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Archive for the ‘Ahl al-Bayt’ Category

ya Husayn

my baby is asleep

the night is quiet

a little warm

but there is no thirst here

blessing upon blessing

uncountable

my mind wanders to desert sands

burning and pain

tears and longing

how history treated you differently

there was no quiet for rest

there was where innocence was lost

the young who witnessed the slaughter

had no earthly hope for redress

trauma met only with certainty

tribulation met only with perseverance

i can only hope that my children

use their comfort and ease

to light Husayni fires

and invite all to share

in the light and warmth

you have given us

the undying hope

that dispels all darkness

ya Husayn

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Hail, Maryam, full of grace,

peace be upon thee.

Blessed art thou amongst women

and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, ʿĪsā.

Holy Maryam, Servant of God,

pray for us sinners,

now and at the hour of our death,

ameen.

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i thought i had something then

but i didn’t have you

i thought i was something then

but where were you

our Lord’s Mercy made it possible

so i could enjoy for many years

the hero of my own story

then i was told of Karbala

and my heroics were washed away

in blood and tears

nothing but a child i was

lost in his own fantasy world

dreaming of courage and insight

better to be nothing more

than a dying body riddled with arrows

to keep you safe

noble grandson of humanity’s peak

blessings and peace upon you both

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Surah al-Shura, Chapter 42, Verses 19-25

Abridged from commentary project led by Sayyid Kamal Faqih Imani (d. 2021)

Verse 19

اللَّهُ لَطِيفٌ بِعِبَادِهِ يَرْزُقُ مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَهُوَ الْقَوِيُّ الْعَزِيزُ

19. Allah is very Gracious and Kind to His servants. He gives provisions to whom He wills. And He is the All-Strong, the Omnipotent.

Grace embodies gentleness and consideration. Allah is Most Gracious, that is, He is All-Aware of the minutest affairs and is the Omnipotent Lord Who does anything with facility. Divine Omnipotence and Grace guarantee provision of sustenance for God’s servants. Divine Might is Invincible.

“Laṭīf” (“the Gracious”) is one of the Most Beautiful Names of God Almighty which is cognate with “luṭf” (“gentleness, grace, compassion, mercy”). Grace may indicate that God Almighty provides everyone with his daily sustenance in a manner unbeknownst to him. Divine Grace and Bounty is infinite and enlarging and straitening provision solely depends upon Divine Will. Divine provision is based on His Wisdom and consideration of common good and He is the Omnipotent, the Dominant, and the Victorious.

Verse 20

مَنْ كَانَ يُرِيدُ حَرْثَ الْآخِرَةِ نَزِدْ لَهُ فِي حَرْثِهِ وَمَنْ كَانَ يُرِيدُ حَرْثَ الدُّنْيَا نُؤْتِهِ مِنْهَا وَمَا لَهُ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنْ نَصِيبٍ

20. Whosoever desires the reward of the Hereafter, We give him increase in his reward, and whosoever desires the reward of this world, We give him thereof, and he has no portion in the Hereafter.

The value of man’s deeds depend upon his intentions as well as his long term and short term goals. All rewards shall be granted by God Almighty. Such rewards shall be granted proportionate to man’s intention and choice. The Arabic word “ḥarth” indicates earning and acting as it is said “so and so works to earn a living for his family.” The agricultural land which is plowed for sowing is figuratively called ḥarth, since benefits will be gained from working on it as farmers plow their land in autumn and sow the seeds such that they reap the crops in summer.

Actions are likened to seeds, since they are supposed to be scattered onto the land, penetrate into it, remain there for some time, sprout through sunshine and irrigation, and grow and bear fruit and crops. Likewise, righteous good deeds are sown in the farmland of man’s soul and turn into permanent dispositions of mind through recurrently acting upon them and they will bear fruit in this world and/or the Hereafter. It should be known that any deed will bear fruit whose quality depends on intent and will of the agent.

One who sows the seeds of good deeds in the farmland of his heart and removes the weeds and impurities from it through the hoe of fearing God Almighty and irrigates it with the pure water of faith and devotion aspiring to reap the harvest in the Hereafter, he has done good deeds with perfect faith and devotion. As God Almighty has said regarding expending in His Cause, He will reward him seven-hundredfold or more. To reap the crops of the good deeds in this world depends upon Divine Mercy and Grace, but it will entail being deprived of the portion of rewards to be granted by God Almighty in the Hereafter.

Verse 21

أَمْ لَهُمْ شُرَكَاءُ شَرَعُوا لَهُمْ مِنَ الدِّينِ مَا لَمْ يَأْذَنْ بِهِ اللَّهُ وَلَوْلا كَلِمَةُ الْفَصْلِ لَقُضِيَ بَيْنَهُمْ وَإِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

21. Or have they partners with Allah who have instituted for them a religion which Allah has not ordained? And had it not been for a decisive Word [as to giving respite to sinners], the matter would have been judged between them. And verily, for the wrong doers there is an excruciating torment.

Man is in need of Divine Laws and such need may solely be met by God Almighty rather than anyone else. Divine Laws are solely realized through Divine Permission without which it shall be devoid of legitimacy and lawfulness…There shall be excruciating torments for wrong doers who wrong their own selves and act upon laws besides Divine Laws.

Verse 22

تَرَی الظَّالِمِينَ مُشْفِقِينَ مِمَّا كَسَبُوا وَهُوَ وَاقِعٌ بِهِمْ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ فِي رَوْضَاتِ الْجَنَّاتِ لَهُمْ مَا يَشَاءُونَ عِنْدَ رَبِّهِمْ ذَلِكَ هُوَ الْفَضْلُ الْكَبِيرُ

22. You will see [on the Day of Resurrection] the wrong doers fearful of that which they have earned and it will surely befall them. But those who believe and do righteous deeds [will be] in the flowering meadows of the Gardens. They shall have whatsoever they desire with their Lord. That is the supreme Grace.

Resurrection is now invisible, but it is as if it is evident. Man’s vicious deeds entail nothing other than Hellfire. Although people of Paradise are believers and do righteous good deeds, but all those Favors are the consequences of Divine Bounties rather than the Rewards of their deeds. The Arabic word “rawḍa” is applied to a place abounding in water and trees. Addressing the Noble Prophet of Islam, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, the blessed verse says that the Prophet sees wrong doers who are afraid of their acts and are aware of the viciousness of their deeds, but they do not desist from committing evil deeds. They are unaware of the fact that they will pay for the evil consequences of their evil deeds, as if their eyes and ears are filled with muddy water hindering them from perceiving the viciousness of their deeds.

The blessed Verse is explicitly saying that wrong doers’ hearts are darkened by the viciousness of their deeds and they pay for the consequences of their sins in this world and the Hereafter; au contraire, committing righteous good deeds has illuminated believers’ hearts as if they stroll in the meadows of Paradise and whatever they desire will be provided by their Lord. It is the consequence of their faith and righteous good deeds, but they will be granted the true reward on the Day of Resurrection.

