no benefit in it. This can differ according to the different types of benefit. For example, an act might be vain in one respect, but beneficial and useful in another. From the point of view of religion, vain acts are permissible acts that: (1) have no benefit in the hereafter, and (2) have no benefit in this world in a way that would continue to the hereafter. An example of such acts would be eating and drinking for the pleasure of it, as opposed to eating and drinking to gain strength to serve God. Therefore, if an action neither benefits one in the herefter nor in this world such that it somehow results in a benefit in the hereafter, then it is vain. To be more precise, a vain act is any action other than the obligatory and recommended acts (wājibāt and mustaḥabbāt). The verb used in this verse is iʿrāḍ (to turn away, to keep aloof), as opposed to tark (to avoid, to quit, to desert). God does not say that the believers “avoid” vain acts in an absolute sense, because aſter all, humankind is always subject to slip and mistake, and God pardons the lesser sins as long as they avoid the major ones: If you shun the great sins which you are forbidden, We will do away with your [lesser] evil deeds (4:31). Instead, He has described the believers as those who “turn away” from vanity, which means that their overall direction is not toward vanity. Iʿrāḍ (turning away, keeping aloof) is an active decision, where one is being pulled toward an action, but he turns his face away from it because he does not care about it and does not see it significant. This means that the person elevates his soul above base acts. He prefers to strive for greater objectives and more significant affairs, instead of simply engaging in matters that are contrary to nobility and goodness. It is indeed most befitting of īmān (belief, faith) to inspire one toward such nobility, because it connects one to the Origin of Magnificence and Grandeur, and the Source of Nobility and Honor: God. A believer in this sense would not be concerned with anything except achieving an everlasting, timeless and happy life. Thus he would not engage himself in anything other than what God deems to be great, and would not have a high regard for what ignorant and ignoble people care about. And when the ignorant address them, they say: Peace (25:63); And when they pass by what is vain, they pass by nobly (25:72). These verses show that their description as “those who keep aloof from vanity” is a way of describing the loftiness of their determination and the nobility of their souls.

وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِلزَّكَاةِ فَاعِلُون

And who are doers of charity (al-zakāh).

Given the mention of prayer (ṣalāh) above [in verse 23:2], what is meant by zakāh here is also a ritual. Therefore, zakāh here is meant in its financial sense, which is paying the poor-rate or almsgiving, as opposed to zakāh in the sense of self-purification from moral vices. Meanwhile, it should be noted that this chapter was revealed in Mecca, while zakāh as a financial duty in Islam was legislated later in Medina. That was when zakāh gradually became a specific term, meaning the amount of money that one pays, and this specific meaning dominated the other meanings of the word. Therefore, it is more likely that zakāh here is meant as a verbal noun (maṣdar), meaning the act of purifying one’s wealth by spending part of it in God’s way, as opposed to the actual amount that is paid. Given this sense of zakāh—as the act of charity and almsgiving—it makes sense to say that they are “doers” (fāʿilūn) of zakāh, as the verse does. It means that they are active in helping the poor financially. However, if zakāh is interpreted as the actual money that is paid, then one cannot say that they are doers of it, because money is not an action to be ascribed to a “doer.” Saying that they are “doers” (fāʿilūn) of charity shows their special attention to this act, as opposed to saying that they are “fulfillers” or “payers” of charity. For example, when someone asks a person to drink water: if the person says, “I will be a doer,” it conveys a higher degree of attention and determination to performing the act than if he says, “I will be a drinker.” Belief in God is such that it calls one to financial charity. One cannot achieve total happiness unless one lives in a felicitous society where each person receives their due rights. And a society is not felicitous unless its classes are close to one another in terms of standard of living and quality of life. Giving financial charity to the poor and the less fortunate is one of the most effective ways of achieving this objective of equity.

وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِفُرُوجِهِمْ حَافِظُون

And who guard their private parts (li-furūjihim).

إِلَّا عَلَىٰ أَزْوَاجِهِمْ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُمْ فَإِنَّهُمْ غَيْرُ مَلُومِين

Except before their mates (azwājihim) or those whom their right hands possess, for they surely are not blameable.

“Guarding one’s private part” means abstaining from sexual intercourse, which includes adultery, sodomy, intercourse with animals, and other such forms. The second verse mentions an exception to guarding the private parts. Azwāj means lawful wives. The believers are not blameworthy in sleeping with their lawful wives. Although this verse primarily describes believing men, the entire verses are about all believers, both male and female. Therefore, it can be inferred that the same standard holds for believing women: they do not sleep with any man who is unlawful to them.

