Category: Podcast

You Belong To God

You Belong To God

In Surah al-Zumar Allah uses a word: ibādi, referring not only to Muslims to everyone. Allah shows care and concern us all.  However, He also doesn’t say “you’ll never experience unhappiness in life” or that “your mom won’t die”. Rather, He says, if you do what I say you will live forever after death/after Judgment in tranquility and have whatever you want.

In other words, salvation.

قُل يا عِبادِيَ الَّذينَ أَسرَفوا عَلىٰ أَنفُسِهِم لا تَقنَطوا مِن رَحمَةِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغفِرُ الذُّنوبَ جَميعًا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الغَفورُ الرَّحيمُ

وَأَنيبوا إِلىٰ رَبِّكُم وَأَسلِموا لَهُ مِن قَبلِ أَن يَأتِيَكُمُ العَذابُ ثُمَّ لا تُنصَرونَ

وَاتَّبِعوا أَحسَنَ ما أُنزِلَ إِلَيكُم مِن رَبِّكُم مِن قَبلِ أَن يَأتِيَكُمُ العَذابُ بَغتَةً وَأَنتُم لا تَشعُرونَ

أَن تَقولَ نَفسٌ يا حَسرَتا عَلىٰ ما فَرَّطتُ في جَنبِ اللَّهِ وَإِن كُنتُ لَمِنَ السّاخِرينَ

أَو تَقولَ لَو أَنَّ اللَّهَ هَداني لَكُنتُ مِنَ المُتَّقينَ

أَو تَقولَ حينَ تَرَى العَذابَ لَو أَنَّ لي كَرَّةً فَأَكونَ مِنَ المُحسِنينَ

بَلىٰ قَد جاءَتكَ آياتي فَكَذَّبتَ بِها وَاستَكبَرتَ وَكُنتَ مِنَ الكافِرينَ

“[Muhammad – Tell the people that I, Myself, have said, ‘All My servants who have acted excessively against their own souls! Don’t lose hope of God’s mercy, for God can forgive all sins. He truly is the Forgiving and the Merciful!’

‘Turn towards your Lord and surrender to Him before the punishment overwhelms you, for then you’ll have no one to help you.’

‘Follow the best of what’s being revealed to you from your Lord before the punishment overwhelms you all of a sudden without your even realizing what’s happening.’

‘For then your soul will cry out, “I’m doomed! I neglected my duty to God, and I scoffed!”

‘Or it might cry out, “If only God had guided me, I would surely have been one of the mindful.”

‘Or it might cry out, the moment it sees the punishment approaching, “If only I had a second chance, I would surely be with those who are good’.

‘“But no! My signs came to you, and you denied them! You were arrogant, and you tried to cover the truth that was all around you’.”Qur’an, 39: 53-59

Only Allah can benefit/harm

Ostentation, distraction, disobedience often comes from misguided notions that those other than Allah can bring benefit.

قالَ أَفَتَعبُدونَ مِن دونِ اللَّهِ ما لا يَنفَعُكُم شَيئًا وَلا يَضُرُّكُم

“So are you worshipping besides God,” Abraham asked, “things that can neither benefit you nor harm you?”Qur’an 21: 66

Allah is so powerful He created something He detests: the braying donkey.

إِنَّ أَنكَرَ الأَصواتِ لَصَوتُ الحَميرِ

“The most hateful of voices is the donkey’s bray.”Qur’an, 31: 19

عن وابصة بن معبد رضي الله عنه قال‏‏ أتيت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال ‏جئتَ تسألُ عن البرِّ والإثمِ قلتُ نعم فجمع أصابعَه الثَّلاثَ فجعل ينكُتُ بها في صدري ويقولُ يا وابصةُ استفْتِ قلبَك والبرُّ ما اطمأنَّت إليه النَّفسُ واطمأنَّ إليه القلبُ والإثمُ ما حاك في القلبِ وتردَّدُ في الصَّدرِ وإن أفتاك النَّاسُ وأفتَوْك