Verse 23

ذَلِكَ الَّذِي يُبَشِّرُ اللَّهُ عِبَادَهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ قُلْ لا أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ أَجْراً إِلَّا الْمَوَدَّةَ فِي الْقُرْبَی وَمَنْ يَقْتَرِفْ حَسَنَةً نَزِدْ لَهُ فِيهَا حُسْناً إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ شَكُورٌ

23. That is [the great Bounty] whereof Allah gives glad tidings to His servants who believe and do righteous good deeds. Say [O Muhammad]: “No reward do I ask of you for this except to be kind to my close relatives.” And whoever earns a good righteous deed, We shall give him an increase of good in respect thereof. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Ready to appreciate.

The preceding Verse treated of the reward of beneficent believers, e.g. gardens in Paradise and attainment to all desires and Divine Bounties. The blessed Verse in question is about the Reward of the Noble Prophet of Islam (S) who has guided hundreds of millions of people to these Gardens and Bounties. Giving a flower to someone as a gift requires a favor in return, delivering mankind requires a far greater Reward…“That” (dhalika) is a reference to the preceding blessed Verse, saying that the great Bounty promised to Godfearing believers is God’s glad tiding to His righteous servants as it is also reflected elsewhere in the Holy Qur’an:

“For them are glad tidings, in the life of this world and that of the Hereafter.”

In short, these Verses indicate that the perfect believer is happy in this world through the illuminations reflected on his heart at all times as if he is in Paradise…To express the greatness of this reward, the blessed Verse in question further adds:

“That is [the great Bounty] whereof Allah gives glad tidings to His servants who believe and do righteous good deeds.”

Such glad tidings aim at alleviating the pains of obedience to God Almighty, struggling against concupiscent desires, and jihad against enemies. They also encourage them to proceed with more vigor in vicissitudes and hardships in this life for the attainment of Divine Satisfaction…

Fakhr al-Dīn al-Razi states regarding “my close relatives” that,

“The family of the Prophet (S) are those to whom they shall return, those people whose relationship is firmer and more perfect are regarded as the ‘family’ and it is evident that Fatima, ‘Ali, Hasan, and Husayn (as) had the firmest relationship with the Messenger of Allah (S)….This fact is substantiated by consecutively transmitted traditions. Thus it is incumbent upon us to call them as the family of the Prophet (S)….

In terms of traditions, Shi’i and Sunni sources unanimously reveal that the blessed Verse in question is revealed concerning the Noble Prophet’s (S) family (Ahl al-Bayt) loving them is obligatory and enmity against them is forbidden. To sum up, all Sunnis and Shi’is, friends and foes, are unanimous in saying that it is incumbent upon all Muslims to love and support the Noble Prophet’s (S) family…

Verse 24

أَمْ يَقُولُونَ افْتَرَی عَلَی اللَّهِ كَذِباً فَإِنْ يَشَأِ اللَّهُ يَخْتِمْ عَلَی قَلْبِكَ وَيَمْحُ اللَّهُ الْبَاطِلَ وَيُحِقُّ الْحَقَّ بِكَلِمَاتِهِ إِنَّهُ عَلِيمٌ بِذَاتِ الصُّدُورِ

24. Or say they: “He has invented a lie against Allah?” If Allah willed, He could have sealed up your heart. And Allah wipes out falsehood and establishes the truth by His Word. Verily, He knows well what [secrets] are in the chests.

Regarding the question of Prophetic Call disbelievers and heretics said that the Noble Prophet of the Islamic faith (S) was a man like them and his Prophetic Call was an accusation against God Almighty; likewise they voiced the same accusation regarding the question of Imamate.

Those who did not intend to regard the love for Ahl al-Bayt as a Prophetic Call said:

“Muhammad invents lies against God by saying that his reward is that people love his next of kin.”

The blessed Verse in question is saying had the Messenger (S) invented a lie against Allah, He would vent His Wrath upon him by sealing up his heart. It is worthy of note that the blessed Verse in question resumes the subject matter of the preceding Verses concerning Prophetic Call and the Reward thereof, love for his next of kin and the Family of the Prophet…

The blessed Verse is in fact an allusion to the well-known logical argument as per which if someone claims to be the Prophet and works miracles and signs and is supported by God, but invents lies against Him, Divine Wisdom will necessitate that the miracles and His Support be taken away and he will be disgraced as it is reflected elsewhere in the Holy Qur’an.

“And if he had forged a false saying concerning Us, We surely would have seized him by his right hand [and would have cut the vessel of his heart].”

It is also noteworthy that one of the false accusations made by disbelievers and polytheists was that they said that he had regarded the love for his kith and kin as the reward for his Prophetic Call and had thus forged a false saying concerning God. Taking into account the preceding Verses, the blessed Verse in question rejects such false claim…

It rests with God Almighty to disgrace falsehood and make truth appear. Thus, He never allows anyone to forge a lie against Him and render him assistance and allow him to make miracles at the same time…

Verse 25

وَهُوَ الَّذِي يَقْبَلُ التَّوبَةَ عَنْ عِبَادِهِ وَيَعْفُو عَنِ السَّيِّئَاتِ وَيَعْلَمُ مَا تَفْعَلُونَ

25. And He it is the One Who accepts repentance from His servants, and forgives sins, and He knows what you do.

It solely rests with God Almighty to accept the repentance of His servants and forgive their sins. There are no deadlocks in Islam and the path of return is open at all times. God Almighty forgives all sins, but repentance is supposed to accompany change of words and attitudes unless it would be a kind of dissimulation and hypocrisy known by God Almighty. Since God Almighty leaves the path of return open at all times to His servants, following reproaches as to sinners’ and polytheists’ vicious deeds, the Holy Qur’an repeatedly makes reference to the path of repentance at all times and adds:

“He is the One Who accepts repentance from His servants and forgives sins.”

The point is that if man pretends repentance but keeps on committing vicious deeds, he should know that nothing is concealed from Divine Omniscience, since

“He knows what you do.”

It was mentioned above that following the Revelation of the Verse of loving Prophet’s (S) family, some hypocrites and those of frail faith said that Muhammad (S) had invented a lie against God intending to belittle them before his kith and kin following which the Verse:

“He has invented a lie against Allah?” If Allah willed, He could have sealed up your heart”

was revealed; as a consequence of which some of them regretted their words, grieved, and wept. Thus, the blessed Verse in question was revealed to bear them glad tidings that if they sincerely repent, God Almighty will forgive their sin…

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“The prayer (al-ṣalāt) is the ascension (miʿrāj) of the believer.”

There was a night unlike any other night in the last 2000 thousands years. The night that the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace upon him and his family, journeyed through the heavens and earth. It is known as “The Night Journey and the Ascension (al-isrā wa’l-miʿrāj).”

In the month of Ramadan, when we are focused on our prayers (al-ṣalāt), we are constantly putting ourselves in touch with this special night. This was the night the 5 daily prayers of the Muslims was made obligatory. But it was more than that. It was the moment when the veil was lifted for one of us so that they could see everything we cannot.