What leads the people to establish certain laws in the society and induces them to abide by them is their realization that they have certain needs in life that can only be fulfilled by setting and practicing these laws. The more primary a need is and the closer it is to the simple human nature, the more urgent it will be to fulfill it, and the more detrimental it will be to neglect it. For example, the need to indulge in various types of foods and fruits comes nowhere close to the need for food in general. The same hierarchy holds for other needs. One of these primary needs in human beings is the need of each of the two genders—the male and the female—to one another for sexual intercourse. Clearly from the point of view of the Creator [or creation], the purpose of this need is that the human race may continue. Thus He has endowed humankind with a sexual instinct in order to reach this objective. That is why we find marriage and the formation of households as a universal institution in all human societies that we see [today] or hear about [in past]. This has been the case since very ancient times, showing that the survival of the human race up to this point has depended on marriage. You may object that the above view is not true because in the modern civilization, marriage is based on partnership in life, not based on procreation or satisfaction of the sexual need. The answer to this objection is that such partnership is not natural. Why not? Because if it were really a matter of partnership in life [and not sexual need], then these societies should have equally led to life partners of the same sex at a large scale. This has not occurred exactly because of its opposition to what human nature calls for. In short, marriage is a natural custom that has always existed in human societies. The only [main] obstacle in the way of this natural custom is zinā (adultery, fornication), for it is the greatest barrier against family formation, which comes with heavy burdens to bear. The satisfaction of the sexual instinct through extramarital sex results in the destruction of families and the discontinuation of the human race. That is why religious societies—in line with the pristine human nature—count adultery as a reprehensible act and an abominable indecency, and try to prevent it through any possible means. This can be seen even in modern societies: although they do not ban it completely and do not show the same opposition to it, they do not count it as something commendable either, because they can see its profound opposition to the formation of families, population growth and the subsistence of humankind. They try to minimize such relationships, and promote marriage and procreation through subtle ways like bonuses, child support, recognition and other incentives. Nevertheless, we find in all countries, whether big or small, that some people turn to this act [adultery]—which is destructive to the foundation of the society—either openly or secretly, depending on the laws and customs of that society. This tendency exists despite the facts mentioned above, that: (1) permanent marriage is a legal institution which is accepted in all human societies in the world; (2) the governments encourage it; and (3) they discourage adultery and especially try to keep the youth away from it. This is the strongest evidence that the practice of permanent marriage is not sufficient to satisfy the sexual instinct of humankind. It leaves a deficiency that must be fulfilled for humanity. Thus, it is mandatory for those who are in charge of legislation to ease and facilitate the matter of marriage further. This is why the Legislator of Islam has complemented permanent marriage by temporary marriage—in order to facilitate this matter. There are certain conditions for temporary marriage that prevent the unwanted consequences of adultery, such as the mixing of waters, destruction of the household, discontinuity of the human species, and problems concerning lineage, ascription and inheritance. These conditions are: (1) the wife exclusively belongs to her husband [during the marriage period]; (2) she must hold ʿiddah (a waiting period) after they part with one another; (3) the children count as legitimate children of the parents; (4) she is entitled to any conditions that she sets in marriage; and (5) the man does not have to carry the burdens and responsibilities of permanent marriage. By the Truth, this is something to be proud of in Islam’s simple and lenient code of law (shariah), just as many other Islamic laws like divorce and polygamy. But alas, for the signs and warners do not avail a people who cannot hear [10:101] to the point that some people say, “I prefer to commit adultery and fornication than to do temporary marriage.”

فَمَنِ ابْتَغَىٰ وَرَاءَ ذَٰلِكَ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْعَادُون

But whoever (fa-man) seeks to go beyond that, these are they that exceed the limits.

This verse is mentioned as a consequence and conclusion that builds on the exception in the previous verse, as indicated by the letter fāʾ(lit. “so, then, therefore”; translated as “but” here). That is, belief necessitates the absolute guarding of their private parts except with two groups of women: wives and bondswomen. Then, those who seek to go beyond that—that is, those who seek to have intercourse with anyone who is not among the lawful ones—they are transgressors and violators of the limit that God has defined for them. We already presented a discussion on how adultery (zinā) destroys and ruins the human species under the verse: And go not nigh to fornication; surely it is an indecency and an evil way (17:32).

وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِأَمَانَاتِهِمْ وَعَهْدِهِمْ رَاعُون

And those who are keepers (rāʿūn, from riʿāyah) of their trusts (li-amānātihim) and their covenant (ʿahdihim).

Amānah is originally a verbal noun (meaning the act of “entrustment”), but sometimes it refers to the thing that is entrusted to someone, such as money. This second sense is meant in this verse. Amānāt is in plural form in this verse, apparently referring to the different types of trust among the people. Some have suggested that it includes not only entrustment between the people, such as entrusting each other with wealth and possession, but also God’s trust to human beings, which includes: (1) God’s covenants and rules that people must follow; and(2) the body parts, organs and faculties that one should use in a way that pleases God. However, this interpretation is an unlikely possibility given the primary meaning of the words, although it is true once we analyze and generalize the meaning. In the shariah, ʿahd (covenant) is when one commits to something by uttering a prescribed formula. It stands parallel to nadhr (vow) and yamīn (oath). However, ʿahd could also include any duty that has been laid upon a believer. This usage can be seen in the verses: Is it not that whenever they made a covenant, a party of them would cast it away? (2:100), and: And certainly they had made a covenant with Allah before, that they would not turn (their) backs; and Allah’s covenant shall be inquired of (33:15). In these verses and other similar verses, the words covenant (ʿahd) and contract (mīthāq) refer to having a belief that is coupled with observance of the practical duties prescribed by God. Perhaps the singular form of ʿahd [in the current verse] implies this very meaning [of God’s covenant with humankind]: all religious duties are included in a single covenant which is that of īmān (belief, faith). Riʿāyah means ḥifẓ (to preserve, to maintain). Some have said: The root word raʿy originally means “to protect an animal,” either by giving it the food that it needs to survive or by defending it against its enemies. However, in terms of usage, the root raʿy is used for any kind of protection and maintenance. The opposite is arguably more plausible. Either way, the verse describes the believers as those who preserve their trusts from being breached, and keep their covenants from being broken. Indeed īmān( belief, faith) calls for such attitude, because it involves a sense of composure, confidence and security. When one shows trust in a believer by leaving one’s possession with him, or shows confidence in the person by making a contract with him, then that possession or contract will remain stable with him, and will be secure from loss and damage due to a breach of trust or a break of contract.

وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ عَلَىٰ صَلَوَاتِهِمْ يُحَافِظُون

And those who keep a guard on their prayers(ṣalawātihim).

Ṣalawāt is the plural of ṣalāh (prayer). The verse talks about keeping a guard on the prayers, which means maintaining their number and order. That is, they are careful not to miss any of the obligatory prayers, and are constantly mindful of them. Again, this is a necessary consequence of īmān. The verse says “prayers” in plural, while earlier we read “prayer” in singular: Who are humble in their prayer (23:2). This is because humbleness (khushūʿ) is a quality that equally applies to any prayer. Therefore, the singular form of “prayer” in that verse indicates genus (jins), which effectively includes all prayers.

أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْوَارِثُون

These are they who are the heirs

الَّذِينَ يَرِثُونَ الْفِرْدَوْسَ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُون

who shall inherit the Paradise; they shall abide therein.

Paradise (al-firdaws) is the highest of the heavenly gardens. “Inheriting” Paradise is meant in the following sense: initially, anyone can earn and enter Paradise, but some people fail to do so. Thus they forfeit their potential share and chance, and instead, the believers become heirs to them. According to the narrations, each person initially has a place in heaven and in hell. If a person dies and enters hell, then the people of heaven will “inherit” his place in heaven.

23rd night

there is a Love that never ends

there is a Beauty that never fades

there is a Peace that can never be broken

الله

yet to enter it you must travel through zaynab’s tears

and weather al-sajjad’s trials

الله

for this earth is too small

and this life too short

to contain all the dreams dreamt

in the heart of a single boy

الله

somewhere beyond

grasping with hope

trusting in You

i will follow You to the end

my King

الله

Bismillah

I am really writing this for myself. I pray that those who read it find benefit, and if they notice something off, let me know.

But I want to write it down so I don’t forget. The first Ramaḍān with two kids has made it harder to maintain focus on matters of the mind, so I hope that by writing down my thoughts they may reach deeper into my heart. I will refrain from detailed references in the interest of time.