Wabisah bin Ma’bad, a Companion of the Prophet ﷺ reported that he went to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and he asked me, “Have you come to inquire about piety and sin?” I replied, “yes”. He ﷺ then gather his three fingers together and poked me in my chest, saying “Wabisah … ask your heart regarding it. Piety is that which contents the soul and comforts the heart, and sin is that which knots up the heart and causes one’s chest to be hesitant even if people pronounce it permissible and give you verdicts on such matters again and again.” — al-Mundhiri relates this in al-Targhib wa’l Tarhib with a sound chain

اللَّهُمَّ قِنِي عَذَابَكَ يَوْمَ تَبْعَثُ عِبَادَكَ

“Allah! Protect me from Your punishment the day You raise up Your slaves!”Prophetic supplication related by Ali Ibn Abi Talib, recorded in Sunan Abu Dawud, #5052

Sha’ban and Bid’ah: Islam Isn’t Sorcery

Sha’ban and Bid’ah: Islam Isn’t Sorcery

Al-Shatibi, the author of a two-volume book entitled al-I’tisam الاعتصام (Holding Fast), has been hailed by many as the best book ever written on the subject of bid’ah: “unsanctioned innovation in religious matters”. In this work, al-Shatibi gives the following definition for bid’ah:

البدعة طريقة مخترعة في الدين تضاهي الشرعية يقصد بالسلوك عليها ما يقصد بالطريقة الشرعية

“A concocted manner of proceeding in religion that mimics the scripturally mandated way, with the aim of achieving through this concocted way that which should only be sought through the scripturally mandated way.”

According to Dr. Sherman Jackson,

bid’ah” is not simply committing an act that the Prophet did not commit or failing to commit an act that the Prophet actually did. Bid’a is, rather, committing or avoiding such actions as a means of making up one’s own way to God. In other words, the real issue is not whether an act is committed or not; the real issue is the religious value that one attributes to the commission or non-commission of an act“.

The reason why innovation becomes an issue is because people will leave off what was legislated for them* in favor of what is not legislated. In doing so they put themselves in the position of being a prophet or a messenger. We now have people who live recklessly and then attempt to turn religion in general, and Islam in particular, into a kind of magic or sorcery. What was magic’s use or intent? To either gain the gods’ favor, overcome them, or the natural world (which was in most mythologies created by the gods or inhabited by them).

Many of these attempts are “practical” in that they wish to supplant that which would require discipline for something else that “fits their schedule”. “Praying every day in impractical”, in this way of thinking. “I prefer to get it out the way or have it done on my time”.

قُل لِلَّهِ الشَّفاعَةُ جَميعًا ۖ لَهُ مُلكُ السَّماواتِ وَالأَرضِ ۖ ثُمَّ إِلَيهِ تُرجَعونَ

“Say to them,’It’s God’s exclusive right to choose someone to be an intercessor, for the control of the heavens and the earth belongs to Him, and then you’re all going to go back to Him’.”Qur’an, 39: 44

So a person will drink, fornicate, cheat, and even murder, and then think all of this can be mitigated on one special night.

Background on the verses 53 through 59 of Surah al-Zumar (#39)

There were some Makkans who wanted to accept Islam, but they had indulged in very wicked behavior in their lives before, having murdered people, committed adultery, theft and other crimes. They felt that their sins were too enormous for God to forgive merely by their accepting Islam. “How can we become Muslims when we did all that?” one of them even asked. Just after the Muslims migrated to Madinah, the concerns of such sympathetic but despairing Makkans were discussed by many. These verses were revealed, and ‘Umar ibn al Khattab, who knew how to write, wrote them on a paper and sent it secretly back to Makkah. The first person who read it was a man named Hisham who said in later days, “I took it and went to a place named Thitawa, and I asked God to make me understand it. When I realized it was for us, I returned to where my mount was tethered and resolved to follow the Prophet.” Many others also joined Islam and made their way to Madinah.