Our daily lives in this world sometimes lead us to feel that this Earth is all there really is for us, and that the best we can hope for in the future is Elon Musk’s rhetoric about Mars. But someone has already gone far further. Ayatollah Ja’far Subhani has captured this eloquently in his book on the prophetic biography (sīrah) and I recreate it here (with various edits) for our reflection.

*)

The darkness of night had spread in the horizon and silence reigned over the face of nature. The time had arrived when the living creatures take rest and sleep so that they might recuperate for their activities on the following day. The Prophet was also not an exception to this law of nature and he wished to take rest after offering his prayers. However, he suddenly heard a voice. It was the voice of the Archangel Jibreel who said to him: “This night you have to perform a very unique journey and I have been ordered to remain with you. You will have to traverse different parts of the world mounted on an animal named ‘Buraq’.”

The Prophet commenced his grand journey from the house of Umm Hani (sister of the Commander of the Faithful) and mounted on Buraq proceeded to Baytul Maqdis, situated in Jerusalem, which is also called Masjidul Aqsa. After a very short time he dismounted there and visited different parts of the mosque as well as Bethlehem which is the birth place of ‘Isa and also saw various other places associated with different Prophets. At some of these places he also performed two rak’ats of prayers.

Thereafter he commenced the second part of his journey and proceeded from that place to the skies. He then observed the stars and the system of the world and conversed with the souls of the previous Prophets and also with the angels of the heavens. He saw the centers of blessing and torture (Paradise and Hell) and also saw the places of the dwellers of Hell and Paradise from close quarters, and consequently became fully aware of the secrets of creation, the extent of the Universe and the signs of the Omnipotent.

Then he continued his journey and reached ‘Sidratul-Muntaha’ (the Lote Tree of the Utmost Boundary) and found it fully covered with splendour, magnificence and grandeur. At this time his journey came to an end he returned through the way he had gone. During his return journey also he first came to Baytul Maqdis and then proceeded to Makkah. On the way he met a trading caravan of Quraysh who had lost a camel and were making a search for it. He drank some water from a container of theirs and threw the remainder on the ground and according to another narrative placed a cover on it.

It was before daybreak when he dismounted in the house of Umme Hani from the animal which had taken him to the heavens. She was the first person to whom he related this matter and on the day following that night he made it known to the assemblies of Quraysh as well. The story of his ‘ascension’ and grand journey which was considered by Quraysh to be something impossible spread from mouth to mouth in all centres and made the chiefs of Quraysh all the more perplexed.

According to their old habit Quraysh decided to refute him and said: “Even now there are some persons in Makkah who have seen Baytul Maqdis. If what you say is correct then give an account of its structure”. The Prophet not only described the structure of Baytul Maqdis but also mentioned the incidents which had occurred between Makkah and Baytul Maqdis and said: “On my way I met the caravan of such and such tribe who had lost a camel. They had a container full of water which was a part of their equipment. I drank some water from it and then covered it. At another place I met a group of persons whose camel had run away and had broken its leg”. Quraysh said: “Tell us about the caravan of Quraysh”. The Prophet replied: “I saw them at Tan’im (a place from where the ‘Haram’ commences). A brown camel was going ahead of them and they had placed a litter on it and are now entering Makkah”. Quraysh became very much excited on account of these definite news and said: “We shall now come to know about your truth or falsehood”. However, it was not long before Abu Sufyan, the leader of the caravan, appeared and people made known to him in detail what the Prophet had said.

The above account is a gist of what has been stated in the books of exegeses and traditions.

The event of the miʿrāj of the Prophet in the heavens has been mentioned clearly in two surahs of the Qur’an and has also been alluded to in other surahs. We give here briefly the verses which clearly make a mention of the miʿrāj. In Surah al-lsra’ it has been said: “Glory be to Him Who made His servant go by night from Masjidul Haram to Masjidul Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, that We might show him some of Our signs. He alone hears all and observes all.”

سُبْحَنَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أَسْرَىٰ بِعَبْدِهِۦ لَيْلًۭا مِّنَ ٱلْمَسْجِدِ ٱلْحَرَامِ إِلَى ٱلْمَسْجِدِ ٱلْأَقْصَا ٱلَّذِى بَرَكْنَا حَوْلَهُۥ لِنُرِيَهُۥ مِنْ ءَايَتِنَآ ۚ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلسَّمِيعُ ٱلْبَصِيرُ

This verse apparently mentions the following points:

1. In order to tell us that the Prophet travelled through these worlds in a short time, not with human strength but through Divine strength, the Almighty commences His statement with “Glory be to Him!” which points to the fact that Allah is free from all defects and needs. He has also not contented Himself with this and has introduced Himself as the Agent of the journey by saying ‘Asra’ (Allah made him perform the journey). This favour was bestowed upon him so that the people might not think that the journey was performed according to natural laws and with usual means, and might, therefore deny its possibility. It has therefore, been clarified that it was undertaken through Divine Will and special favour of the Allmighty.

2. This journey was undertaken at night.

3. Notwithstanding the fact that this journey commenced from the house of Umme Hani, daughter of Abu Talib, the Allmighty has mentioned its starting place to be Masjidul Haram. This is perhaps due to the fact that the Arabs consider all of Makkah to be the House of Allah and as such all its places are treated to be ‘Masjid’ and ‘Haram.’ Hence, Allah’s saying that: “He made him journey from Masjidul Haram” is perfectly in order. According to some narratives, however, the journey started from Masjidul Haram itself.

4. The Prophet performed the journey with his body and soul together and not with his soul only. The words ‘to His servant’ bear testimony to this, because the word ‘servant’ applies to ‘body with soul’. In case the miʿrāj had been only spiritual the proper words to be used would have been ‘to His servant’s soul.’

5. The object of this grand journey was to make known to the Prophet the various aspects of the existence of the great Universe. We shall elaborate this point later.

The other surah which clearly mentions the event of is ‘Surah al-Najm’ and the verses which you will read below were revealed in this connection. When the Prophet told the Quraysh that he had physically seen the Archangel Jibreel, when he brought the first revelation, they disputed with him. The Holy Qur’an replies thus to their objection: “Why do you contend with the Prophet about his having seen Jibreel? He beheld him once again near Sidratul Muntaha which is in the proximity of Paradise, which is the abode of good ones. It was when Sidratul Muntaha was covered with grandeur. His eyes did not wander, nor did they turn aside, for he saw some of his Lord’s greatest signs”.

The exegetes and the traditionalists have quoted many things about the miʿrāj and the things observed by the Prophet but all of them are not final and indisputable. The great Shi’ah commentator and expert Qur’anic exegete, the late Allamah Tabrasi, has divided these narratives into four groups:

1. One group of the narratives is final and indisputable, for example, the fact of the miʿrāj and some of its particulars.