First, the tafsīr of Sūrah al-ʾAʿla mentioned that one of the ways we honor (sabbih) the Name (ismi) of our Lord (Rabbika) is by not denigrating the names of other gods. This teaching comes straight from another Qur’anic verse. Muslims who mock Gaṇeśa, Rāma, Kṛṣṇa and other Hindu deities are going against the Qur’anic verse which reminds the Muslims that such behavior may lead others to not take Allah seriously or even mock Allah, al-Raḥmān, al-Raḥīm, and so on.

Secondly, Sūrah al-Zumar directly describes gratitude (shukr) as faith. That feeling I have had since my youth – that gratitude towards parents, community and ultimately Allah is the foundation of Islam – is made clear in this verse.

Thirdly, the “illā mā shāʾ Allāh (except what Allah wills)” verse in Sūrah al-ʾAlaʿ was meant to remind the Prophet (blessings and peace upon him and his family) that even something that was promised to him was contingent on the Divine Will. This produced deeper hope and fear in his heart for his Lord. The mufassir connects this to another verse that uses the same phrase in regards the Hereafter. This is an answer to my question about contingent eternity – that if we are too rooted in the awareness that we exist forever, we may come to disregard our status as ultimately utterly dependent upon Allah for everything. I think this can be seen in the less theistic Hindu philosophical systems (darśana-s) that accept the eternity of the soul as a fact without the need to ascribe the existence of that soul as utterly dependent upon the Lord (īśvara). So if even the Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace upon him and his family) can feel increased spiritual hope and fear at the reminder that all of the promises he is given are contingent, then of course so do we. It is a subtle point, to be sure, but I think deeply important for reflection.

Lastly, the immense joy at the guilty verdict in the George Floyd case was a powerful reminder of the fiṭrī human love for justice on Earth, as opposed to in the Hereafter. I felt like all my Sunnī and non-Muslim friends were implicitly chanting, “Labbayka yā Mahdī!” yesterday. In particular, Attorney General Ellison’s remarks about accountability leading to the “restoration” in which true justice is rooted was just so striking.

Subḥān Allāh, even in the past few minutes I have written this, I feel like there are a few more realizations that I cannot recall. But as the verse in Sūrah al-ʾAlaʿ says, “and you shall not forget, except what Allah wills!”

May Allah allow beneficial truths to penetrate my being such that I carry them with me wherever I go and embody them in my behaviors in all situations, āmīn yā Walī al-Tawfīq!

ya Husayn

we lost our friend this week

and our grief is real

but we know it will pass

and the world will return to what it was

الله

he died at home

surrounded by family

and a whole community mourned him

and raised money for his legacy

الله

but where was the outpouring when you died

O Master of the Martyrs*

where was the community when your head was raised on a lance

and paraded through the streets of Kufa and Damascus

where were the donations to take care of Zaynab and Sakina

when your unburied body lay on the sands of Karbala

who was there to lament the deaths of Qasim and Ali al-Akbar

who couldn’t bear to see you hurt and betrayed

ya Aba Abdillah*

الله

for we loved our friend

and respected our friend

but he was not you

he was not the grandson of the Messenger of Allah

blessings and peace upon him and his family

he was not the Lamp of Guidance*

and the Ark of Salvation*

he was not Husayn ibn Ali

nor are any of us

الله

and he was not killed in the name of “Islam”