قُل يا عِبادِيَ الَّذينَ أَسرَفوا عَلىٰ أَنفُسِهِم لا تَقنَطوا مِن رَحمَةِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغفِرُ الذُّنوبَ جَميعًا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الغَفورُ الرَّحيمُ

وَأَنيبوا إِلىٰ رَبِّكُم وَأَسلِموا لَهُ مِن قَبلِ أَن يَأتِيَكُمُ العَذابُ ثُمَّ لا تُنصَرونَ

وَاتَّبِعوا أَحسَنَ ما أُنزِلَ إِلَيكُم مِن رَبِّكُم مِن قَبلِ أَن يَأتِيَكُمُ العَذابُ بَغتَةً وَأَنتُم لا تَشعُرونَ

أَن تَقولَ نَفسٌ يا حَسرَتا عَلىٰ ما فَرَّطتُ في جَنبِ اللَّهِ وَإِن كُنتُ لَمِنَ السّاخِرينَ

أَو تَقولَ لَو أَنَّ اللَّهَ هَداني لَكُنتُ مِنَ المُتَّقينَ

أَو تَقولَ حينَ تَرَى العَذابَ لَو أَنَّ لي كَرَّةً فَأَكونَ مِنَ المُحسِنينَ

بَلىٰ قَد جاءَتكَ آياتي فَكَذَّبتَ بِها وَاستَكبَرتَ وَكُنتَ مِنَ الكافِرينَ

“[Muhammad – Tell the people that I, Myself, have said, ‘All My servants who have acted excessively against their own souls! Don’t lose hope of God’s mercy, for God can forgive all sins. He truly is the Forgiving and the Merciful!’

‘Turn towards your Lord and surrender to Him before the punishment overwhelms you, for then you’ll have no one to help you.’

‘Follow the best of what’s being revealed to you from your Lord before the punishment overwhelms you all of a sudden without your even realizing what’s happening.’

‘For then your soul will cry out, “I’m doomed! I neglected my duty to God, and I scoffed!”

‘Or it might cry out, “If only God had guided me, I would surely have been one of the mindful.”

‘Or it might cry out, the moment it sees the punishment approaching, “If only I had a second chance, I would surely be with those who are good’.

‘“But no! My signs came to you, and you denied them! You were arrogant, and you tried to cover the truth that was all around you’.”Qur’an, 39: 53-59

Notes

*What do we mean by “legislated”? In specific, that which Allah will judge a person by, and that which may forfeit a person’s entrance to the Garden.

Sha’ban – The Month of Branching Out and Connecting

Sha’ban – The Month of Branching Out and Connecting

One of the linguistic meanings of Sha’ban is “to branch out” and “connect” because it’s the month which literally connects with Ramadan.

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ قَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ إِذَا تَقَرَّبَ عَبْدِي مِنِّي شِبْرًا تَقَرَّبْتُ مِنْهُ ذِرَاعًا وَإِذَا تَقَرَّبَ مِنِّي ذِرَاعًا تَقَرَّبْتُ مِنْهُ بَاعًا – أَوْ بُوعًا – وَإِذَا أَتَانِي يَمْشِي أَتَيْتُهُ هَرْوَلَةً

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger ﷺ as saying that Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, stated,

“When My servant draws close to Me by the span of a palm, I draw close to him by the cubit and when he draws close to Me by the cubit, I draw close to him by the space of two arm spans, and when he comes to Me walking, I go in a hurry towards him.”Sahih Muslim, #2675

Likewise, Allah has made us into shu’uban and qaba’il.