2. The reports which have been quoted in a correct manner but have not reached the stage of finality, although they conform to the principles and verdict of wisdom, for example, survey of Paradise and Hell, journey in the skies and conversation with the souls of the Prophets.

3. The reports which are not apparently acceptable but are capable of interpretation, for example, the Prophet’s conversation during the night with the dwellers of Paradise and Hell which can be explained away by saying that he observed their phantoms, figures and qualities.

4. Exaggerated reports coined and circulated by the liars. For example, it is said at times that the Prophet sat that night with the Almighty or that he heard the sound of His pen.

Though it was appropriate that this grand event should have been properly recorded in all respects, yet, for some reasons, differences have risen about it and one of them is about the date of its occurrence. Two great historians of Islam (Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham) say that this event occurred in the tenth year of the Prophet’s prophethood. The renowned historian Bayhaqi believes that it took place in the twelfth year of his prophethood. Some say that it occurred in the early days of his prophetic mission, whereas others say that the time of its occurrence was the middle period of the prophethood. And at times, in order to add up all these statements, it has been said that the miʿrāj of the Prophet took place more than once. However, we are of the view that the miʿrāj in which daily prayers were made compulsory took place after the death of Abu Talib which occurred in the tenth year of the prophethood of the Prophet.

We conclude this, because it is one of the established facts of history and tradition that during the night of miʿrāj the Allmighty ordered that the Prophet’s followers should offer prayers five times a day and it is also learnt from history that prayers had not been made obligatory till the death of Abu Talib, because when he was on his deathbed the chiefs of Quraysh approached him to settle the dispute between them and his nephew and to prevent him from his activities and to take whatever he wanted as a recompense for it. The Prophet who was present there addressed the chiefs thus: “I don’t want anything from you except that you should confirm that there is no god but Allah and give up worshipping the idols”. He uttered these words and did not at all mention ‘salat’ (prayers) or other articles of faith. This in itself shows that prayers had not been made obligatory till then, for, otherwise, mere declaration of faith devoid of a compulsory action like prayers would have been useless. And as regards the fact that he did not mention his own prophethood, it was because witnessing of monotheism implicitly means confirming of his prophethood...

Those who think that the miʿrāj took place earlier than the tenth year of the prophethood of the Prophet are very much mistaken, because from the eighth up to the tenth year he was economically boycotted and sought refuge in the ‘Valley of Abu Talib’ and the pitiable condition of the Muslims did not make it expedient that they should have been subjected to an additional responsibility like ‘prayers‘…

The quality of the miʿrāj of the Prophet has been a subject of discussion for long and much has been said about its being physical or spiritual, although the Qur’an and the traditions clearly state that it was physical. However, some scientific notions have prevented a group of persons from accepting this reality. Consequently they have resorted to their own interpretations and considered the miʿrāj of the Prophet to be purely spiritual and have said that only his spirit travelled through all the worlds and then returned to his sacred body. Some have gone a step further and say that all these events were a vision and the Prophet saw different places and travelled through them in a dream. The statement of the last group is so distant from logic and reality that it should not at all be considered as a part of the traditions and opinions relating to the miʿrāj. The reason for this is that when Quraysh heard that Muhammad had claimed that he had travelled through all these places during a night they became very uneasy and got up seriously to give him the lie, so much so that this event became the subject of discussion in all the assemblies of Quraysh. In the case that his traveling through these worlds had been only a vision there was no point in Quraysh rising up to refute him and to create all the tumult. This is so because if a person says that one night, while asleep, he has dreamt this and that it cannot become an object of dispute and strife, for a dream is after all a dream and many impossible things can be seen in it…

Spiritual miʿrāj means meditation about the things created by the Almighty and observation of His Grandeur and Beauty and absorption in thoughts about Him and glorifying His name and eventual freedom from material ties and worldly interests and crossing through all possibilities and entering into internal and non-material stages. And after going through all this process a special proximity to Allah is acquired, and it is not possible to define it. If spiritual miʿrāj means meditation about the Grandeur of the Almighty and the extent of the creation, such a miʿrāj is undoubtedly not peculiar to the Prophet of Islam as many Prophets and other enlightened and pure-hearted persons have also enjoyed this position, whereas the Qurtan mentions his miʿrāj as something peculiar to him and an extraordinary distinction for him. Furthermore, the Prophet had been in the aforesaid condition during many nights whereas the miʿrāj has been proved to be related to a particular night...

If the scholars of the past have said something on account of their belief in ancient astronomy, they can be excused and are not much to blame, but it is not proper for us, during the present times, to ignore the Qur’anic realities on account of a hypothesis which has been refuted by contemporary science. Some of those interested in natural sciences, who are anxious to fix a natural cause for every event and a physical agent, for every phenomenon, have chosen to deny the very basis of the miʿrāj and think that modern natural and scientific laws do not confirm to the miʿrāj of the Prophet…

But the Prophet of Islam went on the miʿrāj with the blessing of Allah to Whom the entire creation belongs and Who is the Creator of this wonderful system. It is He who has given gravity to the earth and cosmic rays to the sun, and has created different layers in the atmosphere. And He can take these things back and control them whenever He likes. In the event that the historical journey of the Prophet was accomplished under the command of Allah all these laws decidedly surrender before His absolute Will and are in the grip of His power every moment. In these circumstances, what difficulty should there be if the Lord who has given gravity to the earth and cosmic rays to the heavenly bodies should take His chosen servant out of the centre of gravity with His unlimited power and without any apparent means? Allah who has created oxygen can certainly create air for His chosen Prophet in the areas where air does not exist.

The efficacy of a miracle is basically different from that of the natural causes and the strength of man. We should not consider the strength of Allah limited like our own. If we cannot perform a job without means we should not say that the Omnipotent cannot also perform it. From the point of view of difficulty and its solution the bringing to life of the dead, the transformation of a rod into a snake, and keeping Prophet Yunus alive in the belly of a fish in the depth of the sea, the events which have been confirmed by the Heavenly Books and have been narrated for us, are not unlike the miʿrāj of the Prophet of Islam. In short all the natural causes and external impediments are controlled and conquered by the Will of Allah. His Will does not concern only that which is an impossibility, but besides that He can do whatever He likes, whether or not man possesses strength for it or not…

A person asked the fourth Imam: “Is there a particular place for Allah?” He replied: “No”. The man said: “Then why did He make His Prophet journey through the skies?” The Holy Imam replied: “He made him ascend so that he might become aware of the expanse of the Universe and see and hear wonderful things, the like of which had not been seen and heard by the eyes and ears before.”

It is no doubt necessary that the last Prophet should enjoy such a position that he should rely on this vast information and should be able to send a message to the people of the 21st century, who are still thinking of traveling to Mars, that he did this journey without any means and his Creator was kind to him and made him fully aware of the system of creation.

