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Archive for the ‘Khutbas’ Category

The stakes are too high to not give it our all.

One of the beautiful things about the biography of the Prophet (may God bless him and his family and grant them peace) is that it shows how the Prophet directly addressed the individual needs of his followers. For example, on numerous occasions, people came to him and asked which deeds were the best, and he gave multiple answers. Scholars of hadith tell us that this was because each answer was tailored to the questioner – what was best depended on the situation of the person. A person with two elderly parents might be told that respect and caring for parents is the best of deeds, while another without parents might be told that fighting in the path of God was best. The Prophet took context into consideration, as well as the psychological needs of the questioner. We can see this beautifully in the following hadith:

Ibn Hanbal recorded Abu Umamah saying that a young man came to the Prophet and said, “O Messenger of Allah! Give me permission to commit zina [sex outside of marriage].” The people surrounded him and rebuked him, saying, “Stop! Stop!” But the Prophet said, “Come close.” The young man came to him, and he said, “Sit down,” so he sat down.

The Prophet said, “Would you like it for your mother?” The young man said, “No, by Allah, may I be ransomed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither do the people like it for their mothers.” The Prophet said, “Would you like it for your daughter?” He said, “No, by Allah, may I be ransomed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither do the people like it for their daughters.” The Prophet said, “Would you like it for your sister?” He said, “No, by Allah, may I be ransomed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither do the people like it for their sisters.” The Prophet said, “Would you like it for your paternal aunt?” He said, “No, by Allah, O Allah’s Messenger, may I be ransomed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither do the people like it for their paternal aunts.” The Prophet said, “Would you like it for your maternal aunt?” He said, “No, by Allah, O Allah’s Messenger, may I be ransomed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither do the people like it for their maternal aunts.”

Then the Prophet put his hand on him and said, “O Allah, forgive his sin, purify his heart and guard his chastity.” After that the young man never paid attention to anything of that nature.

The Prophet did not shy away from the spiritual and psychological needs of this young man, but addressed it clearly. He brought back to his mind the implications of what he was asking for, and how it relates to the general principle of loving for others what one loves for oneself. He made him confront the selfishness of his own desires, and helped him to see things from a wider perspective. Once he had made it clear in the young man’s mind that what he was requesting was deeply problematic, he also spiritually intervened on his behalf, by which he was healed from the disease of his heart.

Many scholars teach us that the refinement of our hearts is obligatory. It is something we must do, just like staying away from the haram and doing our obligatory worship. We should look for qualified teachers to help us do this, but if this is not available, then one should find a sincere brother or sister in faith to help and provide counsel on this path. For regardless of whether one has access to truly trustworthy helpers or not, one must confront the reality of their inner state. A statement attributed to Ja’far al-Sadiq states, “Whoever does not have a preacher within his or her own self will not benefit from the preaching of others.”

The Qur’an states:

 “God knows everything that is in the Heavens and Earth, and God knows everything that you conceal or declare, for God is knowing of that which is contained in the depths of your hearts.” (Surah al-Taghabun, verse 4)

God already knows everything about us, so what we have to do is admit it to ourselves and to God. This may sound easy and simple, but it is not, because it means we have to confront our deepest fears and struggles. In the case of the hadith mentioned before, perhaps we think that the young man just haphazardly asked the Prophet such a provocative question. But I think that is probably unlikely. It is much more likely that he struggled with it in private until he felt like he couldn’t control himself, and went to the Prophet in a state of deep confusion and turmoil. The fact that he was willing to speak openly about it indicates that he was probably at his wit’s end, didn’t know what else to do, and was looking for a way out as a last resort.

This internal struggle is a common feature of our human experience. Many of our life experiences are so painful and challenging, it is easier to bury them deep within – to lock them away as a means of survival, and try to forget about them. It is much harder to openly confront them and try to overcome them. But as we progress towards the Light of al-Nur, God will make us confront them whether we like it or not. This can be deeply painful, but we can take comfort in the words attributed to the Prophet: “Never is a believer stricken with a discomfort, an illness, an anxiety, a grief or mental worry or even the pricking of a thorn but God will expiate his or her sins on account of their patience.” The path of inward rectification requires that we overcome these obstacles by facing them head on, with both courage and trust in God.

The Prophet (may God bless him and his family and grant them peace) speaks of these sorts of realities in the following hadith, related in the book al-Adab al-Mufrad by al-Bukhari:

Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah say, ‘If anyone has three of his children die young and resigns them to Allah, he will enter the Garden.’ We said, ‘Messenger of Allah, what about two?’ ‘And two,’ he said.” Mahmud ibn Labid said to Jabir, “By Allah, I think that if you had asked, ‘And one?’ he would have given a similar answer.” [Jabir] said, “By Allah, I think so too.”

For the mother and father who have lost a child at a young age – one of the greatest griefs possible – confronting the reality of loss with the light of faith becomes a means to Paradise. When God decreed that their children would die, there was nothing in the whole universe that could be done to prevent it, so the Prophet counseled the parents to “resign them to Allah.”

The examples given so far may seem somewhat extreme, or perhaps even arbitrary. But they compel us to see that Islam was given to us not so that we could live in some fantasy world, divorced from our real issues. It was given to us to provide the means by which we can confront the that which is contained in the depths of our hearts. Regret, fear, the pain of loss, despair, agony, envy, weakness, lust, humiliation and the desire to humiliate, greed, hopelessness – these are some of the things that reside in our hearts, and until we have unearthed them, and brought them out to be grappled with, we are avoiding what really matters.