يا أَيُّهَا النّاسُ إِنّا خَلَقناكُم مِن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثىٰ وَجَعَلناكُم شُعوبًا وَقَبائِلَ لِتَعارَفوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكرَمَكُم عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتقاكُم ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَليمٌ خَبيرٌ

“All you people! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into different races and tribes so you can come to know one another. The noblest among you in the sight of God is the one who is the most mindful of his duty to Him. Truly, God knows and is aware.”Qur’an, 49: 13

الشعوب: جمع شعب بفتح الشين، وهو أعظم من القبيلة، وتحته القبيلة ثم البطن ثم الفخذ ثم الفصيلة

Ibn Juzayy says,

Shu’ub is the plural of sha’b, which is greater than a qabilah, which is after the qabilah is a batan, then a fikhdh, then a fasilah. — al-Tas’hil l’Ulum al-Tanzil

What makes a shu’b is that the people are connected. Our connection is not simply to one another because we share the same ancestor but because we share the same core belief: Allah and His Messenger. This is why unity is so difficult in the Muslim community because we’re not connected or connecting on that thing which can truly branch across divides.

قالَتِ الأَعرابُ آمَنّا ۖ قُل لَم تُؤمِنوا وَلٰكِن قولوا أَسلَمنا وَلَمّا يَدخُلِ الإيمانُ في قُلوبِكُم ۖ وَإِن تُطيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسولَهُ لا يَلِتكُم مِن أَعمالِكُم شَيئًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفورٌ رَحيمٌ

Joining Islam is not doing God a Favor

Background: During a year of famine, members of the bedouin tribe of Banu Asad arrived in Medina and professed to be Muslims in order to receive donations to help their tribe. They said they had never fought the Muslims and that they had always donated to the Muslims and helped them in the past, which was only partially true. Their behavior in the city was culturally reprehensible, and they also conducted themselves in obvious ignorance of Islamic manners and values. Finally, they made it seem as if they were doing the Muslims a favor by joining them. While their profession of faith may or may not have been real, they had not let the full effect of faith seep into their hearts in a genuine fashion. This passage was revealed in response. — Asbab al-Nuzul

“The bedouin Arabs are quick to say, “We believe!” Yet, say to them (Muhammad), “You have no faith, for you’re only saying, ‘We’re surrendered to God,’ but sincere faith hasn’t yet entered your hearts. If you obey God and His Messenger, He won’t decrease the value of any of your (good) deeds, for God is forgiving and merciful.”Qur’an, 49: 14

Whose ‘Abd Do You Want To Be?

Whose ‘Abd Do You Want To Be?

Ask yourself, “Whose ‘abd1 do you want to be?”

It’s not that Allah doesn’t get upset if you commit a sin: It’s that Allah is more upset that you forgot Him. How so?

فَذوقوا بِما نَسيتُم لِقاءَ يَومِكُم هٰذا إِنّا نَسيناكُم ۖ وَذوقوا عَذابَ الخُلدِ بِما كُنتُم تَعمَلونَ

“So suffer it! You forgot this appointed day of yours, so now We’re going to forget you! Suffer the eternal punishment for your deeds!” Qur’an, 32: 14

We become distracted like little children who point to others who are doing bad, as if that justifies them being disobedient!

وَلَو شِئنا لَآتَينا كُلَّ نَفسٍ هُداها وَلٰكِن حَقَّ القَولُ مِنّي لَأَملَأَنَّ جَهَنَّمَ مِنَ الجِنَّةِ وَالنّاسِ أَجمَعينَ

“If We had wanted, We could’ve guided every soul, but the truth of My sentence will come to pass: “I will fill Hellfire with jinns and people all together!” Qur’an, 32: 13

Go into Allah’s generosity, mercy, kindness.

يَا عَائِشَةُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ رَفِيقٌ يُحِبُّ الرِّفْقَ وَيُعْطِي عَلَى الرِّفْقِ مَا لَا يُعْطِي عَلَى الْعُنْفِ وَمَا لَا يُعْطِي عَلَى مَا سِوَاهُ

“A’ishah!, Allah is gentle and He loves gentleness. He rewards for gentleness what is not granted for harshness and He does not reward anything else like it”Sahih Muslim, #2593

Allah doesn’t speak of most sins as “taking revenge” or repercussion, but when it comes to forgetting Allah, He responds, “We’re going to forget you” on that day.