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all i have are words

words that rage against the darkness

spit my self onto the page

to remind me that i am still real

i’d rather get on a plane

and carve my presence into some other place

but i know i would just be running

from the angel

watching and waiting

behind the curtain

where my friends are

where my children’s grandparents are

if i could just hear you say salam

if i could just see your face again

if the Prophet Muhammad

blessings and peace upon him and his family

would just come and tell me everything will be okay

i wouldn’t take refuge in words

and i used to write songs

but songs don’t have the purity of the pain

the hopefulness of faith

the hopelessness of suffering

the hope for this

the love for this

the yearning for this

the breaking through to a world beyond death

where Imam Husayn stands

upon him peace

where there are no scars left on his neck

because I am not a Doubting Thomas

you are my bloodied Imam

the undying Abrahamic sacrifice

and so even though Muharram is gone

you remain in my heart

bridging the gap between

the silence of my dead friends

and my dead in-laws

and the promise of God

the promise that makes everything whole

the promise that makes life out of death

turns sadness into bliss

but doesn’t shy

from the blood

and emaciated bodies

racked by disease

and the injustice and cruelty

that goes on every day

that I don’t have the power to destroy

but I try to destroy it in my self

until I feel dead inside

because I would rather die

then let loose pain on the world

and yet 72 bodies pile up in Kunduz

fathers and brothers and lovers and kids

and there is nothing I can do

but send my Hail Muhammad

the Lord bless thee

and the fruit of Khadija’s womb

as protests into the unseen

believing but not yet knowing

with the eye’s certainty

how the Divine Algorithm works

that takes prayers from this earthly mess

and rewraps it

into gifts for the world between

California and Resurrection

but

i am still here

and i have the time to write

on this day

in this place

why

i don’t know

i always thought i would die young

i planned my journey as triage

but here i am

old and weak

a would be poet with the youthful heart of a wanna be warrior

in a world that keeps moving

while I hold the dead close

and type words on a screen

for al-Muḥyī al-Mumīt

because it is not my choice

when i live

or when i die

so let me make the most of this day

and the day after that

until my last day in this world

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Imam al-Naqī عليه السلام once went to visit one of his companions who had fallen sick. The fear of death had robbed him of all tranquillity and calm, so the Imam addressed him as follows:

“O servant of God, you fear death because you do not understand it correctly. Tell me, if your body were soiled with dirt so that you were pained and discomforted and afflicted with running sores, and you knew that washing in the bathhouse would rid you of all that filth and pain, would you not wish to avail yourself of the bath house to cleanse yourself of the dirt? Or would you be reluctant to do so and prefer to remain in your polluted state?”

The sick man replied:

“O descendant of the Messenger of God! I would definitely prefer to wash myself and become clean.”

To this the Imam responded:

“Know, then, that death is exactly like the bathhouse. It represents your last chance to rid yourself of your sins and to purify yourself of evil. If death embraces you now, there can be no doubt that you will be freed of all sorrow and pain and attain everlasting happiness and joy.”

Hearing these words of the Imam, the sick man changed completely and a remarkable tranquillity appeared on his face. Then in dignified fashion, he surrendered himself to death, in the shroud he had drawn around himself, full of hope in God’s mercy. He closed his eyes which had now seen the truth and hastened to his eternal abode.

[related by Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari in the book “Resurrection, Judgement and the Hereafter”]

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One of the unique aspects of the place where I am commemorating Muharram is that it is surrounded by other houses of worship.

Right behind us is a Protestant Church for Taiwanese-Americans.

A few doors down is a Protestant Church for Korean-Americans.

Across the street is a Vaiṣṇava Hindu temple rooted in the Puṣti-marg school of Vallabhācārya, serving an Indian-American community.

Next to that is a large multi-ethnic Evangelical megachurch.

A little farther down the street is another Hindu temple for Indian-Americans, this one focused on a more Advaitic approach connected to Śaivism.

I am not sure how aware of each other these communities are, but I appreciate that they all exist in a shared space in San Jose. Given that I moved to California to reflect on the reality of human diversity, it is all the more poignant. It helps me connect my academic work of studying the Hindu tradition with my lived reality as a Muslim seeking to practice his faith to the fullest extent possible.

Our center is multi-ethnic too. Arabs, South Asians, Iranians, and a smattering of other folks such as myself, gather each night to express our love for the Prophet Muhammad and his family, may blessings and peace be upon them. We use English, Arabic, Urdu and Farsi to convey our thoughts and feelings. It is a beautiful experience of unity in diversity.

But at a deeper level, the reality is that every prayer that is made by everyone in all these houses of worship is heard by the same All-Hearing (al-Samīʿ) All-Seeing (al-Baṣīr) Lord. What our Lord chooses to do with all of our prayers is up to the Lord who created all of us.

If the people from these other communities would ever like me to come share with them my faith perspective, I would be more than happy to do so.

But even if we never meet, I would like them all to know that I wish them good in this world and good in the next, and pray that they are all covered in the mercy of the Most Merciful Lord.

برحمتك يا أرحم الراحمين

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The genocide of Native Americans.

The enslavement of Africans.

The dropping of atomic bombs on Japan.

The genocide of the Rohingya.

The Holocaust.

The reigns of Saddam Hussein/Idi Amin/Joseph Stalin/etc.

The Settler-Colonialism of Zionism.

The destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

The plastic that fills the oceans.

The decimation of biodiversity.

The unreported rapes.

The unconvicted murders.

The unaccounted for detentions and unknown torture.

These are some of the things that I carry with me into Muharram,

ya Husayn.

On March 8, 1782, a group of Pennsylvania militiamen slaughtered some 90 unarmed Native Americans at the Moravian mission settlement of Gnadenhutten, Ohio. Although the militiamen claimed they were seeking revenge for Indian raids on their frontier settlements, the Indians they murdered had played no role in any attack.

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As we all know, although we might not realize it, Islam is a religion of bodies and words. As we read in the Ziyara Jami’ah Kabira:

وَأَجْسَادُكُمْ فِي ٱلْأَجْسَادِ

Your bodies are amongst other bodies

So our biological selves, the fundamental basis by which we appear as creatures upon this Earth, is something we share with the Prophets and Imams, upon them peace. There is nothing overtly mystical about this, but the Qur’an calls out attention to the fact that the biological processes by which we become who we all are today, and by which our children will become the adults of tomorrow, is itself miraculous. As is states in Surah al-Nahl, verse 78:

وَاللَّهُ أَخْرَجَكُم مِّن بُطُونِ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ شَيْئًا وَجَعَلَ لَكُمُ السَّمْعَ وَالْأَبْصَارَ وَالْأَفْئِدَةَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُون

As Ali Quli Qarai has interpreted this verse in the English language:

Allah has brought you forth from the bellies of your mothers while you did not know anything. He made for you hearing, eyesight, and hearts so that you may give thanks

And the fact that our religion is a religion of words is brought home by the fact that I am speaking and quoting everything right now, so that we are not simply a collection of bodies in a physical space, but our filling this moment with meaning through words. So much so that all I have to do is say, “wa huwa ma’kum aynama kuntum,” and perhaps some of us have a moment where the created nature of all of this becomes apparent, and we remember (or perhaps see a little bit more clearly) the shining presence of Being (al-Wujud) by which all of us – and all of this – is. But for those who do not know Arabic, I have to translated those words and say that it means, “Allah is with you wherever you are,” for that meaning (the ma’na) to reach all selves in this room.