as a punishment for wanting to rectify the community of his grandfather

as a warning to any who would pledge allegiance to the children of Fatima

set upon by a darkening mass

of cowards and hypocrites and yes men of the caliphs

no

our friend was simply taken back

by natural means

at the time that Allah decreed while he was still in the womb of his mother

in peace and security

and yet

we feel what we feel

الله

so we know

perhaps now more than ever

ya Husayn

that our grief for you will never end

it is not lessened by knowing that you exist in peace and bliss

a guarantee our friend does not have

so may Allah’s Mercy be upon him

but flows from the awareness that recognition of your sacrifice

and your beauty

and your guidance

and your truth

is still fought against

is still reviled

is still obfuscated

is still ignored

by the same community that you loved so much

as to lay before it not only your own life

but also the lives of your children

and your nephews

and your friends

and your own brother and sister

without any doubt in your heart

to let us know how much we strayed

from the Sunnah

and still do

الله

But that sad legacy was not our friend’s

for when I turned to you

ya Husayn

our friend listened patiently

and never threw shade

and in a few years

allowed your name to be honored

at the school which had such an impact

on both our lives

and allowed me to share a message to those in his community

and invited alums who are dedicated to you

to share your story

during the Muharram nights which we hold so dear

الله

in time

I had hoped he would have more opportunities

to learn about that which he had never been taught

but that cannot happen now in this dunya

so I leave it up to you now

ya Husayn

in the barzakh

to take my friend by the hand

and lead him home

O Master of the Youth of Paradise*

for he was only 40

and so had yet to know

the fullness of adulthood

by Allah’s Decree

اللهم صل على محمد و آل محمد

*Names of Imam Husayn mentioned in hadith: Sayyid al-Shuhadāʾ, Abū ʿAbd-Allāh, Miṣbāḥ al-Hudā, Safīnat al-Najāt, Sayyid Shabāb Ahl al-Jannah

“People are asleep. When they die, they awaken.”

Back in 2009, when I started working at Brown University, there were only three full-time Muslim chaplains in the Ivy League: myself, Omer Bajwa at Yale, and Sohaib Sultan at Princeton. The three of us worked together and coordinated many things, recognizing the privilege and responsibility our positions entailed. We each hosted an annual gathering of university Muslim chaplains at our respective campuses. Sohaib hosted a retreat for our students at a summer camp style facility that Princeton owned (picture below, where Sohaib was doing something silly – telling a jinn story? – and I had to capture it on camera). Omer hosted the Ivy League Muslims conference and Sohaib drove his students from the West and I drove my students from the East to converge on New Haven. It was a beautiful experience of starting something new, something that I had never experienced as both a Muslim undergrad at Brown and graduate student at Princeton.


I left my position at the end of 2013 right before our son was born, as my wife had a job in New Jersey at the time. Both Omer and Sohaib stayed in their positions, and as long as they were still working together I felt a sense of nostalgia and connection to “the old days.” But now I know those days are over forever. When I look back at it, it truly feels like a dream. When I look through my old pictures, I hardly feel like it was real.


And strangely enough, that is what gives my heart the most comfort at all. To hope that I will wake up in the next life, and Sohaib, Omer and I will be together in the company of the men and women we each tried to emulate and serve to the best of our ability. And we’ll think about our short time in this dunya and laugh at the beautiful dream it was, as we awaken to eternal possibilities in gardens underneath which rivers flow.

Our Lord! Admit them into the Gardens of Eternity which You have promised them, along with the righteous among their parents, spouses, and descendants. You are truly the Almighty, All-Wise. (40.8)

This post originally appeared in 2015 in The Muslim Observer. It has been slightly modified herein.

American life is defined by the intersection of three institutional sectors: public, private, and non-profit. Public denotes governmental institutions, like the IRS through which we pay for federal institutions like the National Park Service. The private sector is dominated by for-profit corporations, such as Apple, which manufactured the laptop through which I am writing this post. Non-profits, the smallest sector of the three, consist of a whole range of entities, such as hospitals, universities, and religious organizations.

It is within this context that the Qur’anic teachings regarding charitable giving are implemented for Muslims in the United States. The root n-f-q, indicating spending, is used dozens of times in the Qur’an. For example, verse 254 of Surah al-Baqara states: “You who believe, give from what We have provided for you, before the Day comes when there is no bargaining, no friendship, and no intercession. It is the disbelievers who are wrong.”

The same verb is also found in the hadith literature, such as this hadith related in Muslim’s Sahih: “Of the dinar you spend as a contribution in Allah’s path, or to set free a slave, or as a sadaqa given to a needy, or to support your family, the one yielding the greatest reward is that which you spent on your family.” This hadith gives us a broad understanding of charitable giving in Islam. Buying a laptop from Apple for your child who is going off to college can be an act of worship, even though it has nothing to do with the non-profit sector. But for many Muslims in America, there is also the desire to effect social change through charitable giving. In fact, it is the socio-economic lifeblood of the American Muslim community, and the causes for which we give are myriad. There are approximately 6 broad categories of giving:

  • Islamic centers
  • Islamic schools
  • Development organizations (e.g. Islamic Relief USA)
  • Da’wah
  • Islamic Education for adults
  • Community advocacy organizations (e.g. CAIR)

We find ourselves donating to these organizations in a variety of settings. Sometimes it is at fundraising dinner. At other times, we might have some zakat or khums to pay, and write a check to the appropriate organization(s). On occasion, we may be moved by media coverage to donate to help those suffering in our country or around the world. In all situations, the socio-political reality is the same. We write a check/use our credit card/pull cash out of our wallet, and it goes into the bank account of a registered non-profit, and they send us a receipt and use the funds for whatever purpose they were designated.