وَمَن أَظلَمُ مِمَّن ذُكِّرَ بِآياتِ رَبِّهِ ثُمَّ أَعرَضَ عَنها ۚ إِنّا مِنَ المُجرِمينَ مُنتَقِمونَ

“So who’s more wrong than the one who is reminded of the signs of his Lord but then turns away from them? We’re indeed going to get retribution from the wicked!” Qur’an, 32: 22

For other khutbahs and podcasts, see the Middle Ground Podcast.

Notes

1. The term, ‘abd (عبد), whose verbal root, ‘a-ba-da, means to worship. It is also understood to mean slave, though for many, because of the transatlantic slave trade, it has come to take on that meaning almost exclusively. Here, we use it to mean, “worshiper (of)”.

Isra and Mi’raj – A New Hope

Isra and Mi’raj – A New Hope

a’ra’ja/ya’ruju and a’ri/ja/ya’raju: one means to ascend, the other to limp or hobble along.

Mi’raj was an uplifting (lit.) event at a time when the Prophet would experience great emotional loss and hardship:

  1. the death of his uncle Abu Talib (who shielded his nephew from the Makkans who sought to harm him) and
  2. his wife of nearly a quarter century, Khadijah, may Allah be pleased with her.

Think about all of the things that the Prophet saw on Mi’raj: Jibril, the Prophets, etc. All these miraculous things before his very eyes and yet what is it that Allah orders His prophet to do upon returning from Mi’raj? Leave Makkah. Leave his home. But not just leave his ancestral home for nothing: build a new home. Build the City of the Prophet: Madinah al-Nabi.

The Prophet, after having seen things, experienced things which leave no doubt in the mind and the heart, set out to make a new home with others. Mi’raj imbued the Prophet with an even stronger conviction in the belief in Allah. That conviction and belief mandated he bring others together: conviction in God brought about unity, not division.

يا أَيُّهَا الَّذينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ تُقاتِهِ وَلا تَموتُنَّ إِلّا وَأَنتُم مُسلِمونَ

وَاعتَصِموا بِحَبلِ اللَّهِ جَميعًا وَلا تَفَرَّقوا ۚ وَاذكُروا نِعمَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيكُم إِذ كُنتُم أَعداءً فَأَلَّفَ بَينَ قُلوبِكُم فَأَصبَحتُم بِنِعمَتِهِ إِخوانًا وَكُنتُم عَلىٰ شَفا حُفرَةٍ مِنَ النّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِنها ۗ كَذٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُم آياتِهِ لَعَلَّكُم تَهتَدونَ

وَلتَكُن مِنكُم أُمَّةٌ يَدعونَ إِلَى الخَيرِ وَيَأمُرونَ بِالمَعروفِ وَيَنهَونَ عَنِ المُنكَرِ ۚ وَأُولٰئِكَ هُمُ المُفلِحونَ

Hope

Just when things seemed bleak, Allah made a way out for the Prophet. But it wasn’t all milk and honey. He lost his wife, his uncle. But because he was hopeful, he gave so many others hope and brought so much good to the world.

Sharing – Its Important and Therapeutic Aspects

Sharing – Its Important and Therapeutic Aspects

As parents, many of us go to great effort to teach our children when they’re little to share.

We do so not only because it’s nice but because we have more meaningful lives when we do things with each other.

We benefit when we give up something and give it freely to another.

We experience joy in others experiencing joy when we give up something and give to others.

But then something curious happens when we get older. We grow attached to the world. We grow attached to things. No longer do we think about sharing what we have with others but instead covet things and retreat into selfishness.

This same person will either look baffled at the world, unable to understand and recognize his or her contribution — no matter how small — in making it the way it is (what does it even mean when we say “the world*”? He or she retreats into cynicism saying,

“the world* has always been like this,”

attempting to free his or herself of any culpability as to why it is the way it is.

*Surely not the birds and the bees.

What does it mean “to be Muslim”? Is it purely and solely an individual pronouncement of la ilaha illa’Allah? What role does culture play.

وَاتلُ عَلَيهِم نَبَأَ إِبراهيمَ

إِذ قالَ لِأَبيهِ وَقَومِهِ ما تَعبُدونَ

قالوا نَعبُدُ أَصنامًا فَنَظَلُّ لَها عاكِفينَ

قالَ هَل يَسمَعونَكُم إِذ تَدعونَ

أَو يَنفَعونَكُم أَو يَضُرّونَ

قالوا بَل وَجَدنا آباءَنا كَذٰلِكَ يَفعَلونَ

قالَ أَفَرَأَيتُم ما كُنتُم تَعبُدونَ

“Recite to them the story of Ibrahim when he said to his father and his people, ‘What do you worship?’ They said, ‘We worship idols and will continue to cling to them.’ He said, ‘Do they hear you when you call? or do they help you or do you harm?’ They said, ‘No, but this is what we found our fathers doing.’ He said, ‘Have you really thought about what you worship,”

In fact, culture can be thought of all those good things we want to pass along to the next generation, not just wealth:

“Culture is the total sum of what humans want to pass from one generation to another.”1Sandor Ellix Katz

This is why we can say, while Islam is not culture pursue, Muslims certainly do and indeed want to have a culture.

One way to change this is by sharing.

أَنَّ أَصْحَابَ النَّبِيِّ، صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالُوا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّا نَأْكُلُ وَلاَ نَشْبَعُ قَالَ فَلَعَلَّكُمْ

تَفْتَرِقُونَ

قَالُوا نَعَمْ قَالَ فَاجْتَمِعُوا عَلَى طَعَامِكُمْ وَاذْكُرُوا اسْمَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ يُبَارَكْ لَكُمْ فِيهِ

The Companions of the Prophet ﷺ said, “Messenger of Allah ﷺ we eat but we don’t feel satiated”. He said, “perhaps that’s because you eat separately?” They replied, “Yes”. He advised, “Well, then gather together for your food and mention Allah’s name over it, you will be blessed in it.”Sunan Abu Dawud, #3764

Notes

1. Katz, Sandor Ellix. The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes From Around the World. White River Junction, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012.

Music, The Ontology of Religion, and What Does Difference of Opinion Mean?

Music, The Ontology of Religion, and What Does Difference of Opinion Mean?

In this episode of the Middle Ground Podcast, Imam Marc, on the road, discusses music, the question of its permissibility and beyond. His remarks are in part inspired from remarks in a Q&A session by Mufti Abu Layth, may Allah reward him.

“Before you approach religion, you have this ontology of religion. You already have an understanding of what religion — with a capital “R” — is going to provide for you, or provide for people.”Mufti Abu Layth


Music: Sean Dobbins Organ Quartet, The Journey.

Meaning Is What Makes Us Truly Alive

Meaning Is What Makes Us Truly Alive

We come into the world with our eyes closed.

We have to open our eyes to find meaning and purpose, not just happiness.

All worldly happiness has limits and limitations.

ثُمَّ سَوّاهُ وَنَفَخَ فيهِ مِن روحِهِ ۖ وَجَعَلَ لَكُمُ السَّمعَ وَالأَبصارَ وَالأَفئِدَةَ ۚ قَليلًا ما تَشكُرونَ

“Then He constructs each person in their mother’s womb, then breathes into him something of His spirit. Then He endows you all with faculties of awareness: hearing, sight and feeling.Yet, for all of these gifts, you’re hardly thankful at all!”Qur’an, 32: 9

قَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ أَنَا عِنْدَ ظَنِّ عَبْدِي بِي وَأَنَا مَعَهُ حَيْثُ يَذْكُرُنِي

وَاللَّهِ الَلَّهُ أَفْرَحُ بِتَوْبَةِ عَبْدِهِ مِنْ أَحَدِكُمْ يَجِدُ ضَالَّتَهُ بِالْفَلاَةِ

وَمَنْ تَقَرَّبَ إِلَىَّ شِبْرًا تَقَرَّبْتُ إِلَيْهِ ذِرَاعًا

وَمَنْ تَقَرَّبَ إِلَىَّ ذِرَاعًا تَقَرَّبْتُ إِلَيْهِ بَاعًا

وَإِذَا أَقْبَلَ إِلَىَّ يَمْشِي أَقْبَلْتُ إِلَيْهِ أُهَرْوِلُ

“Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, said:

‘I am as My servant thinks of Me to him. And I am with him as he remembers Me.’

The Prophet further said:

‘By Allah, Allah is more pleased with the repentance of His servant than were one of you were to finding that which he holds most precious (the object of his search) in a waterless desert.’

God continues saying, ‘When he draws near Me by the span of his hand I draw near him by the length of a cubit.’

‘And when he draws near Me by the length of a cubit I draw near him by the length of a fathom.’

‘And when he draws near Me walking I draw close to him hurriedly’.” — Sahih Muslim, #2675

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A Return To Meaning

A Return To Meaning

In this episode, Imam Marc speaks about how ritual and meaning are increasingly seen as things not only trivial or perhaps juvenile, but also something scornful, a reminder of a not-so-distant past many would like to pretend never existed, when life was not able to be safely and comfortably quantified.

The loss of meaning’s appreciation can also be linked to western educational institutions:

“Its emphasis on specialization meant that most professors considered the question of meaning beyond their purview … The question of how to live, after all, requires a discussion of abstract, personal, and moral values. It does not belong, these professors argued, in colleges and universities devoted to the accumulation of objective knowledge … An increasing consensus in the academy is that faculty members should not help students discern a meaningful philosophy of life or develop character, but should instead help them master the content and methodology of a given discipline and learn critical thinking.”1

This can be seen manifesting in the Muslim community in a number of ways, such as how Muslims (especially western Muslims) approach the month long ritual of fasting in the month of Ramadan. Social media will shortly be a flurry with posts recommending this or that suhur (or pre-dawn) smoothie which promises to reduce or even eliminate fatigue and hunger. How odd that the practitioners of a faith would want to minimize the experience of one of its most important rituals: but that is precisely what we see happening with Islam in the West. Increasingly we seem to be saying, “ritual and religious experience, particularly those that ask us to give up something or daresay, even experience something uncomfortable, we don’t want any part of it. Either it changes to accommodate our desires or it gets jettisoned!”.

For me, this is why I think so many are trying to find way to validate what would otherwise been seen – according to post-religious secular norms – as ridiculous, by legitimizing and substantiating fasting for one month as something healthy. According to this new logic, to the extent that Islamic rituals can be confirmed by empirical/scientific observations, they may be tolerated. But to the extent to which they can’t (wearing hijab or growing a beard, for example), then they condemned as backwards and even potentially subhuman (hijab again).
One of the fundamental on the long differences is the pursuit of emotions versus the crafting with meaning. is the pursuit of emotions versus the crafting of meaning. The pursuit of emotion attempts to extract, for example, happiness, either from objects or activities like superfoods or yoga, alcohol or sex. But those who seek to craft meaning transcend objects and experience and see meaning in them; they see God. This should not be mistaken as a form of shamanism, in the Muslim sense, for Muslims do not believe God is inside their superfood smoothie or tantric sex, but rather see any such objects or activities as the result of God. The former tends to be rooted in an idolatrous materialism which places conditional value on things (things here being objects, activities/experiences). To the extent that an object, activity, or experience makes that individual happy it is deemed to be good regardless of what Revelation may have to say about it. Whereas the latter sees beyond this triumvirate and knows the source from which, for example, blueberry smoothies and alcohol, come from, thus allowing them to apply wisdom.

Notes

1. Smith, Emily Esfahani. The Power of Meaning: Crafting A Life That Matters. Kindle ed., Crown, New York, 2017.

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