So this teaching tradition is nothing more than bodies (real, actual people) inheriting the words (in this case, Qur’an) that have come from before, and giving them meaning that is articulated within a particular cultural reality. And that meaning is not confined to simply what we say, but what we do with our bodies. ‘Allamah Tabataba’i (Allah have mercy on him), in a a number of different works, brilliantly articulated how every human being has a deen (what we often translate as religion). He pointed out the etymologically deen is related to dayn, which means a debt in Arabic. And so each of us has been given a body by a volition (a will) other than our own, and our deen is how we use it. We cannot but use it, and so we strive to understand the meaning of human existence so that we might use it in the best way.

So what does all of this have to do with the challenges that those young Muslims in college, or the workforce, or graduate school – those who are newly married, have small kids, or who are still single – face?

I would argue…everything.

Why?

Because in the 21st century the challenge of faith for us (maybe not for other, but for us) is not the maintenance of past cultural forms – whether they be articulated in Urdu, Farsi, Arabic – but rather the articulation of a universal truth that is also adaptable to different cultural forms.

Let me ask you a simple question.

Is Imam Mahdi just for us, or for the entirety of humanity, the animals, the trees, and the fish in the ocean?

Of course the answer is clear.

But many of our youth are not taught Islam that way.

They think Islam is their particular cultural heritage that they have to hold onto in the face of different articulations of the universal. For example, they may be watching the Olympics in Tokyo right now, and they get excited if they see an athlete in hijab. Why? Because they naturally, and understandably, want to see themselves represented in the global conversation. But what about all the other athletes? Are they not also human beings created by Allah who are looking for justice on Earth? Are they not all going to die one day and witness the process by which Allah, glorified and exalted, takes stock of how all human beings have lived their lives on Earth?

To limit Islam to the representation of Muslims in public spaces is a major error. It is a subtle acquiescence to the idea that Islam is simply a pre-modern religion that has to find its place in the modern world. It is submission to the idea that multiculturalism means that Islam is no different than Chinese culture or Sikhism, and so you get to wear your hijab at the Olympics, and he gets to wear his turban and she gets to wave her flag of the Chinese Communist Party.

Because when we teach kids Islam, we use words that imply it is for everyone. “The Messenger of Allah to humanity” is one particular phrase that I have heard many times before. So it that is true, then kids want to know: why should all peoples of the world stop eating pork? What is the point of that law? I have Chinese and White and Brazilian friends who eat pork chops, but they are good people that are contributing to humanity and the well-being of the Earth. So what do I do with that?

I am not giving the pork example because that is what a lot of young adults are struggling with, but because it helps to illustrate a point. If ‘Allamah Tabataba’i’s thesis about our bodies is true – that we know instinctually that we didn’t make them, and so we are in debt to whomever or whatever did make them – then we are stating that everyone is on the same playing field. Human beings have a particular existential reality that they face – this is a secular truth as well as a religious truth – and so let’s leave aside all distinctions between human beings as a starting point. We were created by a power other than our own, are given some power for a short period of time, and then it all goes away. So what do we do with it?

If this is the case, then why pork? Why does a universal truth include a seemingly random food prohibition? Well, as we all know, answering questions like this involve being willing to speculate, but also the humility to say that Allah knows best (wa Allahu a’lam). But as a student of history, I marvel at the way, for example, Spanish culture developed a public aspect to pork consumption such that if you travel to Spain today, you will literally see pigs legs hanging from windows inside shops off the street, and find porks in so many dishes. This is clearly leftover from the Reconquista, the Catholic reconquering of the Iberian peninsular from the Muslims, when they were trying to root out secret Muslims in newly reconquered territories. And so at least at the world historical scale, we can see that pork consumption is actually a discreet data point that indicates the spread of Islam as well as the strength of Islam in varying times and places. It may be that the prohibition of pork is not actually about you or me or anyone of us, but rather the collective Ummah as a whole. It may be that it serves as a clear dividing line in sociological terms between Muslims and others. This is made all the more poignant that, in my experience, eating pork is the very last thing to go when someone is on their way out of Islam. It is very common to find young Muslims who do not pray all 5 obligatory prayers every day, but would never intentionally miss a day of fasting in the month of Ramadan. But for those young Muslims who have given up on fasting, the prohibition on pork almost always remains. It is that one last piece of taqwa that they have left – that willingness to do what Allah has commanded and avoid what Allah has prohibited. And so whether or not that is meaningful in the next life is only for Allah to decide, but here on Earth it becomes meaningful in our collective communal expression of Islam. Put another way, Islam has been the most powerful force in human history for preventing the cultivation and consumption of pigs.

It is not very hard to make an environmental point about this. But that takes a mentality that sees Islam as capable of contributing to the well-being of all of humanity and all of the Earth. If Islam is simply my heritage – “well, I don’t eat pork and my parents don’t eat pork and my grandparents didn’t eat pork, so I don’t want my kids to eat pork” – then one isn’t even going to make the connection.

And so our articulations of Islam, at the individual and communal level, have to be oriented towards the universality of Islam for the younger generation to not feel like their greatest hope is simply representation. I don’t want it to be misunderstood that I somehow think greater representation is bad – not at all. Rather, what I am saying that is that Islam is different. Islam is not being Punjabi, or female, or a white American male like myself. Islam is not being an immigrant or an indigenous person. Islam is the help and the guidance and the mercy provided by the Creator of this Earth and this universe to help everyone, including Muslims!

This is one of the great and powerful insights of our Shi’i tradition. That we recognize that from very early on, Muslims failed to live Islam, and so failed to provide humanity with the beauty that it deserves. We are all constantly called to push ourselves to not fall into the same traps of Shaytan that our Muslim ancestors, whether Sunni or Shi’i or something else, fell into. We are constantly striving and hoping to do things right, while also having the humility to know that, just as people in the past failed and acuiesced and compromised, we too might run into the same deviations. But our Imams are always there for us. Our Prophets are always there for us. And Allah is always there for us, as we strive towards the future.

We may find it deeply meaningful to recount the tragedies of the Ahl al-Bayt, upon them peace, but we are a future-oriented people. We look back on the caliphate, and can speak plainly about its positives and negatives, and point out clearly that it only ever effected approximately 25% of the habitable land on Earth. So what about the other 75%? The Islamic history of North and South America has yet to be really be written! We are people of the future, because our Imam is the Imam of North and South America, as well as the whole world!

But again, we have to embrace that mentality ourselves if we are to pass that onto our children.

In my experience, very few Muslims immigrated to the USA thinking that they were going to bring the universal truth to all the bechara and bechari white folks like me. (For those of you who don’t know any Urdu – bechara and becahari is like saying, “oh that poor poor person” in English, someone to be pitied). But that is a truth we must embrace. I can directly trace my conversion to Islam to the work of Indian immigrants to Chicago who decided they needed to make some books for their kids in hopes they would retain Islam. They probably didn’t imagine they would have an impact on an investment bank CEOs son who went to an Ivy League university. But they did.