But behind that material facade is something deeper, and ultimately more important. It is the internal spiritual attitude of the person giving the money, and their ascent towards sincerity (ikhlas). It is the metaphysics of charitable giving.

We can see this process in the Qur’an, which lays out at least three different attitudes towards charitable giving. In the case of the three sections that will be quoted, the immediate context is feeding the hungry. In the context of Islam in the United States, it is most likely that such an act would be accomplished by making a donation to organization that feeds the hungry in either the USA or another country,

At the lowest level is the attitude of those who mock faith openly. Verse 47 of Surah Ya Sin states: “and when they are told, ‘Give to others out of what God has provided for you,’ the disbelievers say to the believers, ‘Why should we feed those that God could feed if He wanted? You must be deeply misguided.’” Not only does a person at this level not give, they blame God for the misery that inspires people of faith to give. They twist the concept of an All-Powerful Deity to become an excuse for their own selfishness. The average Muslim is not so bold as to speak this way, but it is possible that this may be what they think in their hearts. In a very subtle way, they may whisper to themselves, “Why do I have to give up this money I have been saving for something I want?! If God is so powerful, why doesn’t He just feed them?!” In light of the massive scale of need amongst Syrians, Yemenis, and the Rohingya – in addition to many other worthy causes worldwide and at home – the possibility of slipping into this type of thinking is very real, even for someone who outwardly identifies as a Muslim and donates to Muslim community institutions. Right now, our world needs billions and billions of dollars to help people facing real difficulties. What that means for any individual is that even if we gave all the surplus we have, there will still be a need. In such a reality, it is very possible to slip into this type of thinking, and may God protect us from it, ameen.

At a better level are those described in Surah al-Ma’un: “[Prophet], have you considered the person who denies the Judgement? It is he who pushes aside the orphan and does not urge others to feed the needy. So woe to those who pray but are heedless of their prayer; those who are all show and forbid common kindnesses.” At this level, a person is a part of the Muslim community, most notably through attendance at communal worship. But their religiosity does not deeply effect them at the level of concern for humanity. There is a disconnect between their performance of religion, and the way they treat other human beings. At this level, one is not necessarily actively opposed to charitable giving, as in the case of the first level. Rather, one is veiled from such concerns by an obsession with the outward trappings of religiosity. One has left the utter contempt for religion characterized by the first level, which is undoubtedly a good thing. But while doing so, one has strayed by failing to see that Islam has two essential elements: worship of the Creator and service to the creation.

The first and second levels highlight the struggle between the inward and the outward. But the third and higher level is when the two become integrated. Verses 8-11 of Surah al-Insan states: “They give food to the poor, the orphan, and the captive, though they love it themselves, saying, ‘We feed you for the sake of God alone: We seek neither recompense nor thanks from you. We fear the Day of our Lord––a woefully grim Day.’ So God will save them from the woes of that Day, [and] give them radiance and gladness.” At this level, the one we should all aspire towards, giving is completely detached from any hope of worldly reward or benefit. It is only for God, whether it be $1 dollar or $1,000,000 dollars. No need to sit on a board of directors. No need to even receive a thank you card. This transforms charitable giving into a transcendental search for the Divine Pleasure (ridwan). It becomes a very tangible way in which a human being expresses their hope and fear in God alone, for Allah does not announce from the Heavens that He has accepted this effort. As we learn from another hadith: “Then a man will be brought forward whom Allah generously provided for, giving him various kinds of wealth, and Allah will recall to him the benefits given, and the man will acknowledge them, to which Allah will say, ‘And what have you done with them?’ The man will answer, ‘I have not left a single kind of expenditure You love to see made, except that I have spent on it for Your sake.’ Allah will say, ‘You lie. You did it so as to be called generous, and it has already been said.’ Then he will be sentenced and dragged away on his face to be flung into the fire.”

