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The following is an address that I gave at Bryant University in Rhode Island back in 2013. Rereading it this morning, it seemed appropriate to share it in light of our current circumstances.

As someone trained in the academic study of religion, I could speak about the intersection of faith and citizenship in a very academic fashion. I could talk about the creation of the modern nation-state, the processes of secularization in modern Europe, the imposition of European colonial rule in Africa and Asia, and other historical forces which have determined the realities of our lives in the present. I could talk about the dwindling authority of the Catholic church, the rise of political fundamentalisms that infect many religious traditions, the dynamics of political parties seeking power, and many other things which scholars of religion, political science, public policy, sociology, and other disciplines dedicate their careers to understanding. All of this work, mostly done within our universities, is valuable, for the collective human attempt to understand the world in which we live is part of the enterprise of civilization. But a library full of books means nothing without human hearts ready to imbibe that knowledge and act upon it.

The Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim traditions have produced many books. So too have the secular discourses emerging primarily from Europe and North America in the last few centuries. But we, as human beings, naturally gravitate to living examples of courage and resilience, wisdom and caring, love and compassion. We crave to know other human beings who make justice more than an abstract concept, but a real possibility in the here-and-now. We yearn to meet people who will stand with us in times of personal crisis, and help us find a way out. And it is here where the rubber meets the road, and where we must walk the walk. For either we are those people ourselves, or we should be striving to become like them, or we should be supporting them in their hard work.

Different people might imagine different inspiring examples: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, The Prophet Muhammad, The Prophet Jesus, The Prophet Moses, Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta, St. Francis of Assisi, or whoever else might come to mind – your own mother or father perhaps, your grandfather, your local pastor, a close friend. Every one of us has an image in our heads of the highest states possible for human existence. And one of the most sacred duties of a government is to foster the conditions in which each and every one of us can dream that dream as widely as possible, and undertake our journeys in search of making those dreams a reality.

As a teenager, all of the aforementioned examples inspired me, and told me with words and deeds that I could be better than I was. That I could let go of selfishness, that perhaps God was real, that a single human life could make a profound difference in the lives of billions of other human beings, and that everything beautiful and profound on this small Earth was not a meaningless accident meant to fade away into nothingness at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy.

Eventually, the example of Muhammad, born in the city of Makkah in the year 570 of the Christian calendar, came to rule my heart and mind as the greatest example of human perfection. His was a life that should be the envy of both the sacred and secular discourses of Western civilization – perfect balance between Heaven and earth. Put simply, he is the most successful human being who ever lived. More people have memorized the book that he brought, the Qur’an, than any other book in the history of human civilization. Billions of times every day, people pray for God to bless him and his family, using the Arabic words, “Allahumma salli ‘ala Muhammad wa Al Muhammad.” He is the main reason that one of the official languages of the UN is Arabic, spoken by over 200 million people as their native tongue, and perhaps another billion as a second language. He founded one of the most enduring political entities in human history, which bridged East and West and fostered globalization before the English language even existed, let alone coined an anachronistic term like “globalization.” His descendants, traced through his daughter, include many men and women of scholarship and spirituality unlike any others I have met on this earth. And for Muslims, he is the last Messenger of God to humanity, the example to be followed until the end of time. He is the great intercessor, who will be granted the right to intercede for his followers when they stand before God on Judgement Day. He is the one who shows us that being with God also means being in the world. And he is the one who helps us begin to understand that Mercy and Justice are fundamental attributes of God, just as they are interwoven in the nature of this worldly life.

This is my personal faith, based on my reading of human history. And the greatest thing my citizenship has ever given me was the ability to discover this based on my own unique conscience and conviction, through study, reflection, and ultimately an intensity of prayer which defines who I am. Not once in my spiritual journey have American government officials told me that this cannot be my faith. Sure, I have been taken in the back at airports – they wanted to check a little deeper as to why I had stamps from Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Pakistan in my passport. But on the flip side, women and men in Rhode Island who spend day and night trying to keep our communities safe have given me and other Muslim religious leaders their personal cell numbers, just in case we ever find ourselves the target of unjustified government suspicion.

In this respect, citizenship is a gift to be cherished, for it means that we are free to be who we are called to be. This gift has not come to me because I am better than anyone else, or I deserve it more than any other human soul on this Earth – it is only because the United States is where God has placed me in the course of human history. But with gifts from our Creator and Sustainer comes the necessity of gratitude. Gratitude that moves beyond words, becomes actions, and ends in the manifestation of authentic humility, by God’s grace. Gratitude that remembers the desperate need of so many here in this country, and so many beyond these borders.

We are all interconnected, and if you do not believe it, then go the International Institute of Rhode Island, and meet the newly arriving refugees. Go to speak with the Orthodox priest in Pawtucket, and learn of how the conflict in Syria is affecting his community. Go meet with the congregants of the mosque in North Smithfield, one of Rhode Island’s 6 mosques, and hear heartbreaking stories of what their relatives in Pakistan are currently undergoing. And go to the West End of Providence and Olneyville, and see for yourself the way that the land of the free and the home of the brave is also the land of the broken souls and the home of people without anyone to care for them.

As a born and bred American who loves his country, I am still not quite sure what it is about the United States that makes so much good possible, but also so much neglect. What is it about the American experience that allows us to turn with such callous hearts towards those who have undergone trials and sufferings that would break us? It may seem trite, but my insights so far come from an ad I saw on an airplane, which read “to the victor goes everything.” From reality shows to professional sports to the behavior of American military and diplomats, the message is drilled home day in and day out that victory is the only thing that matters. That if you become a member of the American or global elite, you have worth, but if you live your life as a janitor or working in Walmart, somehow you are inherently a loser. That life is about the quest to be on top – on top of a corporation, on top of a government, on top of your enemies, on top of everyone else, because I just don’t want to be the one on the bottom anymore. I want to be the one on top. I want to be the one calling the shots.

This is a sickness of the human heart, and as far as I know, all of the major religious traditions agree on this point. And it is a sickness that infects American culture from the bottom to the top. This sickness destroys us, even as we think it is empowering us. From the Islamic viewpoint, this is because, as the Qur’an states, “fa lillahi al-‘izzatu jami’a (all power and honor belongs to God alone).” When we try to rival God, we are in fact doing nothing but oppressing our own souls, or as one says in Arabic, “dhalimun li nafsihi.” Anytime we exercise power over ourselves or other human beings or over the natural world, we are running the risk of becoming an unjust oppressor. And the more power we have, the greater the risk. And so the person of faith takes the blessing of citizenship, which is a particular form of power, as a weighty responsibility to be just. To be just in our families. To be just in our dealings with others. To be just in our professional lives. To be just in our relations with those in other countries. To be just in our relationship with matters of ultimate concern.

The promise that America had on the world stage at the end of World War II, that made people from all over the world turn to this country, was because we seemed like a country that was more just than most. And the thing that has ruined that trust more than anything else has been our failure to live up to our own ideals, at home and abroad. But what is amazing about this country is that the story is not over. We are still capable of collective repentance for past injustices, and moving forward with an intention to rectify our situation on the basis of justice. We have yet to give up on the best version of our collective self, the one that we talk about in speeches but so often fail to emulate in our personal lives. The one that was embodied in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, which was a continuation of the prophetic words of President Lincoln when he said, at the twilight of the Civil War, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.” The America where you can be Pakistani, Moroccan, a white guy or the descendants of former slaves, and still find a world of possibility. One where a woman doesn’t have to flaunt her body to survive or get ahead, but is also free from the belittling and disempowering patriarchy which masquerades as “protecting women.” One where you might be desperately poor, but do not have to worry about whether or not you will get all that you need to be in the best of health. One where the defense budget is no longer equal to approximately the next 20 other countries’ defense budgets combined. One where we heed the words of one of our greatest presidents, Dwight Eisenhower, who said in 1953, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

On the streets of Providence, people are afraid of hunger. They are afraid of cold. They are afraid of getting sick and not knowing where to go. At Brown University, people are afraid of depression. They are afraid of sadness. They are afraid of living in a world without meaning. And these needs can be met, but only if we abandon what we thought we knew about how the “real world” works, and instead give ourselves, as much as we can each day, to the highest vision of what we think a citizen can be, to being human beings in the fullest sense of what that means to each of us. To giving up our quest to be the one on top, and instead dedicating our lives to “firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,” come what may of apparent victory or defeat. For as God says in the Qur’an, “inna Allaha yuhibb al-muqsitin (Truly, God loves those who are just).” And if we have God’s Love, then we need nothing else for all eternity.

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President Lincoln delivering his Second Inaugural Address

 

The Last Day

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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Everything is philosophy (‘ilm) and politics (‘amal). Sincerity (ikhlas) in both is the basis of salvation and connected to the depths of one’s realizations of Allah’s Oneness (tawhid).

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The most valuable thing in the whole world is free: “I believe in what has come from Allah as it was intended by Allah, and I believe in what has come from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) as it was intended by the Messenger of Allah.” (al-Shafi’i)

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The Qur’an implies that those in history most likely to reject Allah’s rights over them are propertied men with male offspring.

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There are those that are trying to get to Paradise, those who do not know there is a Paradise, and those who obtain a lot of this world by oppressing those trying to get to Paradise. Seek the first with sincerity, teach the second with mercy, and oppose the third with courage.

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Every valid criticism you have ever made of another person, and every valid criticism you have ever heard another say or seen in print – look inside yourself and apply it to your own self.

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Every moment is Divine Intervention.

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If we were to give every breath from now until the moment we die for the sake of Allah, it would not be equal to the blessings we have already been given prior to this breath.

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Whatever we do, we should try to obey Allah, and however we choose to do it, we should try to not become an excuse for others to hate Islam.

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Islam is about opportunity cost: there will never be anything more valuable than choosing what Allah wants from me at any given moment.

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I don’t know my own state with Allah, and you don’t know your own state with Allah, so let’s not pretend anymore that I know your state and you know my state.

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We can’t speak of desiring only Allah unless we actually desire nothing except Allah: not food, sleep, sex, companionship, housing, clothes, job, social life, family, study opportunities, respect, honor, dignity, and so on. Allah has described Jannah in deeply physical and social ways. So if we are not willing to give up something in this life for its superior mirror image in the hereafter, then we are definitely not truthful about giving up the rewards of the hereafter for the Creator of the hereafter alone.

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bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem

I have reached certain conclusions about politics.

One is that most people don’t actually understand it. Those who understand it have valid differences, but most people just have no clue. Politics is the ability to organize human beings to work together towards a tangible earthly goal. As such, militaries, schools, courts, legislatures, corporations, and other collective institutions are all “political” on some level.

My brother-in-law Muneeb, who studied political theory at Yale and Univ. of Chicago, always says that most of life can be boiled down to the dialectic between “autonomy versus solidarity.” I believe he is right. The basic unit of society is the individual – you can’t chop up a person into little bits. And from that foundation of individual autonomy all forms of solidarity are achieved. Walmart has approximately 2,300,000 employees, including Muneeb’s sister, my wife Sumaiya. They work together to bring thousands of products from around the globe to the shelves of almost 11,000 stores around the world. It is one of the most tangible forms of solidarity in the world.

If in economic terms Walmart gives us a form of solidarity, in terms of electoral politics it is political parties that express that solidarity. This graph shows us how the declining solidarity of the Democratic Party led directly to the Republican sweep of the 2016 elections:

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In 8 years, the Democratic Party lost the support of 10,000,000 voters. Trump won with less votes than both of the previous Republican candidates who lost! What caused that decline, I am not learned enough in American politics to know. But even though I am not a member of the Democratic Party, I voted Democrat in all three elections. Why? Because I know that my autonomy as an individual means very little when it comes to comes to electoral politics.

When I choose what to eat for breakfast, I have an enormous range of options. When I choose what to believe about the deeper metaphysical realities behind the events of human history, I can literally believe anything another human being has ever believed, or even make up something new. If I believe in something that others believe in, like the Qur’an, I have hundreds of non-profit organizations within NYC where I can worship alongside others who believe in the same thing. But when it comes to my NY Congressman, NY Senator, or President of the United States, I usually have two options, and there is only one winner.

When I choose to buy an organic, fair-trade coffee to drink for breakfast, it does not cause the maker of Folger’s (the J.M. Smucker Company) to go out of business. It does not cause Walmart to rethink their purchasing of Folger’s to stock on their shelves. Only if tens of millions of American consumers rethink their choice in coffee purchases will those corporations change. They have plenty of other consumers that in solidarity with them through their purchasing choices.

But there are currently only two political parties that really matter in the United States. Lack of solidarity towards one means greater strength for the other. Period. Full stop.

That is just how it is. That is the reality of this world we share.