There was an early white convert to Islam in America who stated that he was not so arrogant to think that he had figured out a truth that no one else could, but nor did he think so lowly of himself to think that others wouldn’t follow in his footsteps. I reiterate that statement. I would not be here today if I did not think, that of all the different ways of looking at the meaning human existence, that Islam is not the clearest and most comprehensive. Truth is everywhere. Justice is to be found in all times and places in varying degrees. But Islam is the call for humanity to embrace the totality of truth and to embody the perfection of justice to the extent we are capable, leaving the outcome of all things up to the One who created us and everything else.

So our words must be translations of truth and justice, and our bodies must act out truth and justice, for our Islam to be what it is supposed to be. Easily the most beloved American figure to Muslims is Malcolm X. This love transcends the Sunni and Shi’i divide, and he is often quoted by both communities. By far my favorite Malcolm quote is, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” That is a great definition of Islam, as far as I am concerned, and people love Malcolm X (also known al-Hajj Malik al-Shabazz) because they see that this quote is consistent with how he lived his life.

So we too have to struggle for that. There are many narrations of the Imams, upon them peace, that state that the true Shi’i is the person whose life and actions demonstrate the beauty of the teachings of Islam. In one hadith of Imam al-Baqir, upon him peace, he states that we should be like:

رُهْـبَانٌ بِاللَّيْلِ أَسَدٌ بِالنَّهَارِ

Monks during the night, and lions during the day.

These words alone, for example, are indicative of one of the beautiful qualities of our faith, which is that it brings together both the worldly and otherworldly virtues. For example, pretty much everyone I know, with the exception of a few far-left activist types, uses Amazon.com. It is a remarkable service that I first used to order books in college, and now spans the globe. It is hard to not admire Jeff Bezos for building it. One might even call him “a lion of business.” But as far as we know, he has no otherworldly virtues. He has firmly planted his feet in the dunya, and his whole spaceship stunt is further evidence of the nature of his deen. But then we take some pious Muslim scholar who is renowned for their worship and detachment from worldly matters, and we are in awe of their otherworldly virtues, even though we would never trust them to run a complex worldly project like a global online retail service. But Islam has called us to aspire to excellence in both.

One of the ways that I have noticed young people go astray is because they lose this balance. This is especially true in regards to the politics of representation. Sometimes their personal deen – the way they live their lives – skews towards worldly accomplishment, and they think that if they can become a tenured professor at a prestigious university, or a partner at a respected law firm, or have a popular television show, then they have been the proverbial lions during the day that their faith calls them to be. But can they give up a millions of dollars from a major television network if they feel their artisitic vision is going to be comrpomised, the way the Muslim comedian Dave Chappelle walked away from Comedy Central? Are they enough of monks at night they they will not fall into open sin when a little piece of the dunya is dangled before their eyes?

Less common, but still problematic, are those who skew towards “being religious” at the expense of worldly accomplishment. They have talents and potentials that are undeveloped and misused because they think that as long as they are praying at the beginning of the time and making their regular adhkar, they are doing what a Muslim is supposed to do. But this world is big and complex and competitive, and it requires Muslims to be audacious, to live in a way that actually demonstrates their faith. I am reminded of the guidance provided by Sayyid Sistani to the fighters in Iraq in their battle against ISIS. Again, as a student of history, I felt this was the greatest treatise on the ethics of modern war I had ever read, regardless of whether I was Muslim or not. If Islam cannot confront our realities, then it will be overwhelmed by them, and will remain only as a refuge of the socially powerless.

As we hear in a hadith of Imam al-Rida, upon him peace,

لو عرف الناس محاسن كلامنا لاتبعونا

If people knew the beauty of our words, then they would follow us…

This is a conditional sentence. People need to know the beauty of the words of the Ahl al-Bayt, upon them peace. This involves translation work as well as the more formal process of teaching the tradition. But as we know, it is not just the words of the Ahl al-Bayt that is beautiful, it is also their embodiment, their lives, their actions. Yes, they were bodies in the world just like other bodies, but, in the words of the ziyara again:

وَفِعْلُكُمُ ٱلْخَيْرُ

وَعَادَتُكُمُ ٱلإِحْسَانُ

Your actions were the embodiment of good and your habits were excellence personified.

And so to must we strive to be.

We cannot wait for others to inspire the younger generations. We must try. We must try to be reflections of the beauty of Islam.

Young people ARE inspired by Muslims often, but often simply based on the politics of representation. So they get excited when they see Riz Ahmed in Star Wars, or watch We Are Lady Parts, a new NBC-Universal show about Muslim girls in London. They post on social media about the Brooklyn Nets basketball player who recently converted to Islam, and discuss and debate the relative merits of a Muslim being the campaign manager of Bernie Sanders’ last presidential campaign.

But – and let me be a little controversial here – none of that is particularly inspiring to non-Muslims. Yes, there may be times when one of those things plays a role in someone’s journey to Islam – for example, I recently had a conversation with a young man who wanted to know more about Islam because he had watched both seasons of the show on Hulu about the Muslim comedian Ramy Yousef. But let me be blunt – no one is going to become Muslim BECAUSE of that show. They are going to become Muslim because watching everyone prostrate in unison before the Ka’ba is a beautiful symbol of human diversity under the shade of Divine Unity. They are going to become Muslim because your family is ethical and charitable and generous, and you welcome them into your home and answer their questions. They are going to become Muslim because they read a beautifully published version of the biography of the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace upon him and his family. They are going to become Muslim because their innate quest for truth and justice aligns with what they have experienced of Islam. They will HEAR the beauty of the words of the leaders of our faith, at the forefront of which is the Qur’an itself, and they will follow.

One scholar once said that many of the fiqh questions these days are actually questions of kalam (Islamic theology). By this he meant that fiqh only makes sense when you have already bought in, wholeheartedly, to the idea of God (tawhid), Prophets (nubuwwah), and a life after death (akhira). If one has doubts about those things, it is not particularly relevant where you hold your hands during qiyam in the salat, or whether you wipe your feet or wash them during wudu. So our faith has to be rooted in theological universals. This is what I was saying earlier about how a young Muslim might look at the Tokyo Olympics. If Islam for them is nothing about outward symbolism, all they are going to see is the few women wearing hijab. But if Islam for them is an expression of the collective destiny of humanity, then they will see that everyone there is a reflection of the Creator (al-Khaliq al-Bari’ al-Musawwir). They will see that the Olympics represents human aspiration for one global community living in peace, which is precisely what Imam Mahdi is destined to bring about. And they will be reminded that the strength of the strong, the quickness of the quick, and the endurance of the enduring is nothing but a Divine gift that will be taken away in old age and death.

Our age is one of marveling at human excellence and ingenuity, and so we will not survive this age spiritually without remembering that everything that is human is built on the Divine. The great heresy of our age – the one that Muslims young and old, and in the East and the West all suffer from – is the age of:

أَن رَّآهُ اسْتَغْنَى

“they think themselves as self-sufficient” as Surah al-‘Alaq states.

From the very beginning of the revelation of the Qur’an, the idea that human beings were self-sufficient was put under attack. The Qur’an engaged in a constant polemic with its audience to get them to admit that everything they were was not an accident, but rather the outcome of a process whereby God wanted to place a being on Earth with greater potential than any other. This belief that human beings are islands unto themselves, alone in a meaningless creation meant to create meaning through their human imagination, was there in the 7th century. For the jahili Arabs, there was temporary comfort in wine and song and poetry, just as there has been for the nihilistic aesthetes of Euro-American colonial modernity for hundreds of years. But death is still there to be reckoned with:

كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ ثُمَّ إِلَيْنَا تُرْجَعُون

Every soul shall taste death. Then you shall be brought back to Us

I had met numerous young and attractive and intelligent and driven Muslims who have explained to me that the moment they really became serious about their faith was when someone close to them died, and all of a sudden they didn’t feel so invincible. It is only when we fully embrace the reality that we are going to die that Islam makes sense, so there are aspects to the journey that we cannot control. You can raise a Muslim to understand intellectually that God is real, and you can explain to them rationally how the Reward and Punishment are part and parcel of how the creation works and thus part of the next life as well, but until they have seen it with their own eyes, it just doesn’t sink in as deeply. These are the moments none of us can control, but which are part and parcel of how Allah directs our lives. As it states in Surah al-‘Ankabut, verse 2:

أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَن يُتْرَكُوا أَن يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُون

Do the people suppose that they will be let off because they say, ‘We have faith,’ and they will not be tested

You can’t say, “I am a Muslim” and not be tested. Maybe that test won’t be like the Rohingya, who have faced a genocide at the hands of the military forces of Myanmar and yet held onto their faith. Maybe that test will be when one of our friends unexpectedly dies, and we have to really ask ourselves if we believe they are alive in the barzakh, because if they are, then every Thursday night it would be good for us to recite some Qur’an for them and give some sadaqa on their behalf, and not watch Netflix. Maybe that test will be a new set of opportunities and possibilities that are exciting and exhilarating, but they involve a series of significant compromises in our faith and practice? Maybe the test will be purely in our heads, and we will lives of ease and comfort, but struggle to see Islam as universal and Allah as real without taking the necessary time to strive to understand it with our best effort.

It is well established, through Qur’an and hadith, that Allah tests some people with prosperity and others with tribulation. In general, the tests we face are the tests of prosperity and ease. When I have spoken with young Muslims who are struggling with their faith, there is one clear theme that runs through it all – the desire to be free. The desire to be able to taste anything, touch anything, go anywhere, and be with anyone. Little do they know how much more they have tasted, touch, done and seen than the vast majority of human beings who have ever walked this Earth. They were not born in a village somewhere 800 years ago, destined to farm the same land their parents and grandparents farmed, never even knowing, let alone seeing, what was on the other side of the Earth. Rather, they live in Chicago, or New York, or San Jose, or Houston, and they have pleasures and delights and possibilities that most in history have never ever dreamed of. So when they read the Qur’anic verses about couches and gardens, they are unmoved. Why would I want a couch in Heaven when I already have big wrap around couch with a sectional in my parents living room, with a 50 inch flat screen on the wall streaming thousands of options?! Instead, when you ask them about Heaven, it is about travel and relationships and experiences that they feel they are being denied here on Earth.

And often the basis of that denial is somehow wrapped up in how they were taught to be Muslim. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. What would the community say if they knew. And so on and so forth.

And so they feel trapped. Trapped between an Islam of denial and a global world of possibility. But what if we reverse these ideas, and talk about Islam as the pathway to endless possibilities – not only a complete and fulfilling life here on Earth, but also never-ending expansion and journeys after we die – and the Earth as a place of denial. Denial of our hopes. Denial of our ideals. Denial of the full expression and potential of our humanity.

For we do not believe we are born to die, and end our story here on Earth. Our journey continues in the stars, and we do not need to spend billions on rocketships to get there. The same One who created the Andromeda galaxy created me, and that One can show me everything I have ever dreamed of, and far more that I could never even imagine, even if I lived for a thousand years.

This resolves the great heresy of self-sufficiency. This way of looking at Islam means that the 21st century is to embraced fully. There is no need to hide. There is no need to be afraid. We are the followers of the followers of the Imam destined to unite the globe, and all of us collectively are servants of the Creator of this planet and every other planet. That is what our faith is teaching us – that even though we are not the majority of humanity, and our beliefs are not reflected in the economic, political and cultural trends dominating the world right now – that we are in submission to the processes of history that will bring about the ultimate victory of Islam.

This is the truly audacious aspect of believing in Islam – to acknowledge your smallness on the Earth, but to truly believe, like Abraham (upon him peace) before us, that our individual journey to God has meaning even if everyone around us thinks it is ridiculous. Because that is what we often forget about the Qur’anic stories – that most of the people thought the Prophets and their followers were ridiculous and preposterous! The Qur’an itself anticipates this common psychological challenge to belief.

But being in community helps us to reaffirm our beliefs – wa tawasau bil-haqqi wa tawasau bis-sabr – when other people think we are ridiculous.

And so this is why we must think of Islam, for ourselves and in the way we convey it to not just young Muslims but all others, as a universal truth. As containing the fundamental answer to the mystery of human existence on Earth, and what our lives are meant to be lived for.

Do we think that the martyrs of Karbala lost something that day? Did they lose the opportunity to travel, to hold political office, to create art, to fly to space, to fall in love, to build a company, or any other human endeavor that people have striven for in history? Or did they gain everything because they sacrificed their lives for God, as embodiments of Surah al-Ahzab, verse 23:

مِّنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ رِجَالٌ صَدَقُوا مَا عَاهَدُوا اللَّهَ عَلَيْهِ فَمِنْهُم مَّن قَضَىٰ نَحْبَهُ وَمِنْهُم مَّن يَنتَظِرُ وَمَا بَدَّلُوا تَبْدِيلً

Among the faithful are men who fulfill what they have pledged to Allah. Of them are some who have fulfilled their pledge, and of them are some who still wait, and they have not changed in the least

So we are all those still waiting, hoping that we can draw inspiration from the martyrs of Karbala to face our own challenges. To know that whoever finds Allah has lost nothing, whereas those who have lost Allah have lost everything. To know that death is not to be feared, but rather the thousands of ways that the living forget. And to know that we are citizens of the entire Earth, because we serve the Malik al-Mulk (the Possessor of Sovereignty) who is sovereign over all nations.

اللهم صل على محمد و آل محمد و عجل فرجهم

This was originally a speech given at Baitul Ilm on July 24th, 2021. It has been slightly modified.

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