Giving is only the first step. Giving with sincerity is the more elusive goal. One never knows whether or not Allah has accepted one’s charitable giving. But we must still strive to purify ourselves of any ulterior motive, recognizing that whatever we have given was first given to us from al-Razzaq, and only One can reward us beyond our imaginations. The metaphysics of charitable giving is to take the most worldly thing possible – money – and turn it into an expression of our realization of the Oneness of God. Only then will be capable of realizing the promise in the Qur’an: “Those who spend their wealth in God’s cause are like grains of corn that produce seven ears, each bearing a hundred grains. God gives multiple increase to whoever He wishes: He is limitless and all knowing.”

This sermon of Imam ‘Alī really spoke to me this day of Friday. It is originally found here but I have made some edits:

Divine orders descend from heaven to earth like drops of rain, bringing to everyone what is destined for them whether increase or loss.

So if any one of you sees your brother [or sister] with children or wealth or abundance in their own person, then do not make a big deal out of it. So long as a Muslim does not commit such a deed that, if it were made known, they would be humbled if it were mentioned or lowly people would feel emboldened by hearing of it, that person is like a gambler who expects that the first draw of his arrow would secure him gain and also cover up the previous loss.

أمَّا بَعْدُ، فَإِنَّ الاْمْرَ يَنْزِلُ مِنَ السَّماءِ إِلَى الاْرْضِ كَقَطر المَطَرِ إِلَى كُلِّ نَفْسٍ بِمَا قُسِمَ لَهَا مِنْ زِيَادَةٍ أَوْ نُقْصَانٍ، فإذا رَأَى أَحَدُكُمْ لاِخِيهِ غَفِيرَةً في أَهْلٍ أَوْ مَالٍ أَوْ نَفْسٍ فَلاَ تَكُونَنَّ لَهُ فِتْنَةً، فَإِنَّ المَرْءَ المُسْلِمَ مَا لَمْ يَغْشَ دَنَاءَةً تَظْهَرُ فَيَخْشَعُ لَهَا إِذَا ذُكِرَتْ، وَيُغْرَى بهَا لِئَامُ النَّاسِ، كانَ كَالفَالِجِ اليَاسِرِشة الَّذِي يَنْتَظِرُ أَوَّلَ فَوْزَةٍ مِنْ قِدَاحِهِ تُوجِبُ لَهُ المَغْنَمَ، وَيُرْفَعُ عَنْهُ بهاالمَغْرَمُ.

Similarly, the Muslim who is free from deception expects one of two good things, either responding to the call of Allah – and what is with Allah is better for him – or sustenance from Allah. They already have children and property, as well as their religion and honor. Wealth and children are the gains of this world, whereas virtuous deed are the gains of the next. For some people, Allah joins them both together.

كَذْلِكَ المَرْءُ المُسْلِمُ البَرِيءُ مِنَ الخِيَانَةِ يَنْتَظِرُ مِنَ اللهِ إِحْدَى الحُسْنَيَيْنِ: إِمَّا دَاعِيَ اللهِ فَمَا عِنْدَ اللهِ خَيْرٌ لَهُ، وَإِمَّا رِزْقَ اللهِ فَإِذَا هُوَ ذُو أَهْلٍ وَمَالٍ، وَمَعَهُ دِينُهُ وَحَسَبُهُ. إِنَّ المَالَ وَالبَنِينَ حَرْثُ الدُّنْيَا، والعَمَلَ الصَّالِحَ حَرْثُ الاْخِرَةِ، وَقَدْ يَجْمَعُهُمَا اللهُ لاِقْوَامٍ،

Be wary of Allah regarding what Allah has told you to be wary of, and hold Allah in such esteem that no lame excuses will be necessary.

Do good works without showing off or need for them to be known by others. For if someone does a good deed for other than Allah, then Allah leaves them to the one for whom they did that deed.

And we ask Allah to bless us with the ranks of the martyrs, the company of the blissful, and the friendship of the Prophets.

فَاحْذَرُوا مِنَ اللهِ مَا حَذَّرَكُمْ مِنْ نَفْسِهِ، وَاخْشَوْهُ خَشْيَةً لَيْسَتُ بَتَعْذِيرٍ وَاعْمَلُوا في غَيْرِ رِيَاءٍ وَلاَ سُمْعَةٍ؛ فَإِنَّهُ مَنْ يَعْمَلْ لِغَيْرِ اللهِ يَكِلْهُ اللهُ إِلَى مَنْ عَمِلَ لَهُ. نَسْأَلُ اللهَ مَنَازِلَ الشُّهَدَاءِ، وَمُعَايَشَةَ السُّعَدَاءِ، وَمُرَافَقَةَ الاْنْبِيَاءِ.