And at the level of Muslims in America – the thing I know the most about – there is very little solidarity of significance. On the level of religion, the American system encourages division for the sake of ideological purity. If you want, you can create a religious organization to serve the needs of black gay Isma’ili women, get tax-exempt status, create a house of worship, publish books, and host annual conferences. But only 100 people will ever come, and that will be the limits of the solidarity you achieve. And that may be great for those 100 people, but it will do nothing for the approximately 324,000,000 American citizens who could care less.

Ayatollah Khomeini changed the structure of the Iranian government from a monarchy to a constitutional republic because the vast majority of the Iranian voters were in solidarity with him. The current generation of Iranians may debate the merits and dismerits of their system, but it was the solidarity of a previous generation that brought it into being. In the United States, we have not had a political revolution since 1865, when the Civil War brought about the end of the Secession. And all the states that seceded voted for Trump, with the exception of Virginia (the northernmost state). I do not think that is a coincidence, but representative of a deep and abiding political difference extending across generations.

So what is my point of explaining all of this? In short, it is to help everyone think more clearly about “autonomous ideals” and “the limits of solidarity.” When I am alone in my apartment reading books and praying, I can strive to determine my ideals to the furthest extant possible. When I leave to go to the supermarket, I can choose from 30 cereals that are made from grains grown around the world, and determine if any of them are “for” or “against” my ideals in some palpable way. Maybe I’ll find the perfect cereal. Maybe I won’t. But I have to choose something to eat, or else I will starve. Solidarity is only determined by the actual choices I can make as a consumer who does not grow his own food.

So when we come to realm of seeking explicitly political outcomes – the realm of domestic and foreign policy – we have to realize that the current system forces us to make choices. You can have ideological purity if you want. You can create a political party whose central goal is the return of all land taken from Native Americans in broken treaties. And your cause will be just, but you will actually achieve nothing of significance. Why? Because there are just not enough autonomous individuals at the national level that share your ideals.

For the believer, the complicating factor is accountability towards the Divine. If “opting out” feels right to you because of fear of Hellfire, then I am not going to critique you. But at least be cognizant of the fact that you are still part of the body politic, the capitalist world-system, and the American Muslim community at large. Your choices will continue to impact the rest of us. Because American citizenship is a form of involuntary solidarity that binds us together whether it reflects our ideals or not.

And God knows best.

You can’t have Abraham, peace be upon him, without Nimrod.

You can’t have Moses, peace be upon him, without Pharaoh.

You can’t have Jesus, peace be upon him, without Pontius Pilate.

You can’t have Muhammad, peace be upon him, without Abu Sufyan.

You can’t have Husayn, peace be upon him, without Yazid.

Divine authority has never rested with majority rule. The majority often supports tyranny and cruelty in human history, and stands behind leaders who are at the forefront of opposition to Truth and Justice. What Muslims in the United States of America are going to face in the years to come is nothing different than what believers have faced throughout history.

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Do the people suppose that they will be let off because they say, ‘We have faith,’ and they will not be tested? Certainly We tested those who were before them. So Allah shall surely ascertain those who are truthful, and He shall surely ascertain the liars. (Qur’an, 29.2-3, Qara’i translation)

To be on the side of Truth and Justice, we have to be prepared to face opposition. It is just the way this world works. I know you want it to be easy, but now is not the time to wish for something that you can’t control. Now is the time to be strong, to be bold, and to show that you fear nothing but the Lord of the Worlds.

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Glorious is the One in whose hand is the Kingdom (of the whole universe), and He is powerful over every thing, the One who created death and life, so that He may test you as to which of you is better in his deeds. And He is the All-Mighty, the Most- Forgiving, (Qur’an, 67.1-2, Usmani translation)

Today, tomorrow, and the next day provide ample opportunity for you to do great deeds. So go out and do them. Be the best you can be because you know Allah is watching you, no matter what the circumstances. Be like Hurr.

For that is the only true freedom there has ever been or ever will be.

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Say, ‘My prayers and sacrifice, my life and death, are all for God, Lord of all the Worlds; He has no partner. This is what I am commanded, and I am the first to devote myself to Him.’ (Qur’an, 6.162-3, Abdel Haleem translation)

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the metaphor of Hurr

“By Allah, I see myself between Heaven and the Fire.”

If you want to know the story of Hurr, you can read this basic historical background or this moving poem. I want to talk about something else: the metaphor of Hurr.

Imagine you have a moment when you are faced with a choice.

In one direction is truth and justice. In the other is falsehood and injustice.

In one direction is God, and in the other direction is anything other than God.

In one direction is eternal bliss, and in the other is never-ending punishment.

This was the decision Hurr faced on the day of ‘Ashura.

And it is decisions similar to this we encounter every day.

In the morning, when it is time to pray while we prefer to sleep, we are faced with it.

During the day, when we are called to be our best in the face of myriad challenges, we are faced with it.

In the evening, when we can sin in privacy, we are faced with it.

When the only world we can remember asks us to forget about a world we have never seen.

When another person asks us to compromise our ideals in order to earn their affection.

When we just want to give up.

But Hurr tells us that we have it in us.

That in each moment, we can choose what is true, what is right, and what is eternal.

And that these choices matter more than anything else.

I am like you. There are days when I just want to zone out in front of the TV. There are times when I just don’t know if I can take it anymore. But then I think of Hurr. I think of his flag flying in the wind over the blue sky of Karbala, lifting my soul towards Heaven. I think of the Ahl al-Bayt, upon them peace, and how they deserve my best effort.

Hurr was not a perfect human being. He probably had some good times with his friends. He probably had some romance, and some comforts. Perhaps there were things he really loved, and hoped for more of it as he grew older. But in the moment when he realized what life is really about, he knew with clarity:

“By Allah, I see myself between Heaven and the Fire.”

(Hurr’s words as related in Abu Mikhnaf)

And so he chose. He sought no fatwa, nor prayed an istikhara. There was only one choice.

Is the path back to our Creator anything but the hundreds of choices we make each day?! When we realize this, Hurr reminds us that we can always turn back. Even at the very end, on a day unlike any other day, we can turn back. Even if we find ourselves on the wrong side, we can choose the right side.

Sometimes it will be subtle, and the war will be raging within us, imperceptible to anyone other than All-Knowing. At other times, we will find ourselves in the midst of outward struggles, in search of true allies for truth and justice. But the goal is the same – choosing that which is right, even if it is difficult.

Hurr gives us the inspiration to make that choice.

Every morning.

Every daytime.

Every evening.

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The masjid of Hurr in Karbala.

 

Last year I posted something about trying to understand the discourse surrounding the Mahdi. I have thought about it so much since then. I think about how it represents the socio-political ideals of humanity on Earth, as well as the idea of spiritual perfection. There are many people who have given up on one, the other, or both. So reflecting on this state of humanity made me realize the intimate relationship between belief and hope whenever Imam Mahdi is mentioned. It is a discourse of aspiration, inherently. Recently, I came across two passages written by ‘Allamah Tabataba’i that express this beautifully, and I keep coming back to them. I hope they mean something to you, for that is why I am sharing them.

on the socio-political ideals of humanity

“ever since he has inhabited the earth, man has had the wish to lead a social life filled with happiness in its true sense and has striven toward this end. If such a wish were not to have an objective existence, it would never have been imprinted upon man’s inner nature, in the same way that if there were no food, there would have been no hunger. Or if there were to be no water, there would be no thirst and if there were to be no reproduction, there would have been no sexual attraction between the sexes. Therefore, by reason of inner necessity and determination, the future will see a day when human society will be replete with justice and when all will live in peace and tranquility, when human beings will be fully possessed of virtue and perfection. The establishment of such a condition will occur through human hands but with Divine succor. And the leader of such a society, who will be the savior of man, is called in the language of the hadith, the Mahdi.”

on spiritual perfection

“[at this stage of spiritual realization, a human being] detaches himself from all things to attach himself solely to the One God. Before His Majesty and Grandeur, he does nothing but bow in humility. Only then does be become guided and directed by God so that whatever he knows he knows in God. Through Divine guidance, he becomes adorned with moral and spiritual virtue and pure actions which are the same as Islam itself, the submission to God, the religion that is the primordial nature of things. This is the highest degree of human perfection and the station of the perfect man (the Universal Man; insan kamil), namely, the Imam who has reached this rank through Divine grace. Furthermore, those who have reached this station through the practice of spiritual methods, with the different ranks and stations that they possess, are the true followers of the Imam. It becomes thus clear that the knowledge of God and of the Imam are inseparable in the same way that the knowledge of God is inextricably connected to the knowledge of oneself.”

[both passages taken from the book Shi’ah, trans. by S.H. Nasr (Qum, Ansariyan: 2009) pp. 241-248]

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