What is so disturbing at this moment of human history is that people who could care less about such struggles are the most widely influential, wealthy, and powerful. There are very few people, for example, on the Forbes list of most powerful people that are in any way exemplars of this process in any way, shape or form. Which is precisely why making it a priority is a revolutionary act. If the whole world is going to go to Hell, at the lead of people who could care less about the diseases of their hearts, then choosing to delve into our hearts for the sake of God is an act of eternal resistance to the lies of this temporary world.

To be clear, doing the right thing is only part of the struggle – adopting the right attitude of heart can be far more challenging. As our life unfolds however it does, can we become those who truly trust in God, the mutawakkilun? When disappointments appear, can we become truly those who are patient, the sabirun. When our bodies yearn for something that is forbidden, can we truly control ourselves, and be considered from the muttaqun? Outwardly and publicly, we may still be fighting the good fight. But inwardly and privately, where is our heart with our Lord?

The pillars of something are like the foundation – they make everything else possible, but they are just the beginning. As a philosopher might say, “they are necessary but not sufficient.” In this way, the 5 pillars of Islam provide us with a context, but they do not answer the deeply personal questions which are at the core of our being. Someone told me, “I think Islam is very compelling, but I struggle to believe in God, because if God is real, then God is to blame for my suffering and the suffering of others, whereas if this is all just an accident, then no one is to blame, and I can just chalk it up to bad luck and move on.” This may have been one of the most honest theological statements I have ever heard from anyone. This is precisely where the theological meets the personal, and it is a dynamic that all of us intuit on some level.

Ultimately, the answers of Islam revolve around inspiration and hope in the face of the inevitability of pain, loss, and suffering. God is arham al-rahimin, The Most Merciful of those who show mercy. If we could think of the greatest possible situation in this world, going to the limits of our ability to dream of a good life, then God has already thought of something far better to give to those whom God chooses. This reality is evoked by the prophetic words:

“A man from the people of fire who was enjoying the best pleasures of this world will be brought and dipped once in Hell, and God will tell him: ‘O My slave, did you ever enjoy yourself in the worldly life?’ This person would respond: ‘No, I never enjoyed any pleasure.’ Then a man of the people of Paradise who was the most miserable of this world will be brought and dipped into Paradise once, then God will ask him, ‘O My slave, did you ever experience any misfortune in this worldly life?’ The person would reply: ‘No, I never experienced any unhappiness at all.’ [related in Sahih Muslim]

Belief in these realities is essential to self transformation – otherwise every loss in this world will increase us in frustration at the state of society and resentment towards the nature of the universe. The truth is, it is God who gives and takes away, not the world. The one you love will only love you back if al-Wadud, The Loving, puts love in his or her heart for you. The money that you crave will not reach your hand unless al-Razzaq, The Provider, decrees that the hiring supervisor chooses you over other qualified applicants. The power that you hope to wield will only be manifest if al-Qadir, the Powerful, blesses you with it. The child that you hope to have will never exist unless al-Khaliq, the Creator, places it in the womb of its mother. The oppressive ruler that you hope to restrain will only be restrained by al-Mani’, the Preventer. This is reality – this is la ilaha illa Allah.

For there are moments in life when good and beauty seem destroyed, and evil and ugliness reign. Anyone who has contemplated the events of Karbala knows this like they know the veins on the back of their hand. And if that was the fate of people far better than anyone reading this message – such as Imam Husayn and Lady Zaynab – then that means there is no guarantee for us of a nice life. The hardships that weigh humanity down may continue and increase, if it is God’s wisdom for that to be the case. People of evil may hoard more power and wealth for themselves, without any seeming check on their corruption of the Earth. But hope is always there, in the freedom we have to give our hearts to God.

I cannot see the future. I do not know if the hardships will increase or relief will come like rain, unexpected and joy producing. What I know is that I am free now to give my best to God. There is no crushing rock on my chest in the desert of the Arabian sun, with only the freedom of my tongue left to call out “Ahad! Ahad!” Rather, I can still write. I can still read. I can still be there for my family to the best of my ability. I can still teach. I can still pray. I can still fast. I can still give charity. I can still do so many things.

But what does God want most of me right now, and am I willing to do it? The freedom to give one’s heart to God is not like the intoxicating freedom that you feel on a Friday night when the work week is done. It is more somber, and sometimes it hurts more than anything. Because maybe what we really want is not what God wants for us. Or maybe what we want from God is not what God is giving us right now. And so we have to find that clarity, with God’s help, where we can say the words attributed to the Prophet:

O God, whatever You have blessed me with that I love, then make it give me strength to undertake that which You love

and whatever You have withheld from me of what I love, then make it a free space [in my heart] to be filled with what You love

Seek that clarity with everything you have, for the stakes are too high for anything less.

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The Qur’an states:

“But you prefer the life of this world, whereas the next life is better and more lasting.” (87.16-7)

I have always loved these two verses, because they do not negate the value of this life. This world too is created by Allah, and reflects God’s Beauty and Majesty. It is through this world that we come to know the Creator, Fashioner, and Sustainer of this world. This world is full of signs (ayat) which point to the existence of One through whom the world is. But this world is not all there is. There is another world that is even better than this world, and it is place where loss is not possible.

This is the power of the concept of the Last Day. It is a transition from a beautiful world filled with difficulty to a far more beautiful world without difficulty. And the path to get there is not a passive one. In fact, it demands vigorous activity and opposition to the selfishness which is the root cause of the suffering inherent in this world. In the same chapter of the Qur’an it states:

“Truly successful is the one who purifies [their self]” (Qur’an, 87.14)

This self purification (tazkiya) is a prerequisite for experiencing the beauty of the next world because it is those who are selfless who help us to understand how selfishness mires us in suffering. Hamza Yusuf writes in the introduction to his book “Purification of the Heart”:

If we examine the trials and tribulations all over the earth, we’ll find they are rooted in human hearts. Covetousness, the desire to aggress and exploit, the longing to pilfer natural resources, the inordinate love of wealth, and other maladies are manifestations of diseases found nowhere but in the heart. Every criminal, miser, abuser, scoffer, embezzler, and hateful person does what he or she does because of a diseased heart. So if you want to change our world, do not begin by rectifying the outward. Instead, change the condition of the inward. It is from the unseen world that the phenomenal world emerges, and it is from the unseen realm of our hearts that all actions spring…We of the modern world are reluctant to ask ourselves, when we look at the terrible things happening, “Why do they occur?” And if we ask that with sincerity, the answer will come back in no uncertain terms: all of this is from our own selves. In so many ways, we have brought this upon ourselves. This is the only empowering position that we can take.

The Qur’an states elsewhere:

“On the day when neither wealth nor children will be of any benefit – rather [will benefit] the one who brought to Allah a sound heart” (Qur’an, 26.88-9)

It is reported that the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) said, “blessed are the pure at heart, for they shall see Allah.” The window of the heart is the window to the Hereafter, the Last Day, yawm al-qiyama, the afterlife. If the heart is sullied, one cannot see anything but the sweat, mud, and tears of this world. But when the heart is polished, it reflects the light of Allah and illuminates the true nature of this world.

When one of the Companions of the Prophet was asked by a ruler why he had come, he responded:

God sent us, and He brought us here in order to lead whom He wills from the worship of man to the worship of God alone; from the narrowness and oppression of this world to the space and abundance of the hereafter; and from the injustice of other religions to the justice of Islam. He has sent us with His religion of His creation, to call them to Him.

Our Lord has created that which no eye has ever seen, that which no ear has ever heard, and that which no human heart has ever imagined – but Allah has kept it back as a reward for those who take up the path of righteousness and piety.

“And no soul knows what has been hidden for them of the eye’s delight as a reward for what they used to do.” (32.17)

People sometimes wonder if they will get bored in Paradise (al-Jannah). But that is impossible, because Allah will always outstrip the human being’s ability to receive the blessings of Allah. Satiation of the self will continue for eternity, because Allah is always akbar – always greater. Allah is not just greater than this world – Allah is greater than the next as well.

We find ourselves in this life with questions and longings. As much as we fill ourselves with experiences, people, places, ideas – there is always the thought, “now what,” or “what else,” or “where do I go from here?” The answer is that this life is about opportunity cost – we only have so much time to do so many things, and so what will we choose to do? We don’t have time to waste, so we choose that which seems most valuable. When the belief in the Last Day takes hold in our heart, the world becomes vast but small at the same time. It is a huge place, but what is happening on the planet Jupiter, for example, is of no concern to me, because at the end of the day, Jupiter too must perish. Jupiter, despite its massiveness and complexities, is really not that amazing, because what concerns me is what my Lord has in store for me at death, which is far greater. The One who created Jupiter can create far greater. And so I live my life in search of the beauty and majesty and power and awe-inspiring wonder of creation, but I have no need to hold on to it, because is it is all perishing before my very eyes. Rather, I am interested in that which is better and more lasting.

When one looks at the teaching of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his family), one sees that he was a very practical man. His Companions usually asked him practical questions, but the few times that they asked him theoretical questions, he turned it back on them. “When will the Last Day come?” they asked. “What have you prepared for it?” was the immediate response. This is the wisdom of our Prophet: he came to teach us how to live in this world so that we might reach that which is better and more lasting. Time was of the essence, because at every moment, the clock is ticking down. Each breath takes us towards the only certain thing in life – our death.

“Worship your Lord until certainty comes to you!” (15.99)

Religion must answer the question of what happens after death, or else it will never satisfy the most basic need of human beings. Our Prophet (peace be upon him) told his family and friends that Allah would resurrect human beings after their deaths, to which many of them responded, “How can Allah bring us back when our bones have become dust?!” They had the same response that we have now – a sense of disbelief that such a thing is possible. But Allah said in no uncertain terms:

“Say [O Muhammad]: The One who created [the bones] in the first place will give them life again, for He is well-versed in all manners of creation.” (Qur’an, 36.79)

And that is our belief. That just as we live now, and just as our grandparents once lived, and just as our forefathers once lived – so shall we live again, by the awesome power of Allah.

My forefathers came to this continent from England in 1630. Many of them are buried in a cemetery in Watertown, Massachusetts. I once went to visit these distant ancestors, and on one of the graves was written the following poem:

No human skill can warm that clay

Which the cold blast of death has froze

But God shall raise the lifeless form

His animating power disclose.

This is our part of our creed (‘aqida), and it gives hope to the human heart that all of the struggle for the right, for the greater good – all of the sacrifice of selfish desire – has a purpose, and will be rewarded to an unfathomable degree through Allah’s mercy.

History is not an accident – it is all a purposeful journey towards the Last Day.

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اللهم صل على سيدنا محمد و آله و سلم

27th Ramaḍān, 1436 AH

Indeed, We sent [the Qur’ān] down during the Night of Decree.
And what can make you know what is the Night of Decree?
The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months.
The angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter.
Peace it is until the emergence of dawn.

I have never met an angel, never felt an angel’s presence, nor do I think I truly understand their importance – but I believe in them nonetheless, because Allah and the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him and his family) have informed me of their existence.

Those who lived in the Prophetic era didn’t see them in their angelic forms either – even though Muhammad’s prophethood was predicated on his claim that he was regularly meeting with the archangel Gabriel (Jibrīl) – so I don’t take my not seeing them as a bad sign. As the Qur’ān states:

“O you who believe, remember Allah‘s favor to you, when the forces (of the disbelievers) came upon you, and We sent upon them a wind, and the forces (of angels) you did not see. Allah is watchful of whatever you do.” (Qur’ān, 33.9)

Contrast that with verses where they are seen by normal human beings:

“Those who do not fear to meet Us say, ‘Why are the angels not sent down to us?’ or ‘Why can we not see our Lord?’ They are too proud of themselves and too insolent. There will be no good news for the guilty on the Day they see the angels. The angels will say, ‘You cannot cross the forbidden barrier,’ and We shall turn to the deeds they have done and scatter them like dust.” (21.23)

So I recognize that not seeing them is a test of faith, however much that must enrage the pure materialist. There is no empirical means to access the angelic realm – at no point in human history will a brilliant PhD from Oxford discover a mathematical proof for the existence of angels that leads a research team with billions of dollars in funding to develop a piece of technology that allows humans to observe angels at work. Such a storyline might work in Hollywood, but it is impossible in the real world. But as the Qur’an states,

“…If you could only see the wicked in their death agonies, as the angels stretch out their hands [to them], saying, ‘Give up your souls. Today you will be repaid with a humiliating punishment for saying false things about God and for arrogantly rejecting His revelations.’” (6.93)

So maybe the skeptical mind should not be too quick to see an angel – they might not like what they see staring back at them.

The inclusion of belief in angels in the following verse, which has been a personal source of guidance for many years, is enough to prove their importance to me:

“Goodness does not consist in turning your face towards East or West. The truly good are those who believe in God and the Last Day, in the angels, the Scripture, and the prophets; who give away some of their wealth, however much they cherish it, to their relatives, to orphans, the needy, travellers and beggars, and to liberate those in bondage; those who keep up the prayer and pay the prescribed alms; who keep pledges whenever they make them; who are steadfast in misfortune, adversity, and times of danger. These are the ones who are true, and it is they who are aware of God.” (Qur’ān 2.177)

God has mentioned the angels along with other obvious fundamentals of sound faith and righteous action, and so we do not deny them. But how can we get a better understanding of angels?

Perhaps we can reflect on two verses of the Qur’ān:

“Say [Prophet], ‘If anyone is an enemy of Gabriel – who by God’s leave brought down the Quran to your heart confirming previous scriptures as a guide and good news for the faithful – if anyone is an enemy of God, His angels and His messengers, of Gabriel and Michael, then God is certainly the enemy of such disbelievers.'” (2.97-8)

God speaks of the enemies of the angels. Some scholarly commentaries on the Qur’ān mention incidents that happened in the time of the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him and his family), but let us first explore some general meanings. First, to actively disbelieve in the angels likely means to be their enemy. Secondly, to deny the role that they have played in the revelations from God to humanity is likely to take them as an enemy. Thirdly, to interpret them away as some force of nature, and not as the created beings whom God has named quite explicitly as Gabriel and Michael (Mīkāl) is more likely to take them as enemies. Lastly, to believe that the angel is your enemy is to take them as an enemy, which was actually the story behind the verse. There were people in the Prophetic era who considered Gabriel to be their enemy. The following story is related in the classical Qur’an commentary Asbāb al-Nuzūl by al-Wāḥidī (d. 1075):

“The Jews came to the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and said: ‘O Abu’l-Qasim! We would like to ask you about a few things; we shall follow you if you answer them. Who, among the angels, comes to you? For there is not a single prophet except that an angel comes to him with a message and revelation from his Lord, glorified and majestic, so who is the angel who comes to you?’ He said: ‘it is Gabriel’. They said: ‘That is the one who comes down with war and fighting. He is our enemy. If you had said: Michael, who comes down with rain and mercy, we would have followed you’.”

Angels were part of the beliefs of the followers of Moses (upon him peace) and Jesus (upon him peace), and they show up repeatedly in the Bible. Islam affirmed that general teaching, but also clarified various misconceptions. For example, in Islam, there is no concept of a “Fallen Angel,” for angels by their very nature cannot disobey God. And just as angels supported previous prophets, such as the angels that rescued the Prophet Lot (upon him peace) from Sodom and Gomorrah, so too did angels play an important role in the mission of Muhammad (blessings and peace be upon him and his family). For example, they fought with the Muslims at the Battle of Badr:

“God helped you at Badr when you were very weak. Be mindful of God, so that you may be grateful. Remember when you said to the believers, ‘Will you be satisfied if your Lord reinforces you by sending down three thousand angels? Well, if you are steadfast and mindful of God, your Lord will reinforce you with five thousand swooping angels if the enemy should suddenly attack you!’ and God arranged it so.” (3.123-5)

Importantly, there is no indication that angelic support has been removed from the Islamic community, so many centuries later. Our natural spiritual desire is to want knowledge about angelic support that we can rely upon. So when we look at the narrations from the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him and his family), we see various situations when the angels come to help and pray for those who believe in them:

  1. Seeking beneficial knowledge
  2. Sitting and waiting for prayer while in a state of ritual purity
  3. Fasting while others are eating nearby
  4. Visiting those who are sick
  5. Making du’a for someone who is absent
  6. Gathering to remember Allah

The reality is that the angels are there to support and comfort us on the path towards the Truth. Struggling for the sake of what is right can often feel like a lonely road, but if one remembers that the angels surround the person struggling for good, then one finds a sense of tranquility. The following verses reminds us of the angels’ concern for us:

“Those [angels] who carry the Throne and those around it exalt [Allah] with praise of their Lord and believe in Him and ask forgiveness for those who have believed: ‘Our Lord, You have encompassed all things in mercy and knowledge, so forgive those who have repented and followed Your way and protect them from the punishment of Hellfire. Our Lord, admit them to gardens of perpetual residence which You have promised them and whoever was righteous among their fathers, their spouses and their offspring. Indeed, it is You Who is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. And protect them from the evil consequences [of their deeds]. And he whom You protect from evil consequences that Day – You will have given him mercy. And that is the great attainment.'” (40.7-9)

Angels are Allah’s creation, and they obey the command of their Lord. And yet, the angels would seem like “demigods” to the masses of humanity. Their power and influence in the world, the reported nature of their size and appearance – all of these, if truly grasped, strike awe in the heart of the human being. People worship, serve and sacrifice to imaginary beings that are far less majestic than angels, and yet it is a remarkable testimony to the Muslim understanding of monotheism (tawḥīd) that we never consider angels as anything other than God’s loyal servants. There are some in human history who have worshipped the angels, believing that their immense power means that they have the inherent power to benefit or harm us. But the reality is that they do only what they are commanded. They have no inherent power, but rather all power and might and glory belongs to Allah alone, Who is the Creator of the angels. When we remember that, we feel the brotherhood of creation with the angels. They are different from us, and yet we serve the same Master.

The recitation of the Qur’ān reminds us of the centrality of the angels, for it is Gabriel “who by God’s leave brought down the Quran to [Muhammad’s] heart confirming previous scriptures as a guide and good news for the faithful.” We believe that the Angel Gabriel came in Ramadan to review the Qur’an with the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him and his family), acting not simply as medium of revelation, but also a teacher.

“The Prophet was the most generous of all the people, and he used to become more generous in Ramadan when Gabriel met him. Gabriel used to meet him every night during Ramadan to revise the Qur’an with him. Allah’s Messenger then used to be more generous than a free flowing wind.”

When the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him and his family) was absorbed in the Qur’ān, the delights of this world were nothing and could be easily given away as an additional act of worship. This is profound, especially when we remember that another fundamental act of worship tied to the prophetic reality, the salawat, also leads us to the same realization. As the Qur’ān states:

“Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet: O you that believe! Send blessings on him, and salute him with all respect.” (33.56)

After that, we send blessings upon the Prophet, and in turn the angels ask for blessings on us, as the hadith states:

“There is no person who sends blessings on me, but the angels send blessings on him so long as he sends blessings on me. So let a person do a little of that or a lot.”

It is a cycle of blessing, and another manifestation of the mercy of Allah that is built into the world. The Messenger is mercy, and recitation of the Qur’ān and sending salawat increases us in that connection with mercy!

Even though we have not met the angels face to face in this world, we will meet them in the next life without a doubt. There are many different angels that Allah and His Messenger (blessings and peace be upon him and his family) have informed us about, but perhaps the most important to mention at the end of this writing are the two angels who will meet us at our end: Munkar and Nakīr. Both Sunnī and Shi‘ī theologians state that everyone who dies is questioned in their grave by these two angels. It is reported that they ask three questions:

Who is your Lord?

What is your religion?

What do you say about the messenger that was sent to you?

So in closing, I remind myself and anyone who reads this to should remember these three questions whenever we hear talk of angels, and think about how we will respond to these questions when Munkar and Nakīr come to meet us in our graves. If our lives are filled with faith and good deeds, we hope that Allah will give us to the strength to sincerely reply:

Allah is my Lord (Allāhu rabbī)

Islam is my religion (al-Islāmu dīnī)

Muhammad is my Prophet! (Muhammadun nabīyī)

اللهم صل على سيدنا محمد و آله و سلم

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The Blessing of Daughters

In Sūrah al-Takwīr, God talks about the ending of the world, when all that we take for granted as fixed and stable is up-ended and destroyed. The translation begins as follows: “When the sun is shrouded in darkness, when the stars are dimmed, when the mountains are set in motion…” It is only our imaginations that can grant us access to the point that God is trying to make, as the Qur’ān speaks to our imaginations. We have seen something of this already in the world – one might think of the destruction of Mount St. Helens, and from that experience begin to imagine what it would be like for whole mountain ranges to begin to crumble. This is a manifestation of ‘ilm al-yaqīn (the knowledge of certainty), the first of three levels of certainty that the Qur’ān elucidates. The Qur’ān informs us of the inevitable destruction of the Earth, a fact confirmed by geological and cosmological science, and thus we arrive at a mental state of certainty where we do not doubt this information. But we need to move beyond the realm of knowledge to the realm of imagination, for the eye of the heart can also begin to see these things in more vivid detail, and thus bring us closer to the next level of certainty known as ‘ayn al-yaqīn (the eye of certainty). But if our hearts are rusted over or hardened, then these things will remain mere words on a page, or mere sounds recited by our lips. Our inner eye will not begin to witness these realities until it is too late for that witnessing to be of any benefit to us. So we gather in religious gatherings for precisely this purpose – to nourish our hearts. We do so, so that when we leave these sacred times, and go back to our everyday lives with our everyday concerns and our everyday behaviors, we do so with hearts that are open to the manifestations of the Real (al-Ḥaqq) that are always ever-present before us, but which we struggle to see, as through a glass darkly.

In the midst of this tremendous scene, where the stage upon which we have enacted the dramas of our lives begins to dissolve back into nothingness, God mentions one sin. The commentators of the Qur’ān, the mufassirūn, tell us that the placement of this sin amidst the destruction of the world is an indication of its immense gravity. This sin is so grave, that its effects remain without diminishing or being distorted, even unto the end of time, after all that we build our lives upon has vanished into thin air. God says:

“And when the baby girl who is buried alive is asked, for what sin she was killed” (81.8-9)

Burying baby girls alive, a sin that still exists in various parts of the world, is of such gravity that God chose to mention it in this context. Al-ḥamdu li’llāh, the advent of the life and message of Prophet Muḥammad (may peace and blessings be upon him and his family) brought about a destruction of this practice in the Arabian peninsula, but this work still remains unfinished on a global scale. According to the documentary film, “It’s A Girl,” there are more female infanticides every year in India and China than the total number of females born in the United States. But in order for us to continue this prophetic work, we have to go even deeper. The Muslim is not content with just avoiding the gravest of outward sins – we want to know the root cause, the diseases of our hearts that make it possible for human beings to kill, humiliate, one-up, rape, degrade, debase, oppress, or exploit other servants of God, other human beings just like them.

Why was it that these little girls in the time of jāhilīya (the pre-Islamic period, lit. “ignorance”) were killed? Was it for any other reason than that they were girls? Was it for any other reason that, when the child was born, the hopeful anticipation of having a son quickly dissolved into shame and sadness at the birth of a daughter? Burying them alive was only the most visible aspect of the sin – at its root was a devaluing of the life and worth of daughters. When we look at human history, we see that, in general, men are more valued in society than women. It is a sad and painful truth to acknowledge, and we must constantly reaffirm that part of the mission of the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) was to combat this tendency. But the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) did not simply outlaw shameful cultural practices – he demonstrated the means to uproot them completely. He spoke very frankly about his love for his own daughters. In Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, in the chapter on the merits of Fāṭima, he states “…my daughter is part of me. He who disturbs her in fact disturbs me, and he who offends her in fact offends me.” His love for her was so great that his heart was filled with empathy. He wanted to know her struggles and challenges and joys and hopes, as any parent should do so for their child. He let her know that he was on her side in the trials of life. In this way, he demonstrated to us that loving our daughters is not simply something that is done through feeding them, putting a roof over their head, and trying to find them a good husband. It is through having a deep emotional connection with them, so that they truly feel understood and supported by their parents.

In addition to demonstrating for us an exalted love of a parent for their daughter, the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) also provided us with many hadiths where he encouraged having daughters. In Imām al-Bukhari’s book al-Adab al-Mufrad, it states that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) said, “There is no Muslim who has two daughters and takes good care of them but that he will enter the Garden.” It is not often remembered that, by mentioning two daughters, he is in fact encouraging the parents who have only one daughter to hope for a second! Daughters are gifts from God that God gives to those God intends good for, for they can lead one to Heaven if they are appreciated, loved, and nurtured in the best of ways.

For 6 years I worked as a Muslim chaplain at two different Ivy League universities. In that time, I helped raise the sons and daughters of the American Muslim community. They came to me with their deepest hopes and fears, at the threshold of adulthood and independence, having left their parents’ homes behind. I did my best to be there for them, and help them through these crucial years. It was challenging and rewarding work, but the most challenging thing that I consistently dealt with was learning from young women about how their parents mistreated them. Sometimes it involved physical violence, something which leaves scars on the psyche of a person for their whole life, and is completely unjustifiable. It is proof enough to know what is right and true to reflect on the fact that, to my knowledge, there is no mention of the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him and his family) ever striking his daughters Fāṭima, Zaynab, Ruqayya, and Umm Kulthūm. So anyone who claims to follow the Sunnah would do well to remember this fact. But it is not just physical abuse that is wrong and leaves deep scars. Verbal abuse, even subtle forms of it, can be devastating. It can make a young woman feel like she is never good enough, and that she is unloved and unloveable. It can make her feel like family life is a trial to be endured, not a blessing to be cherished. In very difficult cases, it can make her feel like the choice is between staying in an abusive family or simply cutting ties with them for the sake of physical, emotional, or even spiritual survival. And in the worst of cases, it can lead to a young woman feeling so trapped that the idea of suicide, once only passing thoughts in her mind, begin to take root. May God protect all of our daughters from these pains, and open our eyes to the ways we may be subtly contributing to their pain, āmīn.

Can we imagine the Messenger of Allah (sall Allāhu alayhi wa ālihi wa sallam) belittling his daughters? Telling them that they are fat and need to lose weight? Telling them that they are not smart enough or good enough to do something they are excited about doing? Constantly fretting about why they are not married, as if their only purpose in life was to bring a son-in-law into the family, and produce some grandchildren? The Best of Creation taught us that daughters are blessings from Allah as they are, not as a means to some worldly end, and we should tell our daughters that we love them just as they are. We have to really know them and listen to them, so that we are not projecting onto them our own distorted vision of what we want them to be. This is tough work, and it is almost always not resolved overnight. It often involves unlearning things that have been ingrained in us over the decades of our lives, things that make us mistreat daughters without even realizing it. But that difficult internal journey is worth it, because we do so in search of the exalted empathy of the one who said, “my daughter is a part of me. He who disturbs her in fact disturbs me, and he who offends her in fact offends me.”

The sons of the family also have a role to play. In some of the hadiths about the blessings of daughters, sisters are mentioned as well, in part to remind the brothers of the importance of treating their sisters in the best of ways. Sons are often the object of their parents’ affection, and given more encouragement and leeway in how they live their lives. It is often the case that much of the pain in the hearts of young Muslim women comes about as a result of many years of comparing the way that they were treated with the treatment their brothers received from their parents. As such, sons often need to help their parents to understand, treat, and love their daughters as best as possible.

I cannot stress how clear it has become to me working with young adults how vitally important it is to have a loving home. If a child feels understood and loved within their home, they will usually have a natural and healthy love for Islam. And if a child feels abused and marginalized, then they will eventually lose their attachment to Islam unless they can find an alternative experience and understanding of Islam, different from what they were taught by words and deeds within their home. Every single day Muslim kids are out there trying to make sense of the world in which they live, and in this crazy time and place, we are going to need a lot more love and understanding for us to thrive as a religious community. Islam for us is not a given, it is a choice – a choice that anyone, at anytime, in any generation, can decide is not worth the sacrifice. Young American Muslims actively choose to remain Muslim in adulthood, or they choose to begin the process of leaving it. Sometimes they renounce their faith overnight, and sometimes it just dwindles for years until there is nothing left. May the Guider of Hearts make firm and increase the faith that is in our hearts, āmīn!

Some of the people I admire the most are American Muslim women in their 20s and 30s who still love Islam in spite of the fact that they have experienced an environment of intense psychological violence simply because God, in God’s vast wisdom and loving mercy, choose that they would be born in this world as girls and not boys. These are human beings who make me feel like my faith is a little stream whereas theirs is a majestic river, and I draw sustenance from their perseverance. Women who choose to live within the broad limits of the Sharī‘ah, as best they understand it, because they believe that Heaven is real and that Hell is real, and that if it be that they have to struggle in this life, they will still try to do what is right even when it sometimes hurts so much. Women who still come to religious gatherings even though they may have never heard words like this delivered by those speaking on behalf of the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him and his family). So may these words honor, in some small way, their years of silent sacrifice for the sake of the One they turn to in their deepest prayers, the One Who they believe hears them and understands, especially when it feels like there is no one else to talk to. These women are our imams who can lead us to understanding our own hearts, because they are human beings with living hearts, for only a woman with faith like an ocean has the spiritual resources to undergo all of this and still hold fast to the path of Islam.

I hope and pray that the new generation of baby Muslim girls grows up knowing without any doubt or qualification that they are loved so much by their mothers and fathers, their grandmothers and grandfathers, their aunts and uncles, and that we all want them to flourish in this life. That they can be whoever they are and do whatever they want, as long as it is ethical and within the limits of God’s commands and prohibitions. That they were celebrated from the moment that they were born, because they were daughters, not in spite of it. And I want those who have endured abuse to experience relief, and ideally, with God’s grace, full rectification and sincere resolution. If our understanding and experience of Islam does not provide us with a way to deal with the traumas of our life, then it will mean very little to us. And so the Qur’ān and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) often speak about things that break our hearts. They do not shy from death, suffering, abuse and trauma, but they always put the onus on the ones who are wronging others. Children are innocent, and they do not deserve to suffer because of our pathologies, because of the diseases of our heart. God says, “when the baby girl is asked,” which is a subtle indication that we will be asked about how we treated them. That little girl, who did not even choose her own gender, is blameless, and so she will have nothing to answer for when she is asked. But what will happen when the parents of that little girl, and the brothers, and the aunts and uncles are asked? What sort of hope can we expect to have on that day? If we were never willing to see things from her perspective, never willing to defend her, never willing to give her the love that she deserves, then how can we hope for mercy? The first hadith that is usually taught by scholars to their students is: “The merciful ones will be shown mercy by the all-Merciful. Be merciful to those on Earth, Allah will be merciful to you ( al-rāḥimūna yarḥamuhum al-Raḥmān irḥamū man fī’l-arḍi yarḥamkum man fī’l-samā’).” Mercy begins in our families, and if we fail there, then we will fail everywhere else. We will miss the meaning of the life of The Mercy to All Worlds (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) and err in our attempts to follow his example.

I am just as much to blame as anyone else. I can think of so many times in my life when I have failed in this test, and I grieve for it. I don’t want to be that way any more, and so these words begin, first and foremost, with myself. I don’t want these sins and failings on me anymore, because I don’t want any little Muslim girl to go through the things that I have witnessed and heard from the daughters of previous generations. Nor do I want them to experience any of what I have witnessed throughout my whole life of the many awful ways that young women are treated in the wider secular American culture. I simply want them to experience the fullness of love as it was meant to be, as a reflection of God’s immense love for them. God says:

“God is the One who shapes you in the wombs however God wills. There is no God except God, the Mighty, The Wise” (3.6)

God choose them to be daughters, and I want to be the first to honor that Divine choice. May I be forgiven for any way which I have contributed to a culture where young girls and women are made to feel anything less than the amazing human beings that they are, and may God inspire in me the wisdom to know the best way to being a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. I seek your forgiveness and God’s for any ways in which I may have missed the goal of iḥsān (excellence) in these words, which we should seek in all things.

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It is related in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and his family and grant them peace) once told a story to illustrate the importance of sincerity: “The first person judged on Resurrection Day will be a man martyred in battle. He will be brought forth, Allah will reacquaint him with His blessings upon him and the man will acknowledge them, whereupon Allah will say, ‘What have you done with them?’ to which the man will respond, ‘I fought to the death for You.’ Allah will reply, ‘You lie. You fought in order to be called a hero, and it has already been said.’ Then he will be sentenced and dragged away on his face and flung into the fire. Then a man will be brought forward who learned Sacred Knowledge, taught it to others, and who recited the Qur’an. Allah will remind him of His gifts to him and the man will acknowledge them, and then Allah will say, ‘What have you done with them?’ The man will answer, ‘I acquired Sacred Knowledge, taught it, and recited the Qur’an, for Your sake.’ Allah will say, ‘You lie. You learned so as to be called a scholar, and read the Qur’an so as to be called a reciter, and it has already been said.’ Then the man will be sentenced and dragged away on his face to be flung in the fire. 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.”

This is one of the most spiritually challenging hadiths that I know of. We are presented with three archetypes of people who devote their life to religious matters in an outward fashion. One has sacrificed their life, one has sacrificed their time, and the other has sacrificed their wealth. Each of them has made an extraordinary effort, and yet they have failed to reach the desired goal. This is because while their bodies were apparently with Allah, their hearts were with people.

What does it mean to do something purely for the sake of Allah? This question is as important for all of us to ask as it is difficult to answer. In the Qu’ran it states: “Say: Surely, I am but a human being like you; it is revealed to me that your God is One God. So the one who hopes to meet his Lord must do righteous deeds and not associate anyone in the worship of their Lord.” (Sūrah al-Kahf, verse 110)

We attend the Friday prayer out of a belief that it constitutes a “righteous deed,” but our worship is not complete until it is for God alone. We could ask ourselves a variety of introspective questions: Do we pray so that we feel like a good person? To tell our parents or our spouse that we attend jumu’ah regularly? To reaffirm our Muslim identity? To see a friend, or someone that we are romantically interested in? To get a mental break from our daily schedule? Thinking about such questions helps us to understand why we do what we do. These other motives are not inherently bad; for example, there is nothing wrong with being excited about meeting up with friends at jumu’ah. But we should have a clarity in our hearts about our primary reason for attending jumu’ah, or engaging in any other communal act of worship. We must tell ourselves that we would still come to pray even if our friends chose not to.

Saying the phrase “lā ilāha ill Allāh,” whether out loud or silently, is a powerful means to increasing our sincerity. It is a sword by which we cut through the various delusions that make us think that there is anything more deserving of our attention than Allah. Are governments to be feared? lā ilāha ill Allāh. Are beautiful people to be desired? lā ilāha ill Allāh. Is money to be sought after? lā ilāha ill Allāh. Is our well-being ultimately in the hands of a doctor? lā ilāha ill Allāh. As the Qur’an states: “Say: Will you worship other than Allah that which has no power to benefit or harm you, while Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing?!” (Sūrah al-Mā’ida, verse 76)

Reflecting on this verse helps us to realize that everything we want, in this world and the next, is with Allah. This does not mean that we negate the “asbāb” (the proper means that are taken in order to attain a certain goal), such as going to a doctor in order be cured. But the doctor is not the one who cures; it is Allah who ultimately cures, by means of the doctor. And the more we realize this truth, the more we turn to Allah with sincerity, knowing that only Allah can give and take away.

We fear so many things. We fear getting cancer, we fear being harassed at the airport, we fear being alone, we fear saying the wrong thing – but it is only Allah who is truly deserving of our fear (khawf). We hope in so many things. We hope in our family, we hope in our friends, we hope in our careers, we hope in our religious leaders – but it is only Allah who is truly deserving of our hope (rajā’). If Allah is pleased with us, then there is nothing in the world to fear, and no need to hope for anything else. Allah has said, “Behold! Truly, on the friends of Allah there shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (10.62)

This is an exalted level, and it is to this height that we are climbing. We must strive for righteous deeds, we must try to manifest sincerity, we must turn to Allah alone and ask for every noble quality. Along the way, we will begin to discover what little control we have over our own lives. Each step on the path will lead us further and further into Allah’s embrace, and further and further away from our own selves and our attachment to this world. We will begin to understand why we say, when someone passes away, innā li’llāhi wa innā ilayhi rājiʿun (to God we belong and to Him we are returning). We will willingly embrace the reality of our life and our inevitable death. And as we progress, we will begin to see that when we thought in the past that we had been sincere, we were actually far from sincerity. There is no fooling the One who knows every secret we have ever hid from others, and even the secrets we try to hide from our own selves.

As is stated in a well-known ḥadīth, Allah does not look at our outward forms. In our spiritual path, it ultimately does not matter whether we are a male or a female, an Arab or an ʿajam (non-Arab), well-dressed or simply attired. What matters is the state of our hearts, which is known as “amīr al-badan,” the commander of the body, and the actions that reflect the states of our hearts. And since even impressive outward actions, such as those mentioned at the beginning, are no guarantee that one is on the straight path, we must get real with our selves in the presence of our Lord. In many instances, sincerity simply means that we admit to ourselves that which Allah already knows. It is only after we see ourselves more clearly that we can walk more sincerely towards Allah. This is one meaning of the often quoted line, “the one who knows their self, knows their Lord (man ‘arafa nafsahu ‘arafa rabbahu).” If I look within, and see doubt, then at the very least I can ask Allah to strengthen my faith. If I look within and see a desire to sin, then at the very least I can ask Allah to fill my heart with repentance. If I look within, and see a desire to be praised by people, then at the very least I can ask Allah for the inspiration to worship Him alone. But if I am veiled from the realities of my own soul, from what is actually going on inside me, then I am lost. I might end up doing the outward actions of the people of Paradise, but have a heart that is leading me to the Fire. May Allah save all of us, and our loved ones, from such a fate, āmīn.

“To God belongs everything that is in the heavens and everything that is on the earth. Whether you disclose what is in yourselves or hide it, God will call it to account. And He will forgive whomsoever He wills and punish whomsoever He wills, and God is powerful over all things.” (Sūrah al-Baqara, verse 284)

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