I don’t know you

and I am not worthy of you

but my worthiness is not the standard by which I will reach you

rather

it is your nobility and generosity

upon which I rely

sitting here

across the sea

it seems impossible that I would get there

but I once thought it impossible

to stand in front of Husayn

and then it was real

so I know that I can find myself in front of you

should God bestow upon me a mercy I do not deserve

yet again

as-salāmu ‘alayka yā Imām al-Riḍā!

I remember

sitting in a majlis

and hearing a story

that someone thought you were a servant

and asked for a massage

you did not scold him

but rather fulfilled his request

until another indicated to him who you were

I wonder if he asked you because your skin was black

and thus assumed you could not be the leader of the Muslims

beloved by God

abundant of knowledge

excellent in conduct

he saw you as fit to be his servant

when in fact the mountains and stars praised your name

as-salāmu ‘alayka yā Imām al-Riḍā!

I pray that God grants me life enough

and strength enough

and wealth enough

to find myself in your courtyard

to renew a relationship

meant for eternity

as-salāmu ‘alayka yā Imām al-Riḍā!

After all the studies of fiqh manuals and pilgrimages overseas.

After all the tazkiya al-nafs and reading of commentaries on ‘aqida texts.

After all the discussions about schools of thought and attempts to understand 1400 years of Islamic history.

After all the work building out masjids and schools and third spaces.

I am writing this from the same kitchen table where I sat eating ham as a 17 year old kid who just wanted to skateboard with my friends and go out with my girlfriend.

What was it all for?

The only compelling answer is that I have changed on the inside.

The body that sat here at age 17 wasn’t sure if God was real and was definitely not convinced of the resurrection.

But the 40+ year old man knows that whatever I am is nothing but what God has blessed me to utilize for a short time, and that just as I once came from nothing into this world, so too can God give me life again in whatever place God chooses.

My heart sends salawat and salam upon the Best of Creation and his purified progeny, the leaders of humanity, through whom I understand who God is and how best to serve God in my little way.

I understand my religion in both its historical development and its contemporary relevance, and live it each day and am willing to teach it to others.

My fingers hope to please God by writing this message, as a reminder that if I can find Islam, then any 17-year old American kid who is thinking about nothing but the dunya right now can also find the answers to the meaning of life within the Islamic tradition.

I have no idea how many years I have left on this Earth, but I am thankful for the life I have lived and the future laid out in front of me.

Human beings plan and Allah plans and Allah is the best of planners.

The Greater Islam

I need to let go.

I need to say to myself, “You have taken into consideration the myriad issues at play in the interpretation of the religious history of humanity, and you have done your spiritual due diligence (muḥāsaba) in regards to your own obligations to God and humanity vis-a-vis the Islamic tradition.”

And then just rely on God.

That unmediated, natural sense of dependence on the Creator.

Because I don’t know how to move beyond the spiritual state that I have been in.

I sent an email to a teacher. And then followed up weeks later when I didn’t hear anything. Still nothing.

But I have to remember that the teacher has no power of his own.

God holds all the keys and created all the doors.

لَهُ مَقَالِيدُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ يَبْسُطُ الرِّزْقَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ وَيَقْدِرُ إِنَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيم

“To Him belong the keys of the heavens and the earth: He expands the provision for whomever He wishes, and tightens it for whomever He wishes. Indeed He has knowledge of all things.” (42.12)

If I need a teacher, God will provide me one.

‘Allamah Tabataba’i states:

Islām-i akbar consists of total submission and absolute surrender before God, that is to say, renunciation of all complaints and objections before Him, Almighty and Glorious is He. It also connotes the recognition of the fact that anything that exists, or any event that takes place, is destined by God and, therefore, good; and that which does not occur is not in one’s best interest. In short, Islām-i akbar calls for total abstinence from questioning and complaining in regard to the Almighty Lord.” (Kernel of the Kernel, pp. 45-6)

Is not today exactly as it should be?

Is not God capable of all things?

Has not God shown me favor and answered my entreaties countless times before?

And so I need to let go of any resentment, frustration, and confusion.

And just rely on God.

%d bloggers like this: